A/N: Yes, you are reading correctly. Yes, this is a new chapter. Quite a bit shorter than I had originally planned it to be, but then again, I had planned all of this in May. I hope you still remember this story; I would recommend a bit of reading of my previous chapters so you can refresh your memory. Thanks for all the lovely reviews even while I was away, they seriously made my day and reminded me that I had readers to take care of. Unfortunately, you should not expect another chapter of any story out of me soon; you should know by now how extremely erratic my chapters tend to come out nowadays.
Chapter Twenty Three: Ignominy
Cole frowned slightly as he felt Phoebe tense up in his arms. He stroked her hair lightly and pulled away, brow furrowing even deeper when he saw that her eyes were screwed tightly shut, the blood drained away from her face. Her lips were moving, and as Cole bent closer in shock, he realized she was saying something over and over again. "Phoebe?" he breathed, almost afraid to touch her. "Phoe—"
"NO!" she suddenly screamed as her eyes flew open and as stumbled, nearly falling to the ground before Cole caught her out of reflex. She shut her eyes again and shook her head violently, her forehead drilling into Cole's chest. "No, no," Cole heard her gasp out in short breaths.
"Phoebe?" Cole inquired slowly. His voice shook slightly—now he really was scared of what was going on. "What—happened? Are you alright?"
His voice seemed to snap Phoebe out of her trance. She stared up at him, a mixture of fear and—was that suspicion?—swimming in her eyes. "I'm—I'm fine," she stammered, breaking away from him, her voice high and still shaken. "But I've got to go."
Cole stood in his spot, too shocked to move. "You've—wait, what? Phoebe, what's going on? What the hell is going on?" Cole yelled as she scampered off of the balcony and into his bedroom. He chased after her, appearing in the doorway of the room even as Phoebe was already putting on her jacket. "Phoebe," he uttered in low voice, his anger and confusion barely kept in check.
Her tone was low as well, almost gravelly, and she spoke with an edge to her voice. "Cole, I told you—"
"You've told me nothing! Phoebe—what the hell happened in there?" Cole's voice was loud and furious, but also contained a line of desperation—was she running away from him again?
Phoebe's eyes stared at him for what felt like the longest second, then softened as she moved toward Cole, reaching out to gently caress his face. "Cole, don't worry," she said softly. "This time—what I have to do has nothing to do with you." With her words, she stood on her toes to capture Cole's lips in a short but deep kiss. She broke away, gave him a smile, then hurried off to the elevator.
Cole watched her disappear into the elevator as he slowly ran a hand through his hair. He didn't doubt what she told him—if only it was because he noticed her still ashen face, the way her lips had trembled against his not from passion but terror, the way her eyes called out to him when she told him not to worry. It might not have been anything to do with him—but something was still wrong.
Cole ran to the elevator. He was going after her.
"The pink one."
"OK—which pink one?"
Piper threw her hands up in the air. "You spend ten minutes deliberating what color you want to paint your toes and you finally decide on the shade of pink that looks like toe but shinier?"
Prue laughed, hugging her knees to her chest as she giggled at her sister. "That looks like toe?"
Piper snarled. "Oh you know what I mean." She furrowed her brows dangerously as Prue continued to snigger. "That's it. You're gonna get it." Before Prue knew what was going on, Piper had grabbed her foot and an old bottle of puce green nail polish and began inflicting her damage. Prue squealed but Piper tightened her grip.
"Don't move, stupid, or your toes are going to totally mess up."
Prue scrunched up her nose and stuck out her tongue at her younger sister. "You're stupid."
"No, you're stupid."
They giggled, and shared a sisterly silence as Piper carefully worked at her sister's nails. "It's too bad Phoebe couldn't be here. We had a lot of fun last night, didn't we?"
"Oh, yeah," Prue agreed eagerly. "It used to be like the old days, you know? Sitting around, eating popcorn, watching movies and giving makeovers, until—well, until—"
"Until Phoebe started dating more boys than you did?" Piper filled in for her, her mouth pursed in amusement.
"No, until we found our own paths as teenagers, which meant that I went one way, and Phoebe—"
"Started dating more boys than you did?" Piper cut in innocently. She grinned. "You know, it must have been pretty embarrassing for you to have your kid sister teach you how to French kiss so Andy wouldn't realize that you weren't as experienced as he—" it was time for Piper's turn to squeal as Prue leaned forward and gave her a good smack with a throw pillow. "Prue!" she cried indignantly.
