Without a Doubt

Summary: Post 'Without a Trace' comfortfic. Cole helps Mel say goodbye.

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I don't own them, but, hey, just as soon as that deal with Zin goes through…

Timeline: Right after "Without a Trace"

Spoilers: "Without a Trace"

Feedback: Better than Fek-Maln. Always welcomed and much appreciated.

Without a Doubt

Cole rested his forehead against the bedroom door, listening with tears in his eyes. Mel was screaming again, for the third time that night.

"No, don't! Please… Rod!"

The Cirronian let out a sob at Mel's desperate pleas, shaking his head. He had gone to her the first time he heard her screaming, but she had fought off his hands as she slept, refusing his comfort even after he had shaken her awake. She had become flustered and defensive, ordering him to leave.

"Mel," he breathed.

"Rod!"

With a pained moan, the Cirronian turned and fled into his war-room, unable to bear the sound of her anguish any longer. He had been standing there since she sent him away, listening to her fruitless pleas, suffering along with her, wishing that he could do something, anything to take away her pain. He had tried, taking Rod's form, but it had gone differently than either could have imaged and now she seemed more upset than ever.

Sitting at the table, he could still hear her cries, and he breathed a silent prayer to the Spirit of the Flame, begging some guidance as to how to comfort her. And then his eyes fell on the picture of Mel with her arms around the man she had once loved, the man she still did love. Closing his eyes, he nodded to himself and picked up the picture, taking a deep breath and slipping back into the form of Rod Archer.

Steeling himself, he rose and quickly reentered Mel's room, moving to her side and shaking her awake.

"Rod," she whispered, reaching up and caressing his face, tears in her half-closed eyes. "You aren't here. You can't be. Laura…"

"I never meant to hurt you," he whispered, the words coming from his mouth without him thinking, as if another voice were speaking through him. Perhaps it was. "I didn't want to leave."

"I miss you…" she murmured, still more asleep than awake.

"And I miss you. Still, to this day. I didn't want to leave. I had to. It wasn't just my life. They would have come for you eventually, too, Mel." The Cirronian badly suspected that this had been a large part of Rod's reason for leaving this amazing woman, to keep her safe. Knowing what he knew, having lived the life he had, he understood completely.

Mel buried her tear-streaked face in his throat, pressing her lips against his heated skin. "I love you, Rod."

Cole closed his eyes and swallowed hard, biting back tears of his own. "I love you, Mel," he answered honestly. "And I would never willingly hurt you, not if there was a way to avoid it. I… I had to leave," he murmured, knowing that Mel needed those assurances from 'Rod'. "But I never stopped caring."

"Rod, baby…"

"Mel…" Cole shook his head. "You need to be happy now. You have so many people who love you and want you to be happy…"

"How can I be happy?"

"Step forward, my love. Live again. Be happy." He hesitated, feeling her relax in his arms. "Be happy," he whispered into her hair. "Know that I love you, Mel, and be happy."

"You, too, okay? Please… Just be happy and… stay safe."

"I will, Mel. I promise. I'll be safe for you." He smiled down at her. "Rest now. You're exhausted."

"Make love to me."

"I can't."

Mel frowned uncertainly, surprised by the refusal. "Kiss me?"

Cole lowered his head and tenderly pressed his lips to hers, stiffly attempting to move them as Laura had moved hers until instinct took over. After that, things came naturally. He was startled by how different the sensation was, here with Mel, surprised to actually enjoy physical symptoms that seemed more akin to anxiety than pleasure. But he did enjoy it, and when he pulled away it was with some reluctance.

"You must rest now, Mel. Say goodbye."

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "No."

"Mel, you must. You didn't get a chance to last time, but now you must. It's the only way you'll ever let… me go."

"But I don't want to let you go…"

"You must. You know that in your heart."

She swallowed once and nodded shakily. "Goodbye, Rod."

"Goodbye, Mel. Never doubt that I love you," he whispered, passing his hand in front of her face, putting her to sleep. "I love you," he repeated quietly, caressing her face as he rearranged her on the bed. "Be happy."

Shaking his head, he gave her throat a gentle caress before rising and walking to the living room to find the Cole underwear ad, knowing that she would sleep without dreams, tonight at least. Tomorrow… he would deal with when it came.

***

Mel could hardly look at Cole over breakfast the next morning. Her dreams had been troubled for much of the night and she had woken up screaming once. Only to find herself in Cole's arms as he gently crooned his reassurances. She had been mortified and made him leave, reminding him that he was not allowed to come into her room without her permission. He had reluctantly left and then the dreams had returned, worse than before.

