Author's Notes: As always, thank you all for the immense support. You're all fabulous and deserve millions of cookies!
We All Have Scars
"I'm just the boy inside the man
Not exactly who you think I am"
- TFK, "Be Somebody"
Leo Wyatt had been many things in his life and unexpected afterlife; devoted medic, loving husband, adoring father, faithful whitelighter, fierce Valkyrie champion, reluctant Elder. He had lived through the high and low points of several decades, gaining wisdom and insight that many mortals would never possess, developing a deep understanding of people's personalities and fears, learning how to encourage and strengthen with only words as his tool. He'd seen people grow and have children and die, and then he'd seen their children grow and die, too.
In all that time, he had never seen anyone lie with the truth quite as skillfully as Chris Perry.
He was flawless; earnest and open, combining emotional tones and facial expressions together with layered half-truths, weaving together a picture of passionate honesty fueled by just the right amount of hesitation. He could manipulate an appearance of truth, pointing you in the direction of an assumption or decision that fit what he wanted you to believe, all the while convincing you with disturbing ease that it was your idea in the first place. It was extremely unsettling, and moreover, dangerous.
There was just something about the man that unnerved him, setting off alarms in his mind, scratching at his senses, squirming beneath his skin; a crushing sense of familiarity, an itch that just wouldn't go away. Ever since he'd first laid eyes on the man, his instincts had screamed at him that there was something important about this time traveler, something obvious and recognizable, something he should notice. But no matter how hard he'd tried, he just couldn't quite unravel the mystery that was Chris Perry. Couldn't quite manage to outsmart or outmaneuver the minefield of schemes and manipulations so expertly planted around his many secrets. It irked him to no end, knowing that something strange and undefinable was hovering just beyond his grasp, shouting for him to realize what the secret was, yet being unable to comprehend. It was maddening, and frustrating; coupled with all of the twisted decisions and shifty actions with dubious morals, and Leo just could not quite bring himself to place full trust in the witchlighter.
Oh, he was a good man, certainly. That much was clear in the way that those in the Resistance respected him, smiling with mingled joy and hope in their eyes as he passed them by, obvious in the sheer single-minded dedication with which he pursued Wyatt's salvation, evident in his selfless desire to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
But he was hiding something.
Leo couldn't be certain, of course, but he'd always had an uncanny sense for when he was being lied to. And despite the sisters' warm acceptance of the supposed truth, despite Darryl's wholehearted support of the young witchlighter, he remained unconvinced. There was just something odd about the stark terror filling that narrow face when his wife had begun to corner him with words, secrets buried beneath that overwhelming sigh of contrived reluctance, lurking behind the whispers that followed their group wherever they went. The eerie feeling that he was missing a piece of the puzzle, oblivious to a vital spark of knowledge that hovered vaguely just out of reach, coiled within his heart with every moment spent in this future; drowning him with every unprepared glance he got of the witch.
And Chris Perry was a thorough man. He never went into any situation half-cocked or unprepared, charging in with guns blazing but forgetting to bring the right ammunition (the way the sisters usually operated). He was the kind of person that planned, schemed, strategized, thought, and planned again, until he'd worked out every last detail and readied himself for each eventuality that could be thought of or expected. Leo had experienced this firsthand, when it seemed like outside forces and circumstances were leading them all in a direction that had no other options but the ones presented to them; and then his wife had pointed out that Chris knew what would happen to the Elders when this had all begun and hadn't prevented it - had, in fact, orchestrated its happening in such a way that would allow him undisturbed access to the Charmed Ones' home, to Wyatt. He'd watched Chris lie blatantly to his face, coolly unaffected by the knowledge that he'd been caught at his own game, that someone knew (and had proof) that he'd murdered just to achieve his goals. He'd watched Chris slowly unveil various tiny secrets about the future as time lengthened, cautiously dropping small bombs whenever the sisters started to drift away from the mission he'd shoved into the middle of their lives, igniting their fury against him while also inexplicably stirring their passion to continue fighting.
At first it was saving Paige, and the rest of the world along with her; and they were okay with that. And then it was saving Wyatt, which was still acceptable, but suddenly none of them were quite sure whether his words could be entirely trusted at face value - because if he'd lied about Paige, then who was to say he wasn't lying about this too? And then he wasn't just a simple whitelighter after all, and suddenly there were a lot of things that didn't add up, and somehow saving Wyatt had become saving everyone else from Wyatt, and finally there had been no question whatsoever that this manipulative man ruining their lives could not be trusted.
