My first posted story here. Also my first Charmed Fanfic, although I have written fanfiction for other shows.
Disclaimer: The characters in Charmed do not belong to me. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Summary: Loved the Piper/Leo/Chris family dynamic in Season 6 so that's when this story is based. Set after Chris-Crossed and Prince Charming. Nobody knows who Chris is yet, but they're about to find out, courtesy of an unexpected visitor from the future…
Notes: Hey, remember me? Sorry I didn't post this when I said I would, and apologies that you've had to wait forever and a day for it. Long story, but a string of real life interruptions have gotten in the way of my writing over the past few months. I hate to leave things unfinished though, so here, after a very long time, is the final chapter of this story. I strongly suggest you re-read the first part of the Epilogue to refresh your memory first however, as this is pretty much a continuation of that.
More Author notes at the end, but for now, please read on and enjoy…
Epilogue – No Place like Home
Twenty minutes later and Wyatt's whole life view had been turned on its head. He'd been evil, a horrible tyrant who had used his powers to maim and torture people – innocent people, his very own brother apparently among his many victims. He didn't know what to think, what to feel, he was simply numb. Sarah's fingers were curled tightly into his, but he barely even noticed them. He was in shock. He'd been evil. Evil…
"Honey…" his Mom reached out a hand towards him, but he abruptly withdrew from her, not yet ready to accept her comfort – or forgive her for keeping something this huge from him for so long.
"Chris knew about this?" he asked, his voice as icy as an artic blizzard. The sense of betrayal was so strong that he couldn't even look at his so-called brother right now.
Piper nodded. "We had to tell him," she replied. "After what happened… well… we had to tell him. I'm sure you understand why."
Wyatt nodded woodenly. "But you didn't feel the need to enlighten me at the same time?" he enquired sullenly.
Piper flinched at his acid tone, but the stubborn set of her jaw indicated that she wasn't going to back down over this. "It wasn't our decision to make," she told him in as calm a tone as she could muster.
"So whose was it then?"
Wyatt turned his head and met his sibling's defiant gaze. "And what gave you the right to make it?" he demanded harshly. "And is that even my real brother talking anyways?"
"Wyatt!" his Mom gasped in protest, but desisted when Leo laid a calming hand on her forearm.
Chris's lips twisted into a wry, humourless smile. "Not exactly. Not right now."
"That'll change," Leo cut in to explain. "The merging process is still taking place inside of you. It'll probably be a few weeks before everything balances out."
Wyatt ignored that and addressed Chris again. "You didn't answer my question," he pointedly reminded him.
"I didn't want you – or me – to grow up with that hanging over our heads," Chris explained, his tone defensive.
"All right so I guess can understand that – from you at least anyhow. But what about later? Why didn't my own brother think I could be trusted with this kind of information? What did he think I was going to do? Turn on him or something?"
Wyatt couldn't keep the resentful bitterness out of his voice and something shifted inside Chris as a result.
"Geez Wyatt! Quit being such an ass, will you?" he exclaimed. "It wasn't like that and you know it."
Wyatt blinked, recognising the slightly different inflection to his sibling's voice, the greater sense of familiarity in it. He squinted as if that would somehow make him see something different in those familiar green eyes.
"Chris?" he questioned warily.
"For the first time in a long while, yes," was his brother's rather cryptic response.
"What the hell does that mean?" Wyatt enquired in annoyed exasperation.
"You'll figure it out," came the supremely irritating reply.
"Are you purposely trying to piss me off? Or is that just a gift with you?"
Chris sighed. "Look, I'm sorry – this is all a little weird." His attention turned inward for a moment and then he suddenly laughed. "Figures," he muttered before he returned his gaze to Wyatt's confused one.
"Is there two of you in there?" Wyatt asked in quiet amazement.
Chris frowned. "Sort of – it's kind of hard to explain. It feels strange but at the same time, completely right too. I finally feel like me for the first time in my entire life."
"So why was it him before and you now?" Wyatt asked.
Chris pursed his lips as he thought about that. "Probably because this is my explanation to give," he finally decided. "The other me – the other half of me – has a lot to catch up on, so I guess I have to take a back seat for a while until he gets everything straight."
Wyatt sat back against the sofa cushions, some of the tension going out of him. "So explain," he said.
Chris nodded, a faraway look in his eyes. "It wasn't a problem until I graduated Magic School," he began. "It only started to get bad when I went away to college. I guess that makes some sort of sense. I mean it's supposed to be the time you discover who you are, isn't it? I suppose it didn't hit me that there was anything wrong until then."
"Wrong, how?" Wyatt asked.
"I felt incomplete somehow," Chris replied. "Half a person. Everyone around me was figuring out all this stuff about themselves, and I was just floundering around not knowing which way to turn. I didn't know who I was, what I wanted to be. Every time I thought I had the answer, all these doubts started to creep in. I second-guessed everything. It was like there was this huge hole inside of me that nothing could fill. It got too much to handle in the end and I tried to block it out. And, well, you know what a spectacular success that was."
