Sequel to "Neurotic". Everyone thinks they know Christopher Paul Halliwell. What he likes. Who he likes. What he wants to do in the future. But when the devastating truth about his Uncle Perry is revealed, what will he do
Disclaimer: Charmed does not belong to me.
Note: "Neurotic" can be found in my profile -probably best if you read that first, although "Unwell" - written as a jigsaw with deliberately missing salient pieces of information - can be read stand alone. "Unwell" takes place almost sixteen years after "Neurotic".
Chapter the First
"Tell them we've all got meanness in us... but tell them that we have good in us, too. And the only thing worth living for is the good."
Billie Letts, "Where The Heart Is."
He felt like a dork.
There wasn't any other word that could describe how he felt at that precise moment, and besides, why look for a different word when "dork" worked so well?
The suit didn't fit well, and hung awkwardly on his lanky, too-tall frame. The music teacher had muttered something about how skinny he was don't they feed you at home, Chris? and how it had belonged to her poor Andrew, lost in the war.
He could feel the open stares from the littler kids in the audience, and was painfully aware that he desperately needed a haircut. One kid was even pointing, and Chris patiently ignored the attention, waiting for the good-natured teacher to introduce him. She thought she was doing best by him, making him come and sing here, the mayor was here for god's sake, but she didn't know hell would probably be raised at home when he got in.
Late, with no good excuse for where he'd been, no good excuse for missing his brother's basketball game, going on at the same time barely fifty feet away.
Chris stiffened his shoulders in the ill-fitting suit, wishing he'd just told his teacher the truth. That no, they weren't having money troubles and that's why he couldn't afford a suit, but he hadn't told his parents he was even good enough to sing in a concert in front of the mayor.
And he hadn't told her because it was a rather bizarre thing to have to admit. What kid, who could sing like he could, wouldn't tell their parents?
Because they have too much to worry about. Dad, the way he is. Averting the apocalypse every other week, Wyatt's games, Adam's fluctuating abilities...
Chris fought the inward laugh threatening to bubble out, and inwardly heard his name, the title of his piece and bowed perhaps a little too awkwardly, a little too late, and yeah - dork fit just about right.
He knew he was lying, even to himself. Those fake reasons, even if he'd explained to Mrs. Williamson about magic and Whitelighters and being the middle son of a Charmed One, at least sounded less like he was a social reject at home as well as school.
The thing was, his mom, his aunts, his brothers, even his cool Uncle Perry who trained witches in martial arts and how to control their powers, who always knew the right thing to say at the right time… they all had somehow decided they knew so much about him. What his favourite food was, what kind of trouble he was likely to get into, what kind of girl he liked…
He felt his face heat up as he stood by the piano, barely remembering the breathing exercises he'd been taught.
His family already seemed to know about him, before he said anything. It drove him absolutely bananas. So the more they seemed to know about him, like his love for playing the piano, their assumption he wanted to grow up and be a music teacher, or teach magic and martial arts like Uncle Perry, the more he explored the other things. The things he wouldn't dare admit he wanted to do.
Like what he was doing now, getting ready to sing.
When he joined the Dramatic and Performing Arts club at school, everyone at home had been surprised, but not too surprised when they quickly assumed he'd be playing the piano for them. After all, he was a good pianist.
A great pianist, if he said so himself. He'd be playing for himself, if Mrs. Williamson hadn't looked so dejected when he tentatively voiced that idea.
Somehow, it all usually worked out. Wyatt's basketball games (his older brother was a holy terror on the basketball court) were either on at the same time as the shows he starred in put on by school, or were on at the same time as the football games, where Chris' other rebellious hobby took full shine.
His family just assumed he was jealous of Wyatt and didn't want to see him play.
But that was fine with him.
If his family was going to assume they knew him, Chris was going to make sure when they finally opened their eyes to see him, they were going to get one hell of a shock.
