Just a piece I started awhile ago and finally finished. As always, constructive criticism welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Spoilers: Set after "Morality Bites" (2x02)
Disclaimer:
Charmed is owned by Spelling Television and all the amazing people who made the magic possible. I'm just someone with too many plot bunnies.


After the Execution

She came back to tears on her face and heat flaring from the cold, metal pyre taking her sister alive. Her mind scrambled to catch up and think, just think of a way to salvage this rescue. The thoughts came in rushed jumbles. Between her freezing power and Prue's telekinetic ability, they could still do it, they could still get her out. Leo could heal her and they could hide her afterwards. It would all be okay.

Prue, always the strong one, turned her away, but even with all the blinking and the tears in her eyes, she could still see the flames clinging to her baby sister, caressing her cruelly, ripping screams from her. She thought of hot pots and blisters on her hands. They weren't so bad. Screw magic and being careful. They could just pull her out. But the smell, oh god, the smell. Too late, too late, it mocked. She shifted, steeling herself to try anyway. Prue held her tighter. "No!"

Outside, the people cheered, the crescendo of their voices muffled by the glass and made more like some bloodthirsty, animalistic roar. To the side, Nathaniel Pratt watched it all, smiling mildly. Had they been themselves a few minutes ago, he would be dead now, but as it was, she was so haunted, so numb, she couldn't muster the anger come too late. She wanted to throw out her hands and freeze these people, who had let Pratt make Phoebe their scapegoat and were making her execution a spectacle. She was a martyr, damnit, and these people didn't deserve to share her last moments.

Standing there, helpless, crying, she felt another chip of herself hardening as she decided: this was the last thing she would ever do for Them. She was sick of their meddling, sick of the rules, and sick of losing people she cared about.

ooo

She blinked the stiffness from her lashes, sleep blurring her vision. Sitting up slowly, she tried to remember, tried to think. Where was she? At what point had she left… left… oh God… had she been that weak? She closed her eyes again, hoping she had not bailed on Phoebes in her last moments. The tears began afresh. And then it hit her that this was how her past self had woken yesterday before…. Her heart skipped a beat. So maybe this was a do-over. Maybe what they had planned to do was what was supposed to have happened.

Somewhere in another room, she heard voices and she tensed. High and low and so familiar—she felt a shiver of déjà vu of days long past. The voices bobbed closer and she came to her senses, wiping the tears from her face. Melinda stood in the doorway, eyes solemn and wide.

"Morning, Mommy."

Piper smiled at her daughter. So beautiful, so young, so innocent. When she opened her arms, Melinda came running and she held on tightly. "Hi, baby," she whispered, carefully avoiding looking at Leo, knowing that his being here meant that this wasn't yesterday and there was no do-over. "Did you sleep okay?"

Melinda nodded vigorously. "Daddy says we're not having family brunch tomorrow."

"No," Piper agreed sadly. "Another day, okay?"

"I miss Aunt Phoebe. Why did she have to go?"

Her fingers in Melinda's hair stilled and her gaze lifted accusingly to Leo's. What did you tell her? He held her eyes, never flinching.

"Mommy," Melinda was tugging her sleeve, "is Aunt Prue going to have to go away too?"

"Oh Mel." She pulled her daughter close, trembling, the images flashing before her again. "Here, take my hands. No one else is going away, alright? I promise." Leo was there suddenly, pulling Melinda from her, talking to her in a low voice, sending her pattering off. He sat down beside her, close but not touching. Still she wouldn't look at him.

"You should have saved her."

"You know why I didn't."

"If it had been me, you would have broken the damn rules."

"We don't know that."

She stared at the ring on her finger. "Don't we?"

He hesitated. "Maybe. But you wouldn't have let me. Just like you wouldn't let me clip my wings for you."

"That wasn't life and death."

"You're not selfish, Piper. You care about the greater good too."

"Not if the cost is my sister."

"This isn't easy for me either, Piper. She was my charge, my daughter's favorite aunt, my wife's sister. Do you think this is what I wanted for her?"

"Ex-wife," she corrected.

"Piper…"

"You should have saved her. When we split…" her voice shook, "when we split, you promised we were still a family. Family doesn't let other family go to the stake no matter how much they deserve to! And she didn't!"

"Family or not, if letting her die means no one else will, we have to take that chance. Your past selves understood that."

"We didn't understand anything ten years ago. If we've learned anything since then, it's that there's always another way. We just had to find it and They didn't give us a chance to. They just let her die and it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair of them, Leo."

"Maybe that was the point. So you wouldn't have to wait ten years to understand."

"If They expect us to sit back and do nothing, They're wrong." She lifted her face defiantly. "Do you hear that? You're wrong! There is another way and we're going to find it. We're going to fix this."

"Piper, if there had been another way, if we could have saved her, we would have. You know that. Trust that your past selves already did all they could and let her go, move on. Phoebe allowed herself to die to protect others, to protect our daughter. Think about Melinda. Think about her future. Don't you want her to grow up to something better than this? To a future where she doesn't have to hide her birthright? It's too late for Phoebe, but not for her. Piper, we can still do good."

"I don't care about what our destiny is supposed to be. Screw Them and their grand design. If I can't use my powers to save the people I love, then what good is destiny and the greater good? I can't do this anymore. I won't." Though her voice had grown softer, the fire in her eyes dared him to challenge her.

"Then don't do it for Them," he said quietly, meeting her gaze with equal conviction.

"How can I move on and pretend that it's normal that my sister is dead when I will always think she died unfairly and I could have done something about it?"

"Piper…." He was touching her desperately, "Piper, Piper, Piper." Fingers trailed down her shoulder to her wrist. "It's never been fair for us, but we can't change everything that's unfair. We can't change this."

"Why?" She turned her hand, palm up, and twined her fingers with his. "Leo, why? We used to believe anything was possible."

He looked down at their joined hands. "I know," he said softly.

"Then what happened?" she demanded without much heat. "Why isn't it still?"

"Because there's more at stake now than just us. Because our choices don't affect just us anymore." He hesitated. "You've always wanted a normal life. Maybe this is your chance. At least for awhile."

She closed her eyes. "Not like this. The price is too high. How am I supposed to face Mel and tell her that Aunt Phoebe is gone when I didn't even try myself to save her? Even if the outcome doesn't change, I have to try."

"Then I hope you'll understand why I didn't save her."

She gazed past him, at the framed photograph on the table. "I already do." When she turned back to him, her eyes were wet but bright. "Come on," she squeezed his hand, "let's go find Melinda."

"Hey," he touched crooked fingers and the heel of his hand to her face lightly, "she'll be okay. She's a strong girl."

"I know. I just want to make some happy memories for her. She should be able to remember what it's like to be loved."

Leo smiled and helped her up. When they found Melinda, their hands were still loosely clasped. Whatever happened, there was still a future to save.