How Quaint the Ways of Paradox

Part 3: The more things change

Chapter 34

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

(Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance)

Cole shimmered into the kitchen of the manor, where the three girls and Leo were having a very quiet and polite Sunday brunch. Piper had just finished feeding Melinda. Cole stood there not quite knowing what to say. Melinda was the first one tor realise he was there. She let out a shriek.

Phoebe looked up from staring into her coffee cup and saw him. She dropped the coffee cup, stood up and flung herself at him. He caught her in a long deep kiss.

Phoebe finally pulled herself away from him "I hate you, you know" she said, conversationally, planting herself back at the bench as if the kiss had never happened "I really do hate you."

"I know" he said awkwardly. Piper and Paige just stared at him "I had to come back and say. I'm ..I"

"Don't you dare say you're sorry" Phoebe snapped "You'd do it again tomorrow if you had to."

"I know" Cole said. Melinda started to scream because he was ignoring her. Cole went to pick her up and stopped. Melinda's screamed louder. Piper picked her up and dumped the baby at him. "I don't get what they see in you" she said glaring at Phoebe.

"You're an idiot Cole" Paige said "When are you going to learn to talk about things out, not go rushing of without thinking what other people might do or they might be worried?".

"What" he said.

"You're an idiot Cole" Piper said.

He shook his head. "I guess I am" he agreed Then nervously he asked "What are you going to tell the Elders?"

Leo met Cole's eyes "That Tempus has the Grimoire and there is a new source."

Piper looked up "You know this time last year we met that new Elder, a 15 year old kid. I have trouble relating to the idea that a 15 year old kid is the wisest creature in the realm. Better they don't know. Stuff 'em" she said.

Cole a little confused said "Thanks."

Leo quietly said "You're going to have to learn to trust some one besides yourself sometime."

"I do sort of" Cole said" I'm just not very good at it. I'm so.. "he stopped as he saw Phoebe's face. " I never expected you to understand" he added lamely.

Phoebe looked at him "You told me once you needed to be able to trust my belief in you. When are you going to do that, when are you going to learn I love you for what you are?"

He shrugged "When I'm old and grey and a lot wiser than I am now" he said.

"I'll remind you." she said.

He smiled , a little sadly. He put Melinda back in her chair. She was not pleased at him putting her down and started grizzling and thumping her chair to get attention. Paige picked Melinda up "You missy are getting spoilt" she said and removed her from the kitchen.

Cole watched Paige go.

"I guess I'll leave. I, I'll let you decide" He said as Phoebe eyed him silently.

Leo and glanced at Piper who nodded.

Cole made to shimmer then stopped to add "Thanks" and turned away.

"Which beach are you going to?" Piper demanded.

Cole stopped surprised then answered "Why?"

"Well don't lose track of the time difference" Piper said "Suppers at 7. Make sure you're back in time."

"That's for people who live here" Cole answered "I wasn't sure I was still welcome."

"You aren't welcome" Piper answered "you're here because you hate it and we want to see you suffer."

Cole smiled a little nervously, and then he looked up and saw Leo openly grinning. "Whatever" he said.

"Which beach?" Phoebe asked.

"Ireland" he answered shakily then said" Want to come?"

She nodded and held out her hand then withdrew it . "Its cold in Ireland. I need a jacket" she said "So do you" she added "Give me a minute" and she ran off to go upstairs pecking him on the lips as she went past.

Cole stood a little awkwardly. He met Leo's stare and shrugged. Leo nodded.

Cole glanced at his watch and sighed. "Phoebe" he said and left the kitchen.

"Don't you dare be late" Piper yelled after him.

He stood at the bottom of the stairs and called "Phoebe. Hurry up."

"I can't find a jacket" she called back.

"You've got 50" he yelled.

"25" Paige said behind him playing with Melinda in the living room "Don't exaggerate."

"Phoebe" he yelled.

"Hurry her up" he begged Paige.

"Why Cole you're asking for help" Paige said sweetly "Phoebe" she roared "Hurry up."

Cole smiled.

"I want to know" Paige asked suddenly as if she had been hanging on the question "When Phoebe was a virgin in that timeline What was she like? I mean I never knew Phoebe when she was a virgin. I never imagined she was one."

Cole suddenly grinned "Much the same" he answered "Tempus ought to know there are somethings you can't change with time." He glanced at his watch. "Where is she?" he asked.

Paige grinned. "Sometimes it takes a long time to make the right decision" she said "Sometimes not so long."

Phoebe finally appeared carrying beach bag "I got your things too" she told Cole.

"Its bloody freezing in Ireland" Cole said stunned.