Wyatt nodded bleakly. He wasn't likely to forget that fateful night just over four years ago. He'd not spoken to Chris for weeks, which probably wouldn't have been all that surprising if they were just two brothers at college in different states. They were more than that though, and it had always been impressed upon them that they needed to stay in constant contact with each other in case of a magical emergency.
After several unanswered phone calls and unreturned emails, not to mention a complete lack of response via their other method of communication, Wyatt had begun to get worried and had decided to orb across state lines to investigate. Arriving at his brother's dorm-room, he had knocked hard on the door. There had been no answer, but he could sense that Chris was inside. The corridor was teaming with other college students though, so Wyatt had been forced to resort to a little surreptitious magical breaking-and-entering instead of simply orbing himself to where he wanted to be.
What he'd discovered when he'd finally gotten the door open had haunted his dreams for weeks. Chris had been sprawled out unconscious on the bed, an empty bottle on the floor beside him, and one arm dangling limply over the side of the mattress. His skin was grey and splotched, his cheeks stubbly and unshaven, and the stench of stale alcohol hung heavy in the air around him. He'd still been alive thankfully, but had managed to drink himself to the edge of alcohol poisoning nonetheless.
Unfortunately, just as Wyatt had reached out his hands to heal his near comatose sibling, Chris's roommate had arrived home, forcing him to get his brother more routine medical help for the state he'd gotten himself into. Looking back on it, that had probably been a good thing, for it brought Chris's issues out into the open and forced him to deal with his problems rather than subjugate them behind copious amounts of alcohol.
"Taking to the therapist helped," Chris's voice broke into his recollections, "But it didn't really solve anything. It was only when Dad told me about the other me that it all started to fall into place."
Wyatt sighed. So many things that he hadn't understood were finally starting to make sense at long last. He'd called his parents from the hospital that night and they'd arrived almost as soon as he'd put the phone down. Luckily, no one at the hospital saw fit to question how they travelled so far in a matter of minutes rather than hours, and it probably wouldn't have mattered too much if they had. The welfare of their patient was the thing that was utmost in their minds at the time, so any oddities with respect to his parents were more or less disregarded.
Apart from the humiliation of having his stomach pumped and the mother of all hangovers, Chris had been fine physically and had assured them that he hadn't been intending to kill himself as they'd all feared. He'd just gone a little overboard with the method he'd chosen to blot out his emotional pain. While Wyatt had returned to college, his parents had taken Chris home and arranged for him to see a psychologist that their Aunt Phoebe had recommended. It wasn't until their first family therapy session a couple of weeks later that it had all come to a head.
It had just been Wyatt and his parents – Chris had given his therapist permission to divulge what he'd told her but hadn't wanted to be present during that initial session. At the time, Wyatt hadn't thought anything of his Mom's sharp gasp of horror on learning that her youngest son felt like 'half a person' and that 'a part of him was missing.' Moreover, his father's reaction, while certainly a little over-the-top, hadn't struck him as anything more than a parent who was desperately concerned about the emotional well-being of his child.
"I need to speak to my son now," Leo had announced, pushing back his chair and rising determinedly to his feet. The therapist had objected, but he'd overridden her protest and whisked a bemused Chris – who had been waiting in an adjoining treatment room - off for a private father-son chat.
Wyatt had orbed his mother home and then reluctantly returned to his classes at her express insistence. Only now did he realise that she had wanted him out the way while they talked to Chris. The next time he visited, just over a week later, there had been a significant turn around in his brother's condition. Although he still looked a little haunted at times, he was clearly on the mend and much more comfortable in his own skin. He'd returned to college the following semester and things had pretty much remained on an even keel ever since.
Wyatt wasn't stupid of course, he'd known that whatever his Dad had told his brother had been the reason for his recovery, and he also knew that they'd deliberately chosen not to tell him about it. He'd been so relieved that Chris was going to be okay that he'd pushed all that to the back of his mind and tried not to think about it too much. It had irked him every once in a while, but he hadn't really lost any sleep over it. Now he wished he'd pushed harder for the truth.
"That still doesn't explain why you lied to me," he said.
Chris blew his breath out from between his lips in frustration. "It took me a long time to come to terms with it, Wyatt," he said wearily, "And, at the time, I was so close to the edge that I couldn't deal with anything but my own feelings. Yours would have been too much to handle."
"Fine. I get that. I do. But god damn it Chris, it's been four years now!"
"I know. I just… I suppose I was trying to protect you. I knew you'd have questions – but they were questions that I didn't have the answer to. At least not back then. And I didn't want you to end up like me - completely messed up because you didn't have a proper reason for the way you were feeling."
"The last few years have been really hard on me. I had an explanation, but it didn't take away the horrible feeling of incompleteness inside. I've been in stasis for four years, waiting for this day to arrive. It's only now that I can finally move on with my life and discover who I really am. I know this is a huge deal and that it changes everything. And I know that you must be feeling… well, betrayed I guess, but I made what I thought was the right decision at the time. I didn't want things to be weird between us…"
Wyatt let out a short humourless laugh at that. "And you don't think that they are now?"
