Title: Phoenix
Author: Rhien Elleth
Fandom: Charmed
Pairing: Bianca/Chris, Bianca/Wyatt
Rating: M
Disclaimer: Don't own them, yadda, yadda, you know the drill.
Spoilers: Chris-Crossed and It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World (Season 6)
Words: 9,200
Summary: Set in the future that Chris travels back in time from, approximately a year before Chris-Crossed. How Chris met Bianca.

Author's Note: I took several liberties as the show only gives us brief glimpses of this future. The title I give Wyatt, the "Witch King" has nothing to do with LOTR. It just seemed appropriate given who and what he is.

The Underworld

She burst from the inside out, a million and one bright needles of pain scattering her into oblivion. For a moment, she floated on the wind, awareness of self a dimly remembered concept she struggled to hold onto. It was important to struggle, she remembered, important not to fall headlong into the void and lose herself forevermore. As others had before her.

And then the moment passed, her scattered atoms returning, regrouping, reforming…and she stood, whole, hale and alive again, and behind the demon who'd killed her, for however short a time. She struck, sinking her hand into the middle of his back, and began to drain his powers. He stiffened, paralyzed, making inarticulate sounds of pain and rage.

Bianca considered her options. She'd been hired to kill him. She wanted to kill him, if only to prove a point. The witches of the Phoenix coven might be able to reconstitute from death, but that didn't mean the process was pleasant. She hated dying. Nothing pissed her off quicker than some demonic thug getting past her guard with a power he wasn't supposed to have. Throwing flame was an upper level demonic ability, not something a mere bodyguard should have in his arsenal. And she wanted to know how he'd acquired it.

But…she could feel him struggling against the power stripping. He was much stronger than she'd been led to believe. It was possible he'd break free before she could finish draining him, and that she couldn't allow. Irritated, she conjured her athame into her empty hand and slammed the blade into the base of his skull. He burst into flame, sparks showering her as his physical form exploded outward, scattering much as she had moments ago. Except he didn't reform again.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Bianca banished her athame with a flick of her wrist, scowling at the scorched earth he'd left in his wake. "Bastard."

"Are you referring to him, or me?" asked a familiar voice behind her, and Bianca tensed. She resisted recalling her athame and throwing it at Wyatt, but only just. It wouldn't do any good, anyway. She turned slowly, arms crossed to reflect her annoyance with him.

He stood half in shadow, his head-to-toe black clothing making him stand out as a darker outline among all the shades of gray. The light cast by nearby sconces of flickering torches barely touched him, illuminating only a few strands of his shoulder length hair, so it gleamed golden for a moment.

"Both," she said. "You didn't tell me he could throw flame."

He stepped forward, into the light. A rare smile curved his lips, made him look slightly wicked. Or maybe that was just the glint in his eyes. "Must have slipped my mind."

"Right." Like anything ever slips his mind. "What are you doing here, Wyatt? I've got at least twenty more demons to kill, and only --" she glanced down at the holo-watch reflected on her wrist "-- half an hour to finish the job, now that their watchdog is vanquished."

He walked toward her, hands clasped behind his back, his posture relaxed. Bianca wasn't fooled. King Wyatt, the Witch King, wielder of Excalibur, never truly relaxed. That would require him to lower his guard, and that was something he never did. Not that she'd ever seen. Not once, not even in the most intimate of moments.

"A job I gave you," he reminded her, "and one I can choose to give to someone else."

She immediately bristled. "A Phoenix --"

"-- finishes her assignments." He stopped directly in front of her. "Yes, I know. As it happens, I need you elsewhere."

"But…now?" Any other client she might have argued with, but one didn't argue with him.

"Yes. Now. I've got Joren handling your demons."

"A demon killing demons," she muttered, unimpressed. She knew Joren; he was one of Wyatt's lieutenants. Powerful, but too eager for the kill. He wasn't professional enough to suit her, but then demons rarely were.

Wyatt reached out and brushed a strand of hair back from her cheek, his touch feather-light. He raised an eyebrow, his eyes searching her face. Looking for a response, she knew.

"You object?"

She shrugged.

"Joren's messy."

"Yes," Wyatt didn't smile, but his face softened slightly. "Which is only one of many reasons why I must have you doing this task for me, and not him."

Curiosity finally won the upper hand over annoyance. "What task?

Wyatt's expression drained of warmth, his mouth hardening, his blue eyes turning bright and cold as a winter sky. His hand fell away from her face, and he turned aside. His obvious reluctance to answer pricked more than Bianca's curiosity; now she felt the first glimmerings of alarm.

"What could be more important than a cadre of demons betraying you?"

His back to her, he lifted a hand, closed his fingers into a slow fist. She'd seen him do it before. When he called Excalibur to his hand. It stayed empty this time, the sword remaining in whatever pocket realm Wyatt kept it. But the need for it was there.

"A demon," he said finally, "knows loyalty only out of fear. They scrabble for power at every turn. I expect to be betrayed by them. But to be betrayed by my own blood, my brother…"

"Chris?"

She'd never met Wyatt's brother, but had heard him spoken of often enough. Though they were of the same parents, both of them half-breed children of a forbidden alliance between a witch and an angel, Chris couldn't begin to match his brother for power. Which was rather a good thing; the world was not large enough for two such men as Wyatt Halliwell.

"Yes, Chris." Wyatt turned back to face her. "You're the only one I can trust with this. The only one who might succeed in gaining his trust. I must know if the whisperings reaching my ears are true. Does my brother seek to overthrow me?"

Bianca was already shaking her head.

"No. No, I'm an assassin, not a spy. Ask me to kill him for you, and I will."