But now they'd seen firsthand the destruction their little blonde angel would rain down upon this world, and suddenly saving the entire population from Wyatt had become saving him from whatever turned him before the birth of their second little angel.
Leo couldn't help but wonder when the next proverbial shoe would drop, and saving Wyatt would become stopping Wyatt.
Because Chris Perry wasn't the kind of man to graciously answer questions just because you'd asked. Though he'd seemingly, uncharacteristically, allowed Piper to put forth any question she wanted (within limits of course), essentially he hadn't revealed anything major or even truly helpful. Of all the things Chris had ever admitted about the future of his own will, all of them focused around Wyatt. Even his apparent confession of identity had revolved around Wyatt; and Leo hadn't missed that his wife's question had never truly been answered. He'd never given a reason for how he knew so much about them, how well he knew them, with all their personalities and full demon-fighting history. He'd given an answer, but it had been a hinted admission; an agreement to Piper's own suggestion, implying answers of their own imagining for the questions she'd put forth. Maybe it was arrogance, or maybe it was pride, but Leo just couldn't imagine himself or the sisters ever revealing to a family friend some of the things the witchlighter had instinctively known without being told. He couldn't imagine any of them ever allowing a child that wasn't their own near the Book of Shadows, nor showing that child where all the potions ingredients were kept, nor revealing the entirety of their demon-hunting history and personal lives.
Because it didn't make sense, not really; despite the sisters' unanimous acceptance. It didn't make sense for him to cling so tightly to a secret identity that would impact their future in such a small way - what did it matter that they knew who Wyatt's future friends were? How could knowing the grown up version of a small child they hadn't met yet possibly tip the scale of the future in such a drastic way, as he'd always implied? Why would a man, who normally clung so tightly to every secret, so easily give up the one thing he'd held onto the most ardently?
So Leo waited. He watched, silently; ever hunting for the moment when the witchlighter's guard was down, searching for any piece of information that could point to a different possibility than the one they'd been supplied.
And if he focused so adamantly on his uneasy suspicions because there was a small part of him that agreed with the witchlighter; if he was desperately trying to block out the voice hissing relentlessly that he'd failed to fight for the right to be with his family, that he could have stayed and been free to love them openly without stolen moments in the dark with his sleeping son, well...no one would ever have to know.
Not even himself.
They remained in the council room until lunch, with the sisters chatting pleasantly with Darryl and Chris while Leo remained uncomfortably silent and somewhat lonely on the fringes of the group, brooding on the nature of time travel and lies. After a short break for lunch, Darryl departed for his home at Safehouse 2 and Chris introduced them to the Resistance's main library.
The sisters had cooed and gasped in awe as they entered the large cavern, which was easily twice the size of the library housed at Magic School, if not more. Books spanned the entirety of the cavern, neatly arranged on stone shelves grown right out of the rock they stood upon and extending far above their heads. The sheer vast array of books and scrolls was so overwhelming, even Leo couldn't help but stare in stunned fascination.
"This is incredible!" Phoebe gasped softly, her mouth unashamedly dropping in shock as they all slowly twirled in place, eyes scanning the great cavern.
"But this is-" stuttered Leo, struggling to wrap his head around the immensity of what his eyes were seeing. "This is even more than Magic School and the Elders' library combined. How-?"
Chris smirked as he observed their astounded expressions. "This is a collection of every book we could salvage at the beginning of the war, both magical and mortal. Along with whatever else we stumbled across after that. If there's a way to get all of us back to the past without being in the manor, it should be in here."
"If?" Paige scrutinized him curiously. "Wait, so you haven't gone through these before? But then, how did you-"
"I used the Book of Shadows to come back the first time," Chris interrupted, then paused for a moment thoughtfully. "Well, the second time too. The Nexus fueled most of the power I needed to create such a specific portal, and the spell I needed was already in the Book. But we won't be able to do that this time, not with such a large group. Wyatt's probably already tripled the security at the manor since we came through. Trust me, we won't be getting back that way."
"Well, we could try the Power of Three," Phoebe suggested hopefully.
Her sisters cast doubtful looks in her direction. "No offense there, Pheebs," Piper commented wryly. "But I think we should avoid letting you write spells for now."
Phoebe scowled irritably, looking highly affronted by the slight to her spell-writing skills. Just as she opened her mouth to retort, however, Chris interrupted their sisterly harassment.
