Hey party people! This is one of the pieces I did during that dreaded "chapter 17" fiasco all those months ago; it's nothing heavy, just some slightly silly, minor Leo/Chris angst that is more like thinly veiled fluff. I found it on my computer today while I was looking for something else entirely, so I thought I'd put it up before I forgot about it again. Besides, this week I watched Finola Hughes on CSI: NY, and then Victor Webster on Criminal Minds… it was inevitable my mind would turn back to all the random fics sitting untouched on my computer.
There's no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do.
And yeah, the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences under pressure.
Courage, The Tragically Hip
He's drinking his coffee and reading the paper, minding his own business, when she suddenly flies into the room and falls heavily into the chair across from him.
"OnetwothreeGhosttown!" She exclaims, before he has a chance to say a word edgewise.
Leo Wyatt loves his wife. Leo also loves what pregnancy does to his wife. While there are emotional minefields, to be sure, it is all he can do to keep up with her during her inevitable extreme highs. And her constant mischievous smile, coupled with her bright, sparkling eyes, make the whole thing entirely worth it.
"What?" He laughs; confused, but entertained by her apparent enthusiasm.
"Yes!" Piper pumps a fist into the air in victory. "I win. You're taking Wyatt to school today."
"Sure, if that's what you want." His answer comes slowly, because he's humouring her and fully aware this exuberant mood could disappear with one, miniscule misstep on his part. "Is that it?"
"Right. Umm, you're taking Chris with you, too. And then you guys are going to the mall to get him new pants."
This time, there's no trace of laughter to be found in his tone, because this is anything but funny.
"You're joking. Piper, it's not bad enough we have to explain to him every day why it is he can't go to school, but you want me to actually take him with me to drop Wyatt off, and then go shopping right after?"
"That's right." She nods happily.
"Have I annoyed you in some way recently? Because if I have, if that's what this is about, then I'm sorry."
"I called 'Ghost Town,' Leo."
Her whimsical response only throws him further off base, because he has no idea what the hell she's talking about. All he can imagine is the furious, unhappy version of Chris he is going to be dragging around the mall. An unhappy Chris pretty much guarantees an unhappy Leo.
"What does that even mean?"
"It means, the first person to make a sound after I say it, loses. You lost. Ergo, you get the sulky ball of fun that will be Chris after dropping Wyatt off."
"And you're sure you don't want to take him?" Leo asks optimistically.
"Please, Leo?" She pleads, "I'm just, I'm really not up for a mall trip today. And he's outgrowing everything he has. I would do it, but I'm exhausted."
Leo's eyes narrow as he watches her not-so-subtly run a hand over the bump containing their third child. Why is it that she can never play fair?
"Nice try." He smirks.
She rolls her eyes, but drops the pretense and sits up alertly in her seat. "I still won. You're going."
"Piper, you can't just make up games."
"I would never!" She cries indignantly, "It's a legitimate game; Prue, Phoebe and I used to play it all the time when we were kids. It was the only fair way to decide who had to be "it" for tag and hide & seek."
"So you're telling me-
"Really, Leo?" Piper interrupts, "You're really going to argue against the pregnant woman? When has that ever worked for you?"
"But you're not even working today!" Leo whines.
"Yeah well, neither are you. So hop to it."
"Stupid game." He mutters.
"Oh come on honey, it's not the game's fault that you're a terrible player."
"That'd be true, had I even known we were playing."
"Details, details." She dismisses. "Make tracks."
Leo Wyatt hates his wife. It's as simple as that. And the longer he sits in the car, watching the dejected face of his youngest son in the backseat, the stronger the resentment becomes. It's completely her fault that he's doing this in the first place. And now Chris is looking at him as if he just shot a unicorn, and it's breaking his heart to see his child so upset.
He stares into the rear view mirror and sighs when he sees Chris' face still set in a plaintive sulk, staring fixedly out the window.
In his three, practically four, years, Chris has always viewed himself and Wyatt as equals; the confident little boy couldn't fathom the age difference between them. He has always expected to be privilege to the same things as his brother; and so it has come as a shock to him to discover that he is not, in fact, permitted to attend kindergarten, just because Wyatt does.
