From Beyond the Clouds
Seven-year-old Chris Halliwell was climbing the tree, or at least trying to, because while they were playing catch one of his friends managed to knock it into the branches. Chris was small for his age, and the branches looked thin, so the other boys chose him to climb the branches as they collected at the bottom to watch him. Chris was not certain exactly what they would do if he did fall—it was not like they would be of much help, despite being bigger than him, but he did acknowledge he was the most suitable person for the job.
The ball had conveniently fallen into a hole that perhaps one of the squirrels made in the trunk, which made it harder as Chris's hand was slightly too big to fit in easily. He was tempted to use his telekinesis to draw the ball out, but his mother had lectured both brothers relentlessly on the harmfulness of personal gain. Wyatt was a little put out by this rule, especially being Twice-blessed with all that power to spare, but Chris had quietly accepted it because somehow he trusted there was a greater reason for avoiding personal gain. It was just that his young mind could not grasp it yet.
The issue, however, is what exactly is personal gain? Surely helping out family is not personal? Or helping out friends?
" You got it yet, Chris?" One of the boys, Billy, called from below.
Chris's sneakers slipped a little, but he held on. " Not yet!" He yelled down. " It's in a hole."
" Great throw, John." Billy snickered. " You'd make a great basketball player."
" C'mon Chris, we wanna play!" John complained, ignoring Billy's teasing.
" I'm trying!" Chris called back down. His foot slid a little more, but he was still unafraid, only tightening his grip on the rough branches. Using his fingers he tried to pry away at the bark, but the wood within stayed firm. Chris stretched his neck to see the hint of the blue ball from the light shining through the leaves.
" Someone toss me a stick!" Chris yelled. John obliged by throwing a miserably thin twig. " Something thicker!" Chris tossed it back.
The boys scattered from below him to search for a stick, knowing what Chris had in mind. Chris slid again and adjusted his footing for a better hold. His arms and legs were getting tired and he really wanted to jump down, but it was hard getting up there and he knew that it was too high for him to come down without spraining his ankle or worse.
He looked around, sighing, and really wishing he could use his powers to get the ball out.
Max came back with a decent stick and threw it up to him. Unfortunately, as Chris reached out to grab it, his foot slipped and he fell back over on a branch. The boys below shouted in alarm. Heart pounding, Chris tried to flip back upright, but he was so off-balance his body swayed dangerously and he was afraid of doing anything to cause him to fall over completely.
No exposure no exposure no exposure, Chris thought frantically. The boys below him started to shout for help when it became apparent Chris could not right himself.
" What is all this?" A gentle but firm voice demanded. Chris was afraid to look for fear of unbalancing.
" He was trying to get the ball." He heard Billy tell the stranger.
" Ah." The branches below him rustled, and he felt gentle hands support him until he was upright again. A woman's hand slipped to the hole and pulled at the wood once. The wood gave way, and she reached in to pull the ball out.
The stranger jumped down, setting Chris gently down on the ground despite the fall, and handed him the ball.
" Try not to throw it into a tree again?" The woman addressed the boys, and Chris saw her briefly. She was Asian, with long hair braided and coiled into a bun, an air of composure about her. She smiled at them, and then she was gone.
The boys stared at each other.
" Whoa." Billy whispered. " Chris, you all right?"
" Yeah," Chris shuddered, though not out of fear, more of awe. " I think so…"
Piper finished chatting with the other mother, who called her daughter to get ready to go home. She turned around, panicking slightly when she caught sight of Wyatt but not of Chris where the boy was supposed to be. A quick scan revealed he was standing by a large tree in the playground. The other boys surrounded him, and they were all standing there, not doing anything.
Not overly concerned, Piper glanced at her watch. It was starting to get late, and she had to get back in time to cook dinner for everyone.
" Wyatt! Chris!" She called. " It's time to go!"
As usual, Wyatt complained. " Aw, Mom! Just a few more minutes!"
And as usual, Chris remained silent, preferring to see how his brother dealt with the situation. Piper shook her head.
" You can play with them tomorrow, honey. Mommy has to go cook dinner for all of you, and if we keep dawdling dinner will be late. Come on boys!"
Chris turned to his friends, who wordlessly said goodbye to him. He jogged over first, and waited as Wyatt stomped unhappily over to them.
