How Quaint the Ways of Paradox

Part 2: Promises,promises,promises

Chapter 22


"How quaint the ways of paradox;  At common sense she gaily mocks"

(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)

Arturo sitting on his balcony watching the Gulf below, looked up as he heard a soft hissing sound and the crystals in his cabinet turned blood red.


Proctor shimmered in front of him, sombre dark, satanic. “We are nearly out of time Arturo“ he said.


“We have a little“ Arturo answered.


“Very little“ replied Proctor. “What needs to be done must be done.”


“I’m reluctant still, to reconstitute the Grimoire“ Arturo said “it feels wrong.”


“I watch“ said Proctor “Tempus is losing control. Evil is fracturing and the consequences to Good, to the balance are undesirable.”


Arturo nodded “I know.”


“This waiting for Belthezor Arturo“ Proctor said “must end. Has he been asked to make a choice?”


“No“ Arturo said “Francesca fears that the answer will be no. She has a fondness for him and I have hesitated. She wants me to wait for a more convenient time.”


“Ahh“ said Proctor “By all means wait on Belthezor’s convenience, we have waited for fifty years on Belthezor’s convenience.”


Arturo smiled.


“Perhaps“ said Proctor “it would be wise to remind Belthezor that whatever his choices Belthezor’s legacy is Belthezor’s responsibility.”


“What do you mean?” Arturo asked.


“I mean“ said Proctor “Whatever his choice don’t destroy him until he fixes this mess that the Charmed Ones caused, because of his legacy as the Source. This should never have happened Arturo.” Proctor said. ”That was the last time Good invades the underworld.”


“Why do you think Belthezor can fix what we can’t?”  Arturo asked.


“Because I have watched“ said Proctor “and I have seen Tempus change the timelines and I see always it is about Belthezor and I have heard Tempus curse him on the spirit winds. Because Tempus was prophesied to find the Grimoire when it was lost. Belthezor knows the answer Arturo.” Proctor said.


“He has hidden it well from Francesca if he does“ Arturo said.


“Belthezor has always kept his secrets“ Proctor replied.


“Are you aware Belthezor is bedding one of the Charmed Ones?” Arturo said.


“The affairs of witches, up until now have not interested me“ Proctor laughed deep dark demonic “But by all means let us wait on Belthezor’s convenience, Guardians, demonic hierarchy and the Fate of Good and Evil should wait while Belthezor beds a witch.”


“I need to be careful when I interfere with the affairs of witches.” Arturo said smiling a little.


“I understand my friend Arturo“ Proctor said “but our calling is to do what must be done.  You understand this.“ Proctor shimmered away.


Arturo thought a little while and then he called Francesca’s name. She came in a few minutes still dressed as the very efficient assistant in the San Francisco legal firm. Arturo glowered as he saw her and felt a momentary annoyance at her need to hide what he thought her true beauty from a world incapable of recognising it.


Francesca caught his glower and was amused.


Francesca Arturo said “My friend Proctor has been here.”


It was Francesca’s turn to sigh and nod.


“He believes“ Arturo continued “He thinks Belthezor needs to act to make his choice, to fix his legacy, to find the Grimoire and "Arturo added " my friend Proctor is right.”


“Cole is not ready to make his choice“ Francesca said slowly “He’s not ready to give up on Phoebe or her family, he’s hanging on with everything he has to the safety of his mortal life. He is not ready yet to look beyond Arturo.”


“He needs to fix this up“ Arturo said.


“If you can’t fix this up why should he?” Francesca said quietly.


“Because it is his legacy; I think the answer“ said Arturo “is simpler than we know, in the time line changes, in the life with Charmed Ones. He has an answer.”


“You’ve decided against Therold’s solution?”  Francesca said.


“It’s a choice, a last resort“ Arturo said “but it feels wrong. Therold says we need the lore and he is right but we need to be wise how that lore is used“ Arturo turned away and then turned back “And to create something evil even for the intentions of ensuring the that Good prevails strikes me as .. not good.”


“Cole says argues often that it is not the act but the intent that defines guilt“ Francesca smiled.


