A Pox on Your Cirronian

Summary: Cole comes down with a decidedly Cirronian strain of chickenpox and it falls to an under the weather Mel to take care of the housebound Tracker, intensifying their growing sense of closeness. Sequel of sorts to 'This Mortal Coil'

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Still waiting on that deal with Zin...

Spoilers: Minor for the Pilot ep. Very minor for "Roswell".

Timeline: Post "To Catch a Dessarian", pre "Love, Cirronian Style". About 2 months after my fic "This Mortal Coil" (in which Mel contracts a life-threatening case of meningitis and a lot of people have to come to terms with a lot of things). As she would be in real life, Mel is still experiencing the frustrating aftereffects of her condition.

Feedback: Always welcome and much appreciated, even the negative variety. Good, bad, or downright ugly, I don't know what I'm doing right and wrong without feedback.

Chapter 1

"I'll get that, Mel," Cole told her gently, relieving her of the box she was carrying into the back room. He did not like how ashen and waxy her complexion was, or how weak her life-force felt, even at such close distance. She had worn herself out again. "You should sit."

Mel started to protest, but stopped when she look up into his eyes. Sighing and nodding weakly, she gave way to his obvious concern and her own fatigue. As Cole disappeared into the back, she shook her head and walked to one of the couches along the far wall, dropping onto it with another sigh.

"It'll get easier, Mel," a quiet voice contributed. Jess mixed up a small martini and carried it over to Mel, sitting down next to her. "It will," she promised, handing her the drink.

"When?" Mel asked, biting back tears of frustration. "Damn it, Jess, it's been two months and I am still… I'm as weak as a damned kitten here!" she whispered.

"You're having a bad day. It's to be expected, Mel." Jess sighed and wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulder. "Come on, Mel. You know that you're having more good days than bad lately. You're getting better."

"Doesn't feel like that right now…" Mel sighed in frustration, no longer able to fight her tears.

"Oh, I know, luv," Jess murmured, gathering Mel into her arms for an obviously much-needed hug. "I know, I know…" she whispered, rocking her. "It's okay. You're going to be okay."

Mel closed her eyes, only peripherally aware when another pair of arms closed around her as Cole added his support and comfort to Jess'.

"Why don't you put her to bed, Cole?" Jess suggested gently.

Mel shook her head, making a frustrated noise, almost a shout. "No, damn it! I have so much work…"

"Hush, Mel," Cole murmured soothingly. "We'll talk about it upstairs, okay?" he offered.

He knew that Mel would take the offer, even knowing that the discussion would end exactly as Cole wanted it to, simply so that she would not have to argue and cry in front of Jess. He looked at Jess over Mel's head and the Englishwoman nodded faintly, rising and walking behind the bar, pretending not to notice the crying woman. Mel nodded weakly and let him tug her to her feet and steer her up the stairs and straight to her bedroom without protest.

"I hate this!" she snapped, dropping onto her bed. Growling, she slammed her fist into a pillow. "I hate being so damned weak, Cole!"

"I know you do, Mel," he whispered, sitting down next to her and gathering her into his arms.

She sighed and leaned into him, burying her face in his chest. "I just want to be better, Cole," she murmured. Sighing, she looked up at him. "When will I be better?" she whispered hopelessly, her eyes brimming with tears again.

"Soon," he promised, sighing himself. He hated being so helpless to comfort her, to make everything better. "Soon, Mel." He gave her a reassuring smile. "It's true that you have bad days, but you still keep getting better, stronger every day. You will be well soon."

She nodded weakly and buried her face in his chest again. "I'd have probably run myself into the ground by now if it hadn't been for you, Cole," she murmured, pressing her ear to his heart and wrapping her arms around his waist, lulled by the rapid, steady beat. "I can't tell you how grateful I am…"

"There is nothing for you to be grateful for, Mel. Friends take care of each other. You have always taken such good care of me, and now it is my turn to take care of you for a little while." He smiled down at her. "It won't be forever and I honestly don't mind, Mel. I like being able to help you."

"What would I do without you?" she asked, smiling up at him. As frustrating as her recovery had been, Cole's quiet presence was always a source of comfort, always made things easier, even before the physical things he did to help her were factored in.

Cole closed his eyes at her words, wondering the same, what he would do without her. She was still so weak, yet she still pushed herself so hard in her struggle to be well again. She did not seem to understand that she was only slowing the process down.

"Get some rest, Mel," he suggested tenderly, rising and retrieving a pair of her pajamas. "I'll be in the bar helping Jess. I want you to call down if you need anything."

