"This is your stop." Paige yawned. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bed."
"Thanks Paige." Piper murmured absently.
Her head was filled with thoughts of hot, cleansing showers and heavy duvets. And flannel. Warm, comfortable flannel that smelled like home and lacked the suffocating scent of charred flesh clinging to her clothes like a second skin. She barely registered Paige's exit, and she briefly considered passing out on the couch and avoiding the stairs entirely before convincing herself that she was not, in fact, that pathetic.
Grudgingly, she made her way to the silent second floor, which was dimly lit by the lamp atop the small table toward the end of the hall. When she opened the door to her bedroom her heart warmed at the sight of Leo, sitting in the centre of the mattress against the headboard with a book open in his lap. She would have smiled at the thought of him so obviously waiting to greet her if the muscles in her face weren't too tired to cooperate.
Before she could begin stripping off her soiled clothes, a muffled giggle echoed through the room, and she narrowed her eyes at Leo – who smiled in return – when she finally took note of the child sized lumps beneath the comforter on either side of him. She approached the bed and gently poked the body nearest her, and pulled back the duvet at the new giggle brought on by her action.
Wyatt smiled guiltily in her direction and she put her hands on her hips. "Hi."
Chris pulled the covers from over his head as well, and delivered an equally guilt filled grin her way.
"Shouldn't you boys be in your own beds?"
"They wanted to wait up for you." Leo answered with an easy smile. "It seemed easier just to go with it."
"I see." She nodded. "We're letting the inmates take over the asylum, huh?"
Their faces glowed, and Piper decided that she was perhaps not as tired as she had thought. If there was anything in the world worth delaying a hot shower for, it was the people in her bed. She climbed onto the mattress and released an exaggerated groan when Chris threw himself into her lap, and as she kissed the top of his head her expression grew suddenly serious.
"Listen, I just want you two to know how proud I am of you. You were so brave tonight… I love you very much."
"Is he vanquished?" Wyatt asked curiously.
Piper paused at his bluntness. "He's vanquished." She eventually responded.
Wyatt grinned, "Cool."
"Good." Chris frowned. "I didn't like the way he made my head hurt."
She absently stilled his hands in her own when he began to fiddle with the clasps on her dress, and pulled him close. "This may not be the last time it happens, sweetheart." She said softly, honestly. "I know I've told you this before, but it will get easier. It's not fair to you, but it's- it's just… one of those things that comes with having special gifts. Everything has its good parts and bad parts… especially magic."
"Being a magic person is still easier than being a normal person. It's kind of like how being a girl is easier than being a boy." Chris thought aloud.
Piper gave him a puzzled half smile while Leo laughed heartily. "What?"
As had been the situation so many times before, neither of them could begin to fathom what had inspired this latest thought, and they waited expectantly, amusedly, for the explanation.
"Like, you know how mom wears your clothes sometimes, daddy? She's got her own clothes, but she takes yours. It's easier being a girl; 'cause boys can't wear girl clothes but girls can wear both clothes. And normal people can only be normal, and we can be normal when we want to be, but we can be special when we want to be too. We get to do both. You get it easiest, mommy, 'cause you're a witch and a girl." Chris mapped out with certainty.
Words evaded Piper; she didn't know how to even begin responding to that logic. Moreover, she wondered what could be deduced about her own sanity considering she had listened to so many of Chris' abstract theories, they actually didn't sound as crazy to her as they had once upon a time.
As usual, her son had brought a smile to her face. From the mouths of babes. Even Chris couldn't convince her she had an easy life, but it was, at the end of the day, her life. One that she had made for herself. And despite the chaos of the past two and a half months, a lot of the time, it was quite normal. She couldn't ask for more than that. Not as a Charmed One. As Chris had so simply put it, she got to do both. It seemed to take more energy than it was worth to hang on to the bitterness and resentment she so often felt in regards to her destiny.
"I see." She said finally.
This is for my friends and more, who live so richly;
still they taste the solitude in the back of our mouths.
We all know the sadness flow that pours out like a chorus,
still we keep rolling the lonesome road out before us.
Where do you lie down? Can I lie too?
Oh just for a moment? But then, I gotta go.