Wyatt was beside her in a single stride, his hands closing over her bare arms in a hard, unyielding grip. It took all her control not to respond instinctively with a fight. She was of the Phoenix coven; men did not manhandle her.

"If my brother needs killing," Wyatt said softly, his words unnaturally calm when set beside his actions, "I will be the one to kill him. Not you. Never anyone but me. Do you understand?"

His fingers were going to leave bruises where they dug into her skin. She understood.

"No one kills Chris but you," she said aloud. The fingers flexed and relaxed fractionally.

"Yes, that's right. You are to win his trust, get him to confide in you, whatever you have to do – just find out if he is betraying me."

How was she supposed to do that? She was no actor. Bianca didn't infiltrate in order to do her killing; she preferred the upfront, direct approach. But Wyatt was in a dangerous mood. Arguing was certainly not an option.

"I will," she said instead, and prayed she was telling the truth. "I'll win his trust, find out the truth behind these rumors."

His grip eased, his hands slipping down her arms. She drew in a deep breath, relieved.

"Thank-you," he said softly.

She nodded as one of his hands slid slowly back up her arm, deliberately sensuous. She couldn't hide the shiver that quaked through her. Not that she wanted to. She much preferred a seductive Wyatt to an angry Wyatt.

The hand slid into her hair, and she reached up, splayed her fingers against his chest. She could feel his heartbeat beneath it, the warmth of his skin radiating up through the smooth cotton of his T-shirt.

"I thought you needed me on this assignment now," she observed when he bent his head and pressed his lips against her collarbone.

"I do," he murmured. "As soon as physically possible." He trailed his mouth up her throat.

"Then…I should start immediately."

"You smell like blood and fire," he said, and kissed her.

Wyatt was a force of nature; just being in his presence could be overwhelming at times. Kissing him felt much like dying. A million and one needles of fire scattering her to oblivion, sending her into an abyss of sensation and desire. She clung to him, forgetting her assignment for a few precious seconds, forgetting that she'd sworn to herself never to share Wyatt's bed again. She cupped his face in her hands, his beard scraping her lips as her tongue sought and entangled his. It lasted a small eternity, until she thought she'd be consumed by the flames this time, surely. Lost forever.

And then the million and one pieces of her soul snapped back together, the flame extinguishing with a suddenness that was almost painful. She gasped, nearly stumbled as Wyatt pulled away, stepped back. The surrounding air was cold against her skin where it hadn't been before, and Bianca shivered.

"You're right," Wyatt said reluctantly. "You should go, now."

What game is he playing at? It wasn't like Wyatt to change his mind. About anything. She tried to get her uneven breathing back under control; damned if she was going to let him see the effect he had on her. It took too long to gather her thoughts, direct them back to where they should be, on her new assignment.

Wyatt turned to leave, his form dissolving into black pinpoints of energy.

"Wait!"

He stopped, reforming from the torso up, and looked at her.

"Stop Joren," she said, thinking quickly. "Leave a few of the demons alive, and send them after your brother. Tell them they can win your forgiveness if they kill him for you."

Wyatt frowned, clearly not pleased with the idea. Bianca rushed to explain.

"You want him to trust me, right? You gave me this job because you trust me. Then do as I've asked. Hurry."

"Very well," Wyatt said reluctantly. He stabbed a finger at her. "If Chris dies in your scheme, Bianca…" The black orbs consumed him again, and he was gone.

He hadn't finished the threat because he didn't have to. She knew very well what would happen if Chris died. So would she.

Above Ground

It wouldn't be a normal day without some sort of bad news. Wyatt instituting some new law against witchcraft; one of his neighbors falling victim to demons; his cousins voluntarily allowing their powers to be bound.

His mother dying.

Still, this was the first time since that terrible day that a demon had actually tried to kill him. Like it or not, he was the Witch King's brother; usually that was enough to protect him.

A table and lamp broke his fall as the most powerful of the three demons flung Chris across the room. He landed hard, the breath driven from him, his vision studded with stars. He coughed and gasped, trying to suck air into his abused lungs. His left side flared with white hot pain. At least one rib broken, he thought grimly. I guess being Wyatt's brother isn't enough to shield me anymore.

He'd known this day would come.

"You're not…the only ones…with telekinesis," he managed between shallow breaths.

Resolutely, he sat up among the wreckage, hand pressed to his side. Two of the demons conjured energy balls, clearly intending to finish him. Chris lifted a hand and gestured, flinging them across the room as easily as they had him. One of them went through a window, showering that side of the room in broken glass. Before the third could respond, he orbed into the kitchen, beside the cupboard with his cache of potions. He scooped up three or four vials at random, hoping one might be powerful enough to vanquish them.

He saw the air ripple as someone shimmered into the room, and drew his arm back to throw. When the figure materialized into a woman he'd never seen before in his life, he hesitated for a fraction of an instant.

"Get down!"

Her warning came almost too late; Chris ducked instinctively just as an energy ball smashed into his cupboards, raining glass and wood down on his head. She conjured one of her own and flung it back at the demon in the doorway, and he exploded in a shower of flame and ash.

Two more figures shimmered in, one of them directly behind her, pinning her arms to her sides. Chris lifted his hand, intending to use his telekinesis to knock the demon away. He needn't have bothered. She suddenly had a knife in her hand. She drove it back into the demon's abdomen just as the second demon threw an arc of flame at her head. She shimmered away, and the flame struck the demon she'd stabbed, instantly immolating him.

