Cole stared at the thick file sitting on the glass table, in front of the sofa. And cringed out of sheer dismay.

What the hell had he been thinking? Why had he insisted upon accepting that ridiculously complicated case? Cole's employers had given him the perfect opportunity to avoid the case. Yet, he accepted it anyway. A land dispute between a wealthy winegrower and a corporation. Cole's firm represented the former.

The case promised to last several years in a series of lawsuits; counter-lawsuits and God only knew what other kinds of litigation. Cole sighed. He should have accepted Jackman's offer to hand the case to someone else. Grateful for Cole's successful handling of a pro bono case that involved the preservation of a community-based housing project. Since the successful verdict had reflected a positive light upon the firm's reputation, the senior partners decided to give Cole the chance to avoid the Giovanni case. And rather stupidly, he accepted the case anyway. All because he wanted to remain on the partners' good side. Damn idiot!

Angry with himself, Cole plopped down on the sofa and sighed. Hard. He needed a drink. A good martini with an onion. Only one person he knew made a first-rate Gibson. Cole glanced at the clock on the wall. Six-fifteen. Both Olivia and Cecile should be home, by now. The file caught his attention, again. At the moment, Cole felt more interested in a pre-dinner drink with Olivia . . . and Cecile, than a case doomed to last for . . .

The doorbell rang. Cole's mood brightened. He strode toward the door and glanced through the peephole. A surprise greeted his eyes. It was Paige. Now what in the hell did she want? Cole reluctantly opened the door. "Paige. What . . . what are you doing here? Is there something wrong?"

A nervous smile stretched Paige's mouth. "No. Well, in a way. May I come in?"

"Sure," Cole mumbled. He opened the door wide, allowing the young witch to enter.

Paige glanced around the penthouse. "So, long time, no see."

"Twelve days is your idea of a long time?" Cole shot back in his usual sardonic manner. "I mean I realize that we barely exchanged a word the last time we saw each other . . ."

Guilt flashed across Paige's face. Guilt? From Paige? What had happened to her? "What's wrong?" Cole asked for the second time. "Is . . . is Phoebe okay?"

"Phoebe?" Paige hesitated. "Well physically, yeah. But I think she's mad . . . Actually, I don't know if she's mad or not. Piper definitely is."

Cole frowned. "Piper mad at you? Why? What's this all about?"

Instead of answering Cole's questions, Paige asked if she could sit down. Cole led her to the sofa. He sat down in the opposite chair. "Okay," she continued, "how do I begin?" Paige paused dramatically. She took a deep breath and then, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you. For what all of us did to you. And I hope that you can forgive me."

Cole stared at his former sister-in-law, wondering if she had lost her mind. "Uh, what exactly are you apologizing for?"

Paige closed her eyes and sighed. "God, this is hard! I want to apologize for a lot of things, I guess. For believing that you'd deliberately chosen to become the Source, when you were really possessed. For kil . . . uh, vanquishing you, when we should have tried to save you. And for . . . well, for encouraging Phoebe to stay away from you, when both of you really needed to talk." Her dark eyes pleaded with Cole. "What I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry for treating you like dirt, when you really needed a friend."

Cole remained silent. His emotions now in turmoil, he merely continued to stare at Paige. He did not know whether to feel relieved that a Charmed One had finally believed what really happened to him. Or angry, because of what he had endured for nearly a year before hearing so much as a kind word from a Halliwell.

The long pause continued. Paige's face now expressed concern. Uneasiness. "Uh, Cole? Did you hear what I just said? I had apologized for treating you so . . ."

"Yeah, I heard!" Cole growled. Anger had won. The half-demon struggled to keep his emotions in check. He added in a tight voice. "And I forgive you."

Another pause. "Oh. Well, uh are you sure? You seem a little . . . I don't know. Pissed?"

It seemed a miracle to Cole that he did not incinerate his former sister-in-law at that moment with an energy or fireball. 'She' was criticizing 'him' for being pissed? Especially when he had every right to be? Instead of resorting to violence, Cole curled his lips into a sneer and retorted, "How perceptive of you! I forgot about those extra sensory powers of yours! Can you sense what I'm thinking right now?" He gave her a hard stare.

Paige's dark eyes grew wide. She literally wilted before him. "Get out?" she murmured.

