Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Return With a Vengeance" [PG-13] - Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen




"RETURN WITH VENGEANCE"


CHAPTER 17


Blue eyes fluttered open and Olivia sighed with relief. She sat on the edge of Cole's bed and gave him a warm smile. "You're finally awake," she declared, keeping her tumultuous emotions in check. "How do you feel?"

"Fine," Cole croaked. "How long I have been out?"

After a brief hesitation, Olivia answered, "A little over eight hours. It's almost eight-thirty. The potion that Suzanne Maxwell had given you must have been very potent."

Cole sighed. "No kidding." He struggled to sit up. "Wha . . . what happened after Cecile had vanquished Dako?"

Olivia helped Cole sit up. "Oh, Phoebe got Leo to heal Darryl, Bruce, Piper and myself. And Leo helped us get you home. He and Bruce undressed you and put you in bed. Poor Leo, he was . . . well, a little uneasy about orbing a half-daemon."

"He'd done it before. When I was the Source." Cole sighed. "What about the police? Did they buy your story?"

With a shrug of her shoulders, Olivia replied, "Well, Captain McPherson did. By the way, you'll have to go by the precinct tomorrow, to file a statement." She paused momentarily. "But before you do, we have a little . . . file manipulation to take care of."

"Like what?"

Olivia continued, "Well, I had went by your office to inform them about your encounter with Suzanne. And I learned that Mr. Jackman was the one who had recommended you to her. He recalled first meeting her at a party, only he doesn't remember exactly when. Probably after the Tower Bay warehouse incident, which was a little over a month ago." Olivia noticed that Cole seemed to be wavering. "Are you okay?"

He took a deep breath. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, about that . . . I've got this idea, regarding Suzanne."

"Are you about to bring up that police report you had filed back in late October?" Olivia's question drew a frown from Cole. "I came across it, some time ago. About how someone had slipped a drug in your drink, at a party. I've always wondered how you managed to keep your job, after nearly strangling your secretary."

Cole rubbed one hand over his bewhiskered chin. "Well, it was either that or tell Jackman, Carter and Kline that the Daemon of Fear was manipulating my mind at the time."

"And they believed you?"

Wariness crept into Cole's eyes. "They did after the police confirmed my story."

"So, are you telling me that the police actually found traces of a hallucinogenic drug in your bloodstream?" Olivia gave Cole a shrewd look.

Cole returned her stare. "I'm sure you have a pretty good idea how I had convinced the police." He glanced away and sighed. "All right. So I had used the old Jedi mind trick on the cops, and on my bosses. And I had also conjured up evidence to back my story. I had lost my job, thanks to Barbas' tricks. So, I had to do the same to get my job back." His eyes returned to Olivia. Wary. "Disappointed?"

Was she? Olivia could honestly say no. Hell, she would have done the same, faced with a similar situation. And if she could look past Cole's actions in the death of that slimeball Ed Miller, she should have no problem with this. "Do I look disappointed?" she shot back, with a smile.

Cole responded with a warm smile of his own.

Olivia added, "Besides, Mrs. Maxwell should fit perfectly with your story. Murderous widow tries to kill attorney after he rejects her. And confronts her with criminal action."

"How did you know about . . .?"

"When I was at your office, your secretary gave me that private detective's report. I was surprised to find out that Maxwell was her real married name. And that she was married to a murdered man named Anton Maxwell." Olivia paused. "Did you know that he wasn't the first? That Suzanne was married, twice before, and 'widowed'? She had built up quite a fortune in the past five years or so. Also, our young warlock was identified by the police as one Rudolf Crozat. According to the Vancouver police, he was last seen with Anton Maxwell, before the latter's death. And dear Suzanne disappeared from Canada, six days later . . . after dissolving most of her husband's assets."

Cole murmured, "More profits for the MALEHEX Corporation. What about the urn that Bruce had found? What happened to it?"

"The police has the urn," a third voice added. Cecile entered the room, carrying a steaming mug. "Or maybe Customs have it by now. Olivia told us that many of the artifacts found in that office may have been smuggled into the country, illegally." She walked over to Cole and handed him the mug. "Boy, you really looked wasted. This should help. It's tea. Help you cleanse the last of that potion out of you." Cole sniffed at the hot liquid. "Don't worry. It won't kill you."

Dark brows cocked upward. "Are you sure?" Cole took a sip of the tea. "Hmmm, not bad. Actually, it's pretty good."

"Naturally," Cecile retorted good-naturedly.

Olivia added, "After you finish your tea, you should get some more rest. I think battling Dako and nearly getting your powers stolen may have taken a lot out of you."

"I'm fine."

"Uh, huh. You're lucky that you're still alive," Olivia shot back.

Cole gave her a curious look. "Do I detect a rebuke coming?" He drained the rest of his tea and handed the mug back to Cecile.

Hands on hips, Olivia faced the half-demon squarely. "That's right. I'm a little pissed at you."

"For what?"

"For not bothering to tell me that you had a meeting with Suzanne Maxwell. If Cecile hadn't received a premonition, you would have been dead. And probably the rest of us, as well."

Cole rolled his eyes and sighed. "Look, I thought I could handle her."

"Cole, did you ever stop to wonder why she was so interested in you? Hell, it's been preying on my mind all week! And all powerful or not, you're not invulnerable. Barbas had proven that when he managed to manipulate your mind, over a month ago. And even Paige managed to come up with a potion to strip your powers. She didn't need the Power of Three!"