The last demon was looking around almost frantically, Chris apparently forgotten. The air shimmered behind him, and there she was again. She drove her hand into his back, and blue light engulfed her arm as the demon screamed and arched in agony. What the hell is she doing to him? Chris clutched the potions tighter in his grip, wondering if he still needed them. Against his mysterious savior, whoever she was.

The blue light faded and vanished, and the demon fell to his knees, breathing raggedly, his face pale and covered in a sheen of sweat. The woman conjured another energy ball and used it to vanquish him, but it seemed anticlimactic to Chris. Like an afterthought to whatever she'd done to him.

She banished her knife and frowned across the kitchen at him.

"Are you all right?"

"What?" he asked, still dazed.

She started across the room toward him and he took an involuntary step back, potion raised to throw. She stopped, irritation flickering across her face. She was young, as young as he was, maybe. Twenty, no older than twenty-five, surely, with straight dark hair that framed a strong, beautiful face. She was wearing black leather and carried no visible weapons, not that she appeared to need them.

"Who are you?" he asked warily. She put her hands on her hips, eyes narrowing with impatience.

"I'm a witch, just like you. And lucky for you, I've been hunting that group of demons for some time. Looks like I got here just in time to save your excellent ass from becoming their next sacrifice."

Chris blinked. Excellent ass?

"You're a witch," he repeated instead, infusing his voice with skepticism.

"That's right."

"But you used demonic powers. Energy balls and…" His breath hissed through his teeth as pain stabbed his side again. Stupid ribs. "…and shimmering."

"Yeah," she agreed. "So?"

"So, who's to say you aren't another demon here to kill me?"

She rolled her eyes, clearly disgusted with his mistrust of her.

"If I was here to kill you, why would I have bothered saving you? Look, I'm not the first witch to use demonic powers, and I won't be the last. You're part whitelighter, right? So
use your abilities to try and sense me. If I'm really a witch, it should work."

She was right. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated, opening up that part of himself meant to listen for his charges. He hadn't used it in so long, he wasn't sure he still could. To his surprise, it didn't take long. There she was, a bright, glowing presence in his mind. A witch, and a powerful one.

"Ok," he gasped, leaning against the counter as pain stabbed his side again. He dropped the potions in favor of pressing one hand to his side and gripping the edge of the counter with the other. "So, you're a witch."

She was beside him in an instant, her hands pushing his away so her fingers could poke around his abused ribs.

"Ouch!" he protested, glaring at her. Lips pursed, she looked up at him.

"Your ribs are cracked," she said unnecessarily. "At least three of them."

"Like that's a newsflash," he muttered.

She gave him a look, the sort universal to women everywhere, that said a man was being exceptionally dense or stupid. She took a step back and gave a cool shrug.

"So, maybe I'll just leave you to find your own way to the nearest health clinic. Gee, I hope another triad of demons doesn't jump you on the way." She turned and started to shimmer out.

"…wait."

Chris closed his eyes briefly. He didn't trust her, didn't particularly want her help. Unfortunately, it appeared he also didn't have a choice, unless he wanted to contact Wyatt and tell his brother about the attempt on his life. He opened his eyes again. She was still there, looking at him with her lips pressed tightly together, one eyebrow raised. The sad truth was, she was the lesser of two evils.

"I could use some help," he said finally. "If you don't mind."

She smiled, and her entire demeanor changed. Instead of a witch capable of killing three demons without breaking a sweat, a beautiful young woman was suddenly standing in his apartment. It made him wish he'd bothered to do laundry recently.

He opened his mouth – to say what he wasn't sure – and the next thing he knew she was shoving him into one of his own dining room chairs and trying to pull his shirt off.

"Um, whoa!" He pushed her hands away and hastily pulled his shirt back down, trying his best to ignore the sharp twinge of pain the movement cost him. "I thought we were going to a health clinic."

She sighed.

"Any health clinic is going to report this incident to Wyatt. Is that really what you want?"

No, it wasn't. But he wasn't going to say that, especially when she'd just brought all of his suspicions rushing back.

"Why should they report this to him?" he asked casually. "Demons attack people every day."

"People, yes. The Witch King's brother? Not so much."

"H-how did you know…?"

"Honestly, Chris." She took advantage of his shock and started pulling his shirt off again. "There isn't a witch alive who wouldn't know either one of you by sight." When he made no move to help her or raise his arms, she conjured her athame and cut it free.

"Oh," he said lamely. "Right."

Sure they would. His entire family was famous. He and Wyatt were descended from the most powerful trio of witches ever to be born, the renowned Charmed Ones. They'd vanquished more demons in one lifetime than all the witches to come before them put together. And one of them had birthed the Witch King.

"I'm going to need something to wrap these tight," she said. "Got any medical supplies here? Rolls of gauze? Tape?"

"Um…in the bathroom cupboard."

It was one of the things his mother had drilled into him. Whitelighters couldn't heal themselves, so even if he developed his father's healing touch, he needed to have a well stocked first aid kit at all times. One couldn't always get to a hospital readily after a demon attack.

His mysterious guest disappeared around the corner, and it occurred to him that he was allowing a veritable stranger access to his entire home, something he'd never even considered doing before. He looked down at himself, half clothed, his shirt a ruined crumple on the floor.

Yeah, he was definitely out of his depth with this woman.

"Found it," she said as she came back into the kitchen, stepping lightly around the bits of broken glass and wood littering the floor.

She made him hold one end of the gauze against his chest while she wrapped the rest of the roll around him multiple times, pulling it so tight he winced and inhaled sharply. Her eyes flicked up to his face, then back down to her task.

"Bianca," she said after a moment.

"What?" he managed in a fairly normal tone of voice. Maybe the pain would dull down to something he could ignore when she was finished. He hoped.

