Chris could see himself down on the floor of the manor. He could see Leo leaning over him and crying. Chris knew he was dying. He seemed to be floating above it all. Then his body started to vanish. Suddenly his body was back in the living room, but he was on the couch and his father wasn't holding him anymore. Several people were standing around him, including his aunts and his parents, but they all looked different. Then he saw a white light up above him. He started heading for the light. Before he could reach it, he felt himself being pulled down, and soon he was plunged into darkness.
# # #
Chris hurt all over, with especially severe pain in his stomach. His eyes fluttered open and he could see Phoebe sitting beside him reading a book. She looked over at him and gave him a smile. He closed his eyes again. When he opened them again, the room was dark instead of sunny. He saw someone sleeping in the chair beside him, but it was too dark to see who it was. The pain in his stomach was slightly less overwhelming. He moaned, and Piper sat up in the chair.
"Chris?" she said.
"Mom?" Chris' voice was raspy and his throat hurt.
Piper got a glass of water off the nightstand and helped Chris sit up to have a drink. As Chris sat up, sharp pain shot through his abdomen. After he had a few sips he lay back down exhausted. He croaked out, "Have to pee."
Chris felt the covers being pulled off and opened his eyes. He could barely make out the outline of his mom holding a bedpan. He shook his head and got out the words, "No. No freaking way."
Piper sighed. "Want your dad to help you instead?"
"Hold on," she said.
Piper left the room, and a few minutes later Leo arrived. Chris let Leo help him while he kept his eyes shut tight, and tried to pretend this wasn't happening to him. When he was done he fell asleep immediately.
# # #
He opened his eyes again to sunlight, and saw himself across the room talking to Leo. Him across the room sounded snide. "I don't see why I have to help watch him, it doesn't even look like he's gonna make it."
Leo's hand snaked out and swatted the other Chris. Him across the room said, "Hey! What's with all the hitting lately?!"
Chris could tell Leo was in lecture mode when he said, "If it weren't for him, none of us would be here Chris. You need to keep that in mind when you…"
Chris was distracted from the surreal experience of watching himself get chewed out when he felt someone touch his arm. He looked up and saw a familiar young man, but couldn't place him. The man smiled and leaned down to whisper, "Are you as stubborn as you? Dad's already given him the same lecture like five times, and he still hasn't gotten it."
Chris realized with terror that it was Wyatt, but Wyatt looked completely different. His hair was short, and his face looked strange. Wyatt smiled down at him and reached out to touch his shoulder. Chris cringed away and tried to move off the bed quickly. This brought on fresh pain in his stomach and he groaned as he tried to crawl away.
Leo was at his side in an instant, and put a hand on Chris' shoulder. "Hey Chris, it's okay. Wyatt isn't going to hurt you. Lay back down and rest. Wyatt, hand me the water."
Chris looked over at Wyatt, and saw an expression he didn't recognize on his brother. On anyone else he would have called it sorrow or maybe regret, but Wyatt didn't ever feel either of those emotions. Wyatt reached over and handed the glass to Leo. Leo held it for Chris while he had a few sips. Chris gave Wyatt a wary look. Leo nodded his head towards the door, and Wyatt headed towards it with a sigh.
Leaning down towards Chris, Leo said, "Close your eyes and rest son. I'll be here watching you."
Chris stayed awake long enough to make sure Wyatt left the room, and then let himself slip back into sleep.
# # #
The next time he opened his eyes it was dark again, but there was a small night light on. Chris looked over at the chair beside him, and saw himself staring back. Chris in the chair said, "Hey."
Chris on the bed said, "Hey."
They looked at each other for a few seconds. Chris on the bed thought Chris in the chair had a much better haircut then he had ever had. Chris in the bed asked, "Am I alive?"
Chris in the chair said, "You seem a little slow. I hope you didn't get brain damage while you were out or something."
Chris in the chair rolled his eyes and said, "No you're not dead. You're back in the year 2027. But you changed things, and consequently I never went back in time. So now there are two of us, and that's a problem."
"Two of us?"
"But how did I get here? I thought I was dead in 2004."
"Well technically, you were almost dead. And lucky for you, it was on our twenty-third birthday, so it was an easy day to remember. Mom, Phoebe, and Paige summoned you with some help from Wyatt and a few other witches. They had lots of time to work out a way to heal you, and… here you are."
"Mom? Mom's here?"
Chris in the chair nodded solemnly. Chris in the bed couldn't help but cry as he said it as a statement, "Mom's here."
Chris in the chair shifted uncomfortably and said, "You want me to get her or something? Maybe Dad?"
Chris in the chair had heard what life had been like for his other self and was serious when he said, "We're all here. Even Wyatt, who may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but he's a good brother, and a pretty nice guy. He is in no way evil."
Chris on the bed shook his head with wonder. It was everything he had ever hoped for. More then he had ever hoped he would be able to accomplish when he went back in time. Then he looked over at himself and said, "What now?"
"I'll let Dad explain that one to you. Are you hungry? It's been a couple of days, and no offence, but you look really thin compared to me."
"Yeah, I could eat."
"Be right back."
Chris in the chair orbed away. Chris wiped his eyes and contemplated everything he had heard. Five minutes later there was a soft knock on the door, and Leo came in holding a bowl. Leo said, "I heard you were awake, and ready to eat."
Chris nodded and took a good look at his dad. Chris realized his father appeared much older than the last time he'd seen him, and wondered how he hadn't noticed that the last time his eyes were open. He said, "Dad? You look so…"
Leo smiled. "Old?" he asked.
Chris nodded. Leo sat on the chair and said, "In your original timeline I was still a whitelighter, and looked the same age the whole time you knew me. I've been human for the past twenty-two years. Aging has its bad moments, but all in all, I think it's nice."
"Let's get you sitting up, and see if you can keep this down."
Leo put some pillows behind Chris and helped him sit. Chris felt some pain in his stomach, but it wasn't anywhere near the crippling pain he'd experienced before. He lifted his shirt, and saw a large bandage covering his wound. "Why am I at home?"
"Your mom and aunts summoned you."
"Yeah, I know. I mean why not in a hospital."
Leo sighed, "Your wound was caused by magic. Nothing a doctor could do would heal you. We thought you'd have a better chance here at home."
Leo held up the bowl to Chris. He took it and ate a few bites of the vegetable soup before asking, "What do we do now? I mean with two of me here?"
Leo shook his head. "You just concentrate on getting better for now. It's going to be at least two weeks before we can even think about anything else."
Chris nodded and ate some more. Then he looked his father in the eye and said, "Mom's really here?"
"I'll go get her."
Chris looked at the glowing alarm clock that said it was three a.m. "No, that's okay," he said, "I'll see her in the morning."
Leo nodded. When about two thirds of the soup was gone Chris handed it back and sighed. Leo said, "Do you need to use the bathroom? I think you're well enough that I could help you walk down the hall."
Chris nodded. By the time Leo helped him back into his bed, Chris was exhausted, and fell right to sleep.
# # #
The next day when Chris opened his eyes he could tell from the light coming in the window that it was most likely afternoon. He glanced over and saw the other him, and Wyatt sitting at a small table playing checkers. Chris said, "But do you really think it will work?"
"Yeah I do."
"I don't know if I want all those rotten memories in my head."
"Oh please, you know you want to help, you're just complaining for no reason. Besides, Dad's made up his mind."
"Yeah, I don't know what other me over there did, but ever since he's been here, Dad's been ridiculously overprotective of me. He practically treats me like I'm twelve again. I seem to remember a few weeks ago he valued my opinion, and now his word is law, and my opinion doesn't matter."
"That's not true and you know it. You're just jealous that other you is getting all the attention."
"It is true. Dad swatted me again yesterday! What the hell is that about?"
"That's about you turning into a four year old whenever the subject of other you comes up."
Chris leaned over and punched Wyatt in the shoulder slightly harder then what could be considered playful. Wyatt rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah, because that proves you're mature."
Chris got up and said, "Screw you, and screw other me too."
Chris in the bed was truly shocked by the interaction between Wyatt and his other self. He'd had doubts before, but now he really could start to believe that Wyatt wasn't evil. In the future Chris was from, Wyatt would have skewered him for that punch, and then he'd have healed him so he would be around to skewer again later.
Chris in the bed smirked and said, "Original."
Chris and Wyatt both looked over at him. Wyatt got up but kept his distance, not wanting to scare him again. He asked, "What was that?"
"I'm original Chris, not 'other' Chris."
Wyatt started to laugh. The Chris who was standing glared and said, "There is no way in hell I'm going to go for that."
Wyatt got his laughing under control and said, "Well we have to keep you separate somehow, and your middle name is my name, so what do you suggest?"
Standing Chris shrugged, "I don't know."
Chris in the bed said, "I'll be number one, and you can be number two."
Chris standing glared and said angrily, "I know, I'll be healthy well adjusted Chris, and you can be sickly with lots of issues Chris."
Wyatt frowned at his Chris and said, "Stop it. Why are you being mean?"
Standing Chris frowned at his brother's censure, and muttered to Chris in the bed, "Sorry. That was uncalled for. How about you go by Chris, and I'll go by Christopher for now."
Chris smiled and said, "Deal."
Christopher said, "I'll just have to keep reminding myself that Mom isn't mad for the next few weeks."
Wyatt smiled and asked Chris. "You hungry?"
Chris nodded, and Wyatt orbed out. Christopher and Chris looked at each other. Chris said, "It's so surreal to see you."
"Tell me about it."
After a pause Chris said, "So tell me about your life. I want to hear all about how happy it is, so that I can get over my 'lots of issues'."
Christopher smiled and sat in the chair beside the bed. He started talking, and soon Wyatt came back with some food. For the next half an hour Chris ate, and Christopher and Wyatt filled him in on how his life could have been, if Wyatt had never turned evil.
Chris found out that Christopher had a college degree and an apartment of his own not too far away. When he wasn't doing anything whitelighter related he was apprenticing as a chef in one of the restaurants Piper owned. He was staying in the manor for a few weeks right now because he was helping to watch Chris.
Chris took it all in and found it hard to relate to. He had never really thought much about cooking or school. He had always been too involved with fighting off Wyatt. He found out that Wyatt also had a degree, and was doing graduate work to become a teacher at magic school. Chris was really shocked to learn that Wyatt had a fiancé. And that they planned to be married in a few months.
He found out that his aunt Phoebe had been married to a guy named Coop for a long time, and that they had three daughters. Paige was married to a guy named Henry, and they had two daughters and one son.
