Charmed Role Reversal



A Streetcar Named Halliwell

“Well, that's three and a half hours of a lovely afternoon that we've just wasted," Stuart said, as he and Piper began walking down the block.  They had just come out through the office building's revolving doors onto a still somewhat busy Drumm Street. They passed the California Street cable car line terminus, reached the corner, and after letting a car and a tourist bus complete their turns, began crossing Market Street.

There was still some thirty minutes until sunset but the sun, blocked as it was by the tall buildings, could only indirectly cast it's late day light on downtown San Francisco.  Piper and Stuart walked underneath the overhead trolley car wire, crossed over the tracks and waited at the stop, two short blocks from The Embarcadero, for the trolley car to take them back to The Manor.

"Yes, it was a waste. There are other things I would have rather been doing this afternoon," Piper admitted.  "But we can't afford to be picky."

After a moment, the trolley car, wearing its orange livery, an occasional spark visible from its trolley pole, pulled up at the curb. Piper put her hand into the pocket of her brown blazer and pulled out her monthly MUNI pass. It had been Stuart's idea for them to buy the passes, not knowing how long The Elders would keep them in San Francisco, and it had proved to be worth having on the occasions when they couldn't use the car. As had been the case when they had come downtown earlier that afternoon.

They hopped aboard, flashed their passes at the operator, and took a seat near the middle of the car.

"We have to follow any lead we have," Piper said, "no matter how un-likely it seems."

"Yes, of course we do," Stuart agreed, as the operator sounded the bell and the trolley car left the stop.  "But it's still disappointing, after spending so much time, that this turned out to have nothing at all to do with any demon."

Stuart looked around the trolley car, it's polished wooden benches running lengthwise from the front to the back. Signal buttons to tell the operator to stop were spaced along the window frames. Horizontal poles, with hand straps hanging from them, connected to strategically placed vertical poles. But no one was holding on to them. Other than three people sitting in the rear, the trolley car was empty.

"Stuart...that sign," Piper said with some alarm, pointing to a small paper sign with the word 'Milano' taped onto a small pane above one of the trolley car's large, square windows directly opposite them.

"Relax," he said.  "That isn't there because some demon knows who you all really are and left a reference to Phoebe for you to see.

"Two years ago, after converting to light rail lines underneath Market Street, MUNI brought some of the trolley cars back to run above ground, again. They laid new track and re-painted the classic cars they still had to represent lines from other American cities. And they purchased additional classic trolley cars - or streetcars as their sometimes called - from other cities all over America and around the world and restored them to their original condition.

"Like this one. It's a Peter Witt type of trolley car that comes from Milano, Italy where it ran for seventy years. That paper sign above the window is there to let people know where this car came from."

"Well," Piper said, with a small smile, "I prefer, instead, to take that as a reminder of the unchanged world, and of who we were.  Or at least who one of us was.  And still-"

"Hey," Stuart interrupted her, "where'd the sun go?  How did it suddenly get so foggy?"  Piper turned around and looked out the window.

"Not fog," she said. "It's a mist. I can't see anything."

The trolley car slowed down and came to a halt.

"This is your stop," the operator called out, turning around to them.

"No it isn't," Stuart said.

"This is your stop," the operator repeated. He was in his early fifties, his medium build only slightly on the heavy side. His mustache was a mixture of gray and brown, as was his hair, which nicely complemented his brown MUNI uniform.

"No...uhh..."  Stuart started to say, then looked around to see if the operator was speaking to one of the other passengers.  But the three people in the back of the trolley car had suddenly fallen asleep.  He glanced at Piper, then they stood up and walked to the front of the car.

"This isn't our stop," Piper said to the operator. "We're getting off at Fisherman's Wharf."

"This is your stop," the operator repeated, with certainty.

Piper looked out the front windshield.  She couldn't see anything but mist in the illumination from the trolley car's single headlight.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"Where you belong," the operator answered, re-assuringly.

Piper turned, stared at him and squinted.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"I'm merely the trolley car operator," he said. "But you are Piper Halliwell."

"How do you know who I am?" she demanded.

The operator gave her a kindly smile, the type of benevolent smile reserved for someone who is nice but not too bright.

"Because," he said, in a tone of pointing out the obvious, "this is your stop."

"Piper," Stuart said, touching her left arm and pointing to the trolley car's control panel. "Look!"

On the control panel was a small screen and on it, in orange letters, was written 'Piper Halliwell Stop'.  Piper stared at the words, looked outside again and then turned back to the operator.

"What about those people in the back?"  Stuart asked.

"Oh, they just came along for the ride," the operator said, with a hint of a smile.

"What am I supposed to do here?" Piper asked.

"I'm just the operator," he said, shaking his head slightly. "But you belong here. You'll figure it out.

"You, on the other hand," he said, looking at Stuart.  "This doesn't seem to be your stop.  You'll have go to the back with the others."

"No!" Piper said, grabbing Stuart's hand. "Stuart stays with me. If I get off, he gets off with me."

The operator thought for a moment, then gave her a polite smile.

"You can have him get off with you, if you wish," he said to her.  "It is, after all, your stop."

He turned the control and the front doors opened. Piper stared at him for a moment. Realizing she wouldn't get anything more from him, she exhaled and, still holding Stuart's hand, she and Stuart stepped down and got off of the trolley car.

The doors closed and the orange trolley car began to pull away.  Piper and Stuart stood by the tracks watching it leave and in a few seconds the trolley car disappeared into the mist.



Click speaker for Opening Credits Theme Song

"This way is as good a way as any," Stuart said.  He and Piper turned and began walking off to their right, away from the tracks.  As they did, the mist began to dissipate and a partially cloud-covered sunlight returned.  In a moment they found themselves standing at the edge of a meadow.  Red colored shrubs punctuated the green panorama which stretched out and away from them towards gently rolling hills in the distance.

"Pretty, isn't it," Piper said.  "But, Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...nor in        San Francisco, either."

"OHHHHHHH!!" the voice cried.

Some forty feet off to their right a downward slope lead to the meadow.  And tumbling helplessly down the slope was a young woman.  They turned and ran to her as she came to rest at the bottom of the slope.

She looked to be no more than twenty-one, slim with a fair complexion, and curly red hair not quite reaching her shoulders.

