Yes, people. I'm updating! This is part of an on-going series of one shots that follow on from my main trilogy that wrapped up in 2007. You already had Pamela's last year, and without any further delay (You've waited long enough!), Paige's one-shot is now ready for you.
This, more so than Phoebe's or Piper's, will act as the complete mirror opposite to "I Know You Are, But What Am I?" While Pam's one-shot explored all the firsts a human being can experience, and rediscovering who you are, "Take Me Somewhere Nice" is all about lasts and losing yourself in the chaos of life. There is a lot more juxtaposition such as that, but you'll just have to find them for yourself! Enjoy! And remember to review!
Take Me Somewhere Nice
The first time the magnitude of what they had done truly hit her was around two years after the deal had been made. It had been late at night, she had been on the phone with a reclusive German painter for hours, and Paige Matthews heard voices coming from the main exhibition area.
She would find the energy to get up from her desk eventually. It had been a particularly tiring day, and she hadn't left the building in over twelve hours. Cell phone between her thumb and index finger, Paige would balance one end of it on the desk, before sliding her fingers down and swinging it around so the opposite side would be on the surface below. It was a mundane example of fidgeting, but the witchlighter's tired eyes were entranced by it nonetheless.
Deciding the desk lamp was hurting her eyes; she shut it off and immersed herself in darkness. Her head was throbbing due to the fact that she had done almost nothing but stare at a screen all day, and she had not eaten anything since lunch. It was soothing just to sit in the bleak quiet, nothing but the odd noise of a passing car and sirens outside her window to disturb her. Whenever she heard sirens, part of her wanted to know what disaster they were racing towards. All of her knew she had probably seen worse.
And just as the word "disaster" sprung into her head, there was a shout from the other side of her door.
The gallery itself, like what it contained, was art. Her main window that overlooked the entrance was actually her entire fourth wall, providing an awful draft in the winter months. The hallway on the other side of her door was similar: one side had the offices, the bricks, and cement, and the other was a large glass panel that provided a view into the main exhibition hall. And it was in the dead of night that Paige found herself looking down into the deeply dark hall below her.
"That was not the deal we made!"
Alicia James. Paige would know that voice anywhere after hearing it speak almost every language under the sun to their multi-cultural clients. Her blonde hair shone in the dim mood lighting that lay above every painting, her face overcast by the many shadows of the room. She couldn't see who her boss was talking to, but given the way her body was shaking in the gloom, Paige guessed it wasn't a friendly meeting. Especially at the brink of midnight.
A man walked out from underneath the viewing deck the witchlighter stood on, sauntering into the centre of the hall where Alicia stood. In all-black, he was barely visible, the dull shimmer of his leather coat being the only indicator of where he was. At least until a bright flame suddenly coiled around his arm and burst forth from his palm, striking his victim squarely in the chest and throwing her across the room.
And immediately, Paige Matthews ran.
"I've been more than good to you." He growled, the lilac fire spinning viciously around his forearm as Alicia got up from the floor. Her clothes and body were remarkably not burnt, but her face seemed drained all of life as she struggled into a standing position, leaning on a particularly thick frame around one of the paintings on the wall.
"It's not my time…" She whispered, slowly sliding down to the floor.
"Oh, Alicia. It's never been your time."
The demon spun around to find Paige facing him at the bottom of the staircase to the offices. She stood, determination and confusion written all over her face. In a normal situation, she would have instantly thrown this enemy across the room, attempted to vanquish him, and if it didn't work, orb to safety with the innocent. But she didn't know the rules now.
"You can't do anything." The demon informed her monotonously, turning back round and letting loose another plume of fire from his hand.
"You'd be surprised at what I can do."
His vision was suddenly clouded with bright light, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of Alicia, about to take his own attack to the chest. Gritting his teeth in anger, the evil being merely flicked his hand, causing the flames instantly fade away, taking away the light they had provided as if they had never even been there.
He stood in complete darkness for a brief second, until light bloomed behind him. Slowly looking over his shoulder, the demon was just in time to see Paige's triumphant face before she vanished with Alicia into the night.
Although he would never admit it to his wife, Aidan Parker was a little scared of the dark.
It wasn't like an irrational, hiding-under-the-duvet, kind of fear. And it wasn't even for himself, it was for everyone else. Like now, for instance. As he lay on top of the covers in bed, eyes closed, trying to trick his mind into falling asleep, his mind instantly went to the person who should be lying next to him, and why she wasn't home yet. He had tried calling her a few minutes ago, but her cell had just gone to her voicemail. Why wouldn't she answer her phone at midnight?
This sent his thoughts reeling into the many things that could have snatched her in the darkness, like they always did when his wife didn't come home from work when she said she would. He knew that the deal Paige and her sisters had made with the demons wouldn't be full-proof. There would be ways around it; ways to still hurt them, attack them, and maybe even kill them. The whole thing, after all, had been orchestrated by demons. How safe had it been to make a pact with devils? What if-?
"Still too warm to sleep under the covers, huh?"
Aidan's eyes snapped open and he rolled over so he could see the black silhouette of his wife in the door against the light coming from the hallway. She walked in and turned on the lamp on her nightstand, illuminating the previously dark room with a dim glow that was only remotely useful if you were sitting next to it. "We've got some trouble."
"What kind of trouble? Paige, where have you been? And why haven't you answered your phone? I know you've been working late this week, but getting home at midnight is ridiculous."
Paige sighed and sat down on the bed, putting her hand over his, "Okay, first of all, calm down. I'm fine. Second of all, answers to your questions: Demonic, at the gallery, and because I was saving Alicia's life. And I know, but if saving your boss's life doesn't get you a couple of fully paid days off, then I don't know what does."
Aidan frowned, partly out of confusion and partly because his eyes were still adjusting to all the light. "What happened?"
The witchlighter shrugged slightly in response, "I avoided fighting him as best I could and got Alicia out of there. She's downstairs, but the demon knew who I was so I don't know how much time I have before he comes after her again. Can you please go downstairs and protect her while I get the Book of Shadows from Piper's?" She smiled, giving his hand a gently squeeze.
"Must I?" Her husband groaned in reply, "Be no skin off my back if that woman was out of our lives."
Paige gave him a stern glare in response. It had only been after the battle two years ago that Paige had been able to fully become accomplished at her job. This had led to her spending more and more time with Alicia, a woman who would clash with Aidan no matter how innocent a conversation would start out. The two of them had never gotten along, and it was always a trial for her to try and keep them apart at fundraisers, auctions, and high-profile exhibitions. Their dislike for each other was almost primal.
"Oh, for God's sake." The youngest Charmed One rolled her eyes, leaning in and giving her husband a kiss on the forehead, "She could have died if I hadn't been there. Be nice!"
"Fine…but you owe me big time."
"Oh…" Paige smirked, draping her arms over his shoulders and kissing him gently the lips, "I love it when I owe you big time."
As she orbed out, Aidan got to his foot with a grumpy sigh and run a hand through his unkempt hair. It was going to be a long night.
It was at times like these when Paige wished she still had a dog. If nothing else, for the company, and for the comfort of knowing you are not alone in the dark.
After everything that had happened in this house (or at least the house that got blew up), Paige had started to see the Manor as a living extension of their family. One that was always so full of life and noise. So as she climbed the stairs to the attic, knowing Piper was away visiting Phoebe and that no one had been in the house for a week, she couldn't help but think the life of the Manor had vanished with her big sister and her family.
It didn't help that she hadn't thought to turn on the light of the staircase before she started to ascend, dark shadows being cast everywhere and nearly making Paige lose her way up the pitch-black steps. A sliver of moonlight lit the top of the stairs where the door was, and she could only hope that if there was only a small part of light on this side of the house, the attic, which had windows in every direction, would be teeming with light.
She was wrong. The only source of illumination ended up being a stray beam of moonlight coming in the front window, covering the Book of Shadows and its pedestal in an eerie glow. Paige immediately set her sights on the tome and charged across the room. She didn't want to linger here for long.
The voice sent a hot tingle down her spine as she spun around to face the demon from earlier as he came out from the shadows. Dark eyes, dark hair, dark clothes, and skin that was a whiter shade of pale all would have converged into a rather alluring appearance, had she not known what he was. Paige stayed where she was under the protection of the moonlight, hands gripping the Book of Shadows tightly.
"Why did you save her?"
The witchlighter was baffled at the question, "What do you mean? She's an innocent, I'm a witch. If you're not familiar with the rules, I suggest you go back and read them before tangling with me." Paige warned, although her voice held no conviction to match her words.
"You have no power. Remember that." He replied monotonously, not even looking interested in the conversation and just giving the floorboards a baleful glare. "So, that's your reason? Rules?"
