Summary: When Mel falls sick, it leads her and Cole to make some interesting discoveries about Mel's grandmother. And about Mel herself. (Very AU, based on an insomniac's musings. Turns out that there's much more to Mel than meets the eye.)
Rating: PG-13 for shippy happenings
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but, hey, just as soon as that deal with Zin goes through...
Feedback: Yes, please. Feed me, feed me!!! More feedback equals more stories…
Chapter 1 -- Fever
Cole had been in hospitals before, of course, but it had never occurred to him that he might be visiting Mel in one. Yet here he was. Returning from Tracking one of his fugitives, he had been confronted at the Watchfire by a nearly frantic Jess. She had informed him that Mel had been in the hospital for three days now, suffering from a high fever that the doctors could not bring down. Cole had gone directly to the hospital, not even pausing long enough to deposit his fugitive's life-force in the storage-unit.
As he approached Mel's room, he saw two doctors leaving. Obviously they had just been visiting Mel. One shook his head and muttered something to a young female. Curious, Cole followed them, listening to their conversation.
"I don't know what to make of it either, Ray..." the young woman said, shaking her head.
A third doctor joined them. "Discussing the Porter case?" he asked.
They nodded. The doctor who had been called Ray shook his head as his pager went off. He glanced at it and cursed quietly. "I've got to run. Janet, bring Bart up to speed, will you?"
"Okay, Ray." She nodded.
"So, any change?" Bart asked her.
She shook her head. "Temperature's down negligibly, but the truth is that, even so, she should be in a coma. At the very least."
"What're her symptoms?"
"She has none!" Janet muttered in disgust. "No, I take that back. She's, um... irritable."
"That's it?" Bart frowned. "Temp of 105 and she's irritable?"
Janet nodded. "Though technically she claims that it's from being in the hospital for three days."
"So she's completely coherent?"
Janet nodded. "I've never seen anything like it, Barty. The word that comes to mind is 'mystifying'. She should be dead already."
"Hell, she shouldn't even have this fever from what I've heard."
Janet nodded. "There's nothing we can find to cause it. It's just... there."
"What's the neurologist say?"
"Just scratched his head. And the endocrinologist. The hematologist thought that her electrolytes are slightly out of whack, but puts it off to the fact that she's not eating."
"She's not eating? That could be indicative of..."
"Okay, let me rephrase that. She's not eating hospital food. She's having her friends smuggle in chocolate and fast food, so it's not that she doesn't have an appetite..."
Bart sighed. "What does that leave?"
"It leaves nothing, Barty." She lowered her voice. "This woman is not sick."
"No? She just has a fever of 105?"
She nodded. "Yes, as screwed up as it sounds."
"Something is wrong with her."
"Yeah, and on that, your guess is as good as mine, but that does not change the fact that she is virtually a-symptomatic." Janet sighed in frustration. "She's feeling better than I am right now, Barty."
"So what do we do with her? Send her to the Cleveland Clinic?"
"Send her home..." Janet told him, her voice brimming with disapproval. "She wants to go home. She says that she's sick of the hospital." Janet shook her head. "Discharge paperwork's already in the pipeline."
"She knows she's going home to die?"
"She says better here than the hospital. Besides I don't think she believes she is dying. Did I mention that she's a-symptomatic?"
Bart shook his head, annoyed. "If she's so healthy, why did she check herself in? I mean, she was obviously sick enough to go to the doctor, so she must have some symptoms..."
Janet shook her head. "She was getting her yearly insurance physical. They took her temperature and it was 107."
He frowned, surprised. "And we're positive that it's nothing contagious?"
She nodded. "Yup, we're sure."
"So we send her home to die?"
Janet nodded, frowning. "It is her choice." Her pager went off. "Damn, that's me. Lunch?"
Cole retreated into the shadows as the doctors passed, frowning curiously. It sounded as though the doctors had no idea what was wrong with Mel. Well, if they did not, maybe he could find something, he decided as he started for her room. The thought was a comforting one.
Cole was surprised to find Mel dressed and sitting up in her bed reading a book. She did not look sick to Cole. In fact, she looked wonderful.
Mel put the book down on the bed and looked up. "Cole!" She jumped out of the bed and closed the distance to Cole, wrapping her arms around him. "I've been so worried! Where have you been? Why didn't you call?"