"OHH! OHH!" she cried. "I lost my balance. I know I must have broken my foot. I must have! And now I won't be able to get around to finish my tasks with the crops."

"Take it easy," Stuart said as they reached her. "Don't assume the worst. Let's hope it's not so bad."

"Can you wiggle your foot?" Piper asked. The young woman lifted up her right foot and wiggled it slightly.

"That's a good sign," Piper said. "You have to be optimistic," she added, smiling.

"Let's take a look at it," Stuart said.  He gently removed the young woman's loafer, raised her green, full dress above her knee and began to roll down her brown knee sock.

"I'm Piper and this is Stuart."

"I'm Larissa," the young woman said.

"Hmmm," Stuart said as he carefully removed her sock. "You scraped it pretty badly. That's a deep cut at the ankle. But there's no swelling. Try moving your foot again."

Larissa raised her foot and moved it with a slight grimace.

"It feels sore when you move it but nothing more, right?"  Stuart asked.  Larissa nodded.

"That's from the trauma," he said.  "It'll be black and blue for a while but it's not broken.  The cut needs to be cleaned and covered but nothing more.  You're going to be fine."

"No, I won't be," Larissa said, tears in her eyes. "I'm infected. And I'm going to become helpless and die."

"Infected?" Stuart said. "From what?"

Larissa stared at him astounded and speechless.

"You don't know?" she asked, with an incredulous look.

"Ohh-K," Piper said, "let's start from the beginning. First of all, where are we?"

Larissa looked at her with that same puzzled expression.

"The Inside," she answered warily.

"The...Inside?" Piper asked.

Larissa's eyes darted between them with a sudden fear.

"You must be from...The Outside," she said.

Piper and Stuart glanced at each other.

"But...you can't be the evil demon," Larissa said. "You spoke of optimism. You have hope."

"Hope," Piper repeated. "Why is that important?"

"That's what everything here is," Larissa said. The look on her face changed and she seemed to relax.

"Hope," she said. "We grow it, cultivate it and harvest it."

"You...grow hope?" Stuart asked, not sure he was hearing right.

"Yes," Larissa said. "And after we harvest it, we send it to The Outside."

"You...send hope...to The Outside," Piper repeated. "And then...what happens to it?"

"You use it," Larissa said.                                                                                  

"I use your hope?" Piper asked.  The more Larissa said the more confused Piper felt.  "When...and why?"

"When you've run out of your own," Larissa said.  "Think about the times when you've had some difficult situation, some terrible problem, something that seemed to have no way out of.  Think about how you felt before you went to sleep that night.  Things seemed utterly hopeless.

"But when you got up in the morning, you suddenly felt hope. That somehow there would be a way out of it. But nothing had changed. There was no reason for the hope. But the hope was there.

"That's the hope that we grow. And send to The Outside so that you can go on with your lives."

Larissa saw the skeptical looks on their faces.

"You find this hard to accept?" she asked. "Then tell me, why do people get up in the morning with new hope?"

"Because," Piper began, "they've had a good night's sleep..."

"And therefore?" Larissa asked.

"And...uh," Stuart said, "they...see things differently."

"But that's illogical," Larissa said.  "Nothing's changed so there's nothing different to see. Everything is exactly the way it had been the night before.  But now the problem doesn't seem to be insurmountable.  There's hope.  And hope is what's needed to go on.

"Without hope, The Outside couldn't continue.  It would crash under the weight of despair.  People would shrivel up and die.  Hope stops that from happening."

"And this hope that we feel...comes from here...The Inside?" Piper asked, trying to understand what Larissa was saying.

"Yes," Larissa said. "From our fields. Or what's left of them."

"What do you mean?" Stuart asked.

"There's an evil demon who's come from The Outside," she said.  "He's brought despair, a despair so strong that it's destroying our fields, and killing our crops.  And us with them."

"Is that what you meant about being infected?" Stuart asked. Larissa nodded.

"After he brings his despair to the crops it gets into the air," she said, "and our people breathe it in."

"And then what happens?" Piper asked.

"They lose hope," Larissa said, a sadness coming across her face.  "Everything starts to look worse and worse to them.  And they withdraw, give up on everything, including living.  And then they die." Tears started to form in her eyes.

"And now that's happening to me," she said. "And I'm going to die, too."

"No," Stuart said firmly. "That's not going to happen to you. We're not going to let you die."

"How does this demon come here?"  Piper asked.

"I don't know," Larissa said.  "He just shows up when a crop is nearing harvest and covers it with despair.  And once in the air the despair travels to nearby younger crops and they begin to decay, too."

"You're sure he's from The Outside?" Stuart asked.

"The Inside is made up of hope," Larissa said. "This Demon of Despair couldn't come from here."

"What does he look like?" Piper asked.

"I don't know," Larissa answered.

"No one has seen him?" Stuart asked, surprised.

"He was seen twice," Larissa answered.  "Each time, he directly filled the one who saw him with extreme despair.  When each was found, all he would say was that it was hopeless, the demon was too strong, and nothing was left for them."

"What happened to them?" Stuart asked.

"The same that happens to all who've been infected," Larissa said.  "Only faster.  They died before the morning."

"We're going to find a way to stop this demon," Piper said. "Do you have a leader?"

"Glyn," Larissa said. "He is our Elder."

"Then we'll talk to him," Stuart said. "Come."

"I can't," Larissa said.

"Yes you can!" Stuart said. He put her sock back on over her foot and eased her shoe back on.

"Ow! Ow!" she cried.

"Your shoe is back on and while it may be uncomfortable, you can walk," Stuart said. He looked at her firmly, grabbed her hands and pulled her up."

"I won't make it home," Larissa said.

"Yes you will!" Stuart said forcefully, staring into her eyes.  "You're not going to succumb to despair."  He placed his left hand under her right shoulder and held her arm firmly with his right hand.

"The trolley car operator said I'd figure out why I'm here," Piper said as she went around to Larissa's left side to support her. "I guess I have.

They began walking up the slope that Larissa had rolled down. Looking off in the other direction from its top they could see fields, some of them covered with something Piper and Stuart had never seen before, their colors ranging from a light yellow to a bright orange.

"Is that...hope growing in those fields?" Piper asked.

"Yes," Larissa answered. "The deeper the color the closer they are to harvest."