"My name." She ripped a piece of tape off the roll, plastered it against the gauze around his midsection. "You were going to ask me, right? So now you don't have to." She ripped and placed a second piece of tape, and rocked back on her heels. "All done."

Thank God. He took an experimental breath, found it still hurt, but not as sharply as it had before.

"Great. Thanks." He stood up, crossed to one of the cupboards that hadn't been shattered in the attack, and pulled out a bottle of painkillers. He shook three out into his hand, turned toward the sink, and stopped. She was still there, leaning against the wall, watching him with mild curiosity in her green eyes. He forced a smile onto his face.

"Um, thanks for your help, Bianca, but I think I can take it from here."

She raised a skeptical brow.

"You sure you don't need a bodyguard?"

Sighing, he tossed the pills into his mouth and swallowed them dry. So, she wasn't going to make it easy and just leave. Interesting. How had she happened to come to his rescue again? Something about having tracked the demons.

"I'm sure," he said, opening his eyes. He faced her, leaning against the counter, arms crossed. "Unless you can think of a reason why I'd need one."

"Three demons trying to kill you isn't a good enough reason?"

He smiled.

"You know, it was really great the way you came shimmering in to save the day. But this is hardly the first time I've been under attack by demons, or warlocks, or even witches. And I've survived just fine all on my own."

"Witches?" She frowned. "You've been attacked by witches?"

"Like you said, Wyatt and I are known faces to every witch alive. Not all of them have agreed with the…shall we say, 'policy changes' my brother has made for witches in recent years. And I'm easier to get to than Wyatt."

"Right." He had the impression she'd wanted to say something else entirely, maybe ask him something else, and had changed her mind at the last second.

"What about you?" Time to find out more about this witch who wielded demonic powers. "Do you hunt demons every day, or this just a hobby for you, like knitting?"

She smiled, but it wasn't a warm expression.

"Oh, it's not a hobby. More of a profession."

"A professional demon hunter. Interesting. And what was it exactly that you did to that last demon, before you vanquished him? One of the skills of your profession, perhaps?"

She looked at him for a long moment, and the look sent a chill down the back of his neck. She pushed away from the wall and he tensed, expecting anything.

"It was interesting meeting you, Chris. Good luck with the ribs."

She shimmered out before he could reply, and he just stood there for a moment, thinking. He wished he still had access to his family's Book of Shadows, but the book had long been hidden away by Wyatt. To protect it from demons, his brother had said. Chris was sure it would have something to say about Bianca, and the strange tattoo he'd glimpsed on her left wrist while she was bandaging him.

But that didn't mean he had to give up. He'd just have to pursue other avenues of investigation.

Camelot

Wyatt didn't look up when Bianca shimmered into his throne room. The demonic knights standing guard inside the door conjured weapons and stepped forward, only to stop when they got a clear look at her. One of them nodded in greeting – she couldn't remember his name – and they both banished their fistfuls of flame and stepped back.

Wyatt was staring intently into a bowl of water. Scrying something, then. She wondered what question he'd put to the elements today. He waved her forward, and she moved closer.

"Why is my brother breaking into Magic School?" he asked abruptly. It caught her off guard. Magic School had stood abandoned and forbidden for years.

"Chris?" she said, to buy herself time. Finally, Wyatt looked up at her. She wished he hadn't. His face was remote, his eyes cold; he was angry with her.

"He's the only brother I have," he pointed out calmly.

"Of course," she said. "I have no idea why he'd be breaking into Magic School."

Wyatt folded his arms over his chest, and leaned back against his throne. It was exactly the same posture Chris had used when he'd leaned back against his kitchen counter to begin interrogating her.

"Do you know, yet, whether he means to betray me?"

Bianca hesitated. She needed to tred carefully. The colder Wyatt's outward calm, the more angry he was. And he was very angry tonight.

"Not yet, Sire. I --"

"Then what use are you, other than displaying an uncommon skill for almost getting Chris killed?"

Ah. There was the problem, then.

"His life was never in danger, Sire. He --"

"No? His ribs are broken. He was almost vanquished. And you still do not have his trust."

He pushed away from the throne, walking straight toward her so suddenly she was backing away before she realized it. She caught herself, but all that succeeded in doing was allowing Wyatt to crowd her. He stopped just short of touching her, so close she could feel the heat radiating from his body, smell the faint copper of electricity that seemed to always surround him.

"I trusted you above all others with this assignment, Bianca, and what do you have to show for it?" He fisted a hand in her hair, pulled hard enough to bow her spine back and have tears springing to her eyes.

"I need more time," she said through clenched teeth. "Chris isn't going to spill his secrets to me after a single encounter, not even after I saved his life."

He let go, allowing her to straighten and regain a measure of dignity. His face unreadable, he looked at her for a long moment before turning and crossing back to his throne. He leaned against it, head down, both hands splayed flat against the great block of black marble carved into the Witch King's throne. Veins of red and gold shot through the black. It was said no one but Wyatt could sit it without suffering a terrible death.

She waited, afraid to say anything else, afraid his mood was still too dangerous.

"Work faster," he said finally, his back still to her. "Get Chris away from Magic School. Find out what he's planning. Do not endanger his life again." He turned his head, drilled her with a look. "Do you understand?"

Bianca bowed her head, hiding the flash of anger she knew he'd see in her own eyes.

"I understand, Sire."

Magic School

He found it in the sixteenth volume he checked, Witches: A Historical Guide.. The Phoenix coven, known by a distinctive phoenix tattoo on their left wrist, so named for their miraculous return from the dead after the destruction of Salem in…AD 70? He checked the footnote. Salem, referring to Jerusalem. The city had been razed to its very foundations, the inhabitants killed to the last woman and child by the Roman invaders.

