Out of Our Hands
"Ouch, you're hurting me!" Phoebe complained as the man gripped her arm tightly and dragged her into a windowless room. Trailing behind her was another man holding her sister Piper in a like grasp. "I'm walking, am I not?"
The two were thrown inside. Piper looked around. There were two cots at either side of the room, a sink, and two doors—one of which hopefully led to a toilet. The other door was a glass one, and she could glimpse at what looked to be a conference room at the other side. It was sparse at best, and she was revolted at the thought of having to stay here for any long period of time. She turned to the men who had taken them in the room.
"Your trial begins tomorrow wherein you will confess your witchcraft for the court's record, repent and give up your powers."
Piper's eyes met those of the man standing behind the two who had forcefully taken them to this cell disguised as an all-purpose room. She tried to read them, but they were as shuttered as hers were. Perhaps neither of them wanted to bare their thoughts to the other, or maybe he was just as cold inside now as all these traitorous bastards who had suddenly turned on them.
"And if we don't?" Phoebe challenged.
It was the man Piper was trying to read who answered. "Then you are executed." The two others nodded in agreement, and left him alone with the two prisoners. He strode forward and tipped Piper's chin up so that she gazed straight into his eyes as he spoke. "For Melinda's sake Piper." He left his request hanging, and her face revealed nothing. He shook his head and tossed a pleading glance at Phoebe, who looked away. Leo left the room without another word.
Both sisters watched as the door shut behind him. Neither spoke as the lock clicked from the other side, but Phoebe glanced in time to see her sister close her eyes.
"He's right. Maybe. For Melinda, Piper." Her sister didn't answer, and Phoebe closed her hand over Piper's icy cold one. "It could be nothing," she said lightly. "You've wanted to give up your powers before." Piper said not a word.
"He's asking for you," Phoebe repeated. "All right. How hard could it be." She stood up and opened the door to the conference room. Leo was seated at the end of the table, with a man standing behind him.
When she entered, Leo stood up and motioned to the chair in front of him. When she was in her chair, the man behind Leo turned to leave and give them privacy. "The purpose of this meeting is to stress to you the importance of—" The door shut, and Phoebe was surprised at how the strange cold voice melted into the warmth of the Leo she knew. "Why won't she see me, Phoebe?" he inquired, his eyes so lost.
Phoebe took a deep breath. She may believe the sincerity in his manner now, but he was not the one locked up and facing execution. "You betrayed us, Leo," she said tentatively.
His hands slammed down on the table when he rose to his feet. "I can't do anything!" Can't you see that?" he demanded.
"I'm just saying what I think Piper feels." Her eyes narrowed at the ones blazing down at her. "And don't ever yell at me again, Leo. You're not my brother-in-law anymore. I take these things now like you're a stranger."
Leo massaged his forehead tiredly. "This isn't fair, Phoebe."
"Who said any of this is? For the past decade we've worked for good and suddenly we're the bad guys!"
Leo shook his head slowly. "As much as I want to help, it's out of my hands." She didn't respond. "Phoebe, please help me."
A bitter smile. "I'm not in any position to be helping anyone now, am I?" She pointed to the cuff that they had slapped on her and Piper's right wrists. It was some sort of contraption the Elders had to contain a witch's powers.
"Help me in a way only you can. Please talk to Piper," he begged. "Make her realize that she has to see me sooner or later. Please."
"Why would I want to do that?"
Leo looked her in the eye. Very carefully, he chose his words. "Because you know that I did love your sister," he began. "And divorced or not, I always will." She didn't answer. Defeated, he left the room.
Phoebe turned around and opened the glass door to see her sister standing at the other side. She met those steady brown eyes. "Did you hear that?" she asked.
Piper walked away and curled in the uncomfortable cot.
Phoebe's fingers clasped and unclasped as she privately fretted on the hard wooden chair. She was in no way shy or nervous around strangers. In fact, everyone told her she was quite the opposite. This was another matter though. Seated at the center of a roomful of men and women glaring at her, judging her and knowing that they all thought her low did not boost a girl's confidence at all.
There he was again. This dark-haired man was despicable. He did not seem to want to stop. He did not give her even space to breathe as he tried to break her. "Come on, Miss Halliwell," he prodded. "We all know that you're a witch. We're not fooling anyone here. This is a group that knows about all of your activities. Why don't you just admit it for the record and recant?"
