Cradle of Death


 


Piper descended the stairs cautiously. She gripped on the handle until her knuckles turned white. Everyday, going down these same steps seemed to get harder and harder, especially since her bulging stomach never made anything easy on her anymore. Piper brought one foot down, then, the other. "Whoever invented these damn steps must be either a raving lunatic or an eccentric genius," she thought, pausing momentarily to catch her breath. Her gaze fell down on her rounded abdomen. She smiled, and then placed a hand on top of it. "One more month and you'll be out on your own, Melinda Halliwell Wyatt." She mused. "Soon, you will be in my arms, where I can smell your baby-fresh skin and hold you right next to my heart." then, Piper grimaced. "But I think I must first get through this god-forsaken stairs." After several more minutes and a few selected curses, Piper found herself at the bottom of the stairs. She released a sigh of relief.

Phoebe, who was busy looking at a magazine on the sofa, looked up and smiled. "Morning, Piper."

Piper smiled back. "Hiya, Pheebs." She went into the living room and carefully sat next to her sister. She glanced at the grandfather clock at the living room, and then looked quizzically at Phoebe. "What are you doing here? Don't you have classes at this time of day?"

Phoebe closed the magazine, placed it on top of the table, propped up one elbow on the pillow and took a closer look at her sister. "Nope. My class has a scheduled field trip today. I decided not to come. And so here I am, lounging on this comfy sofa. Daydreaming of what will become of my relationship with Cole." A look of happiness crossed her features.

"And being bored out of your wits." Piper contributed, grinning.

Phoebe melodramatically sighed. "Hmmm, that too." She admitted.

Piper chuckled. "So why didn't you go with your class? I mean, not that I'm asking you leave or anything." She said, lightly punching Phoebe on the arm so that she would know that she was just joking.

Phoebe rolled her eyes. "Are you kidding? They are going to that Alcatraz." A disgusted look crossed her features. "Since I've already been there and seen all the stuff that place is famous for, not to mention met a really weird ghost and vanquished it, I figured the trip would just be a waste of precious money and time." A wicked gleam appeared on her eyes. "Besides, I could use that money on a very chic blouse I saw at the mall yesterday instead."

"A waste of precious money, huh?" Piper said, shaking her head.

"Well, the blouse would really be worth it." Phoebe defended. "After all, I'm going to wear it on a hot date with a hot man." Phoebe started to have that look on her face again.

"Oh, Phoebe, stop it. You're making me green with envy." Piper stood up, and then walked to the kitchen. Then she turned back to look at her sister. "By the way, where's Prue? I passed by her room earlier and I noticed that she wasn't there. In fact, it looks as though the bed was never slept on at all. Where is she?" she asked.

"Didn't she tell you? She's on a photo shoot with some actors of a really famous adventure TV show." Phoebe grimaced. "At least, that was what she told me." She reached for the magazine and opened it again. "You know her. She tends to exaggerate too much." She flipped through the pages, never really reading anything. "She makes us think she's working with some really cool actors."

"Hmm. I wonder who that reminds me of." Piper said, throwing a meaningful glance at her sister.

Phoebe made a face at her remark. "Don't look at me."

"Yeah, right." Piper said with a smile. She walked away and headed for the kitchen. "Hey Pheebs, do you want coffee? I'll be making a bat." Piper suddenly gasped as a white-hot pain rummaged through her entire body. She gripped on the back of a chair to keep herself steady. Sweat beads formed on her brow as she braced herself against the pain.

"Uh, no thanks, Piper. I've had enough caffeine coursing through my body as of this moment. With all my finals this week, I doubt if I could ever sleep at all." Phoebe answered, too caught up on a picture to be mindful of her sister's condition. "Oooh, would you look at this girl," she said, giggling. "She looks as though the dress would swallow her up any second now." Then she took a closer look at the dress. "I can't believe they're selling it for 200 dollars. I have almost the same dress and I only bought it for 45!"

Piper clutched at her abdomen, her face ashen. "Probably just a false alarm." she said to herself. She straightened, and then mentally cursed herself as another pain groped through her slender figure, starting from her lower abdomen and spreading all throughout her entire body. "Phoe. Phoebe." She managed through clenched teeth.

Phoebe finally looked at her sister. Her eyes widened as she saw what was happening, and then she leapt out of the sofa and rushed to her sister's side. "Oh my god, oh my god, what's happening? Piper? Piper?" she clutched at her sister's hand and found it cold as ice. "What is it? What's wrong? Tell me."

Piper tightened her grip on Phoebe's hand as she felt the pain again. "I. I think the baby's coming."

Phoebe's eyes widened even more with alarm. "What? I thought you're only on your eighth month?" she looked around, "Uh, okay, uh. damn! Prue's using the car. Uh.wait. uh. where's your car, Piper?"

"It's. it's in a service center. re. remember? You. you.."

