A RIFT IN TIME
Summary: When a grown-up Wyatt and Chris unexpectedly find themselves in an alternate and evil future, they must work together with their past family to prevent the universe from spiralling into utter chaos before it's too late…
Disclaimer: The characters in Charmed do not belong to me. No infringement is intended, no profit is made. The characters of Emily and Chloe do belong to me though, but they can be borrowed as long as I'm asked first.
Notes: Hi all! Here is the next chapter as promised in my review replies. Hope you enjoy! If you remember from last time, Wyatt, Chris and Chloe have just woken up in a strange, dark world and have gone to the Halliwell Manor to try to find some answers...
Chapter 3 – Unwelcome Discoveries
It was as if they'd just entered a world frozen in time.
With Chris taking the lead and Wyatt and Chloe following closely behind him, they cautiously moved further into the Manor hallway, all three of them on tenterhooks in case something unexpected happened while they weren't paying attention. As they reached the table in the centre of the entrance hall, the front door swung ponderously shut behind them, the click as it reconnected with its frame making them all whirl around in a burst of consternation.
"It's okay, we can open it again," Chris said confidently.
"How do you know?" Chloe asked, her voice hushed and wary. The atmosphere of the abandoned Manor was having that affect on her. It was as if they'd walked into the entrance hall of a mausoleum, rather than the lively family home that they all knew from their own time.
"I don't know," Chris replied, his voice similarly muted. "I just do."
He ran his fingers down the battered and roughened frame of the grandfather clock standing in the entranceway to the lounge, and then moved through the living space into the adjoining conservatory. Fingers intertwined, Wyatt and Chloe followed quietly in his footsteps, joining him as he paused in the doorway to survey the scene within.
Toys were strewn haphazardly across the floor and, curiously, a wash-basket full of folded clothes stood on the small table next to the wicker loveseat. It was as if the previous inhabitants had left in a hurry and hadn't bothered to clear up the mess first. Knowing her mother-in-law as she did, Chloe knew that something bad must have happened for Piper to leave her home in such a state. Most of the time, the woman was fastidious in the extreme.
While her husband and his younger brother wandered idly about among the scattered debris, Chloe crossed to the mantle and picked up the photograph that lay face down on its surface. It was a picture of Wyatt and Chris, aged about seven and five as far as she could judge. She'd seen many such pictures before, but this one was slightly different.
The boys were not quite so neat and well turned-out for a start - their clothing looked like it had come from some sort of thrift store. While not rich by any stretch of the imagination, the Halliwells had nevertheless been comfortably off when Wyatt and Chris had been growing up. Piper's nightclub had brought in a steady income, while Phoebe was a popular and successful newspaper columnist. The two boys had rarely wanted for anything. The dilapidated state of the surrounding furniture, the threadbare nature of the children's clothing, not mention the apparently homemade toys littering the floor, suggested that things had not been quite so prosperous this time around however.
Bending at the waist, Wyatt stooped to pick up a dusty but brightly painted wooden car from the floor. Turning it over in his hands, he examined it carefully, his brow furrowed in thought. "Looks like Dad's handy-work," he remarked to his brother.
Chris nodded, also recognising the telltale design of the piece. He remembered spending hours with Leo constructing a similar vehicle when he was about six or seven years of age. In fact, he thought he still had the end result in a box at the top of his closet back home. Wyatt hadn't seen the point of it all, mainly because he could conjure just about any toy he wanted out of thin air. Chris though, had inherited his father's practical skills, and had therefore loved the idea of constructing something from just its raw materials.
It had meant that he got his Dad all to himself too, which was an added bonus, along with the fact that, because he'd deigned not to take part, his brother couldn't outdo him as he normally did. As much as Chris loved his older sibling, it did sometimes grate that he was good at pretty much everything he turned his hand to. Living in Wyatt's shadow wasn't always easy, but the younger Halliwell bore the fortitude well.
It helped that he wouldn't swap places with his brother for love nor money, of course. He was fully aware that being Mr Twice-Blessed was sometimes more of a curse than a blessing. Wyatt had burdens and pressures to contend with that Chris could only imagine at, so he never begrudged his brother his exalted position, no matter how many times he ended up in second place on the leader board because of it.
Stepping carefully around the scattered toys, Chloe crossed the room to join them, wordlessly holding out the photograph that she'd found. Wyatt and Chris exchanged a meaningful look as they studied the picture, seeing the same hidden truths in it that she had. Their lives had apparently been very different in this particular version of the future - if indeed that was where they were. They were yet to confirm that as fact, but all the signs certainly pointed in that direction.
"The Book," Wyatt stated shortly, the need to gain that all-important confirmation at the forefront of his mind.
Chris nodded. "The Attic?" he suggested.
