Author’s Note: This is the final chapter in the series, and it’s been a long time coming. It’s difficult for me to believe that I started this series back in 2005. This chapter has specific spoilers for Season 6 Episodes 22 & 23 ‘It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World’ parts 1 & 2. Those were the episodes that made me want to write this series in the first place, because I was so annoyed with the way they ended the storyline for Chris. Hopefully some of you out there are still interested in reading the ending to this story now that it’s 2017.
Discalimer: I don’t own any of these characters, and I’m not making any money from this story.
Warning: Non-consensual spanking of an adult by his parent.
Home Again Chapter 5
Over the past month Chris had spent most of his time trying to figure out how to get home, all the while worrying about what that home would be like. Now there were only two days left, and the worry over what might await him was quickly being replaced with the worry that he wouldn’t make it home at all. And every once in a while, late at night, he wondered if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad not to go back. He was enjoying getting to know his parents, and being the older brother instead of the younger one had its appeal.
The only reason he kept seriously looking for a way to get back, was his fear that two of him couldn’t exist at the same time. That meant if his little self was born before he went home, one of them might disappear, or be absorbed by the other, and no way did he want to be stuck in the body of an infant.
For the past few days, Chris had spent almost all of his time in the magic school library looking for information on how to get back. The family had come up with a potion, and a spell, but they didn’t know if either one was going to actually work, and were reluctant to try them without researching every other option.
Today, Paige, Gideon, and Chris were all in the magic school library, trying to perfect the spell to send Chris back to his own time. Chris had been getting more and more jittery about it for the past week, and he was almost at his breaking point, snapping at his friends and family when they didn’t know how to do the spell. A stern word or two from Leo was still enough to get Chris to back off and apologize to whomever he’d sniped at, but everyone could tell his apologies were becoming less sincere. He was terrified that they wouldn’t be able to find a way to send him back, and when baby him came out of Piper, he knew bad things would probably happen, and he didn’t want to find out what that might be.
He was frustrated and griping at his Aunt Paige when his parents walked in.
Knowing something wasn’t right, Leo said, “Hey, what’s wrong? Isn’t the spell ready?”
“I think it’s ready,” Gideon said. “This should work.”
“Should work?” Leo asked. “What do you mean?”
“Well there are no guarantees with time travel, Leo.” Gideon replied, obviously irritated. “You should know that better than anyone.” After an awkward pause, Gideon apologized. “Sorry. There’s always a chance that something might go wrong.”
“Alright, we’re not taking any chances,” Leo said.
“We might have to.” Chris said tiredly. “I’m running out of time here.”
“No, I’m not sending you though a one way portal unless I know where you’re gonna land.”
Chris rolled his eyes, but kept his biting comment to himself.
“Well you can never be certain,” Gideon said. “Unless of course you went too, and even then…” he left it up in the air, getting the thought seeded in Leo’s brain.
“Okay, then let’s forget the spell, and start to work on that potion again,” Leo said.
“But the spell has a better chance of working,” Gideon said. “It’s the power of three.”
“Yes, but if something goes wrong,” Leo said, “he’ll have extra potion with him, and he can come right back.”
“I agree,” Piper said, effectively putting an end to all arguments. “It sounds safer, so why don’t you guys work on that.”
Chris was willing to do as his parents asked for now, and nodded in agreement. The conversation soon turned to baby Chris and getting the nursery ready, at which point Chris muttered, “I’ve got to get out of here.”
While there was a lull in the conversation, Gideon discretely left and went to his office to confer with the Gideon in the other dimension. Both agreed that it was time to start setting things in motion so that once Piper went into labor, Chris, Leo, Paige, and Phoebe would all be out of the way, allowing both Gideons uninterrupted access to both Wyatts.
# # #
Later that same evening, Paige, Phoebe and Chris finished the potion.
“That should be it,” Paige said, gathering some of the potion into a tiny glass vial.
“Here’s hoping,” Phoebe muttered as she and Chris started filling more of the small vials full of the potion. Soon there were ten vials sitting on the table in the attic of the mansion.
Chris grabbed four of the vials, and said, “You two go get Mom, while I get Dad, and we can meet at magic school to try it out.”
“Not so fast,” Phoebe said, “It’s almost dinner time, and I’m starved. You’ve waited a month already. You can wait another hour.”
Scowling, Chris raised his voice and said, “Dinner? Seriously? You’re worried about your stomach right now? My entire future is at stake, but let’s make sure you get fed first.”
“I’m kind of hungry, too,” Paige said, trying to diffuse the situation.
Phoebe glared at her nephew and simply called out, “Leo!”
“What the hell?” Chris hissed, while glaring right back at his aunt.
“I’ve had more than enough of your attitude, mister!” Phoebe said.
“My attitude?!” Chris yelled. “I sure hope my future Aunt Phoebe isn’t such a…”
“Hey!” Leo’s voice cut Chris off. “I don’t think you’re going to like the consequences if you finish that sentence.”
Chris cringed slightly, and turned to face his father. When he saw the stern look on Leo’s face, Chris crossed his arms, looked at his shoes, and muttered, “I was just gonna say selfish… witch.”
“Yeah, right,” Phoebe said, clearly not believing him. “You may think that I’m a selfish bitch, but…”
“Hey!” Leo said again, but his censure didn’t have any effect on Phoebe.
She continued with, “…I’m not the one who has no consideration for how other people are feeling!”
Chris glared at her over his shoulder and said, “Yeah, well if you think I was going to call you a bitch, then maybe it’s because you were acting like...”
“That’s enough!” Leo said loudly. “From both of you,” he added. He looked at his other sister-in-law and said, “What’s going on, Paige?”
“The potion is done,” she said with a smile, trying to focus on the positive. “Chris wanted to try the spell to send him back right away, but Phoebe wanted to eat first.”
Leo put a hand on Chris’ shoulder to get his attention. Once he had eye contact, he could see the fear and worry behind the kid’s anger. He said softly, “Your mom’s been making a lasagna for the past couple of hours. She’d be pretty disappointed if none of us ate any of it.”
Chris’ shoulders slumped. “Yeah, okay, we’ll eat first.” He glanced at Phoebe and muttered, “Sorry.” He turned back to his father, to see if that would be good enough, but the man still looked displeased. He quickly added, “I didn’t mean it, I’m just worried that I won’t get back home. We should have tried this sooner.”
Leo gently squeezed his shoulder. “No, we needed to put in the time and do the research to make sure we’re doing it right. We’re not going to try something that could get you killed just because you’re impatient.”
With a sigh, Chris nodded.
Leo put his arm around Chris’ shoulders. “Why don’t we all go downstairs and let Piper know the potion is done. Then we can eat while we discuss trying out the spell along with the potion.”
Both women agreed and headed for the door, but when Chris tried to take a step in that direction, Leo tightened the arm across his shoulders. “We’ll be down in a minute,” Leo added, as the women left.
Chris cringed but stayed quiet. He hadn’t gotten spanked since his unfortunate drunken confession a month ago, but Leo had swatted him several different times, and he was pretty sure that almost calling his aunt a bitch was going to be a swatting offence in his father’s opinion.
As the sound of footsteps on the stairs receded, Leo let his arm drop from around Chris’ shoulders, and instead took a firm grip on the kid’s upper arm with one hand, and swatted his rear end twice with the other.
Because he’d been expecting it, Chris’ only reaction was a soft grunt of pain.
“Don’t call your aunt names,” Leo said before putting his arm back around the young man’s shoulders. “I know you’re worried. We’re all worried. And I know we’re running out of time, but you need to have a little faith in your family. We’re going to do everything in our power to get you home.”
“Yeah, I know.” Chris felt too guilty to keep eye contact. He knew they all loved him, and they’d all been working like crazy for the past month to get the spell and the potion right.
“Your mom will never admit to this, but at nine months pregnant, she’s worn out by the time dinner is ready. I don’t want you guys trying out the spell tonight.”
“No.” Leo said with finality. “Piper will have a lot more energy tomorrow morning. All of us will. So when we’re eating dinner, and I suggest trying the spell first thing in the morning, I’d really appreciate it if you could back me up.”
Chris hated it when his father stayed calm and used logic and kindness against him. With a frown, Chris muttered, “Fine.”
Leo pulled him into a quick hug. “Thank you.”
Soon they were downstairs, and eating dinner with their family.
# # #
Bright and early the next morning the entire family gathered at magic school so they could attempt to send Chris back to his own time. Piper was the last to arrive with Gideon after going over the spell one last time.
Piper moved into place alongside her sisters. The three of them stood in a semi circle facing the wall with a triquetra drawn on it. Wyatt was in his stroller next to Phoebe, while Chris and Leo stood together facing the sisters. Gideon stayed unobtrusively off to the side to observe.
“Do you have the potion?” Piper asked, even though she already knew the answer.
Chris pulled two vials out of his pocket to show his mother. “Leo has his, too,” he said as he put them away.
Piper made eye contact with her husband. “You’ll come right back if something isn’t right.”
“You know we will,” he assured her.
Piper looked at her son with tears in her eyes. “I guess this is it then. Time to send you home.”
He didn’t trust himself to respond, but nodded. He forced his eyes away from his mother, and turned to Paige. “Bye, Aunt Paige. Thanks for… well for everything.”
She walked up to him and gave him a hug. “I’m gonna miss you.”
“Hopefully I won’t have time to miss you,” Chris said, “Because I’ll be seeing the older version of you on the other side of that wall.” He let her go, and she stepped back into place.
Chris turned to Phoebe and said with a smirk, “You were the first one to find out about me. Without you being a pain in the butt, Mom and Dad might still be in the dark about me, so… I guess I kind of owe you one.”
“Yeah, I guess you do.” Her voice wavered, and a couple of tears ran down her face as she went to hug him. “Be safe,” she whispered before letting him go.
He looked down at his older baby brother in the stroller, and knelt down so he could be eye to eye. “Be good.” He couldn’t help the desperation in his voice. Wyatt just stared at him solemnly. Chris leaned in and kissed the baby’s forehead. “Bye, Wyatt.”
Unable to avoid it any longer, Chris stood and looked at his mother. “I’ll miss you.” He’d promised himself he wouldn’t cry when it came time to say goodbye to her, but that was a promise he couldn’t keep when he saw the tears rolling down her face.
She stepped over to him, and pulled him down into a tight embrace. “Or, maybe I’ll be on the other side of the wall, too.”
His arms tightened around her, hoping that would be true with every fiber of his being. He didn’t trust himself to speak, but he nodded as he let her go.
Piper stepped back into place by her sisters, wiped at her face, and held the paper with the spell up so that her sisters could see it along with her.
Chris turned to Leo and said, “Ready?”
Leo nodded, turned towards the wall along with Chris, and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Let’s do this.”
The sisters started to chant, and a few seconds later a portal opened up on the wall where the triquetra was drawn. Chris and Leo glanced at each other once, and then moved in unison to walk through it.
# # #
Chris stepped through the portal with Leo hoping to go back to his own time… but instead he ended up in exactly the same time. The sisters were still all standing around, and baby Wyatt was right next to them in his stroller. But the sisters were wearing different clothes. They were all in black instead of their usual bright colors. Chris’ first thought was that maybe someone had died.
“Did we go forward a few days instead of years?” Chris asked, looking to Leo for his opinion.
“What are you guys doing back here?” Piper asked. “And how did you change clothes so fast.”
“Something went wrong,” Leo said. “This isn’t the future, but it isn’t our present either.” He pointed to Piper and said, “That’s not my wife. Her aura is all wrong.”
“T.M.I.” Phoebe said with a grimace.
“Well,” Piper said, “If you’re not my Leo, then where did my Leo go?”
Everyone turned to Gideon, but the man simply shook his head. “I have no idea.”
Chris got the vial of potion out of his pocket, held it up for everyone to see, and said, “So we go back where we came from.”
“Not so fast, mister,” Piper said, physically snatching the potion from his hand. “We need to figure out what’s going on first.”
“Sure seems like Mom to me,” he muttered.
“You shush.” Piper said, and then turned to her sisters. “In fact, all of you shush. This Leo and I are going to talk, while the rest of you keep quiet and listen, so we can figure out what’s going on quickly without too much confusion.” She turned back to Leo and said, “Where were you two trying to go?”
“We’re trying to get Chris back in his own timeline twenty-two years into the future. He came back in time to keep Wyatt from turning evil, and now that…”
Leo stopped mid sentence when the sisters all gasped. “What?”
“To keep Wyatt from turning evil?” Piper asked carefully.
“My Chris is here to make sure Wyatt doesn’t turn good.”
Leo shook his head. “What? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Actually it does.” Gideon spoke up. “It makes perfect sense. Instead of sending Chris and Leo forward in time, you sent them to a parallel universe. One that matches our universe in most ways, except that the forces of good and evil are flipped.”
“This can’t be a world full of evil,” Chris said, “I don’t buy it. You all look too normal to be evil.”
“You be quiet,” Piper said, “Your father and I are talking.”
Chris swallowed at the glare his ‘not’ mother was giving him.
Leo held a hand up and said, “Maybe you should define evil, and see if we’re talking about the same thing.”
“Immoral, wicked, bad, harmful, selfish.”
Leo shook his head. “So you don’t practice magic for the greater good?”
Piper and her sisters laughed. “The greater good?” Piper asked once she was able to speak. “You’ve got to be kidding. Magic wouldn’t even work if we were trying to do something for the greater good.”
“Interesting,” Leo said. “So why do you practice magic?”
“Why wouldn’t we?” Paige muttered.
“I told you to shut it,” Piper said before turning back to Leo. “We practice magic to gain power, money, and fame. If there isn’t some kind of personal gain involved, the magic itself won’t work.”
Leo nodded. “In our world, magic won’t work if there is any kind of personal gain involved. We practice magic to help others.”
Piper shook her head. “That’s crazy.” Then she looked over at her baby, and said, “Let me guess. Grown up Wyatt is an exception to that rule?”
Chris opened his mouth to agree, but thought better of it.
“That’s right.” Leo said. “But we’ve solved the problem back in our universe, so Wyatt will grow up to be on our side, instead of against us.”
“We have too,” Piper said with a smile. She held out the vial she took from Chris and said, “Sounds like we need to get you back home, so we can get our guys back and try getting them home again.”
Leo took the vial from her hand. “I agree. Ready Chris?”
The younger man nodded, wanting nothing more than to get back to his real mother.
Leo tossed the vial against the wall, but nothing happened. The purplish goo slid down the wall, but no portal opened.
“No,” Chris said to himself. “This can’t be happening.” He got out a second vial, and tossed that against the wall also. To his dismay nothing happened. “Why isn’t it working?”
“Because those were made with selfless magic, and only selfish magic works here,” Gideon said.
Leo looked at Piper and said, “If you guys could do the spell again, we’d be happy to get out of your way.”
“I’d advise against that.” Gideon said.
“Why?” Piper asked.
“How do we know there are only two universes?” Gideon said. “What if you send them to three other sisters? Maybe there are an infinite number of parallel universes. How do we know we’re going to get our Chris and Leo home? We need to research this before we try anymore spells.”
“Well that’s just great,” Piper said with exasperation. “I’m ready to pop any minute, and my husband and son are lost in another universe full of good witches doing God knows what to them.”
Chris put a hand on Leo’s shoulder to get his attention, and whispered in his ear. “My birthday is tomorrow. We’re running out of time.”
Piper glared at him, and held up her hands. “What are you whispering about?”
Holding up his hands in a placating gesture, Leo said, “He said his birthday is tomorrow, so whatever we’re going to do, it needs to be done today.”
Piper looked down at her belly and said, “Tomorrow? That’s two weeks early.” She glared at Chris again and said, “Are you lying to me?”
“No.” He moved slightly behind Leo as he answered.
She turned to Leo and added, “I don’t know about your Chris, but our Chris used to lie to us all the time. He’s gotten much better about being honest with us over the past few months, but sometimes I can tell he’s still hiding things.”
Leo pulled Chris to his side, put an arm around his shoulders and said, “Our Chris has been known to lie to us, and he’s withheld information from us, but not for a long time now. He told us his birthday was tomorrow weeks ago, and I don’t believe he’d lie about it.” He turned to the young man in question and added, “Would you son?”
“Of course not!” He said indignantly. “Why do you think I’ve been pushing you all to do this? I don’t know if I can be in the same timeline with my younger self, and I sure as hell don’t want to get somehow combined with baby me. I told you we should have tried this earlier.”
“So he’s pissy and whiney, but honest,” Phoebe said. “I’d rather have the one who lies.”
Chris muttered, “I see you’re a bitch in both worlds.”
“Hey!” Leo reprimanded. “What did I say to you about that? Apologize to your aunt right now.”
“She’s not my aunt!”
“Chris.” The warning in Leo’s tone was clear. He leaned in slightly and whispered, “I will swat you in front of them if you don’t apologize.”
Chris blushed, crossed his arms, and quickly muttered, “I’m sorry, Phoebe. I’m on edge, but I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
Having watched the entire exchange with interest, Piper turned to her family and said, “All of you stay here and start researching other dimensions. I want to talk to this Leo alone. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Dad?” Chris asked uncertainly.
“It’s okay.” Leo said, “I won’t go far. Go help with the research.”
With some grumbling, everyone watched as Leo and Piper left the room.
As soon as the door was shut behind them, Piper said, “This is good enough. The doors are magically soundproof.”
