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)
Piper went into the nursery where her daughter was having a late afternoon sleep watched her as she slept. Piper did not usually wake Melinda after her afternoon sleep, or feed her. As much as possible Leo did. In a household of five adults all ruled by one baby, it was a battle to get special time with her, so Daddy always claimed the afternoons when Piper was at the club and Cole and Phoebe were at work, and Paige was often away with her friends or at the university researching.
Only Daddy was not home. Piper was very frightened Daddy had taken Mommy’s orders to get out. And then she became really angry because Leo should know better. And then she became frightened again because six times they had gone when Grams said get out, and Victor had gone when Pattie said it. Leo should know better.
Piper woke Melinda and checked if she needed changing, then carried her to the bedroom, looking at that big lonely bed. She had spent half the night alone, alternately crying and calling Leo every type of fucking shit she could lay her tongue to and none of it made her feel any better. Finally Paige had come in to her and lay beside her letting her big and frightened sister cry herself to sleep on her shoulder.
Piper took Melinda downstairs and put her in the high chair while she warmed her dinner. Piper thought of the Piper Cole had told her about in those other time lines, the soul dead Piper raising a daughter alone, the heartless bitch who had no energy left from duties of a mother and a witch just to be Piper. That mommy was no fun she told Melinda.
Suddenly she called Leo, and waited. Nothing. She called louder Leo and still nothing. She waited her heart in her mouth and called again a few moments later and was almightily relieved when the orbs sounded and Leo appeared.
He touched his daughter, holding her arms out to him from the high chair. “I was trying to get back to feed her“ he said. “Got caught in a long whitelighter meeting about what to do with all these out of control demon attacks.”
“Sorry I didn’t mean to.. interfere in ..your work“ Piper said awkwardly.
“Glad you did“ he said just as awkwardly. “I couldn’t exactly tell them they were wasting their time. The problem was solved. So all I could do was sit there and listen to ‘em talk, and talk and talk. When you know something they don’t you start realising some of them maybe aren’t so smart.”. And he stopped. “What “he said.
“Nothing“ she said.
“What do you want?“ he asked.
“You“ said Piper.
“What“ he said.
“Oh stuff it“ she said. “Cole can look after good and evil I just want to be with you. Isn’t it enough?“
“Oh yeah“ said Leo, putting his arms around her.
A few minutes later Leo said “Piper he said “Maybe what I tried to do was..not good, but I think I was right about that thing having to go , and I thought, I was pretty sure, Cole was thinking the same thing, the way he kept saying he did not want to know about it. I thought he was going to do something like go evil again just to protect .. the family.”
“I know“ said Piper.
“I didn’t understand the Guardian thing“ Leo said. “But listening to all those Elders talking when I knew about the Guardian thing, just made me realise. Ignorance isn’t bliss but it sure makes you think you’re smarter than you are.”
“Stuff em“ Piper said “stuff em all.” She said reaching up to kiss him. A few minutes later she said. “The thing Leo I just need to say. I felt betrayed, I felt you and Cole would risk pulling the family apart to do what you, what you felt you had to do. And we only just got it together.”
“I know how close that bloody book got to our family“ Leo swallowed. I think Cole was doing what I was doing. Trusting you would understand.” Then he grinned “I think Cole was hoping more than trusting“ he said.
“I don’t feel as bad now“ she said “as well personal, as if it was me.. It was that bloody book“ she added.
“Its gone“ Leo said.
Then she pulled back leaning back “Why me?“ she said. “Why did the bloody thing turn me into a self righteous bitch?“
“What did Pattie tell you, you were to this family?“ Leo asked softly.
“The heart and soul.” Piper whispered.
Leo smiled.''Get you, get the family."
"That sucks" said Piper. Suddenly she froze " That arsehole did know how to fix it, so we aren't back to where we were 18 months ago." she asked.
Leo sighed. "Cole says he did. I trust him. When are you going to stop calling him an arsehole?" Leo asked.
"When he stops calling me a bitch" said Piper. "Of course."
"Oh" said Leo.
Paige came in the kitchen, observing Leo and Piper with their arms around each other. “Good“ she said “everything all right we all happy again.”
“Yes“ said Piper smiling “We’re all happy again. Bloody book’s gone. And we’re just trusting on Cole fixing the rest.”
“Good“ said Paige “because I’ve got a bone to pick Leo. Why did you leave Piper crying her eyes out last night you?“
She was interrupted by a very loud bang as the front door was slammed shut followed by the ever familiar sound of shattering glass.
A few minutes later Phoebe came storming into the kitchen, slammed her purse on the bench and slid her computer across it with more force than was necessary.
“Phoebe did you have to break the door again“ Leo groaned.
“You can fix it“ she answered airily. “Or maybe call that that that...He doesn’t have a problem with personal gain. That" she said "that that. “
“Who?“ asked Piper as if she didn’t know.
“You back again Leo. Everything right between you two. Good“ said Phoebe “That ..that.. .”
“Who?“ said Paige as if she didn’t know.
