(This is a side story of my original series written about Peter Caine and Paige Matthews. It is about ten stories long and starts with "A Father's Love" and continues through "New Destiny" with "Paradox" loosely tied in. I have tried to provide enough background information from both the Buffy TV show and my written series to fill in the gaps.)

NEW BEGINNING

"Need help packing?" Willow asked as she flopped down on the brightly square – patterned quilt covering the bed.

"No," Buffy quietly responded. She packed the last of her new conservative wardrobe. Lucky thing Phoebe had good taste. Of course, with all the new talk shows the witch was doing with the launch of her new book about her column, she had to look professional.

"Heard from Dawny?"

Buffy nodded. "She's happily settled in at the dorms. Loves Colorado." The slayer turned to face her old friend. "How's it going with your new girlfriend?"

Almost, Willow flinched. Nervously she pushed her red hair behind her ears. "Okay. I think."

The blonde sympathetically understood. Kennedy had died a year earlier while they were trying to help the Charmed Ones vanquish a demon. Willow had mourned her lover's loss. Now, she was ready to love again. Buffy envied her. She wished she could find someone new as well.

"Vera and I are going to take a walk together. Maybe the Golden Gate Park."

"Are you okay with that?" Buffy still remembered the stunned look in Kennedy's eyes as she fell. It had happened in Golden Gate Park.

Willow took a deep breath. "Since a lot of the demons seem to like hanging out there, I have to be."

At least the time the young witch spent with the Charmed Ones seemed to be paying off, the slayer noticed. Piper and her husband Leo provided a solid base for them all. Phoebe's zest for life kept them going, while Paige and Peter's love and desire for fun had helped support Willow, Buffy, and Dawn. The healing atmosphere of the manor had speed along the recovery process after the tragic events of first Sunnydale, and then Kennedy's demise.

"At least Xander is doing well." Willow settled on the bed in a cross-legged position. She wore jeans and a "I Love San Francisco" blazed in red on a white T-shirt.

The slayer chuckled. "He always liked building things. I still can't believe Pete Thorton set him up in business."

"I think maybe Celeste whispered the idea in her boss's ear."

Celeste, Peter Caine's younger sister, worked for the Triumvirate, a vampire trio who financially backed the Phoenix Foundation. After Sunnydale had become nothing but a big hole in the ground, Buffy had called Peter and asked if they could crash at the manor until other arrangements could be made. He'd checked with his wife Paige and her sisters, Piper and Phoebe, and they'd agreed.

So within a couple of days a busload of slayers had arrived and taken up residence in the manor. It had been crowded for a while, with sleeping bags all over the living room and conservatory. Eventually, Giles had gotten everything sorted out and put the girls on planes for home. Principal Woods and Faith, who seemed very nervous being around the Charmed Ones, had no where to go and eventually decided to join Angel in LA. Giles himself had returned to England, taking their unwilling captive, the little creep, with them. The watcher had decided the boy knew too much about slayers to be safely left to his own devices.

"Maybe I'll train him to be a Watcher's assistant," the prim and proper Englishman had said as they boarded the plane.

The best outcome was that Leo had healed Xander's eye, lost in a fight with the Preacher, and now their friend could returned to his favorite job. He'd set up Sunnydale Construction, naming it to honor the place they'd called home for so long. He based his business out of the small town of Ojai.

Buffy, Willow, Kennedy, and Dawn had stayed at the manor. The slayer had gone back to college to earn her degree as a teacher. Willow had studied magic with the three sisters as well as completed her education in computer science. Kennedy had been training with elder Caine in China town to eventually become his assistant. A goal she never got to reach. Dawn had finally graduated high school and gone through the important process of finding a college. She'd pined on about CSU in Boulder, Colorado, while checking on the local community college. Buffy wanted Dawn to have a choice but hadn't been able to come up with a way to pay for it. She herself had been dependent on scholarships. Peter had mentioned Dawn's dilemma to his sister over the phone and Celeste had suggested the younger Summer's apply for a special program through the Phoenix Foundation.

"The only catch," Peter's sister had told them, "is that she has to work at least two years for the Foundation after she graduates."

Dawn, so excited about getting to go to the college of her choice, and not the local community college, had agreed.

"Probably," Buffy agreed remembering all the ways Celeste had helped them already. The blonde joined Willow on the bed. She'd picked jeans and light blue cotton blouse to wear today. She'd have to leave in a few hours for her new home and job in Lewiston, Idaho.

"I'm going to miss you," Willow said with a sad smile.

"I'm going to miss you too, Willow." She hugged her friend.

Both of them cried. They'd spent so much time together in the last few years they were closer than family. But, Buffy had her degree and with Dawn now in college, it was time the slayer moved on with her life. Besides, with every potential slayer endued with the power, there was no longer a need for a single chosen one. An outcome of the final battle over the Hellmouth Buffy was very thankful for.

The blonde wiped her face. "So much for my makeup, " she joked.

Willow gulped, also wiping her face. "Piper said I could stay here for as long as I wanted."

"They like having you here. I think," Buffy considered her words carefully, "We've helped them. Probably a lot more than we think."

"They've helped us too." The red head smiled. "Who else would understand all we've been through?"

"Or understand what they've been through?"

The slayer got up and grabbed her suitcases. Willow grabbed the overnight case and the two walked down the orange wallpapered hallway and down the carpeted stairs. Buffy paused, dropping her load by the double stained glass doors.

"You should have asked for help," Peter chided from behind them.

Buffy smiled at her long time friend. She still remembered hunting him, as a vampire, through the ruins of an ancient temple. She'd almost staked him until she realized he had a soul. She'd brought him back to Sunnydale and put him in the care of Angel. Peter had part of her "Scooby Gang" during her high school days, along with his father, Kwai Chang, who had taught Kung Fu while renting an old storefront. Both she and Willow had taken lessons from the Shaolin.

"I wasn't sure you were up yet," Buffy responded, knowing Peter knew she was physically strong enough to handle a couple of suitcases.

"In this house?" His brown eyes twinkled. He ran his hand through his still mussed light brown hair. He wore loose clothing and had probably been practicing some Kung Fu moves.

The door from the kitchen exploded and young Harry dashed in to grab Buffy in a fierce hug. "Don't go!"

She hugged Piper's and Leo's son. She knelt down and looked into his eyes. "We talked about this remember? Like Dawn had to go to school in Colorado, I have a job in Idaho. And it's a good thing. Willow, " she looked up at her friend, "is staying here."

Big chocolate eyes, so like his mother's, blinked at her and swelled with tears. "You're going away."

"Yes." She hugged the little boy to her. He smelled of soap and bacon.

"I was afraid of this." Piper kneeled down carefully in jeans and a loose mauve blouse. They'd just found out she was pregnant again. She tucked her long hair behind her ears. "Harry,"

"It's okay." Buffy assured the oldest Charmed One and kissed Harry on the forehead. "Its okay to be sad," she told him. "I'm sad too. I love you."

"Love you too," Harry sniffed before dashing upstairs.

Piper let him go. She touched Buffy's arm. "This is the big day, huh?"

"Yeah."

"I made breakfast."

As Buffy recalled, Piper had done the same thing when Dawn had left. The slayer was actually glad of the tradition.

"I want us to have a family meal before you leave."

"Be down in a second Piper, " Peter called heading upstairs. "Want to put some clothes on."

"Ha. Like you haven't worn that outfit to the table before," his sister-in-law teased back.

Buffy, Willow, and Piper headed into the formal dining room. Usually they ate at the oak table in the kitchen, but for special occasions, they ate here.

The two girls sat down, the wonderful scents of fresh muffins and bacon tickling their noses. Piper had put a tablecloth over the antique and used the good china left to the Charmed Ones by Grams. The three sat in silence as they waited for the rest of the family to drift in. Leo, with ruffled blondish brown hair and dancing green eyes, dressed in jeans and a checked shirt kissed Piper and sat down next to her. Phoebe wandered in, all chic in her new blue suit, seated herself next to her sister and poured a cup of coffee. She wore her black hair back in a French Roll and her cocoa eyes were only half -open.

Buffy helped herself to some coffee as well while Willow opted for tea. They poured their beverages into delicate china cups.

"Want me to fetch Harry?" Leo offered, laying his hand on his wife's arm.

