Monday, April 9, 2007

"NEIGHBORS" [PG] - 1/6 and 2/6


RATING: [PG] Mild adult language
SUMMARY: While battling a new warlock threat, Cole and the Charmed Ones meet his new neighbor. Set in alternate early Season 5.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind –
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Cole, Leo, Darryl and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling, Kern, Burge and WB. Dammit!


Part 1

Several police cars converged at the intersection of Gough and Washington Streets, just at the edge of Lafayette Park. Unable to recover Phoebe's athame, the Charmed Ones had no choice but to merge into the growing crowd that surrounded a corpse. A corpse that had once been a warlock out to add a young woman to her list of victims.

"Let's get out of here," Piper Halliwell murmured to her sisters. "Before our innocent sees us, again."

Phoebe protested, "What about my athame? It's still in that warlock's body and it has my fingerprints on it!"

"Well, we can't do anything about it, now! Maybe Darryl can help us recover it."

The three young women linked arms and made their way toward the park's remote interior. Before they could disappear, a voice cried out, "Excuse me!" The sisters turned around. They spotted a slender woman around thirty, with curly red hair, cut above the shoulders. The badge slung around her neck indicated she was an inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. She stopped before them. "Hi, my name is Inspector McNeill," she greeted, waving her badge in the air. "Do you mind answering a few questions?"

"About what?" Phoebe demanded. She shot nervous glances at her two sisters. "We didn't see anything."

Inspector McNeill gave them a cool smile. "Maybe. Maybe not. But we're questioning everyone around here, just to make sure. Now, if you'll just give me your name and number . . ."

"Look Inspector," Paige interrupted. Although she was the youngest Halliwell and had only been a Charmed One for about a year, her job at a social services office had given her more experience in dealing with the police than her older sisters. "We just told you that we don't know what happened. What's the point in questioning us?"

The red-haired inspector removed a pen and small notebook from her jacket pocket. "If you three had not made such a big deal out of trying to look unobtrusive, I wouldn't have bothered. Now," she flashed another cool smile, "may I have your name and address?"

Piper felt tempted to freeze the area in order for her sisters to get away. However, too many people have spotted them talking to the red-haired woman. And she also suspected that their sudden disappearance would increase the relentless cop's suspicions.

The Charmed Ones' shoulders sagged in defeat. Paige rolled her eyes and said, "My name is Paige Matthews. I live at 1312 Prescott Street."

"Hmmm. That address sounds familiar. And your phone number?" Inspector McNeill asked.

With a sigh, Paige added, "Area code 415-435-2783."

"Thank you." The inspector scribbled the information on her notebook. Then she turned to Phoebe. "And your name?"

Before Phoebe could speak, a familiar figure emerged from the crowd. The Halliwells sighed with relief. It was their close friend, Inspector Darryl Morris. "Hey, Olivia! What's going on?"

Inspector McNeill smiled at her fellow officer. "Darryl! What brings you out here at this time of the day? I thought you went home, already."

"Ditto. I'm surprised that you're also here. As for me, I heard the call about the body and decided to help." Darryl glanced at the three sisters and added, "Also, I believe Captain McPherson is looking for you. I'll finish up here, for you."

To Piper's frustration, Inspector McNeill shook her head. "There's no need. I'm almost finished, anyway. I just need a few names and addresses." Her green eyes focused upon the sisters.

"You're gonna keep McPherson, waiting?"

Slowly, Inspector McNeill turned to stare at Darryl. "It wouldn't be the first time," she replied. "Why are you making such a big deal, now?"

Darryl took a deep breath. "It's nothing. Just trying to help."

Suspicion gleamed in the inspector's green eyes. Which remained fixed upon Darryl's face. "Uh-huh." Then Inspector McNeill turned to Phoebe. "Now, you were about to give me your name?"

Phoebe glanced at Darryl, who shrugged helplessly. "I'm Phoebe Halliwell," she said. "And I also live at 1312 Prescott Street. Same phone number."

"Halliwell?" The inspector's eyes narrowed. Her stare made Piper feel very uncomfortable. And there suddenly seemed to be something familiar about her. Only Piper could not remember. McNeill continued, "I thought you looked familiar."

Paige spoke up. "You must read Phoebe's column in the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR."

"What column?" the inspector asked.

Embarrassment caused Phoebe's face to turn pink. "I, uh . . . I write an advice column for the SAN FRANCISCO BAY-MIRROR. You know, 'Dear Phoebe'?"

Inspector McNeill shook her head. "Sorry. I've never read it. What I meant was that all of you remind me of someone I used to know. And she had the same last name. You don't, by any chance, know a Prue Halliwell? Are you her sisters?"

Realization finally hit Piper. Now she recalled where she had seen the inspector before. "Wait a minute. Are you Olivia McNeill? From Baker High? Class of '88?"

A bright smile illuminated the inspector's face. "Yeah! And you are Prue Halliwell's sisters. You're Piper, right?"

Piper nodded. "Yeah. And I believe you graduated during the same year, as Prue."

"That's right. I haven't seen her in four years. Not since our ten-year reunion." The inspector's expression sombered. "I heard what happened, last year. I'm sorry."

Piper mumbled, "Thanks."

"And you," Olivia McNeill pointed at Paige, "how did you end up with the Halliwells? Are you a cousin?"

Paige murmured, "Half sister. I'm . . ." She glanced at Phoebe and Piper. "I'm their half-sister. Patty Halliwell was my mother."

Inspector McNeill's eyes seemed to examine Paige, as if the latter was a specimen under a microscope. "Oh. I gather that you're all at that same house on Prescott Street. So, when can I come by to question you about tonight? Will tomorrow morning do?"

It amazed Piper and her sisters that the inspector managed to return the subject back to the corpse found tonight. She repressed a sigh, while Paige replied, "Uh, sorry, but I'll be at work."

"So will I," Phoebe added. "And I also have a personal appointment around noon."

The unrelenting inspector added, "Okay, how about tomorrow afternoon? Around four o'clock? I'll drop by on my way home."

Realizing that they might as well cooperate, the Halliwells agreed to the four o'clock appointment. Inspector McNeill murmured a quick "thanks" before she turned to Darryl. "Okay, Darryl. You can now lead me to our infamous leader."

Panic crept into Darryl's dark eyes. Piper understood. He had lied to divert his colleague's attention away from the Charmed Ones. "I . . . uh . . ."

McNeill frowned. "What's wrong?"

Darryl sighed. "Nothing. C'mon." The two inspectors walked away.

Once the pair was out of earshot, Paige let out a big sigh. "Whew! I never met anyone so stubborn in my life! I hope we don't have any further trouble with her." She said to Piper, "She knew Prue in high school? Were they friends?"

"Noooo," Piper replied sarcastically. "I remember all of Prue's friends, and she wasn't one of them."

"You think she had lied about knowing Prue?"

Piper shook her head. "No, she and Prue knew each other, all right. In fact, I even remember Olivia McNeill. Like Prue, she was popular in high school. But they had some kind of rivalry going on. And they didn't like each other. At all."

A gasp left Phoebe's mouth. "Oh! Now, I remember! Prue used to bitch about this girl, all the time! About how difficult she was. And what was that she said? 'Morally ambiguous', if I remember correctly. And to think she became a cop. Judging from what I've seen of the good inspector, I'd say that Prue had met her match."

"I hope she doesn't prove to be as difficult with us," Paige responded. "I have this feeling that she knows something about us. And after Agent Jackman, I don't want to deal with another nosy cop."

Phoebe shot back, "Well, we might have to." Her sisters responded with confused stares. "Remember my . . ." Phoebe lowered her voice, ". . . my athame? It's still stuck in the chest of that warlock. What are we going to do?"

Piper sighed. "It's too late, now. Maybe we can call Darryl and ask him to get it for us."

The three sisters resumed their walk toward the interior of the park. Piper said to Phoebe, "You said something to Olivia McNeill about a personal appointment. Does that mean . . .?

Phoebe interrupted with a sigh. "Yeah. Cole has finally agreed to give me a divorce."

"I'm sorry, Pheebs." Piper gave her sister a sad smile.

A grunt came from Paige. "What's to be sorry, about? You should be relieved. We all should. Now that Phoebe will be free."


Phoebe quietly added, "She's right, Piper. I am relieved. I guess I'll always love Cole. But we'll never be happy, together. And frankly, I'm just glad that he's finally realized that."

* * * *

The newly divorced couple quietly strode out of the judge's private chamber. Cole Turner quickly made his way toward the elevator. A place where he could disappear in privacy.

"Cole!" His now ex-wife's voice stopped Cole in his tracks. "Cole, wait up!" A moment later, Phoebe was by his side. "I just wanted to know where you're going."

Coolly, the half-daemon regarded the petite woman by his side. "Why? To make sure that I'll be gone for good?"


"Don't worry, Phoebe. I won't pop up to wreck . . . vengeance upon you. If that's what you're worried about," Cole retorted sarcastically.

