How Quaint the Ways of Paradox

Part 1: Time and Time Again

Chapter 3

 

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

(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)

 Phoebe Halliwell woke up slowly regretting the necessity of waking up. Her mouth tasted like shit, her stomach turned, nauseated. Waking up wishing she had never been born. Again.

 

“Ohh“ she thought “Hangover, to much booze. Again. “ She remembered. It was the day after her birthday; the day after she was 29, Ickk she was 29,………

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Cole got up while Phoebe watched him move with unconcealed interest. He thought this could be interesting shimmering out of here naked, and without bothering to explain went to the closet where he, where Phoebe normally kept his clothes, he kept them on the floor. He opened the closet, it was full of Phoebe’s dolls and childhood toys. He glanced around the room and was a little relieved to see the suit he had worn last night was thrown over the chair in the corner.  Some advantage to being untidy.

 

Phoebe watched him but her face was going white and her eyes were glazing over. Cole smiled, not unfamiliar with the symptoms of a massive hangover. He dressed feeling frantically for his wallet in his coat pocket and it wasn’t there. Another couple of seconds and he discovered it on the floor. He slowly went through it, cash and cards were there, and his work business cards. The licence was a problem. It had the old apartment address on it but his licence in the time line he knew ,still had that address. He had been very reluctant to change things over to the Manor as a permanent address. He had no idea where he lived in this time line.

 

Phoebe was lying on her back with the sheet pulled over her head groaning. After he dressed, he went over to the bed and sat on the edge. Gently removing the sheet from her resisting grip he put a hand on either side of the pillow and bent over to kiss her. He hovered a little close to her lips and she looked at him eyes wide, big and brown. Innocent. Something of the Phoebe he loved. 

 

He kissed her gently "See you in a little while Baby" he said. He sat up and looked at her. She was watching as if she had never been kissed by a man before. Certainly not been kissed by a man who loved her.

 

He stood up and started to walk to the door. “The fifth stair at the bottom creaks “ Phoebe whispered.

 

“So you told me baby “ he said softly and pulled the door open to confront Piper on the other side. She looked terrible, dirty flannel pyjamas, stringy hair, and about ten years older than she was. Piper and Cole stared at each other and she started to raise her hand. He had no idea whether she was planning on hitting him or freezing him but either way there was going to be a problem. He shimmered. The last thing he heard was Piper and Phoebe both screaming demon.

 

He shimmered on the footpath hoping to god Mrs Taylor was not watching. "Car" he thought "Hell" then he saw the green Mercedes parked one house up, exactly where he had parked it last night. He could have shimmered into the office but they would have known his car was not there. It was easier to use the car.

 

He walked up to it and felt around in his pockets. "Keys" he thought then said out loud “Damn. “

 

His spare set was still in Paige’s purse or had been and the ones he used last night as far as he knew were on the hook in the Manor. The only tidy habits the girls had forced on him, were putting his car keys on the hook in the kitchen, mainly because he got sick of them bursting into the bedroom without any warning trying to find the keys to move the car. Four cars in a one car drive. He could have manufactured the keys but he was not a locksmith, so he could not manufacture a key that fitted.  There was a demon called Clé who could do that. Cole was only an ex demon and a lawyer.

 

He could have tripped the locks but he wasn’t a demon and car computer expert either. Just an ex demon and lawyer. Then he would have had to explain to the insurance assessors how the locks on the car got blown up. Most powerful creature in the realm or not you had to know how things worked to make them work. Cole who had acquired the level of demonic powers that demons craved in their dreams had some very strong opinions about their value in the world of humans.

 

Nothing for it he shimmered into the kitchen as close to the key hook as possible and could not help himself. He stopped mesmerised by the fight that was going on.

 

Phoebe was sitting at a chair at the table, wearing a kimono and not much else, her hair still a tangled mess, her forehead leaning on the table while she clutched her head. The baby Melinda was in a high chair by the sink screaming and Piper was standing leaning back against the sink, with a spoon full of baby food mid air while Paige her hair very blond which did not suite her and wearing blue pyjama pants and a singlet top that Cole actually recognised was leaning against the Island bench yelling to be heard over the baby’s noise

 

You’re screwing a fucking demon she bellowed at Phoebe.

