I blame this on reading too much Shakespeare lately.  Shakespeare has a way of writing his characters so . . . human that I find it impossible not to empathize with the villains.  So when I watched "We All Scream for Ice Cream," (which I thought was a wicked episode, by the way) I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor, murderous demon kids.  Then I got thinking about Cole - he's never far from my mind when it comes to Charmed - and this story arose.  It takes place after "Normal," which was a sequel to "Guilt," both of which can by found at my site, http://trinity.day.tripod.com  It has major spoilers for "We All Scream for Ice Cream."  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Oh, and I apologize if the title's misleading.  This has practically nothing to do with the character Piper.  I just thought it fit (you'll see why) and I had to use it.  It's actually a Cole/Phoebe story.

The Piper's Song

The date was circled in her date book in red ink with stars scattered all around it. Normally, every calendar in the house would have similar markings, much to the chagrin of her sisters, but normally Phoebe didn't have a date with a half-demon whom her sisters thought was dead.

Unlike the last few times she had seen Cole, Phoebe had actually been talking to him regularly this time. The number he had given her the last time she had seen him was programmed onto her cellphone. Not that she needed it, she knew the seven digits off by heart

Talking on the phone wasn't the same a talking in person, but Phoebe preferred it a thousand times more than not talking at all. She hated waiting and worry.

"How 'bout a nice, romantic dinner at home?" Phoebe had suggested during one of their numerous telephone conversations.

"You mean like candlelight and music and that?" Cole had asked, hesitantly.

"Yeah. I'll cook something and we can just stay at home and enjoy the privacy. But I'm warning you, I'm not a good cook. Piper's the chef in our family."

"Why don't I cook then?" Cole had suggested. "It'll be much easier. I'm assuming we're doing this at my place."

"Yeah, but . . . can you cook?"

Cole had laughed. "Not very well," he admitted. "But I know the basics. I'll be able to make something edible."

"If you're sure . . . "

They had agreed on Saturday, which was today. Prue was out of town for the weekend and Phoebe was very kindly giving Piper and Leo a night to themselves. A friend was covering for Phoebe, pretending she would be staying over at her house. In truth, Phoebe was planning on staying with Cole, but there was no way she could ever let Piper and Prue let that.

So, with less than twenty minutes until she was supposed to be at Cole's, Phoebe was running around, trying to get ready.

"Are you sure you don't mind?" It was Piper, standing in the doorway of Phoebe's room.

Phoebe sighed. They had already been through this a million times. She didn't have the time to go through it again. "Yes, Piper," she said, exasperated.

"I just don't think it's fair to be kicking you out of the house," Piper said in a worried voice.

Phoebe really didn't have time for this. She searched her dresser for the earrings she wanted to wear. "We've been through this Piper. You're not kicking me out of the house, I volunteered." Deciding she wasn't having any luck finding the missing jewelry, she asked Piper, "Have you seen my earrings?"

"Which ones?" Piper asked, moving into the room to help Phoebe look.

"My new ones," Phoebe said. "You know, the dangly ones."

"These ones?" Piper asked, holding up the missing earrings.

"Yes," Phoebe exclaimed. "Thanks, Piper. You're a lifesaver."

Phoebe started to put the earrings on and noticed Piper watching her in the mirror. "What?" she asked self-consciously.

"If I didn't know better," Piper said with a smile, "I'd swear you were going out on a date."

Phoebe turned away. She went over to get a brush to cover her actions. "Don't be ridiculous," she said carefully, not looking at Piper.

"You know, it's been awhile since Cole. Maybe you should - "

Phoebe turned around to face her sister. "Not now. I donít want to talk about that now. I'm going to be late if I don't go now." She rushed past Piper and went downstairs. Piper followed her down.

Phoebe was in the kitchen, rummaging through her purse. "Have you seen my keys?" she asked.

Piper raised an eyebrow. "The ones on the counter, you mean?"

Phoebe grabbed them and looked at her sister sheepishly. "Yeah," she said.

Piper rolled her eyes. "What would you do without me?" she asked.

"Become organized?" she suggested.

"You're just lucky you have a sister who's willing to find your things for you."

"You're right," Phoebe agreed. "I'm very lucky. You're the best, Piper."

"Just go," Piper said, exasperated.

Neither of them had noticed the well-worn business card fall from Phoebe's purse onto the floor.

~*~

 

"You're late," Cole said when he answered the door.

Phoebe winced apologetically. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I took longer to get ready than I thought I would."

"It's okay," Cole said. He kissed her cheek and led her inside. "You look lovely. I was just getting a little worried."

"Sorry," Phoebe apologized again. She took off her coat and Cole immediately relieved her of it and hung it in the hall closet.

