Author's notes: Okay, while I'm waiting for Season 7, this story has been lurking in my head for weeks now, until I thought I would scream. I'm hoping to exorcise it from my system by writing it down, and then I can go back to happily reading spoilers, other people's fics and waiting for the season to start. (That is, if big Chris is part of it.)
On with the story!
Chris opened his eyes, still clutching his side where Gideon's blade had cut deep. The last thing he remembered was Leo telling him to hold on, to not give up. The pain, excruciating at first, was now gone, and as he glanced down at himself, he noticed there was no hole in his side. Raising his head, he looked around, hoping to ascertain where he was. No longer was he at the manor, but at the club, in the back room, where he had been staying, since coming to the past, lying on the couch. Everything looked exactly like how he had left it. The mirror on the back wall, the blankets folded on the couch. Chris crossed the room, stopping at his desk, running his hand along it. Something was wrong, but what?
'It's too quiet.' Chris thought. Making his way slowly to the door of the back room, he opened it, and looked out into the main area. The club was empty, quiet. The very stillness of the room seemed to permeate through the air. And as Chris looked around, he felt the panic start to set in, as he began to clue in to what was happening, what he was feeling. He concentrated on orbing, and when nothing happened, he ran to the front door of the club, throwing it open and running into the street. As he scanned up and down the street for signs of life, he closed his eyes, acknowledging the lack of activity, the dead silence and the overwhelming loneliness he felt deep in his gut. He had been here before. He was in the ghostly plane.
"Chris," a voice said.
Slowly, Chris turned around to face the direction of where the voice came. "Let me guess, you came to 'make it easier' for me." Chris said, bitterly.
Clarence smiled at him. "Like I said before, yours is a unique situation. One that requires special handling. Right now, we're still trying to decide what to do with you.
You died outside of your timeline, and we're not quite sure where to take you next."
Chris stepped back, away from Clarence, "What does that mean? Am I stuck here? I thought, I don't know, that I would either just disappear or some sort of afterlife?"
Clarence shook his head, "That is exactly what decision needs to be made. There's some arguing going on, but I wanted to let you know that you won't be stuck here indefinitely."
"So that's it? Don't I get a say in anything? Or at least, can't I participate in my own fate?" Chris asked, softly. "I guess anything is better than being stuck here forever."
"I'm not sure, " Clarence hesitated, "the thing is, yours is not the only situation causing a lot of discussion right now, up there. Your father is causing some major arguments as well."
"What??!? Dad is dead too?" Chris was horrified; he had come back to the past to save his family, and he had screwed it up by getting his father killed?
"No! No, it's just...well, your father killed Gideon and is still after Barbas, and I guess they're trying to decide what to do about Leo." Clarence hastily explained. "Some of the
Elders want to punish Leo, to set an example..."
"What? They want to punish him for killing the bad guys and saving the future?" Chris said, sarcastically. "Boy, I'd hate to see what kind of rewards you get for committing evil. Are you sure this is the ghostly plane and not the evil parallel world dimension?"
"Look Chris, you and I don't have anything to do with that. I shouldn't have even told you about Leo. I just wanted to let you know why you're going to have to hang out here in limbo for a bit longer." Clarence replied. "We haven't forgotten about you."
"No way. I have everything to do with this. Leo would never have killed Gideon if I hadn't come back to the past. I have a right to be in on this. I want you to take me to them." Chris shook his head as Clarence opened his mouth to disagree. "Either you take me to them, or I'll find my own way there."
Closing his mouth, Clarence nodded, agreeing reluctantly, "Chris, I know you don't think so, but I am in your corner."
Chris nodded his thanks, and closing his eyes, he let Clarence take him to the Elders.
'Great, late again...' Phoebe murmured to herself, rushing through the bustling bullpen to duck into her office before Elise spotted her. Glancing at her watch, Phoebe sighed again, and reached towards her 'in tray' for a letter.
"Phoebe," Elise stuck her head into Phoebe's office, "we need to talk."
"Elise!" startled, Phoebe's head jerked up, "Oh, you startled me! Maybe we could talk, ummmm, a little later? Lots of work to do, you know, chop, chop and all that." Phoebe laughed, weakly.