They took the stairs rather than orbing, wanting to inspect the rest of the house on their way up to the top floor. When they reached the first floor landing, Wyatt pushed open the door to what had always been his bedroom in the past. Battered but well-made bunk beds stood against one wall, and the closet and drawers were open as if someone had emptied them of their contents and packed in a hurry. The presence of the bunk beds was telling in itself. Obviously, he and Chris had still been sharing a room when the house was abandoned, which strongly suggested that their Aunts had never moved out and gotten married in this future too.
"I couldn't get a sense of any of the girls," Chris said quietly, somehow reading his brother's thoughts and confirming his bleak suspicions.
None of their cousins had ever been born it seemed, and that filled Wyatt with a deep abiding sorrow. The girls were intensely annoying at times, but that didn't mean he'd ever want to be without them. Given the age-range of the toys downstairs, together with the style of the decoration of the shared bedroom before him, it appeared that he and Chris hadn't even reached puberty before the family had left the Manor behind. Their world had apparently been turned upside down when they were both still young boys.
Their hearts filled with sorry regret, they moved along the corridor to their parent's room, which they found in a similar state to their own, showing all the signs of a hasty departure. Closet doors were open, drawers upended, and clothes were strewn across the bedspread and piled in untidy heaps on the sofa under the window.
Chloe suddenly let out a sharp gasp and Wyatt whipped around to see his wife swaying dangerously on her feet. Acting on pure instinct, he reached out to steady her, concerned when she appeared to pass out in his arms for a brief moment before thankfully coming to again. He helped her over to the bed and urged her to sit down. Chloe put her forehead in her hands and drew in a few shaky breaths, and then lifted her face again and forced herself to smile at her worried husband.
"Whoa!" she said with a false little laugh, "Got a little light-headed there for a moment." She looked uncertainly at him. "Umm - do you think you could get me a drink of water please?"
"Chris!" Wyatt said sharply, but his brother had already acted, hurrying through into the adjoining bathroom, almost as concerned for Chloe's welfare as he was.
The reality of their situation was finally beginning to sink in for Chris. Not only were he and his brother stranded in this strange, unknown world, but they had a heavily pregnant Chloe and her unborn baby to take care of as well. It was only a few weeks to his sister-in-law's due date now, and Chris hadn't a clue whether there was any such thing as a hospital in this place. Would he end up having to help deliver his niece or nephew himself? And what then, he wondered - how on earth would they manage to care for a helpless infant in their current predicament?
Deliberately pushing those distracting thoughts to the back of his mind, he reached out and turned on the faucet, which spat out brown-coloured gunky liquid for a time before the water finally ran clear. Reaching down a dusty glass from the shelf above the sink, he rinsed it out, filled it to the brim, and then headed back into the bedroom with his offering.
"Thanks," Chloe said, sipping at the water gratefully. She had a little more colour in her cheeks now, which was encouraging, but she still looked incredibly tired and washed out even so.
Wyatt gently brushed her hair off her face and tenderly kissed her forehead. "I'm so sorry," he said in a stricken tone.
"For what?" Chloe said. "This is not your fault, Wyatt, and I'm okay now honestly. It was just a dizzy spell, nothing more. I think walking up those stairs took it out of me a bit, that's all."
Aware that she was only putting on a brave face, but also knowing that there wasn't much he could do about it right now, Wyatt reluctantly let his wife's non too subtle subterfuge pass. He silently vowed that he would be more aware that she wasn't quite as robust here as she was in their own time from now on however. Back home, her advancing pregnancy had only recently started to slow her down. Here though, it was evident that it took a much greater toll on her reserves of physical strength and apparently had done so for some time.
"I'm all right," Chloe repeated assuredly, setting aside the half-empty glass and taking his hands in hers. "We need to find the Book."
Wyatt nodded and looked at Chris, who leaned over and placed his hands over their interlaced fingers before orbing the three of them up to the attic. While his brother solicitously settled his weary wife on the couch, Chris took a quick look around the room. The attic was an inch thick in dust, but there were familiar items of furniture all around. The wooden bookstand in the centre of the room stood ominously empty however, and Chris felt his heart sink inside his chest.
"The Book's not here," he informed his brother and sister-in-law dejectedly.
"Do you think it's been destroyed?" Chloe asked fearfully.
Wyatt shook his head. "No, that's impossible."
"Since when?" Chris enquired, as he casually perched on the arm of sofa beside the two of them.
"Grams – Great-grams that is – told me that for as long as Charmed magic exists in the world, the Book of Shadows will remain. Chris still has his powers, so the Book has got be around somewhere."
"Maybe your Mom and Aunts hid it," Chloe suggested.
"Or it took steps to protect itself from those after it," Wyatt said.
"Couldn't you just summon it back then?" Chloe asked hopefully.
