Three, four, five the Halliwell Girls
Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Betas, Letomo and Cordyfan. The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. Speech:
“Who’s on first.” Thought:
*What’s on second.
#I-don’t-know’s on third.
# Firstly my abject apologies for the immensely long time since the last update on Lonely Souls. This was not my intention, it was my intention to post several other stories in the series and so far I’ve not succeeded in doing so except in a minor way with Queens’ Gambits, which is rather bare considering I had no less than seven stories in mind… Secondly my hearty thanks to the new recommenders and readers and the old ones who would not give up on the story or me. Know that I appreciate every one of you, and for sticking with me. Thank you all. Please keep reviewing. Tell me what you like and dislike. Thanks to the following excellent people for recommending this tale: Almond, Ambrosia, Christytrekkie, Ironox, Liadenfan, Marcel, Shepherdspie. Somebunny, Spikesplayfulpet, Starwolf, Swrite, Unicornzvi and Zonianx. And sicne it has been a while: I do not own: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Star Gate SG-1 or any other incarnation, Cheers, Silence of the Lambs, M.A.S.H., The West Wing, Beverly Hills 90210, Harry Potter, Highlander, Frasier, Due South or any other cross in this series. Chapter 89 Three, four, five the Halliwell girls? Boston
Lilith felt the cold first. The searing, intense cold. She remembered the cold, from the days before she had full control over her power. She knew this nightmare. It was one she'd had often when she was younger, when she'd first come into her power and had been frightened and unsure.
When the warnings that her actions might destroy the world’s climate, might bring a new ice-age that would bring down civilization had scared her witless and caused innumerable nightmares from which she awoke screaming and sobbing, calling for the school friends, her parents, her family, whose death she caused when she lost control. She hadn't had it in years. “Okay. Seems like Aloysius’ visitor has deigned to honour me with its presence...”
She looked around, expecting to stand in front of the High School or her parents house, or even some national landmark. But she wasn't. She was standing in front of Cheers, but it was frozen. Layers of hard-packed frozen snow blanketed Boston. She gulped. Cheers, with Frederick and deeply buried memories of Frasier, was part of her mental defences. And here it was, part of an icy wasteland. *This does not bode well,*
she thought. There was no way, even in hell that she would use a word like bode out loud, even to herself.
She tentatively walked over the snow towards the steps that led down to the bar. They were slippery with ice and covered with loose snow. She had to brace herself against the wall to keep her footing. The metal of the handrail was so cold her hand froze to it when she accidentally touched it and she had to pull it loose painfully.
She reached the door. There was a man sitting in front of it, looking surprised even in frozen death, holding out a frozen square that after a second of study Lilith identified as the sort of processed cheese she never bought. She was puzzled for a second before she shrugged and stepped past the corpse and with an effort of her will pushed it open. There was a group of people huddled together in one corner, covered in ice and frost, their faces calm and still in their icy death.
They had huddled together with their friends in a last desperate attempt to survive, to seek warmth. Or maybe they had not wanted to die alone. She could see Vera, held between Norm and Cliff, as if the two men had wanted to keep her warm and alive for as long as possible. Sam and Woody were holding Carla between them. Diane was there too, and Rebecca, leaning against Woody and Fraiser. And right in the middle of the huddle, as if he was a precious treasure to all of them, not just her, was Frederick, cold and frozen and dead.
Lilith stumbled forward, chest heaving. She put a hand on Norm, feeling the hard, frozen flesh, unyielding and unforgiving under her own rapidly cooling hand. She leaned over them and gently touched Frederick’s frozen, spiky hair. His skin was cold and pale and she knew he was dead. She suppressed a sob. “Just a dream. It’s just a dream. He’s alive and well, just down the hall. When you wake up you can go and check,” she muttered.
Then his eyes opened, and Frasier's. They looked at her through white frozen, burst eyes, the pressure of the ice having cracked them like ice.
“You killed us. You lost control,” Frederick whispered in a crystalline, brittle voice, harsh, unforgiving, dead.
Frasier rose, holding their son close. “You killed our child. I told you that you were not fit to raise a child, too cold, too unemotional. You cannot love your son, how could you love the world?”
Sam sat up. “You murdered us. The world. All of us dead, frozen. But we’ll find you and hunt you down. There is no place on earth where you can hide. You are worthy only of death.”
Lilith stepped back, then took a deep breath, feeling the freezing air deep in her lungs, could feel the ice forming there.
“No,” she spoke clearly. “No. I may not be able to show Frederick how much I love him, but he knows I do. I have told him why. He knows, he understands, even if he sometimes resents it, dislikes it. Pities me.”
She could see the expression on Diane's face, full of hate and anger as the blonde woman creaked to her feet, her frozen limbs obeying only her will, no longer the laws of nature.
“You are worth no pity and dislike? He hates it. Your son hates you. Your husband couldn’t stand you. Men don’t look at you. Your mother despises you. You are less than shit under my shoes!”
Lilith took a deep breath. “No. I have control. I don’t know who or what you are. But you do not control me.”
She gestured sharply and the ice melted, taking the bodies with it, the bar suddenly pristine and warm.
“You do not control this place. I have trained my entire life to have control over my mind, subconscious, unconscious, all of it. I do not know who you think you are, but I know who I am.”
There was a roar and suddenly a desert wind pulled at her, but weather was her power and she threw it back easily. The door to the office blew open and a magnificent striped lioness stepped out, her yellow eyes gleaming, fangs slavering.
Lilith nodded slightly “Still not showing yourself fully I see. Well, I suppose this will have to do.”
The Lioness jumped. Lilith concentrated, the air in front of her solidified and froze and the lioness hit it with a startled yelp.
Then she flew up against the ceiling as Lilith fully seized control of the desert wind. The big cat hung on the ceiling, yowling in a manner utterly undignified to a beast so majestic. Then the wind dropped, and so did the cat.
Lilith smirked. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
The feline gave her an offended look and let out a roar. Then it circled her a few times, warily.
Lilith didn't look at it, using the mirrors to keep track and her senses as well. She hoped that a show of overconfidence would cause the cat to attack again.
And it did, charging fro, behind in a short run and then leaping.
Lilith ducked, sending a ball of concentrated air into the cat's abdomen. It flew over her, but the claws came down and ripped the bun out of her hair.
The cat landed heavily, off-balance and annoyed.
“I've been letting you play, kitty. But this is my mind and the fact that you got in does not mean that you have power here. IF you leave now...”
Thunder rolled, far more theatrically than Lilith could get it do outside her own mind. “You will leave alive. If you don't, I'll be scraping your cosmic essence out of my mindscape for weeks.”
The lioness blinked, seemingly weighing her chances. Then it backed off, heading towards the stairs out. It scratched the door petulantly as it left.
Lilith let out a breath and sat down shakily at her regular table. It wouldn't do to show how much energy she'd had to use to fight the intruder. That meant that in some way Lilith had let it in, given it permission to be there. That was something she had to ponder. Right after she started restoring her mindscape. A call to her fellow leaders in the punitive merge would be necessary too.
Halliwell Manor, San Francisco
Phoebe screamed. She fell to her knees as she grabbed her head and screamed, again and again.
Prue was beside her in an instant, up from her seat on the couch where she’d been working and rushing through the kitchen. She knelt down and held her. “Phoebe? What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
Phoebe looked up at her elder sister’s concerned face. “A man with a knife… He’s gonna kill us all. Piper first…”
Piper and Penelope came down the stairs in a hurry, though Piper did it with the rashness of youth. Penelope was rather more careful, no longer having the agility and recklessness of youth her granddaughter possessed.
Penelope knelt by Phoebe and smiled at her encouragingly. “Tell me what you saw, Phoebe. Tell me and we can do something about it.”
Phoebe nodded. “Okay. It starts with Piper. He comes over, she knows him and lets him in. He isn’t a vampire. He’s got this strange looking knife and he cuts her throat with it while she makes the tea…”
Piper paled slightly. “Okay. That is something I’d like to avoid, thank you very much.”
“And how does it continue?” Penelope urged.
Phoebe took a deep breath and related the rest of her vision.
San Francisco, Bay General Hospital
Piper was smiling slightly as she made her way down the Hospital corridors to the waiting room, having gotten some coffee and a bagel.
She saw the slightly stunned look on the receptionist’s face and the absence of her grandmother in the room meant that Penelope had been called in to see the doctor.
