"Everything I am, and everything in me,
Wants to be the one you wanted me to be,
I'd never let you down, even if I could,
I'd give up everything,
If only for your good."
- 3 Doors Down, When I'm Gone
It took Phoebe a few seconds to clear her head, and the silence during that time was profound. Chris looked at her through guarded eyes, his entire face stiff with tension.
"How'd you get the spell to work?" she asked finally, her voice quiet.
If it was possible, his body seemed to tense even more. "We need to get back," he said, and she scowled at his avoidance. "I told Piper I was coming to get you, and she expected us more than twenty minutes ago. She'll be worried."
He grabbed her arm, but she yanked herself out of his reach. "Oh, no. You are not avoiding my questions again, not after this latest development. I wrote that spell, Chris, and I've used a variation of it before. I know how it works. And there's absolutely no way it would have vanquished that demon without two Halliwells reading it."
At her words, all color drained from Chris's face. He looked frightened and young and vulnerable. "Look, she's already calling for me, and I want to—"
"No!" Phoebe shouted, stepping more firmly out of his reach. "Explain. Now."
To her surprise, all the fight drained out of him. "I will," he promised, his voice scarcely more than a whisper. "I will, just please, can we go back and tell her what happened first? But you have to leave this part out of it." he added hurriedly, a panicked expression covering his face.
Phoebe felt torn. She wanted to rage and scream and demand that he tell her everything, but at the same time she felt a compulsive need to comply. He just looked so lost. "If I'm going to have to lie, there better be a good reason for it," she warned slowly, hating the idea.
He managed a smile, but it looked sad and small. "There is. I've been doing it enough to know."
She stayed quiet for a moment, studying him in a new way. He looked like them, she realized now. Not the spitting-image, but generally. The dark hair, the bright eyes, the high cheekbones and the classic good looks. And he had their stubbornness too, and their fierce determination. So whose son was he? Piper's? Paige's? Hers?
"Answer one question, right now," she said as he reached for her again. He halted, eyeing her warily. "What am I to you?" she asked bluntly.
He took a deep breath, his eyes sliding shut. After a few seconds, he opened them again. "You're my aunt."
Her breath released from her lungs as if she'd been punched, and she felt shell-shocked. "Then who's—?"
He shook his head and grabbed her arm, and after the fluttery, disconcerting feel of traveling by orbs, they were standing inside the attic again. Piper's worried face loomed in front of her as soon as Phoebe reappeared.
"Where have you been?" Piper asked immediately, concern coating her voice as her hands grappled at Phoebe's shoulders. "Are you alright?"
Phoebe tried to force herself out of her haze, but Chris's words kept repeating in her head. Her nephew. Chris, the pain-in-the-ass secretive Whitelighter was her nephew. How was she supposed to react to this? After all they'd done to him, after all the mistrust and blame….
"Phoebe?" Piper asked kindly, but worry made her voice sharp. She led Phoebe over to the couch, obviously believing that the fight with the demon had traumatized Phoebe in some way.
"She's fine," Chris said, grabbing Phoebe's other side. He used a little more force than Piper had, squeezing her upper arm. It took her a moment to realize he was giving her a signal.
"I'm fine," Phoebe blurted, and felt stronger after saying the words. She turned to Piper, realizing her sister's deep concern now. "Really, Piper, he barely did any damage at all."
Phoebe smiled encouragingly, but sat obediently on the couch while Piper fussed.
"Chris told me you called him, but he said he'd be back with you soon," said the eldest Charmed One, a frown marring the space between her eyebrows. "I was really getting worried when you didn't show up."
Phoebe grinned, feeling slightly guilty now. "Yeah, sorry about that. The demon used an innocent as bait to lure me into a trap, and I didn't want to let him get away with it."
"Wait, are you saying you vanquished him?" Piper asked, incredulity sharpening her frown into a scowl.
"We did," Phoebe said brightly, and Chris squeezed her arm again. She shook off his hand and looked at him, annoyed. He shot her a wide-eyed look and she realized her mistake. "Oh. I mean, I did."
"But how?" Piper asked, voice rising now as she worked out the details. "You couldn't have done it by yourself!"
Phoebe looked back at Chris, noting that he was pale and tense again. He shook his head infinitesimally, a plea in his eyes. "The spell ended up working with The Power of One," Phoebe said, pleased that it wasn't a complete lie. Out of the three Charmed Ones, she'd been the only one present. "Guess he wasn't as strong as we thought."