Phoebe shot back, "I wasn't worried about that!"

"Oh? I mean, you did have Paige make a potion to vanquish me. Using the blood from the letter opener you stabbed me with." A bitter laugh escaped Cole's mouth. "I bet your sisters are worried. Especially Paige."

Anger flared in the Charmed One's dark eyes. "Dammit Cole! What did you expect? It's hard for any of us to forget . . ." Phoebe paused and glanced around to make sure there were no unwelcoming ears. Cole rolled his eyes in exasperation and continued toward the elevator. "Cole!"

The pair entered the elevator. Unable to keep his feelings contained, Cole burst out in resentment. "Forget what, Phoebe? That I was the Source? Impregnated you with some spawn of evil? Or that I almost killed the Charmed Ones? I thought you knew that the Source's essence had taken over my body!"

"This isn't about you becoming the Source anymore," Phoebe protested.

Cole allowed the contempt he felt to reach his eyes. Phoebe shrank back. "Isn't it? Then tell me this. Why is it that when one of you becomes possessed by evil, the others are so willing to understand and forgive. I bet if Leo became evil against his will, you'd move heaven and earth to help him. And forgive him within a blink of an eye." His voice became even more caustic. "But I guess that same privilege isn't extended to the former Belthazor. No matter how many times I've saved your asses."

"If you want our trust, why can't you give up your powers?" Accusation tinged Phoebe's voice. "Or maybe you like being evil."

A hopeless anger settled over Cole. He began to wonder if he had fell in love with a woman incapable of understanding him. "Oh, c'mon Phoebe! This isn't about my new powers and you know it! It's not my powers you're afraid of. It's your own inner evil. You're still afraid that being around me will bring it out. That the next time you become evil because of me, it'll happen without the benefit of the Seer's potions."

"That's not true!" Phoebe shot back.

Cole sighed. "Really? Well let me tell you this. Everyone has to deal with their own inner evil, Phoebe. You, me, your sisters, Leo . . . everyone. It's taken me a while, but now I understand. So, don't use me as a scapegoat for your own personal problems! Now if you'll excuse me, I have a life to lead." He disappeared before Phoebe could respond.

* * * *

Four o'clock finally arrived. Olivia McNeill climbed out of her dark-blue BMW convertible and closed the door. She glanced at the salmon-colored house - the Halliwell home - and started toward the staircase.

Olivia recalled that she had not seen the interior of the Halliwell house since she was ten years old. It had been for Prue Halliwell's eleventh birthday party. Olivia also remembered that she and Prue never liked each other. But since their grandmothers had been old friends, Olivia ended up receiving an invitation to the party.

A sigh left the redhead's mouth and she began her ascent up the steep staircase. Once she reached the top, she rang the doorbell. Seconds passed before Phoebe Halliwell opened the door. She flashed a smile at the younger woman. "Hi! Remember me? Inspector McNeill?"

The half-wan smile on Phoebe's face told Olivia that Prue's younger sister was not particularly happy to see her. But the older woman was allowed inside the manor.

The manor's interior appealed to Olivia very much. Very old-fashioned in a Victorian style, yet very comfortable. And warm. Much like the McNeill home in Pacific Heights. "Nice place," Olivia murmured.

Phoebe ignored the comment and escorted her to a bright room with open windows. The Sun Room, according to Phoebe. There, Olivia found the other two sisters waiting for them. All three looked as if they were anticipating a battle. She could not help but smile at the image.

"Okay Inspector," Phoebe said, "we're all here. What exactly did you want to question us about?"

Olivia pulled a plastic bag from her purse. Inside was a deadly-looking athame. "I believe this belongs to you." Phoebe's face turned pale.

"Where did you get . . ." Piper immediately broke off. A moment passed and she took a deep breath. "I mean, what makes you think that athame belongs to us?"

"How did you know this was an athame?" Olivia quietly asked. "Most people usually mistake it for a knife or a dagger."

Piper opened her mouth. Then she closed it, looking quite sheepish. Phoebe slapped Piper's shoulder, while the third sister seared the oldest with a caustic glare.

Olivia continued, "Okay, ladies. You might as well tell the truth. Which one of you used this athame on our corpse, last night?"

"What makes you think one of us killed us?" Paige demanded. Her body practically vibrated with defiance.

It was time, Olivia decided, to end this farce. "Why else would the Charmed Ones and a dead warlock be at Lafayette Park at night . . . around the same time?"

Loud gasps emitted from the three sisters. Olivia had to admit that she enjoyed delivering the bombshell.

Paige was the first to recover. "Look Inspector, we don't know what you're talking about. Warlocks and Charmed Ones? This all sounds . . ."

"Ridiculous. Right!" Olivia heaved an impatient sigh. "Ladies, it's no use lying. I know you're witches. I know you're the Charmed Ones. Three sisters named Halliwell? Well, two and a Matthews." She directed the last sentence at Paige. "You obviously know what an athame looks like, and the fingerprints on the weapon belongs to one Phoebe Halliwell." Olivia now directed her gaze at the middle sister.

A long pause followed. The sisters exchanged uneasy glances. Phoebe asked, "What do you want, Inspector? You plan to blackmail us?"

"No. To give you this." Olivia tossed the bag at Phoebe. "The next time you vanquish someone with that thing in a public place, please remember not to leave it behind."

Suspicion glimmered in Paige's dark eyes. "Wait. I don't get it. You know all about warlocks?"

"And demons," Olivia added. "And witches. I happened to be one of the latter."

"How do we know you're telling the truth?"

Instead of answering, Olivia gazed at the athame inside the bag. A moment later, the bag flew out of Phoebe's hand and into hers. The Charmed Ones' eyes grew wide with shock. "My power. Telekinesis."

"Just like Prue's," Piper murmured.

Olivia's ears perked. "Prue also had telekinesis?"

Before Phoebe could answer, Paige continued, "How do we know you're a witch? You could also be a warlock. Or a demon."

Olivia sighed. Suspicious little thing. The youngest Halliwell or Matthews strongly reminded her of Prue. "Okay, you want proof. Fine." She took a deep breath and cried, "Leo! LEE-OO!"

Seconds later, a cluster of blue lights materialized into the form of Olivia's whitelighter, Leo Wyatt. The fair-haired man stared at her. And eventually, the Halliwells. He wore one of his usual expressions - bewilderment. "Olivia? What are you . . . oh!"

Piper looked downright astonished. "Leo! Are you her whitelighter?" Her eyes pierced his. "Well?"

Leo shrugged. "I . . . guess you've all met."

Olivia added, "He's the whitelighter for me and my two brothers, Bruce and Harry. He's been our whitelighter for the past fifteen or sixteen years."


The whitelighter nodded, "It's true."

Olivia added, "Not only did Prue and I knew each other in school, our grandmothers were old friends. In fact, Penny Halliwell was also my Aunt Kathy's godmother."

"So, why don't we remember your grandmother?" Phoebe said. "We're familiar with all of Grams' old friends."

"Do you know Elise McNeill? She's my grandmother."

Piper nodded. "Oh God, now I remember. Elise McNeill. She and Grams used to exchange recipes a lot. Remember Phoebe? Grams once told us that she had hoped that Mom would marry Mrs. McNeill's son."

"Jack McNeill," Olivia added. Then she smiled. "Now that we're all reacquainted, why don't you pay Gran a visit? She hasn't seen any of you since your grandmother's funeral and I'm sure that she would love to see you, again."

Olivia had the uncomfortable feeling that her suggestion had not gone well with the Halliwells. Especially with Piper and Phoebe. Olivia had heard rumors of the Charmed Ones' anonymity, but this was ridiculous! She knew that several witches in the San Francisco area had met the Halliwells over the past four years. And yet, not one witch could claim striking a close friendship with the sisters. Nor have any of the Halliwells ever been seen at a Wiccan festival or gathering. Olivia began to wonder if they were simply insular.

"Is there something wrong?" she asked after a long pause.

Piper finally answered. "No. Uh . . . we . . . we'll come by and see her." She paused. "Soon."

"Good." Olivia whipped out her notebook and pen. She scribbled her parents' telephone on a piece of paper. "This is my parents' phone number. Gran lives with them. I'll tell her to expect a call from you." Olivia smiled and handed the slip of paper to Piper. "Hope to hear from you. Soon." Just as she started to turn away, she paused. "Oh! One more thing."

Piper stared at the slip of paper in her hand. "Yeah?"

"About that warlock you had vanquished last night?" The Halliwells became fully alert, as Olivia continued, "Her name is Simone Crozat. And according to my Book of Shadows, she's part of the powerful Crozat coven. The word out is that they might be making an attempt to rule the Underworld, by killing as many witches and warlocks as possible. To consolidate more powers." She paused dramatically. "Including those of the Charmed Ones."

