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20 May 2012 @ 10:32 pm
The Lady in the Lake (Binding Ties)  

A/N: A quote in this chapter is adapted from 1x17, “That '70s Episode”.





Piper found it easier, after her father had left, to focus on the lead up to Paige's grand finale. An afternoon at work barely kept her mind from replaying the image of Paige moving that glass, and the accompanying pain on her father's face. “You choked,” she said, as she and Phoebe finally climbed the stairs to bed that night. “He was asking a perfectly good question, and you choked.”

Phoebe tried to suppress a scowl, not quite succeeding as they came to the second floor. “A perfectly good question would have been 'so how's the club doing, Piper?' You know, keep the focus on the stable part of our lives right now.”

“Phoebe...” It's a weary plea to not open the can of worms they just spent so much time stuffing back down, and the sort of plea for peace in the family that Piper Halliwell has made all her life. I don't know how to do anything else.

Phoebe plupped herself down on the top stair, and sighed. “I can't do it, Piper. I know he meant well, and I guess I'm even flattered a little. But I don't know how I'm supposed to go out in the world and try to find 'a way to use my talent' when I just lost,” she really did choke up then, and Piper quickly sat down beside her, “the one person who could've really guided me and understood and --

Piper pulled her close, hugging Phoebe against her side, the way they had comforted each other when they were little. “And what am I, chopped liver?” And then they were laughing and crying, clinging to each other. When her sobs eased a little, Piper said softly, “Do you remember when she got her very first paycheck from the museum?”

A teary laugh. “How could I forget? She wouldn't talk about anything else for days.”

Piper nodded, wistfully. “When she got home, though, Grams was giving me an earful about the mortgage and the water bill. She walked right into it. And she just took out her paycheck and handed it over.”

Phoebe sat up slightly. “I must've been off doing something.”

Piper squeezed her shoulder. “The point is, the club is fine, Phoebe. Go out and figure out how to do what you're good at. What you love doing.” They looked sidelong at each other, leaving unspoken,
What Prue didn't have the freedom to do until almost too late. “That's what she would have wanted, what she would have told you to do.”

Phoebe nodded, her face streaked with tears.

Two days, two blissfully normal regular days, passed before Paige called them again. That is, of course, she called the Manor on her lunch break and Phoebe picked up.

I need to confess something.” She doesn't know what rule she broke, but her disgust with herself for going behind their backs has only grown. The little tale tumbled out, and Paige finished by saying, “I'm not used to, I don't know, coordinating my personal life before I do something. But I don't do deception very well, either.”

Well, that's good to know, Paige.” And even as the sarcastic words came out of her mouth, she thought, Who does she remind you of, hm? “But we're a trio. Maybe Piper and I do it because we don't know any different, but it's who you are, too.”

On her cell at the little coffee shop she always ducked into when she had the cash, Paige merely nodded along to Phoebe's words, until high pitched shouts caught her ear. She turned her head, and by the entrance to the cafe two little girls were intensely discussing the stickers on a notebook one of them carried. (You don't have bears. Why don't you have bears? 'Cuz I'd rather have stars!) She watched them for a few beats, until she heard Phoebe's voice say, “Paige?”

Yeah, yeah, I'm here. What were you saying about the -- ?” Some instinct she couldn't name made her lower her voice.

Phoebe raised her eyebrows to the empty living room. “The wiccan rede? Yeah, I really think we need to have that discussion in person. And I had an idea I wanted to discuss with you anyway.”

They agreed Paige would come over that night. Phoebe hung up feeling like she was gradually finding a balance again.

Telling Piper about her idea late that afternoon didn't prove quite as difficult as Phoebe had feared. She hastened to add, “After we give her a serious lecture on personal gain, I mean.” They were leaning on the kitchen counter, where Piper had started a list of all the final things they needed to resolve for Prue.

Show her the lake.” The idea made even more sense when Piper said it, and Phoebe was encouraged enough to say, “Maybe even start teaching her all of the,” she waved her hand at the four gallon brewing and cooking pot and at the cabinets full of cooking and potion herbs, “knowledge that Grams gave you. You know, what's positive about our magic.”