It was her turn to speak she knew. He terrified her in ways she could never hope to fully explain. She knew how to make him stop. It was so simple. All she had to say was that she was a witch and she renounces her powers, a simple 'I'm sorry' and a spell that they would provide. It wasn't so hard. But that was the problem exactly. It was the easy way out. Losing her mother and her sister to this life, finding the love of her love, watching her remaining family blossom under it, she had learned that there was no way a Halliwell would take the easy way out. And there was no way one witch would decide the fate of the rest. They all had roles now--roles accepted and followed as a matter of survival. "I will say nothing aside from that I am part of something I am not the head of. And I will not speak until she does."
This seemed to have angered her prosecutor. He turned to the other whitelighters and furiously commanded, in his rage spittle unconsciously flew out, which Phoebe watched in fascination travel through the air, "Fine! Get the other witch!"
She worried her lower lip as the one she remembered had brute hands straighten to do as they were bidden. "I'll get her," another voice claimed.
She was relieved to see Leo leave the room. At least she was assured Piper would not be hurt when she was taken here. Still, it would incense Piper if Leo went to her. Maybe there was some other person who could come for her. "Leo, I don't think—"
She jumped back in her seat as the prosecutor turned to her. "You are not to address any other whitelighter! You are not to speak until spoken to!"
He had been knocking for a good while with no answer. Worried, Leo turned the knob and entered. The sound of her sobbing met him at once. She was oblivious to everything around her it seemed. He walked quietly over to her and sat beside her. The hardness of what could hardly be called a cushion made him wince. She had been sleeping here. He vividly recalled nights wrapped in each others arms on a bed so soft he could compare it to the clouds.
Leo laid his hand on her shoulder. She started at the sudden invasion in her privacy, and the photograph she had been clutching to her breast fell down. "Melinda," he said.
"What are you doing here?" she sniffed.
He bent to pick up the picture. "Is she this big already?" A bittersweet smile curved his lips as he stared down at the likeness of his daughter. He had seen her last when she was two years old, about the same time when all this insanity started. "She's looking more like you everyday," was his soft comment.
"And I missed her growing up. Is she studying now?"
Piper nodded, touching the face grinning up at the camera. "She's at the top of her class." She laughed lightly. "But it's still all games for them so I really shouldn't tout that so much so often."
"I'm sure she's as intelligent as she's pretty. She takes after you."
"She's my daughter, Leo. This is unfair. I can't see her. I can't hold her. I don't even know what nightmares she's having now!"
"I know, Piper. I know how you feel." His arms enfolded her, and she burrowed in his embrace. "I never had a restful night since that day. All I wanted was to play with my daughter. All I needed was to love my wife."
"What happened to us?" she whispered against his neck. "What did they do to us, Leo?"
"Shhh." He combed his fingers through her hair. "I can make things a little better," he told her. Leo placed a kiss on her brow, and she sighed. It had been long since she allowed any man to touch her again. "Tell me where our daughter is so I can at least bring her to you."
He was surprised when she pushed away and jumped from him. "How dare you…"
"What is it, Piper?"
"How dare you!" Piper continued backing away. "You would use anything, won't you!? You would even use a moment of weakness. What, you want them to put my daughter on trial too?"
"Paige will keep her where you can't ever find her!"
"I see." Leo straightened from the bed. With no expression at all, he looked at Piper up and down. "Get yourself ready. You're needed at the courtroom."
It looked like an ordinary court. That was the first thing that occurred to her. A graying old man was seated at the table at the very front of the room, high above anyone else. There were men and women seated in a row that seemed like the ones used for the jury section of any other courtroom. An audience was present. There were two tables, one for the prosecution and another for defense. She noticed Phoebe seated at the back of the latter.
It was just like any ordinary court except for that there was not one person present who was just mortal. And that everyone there, except for herself and Phoebe, were whitelighters.
And that instead of the witness stand beside the table in front of the court, a stand consisting of a wooden chair and intricate wooden railings rose from the open floor at the center, and she was led to it.
"Take a seat, Miss Halliwell." Having no other choice, Piper stepped on the platform and sat down facing the audience. The dark-haired man rose from the prosecution's table and approached her. "Do you know why you're here, Piper Halliwell?"
"By the whims of old men who cannot even do jobs by themselves," she answered.
The men seated at what she had begun to call the jury section mumbled their protests, and the prosecutor at once came to the Elders' rescue. "You will respect this court."
"Don't make me laugh."
"Piper, please…" Leo pleaded from his seat at the audience. She did not even turn to look at him.
"Very well." The dark-haired man walked back to his table and gathered a few documents, photographs and films, presenting them to Piper. "When the witches decided to rise against the whitelighters who have guided and healed them, took care of them, it was the beginning of the end of the harmonious relations we shared," he narrated tightly. "But it was easy to ignore. It was not as easy when the witches called for their whitelighters and simultaneously decided to force their rebellion to a higher level by grouping for the massacre that annihilated half of the—"
"We were not part of it!" she broke in.