They left the playground, the boys walking on either side of Piper.
" How come you won't let Dad cook?" Wyatt moped.
" No!" Chris protested. " I like Mom's cooking."
" Yeah, but if Dad cooks then we can play a little more."
" Yeah, but I'd rather have a good dinner." Chris brushed his hair out of his eyes. Piper's eyes widened at the scratches she saw on the back of her boy's hand.
" Chris, where did those come from?" She asked, taking hold of his hand and inspecting it gently. It was only the skin that peeled off, but she could not remember when Chris had fallen so he could scrape his hand like that. On the other hand, how does a boy scrape the back of his hand?
" Oh, the ball was in a hole. I had to get it out." Chris replied. Then he brightened at his mother. " It was so awesome! John threw it into the tree and I had to climb it, and then I started falling, and then this lady came along and she climbed the tree and widened the hole by breaking part of it out and then jumped down with me!"
" Wait a minute, you started falling?" Wyatt snickered, since obviously Chris was unharmed. " You suck at climbing trees, Chris."
" Do not!"
" Now, settle down." Piper was not so much worried that Chris had been climbing a tree. Boys would be boys, after all, but she was more concerned about the lady. To her knowledge, normally women do not go around climbing trees for boys or breaking a hole open. " Did you see what she looked like?"
" Oh, she was so cool!" Chris laughed. " She's really pretty, and really fast too. One minute she was there, and then the next she was gone!"
" Wait," Piper snapped, " She shimmered?"
" No." Chris shook his head. " She walked. I would have noticed if she shimmered or orbed or something, but she was fast and quiet. What's that word? Stealy?"
" Stealthy." Wyatt supplied brightly.
" Yeah, that's the word. And she's so pretty!"
" Chris has a crush! Chris has a crush!" Wyatt laughed.
" Ew! Gross! You're a jerk, Wyatt!" Chris swung a fake punch in Wyatt's direction. Wyat pulled a fake block.
" Chris has a crush!"
" I do not! She's too old!"
" Settle down!" Piper told her boys. Normally she would have allowed the bickering to continue. They were brothers, after all. However, the lady Chris mentioned worried her.
They had arrived at the house as she mused, the boys bickering without her really noticing, except to pull them back a little whenever they had to cross a street. The manor loomed before them and the boys ran up the steps to the porch even though they did not have the keys. Piper did not hurry, even as the two boys jumped up and down impatiently. Wyatt's reluctance to leave the playground had quickly faded with his haste to get home.
Opening the door, she heard the two hurry inside. Closing the door behind her, she followed them into the kitchen.
" Wyatt, put down those cookies!" She commanded. " Chris, no helping him!"
Chris giggled. Wyatt just pouted in disappointment. " But Mom—"
" Ah! No arguments!" She folded her arms. " After eating all of them yesterday, you don't get to eat today. Got that?"
Wyatt pouted some more.
" Piper?" Leo called as he entered the living room. " I thought so."
" Hey Dad!" Chris smiled at his father.
" Hey buddy!" Leo bent down and picked Chris up, swinging him around. Chris burst into bubbles of laughter. " How was school today?"
" You, Wyatt?"
" Did you get the chicken out to defrost?" Piper asked Leo.
" Yes," Leo rolled his eyes and grinned at his wife, setting Chris down.
" Why don't you two go upstairs?" Piper told the boys.
" Yeah!" Wyatt dug into his bookbag. " Hey Chris, let me show you this cool videogame Bob lended me."
" Lent, Wyatt," Piper corrected.
" Lent." Wyatt rushed upstairs, Chris following.
Leo watched as they disappeared from view, and then turned to his wife. He knew her well enough to tell she had gotten rid of the boys to talk to him. " What is it?" He asked.
" Leo, something happened at the playground."
" Chris saw—well, you'd probably think I'm just paranoid." Piper told Leo what Chris told her.
Leo paused. " Piper, so the lady was nice. That doesn't mean she's a demon out to get Chris."
" I know, I know, see what I mean? But normal women don't do that. I know if I see a kid up there, for one thing, I wouldn't go up that tree myself! I'd order the kid down if he were falling."
" So? Maybe it was an eccentric woman."
" Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?"