Partially, Chris simply misses his brother. But at the same time, Leo suspects he is jealous of the part of Wyatt's life he isn't allowed to share. Either way, there is no denying the difficult time Chris is having adjusting to Wyatt attending "regular" school without him.
"It's only half a day, buddy." Leo tries, although he knows once Chris puts himself in this mood, it's difficult for anything but time to draw him out of it. "We can pick up Wyatt after lunch."
Chris instantly perks up and turns his head in the direction of his father.
"Can we have lunch now?" He asks hopefully.
"No, Chris." Leo chuckles softly, "We're going to eat lunch later. We have things to do first, remember?"
Chris scowls and crosses his arms across his chest before turning his head back to the window. He does remember the day's plans, but since they don't involve Wyatt, he makes it clear that he is no longer interested.
Leo sighs once again and runs a hand tiredly over his face; it's going to be a long day. And all because Piper had tricked him with that stupid, stupid game. His face scrunches into a scowl of his own as he thinks about the post-breakfast events that have put him here. Ghost town. What were they, five?
"Why can't I go to school?"
That makes nine times, nine times, since getting in the car, that Chris has asked that question. Leo grinds his teeth, feeling his patience beginning to slip away.
"You go to school sometimes… you watch me teach and you play with the other kids; that's fun, right?"
He is desperate enough at this point to try the distraction technique, despite knowing that it rarely, if ever, works on Chris. Once that boy has something in his mind, there is no moving past it.
"No, not magic school. Normal kid school with Wyatt. Why can't I go?"
"Chris, how old did your mom and I say you have to be before you can start kindergarten?"
"Right. And you're not five just yet, so you can't go. Mommy and I aren't doing this to be mean; those are just the rules."
"How many more days until my birthday?"
"A little over forty days."
"And then how old am I?"
"You tell me, bud. What comes after three?"
Chris thinks carefully for a moment before answering.
"So I get to go when it's my birthday after this one?"
"Well you have kind of a late birthday, so you'll still be four when the school year starts… but, yes. Just before your next birthday."
Chris wrinkles his forehead in confusion, "But you said I have to be five."
Leo inwardly curses himself for the correction; he should have just left well enough alone.
"Well, you'll be turning five next year, even if you won't be quite five yet when the school year begins. That's good enough."
"So next year."
"Next year." He confirms.
There is a moment's silence, and Leo begins to believe the interrogation may have finally reached an end.
"Can we just tell them it's next year so that I can go now?"
No such luck.
"Chris." Leo exhales slowly, "There is nothing that can be done to put you in the same class as your brother, okay? I know you miss him, but you're going to have to get over it."
Chris sticks his tongue out defiantly at the back of Leo's head, but unfortunately for him, Leo catches the small act of rebellion in the mirror.
"Watch it, buddy." He warns firmly, "I know you're sad, but that doesn't mean you get to be rude, okay?"
"I don't wanna go shopping." Chris whines.
Leo winces as the quiver in his son's tone reached his ears, recognizing that frustrated tears are not far off.
"I know you don't." he sympathizes, "To be honest, daddy doesn't really want to go either. But, what do you think is going to be faster? Going shopping with daddy now, or going shopping with mommy later?"
"Daddy." Chris answers instantly.
Leo laughs, while at the same time, hoping this particular part of the conversation doesn't find its way back to Piper.
"Okay. So we're going to go to the mall, and we're going to be superfast, and then before you know it, it will be time to come home, eat lunch, and go pick up your brother."
Chris squints at him skeptically and then rolls his eyes and resumes his watch of the other cars on the highway.
The parking lot is crowded, but not overly so, when Leo pulls into a space near the entrance. Chris no longer looks determined to stay miserable, but he is clearly less than happy.
Of the thirteen days since Wyatt began Kindergarten, Chris has spent many of them at preschool; those days always run relatively smoothly. Chris has friends to play with, and things of his own to learn and experience.
It is the days in between that do Piper and Leo in.