Piper walked over to the desk and placed a bagel and a cup of coffee on it. “I take it my grandmother finally got to see the doctor?”
“She did. She also made quite certain to tell some people that eating lots of fatty food and taking no exercise was not the way to live long with heart disease,” the receptionist grinned slightly. “I think she made a very large grown man cry.”
Piper winced. “Ah. Should I apologize for her?”
The receptionist shook her head. “No. He has two young children, maybe she got through to him and they’ll still have a dad in a few years time.”
“Wow. Harsh,” Piper gave the woman a look of mixed respect and fear.
The nurse shrugged. “I’ve seen hundreds of people who knew what would happen and still went and did all the things that were bad for them. If this helps one family keep its husband and father, a little harshness is a small price to pay.”
Piper nodded, her eyes going far away to the day she realised her mother was not coming back, to her fifth birthday, when she’d woken up to find out her father was gone too. “Yeah. Yeah it is.”
She smiled at the receptionist again. “Could you tell my grandmother I’ll be in the cafeteria? The seats are more comfortable and the view is better.”
The woman nodded and smiled. “I will. Bye!”
Piper left and headed for the cafeteria. There was a table free by the window and she sat down with her bagel and waited for her grandmother to appear. No doubt her doctor would be very surprised at her excellent physical condition. The cardiologist they’d visited right after the ritual at the Monolith hadn’t even been able to see that anything had been wrong with Grams’ heart.
Pipers smiled a bit and nibbled her bagel. Even if her grandmother only lived another year or two, she’d still most likely live longer than they’d thought likely a few months ago, and she’d be in far better shape too. *And the rest of the world will cower!*
The image of her grandmother berating half the nation made her snort and almost choke on her bagel. A few tears sprang to her eyes and suddenly a large clean handkerchief was extended in front of her.
She heard a throat being cleared beside her. “Hello. You look a bit… distracted.”
Piper looked up. There was a man standing there, with brown wavy hair and a jeans jacket and a ready smile. “I’m Jeremy Burns. Anything I can help you with?”
Piper smiled. “No, thanks, I’m fine. I had a funny thought and swallowed wrong.”
“A funny thought?” Jeremy seemed surprised and sat down. “That’s not very common in hospitals.”
Piper grinned. “It is when you get good news.”
“Ah. So you had good news?” Jeremy smiled. “That’s… good.”
“Yeah, it is,” Piper smiled.
“So… ummm… Would you maybe like to celebrate the news with dinner somewhere?” Jeremy asked diffidently.
Piper put her bagel on the napkin she’d placed on the table and sipped her coffee and thought about it.
She had been going on cautious dates with Leo for about two weeks now. Well, part dates. One had been interrupted by an attack from a vampire, while they were walking through the park towards the restaurant Leo had chosen. Piper had frozen the creature and then Leo staked it. She’d really not been in the mood for a date after that.
The second had been interrupted by a demon running at them with an axe, just as they were leaving the movie theatre. Leo had orbed them out of its path, Piper had frozen the attacker from behind, together with a few innocent bystanders, then Leo had orbed all three of them away and Piper had brained the reddish-purple demon with its own axe. She’d been rather cross. Leo had tried to get her to do it using magic, or a potion, but Piper just really wanted to hit something. Very hard.
The third date had been interrupted by Leo’s trousers catching fire from the flambéed entrée. Her date had extinguished the flames by pouring a pitcher of water into his lap and he’d then excused himself.
Piper wasn’t sure if it was a message from whatever higher powers might be watching or just the worst luck ever. *Though Grams did say that if the Powers were against it, I should immediately grab him and drag him to my bed…*
She frowned slightly. *Grams seems to have become a lot more earthy with us since she got better.*
Then she realised what this was. This was Phoebe’s vision come true, and the nice man talking to her was in all likelihood the warlock who wanted to kill her and her sisters. *Wonderful. The first guy I think is nice and normal is a dead angel type and the second one is a murderous magical being out to steal my powers by killing me. Could my dating life get any better?*
She sipped again. “Why don’t we wait for my grandmother here and then go for dinner somewhere tomorrow?”
Jeremy smiled. “That would be wonderful.”
“Well?” Piper asked her grandmother as they got out of the car.
“Tell your sisters first. Then we plan,” Penelope smirked at Piper. “You would make an excellent honey trap, dear. Very professional the way you strung him along.”
Piper rolled her eyes. “Gee, thanks Grams. I'll see if I can make a career out of it. Land a rich husband, maybe?”
“There are worse things in the world than marrying a rich husband, Piper,” Penny said with a grin. “Just ask Joyce.”
“I think Joyce is marrying him for other reasons, Grams,” Piper led the way up to the manor.
The door opened and an anxious looking Phoebe met them. “Well?”
Penny smiled at her and went inside. She didn't speak until they were all seated, Prue already on the couch, looking as anxious as Phoebe.
“Everything is fine, dears. The doctor was very pleased. I’ll have to have an operation to put in a pacemaker, but that’ll be quite routine. Whatever it is that Simon did damaged the heart muscle a bit, but compared to the older pictures and scans, I'm the very model of rude health,” Penny assured her.
“Damaged?” Phoebe called out in shock..
Penelope nodded. “Simon thought it might be, the way I was healed was hardly natural after all. There is always a price with magic.”
“But damage?” Phoebe said again.
“Very limited damage, the doctor said,” Piper assured her younger sister. “If Grams were younger they would most likely not do anything at all, just let it heal.”
“Thank you for that,” Penelope sniffed.
Piper smiled sweetly. “Well, you're the one who suggested that I might make a living out of being a call girl.”
“WHAT?” came a thunderous voice from the kitchen door.
“She was joking, Dad!” Piper called out. “Sheesh. It's bad enough you asked if bullets could hurt Whitelighters!”
Penny smirked. “If properly prepared, they certainly can.”
“Grams!” Piper whined. “Don't encourage him. Our dates are disastrous enough as it is!”
Phoebe giggled. “Next time you'll mysteriously end up naked and you’ll have a picnic on a nest of fire ants,” she wiggled her fingers mystically. “I do so foretell!”
“Says the girl who hasn’t lasted beyond the first date in a year!” Piper sniped back. “Want me to lock you in a single perfect moment of time?”
“It’s what you do on the date that… Errrr…” Phoebe saw the expressions on her father’s and grandmother’s faces and tried to grin. “Ummm? Dad? It’s a cheap way to see a lot of movies, I swear.”
Penelope started to laugh.
“What?” Piper asked.
“She isn’t lying,” Penelope managed to wheeze.
Piper and Prue exchanged looks. “So our baby sister isn’t an enormous slut? Well, except for her rear?” Prue smirked.
“HEY!” Phoebe jumped at Prue.
Prue automatically tried to stop her with telekinesis, but the magic failed to hold Phoebe, as always. They struggled for a bit, gasping and giggling, until Phoebe won, sitting victoriously astride her eldest sister, her knees pinning Prue’s arms.
She held out two fingers menacingly towards Prue’s ribs. “Uncle?”
Prue sighed. “Uncle.”
They got up, dusting themselves down and grinning. The other three watched in amusement, Victor looking especially smug.
As the two sat down, Piper cleared her throat. “I think I met our man this morning. He’s taking me out on a date tomorrow night. After which I intend to ask him in for a cup of coffee.”
Phoebe winced. “Ugh. I know we need to do it, but it feels so cold, so clinical.”
“He’s going to stab us and steal our powers. It sounds no more than fair to me,” Prue said bluntly. “Okay. How do we prepare for this?”
Penelope leaned back. “There’s a general vanquishing potion for warlocks I’ll teach you to brew. In combination with a spell, it should be sufficient. If he isn’t a warlock, there will be no harm done.”
“So if he’s evil, he dies? Neat!” Phoebe said, relieved. “Okay. Do we need to do this now, or can we do it later? I’m kinda hungry and don’t want it to interfere with lunch.”
“Bottomless pit, it’s a miracle your ass isn’t wide enough to fill the whole couch!” Prue winked.
“Yeah? Wanna see if it can squish you flat?” Phoebe threatened.
“And things are back to normal,” Penelope smiled.
The next evening
Piper had to admit that Jeremy Burns was very good at being ingratiating and yet not acting as if he was ingratiating himself.
And as she also knew that Leo was watching from somewhere, she proceeded to act just slightly more vampish than she ordinarily would on a first date.
She liked Leo, but he was awfully staid. Stuck in the forties as he was. And as Grams said, not a very exciting forties either.