But Bianca's ancestors had risen again, reconstituted and wielding new powers, they renamed themselves Phoenix. They became a coven of assassins, willing to hunt down anyone or anything for the right price, especially if their prey was Roman.

He skimmed through the next several paragraphs. The Phoenix had the power to reconstitute from death, and to strip other beings of their powers. Scattered reports indicated that sometimes the witch was able to assimilate stripped powers into her own arsenal of magic. Which explains Bianca's access to demonic abilities.

Afraid of persecution and eradication, the Phoenix coven kept to the shadows, taking false names, hiding in plain sight as regular mortals, passing on whatever dark covenant they'd made in Jerusalem's ashes, from mother to daughter, down through the generations. No mention of any male witches in the family, he thought, flipping forward a few pages. Nor of fathers or husbands.

"Interesting," he murmured aloud. "I wonder--"

"Wonder what?"

That unexpected voice sent a jolt of adrenaline through him. He closed the book with a reflexive snap that sent a cloud of dust floating through the air; he sneezed.

"Blessings," said Bianca as he turned toward her. "Interesting reading?"

Determined to look casual, like his heart wasn't suddenly beating like a jackhammer in his chest to find her here, Chris leaned back against the table stacked with dusty volumes and folded his hands before him.

"So when you say 'blessings'," he said, "do you mean that in a particularly religious sense, or is it just something you say when someone sneezes?"

"What?" She looked honestly puzzled, taken aback by the unexpectedness of his question.

"I was just curious, since your family was wiped out during a religious war in Jerusalem."

Bianca stiffened, her green eyes flashing with something that might have been anger, might have been fear.

"We weren't wiped out, as you can see from the fact that I'm standing here. And that was centuries ago. Millennia ago, actually. If you're looking for information about me, you're going back a little too far."

"Am I?" he said, and picked up the book. "So, this doesn't signify? You don't have the ability to strip my powers? You aren't living under some terrible pact your ancestors made with who-knows-what power?" He paused deliberately. "You're not an assassin for hire?"

She looked away.

"What I am has nothing to do with whatever's written in that dusty book," she said, but there wasn't much conviction behind it.

"Are you here to kill me?" he asked bluntly, startling her into looking directly at him.

"No!" She sounded almost horrified enough to convince him.

"Is that…" She gestured to the book in his hands. "Is that why you're here, at Magic School? Because of me?"

Chris shrugged.

"It isn't everyday that a beautiful woman shimmers in and saves me from a bunch of demons, and then shimmers out of my life again. I was curious."

She just stared at him, apparently speechless. Chris set the book aside.

"So, we know why I'm here. How about you? Why are you here, Bianca?"

She fidgeted, her fingers folded together in front of her. She looked uncomfortable, off balance, and Chris was willing to bet that didn't happen to her very often.

"I'm…here for you," she said finally.

He smiled.

"Should I be flattered, or scared?"

"It's not like that," she said, her face flushed. "Wyatt sent me."

It wasn't what he'd expected to hear. Anger shot through him, hot and violent. Of course Wyatt had sent her. How stupid could he be, not to have seen it sooner?

"He's worried about you."

"I'll just bet he is," Chris muttered darkly. "So what's the plan, Bianca? Keep an eye on me for big brother, and when I step out of line, kill me? I mean, why else would he send an assassin, right?"

"No," she said, and her face was suddenly pale, her eyes frightened. "That's not how this is. I'm not supposed to kill you. I'm…here to protect you."

"Right. Sure." Chris turned around and picked up a couple of books he'd set aside earlier. No sense letting perfectly good knowledge rot away here with no one to benefit from it. "Tell Wyatt thanks, but no thanks. I may not be the all powerful Witch King, but I can still take care of myself without any help from his flunkies."

She was suddenly there, the books knocked from his hands, her knife at his throat as she bent him back over the table. Her green eyes weren't afraid anymore; he could see that clearly enough as she glared at him from inches away. They were furious.

"I am not his flunky," she said through clenched teeth.

"Okay," he said carefully, keeping his hands open and his arms spread in as unthreatening a manner as possible.

"And I'm not here to kill you."

In that case, could you move that knife away from my jugular? But all he said was, "Okay."

"I'm here because--"

"Athame!"

Chris's telekinesis worked two ways, thanks to his whitelighter heritage. When he called it to him, the knife dissolved into hundreds of tiny white orbs, and reappeared a second later in his own hand. If she'd been a demon, he'd have stabbed her with it then, vanquishing her with her own weapon. But she wasn't. Bianca was a witch, and so he used his free hand to flick her off him with his other brand of telekinesis, picking her up and tossing her across the room. She shimmered out in midair, then reappeared a few feet away, standing, her arms up and hands open to show them empty of weapons.

"I'm sorry," she said before he could speak. "I shouldn't have done that. You aren't my enemy, and you aren't Wyatt."

"You're right, I'm not your enemy. And I'm definitely not Wyatt. He make you angry recently, or something?"

"Or something," she said, but didn't explain further. A moment passed, and then, "Could I have my athame back? I could just take it, but all things considered…I thought it better if I asked."

Chris considered. She didn't look homicidal anymore. But she was dangerous, with or without the knife.

"Tell you what," he said finally. "I'll give you your athame back, if you agree not to attack me with it again…and if you agree to have dinner with me tonight, and answer a few of my questions honestly."

She hesitated. He could see her turning the offer over in her mind, deciding how much to agree to. One moment slid into another, and finally she nodded reluctantly.