The beginning of a new semester is Leo's busiest time at Magic School, and since Piper has cut back on her hours at the club, caring for Chris during the day has fallen mostly on her shoulders for the time being. To be honest, Leo isn't sure how she handles it. He can't help but suspect that Chris' moping period wouldn't have lasted this long had their roles been reversed today, and he wonders what it is he is doing wrong; why it is he can't cheer up his own son.
He walks around the vehicle to the back door and frees Chris from the car seat.
"Home? Please?" Chris tries on last time.
"Come on, buddy." Leo begs. "We're going to be so fast. Just cooperate with daddy."
Chris sighs dramatically, but he obediently jumps out of the jeep – with Leo's assistance – and stands impatiently by his father's side as Leo gathers his wallet and keys before shutting the door.
"Hold my hand, please."
"No." Chris shakes his head stubbornly.
Leo sighs for the umpteenth time; he hopes Piper is enjoying herself. "Chris, there are a lot of cars here, and none of them can see you. Take my hand."
The young boy's eyes are suddenly alight as he catches sight of a shiny quarter lying just beyond the end of the yellow parking line. Leo's request immediately forgotten, Chris dashes into the path of the oncoming vehicles. Leo swears under his breath as he makes a grab for his son's collar and misses by millimetres.
"Look what somebody dropped, dad!"
A hummer roars around the corner just as Chris crouches down to inspect his find. Heart in throat, Leo watches in slow motion as the monstrosity guns down the pavement at a speed better suited for highway driving than parking lot navigation. At the last second he grabs his son's arm and yanks him out of the way, and as the SUV races by without breaking speed in the least, his heart slams against his ribs so sharply it is seconds before he can speak.
"Ow daddy, too tight."
Leo finds his voice.
"What did I say about holding my hand, Christopher? The cars can't see you; you could have been very badly hurt!"
"No hands." Chris says adamantly.
And then Leo is no longer concerned with pulling Chris out of his bad mood. He is no longer concerned with how long this has carried on in comparison to how it might have transpired had Piper been here instead of him. Without another word he picks up his son, and the look he gives Chris when the child begins to protest immediately silences him. Chris is smart enough to know when to stop pushing.
As he crosses the road to the mall entrance, Leo notes the stubborn clenching in Chris' jaw, and he knows that it is indeed going to be a very long morning.
True to Leo's word, the shopping is finished quickly. He can feel Chris' impatience building through the increasingly insistent squirming in his arms; a constant reminder that his son very much wants to be put down. But this is Chris' punishment; if he can't listen, then he can't walk. Period. Chris is responding with the silent treatment. He delivers clipped, yes daddy, no daddy, responses to Leo's direct questions, and he refuses to engage further than that. When he buckles Chris into his car seat, the child folds his arms across his chest and primly turns his face in the opposite direction; Leo hides a smile. Given how much his son loves to talk, he absently muses that this prolonged silence is in all likelihood harder on Chris himself than it is on him.
As they drive home, Leo suddenly remembers that they are out of milk. Since Wyatt survives on cereal, and Piper survives on tea, as badly as he just wants to go home, he reluctantly turns off the highway early and heads to the grocery store. If he doesn't pick it up now, he is only going to have to do it later. He chances a glance in the rear view mirror at Chris, but his son is staring out the window, lost in his own world. Leo shrugs, confident that Chris will be too busy putting his energy into staying angry and silent to protest yet another stop.
When they turn into the parking lot, Leo watches Chris open his mouth to question the unscheduled stop only to firmly snap it shut when he remembers, just in time, that he isn't speaking to his father. He shuts off the engine and twists in his seat.
"We just need to grab some milk for mommy and Wyatt."
Chris shrugs indifferently, and Leo refrains from sighing before locking his car door and walking around the vehicle to free the son that is so exactly like Piper in temperament. He knows that if she were here – and he's still a little mad she's not – she would deny that this attitude could in any way be similar to hers; but while he knows he is capable of being stubborn, this level of hard-headedness screams Halliwell.