Leo rolled his eyes. " Come on, Piper. Someone had to get the ball out. Maybe this woman was athletic, and could climb very well. It's not like Chris told you every step of what she did, did he?"
" No." Piper sighed. " It's just, I don't know what I'd do if something happened to him. He doesn't have as much power as Wyatt, obviously, so…and how did she just disappear?"
" She didn't just disappear. Chris told you that she was very fast, didn't he? Who knows? If she really isn't an innocent, maybe she is a whitelighter who happened to see Chris is in trouble and went to help."
" I guess that's possible."
Suddenly, there was a jingling of orbs, and Paige materialized.
" Demon!" The witch yelled, before running to them. Piper snapped her hands up, ready to blast. Seconds later a demon shimmered in.
Piper flicked her hands. A small explosion erupted from the demon's left shoulder, but otherwise nothing happened.
" Uh-oh…" Paige muttered, " Scissors!"
In a swirl of blue orbs, the scissors moved from their spot on the kitchen counter and flew at the demon, who merely caught it. With a crush of his fingers, the metal and plastic turned to dust.
" This is not good." Piper turned to Leo. " Get back!"
Leo dashed to the other side of the kitchen to grab some potions, flinging them furiously at the demon. Two missed, one hit, and the demon howled as he was engulfed in flames, before turning into ash.
" That was a close one," Paige breathed. " Everyone in one piece? Am I in one piece? Damn it, just bought this shirt too. Henry's so gonna kill me."
" Mom? Dad?" Chris rushed down the stairs, followed by Wyatt. " Aunt Paige? Are you okay?"
" Yes, honey, we're fine." Piper reassured her youngest child. " And remember what I told you about coming down only when we call you?"
" We heard you guys saying this is bad." Wyatt protested. " You were like ' uh-oh' and stuff."
" Well, everything is taken care of now." Piper told the two of them. " Why don't you go upstairs and continue playing your videogame?"
" …Okay…" Chris looked at the three of them to confirm they were all right.
" Come on, Chris," Wyatt urged, having taken a look for himself while Piper was talking, " Let's go. I bet I can totally beat you at level 5!"
The boys went upstairs again, and Paige nodded briefly at them. " Well, thanks, sis, bro-in-law, I better get back before Henry seriously decides to kill me. See you around!"
" Don't go around attracting demons!" Piper yelled as she began to orb.
" I wasn't doing it on purpose!" Paige managed to say before the orbs carried her away.
Piper turned around. " Now…Dinner."
" So far Ben has been able to control his combustions whenever he is calm." Leo told Piper through a mouthful of food. He swallowed it audibly. " The problem is every time I ask him to do a demonstration his powers stop working. Which is counterproductive, obviously."
" Speaking of counterproductive, that recipe I gave Todd the other day for the restaurant? He accidentally boiled it."
Leo choked. " What?"
" Yep." Piper smiled flatly. " Good trick. He nearly served it to my customers, imagine that. Luckily Jane caught it, and they wasted a whole fish for that soup. I have to email him the recipe again later tonight because he also deleted it from his account. Plus, I told him I'd head over to the kitchens later tonight and teach him so that in case he loses it again he might be able to get it on his own."
Chris was rubbing his temples, for some reason not touching his plate.
" Chris?" Leo turned to his youngest. " Chris, are you okay buddy?"
" I have a headache." Chris moaned.
" Seven years old and headaches?" Piper felt her son's forehead. " He's not burning up."
" Do you want to go upstairs and lie down a little bit?" Leo asked.
" Okay." Chris got up from his seat. Wyatt looked at him, worried. Leo got up to grab a bottle of aspirin for his child.
Upstairs, Chris was remembering. Years worth of memories, revealing themselves in his head. These memories were not his own, but they felt like they belonged to him. Surprisingly, they did not hurt as much as one would expect. He just felt a dull ache in his skull. Some memories were frightening, some heartbreaking, but he did not understand these things and did not share in their pain. Instead he suddenly felt dizzy and tired, as if he had suddenly grown old and ill. He collapsed on the bed unhappily.
A jingle of orbs and a yell downstairs, and Wyatt materialized next to his bed.
" You okay bro?" He asked.
Chris nodded, grunting.