 

And not just any demon Piper yelled “The goddamned demon looks like Belthezor. Belthezor tried to seduce Prue before she died. What games do you think Evil is playing sending in a Belthezor look alike.

 

Shit” thought Cole.

 

Quit whining Paige Phoebe moaned How the hell do I know which demons tried to screw Prue before she died and I don’t know what Belthezor looked like in human form Phoebe muttered I wasn’t around until after she died remember."

 

And whose fault was that screamed Piper stopping mid sentence to shovel food into Melinda’s mouth.

 

Cole gasped, partly in surprise and partly in amusement. All three witches spun to stare at him. He saw his car keys on the hook and grabbed them and then started to shimmer as Piper raised her hand.  He came back from the shimmer and stood in front of the witches That won’t work Piper he smiled with his best demonic smile as she raised her hands.

 

And he remembered that last night Leo was called up there and he hoped that Leo like him was somewhere where he was outside the time line that the girls seemed to be in.

 

Where’s your whitelighter ?” he asked the smile still on his face.

 

Piper tried her whole repertoire of freezing and blowing up and when that did not work, she with more courage than sense Cole thought put herself between Melinda and him. Paige tried orbing a carving knife at his throat and a meat cleaver at his head, both of which he caught.

 

If you can orb sweetie he said to Paige get up there and tell Leo to met me in the Rim at the Axis, in two of your earth hours.

 

The rim was a dead place where the realms joined, a place of nothing, to light for evil, to dark for good. It was sometimes used as a meeting place, between the two sides.  Tell him to be there Cole said Unless you want evil to win.

 

God he thought, I can’t remember any decent demon plots any more.

 

Phoebe suddenly decided to go into action. She jumped to her feet and came at him levitating into a kick that was designed to crush his windpipe going up and castrate him going down. He stepped away fairly easily and she came down from about six foot in the air, landing with an almighty thump at his feet, whimpering as she tried to clutch her behind and her head and giving Cole an excellent view of the parts of her he thought and at this given moment hoped were reserved for him alone these days.

 

He could not help himself as he caught Paige’s disgusted expression and Piper’s exasperation, he bent down and gently touched Phoebe’s face. Baby he said trying not to laugh I promise I’ll kiss it better and shimmered out.

 

Why did that demon think that shit Leo is still our whitelighter?” Paige asked her sisters who both looked perplexed.

 

Cole shimmered beside his car. He unlocked it, got in and sat there caught between amusement and concern.  It was fairly obvious that some one was screwing with the timeline and given that the demon Tempus had assumed control such as it was of the underworld he could make a pretty good guess. Why he was exempt he could make a number of conjectures. The power he took in the wastelands that let him slow movement was a time power and time powers were always difficult to manipulate in time lines, or perhaps he was just to powerful for Tempus to have any sway over, or he was outside the destiny of the realm or all three.

 

 He drove to his office, assuming, hoping that if he still had business cards in his wallets he still had a job in this time line. He was somewhat relieved to see the same parking spot with his name on it at the office and it struck him that there was some truth the view that even if small parts of the time line could be changed it was very hard to change the destined future.

 

He glanced at his watch. It was only 8.40 but he felt like he had lived a day already. His assistant Francesca Rinaldi, Mrs Rinaldi was sitting at her desk, her salt and pepper coloured hair immaculately groomed, eying him off suspiciously over half glasses. You look like you slept in those clothes she said disapproval all over her face.

 

Didn’t hang ‘em up he said truthfully.

 

You’re not into the erratic phase again ?” she asked not pulling punches, as she looked at his uncombed hair and unshaven face.

 

No he said Just a few family problems.

 

Which.. ?” she stopped, an expression on her face that in any one else would have been disconcerted. Cole watched while she glanced at her watch, then out the window “What sort of problems she asked .”

 

Usual family stuff he said.

