The Life and Times
Part 5: Of a good beginning cometh a good end.
"To expostulate why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Regardless of Rodik still being in the manor Piper and Leo said very firmly they were going to dinner and then P3 ."You're baby sitting." Piper told Cole and Phoebe in a don't piss me off voice.
"How late are you going to be?" said Phoebe glancing at Cole.
"Not that late" said Leo. "You know P3 nights are special nights," he said looking at Piper who nodded.
"Over share," said Phoebe.
"How the hell can it be over share when we can hear? " asked Cole snakily.
"Don't listen" said Piper not put out " I hear too " she added. And I hear you more often than you hear us."
"That's something to boast about" said Phoebe.
Leo came downstairs a few minutes later dressed in dark grey slacks and yellow shirt and open light grey jacket.
"Nice," said Phoebe batting her eyes because she could never resist looking.
"You'll make sure the kids get to bed on time," Leo said, all husband and father "As in the next half hour."
"Yes Leo" said Phoebe contritely.
"And try not to kill Rodik" Leo added.
"Yes Leo" Phoebe and Cole said contritely.
"Save him for me" said Piper coming down stairs in the new skirt and top she bought on her shopping therapy trip when Rodik first arrived. Her hair was long and bouncing and even though she was a little too thin and had a slight fragility around her mouth and eyes, she looked beautiful.
Leo told her so, his broad smile hiding any concern.
Piper she smiled happily and then she snapped "Patsy. Cole Phoebe " and they both jumped to catch his hands as he bounced glassware off the shelf and it fell with a crash.
"Shit" said Cole, waving hand fixing it saying firmly "No Patsy" as Patsy bounced the glassware again so Cole could fix it.
"Bad Patsy" snipped Melinda.
Phoebe and Cole both looked helplessly at Piper.
"He's your kid you know all about magic cores," she smirked and held her hand out to Leo. For the car keys.
"I'm driving." he said. Firmly.
"Its my car," said Piper.
"Our car" said Leo."
"My club pays for it" said Piper.
"Our club" said Leo as Piper removed the keys from his hand.
"You have to be part of a couple to under said what goes between them " Phoebe who never could forget she had a psychology major, informed Cole.
Cole raised his eyes.
"Do you think its scary that Leo and Piper plan their time together " Phoebe asked. "I mean I sometimes wonder if they mark into their diary which nights.
"Don't you mark which nights you don't" said Paige behind them "Oh you do three days a month."
Paige was dressed for her special date, wearing a skirt she had bought in a trip to Mexico with a friend from work who had decided she needed something to take her mind off Mark and a white rather low curt embroidered blouse and a shawl that had been their great grandmother's. Her hair was pushed back and loose. Phoebe assured her she would fit right in with the realm.
"I feel like its a forties Mexican senorita movie costume" said Paige. "Are you sure its okay for that island realm?" she asked for the twentieth time, "Do you think Mark will like it?" she asked for the thirtieth time.
"You look gorgeous honey, doesn't she Cole?". Phoebe said giving him the look to say something nice, which he ignored.
"I'm betting Mark is more interested in what you have underneath the skirt" said Cole.
"Cole" said Phoebe.
Paige swallowed nervously.
"Black thong and bra. To obvious?" she asked as Phoebe shook her head and glared at Cole.
"You look lovely sweetheart," Cole told Paige. "Get a rise out of a deadman " he deadpanned.
"You'd know about that" said Paige nastily." Phoebe you sure this island is outside the Elders view?" she asked for the fortieth time.
."I'm sure" Phoebe said. "Go meet your lover sister," she added, hugging her.
"I feel like it's a first date " Paige whispered. "It is in a way. First date with a whitelighter," she babbled. "You know its scary. After all this time dreaming about Mark, when he's really there. What if I remember everything wrong and he isn't . You know he was pretty bloody minded today and…"
"Mark loves you. Go" ordered Phoebe and Paige nervously orbed. "I guess she has a slightly different focus " she said to Cole. "Its sort of sad you know " she added.
"Why?" he said.
"Well we used to be " fun " girls and now all of us are sort of into life commitment and family."
"We could always get a divorce and start over again " Cole told her.
"What and have wedding number, how many was it?" Phoebe asked, then she remembered she was a mother, "Bed you two" said Phoebe to Patsy and Melinda.
Cole picked Patsy up and Melinda caught his hand possessively while Phoebe carried Wyatt. They spent a happy hour together bathing the children and getting them to bed.
The guestroom door was firmly locked and Cole and Phoebe exchanged glances and giggled.