Cecile added, "She's right. That was pretty stupid." She left the room.

"Thanks a lot," Cole grumbled. Then to Olivia's satisfaction, he expressed regret. "Okay, I'm sorry. It was pretty stupid of me. First of all, I couldn't reach you." He paused, his eyes focusing on his sheet-covered lap. "And I had forgot to call you, again. I'm sorry."

Olivia allowed a small smile on her lips. "Apology accepted. Just don't do it again," she said, softly.

As Cole stood up, the sheet slid off his lower torso. He glanced down, realizing that he wore underwear and nothing else. Olivia struggled to contain her amusement, as he jumped back on the bed and covered himself with the sheet. He glanced at her and frowned. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing. I just realized that you have answered the age-old question of boxers or briefs. Considering how tight those things are, you might as well be al fresco."

Cole's face turned red. But his embarrassment did not last long. "Well, I've also discovered something," he said.

"What?"

A wicked grin curved his lips. "That you give new meaning to the phrase 'French kiss'. All I can say, Livy, is that the man who marries you is going to be one lucky bastard." His grin now became downright lecherous.

Embarrassment washed over Olivia, followed by a wave of heat. She picked up a pillow lying on the floor and threw it at Cole's face. Then she fixed him with a fierce glare. "Get some sleep, Turner."

* * * *

The black SUV pulled into the Halliwell driveway and stopped. Paige, who sat in the back seat, let out a sigh. "Boy, am I glad to be home. I hate hospital food."

The two older Halliwells exchanged brief smiles and climbed out of the vehicle. Phoebe opened the back seat's door and helped Paige climb out. "Watch your step, honey. We don't want you to trip and get hurt, again."

"That's all I need, another trip to the hospital. At least I can't blame some Voodoo witch doctor."

The words immediately tumbled out of Phoebe's mouth. "Vodoun sorcerer. A bokor. Not witch doctor." Paige stared at her. "At least that's what Cecile keeps telling us."

Paige opened her mouth to speak, but closed it immediately when two figures approached the sisters. Their next door neighbors, the Murillos. "Miss Halliwell, I see that you're back," Mrs. Murillo greeted.

"Matthews," the youngest sister grumbled.

Oblivious, Mrs. Murillo continued, "I'm relieved that you're okay. Both Antonio and me. Right, querido?"

The elderly man nodded and mumbled, "Good to see that you're okay."

"Did the police ever catch the man who attacked your sister?" Mrs. Murillo asked Piper and Phoebe.

Piper shook her head. "I'm afraid not. But I don't think he'll come back."

"But if Miss Halliwell saw her attacker, surely he will come back to make sure that she doesn't . . ."

Phoebe cut in. "He won't be back. According to the police, he was last seen in . . . I mean, down south in Oxnard."

"Oh." The elderly woman nodded. "You know, for a moment I thought that thief or whatever he was, looked a lot like your friend. The police inspector."

Time to nip this suspicion in the bud, Paige decided. "It wasn't him," she said abruptly. "The guy who attacked me only looked like Darryl. But it wasn't him."

The Murillos smiled with relief. "That's good to hear," Mrs. Murillo said. "Well, we better get going. It's time for Antonio's lunch. Good day." The elderly pair started back toward their house.

Paige shook her head in disbelief. "How on earth did you two ever deal with that woman as a neighbor and be witches at the same time?"

"We usually tried to ignore her," Piper caustically replied. "It's not easy when living next door to a real live Gladys Kravitz."

Phoebe grabbed Paige's arm and escorted her inside the house. "I wouldn't be too hard on Mrs. Murillo. She and her husband did save your life, Paige."

"That's what I don't understand," Paige shot back. "Why didn't Whatshisname simply kill the Murillos?"

Piper closed the front door behind her. "I don't know, honey. Maybe some part of Darryl managed to stop Dako from killing them."

"Like . . ." Paige stopped herself. During the last two days, she had time to reflect about Elise and Jack McNeills' comments about Cole. That perhaps her former brother-in-law may have been the victim of the Source. She remembered her close calls with death, last spring - during Phoebe and Cole's wedding, her encounter with the power brokers and her brief period as a vampire. Each time, it had been Cole (as the Source) who ended up saving her. If Darryl, while under possession by that sorcerer, had managed to save the Murillos, why couldn't Cole do the same?

Snapping out of her reverie, Paige realized that both Phoebe and Piper were staring at her. "Like who?" her middle sister asked.

Paige thought quickly. "Like you," she said to Phoebe. "When you were . . . you know, Queen of the Underworld. A part of you was still trying to save an innocent." A faraway look clouded Phoebe's eyes. Paige wished she had not opened her big mouth in the first place. "Phoebe, I'm sorry. I didn't mean . . ."

"No, it's okay," Phoebe replied, giving Paige a dim smile. "I understand what you were trying to say. That a small part of Darryl had fought to save you and the Murillos. Like a small part of me tried to save Greg Conroy."

Or a small part of Cole may have tried to save all of us on numerous occasions. Paige kept the thought to herself. She knew that Phoebe and Piper were not ready to deal with that possibility. She also realized that one day they would all have to face it.

"By the way," Piper said, breaking the somber mood, "I received a call from Mrs. McNeill. Gwen McNeill. She invited us to another one of the family's Sunday brunches, tomorrow. I told her we would think about it."