Paige replied with great confidence, "Thanks for the warning, but I'm sure that we'll be able to deal with them. After all, we did vanquish the Source. Three times." She ended with a small laugh that her sisters failed to join.

Olivia smiled politely at the youngest sister. "Well, I'm sure you're more than capable of taking care of a bunch of warlocks. Just be careful, okay?" She stuffed her notebook into her purse. "Well, I guess that's it. And don't forget to call my grandmother. She'll be expecting to hear from you. Bye." She turned to walk away.

A figure joined Olivia at her side. Leo. "I'll walk you to the door," he said.

The pair made their way to the front door. "Talk about an interesting bunch," Olivia declared. "Not exactly the friendly types, are they?"

Leo sighed. "It's not that. Being the Charmed Ones, they have to be very careful. They do attract a lot of demonic activity, after all."

"Oh come on, Leo! We all do." Olivia shot back. "And like them, we all have to worry about exposure."

"Olivia, they're still pretty new at being witches. Only four years! So you can understand why they're not exactly . . . social with other witches, can you? They have this big fear of being exposed. Especially after what happened to Prue."

Olivia more than understood. She had been shocked by the news of Prue Halliwell's death. And the real circumstances that surrounded it. Leo had told the McNeills about the time loop - especially after Olivia's mother, Gweneth McNeill, plied him with a sumptuous lunch.

"I guess you're right." Olivia sighed.

Leo gave her a sharp glance. "Concerned about this new warlock threat?"

That and my new apartment," Olivia replied. The redhead had just moved into a new apartment. According to one of the neighbors, moved into the apartment just below a particularly difficult tenant. "Mrs. DiCicco told me that the man is not exactly friendly. And that he has a bad habit of complaining about any noise from below him. I've already received one complaint from the building manager. You can imagine how my new neighbor and I will get along in the future. And the thing is my new apartment is so gorgeous!"

A sympathetic smile graced Leo's lips. "It's only for one or two days. Until you finally get settled in. Maybe you'll become friends."

"Maybe." Olivia flashed a bright smile at the whitelighter, as they approached the front door. "According to Mrs. DiCicco, he's a walking male hormone."

Leo smiled back. "He should be right up your alley."

"You know me too well."



Part 2

Cole stood in front of one of the large windows that overlooked San Francisco Bay, from his penthouse. Today had been something of an emotional roller coaster for him. First of all, the firm had just given him a new assignment, and a prestigious one, at that. It involved a lawsuit filed by one of the firm's clients, against a rival company, over the purchase of some valuable real estate in Napa Valley. Despite his "mysterious" disappearance last year, the law firm that he worked for, seemed willingly to keep him on their payroll. And allow him to maintain the plush penthouse and black Porsche.

But despite keeping his job, Cole had lost something he considered a lot more valuable. Namely his wife. A long sigh escaped from his mouth. Cole flung himself on the sofa. Perhaps a divorce had been the best thing for him and Phoebe. After all, he had been possessed by the Source at the time of the wedding. When one thought about it, Phoebe had been married to the Source in all but name.

Thoughts of the former evil entity brought forth the anger and resentment that Cole had been harboring for the past nine months. And not just toward the Source. Why couldn't Phoebe understand that she had not been the only one who had suffered? Or that he was no more responsible for what happened than she? Okay, he could kick himself for allowing the Seer to trick him into using the Hollow. But he had done so to save the Charmed Ones.

And why could Phoebe and her sisters understand and forgive if one of them ended up possessed by evil? But for some reason, they could not extend him the same regard. Was it too much for them to . . .?

A faint noise or vibration from beneath his feet interrupted Cole's bitter musings. Music. Great! He had to deal with another noisy neighbor for the second time since his return to the penthouse. And from the same damn apartment! Keeping his irritation in check, Cole left the penthouse to pay his new neighbor a visit.

He found himself standing in front of a door marked 716. Cole knocked. Seconds later, music blasted from the apartment's interior. And a figure appeared in the doorway. And immediately took Cole's breath away. She stood somewhere at 5'7" or 5'8" tall. Her stylishly cut hair was red - naturally red and very curly. Freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose and on certain parts of her delicate, yet slightly tanned face. She stared at him with eyes green as emeralds. "Hello there," she greeted in a slightly husky voice. "May I help you?"

A moment or two passed, while Cole stared at his new neighbor. He finally rediscovered his tongue and replied, "Uh . . . I . . ." Cole shook his head. "Sorry. Uh look, I'm your new neighbor. I live upstairs in the penthouse."

"Well, hello new neighbor," she added, sticking out her hand. Cole took the hand and shook it. "My name is Olivia McNeill. Call me Olivia. What's yours?"

Again, Cole hesitated. "Oh, uh Cole. Cole Turner."

"Hi, Cole Turner." Olivia paused and frowned. "Say, have we met before? Your name sounds familiar."

Suspicion clouded Cole's thoughts momentarily. How could she have known . . .?

"Excuse me, Cole?" Olivia's voice cut into his thoughts. "Um, is there a reason why you're on my doorstep?"

Cole immediately formed a stern expression. "Yeah. Look, I'm sorry to do this, but it's about your music. It's a little too loud."

A touch of frost glazed over the neighbor's green eyes. "Too loud? You've got to be kidding! I live 'below' you. And I'm keeping the music as low as possible."

"Obviously it's not low enough. I can hear it. Loud and clear."

Her voice now tinged with sarcasm, Olivia shot back, "Considering that you're standing outside my apartment, is it any wonder you can hear it?"

It took all of Cole's self-control not to zap the irritating woman with a demonic bolt. "I can also hear it from my penthouse. Now, will you turn that damn music down?"

"You can hear it from . . . Okay, I've got to check this out, myself." Taking Cole by surprise, Olivia brushed past him and marched toward the elevator.

The half-demon quickly followed her. "Where are you going?" he demanded.

"To your penthouse. I want to see just how loud my music is." The pair entered the elevator. They waited in silence as they were conveyed to Cole's penthouse. Once outside his door, a pair of keys appeared in Cole's hand, hidden behind his back. He had beamed to Olivia's apartment - without bothering to collect his keys.

Once inside the penthouse, Cole cocked his ear. Yep, he heard music all right. Some tune from the mid-1970s. His neighbor must be one of those Oldies fans.

The redhead whirled on Cole, her eyes flashing accusingly. "I don't hear anything. I feel a little vibration, but I don't hear any music."

"That might be vibration to you," Cole protested, "but I hear music. And I want you to turn it down."

Green eyes stared at him with disbelief. "What are you? From Krypton or something? You've got super hearing?" Cole glared at Olivia. Who returned his glare with equal heat. Then she let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. "All right! I'll use my earphones, if it will get you off my back. Jeez!"

"Thank you," Cole said politely.

"You know, for a walking male hormone, you're pretty damn touchy! Good night!" Olivia glared at him one last time and stomped out of the penthouse. Cole allowed himself a triumphant smile. Mission accomplished. And he managed to do it without incinerating anyone. Phoebe would have been proud.

* * * *

The thump woke Cole from an uneasy sleep. He shot up into a sitting position. Did he just hear . . .? Another thump followed, along with a cry. What the hell was that? Whatever it was, it seemed to be coming from the apartment below. Olivia McNeill's apartment. Strange.

Maybe his new neighbor had invited a boyfriend to spend the night. And the couple was engaged in some kind of sexual S&M thing. Cole began to lower himself back on the bed, when instinct - a gut feeling - took over him. He snapped back into a sitting position. Wait a minute. He felt something. An evil presence. Not demonic, but . . . Cole took a deep breath. A warlock? What was a warlock doing in the apartment below?

Twenty-one months of helping the Charmed Ones fight evil took hold of Cole. Without thinking, he climbed out of bed and beamed out of sight. A second later, he appeared in his new neighbor's living room. The sight that greeted his eyes took him completely by surprise.

A suited man with long dark brown hair and thin features hung in the air, literally gasping for air. And right below him stood Olivia McNeill, clad in a thin T-shirt and gym pants. Judging by her stance and the manner in which her arm flung outward, she seemed to be responsible for the man's present position. In other words, she was either another warlock. Or a witch.

"What the hell?" Cole cried out.

Her attention diverted by Cole's outburst, Olivia stared at him and gasped. She dropped her arm and the man fell to the floor with a thump. "Cole!" Olivia's face grew pale, despite the tan. "What are you . . .?"

"Look out!"

Cole's warning came to late. The man . . . or one should say, warlock flung out his hand and sent Olivia crashing against the wall with a cry on her lips. Her head made contact with the edge of a picture frame. Before the warlock could inflict further damage, Cole seared him with a fireball. Seconds later, the warlock exploded into oblivion.

A groan escaped Olivia's mouth. She struggled to rise to her feet. And failed. Cole stepped forward to offer his assistance. "Oh God!" she moaned. "What happened?"

Cole grabbed her hands and gently forced Olivia to her feet. "I believe you were attacked by a . . . by a warlock, I think."