On the way to the dairy section, Leo remembers that they are also low on sugar. And yogurt. And flour. And then he decides he might as well do his best to collect everything he can remember from the list written in Piper's neat handwriting pinned to the fridge. As the minutes pass, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate the heavy shopping cart with one arm and hold Chris in the other, and Chris stiffens when Leo eventually tries to sit him in the front of the cart.
"No." Chris pleads.
"Buddy, come on. This is getting a little out of hand."
"Please put me down." He begs, "I'll hold your hand. I'll be good. I promise."
Leo shuffles over to allow another shopper to pass by him in the narrow aisle, and he stares sympathetically into the large eyes that are beginning to shine with tears. He isn't worried about Chris causing a scene; that's something that can be said for both his children; regardless of their moods, neither of them has ever thrown a public fit. They know better. But Chris looks so sad, he almost relents.
"Chris, you really scared me earlier at the mall." Leo explains gently, "I know you didn't do it on purpose, but a very bad thing almost happened."
"I know you did. But maybe after today, you'll remember a little better."
Fury crosses his young features, and when Chris relaxes his grip on his father's shirt, Leo places him securely in the top seat.
And then, Chris glares and rips out Leo's heart.
"I hate you."
Piper's washing her hands, finishing what feels like her sixty four thousandth trip to the bathroom that morning, when she hears the front door open and then slam shut. She stifles a laugh, expecting to walk down the stairs and find Chris in a more amiable mood and Leo still slightly perturbed by her earlier snow job. Her energy is running high today, and she knows it's only a matter of hours before she crashes, but for now, she is pleased with the amount of work she has managed to get done around the house in the two hours her husband and son have been gone.
Another door closes; this time it sounds like Chris and Wyatt's door. Piper dries her hands and travels the short distance down the hall to the boys' room, but when she pokes her head through the doorway, Chris doesn't so much as raise his eyes from the race car he is guiding across the floor to acknowledge her. She frowns; surely Chris couldn't still be upset… it wasn't like him to carry on for so long.
"Hey little man." She ventures.
Chris looks up in surprise and his expression changes from sullen to cheery in the blink of an eye. He drops the toy and runs toward her, wrapping his arms affectionately around her leg.
"Hi mommy." He greets.
When he wanders back to the toys spread out on the floor, Piper briefly contemplates joining him before ultimately deciding against it. Sitting on the floor is risky business, and the smug look that takes over Leo's face every time he has to pull her up is enough to deter her.
"How was shopping?" She asks instead, leaning against the doorframe.
A flash of, what is that? Guilt? Yes, guilt, crosses her youngest son's face, and she narrows her eyes suspiciously when he ducks his head and is suddenly very, very intently concentrated on the positions of his army men. Before she can interrogate him further, however, there is a loud crash downstairs followed by a short, emphatic curse from her husband.
Piper's head automatically turns to the hallway, somewhat bewildered but mainly curious; between the two of them, she is – by far – more prone to temperamental swearing than former-angel-Leo.
"Are you hungry? Do you want to come with me and see what daddy's up to?"
Chris shakes his head in disinterest, "No thank you."
Piper shrugs and closes the door back, leaving Chris to his games while she seeks out her – by the sound of it, grossly irritated – husband.
She peeks into the kitchen; he had been unstacking the dishwasher from the looks of it… the door is open, the trays are pulled out, but he's nowhere to be seen. She starts to double back through the dining room and yelps when Leo appears suddenly behind her, broom in hand.
"Try making a little noise when you walk, will you?" She exclaims.
Leo doesn't even crack a smile as he walks around her. "Be careful honey; I dropped a plate."
His words are gentle, but his tone is… distant. She heeds his warning, treading delicately around the ceramic shards, and then she sifts through the groceries Leo has dropped on the counter.
"You went grocery shopping too?" She teases, "Wow. You must have really worked some magic on Chris to get him to cooperate."
"Some magic alright." He says, with a self-depreciating laugh.
Piper feels her buoyant mood begin to falter as he roughly sweeps the broken pieces into the dustpan and bangs them – with far more force than necessary – into the garbage can. She knows him well enough to sense questioning him right now will only spark further agitation, and so she begins silently unpacking the contents of the nearest grocery bag. As she finds her rhythm and slips into a distracted auto-pilot, she forgets the weight of the heavy sack of flour and absently tugs it off the counter.