“Cole“ said Phoebe "that that .. “
“Shit“ said Piper.
“Arsehole“ said Paige.
“That ,that.. “ said Phoebe getting more angry “that that …man.” Because she could not think of anything worse to call him.
“What did he do?“ Leo asked and then was distracted as Melinda decided she had been ignored long enough.
“He decided he was going to be a Guardian“ Phoebe said.
“Gee I never would have guess he’d do that“ Paige smirked while Piper glared at her.
Phoebe ignored her “And I told him, I understood about.. about the last few days and he wasn’t evil and well nothing was changed and he .. he should have been grateful and he wasn’t“ Phoebe said furiously “he was filthy rude. I hate him.”
“Oh well“ Paige said “As long as you didn’t tell him to get out of your life.”
“I did“ she said ruefully.
“Oh Phoebe“ said Paige. “He doesn’t understand…“
“I know he doesn’t understand that any more than he understands about old movies and TV shows. Damn him now I’ll have to go to him and make up, again’ Phoebe said “I hate him.”
“He does know“ Leo said “I told him.”
“Oh“ said Phoebe.
“Oh well then Phoebe“ said Paige “You don’t have to worry. He’ll do a three day sulk and be home on Monday with his tail between his legs looking like a kicked puppy.”
“Can he come home, with this Guardian thing“ Piper asked looking a little guilty.
“He can do what he likes“ Phoebe said “That.. that, that man. Its me who’s got a problem.”
“What “said Piper .
“Elders, unspeakable wrath thing“ Phoebe said.
“Elders. Stuff ‘em“ said Piper.
“Francesca said maybe there’s no need to tell them“ Phoebe said.
Leo winced “She told me that too“ he said. “As long as you, we can handle all the problems with the Guardian thing clashing with Charmed Ones stuff, sensibly, maturely.”
“Oh well that stuffs it“ said Paige.
“Paige“ said Piper “That stuffs it “she sighed.
“Only if they knew“ Phoebe said.
“I’m not going to rat“ said Leo.
“Me neither“ said Piper.
“Ditto“ said Paige.
“Anyway“ said Leo “I sort of lost a faith in the Elders, lately wanting to use the Grimoire.”
“Leo you don’t think an Elder became evil“ said Piper horrified.
“I don’t know“ he said shaking his head. “I doubt it but I’m willing to believe, that one was very tempted, tempted enough to not want the Grimoire destroyed just in case.”
The girls looked horrified.
“Well it tempted me“ Leo said “Okay I said it. I..made a mistake. I wanted to get it back and I was willing to be evil to do it.”
“Tempted me“ Piper said. “Okay when the book is gone I know it. It’s not always about us, me“ she said.
“It seems no one is beyond temptation“ Phoebe sighed.
“Except maybe Cole if this Guardian nonsense is true“ Paige said, then she laughed suddenly “Well one good thing about this whole stinking mess“ she said.
“What“ said Piper morosely.
“Tempus is going to be going crazy“ Paige answered.
“Why“ demanded Piper “he got the bloody Grimoire back. He’s the new source. Thanks to Cole.”
“That’s what I mean“ said Paige “Thanks to Cole.” She grinned. “He spent all that time and energy trying to change Phoebe’s life because he thought she was the key to getting the Grimoire and it a was in front of his nose“ Paige explained.
“What do you mean?“ Phoebe said.
“You were the key honey“ Paige said “but all he had to do was sit and wait.”
“What“ said Leo and Piper.
“Tempus got the Grimoire back because Cole apparently followed his destiny" she said "Cole only turned away from evil because of Phoebe. That was the thing in her life that got Tempus the Grimoire. It was right in front of his nose and he’s going to spend eternity wondering how he could have been so wrong about Phoebe and I bet he calls her Belthezor’s witch, And“ said Paige happily “and so is every other demon down there. And the joke is he was right and they’ll never know. “
“Ha“ said Phoebe. She stood up and said quietly “I may as well take advantage of Cole being in a three day snit and get some work done. I have a deadline next week and Elise will kill me. Its not like I’ve been working lately. Maybe I’ll call Cole .. “ she said. "Tomorrow. He can suffer for a while.”
“You weren’t really worried what he’d chose were you Phoebe“ Paige asked. “Its Cole we’re talking about here.”
“I was at first “she said “but I know he decided in Venice he was going to do it. I just“ she sighed “I just, I’d like to know what he is so scared of, why he doesn’t think he has the courage to do it“ Then she giggled “I’ll get it out of him one day though.”
“How“ said Piper “He knows how to keep his secrets.”
“He’s ticklish“ Phoebe said.
“Oh“ said Piper.
“Well why you’re at it find out why he’s so certain Tempus won’t use those other spells?“ Paige said.
“I will“ Phoebe said “When he comes back with his tail between his legs on Monday.”
“Monday“ said Paige contemplatively. A few moments later she said “I was thinking Piper I might ask Steve to Sunday dinner. Meet the family and all that. Okay. “
“Sure“ said Piper. "Not problem.”