Wyatt was chewing loudly. " You don't look so hot."
" Hot?" Chris frowned. " What does that mean? Of course I'm not hot."
" It's a saying, silly." Wyatt sat down and leaned back, stretching out on the bed next to Chris. " It means you don't look okay."
" Oh." Chris frowned. " Aren't you gonna eat more?"
" Nah, not that hungry, really." Though Wyatt was still chewing. Chris saw he still had a bit of chicken in his hand. Seeing the chicken made his stomach grumble.
" Can I have a bit of that?" Chris asked.
" Sure." Wyatt peeled off half of it and handed it to his brother. They remained for a while like that, chewing on their respective chicken, staring at the ceiling in Wyatt's case while Chris closed his eyes and willed the dizziness to slow.
" Is it the videogame?" Wyatt suddenly asked.
Chris snorted. " Of course not. Duh."
" Then what is it?"
" I dunno. Just a headache." Chris rolled over.
" Well, I'm bored." Wyatt got up. " If it's really nothing then I'm gonna go play ragnarok."
" That's such a boring game."
" Is not. You just never picked the right skills."
" And all those Brazilian people trying to speak Brazilian to you."
" It's Portuguese. And it's not boring." Wyatt folded his arms. " Though if you insist I can turn the volume up on my playstation four."
Chris turned around. " Sorry Wy."
" Nah, I'm playing ragnarok." Wyatt left the room.
"…Should I orb your skin off slice by slice, or should I melt your organs part by part?"
" …off, Wyatt, you b…"
" …Nah, I'm orbing your skin off. You can be all skinless and still be useful, eh?"
" Ew." Chris shuddered, not entirely understanding. The wave of dizziness slowed and stilled. Chris got up just as his father came into his room.
" Sorry buddy," Leo apologized, " We ran out of aspirin in the first cupboard and your mom insisted she had another bottle stacked somewhere. We ended up finding it, but it took a long time."
" It's okay." Chris replied. " My headache's better now."
" You sure? Take it anyway," Leo suddenly stopped, staring at the piece. " It's too big. Hold on." He broke the aspirin piece a little more and gave Chris the large piece.
" Why did you break the aspirin?"
" Dosage, kiddo." Leo replied. " Come on, drink some water. There we go."
" Sorry buddy, Dad has to go back, but I'll be there next time. Promise. Okay?"
" Want to come downstairs and finish your dinner?"
" No, not hungry anymore." Chris shook his head.
" Okay then." Leo smiled.
Coop was with the Elders. It was not something he particularly enjoyed, since the Elders were usually so engrossed in the future it was hard to reach them from the present. They definitely did not make good conversation, and the few times they do, they kind of get recycled because they are retiring.
This time it was something significant, however, and even Paige was there.
" Okay," The Charmed one demanded, " What did you call me up here for? I was in the middle of getting my charge home, for god's sake!"
" Why did you call them up here?" the young woman, who apparently was the reason for all this, inquired. " This is hardly something that concerns them."
" It does." The Elder next to her replied. " Coop, Paige, this is Aralyn."
" Pleased to meet you," Aralyn blinked, looking very bemused, " Though I would say, knowing your name does not really confuse me any less. Radelin, what is this?"
" You said you needed our help." Radelin, the Elder, replied. " We would recommend starting with them, or rather, with their families."
" Whoa, wait a minute," Coop held out his hand to slow the conversation down, " I don't know what's going on, but I gotta say, I'm totally with Miss…Aralyn? Here. I mean, who is she? No offense."
" Her identity is of no concern to you." Radelin replied.
" Of course it is." Aralyn snapped at the same time as Paige. Paige was speechless with surprise, while Aralyn continued, " As who they are is of concern to me. Do not mock my current state. I will not tolerate being played."
" We would suggest discretion on your part, for your own good." Another Elder told Aralyn. " As for who they are, Paige here is the youngest of the famous Charmed Ones—"
" Oh yes," Aralyn interrupted, " That does mean something to me. And Coop?" She blinked as she said his name, as if skeptical.
" He is a Cupid—"
" You are not serious."
" Hey," Coop protested, " What is that supposed to mean?"