Piper shook her head and smiled at her husband. Buffy almost envied Piper and Leo's love. They fit so well together.

"Sorry," Paige apologized. The saucy red head, dressed in a flattering yellow sundress joined them. Her brown eyes swept the table. Peter sat next to her, now dressed in khaki pants and a nice shirt. He took his wife's hand and kissed it. Paige blushed.

It was all so familiar, Buffy reflected. I'm really going to miss all of them.

Harry slunk back in, taking his place next to his father. "Uncle Jarod coming?"

Phoebe sputtered. Buffy hid a smile. Jarod and Phoebe had started dating about six months ago. He knew about the Charmed Ones and accepted them at face value. Besides, from what she'd heard, they'd rid the world of a nasty creature named Sekmet and helped rescue Miss Parker. Funny, they never had really learned exactly what had happened to her. Just some dropped hints from the ex-Pretender about her sharing a log home in Oregon with an old friend of his.

"No Harry," Phoebe answered, "Jarod won't be coming."

"Oh." He fiddled with his silverware.

"Food's getting cold." Piper said, "Its better to eat it while it's hot."

Buffy dumped eggs and bacon on her plate, and then lavished butter and homemade strawberry jam on a muffin. A real breakfast, even though she'd had many in the manor, still seemed a rare thing after years of just cereal at her mother's house.

"I'll be starting a new job next week," Peter commented as he buttered a muffin.

"Peter got the job with Social Services." Paige's face beamed with pride at her husband's accomplishment.

"That's wonderful!" Piper exclaimed.

"Now maybe we can start thinking about buying a house ourselves," Paige continued.

"Leave the manor?" Phoebe questioned her expression stunned.

Peter munched on his muffin and then sipped his coffee. "The house next door is on the market. I've already spoken with the realtor."

"Sounds good Peter." Leo smiled at them. "At least that way, when Paige is needed, she won't be far away."

"Peter and I thought, with another baby on the way, you and Piper could have our room for Harry."

"True, the nursery is getting too small for him," Piper observed, watching her son stuff bacon and egg into his mouth. "You want your own room, Harry?"

The little boy shrugged tearing his muffin apart and placing the pieces strategically on his plate.

After breakfast, Buffy helped clean up the table, wash the dishes, and took one long last walk around the manor. She'd miss her family and the good times they'd had together. Now she knew how Dawn must have felt just before her younger sister had left for Colorado.

Finally, she knew she couldn't delay any longer and headed for the door. The witches and their husbands and Willow stood around her. The slayer really hated good byes.

"Let me carry those out for you," Peter offered, grabbing a suitcase. Leo snatched the other and the two men lugged her luggage out to her new, well almost new, car. She'd bought a second hand silver Honda for her journey.

Piper hugged her. "Keep in touch."

"I will," Buffy promised. "Tell your new baby all about me."

"You can tell her herself when you visit. You Are going to come and stay with us over Christmas break and the summer?"

She hadn't really decided yet. "I'll let you know." She teased back at Piper, "You think this one is a girl?

Piper giggled. "Just a feeling."

Phoebe embraced her next and offered a bit of advice. "Don't be afraid to love again." She tapped Buffy's chin. "You spent too much time baching it here. Go out and have some dating fun."

Advice from someone who gave it to others and had loved a demon herself, much like Buffy had. Of course, Cole had later turned into a mortal enemy and the Charmed One's were forced to vanquish him. She certainly understood that too. She still remembered having to send Angel to hell. Phoebe had also dated her boss for awhile, something the slayer had never done, and it hadn't worked out. Now, maybe, with Jarod, the dark haired sister had finally found true love. The blonde wondered if she'd ever find hers.

"I don't' mind being alone." She finally said.

"You will," Phoebe responded with a knowing look.

Harry pushed his way in and hugged her before seeking comfort from his mother. Paige gave her a big smile and a hug. "We've loved having you here. This is your home. Don't forget that. And keep in touch!"

Buffy nodded, blinking back tears. She went out to the car and Willow followed her. Leo kissed her lightly on the forehead and went back up to the manor. Peter gave her a tight hug and kissed her cheek.

"We didn't tell you at breakfast," he began as he released her. "Paige is also pregnant."

"Really!" Willow squealed.

"Peter, that is wonderful!" Buffy cried, her sad tears mixing with joyful ones.

Peter motioned Paige outside. His wife flowed down the cement steps and he put an arm around her waist when she joined him.

"We haven't told her sisters yet."

"But we're going to in a few minutes." Paige laid her head on Peter's shoulder.

"I'm glad you told me. Congratulations, both of you." Buffy couldn't be more happy for them. From what they'd told her, their relationship had been rocky. First, Piper had opposed Paige's growing relationship with Peter because he'd been a vampire, but through Paige's love and the Power of Three, they'd cast a spell to cure him. It had taken the two awhile, with demon vanquishing and a meddlesome past life of an evil sorceress, but they'd finally married. At least Paige's pregnancy partially explained why they wanted their own house.

"Come on, Peter," Paige urged. The couple went back up the stairs and stood on the front porch with the others.

"I guess this is it," Willow breathed.

"Yeah, I guess so."

The two looked at each other. Their intertwined lives were about to separate. They couldn't find the words.

"This really isn't goodbye," Willow stated.

"I know."

They hugged each other. Buffy pulled away and got into her car, waving to the Charmed Ones and their husbands. She and Willow shared another teary smile. The slayer put the key in the ignition and drove away to her new life.

Several days later after choosing to drive the long way up the coast and across Washington State, she stopped at the pull off at the top of Lewiston Hill. She stretched her long legs and gazed down into the valley where her new home would be. Two rivers met below, the Clearwater and Snake, dividing the towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkson, Washington. She would be teaching psychology at Lewiston Senior High and maybe coaching. A point still to be negotiated and she hoped she would be. She had a lot to share.

Of course, she hadn't included her experience as a slayer in her resume. Only that she'd studied Kung Fu and Master Caine had been more than happy to add his endorsement to her credentials. She carried a recommendation letter from him in her luggage. She'd stopped on her way out of San Francisco to see him and his wife Laura.

The older couple had greeted her warmly in their small apartment they kept in Chinatown. It was sparsely decorated, with a sleeping mat in the bedroom, a functional kitchen and bathroom, and an open room for study and meditation. Laura though, had added a few warm touches and had her own area for making potions and keeping her book of spells.

Peter had told Buffy about finding his mother again and how she'd staged her own death to protect him and his father from the Source. What Laura hadn't told Caine was that she been pregnant with their second child. Instead, she'd left and continued to practice witchcraft and taught her daughter Celeste as well.

"You have come to say good bye," Caine said in his measured voice. He wore black loose clothing with a bright red dragon across the top. He'd pulled back his wispy gray hair and his soft hazel eyes studied her sadly.

Buffy nodded. "I couldn't leave without seeing you both."

Laura smiled. "Of course you couldn't, dear." She had Peter's eyes and had her slowly graying auburn hair swept back. She looked almost like a queen in an oriental style deep green dress.

"I owe you a lot Master Caine. You taught me so much."

"You honor me," he replied with a small bow.

"More than once your teachings saved my life."

His thin lips smiled. "You were one of my best pupils."

"You're a good teacher."

"As you will be."

Caine and then Laura had embraced her, wished her well, and walked her back outside to her car. Laura had given her charm to hang in her new home. "To protect it from unwanted intruders."

"I sure hope I don't need it," she commented to herself still gazing down the long hill. With a sigh, she got back into her car and drove down the summer-browned mountain. At the bottom, she drove across the bridge and glanced at the directions on the seat beside her. She followed them, noticing the various shops and fast food joints, until she reached a two-story house in the Orchards.

She supposed the upper part of the hill had once been covered in Orchards, but now, only houses stood where fruit trees had once probably been. The owner had sent her the key and she pulled into the gravel driveway noticing the carport. She got out and opened the door.

The side door opened to the yellow dining room with big windows. Immediately to her left were stairs leading to the basement. The owner had told her there was a washer and dryer down there as well as a small storage room. The dining area connected to the kitchen was also yellow. Well, at least some part of the house would be like the manor. It didn't have the old fashioned appeal, but the wall colors were similar. The appliances, all white, blared against the bright walls. They'd been included and she noticed the small window over the double sink.