"Fine. You give me my athame, and I'll have dinner with you – but I get to choose which questions I want to answer, and which I don't." She smiled when he hesitated. "Every witch family has its secrets, Chris. You can't expect me to give up all of mine."

She had a point, even if he didn't like it.

"Okay," he said. "Deal."

He orbed her knife back into her hand, and she vanished it with a flick of her wrist. Bianca smiled, and this time it was genuine, amused, like the smile she'd given him back in his apartment.

"Maybe we should make that breakfast instead of dinner," she said.

"Why?" he frowned, wondering if she was already trying to back out of their deal.

"Because," she laughed, gesturing toward the clock on the wall, "you've been here all evening and most of the night. It's nearly morning, and I'm hungry."

They ate at a little café, one that Chris remembered being bright and cheerful only a handful of years ago. Now it was dark, like the rest of the world, subject to the perpetual night Wyatt had instituted during his first year as King.

Lanterns hung on the walls, giving off enough light to read the menu and dine comfortably. But the lanterns couldn't dispel the fearful tension that hung over everyone and everything, like they were expecting the end of the world at any moment.

And maybe they are, Chris thought unhappily, stirring his eggs without much enthusiasm. His appetite, he found, was gone.

"What's wrong?"

He looked across the table at Bianca, wondered for the hundredth time how much he could trust her. He set his fork down, and sat back in his chair.

"How long have you worked for Wyatt?" he asked, instead of answering her question. She frowned.

"I don't know. A few years, I guess."

"Killing people," he said.

"Killing demons," she clarified, and took a bite of her own eggs. "Usually demons who've betrayed him, or gone rogue, trying to make things like they used to be."

"Like they used to be." Chris picked up his coffee cup, remembering when coffee meant morning and sunshine, and waking to greet the day. "Was it really so bad?"

"How can you ask that? You, of all people."

"What do you mean?"

"Demons killed your mother, your aunts, and now Wyatt controls them, keeps them from killing anyone else."

"Unless he wants them to. Unless there's a threat he needs eliminated. He uses the demons like he uses you, Bianca. As a tool to keep everyone else in line."

"No. I'm not a tool."

"You are. You and everyone else around him."

The interruption came before Bianca could argue further. An older man in a dark blue suit, his hair a steely, solid gray, stood at Chris's elbow.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. "But are you by any chance Christopher Halliwell?"

"Who's asking?" Bianca demanded before Chris could answer.

"The manager," the older man said with a smile, apparently unruffled by Bianca's rudeness. "There's a message at the counter just delivered by 'bot for a Christopher Perry Halliwell."

Chris frowned.

"No one knows I'm here."

"Someone does, sir, else they couldn't have sent the message."

He had a point.

"All right."

Chris started to stand, and something changed in the old man's expression. Some glimmer behind the smile and polite façade that warned Chris all was not right. And then he heard the twang of a crossbow.

He dove to the floor just as Bianca cried, "Darklighter!" and threw her athame. It tumbled end over end and struck the arrow in midair, slicing it in two, so that the two halves fell harmlessly to the floor. She shimmered across the room, but the darklighter was already orbing away. Diners all around them were screaming and running for the exits, with shouts of "demons!" and "witches!" on their lips.

His hand pressed to his ribs, Chris rolled onto his back just in time to see the old man kneel to pick up the half of the arrow with the poison tip. He held out his hand.

"Arrow!"

The old man's fingers closed over air as the arrow orbed away, to Chris's palm. He cursed and reached inside his jacket. Reaching for another weapon, thought
Chris. Then Bianca was behind him, her athame at his throat.

"Keep reaching, old man."

Chris got to his feet, arrow clutched tightly in his hand. The man was very still, his eyes wide with fear. He looked at Chris as if pleading for help.

"Who are you?" Chris asked.

"Dennis," said the old man, his throat working to get the word out. Bianca grabbed a fistful of his hair and wrenched his head back.

"Not your name, fool. What are you? Demon? Warlock? Another darklighter?

"No…none of those things," he said hoarsely. "I'm just someone who wants the world to go back the way it was." He looked at Chris, as much hate in his eyes now as fear. "To see an end to the Halliwells."

Chris half fell back into his chair. He stared at Dennis, just an old mortal in a suit, who wanted the world back the way it used to be. He looked down at the arrow he still clutched, the vile thing dark with a poison that was death to any whitelighter it touched.

"Your words are a death sentence, Dennis," Bianca said coldly. "King Wyatt will not suffer you to live, especially after he hears of your attempt on his brother's life."

"Then take me before him, so I can speak my mind to the Witch King himself before I die. Maybe my words will mean something, however small."

"You really are a fool," she said, and grabbed his arm to drag him to his feet.

"Let him go," Chris said suddenly, looking up from the arrow.

Bianca stared at him.

"You can't be serious. Chris, he tried to kill you!"

"Let him go, Bianca." His voice was weary. He dropped the arrow on the table. "Let's just get out of here. There's no need for Wyatt to hear about any of this." He looked at Dennis. "No need for anyone to die today."

"Chris--"

"Bianca." He stood up, held out his hand, and kept his eyes steady on hers. "Let's just go."

She looked at him for a long moment, her eyes searching his. Finally, she lowered her athame and gave Dennis a shove. He stumbled and fell, but Bianca didn't look away from Chris.

"All right," she said quietly, and took his hand.

He orbed, taking her with him, even though he knew very well she could shimmer for herself. He took them to his apartment, the remnants of the demon attack mostly gone, now, and let go of her as soon as they materialized. He fell onto the couch, his hand pressed against his broken ribs again.

