Control: A Paige From the Past
I try to believe," she said, "that God doesn't give you more than one little piece of the story at once. You know, the story of your life. Otherwise your heart would crack wider than you could handle. He only cracks it enough so you can still walk, like someone wearing a cast. But you've still got a crack running up your side, big enough for a sapling to grow out of. Only no one sees it. Nobody sees it. Everybody thinks you're one whole piece, and so they treat you maybe not so gentle as they would if they could see that crack.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells
"You don't know what you're doing."
"Yes, I do… watch out!"
The truck comes out of nowhere, and before she knows it, she has reappeared outside of the vehicle.
It takes her a moment to process what has happened, but when it finally sinks in, Paige screams, because there are no words to adequately express the pain which is killing her from the inside. She tries to rush forward, but a pair of arms, stronger than she would have thought, hold her back. Regardless of how hard she struggles, she can go no further than Leo allows her.
"Let go of me! I have to save them!"
She hadn't thought the pain inside her could be any more excruciating, but with Leo's words, Paige learns that the internal degree of pain her body can withstand is infinite. She is going to continue burning alive forever.
"Why did you bring me back here?" She rages, "Why?"
"You were never meant to save them." Leo whispers in her ear. And this only renews her vigour, because he doesn't know what he's talking about. She thrashes violently, and screams again in frustration when she can't manoeuvre herself out of his grasp. Since when was Leo so strong? He continues to speak to her, calmly, rationally, comfortingly, and she can't block out his voice any better than she can escape his grip on her waist.
"You were meant to survive. To help people. To make a difference not only in the magical world, but within a system that often leaves good kids to fend for themselves and ultimately fall through cracks. There are children who have been placed in the good homes they more than deserve due to your tenacity. Due to your passionate insistence that every child coming across your desk be placed in a home that is every bit as loving as the one you were raised in."
What was he even talking about? None of that mattered. Nothing mattered outside of the burning mass of distorted metal just metres away from her. She watches the way the thick plumes of smoke rise from the wreckage and blacken the sky, mocking her, teasing her mercilessly because she hasn't been able to help. She hasn't been able to save her parents, even after going back to live what has passed for the second time. Even when she knew, she KNEW, exactly what was going to happen.
To his credit, he doesn't make any further attempts at speech. He offers no words of comfort, he simply continues restraining her until she can fight him no longer, and cushions her fall as she crumples to the ground. Two bodies, collapsed in the middle of the road. Paige can't help but wish for just a second that the truck which ended her parents' lives would continue its path of destruction to where they are sitting; that it would finish the job it failed to complete eight years ago.
"I don't want this."
Her words are angry, because angry is exactly what she needs to be right now in order to survive this. For the second time.
"I don't want any of it anymore. Magic is cruel… these powers," she spits the word as if it is toxic, "are cruel. What is the point, if you can't even use it to save the people you love? What's the point?"
Leo's arms continue to circle her body, but he is no longer restraining her, he is the only thing keeping her from becoming a puddle of jelly on the street. Paige buries her face in his shoulder, and soon feels the damp cold of his shirt on her face as her tears saturate the fabric, but she is too distraught to be embarrassed.
She had believed she could change what happened, believed it could be kept within her control. Eight years of perfect emotional suppression brought to the surface in a moment because she couldn't pay enough attention to notice a truck.
"Not even magic is strong enough to cheat death when a person's time on earth is up. Magic saved the person who was destined to be saved that day; magic saved you."
And she can't help but wonder why. Why it is that she of all people was deemed worthy enough to be given another chance. As a child, it had been almost too easy for her to put all thoughts concerning her biological parents to the back of her mind; she had good parents, and she was a great person, so to hell with whatever family hadn't thought she was good enough to keep. Now, she can't bury her feelings of unworthiness; nothing remains of the only people who ever gave a damn about her when they didn't necessarily have to; the only people who chose to love her.