"Warlock?" Olivia's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "How do you know about . . . Hey! You vanquished him!"

Cole gave his shoulders a quick shrug. "Well, yeah."

"Wait a minute!" The suspicion in Olivia's green eyes deepened. "What are you a witch, or something? Or are you something else? I've never heard of a witch who appears and disappears like that." She now expressed fear. "What are you?"

Feeling a mixture of dread and déjà vu, Cole heaved a sigh. So much for that new life. "All right, I might as well tell you that I'm a demon. Well, half-demon." He paused. "Then again, I really don't know . . . it's a long story."

Olivia winced as she moved her neck. Cole grabbed hold of her shoulders and forced her to turn around, so he could examine her. A thin red line of blood trickled from the back of her head and down her neck. "This is bad," he murmured. "Maybe you should call your whitelighter."

Green eyes radiated confusion. Along with lingering remnants of suspicion. "I . . . how do I . . .?"

"Look, if I wanted you dead, I would have killed you by now." Cole led Olivia to her sofa. "You really need to call your whitelighter. The bleeding is getting worse."

Still staring at her savior, Olivia mumbled, "Yeah, sure. Uh, Leo? LEO!"

Now it was Cole's turn to look surprised. A familiar cluster of blue lights materialized. Leo. Cole's eyes expressed shock at the sight of his bro . . . his former brother-in-law. "Leo?"

"Cole?" The whitelighter was dressed in a gray T-shirt and pajama bottoms. He looked equally stunned. "What . . .?" His eyes focused on the groggy-looking woman who sat next to Cole. Shock gave way to concern. "Olivia! What happened to her?"

Cole explained how Olivia had been attacked by a warlock. "I think she took a serious blow to the back of her head."

Leo immediately sat on the other side of the red-haired witch. He examined her head, placed his hand over the wound and healed it. "There," he said, "she should be fine."

Green eyes blinked momentarily, before they settled upon the whitelighter. "Leo! Thanks. I . . ." She touched the spot of her former wound. "Huh. No blood. Nice job."

However, Leo did not seem to be listening. Instead, he regarded Cole with wary eyes. "Cole! What are you doing here?"

"He's the new neighbor I had told you about," Olivia answered, instead. "But I am curious to know how you two know each other."

Leo took a deep breath. "He's my former brother-in-law."


Cole grumbled, "His ex-brother-in-law. Haven't you ever heard of Belthazor?"

Olivia's eyes grew round. Realization made them seem even greener. "Oh! Of course! I thought your name seemed familiar! You're the half-demon who . . ." Her face fell into a frown. "Did you say ex-brother-in-law?"

Cole glanced away, suppressing the anger that had ignited within him. He replied coolly, "Yeah, I did. Pho . . . I've been divorced since 9:45 this morning."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." An embarrassing pause filled the room. Olivia broke the silence, as she cleared her throat. "Anyway, thanks for coming to my rescue."

Surprise reverberated in Leo's voice. "Cole saved you?" The moment after the words came out of his mouth, Cole glared at him. "Sorry. Of course you did. Uh . . ."

"Why don't you go home, Leo? I'm fine and you're wife, Whats-her-name, must be wondering where you are." Olivia patted the whitelighter's arm and stood up. "Meanwhile, my neighbor and I will get to know each other." She gave Cole a bright smile.

Which Cole responded with a fleeting one of his own. He glanced at the clock on the mantle above the empty fireplace. Twelve thirty-four. "I'd like to stay and chat," he said politely, "but I have work, tomorrow. And I really need to get some sleep."

Disappointment flickered in her eyes. "Oh." Cole had to admit that he felt a similar pang. Although he found Olivia McNeill fascinating, the last thing he wanted was involvement with another woman. Especially another witch. Besides, he could not see himself falling in love with anyone. Not after Phoebe.

"Uh, if you'll excuse me, I should be going." Cole nodded at the whitelighter. "Leo. Miss McNeill." Then he beamed out of his neighbor's apartment, with the memory of her face imprinted in his mind.




Part 3

As usual, Leo was the first member of the Halliwell household to reach the breakfast table. All of the activity from last night, along with the orbing and healing had whetted his appetite for a large morning meal.

His wife emerged from the kitchen, carrying a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon. She placed it on the dining table. "Here we go. Now if only Phoebe and Paige would get their butts downstairs."

"Our butts are right here," Paige's voice announced gaily. She and Phoebe slid into empty chairs, opposite Leo. "Oooo! This looks nice. I haven't had a breakfast like this in ages."

Piper sat in the empty chair next to Leo. "That's because you've never hung around long enough to enjoy one, when you were working. Phoebe?" She glanced at the middle sister. "Can you pass me the butter?"

A somewhat subdued Phoebe passed the small bowl of butter to her older sister. Leo frowned. He understood her bleak mood. Which had been around ever since Cole agreed to give her the divorce. Both Piper and Paige expressed bafflement over Phoebe's attitude. After all, she had longed for a divorce from Cole for the past few months. Perhaps she wanted the divorce. But Leo suspected that some inner core of Phoebe's still longed to be with her ex-husband.

"By the way," Piper added, "I got a call about an hour ago. From Olivia McNeill's grandmother. It seems she has invited us over for Sunday brunch."

Biting into a slice of toast, Paige frowned. She chewed on her food and swallowed it. "Did you accept? I thought we had decided to be discreet. Even with other witches."

Piper heaved a sigh. "We might as well accept. After all, Elise McNeill was one of Grams' closest friends. An old friend from college, as a matter of fact. She used to be one of Grams' teachers."

"I'm surprised that none of you recognized Olivia McNeill, the other night," Paige said between bites.

To Leo's surprise, Phoebe spoke up. "Piper and I never really knew her. At least I didn't. Piper may have remembered her from high school."

"I remembered her. Only a little." Piper reached for another slice of toast. "Prue knew her best. They had graduated together, after all. Only . . ."

Leo asked, "Only what?"

Piper continued, "Well, they didn't like each other, very much. Olivia McNeill had this Auntie Mame persona that rubbed Prue the wrong way. However, I heard that she and Andy Trudeau were good friends. Which irritated Prue even further. I'll have to ask Darryl about her."

"Auntie Mame, huh?" Leo chuckled. "That's Olivia, all right. She's very unorthodox. In fact, the entire McNeill family is."

"And you told them all about us," Piper added accusingly.

Sensing trouble, Leo immediately rose to his defenses. "C'mon Piper! You've met Olivia. She has a real talent for making others talk. It's a wonder she doesn't have psychic abilities." He paused. "Although her younger brother does."

"Her younger brother?"

Leo added, "Harry. Harry McNeill. He's a telepath. And her older brother, Bruce, has the power of transfiguration. Like his dad."

A slight frown appeared on Piper's face. "Bruce?" Then clarification lit up her eyes. "Ohmigod! Bruce McNeill! He's the sous chef at one of San Francisco's top restaurants, the Golden Horn. And it's owned by his mother, Gweneth . . ."

"Gweneth McNeill," Leo finished. "She's a very good cook."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Are you kidding? She's one of the finest chefs around. And Bruce, I understand, is developing a similar reputation. Wow!"

"So, culinary talents aside, just how strong are the McNeills?" Phoebe asked.

Leo stared at her. Phoebe did not seem particularly interested in Piper's rhapsody over the McNeills' profession. However, she did look rather miserable. So miserable, in fact that it nearly broke Leo's heart. Come to think of it, Cole had seemed rather subdued, last night. Speaking of which . . .

"Leo?" Piper's voice cut into his consciousness. "Phoebe asked how strong were the McNeills."

He automatically replied, "Oh. Uh, very strong. The Power of Three is stronger, of course. But the McNeills are as strong as you are . . . individually." The sisters looked impressed. Leo added, "By the way, Olivia had a visit from a warlock, last night."

The Charmed Ones immediately became alert. "Is she all right?" Paige asked, looking concerned.

Leo nodded. "Yeah. After I had healed her."

"She must have been hurt pretty badly," Phoebe commented. "It's a miracle that she was able to vanquish the warlock. Or did she?"

Leo paused. He found it difficult to say these next words. But the Halliwells, especially Phoebe, deserved the truth. "Uh, no she didn't."

Phoebe frowned. "What do you mean? The warlock got away?"

Taking a deep breath, Leo continued, "It was Cole who saved her. He had vanquished the warlock."

While Piper and Paige reacted with consternation and surprise, Phoebe's face turned pale. "Cole vanquished the warlock?" Paige demanded. "What was he doing there? Don't tell me that he's still trying to prove how 'good' he is."

"He was saving Olivia's life," Leo replied calmly. "And she lives in the apartment below the penthouse."

Phoebe took a deep breath. "I don't recall her living in the building when . . ." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "When Cole and I lived there."

"Olivia had just moved into the building on Tuesday."