We all know the sadness flow that pours out like a chorus,
still we keep rolling the lonesome road out before us.
Oh still we keep rolling the lonesome road out before us.
This is For, Ingrid Michaelson
"… and he never knocked. I mean, never! So I'm sitting in Piper's closet trying to find the red sweater she stole –
"borrowed." Piper interrupted.
"Stole from me, and out of nowhere there's someone behind me breathing on my neck."
The group, high on conversation, could scarcely breathe as they laughed through Phoebe's grossly exaggerated account of the story.
"Hey baby," Phoebe giggled, deepening her voice in a comic, poorly fashioned imitation of Leo, "You ever done it on a cloud?"
A new roar of laughter erupted from the six adults in the parlour, and Piper wiped away a tear at the exaggeration only Phoebe could so perfectly deliver, while Henry raised his beer in salute to her rather flushed husband. Leo, for his part, was glad to be half hidden beneath Piper's body on the armchair they were currently sharing.
"It was Piper's room! And you said you weren't going to tell!" Leo exclaimed, ignoring the increase in heat to his face.
"Oh please." Piper gasped, speaking between peals of laughter, "She told me the next morning. It was her way of cheering me up."
Leo reflected on this a moment, and then he sat up so abruptly, only lucky reflexes saved Piper from being dumped to the floor.
"So at breakfast, when you said –
"She already knew!" Phoebe howled, collapsing back into the couch and whimpering at the pain in her stomach's much abused muscles.
"I can't believe this."
Paige wanted all the details of the story; Henry could tell by the way she used his thigh to push herself forward on the couch opposite Phoebe and Coop. When it came to family stories before her time, Paige went one of two ways; hungry enthusiasm, lapping up every minute detail, or staunch indifference, with a push for a change of subject. As the years passed, and her security in the unbreakable bond they shared as siblings grew, there were less and less instances involving the latter. There was only one question, however, that mattered to Henry.
"So, have you ever done it on a cloud?"
"Done what on a cloud?"
The group instantly sobered when Wyatt entered the room, Chris and Laura in tow.
It was Piper and Leo's anniversary, and Piper had decided to throw a small party in lieu of a traditional intimate affair involving just the two of them. She had promised a slightly sulky Leo that she would make it up to him, but even Leo had long since come to love the idea. It was a celebration; a final farewell to living in fear and holding on to the past. A new beginning that needed, deserved, to be welcomed in with reverence. The atmosphere of the manor matched the utter elation that had affected them all on Piper's birthday, prior to leaving P3; God help the demon who thought to interrupt this party.
Coop cleared his throat. "Scrabble." He fibbed easily, although less than convincingly, "It's like a whole other world, playing scrabble up in the clouds."
Wyatt seemed to accept this, and he squeezed himself between Coop and the armrest, while Laura climbed into Phoebe's lap and Henry shifted over to allow Chris to sit between himself and Paige.
Phoebe gave Coop's arm a warning pinch, and he grinned confidently in return.
Following dinner, Phoebe had been the one to suggest Scrabble, with a mischievous glint in her eye, well aware of the inevitable competitive, loud turn the game would take. Piper had absently mused aloud that televised commercials for Family Game Nights always failed to include the cheating, board throwing, drinking and tantrums that had always accompanied their games. Where were these so called families who managed to co-exist peacefully when competition was involved?
Henry, ever the antagonistic force, continued to stir the pot. "Leo? Cloud se- ahem, cloud Scrabble? You were telling us all about it?"
Leo glared at Henry, then looked to Piper, interpreting her mood. Newfound telepathy and all, he was just as surprised as the rest of them when Piper allowed herself to smile widely and blurt out,
She was beaming, and it was reassuring to Leo to know that she could still surprise him. That all the mystery and pleasant unexpected things were not gone forever just because they could read each other's thoughts.
"Second only to really angry Scrabble." Leo deadpanned.
Chris looked to Wyatt in confusion when Leo's comment brought about a relapse in hysterics and Piper batted Leo's chest, but Wyatt only shrugged his shoulders.
Piper took note of the girls' nearly empty glasses and stood up to fetch a new round.
