How Quaint the Ways of Paradox
Part 1: Time and Time Again
"How quaint the ways of paradox; At common sense she gaily mocks"
(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)
Cole woke up aware of Phoebe beside him, whimpering and making small sobbing noises, something frightening her in her sleep. He thought about waking her but decided against it. He glanced around the room, concerned about any changes. The bedside clock said a few minutes after five and the room was fairly dark, with just a little light coming through the open window from the street lamp outside. Cole could make out his phone and wallet on the bedside table and his briefcase thrown on the window seat. Everything looked normal.
The open window had been something of a confrontation between Cole and Phoebe. Cole felt the cold, which left him vulnerable to some very unkind comments about his former place of residence by Phoebe’s family. But he did like the bedroom window open, the room cold and the bed warm. Phoebe wanted the window shut. When he had lived at the Manor before the Source took him over Cole had just put up with the closed window. This time on the fourth night after he came back, while Phoebe was in the ensuite cleaning her teeth, he opened the window and went to bed. When she came out she glared at him, shut the window and went to bed. He use magic to open it, she got up and shut it. Phoebe did well. She kept getting up and shutting the window for an hour.
When she finally gave up she turned to Cole and said “You really are like pit bull aren’t you. You just never give up until you get what you want. I hate you. “
“No you don’t“ Cole said “You love me. “
So Phoebe compromised by sleeping in winter, with the quilts over her head and as close to him as possible and appropriated two of his best shirts as nightdresses and dared him to complain.
Phoebe woke up whimpering looking up “Okay baby“ Cole asked.
“Bad dream“ she whispered “I thought I was back where that demon, whatever it was abducted me a couple of years ago, just before..you know when. “
“Just a bad dream“ he said but he was worried.
Phoebe stuck her nose out from under the quilts “Brr“ she said She felt rather than saw the smile on Cole’s face.
She curled up close while he stroked her hair “I’m scared“ she said.
"It was only a dream" he said “I’m here. You’re safe Baby.“
“Not that. Just I’m happy, really happy“ she explained “and I’m scared it will get shot to hell. “
“I won’t let it“ he said.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep“ she said. After a little while she asked a little nervously “Are you okay with this, what we have, are you happy?“ she said. “Sometimes in all the things, magic, both of us working, just living, I wonder, if its enough for you. “ It was the little girl voice “Is loving me really worth it? “
“Its worth quite a bit more than putting up with Piper and Paige bitching“ he said because he could not lie to her. “But I’m going to deny that if you ask in the morning. “
“I’d know that you were lying“ Phoebe giggled.
“I love you Phoebe“ he said softly “I’m happy. “
“But if …If you could find a way not to live here would you?“ Phoebe pushed “Not live at the Manor, would you?“
“You can’t leave here, and I’m not leaving you“ he said “Anyway I hate sleeping alone. “ he added.
Cole sat back against the pillow, Phoebe lay against him so her hair was tickling his face and pulled the quilt up to her chin. She could feel his regular easy breathing and it was very safe.
“Phoebe I’m happy with you“ he said tenderly “For a demon, ex demon to be happy." He shook his head "Happy. Its not even something a demon could imagine. You don’t know what its like to live that way. “
“Demons aren’t happy? “ she asked only half joking.
“No Miss“ he said “they’re not, the best they get is sated. They get more power, approval from whatever master they’re serving in the hierarchy. They get sated for a little while and then very soon the cravings start all over again. “
“Did you serve many masters“ Phoebe asked after a little while.
“To damned many“ he said “They used me Phoebe," he laughed without humour "I used them, moved myself up the levels and always there was another master to serve. “
“Raynor tried hard to keep you“ Phoebe said.
“Raynor didn’t want me“ Cole answered, “He wanted what I could do for him. Like all of them. He wanted my powers.“
“I just want you“ she whispered, “Well and some of the things you can do for me“ she giggled.
“You’re not interested in the powers“ he said.