He looked down at his hands to steady himself, and looked at them, disconcerted for a second. They were pale, but he hadn't realised they were quite as pale as all that. Almost as pale as Aunty Paige, he thought, stunned for a second.
His bones stuck out, too, which again was whole of the "being a dork" routine at high school.
Shaking his head slightly to dispel the thinking that just wouldn't stop, Chris looked at the music. For a second, the notes and staves knotted together, making an inky scrawl at the page. He took a deep breath and then as Mrs. Williamson's fingers hit the opening chords the music straightened itself out.
He began to sing, letting his now settled Tenor voice ghost reverently over the opening lyrics. His voice danced over the words, and he felt the familiar rush of home as the music filled the air and he lost himself in the music. He held the audience spellbound without magic. It was a rush. It always was. It was worth the bother he got into at home.
Well worth it.
He sang a blaze along the crescendos, teased out the diminuendos, enunciated the complicated scale runs in song with ease. It was just patterns, and emotion, tied up in his voice. God knew what he'd do if he lost his ability to play or sing, because he knew he'd go crazy.
Music was what kept him sane.
Silence hung in the air, made all the more stark by his stilled fingers, and then the applause began. Loud, and Chris could see the mayor clapping too, and felt a small rush of pride that made him almost instantly feel sick.
No one could even know about this.
He stood at Mrs. Williamson's prompting, bowed again, and, grabbing his music, walked at a slow pace out of the hall.
Music tucked under his arm, Chris headed to the abandoned history classroom to change. He was stopped by a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see Mrs. Williamson standing there, smiling. Her dark hair, streaked with grey, seemed less harsh in its bob cut than normal, and her face seemed kind.
"I'll leave the suit in your office," Chris said hurriedly, thinking that was what she was after.
She shook her head, the smile still playing on her face. "Just wanted to say you did good, kiddo. Your parents would have been so proud, if they could have come tonight."
Chris tensed, but smiled and nodded anyway. He wondered idly at how useful the 'smile and nod' manoeuvre really was. It had gotten him through life this far, sure enough.
"And you're definitely getting a lift home?" Mrs. Williamson said as she turned to go back into the hall.
"Yeah," Chris said, "I'll be safe."
It was enough to reassure her. "Sure. See you at your next lesson, kiddo."
She disappeared back into the room. Chris waited for a second to be sure no one was around, and pelted into the classroom, pulling the suit off quickly and folding it. He scrambled back into his everyday clothes, jammed the music back into his rucksack, and Orbed.
He took time to take a detour over by the Sports Hall, to see that the lights were off. The game was over. Crap. Speeding up his method of travel, he re-appeared fully inside his small basement bedroom. It was dark, and very quiet. He closed his eyes to see if he could sense the others, and sighed in relief when he felt them still a fair distance away.
Christ sank onto his bed in relief, running both of his hands through his too-long hair. He pulled his fingers away damp, and winced. He'd sweated a lot. He hadn't even realised he'd been that nervous. But who wouldn't be? That was the mayor! And you didn't even drop a note or forget one word...
Allowing himself a few seconds to breathe, he stood up, grabbed a clean pair of boxers, some sweatpants and a clean t-shirt. Bundling them together, he ran up the stairs to the ground floor, and skidded up the stairs to the single bathroom of the house. Quickly, aware that the family was a couple of minutes away, he turned the shower on hard.
The water heated up quickly, and he stripped down, pushing himself under the too-hot spray. Groping blindly for one of the generic bottles of shower gel, he squeezed a handful of the cold liquid into one hand. He could feel it froth up and run off his body. Repeating the same with a blob of someone's shampoo, he cleaned his hair as quickly as he could, before turning his face into the scalding water to wash away the bubbles.
Skidding out of the bath, and landing quite awkwardly, jarring his elbow against the doorframe, he reached back inside to turn the shower off. Rubbing himself off with a towel one-handed, he tidied up the shower area with the other hand, grimacing when he realised he'd used Aunt Phoebe's lavender shower gel and Aunt Paige's shampoo-with-conditioner. His hair was not only long, it was going to go fluffy.