Paige immediately spoke up. "I want to go." Her sisters stared at her. "I want to see Olivia's friend. Ask her a few questions about this Voodoo, or whatever you call it."

"Thinking of converting?"

Paige gave her sister a teasing smile. "Maybe." To her delight, both sisters responded with shock. Nice to know that life was back to normal, again.

* * * *

"I want to thank you, Mr. Turner, for coming down here, today," Captain McPherson said. The burly police captain sat behind his desk, opposite Cole and Olivia. "Inspector McNeill tells me that you've gone through a traumatic experience."

Cole merely shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Not too traumatic. Suz . . . uh, Mrs. Maxwell only managed to drug me. That's all." Can't talk about his experiences with Dako. "I'm only glad that Olivia had showed up before Mrs. Maxwell's boyfriend could kill me."

"He was her cousin, not boyfriend," Olivia explained. Cole gave her a quick glance. Their little script for today's trip to the police precinct seemed to be progressing well. Cole and his neighbor had spent the early morning, visiting the police offices of both Vancouver and Seattle, making adjustments to Suzanne Crozat's record. He had been surprised to learn that the late warlock had already accumulated quite a criminal record during her 32 years on Earth. Drug use, theft and assault.

Captain McPherson grunted. "Nonetheless, you had a very narrow escape. The next time you have any suspicions about a client or a potential client, Mr. Turner, we would appreciate it if you inform us. Or your employers." He gave Cole a pointed stare.

The half-daemon squirmed with discomfort. Which became annoyance, when he saw the amused smile on Olivia's lips. God, he is never going to live yesterday, down!

"I'm sure that Mr. Turner will be more cooperative in the future, Captain. Right Cole?" Olivia looked at him with innocent eyes. She smiled.

Cole responded with a lukewarm smile. "Yeah."

Olivia added, "By the way, I had spoken with one of your senior partners. A Mr. Jackman." Cole perked up. Time to resume their script. "It seems that he was the one who recommended you to Mrs. Maxwell. At a party, over a month ago. The very one at which you claimed you had been drugged."

Knowing what was expected of him, Cole sat up. "Really?" he said with false interest. "You mean to say that she . . .?"

"There is a good chance, Cole. In fact, I'm only surprised that she didn't approach you sooner." Olivia paused dramatically. "She had a history of drug use."

Still in his role of outraged citizen, Cole continued, "But why would she do that to me? Slip a drug in my drink?"

Olivia shook her head. "I have no idea. Personally, I think she was a disturbed woman. Maybe she had some kind of fixation on you. At least you proved to be a threat." She turned to Captain McPherson. "You know, I'm beginning to wonder if Mrs. Maxwell and this Mr. Crozat were responsible for the disappearance of the staff at the Tower Bay warehouse. It was owned by the Crozat family."

To Cole's relief, a knowing smile touched the captain's lips. "Yes, I've considered that possibility. I understand that Mrs. Maxwell and Mr. Crozat were the last remaining members of MALEHEX's board of directors. Looks like a case of theft and murder. I wouldn't be surprised if they had been plotting to get their hands on the company for themselves."

Cole added, "But the MALEHEX Corporation had been liquidated. It's in the report I had received on Mrs. Maxwell."

"Yes, we know," McPherson replied. "The Department has decided to consider that case close."

Olivia protested, "But that doesn't explain how the entire staff had dis . . ."

"The case is closed, Inspector." McPherson gave Olivia a hard stare. Cole managed not to smile. Then the captain closed the open file on his desk. "By the way, how is Morris? Is he still sick?"

Nodding, Olivia replied, "He's getting better. His wife thinks he should be back at work on Monday morning."

* * * *

"I should be back to work on Monday," Darryl was saying to the Halliwells. "Fortunately, my captain thinks I'm sick, so I shouldn't be in trouble." Just several minutes ago, the three sisters had dropped by to pay Darryl a visit. Leo was busy elsewhere, attending to 'heavenly' duties.

Piper smiled at him. "That's good. I'm glad that you're okay, Darryl."

"How about you?" Darryl asked. "I understand that Dako, or whatever his name is, tried to take your ba . . ."

A frown darkened Piper's countenance. "Fortunately, he failed." Her smile returned. "And the baby's fine."

"Yeah, thanks to Cole." The moment Darryl had mentioned the half-demon's name, the three sisters stiffened. He silently bit his tongue. "Uh, sorry about that. I didn't mean . . ."

Phoebe added, "Well, I guess we can't deny that he did save the baby."

"Oh. Yeah." Darryl found himself wishing that this visit would end. Of all the stupid things to do - open his mouth and mention Cole Turner. It felt bad enough remembering what he - or Dako had done to Paige. Since her arrival, the youngest Halliwell had barely said a word to him. He wondered if . . .

Sheila burst into the Morrises' recreation room. "Hey honey! You have three new visitors. Do you mind?"

Darryl sighed. "Yeah, sure. Show them in."

Piper added, "We better go. This house is getting crowded already . . ."

"No, no! Stay." Darryl signaled to his wife. "Send them in."

Sheila disappeared. Seconds later, three people entered the bedroom. "Hey Darryl!" Olivia greeted gaily. She spotted the Halliwells and her gaiety dampened. "Ladies. I didn't realize you were here." Cecile Dubois and Cole, whom Darryl had never expected to see inside his house, tramped into the room. "So," Olivia plopped down on the sofa, next to Darryl, "how are you feeling?"