“Well may be in the end that is the way he will fix his legacy“ Arturo says “But if we recreate the Grimoire we are intending to create something evil, not good.  Up till now we have had time on our side but I think very little now.”


“Cole is not ready“ Francesca said “He still needs time.”


Arturo smiled gently “As Proctor says we have waited a long time on Belthezor’s convenience.”


“I have no great affection for Proctor.” declared Francesca.


“And you have a great affection for Belthezor“ Arturo answered “Francesca are you sure that you concern is not because you do not think he is ready to make a choice but because you know he is and you know it will not be the one you want?”


“A little“ she said “he is dear boy and I would wish him some happiness.”


“I have no gift of the future“ said Arturo none of us have. “That is our blessing. Perhaps this is Belthezor’s destiny. His calling is not a long one. This is the time of the Guardians and we have waited on his convenience for fity years“ He said firmly. “A last final and great act of atonement perhaps“ Arturo said. He saw Francesca face.


“It’s a hard choice“ she said sadly.


“Ahh the price of freedom“ said the man had once been the demon warrior Arturo and paid very dearly for his freedom and made some very hard choices himself. “Much easier to do as you are told follow the orders of a master, than take responsibility for your actions, your heritage, make your choices and accept the consequences.”


“I know Arturo“ Francesca said “I remember telling you that.”


Arturo laughed and stood up “You had better go tell the dear boy that he has an appointment with his destiny“ Arturo said.


Francesca nodded and orbed off.


She orbed into a quiet part of the law firm and walked to her office. The door to Cole’s office was open and he was at his desk, back from the court hearing.


He looked up as he saw her at the door.


“Nice of you to put in an… appearance“ he said blandly, his eyes narrowing snakily.


“Stop trying to prove that you can be annoying Cole“ Francesca said “I already know you are.”


And just for a second the blue eyes opposite her lit up with laughter. 


“How did you go with the court hearing“, she asked. Cole had been defending a favourite client of the firm at a committal hearing for grand larceny. The client had been extorting large amounts of money from a supposed charity trust.


“Good and bad“ he answered.


“What do you mean?” Francesca said.


“I got the bastard off“ Cole answered “He should have fried”


“Can’t win them all“ Francesca said.


“I was planning on convincing him how good atonement felt“ Cole said.


“That would be … good“ Francesca said “Maybe you should convince yourself too“ she added deliberately.


Cole’s smile froze on his face.


“We need to talk Cole“ Francesca said gently.


“What do we need to talk about?” he said flat voiced sitting deadly still every line of his body ready for action.


“Good and Evil“ she answered carefully “Destiny. Fate. Magic.”


“I see“ he said still rigid still flat voiced.


“Not here“ she said quietly.


“I see“ he said “Where?“


“Somewhere you feel safe“ Francesca answered.


Every impulse Cole had for his own protection suddenly exploded, his demonic nature, his empathic ability, his human instincts. Sitting very still he asked sardonically “And will I be safe?”


Francesca met the intense blue eyes staring at her “I don’t know“ she answered honestly.


Cole nodded. He told her of a beach. One of his favourite in the Caribbean and she said “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Francesca and Arturo shimmered onto the beach, a quiet white shaded one, accessible only by sea to non magical creatures. Cole was standing at the water’s edge. He turned around as he heard them arrive. He had his suit jacket off.  A couple of shirt buttons were undone. His tie was very loose. Both his hands were in his pockets and the suit jacket was looped through his left arm.


Francesca could tell by every line of his body he was ready to fight.  She was wearing her whitelighter robe, the hood down, her salt and pepper hair no longer in a neat chignon but pulled back into a loose ponytail. Cole glanced at Arturo and then at Francesca. She waited for his reaction to her pock marked and paralysed face, waited to see some distain or repulsion but he either did not notice or did not care because he looked straight into her eyes and said nastily “We have to talk .. Mrs Rinaldi“ and he made her name sound an insult.


Francesca smiled but could not in honesty offer Cole reassurance.


Arturo intervened “I am Arturo“ he said and faced the ex demon Belthezor’s cynical stare. “And I am here to talk of your destiny“ He watched Cole’s sardonic expression. “You don’t believe me“ he said to Cole.