Wyatt smiled. "I'm sure we can come up with something," he assured her.
A glimmer of a memory fired in Chris's brain then, and he jumped to his feet. "We won't have to," he said elatedly, crossing the room to the empty bookstand in three long strides. "My other self already did it for us."
"What do you mean?" Wyatt asked, rising to his feet and going over to join his brother.
"I read his diaries, remember? He had to summon the Book away from your evil self because the spell to bring him to the past was in it."
"And he wrote down the summoning spell?"
Chris nodded in the affirmative. "Yeah, it was stapled to one of the diary pages. It should work for us too, right? I mean we want the Book for a similar reason, don't we? To make the future better?"
Wyatt nodded. "It's worth a try at least anyway," he said. "Can you remember it?"
"Yep, I think so. Umm, let me think…" Chris paused and closed his eyes, calling to mind those scrawled lines of verse.
"Got it!" he declared a few moments later. Placing his hands on the edge of the wooden frame, he drew in a deep breath. "Okay, here goes…"
"I call upon the ancient power,
To help us in this darkest hour.
Let the Book return to this place,
Claim refuge in its rightful space."
There was a sudden whooshing sound, a flicker of blue light, and then the Book of Shadows literally fell out of sky and landed with a heavy thud and a puff of dust atop of the lectern. "It worked!" Chris exclaimed delightedly.
"Thank you little brother number one," Wyatt cast gratefully at the ceiling, mightily relieved that something was going right for them at last.
Chris's triumphant smile quickly faded however. "All right, so now we've got it, exactly what are we looking for?" he said.
"I don't know, anything unusual," Wyatt returned. "We'll know it when we see it, I guess."
Needing to feel useful, he elbowed his little brother aside and started to leaf through the Book, looking for something - anything - that would give them a clue as to what was going on. The Book was thinner than Wyatt remembered, but he supposed that was understandable given the circumstances. In their own time, the Charmed Ones had been particularly prolific in their activities. Here though, the Book obviously hadn't been updated in a long while.
Leaving Wyatt to his search, Chris wandered idly about the attic, picking up and examining various items here and there. Pulling open a drawer, he discovered a faded scrying board and a small box holding a pearlescent pink scrying crystal. Realising that whatever happened from here on in, they would probably be needing magical supplies, he rummaged purposely through various taped-up cardboard boxes until he found a couple of battered knapsacks.
After loading the board and its accompanying crystal into one of the packs, he continued to scavenge for whatever else he could find that might be useful to them. A box of matches and several squat candles were a given, and he discovered a set of protection crystals in the back of one of the cupboards too. Potion-making ingredients and accompanying implements he would find in the kitchen, he reasoned, and so he straightened up, intending to orb downstairs to take a look.
He glanced over at Wyatt to let him know where he was going, but stopped when he saw the slight frown creasing his brother's forehead. "What is it?" he asked.
"It could be nothing," Wyatt said slowly, his eyes narrowed in thought. "But there's a spell here written by Dad."
"Is that unusual?" Chloe asked from where she was still ensconced on the sofa.
"For him to write in the Book? No, not really…" Wyatt replied absently.
"He usually only writes whitelighter stuff though," Chris pointed out.
Wyatt nodded. "I know. For him to write in a spell is definitely odd, and this one doesn't seem to make any sense."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, it doesn't say what it's for, for a start. And I can't really work it out either. It's some sort of summoning spell, I think."
Chris leaned across his brother and read the spell. "Weird!" he concluded.
"It could be a trap, of course," Wyatt went on pessimistically.
Chris wrinkled his nose. "Possibly," he concurred. "But that's not very likely, is it? I mean, that's definitely Dad's handwriting – which can be forged, I know, but do you really think that the Book would let just anyone write in it?"
"I guess not," Wyatt said.
"So give it a go then," Chris urged, nudging his brother encouragingly with his shoulder.
Wyatt was distinctly reluctant however. "Maybe you should do it," he said. "I mean with my powers gone…"
"The Power of Three spell worked for us downstairs," Chris reminded him, "Which proves you're still a witch, even if your active powers have gone walkabout. Stop being such a defeatist, okay? It's seriously unbecoming, you know."
Wyatt had the grace to look ashamed of himself. "Sorry," he said contritely.
"It'll do you good not be Mr All-Powerful for a while," Chris went on. "It'll teach you some much needed humility, I reckon."
"Funny," Wyatt responded with dry sarcasm.
"I thought so," Chris returned with aplomb, and then playfully hit his brother upside the head. "Just get on with it, will you?"
Buoyed by his brother's seemingly unbreakable faith in him, Wyatt recited the spell in a clear, crisp voice:
"I bring forth from space and time,
An echo of my family line.
I seek nothing but truth and am guided by love,
Let a window open to the far-off heavens above."