"No… You were going to kill her and she didn't deserve to die… Why are you asking all these questions?"
"Curiosity." Was his simple retort, finally looking her in the eyes, "It wouldn't kill you to ask more questions."
"Why are you here?" Paige finally snapped, regaining some confidence as she strode around the pedestal. This was her house. She was the one with the power here. "Unless you have an actual point to this shameless attempt at scaring me, I suggest you leave now."
The demon just stared at her, and for a moment, Paige felt that her entire world was falling away and being consumed by the darkness of his eyes. It wasn't about what they looked like; it was more about what she could see lurking underneath… something new and confusing, or something old and confusing, filled with nothing but hollow apathy.
"You have this day. No more."
And he was gone.
It wouldn't be until she got home that Paige would wish she had stayed with the demon instead.
Aidan and Alicia sat on opposite sides of the living room, each reveling in the tense silence caused by their combination. Neither one of them was saying anything, but it was merely the calm before the storm before it erupted into something greater than just a staring contest. She was remarkably at ease for a woman who had just come under fire from a demon for the first time, Aidan thought. Perhaps this wasn't her first time…
Alicia cleared her throat, and the elemental instantly tensed, waiting to verbally pounce on her the moment she said anything remotely derogatory; how his wife had just saved her life, how he could kick her out without any help at any moment and leave her to the demon, and how he knew more about this kind of situation and for once in her life, she would need to just shut the hell up.
"Nice hair." She commented icily with a hint of sick amusement, her gaze flickering up to Aidan's hairline before a smirk appeared on her face.
Quickly raising a hand to try and flatten his disheveled bed-head, he opened his mouth to respond just as orbs lit up the living room and ruined his chance. He was never going to get to say anything to this horror of a woman while his wife was present.
Paige instantly gauged the mood of the room as she entered, giving both of them a terse grin, "Getting along well, I see." She deadpanned, laying the Book of Shadows down on the coffee table. "Aidan, could you please go and get the crystals from my nightstand? We're better using as much protection as we can until I find out what we're dealing with."
"Sure…" He said, rising with a final glare to the blonde woman across from him, "I made a pot of coffee. Something tells me it's going to be one of those nights."
"Thank you." Paige replied softly, smiling as his hand brushed her shoulder on his way upstairs. Once he was gone, she turned to her innocent, her expression sympathetic, "Are you okay? I can understand if all of this is a big shock. Demons being real and the manager of your gallery being able to fight them…"
"It's not as big of a shock as you would think. I… know things." Alicia replied, before her eyes suddenly widened at the sight of the Book of Shadows in front of her. "The triquetra… Wow, a Charmed One? I mean, I knew you were a witch, but-,"
"You know what the triquetra stands for?" Paige frowned, before realizing there was a far more important question to be asked, "You know I'm a witch? How?" She gasped.
"I've had that demon on my back for a long time. You don't have a shadow like that without knowing a little bit about magic, or without knowing some magic in general." The gallery owner answered, "I've done a lot of research, especially into Wicca. There's a lot of new age-y rubbish out there, but if you dig deep enough, you can find out what's true and what can help you. I cast a spell the day I hired you, one to guide me to help… That's the only reason I was out on the gallery floor that day."
"And is that the only reason you hired me?" Paige asked, her tone accusatory as she sat down in the seat Aidan had previously occupied, pulling her family's magical tome onto her lap.
Alicia rolled her eyes at this presumption, "Oh, come on, Paige. I wasn't about to hire someone who was completely incompetent at art just because a spell had led me to them. The spell was vague, so I was lucky you were alone otherwise I wouldn't have known it was trying to lead me to you. Do you think I would have hired Aidan he had been with you?"
The witchlighter couldn't argue with that. She cocked an eyebrow and chuckled, "Fair point."
At this, Aidan came downstairs with a wooden box in his hands. It was clear that he had try to tame his hair the best he could before coming back to the living room. Dutifully, he laid the five crystals around the sofa, Alicia watching him curiously as he dotted around the couch before coming full circle.
"They're magic crystals. They create-,"
"A protective barrier. Anything that means harm to me can't come across the perimeter. I know."
The elemental shot a questioning look at his wife.
"She knows quite a lot about magic." Paige explained, "And quite a lot about us too, apparently… Alright, you need to tell us what you know about this demon." She said, dismissing the previous issue and opening the Book of Shadows.
"Uh… Paige?" Aidan addressed her softly, standing his kneeling position at the corner of the sofa, "Can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?"
A sixth crystal still in his hand, the elemental led the way to the back of the living room to where their kitchen resided. The room was in darkness, the light of the other room not reaching it, and when Aidan turned around, he could only see the silhouette of his wife framed by the light from the doorway. The effect was rather disconcerting, especially coupled with what he knew he was about to get himself into.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to give you a minute to step back the think about this. It's been a while since we've had to do this, and with all the rules that now apply, I just want to make sure you're not about to die for breaking some of the fine print." Aidan hesitated, knowing that he would end up regretting this, "And end up taking your sisters down with you by accident."
He could only imagine the look on her face, "Aidan, I know what I'm doing despite what you think." Paige said sharply, appearing to tame her temper, "Besides, one thing about the deal was clear: if an innocent comes under our care, the gloves come off, and we can do whatever we want to protect them."
"But this isn't exactly a normal innocent-under-fire situation, Paige. Alicia didn't just fall into your lap through some way of destiny. If she knows about magic and she knows you're a witch, then what's to say she didn't orchestrate all this? She's piled on the work recently, just so you're in the gallery longer, and just by coincidence, you're there tonight to save her. That's not an innocent coming under your care by a fluke, that was her intentionally dragging you into a situation you may not have any right to be in. I don't even think she's telling us the whole story. What if-?"
"I'm not having this conversation." Paige cut him off, her arms now folded, "Thirteen years of experience trumps your stupid grudge against this woman."
Aidan, for the second time that night, opened his mouth to respond, only for his own senses to silence him this time, "…Fine. I'm just asking you to be careful. If she knows about us, then that makes her a potential danger. Don't let your guard down."
"Okay, I'll be careful." Paige reassured him, nodding her head firmly, "Alright, you go back to bed. I'm still riding the rush from fighting with that demon, and you are clearly shattered and don't want anything to do with this. Get some sleep."
"You promise to call for me if something happens?"
"I promise. Go."
When he came out of the kitchen, he stopped in his tracks for a second to watch Alicia walk briskly to the couch and sit down, before staring at him blankly. Had she been listening in? Would he have caught her if he had moved faster?
"If you want our help…" He began lowly, crossing the room, "You'll need to tell us everything you know."
Alicia looked at him as he was missing something that was clearly obvious, "Uh… I already have. Flame throwing maniac who's been after me for years finally lost his patience like I thought he would, Paige saved the day, and you drowsily witnessed everything from that point onwards." She ended with a sickly sweet smile which made her attitude towards her interrogator clear.
"For years, huh? And you still don't know what he wants?"
She simply shrugged, "Hell if I know. Weren't you going to bed?"
He pounced immediately, "Yeah, how did you know that?"
"I… Lucky guess. I mean, you have the hair for it after all."
Aidan smirked slightly. She had to have been listening in if she knew he was going back to bed. This woman was a snake.
"As a matter of fact, I am." The elemental responded coolly, "See you in the morning." He said, before casually adding over his shoulder, "…Maybe."
Here we go again…
The dream started as it always did; she was surrounded by nothing but darkness, a cold sweat covering her body, and her husband standing in front of her, a blindfold the same colour as the nothing around them tied firmly around his eyes.
"What would you do?"
She knew her answer. It was the answer she gave every night.
The blindfold over Aidan's eyes would fade away, and she would be faced with so much light pouring from his eyes that she would have to raise her arms to shield her own from the harshness. Her ears began to ring, the light grew stronger and stronger, before it all receded with a terrible crash and the world returned to nothing.
Paige awoke with a start, instantly regretting it when a pain shot up her neck. She hadn't fallen asleep on the Book of Shadows in a while, and right now was a vivid reminder of how much she hated it. She rubbed the back of her neck with a low groan, sitting back in her chair and seeing that she had fell asleep on an in-depth entry about Apotropiac magic. The book wasn't even at its demon section. Why was she even looking here?
She didn't flinch; she wasn't frightened. The demon walked out of the shadows in her kitchen and leant against the counter, his eyes somehow seeming more empathetic than they had in the attic earlier.
"Tired." Paige confirmed, locking eyes with him, "What is your name?"
"I have many names."
"Before the demon?"
"Didn't have one."
"Didn't have a name?"
"Didn't have anything."
"Then what the hell are you?" She exclaimed, frustrated as she slammed the Book of Shadows shut. "If I can't fight you, then I have to at least know how to keep you from Alicia, and I can't do that unless I know you."
