Author's Notes: To those of you who may be waiting for an update to "Once and Future Witches" - take heart! I'm still working on it. I just hit a bit of writers block and this had been bubbling in my head for some months, so I decided to write it to get the juices slowing again. This fic is mainly stream of mind ficlets. It will be in 3 parts, this is the first, focusing on Piper. Please let me know what you think!
CHAPTER 1: DANNI
It was a night like so many other nights. P3 was packed to watch the latest pop sensation that had rolled into town, the drinks were flowing, and her boss was nowhere to be found. Danni methodically wiped a damp rag across the bar's counter as her eyes lingered on the club's back office door, which Piper had disappeared through moments earlier. She had left with the usual mysteriously distracted announcement, "I'll be right back...maybe. Uh, you can handle things, right?" but she retreated before Danni could give her an answer. Not that Piper needed one. She knew she could trust Danni to mind the club. What she didn't know was what else Danni was entrusted with.
A couple years earlier, when Danni had been first hired as the club's manager, she hadn't realized just how much responsibility she would be shouldering. At first, Piper's frequent disappearances had been mystifying. Now, the job listing had said P3 was looking for an experienced manager who could be available at a moment's notice, and extremely dependable, so Danni knew she would be called upon frequently. At first, she had enjoyed the opportunity to gain such extensive experience, since she loved the lifestyle, and hoped to open her own club one day. But eventually, Danni began to feel, at best, taken for granted, and at worst, exploited.
After all, if she was the one doing most of the work, why was Piper reaping all the profits? Half the time, Piper was missing in action, having taken "family time" or dealing with a "family emergency", leaving Danni to handle the burden of a booming night club. It wasn't that Piper didn't pay well – she actually paid handily better than any other club owner in Northern California – possibly the entire state. And when Piper was available, she got more work done, and done well, than Danni ever imagined herself being able to manage.
But the constant departures, with little or no notice, had gotten old and Danni had seriously considered quitting in favor of a job where she could have a predictable life, even with less pay. She had considered it seriously, until one night that changed her perspective on everything. Not just her life, but her entire world view.
It had been a chilly evening in early October a couple years ago when Piper had laid the final straw on Danni's back. Piper and Danni had been taking the weekly inventory of their stock when Piper received a text message. The phone played an innocuous 5 second loop of some classical piece. To anyone else this seemed a pleasant tune. But Danni knew better. That tinny concerto was the cue for Piper to make a hasty exit. Before Piper could open her mouth a massive crash came from the alleyway behind the club. Piper glanced at it for a sec before she laid another half-hearted excuse on Danni. "Must be some massive,uh, cat out there, huh? Well, I've gotta go... pick up Wyatt. Leo is-" she was interrupted by another bang from outside,"- Leo can't, he's uh, busy. Thanks, Danni!" She quickly fled up the stairs and out of the front of the club.
Danni exhaled an annoyed sigh and shook her head. Like so many times before, she had a hunch that whatever her boss was up to, it wasn't the lame excuse that she was fed every other week. "Hell, for all I know, she's dealing drugs in that back alley. Or paying dues to the Japanese mafia out of China Town!" , she thought. Danni laughed silently to herself at the image of Piper playing craps with a bunch of thugs out behind P3.
No, that wasn't like Piper, or her sisters, but something just wasn't right. But still... why do I get the feeling that the noises in the alley were related? Danni was not the nosy type, but this constant secrecy was affecting her life too, so what harm could it do to check out a sound in the alley. After all, Piper said she was going to get Wyatt, right? "So if I happen to walk in her business then its her fault..." Danni reasoned. She tossed the pen and pad of paper she was using to take inventory on to the counter top and made her way to the back door as if she was sneaking, despite being alone, wrapped her palm around the doorknob, and slowly turned it. She pushed the door open slowly, first peering through the crack before leaning her whole head out to scan the dead end of the alleyway. She saw nothing at first, but was startled suddenly as the loud crack out a plank of wood hitting a dumpster rang out and she saw a gray streak bounce off a couple of black bags of trash.
Danni's left hand flung to her chest as her heart raced from the surprise but she exhaled sharply when the gray mass stopped moving and she realized it was just a white cat in desperate need of a bath. "Awww... maybe I can catch him and help him find him home," she thought and was about to push the door fully open before she heard a woman shout from the other end of the alleyway. "No, Sarah – stop!"
"Was that... Piper?" A little girl, no older than 5, came into Danni's view, smiling and arms outstretched to the cat. "Heere Sammy! It's ok... it's me, Sarah! I've been so worried about you..."
Danni listened as she heard the clatter of two or three pairs of adult shoes jogging up behind the little girl Sarah. Sure enough, it was Piper and her two sisters. Piper ran up and gently restrained the girl by her shoulders before kneeling down to her eye level. "Don't ever run off like that again," scolded gently. "We don't know that that's Sammy, it could be the de..uh, bad man after your parents."
