always a Choice
Paige stood very quietly in the realm of the Elders looking down for the very first time. Certainly she was only just at the entrance and it would be a long time before she stepped any further into the realm but even in the shrouded light the view was clearer and her thoughts were clearer than she ever remembered. She had never tried to orb to the realm before but she needed badly to come somewhere where she could escape from her sisters ideas, their views their beliefs, and this seemed to be somewhere that the perspective was different. She jumped suddenly as someone spoke behind her.
Sam her father walked behind her. He touched her shoulder and she spun around. He smiled. " You should be happier than you look " he said. " Welcome " he said gently.
Paige glanced around her. The “up there” that Leo spoke about, had a peace that Paige had not expected. Somehow she had imagined the cloud and the quiet would be oppressive, as if she was caught in a thick fog, but the light appeared to be a kaleidoscope of colour as if it was reflected through a prism. Things seemed much simpler than where she had come from.
" I see things differently from here " Paige said quietly to Sam.
" That’s good "Sam answered.
" No its not " she replied sadly " Sam I needed to talk to some - one who well has less rigid ideas about good and evil than the rest of my family. "
" And you could not ask Leo " Sam enquired as he took Paige’s hand and led her to a bench seat that seemed to have appeared at his wish.
" Leo is family " Paige said cryptically. She turned to Sam and almost pleading asked him " How do you know what is good?. When you believe you are good, how do you know you are,?. Could you possibly believe that you are the ultimate in good and yet be the ultimate in evil? "
" No " Sam replied –You would know you were the ultimate in evil. It would be a choice "
" Would you necessarily know that the things that you did leading up to that choice were evil " she asked
" You would always have a choice " Sam said " because the nature of the battle between good and evil is that one side or the other can only win when the choice is willingly made, but "he added " you may be so blinded by evil, so seduced by it that the choices you make seem so clear, so you fail to recognise them as evil until it is to late. Deep down you know they are bad but you feel so satisfied with yourself when you make the choices you chose to ignore all those warning voices and thoughts. "
Paige nodded " That is what I am afraid of."
Sam asked quietly " You know some - one who may have fallen, so badly they fail to recognise what they have done "
Very quietly Paige answered " I am terribly afraid I do "
" My sisters aren’t very good at listening to me Sam " she said sadly " You know one of my powers is to sense evil. But my sisters seem to have a big problem with that. I knew it when Cole went evil and Phoebe and Piper refused to believe me and I feel evil around me now, but they just keep saying they are more experienced with magic and I am just learning and they won’t listen "
Sam looked at his daughter " Perhaps it is the nature of evil that you feel surrounding you which is stopping them listening. What does Leo say?"
" Leo says what Piper tells him " Paige grinned
" That alone is evil " said Sam
Paige stood up. She held out her hand to Sam and then changed her mind and hugged him. "Thank you for listening " she said sincerely
" No " replied Sam hugging her back " Thank you for asking "
Paige returned to the manor. As she orbed into the kitchen, everything felt very clear and she was very sure what she had to say but when she left the orb she was only aware of a vague discomfort at the actions her and her sisters and she found herself wondering if she had even imagined the problem. But it was enough to fill her with concern as she listened to Phoebe and Piper who were locked in a conversation about getting rid of Cole.
" This one was final " Phoebe raged " He’s crazy, crazy with evil, crazy with lust. Crazy with power Piper we have to get rid of him before he tries to lead evil, tries to become the source again because this time if he did we would never be able to defeat him."
" Well you won’t get any arguments from me " Piper answered " And we have to do it soon, while baby here can still make me strong enough to protect us against him because after she is born we don’t know how we will be able to tap into her powers or even if we can "
Paige joined in " You think if we defeat Cole this time, we will finally be rid of evil. You think he is the ultimate evil "
" You’ve got any doubts " Piper bit out at her.
" I just wondered if it was possible that there was some other way " Paige replied.
" Paige " Piper answered " We have no other choice. " Paige heard the word and it started to ring in her head. Choice. Choice. Choice. Over and over again. As a warning, as a plan.