"It's okay," Cole said again. They went into the living room. "Dinner isn't quiet ready yet. Do you want anything to drink?"

"Sure," Phoebe said, sitting down on the couch.

He waited a few seconds, then asked, "What would you like?"

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Whatever you have."

"Wine okay?" She nodded and he headed off into the kitchen, coming back with two wine glasses, a bottle of red and a corkscrew.

"Hold these," he ordered, handing her the glasses. She complied and he opened the win. He took back one of the glasses and poured them both some wine.

"Cheers," he toasted, holding up his glass.

Phoebe toasted back then took a sip. She wasn't much of a wine drinker, but she knew Cole was. He was the one who always picked out the wine when they went out for dinner and he seemed to have good taste. At least, the stuff he ordered was usually at the more expensive end of things. Phoebe herself wasn't much of a judge. All she knew was she liked the way it tasted.

They sat, drinking their wine. Phoebe suddenly felt nervous, which was strange. She felt as if she were on a blind date, with no idea what to do or to say. "I saw my dad the other day," she said abruptly.

"Your dad?" Cole questioned.

"Yeah. He's moving back to San Francisco."

"That's nice." He frowned curiously. "For some reason, I thought your dad was dead. I mean, didn't your grandmother raise you?

"She did," Phoebe confirmed. "My dad left us years ago."

"Oh." Cole looked like he was going to say more, but a buzzer went off in the kitchen. "That'll be dinner," he said. "I'd better go get it."

Phoebe nodded and took another drink of wine. She sat in uncomfortable silence until Cole stuck his head out of the kitchen a few minutes later. "Dinner's ready," he said. Phoebe got up and followed him into the dining room.

The lights had been dimmed and there was a pair of matching candlesticks adorning the table. Cole w at the stereo, putting on some light, instrumental music that really didn't seem to be his taste, but fit the romantic atmosphere well. Cole hurried over so he could pull out a chair for Phoebe. She smiled at him as she sat down. Lastly, Cole lit the candles before joining her at the table.

"Pasta," Phoebe observed, looking at the dish in front of her.

"Yeah," Cole said. "It's my specialty." He leaned closer, smiling, and let her in on a secret. "Actually, it's pretty much the only thing I can make without burning. I hope you don't mind."

"No." Phoebe was quick to assure him. She laughed. "I'm not much better," she admitted. "As I said before, Piper's the chef in the family."

They started to eat. The pasta was good. It wasn't spectacular by any standards, but it was still a few notches above barely edible.

"So, what have you been up to?" Cole asked.

"Oh, the usual," answered Phoebe. "School, mostly."

"How're your classes going?'

Phoebe proceeded to tell him. After school, they talked about her father, and although his reconciliation with Prue and Piper was touched upon, Phoebe didn't really go into it. Cole and Prue hadn't got along a the best of times, but now that Prue would just as soon vanquish Cole as look at him, things had gotten worse.

Of course, he had been trying to kill her before. That thought had no place in Phoebe's head tonight, so she pushed it away.

From her father, the conversation progressed to other topics and by the end of dinner, they were laughing and chatting away, having a great time. All of Phoebe's previous discomfort was long forgotten.

Finally, Cole got up from the table. The CD had finished playing a long time ago, so the room was quiet. "Why don't you find a CD to put on while I clear the table and get dessert."

"You made dessert?" Phoebe asked incredulously. "I don't believe it. You don't seem much like a baking man to me."

Cole made a face. "No," he said. "I bought something from the store. Do you like lemon meringue pie?"

"Mmm," Phoebe murmured, licking her lips.

Cole went off into the kitchen while Phoebe scampered over to the CD player. Cole had a huge selection of music, but most of the CDs weren't what Phoebe liked to listen to, nor did they fit in with the romantic evening. She sat down on the floor by the stereo and started to flip through the Cole's music collection. While doing this, Phoebe started humming to herself.

She heard Cole come over and turned around to smile at him, but faltered when she saw him. Cole had a mixture of panic and horror clearly written on his face. That she could identify it was a bad sign; Phoebe found it really hard to read Cole, who seemed to effortlessly be able to hide his emotions from others.

"What are you humming?" he demanded.

"What?" Phoebe asked, startled. In all honestly, she was barely aware that she had been humming anything at all, let alone what it was.

"The Ice Cream Man's in town, isn't he," Cole said flatly.

"What are you talking about?"

"The Ice Cream Man," Cole repeated. "That's what he goes by these days, isn't it?"

"Yes, he's in town," Phoebe acknowledged.

"Where is he? We have to get rid of him."

"No, Cole!" Phoebe grabbed his arm to restrain him. "He's one of the good guys."

"Good guys?" Cole snarled. "Do you know what he does? He traps kids in that damned playground of his and leaves them for the Nothing."

