Olivia had to admit that Cole's meditation method seemed a lot more preferable than Margot Palmer's dependency on gongs. It was not that surprising, since his method matched her. What the hell had she been thinking?
Okay, perhaps desperation to avoid Cole's company had led her to accept Margot's help. But the moment the other witch began playing that damn CD disk, Olivia had realized she should have known better. And that Margot was the wrong person to help her.
"Uh, Olivia? Are you meditating?" Cole asked in a soft voice.
She opened one eye and glanced at the half-demon, sitting on the floor opposite her. Staring at her. A hot flush crept up her neck. "Of course I am!" she protested in an attempt to hide her embarrassment at getting caught. Blue eyes continued to penetrate hers. "Okay, I wasn't. What's wrong with a little contemplation?"
Cole heaved what sounded like a frustrated sigh. "Look," he said through clenched teeth, "could you please stop fooling around and concentrate on your meditation?"
Olivia retorted, "Hey! I'm sorry! I merely got sidetracked. Okay? Geez!" She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Okay. O eternal Goddess, Maiden, Mother and Crone, I am made from your flesh and you know me better than I know myself." As she continued, one of her eyes popped open, again. Cole, she noted with relief, had both eyes closed.
"Your eyes aren't still closed," Cole's voice boomed. "Close 'em!"
Asshole. After shooting Cole a death glare, Olivia shut her eyes. And continued to chant.
* * * *
The two neighbors stood side by side in what appeared to be an open clearing, surrounded by a thick forest. Open-mouthed, Olivia glanced around her, awed by the beautiful surrounding. "What is this place?" she asked.
"A dimension I had spent time in, while avoiding the Source's zoltars. Very nice place. It's the present home for the Tuatha Dé Dannan, a mythical Irish race. Royalty, by the way. I, uh, I had to receive permission to train you, here." He paused.
"Huh. I've heard of them. They usually fight for good. Are you trying to tell me that they didn't mind allowing a half-daemon with an evil past to come here?"
Cole coughed nervously. "Family connection. On my mother's side. Long story." Then he continued, "Since I can't help you during the daytime or anywhere in San Francisco in the evening, I thought this would be the perfect place. Well, except on weekends." Then he dropped a large duffel bag that he had been carrying, on the ground. He unzipped it. "Okay, let's start with a little practice."
"Martial arts?" Olivia asked hopefully.
Cole stared at the redhead, wondering if she harbored some kind of predilection for violence. "No," he answered curtly. "Target practice." He removed several semi-long wooden stakes from the bag. Each stake had a rectangular-shaped shingle nailed to it. Cole drove each stake into the ground, all of them forming a 180-degrees half-circle. "Okay, let's see how well you can concentrate on controlling your aim. Uh, you did your meditation and tai-chi exercises, today. Right?"
Olivia let out a gust of breath. "Yeah, yeah! Now let's get on with it."
A frown tightened Cole's handsome face. "Maybe we should do this another time."
"No," Olivia insisted. "Might as well start now."
* * * *
The stream of fire missed its target completely, hitting only air. Olivia cursed out loud. Cole sighed.
"Dammit!" the redhead cried. "I'm never going to learn to control this damn thing! How in the hell did Cousin Keith deal with it?"
Cole frowned. "Who . . .? Cousin Keith?"
"My grandfather's cousin from Scotland. He just recently passed away. The one who can form fire balls. Remember?"
Nodding, Cole replied, "Oh yeah. I remember you mentioning him, once. Look, if he was able to control his fire power, so can you."
Rolling her eyes, Olivia murmured, "I should have known you would go back to get back into lecture mode."
"What was that?" Cole gave her a sharp look. When Olivia failed to reply, he sighed. Again. "All right. Why don't you give it another shot?"
Taking a deep breath, Olivia raised one arm and aimed it at one of the shingles. She jerked her arm slightly. Then . . . nothing. She lowered her arm with a frustrated sigh, before raising it again. A burst of flames shot forth. Olivia's arm took on a life of its own and instead of hitting one of the shingles, she hit Cole. The half-daemon disappeared into a burst of fire. A second later, he rematerialized on the same spot.
"Dammit, Olivia! Can't you at least keep your arm under control? If I had been someone else, I would have been dead!"
"Keep it under . . .?" Rage poured out of Olivia's green eyes. "Hey look! I just got stuck with this thing three days ago! Three days! How the hell do you expect me to control a goddamn firepower in three days? Let alone control my arm while fire is spewing from it?"
Cole shot back, "I'm not asking you to control your power within a certain time! Now whether you like it or not, you have to deal with that 'goddamn power'! So the sooner you stop bitching and procrastinating, the sooner you'll learn to control the damn thing!"
Green eyes glared at Cole. He glared back. Taking him by surprise, Olivia faced the staked targets, raised her hand and one by one, destroyed four shingles with bursts of fire. Then she whirled upon Cole, still glaring. "There! Are you happy now?"