Cole returned the hug, glad to see her looking so well. "Lost my phone, Mel. Sorry."
Mel laughed and shook her head. "Okay. Remind me to teach you how to call me collect."
He nodded. "Yes, Mel." He pulled away enough to walk her back to the bed. "You don't look sick, Mel. Jess said you were very sick..."
She shrugged. "Running a high fever. I feel fine, but I'm having trouble convincing the doctors of that fact." She allowed him to help her back into the bed. "Sit, sit. How did it go? Did you get her?"
Cole nodded. "Yes, Mel. I'm sorry it took so long. If I had known..."
"It's okay, Cole." Mel smiled reassuringly. "It's just good to have you back. I've been so worried."
"I'm sorry, Mel." Cole bowed his head contritely.
"We've established that." Mel grinned. "It's just really good to see you again." She rested her hand lightly on his chest, stroking her fingers lightly along his collarbone.
Cole smiled and mimicked the gesture. "It's good to see you again, too, Mel." His smile faded abruptly, and his hand stilled. He pressed it flat against her chest, regarding her searchingly.
Mel frowned, startled. "What's wrong, Cole?"
"You're different, Mel..." he began uncertainly. Her life-force had long been a source of interest to him. It was so much more pure and vibrant than that of most humans. He had studied it closely when Mel was not paying attention, memorizing every detail of it, and now there was no denying that something was subtly different about it.
"Different how?" Mel asked, a little frightened by his behavior. "Is something wrong..."
He shook his head slowly. The change, while surprising, was not an entirely unappealing one. "No, not wrong. Just different." His voice was slow, thoughtful.
"Different how? Cole, you're scaring me..."
"Your life-force is different, Mel. Stronger. More... alive. More..." More what? He could not define the main change that seemed to have occurred, but he knew that he liked it, even if he had no idea why. He shook his head in confusion. "It shouldn't be like this if you're sick, Mel..." He looked up at her, dropping his hand. "Are you sure you're sick?"
She nodded slowly. "Yeah. The doctors say I'm sick. I mean, with the fever I must be."
"You said you don't feel sick..." he pointed out. There was no way. Her life-force was too strong.
"Well, I don't, Cole. But I am."
"If you don't feel sick, how do you know you are?"
"Because I'm running a fever of 105."
"Is that high?" Cole asked.
Mel nodded. She took a deep breath, reluctant to tell him what she knew she had to. "Cole, the doctors say I may not make it. They can't get the temperature down and if it goes up any more..."
Cole stared at her uncomprehendingly. "But you don't look or feel sick!" he protested, thoroughly confused.
"I know, Cole." She nodded. "I know. But I am. The fever is killing me. I've already got symptoms that tell the doctors that I don't have long."
He frowned slowly as what Mel said sank in. "What kind of symptoms?"
"Um, my vision's funny. Kind of washed-out and faded. And... I've been having these mood-swings. The doctors say that the fever is affecting my brain and that's why these things are happening to me."
Cole nodded, absorbing this. He was crying. "Can I help?"
She shook her head. "I don't think so. You can heal injuries, but can you heal illness?"
"I can try..." he offered.
"Cole..." Mel interrupted gently. "Can you heal illness?"
He shook his head. "No, Mel. I'm sorry."
"Don't be, Cole. My grandmother always used to tell me that things happen for a reason. I have to accept that."
"Are you afraid, Mel?" he asked quietly. He knew he would have been.
She shook her head. "I should be, but I'm not. I feel good, Cole."
He shook his head in confusion. "How can you feel good if you're dying?"
"Don't know, Cole." She moved the book from the bed to her nightstand.
"Your grandmother's diary, Mel?" he asked, recognizing it.
She nodded. "I was hoping maybe I could find more in here about the triangle." Or, at least, that had been the reason why she had started to read it. The thought of leaving Cole alone and without help was a heartbreaking one to her, so she had hoped to be able to find some new piece of information to help him.
She shook her head, sighing. "No. Nothing."
"Then why are you still reading it?"
"She's talking about my grandfather." Mel smiled and rested her hand on top of the book. "She must have loved him very much. Listen to this..." She picked up the journal and leafed through it. "She says that when he came to her... 'He came to me like a bolt from above. He brought light to my darkness and warmth to the most bitter of Chicago's winter nights'." She shook her head. "God, 'light to my darkness'. Can you imagine loving someone enough to write something like that about them?"
