Chapter 6 -- Cole

Mel stared at Amelia in uncertain surprise for a few moments before responding. "What do you mean?"

"I think you probably already know that. If not..." Amelia sighed. "If not, then I've got an earful for you."

Mel sighed deeply, wondering what Cole had done that Amelia had seen. Something big, obviously, for her to amend 'who is he?' to 'what is he?' so readily. The good news was that Amelia seemed to be taking whatever she had seen well. She cared about Cole, and seemed reluctant to endanger him. She looked up at Amelia and saw the other woman watching her patiently.

"What did he do?" Mel asked softly.

Amelia considered for a moment before speaking. She had been ready to confront Mel with everything that she had seen, from the fight in the clearing on. Now, though, staring Mel in the eyes... The only evidence Amelia had for any of her claims was more likely to incriminate her than anything. Would Mel believe Amelia if she accused Cole of murder? Amelia herself, having gotten to know the gentle man, had seen it and could barely believe it.

Mel would have questions, not the least of which would be why Amelia had failed to report the death. Her decision to bury the body only implicated her further in the whole thing. At this point, there was more to connect Amelia herself to Ansen's death than there was to connect Cole to it. Besides which, Amelia still had no real idea what had occurred in that clearing. It would be better, for the time being, at least, not to share the whole truth with Mel.

"Last night I cut myself in the kitchen. Badly. Cole... healed me, somehow."

Mel stared at Amelia cautiously for a moment. It was not as bad as it could have been, definitely. Mel had long worried about Cole's habit of taking fugitive's life-forces out in the open, usually without even bothering to make sure no one was around first. Then there were the dead bodies that he left in his wake once he had collected a life-force. Healing Amelia, though...

"He healed you?" she repeated slowly, trying to sound politely interested instead of relieved.

Amelia nodded. At least Mel did not seem completely dubious. "Yeah... Like..." She reached back into her Apostolic upbringing for the words. They came easily in spite of the fact that she had not so much as stepped foot inside of a church in better than years. "He healed me by laying on hands."

"Laying on hands?" Mel repeated. Oh, good. Amelia believed in faith healing. Absolutely too good to be true. Mel did not have to tell her anything about Cole and his true mission. "He healed you with just a touch?"

Amelia nodded. "Which I realize must sound insane to you..." she began, shaking her head. What the hell was she doing, trying to convince this woman? She had experienced it and was having trouble believing it less than 24 hours later. "But..."

Mel shook her head. "No. It doesn't sound insane." She lowered her voice, leaning closer to Amelia. "I've... seen him do that before..." she said in a confiding tone. "He once healed me when I had hurt myself."

Amelia exhaled deeply. If Mel had experienced it, too, it meant that she was not crazy. Good to know. Hell, that could even make Cole's ability and honest-to-God miracle. Amelia, who had given up on God at about the same time that she had given up on her fellow man was left wondering. She had no reason to expect any sort of Divine intervention in her life, but maybe that was precisely what she had gotten.  Maybe it was some kind of sign, a message to her that there really was a higher purpose to life. Maybe... maybe Cole had been dropped in Amelia's lap to give her back her hope. Or her faith.

Amelia exhaled deeply, feeling more than a little shaken, though in a good way. She felt... uplifted. "He has an amazing gift, Mel..." she said quietly.

"Amazing does not begin to describe him..." Mel told her honestly.

"No, I guess it really doesn't." Amelia smiled faintly.

Mel smiled, noticing Amelia's mood. The woman seemed happy, almost serene. "Cole is... like no other man."

She smiled and nodded. "I'd noticed."

Mel grinned. "He... I help him out, you know."

Amelia nodded. "You... protect him?" she ventured. As intelligent as Cole seemed, he also seemed like the kind of man who might well need someone to watch over him. He was trusting to a fault, in many ways more like a child than a man.

"When I can." Mel nodded. It was true enough. "Cole's... not like other people." She shrugged, aware that she had said it before. Still, it was true, and it fit. "There are a lot of times when he needs help."

Amelia smiled at Mel. She must have been an amazing woman to have recognized Cole for what he was and choosing to shelter him. After a few moments, she asked, "Why's he scared of doctors?"

Mel looked startled. "I didn't know he was."

"He is..." Amelia told her. "It's why I haven't had one in to see him."

"Oh." Mel nodded.

"Is it because of his gift?" Amelia asked.

Mel decided that this was as good an explanation as any. After all, the two were, if her guess was right, related. "I think that it must be... See, he was... discovered and... pretty intensively studied at one point. He doesn't like to talk about it. I don't know what they did to him, but I know it must have been bad." Her smile had completely faded. "He wasn't even angry with them. He just wanted to know why..." She wiped her eyes absently, shaking her head. She had felt so horrible, knowing that Cole must have suffered horribly and being unable to help him.