"Oh, yeah, right, I damaged it the day before." Phoebe placed her free arm on her forehead. "Uh. are you feeling pain?"

"Phoebe, that's. that's the dumbest question I've ever heard! Of course I am. I am feeling pain.!"

"Just asking." Phoebe said. "Okay, don't panic, don't panic." she guided her sister back on the sofa. Once she was sure that Piper was seated, she raced onto the telephone and dialed Prue's number. It rang for three times, and then Prue answered.

"Prue Halliwell," Prue said on the other end of the phone.

"Prue! Get you butt here on the manor!" Phoebe's frantic voice rang out.

Prue looked back on the set, where the actors are already on their positions. They were just waiting for her signal. "I can't Phoebe. We're just about to start!"

"And the baby's just about to freakin' come out!"

"Oh my god, Piper's in labor?" Prue's voice just went up a notch.

Phoebe snuck a glance on her sister. "Yes! Yes, she is in labor for crying out loud!"

"I'll be right there." Click. The phone was dead.

Phoebe slammed the phone back on its cradle. She went to her sister, who was breathing in and out, trying desperately to soothe herself. "Prue's coming over." She said. "Uh. what else do you want me to do? Do you want some water? Wait.how about some ice? I read somewhere that crunching on ice helps to ease the pain." Phoebe turned around to get some ice from the kitchen, when Piper's voice made her stop. She turned around.

Piper looked at her pleadingly. "Phoebe. call Leo." she whispered.

"Leo?" Phoebe asked, confused. "I thought you don't want us to do that?"

"Just. just call him. please." Piper gasped out. "I. I need him."

Suddenly, Leo orbed into the living room. "Piper, that was what I was wanting to hear from you. I'm here. don't worry, everything's going to be okay." he said, sitting down on the sofa with his wife.

Piper grabbed Leo's hand and held on tight. "I'm sorry, Leo. I'm sorry.but the baby. she's . she's coming out." she said in between sobs. "The pain. it's. it's too much. too early. too soon."

"It's okay, honey. Just relax. The baby's going to be all right, don't worry. We need get you to the hospital." He looked up to Phoebe. "Where's Prue?"

"She's."

"I'm here!" Prue said, bursting from the front door. "Okay, uh, the car's running, we've got to hurry!" She threw a puzzled look at Leo, but the latter didn't seem to notice as he picked Piper up and then ran outside to Prue's car, where Phoebe already had climbed up to the driver's seat. Prue soon followed.

Nobody noticed that the sofa cushion were Piper was sitting on was full of blood.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Emergency!" Phoebe yelled as soon as she was out of the car.

An orderly soon came out of the hospital with a wheelchair. Together, he and Leo assisted Piper on sitting on it.

Once they entered the hospital, a doctor approached Phoebe. "What's the case?"

"Our sister just went on to labor." She answered, throwing a worried glance over Piper's way. She looked at the doctor again. "Doctor."

"Doctor Johnson." The doctor approached Piper, and then examined her. Piper looked awfully pale, but nevertheless, she handled the situation bravely. He looked up to the nurse that followed behind him. "Tell Evans that I need to use the delivery room, quick!"

"Yes." The nurse nodded and then walked briskly away.

Doctor Johnson raised his hand and soon, two orderlies appeared with a stretcher. They transferred Piper into the stretcher, and then pushed her into the delivery room.  Prue, Phoebe and Leo were close behind them, but a nurse made them stop. "You can't go in there." She said to the sisters.

"But that's our sister!" Prue protested, glaring at the nurse.

"I'm sorry, but only the father is allowed to go inside." The nurse said, solemnly. She looked at Leo. "I take it that you're the husband. Let's go."

Leo looked back at Prue and Phoebe silently asking for their permission. Phoebe just nodded, and Prue said, "Go." Leo smiled slightly and then disappeared behind the door.

Phoebe grasped Prue's hand. "Prue, I'm scared. I'm worried." She looked at Prue with her eyes wide. "What
if. what if.?"

"Honey, no, don't think of it. Piper's a fighter. She would make it." Prue said, hugging her younger sister
for support. She can't admit to her that she's also afraid herself, more than she'd ever been in her entire life.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As soon as Leo went inside the delivery room, a nurse made him wear a suit and a mask. After that, he went to Piper's side, and grabbed her hand. An oxygen mask was placed on her face, and her eyes were already dropping because of the anesthesia the anesthetist had given her. Piper squeezed her husband's hand before she went into a deep sleep.

Leo was almost oblivious to the chaos that was going on inside the delivery room. He couldn't quite believe it. Just a month before Piper swore that he can't be in the hospital the day she would be giving birth, but now.

He could still remember their argument that day.

"Oh, so you still remembered your wife? I'm surprised. I thought you would have forgotten about that." Piper sarcastically said.

Leo closed his eyes. "Look, Piper, we have been in this same argument before! How many times do I have to tell you they need me up there?"