Cole walked over to the door and opened it. "Good guess!"

"Cole, let me explain," Paige began. "I didn't mean . . ."

"Look, you've already apologized. I've accepted it. And I don't think we have anything further to say. Good-bye, Paige."

Paige shot him one last pleading glance. Her shoulders slumped with defeat, as she strode out of the penthouse. Cole slammed the door behind her, leaned against it, closed his eyes and heaved a large sigh.

* * * *

A half hour later, Paige returned to the manor on Prescott Street, where she found the living room empty. Sounds from a television seemed to drift from the kitchen. When Paige entered, she found Leo sitting by the table - watching TV and eating dinner. "Where's Piper and Paige?" she asked her brother-in-law.

Leo glanced up. "At P3. Someone had hired Piper to hold a private party there. Remember? Phoebe went to help."

"Oh God! I forgot. The Garner Christmas party." Paige sighed. "I was supposed to help Piper, but I guess I got side-tracked."

Something close to a smirk twisted Leo's lips. "I'm not surprised. Cole does have a talent for distracting others."

Paige stared at the whitelighter. Hard. "Why do we always do that?"

"Do what?" he asked.

A sigh left Paige's mouth. "Use Cole as a scapegoat for our troubles. I mean we blamed him for Phoebe's problems with her powers. We blamed him for our troubles with the Source. Well, in a way, he was partly to blame, since he let the Seer trick him into using the Hol . . ."

Frowning, Leo interrupted. "Are we going to go through that, again?"

"Leo! We can't deny what Cecile and I saw. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of sticking my head in the ground like some ostrich." An odd expression appeared on Leo's face. It seemed to Paige that he could not make up his mind on whether to accept the truth, or not. "C'mon Leo! Don't tell me that you're changing your mind. Not after you had admitted that we might have been wrong about Cole."

Leo sighed. "No, I'm not. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that you and Olivia are right about Cole being possessed by the Source. But that doesn't mean that Cole isn't dangerous. He is, you know. Especially with those new powers of his."

Paige hung her head low. Despite her new knowledge of what happened last year, not even she could deny the truth about Cole's new powers. They were dangerous. "I know," she murmured. "But like Piper said, he's the only one who can control them." Her voice grew louder. "But if that's true, why did you and Piper decided to help Tyler, last year? And just two months ago, Piper told me that the only difference between us and those we fight were our compassion, not our powers."

Leo's mouth hung open, but not a sound came out. Paige peered closely at him. "Leo? Are you okay?"

The whitelighter sighed. "Yeah. I . . . Look, I don't know what to think about Cole, Paige. I just . . . I don't know. I guess I just don't trust him. People change, yes. But that much and not as fast as you might think."

"You know, it's funny. When I first met Cole, I liked him a lot." Paige eased into one of the kitchen chairs. Recalling her early weeks as a Charmed One, she continued, "He seemed to be the only one who understood my twisted sense of humor. But when I found out that he was the same Belthazor who tried to kill Phoebe and Piper a year earlier," she frowned, "I guess I let my fears and prejudice change my opinion." Paige paused. "Maybe I shouldn't have let that happened. I don't know. I guess it's too late, because Cole doesn't want to talk to me, now."

Silence enveloped the kitchen. His face turning red, Leo glanced away. Paige sensed that he was becoming uncomfortable in her presence. "Well," she stood up, "I guess I better get to my room. It's been a long day."

Leo glanced at her and asked, "What about dinner? Piper left something in the oven for you."

Paige shrugged. "Maybe later. I'm too tired, right now." She started toward the doorway, when Leo called out her name. "What?" she asked.

"What about P3? Are you going to join Piper and Phoebe, to help?"

A smirk lifted the corners of Paige's mouth. "Somehow, I don't think either of them will feel comfortable with me hanging around, tonight. Do you?" When Leo failed to answer, Paige let out a sigh. It looked as if she was about to resume her position as the family's black sheep, again. Oh well. She had survived it once. She could do it again.

* * * *

"Are you sure you don't want to stay a little longer?" Olivia directed her question to her best friend.

