Ua Ola Loko I Ke Aloha

Summary: Mel, and Cole go on a romantic vacation in Hawaii and come to terms with their feelings. One of them ends up in a grass skirt and it's not Mel.

Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: very minor for "Trust" and "To Catch a Dessarian"

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

Timeline: AU set right after "To Catch a Dessarian".

Author's Note: Finally, Mel and Cole get some fluff from me (sort of)… okay, so it eventually gets serious, but it takes a while to get there and it stays massively shippy, even by my standards.

Author's Note: Thanks a ton to Kameka for betaing this, "Thicker Than Water", and "In Sheep's Clothing", picking up on all the niggling errors, and making some really insightful comments. And for still putting up with me even afterwards, lol.

Chapter 1

"Thanks for helping me pack, Jess," Mel said, giving the girl another hug. "You sure you don't mind that I'm bringing Cole and not you?"

"Hey, you only won the two tickets," Jess pointed out. "You had to pick one of us. Romantic spot like Hawaii and you want to bring a female friend instead of Cole? Mel, you have got to work on your priorities…"

Mel smiled and shook her head. Typical Jess. "You like this?" she asked, holding up one of the sarongs she had bought.

"Oh, it's brilliant," Jess assured her, nodding. "The colors really bring out your freckles."

"And that's a 'no'," Mel muttered, balling it up and tossing it over her shoulder.

"Cole loves those freckles, Mel," Jess laughed, running to retrieve it. "Trust me, Mel. Red is you. If you're that worried about the freckles, you can wear it to a Luau. It'll be dark." She neatly folded it and handed it to Mel. "Trust me."

Mel looked from the sarong in her hands to Jess, regarding both thoughtfully. Shrugging, she dropped it into her suitcase. "What about this one?" Mel asked, holding up a blue one. "Got to love two-for-one sales."

"Oh, yeah." Jess nodded. "That one, too. The pattern will look great with your swimsuit."

"You think?" Mel asked, frowning uncertainly.

"I am positive," Jess told her, smiling.

"O…kay." Mel shrugged and added it to the suitcase. "God, I have four sarongs and only two changes of real clothing."

"Three," Jess said. "Unless you plan on flying over naked," she added with a grin.

"Cute." Mel rolled her eyes.

"Besides, sarongs qualify as real clothes."

"Then how come I've never seen you wearing one?" Mel asked, putting her hands on her hips and looking at Jess with a raised eyebrow.

"Because it's Chicago?" Jess countered, laughing. "Mel, come on. Cut loose a little. It's a vacation."

"Yeah, yeah…" Mel nodded and slipped a pair of jeans into the bag.

"Cole will like them," Jess added with a grin.

"Jess, stop being a Yenta," Mel ordered, packing a few more items into her bag.

"A what?"

"A matchmaker. Stop it."

"Okay, okay." She held up her hands in surrender. "Where is Cole anyway?" Jess asked.

"Working," Mel provided, frowning faintly. She was a little worried that he was not back yet.

"Still? He is going to be back in time to catch the flight, isn't he?"

Mel nodded faintly. "He called this morning. He says he'll be back."

"Well, he'd better or I am coming," Jess laughed. "Meet a rich doctor, give him your number…"

Mel shook her head. "Jess…"

They packed in silence for a few more minutes before Jess asked abruptly. "You think you'll get laid?"


"Jess!" Mel gasped.

"What, Mel?" Jess asked, affecting innocence. "They give out Leis at the airport." Her eyes sparkled with laughter.

"Cute," Mel muttered, shaking her head.

"Wonder how Cole would react to getting Lei'd?" Jess murmured, smiling to herself.

"Jess!"

"Bet he'd enjoy it," she added, sitting on the edge of the bed. "He strikes me as the type who really would. Plus the girls all adore him, so he might get Lei'd more than once…"

Mel shook her head. "Jess…"

"You could get Lei'd with him," Jess added, smirking. "Maybe you could even Lei him yourself."

"Jess!" Mel half-shouted. "Enough with the puns!"

"Actually, I wasn't going for puns. I was trying for innuendo." Jess winked.