"Doesn't it do you heart good to know Rodik's miserable," said Phoebe loudly.
They went downstairs Phoebe stopped Cole at the bottom of the stairs "I haven't said thanks " she said.
"For what " he said softly the smile that he saved for her there because in their long history thanks, was the word that showed how far they had come since the misunderstandings of Cole's time inhabited by the Source.
"Saving Rodik and us from our worse instincts, saving my arse again" Phoebe said reaching to touch his face. "You said you could not get mad enough to save me against Willem but you did. Again " she sighed.
"Its such a nice arse to save " he said putting his hand on it.
Phoebe sighed contently.
"Thanks " he whispered softly"
"For what " she said.
"For saving my arse up there with the Elders." he said.
"Its such a nice arse to save," she said putting her hand on it.
"We're not going to be wise tonight are we?" Cole asked.
"No" Phoebe assured him "Just boring stay at home married."
"Okay "He said "As long as its not wise."
Cole went to the kitchen and got a bottle of wine, not the top class stuff because Piper always checked, while Phoebe set the fire in the parlour and put on a movie.
The movie had caused a few issues. Leo spent the time waiting for Piper to get dressed amusing himself suggesting a number of movies. "Phoebe likes Marilyn Monroe movies," he offered helpfully.
Cole muttered "I don't," and then flushed uncomfortably.
"How about Rebel without a Cause," Leo suggested innocently "James Dean."
"James Dean got ruined for me when I read all that stuff about how he died and how he was mixed up with the occult. I sometimes wonder if he wasn't selling his soul" said Phoebe while Cole shot daggers at Leo with his eyes.
"I guess we'll never know." Leo told her.
"That movie doesn't do anything for me," Cole hissed.
"How come you know so much about fifties movies when the only remotely recent stuff you knew before you met me was a Charles Bronson one?" Phoebe asked.
Cole realising he was on dangerous ground settled for one of Phoebe's favourite romantic chick flicks.
They finished the wine during the movie, Cole drinking twice as much as Phoebe because it was the only way he could get through the movie. It was after 11.00 when it finished. Cole went upstairs to check on the children and Phoebe made a light supper, thinking what the hell its been a long week and opened another bottle of wine, pinched the fancy cheese Leo had brought back from his last visit to France two days ago and then added some strawberries Piper had been going to use as cake filling because Rodik hated them and some expensive off season grapes, she bought the other day because she was sick of worrying about money and her job.
"I like a nice decadent supper that you can claim is healthy sighed Phoebe.
"Especially red wine" said Cole picking up a strawberry and putting it to Phoebe's lips.
They started off just sharing supper but it disintegrated into a game of the half dressed petting and teasing of courting that both loved because it was something that in all the passion and pain and drama of their first years together had often got lost.
They both put off the inevitable consummation for the bedroom, just enjoying being alone and playing. After a very long time, lost completely with each other, Phoebe ended mostly underneath Cole against the sofa. He held both her hands over her head with one hand and had pushed her tee well above her breasts. Her stretch pants were pushed low to the point of uselessness. Cole buried his face on one of her breasts while his other hand was down the back of her pants, tickling her all but bare bottom while she giggled, begged and pleaded with him to stop and pretended to fight.
It was actually the anger in Rodik's voice as he yelled "What are you doing?" rather than the light coming on that made them stop. Cole managed to lift himself half off Phoebe and with slow deliberation pull her tee down and her pants up, before he stood up, not bothering to hide the fact that he was fully aroused.
He smiled blandly at Rodik "Warming my wife up for a good fuck" he answered pleasantly.
"You who "stuttered Rodik blinking at Cole obviously still under the memory spell influence and somewhat confused about him" She's a whore?"
"I guess I don't remember what I did the last time you called her a whore," Cole sighed stepping toward him.
Rodik his face almost mottled red in anger, glared at Cole "Its your fault she's a whore. You have no respect for her, no realisation that she is a Charmed One, a creature of destiny, to be worshipped, cared for, held in. reverence."
"Is that what you do, hold the witches in reverence before you get them killed?" Cole asked. And then started to laugh because it struck him as so ridiculous. He was laughing so hard he fell back on the sofa.
"I think he's just jealous because the only time he gets to jerk off or anything like it is when he gets some damned powers a warlock stole" said Phoebe the truth speaker.
Rodik struck out at Phoebe. "You have no sense of destiny" he sniffed "Whore. Demon loving whore," he hissed ,the emotion making his pot belly vibrate over the top of his pants like a big blob jelly, his balding pate as red as his face.