"And how many times do I have to tell you I need you down here?" Piper asked back. She looked very close to tears. "Leo, I'm never asking you for all of your time. But I'm begging you for at least some of it. I need you. We need you." her hand found its way on her abdomen.

Leo's eyes followed the gesture, and then looked back at Piper's face. "Piper, please. I'm asking you to understand my situation. I cannot be at two places at the same time."

Piper's expression hardened. "All right then." She said. "You must choose, Leo."

Leo's eyes grew big. "What?"

"Choose between us, Leo. You can't be at the same place at the same time, then you must give one up."

Leo's face became anguished. "No, please, Piper, don't make me do this, please honey, don't."

"Them, Leo, or your child and I."

"Piper."

Piper turned away from him. "That's it, then." She said. "You chose them. Go. Leave us." She then faced him. "You will never see me or my daughter again, do you hear me? I alone would see to her birth. If you orbed in there, I swear I would use my power against you." she said. "And I will let her know what kind of a father she has."

Leo wanted to shake some sense into Piper right then and there, but he can't. "Fine. Have it your way." And then he orbed out.

And they've never seen each other ever since.

Leo squeezed Piper's hand again, reassuring her of his presence. "I'm here, love. I'm here." He said softly.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Phoebe, what's Leo doing here?" Prue asked, as she paced to and fro in the waiting area.

Phoebe looked up at her sister. "Stop doing that, Prue. You're making me dizzy just by looking at you that I'm starting to see stars spinning above my head."

Prue halted and then sat next to her sister. "But. didn't she tell us never to call him?"

"I know. I wasn't the one who called him, though. Piper did." Phoebe answered.

"Piper?" Prue repeated.

Both sisters fell silent. "So I guess that just showed both had already forgiven each other," Prue said.

"I hope so, Prue. Piper needs Leo more than anything right now." Phoebe said, glancing at the delivery room. She can't really see what was happening inside, though she could see glimpses of nurses hurrying about. She sighed.

"Hey, do you want to grab a bite somewhere? I'm a little bit hungry." Prue offered, standing up.

Phoebe smiled. "Sure. As long as we're not having anything with caffeine."

Prue looked puzzled. "And why is that?"

"Well, I have so many exams this week." Phoebe explained as they left.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Leo looked at the scene with concerned eyes. Being a doctor in his past life made him knowledgeable of what was happening around him. And if his instincts were correct, he'd say that things are definitely not going as planned.

"Doctor, she had lost so much blood." the nurse whispered to the doctor.

Doctor Johnson nodded grimly. "I know." he looked at Leo. "I wonder if this is the right time to tell him this."

"Now is as good as any."

The doctor pulled down his mask and then walked to Leo. He placed a hand on his shoulder. "Do you mind if I talk to you somewhere?"

Leo looked down on his sleeping wife before answering. "Why? What's the problem?"

"Please. Let's go outside. What I am about to say is of grave importance."

Leo nodded. He gently let go of Piper's hand before stepping outside of the delivery room.

"Mr. Wyatt, I'm sorry, but your wife had lost too much blood in there. We cannot perform any blood transfusion since her blood, AB negative, is very rare and unfortunately, we don't have any supply of it in this hospital." He stopped, and then looked at Leo straight in the eye. "I'm asking you now for a very important decision, Mr. Wyatt, a decision that involves life and death. Your baby's and your wife's life is on the balance, both hanging on a slim thread of hope. Either we let one live or die, for we cannot save both at the moment."

"You're telling me to choose between my child and wife?" he asked, bewildered.

The doctor nodded. "I'm giving you half an hour to decide. Please, the machines could only sustain both lives at that period, so choose your decisions quickly, and wisely." He then left.

Leo combed his fingers through his hair. He felt his tears rushing through his eyes. "I can't decide on this alone," he thought. "I have to consult Prue and Phoebe."

Never minding whether or not somebody would see him, Leo orbed out of the hospital.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Prue and Phoebe found themselves inside a deserted coffee bar near the hospital. Prue ordered some decaf and a cheese roll, whereas Phoebe settled on some grilled tuna and juice. Their order sat in front of them, nearly untouched, as they talked about events that had happened in the past week. They both wanted to forget about their worries even for a short while.

".so I told him, 'Get out of my life, loser. I can do better without you.' and so, I fired him." Prue said, taking a sip of her coffee afterwards.

Phoebe laughed out loud. "That will surely teach him to respect women," she commented.

"Especially with a 'Halliwell' surname." Prue's eyes glimmered. "Not to mention a P Halliwell, specifically."

"You got that right, sister." Phoebe raised her hand in the air, and they both high-fived each other.

Suddenly, Leo orbed into them. Both women gave a yelp of surprise, causing Prue's coffee to spill on her blouse. Luckily she was wearing black that the stain was not that evident.

