"So," Paige said as they were leaving the restaurant, "who's gonna drive which car now?"
They had stopped at Sacramento for lunch, and were now crossing the parking lot of Carrows Restaurant towards the cars.
"I for one could use a break," Cole said in a low voice, careful not to wake up Ben. He shivered slightly as the chilly breeze hit him, and carefully pulled the hood of Ben's jacket to better cover the chubby face that rested on his shoulder.
"Well, I haven't driven yet," Phoebe said in the same tone. "I can take it from here."
"I'm not tired, either," Paige said as they stopped by the two cars. "I'll drive Piper's car."
As Phoebe opened the door so that Cole could place Ben on the baby seat, Piper broke in:
"How about Phoebe drives my car and Paige travels with Cole?"
"Fine by me," Phoebe said. "What?" she said, noticing the far from thrilled look on Cole's face.
"Paige will be on my back for almost two hours," he complained.
"No, she won't," Phoebe said, giving Paige a stern look. "She'll behave."
Piper elbowed Paige and she said, mindfully:
"Right..." Cole muttered, not looking convinced. "Well, you drive," he said, throwing the keys to Paige.
While Paige caught the Buick's keys in midair, Piper and Phoebe walked towards the other car.
"She will be on his back all the way to San Francisco, won't she?" Phoebe asked after she and Piper were in the car.
Erzsebet watched as her interlocutor paced back and forth in the room, wondering how she could get rid of him without being blatantly obvious. Dasim might be a bloody chatterbox, but he was also a powerful ally, the kind you wouldn't want to upset. But the truth was, she was afraid she'd fall asleep right then and there, regardless of his endless ranting. She usually had no trouble listening to men's rambling, keeping that "oh-this-is-all-so-fascinating" look in her eyes while they babbled about their heroic deeds, but today the effort to just sit straight and keep her eyes open seemed to be taking all her strength.
"Just out of curiosity, how long have I been talking to the walls?"
The obvious annoyance in Dasim's voice told Erzsebet that she must've dozed off, and she straightened up with a start.
"I'm not..." -- she sighed and rubbed her eyes -- "Look, Dasim, I'm dead sleepy: I didn't sleep a wink last night. I think some witch was trying to summon me."
She yawned, unable to refrain herself, and Dasim asked with unconcealed impatience:
"So, I suppose I should leave and let you have your beauty sleep now?"
Yes! Just do that! Go to hell and leave me alone!
Gathering all her willpower, Erzsebet gave him the smile that had been the ruin of countless demons and humans.
"It's not that I'm not willing to hear about your plan, Dasim," she said, "but as you can see, right now I can barely keep my eyes open." -- she moved closer to him and batted her eyelashes -- "Besides, you know that you already have my vote, don't you? If anyone knows how to deal with those Furies, this one is you."
"Well," he conceded, distracted by her flattery, "you really do look tired today. You'd better get some rest before the voting: wouldn't want you to vote on the wrong plan by mistake, would we?" he asked, winking.
"Of course not."
"See you tonight, then," Dasim said, as she walked him to the door.
Erzsebet closed the door behind him and rested her head on it with a sigh of utter relief. She really hadn't slept all night, even though no one had tried to summon her. Few witches dared to summon her, and none had since the year 1750, when she had slaughtered an entire town in retaliation.
As she slowly walked away from the door towards her bed, Erzsebet wondered what the hell had happened the night before. She had stayed awake all night, lying on her bed and staring at the ceiling, feeling like she had all the caffeine in the world in her system. She slipped under the covers, wondering for the umpteenth time if the burst of adrenaline that had surged through her and kept her awake the night before had anything to do with Cole or Ben. Several times through the night she had been tempted to shimmer in the manor to check up on them, and each time she had mentally scowled herself for being so stupid and weak. She moaned and pulled the covers over her head. She had to sleep. She couldn't afford looking like a living dead when she showed up at Lilith's for the meeting that night. No one would buy the summoning story twice, and then what would she tell them? That she couldn't sleep because she was worried about her witch of a son? Sure, that would grant her the "Demon Mother of the Year" award.