"But this is… this is great!" Piper said, turning ecstatic as the realization sunk in. "He was one of the biggest threats to Wyatt—aren't you happy about this, Chris?"
Piper focused on the Witchlighter, and he looked vaguely trapped by the sudden attention. "Uh, yeah. Great."
"I mean, I know that your mother was… hurt by Crusk, so—"
"My mother?" Chris interrupted sharply, looking alarmed and unnerved. Piper frowned in response, and Phoebe pursed her lips to keep from blurting out her newfound knowledge.
"Leo told us," Piper said gently, resting a light, comforting hand on his arm. "He told us that Crusk got you to go with him by threatening your mother. We figured she was the one he attacked in the future."
Chris stared at her silently, face blank and eyes shuttered, and Phoebe felt a mixture of foreign emotions blossom inside of her chest. Pain, happiness, panic, hope and love, each distinctive and sharp, and there were others she couldn't even name.
She looked back and forth between Chris and Piper, studying the way he seemed to lean into her touch even as he looked tempted to shake her hand away. A word skittered through her mind, and Phoebe had to clamp her jaw to keep from saying it out loud.
She bolted to her feet, catching both Piper and Chris by surprise. Piper looked at her again, eyes fretful. Phoebe caught her hands, smiling cheerfully. "No, it's okay, I'm totally fine. I just feel pumped, you know? One demon down, another to go! Whoo!" Her enthusiasm was false, but Piper seemed to buy it.
Phoebe turned to Chris. "I haven't gone through the books you've got yet, Chris. How about we orb to P3 and check them out together?"
She met his gaze significantly and he looked away. "Piper and I looked through every inch of them, Phoebe. I really doubt we'll find anything new."
She glared at him and crossed her arms over her chest. Her voice was harder when she said, "But I'd really like to look, Chris. I feel like doing something after what happened today. I just killed a pretty significant demon!"
Phoebe glanced at Piper, who was looking back and forth between them. Then Phoebe met Chris' gaze again, and she knew he took her comment for what it was: A threat.
"I just don't think it's necessary." Chris muttered, glaring darkly, and Phoebe turned sharply toward her sister.
"There's something I forgot to tell you," Phoebe said clearly. Chris stepped forward immediately.
"But it won't hurt to look again," he added quickly, latching onto her arm. "Come on."
Again the hazy, strange sensation of bursting into tiny blue particles, and after a few seconds she arrived in the presently empty and quiet P3. She stepped away from Chris and tilted a little on her feet. Her equilibrium was having a harder time adjusting after orbing so much.
"How can you stand traveling like this all the time?" She complained, clenching her eyes shut until her balance returned. Then she remembered her purpose whirled around to face him.
He looked as if he was a criminal about to face the firing squad. "Before you start, can you please just—"
"No!" She interrupted, taking a step toward him. "You're going to explain everything to me, right now. No games, no running away. Just the truth."
"But there are still things I can't tell you. Can you accept that?" Chris asked, sounding equal parts annoyed and earnest. When she stayed firmly silent, he added, "Please, Aunt Phoebe?"
And just like that, her fury was broken. It left her with an almost tangible force, and she could feel it slipping from her fingertips like water. She closed her eyes, the blood draining from her face as she staggered back into one of the chairs at the bar. God, her nephew. She wasn't even sure how to comprehend this. She wasn't sure how to see her annoying, futuristic Whitelighter as a member of the family. As Piper's son.
"Is it that bad?"
His voice was suddenly harsh, and her eyes snapped opened instinctively. His arms were crossed tightly, his entire stance severe. But it was his face that caught her the most; under the harshness there was that same touch of sadness and pain that she'd seen before.
"What?" She asked, confused by both his question and his violent pose.
"Is the idea of being related to me that bad? You look like you're about to faint," he repeated curtly, eyebrows sweeping into a brutal scowl.
"Huh?" She asked again, out of incredulity this time. She stood from her stool and walked toward him. "What are you talking about, Chris?"
He took a few steps away, matching the distance she'd crossed. She felt completely baffled by his behavior.
"I'm sorry that I'm not a good enough person for you, Phoebe," Chris spat, the words sharp and pointed as knives. "But if you'd been to my future, if you'd lived through half the things I have—the death and the destruction and the chaos—maybe you'd understand."