 

She eyed him contemplatively Well in my experience time is usually the best cure for family problems she said. I’m glad you’re in early. I need a couple of hours personal time today she was telling not asking.

 

Relief at not having to have her around almost caused Cole to grin.

 

“Take as much as you like “ he said “In fact take all day, I have a few personal things to do myself. “

 

“I don’t need that much “ she stated.

 

“No problem “ he said.

 

“You deserve it “ he said.

 

“Only to glad to give it to you “ he said.

 

She stood up and the two eyed each other off before she finally conceded and opened her bottom drawer to remove her purse.

 

“Are you sure?” she asked suspicious.

 

“My pleasure “ he said and sighed in relief as she left. He went into his office, ransacked it for any evidence of his life and cursed Tempus for changing the timeline and himself for not leaving personal papers in the office. There was not a lot there, nothing like his address in this time line, or a sign of contact with the Halliwell family, nothing that connected him. Most of his cases seemed intact and when he checked his diary that Francesca kept in a prominent place, the only thing missing was a lunch date with Phoebe and her father in two days time.

 

He sighed. He still had half an hour to kill before he met Leo, he hoped, so he shimmered to a nearby café and had breakfast and then half an hour later shimmered to the Rim. Cole as did all magical creatures hated the Rim. It was a nowhere land, ugly grey, nothing .The Axis was the centre, a convenient place where good and evil could meet in the open with nothing to advantage either side.

 

Cole waited alone in the misty grey nothingness. Finally Leo to his relief appeared, whether Leo was late by a few minutes or an eternity Cole had no idea.

 

“What the hell is the matter?” Leo demanded when he saw Cole waiting.

 

“Where have you been ?” Cole asked.

 

“At an eternal meeting for whitelighters “ Leo said.

 

“Haven’t been below?” Cole asked carefully.

 

“No “ said Leo “Paige orbed in acting really weird and said to meet you. “

 

“Who am I?” Cole asked carefully.

 

“What?” said Leo.

 

“Who am I?” Cole asked.

 

“Last time I looked “ Leo said testily “you were my ex brother in law, ex Source of all Evil and Phoebe’s shack up. I’d say you were my friend but that would probably piss you off “ he added.

 

Cole laughed, “That covers it “ he said and told Leo about the time line.

 

“Damn “ said Leo.

 

“Can’t you say shit like anybody else?“ Cole asked irritably.

 

Leo did not bother to answer.

 

"Why would Tempus want to change the time line for the girls?” Cole asked “Because the destiny thing seems the same. Only thing that has really changed is they’re who they are, the same, except well just worse. Oh and you and Piper are divorced and she hates your guts “ Cole said not without enjoyment.

 

“Why did we divorce? “ Leo asked.

 

“You know just after Paige orbed a meat cleaver at my head I decided not to stop around and ask Piper that “ Cole said resorting to sarcasm because he was worried.

 

“Well if their destiny was still the same, what the hell have the girls done that Tempus would want to change their personal lives?” Leo said after a while.

 

“Something they did that Tempus as the Source needs to change “ Cole said “Shit “ he said.

 

“Shit “ said Leo about thirty seconds later. “I’ll check “ said Leo.

 

“Don’t tell me “ said Cole “ Are you okay with the time line, to go down?” he asked.

 

“I am now “ Leo said.

 

“I’ll wait “ Cole said.

 

“Go somewhere where I’m sure you can’t follow me “ Leo said.

 

“I don’t want to know “ Cole said.

 

“Better to be safe “ said Leo.

 

Cole shook his head and shimmered away, giving Leo plenty of time but he felt the movement, he felt the balance shift and against everything he ever wanted to know, he learnt more than needed to know.

 

Leo orbed into a cavern deep in the western Andes, far away from San Francisco, the realms above and below. High on a ledge in a the dark dank cavern, the remains of the rotting sack that Leo had used to carry it to this place where the fold in the realms protected it from scrying from Evil and Good, in the safest place from all magic that Leo knew, lay the Grimoire. Leo sighed in relief when he saw it there.

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