Darryl grunted. "Okay. Despite being possessed by some Voodoo spirit for nearly two days."

"Vodoun," Cecile corrected. "Don't forget."

To his dismay, Darryl saw Piper roll her eyes. He suppressed a sigh. "Whatever. I'm just glad to be free of it." He paused. "Exactly what was it?"

Cecile replied, "The spirit of an 18th century bokor named Dako."

"Bokor. That's like an evil sorcerer, right? One who practices black magic?"

Paige spoke up. "I think that's what Phoebe said."

From the corner of his eye, Darryl spotted the other two Halliwells stiffened with discomfort. Phoebe shot a wary glance at Cole, who seemed bent upon ignoring his ex-wife.

Olivia said, "I'm surprised that you knew, Darryl. Been doing some research?" She pointed at the computer laptop on the table, next to Darryl.

Darryl's face grew hot with embarrassment. "I was just . . . I mean . . ." He saw the smirk on Cole's face and growled, "Never mind!"

"No, it's great!" Cecile declared. "It's great that you're showing interest in Vodoun. After all, it's part of your heritage."

Memories of his church-going parents popped into Darryl's mind. "I don't know if my parents would agree." His eyes rested upon a large black pot that Cecile held. "What's that?" he asked.

"Jambalaya," Cecile answered. "My mama's recipe. A little gift for you. I better give this to your wife." She faced the Halliwells. "Would any of you like to sample a bite? If Darryl doesn't mind."

Paige opened her mouth to speak, but Piper beat her to the punch. "Thanks, but we were about to leave," she said with a polite smile. "Maybe another time." She waved at Darryl. "See you later, Darryl. I hope you get better."

"Thanks."

Before the Halliwells left, Olivia cried out, "I understand that my mom invited you over for brunch. Will you be there?"

"Yeah!" Paige shot back before her sisters could answer. "See you!" She left the room, followed by Piper and Phoebe. The latter shot an impassive Cole another glance, before leaving the room.

Olivia said to Darryl, "Well, at least you'll have a chance to sample Cecile's jambalaya. It's great. Mom tried to get the recipe."

"But I wouldn't give it to her," Cecile added. "Family recipe. I'll be in the kitchen." She left.

Darryl shifted the conversation back to Dako. "By the way, what happened to those warlocks? Phoebe told me . . ." Darryl noticed the uncomfortable expression that flitted across Cole's face. "She told me that you had killed them."

Cole replied, "It was Olivia, Bruce and Cecile. They saved me from getting my powers stolen. And killed."

"Huh."

Olivia added, "They were the ones responsible for Dako possessing you. It seems someone in Singapore named William Dagbani had sent them an urn with Dako's spirit inside. I've asked the Singapore police about him. Apparently, he's left the country."

"Great," Darryl replied. "At least he doesn't have Dako."

Cole said, "There's a good chance this Dagbani is a bokor. Which means he probably knows how to summon Dako from the Underworld. He's done it once. He can do it again."

Olivia started toward the door. "Time for some jambalaya." She left the room.

Darryl turned to Cole. "Mind if I ask you a question?" he said.

Regarding the other man with a wary eye, Cole asked, "What is it?"

"Olivia told me that you were possessed during the time you were the Source," Darryl continued. "Is it true?"

Cole gave Darryl a long, cool look. "You believe her?"

Darryl shrugged. "As long as I've known her, Olivia has always been pretty sharp. She could spot a lie or that something wrong better than anyone I've ever known. Including Prue."

A pause followed before Cole finally answered, "Yeah, it's true. I was possessed."

"So why didn't you tell Phoebe and the others, when you came back?"

Cole glanced away. "She didn't want to hear the truth. Or speak to me. And I was so obsessed in getting Phoebe back, I figured that if I accept responsibility, she would see that I was remorseful and could change. In a way, I was responsible. I had allowed the Seer to trick me into using the Hollow. Giving the Source the opportunity to possess me."

An uncomfortable silence followed. Darryl recalled that moment inside Cole's penthouse, when he had convinced the latter to let Phoebe go. And Cole seemed prepared to do just that when Paige stopped him. "If that's all," Cole added, "I'll leave you to your resea. . ."

"I have another question," Darryl said, interrupting. "What was it like . . . being possessed?"

Cole sighed. "Frustrating. Scary. Like being trapped in a dark box. You can't do anything, while some bastard uses your body to commit all sorts of acts."

Darryl nodded. "Yeah, that's exactly how I felt. There were brief moments of freedom, though."

"When you prevented Dako from killing Paige and the Murillos?" Cole nodded. "Yeah, I've been there, myself."

The two men fell silent again. Then Darryl said, "Look, I uh, I want to apologize. For believing the worst about you. I didn't realize until now, how much hell you had went through. I guess . . ."

"Once evil, always evil?"

"Yeah." Darryl paused momentarily. "As a cop, I guess I should have known better. A lot ex-cons tend to go back to their old ways, simply because everyone else judges them by their past. And never give them the chance to redeem themselves. I guess I forgot that."

Cole smiled. "Well, you're forgiven, if it makes you feel better."

Cecile popped her head into the doorway. "You two better get a move on, or else the 'Red-Headed Creature That Ate Frisco' is gonna to finish this jambalaya." Her head disappeared.

The two men exchanged smiles and followed the woman out of the room.


END OF CHAPTER 17


A/N: Damn! I should just finish it right here and now. But I've got one more thread to tie.