Ignoring Phoebe's comment, Elise sat down in the chair across from Phoebe. "Look, Phoebe. You know I think you're one of the best columnists we have right?"
"Oh, yes. I mean, no! But that's really, really great to hear..." Phoebe replied, a sinking feeling in her stomach. "Look Elise, I know what you're going to say. I know I've been late a lot lately, but my sister just had another baby, and she's pretty much a single parent and we're still trying to get into, you know, a routine. And I know my last couple of columns almost haven't made the deadline, but..." Phoebe broke off, rubbing her face.
"Phoebe. I'm worried about you. This is no good. I want you to take some vacation days. Clear your head, help your sister." Elise stated.
"I don't need a vacation!"
"I've noticed you've been really distracted lately, but I had no idea things were so, I don't know...hectic, for you. You gave the same advice in today's column that you did a year ago to someone else. This is not the Phoebe that I know." Elise shook her head.
"Are you firing me?" Phoebe asked, dolefully.
"I'm not firing you! I'm worried about you! You just told me about your sister and the new baby, and it's obvious to me that family is important to you. Look, I've thought about this a lot. I think we'll hire a ghostwriter to help you with your column. You can take a couple of days off, and review their work from home. In fact, I'll take care of everything and let you know. Why don't you go home, and I'll give you a call once I set everything up, okay?" Elise nodded, and headed towards the office door, as the phone on Phoebe's desk began to ring.
"No, wait..." Phoebe pleaded, but Elise was gone. "Hello? Paige? What is it now? Am I busy? Don't ask..."
"Okay, okay, I've got you big guy...geez, no wonder we don't get along in the future..." Paige mumbled, as she changed baby Chris' diaper, no easy feat, as he wriggled on the change table, his little legs kicking in the air. "I swear, if you could, you'd be rolling your eyes at me, right now. Let's go see if your mommy has your bottle ready." Finished with her task, Paige hoisted the baby over her shoulder and orbed to the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Piper warmed up a bottle for the baby, while helping Wyatt with his breakfast. "That's my boy, finish all your veggies please. Yum, yum." At the sounds of orbing, Piper turned around to see Paige with baby Chris. "Hel-lo! Personal gain? Why didn't you just walk down like a normal human being?"
Paige rolled her eyes, and handed the baby over to Piper, "Yeah, well, your son is hungry. Besides, orbing is my whitelighter side, and not my witch side, right?"
"Paige..." Piper said, warningly.
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Look it's a beautiful day out. Why don't you and I take the kids to the park after they're done eating? I'm sure Wyatt would love to play on the swings." Paige smiled at her other nephew, who waved his arms enthusiastically at his aunt.
"No, Chris isn't old enough yet," Piper dismissed Paige's suggestion and brought the bottle to baby Chris' mouth "Come on baby, here's your bottle, that's it...".
"Piper, he's two months old! Don't kids need fresh air or something?" Paige leaned against the counter, watching Piper feed the baby. "We don't want to stunt his growth, after all."
"I know how old he is Paige! I'm his mother, not you! And if I don't think it's safe to take them out of the house yet, then I think I know best." Piper exclaimed, her tone biting.
Throwing her hands up in defense, Paige replied gently, "I'm sorry. I get it, I really do. I know you just want to protect the kids. I do too. We all do. It's just...you've been cooped up here in the house since..." Paige's voice trailed off, as she watched her sister turn away, holding baby Chris tightly. "Piper, you know, you haven't talked to anyone about...you know. I mean, you can talk about it with me or Phoebe. We loved him too."
Piper's shoulders stiffened as she responded coldly, "There's nothing to talk about. Gideon's dead, Wyatt and Chris are both safe and everything is okay." Seeing Paige's hurt expression, Piper sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're trying...I just...I think I need to lie down. Think you can hold the fort down for a bit?"
"Of course. Are you sure you don't want to call Leo?" Paige asked, worriedly.
"No, I think...I just need...to be alone for a moment." Piper replied, passing baby Chris over to her sister and headed towards the stairs. "I'll be upstairs if you need me, okay?"
"Sure." Paige nodded, "Looks like it's just you and me, partners." Paige smiled at her two nephews. "Although I'm still worried about your mommy. Maybe..." and reached for the phone.
