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 met Phoebe after her work finished and they shared a late meal, taking every moment they could. Cole had made a huge effort to ignore what was happening, to pretend the visit with Arturo never happened. He was not going to tell Phoebe about the latest ultimatum.
He did not want to be a Guardian, he had all but decided that he simply lacked the courage to face a future atoning for the sins of Belthezor alone, and that for all Phoebe’s heart felt promises to be with him, he would be alone. And if he had any belief that magic would find a way for him and Phoebe to even have her lifetime together that was lost in the order to retrieve the Grimoire, because he would have to betray Phoebe, her family and everything they believed in. And any hope they would understand one more betrayal was small.
Even if it was right, it was best, the Grimoire was returned to the Underworld, if the balance demanded it, Arturo could do it. Cole felt he lacked the courage to betray one more time or at least face the consequences of it. And then suddenly the name Flip flashed in his brain and unbidden came a memory of the consequences when once before he had lacked the courage to betray.
When he returned from visiting Arturo, all that day he had thought and the only thought that came to him was he had failed before through lack of courage and he was not convinced, he would not fail again. He firmly put the thoughts away when he met Phoebe. While Phoebe realised he was very worried and concerned they made an unspoken pact to share the present moment and the time with each other.
Phoebe had a duty to perform for Paige. The previous night after supper Paige had gone to visit her new boyfriend Steve, coming home in the very early hours of the morning. As she slipped upstairs, Cole who was awake heard her coming up the stairs and got up, finding the ever ready track pants. Paige had the light to her bedroom on and was standing in the doorway. Cole did not miss that her hair was uncombed and her bra was hanging out of her purse.
“What are you doing up?“ Paige demanded softly.
“Fifth stair creaks“ he said not bothering to pretend. "Nice evening" he asked quietly. “Boy friend see you home did he?“
“Shut the hell up Cole“ Paige hissed and shut the door, only just remembering not to slam it.
Over dinner Phoebe told Cole that Paige was insisting she pass on the message that who Paige dated and slept with was none of Cole’s business.
“I know that“ he said.
“You really don’t think women shouldn’t sleep…, have sex…, enjoy dating… “Phoebe asked, always a little anxious that despite what he said about not caring who she had been with before him, he really did.
“No of course not“ he said smiling because he understood what was worrying her. “What I think is that i if women do sleep…, have sex…, enjoy dating… “ he mimicked “the guy who they do it with could be appreciative enough, to see them home, to say thanks, to know something of their life, such as meet their family. If he doesn’t women who want to ..enjoy dating, can find some-one who does.”
“Paige is a witch“ Phoebe said whispering so the waitress did not hear. “She could protect him“
“He doesn’t know that Cole“ answered calmly.
“Anyway“ Phoebe said, “fronting up to the family is a big one. That’s the one that makes it a relationship or ends it. Guys are terrified of facing the family.”
“Tough" said Cole who apart from having been a demon was a 120 year old guy. “At least whatever else I did I fronted up to your family.”
“That’s because you wanted to kill them“ Phoebe muttered.
“Even after“ Cole grinned “Have you any idea what a scary b..witch Prue was?“
Phoebe giggled suddenly remembering "Yes" she said. “ What are you trying to do, take over from her?“
“Maybe“ he said.
“Anyway“ she said as if this was going to win the argument “Piper said to remind you what she thought of you interfering with Paige’s dating.”
“Hmm“ said Cole. “You know I do get a certain enjoyment out of your family Baby.”
“Okay“ Phoebe said giving in. “Duty done, its between you and Paige. You work it out”
They left the restaurant and walked across the Bridge to enjoy another moment, at least until in the middle of snuggling up watching the lights on the harbour and the embankment, Phoebe’s cell phone rang. It was Piper saying she had to get home immediately because they had another Charmed One emergency.
Piper said it was urgent so Cole shimmered Phoebe back to the Manor and then returned to get his car. He was seriously annoyed at this, and muttering to himself about the uselessness of magic in a mortal world as he drove back, when he suddenly burst out laughing. All that had happened in the last few days, in the terrible decisions he had to make, everything he was facing, the thing that was annoying him most was shimmering back and getting his car.
At the Manor the witches were rapidly brewing that smelt disgusting to Cole and Leo was prowling up and down. Cole promised he would look after Melinda. Piper told him to contact Marly no matter if they weren’t back by morning, and Cole did not miss the concern that he may not be around to look after her and he could not help himself. “Demon ex’s come and demon ex’s go, but Melinda comes first“ he drawled.
“Cole“ Leo said automatically.
Phoebe just looked even more worried.
“I’ll be here“ he promised.