Until that last dream, dreaming of Rod, holding her in his arms and telling her that he loved her, that he had not wanted to leave… Then the dreams had stopped. She felt worlds better for having been able to say goodbye, even in a dream, but she was still humiliated about Cole having borne witness to the nightmares that had not troubled her since shortly after Rod's disappearance.

"Uh, sorry about last night," she muttered as she loaded the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. They were the first words she had spoken since her mumbled 'good morning, Cole' an hour earlier. "I… you know… this has been hard and I…"

"There is nothing to apologize for, Mel," he assured her gently, giving her throat a tender caress. "I never meant to hurt you," he whispered.

Mel jumped and stared up at him, frowning. Those words… "Cole, were you in my bedroom last night?" she whispered.

"Yes, Mel. You told me to leave so I did…" Not exactly a lie, he told himself firmly. If he had learned nothing else during his time on Earth it was that, sometimes a situation called for dissembling. It was occasionally easier that way for all parties.

Mel smiled weakly, feeling relieved but also, strangely, disappointed. "Oh. I… dreamt…"

"You had bad dreams, Mel. I know. You woke up screaming… I tried to comfort you."

"I'm… sorry about that. I know… it must have scared you to hear me screaming like that for no reason." She bowed her head. "And I'm sorry that I snapped at you afterwards. I know you were only trying to help…"

"I never meant to hurt you," he repeated, not seeming to hear her words. "When I saw your reaction to Vic telling you that they were not going to continue investigating… I understand how much you must have loved him. All I wanted was to make you happy again. I don't like you sad, Mel. I… I thought about how much I would love to see Nallia's face again…" He regarded her apologetically. "I am sorry."

"Cole, I know that you were only trying to help. And it… did. You just… it surprised me, seeing him… you…"

"I was not thinking, Mel. It was a gut reaction. I saw you in pain and I wanted to make it go away," he explained simply, apologetically.

Mel gave him an understanding smile. They stood in silence for several minutes before she added, "I know that he probably couldn't tell me or… maybe he thought it would be easier on me to think he was dead… and I know that it would have been so much harder if I'd known what was really going on after he left, but… I think that it would have been easier if I could just have said goodbye. You know?"

Cole nodded immediately. "I never got a chance to say goodbye, either, Mel."

"No, guess you didn't," she whispered. "Looks like we have more in common than I thought…"

"Yes, Mel," he agreed quietly, smiling faintly at her. "Are you okay, Mel?"

"I will be." She nodded.

"I'm glad, Mel. I… it's never easy to let go."

"No, it never is," she agreed quietly.

"But sometimes we have to," he told her sadly. "It's not easy, but we have to."

He would have given anything to have taken her suffering upon himself in that moment. Creatures like Mel were not meant to bear so much pain, not in their entire lives combined. He knew she could handle it, he simply did not want her to have to. His own pain had killed a part of his soul, something of what had once made him beautiful. He could not bear to see the same happen to Mel, to think of her suffering as he had with Nallia and Ashi.

He had always known that she carried some secret pain close to her heart but, until now, it had always been just a dark smudge of the periphery of the beautiful light that was Mel, a distant cloud on a sunny day. Now, though, he knew that it would not take much to trigger the kind of storm that had existed in his own soul after the murders. Mel would bear careful watching and need a great deal of comfort and support to carry through.

"Mel," he whispered, approaching her and giving her throat a gentle caress. "You are not alone…"

Her eyes filled with tears at the quiet assurance and she wrapped her arms around the Cirronian, pressing her face into his shoulder.

Cole held her tightly and simply let her sob until there were no more tears to be had.

"I miss him so much, Cole," she whispered, refusing to loosen her hold on him. "More than before…"

"I know you do, Mel. Just… he is alive. Be happy for that if you can."

"Of course I'm happy he's alive," Mel protested, shaking her head. "But I still miss him…"

"I know. I understand," he whispered, cradling her against him. "You're lonely." It was no question. He could feel it, waves of loneliness pouring off of her, painful in their intensity.

She whimpered and nodded faintly, not quite able to bring herself to look at him after having broken down like that.

Cole nodded imperceptibly and steered her into the living room, making her sit on the couch. He picked up a throw draped over the arm-chair and unfolded it, wrapping it around her shoulders before sitting down next to her.