She continued exploring, discovering the green carpeted living room with a large picture window overlooking a small fenced yard, three downstairs bedrooms, a tiny bathroom painted white with pink fixtures and a very large attic.

"More room then I'll need," she told herself.

She retrieved her bags and dumped them in the largest bedroom. She'd discovered a sleeping bag and pillow included in her trunk. Peter probably, had added them. Buffy made a mental note to thank him. There were also a couple of full boxes. Donations from Piper she was sure.

She spread the sleeping bag out on the carpeted floor and tossed the pillow after it. First things first. Find a fast food place and eat, then settle down for the night. The slayer had a couple of weeks before school started. Plenty of time to get furniture, preferably second hand, dishes, and whatever else she needed.

The next couple of weeks were busy. The box from Piper complete with note, yielded some dishes, towels, and other useful household items. Buffy munched on an egg McMuffin as she cleaned cupboards and organized her meager belongings. She spent the rest of her first day finding a used furniture shop, purchasing a dresser she'd have to refinish, a beat up couch, and a wooden end table. Phoebe had included in Piper's box an envelope of money. "Just a little something to help you get started." Paige had added a few spices and a cute figure on a broom to decorate her new kitchen.

Buffy tried not to cry. Their thoughtfulness touched her. They really were her family. Even Willow had sent small gifts for Buffy's new home. A picture of her and Xander, some knick-knacks, and a tea mixture to help her sleep. "If you need it," her card had read.

A few yard sales added a wobbly table and chair, an old iron bed, and a TV that actually worked.

"All the comforts of home," she commented examining her new house. She hung Laura's present over the side door so at least one of her exits would be magically protected.

The attic she transformed into an exercise room, hanging a bag to punch, it had been on sale at a department store, a few weights to lift and a mat. Before Giles had left he'd encouraged her to keep up her training.

"Although you're not the Chosen One anymore, you may still find demons and vampires to kill. No matter where you live."

Now, her new challenge would be facing her students every day. She could hardly wait. She'd certainly enjoyed student teaching in San Francisco and counseling young people at Sunnydale High. Maybe she should think about going for her Master's and becoming a counselor full-time. A goal she figured she'd have to think about. She knew there was a University about an hour away in Moscow. Maybe she'd give them a call and find out what the requirements were. But, that was something she could do later, after she discovered whether or not she'd have a second year in Lewiston.

Buffy rose the first morning she was due at the high school. Today, she'd been informed, would be filled first, with a meeting with the principal, she'd managed to land the job with just a phone interview, get a tour of the buildings, and still have time to do some organization of her classroom. She showered and dressed in a nice green dress adding a simple gold necklace and matching earrings. The first time she actually had any of her new wardrobe on other than the dressing rooms at the store Phoebe had taken her to.

She sniffed remembering the middle sister. The slayer really missed them. Fixing her hair and make up, Buffy hurried her breakfast and took her mug of coffee with her. She drove down the hill into the valley and navigated the streets to where the high school sat.

She knew from consulting travel books and the Internet, with Willow's help, that the local state college was only a few blocks away. Many of the seniors often took a class or two they're during their final high school year. She parked her car in the designated area and hurried into the main building for her meeting with the principal.

The old brick oozed history and the halls echoed her footsteps. She found the office and introduced herself to the older woman with glasses manning the main desk.

"Hi. I'm Buffy Summers. You're new Psychology teacher."

The woman looked down her beck nose at her. "Principal Grant is expecting you. That way."

Buffy followed the indicated direction and knocked lightly on the wood door. A gravelly tenor voice invited her to enter. She peeked around the edge feeling a bit shy. She'd spent a lot of time in a similar office at Sunnydale High.

The muscular man behind the massive oak desk rose with a warm smile. "Come in, Ms. Summers."

She closed the door and took the outstretched hand. His shake was firm.

"Have a seat."

She sat down, putting her purse beside her. She took a moment to examine her new employer. Principal Grant looked to be in his late twenties, maybe early thirties. He had a mop of yellow blonde hair and dazzling golden eyes. Eyes that seemed to have a lot of experience for one so young. She frowned. Also the sense of great age that hung around him like an invisible cloak. She shook her head and continued her appraisal. Grant wore a sharp blue suite accented with a white shirt and navy tie. The tie portrayed Snoopy and Woodstock dancing on top of a red doghouse. Not exactly what she'd expected for someone she would have thought to be prim and proper like the principals at her old high school.

"I know we spoke on the phone," he began with a winning smile, "But I'm Conner Grant."

She nodded.

"You're a bit younger than I thought,' he mused.

"I can handle myself."

Grant chuckled. "So I've heard. Your transcripts indicate you graduated with honors."

"I had a lot of support."

"Important when attending college. Your resume included the fact you worked as counselor at Sunnydale High. Given any thoughts to continuing in that field?"

"I'm thinking about it." Grant had an odd accent she couldn't quite place, though it reminded her of Gile's soft English one.

"Principal Woods gave you an excellent recommendation." He looked at her with a pleased expression. "Counted very strongly in your favor for this job."

She smiled. She'd talked with Woods about providing one of her needed references. He'd happily agreed.

"You also expressed an interest in coaching."

"Yes." She retrieved the letter from Kwai Chang and handed it to him. "I studied Kung Fu with a Shaolin priest."

"Unusual skill." He scanned the letter and added it to her file open before him.

"I've also done a lot of individual study. I'd be good at gymnastics."

"Hmmm. We already have all our coaches, but I like the idea of adding an elective in Kung Fu. I'll talk to the board about it. Probably won't be until next year though. Is that okay?"

"Fine." Next year? She hadn't even started teaching yet and already he was thinking of her being here next year?

"Good." He closed the file and rose. "Welcome to Lewiston Senior High. I hope you like it here."

"I hope so too."

"Would you mind if I gave you a tour of the school?"

"No. Not at all."

Grant showed her around the large main building, the science addition, and the gym. "You'll be teaching here." He opened the door to a stark white room in the lower part of the gym complex. The usual desks littered the equally pale floor. Her desk was a modern functional construct.

"Take some time to set up. There's a meeting at two for all teachers. You'll get your class schedules and student lists then." He gave her a smile. "You can find your way back to the main building?"

"I think so." The high school wasn't that big.

"Good." He closed the door and left her to set up.

She took a deep breath. "Okay, where are my textbooks?"

Buffy did find them and browsed the pages. They were the usual beat up and abused books like the ones she'd used while in school. She got a general idea of her outline for lessons. She jotted notes and kept track of the time, which passed quickly. About ten to two she hurried back up to the main building. Luckily, the meeting was brief. Principal Grant covered rules and expectations of conduct, she got her package of info, and then they were free to leave for the day. All the teachers were expected back every day for set up, to submit class plans, and attend various meetings. The week flew by.

When the weekend came, Buffy was up early. She put on loose clothing and spent a couple of hours working out in her new gym. Punching the bag she remembered training sessions with Giles. She missed him. Later in the afternoon she would have to write him a letter. Calling England, on her meager salary, was out of the question. She'd also have to drop a note to her sister Dawn, Willow, and the Charmed Ones. The slayer wondered if Peter and Paige had decided to buy the house next door.

Munching on a sandwich at her wobbly table, she spread the paper out on its marred surface. Sunlight filtered in through the dirty windows. She never had gotten around to cleaning them. 'Dear Giles, ' she wrote, 'finally in Idaho. Classes start on Monday and I'm kinda nervous. Now I know how you felt the first time you saw me in your library. I still remember all those books you dumped on the counter and the scared expression on your face.' She smiled at the memory. 'I have a great house. Really too big for me, but my landlord gave me a great deal. Seemed very happy to have a new teacher and was more than willing to help me out. I've furnished mostly with used stuff and yes, I do work out, just like you told me to.' Buffy took a sip of her coke. 'Can you do me a favor? Run a check on Conner Grant. I'm not sure what it is about my new boss. He seems like a really nice man, yet, there's something about him that gives me a strong sense of danger. Can't put my finger on it. I'm asking you 'cause he's got this strange kind of accent that reminds me of you, so I'm guessing maybe he's from England or maybe Scotland. So if you wouldn't mind, thanks.' She signed the letter, and popped it in the already addressed envelope.