"Are you hurt?" Bianca asked.

"No more than I was before," he said. "My ribs didn't like my impromptu dive to the floor, that's all."

"Well, they'd have liked a darklighter arrow piercing your hide even less."

He shrugged.

"At least I wouldn't hurt anymore."

She sat down beside him.

"If you'd rather die than handle a few cracked ribs…"

"Not the hurt I'm talking about," he said quietly, and closed his eyes. "I'm so sick of it all. You know, in the beginning I made excuses for him. He was angry because Mom was dead, and Aunt Phoebe and Aunt Paige. He was hurting, and angry, so he lashed out. But it didn't stop there. He didn't stop. And the world changed, and things got bad, and I thought, 'He's my brother, he'll come back to the light, and all of this will get better.' But it didn't. It got worse. And here we are."

Bianca was quiet for a long time. So long that Chris wondered if she was still there, or if she'd shimmered out while his eyes were closed. He was just about to open them and check when she spoke.

"It wasn't your mother dying, Chris."

He opened his eyes.

"What?"

"It wasn't your mother dying that turned him dark." Bianca was fidgeting again, looking down at her fingers. "The entire Underworld knew it years before the Charmed Ones were vanquished. He was making deals, recruiting demons to his cause even then. He was already evil."

"But…how? When?"

"No one knows. Some demon got to him when he was very young, twisted him so that he grew up into the Wyatt we know now."

Chris couldn't believe it. He remembered their childhood, all the sibling squabbles that had seemed normal enough at the time, how quiet and secretive Wyatt was as a teenager. Growing pains, his mother had called it.

"But that's…"

"Impossible? No. It's true."

He sat up, pressed his fingers to his eyes.

"Why are you telling me this?" he demanded, suddenly angry with her. "Why are you destroying the only happy memories I have of my brother?"

"Because you need to know. Because if a demon changed him, maybe there's a way to save him. You're his brother. If anyone can do it, it's you."

He stood up too fast, then leaned against the arm of the couch, hand pressed to his side.

"I can't…I'm not…I'm not powerful enough to change Wyatt. I can't begin to compete with him."

Bianca stood and went to him, cupped his face in her hands.

"It isn't about power, Chris. Take it from someone who knows. All the power in the world can't compete with love. I'm an assassin. A cold hearted, cold blooded bitch. Ask anyone in the Underworld. But all I ever wanted from my mother was a little bit of compassion, a little bit of love and understanding. Instead, I was told that I was born to kill; that it was the only thing I was meant for, the only thing I would ever be good at." She paused, took a deep breath. "And I believed her. Because she was my mother, and I loved her."

Chris didn't say anything for a long moment, struck by the sadness written over Bianca's face. For a moment, he could see the lonely child she'd been superimposed over the woman she'd become. And she was wrong. Bianca wasn't a cold hearted bitch.

"You really think I can change him? Save the world?" he said. "Me?"

"You. Yes. I really think you can find a way."

For a second, he thought she was going to lean in and kiss him; for just a second, he saw it there in her eyes. But she didn't. She pulled away, stepped back, let her hands fall away from his face. And he felt a loss that was surprisingly acute.

"Bianca."

He reached out, caught her hand in his. She looked down at it in surprise, then up at his face. Chris wasn't going to give her the chance to pull away, run, or shimmer out. He stepped in and kissed her, his free hand cupping her face. He kept it soft, almost tentative, unsure of her response. But she didn't do any of the things he half thought she might. She kissed him back, warm and gentle at first, and then more ardently. She pressed against him, her mouth open beneath his, her hands inside his shirt before he realized what she was doing.

He couldn't feel the dull pain of his ribs anymore, because his head was spinning with the feel of her, the copper and spice scent of her, the suddenly erotic heat of her mouth, her tongue sliding against his. He was falling before he knew she'd pushed him back onto the couch.

"Bianca…" he managed unevenly. "Wait."

"What for?" She was straddling him, her hands working his belt free, her mouth on his neck, his chest. "This is what we want, right?"

Her tongue circled one of his nipples and he thought, hell, yes. Except it wasn't what he wanted, exactly. It was too sudden a turn, felt too desperate, too…familiar, somehow. He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her up, so he could see her face, the look in her eyes. She smiled at him, slow and full of promises that went straight to his groin, hardening him to an almost painful level. She moved against him, grinding her hips in a way that made him groan and arch against her.

"You can't lie to me, Chris," she said, leaning over him so her lips hovered just above his, her hair a sensuous sweep of silk against his skin. "This is exactly what you want."

It was, but… "Is this how it is with Wyatt?" he gasped the words, and everything froze.

Above him, Bianca's face was suddenly paler than he'd have thought possible; even her lips lacked color. He was glad he'd said them, but wished he could snatch them back in the same breath. The last thing he wanted to be was a stand in for his brother. He looked at her, his body still hard, still throbbing, and knew he'd been right.

"It is, isn't it Bianca? This is exactly how it is with Wyatt."

Bitterness swamped him, overshadowed everything else, and he was suddenly shoving her off and getting to his feet. She said nothing while he re-buckled his pants with unsteady fingers, began to button up his shirt.

"After all you just said to me, all your supposed faith and compassion, and I'm still just a substitute to you for him." He was so furious he couldn't look at her. Sometimes his telekinesis acted on its own when he felt too strongly. Even as angry as he was, he didn't want to hurt her like that.

"I want you to leave," he said quietly.

"You're not." She almost whispered the words; he could barely hear them.

"What?"

He swung toward her despite his resolve not to look directly at her, and the lamp next to the couch slid off the end table and smashed against the wall. Bianca flinched. So did Chris.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that." He paused, then, "What did you say?"