"Aw, Piper," Prue drew away, acting hurt. "But I love you."
"And I love you, you green-toed big sister, you," Piper teased as the doorbell rang. "Stay here and let your nails dry," she ordered Prue as she got up to answer it, pulling up her hair into a tidier ponytail as she turned into the hall.
She pulled open the heavy door to reveal a man and a woman. "Hi, what can I do for you?" she asked them politely.
"Is this the Halliwells?" the man spat brusquely. Piper raised an eyebrow at him, but the woman accompanying the man quickly laughed and gave him a sharp jab with her elbow. The man frowned and gave the woman a glare as she spoke.
"I'm sorry for my partner's rudeness. What he really wanted to ask was—is this the home of Phoebe Halliwell?"
Piper raised both her eyebrows at this. "Well—no," she told them truthfully. "But if you want, I can tell her that you dropped by—?"
"Oh. Well, someone told us that we might find her here." Was it just Piper's imagination, or was the woman tightening her grip on the man's arm with each second?
"Yes, well, she does drop by here sometimes. Now, if I can just get a couple of names, I'll be sure to bring them to her," Piper told them, just stopping the urge to close the door on these people's faces. She had the oddest feeling about the pair…
"Is she here, now?" the man asked her, his tone sharp.
Piper blinked at them. "Uh—"
Prue showed up behind her with a guarded smile. "Piper, is everything all right here?" she asked her sister, though keeping her guarded eyes toward the visitors.
The woman grinned, her eyes suddenly maliciously fixed on Prue. "Everything is just fine."
Before the Halliwells could react, the man and the woman pushed their way into the Manor. The man gave Piper a curt nod, causing her to slam into the nearest wall and fall to the ground, unconscious. As two more men filed into the house and stood over Piper, the woman turned to the shaking, eldest Halliwell and gave her a wicked smile.
"The Halliwell sisters!" she announced, slowly approaching Prue even as the Halliwell took steps back. "Oh so formidable, oh so feared by all my brethren."
Prue slowly held out a hand in front of her. "What are you talking about," she said, even as she continued backing up.
The woman let out cackle and Prue swallowed. "But that's the best part, isn't it? You have no idea what's going on. Maybe it's not fair—but I'm not known for playing fair, Phoebe."
Prue started at being called her sister's name as one of the men standing over Piper clicked his tongue. "Cut the damn theatrics, Raisa," he said threateningly. "Where's the third sister?"
The woman turned an eye to him. "Easy, easy, Drashan. No need to get ahead of yourself. Weren't you the one who told me that we have plenty of time?"
Raisa turned her full attention back to Prue. "Phoebe Halliwell," she snarled. "I've heard plenty about you. They've always called you the weakest one, haven't they? I mean, if you think about it, your powers aren't really up to par with that whole 'Charmed Ones' image. I mean, what can levitation—"
"Raisa, shut UP!" Drashan growled, turning sharply away from Piper, who was still lying dazed on the ground.
"Levitation?" Prue asked, her tone strong with just the slightest of quavers. "I don't know what games you people are trying to play with us, but you've got the wrong people."
"Don't talk," Drashan warned Raisa as he stepped up to where the two women were facing off. He turned to Prue. "Don't worry your head. We have the right people. Two of the right people, anyways. But no matter." To Prue's horror, something was forming in his hand—some sort of purplish ball that seemed to crackle with energy. "Two is more than enough to destroy the Power of Three."
"Aw, but what's the fun if you don't face all three of us?"
The intruders all whipped their heads to the source of the voice while Prue spun slowly around, not daring to believe who she thought the voice belonged to.
Raisa was a patient demon. In part, it was this quality of her nature that made her so successful. After all, a demon did not live to become three hundred or so years old by being hotheaded and careless. Still, a patient demon, as she often told herself and those she was about to kill, was not the same as a tolerant demon. And her tolerance, which had worn through a week of no magic, of dealing with a less-than-competent leader among a million other grievances and annoyances, had been wearing frightfully thin. The seemingly futile mission, however, was finally looking up. Raisa let another vicious grin curl on her face as she gazed at the last Halliwell to arrive at the Manor.
She could afford some time now, to observe this last sister. What a spectacle, Raisa laughed to herself. The half tucked in shirt, the crinkled pants and the mussy hair—whoever said that the Halliwell sisters were beauties were hardly correct in their assumptions. The one on the floor, Raisa supposed, though not particularly beautiful, could be considered cute in some sort of way, but the one in front of her; this one was a mess. Her ridiculous clothes made her look like some sort of prepubescent hooker with a heavily stuffed bra. What a picture of desperation; Raisa was almost disappointed that she wasn't twirling her hair and popping her gum.