Cole nodded and smiled gently at her. "Yes, Mel, I can." He ducked his head, oddly embarrassed by the admission.
She bowed her head, wincing at having inadvertently brought up his wife. "Sorry, Cole."
"Why, Mel?" he asked blankly.
She sighed. "Never mind."
"Okay." He shrugged. "Did you know her well, Mel?" Cole asked. "You seem to admire her very much..."
Mel nodded. "Well, I do admire her a lot. And I thought I knew her, but the more of this I read, and the more I find out, the less sure I am that I knew her at all."
"That troubles you?" he guessed.
She nodded. "A little, yeah. I sometimes feel like Jess knew her better than I did."
"But you share her blood, Mel. How can anyone know her better than that?"
"Large doses of tequila..." Mel muttered, remembering Jess' stories about 'tequila Tuesdays' and games of Truth or Dare with her grandmother. She smiled at Cole. "It's... not important, Cole. Just, looking back, I feel like we didn't have enough time together. She died before I could get to know the real her."
"The real her, Mel?" Cole asked. He had heard this term from humans a lot, but its meaning eluded him.
"The one who ran a speakeasy and hung out with aliens and could have told us exactly what's up with that stupid metal triangle." Mel sighed. "She died before I could get to know the person on the inside." She looked up at Cole with a sigh. "I would have liked to know you better, too." She smiled sadly at him. Why was it that the hardest part of this whole experience was the knowledge that she was never going to see him again?
"Mel..." he began uncertainly, not liking her resigned tone or the finality of the statement.
"Shh..." Mel brushed her fingers over his lips, silencing him. "Cole, we need to talk about what you're going to do once I'm gone."
Cole's mouth had gone dry, for some reason, so he swallowed before speaking. "You aren't going anywhere, Mel."
"Cole, I might die. You have to accept that."
"No." He shook his head. "You aren't dying, Mel. Your life-force is too strong."
"Okay, then let's call this a 'what-if'. What if I got hit by a car tomorrow? We can't both assume that things are always going to be like they are now. If something happens to me, you'll need help, a safe base of operation..."
"Mel..." Cole protested, shaking his head. He refused to accept that she was dying. Her life-force was too strong. Something was wrong with her, certainly, but he could not believe that she was dying.
"Just listen, Cole. I had a lawyer in here yesterday, drew up my will. Do you know what that is?"
He shook his head.
"It's a legal document describing how I want my property divided after I'm gone. Who gets what. Jess gets the bar, but you get the upstairs. You'll be able to keep working from there."
"Thank you, Mel..." he began uncertainly.
"Listen, Cole. Having a place to work from isn't enough. You need a confidant. A human who knows your secrets. Just in case."
"That's what you're for, Mel."
She would have been irritated if his continued denials had not been so damned child-like and endearing. As it was, she could not bring herself to be annoyed with him. "If I'm not around, Cole, you'll need someone else. Vic or Jess will have to be told the truth. Both, even..."
"I told Vic the truth. He doesn't believe it."
"Of course he doesn't, but he can be made to. Look, I wrote letters to both of them, explaining as best as I can. They're in the little jewelry box in my bedroom. You'll need to back it up with a demonstration, but I think they'll believe you if you do that and they have the letters." She could see that he was getting ready to argue, so she took a deep breath and continued. "These are contingencies, Cole. Just in case. It doesn't hurt to talk about them."
Cole nodded slowly. "Are we done talking about them, now?"
"Almost..." Mel told him gently, touching his chest. She wanted nothing more than to take him into her arms and tell him that everything was going to be okay, but rationally she knew that this was not going to be the case. It would hurt him far worse if she was not honest with him now. "Look, Vic will be harder to convince, but he's a cop and he's got connections. He can give you a lot of help once he knows the truth."
"But will he, Mel? I don't think he likes me very much."
Mel sighed. It was true, but it was also the result of more than one misunderstanding. "He doesn't understand why you do the things you do. It confuses him, Cole, worries him. He's afraid that something's going to happen to me because of it. And... he's jealous of you."
"Because of me."
