More Than She Bargained For

Chapter Nineteen: Long Live the Past

I absolutely detest mass e-mails. You know the ones. The sender goes carefully through her contact list, selects everyone that she's at least sneezed on in the past five years, and the glad tidings of hearth and home make their merry way through the magical internet to seventy-five inboxes. So when one of those little beauties landed in my inbox on a drizzly Wednesday, my mood was not lifted.

Hello from the Taft-Jerome home! Marise and Mark wish you the best and hope that spring is finding its way to your doorstep!

"Spring," I repeated. "Crappy weather. Freak thunderstorms. Yes, Marise, it is finding its way to my doorstep. You want it back?"

We have some exciting news for everybody. As of eight weeks ago, there is officially a third person in our little family. That's right--Marise is pregnant! (Sonogram pictures are attached.)

I squinted, trying to make sure that I'd read the last three non-parenthesized words correctly. Marise. Is. Pregnant.

Huh.

A bit of a backstory is needed here. Marise Taft was a friend of mine from college. "Friend" in the loose sense of the word. She was Bridgette DiMaggio's roommate-slash-warden (which, considering Bridgette's track record, was not entirely unnecessary). She never really fit in with any group, which is why she eventually fell in with Nancy's and my weirdos. And even we had issues with her. She'd been married since early junior year and seemed to have lost grasp of the first person singular tense. And since graduation, her infatuation with being part of a married couple had increased.

The e-mail continued chipperly.

We'd love for all of you to come up and visit us! (But not at the same time, ha ha ha.) Drop us a line sometime and we'll work out something!

Best wishes!

"What're you doing?"

I'd closed my window, opened a Word document, and began to type frantically before it registered that my questioner was Cole, not Andrea. I turned around in an attempt to look serious. "You almost gave me a heart attack."

He chuckled. "I suppose that means you want to eat lunch by yourself to recover?"

"What're we having?" I asked.

"Thai."

I stood up. "I'm recovered. Let's go."XXX

I forgot about Marise's e-mail until late that afternoon in the elevator. When it popped into my head later that afternoon, I promptly whacked my hand against the wall.

Cole jumped. "What?"

"My stupid friend from college," I answered, surprised at the annoyance that was growing inside of me. "She's married and she's pregnant and she's gloating. Oh, excuse me. They're gloating."

A confused expression spread across his face. "And this bothers you…why?"

I couldn't answer his question. Because…she was obnoxious? Because…her cheeriness set my teeth on edge? I couldn't fill in the blank. "I don't know," I finally responded. "I really don't."

"How old is she?" Cole asked. "Your friend."

"Marise is twenty-four," I said. "She and Mark have dated since she was nineteen and they got married when she was twenty-two." I rolled my eyes. "If you've ever got a couple extra hours, I'll tell you their grand and tragic tale of their courtship."

The elevator doors slid open, revealing the spotless penthouse. I shook my head, eager to get away from the hyphenated woman of my past. "You've lived here for twice as long as I've had the apartment and it looks like you just moved in. How do you do that?"

He shrugged. "I lead a quiet life."

"Whatever," I snickered.

"Really," he said. "Besides, it's not really my favorite place."

"Why not?" I asked incredulously. "You've got a Jacuzzi! And that terrace…and the view. And the windows." I looked over at the spacious view. "I'd never leave."

"Right." Cole averted his gaze from mine. "You were talking about some movie that you wanted to see during lunch that's playing at the, uh, theater, weren't you?"

I nodded. "The Spanish one," I answered.

"You should go do that, then," he said.

"You're not coming?" I asked. "I thought it could be another normal couple excursion."

"I'm not really feeling up to it. Headache. I have a feeling tildes would make it worse."

I looked at Cole closer. "Are you okay?"

"I…" He trailed off. "You don't want to know."

"Do I want to know half the stuff I know?" I mused.

"Exactly."

I put my hand on his arm. "Tell me."

For the first time in a long time, he pulled away. "It's not something I like talking about."

"Okay," I said, a little stung. "All right. Fine. I'll, uh, see you tomorrow, then."

I stepped into the brown tiled elevator and listened to the doors swish shut. The small box made its jerky way down and I sighed. All of the mumbo-jumbo about women's intuition and just "knowing" that something was wrong with your man wasn't applicable in this case.

"You're pathetic," I informed my distorted reflection in the mirror on the ceiling. It offered no advice other than a strong reminder that I'd spilled coffee on my blouse earlier that morning.

When I got to my apartment, I unlocked the door and peered around inside half-heartedly. Bring on the demons with their stupid daggers. I had a feeling that my annoyance at the moment would more than make up for my lack of powers. Seeing no mysterious intruders, I meandered into my bedroom and none-too-gently pulled off my shirt. The dark splotches on the yellow material seemed to scold me for being an incompetent female. Which was, from the way things were looking, probably not a far-off accusation.