Possibly the most surprising thing Chris learned was that he had a younger sister named Melinda. She was a witch with no whitelighter abilities, because Leo had been human when she was conceived. She was eighteen and in her first year of college.
The more Chris learned, the more out of place he felt. This future was not his. He didn't belong.
An hour after Chris woke up, Wyatt noticed that his eyelids were starting to droop. He said, "Why don't you lay back down and rest. Mom should be home in a couple of hours."
Chris nodded and gratefully went back to sleep.
# # #
The next time Chris opened his eyes, Piper was sitting in the chair next to his bed reading a book. He must have made some noise, because she turned towards him. Her smile made the corners of her eyes crinkle, and Chris couldn't help but notice how much older she looked than the last time he'd seen her.
She stood, put her book down on the chair, and went to sit on the edge of the bed next to him.
"How are you feeling, sweetheart?" she asked while running her fingers through his hair to get the bangs out of his eyes.
His eyes filled, and he whispered, "You're here." He thought he'd already gotten past the idea that his mother wasn't dead in this timeline, but seeing her there in front of him brought his feelings of joy and relief into sharp focus.
Understanding, she gently pulled him into a hug, mindful of his injury. "I'm here, thanks to you."
The tears spilled down his face as he wrapped his arms around her, and held on tight as if she might disappear at any moment. He tried to settle down, and stop the flow of liquid from his eyes, but it didn't work.
She held him close, rubbed one hand up and down his back, and started unconsciously rocking back and forth to sooth him. "I know," she said softly, "It's a lot to process. You just let it all out. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
Those words only caused more tears, but he didn't try to stop them.
After several minutes, his tears slowed, and he noticed she was not only rocking him, but also humming a tune that he vaguely remembered from his childhood. Slightly embarrassed by his emotional breakdown, he let go of her, and wiped at his eyes and nose with his sleeves.
She grabbed a box of tissues off the nightstand and held them out to him.
"Thanks." He pulled out a wad, and cleaned up his face.
"Better?" she asked.
She shook her head. "You went through hell to get me here. I think you're entitled to a few tears." When he simply nodded, she said, "I need you to lie back so I can change the bandages on your wound."
He lay back down on the bed with his head propped up on the pillows so he could see what she was doing; morbidly curious to see what the dagger wound looked like. She unbuttoned the pajama shirt he was wearing, so she could get to his stomach. The gauze pad that covered the wound was four inches square. She carefully peeled the medical tape away, and pulled the old gauze pad off, and then to Chris' horror, she pulled out some more gauze from inside the gaping wound in his abdomen.
Chris had to stifle the urge to vomit when he realized he could see inside his own body cavity. He quickly closed his eyes and turned away, while trying to keep his breath steady so he didn't pass out.
"It's looking much better," she said.
"That's better?" He was immensely glad he hadn't seen it at its worst.
"Yes, it's a lot better. When we first pulled you from the past, the wound was twice as deep. You've been here for two and a half days now, and at this rate, you'll be fully healed in less than two weeks."
He kept his eyes on the nightstand, instead of his stomach, and saw her mixing up some kind of homemade ointment, before slathering it on some new gauze, and then putting that gauze inside his wound. To distract himself he said, "Is that a magical remedy?"
"Yes. Without this, all the whitelighter magic in the world couldn't have healed you. Your aunts and I did research on that dagger for years before coming up with this enchanted salve. We practiced it on demons first. We'd capture one, stab it with the dagger, and then try healing it with the stuff. It took about thirty tries before we found just the right mix of ingredients and spells. Once we found the right mix, we tried it on several different kinds of demons, and they all healed up perfectly before we killed them. Then your father decided to test it on himself, without my knowledge or consent by the way, because he knew we needed to test it on a human, and that none of us would condone doing that to an innocent. Thank God the salve worked."
As Piper was talking, she'd taped a new top gauze pad over the wound, and buttoned up his shirt again.
"How's the pain?" she asked.
With a frown, he said, "Not bad at all. Is that the salve, or did you guys give me something?"
"Both. You're on some pretty serious pain medication mixed with some antibiotics."
"But I'm not in a hospital…"
"For a long time now we've had an actual medical doctor at magic school. She's also a witch. Having Dr. Chan's advice and help has been a lifesaver many times over. She prescribed the medication. We gave you a shot a couple of hours ago. You'll get another one at ten o'clock tonight."
"I slept through a shot?" he asked.
She gestured to his stomach. "I don't think your body is going to register a little pin prick as pain when you've got a serious tear in your abdomen. You've been asleep or unconscious more often than you've been awake over the past couple of days. But that's a good thing, because your body needs the sleep to heal itself, and honestly that first day, even the pain medication wasn't enough to keep you from suffering, so I was glad you stayed out for most of it."
Chris nodded, remembering the dreadful pain he'd felt when he first woke up. It hadn't been as bad as when he'd first been stabbed, but it had still been horrible. His eyebrows furrowed as he thought about the night he'd been stabbed.
"Gideon?" he asked.
"Dead," Piper said. "Your father killed him the same day he tried to kill you and Wyatt."
"Good." Chris felt nothing but relief to hear that the man was gone.
Piper sat on the bed again, and held Chris' hand in hers. "You slept through dinner earlier. Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, and I need to go to the bathroom, too."
"I'll go warm you up a plate, and I'll have your dad come help you to get to the bathroom."
"Thanks, Mom," he said, and she patted his hand before she left.
He realized he was alone for the first time since he'd been brought back, and pushed himself into a sitting position. The pain medication he was on must have been pretty strong, because he felt just fine; not at all like he had a deadly wound in his gut.
As he was waiting for Leo, his bladder let him know he needed to get to the bathroom sooner rather than later, and he swung his feet over the side of the bed. He tentatively tried to stand, and when he could do that without any issues, he took a few steps and grabbed the doorframe. Walking was taxing, but not impossible. He took a deep breath and was about to take a step into the hallway, when his brother's voice stopped him.
"Hey!" Wyatt hissed, rushing to Chris' side. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Chris automatically cringed and ducked his head as Wyatt's angry countenance rushed towards him. But instead of a punch to the guts, or a slammed head against the wall, all Chris felt was an arm around his waist to hold him up.
While supporting Chris with one arm, Wyatt used his free hand to pull Chris' arm up and across his shoulders, so that the weaker man could hold onto him.
"I asked you a question. What the hell do you think you're doing getting out of bed on your own?"
Chris couldn't help the look of sheer terror on his face as he stammered out the word, "B-Bathroom."
Wyatt sighed, and started the two of them moving down the hall towards the bathroom. "Look," he said softly, "I know you're from a time and place where I'm the bad guy, and I know you're scared of that other me, but I'm never going to hurt you, Chris."
The younger man blushed with embarrassment. He knew this Wyatt wasn't evil, but it was impossible for him not to react to his brother's anger with fear.
"Sorry," he muttered as they made it to the bathroom door.
"It's okay," Wyatt said with a genuine smile. "You're just lucky I'm the one who found you out of bed instead of Dad. With the way he's been lately, he would have lectured you forever about it."
"Yeah, he probably would have," Chris agreed. "Thanks."
Wyatt stopped them and looked into the bathroom once they got there. "Uh… do you need help with anything in there?"
"No!" Realizing he'd spoke too loudly, Chris said, "I mean… I've got it. It's fine."
Wyatt smirked and let him go. "I'll be right outside the door if you have any trouble."
"Great," Chris said while rolling his eyes, and shutting the door firmly. He looked at himself in the mirror, and silently admitted that the spike of fear mixed with the short walk had exhausted him. Swallowing his pride, he sat down to pee, and heard voices outside.
"Did you help Chris to the bathroom?" Leo's voice asked.
"Thanks, but you didn't have to. I'm actually surprised he let you."
Chris frowned waiting for the inevitable tattling that Wyatt was sure to do. When they were younger, Wyatt delighted in telling the adults when Chris had done something wrong, especially if he could do it in a casual way that didn't make it seem like he had it in for his younger brother. He could practically hear Wyatt's voice in his head saying, "I didn't have much of a choice since he was practically falling down when I found him in the hallway."
Wyatt's actual voice said, "Jeez, Dad, have a little faith. I told you we talked for almost an hour this afternoon. It will take some time, but he's already getting used to me being good."
"I'm glad to hear it," Leo said, "and for the record, I have every confidence that he'll come around. I'm just surprised it was so fast."
"Well, he probably let me help today because he really needed the bathroom. He was sitting up in bed with his feet on the floor, and looking desperately at the doorway. A few more seconds and he may have tried to get there on his own."
"Thanks for letting me know. I'll have a word with him."
Chris was utterly shocked. Wyatt had kept his questionable behavior a secret, and he'd actively lied to keep it from their father. He'd also found a way to warn Leo about the questionable behavior without getting Chris in trouble. It was a very novel experience for Chris to have an older brother who was protecting him. He scowled when he realized that wasn't exactly true. His Wyatt had always protected Chris from death, but that was because Wyatt wanted him alive to torture, not because he cared about what Chris wanted. This Wyatt seemed to actually care about Chris' feelings.
Once Chris was finished in the bathroom, he opened the door to see both Leo and Wyatt still standing there.
"How are you feeling, son?" Leo said, holding out a hand for Chris.
Instead of taking the hand, Chris put his arm around Wyatt's shoulders and said, "I'm starving. Can you check on my food while Wyatt helps me back to bed?"
Wyatt and Leo exchanged a look of surprise, but Leo quickly nodded. "Sure. I'll be right back."
Wyatt and Chris slowly made their way back to the bedroom. Once Chris was sure Leo was out of earshot, he said, "Why did you lie for me?"
"Dude, you can barely stand up."
Wyatt sighed as he helped Chris get back in bed, and then took a seat in the chair beside the bed. "Seeing you hurt makes me even more likely than usual to look out for you, because I love you."
Chris scoffed. "You don't even know me."
"Yeah I do," Wyatt said with a chuckle. "I've known you my whole life. I may be a lot different from the Wyatt you knew, but you're exactly like my version of Chris."
Scowling, Chris muttered, "I doubt that."
Leo knocked on the doorframe before walking in, and said, "What are you guys talking about?"
Piper came in behind him, holding a plate of steaming food.
"How similar Chris and Christopher are," Wyatt said, as he stood up, and gestured for his mom to sit in the vacated chair.
She sat and handed the plate to Chris, who smiled when he saw that she'd made tuna noodle casserole. He scooped a large fork full into his mouth, and groaned happily.
