Author's Note: Well, here we are. Part three of the Down the Twisted Path universe. This is the part where we really start veering away from canon. As always, a million thanks to my fantastic beta, liron-aria. And to my amazing readers and reviewers.
Six Months Earlier
After Cole and her son had faded away from the clearing, Phoebe simply took several long minutes to stare up at the stars, tears drying on her cheeks.
"Don't cry, Mom," her son told her, a bright smile lighting up his face. "We'll see each other again. The Elders have promised."
"Why not now?" she asked, plaintively, her head still tipped back as she looked up at the dark sky. "If you're going to send them back to me, why can't you send them back to me, now?"
Predictably, there was no answer.
Phoebe sighed, heavily, her shoulders slumping. "Leo?" she called out, softly, and a few seconds later, the Whitelighter orbed in beside her. "I'm ready to go home, now," she replied, and Leo nodded, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. They orbed into the Manor to the sound of Piper and Paige arguing, and Phoebe shared a grin with Leo.
"It's nice to know," Leo commented, "that no matter what, some things will never change."
"I know what you mean," Phoebe remarked, and then she walked into the middle of her sisters' fight.
"-are we supposed to just walk away from our Innocents?"
Phoebe winced at the furious tone in Paige's voice. She told herself that she shouldn't have been surprised that they were back to this topic. Honestly, what was surprising was that it had taken her sisters this long.
"We've been in this fight for four years," Piper protested, and Paige snorted, derisively.
"So, what?" she asked. "We'll just tell the rest of the world to defend themselves, from now on out?"
"Selena is being treated for second degree burns on her legs," Piper shot back. "She nearly died, tonight, because of us. Because of our magic."
"Okay, the whole thing with Selena could have been handled a lot better," Paige conceded.
"You think?" Piper muttered, and that was when Phoebe decided to step in.
"Can we maybe table this discussion until the morning?" she asked, as both of her sisters looked over at her. "I mean, it looks like the Angel of Destiny is giving us the rest of the night to think things over, and I think that's what we should do. Actually think about this, not just snipe uselessly at each other."
Both Piper and Paige looked chastised at her mild rebuke.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," Paige said, immediately. "I didn't even think to ask, are Cole and your son-"
"They're okay," Phoebe told her, accepting the hug that her younger sister offered her.
"They're dead," Piper felt compelled to point out, and Phoebe surprised her by chuckling, wiping away new tears from her eyes.
"I have it on good authority that it's not going to be a permanent condition," she replied. "Or, he was talking about something else," she mused, thoughtfully. "But, it sounded like a good thing, and I don't think the Elders would think that that was a good thing-"
"What are you talking about?" Paige demanded, and Phoebe shrugged, helplessly.
"Honestly, I don't even know," she admitted. "I am so tired, right now-"
"Get some sleep," Piper said, sympathetically. "You're right; we'll talk about this in the morning. Things will be clearer, then."
Phoebe nodded, wearily, trudging up the stairs. As she went, she heard Paige's quiet, "Hey, Piper, I'm sorry," and Piper's answering apology, both of which made her smile.
Piper and Paige could never stay mad at each other for long, and Phoebe had never seen them go to bed while they were still fighting. Of course, one time that meant that they'd stayed awake until three in the morning –
'Never let it be said that my sisters aren't stubborn,' Phoebe thought, wryly, as she kicked her shoes off and climbed into bed without even bothering to change into her pajamas. She was too tired, and too sore to consider moving much more than the effort required to pull the blankets over her head.
She couldn't spare any more thoughts for Piper or Paige, though, because as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was fast asleep.
When she opened her eyes, again, she was sitting on a blanket with the makings of an enormous picnic spread out around her. She was leaning back against something solid, and she tipped her head back to see Cole looking down at her, a gentle smile playing at his lips.
"You like it?" he asked, gesturing to the picnic, and Phoebe smiled back at him.
"It's wonderful," she told him, her eyes drifting shut as he leaned down to kiss her. "I just wish it weren't a dream."
"Someday," Cole assured her, "it won't be. I promise."
"Where's our son?" Phoebe asked, a moment later, opening her eyes and looking around the field of flowers they were sitting in. "He is here, isn't he? Is he safe?"
"He's fine," Cole told her, soothingly. "He's-"
Before Cole could finish his sentence, they heard a bright peal of laughter, and Phoebe beamed when she watched her son coming running up to them, a big dog hot on his heels. The dog vanished into thin air as her son got closer.
"I think he's going to want a dog," Cole finished, wryly.
"Well," Phoebe remarked, "the penthouse is still in our name, which makes it mine, now, and it could handle a dog-" The rest of her sentence was cut off by her son, who dropped onto the blanket in front of her with a boisterous smile on his face.