“What did you want to discuss in private?”
“I can tell that you clearly love your family, the same way my Leo loves us. If your Chris is right, and I’m going to go into labor today…” she put a hand on her stomach, and a flash of fear crossed her features. “I’ve had this feeling of dread all day long. If we can’t get my Leo back before it happens, I need you to promise me that you’ll keep them all safe while I’m incapacitated.”
Even with the dark aura pulsing around her, Leo could still feel the pull of family when he looked in her eyes. He clasped her right hand in both of his and said with sincerity, “Of course I will. I’ll do everything in my power to keep them safe. You may not be my Piper, but I’d protect any version of our family.”
She took a deep breath of relief. “Thank you.” She looked back at the door and asked, “How did you get your Chris to be so… honest?”
“With a lot of love, patience, and understanding,” he said, letting go of her hand.
With a scowl she said, “I don’t buy it. We’ve shown him all of those things, and he still lies to us.”
Leo raised an eyebrow. “Wait, I thought you guys were evil? How does love, patience, and understanding fit in with being evil?”
“We’re not evil to each other!” Piper said, looking aghast. “Certainly never to our children.”
“That makes a lot more sense,” he said with a nod. He looked over at the door, knowing Chris probably wouldn’t approve, but he found it difficult to deny Piper in any universe. He looked back at her and said, “Chris doesn’t lie to me because I’d spank him for it.”
She nodded. “My Leo would spank our Chris for lying, too, but it doesn’t always stop him. In fact, my Chris is probably having his bottom roasted right now if your Piper told him Chris’ birthday is tomorrow.”
Leo took Piper’s hand in his once more. “You just have to keep at it, and stay consistent. You said yourself that he’s getting better, right?”
Before she could reply, she gasped and put a hand on her stomach.
Leo put his free hand on her shoulder and said with concern, “What is it?”
She smiled at him, “Baby Chris doesn’t seem to approve of our conversation. That was a fierce little kick.”
He smiled and put a hand on her belly next to hers. “I’m pretty sure adult Chris wouldn’t approve of our conversation either.”
She gripped his hand tightly and said, “You will protect them all if I’m out of commission.”
After taking a deep breath, she nodded and let go of his hand. “Okay then, let’s go back in there, and find out how to get you back home.”
When the two of them went back into the room, Gideon was talking to everyone.
“…several scientific books on alternate dimensions, and he’s proposed many theories on traveling between them.”
Chris caught his dad’s eye and said, “Dad, could you please tell Gideon this is a waste of time.”
“What’s a waste of time?” he asked Gideon.
“I was telling everyone about a professor at Stanford who…”
“A human professor, not a witch,” Chris interrupted to clarify.
Gideon scowled at the young man. “As I was saying, a professor who has written several books on alternate dimensions. I thought it would be a good idea for you and Chris to go speak with him.”
“To what end?” Chris asked.
“He may not be a witch,” Gideon said, “but that doesn’t mean he isn’t knowledgeable. In fact, he’s probably smarter than the lot of us put together. Go have a theoretical conversation with him, and figure out how he would travel to other dimensions, and see if he has any theories for getting to a specific dimension.”
“See,” Chris said to Leo, “a waste of time.”
Leo shook his head. “I’m sorry, Chris, but that actually sounds like a pretty good idea to me.”
Chris rolled his eyes and said, “Not when you hear about Gideon’s other idea.”
Leo looked at the Elder expectantly.
Gideon said, “There’s a witch in Nevada who claims to have traveled to another dimension.”
Chris flung his hand towards Gideon as he said. “Now that’s worth checking out.”
“Yes,” Gideon said with irritation, “Which is why I already said Paige and Phoebe should go and see her.”
“We should all go see her,” Chris said. “She’s a witch who went to another dimension and came back to this one, which is exactly what we want to do.”
“She claims to have done that,” Gideon said, “That doesn’t mean she actually did it. The professor has actually spent years researching the subject.”
Chris looked to his dad for backup, but instead of agreeing, Leo turned his eyes to Piper and said quietly, “I think we should go to both. What do you think?”
Piper nodded. “Both.”
“You’re conferring with evil mom now?” Chris asked.
“Yes,” Leo said sharply, “And I agree with Gideon.”
“You’re the one who keeps telling us we need to hurry,” Leo pointed out. “If we split up, we can check on both leads at the same time.”
“What if Paige and Phoebe lie about what they find out?” Chris asked.
Leo shook his head. “They want their Chris and Leo home just as much as we want to be back in our own dimension.”
Chris crossed his arms and sighed. “Fine.”
Piper gave Leo a look that clearly said she was impressed, and then said, “Wyatt and I will stay here with Gideon to get things ready to make a new potion once you get back.
# # #
Grumbling under his breath, Chris orbed with Leo to one of the bathrooms at Stanford. They quickly found Professor Paulsen’s office which had a list of office hours taped to the door.
“Looks like he’ll be here any minute,” Leo said.
“Good, we can get this over with.”
Leo leaned against the wall. “You’ve been awfully snippy today. Wanna talk about it before you end up taking it a step too far?”
Chris leaned against the opposite wall and shrugged. “I’m not sure talking will help. You know why I’m on edge. One way or another my whole life changes tomorrow, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. All I can do is hope for the best.”
“That’s true, but Chris, life changes permanently for all of us tomorrow, not just for you. But you’re the only one snapping at everyone.”
Blushing, Chris looked at his feet. After a few moments he said, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He made eye contact again. “I’ll stop.”
“Thank you.” Leo walked over to his son and put a hand on his shoulder. “Change doesn’t have to be bad. I have every confidence that we will find a way to get you home, and that it will be a much better home than you left.”
“I hope so,” Chris said with a smile.
A man in his forties came around the bend in the hall, and saw them waiting by the office. He focused on Chris with a scowl and said, “If you’re here to complain about a bad grade, take it up with the administration like everyone else.” The man turned his gaze to Leo and added, “I won’t be intimidated by parents who threaten me.”
Taken aback, Leo said, “My son doesn’t even go to this school.”
The professor’s eyes opened wide, and he suddenly dropped to his knees. “Oh my God, Mr. Halliwell, I didn’t recognize you. Please forgive me!”
Chris and Leo stared at each other in shock for a second.
“Have we met?” Leo asked.
“Get up,” Leo urged gently.
The man jumped to his feet, but kept his head down.
“How do you know me?” Leo asked.
The professor laughed, but then when he saw neither man was laughing with him, he cleared his throat and said, “Everyone knows the Charmed ones are the most dangero… I mean… powerful witches on the planet. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you, but your hair looks so different from all the pictures I’ve seen, and you’re wearing… a pastel blue shirt.”
Chris and Leo exchanged a significant look and Chris said, “Good verses evil. Hidden magic verses public knowledge.”
Leo nodded, and gestured towards the professor’s office. “We’d like to ask you some questions about your theories regarding alternate dimensions.”
The man’s eyes opened wide with shock. “You would?”
Chris nodded when the man looked at him.
“Yes, of course.” The man rushed to open his door, clearly terrified and willing to say anything to appease them. “It would be an honor to speak with you.”
# # #
While Chris and Leo were busy with the professor, Gideon was busy making plans. He’d made an excuse about getting more ingredients, and scurried off to his office to speak with his counterpart.
He pulled the curtain away from the mirror and said, “It’s time.”
“I agree,” evil Gideon said.
“Did you get the professor’s office warded so Leo and Chris won’t be able to hear or feel either version of Piper?”
“Yes,” evil Gideon answered. “Did you warn the dimension traveling witch that the Charmed Ones were after her?”
“She’s set a trap that should keep Paige and Phoebe busy for hours.”
The Gideons nodded at each other, and smiled.
Evil Gideon said, “All that’s left is to induce Piper’s labor with the tea.”
“And get Wyatt alone,” they said in unison.
They both covered the mirror back up, and went to make Piper some tea.
# # #
Half an hour later, evil Piper put a hand on her stomach and winced again as another contraction wracked her body.
“Are you okay?”
“Just a contraction. No need to worry, these things take a while to really get going.”
“Piper,” Gideon said with concern. “It’s past noon. If Chris’ birthday really is tomorrow, and you’re having contractions… you should probably go to the hospital.”
Nodding, Piper said, “You’re right.” She looked up at the ceiling and said, “Leo.” When he didn’t show up, she muttered, “That’s weird.” She turned to Gideon and asked, “Do you think this Leo can sense me?”
“I would assume yes, but this situation is unprecedented, so there are no guarantees.”
Piper called louder, “Leo? Chris? It’s time to take me to the hospital.” When no one answered, she frowned at Gideon. “I think something’s wrong. Can you sense them?”
Gideon closed his eyes for a moment, and then shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“No,” Piper shook her head, and stood up. “This can’t be happening. I can’t do this on my own! Leo! Christopher! Paige! Anybody!”
Gideon stood and patted Piper’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. I’ll orb you to the hospital, and I’ll find Leo, Chris and your sisters.”
“But what about Wyatt?” Piper asked, looking over at the playpen where her toddler was sleeping.
“I’ll take him down to the daycare here at magic school as soon as I get you to the hospital. He’s asleep, and I’ll be gone for less than a minute.”
Piper shook her head. “Take him there first. I’ll be fine for a few minutes.”
Gideon hesitated, but then touched the sleeping child, and orbed away. Instead of orbing to the daycare, he orbed the child to the couch in his own office. Wyatt slept through the move. Grateful that things seemed to be working, he rushed back to Piper, told her that her child was at daycare, and orbed her to the hospital.
By the time Gideon got back to his office Wyatt was awake and calling for his mother. When he saw Gideon, the child quieted down. Gideon smiled and talked calmly to the little creature that should have never been allowed to exist, and slowly pulled a magical dagger out of his desk drawer. As soon as he started walking towards Wyatt with the dagger in hand, and a smile on his face, Wyatt’s protective bubble came up.
Gideon’s fake smile turned into a grin. “Good, we understand each other.” He got closer to the child and said, “Your magic won’t protect you for long.” He tried to push the dagger through the bubble, but Wyatt’s protection was stronger than expected, and Gideon found himself lying on the floor a few feet away. He got back up, and walked towards the child with menace in his eyes, but before he could try the dagger again, Wyatt orbed.
“Clever,” he muttered, and orbed after the toddler.
# # #
After listening to the professor for two hours, Chris had to begrudgingly admit the man had several good ideas for traveling to other dimensions. Since magic was known in this world, the man’s theories took that into consideration, which made it more valuable than it would have been in their world.
Once they had a solid idea to try, Leo thanked the professor for his time, and stepped out into the hall. The instant he stepped over the threshold of the professor’s office, he knew Piper was in pain. He put a hand on his stomach, and turned to look at Chris.
Chris raised an eyebrow in question, which quickly turned into a frown as he stepped into the hall with his father.
“Mom,” he said. “No… not my mom, she feels different. It’s evil Mom. She’s in labor.”
Leo glared back at the professor. “What did you do?”
“Nothing!” The man held his hands up in surrender. “I swear!”
Leo stepped back into the room, and he couldn’t sense Piper anymore. He jabbed a finger at the professor and said, “If I find out you had anything to do with this, I will hunt you down.”
The man’s face grew pale, and he appeared to be paralyzed with fear.
Leo stalked out of the office, put a hand on Chris, and orbed them both to Piper’s location. The two men found themselves in a hospital room.
“Leo! There you are.” Piper said, holding out a hand to him, and the other to Chris. “I wasn’t sure if you guys could sense me the way my Leo and Chris do.”
Leo clasped her hand, and said, “We can, but when we were in the professor’s office, we couldn’t.”
Chris held Piper’s other hand and said, “Someone sabotaged the office to keep us away from you.”
“What?” She let go of their hands and struggled to sit up all the way. “Who?” she asked as she swung her legs off the side of the bed. Before she could stand, another contraction hit, and she was forced to remain still until it passed.
Leo stepped in front of her and said firmly, “Piper, you need to stay here.” He gently raised her legs and eased her back onto the bed.
“Paige and Phoebe never came back,” she protested weakly. “What if they’re in danger? Gideon was supposed to go look for all of you, but he never came back either.”
“I promised you I’d look after everyone, and I meant it. Chris can stay here with you, and I’ll…”
“Dad,” Chris interrupted, “I can’t sense Wyatt.”
Leo closed his eyes for a second and then held Piper’s hand again. “Where’s Wyatt?”
“Gideon took him to daycare for me. Oh my God, is he not there? Leo you have to find him!” Piper said in a panic.
He squeezed her hand. “Promise me that you’ll stay here, no matter what, and I will.”
She nodded. “I promise.”
He kissed her forehead. “We’ll be back as soon as we have information.” He looked at Chris and said, “Let’s find Gideon first.”
Chris nodded, and the two of them orbed to magic school.
# # #
For an hour Gideon chased Wyatt as the child orbed away from him repeatedly. He’d get a fix on Wyatt’s location, orb to the child, and then get a few words out before Wyatt orbed away again. Figuring the child would get tired well before he did, Gideon simply followed him to the next place again and again. But soon it became clear that Wyatt wasn’t going to slow down or stop any time soon, and that was precious time that Gideon knew he didn’t have. The good versions of Chris and Leo would be out of the professor’s office any time, and there was no guarantee that Phoebe and Paige would remain trapped for more than a couple of hours.
Frustrated, Gideon stopped chasing after Wyatt and orbed back to talk to his counterpart in the office.
“We need help,” they said in unison.
“But who?” good Gideon asked.
After a few seconds of thought, a smile grew on evil Gideon’s face. “Barbus, the demon of hope.”
“The demon of fear in my world,” good Gideon said with a smile of his own. “He didn’t disapprove of our idea.” Then he frowned. “But how would that help? The child will simply orb away from him as well.”
Evil Gideon shook his head. “He can show the child something even more horrific than me, leading the monstrosity into my arms.”
Nodding, good Gideon said, “Once we have him, we should orb him to the underworld before trying the dagger again. He’s too little to orb back to the surface, so he’ll be trapped with us, and his family won’t be able to sense him down there.”
With a grin, evil Gideon said, “You truly do belong in our world.”
“I’m not evil,” good Gideon hissed, “Getting rid of this child isn’t an evil act, it’s ridding the world of a terrible fate.”
Evil Gideon rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue. “To the underworld then.”
It took almost no convincing to get Barbus on Gideon’s side, and soon Barbus was playing with Wyatt’s mind, showing him horrific and frightening images, which left the child confused, distraught, and vulnerable.
Gideon quickly snatched up the weeping child, and orbed them to the underworld just before Wyatt’s protective bubble tossed the man off him. Then the chase was on again, but no matter where the toddler orbed, he was confronted with monsters and demons that tried to attack him along with Gideon.
# # #
Leo and Chris orbed into the magic school library. He called out to Gideon, but the man wasn’t there.
“I’ll check his office, you check the daycare,” Chris said.
With a nod Leo orbed to the daycare, while Chris orbed to Gideon’s office. He found the office empty, and started rifling through the desk for clues to the Elder’s whereabouts.
A few seconds later Leo orbed into Gideon’s office also and said, “Wyatt’s not in day care, they haven’t seen him all day.”
Both Chris and Leo heard what sounded like an echo in the room, and turned towards a large curtain against the wall.
“Did you hear an echo?” Chris asked, as it happened again.
Leo nodded solemnly, while putting a finger to his lips in a gesture for Chris to be quiet. Leo crept towards the curtain, and Chris followed suit. Soon they were both holding an edge of the curtain, and when Leo nodded, they flipped the curtain out of the way.
Both Leo and Chris stepped back in shock, when they saw strange images of themselves through a large mirror. The other Chris and Leo were wearing dark colors, and their hairstyles were very different, but their faces were unmistakable.
“What the hell?” both Chrises said at the same time.
Both Leos cocked their heads to the side and said, “Are you our counterparts?”
“They’re in our world?” the Chrises asked.
Good Leo raised his hand and evil Leo nodded, gesturing towards him. Good Leo said, “We are originally from a dimension where people strive to be good, and we went through a portal to a dimension where people strive to be bad. Are you two originally from here?”
“Yes,” evil Leo said. “Your Piper is in labor. Is mine?”
“Yes,” good Leo said. “Are the sisters missing along with Wyatt, and Gideon?”
“Bastard!” both of the Chrises exclaimed.
“What?” Both Leos asked.
“Don’t you see?” the Chrises said, and then gave each other an annoyed glare. Good Chris gestured for evil Chris to talk. “This mirror is proof that Gideon is behind all of this. He sent us to the professor. He had the room sabotaged. He sent the sisters into who knows what kind of trap, and he has Wyatt.”
The Leos looked at each other with confusion. “But why?”
“Who cares?” the Chrises said. “We need to find him, and stop him.”
Evil Leo raised his hand, and good Leo nodded. “The Elders warned me before Wyatt was born. They said Piper and I shouldn’t have kids together, because they would be too powerful, and it would upset the balance. Maybe Gideon still feels that way.”
“This is the event,” both Chrises said. Evil Chris gestured to good Chris, who said, “This is what turns Wyatt evil. Imagine a family friend, someone Wyatt has trusted since birth, suddenly trying to hurt him when his family isn’t around. Wyatt isn’t that easy to kill, because of his bubble, and his ability to orb, so Gideon needs time.”
The Leos nodded as that idea percolated in their heads.