“I like the shimmering“ she said “It feels like…..“
“I know what it feels like“ he interrupted quickly. “Phoebe“ he started to say as if he had been waiting for the moment “I have to have the powers. I can’t seem to exist without them, but I’m not going to use them anymore for what others want. They’re for me to use, its my choice and my decision, when and how I use them.“
Phoebe nodded, as understanding as she could because sometimes she was baffled by the attitude this powerful creature, this man she loved had to the power at his disposal. He seemed completely disinterested in it. He said he had no restrictions on personal gain, he used the powers as they suited him and they seemed to suit him very little.
He drove mostly in San Francisco because he said his car always seemed to be somewhere he had to go and get it if he shimmered or by the time he concocted stories about taxis to people who validated parking, it was easier to drive than shimmer. That and Francesca knew to a second how long it took him to drive anywhere.
He offered the same explanation he offered Paige earlier, he used magic when it was easier and not when it complicated things and mostly it complicated things. When Piper only half joking suggested a lottery was in his power he said yes but he didn’t need the money, and as he understood it using magic to steal things was evil.
But he had no conscience about using power to ensure this employment contract included a car he wanted, and to happily rewrite evidence or manufacture it as needed to defend, those he felt needed defending.
However for the most part he was so reluctant to use his powers that the Halliwell family fell into the habit of treating him as the non magical mortal he had been before the Source took him over and it always came as a shock when he used his powers.
Like last week when Cole arrived back at the Manor, he had trouble using the word home for the Manor, to discover the hall a mess with all three girls staring at the shattered remains of the hall chandelier, lying all over the table and floor. Cole leant against the wall surveying the broken glass.
“Nice mess“ he said disinterested.
“It fell down“ said Phoebe.
“It broke“ said Paige.
“Crunch“ said Piper.
“Demon“ Cole asked.
“Just fell“ said Piper.
“Old house“ said Phoebe.
“Chain broke“ said Paige.
“Nice mess“ said Cole and flicked his fingers and the thing came back together and rehung.
“Good trick“ said Piper.
“Neat“ said Paige.
“Not bad“ said Phoebe.
“Want to go to dinner“ he said to Phoebe walking up to her to kiss her before he headed upstairs to leave his briefcase.
Phoebe snuggling up against he ex demon lover, smiled at the memory.
“What are you thinking?“ Cole asked.
“That I’m glad Mrs nosy Taylor over the road didn’t see you fix the chandelier“ she giggled.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t use the powers“ Cole laughed “Only its my choice. I’m not going to let any of the Powers that Be push me to fight for them, use my powers to help them win Phoebe. No witch, whitelighter or Elder is ever going to order me to fight. I’ve served my last master Phoebe. Good or Evil. “
“And that makes you happy?“ she said sighing against his chest.
“It makes me happy“ he said “and it feels good. “
They were quiet .
“Perfectly happy? “ Phoebe whispered after a while.
“Not perfectly happy“ he said with only a trace of humour in his voice “I’d have to find a way to get rid of Francesca, Mrs Rinaldi for that. “
“You shouldn’t be so scared of her“ Phoebe said “You can see it in her eyes. She’s laughing when she says all those nasty things to you. “
“Not that I noticed“ he muttered.
“You’re to busy running for cover to notice“ Phoebe giggled softly. “ I like Francesca and I’m grateful to her. She was there for you when I couldn’t be. “
Cole’s only reply was a grumbling noise.
Phoebe put her hand up to his face “You need to shave“ she said.
“Phoebe“ he murmured not thrilled at getting up.
They were silent for a second. He made no effort to move. She moved to straddle him “Have it your own way“ she said “You always do. “
“I won’t hurt you he answered
Don’t make promises you can’t keep“ she said.
Cole reluctantly dragged himself away from Phoebe to go to work early, worrying that the bad dreams of the night were something more. Leo muttered before Cole left for work that he was going to tell Paige and Piper about the time change as soon as Phoebe was out the way and Cole nodded and sighed. He wondered how Piper and Paige would find a way to make the whole time change his fault but he had no doubt they would find a way.
