With Ben apparently no longer in imminent danger, Barbas's stranglehold of fear was broken on Chris and the Halliwell surged forward, stumbling across the room, tripping over his own feet to drop to his knees beside Ben. This couldn't be happening… This just could NOT be happening. Not again, not to him. His hands were shaking; he was shaking as he reached out to touch Ben, terrified that his friend would be cold.

Across the room, there was another explosion and Barbas was blasted off his feet and into a stack of boxes, flattening them and scattering their contents with a loud whumph as the air was squashed from themThere were heeled footsteps coming slowly and deliberately across the boarded floor and Chris turned, his vision opaque and silver from tears he didn't even realise were in his eyes to see two bleary shapes crossing the room. Swiping at his eyes with his fingers he lifted the veil of tears and saw his mother and Aunt Paige crossing the room.

"One of these days, we're going to find a way to make you stay dead," Piper snarled, threateningly, her hands poised to deploy another explosion. "Don't think we won't do it."

Barbas cocked an eyebrow and laughed at her condescendingly, twisting his mouth into a grin. "You keep saying that, Piper. One day, you might even believe it yourself." He gave the two Charmed Ones a royal wave before shimmering out.

Piper growled at the back of her throat, flicking out a wrist and blowing apart a misshapen box out of anger. The sudden explosion did nothing to calm her. So she flicked her other wrist, sending three boxes catapulting into the air, smouldering and belching dark smoke, to burst on the boarded floor and spew their innards everywhere. Her blood pressure still through the roof, she raised her first hand once more.

Paige grabbed it quickly out of the air and lowered it to Piper's side. "Some of the stuff in those boxes is probably valuable either sentimentally or actually, so let's just put these down, okay? Let's not blow up the heirlooms, got it?"

Piper sighed wearily and nodded, running her free hand across her face and through her tangled hair, her fingers wrenching at knots as they went. Paige had orbed home because she had forgotten a set of papers that she was meant to have had in her boss's in-tray by ten and had heard explosions coming from the nursery.

The witch-whitelighter had orbed upstairs in a panic to find Piper, eyes feral, clutching Wyatt to her chest and using her other hand to blast everything in sight. Wyatt was bawling his eyes out and Piper was jiggling him up and down absently in a way that must have been pretty uncomfortable for the kid to try and comfort him.

Paige had nearly been blown to pieces herself when she had orbed in; only dropping to the floor had saved her. Piper's power had blown up a wall scone. It had taken almost ten minutes of soothing and trying to decipher Piper's babbling before Piper had allowed Paige to take Wyatt from her, and a further five minutes after that to realise that Piper's frenzy was due to her fear that everything in the room was a shape-shifting demon after Wyatt.

The room had been wrecked. The crib, the wardrobe, the chest of drawers, all of the stuffed animals and the changing table were all lying in multiple pieces across the floor. Piper had been hiding in the corner, trying to shield Wyatt's face. She had even blown up the rug in some places: holes glowed evilly with orange edges revealing the blackened boarding beneath. And yet still the oldest Charmed One had been exploding anything that she could see.

Paige looked guiltily at her sister's cheek, the scarlet remnant of her handprint still marring Piper's skin. She had had to slap her sister to shock her out of her hysteric.

Chris's nails were digging into his palms. Ben was lying curled-up on his side with his back to Chris, his face mostly-obscured by his hands. Swallowing, Chris finally found the courage to put a hand on Ben's arm. He felt neither cold nor heat radiating through the cloth of his friend's top and gripped tighter, willing him to feel something to end this torturous question.

As Piper's heartbeat began to return to normal she started to feel more like herself again. She stretched her neck to try and relieve some of the tension that was gripping her body. She couldn't believe that she'd actually wrecked the entire nursery just because Barbas had distracted her with a vague fear of shape-shifting demons. She had thought that she was better than that — that was why she was so angry with him. Her eyes turned to Chris, who was kneeling in front of a prone form. Her heartbeat leapt into her throat, its thumping cutting off her breathing with a strangled noise mid-breath. Not again, not another one… "Oh, Chris… Sweetie…"

She walked across the room and put her arms around his shoulders. He didn't even protest, his rigid form not moving, barely breathing, showed hardly any awareness that she was there. "Come on, sweetie. Come on, get up."

"Yeah, come on, come and sit down," Paige suggested, putting a hand on his shoulder. To Piper, she said, "I think he's in shock. Get him onto the couch, I'll go and get him a blanket and something hot to drink."

"So what? A guy has to be in a state of medical emergency to get a coffee around here?"

Chris gave a strangled cry and fell backwards, bowling Paige over and narrowly avoiding knocking his mother to the floor as well. "Ben!"

The witch rolled over, shoving white-streaked hair off his forehead. His face was shining with sweat even now and strands clung to his damp forehead. He looked up at the group watching over him; his eyes hollow mirrors of Chris's expression: the expression of someone who had been to hell and back within fifteen minutes.

"That is NOT fair! I thought you were dead!" Chris yelled accusingly, surging forward and punching his friend's arm repeatedly.

"Yeah, well, ditto," Ben mumbled, shying away from Chris's blows and shuffling up into a sitting position. His face was grey, pinched and lined and Chris backed off, realising that Ben needed as much space as they could give him right now.