Good Chris continued, “Days or weeks of being chased and attacked again and again by a trusted adult would be enough to twist anyone’s perception of reality. It would leave him unable to trust what any authority figure tells him. Turning our Wyatt evil.”
“And my Wyatt good,” evil Leo added.
“We need a plan,” evil Chris said. “We need to rescue the sisters, save Wyatt, kill Gideon, get back to our own dimensions, and get me home to my time.”
“And get back to Piper,” both Leos added.
Good Chris looked at evil Chris and said, “We should start in the underworld. Maybe we can’t sense Wyatt because he’s down there.”
Evil Chris nodded and said to his Leo, “While we do that, you guys should go get Phoebe and Paige, and then bring them to the underworld. Hopefully by the time you get there I’ll know where Wyatt is, and we can attack Gideon together.”
“No,” both Leos said in unison. Evil Leo said, “The sisters can take care of themselves. Wyatt is the priority. You and I will go to the underworld together.”
Both Chrises shook their heads. Good Chris said, “We might need Phoebe and Paige to help defeat Gideon. It’s a much smarter move to have one of us get them, while the other goes to the underworld. I can go get the sisters while you go to the underworld.”
“No,” both Leos said again. Good Leo gestured to his counterpart and said, “We’re still Elders, which means we have all the power we need to take care of Gideon by ourselves, but you’ll need to protect Wyatt while we do that, so we all go look for Wyatt.”
Evil Leo raised an eyebrow and asked his counterpart, “What exactly do you mean by ‘take care of Gideon’?”
“You know what I mean.”
Evil Leo nodded in approval.
Good Chris’ eyebrows went up in shock. “You’re going to kill him?”
Leo put a hand on his son’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. “If he’s trying to kill Wyatt, then Gideon isn’t working for the greater good, he’s working for evil.”
Chris slowly nodded in agreement, but then said, “If you and Gideon are both Elders, you have the same powers, and if I’m busy protecting Wyatt, I’m not going to be much help. We need Phoebe and Paige there to help.”
Evil Chris nodded. “Exactly. We get the sisters while you find Wyatt, and then we all work together to kill Gideon.”
Both Leos shook their heads. “I said no.”
Evil Chris looked at his Leo with a scowl and said, “My plan is better.”
“You already got spanked once today, Christopher” evil Leo said, “Do you want to make it twice?”
“No,” evil Chris muttered, turning bright red.
Good Chris blushed also, just from hearing the threat.
“So tell me you’re going to follow my plan,” evil Leo said.
Evil Chris crossed his arms and said with a scowl, “I’ll follow your plan.”
“How about you, Chris?” good Leo asked. “Are you going to follow my plan?”
“Yes, Dad,” good Chris said with a sigh.
The two Leos looked at each other and good Leo said, “We find Wyatt, and then meet back here.”
“Agreed,” evil Leo said.
# # #
The instant good Leo and Chris orbed to the underworld they could both sense the evil dimension’s version of Wyatt and Gideon. Leo put a hand over his chest as he felt Wyatt’s mental anguish and whispered, “He’s terrified.”
Chris nodded. “And Gideon is anxious. He can probably sense us down here.”
“He can, but that doesn’t mean he will. He’s focused on Wyatt, not us.”
Both of them turned their heads in the opposite direction. “He orbed,” Leo said.
“Try calling to him,” Chris said.
“Wyatt,” Leo called out while closing his eyes and focusing his energy towards the child’s location. “Come to Daddy, Wyatt.”
A few seconds later, Leo opened his eyes and shook his head. “I doubt he’ll come to me, he’ll know I’m not his Leo, and who knows what kind of things he’s encountered down here.”
Chris nodded and said, “We’ll have to go to him.”
“I agree.” Leo looked Chris up and down once and said, “I’ll distract Gideon, while you get Wyatt.”
“Why me? I could distract Gideon and you could grab Wyatt. He’s more likely to go to you.”
Leo shook his head. “Wyatt has known his father since birth, and I’m sure that Leo has been a daily caretaker just like I was. You’ve only been around for a year and you generally don’t do diaper changes, feeding, or bathing. Plus after the age of fourteen you lived in an evil world. You fit in with the evil world just as well as you fit in with the good one. Your aura has the same murky quality as your evil counterpart, unlike the sisters who had very different auras from their counterparts. I think he’ll trust you before he trusts me.”
Not sure if he should be offended or not, Chris simply nodded and said, “Okay. You orb to Gideon, confront him, and I’ll count to ten before orbing to Wyatt.”
“Once you get him, orb back to Gideon’s office.”
“You won’t attack Gideon on your own, right?” Chris asked. “You need backup before you try to kill him.”
“As soon as I sense the two of you have left the underworld, I’ll orb to Gideon’s office. I doubt he’ll follow me, at least not right away. He’ll need to concoct a new plan once he realizes Wyatt isn’t alone anymore.”
“Okay,” Chris said, “Let’s do this.”
Leo orbed away, and Chris counted to ten in his head, before focusing on his baby brother. He orbed to the little boy, only to find him crying loudly surrounded by three men. They were wearing pastel colors, and their eyes were all white, but they were trying to stab through Wyatt’s protective bubble.
“We need to kill the evil being!” the tallest man said, as he tried to plunge his knife into the bubble.
Wyatt wailed even louder, as the man was tossed away by the bubble. Chris could clearly see that the toddler was straining under the continued attacks. Seeing red, Chris held his hand up and used his telekinesis to take control of the men’s knives, and plunged them into the ‘good’ demons’ hearts.
Once the men were all lying dead, Wyatt’s bubble went away. The toddler looked at Chris, and immediately ran towards him calling out, “Iis! Iis!”
Chris swooped up the little boy into his arms, held him close, and orbed them to Gideon’s office.
For the next several seconds, Chris paced around the room, trying to comfort a distraught Wyatt. He could see his counterpart in the mirror doing the same, but Wyatt was too busy crying, and leaning his head against his brother to notice. Chris rubbed his hand up and down the boy’s back and muttered soothing words like, “It’s okay, Wyatt. It’s over now. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
Leo orbed in about one minute after Chris. Wyatt saw him and screamed. Wyatt’s bubble circled around both him and Chris to protect them, while the baby yelled, “No!”
Chris turned around so that baby Wyatt was facing the mirror, and said quickly, “It’s okay, Wyatt, look. Your dad is right over there.”
The bubble went away, and Wyatt yelled, “Dada!” as he struggled to get down out of Chris’ arms.
Good Leo could see his Wyatt doing the exact same thing, and both Leos walked to the mirror. “Bring him over here Chris,” they said in unison.
Both Chrises quickly took the struggling Wyatts over to the mirror. Both Leos went to put their hands on the mirror to comfort their respective Wyatts, and to everyone’s shock, their hands went straight through.
“It can’t be that easy,” Both Leos said, as they stepped right through the mirror with shock on their faces. Both Chrises handed over the Wyatts, to their real fathers, who hugged the babies close.
The Chrises grinned at each other, and went to step through the mirror, but the two Leos stopped them with a hand to their arm.
“Thank you, for saving my son,” the Leos said in unison.
“Wyatt is my brother in any dimension,” the Chrises said before stepping through the mirror into their own worlds.
“Now that we’re all back in our correct dimensions, should we destroy the mirror?” evil Chris asked.
The Leos looked at each other and nodded. Good Leo said, “Both Gideons probably feed off their counterparts. If we cut them off from each other, they won’t be as powerful.”
Evil Leo nodded. “I agree. Now that we’re in our respective dimensions, we destroy it together, so Gideon can’t consult with himself.”
The Leos looked at the Chrises and said in unison, “Can you think of any reason why we shouldn’t destroy it?”
Both younger men shook their heads.
Both Leos stepped to the side of the mirror, and held up their hands. “Good luck,” they said to their counterparts, before little bolts of lightening shot out of their hands to break the mirror’s frame. The glass shattered, and when the pieces fell to the ground, they turned black, reflecting nothing.
“What now?” Chris asked.
“We go to free Phoebe and Paige. I’ll stay back with Wyatt while you save them, but I’ll be there to help if things so south.”
The three of them orbed to the address where Gideon had sent Phoebe and Paige earlier that day. The address turned out to be a normal looking house in a suburban neighborhood. As Chris walked up the steps to look in a window, both Phoebe and Paige came rushing out the front door. Both sisters looked disheveled with black smudges on their clothes and skin.
“Chris?” Phoebe said. “Are you our Chris?”“I am. Are you guys okay?” Chris asked.
“We are now,” Paige said. “What happened to evil Chris and Leo?”
“It’s a long story, but…” Chris gestured to Leo and Wyatt, and said, “…basically we’re all back in our own dimensions.”
“Piper’s in labor,” Leo said, “And Gideon tried to kill Wyatt.”
“What!?” both sisters yelled.
“Let’s go home, where we can talk,” Leo said.
Chris held his hand out for Phoebe, and they all orbed to the living room of the manor.
# # #
Half an hour later, everyone was standing around Piper’s hospital bed, apprising her of the situation.
Once everyone was done with their explanations, Piper said, “If Gideon was behind this all along, that means our original potion to get Chris home probably works.”
Chris smiled and said, “I bet you’re right.” He dug a vial out of his pocket and held it up for his mom to see. “My ticket home once everything is settled here.”
She smiled back, but then looked at her husband. “You’ll still go with him to check it out, right?”
He pulled a vial out of his pocket also. “I will.”
“Good,” Chris said, and stuck the vial back in his pocket. “Now that that’s settled, what’s our next move?”
Piper whimpered, held her stomach, and started breathing hard. Leo shifted Wyatt to his other hip, clasped his wife’s hand in his and gently talked her though the contraction. Once her breathing went back to normal, Leo looked at the members of his family and said, “I want to stay here with Piper…” She shook her head and opened her mouth to protest, but Leo beat her to it. “…but I’m the only one who can actually kill Gideon, and he has to be stopped today.”
He turned to Phoebe and said, “Will you stay with Piper?”
“Of course,” Phoebe said, moving to stand beside her sister, and clasping her hand in comfort.
Leo looked at Paige and then Chris. “The rest of us will go back to the manor and set up some protective wards. Then Paige and I will hunt down Gideon while Chris stays with Wyatt in the manor.”
“Why can’t Paige stay with Wyatt?” Chris asked. “I’ve been practicing witchcraft a lot longer than her, I’ll be much more useful in a fight.” He turned to Paige and hastily added, “No offence Aunt Paige.”
“None taken,” she said, “You’re right.”
Leo said, “You are better in a fight, son, that’s why I need you to stay with Wyatt and protect him. I don’t think Gideon is going to put up much of a fight once I confront him, but how many demons saw Wyatt in the underworld today? Any number of things could try to attack him while I’m busy.”
Chris didn’t like it, but he did see his father’s logic, and nodded in agreement.
Fifteen minutes later, Paige, Leo, and Chris had finished warding the manor. During the process, Wyatt had been clingy, refusing to let Leo out of his sight. When Leo tried handing the child over to Chris, Wyatt whined, “No.”
Leo gave Wyatt a kiss on the top of the head and said, “Daddy has to go. You’ll be safe with Chris.”
“No.” Wyatt grabbed Leo’s shirt and held on tight.
“Hey Wyatt?” Chris said.
The little boy looked at him warily.
“Gideon is bad, right?”
“Gee Bad!” Wyatt agreed.
“That’s right, and we don’t ever want to see him again, do we?” Chris said.
“Dad and Aunt Paige have to go stop Gideon, so he never comes back.”
Wyatt’s face scrunched up in thought, before shaking his head again and saying, “No.”
Leo chuckled, and said, “Nice try, Chris, but two-year-olds don’t do logic.” He looked at Wyatt and said firmly, “You’re going to stay with Chris.”
“No,” Wyatt whined.
“Yes, Wyatt.” Leo said as he handed the boy over to Chris.
Wyatt’s chin wobbled as he held out both hands to Leo and said, “Dada.”
Ignoring the child with some effort, Leo looked at his older son and said, “If anything or anyone attacks, you and Wyatt orb to me.”
Chris scowled. “But I thought the whole reason you wanted me here was so that I could fight off whatever came for Wyatt.”
Leo shook his head. “I need you here in case things go badly and fighting is the only option you have left, but if you’re able to orb away with Wyatt, then that’s what you do. Absolutely, positively no heroics.”
“I’ve killed hundreds of demons, Dad, I wouldn’t call killing a few more heroics.”
“Chris,” Leo said sternly, “I mean it. You do not engage the enemy if you’re able to run. Have I made myself clear?”
After heaving a huge sigh, Chris said, “Fine, yes, you’ve made yourself clear. I don’t fight, I run.”
“Thank you.” Leo looked at Paige and said, “I still can’t sense Gideon, so let’s start in the underworld.”
She nodded and the two of them orbed away.
Chris muttered to Wyatt, “I’m not two.”
“Oo?” Wyatt asked.
“Exactly. Wyatt is two. Chris isn’t two.” He glared over at the spot Leo had been standing and added, “And yet we both get the same flat out ‘no’ from Dad.” He shook his head and gave his brother a tired smile. “How about a snack?”
Wyatt nodded, and Chris carried him to the kitchen.
# # #
Half an hour later, Wyatt was on the living room floor playing with blocks, while Chris sat on the couch watching him. Chris had been monitoring his senses, tracking his father and his aunt when he could. They’d been in and out of the underworld several times searching for Gideon without any success. Chris had also kept his senses open to search for Gideon’s essence, but hadn’t felt him once since being left at the manor.
Wyatt walked over to Chris holding a couple of blocks, leaned against his brother’s leg and held a block up to him. “Iis?”
“No, I don’t want to play blocks right now.”
“Iis.” Wyatt said, tapping the block against his brother’s thigh.
With a sigh, Chris said, “Fine,” and held out his hand for the block.
“Giving in to your brother’s demands as usual, I see.” Gideon’s voice said from across the room.
Wyatt’s protective bubble circled both him and Chris.
Chris picked up Wyatt and held him close. He stared at Gideon with shock and horror when he realized he still couldn’t sense the man. That meant Gideon was using some kind of blocking spell or power to prevent it, which meant Leo would never be able to find him.
Making a snap decision, Chris set his brother on the couch next to him, and whispered in his ear urgently, “Orb to Daddy and Aunt Paige. They’re at magic school.”
Wyatt looked up at Chris with confusion.
Chris raised his voice and tried to use the same tone Leo used when he was displeased. “Orb right now, Wyatt.”
The little boy orbed, taking his protective bubble with him.
“Smart,” Gideon said, before taking the dagger out of his black robes. “Or was it?”
Chris stood, held out his hand, and orbed his brother’s sword, Excalibur, into his waiting palm. The two men circled each other for a few seconds, before Gideon rushed towards the younger man with his dagger in the air.
Chris held his ground, and kept the sword mid level in front of his body. To his shock, Gideon ran directly into the blade, impaling himself on it as the sword went through his stomach, and out his back.
Once the two men were basically eye to eye, Gideon smiled, stabbed the dagger into Chris’ stomach, and said, “I’m an elder, stupid boy. I can heal myself.”
Chris had been stabbed and healed too many times to count, but nothing compared to the burning pain he was experiencing right now. It radiated from his wound, all throughout his body in waves.
Gideon twisted the dagger, and shoved it farther in.
Chris cried out in anguish, and grabbed Gideon’s shoulder to keep himself upright.
Gideon, pulled the dagger out and said, “Even if you could heal yourself, which you can’t, the magic surrounding the dagger wouldn’t let you.”
Chris put his hand over the bloody hole in his stomach, and staggered backwards. He groaned and fell to the floor.
Gideon pulled the sword out of his own stomach while yelling in pain, and then let it clatter to the ground.
Leo, Paige, and Wyatt orbed into the living room in that moment.
Gideon orbed away.
“Chris!” Leo said, handing Wyatt to Paige, and rushing towards his son. He held his hands above Chris’ wound and a healing white light came out of them. A few seconds later, when the wound didn’t heal, Leo put even more effort and concentration into his powers.
“I’m sorry,” Chris wheezed. “I was trying to keep him here for you.”
“It’s okay, son, don’t try to talk,” Leo said without taking his eyes off the wound he was trying to heal.
Chris put a bloody hand on his dad’s shoulder. “Won’t heal.”
Leo’s eyes snapped to Chris’.
“Magical dagger,” Chris said, panting in pain. “Won’t heal.” A tear slid down his face.
Leo, put his hand on Chris’ face, and wiped away the tear. He said gently, “It’s gonna be okay, son, we’ll find a way to heal this.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t orb.” Chris said, more tears pooling in his eyes.
Leo kissed his son’s forehead, “Don’t worry about that right now.” He looked at Paige and said, “Bring Wyatt over here. We’ll try to heal him together.”
Chris gripped his father’s shoulder tighter and said, “I disobeyed you.”
Leo put a hand on Chris’ shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Chris, I’m not mad. I forgive you.”
Relaxing marginally, Chris nodded, and then whispered pitifully, “Hurts.”
Paige and Wyatt were kneeling on the other side of Chris by this time, and all three of them held their hands over Chris at the same time to heal the wound. But the wound didn’t heal. Chris’ blood continued to seep out, soaking the carpet around him. He lost consciousness, and his pulse weakened.
“Come on!” Leo shouted, and tried to heal him again.
Paige put a hand on Leo’s hand to stop him, and said with tears running down her face, “It’s not working, Leo. He’s gone.”
