Chapter One

Not for the first time that night, Piper Halliwell wished that she could just kill something and go home. It wasn't supposed to be this way. She wasn't supposed to be standing in a dark alley lit only by one flickering streetlight, wishing she had worn a warmer coat. She looked over at her younger sisters, Phoebe and Paige. Phoebe was running in place, desperately trying to generate some body heat. Paige, leaning against a dumpster, was rubbing her arms vigorously. They looked just as miserable as she was. Another glamorous job for the Charmed Ones, the most powerful witches in the world, Piper thought sarcastically.

Wistfully Piper closed her eyes, remembering how pleasantly this miserable day had begun. Phoebe had agreed to watch Wyatt so that Piper could spend some much needed together time with Leo. She felt that she had barely seen her husband lately; she and her sisters had been too busy saving the world. Today was supposed to be different. Today there would be no demons, no distractions. They would be an ordinary couple enjoying a well deserved break.. For a while it seemed as if their perfect day would really happen. She and Leo had spent precious minutes snuggling and kissing, all the troubles of the world blissfully forgotten. She should have known it wouldn't last.

One minute Leo was smiling, the next all emotion drained from his face. What's wrong? She had asked him. The Elders...they're calling. Piper felt her whole body bristle with rage. No, it's not fair. I took a day off from P3, and you said you asked them for a day off. Can't it wait until tomorrow? Leo looked at her sadly. She knew he didn't want to leave her. They said they would call only if it was an emergency. If it's an emergency, it can't wait until tomorrow. I'm sorry. Piper felt a tear slide down her cheek. One day, Leo, is all I asked for, and the universe can't even give us that. Leo took a tissue from the bedside table and gently wiped Piper's cheek. I know. I'll try to deal with it as soon as I can and get back to you. I love you. Then he had disappeared in his usual shower of lights.

When he had reappeared several minutes later, he was the bearer of bad news. William, a fellow whitelighter, had been killed that morning by a darklighter. The Elders wanted him to watch William's charges and help train a replacement. While Leo did his duty, Piper and her sisters did theirs. They had been tracking the darklighter all day-- a perfectly normal Wiccan weekday. Finally, Phoebe had had a premonition which led them to -what else?- a darkened alley. So once again they had put their lives on hold to save someone else's. It wasn't that Piper didn't enjoy saving innocents, but she wanted and deserved some time for herself now and then. Was that really too much to ask? A chill consumed her entire body. Why hadn't she worn her gloves? How would she blow up this darklighter if her hands fell off from frostbite?

Paige's voice broke through her thoughts. "Phoebe, are you sure he's coming here?"

"Of course I'm sure." Phoebe refused to meet Paige's glance. "Mostly." "Mostly?" Paige snapped. "We've been standing here freezing our butts off for over twenty minutes and you're only mostly sure?!"

Phoebe glared at Paige with venomous eyes. "Look, my premonitions don't come with a map, okay? I'm doing the best I can."

Paige's face filled with regret. "I know, sweetie. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have yelled at you." Phoebe hugged her younger sister.

"Let's just forget it...Hey!" Paige stared at her sister's hands suspiciously. "Are those my gloves? I've been looking for those for days! Hand them over!"

"No way," Phoebe answered. "These are my gloves. It's just a coincidence that they look a lot like a pair that you own."

Piper tuned out the bickering. She had had hundreds- no, thousands- of similar exchanges with her older sister Prue when they were younger. At the thought of her lost sister, Piper could feel fresh tears forming, but she refused to let them loose. Prue had been killed a few years earlier by a demon. Piper would never stop missing her, never stop wandering if there was something she could have done to bring her back. The possibilities, the endless what ifs still tormented her. If they had never become the Charmed Ones, Prue would still be alive. She and Prue might have been at the Manor tonight, hanging out or watching television together or getting dressed for a night out on the town. Instead Prue was dead and she was standing in an alley, slowly freezing to death, waiting to vanquish yet another member of a never-ending parade of evil.

Phoebe and Paige had stopped bickering long enough to notice Piper's pained expression. "Are you okay, Piper?" Phoebe gently asked.

"Of course." Piper answered quickly. "I'm just tired of waiting, that's all."

"I'm sure we'll get him soon." Paige chipped in, a little too cheery for Piper's current mood.

"Yeah, I'm sure we will." Piper responded. She wasn't sure at all, but she knew it was the right thing to say.

Several minutes later, the sisters crouched behind the dumpster when they heard the sound of footsteps. "Look, there's the girl from my vision," Phoebe whispered. The girl was in her mid twenties. Her long brown hair was arranged in a ponytail which reached the middle of her back. She was humming softly, complete unaware that she was about to be attacked by a supernatural being.

"She must be a future whitelighter," Paige theorized. She had barely finished her sentence when the darklighter appeared behind the girl. Paige orbed herself in front of the girl, grabbed her, then orbed the two of them behind the dumpster. The darklighter howled and moved towards them. Piper was ready. She threw her hands forward and watched him explode.

She felt the adrenaline rush that accompanied every vanquish, but this time it seemed to fade quickly. She heard Phoebe and Paige talking to the girl, but she wasn't listening. Her thoughts had returned to Prue and the normal life they used to have. She knew they would never get that life back, but she couldn't help wanting it. With a heavy heart she and Phoebe held Paige's hands and orbed back to the Manor.

Soon, however, everything was going to change.

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