"But we're all okay?" Piper asked. "Right? And that's what's important."

Ben let out a shaky breath and the forced himself to grin. "Right. We're all okay." His words drummed hollow despite the effort he put in to stop them.

Piper let out an exasperated breath. "Well, no, you're not okay but you're… okay. As in alive."

"You get plus points for being alive," Paige confirmed. "A page full of checkmarks."

Ben once again pushed dishevelled, fear-bleached hair from his forehead, exposing a mass of furrows like a ploughed field residing there. He put his head in his hands, rubbed his eyes with his fingers and then looked back up at them. "Woot. I get an A just for being alive? Why did nobody tell me about this class in school?"

Chris forced a laugh. "Because getting an A in life would have sent you on a massive ego-trip, the likes of which we've never seen?"

"Touché."

"Grab the Book of Shadows," Piper said. "We'll sit around the kitchen table and see what we can do with this whole situation. I'll make some tea. We'll get through this."

"Tea? Piper, look at them. I think you might just have to put a little something stronger in their cups. Come on: It's six o' clock somewhere in the world."

"Fine, grab the Book of Shadows, come downstairs and I'll make tea and lace it with something. THEN we get down to figuring out what to do about Barbas. Everyone happy with that plan?" She got no replies so just assumed that, if she had, they would have all been affirmative. Clapping her hands together, she led the way down the stairs.

Learning to Tango

"Oh, sure, hide out in the last place I'd look," Chris grumbled, leaning against the doorjamb.

Ben turned and offered him a ghost of a smile before turning his back on Chris again. "Sorry. I couldn't sleep — couldn't face being inside. I kept expecting the walls to start moving in on me."

Chris shrugged and made his way onto the balcony, the night air nipping at his flesh. He skirted around the small iron table and its set of chairs and walked over to Ben, who was sitting on the wall with his legs dangling over the side. "Not a problem."

"I'm really sorry, Chris."

Chris frowned. "Um… What for? You haven't done anything wrong."

Ben rolled his eyes and turned back to face Chris, one leg hanging over the side the other bent and resting on the wall. "Me and my stupid fear nearly got us killed. I think I that translates to me owing you a rather large apology."

"No, Barbas nearly got us killed by using your fear. It wasn't your fault; quit blaming yourself for something out of your control. Besides, Mom and my aunts are on it. Well, were on it before they went to sleep. They'll have Barbas under control before you know it, and everything can go back to the way it was."

"Really? Great! My world was perfect before Barbas showed up — I just can't wait!"

Chris sighed and leant on the edge of the table, folding his arms across his chest. "You know what I mean."

Ben groaned and rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "I know. Just… ignore me. Brushes with death make me a little tetchy."

"Brushes? That was a full on, clammy hand around your wrist, come into the light experience," Chris told him. "Not just a brush. You get full snarking privileges."

A loud rushing of leaves announced a breeze blowing onto the balcony before it actually arrived. When it did, it wormed its way through the thin cotton Chris was wearing, making him shiver. Ben was looking out across the street again, probably at nothing. This sucked. He was a bastard for putting Ben through this. He was a bastard for putting them all through this — look where he'd got Nixa and Bridget. All because he couldn't accept Wyatt's fate. And what had he changed, really? He didn't know.

He was sure that Ben was probably going through the same turmoil in his head at the moment that he was. As they gradually changed the future from the past with their actions, a new set of memories — often contradicting everything they'd held as true before — cropped up in their brains. Chris could barely tell what was true and what wasn't anymore. He'd misplaced large chunks of his life through his actions, and yet he still remembered Wyatt turning evil, and that was the crucial thing, the thing he longed to wake up one morning and forget. Even though, the second Wyatt was saved from evil, he probably would be pinged back to the future because he would have had no reason to come back in the first place.

Ugh. Time travel.

"It's kind of cold out—" He was cut off abruptly by Ben grabbing a bottle of Jack Daniels from the ledge below him and thrusting it in his direction. The amber liquid sloshed against the side of the bottle.

He laughed, looking in Ben half in disbelief. "Well, this is one way to solve that problem…" He took a swig from the bottle, sending some dribbling down his chin. The liquor burned at his throat as he swallowed and he grimaced. The alcohol hit his stomach and what was probably a placebo warming effect was instant. "Where did you get this?"

"I saw where your mom got it from where she put some in the tea," Ben said with a shrug, refusing to look at Chris again. "I didn't think she'd mind if I borrowed it. And then I figured that, even if she did, it would be all gone anyway. So it's just win-win either way."

"How long have you been out here?" Chris asked. He was about to hand the bottle back to his friend but thought better of it, taking another gulp before doing so. He wiped it mouth on the back of his hand as his face contorted before tapping Ben on the back with the base of the bottle wordlessly and his friend twisted to retrieve the alcohol.

"Sharing smuggled liquor is so high school," Ben mumbled, looking down at the bottle and checking the level of it. He wasn't completely drunk yet. It was kind of a warm, numbing buzz that slowed down his mind and the melee of thoughts that were bouncing around up there, calming him. And that was what he needed right now. A little more and he might start to forget entirely how he thought that he was drowning in the Bay only hours ago…

"Look at us, the rebels, huh?"