"Maybe, but we can work through that, whereas I'm not sure we could have done back then. I have the answers you need now, Wyatt. The answers that we both need. I'm sorry if I made the wrong decision, but I can't take it back. The only way is forward – whether you're with me or against me on that is up to you."
Wyatt stared at his brother in silence for a long moment and then abruptly got to his feet and strode from the room.
"Wyatt…" Sarah half-rose from her seat to go after him, but Leo beat her to it.
"I think you'd better let me talk to him," he said and Sarah nodded, sitting back down again.
Chris looked over at his friend after his father had left the room. "So I guess you hate me too now, huh?" he said a little sadly.
"Of course not," Sarah was quick to reassure him. "And Wyatt doesn't hate you, Chris. He's just a bit shell-shocked that's all. This is a lot to take in, you know."
"I suppose it's a good thing in the end though," Sarah continued thoughtfully, "For me at least anyway. I mean, I wouldn't have met you or Wyatt otherwise, would I? I mean I only know you because of Aunt Stacey, right?"
Chris smiled. "Actually we were friends in the first future," he told her.
Sarah's eyes widened. "We were?"
"Yep – guess it must be fate, huh?"
Sarah thought about it for a moment and then smiled. "I guess it must be," she agreed. "And don't worry, okay? Wyatt'll come round, I know he will. And if he doesn't, I'll just threaten to dump him until he does."
Chris laughed. "No, you won't," he said knowingly.
"No, probably not," Sarah agreed with a rosy blush, "But it's the thought that counts, isn't it?"
"If you say so."
Sarah poked her tongue out at him, then rose to her feet and bent to hug him. "You should have told me," she said as he returned her friendly embrace. "I've been so worried about you. You've seemed so broken at times and I didn't know what to do to help you."
"I know and I'm sorry. I just couldn't put you in the position of having to keep something like that from Wyatt."
"That's B.S., Chris," she chided him. "Wyatt and I weren't dating four years ago, you could have told me anything back then."
Chris wrinkled his nose at her. "All right so I guess I could have done. I just… I suppose it was something I needed to deal with on my own. Can you understand that?"
"Well, I'm buying it a whole lot more than the earlier 'I'm such a martyr' crap," Sarah told him acerbically.
Chris looked over at Stacey. "I think I've changed my mind," he remarked blithely. "Perhaps I shouldn't have asked you to make sure the other me and Sarah got to be friends after all."
Stacey laughed even as Sarah's expression softened. "You asked her to do that?" she said, a little catch in her voice.
"Yeah, I asked her to do that," Chris admitted, albeit with some degree of reluctance.
"That's just so sweet!" Sarah smiled at him, her eyes bright with emotion. "I think I'm liking the other you already."
"Glad to hear it," he replied as she impulsively hugged him again. "Even if I was a little freaked out this morning," he added a moment later.
"What?" Sarah looked at him, confused. "Freaked about what?"
Chris's face split into a broad smile, his green eyes dancing with silent laughter, and it suddenly dawned on her what he meant. She giggled. "Got a shock when I came into your room in just my PJs, huh?" she teased.
"Do you mind?" Chris said, half to her and half to himself.
Sarah giggled at the inner battle of wills going on inside of him, and then suddenly realised what she'd just said. Out loud – with his mother – Wyatt's mother – in the room. Her eyes widened in horror. Oh my God! She wanted the ground to open up and swallow her whole. Mortified, she shot a wary glance at Piper, her cheeks growing hot with embarrassment. Chris started to laugh and she shot him a murderous look that only made him laugh even harder.
Still chuckling, Chris got to his feet. "I think I should go and…" He gestured in the general direction of his brother's bedroom before turning to leave.
Sarah stared, open-mouthed, after his retreating form. How dare he abandon her?
"Gotta say the split personality thing takes some getting your head around..."
Paige's voice cut through her reverie then and she realised that she was the only one who was conscious of her blunder. They were all much too wrapped up in the return of the first Chris to be bothered about the details of her sex life. Paige was right too – talking to Chris had been a little strange. Some of his responses had come from the Chris she already knew, but others had not. The comment about Aunt Stacey making sure she and him got to be friends in the new future was a case in point. She was touched that their friendship meant that much to him actually.
She couldn't imagine her life without him in it either though. While Wyatt did crazy things to her insides and made her heart flutter like a humming-bird's wings, Chris was her rock, her confidant. Other boyfriends had not understood their relationship, had been jealous of their close connection. They always thought that there must be something romantic between her and Chris for them to be so close. But, the truth was, they were best friends, who just happened to be of the opposite sex - pure and simple.
She was aware that Chris was an attractive guy of course – good-looking, smart, and funny – but somehow he had never affected her in that way. He was just Chris. Her best friend from Kindergarten. The boy who had encouraged her to climb to the top branch of the tallest tree, but not the one who had given her her first proper kiss.
Wyatt was her friend too, but not in the same way. Fortunately, he was secure enough in what they had together not to feel threatened by her friendship with Chris. He trusted his brother implicitly and even though he might make comments about it occasionally – like this morning, for instance – he was never really all that serious about them. It was all very tongue-in-cheek, although she had the sneaking suspicion that there was some element of him staking his claim in it too - a happenstance that she found rather flattering, she had to admit.
