Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Neighbors" [PG] - 3/11


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.


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