Piper nodded thoughtfully. “But first things first.”

Go easy on her, okay?” Phoebe laughed a little. “She definitely committed personal gain with her heart in a better place than we ever...”

Piper rolled her eyes, but laughed too, fondly remembering. “Sometimes I almost think we're still dealing with the consequences of that love spell.”

Okay.” Paige sat across from them over dinner that night. “Nothing I do with magic can be for my personal benefit.”

They nodded. Phoebe added, “Not even when it would also benefit someone else.” She consciously avoided Piper's eyes. “Or even when it would teach someone a lesson.” Paige looked up, quickly.

Phoebe, curious about the story behind that look, only said, “The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing.”

Piper, wanting to avoid discussion of that topic at all costs, rose to clear their plates. “Besides, we really don't need to go looking for trouble to deal with. It,” she turned into the kitchen, and gave a slight shriek, “It usually finds us!”

Phoebe and Paige were hurrying into the kitchen an instant later. Out of the sink had come a young Asian-American woman, dressed for a martial arts lesson and brandishing a long thin sword, which she sheathed at her waist as soon as she saw the three of them. Warily, they inched toward her. She extended her hands in supplication.

My name is Su Lin. I am the daughter of the shaolin master Chen Guang. Before he died my father embued his most prized weapon, the dragon blade, with his great gifts.” She stopped, and looked at them. “

Phoebe recovered her voice first. “His great gifts?” Piper was still eyeing her sink in suspicious awe

The woman, Su Lin, nodded gravely. “My father had the ability to use water as a looking glass into other worlds. He developed it through many years of work. The blade can also trap human souls. It was a great inspiration to his students.”

Telling herself the woman needed a towel, Phoebe started toward the laundry room. “Then one of these students got greedy.” She doesn't see the impressed look Paige directed at her back.

They guided her to the living room, and she said, once she was settled on the sofa, “Yen-Lo was one of the best students my father had, but he always assumed he was the best. He assumed he could do whatever he wished with my father's teachings. When my father passed him over for master, he swore vengence. When I saw what he had done, I challenged him with the dragon blade, but I did not suceed in killing him.” She gestured as if to say, “and here I am.”

Damn, Paige thought to herself, looking from Phoebe to Piper. After-school special much?

You want us to find him and ... .” Piper was matter-of-fact; she couldn't, no, she just plain did not want to have to deal with this, their first true innocent after Prue's death. Get it over with. The better to return to healing themselves.

Yen-Lo is holding my father in the mystical region between life and death where souls wait for reincarnation, a realm where all mortal wounds are healed.” To Piper's baffled look she smiled slightly and said, “Limbo.”

Trying to surreptitiously glance toward the kitchen, Piper replied. “Do you have a way to get there?”

Su Lin shook her head.

Come on.” They went upstairs to the book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Phoebe and Paige ducked through Chinatown shop after Chinatown shop, searching for powdered toadstool. That was the ingredient that would help them brew a potion to transport them to Limbo. Or so Piper hoped.

Phoebe, frankly, was just glad for the chance to talk to Paige, just the two of them. “So,” she said conversationally, “Forget the exciting stuff. About ninety percent of magic is plain old legwork.”

The third shop they tried finally did have toadstool in stock. As they were exiting the shop, Phoebe handed the bag with the herb to Paige. “Start looking it over. We're going to actually be using it in just a few minutes.”

But only a few seconds later, they passed some workers hosing down the sidewalk. The water had pooled by the curb. They started across California Street without a second thought, and halfway, Yen-Lo appeared behind them. “Su Lin ran to witches. Typical. She never had what it took.” His hands were around Phoebe's wrists before his presence registered, and he jumped back into the puddle, pulling her with him, before Paige or even Phoebe herself could appreciate what he'd done.

Phoebe!” Paige called. Self-conscious only of the fact that she looked crazy shouting at a water puddle, she glanced around her. The sun had set an hour ago, and the street was almost entirely empty.