Amelia saw Mel's tears and patted her arm gently. That must have been what she meant when she had said that she protected Cole when she could. "That sounds about like the guy I know. Very gentle and... different. Childlike, even."

Mel nodded. "That's Cole." She sighed. "Does he... Has he done anything to indicate that he remembers anything?"

Amelia shook her head. "Nothing. He remembers you. That's it. You're his anchor. If he didn't remember you, I'm not sure what would have happened to his mind in the past week, but I doubt it would have been pretty."

"But he remembers that he can heal people..."

Amelia shook her head. "If he did, I don't think that he would have been as scared as he was when he healed me."

Mel covered her mouth with both hands, feeling helpless and alone.

"You aren't really married, are you?" Amelia guessed gently. The relationship Mel was describing seemed less about physical love and more about a deeper, more spiritual connection. From her words and behavior, Mel was not Cole's wife but his protector.

She shook her head. "No... We aren't even really dating."

Amelia noticed the sorrow in Mel's voice over that revelation and hoped to cheer her, "He loves you, though."

Mel nodded weakly. "I love him, too. That's not an issue."

"Then what?"

"He's... different, special. He... the things that he's called to do... keep us apart."

"I'm sorry." Amelia squeezed Mel's arm gently. Of course, a Calling like Cole's would make it difficult to form any sort of lasting relationship. Perhaps, like some men of God, he had even taken a vow preventing him from having a physical relationship with a woman.

She nodded. "Um, we... after a lot of thought we decided that having a relationship would be... a bad idea. This was... um, less than three weeks ago."

"You poor baby." Amelia sighed. "I had assumed that you'd be sleeping in with him, but you take the upstairs guest-room and I'll grab the couch."

Mel shook her head. "No. I want to be near him. There can't be anything between us, but... I want to be near him..."

Amelia nodded. "I understand. You look about ready to turn in. Will you be bringing him home tomorrow?" she asked gently. As much as she would miss having Cole around, it probably was better to get him home sooner rather than later.

Mel nodded. "I think the sooner the better. I want him back in familiar surroundings. Maybe he'll be able to remember better once he's home."

Amelia sighed and nodded. Something occurred to her which had not before. Having thought of it, though, she decided that it would probably be wise to mention it to Mel. "You should be aware that these migraines of his seem to be connected to his attempts to remember things. Um... I'm not sure how or why, but that's the sense I'm getting. And... he says that it hurts worse when he tries to remember things."

Mel nodded. "That's what happened tonight."

She nodded. "I called a doctor friend of mine. He wrote out a prescription for Cole. We can pick them up before you go to the airport tomorrow if you want. Um, painkillers. The headaches seem to be getting worse instead of better... It might be wise to have them around."

Mel nodded. "How much is he sleeping?"

"About fourteen hours a day. More when his head is bothering him."

Mel sighed and nodded. From never sleeping at all to sleeping more than half of every day? "That's a lot, especially for Cole..."

"He's still weak. Whatever's wrong with him..."

Mel nodded. "Thank you so much for taking care of him."

She nodded. "It was the right thing. I couldn't leave him in the state he was in."

Mel smiled and nodded. "He... has that effect on people. You see him and you just..."

"Want to take care of him." Amelia nodded. "I'd noticed." She smiled gently at Mel. "You look exhausted, Mel. Get some sleep, okay?"

Mel nodded and rose, grateful for the reprieve. "Thanks. Good night."

Amelia smiled and nodded. "Good night, Mel. Try to take it easy."

"Yeah."

Mel nodded and entered the dark bedroom, closing the door behind her and hoping that Cole would sleep through the night. As much as she wanted to be near him, the idea of being in here alone with him awake, when he believed they were married, was a little intimidating. It was not that she felt that Cole would do anything she told him not to, she just did not want to have to deal with explaining to him why they could not do anything. She still had no idea what she was going to say to him. Stronger than that worry, although she would not admit it even to herself, was the concern that she might not be inclined to resist if Cole did try something in the night.

She could think about what to say to him on the plane, she supposed with a sigh, changing into the heavy, conservative pajamas that she had packed in anticipation of the colder weather up here. She was grateful that she had not selected a lighter or more revealing pair. She realized with a start that these were the pajamas she had worn in London the night that Cole had caught her talking in her sleep. She ran her hands reflectively over the red fabric.

"Who's Bob?"

"Bob?"

Cole nodded. "Bob. Bobby."

The embarrassed realization that she had been talking in her sleep was only intensified as she recalled exactly what it was she had been dreaming about. Dreading the answer, she asked Cole what she had said in her sleep. And received a brutally honest answer, complete with appropriate pitch and intonation. Also some teasing from him that day.

