When they landed in the darkness Laura wished to turn back. In the last month her skills, her senses, and her powers had all become sharper. She was becoming the witch she was always meant to be. But even with such vast improvements in her abilities as well as her sisters', she knew they weren't ready. They were chasing an upper level demon into his own territory without the backup of whitelighters or any other family member for that matter. Deep down, she knew something had to go wrong.
"Are you sure we're in the right place?" Lucy asked. They walked with little assurance of their surroundings, eyes adjusting to the dim light that came from sporadic fire piles and torches on the cave walls. It smelled of burning ash and death. Laura's nose crinkled against the smell as it reminded her of the hospital morgue.
"This is where his trail led me," Laura confirmed. Their footsteps crunched along the uneven ground. Lucy kept her arms out at her sides for balance on her undesirable footwear. The youngest Halliwell tripped along the gravel, falling onto Lila for balance.
"Get off me," Lila hissed in annoyance.
"This was such a bad idea. We can still turn back…"
"Shhhh," Lila hushed her older sister, quickly putting an arm out to stop both Laura and Lucy midstride. They froze before turning a corner down the next corridor. "You hear that?"
Deep, low voices grumbled ahead. Lila looked to Laura who gave a grim nod. It was without a doubt Velas just a few yards ahead of them. But from the sounds of it, he wasn't alone. Laura shook her head. "He's with another demon…"
"Three on two," Lila whispered. "We'll be fine."
"I'll take the back," she cut Laura off. Then in a quiet flash she was gone, leaving Lucy and Laura to consider their next move.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Laura growled.
"Come on," Lucy nudged her. She wasn't exactly confident herself in whatever their impulsive plan was but she'd learn that it was better to fake confidence than go into battle timid.
Lila landed agily in the nook where Velas and his companion met. As soon as she hit the ground she attacked with her telekinesis, launching Velas from his feet. "Laura!" she shouted. Her sisters came around the corner and before the second demon could think of making a move against Lila, Laura blasted him with a quick flick of her hands.
Velas was on his feet quickly and prepared to strike Lila first. He threw an energy ball at her face and she was forced to dive out of the way. He stalked after her and before Lucy and Laura could come to her aid, the second demon was back up. Laura rocked him with two quick punches, to which he responded with a powerful strike of his own. The punch nearly knocked her out before the demon lifted her from her feet and threw her across the cave.
Lucy levitated up behind him, kicking him in the back of the head. "Help!" Lila shouted from nearby. She blocked another energy ball with her telekinesis but Velas closed in. Lucy dropped back down to her feet, leaving the demon out cold on the ground and scrambled after Lila, athame in hand.
Woozy, Laura got up to her feet, ungracefully tripping to join her sisters. Lila threw Velas with her telekinesis and Laura froze him as soon as he hit the ground. "Now, Lou," Laura breathed uneasily.
Lucy quickly approached, not hesitating to slice a generous strip of meat from Velas' arm. The pain rocked Velas out of his frozen state and he reached out to grab Lucy as soon as he could. This time she was ready and quickly slashed downward, marking his cheek, before Velas sent her flying with a kick to the stomach.
With the loss of Lucy and the revival of the second demon, it quickly became two on two. Laura looked at her sister. "We need to get out of here," she hissed.
"We're fine, don't panic," Lila murmured as Velas and his partner took steps closer to them. Velas tossed an energy ball and Lila deflected it. Laura prepared to combust one of the two foes when the second demon simultaneously threw an energy ball. The force of the blast sent the sisters from their feet, crashing into the stone wall behind them.
Velas grinned. The force hardly fazed him and his partner. They watched as the girls fought to regain consciousness on the ground. "I'm going to enjoy this," Velas sighed.
Through bleary vision, Laura watched as Velas rolled a sapphire energy ball. Her head pounded and she couldn't see straight. She knew he was preparing to finish her off and vile warmed the back of her throat. Next to her Lila was still limp on the ground. She thought of teleporting out but she couldn't muster the focus or energy.
Before Velas could secure Laura's demise, Lucy sprinted across the gravel, heels removed and bare feet quick along the uneven surface. She launched her weight at Velas, tackling him to the ground. The energy ball continued, but veered off course, only clipping Laura's shoulder rather than pulverizing her throat.
Lucy and Velas tumbled across the ground. She hopped up to her feet first, ducking as the second demon threw an energy ball at her head. She levitated up and smacked him in the face with a well-measured kick. When she came down, Lucy landed two punches to his ribs.
While she prepared to face Velas once more, a bright, fearsome energy ball faced her instead. She had no time to react. Her eyes dilated and her breath stopped in her lungs. Lucy braced herself before the hot, electric force pounded into her chest. She flew from her feet, instantly falling unconscious once crumpling into a heap on the ground.
"Lucy!" Lila yelled. She was the last sister standing. Lila wavered on her feet. Her sisters were wounded and unmoving. She could hardly stand as she faced Velas and his companion. She swallowed hard. Suddenly, in the moment between fear and death, she felt regret. A sinking feeling overtook her stomach. She wouldn't see her sisters again. There would be no wedding. No children. All because she'd been too cocky, too certain and reckless. Blood marked her temple where she'd earlier crashed into the wall. Her last moments were bleak and terrifying.
She watched as Velas and the demon rolled up energy balls. Lila exhaled a long breath as she prepared for one more fight.
A deep, demanding voice broke across the quiet. Lila's chest lightened and the demons tensed. She suddenly felt like smiling.
Jack Mason joined the fight.