He saw the corners of her mouth twitch upward in response, and then, without looking at him, she gave a soft smile. His smile. One of the few parts of her that were his, and his alone.
You're setting a bad example for our children, abusing your magic.
Personal gain doesn't apply to Whitelighters.
Yeah... that's just not true. In any context.
She organized the nearly empty glasses on the serving tray and disappeared through the doorway, and Phoebe watched Leo watch Piper from her own position on the couch.
"You could at least pretend you're not anxiously waiting for us to leave, Leo." She laughed.
"Huh? I'm not-
He cut himself off and relaxed when he took note of the teasing smile on her face. "Very funny, Phoebe."
Before Phoebe could respond, Piper's voice drifted into the room from the kitchen.
"Leo? Could you give me a hand please?"
He ambled through the kitchen door and found her leaning casually against the counter.
"I've decided to forgive you." The words were serious, but her half smile belied the teasing intention.
"Oh?" He smiled back. "And in what horrible way did I screw up this time?"
"I'm forgiving you for figuring out I'm pregnant before I got to tell you."
"Ah." He nodded solemnly, "That would be the pregnancy I found out about through a phenomenon – which I had no control over – that affected us both? The pregnancy I wouldn't have been any the wiser to had it not been for you thinking about it first?"
"That's the one." Piper confirmed.
"You're too gracious."
She smiled and pushed herself away from the counter, wrapping her arms around his neck and squeezing contently as she felt his chest expand and contract with each breath he took.
"Happy anniversary." She whispered.
He squeezed her back, "Happy anniversary."
She gave him a shy smile and hesitantly picked up a small, neatly wrapped package from atop the counter that he had failed to notice until she reached for it. Her motions brought a tiny smile unbidden to his own face, as he marvelled at the way regardless of the years that passed, the awkward approach she occasionally took despite her assertive capabilities always exposed a vulnerability he felt privileged to witness.
"This is for you." She explained unnecessarily.
Leo turned the box over in his hands and gently eased off the perfect coils of ribbon that had been tied at the centre. When he began examining the wrapping paper for tape, knowing Piper sometimes couldn't help but cringe when the decorative paper was carelessly ripped off a gift, she rolled her eyes.
"Go ahead." She said dramatically, "I know you want to."
He grinned and immediately tore away the paper. When he lifted the lid, inside the feminine, tissue lined box there lay a bright pink bottle filled with glittery liquid. Leo's grin turned into a puzzled smile as he looked at Piper, but she just shrugged and continued to stand against the counter with her hands in her pockets and the faintest hint of a smile on her lips.
Leo removed the bottle and inspected the label; it was bubble bath. More specifically, it was Strawberry Vanilla Sugar bubble bath. Who thought of these names? He watched uncertainty cross her features as the seconds ticked by and she began to doubt the cleverness of the gesture, and it pained him to know he would soon have to admit he was at a loss as to the meaning. Unless…
She felt him push into her mind, and Piper promptly blocked him as easily as she would slam a door shut. It was odd, the way this power between them didn't really feel like a power at all; more like a mere extension of something that had always been there. Her life would have been a lot easier if all her other advancements and gifts had gone over so smoothly. This, this really didn't even require practicing. It was instinctive on a level only something between her and Leo could be. It was practically natural. It was something that – minus the boost – they'd already been doing for years.
"Nope. No cheating. Either you get it, or you don't."
And then, just as he was beginning to squirm, it came to him.
He leans against the back of the tub and holds her against his chest, savouring her closeness and doing his best not to react to the low groan she emits when the water begins to relieve the pressure and soreness in her joints and muscles. She's trying to be a trooper, but he knows the last few weeks have been increasingly hard on her, and it's probably not going to get any easier between now and the end of her pregnancy. Soon she's on the verge of falling asleep, and he tightens his hold on her to make sure she doesn't slip and lose what seems to be one of the few comfortable positions she has managed to find.
He doesn't immediately recognize the rhythmic thumping… he's in his own little world and he's trying to figure out how five minutes in this water is enough for Piper's skin to carry the alluring scent of the foam he poured in for her for the duration of a day or night. He doesn't know how much time passes before he realizes that the thumping is hitting his hand, and his hand is covering Piper's stomach. When he moves his fingers slightly, he can see the taut skin of her belly move with each kick from the baby within.