She took a deep breath, and stuck out her hand. “Here goes nothing. Puddle!” Light blue ripples appeared on the surface,of the puddle, but she was definitely not sucked into Limbo. Next she tried to orb, and even to her amazement, she actually did, but directing herself into the puddle proved impossible.

Okay, two options down, but I've still got one. This time, she orbed straight for the Manor.

Materializing in the dining room, she sighed relief and then called, “Piper! I've got the toadstool, but we have a problem.”

She could see Piper was making an effort not to run from the kitchen, with Su Lin at her heels.

And even through her fear, she thought, How to Handle Innocents 101. Nice one, Piper.

What, Paige?” Again, the effort to project calm collectedness in her voice.

Out with it. “Yen-Lo ambushed us. He grabbed Phoebe, and pulled her into limbo.” She reached out, desperate suddenly for Piper to know she had tried. “I tried everything I could think of to get in, but the puddle didn't move.”

Piper, suddenly as calm and focused as Paige had ever seen her, turned to Su Lin. “I think we've found a safer way in.” The woman began to protest, but Piper shook her head. “You came to us for a reason.

So now you need to trust us.” She looked at Paige. “The potion's almost ready.”

After adding the toadstool, the potion turned a lime green. Paige looked doubtfully at Piper, who simply handed her a glass. “We've drunk worse. Trust me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yen-Lo pushed Phoebe ahead of him as they came to the portal. “It's a nice place, limbo,” she said in a tone of conversational sarcasm, as they passed what looked like a raging volcano in the distance. “I can see why you'd want to hang around.” She could feel the edge of something against her back, and although she knew it wasn't the dragon blade, no sudden movements seemed like the right plan.

Story of my life this past week.

Ahead, she could see the old man who must be the master, Chen. On reflex, she called out to him in an even voice, “Are you all right?” She saw his nod, and felt the blade press into her back as Yen-Lo told her to shut up. Then she felt a yank, and she was standing in the Manor's kitchen, blinking at Piper.

Uh, Piper? You want to clue me in on the plan here?” She nodded apologetically at Su Lin, across their island kitchen work table.

As she did so, she caught a glimpse of the reflection on the side of the stainless steel pot. And only the presence of the innocent whose father she had just seen at knifepoint kept her from shrieking outright:

Paige's face stared back at her. She brought her hands up. And they were Paige's. She looked up at Piper. “What did you do?!”

Piper simply raised an eyebrow at her potion. “I realized that even though it scares me, I've got to start acting like the leader of this family, especially when it comes to magic.” She looked up at, well, at Phoebe's soul. “I've got to trust her sometime, and it's not like any of us knows how to handle this.”

You are very brave. “ They turned to Su Lin, who was considering Piper. “I cannot imagine anyone but my father leading the shaolin or teaching his students, and I certainly can't imagine taking his place.”

Piper shook her head wryly. “Oh, I'm not there yet, believe me, but trusting myself has worked better than anything else. I'd say you've got to give that a shot.” She turned to Phoebe-as-Paige. “I'm betting that even in your body she can still orb. And that means she can get the shaolin master out of there.”

Phoebe-as-Paige shook her head in turn. “How? She can't fight Yen-Lo, Piper.”

Su Lin suddenly became very still. “She doesn't have to fight him. That's what he wants. She simply has to push him into reincarnation.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She wasn't prepared for how dark and stormy limbo was. Or the serenity on the shaolin master's face. Or the blade she could feel pressed into her—no, Phoebe's back. Don't even breath until you make your move, she told herself. They inched closer to the portal, and Paige-as-Phoebe made eye contact with the master. Then she held out a hand and called, “Blade!”

The knife did not come as quickly as the water glass had, but it did come. Paige-as-Phoebe spun away from Yen-Lo before he could grab her, pointing the blade toward him the whole time. “I'm going to get you out of here,” she said to the master, never taking her eyes off Yen-Lo. “Your daughter is waiting for you.”

The master shook his head, even as Yen-Lo started to chuckle evilly. “My daughter waits, even though she is not in limbo. She must let me go, and see her own place.” He smiled sagely at her. “As you and your sisters must do.” He stepped toward the portal, and gestured to it. “Remind my daughter: every great loss is a new beginning.”