Cole shrugged “I’m prepared to believe anything“ he answered, not giving an inch, his body ready to fight.


Arturo smiled. There was a time when he worried that how he did this made him responsible for the choices the demons who had fought so hard and come so far made. It took him centuries to understand that he was not and could not, would not influence or make their choice by his words and actions.


“What destiny?” Cole asked not missing the point.


"Do you know who I am?"  Arturo asked.


Cole just stared at him, sucking slightly on his lips, then said “I don’t care.”


“More important do you know what I am?”  Arturo asked.


“If I cared, I’d guess you’re a very powerful demon“ Cole answered warily  “and if any of those stories are true a demon who turned to good. A traitor to your birth.” He smiled cynically “Much like me. If I cared. I'd also guess most of this was about whether I’ve turned.  If I cared.”


“You never were stupid were you Belthezor?”  said Arturo “I am a Guardian.”


“My name is Cole“ Cole snapped.


“Whatever“  answered Arturo and carefully choosing his words told Cole what the Guardians were.


Cole looked at Arturo, horror registering on his face  “Oh no you don’t“ he rasped, his voice failing mid sentence. He coughed and gasped  “Not for one god damned minute would I consider it.”


“You really are not a fool are you Belthezor?” said Arturo.


“Cole“ Cole answered.


“Whatever“  said Arturo.


“No“ said Cole.


“Is that your answer“ said Arturo “This has to be very clear Belthezor“ he said “Your choice is very limited.  Very clearly he said “You either accept your fate or you are destroyed.”


“You’ll destroy me“ Cole asked slowly “Can you?” he asked with almost disinterested curiosity.


Arturo simply nodded and Cole did not doubt he told the truth.


Cole turned and stared out to the sea. Then he turned back and noted Francesca’s’ sad concerned expression “and the choice that I could just live out a mortal life and damn well forget all this.”


“Not possible, we can’t exist outside the Great Plan“ Arturo replied gently “Just so we understand each other. It’s not fate that I wish on you. Those few in evil who know something of us only plot to destroy us, and those few on the side of Good resent and fear us. Don’t expect gratitude or thanks or respect. You do it because it is right.”


“For ever“ Cole asked.


“We pass on“ Arturo answered. “I have lived over a 1200 mortal years and I have known 7 others turn to Guardians. There are 4 of us left.”


“I see“ said Cole with no emotion in his voice.


“Just so we understand each other“ Arturo said “I wish I could say it was fair but it is not. We’re born into evil and we live by that birthright and when we discover the light, we only survive to offer atonement for being what we were born to be, being what we are needed to be.”


Cole smiled slightly  “and you want me to say what I’ll choose this. I’ll choose to be a.. a Guardian, that I’ll choose to spend what, an eternity offering atonement just because I found something better, a way to be something more than what I was born   and you tell me if I say no…“


“I will destroy you“ Arturo answered “Your power cannot, must not, exist outside the Great Plan.”


Cole looked at Francesca’s concerned face and it occurred to him that Phoebe was right, Francesca really did care, and he looked at the blank expressionless face of the ex demon Arturo who had once so many years ago walked through a fire of his own making and found the path to the light and had spent a millennium serving the cause that ensured Good endured. And Cole thought of Phoebe and how much he loved her and what she had brought to him and what she had given him. He sighed and the smile he saved for Phoebe crossed his face.


He turned to face the ex demon Arturo, legs firmly planted apart, on the sand of a Caribbean beach defiant to the end “I don’t think I want to be a Guardian“ he said.



At two in the morning San Francisco time Phoebe lay on her bed, the room only lit by the bedside lamp, unable to sleep, frightened half to death, worried about Cole, praying to know where he was. The door to the hall was open and she looked up as Piper entered her room.


Phoebe had come home from her talk with Francesca and totally failed on all her promises to be a grown up and be responsible. She had fallen into her big sister’s arms and cried out all her fears.


Okay sweetie?” Piper asked from the doorway. Phoebe’s only answer was a big sniff. Piper came into the room "Its freezing in here she said.