He sits up abruptly, sending suds and water sloshing over the edge of the tub, saturating the tiled floor, while the bone of his shoulder catches Piper roughly in the back of the head.
"Ow!" Her protest is instant, and she raises a hand to touch the offending spot on the back of her skull.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" She mutters groggily.
"She's always kicking." Piper says irritably.
"Not so I can feel… she's done it more in the last two minutes than she has the entire time you've been pregnant."
"Isn't that a good thing? What are you freaking out about?"
He ignores her question, "Lean back."
"That depends on if I'm going to get smacked in the head again." She replies, only half kidding.
"Honey, I said I was sorry. Now come on."
She releases a sigh, but compliantly rests her back against his broad chest once more, and sets her hand over his when he eagerly places it in the same spot on her stomach. It's only a matter of seconds before the baby once again resumes the steady stream of kicks.
"It's the water. She must feel it; the pressure change? I think she likes it." Leo says excitedly.
Piper smiles, willing to indulge this since it hurts a lot less being kicked while underwater.
"We need to do this more often; it's amazing."
"You can be so infuriating." But she smiles when she says it, and Leo is confident that they will be repeating this activity many, many times over.
The goofy, far away smile that had overtaken his face was all the evidence Piper needed to be assured that he remembered. So much had changed in the six years that had passed since then; it was hard to hold on to the ambivalent, inexperienced emotions that had consumed them when they had been in a perfect place, and they had thought Leo being too often called away would be the worse thing that could ever happen. When they had had no notion of the nerve shattering ascensions and subsequent crashes of joy and heartache that were literally only months away from consuming them.
"We didn't get to try it with Chris." She said sadly, "But maybe this baby will take to baths as well as Wyatt did."
"We'll give it a try." He promised.
He placed the bottle gently back in its delicate packaging and then rested it on the counter, freeing his arms to wrap around his wife.
"How much longer do you think we should wait before we tell them?" He murmured in her ear.
Piper closed her eyes and smiled as she placed her hands atop her husband's and leaned back against his chest.
"I'm almost eight weeks," she mused aloud, "I started to show a lot earlier with Chris than I did with Wyatt… assuming this one follows that same pattern, do you think we could make it another month?"
He chuckled, "I don't think so, Piper." He answered honestly. "I think it's likely you've got a couple weeks, tops."
"Are you sure? Because I think maybe-
"Honey, you changed pants three times this morning before you could find a pair of jeans that would button." Leo laughed softly.
"Nuh uh." She protested, "I could button them, they were just… tight. It was uncomfortable."
Leo raised an eyebrow, "Was that achieved lying down or standing up?"
She paused, knowing he had her.
"It's your third pregnancy." He said, nuzzling her neck, "I can already tell your body's changing, it won't be long before your sisters can too."
"One week." She bartered, angling her neck to give him better access. "I want it to be just ours for one more week. Then we'll tell them."
"And I get to tell Phoebe." Leo confirmed.
She giggled and rolled her eyes, "Yes, Leo, you get to tell Phoebe."
"One week." He agreed, kissing the top of her shoulder.
The determined clicking of heels on the hardwood floor preceded Paige as she came barrelling through the doorway.
"I swear, if you two are in here groping each other, I'm going to stop coming over."
Leo flushed and released his hold on Piper, and she put her hands on her hips to face off her sister.
"Pregnant or not missy, I'll smack you."
"Yeah yeah. Where are those drinks you disappeared with?"
Piper finished loading the glasses onto the tray and headed back toward the hall without directly engaging her sister.
"As long as you're in here, be useful and help Leo with the dessert trays." She called over her shoulder.
Paige waited until she was sure Piper wouldn't be coming back, and then she carefully shut the kitchen door while Leo stared at her curiously.
"What's going on?"
Paige smiled and walked around the island to the counter by the sink, and she casually pulled herself onto it and folded her legs beneath her, staring at Leo intently.
"I have a present for you."
Leo gave a puzzled tilt of his head and then laughed uncertainly, "What?"
