"SECOND POWER" by RFK
PART EIGHT
Later that afternoon, the Charmed Ones sat around the manor's Sun Room, discussing the day's events. Not long after their return, Leo had orbed to the Whitelighter's Realm to report on what happened.

"I can't believe it!" Piper declared. "All this time, the Elders had someone else to vanquish the Source and they used us!"

Paige commented, "I don't think they really had much of a choice. After all, the Source did come after us. I wonder why he didn't bother going after Olivia's cousin."

"Maybe he thought we would be an easier target," Phoebe added. "Being more inexperienced as witches than the McNeills. Even Olivia and her brothers are experienced than us."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Honey, experience doesn't mean anything. Not really. There is such a thing as talent. Or power."

"Geez Piper!" Paige retorted. "I think we've already discovered how powerful Olivia and her brothers are. Especially Olivia. And none of us can't deny that they are talented witches."

The oldest Halliwell glared at the youngest. Phoebe realized that Piper found the idea of Olivia McNeill being just as powerful as the Charmed Ones, unpleasant. She had to be honest that deep down, she found the idea a little disturbing. It made the Power of Three seem less . . . special. But what really bothered Phoebe was that someone as allegedly powerful as Olivia would associate herself with Cole.

The image of that circle of fire surrounding Cole and Olivia replayed in Phoebe's mind. Psychic connection? Familiars? Was it possible? Why not? She had once formed a psychic connection with a Native American in some Old West town, stuck in another dimension. Phoebe had always believed she and Cole possessed a connection that made them soul mates. But the events of the past year seemed to have perverted that believe. Or had it been her fears and later rejection of Cole?

"By the way," Piper added, "that is the last time I attend a birthday party at that house. From now on, Paige, you're on your own."

Paige shot back, "It wasn't that bad. Cole even liked your present." She added under her breath. "If you can call it one."

Piper protested, "Cole didn't mind! Why should you?"

"C'mon Piper! A cookbook? THE JOY OF COOKING, both volumes? What on earth is he going to do with that? He can't cook!"

Squirming in her seat, Piper muttered, "I'm sure that Olivia can help him. Or maybe her mother, or Sheila. Or maybe he'll learn how. What are you worried about? You gave him a nice present. A watercolor painting of Golden Gate Park and the Bridge. Painted by you."

"Well, at least I had taken the time to give him a present that he would enjoy! You know how he likes Golden Gate Park."

Piper rolled her eyes. "Paige! Oh please! You painted that picture, three months ago!"

While her sisters continued to squabble, Phoebe's mind returned to a scene at the birthday party. Just before the cake had been served, Darryl's wife, Sheila, asked the half-demon his age. For a moment, panic seemed to have enveloped the McNeill drawing room . . . until Cole, of all people, saved the day. He told Sheila that he had been born on January 19, 1969 - making him 34 years old, instead of 118 years.

Following that little scene, the McNeills' manservant had brought out the birthday cake and everyone began to sing, "Happy Birthday". Phoebe had never seen her ex-husband look so . . . happy. Not since the day she had announced being preg . . .

Phoebe shook her head. The last thing she wanted to think about was that dark period in her life. That period in which Cole was the Source of All Evil, and she was his queen. It still hurt, after eight long months, just thinking about it. Phoebe then recalled Paige's revelation that Cole had been possessed by the Source's essence during those three months. At first she refused to believe her sister. To do so would mean facing the possibility that the Charmed Ones had killed an innocent, instead of bothering to save him. Deliberately.

Although Phoebe has finally decided to accept that Paige had been right - no one could argue with a powerful Voodoo prophetess' vision - she still could not consider any reconciliation with Cole. Innocent or not, he represented one of the worst moments in her life. Phoebe could not help but wonder if she had vanquished Cole when she first learned he was Belthazor, she would have spared herself and her sisters, great heartache. And being Queen of the Underworld. Besides, staying away from Cole would be better, in the end. Better for her and her family. Especially in regard to Cole's new powers and Ed Miller. Unlike the McNeills, Phoebe could not overlook those two matters.

"The Keeper of Aingeal," Piper muttered, with a shake of her head. "I just can't believe it! The Keeper of Aingeal and Belthazor. I bet the Elders will have a field day with that!"

Again, the image of Cole and Olivia popped into Phoebe's head. She tried to tell herself that she felt no jealousy. Not really. After all, the events from last spring had only convinced her that she and Cole were never meant to be. So why did the idea of those two forming a psychic bond bothered her?