Erzsebet tossed the covers aside with a grunt of frustration. She needed to sleep, and she needed it real soon, otherwise she was afraid she'd go insane. She ran her fingers along the delicate gold chain she wore around her neck, and fumbled with the locket that hung from it. It had been a long time, and she had sworn not to resort to that again, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Still, she closed her hand tightly over the jewelry, unsure: she stood like that for a good five minutes, with one arm folded under her head and the other lying across her chest, the hand holding the locket resting upon her pounding heart.
Slowly, very slowly, she opened her hand and carefully opened the locket, showing the two identical locks of hair inside it. One of them had been put in there 117 years ago, but it was still as black as it had been back then. She wondered if it would go gray now that his owner had lost the demonic gift of eternal youth. Erzsebet gently fingered it, as well as the second hair lock, that had joined the first one a few weeks ago, when she had its owner in her arms and an athame at hand. Finally, she took the third and last item from inside the locket and weighed it in her hand, wondering if she'd dare to use it after all those years. There had been a time when it worked like a safety blanket, helping her through those cold, lonely nights. The first time she had managed to sleep through the whole night without it, it had been a victory. The bitterest of victories, but still... Would she now be risking the forgetfulness so painfully achieved?
"Just this time," she muttered to herself as she gingerly closed the locket again, with the two locks of hair inside. "Just in order to have some rest."
With that, Erzsebet slipped her wedding ring on her finger, rolled onto her side with a sigh and drifted into a mercifully dreamless sleep almost right away.
Phoebe's eyes flipped open as she woke up, feeling cold without the warmth of Cole's body next to hers. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand: 1 a.m. Oddly enough, she didn't feel sleepy, so she crossed her arms under her head, intending to wait for his return. Looking to her left she could see Ben sleeping in his crib, with one arm around Mr. Floppy. She smiled as she remembered how excited he had been as Paige was pulling the car into the driveway. As Phoebe was getting out of Piper's car, she had seen Cole struggling to unfasten the straps of the baby seat with Ben impatiently tugging on them and saying "hi! hi!" to the manor.
She ran her hand over the sheets on Cole's side of the bed and frowned slightly as she realized that they were cold, showing that he had left the bed more than just a few minutes ago. Phoebe sat up on the bed and looked from the bed to the door with a feeling of uneasiness. In moments like this, when something as trivial as her husband being out of bed in the middle of the night unsettled her, she was painfully reminded that they were not a regular couple, with just regular worries.
Phoebe reached out for her robe, put it on and slipped her feet into her pantofles. She silently left the bedroom and walked towards the stairs, after checking the bathroom and finding it empty. She felt a little silly, yet she couldn't help herself: she just wanted to find Cole, tell him how silly she was and let him take her back to their bed, smiling and waving his head.
On the first floor, an umpleasant chill went up her spine as she saw that all the lights were off.
"Cole? Baby?" she called, hesitantly.
Getting no answer, Phoebe turned on the lights and did a quick and fruitless search around the first floor: she even opened the door to the basement and peered inside. Fifteen minutes later, she was standing in the middle of the kitchen, nervously tapping her fingers on the back of a chair while glancing an indecisive look towards the back door. Finally, she waved her head and turned around from the door with a heavy sigh: it was probably under 60 F outside, the idea of Cole wandering in the backyard in that weather was just ridiculous. Phoebe pulled her robe tighter around herself as she walked back upstairs, her malaise getting stronger. She looked inside the bathroom again, and also in their bedroom, even though she didn't see how Cole could have come back without her noticing.
She looked from the door of Paige's bedroom to the door of Piper and Leo's, wondering if she should wake them up. She had already raised her hand to knock on Piper and Leo's door when she remembered that there was one last room where she hadn't looked for Cole, one where he rarely -- if ever -- went by himself.
Phoebe tiptoed her way upstairs and opened the attic's door to find Cole standing before the Book of Shadows, leaning over the ancient book and so absorbed browsing through it that he didn't notice her until she took a step in and a floorboard creaked under her foot.
"What...?" -- Cole raised his head with a start, but relaxed as soon as he saw her -- "Hey, baby. I hadn't noticed you there."