Phoebe joined Cole laughing hysterically on the sofa. "Bastard. "she said.
Cole finally stopped laughing enough to leer over Phoebe and ask "Interested in finishing off what we started." he asked.
"Only if you promise not to respect me in the morning" she told him.
"I know you're a demon seducing her" Rodik sniffed struggling with his memory and then he remembered he could be in trouble pushing his luck with Belthezor and his red face turned white and the wobbly belly seemed to shrivel. He spat out one more bastard and whore and fled upstairs.
Before either Cole or Phoebe could say anything they heard the sound of a shimmer and Arturo appeared, an expression on his face somewhere between amusement and pain as he took in Cole's undone shirt and belt and physical condition, Phoebe's mussed hair and 3 love bites on her neck, and the way she was clutching Cole.
"I take it I have interrupted something" Arturo said blandly.
"Not really" said Phoebe "I mean. It was interrupted."
"Why is that damned retriever still here?" Arturo asked saving her.
"Because good can't find anywhere else to send the little bastard. No whitelighter wants to touch him, no minion, no witch wants to have anything to do with him" Cole moaned.
"Kill him" said Arturo calmly.
"Even if I could ignore my conscience on that one," Cole said "I can't ignore the spirit winds. Nothing happens when I torture him though " he added happily.
"That Belthezor is very childish" said Arturo. " I envy you" He picked up a half empty glass of wine and sniffed it. "I take it you keep better than this for special guests," he said pointedly to Phoebe.
"Do you want me to go?" she asked snippily "So you an discuss guardian business?"
"No my dear," smiled Arturo blandly "I want you to get me some decent wine. I'll even wait until you return before I discuss guardian business."
"Oh" said Phoebe eyed him balefully then with a quick kiss on Cole's lips did as Arturo asked, looking back at both of them coyly over her shoulder.
"I do envy you" Arturo told Cole as he watched her go "Even though it will end, then I pity you " he added bitterly.
Cole went to speak and stopped.
"It will end?" Arturo asked.
"This will " Cole answered." I have seen some things. she won't go."
"Then I truly envy you " Arturo said resentfully.
"I don't want her to stay in limbo for me," Cole answered swallowing.
"Don't you?" asked Arturo dryly.
"I don't think she should." Cole said. "But she does anyway from what I experienced in the eclipse " and the relief in his voice was evident. He shrugged uncomfortably and then added in a passionate whisper so she did not hear him" I don't think I can do it without her. Knowing I won't, doesn't make going on for me bearable , it makes it ….possible. But don't think she should stay."
"My experience was that we seem to get from the eclipse what we need to make our existence possible " Arturo said his voice tight. "The Guardian's role is not…. extraneous. Without us the whole balance would fail. Better for the balance of the universe she gets her own way and stays. I envy you" he added.
"You experienced nothing?" Cole asked carefully.
"I do not desire it" said Arturo and then turned with smile as Phoebe returned with a bottle of Piper's best red wine and pouring another glass for all of them, despite the fact she and Cole had already finished two bottles of the not so good stuff.
"To the future," Arturo said almost cynically as he raised his glass.
"Why did you come?" Phoebe asked. "Today, the tribunal?" she guessed.
"Yes" said Arturo " I understand you had quite a victory. I came to congratulate you."
Arturo smiled as Phoebe looked at him questioningly "The Powers that Be decided to advise the 'ogres' that Willem was just another warlock taking advantage of a legend in case an 'ogre' felt the need to intervene. It appears they are now incline to the belief that Belthezor is just another vanquished demon who because of the way he passed has found a place in mythology."
"Well it only worked because the Elders believe that story about Cole being a mortal who was taken over by the spirit of Belthezor and the Source." She laughed resentfully "They believe it because Evil believes it."
Arturo finished his glass of wine and inclined his head. Cole poured him another glass, filled his own and topped up Phoebe's "It balances" he told them "Evil believes the same story because Good does." and he laughed. "There is a beauty in myth and legend." he said and raised his glass "To the balance of Good and Evil.
Phoebe giggled while Cole frowned.
"So many beings know about Belthezor," said Phoebe stopping giggling. "Mark …a whitelighter knows. Angela another one knows. No-one believes Rodik so far but he knows. Lord knows what beings shared the eclipse with me. I kept feeling it."
"They do not know." Arturo told her firmly "They are aware of certain truths and that is enough to create a legend. And the more they talk then more their own truths will distort the reality. That was my experience." he added.
Cole started to interrupt.