"Leo! Would you mind orbing only at the manor?" Prue said, a little irritated. She fished out a tissue from her purse and then wiped her blouse with it.

Phoebe threw a warning glance at Prue as she noticed that Leo's eyes were swollen. She touched his shoulder. "Piper. Something happened to Piper, isn't it? Leo, what's wrong?"

Leo hung his head. "Piper. she. she lost too much blood. They said if she went on with the labor, she will die. but if the  baby dies, she will live." A fresh torrent of tears found it's way on his cheeks. "They're making me choose between her and the baby. I can't decide." he looked at them. "I need your help."

Prue paled. "Oh my god." She whispered. "Why her?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"I don't know."

Phoebe stood up. "We have to hurry. We have to go in there! Leo. what's your decision?"

Leo shook his head. "I can't make this decision alone. That's why I came here suddenly, so that I could ask you your opinion." A single tear rolled down his cheek. He hastily wiped it away. "I don't know what to do."

Phoebe looked at Prue, her eyes already brimming with tears. "Prue."

"Leo, have you asked Piper about this?" Prue asked him, trying to mask her fear with a straight face.

"I can't. She's under general anesthesia as of the time the doctor told me this."

"What are we. what are we going to do?" Phoebe asked, directing the question to anyone. She sat on the chair, her feet unable to support her anymore. "Piper would be devastated if she knew her baby died."

"But at least, she will be alive to conceive again." Prue looked at Leo.

"So does that mean.does that mean you're choosing Piper over the baby?" Leo asked, looking at Prue first before turning to Phoebe.

"If that's the case, then so be it." Phoebe said. "I don't want to lose my sister."

"And I want to lose neither wife nor daughter, but given the chance. I would say I have to choose Piper."
Leo admitted.

"Then that's our answer." Prue said. "Let's go back to the hospital." She then picked up her purse. "We have to save Piper. We are already losing one Halliwell. We can't lose both."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Piper awoke the next day. Her head ached abominably, as well as several other aches and pains in different parts of her body. She looked around her with a puzzled expression. "Where am I ?" she asked herself. She raised one hand, and saw that it was connected to an intravenous tube above her head. "Hospital. I'm in a hospital." She muttered. "But why.?"

Suddenly, her gaze fell on her abdomen. Her flat abdomen. "My baby. is she." As realization dawned in, as well as some memories of what had happened earlier, Piper slowly smiled. At last, she could see her baby! She wanted to stand up and dance, but she thought otherwise. The pain she felt now was so intense, but the thought of her holding her baby compensated for it. Piper felt giddy with delight. "My baby. Melinda." She closed her eyes. Maybe if she could sleep, then she could hurry time.

The door opened, and in came both Prue and Phoebe. Prue had with her a basket of fruits while Phoebe
carried a vase full of fresh flowers. "Hi, Piper." Prue asked, smiling. "Are you okay now?"

Piper opened her eyes and then smiled back at both her sisters. "Yes, Aunt Prue and Aunt Phoebe." She said in a teasing tone. "I'm more than okay, now that Melinda's out. By the way, where's my baby? When's the nurse going to bring her here?" she asked hopefully, looking from one sister to the other.

Phoebe winced at the hope she heard in her sister's voice. She looked at Prue, before turning to Piper again.. "Piper, I think you better rest for a while. The doctors said you are still weak because of the operation."

Piper grinned at Phoebe. "Pheebs, I think you're exaggerating a bit. I wasn't operated on; I gave birth, remember?" she shook her head. "I told you you were the Halliwell that tends to exaggerate too much." She said, chuckling.

Phoebe looked at Prue again, this time, she was asking her to be the one to tell her. "I can't tell her." Her eyes said. Prue got the message, so she went to Piper and grasped her hand. "Piper, we have to tell you something." she started.

Piper looked at Prue, then at Phoebe. She shook her head. "Guys, frankly this is not the expression I was expecting from you. I was expecting you to be as happy as I am, now that I'm done with my pregnancy and all. Aren't you excited with the arrival of your niece?" she asked.

Phoebe grasped her sister's hand. "It's not that, Piper. It's just that."

"Oh, I get it." Piper said, grinning. "You're worried because now that I'm back on being slim again, I'll try to sneak up on you and wear your dresses?"

Prue looked at Phoebe, but said nothing.

"Come on, Prue, Phoebe. Tell me what's bugging both of you."

"Piper, the baby."

Prue was interrupted because at that moment, the door opened, and in stepped Leo.

Piper grinned. "Hi, daddy Leo." She said. She pointed a finger at him. "I'm guessing you've already met our darling little Melinda, right? Lucky you. Me, I'm stuck with these women who can't say a word to me."

Phoebe can't take it any longer. The light she saw in Piper's eyes every time she mentions her daughter. it was all too much. She muffled a sob, but she can't fight the tears that poured down her face. Prue wrapped her arms around Phoebe.