Leo sat on the side of Chris' bed and said, "It's difficult for me to see the similarities." He patted Chris' knee. "But I suppose for someone who didn't know him 24 years ago the similarities would stand out more than the differences."
"Hey, I knew him," Wyatt protested, "I just don't remember him."
Chris looked up at Wyatt and thought about the baby he'd grown to love while he was in the past. "It's hard for me to think of you and baby Wyatt as the same person, especially after knowing the you from my timeline." He looked down at his plate, and realized he was going to miss that version of his brother. "You were a sweet baby. You called me 'Iis', and every time I watched you, you demanded that I play cars or blocks with you."
"I demanded?" Wyatt asked with a smile.
Chris smiled too. "Well, you were persistent if I didn't do what you'd asked. You'd say my name repeatedly and hold the toy up to show me until I'd get on the floor and play with you."
"It's strange to think of you as the older one," Wyatt said.
"It's strange to think of you as that baby. I'm gonna miss that version of you." He looked down at his food, and took another bite.
"Thanks for looking out for me back then. Hopefully you can get used to me looking out for you now."
Chris looked up and smiled. "If it weren't for my memories of evil Wyatt, that wouldn't be difficult at all. The last time I saw you as a baby, you were looking out for me."
"When Gideon showed up with the dagger, you put your protective bubble around both of us instead of just you."
"But… if you were in the bubble, then how did that happen?" Wyatt pointed to Chris' stomach.
Realizing what he'd just said, Chris darted his eyes to Leo and then Piper. Neither of them looked particularly pleased.
"Oh… Well, that's not the point. The point was that you were being protective." Chris put a bite of food in his mouth, hoping no one would ask for clarification.
Wincing at the disappointment he heard in his father's voice, Chris kept his eyes on his plate.
"I think it's time you told us what happened between you and Gideon."
Chris shrugged and moved the food around on his plate. "Clearly he stabbed me. What else is there to tell?"
"You listen up mister," Piper said sternly, "You're going to tell your father the whole story right now, and don't you dare leave anything out. He deserves the truth, and so do I."
Chris pouted, and darted his eyes up to look at his parents and brother. Piper and Leo wore matching expressions of irritation, but Wyatt looked surprised.
"Don't you think you're being a little harsh, Mom?" Wyatt said softly.
Piper took Wyatt's hand in hers. "I know it's not the kind of parenting you're used to, baby, but this Chris would be dead several times over if your father and I hadn't decided to be strict with him. You can go downstairs if it's too hard for you to watch."
"What!" Chris couldn't believe his mother had just said that. "That's totally unfair, and not even true! I wouldn't be dead several times over!"
Leo grabbed Chris' chin in his fingers to get eye contact. "Are you actually trying to tell us that you wouldn't have died when Samantha got you as a baby, when Shorb stabbed you with glass, when Clyde's henchman shot you with the darklighter arrow, or when Gideon stabbed you?"
Chris glared at Leo. "No, but you guys being strict didn't prevent any of those things from happening!"
Leo raised his voice. "And if we weren't strict with you, how many more close calls would you have had? How many times did I force you to play it safe and either stay home or bring me along when you would have gone into a dangerous situation alone?"
Chris swallowed hard and lowered his eyes. "I don't know… a lot I guess."
Letting go of Chris' chin, Leo put a hand on his son's knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We don't do it because we want to, we do it because it's what you need."
When Chris opened his mouth to disagree, Leo held a finger up to stop him and said, "Don't even try to deny it, Chris, or I'll have to bring up your drunken confession."
Chris blushed and shook his head.
"Okay then, tell us what happened with Gideon, right now."
Glaring at his half eaten dinner, Chris muttered, "Gideon showed up at the manor when Wyatt happened to be leaning against me. As soon as Wyatt saw him, his protective bubble went up around both of us. I realized as soon as I saw Gideon that I couldn't sense him. I had no idea how he'd cloaked himself, but I knew you guys had been looking for him for hours, and that we wouldn't have any luck finding him again if I let him get away. So I set Wyatt away from me on the couch and told him to orb to Dad. As soon as Wyatt was safe, I orbed Excalibur into my hand, and rushed at Gideon. He didn't even try to avoid the sword. I think he was expecting it, and let it happen, because once I'd stabbed him, I was close enough for him to stab me with the dagger. He made a comment about being able to heal himself as he pulled the sword out and orbed away."
Chris looked up at his father. "And then you showed up, so you know the rest."
Leo nodded. "So you decided to disobey me when you realized you couldn't sense Gideon."
"We may not have gotten another opportunity to find him," Chris said, trying to defend his actions.
"We would have found a way, but that's beside the point. The point is that you gave me your word that you'd run instead of fighting if there was danger."
Chris was quiet for a few moments, and then looked at his father with tears in his eyes. "Yeah, I did, and I'm sorry that it makes you and Mom unhappy, but I would do it again a hundred times over even if it meant me dying. Because saving Wyatt, saving our family, and saving the world at large is a thousand times more important that protecting this version of me," he pointed to himself. "Like it or not, I'm expendable."
Piper gasped, and put a hand over her mouth, and Wyatt put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
Chris waved a hand towards his door and added softly, "You've got another, better version of me running around out there. You don't need two of us."
A few tears ran down Piper's face, while Leo clenched his jaw, and took a couple of deep breaths.
Wyatt shook his head, and muttered, "You're so wrong."
Leo put both of his hands on Chris' upper arms, and gave him a tiny shake and said fiercely, "You are not expendable to us."
With a sad smile, Chris patted his dad's forearm and said, "I know that's how you guys feel, Dad, and believe me when I say I'm grateful to be alive, so can't we just… agree to disagree?"
Chris sighed at his father's answer, and leaned back against the bed, suddenly feeling very tired. He muttered, "You said I was forgiven."
"You are. I forgave you a long time ago, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook."
Chris blushed at what that statement probably meant, swallowed hard, and put another bite of food in his mouth to avoid talking about it anymore.
"Have you told him the plan, Dad?" Wyatt asked. "It might help him realize how important he is to all of us."
"What plan?" Chris asked.
"Once you're fully healed we plan to merge you with our Chris."
"What do you mean merge?"
"We're going to do a spell that will merge your body and Christopher's body into one physical body, while still retaining both sets of memories."
"What!" Chris was shocked. "Why would you do that to your son? Christopher doesn't deserve to have twenty-two years with of torture and heartache stuck in his head."
Piper spoke up. "Two of you can't exist for very long in one time and dimension. If it weren't for Wyatt's magic holding the two of you apart, you probably would have already merged."
"We think you'd retain both sets of memories either way," Leo added, "but the spell will make sure that happens."
Chris thought that over for a few seconds. "It still doesn't seem very fair to Christopher."
Piper put a hand on his knee. "You're not expendable to any of us. We've talked to Christopher about this several times, and every time, he has told us that he wants to do the merge."
Wyatt smiled and added, "He likes to complain about it, but if you told him you didn't want to do it, he'd probably punch you, and do it while you were unconscious. He wants to do this, not just for the family, but for you, too. You saved Mom. None of us want to lose you."
Feeling close to tears, Chris said softly, "It might be nice to have some happy memories to offset the bad ones."
"Exactly." Piper said with an encouraging smile. "You should eat up. You need to eat and rest so that you can heal."
"I'm full." He held the plate out for her.
Frowning, she said, "How about three more bites?"
"I'm not five," he said with a scowl.
"Chris," Leo chided.
With a sigh, Chris shoveled in three more bites before handing the plate back to his mother.
Suddenly exhausted again, Chris situated himself so he could lie down flat. "I'd like to talk about it some more, but I don't think I can stay awake."
Piper stood, handed the plate to Leo, and tucked Chris in before kissing his forehead. "You go ahead and sleep sweetheart."
Leo patted his shoulder and said, "No getting out of bed without help, and absolutely no orbing or other magic until you're fully recovered. You need to conserve your energy for healing. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Chris mumbled as he closed his eyes, and focused on sleep.
# # #
Over the next four days, Chris spent a significant portion of his time asleep. He wasn't sure if his body was really that tired, or if the medication they had him on made him sleep, but he didn't mind being asleep, because the longer he spent in this new future, the more out of place he felt. Each of his relatives had been to visit him, including the sister he'd never met, all the cousins and uncles that hadn't been around in the future he remembered, and his two aunts. He'd even met Wyatt's fiancée who seemed way too good for his brother.
He'd watched his family members interacting around him, and he could practically feel the happiness and love that surrounded them all. All those positive feelings were fantastic to see for a few minutes, because it meant he'd succeeded in his mission, but after hours of all that positive energy, he felt a little ill. All the negative thoughts and energy he had inside him seemed overpowering at times, and he felt like that negativity would infect all the happiness in the family once he merged with Christopher. After that thought got in his head, he couldn't get it out, and he'd pretended to be tired more than once, simply to avoid everyone, only to fall asleep once his eyes were shut.
On the morning of the seventh day, Chris was woken up by Leo's hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, buddy, I need to change your bandages, and then you need to eat some breakfast."
"Bathroom first," Chris muttered.
"Okay.' Leo held out a hand to help.
Chris glared at the hand and said, "I'm almost fully healed. Can I please start walking down the hall by myself?"
Taken aback by the attitude and the glare, Leo paused before answering. "Okay, but only down the hall and back, and still no magic."
Chris rolled his eyes, and walked to the bathroom with no trouble. He felt completely back to full health, and yesterday when they'd changed his bandages, his injury had looked more like a small cut than a stab wound.
He knew the merge would be happening sooner rather than later, but he didn't know if he was still willing to do it. He knew that sentiment would not go over well with anyone, so he'd kept it to himself. Yesterday he'd been telling his cousin the story of the time he and Leo had gone so far back in time that they'd run into a dinosaur, when inspiration struck. He could go much further back in time. He could go a hundred and fifty years back, before any of his family members were alive, and live out the remainder of his life alone; happy with the knowledge that his family was safe and whole without his negativity in the mix. That thought was very appealing every time he noticed how happy his family was. But then other times, thought of being alone made him almost ill.
Feeling morose, he walked back to the bedroom, unbuttoned his pajama top, and lay down so Leo could change his bandages.
"What's wrong, son?" Leo asked as he peeled back the medical tape holding the gauze pad on.
"That's not true, and we both know it."
Leo got the gauze pad off, and they both inspected the wound for a few seconds.
"It looks like a cat scratch." Chris said with amazement. "Or maybe a bad paper cut."