Piper came downstairs as Cole was leaving. "Not another early start" she said.
He nodded "Have to run "he said, not wanting to be around when Leo told her about the time line changes.
When Cole returned to the manor, Phoebe and her sisters discovered some things had changed and some things had not changed. Mostly the girls were surprised that Cole had settled into a mortal life that seemed to have very little to do with what he was and what he had been. He was still Cole, humour, temper, brains and all but he was so far away from the demon that he had been it was hard to even realise where he had come from.
They were surprised just how hard he worked, there were some very long hours and some gut wrenching sessions either in court or trying very hard to keep an innocent or at least someone who was better off away from the gaols out of the system. The girls had been inclined to believe his work as a lawyer was just a front and it took some getting used to that it wasn’t.
They also found it hard to get used to his attitude to success. He seemed to take a delight in being unsuccessful in the firm. He happily reported partners bitching at him and made a point of missing meetings and being at his irritating best as an employee. The witches were used to him being more driven, more demonically concerned about status and hierarchies and he simply no longer seemed to care. He still when asked about his work said he was very good at what he did and the long list of shit cases he took on and won seemed to indicate he was, but he was content if that was a word that could be used about Cole, to let the work stand on its own.
In fact apart from a certain demonic glee when he outsmarted some one, he was extremely uncomfortable with any one’s approval, whether it was client, other lawyers or Phoebe’s family. Phoebe privately thought that one of Francesca’s cleverest tricks in managing Cole was that she never indicated any approval. Phoebe also wondered what dark things there were in Cole’s past that, no longer a demon, even if he did carry the legacy of a demon nature, he was far more comfortable with being told he was annoying than clever.
Cole had to work hard that morning, he had several court appearances looming and although he had used magic on occasions to solve some problems for the most part, winning court cases usually involved careful research and good preparation, something magic could not do for him. He was quite engrossed in what he was doing when Francesca put a call though to him.
“Its your brother in law. Its Leo” she said. Cole was starting to get very irritated at her habit of qualifying his relationships with his, with Phoebe’s family.
“I need you to meet me in the Rim” Leo said.
“Where are you?” Cole asked.
“At the Manor, but I need to meet out of the time lines“ Leo said “Piper wants to talk to you about it.”
“Shit“ moaned Cole “I’m busy. When? “
“Now would be good“ Leo said.
Not looking forward to the next couple of minutes, Cole went into the outer office and told Francesca he had to leave for a while. “Family emergency“ he said.
“For some one who claims they have no family you have had far to many of those lately“ Francesca said showing her annoyance and not letting him off the hook. “You’ve got a meeting with Mr Kline and the lawyers representing the Kelly family trust. “
Cole took a deep breath “He doesn’t need me“ he said. “Tell him I can’t make it. “
Francesca was doing something that required her having a pen in her hand. Cole never knew what she did to fill in her day when she was not bossing him. She slammed the pen down “I’m getting sick to death of making excuses for you“ she said.
“Just go in there and tell him how much I annoy you“ Cole said snakily, “he’ll be so busy sympathising he’ll forget to ask you why I can’t make it.“
“Isn’t it about time you started accepting responsibility for your actions“ she snapped.
Cole decided he was not going to win that argument and strode off without another word. He was a good ten steps from the office when he realised he was using Francesca in the way he hated being used himself, and turned back. He did not have the right to expect Francesca take the heat with the senior partners and he thought “Damn Leo he can wait” and returned to the office to tell Francesca he would let Kline know himself.
He opened the door and barely comprehending it was happening he caught the tinkling sound and the bright light of orbs. He was stunned and for a second disbelieving. He called “Francesca Mrs Rinaldi“ and then he walked into his own office even feeling stupid, checking the closet . He called “Mrs Rinaldi“ again. Hoping, and as he returned to her office Cole felt himself getting angrier than he had ever felt.