"Incredible," Stuart said. "What are those fields filled with black things?"

"That's the blight the demon caused," Larissa said. "Those fields' crops are decaying or already destroyed."

They had skirted the fields, walking along their perimeter and now were on a small ridge filled with trees and large rocks.

"UHHPH!" Piper grunted. She was caught unaware as a man carrying a long, heavy pole suddenly appeared and pushed her forward. There was an opening in the ground in front of her and she fell head first into the pit.

A second man grabbed Larissa away from Stuart.

"Hey-" Stuart began but the first man swung his pole into Stuart's stomach. As Stuart doubled over the man knocked him into the pit, too.

"No!" Larissa cried out.

The two men pushed one of the large rocks towards the pit and covered the opening.

"It's OK, Larissa," one of them said, "you're safe now. We saw those demons from The Outside holding you. We followed you until we got to where we could rescue you."

"No, Tristan," Larissa said, "you don't understand. They're not demons."

"Of course they are," the second man said. "That's why they grabbed you."

"No, they didn't grab me," Larissa said. "I...I know I've broken my foot. And I'm going to die. And they-"

"You're infected," Tristan said, shaking his head. "See, they are demons. They did that to you."

"Just be still," the second one said. He took something from his pocket, ran his finger through it and rubbed it on Larissa's neck.

"But... Larissa protested, "they...I..." Her eyes half-closed and she leaned back against the man holding her.

"We'll carry her home, Aidan," Tristan said, "and then we'll go to Glyn and tell him what happened."

 

Stuart was on top of Piper, who was lying face down on the earth at the bottom of the pit.  As he slowly started to get his wind back he tried to sit up and look around.  Two thin rays of sunlight shone down from spaces between the rock and the edge of the pit.

The pit was about eight feet long but barely two feet wide. Stuart looked up at the rock covering the pit. They had fallen some six feet.

His hands were covered with dirt and as he brushed them off he checked himself over.  Nothing seemed to be broken.  He moved back as far as he could to the wall of the pit and turned Piper over.  In the ray of light he could see she was un-conscious.

Lying half on her, he managed to get his arm underneath her head.  With his free hand, he tried to clean away some of the dirt from her face.

He could not tell how badly she was hurt.  He wanted to take care of her but all he could do was to lightly stroke her forehead.  He looked up, again.  The top of the pit was too high for him to reach.  And even if he could reach it, he wouldn't have the leverage to push the large rock away from the opening.

He turned back to Piper, took her hand in his and held it tightly.  He pulled her head closer to him, laid his head down on top of hers and closed his eyes.  There was nothing he could do now but wait.

 

The light was faint as Piper began to stir.  Stuart had fallen asleep holding her and feeling him against her put her slightly at ease.

"Ugghh," she said. Stuart felt her move and woke up.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Two men threw us down into this pit," he said.

"Ugghh," Piper repeated.

"How badly are you hurt?" he asked as he raised her head in his arm.

"My...ribs hurt," she answered.

"Are they broken?"

"I can't tell," Piper said and slowly sat up.

"Maybe they're just bruised from the fall," Stuart said. "It was over a six foot drop." Stuart helped Piper move back and lean up against the wall.

"Who were they?" she asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "But whoever they were they took Larissa."

"This is a fine welcome," Piper said. "I suppose there's no way out of here."

"Only through the opening on top," Stuart said. "It took both of them to move that rock into place. We won't be able to move it from underneath."

"Not without Prue," Piper said. "The Elders should have sent her with us."

"They must know that you can handle this by yourself," Stuart said.

Piper exhaled.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," she said, with a half-smile. "But we won't be able to do anything unless we get out-"

They heard a noise from above and looked up to see the stone being moved away.  Though it was dusk, there was still enough light for them to see three men standing at the edge.  To their right was Larissa and another girl.

Piper and Stuart started to stand up.

"Remain seated as you were," the man standing in the middle said. Piper grimaced as she sat back down against the wall.

"Are you hurt?" the man asked her.

"Ugghh...I'll be OK," Piper answered.

"You see," Larissa said, "I told you she speaks with hope."

"I am Glyn," the man said.

"I'm-"

"I know who you say you are," he said, cutting Piper off. "Larissa has told me about you.  But we have been attacked by the Demon of Despair. A demon who comes from The Outside. And you come from The Outside. I must be sure about who you really are."

"You think I'm the demon?!" Piper said in disbelief.

"Until you prove otherwise," Aidan, standing to the far, left said.

"Why did you come here?" Glyn asked.

"We were sent here," Piper answered.

"Sent...by whom?" Glyn asked.

"That's a little hard to explain," Piper said. "It's...The Elders...the forces of good."

"Why?" Glyn asked.

"To help you against the demon," Piper said.

"Why you?" Glyn asked.

"Because..." Piper glanced at Stuart and then exhaled slightly. "I'm a witch."

"A witch," Glyn repeated, seemingly a bit surprised.

"What power do you possess?" he asked.

"I can freeze things," she said.

"Show us," Glyn said.

Piper stared at him for a moment, raised her hand, then raised it again to unfreeze Stuart.

"Let's move to the other side," she said. Stuart helped her up and she grimaced as they moved to the other side of the pit. After sitting down, Piper raised her hand.

"I want to see-" Glyn stopped. "Uh...how did you get to the other side?"

"I froze you and moved while you were frozen," Piper said.

"Or maybe you can't freeze anything," Tristan, standing on Glyn's right, said, "but you can jump from one place to another. That's what Devin said of the demon, isn't it.  Before he died."

"If Piper could do that," Stuart said, "we would have been out of here the second you moved the rock away."

"What you say makes sense," Glyn said.  "But there's only one way to be sure."  He turned to the girl standing next to Larissa.  "Ceres will go down to them."

"No!" Tristan said. "You can't let Ceres go down there. If they are demons she'll be at their mercy."

"Oh Tristan, you worry too much," Ceres said. "You always worry too much."

"And with good reason," Tristan retorted. "Your sister Acacia lies dying this very moment from infection. The same thing may happen to you if you go down to them."

"If these witches have come here to help us," Ceres said, "then maybe they can save Acacia, too.

"I trust Larissa's judgment of good and evil," she said, turning to Glyn. "I'll go down."

"You can't let her go down, Glyn," Tristan insisted.

