Note #1: Angel, I'm so sorry that I made you cry with "Season of Hope"! I had no idea that you still didn't know about those awful last episodes of Season 4. I, too, cried my eyes out at the end of Season 4; that was when I started to consider giving up on the TV show and sticking to fan fiction. As for all that nonsense that the show writers gave us at the end of Season 4 and on Season 5: quoting Cole, it was just a stupid nightmare, it never happened.
Note #2: Shel mentioned Ben's age on her review of "Season of Hope". Well, I wasn't very sure of which month he should be born in to match the show timeline, so I decided to create my own timeline and stick to it. So, Shel, Ben isn't in his twos yet: he was born on November 27th, 2002, and "Cursed Be" takes place in the end of January of 2004, which means he's almost 1 year and 2 months now. And in case someone is wondering, Melinda shall be born in a couple of weeks. I don't know if this fits in the show timeline but, as I've already said, the show writers have no say in my Charmed world.
Note #3: This story is a crossover with another TV show. I won't tell you each one yet, because I don't want to spoil the surprise, but be aware that I completely disregarded that other show's timeline, too. Don't worry, though: I'll explain everything as we go along, and Barb is here to stop me if I start to not make sense.
Previous installments: Redemption - The Demon's Advocate - So Mote It Be - Fruit of My Womb - The Coleville Horror - Season of Hope
Credits: I don't own any of the Charmed characters, I never meant to infringe anyone's copyrights, so please take this story for what it is -- fun -- and don't bother to suit me.
"What about just the double bed?"
"Just the mattresses, then?"
Cole remained silent for a while, and Leo watched him over the crib that they were carrying across the backyard. Helping his in laws move out wasn't exactly his idea of a perfect Sunday morning, and Cole's incessant asking of why Paige couldn't orb their stuff from one house to the other wasn't really helping. Especially after the two men had spent most of the previous three days working hard to tear down the wall between the two houses, that now shared a common backyard, whilst keeping their separated entrances. Yet, as he glanced at Cole again, Leo couldn't help but smile a little: the truth was, Cole had been as excited about that house as a kid with a brand new toy, and it was impossible not to be drawn by his enthusiasm.
"You don't even know what I was going to ask!" Cole protested.
"Cole," Leo sighed, putting the crib down and using the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead, "if it has anything to do with using magic to help us here, the answer is no."
"You're doing this just to annoy me, aren't you?" Leo blurted out, frustrated.
"Yeah, yeah, personal gain..." -- Cole rolled his eyes -- "I know. You've explained it to me like, a gazillion times."
"Maybe if you had understood it the first time I explained..."
"So, it's personal gain," Cole proceeded, ignoring Leo's remark, "so what? It's not like we'd be hurting anyone, or shifting the balance between good and evil, or doing anything that we don't do almost everyday, for total strangers." -- Leo opened his mouth but Cole held up his hand -- "Look, I'm glad to use magic to help strangers, what I don't get is, why does it become such a big 'no no' just because it'll be us, not them, on the receiving end? I mean, we are innocents, too, aren't we?"
Leo sighed and ran his hand across his face. "We couldn't assign him to any other Whitelighter," the Elders had said. Go figure why.
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the crib's trail as he took a deep breath and gathered all his patience before addressing his newest charge again:
"Cole, I understand that, after more than a century using your demon powers for your own convenience, this personal gain rule must sound quite arbitrary to you."
He ignored Cole's "you bet" look and proceeded:
"But what you have to understand is that your powers aren't just another feature you inherited from your father, like the color of your eyes or a taste for flavored food. They were given to you for a reason, and whatever this reason was, it certainly wasn't for making your life easier. Resorting to magic to deal with the everyday non-magical situations would diminish you as a witch and prevent you from evolving as a human being. Besides... What, now?" -- he straightened up, giving Cole's little smile a slightly annoyed look.
"Sorry," Cole said, holding up his hands in a conciliatory manner. "I was just... " -- his smile widened and Leo raised an impatient eyebrow -- "Five years ago, if I was told that I'd be standing here letting a Whitelighter lecture me..." -- he chuckled slightly and waved his head -- "You gotta admit it's kinda funny."