So she batted her eyelashes slightly at the bottom of the steps and smiled at him. “Wanna come in for a cup of coffee?”
Jeremy hesitated and Piper grinned. “Just coffee. My grandmother, father and two sisters live in the same house, at least for now.”
Jeremy grinned back. “Oh, and that makes me more comfortable.”
“Well, I brew an excellent cup of coffee and you'd get to meet the in-laws early and be able to decide if I'm worth it,” Piper grinned. “I'll warn you in advance, my younger sister has all the curiosity of a baby elephant and the tact of a failed rapper on crack cocaine. Oh, and she has the butt of a baby elephant as well, but she's progressing rapidly to mommy elephant-”
“I do NOT have a big ass!” Phoebe came out of the little bush where she'd been standing.
Jeremy snorted. “I'm with you on the curiosity. I'll have to wait for a better light to make a decision on her butt.”
Piper smirked. “Hello Phoebe. Waiting for me?”
Phoebe held up a burning cigarette. “Grams and dad are really down on smoking at the moment. No matter that Grams smoked like a furnace when she was our age.”
“And she blames half of her ailments, if not more, on it. Jeremy, Phoebe, my youngest sister, who gets an A for effort and plausibility, and Phoebe this is Jeremy who by now no doubt thinks we’re insane.”
Jeremy smiled. “Very interesting, yes. Insane, well, it's a nice kind of insanity.”
Phoebe and Piper went up the steps and waited while Jeremy parked his car. When he'd joined them Piper opened the door and stepped in, followed by Phoebe and a rather bemused Jeremy.
“Kitchen is this way,” Piper went ahead. “I think Grams is upstairs in her work room, Dad is probably in the basement in his and Prue is either still cataloguing at work, or moping in her room.”
“Prue hasn't been on any date in years,” Phoebe confided in a mock whisper.
“I heard that!” Prue called out from the doorway.
She smiled at Jeremy. “Excuse me, I got to go and give my baby sister some noogies,” she grabbed Phoebe and dragged her from the kitchen.
Piper rolled her eyes. “God, those two. They seem to be reverting to teenagers lately.”
She partly filled a kettle and set it to boil, grabbed a hand-driven coffee mill from a huge built in cupboard, measured in an amount of beans from a drawer marked coffee, beans, that was lined with tin foil and set to grinding them.
“That's... Awesome!” Jeremy smiled widely.
“I like to do this, but my sisters think it’s too much work, most of the time. Since Grams had to cut down on coffee, she decided to go for quality rather than quantity,” Piper explained.
“But your sisters drink it, right?” Jeremy asked, opening the bean drawer curiously, smiling at the scents filling the kitchen.
Piper snorted. “Hoo, yeah. I'm lucky to get a single cup.”
“And your father?” Jeremy asked rather diffidently.
Piper gestured at the massive built-in cupboard that Jeremy was now standing in front of. “The drawer has been there since the house was built. Grams and Mom didn't bother. Dad did.”
“Ah,” Jeremy nodded. “You learned from him?”
Piper shook her head. “No,” she answered curtly.
Jeremy's brows rose and he nodded, understanding the message. Piper poured the ground coffee into a percolator, poured the hot water in the bottom and set the whole on the gas.
“And now we wait,” Piper started rummaging through another part of the cupboard. “I made some cookies this morning, but they may not have survived the day. Hmmm, maybe she didn't find the second stash...” she bent over, looking behind some tins in the bottom part of the cupboard.
Jeremy grinned. “Oh, the search is enjoyable enough.”
Piper gave him a look, a raised eyebrow and a slight smirk over her shoulder, then turned back to her search. “You wouldn't believe the lengths I have to go through in this house to hide my baking.”
Jeremy stepped closer, his hand going into his pocket. “Can I help?” he asked, getting his athame out, then he grabbed Piper's hair gently and drew back her head as he leaned over her. “In any way?” he murmured.
Piper gulped and gestured. Jeremy froze.
“Okay. That was way too close for comfort,” she shuddered as Penelope shimmered into view.
“I would’ve knocked him out if he'd been any faster, dear. Remind me to thank Evy again for allowing us to use her blood. Finding a creature that can turn invisible and isn't evil is quite difficult, and getting it to give up some blood voluntarily is virtually impossible.”
“We'll have to tell her the potion works. It’ll make her feel better, she'll know she isn't evil, no matter what the Rosses told her,” Prue added thoughtfully.
“Yes, we'll do that after we've dealt with Mr Murderous here,” Piper stepped further away from Jeremy. “He's good. I actually liked him.”
“Yeah. He's very plausible. I actually wondered if I might not have been wrong, until I saw him get the knife out,” Phoebe shuddered. “Shall we?”
“The sooner the better,” Victor said grimly from the basement doorway, holding a pistol.
Piper nodded and refroze Jeremy for the second time. “Please. I'm getting tired.”
Penelope got a potion out of the pocket of her voluminous coat and gestured for her granddaughters to join her.
Victor took the knife from him as the girls gathered around Penelope and read the spell. Piper took the potion, then a deep breath and unfroze the warlock. She threw the potion over Jeremy before he could react.
“If evil you be, by the Power of Three, we vanquish thee, if evil you be, by the Power of Three we vanquish thee! If evil you be, by the Power of Three we vanquish thee!”
Jeremy screamed and burned, disappearing in a flash of acrid smoke. “Well. That shows it was really him, I suppose,” Phoebe shuddered. “Still seems rather cold to me, to kill him like that.”
“He was about to cut your sister's throat and... Victor? Are you alright?”
Victor had dropped the blade and grimaced. “We need to find a way to destroy this knife. I may not be much good with magic, but even I can feel this thing is evil!”
Penelope stepped closer and let out a low whistle. “A Soul Stealer. I thought they were all destroyed.”
“What? Soul Stealer?” Prue asked, alarmed, her arms going around Piper protectively.
“Yes. That’s not an entirely accurate name. It more properly ought to be called a Soul-Ripper. It tears the power of a witch out of her, and since that is an integral part of their identity, that means that it’s a very painful experience, physically, mentally and for the soul,” Penelope explained.
“Okay. I'm really, really, really FREAKED OUT right now!” Piper shuddered in Prue's embrace.
Penelope nodded. “So am I, dear. We have to establish if he killed others with this knife, and how old it is. If someone is making them again, we'll have to go and vanquish them, with all haste. I’ll contact the Grand Magister, she ought to know we discovered one. They're very dangerous and happily very rare.”
“Okay,” Victor looked around. “I think this coffee might be a bit too stimulating right now.”
He turned off the gas. “Go into the sitting room. I'll make us all some hot chocolate or tea.”
“Chocolate,” the three younger ones chorused.
“Tea, please, Victor,” Penelope said with a smile.
There were some things that even a magister found herself helpless before and one of those tended to be the subconscious. So she found herself beside the lake, on the jetty, at Camp Skylark. She knew that Prue often came here, had ever since she was a teen and wanted to think or just feel closer to her mother, or simply to remember more innocent times. Penelope had visited just after Patty died, trying to find the demon responsible, but had failed. And very occasionally since her death, to remember her daughter, and look again for her killer.
She hated this place with a fervent passion. She froze when she saw a shape that she would never forget. Patty was standing at the end of the jetty, facing her and from behind her, from the water, rose a tentacle, translucent and gleaming green, the essence of all that mankind had ever feared about water. Penny raised her hands to cast it away from her daughter, but the power would not come to her. She gritted her teeth and sent as much magic as she could muster into the attack, knowing it was at the far end of her range.
The demonic tentacle curled around Patty and dragged her screaming into the water, her fingers scrabbling futilely at the wood of the jetty for a few pathetic seconds before she was pulled under, and didn't surface again. With a sob Penny fell to her knees on the slick planks. Her eyes narrowed. She took a deep breath and pulled her shields around her.
She was home, in the garden of the Mansion, and a party was going on around her, happy, laughing people dressed in a way that brought a lump to her throat, listening to music of an age that was often ridiculed. She knew what was going to happen before it happened. The fireball flew, Allen jumped, pushing Patty out of the way, the spell struck...
With a primal scream, Penelope slammed her dream shields even more firmly in place. She saw images, things that she feared, the death of her granddaughters, the fear of what might have happened to the youngest of them. Horrible images of that girl growing up in torment and pain, possibly subverted to the darkness, to become a Warlock who would fight and defeat her sisters.