"I thought the Tribunal was strictly about monitoring magic to make sure people don't find out about it." Chris leaned over, whispering into Clarence's ear. Chris and Clarence had orbed in during closing arguments, and watched the proceedings, eerily similar to that of the girls when magic was considered exposed. Again, there had been opposing tables, and again, two opposing 'counselors'. A whitelighter had argued vehemently on Leo's behalf and a demon had argued just as strongly against him. Chris recognized neither of them, although he had been sorely tempted to pound the hell out of the demon. Only the threat of being banished from the proceedings had kept his temper in check. "And where is Leo? Shouldn't he be here?"
Clarence shrugged. "I'm not sure what's going on...this isn't a typical hearing about exposing magic. They're trying to decide whether Leo went too far...that he recklessly endangered the balance between good and evil."
Before Chris could question Clarence any further, the Tribunal suddenly reappeared.
"We have made our decision. We have ruled against the Elder. He must be held accountable for his actions, and we support the punishment as brought forth."
"What?!? You can't!" Chris yelled. He scowled at the demon that had argued against Leo, whose mouth was pulled back in an evil grin. He directed his attention back to the Tribunal, "You have no right!"
"Quiet!" One of the floating Elder heads glared at Chris and Clarence. Chris recognized him as Adair, from the time the girls were on trial. "If you wish to continue to observe, you will remain silent."
"Chris...kid, this isn't your fight." Clarence gently placed his hand on Chris' shoulder to restrain him. "We still have to decide YOUR fate."
The other floating Elder head looked down in sympathy at Chris. "The decision has been made for you as well. You have done much good here, and we agree that you should be rewarded."
"Yeah, well you can just take your reward and sti—"
"Chris," Clarence interrupted, before Chris said something he regretted.
The Elder continued, ignoring Chris' mutterings, "You will have a choice. You can choose to go back to the future, in the new timeline and you will only have your new memories or, you can 'die' outside your timeline and enjoy the afterlife."
Chris' head swirled. Go back and have everything that made him, HIM, erased? Or 'die' and enjoy the afterlife? Neither choice appealed to him, and he looked helplessly at Clarence.
"This is a big decision," Clarence read Chris' expression correctly. "Could you give us a couple of minutes?"
The floating heads glanced at each other, and then one-by-one, faded out to give Chris and Clarence some privacy. The whitelighter and demon counselors had long since disappeared.
Adair, the last floating head to fade out, paused, "We will give you 10 minutes. Then we must have your decision as we must then bring the Charmed ones and the Elder here to hear the Tribunal's ruling on Leo."
And with that, they were gone.
"10 minutes to decide my fate? 10 minutes to decide the rest of my life or non-life? Geez, no pressure." Chris turned towards Clarence. "What would you choose?"
"I know neither choice seems like a reward, Chris. But think about it. If you were in the beautiful future you created, would you want to know what you know now? Could you enjoy yourself fully, without looking over your shoulder, without looking at suspicion at your brother?" Chris looked away, unable to meet Clarence's gaze. "And what about your great-grandma, your grandma and aunt Prue? They are all very happy in the afterlife." Clarence told him gently. "Chris, these are both very generous options, and if you really stop and think about them, I know you'll think so too."
"And Leo? What happens to my dad? Did you hear the punishment that the demon wanted? How is that fair to Wyatt and baby me? He won't be there for either of us in this so-called beautiful future, instead of just me! How do you know that doesn't screw up the future even more?" Chris paced back and forth.
"Chris, you can't fix this. All you can do is make the best of things. The Elders, heck, the Tribunal, have been extremely generous. They're giving you a choice to decide your own fate. Not many beings get that privilege. This decision, this choice, it's a reward for all your hard work." Clarence counseled, watching the young man gaze up at nothing. Several minutes passed, before Chris slowly let out his breath.
"Call them back," Chris sighed. "I've made my decision."
The four floating heads reappeared, and Adair looked down at Chris, "And what is your choice?"
"First, I have a question. This is a choice about my fate. It's my reward, right?" Chris questioned. At Adair's nod, Chris continued, "So technically, I should be able to choose a different option, one that you didn't offer me..." Chris held up his hand to stall the Elder, as Adair began to stutter, "As long as it's acceptable to all of you, of course."