Leo chuckled, too, in spite of himself. Five years ago, the man standing before him was a murderous demon, and witches were advised to avoid a confrontation with him at all costs. And now here he was, Leo Wyatt, lecturing him like a teacher scolding a schoolboy.
"Well, don't just stand there letting my words fly right over your head, okay?" he said, half seriously.
"You're no fun," Cole muttered, half joking.
"I'm not supposed to be fun," Leo retorted. "I'm your Whitelighter; I'm supposed to keep you out of trouble."
"Come on," he added as he caught a grip on the crib and prepared to raise it from the ground again, "we're almost there. Let's get the crib inside the house and then maybe take a break. It's not like the girls are gonna finish packing anywhere in the near future, anyway."
Cole followed his example, and together they started to make their way to the Turners' again.
"You know," Phoebe sighed as she took a pair of crimson sandals from the closet and put them inside a cardboard box, along with the other sandals, pumps, moccasins, boots, sneakers and clogs that were already there, "maybe Cole is right: maybe I do have too many shoes."
"Oh!" -- Paige covered her mouth with her hand, staring at her in feign horror -- "I knew we should never have agreed with this: look at what it's doing to her!" she said to Piper.
She was sitting by Piper's side on the edge of Phoebe and Cole's bed, placing Ben's toys inside another cardboard box, and now she stood up and walked over to Phoebe, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor, next to the closet's open door.
"Phoebe, look at me," she said, kneeling before Phoebe and cupping her sister's face between her hands. "You have to fight it. I know it's difficult, since you're gonna be outnumbered by the boys, but you gotta be strong: you can't start thinking like them! Remember: a girl can never have too many shoes."
Phoebe giggled and hugged her, saying:
"Thank you for bringing me back to my senses, sweetie."
She smiled at Piper over Paige's shoulder, and as her older sister smiled back at her, Phoebe couldn't help but think of how different this was from the last time she and Cole had moved out. No guilt, no hurt feelings, no silent reproaches; this time, there was just laughter and joy, as they all made plans for the new house and for the parties they'd give in that huge backyard they now had. Before any papers were signed, the whole idea had been widely discussed by the whole family, and nothing had been held back: everything had been said loud and clear, and when they finally reached an agreement everyone felt that they were making the right decision.
There was a lot of stuff yet to be bought before the new house was fully equipped and furnished, but it was slowly starting to look less like a house and more like a home: Piper had sewed curtains for the kitchen and Paige had painted pictures for the living room, and Leo had spent most of the first two weeks of January there, wearing his toolbelt and making some minor but much needed repairs. Cole had been with him, beaming with enthusiasm and hindering more than helping, since the man who could throw an athame at a moving target twenty feet away without missing was a walking disaster with a monkey wrench in his hands.
"So," Paige said as she broke the hug, "Leo mentioned something about Cole having a meeting with a human client tomorrow." -- she emphasized the word 'human', as opposed to all the centaurs, fairies, elves, dwarves and other kinds of magical creatures that had hired Cole's services after he had helped Sarsour with the trolls.
"That's true," Phoebe said, smiling. "Darryl sent him this guy who's pleading not-guilty to a charge of theft, and Cole is thrilled to be back in human courts."
"I though he liked his regular clients."
"Oh, he does. But the fact that human clients pay in American dollars means a lot to him; I keep telling him that there's nothing wrong with being paid in magical supplies, but..." -- Phoebe rolled her eyes, letting out an amused sigh -- "Well, you know how men can get when it comes to money."
The girls giggled and went back to work in silence.
"So," Paige said after a while, "how does this personalized ring thing work, anyway?"
"Actually, it's very simple," Phoebe said. "You already know our new phone number, right?" Paige nodded and she proceeded: "Well, that's the number you're gonna call if you're somewhere other than the manor and you want to talk to me or Cole, or even if you're at the manor and are too lazy to cross the backyard. But if a demon attacks here, you're gonna call a different number: same first six numbers, but ending with '00' instead of '54'. Then the phone will sound differently, not riiiiiiiiiing, riiiiiiiiiing, but ring-ring, ring-ring, you know?"
