Disclaimer: Thanks for letting me play in your sandbox, Spelling Entertainment.
Chapter 14: The Shape of the Future
"What are you saying? That we should stay together?"
"I was hoping we could give 'us' another shot. That is, if you're willing."
Piper shielded her eyes, trying to stave off the emotions his appeal inspired. "Leo, please. I can't go there. This isn't a good time."
"If it's because of what I did…"
"It's not. Granted, I'm mad, but I'll get over it." She lowered her fingers from her face. Though it pained her to do so, she needed to redirect him to the cold, hard facts about their situation. "You have to look at it from my perspective. I can't think about 'us'. It's not an option as long as you're an Elder."
"Not a very good one," said Leo airily. At her dubious squint, he revealed a little known fact. "When I became an Elder, I was supposed to stay Up There permanently, but I didn't."
Piper's heart leapt uncomfortably at this piece of news. "Why didn't you?"
"I…I meant to after you asked me to give you your space," said Leo, tripping over one of their most painful talks in recent memory. "I couldn't do it. I convinced myself it was because someone had to keep an eye on Chris, but it's really because I was holding on to Wyatt… and you."
"Do you regret it?"
He turned his head from side to side. "I never had any regrets about us. How could I, when I never stopped loving you?"
The sincerity in his voice erased her remaining doubts. Piper was lightheaded from the realization that their love wasn't dead—a little bruised and battered, but not dead. She was aware of their proximity and didn't flinch when Leo reached out to hold her hands. Except for when she clung to Leo for comfort last night, they hadn't been in each other's personal space like this since before his promotion.
Leo was moved that Piper didn't shy away from his touch. He was ignorant of her whirlwind feelings, however, and kept talking. "But as I said, it's your choice. I don't expect you to forget what you went through and I won't stop you if you prefer to…"
She brought her index finger to his lips to get a word in.
"What about your calling? You can't sacrifice a part of who you are."
Helping people, guiding them, was an intrinsic part of Leo's identity and a major reason why she'd fallen in love with him. Asking him to cut off that aspect of his life was selfish. That was why she wanted to offer him a choice as he had done for her.
"We'll find a way around it. We always have."
"One obstacle after another, huh?" said Piper. She remembered their failed attempt to marry during an eclipse, and Leo choking and writhing in pain before the Elders orbed him out by force. They weren't going to relive that experience, not on her watch.
"And this is one more obstacle for us to overcome."
"Two more. You forgot one."
"I did?" Leo thought hard and came up empty-handed.
"I haven't forgiven you yet for that stunt you and Chris pulled," she said, but her inflection was playful.
Leo's laughter was uneven. "You're not going to drop it, are you?"
"With Chris, I will. His father will have to prove himself first," teased Piper.
He took it as a subtle indication that she was warming up to the idea of them getting back together. "What if he told his mother that he had a plan to fix things?"
Piper gripped her chin, thinking. "She'd say, 'Let's hear it'."
Bolstered by her answer, Leo outlined his proposal.
Later, Leo stood before a panel of twelve imposing Elders seated in white thrones. They were arranged in two rows of six on raised platforms. Their golden robes added variety to an otherwise stark white chamber with mist rolling across the tiled floor. Leo's confidence took a slight nosedive when he saw that Roald, the wizened Elder he'd blown off to seek out Chris, was among the panel.
Chris lingered off to the side, a spectator to the hearing. He felt out of place—being the sole Whitelighter in a sea of Elders—and he distrusted how the set-up resembled a trial more than an assembly. He wouldn't have been there had Piper not raged and stormed when Leo informed her he couldn't take her Up There with him. As a compromise, she ordered him to bring Chris, who did have free access to the heavens. Leo was happy to oblige and even suggested that his testimony could strengthen their case. Although Chris didn't get how he could help, he was mollified that his parents hadn't fought, as he feared they would.
After Leo finished speaking, a female Elder in the front row leaned forward. Her appearance was that of a stocky, middle-aged woman with cropped brown hair and slight wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. Chris knew her name was Moira from his glimpses of the Elders in the future. Beyond that, he wasn't familiar enough with her to predict if she would rule in their favor.