Raising his eyebrows in question at the Tribunal, he watched as the four heads glanced at each other and then back at him. "This is most unorthodox," Adair intoned, "But we agree to your terms. You may present us with a different option, and as long as we agree, we will grant you your reward."
"Chris, what are you doing?" Clarence asked, concern clearly in his face.
Chris closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them. "Then I choose to take Leo's place. To accept the punishment on his behalf." Sensing the immediate rejection of his suggestion, Chris pushed on further, before he could lose his nerve. "You said you wanted to make an example of him. To show everyone that you can't try to tip the balance between good and evil for your own reasons. Do you really need to make an example out of him specifically? What's the difference if I'm the one you make an example of? The message is still the same. You said you were giving me a chance to decide my fate as my reward. Well, I'm holding you to it."
Again, the floating heads glanced at each other. Adair looked down at the young witch-whitelighter, respect tinged with sadness in his voice, "Very well. So you have chosen. So mote it be!"
And with that, Chris and the floating heads disappeared, leaving Clarence standing alone.
"You're a good kid, Chris. You're a good kid." Clarence sighed, and flashed out as well.
"Hello! Anyone home?" Phoebe called, as she entered the kitchen. "Paige? Piper?"
"Hey Phoebe," Paige responded, baby Chris in one arm, and Wyatt in the other, as she orbed into the kitchen. "Thank goodness you're home. Here, one for you, and one for me." Paige handed Wyatt over to Phoebe.
"Whoa! What's going on? Where's Piper?" Phoebe asked, as she instinctively dropped her bag to gain a better hold on her squirming little nephew. "And how are we doing, cutie pie? Hmmm, how are you, sweetie?"
Paige rolled her eyes, "First, if you keep talking baby talk with him, he's going to pick that up! Second, nothing is going on, at least not demon wise but definitely Piper-wise and third, Piper's upstairs, she said she wanted to go lie down."
"What do you mean Piper wise?" Phoebe asked, as she sat down at the kitchen table with Wyatt on her lap.
"I mean, I tried to suggest that she should, you know, leave the house, take the kids for a walk and she completely freaked. I tried talking to her, about, you know...and that's when she said she had to go lie down." Paige sighed, sinking into the chair next to Phoebe, with baby Chris still cradled in her arms.
"Paige, you can't force Piper to talk to you. She'll come to us when she's ready. I'm not sure I'm ready. I mean, we can't even say it to ourselves, how are we going to talk about it with Piper? I mean it really sucks. We were just starting to get to know him." Phoebe said, sadly.
"I know. I guess I'm having a hard time accepting that he's gone too. But, then I look at him, and I know he isn't gone, not really." Paige looked down at baby Chris, sleeping peacefully in her arms. "Anyways, I'm sorry I called you at work...it's just that I was worried about Piper, and I thought, maybe you should talk to her. I get that she doesn't want to talk about it yet, but she's in complete denial. I just want to get her to leave the house for, like an hour, that's all, I swear!" Paige reasoned.
"Alright, I'll go and talk to her." Phoebe placed Wyatt into his high chair. "You stay here and watch our nephews." The phone rang, and Phoebe picked it up, pausing on her way out of the kitchen.
"Hello? Hi Elise. What? You found a ghostwriter already? ...uhhhh, okay, well, now's not a good time to met her...What? Come over here? No, I don't think that's a good idea. It's just...we're uh, getting the house fumigated. Yeah, rats everywhere. Look, Elise, just tell her to sit tight and I'll get there as soon as I can, okay?" Frustrated, Phoebe hanged up the phone, banging her head against the wall.
"Hey, is everything okay? What was that all about?" Paige asked, slightly amused, as she watched her sister bang her head against the wall.
"Elise wants to hire a ghost writer for my column, so that I can take some vacation days and spend it at home. She was going to send her here, to start right away." Phoebe pinched the bridge of her nose. "I think I'm going to need some Tylenol."
"What? A ghostwriter? Huh, interesting..." Paige muttered.