Piper continued, "Don't any of you find it strange that Leo has never heard of this Aingeal staff, before?"

Heaving a sigh, Paige answered, "Maybe the Elders never thought Olivia would become the next Keeper of Aingeal. Then again, who knows? If they did know, I can tell you one thing - I don't know if I can ever completely trust them again."

* * * *

"Why didn't you tell me about the Staff of Aingeal?" Leo demanded angrily. He stood before the Elders' Council, trembling with righteous anger.

Elder MacKenzie regarded the sixty year-old whitelighter with supercilious eyes. "Are you asking a question, Leo? Or questioning our decision?"

Leo faltered. "I didn't mean . . ." He paused, as frustration welled inside of him. "What I meant was . . ." Oh to hell with it! "Yes, yes I am questioning your decision. I'm Olivia's whitelighter, for heaven's sake! Surely you could have warned me that she would become the next Keeper of the Aingeal Staff! I didn't even know what that was, until this morning!"

"Please, Leo. Calm down. We had never considered the possibility that she would become the Keeper," Mathilda calmly replied. "Until her fire power manifested. Even then, we believed there was a chance for another McNeill witch to claim the title. However, no other candidate has materialized."

Leo paused, wondering if the Elders knew about this morning's incident. He opened his mouth to speak. Then closed it before he could.

Elder Sylvester added, "Jack McNeill must have told you about the Staff." He sighed. "How I wish that damnable staff had never ended up with a powerful family of witches! Especially that particular family!"

"Don't forget Sylvester," Mathilda quietly reminded her colleague, "the McNeills are descended from Niallghas, who was a very powerful wizard. Which is why we had to pin our hopes on the Charmed Ones. Because of their . . . bloodline, the McNeills would have proven to be undependable. The Keeper of the Aingeal Staff have always been reluctant about going after the Source. And I suspect that your witch, Olivia, is no different."

MacKenzie sniffed derisively. "Hmmph, tainted blood from a wizard." He peered at Leo, who had barely been listening. "Leo, is there a problem? You seemed unusually quiet."

How to tell them? Leo took a deep breath. "Uh, I guess you all know that Cole is still helping Olivia with her new power."

Sylvester's lips formed a grim line. "Yes. Apparently, you had failed to convince your witch that training with an all-powerful demon is a mistake. Considering that you were dealing with a McNeill, your failure is understandable."

Profanity hovered on Leo's lips, but he managed to keep himself in check. Instead, he decided to drop the bombshell. "When my family went to visit the McNeills this morning, we found Olivia and Cole in a state of meditation."

"And?" MacKenzie demanded.

Leo frowned. "You really don't know, do you? You didn't sense it?"

Heaving an impatient sigh, MacKenzie continued, "Sense what?"

"While meditating, Olivia and Cole . . ." Leo hesitated. ". . . managed to form some kind of psychic bond. It's believe that they have become each other's familiar."

The news struck the Elders' Council with the force of a whirlwind. Once again, anxious voices filled the chamber. "WHAT???" Sylvester roared. "Familiars? A psychic bond between a witch and a demon??"

"How could you allow this to happen?" MacKenzie demanded angrily.

Leo immediately became defensive. "I couldn't do anything about it! By the time we had arrived at the McNeills' home, they had already began to form a bond."

Anxiety of every form were expressed by the Elders. Leo felt like a failure, as he stood before his superiors. And yet . . . a small spark of resentment simmered within his breast. Resentment created by anger at the demands made upon him and the Elders' failure to warn him about his charge's new role in the supernatural world. Leo began to wonder if both his wife's family and the McNeills had been right about the Founders. And if his bosses' methods and narrow attitudes were responsible for the growing chaos in the Whitelighters' Realm.

* * * *

The couple slowly made their way down the corridor, until they reached the front of Olivia's apartment. Cole remained silent, while Olivia dug into her purse for the key. She inserted the latter into the door's lock and opened it. Slowly facing Cole, she asked, "Why don't you come inside for a cup of coffee? Or the usual late Sunday afternoon martini?"

Cole wanted to accept Olivia's offer. Wanted to discuss what had passed between them, this morning. But a part of him held back, fearful of the impact such a discussion might have on his already shaky relationship with Olivia.