Mel closed her eyes and shook her head. "Why do I put up with you?"

"Because you love me, Mel," Jess said, grinning.

"Yeah, I do." Mel nodded and gave her best friend another hug. "But really… you need to lay off this obsession you have with getting me and Cole together."

"Mel, you know it's because I care about you. Both of you. You belong together." She shook her head. "Bloody hell, every time you two look at each other the room's temperature goes up about ten degrees."

"It does not!" Mel protested.

"You'd be surprised." Jess shrugged. "It's kind of obvious how you two feel. In fact, Jonas and I think--"

"Jonas?" Mel repeated, staring.

Jess nodded placidly. "Jonas and I think that the only two people who haven't realized how right you two are for each other is… well, you two."

"Not going to happen, Jess," Mel sighed, moving a pile of clothes and dropping on to the bed next to her.

"Why not?" Jess asked. "Come on, Mel. He's gorgeous, he's sweet, and he adores you. What more can you ask for?"

Mel shook her head. "It's not going to happen. There are… complications."

"Aren't there always?" Jess asked. "You work through those."

"Not all complications can be worked through." Mel shrugged. "Cole's a good friend, Jess. But that's all he is." She shook her head. "Drop it. Please."

"I don't get you, Mel," Jess told her. "I really don't. I mean if it were me…"

"So why don't you go after Cole?" Mel snapped, immediately regretting the suggestion.

The last thing she needed was Jess making a move on innocent Cole. She did not even want to think of the ramifications of something like that. Cole looked through most other women, but he might actually be vulnerable to Jess, given his fond feelings for her and his habit of tolerating her physical displays. It was not, she told herself firmly, that she did not want to see the two together, just that it would create problems. Secrets would have to come out. Cole had never even kissed a woman before, a fact that would be fairly obvious to Jess and hard to explain away. A man Cole's age who looked like Cole should have at least some experience with women. It would raise questions from a girl who was naturally curious anyway.

Jess shook her head faintly, her expression regretful. "Mel, Cole looks at me like I'm some kind of kid. Odd, really, that the only woman he really looks at like a woman is you…"

"Jess, please, just drop this," Mel whispered, shaking her head.

Jess regarded her with a frown for a moment, then reached out and hugged her. There had been obvious regret in Mel's tone. "Okay, Mel. Shutting up now." She rose. "You know, I wasn't trying to upset you."

"I know, Jess." Mel nodded and packed the last few things into her bag. "Where's my swimsuit?" she asked, frowning and looking around.

"Here it is," Jess told her, picking it up and handing it over.

"Thanks," Mel said, adding it to the top of the suitcase and closing it.

"Oh, you're welcome, Mel," Jess assured her.

Mel looked up quickly, frowning at her tone of voice. She was about to mention it when a familiar voice filtered through the apartment.

"Mel? You here?"

Looking up and smiling widely, Mel raced from the bedroom. Grinning mischievously, Jess quickly opened the suitcase again, keeping one eye on the door as she quickly replaced one article with another that she had hidden under the bed earlier in the day. Her smile widening, she quickly hid the replaced item under the bed and closed the suitcase again.

Mel greeted Cole in the hallway with the requisite hug. "Hey, welcome home," she murmured in his ear. "I was worried."

Cole smiled apologetically and returned the hug. "I'm sorry, Mel. My fugitive was--"

Mel cut him off by pressing two fingers against his lips and jerking her head towards the bedroom door.

"It was more difficult than I had anticipated," Cole temporized, frowning faintly at the way his lips burned where her fingers had brushed them. He shook his head to clear it, giving Mel a last squeeze before reluctantly releasing his gentle hold on her.

"Hey, look who's back!" Jess said cheerfully, joining them in the hallway. Before Mel could question her as to her brief absence she said, "Move over, Mel. Let a girl hug him."

Smiling and shaking her head, Mel moved out away so Jess could jump into Cole's arms. As always when she hugged him, Cole's face was fixed in an uneasy grin, but he made no move to pull away or stop her. He really was genuinely fond of her. Even if her open affection could be unsettling, he tolerated it for her sake. When she let go, he gifted the enthusiastic young Englishwoman with a warm smile.