When had Cole developed a sense of humor? She smiled as she climbed under the covers next to him. He had definitely changed from the ungainly, incoherent, seemingly half-mad stranger that she had picked up all those months ago. Admittedly, he had changed from that rather quickly, picking up skills and language with almost frightening speed. Still, the man he was today was altogether different from the man he had been in those first weeks, even after he had learned all those skills, and that change had been so gradual that Mel, exposed to him every day as she had been, had not even noticed it at first.

Until one day she had gotten out of bed in the morning, greeted Cole, and realized that something had changed, not only in him, but in Mel herself, in both of them. The way they acted towards each other, the way they felt about each other had, at some point, completely changed without either of them realizing it. The added familiarity seemed only to intensify an already-strong emotional attachment.

And, that was, Mel reflected, brushing his hair out of his face and watching him sleep, what made life so very difficult for the two of them now. They cared about each other, they knew it, they liked the way it felt, yet they could never act on it without risking each other. Not as long as Cole remained a Tracker. Mel was startled when the thought pushed its way into her awareness. What evil, selfish corner of her mind had that come from? She dismissed it as quickly as it had occurred. Cole was a Tracker. Always would be for as long as he remained on Earth. And when his mission was done... then he would leave her. Leave Earth, she corrected herself firmly.

Without thinking, Mel curled up against Cole on her side, her body flush with his, her head and a hand resting on his chest. Her eyes widened slightly as she realized what she had done more by habit than anything. After all, when you were in bed with a guy, you curled up together. It was the rule. Except when the guy in question happened to be Cole and Cole happened to think that you were married. She started to move away, but Cole shifted in his sleep, wrapping one arm around her and firmly holding her against him. Mel realized with a sigh that she was not going to be able to move without waking him up.

Might as well enjoy it, she reasoned, shrugging and snuggling against him. He was better than an electric blanket and there was, undeniably, something very comfortable, and comforting, about sleeping in his arms. When she had entered the bedroom, Mel had not been sure if she would be able to sleep. In Cole's warm embrace, sleep came quickly. Mel, who had long talked in her sleep, murmured Cole's name more than once before morning. Next to her, Cole did not stir once, and although he did not dream himself, he smiled in his sleep every time Mel gave voice to her dreams of him.

***

When he opened his eyes, Mel was just pulling on her shirt. He smiled up at her, running his hand over the still-warm sheets next to him. "Good morning, Mel."

She turned around, smiling at him. Her sleep had been very refreshing. "Hey, Cole. How'd you sleep?"

He smiled at the woman, still flush from sleep, her hair disheveled. She was even more beautiful than she had been the night before. "Deeply." He smiled at her and sat up. "My head feels better."

Mel nodded and sat down on the bed next to him, absently brushing his hair out of his face. "I'm glad."

Cole smiled up at her and caressed her throat. "I slept better last night than I have in a long time."

"Must have been that pill..." Mel muttered, smiling. She was glad he felt better, and grateful that the level of physical intimacy they had shared before the seminar had been restored. It had always been very comfortable for both of them, but since deciding that they could not have a relationship, they had both shied away from unnecessary physical contact. It had been visibly painful to both.

"Must have been you..." Cole replied, smiling at her. He moved his hand from her throat to her cheek. "I will never stay up working all night again, Mel."

Mel glanced at him with wide eyes, startled. "Don't say that, Cole..." she muttered quickly, thinking. He remembered that he often stayed up all night, but not that he did  not need sleep? Again, shying away from anything related to the fact that he was not human?

Cole shook his head. There was something abnormal about staying up all night when a creature like Mel was waiting in bed. Not to mention how good it felt to hold her, and how wonderful he felt waking up near her. "I mean it, Mel. It's a bad habit of mine, and it's not fair to either of us." He smiled and brushed his fingers over her lips. "Especially me."

Mel felt a little bit like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. "We'll, um, talk about it later, Cole..." she temporized.

"You don't believe me, do you?" he asked, smiling. Obviously he had spent one too many late nights working for her to believe him. He would show her, though.

His grin was infectious, and Mel found herself smiling back against her will. "I didn't say that, Cole."

He sat up the rest of the way and climbed out of bed, pulling her gently to her feet and into his arms. He glanced down at the heavy and concealing pajamas she had discarded and at his own briefs and shook his head. "We wear too much to bed, Mel. We should change that."

Mel began giggling, unsure how else to respond. She hoped that she was not going to spend the next several weeks trying to get him to keep his clothes on as she had been forced to spend the first few weeks doing. The thought only made her giggle harder, and blush as well.

She was embarrassed! Unbelievable... "You don't have to be shy around me, Mel..." Cole told her gently, charmed by the reaction.

"You don't have to be embarrassed, Mel. I'm sure you must have a very beautiful body."

He stared at her curiously. Had she always been shy about her body? He could hardly imagine why. She was beautiful, breath-taking. Her body had to be equally amazing. Besides, he hardly would have cared if it had not been. It was the spirit inside that interested him. He held her against his chest, supporting her, until the giggles passed, then he gently lowered her onto the bed, sitting next to her and turning to face her. He reached up and lightly caressed her throat.

"Don't be embarrassed Mel..." he whispered, allowing his fingers to slide downwards, tracing the hollow of her throat. "You have a beautiful body."

Mel recoiled, startled. Cole had no way of knowing anything of the sort. Was he making memories up now? "You remember?" she asked, frowning.

"No..." he admitted, shrugging. "Even if you didn't, it wouldn't matter to me, but I'm sure that it must be true." He rose, pulling her with him and moving her in front of a mirror. He stood behind her and nodded towards it. "Look at yourself, Mel..." he whispered, running his hands over the silky fabric of her blouse, smoothing it against her skin. "You're beautiful..."

Mel closed her eyes, shivering. She allowed herself to enjoy his touch for no more than five seconds before pulling away, but she felt guilty for allowing it to go on for that long, knowing that her body would remember his warm, gentle caresses all day.

"Cole, don't..." she muttered, shaking her head and moving away from him. She picked up her discarded pajamas and began folding then.

"What's wrong, Mel?" he asked in confusion. She seemed upset over something, though he could not imagine what. Still embarrassed, perhaps?

"We... have to leave soon." Mel shrugged and picked up his pants from the dresser. She pulled the Collector and another unfamiliar, but undeniably alien, item out of his pocket and handed him the pants.  Must have been one of his new tools. He was always cobbling new hardware together. "Get dressed, okay?"

He shrugged and began pulling his pants on. There would be time enough to convince Mel of her beauty later. He nodded towards the objects in her hand. "Do you know what they are? Are they yours?"

She shook her head. "They're yours. Remember?"

He shook his head and picked up his shirt. "No."

Mel sighed and tucked them into her own pocket. Not here, not now. They would talk about it at home. Home... the word hurt, left her feeling very lonely. Cole, as much as he had become a part of her life, was, after all, only a visitor in her world. "Cole, what do you remember about home?"

He paused and stared at her. Holding the shirt in his hands, he walked over to her. "We live together over the Watchfire. You taught me to dance downstairs."

"I meant your... other home..." she clarified, wondering why she was pushing the issue. If he wanted to believe that home was with her, why should she do anything to convince him that it was anywhere else?

"Home is where you are..." he informed her, kissing her forehead. He smiled and shook his head, amused at the thought of living anywhere else. He pulled on his shirt. "Are you okay, Mel?" he asked. She looked faintly worried over something. Had, in fact, since she had arrived.

She nodded. "Just... tired. Long week."

He nodded and smiled reassuringly. "I understand. But that's all over now. Everything is going to be fine for us."

"Yeah, Cole..." Mel nodded, wishing very badly that could be true.

She picked up her bag and they walked to the living-room together. Amelia was waiting, along with a large breakfast, which they passed in cheerful, if inconsequential, conversation. Amelia stole more than one glance at Cole as they ate, but found that the things that she now knew about him changed nothing of what she felt for him. Human or not, he was a good, sweet, gentle man. She only hoped that the two of them could somehow find happiness together, in spite of the obstacles they faced.

They stopped at the pharmacy on their way to the airport, just in case. After many hugs and goodbyes between Cole and Amelia, and an injunction from Amelia to Mel to stay in touch and to call if she needed anything, even just to talk, Cole and Mel boarded their flight.

Cole seemed restless at first, quizzing Mel incessantly about life in Chicago, but he quickly dropped that line of questioning and closed his eyes, resting his head against the seat.

"Headache?" Mel asked gently.

He nodded, sighing with frustration. "Yes, Mel."

"Why don't you try to get some sleep, okay?" she suggested gently. "We'll talk more when we get home."

He nodded. "Yes, Mel."

Mel got a pillow and blanket from the flight-attendant and tucked the pillow behind Cole's head. "Comfy?" she asked as she covered him the blanket.

He nodded and smiled at her. "Mel, when will the rest of my memories come back?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know, Cole. We'll work on it, I promise. Don't worry. I'm sure you'll remember everything in no time."

He sighed and closed his eyes, catching her hand in his. "I hope so, Mel."

"So do I..." she whispered after he had drifted off to sleep.

The End of Part 1

If you're still with me, enjoy Part 2! -- unfortunately, ff.net is having some problems that are making it hard for me to get up/keep up Part 2, but if you can't get to it using ff.net you should be able to access it at the below URL. If not, e me and I can send you a copy or something:

http://www.dame-mehri.com/damemehri/ColeFiction/Tabula%20Rosa%20Part%20II.html