"That's not a bad idea, actually. Calling on the Halliwell line would be much safer though."
Paige peered at him, her nose scrunching in confusion. "Wait, if we're just going to write a spell ourselves, why do we need a library?"
"Because," Chris drawled with exaggerated patience. "As Piper so helpfully pointed out, your last attempt didn't turn out so well. There's a huge section in here on the intricacies of time travel and spell-writing. It should help with making sure the wording and intention of the spell is foolproof before we use it."
His lips quirked briefly at a private joke. "We wouldn't want to end up in the Jurassic period, after all."
Leo grimaced at the reminder of the last time portal he'd intentionally jumped through.
"Right..." drawled Piper, arching one eyebrow in puzzled sarcasm. "So what exactly are we supposed to be looking for here?"
"Any spell, potion, or ritual you can find that will successfully send us back to a specific day in time. And we're going to need to find a site of large magical energy, like a spiritual nexus, in order to power and direct the time portal...since we won't have the Manor Nexus making it easy for us." Chris paused in his explanation and pointed towards a corner of the room where two stone shelves met, with multiple faded armchairs in desperate need of restitching clustered nearby. "Time travel books are in that small corner over there. Spell-writing is the large section in the center of the room. And...Phoebe, I've already orbed all of the history books out of here, so you can stop looking now."
He smirked as she flinched in surprise, guilt flooding her expression as she stopped attempting to crane her neck in search of the magical history section.
"...was worth a try," she grumbled. Chris snorted at her, shaking his head in fond exasperation.
He led them toward the alcove he'd pointed to minutes before, pointedly ignoring their attempts to stop and gawk at their surroundings. Leo noticed a few occupants of the room glance at their party over the edge of their books and then perform spectacular double-takes as they recognized their identities. Uncomfortable with such focused attention, he hurried to catch up with the sisters and their surrogate whitelighter. He slowed to a halt just in time to catch the tail end of Chris' next words.
"-few things, then I'll be right back."
The sisters nodded understandingly, and the man swiftly dissolved into shining orbs before floating out of the massive hall. Leo watched him go, frowning silently in discontent.
"Well, I guess we better get started!" Paige declared brightly, clapping her hands together as if calling a class of students to attention. Piper snorted faintly at her ridiculous enthusiasm, then moved over to the nearest shelf with a small shake of her head.
Leo stared at the stone far above their heads with unfocused eyes, thoughtfully replaying their long morning conversation and analyzing it with an uneasy heart. Somehow, the situation just didn't quite fit right within his mind; his instincts quietly protesting as he attempted to inspire belief in the new information. Like his tiny son attempting to force his square toy block into the slot for circles, the supposed truths they'd been fed grated at his consciousness, leaving jagged edges behind.
He blinked in surprise at the gentle murmur, slanting his distracted gaze away from the ceiling in order to focus on the source of the voice that had penetrated through his musings. Phoebe hovered next to him; not close enough to inspire discomfort at her proximity, but angled toward him in invitation. I'm here, her posture implied, if you need me.
"Are you okay?"
She was an empath; she knew he was not. But he tilted his lips up in a smile regardless. "Yeah. Just thinking."
Phoebe's eyes softened around the edges, filling with kindness. "I'm sure Darryl will come around, Leo. Just give him time."
He stared at her blankly for a moment, before realizing that the coiling sense of unease she'd sensed from him had been interpreted incorrectly as malcontent over their old friend's strange hostility. "Oh- Uh. Yeah."
Shaking himself out of the dark mood he'd descended into, Leo stepped forward to join the rest of his family at the bookshelves, purposefully ignoring the piercing gaze that followed his movements. He swept his eyes across the titles, searching for anything that might help them make it back to his son.
Understanding the Butterfly Effect; Theory of the Multiverse; How to Avoid the Grandfather Paradox; Time Travel: Magical vs Mortal; Temporospatial Claudications Simplified; Time Travel for Dummies... Leo snorted faintly in derision at the title and continued to skim; unsure of what exactly he was searching for, but determined to find it nonetheless. Ripples and Wormholes; Timeslides, Otherspace, and Pocket Dimensions; Paradoxy vs Parallelism; Interfering with the Grand Design; Potions & Portals: A Guide to the Past; Chronokinesis: Myth or-
Leo paused, and reached out a hand to tug Potions & Portals from its slot between two heavy tomes. The book was slim and light in his hand; flipping it over, he saw that the front cover was decorated with a simple potion bottle interposed over a familiar blue time portal. Giving a mental shrug, he carried the book over to the nearest armchair and sunk down into it. Dust particles scattered into the air as he opened the book and flipped aimlessly through the pages, barely focusing on the words.