Maybe one of these days he'd open his eyes in the shower and use the shower gel and shampoo Mom bought for the three of them, and not end up smelling like a sweet pot-pourri. Towelling himself dry, Chris slid the boxers and sweatpants on, and then squeezed the worst of the water from his brown hair. He yanked the t-shirt from his head, and dropped the towel, pushing it with his foot over the floor to dry it off a bit. He picked it up, flung it over the radiator and skidded barefoot out onto the landing.
He hurried down the stairs, banging his other elbow hard, wishing the staircase didn't curve like that, and made it into the hallway just in time for something to crash into his back.
He fell awkwardly, his back burning in pain, and he twisted as he fell. He landed on his arm, and looked up to see a black, ugly, vaguely human-shaped demon hulking over him.
Chris heard the door open, but managed to fling his hand out, using his powers to make the demon stumble a little as he rolled out of the way. In time for his mom to step forward and then blast the hell out of it.
He smiled weakly at her. "Hi. How did it go?"
Piper smiled back faintly, her forehead creased slightly. "I'll let the returning hero tell you."
Chris climbed unsteadily to his feet, knowing he was going to have one hell of a bruise on his back later from the fall, along with the ones on his elbow just from being generally clumsy, and offered the same weak smile to his brother as Wyatt burst triumphantly through the door, his curly blond hair pulled back into a ponytail.
"Twenty-five to us, six to them!" Wyatt crowed triumphantly, dropping his sports bag onto the floor and kicking it to the side with his foot. "And Adam sat through it all perfectly!"
The twelve-year old blond Wyatt referred to poked his head around Wyatt shyly. Chris beamed a bit wider at his younger brother as Paige and Phoebe bustled in and started to hang up their coats.
"You did?" Chris stepped forwards, and Adam giggled a little. "Well done." Then, to his older brother: "I'm glad you kicked ass. I had no doubt."
Wyatt's grin was pure-100 watt. "Yeah." He pushed past Chris to the kitchen, and twisted back. "Any chance of food?"
"Cheeseburger!" Adam piped up. Chris had to smother an actual genuine smile at his younger brother's enthusiasm. Especially when it came to Piper's cheeseburgers.
Piper rolled her eyes. "You boys think with your stomachs! All right, you two, into the kitchen, and chop the onion while I make a call to your father about the demon, 'k?" She looked happy and content.
"I'll do that while you make the burgers," Wyatt offered, calling back from his position near the door. Before she could answer, he'd closed his eyes and started to glow blue. Piper rolled her eyes again, and looked at her sisters.
"You two hungry?"
"Ya sure you betcha," Paige quipped. "Watching all that sport makes me hungry. I'll help you slice the cheese." She walked off with a bouncy step to the kitchen, sparing a fond look at the glowing-Wyatt.
"Oooh, I'll get some chips out," Phoebe said, a ravenous look on her face as she followed her sisters into the kitchen.
"So that'll be five, then," Piper said. "I could do with one too after that game."
Almost perplexed, Chris twisted and watched them go in, Piper busying herself with getting out the ingredients, and Wyatt (now no longer glowing, Leo must have known about the demon that had attacked) reliving the game blow-by-blow with Adam.
Peering in at the happy scene, he forced away the frown threatening to settle on his forehead. "I already ate," he muttered, even though he hadn't, he had to skip time for dinner to get to the school in time to sing. "Thanks for offering, though."
Okay, it was true, he was allergic to tomatoes, which Piper insisted on putting in her cheeseburgers, or else it wouldn't be a Halliwell cheeseburger, but she could have taken it out just this once. Or offered to make him something different.
She never did.
He remembered the first time she made the cheeseburgers. It was a couple of years after Adam had been born (and that had been quite awful in itself, that first year, with the strain of not knowing that had dragged out until the diagnosis) and Wyatt had clamoured to go to some sort of Burger World, and Uncle Perry had suggested Piper make the burgers. Piper had done so, while Perry cooked a pan of sausages from himself and for Chris.