“No.” Leo said desperately, and leaned his head down on his son’s chest. “No, no, no, I can’t lose you.” Leo reached up to cup his son’s face, but as he touched him, Chris disappeared.
“No!” Leo’s hands grasped the floor where his son had been, and tried to sense him, but couldn’t. He could however finally sense Gideon, because the man was busy healing himself.
“Take Wyatt to Piper,” Leo snapped at Paige before orbing to Gideon’s office to confront the man.
A primal yell came out of Leo and lightening bolts shot from his fingertips the instant he saw Gideon sitting behind his desk.
Gideon screamed with shock and pain as the lightening coursed through is body. His body jerked and twisted with each new jolt of lightening, and eventually his eyes rolled back.
Leo stopped using his powers, and let his hands drop to his sides. Gideon slumped back into his chair, not moving. For a few moments the only sounds in the room were Leo’s breathing, and a slight sizzling sound coming from Gideon’s body.
Then Gideon’s eyes opened slowly, and a wheezing breath came out of him. He looked up at Leo and said, “I did it for the greater good.”
Leo nodded and said, “Me too,” before lifting his hands, and shooting more lightening into the man who’d tried to kill both of his children. He could sense it the instant Gideon’s essence left his body, and stopped using his power. Once it was over, he took a deep breath, walked over to the body, and searched it for the magical dagger that had killed Chris. After finding it, he put it in his pocket, and then orbed to his wife’s side at the hospital.
His entire family was in the recovery room standing around Piper, and there in her arms was infant Chris. She held him out to Leo, and as he carefully took his baby into his arms, he said gently, “I’m going to fix this. I promise you I’m going to fix this.”
# # #
Chris could see himself down on the floor of the manor. He could see Leo leaning over him and crying. Chris knew he was dying. He seemed to be floating above it all. Then his body started to vanish. Suddenly his body was back in the living room, but he was on the couch and his father wasn’t holding him anymore. Several people were standing around him, including his aunts and his parents, but they all looked different. Then he saw a white light up above him. He started heading for the light. Before he could reach it, he felt himself being pulled down, and soon he was plunged into darkness.
# # #
Chris hurt all over, with especially severe pain in his stomach. His eyes fluttered open and he could see Phoebe sitting beside him reading a book. She looked over at him and gave him a smile. He closed his eyes again. When he opened them again, the room was dark instead of sunny. He saw someone sleeping in the chair beside him, but it was too dark to see who it was. The pain in his stomach was slightly less overwhelming. He moaned, and Piper sat up in the chair.
“Chris?” she said.
“Mom?” Chris’ voice was raspy and his throat hurt.
Piper got a glass of water off the nightstand and helped Chris sit up to have a drink. As Chris sat up, sharp pain shot through his abdomen. After he had a few sips he lay back down exhausted. He croaked out, “Have to pee.”
Chris felt the covers being pulled off and opened his eyes. He could barely make out the outline of his mom holding a bedpan. He shook his head and got out the words, “No. No freaking way.”
Piper sighed. “Want your dad to help you instead?”
“Hold on,” she said.
Piper left the room, and a few minutes later Leo arrived. Chris let Leo help him while he kept his eyes shut tight, and tried to pretend this wasn’t happening to him. When he was done he fell asleep immediately.
# # #
He opened his eyes again to sunlight, and saw himself across the room talking to Leo. Him across the room sounded snide. “I don’t see why I have to help watch him, it doesn’t even look like he’s gonna make it.”
Leo’s hand snaked out and swatted the other Chris. Him across the room said, “Hey! What’s with all the hitting lately?!”
Chris could tell Leo was in lecture mode when he said, “If it weren’t for him, none of us would be here Chris. You need to keep that in mind when you…”
Chris was distracted from the surreal experience of watching himself get chewed out when he felt someone touch his arm. He looked up and saw a familiar young man, but couldn’t place him. The man smiled and leaned down to whisper, “Are you as stubborn as you? Dad’s already given him the same lecture like five times, and he still hasn’t gotten it.”
Chris realized with terror that it was Wyatt, but Wyatt looked completely different. His hair was short, and his face looked strange. Wyatt smiled down at him and reached out to touch his shoulder. Chris cringed away and tried to move off the bed quickly. This brought on fresh pain in his stomach and he groaned as he tried to crawl away.
Leo was at his side in an instant, and put a hand on Chris’ shoulder. “Hey Chris, it’s okay. Wyatt isn’t going to hurt you. Lay back down and rest. Wyatt, hand me the water.”
Chris looked over at Wyatt, and saw an expression he didn’t recognize on his brother. On anyone else he would have called it sorrow or maybe regret, but Wyatt didn’t ever feel either of those emotions. Wyatt reached over and handed the glass to Leo. Leo held it for Chris while he had a few sips. Chris gave Wyatt a wary look. Leo nodded his head towards the door, and Wyatt headed towards it with a sigh.
Leaning down towards Chris, Leo said, “Close your eyes and rest son. I’ll be here watching you.”
Chris stayed awake long enough to make sure Wyatt left the room, and then let himself slip back into sleep.
# # #
The next time he opened his eyes it was dark again, but there was a small night light on. Chris looked over at the chair beside him, and saw himself staring back. Chris in the chair said, “Hey.”
Chris on the bed said, “Hey.”
They looked at each other for a few seconds. Chris on the bed thought Chris in the chair had a much better haircut then he had ever had. Chris in the bed asked, “Am I alive?”
Chris in the chair said, “You seem a little slow. I hope you didn’t get brain damage while you were out or something.”
Chris in the chair rolled his eyes and said, “No you’re not dead. You’re back in the year 2027. But you changed things, and consequently I never went back in time. So now there are two of us, and that’s a problem.”
“Two of us?”
“But how did I get here? I thought I was dead in 2004.”
“Well technically, you were almost dead. And lucky for you, it was on our twenty-third birthday, so it was an easy day to remember. Mom, Phoebe, and Paige summoned you with some help from Wyatt and a few other witches. They had lots of time to work out a way to heal you, and… here you are.”
“Mom? Mom’s here?”
Chris in the chair nodded solemnly. Chris in the bed couldn’t help but cry as he said it as a statement, “Mom’s here.”
Chris in the chair shifted uncomfortably and said, “You want me to get her or something? Maybe Dad?”
Chris in the chair had heard what life had been like for his other self and was serious when he said, “We’re all here. Even Wyatt, who may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but he’s a good brother, and a pretty nice guy. He is in no way evil.”
Chris on the bed shook his head with wonder. It was everything he had ever hoped for. More then he had ever hoped he would be able to accomplish when he went back in time. Then he looked over at himself and said, “What now?”
“I’ll let Dad explain that one to you. Are you hungry? It’s been a couple of days, and no offence, but you look really thin compared to me.”
“Yeah, I could eat.”
“Be right back.”
Chris in the chair orbed away. Chris wiped his eyes and contemplated everything he had heard. Five minutes later there was a soft knock on the door, and Leo came in holding a bowl. Leo said, “I heard you were awake, and ready to eat.”
Chris nodded and took a good look at his dad. Chris realized his father appeared much older than the last time he’d seen him, and wondered how he hadn’t noticed that the last time his eyes were open. He said, “Dad? You look so…”
Leo smiled. “Old?” he asked.
Chris nodded. Leo sat on the chair and said, “In your original timeline I was still a whitelighter, and looked the same age the whole time you knew me. I’ve been human for the past twenty-two years. Aging has its bad moments, but all in all, I think it’s nice.”
“Let’s get you sitting up, and see if you can keep this down.”
Leo put some pillows behind Chris and helped him sit. Chris felt some pain in his stomach, but it wasn’t anywhere near the crippling pain he’d experienced before. He lifted his shirt, and saw a large bandage covering his wound. “Why am I at home?”
“Your mom and aunts summoned you.”
“Yeah, I know. I mean why not in a hospital.”
Leo sighed, “Your wound was caused by magic. Nothing a doctor could do would heal you. We thought you’d have a better chance here at home.”
Leo held up the bowl to Chris. He took it and ate a few bites of the vegetable soup before asking, “What do we do now? I mean with two of me here?”
Leo shook his head. “You just concentrate on getting better for now. It’s going to be at least two weeks before we can even think about anything else.”
Chris nodded and ate some more. Then he looked his father in the eye and said, “Mom’s really here?”
“I’ll go get her.”
Chris looked at the glowing alarm clock that said it was three a.m. “No, that’s okay,” he said, “I’ll see her in the morning.”
Leo nodded. When about two thirds of the soup was gone Chris handed it back and sighed. Leo said, “Do you need to use the bathroom? I think you’re well enough that I could help you walk down the hall.”
Chris nodded. By the time Leo helped him back into his bed, Chris was exhausted, and fell right to sleep.
# # #
The next day when Chris opened his eyes he could tell from the light coming in the window that it was most likely afternoon. He glanced over and saw the other him, and Wyatt sitting at a small table playing checkers. Chris said, “But do you really think it will work?”
“Yeah I do.”
“I don’t know if I want all those rotten memories in my head.”
“Oh please, you know you want to help, you’re just complaining for no reason. Besides, Dad’s made up his mind.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what other me over there did, but ever since he’s been here, Dad’s been ridiculously overprotective of me. He practically treats me like I’m twelve again. I seem to remember a few weeks ago he valued my opinion, and now his word is law, and my opinion doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not true and you know it. You’re just jealous that other you is getting all the attention.”
“It is true. Dad swatted me again yesterday! What the hell is that about?”
“That’s about you turning into a four year old whenever the subject of other you comes up.”
Chris leaned over and punched Wyatt in the shoulder slightly harder then what could be considered playful. Wyatt rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, because that proves you’re mature.”
Chris got up and said, “Screw you, and screw other me too.”
Chris in the bed was truly shocked by the interaction between Wyatt and his other self. He’d had doubts before, but now he really could start to believe that Wyatt wasn’t evil. In the future Chris was from, Wyatt would have skewered him for that punch, and then he’d have healed him so he would be around to skewer again later.
Chris in the bed smirked and said, “Original.”
Chris and Wyatt both looked over at him. Wyatt got up but kept his distance, not wanting to scare him again. He asked, “What was that?”
“I’m original Chris, not ‘other’ Chris.”
Wyatt started to laugh. The Chris who was standing glared and said, “There is no way in hell I’m going to go for that.”
Wyatt got his laughing under control and said, “Well we have to keep you separate somehow, and your middle name is my name, so what do you suggest?”
Standing Chris shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Chris in the bed said, “I’ll be number one, and you can be number two.”
Chris standing glared and said angrily, “I know, I’ll be healthy well adjusted Chris, and you can be sickly with lots of issues Chris.”
Wyatt frowned at his Chris and said, “Stop it. Why are you being mean?”
Standing Chris frowned at his brother’s censure, and muttered to Chris in the bed, “Sorry. That was uncalled for. How about you go by Chris, and I’ll go by Christopher for now.”
Chris smiled and said, “Deal.”
Christopher said, “I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that Mom isn’t mad for the next few weeks.”
Wyatt smiled and asked Chris. “You hungry?”
Chris nodded, and Wyatt orbed out. Christopher and Chris looked at each other. Chris said, “It’s so surreal to see you.”
“Tell me about it.”
After a pause Chris said, “So tell me about your life. I want to hear all about how happy it is, so that I can get over my ‘lots of issues’.”
Christopher smiled and sat in the chair beside the bed. He started talking, and soon Wyatt came back with some food. For the next half an hour Chris ate, and Christopher and Wyatt filled him in on how his life could have been, if Wyatt had never turned evil.
Chris found out that Christopher had a college degree and an apartment of his own not too far away. When he wasn’t doing anything whitelighter related he was apprenticing as a chef in one of the restaurants Piper owned. He was staying in the manor for a few weeks right now because he was helping to watch Chris.
Chris took it all in and found it hard to relate to. He had never really thought much about cooking or school. He had always been too involved with fighting off Wyatt. He found out that Wyatt also had a degree, and was doing graduate work to become a teacher at magic school. Chris was really shocked to learn that Wyatt had a fiancé. And that they planned to be married in a few months.
He found out that his aunt Phoebe had been married to a guy named Coop for a long time, and that they had three daughters. Paige was married to a guy named Henry, and they had two daughters and one son.
Possibly the most surprising thing Chris learned was that he had a younger sister named Melinda. She was a witch with no whitelighter abilities, because Leo had been human when she was conceived. She was eighteen and in her first year of college.
The more Chris learned, the more out of place he felt. This future was not his. He didn’t belong.
An hour after Chris woke up, Wyatt noticed that his eyelids were starting to droop. He said, “Why don’t you lay back down and rest. Mom should be home in a couple of hours.”
Chris nodded and gratefully went back to sleep.
# # #
The next time Chris opened his eyes, Piper was sitting in the chair next to his bed reading a book. He must have made some noise, because she turned towards him. Her smile made the corners of her eyes crinkle, and Chris couldn’t help but notice how much older she looked than the last time he’d seen her.
She stood, put her book down on the chair, and went to sit on the edge of the bed next to him.
“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” she asked while running her fingers through his hair to get the bangs out of his eyes.
His eyes filled, and he whispered, “You’re here.” He thought he’d already gotten past the idea that his mother wasn’t dead in this timeline, but seeing her there in front of him brought his feelings of joy and relief into sharp focus.
Understanding, she gently pulled him into a hug, mindful of his injury. “I’m here, thanks to you.”
The tears spilled down his face as he wrapped his arms around her, and held on tight as if she might disappear at any moment. He tried to settle down, and stop the flow of liquid from his eyes, but it didn’t work.
She held him close, rubbed one hand up and down his back, and started unconsciously rocking back and forth to sooth him. “I know,” she said softly, “It’s a lot to process. You just let it all out. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Those words only caused more tears, but he didn’t try to stop them.
After several minutes, his tears slowed, and he noticed she was not only rocking him, but also humming a tune that he vaguely remembered from his childhood. Slightly embarrassed by his emotional breakdown, he let go of her, and wiped at his eyes and nose with his sleeves.
She grabbed a box of tissues off the nightstand and held them out to him.
“Thanks.” He pulled out a wad, and cleaned up his face.
“Better?” she asked.
She shook her head. “You went through hell to get me here. I think you’re entitled to a few tears.” When he simply nodded, she said, “I need you to lie back so I can change the bandages on your wound.”
He lay back down on the bed with his head propped up on the pillows so he could see what she was doing; morbidly curious to see what the dagger wound looked like. She unbuttoned the pajama shirt he was wearing, so she could get to his stomach. The gauze pad that covered the wound was four inches square. She carefully peeled the medical tape away, and pulled the old gauze pad off, and then to Chris’ horror, she pulled out some more gauze from inside the gaping wound in his abdomen.
Chris had to stifle the urge to vomit when he realized he could see inside his own body cavity. He quickly closed his eyes and turned away, while trying to keep his breath steady so he didn’t pass out.
“It’s looking much better,” she said.
“That’s better?” He was immensely glad he hadn’t seen it at its worst.
“Yes, it’s a lot better. When we first pulled you from the past, the wound was twice as deep. You’ve been here for two and a half days now, and at this rate, you’ll be fully healed in less than two weeks.”
He kept his eyes on the nightstand, instead of his stomach, and saw her mixing up some kind of homemade ointment, before slathering it on some new gauze, and then putting that gauze inside his wound. To distract himself he said, “Is that a magical remedy?”
“Yes. Without this, all the whitelighter magic in the world couldn’t have healed you. Your aunts and I did research on that dagger for years before coming up with this enchanted salve. We practiced it on demons first. We’d capture one, stab it with the dagger, and then try healing it with the stuff. It took about thirty tries before we found just the right mix of ingredients and spells. Once we found the right mix, we tried it on several different kinds of demons, and they all healed up perfectly before we killed them. Then your father decided to test it on himself, without my knowledge or consent by the way, because he knew we needed to test it on a human, and that none of us would condone doing that to an innocent. Thank God the salve worked.”
As Piper was talking, she’d taped a new top gauze pad over the wound, and buttoned up his shirt again.
“How’s the pain?” she asked.
With a frown, he said, “Not bad at all. Is that the salve, or did you guys give me something?”
“Both. You’re on some pretty serious pain medication mixed with some antibiotics.”
“But I’m not in a hospital…”
“For a long time now we’ve had an actual medical doctor at magic school. She’s also a witch. Having Dr. Chan’s advice and help has been a lifesaver many times over. She prescribed the medication. We gave you a shot a couple of hours ago. You’ll get another one at ten o’clock tonight.”
“I slept through a shot?” he asked.
She gestured to his stomach. “I don’t think your body is going to register a little pin prick as pain when you’ve got a serious tear in your abdomen. You’ve been asleep or unconscious more often than you’ve been awake over the past couple of days. But that’s a good thing, because your body needs the sleep to heal itself, and honestly that first day, even the pain medication wasn’t enough to keep you from suffering, so I was glad you stayed out for most of it.”
Chris nodded, remembering the dreadful pain he’d felt when he first woke up. It hadn’t been as bad as when he’d first been stabbed, but it had still been horrible. His eyebrows furrowed as he thought about the night he’d been stabbed.
“Gideon?” he asked.
“Dead,” Piper said. “Your father killed him the same day he tried to kill you and Wyatt.”
“Good.” Chris felt nothing but relief to hear that the man was gone.