Leo grinned as he put a little bit of the salve directly onto the wound before putting a new, smaller gauze pad over it. "This might be the last one," he said as he taped it in place. "I think you'll be fully healed by the end of the day. I'll check with Dr. Chan in a few minutes, but I don't think you'll need the shot of antibiotics and pain medication today."
"That stuff is pretty amazing." Chris muttered as he buttoned his shirt back up, worrying about what that might mean for the following day.
Leo sat on the edge of the bed. "Yes it is. Now tell me what's wrong."
Chris scowled at his father. "Nothing, this is just who I am. I'm not like the rest of you; full of happy thoughts and memories. I'm full of negative thoughts and past trauma."
Leo pointed to his own head and said, "I have plenty of bad memories up here. I watched you die, remember? All of us have plenty of negative thoughts, and past traumas. We're just happy around you right now because we're relieved that we got you back. We weren't sure if our plan was going to work."
"Nice try, Dad, but the difference is that I don't have any happy memories to offset the bad ones. Maybe you forgot what I was actually like when you were concocting your plans."
"I remember very well what you're like, Chris, and this sullen attitude you've got going usually means one of three things." Leo held his fingers up as he ticked off his points. "You're either pissed at me for something, and don't want to talk about it. You're thinking about the past, and aren't dealing well with your emotions. Or, you're planning on doing something I won't approve of, and you don't want me to try stopping you." He put his hand down and added, "Or I suppose you could have already done something wrong, and you don't want me to find out, but I doubt we've left you alone long enough for that one."
Glaring at his father, and hating that the man was right, Chris opened his mouth to tell him to screw off, but thought better of it. Instead he rolled over onto his side, so his back was to Leo and muttered, "I'm tired. I want to go back to sleep."
A sharp smack to his backside startled Chris into flipping over onto his back, and looking at Leo with shock, which quickly turned back into a glare. "What the hell, Leo?"
He pointed a finger at Chris' nose and said sternly, "Don't lie to me. You're not tired, you just don't want to deal with whatever's going on in your head."
"Screw you," Chris hissed, "You don't… Ah!"
He was cut off, as Leo forcibly rolled him over onto his stomach and landed six stinging swats on his butt.
Chris struggled to roll back over, but Leo held him in place with a hand in the middle of his back.
"Shit," Chris muttered.
"Maybe you're the one who forgot what I was like," Leo said. "I'm not going to put up with you keeping everything inside and lashing out at us after everything we've been through. So start talking."
Chris realized with horror that the bedroom door was open, and the whole family would probably be able to hear it if this situation got any worse, and anyone walking by could see. Thinking quickly, he said, "You guys are treating me like an invalid, even though I'm almost completely healed. I'm tired of being stuck in bed, and I'm sick of not being able to use my magic."
The pressure from Leo's hand let up, and Chris felt his father patting his back gently before helping him to turn back over.
Leo sat on the bed and said, "I know it sucks to be stuck in bed all day, son, but it's only one more day, and if you hadn't stayed in bed to conserve your energy, you might not have healed as quickly."
Chris nodded, glad that Leo had believed his excuse. "I get that, and that's why I haven't been arguing about it, but it does make me feel… I don't know… useless?"
"Useless?" Leo asked with a raised eyebrow. "You're injured. That doesn't make you useless in any way."
"I didn't say I was useless," Chris snapped. "I said that's how lying in bed all day makes me feel."
Leo gave his son an appraising once over. "Well then I guess we'll just have to make sure you stay busy today. After breakfast I'll have your brothers go through all the new entries in the Book of Shadows with you."
Chris perked up at that. "Really?"
"Sure. You need to get up to speed with the rest of us, and there have been several new entries over the past twenty-three years."
"That would be great. Thanks, Dad." Chris gave him a tentative smile. "What's for breakfast?"
Leo smiled at how quickly his kid had cheered up. "I'll go find out."
As soon as Leo was out of sight, Chris rolled onto his side and put a hand back to rub at the fading sting with a pout. He was suddenly a lot less worried about merging with Christopher, and a lot more worried about what Leo might be planning once he was fully healed. He hadn't forgotten the conversation from a few days ago when his father had said being forgiven didn't mean he was off the hook; he'd just pushed that thought to the back of his mind. But getting swatted brought that statement into sharp focus.
He heard someone coming up the stairs, and quickly sat up. His stomach rumbled with hunger when he saw his father walk in holding a plate full of bacon and eggs.
# # #
Four hours later, Chris, Christopher, and Wyatt had gone through all the new entries in the Book of Shadows. Chris wasn't surprised to find out that he knew most of the demons from his own timeline, and explained how each of them served evil Wyatt, while his brothers told him how they'd vanquished those same demons together. By the time they'd gotten to the last page, Wyatt and Christopher were in a somber mood along with Chris, because of the striking differences between the experiences in their pasts.
Wyatt closed the book, and after a moment of silence he said softly, "I kind of envy you guys."
"What?" Chris asked, not quite believing Wyatt could be saying that.
"You get to have two sets of memories to tap into. It will be like having the life experience of forty-six years instead of twenty-three."
Christopher nodded. "That does sound kind of cool."
Chris scowled. "Cool? Are you serious? You're going to have a bunch of horrific memories shoved into your head if we merge. You should be doing everything in your power to talk them out of it."
"If?" Christopher said with a frown. "What do you mean, if? This is a done deal. We're doing it."
Chris looked him in the eyes and said, "What if I don't agree?"
Christopher glared at him, and said, "Too bad. It's the right thing to do for all of us, not just you. You're not the only one who gets to save family members."
Wyatt set the Book of Shadows on the floor, and leaned in close to Chris so he could whisper. "You're not thinking about doing anything stupid are you? Because let me tell you, both Mom and Dad will stop you if you try to get out of this. And with the way Dad's been lately…" he looked over at Christopher, who squirmed uncomfortably at the scrutiny. Wyatt turned back to Chris and finished his statement. "…you'll probably end up getting your butt swatted."
Chris blushed, but hearing it put so bluntly gave him the courage to ask the question that had been on his mind since seeing the other him get swatted when he first woke up in this timeline. Keeping his voice low, Chris said, "Does Dad… I mean has Dad ever uh… spanked you guys?"
Christopher and Wyatt shared a look, and Christopher hissed, "See! I told you it was his fault!"
"What's my fault?" Chris asked.
Turning his eyes back to Chris, Wyatt cocked his head to the side and considered what his brother had just said. "Dad's recent behavior when it comes to discipline."
Wyatt looked at Christopher, and when the younger man nodded, Wyatt sighed and turned back to Chris to tell the story. "Dad hasn't swatted either of us for years. I mean it's been over ten full years for Christopher, and over thirteen for me, and then the day we got you back… he swatted us both."
"What! Why?" Chris asked.
Wyatt kept his voice down as he shared the story. "Christopher and I were having a private discussion in the kitchen about how sickly you looked, and I'm ashamed to say it, but we were questioning the decision to bring you here and save you when Dad walked by. We could both tell he'd overheard us, because he looked pissed and disappointed at the same time. He grabbed Christopher's arm first, pulled him to the kitchen table, bent him over it, and gave him ten hard smacks while I stood there dumbfounded." Wyatt couldn't maintain eye contact as he finished the story. "Seeing that was bad enough, but then Dad pulled me over and gave me the same." Wyatt muttered, "I'm twenty-five. It's ludicrous."
"We were both too shocked to do much other than stare at him while he lectured us about family," Christopher added. "It's a shocking difference to the way things used to be a week ago, and I think it's your fault."
Looking at his brother, Wyatt said, "That may be, but it's your own fault that it keeps happening to you." He turned to Chris and said with a wink, "Since that day I've been on my best behavior, but Christopher can't seem to keep himself in check." He looked back at his younger brother and said, "How many times has Dad swatted you now?"
Christopher punched his brother in the shoulder and hissed, "Shut up!"
"Ow, that hurt you jackass," Wyatt said as he covered his arm, and then smirked as he added, "Better watch out, or I'll tell Dad."
"Screw you!" Christopher hissed.
"So basically," Chris said, interrupting them, "what you're telling me is that I make Dad want to spank everyone. That's great. Sounds like one more reason I shouldn't be merging."
Both brothers got serious again, and Wyatt shook his head. "No, that's not what we're saying, Chris. Dad spanked both of us a few times when we were kids; that's not new behavior. What I'm saying is that he's been really stressed out because he's so worried about you, and since his emotions are on high, he's not as patient as he normally would be with our admittedly bad behavior."
Christopher nodded in agreement and said, "Actually, I'd say it's even more reason to do the merge. Dad will settle down once he knows you're safe, and then things can go back to normal."
Chris shook his head. "I don't know about that. What if we merge and he just stays that way because I'm around?"
"That's ridiculous," Wyatt said.
"Is it?" Chris said. "How many times has he spanked you as an adult. I mean full on, pants down, over his lap, spanking until you cry?"
Wyatt and Christopher shared a look of surprise before Wyatt turned back to Chris and said, "Never."
"Exactly," Chris said.
"How many times has he done that to you?" Christopher asked, a hint of horror creeping into his voice.
"Three times," Chris muttered, blushing.
"Shit," Christopher said. "I wouldn't mind skipping those memories."
Feeling quite sorry for himself, Chris added, "And I think he's going to do it again tonight or tomorrow."
"What!" Christopher shouted, and then quickly lowered his voice, "I mean why? Why would he spank you now?" Then he muttered to himself, "Jesus, I hope he does that before the merge if he's gonna do it."
"Thanks for that," Chris said, rolling his eyes.
Realization hit Wyatt, and he said softly, "For going after Gideon after you promised to orb away."
Chris blushed, and looked down at his lap, "Yeah."
"Dude, that sucks," Christopher said.
"Boys," Leo said from the bedroom doorway.
Three sets of eyes darted to Leo with shock.
"Oh. Hey, Dad," Wyatt said, recovering from his surprise more quickly than his brothers. Hoping his father hadn't been there long, he tried to act as if they'd been talking about demons. "We're all done looking through the Book of Shadows." He picked the book up off the floor and added, "We had a good time talking about the differences in our timelines."
"That's great, son." Leo said, keeping his eyes on Chris. "You and Christopher go put the book away, and then make us all something for lunch. Chris and I are going to have a talk."
"A talk?" Chris squeaked.
Leo nodded solemnly. "I'd say it's well past time."
Chris' eyes darted over to his brothers, silently begging them for help.
"Dad," Wyatt said gently, "Why don't you come downstairs and help us make lunch. Chris looks tired."