A muffled gasp escapes her lips as a sharp pain cut across her lower back, while the baby simultaneously kicks her ribs in protest.
Leo, who had since resumed unstacking the dishwasher, turns his head at the soft noise and immediately drops the glass in his hand, not even registering the way it shatters on the tiled floor as he rushes around the island to where she's standing.
"What are you doing?" He snaps, "Are you crazy? Give me that."
His heart pounds as she breathes deeply and murmurs an apology in a soft, soothing whisper to the child within her womb. She has scared herself nearly as badly as she has scared him; of that he is almost certain, given her ashen, regret laden expression and the fact that she hasn't so much as raised an eyebrow at his tone.
He's grateful she's ignoring his instinctive outburst; two "I hate you" proclamations within an hour might have very well killed him. She can read his emotions as if they are her own, and as impatient as she is apt to being, she is just as adept at waiting when the moment calls for it. Instead of addressing him, Piper merely resumes the task of putting away the groceries, and he watches her flutter about the kitchen with increasing, unwarranted irritation as he sweeps up his second dish slaughter.
"Leave it, Piper. I'll do it. Just sit down."
He sighs when she slams the milk carton on the counter and balls her fists, glaring in his direction; he has pushed her tolerant mood slightly too far.
"Please." He amends. "Please sit down. I think after all these years I can do at least a passable job of stocking the cupboards. Even considering your standards."
She grudgingly smiles and rests her weight against the kitchen table, "Shopping was that bad, huh?" She asks casually.
"I don't know how you managed six months on your own with both of them; I can't even go a morning with one."
"You've been alone with both of them plenty of times." She frowns, "Certainly longer than you were gone this morning."
Piper can't help but be confused, surprised; if anyone ever has doubts as to their parenting capabilities, it's her. Leo has never been anything but confident and at ease with fatherhood. It suits him. Except when it comes to… oh.
She pulls a chair out from the kitchen table and eases herself onto it as Leo picks up the milk she had abandoned and jams it in the fridge. "What happened?"
He slams the fridge door shut and leans against it, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
"I don't want to talk about it." He mutters. And then he storms out of the kitchen, leaving her alone.
She pulls herself back to a standing position and her eyes cloud with worry as she glances with uncertainty between the bags littering the island, and the doorway Leo has just disappeared through. Finally she makes her decision and she begins slowly, methodically, putting the groceries in their proper place. Leo rarely broods, but even he is prone to the occasional foul mood and equally foul temper. It has been her experience that, very much like their youngest son, time is the only thing that will lessen his dark mood to the point where he's receptive to her – or anyone else's – company.
When she's finished with the groceries, Piper wipes down the counters and sweeps the kitchen floor – even though she has already done both today – and she thinks carefully about what she is going to say to Leo when she's finished. He's hyper sensitive to Chris' moods and words and actions. He looks at his son and thinks of the future version prematurely snatched from them, and he is afraid of being that father. Of inspiring that level of rage in Chris as a result of years of suppressed hostile emotion. He is afraid of failing him for what would be – in his mind – the third time.
Finally, she puts away the broom and the dustpan and goes forth to mend fences between two of the men in her life.
She finds Leo in the living room, sprawled out on the couch with an arm covering his face on one end, and two sneakered feet resting on the other. He hears her coming, she knows this, but he makes no attempt to acknowledge her presence. It takes her a second to remember that indecisive hovering has never been her style when it comes to Leo, and then she lifts his legs and sits in the space this creates before placing them back across what remains of her lap.
"Talk to me." She insists gently.
Leo uncovers his face and reluctantly opens his eyes. "Honey," he sighs, "I don't really feel like talking. I'm sorry I snapped at you."
Her index finger traces patterns on his jeans, and he pulls his legs away and moves to a sitting position. When he sees the hurt flash briefly in her eyes, he runs a frustrated hand through his hair and sighs again.
He's being a jerk.