Next she tackled the rest of her letters and by late afternoon had them all ready. A fast trip to the post office saw them all safely mailed. She stopped by McDonalds and grabbed a burger and a chocolate shake and returned home. She had some last minute work to do on her lesson plan before she could relax for the evening. Ruefully she reflected she'd probably be spending a lot of time at her table correcting papers.

By the time seven o'clock rolled around, she had her lesson plan completed and Buffy's stomach informing her it needed to be fed. She stretched and then started as a figure crossed in front of her window. Her slayer training kicked in, but before she could reach for her weapons trunk, currently tucked under the table, someone knocked at her door.

Wary she answered it. Standing there in jeans and a plain T-shirt, a smile on his face, was Principal Grant.

"Hi," he greeted.

"Hi yourself."

"I know a place that serves great food. Want to join me?"

"How did you get my address?"

He laughed. "I looked at your file. Besides, " his smile broadened, "I have to know how to get a hold of my teachers. Never know when we might have a snow day."

"Little early for snow."

"True."

Buffy kind of liked his cocky manner. "Give me a second to grab my wallet." She opened the screen door. "Come on in and sit down. " He did and sat in her lone dining chair.

"Might want to think about adding another," he teased.

She smiled. "Really hadn't thought about it." Buffy dashed into her bedroom and pushed her wallet into her jeans pocket. She also took a minute to check her appearance. "This isn't a date," she told herself even as she added a little make up and brushed her hair. A last look and she decided she looked okay to appear in public. Jeans and her "I love San Francisco" blazed in blue on a white T-shirt with the Golden Gate arching across the bay.

"I'm ready," she announced, coming back into the dining room.

"See you've been working," Grant commented, pointing at her completed lesson plans.

"Yeah." She gave him a slight smile. "I'm starving."

Conner Grant took her to a small diner. The place had atmosphere. Large road signs plastered on the walls, a bar up front and red and white checked table clothes. She noted one picture hanging up near the door. Four men, one older with gray hair and a beard, one very young with a lop sided smile, a very attractive long-haired man, and another, probably in his thirties, with short brown hair. They stood by a houseboat. The name read Amedeus.

"Place is new," Connor explained directing her to a booth. "Just opened up this summer. The owner is originally from back east. Liked the quaint small town feel here and set up his own business."

"Take your order?"

Buffy looked up into the face of a young man and recognized him from the picture. His short curly almost strawberry blonde hair, laughing blue eyes, brown checked shirt tucked into his jeans and wearing the most outrageous white apron, with 'Eat at Joe's' plastered in black.

"I'm going to have the special Richie," Conner said, putting the menu back behind the sliver napkin holder. "And bring a glass of Joe's brew."

Buffy picked the first thing that caught her eye. "I'll have a BLT, with fries and a chocolate shake."

"Sure thing." The young man sauntered off.

"Must come here a lot if you know him," she pointed at the waiter's back, "by name."

Conner's face took on a guarded look even as he laughed. "Well, I'll admit Joe, who's the owner, and Richie are friends of my cl…cousin."

Buffy wondered what word he would have used if he hadn't subbed cousin. "How long have you been a principal?" she asked making conversation.

"This is my second year in Lewiston."

That really hadn't been her question. She tried again. "Where were you before here?"

"A lot of places."

Richie placed their drinks in front of them. Connor gave him a nod and the young man left.

"You don't like talking about your past, do you?"

"I decided to make a career change. Before I did, I dealt in antiques."

"In a museum or a shop?"

"You're very curious." He leaned forward taking a swig of his drink.

"In my nature." She put the straw in her shake and sucked the sweet contents into her mouth. It was very good. She would have to remember how they got here and come back again.

"If you must know, I owned a shop. I sold to private collectors and museums."

"Must have made good money." She observed Richie and a much older man, the one with gray hair and a beard in the picture, at the bar. She wondered if he was Joe and therefore the owner. The pair had been watching her and Connor. "Hard to believe you'd give it up for a principal's salary."

"I have my reasons." He took another drink. "How about you? I know what's in your official file. Tell me about what isn't."

The slayer shrugged. Luckily, she was good at not telling people what they didn't need to know. She doubted he'd understand staking vamps and beheading demons. "I have a younger sister in college. My first go around I had to drop out because our mother died. Dawn was still in high school."

"Must have been hard."

"It was." She sipped more of her shake. "My best friend, Willow, lives in San Francisco. My other good friend runs his own business in Ojai."

"No boyfriend to tie you down?"

She started. Not a question she'd expected. "I haven't had much luck in that area," she replied truthfully.

"You should never give up. Never know when the right person could come along."

Funny. Hadn't Phoebe told her something similar? "I'm not really looking."

Richie delivered their food. They ate in snatches of conversation about school, Connor sharing a couple of stories about problem students from the year before, and a little about the town's history.

"They say," Connor pushed his plate away from him. "That Lewis and Clark came through here on their famous expedition."

"I remember something about that in history." Not that she'd paid much attention to her classes in high school. Being a slayer had taken up most of her time.

"Lewiston is also the farthest inland seaport. There are a series of dikes along the Snake River that make it possible."

"So we could see ships in the harbor?"

"Paddleboats at least. Their tours are a big draw. Some barges, too."

"Ever take one of the tours yourself?"

"I've been known to." His tone hinted at a double meaning.

The older man from the bar made his way over to them. Buffy noted the odd way he walked and that he used a cane. "Hi," he greeted. "I'm Joe Dawson. I own the diner." She noted an odd tattoo on his wrist and wondered about it. He turned his attention to Grant. "Hello, Connor."

"Hi, Joe," Connor responded.

"Nice to meet you." Buffy offered Joe a warm smile. "I'm Buffy Summers."

"One of our new teachers." At her surprised look he added. "Connor keeps me updated."

"Oh." Searching for something she said, "Your food is great."

"Thanks. I try to keep the locals happy. Keeps me in business."

"And he does," Connor put in. "Breakfast and lunches this place is packed."

"Dinners are slower, but I get enough truckers going through to stay open." He inclined his head. "Nice to meet you."

Buffy watched him walk away. "Does he talk to all his customers?"

"He likes the personal touch." Connor pulled out his wallet and dumped some bills on the table. "My treat." He winked at her. "I know what I'm paying you."

When Buffy got home, she had a message on her machine. She finally gotten around to putting in a phone and she kept it on a wooden box she used as a nightstand. She flopped down on her bed and hit the play button.

"Hi, Buffy," Willow's cheerful voice drifted into the room. "I can tell you're not home 'cuz I'm talking to the machine. Anyway, just wanted to tell you that Peter and Paige will be closing on their house in a couple of weeks. Paige's sisters love the idea getting to be aunties, seems Paige and Piper will probably deliver about the same time, and Nora moved into the manor with me. Xander is here this weekend and we're going to go shopping and tour the town. I miss you. Call me."

The blonde checked the time and dialed Willow's cel. When her friend picked up, she said, "Hey,"

"Hi, Buffy. You got my message."

"Yeah. Sounds like a lot has happened."

"How about you. All settled in at your new abode?"

"More or less." Buffy quickly filled in the details. "So, Nora moved in?"

"Yeah." Her redheaded friend sounded very happy. Happier than she'd been since Kennedy's death. "She doesn't quite know how to handle all the magic that goes on around here, but she's great with Harry. She's offered to look after him and the babies after they're born, when we go after demons."

"What if they're in the house?" Too many of the mangy creatures had gotten in and tore up the manor. Buffy couldn't remember how many times Leo had had to do home repairs.

"Oh, Peter is teaching her some moves to defend herself and the kids. And Paige and Piper have whipped up some potions she can use."

"Wow."

"Yeah. Having Leo or Paige orb the kids out to Kwai Chang's just isn't going to be a viable solution all the time."

"Wasn't always when I was there either."

Willow giggled. "I still remember the look on that warlock's face…"

They reminisced for a few minutes. Just before they were about to hang up Buffy made a request. "Hey, Willow, can you go on line and check someone out for me?"

"Sure. Just a sec while I grab some paper." The slayer waited. "Okay, who?"

"Well, two people actually. Joe Dawson. He runs a diner here and he's from back east someplace. And Connor Grant. My new boss. I've also asked Giles to check on him because of Principal Grant's accent. But I probably won't hear from him for several weeks."

"You want me to call you later tonight?"

