A/N: And here's the second and last part of the epilogue. Thank you for your reviews, and a special thanks goes to Aynessa who made me aware of a rather embarrassing mistake: I briefly mentioned in the last chapter that Wyatt had a girlfriend – that sneaked its way in via an earlier draft and is clearly wrong. He's single in this epilogue. Sorry about that.
The next week passed in a strange and slightly surreal mix of routine and the completely unexpected. Wyatt could never be sure how his brother or family would react to something that had been entirely normal just days before.
Some things were actually easier with this new version of Chris. He didn't argue at all when Mom told him that he was supposed to be on a year-long tour around the world but would naturally stay home at the Manor now, since he'd given his apartment up for the time he was travelling. Wyatt's Chris would have thrown a fit at the idea of moving back in with his family, but this one shrugged and simply commented that it beat the backroom of the club, and what the hell was that supposed to mean?
Wyatt's Chris would have protested when Aunt Paige and Phoebe had stated that his clothes were completely outdated after half a year in various wildernesses and that Sarah didn't own any clothes, anyway, and therefore decided to drag both of them shopping. But this Chris had just agreed under the condition that they wouldn't buy anything he couldn't blend in with (why would he want to blend in, anyway? Everyone in the magical community knew who he was, after all) and that his clothes needed to give him free range of motion (to do what? Sit at his desk comfortably? Because there wasn't much else Chris usually did when at home).
This Chris was less picky about things – food, the way his coffee was done, tidiness, when he had to get up in the mornings, and he didn't seem half as intimidated by Wyatt's powers. But even these changes that Wyatt might have considered improvements under different circumstances were now nothing more than signs that something was wrong with his little brother. And he seemed to be the only person who saw it that way.
Wyatt kept waiting for Chris' memories to reappear, as his parents had promised they would, but the only reaction from Chris when Wyatt showed him what had been important parts of his life seemed bewilderment.
"I liked that?" He asked, or "I wore that?" or "What do you mean, that was my girlfriend for two years? She wouldn't be able to vanquish a demon if it dropped unconscious in front of her!"
Sometimes, Wyatt wondered with a rising feeling of despair if the brother he'd known and loved would ever return to him.
But the weirdest and most unsettling way about it all wasn't the way Chris had changed. It was the way his family had changed around him.
They had stopped touching Chris. They did no longer enter rooms unannounced and without warning and made, in fact, sure that no one would orb into the Mansion without calling well beforehand. They found reason after reason to keep their relatives away from the place, and, okay, Wyatt got that, because Chris without his memories of them was scary sometimes, but they even excluded Uncle Coop and Henry, as if they were afraid that every additional person could unbalance Chris.
They also didn't criticise his sometimes less than proper behaviour, had, in fact, completely stopped commenting on whatever he was doing, as if they had suddenly lost the right to act as his parents.
One morning as they had just sat down to breakfast, orb lights suddenly filled the room and there were Chris and Sarah, absolutely filthy and clearly coming home from a night who knew where. And his mother, who'd have thrown a fit at seeing Wyatt in that state, had not even blinked, just smiled and asked if they would join them at breakfast.
And when Chris had declined and told them they'd just take showers and go to their room, she had only nodded.
That was another thing. They were sharing a room. And while there'd never been any stupid taboos about girlfriends in their family (which would have been ridiculous, considering what Wyatt knew about his aunts' past), the girl looked young, really, really young, and Wyatt couldn't for the life of him understand why his mother would allow something like that under her roof.
And Sarah was another problem altogether.
He couldn't understand why the girl kept looking at Wyatt that way, half awed, half terrified, why she automatically seemed to turn towards him whenever he entered a room. Why she tilted her head just so when he talked, exposing her white, long neck to him.
It was doing funny things to his mind.
She wouldn't talk to him, careful to keep a distance between them at any time, but she seemed always aware of his presence, and he, in turn, of hers.
And sometimes, when her attention was on other things, when she was listening to Phoebe or talking with Chris, or reading or eating, she seemed to be able to read his mind. He would notice that he needed or wanted something, the wish only half formed, and there it would be, handed to him casually by Sarah – the remote control, a glass of ice cold orange juice, the Book of Shadows – and she didn't even look at him when she did it, as if she hadn't at all noticed how she'd foreseen his wish.
And whenever that happened while Chris was in the room, his little brother's face would turn sharp, pinched, angry – not jealous, strangely enough, because Wyatt would have understood that he didn't want his girlfriend to do that kind of thing for his brother, but furious -, and he looked as if he wanted to vanquish something.