Two large travel bags, along with a large shopping bag, stood in the middle of Olivia's living room. Today marked Cecile Dubois' last morning in San Francisco. She was due to board an eastbound plane for New Orleans in less than an hour. Cecile gave the red-haired woman a pitying look. "Oh honey! I'd love to stay, but it's time for me to go. I've already got a chance to celebrate the beginning of Winter Solace with the rest of you. Plus, it's three days until Christmas. I have a family and boyfriend to celebrate with." She glanced down at her belongings. "If only I didn't have to lug all this damn stuff around."

Cole stepped forward. "I'd be happy to give you and your stuff a lift," he suggested. "Right to your living room in New Orleans."

Cecile sighed. "You know, that would be just lovely. But I have a return ticket and it's gonna look real odd cashing it in New Orleans."

Olivia said, "Why don't you . . .?" A knock at the door interrupted her question. She walked over and peered through the peephole. "Oh! Paige."

Cole stiffened at the mention of his former sister-in-law's name. He had not spoken to her since her little revelation, three days ago. They had spotted each other at Sunday's Winter Solstice celebration. Only Cole went out of his way to avoid her.

What could he say? That he found it difficult to forgive Paige for his miseries of the past year? Hell, what had she expected? That he would be so grateful that one Halliwell seemed willing to acknowledge the misunderstandings that led to his vanquish, four months in the Wasteland and the end of his relationship with Phoebe? Did she really believe that one little apology would make him forget all he had endured? Cole wrestled with the resentment that boiled within him. As Olivia opened the door, his face assumed a cool mask.

The youngest Halliwell stepped inside the apartment, wearing a nervous smile. "Hi!" she greeted. Her eyes glanced at Cole, who looked away. "I . . . uh, I thought I come by to say good-bye. To Cecile."

"Well thank you, cherie!" the New Orleans woman replied brightly. "I'm glad you came. Cole was about to take me home."

Olivia added, "But you need to cash in your ticket, first."

"Isn't it too late for that?" Paige asked. "I mean after all, today is your actual travel day."

Paige's words were met with defeated sighs. "So much for a quick trip home," Cecile bemoaned. She glanced at her watch. "And I now have less than forty-five minutes until my plane leaves."

"I can still give you a lift to the airport," Cole insisted.

Cecile nodded. "Okay. At least I can avoid a cab." The Vodoun priestess faced the two witches. She grabbed hold of Paige's hand and shook it. "You know, I've never met anyone who has been so interested in Vodoun as you, these past few days." Paige smiled. "Well, except for Livy, over here."

"Yeah, I'm gonna miss you too," Paige responded.

After Cecile released the Charmed One's hand, she turned to the other witch. The long-time friends enveloped each other with a bear hug. "I'll get in touch with you soon, cherie," Cecile said. "As soon as I get home. And thanks for the last three weeks. It's been . . ." she released Olivia and smiled, "very interesting, to say the least."

Olivia threw back her head and laughed. "You always say that whenever you visit. But then life with us McNeills can be very interesting."

"A little too interesting," Cole murmured. Fortunately, the others did not hear.

Olivia gave her friend one last hug. "You take care of yourself, Cecile. And tell Andre and your family, Merry Christmas for me."

Cole picked up Cecile's luggage. "Ready?" he asked.

Cecile nodded and picked up her shopping bag. "Yeah, let's go." She grabbed hold of his arm with her free hand and pair disappeared.

Seconds later, they reappeared in a deserted hallway, inside the airport terminal. "Here we are," Cole announced. "Delta Airlines, right?"

"Yeah." Cecile and Cole walked along the hallway, until they merged with the heavy crowd that filled the main terminal. The pair made their way to the Delta Airlines desk, where Cecile retrieved her boarding pass and checked her luggage. "Okay," she said, facing Cole. "That's it."

"You want me to hang around until you board?"

Cecile shook her head. "It's not necessary. I should be boarding in fifteen minutes or so. After that, I've got another twenty minutes until the plane takes off."

Smiling, Cole offered his hand. "Well, I guess this is it."

"Yeah." Cecile hesitated, arousing Cole's curiosity. "Listen Cole, before you leave, can I ask you something?"


Dark eyes bored into his. "Have you spoken with Paige since Friday?"

"How did you . . .?"

Cecile spoke up. "She came to me, Friday morning. Asking me to help her find out what really happened to you, nearly a year ago."

Wariness crept into Cole's composure. "And why did she need your help?"