-----------------


"RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE"


CHAPTER 18


Three people sat in lawn chairs, as they watched the couple engage in a martial arts match on the McNeills' sprawling back lawn. Harry could not help but admire the couple's skills, especially those that belonged to one Cole Turner.

"Not bad," he murmured. "I had forgotten what a good fighter, Cole was."

Cecile tore her eyes away from the sparring couple and gazed upon the red-haired witch. "You forgot? You've seen him fight before?"

"Yeah. When we had rescued the Halliwells from the Crozats, last month." Harry saw Cole skillfully deflect a potentially lethal punch from Olivia. "Only, he didn't look this good."

Bruce commented, "You have to admit that Olivia seemed to be holding her own, pretty good."

Both Cole and Olivia continued their sparring session. The trio held their breaths, as Cole sent Olivia off her feet with a low kick. However, the latter quickly recovered with a gymnastic roll and landed back on her feet.

"By the way Harry," Cecile continued, "how did you managed to send a telepathic message to all of us, when Dako attacked you? I mean I can send one without being in the same room with the other person, but to send a message to more than one person?"

Bruce said, "If you thought that was impressive, you should have been here, last month. Harry had picked up on Phoebe Halliwell's premonition from across town."

"Really?" Cecile's dark eyes gazed curiously at the youngest McNeill. "Now that's impressive."

Feeling embarrassed and pleased at the same time, a wave of heat washed over Harry's face. "It only happened once," he replied. "I had been meditating at the time."

Everyone returned his or her attention to Cole and Olivia. "You know, if I didn't know better," Cecile continued, "I'd swear that I was watching some kind of sexual foreplay."

"Maybe you're right," Bruce added. "I think Livy is attracted to him."

Cecile shot back, "I'd say that in Cole's case, the feeling is mutual. I had sensed something between them when I first met him."

Harry frowned. "Sensed? What did you feel?"

"Something." A cryptic smile curved Cecile's lips.

But Harry refused to let the matter drop. "C'mon Cecile. What did you sense? Did you see their future?"

"Well, let's just say there is a very good chance they might have a future together." Cecile paused dramatically. "If they let it happen."

Their eyes returned to the couple. Both Olivia and Cole were engaged in a series of punches and defensive blocks. Then Olivia grabbed Cole's wrist and in a sudden move, threw him over her shoulder. The victory only lasted for a second or two. Cole managed to grab her wrist and jerk Olivia downward, forcing her to land right on top of his body. For several seconds, the couple stared into each other's eyes, breathing heavily. And then they broke into laughter.

"Jesus," Harry muttered. "Why don't they just get a room?"

Cecile added, "Tell me about it."

Bruce responded with a slight cough. Then, "Leo! Ladies! I see you finally made it!"

Harry tore his eyes away from the couple in front of him and saw his whitelighter and the Halliwells standing beside Bruce's chair. Staring at Olivia and Cole with horror and shock.

Olivia caught sight of the newcomers and quickly rolled off Cole. Who scrambled to his feet and helped Olivia stand up. Both smiled at the new visitors. "Hey Leo!" Olivia greeted happily. "Glad that you could make it."

* * * *

After a quick shower and a change into fresh clothes, Cole returned outside to the McNeill's back lawn. There, he found the family's Sunday brunch in full swing. He saw that Darryl Morris had arrived. Darryl's wife could not make it, due to family obligations in Oakland. But their two sons could. Cole spotted them playing with Harry McNeill. Everyone else, except for Olivia, were either sampling the food or sitting down in lawn chairs. Cole noticed one empty chair near Jack McNeill and moved toward it.

"Hey," he greeted. "Mind if I join you?"

Mr. McNeill glanced up and smiled at Cole. "Don't mind at all." Cole sat down. The former continued, "But I must warn you, I'm expecting someone . . ."

A figure appeared before the pair. It was Piper Halliwell, holding a plate of food. She rolled her eyes and muttered, "Great. I guess I better see how Leo is doing." And she walked away.

Cole sighed. And to think he had been enjoying this day.

"Sorry about that," Jack McNeill said with an apologetic smile. "I should have warned you that I was speaking to Piper."

Another sigh left Cole's mouth. "That's okay. Maybe I'm getting used to being regarded as a pariah or monster by a Halliwell. But I am getting tired of it."

Gray-blue eyes stared at him shrewdly. "You still want their forgiveness, don't you? Their acceptance?"

Cole opened his mouth. "I . . . I don't know. Maybe. It's not easy trying to get over the fact that one's ex-wife and her family regard you as evil. Then again, maybe I should have asked Paige to take away my powers, again. After I had killed Barbas."

Mr. McNeill shook his head. "You weren't meant to be mortal, Cole. It's not what you are. And I don't think being mortal would make you happy."

"Yeah, but I would still be with Phoebe, if I had remained . . ."

The middle-aged man's gaze became intense. "Listen to me! The last two times you became mortal, disaster followed. First with the Source, and later with Barbas. I wouldn't tempt fate for a third time."

Cole paused and reflected on the other man's words. "I guess you're right," he finally admitted. "Too bad Phoebe doesn't understand."

"I don't think she wants to understand. In fact, I get the feeling that she has never understood you. From what I've seen of your memories, she seemed incapable of accepting your true self." Mr. McNeill paused. "I wonder if she had ever really loved the real you."