She took a potion bottle out of her sweater pocket and tossed it his way, and he reflexively caught it without really knowing what it was. When he recognized the tiny glass bottle and the corked top, he frowned. "What's this?" He asked seriously.
"It's a power stripping potion."
His head snapped upward and all traces of previous merriment left his expression as he waited for her to elaborate.
Paige uncrossed her legs and allowed them to dangle off the edge of the counter. One foot thumped rhythmically against the cupboard below, and she stared him dead in the eye with utmost seriousness.
"I know you don't want to live forever. There aren't any guarantees that Piper won't still die first, but the two of you… you deserve to get to grow old together more than anyone I know. Piper doesn't even have to know right away… you'll keep your other powers, the only thing you're losing is the immortality."
He turned the bottle over in his hands, wondering how Paige managed to corner him at the exact moment he felt weakest about this very issue. In the weeks that had passed since his last faceoff with the Elders, he hadn't allowed himself to dwell on the subject of his immortality for more than a fleeting moment before he forcibly locked his anxiety away and turned to another task. He loved Piper. He loved his sons. He loved his baby that had yet to enter this world. Right now, he had all four of them, and he refused to let anything take away from that. No amount of thinking, however, could make those fleeting moments any less painful.
"It won't work." He said softly, confidently. Although a part of him wished there was a chance it would.
"Oh please." Paige scoffed, and the flamboyant way she rolled her eyes took away a fraction of the grave tension that had descended on the kitchen. "We're the Charmed Ones. Really, there isn't a hell of a lot we can't do."
"Paige this goes beyond that. The Elders themselves did this to me; you can't just undo it."
"We've gone over the Elders before. We've summoned Angels of Destiny, we've gone back and forth in time and rewritten history. Leo, I stopped death worldwide once, and that was an accident. I did this on purpose. There is literally no force of magic more powerful than we are when we put our minds to it."
He ran a hand over his face, "I understand that, Paige. But for this to even have a chance of working, you would need…"
His voice trailed off, and he remembered Paige, catching Piper with the paring knife in the kitchen that day weeks ago. He remembered how uncharacteristically clumsy it had been, because while Paige was admittedly accident prone, she tended to hurt herself, not others. He remembered her catching Phoebe with the kitchen door in much the same way not five minutes prior to that. As he connected the dots, a slow smile began to spread over Paige's face, and he knew he was right.
"…blood?" she finished smugly.
"You stabbed my wife. Your sister. On purpose."
"You nearly broke Phoebe's nose. On purpose."
He shook his head in disbelief. "This is unreal. We can't do this."
Paige's eyes softened, "Leo, you've already lived two lifetimes. It's unreasonable to expect you to continue a third eternally without Piper. Without your sons. You can't be without her; it wouldn't be fair."
"I need to talk to Piper." He murmured distractedly, still gazing at the contents of the bottle resting in his palm with undisguisable longing.
"She won't be able to make that choice." Paige said certainly with a negative shake of her head, "She'll always wonder if 'letting' you take it was the right thing to do. And if, heaven forbid, something ever happens to you, again, she'll spend a lot of time beating herself up about it."
"Look." She interrupted impatiently, "I know you and my sister have this insane connection, and you can figuratively get inside each other's heads now – which I actually find more creepy than anything else, by the way – but trust me on this. This needs to be your decision, Leo. Just like it was the first time. What do you want?"
He paused; what did he want? He wanted to be with his wife, always. He wanted to believe that after everything they had been through, they could see the end of the epic uphill battle that has been their relationship the last eleven years, and just be. He wanted to kick her overconfident behind in that far off, distant game of scrabble that had been promised to them by the future versions of themselves.
He uncorked the bottle and downed the contents, then grimaced at the bitter taste and buried the bottle in the trash.
Paige grinned and grabbed one of the knives from the stand before hopping down from the counter. Leo instinctively took a step back.
"We see if it worked."
Leo mustered as authoritative an expression as he could and pointed his index finger at her firmly, "Stay away from me."
"Oh come on, Leo." She charmed, "We have to be sure."
Leo rolled his eyes and reluctantly stretched out his hand, "You know, it concerns me how willing you've always been to inflict physical pain on the people you're supposed to love."
