How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 3: The more things change
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience....
Cole and Phoebe arrived back at the Manor late in the San Francisco afternoon, after their day in Venice, Phoebe exhaustedly clutching her parcels, clown masks and trinkets.
She met Piper’s concerned expression with a shrug and when Paige started to asked questions she shook her head and Paige nodded. Leo had finally arrived back home a few hours before Cole and Phoebe. When asked of the Guardians, by an anxious Piper and Paige, he said he knew very little. Just that always there were rumours of creatures of Great Power who seemed to strike fear into the hearts of the Powers of Good.
“Boogie man stories and warnings” Leo said.
“That’s what Cole called them from when he was a demon.“ Piper said, “That’s what he told me.“
“It makes some sense in away“ Leo said “Elders are always concerned about consequences. A few times witches and whitelighters and some other beings on the side of good have suggested just wiping demons out and they have really panicked, always saying no, it was to dangerous, the consequences to risky. It makes some sense“ Leo said. “Guardians. Demons.“
“Ex demons.“ Piper said.
“After a few minutes“ Leo said quietly to her “I know why they don’t want us, the ones in the front line to know about Guardians. It does change your perspective of the battle, just a little and the role of Elders, seems..more ...vulnerable somehow.“
“I always thought they were a pack of shits anyway“ Piper said, “Stuff ’em.“
That night Piper and Leo went to P3 while Paige babysat and Cole spent a few hours prowling restlessly around the house with Phoebe following him, scared to let him out of her sight. Phoebe yawning widely did not last much past the early evening. She wouldn’t go to bed unless Cole went with her and finally realising she was about to pass out on her feet, he swung her into his arms and carried her upstairs. Phoebe almost immediately fell asleep curled up against him and Cole spent most of the night lying beside her; watching her sleep.
He woke her at dawn to tell he was going for a walk and she said okay sleepily and then sat up scared. “I’m going for a walk“ he said. She pulled a face.
“All right“ he said “I’m going to a beach to sit and think for a while. I’m not going near Arturo or Francesca and I’ll come back here. I won’t do anything without telling you“ He smiled the one he saved for her "I promise.“
She drifted off into a restless sleep and got up a few hours later. Paige was in the kitchen feeding Melinda, letting Piper sleep late and Leo was working so Phoebe and Paige talked a little. Paige to distract Phoebe told her about the new boyfriend Steve, how sexy he was, great body, great sex, great body.
“Was he the one who didn’t drive you home the other night“ Phoebe asked.
“He had an early start“ Paige said.
“Cole was not impressed “Phoebe said carefully.
“Hmm“ snorted Paige “Cole was born over a hundred years ago. Women weren’t even supposed to know what sex was then, let alone have it and enjoy it. I think he wants to keep things that way.“
“I don’t“ Phoebe laughed and followed Paige’s glare to the door as Cole came in. She gulped nervously and he just shook his head.
“If the guy can’t even see you get home safely, especially in the beginning when he should be trying to win you, earn you“ Cole said to Paige hands firmly in his pockets. “Then he’s a selfish shit only getting what he can.“
“Cole.“ said Phoebe.
“Who made my life your business Cole.“ Paige demanded.
“Me“ said Phoebe, ready to defend Cole because he was fighting enough battles at the moment.
“Well don’t“ said Paige snapped.
They were distracted by Melinda’s demanding attention when she knew Cole was there but the glare Paige sent in Cole’s direction as he bent to pick Melinda up should have vanquished him.
Phoebe would not let Cole leave again. She had an idea that if he did not leave the Manor he was safe from Arturo. Because it seemed to make her feel better that he stayed around, Cole finally settling down in his corner, to work on the case he was defending for the 19 year old hooker Jenny who had killed her pimp.
He worked through lunch. Phoebe apparently decided she was going to make a point of not interfering with any of his choices, including whether he ate lunch or not. Paige finally brought him a sandwich and muffin and coffee. The sandwich wasn’t very good but at least it wasn’t healthy.
He thanked her and she asked point blank why he was till working regardless….