"Everyone knows me."
"That doesn't help!"
"And it never will."
Paige looked utterly baffled by this conversation, until a look of realization dawned on her face and she sighed angrily, shaking her head with a dark smile, "I'm talking to you instead of fighting you, and all our dialogue is crappy and cryptic… This is still a dream, isn't it?"
"Now you're asking the right questions." The demon responded with a pleased smirk, moving towards the witchlighter and sitting down at the table next to her, "You're such an angry person, Paige, and it's got nowhere to go" He said, shocking her when he began to casually trace the outline of the triquetra on the cover of the Book of Shadows with his finger, "I mean, before now, it went into the latest vanquishing potion and was extinguished just as the demon caught fire, but now… where does that anger go?"
"I'm not angry." Paige said through gritted teeth, "You're pretty judgmental for someone who considers killing innocent people as a lifestyle."
"It's not at Alicia, and it's not at the demons that jailed you and your sisters with their words… Is it me?"
As he spoke the last sentence, his hair suddenly became bushier and straw-blonde, while the rest of appearance changed its overall build and shape. After a few seconds, Paige was looking into the sparking emerald eyes of her husband, still dressed in the demon's attire.
"Is it boring with me?" Aidan asked lowly, giving her a smouldering look as he stood up, the leather of his outfit creaking with the movement, "You're a wild child; your hair constantly down… Now you're a normal woman who's got a job, three kids, and a mortgage to pay." He moved so he was behind her, his hand brushing over her shoulder as it had previously in the night, but this time, it was far a more seductive gesture. His deft fingers moved upwards just to nape of her neck, before slowly trailing down her back. "Now, that's definitely not Paige Matthews."
Paige knew that was the demon playing mind games; that was wrong. It felt wrong, to have hands that weren't her husband's on her. And yet, nothing could stop the small gasp of pleasure falling from her mouth as he began to gently massage her shoulders.
He whispered in her ear, "Do you blame me for this life?" She could feel his hot breath on her neck, hear him breathing slowly, "Wish I had more of an edge… wish I could take you away?"
She felt cold lips against the skin below her ear, and she gasped again. Only this time, she was brought back to her senses.
"What would you do?"
Paige awoke with a start, instantly regretting it when a pain shot up her neck. She hadn't fallen asleep on the Book of Shadows in a while, and right now was a vivid reminder of how much she hated it. She rubbed the back of her neck with a low groan, sitting back in her chair and seeing that she had fell asleep on the opening introduction to the tome's section on demons. She had clearly decided to go back to the beginning of her search before falling to sleep.
Paige jumped in her chair, turning around to see Alicia entering the dark kitchen, the sway of her hips the only thing making her visible in the half-light the moon was casting into the window.
"Ti-," The witchlighter began, before smirking and catching herself, "Yeah, kinda."
"Aidan came down a few minutes ago to check on you, so he turned the light off when he saw you asleep." She informed Paige, standing in front of the sink with her hands placed at each side on the counter, "I figured you might be awake now, since he's not exactly the most graceful person in the world and probably woke you up when he was trudging around the kitchen."
Paige let out a hollow chuckle and shook her head, "I don't know why you guys don't get along…" She sighed, leaning back in her chair before turning to face the back of her boss, "You should really get back to the crystals; it's the safest place in the entire house. Maybe try and get some sleep too,"
"I know, I know… But I can't sleep and I needed to stretch my legs. Do you mind if I get myself a glass of water?"
"Not at all. Glasses are on the top shelf of the cupboard to your right. Any lower, and the twins can see them and undoubtedly destroy them."
Alicia laughed, running the tap and moving to fetch her glass, "You know, Paige, you've built quite a life for yourself." She filled the glass, rinsing it thoroughly several times, "You pretty much have everything… even have a little swing at the end of your garden." Alicia commented with a sly chuckle into her glass, looking out into the backyard to see the swing that was attached to the tree at the bottom of the backyard swaying in the breeze. "And as I understand it, even the life endangering demon fighting has lessened over the last couple of years."
"Is that just another thing you know?" Paige asked sharply, eyebrows raised.
"Every single person in the world felt the Hollow's destruction on some level." The blonde replied, "Of course, the vast majority of them had no idea what it was, but it's a primal thing we're all tapped into. You don't wipe an ultimate power off the face of the Earth without a couple ripples going through the cosmos. Part of me thinks it's a shame, mainly because I was looking into the Hollow as a way to defeat Lucian."
"Lucian? The demon's name?" Her eyes widened with irritation, "Didn't you think that kind of information would have been useful hours ago?" She began to flick through the Book of Shadows once more.
"Not really. It's just a name he told me, I doubt it's the one he's known for. May I go outside?"
"It's four in the morning."
"I know. May I?"
"Sure, just give me a… Wait!"
She had moved faster than Paige had expected and was already out on the back porch before the youngest Charmed One even had a chance to close the book. Almost instantly, Paige was outside also, shaking her head.
"You have a demon after you! You can't just stroll outside without protection!"
She looked up at the sky, "Those crystals and your four walls aren't going to make a difference. We both know that."
The witchlighter looked at the back of her innocent's head for a moment, before her eyes shot wide open and she let out a furious sigh, throwing her arms up in the air, "What is with you?" She asked, not too quietly, "Aidan was right earlier, you're hiding something! You're acting as if you know you're safe for the time being, but at the same, it's as if you're doomed. Tell me what's going on! Why is that demon after you?"
Alicia remained silent, choosing instead to keep her gaze on heavens far out of reach above her. It was as if Paige hadn't even tried to engage her and she was just alone in the garden, simply entranced by all the beauty around her. Her head lowered, and she looked at the grass beneath her feet.
"The world is a rather simple place when you strip everything back, isn't it? The sun comes up with the day, and the stars come out at night, with everything growing and withering but nothing ever truly dying." She looked back up to the sky, "But we have to make things complicated, don't we? We can't accept the rules of the world around us. That's why we advance: so we can do things we were never meant to do. Magic's the worst for this, taking the fabric of the universe and tearing it apart until it looks the way you want it. Human beings are selfish… that's what always gets us in the end."
Paige was now sitting on the small bench that sat underneath the kitchen window, looking to the bottom of the garden with a dismal stare. The demon had been right earlier; she had no power. Everyone seemed to know more than her these days. There was Aidan, who could see through Alicia immediately. Alicia herself, who knew far more than she was telling, and the demon, who seemed to know everything. It was a hopeless situation that she wasn't used to being in, and for the first time in a long while, she was lost in the maelstrom of her life.
"I was selfish…" The blonde continued, unaware of the spiral Paige was slipping into behind her, "I wanted to change what was meant to be all because it didn't fit with my rules…. Even if it cost me my soul."
Grim realization took over the witchlighter's face and she closed her eyes slowly, sinking further, "You made a deal."
"Yes… I get dragged to Hell in less than a day."
After that, Alicia James was left alone on the porch at the four in the morning, looking up at salvation that could be never be hers.
She found herself in the place she always ended up when she couldn't sleep, only it was for entirely different reasons.
Shortly after the birth of her youngest child, Daniel, it was no secret to anyone who knew her well that Paige had become extremely overprotective of her children. It was a combination of her family expanding and her worries over just how long her children would remain safe if the demons weren't able to get to her and her sisters. They would take it all back in a moment if it meant their families would be safe, but it was too late now. They had made the deal, forged the bond, and now it could no longer be broken.
So every night, after around an hour of restless fidgeting in her bed, Paige would go into her son's room – the son who had not yet shown any powers with which he could defend himself – and sit in the overstuffed armchair at the window where she held him in the afternoon sun, and watch. She watched her baby's chest rise and fall gently, she watched as he made small movements in his sleep, and she watched the shadows on the walls most of all. Her senses hummed whenever the odd car went by outside, casting even more shadows and odd rays of light across the room, and even more so when Daniel made the slightest noise. The fact he was the quietest child Paige had ever come across did nothing to ease her fears.
Despite her best efforts, she would always fall asleep in the chair, and after around a month she was too desperate to not wake up with a sore neck to maintain her paranoid vigil any longer. The feelings that she had laid to rest when she lay back in her bed after that month were now bubbling to the surface once again, and as Paige looked on her son, a year older than the last time she did this, she was afraid.
Daniel's fluffy golden hair stuck up at odd angles as he slept with his blanket right up to his nose, ever silent. It would be time to move him out of this crib soon; he was getting too big for it and cribs in general. It seemed only yesterday she had been laying him down in it for the first time, and now it was time to take him out. Time moved so fast these days.