"Neither Glyn nor you can stop me," Ceres said. "You know that. No one has the right to stop me from using my powers."

"Acacia can stop you," Tristan said.

"Acacia isn't here," Ceres said. "I've decided."

Glyn looked at Ceres and nodded slightly.

"Tristan," Glyn said, "help Aidan with the rope."

Tristan stared at Glyn, exhaled and walked behind Aidan who was standing next to Glyn.  The rope was about four inches in diameter and taking it in his hands, he nodded.  Aidan moved closer to the pit and threw the end of the rope over the edge.

Ceres grabbed the rope and as she held it tightly in her hands she pushed herself off of the edge. Aidan and Tristan slowly and carefully lowered the rope and Ceres went down into the pit.  As she descended, the pit become illuminated and Piper and Stuart could see Ceres clearly.

She was perhaps fifteen years old, her hair, a deep gold, tied in a braid.  Her face was fair but with a similar deep golden tone to it.  It didn't seem to be tan from the sun, Stuart thought, just a natural color like golden wheat.  She wore a white lace smock over a yellow dress with puffed up shoulders and a full skirt.  The sleeves reached her elbows and her arms below them had that same golden color as her face.  She let go of the rope and jumped down the last foot to the ground.

"I'm Ceres," she said with a small, confident smile as Stuart and Piper stood up.

"You have powers," Piper said. "You're different than the others?"

"I'm a Gifted," Ceres answered.

"A Gifted," Piper repeated. "What powers do you have?"

"I can tell if someone is lying," Ceres said. "Truth resonates in the heart...and I can feel the heart." She placed her right hand on Piper's chest, over her heart, then put her left hand over her own heart.

"Please repeat what you just told Glyn," Ceres said, her look turning serious.

Piper stared at her for a moment.

"I'm Piper," she said.  "I'm a witch...and I was sent here to help you fight the demon."

Ceres said nothing, made no expression with her face but just stared at Piper intensely for ten seconds.

"She isn't lying," Ceres finally said, loud enough for Glyn and the others to hear.  She moved her right hand over to Stuart's chest.

"I'm...uhh...not a witch," Stuart said, "but I'm here to help you, too.  Uh...just like I helped Larissa."

Ceres cocked her head and looked intensely at him.  She raised her head slightly upwards to look at Larissa, then turned back to Stuart.

"He tells the truth," she said, that small, self-confident knowing smile once more on her face.

"Bring them up," Glyn said.

"Please, you first," Ceres said. "It will be easier for you to see if I go last."

Is her presence in the pit illuminating it? Piper thought. She looked at Stuart then grabbed the rope and Tristan and Aidan pulled her up.  They threw the rope down again and brought Stuart up.

"I'm so sorry," Larissa said. "You were so kind to tend to my leg. I told Tristan but he wouldn't listen."

"Tristan never listens," Ceres said as she came up . She let go of the rope and jumped onto the ground. "You should know that by now."

"You'll see," Tristan said. "They will yet endanger all of us."

"How will you use your power to help us?" Glyn asked.

"I don't know," Piper said, distracted.  She had been looking into the pit, marveling that it had become dark again once Ceres came out of it.  Now she turned her attention back to Glyn.

"I haven't figured that out yet," she said. "What else can you tell me about this demon."

"There isn't anything I can add to what Larissa's already told you," Glyn said.  "I wish there was."

Piper exhaled.

"We'll have to work on coming up with a plan," she said, grimacing slightly from the pain in her ribs.

"We'll give you guest cottages to stay in while you do," Glyn said. "And Aidan will give you a little salve to put on you where you have pain."

"What is this?" Stuart asked.

"It's a relaxant," Larissa said. "A tiny bit may ease the pain. Too much will leave you weakened." She turned and gave Tristan a sharp look.

"We'd better get going," Piper said. "We have a lot to do."

 

 

"Yes," Piper said, in response to the knock and Ceres opened the door.

"I would like to speak to you," Ceres said.

"Sure," Piper said.  "Come in."  Ceres stepped inside the small cottage and closed the door behind her.

"It's about what you told me in the pit today," Ceres said.  "When you said that you are Piper, a witch, I felt in your heart that it was true.  But then I felt something else. Something interfering with that truth."

Ceres paused.

"Tell me about Holly Combs," Ceres said.

"Wh...what?!" Piper said, caught by surprise.

"Holly Combs," Ceres repeated. "That is who you are."

"How...uh...how can you know about that?" Piper asked in disbelief.

"It's something that is such a part of you, something so strong, that I could feel it," Ceres said. "That is why I chose my words carefully when I told Glyn that you were not lying.  I did not say that you were telling the truth.  Because the truth would have included saying that you are Holly Combs.

"I've never felt this in someone's heart before. Something being true and not true at the same time. I have to understand how this can be."

Piper closed her eyes for a moment, then exhaled.

"I...can't explain it to you," she said, "because I don't completely understand it myself." She hesitated for a few seconds.

"I was...I am Holly Combs. A normal mortal...an actress. And then The Elders turned my role of Piper Halliwell that I was playing...they changed me, into really being Piper Halliwell. A real witch."

Ceres looked at Piper silently.  If she was disillusioned by Piper's revelation she didn't show it.

"Gifts and powers come with a responsibility to help others," Ceres said. "They would not have chosen you for this had they not trusted you with that responsibility."

Piper sighed.

"I've accepted my responsibility to protect innocents," Piper said.

"Of course you have," Ceres said.  "But because Holly Combs is still very much a part of you, a part of you that you still want to be, it's inhibiting you from fully using your witch powers when you need them."

Piper exhaled.

"I didn't want to become a witch," Piper said, "but I've accepted the reality of who and what I am. And that I have to save innocents.  Wanting to be Holly again...hasn't interfered with that. It hasn't lessened my ability to use my powers to vanquish evil."

Ceres looked at Piper intensely.

"Hasn't it?" Ceres asked, certainty in her voice and a knowing look once again upon her face.

 

Stuart was walking through the garden outside of his cottage. His mind was on the Demon of Despair and he wasn't paying attention to what was around him.

"Ohh," he said as he bumped into Larissa. "I'm sorry...I...my mind was elsewhere."

"It's OK," she said, as he stepped back slightly from her.

"Do you live near here?" Stuart asked.