"Your request is unusual. No Elder has ever asked for part-time status," said Moira.
"No Elder has ever married a witch either," Leo fired back.
Moira sighed her disapproval. "Leo Wyatt, you've developed a bad habit of breaking the rules."
Disgruntled murmurs issued from the rest of panel, while Chris sniggered. When the noise died down, Moira studied Leo like a bug under a magnifying glass.
"You've struggled to balance your duties with your family since you became one of us. How is this plan of yours an improvement?"
"It's because of my duties that we're having this discussion. I can't concentrate if it feels like I'm committing a crime whenever I visit my family. The ideal solution is for me to be with them, no strings attached. I'd still be doing my job, just not up here as often." Though Leo's reply was respectful, it concealed a hint of belligerence.
"He can keep a closer eye on Wyatt to ensure he stays on the right path," a younger dark-skinned male piped up in the back row.
"There you go," cried Leo, astounded he hadn't conceived that point sooner. "Everybody wins. My son will have his father and an Elder to watch over him." He glanced at Chris as if to say, "This includes you too."
"But staying on Earth long-term will make you a target for evil. By exposing yourself to danger, you expose us too," said Moira.
He was ready for that question too.
"Doesn't the same apply to any Whitelighter with charges? Three years ago, a warlock breached our defenses because he stole the ability to orb from a Whitelighter. I'd argue that Whitelighters are in greater danger because they can't defend themselves. At least we have powers to fight if we have to."
Moira tapped her fingers and looked around at her fellow Elders before asking, "What will you do if your request is denied?"
Chris' heartbeat raced with terror. Leo had proven beyond a doubt that he was different from his future self, but Chris couldn't banish his fear that history might repeat itself—that his dad would abandon him for the Elders. Or, what if Leo didn't wish to leave, but the others gave him no choice?
Leo had anticipated the prospect of being rebuffed and set his final tactic in motion. Whether it worked or not, he meant to stick to his principles to the bitter end. "I'll go back to being a Whitelighter or…" he paused dramatically. "I'll clip my wings. I'll quit."
He underestimated his importance to his colleagues; the room buzzed with scandalized whispers. For them, Leo was the savior who had delivered the survivors of the Titans' massacre to a safe haven. He'd turned the Charmed Ones into goddesses, resulting in the Titans' eventual defeat. Without his involvement in the battle, the outcome could have been catastrophic for their kind. Lastly, their numbers were far from recovered. To lose Leo was to let a valuable asset slip through their fingers.
Chris relaxed and blew out the air that had collected in his lungs in the dreadful pause before Leo's ultimatum. Leo flashed him a thumbs up, which Chris returned with his own shaky thumb. He strained his ears and caught bits and pieces of the Elders' whisperings.
"This is outrageous! He can't threaten us and expect to get away with it."
"He's bluffing. He won't quit."
"I say let him have what he wants."
All heads shifted to the far left. Roald, the person Leo dismissed before as a potential ally, had coughed out the last line.
"It's true that Leo is less productive when his attention is split. He's no good to us distracted," said Roald wryly.
The murmuring persisted until Moira signaled for silence and peered past Leo.
"Christopher, please step forward."
Surprised to have his name called, Chris obeyed and wandered to Leo's side.
"You are the Charmed Ones' Whitelighter. What is your opinion on the subject?"
"We weren't doing so great ourselves without Leo," said Chris, choosing to be frank with them. He was starting to see why Leo believed in his role at the hearing. "So yep, we'd be happier if he spent more time with us."
Incredulity colored Moira's voice. "You include yourself in this?"
Chris snapped his mouth shut and reproached himself for using the wrong pronouns. The Elders were in the dark about his identity, and he preferred to keep it that way for as long as possible. Leo thought the secrecy was excessive; Chris disagreed. Some of it stemmed from leftover resentment he felt towards the Elders in the future. The rest was purely logical. They could be a self-righteous bunch on occasion and they might view his existence as more rule breaking on Leo's part.