Silence enveloped the breakfast table. Paige, Leo noticed, shot sympathetic glances at Phoebe. Who now looked even paler. Meanwhile, Piper began picking at the food on her plate. Time to lighten the mood. "So," Leo continued with false joviality, "do you all still plan to visit Elise McNeill?"

The three sisters stared at him. Leo had a pretty good idea what their answer would be.

* * * *

Olivia strode along the corridor of the police station's second floor. As she passed the Men's Room, a familiar voice cried out her name. She halted in her tracks.

"Olivia, wait up!" Darryl Morris caught up with his redheaded colleague. The pair eventually continued along the corridor. "So," the tall man asked, "how are you? I've tried to get in touch with you, yesterday, but you were away from the station, most of the day."

The nervous edge in Darryl's voice caught Olivia's attention. She had a pretty good idea why he seemed on the edge. "How am I?" Olivia gave her companion a pointed stare. "What are we? Mere acquaintances? Why do you sound so formal? Or is there something you want?"

"What makes you . . .?" Darryl began.

"Darryl? Enough of the bullshit, please!"

The tall man sighed. "All right. I just wanted to know if you got anything new on that body found in Lafayette Park, the day before yesterday."

Olivia paused in the middle of the corridor and stared at her colleague. Then she grabbed his arm and dragged him toward an alcove where a candy machine stood. "Okay, Darryl. I have a question for you. How long have you known that the Halliwells were witches?"

Shock, denial and wariness flashed in Darryl's dark eyes in rapid succession. "What are you . . .?"

"Darryl? Please don't tell me otherwise. I know they are the Charmed Ones. Hell, I knew that Prue would be a witch before she did. And you were acting pretty odd that night at Lafayette Park. Besides, the Halliwells' grandmother and my grandmother were old friends."

Suspicion gleaned in Darryl's eyes. "Wait a minute. Does that mean you're a . . . witch?"

Olivia nodded. "Been practicing magic since I was fourteen."

Darryl shook his head in disbelief and sighed. "Oh God! There are more of you?" Then he added, "Did Andy ever knew about you?"

"Not at first." Olivia paused. "I had told him just before his death. He knew about Prue and her sisters, right?"

A touch of sadness briefly dimmed Darryl's expression. "About a month or two before he was killed. I learned the truth about six or seven months later."

"Oh. May I ask you one last question?"

Darryl replied, "Ask away."

Olivia hesitated. Unable to keep her new neighbor out of her mind, she asked, "Do you know Cole Turner? I believe he was . . ."

"Yeah, I know him. He's Phoebe Halliwell's husband. Well, ex-husband." Darryl eyed her warily. "Why? Have you met him? Has he caused any trouble?"

Olivia shook her head. "No. He's been a perfect gentleman. As a matter of fact . . . he's a neighbor of mine. I live right below him. And he saved me from a warlock, last night."

"I don't want to hear anymore about it." Darryl waved one hand in the air.

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Okay. I didn't realize that the subject of Mr. Turner was that disturbing to you."

Indignation flashed in Darryl's eyes. "He's more than disturbing. He's dangerous! Did you know that he's a demon? Or that over half a year ago, he became the leader of the Underworld?"

"That would be the Source," Olivia added.

"Well, he eventually got Phoebe pregnant with some kind of spawn of evil and made her evil, as well. That man - if you want to call him one - put the Halliwells through a lot of hell. They vanquished him," Darryl continued, "but unfortunately, he came back from the dead. And he tried to win Phoebe back by trying to some kind of Good Samaritan."

Olivia commented dryly, "Didn't work, huh?"

Darryl shook his head. "No, thank God. Phoebe made it clear that it was hopeless. Their divorce became final, yesterday."

"Hmmm." Olivia walked away from the machine.

Close on her heels, Darryl continued, "Look, I guess you don't think he's all that bad, considering that he saved your life. But I wouldn't put it past Cole that he did it to impress Phoebe."

"Gee! Thanks!"

Darryl grabbed her arm. "Olivia, all I'm trying to say is be careful. I mean the man is a half-demon. At least I think he is. He has caused a lot of misery. Especially to people I care about. And I don't want you to be next on his list."

Olivia gave Darryl a reassuring smile. "I assure you Darryl, you have nothing to worry about."

* * * *

The intercom on Cole's desk buzzed. His secretary's voice announced, "Mr. Turner, you have a call on Line 3. It's Mrs. . . uh, Miss Halliwell." A pause followed. "Your wife."

From behind his desk, Cole froze. Phoebe. What did she want, now that the divorce papers had been signed? Cole - rather reluctantly - picked up the telephone receiver. "Hello?" he greeted. "Phoebe?"

Her words came out in a breathless rush. "Cole? What's going on? Leo just told us what happened last night, with Olivia McNeill. What were you doing in her apartment?"

Resentment and a little anger sparked within Cole. He did not care for the accusatory tone in Phoebe's voice. After taking a few deep breaths, he calmed down. "I was saving her ass from a warlock. Or did Leo forget to add that?" Damn! He had not meant to sound so sarcastic or bitter.

A pause followed before Phoebe replied, "No, he didn't. I'm just curious as to why a . . . why you would bother to save her. You're not exactly in the habit of saving strangers on your own. What were you trying to do? Impress me? Because it's too late for that."

"I wasn't trying to . . ." Once again, Cole felt the anger within. He could not believe this! All he did was try to save some woman he barely knew and now, he was being accused of some ulterior motive. Granted, he had been guilty of this in the past. But not now. Not when it was too late. "Dammit Phoebe!" he shot back. "Don't you think it's a little late for me to impress you? All I did was try to save her! It was . . . I don't know. I guess after helping you and your sisters for over a year, I guess I've developed a habit of saving innocents. Hell, I didn't even know that Leo was her whitelighter!"

Silence greeted Cole's ears. Then he heard Phoebe take a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Cole. It's just . . . well, Leo's news took me by surprise. And I thought . . ."

"Yeah, you've made it pretty clear on what you thought," Cole interjected. Then he silently muttered an oath. He had not meant to sound so harsh. Or did he?

"Cole . . ."

It became Cole's turn to sigh. "Look, Phoebe, let's just end this conversation before it turns into a screaming match."

One last pause followed. "Fine," Phoebe replied in a choked voice.

Struggling to control his own swelling emotions, Cole hesitated. Another silent moment passed before he continued, "Shit! Phoebe, I'm sor . . ."

"Bye Cole. Maybe I'll see you around." Phoebe hung up.

Cole slowly replaced the receiver on the telephone. He swerved his chair around, and found himself facing the large window that overlooked San Francisco. While he brooded.

* * * *

Later that evening, Olivia stood inside her kitchen, putting the final touches on a dish she had just prepared. A dessert called Floating Island. Her "thank you" offering to her new neighbor, for saving her life.

Olivia picked up the dish, left her apartment and strode quickly toward the elevator. Once inside, she shifted the dish to one arm and punched the button for the penthouse. The only one in the building. Olivia wondered how Cole Turner managed to get his hands on it, let alone keep it after disappearing last summer. The lucky bastard.

The elevator delivered to the top floor. Olivia walked out and headed straight for the penthouse's double doors. She hesitated. What the hell was she doing? Her new neighbor was a half-daemon. A half-daemon who was at least over a hundred years old. And who for at least two months, had been the leader of the Source's Realm. That is, if Leo and Darryl were correct. So why did she bother with this visit? Especially when common sense would have dictated that she avoid him at all costs?

Olivia could only conclude that gratitude for saving her life had contributed to her decision to pay her new neighbor a visit. After all, Cole Turner really had no reason to help her. She was not a Halliwell. If she really must be honest, Cole reminded her a little of Richard. Her fiancé of long ago. Well, not that long ago. Richard had been dead for less than a year. Olivia saw the same intensity, loneliness and conflicted emotions that used to radiate from Richard's eyes when they first met. She knew that Cole was not another Richard, despite their similarities. But she could plainly see that he had endured a lot over a period of time. And that he desperately needed a friend.

She rang the doorbell. A minute passed and no one answered. Olivia rang the doorbell again. This time, one of the doors slowly opened. She caught her breath at the sight of the man that filled the doorway. He wore nothing but a pair of trousers and a sleeveless T-shirt. Good God! No wonder Phoebe Halliwell had fell for him like a ton of bricks! It seemed like a miracle that the other Halliwells did not follow suit.

Cole's blue eyes grew wide at the sight of Olivia. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Excuse me?" Olivia shot back.

Consternation flitted across Cole's handsome face. He sighed heavily. "Sorry, I . . . I didn't mean to sound rude. May I help you?"

Olivia held out the dish in her hands. "Actually, I'm here to give you this. It's called Floating Island. Just a little thank you gift for saving my life, last night." She placed the dish in Cole's hands.

He stared at the dessert. "I . . . uh, thanks. Although to be honest, I'm not really that . . ."