Ben didn't answer, choosing to continue to stare out over the neighbourhood again, his heels banging lightly against the side of the house as he swung his legs absently. He set the bottle down on the ledge beside his left foot again, chewing on his lower lip. The breeze came back with a slight vengeance; blowing into his face and making his eyes water a little, tossing his hair about. "This sucks," he said, suddenly forceful, turning back to Chris. "This really sucks."

"Well, it's night, it's not that warm at all and you're precariously balanced whilst drinking something that makes you dizzy. It's not gonna be fab—"

"You know what I mean," Ben said. "Not this… This. Everything. The past sucks. This freaking crusade sucks. We haven't come close to saving Wyatt, we've… we've… Lost Nixa and Bridget. We have nothing to show for all of this. There was no point."

"We killed the games masters," Chris said quietly, swallowing and looking at the floor, curling his bare toes into the stone beneath them. "We did achieve something. They were after Wyatt. All of our research shows that there was a big bad and they were… pretty big. And bad. And now they're neither, because they're dead."

"We don't know that killing them was the answer. Especially not now that Barbas has wormed his way out of the woodwork. He is probably Wyatt's big bad. And you know what? We can't kill him. We never have been able to, Chris. So… so I don't know. I don't know. Oh, God. There's nothing we can do. We can't save Wyatt, we can't go back to the future because the Wyatt that we couldn't save will string us up by our thumbs. Great guy, you're brother. I don't tell him enough how much I love the whole oppressive tyrant thing he's got going."

Chris put his head in his hands. There was nothing that he could say to that. What was the answer to that? Except… "That's the bottle from the dining room sideboard, right?"

Ben nodded. "Yup. Why?"

"No reason. It just means that there's still a bottle of something in the living room."

Learning to Tango

The inside of his mouth tasted like dirt. Frowning, something wet and squishy and cold pressed against his forehead as he wrinkled it and he opened his eyes, seeing a tiny sliver of green-tinged light but nothing else. Immediately, the green light began spinning and Ben could feel his stomach lurching along with it.

Groaning, the witch tried stretching his arms, only to find that his fingers were cramped around something. He frowned again, the wet sensation back before finding the strength to sit up. But he couldn't. He rolled onto his back and completed the desired action, looking around him as his surroundings swayed and quickly summarised that he was in the Manor's garden before having to lie back down again as fast as he could. Clutched in his right hand was the neck of the empty Jack Daniels bottle. It was broken, the rest of the bottle nowhere to be seen and he uncurled his fingers, hissing as they protested. He sat up again, determined to stay vertical this time and reached up to his forehead, finding smudges of mud covering it. He rubbed his face, finding it streaked with more dirt.

Chris was lying on his face not far from him, and Ben crawled over to his friend, shaking the witch-whitelighter's shoulders gently. Chris groaned, turning his head away from Ben, who rolled his eyes and turned Chris's face back towards his. This time, Chris's eyes opened. They were bloodshot, bleary and unfocussed, but they opened.

"Where are we?"

"Well, we've got off at the end of the line. Hangoverville. Population, us," Ben exposited sarcastically, not answering Chris's question at all. A pounding headache had just asserted itself between his eyes, forcing him to wince and pinch the bridge of his nose. Looking down at his hand, he could see that it was cut, probably from the broken bottle. Actually, his ankle hurt like hell, too. Already barefoot from the previous night, the witch had no trouble looking down at it and no trouble finding it various ugly hues of black, blue and purple. What the hell had he done last night to do this to himself?

"The garden. We're in the garden?" Chris asked, taking in his surroundings. He rubbed at his temples, trying to force away the fuzziness, dizziness and pain that had taken up residence inside his skull. "How—"

"Oh, so you're awake," Piper snapped, coming into the garden. She had wrapped her robe around herself against the chill of the morning and knotted it smartly, her lips pressed into an angry line.

"Mom—"

"Don't 'Mom' me," Piper bit out, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at Chris.

"Okay, what's going on?" Ben asked fearfully. "What did we do?"

Piper barked out a short laugh. "You don't even remember? Great. Great. So you were so wasted you don't even get to feel guilty about me freaking out."

Chris groaned, rubbing his head again. "This is not good, is it?"

"Understatement of the century, mister," Piper said, rubbing at her arms as the cold bit through the terrycloth she was wearing on them. "Now come on. Get up. I am getting hypothermia out here. Get inside the house where it's more convenient for me to yell at you both for your… STUPIDITY." She turned on her heel and stormed back in through the French window into the sunroom, not looking back as she made her way through the dining room and back into the kitchen.

Chris and Ben paused before crossing the threshold of the sunroom, exchanging worried looks. Chris pulled a face, closing the door behind him with a quiet click. He glanced towards the kitchen, where no trace of his mother could be seen. He felt Ben nudge him forward and turned around to shoot a glare at his best friend, only receiving a 'What-can-you-do?' shrug and a grin.

Together, they crossed the dining room, pressing on into the kitchen before either of them could lose their nerve. Piper was sitting at the kitchen table. Her account books from P3 were spread across the table and the three chairs that she wasn't sitting on. She was sipping coffee and staring at the door, spoiling for the fight that was about to come.

"So you decided to join me?" she said tightly, slamming her coffee down onto the coaster and giving them a sickly sweet grin.