"I know" said Phoebe "Too bloody freezing Don't you know any beaches in Fiji?"

"Yes" Cole said.

"We're going there" Phoebe said firmly.

Piper appeared behind them "Supper's at 7 " she said "On the dot. Make sure you get back on time" she said to Cole "I'm trusting you."

"I know the time differences" Cole said "I promised I would get her back on time. I don't make promise I can't keep. Usually" he added as Phoebe hit him in the ribs.

Piper looked at him. Her head on the side.

"Piper I'll get her home by seven I promise" he said.

"What in the hell do you mean he's going to be here for supper" Paige demanded suddenly. They turned to her, as she sat on the floor, holding Melinda, white with anger.

"Because he lives here" Phoebe said ice cold.

Cole visibly paled and almost stepped back as if he was going to shimmer, the relief that had started to take over him over shrivelling in the sudden rejection and hurt. He genuinely cared for Paige and felt very protective toward her. Phoebe reached for his hand determined to stop him shimmering without her and he looked down on her smiling almost wistfully.

"He lives here with me" Phoebe said "because we belong together, because he belongs to this family, just like you do Paige" Phoebe stated her voice rising, " We are not giving up one damned member of it."

"I don't give a stuff whether he's part of the family or not" Paige bit out at Cole "All right I do" she added. "But he's not coming to supper tonight" She glared at Cole. "I can't even rely on you for anything" she snarled at him "Not even to do your usual 3 day sulks, you have to make it a 2 day one."

"What" said Cole.

"Paige" said Piper warning and starting to get annoyed.

"Steve's coming to supper tonight, remember" Paige said huffily The one damn time I thought I could rely on him" she pointed at Cole "to do a 3 day snit. Can't rely on you for anything."

"Who's Steve?" Cole asked quietly in a voice that did not sound like he was planning on missing supper.

"My new boyfriend, you arsehole" Paige snapped.

"The one who lets you come home alone at 3 in the morning with your bra hanging out of your purse" Cole asked and shimmered away with Phoebe.

"God Cole's an arsehole" Paige said to Piper as they left.

"I know honey" Piper answered sympathetically.

"Well he is" Paige said before stalking off while Piper grinning maliciously rescued her daughter.

Cole took Phoebe to one of his favourite beaches, a small isolated place in Fiji, white sands palm trees and huge waves of the Pacific ocean crashing onto the beach. She had lay beside her lover, quietly staring at the sky as she realised that terrible fears she had held for his safety, for the cost of being who he was were over, She could take every day and moment she had with him, value it for what it was and what it meant to him and let the future that they did not know about take care of itself.

Cole shared the silence with her until he suddenly lay back and burst out laughing.

"What's the matter" she asked.

"Nothing" he said.

"I don't understand" she said.

"Nothing" he said. "I mean nothing."

He turned to lie on his side, resting on one arm as he looked at her. "Being happy" he said "Without wondering what the cost will be."

He reached for Phoebe lying by his side and pulled her until she was lying on top of him, her face a little way from his.

"There was something I never realised about all these choices, about the cost and the future and where we go Phoebe. I'm free" he said "I'm free of it all, no consequences Phoebe . All the talk of what us being together, whatever it cost the end for me is I'm free. No fear of demon masters finding out about the magic from my father, no fears I could turn evil, no orders to serve, to do another's bidding at the cost of my own conscience. No being caught between Good and Evil, both sides wanting my powers , wanting to use me. I may be responsible for my actions but I'm free and it feels very odd."

She rested her chin on her arm.

"If you think you're free buster "she said seriously "You are sadly mistaken, you ain't free of me no matter how hard you try, wherever you go and whatever you do I'm going to be right there beside you."

"You better mean that" he said "because I chose eternity on that promise" he added laughing but meaning it "I'm going to be really pissed if you did not mean it."

"I meant it" she said slowly and kissed him. After a while she said "How does it feel she said to be this all powerful Guardian?" she smiled.

He thought for a while. "It feels like me" he said, "all that I went through, all that worry it just feels like me, all the good" he smiled, "all the bad, all the annoying parts, just me, only I can almost feel the movement, the noise of the spirit winds, and maybe a little ..a little more complete" he said "Just me, all that and nothing has really changed .Got what I wanted though, got you and free. Just me."

After awhile, just touching her enjoying the feel of her he asked "What do you get?"

"What do you mean?" she said.

"I get freedom" he said "because of you. What do you get., … because you love me."

She thought about it "I get to be me, I get to like being me. I get to like me." She said, the little girl who went looking for love in all the wrong places. "And" she said I get you" she said "I get to be loved. For ever. You better mean that."