"Yes, just the other side of the village square," she answered. "But I wasn't going home. In truth, I was hoping I would see you."

"You were?" he asked.

"I wanted to thank you for what you did for me today," she said.  "And for what you tried to do to help me."

"I didn't really do much," he said. 

"Your kindness...and your caring," Larissa said.  "There is a depth to it that I have not seen on    The Inside.  In the women, in The Gifteds, perhaps.  But not in the men."

"I'm not anything special," Stuart said. "Take some time to look closely at the men again and I'm sure you'll find them to be caring, too."

"Time..." Larissa said and her face saddened. "I have little time left before I die from the infection."

"You're not going to die," Stuart said. "You're going to be OK." He looked into her eyes as if he was focusing his thoughts towards her.

"You have hope," he said firmly, taking her hands in his. "You have hope!" he repeated.  "You have to believe, and feel, that you're going to be fine. You have no despair. You-"

Larissa leaned closer to him, brought her mouth close to his, and kissed him.  They held the kiss for a few seconds and then Larissa pulled her head back.

"You held back," Larissa said. "There's someone on The Outside, isn't there."

"Uh...yes...how did you know?" Stuart asked.

"I could tell from your resistance," Larissa answered. "And you are seeing her?"

"Uh...yes...uh...I have been for about ten days," Stuart said.  "But...we're in, uh...someplace that's not, uh...not how we normally live.  That...that can be affecting our relationship.  So I don't know how she really feels about me.  I don't know if she's even going to want to see me when we get back to, uh, where we come from."

"None of that matters now because you can't see her here," Larissa said with a small smile.  "She's on The Outside... and you're on The Inside."  She drew his hands behind her back, let them go and put her hands around him.  "And as long as you and I are together on The Inside, I can hope, can't I?"

Larissa pulled Stuart to her and kissed him.  She felt good to him...warm, kind, caring.  He was weakening.  But part of him was still able to hold back.

Stuart suddenly pulled his lips away.

"Larissa!" he exclaimed. "What you just said."

"What did I say?"  she asked.

"Hope," Stuart said. "You said you have hope!"

"I did..." She thought for a second. "I do!" she exclaimed. "I have hope, again."

"Somehow, my hope overcame your despair," Stuart said.  "You're well, again.  Come...come quickly. I have to tell Piper."

 

"How?" Piper asked.

"I, uh...I.." Stuart started to say.

"Stuart looked into my eyes and concentrated his thoughts on me," Larissa said, seeing that Stuart was reluctant to tell Piper that they had kissed.  "He took my hands in his and then my despair was gone."

"But why?" Stuart asked. "Surely you must have tried to help the others who were infected."

"We did," Larissa said.  "Glyn and some of the other men, even Acacia before she was struck down. They tried to tell them, to give them, hope.  But to no avail."

"There must be something different about my hope," Stuart said.

"There is," Piper said.  "The hope on The Inside is pure.  Maybe too pure.  It hasn't been up against despair, hasn't had to overcome it.  But our hope has.  It's had to overcome The Outside's real despair."

"And because of that it's stronger," Stuart said.

"It's had to be stronger," Piper said.  "It's been tempered by it's battle with despair.  That's why your hope could cure Larissa's despair while The Inside people's hope could not."

Piper thought for a moment.

"That must be how I'm supposed to help them," she said. "Your hope helped Larissa because you're both mortals. So my hope, as a witch, will be on a higher level. A level that will work on a demon."

"You're going to give the Demon of Despair hope?" Larissa asked, puzzled.

"I'm going to destroy him with hope," Piper said. "Despair can't exist where there is hope. That demon must be made up of pure despair. Forcing hope on him will destroy him."

"We'd better test this," Stuart said. "We have to be sure that you can do the same thing that I did to Larissa."

 

Ceres opened the door and Stuart and Piper followed her into the room.

"This is Stuart and Piper," Ceres said, as she approached the bed.  "The two from The Outside that I told you about."

The girl was lying half curled up.  Her hair, worn in a style similar to Piper's, was a slightly different shade than Ceres', more of a honey blonde.  And she was a little older, closer to Larissa's age.  But there could be no mistaking Acacia for anyone other than Ceres' sister.

Her face and her arms below her elbows, where the sleeves of her burgundy and gold blouse reached, were the same deep golden color.  And as she turned to face them her legs stuck out from beneath her matching skirt.  Stuart saw that the skin above her white knee socks was the same deep gold, too. Now he was sure that it was not a tan.  It was, incredibly, their natural color.

Facing them, they could see one difference between Acacia and Ceres.  Acacia's wan face had no smile.

"Hi," Stuart said and Acacia nodded in acknowledgment.

"You're going to have hope," Piper said, coming closer to her. "And you're going to be OK."

"No, I'm not," Acacia said.

"They've saved Larissa," Ceres said. "They're here to save you."

"It's too late for me," Acacia said. "I'm dying."

"No, you're not going to die!" Piper said, looking into her eyes. "There is always hope. There is no such thing as not having hope. There is no reason for you to die."

"You don't understand," Acacia said, making away with a wave of her hand as she turned her head away from Piper.

"I do understand," Piper said. "I understand that you're a Gifted. And I understand that you're needed to help everyone on The Inside."

"Ceres will help them," Acacia said, turning back to face them.

"Ceres is good," Stuart said. "And she does help. But she's not enough. The people of The Inside need you, too. That's why you're both Gifteds. Because they need both of you."

Acacia swung her legs over the side of the bed, sat up and looked at Piper for a moment.

"You are not going to die," Piper said.  "You're going to be OK."  She looked into Acacia's eyes and focused her thoughts.

"You have hope," Piper said firmly, taking hold of Acacia's hands.  "You have hope!" she repeated. "You have to believe, and feel, that you're going to be fine.  You have no despair.  You-"

"It's working!" Ceres cried, interrupting Piper. "Acacia's smile is back."

"It is," Stuart said.

Acacia took a deep breath and her eyes moved around as she felt inside herself.

"I'm cured!" Acacia said, with surprise. "I do have hope, again. You...really have saved me."

Ceres ran to her sister, threw her arms around her and hugged her.

"Thank you," Acacia said after a moment as she let go of Ceres.

"You've come here from The Outside to help us," Acacia said. "And you're willing to put yourself at risk to do that."

