How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 1: Time and Time Again
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
Francesca had apparently orbed back when Cole returned to his office.
She was in her office working away on her computer. “Sorry about rushing off“ he said urbanely.
“Are you?“ Francesca asked implying she did not believe him.
“Did Kline take new s of my absence okay?“ Cole asked smiling pleasantly.
“No” replied Francesca.
Even though he was not far from wanting to kill her, Cole still gulped, in response to the tone she was using “No problems while I was gone“ he asked pleasantly.
“No“ she answered "Why would there be?", as if he was not really necessary.
“The Ellison contracts weren’t delivered“ he asked.
“No“ Francesca answered not giving an inch.
“Are you sure?“ he asked.
“I’d know if they had come Cole“ she answered dismissing him.
Cole without another word stalked into his office. “Lying bitch“ he said softly.
He went to his desk and dialled Phoebe’s number. “ Hi baby“ she started to say.
“Can you get over here straight away? “ he asked.
“Sure“ she said “Why? “
“To stop me doing something I just might regret tomorrow“ he snapped.
“Sure I’ll be there in 20 minute“ Phoebe said.
She was there in 17. She all but ran into the office “Mrs Rinaldi. What’s wrong with Cole?“ Phoebe asked “He rang me acting really weird. Nothing wrong with partners?“ Phoebe added concerned.
“Nothing worse than usual dear“ Francesca said.
Cole heard Phoebe’s voice and was at the door. “Thanks for coming baby“ he said and meeting Francesca’s unconcealed expression of curiosity with a smile that was closer to a sneer, he reached for Phoebe and pulled her into long and deep kiss opening his eyes at the end to glance over Phoebe’s shoulder to see Francesca’s reaction. It was bland with just a trace of sardonic amusement.
He caught Phoebe’s wrist just in case she decided to run. “Phoebe“ he sighed then and said in a tone of pure malice “You know that old bitch watching is jealous as hell of you don’t you. Ever since we got back together, she thinks she’s losing control of me. Maybe she’s even regretting she’s not getting what you get. She never stops bitching about me being with you. “
Phoebe gasped “Cole! “ in shocked disbelief. She spun turning back “Mrs Rinaldi Francesca“ she “I don’t know what’s wrong I’m sorry“ she gasped. And as she could not pull free of Cole’s grasp, she leant forward and shoved him back into his office. Inside the office, the door still open Cole put his head down, pressing his lips to hers, working hard to get her to open her mouth, mechanically and with absolutely no feeling, trying to tease her into giving.
To no avail. Phoebe stamped her foot, shut her mouth tightly and hissed through her teeth “Stop it Cole what’s the matter with you?“
Cole glanced over her shoulder as Francesca appeared at the open door “Come on in… Francesca“ he said just as nastily as he could “Shut the door and then you can watch what you’ve been dreaming about. Or do you already do that? “
“Cole! “ gasped Phoebe absolutely disbelieving the way he was behaving.
“Or you can always orb out if you get to embarrassed at what you see. “ The malice in Cole’s voice turned into venom. “She’s a fucking whitelighter Phoebe“ he added.
“Cole! “ screeched Phoebe at his language in front of Francesca as if she has never used the word herself. “Are you?“ she said turning to Francesca “I only ever a met a couple before you wow. “
“Fucking bitch“ Cole said. He had been saving it up for a long time.
“That’ s the last one you get Cole“ Francesca said and meant it. She eyed him passively and it was no small feat for some one as short as Francesca to make some one as tall as Cole feel she was looking down on him.
“Phoebe she’s a f.. “but he stopped cold he could not get the word out and Phoebe had to choke down a giggle.
“What are you angry about Cole?“ Francesca said “that I’m a whitelighter or that you think you’re so smart and any demon with half a brain would have worked that out six months ago. “
“I don’t want.. “ he started to started to say realising she said demon.
“I lost interest in anything you might remotely want“ Francesca said evenly “so I am just going to remind you that you owe me Cole, you owe me a great deal, not the least of which is an apology for what I just heard come out of your mouth.“
“However as I’m supposed to be here.. to….. guide you, if you want to discuss it. I’ll be at the Grand hotel for lunch. You can pay“ she added “Bring Phoebe along, to stop you doing or saying something you might regret“ she said in her best school marm voice.
Francesca opened the office door and stepped out and just to add insult to injury, as soon as she was out of the range of the magic bar in his office she orbed off. Cole would have been even more angry if he had known she was congratulating herself on how well that went. When the demon Janko had discovered her guarding him, he had aimed three fireballs at her head.
“Oh baby“ Phoebe said watching her go “oh Cole, Baby you were so bad. “
“She’s a fucking whitelighter Phoebe“ he said.