As the last words of the spell died on his lips, the pages of the Book began to flutter as if blown by a force-ten gale until the heavy tome finally snapped shut with an audible thump. The triquetra symbol on its front cover began to glow a brilliant white, and then a spiral of silvery mist seemed to emerge from the Book itself. Twisting like a tornado, the glittery cloud arched high into the air, and then settled back down to earth where it coalesced into human form, much like a genie being freed from its bottle. This particular 'genie,' however, was not of the normal variety and also possessed a very familiar face…
"Dad!" both Wyatt and Chris exclaimed in shocked surprise.
Leo's face was grave as he looked between his two sons. "Boys," he greeted them solemnly. "You discovered our message then."
"Our message? What do you mean 'our message'?" Wyatt said. "What the hell is going on, Dad?"
Leo opened his mouth to reply, but Chris cut in before he could utter a word. "Are you from this time or our time?" he demanded. "What happened here? Why are we in crazy bizarro-land?"
Leo held up his hand to silence their questions. "I need you to listen carefully," he said urgently. "I don't have much time. This projection will only last for so long."
"What do you mean 'this projection'?" Wyatt queried with a frown.
"I'm not really here, Wyatt," his father explained. "I'm an echo of myself from before the shift. I'm here to give you certain instructions, but it's down to you how you act upon them."
"And could you actually be any more cryptic?" Chris remarked with dry sarcasm.
Leo shot his younger son a faint smile. "Well, if you'd let me explain without all the constant interruptions," he said lightly.
Both of his sons grinned at him. "Okay so we're listening," Wyatt said with an incline of his head.
"Time has a purpose," Leo told them gravely. "Its conclusion is an unimaginable way into the future, but the Elders and other magical beings were created to make sure that it reaches that ultimate goal. The past, future and present can all be changed, but Time has to stay within certain limits or it veers completely off course. That's essentially what's happened here – time has broken free of those set limits. It's what is called a 'parallax shift' and they're incredibly rare events. There have only been two other occurrences since the beginning of time. Each time the wrong has been righted though, and the progress of time has been restored to its intended path."
He paused and looked soberly at Wyatt. "We would have had more time to prepare if I'd realised what you'd seen," he said apologetically. "As it was though, we only had a few hours to act so there wasn't any time to warn you both. The Elders have made it so that your previous life's consciousness inhabits this time's version of yourselves. You need to find out the reason for the shift and correct it. If you don't, the result will be utter disaster."
"Well, that's gonna be kind of difficult without my powers," Wyatt remarked with heavy cynicism.
Leo frowned. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"My powers are gone, Dad."
Leo's eyes widened at that, and he immediately turned his questioning gaze on his other son.
"I'm still more or less in one piece," Chris answered his unspoken question, "Some of my powers are a little bit ropey though."
Leo nodded thoughtfully. "And what about your Mom, Aunts and I? Do you know if any of us survived the shift?" he enquired.
Wyatt shook his head. "No, we don't think so. It looks like the family left the Manor years ago. It was magically sealed when we got here – by a Power of Three spell - and Chris can't sense any of the others."
"You need to find out what happened here," Leo said. "It could give you some vital clues as to what caused this. The girls and I obviously took some preventive measures to protect you both. It stands to reason that we would have also left instructions for when you were old enough to take on the family legacy."
Wyatt nodded. "So, will we get our memories of this time at some point?" he asked.
Leo shrugged. "That, I don't know. It's possible but I wouldn't count on it. The first thing you need to do is find a way to restore your powers and then…"
"What if we can't?" Wyatt asked glumly. "Restore my powers, I mean."
"You can," Leo insisted firmly. "Weren't you listening before? I told you that magical beings were created to keep time on track and you are a crucial part of that, Wyatt. Your powers still exist, they have to. Whether you use them for good or for evil is the only variable in all of this. Your magical destiny is indestructible, that's the whole point."
"Okay," Wyatt said. "So I get my powers back. Then what?"
"That's up to you," his father replied. "You and your brother were chosen for a reason. I'm sure you won't have too much trouble figuring it out. Be creative. You're good at that."
Wyatt grinned. "So you're not going to offer any pointers then?" he said. "You're just gonna leave your only sons flailing about in the wind?"
Leo chuckled. "I think you know me better than that," he said. "You'll need some back up on this, so I suggest you seek out those you can trust to help you."
"A bit difficult that, seeing as you're all dead," Chris said harshly, speaking for the first time in a while. A horrible realisation was slowly beginning to dawn on him, a painful and undeniable truth that he subconsciously hadn't allowed himself to face up until now.
Wyatt cast a startled look at his brother. His tone of voice was decidedly belligerent and he could sense an underlying anger simmering in him as well. "What's eating you?" he asked bluntly.