Acacia stood up and extended her right hand to Piper's heart.  She placed her left hand over her own heart and looked at her silently.

"You are a good and un-selfish person," she said.

"Uh...uh..."  Piper mumbled, embarrassed by the accolade.  "What I am...doesn't matter.  What matters is that my hope worked on you."

"Now we have to come up with a plan of how to find the demon and use it on him," Stuart said.  "The Inside is too large to simply expect to see him when he comes again.  We have to know where he'll be."

"Tell me," Piper said, "when does the Demon of Despair come?"

"It hasn't been a set time," Ceres said.  "He seems to know whenever a crop is almost ready for harvesting because that's when he comes and destroys it."

"Is there anything besides the deep color that indicates a crop is nearing harvest?" Piper asked.

"There is more hope in the air around the field," Acacia said. "We're attuned to it and can sense it."

"I'll bet the Demon of Despair can sense it, too," Piper said.  "He must be sensitive to hope because hope must bother him.  When the hope gets stronger he knows that a crop is maturing.  That's where we'll find him."

"We still won't know which of the maturing fields he would go to first," Stuart said, "or when."

"It doesn't matter," Ceres said.  "The demon's destroyed all of the crops that were maturing.  There isn't any field left that is close to harvest."

"Well, then," Piper said, "we'll just have to make the demon think that one is."

 

"Let me understand this," Glyn said.  He was sitting in a high-backed chair in a large formal room that Larissa had told Stuart and Piper was called The Chamber of The Elder.  "You want all of us to stand by a field and exude hope?"

"Exactly," Piper said.  She was sitting with the others in smaller chairs opposite him.  "With all of that hope in the air around a field, yours together with whatever the crops give off, it should get the Demon of Despair's attention.  He'll think that a crop is ready for harvesting.  When he comes, I'll freeze him so he won't be able to do anything.  Then I'll destroy him with my hope from The Outside."

"And if your plan doesn't work, our people will be in danger of being killed right there by the demon," Glyn said.

"They're in danger now," Stuart said.  "Piper and I can't stay here forever to keep healing whoever falls ill to infection."

"Piper and Stuart are willing to put themselves at risk to help us," Acacia said.  "We can't do any less for ourselves.  And we can't let them do it alone.  We have to listen to them and trust them."

Glyn was silent for a moment.

"I attach much value to the advice of a Gifted," he said.  "Very well.  We will do as you ask."

 

The warm, subdued light made it seem very cozy.  Three tall candles, the middle one slightly higher than the other two, were burning in front of him.

Stuart didn't know where he was or how he had gotten there.  But wherever he was, Ceres was there, too.  She stood off to his left smiling, that same self-confident, in control smile he had seen in the pit.  Only now it was a broader smile.

He was about to ask her where they were when he saw Larissa standing on the other side of the candles.  Her face, illuminated in the candles' yellow light, seemed to shine with an inner goodness.  He hadn't so much heard as he had felt her beckon him to her.

He walked around the candles and stood beside her.  Larissa looked into his eyes and began caressing his cheek with her left hand.

"You're still with me on The Inside," she said, and smiled.

She brought her lips closer to his and kissed him.  Her hands were easing around his back and she drew him closer to her.  He felt himself being pulled, not just to be closer to her, but to be part of her.

Stuart felt the warmth of Larissa's wholesomeness, the warmth of her goodness, pulling him strongly to her.  Suddenly, it was more than he felt he could resist.  More than he felt he should be expected to resist.

And now, it was more than he wanted to resist.

And so, he stopped resisting...

 

The early rays of sunlight shone into Stuart's room and he slowly opened his eyes.

Hope.

The Demon of Despair.

The thoughts started to swirl around in Stuart's returning consciousness.

They were going to try to vanquish the Demon of Despair.  No Book of Shadows, no Power of Three, just Piper and-

Suddenly Stuart remembered.  He sat up in bed and looked around.  There was nothing to suggest that Larissa and Ceres had been in his room during the night.  His clothes were exactly as he had left them when he had gone to sleep...he hadn't gone out during the night.  So it must have been a dream.

But no - it couldn't be a dream, he thought.  The way he felt inside of him sitting there could not have been caused by just a dream.

He stood up, got dressed and went outside.  He started crossing the square towards Larissa's house when he heard Ceres call him.

"Good morning," Ceres said, with her small smile, as she approached him from behind.

"Uh, good morning, Ceres," Stuart said. "Uh, Ceres, I...something happened last night. Or, I think something happened. You and Larissa...I'm...maybe I just dreamt it..."

"No," Ceres said. "It wasn't a dream."

"You mean...it was real?" he asked. "But how? I never left my room. I..."

"It was a mental projection," she said.

"Projection," Stuart repeated. "You mean like...an astral projection?"

"In a way," Ceres replied.  "In an astral projection, you're projected from one place to another. But that's where the similarity ends.  In an astral projection, you project yourself physically into another physical location.  But in a mental projection, I projected both of us into a place that exists only mentally."

"So...our minds were somewhere else," he said.

"Not our minds," Ceres said. "I mentally projected our physical beings there."

"Uh...physical into a mental location?"  Stuart said, trying to grasp the concept. "That's...incredible.  And you can project someone else...not just yourself.  Who else has this power?"

"Only The Gifteds," she said.

"But you weren't in my room," Stuart said. "How did you project me?"

"There was a connection between us when I felt your heart," Ceres said. "I kept that connection after I was done."

"And Larissa?" he asked.

"I went to Larissa and asked her about you.  As I expected, she wanted to be with you.  After I projected her, she 'asked' you to join us and then I projected you there.  But you had to agree to come."

"Yes," Stuart said, "I have a vague recollection of feeling her calling me.  But you were there too."

"It was my mental area that I projected you and Larissa into," Ceres said.  "I had to be there for it to exist."

"Then we...Larissa and I...we..." Stuart stammered.

"Yes," Ceres said. "You did." Stuart saw her smile widen, just as he had seen it during the night.

"But...you're too young...to...be familiar...to be involved..." he said, looking for the words to express what he meant.

"Unlike on The Outside," Ceres said, "familiarity and 'involvements' are not dependent upon chronological age but rather upon emotional age.  Because Gifteds feel many hearts, and feel many things in them, we possess advanced emotional capability, emotional wiseness and emotional experience. The three aspects that combine to produce an extraordinary emotional maturity.

