Author's Note: I am working on "The Education of an Heir," I swear, but I got diverted by some minor inspiration after watching "Morality Bites" and then listening to Yeats performed by the Waterboys. And voilà! One-shot!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Charmed characters herein.
The Stolen Child
By Ligia Elena
"Mom, tell me about her."
When I was a kid, and first heard about her, she fascinated me. Mom told me what little she knew, unable to disguise her own wistfulness for the girl she herself had scarcely known more than ten minutes.
She was six years old. She was never any younger; she would never be any older. Just for that day when Mom saw her, she was six years old. And that was just a guess based on her appearance anyway, but in my mind, I decided the guess must have been right: She was six.
"She had dark hair, of course," Mom said. "And freckles … here." Smiling, she brushed her finger across the bridge of my nose.
Mom said she seemed smart. And she was cheerful. Probably no one told her that her aunt was to be executed that day. She was only six, after all. So she happily played with her tea set and resolutely told her mother — our mother — that she would not use her powers. Mom thought about binding those powers, but in the end, let them be.
So she always had her powers, whatever those were, but she would never use them.
Her name was Melinda. My sister.
But her family was different from mine. Her mom and dad were divorced. Aunt Prue was alive, Aunt Phoebe was on death row, and Aunt Paige was nowhere. Witches were persecuted. There was no Wyatt, and there was no me.
But I think of her as my sister all the same. More than she was Wyatt's. She would have been the same age as Wyatt. He was the child born instead of her.
Here in our life without her, I asked Mom to tell me all she knew, to make Melinda real, but Mom knew too little.
"Where is she now?" I asked.
"I don't know, sweetie." And she hugged me. "I don't know."
Melinda was lost, forever six years old in a future that would never happen. She would not have to suffer a life in which witches were persecuted, cowering in darkness for fear of being burned alive. She would never live at all.
"Is she happy, where she is?"
"I hope so."
In my imagination, she was. She was somewhere she where would be always cheerful and use her powers with no fear and no pain. I imagined that I could go to that place, too, and visit my sister. On a dazzling, deserted beach, we would make sand castles and run into the waves. Other times we would explore the kind of a leafy forest where bugs never bit you and where none of the plants were poisonous and you could climb trees hanging over a clear creek. Those were the places where she could be found.
I grew out of that. I grew older and mostly forgot about her, to be honest. I had never told anyone about visiting her, but I was embarrassed all the same — it seemed so stupid, I was glad I had never told anyone about it.
Then I found out … about me. Once I knew about another life, another future that could have been, and now isn't, I finally understood what had drawn me to her. Our kinship, Melinda and I.
"You do understand why we never told you, don't you?" Dad asked. "Your mother and I, we couldn't let either you or Wyatt grow up with those kind of expectations or fears for your future on you."
I got that. But I remembered Melinda, and I thought about this other Chris, the one who had erased his own life to create the one I was living in now. He had had more time, more life than six-year-old Melinda: He had had twenty-three years, until he died on his birthday. Over a year of that with my family, before I was born.
Is he happy, where he is? I wondered. I didn't ask. I knew now that no one had the answer.
P3 was closed for the night; the last stragglers were leaving. From my seat at the bar, I took the final birthday wishes shouted to me by departing family and friends.
Bianca was the last to go. "You coming home?"
"I'm gonna stay here a little while longer, help Mom close up, then orb her home."
"Okay." Conscious of Mom's presence a few stools away, she kissed me on the forehead. "Happy birthday."
I looked at my watch. "It's not my birthday anymore."
"I know. Twenty-three and still standing. I'm glad. See you later. Probably in the morning — I'm going to bed." She added, "Goodnight, Piper."
"'Night. Thanks for coming," Mom replied with the friendly awkwardness of someone who'd only recently started to trust that her prospective daughter-in-law was not going to kill me or steal my powers.
We were silent as I absently twirled the base of a near-empty bottle on the bar. Twenty-three and still standing. It had been five hours since the time of his death had passed. No one said anything, but there had been a longstanding family anxiety few of the friends here tonight had known. It had hung over the party, over the preparations for the party — the very idea of having one. Then the moment passed and the unnamed fear lifted.
Five hours now that I've lived longer than he did. Somehow, now he fully shared Melinda's fate.
For the first time, I asked the question.
"Mom, tell me about him."
Mom looked up from her work. "About …?"
I didn't quite answer her. "Am I … Am I him?"
She was silent for a moment, before saying gently, "I don't know, sweetie."
"So tell me about him."