Piper unaware that Paige was thinking pushed the point " You’ve seen what he can do. He would have sacrificed you without hesitation just because he is lusting after Phoebe " She threw her hands in the air "Paige all he can think of is that he must have Phoebe, regardless of the effect on anyone else, regardless of consequences, regardless of the price anyone else must pay "
" Yes " Paige answered " that is the ultimate evil, getting what you want regardless of what it costs anyone else. " She sighed and turned to Phoebe " Are you sure you want to do this ? You want to get rid of Cole like this ?"
Phoebe moved closer to Piper, so the two were almost huddled together " Paige –she bit out " How can you ask me that? You’ve seen what he's become. You’ve seen what he's done to me, what he's done to us. All he wants is for me to be evil with him again, and he will do anything, sacrifice anything to make that happens. "
Paige swallowed and asked " Is that the ultimate evil Phoebe, wanting you? Apart from wanting you, and doing anything he can to get you, what else has he done that is evil, has he hurt any innocents that we know about? "
Piper and Phoebe stared at her " He killed those bikers, he killed that landlord " Piper said
" Neither was really innocent " Paige said
Piper threw her hands in exasperation " They were human " she answered.
Paige just smiled awkwardly, feeling her sisters were unlikely to accept that she knew more about innocence than them " Are you so sure? Don’t you have any doubts? " she asked " Isn’t there some other way? "
" No " bit out Phoebe and Piper in unison
The sisters stood in the kitchen staring at each other. Phoebe and Piper huddled close together, Paige opposite and aside from them. " Not even a small doubt Phoebe " Paige said quietly and it was a statement not a question.
" Do you think I could do this if I had even a small doubt " Phoebe raged at her sister.
" No I don’t " Paige responded crossing her arms defensively as Phoebe glared at her " What I don’t understand why you don't have any doubts. You loved Cole " Paige said "Don’t deny it. So I can’t understand why some small part of you does not want to be sure there is no other way. "
Piper threw her arms in the air " Paige you cannot possibly think that there is any doubt that Cole is evil "
But Paige had learnt a little wisdom in the last year and refused to be drawn " It’s not about Cole, Piper " she said "It’s about us. I want to be sure than, when we vanquish Cole it's for the right reasons, so that I'm not going to spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have made some different choice "
Piper laughed and it was not a pretty laugh " Paige what other choice to we have but to vanquish him"
And Paige very nearly became angry " I don’t know Piper " she bit out " What have we considered? "
Piper turned away in disgust " This is ridiculous " she said and walked, stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Paige and Phoebe alone. Paige her arms crossed defensively and unsure what she was arguing, Phoebe angry and all but hating her sister for even questioning the walls she had built to protect herself from pain.
Paige tried one more time. She crossed the room to stand close to Phoebe. She extended her arm to gently touching Phoebe on her wrist " Phoebe " Paige pleaded " Just remember when we met your future self. She said she had lived a life of regret because we vanquished Cole. Phoebe what did she regret, not trying, not finding another way. That Phoebe was prepared to die for him, even when she knew he was the Source. Phoebe what if that bitter old woman is still the future you. Maybe this is the only chance you have not to be her."
Phoebe stared at Paige as if here sister had committed the ultimate act of betrayal, questioning her, accusing her. Tears started to form in her eyes and she spun on her heel and ran upstairs. Paige upset and wondering if she had pushed her sister to far, hesitated and then ran upstairs after her.
Paige followed Phoebe into the bedroom she had shared with Cole. Phoebe spun around as Paige followed her, her eyes wet and tears pouring down her face. Paige feeling almost as if she was a traitor, took a deep breath and asked Phoebe, "Don’t you have any doubts at all. I mean when we first came together, Cole was the love of your life. He found me. It’s only because of him that I am even a Charmed One. I remember how you said you would love him all your life. I remember " Paige smiled "you were very cross with me when I wanted to make the love of your life bait. Are you sure you can think of no other way than vanquishing Cole? "
However Phoebe, bitter and heartsick had convinced herself that she had never loved Cole. " Cole used me " Phoebe bit out " he used me to become powerful and evil and the only way he can be stopped is to totally destroy him. It’s the only way we can rid the world of evil "
" Are you sure " Paige pursued " Phoebe killing Cole won’t rid the world of evil. You know as well as I do that there is always going to be a balance between them. Phoebe I am wondering at the consequences of killing Cole. He is so powerful that if we destroy him, there will be a huge vacuum of evil and that will be filled."