I mean, what girl wouldn't? This was Wyatt Halliwell for god's sake. He gave off an aura of power and charisma that was like a moth to a flame to every woman within a hundred-kilometre vicinity. And he was hers. It didn't matter how many women batted their eyelashes at him during the day, she was the one who went home with him at night.
Even though it was what she'd always wanted, she'd been wary when he'd first asked her out. She hadn't wanted to be another of his transient paramours; she'd wanted so much more. She'd turned him down several times before she'd eventually agreed to date him. Strangely enough, it was Chris who had finally persuaded her to say yes.
"He wouldn't have asked you if he wasn't serious, Sarah," he told her. "He knows I'd kick his butt if he did anything to hurt you."
Which she knew was true, and it also reminded her that Wyatt would never jeopardise his relationship with his brother for a brief fling. He had to really like her to even risk it. She realised now that he hadn't been as immune to her charms as she'd always believed. He just hadn't been ready for a serious relationship. He'd kept her at arm's length, because Chris would have been caught up in the crossfire otherwise and he loved his sibling too much to do that to him.
"When did you know?" she remembered asking Wyatt the night before.
"After Chris' breakdown," he'd told her. "You'd been away to college so you'd grown-up, matured. But it was more the way you were with him to be honest - tough but gentle at the same time. I figured that's the kind of woman I want in my life."
"So why did you wait another three years before you asked me out?" she'd enquired.
Wyatt had looked down into her eyes before answering her question and the intensity in his gaze had sent shivers down her spine. "You know why," he'd told her gruffly.
And as he'd leaned down to kiss her, she had. She wasn't just the kind of women he wanted in his life, she was the kind of woman he wanted for the rest of his life and he hadn't been ready for that kind of commitment back then. She knew his intent now though, but the time wasn't right yet. It was fast approaching however and she couldn't wait for the day to eventually arrive. All they needed now was for Chris to find someone equally special. He deserved that more than anyone else she knew. He really did.
Chris walked slowly down the corridor to Wyatt's room, his mind in turmoil. His other self was no longer some far-off presence. He was now very much a part of him. Memories that were not his own kept filtering into his consciousness and he could feel his counterpart's equal confusion over the same thing. They were becoming one, merging into each other. It was crazy, but, as his other self had told Wyatt, it felt utterly right too. He felt whole for the first time in years.
He was grateful that the transition had happened when it did. He'd not known how to deal with Wyatt's angry resentment. He'd been half expecting him to start telekinetically strangling him or something. His brother's accusation: "What did he think I was going to do? Turn on him?" hadn't been too wide of the mark really. Spurred into action, his other self had unceremoniously shunted him off to one side and taken over, dealing with his brother with a blunt directness that astonished him. He had to keep reminding himself that Wyatt was good now. That disagreeing with him would not be met with violent resistance as it had been in the past.
He'd been shocked to learn of his other self's struggles with his sense of identity though. He could feel that pain in him even know, but he also felt a burgeoning sense of hope too. This was finally who he was meant to be and there was an element of freedom in that. He could live his life now, whichever way he saw fit. The future was his to grab hold of and do with it what he will.
"It's not who you are, Wyatt," he heard his father say as he drew up outside the bedroom door. He paused, needing to know the state of play before he went in.
"The potential's there though, isn't it?" Wyatt replied, his tone self-recriminating.
"The potential for evil is there in all of us, son…"
"But not everyone succumbs to it, do they?"
"No, they don't and neither did you, not really."
"How do you figure that?"
"We don't know what Alcathan did to the other you as a child because Chris stopped it from happening. But he did do something, Wyatt, something that made you… I mean him, vulnerable. He still fought back despite all that though. He didn't have to lend Chris Excalibur, you know. In fact, it was a big mistake for him to do so if you think about it."
"I don't know how Chris can bear to look at me after everything I did," Wyatt said morosely.
"Because he loves you," his father told him. "He always did. Why do you think he risked everything to come here?"
"That was just to save the world from the hell I'd turned it into wasn't it?"
"No Wyatt, that was for you. I have my other self's memories. I know the way it was. If all Chris wanted was to save the world, then he could have done that without travelling to the past."
"I don't understand."
"You shouldn't underestimate your brother's power, Wyatt. I know the Chris you know is rather apathetic about who he is, but that doesn't mean he's weak. He may not have the power to destroy you, but he does have the power to neutralise you. He knew to take away your power would be to take away a part of who you are though, and I don't think he could bring himself to do that. He wanted more for you. He wanted the brother he knew growing up back. That's the real reason he came back to the past, the rest of it was just icing on the cake."
Wyatt sighed, but didn't otherwise respond. Sensing that he was starting to get through, Leo ploughed on. "Look, son, I know you're upset and angry with Chris right now, but, if he made the wrong decision, then he made it for the right reasons. Are you really going to let this come between you? Is your pride worth that much?"