"Oh, you should try it," Olivia insisted. "It's really quite delicious. Well, hopefully. Floating Island is one of my mom's specialties and she is much better at making it than I am."

A nervous cough. "Look, I'm grateful for the . . . uh, gift, but I'm not really hungry at the moment. I'm trying to watch my weight."

"Really?" Olivia allowed her eyes to roam appreciatively over his masculine figure. "I'd say that a diet is the last thing you need to worry about."

"Okay, look," Cole returned the dish to Olivia, "thanks for the Floating Land, or whatever you called it, but no thanks. I'm not interested."

A spark of anger ignited within Olivia. Then she took a deep breath. 'Calm down, Olivia. Calm down.' "You don't have to eat it now," Olivia continued in her most calm voice. "Just keep it in the . . ."

"I . . . don't . . . want . . . the . . . damn . . . thing!" Cole literally shouted in her face. "UNDERSTAND??"

Her control over her anger slipped and Olivia's temper exploded. "Yeah, I understand! Christ! All I was trying to do is be a friend! There's no need to be rude!"

"A friend, huh? I bet you wanted more than that!"

Olivia's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What the hell did you mean by that?" she hissed.

A sneer formed on Cole's lips. "Leo must have told you all about me. The half-demon who became the Source? And since I saved your ass, you're probably wondering what makes me tick. Am I right?" The sneer disappeared, followed by an intimidating stare. "Well, I'm not in the mood to tell you what makes me 'tick'. Not to you or anyone else. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone. And the next time you find yourself dealing with a warlock or demon, I suggest you holler for Leo!"

"Thanks for the advice!" Olivia shot back scathingly. "Meanwhile, enjoy the dessert!" Using her telekinesis, she sent the Floating Island out of the dish and right smack into Cole's face. Then she spun on her heels and marched toward the elevator, feeling very humiliated.




Part 4

A chestnut-haired man in his early thirties sat in the chair on the other side of Olivia's desk, at the police station. His blue-gray eyes regarded her with disbelief. "I can't believe that you actually did that to him!" he exclaimed. "And lived! Livy, what the hell were you thinking?"

Olivia heaved a sigh and flipped open a brown folder. "I don't know. He pissed me off. Made me seem like some kind of woman who was desperate for a man. Another Geraldine Boone." She referred to a woman who lived in her apartment building. "Look, I was just trying to be a friend. He didn't have to turn on me, like that."

"He really must have pissed you off, considering that you showed up for work on a Saturday. Besides, what did you expect?" Bruce McNeill reached for a Japanese fan from his sister's desk and fiddled with it. "From what you've told me, he just went through a divorce. His ex-wife and her sisters regard him as the devil incarnate. And considering that he happens to be . . ." Bruce quickly glanced around, ". . . a half-daemon, that might not far from the truth. Maybe you should consider Darryl's warning and stay away."

"Warning?" Olivia snorted with derision. "First of all, I have every intention of staying away from him. Second, if you think he's going to kill me, he had every opportunity to do so for the past two days."

Bruce sighed. "I guess you have a point. He did save your life. Rather odd for the infamous Belthazor. And that includes falling in love with one of the Charmed Ones. I understand that he even helped them vanquish a lot of daemons and warlocks?"

Olivia nodded. "Including the old Source. At least according to Leo."

"Maybe so," Bruce replied, "but didn't he eventually become the new Source? At least for a while?"

"Yes Bruce, he did." Olivia gave her older brother a direct stare. "Is this leading up to more advice that I should stay away from him? Because you don't have to worry about that."

Suspicion gleamed in Bruce's eyes. "Do I? I know you, Livy. You can be very nosy. And you know what they say - 'Curiosity killed the cat'. I don't want to see you hurt, again."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "Curiosity killed the cat? Couldn't you be a little more original? And if you're referring to Richard, may I remind you that he wasn't a daemon. Nor was he the one who had hurt me in the end. Besides," she slammed the file shut and reached for another one, "are you sure that we have to beware of Mr. Turner?"

Bruce frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, from what Leo had told me, the Charmed Ones had vanquished him last May. Since his resurrection, he hasn't bothered to get revenge. Don't you find that odd?" Before Bruce could answer, Olivia changed the subject. "Speaking of the Charmed Ones, has Gran asked them over for Sunday brunch, yet?"

"Yeah, but they haven't accepted. At least not yet. Harry doesn't think they will." Bruce referred to the youngest McNeill sibling.

Olivia sighed. "Harry might have a point. When I met them the other day, they didn't strike me as the socializing types. They seemed to keep to themselves."

Bruce replied, "Perhaps they don't want their identities known."

"You mean by other witches? It's not like we're going to declare to the world that they're Charmed Ones."

Bruce could only respond with a shrug. Then he added, "It's strange that you would end up meeting Prue's sisters after all these years. Strange that none of us ever became close, considering that their grandmother and ours were close friends."

Olivia remained silent. A uniformed cop approached her desk, wearing a concerned expression. "Excuse me, Inspector."


The cop continued, "We just received a call about a dead body found in Candlestick Park."

"What does this have to do with me?" Olivia asked.

"Well, there's a chance he was killed in the same manner as the person found in Lafayette Park, last Wednesday."

Olivia's interest perked. She shot a glance at Bruce. "Oh? Same weapon?"

The uniformed cop shook his head. "The officer on the scene isn't sure, ma'am. But he thought you might want to check it out." He left.

Sister and brother stared at each other. "You think the Charmed Ones may have stumbled across another warlock?" Olivia asked.

Bruce shrugged. "Perhaps. Or else this victim might be a witch. Mind if I join you?"

"Sure. It's not everyday that I have a sous chef accompany me to a crime scene." Olivia stood up and grabbed her jacket. Her brother did the same and the pair headed out of the squad room.

* * * *

Saturday evening settled around the Halliwell Manor. Piper bustled about the kitchen, as she prepared a light dinner for her family. At least for three of them. Paige had a date tonight and Piper decided that a light dinner would probably be sufficient for her, Leo and Phoebe.

Speaking of Leo, her whitelighter husband materialized in the middle of the kitchen. Piper was not taken by surprise. She had been expecting him for the past hour or so. However, the worried expression on his face did surprise her.

"Hey Leo." She planted a light kiss on her husband's cheek. Leo did not bother to return the kiss. "Leo? Is there something wrong?"

A frown creased the whitelighter's brow. "I have some bad news," he said. "Are Phoebe and Paige around?"

"Yeah. Pheebs is in the Solarium. And Paige is getting ready for a date."

Leo started out of the kitchen. "I need to speak to them, as well. Phoebe! Paige!"

Piper followed her husband to the Solarium. There, they found Phoebe sitting in one of the wicker chairs, watching television. Paige appeared a minute later. "What's up?" the latter drawled. She wore a knee-length aqua-blue dress with a halter top and matching heels. The perfect outfit for a night on the town.

Leo turned to the three sisters. His expression was grave. "I had been summoned by Olivia and Bruce McNeill today," he announced. "They were at the police station this morning, when a call came in about a body found in Candlestick Park. Bruce recognized the victim as a fellow witch named Vincent Farrar and he had been stabbed by a dagger. Vincent had a fire power. A pyrokinetic."

Paige frowned. "Fire power? I didn't know that witches can have a fire power."

Phoebe ignored her and said to Leo. "Does Olivia have any idea who killed him?"

Leo sighed. "Olivia thinks the killer might have been another warlock. Which means that he or she now has a fire power. And this warlock might be from the same coven as the one you had killed, last Wednesday."

"Doesn't she know where this coven can be found?" Piper demanded.

"Sorry. She and Bruce tried scrying for any of the warlocks, but it was a no go," Leo said with a shrug.

Paige suggested that they scry for the coven. "Nothing like a little Power of Three to get things going. Or maybe we should use a spell to summon one of them. Or transport us to where they are at."

"We can try scrying for them," Piper replied. "But I don't think the transport idea is a good one. Especially if we don't have any idea where we'll end up."

Leo added, "Maybe you should work with the McNeills on this one. A coven of warlocks attacking powerful witches and no one can track them? This sounds pretty serious."

Piper brushed aside her husband's suggestion. She loved Leo, but he could a little skittish, sometimes. Too cautious. "I'm sure that a quick scry by us will do the trick. Paige, get the crystal, will you?"

While Paige left to fetch the crystal, Piper and the other two headed over to where a map of San Francisco laid stretched on a table. "Okay," Paige said, as she hung the crystal over the map, "here we go. Warlocks, warlocks. Where are they?" The crystal continued to hover, but after several seconds, it failed to pinpoint nothing. "Maybe Olivia was mistaken about warlocks attacking the witches. Maybe they're demons."

"I don't think so," Leo replied. "Olivia recognized both the warlock that Phoebe killed and the one whom Cole had saved her from, as part of the Crozat Coven from her Book of Shadows. She had encountered one several years ago."