"I don't understand, Mel..."
"Do they even have jealousy on Cirron?"
He shook his head thoughtfully. "Don't think so, Mel."
She sighed but grinned at him. "Figures." How to explain jealousy to someone to whom the entire concept was alien. "Um, he would like to have a different kind of relationship with me than he does, and... he sees you as a threat to that."
He frowned thoughtfully for a few moments, then nodded, starting to understand. "But why, Mel?"
"Why does he consider me a threat?"
"Because you live with me and are very attractive and... he doesn't understand our relationship."
"He thinks we're... mates?" Cole asked slowly. The idea, while not entirely unappealing, was a surprising one. On Cirron, there was never any doubt as to whether two people were mates. The process of mating subtly altered the energy-signatures of the participants.
Mel grinned. Trust Cole not to beat around the bush too much. "He thinks we might be."
"And he would rather have the two of you be?"
Mel nodded. "Right."
She took a deep breath, amused and a little unsettled. Even thinking about these things with Cole in the room was sometimes a bad idea. Her mind had a habit of wandering into dangerous territory. "That's complicated. And not important right now."
Cole shrugged. Obviously they had stumbled onto one of those subjects that Mel was uncomfortable with for some reason. He was always very careful not to push on those, since repeated inquiries seemed to make her even more flustered. "But if you wanted that, you would be, and I wouldn't be a consideration. I don't understand, Mel."
"It's not rational, Cole." She shook her head. "It's also not important right now."
He shrugged. "Okay, Mel."
"Jess. You could tell Jess and she'd give you all the help she could, too, but knowing the truth could be dangerous and she's perfectly happy with your INS cover-story. She'd probably help you anyway, even if you didn't tell her the truth."
He nodded. "Okay, Mel. Can we stop talking about it now?"
Mel sighed and nodded. "Okay, Cole. That's all I had to say." She took both of his hands in hers and drew a deep breath. "The doctors say that I probably have a week or so if I stay in the hospital, and less if I go home."
"Then you should stay here."
She shook her head. "I'm not dying here, Cole. I'm going home."
He frowned faintly. "But how can the doctors help you there?"
"They can't help me here, Cole. It's all blood-tests that show nothing and drugs that don't work and ice-baths which just hurt and I'm getting sick of it. I want to go home, be with my friends."
He nodded slowly. "If the doctor's can't find anything, maybe I can."
"How are you going to do that, Cole?"
"I can reconfigure some of my computers to run diagnostics."
"Do you know enough about human physiology?" Mel asked, allowing herself to feel some hope. It was hard not to trust in Cole, especially when he sounded this confident about something.
"I learn very quickly, Mel. It won't take me long to find out what I need to know."
Mel nodded. At least it would keep him from worrying. "Sounds good to me."
He smiled brightly. "Once I know what's wrong with you, I can find a way to fix it."
"That would be nice."
"Are you ready to go now?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "The doctor wants to check me out one more time, then I've got to sign some papers. It won't be long, though."
"Okay, Mel." He nodded.
"So, you caught her?" she asked, hoping to take Cole's mind off of her condition for a while. "Your fugitive, I mean." She had tried to pronounce the woman's name once and ended up biting her tongue, so now she just used pronouns when referring to her.
He nodded again. "Yes, Mel."
"Tell me about it."
"She was in the body of a drug-enforcement agent named Robert Jackson. She's been diverting seized drug-money to Zin for some time now."
Mel grinned. "So this'll put a dent in his operating budget."
Cole nodded. "Hopefully, yes."
"Good. Was she hard to find?"
He nodded, then asked, "Do all Federal Agents look alike, Mel?"
She laughed. "Only their clothes and their hair, Cole." She looked up at a gentle knock on the door. "I'm glad you found her. Come in!"
The door opened and a young nurse walked in. "Morning, Mel."
"Hi, Sara. This is my friend Cole."
She grinned at him. "Hey, Cole."
"Going home today, Mel?" Sara asked, wrapping a blood-pressure cuff around her arm.
Mel nodded. "That's the plan. I'm going stir-crazy in here."
"After three days? The poor little girl next door's been in for over three weeks." She finished taking Mel's blood pressure and noted it down. She flourished a thermometer at her. "Say 'ah'."
"Ah..." Mel muttered, making a face before accepting the thermometer.