"Piper—"

"Jumping off the balcony at three in the morning!" she exploded disbelievingly, unable to contain herself any longer. "What on Earth were you both thinking? Apart from deciding to commit some lame, drunken suicide attempt?"

Chris winced at his mother's yelling, wishing that he could shrunk into the wall. "We did?" he tried weakly, pulling a face. He ran a hand over his eyes, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry…"

"You scared me half to death," Piper hissed, picking up her coffee mug again. She took a gulp from the mug and put it back down, her features collapsing and softening. "Look…" she sighed, shaking her head. Hair wormed itself free from the loose bun that she had twisted it up into that morning and she gently tucked it backwards. "I'm mad. And you were stupid. But… I guess that it was an acceptable type of stupid. You were in pain and you were drunk. So, well, I'm not condoning your actions per se, but I can't exactly condemn them either. So just… get some orange juice into you. And some painkillers and some coffee and stay far from my sight because I'll probably still be angry until at least tomorrow."

"I really am sorry, Mom," Chris murmured quietly, moving forwards to hug her. "I promise."

Piper smiled. "That's all I ask for, sweetie. Now, scram. Don't tell anyone, but I'm trying to see if I can find any business expenses to deduct and could do with the peace and quiet."

Learning to Tango

"Are we really going to do this?" Ben asked, sitting down on the back of the couch and folding his arms. "Are you telling me that this is the only way?"

"I tried to get mom and the aunts to do it before you got here, but that attempt ended in complete disaster. I think that this potion could work. And, if it does, then we don't need to worry about saving Wyatt. We can just go home, having achieved it."

"They're never going to go for the idea," Ben warned.

"They have to," Chris said firmly. "If they don't, then we will do everything in our power to make them go for it. Barbas has appeared on the scene, and yet it might not even be him that turns Wyatt. We can't stay here to keep taking the bullets for him, especially because we're going to be losing our powers to ourselves soon. We need to get back to the future and we can't do that until we've done what we came here for, and to do that—"

"We need to do this," Ben said flatly, sighing. "I just can't believe that it's come to this, that's all."

"We've got most of the ingredients for the potion," Chris said. "We're gonna have to go and get a couple of them, but we're used to scrounging around for ingredients. The hard bit is going to be convincing them."

"I guess the selling point is that the way we want to do it is not permanent," Ben mused. "They can undo it any time in the future if they want to. Just like the way it happened to them, I guess. Once the danger has passed, Wyatt can get his powers back. We'll think of something. Mostly, we've just got to make them see how this is the final, last ditch attempt to stop Wyatt growing up and going crazy and killing. They don't want that for him anymore than we do."

"Let's worry about making the potion before we worry about breaking the news," Chris said, finishing scribbling down the list of required ingredients onto a PostIt. He stuffed the square piece of paper in his pocket. "All set. Let's go."

Learning to Tango

How could such a small little bottle hold so much power? Ben turned it over in his hands slowly, absently, pushing the cork deeper into the vial with his thumb to tighten the seal. Nothing was going to escape this bottle; they were going to need every single drop to bind Wyatt's powers. He sighed, placing the bottle on the step next to him carefully and watching the sunlight shine into it, making it glow. He tore his eyes away from it and looked out over Prescott Street. It was coming evening now. The sun had begun to sink and its rays were turning cold and the shadows were lengthening. This was what Prescott Street was meant to look like. This was the quiet suburbia that Prescott Street was meant to be, not some rubble-strewn, scarred battlefield with only the Manor a couple of the other houses left in tact. Wyatt and his regime had torn this neighbourhood apart. At first apparently for a reason — rooting out Resistance members that had stayed huddled close to the Manor because of everything that it had used to represent — but then just for fun. Just because they could.

But… did that give them the right to deny Wyatt what was rightfully his? Did that give him and Chris permission to bind the kid's powers to make sure that none of this happened? He didn't know, and the argument had been chasing itself around inside his head over and over and over again without tiring itself out as he would have expected of it. He growled in frustration. What had they done that was judged as so horribly wrong in their past lives to deserve this? Did anyone deserve this?

Although, what had Nixa done to be left gutted under the dining room table; tossed under there like she was no more than a discarded plaything? And what had Bridget done to deserve being kidnapped by a demon, have her child turned evil and then be killed by demons that wanted that child? What had he done to be tortured for days for the location of their arsenals, only to have them already in Wyatt's grasp? To be kept chained up in a cell for attempting to restart the Resistance, only for Wyatt to eventually remove all his powers and prevent him from ever being a threat?

And Chris…

What horrific and twisted things did someone have to do in their previous life to get that kind of Karmic Retribution? To have to hold his dying mother in his arms? To have to try and stop his evil brother who repeatedly tried to wipe him off the face of the Earth whilst still somehow loving him?

They were all good people, they were, and yet they seemed to be so far out of the rules about Karma that it scared Ben a little. They were doing good things. They had always done good things, so why was the cosmos so keen to dole out such fates for them?

Someone was walking up behind him, but he didn't look up or turn around as Piper came and sat next to him on one of the front steps. He watched the light inside the vial, how it was reflected by its glass sides into the potion, making it glitter.