" Well let something good and powerful fill it " Phoebe snapped.
" That’s what I am afraid of " Paige said. Paige had run out of arguments. She stepped toward her sister to offer some comfort but stopped as Phoebe turned away and reduced to tears herself, left Phoebe alone.
Phoebe wandered around her room, feeling bitter and angry, and looking forward to the end of all this, the day Cole was no longer part of her life and she could go back to being the girl she had been before she met him. She hated him, she saw him as the culmination of all evil and of all her problems. If he had never come into her life, she would never have suffered this pain, this agony, she would be the innocent girl again. Everything would be the way it was if Cole no longer existed, she could pretend he never had existed, never mention his name again, find love where she was in control, pretend she had never known the depths of evil. Life could be simple again, good would be good and evil would be evil, never any doubts. The ease, the peace of it.
She did not need Paige to make her feel any doubts. Phoebe suddenly hated Paige. What right did Paige have to make her feel anything for Cole again. Feeling something for Cole had brought her to this. " Damn Paige, " she said aloud " Damn Paige. I hate her " And then suddenly Phoebe realised what she had said, and her tears dried, as she wondered what had brought her to the point where she could hate her sister.
She glanced at her reflection in the mirror and just for a second as she looked at her reflection she was struck by a intuition. The girl she saw in the mirror was never going to be the naive innocent any more. She was older, older in many ways than people who had lived twenty years more than her. Her eyes were no longer a girl’s eyes, they were eyes that had known life, great happiness and great sorrow, pain and joy,. The body pretty and taut was a woman’s body, one that had known love and pain and she choked, as the thought she had hidden buried deep overwhelmed her. " Damn Paige, damn Paige, damn Paige " Phoebe said aloud again " I hate her "
That was the problem, no matter how much she pretended, tried to ignore it, Cole had existed as the focus of her life and to deny his existence was going to be deny many of the best parts of herself. While she stood in that room, she knew that no matter how much she pretended to the world she was never going to forget him, or bury him any more than she could bury the hidden thoughts about the life that had grown in her body. " Damn Paige, damn Paige, damn Paige " Phoebe said a third time " I hate her for making me think like this "
She suddenly glanced around the room and a memory that was so strong of Cole in that room overwhelmed her and just for a second when no one was around her to remind her of what her love had cost them. When Piper had was not there to speak his name with scorn, to say she did not blame Phoebe for what his presence had caused with all the blame she could summon in her voice, when Leo was not there to preach of the inevitability of evil, Phoebe could guiltily remember she once loved the demon. For a few seconds Phoebe as an addict hides a secret vice, indulged a memory. She saw Cole’s face the first time he came to that room, when he had told her that the only way they could love was if they were both good, because evil could only lust. She saw him the first time he came to her bed in that room, laughing, nervous whispering words of love, of thanks to her for what she gave to him. In that room they had shared laughter and life and pain, she saw him standing at the door, eyes narrow, almost evil, as he said marriage was still a part of his plans, she saw his face as he lied to her, as the source lied to her about things he could no longer tell her.
There was bitterness in that room, then she felt the strongest memory was him, distraught and in pain, touching the athame he had used to kill witches and ponder his guilt, and it was probably the only time she had ever seen Cole as he really was, a man of great good fighting a great evil. knowing he would never escape it, clever, hating what he had been and in love with her. She had trusted him then, more than he had trusted himself, believed in him then.