"Thanks." She accepted the pajamas from his hands, letting her fingers brush over his as she did. "I appreciate it."

He smiled shyly. "Sleep well, Mel. Should I put you to sleep?"

Mel bowed her head. "Yes, please."

She had been having trouble sleeping again, like she had those first few nights in the hospital after Cole had stopped staying with her. Only the fact that she did not want him worrying had kept her from going to him last night. Her night had been a restless one, what little of her sleep she had managed to get fitful and troubled by nightmares. The result was her current weakened and fatigued state.

"I'll wait outside," he murmured, brushing her hair out of her face and giving her another gentle smile.

Mel watched him go with a smile, weak but genuine. She loved him for the way he took care of her, watched over her, did everything he could to ease her recovery, and acted as if it was less than nothing. She knew that he was pushing himself to do everything that needed to be done, in the bar, taking care of her, tracking his fugitives. His fatigue and strain were obvious, especially in the last day or two, but he never uttered a word of complaint and refused to let others take any of his self-appointed duties on themselves.

She changed quickly and then opened the bedroom door again. Cole was waiting patiently for her in the hallway and smiled when he saw her. His smile widening, he held up a glass of warm milk.

"This will help, too, Mel," he promised, pressing it into her hands.

"How do you do that so quickly?" Mel asked, smiling faintly. Cole could come up with a glass of warm milk at a moment's notice, something he had proved frequently, especially since her return from the hospital. "You hiding a cow in the war-room?"

Cole smiled faintly, shaking his head. "No, Mel. It just heats faster when I use my energy instead of the stove."

"Ah." Mel nodded and sat on the edge of the bed, taking a long sip. He had put a half spoonful of sugar into it, exactly as her grandmother always had. She smiled over at Cole as he sat down next to her, patiently waiting for her to finish the milk. "I appreciate it, Cole."

"It's only milk, Mel."

"I appreciate it all, Cole," she clarified, smiling faintly. "You've been so good to me. And don't try to brush it off. It means a lot to me. I want you to know that."

He smiled faintly and nodded. "I know, Mel. I understand." He smiled and brushed her hair out of her face as she finished her milk, then relieved her of the glass and tucked her into bed. "Would you like to listen to some music while you rest, Mel?"

She nodded and rubbed the back of her neck. "Yes, please, Cole."

"Is your neck hurting, Mel?" he asked, concerned.

"No, Cole," she reassured him, knowing that he had a habit of worrying about her having a relapse every time her neck or head hurt. "Just a little tense. There's no pain."

"I'll rub it anyway," he told her, turning on her favorite CD and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Roll onto your stomach."

The Cirronian could not help but smile at Mel's quiet moan of approval as he started working at the knots her muscles had tied themselves into, releasing soothing, relaxing energy as he went. She had been under a lot of stress lately, emotionally as well as physically. He did what he could to ease the burden on her, but it was not always enough. Sometimes all he could do was deal with the aftereffects: tense muscles, sleepless nights, crying jags… All made his heart ache, knowing what she must be suffering through and powerless to do anything to ease it.

Mel was asleep long before he had finished massaging out the last of the knots in her neck and shoulders, but he kept working until all were gone, wanting her to wake up relaxed and comfortable. He continued massaging even then, simply enjoying the opportunity to touch his Mel freely, until a low voice returned him to the present.

"I can think of worse ways to fall asleep," Jess said gently from the door. "Can't imagine why she fights the idea of taking naps so much if that is how you put her down."

Cole smiled faintly at the young woman, rising and joining her in the hall, closing Mel's door behind him. "She was very tense. It happens when she grows frustrated."

"Yeah, I know. She can get pretty tightly wound." Jess ignored the urge to tell Cole that she sometimes got frustrated and tense as well, knowing better. Cole Hauser was a one-woman man if ever there had been one.

Besides which, a tacit understand had existed between them since the night Mel had been admitted to the hospital. Once Cole had opened up to her about his past, Jess had not needed to ask to know that she reminded Cole of his murdered daughter. It had been there, unspoken but obvious, in the care he had taken of her while Mel was sick, his gentle comfort and quiet support. He had been offering her that same comfort and support ever since, as a matter of fact, as she came to term with the hard truths of her own past.

"She'll feel better once she wakes up," Cole assured Jess, steering her down the hall and away from the bedroom. "She didn't sleep very well last night, I think."

"Nah, I don't think so," Jess agreed. "She looked a bit worn around the edges." The young woman paused, frowning up at Cole. "So do you, for that matter. You feeling okay?"

