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)
As Tempus shattered his mirror, high in the rim the First Dark Priest of Demondom, the one who owed the Charmed Ones for destroying all those ahead of him, fearfully eyed the shrouding mists. He was terrified of the risks and even his own stupidity at coming but he had been tempted and the temptation was strong.
He had been tempted by a small, meek monkish demon, a scribe, known by sight to those demons seers, sages and priests, who kept the records of the lower realm. This small scribe had whispered fearfully that he during his recent travels he had been shown a dark book by a rogue demon who had knew the treasure was valuable but failed to recognise it for what it was. The small scribe, lamenting his inability to handle such a power as was in the Book could arrange for the Dark Priest to retrieve the Grimoire, for a price.
The Dark Priest had doubted when hope had been lost, that this chance could happen to him, but he then remembered he was lucky. He was after all the only senior member of his calling to survive the Great Immolation.
As the Dark Priest peered nervously into the mist, a shrouded figure of a tall demon appeared, carrying a cloth wrapped parcel and in hissing breathy voice asked if the priest understood the terms of his bargain. The priest had nodded and carefully accepted the extended parcel, breathing hard at the effort of holding it.
The Dark Priest nervously pulled back and swallowed a gasp because to his disbelief it really was the Grimoire, Dark Book of the Lore of Demondom.
“You were right to return it“ said the priest “it has a certain value to my master.“
“The reward“ hissed the shrouded demon.
“You will receive your just reward“ said the Dark Priest, “as will I " and he shimmered away.
Arturo threw his hood back, smiling his face seeming to have lost a hundred years now he no longer had to hold the Grimoire. He turned to the small meek scribe who appeared behind him. “That Therold“ he said “is the last truth our soon to be lamented priest friend will speak.”
Cole was lying somewhat morosely on a hotel bed, thinking where he was going, or not, somewhat confused about what the argument he had had with Phoebe’s family really was. Only Piper had been angry about what he had done. Both Phoebe and Paige seemed far more angry about how he had done it. And he had no idea why.
Cole glanced at his cell phone. Another message from Phoebe.
He knew he would see her one more time but he was not quite ready. Which is why he had not gone to Arturo and told him no. More or less. He had made the decision, or almost decided or at least was fairly certain that he would choose no. He could find any one of a hundred reasons to say no and carefully avoided the only reason he could think of to say yes. That it was the right thing to do.
He looked around the hotel room and hated it. With the Underworld off limits and the people in the only place he had to go in the mortal realm,….pissed at him, he was coming to some disturbing conclusions about Phoebe’s bossy annoying, dysfunctional family. He was used to them.
He did not realise until he was separated from it how much in the last months he had got used to being part of the household at the Manor, how much he had got used to not being alone. He had hated moving in, really hated it. He had been miserable, despite being with Phoebe even to the point of a couple of times wondering if he could stand it even for Phoebe and then he just, he just got used to it.
He got used to having somewhere to go, he got used to the incessant noise of two televisions, he got used to clashing music, Paige’s rap music and Phoebe’s classical. He got used to the noise from the baby, and the raised voices and not being alone. Ever. He even got used to blocking out the noise from Phoebe’s family and working quietly in his own corner rather than his office.
He got used to Piper’s flat refusal to let any one miss Sunday dinner. He got used to the extended family. Victor was still very suspicious of him but it was ..had been getting better.
Cole had got used to morning noises and plumbing rattles in the old house and neighbour’s car sounds. He got used to Phoebe’s constant arguments with Piper about environmentally sound household products against the cheap ones. That one raged long and loud.
He just got used to living with Phoebe’s family and as he had never lived in a family environment before, he had nothing to really judge just how normal it was. Although, just from other lawyers in the firm’s family stories he had a suspicion that the girl’s closeness including their arguments was quite unusual and he knew that ever since he had moved back with Phoebe his living arrangements had been a source of constant gossip in the firm. He had been surprised when a colleague who had quite by accident been eating at the same restaurant as Cole and Phoebe and Leo and Piper, commented on how close the family was because, Cole’s impression of the night had been that it was one long bicker between Piper and Phoebe over some household issue.
He really had no idea of how families in a mortal world lived. Darryl always acted as if Phoebe’s family was almost freakish in their intertwined life and arguments. Cole once had had the impression Darryl’s family was normal, affectionate co-operative and never argued. He and Sheila’s life with their two boys was just perfect according to Darryl. When Cole constantly bitched about all the in law problems he had both mortal and not Darryl had been very happy to explain that he did not have in law problem. Sheila’s folks are just great he said.