She fell into the chair at the window and sat back, staring at her slumbering son with sadness and guilt. Daniel made a few noises in his sleep, and Paige automatically got up from her position and pulled his blanket down so his entire face was on show. This seemed to calm him down, and he returned to his peaceful rest. If only she could do the same.
The witchlighter sat back down, elbows on knees with her hand rubbing the back of her neck, "Nothing really feels right anymore, Danny. I feel like, out of all the people in the world, I'm the one least equipped to deal with this now. It was so much easier before. Whenever I felt conflicted, I'd go and vanquish a demon because that's simple. I'm a good witch; demons are evil, pure black and white. But now I can't touch the demon, and my innocent is not so innocent… when did my life become one big shade of grey?"
She leant back into the chair, and kept watch over her baby for as long as her body allowed.
"What would you do?"
"No! It's mine!"
Their seventh birthdays approaching, the twins' looks were beginning to differ in minuscule, albeit noticeable, ways. Emma's hair had a natural curl to it, while Melinda's did not. Melinda's eyes shone a fiercer green, while her sister's had an earthier glow. No matter how many changes they had physically, however, it didn't change the fact they were twins and essentially shared each other's lives. It seemed that the two girls had reached the stage where constantly being around each other, and countless bouts of mistaken identity by people who didn't know them well enough, had finally cracked both of them, and now they were trying to be as independent as possible.
This, naturally, led to many a fight. This one in particular being about the swing at the end of the yard.
"Girls, enough." Paige said sternly from the table on the decking, experienced in breaking up these fights, "Mel, Emma has ten more minutes on the swing, then it's your turn. That's what we agreed, remember?"
She had caught her daughters in mid-scuffle; Emma clinging onto the ropes of the swing so hard her knuckles were white, and Melinda's face slowly turning crimson from the effort to push her twin off the object of her desires. They both froze and looked up to their mother, who only intensified the glare she was already giving them, before separating. One triumphant, the other defeated. For now.
Aidan asked, "So, where is she right now?" He stopped playing with the remains of a fried egg on his plate and looked up.
"Freshening up in the bathroom." Paige replied ruefully, "I gave her a towel, some clothes, and a fresh toothbrush from the supply we keep whenever the girls make theirs go missing." She glanced up to her girls with a smirk. It was always such a coincidence when they couldn't find their toothbrushes at bedtime.
"A deal…" The elemental mused, finally putting the fried egg out of its misery, "Well, at least that explains why we've never really gotten along. If she made a deal, then her soul's been marked by a demon. I must have sensed it on some level."
"Uh, don't even try that one, buddy." Paige replied with a skeptical glare, "You didn't get along with her long before your little promotion to all things spiritual. You're both just too stubborn and arrogant to admit your similarities." She returned to feeding Daniel in his highchair, shaking her head sadly, "I'm such a sap… I just got caught up in everything last night, I couldn't see that-,"
"I was right?"
"…She knew more than she was letting on." Aidan received another glare, "What am I supposed to do now?"
"What do you mean? It's not about what you're meant to do; it's about what you can do. Which, I'm sorry to say, is nothing."
A third glare, "Thank you for that."
He rolled his eyes, "You know what I mean. These deals are ironclad. They're designed to keep meddlers on both sides far out of it; there's retribution for whoever tries to get involved and most of the time, it just makes things worse."
"I've broken one of these deals before."
"Without nearly sacrificing yourself? Or is there another time I just haven't heard of?"
"Good point…" Paige conceded reluctantly, "I guess there's nothing I can do."
As she finished speaking and resumed feeding her son, Alicia came out from the kitchen and leaned against the porch doorframe. It seemed that she hadn't accepted Paige's offer of clothes and was still in the suit she had been saved in the night before, "That's… not what I wanted to hear, I'll say that much."
The witchlighter shrugged, giving her an apologetic look, "What do you want from me? The demon would have made the conditions of the deal clear. You knew what you were getting into and how it couldn't be undone. You can't just expect a miracle from me. With all your research into magic, you should know even they aren't possible."
"But you're a Charmed One!" Alicia said, her voice fading into a murmur. She stared at the woman sitting in front of her with wide eyes as she was looking at something wonderful, "You're one third of a miracle! Surely, between you and your sisters you must be able to-,"
She was interrupted by the clatter of Aidan dropping his cutlery on the plate in front of him. Taking a deep breath, the elemental composed himself and slowly pushed his plate away before looking at Alicia gravely.
"Want to know what makes these deals so ironclad?" He asked sternly, "It's the thing that pretty much blocks magical intervention at every turn: freewill. These demons come to you when you're desperate, and alone, and they offer you the world. And because you can't see any past anything other than not feeling that way anymore, you jump on board willingly. We can't do anything to fight a conscious decision you made. Magic didn't make sell your soul, and magic can't get it back. I'm sorry, but that's how it is. And the only reason Paige hasn't laid it out as simply is that is because she's trying to spare your feelings, but with fourteen hours to go, I don't think you of all people would appreciate the kiddy gloves." He said, shooting a quick admonishing glance at his wife in the process.
"I'll see what I can do to help."
Both Aidan and Alicia gave Paige an incredulous look, before the latter's was replaced with joy.
"I am not promising anything, and you need to tell me everything you know, but…" She sighed and nodded her head slowly, as if she had to convince herself to get involved, "I'll do the best I can."
"Thank you…" The blonde breathed in response, before her harsh exterior rose again, "Can we go to my apartment? I appreciate the offer of clothes, but I'd just feel more comfortable in something of my own."
"Sure. Just give me a minute to gather myself up a little bit."
Alicia nodded solemnly before leaving, presumably to gather herself as well. Only in a different way.
Paige immediately shut her husband down with a fierce stare, "Don't."
He only held his hands up in defeat, "I hope you know what you're doing."
Alicia's home ended up being everything Paige expected and everything she didn't at the same time.
Something she had expected was decadence. Alicia had the entire floor to herself, so the elevator was her front door. She had had to use a special key to make it even come to this floor, and the moment they stepped out onto the flawless marble floor, the witchlighter's jaw nearly dropped to the black, shiny surface they were standing on.
What she hadn't expected was the darkness. The apartment was a mixture of black, gold and red, with black being the most prominent. The marble seemed to continue through to the living room and every other room, while the walls and even the ceiling were painted jet black. The only thing that was nearly just as abundant as the darkness was all the mirrors. One had run along the entire hallway coming from the elevator, and there seemed to be one situated on every possible wall in the main living area, all in golden frames, all different shapes and sizes. The furniture was similar to the rest of the place: black, gold-rimmed, and reflective on any possible surface. While there were only two sources of red, they came in the form of two massive, crimson leather sofas that sat on either side of a black coffee table. The effect made the apartment look smaller than it was, but no less impressive.
"I know it's a lot of black," Alicia said with a smirk, noticing her guest's expression, "But it's the only thing that covered all the runes and pentagrams and every protection symbol that I painted on the walls when I moved in. This way, people just think I'm twisted and slightly eccentric instead of seeing all the symbols and thinking I'm a maniac."
"What about all the mirrors?"
"So I can see over my shoulder, no matter where I go. And partly for vanity, of course."
The only source of light was from the row of French windows that led out onto the pearly white balcony outside, which Paige made for immediately, not even waiting for permission. She opened the door and instantly, she felt as if she could breathe again. The witchlighter hadn't even realised she had been holding her breath the moment she stepped out the elevator, but as she looked out onto the ocean on this summer's day, it was euphoric.
Sensing her discomfort, Alicia said, "I'm just going to go and get changed."
Paige leant her forearms against the balcony railing, the sea breeze whipping her hair about but sun managing to keep her warm despite it. She turned her head slightly to look at the city's landmark burnt-orange Golden Gate Bridge, before letting out a small sigh of discontent.
There was nothing she could do. She had known that the moment she had volunteered her help. It was becoming an ugly pattern in her life when it came to anything regarding magic. How was it possible that something so empowering could have become so debilitating in just two years? Paige knew the reason, of course, and had spent this entire ordeal trying to ignore the similarities between her situation and Alicia's. Of course, her and her sister's deal hadn't resulted in their lives being threatened, but the idea was the same. Their freedom had been taken away, and they only had themselves to blame.
Helpless, and even more alone than ever, Paige Matthews soaked in the sun as best she could, before returning to the bleak apartment behind her.
Due to her rushing for the balcony, she hadn't noticed anything on the wall on the side she came in, and as Paige re-entered the apartment, she was transfixed by the massive canvas that she found there. In her defence, it easily blended into the room's overall colour scheme, making it hard to notice. It was a violent mixture of reds, yellows, oranges, and black, all twisting and coiling around one another into one frightful display of dread and anger, but it didn't seem to be finished. On the corner, there was just the tiniest area of blank canvas.
