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)
Cole to Phoebe’s distress went to work on Monday morning. Francesca was there but he had a morning full of meetings and he never saw her, other than to say a very stilted Good Morning when he arrived.
It felt so normal and natural at work that Cole was starting to even wonder if all the ultimatums about his destiny ever happened. He walked past Francesca after the meetings and then sat at his desk, dialled Phoebe and spent about half an hour on the phone making silly jokes, teasing, playing games, and did not know she was responding with tears falling down her face. He was stopped cold by Francesca appearing at his door, watching him slowly. When he shook his head she just stood there and refused to move until he finally said he to Phoebe had to go. "Love you" he whispered to her.
“I do love you Cole“ she said “Always did no matter what I ever said. Always will“ she answered.
“That wasn’t goodbye Phoebe“ he said but looking at Francesca.
As he hung up Francesca quietly said “Arturo wants to talk to you.“
“I haven’t decided yet“ Cole said coldly.
“Haven’t you?” Francesca said raising an eyebrow clearly not believing him “Arturo needs to discuss something with you. Your choice is yours to make when the time is right Cole she said carefully “because she recognised the ice cold voice as one that he had used a year ago when he was struggling to hold himself together.
“Where?” Cole asked calmly.
“At his house“ Francesca said “You’ll have to follow me. It’s in a time fold.“
Cole when he shimmered out in the white a house overlooking the Corinthian Gulf realised he was in the place Phoebe had described more than a year ago. He recognised the pull of the magic nexus where the house existed and the odd feeling of the time fold. The ex-demon Arturo knew how to use magic to protect himself.
Cole came out of the shimmer beside the glass doors leading to the balcony. Arturo was sitting at the antique dining table reading a very old book that disappeared as Cole arrived. Francesca orbed in very close to Arturo, a little behind him.
“I haven’t decided“ Cole said standing legs apart defiant.
“As you say“ Arturo answered. “But whatever you decide we, the Guardians have a problem to which it seems you have the answer.“
Cole shrugged and inclined his head.
“The Underworld is in chaos, “ Arturo said “It needs a strong leader, a source.”
“Well it ain’t going to be me“ Cole snapped.
Arturo ignored him. “There can be no Source without the coronation ceremony and no coronation ceremony without the Grimoire“ Arturo said and as Cole smiled insolently he added “As you well know.“
“So“ said Cole. “Isn’t it lost?”
“It’s your calling to get it back“ Arturo said calmly.
“Like hell“ Cole answered shifting his weight from foot to foot ready for action. “Anyway“ he said bluffing it. “It was lost in what do they call it. The Great Immolation. When that old harridan the Seer went up.” He sneered demonically “Sorry I missed that“ he said “I would have enjoyed it.“ Then he watched Arturo turn and glance at Francesca “I wasn’t there“ Cole said “All the stories say it was lost that day.“
“It’s hard to know the truth of what happened there“ Francesca said. “In a place as evil as the Coronation Chamber of the Source, it is hard to believe truth could exist there. Even truth seekers and very good people find truth impossible down there. I would doubt a real truth was ever uttered in it.“
“Anyway“ Cole added “even if for arguments sake I knew it was not lost or I knew how to find it, why would I want to make Tempus the source or why would you for that matter.“
“I don’t care who is the Source“ snapped Arturo “As long as some one is.“
“No interest to me.“ smiled Cole.
“That’s not what the spirit winds“ say Arturo said firmly. “Your legacy. your responsibility“ he said.
“Go to hell“ Cole said calmly.
“Been there, done that“ Arturo answered with a ghost of a smile. “ What happened to the Grimoire Belthezor“ Arturo asked grimly.
“I don’t know“ Cole smiled “and if I did I wouldn’t tell you.“
“It’s your legacy and your responsibility“ Arturo said “and Tempus needs it.” Arturo added even more calmly.
“You realise how uninterested I am in what Tempus needs“ Cole said flat voiced, expressionless.
Arturo who had never quite gotten over his former life as an upper level demon, warrior chief had never quite came to terms with what he termed insolence in those he felt owed him respect, took a stance that made his irritation very clear.
Cole who had spent a life time picking up on that irritation and using insolence and humour to protect himself and some of his deeper secrets, smiled, a smile that could have been a sneer.
“You’ve got a tame whitelighter“ Cole said pleasantly, “Why don’t you send her up to the Elders and ask them what happened to it.“
Francesca put her head on the side, and eyed him off with her best school marm expression.
“Because your calling is to fix this mess in the Underworld and my solution is not ..good“ Arturo answered showing his exasperation and impatience at the long wait he had had at Cole’s convenience when his nature was not to wait.