Piper sat on the bed again, and held Chris’ hand in hers. “You slept through dinner earlier. Are you hungry?”
“Yeah, and I need to go to the bathroom, too.”
“I’ll go warm you up a plate, and I’ll have your dad come help you to get to the bathroom.”
“Thanks, Mom,” he said, and she patted his hand before she left.
He realized he was alone for the first time since he’d been brought back, and pushed himself into a sitting position. The pain medication he was on must have been pretty strong, because he felt just fine; not at all like he had a deadly wound in his gut.
As he was waiting for Leo, his bladder let him know he needed to get to the bathroom sooner rather than later, and he swung his feet over the side of the bed. He tentatively tried to stand, and when he could do that without any issues, he took a few steps and grabbed the doorframe. Walking was taxing, but not impossible. He took a deep breath and was about to take a step into the hallway, when his brother’s voice stopped him.
“Hey!” Wyatt hissed, rushing to Chris’ side. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Chris automatically cringed and ducked his head as Wyatt’s angry countenance rushed towards him. But instead of a punch to the guts, or a slammed head against the wall, all Chris felt was an arm around his waist to hold him up.
While supporting Chris with one arm, Wyatt used his free hand to pull Chris’ arm up and across his shoulders, so that the weaker man could hold onto him.
“I asked you a question. What the hell do you think you’re doing getting out of bed on your own?”
Chris couldn’t help the look of sheer terror on his face as he stammered out the word, “B-Bathroom.”
Wyatt sighed, and started the two of them moving down the hall towards the bathroom. “Look,” he said softly, “I know you’re from a time and place where I’m the bad guy, and I know you’re scared of that other me, but I’m never going to hurt you, Chris.”
The younger man blushed with embarrassment. He knew this Wyatt wasn’t evil, but it was impossible for him not to react to his brother’s anger with fear.
“Sorry,” he muttered as they made it to the bathroom door.
“It’s okay,” Wyatt said with a genuine smile. “You’re just lucky I’m the one who found you out of bed instead of Dad. With the way he’s been lately, he would have lectured you forever about it.”
“Yeah, he probably would have,” Chris agreed. “Thanks.”
Wyatt stopped them and looked into the bathroom once they got there. “Uh… do you need help with anything in there?”
“No!” Realizing he’d spoke too loudly, Chris said, “I mean… I’ve got it. It’s fine.”
Wyatt smirked and let him go. “I’ll be right outside the door if you have any trouble.”
“Great,” Chris said while rolling his eyes, and shutting the door firmly. He looked at himself in the mirror, and silently admitted that the spike of fear mixed with the short walk had exhausted him. Swallowing his pride, he sat down to pee, and heard voices outside.
“Did you help Chris to the bathroom?” Leo’s voice asked.
“Thanks, but you didn’t have to. I’m actually surprised he let you.”
Chris frowned waiting for the inevitable tattling that Wyatt was sure to do. When they were younger, Wyatt delighted in telling the adults when Chris had done something wrong, especially if he could do it in a casual way that didn’t make it seem like he had it in for his younger brother. He could practically hear Wyatt’s voice in his head saying, “I didn’t have much of a choice since he was practically falling down when I found him in the hallway.”
Wyatt’s actual voice said, “Jeez, Dad, have a little faith. I told you we talked for almost an hour this afternoon. It will take some time, but he’s already getting used to me being good.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Leo said, “and for the record, I have every confidence that he’ll come around. I’m just surprised it was so fast.”
“Well, he probably let me help today because he really needed the bathroom. He was sitting up in bed with his feet on the floor, and looking desperately at the doorway. A few more seconds and he may have tried to get there on his own.”
“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll have a word with him.”
Chris was utterly shocked. Wyatt had kept his questionable behavior a secret, and he’d actively lied to keep it from their father. He’d also found a way to warn Leo about the questionable behavior without getting Chris in trouble. It was a very novel experience for Chris to have an older brother who was protecting him. He scowled when he realized that wasn’t exactly true. His Wyatt had always protected Chris from death, but that was because Wyatt wanted him alive to torture, not because he cared about what Chris wanted. This Wyatt seemed to actually care about Chris’ feelings.
Once Chris was finished in the bathroom, he opened the door to see both Leo and Wyatt still standing there.
“How are you feeling, son?” Leo said, holding out a hand for Chris.
Instead of taking the hand, Chris put his arm around Wyatt’s shoulders and said, “I’m starving. Can you check on my food while Wyatt helps me back to bed?”
Wyatt and Leo exchanged a look of surprise, but Leo quickly nodded. “Sure. I’ll be right back.”
Wyatt and Chris slowly made their way back to the bedroom. Once Chris was sure Leo was out of earshot, he said, “Why did you lie for me?”
“Dude, you can barely stand up.”
Wyatt sighed as he helped Chris get back in bed, and then took a seat in the chair beside the bed. “Seeing you hurt makes me even more likely than usual to look out for you, because I love you.”
Chris scoffed. “You don’t even know me.”
“Yeah I do,” Wyatt said with a chuckle. “I’ve known you my whole life. I may be a lot different from the Wyatt you knew, but you’re exactly like my version of Chris.”
Scowling, Chris muttered, “I doubt that.”
Leo knocked on the doorframe before walking in, and said, “What are you guys talking about?”
Piper came in behind him, holding a plate of steaming food.
“How similar Chris and Christopher are,” Wyatt said, as he stood up, and gestured for his mom to sit in the vacated chair.
She sat and handed the plate to Chris, who smiled when he saw that she’d made tuna noodle casserole. He scooped a large fork full into his mouth, and groaned happily.
Leo sat on the side of Chris’ bed and said, “It’s difficult for me to see the similarities.” He patted Chris’ knee. “But I suppose for someone who didn’t know him 24 years ago the similarities would stand out more than the differences.”
“Hey, I knew him,” Wyatt protested, “I just don’t remember him.”
Chris looked up at Wyatt and thought about the baby he’d grown to love while he was in the past. “It’s hard for me to think of you and baby Wyatt as the same person, especially after knowing the you from my timeline.” He looked down at his plate, and realized he was going to miss that version of his brother. “You were a sweet baby. You called me ‘Iis’, and every time I watched you, you demanded that I play cars or blocks with you.”
“I demanded?” Wyatt asked with a smile.
Chris smiled too. “Well, you were persistent if I didn’t do what you’d asked. You’d say my name repeatedly and hold the toy up to show me until I’d get on the floor and play with you.”
“It’s strange to think of you as the older one,” Wyatt said.
“It’s strange to think of you as that baby. I’m gonna miss that version of you.” He looked down at his food, and took another bite.
“Thanks for looking out for me back then. Hopefully you can get used to me looking out for you now.”
Chris looked up and smiled. “If it weren’t for my memories of evil Wyatt, that wouldn’t be difficult at all. The last time I saw you as a baby, you were looking out for me.”
“When Gideon showed up with the dagger, you put your protective bubble around both of us instead of just you.”
“But… if you were in the bubble, then how did that happen?” Wyatt pointed to Chris’ stomach.
Realizing what he’d just said, Chris darted his eyes to Leo and then Piper. Neither of them looked particularly pleased.
“Oh… Well, that’s not the point. The point was that you were being protective.” Chris put a bite of food in his mouth, hoping no one would ask for clarification.
Wincing at the disappointment he heard in his father’s voice, Chris kept his eyes on his plate.
“I think it’s time you told us what happened between you and Gideon.”
Chris shrugged and moved the food around on his plate. “Clearly he stabbed me. What else is there to tell?”
“You listen up mister,” Piper said sternly, “You’re going to tell your father the whole story right now, and don’t you dare leave anything out. He deserves the truth, and so do I.”
Chris pouted, and darted his eyes up to look at his parents and brother. Piper and Leo wore matching expressions of irritation, but Wyatt looked surprised.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh, Mom?” Wyatt said softly.
Piper took Wyatt’s hand in hers. “I know it’s not the kind of parenting you’re used to, baby, but this Chris would be dead several times over if your father and I hadn’t decided to be strict with him. You can go downstairs if it’s too hard for you to watch.”
“What!” Chris couldn’t believe his mother had just said that. “That’s totally unfair, and not even true! I wouldn’t be dead several times over!”
Leo grabbed Chris’ chin in his fingers to get eye contact. “Are you actually trying to tell us that you wouldn’t have died when Samantha got you as a baby, when Shorb stabbed you with glass, when Clyde’s henchman shot you with the darklighter arrow, or when Gideon stabbed you?”
Chris glared at Leo. “No, but you guys being strict didn’t prevent any of those things from happening!”
Leo raised his voice. “And if we weren’t strict with you, how many more close calls would you have had? How many times did I force you to play it safe and either stay home or bring me along when you would have gone into a dangerous situation alone?”
Chris swallowed hard and lowered his eyes. “I don’t know… a lot I guess.”
Letting go of Chris’ chin, Leo put a hand on his son’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We don’t do it because we want to, we do it because it’s what you need.”
When Chris opened his mouth to disagree, Leo held a finger up to stop him and said, “Don’t even try to deny it, Chris, or I’ll have to bring up your drunken confession.”
Chris blushed and shook his head.
“Okay then, tell us what happened with Gideon, right now.”
Glaring at his half eaten dinner, Chris muttered, “Gideon showed up at the manor when Wyatt happened to be leaning against me. As soon as Wyatt saw him, his protective bubble went up around both of us. I realized as soon as I saw Gideon that I couldn’t sense him. I had no idea how he’d cloaked himself, but I knew you guys had been looking for him for hours, and that we wouldn’t have any luck finding him again if I let him get away. So I set Wyatt away from me on the couch and told him to orb to Dad. As soon as Wyatt was safe, I orbed Excalibur into my hand, and rushed at Gideon. He didn’t even try to avoid the sword. I think he was expecting it, and let it happen, because once I’d stabbed him, I was close enough for him to stab me with the dagger. He made a comment about being able to heal himself as he pulled the sword out and orbed away.”
Chris looked up at his father. “And then you showed up, so you know the rest.”
Leo nodded. “So you decided to disobey me when you realized you couldn’t sense Gideon.”
“We may not have gotten another opportunity to find him,” Chris said, trying to defend his actions.
“We would have found a way, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you gave me your word that you’d run instead of fighting if there was danger.”
Chris was quiet for a few moments, and then looked at his father with tears in his eyes. “Yeah, I did, and I’m sorry that it makes you and Mom unhappy, but I would do it again a hundred times over even if it meant me dying. Because saving Wyatt, saving our family, and saving the world at large is a thousand times more important that protecting this version of me,” he pointed to himself. “Like it or not, I’m expendable.”
Piper gasped, and put a hand over her mouth, and Wyatt put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
Chris waved a hand towards his door and added softly, “You’ve got another, better version of me running around out there. You don’t need two of us.”
A few tears ran down Piper’s face, while Leo clenched his jaw, and took a couple of deep breaths.
Wyatt shook his head, and muttered, “You’re so wrong.”
Leo put both of his hands on Chris’ upper arms, and gave him a tiny shake and said fiercely, “You are not expendable to us.”
With a sad smile, Chris patted his dad’s forearm and said, “I know that’s how you guys feel, Dad, and believe me when I say I’m grateful to be alive, so can’t we just… agree to disagree?”
Chris sighed at his father’s answer, and leaned back against the bed, suddenly feeling very tired. He muttered, “You said I was forgiven.”
“You are. I forgave you a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.”
Chris blushed at what that statement probably meant, swallowed hard, and put another bite of food in his mouth to avoid talking about it anymore.
“Have you told him the plan, Dad?” Wyatt asked. “It might help him realize how important he is to all of us.”
“What plan?” Chris asked.
“Once you’re fully healed we plan to merge you with our Chris.”
“What do you mean merge?”
“We’re going to do a spell that will merge your body and Christopher’s body into one physical body, while still retaining both sets of memories.”
“What!” Chris was shocked. “Why would you do that to your son? Christopher doesn’t deserve to have twenty-two years with of torture and heartache stuck in his head.”
Piper spoke up. “Two of you can’t exist for very long in one time and dimension. If it weren’t for Wyatt’s magic holding the two of you apart, you probably would have already merged.”
“We think you’d retain both sets of memories either way,” Leo added, “but the spell will make sure that happens.”
Chris thought that over for a few seconds. “It still doesn’t seem very fair to Christopher.”
Piper put a hand on his knee. “You’re not expendable to any of us. We’ve talked to Christopher about this several times, and every time, he has told us that he wants to do the merge.”
Wyatt smiled and added, “He likes to complain about it, but if you told him you didn’t want to do it, he’d probably punch you, and do it while you were unconscious. He wants to do this, not just for the family, but for you, too. You saved Mom. None of us want to lose you.”
Feeling close to tears, Chris said softly, “It might be nice to have some happy memories to offset the bad ones.”
“Exactly.” Piper said with an encouraging smile. “You should eat up. You need to eat and rest so that you can heal.”
“I’m full.” He held the plate out for her.
Frowning, she said, “How about three more bites?”
“I’m not five,” he said with a scowl.
“Chris,” Leo chided.
With a sigh, Chris shoveled in three more bites before handing the plate back to his mother.
Suddenly exhausted again, Chris situated himself so he could lie down flat. “I’d like to talk about it some more, but I don’t think I can stay awake.”
Piper stood, handed the plate to Leo, and tucked Chris in before kissing his forehead. “You go ahead and sleep sweetheart.”
Leo patted his shoulder and said, “No getting out of bed without help, and absolutely no orbing or other magic until you’re fully recovered. You need to conserve your energy for healing. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Chris mumbled as he closed his eyes, and focused on sleep.
# # #
Over the next four days, Chris spent a significant portion of his time asleep. He wasn’t sure if his body was really that tired, or if the medication they had him on made him sleep, but he didn’t mind being asleep, because the longer he spent in this new future, the more out of place he felt. Each of his relatives had been to visit him, including the sister he’d never met, all the cousins and uncles that hadn’t been around in the future he remembered, and his two aunts. He’d even met Wyatt’s fiancée who seemed way too good for his brother.
He’d watched his family members interacting around him, and he could practically feel the happiness and love that surrounded them all. All those positive feelings were fantastic to see for a few minutes, because it meant he’d succeeded in his mission, but after hours of all that positive energy, he felt a little ill. All the negative thoughts and energy he had inside him seemed overpowering at times, and he felt like that negativity would infect all the happiness in the family once he merged with Christopher. After that thought got in his head, he couldn’t get it out, and he’d pretended to be tired more than once, simply to avoid everyone, only to fall asleep once his eyes were shut.
On the morning of the seventh day, Chris was woken up by Leo’s hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, buddy, I need to change your bandages, and then you need to eat some breakfast.”
“Bathroom first,” Chris muttered.
“Okay.’ Leo held out a hand to help.
Chris glared at the hand and said, “I’m almost fully healed. Can I please start walking down the hall by myself?”
Taken aback by the attitude and the glare, Leo paused before answering. “Okay, but only down the hall and back, and still no magic.”
Chris rolled his eyes, and walked to the bathroom with no trouble. He felt completely back to full health, and yesterday when they’d changed his bandages, his injury had looked more like a small cut than a stab wound.
He knew the merge would be happening sooner rather than later, but he didn’t know if he was still willing to do it. He knew that sentiment would not go over well with anyone, so he’d kept it to himself. Yesterday he’d been telling his cousin the story of the time he and Leo had gone so far back in time that they’d run into a dinosaur, when inspiration struck. He could go much further back in time. He could go a hundred and fifty years back, before any of his family members were alive, and live out the remainder of his life alone; happy with the knowledge that his family was safe and whole without his negativity in the mix. That thought was very appealing every time he noticed how happy his family was. But then other times, thought of being alone made him almost ill.
Feeling morose, he walked back to the bedroom, unbuttoned his pajama top, and lay down so Leo could change his bandages.
“What’s wrong, son?” Leo asked as he peeled back the medical tape holding the gauze pad on.
“That’s not true, and we both know it.”
Leo got the gauze pad off, and they both inspected the wound for a few seconds.
“It looks like a cat scratch.” Chris said with amazement. “Or maybe a bad paper cut.”
Leo grinned as he put a little bit of the salve directly onto the wound before putting a new, smaller gauze pad over it. “This might be the last one,” he said as he taped it in place. “I think you’ll be fully healed by the end of the day. I’ll check with Dr. Chan in a few minutes, but I don’t think you’ll need the shot of antibiotics and pain medication today.”
“That stuff is pretty amazing.” Chris muttered as he buttoned his shirt back up, worrying about what that might mean for the following day.
Leo sat on the edge of the bed. “Yes it is. Now tell me what’s wrong.”
Chris scowled at his father. “Nothing, this is just who I am. I’m not like the rest of you; full of happy thoughts and memories. I’m full of negative thoughts and past trauma.”
Leo pointed to his own head and said, “I have plenty of bad memories up here. I watched you die, remember? All of us have plenty of negative thoughts, and past traumas. We’re just happy around you right now because we’re relieved that we got you back. We weren’t sure if our plan was going to work.”
“Nice try, Dad, but the difference is that I don’t have any happy memories to offset the bad ones. Maybe you forgot what I was actually like when you were concocting your plans.”