Phoebe took a step backwards at the animosity in his tone. She didn't understand how he'd become so angry so quickly. Her mind ran sluggishly over everything he'd said, trying to figure out how this had gone wrong. His fury buffeted into her via her powers too, making the onslaught all the more difficult to handle.
"Or better yet," he continued in response to her silence, sounding even angrier than before. "Why don't you go find a person to blame? You can start with the one-year-old sitting in the playpen in the attic. And then, hell, maybe you should look into a mirror."
She retreated further as his words ripped into her, and her first instinct was to tell him to go to hell. Nephew or not, he had no reason to be so cold and hateful to her, and it just wasn't acceptable.
But the pieces were coming together now, putting themselves in order at a ridiculously slow rate.
Is the idea of being related to me that bad?
I'm sorry I'm not a good enough person for you, Phoebe.
"You're scared," She stated bluntly, and there was no question or force behind her tone. She was simply stating a fact. He froze, every muscle stilling, and she saw a spasm of fear flash across his face. "You are; you're scared. You're afraid that I won't like you because of everything you've done."
The tremors were back; she could see them shuddering through his body. His angry façade began to break even as he struggled to keep it in place. "I don't care what you think."
"Of course you do," Phoebe said gently, closing the gap between them now. "I'm your family. And if I remember everything you've told us, I've been out of your life for a long time."
The last of his mask crumbled, leaving him bare and vulnerable. She could have sensed the terror and pain even if she hadn't had her empathy powers. He seemed to realize this, because he abruptly turned his back to her.
"You're dead," he whispered, low enough that she only just heard it. She nodded absently, figuring as much.
"Piper and Leo are your parents, right? You're Wyatt's little brother?"
The surprise still pounded into her relentlessly. He'd come back to save his big brother, and through that process, his family. Them.
She also realized how tragic it was, because Piper and Leo had by far treated Chris the worst. Not that he hadn't deserved it—Phoebe hadn't even blamed them at the time—but for Chris to have his parents treat him that way…
"Yes," Chris said, still keeping his back to her.
"God," She whispered, and then blurted, "Why didn't you tell us?"
He finally whirled around. She saw that the agitation was back, but it was farther under the surface this time. Controlled. "What was I supposed to say? 'Hi, I'm your son from the future! You have to help me stop my older brother—your other son—from turning evil and killing half the world's population in a few years' time.' You really think you would have believed that?"
"You never even gave us a chance, Chris!" Phoebe argued, emotions choking her voice. "We never would have treated you the way we did if you'd—"
"Don't! Don't act like this changes anything." he ordered roughly, hands clenching into fists.
She stared at him incredulously. "Are you kidding me? It changes everything!"
"No," he reiterated adamantly. "I'm still the same person I was yesterday, Phoebe. I'm still the annoying, secretive, neurotic freak you thought I was before. Don't change your opinion because you think you're supposed to care."
She stared at him, jaw slack. It took her a full minute to pull herself together. "This is why you didn't tell us, isn't it? It had nothing to do with future consequences or any of it. You're worried that we won't like the person you've grown into. The person you are."
She could see from the stricken look on his face that she was right, but he didn't give in to her claims. "You're forgetting that you don't like me."
"That's not true," she said forcefully, and held up her hands when he started to speak. "No, Chris, it's not. I don't like your secrets, and I don't like the way you lie to us. But I never disliked you."
He scrubbed at his face with his hands, which were still shaking. Something flashed into his eyes—something like hope—but it was gone and replaced with the usual dark bitterness a second later. "You don't know everything I've done. If you did…"
"I'd know you only did them because they were necessary," Phoebe finished firmly, and she believed it. If he really was her nephew, he'd definitely been raised right.
"I'm not—" he broke off, frustration covering his face. His fingers fidgeted with the edges of his sleeves. "I'm not the person she would have wanted me to be."
It took Phoebe a second to understand. Then she shook her head forcefully. "She doesn't dislike you, either. She feels the same way I do," he was already shaking his head, and she frowned. "Chris, I know my sister, and I know the only thing she hates about you is the way you hide things from us."
"But she's not… she's not my mother. She's Piper."
Phoebe frowned. "You just told me you were her son."
He jammed his hands into his pockets, shuffling impatiently. "I did—I am. But I try to keep her separate from the person I remember. It's… easier, that way."