"Stop it right now," he would say, and she'd cringe and actually look ashamed, as if doing Wyatt a favour was something terrible.
Wyatt wondered if she was an empath, because no one had really explained her powers to him. No one had, in fact, bothered to at all explain her presence or how she was connected to their past or the other, different future. It was one of the many topics his whole family seemed to ignore or dance around, and the only thing he got from his parents when he asked about it was the advice to stay away from her and give them time.
Fat lot of help that was.
What he really needed was advice on how to deal with a brother that wasn't his brother anymore and his friend that kept flirting with Wyatt – for what could it be if not flirting? Because, really, he might not be the cleverest man on earth, but why would a girl keep handing him drinks, adjusting the curtains when the sun was threatening to blind him, pass the bowls with food to him when he wanted seconds before he knew he wanted seconds, if she didn't want anything from him?
And, yes, okay, he knew what projecting was and that he was in a right state, emotionally, and missing his brother like hell, but he felt drawn to her, as if they were sharing something he'd never felt before, as if she knew him, deep down, his fears and insecurities, and could make him whole.
As if she could become the person Chris no longer seemed willing to be for him.
And normally, he would have forbidden himself such thoughts, because lusting after his brother's girlfriend was a no-go under any circumstances, but Chris didn't treat her like a girlfriend.
He only touched her when she'd acquired yet another mysterious bruise (where did they go at night? To bar brawls?), and then it was in the clinical way of a healer or whitelighter, not as if he loved her. He didn't look at her in the way Chris had looked at his other girlfriends, and he kept mentioning that Bianca-woman. And the sleeping in one room? Turned out that they were guarding each others' sleep. Weirdest thing he'd ever heard.
So what was Wyatt to make of that?
That was the state – or rather chaos – of his mind when things came to a head on the sixth day after Chris' and Sarah's arrival.
He'd been for yet another run, hoping that this one would finally clear his head, and so he was hot and tired and pleasantly relaxed when he re-entered the house through the kitchen and found Sarah there. She froze at seeing him as she always did in the first moment, like a small animal in the sudden glare of a hunter, and the reaction coiled in his stomach, sick and sweet at the same time, making him feel powerful and yet strangely helpless.
But, as always, she pulled herself together too quickly for the sensation to really form or be analysed, and went to the fridge without greeting him, pouring orange juice into a tall glass and adding four ice cubes, just the way he liked it. She handed him the glass without meeting his eyes, ready to slink away as she always did, and something within him snapped.
He was so tired of this, so fed up with people sending mixed signals he couldn't interpret, so exhausted by the layers and layers of unspoken things he had no chance of knowing.
So he put the glass on the counter and stepped in her way.
Her eyes snapped up to his face. There was panic in them, and he wanted to retreat, because this was obviously not the reaction he was looking for, but then her face smoothed, so quickly that he was sure he'd just mistaken surprise for something more, and her body was angling itself towards him, her hips towards his hips, her shoulders thrown back slightly as if to invite him to step closer.
So he did.
"L… Wyatt," she said quietly, and he wondered what it was she had originally meant to say. "What are you doing?"
He took another step towards her and she echoed the movement, her back contacting with the fridge. She was breathing quickly, her chest moving up and down in a way that caught Wyatt's eye and wouldn't let him go.
"You've been watching me," he answered just as quietly, his deep voice rumbling through the kitchen. His last girlfriend had gone on and on about his voice, how she loved it when he spoke like that, slow and dark and a tiny bit menacing. She'd called it
'dead sexy'. "When you think I'm not looking. You're watching me. And it seems to me that you know quite a lot about me, Sarah."
Her face was flushed, and her wide eyes were staring at him with an expression he couldn't interpret. She was pressing herself against the fridge like it was the only thing that was still keeping her standing.
She didn't say anything, just kept looking at him like that. He took it as encouragement.
"I think you want something from me, don't you, Sarah? Something more than you should from your best friend's brother."
She was panting now, her hands clenched around the edges of the fridge, as if this was the only way she could keep herself from touching him.
"No…" she breathed, so quietly and softly that it felt like pure air on his face. It brought the clean scent of her smell, the peppermint of her tooth paste.
He raised one arm and rested his hand on the fridge, right by her head. Girls liked his arms – Jenny had always told him that she felt so safe in his arms, because he was so strong.
"Oh, but I think you do," he said with a smirk and leant forward to kiss her…
And was thrown across the room by magic stronger and more furious than he'd experienced for a long time.
"Touch her again and you'll die," a voice growled, and it took Wyatt a very long moment of shaking his head and getting his eyes and ears to work properly again to recognize that the voice belonged to his brother.