It was true. I was an incompetent female. When I was a freshman in college, my cousin Cynthia had a baby three weeks before the Arbess family reunion. I secretly hoped that she'd decide that nesting with Isaiah Daniel was more important than watching her uncles yell at the Green Bay Packers for fumbling, but she showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, her son in tow. And everyone went nuts. My cousins Lauren and Kellie, who were hardly old enough to know where babies came from, emitted earsplitting screeches the second they saw the newest member to the family. Even Viv abandoned both me and our pact to keep together at all times during family functions in favor of waving things in the kid's face. Everyone felt this fuzziness and fluffiness and all sorts of other "-ness" emotions that I didn't. Babies made me uneasy and jumpy. That mothering instinct that every other female over the age of four seemed to have obviously skipped my genetic makeup.

The only female things I had going for me, I decided at long last, were jealousy and an enjoyment of window shopping. All that intuition stuff you hear so much about? Yeah. Not the most dominant part of my makeup. In college I was famous for being oblivious.

I slipped into a sweatshirt and crawled under the covers on my unmade bed. Sleep was what I needed more than anything right now.

I'm not sure when I drifted off (probably somewhere between imagining a dysfunctional Brady Bunch and wondering what Marise would look like seven month pregnant), but when I woke up, I was in the penthouse. My vision was wobbly--I had to squint to focus on any one thing clearly.

Dreaming. I was dreaming. And even in dreams I couldn't get a respite from everyday life.

But something was different. And the thing that was different was Phoebe Halliwell and Cole Turner were in the midst of some sort of fight. Obviously I hadn't disturbed them with my arrival.

"Are you kidding me?" I muttered. "Can't I just have something normal about Al Pacino or something?"

"I don't have time for games, Phoebe," Cole said, a condescending edge creeping into his voice. "Just drink the tonic, or leave. Now."

"What is going on with you?" Phoebe demanded. "What happened?"

"What happened is you had to go and play demon catcher with your sisters."

"Cole, it's who I am!" she shouted, gesturing madly. Anguish showed cleanly on her face.

"And now we're in danger. Serious danger. If you don't care about your life, or mine, or the baby's…" (his voice wobbled slightly on that) "…what about Paige and Piper?"

This was different. He was different. This wasn't Cole. This was cool, calm, and manipulative.

This was, I realized suddenly, the Source. This was history, playing out before my eyes somehow.

"Don't you threaten them," Phoebe said.

"I'm not," he replied matter-of-factly. "But if there's a coup, do you think whoever takes over from me will let them live? Without the Power of Three, they're sitting ducks."

Phoebe, arms crossed, avoided his gaze. "I don't know what to do."

"You can't go back." Cole went over to the table and picked up something that looked almost like a champagne glass. He examined it. "There is only one choice. Drink the tonic."

The Queen of All Evil remained silent.

"You have to know," Cole went on, slinking over to her, "that I would never do anything to hurt you. Please? For us? For our son?"

There was a pause that should have been filled with dramatic violin screeching. Phoebe took it from him and gulped the amber liquid down with a scowl.

Cole wrapped his arms around her. "I love you, Phoebe," he said softly. "Just remember whatever happens next, we can handle it as long as we stay together."

"What do you mean," Phoebe asked with a gulp, "'whatever happens next'?"

"The Conroy thing got serious. I had to take care of it."

Phoebe pulled away. "You killed him?" she enunciated, her voice rising.

"It was your mess, I was just cleaning it up," he explained.

"Cole, they're gonna come after you," she said desperately. "They're gonna come here!"

"Well, if they do--" he started.

"No." Phoebe shook her head and moved away from him.

Cole followed her. "Phoebe, if it comes down to them or us…"

She clutched her stomach. "Oh God."

With that, she ran into the bathroom and slammed the door, Cole's request of "Phoebe, wait" going unnoticed.

"Why am I here?" I asked myself under the sounds of retching. "Why do I need to see this?"

And a female voice, distinctive and piercing, replied, "So you can get it through your head that it's not all about you."

"Excuse me?" I cast my glance wildly around the room.

There was no answer.

"Phoebe." Cole tapped his knuckles on the door. "Phoebe?"

"Like she's gonna talk to you," I muttered.

He cast his glance in our direction and my heart stopped. Goodbye, future self. I was gonna fry right here, right now. Stupid penthouse wanted me to sizzle into a crisp.

But I hadn't been the one he'd been glancing at. Instead, a woman I recognized as Piper appeared in a whirl of blue and white lights with a blonde man. Another whirl brought a brown-haired Paige. Cole regarded them for a long moment.

"You evil son of a bitch," Paige said at last.

Piper flung her hands open at him and he disintegrated with a sound like hornets. Paige scuttled around the flying fragments, setting crystalline rocks down in a circle.