“I remember very well what you’re like, Chris, and this sullen attitude you’ve got going usually means one of three things.” Leo held his fingers up as he ticked off his points. “You’re either pissed at me for something, and don’t want to talk about it. You’re thinking about the past, and aren’t dealing well with your emotions. Or, you’re planning on doing something I won’t approve of, and you don’t want me to try stopping you.” He put his hand down and added, “Or I suppose you could have already done something wrong, and you don’t want me to find out, but I doubt we’ve left you alone long enough for that one.”
Glaring at his father, and hating that the man was right, Chris opened his mouth to tell him to screw off, but thought better of it. Instead he rolled over onto his side, so his back was to Leo and muttered, “I’m tired. I want to go back to sleep.”
A sharp smack to his backside startled Chris into flipping over onto his back, and looking at Leo with shock, which quickly turned back into a glare. “What the hell, Leo?”
He pointed a finger at Chris’ nose and said sternly, “Don’t lie to me. You’re not tired, you just don’t want to deal with whatever’s going on in your head.”
“Screw you,” Chris hissed, “You don’t… Ah!”
He was cut off, as Leo forcibly rolled him over onto his stomach and landed six stinging swats on his butt.
Chris struggled to roll back over, but Leo held him in place with a hand in the middle of his back.
“Shit,” Chris muttered.
“Maybe you’re the one who forgot what I was like,” Leo said. “I’m not going to put up with you keeping everything inside and lashing out at us after everything we’ve been through. So start talking.”
Chris realized with horror that the bedroom door was open, and the whole family would probably be able to hear it if this situation got any worse, and anyone walking by could see. Thinking quickly, he said, “You guys are treating me like an invalid, even though I’m almost completely healed. I’m tired of being stuck in bed, and I’m sick of not being able to use my magic.”
The pressure from Leo’s hand let up, and Chris felt his father patting his back gently before helping him to turn back over.
Leo sat on the bed and said, “I know it sucks to be stuck in bed all day, son, but it’s only one more day, and if you hadn’t stayed in bed to conserve your energy, you might not have healed as quickly.”
Chris nodded, glad that Leo had believed his excuse. “I get that, and that’s why I haven’t been arguing about it, but it does make me feel… I don’t know… useless?”
“Useless?” Leo asked with a raised eyebrow. “You’re injured. That doesn’t make you useless in any way.”
“I didn’t say I was useless,” Chris snapped. “I said that’s how lying in bed all day makes me feel.”
Leo gave his son an appraising once over. “Well then I guess we’ll just have to make sure you stay busy today. After breakfast I’ll have your brothers go through all the new entries in the Book of Shadows with you.”
Chris perked up at that. “Really?”
“Sure. You need to get up to speed with the rest of us, and there have been several new entries over the past twenty-three years.”
“That would be great. Thanks, Dad.” Chris gave him a tentative smile. “What’s for breakfast?”
Leo smiled at how quickly his kid had cheered up. “I’ll go find out.”
As soon as Leo was out of sight, Chris rolled onto his side and put a hand back to rub at the fading sting with a pout. He was suddenly a lot less worried about merging with Christopher, and a lot more worried about what Leo might be planning once he was fully healed. He hadn’t forgotten the conversation from a few days ago when his father had said being forgiven didn’t mean he was off the hook; he’d just pushed that thought to the back of his mind. But getting swatted brought that statement into sharp focus.
He heard someone coming up the stairs, and quickly sat up. His stomach rumbled with hunger when he saw his father walk in holding a plate full of bacon and eggs.
# # #
Four hours later, Chris, Christopher, and Wyatt had gone through all the new entries in the Book of Shadows. Chris wasn’t surprised to find out that he knew most of the demons from his own timeline, and explained how each of them served evil Wyatt, while his brothers told him how they’d vanquished those same demons together. By the time they’d gotten to the last page, Wyatt and Christopher were in a somber mood along with Chris, because of the striking differences between the experiences in their pasts.
Wyatt closed the book, and after a moment of silence he said softly, “I kind of envy you guys.”
“What?” Chris asked, not quite believing Wyatt could be saying that.
“You get to have two sets of memories to tap into. It will be like having the life experience of forty-six years instead of twenty-three.”
Christopher nodded. “That does sound kind of cool.”
Chris scowled. “Cool? Are you serious? You’re going to have a bunch of horrific memories shoved into your head if we merge. You should be doing everything in your power to talk them out of it.”
“If?” Christopher said with a frown. “What do you mean, if? This is a done deal. We’re doing it.”
Chris looked him in the eyes and said, “What if I don’t agree?”
Christopher glared at him, and said, “Too bad. It’s the right thing to do for all of us, not just you. You’re not the only one who gets to save family members.”
Wyatt set the Book of Shadows on the floor, and leaned in close to Chris so he could whisper. “You’re not thinking about doing anything stupid are you? Because let me tell you, both Mom and Dad will stop you if you try to get out of this. And with the way Dad’s been lately…” he looked over at Christopher, who squirmed uncomfortably at the scrutiny. Wyatt turned back to Chris and finished his statement. “…you’ll probably end up getting your butt swatted.”
Chris blushed, but hearing it put so bluntly gave him the courage to ask the question that had been on his mind since seeing the other him get swatted when he first woke up in this timeline. Keeping his voice low, Chris said, “Does Dad… I mean has Dad ever uh… spanked you guys?”
Christopher and Wyatt shared a look, and Christopher hissed, “See! I told you it was his fault!”
“What’s my fault?” Chris asked.
Turning his eyes back to Chris, Wyatt cocked his head to the side and considered what his brother had just said. “Dad’s recent behavior when it comes to discipline.”
Wyatt looked at Christopher, and when the younger man nodded, Wyatt sighed and turned back to Chris to tell the story. “Dad hasn’t swatted either of us for years. I mean it’s been over ten full years for Christopher, and over thirteen for me, and then the day we got you back… he swatted us both.”
“What! Why?” Chris asked.
Wyatt kept his voice down as he shared the story. “Christopher and I were having a private discussion in the kitchen about how sickly you looked, and I’m ashamed to say it, but we were questioning the decision to bring you here and save you when Dad walked by. We could both tell he’d overheard us, because he looked pissed and disappointed at the same time. He grabbed Christopher’s arm first, pulled him to the kitchen table, bent him over it, and gave him ten hard smacks while I stood there dumbfounded.” Wyatt couldn’t maintain eye contact as he finished the story. “Seeing that was bad enough, but then Dad pulled me over and gave me the same.” Wyatt muttered, “I’m twenty-five. It’s ludicrous.”
“We were both too shocked to do much other than stare at him while he lectured us about family,” Christopher added. “It’s a shocking difference to the way things used to be a week ago, and I think it’s your fault.”
Looking at his brother, Wyatt said, “That may be, but it’s your own fault that it keeps happening to you.” He turned to Chris and said with a wink, “Since that day I’ve been on my best behavior, but Christopher can’t seem to keep himself in check.” He looked back at his younger brother and said, “How many times has Dad swatted you now?”
Christopher punched his brother in the shoulder and hissed, “Shut up!”
“Ow, that hurt you jackass,” Wyatt said as he covered his arm, and then smirked as he added, “Better watch out, or I’ll tell Dad.”
“Screw you!” Christopher hissed.
“So basically,” Chris said, interrupting them, “what you’re telling me is that I make Dad want to spank everyone. That’s great. Sounds like one more reason I shouldn’t be merging.”
Both brothers got serious again, and Wyatt shook his head. “No, that’s not what we’re saying, Chris. Dad spanked both of us a few times when we were kids; that’s not new behavior. What I’m saying is that he’s been really stressed out because he’s so worried about you, and since his emotions are on high, he’s not as patient as he normally would be with our admittedly bad behavior.”
Christopher nodded in agreement and said, “Actually, I’d say it’s even more reason to do the merge. Dad will settle down once he knows you’re safe, and then things can go back to normal.”
Chris shook his head. “I don’t know about that. What if we merge and he just stays that way because I’m around?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Wyatt said.
“Is it?” Chris said. “How many times has he spanked you as an adult. I mean full on, pants down, over his lap, spanking until you cry?”
Wyatt and Christopher shared a look of surprise before Wyatt turned back to Chris and said, “Never.”
“Exactly,” Chris said.
“How many times has he done that to you?” Christopher asked, a hint of horror creeping into his voice.
“Three times,” Chris muttered, blushing.
“Shit,” Christopher said. “I wouldn’t mind skipping those memories.”
Feeling quite sorry for himself, Chris added, “And I think he’s going to do it again tonight or tomorrow.”
“What!” Christopher shouted, and then quickly lowered his voice, “I mean why? Why would he spank you now?” Then he muttered to himself, “Jesus, I hope he does that before the merge if he’s gonna do it.”
“Thanks for that,” Chris said, rolling his eyes.
Realization hit Wyatt, and he said softly, “For going after Gideon after you promised to orb away.”
Chris blushed, and looked down at his lap, “Yeah.”
“Dude, that sucks,” Christopher said.
“Boys,” Leo said from the bedroom doorway.
Three sets of eyes darted to Leo with shock.
“Oh. Hey, Dad,” Wyatt said, recovering from his surprise more quickly than his brothers. Hoping his father hadn’t been there long, he tried to act as if they’d been talking about demons. “We’re all done looking through the Book of Shadows.” He picked the book up off the floor and added, “We had a good time talking about the differences in our timelines.”
“That’s great, son.” Leo said, keeping his eyes on Chris. “You and Christopher go put the book away, and then make us all something for lunch. Chris and I are going to have a talk.”
“A talk?” Chris squeaked.
Leo nodded solemnly. “I’d say it’s well past time.”
Chris’ eyes darted over to his brothers, silently begging them for help.
“Dad,” Wyatt said gently, “Why don’t you come downstairs and help us make lunch. Chris looks tired.”
Leo’s displeased expression turned to Wyatt. “Son, I’ve been standing here long enough to know what you were talking about, so stop pretending that you don’t know Chris is about to get spanked.”
Chris put his head in his hands and muttered, “God, Leo, could you say it any louder. I don’t think everyone in the house heard you.”
“It’s noon on Tuesday. No one else is home,” Leo said. “It’s just us, and your brothers already know what’s going to happen, and why.” He focused on his other two sons. “Unless you’d both like an incentive to obey me right now, you need to do what I asked.”
“Nope, I don’t need an incentive,” Wyatt quickly said, and started towards the door. Once he was in the hall, he noticed that Christopher hadn’t followed him. “Come on Christopher,” he coaxed, “You’re not going to change his mind, so let’s not make it harder on either one of them.”
Instead of listening to his brother, Christopher glared at his father and said, “He got stabbed, Dad. Don’t you think he’s suffered enough?”
Leo walked over to Christopher, and put a hand on his shoulder. With a gentle squeeze he said, “I know it seems harsh, but it’s not about having suffered enough, it’s about giving Chris what he needs. In a couple of days when you merge, you’ll understand, but for now, I need you to trust me.”
Christopher’s anger dissipated at Leo’s demeanor. He did trust his father, but he also truly didn’t want this to happen, especially when he was in the house. “But he’s injured.”
“He’s almost fully healed. In fact he may be completely healed by now. Either way, he’s healed enough.”
Leo sighed, and pulled at Christopher’s arm to get him to stand. He landed four solid swats on Christopher’s rear end while walking him towards the door.
“Ow, Dad!” Christopher complained while trying to move out of Leo’s grip.
Leo let go once they were at the door, and Christopher hastily went into the hall with Wyatt, and rubbed his butt while glaring at Leo.
Leo pointed a finger at both of them and said, “You both go downstairs and stay put until I come down. I can and will do the same to either one of you if you try to interfere before I’m done.”
Both of them shook their heads. “That’s absolutely not going to be necessary, Dad.” Wyatt said, and then tossed an arm over Christopher’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s go. You can put your cooking skills to use and make us something complicated for lunch to keep your mind off of this.”
Christopher looked over his shoulder and said sincerely, “Sorry, Chris.”
“S’okay,” Chris muttered morosely, as he watched them walking away.
Leo shut the bedroom door, and then turned to look at Chris, who couldn’t maintain eye contact. He walked over to the chair that Christopher had been sitting on, scooted it back away from the bed and then sat down on it. He held out a hand to Chris and said, “Alright, let’s get this over with.”
Chris’ hands gripped the covers so hard that his knuckles turned white. “It was twenty-three years ago!” he hissed.
“It was a week ago for you. We’ve talked about letting things slide, and we both know that’s not what you need. You need a physical reminder that I care, and that I’m not going to be taking off when you do something wrong. So come here.”
Chris looked at the hand, but made no move to get up. “Wyatt and Christopher are going to hear it.”
Leo put his hand down and nodded. Raising his voice a little he said, “Wyatt, could you come here for a second.”
With wide confused eyes, Chris shook his head as his older brother orbed into the room.
“Yeah, Dad?” Wyatt asked.
“Could you please use your magic to soundproof the room until we’re done?”
“Sure, I think all of us will appreciate that.” He held out his hand, closed his eyes, and said, “This room will be soundproof until Leo leaves.” He looked back at Leo to see if he needed anything else.
“Thanks,” Leo said.
Wyatt nodded, and orbed away.
Leo held his hand out again and said, “No more stalling, Chris. Come here, or I’m going to come get you. It’s happening either way.”
A tear slid down his face as Chris forced himself to toss his covers back, scoot to the edge of the bed, and stand up. “You’re wrong. I don’t need this,” he said quietly, willing it to be true while trying to hold back more tears.
“The conversation I just walked in on tells me you do. You’re feeling guilty about what you did, and now you need physical proof that I’ve forgiven you.”
Chris shook his head vehemently, not wanting it to be true.
“You don’t have to agree with me, son, you just have to obey me,” Leo said.
Finding it nearly impossible to willingly step towards his impending doom, Chris took one tiny step forward, but stayed out of reach. The urge to orb away was incredibly tempting, especially now that Leo couldn’t orb after him, but he knew that wouldn’t go over well. He cringed at the thought of his entire family getting involved to track him down, and bring him back to Leo.
“Please don’t,” Chris said as he shuffled another step closer.
Leo leaned forward, clasped his son’s wrist in his hand, and pulled. Chris stumbled forward the last couple of steps, and whimpered as Leo tugged him face down across his waiting lap. After wrapping a solid arm around Chris’ waist to keep him in place, Leo quickly shucked the pajama bottoms and underwear down, and started spanking.
“Ow!” Chris whined. He purposely kicked his legs, and made a halfhearted attempt to push himself upright in protest.
Ignoring the little tantrum, Leo held tight and concentrated on turning the bare butt over his knee a uniform shade of pink.
As his physical struggles petered out, Chris’ vocal protests started up. “Come on, Leo, that’s enough! Ow. I get it okay? I won’t do it again. I’ve learned my lesson, so there’s no need to keep doing this.” When none of that worked, Chris whined, “Owww! Dad it’s enough! Stop already! You’ve made your point!”
Leo paused momentarily so Chris could hear him. “You died, Chris. You died in my arms, because you decided to confront Gideon instead of following my orders. Then when we got you back, you told us you’d do it again because this version of you is expendable.” Leo laid down a flurry of harsh smacks.
“Oww!” Chris yelped at the onslaught.
Pausing again, Leo said, “You are not expendable. I understand that in your timeline it probably seemed like you were. Wyatt was evil, your aunts were busy fighting him, I was absent, and your mother was dead, but in this timeline we’re all here, and none of us are okay with you sacrificing yourself. So this spanking is far from over.”
The tears that had already been close to the surface started to stream down Chris’ face during the short lecture, and when Leo’s hand started connecting with his rear end again, he didn’t argue. Instead he whimpered, and hung his head as he cried. It didn’t take long for his body to start reacting involuntarily to the steadily building pain. His crying became audible, his feet kicked and jerked in time to the smacks, and even though he tried to keep both of his hands on the ground, he couldn’t stop his right arm from inching back with every harsh slap. When three smacks in a row landed on his right sit spot, he couldn’t hold back anymore, and tried to cover that spot with his own hand.
The reprieve was short lived as Leo simply grasped Chris’ wrist, and pulled it up to rest at the small of his back. Chris’ entire backside and upper thighs were already burning before his arm had been captured, and after it was immobile every single whack landed on the crease where his bottom met his thighs. His crying turned into sobbing while Leo finished turning his sit spots red.
When Leo finally stopped, it took Chris a second or two to realize it was over. Leo let go of his wrist, and rubbed circles on his back while Chris’ crying changed from utterly distressed to sad and repentant.
Chris’ pajama pants had been kicked off a while ago, but his underwear hadn’t fallen completely off. Leo leaned down and gently pulled them up into place before carefully flipping Chris over to sit in his lap.
Chris leaned the side of his face on his father’s chest, and tried to stop crying.
Leo held Chris close and said, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that you’re expendable again.”
Unable to speak yet, Chris nodded in understanding, and wrapped his arms around his father’s chest in a tight hug.
After several minutes of mutual comfort, Chris’ tears had stopped. He sniffed a few times before attempting to speak. His words came out in a rough accusatory whisper. “That really hurt.”
“I know,” Leo said softly without a hint of apology. “If it didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t have done much good.” He rubbed his son’s back to help him accept those words. “You almost died because you decided to disobey me, but now you’ve been punished, and you’re forgiven, so we can move forward.”
Chris pouted into Leo’s chest and didn’t comment for a few moments. When he did, his voice was more accepting than accusing. “Even though I said I was okay with dying if it meant everyone else was safe in this timeline, I’m also grateful to be alive. It means a lot to know that my plan to save Wyatt worked out so well for everyone. So… thank you for saving me.”