She looked up and saw that girl in the mirror, beautiful and wise, willingly facing evil and good, feeling the choices, believing. Loving. And for a second the girl she had been there was still in her face then the girl faded and all that was left was the hate filled woman whose eyes were totally dulled to all compassion and feeling for other people.
And the thought crossed her mind for a second that her destiny should not have been to remain the innocent naive child woman, but be the woman who had shared that moment with Cole, beautiful of face and soul, understanding love, neither judging nor damning, offering help and heart. That would have been as destiny worth fighting for."I hate you Paige " she said aloud again as all the bitterness of regret overwhelmed her. And then she started to shake with fear at what she had become, to even think that she could hate her sister.
Almost beyond her own control for a second, Phoebe opened a drawer of her dresser and pulled a box from the back. It was a secret treasure trove that never before had she pulled out or touched since the moment they had packed Cole’s things in the apartment after that first vanquish.
Just a few things of his that had found their way into her bags, off their dresser, a comb and brush, stupid thing like a stick of lip balm. Almost beyond her control she touched the brush and was projected premonition so strong, that she could barely breath from the pain. She saw Cole as the source, bent on controlling her, evil, ugly, a being so contemptible that she could look at him and feel nothing but hatred and desire for his death. She watched him plot and try to kill her sisters, she watched him try to kill her and then, feeling everything of that premonition, she watched with overwhelming pleasure, Cole’s final and ultimate destruction. And she knew the Charmed Ones had won, they had defeated the symbol of all evil and wiped away everything he had been and Phoebe was struck by an overwhelming sense of relief that coursed through the body of the Phoebe of her premonition and for a few moments the Phoebe of the past rejoiced in the relief of freedom from Cole, She tried to pull back from the premonition but was forced to continue, something dragged her on and to her bemusement she started to see a future without him, to be Charmed One in a world without Cole.
She saw at first a world that seemed at ease, she was having fun, she was laughing, but then it slowly occurred to her that the woman she was looking at was a cold hearted creature, a woman so self centred ands so focused on herself that she was beyond love and beyond caring. She saw the expressions and response around her and became suddenly aware that this woman so ugly and mean, was hated, She saw Piper, and the Piper she saw was just as ugly, embittered, vicious and unlovable, a petty dictator, a person so unlovable as to drive away those who had once cared for her, And Paige, Paige was almost invisible, it was as if she barely existed in their world, over whelmed by the ugliness of her sisters. And she saw Leo, a self righteous moralising man, beaten down by his wife and whipped into submission.
The Phoebe of the present looked at the Charmed Ones of the future ands saw, to her horror, the ultimate evil; persons so self centred and self focused they were hated and finally deserted, by those who had once loved them, And the evil that they had become compounded and grew till they were finally no longer even powerful, small bitter people vanquished by a greater evil, lost in a maze of ugliness and the only tears that those who had once was loved them shed at their vanquish was for the loss of what might have been.
Phoebe saw in that bitter premonition, not only the defeat of her sisters but in her last vision the rejoicing of those who watched them die, those who had once loved them cheering and shouting.
She staggered back from the vision. To realise that her fate was to be so immoral because she vanquished Cole, that it would ultimately lead to her own degradation and fall to total evil was almost incomprehensible to her. He was the one who was evil, he was the one who had dragged her to evil, he was the one who destroyed and she lay there breathing deeply in pain and then it slowly occurred to her that it was the not the vanquishing of evil that caused her to fall but the reason. She wanted to vanquish, not to save the world, not to protect the innocents Cole might kill but to free herself, to save herself the pain of understanding, the pain of choice and of the fight against evil. She was doing it to win the war against the evil in herself, the one that had been fought within her since she was a child.
She realised that the vanquishing she had seen of Cole was nothing more than an act of murder for her own benefit. Phoebe turned on her side and sobbed,.
The guardian stared an overwhelming relief catching him, He turned to the others and said " She finally opened her heart enough to listen to see the pain and the ache. To see the possibilities. "
" Wait " said the older guardian, " we must wait, all she has discovered there is a choice. "
" Its a start " said the younger guardian.