"It won't ever be the same," Wyatt said resentfully.
"No, it won't," his father agreed, "But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. I can understand how you feel – I struggled with it myself. I love both versions of my son and for a long time I viewed them as separate people. I couldn't see how merging them into one person would be a good thing. I felt that it would diminish each of them somehow. It was only as your brother grew up that my opinion changed on that. They're not really separate, you know. They're essentially the same person at their core. Merging them together is only going to enhance who they are in the end."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, as I said, our Chris is not one for taking on the responsibility of his magical heritage. He's perfectly content to sit back and let you shoulder most of it. Because of everything he's been through, I've let that slide up until now, but I'm not prepared to do that anymore."
"So you're going to kick his ass into touch, huh?" Wyatt asked with obvious amusement.
Leo laughed. "I don't think that'll be necessary," he replied. "The first Chris is not like that at all. If anything, he's a little too driven and focused. He could benefit from your brother's more laidback attitude to be honest. He needs to relax and learn to enjoy life a little. That's what I meant about this enhancing who they are. It's going to make both of them so much happier in themselves. And, in the end, that's the only thing that matters, surely?"
"So the first Chris felt like our Chris then? Incomplete somehow?"
"Not so much. Mainly because he lived another life, one where there was always the potential for him to exist individually without his other self. Your brother has never had that. He was born after Chris returned to the future. This was always his fate so destiny chose to prepare him for it."
"By pushing him into a nervous breakdown? Isn't that a little over the top?"
"That was just an unfortunate side-affect. If he'd grown-up happy and fulfilled, this would be a usurping of who he is and he could have taken it badly. The first Chris knows full well that this is a better life for him, so he can accept it in a way that the second Chris might not have been able to. It was hard to see him suffer, I know, but, in the end, it was the right thing."
Wyatt nodded. "I guess," he agreed. "I suppose I should stop acting like a child about it then, huh?"
"It might be an idea;" Leo said solemnly, "Chris doesn't deserve your resentment, Wyatt. He sacrificed everything for you. You owe him more than this."
Chris finally decided to step in then. "No, he doesn't," he said as he pushed open the door and entered the room. "The only thing he owes me is just to be my brother. I don't want anything more than that. I never did."
Wyatt turned his gaze to meet his brother's and a flicker of a long-forgotten memory suddenly sparked in his brain. Others followed closely on its heels, the most vivid being of standing in a dark cave and orbing Excalibur towards a struggling Chris, who was lying on the rough ground trapped under a demon's foot. The demon's face was horribly scarred and his dark eyes gleamed with malevolent cruelness. Evilness radiated from him in waves so intense that Wyatt felt sickened by even the memory of them. His eyes opened wide at the unexpected recollection and he couldn't stop the chilled shudder that ran through him in response.
"What?" Chris asked.
"I remember," Wyatt told him in a hushed tone, and then suddenly grinned, showing his teeth. "I used to follow you around like a faithful puppy," he recalled.
Chris rolled his eyes long-sufferingly. "Don't remind me," he said. "Not one of your finer moments, I assure you."
Wyatt laughed, glad that he had discovered some sort of connection with the stranger who had morphed with his brother. "That must have been weird," he remarked sagely.
"I would say that's the understatement of the year," Chris replied drolly.
Wyatt nodded and then looked down at his feet. "I'm sorry."
"For everything." Wyatt lifted his gaze to his again. "For all the things I don't know I should be sorry for."
Chris shrugged. "It's in the past."
"Not for you," Wyatt contradicted.
Chris thought about lying, but knew that they'd never get past this if they weren't completely honest with each other. "No, not yet," he admitted, "But it will be – and I don't hold you responsible for any of that. It's not who you are now."
"Thanks to you."
Chris smiled, a little embarrassed. "Yeah, I'm a regular hero," he quipped dryly, "But I'd really rather not be if it's all the same to you. I just want to be me, you know?"
Wyatt nodded in understanding. "We have a lot of talking to do."
"Yes," Chris agreed solemnly. "We do."
"But not today," Wyatt continued in a lighter tone. "I think there are several people who have been waiting a very long time to see you again, and I don't think we should spoil their party."
Chris thought about the fuss his Aunts were almost certain to make of him and groaned inwardly. "Oh no, please, I really don't mind," he joked.
To his surprise, his brother threw back his head and laughed openly at his quip, while his father had the decorum to chuckle a little more discreetly.
Wyatt looked over at Leo and grinned. "I guess he's not so different after all," he remarked.
"I told you so."
Wyatt nodded and then something occurred to him. "Is Sarah okay?" he asked.
"Sarah?" Chris looked at him blankly.
"This affects her too," his brother pointed out.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, I know. She seems okay with it."
"Good," Wyatt said, "So, umm… did you know her… before?"
"And me? I mean, did I know her too?"
Chris's lips curled up into an amused smile. "Not quite so intimately," he replied.
"Sounds like that was a good thing."
Chris's expression darkened for a moment. "Yeah," he agreed, "But that was then, and this is now. And, umm… you do love her, right?"
"Didn't we already have this conversation about six months ago?" Wyatt asked airily.