"Nah. I'm going to bed. Tomorrow sometime would be fine."

"We're having a family picnic tomorrow at the park. Is tomorrow night too late?"

"No."

"Okay. I'll do some checking and call you back then. I miss you, Buffy."

"I miss you too, Willow. Sweet dreams."

"Bye."

Buffy hung up and sat against the headboard wishing again she'd found a solid wooden one rather than the open spiral design. She pushed a pillow behind her, part of it went through to the wall. Well, she had most of the day to do whatever she wanted. Maybe she'd have cereal for breakfast and later order pizza. There had to be some movies on TV somewhere. She really did need to buy a DVD player so she could rent some chick flicks. That would be her one splurge with her first paycheck.

The slayer smiled to herself. How nice it was not to have to patrol every night and put new vamps out of her misery. At least Lewiston didn't sit on a Hellmouth like Sunnydale had. It was going to be nice to have some sort of normal life for a change.

With that happy thought, she grabbed her pillow and settled down for a peaceful night's sleep.

Buffy slept late, probably the last time she'd have the luxury. More than likely she'd be up and correcting papers next Sunday. She threw on some comfy clothes and just lazed around the house all day. There wasn't much on TV, but she managed to find a couple of bad movies to fill the time.

Around four, she ordered pizza. It arrived about thirty minutes later. She paid the teen driver, adding a nice tip, and ate her pizza watching the lousy Sunday nightline up. She washed up for bed and had just burrowed under the covers when the phone rang.

With a groan, she answered. "Hello?"

"Hi, Buffy,"

"Hi, Willow." She'd almost forgotten her friend was going to call her back tonight.

"Sorry about how late I'm calling. The picnic ran a little long. A couple of demons showed up and we had to vanquish them."

"Story of the Charmed Ones life, from what I remember."

"Yeah. Normal life? What's that?" Willow chuckled.

"Did you find out anything?"

"Well, Joe Dawson ran a bar for awhile. Made some trips to France. I found some references his friends. Richie Ryan and someone named Duncan MacLeod.'

Maybe Duncan MacLeod was the 'cousin' Connor mentioned. "Anything else?"

"He plays jazz."

"Any mention of an injury?"

"Just a sec…yeah, lost his legs in Vietnam."

"Whoa." She thought about it for a minute. "What about Connor Grant?"

"I didn't find anything on a Connor Grant, but I did find some references to a Connor MacLeod."

"How about a picture?"

"No."

"Okay. What do you have on Connor MacLeod?"

"A man of mystery. Owned an antique shop in New York for awhile."

MacLeod had owned an antique shop. So had Grant. Interesting coincidence.

"It blew up," Willow added. "He kinda disappeared after that. Funny thing is, there are a lot of historical mentions of a guy with the same name. Over five hundred years worth, starting in Scotland."

"Humans don't live that long."

"No they don't," Willow agreed. "Buffy, I did find some legends about beings called 'Immortals'. "

"What do they say?"

"Just that there are beings among us who live a long time and play some sort of game and behead each other. In fact," Buffy could almost hear the click of computer keys. "There are a number of police files with unsolved murders of headless corpses. Not just in the US, but all over the world."

"Now that's interesting."

"Too bad the Watcher's library got blown up in England. We could sure use their records."

"That's assuming they knew anything about these 'Immortals'. More than once they didn't have the information we needed to fight with, Willow."

"I remember. Like Glory."

The slayer remembered the blonde, fashion conscious and insane god who had been desperately seeking 'The Key' so she could go home. Buffy had finally defeated the creature, but it had cost the slayer her own life, which she'd sacrificed to save Dawn her sister and the disguised 'Key'.

"Do you think Connor Grant and Connor MacLeod are one and same person?" Willow asked.

"I don't know. But if headless corpses start showing up here, I'm sure gonna to find out."

When Buffy walked into her classroom Monday morning she felt the proverbial butterflies in her stomach, except they felt like their wings were made of sharp metal. Just before her first class, Principal Grant dropped by to wish her luck. The day flashed through in a blur of faces, roll calls, a couple of students sent to the principal's office, giving out first assignments, and buzzers ringing to indicate end of period. As the last rang and her class bolted for the door, Buffy sat down on her cold hard chair.

"It'll get better, " Grant's voice reached her ears.

She looked up at the man. Today his suit was brown, with a yellow shirt and a tan tie with Charlie Brown sitting in a pumpkin patch. "Isn't that tie one you should wear for Halloween?"

He glanced down at it. "I have one with the grim reaper for Halloween."

Buffy gulped. Well, she had asked. "I hope you're right." She finally responded to his first comment.

"Just takes practice and patience. I have a feeling you're going to be a very good teacher."

"Thanks." She gathered up her student lists and put them in a folder. "Say, is your cousin Duncan MacLeod?"

His face held a stunned look. "How did you…"

"My friend in San Fran is good with computers. There isn't much she can't find." Buffy eyed him speculatively. "Anything you want to tell me?"

"I don't have anything to hide." He gave her a half smile. "Good day, Ms. Summers."

"Now why don't I believe you," Buffy murmured as he disappeared around the corner. With a shrug, she finished up and headed for home.

During the next couple of months, Principal Grant pretty much avoided her except when necessary. He'd greet her in the hall, but didn't ask her to the diner again. She began to wonder if her direct frankness and finding out something she shouldn't cost her a potential friend. Still, she trusted her instincts and she knew something wasn't right.

Upon her return home just before Christmas break, she found a letter in her mailbox from Giles. He blathered on about being home and how 'the little creep' was shaping up nicely as an assistant. His last line read, 'I've enclosed some information about Connor MacLeod who I'm certain is your principal Connor Grant.'

She put his letter aside and leafed through the pages. The pale sunshine danced across her table. The facts pretty much matched what Willow had told her. Except there seemed to be a more in depth history. Even a bit more on the Immortals. Some one in France wrote, 'Even though we haven't been able to prove for a certainty they exist, too many matching stories out of several countries seem to collaborate the myth. What The Game is and the Ultimate Prize is, still unknown. There are also stories of an organization, oddly enough, also called the Watchers, perhaps on off shot of our own prestigious branch, that document their activities and also seem to have their own charges like we do with potential slayers.'

There was also a myth about a man named Connor MacLeod who died on the battlefield and returned to life. It had happened in the highlands of Scotland around five hundred years ago. There were also some photos and field notes dating back to the civil war, and a couple of shots of a man exiting out of an antique shop. Sure looked like Connor Grant to her.

A suspicion tickled in her mind. Maybe Connor MacLeod AKA Connor Grant was actually one of these Immortals. She'd heard of and encountered stranger things as a slayer. Vampires lived several centuries. Why not a breed of men as well?

She chewed on the thought tapping her nails. Somehow, Joe Dawson was tied in. Vaguely she recalled the strange tattoo on his wrist. Could he be one of these 'Watchers'? Was one of his charges Duncan or Connor MacLeod? Would make sense if the Immortals knew him.

The blonde looked through more pages and found an odd bit of info. 'Tis said some Immortals have the gift to sense those who could be. Might explain why some, like Duncan MacLeod would take others under their proverbial wing, like Richie Ryan.'

Now that bit of news could prove useful. Maybe the waiter Richie, was an Immortal as well.

Setting them aside, the headline of the Lewiston Tribune caught her eye. She'd picked up a copy on her way home to check the local weather. Her TV had blown out the week before and she hadn't yet replaced it. Headless Corpse Found in Hell's Canyon. She scanned the article. Not much info. Just speculation ranging from a freak accident to a ritual killing.

"Starting here Connor?" Buffy asked as she put the paper down. "Or maybe you're the culprit Richie."

She sat back in her chair as the sun sank deeper in the west. As a slayer, was she required to act? Or should she simply leave matters as they were? Immortals were not on her list of beasties to kill. She didn't even know if they were evil.

She pushed her thoughts and the Tribune aside. She grabbed her stack of papers to grade. She needed to get these done and in her grade book.

Her classes were more rowdy than normal. Her students' anticipation of Christmas rivaled her own. Buffy had called Piper the night before and informed the oldest sister of her plans to return to San Francisco and the manor for the holidays.

Piper had been delighted. "I'll make up Gram's old room for you."

"I thought Willow and Nora were using it."