Leo's displeased expression turned to Wyatt. "Son, I've been standing here long enough to know what you were talking about, so stop pretending that you don't know Chris is about to get spanked."
Chris put his head in his hands and muttered, "God, Leo, could you say it any louder. I don't think everyone in the house heard you."
"It's noon on Tuesday. No one else is home," Leo said. "It's just us, and your brothers already know what's going to happen, and why." He focused on his other two sons. "Unless you'd both like an incentive to obey me right now, you need to do what I asked."
"Nope, I don't need an incentive," Wyatt quickly said, and started towards the door. Once he was in the hall, he noticed that Christopher hadn't followed him. "Come on Christopher," he coaxed, "You're not going to change his mind, so let's not make it harder on either one of them."
Instead of listening to his brother, Christopher glared at his father and said, "He got stabbed, Dad. Don't you think he's suffered enough?"
Leo walked over to Christopher, and put a hand on his shoulder. With a gentle squeeze he said, "I know it seems harsh, but it's not about having suffered enough, it's about giving Chris what he needs. In a couple of days when you merge, you'll understand, but for now, I need you to trust me."
Christopher's anger dissipated at Leo's demeanor. He did trust his father, but he also truly didn't want this to happen, especially when he was in the house. "But he's injured."
"He's almost fully healed. In fact he may be completely healed by now. Either way, he's healed enough."
Leo sighed, and pulled at Christopher's arm to get him to stand. He landed four solid swats on Christopher's rear end while walking him towards the door.
"Ow, Dad!" Christopher complained while trying to move out of Leo's grip.
Leo let go once they were at the door, and Christopher hastily went into the hall with Wyatt, and rubbed his butt while glaring at Leo.
Leo pointed a finger at both of them and said, "You both go downstairs and stay put until I come down. I can and will do the same to either one of you if you try to interfere before I'm done."
Both of them shook their heads. "That's absolutely not going to be necessary, Dad." Wyatt said, and then tossed an arm over Christopher's shoulders. "Come on, let's go. You can put your cooking skills to use and make us something complicated for lunch to keep your mind off of this."
Christopher looked over his shoulder and said sincerely, "Sorry, Chris."
"S'okay," Chris muttered morosely, as he watched them walking away.
Leo shut the bedroom door, and then turned to look at Chris, who couldn't maintain eye contact. He walked over to the chair that Christopher had been sitting on, scooted it back away from the bed and then sat down on it. He held out a hand to Chris and said, "Alright, let's get this over with."
Chris' hands gripped the covers so hard that his knuckles turned white. "It was twenty-three years ago!" he hissed.
"It was a week ago for you. We've talked about letting things slide, and we both know that's not what you need. You need a physical reminder that I care, and that I'm not going to be taking off when you do something wrong. So come here."
Chris looked at the hand, but made no move to get up. "Wyatt and Christopher are going to hear it."
Leo put his hand down and nodded. Raising his voice a little he said, "Wyatt, could you come here for a second."
With wide confused eyes, Chris shook his head as his older brother orbed into the room.
"Yeah, Dad?" Wyatt asked.
"Could you please use your magic to soundproof the room until we're done?"
"Sure, I think all of us will appreciate that." He held out his hand, closed his eyes, and said, "This room will be soundproof until Leo leaves." He looked back at Leo to see if he needed anything else.
"Thanks," Leo said.
Wyatt nodded, and orbed away.
Leo held his hand out again and said, "No more stalling, Chris. Come here, or I'm going to come get you. It's happening either way."
A tear slid down his face as Chris forced himself to toss his covers back, scoot to the edge of the bed, and stand up. "You're wrong. I don't need this," he said quietly, willing it to be true while trying to hold back more tears.
"The conversation I just walked in on tells me you do. You're feeling guilty about what you did, and now you need physical proof that I've forgiven you."
Chris shook his head vehemently, not wanting it to be true.
"You don't have to agree with me, son, you just have to obey me," Leo said.
Finding it nearly impossible to willingly step towards his impending doom, Chris took one tiny step forward, but stayed out of reach. The urge to orb away was incredibly tempting, especially now that Leo couldn't orb after him, but he knew that wouldn't go over well. He cringed at the thought of his entire family getting involved to track him down, and bring him back to Leo.
"Please don't," Chris said as he shuffled another step closer.
Leo leaned forward, clasped his son's wrist in his hand, and pulled. Chris stumbled forward the last couple of steps, and whimpered as Leo tugged him face down across his waiting lap. After wrapping a solid arm around Chris' waist to keep him in place, Leo quickly shucked the pajama bottoms and underwear down, and started spanking.
"Ow!" Chris whined. He purposely kicked his legs, and made a halfhearted attempt to push himself upright in protest.
Ignoring the little tantrum, Leo held tight and concentrated on turning the bare butt over his knee a uniform shade of pink.
As his physical struggles petered out, Chris' vocal protests started up. "Come on, Leo, that's enough! Ow. I get it okay? I won't do it again. I've learned my lesson, so there's no need to keep doing this." When none of that worked, Chris whined, "Owww! Dad it's enough! Stop already! You've made your point!"
Leo paused momentarily so Chris could hear him. "You died, Chris. You died in my arms, because you decided to confront Gideon instead of following my orders. Then when we got you back, you told us you'd do it again because this version of you is expendable." Leo laid down a flurry of harsh smacks.
"Oww!" Chris yelped at the onslaught.
Pausing again, Leo said, "You are not expendable. I understand that in your timeline it probably seemed like you were. Wyatt was evil, your aunts were busy fighting him, I was absent, and your mother was dead, but in this timeline we're all here, and none of us are okay with you sacrificing yourself. So this spanking is far from over."
The tears that had already been close to the surface started to stream down Chris' face during the short lecture, and when Leo's hand started connecting with his rear end again, he didn't argue. Instead he whimpered, and hung his head as he cried. It didn't take long for his body to start reacting involuntarily to the steadily building pain. His crying became audible, his feet kicked and jerked in time to the smacks, and even though he tried to keep both of his hands on the ground, he couldn't stop his right arm from inching back with every harsh slap. When three smacks in a row landed on his right sit spot, he couldn't hold back anymore, and tried to cover that spot with his own hand.
The reprieve was short lived as Leo simply grasped Chris' wrist, and pulled it up to rest at the small of his back. Chris' entire backside and upper thighs were already burning before his arm had been captured, and after it was immobile every single whack landed on the crease where his bottom met his thighs. His crying turned into sobbing while Leo finished turning his sit spots red.
When Leo finally stopped, it took Chris a second or two to realize it was over. Leo let go of his wrist, and rubbed circles on his back while Chris' crying changed from utterly distressed to sad and repentant.
Chris' pajama pants had been kicked off a while ago, but his underwear hadn't fallen completely off. Leo leaned down and gently pulled them up into place before carefully flipping Chris over to sit in his lap.
Chris leaned the side of his face on his father's chest, and tried to stop crying.
Leo held Chris close and said, "I don't ever want to hear you say that you're expendable again."
Unable to speak yet, Chris nodded in understanding, and wrapped his arms around his father's chest in a tight hug.
After several minutes of mutual comfort, Chris' tears had stopped. He sniffed a few times before attempting to speak. His words came out in a rough accusatory whisper. "That really hurt."
"I know," Leo said softly without a hint of apology. "If it didn't hurt, it wouldn't have done much good." He rubbed his son's back to help him accept those words. "You almost died because you decided to disobey me, but now you've been punished, and you're forgiven, so we can move forward."
Chris pouted into Leo's chest and didn't comment for a few moments. When he did, his voice was more accepting than accusing. "Even though I said I was okay with dying if it meant everyone else was safe in this timeline, I'm also grateful to be alive. It means a lot to know that my plan to save Wyatt worked out so well for everyone. So… thank you for saving me."
Leo kissed the top of his head, and squeezed him tighter for a second.
Shifting his weight, Chris realized he couldn't find a comfortable position to stay sitting even if it meant giving up the comfort Leo was providing, and pushed to stand up. "I need some tissues," he muttered as Leo let him go.
After blowing his nose, Chris grabbed his pajama pants off the floor, quickly put them on, and then spent a few seconds just holding his sore ass.
"I'm going to go tell your brothers that it's done, and we'll all have lunch up here."
Chris blushed with embarrassment at the thought of having to face Wyatt and Christopher. "I'm not very hungry," he lied, "I think I'll just take a nap."
Leo hand moved to the door, and opened it. "You can nap after you eat."
"Son," Leo cut him off, "you're going to eat."
"Fine." Chris pouted and lay face down on the bed.
# # #
Leo took a few calming deep breaths as he walked down the stairs to face his sons, expecting them to be upset. Because they were both whitelighters, and because Chris was biologically related to them, Leo knew they couldn't help but sense it when Chris was in pain. While they were growing up, they always knew when the other one was hurt, which was great for fighting demons, but not all that helpful when trying to parent them after they'd done something wrong. They couldn't sense specific injuries, but they could sense the level of distress and pain the other was in, and spankings tended to cause a lot of emotional distress, even if there wasn't much physical pain. When they'd been little and Leo had reluctantly given one of them a couple of mild swats, both of them would be upset, and he'd always had to comfort both. He suspected this time would be significantly worse, since there had been actual pain alongside the emotional distress. He was just thankful that they hadn't had to hear it while sensing it.
When he walked into the kitchen, both Wyatt and Christopher stood and glared at him with a mix of anxiety, and anger. All of them were awkwardly silent for a few seconds. Leo noticed a plate of sandwiches on the table, and raised an eyebrow. "My son the chef made sandwiches?"
"That was really harsh, Dad," Wyatt said quietly, and everyone knew he wasn't talking about the sandwich comment.
"Way too harsh," Christopher added, clearly angrier than Wyatt was, "and it lasted a long time."
Leo nodded as he let the stern demeanor he'd had for Chris slip into his more natural parenting demeanor of patience and understanding. "It was harsh," he agreed. "But it's what your brother needed."
Christopher opened his mouth, but Leo put a hand up to stop him. "Please don't argue with me right now. Believe it or not, the past fifteen minutes were rough for me, too."
Scowling, Christopher crossed his arms, but kept his mouth closed. Wyatt scrutinized his father for a few seconds, and then walked over to pull him into a hug.
Surprised, Leo returned the hug, and said, "What's this for?"