"Not all of me was listening," his brother replied.
Wyatt regarded him steadily for a moment and then answered the question. "Yes, I love her," he said. "I think… I think she's the one actually," he admitted self-consciously.
Chris's mouth dropped open. "Whoa!" was the only reaction he could muster.
Wyatt frowned. "You could be a little more encouraging," he complained.
"Yes, but I mean… whoa!" Chris shook his head to clear it. "Does she know?"
"Sort of," was his brother's unhelpful reply.
"What does that mean?"
"We talked," Wyatt explained. "Last night. I think she understands where we're headed."
"And she's not running for the hills?" Chris couldn't help asking.
"No, she'd only do that if she was going out with you," Wyatt shot back impudently.
Chris grinned, amazed that he was actually pleased by this turn of events. "I don't think there's much chance of that. She's not really my type."
"And what is your type?" Wyatt asked. "You've not dated anyone seriously for years. I'm beginning to think you have aspirations to become a monk."
A shadow crossed Chris's face and he looked enquiringly at his father. Leo's expression was pained as he answered the unspoken question. "You've not crossed paths as far as I know," he said. "I'm sorry, son."
Chris nodded, surprisingly okay with this news. He'd always known that he and Bianca wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for Wyatt's defection. His brother was looking curiously at him though and he decided to tell him the truth.
"I had a fiancée in the other future," he explained. "Her name was Bianca."
Wyatt nodded. "So what happened to her?" he asked and Chris suddenly wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
"It's not really relevant right now," he said evasively.
Wyatt wasn't stupid though. He could see the horrible truth in his brother's eyes. "I… I mean the other me killed her, didn't he?" he asked, his voice stricken.
"Not intentionally. It was an accident."
Chris was astonished to find himself defending the other Wyatt's actions. It was a turning point somehow. He wanted to wipe the slate clean. This Wyatt hadn't done those things. This Wyatt was his brother and would never deliberately hurt him. Ever. The other part of him knew that with a certainty that was overwhelming and he had to trust in that faith, even if the concept was completely alien to him right now.
"How can something like that be an accident?" Wyatt demanded. "And even if it was, I could have healed her, couldn't I?"
"No," Leo cut in and his son's anguished gaze swivelled towards his compassionate one. "His healing power had stopped working. He told us."
Chris frowned. "When?" he asked.
"You were at Stacey's," Leo replied. "He didn't say as much, but I got the impression he did try to heal her."
"Why would he do that?" Wyatt asked, confused. "I mean, I… he was evil, right?"
"Not entirely," Leo told him. "Weren't you listening earlier?"
"I kinda switched off a bit towards the end," Wyatt confessed. "It was all too much to take in to be honest."
His father nodded. "In order for Alcathan to have complete control over you, he had to get you to cut all emotional ties with your family. He had to get you to surrender yourself fully – heart and soul. Only he allowed his greed, his hunger for dominion to get in the way of that. He saw Chris as another innocent he could corrupt, so he allowed you to hang onto that bond and, in doing so, he gave you the strength to resist him."
Chris tuned out of the conversation as Leo continued to explain the significance of Alcathan's miscalculation to his brother. He was still trying to make sense of all the conflicting thoughts whirling around inside his head. Wyatt had been right, it would take him some time to let go of the past, but he knew he would get there in the end. His other self's unyielding faith in his brother's goodness was slowly becoming his faith too. It was gradually altering his perceptions and washing away the pain and betrayal of years gone by.
He studied Wyatt carefully, taking note of the turmoil in his blue eyes, the paleness of his face under his tanned skin. His brother was shell-shocked, utterly horrified by what he'd become in the first future. The very idea of being evil, of deliberately hurting people, was clearly incomprehensible to him, and Chris took comfort in that discovery. It would never be the same again – for either of them – but they could carve out a different existence for themselves, become a closer family as a result. It was just going to take a little bit of give and take until they found their feet and became comfortable with each other.
'You know, I think I might be insulted!' his other half's indignant thought echoed inside his head then. He chuckled inwardly, knowing instantly to what he was referring.
Their father's rather blunt assessment of their individual character flaws had cut a little close to the bone. I mean, he wasn't that obsessive. He was just… determined. Single-minded. Dedicated to his cause and… Well okay, so maybe he was a tiny bit neurotic, but what the hell was wrong with that?
'… And it's not like Wyatt is such a wuss that he can't handle things on his own anyway. I mean he's so damn perfect that I'm a spare wheel most of the time.'
There was a pregnant pause as these two trains of thought collided in an enlightening burst of clarity. A rather wry smile tugged at the corners of Chris's lips as realisation dawned. Wyatt's walk on the dark side had taught him that his brother was flawed just like everyone else. Sure, he was the most powerful witch that had ever lived, but he was also human and therefore susceptible to temptation and self-doubt. It might not seem like Wyatt needed his brother's support, but he did. Without it, he was less grounded, not so in control. Chris would never be a spare wheel.