“Regardless“ he answered quietly some things don’t change “The girl still needs defending, by some one if not me and I want to make sure the case is well planned. Regardless.“
Paige nodded and he thanked her again for the sandwich, thinking she was very sweet. And he decided that it must be something she inherited from her father, because it was not a word he would have applied to any of her mother’s family, including Phoebe. He loved Phoebe dearly but not because she was sweet.
He did not even mind admitting to himself that he felt protective of Phoebe’s little sister, not just because he thought her sweet but because he owed her for a number of reasons.
The honeymoon had lasted between Phoebe and Cole for just a couple of weeks after he moved back into the Manor. Neither of them were prepared to admit to each other that the sudden decision to get back together after the long year of pain and hatred and drawn out emotions was bound to cause some tensions.
Most of the tension came out in facing the world as a couple. It was one thing being together, it was another thing dealing with P3 employees who raised their eyebrows and said nothing with an expressive silence when they found out Phoebe and Cole were back together after all the angry words that were said. It was even worse facing Victor’s sister Eleanor who had dined out for 18 months on stories of Cole and Phoebe’s aborted first wedding. Eleanor called in unannounced almost as soon as she heard from Victor that Cole and Phoebe were back together, supposedly to deliver a new toy to her grand niece, actually to check out what was happening. Eleanor, a shorter thinner version of her brother, had three sons, a rich husband and nothing else to do but gossip about family and friends. Cole was not at the Manor when she came and Phoebe bore the brunt of it. The two hours of Eleanor’s visit left Phoebe shaking and as Cole luckily for him, missed the visit, they had their first really big argument about her.
Phoebe true to her capricious and contrary nature, after demanding he be with her, live with her went into a state of panic over how the rest of the world, specifically the world where she worked, would react. And Cole in another time and place, such as when he was making life and death choices about his destiny, may have recognised he overreacted, but at the time, feeling insecure and uncomfortable living with Phoebe’s family, it had seemed a very big deal.
Phoebe had somewhat reluctantly broken the news to Cole on their first weekend that she had the Bay Mirror annual dinner coming up the following weekend and she was expected to attend, with a partner. He got the distinct feeling, she would have done anything but ask him to go if she could get out of it. She was extremely nervous about the reaction to the news she was back with demon ex, the ex who she had declared was a closed chapter, the ex who had been the subject of a very messy and unhappy divorce, the ex who was the reason, she wrote very cynical advice about the need for women to be independent and live their lives for who they were. She knew it was going to be the 9 day wonder of industry gossip and she was dreading it and if there was anyway she could have snuck out to the dinner without telling Cole she would have done it.
As it was when Paige made her ask him to go to the dinner with her, it was only his total discomfort at being at the Manor which stopped Cole throwing a temper tantrum, so he sulked for 3 days instead. And then for him the whole uncomfortable situation was compounded by the dress because he had genuinely worried that an ugly piece of rag was going to destroy what destiny and demons could not, his chance of a life with Phoebe. From a distance he realised he over reacted. At the time it seemed to be his whole future.
With the tensions of living together focused on what Cole called that damned dinner, Phoebe came home carrying some large dress bags. Cole was sitting somewhat uncomfortably in the parlour pretending to read and wishing he was somewhere else and Paige because she was still dating the married professor at the time, the one who as usual had to be somewhere else had planted herself on the sofa to watch television.
Paige asked Phoebe what she had bought and the dresses immediately came out. The first dress was a long fitted dark red dress, a colour that exactly suited her. The dress was an elegant a silk dress which had very small spaghetti straps, a teasing low bodice, ruching in front and suggestive but not tarty cut outs and low back. “You like“ she said archly to Cole as she held it against her and he whistled softly.
“See“ Phoebe answered. “Cole won’t lie to me.“
Cole narrowed his eyes slowly but did not comment.
“Classy“ said Paige “What’s the other one?”
Phoebe reached into another bag and pulled out what seemed a cloud of multicoloured rags, in shades of blue and green and pale yellow that hurt the eyes. There was just enough red in the cloud to make sure you did not miss it. She held the cloud up against her. It had one strap and a miniscule amount of material reaching where her breasts ought to be and the rest was diaphanous purple chiffon that showed everything she had, while the cloud of rags hung as low down her hips as could indecently be worn. It also appeared to have a huge split from the hip where the dress did not quite meet. Cole over the years he had known Phoebe, had seen her wear some very odd clothing, sometimes he had been left stunned, for the most part he found her odd clothing endearing and an expression of the free and unique spirit he loved about her, but that dress left him shaking his head.