Cole gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm fine, Jess. Only a little tired between work and working in the bar and taking care of Mel…"

"And taking care of me," she added quietly.

"That's the easy one in that group, Jess," he assured her gently, patting her shoulder. "You only sometimes need someone to listen. I don't mind this; I welcome it. It helps you so much..."

"Do you ever stop taking care of others long enough to take care of yourself?" she asked quietly.

He smiled warmly down at her, gently cupping her face in his hands. "You and Mel are my family now, Jess. Of course I take care of you. Without his family, a man has nothing."

"You're the best thing that's ever happened to her, you know that?" Jess asked, shaking her head. "I mean you aren't even involved and you take better care of her than most husbands would…"

Cole smiled and shook his own head. "She is the best thing that's happened to me in a very long time as well, Jess."

"She going to be okay?" Jess asked quietly, glancing towards Mel's room.

"She'll be fine, Jess. She grows stronger each day. Soon she'll be as she was before she got sick."

Jess smiled and nodded, trusting that Cole knew. In spite of his manner, he was an unusually perceptive man. There were times when he did just know thing: the way he had been hovering over Mel all day before she got sick, the way he had known just the other day that Jonas' granddaughter was coming down sick, the way he always knew when one of the girls in the bar was going to call in sick over the next day or two. And if he could sense when someone was getting sick, Jess saw no reason why he should not also be able to tell that someone was getting well.

"Let's go downstairs," he suggested gently.

"Okay." Jess nodded and followed him from the apartment.

"If you set the bar up, I'll finish taking inventory and moving the shipment into the back room," Cole offered as they emerged into the bar.

"Sounds good." Jess moved behind the bar to begin setting up. "Just yell if you need help, Cole."

"Okay, Jess," Cole agreed, picking up a case of bourbon. "Could you start a pot of coffee, please?" he called over his shoulder as he carried it into the back.

He was tired, worn out. A few cups of coffee would give him a chance to get some much-needed sugar into his system. Sighing, he shifted the box onto its shelf, wiping sweat off of his forehead and taking a moment to catch his breath before returning to the barroom.

***

"Here you go, Jonas," Cole said, handing him his drink. "How is Rebecca?"

"Ah, thanks, Cole. She's doing a lot better," Jonas told him, picking up his glass. "Getting very impatient with having to stay in the house all day. Lots of pent-up energy, sure sign she's on the mend."

"I'm glad, Jonas. I was worried about her. She's a sweet little girl."

"Takes after her mother." Jonas grinned and raised his glass. "Here's to the little charmer."

"Health and long life," Cole murmured, echoing the words of a Cirronian toast. "I'm glad she's doing better, Jonas," he said, smiling.

"Speaking of lovely young ladies who are doing better, how's Mel?"

Cole's smile grew. "She's much better, Jonas. Stronger, not as tired."

"What about you, son? You holding up okay?" Jonas regarded him with frank concern. "You don't look so good, Cole."

"I'm fine, Jonas. Just tired. I've been doing many things at once."

"Hmm…" Jonas looked skeptical, glancing from Cole to Mel behind the bar. "You look worse than she does, tonight."

Cole spared a glance at Mel before answering. "Mel looks much better tonight," he allowed. "She had a long nap this afternoon."

"Hmm," he repeated. "Cole, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Jonas." Cole smiled reassuringly down at the older lawyer. "Excuse me. There are other customers."

Jonas watched Cole go with a frown, catching Mel's arm the next time she walked by. "He okay, Mel?"

"Uh… think so."

It was not lost on Jonas that Mel did not have to stop to think about who 'he' referred to. Or that she did have to stop and think about an answer to his question.

"He looks run down, Mel."

"I know," she answered quietly, her brow creasing. "He's been really pushing himself lately. You know, taking care of me…"

"I know, sweetie." Jonas nodded slightly. "Keep an eye on him, hmm?"

"I have been." Mel nodded faintly. "He pushes himself so hard…"

"He worries about you. It might be the best thing for both of you to take a few days off of work." He held up his hand as she opened her mouth. "And before you say no, Mel, just think about it. Cole's not the only one overdoing and you know it. Rest. Make him rest. The girls can handle things for a few days."

"Yeah, you could have something there."

"That's a good girl. Tomorrow's Sunday. You can take off until Friday if you want."

"Mmm, that's a little much to ask," Mel said, shaking her head and smiling at him.

Jonas smiled and shook his head. "Workaholic."

"That's me," Mel agreed, looking up as another customer tried to attract her attention. "Right back, Jonas."