"While it was happening Chris' distress was all I could feel, but now…" Wyatt pulled away and made eye contact with his father, "…I can feel yours, too." Wyatt's eyes focused on Leo's shirt, and he reached out a hand to try wiping something off Leo's chest. "Did you spill water on yourself?" Wyatt asked, feeling his fingers.
Leo looked down at his shirt and saw a damp spot where Chris's face had been pressed against him. Doubting this would go over well, he sighed and said, "No, I didn't. Chris was upset and… well he cried."
"Jesus, Dad," Christopher muttered.
Leo walked over to his younger son and put a hand on his shoulder. "Believe me, I know how hard it is to understand why Chris needs this, when you and your siblings don't. Especially since he's biologically the same person as you. But the one time I tried not spanking him for something… well, he got drunk, and basically told me that he needed me to do it, even if he didn't want me to." Leo could tell both of his boys were surprised, and said, "But I'd appreciate it if you didn't bring that up to Chris. I'm pretty sure that would be more humiliating than the spanking itself."
Both brothers nodded, and when Leo let his hand drop from Christopher's shoulder, the younger man pulled his father into an unexpected tight hug.
"What's this for?" Leo asked as he hugged back.
"I'm sorry I gave you a hard time about it," Christopher said. "I was too angry to notice before, but now I can feel how conflicted and upset you are."
"Thanks son." Leo patted his back, and let go. "Why don't you guys go talk to Chris while I get some plates and bring up lunch. I could use a minute or two to myself."
Wyatt and Christopher glanced at each other.
"Sure, Dad," Wyatt said softly before both boys walked towards the stairs.
Once the room was empty Leo slumped down into a chair, and took a deep breath. Having a few minutes to himself to calm down was exactly what he needed.
# # #
Wyatt knocked on the doorframe before both he and Christopher stepped into Chris' room.
"Hey, Chris," Wyatt said gently as he walked in and sat in the chair beside the bed. "How are you doing?"
Wanting to die of embarrassment, Chris snipped, "I'm fantastic. How do you think I'm doing?"
Christopher came in and tentatively sat on the edge of the bed. "We both feel horrible that you had to go through that. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Not really." Chris shrugged. "I'm just glad it's done."
Wyatt looked towards the door and lowered his voice. "I could heal you if you want."
Chris' eyebrows went up in surprise, and then he looked towards the open door as he thought that over. "Well… yeah, that would be great, but I don't know if Dad would be okay with that." He could feel his face turning pink as he muttered, "I asked him to… uh… heal me after the first time, but he wouldn't."
Wyatt shrugged. "Dad doesn't have to know."
Chris mulled that over for a second, and a smirk slowly spread across his face. He looked at Wyatt first, and then Christopher as he said, "Okay, but you have to swear not to tell Dad or Mom."
"Mom?" Christopher asked. "She'd be telling Wyatt to heal you if she knew."
Chris raised one eyebrow and said, "If she knew? What do you mean if she knew."
"That Dad spanked you that hard."
Chris scowled. "I'm sorry to have to break it to you guys, but Mom is one hundred percent onboard with the whole 'let's spank Chris until he can't sit' plan, and she spanks harder than Dad."
"Mom? Mom spanked you?" Christopher asked.
He could see the disbelief on their faces, and Chris sighed before clarifying. "She doesn't use her hand to spank, she uses her magic." The both still seemed confused. "You know, this one with the popping sound." He imitated her flicking her fingers at something.
Realization hit both of the brothers, and they shared a look of shock.
"She really… did that to you?" Wyatt asked.
Chris nodded. "Each smack feels like ten from Dad all at once."
"Shit," Christopher muttered.
"Look," Chris said, "I don't want to get you guys in trouble, too. We can just forget you even offered."
"No," Wyatt said. "We're all adults now and we can make our own decisions, even if Mom and Dad don't like it, and I've decided to heal you."
"Yeah?" Chris asked, with a smile.
"Definitely." Christopher agreed.
"Thanks, that's… really nice of you guys." Chris said.
"That's what brothers are for," Wyatt said. He looked at Christopher and said, "Go guard the door. I'd rather not be doing this when Dad walks in."
"Yeah, that wouldn't be good," Christopher said as he went to stand by the door.
Wyatt smirked at Chris and said, "Roll over."
Once Chris was on his stomach, Wyatt held his hand out over Chris' rear end, and used his whitelighter abilities to heal his sore skin.
"All done," Wyatt said as he put his hand back in his lap.
"I think I hear Leo on the stairs," Christopher said as he rushed back to sit on the edge of the bed.
Chris sighed in relief as he flipped over onto his back. "Thanks guys."
"Anytime," Christopher said.
"I can't believe, Mom spanked you too," Wyatt said, clearly trying to imagine a scenario where that would happen. "What did you do to make her that angry?"
With a sigh, Chris said, "How about I tell you about it tomorrow. I'd really like to forget about that entire subject right now."
Leo knocked on the doorframe, and said, "What subject?"
Chris groaned, and closed his eyes.
"Spanking," Christopher said. "Chris says Mom has spanked him. Wyatt and I find that hard to believe." He got up and took the tray of sandwiches from his father, and put it on the foot of the bed.
"It's true, she did," Leo said as he handed everyone an empty plate.
"Could today get any more humiliating?" Chris mumbled as he took his plate.
"Eat some lunch." Leo gave him a plate. "You'll feel better."
Wyatt chuckled as he took a sandwich off the tray. "You sound like Mom."
Leo smiled, and said, "How about we change the subject, so Chris can eat in peace. Why don't you guys tell him about the time you two went to the underworld without permission when Christopher was ten?"
"Aw, come on Dad," Wyatt whined.
Leo smirked. "Chris isn't the only one who's disobeyed orders and gotten into trouble. Sharing your story will help him feel less embarrassed about all of this."
Wyatt and Christopher shared a look.
"If you don't tell him, I will," Leo said.
Christopher took a deep breath, and started talking.
# # #
That night when Piper got home, she found Chris in the kitchen with his father and brothers.
"What's this?" she asked.
Chris lifted his shirt and showed her his stomach. "I'm all healed, so Dad said I could get out of bed for a while."
She went over and put her hand on the spot that used to be a wound, and then pulled him into a hug. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so very thankful that it worked."
"Me too, Mom." He hugged her tight.
She noticed that Christopher was cooking, and said, "Do you need any help with dinner?"
"No thanks," he darted his eyes to hers, and then looked back at his pot. "I've got it."
Not sure what that was about, she turned to Wyatt, who also darted his eyes away from her. "What's going on?" she asked the room at large.
Leo walked over and put an arm around her waist. "Can I talk to you in the living room for a minute?"
"Sure." She let him lead her out of the kitchen with a suspicious look back at her three boys.
The brothers looked at each other, wondering exactly what Leo would say, and how Piper would take it.
"I bet she'll be pissed at Dad for the rest of the night," Christopher said in a hushed tone.
Chris just shook his head. "Trust me, she won't."
After a small pause, Wyatt whispered, "She was pretty upset when you told us what happened with Gideon. You don't think she'll… I don't know… want to add to what Dad already gave you?"
"No," Chris said with confidence, but then after thinking about it for a few seconds he lost some of his certainty. "Well… I don't think so."
Five minutes later, Leo stuck his head in the kitchen and said, "Chris, could you come into the living room for a minute?"
"Okay." Chris darted a worried glance at his brothers, and then went out to the living room. He went to stand by his parents, but stayed out of reach. Piper stepped closer, and took his hand in both of hers.
"Dad says he spanked you for going after Gideon on your own."
Chris blushed profusely and muttered, "Yeah."
"You know I agree with your father's decision to punish you."
He nodded and gave her his best 'kicked puppy' expression, hoping to avoid any further chastisement. "I know, but that was hours ago, and he said I was forgiven."
She put a hand on the side of his face and said, "Of course you're forgiven, sweetheart. How are you feeling, now?"
"I'm okay, I guess."
She pulled him into a fierce hug and said, "I can't lose you again."
"I can't lose you again, either," he whispered.
When they let go of each other, Leo put an arm around his wife and said, "Now that that's settled, why don't we go into the kitchen and talk about when to do the merge, and what that will entail."
"That's a great idea," Piper agreed, and they all went back to the kitchen.
# # #
Even though Chris clearly had reservations, everyone else agreed that the best time to do the merge would be the following evening. Piper called both Phoebe and Paige to let them know what time to be there, and before Chris could put up much protest, it was arranged. Once the merge was complete, they were all supposed to share a family meal together to celebrate.
By the time that was all arranged Christopher had finished making dinner, and Melinda had arrived home for the night. They all sat down together at the dining room table, and Chris tried to pretend that it wasn't disconcerting to have his family intact and doing something so normal together. His emotions kept fluctuating between excessively happy to be with his family, and uncomfortably awkward when they made a comment or shared a look that made him remember he didn't truly belong with this version of his family.
When dinner was wrapping up, Chris felt his mother's hand on his back. "What's wrong sweetie?" she asked.
"Nothing. Everything's… perfect."
She rubbed his back. "You say that as if it's a bad thing."
"No. It's just that… I'm not used to it."
"You'll get used to it." Piper patted his back and then looked over at her husband. "How about a family movie night?"
"Yes!" Melinda said, making her brother's chuckle.
When Christopher saw Chris' confused expression, he said, "The rest of us watch movies once in a while, our baby sister watches a movie almost every day."
"I think a movie night sounds great," Leo said with a smile.
"Why don't you and Chris go pick a movie," Piper said, "while the rest of us clean up the dinner dishes."
"Moooom," Melinda whined.
Piper smiled indulgently at her daughter. "Fine, you can go help by making recommendations, but Chris gets the final say."
Melinda jumped up, grabbed Chris' hand, and pulled him into the living room to talk movies. Leo followed them with a smirk.
Piper, Christopher, and Wyatt chatted while they cleared the dinning room table, put away leftover food, and started filling the dishwasher. Once they were done, Piper wiped her hands off, put her hands on her hips, gave them each a small glare, and said, "Okay boys, we need to talk. Whose idea was it to heal Chris?"
Both of them opened their eyes wide in shock, and they glanced at each other before Wyatt said, "Um… I'm not sure what you're talking about, Mom. We all healed Chris together."
Her lips pressed together with irritation. "It was a long time ago, but I remember Chris trying to sit at the dinner table after a spanking, and it looked a lot different than what I saw tonight. So whose idea was it to heal him?"
"It was mine," Wyatt admitted without apology.
"But I agreed with him," Christopher added. "We thought you'd approve."
"You thought I would approve of you undermining your father's authority?" Piper asked.