Then she was away from it, but not yet free. Whoever was behind the dreams wasn't done with her yet.
Penelope disliked deserts and now she found herself in one, a sandy desert in front of a huge, worn red cliff. That was annoying, especially since it was in a dream and she had quite good control over her dreams generally, and now twice she had been forced into a place where she did not want to go. Dreams could be exploited as a weakness, which was why every with who could be taught learned the ways of defending them. *It seems Aloysius and Lilith are right, someone is attacking us.*
She looked around, seeing the dark red stone, weathered and worn from wind, the sand blowing over the sun baked, hard packed and cracked clay that stretched like faulty crazy paving to the horizon.
“Charming. Do you do Christmas decorations?” she asked in a rather insulting tone of voice.
There was a hiss and then a snake lunged out of a hollow between two rocks, tongue flickering past sharp, gleaming teeth.
Penelope flung it back with her magic. It landed against the rocks of its lair and immediately attacked again.
Penelope ducked instinctively as, with a roar, a huge sabre-toothed cat jumped out at her. She felt the wind of its passing and a rear claw raked her back in an almost petulant kick.
Gasping in shock and pain she fell to her knees, then hurled the snake up and into the circling cat. It bit the feline and the great cat yelped, its yellow eyes widening.
It jumped at her, but Penelope was ready, pushing as much power as she could muster at the huge predator, flinging it back against the cliff. Another move and part of the cliff face toppled on top of the beast. To make extra sure, she hurled the snake on top of the pile of rocks and added another thick layer of debris, by punching the rock with almost everything she had left. Then there was silence.
Penelope sat down and quieted her breathing, getting her control back, then flowed back into regular sleep, wincing at the depletion of her energies and the pain in her back. “Lilith was right. There's power there. I wonder what the hell that was. If it dares bother the girls, I'll flay it.”
She grimaced and felt the wound on her astral body. “Best not to exert myself too much for a while.”
The judge was tall and imposing and looked down at three young women as they sat small and frightened in the dock. The great eagle of the United States looked down from the arms above his head, eyes yellow and gleaming.
“Prudence Victoria Halliwell, Piper Aspen Halliwell, Phoebe Elinore Halliwell, you have been found guilty of witchcraft by a jury of good and pure men and women. By your actions you have condemned yourself. You have influenced the minds of innocents to increase your own wealth. You have broken into the minds of police officers, prosecutors to pervert the cause of justice.”
The judge touched the small cross on his desk as if seeking protection.
“You have by witchcraft attained various learned titles and falsely used these degrees to gain employment in such fashion as to best manipulate the minds of the good people of the state of California and its elected representatives to your own ends. You have perverted the cause of democracy and the freedom of the people of the State of California and the United States. Furthermore, you have been found guilty of using your evil powers to commit murder in the first degree. on several occasions, no fewer than seven of which have been established.”
The man looked down at the three sisters from the bench, his face stern. “Having been found guilty of these crimes by a jury of good men and women, with a recommendation for the death penalty, due to the nature and severity of your crimes, the responsibility rests with me to pass a final judgement. Prudence Halliwell, Piper Halliwell, Phoebe Halliwell, I levy upon you the death penalty, to be administered by any means as are currently in use in this, the state of California. May the God you’ve betrayed by your foul sorceries have mercy upon the soul you’ve defiled.”
The execution chamber was barren, harsh, unfinished concrete, and only two guards and the prison’s priest were there. A one-way mirror looked out upon it. Phoebe was strapped into the chair by the guards, her head already shaved, the electrodes were attached to her body and head, then the suffocating leather mask was pulled down over her face.
“Do you have any last words to share with the cheese?” the Prison Padre asked, as he took a slice of processed American cheese from inside the bible he was carrying. Phoebe was trying to shake her head in disbelief as she felt the current hit her and screamed.
“PHOEBE! WAKE UP!” a worried sounding voice screamed at her and she was awake, tears running down her cheeks.
She could feel the electricity sizzling in her body, could smell the charring of her flesh and the melting and burning of the hairs on her body. Then she felt the hands on her and sobbed, burying her face in Penelope’s shoulder. “Grams?”
“Yes. I’m here.”
“I killed him. We killed him. We killed a human,” Phoebe whispered.
Penelope sighed. “Oh, that’s what this all about. Come on. Let’s go down to the kitchen. Your sisters should be there already.”
Penelope wiped her forehead and looked at her granddaughters. All of them looked quite haggard.
“We killed him,” Prue whispered. “We killed a man.”
Penelope shook her head. “No, you killed a Warlock. There’s a difference. At some point in time he dedicated himself to evil and started drawing on his soul to power his magic, until there was nothing left but a being dedicated to Darkness. And like witches, it is hereditary.”
She gestured between her and her granddaughters. “And of course there are demons and other beings who approach it from the other side, inhabiting a human body, with magical talent or not. So, quite evil and quite soulless. And killing one before they completely loose their soul might actually be seen as doing them a favour.”
“That’s easy to say. But what if a Warlock is born that way? What if one wanted to break with the tradition? Is a baby warlock evil and a baby witch good?” Phoebe argued.
Penelope smiled. “A baby, warlock or witch isn’t evil or good. But as you can imagine, they get a vastly different upbringing.”
“And what if a Warlock child was found in its crib after its parents were dead? What then?” Phoebe almost snarled.
“Well, it is difficult,” Penelope pursed her lips. “But I’ll ask Aloysius next time how he feels about it.”
“What?” Piper frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“High Magister Crumrin was born a warlock,” Penelope explained. “He seems to be doing fairly well. And even adult Warlocks can make the choice not to be evil. Like witches can choose not to be good.”
“Oh,” Phoebe whispered.
Penelope sighed and went to hug her. “It was hard for me too, honey. That was one of the reasons your grandfather and I tried so hard to find peaceful resolutions. And you know how that ended.”
Phoebe winced as she recalled the story. “Yeah. It just… it feels wrong.”
“I imagine that Buffy had to overcome quite a lot before she staked her first vamp,” Piper shuddered. “And she actually has to stake them, get physical.”
“Yeah,” Prue shook her head. “Remind me to give her an even bigger hug next time we see her.”
Penelope smiled. “Okay. Now I need you to describe your dreams for me as best you can, girls.”
Phoebe shuddered. “Do I have to?”
“Yes. Some being has been assaulting witches and wizards in their dreams. And since the three of you had a nightmare at almost the same time, it makes me wonder if it isn't responsible,” Penelope clarified.
“And why didn't you tell us this earlier?” Prue demanded to know.
“Because I'm an old woman and in all the excitement about my health and the warlock we were facing I plain forgot,” Penelope admitted, slightly shamefaced.
Phoebe put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay, Grams. Just... Try and remember these little things that are important and tell us, okay?”
Penelope nodded, her expression pained. “I will.”
Phoebe took a deep breath. “Okay. My nightmare began in a courtroom. We were on trial for witchcraft.”
“Me too!” Prue interrupted.
“And me!” Piper added.
Penelope looked at Victor, who had paled. “Okay. Was there anything there, an animal of some sort, anything out of the ordinary?”
Prue frowned. “I thought the eagle was really creepy. You know the one above the judge?”
“Yeah, it seemed to follow me, us with its eyes,” Piper acknowledged.
Phoebe looked at her hands. “I was too scared to notice anything. Sorry.”
Piper snorted. “Don't be ridiculous, Phoebe. There's nothing to be sorry for. It happens. I freaked out before and that was after the danger was over!”
“Yeah, the only sorry thing is gonna be that demon when we kick its ass!” Prue asserted.
“That's my girls,” Victor beamed. “I'll go and make some tea, shall I?”
The next morning
Penelope Halliwell hated nuns. Loathed them. Despised them. And priests. And social workers. She’d been trying to find her fourth granddaughter since her conversation with her sister and had been stymied and blocked, no matter what she tried. The girl had been found, put up for adoption and there things ended. That much she could get from the newspaper and public records. Shouldn't that be fifth granddaughter? After all, isn't Brenda older than Paige?
And unless Penelope went public with what had happened, the organisations involved weren’t going to tell them. And she didn’t want to tell a stranger about possibly the worst thing she’d ever done. She’d been having nightmares about what might have happened to the child for years. Especially after Sam started his downward spiral after Patty's death.