"Sorry," she said, smiling as she crossed the room towards him. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't," Cole said, putting his arms around her. Phoebe raised a mocking eyebrow and he admitted, with a smile: "Okay, so you did, but don't tell Paige I can be startled that easily."
He kissed the tip of her nose and asked:
"Now, what are you doing up this late?"
"Actually, I was looking for you," she said. "I felt lonely on that big, cold bed..." she added in her baby voice.
"So," Cole said, giving her a little smile as he held her closer, "you missed me, huh? I'm glad to hear that."
"I always miss you, baby," she purred.
Cole leaned down to kiss her and Phoebe gladly returned his kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck, but after some time she pulled away from him just enough to look around him and peer at the Book of Shadows.
"So, what are you doing up this late?" she asked.
"I, uh..." -- Cole blushed slightly as he cast a shy look towards the Book of Shadows -- "Oh well, I couldn't sleep, so I figured I might as well..."
"... study?" she finished the sentence for him with a somewhat amused smile.
"Sort of. I just thought I might find something here that would help me understand..." -- he shrugged -- "...you know."
"Not really," he sighed, giving the Book of Shadows an annoyed look. "Most of the stuff here is about the Halliwells and the demons they've fought."
"Makes sense," Phoebe said, smiling, "considering it's the Halliwells' Book of Shadows." Then she added, more seriously: "Baby, if you wanna learn about your family and about the witchcraft, you'd better talk to your father. And to Leo: I'm sure he'll want to have a talk with you."
"He already has," Cole sighed.
Phoebe raised an inquisitive eyebrow and he added:
"About the rules, and personal gain, and the rules, and free will, and the rules..." -- he grimaced -- "Lots of rules."
"Baby, if you think Leo was bad, wait until Piper starts tutoring you," she said, giggling.
"What?" -- Cole's eyes opened wide in shock when he understood what she meant -- "Oh, no! No, no, no! There's absolutely no way I'm gonna take potion classes from Piper!"
"Oh, yes, you will! Every witch in this house does!"
"Well, not this w..." -- he stopped short as the word got stuck in his throat.
"What?" Phoebe asked, smiling.
Cole started to unwrap his arms from around her, but she kept her arms around him so that he couldn't pull away.
"Come on, baby," she said, softly. "Once you put it into words, it'll be easier, you'll see."
Cole sighed and pulled her closer, resting his chin on her head.
"This is weird," he sighed.
"I know," she whispered, nuzzling his chest. "And that's exactly why you should say it out loud: the sooner you do, the sooner it will start not to sound so weird."
Phoebe patiently waited while Cole just stood there, holding her silently.
"Witch," he finally said, in a voice so low that she would probably have missed it if the attic wasn't completely silent.
Phoebe raised her head to face him, smiling, and he leaned down and kissed her forehead.
"I'm a witch," he repeated, as his lips grazed her skin, traveling down to her left cheek.
"Like your father before you, and his father before him," she whispered, and offered him her parted lips.
"And that little imp we have downstairs," he said, and then his mouth found hers and no words were said for a while.
"Yes," she said, smiling against his lips as they pulled away just enough to breath, "our baby boy is a witch, help us God."
Cole sighed, an image of Ben freezing the bath water on one of his infamous "no bath" days flashing in his mind, but he pushed it away and captured Phoebe's lips again, deciding that right then and there they had much more interesting things to think about. They forgot all about witches, powers and rules as their bodies responded to each other's closeness and their passion grew.
"Can this door be locked?" Cole uttered in between kisses.
"Cole! Here?!?" Phoebe asked, giggling.
"Do you have a better idea," he said, giving her a sly grin, "considering Ben is in our bedroom?"
"Actually, yes," she said, smiling back at him. "I do have an idea. I was planning on saving it for tomorrow, but..."
Cole tried to protest as she pulled away from him, but she took him by his hand and started pulling him towards the door.
"Come on, come on!" she urged him as they quickly made their way downstairs, ignoring his whispered protests.
On the first floor, Phoebe led him to the kitchen, turned on the lights and stood before the window, looking at the house next door.
"What?" he said, giving her a puzzled look. As he followed her stare, he sighed: "Piper told you, didn't she?"
"On the way back from Sacramento, yes, she did," she said, still looking at the house.