"Hello, Jess. It's good to see you again, but what are you still doing here?" he asked her.

"Oh, just helping Mel finish packing," Jess told him, smiling. "And we were just all done, so why don't I get lost?"

"Okay, Jess. Thanks for the help," Mel said, hugging her.

"Bye, Mel," Jess said, hugging back. "Have fun in Hawaii. Lots and lots of fun. And be sure to let me know what happens when Cole gets--"

"Ah!" Mel interrupted, glaring at Jess and raising one hand.

"Goodbye, Cole," Jess said cheerfully, giving him another hug before bouncing off.

"When I get what, Mel?" Cole asked curiously.

"Never mind. It's… Jess-speak," Mel said, shaking her head.

"I sometimes think that I'll never fully understand her, Mel," Cole murmured.

"I think that might be just as well, Cole," Mel chuckled, taking his arm. "Come on. I'll make you some dinner and you can tell me all about your fugitive."

"Okay, Mel," he nodded and obediently followed her into the kitchen.

***

When a Greeter tried to put a Lei around Cole's neck at the airport, he frowned and took a step backwards. He may have put up with uninvited physical contact from Jess, but not from a complete stranger.

"It's okay, Cole," Mel told him gently, placing a restraining hand on his arm. "It's a local custom. Their way of saying welcome." Smiling, she bowed her head to let another young lady drape a Lei around her neck. "Thank you."

"Welcome to Hawaii," the girl said, smiling and glancing at Cole out of the corner of her eye. "Aloha."

Mel grinned. "Aloha," she returned the greeting. "Cole, you're on vacation. Would you just come down off of high-alert and let the girl give you the Lei?"

Cole shrugged and bent to allow the girl to put the Lei on him without having to stand on her toes. He straightened and smiled at her.

The girl colored under the force of that smile but still managed, "Welcome to Hawaii. Aloha."

"What does it mean?" Cole asked.

"It's a traditional greeting," Mel explained quietly, shaking her head as the two greeters broke into giggles. "Come on, Cole."

"Just a minute, Mel." Cole touched the cheek of the girl who had given him the Lei and she immediately fell silent and stared up at him with wide eyes. "Hwa Hwa'a'i ne'o kal'tra ka," he murmured, smiling down at her for a moment before joining Mel.

"What was that?" Mel whispered, staring up at him.

"A traditional greeting," Cole told her.

"Hmm. Well, I think you have some new admirers," Mel informed him, glancing over her shoulder to the two girls, appreciatively watching his retreat. The one he had given the traditional Cirronian greeting to looked stunned. Among other things.

Cole frowned faintly. "They're look at me the way Jess used to, Mel. I don't like it. It makes me nervous."

Poor Cole. He looked like he looked, and being admired for it could make him almost as anxious as physical contact.

"They don't mean any harm by it, Cole," she explained gently, looking up at him. "It's just that you are very attractive by human standards and humans enjoy looking at people they find attractive. And sometime those looks are a little…" She paused, looking for the right word.

"Predatory," Cole provided. He paused, frowning thoughtfully. "I'm attractive for a human?" he asked, startled.

Mel chuckled and nodded. "Oh, yeah, Cole. You definitely qualify as attractive."

"Oh…" He wondered why, if she did consider him attractive, she never fixed him with that predatory look, just that gentle smile of hers. "It was very nice of that girl to give me a Lei," he noted.

Mel grinned wryly. Jess' comments of the night before recurred to her. "Yes, Cole, it was very nice of her to… Lei you," she sniggered.

Cole frowned curiously at Mel. "Why are you laughing?"

"Never mind…" Mel shook her head and kept walking towards the baggage carousel.

"Is that all they do, Mel?" Cole asked, following. "Giving necklaces to people?"

"Leis," she corrected him, nodding. "Yeah. Their job is to greet incoming travelers. Hawaii has a huge tourism industry, so they can afford to hire people to do that. Adds to the mystique."