She sighed. *First, I tell the girls. And Victor.*
She walked down from the attic, negotiating the stairs with greater ease than she had in years. She rather thoughtlessly proceeded down the stairs and into the sitting room, only to be startled out of her musings by a slight, pained noise from the kitchen. Worried, she ripped open the kitchen door. Prue was standing at the table and was sucking her finger while glaring at Piper, who was attempting to stifle a laugh. Prue waved a large knife at Piper.
“This is not funny! It hurt!”
“This is funny. Because I said you’d cut yourself if you used it like that,” Piper retorted. “It’s entirely your own fault.”
Then she opened a drawer and rummaged through it, coming up with the iodine they kept there and the package of band aids.
Penelope smiled as Piper applied the bandage after dripping on some of the iodine.
Prue blew on her finger and glared. “Your knives are a menace!”
“My babies are not a menace! No more than your camera is!” Piper defended her Christmas gift from Joyce and Simon.
Penelope sighed. “What exactly is wrong with you two? You’re squabbling like children.”
Prue sighed. “I had a bad day at the office. My computer crashed and I lost forty items I’d just catalogued.”
Piper looked equally unhappy. “And I didn’t get the Sous-chef job at the restaurant.”
“So you resolve your unhappiness by shouting at each other?” Penelope shook her head. “Where are Phoebe and your father?”
“Here!” Phoebe called out, carrying two ice-cream cones, handing one to Piper.
“Vanilla and chocolate for you, and vanilla and strawberry for Prue, pistachio and lemon for Grams,” Phoebe declared happily. “Dad’s got those.”
“Ice Cream?” Piper asked, just before taking a contented lick. “Why?”
Phoebe shrugged, licking her strawberry and chocolate. “Dad walked out the door just as I was coming in, grabbed me and told me we were getting ice cream at Marco Polo’s.”
Prue turned to their father, who was licking his double chocolate with a little bit too much indifference, as he held out the paper tray in which the cones had been transported to Penelope and Prue to take theirs “Dad?”
“Hmmm?” Victor replied.
Prue gave him a look. “Ice cream. Wonderful. But why?”
Victor sighed. “This was much easier when you were younger.”
“What was?” Piper asked, still licking blissfully.
“Distracting you from a bad mood with ice cream,” Victor replied. “You were snapping at each other like turtles.”
Penelope laughed. “Well, considering their expressions, I’d say it worked, but now they know...”
Piper frowned slightly, her eyes calculating as she licked. “So every time we’re in a bad mood, we get ice cream like this?”
Prue smirked. “Tempting…”
Victor shook his head. “Not going to happen, young ladies! Marco Polo’s is only for real emergencies.”
All three girls pouted. Victor smiled and stepped to the freezer and opened it, drew out a drawer and stepped back. “But I won't leave you entirely without support.”
Phoebe was the first to step closer. She let out a whimper. “Ben and Jerry’s?”
“Two pints of each of your favourite flavours. Ice cream, for all emergencies,” Victor announced smiling, then suddenly his face fell and he walked out of the kitchen.
Prue’s eyes had widened at the words, then looked at her grandmother. “Grams?”
Penelope looked guilty and teary at the same time. “Always, Prue. Always.”
“So. How do we do this?” Clinton Shacklebolt, a junior healer with a large student debt looked at the long list of children and young adults whose identity he was supposed to determine.
Rogelia Cantrev looked over his shoulder. “Why don’t we take them in the alphabetical order of the last names they used to have? At least that way with siblings we’ll be able to tell them if they’re real siblings immediately.”
Clinton nodded. “Works for me,” her cracked his knuckles, a habit that made Rogelia shudder.
“Let’s do this then. The sooner we’re through this list, the sooner these kids are back with their real parents,” Rogelia took the small vial of blood and dropped it onto the sheet of parchment.
Victor was standing outside, ice-cream forgotten in his hand. Penelope stepped up behind him, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Victor? Either give that to one of the girls or eat it. There won’t be any wasted food in this house.”
Victor smiled slightly at the well known phrase. Penelope let out a breath. “And then we need to go to the attic, you and I. There are some things we should talk about.”
Victor sighed, then lifted his cone to his mouth and licked. Penelope did the same. They finished the cones in companionable silence and then walked through the kitchen smiling at the three who were now making dinner, Piper ordering her sisters about and Phoebe complaining about having onion duty again.
Penelope unlocked the door and let Victor in, locked the door again then pushed aside the rug and started drawing on the floor.
Victor’s brows rose. “What are you doing?”
Penelope sighed. “Well, I’m not going to tell you what I have to tell you on my own. And I think we owe you-”
“NO!” Victor shouted angrily. “You can’t! Leave her in peace!”
Penelope snorted. “Do you honestly think she’s been gone? Do you think that with the choices we have, the Line we are, Patricia hasn’t been watching over the girls?”
Victor frowned. “I-I hadn’t thought about that.”
Penelope smiled. “I try to forget it myself. Not always the most pleasant of thoughts. Though sometimes comforting.”
Victor nodded thoughtfully. “So if she’s here anyway…”
Penelope gave him a look. “She might as well be here in the flesh. Like I said, I’m not going to be the only one who gets yelled at. And if she’s just a spirit, it would make it too easy for her to get away from it.”
There was a slight tinkle from a set of chimes in the corner. It managed to sound offended.
Victor gulped. “Pa-Patty?”
There was another tinkle. Victor sat down heavily on the elderly, flower-upholstered wingback couch, and watched Penelope finish her circle.
She lit several large candles and then took a deep breath and incanted a sentence. A white shimmer appeared in the centre of the circle and a woman appeared, in her late twenties, hair as dark as Prue and Piper. She was wearing smart, hip-hugging jeans and a peasant shirt that left quite a bit of shoulder bare. And a look of surprise at her own clothes.
She looked down at herself and Penelope’s eyebrows rose. She swallowed slightly at the sight of her daughter. “Dear me. Dressed for success, are we?”
“Patty,” Victor said in a strangled voice.
“Vic,” Patty replied softly. “Can I get out of this, mom?”
Penelope nodded. “As long as the candles burn. They’ll burn faster, but it’ll be a few hours at least.”
Patty stepped out off the circle and sat next to Victor. “I’ve missed you,” she said.
Victor gave her a smile. “I’ve missed you too.”
Patty bit her lip. “Which… I… We…” she rubbed her face. “Dammit!”
“You cheated on me with Sam. I know,” Victor said with an air of great weariness. “I knew then it wasn’t ‘just very good friends, comrades in arms’. That I 'wouldn’t understand'.”
“What?” Patty and Penelope chorused, shocked.
“I heard you talking about it,” Victor gestured at Penelope. “It was one of the things I didn’t mention during the divorce proceedings. I felt that it wouldn't do any good except cause more recriminations. Was that what you wanted to talk about? It won't do much good anymore, now. Back then, maybe. Now? No.”
Patty winced. “No… Yes…” she sighed. “I had another daughter. The second of August 1977. With Sam.”
Victor’s eyes narrowed. “A magical daughter?”
Penny exchanged a look with Patty. “Yes.”
“What happened to her?” Victor asked his face stricken. “Was she killed?”
“Sam and I gave her to a nun,” Patty whispered. “We put her up for adoption.”
Victor’s eyes widened. “Your magical daughter. Of a Great Spirit line. Half-Whitelighter? And you put her up for adoption? What the fuck
were you thinking
The women winced. “I told her that it was forbidden. That the entire lineage would be punished for it,” Penny said in a strained voice. “I should have told them to go find themselves a new line of champions if they thought they could do better.”
“Where is she?” Victor demanded, rising.
“We don’t know,” Penelope admitted. “We know where she was, where we took her, but the Catholic Church and the nun who accepted her refuse to tell me anything.”
“What about Sam? If she’s magical and his daughter he ought to be able to find her,” Victor said. “Or Leo?”
“Sam’s… not quite the man I was hoping he would be,” Patty admitted. “He fell to pieces after I died. He’s unstable. I think he drinks, too.”
Victor snorted. “Well, that’s one thing we agree about. I was about ready to get drunk for a week when I heard you’d died.”
Penelope sighed and sat down. “But you didn’t, you were there for the girls, and for me. I should have given you more credit for that. There were more things I should have given you more credit for.”
Victor rubbed his face with his hands. “We’ve got to tell the girls! You! You two tell them,” he growled. “All of them! Brenda too!”
Patty huddled in her seat. “You don’t want to be there?”
Victor shook his head. “I’m going to go and have a word with that idiot Wilder. Where is he?”
Patty winced. “Don’t! I don’t want you fighting!”