And with that, he jumped into the reincarnation portal. Paige-as-Phoebe only had two seconds to be shocked, because Yen-Lo immediately advanced on her, reaching for the dagger. All she could do was twist and weave to avoid him, manuevring so that even as they grappled for control of the blade he was the one with his back almost up against the portal.

Witches,” he spat, almost wrenching away the blade. “Who are you to say who is the better shaolin master?” And he pulled the blade from her hands, pointing it at her heart and ducking away from the portal. “You know nothing, any of you. And you are just a silly little girl playing a game you don't understand.”

She was too close to the portal, and from the glint in his eye, Yen-Lo knew that. He jabbed the dagger at her, and she was pushed off balance. She only had time to grab his wrist before they were pulled through the portal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the whirling and spinning stopped, she was standing just at the edge of a grove of trees, through which she could hear and glimpse water, and small boats. At least I still feel human. She felt her hands, lifted them up, and they were hers. Wanting to be absolutely sure, and seeing no one, she ran towards the water to double check.

She saw the dock, and beyond it, a lake. She walked up to the water's edge, glancing around to make sure no one could tell she'd just appeared, seemingly from nowhere. It was at least 10 pm by this point, and the dark certainly helped. The wood-sided buildings set back on a surrounding ridge suggested a camp or retreat of some kind. And it's still only May, she thought. More sure, she turned back to the water – and was perhaps a bit too surprised to find her own reflection staring back at her by the light of the waxing moon.

She had just looked up again when she saw the glow. Some kind of light, one that wasn't coming from this side of the lake or – she squinted to make out – the other side, either. Then, softly, a woman's voice. “Paige. Paige.”

Startled, she tried to locate the origin of the sound. The light on the water's surface grew in surface area and intensity, until she could see an ephemeral image of a woman moving toward her. The woman was smiling, a small smile, and Paige realized that smile, that face, looked familiar. My adoption file. Her adoptive parents had been very open about the facts of the adoption as they knew them, and she'd been given the file when she'd first seriously asked at ten, with a grainy, probably high school aged photo of Patricia Halliwell.

Knowing what she did now, she wondered at this woman, her mother, even revealing that much of her identity.

Don't be afraid.” The image (ghost? spectre? shadow?) stopped right in front of her. Paige felt her heart do what seemed like a somersault, but it wasn't from fear.

Mom?” The smile broadened, and Patty nodded, encouragingly. But Paige was still confused. “How? Why? Why here?”

Patty tilted her head, but the smile barely wavered. “Because once the Elders discovered you, they realized it was because of your own mortal search, and they wanted to reward that. And after all they put us through, I insisted.” Paige blinked, taking that in. Against her training, and her own growing contentment with this new life, family, and destiny, against all that, she wanted to say, I'm sorry I was the cause of so much fear and pain in your life. But she remembered Yen-Lo's taunt, and realized that understanding, not knowledge, and certainly not narcissitic pity, was what she had been after.

She reached out a hand, not expecting to touch anything, and was shocked by the bracing coolness of contact with whatever substance her mother was made of now. It's like lake water.

Paige met her mother's eyes, which were filled with such fondness and sadness that the words almost, almost stuck in her throat. “You died here.”

Patty nodded, and Paige could barely make out the transparent tears glistening in her eyes. Yet there was a firm determination in Patty's voice when she said, “I fought my last demon here, and I lost.”

Part of Paige knew she should feel like running away then, from the very real pain coming from such an unreal cause. The kids she worked to help, their birth parents died of drug overdoses, or cirrhosis of the liver, or, well, car accidents like the one that --. Don't go there. The rest of her, though, couldn't look away from what she had wanted for longer than she cared to admit.

She couldn't think of anything else to say, and there was nothing that sounded completely right or fitting. She simply asked what she wanted to understand. “Was it worth it?” Paige said this nearly at a whisper, gazing at the water, the dock at the edge of her peripheral vision. Patty followed her eyes, and focused on the dock, remembering.