He caught her looking at it curiously and, although he'd promise Chris he'd wait until the three sisters were all together so that they could pitch their idea to the Charmed Ones as a whole, Ben was suddenly exhausted from all of the sneaking and creeping and the lying that he had been doing lately. "Most powerful binding potion we've ever created," he exposited, picking it up again. "I think it's the drop of Darklighter poison that helps. It was a bitch to get. I got to be the duck in the shooting gallery in the Underworld." The witch looked up at Piper then, smiling sadly at her. He shoved the vial into his pocket just as she wrapped a comforting, motherly arm around him. Ben felt a pang, remembering his own mother. It only made him more determined to save Wyatt and do it right. That way, the kid version of himself could grow up happily without a huge cloud of impending threat hanging over him.

"It's for Wyatt," Piper said.

It wasn't a question and Ben looked away to resume his blank stare. Eventually, he said heavily, "If we can't save him then we've got to stop him." He shrugged, shoving his hand in his pocket and closing it around the cool glass sides of the vial and removing it from his pocket one more. He had to touch it — he had to keep reassuring himself that the solution to everything was still there with him.

Piper sighed heavily as she tapped her fingers on her knees. "Wyatt… He could do such good…"

"And such evil."

Piper didn't have an answer for that, and the haunted look in the witch's eyes was all the confirmation she needed as to what her oldest son had done in Ben's future, so she tried to make light of the situation. "I see Chris has moved from neurotic Whitelighter to Terminator wannabe. Where is he?"

Ben didn't know where Chris was. The witch-whitelighter had said that he was going on one final errand before they talked to the sisters and had orbed away. Again. Startled by his bitterness, he was moved to shoot back immediately, "He was never neurotic. Life just got really screwed up, and I think he's starting to realise that he never knew what exactly he had until he's got next to nothing." A shadow of a smile appeared on his face. "Of course he's still got me."

Ben had never seen Chris like this. Not even when his mother was killed had Chris gone this determined-branch of nuts. Although to be fair they had a hard time with what happened with Wyatt afterwards and Chris hadn't had the time to crack — he'd been starting up a large-scale resistance against Wyatt.

Orbing lights appeared in front of them at that moment and Ben looked him, knowing it could only be one person. "Speak of the devil," he muttered as Chris appeared, streaks of black ash across his face and clothes and a rather ugly looking burn on one shoulder. The huge dark circles under his eyes and his pale skin combined with his weight loss and the fact that the skin on his face was stretched too tight made him look one step away from dead. His face was set, but he took a look at the scene. Ben was twiddling the vial between two fingers and Piper looked conflicted, and he suddenly knew what had happened. His face fell. This wasn't really how this was meant to go…

"Whoa, Chris!" Ben yelped as Chris grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and dragged him to his feet.

"Let's get to work." Chris's voice was clear and angered and Piper looked at him bewildered as he yanked a none-too-complacent Ben across the threshold and telekinetically slammed the door behind them.

Learning to Tango

Chris didn't stop hauling Ben by the arm until they were in the attic. He banged that door behind him with his power as well and then sharply let go of his friend in a way that nearly unbalanced him. Chris crossed to the Book of Shadows, which was open from his last visit.

"You told," Chris said accusingly, wishing that that sentence hadn't made himself sound twelve.

"Sorry," Ben said defensively, looking hurt at the anger in Chris's face. "But I can't do this anymore. I'm sick of lying. They need to be told the truth. The sooner we start telling them what really went on in the future, fuck the consequences, the sooner they'll be on our side for the binding of Wyatt's powers."

"Maybe you're right…" Chris said distractedly, running a hand through his hair. "I can't even tell if I'm right anymore." He turned around. The sun was really fading now and the room was being absorbed by twilight. He walked over to the window and looked out. The horizon was splashed with purples and oranges as the sun faded, for practically as far as the eye could see.

"Exactly," Ben said quietly. "The sooner we tell them all about this, the sooner that they'll be willing to do it."

"It's getting dark," Chris said absently, wrapping his arms around himself.

"It's called night, buddy," Ben said, only a hint of amusement in his voice. He groaned and rubbed at his eyes and forehead, tilting his head backwards to stare at the ceiling.

Piper came in the door, leaning against the doorjamb. She was carrying Wyatt on her hip. He was playing with her necklace, and she had to keep untangling his fingers while she was talking. "Paige just got home," she said quietly. "I called Phoebe and said that we needed an urgent meeting. She's on her way. I'm not going to promise anything to you two but… we will talk about binding his powers." She gestured to Wyatt with her head as she did so. "If you can't see any other option then we have to do this, if only to save a lot of people. This is going to sound stupid but… will you two watch him? I don't want him to be there while we're discussing his entire future."

"Sure," Ben said, holding out his arms for the kid. Wyatt turned away from Piper slightly, still keeping a death grip on her necklace, but stretched another arm out to Ben expectantly, waving around the toy train that he had clutched in his other fist.

Piper hesitated and sighed. "This is awkward, because it sounds like I don't trust you, and it's not that, it's just…"

Ben held out the potion to her immediately. "You don't trust us. And that's okay. I'm not sure that I'd trust us either." He took Wyatt from Piper, slowly prising the kid's fingers off Piper's necklace. "Hey, you. Whatcha got there?" Wyatt held out his train and Ben smiled, carrying Wyatt over to the playpen in the middle of the room. "Are you gonna play with it for a while in there?"