Those last words struck Cole like a thunderbolt. Mr. McNeill had outwardly stated one of his major fears in regard to his relationship with Phoebe. Except for those few months following Prue's death - when Paige was still a novice witch - Phoebe had always seemed willing to accept him - with conditions. Those conditions - not using his powers, and becoming mortal - had brought out a deep resentment that Cole kept hidden from Phoebe, due to his desperation to maintain her love.

"As for Piper," Mr. McNeill continued, "I don't think she has ever liked you. Or ever will. This is something you might have to simply accept. Can you?"

Cole stared at him. "Do you only mean Piper? Or the entire family?"

"All of them."

A long pause followed, before Cole finally answered, "Ask me again in a few months." He smiled.

* * * *

"So, it wasn't the warlocks who had summoned this Dako?" Paige asked Cecile. The Vodoun priestess and Darryl Morris sat in lawn chairs, several feet away from the refreshment table.

Cecile shook her head. "No. I doubt they had the ability to summon him. Olivia, Bruce and I found out that Dako's spirit had arrived, trapped in an urn. And that urn came from someone named William Dagbani, who might be a bokor. You know, it's interesting. When did Dako took possession of your body? When you were asleep?"

Darryl nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

"Well, practioners of Vodoun believe that a person's soul has two parts - the gros bon ange or the big guardian angel and the ti bon ange, the little guardian angel. The ti bon ange usually leaves a person's body when he or she is asleep, making it easy for a spirit to possess the body," Cecile continued. "It's interesting that Crozats knew when to allow Dako to take possession. This Dagbani person must have told them."

"Did he give them a spell to vanquish that bastard? I thought Bruce found one inside the Crozats' office." Darryl added. He forked off a piece of quiche.

"He did, but it probably wouldn't have worked. They weren't Vodoun." Cecile paused. "Unless they have some West African ancestry."

Paige nodded. "Phoebe told me about that. I wonder if the Crozats knew."

Cecile shrugged. "Apparently not. It makes me wonder if this Mr. Dagbani knew the Crozats would fail to vanquish Dako. Hell, I wonder what he was really up to. It's too bad he had left Singapore before the cops could question him."

This sobering thought left the trio silent for a moment. Then Paige said to Darryl, "Uh, by the way. I'm sorry for giving you the third degree, yesterday. The last time I saw you, I nearly died. I guess I forgot that it wasn't really you."

"It's okay," Darryl replied with a smile. "I'm just glad that Cecile and Cole finally freed me from that bastard."

A frown crept into Paige's countenance, at the mention of her ex brother-in-law's name. "Piper and Phoebe told me that Cole had hit you pretty hard, when he drove Dako out of your body."

"He had no choice. Your sisters' potion didn't work."

Cecile added, "And I had forgotten to bring my potion. I have to admit. It was pretty smart of Cole to use Dako's power against him. He told me that something similar happened to him, when he was possessed by some daemon named Andras."

Paige shook her head. "Yeah, but . . ."

"Honey, why are you dragging this out? Cole did what he had to do to save us all. Especially Darryl." Cecile gave Paige a hard stare. "Besides, didn't you once help him, when the others had refused?"

Memories of the Charmed Ones' last encounter with Barbas rushed back into Paige's head and she shuddered. She had seriously believed that Cole needed help. And she had been right. Yet, never did she imagine that his powers would prove to be so . . . powerful. Invincible. Even against the Power of Three. That little discovery had made Paige even more leery of her former brother-in-law. Matters only became confusing, as she began to question what really happened between Cole and the Source.

She sighed. "Okay, so I did. He needed help at the time. Still . . ."

"Still what?" Cecile's eyes remained fixed on Paige's face. "Look, whatever problems you have with Cole, you really need to get over them. Seems to me that he's trying to start a new life. If you don't want to be a part of it, fine. But there's no need to make it difficult for him - even behind his back."

Paige found herself growing uncomfortable . . . and embarrassed under the other woman's steady gaze. Darryl focused his attention on the food spread out on the table. "I . . ."

"Hey!" Bruce McNeill's voice carried across the lawn. "Are you three going to just stand there all day?" The three people finished filling their plates and joined the group that had begun to form around Cole and Mr. McNeill.

* * * *

Feeling refreshed in clean clothes, Olivia joined the others on the lawn. She glanced around and noticed that everyone seemed scattered about. Darryl, Cecile and Barbara had gathered in one small group. Harry and Paige, the youngest Halliwell, were preoccupied with Darryl's two sons. Phoebe sat nearby, observing them with great amusement. The others - her parents, Bruce, Cole, Piper and Leo had formed a large group near the garden. Olivia headed toward them. "Hey guys! What's the topic for today?"

"That urn I had found inside the VENDRUM office," Bruce replied. "And the file Cole had sent to Dad."

Olivia's father added, "Which I've read, by the way. Do you all realize that the Crozats had a detailed file on each of us? It had information on nearly everything we've done in our lives, whether normal or supernatural. All of us. Cole included."

The half-daemon gave Jack McNeill a sharp look. "Even before I had met Phoebe and the others?"

"Well, I can only assume information like that came from the Source's Realm. However, they certainly had plenty of information on your life, since your return from the Wasteland."

A frowning Piper asked, "What about my baby? Was there any information on . . .?"

"That your baby is a powerful being?" Dad finished.

Everyone, including Olivia, stared at both Piper and Leo in shock. "Piper's baby is powerful?" Olivia asked.