She'd realized what Sam was running to tell her just as she turned back toward the demon and it engulfed her. My mother was right. I've got the plan, but I don't have the power. It took a nanosecond to understand why and squash the panic. The moments she had left were filled with remorse and relief in more or less equal measure. They're all safe. I'm hurting them worse than anything else ever could. She's loved and cared for, and she'll do good, mortal good. They'll never forgive me. They're Halliwells, they'll understand one day...

It's what we do. I knew that innocent children were dying, and that I could find a way to stop that.” Only that, and nothing else, could have torn Paige away from her meditative consideration of the water.

I actually get that from her, not just from my adoption experience. The hope this idea gave her lit her face, and Patty felt encouraged enough to add, “I knew you and your sisters were okay, and that you'd be okay. Safe.”

Paige shook her head, bringing forward the obvious yet newly painful thought that had needed to be voiced ever since Piper and Phoebe approached her in P3. “You meant for me to live a mortal life. I was never supposed to have any idea...”

Slowly, Patty nodded. But then she lifted her chin, and said, “I'm going to tell you something I once told your sisters. Something that is even more true for you.” Paige gulped, thinking of that folded piece of stationary in a box.

I would rather have loved you, as a mortal daughter, than have had to mourn you as a dead witch.” Patty half-shrugged, her translucent hands out-stretched, and even just by moonlight Paige could see it was a gesture of pragmatic desperation. “And we knew, sweetheart, that they would come after us, after you, if you stayed with us. But it was the hardest thing either of us,” that fond, knowing smile again, “the hardest thing your father and I ever had to do.”

Paige barely registered that there were tears in her eyes before the swell of cricket chirps into the night silence reminded her: Yen-Lo. Su-Lin and her sisters were still awaiting her triumphant return. Patty noticed, and said gently, “Go. They'll worry.” Paige nodded again, and all of a sudden she had to bite her lip to keep it from trembling. Patty held out her hands, palms upright, and after a beat Paige pressed her own palms against them. That deep bracing coolness again, and Paige was at once fiercely grateful for this chance meeting, and full of grief that she'd never get the chance to feel the comforting warmth of this woman she was beginning to even mentally refer to as “Mom”.

You're meant to heal this family, Paige. I couldn't have asked for a better destiny for you than that.”

They share a teary smile. Her gratitude and grief were reflected back to her, and it takes everything she has not to throw herself towards the spirit. Instead, she pulled back, taking backwards steps up the sand. Patty smiled, despite her tears, and said, “Welcome back, sweetheart. I love you.”

Paige was nearly overcome, and she had to focus, because she was still scared half the time that she'd orb herself onto the middle of Pacific Coast Highway or something. But as she let the adrenaline wash over her and dissolve into blue, she mouthed, I love you, Mom.

Patty held her composure until the last orb disappeared, and then she let the tears she had held back nearly twenty-four years ago fall, transparent, down her face.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The easy words come out of her mouth the instant she is back in the Manor's kitchen. She says to Su Lin, “Your father told me to tell you that you must let him go, and see that you are the shaolin master now.” They looked at her, a bit stunned by how calm and sure, almost serene, she sounded, looked. Piper and Phoebe exchanged a furtive glance, one that said, What the heck happened?

Su Lin still looked unsure. “He wouldn't come with you?”

Paige shook her head. “You have to embrace the new beginning you've been given, Su Lin. You don't have Yen-Lo holding you back from your destiny anymore.” As their innocent took that in, Piper and Phoebe shooed Paige over to the breakfast nook.

Piper, seizing on the one definable thing, said slowly, and almost sweetly, “Paige, where's Yen-Lo?”

Paige's guilty cringe was smaller than it could have been. And her voice was only slightly sarcastic when she replied, “Chirping the night away by a lake somewhere, I guess.” His transformation must have been instanteous, she realized.

Piper and Phoebe exchanged another look, one of hope against hope, and Phoebe said carefully, “Any idea which lake?”

You're meant to heal this family.  Paige nodded.  "The one," she said gently, "where Mom was killed."