Joey made himself comfortable in the sunroom, feet kicked up on an ottoman as he lounged back. Though he no longer lived in the manor, he still found himself making routine trips to visit his aunt Piper. Since Paige's death he'd become rather dependent on the matriarch. Sam was busy with work and Nick, and Kate was in the middle of rehab. In those cases, whenever Joey longed for his late mother, he found himself at the manor just to be near his aunt. Piper was rather found of the scenario herself. Her own children – especially her sons – were usually tied up and busy, making the appearances of her nephew welcome and warm.
"When are you moving back? I'm starting to get lonely without you," Joey was telling Melinda who sat across from him.
"Soon, now that I'm mobile," Melinda smiled. "Granted, I figured you'd be taking advantage of my time away, giving P3s female patrons a "tour" of the apartment."
"I can't help that I'm adorable," Joey sighed. "Right aunt Piper?"
"It's your curse," she replied in her seat next to him. She shared a spot with Phoebe, the two still reeling from her revelation earlier.
"Don't encourage him mom," Melinda said with a chuckle.
"But he's so cute, how can we help it?" Phoebe teased, reaching over Piper and pinching Joey's cheek.
"The last baby in the family…" Piper added to the jeering, only to be overcome by a powerful cough. She choked for a few minutes, gasping for air, coughing into her fist violently. Phoebe and Melinda exchanged knowing looks while Joey watched in concern.
"Aunt Piper, you okay?" he asked.
"I'll go get you some water," Phoebe said, giving her sister's shoulder a squeeze as the coughing slowly subsided.
"You don't sound good. I really think you need to get that checked out," Joey said, concern streaked on his boyish face.
"Honey, there's nothing to worry about. I'm going to be fine," Piper assured with a wheeze. Phoebe exited the kitchen with a glass of water. She sensed the tension in the room and cleared her throat.
"Joey, what was it you wanted to talk to us about?" Phoebe asked as she sat back down.
Joey's dark gaze lingered on Piper for a moment longer before deciding it best to leave the subject alone. He sighed, "Well, it's mostly for you aunt Phoebe," he started uneasily. "I wanted to know how you know if you're having a premonition."
Phoebe's brow furrowed momentarily before she proceeded to answer his question. "Well, when it starts, I get a little lightheaded and for a moment everything goes dark. And when I see again, it's as if I've been transported through time, to a different moment, where I'm actually experiencing everything I see in the vision. The smells, the touch, the sounds are all the same as if I've already felt them. It's like the early stages of a dream. And I suppose I know it's a premonition when I get the feelings all over again and see the same things and it happens again."
"Why do you want to know, Joey?" Melinda asked.
He sighed. "I know it's crazy because I don't have any powers but I keep having these dreams. I've had the same one for the last three days."
"What's it about?" Piper asked, growing more intrigued and concerned.
"Well, a few weeks ago when…"
"Guess who's home!" an enthusiastic voice echoed from the foyer. Phoebe, whose attention span was still apt to be adolescent and who hadn't seen her niece since her departure from rehab, was fast to meet the twins and leave the sunroom. Melinda, still moving slowly, ambled after as well. Piper kept her eyes on her nephew who remained seated.
"Joe…" she started.
"It's fine," Joey assured her. "We can talk about it later."
Piper watched as he forced a smile, not believing the youngest Halliwell for a second.
"I'm so glad you're back! I'm so proud of you," Phoebe told her niece. Kate chuckled in Phoebe's tight hold, glad to see her aunt in a place other than rehab. When Phoebe unlatched her from the hug, she gave a long sigh.
"It feels good to be back," she smiled.
"Where's everyone else?" Sam asked as Melinda, Joey, and Piper joined them in the foyer.
"Work and demons; what else?" Melinda smirked.
"Sorry it's not much of a welcoming party," Piper apologized.
"Don't be sorry, I don't think I could handle all the fuss," Kate chuckled.
"There will be plenty of fuss soon," Joey winked.
As if confirming Joey's warning, a flash of blue orbs entered the foyer. Wyatt appeared as the lights fell down, arms loaded with grocery bags. "You're late," Piper told him.
He rolled his eyes. "Apparently everyone is getting groceries at four o'clock," he replied. "And from what I can see I'm not the only one missing from this party."
"It isn't a party," Kate insisted.
"Well, I think it calls for celebration!" Wyatt nearly exclaimed. He grinned at the sight of Kate. "Join me in the kitchen?"
"It would be an honor," Kate said grabbing one of the heavy bags of food from his arms.
"Wyatt, I thought you were bringing Zander for dinner," Melinda stopped her brother before he could reach the kitchen.
He cursed under his breath before giving a long sigh. "I never said that and he won't be coming," Wyatt announced, before eagerly plowing into the kitchen. Kate glanced back at the group in the foyer and gave a confused look before following after him.
"Someone had a fight," Melinda sniggered.
"Speaking of that; Mel, can I talk to you?" Sam asked. She looked at Joey who watched her curiously. "Privately?"
"Don't worry, I can see where I'm not wanted," he grumbled.
Distracting from the departure of the girls, however, was a knock on the front door. Phoebe quickly opened the barrier to be greeted by Gage Jenkins. "I hope I'm not late," he said to his future mother in law. They hugged and she kissed him on the cheek. "I got caught up at the shop."
"You're just in time," Phoebe assured. Gage handed off a bottle of wine to Piper, gave her an embrace, and greeted Joey with a fist bump.
"Where's Lila?" Gage asked.
Phoebe gave a long sigh. "I believe she and the girls are taking care of a demon, but I'm trying not to think of it," she replied.
"In that case, I'm going to try to not think of it too," Gage said. He glanced at Joey. "Is the game on?"