The sound of the gavel rapping loudly called her attention to the man seated behind them. "You have not been addressed!" came the stern reprimand.
"Then what would you have me do?" Piper demanded.
"No!" she protested. "I will not sit here and have you nail my coffin shut, and bury myself and all my kind six feet underground for a mistake committed by a few!"
"Piper Halliwell, you will be silent unless it is a confession you wish to say."
She met her sister's eyes. Phoebe's lips formed the words, 'Stay silent.' It was not what she needed to see. Her gaze wandered off to the tense audience, and saw Leo looking at her with those shuttered eyes. "Then I will confess." The whispers erupted at once. She heard Phoebe's sharp intake of breath, and marveled at the flash of emotions in her ex-husband's eyes, only to be veiled once more.
"That will please us all," the prosecutor allowed.
"If you will let my sister go."
"Your confession will set Phoebe Halliwell's fate as well," he reminded her. "You are both witches."
"But you need only to remove mine to destroy the Power of Three you fear will turn on you," she told them matter-of-factly. "Who better to use as your tool in taking down our power than the witch you've always blamed for… some many broken rules."
"You are in no position to bargain."
"But you all are forgiving."
They knew she was taunting them, but they also knew that she was right. After the witches have turned against them and killed those precious whitelighters sent to guide them, they suddenly realized how much more power the witches had. The imbalance between their number and that of the whitelighters became all the more apparent, and they sought to bring them down. Without the Power of Three, they would remove one of the greatest threats to them. "Yes. We are considerate. We will allow for this. The court will hear your confession tomorrow."
Piper helped Phoebe pack the few possessions she had been able to bring during the raid that took them from their homes and into this hole. She could hear her younger sister sobbing, but did not ask her to stop. Piper knew the moment she spoke, Phoebe would cry harder. She would wait until Phoebe had gathered her composure enough to begin the conversation. "Don't do it, Piper!"
Piper took a piece of cloth from the small packet of personal hygiene materials that Leo had dropped off yesterday. With it she wiped at Phoebe's tears. "Aren't you the one who was urging me to confess yesterday?" she asked lightly. "Listen. I want you to take care of Melinda. She's all I have, Phoebe. You know where I told Paige to hide her. I want you to love each other always."
"You're talking like you're ready for execution. They're just going to strip your powers and send you back to us. That's what a confession avai--" Phoebe's lips parted in realization. She grabbed her sister's hand. "You're not going to do it, are you? You just said that so they'd let me go."
"You're insane." Piper removed her hand from Phoebe's grip.
"You can't do this!"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"We're in this together! No stupid sacrifices. I won't let you do this," Phoebe repeated.
Piper shook her head. "I love you." She kissed her sister's cheek and turned to knock at the door. When a guard opened it, Piper took the man by the arm and pulled him in. Phoebe was mute with fascination at the sudden change in her sister. "She's trying to make me change my mind!" Piper gasped out. "Take her away from here. She's trying to make me reconsider my confession! You have to get her away at once."
The guard motioned for Phoebe to come forward. "You're going back home now. We can't wait for you to pollute the mind of the enlightened. Come here, witch. We're sending you out now."
As the guard dragged Phoebe away from the room, she looked behind her at the lone figure of Piper getting smaller and smaller against the frame of the door. Piper's hand rose to wave a farewell.
Phoebe looked ahead. The exit was getting closer. She turned and found that she could not see Piper anymore. She straightened and wiped at her cheeks. She was going to find Melinda and Paige. And she was never going to cry again.
It was the same room the next morning. The same characters were in place except for one. Thankfully, Phoebe had been freed the night before. Now she was free to say and do what she wanted without fearing that they will hurt her sister. Phoebe was now safe where she belonged.
"Are you ready to confess, Piper Halliwell?" This time, she was facing the man on the high table. She nodded. "Then let us hear it."
She took a deep breath and wet her lips. Carefully, she formed the words in her mind and stated them clearly and audibly so they mistake not even one utterance. "I confess that I have been blessed with powers to help innocents. And I confess to have used these powers for the esteemed greater good."
At her pause, the old man spoke. "This is known and recorded, but you must confess to the evil with which you have used these blessings."