"Oh nothing!" Chris exploded. "Just that the Elders – not to mention my own father - have somehow seen fit to let you keep your wife, but have conveniently forgotten my fiancée in all of this. She's in Oakenvale, not here with me. That means she doesn't remember, doesn't it?"
He glared at his Dad, his green eyes glittering with uncharacteristic enmity. "What's the matter? Aren't I worthy of the consideration?" he demanded bitterly.
Leo blanched at his son's venomous outburst, but then suddenly seemed to gather himself. "That had nothing to do with it, Chris," he remonstrated reproachfully. "Have you any idea what kind of power was involved in what we did? It was hard enough to extend the spell beyond Wyatt to you, let alone to anyone else."
"So why does Chloe remember then?" Chris shot back.
Having finally registered her presence, Leo studied his daughter-in-law carefully, his eyes narrowed in thought. Chloe had risen to her feet and crossed to join her husband, her expression stricken and guilty in the face of her brother-in-law's righteous anger. Wyatt slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him for support.
"I guess because of the baby," Leo eventually concluded. "The spell was directed at Wyatt and the baby's part of him, especially in vitro. In magical terms, the baby doesn't actually become a completely separate person until after he or she is born. His existence is irrevocably interwoven with that of his parents until then."
"So what you're saying is that the baby was affected by the Elder's spell because he or she is part of me," Wyatt said. "And that Chloe was affected because the baby is inside of her right now."
Leo nodded. "In roundabout terms, yes," he agreed. "Or at least that's the only logical explanation I can think of."
"So, when the baby's born, will I forget?" Chloe asked with fearful anxiety.
Her father-in-law shook his head. "No Chloe, it doesn't work like that," he reassured her. "The spell is cast now; it can't reverse itself in that way."
He turned his gaze back on his younger son. "Chloe was not chosen over Emily, nor Wyatt over you for that matter, Chris," he told him. "The spell was directed at you and your brother only. A few year's ago, it would've been your Mom and Aunts who got given the job. Now it's you, and you have a duty to do what must be done regardless of the personal cost."
"That's kind of harsh, Dad," Wyatt cut in when he saw his brother's jaw tighten in response to their father's strong words.
Leo didn't relent however. "It's meant to be," he said. "This isn't some walk in the park demon hunt. If you succeed, it'll probably be the most important thing you'll ever do in your entire lives. It took every bit of power the Elders possessed to set this up. Mankind and your family are depending on you to correct this, so don't let them – or us - down."
"Okay, so no pressure there then," Chris quipped with a watery little chuckle.
Leo's expression softened. "Don't think for a minute I don't feel for you," he said, reaching out to squeeze his second son's shoulder in quiet sympathy. "Of course I do, I'm your Dad…"
"I sense a big but coming…" Chris cut in wryly.
Leo smiled, recognising the inherent apology in the glibness of his son's words and accepting it with quiet grace. "I know it won't be easy, but you have to try to set your pain aside and focus on what it is you have to do. Use it as incentive if you like. Return the future to the way it was and you'll get Emily back."
"That's if the future goes back to the way it was before," Chris said. "There's no guarantee on that, is there?"
"Actually, this time, there is," Leo told him. "That's the nature of a parallax shift. It's not a gradual change. It's a cataclysmic one. Time has to return to exactly the same place before it can continue onwards. Reverse the shift and you'll wake up back in your own world - with Emily by your side."
Chris nodded, blinking back the tears that had risen unbidden to his eyes. Leo pulled him into a rough embrace and rubbed him comfortingly on the back. "You can do it," he assured him.
Chris nodded miserably against his father's shoulder, and then drew in a deep breath and stepped back. Leo shot him a speculative look then, one eyebrow raised in question. "Fiancée?" he enquired pointedly.
"Oh, umm… yeah," Chris admitted sheepishly, ducking his head as an uncharacteristic flush of self-consciousness coloured his cheeks.
"You were planning on telling us at some point, I presume?" Leo said.
"Of course. It was just that last night…" Chris glanced over at Chloe and stopped. "Umm, well, never mind."
Leo chuckled. "It's okay, I think I get it," he said, fully aware of the entertainment to be gained from thwarting the Halliwell sisters' passionate ambition to make over your love life. He and Piper had endured the same thing on occasion in their early days of their relationship, but their sons had definitely copped the worst of it. Chloe had similarly overbearing designs on her cousin's happiness it appeared.
"I swear I'm going to kill Emily when we get back home!" the blonde witch declared indignantly, her violet-blue eyes wide with outrage.
Chris laughed in spite of himself. "Well, if you'd ever learned the meaning of the word 'subtle'…" he told her impishly.
Chloe poked her tongue out at him and Leo smiled. "Congratulations son," he said with heartfelt sincerity.