If he doesn't knock it off, her hurt is going to give way to anger, and then all three of them are going to be out of sorts. He remembers the way she had been first thing that morning; bright, cheerful, content, and he feels a stab of guilt for taking that away from her. At the same time, however, he's not quite ready to let her make him feel better.
Piper swallows the quip that is on the tip of her tongue, because she's working really hard at not defensively sniping, and reminds herself that Leo has always put up with her moods without complaint. Mostly. She can let it go this once. She tucks her hair behind her ear and begins to stand.
"If you want me, I'll be in our room."
He encloses a piece of her turquoise shirt within his fingers, and she can't help but roll her eyes as she settles back into the cushions. Given the effort it takes to move between sitting and standing, it would have been nice if he had made up his mind a few seconds earlier.
Leo doesn't speak immediately; he shuffles closer and turns on his knees so that he faces her. She plays with the short ends of his hair at the base of his skull, and he moves a hand to her stomach, feeling the comforting, restless movements of their baby.
"Chris hates me." He says aloud, his voice reflecting his feelings of ultimate failure.
"Oh Leo." Piper sighs.
He wonders if that is the way he sounds when she overreacts and confesses what is – to him – a completely unfounded, irrational fear. It really does sound condescending. No wonder she always gets irritated.
"Don't say my name like that." He says petulantly, and Piper does her best to hide a smile, knowing now is not the time to point out to him the many, many occasions she has made the same demand. "He's three years old, and I've already blown it. What kind of parent manages that?"
"Chris loves you." Piper assures confidently as she continues to finger his hair. "You're his hero."
"That's not what he said in the grocery store." Leo snorts.
She raises an eyebrow, "Let me guess; you put him in the cart."
He frowns. "How'd you know?"
"Leo," She laughs, "I'm just shy of eight months pregnant; I can't chase him around the store when he gets it into his head to take off, and the only thing our son hates more than being led around by the hand is being confined to the shopping cart. I have that fight with him practically every time we leave the house nowadays."
He shook his head. "This is different; he told me he hated me. And he was so angry…"
"He's three." Piper returns with a roll of her eyes, "He's experimenting with words, and he's learned he gets a reaction when he uses that one. He 'hates' everything recently, haven't you noticed? He 'hates' spaghetti, and he 'hates' the baby swings, and he 'hates' the colour yellow… do I really need to continue on?"
He wants to believe her, but he hears Chris' stubborn voice in his head and it's just not that easy to let it go.
"He doesn't say it to you."
"Not anymore, he doesn't." Piper says definitively. "He did it once, and I put his ass in timeout for ten minutes."
At this, Leo laughs. "Ten minutes?"
"Hey, I had spent most of that morning alternating between puking, and arguing with suppliers; twice, I came pretty close to doing both at the same time. He picked the wrong day to push me. Anyway, once his time was up, we had a talk about why he had been put there, and I told him he was entitled to dislike things I say or do, but hate is too powerful a word to use against people you love. And then we talked a little bit about respect, and the way it hadn't been a very respectful way to talk to his mother." She finishes pointedly.
"So you're saying I should have just dragged him out of the store and given him a stern talking to in the car." Leo surmises amusedly.
"I'm saying he's too young to be capable of truly hating anyone, Leo. It requires a kind of rage he's just too sweet to have. And that's because of us. Because we're good parents, and he's a very good kid."
"I'm constantly on edge." Leo mutters lowly, savouring the warmth of her belly on his hand. "Every time he's angry, or upset, I can't help thinking about Chris and wondering if it parallels any of his early memories. He's so smart and bright and carefree... I can't bear the thought of destroying that, or knowing that he's going to grow up and remember I handled this the wrong way."
She aches for him, because a part of her identifies with these insecurities and recognizes the way they worm their way around the heart and squeeze mercilessly until one can scarcely breathe. Each generation vows never to repeat the mistakes of their parents, and each generation finds some new way to screw up their offspring regardless. Piper suspects that to a certain degree, this can't be avoided, but she and Leo are damn sure going to do their best to see the tragedy of the first timeline doesn't reinvent itself in this one.