This would be so much easier if Gideon were here, he thought ruefully. His mentor would surely have known the best books to search for their predicament, kindly directing them on the right path with the calm benevolence that Leo desperately strove for in his own position as an Elder. Sighing despondently, he was surprised by the depth of wistful longing he felt for the beautiful alabaster halls of the heavens, filled with billowing clouds and gentle clicking. Despite his fierce resentment towards the other Elders for even considering erasing his son, they would have been a welcome influence of peace on the scattered emotions warring within his heart.
"Haven't you realized yet? You are all dead. The Elders are dead. The Cleaners are dead. Good has lost."
Leo still wasn't quite sure how to deal with the knowledge that his beautiful, cherubic son could grow up to be the cause of so much destruction. Where had they gone wrong? Had he abandoned his family, not just in their past, but also in this future? Did his absence cause this crumbling shadow of their bright world? How could their first son turn out so horribly wrong? And why did their second son refuse to see them, even though word of their presence had surely reached him by now?
Leo frowned, staring intently at the pages in his lap without seeing a single word. Why had Chris concealed Wyatt's turning for so long? They had wasted nearly an entire year fighting with the witchlighter and stubbornly resisting any attempts he made to force them into action. If he had just told them from the very beginning, they could have spent these long months searching for the demon that would bring such ruin to the world. Why tell them only after Wyatt had already been kidnapped by the Order, months after he'd first arrived in their time?
So much of what they'd learned just didn't make any sense; it was like staring at a half-finished puzzle and knowing how it's supposed to look when finished, but missing all the key pieces. Pieces that were no doubt hidden within Chris' mind, unattainable and out of their reach.
As if summoned by mere thought, orb lights briefly illuminated the space in their corner of the library before beginning to solidify into the man that had both concealed and revealed all of the terrible facts swirling in his head. Seizing hold of the opportunity unexpectedly presented to him, Leo lifted his eyes to study the witchlighter, keeping his head angled toward the book in his lap to create the illusion of being engrossed in reading. As the blue orbs coalesced into the lanky form of the young man, Chris' green eyes darted around the open space swiftly; briefly touching upon each of them in turn, then quickly raking across the visible parts of the room before finally coming back to their normal, central position in a slow, relaxed blink. In that same instant, a small amount of tension visibly bled out of the man's shoulders and toned frame. All of this took place in the span of mere seconds. If Leo hadn't been closely watching the man, he would have never noticed the strange actions; and, with a slight jolt of surprise, the Elder realized he'd seen this before. Not just with Chris, but also with the Valkyries and their male soldiers - even some of Leo's old comrades from the war in his human lifetime had exhibited this same brief tension when entering a new room or area, scanning for immediate threats and cataloging the position of allies.
He's a soldier. The thought came suddenly, an unbidden realization that made him blink. He'd never before considered the witchlighter as a warrior, or even a reliable force in battle; at least, not until yesterday's display of magical and strategical fortitude. Somehow the man had always seemed so young to him...far too young to be involved in a war spanning across multiple worlds and planes.
And it was devastating to realize that his son had created this world, where children fight the wars of adults and rely on no one but themselves.
"What's all that for?"
Leo inhaled shakily and cleared his mind, focusing on the sound of Paige's voice to claw his way out of the depressing mire his thoughts had been wallowing in once more. He tilted his head up fully to focus on where she'd gestured, and saw several layers of parchment being spread out over a low table that Chris had apparently materialized while Leo was deep in thought.
The young man glanced up at Paige as she and her sisters crowded closer, leaning over the edge of the table to scrutinize the strange diagrams and symbols covering each page. "This," he replied casually, "is what I will be working on while you guys research."
Piper quirked an eyebrow at him, curiosity filling her expression. "And what exactly is 'this'?"
"Wards," Chris replied simply.
"See, you've mentioned that a couple times now," Paige placed her hands on her hips, giving him a disapproving frown. "But you still haven't exactly explained what they are."
Emerald green eyes blinked slowly in shock. "Oh. Huh...right, I keep forgetting you haven't learned yet..."