Chris had been bewildered. He'd never had tomatoes or oranges or cola up until this point, mostly because – he realised in hindsight – his Uncle Perry always stopped him. He didn't understand how Uncle Perry could tell him he was allergic, when by everyone's admission he'd never tried them.
So he'd taken a bite of Wyatt's when they were done, and got into trouble for taking his brother's food. Wyatt had kicked up a fuss too, an almighty tantrum, and Chris had to sullenly take his sausages upstairs.
Uncle Perry came upstairs as usual to comfort him, and explained how he was allergic to all kinds of stuff, and they knew Chris had those allergies too from when he was a baby. Chris hadn't believed that at all – he knew for a fact he'd never had any kind of food sickness or rash, because when he got chicken pox when he was five, Piper freaked out worse than he'd ever seen her freaked out about him.
Still, she could cook him a sausage, or something, like Uncle Perry would have done. But Uncle Perry, Uncle Dan, Grandpa Victor, Uncle Cole and his cousin Sam were away on some fishing trip, and wouldn't be back until Sunday.
Despondent, and sore from the fall, he turned and opened the secondary door down to the basement by the main stairs and padded down to his room.
Very much alone, he lay on his bed and eventually drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
And woke up with a soft cry, pain blurring his vision impossibly. He raised one arm, only for it to be grabbed viciously, recognisable hands twisting a Chinese burn into his pale skin. He forced himself to be quiet, even as Wyatt swung a kick into his stomach, then a final one to his groin.
Tears welling up despite his self-resolve, Chris looked up in pain at his tormentor. Wyatt's expression was almost unreadable in the dark, with his long blond hair obscuring his gaze.
"That's for missing my game," Wyatt said, his voice low and dangerous. "I won't let you do it again."
Angry, Chris launched his head up. "You can't make me!" He hissed, and regretted it as Wyatt's foot caught him in the face this time. His hands clamped over his jaw, and he felt gingerly with his tongue, relieved that nothing was broken. "You can't- you can't-"
And he woke up properly this time, holding a cheek that didn't hurt, clamping a hand over his mouth to stop the scream. Wyatt hadn't been in to hurt him. The only bruises he had were from his own clumsiness and the demon attack. Bleary from the nightmare, he blinked across at the clock.
Knowing he wouldn't be able to get to sleep after a nightmare like that one, he swung his sore body upright, his temples pulsing. He was going to get a headache, he knew it, but after losing several nights just staring at the ceiling after nightmares, he knew he couldn't get to sleep again.
Sighing, he got to his feet and then winced with the pain. Confused at how a single hit could hurt so bad, he reached out one fumbling hand to his dresser, his fingers tracing the edge of the lamp. He let his fingers curve up around the base, until he felt the switch. He pressed it, and light flooded the room.
He twisted his head to see over his shoulder, and couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. His back was throbbing. He wondered if it was just an awkward bruise coming out.
Deciding to ignore it, he decided to head upstairs and get something to drink, some milk if there was any left. That normally helped him get to sleep. Pushing open the door, he relished the feel of the new, thick carpet under his feet as he padded gently up the steps, not wanting to wake Wyatt.
There were no lights on, so he walked in the cover of moonlight through the hall and into the abandoned kitchen. Automatically he pulled a glass out of the cupboard, and set it on the counter as he padded over to the fridge. He pulled the door open, and light flooded the kitchen from the tiny bulb. Peering in, he pulled out the carton of milk, and after a second's thought, also pulled out several of the carrot sticks that Piper cut for them every morning, knowing that "hungry boys will snack."
Pouring himself a drink of the half-and-half milk, he returned the carton to the fridge,and sat down at the counter. Gulping a mouthful of it to soothe his restless stomach, he instantly choked it out when a hand touched his back gently.