"Well …" She seemed to be choosing her words carefully. "He had a harder life than you, I know that. His mother died when he was young; he never told me when. 'Future consequences' — his constant refrain. He didn't get along with his father, but they patched it up towards the end, and you reaped the benefits, since your dad's been a little overly anxious about missing a single school play or birthday party with you."
She placed the deposit on the stack for the safe, as she warmed up to the subject.
"He felt very strongly about what he thought was right, and he had a tendency to plunge in to do what was right and not really think through his plans and then get himself, and others, in trouble," she said pointedly, and grinned. "He also had a habit of rolling his eyes and sighing — exactly like you did just now — when he felt misunderstood, annoyed or frustrated.
"He argued with his aunt Paige the most, because she would tease him and he'd think she wasn't taking him seriously enough. She'd tell him he was neurotic and needed to lighten up."
"This is sounding familiar."
"She also loved him fiercely."
" 'My two favorite nephews,' " I echoed Paige's common phrase.
"She started that long before you were born. And his aunt Phoebe would want to help him with all his 'issues,' but …"
"… always how she thinks you need help, not however you want it."
"Uh huh. But she trusted him before the rest of us did; he told her first who he was."
"So, we — I mean, he was closest to Aunt Phoebe?"
"I wouldn't say that. I like to think I meant something to him. And he forgave my mistrust, kicking him out of the house —"
"Wait, you kicked me out of the house?"
"Well, I didn't know who you were, and … he had just plunged into a bad plan that got Wyatt kidnapped and then proceeded to inform us for the first time that my baby boy was going to grow up to be evil. I was upset. And it didn't happen to you, so get over it!"
"Okay, okay …" I laughed with her.
"He had the same smile as you do, though you smile more often. He loved a girl named Bianca and was going to marry her and never asked us how we felt about that," she added.
"So, a man of excellent taste."
"Right," she said sardonically. But she was still smiling.
After a pause, I said, "You haven't said anything about Wyatt."
"I don't have anything to say. I never met that Wyatt, and there was so much Chris wouldn't tell us. I did worry … if Wyatt was evil, what had he done to his brother? I wonder if he was afraid to tell us. And I didn't ask."
She took a deep breath and added, "One thing he would talk about — more than we sometimes wanted to hear — was how he had something of an inferiority complex when it came to his super-powerful older brother."
"Huh. Evil or not, I guess that's unavoidable."
"Evidently. Mostly he avoided baby Wyatt, but there was one day I caught them playing together, sitting on the floor in the middle of a mess of toys. That was the first day Chris called me Mom, too. One thing I know for sure, though, is that he loved Wyatt. He was willing to give up everything to save him."
"Plunging in to do what's right without thinking it through?"
"You could say that. But he did it: He saved Wyatt. He saved his family. And me — I'm still alive."
"But that wasn't me. I didn't do it. And if my life has been so different, maybe I'm not even capable of it, of making those choices."
"As for whether you're capable of it, have I mentioned the plunging into danger thing? I'd just prefer that you not be faced with that kind of choice, because I'd rather have my living son than a heroic dead one."
"I can't be the hero. No, Mom, I'm not getting down on myself; really, I'm not. I just … If I'm that hero, if I get to take credit for that, karmically or whatever — what would that make Wyatt? What does he have to take credit for, or the blame for, that in this lifetime he didn't do? I can't …"
She nodded; I knew she understood. "How about you just take credit for the amazing person you are right now?"
"I'll try. Thanks. It's confusing to be a Halliwell, you that?"
"Too well, believe me."
We walked to the backroom, where the office was, where there was a ratty old couch that Mom would not get rid of. After she locked up, just before I orbed her to the Manor, she asked, "Did you have a good birthday party?"
"Good." She hugged me and added, "I love you."
"Love you too."
Twenty-three and still standing, unused years stretching before me. I was not frozen in time like Melinda at six years old. Maybe he wasn't either. This life I had to carry on may not have been in the perfect havens where the six-year-old girl was lost, but it was the one I had. The one I had created, in more ways than one.
Back in our apartment, true to her word, Bianca was asleep. She didn't seem to wake up when I slipped in bed next to her, but she rolled over and tossed an arm over me.
Is he happy, where he is?
I smiled as I drifted into sleep, fully intending to sleep till noon.
Just maybe, he is.
Another author's note, as an afterward: The title comes from a poem of the same name by William Butler Yeats. The lines in particular that I was drawing on were: "Come away, O human child/ To the waters and the wild / With a faery hand in hand/ For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."