Leo gave instructions about the monsters that they were going after. They were called Drakianas, and it showed just how out of control Tempus was that these monsters, even Cole would not call them demons were out of control. They were dragon headed firebreathers who could turn their breath into laser like knives that could stab from quite a distance and they always went for the heart. Mostly according to the Book of Shadows they guarded the hidden chambers of the Underworld. Centurions of the dominions of hell. They were soul gatherers but usually only collected souls that went near the evil realms. It was not their place to look for souls in the higher realms and while they were banned from touching total innocents as Cole had often pointed out and to Leo’s bemusement the Elders had told him when they summoned him, very few were totally innocents.
When Piper demanded from Cole if he wanted to come he regretfully shook his head “What difference dos it make now“ she demanded.
“Probably none“ he said “But I still can’t come“
“Sometimes I wonder whose side you really are on” Piper said self-righteously.
Cole glanced at her narrowing his eyes and then caught Leo watching his wife with a concerned expression.
The witches spent a long night slipping in and out of hospitals and mortuaries and other places of death getting rid of the monsters who blew up in a satisfactory fire burst when the potion was thrown at them. It was dangerous work because they had to the close enough to throw or for Paige to orb the potion. Piper’s blowing up did not work with them and she could only freeze them long enough to use the potion if they were very close.
After Phoebe only managed to just avoid having her heart pierced by levitating out of the way, she breathed to Piper how she missed outsmarting upper level demon’s who had real demonic plots, not this monster war they seemed to be doing later. Piper busy between two other Drakianas could only nod agreement.
Leo had to leave in the early hours of the morning. Just as he sensed a call from one of the more powerful covens he looked after in France, the Elders summoned him to tell him that the same coven was about to take on another bunch of Arachnids that were attacking witches in the hidden woods of the Pyrenees. He managed to get back to give Piper a quick warning and orbed away, wondering when all this was going to end, demon, monsters, hives and cults and witches being lost in the battles. It had long since got out of control and he sensed a strong sense of desperation in the Elders as whitelighter after whitelighter was left mourning a charge lost to the battle.
The girls arrived back at the Manor at dawn exhausted but only just taking the time to mix some more potions and Piper called Marly herself apparently not trusting Cole to do it.
“Probably for the best“ Paige whispered despite her tiredness “If Marly got a call from a man she’d pass out"
“Paige” muttered Phoebe. Cole laughed.
He left the witches and went to work. He had spent along long night mostly sitting watching Melinda sleep. After being so certain the night before he was just going to say no to everything, he had gazed at the baby sleeping soundly and realised the danger she and others like her were in if the chaos in the Underworld was not fixed, and he had the means to do. All he had to do was betray her mother, and family.
He half expected Arturo to turn up telling him they had waited long enough on his convenience. He recognised the irony that he who was famous in the world of Evil and Good for his rashness and recklessness, demon Belthezor, mortal, almost decided not to be Guardian, always accused of rushing in without considering the consequences, was having so much of a problem just going to Arturo and saying no he did not want to do it. All he was really doing was dragging every last second out with Phoebe, the only reason he had to say yes was the hope of finding a way to be with Phoebe, or the dream of finding a way out where he simply made no choice. A part of him had wanted to believe that it existed.
Yesterday when he had came very close to recklessly deciding to use the Grimoire to protect Leo, to protect his family, strange so close to an unredeemable answer he could use those words, family, his. And he could acknowledge that he was not as far from evil as he thought, it was still not beyond the possibility.
Arturo was right. His choices were very limited. Retrieve the Grimoire or not, do it and say yes and face the whole consequences of sins of Belthezor alone, lose Phoebe, get it because it was his legacy and say no to the rest and it was over, leaving Phoebe with the bitterness of knowing his final act was betrayal. Just say no to it all and Arturo would take the responsibility; run away from the responsibility for the life he had lead, peace and no reckoning or would there be?
Francesca was as usual already at work. He vaguely wondered how she did it and what he had missed before he knew she was a whitelighter. He tried to ignore her, long since beyond anger, even hurt at why she was there. She said nothing but watched him closely, waiting, on his convenience.
He went through surreal morning of being a lawyer and wondering where it would end. He had a dismal meeting with the parents of the 19 year old prostitute he was defending for murder. He listened to a long, long story about how she had been a difficult girl who ran away from home despite their best efforts and he murmured sympathetically, that sometimes you could not help it. People even children had to make their own mistakes and live with the consequences. Cole was starting to hate that word.