With her hands on her hips, her body trembling and her eyes blazing, Olivia looked magnificent. Cole could not help but think that she also looked vibrant, alive, and regal. He had to fight the urge to take her into his arms and kiss her. Of course, that would be a mistake he dare not commit again. Instead, he took a deep breath and calmly replied, "Not bad. Pretty good, actually. Even if it was merely a fluke."
"A fluke?" Olivia stared at Cole with outrage. "Are you serious? Did you see what I had just done?"
Rolling his eyes, Cole muttered, "Oh God! Olivia, you can't simply rely on your anger to control your power. You know that!"
A sneer marred Olivia's beautiful face. "Oh, what is this? Some damn Jedi Knight philosophy?"
Cole struggled to keep his temper in check. "Dammit Olivia! Will you please stop with the bullshit? I'm serious!"
The magnificent body sagged in acknowledgement of Cole's words. "Okay. I'm sorry. I know. It's just . . ." Olivia sighed. "I don't know. Whenever I thought of getting a second power, I never thought it would be one so difficult as pyrokinesis."
Cole nodded soberly. "Hey look, I understand. Believe me, I do. When my firepower first manifested, I could barely control it. Well actually, I couldn't. At first, my anger helped me control it, but Ray . . ." Memories of his old mentor, Raynor, flashed in Cole's mind. "Raynor told me that I needed to keep my emotions in check, in order to maintain complete control. And I'm sure you had to learn the same lesson with your telekinesis."
A brief silence fell between the pair, before Olivia added, "How long did it take you to control it? Your firepower, I mean. Paige told me last Sunday that you rarely used it. In fact, I don't think she has ever seen you use it, when you were Belthazor."
Cole shrugged his shoulders. "It took me quite a while to master it. I mean, we are talking about fire here. It's a very uncontrollable element. Which is why I rarely used it . . . unless I had to."
"Oh." Once again, the couple fell silent. Olivia glanced at the scorched stakes. So did Cole. The former added, "It looks as if we don't have many targets to use."
Again, Cole shrugged. "No problem," he said softly. "I guess a little meditation wouldn't hurt right about now."
Olivia looked at him and flashed a shy smile. Cole returned her smile with one of his own. He and Olivia had made a start toward easing the estrangement that had divided them since the New Year's. Yet, he also knew that their friendship would never be fully restored until they dealt with the repercussions of that one kiss.
* * * *
"So, how is the training going?" The question came from Olivia's future sister-in-law, Barbara. Inside an herbal shop called Ostera's, the two witches were perusing one of the large shelves inside the latter's store for a jar of resin called Dragon's Blood.
Olivia heaved a sigh and replied, "Okay, I guess. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this new power. At least I think I am. Still, it's a bit disconcerting."
"Hmmm." The blond woman peered at a particular jar and shook her head. "That's not it," she murmured. Then she said to Olivia, "You know, there are times I wish I had a psi ability like the rest of you."
"And other times?"
Barbara paused. "Let's just say that I'm glad that I only have to worry about mastering potions and spells, and not fire coming out of my hands."
"Gee, thanks a lot," Olivia muttered sarcastically. "And thanks for dumping Margot Palmer on me. For a while, I thought I was on 'THE GONG SHOW'. What is with her and gongs?"
Looking somewhat embarrassed, Barbara replied, "Sorry about that. I forgot that her favorite method of meditation was using gongs. By the way, she told me about Cole. And how you nearly made her extra crispy."
"Hey, it was an accident! I was trying to stop her from leaving, after Cole nearly scared her to death." Olivia added ruefully, "Only he ended up saving her, instead."
A third voice cried out from the other end of the shop, "I found it! I found the Dragon's Blood!" Paige sauntered over to the other women. She handed the jar of resin to Barbara. "Here. I found it behind the Mandrake. You know, you really should arrange the merchandise in a more orderly fashion. Alphabetically, perhaps."
Barbara nodded. "You have a point," she said thoughtfully. "Only, I hardly ever have time to consider rearranging the merchandise. Despite how empty it looks now, this shop can get pretty busy." She gave Paige a thoughtful look. "Interested in a job? I can use the help."
To Olivia's amusement, Paige looked somewhat taken aback. "Uh . . . I didn't mean . . ." The younger woman seemed to be choking on her words. "What I meant . . ."
"What? You're not interested?" Barbara continued. "I'm willing to pay well. Eight-fifty an hour. And I'll hire another assistant, if you need the help."
Olivia spoke up. "Sounds like a pretty good deal, to me."
A red flush crept over Paige's pale skin. "Uh . . . well, it's a great idea, except . . ." She shrugged. "Well, the reason I had quit my job was so I could be a full-time witch."
Olivia blinked. She and Barbara exchanged confused looks. Then they stared at Paige. "Full-time witch?" the former commented. "Sounds like a job description."