"Take three guesses what that is." Alicia said as she came out of her bedroom, dressed considerably more casually, but still smart.
"Hell." Paige stated meekly. It wasn't even a question; she knew what it was.
"My interpretation of it, at least." The blonde replied, gazing at her painting, "I guess I'll be lucky if I get off that easily."
Paige could only remain silent. She liked talking about art over a nice glass of non-alcoholic red wine; not over the clock hanging over someone's life that was now ticking louder than ever.
"Why did you do it?"
"Why does anyone do anything mind-blowingly stupid?"
Again, she answered with a statement, not a guess. "Love."
"You know how the gallery is known as the Taylor & Thomson Gallery?" She didn't wait for confirmation. "Well, only one person in that title truly deserves to be there. Albert Thomson was just the funding we needed to get the place off the ground, but he wanted his name on everything, and apparently 'James' just screwed with the perfect alliteration…" Alicia spoke bitterly, looking down at her hands, "Taylor… Addison and I, we meet in college. You know how it is with art students at that age: we're all so arrogant and idealistic, thinking we can change the world with our paintbrush and make a living off it. But Addison was one of those people who held on to that. He got older and his arrogance became well earned confidence, but he never stopped painting… He was a very passionate, charismatic person. We were very happy together."
"You're speaking like he's…"
"Oh, he's not dead. He even still paints and sends some of his work to me…" She smiled at the memory, "I put it up under the pretty weak pseudonym of Taylor Addison. No one really knows his first time, so I get away with it."
Paige was slightly stunned. She was aware of the traffic of every single piece that went in and out of the gallery, and this had completely gone past her? While she assumed that Alicia had probably dealt with the transaction personally instead of giving it to her, she was still ashamed for not knowing the full names of people that were emblazoned on the front of the gallery, just below her office. Names she saw everyday. She should have asked more questions.
"Anyway… We were in our mid-twenties, talking about opening a gallery together, getting the funding, finding the perfect place…"
Paige helped her in her hesitance, "Then?"
"Then… we were robbed one night. Two artists can't really afford a place in the good part of Manhattan or a decent lock on the door… Addison kept white spirit for cleaning because paint always got everywhere, no matter how careful we were… They held him down and poured practically the entire bottle in his face, would have set him on fire if I hadn't walked in and startled them." Her hands were shaking, "All for a twenty and a ten year old television…"
"His skin was red and a little itchy for a few weeks, but his eyes…" Alicia didn't notice that Paige, too, began to shake at this, already anticipating what was coming, "He lost his sight and after that, he was never the same. Taking away a painter's eyes is like taking away his life. There was nothing left after that."
"So one night in a bar, Lucian comes up to me and says I can fix everything and I won't need to worry about it for thirteen years." It seemed that Alicia had regained her composure once again, staring fiercely at the painting and speaking matter-of-factly, "And of course, what happens to all relationships built on passion happened shortly after the gallery opened, and I haven't seen him in eleven years." She reached out, stroking the bump of the paint on the canvas, "I never told him, even when I was furious at him. I wasn't about to take his miraculous recovery away from him."
I guess miracles do happen, Paige thought, you just go to Hell for them.
Instead of voicing this, she pointed to the spec of white she had noticed before, "I… hate to point this out, but you missed a spot."
Alicia looked down to where she was indicating, and grinned a little too desperately in response, "No, I didn't. That tiny bit of light… Well, it's meant to be hope. Kind of ironic now though…"
They shared a tense moment of silence in which the seagulls cawed, the ocean moved, and that clock Paige had been hearing all day was ticking louder than ever.
"…There's nothing you for me, is there?"
The blonde sighed, finally sounding defeated, "I figured that out last night when you left me on the porch. You wouldn't have been so crushed if it something you had known how to fix. It's okay; I knew it was a long shot."
"I'm sorry." Paige offered sincerely.
"Don't be." Alicia replied with a fragile smile, looking away from picture and looking out into the light of day on the balcony. "Everybody's journey has to end at some point, right?"
It was like a storm in Paige's brain had just reached its crescendo and everything that had been swarming in her head all day finally locked into the place. Her head shot up, her eyes widened in shock and she turned to Alicia, her face more alive with energy than it had been through this entire situation. With a smile, she grabbed her boss by both arms and smiled.
"Stay here! Don't move! I'll come back, I promise!"
And with that, she vanished in light as bright as the day outside.
This had to work. It just had to.
The last time Paige had stood up here, she hadn't felt nearly as alone. She had been with her sisters and, dressed in cloaks and conical hats, had had witchcraft in its entirety sitting on their shoulders. That had been the beginning of the end, it seemed. Their last great deed, their last adventure. It was the last time they would ever fight. So, joining hands around the biggest cauldron they had ever used, they chanted the first spell to finally finish everything.
This wasn't as grand. The attic lacked a lot of magical supplies these days, so she had been lucky to find things to even write a spell with. A crumpled piece of paper flapped about in her hand, a makeshift spell scribbled onto it with plenty of words scored out and replaced, and then scored out again. She had spent the better part of the afternoon on it, having more of a way with paint rather than with words. Her sisters couldn't be involved in this, the witchlighter had decided. This was something that had to happen without them.
The majesty of San Francisco had not changed in the slightest from the last time. Blazing gorgeously in the late afternoon sun, every building seemed to glow with so much life and happiness. The only thing could hear this far up was the wind; the din of the traffic dying many feet below her. Paige could see the Alicia's apartment block, where she had looked up to this very place a few hours ago. It seemed so small now, especially compared to the size of the breakthrough she had had inside it.
"Got a plan, have you?"
She jumped, nearly dropping her spell. Lucian made slow, deliberate steps across the top beam of the bridge, sauntering towards Paige at a lethargic pace as he gazed into her eyes. It was as if he was only making eye-contact purely by coincidence, looking right through her at the same time.
"I guess time will tell." Paige answered frostily, "I can still to fix this."
The demon snorted with a soft laugh, shaking his head, "There was no time left even before you got involved. You know that." His time, the eye contact was intentional. Even the bright afternoon sunlight couldn't illuminate his seemingly dark features. He looked more deadly than ever.
She turned away from him and held up the spell, ready to chant. Then she felt his voice in her ear again, whispering.
"I wonder…" Lucian murmured, making her blood run cold, "If in thirteen years from you beloved's little accident, your sisters will be trying to get you out of a similar bind." He run a hand down her arm, his fingers ghosting her skin, "Don't all the questions just kill you? When does it happen? How does it happen? How is possible when he's surrounded by so much power? You're a Charmed One, not to mention half whitelighter. How is it not just as simple as you healing him? And of course, the biggest one: how far would you go to stop it from happening?"
Paige growled, "I'm not like Alicia…"
"You're exactly like Alicia." Lucian snarled back, circling her so he was looking at her face, "You try and hide everything under a cool exterior, but in the end, you love fiercer than most and that is your downfall. Hell, here you are, trying to find a solution where there is none. And this for someone you only like. What if it is was someone you loved more than anything? Someone who was worth eternity?"
The witchlighter looked down to the spell in her hand, grateful for the wind that blew her hair into her face and disguised her increasingly glassy eyes. She wordlessly raised the piece of paper to a level she could read from it and took a step back, "To remove the shackles of the words, to right the wrongs that have occurred, this final plea I shall send, to take me now to Journey's End…"
She wasn't swept up in the regular fanfare of lights. Instead, the wind picked up around her, and she was gone, the spell in her hand flying off into the sky.
As he paced the living room, Aidan tried to figure out where the ticking noise was coming from. Per Paige's request when they had first moved into this house, all the clocks were to either be silent or digital. Her reasoning behind this was the grandfather clock in the Manor had given her many a sleepless night with its "unnaturally loud" ticking and "deafening" chimes at each hour. Due to Piper and Phoebe being raised with it, they didn't even acknowledge it, but Paige had apparently secretly relished every time it was destroyed in battle.
With that, it was a true mystery as to where the ticking was coming from. Although at this point, Aidan wouldn't be surprised if it was merely in his head. He had been checking his watch meticulously all day. There was just barely an hour left, and he had not seen his wife since the end of the afternoon. What was happening?
His train of thought was interrupted by a loud and frantic knocking at the door. Aware of his children sleeping, Aidan made for the door quickly, internally groaning when he saw who it was.
"Where is Paige?" Alicia asked quickly, charging into the house before the door was even fully open.
"I don't know." He replied through gritted teeth, "Keep your voice down, the kids are sleeping."
The blonde looked at him as if she was insane, "I have less than an hour left before I go to Hell in a hand basket, and when your wife left me, she was acting as if she had just found my salvation, so her location would be really useful right now. I've tried calling her, but now I'm at my wit's and life's end, so where is she?"