"Follow me, my good friend," Joey replied, leading him to the living room.
Before Piper and Phoebe could skirt off to the kitchen, a pink glow landed before them. Arriving with the light was Coop and Leo. With Phoebe and Coop reunited it was a rather normal occurrence for Leo to "catch a ride" with the cupid to and from magic school. Now that the kids were out of the house, Leo often took to mentoring young magic practitioners.
"Looks like we came to the right place," Coop grinned instantly grabbing Phoebe into the safety of one large arm. Leo stepped forward and pecked Piper on the lips.
"We're not the last ones here are we?" Leo asked.
"No we're still waiting on our son and their daughters," Piper replied.
"That's never good," Coop sighed.
"I think it may be time to pop this baby open," Phoebe decided, grabbing the bottle of wine from Piper.
Leo gave a dutiful nod. "I'll go grab some glasses."
Jack Mason fought with a tenacity Lila had never seen. She could only compare it to Wyatt and Chris. Like Wyatt he was dangerously powerful but it was coupled with a fierce passion like Chris'. Lila watched in awe. He moved with speed and struck with efficiency. He fired two energy balls at the second demon and violently threw Velas to the wall with his telekinesis. Jack slammed a foot into the second demon's gut as he passed him.
Velas threw an energy ball at Jack but he held up a single hand without breaking stride and deflected the attack. His face was blank, blue eyes empty, and when he reached Velas, he thrust a single hand forward. Jack choked Velas, pinning him against the rock wall. "What are you doing?" Velas wheezed.
"I warned you to not touch her," Jack growled, inches from Velas' face. "I told everyone in the Brotherhood that she wasn't to be touched! That none of the Halliwells were!"
Velas spit in Jack's face. "I was under orders by the Source," he glared. "You're not even in the Brotherhood anymore."
"Then it won't be a problem when I kill you," Jack hissed.
While Jack easily conquered their demonic foes, Lila stumbled over to her oldest sister. She nearly fell to her knees. "Laura!" she shook her. "Laura, you need to wake up."
Laura groaned to consciousness, moaning at the piercing pain radiating from her wounds. Lila nearly dragged her up to her feet, pulling her toward Lucy. "Is that Jack?" Laura mumbled.
"It doesn't matter," Lila replied. She took a knee next to Lucy and nearly whimpered at the horrific wound. Laura's mouth dropped as well and despite the light headedness, she managed to check her sister's pulse. "Lucy wake up…"
Lucy was unresponsive. Blood coated Laura's hands as she began pounding her sister's chest in sporadic CPR. "Lucy? Lucy can you hear me!" Laura yelled. "I can't feel her pulse."
Lila shook her head, breathing past the lump in her throat. "We need to get her out of here."
Jack glanced back at them, an easy hold still on Velas' throat. "You should go," he growled. "I can take care of him."
Laura and Lila struggled to stand, each taking one of Lucy's arms over their shoulders. A hardly lucid Laura looked to her younger sister. "You're going to have to teleport us," she said.
Lila nodded, setting one last look on Jack and Velas before departing. "Thank you," she told him.
Jack gave a nod. "Good luck."
In a pink glow they disappeared.
"That's messed up," Melinda decided plainly.
She sat at a barstool in the kitchen, eyes wide as Sam finished explaining to her the recent complications with Nick. Wyatt and Kate listened in as well while they prepared dinner.
"I thought so too," Sam sighed.
"But it's not your fault. There's nothing you can do or could have done," Wyatt insisted over his shoulder. He stood in front of the hot stove, cooking a monstrous amount of grilled chicken with mango salsa. Heat from the dish warmed his face.
"It would be impossible for me to date the offspring of someone who killed mom," Kate put in. She wasn't doing a great job of helping Wyatt and instead took to nibbling on bits of food while he wasn't looking.
"I think you should be careful," Melinda warned Sam.
"I don't think he'd ever hurt me," Sam replied.
"That's what I thought," Melinda told her. An uneasy air overtook the four of them at her comment. Kate cleared her throat.
"So, Wyatt, what happened with the boyfriend?" she asked.
Wyatt grimly replaced the lid to the pot he finished stirring. "I didn't realize everyone thought he was coming. I never said that to him or anyone else," he insisted. "Laura hardly brings James and Chris never introduced Bianca…"
"That's because James is a busy surgeon and the entire family hates Bianca," Melinda replied.
"Yeah, I want to meet your man," Sam told her cousin. While everyone was still getting used to the idea of Wyatt being gay, most of the family was eager to embrace his identity.
"Well, I called him and apologized and invited him," Wyatt told them. "But that doesn't mean he'll come."
Suddenly echoing through the house with urgency and panic was a loud shout from the living room. "Wyatt!" Joey yelled. "Get in here! We need your help!"
Without pause, Wyatt dropped the wooden spoon in his hand and sprinted out of the kitchen. The hair raised on the back of his neck gave no doubt that there was danger. His heart raced beneath his chest as he charged into the living room. Sam ran in behind him and Melinda got up as quickly as she could, leaning on the island and walls for support.
Kate was the last one left, hesitating as soon as she felt the familiar tingle of mayhem and fear. It was the panic that came with demons and trauma – the very things that sent her into turmoil and alcoholism. As she slowly rose from her seat, mentally preparing to follow the gasps and whimpers on the other side of the kitchen, she was distracted by the rattle of the back door.
She glanced behind her, just in time to see a black flash move into another room. The door was left a crack open. Kate's brow furrowed as she spotted a small splatter of blood on the kitchen tile. "Hello?" she called.
Kate anxiously glanced over her shoulder, hoping someone was there to confirm her suspicions. Then with a deep breath, she followed the trail of the intruder.