The witch had laughed. "Willow and Nora are staying at Peter and Paige's. They moved last week. Didn't you get Willow's letter?"

"No."

"Well, it is Christmas. Probably take longer with all the mail. What time do we pick you up at the airport?"

Buffy had given Piper the time, date and flight number, and said goodnight.

When the final bell rang and her students thundered their two - week escape, Buffy was just as happy to make hers. She packed her up her things and headed for the door.

"So where are you spending the holidays?" Connor inquired from where he leaned on the doorjamb.

"At the manor," she coolly replied.

"Oh." He seemed lost for words.

"Have a good holiday," she said marching past him.

"You too, Buffy."

San Francisco's skyline spread out under the plane's wing. Buffy watched the slow descent into the airport. The wheels bumped down on the runway and the engines roared them to a stop. She leaned back and enjoyed the slow approach to the terminal.

Home. She was finally home. Excitement slowly built up in her. Soon she would be with the people she cared about. The slayer shifted in her seat more than ready for the plane to dock so she could disembark.

Finally, the plane eased into its proper place and she waited long minutes as people pulled down their carry ons and stood in line for their turn to exit. As she stepped out onto the concourse she noted the damper air. Lewiston had a dry climate. She hadn't really noticed the difference until now. She followed the various signs to the baggage claim. Since the tragic events of September 11th, people were no longer allowed to meet their parties at the gates. Most, like her, would meet loved ones and friends at the carousels as they waited for their luggage to be unloaded.

She finally found the right carousel and waited with her fellow passengers. The metal began to spin and cloth or hard side suitcases began to fall. People stepped forward and grabbed their belongings.

"Buffy!" someone shouted.

She looked up from watching and saw Willow dodge around people. The red head hugged her. "Welcome home!"

"Hi, Willow," Buffy glanced around for anyone else.

"Sorry, it's just me. Piper's at the house preparing a huge Welcome home dinner and Leo is keeping Harry entertained and out of her way. Peter and Paige are expected any minute. They drove down to LA a few days ago to see Paul and Annie, and are on their back. Phoebe went to get Jarod and Nora," Willow blushed, "went to get Caine and Laura."

"What about Dawn? Did she come home for the holidays?"

"She didn't tell you?"

Buffy shook her head.

"A bunch of her friends all decided to go skiing. She's still in Colorado."

Buffy couldn't hide her disappointment. She'd really hoped to see her younger sister.

"Xander will be here in a few days. He's finishing a job for the OSI. Sure comes in handy knowing Celeste. She keeps throwing government work his way."

"Is Peter's sister joining us?"

"I don't know. Peter didn't say."

One of Buffy's bags slide down and started the round journey. She stepped past her friend and claimed it. A moment later she spotted her other one and grabbed it too. Willow took one and they fought their way through the crowd and out to the car. Buffy threw her bags in the back of the suburban and they spent the next hour or so in traffic working their way back to the manor.

Willow parked the dark green vehicle in front of the old Victorian. Sitting in the driveway was a silver mini-van and behind it, a smart red sports car.

"I see Peter and Paige are here," Willow commented as she grabbed one of Buffy's suitcases. "So's Phoebe and Jarod."

"What kind of car is Nora driving?"

"She doesn't drive. They'll be coming by bus."

"Oh," Buffy walked up the cement steps to the front porch. Willow tossed open the double doors and shouted, "We're here!"

The kitchen door burst open and Piper, dressed in a purple maternity dress and her stomach swollen, rushed out. "Buffy!" The oldest sister threw her arms around the slayer giving the blonde an awkward embrace.

"You're huge," Buffy blurted before she could stop herself.

Piper beamed. "Another two months and Melinda," at the slayer's expression she added, "Yes, it is a girl. I had an ultra sound and the doctor confirmed it. Will arrive."

"In fact," Peter added as he joined them. "We have bets going on who's going to deliver first. Paige or Piper." He gave Buffy a hug. "Welcome home."

"Thanks, Peter."

He grabbed her bags and took them upstairs. Piper returned to the kitchen and Willow took Buffy into the living room.

"Welcome home, kiddo," Phoebe greeted, throwing the slayer a huge grin. She sat on the patterned loveseat with Jarod. Buffy liked the dark-haired sister's simple and figure hugging ebony dress.

"Hi, Phoebe. Jarod."

The black haired and eyed man with his hawk nose smiled. Buffy had to admit he looked good in jeans and a light knit pullover.

"Buffy!" a shrill little voice cried.

She braced herself as Harry threw himself at her and encircled her legs with his arms. Lightly she brushed the top of his head. "Hi, Harry."

Leo appeared in the door a sheepish look on his boyish face. The Whitelighter still wore loose jeans with a checked cotton top. It was comforting to think of him as the boy-next-door type.

"Paige is upstairs resting in Piper's and Leo's room," Phoebe informed them all.

"Tired from the trip I'd bet." Willow sat down on a chair.

Buffy pried Harry loose and sat down too. Leo managed to grab his son and swing the youngster up into his arms. He squirmed wanting down.

Piper hurried in. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. I do hope Caine, Laura, and Nora arrive before it gets cold."

Leo smiled warmly at his wife. "Don't worry, Piper. It'll be okay."

"Besides, " Phoebe put in, "we have a microwave."

Piper groaned and rushed out. Leo chuckled and headed out. "I'd better get Harry settled and help before his mother…" the rest of words were lost as he orbed out.

"Show off." Phoebe stretched and fondly rubbed Jarod's neck.

On one level, Buffy found she envied them. On another, she was glad for Phoebe and Jarod. Both of them deserved to find love and be together. She had no doubt the ex-Pretender would make the witch very happy.

"Let's see if we can help at all, " Willow prompted.

Buffy nodded and the two left to help Piper. They found her running around the sunshine yellow kitchen with its old-fashioned glass cabinets. They grabbed steaming dishes of vegetables and mashed potatoes and took the bowls to the formal dining room. Piper followed with homemade rolls. Leo orbed back in and put Harry in his chair before going into the kitchen, presumably to grab the meat platter. Phoebe and Jarod seated themselves, followed a few minutes later by Peter, looking dapper in jeans and nice shirt and a very pregnant Paige in a green dress covered with tiny sunflowers.

Piper carried in the last offering and sat down. She cast a worried glance toward the door, which, as if it could read her thoughts, opened to admit the final members attending the meal.

Caine glided in, wearing his usual khaki loose clothing. Laura smiled at him and then in greeting to Buffy, as she sat beside him, tucking her long blue skirts under her. Nora lightly kissed Willow and sat beside her partner. Buffy didn't remember that her friend's new lover was so plain looking. Mousy brown hair, pulled to one side with a clip, shy gray eyes, briefly meeting the slayer's.

"Good to see you again, Nora," Buffy welcomed.

The younger woman flashed her a grateful smile and nervously smoothed her plain white blouse and ruffled skirt

"Hope I'm not intruding," another warm voice drifted from the doorway.

Everyone looked up. Celeste smiled at them. "I realize I didn't inform you I was here,"

Piper started to rise, but Willow beat the oldest sister to her feet. "I set another plate. Peter, scootch over and make a place for your sister."

Peter did as he was instructed and Willow set a place and grabbed a chair for Celeste. She seemed to have inherited her father's knack for seeming to glide over the floor and took her place gracefully beside her older brother.

"Like your outfit," Buffy complimented.

Celeste blushed. "Did some shopping before I came."

Buffy hid her smile as she took the offered bowl of mashed potatoes. Celeste gave the impression of a successful executive assistant no matter what she wore. The simple red suite with a pale pink blouse and matching red earrings and Holiday pin really set off the outfit.

Food got passed around the table and everyone heaped their plates with food. Buffy relished the home cooked meal, having gotten into the bad habit of eating out too much. It'd been much easier than trying to cook for herself after a long day of classes, grading papers, and endless teacher meetings.

"How are your students progressing?" Celeste asked.

"Fine," Buffy replied, sipping her apple juice. "I have about twenty-five students in each of my classes. Principal Grant indicated he wanted me teach Kung Fu next year."

"He wants you to stay," Phoebe observed with a meaningful look.

"He's a strange one." Buffy cut some of the roast and put it in her mouth. The tender meat dissolved easily and slid down her throat. "I had Willow and Giles do some research on him. He's a lot older than he looks."