"Chris?" He asked, unable to believe it.
Chris wasn't powerful like that, usually, though he'd done this on the evening of the other Chris' arrival, but more importantly, Chris didn't get angry like this, so furious that his lips were drawn back in a snarl, that his voice sounded like thunder and that his movements reminded Wyatt of a tiger, all coiled strength and unpredictability.
But this wasn't Chris, was it? At least not his Chris.
"Did you hear me?" This not-Chris demanded again.
"What are you doing?" Wyatt complained, slowly climbing back to his feet. "You can't just throw people across the room when you feel like it, it's…"
"Don't lecture me on what I can't do, Wyatt."
The cold blade of that voice cut through Wyatt's thoughts and he whipped his head up, finding Chris on the opposite end of the kitchen, standing protectively in front of Sarah.
And again, something snapped.
"This is ridiculous, Chris," he said, trying very hard not to shout. "Okay, so perhaps I shouldn't have tried to kiss her, but I really thought she wasn't your girlfriend, so excuse me for not seeing through your extremely complicated relationships."
Sarah was still panting wildly, he noticed, and her hands were still clenched at the edges of the fridge. Strange. She also didn't seem to look at Chris, didn't even really seem to register him – just kept staring into the distance with a vacant expression, her lips slightly parted, her pupils dilated. It looked less like passion now, from a distance.
"That's not what this is about," Chris growled, his hands twitching, his whole body thrumming with tension. He was taking this jealousy thing way too far. "I don't care if you're good or evil, Wyatt, but if you touch her again, I will kill you."
"She looked quite happy about me touching her," Wyatt shot back, and that was a mistake, because Chris got even angrier.
"Does she look happy now?" He hissed, and, no, looking at Sarah, Wyatt had to admit that she didn't look happy at all. But who'd look happy after Chris stormed in and threatened everyone with death?
"She could have said something," Wyatt protested.
"She's too terrified to say something, you idiot!"
Chris was shouting again, his face white with anger, and now Wyatt felt a corresponding fury race through his body. Who did they think they were, these two strangers, coming here, taking over Wyatt's world, playing games with him and expecting him to just take it and say thank you? This was his home, his family, his life, and they had no right to simply take it all from him!
"I don't know what's between you and where you found her," he therefore said, maybe shouting a little bit, but if he was, he had good reason for that. "But she's been flirting with me for days, and you really can't blame me for that! Perhaps she just likes me better than you! I'm sorry if she can't make up her mind, but…"
His tirade was going nicely up until the point where Sarah took a sharp, sobbing breath, turned green and bolted from the kitchen. He could hear her in the backyard, retching desperately. Well. Not a very flattering reaction.
And it got Chris even angrier, impossible as that seemed to be a minute ago.
"She can't make up her mind because you tortured the ability out of her!" He roared, advancing towards Wyatt now that the one he protected had left the room. "You trained her to react to you like that! How could that possibly be her fault?"
"What? What are you talking about?" Wyatt asked, confusion now mixing with his anger. Confusion, and a rising fear.
Because he knew what this would be about, didn't he? The other him, the Wyatt he had steadfastly refused to think about this past week, the monster that had destroyed his own family and terrorized the world.
The man he could have become.
The man Chris was seeing right now, judging from the hate that twisted his face. The man that had been similar enough to him that his own brother couldn't distinguish between them.
"I'm talking about the fact that you enslaved her, Wyatt," Chris roared. "You enslaved her and forced her to kill for you! I'm talking about the fact that you raped her, for three fucking years, because you were a sick bastard who thought he was God!"
All thought went out of Wyatt's head.
"NO," he protested. "No, that's not true!"
Because that couldn't be true. That the power of Twice-Blessed could corrupt was something Wyatt had been aware of for a long time – his parents had made sure that he understood the responsibility and the burden of carrying such a power. But this? He would never do that to a girl like Sarah, not to anybody, not in a thousand worlds, not under any circumstances, and so it couldn't be true, because if it was, then Wyatt didn't know himself.
But Chris couldn't know the thoughts running through Wyatt's head. He just heard the denial, and it tipped him over the edge.
Chris snarled, and again his hand whipped up, the coiled power of his magic striking at Wyatt, flinging him against the wall, tightening around his throat. Choking him.
"So she's lying?" Chris hissed, white-faced with anger.
Wyatt's fingers were scrabbling across his neck, blindly searching for the obstruction that would not let him breathe. One part of his mind was shouting at him to use his magic against Chris, to stop his brother before he did something he would regret, but already his air was running out… he was so tired… and how could he even think about hurting his brother?
