A Nightmare Come True

Chapter One

It was a confused Phoebe who awoke the next morning. She was confused for two reasons, the first being that she was back at the Manor on her lumpy mattress from high school. The second was that she swore that she hadn't slept through the night. For Phoebe, that was strange. With the exception of a couple supernatural instances (okay, make that a lot of supernatural instances), she was a pretty sound sleeper. She'd even overslept on the morning of her wedding to…

"Cole," she said out loud, feeling the bile rise in her throat. "Oh my God, Cole."

She flung herself out of bed and flew out of her room to the bathroom. She dry-heaved into the stool, wishing valiantly to vomit so the queasiness would stop.

He was back. The man who made her both believe in love and want nothing to do with it had been in the Manor last night.

And he hadn't been alone.

Phoebe sat back on her heels. "How?" she asked. "How did he do it? He's dead. He's dead and gone and I saw it happen."

She paused, contemplating her last, not completely true, statement. Yes, she'd seen him vanquished the first time, back when he'd been the Source. But after he'd returned and gone nuts…and cast himself (and the unknowing Paige) into the alternate universe…

"He found a loophole," Phoebe growled, standing up. "The alternate reality gave him a freaking loophole to get out. He said he'd talked to Piper, right? And speaking of--"

"Aunt Phoebe?" The blonde-haired Wyatt Halliwell peered through the door at his aunt. "Who are you talking to?"

"Myself, sweetie," answered Phoebe. "Do you know where your mom is?"

"Kitchen." Wyatt grinned. "I'll orb you."

Usually, Phoebe wasn't a huge fan of Wyatt's sometimes misplaced-on-purpose orbing. But today, she simply nodded. There was the familiar tingling sensation before Phoebe found herself face-to-face with her flour-covered older sister.

"So Chris and Wyatt forgot to tell me that, oh! There's a bake sale today and they need three dozen cookies!" Piper said, glaring at the oven furiously. "And this has to be done before noon and I have to deal with people who want to buy P3 at eleven and--"

"Did you know Cole was alive?" Phoebe interrupted, putting her hands on her hips.

Piper looked at her strangely. "Excuse me?"

"I…" Phoebe shook her head. "I saw him last night, Piper. I heard noises in the hallway, I went to see what was going on, and there he was."

"That's impossible," said Piper with a little more enthusiasm than needed. "He's dead, remember?"

"He said he talked to you."

"Obviously. He did live here, remember?"

"Two years ago. He said that you and he had had a 'conversation' two years ago."

Piper sighed. "Do you want me to tell you the truth?" she asked.

"Yes!" Phoebe exclaimed. "Do you realize that this guy has been screwing with my life for almost eight years?"

"All right," said Piper, putting down the rolling pin. "Do you remember when Leo was taken by the Elders and I was in a coma? And I said something cryptic about an 'old friend'? Well…" She exhaled deeply. "That was Cole."

Phoebe felt her heart judder. "He's alive again?"

"No," said Piper. "He's in some limbo between life and death where he's trapped without love."

"Well, he obviously found love," Phoebe snapped, thinking back to the brunette of the previous night. "He was with some walking ad for plastic surgery."

"Are you sure that this just wasn't a bad dream?" asked Piper suspiciously. "From what I know, there's no way to get out of limbo."

"Unless…" Phoebe's eyes narrowed. "Unless you never were in limbo in the first place."

The older woman's eyes flitted away from her sister's gaze. "Phoebe, he's not gonna hurt us."

"How do you know?" Phoebe asked. A wave of fear washed over her. "He did so much evil in both of his lifetimes. He came into our lives trying to kill us and went out the same way."

"Phoebe…" Piper trailed off, as if scripting the words she was planning on saying and weighing them carefully. "I trust him."

"You what?" Phoebe felt a small bubble of anger in her chest. "He could be formulating some master plan to wipe us out once and for all! He could want Wyatt and Chris or--or--or my future kids! I…Piper, I've come way too far to have him interfere in my life again." She put both hands on the slightly sticky counter to steady herself. "Coop loves me and I love him, and if Cole's really back, that'll put him over the edge. He'll try to kill him." Her stomach twinged as she briefly pictured the duel between good and evil.

"No he won't," said Piper firmly. "He wanted you to find love again. That's why he came to talk to me. He thought that if Leo and I got back together, it would help you not to give up on romance."

Phoebe snorted. "There had to be some fine print in that. I've known him for way too long to expect him to put all his cards on the table."

"He was actually brutally honest," Piper reflected. "No mind games, no conniving, just Cole. Nothing but him and his expensive suit."

"And apparently a wife," said Phoebe.

"The 'walking ad for plastic surgery'?" Piper quoted, a bemused expression playing on her face.

"She's proof that he's not in some limbo somewhere," Phoebe went on. "They both could shimmer, and she said that they got married in a church. And that they were going to Switzerland."

The oven beeped shrilly and Piper sighed. "Tell you what," she said. "Let me finish this, and then we'll do a little research and see what we can turn up on Cole. There's gotta be some sort of record somewhere about him."

"Right." Phoebe nodded.

"And…" Piper lowered her voice. "…we're not telling Paige. She's got enough on her mind with being pregnant and all the Whitelighter stuff. I think Cole being back might send her over the edge."

Phoebe winced, thinking of her younger sister's packed schedule and how an added annoyance would be the least needed thing in the world at the moment. "Agreed," she said.

And the eldest Halliwell sisters shook hands, both wondering what exactly Cole Turner was up to.

A/N: Oh, goodness. School has put a damper on my writing life and it is making me mad! But hey--if you feel like reading some non-Charmed related rambling, you can check out my blog (it's on my profile since they're picky about pasting links in chapters). It's mostly a record of my day-to-day life with some snark (and how does Microsoft Word not know that word??) thrown in. Feel free to drop me a note there to let me know that I'm not alone in the crazy world called cyberspace.