“Yeah“ said Phoebe as she realised that her prayers for him, in those dark, dark days last year, when she knew he had been hurting, when she thought he was alone and living in unbearable pain, when she could not be there for him, when she could not help him, had been answered.
“Phoebe, she’s a fucking whitelighter. “ Cole said.
She giggled “Oh baby how you are ever going to make up for the way you just behaved is… I just can’t even think. Baby right now there is nothing I would want badly enough to make it worth being you.“
“Oh shit Phoebe“ he said.
She held out her hand to him “We have to go to lunch Cole she said but she spoiled the effect of her concern by laughing. "Baby" she said "When you want to be bad, you do it so well. “
Lunch was about as pleasant as Phoebe expected it to be. When they arrived at the hotel dining room, one of the most expensive in San Francisco. Francesca was not there and Cole went into a long a bitch about what he was doing there and why Francesca was pulling this and was not mollified when Phoebe told him that Francesca was doing what she did. Talking to him in public places about really difficult things because he was more likely to listen to his human nature than his demonic one in public.
Cole was not thrilled to hear how that. “She’ll be lucky if she thinks other people around will restrain my ..demonic nature“ he sulked “I bet the bitch isn’t even coming.“
“That is the last time you use that word about me“ Francesca said behind him “and don’t bother groaning.“
She sat down and refused to discuss anything with Cole until she ordered.
“Okay“ she said quietly giving him a somewhat superior smile “First you can apologise and then we can talk “
“Apologise for what“ Cole snapped. Francesca just looked at him. He remained silent while Francesca studied the wine list until he finally relented “Alright“ he said “I behaved… I behaved really badly. I shouldn’t have behaved that badly. You annoyed me Okay?“
“Its not okay“ Francesca said “but it will do for the moment. Now what are your complaints.“
“What the hell are you doing spying on me“ he demanded, so petulantly that Phoebe who had seem him in many moods not all of them good was wondering if this was real.
“You had to realise that when something as powerful as you was picked up by um the forces of Good it would not be ignored“ Francesca said.
“I was careful to cover my tracks and the Elders have no idea about me“ Cole answered.
“Elder aren’t the only force of Good“ Francesca said.
“I don’t need a whitelighter“ Cole said getting nasty. Phoebe since he had joined their auras was usually able to pick up his negative emotions and what was coming from him was fear, naked, angry, dangerous and demonic. And she suddenly became very concerned for where Cole was going and for Francesca who must have noticed because she sent Phoebe a somewhat reassuring smile.
“I’m probably a better judge of that than you are“ Francesca told Cole.
“I don’t want a whitelighter“ Cole said in tight forceful voice. “I hate the bas… I hate ‘em.“
“I told you I am no longer interested in what you want“ Francesca said as their orders were brought. “I don’t discuss business while I’m eating either“ she added and began a pleasant chat with Phoebe who was torn between offering Cole some sort of support and amazement at the way Francesca was managing to keep him from blowing.
Cole slammed cutlery down, played with his food without eating, shifted around in his chair, tapped his fingers on the table and twice reached for Phoebe and put his hand back.
Almost the second Francesca stopped eating he demanded “Who the he… who are you?“
“Who do you think I am?“ she said.
“Stop playing games“ he said and this time his voice was deadly.
“My name is Francesca Rinaldi and you are right I am a whitelighter of sorts and so we are very clear on this I am very, very good. “ she answered.
“You really are Francesca?“ Phoebe asked.
She smiled and nodded “Yes. Its easier. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, it gets to hard to remember who you told what and when where, including names. Its easier to stick to the truth“ she answered but she looked at Cole as she said it.
“Why did you come after me?“ Cole said his voice so quiet and dangerous, that Phoebe started to feel a sick fear in the pit of her stomach. She looked up at his brilliant blue eyes and paling face. He caught her expression and quietly reached for her hand. And Phoebe remembered very clearly that Cole bitching, fussing and getting angry was just Cole, Cole, quiet, soft spoken and calm was deadly.
“Why did you come after me?“ he asked again.
“Why am I here?“ Francesca answered choosing her words carefully “because 18 months ago it was noticed at a certain level, that not so long after the Old Source was vanquished, a being of enormous and almost invincible power appeared and it seemed to be um wavering between Good and Evil. It was noticed and it was watched very carefully“ she added, noticing that Phoebe had both her hands clutched onto Cole’s wrist and he was almost motionless “I was sent because about year ago, at a certain level, it was noticed that the creature had made a choice about Good and Evil, and it was not doing very well because of that choice. “
“The creature“ Cole said very slowly “did not choose to serve Good. He chose not to be evil. “
“Well my personal opinion“ answered Francesca “is that it chose to do what was right but we won’t quibble over terms.“
“The creature“ Cole answered “does not have a much better opinion of the forces of Good than he does of evil. They just want to win and rule like Evil. Sometimes the creature, sometimes he can’t see much difference. So he is not planning on using his enormous and invincible powers for either side. “
“I’m glad to hear it“ Francesca said.
