Monday, June 16, 2008
"Neighbors" [PG] - 1/11
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.
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DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Cole, Leo, Darryl and other characters related to Charmed belong to Spelling, Kern, Burge and WB. Dammit!
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."
END OF PART 1