He hesitated briefly, seeming to consider what he should say on the subject, then continued after a brief pause. "Well, it's basically a magical barrier that you can put up around a location or object, usually a building. The bigger the area to be warded, the more magical power you'd need. Sort of like a coded spell or ritual that you program to operate at all times, letting only certain things or people inside based on conditions that you set when you create it."
The sisters glanced at each other in surprise and renewed interest, but Leo simply watched the witchlighter as he explained, having already known of the concept of wards.
"So..." Phoebe pursed her lips in concentration. "It's sort of like Wyatt's shield, only invisible?"
He hummed thoughtfully, tapping his fingers against the edge of the wood. "More like the barrier the Elders put around Magic School, but I guess it's similar."
"The Elders, huh?" Piper's eyes narrowed, her gaze focusing on the witchlighter with keen cunning. "Can it keep demons out?"
Leo frowned as Chris smirked approvingly at her, warm affection clearly visible in his expression and voice. "It can keep whatever you want out."
Piper suddenly directed a suspicious gaze towards her ex-husband. "So, how come we've never known about this before?"
Suddenly finding himself the center of attention, Leo stuttered and scrambled to organize a diplomatic response. "Uh- well, it's- I, um..."
"Go ahead, Leo." Chris gazed at him with a blank expression, but a malicious hint of challenge glinted in his eyes. "You might as well tell them."
Leo frowned at the witchlighter, resentment building as he realized the man was purposefully trying to get a rise out of him. Reluctantly, he responded to his wife's insistent stare. "The Elders forbid whitelighters from teaching their charges about wards."
"Why?" Piper inquired with a chilling smile, her tone deceptively calm and cheerful.
Chris chimed in as Leo's voice trailed off uncomfortably. "Isn't it obvious? They didn't want the greatest forces of good in the world to be hidden from their spying eyes."
"You mean it can block the Elders, too?!" Paige blurted, utterly delighted with this prospect.
Chris smirked, confidently ignoring Leo's bitter glare. "It can block anything and everything you want it to. Even the Elders."
Piper immediately sat next to him and demanded imperiously, "Teach me."
Four pairs of eyes swung towards Leo, with varying levels of rebellion in their expressions. He frowned, focusing on Chris rather than the girls as he recalled the witch's earlier offhand comment. "When did they learn about wards in your time?"
The witchlighter's expression darkened, clouding over with a mutinous frown set over a clenched jaw. "Shortly after Wyatt went missing. Or so I've been told. I can't really remember a time where the Manor didn't have wards."
Leo swallowed thickly at the implications in the man's statement, unspoken but clearly directed at him with barely restrained hatred. His meaning was clear: if they'd known the first time around, if Leo had broken the rules and just told the sisters how to protect the manor, the chances of Wyatt being kidnapped and turned evil would have been infinitely less. His heart felt heavy in his chest, choked with a billowing cloud of guilt. "...I see."
The young man had apparently expected him to be defensive, possibly even angry, because he blinked several times in shock and then leaned back to study him openly. Whatever he found must have soothed the strange hatred that had risen up so suddenly, because his green eyes softened and darted away from Leo to refocus upon the scattered sheets of parchment.
Chris cleared his throat in the oppressively awkward silence. "Right. So, basically these symbols here are runes of power describing certain aspects or people, adapted from spells in different magical cultures." He pointed to various places on the nearest diagram. "Each one has a specific meaning, and I'm basically designing this so that each rune is called upon at the time the wards are put in place, showing the magic what should be allowed inside and what shouldn't. Or, in this case, who."
The sisters nodded in unison, all three of them staring at the diagram with varying levels of comprehension. Phoebe extended a finger and pointed to a square block of strange symbols and squiggly lines cramped into a corner of the parchment. "And what are these?"
"That's just my notes on how the ritual should be done, what sources of power could be used, that sort of thing."
Paige tilted her head sideways and squinted. "What language is that?"
Chris blinked in surprise. "Uh. Mine."
The women all turned as one to stare at him in a mixture of amusement and disbelief. "You made a language?" Paige clarified, her eyebrows raising dubiously.
He shrugged dismissively. "Keeps people from seeing things they shouldn't."
In the quietly awkward moment that followed, the four travelers from the past were abruptly reminded that this man was not just a warrior, but also a spy - wearing subterfuge and secrecy like a second skin.
"So..." Phoebe hesitantly ventured into the silence. "How exactly do you use these drawings to create a barrier? I mean, wouldn't you need a spell?"