"Thank you," she whispered, pulling the blanket close and looking down at her lap. "I'm sorry, Cole…"

"There's nothing to be sorry for, Mel," he told her gently. He slipped an arm around her shoulder, gently pulling her against him. "You are upset. I understand."

"I shouldn't be upset, though," she moaned, holding the blanket around her with one hand and wrapping her other arm around his waist. Shaking her head, she rested her cheek against his shoulder. "I have no right to be upset…"

"Why not?" he demanded gently. "Think about everything you've lost and tell me that you would begrudge anyone else the right to feel bad about those same losses, Mel."

She looked up at him with wide eyes, startled to hear the normally-gentle Cirronian so firm about anything. "Cole, I…"

"Have lost a great deal, Mel." He sighed and shook his head. "I understand that, Mel. I do…"

She shook her head. "You have lost so much more than I--"

He interrupted her quickly. "Mel, don't compare your pain to mine. There is no comparison and we both know that. But… the fact that my pain is great doesn't make yours any less, Mel."

Mel closed her eyes and buried her face in his chest. "You are so compassionate, you know that?" she whispered.

"So are you, Mel. I've always thought so." He wrapped his other arm around her, cradling her body against his. "And you're a good person, Mel. I know that. You are happy that Rod is alive, happy that he is safe and loved. The fact that you are also sad that you'll never see him again doesn't change that."

"You must think I'm so selfish," she sighed.

"No, Mel. You are not selfish."

"Then why do I feel that way?" she asked weakly.

"Mel, you should not feel this way simply because you mourn what is lost to you."

"But I shouldn't!" she snapped, shaking her head. "Damn it, Cole! Rod is alive and well and happy and I--"

"And you miss him," he interrupted. "It is understandable, Mel." He sighed and tightened his gentle hold on her. "You can be grateful that he is alive, Mel, at the same time that you are sad that you will never see him again. Why should you not?"

"I don't know. I just… I feel selfish."

"But you are not, Mel. You are the kind of woman who takes a strange and probably mentally unstable man in to your home for no other reason than because he needs your help."

"It's different…"

"It's not." He shook his head, rocking her absently. "Mel," he breathed. "You love him enough that you let him go. This is not the behavior of a selfish woman."

Mel looked up at him slowly. Amazing man that he was, he understood her feelings perfectly, defended them when she herself could not. Maybe if he said that the things she was feeling were natural he was right…

He smiled down at her, his expression encouraging. "I would not dream of telling you that you should not mourn what you have lost, Mel," he began gently. "But I will tell you that it would be wrong to let your grief consume you. Miss him, but never forget that he lives. Take comfort in that, Mel."

"Yeah." She nodded weakly. "You're right."

He smiled warmly down at her. "Be happy if you can. If not… I am always here, Mel. Whatever I can do to help…"

Mel smiled up at him, shaking her head. "You…"

"Me," he agreed, nodding. "If you need, whenever you need."

Mel buried her face in his neck, smiling against his skin. "Thank you. Thank you…"

"You're welcome," he breathed into her hair, holding her close. "You are not alone. Not ever, Mel. You have many people who love you."

She looked up at him, her expression hesitant. He had been in her room last night, affording her a much-needed opportunity to say goodbye to 'Rod'. She was almost certain of it. But she did not ask, equally afraid that he had been and that he had not. She was not sure which she wanted to be true more.

"Thank you…" she whispered.

"I never meant to hurt you."

"I know." She smiled and nodded, pressing her lips to his cheek. "And I appreciate everything you've done."

Cole nodded hesitantly. "If there is more I can do, tell me," he murmured, not releasing his hold on her. "I am here for you. And I want you to be happy."

"I know." Mel smiled up at him and nodded.

They sat in silence for easily an hour, holding each other close, each drawing comfort from the simple presence of the other.

"Thank you," Mel repeated finally, straightening. She felt a little pang not to be in his arms any more.

Cole smiled at her, wishing that he could keep holding her, but sensing that she was more calm and less in need of his comfort. He nodded faintly, brushing his fingertips across her cheek. When she smiled in response, he moved his hand to her throat, caressing lightly. She was not exactly happy, but she was no longer quite as bereft as she had been. It would take time for her to completely move forward, and he suspected that there would be more bad dreams in the future, but he would be there for her, helping her to meet that challenge.

In time, she would be able to look to the future, to care for others as she had cared for Rod, to stop blaming herself for all that had passed. In the meantime, he would be there to help her through.

The End