"No," Phoebe protested. "It's not like that. He doesn't trap kids, just demons."

Cole stared at her in disbelief. "You don't get it, do you," he said.

"What?" Phoebe asked, proving her ignorance.

He shook his head. "Have you ever heard the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin?" he asked.

"I think so. Something to do with rats, right?"

"The city of Hamelin was infested with rats. The people tried everything, but couldn't get rid of them. Along came this piper who said he could get rid of the rats, for a price, of course. Well, the townspeople were desperate and they agreed. So the piper played his pipe and the rats were mesmerized. They followed him out of town.

"No, when the piper came back, he wanted his money. But the town wouldn't give it to him. So he took out his pipe and this time it was the children, every last child, who followed him out of town, never to be seen again."

Phoebe felt like one of the children hypnotized y the piper's song, listening to Cole's voice. He continued.

"Imagine being one of those children, enchanted by the piper's music. Following him, almost certainly to your death, but unable to stop yourself. All you can do is follow the music.

"Then imagine you reach your destination and it is the Playground. You're trapped. It's like going through the looking glass; nothing makes sense, the place has rules of its own. All you can do is sit and wait for the Nothing to come.

"You can try to run, and sometimes you'll be lucky. Sometimes the Nothing will grab the kid next to you. But you know it's only a matter of time before your luck runs out.

"You don't even get to die a proper death. Instead, you become nothing. You simply cease to exist. You never were; you will never be again."

When Cole finished Phoebe was chilled. She hadn't thought of it in that way before. It was a few minutes before she could find her voice again, a few minutes of absolute silences where they could only hear each another breath and the only light was the erratic flickering of the candles that cast light and shadow indiscriminately. It was no wonder Phoebe had shivers running up and down her back; it was the atmosphere.

At last she was able to object, "But we're not talking about innocent little children here, Cole. We're talking about demons."

"And so that makes it okay?" Cole demanded. "They're still children."

"They're demons," Phoebe cried. His speech had made her uncomfortable and she felt the need to justify her actions.

"I'm a demon!" Cole shouted and his words struck Phoebe like a physical blow. She flinched involuntarily. "Or have you forgotten?" he added spitefully, noting her reaction.

"I haven't forgotten," Phoebe said, sticking her chin out defiantly. She was lying, of course. "But you're half-human."

"Do you think he cared?" Cole yelled. "Do you think it made a difference?" His voice dropped, and again he started a story that held Phoebe in spellbound horror. "Do you know what it's like to hear that song and know that you must follow it? I knew what it was, what it meant, but I couldn't help myself. I watched as my friend was sucked up right beside me. And the only reason I didn't go along side of him was because my human half allowed me to resist the song some. Even then, I barely escaped with my life.

"Do you know what it's like," his voice dropped to a whisper and Phoebe had to strain to hear him, "when I was the only one left who could remember him? I knew exactly when the Nothing got him. Everyone I knew suddenly stopped remembering who he was, that he had even lived. He had been erased from existence."

Phoebe shook her head slowly. "No," she said. "It's not like that."

"Isn't it?" he asked. "Tell me, Phoebe. The kids that were trapped, what did they look like?"

There was a girl, wasn't there? With freckles? She had this power, it was an active power, it was . . . What was it? And there was a boy . . . was a boy . . .

Cole smiled dreadfully at the alarm on Phoebe's face. "See Phoebe?" he said. "You can't."

"But me dad, my dad," Phoebe stuttered. "He remembered. When Prue was little. He remembered the boy."

"Your dad's mortal. How else do you think I was the only one who remembered? Because I'm half-human."

"No . . . no." Phoebe tried to deny it, even though she knew Cole was speaking the truth.

But Cole was merciless. He went on. "You know my friend? IT took a month for the Nothing to finally get him. A month," he emphasized. "Imagine living in terror in that Playground for a whole month, knowing that you were living on borrowed time. You can run, you can hide, but the Nothing will get you in the end."

Phoebe couldn't take it anymore. She backed away. "I - I - I have to go." She ran out of the room, barely remembering to put on her coat and shoes before leaving the house. Cole just stayed where he was, still as a statue except for his ragged breathing. The candles eventually burned out, leaving him in utter darkness.

~*~

Phoebe didn't remember how she got home or how much time had lapsed since she had left Cole's house. All she knew was it was dark and quiet and everyone had gone to bed by the time she got home. Not bothering to turn on any lights, she stumbled upstairs where she fell into bed and sank into a deep, dreamless sleep. She hadn't even bothered to take her shoes off.

The End
Monday, January 22, 2001

If you want to read more about the Pied Piper story, check out After Hamelin, by Bill Richardson.