“Fighting? He isn’t worth fighting. I’m gonna get him to get off his ass and help! We’ve got to find her,” Victor leaned in and glared at Patty from less than an inch. “Where is he?”
Patty gulped. “C-camp Skylark.”
“Where you died?” Victor shook his head in disgust. “If he loved you so much, why didn’t he watch over the girls all this time?”
Victor strode out of the room and down the stairs, leaving mother and daughter alone in the attic.
“GIRLS! Get to the attic. Your Mo- Grandmother has something to tell you!” he called out as he stomped down the stairs to the ground floor. “LEO! Get down here!”
Patty’s face was slightly flushed.
Penny gave her daughter a calculating look. “Hmmm.”
Patty gave her a defiant glare. “What?”
Penelope sighed. “Maybe I should have moved out of the Manor. I think things might have worked different then. He may be a much better match for you than I thought.”
Patty smiled, her flush deepening. “Yeah. Victor can be quite forceful. He’s much more stubborn than Sam.”
“More backbone,” Penny acknowledged. “He fought the Nothing.”
“He fought you. I know demons that run at the mention of your name,” Patty said with a grin.
The door opened and the girls came in. “Grams? What did you say to Dad? He looked furious!” Phoebe asked worriedly.
There was a thud. Prue had fainted. Patty was by her side in an instant.
Patty was trying to hug all three young women at the same time. They were huddled and cuddled on the couch. Their tears had dried and the candles were about a sixth of the way gone.
There was a flash of light and then Leo stood in the room, holding Brenda, who was holding a wooden spoon and wearing an apron.
“Leo! I was cooking!” she complained. “What’s this all about…” she turned and saw her sisters and grandmother and then gulped.
Patty smiled at her, then poked Phoebe very slightly. “Make a bit of room, dear. Your older sister needs a hug too.”
Penelope looked at the heap of her descendants happily and sadly, then turned to Leo. “Where’s Victor?”
Leo grimaced. “Camp Skylark. Yelling at Sam. Who’s drunk.”
Penelope frowned. “Could you get him? I think he might be of more use here than there.”
“Yeah. Sam’s pretty useless,” Leo admitted. “But Victor told me to get Brenda, no matter what, or he’d find out from Cecilia how exactly to kill a Whitelighter.”
Penelope smiled very slightly. “Just go grab him. I’m sure that Patty can deal with him.”
Brenda was crying, which set off her sisters again, and now the whole huddle was sobbing with grief and happiness.
Leo smiled and popped out. He returned less than two minutes later with a furious Victor. “Useless, spineless, witless, Fu-”
“Vic, language!” Patty said automatically. “I may agree, but little ears.
“HEY!” the girls chorused.
Victor laughed, in spite of his anger. “Not so little anymore, Patty.” He sat down. “Have you told them yet?”
Patty shook her head. “We were too busy crying and laughing,” she told him sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Victor looked at the huddle and smiled. “Don’t be. We’ll get to it. Some things are more important.”
“So you cheated on Dad. With your Whitelighter. And we’ve got another
sister?” Phoebe said accusingly.
Patty wrung her hands and hung her head. “Yes.”
“That-that…” Prue looked at her mother, father and her grandmother. She let out a sigh. “Dammit! I probably would have left too!”
Victor shook his head. “I should have fought harder, and I certainly should not have left you like I did.”
Piper sat on the armrest of the chair he was in and hugged him. “You were tired of fighting. I remember being frightened of you and Grams fighting. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
“That's no excuse, Piper. I might have been tired of the fighting, but I could have forced the issue. I’m your father and the law doesn’t take a magical upbringing into account,” Victor smiled wryly. “No matter what your grandmother threatened to do if I went that route.”
Patty froze. “Mother?”
Penny licked her lips. “You realise I didn't mean that, it would be using magic for personal ends, in a way that is utterly incompatible with the tenets of witchcraft.”
Patty's eyes narrowed. “Of course not, Mother. You merely said it, probably at the time I wasn't back here yet,” she waved a hand.
She took a deep breath. “Okay. Enough of that. Victor, I made many mistakes, I did a lot of things for which I'm sorry. I'm sure mother feels the same way.”
Penelope nodded mournfully.
Victor bent his head. “So am I.”
Patty reached out and touched his hand. “But the important thing now is to find your baby sister,” she said to her daughters.
Brenda shook her head ruefully. “I wonder how she’ll react, especially if she was raised by people who know nothing about stuff like magic.”
“We may have some explaining to do, yes,” Patty winced.
Prue looked at Piper, who was looking at Phoebe, who had a slightly disbelieving and awestruck expression on her face and was fixedly looking at the intertwined hands of her parents. ************************************************** Sunnydale, 1628-1630-1632 Revello Drive
“Dad! Can I bring my computers?” Willow called down into the garden where Simon was industriously sitting in a recliner next to Joyce.
“Well I'm not going to buy you new ones, so if you want to use them, by all means bring them,” he replied lazily. Then he drew his baseball cap a bit lower and settled deeper into the chair.
Willow stuck out her tongue and went to get some cardboard boxes and wrapping material for her equipment. Simon smiled. He much preferred feisty, happy Willow over frightened, depressed, traumatised Willow
“You could just have let the movers do all of it,” Joyce pointed out mildly.
“This will make them think about what they really want to bring and keep, have them realise what they have. And it’ll fill chore time without your flowerbeds suffering any more.”
Joyce snorted. “We moved here a few months ago, Simon. They already cleaned out the stuff they couldn't keep. Willow and Xander hardly carried vast amounts of stuff and most of the things Xander wanted to keep are in storage. Kendra and Kit sure aren't going to throw away anything they just got or bought.”
Simon grinned wryly. “Okay, it sounded better in my head. It's just that soon enough there’ll be servants around. The Manor is too big and unwieldy not to have them. Chores won't work, unless we want to up all of them until the children have no social life left.”
“Oh come on, it won't be that bad!” Joyce objected.
“You've never lived in a, for what for lack of a better word I will call a stately home,” Simon pointed out. “Trust me, I know. My apartment in New York I could run with a minimum of servants. All the other houses were mothballed.”
“What about the San Francisco mansion? Were you going to sell that? Or any of the other houses?”
Simon shrugged. “As it was being rented out to the city, probably not. I’ve been selling some of the others. But not the ones like here in Sunnydale with magical connections. Most of the properties are subdivided and rented out. As single units they weren't economical. I didn't sell my grandparent's apartment because of the memories. Vlughwater?
“Even if it wasn’t one of the strongest magical places in the country, only the government would be able to afford the main house, the upkeep is astronomical. It might be made into a hotel I suppose, but it’s a white elephant. It was built for status, to show how rich we are. The Home farm and the woodlands don't even cover a tenth of the upkeep cost, and that was before I decided to restore the landscaped gardens fully.”
“I do love that you did that,” Joyce admitted. “But seeing the cost for landscaping even the garden in LA, I cringe at what it must have cost.”
“I might donate the older houses, Oudewater and Fort Water to the Nation or the State, but they’re part of the park and I really don't want lots of tourists traipsing around without any control or profit to me.”
Joyce's eyes narrowed. “Wait, profit?”
Simon smirked. “Well, since I don't live there most of the time, I do open most of the estate to the visiting public. At a price. Fort Water is one of the oldest structures in New York State. Oudewater was the original Vlughwater of course. And the cost of the properties is paid for by part of the income from the rental and freehold on the Nieuwe Meierij.”
“Wait, you still own that? That wasn't in the book!” Joyce blurted out.
Simon grinned. “You sound amazingly like Kendra and Willow when you talk like that, love. But yes, we never sold much of the original Meier Patroonschap. We mostly bought new lands, built on them and resold them, holding onto the first grant.”
“Not to mention that you made a killing on the railroads and the telegraph,” Joyce added.
“Not me personally, but yes. The Family has always been good at exploiting the opportunities offered,” Simon observed.
“I can't sell Mill Water, the lease doesn't cover selling the house. And since I pay for the upkeep of the Island and North and South Brother under the lease, the City of New York is all too pleased to let me keep the bloody thing.”
“Ummm? What? What's Mill Water?”
“My father's most favourite home for assignations,” Simon said with a dark expression. “It's built on Mill Rock Island, in the East River, below Roosevelt Island. It was ostensibly constructed as a bomb shelter and Pied a Terre. The bomb shelter was a very plausible reason to dig a very deep basement.”