Phoebe expectantly looked at him, smiling. “Do you like it?”
Even Paige who had been known to wear some unique clothing herself gulped. Fortunately for Cole she asked Phoebe how much it cost before Cole had to answer. Phoebe said an amount that left Paige gasping. Phoebe held the dress against her and waltzed around the parlour.
“You think it was worth it?” Paige asked.
“Do you think it was worth it?” Phoebe asked Cole suggestively
“If it makes you happy its worth it“ Coles answered truthfully but he knew he was dead.
“This is the one I’m going to wear to the dinner. I think it says a lot about me“ Phoebe announced. She ran upstairs happy with her purchases and Cole and Paige both breathed “Shit.“
At any other time he would have been amused to walk into their bedroom and find Phoebe modelling the dress for Piper who was sitting on the edge of their bed for once speechless. The dress on Phoebe showed more of Phoebe than Cole and Piper usually saw except in a bathroom and the colours made you keep on looking.
“Piper loves the dress“ Phoebe told Cole happily.
Cole glanced at Piper who gulped. “That dress is really something“ Piper said.
On Saturday morning, the morning of the dinner Phoebe slept in. Cole had somewhat morosely wandered down stairs fairly early and been more than a little uncomfortable to find Leo and Paige eating breakfast. He glanced at his watch, thought about backing out and then decided he could do nothing but bluff it out, and besides this time to morrow he would be out of the Manor anyway.
“Looking forward to the big date to night?” Paige asked bitchily.
“Yeah I can hardly wait“ Cole s said bluffing it out.
“Phoebe doesn’t want to go with you“ Paige said not without pleasure.
“I know that“ Cole snapped suddenly. And then he could not help “I’ll be out of here tomorrow anyway“ he said “so just shut up trying to make my life miserable will you.”
“Why are you going tomorrow?” Page asked.
“Because“ he suddenly gulped “because tonight Phoebe‘s going to come down wearing that green, that coloured rag thing and she’s going to ask me what I think of it and I’m going to tell her it looks beautiful and she’ll know I’m lying and its over“ he said miserably.
“I have faith in your ability to lie“ Paige said sweetly.
“I can’t lie to her“ Cole said.
“Take my advice“ Leo said over the top of the paper he was reading, “Lie.“
Cole took a deep breath, knowing he was leaving tomorrow anyway “You know Phoebe. You know how she says things which are not what she means, she calls things by the wrong name, does not always use the exact same meaning for words that other people do.“ Cole smiled a little “Does not know her left from her right.”
The last was greeted by nods from Paige and Leo who had both been victims of Phoebe’s inability to give directions. Cole grinned a little “I swear the only time ever could have killed her was just after we first met and she told me to turn left at Vine…during rush hour to get to P3.“
Leo said “But that’s a right turn.“
Cole sighed “I KNOW that, now.” He sighed “Phoebe has been telling you all week that I won’t lie to her, that’s why she knows everything is all right between us, hasn’t she“ Cole said.
Leo and Paige nodded, grimly.
“That’s not true“ Cole continued. “She always says won’t when she means can’t. “ He moved away, instinctively out of reach I couldn’t stand it any longer. She kept asking me if I was good. I kept saying yes, she wouldn’t believe me. So the other week I touched our auras, she knows when I’m lying.“
He met Leo’s horrified expression “You did what“ roared Leo.
Uncomfortably Cole replied “I’m not stupid. I didn’t merge them. I wouldn’t risk hurting her but I touched them and I cannot pull them apart. At least neither of us can while we have an emotional connection“ He hesitated “I .. she knows when, ..the bad stuff, a little. Its not that I won’t lie to her. It’s that I can’t. She knows if I do, at least if she loves me she does. I lie quite a bit, she always knows it, “ he said “She’s going to know just how much I hate that rag,” because by this time he did. It was the symbol of all that was making his life miserable.