"Mom!" he giggled, happily, throwing his arms around her in a tight hug. "You made it!"
"Was there ever any doubt?" Phoebe asked him.
"With the bond the two of you share," Cole remarked, "I'm surprised you didn't get here before now."
"Well, I had to fall asleep, first," Phoebe told him. Looking around, she added, "What is this place? Is this Limbo?"
"From what I understand," Cole replied, "it's an intermediate place. Holding, until the Elders can get things rolling."
"Which is sending you back to me, right?" Phoebe asked, a hint of anxiety sneaking into her voice. "They're not going to send you both to the Great Beyond, or something?"
"That's what we were told," Cole said, reassuringly. "I don't know how they can do it-"
"Neither do I," Phoebe said. "After Prue died, they told us that they didn't have the power to bring her back from the dead, but-"
"But, maybe they made a deal with someone who does have that kind of power," Cole said. Sharing a look with Phoebe, he shrugged. "I don't really care how they plan on doing it."
"If it's something evil," Phoebe cautioned, but her son cut her off.
"They're not evil, Mom," he said, hastily. "I-" he broke off, a light blush coloring his cheeks. "I know what evil feels like, and they're not."
"Neither are you," Phoebe told him, hugging the little boy tightly when he still didn't look convinced. "You were possessed. What happened was not your fault."
"Are you sure?" he asked, in a small voice, and Phoebe nodded, firmly.
"I am one hundred percent positive," she told him. "Hey, why don't you see if you can get that dog back, huh?"
As her son ran off to play, Phoebe turned back to Cole with a worried look on her face.
"How does he even remember being evil?" she asked, in a low voice. "He wasn't even born, yet. I was only a couple months pregnant."
"You are asking the wrong person," Cole told her, with a wry grin. "That is one area of magic that I will never be able to explain." When Phoebe still looked worried, he added, "Maybe it's some kind of instinctual, soul memory."
"Leo said once that our souls remember across lifetimes," Phoebe commented. "Do you think that's what's going on here?"
"I think it's as good an answer as any," Cole told her, but the rest of his sentence was cut off by the fact that the very air around them was going very rapidly blurry.
Phoebe clutched at Cole's arm, her grip tightening as everything grayed out around them. When she could finally see, again, she blinked in surprise to find that they weren't in the meadow, any longer. Instead, they were sitting in the middle of a dirt path, and she and Cole scrambled to their feet.
"What the hell?" Cole exclaimed, looking as shocked as she felt. "Where are we?"
"I don't know," Phoebe started, but then she trailed off in horror when she realized who was missing. "Cole, where's-"
"I don't know," Cole said, his panicked face mirroring her own. "I-"
Phoebe went to shout for her son, but then she stopped, stunned, when she realized that she didn't know his name. Or if he even had a name.
"What's his name?" she snapped at Cole, anxiously, who, to her surprise, looked faintly abashed.
"He wanted to pick a name, himself," he explained, sheepishly. "He hadn't settled on one, yet."
"Our son has no name?" Phoebe asked, incredulously. "Cole, he has to have a name!"
Luckily, the argument became moot when their son ran down the path and straight into Phoebe's arms. She clutched him, tightly, unable to speak for the tears choking her throat. It had just been a few seconds that he'd been missing, but it had been the longest few seconds of her life. She never wanted to feel that way, again.
"Mom, Dad, you have to come see," the boy was saying, excitedly, and Phoebe reluctantly released him to go back up the path, following behind with Cole by her side.
Then, they reached the spot their son had arrived at, and Phoebe stared at the scene before her in amazement.
"Is that a castle?" she asked, and Cole nodded, numbly.
"Yeah," he agreed, staring at the castle, a blank look on his face.
"Why is there a castle there?" she went on, and Cole jerked his shoulder in a shrug.
"Maybe we shou-" he started to say, but then the world started to fade away in front of Phoebe's eyes. She reached toward Cole and her son, desperate not to lose either of them, but her hands grasped at thin air.
Then, she bolted upright in bed, breathing heavily as she stared blindly into the dark room.
"Cole?" she asked, her voice shaking, and then she closed her eyes when there was no answer.
A wave of grief swamped her, almost overwhelming her to the point where she wanted to curl up in bed and never come out from under the covers. But, she resolutely pushed the feelings aside. Her husband and her son were lost out in the universe, somewhere, and she would be damned if she sat on her ass and did nothing.
"I am going to find you," she declared, her son's brilliant smile burned in her memory. "No matter how long it takes."
Then, she got out of bed and went downstairs to talk to Leo. She needed to know everything that the Elders knew about Cole and her son's disappearance.