"Ben, no. Don't think of it like that. It's more…" But she struggled to find the words. There was a tiny, very tiny, niggling part of her brain that was telling her that they were both so desperate to save the future that they would do anything for it, no matter what the cost. It was only a small part, and the majority of her knew that they would never do anything this major or reckless without at least her consent but… the doubt was there. And that was enough. "This… this could take a while," Piper said a little shakily, her eyes misting slightly as she looked at her son. She crossed the room to her son and stroked his blond hair before kissing him on the forehead. "Be good sweetie." She left the room quickly, without looking back, the potion curled in her hand.

"Do you think that they're going to do it?" Ben asked, leaning into the playpen and running Wyatt's train around the bottom.

Chris shrugged, leaning forward on his forearms on the Book's pages. "I don't know. But I hope so. If they don't, then we don't have a Plan C. Except sit around here and be royally screwed."

"This is the right thing to do, isn't it?" Ben asked, straightening up. "This is the right thing to do, and not the selfish, cop out thing to do?"

Chris snorted, looking down at the Book of Shadows. He plucked moodily at a page. "Recently, I've not exactly been the shining example of morals that I should have been. Why are you asking me?"

"Because, if I keep asking myself, I'll go crazy," Ben shot back. "And that won't be pretty."

"Binding — and only binding, remember, this isn't stripping — Wyatt's powers will save lives. I can't see what's selfish about that."

"Really?" Ben asked sceptically, sitting back down on the back of the couch again.

Chris slammed the Book closed sourly. "No. Okay? Is that what you want to here? No, this is so the selfish way to do things, no matter how many selfless examples I sugar coat it with. We're only doing this so we can get home to a good future. We're only doing this so that Nixa and Bridget… Selfish reasons. Very selfish reasons. But—"

A loose floorboard squeaked. Ben immediately jumped up from his perch, slowly and cautiously making his way towards the centre of the room and Wyatt's playpen. Chris's eyes narrowed and he slipped around the pedestal holding the book, green irises darting around the room. The prolonged period of silence deafened both of them, their hammering hearts the only audible sounds that they could hear. They were just about to dismiss the noise when they heard it again, and again.

Ben whipped around, circling and surveying the apparently empty room. "Chris, get Wyatt out of here," he said tensely. "I'll be right behind you."

Chris strode into the middle of the room and bent to pick up Wyatt and orb out with him, when the invisible presence backhanded him, sending him flying backwards into a table. He smashed through it and crashed to the floor, winded. Ben stepped forwards but was telekinetically thrown into the wall. He crashed to the floor too, just as Chris was scrambling up.

Over the playpen, Gideon suddenly appeared. He looked over at them and sneered, raising a warning hand as Ben got to his feet and stepped forward. The witch flicked out his wrists, sending a burst of fire to explode on the Elder's chest. Gideon was blasted from his feet and slammed into a bookcase. Ben and Chris advanced on him.

"Gideon?" Chris stuttered disbelievingly. "You? An Elder? Why?"

"The Greater Good," Gideon sneered, reaching inside his robe and conjuring his dagger. "Now stay out of the way of this. Don't think I won't sacrifice both of you in a heartbeat."

"We're binding Wyatt's powers," Ben said. "I assume that you've probably been doing a lot of eavesdropping, so surely you should know that?"

Chris took a couple of steps backwards, needing a little room to breathe and process. Gideon. This was Gideon. The Gideon that had captured and tortured him, the Gideon that he had assumed was a shape-shifting demon…

"Wyatt, danger," Chris bit out, watching as his brother erected his blue shield. There was no way that Gideon was going to get to Wyatt. Not after he had made so many mistakes already concerning the Elder.

Gideon suddenly shimmered slightly and disappeared from sight. Ben released another blast at the bookcase instinctively, but it didn't hit anything but books and wood. The bookcase blew apart, raining burning wood and paper across the room. Cursing, Ben ran towards the playpen just as Wyatt's shield began to stutter, being drawn into an invisible point that he guessed was Gideon's dagger. He reached down towards the failing shield, intending to grab Wyatt, when Gideon suddenly uncloaked and rammed the dagger into his stomach.

Ben stiffened, gaping, as Gideon twisted the athame and wrenched it out. The witch staggered and fell backwards onto the floor, clutching at the wound in his stomach. Gideon turned back to Wyatt's playpen, stabbing the shield with the athame and managing to draw the bubble into it, rendering it useless.

"NO!" Chris yelled, flinging out an arm and snatching the dagger from Gideon, ramming it through the Elder's shoulder. He snatched it again with his telekinesis, stabbing Gideon in the stomach and chest with it, seeing only red hot rage.

Eventually, the athame clattered to the floor. The Charmed Ones chose that moment to enter the room, gaping at the gory, bouncing knife on the rug and at Gideon starting to go up in flames.

Piper shrieked, putting a hand to her mouth and staggering backwards at the sight. As Gideon began to write in the pillar of fire, Paige's eyes widened and Phoebe clutched at the doorframe, wishing that she could close her ears to the wailing screams of the dying Elder. His face suddenly began to blister and he exploded outwards, the fire whooshing up to the ceiling and disappearing with him.