" Hello?" Aralyn pointed out. " Cupid? Because last I heard Cupid is Eros, Eros is Cupid—they are kind of unique because there is only one of them? I have never heard of someone being a Cupid? Get my drift? And last I heard Cupids are also Greek, not Hispanic."
" Why do you say that I—"
" He is also the husband of the second Charmed sister, Phoebe Halliwell."
" Oh good grief." Aralyn ran her fingers through her hair in a gesture of distress. " What is the grand plan, then? I am assuming you wish to send me to the Charmed ones?"
" That is indeed our plan."
" They are powerful witches, and I heard that the second one has this blessed child."
" Piper?" Paige was confused for a moment, before remembering Prue. " Oh."
" The Twice-Blessed Witch." The Elder replied. " Indeed, she does. His name is Wyatt. He is also the chosen wielder of Excalibur."
" King Arthur? Not interested."
" Will someone please tell me what's going on here?" Paige demanded.
" We will get back to you once I convince your friends of their idiocy." Aralyn quipped before turning back to the Elders. " Bad idea. He hardly needs to be blessed the third time. Though just to clarify, I am not blessing anyone here, never blessed or once blessed or twice or what not."
" No, but one of the other children."
" You have a particular one."
" Not entirely." The Elder replied. " However, we must explain something to you." At this the Elders crowded around Aralyn and Coop and Paige were unable to hear anything they said.
Paige turned to Coop. " Did any of that make any sense to you?"
" Nope." Coop replied. " I'm just as lost as you."
" Okay." Paige nodded.
Suddenly, the Elders parted. The woman was gone.
" We called you two," Radelin told them, " To first introduce you to Aralyn, and also to cover for her when you can. She is here for a purpose, which cannot be disclosed at this time, but you must keep the rest of your family from suspecting her. Rest assured, she means no harm."
" Wait, what?" Coop blinked.
" You can't be serious." Paige growled. " What is going on here?"
" That cannot be disclosed at this moment." Radelin replied. " However, we promise she means no harm. She may be around, you may see her quite often. You must divert the others' attention from her. We cannot afford to make mistakes."
" Well, we can help you not make mistakes if you tell us what is going on," Paige insisted.
The Elders were always persistent this way. " We cannot disclose it at this time." The group began to disband, leaving only Radelin with the two of them. " You may return to your previous duties." Then even she left.
Paige looked at Coop as they were left alone.
" What the hell?" She exclaimed. " This is ridiculous!"
Coop had to agree. He could just imagine the talk he would have with his wife. Honey, she means no harm. How do I know? Um, actually, I don't, because the Elders didn't tell me anything except that. But she means no harm! Let's just eat our dinner.
" This will not go over well." He told Paige seriously.
Paige, more than a little annoyed, orbed back to whatever it was she was doing. And don't forget Billie! He reminded himself. She'll be just as ecstatic with that answer as Phoebe.
In the middle of watching a movie, since it was a Friday, two demons randomly shimmered in and wounded Piper and Leo. Piper managed to blast one of them and Leo used a potion on the other, but Wyatt had to heal the two of them.
Wyatt had been a little unnerved, but healing his parents helped reassure him. Chris, however, had no such power, and he felt a dark well of despair forming in him as he stood helplessly to the side.
It was always like this. His thoughts whispered. Always. It never ends. It killed Mom in the end, and drove Dad away from us…He shifted uncomfortably.
Other kids don't have this problem. Why should we? How come demons won't leave us alone?
" Hey buddy," Leo bent down to inspect Chris, " You all right? You look upset."
" Of course he's upset, Leo." Piper looked at Chris. " It's okay, peanut, your brother healed us and we're alright now."
And when Wyatt leaves, what will happen then? Chris squashed the thought. It did not make sense, anyway. He smiled at his father, earlier morose thoughts forgotten.
" Why don't you go upstairs and get ready for bed?"
" Aw, but Mom!" Wyatt complained.
" It's nearing your bedtime, Wyatt."
" No it isn't." Wyatt pouted.
With some necessary urging, the parents finally convinced the children to take their respective showers and go to bed. Wyatt and Chris both fell asleep instantly, but Chris was the one with the nightmares.
" Billie, do me a favor and help me hang this up there?"
Billie waved the poster, tape and all, up to the wall. She pressed a finger to her lips. " No telling your mom."