On the other hand, he realised that he didn't have to carry the weight of the entire world on his shoulders anymore either. He had a brother now – a brother who would stand by his side rather than directly opposite him. A brother who would willingly take on his share of the burden, leaving Chris the time and the freedom to live his life as well as fight the good fight.
A light tap on the door distracted him from his thoughts then and he turned to see his Mom standing in the doorway, a hopeful expression on her face. "Is everything okay in here?" she asked tentatively, her concerned brown eyes flickering between her husband and two grown-up sons.
"Sure Mom, everything's fine," Wyatt answered in an easy tone and Chris saw Piper's shoulders relax in response.
"I'm sorry I was such a jerk," he added.
"Oh honey…" Piper's voice was warm, sympathetic. "This was always going to be difficult for you to comprehend. I think you're entitled to freak out a bit. And I'm sorry that we didn't tell you sooner. It's just…" She shrugged. "It was hard to know the right thing to do. There were arguments for and against telling you."
"And here's me thinking you had all the answers," Wyatt teased, prompting his mother to let out a bubble of soft laughter.
"I wish," she said, "Half the time I make it up as I go along – especially the 'Mom' thing."
"Oh, you're not so bad at the Mom thing," Wyatt assured her, "What do you reckon, bro?"
Chris pursed his lips as though he was thinking about it. "She could use a little work," he joked, "But, overall, I reckon she cuts the mustard in the 'Mom' department, yeah."
Piper rolled her eyes, taking the backhanded compliment in the spirit it was intended. She'd felt Chris's relieved tears against her neck when he'd greeted her at the door earlier. She knew how much he loved her - Wyatt too. She looked proudly at the two young men in front of her. Her boys. All grown-up and independent, but still her babies when it came down to it.
She impulsively stood on her tiptoes, reached out and hooked a gentle hand around the back of their necks, drawing them down towards her in turn and kissing them warmly. They both wrinkled their noses at this overt display of motherly affection, but they allowed it nevertheless. She looked over at Leo when she stepped back and noticed he was smiling at her, his blue-green eyes soft with love. She held out her hand towards him and drew him close, the resulting kiss long and lingering much to their sons' vocal disgust.
She smiled up into Leo's eyes as their lips parted. He'd been so right this morning. After twenty-three years of waiting, their family was finally complete…
Hours later, Chris sat alone on the steps leading down to the Manor garden, his knees hugged to his chest and his chin resting atop of them. He drew in a deep breath and absorbed the familiar scent of honeysuckle and jasmine that he remembered vividly from his childhood years – both times around.
The day had been overwhelming in more ways than one. There were the changes within himself to come to terms with, not to mention learning to relate to his brother again… And his cousins too. His many cousins - rather more than he used to have in fact. When he mentioned this anomaly to his Dad, Leo had laughed.
"Yeah, it took me by surprise too," he said, reminding his son that he still had his other self's memories. "I guess you changed more than just your immediate family's lives in the end. Bringing up you boys wasn't quite so eventful this time around, so I guess your Aunts had more time in their lives for… uhh, other pursuits."
"Eew!" Chris remarked with a wrinkle of his nose.
Leo smiled and then continued on a more serious note. "Whatever Alcathan did to Wyatt must have unbalanced him more than we thought. Sure, the two of you got yourselves into scrapes, but your brother wasn't quite so irresponsible and reckless as he had been in the first future. Consequently, he didn't need as close supervision. I think the first Phoebe and Paige sacrificed a lot of their lives to help raise him."
"Did you and Mom ever think about…?" Chris started ask before he could stop himself. A cloud passed across his Dad's face and he broke off without finishing the question.
"Yes," Leo said eventually, "But it didn't happen. Before Wyatt, we thought we'd never be able to have our own biological children. He was a miracle and you… well, you were too. Both of you were destined to be. It seems another child wasn't."
"I'm sorry," Chris said and was surprised by his father's low chuckle.
"For what?" he asked. "Yes, another baby would have been great, but just because we don't have that doesn't mean our lives are any less complete. We're grateful for what we do have – a happy marriage and two loving sons, plus an extended family that is a regular part of our day-to-day lives. That's a whole lot more than some people have and it'd be phenomenally self-centred of us to resent that."
Sitting on the steps now, Chris thought back on his other life. He knew only too well how lucky all of them were despite their chaotic lives. He knew what it was like to feel all alone in the world. He'd experienced it first hand, even if it had been an illusion created by Wyatt's false memory spell. For years, he'd thought his father had abandoned him when they were all each other had left. The pain of that would never completely go away. It may not have been the truth, but it had been real to him. He'd not known it was a trick, not for a long time.
A door slammed shut behind him and he looked up as he heard the approach of familiar footsteps. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to," Leo said as he sat down next to his son. "Are you okay?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just thinking."
He shrugged. "Anything and everything."
"Anything and everything in particular?"
Chris looked down at his knees. "My other Dad. We lost so much time, didn't we?"
Leo sighed. "He was there, Chris. All the time, despite the pain it caused him when you looked at him without seeing him. There was no question of him walking away. You were his son."
Chris bit his bottom lip and nodded. "I know," he said thickly. "It just makes me so angry sometimes."