Cole was looking over Sara's shoulder as she wrote. "What are you doing to Mel?"
"Getting her vitals."
Cole nodded. He remembered from the time that Jess' friend had gotten sick that human physicians placed a lot of interest in things like body temperature and heart-rate as diagnostic tools.
The thermometer beeped and she removed it from Mel's mouth. "108 this time, Mel. Sure you won't stay?"
Sara shrugged and noted the temperature down, before hooking a monitor to the tip of Mel's finger.
She pulled a small, flat device out of her smock.
Mel groaned. "No more blood!" she protested.
"Doctor's orders. At least he's not ordering any more blood-gas studies."
"What are you doing to Mel now?" Cole asked as Sara produced a lance and pricked the tip of Mel's finger. He winced at the bead of blood that pooled there.
Sara spoke as she worked. "Testing her blood-sugar. Which is low, Mel." She crossed her arms over her chest.
"Mel, you need to eat..." Cole told her firmly, echoing a lecture that she had given him shortly after his arrival after he had once become so involved in his work that he had forgotten to eat for several days. It had not been a pleasant experience. "Three or four times a day, hungry or not, Mel."
Mel rolled her eyes. "It's my job to give you these lectures, Cole."
"Skipped breakfast, didn't you?" Sara asked gently.
"Mel, you need to eat."
"I'll eat when I'm hungry!" Mel snapped. She sighed. "I'm sorry, Sara. I'm just feeling edgy right now."
"Your mood would stabilize if you'd eat more regularly. Hypoglycemia leads to mood-swings."
"So does having your brain fried like an egg..." Mel muttered.
Sara sighed. "Mel, I'm telling you this for your own good. Your body, your brain, needs all the glucose it can get. Even if you don't eat, you don't want to deprive yourself of glucose right now."
Mel nodded. "Sorry, Sara. It's been a long couple of days."
"I can imagine." She nodded and patted Mel on the shoulder. "Doctor Marcus should be here in a few minutes, and then it'll only take another ten minutes or so to draw up your release papers."
Mel nodded. "Thank you, Sara."
"Hang tough, Mel." She smiled at them once more and then left.
There was another knock on the door. "Come in!" Mel called
A middle-aged man in a white coat walked in. "Good morning, Mel." He smiled at her and Cole. "I don't think we've met before..."
"This is Cole, Doctor Marcus. He just got back into town."
He nodded. "Ah, of course. Nice to meet you, Mister Hauser."
"Hello, Doctor Marcus. How do you know my last name?"
"Mel's been talking about you."
"Oh." Cole nodded. "Can she come home now?"
He shrugged. "Looks like your temperature's up again, Mel. Three degrees in a few hours. Are you sure you won't stay?"
She nodded firmly. "Positive, Doctor. I want to go home now."
He sighed and pulled out his stethoscope. "Okay, let's have a listen."
"May I see Mel's records, Doctor?" Cole asked.
He nodded and pressed the stethoscope to Mel's chest, holding up his finger for silence. "Deep breath, Mel. And again. Again. And once more." He nodded, satisfied. "Lungs are clear, heart's strong. Beating fairly rapidly, but that could be dehydration." He glanced down at her chart, checking her blood-pressure. "Or not." He pulled out a light and shone it into her eyes. "Vision still troubling you?"
"Well, I can see okay, it's just... washed-out. Like the colors aren't as bright."
He nodded. "Well, I wouldn't get behind the wheel of a car if I were you."
Mel smiled and nodded. "Don't worry, I won't."
"Still feeling restless?"
She nodded. "Worse than before. Like I could climb the walls."
He nodded. "Headaches?"
"No. I feel good, except for being restless."
"Mel, you do realize how serious this is, don't you?"
She nodded. "Irreversible brain-damage and death. Yeah, I got that the first five times." Mel winced at her tone of voice. "Sorry, Doc."
He smiled understandingly. "I know, Mel. The mood swings are probably your first symptom."
She nodded. "I know. Suddenly I'm going from zero to bitch in under five seconds. I swear I'm not normally like this." She glanced at Cole. "Am I?" she asked, suddenly worried that she actually might be.
He shook his head. "Mel is always very sweet and gentle..." he assured the doctor.