Chris was left standing behind Gideon, his face set in a pained, angry expression as the smoke cleared. He looked down at Ben on the carpet and his face drained of all colour. He swiftly crossed the room and knelt down next to his friend. He shrugged out of his jacket and folded it into a vague pad, pressing it to Ben's abdomen. "It's okay. You're going to be okay… You're fine."

Piper strode across the room, picking up Wyatt from his playpen. The toddler wasn't even crying, but he was clutching his train in his fist again and holding it out to Ben almost expectantly. Piper gently covered his face and hugged him tightly to her chest and shoulder, spiriting him out of the room as fast as she could. There was no way that she was going to allow him to see anymore oft his than he had to.

Chris grabbed Ben's wrist, searching for a pulse. It was thumping away wildly, but his friend's hand was cold and trembling. Chris lifted the corner of his jacket to see the wound better, but found that the pressure that he was applying wasn't necessarily. For the size of the wound, there was very little blood coming out, which was not good. If there was little bleeding on the outside it just meant that Ben was bleeding heavily on the inside.

Chris gritted his teeth as Ben's breathing grew shallower. "LEO! DAD? LEO, please!"

"C-Chris?" Ben gasped, turning to face his friend.

"It's okay. Leo's coming."

"Th-this isn't your f-fault. None of this is your fault. You couldn't h-have done anything-g…" Ben gasped in pain has Chris pressed harder on the wound, hoping to try and stem the blood inside as well as out somehow.

"You're fine…" Chris repeated, hoping that his mantra would work and somehow Ben would come out of this alive. No. His mantra had to work and Ben would come out of this alive. There was no other option available to him.

"What happened?" Phoebe asked, stepping in to the attic. She grimaced, side-stepping the spot where Gideon had died. "Did you just kill Gideon?"

"He was evil," Chris told her.

One look into his eyes showed Phoebe that Chris was pouring every ounce of conviction into his words but she still couldn't grasp what had gone on. "Evil? Gideon? Are you sure?"

"He tried to kill Wyatt!" Chris snapped, his eyes blazing. "Is that proof enough for you, Phoebe? He tried to kill Wyatt and now he's stabbed Ben. Should I have waited until he started making fur coats out of puppies or are we all set on the concept? "

"Chris—"

"Don't," Chris snapped. "Just don't. Don't question me, don't question my motives. If you have to stand there do something to help me. LEO! DAD! PLEASE, DAD!"

"Th-this is quite ironic, huh? We finally find the solution and someone i-introduces a blade to a couple of my v-vital organs? Actually… this is less i-ironic than it is a biweekly occurrence…" He laughed weakly, raising a fist into his mouth to cough into it, wincing at the strain it took in his abdomen.

"Leo!" Chris yelled at the ceiling. "Goddamn it Dad, get down here NOW!"

Orbing lights appeared in the middle of the room, swirling into a human form. Chris jumped up, snagging a barely-formed wrist. Leo cried out in shock and stumbled forwards, still trailing orbs.

"Dad, heal," Chris bit out desperately, peeling his jacket off Ben's wound. Blood was slowly spreading through Ben's green hoodie, staining the fabric a brown.

"How… What's going on?" Leo asked, kneeling down. His brow furrowed, his eyes widened when he saw the extent of Ben's wounds and his hands lit up immediately. He placed them over Ben's stomach, passing them over the gaping hole, but nothing happened.

"Dad, what's going on? What's happening? Why can't you heal him?"

"B-because fate's a tricky f-fucker," Ben snorted, spraying a little blood from his nose onto his upper lip. "Do you think you could g-grab me a couple of Band Aids or something? I th-think I'm making a mess of the r-rug…"

"Why isn't it working!" Chris demanded again, grabbing his father's wrists and squeezing them hard. "What are you doing wrong?" He was punctuating his words by shaking Leo's hands. Leo looked up, right into his son's green eyes, wild with worry.

"I don't know… What happened? Who did this?"

"Gideon," Chris spat, his face turning into a thundercloud as he flicked his eyes over to the pile of ash Gideon has become. "Slimy bastard. After all of that, after us trusting him…" His words choked in his throat and died and he got up, striding across the attic and running a hand through his hair, shaking his head disbelievingly. "This… How? How could this have happened?" He spun on his heel. Leo was helping Ben to sit up. The witch's face was contorted with pain. Paige had got a tumbler of water from somewhere and was slowly allowing him to take small sips from the glass.

Leo's eyes fell of the bloody dagger. The handle was scorched by the fierce heat of the inferno that had consumed Gideon, and the blade was bent. The elder picked it up and brought it close to his eye to examine in, turning it over and over in his hands. He let it fall to his side. "Chris… This is an enchanted dagger. Gideon did this and only he can undo it."

It felt like the world was rushing backwards at high speed. It felt like Chris was standing in the sand at the edge of the beach and the waves were rushing back into the sea. He felt as if he was careering backwards at a high speed, although in reality he was standing stock still, his face drained of colour. His mouth went dry. "What?" he half-gasped, paling even more. "No, that's… No. There's got to be some other way to fix this. That can't be… No…" He groped his way over to the couch and sat down, staring at the floorboards.