"No," Wyatt said. "We thought you'd approve of us treating Chris the same way we treat each other."
Piper sighed, and lost her glare. She leaned against the counter and said, "I understand that your hearts were in the right place, but this isn't like the time Melinda was grounded for a week and you both smuggled in video games for her. Chris…" She paused, looked towards the living room door, and raised her eyebrows in thought. "On second thought, maybe this is exactly like that." Her eyes snapped back to Wyatt's. "What happened when we caught you giving things to Melinda while she was grounded?"
"We got grounded, too," Wyatt said, before glancing at Christopher with apprehension. "But only for one day," he added.
Piper nodded. "That's right, so what do you think should happen to the two of you this time?"
Christopher scowled. "You can't actually expect Dad to spank us for being nice to Chris."
"Spank? No. Swat? Yes. And it's not for being nice to Chris, it's for undermining your father's authority," Piper said. "But he's had a rough day, and he hasn't realized what you two have done, so I'm going to take care of it."
"Take care of it?" Wyatt asked, not liking the sound of that at all.
Piper put her hands back on her hips and said, "Both of you turn around and put your hands on the counter."
The boys looked at each other again, and Wyatt said, "Mom, don't you think that's a little…" He stopped talking as Piper advanced on him.
"I said turn around." She grasped his shoulder, and lightly pulled to get him to turn around. He was quite a bit bigger than his mother was, but after twenty-five years of love and kindness from her, he respected her enough to do what she'd asked, even if he didn't entirely agree. So instead of protesting, he pouted but willingly moved in the direction she wanted.
She reached out to help get Christopher to turn around also, but he did it with a glare instead of a pout.
"This is ridiculous," Christopher muttered as he put his hands on the counter.
Piper stepped back, raised both her hands, and said, "If you boys don't agree with your father's parenting, you need to be adults about it, and discuss it with him, instead of going behind his back to reverse what he's done."
Both of the young men tensed up when they heard the light popping sound that accompanied Piper's electrical magic, and Wyatt's protective bubble flashed into place for a millisecond before he forced it away.
She took aim, and flicked her fingers directing her magic towards Wyatt's backside with one hand, and then towards Christopher's backside with the other hand a millisecond later.
Wyatt had a fairly low tolerance to pain, partially due to growing up with a magical protective bubble. He tried to contain his yelp, but couldn't entirely keep it in, so it came out sounding strangled. His hands flew to his rear end to rub out the pain, and he spun around to face his mother
Christopher grunted in pain, and muttered, "Jeez, Mom, that really freaking hurt." He turned around, and then put his hands on his ass to rub.
"That was way worse than one of Dad's swats," Wyatt whined.
"Are you boys going to do it again?" Piper said with crossed arms and a raised eyebrow.
"No," they answered in unison.
"Good." The somewhat stern expression went away, and she reached out to give Wyatt a kiss on the cheek, and then did the same to Christopher. "How about we go see what movie your sister talked Chris into watching."
Both young men nodded, more than ready to be back in their mother's good graces.
# # #
When Chris woke up the following morning, he looked at the clock and realized he'd slept through breakfast. Surprised that no one had woken him up, he rushed though his morning routine, and then went downstairs to see what was going on. He found Leo and Piper sitting at the kitchen table.
"Morning," Piper said.
"What's going on?" Chris asked. "Where is everyone?"
"It's just us today," Leo said, "Everyone else is at work or school."
Chris poured himself a cup of still warm coffee. "Why didn't anyone wake me up?"
"We thought it would be nice to let you sleep in on your last day with only one set of memories," Piper said.
"And it's been an exhausting week for you," Leo added. "We wanted you to be well rested for tonight."
Piper stood up and said, "What do you want for breakfast?"
"You don't have to make me anything special. I can get myself some toast or cereal."
"Nonsense," Piper said. "Your dad and I are spending your last day as 'Chris' with you, and we're going to make sure it's a good one. That starts with you sitting down and relaxing while I make you anything you want for breakfast."
"You don't need to do that." Chris said. Although he had to admit, he felt especially loved and happy at the thought of his parents making the day special for him.
"We know we don't have to," Leo said, "we want to. So tell your mother what you want to eat."
Chris couldn't suppress his smile as he sat down at the table next to his dad. "Pancakes? And maybe bacon if we have it?"
"Coming right up," Piper said.
While she bustled around the kitchen, Leo said, "We thought you might like to go do something with us today."
"Do something?" Chris asked, not quite sure what his father meant.
"Something fun," Leo clarified. "We could go to the zoo or the aquarium. We could go to the beach or walk along the piers."
Wyatt had destroyed so much of San Francisco in Chris' original timeline that it was hard decide what he wanted to see the most. "Let's go to the aquarium, and then walk along the piers."
"Sounds like a plan," Leo said.
# # #
After the initial excitement of seeing the waterfront in one piece and full of innocent tourists wore off, Chris started to truly think about what it would mean to live in this world instead of the one he was used to. It was one thing to go into the past with a mission; it was another to have an open future in a world that didn't need saving. What the hell was he supposed to do with his life? He supposed once he merged, he'd be interested in cooking, since that's what Christopher was going to school for, but as of today, that held very little interest for him. He tried to come up with a career he'd like to pursue if he didn't have to merge, but nothing came to mind.
He found himself forcing a smile on his face more and more the longer they were out. By the time late afternoon rolled around, Chris was having trouble keeping up appearances. Eventually he claimed to be tired, and asked if they could go home a little early so he could rest up before the merge.
Once they got home, Chris went to his room, and lay there thinking about life. The thought that he shouldn't merge to protect Christopher from his past kept going through his mind. When he heard the doorbell announcing one of his aunts had arrived, Chris realized he was almost out of time, and impulsively orbed up to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fifteen minutes later Wyatt orbed in beside him holding Leo's shoulder.
"Thanks, son," Leo said, "I've got it from here."
Wyatt looked down at the tiny cars that looked like ants from such a long distance, and griped his father's shoulder a little tighter. "Uh… How about I just stand here with a hand on you, and keep out of the conversation."
Leo smiled indulgently and said, "This ledge isn't that short, Wyatt, and I'm sure Chris would orb us away if I started to fall. Go on home, and we'll be there in a few minutes."
Wyatt turned his eyes to Chris, who immediately put a hand on Leo's other shoulder. "I've got him," he said.
Wyatt took a deep breath, forced himself to let go and muttered, "If you're not back in ten minutes, I'm coming to get you both."
Once Wyatt was gone, Leo gestured to the metal structure they were standing on and said, "What are we doing up here, Chris?"
Chris took a deep breath, kept his eyes on the cars below, and said, "I know you and Mom have been planning this merge for twenty-three years now, but maybe we should come up with a different plan. This San Francisco…" he gestured to the city below, "…isn't my San Francisco. Today more than ever I could feel how much I don't belong here. Besides, I seriously don't think it's fair to Christopher to shove my horrible memories into his head. Maybe we should send me back further in time instead. Send me back a hundred years or so, and I can live out my life happily knowing that I made the world a better place."
Leo shook his head, and then pulled Chris into a hug. "We can't lose you again Chris. We simply can't. I know you're an adult, and your mother and I have no right to force you to do anything…" he held Chris at arms length so he could look into his eyes, "…but we're going to do this with or without your consent. It's happening no matter how much you fight us."
Chris scowled, "Great parenting there, Leo."
"If Christopher had the same reservations as you, we'd consider changing our minds, but he doesn't. Even if we didn't do the merge, this version of San Francisco would quickly become your San Francisco, because you helped to set things back on their natural path. The unnatural timeline you lived in will quickly start to feel wrong once you've been in this time for a few months. So now the only question is how much are you going to fight us? I'm pretty sure Christopher won't appreciate it if you've got a freshly spanked bottom when you merge."
"I could just orb away." Chris let go of his dad's shoulder.
Leo crossed his arms. "Go ahead and try it, kiddo. Wyatt can and will track you down, take away your orbing, and bring you home to me. If you make us all go through that, I probably won't be able to talk your mother out of giving you several swats in front of the whole family."
Blanching, Chris shook his head to get that thought out of it. He still had an ingrained fear of Wyatt, and the thought of his angry older brother tracking him down made him slightly ill. Evil Wyatt had taken Chris' orbing away anytime he felt like making Chris suffer, so there was no doubt in his mind that the good version of Wyatt had the same capability. He also knew Piper would be pissed if he ran, and would undoubtedly give him some magical swats no matter who was watching.
"Fine." Chris grabbed his father's shoulder a bit more roughly than was necessary, and orbed both of them back to the manor. Everyone was there in the living room, waiting for them when they orbed in. He let go of Leo and spoke to the room at large. "I think this is a bad idea. I think it's the wrong decision. I'm not a willing participant, but it's been made clear to me that I don't have a say in it, so let's get it over with."
The room was silent for several seconds, while everyone took that in.
"You're not willing?" Piper said softly as a tear slipped down her face.
Some of his anger left when he realized he'd made his mother cry. "I… I mean…"
"You mean you're an idiot," Christopher muttered, as he walked up to his counterpart. He grabbed Chris' arm, and orbed them both up to Chris' bedroom. Once they were alone, Christopher let go and said, "What the hell is your problem now?"
"It's the same problem I've had from the start! If we merge, you're going to get stuck with all the shit that's up here." Chris pointed to his head.
Christopher shook his head. "You say that like it's new information. Trust me, it's not." Chris opened his mouth, but Christopher cut him off, but putting a hand up and continuing. "You and I, we're more alike than we are different. You seem to think you'll be doing me a favor by not going through with the merge, but try for just a second to think of it from my perspective. I've been told my whole life that this is happening. I didn't get to go back in time to save my family. In fact I haven't done much of anything special or heroic thanks to Wyatt always being by my side. But this merge, this is my one chance at doing something for the family that no one else can do. And I wish you'd stop trying to take that away from me."
Taken aback by those words, Chris searched Christopher's face, and saw nothing but open honesty there. "You really want to do this, don't you?"
"You don't understand how horrible my memories are."
Christopher shook his head. "You don't understand how great my memories are. You're the one who's going to be overwhelmed once we merge not me. The love and security I've felt my whole life is going to be enough to support both of us as we transition into one soul. So why don't you man up, go tell Mom you're sorry, and do this."
After a few seconds of silence, Chris slowly nodded. "Yeah, okay."
They orbed in unison back to the living room.
When they showed up, Leo was hugging Piper, and saying, "You know we're doing the right thing, even if he can't see it."