He touched Mel's throat lightly, reassuringly. Mel felt her heart flutter and was glad that she was no longer hooked up to any monitors.
"I'm sure she is. But this deterioration is likely to continue. The mood-swings are probably going to get more violent. Eventually, you're probably going to start losing your inhibitions as well. Seizures are not unlikely near the end."
"Yeah, so I hear." Mel nodded. "That it?" she asked. "I'd really like to get home now."
She was, too. She felt good enough that it was easy to ignore anything but the practical aspects of her condition, like who was going to take care of Cole. She felt remarkably clear-headed and not at all nervous. In fact, she felt an absolutely wonderful sense of well-being, which had only increased since Cole's arrival. Maybe this was what it was to be at peace. Or maybe it was just another side-effect. She did not really care. All she wanted right now was to go home with Cole, to make her last few days with him count.
He nodded. "Ice-baths might help keep your temperature down." He glanced down at her chart, then up at Cole. "You wanted to see this?"
Cole nodded. "Can I get copies, please?"
"Are you a doctor?"
Cole shrugged noncommittally. "Curious."
"Mel, is it okay if I give him copies?"
Mel nodded. "Go for it."
"Okay. I'll have the admissions clerk bring them up with your paperwork. Best of luck to you, Mel."
"Thank you, Doctor." Mel smiled at him as he left. She looked up at Cole. "Still convinced I'm not dying?"
He nodded firmly. "Your life-force is very strong, Mel..."
"If you say so, Cole."
Mel shrugged. Maybe he was right. Maybe he would find out what was wrong for her and isolate a way to cure her. She was not going to hold her breath, but a little hope never hurt. She pushed up her left sleeve to scratch an itch but paused at the horrified look on Cole's face. Her arm was covered with bruises and needle-marks. It looked more like the arm of a junkie than it did like one of hers.
"Mel..." Cole began softly, reaching out for her arm.
She pulled it away. It was really too sore to touch, besides which, lately it just felt unpleasant when people touched her bare skin. "It's okay, Cole. It's from the tests and the IVs. They'll fade."
"Is the other arm like that, too?" he asked sadly. Poor Mel.
"Yeah, Cole." She nodded and gave him a reassuring smile, patting his chest gently.
"Give me your arms, Mel." He extended his hands, giving her that loving, concerned smile that she loved so well.
Mel smiled and extended her left arm to him. Cole wrapped his hands around the arm at the elbow and slowly slid them downwards, bathing her skin in a warm, gentle glow as he went, and leaving it completely, flawlessly healed. Mel felt her heart fluttering in response to his gentle care. It was not just that it felt so good when he healed her with his energy. The look of care and concern in his eyes was heart-stopping. No man had ever looked at her like that before.
Oh, God, she was going to miss him so badly. The thought of being without Cole, even more than the knowledge that she was dying, was a terrifying thing. Here was a man who could, with just a touch, heal her body and her spirit, calm her fears and excite her body. He had healed her once before, but she had been too distracted at the time to realize what a truly amazing thing it really was. He was sharing his energy, his life-force with her, giving of himself to make her complete. She was surprised to find herself more than a little turned on by the process. Beyond that, though, there was a spiritual pull to his actions. It was, without question, the most amazing thing she had ever experienced.
As he worked, Cole closed his eyes, amazed by his own reaction to the healing. Always before, healing had been something he did because a person was hurt. With Mel, it seemed to take on a special significance. Her skin, warm and smooth beneath his hands, seemed to invite his touch, crying out for more, making him eager to do more than simply heal Mel. Touching her felt more incredibly right than anything he had yet experienced in this human body. He never wanted to release her. He deliberately slowed himself as he moved his hands to her other arm, not wanting the experience to end.
Mel smiled as Cole finished with that arm and then slowly, almost shyly slid his hand into hers. "Thank you, Cole..." she whispered, squeezing his hand and lightly resting her other hand on his chest.
Cole caught his breath, startled by a lurching sensation in the pit of his stomach. Mouth suddenly dry, he raised his free hand tentatively to Mel's chest.
There was a knock at the door, ending the moment. "Miss Porter? I have your discharge papers here..." a woman said as she entered.
Reluctantly, Mel and Cole pulled away from each other, each wondering what it was that had just passed so powerfully between them.