Joyce shivered. “Ugh. The more I hear about your father the less I like him. Didn't anyone ever inquire into it?”
Simon shook his head. “No, and I’m keeping it that way. Until we managed to seal the crack, it was the best and easiest access to the New York Hellmouth and the house and the basement were built to monitor it. My father never tried to truly close it, but he never tried to open or control it either. I think he enjoyed the feeling of letting its power run through him.”
“The New York Times probably would've given its collective reporting staff's eye-teeth to look around, but only because they think that he bribed every politician in New York State and City to gain control of it. It was only in the '80 s that they started to wonder about some of the rumours and decided to look into them, then they decided he wanted the island to host extremely wild parties, which he filmed and then used to blackmail the great and good. It never occurred to them that he used it as his own personal torture dungeon and that it had a convenient outlet to the sea to get rid of any superfluous limbs and other body parts resulting from his hobbies. Or that it bordered a Hellmouth.”
Joyce hugged herself, shivering. “Okay. Enough about the dungeon of doom.”
Simon snorted. “It's hardly the worst. “Darkwater is unsellable due to the atmosphere and I have no idea what my father did with the wards, but even Lilith thinks the place is cold.”
“Worse than Mill Water?” Joyce asked aghast.
“That was just used to kill various people and sits near a Hellmouth. It wasn't his actual home, that was Darkwater,” Simon said sombrely.
“Oh God! Can we go back in time and kill him?” Joyce exclaimed.
“Time travel is strictly prohibited. It’s very dangerous and liable to destroy the fabric of reality,” Simon said with a shrug. “And it tends to go wrong in unexpected and creative ways.”
“That was a joke, Joyce said meekly. “We really can travel in time?”
“I know at least six means to do so. The wand users actually have devices that allow limited time travel, a few hours worth at most, even with duplicates of the traveller existing at the same time, though they still shouldn't get too close to each other. The devices are quite powerful to deal with the resulting paradoxes,” Simon explained.
“Oh,” Joyce frowned. “Could we use one here?”
“In case a battle went wrong? No,” Simon shook his head decisively. “I know you’ve read the Monkey’s Paw. Time travel is a lot like that.”
Joyce nodded her understanding. “Okay.”
Simon continued. “Parkwater is too important to the Concordat and holds the library. I could sell it, but again, it most likely would be torn down to build yet another sky scraper. What would they do with it? Make another museum?”
“Well, if you included the art, yes,” Joyce pointed out. “It practically already is a museum. What sort of art does Darkwater have? And who named that anyway?”
“I did. My father called it Dauw Water, Dew Water. I found that singularly unsuitable,” Simon smiled slyly. “Actually, that just leaves the Palazzo Medici- Vicari-”
“Don't you dare! You gave me the keys!” Joyce mock threatened.
Simon laughed. “I won't, love. But as you can see, a lot of the houses are either monuments or important parts of the magical defences of the country.”
Joyce smiled. “Well, they are all well kept at any rate.”
“By the children,” Simon said with a smirk. “Especially the gardens.”
“They’ll be closer to the ones that still need work,” Joyce admitted. “That will make things easier at least.”
“It isn't certain we're moving in permanently,” Simon groused.
“Right. They're really going to want to leave a house where each of them has a walk in wardrobe, a full en suite bathroom and internet in every room,” Joyce shook her head at his wishful thinking.
“Kendra thinks all that sort of thing is unnecessary,” Simon argued.
“I'm sorry love, but even Kendra is utterly fascinated with sleeping in a four poster bed,” Joyce leaned over and patted his hand in commiseration. “It won't be the same at all, Simon.”
“Well for one thing, my father won't be there,” Simon sighed. “I suppose, if it makes them happy.”
“It would put the house to good use. If we do move in permanently, what are we gonna do with this one?” Joyce asked.
“I'd suggest renting it out as off-campus living space. The extra bathrooms and kitchens work for that,” Simon smirked as they heard a loud exclamation emerge from Buffy's window.
“DAWN! What did you do to my SHIRT?”
“Wanna go up and save Dawnie from the rampage?” Joyce rose with a sigh.
“I'll go and help Xander pack. His new clothes weren’t meant to be balled up and used for basketball practise before they land in the luggage,” Simon rose and stretched.
The children, when they were in the mood for it, made a game about answering the landline phone first.
That meant that there had been a considerable stampede whenever it rang on most days.
It also meant that Buffy answered the phone a lot, since she was the fastest and most agile. In this case, it meant that Kit and Dawn exchanged annoyed looks and headed back to their packing.
“Buffy Summers, good afternoon,” she said breezily before she stuck her tongue out at Xander who did the same right back.
“Buffy, hello, this is -”
“Aunt Penny! Hey, are you guys coming by soon again?”
Penny laughed. “We do have to work sometimes, dear. No, I need to talk to Simon.”
“I'll call him, just a sec. PAPA!!!” Buffy’s call rang through the house. “It may be a bit. Him and Miller are teaching Xander how to fold clothes.”
“Fold clothes?” Penny asked slightly confused.
“Yeah, we're moving to the Manor. And Evans is showing Kendra how to iron her skirts to set the pleats and we've got to meet with all the servants, and Papa is a bit annoyed because he doesn't like the Manor very much, but Mom thinks he'll feel better about it once we're moved in a while.”
Penny coughed, amused at the almost flow of consciousness level of Buffy's speech. “Excited, aren't you?”
“Oooh, yes! Papa said that he's gonna have the old gym rebuilt or renovated and the swimming pool is gonna be restored and I can run for miles in the park and there's a stable and I think that if we make puppy eyes at papa enough we can get some horses and it's gonna be awesome!”
Penelope laughed. “It sounds wonderful, yes.”
Simon sauntered in. “You yelled, Buffy?”
“Yeah, it's Aunt Penny. Papa's here. I'm gonna say bye and get back to packing. I get an entire closet, just for my shoes!” Buffy ended exultantly.
Penny laughed and heard a final 'Bye!' and then Simon's voice. “Hello Penelope.”
“Hello Simon, she sounds happy.”
“It distracts her from the fact that her social life currently consists of chores and her siblings,” Simon noted.
“Ah, still punishment for the cheese thing?” Penelope sympathised. “How are they taking it?”
“Surprisingly well, actually,” Simon replied. “But I'm sure that you didn't call to inquire about our disciplinary problems.”
“You don't have any, Simon. Your kids are almost ridiculously well behaved,” Penny said dryly. “But no. I need to warn you and ask a favour.”
“Warn?” Simon asked.
“The thing that attacked Aloysius and Lilith came after me. Aloysius was right, knowing it’s there makes it easier to fight. And Lilith was right too. The proper techniques allow you to take control of the dream again. It also seems to be rather unsure about the best ways of fighting a witch.”
Simon sighed. “Wonderful.”
“And somehow the thing managed to get past our wards and shields, so in some way we invited it. It might be a side effect of the Merge. Could you go over the things you did and see if you can find anything?”
“I did. I'll do it again, with the girls. They might have an insight I'm lacking,” Simon shook his head. “Amy and Willow seemed to grasp the Nemean Rituals almost instinctively.”
Penelope whistled, impressed. “Wow. Do you think...?”
“Of course they want to go and try to do animal transformations,” Simon sighed. “I need to find them a teacher. It's not like I can.”
“Simon, your grasp of the theories of magic is incredible!” Penny reproved him. “As a matter of fact, if you have time, I'd like for you to talk to the girls about it too. Piper really wants to know and I always just do things a certain way, so I’m not always sure about the theory.”
Simon chuckled. “Next time you're all here or we’re there, I shall. Okay. That was the warning?”
Penelope hesitated. “Not entirely. It went after the girls, too.”
“What?” Simon asked quietly.
“It went after the girls. It may go after the children.”
“Shit,” Simon whispered.
“Yes. That was exactly my reaction,” Penny agreed. “Oh, and Phoebe had a vision. It turned out to be a warlock with a Soul-Stealing athame. I called Lilith. Do you know any way to destroy them, off the top of your head?”
“A Soul-Stealer? No. I never ran into one. I was under the impression that there were none left,” Simon rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Please tell me it’s an old one that he dug up in some sandy corner of the earth?”
“I don't know. We're looking into it,” Penelope told him.
“Okay. Was that it for the official business?” Simon asked plaintively. “Or did Mephistopheles come by and announce the end of days?”
“That was the official part, yes,” Penelope cleared her throat. “Please realise that I've already been yelled at a lot for what I'm about to tell you.”