Of course, Raisa was a bit let down with the one she was cornering before the last Halliwell appeared. She was pretty, yes—she rather liked the haircut the woman's raven locks were styled in, it was a bit like her own—but the timidity she was displaying was not to be expected of Phoebe Halliwell, the woman who was supposed to have tamed the one and only Belthazor.
Raisa felt her anger rising and kept herself in check. As she let out a silent breath, she heard the black-haired Halliwell hiss to her sister: "What are you doing here? Get out!"
"No, I don't think so," the Halliwell with the messy clothes—who Raisa could only guess was Prue—said clearly.
Drashan snarled at her before the other Halliwell could respond. "Well, so much the easier for us," he leered at her. He turned to his companions, fire flickering in his eyes. "How the hell did she get in here?" he spat.
"Back door," the woman Raisa assumed was Prue said casually, her voice nevertheless loud and lilting. "You may want to keep that in mind next time you do something of this sort."
One of the other demons suddenly spoke up. "There won't be a next time—not for you anyways." To punctuate his declaration, he suddenly flung an orange energy ball at the woman Raisa assumed was Prue. Her spectator's delight suddenly turned into astonishment, however, as she watched the woman she assumed to be Prue calmly dodge the energy ball. Her sister, standing several feet away, let out a scream. The four demons, at lost for words, simply gaped at her.
"So this is what you all resort to doing now?" the woman Raisa assumed was Prue inquired almost mockingly. "Four of you, against three helpless, defenseless women?"
Raisa, for some reason she didn't know, looked back at the woman she assumed was Phoebe. She was moving her lips silently, staring disbelievingly at her sister. A strange feeling was rising up in Raisa, one that she almost never felt…she couldn't quite put her finger on it…She stared again at the woman she assumed was Prue, at the way her body leaned against the doorframe, her arms dangled loosely at her sides. In the very back of her mind, she wondered why she and the three of her demonic companions were at a loss of action.
The front door of the Manor suddenly crashed open. Raisa turned her head toward the source of noise, almost as if in a trance, and felt her human heart go still.
She saw the wonder reflected in her companions' faces as it did in her own, and only dimly registered the looks of varying panic and confusion coming from the Halliwells.
The name rolled off of her tongue. "Belthazor."
Behind her, Raisa heard the Halliwell she assumed was Prue yell, for the first time showing signs of distress: "Cole, I told you to stay the hell away!"
The man looked around, taking in the intruders of the Halliwell home. "What's going on here?" An eerie silence met his words. "Phoebe," he repeated, looking straight at the Halliwell Raisa assumed was Prue, "what the hell is going on?"
No, Raisa thought. It couldn't be…
"Cole, shut the fuck up!" screamed the raven-haired Halliwell, even as Raisa felt her head spin and took one step forward to steady herself. But by then it was too late. Raisa's gaze was now focused directly on the Halliwell she had previously thought was Prue.
This was Phoebe Halliwell? This was the woman who had brought the short-lived Source to his knees, this little tart was the one weakness that he couldn't do without, the girl with the blonde hair out of a box and a shirt two sizes too small? Regardless of what Raisa told the woman she had incorrectly assumed was Phoebe, Raisa had always believed—along with a perhaps surprisingly large number of her brethren—that the youngest of the original Power of Three had the most power of all. Maybe her given witch powers did not back much power, but as Raisa and more intelligent demons knew, physical power did not define all of a person's strength, especially when Phoebe Halliwell had two sisters to help her along. Raisa had expected someone smoothly composed with the utmost intelligence who radiated a sense of pure authority—what less could be expected of the first Queen of the Source in nearly a millennium? What less could be expected of the wife of one of the most potentially great Sources of all time, who brought her husband and the entire Underworld into chaos single-handedly?
Her words came out slowly, in measured amounts, though Raisa realized that her breath was coming to her erratically. "Worthless." she said. Her voice was cold and angry, yet at the same time had a certain flat, hollow quality to it. "Imposter." She didn't even know if any of the words she was uttering made any sense, if they connected at all.
Then, before she even fully realized what she was doing, she rose up her arm and flung an energy ball directly at the Halliwell she now knew was Phoebe.