"Chris…" he gasped. "No… Chris…"
But Chris was too far gone to hear him.
"She really wanted it?" He was shouting, and the hand that was suffocating his brother did not tremble. "Is that what you're saying? You raped my best friend, you tortured me, and you killed my fiancé, and we all asked for it? Perhaps I should just end you now, Wyatt, because clearly you've not learned a thing beneath that puppy dog exterior, and I…"
"Chris! Let him down immediately!"
That was Dad, probably called to the kitchen by the sounds of their fight, and Wyatt gasped with relief, because his father would help, would stop Chris so that Wyatt could breathe again.
But nothing changed, and dimly, with the slow stupidity of retreating consciousness, Wyatt realized that Dad couldn't actually do anything. He was mortal. And this Chris didn't trust him.
"Chris! Stop it! He's your brother!"
"He's a monster!"
"Wyatt! Orb away now! Chris is not himself!"
But Wyatt couldn't orb away. He couldn't think, nor even see, everything dying away in a dull ocean of grey, and in his ears the roaring voice of his brother, accusing him of horrible things, sounding not only like a stranger, but like an enemy.
And then Sarah was back in the room, a hand on Chris' arm, her voice ringing clear even through the chaos of Wyatt's mind.
"Chris," she whispered. "Chris, look at him. He's not Lord Wyatt. He's your brother. He's just a man who made a mistake. He won't hurt us. You don't have to protect me from him, Chris. Look at him!"
And what neither Wyatt nor Dad had been able to achieve, she did. Chris gasped. His clenched fist opened, his magic retreating from Wyatt, and Wyatt found that he could breathe again.
He fell to his knees, coughing and trying desperately to suck as much air into his lungs as he could. He'd never hurt like this in his life.
But then his father's arms were around him, holding him, guiding him to lean back against the wall, whispering comfort into his ears, and Wyatt's heaving breath steadied.
He opened his eyes and looked up to the brother who had tried to kill him.
That was the moment when Mom rushed into the kitchen, arms outstretched to explode whatever was threatening her family. She took in the situation at a glance – Wyatt's hands still massaging his throat, Dad hovering over him protectively, Chris held back by Sarah, and her hands flew up to her mouth.
"Chris," she whispered, horror in her face. "What did you do?"
Something like awareness returned to Chris' eyes. His arm was still outstretched towards Wyatt, trembling with tension. His eyes had narrowed in fury, but now they went wide, shocked, frightened and horrified in a sequence of emotions that darted across his face so quickly that Wyatt couldn't follow them.
"I…" he whispered, his voice hoarse from all the shouting. His head cocked sideways, his eyes searching out Sarah, and her grip on his arm tightened. "I didn't mean to…"
"Doesn't change the fact that you nearly killed me…" Wyatt grumbled.
He had meant it as a bit of good natured ribbing, the kind of thing they always said when they had just barely survived another mad adventure, but Chris took it in an entirely different way.
"No," he whispered, sounding so forlorn, so hopeless, that Wyatt let go of his father and scrambled back to his feet, suddenly alarmed not for himself, but for his brother. "No… I never wanted… I'm not like him."
"You're not, you're not!" Sarah whispered intently, her other hand rising and grabbing his shoulder, supporting him. "Calm down, Chris. You need to calm down."
"How can I calm down?" He asked, his voice a high, keening noise of horror and grief. "I was right, Sarah! I was right from the very beginning! They should have deleted me – I'm not fit for this reality! What if this happens again, what if…"
"You need to calm down, Chris," Sarah repeated, but if anything, the opposite happened. Chris had that panicked look in his face again, the one of an animal driven into a corner, and a lifetime of experience with him told Wyatt that he would be orbing away in a second, was, in fact, getting ready to do it now, when suddenly, his eyes rolled up in their sockets, his expression grew slack, and his legs gave way under him.
"Chris!" Mom shouted, rushing towards him, but Sarah hadn't let go of him, was just sinking to the floor with him as if she'd done this a hundred times, her arms guiding him, steadying his head, cradling him against her back.
"He's seizing up," she shouted, just as Wyatt could see a trembling spread through Chris' limbs, taking hold of his legs, his arms, until he was shuddering all over, twitching wildly, biting through his lip and holding onto Sarah with such force it had to hurt like hell.
Mom fell to his knees beside them, reaching out, looking as panicked as Wyatt felt, but Dad was quicker.
"No," he whispered, taking her hands and stopping them. "No, Piper. That's the memories returning. The situation must have triggered them. Don't touch him, you might frighten him. Just wait for the merging to be over."