"Oh." Cole nodded faintly. "Orsus maintains a number of its old customs in connection with the tourism industry as well. There are our bags," he added, pointing. Leaving Mel's side, he wove easily through the thronging crowds and retrieved the luggage.

"Orsus?" Mel repeated when he had returned to her side with the bags.

"Yes, Mel. It is a popular vacation spot. People from all over the Alliance used to spend their vacations there." He smiled faintly. "It was popular with exoanthropologists as well," he added, weaving through the crowds.

"Of course it was," Mel agreed quietly, shrugging and following.

***

"Well, damn," Mel muttered, pausing in her unpacking.

"Is something wrong, Mel?"

"I can't find my swimming suit. I could have sworn I put it right on top…"

"Maybe you put it somewhere else in the bag?" he ventured.

"Yeah, probably." Mel shrugged and nodded, reassured. "Maybe it shifted during the flight and slipped down the side. I'm sure it's in here somewhere." Smiling at him, Mel continued unpacking.

Cole nodded and resumed his own unpacking. Mel had brought him shopping a few days after winning the trip to Hawaii in a contest. They had selected a number of jeans, shorts, and button-down shirts, and then Mel had made him buy something called 'trunks' because they would be visiting the beach. He had also brought a number of books to read at night when Mel was sleeping.

He was just finishing his own unpacking when he heard a quiet, "I am going to kill her…"

"Is something wrong, Mel?" he asked, frowning to hear such a threat from his typically gentle friend.

"No!" Mel assured him quickly, her voice anxious.

"Okay." Cole frowned but nodded.

Mel looked into her suitcase again, shaking her head. Jess had, at some point after Cole had gotten home, replaced her conservative black one-piece swimsuit with a very small red bikini. Well, she was just going to have to make due with it, she supposed, but she was definitely going to throttle Jess when they got home.

"Do you want to go out to dinner, or get room-service?" Mel asked as Cole nosed around the room, tucking the bikini out of the way before he could see it.

"Room-service, I think, Mel," Cole said, pulling open the curtains to the sliding glass door leading on to the room's spacious patio.

"Nice…" Mel noted, opening the door and stepping outside. "Oh, wow, Cole! Look at that view," she breathed, resting her hands on the railing. Ocean on one side, jungle and mountain on the other, it looked more like a painting than an actual landscape.

Moving to stand next to her, Cole smiled widely. "Oh, this is very beautiful, Mel. I can see why this place is so popular."

Mel smiled, pleased by his reaction. She had not been sure if he would appreciate the natural beauty of the place or, perhaps, dismiss it because of its lack of the kinds of technology that he had been accustomed to at home. He had made comments in the past about primitive human technologies, so she had wondered. Sometimes it was hard to tell exactly how Cole perceived the human race and, by extension, Mel herself.

At times, he treated her more like a child than an adult, never talking down to her or failing to listen to what she had to say, but not really relating to her the way that a man should relate to a grown woman, either. Mel knew that she was as guilty as Cole in that regard. She had often, especially in the early days treated and viewed him as a child. Now she had started treating him more as an adult, but he still sometimes acted more like a protective parent than a friend. There were other times, though, when his manner towards her was unsettlingly that of a man towards a woman he was interested in: a shy smile, a request to dance, a spontaneous touch, a look just a little more intense than usual.

Ignore her, treat her like a child, treat her like a woman: his seeming ambivalence was more than a little confusing to her. She told herself, firmly and frequently, that there was no way in hell that Cole was attracted to her. After all, she was not even a member of his species: she had pale eyes and fur and God only knew what other differences… Her appearance must have been, if not repulsive to him, at least strange. How could a man who was, under normal circumstances, a beautiful creature of light and energy be attracted to a strange alien woman of a species he had never even seen before her?

And why did he sometimes act as if he was?