Cole hugged her from behind and leaned down to press his face against hers, giving the house a longing look.
"Well, it would've been a good arrangement," he said, quietly. "Wouldn't it?"
"Sure," Phoebe said, caressing the hand that rested on her belly. "It will."
"If only... uh, excuse me, what did you just say?" -- Cole straightened up and gave her a bewildered look.
"I said," Phoebe calmly said, turning around to face him, "that the house next door will be the perfect arrangement. Quoting you, close enough to be safe yet distant enough to be comfortable."
"Baby, we can't afford..." -- Cole looked at the house again then turned back to Phoebe, giving her a hesitant look -- "Can we?"
"That's what Piper wanted to talk to me about in her car," she said, smiling. "I'm gonna trade my half of the manor for her half of the house in Coleville. As soon as we sell that house, we shall have enough money to buy this one." -- she motioned towards the house through the window.
Cole just stared at her, dumbstruck, and Phoebe teased him:
"Cat got your tongue, husband?"
"No, it's just... Phoebe, are you sure you wanna do that? I mean, the manor has been in your family for generations, and..."
"It'll still be in the family," she said, cutting him off as she gently placed her fingers on his mouth. "Cole, I don't need a piece of paper telling me that this house belongs to me; as long as Piper's family lives here, it'll always be home for me. Just as our house will always be home for her family, and Paige's as well. Won't it?" she asked, cocking her head aside and looking at him in mock suspicion.
"Uh, yes," he said, still stunned. "Sure. You know that I couldn't care more for them even if they were of my own blood."
"And what you said about tearing down the wall and everything," she continued, "did you really mean it?"
"Every word," Cole said. He looked through the window again, seeing the house in a whole new light then. Their house. A place of their own. When he turned his eyes back to Phoebe, he had a bright smile spread all over his face. "So... you're serious? We can buy it?"
"Yes, we can," Phoebe said, smiling back at him. She turned towards the window again, putting one arm around his waist.
"I've always loved that tree," she said, pointing at a golden rain tree that could be seen over the wall. "It's so beautiful on spring, covered with yellow flowers..."
"Can we hang a tire swing from it?" Cole asked.
"Uh-hum. Let's just make sure it's not too close to the sand box."
"There'll be a sand box too?"
"Sure. Every kid should have a sand box to play in, and get all filthy and sand covered."
"Not that our kid needs any help getting filthy," Cole remarked, and they both chuckled slightly before turning their attention back to the house.
"You can't see it from here," Phoebe said, "but one of the bedrooms has a balcony, and there's a gorgeous scarlet bougainvillea climbing up the wall towards it."
"Will it be our bedroom?"
"Yes." She let out a sigh of contentment and leaned closer to him as she repeated the words, savoring them. "Our bedroom."
"If there's an extra bedroom," Cole said, "we can turn it into an office."
"Why? What's wrong with keeping your file folders in the diaper drawer?" Phoebe asked, raising her eyebrows in mock surprise.
Cole's chuckle was cut off by a yawn, and Phoebe turned around from the window to face him.
"Baby," she said, "it's probably 2 a.m. by now. We should go back to bed; there'll be plenty of time to make plans for the house tomorrow."
"Promise I won't wake up to find out it was all just a dream?"
"Cross my heart," she said, softly. She went on tiptoes to kiss him and added: "Now, let's go back to bed."
Cole gave the house one last look and let her take him by his hand and lead him upstairs. As they quietly slid underneath the covers, he snuggled her in his arms, feeling her petite body mold perfectly to his.
"Good night, love," he whispered, kissing her forehead.
"'Night, Cole," she mumbled, cuddling up with him. "Love you," she added, with her eyes already closed.
It didn't take long before they were both sound asleep. When Ben woke up, later that night, his parents didn't even stir. They didn't see him give the mobile that hung from the ceiling right above his crib a pensive look, then purse his lips and blow. A soft breeze started blowing inside the bedroom, making the mobile waver, much to his amusement. Ben watched the mobile for a while, then waved bye-bye at it, contented by their little interplay. He yawned, cuddled with Mr. Floppy again and went back to sleep, while the mobile gradually returned to its previous still state.
(Next installment: Season of Hope)