Cole likes the window open Phoebe said in between sniffs. Piper crawled into bed beside her sister


Didn’t mean to wake you?” Phoebe sniffed.


You didn’t Piper said huddling under the quilts. Leo went off to a charge about two hours ago and hasn’t come back. I was lying awake too Piper’s voice was sharp I swear next time for both of us its going to be a nice safe mortal. At least if they’re missing in the middle of the night, you only have to worry whether they’re drunk with their buddies or off chasing women.”


Phoebe laughed in between her tears.


”Come here sweetie” Piper said and put her arms around Phoebe.


After a while  the tears stoped ”I’m terrified I’ll never see him again” Phoebe said.


”We couldn’t be that lucky" said Piper said angrily ”I hate Cole when he does this to you, puts you through this.”


”Its not his fault” Phoebe said.


“It never is“ Piper said viciously “but I still hate him when he does this to you.”


“I thought you hated me period“ Cole said as he shimmered in standing in front of the bed.


“God Cole“ Phoebe yelled jumping out of bed and throwing herself at him. He caught her in a long, long desperate hungry kiss.


Piper still under the quilt on their bed pensively watched Cole and Phoebe kiss. “Where have you been?” she asked.


Phoebe pulled back from the kiss watching him intensely waiting for his answer.


He shrugged “I was busy. I can’t tell you.” He said awkwardly.


Phoebe said quietly “I spoke to Francesca today“ she said “About why she was watching you.”


“Oh“ said Cole almost dropping her. He sat on the end of the bed. Phoebe feeling the cold crawled back under the quilt and in the end to keep hold of her, Cole had had to move along the be until he was nearly as close to Piper as Phoebe.


“I take it you made some choices today“ Piper said daring Cole.


He shook his head “No” he said slowly.


“Cole what happened?” Phoebe asked nervously.


“I was offered a choice about my um destiny" he said "I told them I did not want to be a Guardian.” He answered in a matter of fact voice.


“Who’s them?” Piper asked from the depths of the quilt as Phoebe whimpered.


“Francesca and a demon, ex demon called Arturo“ Cole answered.


Phoebe gasped “Arturo“ and gulped and Piper a sat upright.


“What happened Cole?” Phoebe asked.


“What did you do?” Piper demanded.


“Nothing“ he said looking into Phoebe’s scared brown eyes “I mean nothing Piper“ he said sharper as he caught her face. “Apparently what I want is not of interest or a choice, just an irrelevant opinion.” He did not fail to notice the relief in both Phoebe and Piper’s faces.


“Francesca told me Arturo would destroy you if you said no“ Phoebe said slowly.


“Funny Arturo said the same to me“ Cole answered with grim humour.“ I made no choice Phoebe“ he said hard voiced.


“Francesca said they have waited a very long time and they need an answer soon“ Phoebe said.


“If they have waited that long, they can bloody well wait a little longer“ Cole said showing his anger and his fear. He turned to Phoebe “Do you want to go somewhere" he said "Somewhere you want, somewhere special, right now.”


“Beach?” she asked.


“No beaches“ he said I’ve seen enough beaches today“ he added.


Piper feeling decidedly a third wheel, stood up and left. Cole watched her go.


"I went to Rome today with Francesca“ Phoebe said slowly.


“Then not Rome“ Cole answered grimly.


“Venice?” Phoebe asked, trying to fight down the terrible thought that Cole was offering her one last day together.


“Venice, never been there“ he said “Try not to take to long to get ready“ he added.


“No“ Phoebe said but Cole wasn’t hopeful and he was right. Cole opted to shower and shave using Piper and Leo’s bathroom, he was dressed and ready to go but the shower in the ensuite was still going. Restless and not wanting to wait, he wandered into the hall. There were lights on downstairs, and Piper’s room was empty. Cole wandered in and stood in the nursery looking at the baby as she slept.  He walked over and touched Melinda gently on the side of her face and walked out. Paige’s door was also open, and she was not there. Cole momentarily distracted from the greater concerns of the universe pursed his lips.


He went downstairs and found Piper in the kitchen making herself hot milk chocolate. “We may get to Venice by nightfall“ he said.


“Ours or theirs?” Piper said.