“What’s you solution.“ Cole asked conversationally.
“Don’t bother going there Arturo.“ Francesca said “He already knows how to fix it.“
“What?” snarled Arturo.
“He knows the answer already“ Francesca said. “Playing his games.“
Cole’s sarcastic bitter expression showed exactly what he thought of her betrayal.
He shrugged sardonically “It’s not going back to Tempus, you forget I know what’s in that thing. What I know stays with me.“ he smiled.
Arturo just looked at him. “We’ll see“ Arturo smiled and waved his hand. Cole fell to his knees and gasping unable to move unable to look up.
And the nightmare of the demon hierarchy came back, the days when he bowed to the Source, the days when he had stood and let Raynor move inside his head.
He felt Arturo’s fingers on either side of his temple and his head almost explode and if he could have screamed he would have and if he could have moved, run he would have but he could do neither so all he could do was bear it. It was an eternity as he felt his head pulled to pieces and Arturo stepped away.
“Get up“ he snapped at Cole.
Arturo turned to Francesca “The cursed thing was never destroyed“ he snarled. “He doesn’t know where it is but the whitelighter does.“
Cole half staggered to his feet, holding his ground with a supreme effort of will as he held Arturo’s glare.
“You boy are insolent“ the old demon smiled not intimidated.
“Why didn’t the Elders tell you it still existed“ Arturo said to Francesca who had watched Arturo pull Cole’s brain apart with an expression of distaste.
“For no good reason I can think of “she answered grimly.
“Even if I can get hold of it I won’t “Cole said very slowly.
“You will“ Arturo smiled “You will do it because it is your legacy and your responsibility, because it is necessary. And I couldn’t have gone in your head that way if you had said yes the other day " he added with a purely demonic smile. "I hope it hurts like hell.“
Cole struck his hands in his pockets, head back eyeing off Arturo, not for one second wanting Arturo to know he was right. His head felt like a trowel had been dug around in there and because it was magic not physical, no regeneration was going to fix the problems.
Arturo looked to Francesca, eyes narrowed “I should listen to my own advice. The answer is always simple. You need to get it back and bring it to me“ He ordered Cole. “Now “sharper and harder in his relief that the book still existed and annoyance that the worry of the last few months had even happened. It was still Arturo’s penance that he had difficulty letting others act for him.
Cole who knew for all Arturo’s orders he was very apprehensive, pushed. “Why is it any better in your hands than mine“ Cole said “I don’t trust myself near it. I’m not beyond temptation, why should I believe you are?”
“You would be beyond temptation if you had said yes last week.“ Arturo said grimly. “Feel it in your head and feel it in your soul, the balance is gone, the realm is in danger terrible danger. Without a strong leader in the underworld, evil in chaos will piece by piece corrupt every cornerstone of good and good itself will fall.”
“You have seen that good unrestrained is a short step to evil. You’ve seen it happen to very good people you ..love and if you don’t find the Grimoire it will happen again and to more than those who are close to you” Arturo glared in exasperation at Cole who was rapidly descending into defiant teenager mode, as he sensed it was the one Arturo was having the most difficulty dealing with.
“Why do you think the Guardians are demons?” Arturo demanded “Why in the balance of it all the protectors have to be those who understand the nature of evil, who know its true calling and can recognise and protect against it, who can protect good from its own…sense of self righteousness.“
Arturo met into Cole’s resisting and smirking blue eyes and remembered that this was Belthezor who to get his own way had spent a demonic lifetime pulling the strings of demon master after demon master, and realised the longer he argued the more Cole was going to stubborn it out. The smile that left his own eyes was entirely demonic. “You will do it " Arturo said "because it is the only way to protect your witch from the peril of her own soul. You will do it because it is necessary and" he added "you will do it because it is right.“
Cole was unable to hold the expression of a thousand year old demon who had walked through the fire. He looked away and caught Francesca’s expression, shaking her head slightly, school marm.
“Don’t make me go after it “ Arturo said “Don’t make me go after the whitelighter.“
“Keep. Away. From. My. Family“ Cole bit out I will protect them. Ready to fight. The vague idea forming in his head to get the Grimoire and use it to protect his family from Arturo. And he froze, feeling himself at a crossroads, the one that turned back to evil.
He laughed to himself out loud as Arturo’s eyes narrowed. Cole had wondered why the determination he could not exist outside the Great Plan, suddenly he knew. So far from evil and yet so close .
“You will go find the Grimoire and bring it to me“ Arturo said.
“And make you the Source“ Cole snapped.