"Mom?" Once she'd turned towards him he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Unwilling was the wrong choice of words, I have some reservations about it, and I'm not sure it's the right thing to do, but I am willing to do it, if it's what the whole family thinks we should do."
She walked over and gave him a hug. "Thank you, sweetheart."
Leo clapped his hands once and said, "Alright, let's get everything ready."
Within minutes, Christopher and Chris were standing shoulder to shoulder inside a chalk triquetra that had been drawn on the floor. Piper, Phoebe, Paige and Wyatt were standing outside the triquetra surrounding the two young men, and the other family members were standing further back to watch. Piper, Phoebe, Paige, and Wyatt all joined hands and started chanting the same spell over and over again.
Two bright minds
Merged into one
With separate memories
The second time through, both Chris and Christopher started groaning in pain, and put their hands on their heads. The chanting grew louder as the four witches put all of their energy into making the spell come to fruition. Chris and Christopher both started to flicker in and out of solid form. Their hips and shoulders appeared to melt together first, and both of them groaned louder as the pain intensified. Slowly the two bodies slid together and formed one person, and two groans became one sound.
Piper, Phoebe, Paige, and Wyatt all finished the chant one more time before stopping, and letting go of each other's hands. Chris slowly fell to his knees, and screamed as sharp shooting jolts of pain went through his head while his brain tried to reconfigure itself to accommodate two sets of memories. Piper and Wyatt rushed to either side of him, and put their hands on his shoulders to help support him. It took a few seconds, but soon the pain subsided into something tolerable, and Chris slumped down with relief. He would have fallen to the floor if Piper and Wyatt weren't holding him up.
Leo knelt down in front of the panting young man, and put a hand on the side of his face. "Chris?"
A weak sounding, "Yeah," came out of him. "It worked."
"How are you doing?" Piper asked.
"It hurts, but…" He made eye contact with both of his parents and his brother, seeing them in a whole new light from two very different perspectives, and found the common thread in both was the love he felt for all of them. "…I can already tell this was the perfect solution. I feel… whole, and it feels right." He smirked and added, "Other than the massive headache that is."
Wyatt put a hand on the top of his little brother's head and closed his eyes. Half a second later, Chris' headache was gone.
"Thanks," Chris said, and attempted to stand up. Once he was upright, he swayed on his feet.
"Let's get him to the couch," Leo said.
Soon he was lying on the couch with his head resting on his mother's lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, while his father took his shoes off for him, and Wyatt draped a blanket over his shoulders.
"What about dinner?" Chris mumbled.
"You sleep," Piper said, "Let your body adjust. We can have our celebration dinner tomorrow."
Chris smiled as the Christopher side of his personality reassured the Chris side that he had plenty of time to spend with his family, because he was no longer on a deadline to save the world or save himself.
Within seconds he was asleep, utterly exhausted from the ordeal, and feeling content with the knowledge that he was surrounded by the people who loved him.
# # #
Three months later, Chris wanted to say that he had fully adjusted to his new life, but the truth of the matter was that some days were still difficult. Most days his two personalities melded into one flawlessly, but once in a while one side of him was more prominent than the other. On the days when his prominent personality was more Chris than Christopher, he generally ended up doing things he normally wouldn't do. He didn't know if the difficult days were eventually going to fade away or if they were going to be permanent. Wyatt liked to jokingly call them his 'original' days, because he apparently found Chris' bad choices amusing.
Chris could tell that today was going to be one of his difficult days. He tried to stop himself from going down that path again and again without success. It was kind of like being on a train he knew was going to crash with no way to stop it. He knew his day would be ending like all of his other difficult days; with a lecture and swats from one of his parents, followed by lots of affection and coddling, but that knowledge didn't stop him from continuing down that path.
It had started at five a.m. when he'd woken up from a nightmare about Evil Wyatt killing their mother. Then after having a cup of hot chocolate, he'd fallen asleep on the couch in his apartment. That meant he'd slept through the alarm that was going off in his bedroom, and woke up ten minutes after he was supposed to be at work.
Once he got to work, the sous chef had yelled at him for five minutes before sending him off to start cooking. He had trouble focusing while cooking, and ended up messing up three different dishes before the chef sent him home for the day to 'get his head on straight'. Chris knew he would have been fired at least five times over the past three months if is mother didn't own the restaurant. On the one hand, he was grateful to have that kind of job security while he was busy solving his internal conflicts, but on the other hand he felt guilty every time 'original' Chris couldn't be pushed aside during working hours, because on any normal day Chris was excellent at his job.
As usual when this happened, instead of following his natural inclination to go see his parents, which both sides of him viewed as childish and needy, he went to his apartment to sulk. Then when his mind just wouldn't shut up, he would either do some day drinking, or more often than not, he'd orb to the underworld to see what he could kill. Today he decided on both, and orbed to the underworld after his second beer.
Inevitably, two minutes after Chis got there, Wyatt orbed in beside him.
"What's up, Chris?"
"Nothing. Go back to magic school and keep doing whatever you were doing."
"Oh," Wyatt said with a sigh.
"Oh? What do you mean oh?" Chris asked with a glare.
Wyatt cocked his head to the side and said, "Wouldn't it be easier to just go home, tell Mom and Dad you're having an original day, and get a hug without the swats for pulling whatever crap you're about to pull?"
"Screw you!" he hissed, and punched Wyatt in the arm.
"Guess not," Wyatt said, rolling his eyes. He gestured towards the dark cave they were standing in, and said, "Go ahead. Dig yourself in deeper. But you'd better believe I'm going to tell Mom and Dad that you hit me, so you're already in trouble."
"You're going to tell on me?" Chris asked, not quite believing it.
Chris paused at that. "You never used to tell on me."
Wyatt nodded in agreement. "You never used to get yourself in trouble on purpose."
Chris felt his cheeks heating up, and couldn't keep his eyes on his brother. "It's not on purpose… exactly."
"I know." Wyatt put an arm around Chris' shoulders. "So why don't we go home, and you can tell Dad what's going on before you do something stupid?"
After thinking it over Chris said, "Are you really going to tell Dad I hit you?"
"Yeah, but only because if I don't, it will take you longer to get out of original mode."
"Stop calling it original," Chris snapped, "It's a difficult day, not an original day."
"Fine," Wyatt agreed easily, "If I don't tell on you, you'll continue to have a difficult day. I worry that if I don't help cut it short, one of these times you're going to do something really bad, and Dad's going to decide you need a full spanking instead of a few swats, and honestly, I never want to experience the whitelighter side effects of that again."
Chris frowned, but nodded. He knew exactly how horrible it had been for both sides of his personality. Resigning himself to going home, Chris said, "How about I tell Dad?"
"Sure, that would be much better all the way around. But if you chicken out, I'll do it for you."
Chris nodded, and the two of them orbed home.
They found Leo reading a book on history. When he saw them, he set the book down on the couch and said, "What happened?"
Wyatt nudged Chris forward and waited a few seconds. When Chris didn't talk, Wyatt sighed. "Chris is having an original day."
Chris glared back at him and hissed, "Difficult."
"I see." Leo stood up, and pulled Chris into a hug. "Wanna tell me about it?" he asked.
"No," Chris said with a pout. Wyatt crossed his arms and opened his mouth, but Chris quickly added, "But I will."
Leo sat down on the couch, and pulled Chris down to sit next to him. Wyatt sat on the armchair next to them. Chris glared at him and said, "Shouldn't you be at magic school?"
"Shouldn't you be at work?" Wyatt answered.
Leo put a hand on Chris' knee. "Come on, Chris, talk to me."
Keeping his voice low, Chris said, "I had a nightmare about Evil Wyatt killing Mom. I couldn't get those thoughts out of my head all day, and that ended up making me late to work. But even at work I couldn't concentrate, and I got sent home again."
"It's only been three months Chris," Leo said. "It's going to take time to adjust."
"Tell him what happened next," Wyatt said, looking at his watch, "and make it quick, I need to get back."
Feeling guilty for keeping his brother from his schooling, Chris said sullenly, "I went home, had a couple of beers, and then went to the underworld to see what was around for me to kill. Wyatt showed up to ruin my fun, and mocked me about my 'original' behavior, so I socked him on the arm."
Wyatt stood. "I didn't mock you, Chris, I simply was pointing out the truth." He said to Leo, "I'm going back to school. I'll see you guys tonight."
"Thanks, Wyatt," Leo said with sincerity.
Once Wyatt had orbed out, Leo and Chris looked at each other for a few seconds. Leo held up a hand and ticked off fingers as he made points. "Drinking, going to the underworld without backup, and hitting your brother."
"Dad…" Chris said hesitantly, trying to spin things in a positive light. "I barely hit Wyatt at all."
"Mmm Hmm" Leo hummed, clearly not believing his son. He stood up, pulled Chris up with him, and swatted his butt six times before letting go of his arm.
"Ow," Chris said with a pout as he rubbed out the sting.
Leo sat back down, patted the couch, and said, "Sit back down." Once Chris was sitting, Leo said, "I've noticed a pattern. If you skip a family dinner, two nights in a row, you have one of these days."
Chris thought that over. "It seems like I'm over here all the time already, and you're saying I need more?"
"I'm saying for now, dinner with us every other day is probably going to keep you out of trouble. The side of you that grew up with us is more than ready to move out and be on your own, but the other side of you still needs us. You have to give that Chris a chance to spend more time with us, and hopefully the nightmares will stop."
Chris nodded and said, "I guess dinner with you guys every other night isn't such a bad idea."
"Your mother and I love seeing you so home so often. Before the merge it was more like once a week, so we have no complaints."
Relaxing, and feeling much more like his new melded personality, Chris said, "Since I'm here, and since I was too distracted to cook at work today, how about I make us dinner?"
"That sounds great. I'll come help."
The two of them got up, and went to the kitchen together to make dinner for the family. As Chris started getting out ingredients, he begrudgingly decided Wyatt was right. He did feel better now that he'd confessed to Leo and gotten a hug. Maybe the swats had helped, too, but he refused to admit that, even to himself.
That night, as Chris sat with his family at the dinner table, he leaned back and listened to them talking and laughing about their respective days. He felt the usual contentment and joy that had filled him during every family dinner since the merge, and realized his father was right. For the foreseeable future, he needed to do this every other day, or maybe even every day. The Christopher side of him would just have to deal with a little more family time than he used to get, because the Chris side of him needed the love, comfort, and reassurance of seeing his family whole. And if that was the price he had to pay for saving his family and the world, it was well worth it.