“Take you pick“ Cole answered.


“Cole“ Piper said pouring milk into a mug and offering Cole one with an inclination of her head. He refused with a shudder “Cole“ Piper said again “Are you sure this Guardian thing is not just a plot of evil. I mean, reformed demons guarding the balance of Good and Evil is…well so far fetched.”


He laughed “Nearly as far fetched as a magic human soul, that once inhabited a vanquished demon, collecting demonic powers and returning from the wastelands of hell. The balance thing I’ve felt for a long time Piper.” he said “Its not a ..surprise, almost a .. almost an explanation. As for the Guardians, rumours and boogie man tales all my life. The Source when he took me over knew something of them and hated the idea of a Great Power that could limit him but the ex demon destiny thing, try and talk me into not believing it will you?” he asked.


“Can’t you do it Cole?” Piper asked, “for Phoebe if not for you.”


“It would require great courage“ he answered “More than I have I fear.”


“Do you know Cole, in all the time I’ve known you and hated your guts that is something I have never thought you lacked“ Piper said.


“You haven’t really known me that long“ he said cryptically. “And its…what you said the other day. You may have been more right than you know.”


Phoebe called out to Cole from the stairs.


He started to leave the kitchen and then turned back “Thanks Pip“ he said.


“What for.” she asked head on the side, blunt.


“Lemon pie“ he said smiling.


“You’re welcome“ Piper answered.


“I am?” he said disbelieving.


“When you’re not being an annoying arsehole“ Piper said “which you are, you understand most of the time.”


“I understand“ he said.


Phoebe was in the hall, talking to Paige who had arrived home, makeupless and her hair badly needing combing. Cole eyed her up and down and she put her hands on her hips and glared at him. Phoebe hastily grabbed his arm and said Night sweetie to Paige


“Yeah“ Cole said to Paige “Night sweetie , try and be a .. good girl while I’m not around.”


“Arsehole“ Paige said.


Cole a caught Phoebe’s hand and shimmered away.


Paige saw the light in the kitchen and found Piper washing her mug.


“Cole’s an arsehole“ Paige said “I don’t know what Phoebe sees in him, other than sex and a great body.”


“Phoebe can’t help herself“ Piper said sadly.


“Oh hell“ said Paige “we’re not having another Cole crisis are we?”


“Mm“ said Piper “maybe the last one.”


“Oh“ said Paige.




Cole shimmered Phoebe to Venice, a day away, a dream, a special moment in time when they could just be together. Cole enjoyed every second of her delight in the canals and the views, and the winter mists. They walked the streets, saw the old houses and churches, stood on the bridges, viewed the canals and watched the vaporettos, the water buses, move up and down the waterways of Venice.


They sat on a bench on the edge of St Mark’s Square in the late afternoon in Venice and the morning in San Francisco. Phoebe was tired and she moaned about not being able to tell the people at work what she did on the weekend. They ate an ice cream. Phoebe had changed her mind three times before deciding what sort of chocolate gelato she wanted. She eyed the view across the wide expanse of the end of the Grand Canal. Each time a boat passed as the wake reached them, the bobbing gondolas tied along the edge of the canal reminded Phoebe of horses straining at their tethers, and made her smile and the mist creeping over the city and the square gave the whole place a surreal feeling that somehow made it easy to talk of destinies and futures.


And Phoebe found the courage to ask. Cole was quiet as if the magic of the place was creeping into his soul, sitting watching the view of the Grand Canal of Venice, leaning forward arms resting on his knees and seeing something beyond the water.


“What did you say?” he asked distracted.


“I asked if you ever felt there was a destiny for you beside me, beside what we have“ she asked gently.


He stared out watching the wake of one of the water taxis.  “Yes“ he said slowly “I feel like it every time I look at you, I feel like I’m living on borrowed happiness and its going to be repaid over an eternity“ and he stared into the mist as the fairytale light fell over Venice.