"Help me get her on the couch," Wyatt grunted. Gage quickly stepped forward, grabbing Lucy's arms while Wyatt picked up her legs. They hoisted her onto the sofa in the living room while the rest of the family gathered around. The Charmed Ones had desperately teleported to the manor, a heaving and bloody mess.
"What happened?" Sam asked.
"We were in the Underworld tracking down Velas," Lila answered, still out of breath. Gage stepped back from Lucy to allow Wyatt to tend to her and instead examined his fiancé's wounds. A crust of blood marked her temple and her lip was swollen from a previous blow.
"What were you doing down there?" Wyatt asked. He frantically brought his hands over Lucy's wound, discouraged to find her pale and completely motionless. There was no breath in her chest or the slightest quiver of life.
The rest of the family charged into the living room. Phoebe immediately gasped and Coop lost his breath, stopping his steps in shock. "Wyatt…" Phoebe started weakly but he already knew the question.
"I don't know yet," Wyatt replied. His hands began to glow over the mutations left by the energy ball. It had been a direct hit, resulting in burned flesh, bloody organs, and other marks of terror.
"We shouldn't have been down there," Laura growled. She could hardly stand and Joey was quick to hold her up with his arms while she wavered. Her shoulder was bleeding profusely from the energy ball that skimmed her and her head pounded violently enough to make her vision distorted. She couldn't decide if she was going to puke or pass out. "I told you we shouldn't have gone down there…"
"Don't blame this one me," Lila hissed at her sister.
"You were insistent that we go and I knew it would be too dangerous," Laura continued.
"This isn't my fault!" Lila shouted. Gage attempted to hold her back and shield her away from Laura as she grew with rage.
"Girls, now isn't the time," Coop said coldly. It wasn't often that he stepped in as an authority but whenever he did his daughters took it with great seriousness. The room was somber as they waited for Wyatt's healing to work.
"Laura that looks really bad," Sam murmured, examining her cousin as she leaned on Joey to stand.
"Where the hell is Chris?" Melinda asked, glancing around the room.
"It's working," Wyatt finally announced.
"Thank God," Phoebe sighed in relief, turning into Coop. She hid her face in his chest, no longer able to watch the morbid sight of her daughter near death. Piper and Leo who watched in the background gave thankful sighs as well while the wound began a slow healing process.
"It's deep. It'll take a while," Wyatt told them. He glanced over his shoulder at Laura. "You should get Chris."
Before anyone could say anything, the eldest Charmed One wavered and her face went pale. "I think I'm going to be sick," Laura managed uneasily. Sweat beaded her brow and she attempted to move for the kitchen. Joey quickly helped her through the door and Sam trailed behind them.
"Not in the kitchen!" Wyatt shouted. As the sounds of Laura's gags echoed from the sink he groaned and shook his head. "Every single time…"
Phoebe had moved to a spot beside Lucy, taking her daughter's hand into her own as Wyatt's healing continued. It was heartbreaking to see her youngest so broken and wounded. Coop hovered above, watching with just as much mortification and somberness. In many ways, Phoebe envied her mother and grandmother; Patty and Penny never had to see the up close, gruesome results of their daughters fighting as the Charmed Ones. Phoebe was beginning to find it worse than any battle she'd faced during her time as the Power of Three.
"Leo can you go get the first aid kit?" Piper asked her husband. Gage was busy examining Lila on a chair and Piper eased toward the kitchen to help her oldest niece. She glanced back at her daughter before departing. "And Melinda, can you figure out what the hell happened to Chris?"
While turmoil could be heard in the living room, Kate continued up the stairs. She could hear a low hiss and the sink running. There were more footsteps, shuffling, and grunts. She clenched her fists, heart racing with anticipation. "Who's there?" she asked.
The door to Leo and Piper's bedroom was open and another splatter of blood marked the hall floor. Kate timidly continued onward, not stopping until she entered her aunt and uncle's bedroom. "Chris?" she gasped.
He was too tired and hurt to turn. Instead he saw her from the bathroom mirror and gave a slight sigh. "Hi," he managed.
"What the hell happened to you?" Kate asked in concern. His face was bloody and cut in all different directions. Swelling and redness marked his cheeks and eyes. His sweater was torn and though she couldn't see all of the damage it was visible he was in severe pain. He could hardly stand straight under the aches in his body.
"Bianca happened," Chris forced a chuckle but only gasped in pain. Unbearable pangs hit his ribs and back where Bianca earlier smacked him with a chair.
"Here, sit down," Kate insisted, quickly helping him to a seat on top of the toilet. She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder before moving for the door. "I'm going to go get Wyatt…"
"No!" Chris shouted, grabbing her wrist. She stared at him in confusion. "I don't want to cause a scene. Please, just help me."
"Chris, I don't know what I can do. I think you're really hurt," she replied in concern. She'd never seen Chris so battered or wounded. It frightened her.
"I'm okay," he insisted. "It's just all the blood that makes it look so bad…"
"That doesn't make me feel better," Kate said.
"Please, Kate. Just clean me up enough to get through dinner. Then I'll have Wyatt heal me," Chris pleaded gently.
Kate gave a gentle sigh. Part of her remembered how Chris had helped her on a few drunken nights. Now it only seemed appropriate to repay the favor. "Okay," she replied unhappily. "And if you don't get Wyatt, I will."
Chris gave a nod. "Thank you."
She ran the sink and grabbed a towel, quickly dampening the cloth. "Besides, I think something happened down there. It sounded like one of the girls was hurt…"
"Shit," Chris cursed.