“I will do what is necessary to restore the balance“ Arturo said waving his hand “Go“ he ordered Cole because he had a very good idea where this was going.
Cole recognising the order for the growing sense of frustration it was, inclined his head and smiled insolently before starting to shimmer.
“Belthezor“ Arturo called him back. “This is not the business of witches and whitelighters. Don’t make it theirs or you will fail.“
Cole eyed him angrily, caught Francesca’s expression as the schoolmarm shook her head at him and told him to behave and because there was nothing else he could do he shimmered away.
“That is one very difficult …. “Arturo sighed “Is he always that annoying?”
“More or less yes“ Francesca said. “Why don’t you go after the whitelighter yourself?” Francesca asked. “Do you want me to?”
“No“ Arturo said, because if you do it wall make this the business of whitelighters, “Just at the moment, we once again must wait on Belthezor’s convenience.“
“He’s enjoying himself being difficult“ said Francesca in her school marm voice , disapproving, a little affectionate.
“I will go after the whitelighter if necessary" Arturo said“ But if I do we’ll lose Belthezor.“ He smiled “I never was very good at this.“
“Easier to rush in and act, do something rather than wait for the Great Plan to be realised“ Francesca said.
“I want to act, so badly“ Arturo admitted.
Francesca smiled “A thousand years and still Arturo, Arturo the fighter, still the soul of a warrior. Wisdom and patience did not come easily.“
“I do know better“ he added when she said nothing “ It just makes patience….harder.“
“Did you find anything else, when you read his thoughts, his soul“ Francesca asked.
“Yes“ Arturo said sadly “He has all but decided the answer is no.“
Francesca shrugged “Wait till he says no“ she said.
Arturo nodded and then he said quietly “Francesca find out what you can about a witch called Flip who he killed, I think in 1947.“
“Yes“ said Francesca really surprised and orbed away ti the realm above. A short while later Francesca thought how much she loved Arturo when he said go find out without consideration of the difficulty of her role, buffering sceptical, and fearful Powers of Good from the Guardians, and protecting Guardians from consequences of reacting to that scorn. With careful searching, and as quietly as possible she looked for the witch called Flip but she could find no trace of one.
Francesca rarely had any contact with the whitelighters and found it better to keep her distance but after quite a few but discrete enquiries got her no where, she quietly and unobtrusively sought out the whitelighter Leo when he visited the upper realms.
Leo not wearing whitelighter robe and looking as if did not quite belong with the other whitelighters looked up and at first barely recognised her, even when she put the hood down.
“Francesca“ he said slowly.
“I need to talk to you“ she said.
“About Cole“ Leo asked almost hopefully.
“More or less“ Francesca said.
Leo, noticing interest from those around him, was uncomfortably aware that whitelighters as powerful as Francesca did not usually seek those who guided the mortals in the realm below nodded.
“What do you know about a witch called Flip?” Francesca asked Leo looked up stunned.
“Has Cole ever mentioned her?“ Francesca insisted.
“Does it matter?“ Leo said.
“Yes“ said Francesca “it may.”
“Not here“ Leo said.
“The rim“ said Francesca.
Leo met Francesca few moments later in the rim. In the grey uncomfortable half light of the rim Leo watched her with her hood back, hair in a ponytail, and her misshapen, ugly face intently watching him. Shuffling his feet nervously he still managed to ask. “The road you walk“ he said, “What’s it like?“
She did not misunderstand. “Hard“ she said, “long, great joy. great sorrow, happiness, laughter. A life much like any other.”
“Before I answer about Flip will you tell me something“ Leo asked determined. “Even if Cole choses this Guardian thing what’s the problem with him and Phoebe for at least while she has her mortality. I know Cole is looking at this long hard eternity but really nothing has changed. He already knew about that.”
Francesca answered “For Cole. Not so much a problem. He can do what he likes guided only by the need to do what he is called to do, maintain the balance between good and evil. For Phoebe, a huge problem. The Elders, the Powers that Be, the ones who know of Guardians are not overly fond of them“ Francesca said. “If you think you and Piper had problems this is worse.”
Leo nodded, grim understanding.
“They regard those demons as minions of hell. Any one who is not fighting for Good must be fighting against it and the Guardians are to powerful.” She drew a tight breath “And not unreasonably Cole’s calling may, we shall say bring him into conflict with your calling and your family’s.” Francesca looked at Leo with sympathy “That’s the way it is.”
“Cole has been pretty good about not interfering with what the girl’s do“ Leo said. “Downright bloody minded about it in fact. Drives Piper crazy.”