"Well, of course. But spell casting is more than just rhyming words and hoping it works the way you want it to," the witchlighter replied, a hint of aggrieved condescension filtering through his voice, as if he'd expected them to already know these things and was disappointed to have been proven wrong. "For intricate spells, you need other items to support the power of what you're casting, and a written guide of sorts for the magic to follow. Think of it as a combination of making potions, casting spells, and using your powers, just put it together instead of doing it all separately. In this case, it's like...persuading the air to do what we want it to, and giving it the power it needs to sustain that indefinitely."
The sisters absorbed this new information for a few moments, and then Piper raised her eyebrows expectantly. "So can we see how it works?"
Chris shook his head immediately. "No way, I'm nowhere near done with this. It'll take at least two more days before I can come up with something good enough to keep Wyatt's demons out, and have it be different enough that he won't immediately recognize the magical pattern. Plus I'll need to search for a way to fuel that much power into multiple wards in different locations all at once."
Their expressions fell in clear disappointment. The witchlighter smirked at the response and suggested, "You could always read a book on it, y'know."
Both Phoebe and Piper grimaced in distaste, being vastly more comfortable with learning by experience and action, whereas Paige seemed to be considering the idea with a thoughtful spark of interest in her eyes. Chris sized her up for a brief moment, gauging her level of interest, and then moved his hand in a sweeping gesture. Moments later, a sizable textbook sailed across the room and neatly flew into his expectant palm. Paige cocked an eyebrow at him with a saucy smirk, one that he returned in full force while depositing the large tome into her waiting arms.
"It's only fitting," the witchlighter commented wryly. "You're the one who put up wards around the manor the first time, after all."
"Really?" The redhead's face brightened considerably, a wide smile spreading across her features. "I'm awesome."
Both Piper and Chris snorted at the exact same moment, a long-suffering sound of sarcasm and amusement rolled into one. Leo blinked in surprise, feeling suddenly wrong-footed. He hadn't wanted to believe the ridiculous idea that Chris could somehow be a family friend, but it was seeming more and more likely the longer they spent time with him. How else could the man be so similar to his wife, if he hadn't grown up spending time with all of them, adopting their mannerisms (as children were wont to do)? This wasn't the first time the whitelighter had exhibited similar personality traits to the sisters, or even Leo himself. He could remember more than a few times where they'd actually spoken the same phrase at the exact same time. Actually, now that he thought backwards over the past year, there were so many instances of similarity that he wondered how he'd never connected the dots before.
Yet, somehow, the knowledge still just wouldn't quite fit within his mind. His instincts buzzed insistently, demanding that he try to find the real truth, an explanation that was different to what they'd been told. The distinct feeling that this was wrong, that Chris was not who he said he was, rebelled against his doubts and fought desperately to reassert the suspicions that had plagued him for so long.
The two eldest sisters drifted back to the bookshelves, scrutinizing the various titles in search of something useful, while the two resident witchlighters both settled into tattered armchairs, immersing themselves in research. Uneasy and filled with discontent, Leo grudgingly resumed his perusal of the small book lying in his lap.
Chris showed them the location of the bathhouses before dinner, which they were horrified to learn were actually communal (though separated by gender) due to the lack of indoor plumbing that was so prevalent in their time. Their whitelighter visibly struggled to maintain a straight face while the girls moaned and complained about the possibility of someone walking in on them while they were bathing, with Leo standing off to the side and forcing himself not to laugh at their shared horror.
While the girls ranted to each other about their circumstances, Leo turned to face Chris hesitantly. "So...if there's no indoor plumbing, why do the toilets in our rooms work?"
The witchlighter's twitching lips finally succumbed to his amusement and turned up into a full-fledged grin, revealing thin dimples; once again Leo found himself bludgeoned by an overwhelming sense of familiarity, as if he'd seen that smile somewhere, on someone, before even knowing this man. Oblivious, the witchlighter responded cheekily. "Magic, of course. The contents simply vanish."
Despite what many believed about the Elder, Leo was a naturally inquisitive person. He liked to learn, and was always open to being taught new concepts; it was the main reason he knew how to fix so many household appliances despite having been born during a time without many of those conveniences. Putting aside the strange déjà vu that had flooded his senses upon seeing that delighted grin (and feeling strangely relieved that, for the moment, the man's volatile hatred for him had apparently disappeared), he curiously questioned: "So if the toilets can be powered by magic, why not showers?"