For weeks, months, even, Cole had been acting more and more like… well, like a man who was interested in a woman. He sought out excuses to spend time alone with her. He touched her more freely, always seeking out some new excuse for that little human act of intimacy, one he had told her that Cirronians did not as a rule indulge in. He remained uneasy over physical contact with anyone else, even with Jess whom he clearly adored, but he sought it out where Mel herself was involved. He frequently complimented her. And sometimes, in the bar or over dinner, she would look up and catch him just gazing at her. He always looked away immediately, but there could be no doubt that he was doing it. He was a paradox, sometimes bold in his affections, sometimes shy, and sometimes seemingly indifferent. There were times when she felt like grabbing him by his shirt, shaking him, and screaming 'What do you want?'

The rest of the time, she was not entirely sure that she could handle knowing the answer to that one. It was as she had told Jess. It was not going to happen. Even if he could possibly have been attracted to her, a relationship would have been fraught with difficulties. Starting with the fact that she belonged to a 'primitive' species. Plus there was his complete lack of understanding about human intimacy. Add on to those the reality that Cole would eventually have to leave… Then, as the coup de gras, there was the fact that Cole was still in mourning for his wife or, at the very least, still loved her. More than once, she had stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night for a glass of water to find Cole standing at the living room window, staring at the night sky and speaking in quiet Cirronian; speaking to Nallia, his first love and, perhaps, his only love ever.

"Does it look like Orsus, Cole?" she asked gently, needing to change the track of her thoughts.

He smiled and shook his head. "No, Mel. Orsus does have many beautiful jungles, but the coloration is different. There are no green plants there."

"What color are they, then?" she asked, curious.

"Blue mostly. Some are red. Many different shades of each. It's beautiful to see. This forest, though, it looks more like the ones you would see on Dessaria."

"I think that you can go to them, hike through them, if you want," Mel told him, noting his wistful expression when he mentioned the forests on Orsus and Dessaria. "That might be fun to do some day, if you'd like."

"I'd like that very much, Mel." He smiled at her, nodding and resting one hand on her arm.

Mel glanced down at his hand on her arm, ignoring the little thrill of desire she always felt these days when Cole touched her. Once upon a time, Cole had only ever touched her to offer comfort or to move her from point A to point B. Lately, he would touch her for many more reasons, or for no reason at all. She smiled up at him, enjoying actually having him to herself for once. And for a whole week. If she could ignore her own desire for him, it would be absolutely wonderful.

"There are a lot of things we can do while we're here," Mel told him. "I'd like to go to the beach at least once. The water's so much warmer here than it is in the Lake, even in the summer."

Cole smiled and nodded. "Then perhaps I will go swimming, too. What else is there to do here?"

"Oh, lots of things… Later we can go down to the Entertainment Coordinator's office and grab a complete list."

Cole smiled and nodded. "That would be nice, Mel. Should we order our dinner now?"

"Okay." Mel nodded agreeably. "Menu's inside." Sensing Cole's reluctance to leave the beautiful view, she said, "I'll go inside and get it. We can even eat out here if you'd like," she added, nodding towards a small table.

Cole smiled widely and nodded. "Yes, Mel. I would like that very much."

"Okay. I'll grab the menu."

"Thank you, Mel."

"What do you say after we eat we take a walk on the beach?" Mel suggested.

"But it will be dark," he protested.

"The moon's almost full. It'll be nice."

Cole shrugged and nodded. "Okay, Mel," he agreed easily. "Sounds nice."

Mel smiled and nodded. "Yeah, it does. There's nothing like a moonlight stroll to really--" Mel winced. Could she have picked a more romantic after-dinner activity with Cole?

Cole regarded her curiously for a moment, then shrugged it off. Mel often had sudden shifts in her mood, usually related to some activity or other she was engaging in with him. She was a paradox to the Cirronian, sometimes easy and open around him and sometimes nervous beyond all reason. Just when he thought that the abhorrent physical and emotional gap between them was finally beginning to be bridged, she would retreat again.

He hated that gap, that distance, wanted nothing more than to banish it once and for all. The Cirronian had experienced a taste of that desired closeness after the art museum, and it left him wanting more. Mel's proximity, her touch, those things were like a drug to him. Exhilarating, intoxicating, addictive… Mind-altering. There were times when it alone sustained him, when the knowledge that Mel would be there to greet him with a hug was all that kept him going on a particularly difficult Track.