"What's that thing us whitelighters are supposed to be so concerned about? The Greater Good?"
She slid the knife across his palm without giving him a chance to respond, and he winced as blood immediately spilled from the wound and began to drip onto the floor. They watched the skin intently, waiting for it to bubble and renew itself, but after the seconds ticked by and turned to a minute, and that minute turned to two, it was obvious that it wasn't going to happen.
"It worked." Leo grinned euphorically, feeling the cumbersome weight he had been carrying lift from his shoulders. "You did it."
"I don't know." Paige frowned absently, "Maybe we should try again somewhere a little more vital; just to be sure."
"What? I'll heal you afterward Leo, God. Overreact much?"
"Could you fix this please?" Leo gestured toward his palm, glancing nervously between the injury and the closed kitchen door. "If Piper comes in here, she's going to kill us both."
Paige rolled her eyes again, but she obligingly placed her hand above his, and erased all traces of their experiment. When she was finished, Leo immediately grabbed a sheet of paper towel and wiped up the mess that had fallen to the tiles.
"And your other powers? They're working?" Paige inquired thoroughly.
Leo didn't need to concentrate at all in order to be aware of the dim chatter in the back of his mind, and he briefly orbed out, and then back to his exact spot. "Everything seems to be in order." He answered.
Satisfied, Paige nodded her head. "Good." She picked up one of the dessert trays sitting atop the oven, and passed the other one to Leo. "Just don't piss Piper off before you get around to telling her; I had to clean up your bloody remains once already, and that was enough for me."
"What about the Elders?"
"What about them?" She said dismissively, "They never watch us unless they think we're doing something wrong. Even if they do peek; when they see you down here, older, they'll assume you're glamouring for Piper. And when you go Up There, you can glamour for Them to look younger and they'll never know the difference. Not until it's way too late to do anything about it, anyway. Why are we still talking about this?"
He stopped her before she could make her way through the swinging door, and she paused expectantly. He understood her way of using humour to keep situations from becoming more emotional than she could comfortably deal with. He understood that she only teased mercilessly those she loved fiercely. But he needed to say it anyway.
Paige smiled and graced him with a rare instance of completely sincere affection. "I love you."
Then she bumped the door open with her hip, and he followed her back out to rejoin the party.
"Would you stop hitting my child?"
That was the first complete sentence – Piper's – rising above the rest of the chatter, that Leo and Paige heard upon their return. They both grinned reflexively before they even had time to enter the room and see first hand the new antics that had begun in their absence.
Wyatt and Henry were sitting cross legged on the couch facing one another, intently studying their hands between them. Wyatt's tiny palms rested atop Henry's larger ones, and every few seconds Henry would quickly move them from beneath Wyatt and tap the boy lightly on the back of the hand. Each time, Wyatt would try to pull his hands away before Henry could hit them, and each time, he was just a moment too slow.
"Seriously Henry, knock it off."
"Mom I almost had him that time!" Wyatt protested.
"You have no idea what you're starting." Phoebe commented with a shake of her head.
"You would know, wouldn't you Phoebe?" Piper sniped.
"What does she mean by that?" Coop asked with a laugh.
Piper and Phoebe stared each other down before breaking into laughter simultaneously.
"Let's just say, Phoebe was a little too overzealous with that game when we were kids." She answered, rolling her eyes resignedly. Then with a pointed glare in her younger sister's direction, Piper pulled up her long sleeved shirt and pointed to a small, strawberry coloured scar near her elbow. "You see this?"
"Oh grow up Piper." Phoebe called exasperatedly.
"This," she continued self importantly, "is from when Phoebe threw a temper tantrum because I was winning at that ridiculous "game," and she whipped a pair of scissors at me."
"Phoebe." Paige reprimanded, her eyes wide in entertained shock as she dropped the dessert tray carelessly on the coffee table before retaking her seat beside Wyatt.
"They were safety scissors!"
"Obviously not safe enough." Piper snorted.
Leo, who had heard this story more times than he cared to recall over the years, simply rolled his eyes as he went about rearranging the food and drinks littering the table to prevent anything from falling to the floor.