Leo kissed the top of his head, and squeezed him tighter for a second.
Shifting his weight, Chris realized he couldn’t find a comfortable position to stay sitting even if it meant giving up the comfort Leo was providing, and pushed to stand up. “I need some tissues,” he muttered as Leo let him go.
After blowing his nose, Chris grabbed his pajama pants off the floor, quickly put them on, and then spent a few seconds just holding his sore ass.
“I’m going to go tell your brothers that it’s done, and we’ll all have lunch up here.”
Chris blushed with embarrassment at the thought of having to face Wyatt and Christopher. “I’m not very hungry,” he lied, “I think I’ll just take a nap.”
Leo hand moved to the door, and opened it. “You can nap after you eat.”
“Son,” Leo cut him off, “you’re going to eat.”
“Fine.” Chris pouted and lay face down on the bed.
# # #
Leo took a few calming deep breaths as he walked down the stairs to face his sons, expecting them to be upset. Because they were both whitelighters, and because Chris was biologically related to them, Leo knew they couldn’t help but sense it when Chris was in pain. While they were growing up, they always knew when the other one was hurt, which was great for fighting demons, but not all that helpful when trying to parent them after they’d done something wrong. They couldn’t sense specific injuries, but they could sense the level of distress and pain the other was in, and spankings tended to cause a lot of emotional distress, even if there wasn’t much physical pain. When they’d been little and Leo had reluctantly given one of them a couple of mild swats, both of them would be upset, and he’d always had to comfort both. He suspected this time would be significantly worse, since there had been actual pain alongside the emotional distress. He was just thankful that they hadn’t had to hear it while sensing it.
When he walked into the kitchen, both Wyatt and Christopher stood and glared at him with a mix of anxiety, and anger. All of them were awkwardly silent for a few seconds. Leo noticed a plate of sandwiches on the table, and raised an eyebrow. “My son the chef made sandwiches?”
“That was really harsh, Dad,” Wyatt said quietly, and everyone knew he wasn’t talking about the sandwich comment.
“Way too harsh,” Christopher added, clearly angrier than Wyatt was, “and it lasted a long time.”
Leo nodded as he let the stern demeanor he’d had for Chris slip into his more natural parenting demeanor of patience and understanding. “It was harsh,” he agreed. “But it’s what your brother needed.”
Christopher opened his mouth, but Leo put a hand up to stop him. “Please don’t argue with me right now. Believe it or not, the past fifteen minutes were rough for me, too.”
Scowling, Christopher crossed his arms, but kept his mouth closed. Wyatt scrutinized his father for a few seconds, and then walked over to pull him into a hug.
Surprised, Leo returned the hug, and said, “What’s this for?”
“While it was happening Chris’ distress was all I could feel, but now…” Wyatt pulled away and made eye contact with his father, “…I can feel yours, too.” Wyatt’s eyes focused on Leo’s shirt, and he reached out a hand to try wiping something off Leo’s chest. “Did you spill water on yourself?” Wyatt asked, feeling his fingers.
Leo looked down at his shirt and saw a damp spot where Chris’s face had been pressed against him. Doubting this would go over well, he sighed and said, “No, I didn’t. Chris was upset and… well he cried.”
“Jesus, Dad,” Christopher muttered.
Leo walked over to his younger son and put a hand on his shoulder. “Believe me, I know how hard it is to understand why Chris needs this, when you and your siblings don’t. Especially since he’s biologically the same person as you. But the one time I tried not spanking him for something… well, he got drunk, and basically told me that he needed me to do it, even if he didn’t want me to.” Leo could tell both of his boys were surprised, and said, “But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring that up to Chris. I’m pretty sure that would be more humiliating than the spanking itself.”
Both brothers nodded, and when Leo let his hand drop from Christopher’s shoulder, the younger man pulled his father into an unexpected tight hug.
“What’s this for?” Leo asked as he hugged back.
“I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about it,” Christopher said. “I was too angry to notice before, but now I can feel how conflicted and upset you are.”
“Thanks son.” Leo patted his back, and let go. “Why don’t you guys go talk to Chris while I get some plates and bring up lunch. I could use a minute or two to myself.”
Wyatt and Christopher glanced at each other.
“Sure, Dad,” Wyatt said softly before both boys walked towards the stairs.
Once the room was empty Leo slumped down into a chair, and took a deep breath. Having a few minutes to himself to calm down was exactly what he needed.
# # #
Wyatt knocked on the doorframe before both he and Christopher stepped into Chris’ room.
“Hey, Chris,” Wyatt said gently as he walked in and sat in the chair beside the bed. “How are you doing?”
Wanting to die of embarrassment, Chris snipped, “I’m fantastic. How do you think I’m doing?”
Christopher came in and tentatively sat on the edge of the bed. “We both feel horrible that you had to go through that. Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Not really.” Chris shrugged. “I’m just glad it’s done.”
Wyatt looked towards the door and lowered his voice. “I could heal you if you want.”
Chris’ eyebrows went up in surprise, and then he looked towards the open door as he thought that over. “Well… yeah, that would be great, but I don’t know if Dad would be okay with that.” He could feel his face turning pink as he muttered, “I asked him to… uh… heal me after the first time, but he wouldn’t.”
Wyatt shrugged. “Dad doesn’t have to know.”
Chris mulled that over for a second, and a smirk slowly spread across his face. He looked at Wyatt first, and then Christopher as he said, “Okay, but you have to swear not to tell Dad or Mom.”
“Mom?” Christopher asked. “She’d be telling Wyatt to heal you if she knew.”
Chris raised one eyebrow and said, “If she knew? What do you mean if she knew.”
“That Dad spanked you that hard.”
Chris scowled. “I’m sorry to have to break it to you guys, but Mom is one hundred percent onboard with the whole ‘let’s spank Chris until he can’t sit’ plan, and she spanks harder than Dad.”
“Mom? Mom spanked you?” Christopher asked.
He could see the disbelief on their faces, and Chris sighed before clarifying. “She doesn’t use her hand to spank, she uses her magic.” The both still seemed confused. “You know, this one with the popping sound.” He imitated her flicking her fingers at something.
Realization hit both of the brothers, and they shared a look of shock.
“She really… did that to you?” Wyatt asked.
Chris nodded. “Each smack feels like ten from Dad all at once.”
“Shit,” Christopher muttered.
“Look,” Chris said, “I don’t want to get you guys in trouble, too. We can just forget you even offered.”
“No,” Wyatt said. “We’re all adults now and we can make our own decisions, even if Mom and Dad don’t like it, and I’ve decided to heal you.”
“Yeah?” Chris asked, with a smile.
“Definitely.” Christopher agreed.
“Thanks, that’s… really nice of you guys.” Chris said.
“That’s what brothers are for,” Wyatt said. He looked at Christopher and said, “Go guard the door. I’d rather not be doing this when Dad walks in.”
“Yeah, that wouldn’t be good,” Christopher said as he went to stand by the door.
Wyatt smirked at Chris and said, “Roll over.”
Once Chris was on his stomach, Wyatt held his hand out over Chris’ rear end, and used his whitelighter abilities to heal his sore skin.
“All done,” Wyatt said as he put his hand back in his lap.
“I think I hear Leo on the stairs,” Christopher said as he rushed back to sit on the edge of the bed.
Chris sighed in relief as he flipped over onto his back. “Thanks guys.”
“Anytime,” Christopher said.
“I can’t believe, Mom spanked you too,” Wyatt said, clearly trying to imagine a scenario where that would happen. “What did you do to make her that angry?”
With a sigh, Chris said, “How about I tell you about it tomorrow. I’d really like to forget about that entire subject right now.”
Leo knocked on the doorframe, and said, “What subject?”
Chris groaned, and closed his eyes.
“Spanking,” Christopher said. “Chris says Mom has spanked him. Wyatt and I find that hard to believe.” He got up and took the tray of sandwiches from his father, and put it on the foot of the bed.
“It’s true, she did,” Leo said as he handed everyone an empty plate.
“Could today get any more humiliating?” Chris mumbled as he took his plate.
“Eat some lunch.” Leo gave him a plate. “You’ll feel better.”
Wyatt chuckled as he took a sandwich off the tray. “You sound like Mom.”
Leo smiled, and said, “How about we change the subject, so Chris can eat in peace. Why don’t you guys tell him about the time you two went to the underworld without permission when Christopher was ten?”
“Aw, come on Dad,” Wyatt whined.
Leo smirked. “Chris isn’t the only one who’s disobeyed orders and gotten into trouble. Sharing your story will help him feel less embarrassed about all of this.”
Wyatt and Christopher shared a look.
“If you don’t tell him, I will,” Leo said.
Christopher took a deep breath, and started talking.
# # #
That night when Piper got home, she found Chris in the kitchen with his father and brothers.
“What’s this?” she asked.
Chris lifted his shirt and showed her his stomach. “I’m all healed, so Dad said I could get out of bed for a while.”
She went over and put her hand on the spot that used to be a wound, and then pulled him into a hug. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so very thankful that it worked.”
“Me too, Mom.” He hugged her tight.
She noticed that Christopher was cooking, and said, “Do you need any help with dinner?”
“No thanks,” he darted his eyes to hers, and then looked back at his pot. “I’ve got it.”
Not sure what that was about, she turned to Wyatt, who also darted his eyes away from her. “What’s going on?” she asked the room at large.
Leo walked over and put an arm around her waist. “Can I talk to you in the living room for a minute?”
“Sure.” She let him lead her out of the kitchen with a suspicious look back at her three boys.
The brothers looked at each other, wondering exactly what Leo would say, and how Piper would take it.
“I bet she’ll be pissed at Dad for the rest of the night,” Christopher said in a hushed tone.
Chris just shook his head. “Trust me, she won’t.”
After a small pause, Wyatt whispered, “She was pretty upset when you told us what happened with Gideon. You don’t think she’ll… I don’t know… want to add to what Dad already gave you?”
“No,” Chris said with confidence, but then after thinking about it for a few seconds he lost some of his certainty. “Well… I don’t think so.”
Five minutes later, Leo stuck his head in the kitchen and said, “Chris, could you come into the living room for a minute?”
“Okay.” Chris darted a worried glance at his brothers, and then went out to the living room. He went to stand by his parents, but stayed out of reach. Piper stepped closer, and took his hand in both of hers.
“Dad says he spanked you for going after Gideon on your own.”
Chris blushed profusely and muttered, “Yeah.”
“You know I agree with your father’s decision to punish you.”
He nodded and gave her his best ‘kicked puppy’ expression, hoping to avoid any further chastisement. “I know, but that was hours ago, and he said I was forgiven.”
She put a hand on the side of his face and said, “Of course you’re forgiven, sweetheart. How are you feeling, now?”
“I’m okay, I guess.”
She pulled him into a fierce hug and said, “I can’t lose you again.”
“I can’t lose you again, either,” he whispered.
When they let go of each other, Leo put an arm around his wife and said, “Now that that’s settled, why don’t we go into the kitchen and talk about when to do the merge, and what that will entail.”
“That’s a great idea,” Piper agreed, and they all went back to the kitchen.
# # #
Even though Chris clearly had reservations, everyone else agreed that the best time to do the merge would be the following evening. Piper called both Phoebe and Paige to let them know what time to be there, and before Chris could put up much protest, it was arranged. Once the merge was complete, they were all supposed to share a family meal together to celebrate.
By the time that was all arranged Christopher had finished making dinner, and Melinda had arrived home for the night. They all sat down together at the dining room table, and Chris tried to pretend that it wasn’t disconcerting to have his family intact and doing something so normal together. His emotions kept fluctuating between excessively happy to be with his family, and uncomfortably awkward when they made a comment or shared a look that made him remember he didn’t truly belong with this version of his family.
When dinner was wrapping up, Chris felt his mother’s hand on his back. “What’s wrong sweetie?” she asked.
“Nothing. Everything’s… perfect.”
She rubbed his back. “You say that as if it’s a bad thing.”
“No. It’s just that… I’m not used to it.”
“You’ll get used to it.” Piper patted his back and then looked over at her husband. “How about a family movie night?”
“Yes!” Melinda said, making her brother’s chuckle.
When Christopher saw Chris’ confused expression, he said, “The rest of us watch movies once in a while, our baby sister watches a movie almost every day.”
“I think a movie night sounds great,” Leo said with a smile.
“Why don’t you and Chris go pick a movie,” Piper said, “while the rest of us clean up the dinner dishes.”
“Moooom,” Melinda whined.
Piper smiled indulgently at her daughter. “Fine, you can go help by making recommendations, but Chris gets the final say.”
Melinda jumped up, grabbed Chris’ hand, and pulled him into the living room to talk movies. Leo followed them with a smirk.
Piper, Christopher, and Wyatt chatted while they cleared the dinning room table, put away leftover food, and started filling the dishwasher. Once they were done, Piper wiped her hands off, put her hands on her hips, gave them each a small glare, and said, “Okay boys, we need to talk. Whose idea was it to heal Chris?”
Both of them opened their eyes wide in shock, and they glanced at each other before Wyatt said, “Um… I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Mom. We all healed Chris together.”
Her lips pressed together with irritation. “It was a long time ago, but I remember Chris trying to sit at the dinner table after a spanking, and it looked a lot different than what I saw tonight. So whose idea was it to heal him?”
“It was mine,” Wyatt admitted without apology.
“But I agreed with him,” Christopher added. “We thought you’d approve.”
“You thought I would approve of you undermining your father’s authority?” Piper asked.
“No,” Wyatt said. “We thought you’d approve of us treating Chris the same way we treat each other.”
Piper sighed, and lost her glare. She leaned against the counter and said, “I understand that your hearts were in the right place, but this isn’t like the time Melinda was grounded for a week and you both smuggled in video games for her. Chris…” She paused, looked towards the living room door, and raised her eyebrows in thought. “On second thought, maybe this is exactly like that.” Her eyes snapped back to Wyatt’s. “What happened when we caught you giving things to Melinda while she was grounded?”
“We got grounded, too,” Wyatt said, before glancing at Christopher with apprehension. “But only for one day,” he added.
Piper nodded. “That’s right, so what do you think should happen to the two of you this time?”
Christopher scowled. “You can’t actually expect Dad to spank us for being nice to Chris.”
“Spank? No. Swat? Yes. And it’s not for being nice to Chris, it’s for undermining your father’s authority,” Piper said. “But he’s had a rough day, and he hasn’t realized what you two have done, so I’m going to take care of it.”
“Take care of it?” Wyatt asked, not liking the sound of that at all.
Piper put her hands back on her hips and said, “Both of you turn around and put your hands on the counter.”
The boys looked at each other again, and Wyatt said, “Mom, don’t you think that’s a little…” He stopped talking as Piper advanced on him.
“I said turn around.” She grasped his shoulder, and lightly pulled to get him to turn around. He was quite a bit bigger than his mother was, but after twenty-five years of love and kindness from her, he respected her enough to do what she’d asked, even if he didn’t entirely agree. So instead of protesting, he pouted but willingly moved in the direction she wanted.
She reached out to help get Christopher to turn around also, but he did it with a glare instead of a pout.
“This is ridiculous,” Christopher muttered as he put his hands on the counter.
Piper stepped back, raised both her hands, and said, “If you boys don’t agree with your father’s parenting, you need to be adults about it, and discuss it with him, instead of going behind his back to reverse what he’s done.”
Both of the young men tensed up when they heard the light popping sound that accompanied Piper’s electrical magic, and Wyatt’s protective bubble flashed into place for a millisecond before he forced it away.
She took aim, and flicked her fingers directing her magic towards Wyatt’s backside with one hand, and then towards Christopher’s backside with the other hand a millisecond later.
Wyatt had a fairly low tolerance to pain, partially due to growing up with a magical protective bubble. He tried to contain his yelp, but couldn’t entirely keep it in, so it came out sounding strangled. His hands flew to his rear end to rub out the pain, and he spun around to face his mother
Christopher grunted in pain, and muttered, “Jeez, Mom, that really freaking hurt.” He turned around, and then put his hands on his ass to rub.
“That was way worse than one of Dad’s swats,” Wyatt whined.
“Are you boys going to do it again?” Piper said with crossed arms and a raised eyebrow.
“No,” they answered in unison.
“Good.” The somewhat stern expression went away, and she reached out to give Wyatt a kiss on the cheek, and then did the same to Christopher. “How about we go see what movie your sister talked Chris into watching.”
Both young men nodded, more than ready to be back in their mother’s good graces.
# # #
When Chris woke up the following morning, he looked at the clock and realized he’d slept through breakfast. Surprised that no one had woken him up, he rushed though his morning routine, and then went downstairs to see what was going on. He found Leo and Piper sitting at the kitchen table.
“Morning,” Piper said.
“What’s going on?” Chris asked. “Where is everyone?”
“It’s just us today,” Leo said, “Everyone else is at work or school.”
Chris poured himself a cup of still warm coffee. “Why didn’t anyone wake me up?”
“We thought it would be nice to let you sleep in on your last day with only one set of memories,” Piper said.
“And it’s been an exhausting week for you,” Leo added. “We wanted you to be well rested for tonight.”
Piper stood up and said, “What do you want for breakfast?”
“You don’t have to make me anything special. I can get myself some toast or cereal.”
“Nonsense,” Piper said. “Your dad and I are spending your last day as ‘Chris’ with you, and we’re going to make sure it’s a good one. That starts with you sitting down and relaxing while I make you anything you want for breakfast.”