"I don't know." Aidan repeated slowly, closing the front with a little more force than he should have and crossed the foyer to the living room, brushing past Alicia as he did so. "You know, if you were so concerned about self-preservation, maybe you shouldn't have sold your soul to a demon in the first place. Ever think of that?"
Alicia spun on him, taking in the sight of the elemental cocking his eyebrow and his hands on his hips, and was instantly enraged, "What the hell do you even know about this? It's awful easy for you to stand there and assume that what I traded everything for wasn't worth it, but you will never know. And you know what? I actually hope you never have to."
Aidan could only give her a condescending smile, "Well, I'm sure all the money was worth it. Or maybe it was a little more subversive than you just getting boat loads of money all of a sudden. Maybe you were given a talent to earn that kind of cash. But why should I even care? All you've done since I ever met you is treated me like crap and my wife like a dog!"
"You think I sold my soul in exchange for my ability to paint?" Alicia spat, her eyes bulging in anger, "How dare…" She stalled on the edge of another slur, frozen in the moment before letting a small chuckle escape from her lips. Her posture relaxed and she just shook her head, grinning. "You know, I could really get into this with you, but there's no point. For the record, I think the world of Paige. That'll come clear sooner rather than later."
"Nice to know. Are you quite finished?"
She looked at him blankly in shock, "You're unbelievable." The gallery owner spat, giving him the most contemptuous glare she could muster, "You know, Aidan, things could have worked out so differently, because you're a nice guy, I know that. We could have gotten along and you might actually care that an innocent soul is about to go to Hell. It's just too bad that I hated you before I even met you."
"It's like I told Paige last night: magic is one the biggest enablers for human selfishness. Now, I made a deal for something I wanted and couldn't live without, and I paid the price. Countless others have the same, but you…" She made her away towards him slowly, continuing to glare, "You got something far greater than anything anyone has ever traded their eternal soul for, and you had to give nothing." She sneered.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Aidan growled, folding his arms and looking down at her, matching her glare.
"I can understand why you did it. It's pretty much what I did; only you still get to have everything. I mean, you had already brought a handful of people back to life in the initial power trip of becoming the spirit elemental. What was three more?" She smirked, "Especially when one of them is your wife."
Aidan's face paled, "What…?"
"What's the story that goes around the magical community again?" Alicia frowned, feigning thought as she paced the room, "Oh, yeah! You were the first one to find the Charmed Ones after their battle with the Hollow. They were on the brink of the death, and if anyone but you had found them, with your super healing powers, they wouldn't be alive right now."
"Now, parts of that story are true, like they would have been dead if you hadn't showed up, but the rest I'm a little unclear on. Would you have done it if you hadn't been alone? How did it feel to find your wife's bruised and battered corpse on the banks of the Bay?"
"No, seriously! I mean, seeing Paige and her sisters just lying there dead-,"
"I said shut up!"
"No, you shut up!" Alicia suddenly bellowed, getting so close to his face that she could now see the wild rage blazing in his usually serene green eyes, "You changed what was meant to be because you didn't like it, just like everyone else who's even been in my position! If things were fair, you'd have just as much time left as I did, and I'd drag you right down with me come midnight if I had my way…"
Aidan's features were ashen; his knuckles write from curling his fingers into tight fists and with the only source of light in the room being a small lamp at the side of the sofa, shadows were cast on his face that made look even more desolate. Alicia took a few steps back, looking at the broken man in disgust as she reached behind her back and underneath her jacket.
"You brought them back to life… It's only fair you should pay just as much as I'm about to."
Before he could even react to Alicia suddenly charging at him, the elemental felt a blinding pain in his stomach that he had felt one too many times before. His breath hitched in his throat, and he looked down to see the navy of his shirt become even darker as it absorbed the blood pouring from his gut.
"Tell Paige that I'm sorry."
With that, she wrenched the knife out of his stomach and dropped it to the floor, allowing Aidan to collapse against the mantelpiece. His blood-stained hands slipped on the smooth surface and he was sent crashing to the floor just before he blacked out entirely.
She had no idea how long it had taken to get here. The spell had not been the smoothest journey.
It seemed a lot quieter to Paige than when she was last here. Journey's End had been silent before, but there was always the menacing hum of the epic amount of magic that settled here. But all of that was gone now, free to die and move on. The song had ended years ago.
She came out at the mouth of the forest to where they had received their final motivation to fight the Hollow. It had been a lot easier to navigate this time on account of all the trees now being barren and grey, and somehow smaller, therefore easier to see through. Any branch that Paige had accidentally brushed by had simply crumbled into dust like the ancient bones of a rotting corpse.
The beauty and majesty of the place, however, had not faded in the least. The sky was still caught between night and day; a beautiful canvas of pastel pinks and light oranges on the horizon that slowly faded into a midnight blue the higher you went, spanning the entire sky and only broken up by the never-ending expanse of glittering stars. It was the most the beautiful place in the world. It would be perfect for a soul to spend eternity here.
The plateaus and the mountain at their epicentre no longer glowed with the energy of thousands of souls, only barely glistening in the preternatural light that shone on them from above. The bodies that had all been partially consumed in stone for the purpose of the binding spell had now completely yielded to the transformation. The majority of them were not even recognisable as beings anymore. Their souls departed, their bodies were now just as much rock as what surrounded them. Perhaps that was why it was so quiet.
"I know you're here." Paige called out calmly into the silence, "There's nowhere else you could go."
As if rising to the command, the area in front of her began to gently glow with a pale blue light as a column of mist twisting on the spot began to arise. It seemed to twirl itself to a climax before dissipating with a sigh, revealing Katrina, bathed in a soft aquamarine light and entirely incorporeal with her dark red hair gently whipping around her face.
"Hello again, Paige."
"Nice to see you." Was the witchlighter's response, "I guess you already know why I'm here."
The former higher being nodded, "Your friend who made the deal. I have to admit, your plan is pretty ingenious."
Paige's eyes widened, "You know my plan?"
Katrina smirked, "Paige, you've come to a place that held thousands of souls for three and a half millennia just when you've got an innocent who's about to lose her soul. It's not too hard to figure out what you're planning. Even if it asking you to compromise on your morals slightly."
"It's not the best solution, I'll admit." She shrugged, looking crestfallen, "But taking her soul from her body and putting it here is the only way to save it from the demon. The magic for doing that is already here within the very air. And it doesn't need to end with her living out eternity in stone. With my sisters, we could cast a spell and make her believe she's living out an entire existence. She'll still have her mind, so we can just create a whole world with her completely unaware it isn't real. She can dream until all this rock turns to dust…" Paige laid her hand on the plateau nearest to her, running her fingers down it tenderly as the excitement faded from her voice, "I know she'll still die… but it's better than Hell, right?"
"It's an excellent alternative." Katrina said sincerely, her expression turning regretful, "…And if you were dealing with any other kind of demon, I would give my full consent, but I think you really need to figure who you're dealing with first."
"What's there to think about? He's a bottom feeder casting low level spells, disguising them as miracles just so he can get a few more souls to where they shouldn't belong. Good souls are prizes to evil, trust me. I've been in this situation before."
"That may be how Lucian appears, but there's so much more to him than meets the eye, and you know it." The ghost replied fiercely, frowning at Paige's stubbornness, "Demons who make deals instantly kill their victim the moment the due date comes; this one not only didn't kill Alicia instantly, but it's given you an extra day to come up with a solution. Why? Out of the goodness of his soul?"
"I… I don't know."
"And not to mention the conditions of the deal. The last time you dealt with Faustian deals, the price was an eternity of servitude to demons, not getting sent straight to Hell. Paige, no demon has ever and will never have the power to damn a human soul. It's all part of freewill. In fact, it's the ultimate example of freewill! We make choices in life, and those reflect what happens to us beyond that life. Magic cannot interfere with this balance. So why does it seem you're now tangled with a demon who can?"
Paige could only blink in response. You should really ask more questions…
"Look… I don't have time for this cryptic crap, alright? If I'm able to get to… Am I allowed to bring Alicia's soul here to save her?"
Katrina gave her a withering look, "Yes, but-,"
"That's all I need to know."
"That's all I need to know!"
Katrina's frown of frustration was suddenly replaced by her features going blank. She looked past Paige and stared into nothing, her face looking more and more horrified with each passing second. She gasped, and her mouth fell open slightly, before she returned her gaze to the witchlighter with her breath heavy in her speech.
"You need to go home. Now." She ordered breathlessly.