Piper looked at her sister, bewildered. "Hey, Pheebs, I was just kidding." She said softly. "I didn't know you'd take it so personally."

Prue looked at Leo, nodded, and then walked out of the room, with Phoebe in her arms.

Piper gazed at her sisters, confused. "Have I said something wrong?" she asked Leo. "I mean, I only asked her about Melinda."

"Piper, honey, we have to talk."

"Shoot."

Leo took in a deep breath. How can he explain it to her when he can't fully understand the whole situation himself? He walked to the bed. "Piper, listen to me. It's about Melinda."

"Oh, right, Melinda." Piper said, a wistful look crossing her features. "Do you want to have another name in between? Like, I don't know, Lea? Or maybe Patty, after my mom's name." She smiled. "Or maybe Melinda Lea Patty Halliwell. Quite a mouthful, but still."

"Piper, stop."

Piper looked at Leo, and became very concerned when she noticed that his eyes were brimming with tears. "What, Leo?"

Leo pulled up a chair from a table, and then sat on it. He stared at Piper's eyes. "It's about our daughter." He said. "She's. she's."

"Leo, what is it?" Piper asked again, becoming a little impatient. "What's wrong with Melinda?"

"She's dead, Piper." Leo stated bluntly.

Piper's heart jumped to her throat. "Dead," she repeated. "Oh, you mean, deadly beautiful, or drop-dead gorgeous."

"No, Piper."

"No, you listen to me, Leo." Piper said. "Melinda's not dead, do you hear me? She's not dead. She can't be. I saw her. She was in the future. She is our future. no." her voice broke at the end, and tears started to pour out from her eyes. She cupped her face with her hands, her body rocking back and forth on the bed. "She can't be." she sobbed.

Leo embraced his wife as she cried; as she mourned for her loss. He knew how much it hurted Piper to lose her daughter. She, who had nursed the baby as she grew up inside of her. She, who had felt the baby kicking and moving inside of her. She, who had spun dreams for her daughter. "Piper. I'm here. we can get through this. together."

But Piper didn't hear him. "Melinda. Melinda. my baby. my baby." she said, crying as though her tears came from a bottomless pool of anguish and sorrow. "She can't be dead! No!"

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"How is she?" Phoebe asked quietly as soon as Leo came out of the room.

"The same." Leo answered. "She's still not talking. She never even looked at me." He looked at Phoebe with a pained expression. "Why do I get the feeling that she's blaming me for some reason?"

Phoebe placed a hand on Leo's shoulder. "She's not, Leo. Believe me, she's not blaming you for anything." She said. "She just needs time to mourn. We all do."

Leo combed his hand through his hair, and then sat on a chair. "Everyday, Phoebe. Ever since that day I told her the truth, I walk in there, and she stares at this empty space behind me. I talk to her, I try to cheer her up, but I may as well be talking to a piece of furniture. She never respond, she never smiled, she never nothing. Nothing, Phoebe, nothing! There's no indication that she even heard whatever it is that I say."

"Leo, please. Don't give up on her. She needs you to be there for her."

"I am there for her, but I'm afraid she's not there with me." Leo said quietly. "She may never be."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Piper lay still, quiet, motionless. She feels as though she can't feel anymore. Numbness is all there around her. The joy, the happiness was gone. Only to be permanently replaced by a foreign sense of loss. She closed her eyes, as if this could shield her from the pain of losing her daughter.

How dare they decide her baby's fate for her. She opened her eyes again, and then clutched at the blanket tighter. They might as well kill her now, since without her daughter she is nothing. Melinda was the source of her strength. Melinda was the source of everything around her. Piper sighed. She wished that she had died along with her daughter. How she wished.

Suddenly she heard a crackling noise beside her bed. She looked at it, never saying a word, her face never revealing any fear, or whatever. A cloud of black smoke appeared, and then. a figure stood on its mist. "Your wish is my command." It said. It grabbed Piper's hand, and then yanked it upward, causing her to sit on the bed. Before she could even scream, a hand blocked her mouth, and then everything went black.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Prue gently opened the door of Piper's room. "Piper?" she said. She opened it a bit wider, and then stepped inside. Her sister was sleeping. Prue went to the bed, and then placed a hand on Piper's arm. She felt tears come into her eyes and she let them fall this time. No pretension, no masks. Just the truth. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.

She placed a hand on Piper's face, caressing her cheek. "Piper." she whispered. And then she bent down and kissed her forehead.

Suddenly, the door opened again and in came Phoebe. Prue wiped her cheeks again before turning to her youngest sister. "Hey," she said.

"Hey," Phoebe said, smiling. She looked at Piper, and then back at Prue. "She's still sleeping." She went to the other side of Piper's bed. "I checked on her earlier and I found her to be asleep." She told Prue. "I talked to Leo. He said that she's still not talking to him." She glanced at Piper. "She's not even talking to me."