“Phoebe“ he said slowly “I… just something I just wanted to say in case, in case I don’t get a chance again. In those other time lines, when I was with ,, those girls I saw, I barely recognised them at first, they were both almost, seemed soul dead to me and then each time I, I touched something in them, and I saw them come alive and each time it was you, the soul of you and the spirit of you. It was always you. It’s the soul of you I love Phoebe“ he said “the spirit of you, the soul of you, every last capricious twist and turn of you“ he said glancing quietly down at her, a smile in his eyes, the one he saved for her, and some fear.


“I am not capricious“ Phoebe said pouting. She caught the smile. “Maybe a little“ she conceded. He raised his eyebrows “Maybe a lot“ she added. “But telling me you love me for it isn’t going to make me stop being .. capricious“ she said knowing she won.


“Don’t“ he said , the smile moving from eyes across his face.


Phoebe turned her head around so she could see his face  “Are you ever going to tell me what happened“ she asked as gently as she could.


“Yes“  he answered “but I need to think a few things through“ Then he noticed her drawn expression and he relented a little  “I saw my future“  he said slowly.


Without looking at her he said “I can feel the balance you know. I can feel Good and Evil move and strain and fight each other. And this is not a battle that has anything to do with you“ he said sadly. He turned to her “Its out of balance you know“ he said “Good and Evil are out of balance, I feel it with every breath I breathe.”


“What are you going to do about it“ she asked.


"Nothing if I can help it“ he said “Phoebe“ he said looking at her “If I do anything I feel I’m lost  to you. Do you know what you mean to me?” he asked.


“Yes" she said gently. She lifted his arm and slid under it, leaning across to him so he could hold her.


“They’re calling me Phoebe“ he said slowly. “And. I. Don’t. Believe. I don’t believe I have the courage to answer it.”


“You’re the bravest person I ever know“ she said sadly because she never believed that this creature of power and magic could just be there for her.


“Am I?” he said wryly.


“Don’t underestimate yourself“ Phoebe said then added “Its not evil calling she said. Its not evil you have to fear.”


“I can’t be evil“ he answered Like I told you, I know I can’t.” Phoebe caught the edge of a smile on his face. “I know its not my fate to be evil. You’d have got me or something would have got me if I went that way“ he said with a small laugh that choked in his throat. His arm tightened around her. “I have to be good“ he said with a bitterness in his voice “I can feel it, and its at a cost and …Phoebe I’m not sure I have the courage to face it. Alone.”


“I can never tell you what I’ve done“ he said “I could never bear to look at you while I did.  But it was evil Phoebe it was very bad and I owe and I’m very frightened of what I’ve done and what I have to pay for it and how long it will take. Alone.”


She reached up to touch his face.  And she felt his pain and she resented the world, the universe for causing it. She resented it because he was born what he was and he had risen above it, so far above it. And because the only way he could understand the level of the debt, his evil birthright, was if he was very, very good.


She snuggled closer, watching the mist and the changing light on the blue green canal. “You’re never alone“ she said slowly “I promise you, on my soul, on my calling as a witch, that whenever you turn around I’ll be there, call my name and I’ll come. However long you walk and wherever you walk, I’ll walk with you. You’ll never lose me and you will never ever be alone“ she swore to him.  “Never.”


He leant over and kissed her hair while she snuggled silently against him. They watched the twilight and mist fall over Venice together, shared the creeping damp and the eerie quiet of a city without traffic.


“Don’t make promises you can’t keep Phoebe“ he said sadly.


As the cold crept in, they stood up and they walked through the ally ways and shops and shared a magic city.


Phoebe loved Venice, she would love it all her life. Every year she would share a pilgrimage in the time when the mist and winter light fell over it. Because it was the place where Cole had finally shared not only his life but his soul with her. Because she knew it was in Venice that he made some choices and the choices he made in Venice meant loneliness was the consequence of their love. 


That magical day Phoebe and Cole walked through the streets of Venice, watching the water and sharing the soul of that beautiful city. Phoebe bought some of the masks they sold in all the shops there, sad clown masks with elaborate designs, and fanciful colours and she put them on her wall and she treasured them all her life in memory of that day. But she could never quite look at those masks without a deep sense of sadness.




Let music sound while he doth make his choice; 
Then if he lose he makes a swan like end,
Fading in music.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616), British dramatist