Still in a flaming temper, he shimmered to the Rim. It was just as well Cole had to be somewhere else because if he was anywhere near Francesca when she returned he would have fireballed her without a second thought and only regretted it about ten minutes later. He found Leo and Piper waiting there for him.
“What’s the problem“ he asked not hiding the temper.
“What’s wrong with you“ Piper said.
“None of your damned business“ Cole snarled. Then he softened a little “Work problem“
“Its not a good idea to take work problems out on family“ Piper said primly, her eyes narrowing.
“You’re not my family“ Cole snapped.
“I told Piper about the variation in the time line, the things you understood“ Leo hastily intervened.
“Where’s Paige?” Cole asked.
“Babysitting“ Piper said “We thought it better to talk about this away from where demons can hear. “
“What did Phoebe tell you changed, what did you see different in the other timeline?” Piper asked.
“Well Phoebe was a right little tart sleeping around with every sleazebag she could find“ Cole answered.
“Sleeping with sleazebags. Wasn’t she sleeping with you?” Piper asked sweetly.
“Shut up Piper“ Cole said “I’m not in the mood. What I could get out of her. What I saw was that she was not part of the original Charmed Ones, Paige was. Phoebe came back after Prue’s funeral and you forced her to stay and she was very unhappy about it. I think but could not get it out of them that Paige showed up after Grams, after Penny’s funeral and she stayed and was the one who found the Book of Shadows. “
“What about everything else, what about Paige and me“ Piper asked.
“Let’s just say that I’m not going to complain about living with you and Paige the way you are now. I know you can be worse“ Cole answered regretfully “And if you had told me that three days I’d have laughed.”
“Stop being arsehole Cole“ Pipers said refusing to rise “What changed, with me and Leo, with Phoebe?“
“With you and Leo, All I got was that Leo“ and Cole looked at Leo uncomfortably “was thrown out around the time of the Angel of Destiny or maybe a bit before. Phoebe was a little happy about you getting stuffed, banged up and dumped, her words not mine" he added quickly. "Phoebe was a bit of a tough bitch a so I’m assuming it was around the time you vanquished.. me, the Source, whatever. You know when you got pregnant." He added uncomfortably.
“What happened around then that could have been changed into a break up?“ Piper turned to Leo.
Leo shook his head. “I thought everything was great between us then, like now“ he added hastily.
“Don’t ask me" Cole could not resist "I’m a little hazy about events at that time“ and receive a glare from both Piper and Leo.
“What about Phoebe?“ Leo asked.
“Nothing I could work out“ Cole said. “She ran away to New York when she was 18 but in this time line she never came back, not for Penny’s funeral, not until after Prue died.“
“Phoebe did not run away to New York until after Grams funeral“ Piper said.
“What oh hell“ said Cole “I always get confused after which fight what happened, happened in this family. “
“God Cole“ Piper said “You must have known when Phoebe went to New York. We’ve talked about it often enough. “
Cole was in very bad mood and as he could not take it out on Francesca, Piper was the closest person in range. “I live in a house with 3 women who never stop talking about their family history as if it was the story of the Holy Grail" he snarled. "If I paid attention to everything you said about your family, I would end up crazy, crazier than I was when Paige and Phoebe turned into a couple of belly dancers“ he added.
Leo seriously wondered if Cole was very brave, very stupid or completely ignorant about human families. Probably all three he concluded.
Cole should have been vanquished three times over by the glare Piper gave him, but she chose not to comment. Piper was smart enough to know she would get a chance to answer when it would do more damage. “Phoebe was 22" Piper said "but I’m thinking I’m thinking I remember there was a huge fight when she was about 18 or 19, over her getting and drunk and screwing..“ Piper caught Cole’s expression.
“I don’t argue with the process that got me the girl I love Piper“ Cole said gently.
“Prue and I caught her pinching money out of Grams purse, one morning, running away to New York. Prue stopped her." Piper said carefully “I remember a big teary scene with Grams after Prue and Phoebe had a bitch slapping fest. “
“God I loved Prue“ Cole said.