Sheila knew what Cole was. In the long dark months when he and Phoebe were separated, Darryl had asked him to his home on several occasions and Cole to Darryl’s horror had told her why he and Phoebe separated. She handled it well all things considered. A short time later Cole, lonely, needing company, any company, had called in and been uncomfortably aware he had interrupted a family party. The folks were there, both sets of folks, and if Darryl did not have an in law problem Sheila did. Cole watched the tensions between Sheila and Darryl’s parents erupt into a very tense battle between Darryl and Sheila. Cole got away as soon as he decently could. A few days later when Cole had asked Darryl if everything was okay, Darryl had been surprised. Everything was great between him and Sheila. She just got a little uptight entertaining, which was not Cole’s experience. Cole had decided then and there he did not understand mortal families and nothing had changed his opinion. Not that it mattered now.
He knew he would see Phoebe again. And he was holding off talking to Arturo until he did. If he saw her now it would be bitter words and accusations. If he saw her closer to the time, it would be good bye and he hoped he could leave her, with a last memory of love not anger.
Although… as he lay there, in a lonely hotel room considering it, he hoped in a little while, when she realised that the onslaught from evil was over thanks to him she would look back on the way she had behaved today and feel very guilty, extremely guilty, racked with guilt. That would be all right.
Cole then had a particularly pleasant thought about Piper in tears of regret over what a bitch she had been the last time she had seen him, particularly as she realised just how brave and good his last acts had been. And Paige. Paige had been quite sweet, all things considered, she could just be sad after he had gone. As for Leo, Leo could be just unhappy every time he realised he was stuck in that house, alone, with three women bitching.
Cole sighed lying back enjoying a particularly pleasant vision of Phoebe alone for the rest of her life, crying every day because in her last parting with the love of her life she had been such a bitch. Then he thought how much he did love her. He would see her one more time, just so she would know how much he did love her, and her last memory would be a poetic and romantic goodbye. He owed her that. She deserved that for what he had put her through. She could be miserable for the rest of her life he decided but he would spare her the guilt, because he loved her.
In the middle of that particularly pleasant vision, he heard knock on the door. He was somewhat surprised to see Leo standing there.
“What do you want?“ he said as he opened the door “and more to the point, how did you find me?“
“I came to see how you were doing“ Leo answered “and I could say magic but I asked Francesca“ he explained “I .. whitelighters were a bit stunned. At me approaching one of the greater Powers but hell. She told me on one condition“ Leo said.
“What?“ Cole asked suspiciously.
“She said she’s fed up with chasing you at the moment “Leo said as Cole smiled “but to remind you have to be in court tomorrow.”
“It never ends“ he said.
Leo asked “You want to go for a beer “ he said.
Cole shrugged a little surprised and then said “Why not?“
They found a small bar not far from the hotel and sat at a corner table.
“Are you going to tell Phoebe where I am?“ Cole said.
“I doubt it“ Leo said “I’m not very popular back at the Manor right now.”
“Leo you didn’t tell Piper did you“ Cole said swigging a beer “I wasn’t going to rat.”
“That thing was dangerous in this realm“ Leo said.
“I know“ Cole said.
“You think I betrayed , I was going to betray everything I am“ Leo said.
“I think your intentions were good“ Cole said slowly “and speaking as some one who knows about betrayal, I guess the point is when its what you feel it’s best or right, its nearly impossible not to betray someone, and in the end the only choice is who gets betrayed.”
“That thing had to go“ Leo said.
“I know“ said Cole “But. What use did it do to tell Piper anything. I wasn’t going to rat.”
“I know“ said Leo “but you know I think she should understand. And a secret like that between us, sooner or later it would pull us apart. You can’t have a secret, that,... a secret that defines everything you are between you in a marriage.”
“That depends on the secret“ Cole said cryptically and Leo just looked at him sideways but did not push. “That sort of thinking got you two divorced in the other time lines“ Cole said.
“Yeah well maybe I felt like I do now in the other timelines. “ Leo said “ And I guess we’ll find out how different Piper is. Anything had to better than what was happening , including risking a new strong source Anyway it sounds like the girls stopped me in the other time lines not you“ He said “By the way next time don’t hit so hard.”
“Okay“ Cole said smiling. “But I still think you’re an idiot Leo.”
“Maybe you’re right“ he said "But Piper should understand."
Cole grinned “I wouldn’t bank on it if I was you. Piper can be a bitch.”
“When are you going to stop calling my wife a bitch“ Leo said.
“When she stops calling me an arsehole“ Cole said.
“Touche“ said Leo.
“Anyway“ Cole said into his beer, “what she said to me today was pretty damned bitchy.”
“She was frightened, worried about what bringing the Grimoire out had caused.” Leo said. “You know Piper acts angry, gets nasty when she’s frightened, and I think that damn Book was getting to her.”
“I know“ Cole said “That was one of the reason’s I decided to take it back.”
“Anyway you said some pretty bad stuff to her“. Leo said grinning.
“She said worse to me“ Cole said.
“Well she trusts you more than you trust her“ Leo said swigging a beer. “She let’s you look after Melinda doesn’t she.”