Piper cocked her head in question, and then continued her confession as she had prepared it. "I confessed that I hated you." The jury drew in a sharp breath, but said nothing. "I confess the months I have thought it unjust that you tore my lover away from me when it was clear that we were meant for each other." She could feel Leo's gaze boring deep into her back, but she was now in too deep to control the flow of her words. "And I confess that whatever punishment you may want to mete out, nothing is worse than the burden his betrayal is forcing on a heart that still cries out for him."
"Miss Halliwell, if you do not cease—"
"Let her speak!"
"You are not part of the decision, Mr. Wyatt!" the old man snapped at Leo, who was now standing behind the railing separating the audience from the trial, gripping at the barriers. "I suggest you take your seat or be forced to leave the room."
Leo sat down, breathing harshly at the sense of impending doom. He prayed that Piper would just stop whatever it was that she seemed to be doing, because she was heading to self-destruction. "I confess that at night I still ache for his hands on my body," she continued, drawing Leo's heart to his throat and earning disapproving glances from the jury. "I confess to a hunger for the sound of his voice and the sight of his smile."
"That is enough!" the judge interrupted. "Do you confess to your witchcraft?"
"I confess though I need not to. And I confess that I am not afraid to say, 'This is my legacy and you can do and say nothing to make me apologize for what I am.'"
"Repent now, Piper Halliwell."
For the first time since saying goodbye to her sister, Piper's lips curved into a smile. "But that is like saying that I am sorry my sisters and I grew closer together, that I met the man who completed my very soul, that I bore more than half a decade ago a beautiful girl who is the child of an angel. Who would repent a gift that has given her all these? Who would turn her back on her destiny?"
"Then you are sentenced by this court to die." But she knew this already. She neither flinched nor reacted, merely looked down at the cuff around her right wrist. She knew whatever the punishment was, it would have to go through this material that prevented her from using her powers. "What is it?" She glanced up, but the old man was not looking at her. Instead, he seemed to be frowning at someone behind her. "Do you need to say something, Mr. Wyatt?"
Piper turned to see Leo standing behind her, looking at her, his eyes pleading, begging. "I would not."
"I cannot and will not turn my back on my destiny. And this woman, this witch, is my destiny."
"That is not essential to these proceedings, Mr. Wyatt. Your issues will be tackled next time. This is a confession hearing."
"Then allow me to confess." Piper watched in amazement as Leo stepped forward and faced the jury. "This is a confession hearing after all. May I?"
"You may not," the prosecutor objected. "Leo Wyatt seems to be placing himself forward to sway us all into forgiving this woman!"
Leo turned to him. "Don't you trust the Elders, Jared?" he asked, more for the Elders than the other whitelighter.
"Let him speak so we may get this circus over with," the judge ceded.
"Thank you." Leo strode in front of Piper. At first, she turned her face away, but as always his eyes called to hers, and soon they were looking deep into each other as he spoke. "Before all of you, my friends and superiors, I confess to loving this woman far longer," Piper swallowed the knot in her throat, "deeper," and she inhaled for sustenance, "and stronger than I have loved anyone or anything in all my lives."
The courtroom was silent. Or maybe it was full of noise blocked by the field that she and Leo created around themselves as they held on to each other's gazes. "Your confession has been heard and it has been found irrelevant to the matter at hand."
Leo heard the judgment faintly tearing through the haze. He grabbed Piper's hand and madly tried to tear the cuff away. "We can't fight it," her voice soothed him as desperation blocked away everything in his sight but the two of them. This was not their destiny—that much he knew. He could feel the cuff hum beneath his fingertips, driving him to devote his entire strength in taking it off.
His efforts calmed her in the face of the coming execution.
The rapid pulse of electricity shooting through her veins from the cuff,
centering in her heart and constricting her lungs was overshadowed by the
terror she saw in his eyes. The blinding hot light exploded in her eyes until
all control left her limbs, and she fell into oblivion.
"Phoebe!" Paige pushed away from the hard wall and ran over to embrace her sister. "You're back." She looked behind Phoebe with anticipation. When she found no one walking a few steps behind, she turned a questioning glance at Phoebe. "Where's Piper? Melinda has been missing her so much. I'm thankful I got her to sleep now."
In response, Phoebe opened the bag she had filled with all the things from the manor she though that they would need. "Piper's not coming, Paige." She drew out the Book of Shadows and some candles.
"Well when is she coming?"
Phoebe took a deep breath. She placed the items on top of the crypt. "They killed her," she said quietly.
"We'll have time to grieve later," she told her sister firmly. "Right now we need to protect Melinda. That's what she wanted. Help me perform this ritual."
Numb with the news, Paige glanced back to where the child lay curled in the cot they had brought with them. "What's it for?" came her faint question.