"I have walked this path before and I walk it with greater wisdom than I did last time." Arturo told him before he could say anything. "Logically Belthezor is vanquished and the stories coming out of evil make Belthezor's legend even more mythical. And only a few know what happened and where and what Belthezor really is" said Arturo "We have been obtuse, we have confused and we have left enough room for any future appearance to exist in a mythology of its own. And anything we missed, Phoebe fixed today. In fact Belthezor is truly dead and passed into legend, I would say. Thank you Phoebe," said Arturo raising his glass to her and she looked suitably humble and spoilt it by looking up flirtatiously.
"We have to prove nothing to good." Arturo said "Only protect Belthezor from protecting himself."
" I can protect myself " Cole said "In case it hasn't been noticed, I've been acting on my own wisdom."
"It was noticed." said Arturo in his guardian voice. "It makes Francesca very nervous."
Cole snorted "Good." he said pleased as Phoebe somewhat proudly and possessively touched his face.
Arturo put down his glass and smiled as Phoebe snuggled up close o he an a muscle tremored around his jaw.
"I have business elsewhere " he said with a catch in his voice as he stood up "Good night my dear. Thank you for the pleasure of your company" and to Cole's disgust Arturo kissed Phoebe's hand. " Belthezor." Arturo said not missing Cole's expression.
"I knew it " screamed Rodik from the bottom of the stairs where he had crept down. "Demons, you're consorting with demos you whore."
"Shut the fuck up " said Arturo, Phoebe and Cole.
Cole raised his hand and half lifted Rodik off the round while Rodik clutched at his throat.
Arturo smiled "Better this way" he said and shimmered Rodik without touching him.
"Where is he?" Phoebe asked apprehensively.
"In his bed unconscious," Arturo smiled "He will have no idea how much of today or even the last weeks were real and how much were a dream in the morning."
"How do you do that ?" asked Cole interested "With creatures that have an immunity to dematerialisation.
"Concentrate on the filaments of the wind not the breezes and reach into your core for the aura" said Arturo" "This way you don't have to absorb the being to shimmer it.
"That could be useful" said Cole."
"I like the touching way better," said Phoebe.
"I know my dear," said Arturo "Good night and he smiled somewhat painfully as observed Phoebe still clutching against Cole, body arched toward her husband and head leaning on his shoulder.
Cole was suddenly struck by a level of determination coming from Arturo's aura that nearly knocked him backwards. He saw the pained expression on Arturo's face "We get from the eclipse eth things we need to keep going." he told Arturo awkwardly.
"I resent my wisdom being thrown back at me "Arturo replied as he shimmered.
Arturo stopped mid shimmer, realising his own resentment and envy of Belthezor's happiness and the answer was to give into temptation. It called him. Unable to resist he came out of the shimmer in a small village in the south of France. It was not of course the same as when it had been a thousand years ago when he and Marie Jeanne had lived there but it was still a small village. The sign said population was 370 people.
"Some things did not change," he thought.
The village was on a hill, a citadel situated like so many villages of the time on the easiest point to defend. At the top was the old ruins of a castle, changed many times from when Arturo had lived there and below it was a church also rebuilt and changed. He walked through the ruins of the castle up half ruined stairs to the remains of the castle tower and sat on the few stones left of the wall , thinking. There was a spectacular view of what was now small vineyards and a road leading to one of Frances major towns. Arturo could see the new highway in the distance and the row of popular trees that marked the Grand Midi canal built in the 17th century. Some things had changed.
In the time he had lived there with Marie Jeanne the land had mostly been covered in forest marked out by small patches of agriculture. The road winding down the hill took much the same path as it did now.
Below the castle was the church and the path that wound down the citadel with stone houses on either side. In Arturo's time the houses had been wooden and the smell of smoke was always present and he remembered the risk of fire had in those days been great. He could see a car park below that had once been the village square when he had lived there. A new square created in the 15th century was still proudly announced in the tourist notices as the original village square. The entire village had been surrounded by a huge stone wall that now only existed in one small part of the village as a holding wall, and the inhabitants and historians had still not realised what the stone was.
Arturo walked through the village. He could recognise the spot where once, for its time, the substantial stone house that had belonged to Marie Jeanne's first wealthy husband had existed. There was now a row of stone shops, dating back about five hundred years, admired by many of the inhabitants and the odd visitor for their antiquity and quaintness.
He stopped in front of the shops and was hardly noticed by the people who lived in the village.
A car went by and he smiled at the thought of it. In the village he had known in far away days woodsman and herdsmen walked that path and he wondered how they would have reacted to the car.