"And Phoebe and Cole will know that we're in trouble," Piper explained, "and won't even bother to answer the phone: they'll come running to help."
"Exactly," Phoebe said. "And it works both ways: whenever you hear the ring-ring thing here, orb straight to our place."
She reached out to close the cardboard box, then frowned as she spotted an unexpected item inside.
"Hey!" she said, taking a rubber ball from inside the box and giving it an intrigued look. "Who put this here?"
Phoebe peered inside the box and saw a hairbrush and a box of crayons also among her shoes. She gave her sisters an interrogative look, but they looked just as puzzled as she was. Just then, Ben came walking across the room and mindfully threw one of Cole's slippers into the box.
"Sweetie, what are you..." -- Ben turned to her with a proud grin, and Phoebe's jaw dropped when it sank in what he was doing -- "Oh my God, you're helping! You're helping mommy!... Aaw, baby, you're so precious!" she cooed, pulling him to a hug and giving him several sound kisses.
He squealed and laughed and squirmed in her arms, but she tickled and kissed him relentlessly before finally releasing him.
"You're the sweetest little boy ever, and mommy loves you so much! But," she added, knowing that they'd better get rid of their little helper if they intended to ever finish packing, "I think you should now go help daddy and Uncle Leo. What do you say? Do you wanna carry some of this stuff to the new house?"
"'Kay!" Ben said, cheerfully.
"Good boy!" Phoebe said, smiling as she promptly took a plastic bag from the closet and threw some of Ben's toys inside it. "Now," she proceeded, showing him the bag with a very serious expression, "this is Ben's bag. You're gonna take it to the new house, and put it in your brand new bedroom. And," -- she eyed Paige -- "Aunt Paige is going with you."
"'Kay!" Ben said, and turned to Paige with a smile. When she made a move to scoop him up, though, he gave her an indignant "No!". Then, much to his mother and aunts' amusement, he left the bedroom with a very determined look on his face, proudly carrying the bag that Phoebe had given him. As Paige followed him through the door, Phoebe warned:
"Paige, you're gonna carry him down the stairs, whether he likes it or not!"
"I know!" Paige's answer came mixed with the familiar chiming sound as she orbed straight to the top of the stairs, to get there before her little nephew did.
"So," Leo was saying to Cole as they walked downstairs, after leaving Ben's crib in his new bedroom, "I had to listen as the doctor congratulated Piper for her healthy eating habits and her self-control, because she hasn't put on one single pound beyond the weight she was supposed to gain during the pregnancy, while I sat there, knowing that I have already gained no less than eleven freaking pounds!"
He glared at Cole's amused smile and grunted:
"You know, this is where you're supposed to make a few sympathetic noises."
Cole was still laughing when they reached the first floor, just as Ben was coming through the door with Paige on his heels.
"Look who's helping!" Paige announced as the toddler proudly walked towards Cole, carrying the plastic bag with his toys. "He brought it all by himself."
"Hey, that's great!" Cole said, smiling as he kneeled on the floor before his son and playfully unsettled his hair. "So, what do we have here?" he asked, giving the plastic bag an amused look.
"Dis!" -- Ben showed him the plastic bag with a big smile, yet already losing interest in it as he glanced around the almost empty living room. Wow! Lots of space to run around!
Cole watched with an adoring smile as the toddler clapped his hands and cheerfully ran across the room, giggling and enjoying the sound of his little feet tapping on the boarded floor.
"Have you finished packing yet?" Leo asked Paige.
"Almost," she said, and Leo and Cole exchanged a skeptical look.
"I'll get us those beers," Leo said to Cole as he headed to the kitchen, intending to cross the backyard towards the manor.
Paige pouted at that blatant lack of trust -- even though it was true that she and her sisters weren't even close to finishing the packing -- but then her attention was caught by an old sofa that had come from the manor's attic and been brought back to life by Leo's skillful hands. It had received new upholstery, the wood finish had been cleaned and waxed, and a beautiful yellow damask fabric had replaced the old rusty one.
"Wow! Is this the same old thing that I have been nagging Piper to get rid of for the last three months?"
