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,
Cole shimmered into the yard of the manor and then walked inside because he felt Rodik was in the parlour and would know he did not walk in the door if he shimmered upstairs. He was getting heartily sick of hiding his magic in the house unless Rodik was out of it and was starting to get a feeling that he was no more beyond temptation than Arturo where Rodik was concerned. It was just the drip drip technique that had worked on the witches until they finally exploded. Cole wasn't far off it.
The call had been another to Africa, this time to deal with some demons who had found a way to harness the power of the pyramids to use an ancient soul extraction spell on children, that was only supposed to work in the underworld. It had been a relatively simple thing to destroy the demons who crossed the line, and Cole had done it with some pleasure, because in the middle realms demons who stole souls of mortals such as children who were unable to make the choice were dealt with by the ogres. The only tricky part was doing it without destroying the magic of the pyramids or becoming involved with the witches who had been trying to protect the children.
Less easy to deal with had been the fact although some witches had been involved, they had not been able to restore all the souls and two children had been lost. And it was of little comfort that many more had been saved.
In a sense of some helplessness at the his role in the greater picture Cole had summoned the courage to do something he had dreaded, the courage to slip into the village of Subadai where he had destroyed the Balroo monster and check on whether the child he had saved from being used to summon the monster had finally been called by the Angel of Death.
There he had been confronted by the pain of a mother who had spent weeks with a still dying child. If he had had the power at that point to heal Cole would have used it, disregarding any taboos of magic non interference in mortal lives, and justified it by personal gain because he would have felt better to know the child was saved.
Cole returned back to the manor letting his frustration with the greater picture of magic turn in to anger and temper at any magic creatures in his range, particularly Rodik because he existed, and also with whitelighters who could heal but listened to the damned Elders preach and heeded all the taboos.
Leo was in the conservatory trying to read something while baby sitting and Paige was actually baby sitting distracting Melinda and Patsy from hurling objects at each other.
Melinda ran to Unca Cole excited to see him. Patsy looked up, an expression of almost glee on his face and waved his hand and mid run Melinda went for massive trip. Cole only just managed to catch her before she splattered all over the floor.
Paige caught Patsy's hand and said firmly "No Patrick"
He put his head on the side and looked Auntie Paige, with much the same expression on his face as his father when had vanquished a lying witness.
"You damned little imp" said Paige," he's your son" she accused Cole.
"I thought you were going to fix the floor and the fittings," said Cole ignoring Paige looking around the mess the conservatory was in.
"I did." said Leo still reading. "This was Melinda and Patsy's playtime."
"Didn't you try and stop them?" Cole asked because Leo was a whitelighter of sorts and a fair target.
"I did stop them" said Leo not looking up.
"This is what the place look s like when you stop them" said Cole waving his hand and fixing the room. "Glad you didn't ignore them" he added sarcastically.
"Cole Rodik's home" said Leo still reading. "Bad day at the office " he asked , scribbling a note in his notebook.
"Stuff Rodik" said Cole pulling Melinda close to him as she whimpered that Patsy was mean.
"Mean Patsy " she hissed and then stuck her tongue out at him. "Mean, mean, mean."
Patsy not liking being ignored wave his hand again and three cushions hit Melinda and Cole.
"Whosit no " Cole said firmly in his guardian voice which was ignored as the outside door flew open and the glass shuddered.
"Patrick Victor Halliwell" said Paige trying to mimic Francesca and she was ignored.
"Patrick Benjamin Turner," said Cole, tensely.
"Unca Cole," sniffed Melinda coyly. "Don't step on spider."
"What?" said Cole.
"She saw a spider on the floor before," Leo explained "And now she's worried some-one will step on it."
Patsy raised a hand and the vase and flowers opposite stated to lift.
"Patsy" said Leo not looking up. Patsy whimpered and stopped smashing at the room, and contented himself bouncing toys off the floor.
Melinda caught between duty and Unca Cole decided on one extra sloppy kiss before wriggling so he put her down "Find spider," she said.