“You can’t see the future“ Cole told them “You can’t predict where your mistakes will lead you, sometimes they lead where you are supposed to be“ he said thinking where the reckless action of taking on the Hollow had led him. Jenny’s mother’s an elegant women with dyed dark blond hair, showed her disbelief.
“Sometimes it’s the mistakes that make us find the best of ourselves“ he added thinking thought of the 18 year old Phoebe sneaking down the stairs to run away to New York with money she stole from her Grandmother’s purse. He had a fair understanding that Penny, Grams, would probably have at that point, been wondering where she had gone wrong.
“Trust me“ he told Jenny’s parent’s “Jenny is responsible for Jenny. Not you and I’ll be responsible for making sure the only mistakes she answers for are hers, not her pimps and not yours.”
He said as much to Francesca who nodded and then bluntly asked him what he was going to do he said simply he did not know.
Considering how much life and death was at stake Francesca was less than understanding about his procrastinating. She pointedly told him that to many people had waited to long on his convenience.
He turned angrily and said “Do you know how many time I’ve done what I thought was the right thing and never thought of the consequences. And how many people have got hurt because of it.”
“You are never sure of consequences“ Francesca said “Until they happen. Which I think I just heard you say.”
“It’s my life“ he added.
“Which is naturally the most important thing“ Francesca said “What are afraid of Cole?“ she asked as he turned back to his office.
Blue eyes blazed “I’m afraid of saying yes and not being able to do it“ he said “I’m afraid to say I will atone for Belthezor’s sins when I lack the courage to do it. I’m afraid of making promises I can’t keep. That’s what I do“ he said “I betray. I make promises I don’t keep“ he said.
“Don’t or can’t?“ Francesca asked.
"I’ve made some mistakes" he said "and I’m not the one who has paid."
“Didn’t you just say its the mistakes that make us find the best of ourselves?“ Francesca said school marm because she doubted sympathy was what he needed. “It’s the mistakes that teach us what is right.”
“I know what’s right Fr…Mrs Rinaldi“ he said. “From not having done it.”
Francesca would have continued the argument if the phone had not rung and it was Phoebe angrily desperate.
“Can you come?“ she said to Cole.
“What’s wrong Phoebe?” he said calm.
“Paige is very badly hurt, very badly“ she said “and we’ve called Leo and he’s not answering. Its bad Cole“ she said. “Piper thought maybe you could slow somethings down until we can get him.”
“Can you heal mortals?“ Coles asked Francesca interrupting Phoebe.
“No“ said Francesca quietly “healing mortals, is outside my calling. My powers are beyond them.”
“I’m coming“ Cole said to Phoebe. He told Francesca and she warned him to be careful what he did.
“I’ll be the decider of that“ he said and only eased the message by a shrug and a smile.
As he shimmered Francesca said “And that Mr Turner sounded decidedly Guardian like. You start speaking like Procter and this friendship will need to be reassessed.”
Cole shimmered to where Phoebe told him, even though it was only a seconds or so he actually thought from the rigidity of Phoebe’s body as she held Paige and Piper hovering yelling for Leo, that Paige had gone. But her saw a small gasp and a bubble of blood come from her mouth and did not even ask but flicked his wrist and putting time force around Paige so everything was moving slowly but she was still bleeding profusely.
“Heart’s nicked, lungs punctured. She’s nearly gone“ Piper said in this peculiarly flat and dull voice. Then she screamed Leo and there was still no answer.
And suddenly she spun because a noise behind them and they were 2 dragon headed Drakianas approaching.
Piper and Phoebe reached for potions but Cole just raised a wrist and flicked and the two Drakianas disappeared in a loud puff.
“She’s an innocent“ Piper yelled frightened for her sister. “Damn it ,she’s an innocent they shouldn’t approach her.”
But she had barely got the words out and two more were approaching, risking the power of the witches at the prospect of bounty, Cole blew them up before they came within yards.
“Why couldn’t you do that before?“ Piper demanded “Why couldn’t’ you fight. Leooooooo"
"Because I can’t fight for witches or demons and you know it“ Cole said terse because he was frightened for Paige too. “I can only protect.”
“Maybe you ought to start working out your loyalties“ Piper snarled, frightened.
Cole went to answer and then shut his mouth.
“Cole“ said Phoebe “Piper“ and then she to screamed “Leo.”
Two more Drakianas approached and Cole blew them up.
“Can’t you slow this down any more“ Phoebe said as even in the slow motion Paige started to blow bubbles of blood again.
He tried he really tried but he thought it was not enough and all three had all but given up when a Leo arrived. It probably only was minutes it seemed hours since he had been called.