"The one and only," Cole said, smiling. "I wouldn't believe it, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."
"It's just..." -- Paige's comment was cut short by the sudden arrival of a tall, slim woman with long red hair in the middle of the room, surrounded by clouds of white smoke.
She wore a long purple robe, and her dark blue eyes were hard as steel as she pointed a hand with long fingernails towards Cole and chanted:
"I have been called and vengeance shall I wreak!
Cower, masculine one. Tremble as you face my wrath!"
Paige looked from the apparition to Cole, and then to Ben, who was standing next to her, looking at the newcomer with big round eyes. She knew she should take the boy out of there, but she didn't want to leave Cole alone with the creature that had so obviously come after him. Cole noticed her hesitation and exclaimed:
"Paige, take Ben out of here, NOW!"
That snapped Paige out of her paralysis, and she grabbed Ben and orbed to the manor with him, to call for backup.
"You've got the wrong guy, lady," Cole said to the woman.
He felt a glimpse of hope as she cocked her head to the side, giving him a suspicious look, but it didn't last long. His heart sank when she took a menacing step towards him, saying:
"I think not, Cole Turner."
Cole knew he wouldn't be able to beat her with his newly acquired powers; hoping they'd be enough to keep her busy until the others came to his aid, though, he raised his hands and focused on air, the only element currently available. A blast of wind engulfed the woman, and even if it wasn't strong enough to push her away, as Cole had wished it would, it made enough of a fuss to confuse her, and he slowly started to back away from her, towards the kitchen's door, while she fought to take her red mane off her eyes and struggled against the angry wind. Unfortunately for Cole, as he was walking backwards and with his eyes trained on her, he ended up stepping on the plastic bag containing Ben's toys; as the bag slipped under his feet, he franticly swayed his arms, trying to regain his balance, thus losing control of the wind. He fell backwards, hitting his head heavily against the wall behind him, and before he could stumble back to his feet the woman jumped towards him with a shriek of anger and grabbed the front of his shirt, effortlessly lifting him from the floor.
Cole gasped and his eyes widened in terror when she waved her free hand towards the floor and a portal was opened next to them, showing the same dark abyss from which Leo had rescued him almost two years ago, when the Source was vanquished.
"The Whitelighter won't help you this time," she hissed. And then, to Cole's surprise and relief, she froze in place.
"Cole?" -- before Piper could reach them, Cole had already scrambled from his attacker's grip and gotten back to his feet, quickly walking away from her and towards his very worried sister in law.
"Are you okay?" Piper asked.
"Yes. But that was close," he said, staring at the place where the pits of hell had been opened for him just a few seconds before.
"Do you know who she is?" Piper asked, looking at the frozen woman.
"No. But I know what she is," Cole said, and the grimness in his voice made Piper turn her eyes back to him with an interrogative look.
Before she could question him further, though, Phoebe entered the room like a bolt, coming from the kitchen. As she slammed the door open, both Cole and Piper swirled towards her with a start, thus turning their backs to the frozen demoness.
"Baby, are you okay?" she asked, as she threw her arms around Cole. "I was across the street, borrowing a few more cardboard boxes from... Watch out!" -- she pointed at the demoness, who had just unfrozen.
Before Piper could freeze the demoness again, though, she glared at the three people staring at her across the room and vanished in another puff of white smoke.
"Who was..." Phoebe started to ask, but Cole cut her off.
"Family meeting," he said, gravely. "Manor. Now."
Ten minutes later, they were gathered in the solarium, waiting for Leo, with Ben sitting on the floor next to Phoebe's chair, playing with a set of colorful blocks.
As Leo orbed in, he said, sitting by Piper's side:
"Sorry, it was an emergency. I came back as soon as I could; is everyone okay?"
"Uh, yes," Phoebe said, casting a slightly worried look towards Cole's serious expression. "Baby?" she called.
Cole had been pacing back and forth across the room, impatiently waiting for Leo to come back. As Phoebe called him, he sat by her side and she took his left hand in hers.
He took a deep breath before addressing the four people whose concerned eyes were turned towards him.
"Alright," he said, looking at them, "which of you sent a vengeance demon after me?"