"Whoa, boy!" The same hand rubbed his back, and Chris felt his face heat up again. He smiled awkwardly, pain tensing his face, as Bianca Morris slid into the chair next to him, a cheeky grin on her face.
"Where did you shimmer in from?" Chris asked, wiping the counter with a tea-towel and trying to suavely pretend he didn't spit milk out at the touch of her.
"This club Jenny Gordon dragged me to." Bianca pulled a face. "She's way too old for that kind of dancing, let me tell you."
Chris grinned. He always felt better when she was around, and she was the worst gossiper and general bitch about other people that normally he'd be horrified and refuse to talk to the person, but from Bianca he didn't mind. She had a way of saying things that amused him greatly.
"I heard your song, though," she added.
He stared at her. "I thought you were at Wyatt's game," Chris said, his voice faltering.
"Yeah," Bianca said. "But I shimmered out at the end to see if you'd sung yet. You're really good."
Chris felt his ears go red. "I, uh, thanks."
"You should tell them," Bianca added, her voice soft and persuasive, with that note of laughter in her voice that he lo- uh- liked.
"No, I shouldn't," Chris said. "I'd just get nervous if they were in the audience," he hurried to add, lying quickly, "and I wouldn't want to split their loyalties. Wyatt wants them there, he can have them."
"Hmm," was all Bianca said in return. She leant against the counter, and flexed her arms. "Is your Uncle Perry back yet?"
Bianca was one of Uncle Perry's best students. Chris knew she spent a lot of time with him, she was really determined, and he liked that.
"You getting tired of training with Pedro?" Chris said instead.
"I'd rather have your Uncle Cole," Bianca said, "and that's saying something."
It was saying something, so Chris laughed. Last time Bianca trained with Uncle Cole, he accidentally snapped her arm in two places. Sometimes it's good living in a house of part Whitelighters.
"How's your dad?" Bianca asked.
Chris shrugged. "Leo? Haven't talked to him. Last time I heard, Wyatt said he was still in the tribunal process. Piper's pretty upset."
"You could call them mom and dad, freak," Bianca said.
"I already do call Leo a freak," Chris returned.
Bianca pulled a face at him and stole a carrot stick. "Oh, by the way, I talked to Chacha in casting at the club."
Chris instantly straightened a little more on the stool, trying not to seem too interested. "Oh?" he said casually. "Did she, uh, say anything about-"
"You didn't get the lead, peanut," Bianca said sadly, leaning a companionable arm around his back. She often did that, and Chris knew she knew it as a friendly gesture – there was over six years between them, a lifetime! – but it still made him feel a little dizzy, despite his sadness at the news.
"Oh," he said again.
"Cheer up," Bianca said, "you'd have looked pretty daft as Sandy in a frilly yellow dress. But at least you got the second best part."
She flashed an innocent smile at him, and he stared, feeling very light-headed.
"I'm going to be Danny Zuko? The lead of Grease?" He continued staring at her in the low light. "Really?"
She laughed. "Really, really."
He grinned, and in the excitement of that revelation he grabbed her from the chair and swung her around with a burst of strength he didn't know he had. She laughed as he swung her around, and when he put her back down, she stayed in his arms.
Chris swallowed, hard, when he realised how close she was.
Feeling braver than he had in a long time, he reached out one hand, trembling, to touch her cheek.
Bianca closed her eyes at his touch, then her eyes opened wide, and she leaned in almost imperceptibly closer.
Chris felt his heart speed up. She was warm beneath his touch. The age gap didn't seem to matter in that moment, all that mattered was that closeness…
Her lips ghosted apart slightly, in anticipation, and Chris couldn't pull himself away…
But he didn't have to.
Bianca wrenched suddenly, inexplicably out of his arms and pelted past him to the door, where a clearly amused man stood.
He was tall, well over six foot, with short brown hair not yet marred with grey, and eyes that changed like the sea. He had a smile on his face and a freckle on his nose that Chris knew so well, the identical freckle they both shared.
Well, some said it was a mole, but Uncle Perry said it was a freckle, so Chris did too.