"I hate whitelighters," said Cole waving his hand and putting things back.
"Rodik is in the living room" said Paige.
"Stuff Rodik" said Cole, "I'm sick of denying who I am because of that little bastard." he said squatting down to Patsy who deigned to stop bouncing toys and allow himself to be hugged at the same time managing to pinch at Melinda who screamed "I think I am getting to the point where I just want to kill him. I keep warning witches to behave themselves and then that little shit gets them killed and maimed for doing the right thing."
"How was Africa?" said Leo looking up and guessing.
"Its Africa," Cole said bitterly rolling a ball to Patsy.
"I thought you had Africa under control" said Paige "You said…"
"I said I understood it." Cole said. "I understand that Africa's very complexity is its greatest protection against being conquered from evil or overtaken by good for the worst of reasons. I understand Africa's balance," he added.
"So" said Paige."
"Its one damned thing to understand Africa…. A little. To understand the war and disease and cultures that sometimes seem to collide protects it in the bigger picture," Cole said bitterly " its another thing to look at a dying child and see his mother crying because Magic won't help him."
Paige looked at Cole who shrugged. "We're not talking in the abstract are we," she commented.
"No" Cole said "There was something I did the other week and I knew the child who was part of it was ill. I just had to go back and find out what happened." he said "I wish I didn't." he touched Melinda and stopped Pasty thumping a block at her head." If it was one of my …our kids, I wouldn't give a stuff about rules or balances or consequences. I would just do anything" he looked defiantly at Leo.
"Me too" said Leo "So its probably just as well I don't have the power to heal mortals now."
Cole turned to Paige his expression bitter.
"I'd do it for our kids Cole," said Paige. "Because my powers have limits. Damn it Cole you know if I started I wouldn't … could not stop and…"
"I am aware of that" said Cole bitterly.
"Whosit"" said Cole protecting her as another toy was aimed at Melinda.
"She can protect herself" said Leo " she's only playing in your sympathy, getting attention."
"Mm" said Cole.
Rodik appeared at he bottom of the stairs " I insist " he started to say.
Cole looked up angry and irritated.
"What do you want" said Leo before Cole could respond.
"The bathroom is blocked." Rodik announced. "He did it to upset me." Rodik added pointing at Cole.
"Shit" said Cole "What." as Paige giggled.
"I'll go" said Leo jumping before Cole acted on his temper. He stood up "Its been said before. The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic" said Leo. "Sometimes that's necessary to deal with something that is beyond understanding."
Leo went to the downstairs bathroom after Rodik who plaintively whined "I heard that demon talking about killing millions."
"Shut the fuck up" said Leo.
"I didn't block it "Cole told Paige as she looked at him with her head on the side. His eyes narrowed as he watched Melinda squatting down watching a small spider carefully all good girl.
"You're a good girl Melinda" said Paige smirking moving over to give her cuddle.
Melinda suddenly screamed.
"What?" said Paige startled.
"Don't stand on spider Auntie Paige," Melinda told her angrily pointing at the small spider scurrying across the room.
"Its only a spider sweetie" Paige told Melinda who turned up her nose.
"Statistics explains a lot but isn't something I would want to hear about my kids" said Cole getting on a roll. "I wouldn't want to hear its just a statistic. It doesn't make it better for anyone else's kids. It makes you wonder about how much use magic has. Sometimes I think I hate magic, and I hate whitelighters who won't use it when they can and I hate magic shits like Rodik who abuse it. " he said angry holding Patsy far to tightly.
Patsy complained with a loud wahh and then apparently discovered some extra levitation power in his newly acquired powers because he wiggled out of his father's arms to land a few feet away and glaring at Cole, surprised how he got where he was.
"See what magic does," said Cole "Even Patsy uses it against me."
Paige kneeling opposite him just shook her head. "You wanted him to get the magic Cole," she pointed out then glanced at the compressed anger on Cole's face, very similar to the expression on his son's face. She bit her lip. "Magic is beautiful Cole " she said quietly. "Didn't you tell me that just a few weeks ago."
"Yeah well you've been getting a lot of sex lately so the world looks a slightly different colour " Cole told her snippily.
"So have you" she said."
"Its normal for me " he said smiling despite himself "I don't expect you to do anything Paige. Magic powers that decide who lives and who dies on a rule suck" he added.
Paige put he hand out and touched his," Rules suck " she said "But if they weren't I'd be running around, trying to fix everything and making it worse and you'd be coming after me yelling about the balance. Its hard to say once is enough. And.."
"I know I can't stop it all" said Cole still angry. "It makes magic so useless."
"Magic connects and has a purpose " she said in a 'good witch' voice that irritated the hell out of Cole. "Just because you don't know it, at the time or ever.:"
"I know about that " he said "I got Tommy Hicks off and some kid is alive because I played the system and keeps some dead beat criminal out of gaol. Yah for the balance."
"I saw it Cole," Paige said quietly " I changed in the eclipse with Pegasus. I flew with Pegasus Cole. I saw It fit," she told him. "I saw things that seem to have no connection.".. Connect."
He sat back on his heels " You are damned lucky " he said almost grimly.
"I know." she said with a soft knowing smile "After Whosit's birthday party you and Phoebe need to sneak off to Greece or Fiji or somewhere " Paige told him with a know it all smugness that thoroughly annoyed him" You really need to escape. You always get grumpy when you don't get Phoebe time."
"Phoebe has done nothing but bitch at me all week" said Cole determined he was not going to concede an inch in his war with his world.
"You don't care" said Paige certain, but getting exasperated." You only get really grumpy when you don't get time alone with her." Paige repeated.
"Huh there speaks a girl who's in love," Cole as orbs sounded and Mark who had clearly heard appeared. He smiled at Paige with an besotted devoted expression which made even Mark's intelligent face look not as intelligent. Cole wondered if the way he looked at Phoebe annoyed people watching as much.
"I hope you've come to tell us Rodik is being moved on" snapped Cole.
"No I haven't," Mark replied calmly moving to Paige to touch her gently and sneak a kiss that went on longer than necessary "I've come to ask if one of you can check the warlock summoning spell for other witches," he told Paige ignoring Cole's glare.
"They better not start summoning warlocks and vanquishing them without a reason" said Cole the guardian "Where's what's his name the ghost …. Casper?"
"I don't believe that is the intention" said Mark mildly. "I believe that a witch wants the spell to summon a warlock who is clearly transgressing, by hunting powers from a sister witch who has limited means to protect herself. Kitchener is with other witches. I offered to come " he added with a smile at Paige that in Cole's opinion verged on imbecilic.
Cole glared at him, not liking his calm. "Well you would wouldn't you. So good of you."
"I'll get it," said Paige kissing Mark again as Mark raised his eyes showing a slight irritation with Cole. "Stop taking your ….work problems out on everyone in sight Cole. "She ordered. "Mark can't fix them."
Mark was left in the conservatory watching Cole with the kids , Cole possessively putting himself between them an Mark.
"Melinda's grown" said Mark conversationally," Is she still the hellion on legs she was a when I last saw her?"
"No" said Cole defensively and not truthfully. "Don't Whosit," he added catching his son's hands as Patsy started to show an interest in Leo's books.
"Are you sure it wouldn't be better to bind some of those powers that the Elders are so pissed losing?" asked Mark in the sort of whitelighter voice that annoyed the hell out of Cole when Leo used it.
"I don't like whitelighters and I don't need their advice" said Cole belligerently.
"I was just asking for the child's sake" Mark replied gently but his eyes narrowed. "Wouldn't want to see something nasty come along and hurt him to get them."
"I can protect my son ,my children" said Cole " And as for your concern about children I've noticed how much whitelighters care about children. All the power in the world to do it and they keep their damned hands to themselves because healing sick mortal children is against the rules." he added bitterly.
"You know as well as I do that healing mortals with magic can have some damned awful consequences," Mark answered in a patient voice that was a clear warning he was getting annoyed. "You can't save the world no matter how many you heal."
"I know that" said Cole thinking about it.
"And" said Mark quietly, without aggression "I don't know what's bugging you Cole but if you have a problem with me and Paige, getting belligerent isn't going to make me go away. If you want to talk about it great. If not keep your temper to yourself."
"Don't stand on spider," Melinda ordered Mark who raised his eyes and smiled.
Cole thought about it for a second down. "She has a point about spiders," he said. He walked over to Mark and put his hand out touching him on his shoulder.
"Sure Mark, talking about you and Paige would be a good idea " he said genially "But not here. When you deliver your message met me in the rim."
"Why?" said Mark suspiciously.
"So we can discuss Paige " Cole answered keeping his voice friendly "What else is there we have to talk about?"
"Still playing protective big brother " Mark asked pleasantly, not falling for the friendliness.
Mark considered it "Yeah Cole you want to…talk to me. Perhaps all things considered it's a damned good idea" he said without heat as Paige called him she had the spell.
He orbed, presumably to her room and Cole stood up.
"Unca Cole" said Melinda "Don't stand on spider."
"You're a good girl Lindie," he said picking her up and hugging her. "And you've got a point about looking after spider's."
Cole stood on the rim staring into the nothingness as he waited for Mark. He hated the rim, not the least because its nothingness reminded him of the nothingness of his eternity. He waited for what that seemed for ever. As he hated everything about the rim he hated its timelessness.
Finally there was the sound of orbs and Mark finally appeared, very whitelighter in his robe and sandy hair still receding. Cole wondered that he still looked like the thin, balding pleasant faced man of 40 who had been called as a whitelighter a year ago, instead of choosing a more youthful appearance.
He thought of Francesca's determination to keep the face of her painful middle aged mortal life. Leo called at 18 and yet seemingly aging, then Cole realised in his touch with the future Leo had keep the face of this present. And he wondered to himself if that was that what whitelighters did. kept the face of the time when they found themselves and understood the nature of the souls.
Mark watched Cole suspiciously "What do you want ?" he asked pleasantly.
"To talk about Paige " Cole answered just as pleasantly.
"Just for the record." said Mark calmly "I love Paige. Loved her from the minute I set eyes on her. I don't know why she loves me and is willing to accept the way we have to be, but I'm not arguing with it. I am just thankful she loves me enough to do it," he added.
"So she say " murmured Cole.
"You don't have to look after her any more Cole," said Mark quietly "I won't hurt her and I won't let her be hurt because she loves me. It isn't your responsibility to protect her from me."
"If the Elder's found out about your relationship they could hurt you, hurt her." Cole commented just as quietly.
"They don't ask , I don't explain "Mark answered showing a small amount of irritation in his voice. "I know better than to provoke or confront."
"What if some-one else tells them" said Cole in a bland voice, his smile verging on demonic "Paige could get badly hurt."
"And who knows about us who would want to hurt her that badly" insisted Mark.
"Well they may not want too " Cole agreed. "But they could decide it was necessary."
"Who could?" demanded Mark his grey eye narrowing.
"Me" said Cole calmly.
"I don't believe you " sneered Mark "Paige loves you as a big brother."
"Yeah I know." said Cole " so I suppose I could be convinced not to do it."
"And what do I have to do to convince you not to do it?" asked Mark quietly, guessing where this was going.
"There's a kid in Africa , a village called Subadai. Dying any day now, nothing really any-one could do to stop the disease," said Cole "Unless a whitelighter interfered."
"That's blackmail" said Mark.
"You betcha" said Cole grinning.
"Why " Mark asked walking away and turning to face Cole " What's the kid to you?"
"Nothing" said Cole unaware that his voice had taken on the cold and detached calm of a guardian. "Except his mother pleaded with me to save him. I said I couldn't but it seems I can, one step removed anyway."
Mark put his tongue in his cheek not appreciating the order but recognising at the magic,
"You know I can't heal mortals and mortal disease " Mark said.
"I know you won't" said Cole quietly "I know the Elders have this great fear of interfering in the mortal world for fear of personal gain, I don't have a problem with personal gain"
"I do" said Mark. "Why is it personal gain for you."
"I'll feel better if the boy lives," Cole answered blandly.
"I will not use magic to change the natural order "Mark said. "There are consequence."
"Not for me " Cole told him "And I know better than you about the balance, the natural order of the realm. " and Leo got away with …healing those he shouldn't… like me."
"Its breaking every rule," Mark told Cole, planting his feet apart, resistance in every line of his body "And saving one child In Africa isn't going to change anything, solve the problems. And Leo had issues with the Elders over it."
"I know better than you the problems in Africa" said Cole "Whether one child dies or lives may means nothing to Africa or magic or Elders, but it means something to the child and those who love him."
"Saving one child isn't going to stop others dying" Mark said finally showing some anger.
Cole smiled at the anger, and Mark's expression clearly indicated he would like to smite Cole for it.
"I remember you your mortal life " Cole told Mark. "All Paige could talk about was what Mark said about the problems of unemployment. How Mark said it was about each individual, not just economic management. And you never had a problem about breaking rules to look after individuals when they system was lined up against them" Cole smirked.
"I can't Cole " Mark said "That rule is there for a reason, to stop whitelighters attempting to mistake themselves for god. I agree with it."
"The thing when you're blackmailed." Cole told Mark, his smile turning into a demonic smirk "is that begging doesn't help. You've got two choices. Either do what's asked or call out the blackmailer, then hope they are bluffing or be prepared to take the consequences if they're not. I'm not bluffing." he added.
"I don't believe you would destroy Paige," Mark aid.
"Paige will survive to forgive me r hate me" smirked Cole " the kid won't."
The two, the whitelighter and the ex-demon stood in the grey nothingness of the rim, for seconds, an eternity, a lifetime.
"You're a demonic bastard Cole " Mark finally said with a cold anger in his voice, but clearly conceding.
"No I'm an arsehole" Cole told him" Follow me." he ordered and shimmered.
Mark following Cole came out of the orb in a room of a small wooden house, where a boy of about 8 lay on a bed, his face wasted and thin, his body to weak to even complain. The boy was asleep or maybe comatose and they could hear his mother talking softly in the next room, her voice flat tired beyond any emotion.
Mark sucked on his breath, because it was one thing to talk about rules in abstract and another to look at the reality of the consequences, a dying child.
Mark glanced at his hands and a grim look crossed his face.
"This one will live," the guardian told him "You can cure this child, you can't cure Africa, not even one at time."
"You're a bastard Cole" said Mark.
"No I'm an arsehole" said Cole "cure him."
Mark his grey eyes angry stepped forward and put his hands on the child. He glanced at Cole and they watched as the light flowed through him and into the boy. The child's face brightened under the light."
"Simple as that," said Cole bitterly"
"Not a great start to my whitelighter career " Mark commented just as bitterly "Breaking the number one rule."
They watched as the child turned in his sleep, making a comfortable content little whimper.
" And I know why they have the rule," Mark said bitterly as he watched the light swirl into a healthy glow around the child. "You start getting addicted to playing god, about who live and who dies."
Cole shrugged blue eyes bright as he watched he child "If that happened I can almost guarantee some damned ogre would come after you to convince you, you aren't."
"And you will not ask again " Mark said slowly.
"I didn't say that," said Cole.
Mark pursed his lips angrily and then calmly asked. "What makes you think I won't tell Paige, what you were prepared to do?"
"Go ahead. "Cole shrugged as he shimmered.
"You're a son of a bitch" Mark who had passed out of his mortal life finding that was the literal truth about Cole, said out loud.
Phoebe was not thrilled at coming home to find while was away an invitation had been made by the non magical means of a phone call to visit Therold for afternoon tea the next day which by San Francisco time meant afternoon tea for breakfast.
When Leo gave it to her, she panicked "This level of magic, guardian word, scares me" she said apprehensively.
"Bull you love every minute of the attention" Piper interrupted.
The next morning Cole was prowling around the manor, every few minutes glancing at his watch and yelling at Phoebe, and then stomping upstairs to see if he could hurry her up.
Phoebe told Cole "You know until I started shimmering around the world with you, time never meant anything to me " she said, pulling clothes out of her wardrobe and eying them critically. "It was just morning, afternoon and night. Now I know morning can be night and afternoon can be morning."
"Time doesn't mean anything to you now " Cole sighed glancing at his watch. Then he breathed a relief as she chose a cream skirt and fluffy floral pattern fluffy sweater, that fitted her very well.
"This okay for afternoon tea in England?" she asked.
"Its fine" said Cole "It doesn't matter what you wear " he said. "Therold thinks you're beautiful."
"Therold's never seen me" said Phoebe suspiciously.
"Therold thinks all heroines are beautiful." Cole told her.
"Therold thinks I'm a heroine," Phoebe squeaked.
"He thinks you'd have to be to marry me," Cole muttered irritably then stopped as Phoebe glared at the skirt and he realised his mistake.
Phoebe ran to he door and screamed for Paige who was getting dressed for work wailing that Cole had just told her Therold thought she was a heroine.
"What are you going to wear?" said Paige rushing over. "You can't wear that skirt " Paige said and started flipping cloth along the rack in the wardrobe.
"Red skirt and sweater " Phoebe asked "Its cold in England and old places often don't usually have central heating do they?" she demanded panic in her voice.
"Red's tarty for a heroine" said Paige flipping clothes on the rack. Cole had been married long enough to know his presence was not going to speed things up so he went downstairs to help Leo and Piper feed the kids and pace to the stairs every few minutes and yell "Phoebe hurry up."
"I swear if any-one ever did write about the happy ever after part , they ought to call it waiting for Phoebe " Cole growled.
"There was a play called Waiting for Godot" said Leo while Cole just raised his eyes and Piper smiled at him amused at his temper .
"The damned magic isn't helping Patsy picky eating habit," Piper said shaking her head because Patsy had graduated to slamming his food around the room instead of swirling it in a dish. Melinda all good girl was eating hers properly.
"Good girl" said every –one and she beamed and then smirked at Patsy.
"Unca Cole watcha you gonna get me for bein good." she demanded.
"You just have to wait " he said and she turned her nose up.
"Good save" said Piper.
"And the purpose of mentioning this play is " Cole said knowing Leo was going to make him ask " Phoebe," he roared from the dining room.
"Godot never come," said Leo grinning at Piper.
Cole snarled and stalked upstairs.
"Its not very angelic to piss Cole off" Piper told Leo.
"Its fun" said Leo.
"True," said Piper pecking Leo on the lips.
In their bedroom, Cole found Phoebe was still half dressed in prim white bra and knickers and black pantihose. carefully putting on make up then wiping it off. "Look at what you made me do" she muttered as she started again awhile Cole ground his teeth.
"We're late" he said stating the obvious. He eyed the pantihose. Phoebe normally hated pantihose "Don't heroines wear suspenders?" he asked
"Suspenders are tarty" said Paige still going through Phoebe's wardrobe.
"I have to look good." Phoebe said. "And feel like a heroine."
"Why don't you just wear a chastity belt" said Cole, and got a dirty look from both witches "For God's sake Phoebe, he's a little monk. Its not about sex."
"I have to look good for me " Phoebe said in a don't argue with me voice "And I don't want to feel tarty if he imagines I'm a beautiful heroine. What if he changes his mind when he sees me," she wailed.
"For god's sake," said Cole "I don't suppose even Therold thinks you're a virginal heroine. Anyway he's a demon. Ex-demon. He's used to being disillusioned."
"Cole " she said, stopping mid makeup genuinely worried she had pushed to far "You're not disillusioned with me are you" and she swallowed.
He shook his head "No baby " he said. "you told me you were born late almost as soon as I met you."
"Eek" said Paige.
An hour and a half later after snarling match with Rodik held them up even more, Cole and Phoebe finally left the manor. Cole was still in very bad mood as Leo stopped him using magic to terrorise Rodik.
Phoebe had finally settle on her hair half up and half down, a long straight black wool skirt conservative black heeled shoes, not too tarty, and the original fluffy sweater because it looked sophisticated and demure with the black skirt. by the time, she appeared ready Cole had nearly ground his teeth down.
"How do I look?" she asked ignoring his irritation as they slipped out the house to shimmer.
"Beautiful " he conceded. then he laughed. "don't ever stop being Phoebe will you" he said with the smiled the one he saved for her.
"I won't," she promised reaching up to kiss him as he shimmered.
Cole shimmered Phoebe into Therold's cluttered living room in his English cottage. Therold came from his kitchen and greeted Cole less than warmly , primly pointing out he was late.
"That's my fault " Phoebe said with a smile Cole thought was a little to coy. She shook Therold's hand and then warmly reached forward to softly kiss his cheek.
Therold blushed red and Cole raised his eyes.
"I love your cottage " Phoebe told Therold. She peeped out the window. The Cotswold village, in its almost spring mist shrouding ageless stone buildings, looked beautiful."
"The village is a magic nexus, and this cottage is the centre " Therold told her clearly smitten. "There are mortals who claim it to be the most haunted village in England which in a sense is true. I found it about 300 years ago, would you like to see the rest Phoebe?"
Phoebe positively preened under the little monk-like guardian's admiration and Cole rolled his eyes which Phoebe ignored.
"You are the first witch who has visited me here," Therold told Phoebe, and blushed as Phoebe told him she was honoured. He took her off to show her every nook and cranny of the cottage as Cole and a large Persian cat eyed each other off for the only free chair.
By the time Therold and Phoebe came back, Cole was wondering what the hell Therold had in the cottage that it took so long to show Phoebe around. Cole had won the chair but the cat was on the table beside him, washing itself disdainfully and every now and then giving him the evil eye.
Phoebe had won even more of Therold's heart because when she appeared she was holding a large mottled cat which was cuddling up to her and purring contently. Therold's cherubic face was positively beaming. She sat on the arm of the chair beside Cole and the Persian cat came up and rubbed against her. Approval radiated out of Therold.
He offered to make tea , waiting carefully for the response and Cole trying to be polite and having been warned about asking for coffee or alcohol, politely said he would have whatever Therold chose to make thereby ruining any chance he had to win Therold's approval. Phoebe said she liked herbal teas and sought Therold's advice on blended flavours that were a little exotic Therold discussed the different plants used to make herbal tea against the traditional plants and Phoebe accepted the monk like guardian's advice.
"What " she said as Cole narrowed his eyes at her when Therold went into the kitchen.
"Cut out the act " Cole told her "You aren't that sweet."
"He's happy " she answered pertly "And I'm not telling lies, I'm being completely truthful" she said. "I'm just being nice."
"Telling the truth can get you into trouble" said Cole in his lawyer voice.
"That's not what Mark says," Phoebe whispered back.
"Mark doesn't know everything." Cole hissed back.
Therold returned with afternoon tea set out on a beautifully arranged tray. "Your's is Sri Lankan tea, a special hybrid." he told Cole, "Only in one small area the soil had a special texture to grow it and I have found this blends well with lemon:"
"That's good." said Cole damning himself worse because he had no idea what Therold was talking about.
Phoebe sipped her tea, the big mottled cat still in her lap as she enthusiastically talked of the unusual and pleasant tea blend and how just the right amount of sugar enhanced the aroma.
Therold beamed in approval; as he sipped his own tea.
"How many cats do you have?" Phoebe smiling at Therold, her eyes large and soft, asked the question which unknown to Cole and Phoebe no guardian or Francesca had been able to get Therold to answer.