"You're not a substitute, and this wasn't exactly like it is with Wyatt." She wouldn't look at him, kept her eyes directed down. "With him, it's like I don't have control over my own mind, my --"

Chris closed his eyes.

"I don't want to know," he interrupted. "I really, really don't want to know."

"Too bad." Her head snapped up, and suddenly the fierce Bianca was back. "You're the one who started this. You brought it up, so you can just shut the hell up and listen." She stood up, crossed the room so she was standing directly in front of him.

"Did I want to sleep with Wyatt? Was it passionate and fierce and overwhelming? Absolutely. It was also survival."

Chris felt a little sick, but found he couldn't look away from her.

"What do you mean?"

"You should know better than anyone. What Wyatt wants, he gets. And if he doesn't get what he wants, people don't survive around him for very long. He wanted me. And every single time, it was both too much, and not enough. There was no love in what we did. Hell, there was barely even any respect. And it felt like he – the Witch King part of him – ripped me apart atom by atom, emotion by emotion, and put me back together." She stopped, pressed a hand that trembled to her eyes for a moment. "I used to swear to myself afterward, never again. No matter what, never again. It didn't matter. It never matters, Chris." She dropped her hand away, looked at him. "Do you understand?"

He wasn't sure. What did she want him to understand? That she didn't have a choice? She looked at him for a long moment, and finally shook her head, her mouth twisted into a bitter line.

"Then I guess we're done here," she said. "I can't force you to get it."

She turned to go, and he felt the first stirrings of panic. He knew, somehow, that if he let her leave now, he'd never see her again. And despite everything, he found he didn't want that. Not even a little.

"Wait."

She turned back around, her face expressionless.

"Just…wait a second." He took a deep breath, hoped he was right. "You're saying that this, what almost happened here, matters. That it wasn't just survival or compulsion, that it meant something."

"That's right."

"…and that you've never felt that with Wyatt."

"Right again."

He was quiet for a long time, thinking. Bianca waited, her face giving nothing away.

"I can't," he said finally, and saw a flicker of something wash through her. Disappointment? "Not if you're going to go back to him. Whatever your reasons, I won't share you with him."

"I understand." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I can't…disappear. Not now. If I do, Wyatt will just send someone else to watch over you. Someone who may not be as interested in saving you from darklighter arrows. I have to continue serving him and watching over you." She took a deep breath. "I don't know if I can resist him, if he wants me. I won't until it comes up, and I try."

Chris was too confused, too full of conflicting emotions to be angry.

"Okay," he said.

"If I can, then maybe…"

He nodded his head, relief washing away everything else.

"Maybe," he agreed, and Bianca closed her eyes, let out a long slow breath.

"Maybe is good," she said. She opened her eyes, met his without flinching.

"I should go. But I'll be back. We're going to figure this out, all of it. And you will find a way to save your brother."

"When you say it like that," he said, "so full of strength and conviction, I almost believe it."

She took a step toward him, cupped his face with one of her hands.

"Believe it," she said softly, and shimmered out.

Camelot

"It's done."

Wyatt turned toward her voice as Bianca finished shimmering into his throne room. His frown morphed into a smile, but like all his smiles, it didn't warm the glacial blue of his eyes.

"So soon?" he said, affecting surprise. "But you'd made so little progress when last we spoke."

"What can I say? I'm good." Bianca tossed something at his feet, and he bent to pick it up.

"A darklighter arrow? What does that have to do with anything?"

"Everything." She smiled. "I saved his life again. Your brother finally trusts me. Don't worry; he didn't get hurt this time."

"And? Is he betraying me?"

She shrugged. "He's jealous of you. Probably that old sibling rivalry thing rearing its head. But I don't believe he's betraying you, no." Bianca turned a lazy circle, pacing the dark confines of the room with her hands clasped behind her back. "It's going to need more investigation on my part to be absolutely certain, but like everyone else, Chris is afraid of your power."

"Afraid enough not to rise against me?" Wyatt was still skeptical. No surprise. He didn't truly trust anyone.

"That is the question, isn't it?" Bianca kept her voice light, removed any real emotion from it. "Give me time and I'll have your answer."

"You have it. All you need."

"Good." She stopped, faced him, and hesitated. "There is one more thing."

Wyatt arched an eyebrow in question. Bianca could feel her heart hammering beneath her breast, prayed she played this exactly as she needed to.

"I'm going to need to disappear for awhile. From you, and your court. All the work I've done to gain his trust could be unraveled in an instant, if he even suspected I was reporting back to you."

Wyatt frowned, his eyes flashing dangerously, and Bianca feared he'd refuse her. Watching her, he closed his grip tighter over the darklighter arrow, crushing it into dust.

"You aren't thinking of betraying me, are you sweet Bianca? My dear brother hasn't gotten under your skin? Won you to his way of thinking?"

She forced a callous laugh.

"Who do you think I am, my King? A Phoenix always finishes her assignments. Chris is just another assignment, nothing more. One I will finish for you, whatever it takes."

Wyatt reached out and grasped her chin in his hand, his grip hard, bruising. He tilted her face up, studied her.

"Very well," he said finally. "Do what you must. But you will report back to me, when you are absolutely certain of his loyalty, or lack thereof." He let go, but her skin still tingled where his fingers had touched her.

"Thank-you," she said.

She wouldn't allow herself even the smallest measure of triumph. Not here, in his presence. She started to shimmer out, when Wyatt spoke again. His words followed her as she vanished, a promise that eclipsed whatever success she might have felt.

"Remember, my assassin. I'll be waiting."

:La fine: