One more shout-out to my wonderful Beta-reader Cyn Tolram… Love ya', girl. Thanks for all the thought-provoking questions and comments and for catching all the stupid typos that, in spite of my best efforts, keep raring their ugly head. See, there's one now…

Chapter 5 -- Taushi

"So, um... what exactly does this involve?" Mel asked, pacing around her bedroom.

Cole was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching her pace uncertainly, wanting to know why she was so nervous. "I've explained it to you in the past, Mel..." he told her, rising and putting his hand on her shoulder, gently restraining her from pacing. "You're nervous. Maybe this isn't a good idea."

Mel shook her head. "No, Cole... I mean, yes, I am nervous, but that doesn't mean I'm having doubts or second thoughts. I want this..." She nodded and sighed. "I do. I have for a long time."

"Then why are you nervous?" he asked in confusion.

She shook her head. "I don't know. I'm afraid I'll screw up or something, I guess..." She looked up at him. "I just don't want to do anything wrong, Cole."

Cole frowned uncertainly. "You're... afraid you won't know what to do?" he asked, surprised. As used to them as he had started to grow, humans were very strange creatures after all.

She nodded. "Yeah."

"Mel..." He led her over to the bed and sat her down, crouching in front of her. He rested on hand on her knee and the other lightly against her throat. "You're Cirronian. You'll know."

"What, like an instinct?"

Cole nodded. "Yes." He smiled lovingly and caressed her throat. "You do not have to be afraid, Mel..."

She smiled and nodded. "I know." Sex, human or Cirronian, had to be about trust, and she trusted Cole implicitly. He was always so loving and gentle that she had no doubt in her mind that this experience was going to be the same.

He rose and pulled her into his arms, holding her close. "When you're ready."

"What, just like that?" she asked, startled.

Cole nodded in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's just that humans... before... they..." she trailed off, reminding herself firmly that she was not going to allow this to become physical, just... metaphysical. Cole was still too much like a child in too many respects for her to feel comfortable exposing him to sex yet, or to any of the fun activities that generally took place beforehand.

Cole smiled. "Humans kiss first?" he guessed.

Mel smiled and nodded. Kissing was nice and safe. "Yeah, they do."

"I like kissing you, Mel..." he told her. "It feels very nice."

"So kiss me..." Mel suggested gently, brushing her lips against his.

Cole closed his eyes and pulled her body against his own, pressing his lips against hers. When he had first learned about this human custom, it had seemed strange to him, and he had been reluctant to attempt it the first time, but there was no denying how pleasant it felt. Human lips must have had more nerve-endings than any other part of their bodies to generate so many sensations all at once. Oddly, the pleasure did not confine itself to his lips, although that was the only part of her that he was really touching. Rather, it spread outwards from there, heating him to his soul. He could feel the energy sparking just under her skin, hinting at things to come. And she was so warm in his arms, her temperature just perfect, identical to his own. He was having trouble distinguishing between their respective bodies again, which only increased his pleasure at the kiss. His heart was pounding almost painfully inside his chest, but he was too wrapped up in his own sensations and emotions to care.

Mel pulled away first, breathless and hanging on to Cole for balance. "Wow..." she panted. "You're... really good at that, Cole."

"So are you. Do you need to sit down?" he asked, mildly concerned.

She nodded. "Yeah. You?"

Cole realized that he did feel oddly dizzy. He smiled sheepishly and nodded. "Yes."

Mel laughed quietly as they sat on the edge of the bed, composing themselves. She put one hand on his knee and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Smiling and enjoying the contact, he slid one arm around her waist.

Mel smiled up at him and raised her other hand to his chest. "God, Cole..." She paused uncertainly as it occurred to her that she always before called him Cole, never once using his real name. Maybe it would be more appropriate to use his Cirronian name. "Should I call you Daggon?" she asked gently.

He smiled at her. "I prefer the name Cole."

"Why?" Mel asked, smiling curiously.

"Because you gave it to me..." He brushed his lips against hers again, but did not pursue a kiss. She seemed perfectly comfortable just leaning against him. To kiss her with any seriousness, they both would have had to move.

Mel sighed softly and snuggled into him, feeling completely contented and loved. After a few minutes, she rose and dimmed the lights.

"What are you doing, Mel?" Cole asked curiously.

Mel smiled as it occurred to her that this was another one of those cultural idiosyncrasies that Cole was so constantly confused by. What was less important than why. By doing what she would have done with a human man, she was trying to control the situation, bring it squarely into her context. Why was it so important for her that this be similar to making love with a human male? Because she was nervous, she supposed, and trying to make this strange new experience she was about to have as familiar as possible. As badly as she wanted this, she was still scared by the idea, and eager to retain at least some of the control, some of the power in the interaction. She had always been like that, afraid to surrender control in her relationships, no matter how much she cared about the man.

She turned to face Cole, smiling at him and explaining, "Humans... usually they like to have the lights low. Or candles burning."

"Candles are nice..." Cole remarked, nodding. Their flickering light faintly reminded him of the pulsing patterns of light generated during mating. It was very beautiful and peaceful.

Mel smiled and turned the lights back on. "Yes they are. Stay put and I'll go get some."

Cole waited patiently while Mel retrieved the candles, wondering what it was about the dark or semi-dark that humans enjoyed during their mating. When Mel had lit several candles and turned off the overhead light, he suddenly understood. The candlelight danced around the room and bounced off of the walls and ceiling in a fascinating pattern. Cole watched the light dance off of Mel with a smile. She turned on her CD player, then approached Cole.

He rose and caressed her throat, approving of both the flickering candlelight and the airy music that swirled through the room. "This is... romantic?" he asked curiously.

Mel grinned and nodded. "Yeah. At least, it's supposed to be."

"I like it." He smiled at her. "Can we dance?" he asked hopefully.

Mel smiled and nodded, letting him pull her into his arms. "So many things make sense now that didn't before..." Mel told him quietly as they swayed in place.

"Your grandmother was right..." he told her softly.

"About what, Cole?" she asked quietly.

"What you told me in the hospital, Mel. Things happen for a reason."

She grinned. "Like the fit of temporary insanity that caused me to pick up a half-naked, incoherent stranger on an abandoned road." She looked up at him. "Now I know why I did. It was like... something in you was calling out to something in me. I never really understood why I did it before."

He smiled, finally understanding at least part of what it was that had drawn him so strongly to her from the first. "We've been calling out to each other for a very long time now, Mel. We've just both been too busy and too blind to listen."

Mel nodded and buried her face in his chest, inhaling deeply, wondering if that elusive smell of his that she had always liked so much was, in fact, the pheromone that he had mentioned. She opened her eyes slightly, then pulled away from Cole, startled.

"Is something wrong, Mel?" he asked gently.

"Cole, you're... glowing." She stared at him with wide, wondering eyes. It was the most amazing thing that she had ever seen. It was not, as she had first thought, some kind of transformation. He was not turning into a Cirronian or anything like that. He still looked like normal, human Cole, exactly as he always looked, except that there was a gentle, golden light hanging about his skin like an aura. It was an almost heartbreakingly beautiful sight.

He smiled and took her hand, leading her to the mirror on her dresser. "So are you, Mel..." he whispered as she stood in front of it, staring at herself in awe. He smiled and shook his head as Mel stared down at her glowing hands, then back at the glowing face in the mirror several times, shocked. "It's okay, Mel..." he told her gently, stepping between her and the mirror and caressing her throat and face. "It's perfectly normal."

"You could have warned me..." Mel pointed out, shaking her head and grinning.

"I'm sorry, Mel." He shrugged. It had not occurred to him that these human bodies would glow the way that Cirronian ones did.

"We could have saved the candles..." she added with a soft laugh.

Cole smiled and stared at her almost reverently. "You are so beautiful, Mel..." he whispered.

"So are you..." she answered truthfully, lightly touching his chest. It was as if all the beauty of that she had glimpsed in his soul was shining through, making itself seen... for her eyes alone. "Are you... are we... ready?"

Cole nodded. "We are. If you are, Mel..."

She nodded. "Um..." she began a little hesitantly. "How do we... start?"

"Take your shirt off, Mel..." he said in a low voice. He was not sure why he was whispering, but it seemed strangely appropriate under the circumstances.

"Okay." Mel nodded and slowly pulled her shirt off. Cole was watching with wide, curious eyes. With shaking hands, she started to unclasp her bra.

Cole covered her hand with his, sensing her hesitancy. "If you feel more comfortable, Mel, you can keep that on..." he told her gently, wanting her to be as comfortable with this as possible.

Mel considered for a few moments. The bra was just another layer between them, another way for her to retain at least the illusion of control over circumstances that, rationally, she knew were beyond her control. She lightly touched her fingers to Cole's cheek, grateful for his quiet consideration. He wanted this to be as easy as possible for her, a fact which only increased her love and respect for him. Still, if keeping the bra on represented control for her, perhaps taking it off could signify something else entirely. Like her trust for the man she loved.

Inhaling deeply, she unclasped her bra and pulled it off, never taking her eyes off of Cole as she let it fall to the ground. His eyes widened fractionally, and his expression reflected wonder, but he did not otherwise react.

"Okay..." She nodded, indicating that she was ready to continue.

Cole nodded and removed his shirt, glad that she seemed by her actions to be placing more trust in him. If she were nervous, or in the least reluctant, the joining could not take place. Too large a part of the process was about trust and openness.

Mel smiled at Cole as he quickly pulled his shirt off. The glow from his chest was stronger than that from his face. They were putting the candles in the room to shame. She reached out to touch him, but stilled her hand inches from his chest, uncertain.

"It's okay, Mel..." he told her gently, stepping into her touch.

There was something incredibly charming about her uncertainty and innocent exploration, he decided as she caressed his chest lightly, staring into his eyes with quiet wonder. He had never experienced anything even remotely similar to this. His skin burned where her hands passed, and the warmth spread inward in gentle waves, heating his entire being. Maybe there was something to be said for human bodies after all. Nothing on Cirron compared to the physical sensations he was feeling here. He did not know the words 'erotic' or 'sensual', and there was no Cirronian equivalent to either, but if there had been, he could have used them to begin to describe the things Mel was making him feel.

Mel curiously moved her hands over his chest, amazed. His skin was hot under her hands, his temperature probably as high or higher than her own, but, like her, he was not sweating. She could feel something crackling under his skin, like electricity, but pleasant as opposed to painful. Standing this close to Cole in this state was like nothing she had ever experienced before. The closest she could come to describing the atmosphere in the room was to compare it to the electrical charge in the air before a thunderstorm, but that was a poor comparison, a shadow of the reality.

Mel leaned into his chest, inhaling deeply. "Cole..." she pled quietly, closing her eyes.

Cole shivered, startled by his own response to the feel of her skin against his. Her need merged with his own, intensifying both. He gently took her in his arms and turned her back to him, pulling her against him. Mel sighed and leaned into his chest, turning her head upwards to look at him. He smiled and wrapped his arms around her from behind, folding them over her chest and resting his hands on her shoulders.

"Comfortable?" he asked her gently, resting his cheek against hers.

"Oh, God, yes..." Mel breathed, her eyes drifting shut.

She reached up and covered his hands with her own, sighing contentedly. She had never felt as at peace and serene as she did at this moment. With Cole's strong, gentle arms around her, she felt completely protected and perfectly loved. She could feel the energy crackling under his skin, warming them both. It was like spending a lazy afternoon on the beach sunbathing.

Her half-closed eyes opened as the feeling changed. The energy that she had felt under Cole's skin was  no longer confined to Cole's body, but flowing freely through her own. She was suddenly aware that, without conscious effort on her part, her own energy was flowing through his body as well. She could feel that as well, could trace its progress through him.

Amazingly, she realized that she was feeling an echo of what he felt as well, not only physically, but every beautiful, perfect emotion. His joy, his pleasure, his amazement, faint amusement, his complete and unconditional love for her... she could feel it all, as if he were nothing more than an extension of herself. Images, alien, but strangely familiar filled her awareness with swirling colors and shining lights. His home, she realized, memories of the way the sun looked when it reflected off of the atmosphere, of home, his family, his parents, his wife and daughter, his travels to other worlds, the sunsets on Nodul, the Dessarian starscape... It was as if, in an instant, she shared every joyous memory he had ever acquired, and, in that heartbeat, she grew to know him better than she could ever have hoped to.

It was like living two lives at once, the most beautiful thing she had ever felt, as if a void in her soul had been filled. She had expected some physical response, but, oddly, there was none, as if they were too deeply immersed in each other's minds to leave room for physical considerations.

Cole closed his eyes, giving himself over to the experience. By experiencing Mel's impressions, he could tell that human mating was nothing like this. Instead of being entirely spiritual, it was entirely physical.

They had nothing to compare to this. No wonder they were such a lonely species. It only increased his curiosity over the human ways, made him more eager to share that with Mel as well as he experienced fleeting impressions of passionate embraces and almost overwhelming physical sensations. It might have been nothing like the joining they were sharing now, but it left him curious and more than a little eager.

He quickly pushed theses thoughts from his head and relaxed into the experience. Mel's reactions to the mating, he realized with faint amusement, were almost as wonderful as the mating itself. This was completely new to her, more amazing and surprising than it could ever have been to a pureblooded Cirronian. Experiencing it through the tapestry of her innocence was like experiencing it again for the first time himself, better, even. It was wonderful beyond word or image, something no other Cirronian would likely ever be able to experience.