"I do" he said smiling, the smile he saved for her. "Is that enough" he asked.

"Isn't it everything." she said. She kissed him gently and leaned back to look into brilliant loving blue eyes. "Why Cole?" she asked "Why am I worth doing everything you did to be with me?"

"I love you" he said "You satisfy me." The smile did not leave his face. "You hold me to account and that is very good" He lifted his hand to touch her face "I like you, you make me happy. You've got a beautiful soul Phoebe" he said "You have the courage to be who you are" he added "I admire you."

"Oh" said the little girl who had been a plump teenager, deserted by both parents, a little girl who never expected to be loved "Its not because, because I'm capricious."

"That too" he said.

"What else?" she said.

"Because you love me" he said.

"So you love me because I'm capricious and stupid "she said leaning down to bite his lip.

"That's the bum question isn't it ?" he said. "There's no way I can answer that without getting into trouble?"

Cole kept his promise and got Phoebe home just before seven, with barely enough time to shower and change for supper. Phoebe was one very happy little girl, in love and loved and no consequences.

Cole gave up on waiting for Phoebe to get ready. He used the big bathroom because she refused to share the ensuite and when he was dressed he could still hear the shower in the ensuite. He called he was going downstairs.

Phoebe called back that she would be ready soon, go down without her. Phoebe meant him to go down alone. She decided he was a lot better off facing her family, his family without a buffer. As she came out of the shower, she heard the door bell go and guessed it was Paige's boyfriend. She had barely dried her hair when Piper was calling up the stairs supper was ready.

She quickly, for Phoebe, pulled on her clothes and went to run down stairs, happy unconditionally happy and thought she agreed with Cole that it was a very odd feeling. As she did so she wistfully glanced at the clown masks from Venice hanging on her wall. Their sad faces reminding her of a small future she had come so close to losing and small though it may seem, it was a future. There were choices made in Venice and she and Cole would face them, but right now there was just Cole. She blew them a kiss.

Supper was both good and bad. Leo was celebrating for the first time in along while, since the Grimoire had been taken from the Underworld, that he had no sword hanging over his head, no worry of the consequences and the feeling of a terrible wrong and the responsibility for it. He got happily and sentimentally drunk and Piper suppressing a sigh encouraged him.

Paige's boyfriend Steve was confronted by a family where one of Paige's sister's could not seem to keep her hands or her body off her lover, and the other one's husband was wiping himself off into sentimental alcoholic oblivion and making somewhat dogmatic and stuttered statements about the importance of family and wives who understood, and was encouraged to do so.

Cole for his own amusement as much as Paige's benefit spent most of supper giving Steve the third degree. Paige kept indicating to Phoebe to shut Cole up with shakes of her head and Phoebe pretended she did not notice. Piper smiled sympathetically at Paige who was close to tears, as much because Steve's answers were making it very clear he was not interested in anything long term, as from the way Cole was behaving.

Cole did not even stop short of asking Steve what his intentions were.

"We're just having a good time" Steve muttered, not daring to look at Cole.

"I noticed" Cole smiled with a pointed look at Paige, who was miserably pushing food around her plate.

Steve suddenly decided it was not worth it , no matter how attractive Paige was, no matter how great the sex, no matter how envious his buddies were, there were plenty of girls around who did not have families who felt the need to check out their dates. After two bites of desert he said that he had to be at work early and made his excuses.

"There goes Steve" said Leo raising his glass.

"Yep" said Piper "There goes Steve, Bye bye Steve. Glad I didn't have to get to know you better." She raised her glass.

Paige came back from saying goodbye to Steve. "You bastards" she told her whole family. "You bastards" and she caught Cole's sardonic smile "You arsehole Cole" she declared "You know the more things change, the more they stay the same. Demon, mortal or damned Guardian you're still an arsehole. Who gave you the right to interfere with my life?"

"Me" said Phoebe.

"Bitch" Paige said " And don't think I don't know you couldn't wait to break Steve and me up. You're no better than that , that .. him "she said pointing at Cole.

"What am I Paige?" Cole asked.

"You're a bullying, inconsiderate, pain in the butt" Paige told him. "You act like you're my god damned brother, playing the heavy, like you had a right to interfere with my life. You're a damned arsehole Cole" she said and she stormed off up the stairs. Her family still around the dining room table, waited in silence until they heard her bedroom door slam shut with a resounding bang.

Cole glanced a little apprehensively at Phoebe.

"That's between you and Paige "she said trying to be serious but then she giggled.

"Paige is pissed at you Cole" Leo explained carefully enunciating his words and leaning forward to clink glasses with Cole and Phoebe.