"Twenty" he sighed besotted to truthfulness. "It's all I can allow myself" he added regretfully "No matter how many cats I have I cannot protect all the cats in the world, so I have to say 20. I found this fellow on the road not far from the Delphi ruins when he was just a kitten 12 years ago " Therold said indicating the cat on her lap "You obviously love cats," he stated.
"Oh yes," Phoebe said with a suitable amount of wistfulness "I love cats. We used to have Siamese. He slept with me. Well " she said honestly "Except when Cole stayed. Kit hated Cole " and successfully put the final nail in the coffin for Cole as far as Therold was called.
Therold's disapproval radiated out of him.
"You don't have a cat now " asked Therold. "Because your ….husband doesn't like them?"
Phoebe as she caught the smirk on Cole's face suddenly turn to a scowl, which Therold noted, realised she was getting into dangerous territory. She swallowed a little "We were all so upset when Kit died no-one in the family felt they could replace him " she said truthfully and was very pleased with herself when Therold nodded sympathetically. "My niece would love a cat " Phoebe said "But we're just not really ready" she added.
"That is that sad thing about loving those creatures who we must outlive." Therold said. "But it just teaches you to expand love." Therold took the tray of finished tea to the kitchen.
"Wriggled out of that one" said Cole with something between an admiring and amused smile. "Therold hates me," he whispered "I'm going to be stuck sharing eternity with some-one who hates me."
"I'll be there. I don't hate you " Phoebe soothed, then she added smugly "See. the truth is always best."
"I don't want you to stay" Cole insisted.
"Liar," whispered Phoebe still smug.
Cole raised his eyes "And "He said "Just remember truth has consequences. " Cole smiled maliciously.
He had to choke down a snort as Therold nervous and eyes bright but expectant, appeared with two small fluffy ginger kittens.
" This is fate " he told Phoebe, his eyes almost tearful. "I found these two near a mosque in turkey 3 weeks ago and I just, could not bear to leave them. And I already have twenty cats.
Phoebe swallowed hard." I couldn't possible take your cats from you" she said brightly, her eyes darting toward Cole, who stared straight ahead.
"I cannot have any more " Therold told her, sharing his guilty secret, "And I was just hoping I would find some-one. "He held them to Phoebe as if he was offering her his family , which in truth he was.
Cole glanced at the kittens and at Therold s expectant face and snickered "We've got a three year old niece who's always wanting a cat."
"They've had all their injections" Therold told Phoebe an enticing plea on his monk like face "Don't let Belthezor deter you or your niece from loving them." he pleaded with a glare at Cole "Children need to be with animals" he said "Teaches them to care for other creatures."
"I could not possibly take them" said Phoebe with her most winning smile. "You love them"
"I cannot give into the temptation to keep them" Therold said eyes intense and still moist. "I cannot give homes to all the cats I want but every cat that has a good home is one saved."
Phoebe knew she was cornered. Faced with the little monk's admiration and the fact she truly did love cats , she smiled brightly and promised to look after them as well as Therold would.
"That's all I can ask " aid Therold bending over to kiss her cheek, his eyes very damp.
Phoebe aware that Cole beside her was barely avoiding breaking into uncontrollable laughter, somehow or managed to keep her conversation going to express her gratitude and keep the panic attack down while she wished a totally besotted Therold goodbye.
Cole shook hands with a distinctly unenthusiastic Therold who said somewhat distantly "Friend Belthezor, you must visit again….with your beautiful wife. You're wife is delightful" said Therold "I thought she may not live up to the legend but she is everything I heard. Be well," he added in a distant vice.
"Than you" said Cole putting his arm around Phoebe who clutched the kitten ands and kept a bright goodbye smile on her face. "Be well Brother Therold." he said and got a distinctly unenthusiastic nod for his trouble. He started to shimmer giving way to laughter as soon as he was out of hearing.
"Keep that up and you definitely will be spending eternity with some-one who hates you" hissed Phoebe.