“I promise you“ Francesca said “that once the Powers that be get wind of a fifth Guardian, and one living with you, they will not approve. What did they threaten you with when you and Piper tried to get married?“
“Unspeakable wrath“ Leo said.
“Hmm“ said Francesca “This will be worse“
“Couldn’t Cole stop that?“ Leo asked.
“Yes“ Francesca answered “but that’s the problem. He ‘s the one who ..ah ..to be wise. His role is not to fight the leaders of Good or Evil for that matter. He’s not the one who can get hurt. Its not protecting Cole from them. Its protecting him from having to protect himself against them.” She shook her head “When Janko turned 250 years it was nearly a disaster, absolute panic. And we had to keep him away, hidden from sight for nearly fifty years. And they regarded Janko as a saint compared to Belthezor. Janko was not the demon of the century. It was only fear of Evil winning that finally made them accept that Janko was not going to betray them, Francesca said, and time.”
“Do they need to know about Cole?“ Leo asked.
“Of course not“ answered Francesca, laughing and it suddenly occurred to Leo that she was very beautiful. “If Cole and Phoebe can be sensible, responsible, handle the difference in their callings with maturity and wisdom. If you and your family can find wisdom.” she said
“That stuffs it“ said Leo sadly.
Francesca laughed, enjoying the moment, her eyes alight, and her misshapen face contorting. Leo at that moment had no doubt. She was beautiful.
“Who was Flip?“ Francesca asked seriously.
“She was Penny’s sister Phoebe’s grandmother’s sister.” Leo answered wondering why he felt he was betraying Cole “She was the reason Cole came after the Charmed Ones originally.”
“Why?“ Francesca asked.
“The entry in the Book of Shadows about Belthezor, about not trusting him, Penny wrote it.” Leo explained “Penny chased Belthezor all her life trying to get him. He thought she might have deeded a tontine to her granddaughters to do what she couldn’t.”
“When did she write the entry“ Francesca asked.
“Around 1947“ Leo answered. “I remember it because it was the year Pattie was born.”
“Why did Cole tell you?“ Francesca asked.
“The girls found out about Phillippa being killed by a demon and thought about going after it.” Leo said. “Cole asked me to convince them otherwise. He’d already turned and he was right, them finding out about her and wanting revenge did not do anyone any good.”
Francesca eyed Leo suspiciously and he was not able to with stand it. He told Francesca what he knew of the witch Flip.
A few months after Prue’s death, just after Paige moved into the Manor, one Sunday night Phoebe and Piper had pulled out some old family photo albums and were going through, pointing out various relatives and giving Paige some quite outrageous stories about them. The girls were gathered on the parlour sofa and Cole was a sitting in one of the side chairs reading a book, outside the group while Leo had been catching up a weeks worth of newspapers.
Paige asked “Who is that girl pointing at one photo?“
“That’s Gram's sister Phillipa.” Piper answered “She was killed in an accident when she was about 18 or 19.”
“Accident or witch thing“ Paige asked interested.
“OMG“ answered Piper “Grams always said accident but she must have been a witch. I never thought she could have been killed by witchy things, isn’t that odd?“
“Maybe we should ask Grams next time she pops in“ Phoebe answered impishly. “ Hey Leo“ she called “Next time you are up can you ask them about Gram’s sister Phillipa?“
Leo looked up from the paper “They might not tell me but I’ll try“ and would have thought nothing more if he had not noticed Cole frozen in his chair, the book dropped staring at the girls with an incredible intensity and a look on his face that was very close to fear. Cole recovered quickly and picked up the book but he seemed to stare at his book rather than read for the next few minutes.
The oven bell in the kitchen rang “Casserole’s cooked“ said Piper and the girls all got up to get supper on the table.
Leo followed and Cole stayed a little behind. Leo turned and watched the demon walk to the table where the family albums were left and turn the pages with a reluctance that almost seemed agony, as if just looking hurt, but he could not help himself. Cole opened a page, Leo guessed, the one the girls had been looking at, and glanced at it for a few seconds. He looked up to find Leo watching him and shrugged but offered no explanation.
Cole had been very quiet all through supper but afterwards he had caught Leo as the girls went back to the photo albums and said he needed to talk. Cole and the Leo had slipped onto the front porch and sat on the steps.
“I need to ask you a favour“ Cole said. Leo, “ Don’t ask any questions about Flip?“
“Who?“ asked Leo.
“Flip, Phillipa“ Cole answered a little desperate.
“Can you give me a good reason Cole?“ Leo had responded, a little stunned.