Paige laughed suddenly “I’m glad you hate the dress; whatever else you are, you always had good taste.“
“You’re an idiot Cole“ Leo said severely, then laughed happily “You’re also so dead.“
“I know“ Cole said miserably.
“Just tell her she always looks beautiful to you.“ Leo suggested after a few minutes.
“No woman would fall for that“ Paige said “That’s what guys say to you when they hate what you’re wearing.“
“Tell her she looks stunning.“ Leo suggested
“Ditto“ said Paige happily.
Leo barely suppressed a sigh “Tell her words can’t describe how you feel about it.“ said Leo.
“Ditto“ said Paige enjoying herself.
Cole groaned to Paige’s great pleasure.
That night Cole dressed while Phoebe was in the shower. He tied his bow tie and looked at the hated dress hanging on the closet edge and seriously wondered whether he could get away with fireballing it.
Paige knocked on at door and seeing him ready to put on a tux jacket told him to get lost. With a malicious smile she told Cole she had promised Phoebe she would help her get dressed. Help her make herself beautiful.
Cole went downstairs and downed a whisky and prowled while Leo and Piper who had settled down for a night together once, Melinda was asleep watched in amusement. Leo had apparently told Piper of Cole’s problem.
“Cheer up Cole it could be worse“ said Piper who obviously shared Paige’s happiness at his misery “She could ask you if her bum looks big in the dress.“
“What’s wrong with that“ Cole said. He hated it when they talked of jokes and TV show and clichés of living, that he had never shared or understood during his life as a demon.
“There’s no answer to that question that won’t get you into trouble“ Leo explained to Cole whose sense of humour was rapidly fading.
Nearly 45 minute later Phoebe finally came downstairs. Hearing her coming Cole shut his eyes winced and opened them; Phoebe was half down the stairs breathtakingly beautiful in the red dress.
Paige was standing on the stairs behind Phoebe smirking at Cole.
“How do I look?“ Phoebe asked.
“Absolutely beautiful“ Cole breathed.
“How about the dress?“ Phoebe asked.
“Just perfect, gorgeous“ Cole smiled telling the truth.
“And your bum looks just perfect too“ Piper murmured glancing at Cole.
“What“ said Phoebe.
“You look beautiful sweetie“ Piper said “Doesn’t she Leo?”
“Pretty good“ said Leo.
Phoebe smiling happily went into the kitchen to get some tissues for her purse.
“You owe me“ Paige whispered to Cole “I had to do some damned hard talking to get her into the red dress.“
“I know I owe you“ he said and then because he did know what else to do he lifted her hand and kissed it.
Cole and Phoebe left for the dinner and Paige turned to Piper “Cole can be such an arsehole.“ she said softly.
Walking into the dinner was not easy for Phoebe. Those people who recognised Phoebe’s partner as her ex husband stared openly and quite a few women who did not to recognise him as her ex husband stared openly too. And it did not stop. Phoebe, supersensitive, started to feel the whole room was ogling her for all the wrong reasons. Phoebe suddenly turning up with an ex husband in tow as a date was obviously the topic of the night, because both to Phoebe’s chagrin and Cole’s amusement people were moving to whispering distance to talk about them.
Cole then became seriously annoyed as Phoebe swallowed more alcohol in an hour than she did in a week normally. At any comment about her date she introduced him as a friend even to people who knew who he was. That she was not quite ready to tell them she was living with him was obvious, and Cole sighed. Knowing his Phoebe she was never going to be ready.
A girl to whom Phoebe reluctantly introduced him when they first arrived, sidled up beside Cole, as Phoebe stood a few feet away, talking to a rather wild looking young reporter. The girl wet her lips seductively and to Cole’s joy he noticed Phoebe looking very put out. “Are you really the evil ex, that Phoebe keeps talking about.“ The girl asked moving close.
Cole smiled “Unless she has another ex, I don’t know about I guess I am“ he said, enjoying the annoyance Phoebe was showing.
The girl moved closer and said, “You don’t look so evil to me.“
Cole raised his eyebrows “Oh I’m not“ he said “Just the opposite. I’m really good” and he leered suggestively at the girl. Phoebe pushed in between them “Cole“ she hissed “Just behave.“
Cole looked innocent “I was only telling her how good I am“ he said.
