Author's Note: Wow, I did not intend for this much time to pass between chapters. Real life kind of smacked me in the face, and I've barely had time to breathe, lately, let alone write. All of you guys rock for sticking with me for this long.
Paige stayed in front of Prue as they crept along the corridor, her sword gripped tightly in both hands. Behind her, Prue was pressed as close to her as she possibly could be without actually climbing on top of Paige, holding onto her wrist in a painful grip to keep them from being separated.
"Can't you just orb us out of here?" Prue hissed, softly, as they paused at yet another junction, taking a moment to scan for danger and assess their options. "I mean, if you really are a Whitelighter-"
Paige firmly told herself that she wasn't insulted by the heavy skepticism she heard in her oldest sister's voice. After all, if she was in Prue's place, she would have been asking the same thing. And it was a perfectly legitimate question. Too bad she didn't have a perfectly legitimate answer.
"There's something blocking me from orbing out of here," she hissed back, tactfully leaving out the part where the something was her own inexperience.
Honestly, she didn't know why it hadn't occurred to her, earlier, that she was going to need to find some way to get out of Hell. Or, why it hadn't occurred to Theresa, come to think of it. The older woman had been ready with a potion to get her into the Underworld, why not one to get her and Prue out?
'Unless we're not supposed to get out of here,' Paige thought, a cold shiver running down her spine.
She'd naively assumed that Theresa was on her side, especially after the older woman had told her about Prue, but what if she'd been wrong? What if rescuing Prue had never been a goal, at all? What if it had just been a plot to trap her down in the Underworld?
'And then Theresa will go to Piper and Phoebe, and tell them how I'm trapped down here, and they need to save me, and then we'll all be trapped down here-'
Paige abruptly shook herself out of the paranoid thoughts she was falling into, stopping in the middle of the corridor. Prue ran into her back before she managed to stop herself, giving Paige a curious look.
"We are getting the hell out of here," Paige declared.
"Finally," Prue muttered, under her breath, and Paige bit back a tiny smirk.
"Hang onto me," she told Prue, and the next second later, her sister was holding onto her hard enough to leave bruises. Paige clung just as hard, not wanting to risk losing Prue.
She closed her eyes in concentration, trying to remember the few times she'd orbed, trying to remember the feeling of disappearing, of being absolutely weightless.
'Come on, come on, come on,' she chanted to herself, silently, hearing her thoughts echoed by Prue in a soft, continuous whisper.
For a few seconds, it didn't seem like anything was happening, but then she could feel a pressure building up inside her. At first it just felt like a really bad headache, but then the pressure spread to her entire body, growing and growing until she felt like she was going to explode. And then she did, and she was everywhere and nowhere, all at once, and she was flying –
And then she and Prue crashed painfully back down to the ground. Prue was curled in a miserable ball, arms wrapped tightly around her midsection. She was whimpering in pain, face screwed up in a rictus of agony, and she screamed when Paige touched her shoulder, flailing wildly in panic.
"Prue!" Paige called out, keeping her voice level as she moved back to keep from touching her sister, again. "Prue, calm down. You're safe, no one's going to hurt you. You're safe."
She kept talking, hoping that something would get through to Prue, and it eventually seemed to be working. Prue slowly uncurled from the fetal position she was in, slumping wearily on the ground. Her eyes were still tightly shut, tears leaking out to slide down her cheeks, and Paige dropped down beside her, risking a soft hand on her arm.
"Prue?" she ventured, gently. "Are you okay?"
"He's never going to let me go," Prue whispered, forcing her eyes open as she looked up at Paige. "I'll never escape. I'll never get to go home."
"I am going to get you out of here," Paige said, firmly, but Prue didn't seem to be listening to her.
"He's never going to let me go," she repeated, a broken sob in her voice.
"He, who?" Paige asked, confused.
Even as Prue cringed away from the dark, silky voice, Paige whirled around to confront this new threat. She found herself facing a dark-haired man with a cruel smirk and a cold glint in his eyes. He was looking at Prue like she was some kind of insect, and Paige instinctively moved between her sister and the stranger.
"Who the hell are you?" she demanded, brandishing her sword."What do you want?"
"You can call me Avares," the demon informed her, still staring past her, to where Prue was huddled back against the wall. "Prudence, what do you think you're doing?"
"No – nothing," Prue stammered out from where she was hiding behind Paige, a tremor of fear in her voice. "I – I wasn't-"
"It looked like you were trying to escape," the demon went on, and something like a whimper was torn from Prue's throat.
Paige reached back for Prue, grabbing her sister's wrist and giving it a reassuring squeeze. She could feel a line of hard, cold metal under her hand, and when she risked a glance down, she saw a thin, silver band wrapped around Prue's wrist. When she looked back up, Avares was watching her, still smirking.
"My little insurance policy," he informed her, following the direction of her gaze. He made a move toward Prue, and Paige jerked out with the sword, smiling darkly when she caught the palm of his hand, making him bleed.
"Don't you touch her," she growled, softly. "I'll kill you-"
"Kill me, and she dies," Avares interrupted her, nodding at Prue. "Attempt to escape, and she dies. If she disobeys me – well, I think you can see where I'm going with this."