Piper remained silent, while the whitelighter looked uneasy. "Well . . . yeah. There's a chance the baby might be as powerful as Cole."

A mixture of surprise and disbelief filled Cole's eyes. "How did that happen?" he asked. "Who else knows about the baby?"

Leo frowned. "What do you mean?"

Looking somewhat earnest, Bruce continued, "Someone knows a hell of a lot about us, Leo. All of us. And he or she was willing to give this information to powerful warlocks, like the Crozats. And since information about your baby was found in those files . . ."

"We know," Piper interjected sharply. "Phoebe, Paige, Leo and me."

Leo added, "And the Elders, of course. In fact, a certain number of them had foreseen the baby's powers before we even knew about it."

"Anyone else?" Dad asked. "Like a daemon or warlock?"

Piper stared at him. "Why is it so important that we find out? I'm sure there are plenty of demons and warlocks who know about the baby."

"Like who? I found a spell in the Crozats' file that enabled a fetus to be transferred from one womb to another," Dad continued. "Sound familiar?"

"I . . ." Piper glanced uneasily at Cole.

Leo spoke up. "Last spring . . ." He paused, before continuing. "Last spring, Phoebe was pregnant with Cole's . . . the Source's baby. The Seer used a similar spell on her."

Cole's blue eyes grew wide with shock. "Is that how she lost the baby? I thought you all were forced to vanquish it. Or that Phoebe had a miscarriage."

Piper's face turned pink with embarrassment. Olivia noticed that she shot a quick glance at her younger sister. "I guess that you and Phoebe haven't had a chance to talk since you came back from the Wasteland."

"And whose fault is that?" Cole muttered angrily.

Outrage replaced the embarrassment on Piper's face. "Hey! At least Phoebe had never decided to become the Source and turn you into some evil consort!"

"I didn't exactly volunteer for that particular job title!" Cole's angry voice attracted the attention of others, Olivia noticed. Including Phoebe's.

Gweneth McNeill's voice rang with authority. "Enough! This is not the time to be pointing fingers! Leo, who else knew about your baby?"

The whitelighter hesitated. "Well . . . uh, that warlock . . . Eames . . ."

"An alternate future Eames," Piper corrected. "And he's dead. Along with that darklighter who tried to kill Paige's dad, nearly three weeks ago."

Dad asked, "What about other whitelighters?" Leo responded with an uneasy nod.

"Wait a minute!" Piper demanded. "Are you trying to say that a whitelighter may have given that file on us to the Crozats? That's ridiculous!"

All of the McNeills stared at the oldest Halliwell. "Why?" Olivia demanded. "Four whitelighters have turned since you last killed the Source, last spring. And according to Dad's former whitelighter, the last one became a darklighter just several days ago. I guess Leo didn't bother to tell you." She shot a dark look at her former whitelighter.

"Of course I didn't!" Leo retorted, looking very upset. "And none of you weren't supposed to even know about that. It's a whitelighter matter!"

Dad glared at him. "This whitelighter matter may have cost us a lot, Leo! I had warned you about this, last month! About the Source's Realm being in chaos and how it can upset the balance between good and evil. But apparently, you weren't listening!"

Piper stared at her husband with shocked eyes. "Leo, is this true? Is this what that last whitelighter meeting was about?"

Olivia saw the dumbfounded look on her whitelighter's face. She had never felt so sorry for Leo than she did at that moment. Poor bastard. Before anyone could speak, Cecile appeared, holding her cell phone. "Hey Cole!" she cried, unintentionally easing the tension within the group. "Guess who's calling right now? An old friend of yours! Andre!"

"Huh?" Looking bewildered, he stared at Cecile, as she thrust the phone into his hand. Then he excused himself and walked away.

Olivia's stomach rumbled, signaling to her that she needed food - right away. And with Cole now speaking to Andre and Piper giving Leo the evil eye, she saw no need to hang around. Olivia stood up and happily made her way to the table.

* * * *

From her spot on the lawn, Paige observed the large group that had gathered near the garden. She noticed the McNeills' concerned faces, the anger that seemed to crackle between Cole and Piper. And Leo's bewildered expression. Paige also watched Cole abandon the group, after Cecile Dubois handed him a cell phone. The latter walked away for a private conversation. Olivia McNeill also left the group and headed for the buffet table. And to Paige's dismay, she saw Phoebe follow the redheaded witch. Instinct told Paige that heads were about to butt between the two women in Cole's life. She stood up to follow Phoebe.

"Where are you going?" Harry demanded, distracted from his horseplay with Darryl's sons.

Paige shot him a nervous smile. "Uh, I'm feeling a bit hungry right now. I'll be back." She rushed away.

When she came upon the buffet tablet, Paige heard Phoebe's first words to Darryl's partner: ". . . if I talk with you for a moment?"

Olivia gave Phoebe a polite smile. "Sure. What is it?"

"Well, first I want to thank you for saving me. From Dako," Phoebe replied. Paige heaved a silent breath of relief.

Olivia shrugged. "You're welcome."

"And I want to repay the favor," Phoebe continued. "I think you should know something." Oh no! Dread welled within Paige's chest. She had a pretty good idea whom Phoebe wanted to discuss.

Sure enough, the first word that came out of Phoebe's mouth was . . . Cole. "What about him?" Olivia asked warily.