“Me asking is not enough “ said Cole “No“ Cole slapped his knee almost as if it would force him to get the words out “You know when I came…after the Charmed Ones, it was not just because the Triad asked me. I had a few personal reasons. One was that I thought I had better get the Charmed Ones before they came after me.”
“They did not know you“ Leo said “Why? “
Cole shrugged awkwardly. His face intense “I thought Penny may have left them a sort of tontine, a family pledge to come after me“ he said awkwardly.
“What for?“ said Leo suspiciously.
Cole sighed “For killing Flip“ he answered “Penny came after me for nearly fifty years for that. Damn near got me several times too. She wrote that thing about me in the Book of Shadows“ Cole added “She was one scary old witch“ Cole said, smiling grimly.
Leo always found his stomach sinking when he was faced with the reality of Cole’s past
Finally Leo said “I’m guessing this was not just another witch to kill, there is something more?“
Cole sighed “ Leo would you just consider leaving it alone, not just for me but" he glanced to the open door, "but for the girls too?“
“Not just for Phoebe?“ Leo asked.
“Phoebe mostly but no the others too“ Cole answered.
Leo made his choice. He either trusted Cole or he didn’t. He nodded but promised himself to find out a little about what happened to Phillipa. Leo went into the house. Cole remained sitting on the porch step leaning back against he house , a beer in his hand ignored as he remembered the witch Flip.
The week after, during Sunday night supper, over a desert that Piper had spent all afternoon baking and Cole was barely touched much to Piper’s annoyance, Leo announced casually that he had checked up on Phillipa.
"What happened to her?“ Piper asked eagerly.
“She was abducted and killed by a demon“ Leo said evenly, meeting Cole’s glare across the table. “Pretty awful death apparently“ Leo said. He watched Cole’s expression, silent daring him, begging him“ By a demon called Kutan“ Leo added.
“We ought to look Kutun up in the Book of Shadows“ Phoebe said jumping up.
“Don’t bother“ Leo replied with a small smile “I checked. Kutan was well and truly destroyed by another demon he pissed off, just a little while later. He got his.”
“Well" said Piper “I’m going to ask Grams about Phillipa, next time she appears“ Piper said.
Leo smiled “I checked on Phillipa“. Leo answered. “She passed on to another life, another role. Phillipa has gone over.”
Paige looked disturbed “That’s it?“ she said.
“That’s the end of it“ Leo said firmly. He looked at Cole who could only give him a wry smile of thanks. Much later that night Cole had taken up his usual spot sitting on the steps, the door was open and Leo could see him, unobtrusively watching Phoebe as the three girls played monopoly around the dining room table, making a great deal of noise. Mostly his eyes just stayed on Phoebe.
Leo went out to join him.
"Thanks“ Cole said simply.
“But you didn’t kill her Cole“ Leo said “Why did Penny think you did?“
“Because I’m guessing a little. Kutan took Flip and , he, he pissed me off a bit so I stole his prize and took her back to the Manor. There was no point, doing anything worse. I didn’t want to finish her.. hell there was no sport and no point Leo.” Cole said awkwardly.
“That still does not explain“ Leo said.
“Kutan came after again. Got her. Finished her off“ Cole said.
“But“.. Leo started to say “Why did Penny..?”
“Not being around the Manor ,I can only guess“ Cole replied testily “I can only think Flip could not bring herself to tell Penny about what Kutan had done to her. Did not want Penny to feel guilty for not protecting her. Flip must have just told her about me and when Penny discovered Flip was killed by the demon who abducted her and she just thought it was me. “ Cole laughed wryly with a small self depreciating cough “You know when Phoebe told me about what Penny had written about me in the Book of Shadows, I had to laugh. She said I could not be vanquished. Do you know how many times the old b... witch nearly got me? She was one scary witch. That is why I came after her grand-daughters To make sure they did not come after me.”
“It was you who killed Kutan?“ Leo asked.
“Oh yeah“ Cole said “Him going after Flip again, when I was not around. Pissed me off no end. I got him just as bad as I could, with a cursed athame, no nice vanquish, easy pouff into the wasteland for him. He’s rotting powerless and in agony in the depths of hell.”
And the demonic smile said Cole had no regrets.
“Bringing her back was good….“ Francesca commented.
“Cole has a good soul“ said Leo defending him, “A good magic soul, Did you know that?“
“Yes“ said Francesca “I did.”
“He always did“ Leo said.
She thanked Leo and left him in the rim to wonder if he had been wise.
Francesca no longer had any difficulty finding what she needed to know about the witch Flip and how she died. She read the records, the history of the realm, the never ending battle between good and evil.
“Oooh Cole“ she said sadly shaking her head “You do keep your secrets“