“You don’t need to do that.” Chris said. Although he had to admit, he felt especially loved and happy at the thought of his parents making the day special for him.
“We know we don’t have to,” Leo said, “we want to. So tell your mother what you want to eat.”
Chris couldn’t suppress his smile as he sat down at the table next to his dad. “Pancakes? And maybe bacon if we have it?”
“Coming right up,” Piper said.
While she bustled around the kitchen, Leo said, “We thought you might like to go do something with us today.”
“Do something?” Chris asked, not quite sure what his father meant.
“Something fun,” Leo clarified. “We could go to the zoo or the aquarium. We could go to the beach or walk along the piers.”
Wyatt had destroyed so much of San Francisco in Chris’ original timeline that it was hard decide what he wanted to see the most. “Let’s go to the aquarium, and then walk along the piers.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Leo said.
# # #
After the initial excitement of seeing the waterfront in one piece and full of innocent tourists wore off, Chris started to truly think about what it would mean to live in this world instead of the one he was used to. It was one thing to go into the past with a mission; it was another to have an open future in a world that didn’t need saving. What the hell was he supposed to do with his life? He supposed once he merged, he’d be interested in cooking, since that’s what Christopher was going to school for, but as of today, that held very little interest for him. He tried to come up with a career he’d like to pursue if he didn’t have to merge, but nothing came to mind.
He found himself forcing a smile on his face more and more the longer they were out. By the time late afternoon rolled around, Chris was having trouble keeping up appearances. Eventually he claimed to be tired, and asked if they could go home a little early so he could rest up before the merge.
Once they got home, Chris went to his room, and lay there thinking about life. The thought that he shouldn’t merge to protect Christopher from his past kept going through his mind. When he heard the doorbell announcing one of his aunts had arrived, Chris realized he was almost out of time, and impulsively orbed up to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fifteen minutes later Wyatt orbed in beside him holding Leo’s shoulder.
“Thanks, son,” Leo said, “I’ve got it from here.”
Wyatt looked down at the tiny cars that looked like ants from such a long distance, and griped his father’s shoulder a little tighter. “Uh… How about I just stand here with a hand on you, and keep out of the conversation.”
Leo smiled indulgently and said, “This ledge isn’t that short, Wyatt, and I’m sure Chris would orb us away if I started to fall. Go on home, and we’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Wyatt turned his eyes to Chris, who immediately put a hand on Leo’s other shoulder. “I’ve got him,” he said.
Wyatt took a deep breath, forced himself to let go and muttered, “If you’re not back in ten minutes, I’m coming to get you both.”
Once Wyatt was gone, Leo gestured to the metal structure they were standing on and said, “What are we doing up here, Chris?”
Chris took a deep breath, kept his eyes on the cars below, and said, “I know you and Mom have been planning this merge for twenty-three years now, but maybe we should come up with a different plan. This San Francisco…” he gestured to the city below, “…isn’t my San Francisco. Today more than ever I could feel how much I don’t belong here. Besides, I seriously don’t think it’s fair to Christopher to shove my horrible memories into his head. Maybe we should send me back further in time instead. Send me back a hundred years or so, and I can live out my life happily knowing that I made the world a better place.”
Leo shook his head, and then pulled Chris into a hug. “We can’t lose you again Chris. We simply can’t. I know you’re an adult, and your mother and I have no right to force you to do anything…” he held Chris at arms length so he could look into his eyes, “…but we’re going to do this with or without your consent. It’s happening no matter how much you fight us.”
Chris scowled, “Great parenting there, Leo.”
“If Christopher had the same reservations as you, we’d consider changing our minds, but he doesn’t. Even if we didn’t do the merge, this version of San Francisco would quickly become your San Francisco, because you helped to set things back on their natural path. The unnatural timeline you lived in will quickly start to feel wrong once you’ve been in this time for a few months. So now the only question is how much are you going to fight us? I’m pretty sure Christopher won’t appreciate it if you’ve got a freshly spanked bottom when you merge.”
“I could just orb away.” Chris let go of his dad’s shoulder.
Leo crossed his arms. “Go ahead and try it, kiddo. Wyatt can and will track you down, take away your orbing, and bring you home to me. If you make us all go through that, I probably won’t be able to talk your mother out of giving you several swats in front of the whole family.”
Blanching, Chris shook his head to get that thought out of it. He still had an ingrained fear of Wyatt, and the thought of his angry older brother tracking him down made him slightly ill. Evil Wyatt had taken Chris’ orbing away anytime he felt like making Chris suffer, so there was no doubt in his mind that the good version of Wyatt had the same capability. He also knew Piper would be pissed if he ran, and would undoubtedly give him some magical swats no matter who was watching.
“Fine.” Chris grabbed his father’s shoulder a bit more roughly than was necessary, and orbed both of them back to the manor. Everyone was there in the living room, waiting for them when they orbed in. He let go of Leo and spoke to the room at large. “I think this is a bad idea. I think it’s the wrong decision. I’m not a willing participant, but it’s been made clear to me that I don’t have a say in it, so let’s get it over with.”
The room was silent for several seconds, while everyone took that in.
“You’re not willing?” Piper said softly as a tear slipped down her face.
Some of his anger left when he realized he’d made his mother cry. “I… I mean…”
“You mean you’re an idiot,” Christopher muttered, as he walked up to his counterpart. He grabbed Chris’ arm, and orbed them both up to Chris’ bedroom. Once they were alone, Christopher let go and said, “What the hell is your problem now?”
“It’s the same problem I’ve had from the start! If we merge, you’re going to get stuck with all the shit that’s up here.” Chris pointed to his head.
Christopher shook his head. “You say that like it’s new information. Trust me, it’s not.” Chris opened his mouth, but Christopher cut him off, but putting a hand up and continuing. “You and I, we’re more alike than we are different. You seem to think you’ll be doing me a favor by not going through with the merge, but try for just a second to think of it from my perspective. I’ve been told my whole life that this is happening. I didn’t get to go back in time to save my family. In fact I haven’t done much of anything special or heroic thanks to Wyatt always being by my side. But this merge, this is my one chance at doing something for the family that no one else can do. And I wish you’d stop trying to take that away from me.”
Taken aback by those words, Chris searched Christopher’s face, and saw nothing but open honesty there. “You really want to do this, don’t you?”
“You don’t understand how horrible my memories are.”
Christopher shook his head. “You don’t understand how great my memories are. You’re the one who’s going to be overwhelmed once we merge not me. The love and security I’ve felt my whole life is going to be enough to support both of us as we transition into one soul. So why don’t you man up, go tell Mom you’re sorry, and do this.”
After a few seconds of silence, Chris slowly nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
They orbed in unison back to the living room.
When they showed up, Leo was hugging Piper, and saying, “You know we’re doing the right thing, even if he can’t see it.”
“Mom?” Once she’d turned towards him he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Unwilling was the wrong choice of words, I have some reservations about it, and I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do, but I am willing to do it, if it’s what the whole family thinks we should do.”
She walked over and gave him a hug. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
Leo clapped his hands once and said, “Alright, let’s get everything ready.”
Within minutes, Christopher and Chris were standing shoulder to shoulder inside a chalk triquetra that had been drawn on the floor. Piper, Phoebe, Paige and Wyatt were standing outside the triquetra surrounding the two young men, and the other family members were standing further back to watch. Piper, Phoebe, Paige, and Wyatt all joined hands and started chanting the same spell over and over again.
Two bright minds
Merged into one
With separate memories
The second time through, both Chris and Christopher started groaning in pain, and put their hands on their heads. The chanting grew louder as the four witches put all of their energy into making the spell come to fruition. Chris and Christopher both started to flicker in and out of solid form. Their hips and shoulders appeared to melt together first, and both of them groaned louder as the pain intensified. Slowly the two bodies slid together and formed one person, and two groans became one sound.
Piper, Phoebe, Paige, and Wyatt all finished the chant one more time before stopping, and letting go of each other’s hands. Chris slowly fell to his knees, and screamed as sharp shooting jolts of pain went through his head while his brain tried to reconfigure itself to accommodate two sets of memories. Piper and Wyatt rushed to either side of him, and put their hands on his shoulders to help support him. It took a few seconds, but soon the pain subsided into something tolerable, and Chris slumped down with relief. He would have fallen to the floor if Piper and Wyatt weren’t holding him up.
Leo knelt down in front of the panting young man, and put a hand on the side of his face. “Chris?”
A weak sounding, “Yeah,” came out of him. “It worked.”
“How are you doing?” Piper asked.
“It hurts, but…” He made eye contact with both of his parents and his brother, seeing them in a whole new light from two very different perspectives, and found the common thread in both was the love he felt for all of them. “…I can already tell this was the perfect solution. I feel… whole, and it feels right.” He smirked and added, “Other than the massive headache that is.”
Wyatt put a hand on the top of his little brother’s head and closed his eyes. Half a second later, Chris’ headache was gone.
“Thanks,” Chris said, and attempted to stand up. Once he was upright, he swayed on his feet.
“Let’s get him to the couch,” Leo said.
Soon he was lying on the couch with his head resting on his mother’s lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, while his father took his shoes off for him, and Wyatt draped a blanket over his shoulders.
“What about dinner?” Chris mumbled.
“You sleep,” Piper said, “Let your body adjust. We can have our celebration dinner tomorrow.”
Chris smiled as the Christopher side of his personality reassured the Chris side that he had plenty of time to spend with his family, because he was no longer on a deadline to save the world or save himself.
Within seconds he was asleep, utterly exhausted from the ordeal, and feeling content with the knowledge that he was surrounded by the people who loved him.
# # #
Three months later, Chris wanted to say that he had fully adjusted to his new life, but the truth of the matter was that some days were still difficult. Most days his two personalities melded into one flawlessly, but once in a while one side of him was more prominent than the other. On the days when his prominent personality was more Chris than Christopher, he generally ended up doing things he normally wouldn’t do. He didn’t know if the difficult days were eventually going to fade away or if they were going to be permanent. Wyatt liked to jokingly call them his ‘original’ days, because he apparently found Chris’ bad choices amusing.
Chris could tell that today was going to be one of his difficult days. He tried to stop himself from going down that path again and again without success. It was kind of like being on a train he knew was going to crash with no way to stop it. He knew his day would be ending like all of his other difficult days; with a lecture and swats from one of his parents, followed by lots of affection and coddling, but that knowledge didn’t stop him from continuing down that path.
It had started at five a.m. when he’d woken up from a nightmare about Evil Wyatt killing their mother. Then after having a cup of hot chocolate, he’d fallen asleep on the couch in his apartment. That meant he’d slept through the alarm that was going off in his bedroom, and woke up ten minutes after he was supposed to be at work.
Once he got to work, the sous chef had yelled at him for five minutes before sending him off to start cooking. He had trouble focusing while cooking, and ended up messing up three different dishes before the chef sent him home for the day to ‘get his head on straight’. Chris knew he would have been fired at least five times over the past three months if is mother didn’t own the restaurant. On the one hand, he was grateful to have that kind of job security while he was busy solving his internal conflicts, but on the other hand he felt guilty every time ‘original’ Chris couldn’t be pushed aside during working hours, because on any normal day Chris was excellent at his job.
As usual when this happened, instead of following his natural inclination to go see his parents, which both sides of him viewed as childish and needy, he went to his apartment to sulk. Then when his mind just wouldn’t shut up, he would either do some day drinking, or more often than not, he’d orb to the underworld to see what he could kill. Today he decided on both, and orbed to the underworld after his second beer.
Inevitably, two minutes after Chis got there, Wyatt orbed in beside him.
“What’s up, Chris?”
“Nothing. Go back to magic school and keep doing whatever you were doing.”
“Oh,” Wyatt said with a sigh.
“Oh? What do you mean oh?” Chris asked with a glare.
Wyatt cocked his head to the side and said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go home, tell Mom and Dad you’re having an original day, and get a hug without the swats for pulling whatever crap you’re about to pull?”
“Screw you!” he hissed, and punched Wyatt in the arm.
“Guess not,” Wyatt said, rolling his eyes. He gestured towards the dark cave they were standing in, and said, “Go ahead. Dig yourself in deeper. But you’d better believe I’m going to tell Mom and Dad that you hit me, so you’re already in trouble.”
“You’re going to tell on me?” Chris asked, not quite believing it.
Chris paused at that. “You never used to tell on me.”
Wyatt nodded in agreement. “You never used to get yourself in trouble on purpose.”
Chris felt his cheeks heating up, and couldn’t keep his eyes on his brother. “It’s not on purpose… exactly.”
“I know.” Wyatt put an arm around Chris’ shoulders. “So why don’t we go home, and you can tell Dad what’s going on before you do something stupid?”
After thinking it over Chris said, “Are you really going to tell Dad I hit you?”
“Yeah, but only because if I don’t, it will take you longer to get out of original mode.”
“Stop calling it original,” Chris snapped, “It’s a difficult day, not an original day.”
“Fine,” Wyatt agreed easily, “If I don’t tell on you, you’ll continue to have a difficult day. I worry that if I don’t help cut it short, one of these times you’re going to do something really bad, and Dad’s going to decide you need a full spanking instead of a few swats, and honestly, I never want to experience the whitelighter side effects of that again.”
Chris frowned, but nodded. He knew exactly how horrible it had been for both sides of his personality. Resigning himself to going home, Chris said, “How about I tell Dad?”
“Sure, that would be much better all the way around. But if you chicken out, I’ll do it for you.”
Chris nodded, and the two of them orbed home.
They found Leo reading a book on history. When he saw them, he set the book down on the couch and said, “What happened?”
Wyatt nudged Chris forward and waited a few seconds. When Chris didn’t talk, Wyatt sighed. “Chris is having an original day.”
Chris glared back at him and hissed, “Difficult.”
“I see.” Leo stood up, and pulled Chris into a hug. “Wanna tell me about it?” he asked.
“No,” Chris said with a pout. Wyatt crossed his arms and opened his mouth, but Chris quickly added, “But I will.”
Leo sat down on the couch, and pulled Chris down to sit next to him. Wyatt sat on the armchair next to them. Chris glared at him and said, “Shouldn’t you be at magic school?”
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” Wyatt answered.
Leo put a hand on Chris’ knee. “Come on, Chris, talk to me.”
Keeping his voice low, Chris said, “I had a nightmare about Evil Wyatt killing Mom. I couldn’t get those thoughts out of my head all day, and that ended up making me late to work. But even at work I couldn’t concentrate, and I got sent home again.”
“It’s only been three months Chris,” Leo said. “It’s going to take time to adjust.”
“Tell him what happened next,” Wyatt said, looking at his watch, “and make it quick, I need to get back.”
Feeling guilty for keeping his brother from his schooling, Chris said sullenly, “I went home, had a couple of beers, and then went to the underworld to see what was around for me to kill. Wyatt showed up to ruin my fun, and mocked me about my ‘original’ behavior, so I socked him on the arm.”
Wyatt stood. “I didn’t mock you, Chris, I simply was pointing out the truth.” He said to Leo, “I’m going back to school. I’ll see you guys tonight.”
“Thanks, Wyatt,” Leo said with sincerity.
Once Wyatt had orbed out, Leo and Chris looked at each other for a few seconds. Leo held up a hand and ticked off fingers as he made points. “Drinking, going to the underworld without backup, and hitting your brother.”
“Dad…” Chris said hesitantly, trying to spin things in a positive light. “I barely hit Wyatt at all.”
“Mmm Hmm” Leo hummed, clearly not believing his son. He stood up, pulled Chris up with him, and swatted his butt six times before letting go of his arm.
“Ow,” Chris said with a pout as he rubbed out the sting.
Leo sat back down, patted the couch, and said, “Sit back down.” Once Chris was sitting, Leo said, “I’ve noticed a pattern. If you skip a family dinner, two nights in a row, you have one of these days.”
Chris thought that over. “It seems like I’m over here all the time already, and you’re saying I need more?”
“I’m saying for now, dinner with us every other day is probably going to keep you out of trouble. The side of you that grew up with us is more than ready to move out and be on your own, but the other side of you still needs us. You have to give that Chris a chance to spend more time with us, and hopefully the nightmares will stop.”
Chris nodded and said, “I guess dinner with you guys every other night isn’t such a bad idea.”
“Your mother and I love seeing you so home so often. Before the merge it was more like once a week, so we have no complaints.”
Relaxing, and feeling much more like his new melded personality, Chris said, “Since I’m here, and since I was too distracted to cook at work today, how about I make us dinner?”
“That sounds great. I’ll come help.”
The two of them got up, and went to the kitchen together to make dinner for the family. As Chris started getting out ingredients, he begrudgingly decided Wyatt was right. He did feel better now that he’d confessed to Leo and gotten a hug. Maybe the swats had helped, too, but he refused to admit that, even to himself.
That night, as Chris sat with his family at the dinner table, he leaned back and listened to them talking and laughing about their respective days. He felt the usual contentment and joy that had filled him during every family dinner since the merge, and realized his father was right. For the foreseeable future, he needed to do this every other day, or maybe even every day. The Christopher side of him would just have to deal with a little more family time than he used to get, because the Chris side of him needed the love, comfort, and reassurance of seeing his family whole. And if that was the price he had to pay for saving his family and the world, it was well worth it.
(Feedback makes me happy.)
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