The girl finally realised she was not wanted and sidled off leaving Cole and Phoebe glaring each other down.
Phoebe’s boss Elise moved up and had no problems asking the question “He is still your ex, isn’t he Phoebe.“ she asked with false sweetness.
Phoebe so angry she could not answer, turned almost knocking Cole over. Cole answered “ I am her ex “ he answered evenly, and then deliberately said “but I’m also her current shack up.“
He got his response by seeing every one in hearing distance stare. Phoebe grabbed him by his arm and hauled him off. “What in the hell are you doing?” she snarled at Cole.
“Why the hell did you ask me to come and not tell them we were back together?” Cole demanded.
She looked up and then down.
“Are we together?” Cole asked “Or are we just shacked up?”
“We’re together “she sighed. “ I’ve been dreading this“ she added.
“So have I“ he said.
“Do you want to get out of here?” she asked putting her arms around his neck.
“Yes“ he answered “but it would be better if we just braved it out with those people.“
They went back and stayed fairly late, Phoebe hanging close to Cole, for the first time publicly admitting how much she loved him in a very long time.
They drove back to the Manor and for a few minutes sat in the car out the front, as they did when they dated.
Phoebe putting her head on Cole’s shoulder sighed “I thought I was going to hate that“ she said.
“Me too“ Cole said.
“But after the first bit, it was better, a lot better than I thought it would be.“ She looked at Cole dreamily, still at the stage where she was a little surprised to look up and see he was really there. “Just goes to show.“ Phoebe said “You can’t always predict the future even when you have powers of premonition.“
Cole laughed and slowly brought his mouth down on hers.
Cole barely slept that night. About 6.30 in the morning the restlessness got to him and he got up bed and dressed in slacks and a sweater and quietly slipped out of the bedroom after leaning forward to gently kiss Phoebe and touch her hair while she murmured in her sleep.
He crossed the landing. The door to Piper and Leo’s room was shut but Paige’s was open. Cole stopped and glanced at her. She was asleep with the quilt thrown back. Her red hair was tousled and across her face as she lay on her side and the very low cut nightdress she wore had slipped so that one very white breast was nearly exposed. As Cole watched Paige, he was struck by an emotion, a wave of affection that had no sexual context and bore no relationship to what he felt for the woman whose bed he had just left. He stood there for several seconds just watching Paige sleep and did not notice the door to Leo and Piper’s bedroom door open until he became aware of Piper wrapped in a towelling robe, eyeing him with an expression of resentment and anger.
Having no words to explain what he was feeling, Cole did not even try but strode down the stairs with Piper scurrying along behind him. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice and turned and took a glass from the cupboard before he faced Piper.
“If you hurt her, if you hurt either of my sisters, I will find a way to kill you so slowly “ Piper snarled.
Cole eyed her nastily “And.why.would.I.want.to.hurt.Paige“ he bit out.
“Because she knew something was wrong with you, because she did not trust you“ Piper snarled.
Cole laughed, almost hysterically “Hurt her for it“ he said “I need to thank her for it. I owe her for it.“
“What do you mean“ Piper asked stunned.
Cole moved toward Piper almost threateningly and then he stepped back and sighed “You were supposed to be my family, Phoebe and you and Leo, but you never knew anything was wrong. I was there while that evil incarnate took my life, my love, my being and I was screaming inside him for help and none of you even knew anything was wrong. None of the people who were supposed to ..love me“ he crumpled a little “I did so many things, I tried so hard to stop him. I led him to so many mistakes and you still never noticed he bit out in a voice that even Piper recognised the pain. You never even realised anything was wrong.“
“You he kept trying to kill Paige“ she said.
“I stopped him three times“ Cole said in agony “Three times I stopped him killing her. And you never even knew anything was wrong.“ He shrugged “All of you who were my family. Who were supposed to…love me and Paige was the only one of you who knew enough about me to know something was wrong.“
“I’m sorry was all“ Piper could say.
Cole shrugged and shimmered away.
Cole, sitting in his corner, in the conservatory of the Manor nearly six months later, smiled to himself. He owed Paige for many things and he knew it.