Arturo found a tear coming to his eye that he would have hated any other creature seeing. For a short ten years, a millennium ago, in this village he had known love; he had been certain of who he was and what he was; he had found a part of himself that was strong enough to sustain him for a thousand years of responsibility, duty, repentance and loneliness.
He sighed and wandered up the small narrow street back toward the church just below the castle. He knew more about that church than those living in the village and the historians who debated long and hard about its exact date of building and when the stone altars and chapels had been first designed and the origin of many of its implements of ritual.
Arturo smiled bitterly as he entered because there was a time when the gargoyles that protected the small stone chapel that it had been in his time had shrieked their indignation that he could attempt to violate it. Now they kept their faces and guarded against real evil and left him alone.
He remembered the first time he entered the church , when he had tried to convince Marie Jeanne of the level of his evil and how she had caught his arm and dragged him into the church. He had expected the heavens to fall on him as he flung himself against a wall arms over his head for protection but when Marie Jeanne had caught his arms and pulled them down , forcing him to look at the inside of the chapel, all he had seen was her beautiful face smiling at him with a superior and self satisfied expression. For the first time it had dawned on him that he was not evil, even though his deeds had been.
Arturo stood inside the church, taking in its stone walls and ancient dome and elaborate marble altar. He slowly smiled. The historians had yet to date it but he knew the small altar to the side of the church was the one where he had discovered he was not evil and it was the place where he had understood that there was a penance and a retribution to be paid for the evil he had done. He had fallen on the floor there crying against Marie Jeanne's coffin as her ugly whitelighter friend watched him. In those days compassion was not something Francesca had learned.
Arturo shook slightly and half stepped away and then as if drawn beyond his will he walked to the small chapel and half fell to his knees. As he had done once before when he married Marie Jeanne. He knelt there staring at the stone altar where the ugly pock marked priest who he later discovered had the heart of a lion had waited fro Marie Jeanne.
Arturo half glanced backward, as he had done on the day he married her. He could see her come to him in that small chapel. Lit by candle light on a grey December day, he remembered Marie Jeanne wearing a pale robe as she came beside him, clutching the arm of a 16 year ld son. By the wisdom of her times she had been an old woman, forty, but she was beautiful; that day the most beautiful she had ever been, her face lit with love and passion for him.
She was four months pregnant and the gossips of the village had come to the ceremony for spite and express their dissatisfaction but all he could see as she came to him was the love of a beautiful witch. A thousand years later Arturo cried as he had cried that day. He choked the tears of pain and remembrances.
He remembered as if it had been a second before what he had done for love, what love had done for him.
As he saw in his memories Marie Jeanne walking down that aisle to him, the world moved around him and the spirit winds caught him.
When they stopped spinning Arturo was no longer in the church but in somewhere he recognised as up there but like no part of up there he knew. The rainbow light was different , more peaceful and yet brighter than he had ever seen. He discovered in that instant the meaning of peace, the lack of guilt, the light that healed him and took away the evil he had lived with all his life. It soaked and completed his soul, as the pain and torture eased.
No demon, no legend, no guardian stood and let the rainbow light heal his soul. Just Arturo, no evil, no guilt, no need to justify. Just Arturo who found his way from a heritage of evil to light and peace, who found the power of his humanity and his good soul by walking through a fire of his own making that cleansed him.
Arturo smiled and searched the rainbow mist. He knew what to look for and knew what he would find.
She was there, blond, full figure, beautiful face, not a girl; a woman as he remembered her; a softness in her blue eyes that slowly turned to the wise, caustic amusement that had originally intrigued him.
"Marie Jeanne," he said moving to her "I have come.
"Eventually" she answered, softened by the longing in her eyes "I have waited."
"I am glad." he said.
"I am happy " she answered." I am complete."
Taking a deep breath of the cold clear air, he stepped toward her, she ran into his arms, and she overwhelmed his senses the smell of her, the taste of her , the feel of her. Alive.
For a second, for an eternity Arturo felt Marie Jeanne alive against him. And then he was spiralled back into the winds, still calling for her, still feeling her. The winds stopped spiralling and Arturo was on his knees in a chapel where he had once declared unconditionally and irretrievably his love for a beautiful and volatile witch.
He stayed there a very long time, never noticing a village mother and child enter the church or the priest or several tourists. When he finally stood up deep in his soul was a peace he had never known before. It was written. There was an ending and a beginning and maybe not soon but eventually his path would take him …. home, to where he loved a beautiful witch and was loved by her.
Arturo shimmered onto his balcony in his Delphi hideaway for the first time in a thousand years and he knew had a future, the one he dreamed about, the one where he found his love and peace.