"It'll be fine," Kate muttered, assuring herself just as much as she did Chris.
"I guess this is kind of a terrible welcome home," Chris told her.
"It's fine," she replied. She kneeled down in front of her cousin and slowly began wiping away some of the blood from his jawline. When she ran over one of the deep cuts in which the wound came from he gave a gasp.
"Fuck," he winced.
"Sorry," Kate apologized. She tried to find a distraction from the gore and pain for the both of them. "So Bianca did this?"
"Yeah," Chris nodded.
"Damn," Kate murmured. "I knew she was a Phoenix but…wow."
"I got in some shots too," he insisted before whining as she pressed another towel to his wounded bicep.
"So I guess that means you guys are broken up?"
"Seriously?" Chris chuckled at her. Kate managed a smile too. "I'm glad you're back."
"Me too," Kate replied. Chris could sense the hesitation in her voice.
"It's going to be okay this time," Chris said. "If it gets overwhelming or you feel like maybe you'll…"
"I know, Chris. I'll call my sponsor, I'll talk to you guys," she told him. She frowned as she threw the bloody towels into the laundry basket. She opened Piper and Leo's medicine cabinet and took out bandages and ointment.
"I know it can't be easy," Chris told her.
"It's scary," Kate confessed softly. She hid her eyes from him as she prepared a bandage. "I mean, I come home to this. It makes me want to be numb all over again. It's a lot to handle."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't of…"
"No, it's not you Chris. I knew how to cope with it before," Kate replied. "I'll just have to learn how to do it again."
"Well, I know if anyone can it's you," he told her.
"Thanks," she mumbled. She applied a dab of ointment to a deep gash under his eyebrow and placed a bandage on it. "I'm more worried about you than me anyway."
"I'm fine," Chris advised.
"You have a very interesting concept of fine," Kate told him. She got up and moved for Piper and Leo's closet. "I'll get you another shirt."
Chris sighed, hardly able to raise his arms over his head. His ribs were likely cracked, his back bruised and out of place. Kate returned with one of Leo's shirts and bandaged the messy wound on Chris' bicep. It was a deep hole, one that would undoubtedly need Wyatt's attention, but she managed to slow the bleeding.
The two were silent as she patched him up. The blood was wiped away and the cuts closed by bandages. Bruises lingered and bones were in need of mending, but at least Chris no longer resembled the walking dead. He leaned on her to stand, hardly able to bear weight on his own. Every muscle screamed at his movements, throbbing from the recent trauma.
His body was so busy in survival mode that he had yet to let down. He hadn't thought of all that transpired at the club. Of how Bianca spared him. Of how he still loved and longed for her despite the danger of such sentiment. A feeling was beginning to swell in him that it wasn't finished; it was only beginning. With Kate at his side and careful slowness in each step, Chris went to face the family.
Lucy Halliwell first saw a sea of heads when she met the surface of consciousness. Her mother, father, Sam, Wyatt, and Joey stood above her, forming a curious circle as she blinked away the fogginess of sleep. She coughed before speaking, her lungs astonished by the air that filled her body. "What happened?" she asked.
"You were hit by an energy ball," Phoebe answered gently. She was still holding Lucy's hand, adjusting to the multitude of emotions that hit her. Coop rubbed careful circles on her back, sensing the anxiety still tensing his wife's form.
"You were almost a gonner," Wyatt replied. "Had us all pretty worried."
"What about Laura and Lila?" Lucy asked, sitting up quickly. She felt lightheaded at the fast movement and her father quickly eased her back down.
"We're okay," Laura assured from across the room. She sat on the couch with Piper and Melinda who kept pressure on her wound. An empty bucket was on her lap in case she felt the urge to vomit again. On the chair nearby Lila sat with Gage, an icepack held to her swollen mouth.
"I had the weirdest dreams," Lucy murmured.
"I'm just glad you're alright," Phoebe said, placing kisses on Lucy's cheeks. She groaned at her mother's attention while the rest of the family reveled in silent relief. The tension lessened as Wyatt moved from Lucy to Laura and began healing her bloody graze.
"Did we at least win?" Lucy asked as she slowly sat up.
"Hard to say," Lila answered dully.
"Why's that?" Chris asked. The family looked up as he entered the living room with Kate close behind him.
"Where have you been?" Melinda asked her brother, already feeling his physical pain as well as the emotional turmoil that built inside him.
"I got held up, I'm sorry," he replied.
"We could have used your help here," Wyatt muttered as he finished healing Laura's wound. He was neither mad nor pleased with Chris. All day Wyatt had secretly been on edge, waiting for the results of his brother's confrontation with Bianca. His suspicions were only made more prominent with Chris' tardiness.
"You look a little banged up," Sam observed.
"Just had a small demonic run in, nothing to worry about," Chris said. He made an effort to not move too close to anyone in the room so they wouldn't notice his wounds. He took a seat farther away from the group before setting eyes on the Charmed Ones. "Someone going to explain what happened?"
Before anyone could speak up, a loud alarm from the kitchen sounded followed by the panicked voice of Leo. "Wyatt! I think it's burning!" he announced. With the turmoil following the girls' arrival, Leo took to watching over dinner in the kitchen.
Wyatt sprang to his feet, already finished helping Laura. "Shit," he groaned on his way to the kitchen.
"I can help," Melinda offered but her brother promptly denied her over his shoulder.
"No, we actually want something edible tonight. Kate? Aunt Phoebe?" Wyatt asked.
Melinda folded her arms across her chest in outrage while Phoebe and Kate skirted toward the kitchen to assist. "So someone was just going to explain what happened in the Underworld?" Chris cleared his throat.