"She had figured that I'd be able to summon a vision from your past." Cecile paused, and glanced away. "And I did. From your . . . penthouse. I'm sorry."

Outrage and anger replaced Cole's wariness. "You . . . you were inside . . ." Realizing that he could be heard, Cole lowered his voice. "You and Paige were inside my apartment?" he hissed in a deadly whisper.

Cecile shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry, but Paige beamed or transported me over there before I could say anything."

"Orbed," Cole muttered darkly.

"Look, I realize that you're already pissed at her . . ." Cole's eyes narrowed as Cecile continued, "but Paige thought we would need something of yours so I could get a vision. Actually, your . . . um, spirit or essence inside the penthouse was fine. Especially from the spot where . . . you know, they killed you." While Cole's gaze remained unrelenting, Cecile added, "Look, I'm sorry for breaking into your place like that. I didn't mean to. Honestly."

Realizing that no harm had come from Cecile's actions, the anger passed and Cole accepted her apology. "It's okay," he said with a reassuring smile. "I guess you meant well."

"Thanks," Cecile replied. "But why are you so willing to forgive me? And not Paige?"

Oh God! Cole rolled his eyes. The last thing he wanted was to talk about Paige or any other Halliwell. Her confession had only ignited anger long suppressed for the past three months. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded. "I forgave her."

Cecile sighed. "Yeah. That was pretty obvious, yesterday. Especially since you spent most of the day trying to ignore her," she said sarcastically.

"Look . . ."

"No, you look," Cecile snapped back. "I can't order you to forgive Paige for what she and her sisters did to you. But do you really want to be like them? So unforgiving? Is it really worth it, especially since Paige is genuinely sorry for what she had done?"

Cecile's words hit Cole with the force of an energy ball. He imagined himself becoming like the Halliwells - unforgiving, quick to judge and self-righteous. And the image repelled him. Cole stared directly into Cecile's eyes . . . and his lips curved into a disarming smile. "I guess not," he finally said.

"No, it's not," Cecile replied softly, her own lips smiling. Then she glanced toward the direction of the boarding lounge. So did Cole. "I guess it's time for me to leave." She took the half-demon by surprise and gave him a tight hug. "You probably don't believe this, but Olivia is pretty lucky to have you as a friend."

Cole replied, "She's lucky to have you. Andre's pretty lucky, too."

"I'll remind him."

The pair broke into soft laughter, as they disengaged. Cole quickly sobered and asked, "Why did you accept me so quickly after we first met?"

Again, Cecile shrugged. "I don't know. I guess because Olivia told me about you. And I liked your vibes. I have good instincts, you know."

"You'd be thinking differently if we had met three years ago."

Cecile replied, "Hey, we all have our pasts to deal with. Including me. Remember? Besides, look who's my boyfriend."

A sly smile quirked Cole's lips. "You've got a point." Cecile playfully slapped his arm. "Speaking of Andre, tell him I'll be seeing him in a few days. Both of you. Probably on Christmas."

"I'll be sure to tell him." Cecile gave Cole one last hug. "See you soon." Then she picked up her shopping bag, waved one last time and headed for the lounge.

* * * *

Inside Olivia's apartment, Paige sat on the sofa while she flipped through a fashion magazine. Her hostess was busy searching for a missing bottle of garlic inside the kitchen. As she continued to peruse the magazine, Paige came upon an advertisement that featured a blond woman modeling expensive lingerie. The model strongly reminded her of Cole's former secretary. Julie, from his days as the Source.

A shadow cast over the magazine in Paige's lap. She glanced up and found Olivia standing over her. "Pretty woman," the older woman commented. "Is there a reason why you've been staring at that photo for the past several minutes?"

"I wasn't staring!" Paige protested.

A red eyebrow quirked upward. "So, exactly what were you staring at, while I called your name . . . three times?"

Paige felt her face grow hot. "Okay! So, I was staring at her. I'm not coming out of the closet, if that's what you think. I . . . she reminded me of someone I once met. Cole's assistant."

"She doesn't look anything like Ms. Shephard."

A sigh left Paige's mouth. "I'm talking about his former assistant, Julie. When Cole was the Source?"


Paige continued, "She was also a demon. Phoebe ended up killing her by using a demonic power from Source Junior."