"But then again" said Piper "I'm not" and she leant forward to clink glassed with Leo, Cole and Phoebe.

Phoebe and Piper cleared up while Cole led Leo, a very happy and very inebriated Leo to bed.

"G'night honey" Leo said leaning over to kiss Piper as Cole tried to hold him up and missing her mouth completely, "G'night Phoebe" Leo said "I think you're. He doesn't you know he thinks you're ca…. ca…. change your mind a lot but I think" Cole hauled Leo upstairs, "Sweet "Leo called back over his shoulder.

"At least he's a happy drunk" Piper sighed to Phoebe.

From the landing they heard Leo yell at the top of his voice "G'night Paige."

"Yeah G;night Paige" Cole called loud enough for her to hear.

"Shut up" Paige snarled back through the closed door.

Cole opened the door to Piper and Leo's bedroom and half dragged and half carried Leo to the bed. Leo was still trying to explain how glad he was to have a family as Cole managed to get his shoes and pants off . In the middle of trying to get him under the sheets Leo happily passed out.

Cole started to laugh. He turned around to see Piper behind him, looking at Leo with a bemused expression on her face. "I guess' he said "a week ago whatever I thought I might be doing today it was not putting a drunken angel to bed."

"Isn't it lucky you have no powers of vision Cole?" Piper said as he left. As he passed her he put his finger to his mouth and just stopped short of touching her cheek. "Night Pip" he said.

Leo lying on his back snored noisily. Piper inclined her head. "Night..Bruder" she said.

He went into his and Phoebe's bedroom and shut the door and started to say Leo's out cold and stopped, somewhat stunned to be confronted by the vision of a naked Phoebe's backside, as she bent over digging around the bottom of her closet.

"What are you doing?" he asked feeling more than a little aroused at the sight.

"Found 'em "she said.

"Found what?" he said suspiciously.

"These" she said, nose still in the closet.

"What are you doing?" he asked again.

"Something about the time line changes" she said.

"What?" he asked really getting worried.

Phoebe turned around with hands on hips holding a gold stiletto heeled shoe in each hand. "You wanted to now what it was with me and high heels." she said.

"I don't know what to do with those things" he said nervously.

"I'll teach you Baby" Phoebe said smiling happily in control.

"Shit" Cole breathed resisting the urge to back away as she came toward him.

………………………..

Arturo sat in a chair on his balcony in his house near the magic nexus of Delphi, wine glass in hand watching the light playing on the water of the Corinthian Gulf below.

"Well there are five again" Francesca said, curling up comfortably in her favourite chair, sipping his wine.

"Are there? I worry "he said "Belthezor never made the choice. Never really said yes. I pushed him. I wanted it that badly" Arturo shook his head "And if the choice isn't made freely. It isn't a true choice. So maybe not yet."

"Oh I wouldn't worry about it" Francesca said slipping into the school marm voice she used to keep Cole in line. "I've watched him for a year you know. I've watched partners in the firm, clients. I've watched demons and warlocks. I've watched his little witch and her family tell him what to do. Order him about and even me" she laughed. "And he bitches and groans and complains, and do you know not one of us has been able to make him do one damn thing he doesn't believe is right. Not since the day he decided he was free, has anyone made him do what he did not feel was right."

Arturo smiled.

"I've heard them call him reckless Arturo" Francesca said "but reckless is not understanding. You tell me these demons are bred for courage. He has courage. If he decided to take a path, if he decided it was right or necessary, you could not shift him. He didn't say no and you're not that powerful Arturo that you could make him say yes against his own belief in what is right."

"Full speed ahead and damn the consequences" Arturo smiled.

Francesca laughed, always , always, Arturo thought the most beautiful thing about her.

"Well it's a long hard road he'll walk because of his courage" Arturo said.

"I wouldn't feel to sorry for him" Francesca said, "For all the walk through fire, for the pain, the long years ahead you may not have noticed but he got what he wanted. Free and clear, and how many of us do that. Arturo, how many of us get what we want. He got his witch, he got a life with his witch, he got her family, he got his family who I strongly suspect love him, nearly as much as he loves them. He's walked away from evil Arturo without debt to it, free and clear; he's walked away with his conscience and his honour and his soul intact. And in the long years we've worked together I can't remember any other time when some one did that. No balance, no checks Arturo, evil just lost and good won and no consequences."

"That" said Arturo "is true." He raised his glass toward Francesca "To Belthezor" he said.

Francesca lifted her glass and touched his "To Cole" she said.

...........................................................

In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.

ATTRIBUTION:

Marge Kennedy (20th century), U.S. writer, and Janet Spencer King (20th century), U.S. writer. (1994).

THE END

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