Melinda giggled. " Mom would kill you."
Billie shared a grin with Phoebe's eldest. " Did you finish your homework for magic school?" She asked as the two headed out to the living room.
" I'm almost done. It's history so far so I can finish the rest later. Did Mom tell you if we're heading over to Aunt Piper's place afterwards?"
" I think so. Piper wanted me to help out around there, and I told her I would go over at noon. If your dad does not pick you up you can go to the manor."
" Cool, because I want to show Chris and Wyatt that picture I showed you that I drew for art class for Mrs. Helman."
" Well, if you don't head straight there we can always go there afterwards. It's Saturday, after all."
Suddenly, Coop materialized in the living room.
" Hi." Billie greeted. " Someone looks confused today."
" Oh no." Coop waved it off. " I'm not confused."
Billie cocked an eyebrow. " What did the Elders call you there for? And why did they call you? I mean, don't Cupids report to some other authority? What, do the Elders control everything?"
" Being the husband of a Charmed One might have its special rules." Coop folded his arms. " And the Elders do not control everything."
" Yeah, right." Billie rolled her eyes. " So what did they want you for?"
" Well…" Coop hesitated.
" Well…?" Billie urged.
" I don't know."
Billie stared at him in disbelief. " You don't know."
" You're telling me that you went up there for six hours and you have no clue why they called you there."
Coop hesitated. " Y…yes."
Billie turned to Melinda. " Mel, turn around."
" Turn around." Billie turned the girl around, and before the girl could spin back she gave Coop a resounding whack on the head.
" Ow." Coop rubbed his head. " Hey, it's not my fault!"
" You've got to be kidding me! You broke your promise so that you could waste six hours and you're telling me nothing came out of it? Do you have any idea how hard it was to reschedule the conference, apologize to all the coordinators, and find a suitable date which happens to be suitable for everyone else except me! And you're telling me that nothing happened?"
" Well, I didn't say nothing happened!"
" What then."
Coop told her, the best he could, of the details of the mess he and Paige went through while they were up there, as well as the new stranger, Aralyn.
" Wait, they set you up for an appointment today so they could tell you nothing?" Billie groaned. " I wish I could give them a whack too!"
" Haha." Coop replied. " Yeah, well, it's not every day that Elders set up an appointed time for you to go up there, I guess."
" No kidding." Billie snapped. " Normally they just call you at their convenience."
" This Aralyn though, she must be important."
" So? If she's working with the Elders she's no harm, right?"
" I guess you could put it that way."
" Well, what did she want?"
" I don't know. They mentioned Wyatt, and she said something about not blessing anyone as if the Elders had been confused, but I'm pulling at loose strings here, really."
" But six hours of nonsense? What did they do, have a banquet up there?"
" You know the time difference." Coop answered. " Where's Phoebe?"
" Still at work. Oh boy, would she be mad at you."
Melinda, who had listened to the entire conversation in relative silence, asked, " Why would Mommy be mad at you?"
" No big deal." Billie reassured her. " Your dad originally planned to take you and your sister out, Friday and all, but the Elders screwed that up for you. For all of us. Ugh, you're totally orbing me over to the conference."
Coop saluted. After all, if the Elders complain, he could complain right back, stating they had wasted time for their own benefits without any explanation.
" So are you going to call Piper and tell her what happened up there?"
" I'm leaving Paige to do that. What am I going to say? We stayed up there listening to them talk about things we can't make sense of and they refused to explain anything to us except to keep the identity of Aralyn secret? When we don't even know her identity? Paige will survive it better than me. Leo is so lucky he's a mortal again."
" Oh yeah, I need to ask Leo to help me buy wooden boards to help me fix the shelf. I'll have to wait until after magic school, then."
" Will do. I'm giving Phoebe a call, see where she's at. Hopefully she's starting home." Coop headed toward the phone.
" Alright. I'll see you in a bit Melinda."
" Where are you going?" Coop asked, even as the phone rang.
" She's getting fruit. We ran out this afternoon."
" You could wait until tomorrow."
" Tomorrow I'm at the manor."
" Oh, right. Okay then."
" See you guys later!"
Billie left. Coop dialed the number. Yep. Phoebe will give me a tongue-lashing. He steeled himself for it.