Leo did not bother to ask what happened he just reached for Paige “Take the time power away“ he ordered Cole flicked a finger and Paige started to draw a hoarse breath that stopped and gurgled. Leo put his hands over her heart and the wound healed.
“Paige“ Piper cried and fell to the ground beside her sister.
“That was just about the worst one of all“ Paige whispered.
“I’ll get her home“ Leo said Lifting her. “Cole?“
“Yeah I’ll take Piper and Phoebe“ he said.
“I hate shimmering“ Piper started to say getting snaky with relief.
“Suffer“ muttered Cole and put his hand on Piper’s shoulder.
He shimmered them back to the house where Leo was just putting a still pale and shaky Paige on the sofa.
“Oow “she said. Not able to get anything more out while her family stood in various stage of shock and concern.
Marly came running, hovering in the doorway with Melinda in her arms, uncertain.
“Where were you?“ Phoebe asked Leo.
“The witches in France five were taken by Arachnids, I had to wait while they rescued them. We lost one“ he added. “Piper“ he said “I could not leave one group of charges to save Paige . I had to chose what was the right thing to do and . It.. sucked.”
“I know honey“ Piper said. “You did everything you could” and she sent a glare at Cole.
“Thanks Cole“ he said “Lucky you were around“
“Would have been damned bad luck id both of us weren’t Leo“ he said “But even so I’m glad you didn’t leave it any longer.”
"Would have been luckier if he" Piper said indicating Cole "got his priorities right."
“Piper” said Leo and Paige.
“What’s up with you” Cole asked ‘You know I can’t..” and then caught Leo glance at Piper, his face grim.
“Those damned things were coming after Paige’s soul“ Phoebe said “I thought they only went after bad souls not innocents.”
“What do you mean?“ said Paige.
“Nothing“ Phoebe started to say.
“The Drakianas came after your soul“ Cole said bluntly.
“My soul is good“ Paige said “What you think I’m lying“ she started to say struggling to sit up.
“No we don’t think that“ Phoebe said.
“I. am. Good. Paige“ said “so what gives?“
“Tempus has lost control“ Cole said “ If those thing have broken out and are going after any soul they can find, then Evil is falling apart, beyond Tempus control, he can’t rule .
“Souls human souls are valuable trade in the Underworld but up until now its been .. not good soul,. The Source always kept Drakianas in tight rein, was scared of consequences of letting them go after innocents. Guardians I suppose“ Cole snorted.
Piper knew she must not take it on Leo who was shaking the fear over the choice h had nearly had to make. So she turned on Cole. “This wouldn’t have happened to Paige if you had come“ Piper said sounding angry but more upset. “It’s your fault it happened.”
“I can’t fight for you Piper“ Cole said very firmly “But you’re right its my fault.”
Phoebe said “We still have to finish those things off.”
“How many did you get?“ Cole asked.
“Seven“ said Phoebe.
“They troll in 13’s“ Cole said. “That group is gone.”
“Until the next time“ Piper snarled but she was hurting.
“There won’t be a next time“ Cole said “Do you need me?“ he asked quietly.
“Hardly“ snapped Piper.
“I just need to go and think a few things through“ he said.
“Cole“ said Phoebe.
“I’ll be all right“ and he shimmered away.
Leo suddenly looked up “I have to go“ he said “Elders.”
Piper took her daughter from Marly and gave her a quick cuddle. “I’ll feed her“ Marly whispered as Piper turned back to help her sisters.
“Thought they got me that time“ said Paige.
“Didn’t happen doesn’t count“ said Piper brisk now that the worst was over.
Piper insisted that Paige rest all afternoon.
“You put the baby down to sleep in the afternoon“ Paige had protested.
“You are the baby“ Phoebe assured her and made her go to bed. Paige to her amusement tired and shaken, fell asleep almost immediately. Phoebe looked after Melinda after assuring Marly everything was okay and they would call her as soon as they needed.
Leo returned about an hour later looking grim and unhappy.
“What did the Elders want“ Piper said stirring things in a big bowl, cooking Paige her favourite meal to make up for the fright they all had that day, while Phoebe on personal time from work watched.
Leo stood wriggling unhappily, restless not sure.
“What happened honey“ Piper said al business now the crisis was over.
Leo leant on the bench.
“Well Elders are worried but pleased. They think that Drakianas are after innocent souls, they think they believe that Tempus had lost control of he Underworld. They think this is good. I don’t. “ Leo said
“And“ said Piper.
Leo shrugged. “The Elders asked me about the Grimoire again“ Leo said “Wanted it.”
“Why?“ said Piper stoping mixing, concerned.
Leo winced “A couple of them seem to think perhaps, we could use it to stop evil, well finish the job, you know make sure Tempus , no source ever has control again.”