"What do you want?" Paige demanded, again.
"The eldest Charmed One is under my complete and utter control," Avares said, laughing darkly. "Gee, what could I possibly want with that? Although-" His tone turned thoughtful as he eyed Paige. "Scuttlebutt around the Underworld is that you're the new kid on the block. Living in big sister's shadow, as it were."
Paige turned around at a gasp, to see Prue staring at her with an expression of utter betrayal on her face. "Sister?" she echoed, softly. "You're my sister? "
"I was going to tell you," Paige interjected, quickly. "After we were both safe. I wasn't sure you'd believe me – wasn't sure you'd follow me out of here if you knew. I was going to tell you once we were safe."
Prue still looked confused. "But, how – Mom and Sam," she realized. "You're half Whitelighter."
Paige nodded, slowly, and then she jerked at the sound of applause from behind her. Avares was watching them, a wry smile twisting his lips.
"Such a touching reunion," he said, mockingly, his voice practically dripping with disdain.
Paige glared at the demon, still blocking his access to Prue. Avares still wouldn't tell her what he wanted, and she couldn't understand why she and her sister were still alive. He should have tried to kill them by now, and yet he just kept smiling that maddening little smirk at them. It was starting to creep her out.
"What do you want?" she demanded through gritted teeth. "And don't give me any of that cryptic crap, either."
"What do I want?" Avares mused. "I want a trade, little witch."
"What kind of trade?" Paige asked, suspiciously.
"I feel I've been cheated," Avares said, instead of answering her question. "When I purchased your sister's bond, I was assured that I would be receiving the most powerful of the Charmed Ones. What did I get, instead? A lemon, a reject, a powerless hack." He sneered, scornfully at Prue, who flinched away from his gaze.
"You want me to take Prue's place," Paige guessed, her voice flat.
"Exactly," Avares replied, smugly. "You want your sister back? Well, I want a replacement."
"No," Prue gasped, from behind her, and Paige gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"It's okay," she murmured softly, under her breath. Louder, she added, "What's to stop me from just orbing us out of here?"
"The same thing that was stopping you, before," Avares informed her. "The bracelet is spelled to cause the wearer immense pain if separated from me for too long. And even if the pain doesn't kill her, I'll simply track her down and kill her, myself. And then I'll kill the rest of your family, and I'll leave you for last, alive long enough to know that you could have prevented all of it." He raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms over his chest. "Your move."
"If I stay here," Paige said, slowly, ignoring Prue's choked cry from behind her, "you'll let Prue go? You'll take that damn bracelet off her, and let her go?"
"My word is my honor," Avares said, with a mocking bow. Paige clenched her fingers around the hilt of her sword, resisting the urge to go for his head, remembering what he'd said about Prue dying if he was killed. "Your soul for your sister's life," Avares said, as he straightened. "How can you possibly refuse?"
Paige swallowed hard, looking between the demon and her sister. Every self preservation instinct she possessed was screaming at her to just grab Prue and run, but she knew that it would never work. Avares would find them no matter where they tried to hide, thanks to the tracking spell on that damn bracelet. And even if she did have the power needed to orb them both out of Hell, Prue would never survive the trip. Avares would kill her without a second thought. She only had one option.
"I'll do it."
Avares smiled, a terrifyingly predatory expression. He reached out to Prue, grabbing her roughly by the arm and dragging her forward, making her cry out in panic. Paige snarled, stepping toward them, but before she could do anything, Avares had released her sister. Prue stumbled away from the demon, rubbing gingerly at her bright red, abraded wrist, and Avares held up the damning band of metal that had held Prue in helpless thrall for so long.
"Your turn," he said, a mocking tone in his voice as he held the bracelet out to Paige.
Paige forced herself not to flinch as she reached out to take the bracelet from the demon. The bracelet glowed brightly in her hands, the metal warming against her skin, and she felt a tingle of electricity running along her arm. When she slipped the bracelet over her hand, the metal tightened around her wrist. It wasn't uncomfortably tight, but it was snug enough that she wasn't going to be able to get it off. She looked up at Avares, who had a darkly satisfied look on his face.
"You didn't have to do that," Prue whispered, brokenly, and Paige looked over to see an absolutely shattered look on her older sister's face.
"I didn't have a choice," Paige told her. "What would you have done? Prue," she went on, when her sister remained silent, "it's going to be okay. I promise."
Prue just shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. Her lips were pressed into a tight line, her hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. She looked ready to attack Avares with her bare hands, and Paige put a hand on her arm, to stop her from doing something that would only get her killed. She wasn't about to lose her sister after just finding her, again.
"I kept my end of the bargain," she said, glaring at the demon. "Now, let Prue go. You promised."
"Did I?" Avares asked, sounding surprised, and Paige growled, stepping protectively in front of Prue, holding her sword up, defensively.
Avares simply shook his head, and the next second, Paige felt like she'd just been stabbed. A blinding white-hot pain shot out from the bracelet to encompass her entire body. She cried out in agony, crumpling to the floor with her arms curled around her stomach. The sword clattered to the rocky ground beside her.