But there was nothing 'just' about it.
His throat still burning, his body aching with adrenaline and exhaustion, Wyatt stared at his brother, writhing on the floor, at the girl supporting him, at his father and mother, desperate in their wish to protect but entirely helpless.
And he realized that this was it – the moment he'd always dreaded. The moment when their string of lucky escapes would finally end, when something so terrible would happen to his family that they'd break into pieces over it, and Wyatt too weak, to helpless, too useless to help, Twice Blessed or not.
That moment was here.
And it had all been Wyatt's fault, in this world and the other one.
He didn't have to be evil to destroy his brother. Just stupid.
And then Chris' eyes suddenly snapped open, and his back arched up and away from the floor, and his arm stretched out, and he sobbed out a word, a single, excruciating word.
Mom gasped, and Wyatt felt something sharp give in his chest, some knot splitting open, some terrible burden give way.
"Dad! Help me, please…"
Dad was crying, his face blotchy and his eyes slightly wild, but he was there as he had always been there for them, without hesitation, and he took Chris' outstretched hand and drew Chris closer to him, cradling him in his arms like he had cradled Wyatt just minutes ago.
"I'm here son," he soothed him. "I'm right here. You can do this, Chris, just hold on to me for a while longer, can you do that for me?"
And Chris, panting and sobbing and shuddering, held onto his father with all he had, while one of his hands was still clenched around Sarah's arm, not letting go of either world.
And finally, after minutes that seemed like hours to Wyatt, he quieted.
His breath evened out. His eyes fluttered shut. The frown lines on his face smoothed.
"Chris?" Dad whispered. "Chris, can you hear me? Are you okay, buddy?"
Chris didn't look okay. He looked unconscious, half-dead even. But from somewhere, Wyatt had no idea how, he took the strength to open his bloody, bitten-through lips and speak.
"You used to ask me that," he rasped. "Every time I hurt myself, or was in a fight, or had an accident. Every time I hurt you were there for me, Dad, every time."
Dad closed his eyes, and it took Wyatt a moment to understand that the raw, alien expression on his face was relief, not sorrow. His dad looked exhausted, as if a terrible burden had been taken away from him and the freedom and lightness without it was too great to realize quite yet.
And Wyatt didn't dare breathe, afraid to interrupt this moment that had seemed so awful a moment ago and was now, suddenly, precious.
"Chris?" Mom whispered, one hand reaching out, hesitatingly, coming to rest on his head, brushing his hair back like she had done a thousand times all their life, but not once in the past week.
Chris' eyes opened. They were red rimmed, and tired, but so very green and strangely clear, as if a cloud had passed across it, its shadow finally retreating.
He looked up at her in wonder, then took in Dad and Sarah.
And then he smiled, the old Chris-smile, the smile of a boy that had never stopped being amazed by the things magic could do, the smile of real mama's boy, the smile that had greeted Wyatt when he returned from magic school every afternoon.
His head tilted to the right and his eyes found Wyatt, and, impossible after a week of mistrust and guardedness, his smile widened, and the connection between them suddenly bloomed to life again, flooded with warmth and magic and feelings.
I'm glad I didn't hurt you, Wy, Chris' voice whispered through his mind, and Wyatt didn't even bother trying to hide the tears in his eyes. Why didn't you orb away, you idiot?
"Peanut?" Mom asked again.
Chris eyes darted back to her, and his left hand rose to her face, tracing the line of her cheek, wiping away her tears.
"I remember the morning of my fourteenth birthday," he said quietly. "How a demon attacked, and we were all alone in the house, and you bled to death in my arms. And I remember the same day, how we celebrated together, the whole family, and nothing bad happened at all…"
He sounded dazed, but the contentment in his face soothed the wounds the past minute had cut, and perhaps, Wyatt realized, this moment hadn't been their breaking point at all. Perhaps this hadn't burnt what they'd had, perhaps it had forged them anew, made them stronger, made them better.
"Are you okay?" Mom whispered. "Please, Chris, tell me, are you okay?"
"Yes," Chris said, and it was a new Chris that answered them. Not the half-grown witch that was still searching for a place in this world, not the battle-worn whitelighter that had travelled across time to save them.
Perhaps someone better.
He took her hand, and he took Sarah's hand, and he squeezed them both, like a promise.
"I'm fine, Mom," he whispered. But he was talking to all of them. "I will be fine."
There you have it, dearest readers, and I hope this ending satisfies you somewhat! The only thing left for me is to thank you now for your reviews and support, for the way you loved this story and helped me shape it, and to ask you for one last review to wrap it all up!
I wish you all the best,