Paige stumbled from the force in which she suddenly found herself standing in the foyer of her house, nearly losing her footing just as she grabbed onto the table at the side of the door for support. She breathed heavily, feeling as if she was going to need to wait a few seconds to let the rest of her organs catch up. It seemed that any kind of transport to and from Journey's End was bumpy. She did not even know how she ended up here, or why it was suddenly night. It had been day when she left.
"Aidan!" She called out as she strode into the living room, looking around, "Where are…"
At first, it seemed like her husband was just lying down in front of the mantelpiece. That was until she noticed that the carpet beneath was soaked in blood.
Not even caring as her knees landed in the damp pool of crimson, Paige pulled at Aidan's shoulder and turned him over onto her lap, her eyes darting across his body for any sign of the injury against the dark shirt and the poor light. She found it, after what seemed like an age, and poured everything she had into healing the mortal wound inflicted upon her husband. The entire room lit up from the golden light flying from her hands, and it wasn't until she felt his breath quicken in his chest against her legs did she begin to relax slightly.
The light from her hands stopped, and they were left in the poor glow of the tiny lamp once again. Paige jumped as Aidan took a large intake of air and his eyes snapped open, jerking to life in her arms. If anyone but her had found him, without her powers and her love, he would have been dead right now.
"Oh, thank God!" She breathed, cradling his head and kissing his hair delicately, "Who did this to you? Are the kids alright?"
"They're fine, don't worry. She wasn't after them." Aidan replied quietly, struggling to sit up on his own as Paige followed his movements. "Alicia… She came here, clearly at the end of her rope and she-,"
"Stabbed you? Why?"
If the youngest Charmed One had been in a calmer state, she would have seen her husband hesitate before answering, "You should ask her…"
"Don't worry," Paige growled stonily, standing up, "I plan to."
"Paige, wait…" The elemental protested, still not having enough strength to get up off the floor. "You need to listen to what she has to say. Don't fly off the handle at her."
"You're kidding me, right? You detest the woman, she tries to kill you, and want me to hear her out?"
"When she attacked me, she told me to tell you that she was sorry." Aidan said, grabbing onto the arm of the sofa next to him and pulling himself up onto his feet. He was not keen on continuing to sit in a pool of his own blood. "Why would she do that if she didn't think you wouldn't find me in time to save me?"
"…I don't know, but let's go and finally get some answers."
The idealistic part of Alicia James had always hoped that she would die with a paintbrush in her hand. The realistic part of her knew she would probably die with a pen in her hand, slumped on her desk at the gallery with ink on her cheek, her face having landed in whatever she was writing before she perished. It was a bittersweet moment as she dipped the brush into the small offering of black paint on her pallet and made one small stroke across the canvas in the lower left corner, blanketing the only bare part of the painting. She was getting to die the way she wanted, but the brush in her hand had also extinguished her hope.
Lucian appeared from the bleak emptiness of her dark apartment, sitting down on the arm of her red leather couch and watching intently as she moved the brush back and forth over the same spot on the canvas.
"Going after the spirit elemental was an interesting move. Didn't do anything for your case, unfortunately. If you had managed to kill the Charmed One, you'd be a free woman right now. Not to mention you didn't even kill him anyway."
"Wasn't trying to." Alicia replied robotically, giving her final masterpiece a stormy glare before continuing to paint, picking up a different brush and dipping it into the dimple that held a lush crimson colour, gently mixing it with a pale orange before applying it to the painting slowly.
"Then what were you trying to do?" The demon inquired, giving the back of her head a quizzical stare, "You seemed to be rather receptive to my offer last night in the garden. What happened?" His eyes widened, along with his grin as his fingers danced along the sofa, "Oh, now I get it…" He chuckled, "You weren't going to even try and kill her, were you? Not her husband either. It was too close to midnight, you knew she would there be in time to save him."
She dropped the brush and the small plastic tray to the marble floor with a clatter, heaving a great sigh as she turned around. "Let's just get this over with."
Lucian bowed his head slightly, still maintaining a fierce glower as he glared at the woman across from him. "You don't want to see her… because she'll hate you for what you've done to her husband. I guess that's why you did it. Do you feel like you deserve your fate now? I mean, you just tried to kill the lover of the only person left who actually gave a damn about you. And for no reason too! That's pretty evil… more than enough to land you in the bad place."
"Enough of this-,"
"No." He cut her off firmly, moving so fast to stand beside her that she wasn't even aware he was at her side until he began to speak, "That's why you did it, isn't it? So that, in your head, you'll deserve what's about to happen to you. And not only that, you made sure you're not leaving behind anyone to grieve for you. That ship sailed when you shoved a knife into the elemental's gut… Paige will never forgive you now."
"Oh, please." She rolled her eyes, "Just send me to Hell already. It can't be any worse than you trying to psychoanalyse me."
"You'd be surprised."
At that moment, the room was lit up by a cloud of orbs coalescing behind the other sofa, gradually getting bigger and brighter as it heralded the arrival of two people. "This should be interesting…" Lucian murmured, suddenly grabbing Alicia by the arm and bringing her closer to him as Paige and Aidan materialised into the room. "So glad you could make it, you're just in time."
"Alicia, you need to come with us now." Paige breathed urgently, giving a hesitant look to the demon, "I figured out a way to save you, but we don't have a lot of time."
"You don't have any time." Lucian corrected, tightening his grip on his victim, "Alicia sold her soul in exchange for her lover's sight. I healed his injuries and gave him back his eyes. How is it not fair that I now get what she promised?"
"Because you can't." The witchlighter stated simply, "Demons don't have the power to take a soul to Hell. You can claim ownership of a soul, even keep it around as some pathetic servant until the end of time, but you can't make a judgment that isn't yours to make in the first place." Paige then gave an apologetic glance to Alicia, "I knew this all along, but I was just so focused on saving you that I wasn't really thinking about what was meant to happen if I didn't. I'm sorry."
Alicia turned to Lucian with frantic eyes, instantly shaking out of grasp as her jaw fell open, "W-what?"
"Don't get too excited." He growled, snatching her back with a rough tug, "You're right; demons don't have any power over the ultimate fate of a human soul. It's just unfortunate for Alicia that she didn't make a deal with one in the first place."
"If you're not a demon…" Paige began, giving her enemy a toothy grin, "That means I can do this!"
She swung her arm out and flicked her wrist at the demon, clearly expecting some kind of telekinetic assault to befall him. Her bravado flickered, and she tried the same gesture again, getting the exact same result. Lucian rolled his eyes and mirrored her gesture, suddenly sweeping Paige up into the air and sending her crashing into one of the many mirrors in the room. The witchlighter tumbled to the hard marble floor, reflective shards raining down on her from the now-empty golden frame still hanging on the wall.
"Paige!" Alicia screamed, breaking free from Lucian's grip once again to rush over to her downed friend. She practically skidded on the smooth surface of the floor, stopping right next to the witchlighter tried to help her up.
"I'm beyond your powers." Lucian apathetically informed them.
If he had anything else to say, he did not get the chance. A massive pulse of white light tore from Aidan's hands, illuminating the room as if the sun itself was shining in the centre of it. The loud hum of energy caused everything to shake under its vibration, and as Alicia helped Paige to her feet, she could have sworn she could see angel wings coming out of Aidan's back, only properly visible when the light was at its brightest. Lucian was lost within the harsh light. Had he been defeated?
The light vanished suddenly and Paige's sight was treated to a variety of flashes as it adjusted to the darkness once again. Her heart sank when, after a few seconds, she was able to see Lucian still standing on the spot he had been in before Aidan's attack. Unflinching, unmoved, and undamaged, his expression towards the elemental was like thunder.
"Yours too, I'm afraid."
With the same gesture he had directed at Paige, he sent Aidan sailing straight through one of the French windows that led out onto the balcony. There was an ungodly smash followed by the gentle twinkling of glass before the sick thud of him falling onto the stone outside, bleeding badly from several welts all over his body. "Aidan!" Paige rushed to his side, instantly holding her hands over him and beginning the healing process.
Alicia stayed rooted in the wreckage of the mirror, looking to the injured couple with tears in her eyes. Paige was covered in small cuts from head to toe and bleeding heavily from her right temple where she had made the initial collision with the mirror. Aidan was just as bad, if not worse; covered in similar injuries to his wife. The gallery owner could only look in horror as Paige was forced to pull a shard of glass from his side – his second stab wound of the night – and quickly heal it before too much blood escaped onto the grey stone of her balcony.
"I'll kill them if they get up again." Lucian threatened darkly, looking nonplussed at the state he had put both magical beings into. You never would have known he had been in any kind of fight; standing with his arms folded and his expression calm.
"Then just stop and do it already!"
After the healing was completed Aidan remained unconscious, but Paige's attention was drawn by the unbelievable wall of heat coming from behind her. She turned around, finding her worst fears coming to fruition.