Cole just shook his head. “I don’t understand this stuff“ he said.
“Downside about families“ Leo said “they take out the bad things on people they trust. Family.”
“Piper isn’t my family“ Cole said.
"You’re an idiot Cole“ Leo said. “She wouldn’t have said that stuff if she wasn’t.” Leo looked at Cole’s confused expression. “You have no idea do you?" he said. "That fuss today.”
“Fuss“ said Cole “Fuss is not what I would call it.”
“Fuss“ said Leo firmly “You do know that was not about you taking the Grimoire. It was about you not trusting your family“ he explained “You hurt them badly, you know.”
Cole looked at Leo blankly.
“Your family“ Leo said firmly“ The people who love you. The people who have been worried sick about you all week. People you live with.”
“People who.. ah tolerate me for Phoebe’s sake“ Cole said. “Barely”
Leo raised his eyes. “Yeah Paige always makes lousy sandwiches for people she barely tolerates and Piper is always trying to protect you when from being to hurt over Phoebe’s what do you call it capriciousness because she barely tolerates you."
Cole shook his head in disbelief.
“Cole its family.” Leo said letting some of the exasperation he felt slip into his voice “Its why you’re allowed to play the heavy on Paige’s boyfriends, without having Piper and Phoebe tear you to pieces. It’s family business“. Leo grinned “You have no idea how to be loved do you Cole. You do pretty good on the loving side but not so good at the other.”
They were both silent for a while.
Until Leo said quietly. “There’s something else" he said taking another swig of beer. "And I’m only saying this in the… family. About today and yesterday. I made a mistake because apart from all the Good versus Evil stuff, I wanted to protect my family, Paige was nearly killed, Piper I knew that accursed thing was affecting her, the way she kept on about betrayal, like it was all about her. I got scared you were going to go evil again.”
Cole in the middle of lifting the beer bottle stopped cold, and then shrugged.
“I nearly made a big mistake trying to protect my family, risked losing them to protect them and“ Leo said slowly “you did too Cole.” He met Cole’s intense stare and then swallowed a little. “You tried to protect the girls and me from betraying what we believe in by betraying us. Just saying “ Leo said “Guardian’s business may not be witches or whitelighter’s business but your business is your family’s business. Things that happen in the family stay in the family. Even if you could not ask witches and whitelighters you could have asked your family.”
Cole nodded but did not answer.
“Yeah“ said Leo as he swallowed the last of his beer. “Cole in the cavern. What you did for me. I’m grateful.”
Cole was quiet for a few moments. “Family business“ he finally said into his beer.
“I know“ said Leo “Have you made up your mind about all that other stuff“ he asked after getting another couple of beers.
“Just about “Cole said quietly.
“And“ said Leo.
“Probably the answer you’ll be happy about maybe no“ Cole said swigging another beer.
“What “said Leo.
“No“ said Cole “Probably. I don’t want to do it”
“You’re an idiot“ Leo said “What’s changed. You always knew it was going to be this, you always knew that there was an eternity .”
“Its not the eternity“ Cole said “It’s the calling. I’m just not sure. I’m not certain I have that sort of courage.”
“And you can’t do it not even to be with Phoebe, at least for a while?“ Leo asked.
“That’s worst sort of reason“ Cole said. “There’s nothing anyone can do to me but Phoebe, I’m not the only one who has to walk a hard road, if she ever speak to me again.”
“I think she would rather anything than not have you” Leo said.
“That’s one of the things I’m afraid of” Cole said.
“Do you want some advice?“ Leo asked.
“No“ said Cole into his beer.
“Do you want some of your own advice?“ Leo said.
“No“ said Cole.
“Do for Phoebe what you do for Melinda“ Leo said “Let her crawl around the floor and find out what she can do. Stop trying to protect her all the time. Save it for when she needs it and trust her. You and Piper are a lot alike you know.” Leo added.
“What“ said Cole, choking on his beer.
“Love to well and not very wisely“ Leo said.
“That Leo is not kind“ Cole answered wiping beer off his chin.
“Yeah“ Leo answered. “Francesca asked me about Flip“ he said quietly.
“What did you tell her“ Cole demanded.
"What I knew" Leo answered "which isn’t a lot."
They drank in silence for a while then Leo said he better be going.
“Where are you going?“ Cole asked.
“Up there, check orders, not that I care much about their orders any more“ Leo said “You know Cole it’s a damned sight easier following orders than making decisions“ he said contemplatively.
“I know“ said Cole.
“Then home“ Leo said.
“I thought you were told to get out“ Cole said.
“What’s that got to do with it?“ Leo putting his beer bottle down “You really don’t understand about families, relationships anything do you?“
“No“ Cole said “I don’t and I don’t even understand what you’re taking about.”
“You don’t end things with get out“ Leo said. “You end it with goodbye. Get out just means get out.”
“That explains . .. nothing“ Cole said.