"Uh, I don't know," he said. "I have some work to catch up on." Cole inwardly winced at disappointed expression on Olivia's face. And changed his mind. "Well, maybe I can come in. I'm sure that my work can wait."

Olivia smiled. "Good, because I have your present, inside." She and Cole walked inside the apartment. "Have a seat. I'll make you a birthday drink." She glanced at his hands. "Say, where are your presents?"

"I sent them to the penthouse," Cole replied. "As for my martini, don't forget the olive." He sat down on the sofa. While Olivia began preparation of the martinis, he added, "By the way, how do you feel? About being the new Keeper of the Aingeal Staff?"

Olivia shrugged. "How should I feel? I don't have it, yet. Dad told me that our Scottish cousins will be arranging some ceremony for me to take possession of the Staff, this June. I don't know. Some kind of coronation, I guess."

"Sounds ceremonial," Cole murmured. He paused momentarily before continuing, "Listen, Olivia, about what happened this morning . . ."

"Yeah, I've been thinking about it, myself. I must say that I found it very interesting. What about you?"

Cole sighed. "Yeah, I did. Almost . . ." What could he say? Frightening? He never thought that anyone would learn so much about him, in such a short space of time.

Olivia walked over to the sofa, holding two martinis - with onions. "Almost what? Scary?" She handed one martini glass to Cole, before sitting next to him. "It was scary for me. I guess . . . well, you're probably the first person who has ever discovered so much about me," she added, repeating his thoughts. Her green eyes pierced his. "What about you?"

"Yeah," Cole managed to say. He took a sip of his martini. "The first." He sighed. "Look, about what you saw of my past . . ."

A long, dry sigh escaped Olivia's mouth. "You mean your past as Belthazor? I know what you're capable of, Cole. I saw it when you saved me from that Crozat warlock. And I saw it when we were at that warehouse. You're a killer. In fact, you're a very good killer. But then, so am I. Hey, I haven't survived years of being a cop and dealing with other kinds of evil, for nothing. Maybe the only thing you should worry about is not choosing that old life you had as Belthazor, again." Olivia's eyes grew more penetrating. "Understand?"

Cole returned her stare. Electricity crackled between them. Cole could feel it. He could also feel growing warmth that seemed to be spreading all over his chest. The same warmth he had experienced that night at the New Year's party - just seconds before he had kissed Olivia. Panic struck him. He managed to control it with a few deep breaths. Olivia's eyes expressed concern. "Cole, are you alright? Your face look slightly red."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he lied. Then Cole took a gulp of his martini. "Just feeling a little flushed. You know, big day for me. Birthday." Then he glanced up at Olivia. "Speaking of birthdays, don't you have a present for me?"

* * * *

Two hours later, Cole left Olivia's apartment. His first instinct was to return to his penthouse. But there was someone he wanted to speak with, first. Cole beamed out of the hallway and reappeared in front of a three-story townhouse, in the middle of New Orleans' French Quarter. Cole walked over to the door and rang the bell.

A familiar figure opened the door, over a minute later. It was Andre. The latter broke into a wide smile. "Hey, hey! It's the birthday boy! Happy Birthday, man!" The two friends exchanged hugs.

Cole allowed himself a small smile. "Thanks, Andre."

The other man glanced at Cole's wrist. "What's this?" he asked.

"My birthday present," Cole said, lifting his wrist to display the new watch that adorned it. "From Olivia."

Andre nodded. "Very nice. I guess you're here for your present. It's too bad that Cecile isn't here. She went to see her grandmother, over near Metairie. Come on it." The two men entered the house. Andre led Cole to the spartanly furnished living room. "So, Olivia gave you a new watch. You two are talking, now?"

"Yeah. We . . . uh, we made our peace. And I'm still helping her with her new power." Cole sighed.

Black eyes stared pointedly at Cole. "Okay, I know that sigh, anywhere," the Vodoun priest continued. "What's the problem now? Why are you really here?"

Another sigh left Cole's mouth. He lowered his head into his open palms. "Andre, I think I'm in a world of shit."

"Oh? What kind of shit are you talking about?" Andre asked.

Cole hesitated. "I think . . . God! I think I'm in love. And it's not with my ex-wife."
THE END
**NOTE: As of this story, the Halliwells are unaware that Cole can cook. However, I have already established in "Return With Vengeance" that he does know how to cook - he had prepared dinner for the now dead warlock, Suzanne Crozat.