"Workaholics the pair of them," he muttered as she hurried off, shaking his head. Irene would have skinned him alive if he failed to force Mel to make good on her promise to take it easy. He would just have to start a little conspiracy. It was time to spread the word. "Hey, Jess, talk to you for a minute?" he called once he was sure that Mel's attention was firmly elsewhere.

***

"Oh, God, what a night," Mel yawned, stretching.

Cole looked up from locking the front door and nodded. "It was very busy, Mel," he agreed. "You didn't overexert yourself?"

"No." She shook her head and walked over to him. "What about you?"

"I'm fine, Mel," he told her, shaking his head faintly. "Let's get you to bed."

"Okay," Mel agreed, too tired to press the point. "I want you to get some rest tonight, too, Cole," she told him as he walked her up the stairs and to her room.

"I will, Mel," he assured her. "You're the fifth person to make me promise that today." In addition to Mel, Jess, and Jonas, two of the other barmaids had exacted the same promise from him.

"Yeah, well you look like you could use it." Mel turned to face him, reaching up and touching his cheek, frowning at how clammy his normally-heated skin felt. "Get some rest, Cole. Please."

"I will, Mel," he promised, smiling down at her. "Do you need help getting into the tub tonight?"

"I think I'm going to go straight to bed tonight, Cole," Mel told him. "I'm pretty worn out myself."

"Okay, Mel." Cole nodded faintly and touched her forehead. "Will you be able to sleep?"

"Think so, yeah."

"Okay, Mel. I'll be in the living room if you need help." He smiled gently down at her, giving her throat a final caress before turning and leaving her.

Sighing, Mel slid into her bedroom and dropped onto the bed, not bothering to retrieve a nightgown from the dresser. She was too tired to do more than pull off her clothes and crawl under the covers. Jonas and Jess had been right. She needed to take a few days off, rest. Her growing strength had made her overconfident and she had pushed herself too hard as a result. Now she was paying the price in fatigue and irritability. And Cole himself was too tired to carry her any farther. So they would both just rest for a few days. It would be good for them both, taking a few days without worrying about the bar or the fugitives, just relaxing.

Sleep came quickly to the exhausted woman and, when it did, it was mercifully dreamless.

***

She woke with a start, looking around the dark bedroom in confusion, looking around and trying to figure out what was wrong to have pulled her out of a sound sleep. The room was still, though, empty except for herself, and there was not a sound to be heard from the apartment or the street below. Other than a slight headache, she could not find anything amiss. Yawning, she looked at her alarm clock and saw that it was almost four in the morning. Shaking her head, she rose to search the apartment for the source of whatever had disturbed her.

She stopped short in the living room, startled to see Cole sitting on the couch, curled up under a heavy comforter.

"Cole, are you okay?" she whispered in the darkness. "God, Cole, you're shivering."

"I'm cold, Mel," he answered simply, his teeth chattering as he spoke.

"Well, let's get the heat up," she suggested, turning up the thermostat and moving to sit next to him. "You okay?"

His nod was shaky and lacked conviction.

"Hey, what's wrong?" she asked gently, lightly touching his shoulder. When he hesitated, she tried again. "Cole, you can tell me. It's okay," she promised.

"I think I'm sick, Mel."

"Sick?" she repeated. It at least explained why he had looked so worn all day. "Oh, you poor baby. Is it bad?"

He shook his head quickly at her anxious tone. "No, Mel. I'm just very cold and tired. I don't think it's serious. I'm fine."

"You've been overdoing it, too, Cole. That can't be helping either."

"No, Mel, I guess not," he agreed quietly. Before she could suggest what he would have suggested to her under the circumstances, he quickly added, "But it's not serious and someone needs to help in the bar and take care of you, Mel."

"I know." Mel sighed and nodded. "You've taken such good care of me up until now, Cole, but… now it's time for you to take care of yourself for a bit. Neither of us is going to work in the bar on Monday or Tuesday, and you aren't to Track unless it's absolutely necessary. You're going to rest for a few days, get this out of your system."

"Who will take care of you?" he protested.

"We will take care of each other," she promised, giving him a reassuring smile. "I'm a lot stronger and there's no reason why I can't do some of the things that you've been taking on yourself. We'll split the workload and each take it as easy as possible, focus on getting ourselves well. We'll be fine," she said with more assurance than she felt, nodding firmly for his benefit. "We'll be fine."

"Yes, Mel," Cole agreed as she rearranged the blanket around him. "We'll take good care of each other and everything will be fine."

"You bet it will. Let me get you another blanket."