“Why the he.. why don’t you ask me what I am?“ Cole snapped, almost to Phoebe’s great relief, giving way to temper.
“I don’t have to“ Francesca answered, “I know the answer to that better than you do. “
Cole suddenly felt he could not stand to be there. He pulled his hand free from Phoebe and stood up I need to be somewhere else he said. He pulled his wallet from his pocket, threw his credit card at Phoebe and turned. He stopped bent over to brush his lips against hers and walked off leaving Francesca and Phoebe to stare after him.
Phoebe met Francesca’s almost gentle expression, and shook her head “Who are you?“ she asked.
"I’m a whitelighter" she answered "More or less"
“And do you work for Good?“ She demanded willing to fight for the creature, the man she loved.
Francesca hesitated "It would be more accurate to say I work in the interests of Good."
She reached over and picked up the credit card Cole had thrown in front of Phoebe “You’d better find him dear. Right now it is not a good idea he’s alone and you can do more... good than me. He probably feels I’ve totally betrayed him at this moment. “
Phoebe eyed off Cole’s credit card that Francesca held in her hand.
“Trust me dear “said Francesca.
Phoebe rushed back to the Manor to scry for Cole. She ran past Piper who had just finished changing Melinda.
“What’s wrong“ Piper called as she scooped up her daughter and followed Phoebe upstairs.
“I have to find Cole“ Phoebe called running into the ensuite off her bedroom and grabbing Cole’s hair brush which was the only possession of his that he hated her touching. “I have to scry for him“ she said to Piper who had to step back as Phoebe ran out of the room and up the attic.
“Why don’t you just call him“ Piper asked.
“Because he won’t answer“ Phoebe said wondering if Piper was stupid.
Paige was in the attic making a variety of blue green potions that Phoebe did not recognise. “All purpose hive type demon vanquishes“ Paige explained.
Phoebe pulled out the map, the world one; she knew Cole’s habits these days and began to scry.
“Would you explain?“ Piper demanded.
Phoebe carefully told her sisters what had happened with Francesca
“Francesca is a whitelighter?“ said Paige.
“You mean“ Piper said “the women he has been non stop bitching about being on his back, ruling his life, not letting him so much as breath without her permission is a freaking whitelighter. “
Piper met Paige’s grin and the two dissolved into laughter.
“Oh God poor Cole“ Paige said between laughter “I bet he’s pissed. “
Phoebe shook her head “He’s not pissed; he’s upset.“
“You better find him sweetie" Piper said. Phoebe nodded “Got him“ she said scrying. “The Irish beach I should have known. Can you get me there Paige? “
“Sure“ said Paige. She came around, glanced at the map and put her arm around her sister.
They came out of the orb on the sand on a cold and dark Irish morning, when the mists coming in off the Atlantic made the west coast beach cold and eerie and the spray off the crashing waves, added to the mystical and ghostly atmosphere.
“It’s god damned freezing here“ Paige said to Phoebe almost whispering because she felt she could not talk loudly. They came a few yards away from Cole, who was sitting on his favourite rock staring out into the darkness. The light from the orbs outlined him, and he immediately looked up and for a second in the light both girls saw that he tensed until he realised who it was.
“God this is a creepy place Cole“ Paige said to him “Why do you come here? “
“It suits my nature“ he answered.
“You’ve got a weird nature“ she told him firmly.
“You want me to stay“ Paige asked Phoebe.
“No“ Phoebe said she turned to her sister and hugged her. “Thanks. “
“Not a problem“ Paige said and turned to go.
“Paige“ Cole said as she started to orb.
“What?“ she said coming back.
“Thanks“ he said.
“Not a problem“ said Paige and orbed off.
Phoebe came over to Cole “Its god damned freezing here“ she said, because even if she was wearing boots with socks and jeans , all she had on top was a scoop neck lightweight black sweater, that did wonderful things for her boobs, particularly when she was cold.
“Its winter in Ireland Phoebe“ Cole said.
“You’ve got a jacket“ she said accusing as she became accustomed to the dark and realised he had his sheep skin jacket over his suit.
“It was in the car“ he said. She could feel the smile more than see it.
He was sitting on a flat rock , long legs stretched out in front, she went over to him shivering , undid the zip on his jacket and sat on his lap leaning back against him. She pulled his jacket across in front of her snuggling under it and feeling the warmth of his body. He sat up straighter and wrapped his arms around her. She snuggled down so he could rest his face against hers.
“Francesca is good Cole“ she said in whisper because this place was not one where you shouted.
“I know“ he said.