Paige's face turned redder. "What I meant was I want to devote full time to learning the Craft."
"Honey, learning the Craft is a life-long process," Barbara gently replied. "And being unemployed isn't going to make it easier."
Paige shrugged. "Well, let me think about it. Okay?"
"Sure." Barbara flashed Paige a reassuring smile. Then the telephone rang. She murmured a quick "excuse me" and rushed toward the telephone.
Paige turned to Olivia. "So, you think I should take the job?"
"Why not? You're unemployed at the moment. I'm sure that you could use it."
Nodding, Paige switched to another topic. "By the way, how is your training coming along? Is Barbara's friend a big help?"
"You know, you're the second person who has asked me that within the last five minutes," Olivia replied with a frown. "I didn't realize that everyone was so concerned about my power."
A snort left Paige's mouth. "Are you kidding? Even the Elders are up in arms. They've been bugging poor Leo nearly all week! Speaking of him, have you seen him since the brunch? I think he's been trying to get in touch with you."
"The Elders are worried about me?" Olivia stared at the younger woman with disbelief. "Why? Because I now have a firepower? I'm not exactly the first. And Leo hasn't been my whitelighter for years."
Paige heaved a sigh. "I don't know. Leo hasn't exactly been forthcoming, lately. I think he's in a bad mood."
"Huh." Olivia wondered if her whitelighter was experiencing marital problems. "Everything okay between him and Piper?"
After a brief hesitation, the Charmed One replied, "Everything's fine. At least Piper's no longer pissed at him for not telling us about the rogue whitelighters."
"Paige, it's been over a month since we all found out. Exactly how long was she pissed?"
Paige shook her head. "Oh, you don't want to know. By the way, Leo should be home, this evening. Why don't you drop by?"
"Oh honey," Olivia replied, "I'd love to, but I have more training, this evening. And after that . . . I think I'm going to be a little tired."
"Boy, this friend of Barbara's is really keeping you busy."
At that moment, Barbara appeared before the other two. "My friend? Oh. Didn't Livy tell you?"
Paige frowned. "Tell me what?"
"Margot isn't training her, any longer," Barbara continued. "Cole scared her off and now he's training Livy."
* * * *
"Cole is helping Olivia with her new power?" Leo's usually soft voice now echoed throughout the Halliwell manor. "Cole?"
Paige rolled her eyes. Maybe she should have broken the news about Olivia and Cole with a little more subtlety. Then again, Leo was bound to overreact. "Why are you so surprised?" Paige demanded. "Livy's family thought it was a good idea."
"Well, the Elders don't!" Leo shot back. "In fact, they would feel a whole lot better if she stayed away from him!"
Oh great! For the first time, Paige truly began to understand the McNeills' attitude toward whitelighters. Which seemed ironic, considering that she happened to be half-whitelighter, herself. "Why? What do they think that Cole is going to do? Turn her to the Dark Side?" When Leo failed to reply, disgust overcame Paige. "Oh for crying out loud! You've got to be kidding! Besides, you haven't been Olivia's whitelighter for years! It's not like they have any say in the matter!"
"Maybe the Elders are being smart, for once," a third voice added. Piper shuffled into the Solarium. "Oh God! My back and feet are killing me. Leo, could you give me a massage?"
Without even sparing his wife a glance, Leo barked, "Not now, Piper! Later. I need to speak with Olivia, first."
"For what? So you can give her more advice that she'll ignore?" Piper snapped back. "Why do you even bother trying to pretend that you're still Olivia's whitelighter? Or her brothers'? They never listen to you, anyway!"
Oh-oh, another Halliwell-Wyatt blow-up, Paige thought. The frown on Leo's face told her that he did not appreciate his wife's words. Not one bit. Even worse, she has also noticed that Leo has grown increasingly tense, lately. Whether it was due to the growing turmoil in the Whitelighters' Realm, Piper's pregnancy, or Olivia and Cole's friendship, Paige had no idea. Perhaps it was a combination of all three.
Leo gave Piper an exasperated glare. "They're not the only ones who don't listen!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Piper demanded nastily.
Paige decided it was time to step in and end the quarrel before it grew out of control. Brightly, she added, "If you're still looking for Olivia, Leo, she should be home about now." She glanced at the grandfather clock, which read six fifty-eight. "Probably meditating."
"I'll be back in a few minutes," a curt Leo said. "I'll be at Olivia's."
Paige added, "Why don't you take Piper along? I'm sure that you two could use a nice little outing, together."
Husband and wife stared at Paige, as if she had proposed something ridiculous. Piper said, "I have to open the club in less than two hours."
"I'll do it," Paige cheerily volunteered. "Besides, the baby isn't due until another month. You need to take it easy. And you both need to spend some time, together."
Piper shot her youngest sister a dirty look. "Thanks. I'll remember this." Leo grabbed one of her arms and the pair orbed out of view.
END OF PART FOUR