"A vampire?" Peter leaned forward, his concern showing on his lean face.

"No. He's out in the daytime. All the research seems to point to point to something else. Beings called Immortals."

Phoebe paused in her eating. "I think Cole mentioned them once."

"What did he say?" Willow eagerly inquired.

"Just that they were outside the battle of good and evil and had been around for a very long time."

Interesting, Buffy thought. "Ever checked the Book of Shadows for them?"

"No," Phoebe responded. "We don't usually go around looking around demons to vanquish." She cast a glance at her older sister.

Piper cleared her throat, looking uncomfortable. "No. We don't."

Buffy wondered what part of their history she didn't know about. But then, she hadn't really expected them to tell her everything anymore than she or Willow or Dawn had told the Charmed Ones about theirs.

Different conversations started up and the men volunteered to clear the table as everyone finished. Piper served a dessert of chocolate double fudge cake with vanilla ice cream. Buffy enjoyed every fattening bite.

After dinner they played a several rounds of Apples to Apples, a new game that Willow had bought and conned them into playing. It finally broke up when Piper and Leo carried Harry off to bed. Peter and Paige excused themselves with, "It's been a long day and we need to rest," and went next door to their home. Caine, Laura and Celeste left to return to Chinatown. Jarod and Phoebe wanted to take in a movie, and Willow and Nora both went into the kitchen to finish cleaning up so Piper wouldn't have to.

Buffy, grateful to finally be alone, took advantage of the situation. She went up the carpeted stairs to the attic. The room, dark and quiet almost seemed unwelcoming. The slayer turned on the switch and approached the stand holding the witches spell book. Dim light from the street below eerily glowed around the stained glass windows.

Nervously, the blonde opened the ancient book. The pages where thick parchment yet untorn from what had to be centuries of use. She thumbed curiously through. Buffy knew about the book, had seen the sisters refer to it, but she'd never dared invade what she considered their domain.

A light breeze brushed her fingers and she jerked her hands away. Pages flipped stopping to rest opened almost at the end. Uneasy, she stepped forward to read.

Immortals. Men who have died and returned from the dead. Many live for centuries until their head is taken by another of their kind with a sword. Abilities and memories are transferred to the new owner. Like mortals, they decide to be good or evil. No one, no witch, warlock, demon, vampire, or even The Source himself, interferes with "The Game". How they came to be or why they hunt each other is unknown. When it will all stop is also unknown.

Not much more information than what she already had. She started to close the book and paused. Written at the bottom of the page was a note.

Immortals are free to love, but they can't father children. Alas! What I have done?

Had a Haliwell woman loved an Immortal? Buffy wondered who had and when. She closed the book, turned out the light and went to her room. She knew it was a mystery she would probably never solve. She doubted even the three sisters would know.

Her Christmas break flew by. She went shopping with Willow and Nora, and later with just Celeste. She hid presents in her room, and wrapped them late at night after Leo and Piper went to bed. They had moved Harry into Peter and Paige's old room, redecorating it to suit a little boy's taste and redone the nursery in lovely pinks and lavenders and frilly girly stuff.

Buffy enjoyed Piper's muffins and pastry rolls and delicious dinners. She'd probably gain all kinds of weight she'd have to work off after she got home. The slayer helped hang pine garlands and mistletoe, and held the tree as Leo struggled to get it into its holder. They spent a fun filled evening with everyone there, stringing popcorn, making paper chains from green and red construction paper, with Harry's very gluey help, and hung decorations on the live tree that had been in the Haliwell family for generations.

Once done, the tree was beautiful! The small twinkling lights set off the homespun ornaments and the family enjoyed each other's company with cookies and eggnog. Presents began to appear under the tree as if by magic. Buffy giggled at her pun. She doubted Leo or Paige orbed in just to deliver brightly wrapped packages.

Christmas Eve arrived and Buffy headed for bed. Leo and Piper were filling Harry's carefully hung stocking with goodies for "Santa's" visit. Just as her foot touched the bottom stair, the phone rang.

"I'll get it," she called to the couple. Picking up the phone she said, "Hello,"

"Hi, Buffy!" Dawn's cheerful voice sounded in her ear.

"Dawn!"

"I just wanted to call and say Merry Christmas. You should see the snow here. They've had record snowfalls and the powder is great!"

Buffy sat on an antique chair, hoping for a long conversation with her younger sister. "How's college?"

"I love it! We've had parties almost every weekend."

"I hope somewhere in there you're doing you're homework. Remember what Celeste told you about keeping up your grades." A part of her worried. Dawn hadn't done very well in high school. Her sister would loose her funding from the Foundation if she didn't keep up at least a "B" average.

"Don't worry. I'm doing fine."

"So, tell me about Boulder,"

They talked for about an hour, before Dawn asked if anyone else was up. Buffy had seen Leo and Piper go to bed after they finished filling Harry's stocking. "Sorry."

"It's okay." Her sister's tone didn't agree. "I'll try to call tomorrow sometime and catch everyone. I really miss you guys."

"Xander should be here tomorrow. He's driving up from Ojai." Buffy couldn't wait to see her old high school chum.

"I'll make it a point to then. It might be late. Plans are to take a sleigh ride, drink hot chocolate, and roast marshmellows over the fireplace."

"Sounds like fun."

"Yeah," Dawn gushed. "I'm goin' to say good night. I love you, Buffy."

"And I love you, Dawn." They hung up. Buffy turned out the light, checked the door, and went upstairs to bed.

"It's Christmas! It's Christmas!"

Buffy opened her eyes to a small body jumping on her bed. She groaned and wanted to go back to sleep to finish a dream she'd been having about a sexy movie star proposing to her.

"Santa's come!" Harry bounced on her bed one last time and dashed for door as fast as his little bare feet would carry him.

She gave up trying to get any more rest. With a sigh, she tugged on her terry bathrobe, slipped her feet into her pink fuzzy slippers, and joined a slowly moving Piper downstairs.

"Leo's in the shower," Piper explained.

The two women joined the young boy in the main room. He'd dumped the contents of the stocking all over the floor and now systematically examined every goodie. He started to put a piece of chocolate in his mouth.

"Harry," his mother warned. "We talked about this. You can only have you're Santa candy after breakfast."

His pudgy little lip pushed out. He put the candy back into his stocking and glared.

"Have I missed anything?" Leo asked, pushing his still damp hair away from his face.

"Not much," his wife answered. "You keep an eye on your son and I'll go make us some coffee." She slowly got up and waddled out.

"Can we open presents now?" Harry jumped to his feet.

"We have to wait for Paige, Peter, Phoebe, Willow, Nora, Caine, Laura and Celeste," Leo patiently explained.

His son eyed the presents under the tree. Buffy knew how hard it was going to be for him to wait.

"They'll be here soon," Leo reassured his son. "In the meantime," he scooped Harry up. "Let's go give you a bath and get you dressed."

"Ah, dad."

The two left. Buffy smiled and decided maybe she should shower and dress as well. Hurrying upstairs she quickly washed up and put on jeans and T-shirt with a silly reindeer on it. She'd gotten it as a present from Peter during his years in Sunnydale.

She joined Piper downstairs in the kitchen. The older sister sat, still in robe, at the oak kitchen table sipping coffee. Buffy helped herself to a cup and joined her.

"Leo's getting Harry dressed."

"Good." Piper took another drink. "I could use a bit of rest. " She winced. "Melinda is awake and kicking this morning."

"Can I?" Buffy asked shyly.

Piper nodded. Buffy put her hand on the witches' stomach and was rewarded with a swift kick from the baby. "Wow!"

"Yeah." Piper put her cup down. "I'd better get dressed before the rest of the family gets here." She got up and left.

Buffy gathered up their cups and put them in the sink. She decided to volunteer to watch Harry so Leo could sneak off and have some coffee too. Going back to the main room, she found Harry scooting his new truck from "Santa" over the wooden floor. Leo sat on the floor close by.

"I'll watch him for awhile if you want to get some coffee."

Leo shook his head. "I wouldn't miss a minute of this for anything."

Buffy smiled. She knew what he meant. She started to sit down when someone knocked. "Stay put. I'll get it."

Opening the stained glass double door, Buffy was delighted to see Xander. Her old friend smiled at her, and indicated he wanted to come in.

"These packages are a bit heavy, Buffy."

