Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Return With a Vengeance" [PG-13] - 18/18



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 sit 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.


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