"We got our asses kicked," Laura started roughly. A cool cloth was still pressed to her neck in order to keep away any nausea. "Velas shimmered out to the Underworld and we followed him."
"Why would you do that? Do you know how dangerous that is?" Chris asked brashly.
"It was my fault," Lila sighed. She caught the room by surprise. "I made a bad judgment call. Laura wanted us to stay back and I wouldn't listen. I'm sorry."
Lucy's face dropped. "Who are you?" she asked.
"It's not worth fighting about, we basically just watched you die," Lila muttered.
Laura found her sister's gaze and felt sudden warmness. "That means a lot Ly," she told her gently.
"Yeah, yeah, let's not make a big deal of it, okay? And no throwing it in my face that I was wrong," Lila snapped quickly. "Now Chris can you please heal my face?"
"Gladly," Chris replied. He prayed that Lila wouldn't make an obscene remark about his cuts and continued with his interrogation. "Were you able to get Velas' flesh at least?"
"No," Lila sighed. "We were too busy trying not to get killed."
"Was I completely out of it or was Jack there?" Laura asked.
"He was there," Lila confirmed but felt uneasy as she watched Melinda. Her cousin appeared unaffected and did her best not to react.
"What do you mean he was there?" Chris nearly growled.
"He saved us," Lila replied with a sigh. "He fought two members of the Brotherhood before they could kill us. He held them off so we could escape."
"Why would he fight against his own Brothers?" Joey asked.
"Because they're not his brothers anymore," Melinda spoke up. Her brown eyes flashed up and met Chris' while the rest of the room fought a dense quiet. Piper stared down at her hands and Coop nervously flipped his ring – desperate to hide the subtle pink glow that emanated from it.
"I'll be sure to thank him on behalf of the family," Sam said uneasily. She sat with Coop and Lucy on a couch, chewing her lip at the suggestion.
"You still see him?" Kate asked.
"He's still working at the Bay Mirror," Sam replied. Chris' jaw locked and Lila raised an eyebrow at his tension while he finished healing her.
"That's great," Chris managed with a grunt.
"How'd it go with Bianca, Chris?" Joey piped in. He didn't intend on agitating his cousin but something about it seemed justified. As of late his sympathy was with Melinda and with Jack's recent behavior, it was hard to picture the man as only a villain.
Chris resisted snipping back at his young cousin and instead finished healing Lila. He cleared his throat as he turned to face the group. "There shouldn't be any more trouble," he managed. "She got the message loud and clear.
"Was part of the message letting her kick your ass?" Lila asked, drawing further unwanted attention to the whitelighter. He instantly glared at her. "I can see the damage…"
"What damage? Chris are you okay?" Piper asked frantically.
"I'm fine, mom," Chris groaned.
Before anything could escalate further the doorbell rang. Piper was up from the couch in a second, glad to leave the room. If she had to hear one more word about Jack Mason she was going to explode. At this rate, she was also losing the nerve to tell the family – granted it seemed at least half of them already knew her sad news. Still, with her nieces shaken, Chris looking suspicious, and Kate adjusting to life back with the family, it seemed irresponsible to drop a bomb shell.
By the time she reached the front door, Piper hardly thought of how unusual it was for someone to be dropping by. After all, most of the family just magically appeared and as far as she could tell everyone was present. She looked through the peephole of the door, only to spot a confusing arrangement of bright colors.
"You must be Mrs. Halliwell," a cheery voice greeted her when she opened the door.
A slender, dark haired, smiling young man stood before her. His shirt was crisp and pressed, his jeans a dark designer denim, and his white skin appeared immaculate beneath the evening light. He happily held an elaborate arrangement of flowers in a shiny vase. "Hi," Piper managed. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Zander. Zander Crosley," he explained still smiling. "Am I allowed to come in?"
"Oh my gosh, Zander. You're Zander," Piper fumbled with simultaneous shock and enthusiasm. "Of course, come in."
Zander eased through the foyer and gave the matriarch an appeased smile. "Wyatt didn't tell you I was coming?" he asked.
"Uh no. Well, yes," Piper stammered. It had been years since Wyatt brought home a girlfriend. In fact, it may have very well been his senior prom since he allowed his family to meet any of his beaus. The sight of Zander, her son's boyfriend, suddenly had Piper giddy and surprised like a schoolgirl. While she accepted her son's sexual orientation and any other facet of his identity, the situation came with strange newness.
"These are for you," Zander said, offering her the flowers. "Lilies are your favorite, right? If they're not I'm going to kill your son…"
"Yes they are and these are just beautiful," Piper replied with a gracious smile. "Thank you."
"Of course," he told her. "Wyatt told me about the news and I just want you to know if you need anything at all…"
"Mom!" Wyatt bellowed from the kitchen. His voice echoed before his form appeared. "It's ruined!"
Piper and Zander watched as Wyatt and Kate appeared from the kitchen, disheveled and disappointed in their cooking feat. Wyatt's mouth dropped at the sight of Zander. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Well, I thought I was invited," Zander smirked. "At least that's what I gathered from the four voicemails you left me."
"I'm glad you're here," Wyatt said, before the two shared a brief kiss. Kate cleared her throat behind them and Wyatt quickly turned around to face his cousin. "Sorry, Zander this is my cousin Kate. Kate this is Zander."
"Nice to meet you," Kate smiled, shaking Zander's hand.
"Pleasure is all mine," he replied.
"So what's ruined Wyatt?" Piper asked as she set the flowers on the foyer table.
"Dinner," Wyatt sighed. "I tried to salvage what was left but it was all burnt."