"Pheebs, just give it time." Prue said, patting her sister's hand. "Piper's still grieving. She has the greatest suffering as of this moment. Just give it time."

Phoebe closed her eyes so that she could stop the tears from falling down. She opened them, and then looked at Prue. She cleared her throat. "So why are you here? I thought you have an assignment outside of town?"

"My boss gave me the week off. He learned of what had happened to Piper, and he was considerate enough to let me have a break."

"Good. Now, both of us can take care of her." Phoebe reached out and then hold on to Piper's hand. She gasped as a sensation shot through her entire body. It was a vision, a scene that clearly unfolded in her
mind.

Piper, holding out her arms, crying openly.

A figure laughing. A figure cloaked in a dark robe. A figure holding a baby.

Piper's baby.

Melinda!

Phoebe opened her eyes, an expression of pure shock on her face.

Prue rushed to her side. "What did you see?"

"It's not clear." Phoebe answered. "But I did saw Piper, and a figure holding her baby."

"Her baby? You mean. you mean Melinda is alive?" Prue asked. "But that can't be, Phoebe. I mean, we saw what the doctors did to her at the operating room."

"I know, Prue." Phoebe said, placing a hand on her forehead. Her vision was short. and completely baffling. "But that's what I saw."

"What could it mean?" Prue asked again. "And who is this figure holding her baby?" She looked at her sister with fear in her eyes. "Do you think. do you think it's a warlock? Do you think he took Piper's baby?"

"It could possibly be a warlock. But what about the baby? We saw the body, Prue. Melinda's body. There's no way she could be alive."

"Do you think we should wake Piper up?" Phoebe asked.

Prue nodded. "Let's tell her everything."

Phoebe went closer to the bed, and then placed a hand on Piper's shoulder. "Piper," she said, all the while gently shaking her. When Piper didn't seem to awaken, Phoebe shook her harder and called her on a louder voice. "Piper," she said. When Piper still didn't budge, Phoebe looked nervously at Prue.

Prue helped Phoebe in waking their sister, but nothing seemed to be working. "Phoebe," Prue said in a frantic voice, "call a nurse. somebody! Something's wrong with her!"

Phoebe nodded, and then ran outside of the room to get help. "Anyone!" she yelled, getting the attention of everyone in sight.

Leo looked up, and saw Phoebe dashing through the corridors. He stood up and met his sister-in-law. He grasped her shoulders. "Phoebe!" he said.

Relief flooded Phoebe's face. "Leo, thank god! Piper."

At that moment, a doctor rushed in to Phoebe. Phoebe turned to the doctor. "You have to help us, Doctor Johnson. We can't wake our sister."

Doctor Johnson nodded, and then hurried to the room, with Phoebe and Leo close at his heels.

They went inside the room, and then the doctor checked on Piper.

"What's happening?" Leo asked Prue.

"It's Piper. We can't wake her up." Prue said, close to tears.

The doctor used his stethoscope and checked on Piper's pulse. He grimaced. He walked out of the door and
yelled for back up.

"Why? What's going on? What's wrong with her?" Phoebe asked him.

"I'm afraid your sister's pulse had dropped dramatically. Her vital signs had dropped as well. I'm sorry to say this, but as of this moment, we're putting your sister on a coma." Doctor Johnson said grimly.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Piper looked around her. All she could see is darkness. "Prue! Phoebe! Anyone!" she shouted. Nothing. Just darkness. Silence.

She started to walk. While cautiously placing one foot in front of the other, Piper still looked around, wondering where she was and why she was there.

Suddenly, a giant flame appeared on to her right. Piper jumped, and then stifled a scream at the sight of a huge fire that was hovering so close to her. She watched in horror as the fire began to take shape. She placed a hand on her chest, and she felt her heart beating frantically. Piper raised her arms, and then used her power to freeze time. Nothing happened. She tried again, this time, concentrating all of her power to freeze the thing  in front of her. Still, nothing. The flame was still moving.

"You cannot use your power here." A voice boomed. "After all, a soul has no power of it's own."

Piper gaped at the figure, her fright escalating ten times. "Who. who are you?"

By now, the fire had formed to a man. He was cloaked in a robe that hid his face. He reached out and removed the hood. "I am Death," he said, revealing a hideous face. He raised his arms. "And welcome to my kingdom."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"How can that be?" Leo asked. "I talked to her earlier. She was fine by then. How could you place her
in a coma?"

Doctor Johnson shook his head. "We are troubled ourselves. I cannot explain how this could have happened. When she was released from the operation, her condition was excellent." he excused himself so that he could go back on Piper.

Prue placed a hand on her mouth, unable to utter a word. Her eyes flew to Piper's bed, where a dozen of nurses were hovering on her. She closed her eyes as if to shield her from the scene. "My god, it's happening again," she thought. Once again, her sister's life is in grave danger. And this time, they may never have the chance to save her.