“What did you do?” Simon groaned.
“Patty had another daughter, in August of 1977. With her Whitelighter.”
Simon sat down. “Okay. A half Whitelighter child of a Warren Witch? We ought to have heard about her. What happened to her?”
“We put a mild binding on her and then gave her to a nun to be put up for adoption,” Penelope answered, subdued.
“Gave her to a nun to put up for adoption?” Simon repeated numbly. “Who came up with that brilliant notion?”
“I did,” Penelope admitted. “I was afraid of what the Whitelighters might do to Patty, to the Warrens as a family.”
“Dammit, Penny. That... I actually have no words for that,” Simon said.
“Yeah. Not my brightest moment,” Penelope said ruefully. “Victor was especially vocal, for various reasons.”
“I can imagine,” Simon replied dryly. “I take it the favour is the assistance of the Meier Institute to find the girl? You do realise she may just brain you as soon as she finds out the truth?”
“Yes, and she'd have every right. I screwed up, Simon. I know that, and so does Patty. Now all we can do is try and make amends,” Penny said.
Simon sighed. “Send me the pertinent data. You've got an MIC email address, don't you?”
“Yes, it came with the counselling job and the health insurance. For which I still can't thank you enough, Simon,” Penelope added.
“Good. Anything you know, what she was wearing, what she looked like, anything at all.”
“I will. Thank you, Simon. Thank you.”
*********************************************** Halliwell Mansion, the attic
Patty was dragging a large trunk out into the middle of the floor. She'd directed her daughters to help her and with a smug smile, Prue had lifted most of the boxes by magic. Patty had smiled indulgently.
“What's in here, mom? Grams never mentioned it beyond old clothes and when I looked it was all old clothes,” Phoebe asked.
“And why were you looking?” Prue asked pointedly.
“Flower Power party. I thought Grams might have some clothes in there,” Phoebe smiled. “Grams had an excellent taste in clothes.”
Patty chuckled as she threw back the lid and eyed the clothes. “I used to play dress-up in these,” She started to remove the clothes and the others quickly helped. Soon the trunk was entirely unpacked.
“Okay. We have an empty trunk. Going to do a disappearing trick?” Brenda asked, her anxious eyes on the large wax candles, about halfway burned down.
“No,” Patty shook her head. “See these insets? Supposedly they make it easier to clean, by keeping dust from being caught in the corners.”
She pointed at the quarter-round beading that had been neatly set into the corners.
She flipped the copper protections of the corners of the box aside. “This is a lot easier when you have telekinesis,” she said with a smile.
Then the bottom of the box rose up, with the four sets of beading sliding along very slight traces. When it reached the top, she lifted it out. The girls leaned over to look into the cavity beneath the false floor.
There were albums in it. Photo albums, five of them. Three of them bore names on the back, Prue, Piper, Phoebe, written in a skilled calligraphic hand.
“I wondered where those had gotten to,” Victor murmured.
One had the letter P inscribed on it, rather more sloppily.
The last one, which was blank, was picked up by Phoebe. Patty hastily grabbed it from her. “No! Not that one!”
“What? More secrets?” Phoebe said sarcastically.
Victor moved next to Patty, his eyes gleaming. “Is that...?”
Patty blushed. “Yes! Shut up!”
“I thought you destroyed it?” Victor said in a husky voice.
“Well? What's in it?” Piper asked.
Prue started to flush. “Guys? You may not remember it, but Dad really liked photography. He had a dark room in the basement, even.”
“What has that got to do with... Oh... Oh! OH!” Piper looked at her parents, who both had gone a few shades more red. “That kind of picture. Ooo-kay.”
“That's not important right now,” Patty said quickly. “This is.”
She lifted the book just marked P out off the chest. “This is your baby sister.”
She opened to book to show a Polaroid of a newborn girl, naked and red all over, being washed in a baby bath.
“Didn't you give her a name?” Piper asked sadly.
“I called her Punchy before she was born,” Patty said reminiscently. “And I thought I'd call her Priscilla. But when I saw her, I thought her name ought to be different.”
Victor put an arm around her shoulder. All of them huddled around the book, turning the pages.
“What did you come up with?”
“It's silly, I know. But I thought, I knew, for sure that she would be P-Paige,” Patty said with a sob.
“Paige? The name seems familiar somehow?” Piper frowned.
“Maybe you met someone with the name. But it would be beyond a coincidence if the girl you met was your sister and have gotten the name your mother thought she should have,” Victor held Patty, whose head was buried in his shoulder, sobbing quietly.
“Maybe we did meet her. Hey, Phoebe, maybe she's that girl from elementary school you hated so much. Ashley Wilcox?” Prue teased.
“We did specify that her name should start with a P,” Patty said worriedly.
The girls exchanged looks in mild exasperation. Piper cleared her throat. “Yeah. About that... Aspen, Mom? Really?”
That evening, the Hooghwater Manor, Main sitting Room
“Have you heard anything new about the nightmares?” Joyce's voice was low as she asked.
“Nothing since this afternoon. It seems that most of the Magisters in charge of greater circles all had one of greater or lesser power. The more active the participation, the more severe the attack,” Simon spoke softly as well.
“Retaliation?” Joyce bit her lip. “What if they go after the children?”
Simon's eyes narrowed. “Then they'll have to come through me, first, and you, and all the other adults.”
Joyce nodded. “That they will. And they won't get through!”
Hooghwater manor, Sunnydale
Twin, commingled screams woke Joyce and Simon from their sleep. Rolling out of bed in near unison they were at the door in seconds.
“Kit,” Simon said tersely.
“Dawn,” came Joyce's reply.
They left their bedroom and headed to the respective girl's room, hesitating momentarily as they had to recall what room what girl was in in the new large house.
Dawn's sobs could be heard through the door and Buffy was standing there already, with bed hair and a sword.
Joyce was rather worried she wasn't at all surprised or bothered by the sword. Just worried that she wasn't bothered. *That's a thought to explore later,*
she told herself firmly as she opened the door to Dawn's room and stepped inside. Waiting for an invitation was all very nice, but not when one of her children was frightened, or in pain, or in need of soothing in any other way.
“Dawn?” Joyce sat on the bed by the shivering form and put a hand on her shoulder, then started rubbing.
Dawn turned around, her eyes full of tears. “Mom? I-is Kit alright? I didn't kill her?” she whispered.
Simon reached the opposite corner and Kit's room and saw that he wasn't the first one present. Kendra, holding a mace and Xander with a baseball bat, both breathing hard, had made their way there as well. Kendra's cornrows had fallen to the dress code of St Ursula's and her long hair was a French braid for bed that made her look several years younger.
“No monsters?” he asked.
“Didn't see any, just Kit alone in bed,” Xander explained. “Errr... I wasn't quite sure what to do...”
“I'll handle it. The two of you go back to bed. School day tomorrow,” Simon reminded them. “And thank you.”
Xander and Kendra nodded and headed back to their rooms while Simon went inside. Kit was sitting against the headboard, her arms slung around her legs, her eyes wide and staring, looking at the door in with unseeing eyes as tears ran down her face.
Simon sat on the bed and held her close, murmuring soothing words and finally Kit seemed to break loose from whatever held her in his grip.
“Daddy?” she managed. “Dawn's alright? I didn't kill her?”
Simon sat down wearily in the chair in the room Joyce had picked as her study. “Kit dreamed that she killed Dawn, to stop the Rangers.”
“Dawn dreamt that she told the Rangers to kill Kit,” Joyce replied, her face haggard. “I want this thing hunted down and dead, Simon.”
“If it can be,” Simon sighed. “Some of these beings live only in the Aether. They're difficult if not impossible to kill.”
“Then we find a way,” Joyce grated out. “It hurt my babies!”
Meier Family Charitable Foundation, New York
Michaela Tyler was looking at the printed out file on her desk. It was another request from Simon, which meant it did take some sort of priority over this sort of request from the ordinary applicants for information.
With sigh, she typed the specifics into the database. The date, the state and city, name of the church, the weight and length of the girl, what she'd been wearing and the age the authorities had believed her to be.
She set the program running. The database contained the current names of thousands of orphans, missing persons, foster children and families. But the foundling database was comparatively small.
To her surprise, she got a hit only a few minutes into the search. Apparently the foundling had registered with the Foundation and had stated that she wanted to meet her family.
“Paige Constance Matthews. Well,” Michaela smiled. “At least Simon doesn't give me impossible assignments.”