"Oh." She understood, and it made her sad. She wondered what it would be like to go back into the past and be near Prue again, to talk and laugh with her like they had when they were younger. But then she'd also know that Prue's death was fast-approaching, and she wouldn't be able to say anything for fear of messing with the timeline and magic itself.
Even the idea of it seemed torturous.
"How can you do it?" She asked, blunt amazement in her tone.
He looked wary again. "Do what?"
"Keep this a secret from us. Be around us all the time and not warn us about what's going to happen," her eyes widened as all of the consequences of Chris being their relative sank in. "We're the family you lost—Piper's the mother who died when you were fourteen. How can you be here with us and not try to save us?"
His eyes became desperate then, and all trace of the cynical, wise-ass Chris was gone. This version of him was scared and frantic and completely out of his depth. "I'm trying—you have to understand that." She could tell that he wanted her to, was begging her to, and she realized too late that he'd taken her question as an accusation.
She held up a hand to stop him, wanting to correct the mistake, but he ignored her and barreled on. "I'm just hoping that saving Wyatt does it. I'm hoping that by saving the world, you'll be saved, too." He ran his hands roughly over his face then, releasing a low groan. "But I'm already failing. We have a lead, but it's turning cold and I have no way of finding this demon again. And I've told you way too much, and it could ruin everything…"
It struck her in a way it hadn't before, how utterly young he was. He couldn't have been more than twenty-two. It seemed terribly wrong that so much rested on his shoulders. The fate of the entire world.
"No wonder you're so neurotic," she said, but there was a seriousness in her voice that belied her light-hearted comment. He looked up, shock flickering across his face. Phoebe, moved both by Chris's revelation and the complete breakdown of his cocky exterior, did something she had never done before. She hugged him.
He stiffened completely as her arms encircled him, and she wondered if she'd made a horrible mistake. Maybe he couldn't deal with this; maybe it was too much for one day. But then he relaxed, arms hesitantly sliding around her, and they stayed like that for a long moment. Gradually the tremors left his shoulders, and when she pulled away, she was confident that she had comforted him at least a little.
"Listen to me," she said, her tone calming and commanding at once. "We're going to stop this, okay? You don't have to worry about it all on your own. We'll help. I'll help."
She saw the way light flickered into his eyes and then left again. It was almost like he stopped himself from feeling any sort of hope or happiness. She could sense it, too, the way he suppressed everything but the animosity and anger.
"You're doing it again," he said, sounding slightly wry—she was surprised by his blithe tone.
"Reading my emotions," he replied. "How are you able to, anyway?"
She narrowed her eyes and leaned back on her heels, eyebrows raised. "I don't know. But I think the better question is, how'd you stop me in the first place?" He stayed silent, and she prodded, "What did you do, Chris?"
"I took the potion," he admitted unwillingly, avoiding her gaze. He even looked a little sheepish, which she thought was kind of cute. "The one I got for Paige and Piper."
She absorbed that, wondering why she hadn't come to that conclusion before. If he took the potion, she shouldn't be able to get anything at all from him—and she understood his question now. "Oh. Well, sometimes when Piper or Paige gets really angry, or sad or some other strong emotion, I can still feel it. And you've been through some pretty tough stuff over the past few weeks…" she drifted off, unsure of her hypothesis.
He raised a hand and absently scratched at the back of his neck. "Yeah, I guess that's true."
"It's getting to you now, more than it used to," she surmised, eyeing him shrewdly. "Isn't it?"
He shifted uneasily, obviously still unwilling to share his burdens with her. When he met her eyes again, his own gaze was wiped clean of any emotion. And she was willing to bet that it wouldn't be long until he'd figured out another way to block her empathy powers, too. "Yeah, well. Clock's always ticking."
She raised a brow. "Then we should probably get to work."
A/N: Yes, you read it right! It is the end! But don't worry, because there's a sequel. It'll be called Haunted, and it should be up within a few days. Look for it! Thanks for reading, and I hope you all enjoyed the story!
Oh, and for my anonymous reviewer who wondered why Phoebe and Chris didn't call Paige: As far as I know, Paige can't hear them. Whitelighters can only hear their charges' calls, and since the sisters and Chris aren't her charges, they don't share that connection. That's why in a lot of episodes they'll go and get her if they need her.