“Are you sure the time line changed Cole?“ Piper asked.
“It changed“ said Leo.
“Jeez Piper I don’t know“ Cole snarled “I woke up sharing a bed with a soul dead dark haired tart who lived with two sisters who had tongues and attitudes that would have given them front row seats at a demon restoration ceremony, no don’t ask what that is. Maybe you’re right nothing changed.“ He said giving Piper his best smirk.
“Cole“ said Leo warning.
“I love you Cole“ said Piper with he nose in the air. “What did Tempus want?“
“Change the sister bond“ Leo guessed. “The only other big change was you and me love, around the time you vanquished the Seer. “
“The Grimoire“ Piper said not stupid.
“Its still where it ought to be“ Leo said.
“Why is he coming after the Charmed Ones?“ Piper demanded "Leo you’re the one who knows where it is."
“Because he doesn’t know you didn’t destroy it“ Cole said “He is trying to stop you destroying it, not trying to find it.“
Piper suddenly became aware of Cole’s presence. She held his eyes in a long hard stare, until Cole looked away and then met the stare. “I don’t want it Piper" he said "I’ve already been the Source of all Evil. It wasn’t any fun. “
As her expression did not change he continued blue eyes bright, pleading. “I don’t want it Piper. I’ve got everything I ever wanted.“ He shrugged “I can’t prove it Piper. All I can tell you is that I don’t want to be the Source. I’ve got what I want. All I can do is ask you to believe me, to plead with you to believe I’ve got everything I ever wanted“ he said.
Piper shrugged. “What now?“ she asked.
There was silence between the three when Leo finally spoke very carefully “Don’t take this the wrong way" he said "I’ve been wondering if taking the Grimoire away from the Underworld was a really wise choice. “
Piper was so stunned that all she could do was gasp.
Leo avoided her eyes but said “Ever since you took the Grimoire away, all you’ve done is fight out of control demon hives and cults and sects and its not just you. Every witch, every charge I have is complaining that its getting worse, not better and wondering how it will end.“
“Leo!” Piper breathed.
Leo pushed on “I can’t help wondering if maybe it would be better if Tempus got the damned thing back and was coronated. At least he would have some control over all those damn demons we’ve been fighting. I’m only saying“ he added.
“Leo! “ Piper breathed “Have you any idea what, how evil that would be. To give the Grimoire back to Tempus. How much an act of betrayal that would be to the Charmed Ones, to the Elders, to the side of Good, to me.“
“Yes“ Leo said miserably “I just wondered "he looked up "I just wondered if maybe, it wouldn’t be for the best. “
“Leo! “ Piper said, almost beyond belief. "Its just plain evil. To think of Tempus getting the Grimoire. “We have to keep it from him at all costs. Leo, giving the Grimoire back to Tempus would be an act so gross, so evil. Such a betrayal of everything I ever believed. “ There were tears in her eyes. “I could never, never forgive any one, any one who did that." Piper said.
“I know Love“ Leo said quietly. “I just. I had to say it. “
Cole watched Piper and Leo eye each other off. Dare each other, challenge each other. And totally unconnected with the present problem, it occurred to him from the residue of his demonic nature, and maybe a little from his career as a lawyer that the problem for creatures who were truly good, was the very nature of their calling barred them from considering all possibilities and finding alternatives which offered them some valid choices.
“I have to go“ Cole said glad to break the tension “Call me if you need me. Enjoy your day“ he added. sarcastically.
Piper stepped forward quite close to him “Cole what’s wrong?“ she asked.
“Nothing“ he snapped and then stopped. “Work problem“ he caught Piper’s disbelief “Somebody I trusted… turned out not to be as .. trustworthy as I thought. Wouldn’t you think I’d know better“ he said with self depreciating humour.
“You’re not always right, that’s nice to know “Piper said a smirk on her face but her eyes were soft.
“Shut up Piper“ Cole said as he shimmered off.