"Of course it does, but you can't let that regret consume your life. You came through so much, but you're here now and you have your whole life ahead of you."
Chris smiled in spite of himself. "Even if I am a lazy layabout and terminally neurotic?" he jested.
Leo frowned in mild censure. "Eavesdropping is a bad habit, Chris," he admonished, "And I didn't mean it like that anyway."
"I know, but you're right. I have been procrastinating. I just didn't know what to do with myself before."
"And you do now?"
"Not exactly," he admitted, "But I think I'm getting there."
Leo nodded. "Good."
"Do you really think Wyatt and I can get past all this?"
"Absolutely. You and your brother have the same bond your Mom and Aunts have. It may be stretched to the limit sometimes, but nothing can ever break it. I would have thought all of this would have taught you that."
"He turned evil, altered my memories so that you and I…," Chris faltered, unable to say the words. "Killed my fiancée too," he went on, "And yet still I wanted to save him..."
"Because you always believed deep inside that that wasn't really him…"
"And now I know for sure it wasn't," Chris said with conviction.
Leo turned his head and studied his son carefully. He was different somehow, more secure in who he was. He alternated between the two sides of himself with little apparent effort, which Leo found somewhat difficult to comprehend. It would never be like that for him. His other self's memories would always be just that – his other self's memories, something separate from himself.
It was different for Chris however. Leo had spent enough time talking to the second version of his son to understand what this meant for him. It meant filling the blank space inside with the part of himself that had been missing for nearly twenty-three years. It meant he could move on with his life, make choices knowing for sure they were the right ones. It meant clarity of who he was and who he could become.
As for the first Chris, he didn't think it was quite so black and white. He'd lived a whole other lifetime, and this was a huge, if ultimately welcome, adjustment for him. He had so much to come to terms with, so much pain and heartache to put behind him. And yet, he seemed more relaxed and at peace with himself already. That aura of nervous energy that had always surrounded him in the past had faded into nothing more than a normal zest for life. Maybe it was as he'd just said. He'd always believed but now he knew for sure.
Chris turned his head to meet his father's steady gaze, belatedly becoming aware of his intense scrutiny. "What?" he asked.
Leo's answering smile was broad and easily reached his eyes. "Nothing," he said, "Just thinking how proud I am of you and how I know you're going to make a success of whichever path you choose. Just make sure you take the time to enjoy it and be happy too, okay?"
Chris nodded, a small smile quirking at the corner of his lips. "I will," he promised, gazing reflectively out over the garden, squinting slightly against the descending twilight as he did so.
The future stretched like a long, winding road ahead of him, an endless unknown, but it didn't matter that he had no clue as to his ultimate destination. It was a journey, an adventure waiting to happen. With his family's support, he could do anything, be anything. He could seek out Bianca if he chose, but he wasn't so sure he wanted to do that. If the two of them were truly meant to be together, then it would happen anyway. And if they weren't, then maybe there was someone else just as special out there for him, someone he would miss the chance to meet if he forced the situation now…
No, he'd spent way too long trying to bend the future onto a specific path. Now he was content to let fate lead him to wherever he was meant to go. Now that his brother was good, his Mom was alive, and his father and the rest of his family were by his side… He turned back to his Dad and grinned. "Bring it on," he declared.
Leo laughed, hooked an arm across his shoulders and pulled him close. "Welcome home, son," he said as Chris readily returned his hug. When they drew apart, Leo patted him between the shoulder blades to chivvy him along. "Come on. We should go back inside before your Mom..."
The back door slammed open on its hinges and a shaft of electric light fell across father and son illuminating them in a soft yellow glow. "Hey Dad? Chris? Get your asses back in here or there's gonna be trouble!"
"… Sends out a search party," Leo finished wryly as Chris started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Wyatt asked when they joined him in the kitchen doorway.
"Family," Chris replied. "You can't live with them or without them, can you?"
"So they say," Wyatt said as the three of them went back inside the house.
"So boys," Leo said, placing a hand on each of his sons' shoulders. "The future's out there waiting – how about we go and find out what it has in store for us?"
"Well, I'm game if you are," Wyatt said, looking enquiringly at his little brother for confirmation.
Chris thought about it for a moment and then grinned. "I'm game," he decided.
And so, the three of them went through into the lounge to rejoin the rest of the family, for they had a lifetime's worth of memories to make and treasure. Real ones this time though, because the days of lies, misdirection and false memories were finally at an end and the future was whatever they made of it. Because, after all, Chris thought a little while later, as he sat surrounded by the people he loved and who loved him...
There really was no place like home.
A/N2: Well, that's it, folks - the end of 'False Memories.' Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and sticking with it throughout all the numerous delays in posting. This story was much tougher to write than Unrequited, so it feels like a greater achievement now that it's finally complete.
Anyway, I'm planning to return to 'A Rift in Time' now that my few months writing hiatus is hopefully over. Plus, I've decided to introduce a bit of variety to keep things interesting. Therefore, if any of you are fans of CSI, I have a few one-shots in mind for that too, so watch out for those.