Phoebe grabbed Leo's arm. "What are you waiting for?" she hissed at him. "Heal her, now!"

Leo looked at Phoebe, and then at Piper. He desperately wanted to help her, but how can he? He stepped closer to Piper's bed, and then raised his hand over her. The nurses were too busy with what they were doing to even notice what Leo was doing. Leo closed his eyes, and then summoned his power to heal. Suddenly, his eyes flew open, shock evident in his face.

Prue went to Leo. "Leo, did it work?" she asked. Phoebe, too, joined the two.

Leo shook his head. "I. I can't." he whispered.

"Can't?" Phoebe repeated, her voice breaking at the end. "Why, Leo?"

Leo looked at her straight in the eye. "I can't heal a body without a soul in it."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Death." Piper said. She looked around her. "Am I.am I dead? Is that why I am here?"

Death laughed. A laugh that sent chills running up and down Piper's spine. "That was what you wished for, witch. I am granting it for you." He stepped closer to Piper. "This is where you belong, my dear. You  should have been here a long time ago; only it was hindered by the Powers that Be."

Piper stepped back. "You're lying." She accused. "They weren't the ones who saved me, Leo did."

Death laughed again. "Think again, witch." He said. "That White lighter's gift of healing is puny. If they don't want you to live, do you think they'll allow his power to work on you?" He turned from her.  “Anyhow, that's the past. It's not important anymore." He faced her again. "The time is now, witch. I'm giving you the chance to choose." He raised his arms, and then a mist started to form on it. Death's eyes glimmered. The mist above him suddenly formed into something human. He lowered his arms, and then smiled at Piper.

Piper gasped. Death was holding a baby. Her baby. Melinda! She felt tears starting to form on her eyes as she stared at the tiny bundle of life in Death's arms. She looked at Death. "Give her to me," she said, raising her arms.

Death traced the baby's face with one crooked finger. The baby cooed and chuckled, as though her mother was touching her. Death looked at Piper with a sly grin. "I think your baby likes me." He said.

Piper took a step towards him, her arms outstretched, her eyes already filled with tears as she looked longingly at her baby. "Please. give her to me." She begged him. "I'll give you anything. anything you want. Just let me hold my baby." Tears poured from her eyes. "Please, I beg of you."

Death smiled sinisterly at Piper. "Well, that's something I don't hear everyday." He said. He cradled the baby in his arms. "A mortal begging for Death." He looked at the baby. "That's it, Melinda. Sleep. Sleep in my embrace. Sleep eternally in Death's cradle."

Piper took another step towards him. "Please! Give her to me!"

Death stretched his arms, as though he was already giving what Piper had wanted. As Piper was about to have the baby, he drew it back. "A decision, witch." He said. "Once you received your daughter, you have automatically made a decision."

Piper retreated, and then looked quizzically at him. "What are you saying? I don't understand."

"Melinda, Piper. Once you hold her, your link to your body would be broken. You'd die in your world, and remain here, with your daughter."

Piper's eyes widened. "I'm. I'm still alive in there." she thought. Prue. Phoebe. Leo.

"Of course you are, witch. The fools are trying to revive you, your husband is using his power to bring you back. But you can't be brought back, unless you wanted to." Death smiled at her. "Now choose. Either you go back to your world, without your daughter, or you stay here, where you could be with your daughter throughout eternity. Choose."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Phoebe's eyes filled with tears as she looked at Piper's still form in the bed. "Prue, what if she.?" she said, unable to utter the inevitable.

Prue shook her head. "There has to be a way to bring her back," she stated calmly, forcefully. She looked at Phoebe. "Concentrate on your premonition, Phoebe. Can't you recognize where she was or who she was talking to?"

Before Phoebe could answer, Leo cut her off. "A premonition? When did you have it?"

"Earlier, before we found out about Piper's condition." Phoebe answered.

"What was in that premonition?"

"I saw Piper, Leo. She was crying, and a hooded figure was standing in front of her. He was holding a baby. I'm not sure, but I feel as though it was Melinda."

Leo paced. "You saw Piper in your premonition. But she can't be anywhere because of her condition."

"Unless." Knowledge flickered in Prue's eyes. "Unless it was her soul that Phoebe saw!"

Leo stopped pacing, and then looked at Prue. Phoebe, too, looked at Prue, too shocked with the realization that dawned on them.

"Remember, Phoebe, you saw baby  Melinda in your premonition. Since she cannot be alive, that means what you saw in there was her soul, too. Melinda's soul! And Piper. Leo, you said earlier that you can't heal her body because her soul wasn't in it. What if her soul traveled? What if it went to a place where Melinda's soul went?" Prue said, looking from one person to the next.

"You're right, Prue." Phoebe whispered. "My God, that must be it. Piper followed Melinda." She glanced at Piper's figure in the bed. "But one thing more. Where are they now?"

"Phoebe, could you describe the location where you saw Piper?" Leo asked.