A concerned Phoebe agreed with Leo. "Maybe we should work with the McNeills. Olivia seemed to be more familiar with this coven."

Piper sighed. As much as she disliked the idea of working with strangers, she realized that both Leo and Phoebe made sense. "All right," she said. "I'll call Mrs. McNeill and tell her that we accept her invitation to Sunday brunch." Piper paused. "Does anyone remember her telephone number?"

* * * *

Olivia's low heels clicked on the concrete ground, as she strode across the building's underground parking lot. It was late Sunday morning and she was on her way to her parents' home for the family's traditional Sunday brunch.

Once she reached her dark blue BMW convertible, Olivia clicked off the alarm. Then she placed a wrapped square pan on the passenger seat. She then climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine. Only the damn thing refused to start.

Olivia muttered an oath under her breath. Again, she switched on the engine. And again, failure. She smacked her hand against the steering wheel in anger. It seemed she would have to call Bruce or Harry to give her a ride to the McNeill manor. Heaving a sigh, Olivia reached inside her purse for the cell phone.

"Is there a problem?" a soft, masculine voice asked. Olivia glanced up and saw Cole Turner looming beside her convertible. He glanced down and smiled. "Hi. Car trouble?"

Olivia eyed the newcomer warily. Her mind conjured up images of the irrate neighbor, the reluctant savior and the rude bastard she had met over the past several days. And it seemed she was about to become acquainted with a new facet of Cole Turner's personality.

"Nothing I can't handle," Olivia coolly replied. "Is there something you need?"

Cole peered into the passenger seat. "No, I . . . uh, I spotted you from the elevator and decided to say hi." He pointed at the food on the car seat. "Going to a party?"

"Not quite. More like a family's Sunday brunch." Olivia added, "Those are sandwich loaves, by the way." Cole stared at her. "You seemed interested."

An embarrassed cough left Cole's mouth. "Well, I can only guess that it tastes as good as your Floating Island. Which was quite delicious, by the way. Too bad most of it ended in my face." He chuckled slightly.

Olivia winced out of sheer embarrassment. "Oh God! I'm sorry about that," she said in a contrite voice. "It was a childish way to lose my temper."

"Actually, I should apologize," Cole quietly interjected. "I was pretty rude that night." A half-hearted attempt at another chuckle followed. "Very rude, as a matter of fact. I, uh . . . I had an unpleasant conversation with Phoe. . . uh, my ex-wife. I guess I was in a bad mood that night."

An understanding smile tugged at Olivia's lips. "That's okay. Apology accepted." Her frown returned as she diverted her attention back to her car. "Now if I can just get this car started." She made one last attempt to switch on the engine. And once more, she failed. "Dammit! I knew I should have got this damn fixed when I had the chance."

"Need a lift?" Cole asked.

Olivia sighed from sheer relief. She glanced up at him with pleading eyes. "Would you mind? I'm going to 231 Pacific Avenue."

"Not at all." Cole helped her out of the car. Olivia reached inside to remove her sandwich loaves from the passenger's seat. "I was about to go for a drive. But I could get you to wherever you're going a lot faster."

"Teleporting? As in shimmering?"

Cole stared at her. "How did you . . .? Never mind. By the way, I haven't shimmered in about a year. I sort of blur or beam now."

Olivia gave him a wide. "Really? I haven't been teleported to another place in ten months. This should be interesting." She relished the astonished expression on Cole's face as they disappeared from the parking lot.

* * * *

One second later, Cole and Olivia appeared in front of a three-story Mission Revival manor. It stood on hill that overlooked San Francisco Bay. Cole was impressed. Very impressed. There was also something very familiar about this place.

"This is where your parents live?" he asked.

Olivia nodded. "The McNeills have owned the house for the past 127 years. It was one of the first homes built in this neighborhood. Before the 1906 earthquake." Cole followed her up the verandah's stairs and toward the front door. Olivia rang the doorbell.

The pair waited only a few seconds before a dark-suited man in his mid-fifties answered the door. "Oh, Miss Olivia! You're here." Cole immediately recognized his Welsh accent.

"Good morning, Davies," she replied, as she brushed past the manservant. Cole followed. "Is everyone here?"

Davies replied, "Yes, miss. And we also have . . ."

"Hey sis! You finally made it!" A tall young man in his mid-twenties appeared in the foyer. Like Olivia, he possessed red hair and green eyes. And he had the looks that one would describe as boyishly handsome.

Olivia gave the young man a hug. "Hey Harry! Long time no see. How was London?"

Harry shrugged. "Not bad." His eyes fell upon Cole. "Who's your guest?"

"Oh. I'd like you to meet Cole Turner." When Harry's eyes grew wide, Olivia nodded. "Yep, he's that Cole Turner. The one who saved me last Thursday."

Harry's face turned pale. "Oh."

"What's the matter?" a frowning Olivia asked. "You look as if you've seen a ghost. Or worse. Where is everyone? In the garden?"

The young man replied reluctantly, "Well, yeah. But I should tell you . . ." Olivia pushed past him before he could finish. "Olivia!" Oblivious to her brother's cry, the redhead continued across the foyer. Cole realized he had no choice but to follow close behind. "Gee, Livy! Can't you even wait until I finish?"

With Cole still following, Olivia marched into a spacious sitting room, filled with elegant and very expensive furnishings. Instead of stopping, Olivia continued toward a pair of French door. She swung them open, stepped outside and stopped short. Cole overheard her murmur, "Oh!"

"What's wrong?" he asked. Cole peered over Olivia's shoulder. The sight that greeted his eyes nearly caused his heart to stop.

A woman who resembled a middle-aged version of Olivia rose from a wicker chair to greet the newcomers. "Olivia, darling! You finally made it! I was beginning to wonder." The woman climbed a pair of stairs that led to the terrace where Cole, Olivia and her brother now stood. She hugged the younger woman and then her green eyes rested upon Cole with deep interest. "Who's this?" she asked. "Have we met, before?" Cole noticed that she also spoke with a Welsh accent.

"Mom, this is Cole Turner. The same Cole who had saved me from that warlock, last Thursday night," Olivia announced.

Green eyes grew wide. "Oh! So you're . . ." Realization crept into those eyes. "Oh. I . . ." Olivia's mother glanced at the figures below her. The McNeills and Cole descended the small staircase and approached the others,who now sat in chairs around a garden.

One figure stood up and eyed Cole with familiar suspicion. "What the hell is he doing here?" accused one Paige Matthews.

Olivia's mother smiled wanly. "Sorry about that, Livy. I forgot to tell you that we have . . . visitors."

Cole took a deep breath and glanced at his ex-wife and former in-laws. "I guess I better get going," he muttered.

Olivia placed a free hand on his arm. "Wait a minute! Not before I introduce you to my family." She nodded at the older woman. "This is my mother, Gweneth Morgan McNeill. And you've also met my younger brother, Harry." The red-haired man shook hands with Cole.

Two other men stood up to greet the half-daemon. Both stood at six feet tall and possessed chestnut-brown hair, blue-gray eyes and rugged good looks. One of them reached Cole first. He was older, at least in his early or mid-fifties. And there seemed to be a dangerous gleam in his eyes that struck a familiar note with Cole. "Hi, I'm Jack McNeill, Olivia's father." American accent. "It's nice to meet you again, after all these years."

Cole stared into the man's face. Memories from the past flooded his brain. Of a cunning male witch who nearly got the best of him some twenty-five years ago. Frowning, he asked, "Have we met before?"

A knowing smile stretched Jack McNeill's lips. He offered his hand. "London, June 1977. You were trying to steal an amulet from a friend of mine and my wife and I helped her set a trap for you."

Stunned by the realization, Cole absently shook McNeill's hand. "Oh yeah. Now I remember. You nearly killed me. I barely got away with my life."

"Sorry about that." McNeill gave a quick shrug. "At least you got away." He turned to the younger version of himself. "Oh, this is my son, Bruce. Bruce McNeill."

The younger McNeill shook Cole's hand. "Nice to meet you. Thanks for saving Livy's life, the other day. And this," he indicated a pretty blond woman, who sat in one of the garden's chairs, "is my fiancée, Barbara Bowen." Cole nodded at the woman.

"Nice to meet you all," he finally said.

Olivia nodded at the Halliwells. "I guess you know who they are. No need to introduce them."

Cole shot another glance at Phoebe and the others. "Well, I guess it's time for me to leave. I uh. . ."

Gweneth McNeill spoke up. "Are you sure you don't want to stay? We have plenty of . . ."

"Who's this?" a soft voice from behind, asked. Cole, Olivia and Harry whirled around. Behind them stood a petite woman with a silvery hair and blue-gray eyes. Cole figured her to be at least in her early or mid-seventies. He also realized that she must have been a beauty in her day. Her eyes gleamed with interest at the newcomer.

Olivia replied, "Hi Gran! This is the guy who saved me a few days, ago. Cole Turner. Cole, this is my grandmother, Elise Collins McNeill."