"I'm 'familiar' with all aspects of relationships.  My emotional maturity is many times more than that of a normal girl my age, on The Inside or The Outside."

"And your self-confidence, too," Stuart added.

"I know what my powers can do," she said, matter of factly.

"Did you use another of your powers on me?" he asked, hoping she did.

"Of course I did," she answered.

"Good," Stuart said. That would explain his feelings...and excuse his behavior.

"It wasn't a power to compel you to be with Larissa," Ceres said, smiling.  "My power can't force you to do something you don't really want to do.  My power just uncovers and reveals what you really feel, what you won't admit to yourself.  And then my power takes away your inhibitions and resistance so that you can respond naturally to your feelings."

"You mean...I wanted to...come to Larissa?" Stuart asked.

Ceres smiled.

"I felt that in your heart when we were in the pit," she said.

"But your power is just to be able to tell if someone is lying," Stuart said.

"My power is to feel someone's heart," Ceres said, "and through that I can tell if someone is speaking the truth. But there are many other things in the heart that can be felt, as well."

"Why did you do this?" he asked.

"You saved my sister's life," Ceres said, her face turning serious. "You gladdened my heart. I decided to give you something that would gladden your heart in return. And I did.

"You're easily smitten by girls who are wholesome," Ceres continued, "who are perky, caring, un-selfish and sincere.  Your heart felt that you saw those qualities in Larissa, even if you didn't consciously admit it.

"But you wouldn't have gone to see Larissa on your own.  You felt inhibited because of the girl you were seeing on The Outside, even though there is no commitment between you.  So you suppressed your desire - and any conscious thought of it."

"Inhibitions...make us what we are," Stuart said.

"And inhibitions can stop us from being what we have to be," Ceres replied, resolutely.

"I know how you felt last night," she continued.  "You cannot deny it.  I felt your heart while you were there."

Stuart closed his eyes for a moment.  There was no denying how he had felt last night...and, perhaps, how he still felt.

But there was also no doubt about his feelings of guilt.  Despite their informal relationship, he felt he had been untrustworthy, perhaps even faithless, to Phoebe.  And...to his feelings about her.

"It was a projection. But did it...really happen?" Stuart asked. "Was...any of it...real?"

"Of course it happened!"  Ceres said.  "Bringing you and Larissa together was very real.  As real as you want it to be."

"As...I want it to be?" he repeated.

Ceres cocked her head slightly.

"Do you regret it?" she asked. "Were you looking for a different answer?"

"No," Stuart answered, "...uh...I mean, yes...uhh...I mean, I should..." He felt so confused that he didn't know what answer he really wanted.

"Well, if you don't want it to have happened, then it didn't," Ceres said.  "It was only a mental projection."

"But you just said that..."  Stuart felt mixed up.  "Uh...either it happened or it didn't happen. It can't be both."

"But of course it can," Ceres said, flashing her self-confident, in-control smile.

 

The field was yellow with just a hint of orange.  The crops were about two feet tall and Piper knelt down and spread some apart.  They were round, with what appeared to be two or three layers rolled over each other.  About half a dozen were growing from what seemed to be a branch, with about twenty branches coming from a single root.

Hope, Piper thought. Amazing. These were far from being ripe. And if her plan didn't work, they never would be.

She stood up and looked at the people standing in a row some twenty feet behind her. Stuart had been saying something to Ceres and now he was coming back to Piper.

"They're ready," Stuart said.

Piper took a deep breath.

"I hope this works," she said.  They looked at each, realizing the irony in what Piper had just said. Stuart nodded slightly, turned around towards the people and signaled Glyn.

The people took hold of each other's hands. Even from that distance Piper could see their concentration. All she could do now was wait.

Five minutes went by. Then ten. Piper could see some of the people beginning to fidget. A few were looking at each other, perhaps starting to feel foolish at what they were doing.

Patience, Piper thought. We have to have patience.

Now fifteen minutes had gone by. Maybe she had been wrong, Piper thought. Maybe this wasn't going to work. She looked at Stuart. He gave her a smile and a nod of support.

Twenty minutes. Piper saw one of the men drop his hands, then another and then another.

Then something caught their attention.  The image of the edge of the field was no longer stable but was shimmering.  And something was coming through the shimmering.

He stood no more than three feet from Piper. He wore a loose fitting garment over his small body with a hood that covered his head.

But it was his face that held Piper transfixed.  The deep socketed eyes, the hard, rubbled skin. She had never seen a face so empty, so lacking of any trace of...of anything except despair.  Utter, absolute, implacable, hopeless despair.

Piper snapped out of it, raised her hand and the demon froze.  She could hear the 'oohs' from the people behind her.  Stuart turned to them and saw them staring at the frozen demon as Larissa came towards him.

"Tell them all to leave, to go to where they're safer," Stuart said. "It isn't done yet."

"And you come, too," Larissa said.

"My place is with Piper," Stuart said. "We're in this together."

"Then I'm staying here," Larissa said. "My place is with-"

"Your people," Stuart said, cutting her off. "I have to help Piper any way that I can. I can't be distracted by anything happening to you. I have to know that you're safe. Now go!"

Larissa looked into his eyes, nodded and reluctantly went back to her people. They were starting to leave when suddenly the demon unfroze.

"I'm not fazed by your little parlor trick," the demon said to Piper. "I have the power to quickly adapt to anything like that."

Piper raised her hand again but the demon didn't freeze.

"I warned you," Tristan shouted as he hurried over to Glyn. "I told you she would get us all killed. The Demon of Despair will be upon us."

The demon turned towards Stuart and stared into his eyes. Stuart lost his breath. He had never felt such despair, such a total absence of any hope, as he suddenly felt. He was totally, completely despondent. And his only way out, he felt, was to die.

Piper focused her eyes and her thoughts on the demon. Hope...hope...hope!

But she could tell that it wasn't working.  She could feel the demon's thoughts of despair trying to enter her own mind.

She saw Stuart to her right fall to his knees. His mouth open and his eyes starting to glaze over, he fell back against the side of a bush.

Piper kept trying but the demon wasn't weakening. I'm not strong enough, she thought. I can't vanquish him.