"Yeah - it's about time, bro," Wyatt concurred with a grin, clapping his brother on the shoulder.
Chloe stared at her husband in disbelief. "Whatever happened to 'what does it matter as long as they're happy'?" she enquired.
"That was just a buffer against your match-making ambitions," he told her cheekily and she pouted at him in mock annoyance.
Chris sighed. "Do you think we could get back to the point?" he asked rather plaintively. "This doesn't seem right somehow, not without Emily here."
Leo nodded. "I think my time is getting short anyway," he said, holding up his hand. The outline of his body was beginning to blur and was becoming distinctly fuzzy-looking.
"You haven't given us much to go on," Wyatt complained, as his father reached out to hug him farewell.
"That's because I don't know much," Leo said.
"So how are we supposed to make things right again then?" Chris asked.
"There'll be signs and portents to help with that," Leo said, "Both here and in our own time. Time, destiny, whatever you want to call it, isn't completely passive, you know. It'll have left clues for you to find along the way. Think of it as a unique kind of treasure hunt if you want. You need to search here for clues and think back over what has happened in the last few years back home too. Put everything together and you'll have your answer."
"You said we should seek out those we trust for help," Wyatt said. "But how do we know who we can trust?"
"You'll know, Wyatt. Those you trusted in your own time are the people you can trust now, provided nothing has come about to lead them down the wrong path. People don't genetically alter when time changes, life's influence on them does."
Wyatt nodded solemnly. "You're suggesting we build some sort of army," he said with some distaste, his whitelighter instincts baulking at the idea.
Leo smiled. "Isn't that what you were doing in your own time?" he argued sagely. "It may have been relatively passive and non-regimented in nature, but it was an army all the same. It's who you are, Wyatt, who you were born to be, and you can't escape from it."
Wyatt opened his mouth to reply to that, but the air around Leo suddenly seemed to crackle and his image broke up like a TV that had lost transmission. "Dad?" he asked frantically.
There was a slight pop and the Elder solidified again. "It's time," he told them, his voice sounding as if it was coming from faraway. "Good Luck boys, and never forget that your family loves you."
"We won't," Wyatt assured him.
"We'll see you when we get back home," Chris said, trying to sound upbeat but not completely succeeding.
"I'm counting on it," Leo returned with a wink. "I have another marriage blessing to perform, don't I?"
He smiled warmly at them, his blue-green eyes twinkling with fatherly affection. Then, with a flicker and another pop, he was gone.
Chris immediately turned to his brother. "So, what now?" he asked.
Meanwhile, in Oakenvale…
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Emily Hargreaves looked up to find her mother standing over her. She'd escaped into the garden of their rather rundown little house at dawn's first light, and had been sitting with her back against a tree, staring into space ever since. Bella had provided her with a simple breakfast of toast with peanut butter and a glass of milk about an hour ago. Evidently, she had now decided to take steps to confront her daughter's obvious distraction as well.
Emily shrugged noncommittally in answer, but taking this as a partial yes; Bella sat down on the fragrant grass next to her daughter and waited for her to speak.
"It's kind of hard to explain," Emily eventually said. "I have this strange feeling… That something is about to happen, something unexpected. I know it's crazy but…"
Bella shook her head. "No, no, it's not," she said. "You're a witch, Emily, and there's a certain innate intuitiveness associated with that. It's always wise to listen to that inner voice. More often that not, it's trying to tell you something important."
Emily nodded, and then looked down at her hands resting in her lap. "I dreamed about Chloe again last night too," she admitted softly.
Bella sighed. "Honey…"
"I know…" Emily quickly interrupted. "I know she's probably dead, Mom, I'm not stupid. People who are taken – they almost never return, I know that. I just… I'm not ready to let go of hope yet, I guess."
"Sweetie, it's been almost three years now. God knows, we've all been through hell, but we need to try to move on. Your Uncle and Aunt have managed to put aside their grief and rediscover their purpose in life - I think it's time for you to follow their example and do the same. You're stagnating here, Emily. Living day-to-day is no kind of life for anyone, especially not for someone as bright and vibrant as you."
Emily sighed. "I don't feel particularly vibrant right now," she said despondently.
"And what do you think Chloe would say to that?" her mother asked pointedly.
"Something along the lines of 'Stop being such a pathetic excuse for a human being and pull yourself together, girl'," Emily replied.
"Exactly," Bella said. "And you're doing her an injustice if you ignore that. You owe her so much more."
Emily's lips twisted into a wry little smile. "You have a way with words, you know that?" she said lightly.
Bella cupped her daughter's sad face in her hands and kissed her on the forehead. "I just want you to start living again, honey."
Emily nodded, then stood up and dusted herself off. "I think I might go into town and hang out for a while," she said.