Tears of joy streamed unnoticed down his face as the empty place that had existed in his soul since his wife's death was filled, flooded with Mel's pure, vibrant life-force.

The wonderful exchange ended as abruptly as it had started. The experience was too short for either of them, although they could not have said later if it had lasted for a minute or an hour. They stood there for several moments, Cole half supporting Mel and half leaning on her, as they adapted to being confined to their own bodies again. Slowly, Mel turned in his arms until she was facing him again. Slipping her arms around him and holding him close, she smiled up at him.

"Mel, you're crying..." Cole whispered, concerned. Holding on to her with one hand, he reached down with the other and dried her tears.

Smiling at him, Mel reached up and dried his. "So beautiful..." she whispered, unable to find any other words that could even come close to describing what they had shared.

Cole smiled and rested his hand over her heart. "Taushi..." he whispered.

"What does that mean?" Mel asked, resting her head against his chest. She did not want to let him go, ever.

"The other half of my soul." Cole tightened his grip on her, not wanting to break their contact. They stood there for several more minutes before he reluctantly announced, "I need to sit down now, Mel."

"Are you okay?" she asked anxiously, pulling away and walking him to the bed.

"Oh, yes, Mel. It's just very draining."

Mel smiled, aware that she was half-ready to fall asleep herself. "Here, lie down, Cole."

"But I don't sleep, Mel."

"That's okay. I want to show you something."

"What, Mel?" he asked, obediently lying down on his back. He watched curiously as Mel stretched out next to him.

"It's called cuddling. Human lovers do it." She snuggled close to Cole, resting her head and one hand on his chest.

Lovers... People who love. What a beautiful description of what they had become. It even sounded beautiful. "Why, Mel?" he asked, tentatively sliding his arms around her and pulling her more tightly against him.

Mel found herself lying half on top of him, and was not unhappy about it. He was a quick study. "To be close." She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of his bare chest against hers.

"It's very nice, Mel..." Cole remarked as she absently traced a pattern on his chest with one finger. Absently, he ran a hand through her hair, wondering if this was acceptable. She had always in the past been so strict about their contact, especially contact without purpose, casual contact they called it. It was very pleasant to be able to just touch her without any reason other than because it felt good. "Can we do this again some time?" he asked tentatively, hoping for an affirmative answer. The thought of being able to touch her like this again, just for the pleasure of it, was a beautiful one. Images from their joining, flashes of human matings, made him hope that they might one day share even more that this cuddling.

Mel opened her eyes and smiled up at him. "Which part?" she asked, laughing quietly.

"All of it." Cole smiled faintly. When he said 'all of it', he meant 'all of it and more'. He suspected that Mel knew it as well.

"Mmm..." Mel nodded lazily and closed her eyes again. "Yeah, I think that can be arranged, Cole."

"Can we do this... cuddling any time? Or do we have to mate first?" Her bare skin against his, her weight on top of him felt right, perfect, even beautiful.

Mel smiled. "Any time you want to, Cole."

He smiled and lightly patted her shoulder. "That's nice, Mel. I think our relationship is going to be much more fun now."

Mel grinned and gently kissed his chest, over his heart. Fun... He was right, though. They had started something very special, and exploring it further promised to be very interesting. And, she was sure, very rewarding as well. The other half of my soul... What a beautiful description of what they had become. Wrapped in his warmth, and lulled by the knowledge of how beautiful life could be, Mel fell asleep in his arms.

Cole smiled as her breathing slowed. He had always wanted to watch her sleep. Now he could spend an entire night doing so, an entire night holding her in his arms and studying every detail of her. Amazing. Noticing that her body temperature had dropped, he picked up a light blanket and draped it over her, careful not to wake her. As he did this, Mel stirred slightly, letting out a contented sigh and murmuring his name, but then drifted more deeply into sleep.

Cole sighed happily and held her close, absently petting her hair as he watched her sleep. Mel had asked if their relationship would remain as it had been before, and he had told her that the joining would only make him care more deeply for her. He had been more right than he could have imagined. Nothing was ever going to be the same for them again, a fact which brought him nothing but pleasure. Together, he knew, there was nothing that they would be unable to face. The threat from Zin and his fugitives seemed like a minor irritation, one that would never stand between them again.

"Taushi..." he whispered in the candlelight, smiling as he held his sleeping lover in his arms.

The End