"A spell to cloak us from all whitelighters. They're on the mad hunt, Paige. There are no innocents to them. And when they get their hands on Melinda, they will kill her too."
Paige went over to her niece and shook her awake. "Honey. Honey, wake up. Aunt Phoebe's here."
The girl reared up from the uncomfortable makeshift bed. "Aunt Phoebe!" She jumped up and raced to Phoebe's waiting arms. "Did you bring mommy too?"
Phoebe brushed the hair away from the girl's face. "No, honey. Mommy can't come. But we want you to say a spell with Aunt Paige and me. Is that okay?"
"You're going to let me play witch with you? Mommy told me I couldn't."
They sat Melinda on top of the crypt and gently talked to her. "We're going to teach you everything about being a witch now, Melinda. Mommy thought keeping a normal life save us, but she was wrong. Now we're going to do it another way. And when you're older, we're going to explain everything to you."
Melinda nodded. She took both her aunts' hands in hers the way she had seen Piper do so many times before. Phoebe lighted the first candle, Paige the second, and freed one of Melinda's hands for the third. "All you have to do is repeat after us, Melinda."
Melinda nodded, and repeated the words from the young women's lips, feeling the chant deep inside her heart. Her mommy was gone. They won't tell her where she was, or what happened to her. She would find out. Someday.
She shot up from the bed, gasping for breath. Piper looked around at her surroundings. She automatically looked down at her wrist, red and swollen. "Leo."
The door opened, and he strode over to her and sat at the side of the bed. She saw the uncertainty in his eyes as he looked at her. The moment he recognized the need in her, he drew her into his embrace and sheltered her. "You'll be fine," he assured her.
"You took me away just in time."
His hold on her tightened. "But not before they hurt you."
Piper disentangled herself from his embrace. "Will they come after you? You're a traitor to them now, Leo."
"They will. Soon. Unless we can find a way to strip me of my powers. They will always be able to track me by them."
She would never let that happen. She would not lose him. Not when they just found each other again. "There could be a spell in the Book of Shadows. Everything else is in there."
Together they left the room and went up to the attic. "The door's open," Leo commented.
"That's odd. I remember locking this before we were taken." She walked inside and stopped still at the center of the room. "Leo!"
"What is it, Piper?"
She turned around and looked him in the eye. "The Book. It's gone."
"Well Phoebe must have taken it when—" He caught his breath. His consciousness seemed to be out of his control. He had felt this only once before, on their first try of a wedding all those years ago when he was forcibly orbed away. He gritted his teeth against the pain that fighting their power brought him. He saw that Piper recognized what was happening to him. To his horror, she threw herself at him and wrapped her arms tightly. "No, Piper. I already risked everything to get you away from there!"
If anything, her hold on him got firmer. "I will not live without you," was her response.
They felt themselves dematerialize into the familiar lights. A blink of an eye later, they stood in each other's arms facing the old man who sat as judge at her trial. They were in private quarters. Just the three of them.
"Everyone is displeased with you, Leo. What you did was clearly breaking away from the family who have sheltered you for a long time," the old man told him.
"I do not need to explain anything," he replied.
The judge nodded in apparent agreement. "Them you will concur that I need not explain my actions to you either." He raised his hands, and Leo turned Piper's face into his chest as he wrapped his arms around her protectively. He prepared for the blow that was to come. A few minutes later, he still felt nothing, so he turned to the judge. "What happened?"
"You are now under a cloak that I provided. None of the others will find you as long as I am here."
"Why?" The old man's bushy white brow arched, and Leo decided to let it go. He was grateful enough as it was. He nodded his thanks and orbed himself and Piper out.
The judge chuckled at the puzzled faces that disappeared before his eyes. Taking a goblet of honey milk from the table he raised it to the stars and tipped it into his mouth. "Hoping this makes up for not being there, Mistress Warren," he murmured to the spirit of his first charge.
Leo orbed them to where she had told him she sent Paige to take Melinda. The two of them looked around the mausoleum and found only the melted wax on top of the crypt and abandoned cots.
"Where are they?" Piper searched through the beddings for a clue of where their family could have gone. She threw off blankets and surveyed the room for any piece of paper or any marking that would suggest where they went. Leo took her gently by her shoulders and turned her to face him.
"It's all right, Piper. I'll scan for Melinda. We'll find them." He closed his eyes and concentrated on the image of his daughter, willing himself to orb to her. Moments later, he met her steady gaze. "I can't sense them anywhere."
"They found them," she concluded. How to stand… How to move… How to breathe… Her entire family—casualty to the insanity of deranged men with a universe of powers at their command.