"Well you need to stop."
He rolls his eyes; as if it's that simple.
"I mean it." Piper says seriously in tone that doesn't bode argument. "You're a good father to our sons. Because of Chris, they're going to have a very different future. And I won't have you second guessing your every action. If I'm not allowed to make disparaging remarks about my parenting, you're not allowed to either."
He chuckles softly, feeling much of the tension melt away from his body, and he's overwhelmed with love and appreciation for the wife that is every bit as talented at calming him down as she is at riling him up. He kisses her gratefully, and he can feel her contented smile against his lips.
"Better?" She asks when he pulls away.
"Good." She pats his thigh and pushes herself up from the couch, batting his hands away when he tries to help her. "Now, I'm going to go have a talk with Christopher."
Chris sits in the rocking chair, completely dwarfed by its size yet posturing himself with so much importance she cannot help but laugh. There's a Dr. Seuss book in his lap, and his tongue pokes out slightly from the corner of his mouth as he frowns at the pages, willing the words to translate themselves for him.
"Hey honey." She smiles, stepping into the room.
He looks up and grins, and then he holds the book out to her. "Can you read to me?"
"Of course, sweetheart."
Chris eagerly jumps down from the chair, and Piper takes his place before awkwardly pulling him back into the seat with her. He squirms, and she sits patiently as he settles himself into a comfortable position. When he's finally still, his feet rest against the arm of the chair, and his head is cushioned by her growing belly.
"She's moving." He giggles. "I like the baby most of the time."
"Most of the time?"
"I don't like how she takes all the room on your lap."
Piper holds him closer, "Yeah, mommy is not such a fan of that part either. Listen, before we read, I heard you had a bit of a fight with your dad at the store."
Chris frowns and crosses his arms over his chest, stubbornly refusing to meet her eye. "I hate the cart. I like walking by myself."
"Uh huh." She agrees, stroking his hair rhythmically, "Has daddy ever made you sit in the cart before when you wanted to walk?"
"No." Chris answers reluctantly.
She knows Leo; she knows his generally even temperament, his relaxed way of handling their sons. She knows he isn't fazed by the long delays that are the result of letting Wyatt and Chris either dawdle through the aisles at their own pace, or race ahead of the cart at mach speed, depending on their mood. Usually, even she is not too concerned by this; it is only her fear of losing him in the stores on the days he isn't happy walking at a subdued pace – now that he can most definitely move much faster than she can – that have caused her to begin placing him in the cart when they are out. Leo wouldn't have bothered unless there was a reason.
"So, why did he put you there today?" She prods gently.
"'Cause I was bad." He admits, shifting restlessly in her lap. "'Cause at the mall I accidentally didn't listen and there was a car and daddy got mad and he carried me and wouldn't put me down."
"Chris." She laughs, "We've talked about your habit of "accidentally" not listening; you made a choice, buddy. And daddy wouldn't have been doing his job if he didn't punish you for it."
"I hate punishment."
Piper rolls her eyes, "Then you should work on listening. If you did that a little better, there wouldn't be any need for punishment."
"Daddy was mean."
"No, sweetheart." She contradicts softly, tilting his chin upwards and forcing him to look at her, "I think maybe this time, you were just a little bit mean. You love your daddy; you shouldn't have said what you did. You're allowed to be mad at him… sometimes even mommy gets mad at him, you know that, but hate is a very, very mean word. You don't use it on family. Ever."
The stubborn frown marring his features gives way to guilt, and she smiles at how much of Leo there is to be seen in his mannerisms. The temper is all her, but the willful, uncompromising mindset left in its wake is a very lethal combination of both her and her husband.
"Are you gonna put me in timeout again?"
"Ah, so you do remember having this talk." She teases, bumping him gently on the knee with the picture book.
"That was the longest timeout ever." Chris complains.
"Obviously you didn't learn your lesson. Saying it to daddy is the same as saying it to mommy; it's disrespectful. And you hurt his feelings."
"He didn't let me walk even once." Chris replies defensively.
"What you did was wrong, Christopher."