"Burnt? I thought Wyatt Halliwell doesn't burn anything," Zander teased.
"We had some distractions," he muttered.
"So what's for dinner?" Zander asked.
"Pizza," Piper, Kate, and Wyatt answered in unison.
By the time the pizza arrived, the Halliwells had transformed into predators circling their prey. The boxes of cheesy, greasy goodness were attacked with gusto, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Within the first twenty minutes, Leo already placed another call for three more pizzas.
"Your family can eat," Zander murmured to Wyatt.
The eldest of the family had to bite his tongue. Fighting demons, coming down from adrenaline rushes, and nearly dying, certainly worked up a person's appetite. "What can I say? We're animals," he teased.
"Chris and Joey are hogging all the Canadian bacon!" Lucy growled from her place on the sofa. The group was crammed into the sunroom and spilled out into the living room, taking to a casual sitting rather than the formalities of the dining room.
Joey stuck his tongue out at Lucy in response. "You snooze you lose!" Chris told her.
"I'll show you who loses…"
Sam pushed Lucy back into her seat as Leo interjected. "There's more coming!" he advised. "Everyone calm down." Piper stood behind him, hardly able to eat as she contemplated the right time to jump in with her news. She kept busy by rubbing her husband's back, watching the grinning faces of her family as they enjoyed their meal. It was times like this, when they were unruly and loud and even annoying, that she found them most charming and loving. Despite the teasing and rough housing it was most evident they loved each other.
"So Zander, what do you do?" Laura asked. She sat with Melinda and Joey on a sofa across from Wyatt and Zander.
"I'm a florist," Zander answered. "I actually work at Fiore on 15th street."
"That's where I recognize you from," Phoebe remarked. She stood near Coop, the two of them sharing what was left of the pizza on a single plate.
"My uncles have owned the store since the 70's and now that they're retired, I run it," Zander smiled. "It's a family business."
"We know all about those," Melinda replied. From what she could tell, she liked Zander. He was enthusiastic and friendly, much in the ways that Wyatt was. Despite her own secret sadness that she couldn't enjoy the same companionship, she was glad to see her brother happy. At least someone in the family was.
"Wait; you're a florist?" Lila piped in. She shared a chair with Gage, sitting on his lap. "So you work with flowers?"
"Seriously?" Lucy muttered to her parents.
"Yeah," Zander nodded with a smirk. His aqua green eyes twinkled at Lila's enthusiasm.
"Do you do weddings?"
"Oh my gosh, this is perfect!" Lila shrieked.
Joey groaned. "I hate when she does that," he said to Laura as he covered his ears.
Lila was already up from her seat, quickly grabbing Zander's hand. He could hardly set down his dinner on the coffee table before she dragged him off. "Come with me, we have so much to talk about," Lila babbled happily. "Also, I just wanted to let you know that we're going to be best friends."
"Wow," Melinda laughed as they skirted off.
"Didn't see that one coming," Joey chuckled before stuffing his face.
"I did," Lucy replied as she took Zander's place next to Wyatt.
"Surprisingly, I did too," Wyatt smirked.
"He's the gay of Lila's dreams," Lucy muttered. She glanced at her cousin, "No offense, Wy."
"None taken," he said.
Across the room, Kate examined Chris closely. While he'd done a good job eluding the rest of the family and sticking in the background for once, she was still unconvinced of his well-being. "I'm going to get Wyatt. Now's a perfect time," Kate told him.
"No," Chris grunted, grabbing her back. "I'm fine; see?"
He forced a painful smile and Kate shook her head. "You're impossible."
Before the two could exchange more, Sam's voice echoed loudly through the two rooms. "Everyone! Can I have your attention before more pizza gets here?" she called.
"There's more pizza?" Joey perked up. Laura and Melinda shot him annoyed looks before the group hushed to listen to Sam.
"Wow, that actually worked," Sam muttered to herself. It was rare for the family's attention to be focused and she smiled at the moment. Unbeknownst to her, half the people in the room were compliant only in the expectation that Piper would be sharing her own news soon. She cleared her throat. "So first of all, we're all here to welcome Kate home so…"
"Sam, that's okay," Kate insisted but was drown out by a loud and enthusiastic raucous from the family. Chris threw an arm around her and Lucy snuck up from behind to mess with her hair.
"But before I go on about how proud we all are of her," Sam continued, "I think we should also say congratulations to Gage and Lila for setting a date."
More cheers and jeers were tossed about in the room. Laura threw a pillow at Gage while Lila beamed enthusiastically, entering the room with Zander. "He hasn't backed out yet?" Joey asked loudly.
The family chuckled and Melinda pinched his ear. "When's the big day?" Piper asked.
"April 5th," Lila answered. She took a seat on Gage's lap and proceeded to kiss him.
"Gross! Make them stop!" Chris shouted from where he stood, balancing his weight on Kate. Booing echoed around the room along with a few laughs.
Their making out continued more vigorously at the jeering and Coop teasingly stepped in, pushing their heads apart. "Get back to Kate!" Laura encouraged with a smirk. Though she hadn't had much time to spend with her cousin for the last month, she always shared a soft spot for Kate. More than that, she knew that it was easy to fall into the background of such an overwhelming group.
"Well, like I was saying, we're all really proud of you Kate and most of all we're so happy to have you home. It really hasn't been the same without you," Sam said. "I know you didn't want all the fuss or attention, but I wanted to make sure we had everyone here tonight, not just because we're all so entertaining, but so that you know everyone in this room loves you and that we're always here for you; no matter what."