He supposed that it should have worried him, his increasing dependency on her, but it did not. Nothing that felt so right could possibly be wrong. He had been meant to find this woman, he was sure, to become hers. And though he still talked to Nallia from habit and for comfort, he no longer felt her presence when he did so. She had let him go, and now his heart was whispering to him to let her go, to start down a new path. Watching Mel return to the hotel room to order their dinner, he hoped that he was meant to travel that path at her side.

After they had ordered their dinner, Mel pulled out her calling card and called Jess in Chicago.

"Watchfire."

"I am going to kill you."

"Hi, Mel…" Jess giggled. "Kill me if you want. It'll still look cute on you!"

"The other one looked fine on me!"

"It showed off nothing! This one will look better, Mel. Look, just trust me…"

"Trust you, Jess? After you--"

Muffled, "No, I'll tell you in a minute, Jonas."

"You will not!" Mel snapped.

"Okay, Mel."

Mel frowned at Jess' tone. "I mean it…" she threatened.

"Look. Hold off judgment until you get back. Then you can decide if you want to kill me or… thank me." Jess giggled again.

Mel made a face. "Any other surprises I should know about?" she demanded.

"Oh, none to speak of," Jess assured her, giggling once more.

"You are so dead," Mel announced.

"Trust me, Mel, you'll thank me soon enough."

"I seriously doubt it."

"Mel, I've got to go. Customers, you know."

"Jess, this conversation is not… Jess?" Mel sighed deeply, hanging up the phone. "Yeah. She is dead."

"Mel, who do you keep threatening?" Cole asked gently, frowning uncertainly. "Is something wrong?"

Mel's expression softened at his obvious worry. "Oh, Cole, the threats aren't genuine," she assured him gently. "I promise not to kill anyone. I'm just a little upset with Jess right now."

Cole tilted his head thoughtfully. "Jess is a difficult woman to understand, Mel, but very sweet and always well-meaning."

Mel could not help but smile at his conciliatory words. Cole really did adore Jess in his own way. "I know she is, Cole. She just… as well-meaning as she is, her ideas don't always work out as well as she thinks they will," she told him.

"The Ladies Night worked out very well," he pointed out with a gentle smile, returning to the view he had abandoned.

Mel flushed at his mention of the notorious 'Ladies Night'. Cole dancing on the bar and taking his clothes off… Definitely not easy to forget. Not that she would really want to, she reflected, grinning faintly. Shaking her head and composing herself, she joined Cole on the balcony. The Cirronian was watching the sunset, entranced.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" she asked..

He nodded, looking down at Mel. "Beautiful," he whispered, smiling warmly at her. "Gorgeous, Mel…"

Mel shivered at his tone of voice and the smile in his eyes. "Gorgeous," she agreed, nodding weakly. She licked her lips, wrapping her hands around the railing when her knees threatened to give out.

"Mel," Cole began slowly, lifting one hand towards her throat.

"Yeah, Cole?" Mel murmured.

Leaning towards him and smiling shyly, she invited the impending caress and any that he cared to follow it up with. If the look in his eyes was any indication, there would be more. Many more, she hoped.

She let out a startled yelp at the sound of someone rapping on the door to their room, jumping backwards and flattening herself against the railing.

Startled, Cole reached out to steady her. "It's okay, Mel," he assured her gently. "It's okay. It's probably just room service with our food."

She gave a weak smile, flushing bright red. "Sorry, Cole. Just… surprised me a little."

He nodded, smiling gently down at her and giving her throat a reassuring caress. "It's okay, Mel. I'll get it. You stay here and calm yourself."

"Smooth, Mel," she whispered to herself when he was gone, shaking her head and turning to watch the sun finally dip behind the horizon. "Get it together," she whispered.

Just a vacation. Not a romantic getaway, she reminded herself firmly. Closing her eyes, she shook her head firmly, symbolically clearing it. That lasted until she opened her eyes to see Cole smiling tenderly down at her. It was going to be a long week…