"Sorry." She grabbed a couple and held the door for him. "In there."

He deposited his burden under the tree and then turned to her. "Hi."

"Hi." She gave him a hug. "It's good to see you, Xander."

"How's Idaho?"

They sat down next to each other on the loveseat. Harry pushed his truck against Leo's leg. His father said something about the leg being a make believe tree.

"Different. I'm enjoying teaching my classes. I love my students. Even when they try to get rowdy."

"Find any potentials?"

She shook her head. At the final battle at the Hellmouth, Willow had cast a spell giving every potential slayer a bit of the power only the Chosen One had had. Giles and any surviving watchers he'd found were scouring the world for untrained slayers. The girls would need to learn how to use their abilities responsibly.

"I've kept my eyes open, but haven't spotted anyone."

"Yeah, me too." He fell silent for a moment. "What do you think of Willow's new girlfriend?"

"I don't know her very well. She and Willow had just met before I left. They seem happy together."

"Willow deserves to be happy."

Buffy agreed. After loosing both her former girlfriends to death, Willow needed to have someone steady in her life.

The door opened and the two looked up. Phoebe and Jarod had arrived, Buffy didn't doubt the two of them had spent the night at Pretender's apartment. They were followed by Paige, Peter, Willow and Nora. Phoebe introduced Jarod and Xander. A few minutes later Caine, Laura, and Celeste joined them.

After a breakfast of bacon, muffins and scrambled eggs, they adjourned to the main room and opened presents. Harry gleefully ripped open his packages hardly able to stand waiting as other's unwrapped theirs. Piper kept a large waste bag near for paper, ribbon, and bows.

Buffy smiled and blinked back tears at the thoughtfulness of her gifts. Phoebe had given her a light blue sweater and matching pants. She could wear those to work. Caine and Laura had given her a set of green and red glass dragons. They'd go nicely on a shelf she intended to put up in her living room. Jarod had found an action figure from a TV show Buffy had seen advertised, she'd even watched it a few times, and swore someone had spied on her in Sunnydale and made a series out of it. Peter and Paige's gift, matched with Leo's and Piper's, gave her shopping cards to her favorite stores. She was going to have fun spending them! Celeste had given her a dragon pendent and matching earrings. "Dragons are good luck to the Chinese," she'd said. Willow and Nora had given her a sword for her weapons chest and Xander had made her side table for her bedroom. He'd just grinned. "New hobby." There had even been a gift from Dawn. Piper had hidden it until that morning. "Dawn had wanted it to be a surprise,' the oldest Charmed One said. Inside the package had been a bell with a mountain scene of Colorado and several yummy scented candles inside glass holders.

The slayer thanked everyone for their gifts setting off a round of mass thanks. Piper trudged off to the kitchen to start Christmas dinner with Paige, Celeste, and Laura helping. The guys settled on the floor to play with Harry. She giggled as she watched. They were having as much fun scooting trucks around and building legos as he was. She noticed Willow and Nora sneak off. Probably wanted to exchange their gifts to each other in private. Phoebe and Caine fell into a discussion and Buffy decided to take her treasures up to her room. She dumped them on her bed glad she hadn't packed a really full suitcase. She'd have to find a box to ship Xander's gift back to Idaho, but the rest she should be able take home with her on the plane.

She sniffed one of the candles Dawn had sent. It reminded her of her mother's cookies. A tear trickled down her cheek. She missed her mom. Not wanting bad memories on a happy day, she put the candle down and went back downstairs. The least she could do was help set the table.

Piper had outdone herself with dinner. A huge turkey, mashed potatoes, home made rolls, green beans, a jello salad, which Harry had wanted to eat a lot of and not anything else, steamed carrots, a relish plate, and pumpkin pie. Everyone pitched in and cleaned up and retired to the living room around the tree to visit and sip eggnog.

Buffy leaned against the doorjamb watching the scene. Piper tucked in next to Leo, Harry playing at their feet with his new toys. Phoebe and Jarod kissing in a corner. Caine holding Laura's hand, Peter with an arm around Paige, her thin hand resting on her stomach, Celeste talking earnestly to her family, Willow, Nora and Xander chatting about old times. It was all so familiar. The only person missing was Dawn, and maybe Giles. Odd, she hadn't thought about him all day. She wondered if he'd had a good holiday.

"You okay, Buffy?" Xander asked, his concern mirrored in his eyes.

'I'm fine." She sat next to her friends. "Just enjoying. When I go home, I'm all alone."

Willow and Nora exchanged a glance. "We could," Willow began.

Buffy shook her head. "You've thrived here. Magic is very good for you."

"Beats the way it used to be."

The blonde flinched. She remembered what happened to Willow after Tara's death. The red head had gone ballistic flaying her lover's murderer alive and trying to destroy the world. Afterward, her friend had to stop using magic to prevent any more turnings to the dark side. It hadn't been until after the spell she'd cast to endue all potential slayers with their power that she'd been able to use magic safely again.

"Piper, Paige, and Phoebe keep you accountable."

Willow smiled her round face lighting up. "Yeah. It's wonderful."

Christmas break was over and Buffy was again on a plane headed for Idaho. She'd ended up shipping more than Xander's nightstand home. Particularly after she'd shopped with her gift cards. With any luck, the rest of her presents would arrive a day or two after she did.

As her plane touched down and she changed flights for the final leg of her journey, she noticed a dark man board the plane. With a start, she recognized him as Duncan MacLeod, Connor's 'cousin'. She wondered if he intended to visit the principal.

He ambled down the aisle and smiled at her. "This seat taken?"

"Don't they assign them?"

He shrugged. The gesture accented his muscled shoulders under his dark coat. "They do. Mine happens to be here."

"Then why ask?"

He smiled again at her, humor dancing in ebony eyes. "Just trying to make conversation."

"You could have just said hello."

He slid into his seat. She noticed how nice his butt looked in his jeans. Blushing, she looked out the small window.

"First visit to Lewiston?" he asked snapping his seatbelt closed.

She shook her head very self-conscious. She'd chosen to wear jeans and sloppy overlarge T-shirt home. Why should it matter how she looked to this man?

"I teach at the high school."

"You work for my cl…cousin then."

"You're related to Connor Grant?" Like she didn't already know. She just didn't want him to know she did.

"You could say that."

The flight attendants were going through the standard safety speech as the plane slowly taxied for takeoff. Buffy double-checked her seatbelt.

"What subject do you teach?"

"Psychology."

He looked at her oddly. She wondered if she had something on her face.

"What's your name?" He extended his hand.

"Buffy Summers." She took his long fingers.

"Nice to meet you. So, tell me what it's like to teach school."

They spent the flight talking about her adventures as a first year teacher. When she paused, he talked about being a world traveler. He was especially fond of France.

"I keep a barge there."

Had to be the same boat she'd seen in the picture hanging on the wall at Joe's Place. "Like a second home?"

"Yeah."

"I hope one day to own a house again." Now where had that come from?

"What happened?"

"Big…accident." She couldn't really go into detail. Her mother's house was part of the big hole that had once been Sunnydale.

"Sort of like the Chicago fire?" He winked at her.

A chill went through her. When she got home, she really needed to contact Giles.

Tiredly she unlocked the door of her rented house. The box from San Francisco had actually beaten her home and she dragged it in. Quickly she unpacked, dumping laundry downstairs to do the next day. She set up her new nightstand and added her sword from Willow and Nora to her weapons chest, which she still kept under the kitchen table.

Tomorrow, she'd put up the shelf in the living room and place the glass dragons in their new home. Tonight though, she picked up the phone and called for pizza. After it was delivered she flopped down in front of the new TV she'd finally gotten around to buying. She found a movie and watched it, even though she figured out who the killer was before it was even half over.

She put the leftover pizza in the fridge. It wasn't nearly as good as Piper's home cooked meals. Buffy was really going to miss the oldest sister's home baked goodies for breakfast and the company of the manor.

With a sigh, she washed up for bed and slept soundly through the night. The next morning, she braved making pancakes, from a boxed mix, and ate them with coffee at her table. She spread the local paper out before her, scanning the headlines for anything she might need to be aware of.

Buried in the back section was another story about a headless corpse, this one found just off one of the trails beside the river. "Wonder you guys don't bury your dead. Certainly would keep you out of trouble."

To be continued