Normally he'd be psyched to see his Uncle Perry after so long away, but after being so close to his first kiss, a small surge of loathing curled in his belly, which he tried to ignore.
"Hey, strangers," Uncle Perry greeted with a grin, and a wink at Chris even as Bianca smiled and bobbed on her feet in front of Perry. Chris couldn't resist the infectious grin and slowly smiled back.
"Hey, Perry, dad said to give you this," Bianca said, pulling a report out of her pants pocket that Chris hadn't noticed was there. "It's a police report on the kid you asked about."
Perry nodded, and took it from her. "Thank you very much, Bianca."
She grinned at him, and twisted a lock of hair in her right hand.
Chris watched the interaction with a jealousy that he barely dared to admit. He knew nothing would happen with Perry and Bianca – Perry was WAY too old for Bianca, and it was gross to think about – but sometimes, in the right light, it looked like they were flirting. And Chris didn't exactly like that.
"Guess I'd better be going," Bianca said, dimpling a smile at Perry. She turned on her heel, leant into Chris and noisily kissed him on the cheek before shimmering away.
Chris wanted to touch the spot on his cheek where her lips had touched, but suavely leant against the counter instead, as Perry rolled his eyes.
"Guess it's a waste asking how you are, Casanova," Perry said with a warm joking tone to his voice.
"How come you're back early?" Chris asked as Perry sat down and stole one of Chris' carrot sticks. Chris absent-mindedly shredded one stick as he asked the question, a bad habit Piper always tried to teach him out of.
"Missed my favourite nephew," Perry said, sotto voce. They shared a secret smile. Chris loved that Perry said that. Even if Perry said it to all of them, in his lovely warm voice and secret winks, Chris liked to believe he was the only one Perry said it to.
He ruffled Chris' hair. "I'm beat, gonna head up to bed. Don't stay up too late, will ya?"
"Nope," Chris said, smiling at Perry as he stole another carrot stick and turned to leave, twisting back to smile at Chris before disappearing upstairs.
Chris watched him go, revelling in the warmth of both of the exchanges, more company than he'd had all week. He turned back to the counter, and stared at the counter.
The carrot stick he'd shredded lay in front of him, and the first stick Perry had stolen was by where he'd sat, and was shredded in exactly the same way, in nine equal pieces. Chris was auspicious about the number nine, and had found out it was his birth number, so always broke things into nine pieces before eating them. Maybe it was a little neurotic, a little obsessive-compulsive, but it wasn't dangerous.
Chris had never told anyone about the reason behind his habit, and he'd never seen anyone else do it. He knew from the psychology classes he took to make Aunt Phoebe proud of him that people often mimicked others when sat or stood near them… but this habit was way too eerily close.
Perry's carrot was shred into the same nine equal pieces, laid out in the same circle.
Maybe Chris had actually got the habit from Perry, but he severely doubted it. He'd have remembered, surely?
The only other option was one that Chris kept secret from everyone, even Bianca, who knew about his singing, dancing, performing and other secret hobby. It was a theory he'd held for years, one he secretly stored away random pieces of information away to try and prove it.
It was a theory that Chris was convinced was right.
He and Perry were too similar. Way too similar. They looked the same. Had the same freckle. The same allergies. The same musical talent. The same physique. The same, if Perry really did flirt with Bianca like he suspected, taste in girls.
Everyone noticed the similarities, but it wasn't talked about. It was because he was so similar to Perry that everyone assumed they'd turn out the same. It was because of Perry that they didn't quite see him yet.
But Chris didn't mind. Because he wasn't all too fond of Leo, even though Leo tried his very best, Leo always seemed split whenever he was around, like he couldn't quite properly share his affections between all of them.
Chris wasn't too worried about this, either. Because his theory was that Leo wasn't his father.
The reason he was so similar to his Uncle Perry was because Perry wasn't his Uncle. He was Chris' real father.
He knew it.
Now all he needed was the proof.
To be continued