"Showers are a little more complex. They have to supply water and get rid of it at the same time, rather than just getting rid of something. Since we have so many people at each location, it would be a little too time- and magic-consuming to conjure or build thousands of personal showers, so-" Chris shrugged. "A bathhouse was the better idea. Gives our resident naiads something to do besides just supplying the kitchens and the Garden with water, at least."
"You mentioned that before," Leo commented, furrowing his eyebrows in puzzlement. "What exactly is the Garden?"
"Oh. It's where we grow all the food for everyone. I can show you and the sisters after I'm done with the wards...assuming we haven't figured out a way to get back by then," Chris trailed off darkly.
Catching the comment, Phoebe turned to face them and firmly corrected his negative statement. "We'll find a way, Chris."
The witchlighter simply shrugged, not acknowledging her optimism. "You should go ahead. Most people bathe in the mornings, so you should have a good bit of privacy...for now, at least."
Phoebe gave him a small, sad smile, recognizing his avoidance. Then, as one, the sisters all turned and entered the bathhouse together...looking vaguely as if they were marching to war rather than a simple bath, Leo noted with amusement.
Beside him, Chris made a swift gesture as if orbing something into the women's bathhouse. Leo squinted at him quizzically for a few moments, and then orbs materialized a pile of clothes (which looked suspiciously familiar) directly above the witch. They quickly toppled onto the young man's head and then tumbled down to the floor at his feet.
Chris growled. "Very funny, Paige."
Recognizing the clothes as having been the ones given to the sisters that morning, Leo felt his lips twitching and ruthlessly attempted to suppress the laugh that wanted to bubble out of his throat; he didn't want to give the witch further cause to hate him, if he could help it. Meanwhile, the time traveler was still grumbling to himself as he moved toward the entrance to the men's bath, absently orbing the dirty clothes away.
"Give the girls some new clothes, and what do they do? Drop the old ones on my head. You'd think I could get a thank you or something, but nooo. I can't win."
Leo followed the sounds of the witchlighter's ire through the door and into a short hallway made of smooth stone. As he traveled along the path, the sounds of rushing water quickly grew louder and overcame the man's grumbling ahead of him. The light in the tunnel swiftly became brighter as he rounded a corner, and then he stepped through a large opening...into Valhalla.
Blinking in surprise, he reeled back and cast a wide-eyed stare in every direction, distinctly unsettled. Upon closer inspection, the room -if such a vast, hollowed out cavern could be called that- only vaguely resembled Valhalla after all. Unlike the rest of the Resistance, there were no glowing torches providing light here; momentarily puzzled, he lifted his gaze to the ceiling and discovered that the stone had been enchanted to look like a spring sky, filled with billowing clouds and a brilliant sun. A monumental cliff comprised of ebony stones towered far above their heads, covering the majority of the left side of the cavern, with a wide torrent of water cascading down. The immense waterfall poured into large tiered pools extending across the entire available floor-space, with small and somewhat dry pathways connecting each pool to the others. Wide stalagmites with blunted off tops, looking vaguely like giants' footstools, were scattered about the cavern, with smaller waterfalls pouring down to form individual showers in each pool. There were even a few clusters of trees and floral bushes throughout the bathing pools, which were definitely taken straight from the foliage at Valhalla. If he ignored the stone tunnel behind him, he could actually forget that they were all miles underground.
Thoroughly amazed and feeling distinctly like he'd stepped through another time portal while not looking, Leo slowly closed his open mouth and searched around for the man he'd followed into the bathhouse. Chris stood several feet away in the nearest pool, the water level coming up to cover his bare chest just under crossed arms. Smirking, the witchlighter raised an eyebrow at him, wordlessly mocking his imitation of a fish.
"The naiads might have gone a little overboard," Leo commented casually.
Surprisingly, Chris laughed outright in response. "Yeah," the witch agreed with obvious mirth. "They let Erica have a little too much input on the design."
"Well, the Valkyries have always been friendly with the neighboring water folk, so..." Leo trailed off uncertainly. "Wait, are the mermaids here too?"
Chris was already shaking his head before Leo could finish speaking. "They don't get involved with land wars, you know that. They're not exactly fond of men, anyway."
Chuckling, Leo replied: "That's a bit of an understatement."