Cole a shimmered into Arturo’s house and was not all that surprised to see Francesca there, seated opposite Arturo wearing her whitelighter robe, having a very intense discussion with Arturo
Arturo looked up at him. “What do you want?“ he asked.
“Didn’t she tell you?“ Cole said.
Arturo’s face was carefully inexpressive.
Cole shrugged “I need to ask you something.”
“Dear boy is this going to decide your answer to your um future“ Arturo drawled.
Cole looked at him “No“ he said “I have the answer. So do you.” And he glared at Francesca.
“I want to know“ Cole said “The witch you loved. Was she worth it, the thousand years of loneliness, of being hated by those you help and the regret, the nights alone, the waiting, the wanting, living on the memory of the smell of her body and the way she laughed?“ He asked “Was she worth it?“
“Why? Do you have doubts about that little witch you love?“ Arturo asked.
“Phoebe. No“ said Cole “I just want to hear it. I need to hear it.”
To Cole’s surprise, Arturo looked up at him laughing. “Worth it" the ex-demon said "Worth it my dear boy. I was. I am loved, into eternity. Waiting for me is love. Do you ever read how people dream of being loved? How they write of being loved? They make myths and legends and epics about being loved. They tell tales about being loved. How it is the one thing that makes sense of the universe and how very rarely any one finds it.”
Cole swallowed as he watched the calm intensity of the old demon. He caught Francesca watching Arturo intensely, gently.
“My dear boy I am loved. Of course it was worth it. “ Arturo’s smiled “I’m not alone, I have never have been. Since the day Marie Jeanne told me she loved me. I have shared a life and a love, Marie Jeanne is there whenever I look up. I have never been alone, not in a thousand years.” Arturo said almost as if he was answering some one else, talking to some one Cole could not see, sharing his soul with some one Cole could not touch. “What’s your answer?“ He asked in a different voice.
Cole stared at the ground. He shrugged . “Not much of a choice really“ he said.
“I wouldn’t say that“ Arturo answered.
“What happens now?“ Cole asked.
“You need to keep out of harm’s way“ Arturo said “Other than that. Do what you want to do and do what you have to.”
“No concerns I’ll try to change my mind“?“ Cole asked because he could not help himself.
“Never happened before“ Arturo shrugged. “Listen to the balance and act on it. And this is the last thing I will ever order you to do. Don’t listen to orders from Good. They …lack wisdom. Hearts in the right place but they frequently lack wisdom.”
“I know“ Cole said. “Do you always do that Arturo. Make promises you don’t intend to keep.”
“What promises?“ Arturo asked.
“That you won’t give orders“ Cole asked, hands thrust in his pockets, blue eyes bright.
“I intend to keep them“ Arturo answered “When I make them.”
Cole smiled slightly.
“You’re insolent Belthezor“ Arturo said.
“Yes“ Cole answered “And annoying.”
“You need to stay away from the Elders and leaders, from good magic and evil tracing you.” Arturo said.
“I’ve been doing that“ Cole said “For a year. I’m in no danger.”
“It’s not you I’m thinking of “Arturo snapped “ Its them.”
Cole sighed “Yeah all right“ he said.
“Keep away from Guardians“ Arturo said, “we don’t go well together. More than two together can cause difficulties outside time folds.”
“I don’t know the other Guardians “Cole said, “so how do I know to stay away from them.”
“Feel the balance“ Arturo said.
“When do I meet them?“ Cole asked.
“When they chose“ Arturo answered.
“If your luck holds it will take a few hundred years before Durand wants to meet you“ Francesca said.
“I’m not lucky“ Cole said.
“God help you“ said Francesca.
“Where are you going?“ Arturo said again.
“San Francisco“ Cole said sulkily “A small apartment near Prescott street “he said “with ugly overstuffed furniture if destiny holds true.”
“A house on the magic Nexus would be a better place to keep your power hidden“ Arturo said.
“I’m not welcome there“ Cole said sadly.
“Fix it“ Arturo said. Exasperated.
“And this promise not to give orders kicks in when“ Cole said narrow eyed.
“You are insolent“ Arturo said.
“And annoying“ Cole answered.
“Do what is safe, do what you must Belthezor“ Arturo sighed.
“This sucks“ Cole said as he stuck his hands further into his pockets and sulked.
He shimmered away.
“Does he always make such a drama about his family“ Arturo asked Francesca with a sigh.
“Yes“ said Francesca smiling.
“That could get very annoying after a few hundred years.” Arturo said. “It could get very annoying after 10 years.”
“It can get very annoying after one“ Francesca said still smiling.
Francesca went to Arturo’s cabinet and poured a glass of port for herself and one for Arturo.
He accepted it but Arturo said “That performance was quite a bit of bravado my dear. He really does need some help and guidance you know.”
Francesca sat on his sofa and curled up comfortable “I know“ she said.
“You should go“ Arturo said sitting opposite her.
“I know“ she said showing no signs of moving “We have waited a long time on Cole’s convenience. He can wait a short time on mine.”