She doesn't look at the wreck again, she keeps her face turned in the opposite direction and shuts her eyelids tight, but she cannot filter out the smell of the burning tires, nor the heat from the blast that still reaches her skin. And it is while she is crying, breathing shallowly through her mouth in a vain effort to keep the horrible smell at bay, that she realizes she is poison; Sam and Patty must have seen this, so they gave her up, and the parents who raised her are dead because they couldn't. They loved her for who she was, for who they knew she was capable of being, and now she is stuck with a family who only loves her for what she can do. For the second time, the fiercely independent Paige Matthews loses herself to the intolerable feeling of being utterly alone.
"I have no one." She cries into Leo's shoulder, "They were all I ever had."
"You have your sisters."
Paige would have laughed if it didn't currently require so much effort just to breathe. She doesn't have sisters. Phoebe loves everyone who doesn't try to kill her… and some who do, from what Paige has gathered so far. Her affections hardly count as sisterly. And Piper is only now just beginning to consider her a friend, never mind a sister.
"They don't want me."
"Yes they do, Paige."
"They need me." Paige chokes out bitterly, "They don't want me."
Leo shakes his head, knowing that Paige could not be further from the truth, but he says nothing, because he knows his mouth is not the one from which she needs to hear the words. She is, at heart, a Halliwell; she carries the emotional damages of a Halliwell, and because of those damages, she has her own form of defense; Paige hides behind her sarcasm and an assumed air of indifference. She rejects people before they have a chance to reject her, and because of this, because of how negatively Piper can react to what she interprets as indifference, sometimes it is easy to forget that there is a more sensitive soul underneath.
"You have me." He insists firmly.
Paige pulls her face away from his shirt in order to look into his eyes, and the love and concern she sees there only makes her sob harder. He knows so little about her, and he genuinely cares. Even Piper, in her own way, recognizes her as family; and for that reason alone, Paige knows her sister would lay down her life for her. Piper aggressively protects her family, and even if the relationship between herself and Piper is tentative at best, she knows how deeply Piper is capable of loving. She knows there is no questioning the love Piper – a witch – has for her husband. A whitelighter.
And this, now, is why Paige cries. More than anything, Paige cries because as she takes in the heartfelt expression on Leo's face, she is overwhelmed with a simple truth; Piper and Leo embody what it means to fight for what matters. They fought to be a couple, they fought to get married, and she knows without a doubt that any child born of that love will be protected at a level that would make Piper, as she stands now, seem as threatening as a lamp shade. They would move mountains and raise hell on earth if that was what it took to keep their daughter; giving her up for her own safety would not be an option. They would find another way. They would do what Patty and Sam hadn't, because Patty and Sam hadn't cared enough to try.
"They were the only ones who ever wanted me, and I spat in their faces."
"You were just a kid, Paige. It wasn't your fault. None of this has ever been your fault."
She clings to his voice, memorizing his soft words so that she can repeat them to herself later. Because anger is no longer enough, and she needs to find some other way to stay afloat.
So she listens to his voice as she begins pulling the pieces that are Paige back together. Now his words no longer matter; it is his voice. It is the presence of another voice keeping her connected, reminding her that she is only as alone as she wants to be. Reminding her that alone is the way she chooses to be, because she will not feel responsible for any more tragedies, regardless of whether or not, at the end of the day, they are her fault.
The seconds tick by, and the oppressive fluid that has filled her body is replaced with bone and muscle. Seconds more, and her brain resumes its automatic signal firing; she no longer needs to put so much conscious effort into every blink and swallow. In a matter of minutes, the blazing inferno inside her soul has been forced to a dull ache. The same ache she has been living with for the past eight years. An ache she can control. She pulls away from Leo and stands confidently on her own two feet, ignoring the slight vertigo which threatens to overtake her, and smiles weakly as he hovers tentatively by her side.
Then she resigns herself to her survival, and locks what she cannot change back in the appropriate compartment. Until the next time.
"Well, we came, we crashed, we conquered." Her voice wobbles, much more than slightly, but Leo, bless his heart, pretends not to notice, "Let's get out of here."
Thanks for reading! I realize I screwed with the script a little on this one, but I was just going with what came to me. It's not meant to be a rewrite, I have no qualms with the original, I'm just pretending that everything following her, "Why did you bring me back here" line happened somewhere between her struggle against Leo and her collapse on the asphalt. I come in peace.