"I meant the sisters and Wyatt. They'd love it if he was around more, especially Piper."
"Piper? Hmmm. I'm surprised you didn't mention her sooner. She's always had an odd influence over you." Moira rose, as did the other eleven Elders. "We will adjourn for an hour. When we return, we'll have our final decision."
Leo nodded, and the group exited the chamber in an orderly fashion through the double doors behind the thrones. Roald was last in the queue, and Leo snatched the opportunity to dash up to him and express his gratitude.
"Roald, thank you for your support."
The elderly man was courteous, yet stern. "Don't waste it," he said.
He passed through the double doors, leaving Chris and Leo alone in the chamber.
An hour wasn't that long, but it felt like an eternity at that particular moment. Chris fell into a pattern of walking in circles, slowing down only when he noticed how calm and assured Leo was. It was good that Leo teemed with plenty of confidence to cover them both because Chris couldn't summon any of his own. They didn't talk much during the one hour; they didn't do much of anything other than wait and pray for the best.
"It's a shame he left on bad terms," said Phoebe.
Piper bowed her shoulders, even though the action was invisible to Phoebe through the cordless phone. She'd just filled Phoebe in on Dan's departure. "I shouldn't have sugarcoated what being a witch is like. At the same time, it's better he figured out his true feelings now rather than later."
"You did the best you could. The rest was up to him."
"Leo warned me from day one that he couldn't handle magic." Piper breathed out heavily. Leo, ever the kind soul, hadn't rubbed it in. "It seems like a recurring problem in our family to have normal people freak out on us."
"Ugh, you're telling me," groaned Phoebe, and Piper could visualize her kneading her temples with her eyes closed. "I haven't told Jason I'm a witch. What if he reacts the same way as Dan?"
"You don't know that," said Piper sharply, unable to watch her sister beat herself up over something that might not happen.
She heard a smacking noise on the opposite end, as though Phoebe had slapped her hand on her lap. "I'm not going to worry about it until it happens."
"Don't put it off too long. You'll feel worse if it doesn't turn out well."
"I'm won't. I'm waiting for the best opportunity."
Piper was certain she would have to nag Phoebe later due to her tendency to avoid conflict. After Piper turned down her offer to visit the manor, Phoebe stressed the importance of calling her or Paige for a sympathetic ear. Once they hung up, Piper didn't have to phone Paige; knowing Phoebe, their youngest sister would get the latest gossip straightaway.
Out of some irrational superstition, Piper had refrained from mentioning Chris and Leo to Phoebe. She longed to share the news with her, but she was terrified of jinxing the results of the hearing. The pair had been gone for a while and she couldn't stop agonizing over their absence. She should have pushed harder to go with them. Losing Leo was a blow in itself, but losing Chris so soon after finding him would be the end of her endurance. She knew that time moved differently in the heavens, with hours on Earth equating to minutes Up There, but it was poor reassurance.
After a quiet lunch with Wyatt, she carried him upstairs to the attic and put him in his playpen. While her firstborn played with his stuffed animals, she leafed through the Book of Shadows for distraction, and to respect Chris' original purpose for traveling to the past.
Two sets of orbs materialized in the attic. Piper dropped the book on the couch and accosted Leo and Chris.
"Well? What's their decision?"
"We haven't finalized all the details," said Leo, his smile beginning to show, "but aside from that, I'm good to go as a part-time Elder."
He hardly completed the sentence when Piper's mind blurred from sheer joy as she threw her arms around his neck. Though taken aback by the intensity of her reaction, Leo recovered his senses to wind his arms around her waist and bury his face in her hair. Laughing, he lifted her off the floor and spun around twice. When Leo set her down, they stayed in each other's arms, still giddy with happiness.