Her firm tone silences him, and he begins to squirm again in her lap. He takes her larger hand in both of his and absently traces the lines of her palm, and then he turns big, expressive green eyes her way. The thought of her being upset with him makes him contrite.
"I'm sorry." He says sincerely.
"I'm not the one you need to apologize to, honey. And I'm not putting you in timeout." She says. "This is between you and your daddy."
Piper watches him chew his lip thoughtfully as the slight crease in his brow once again adds an intent look to his face that seems to surpass his three years by far. She allows a moment to pass, and then she clears her throat and nonchalantly opens the book to its first colourful page.
"Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places, you're off and away."
Chris buries himself closer against her body and he lifts a hand to turn the page; the majority of his books have been read to him so often, he doesn't need her to prompt him.
"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes; you can steer yourself in any direction you choose…"
Leo glances at the grandfather clock from his position in the armchair, and then he reshuffles the stack of essays in front of him, confident that he can get through at least two more papers before it is time to pick up Wyatt.
He hears Chris' footsteps before he sees him, and he looks up expectantly. Chris tiptoes shyly into the room, one hand forming a loose fist near his mouth as he chews his index finger, and the other hand conspicuously concealed behind his back. He inches his way to Leo's side and casually points to the papers on the table.
"Magic School stuff." Leo answers with a smile. "Are you feeling better?"
Chris nods, and reveals the piece of construction paper he has been hiding with his other hand.
"I made you this."
The smile grows on Leo's face, and he puts down his pen and the half-graded paper so that his hands are free to pull Chris into his lap. "You did?" he inquires animatedly.
"Mmm hmm." Chris gets comfortable and holds the bright orange sheet of paper in front of him importantly with both hands.
The sheet is weighed down by the copious amounts of silver glitter glue that have been spread over its surface, and beneath the glitter, Leo can make out faint scribbles and swirls that have been created with a variety of festively coloured crayons.
"It's a card. And it says 'I'm sorry for misbehaving and for being mean and for making you sad.'"
Leo laughs, and he looks between the child on his lap and the lovingly construed picture in his hands, and he wonders where things went wrong in the first timeline, because he can't fathom ever staring into the intelligent green eyes of his precious little boy without feeling this crippling rush of love.
"Do you like it?" Chris asks trustingly.
He will take Leo's next words as irrefutable fact, and Leo squeezes him tighter as the desire to protect and cherish this innocent, loving piece of him and his wife increases tenfold. And without doubt, he knows that the tiny role he played in the creation of his children is his greatest accomplishment from any of his lifetimes. They are so entirely perfect, sometimes it's hard for him to believe he played any role at all.
"I love it." He murmurs.
"Mommy says I hurt your feelings."
He doesn't know how to reply to this; he certainly isn't going to agree and guilt trip his three year old son, but he doesn't want to deny it and undermine Piper. In the end, he doesn't need to respond, because Chris has always been able to do enough talking for two.
"Daddy, you're my favourite."
Leo chuckles, "Your favourite what?"
Chris heaves an exaggerated sigh, as if he is very tired of having to explain very simple things to his parents. "Just my favourite. You and Mommy and Wy. You're my favourite."
He shifts his son in his lap and very carefully places the construction paper on a clear section of the table. Chris' arms automatically loop around his neck, and he feels the wet, messy imprint of his son's mouth on his cheek.
"You and Mommy and Wyatt are my favourite too, buddy."
Chris grins, confident that all has been forgiven. He scuttles off Leo's lap and tugs on his father's hand urgently.
"Mommy fell asleep again. We can take a cookie before lunch and she won't even know."
Leo willingly allows Chris to drag him into the kitchen and he makes a mental note to tell Piper how disappointed their sons are going to be after she has the baby, and they stop getting away with all the little things she has been too tired to bother reprimanding while in the latter stages of her pregnancy.
"Chocolate Chip, Molasses, or Oatmeal Raisin?" He asks, as he stares at the options stacked neatly in plastic Tupperware containers on the far corner of the counter.
Chris frowns. "Chocolate Chip. I hate raisins."
Leo rolls his eyes and vows to teach his son a new word.