Phoebe took a deep breath. "I realize you believe that Cole is wonderful, or that you have nothing to fear from him. And maybe you don't at the moment. But one day . . . Look, what I'm trying to say is that knowing Cole, one day he'll betray you. Sooner or later. And you'll regret letting him get close to you."

A sheen of ice glazed over Olivia's green eyes. "Really? I guess I now know who sent had Leo to give me that little speech about Cole, last Tuesday. And who had sent Piper and Paige to talk to my dad and grandmother. So, what is this? You've finally decided to do the job, yourself?"

"Hey, look! There's no need to get hostile!" Phoebe retorted. "I'm only trying to warn you for your own good! I'm not the enemy, here!"

Paige closed her eyes. Wrong move, Phoebe.

But the red-haired witch did not regard Phoebe with hostility . . . as Paige had feared. Only pity. And contempt. "You really are a pathetic woman, you know that?" Olivia replied. "Let me do you a favor. Let's end this conversation right now, before one of us say something that the other will regret." She returned her attention to the food on the table.

"You're not doing your family any favors with this friendship with Cole," Phoebe insisted. "Or Leo. I still feel guilty for letting Cole into our lives. If I had stayed away from him, years ago . . ."

Olivia shot back, "You would have all been dead, years ago. Or Prue would be alive and in prison for a murder she didn't commit. Or Piper would have remained a Fury. And Paige would have been dead, thanks to Shax. Or a servant of the Source, or a vampire. Or the Source would have killed all of you, over a year ago. Is that what you mean?" She glared at Phoebe.

Even Paige had to admit that Cole had done a lot for them. Then again, he had also put them through a lot of misery. Especially during his two-month stint as the Source. Which Phoebe so adroitly had pointed out.

"And none of you have ever done the same with each other?" Olivia replied. "When you became possessed by some evil? You know, Leo has done a lot of talking over the years and I have a pretty large list of deeds, already forming in my mind."

Phoebe cried out, "All of that happened against our will! Cole chose to become the Source!"

Now, Olivia's green eyes regarded Phoebe with sheer disgust. Paige nearly cringed at the other witch's expression. "Are you in the habit of using your brain? Because I'm beginning to think, otherwise."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Phoebe retorted.

"Only a person with a brain would have bothered to study the true nature of the Hollow. Or bothered to learn how Cole really became the Source. Tell me, did the Source become a Charmed One when he had absorbed Piper and Paige's powers?"

Phoebe frowned. "What are you getting at?"

Olivia heaved a frustrated sigh. "Do I have to spell it out for you? If the old Source didn't become a Charmed One after taking your sisters' powers, what makes you think Cole became the Source, after taking the latter's powers? Think about that . . . if you're capable."

Similar words had been spoken by Elise and Jack McNeill, and it struck Paige with the impact of an energy ball. Phoebe's own open-mouthed expression told the youngest Halliwell that her sister felt a similar impact.

"I . . ." Phoebe began, choking on that one word.

The contempt on Olivia's face deepened. "You what? You've finally starting to use your brain? It's a shame neither you or your sisters had considered doing that when you vanquished Cole, last May."

"We had no choice! He was about to kill us!"

"Really?" Olivia retorted. "Are the words, 'Don't make me kill you' a definite declaration of the intent to kill? Or was it just a warning to back off?"

Confusion whirled in Phoebe's eyes. "How did you . . .?"

"Didn't Leo tell you? Gran read Cole's memories, last month. And projected them to us. It's a shame you were never given the opportunity."

Dark brown eyes hardened, as Phoebe's face became pale. "I don't have to listen to this!" she hissed.

"Fine! Now please leave me alone, so I can get something to eat!"

Unfortunately, at least in Paige's opinion, Phoebe decided that she would end the showdown. "You know, whether or not Cole had decided to become the Source, his powers alone make him dangerous. And evil."

Rolling her eyes, Olivia heaved a sigh. "Oh God! Please spare me the 'evil powers' theory! That is such a load of crap! I can't believe this is coming from a woman whose hide he had saved, last month. Let me enlightened you on a few facts of life, Phoebe. There is no such thing as evil powers or good powers. There are just powers. It all depends upon how you use your powers." She gave Phoebe a hard look. "You know, sometimes I wonder if you ever really loved Cole."

"I did loved him!" Phoebe shot back.

Green eyes glimmered dangerously. "Really? First you had insisted upon Cole not using his powers, for fear that he might 'give in to evil'. Then you didn't even bother to accept his marriage proposal, until after he lost his powers."

"That wasn't about Cole being a half-demon!" Phoebe shot back. "It was . . . it was about me."

Olivia continued, "And your lack of understanding over his loss of powers - was that also about you? And when he finally regained new powers, you pushed him away. You wouldn't even bother to talk about what the both of you went through, last spring. You know, I'm beginning to think that what you loved was the idea of what you could turn Cole into and not his true self." A sneer formed on Olivia's face. "I guess your idea of love is playing it safe." The sneer disappeared, followed by a contemptuous look. "How sad. Now if you'll excuse me, I would like to enjoy the rest of this day." She walked away with her plate of food.

Phoebe stared at the other woman's retreating back, wearing a devastated expression on her face. Then her eyes focused upon Paige, standing behind. Shame reflected in her dark eyes and she quickly walked away.

Paige wanted to rush after her sister. Reassure Phoebe that Olivia's words did not mean anything. But she remained frozen in that same spot near the table, as the realization of the redhead's words overwhelmed her.


THE END

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