Olivia frowned. "Demonic power?"

"You know, evil power."

Green eyes regarded Paige with slight amusement. "Oh yes. I forgot that you and your sisters believe the whole 'good and evil powers' scenario. A lot of witches do."

Now, it was Paige's turn to frown. "You mean, you don't?"

"Not really. I think it's a lot of crap," Olivia replied. She sat down next to Paige. "To me, magical powers are simply powers and nothing else. Not good or evil, but ambivalent. It's not what they are that counts, but how you use them."

Paige's frown deepened. "But, how many witches do you know have pyrokinesis?"

"You'd be surprised." Olivia added, "I have a distant cousin in Scotland, who has the power of pyrokinesis. His power is very strong and he's certainly not a warlock or demon."

"Huh." A wry smile curved Paige's lips. "You know that reminds me of Tyler, that fire starter we had helped last year. And what Piper once said to me, two months ago. Only . . ." Her smile disappeared.

Olivia asked, "Only what?"

Paige continued, "Only when it came to Cole's powers, she definitely believed they were evil. Like the rest of us. I guess it's because he got them while he was in the Wasteland." She glanced at Olivia. "That doesn't really count, does it?"

"No, not really. Aside from Ed Miller, has Cole ever used his powers to deliberately harm someone?"

Paige shook her head. "Well, there was Barbas. But he used them to save us from that bastard. And he has used his powers to help us on other occasions." Shame washed over her. She sighed. "I guess I forgot that."

At that moment, Cole appeared before the two women. "Well, Cecile's on her way home." He glanced at his watch. "Or should be in another ten minutes."

Silence fell between the trio. Paige glanced at the magazine, fearful of meeting the half-demon's eyes. Olivia stood up. "I think I better pay Mrs. DiCicco a visit and see if she has any garlic. Thank God I had decided to take the day off." She strode toward the door and disappeared into the hall, leaving the two former in-laws alone.

Mustering all of her courage, Paige glanced up. "Cole," she began, "I know you're still pissed at me . . ."

"No, not any longer," he said, surprising Paige. "In fact, I want to apologize, myself. For being so . . . unforgiving. You only meant well, and I let my anger get the best of me."

Paige glanced away. "I guess I'm no different," she said in a shy voice. "Of course, in my case, I let fear and prejudice get in the way."

A smile lit up Cole's face. "Look, I forgive you. Really. Hell, everyone deserves forgiveness. Don't you think?"

Paige responded with a wry grin. "Sure. Even half-demons." Her grin disappeared. "I only wish that Phoebe and Piper would apologize."

"How did they take . . .?"

"The news?" Paige slammed the magazine shut and tossed it on the table. "Piper refuses to believe that what we had done was wrong. And Phoebe . . . I don't know. It's like she can't even face what I've found out. Or don't want to talk about it, one way or the other. But she has been pretty quiet lately. I'm sorry."

Cole shrugged. "That's okay. Piper and . . . Phoebe will have to deal with what happened . . . eventually. Besides, I don't really expect them to apologize after I had killed Ed Miller."

Nodding, Paige said, "Maybe. I mean what you did was wrong. But Ed Miller was no innocent. And who are we to point fingers after what we had done to you?"

"Cecile told me that it was she who conjured up visions of my time as the Source. And projected them to you."

A burst of anxiety flared within Paige. "Don't blame Cecile! Please! It's not her fault! I had orbed her to your place, so she could pick up on your essence. And she did. We saw everything from when the Seer tricked you into using the Hollow, until when we . . . my sisters and I . . . well, van . . . killed you."

Cole inhaled deeply. Stared at his former sister-in-law, much to her discomfort. "It's okay," he said, to Paige's relief. Then he seared her with another hard stare. "Just don't do it again."

Paige raised her hand. "Never again. Unless it's an emergency." After a pause, she added soberly, "You ever wonder, Cole . . ."

"Wonder what?"

Taking a deep breath, Paige continued, "Wonder what would have happened if all of us had never met Olivia and her family? Do you think I would have found out what really happened to you, last spring?"

More than a minute passed before Cole finally answered. A shadow darkened his face momentarily. "That's a possibility I certainly don't want to consider." Paige realized with an inward shudder that she felt the same. Thank goodness her friendship with Cole would be given another chance.