"What… Where's Gideon, Chris?" Leo asked, fear tingeing his voice. He opened his palm and found it smeared with thick grey ash that had rubbed off the hilt of the athame, and dropped it to the floorboard hurriedly. His eyes alighted on Gideon's cremains. "Chris. Please, Chris, tell me you didn't…"

"He was the one! He was the one that turned Wyatt!" Chris yelled savagely, leaping from the couch. "He was going to hurt Wyatt. Then he stabbed Ben and I just… I don't know. I never thought…" The rushing feeling was back again, this time accompanied by a roaring in his ears which he could only barely hear his heart over. He'd… The person that could save Ben — the only person that could save Ben — he had killed. He'd killed Gideon and that… that had killed Ben.

"D-does anyone want to stick they're finger in th-this thing?" Ben asked shakily, pushing away Paige's water weakly and shaking his head. "You know, to stop the horrendous flow of blood and s-such?" Beads of sweat were beginning to gather all over his face, and one was already rolling down the side of his head, disappearing sneakily under his chin. His breathing became more laboured and he stopped for nearly an entire minute before gasping for air once more. "You know, I c-can't believe an Elder is going to kill me. After s-surviving The Source and then Wyatt, then Wyatt the Source, hell, I even m-managed to survive Bridget, it's a fricking Elder th-that manages it? Jeez. It couldn't have b-been a dragon or something? This is not a g-glorious way to go out, you know?"

"Dragons are extinct," Chris replied, trying to swallow the tears that were welling in his eyes. "Duh."

"Oh, and what was the S-source supposed to b-be, huh? Just vacationing in Hawaii?" Ben shot back, coughing up a light mist of blood. He looked at his hand and grimaced, wiping it on his jeans and groaning, closing his eyes.

"I've called an ambulance," Piper announced, returning to the attic and flinging the cordless in her hand down onto the armchair nearest the door. "They're on their way. Just hang in there for us okay, Ben? I'm not losing another person around here."

"I'm so-sorry about the rug…" the witch murmured, turning his head to face Piper. His eyes were unfocused and glassy, she noted, and she wrapped her arms around herself. She suddenly knew, right then and there, that Ben wasn't going to make it until the ambulance came.

"Oh, sweetie, you don't need to worry about that. Seriously. I mean, it was a little threadbare anyway…"

"I'll st-stain it…" he insisted, shaking his head. "Sorry…" He closed his eyes again, his head lolling limply to the side.

"Ben," Piper called demandingly, panic pitching her voice high. "Ben, stay awake. Come on."

"There's an ambulance coming," Phoebe soothed gently, although she was trapping her bottom lip between her teeth so tightly to force herself to refrain from crying that she could taste copper. "You're gonna be fine. Then Piper will make you scrub the rug. So you better be fine."

"You won't get my blood out, Piper," Ben repeated, shaking his head from side to side limply and looking off into the distance. "It just never shifts… I'm sorry that I'm bleeding on your rug." He had stopped stuttering now. Instead, he had begun to slur his words and leave larger and larger gaps between them. They had started to tail off and get quieter and quieter until he was only whispering.

"The rug doesn't matter. I don't care about it," Piper told the young witch firmly, finally giving in and allowing tears to begin to roll down her face. "Stop worrying about it," she managed to allow to tumble out between sobs. "Just stop…" She ran a hand over her damp face, feeling the sticky tears there. Her hairs became ensnared in the trails left by her tears so she scraped it harshly back behind her ears. As soon as Piper started crying, Paige and Phoebe lost it too. The witch-whitelighter moved over to her sister, wrapping an arm around her back and resting one hand protectively on Piper's stomach, whilst Phoebe took the other side, leaning into Piper's shoulder as she finally allowed herself to cry freely.

"See you in the f-future, Chris," Ben said, his voice barely louder than the settling of crisp autumn leaves. "Let's hope we've made it a good one, huh?"

"Goodbye? You're telling me goodbye? Hell, no," Chris said vehemently, stepping back forward. He crouched down next to Ben and seized the witch's hand. "No. This is not happening. Goodbye is not an option, dammit, Ben. You're going to stay here and you're going to—" He dug his nails into his palm as Ben's hand became too insubstantial for him to grasp. "No. NO!" Ben was fading rapidly, nothingness eating up his limbs and then his torso. You could almost hear the atoms sighing as they were released from each other and allowed to spread apart and roam. "Ben! What do you think you're doing?" Like a gently, erasing wave the invisibility continued to spread, allowing them to glimpse through Ben at the boarded floor beneath before the witch's body finally succumbed to it. The last thing to fade was the small smile that Ben had pulled. A tiny impression of it seemed to hover in the air before just breaking up and leaving the rug on witch he had lain not seconds before completely empty.


If there's anyone left reading this -- and let's face it, there probably isn't and that is entirely my fault -- then I apolgise sincerely. But I had to get this chapter just right, as it was so important. It's the penultimate chapter, I think, so one more to go, and it sets up everything that's going to happen to end this.

Yes, end. You heard that right. Heh.

Thanks for sticking with me (if you have),

Twisted Flame.

P.S. I really amgoing tobefearing for my life at every turn for this chapter, aren't I? Huh. Crap.