Bella smiled as she also rose to her feet. "That sounds like an excellent idea," she commended. "Just make sure you're back before curfew, okay?"
"I will, Mom."
Emily leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, and then turned on her heel and went back into the house. Bella watched her go with some relief. Finally – maybe – they were getting somewhere at long last…
Back at the Manor…
"So, what now?"
Wyatt looked at his brother, who had, with those three seemingly innocuous words, just placed the responsibility squarely back on his shoulders where he obviously felt it belonged. Chris would continue to back him up, but the inference was clear – any further self-pity over his lack of powers would no longer be tolerated. The time for wallowing in his misfortune was over.
A plaintive 'why me?' hovered on Wyatt's lips, but he didn't voice it. Deep down, he knew why. He was a born leader and Chris, an effective second-in-command. His brother would take over where necessary and direct his steps if he faltered. Ultimately, though, he did not have the discipline required to lead. He was just that little bit too erratic and unpredictable. Wyatt had a much more solid and steadfast personality however. He was their father's son whereas Chris was overtly their mother's. Their parent's long and happy marriage had already proved that to be a good balance, and he and his brother's strong friendship was an additional testament to that.
"We stay here," he decided, "For the time being at least anyway. Mom and the Aunts magically sealed the Manor for a reason, and I don't think it was just because they didn't want it ransacked. I think it was because they knew we'd find our way back here one day."
"We should check out where our other selves have been staying too," Chris said. "There could be some clues there."
Wyatt nodded in agreement. "First though, I think breakfast is in order. I don't know about anyone else but my intestines are threatening to devour themselves right now."
"And where are we going to get food from?" Chloe demanded peevishly. "The Manor's obviously been shut up for years and, in case you hadn't noticed, none of us are looking particularly well-nourished. Something tells me food is in pretty short supply around here."
Chris exchanged a startled look with his brother, rather surprised by his sister-in-law's irritable outburst. Chloe was normally so sunny-natured; it was Emily whose moods changed with the direction of the wind. No, he chastised himself as a sudden anguish twisted his insides, don't think about Emily. Dwelling on it would only make the pain worse.
"We do have certain advantages," Wyatt told his wife in a mollifying tone. "Maybe our other selves just didn't know that they did."
"Didn't know what?" Chloe said, "How to produce food out of thin air?"
Wyatt grinned. "Exactly."
Chris closed his eyes with a groan. "Fabulous," he said.
"What?" his brother enquired.
"In case you've forgotten, you don't have your powers right now, and I'm not very good at this. A complete disaster at it in fact."
Chloe frowned. "I didn't know you had the power to conjure," she said to her husband.
"I don't – well, not in the pure sense anyway. A proper conjurer calls objects forth with his or her mind. You can do it with a spell however."
"Except it's notoriously problematical," Chris cut in. "You have to get the wording and the intonation exactly right, or you end up with the wrong thing – i.e. a live cow rather than hamburger." He shuddered. "Some people find it easy, but other people – like me – definitely don't."
"I think my orbing power helps with that," Wyatt went on, taking over the narrative. "It's a closely related thing, except with orbing you're calling forth an object that already exists, whereas with conjuring you're producing it from nothing."
"But isn't telekinesis similar too?" Chloe asked.
Wyatt shook his head. "No, that's a completely different kind of visualisation. With TK, you're moving stuff with your mind, whereas with orbing and conjuring you're basically requesting that it come to you."
"Don't worry, I never really got the distinction either," Chris said off Chloe's confused look, "But he's right, his conjuring spells do always work – I think because he doesn't just say the words, he thinks them as well."
"You wouldn't necessarily need your powers to do that then, would you?" Chloe said to Wyatt.
"Umm, I think it's a bit more complicated than that," he replied. "When I conjure with a spell, everything appears out of blue orb lights."
"She's right though, Wyatt," Chris cut in. "You don't need your active powers to do it. They just give you an extra advantage."
"I guess," Wyatt said rather dubiously.
"I still think it'd be safer than letting me try," Chris said. "You do remember the nymphets, don't you?"
Wyatt grinned widely. "Oh yeah!" he said, his blue eyes sparkling with laughter.
"Nymphets?" Chloe questioned.
"I was actually aiming for wood nymphs," Chris told her, "Only I miscalculated somewhat."
Chloe frowned. "Aren't they the same thing?"
"Umm… not exactly. Wood nymphs are sweet, naïve and completely innocent. Nymphets, however, are definitely not and they're also… err, somewhat aggressive."
Wyatt laughed at that. "I'll say," he concurred emphatically.
Chloe looked long-sufferingly between the two grinning brothers. "I take it they're aggressive in a way I really don't want to know about?" she said primly.