“Good can’t use that thing“ Phoebe said. “We knew that when we had it. Good can’t touch it.”
“I know“ Leo said softly “Good shouldn’t even consider using that thing.We should have found a way destroy that thing“
“Is there away?“ Phoebe asked.
“The Elders said there was not last time I asked“ Leo answered. “They would not consider trying at he moment“ he added.
“Were they telling the truth?“ Phoebe asked.
“It’s the Elders Phoebe“ Leo said.
Piper shrugged “Were they? “ she said.
“I think so“ Leo answered still “Just I think that thing is dangerous, tempting, maybe some are being a little …tempted“
“Maybe its time Good took control, really destroyed evil“ Piper said contemplatively, “Maybe this is the way. I can understand the temptation” she said.
“Wiping out evil is hardly a bad thing“ Phoebe said.
“Will we wipe out evil?" Leo said "or just create chaos or worse. And the Guardian thing“ Leo asked “Isn’t that the whole point with Cole. Evil can’t be destroyed or defeated. Tempus loses control, doesn’t it just mean Good being turned evil. It nearly happened to you“ he added.
“You don’t really think its happening to the Elders do you Leo?“ Piper asked.
“Maybe Cole, is right“ Leo said, “Evil needs a strong leader or hell breaks loose,. Maybe that thing should go back and get Tempus coronated so those damned out of control demons are under some control.”
“Leo“ said Piper suddenly angry “We’ve had this conversation. No matter what, that thing can’t go back. It isn’t just getting Tempus or any other demon coronated, not against it, I even understand that maybe a strong leader is best but that thing, if that thing has all the spells or the lore all the magic of the Source. Do you want to be responsible every time Evil kills a witch, or destroys an innocent. That would be ..betrayal to everything I .. we believe.“ She nodded "After all the balance is finally on our side."
“Piper this morning“ Leo said “We nearly lost Paige and I did lose another witch in France, and it was lucky I did not lose another 4. Do you know what it felt like having to chose who I was going to save? I did that once before and even though I made the right choice“ Leo shook his head “it doesn’t feel right Piper. ..It ..it sucks. “
“That thing can’t go back Leo“ Piper said firmly. “No matter how bad it seems there had to be another way there has to be a way to defeat evil. To stop it without making another Source like the last one.”
Phoebe said “Isn’t that what Cole is about making sure that it doesn’t?“
“He doesn’t seem to want to be about that“ Piper said. “And it can’t go back. To give it back would be evil, against everything we ever fought for, what we stand for.”
“Its not just about us Piper” Leo said. “You know that. At least I thought you did. I its dangerous here its polluting the realm . Piper, Phoebe its tempting Elders, and opening the way for the worst sort of evil like the Drakianas to come into this realm, things that never used to come, things so evil they stay down in the Underworld. Its to dangerous and to evil to be in this realm“ he said "its just turning this realm evil, its just giving evil a way in."
He glanced at Piper’s rigid stance. “I see it around me.”
.”We’re not giving it back. we’re not having the loss of every witch of every innocent who would be lost if evil used the magic in it.” Piper said firmly, self righteously, no compromise , "we’re not evil."
Leo sighed and Phoebe smiled reassuring him
Francesca orbed in to Arturo’s house on the Corinthian Gulf
Proctor and Arturo were already sitting quietly in his room overlooking the balcony , staring at et crystals in his cabinet, flashing like kaleidoscope, dark colours. Wild uncontrolled lights.
“That’s not good“ Francesca said glancing at the lights.
“No“ said Arturo.
“Time is no longer on our side“ Proctor interrupted “Has Belthezor found the Grimoire?“
“He knows how to find it but he procrastinates“ Arturo answered.
“Where is he Arturo?“ Proctor asked sharply.
“Saving his sister in law from Drakianas.” Francesca answered.
“He won’t interfere in witches’ business?“ Arturo said.
“He seems to understand“ Francesca said.
“We need to fix it Arturo there is no more time. Either he fixes it or take from him what we need“. Proctor insisted in a calm voice that belied the urgency.
“It’s the whitelighter who knows the answer“ said Arturo.
“That complicates matters“ Proctor said,. “We do what we must“ Proctor said “And if Belthezor does not, cannot understand this then we act. Now“ he said.
“I will go to him and tell him“ Francesca said “This cannot be a war between Guardians and whitelighters or Elders.”
“That would be evil“ said Proctor, “More’s the pity.”
"That is why Belthezor is called.” smiled Arturo.
“Cole, will so what is right“ Francesca said. “He always does in the end no matter the cost.”