"So this is the famous Belthazor," Elise McNeill declared. Cole noticed how her family winced at her bluntness. But he did not mind. He could not find any hostility in her tone. Only interest.

Cole flashed a quick smile. "Belthazor has been gone for about a year, now. Just call me Cole."

"Really? But aren't you a daemon again?"

Olivia cried out in protest, "Gran!"

Mrs. McNeill rolled her eyes. "Oh please! It's a perfectly legitimate question."

"I don't know about that," Cole replied. He heard a scoff from one the Halliwells. Piper. "But I do have new demonic powers. It's a long story." He was amused by the woman's directness. In a way, she reminded him of Olivia. He shot another look at his former in-laws and his smile disappeared.

Mrs. McNeill patted his arm. "Well, I'd love to hear it."

"So would I," Jack McNeill added. "Why don't you stay for brunch?"

The McNeills, including Olivia, stared at Cole with expectation. Cole had not felt this welcomed since . . . well, since he and Phoebe first started dating. Nor did he recall the Halliwells sharing her feelings. Once more, he glanced at the Charmed Ones and Leo. "Uh, I'd like to, but I had other plans."

"Oh." Mrs. McNeill's eyes expressed disappointment. Then she glanced at the Halliwells. "I see. Well, how about Tuesday night?"

Cole glanced at Olivia, whose eyes looked hopeful. The other McNeills seemed to feel just the same. Why were they so interested in him? To satisfy their curiosity? Or maybe they felt grateful to him for saving Olivia's life. What the hell! "I'd love to accept. What time should I come?"

Smiling, Olivia replied, "Seven o'clock. We can come together." Cole's brows rose at the double meaning of her words. Her cheeks turned pink. "Uh . . . you know what I mean."

"Yeah. Well, I'll see you all on Tuesday." Cole gave them a polite smile and quickly made his escape.


Monday, April 2, 2007

What Went Wrong With CHARMED?

"What Went Wrong With 'CHARMED'?"

What happened with CHARMED? How did a show that used to be one of my top ten favorite ended up as something for me to be derisive about? Well, below is a list of some of the show’s traits that I believe contributed to the show’s decline:


This is a major problem with the show. We are led to believe that the Halliwells are the epitome of goodness, yet the writers have allowed them to get away with some very despicable acts. In the four years since Prue's death, the sisters have:

Cole’s First Death and the Source - Episodes like "The Three Faces of Phoebe" and "The Fifth Halliwell" had made it very clear that Cole was possessed. Instead of having the sisters discover this, the writers allowed the sisters to give into their worst fears and prejudices regarding his past and kill him. To make matters worst, they never found out in the following season that he had been an innocent victim of the Source. Instead, the writers dump the "Cole turns insane" storyline on us. In doing this, the writers failed to give the sisters a chance to discover their own potential for evil and thus, kill any chance of them developing as characters. Only Prue was given this chance in episodes like "Just Harried" and "Death Takes a Halliwell".

It seemed that the show’s "black-vs-white" morality became a prime example of how people judge others on a purely superficial basis. Which the Halliwells were guilty of. Look at Cole for example. The only reason why Phoebe had originally believed he possessed the potential for good was due to him being half-human. In her thinking, his human half equated to good, and his demon half equated to evil. When Cole had lost his powers for the second time in "Sympathy For the Demon", Leo automatically judged him good, because he no longer had his "demonic" powers. Even worse, the show tends to label certain powers as good ("witches, fairies, whitelighters, etc.") or evil ("demons, darklighters, warlocks").

I never could understand why the show thought it was necessary to change this, regarding the use of powers. The show made a big deal about witches not using their powers for personal gain. Yet, from what I have read about the Wiccan Rede (please correct me if I'm wrong), personal gain is not even considered. Wiccans seemed to be more concerned with using one's powers to deliberately hurt another, forcing someone to do something against his or her will, or using magic on others without their consent (which the Halliwells are really guilty of in S7's "Extreme Makeover: World Edition".

Phoebe, her sisters and Leo seemed incapable of accepting the possibility that ALL BEINGS, no matter who or what they are - have both light and darkness within them. The show has refused to accept the possibility that demons have the potential for good, just as humans have the potential for great evil. To the show's writers (and characters), a character's morality is mainly based upon WHAT he or she is, and not on the individual's emotional state . . . OR CHOICES.

Darryl’s Soul - In "Valhalley of the Dolls", Phoebe and Paige had committed a despicable act by raping Darryl's soul without his consent, in order to free Leo from Valhalla and remove a spell from Piper. This act should have had major consequences for the two sisters. Instead, the writers treated this act of psychic rape as a joke and dismissed the whole matter with Darryl lamely forgiving them. I was disgusted by this episode.

Rick's Murder - Phoebe and Paige committed another despicable act by setting up Phoebe's ex-classmate, Rick, to be murdered by demons. When he held them at gunpoint and demanded that they change his face, Paige obliged by doing just that by giving him Chris' face . . . instead of orbing the gun from his hand. The demons saw Rick with Chris' face and promptly killed them and both Phoebe and Paige - to my disgust - declared that their action was necessary.

Alliance with the Avatars - Another major crime that the Halliwells had committed was helping the Avatars to change the world by removing any dark thoughts from the human race and committing genocide against demons . . . all so that they can selfishly lead happy lives and not hunt demons. This little act resulted in the psychic rape of the world's population and the deaths of those few who were not affected by the spell. And what happened after "Charmeggedon"? Leo paid the price for his part in the spell, yet the sisters - especially Piper - not only did not pay the price for their actions. Instead, they blamed the Avatars for not telling them everything and the Elders for driving Leo into becoming an Avatar.

The reason I brought these up is that the writers allowed the sisters to get away with major crimes. The sisters had paid the price for using their powers for minor acts - like Prue using her telekinesis to force an annoying neighbor to step in dog poop; and Phoebe using her premonition power to find the future father of her future child - but never for major acts that I had listed above.Also, I really wish that the show would be more ambiguous and complex in its portrayal of morality. Everything is so simple-minded and childish. Demons/warlocks are all evil; humans are all good (unless there are no demons around). What is wrong in portraying demons and other supernatural beings that are ambiguous or even good? What's wrong in the sisters learning that morality is not as simple and easy to label, as they have assumed for so many years?

Speaking of Men:

Another problem I have with the show is its portrayal of men. I understand that it wants to portray women in a positive light as strong and intelligent. Okay. There is nothing wrong with that. By why does its portrayal of men have to be basically negative? CHARMED is supposed to be about feminism. However, my idea of feminism is not male bashing. And this is exactly what the show tends to be guilty of. During most of Seasons 1 and 2, the sisters had a tendency to make many quips at the expense of the male gender. And there was the "She's a Man, Baby! She's a Man!" episode that I would dearly love to forget.

And what happened to the male witches? I've only seen one so-called male witch on the show - Max from "Secrets and Guys" - and at age thirteen, he was too young to be practicing witchcraft.

Regular Male Characters - Another problem is that most of the strong male personalities on the show are either stripped of their power or dies. this happened to characters like Cole Turner, Andy Trudeau, Leo Wyatt, Chris Halliwell and Kyle Brody.The powerful half-demon Belthazor aka Cole Turner, ended up having his powers stripped in "Black As Cole" and was "deemed safe" to marry Phoebe. And when he became more powerful than ever in Season 5, he was judged "evil and insane" and targeted for vanquish in "Centennial Charmed".Andy Trudeau, Prue's strong-willed true love, ended up dead after he found out about the sisters at the end of Season 1. Although Piper and Leo's older son, Wyatt, is now very powerful, he is too young for the writers to do anything about it. Leo became an Elder at the end of Season 5, and later an Avatar in early Season 7. Thus the writers felt that they had to break him away from Piper. And they didn't reunite the couple, until Leo became a mortal (aka "safe") again. Both Chris - Piper and Leo's younger son, and Kyle Brody (both who happened to be strong personalities) ended up dead - along with ex-demon, Drake. And who are left? A powerless Leo; and Darryl Morris - who has been treated as a joke, lap dog or an annoyance throughout the show's seven years.

Darryl Morris - The writers' treatment of Darryl really annoyed me over the years. After Season 2, I got tired of him freaking out, whenever faced with the sisters' magic. Also, the sisters had mistreated him in a big way, twice, during Season 6 (soul raped in "Valhalley of the Dolls" and framed for murder in "Crimes and Witch Demeanors", thanks to Phoebe’s carelessness regarding one of her abilities). When he finally decided that he wanted nothing to do with them (and I didn't blame him), the writers treated as the bad guy for failing to forgive them. And when he finally reunited with them in Season 7, he returned to being one of the sisters' lap dogs. Leo became the other one.After years of watching the show, I am beginning to suspect that both Constance Burge and Brad Kern became leery of the idea of the Halliwells being associated on a permanent basis with strong male characters. And I find that sad.