"You lying son of a bitch," she ground out, as Avares stepped over her motionless body to get to Prue, pressed back against the wall in fear. "Prue, run!"
"Run where?" Avares said, reasonably, as Prue tried to get past him to get to Paige. "There's nowhere that I won't be able to find you, Prudence. I told you that you'd never be able to escape me."
He reached again for Prue's arm, and she darted away from his grasp with a whimper. At the same time, Paige tried to force herself to her feet, stretching a hand out to her sister in desperation. She had to get to her first, had to get Prue somewhere safe.
A second later, Prue was engulfed by a swirl of bright, white lights, and when the light cleared, she was gone. Paige slumped wearily back against the ground as Avares stared at the empty space in disbelief. Her eyes drifted closed, jerking open when she felt a spike of pain run through her body. Looking up, she saw the furious demon standing over her.
"Where. Is. She?" Avares demanded, biting the words off.
"I honestly have no idea," Paige told him. "She could be anywhere right now; I don't know."
An enraged look flashed across Avares's face, and she couldn't help it, she started laughing, helplessly. Tears filled her eyes, blurring her vision, and she choked on the hysterical sobs threatening to escape her throat. She couldn't afford to fall apart; not here, not now.
"I will find her," the demon threatened, and Paige stopped laughing long enough to look up at him.
"Not with me fighting you every step of the way," she promised, quietly, tears drying on her cheeks. "You'll never get your hands on my sister, again."
Avares stared down at her, his face completely unreadable. He twitched his hand, and Paige was overcome by wave after wave of sheer agony. She screamed, and screamed, and then the world went black…
When the light cleared, Prue found herself standing in the middle of nowhere. Well, in the middle of the road if she wanted to be exact, but considering that she couldn't see anything when she looked around, the middle of nowhere was equally appropriate.
Her first instinct was to call Leo to come and get her, but something was stopping her. Namely Avares. He hadn't been lying when he'd promised to find her, no matter where she went. She knew that the demon had the power to track her down; after this long, he didn't need that damn bracelet aiding him.
Prue knew that she couldn't risk going back to San Francisco, not with Avares' threat to kill her sisters still ringing in her ears. She wouldn't be the one to bring that monster down on her family. Not to mention that they'd need the Power of Three to vanquish him, and one-third of their trio was trapped down in the Underworld, under the demon's control.
Like it or not, Prue was powerless to do anything. If there was any chance to save her family from Avares, she needed to get Paige back, first.
Prue was jerked suddenly out of her musings by the sound of a blaring horn, and she jumped back, startled. A little red convertible went whipping by her, the driver shouting insults out the window as he passed by. She could feel her heart racing wildly as she stood on the side of the road, more worked up by the short incident than she wanted to admit, even to herself.
'And that,' she thought, dismayed, as she waited for her racing heart to slow down, 'is the other reason I can't go home.'
She'd spent so much time in the Underworld, living in fear and trying simply to survive, and it had changed her. The person she'd been before Shax would never have let Paige trade herself for her own safety. She would have fought tooth and nail to keep her sister safe, not just cowered uselessly in the corner every time the demon looked at her.
She'd become weak down in Hell, and it was one thing when she was alone, but now her weakness had condemned someone else to the same Hell. No, she couldn't risk going home when she couldn't even protect her family from the threats she'd be bringing straight to their front door. If she went back, now, she'd only be a burden on her family. And she couldn't do that to them.
Her mind made up, Prue started trudging along the side of the dusty road. She didn't know where she was going, but it was going to be some place far, far away from everyone she loved. She could at least protect them that much.
She'd been walking for a while, long enough for the sun to rise higher in the sky, when she heard the rumble of an engine coming up behind her. She moved further off the side of the road, wanting to avoid another incident like the one with the earlier driver, but she was surprised to hear the vehicle slowing down behind her. Stopping, Prue looked back to see a semi truck slowing to a stop beside her, and then the passenger door swung open. The driver, an older man with graying hair and a long, craggy face, leaned over to look at her.
"Need a lift?" he called out.
"Depends," Prue replied, warily."Where are you going?"
"Phoenix," the man told her. "Headed your way?"
"Yeah," Prue decided, after a moment. Phoenix wasn't as far away from San Francisco as she would have liked, but it was a start.
Grabbing the door handle, she pulled herself up into the cab. She shut the door, buckling herself in, and then she looked up to see the man watching her.
"Odin," he introduced himself, cracking a grin at the surprised look that must have flashed across her face. "I had odd parents," he explained.
"Melinda," Prue blurted out, after a moment. She wasn't going to give out her real name, not until she knew it was safe. "Melinda Johnson."
"Well, Melinda," Odin said, as he put the truck back into drive and started down the road, "where are you going?"
"I don't know," Prue admitted, staring out the window at the scenery that flashed quickly by. "Anywhere that's not California." She winced as the words sent a spike of pain lancing through her heart. The further down the road they went, the more it felt as if she was never going to see her family, again.
'I miss you,' she thought, as Piper, Phoebe, and Leo's faces flashed quickly through her mind. 'I miss you guys, so much. I swear, some day I'm going to find a way home. And I'm bringing Paige with me. No matter what it takes.'