"Interesting? No, not interesting! Next thing you know, first it's a ghost writer, then it's vacation, then it's leave, and then no column!" Phoebe exclaimed, anxiously. "Okay, one crisis at a time. First, I'll go talk to Piper, then I'll go talk to Elise and then I'll deal with that ghost writer!"
"Okey, dokey." Paige grinned at her sister's back, as Phoebe exited the room. Turning to Wyatt, who was innocently staring at her, "How about you and me go play with your blocks, hmmmm?"
"Hear these words, hear my cry,
Spirit from the other side.
Come to thee, I summon thee,
Cross now the great divide."
Penny Halliwell materialized into the attic. "Piper, what's going on? How are you feeling, my darling? I thought you were going to speak with Leo, talk to him."
Piper looked at her grandmother. Unbeknownst to her sisters and Leo, Piper had summoned Grams when she had first learned her son had been murdered, shortly after returning from the hospital. She had managed to gasp out the whole grisly story, before dissolving in tears. She hadn't had to explain a word to Grams about her feelings, because Grams knew exactly what she had been feeling. No parent should ever outlive their child, and both Piper and Grams had done just that. It was during that last talk, that Grams had insisted that Piper talk with Leo, so that they could both grieve and work through the pain of losing their child together. But one look into Piper's eyes, and Grams knew that Piper had still not spoken to him.
"Grams, don't take this the wrong way...but I was actually trying to contact Chris." Piper cast her eyes down, unable to meet her Grams' steady gaze. "I know what you're going to say, just like you said with Prue, that it's too soon, and I get that, I really do, but Grams," Piper raised her head, her eyes pleading with her grandmother to understand, "at least tell me he's okay, that you've seen him, that he's alright."
Grams shook her head. "Piper, it's not that I don't want to tell you. It's just that I can't. I haven't seen Chris in the afterlife. He's not here with us."
"What? What do you mean? Where is he? He died Grams! Are you telling me he just ceases to exist? Like he was never here?!? Like he doesn't matter??!!" Piper's voice began to rise hysterically.
"No! No! It's just...I can't sense him, if he IS here. And I could with Patty and Prue. We've been looking for him, Piper, I promise you. But we're pretty sure he isn't here." Grams told her sadly. "Patty thinks, well, we think that, maybe because Chris died outside his timeline that, well, time travel is so complicated..."
Distraught, Piper sank to the floor, sobbing, "It can't be, it can't be...all this time, I thought that at least, he's at peace, he's..."
"Piper? Grams? What's going on?" Phoebe quickly crossed over to her sister, sinking to her knees, cradling her sister in her arms. "Grams? What happened? What did you say? Paige...I think you should come up here."
"Phoebe, what is it? I don't want to leave the kids alone too long..." Paige responded to Phoebe's call, as she orbed into the attic, taking in the scene. "Piper! What's wrong? What's going on?"
"Chris isn't in the afterlife. Grams said he isn't there. Where is he Phoebe? Where is he?" Piper demanded. Phoebe glanced helplessly at Paige, who shook her head slightly. Neither sister could offer the comfort that Piper needed.
"I'm sorry Piper. If I knew where he was, what happened to him, I would tell you." Grams replied, softly.
"Noooo, you wouldn't." Phoebe turned her head slowly towards her grandmother, disbelief in Phoebe's face as she felt something.
"Phoebe, what are you talking about?" Paige asked, shooting her sister a dirty look.
"I'm talking about I think I just got my empathic ability back, and Grams is hiding something from us!" Phoebe quickly rose from her position. "Grams, what are you hiding? Spill! Now!"
"Phoebe, if I am hiding something from you, there's a good reason for it." Grams looked at her granddaughter, her steely eyes giving away nothing.
"No! I want to know! I need to know! If it's about Chris, Grams, please, you CAN'T do this to me. Grams, please, put yourself in my shoes. If it was mom, would you want to know?" Piper glanced up from her position on the floor, her face tear stained, eyes full of pain. "Grams, if anyone in this room understands even a little bit of what I'm going through, it's you. Grams, please, I'm begging you, if you know where Chris is, what's happened to him, you've got to tell me."
Grams sighed, and looked away from Piper, before returning her gaze to her three granddaughters. "Piper, Chris is in hell."