"Bad man...?" thought Danni. "Just what is Piper involved in? I thought that FBI gig was a one time thing..."
Little Sarah shook her head empathetically,"Uh,uh! That's my Sammy, I knows it!" and slipped her way out of Piper's loose grip and ran towards the trash piles. As the little girl approached the cat, a dozen more, of all shapes and sizes, pounced out of seemingly nowhere, to huddle around the original gray cat, "Sammy".
"Anyone got, I dunno, a giant can of tuna and a net, or something?"
Danni heard the familiar voices of Phoebe and Paige from the other side of the door Danni was peeking through. This scene had turned from odd to freaky, but little did she know it was soon to become downright terrifying.
Piper quickly caught up to Sarah, and scooped her up into her arms. "Honey, that might not be your famii..." Piper's eyes widened in alarm and Danni followed her gaze, only to be confused by, rather by what she saw. The gray cat grew in size, his shape morphed, the outline of his body fuzzy, his limbs stretched and his body flew itself upright.
Suddenly, Danni realized what she was seeing. Like the effects in a movie, only so much more real and terrifyingly gruesome, the fluffy cat had changed shape and reformed into the figure of a man with wild dirty gray hair and almost tribal leather garb. His face split with a predatory smile and stared down Piper. "Her familiar? Why, I might just not be!" He laughed and stretched out his arms, flinging them to the dusky red sky of sunset. As if reacting to his gesture the figures of the pack of cats grew and quickly took the form of similarly leather clad men with wild greasy hair and sharp fangs.
Danni's eyes darted to Piper and she noticed quick movement."Paige!"she shouted,"Get her out of here!" and spun around.
From here on out Danni's memory was one of slow motion details and a flurry of images that went by in an instant. The little girl's feet swinging out into the air as Piper spun her, and in woosh of heat a perfectly formed ball of fire singing Piper's billowing coat sleeve. Piper flung her body over the little girl, pressing her to the ground as brilliant white lights engulfed her sister Paige.
Suddenly Paige was gone in an instant and Phoebe grabbed Sarah, gently but quickly pushing her behind a dumpster out of the line of fire. Danni's eyes darted to the "bad guys" out of instinct knowing that that was the source of danger. She wanted to help, though she wasn't sure how, but was rooted to the spot.
The brilliant white lights appeared again, this time behind the "bad guys", and in those lights appeared Paige, who had something in her hand. The last day's sun glinted off of something like glass as she smashed it into the face of the leather clad "man". He let out a scream that sounded more like the snarl of an injured cat than human before being engulfed in a poof of white hot flames.
Danni saw Phoebe help Piper to her feet, the look of alarm now transformed into a hard glare of concentration. Her whole demeanor had changed to a stance Danni had never seen in Piper, even at her most frustrated. "Tricking orphaned little girls is funny to you huh, demon?" she asked and raised her hands. "How about this treat?!" she said almost flippantly and flicked her hands.
The lead "demon" quickly grabbed one of his companions pulling him in front of himself to take the blow of the energy of Piper's blast. Danni's eyes widened as she watched the "man" burst into a million particles of dust. She watched as Piper repeated the motion, sending a few more "demons" into oblivion, Phoebe battled two large men hand to hand, and knocked them seemingly unconscious, and Paige "flung" large pieces of debris at various "demons", until all but the original Sammy imposter were left.
"Give me the girl!" growled the gray demon. A cold sense of terror filled her chest as Danni saw his eyes fill with flames then a dull black nothingness.
"Yeah – right!" scoffed Piper and she blasted him, sending his flying back into an old tire. "Is that all you've got? And here I believed the goody goody Charmed Ones something to fear!" he sneered, before being enveloped by his own shadow.
Suddenly they heard the gasp and squeal of a little girl. Danni's eyes darted over to Sarah and she watched in horror as the demon lifted the girl by her throat, a claw extending out of his free hand. "Sarah!" exclaimed Phoebe, and all three sisters spun around to see what Danni already had.
"YOU-" but Piper cut herself off as she flung her hands out at the demon sending a massive blast of magical energy at him. He exploded instantly, leaving Sarah to drop to the ground in a heap.
"You've obviously never dealt with the wrath of a mother bear, have you?" said Paige flippantly to the empty air that the demon had occupied just moments before.
Piper rushed over to the little girl, lifting her up and brushing the hair away from her face. "Are you okay, honey?"
The little girl's lower lip trembled but she tried to put on a brave face. "Yeah... I think so. But where's Sammy...?"
Phoebe tilted her head sympathetically at Sarah. "I dunno sweetie, but we'll find him. After all, what's a little girl without her Familiar?"
"Promise?" she asked with a sniffle.
Paige lifted the little girl's chin up with a finger and smiled. "Promise."