Alicia had been consumed in a scorching pillar of white-hot fire. Just like the night before, she seemed physically unharmed, but the pain and terror in her face were evident. She turned to Paige, her face almost lost in the intensity of the flames. She said something that was consumed by the roar of the fire, but Paige could easily see what she was trying to get across.
The flames vanished, and her body fell to the floor silently, as if she had no weight anymore. Paige did not even bother going to look for a pulse. She knew it was over.
Lucian arched one of his eyebrows, "I'm sorry?"
"Why…why did you do this?" Paige breathed, indignant tears starting to flow from her eyes. She looked and, for the first time, glared at Lucian fearlessly. "Why did you even bother doing any of this? Why give her one more day? Why give her that hope? Why give me that hope? What did you gain from letting us run into dead ends all day? Why? What did you gain from any of this?!"
"Nothing." Lucian replied monotonously, staring back at the youngest Charmed One with a similar ferocity.
"I… had hoped that out of desperation to save an innocent, you would end up trying to strike a deal yourself." He said, the sick glee dripping off every word, "Your soul is much more valuable to me than hers. But as it turns out, I overestimated your frustration at not being able to save an innocent, and I underestimated Alicia's ability to accept her fate. Of course, if I wasn't restricted by the powers of this demon I'm possessing, that wouldn't have happened, but it doesn't matter. I think your husband's impending condition may just bring you to me yet."
"Never." Paige spat back, although her voice betrayed her apparent conviction.
She looked at him through the eyes of a broken woman; only able to slowly shake her head and look at this creature with a mystified gaze, "What are you?"
"You really want to know?" He held his arms out to the sides as he were about to crucified. "Have a look. A real look."
With blood oozing from her head, it took Paige a few seconds to realise what he meant. Complying with his request, her eyes began to glow with a pale white-gold light, and she saw what he was.
His presence seemed to fill the entire room; if it were fire, she would be consumed instantly. Instead, it was a mass of black fog, tendrils coiling out from the main body and lapping hungrily at their surroundings, particularly Paige and her unconscious husband on the floor next to her; coiling around the both of them but never properly making contact. It didn't just seem to fill the room either. She looked to the direction of the balcony, and everything outside was blanketed in it as well. Her headache was getting worse. Whether it was down to what she was seeing or her injury, she didn't know.
Focusing on her target, a canal of clear space opened so she could see Lucian. She was shocked to find at the centre of such a dark and expansive aura, that he looked exactly the same as he did when she wasn't using her multi-dimensional sight. He grinned, as if he knew she had found him, and it was then he seemed to shed the demon he had possessed, and she could see his true form.
The only thing that seemed to remain from the demon were the black eyes. Everything else fell away, consumed by the dark cloud of poison that this being excreted without intention. She would always remember the all-consuming feelings of dread and hopelessness as the black eyes rose upwards, something dark and hot building around them. At first, Paige was curious about this new development, but when it became clear the being was not going to stop growing, she became terrified.
And all of a sudden, the darkness and the heat were everywhere. Paige could feel it burning through her veins, scorching her throat, and consuming her very soul. It felt as if her body was about to explode from the evil now coursing through it. The heat was getting stronger, the darkness getting stronger. There was a roar, followed by a familiar scream, before the two noises became one tireless entity shredding her mind to pieces. Evil seemed to pulse all around her, crushing every good feeling she had ever had and leaving nothing but despair and doom in its wake. It was the most horrible, frightening thing the youngest Charmed One had ever and would ever experience as long as she lived.
This would be the last thing she remembered when she woke up on the apartment floor in her husband's arms, lying next to the innocent she had failed to save.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the children had not fought in days and were happily playing with each other, and her yard had never looked more beautiful. It was truly a perfect summer's day, but still Paige Matthews felt hollow as she watched this idyllic scene play out in front of her.
When Aidan had healed her after everything, she had made him heal her only up to the point where the vicious gash on her head became a dark, purple bruise on her temple. She wanted to keep it as a reminder of how she had failed – punishment for her sins – for as long as possible. She did not even have the energy to cast a spell to clean up the mess their battle with Lucian had made of the apartment, and when she had returned the next day with slightly more strength, everything had already been done for her. All evidence of a fight was gone, but Alicia's body still remained. Paige reported her missing a couple of days after that, and the police found her dead on the floor of her apartment, cause of death unknown.
Her sisters were coming over in an hour to find out what had happened, and she still had not changed out of her pajamas. Aidan had told Piper what happened when she called to see if Paige had been watering her plants while she was away, and Phoebe had insisted she would come too when Piper decided to cut her trip short. She already knew what they would say to her.
"Why didn't you call us?"
"We could have helped you!"
"You didn't need to do this alone!"
Paige closed her eyes, fighting back tears as she hugged one of her knees on the wicker seat she sat in. opening her eyes to see Melinda and Emma both staring at her curiously. Daniel, who mimicked everything his sisters did at this age, also looked towards her from the blanket he was sitting on. She gave them the broadest smile she could, and they went back to playing in harmony in the sun. They were not fooled by her in the slightest, and she knew that, but she also knew that they had no idea how to stop their mother from crying.
Aidan came out of the house and joined her at the table on the decking, sitting in the wicker seat across from her. He gave the children the exact same false smile his wife had offered them seconds ago before letting out a sigh in an attempt to fill the unbearable silence that plagued their time together ever since Alicia's death.
"Aren't you going to get dressed? Your sisters will be here soon."
"You shouldn't have told them." Paige said gruffly in response.
"What did you want me to do?" Was his frustrated reply, "Piper would have figured out something was wrong just from the fact you're borderline catatonic. Paige, we need to talk about happened."
"No, we don't."
"Yes, we do." Aidan stated firmly, "You've got some seriously twisted ideas about everything that happened and it's clouding your perspective about the whole thing. You see what happened to Alicia as your fault because you refuse to accept the fact it wasn't even in your control to begin with. You got the only possible outcome, and because you can't see that it was never in your hands, you can't let go of the utter uselessness that you're feeling. How am I doing so far?"
She was surprised by just how accurate he was, "Pretty good…"
"You wanna know how I'm able to just rhyme this off? Because you've been acting like this for months. You're independent to a fault, honey, you always have been. You like being independent because it gives you control over your life, and it's no secret that over the past two years, the control's kind of slipped out of your hands. Things are becoming more uncertain. Magic was one of the main things that gave you control, and that's kind of left your life all but entirely. You manage to keep a leash on your emotions though…"
He murmured sadly, looking down at his clasped hands, "I had to figure all this out for myself because you don't seem to talk to me these days. You shut me out every time you're in a mood, you shut me out when I tried to help you with Alicia, and you're shutting me out now… I just don't think you've adjusted to the deal you made with the demons at all; and any adjustments you had made were destroyed when you had an innocent to save once again."
Paige was shocked at his understanding of the feelings that had been tearing her up inside for months. And as he sat on the other side of the table, she realised that he was desperately reaching out to her, starving to feel some kind of connection with her again. All this time, and she had never noticed that her husband was aching inside just as much as she was. Just how "independent" had she been to miss this?
"You're right…" Paige whispered, reaching over the table and grabbing his hand, wishing she could never go. "I just feel like I can't do anything anymore. Alicia was able to trick me into saving her, you knew she wasn't telling the complete truth, Katrina was clued in as usual, and Lucian… he seemed to know everything. And I, the Charmed One, supposedly the strongest out of all us, knew nothing. I was desperate to prove that I could do at least one thing, so I jumped into trying to break the deal despite knowing I probably never could. It's just…" She turned to look at her children, a small smile beginning to appear on her lips, "Life is surprising me more and more lately, and I'm kind of hating that. I mean, take Lucian, for instance."
"Maybe we're better off not knowing what he was." Aidan replied sagely.
Paige tightened the grip she had on his hand and just smiled reassuringly. From the moment she had woken up in Aidan's lap on the floor of Alicia's apartment, she had known what Lucian was. Whether it was out of an urge to protect her family, or purely a desire to deny his existence, she would never share what their enemy had turned out to be. Part of her wished she could still live in ignorance of the truth, but she had asked the question and she got the answer. She just never could have ever guessed what it was.
"I'm sorry if you've felt shut out, and I'll try and do better." The youngest Charmed One promised, giving her husband's hand a squeeze, "Just… give me time, alright? I love you so much and I would do anything to-,"
"I know," Aidan cut her off, reaching over the table to gently cup her cheek with his free hand, "Me too."
They sat in the sunlight and watched their children play, the brightness of day banishing the dark thoughts of death and deals and devils. Not forever, but for now would be just fine.
I hope you enjoyed that! Be on the lookout for Phoebe's one-shot, "Have You Passed Through This Night?"