"I like her" Phoebe said
“I’m glad now I never did“ Cole said snippily.
“Stop lying“ Phoebe said “She‘s good Cole. “
“Good, Evil who cares? “ Cole said bitterly “At the risk of sounding trite, she and her kind only want one thing from me. “ He laughed without humour. “They want the powers Phoebe“ he said slowly, “they want me to use the powers to fight for them to win for their side. They all see me as something they can use to win. To defeat the other side. “
“She said she came to help you because you weren’t doing well. You needed someone“ Phoebe whispered.
“Wouldn’t want to risk the other side getting hold of me, would they? “ Cole said. “There’s a difference between fighting Evil and doing good Phoebe. And there are ..creatures on your side who don’t know that. “
“I protect innocents Cole“ she said “but sometimes what we have to do is nearly the same as what we did when we started fighting evil. “
“Yeah well it’s the intention that makes the difference“ Cole answered.
“I know baby“ she said.
“I never really told you what it was like to live and fight as a demon Phoebe“ Cole said staring out into the mist over her head.
“You won’t talk about it" she said.
“Phoebe I was bred“ he said with a hardness touching his voice that she had not heard for a long time “I was bred Phoebe to have great power. I was bred to have great power so my masters could use me it to make themselves more powerful. They sent me to fight Good to make them more powerful and I was told I was doing it for demondom. I even believed them for a while. “
“Baby“ she started to say but he barely heard her.
"I was apprenticed to the Brotherhood and I served them where I was told," again the hardness in his voice not hiding the disgust at himself "Time and time again I used my powers for them, did as I was told because my reward was to become more powerful. They were right“ he laughed without humour. ”The more powerful I became the more powerful the masters I was forced to serve. When I became to powerful for the lower masters of the Brotherhood, I was passed up the hierarchy to serve more powerful masters, Raynor, The Source Triad“ he said “I did things for them, evil things to make them more … powerful.”
“Its okay“ she said.
He barely heard “l Phoebe I did … evil things Phoebe because I was bred to serve. I served well and all I got was more powerful bloody masters wanting to use my powers for themselves. “
“Its okay“ she whispered.
“No its not okay“ he said “You know, for a long time, I thought that becoming more powerful was the way of escaping; the way of being free of it all was to become more powerful. Then I learned the only escape was to be destroyed when your power was more dangerous to them than it was useful. Being more powerful than me didn’t stop fucking Raynor or the Seer being the damned slaves of the Source. “
His voice softened “Until I fell in love with a beautiful witch and found another way“ he whispered in her ear.
“You think I’m beautiful“ she asked innocently.
“Shut up I’m talking about something else." Then he smiled, the one he saved for her. "I love you" he said.
His voice hardened he said “Phoebe, Good or Evil they want me to use my powers to serve them, to make them more powerful and then get rid of me when I become to dangerous“ Cole said. “I found another way. Doing what I think is right. Doing what I have to do because I think its right, not for me to win, not to make anyone else win not to make me more powerful, not to make anyone else more powerful. Just to do what I think is right“ he said his voice fading to a whisper.
Phoebe did not answer, she listened to the waves and felt the strong salt spray in the air and thought that it was no wonder Cole loved this place. The mists, the odd mixture of light and dark, the wildness of the sea, the power of the crashing waves and the strange eerie sense of purpose and peace could have been a reflection of his soul.
“Phoebe“ he said angry and hurting“ Francesca’s nothing but a fucking whitelighter, watching to see how her side could use me.“
“I think she does really likes you Cole“ Phoebe said gently.
“Does she, that makes it worse then. “ He laughed again almost with humour, not angry, more regret “This is going to sound crazy coming from me he said but I feel betrayed. I always thought, I always assumed that even if Francesca was being a bitch, it was about me. At least with Francesca it wasn’t about what I could do for her, for whoever she serves, it wasn’t about the power. Fuck her Phoebe" he said angry "I always thought, apart from you she was the one person who made it about me." He took a deep breath.
“Cole“ Phoebe said “She was there when you needed some one. That counts. “
“Dammit Phoebe, its why she did it that counts“ he said “They all want the same thing“. Cole’s arms tightened about Phoebe, holding her as if her as if she was all he had, taking from her the strength, the desire the power to walk the path he had to walk “I’m not going to serve Good any more than I am going to serve Evil Phoebe. “ he said.
She turned in his arms until she could reach his lips and gently touch them with hers. Then she slipped down against him, looking up only to whisper "Do what you think is right" she said.
“I’ve served my last master Phoebe“ he said “Good or Evil.“
On an Irish beach in the cold dark light before dawn, Cole and Phoebe cuddled together, as the eerie Irish mist surrounded them, aware only of sound of the sea, the smell of the salt and each other.
"The fault, dear
Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
William Shakespeare From Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140 141)