The sisters locked eyes at the statement. For the last twenty-four hours, Sam had struggled to find a way to connect with her sister. And perhaps, among all the scary things that'd happened to them recently, that was the most frightening. Not connecting, not understanding the one person she could depend on was unbearable. Sam could survive many things but that was not one of them.
It was that fear that drove her to such frantic, neurotic behavior. It was fear that pulled her further from what had always worked before – just letting things be, saying what they meant, and being honest. As they exchanged glances, a calm settled between them. Somehow, it felt like they were going to be okay.
Kate gave a small smile and nod. "Thank you," she said.
While Kate and Sam shared an embrace, Leo cleared his throat. "I would like to add something," he said. "Kate, not only are we proud of you, but I know that great things are on the horizon for you. You've always been strong and fearless and smart and I'm so glad that you've taken steps to put that to use. New beginnings can be frightening – I think we've all had our share of that. But like Sam said, we're all here for you. More than that, if anyone can make the best of this it's you. I know you may be scared or worried but I for one have no reservations about your future."
The family was quiet and listened to Leo in awe. While Piper was clearly the family leader and matriarch, when Leo spoke it was like hearing from the pope himself. He was spiritual, safe, and sweet. He always had a way of speaking to the heart. Piper squeezed his hand as his eyes twinkled with a smile.
"So, I say we raise our glasses," Leo advised. The family quickly cooperated. "To Kate and new beginnings."
"To Kate," the group echoed happily.
Kate blushed at the gesture and offered her uncle a silent thank you. He quickly moved over to grab her into a hug. Leo had always been close with Kate. During her time as a whitelighter she often looked up to her uncle for advice and guidance. As far as she was concerned he was the greatest teacher she could ever ask for and long admired his integrity, skill, and compassion.
While the family took to more noise and joking and talking, Chris managed to hobble over to his mother. Piper leaned against the wall, watching the family with tired but tender brown eyes. He could see the fatigue, the sickness, behind her gaze and his stomach sank. "Mom?" he caught her attention.
"You've been quiet tonight," Piper told him, still watching the group. Kate was getting bombarded by Joey, Lucy, and Wyatt. Her youngest son's behavior hadn't gone unnoticed by her but she trusted Chris. She had to trust Chris. "What happened?"
He frowned as finally looked up at him. "Bianca's a Phoenix," Chris said. "I had to take care of her."
Piper kept her composure. While Chris waited for her to explode, she remained steady and instead examined his beaten face. She could see the bruises and scrapes from a mile away and could imagine the damage underneath. "Are you okay?" she asked him softly.
Chris exhaled and rubbed the back of his stiff neck. "She was powerful," he confessed. As usual, there was no use hiding anything from his mother. In fact, he appreciated the chance to talk with her alone. "She could've killed me. I'll have Wyatt heal me when this has all settled; I don't want to draw attention or worry everyone else."
"I'm glad you're alright," Piper said. She carefully ran a few fingers down his cheek, avoiding the painful spots. "But what I meant is, are you okay here?"
Piper tapped gently on his chest just above his heart. Chris didn't answer right away. His green eyes faded with regret like a child caught stealing. "I'll be fine," he told her. She gave a small frown and rested her head against his chest, happy just to hear his heartbeat. The two of them watched the group continue with their fun and another heavy notion suddenly weighed down. "You need to tell them."
"But they're all so happy," Piper replied distantly.
"They need to know," Chris said. "Do it now, mom. That's why we're all here, isn't it?"
"We're here for Kate."
"She'll be okay," he replied.
Piper pulled in a long breath. "Okay," she whispered. "But I want you right here with me."
Chris gave her a gentle smile. "I'm not going anywhere," he assured. He gave a heavy exhale before clearing his throat. "Guys, we have one more thing!"
"No! No more announcements!" Lila protested from where she sat on Gage's lap.
"Is the pizza here yet?" Joey asked loudly.
"No! And you're not getting any," Sam teased him.
"Can you guys shut up!" Chris groaned.
"What is it Chris? Are you convinced someone is stealing your socks again?" Lucy prodded.
"No but that was legitimate – Joey," Chris cleared his throat.
"This is actually my announcement," Piper broke in. She gave a sigh. "If you can call it that."
Those in the room who were aware suddenly went rigid and quiet. Phoebe locked eyes with her sister and gave a nod. Laura lowered her head and Wyatt grabbed onto Zander's hand. Melinda could already feel the tears and looked away from the group, desperate to keep the lump at bay. Leo instinctively wrapped an arm around Kate, wanting to cushion the blow for her.
"I went to the doctor almost a month ago," Piper started shakily. Chris watched her with painful empathy. "I had been feeling under the weather and they drew some blood for some tests. I have cancer."
It wasn't the smoothest or most graceful way to break the news, but surely there seemed no correct way to do it. The group was struck with sudden shock and terror. Melinda proceeded to silently cry and Laura put an arm around her young cousin. Joey brought up a hand to cover his mouth and Sam turned away to where her aunt Phoebe and uncle Coop stood. Phoebe remained stoic while Coop was quickly teary. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed another arm around Sam.
"Its lymphoma," Piper continued shakily. Chris placed a comforting hand on her back. "Stage four. I've already been seeing an oncologist and scheduled for surgery next week."
"Surgery?" Coop asked.
"Part of my lung has been affected. Dr. Lockhart is prepared to remove the damaged lobe and to see if the cancer has spread further," she said.
"It's treatable?" Lucy asked.
Piper nodded. "It is," she assured. "And I intend to come out of this unscathed. I'm not going to die; I promise."
Hey readers! Hope this is going over well, there's always quite a bit to fit into each installment. I would appreciate any reviews and would love to hear what you think! Thanks ~ Sammy