When he went to reclaim his seat, however, he found Laura had snuck by him, and was now comfortably nestled in his wife's lap. As he watched the two of them, he heard Henry and Wyatt resume their game while Chris gave Phoebe, Paige and Coop an animated recount of Stephen Tucker; the little boy who crawled into the recycling bin at his preschool and then somehow managed to get stuck.
"Excuse me your highness." Leo began in a mock stern voice, "You're in my seat."
"My seat." Laura responded confidently.
"I guess I'm going to have to move you then." He sighed dramatically.
"No!" Laura laughed and gripped her aunt desperately; unfortunately for Piper, her free falling waves of hair were too easy a target for her young niece. She winced when the near two-year-old grabbed a fistful and pulled unintentionally.
He leaned in to offer his assistance and gently uncurled Laura's fist before scooping up her giggling, writhing form. "Stop making trouble for me, Laura."
Piper smiled as she watched her husband twirl the little girl about, and even though she tried not to, even though she willed herself to keep guarded while Phoebe was near, her thoughts turned to the baby inside her, too small for even her to be overly aware of save for her overwhelming desire to break down and cry from the all encompassing happiness filling her at this exact moment. Whether it was, in actuality, a hormonal impulse or not, she was choosing to blame it on the pregnancy.
Phoebe looked up just then; clearly something had stolen her attention away from the never ending story Chris was mapping out for her. When she turned her head and made unwavering eye contact with her sister, Piper cursed inwardly. Phoebe knew. Even if Phoebe didn't know just yet, Phoebe would figure it out in a matter of seconds. There was really only one thing that could inspire the internal, grounded, peaceful contentment consuming her right now, and Phoebe had witnessed it twice before.
If her sister had any sense of self-preservation, she would keep it to herself.
The message was written clearly across Piper's face, and Phoebe, the good little empath she was, received it loud and clear. She refocused her attention back on her nephew, but not before she returned Piper's intimidating stare with one of her own that told the eldest Halliwell that they would most definitely be talking about this later. Well that was fine with Piper; as long as her loudmouth sister understood that they weren't going to talk about it now. Poor Leo, he was going to be so disappointed when she told him about this.
She sat a little straighter in her chair when a familiar twinge of melancholy suddenly came over her. A familiar pang in her heart she hadn't felt since before she lost Leo. She hadn't even realized it had been so long since it last happened until this very minute. The voices in the room became muffled as she felt herself being gradually forced out of its reality. There was Leo, sitting on the floor in front of Phoebe and Coop, sharing a pastry with his bedazzled niece. There was Chris, practically throwing himself off the couch with the momentum of his wild, vigorous hand gestures as his story continued on. Paige and Phoebe, exchanging amused glances over their nephew's head as they wondered if the story was ever going to end. Wyatt, grinning triumphantly as Henry finally missed his hands.
With the distanced sadness, she took a deep breath, bracing herself against the paralysing attack of fear and panic that always closely accompanied it; but for once, it wasn't threatening to overtake her. It was there, to be sure: undoubtedly. But she could still breathe. She could still think. She wasn't fighting tears due to the horrible solitude of it all. Carefully, cautiously, she pushed against it, and the minor ache that was nothing compared to what she was used to, what she expected, slowly faded away. She focused on her husband, and she held onto his face, and she allowed his bright smile to fill her with happiness over what she had now, and she fought her body's inclination to be consumed by panic at everything she could potentially lose.
"How are you doing?" Leo asked, as she leaned forward and reached for the glass of iced tea she had left sitting on the table before her.
"I'm fine." She smiled.
And for once, Piper Halliwell meant it wholeheartedly.
I figured it would be appropriate for me to end the story the same way it began; (almost) completely free of angst and insecurity. I hope you all enjoyed it; thoughts are welcome as always. Your reviews never failed to make me smile, or think, and I still can't believe how many there were... I'm pretty sure it's more than ten times the number of reviews I've ever got for anything, lol. Kind of mind blowing. Anyway, thank you. You've been amazing. I doubt I'll ever take on another story of this size, but it DID help a rather painful semester pass by much quicker than it would have otherwise, and I learned a few things about myself. Thanks again for your patience and kindness, and I hope you all have a fantastic holiday!!