The witch shrugged noncommittally, then turned around to slosh through the water over to the nearest stalagmite. Leo started to reach for his clothes to strip them off, then froze; slowly, he raised his eyes again to stare at the witchlighter's retreating back. The deep water, buffeted by the constant deluge pouring down from the cliffs, distorted the majority of his body...but what he could see of the man's back chilled his blood. Raised, angry scars littered the pale skin like a nautical map; furrowed rows in ragged lines depicted deep claw marks that had healed painfully and slowly, several puncture marks like that of vampires or fanged beasts clustered around his shoulders and arms, countless angry red knife lines everywhere he looked, and (the most disturbing of all) a large circle of unnaturally white skin dented a portion of his left side - as if someone, or something, had taken a huge chunk out of his body.
He felt abruptly sick.
"Chris..." he managed to choke out, forcing the sound past bile that rose up in his throat.
The witchlighter turned expectantly, then straightened and tensed like a coiled snake at the sight of Leo's expression, his posture revealing even more scars on the front of his chest. A dark red scar spread across the man's sternum where Bianca had ripped his powers out months before, but there was also a jagged sun-shaped mark right over his heart - the remnants of a large energy ball, wielded with deadly precision.
"What's wrong?" Chris demanded, eyes already darting over the landscape as if searching for the source of the inexplicable horror undoubtedly displayed on his face.
"What..." Leo tried to swallow, found his mouth too dry, and coughed instead. "W-What happened?"
Chris stared at him in complete confusion, his eyebrows scrunching down over puzzled emerald eyes as the alarmed tension visibly drained out of his body. He followed the direction of Leo's appalled stare, and slowly, ever so slowly, understanding dawned. Exasperation warred with embarrassment on the witch's face for several moments; finally, he crossed his arms with a resigned expression. Leo wished he hadn't; now that his eyes knew where to find them, the scars looked so much worse with the skin stretched taut over flexed muscles.
"War." Despite the irritation and defiance apparent in the witch's gaze, Chris' voice was exceedingly gentle as he replied. "There are no more whitelighters, Leo."
How is he even alive? The thought rose unbidden within his mind, impossible to ignore. Bites and knife marks were one thing, but the giant fissures traveling the length of his back would have undoubtedly drained the man of an immense amount of blood, especially if he'd continued to fight the creature or demon that caused it. And the dent on his left side- Leo wasn't even sure he wanted to try and think of what could cause such a wound, but surely it had to have nearly killed the witch; and with no whitelighter healing? How...?
He struggled to think of something to say, but the horror was overwhelming, chasing everything else out of his head but the terrible sight of those scars. Chris saved him from doing another imitation of a fish, and continued in that same gentle voice.
"It's okay, Leo. It doesn't matter."
"The hell it doesn't!" Leo snarled, stalking forward before he'd even finished the words. Some of the previous alarm reappeared in the young man's green eyes, and he backed away slightly at the sight of the Elder's rage.
"Uh- Leo, calm dow-"
Leo pointedly ignored him, sloshing through the water fully clothed until he stood directly in front of the witch. A small part of his brain noted with concern the way the man flinched back from his raised hands, as if terrified of touch, but he ignored it in favor of pouring all his concentration into fueling the golden glow blazing forth from his hands. To his credit, Chris simply stood and allowed him to try, calmly watching his face until he slowly realized that the skin was not repairing itself before his eyes.
"You can't heal what's already healed," the witch murmured softly, reverting back to that achingly gentle voice one might use on a terrified, abused animal. He waited a few moments more until Leo finally, reluctantly abandoned the attempts at healing, and then the witch raised his hands and lightly pushed Leo's back down. "It's okay," he repeated softly.
"No. No, it's not." Leo bit out the words angrily, then whirled around to go deposit his sopping clothes on the nearest sidewalk connecting the pools together. "But it will be, because we're going to save Wyatt. We're going to fix this."
As he furiously ripped the donated clothes off of his body and dumped them with savage delight on the floor, Leo decided right then and there that it didn't matter what his instincts told him. It didn't matter that the story they'd been told made little sense when compared with everything else; it didn't matter that he'd never heard of any whitelighters or powerful magical family lines with the last name of Perry; it didn't matter that Chris lied more often than he told the truth. If a man could go through all of the things this one had endured, and still be kind enough to want to rescue and protect the source of all that pain rather than slitting his throat and ending the devastation before it could begin, then that man deserved every ounce of support Leo could give.
Unseen behind the Elder's turned back, a small, genuine smile blossomed on the witchlighter's face.
Ending Notes: The next chapter will be dedicated to anyone who recognized the book series reference halfway through this chapter.