"Phoebe," Piper called angrily. "Get out here and help us, dammit."

"What are they doing?" I asked, momentarily averting my eyes to meet those of my guide.

The buzzing stopped and Piper issued a warning to her young sister, drawing my gaze back to them just in time to see Paige fly across the room.

"Don't make me kill you," Cole uttered.

Piper dismantled him again. "Phoebe, you heard what he said, he's gonna kill us, help us!"

The door to the bathroom opened as Cole spun back together and formed an all-too-familiar fireball. Across the room, Phoebe picked up the remaining rock. She looked at her sisters, then her husband.

"I'm sorry," Cole said, nodding slightly. "It's…it's for the best."

"I know it is," she said, sounding slightly absent as she walked towards him.

And then it hit me.

"You're going to make me watch him die, aren't you?" I hissed at the voice. "Aren't you?"

The fireball in Cole's hand extinguished as Phoebe kissed him.

"Phoebe?" Piper queried, sounding confused and scared, both for very good reasons.

"I'm sorry too," Phoebe said finally, pulling away and setting the rock down. A bluish light sprang up from him to meet the others, forming a cage.

"Phoebe, no." Cole looked around. "No!"

"I'm sorry, baby," his wife said huskily. "I'm so sorry."

And then the Charmed Ones began to chant. Piper began, with "Prudence, Penelope, Patricia, Melinda." Phoebe followed tearfully with "Astrid, Helen, Laura, and Grace" and the flames from Piper's stanza reached his chest.

"I'll always love you," Cole breathed and I felt tears spring to my eyes. Ow.

"Halliwell witches stand strong beside us," said Paige, and all three finished with "Vanquish this evil from time and space."

There was a mighty bang. The windows shattered, the Halliwells winced, and I covered my eyes. I knew this was the past and that my Cole was somewhere in my time doing something unbeknownst to me, but this was a part of him.

His words from this afternoon popped into my head: Besides, it's not really my favorite place.

"Jacuzzi. Terrace." I glanced upward. "I'm an idiot."

And the room dissolved into blackness. My mind was racing. Penthouse. Bad. Vanquish. Boom.

Then why, I wondered, was he still living there?

That was the thought that woke me up.

San Francisco's property market wasn't the greatest. I knew that. But I also knew that there was one little piece of property that happened to be on the market. Large, luxurious, and in need of paint.

It also happened to be next to the Halliwells'

I didn't sleep well that night. Oh, I tried. Valiantly. It was somewhere around two-thirty that I gave up, flipped on my lamp, and attempted to read a trashy book I'd bought from the bargain bin at ShopKo. I managed to get to the second chapter before giving up. I had no clue what was going on. Plot, characters, motivation? No clue. The dream kept popping back into my head. I didn't know how it had happened to flash into my mind, or who the voice belonged to. Whatever it was, though, I was sure had something to do with whatever made my future self come for a visit.

I honestly didn't know what was going on. And I wasn't sure that I wanted to know. All that I did want was a new, history-free environment. But the thing was, Prescott Street had a history. Cole had lived there for six months when he was with Phoebe.

"And not everything's about her either," the same voice from the dream whispered. "Have you ever heard of an even mix?"

"Okay." I clasped my hands over my head. "Show yourself."

"I can't," it said. "It's not part of the job description."

"Fine," I said, rolling over. "Part of my job description is getting adequate sleep. So good night."

There was a slight sigh. "Fine. I'll leave you alone. But one thing."

"What?"

"Buy the house."

"I barely have enough for this apartment," I said, and just then it hit me how stupid I was to be talking to an invisible woman.

"Well then, maybe you should do what you went to college for."

I rolled my eyes, which were feeling heavier by the second. "What, bad fashion and good music?"

"Writing," the voice said, sounding like it too was rolling its eyes. "You're good at that. That's what you should be doing, not doing office work."

"Okay," I replied. "Finagle me a job with Marie Claire and drop some money in my lap and then we'll talk."

"You've gotta make this hard" was the last thing I heard before I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

A/N: Hi, all! How've you been doing? Happy Valentine's Day AND Happy New Year AND Merry Christmas (I think), because it has been eight million years since I have updated! And I am very sorry to have kept you all waiting, but I am diverging a bit from my faithful green notebook that contained the first draft of this, because there is a great deal of that that is crap. Seriously. It's shocking how little transition/introspective modes I included in that. So that's the reason for the holdup. Bad reason, I know. Add that to a little writer's block and a lot of homework (I should really be researching Ida M. Tarbell right now), and things take longer than they should.

Anyway, I'm babbling now. I hope you all have a great day, and I'm off to chapter twenty!

Oh, and one more thing--I know that at this point, there are a lot of unanswered questions. They will all be answered, I promise you.