Suddenly everything changed.  The field and the demon were gone.  She was somewhere else, inside somewhere.  There was a warm, subdued light all around her.  Three tall candles, the middle one higher than the other two, were burning in front of her.  A large three-foot wide triquetra hung above them.  To its left was Ceres.  And to its right stood Acacia.

"Inhibitions can stop us from being what we have to be," Ceres said.

Acacia's face was serious as she took a few steps towards Piper and focused her eyes on her.  After a moment, Piper felt her resistance to being Piper, to fully being Piper, fall away.  Her inhibitions that had stopped her from realizing her full potential as a witch were gone.

She was only Piper Halliwell, now, with no desire to be anyone else.  She was the charmed witch who could vanquish demons.  She had the power to vanquish demons.  And she would vanquish the Demon of Despair.

The large triquetra was now glowing a brilliant orange.  Acacia, her left hand over her heart, came closer to Piper and placed her right hand over Piper's heart.  She stood like that for five seconds, then stepped back, and smiled.

Suddenly, Piper was back in the field.  She felt the Demon of Despair's thoughts again but she focused her mind and blocked them.  I'm stronger than you, she thought.  I'm a witch, a Charmed witch, and my powers make me stronger than you in whatever I do.

She looked into his eyes, then grabbed his hands and concentrated her thoughts of hope, of promise, of optimism.

Piper felt the demon stagger. She kept concentrating, banishing any thoughts of despair he was sending. And then she saw the demon start to shrivel.  He tried to pull away from her but she held on with all her might.

The demon kept shriveling, getting smaller and smaller as he did.  Then he gave a cry, turned into a puff of smoke and was gone.

Piper stood staring at the empty space and exhaled. Then she ran over to Stuart, dropped to her knees and threw her arms around him.

"It's OK," she said, focusing her thoughts on him, "the Demon of Despair is vanquished. You have hope. You have lots of hope. You're going to be all right."

Stuart took a deep breath, then another, gave a weak smile and hugged Piper back.

 

"It will take a little time," Glyn said, "but there will be crops to harvest, again.  And we have you to thank for that."

"And we have you to thank for making Tristan have to apologize," Ceres said with a smile.  "Watching him do that was a treat."

"And now we have to be going," Stuart said. "Back to The Outside."

"You could stay," Larissa said.

"I don't belong here," Stuart said.

"That could be changed," Ceres said. "You could become one of us."

"Another power of The Gifteds?" Stuart asked.

"A power of The Elder," Glyn said. "I could give you whatever you need to feel at home here."

"That's very kind," Piper said. "But there are demons on The Outside who have plans of major destruction there. We have to go back...and try to stop them before they succeed."

"And you will," Acacia said, "as long as you don't let your heart distract your mind from who you are...from who you must be."

"I'll...I'll find a way to do that," Piper said. "Thank you for helping me."

"How will you go back?" Glyn asked.

"I'm not sure," Piper said. "We'll go back to where we came to The Inside. If we can find it again."

"I can show you the way to the place where I fell, if that will help," Larissa said.

"Yes," Stuart said. "We'll try to find our way from there."

"Thank you again," Glyn said. "For all of us. And may you always be safe and protected against the evil that you fight."

 

"You can still change your mind," Larissa said as they reached the meadow.

"Piper has to find those demons that are trying to make major destruction," Stuart said, "and vanquish them.  And I have to be there to help her."  He hesitated for a moment.

"And...there's -"

"Shhh..." Larissa said as she moved closer to him and put her finger over his mouth. She moved her finger away and replaced it with her lips...and a small kiss.

"I won't forget you," Stuart said to her as their lips parted.

"I'll send you something to make sure that you don't," Larissa said.

Piper and Stuart started to walk away then turned around to wave.  They kept walking in the general direction they thought they had come from the day before.

"I don't see anything," Piper said. "They may not even know that we're trying to get back."

They kept walking for another five minutes

"Up there," Stuart said, pointing to something about twenty yards in front of them. "The trolley car wire."

They hurried in its direction and stopped as they approached it.

"The trolley car tracks," Piper said, looking at the ground a few feet in front of them.  They turned and saw a light down the tracks coming quickly towards them.  In about fifteen seconds the trolley car pulled up to where they were standing and stopped.  As the front doors opened, Piper and Stuart got on board.

"Hello," the operator said, politely.  He was the same slightly heavy operator who had brought them the day before.

"You came at just the right time," Piper said, with surprise.  "You knew we would be ready to come back."

"Of course," the operator said. "We keep our trolley cars running on schedule."

Piper stared at the operator.  Her mouth open but not knowing what to say, she squinted at him, turned and walked down the aisle with Stuart.  They sat down and the doors closed.  The operator gave a clang on his bell and the trolley car started up.

In a few seconds, the trolley car was engulfed in mist. When it cleared a minute later, they were riding down The Embarcadero.

"We're back on The Outside," Piper said.

"Back home," Stuart said.

"Well, at least our temporary home," Piper said.  She looked out the window and took a deep breath.

"It doesn't last, you know," she said. "The inhibitions come back."

"Yes...I know," Stuart said.   They were both silent for a moment.

"Thinking about Larissa?" Piper asked. Stuart nodded.

"I'll probably never see her again," he said.  He was still feeling confused.  He would be happily seeing Phoebe soon.  And yet, there was still...

Suddenly Stuart felt something.  He leaned forward, looked around, then took a deep breath.

"No," he said, "...there will be a way. Somehow, I know there will be. I'll see her.  I...I feel this hope."

Piper smiled.

"That's it," she said. "Larissa said she would send you something to see to it that you wouldn't forget her. She just sent you a special hope. To be sure you'll remember her."

"And I surely will," he said.  But now, Larissa, he thought, you're still on The Inside but I am on The Outside.

Stuart leaned back against the bench.

"You know," he said, "you didn't use your Charmed powers to vanquish the Demon of Despair."

Piper nodded.

"I know," Piper said.  "I used Piper's inherent power.  The essence of being Piper."

"I think that's why they sent you here," Stuart said.  "And without Prue and Phoebe.  They wanted you to learn what you can do, what you have to do.  And how you have to be thinking to be able to do it."

"Yes," Piper said with a little resignation, then exhaled. "All witch, all the time."  She stared out the window at the passing piers along The Embarcadero.

"I will be Holly Combs again someday," she said, turning to face him.

"I have hope."