Chris laughed. "Don't worry; nothing improper happened – not for want of trying on their part though, I have to admit. I didn't think Bianca would be very impressed however, and Wyatt's got no sense of adventure so…"
"Hey!" Wyatt protested, thumping his brother on the shoulder. "That had nothing to do with it. I have more discerning tastes that's all."
Chloe shook her head with a helpless little laugh. "Just when I think I've heard it all," she said. "Oh and good answer by the way," she told her husband.
He grinned at her and then his expression turned serious again. "Okay, I'll give it a try," he said.
"The conjuring spell, I meant," he added off his brother's distinctly juvenile snicker.
Chris grinned and then headed for the attic doorway. "I'll see you two downstairs," he said over his shoulder, "Gotta answer a rather urgent call of nature first if you know what I mean."
"Okay so too much information," Wyatt said with a grimace.
Chris laughed and then clattered down the attic stairs ahead of them; jumping the last four or five steps in one huge bound before he disappeared into the bathroom. Wyatt and Chloe followed at a more sedate pace, then took the second flight of steps down to ground floor and went through into the kitchen.
"You will get your powers back, you know," Chloe said, instinctively picking up on her husband's inner disquiet even though he hadn't voiced it.
Wyatt paused in the act of retrieving various items of crockery from the cupboards. "It's not that," he told her. "I'm just a bit worried about how Chris is going to cope with all of this."
"All of what?" Chloe asked as she lowered her cumbersome form into one of the kitchen chairs.
Wyatt sighed. "You heard what Dad said about seeking out those we can trust," he replied. "And, apart from my family, there's only one other person I would put at the top of that list."
"Emily," Chloe said with a sigh.
Wyatt nodded. "Yeah," he agreed softly. "I don't know what it'd be like to have someone you love look at you with absolutely no recognition in their eyes, but I can certainly imagine. And it's not just that, is it? We don't know what her life is like here, do we?"
"I'm not sure I follow," Chloe said.
"What if she has a boyfriend? Or even worse, is married or has a kid or something?"
"But Emily'd never…" Chloe started and then trailed off with a sigh. "Well, she wouldn't if she knew," she amended.
"But she doesn't, does she?" Wyatt pointed out. "And she could hardly be blamed if she was involved with someone. Chris has no claims over her in this life, nor does she have any obligations to him. To all intents and purposes, they're strangers."
"So maybe we should leave her out of this," Chloe said.
"No," a voice said from the doorway. They both turned to see Chris standing there, his expression strained but strangely determined.
"She's our best way into this world," he said grimly. "It's not just a case of us finding people that we trust to help us; they've got to trust us too. Whatever else this life has made her; Emily is still your cousin, Chloe. She'll trust you and, in turn, she'll grow to trust us as well."
"That all sounds very nice and logical, Chris," Chloe said, "But we're not dealing with logic here, are we? We're dealing with emotions and they can be pretty unpredictable. Do you honestly think you can handle it?"
"I have to," Chris told her. "I don't have any other choice."
"And what about afterwards?" Chloe ploughed on, "When you get home? What if it makes you look at her in a different light? What if you end up resenting her for something that her other self did? What then?"
"I won't," Chris said firmly. "That much I do know. I have enough experience of having an 'other self' to know that one is not responsible for, or beholden to the actions and choices of the other. It'd be pretty hypocritical of me to apply different rules to Emily than I've done to myself, don't you think?"
"Facing the reality might be easier said than done though, Chris," Wyatt pointed out wisely.
"Maybe," Chris said with a shrug. "You weren't actually going to suggest that we don't contact her though, were you?" he added knowingly.
Wyatt shifted rather uncomfortably. Personal loyalties and destined responsibilities were sometimes a tricky mix to manage. In this case though, with everything that was at stake…
"I didn't think so," Chris answered for him.
"I'm sorry; it's not that I don't…"
"Wyatt, I get it, okay?" Chris cut in. "Don't get your boxers in a wad. It's probably going to be horribly painful, but I'm not stupid, I know it's what we have to do. If we don't, we might not find a way home, and then there won't be a me and Emily to worry about anyway."
He lifted his green-eyed gaze to his brother's blue-eyed one. "I'm just going to have to deal, I guess."
Wyatt nodded. "Just don't think you have to put on a brave face all the time, okay?" he said.
Chris inclined his head in response to that, and then forcibly shook off the gloomy despondency that had settled like a persistent rain cloud above his head.
"So, were you planning on feeding us anytime soon?" he asked pointedly. "Or do we have to revert to cannibalism for nourishment? Cus I've gotta say, bro, out of the three of us here, you're definitely the one with the most meat on his bones…"
To be continued…
A/N2: The little Emily scene is deliberately vague btw. You're going to go on the same voyage of discovery as the boys, although you will have some insider information here and there! ;-) Oh, and I made up all the stuff about the 'parallax shift' too - I have a supremely overactive imagination! LOL!