Though he acted subdued in comparison, Chris was as overjoyed as they were. The vote had been a narrow one—seven to five in favor of Leo. The losing Elders had looked positively sour on their way out, but the best part was his parents. He'd never seen them express that degree of affection to one another in either timeline. It was a surreal sight; he felt like the kid in the movies whose parents rediscovered their love and reunited as a family.
Without releasing her hold on Leo, Piper stretched an arm out to Chris, beckoning him to come closer. Thinking she had something to tell him, he strode over to her. When he was in range of her outstretched hand, Piper knocked him off-balance by pulling him into a one-arm embrace. His gut instinct was to pull away, but all she wanted was to share the moment with him, so he didn't. Instead, he awkwardly patted her on the back.
"My god! Are you guys hugging each other?"
"Paige!" gasped Piper. She broke apart from Leo and Chris immediately.
None of them had seen Paige orb in by the attic door. She stood there slack jawed, and the other three were equally as rattled. Even Chris, the master of cover stories, couldn't volunteer a plausible lie for their actions.
"Phoebe called. I was passing by to check on you and I see… you… doing this!" said Paige, slashing her arm at them. "Okay, I sort of get why you'd hug Leo. Chris, not so much."
"Paige, there's a very good reason for what you saw," Piper said nervously.
"I'll bet." The youngest Charmed One tapped her foot in expectation.
Piper turned to Chris. It was his story to tell, not hers. "Chris, back me up. There's no need to keep it a secret anymore."
Chris shook his head, the old reflex to remain tight-lipped about the future flaring up.
Leo sensed his anxiety and squeezed his shoulder. "It'll be all right, Chris."
Piper did the same with his left shoulder. Their combined presence assuaged some of his anxiety and Chris admitted that they were right. With half the family in the know, it was silly not to enlighten the other half. He had his parents in the off chance that Paige rejected him, but he hated to be responsible for ruining the Power of Three. Being busted twice didn't make the admission any easier either.
Paige was getting restless. "What's this great reason you're keeping me in suspense about?"
Chris gathered every shred of courage he possessed and said, "Piper and Leo are my parents."
Was it possible for Paige's jaw to drop any lower? Yes, it was.
There was a long delay, and then Paige yelled, "Holy smokes!" She raced over to Chris and gawked at him, then swiveled between Piper and Leo for confirmation. "For real?"
"For real, Paige," said Leo proudly.
"You're Wyatt's little brother," she said to Chris in awe. "I have another nephew. Wow. Just… wow." She stumbled to the couch to sit down. When she fully processed the revelation, her face cracked into a huge grin. "Gee, the things I miss when I move out of the manor!"
If that wasn't a sign of her acceptance, he didn't know what was. In her typical no-nonsense style, Paige grilled Leo and Piper for the details.
"How did you two find out? Does Phoebe know?"
"We haven't gotten to Phoebe yet," said Piper.
Paige guffawed. Chris failed to see the humor and questioned, "What's so funny?"
"Phoebe. You're lucky she didn't bust you first. She would have blabbed who you were ages ago."
They reined in their mirth at Phoebe's expense since the empath would be annoyed at being left out of the loop, albeit unintentionally. After Paige exhausted all speculation of Phoebe's reaction, Leo and Piper relayed a condensed version of past events. Chris leaned against Wyatt's playpen and listened to their tale with amusement. Some incidents that hadn't struck him as funny before sounded absurd in hindsight. It was strange to think that his initial motive had evolved from self-preservation to a genuine wish for Piper and Leo to be happy together.
After Piper brought Paige up to speed, Chris echoed something he'd once said to Leo out of sarcasm, but was sincere in this instance. "It looks like we're one big happy family again."
This time, no one contradicted him.
A/N: It's been a long ride and I want to thank every one of you for reading and reviewing 'The Triangle Complex'. You guys were a huge part of my motivation to finish this story. I know I didn't resolve everything (e.g. Chris' issues with Piper's death, Chris not referring to Piper and Leo as Mom and Dad), but considering this story's placement in the timeline, it seemed more realistic to leave a few threads loose.
Whether you're a new or longtime reader, please let me know what you think because I appreciate the comments!