"There's nothing much, except. except this place of total darkness. Maybe some fire that was lighting the room or wherever it was."

"Can you tell me anything about the person you saw Piper was talking to?" Leo asked again.

Phoebe squinted her eyes as she thought hard. "He was wearing a hood that covered his face. A dark robe. a black robe. Otherwise, nothing."

"A black robe." Prue repeated. She turned to Leo. "Is there any warlock who wears that stuff?"

"No warlock, Prue, Phoebe." Leo said. "What you saw in there was Death himself."

"Death?" Prue asked.

"Yes. He is the only one in the underworld who wears a black robe." Leo covered his face with his hands.  “He is making her choose."

"Leo, what are you talking about?" Phoebe asked.

"Once a soul traveled, the place most likely for it to be found is in the underworld. In other words, Death's kingdom. This time, Piper is not really dead, but she may be if she chooses what Death was offering her."

"Which is.?"

"Melinda's life, and her death."

Prue's hand flew to her face. "What could we do, Leo? We have to bring her back!"

Leo shook his head solemnly.  "We can't. Piper's the only one who can decide on that one." He took a deep breath. "If she accepts Death's offer, she would die, and we can't do anything about it." Tears started to fall from his eyes, and this time, Leo made no attempt to wipe them off. "We can't do anything about it."

Phoebe sobbed, and she rushed to Piper's side. She grabbed her hand. "Piper Halliwell, listen to me. You can't accept his offer, do you hear me? You can't, and you won't! you can't leave us like this! you can't! you don't have the right!" Phoebe stopped as she realized that she was too choked with tears to continue. She slumped on the ground, and Prue was there. She hugged her sister, and together they cried, using each other as support.

"She can't leave us like this, Prue." Phoebe whispered.

"I know, Phoebe." Prue said, rubbing her sister's back. "I know."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"What now, witch?" Death sneered.

Piper looked at her daughter. "My Melinda." She whispered. "You're so beautiful."

"Yes, Piper, your baby is really a vision, isn't she? This was what your sisters and your husband deprived of you. They took your little one away from you, so that you would live to be very lonely." He looked at  Piper. "They don't love you, so why should you go back? In here you will be happy, with your daughter. You would love her, and she would love you. Here, Piper, with someone who would love you back. For all
eternity. Now choose."

Piper took a step forward and was about to say yes to Death when suddenly, a flash nearly blinded her. In a blink of an eye, she was back in her own body. She desperately wanted to open her eyes, but they were too heavy, each eyelid felt as though it weighed a ton. Finally, she managed to open them, though not fully. She saw Leo at her side, holding her hand. He was crying, pleading with her to come back. At the other side, she found her sisters. They were hugging each other. Phoebe's face was streaked with tears, and she could hear Prue's sobs although her back was facing her. Piper's eyes swam with tears. Another blinding light and this time, she was back in Death's kingdom, where Death still has her baby.

"Your daughter, witch, or your mortal life."

Piper took a step back. No matter how desperately she wanted to have her daughter, she knew that she can't leave her husband and her sisters. Not now. Not when she could still live. Not when the world still needs the Power of Three to protect them. She took another step back, and then spoke. "I choose my mortal life."

Death's smile was gone when he had heard what Piper said. "Are you giving up your daughter?"

"Yes. Yes I am." Piper looked at her baby. "I am so sorry, Melinda. But I can't. I can't."

Death made the baby disappear in a cloud of smoke. "You have chosen wisely, witch." He said. "Now go back to your place."

Another blinding light. Piper found herself to be floating on air. She was flying, she was free.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Leo cried as he held on to Piper's hand. "Piper, please, come back."

Suddenly, Piper squeezed Leo's hand. He looked up, and saw that her eyes had opened. "Piper," he said, before embracing her.

Prue and Phoebe heard Leo, and they both looked at their sister, believing that the worst had happened. Instead, they were met with the answer to their prayers. Piper's eyes were open. They rushed to her.

"Hey, guys." Piper said weakly. "I'm going to die if you won't release me now."

Abruptly, they let go of her. "Piper, we were so afraid that you would leave us." Phoebe said, still crying. But now, the tears she was shedding was of happiness.

"I know, Phoebe. Believe me, I know." Piper said.

"Piper, don't ever do that again." Prue reprimanded. But she was smiling as she bent down to kiss her forehead.

Piper turned to Leo. "Leo, honey, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to make everything difficult for you. I'm so sorry." She said.

Leo smiled. "Don't worry about it." He said, smiling despite his tears. "What is important is that you're back. You're alive, and that is all that matters." He bent and kissed Piper on the lips.

Piper kissed him back. After they had parted, she closed her eyes, and said a little prayer for Melinda. "I hope I can see you again, my child." She thought. "I know you are safe, now that you are there in the light. You are now in the cradle of love." She opened her eyes, and said aloud, "I love you, Melinda."

The End!
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