Piper lifted the girl on to her hip with a small groan of effort. "But first, all the same, we need to get you back to magic school and make sure you're really, really, okay. Okay?" she asked. The little one nodded and the sisters smiled gently before joining hands. The lights once again appeared, this time engulfing everyone in the alley.
And like that the alley was dark and empty, leaving only a ripped trash bag to hint at anyone ever having been there.
Danni blinked and suddenly filled her lungs with a gulp of air. She'd been holding her breath the whole time! She let the door swing shut and slid her back down a wall, landing in a sitting position. What did I just witness...
Danni jumped nearly out of her skin as P3's phone began to ring. "JESUS!" she shouted and pulled herself up.
BrBrRRbrING! BrBrRRbrING! BrBrRRbrING!
"Ok, OKAY! I'm getting it!" she said to herself. "Thank you for calling P3, this is Danni speaking, how can I help you?" the greeting rolled off her tongue on autopilot despite having just witnessed the most terrifyingly confusing moment of her life.
"Hey Danni," Piper's voice crackled over the line, her tone, in Dani's opinion, entirely too nonchalant for what she had just been through, "It looks like I'm not going to be able to be in for the rest of the night. I'll try to be back in time for opening, but could you help Sheryl Crow and her crew with sound check and so on?" Danni hesitated as she tried to process the scene she had just witnessed and marry it with the quite domestic tone Piper's voice had so easily reverted to. "Uh... Danni, you there?"
"Huh? Oh – yeah... yeah, that's no problem."
"Thank you Danni, you're the best! And you might just have a basket of your favorite muffins coming your way!"
"Uh, yeah. Good luck," answered Danni in a tone dripping in meaning. How do you bring this kinda thing up? Danni could tell this caught Piper a little off guard, but Piper seemed to brush it off, distracted by someone talking in the background.
"Ok, yeah. See you later Danni!" The click of the phone disconnecting sounded before Danni could reply.
Danni sat in silence for a few minutes trying to decipher what she had just seen. Piper's mysterious behavior suddenly made sense, but what she was hiding was still largely a mystery. "Was that some crazy technology I just saw? Or real honest to God magic? And... demons? What the hell does that make the Halliwells?" But she was once again forcibly brought out of her reverie,this time by a soft "mroow?" at her feet.
Looking down, Danni saw a little gray cat rubbing against her leg. She jumped back instinctively, but the cat just looked at her, and Danni could swear she saw a gentle confusion in the cat's eyes. "Are you Sammy?" she asked, almost expecting an answer.
Another "meow" was all she got in return. Deciding that this may be the "familiar"the girl was looking for, Danni scooped the cat up and closed it into the club's office for safe keeping. Danni decided she's let Piper know about the cat whenever she got back.
Over the next few weeks following 'The Incident' as she had come to think of it, Danni had spent almost all her free time at the local library, looking up words she'd heard that fateful night. "Familiars", "Demons", and topics like shape shifters led her into books that claimed such things as both mythical stories, and a magical underworld. It all pointed to dark occultism, or fanciful witched, except the one dusty tome where she found the only book that referenced "The Charmed Ones". It spoke of a prophecy of the coming of three sisters, the ultimate force of good, which would protect humanity.
The Incident had been terrifying, but she realized that the sisters had emanated as powerful a sense of light as the demons had emanated evil. And so, Danni never brought up what she had seen to anyone, though she did occasionally defend Piper's inconsistent appearances at work against her coworkers occasional grumblings,merely saying that Piper had "very important work outside the club." But she never brought it up to any of the Halliwell sisters, because, she reasoned, they must keep it a secret for a reason.
And after what she had seen that was good enough for her.
Danni wrung out the rag, now dripping with spilled beer, over the sink. "Hell," she thought, "I can handle some extra responsibilities if it means I don't have to face demons every week. Though I wouldn't mind that teleporting thingy.." she smirked to herself.
She looked up to see Piper and her sisters dusting themselves off as they came back into the club and approached the bar. "Quick vanquish!" she thought, but merely leaned over and pulled a leaf and twig out of Piper's hair. "Windy night?" she asked, simply.
Paige smirked. "Yeah, killer breeze out there tonite," she joked. Piper gave her a glare that would seem inappropriate to anyone who didn't catch her joke. Which would be almost anyone but Danni.
"But it's died down," remarked Phoebe wryly. Piper just rolled her eyes and Danni acted as if none of their behavior was strange, merely filling a couple tumblers with liquid.
"Drinks, ladies?"she asked, sliding them across the bar.
"That would be wonderful. I'll be back to help in a few," said Piper.
"Thanks, Danni!" chimed in Phoebe and Paige as they retreated to their corner.
"No problem," answered Danni, genuinely. As she bopped to the DJ's beats, while drying the latest load of glasses, she idly wondered just what horror the ladies had faced this evening.
UP NEXT: Elise reflects on her start columnist, Phoebe Halliwell