Tabula Rosa Part 2

Summary: Now that Cole's back home, he's faced with the difficult task of recovering memories that don't want to come. Meanwhile, Mel struggles with what to tell him and how.

Rating: PG

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

Note: This is part 2 of the story. If you haven't read part 1, you might be a bit confused. This bit deals with Cole's attempts to recover his memory and with the conflicted feelings about the process that both Mel and Cole find themselves feeling.

Feedback: Yes, please! Feed me, feed me!!! More feedback equals more stories. (ravenkatk@aol.com)

Chapter 1 -- Homecoming

When Mel ushered Cole into the Watchfire, Gwen was there, shadowboxing in the center of the bar and listening to 'Sister Golden Hair' on the radio, which was turned up rather loudly.

Cole paused at the threshold, watching entranced as Gwen assaulted an invisible opponent with a combination of kicks and punches, any of which he knew, without knowing how he knew, could have broken bones. There was something familiar about the motions, but he could not have said what. Perhaps he, too, fought in this way? The thought that he fought at all was vaguely troubling, though. He could not say why this might have been the case, but it was.

Mel stood perfectly still next to Cole, watching his face. Something about Gwen's workout was ringing a bell somewhere. She silently willed him to remember, but his thoughtful expression was soon replaced by a troubled one. He shook his head and walked farther into the bar. Sighing softly, Mel followed.

Gwen stopped abruptly and turned to face them, her face cautiously wary for a moment. She smiled when she saw them. "Hey!" She called over the radio, quickly walking over and turning it off. "I wasn't expecting you for a couple of hours."

Mel nodded. "The plane was early."

"Wow, two miracles in under a week." Gwen smiled cheerily, then looked at Cole. "Welcome home, Mister Hauser." She regarded him curiously. "Do you remember me?"

He had been on his way out of the bar on some business or other when Mel had sidetracked him, grabbing his attention and introducing him to the young girl. "Cole, this is.."

"Gwen, the new girl." He smiled and nodded. "I remember you. Kind of."

Gwen smiled and nodded. "That's as good a start as any. Welcome home."

He smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Gwen."

She smiled and nodded. "I'm going to go change, Miss Porter. Hope you don't mind me using your bar as a makeshift gym. I overslept this morning and missed my class." She grinned and added. "And my place is so tiny that if I tried this there... bye-bye art-glass."

Mel shrugged, smiling at Gwen's expressive look. "It's fine, Gwen."

She grinned and nodded, picking up a gym-bag from a nearby table. With a wave, she vanished into the ladies room.

Cole stared after her. "She seems nice."

Mel nodded. "She is. The two of you got along really well."

He smiled, looking around curiously. "That's good."

"Anything seem familiar?" Mel asked, dropping her bag on the bar and following Cole as he walked farther into the bar.

"This." He walked over to the jukebox. "Do you remember?" he asked, punching buttons. The combination to call up the song came immediately into his mind. "You taught me to dance here. To this song..."

She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I remember."

Cole pulled her gently into his arms. "I remember how nervous I was..." he told her gently.

"You were nervous?" Mel asked, so surprised that she allowed herself to be led by Cole.

He nodded, smiling at the memory. "Terrified, Mel." He smiled down at her and brushed a strand of hair out of her face.

Gwen emerged from the bathroom, dressed for work and saw them in the little alcove, Mel in Cole's arms. The love that they felt for each other was obvious in the radiant look on Cole's face. It was one of the most touching things Gwen had ever witnessed. Also private. Grinning, she vanished discretely into the back room. Neither noticed her presence or her quick retreat.

Cole smiled down at Mel. "It's good to be back home, Mel."

She sighed and smiled back up at him, getting herself lost in those amazing eyes of his. It was very hard not to relax, almost by instinct, just as soon as he slid his arms around her. "It's very good to have you back."

"Then why are you still worried?" he asked quietly, caressing her throat as he spoke. He loved the way it made him feel inside to touch her, warm and peaceful.

"What makes you think I'm worried?" Mel asked cautiously. Had he conveniently forgotten to mention that Cirronians were also mind-readers?

"You make that face..." he told her with a smile, brushing two fingers against her forehead, smoothing away the tension there.

Mel closed her eyes and exhaled deeply. She was having a very hard time reminding herself that this probably qualified as taking advantage of Cole, even if he was being the aggressive one. It was hard, though. A very large part of her wanted very badly to just relax into that embrace and let Cole take as much initiative as he wanted to. After all, could he possibly know enough to know how to take things too far? Could she afford to take that chance?

Cole glanced at her curiously. She wanted to relax, he could tell, but she was fighting it, too. Why?

"It's okay, Mel..." he whispered lovingly, caressing her face and throat with one hand, pulling her closer with the other.

Why was she being like this? He searched his memory for an answer, but found only pain. Oh, well, that answer would come in time. Until it did, he would just have to satisfy himself with trying his best to put her at ease. So he continued lightly caressing her throat until he felt her body relax against his. It did not take long, and eventually Mel simply gave in altogether, burying her face in his chest with a breathy sigh.

It was not fair, Mel reflected as she buried her face in his chest, inhaling deeply. She had worried about so many things when she had discovered that he had amnesia, but this... this had never occurred to her. How could it have? So unfair... She had never been able to resist Cole's innocent overtures, even the ones that had not been meant as such. And now here he was, sure they were married, being every bit as insistent as he knew how to be, but still retaining that innocent quality she loved so much.

At least with her face in his chest he could not reach her throat and had to content himself with gently stroking her hair. He stopped abruptly as he became aware that her entire body was trembling. He pushed her away far enough to stare into her beautiful eyes and wipe away the tears that marred them.

"Mel, what's wrong?" he asked gently, sadly.

She shook her head, furious with herself. He needed her to be the strong one right now. "Nothing. I'm... sorry, Cole."

"It's going to be okay, Mel..." he reassured her gently.

He retrieved her bag, then walked back to her, sliding an arm around her waist and guiding her up the stairs. How many hundreds of times had he climbed these steps? It felt right, like coming home. Which was exactly what it was, he reflected as Mel unlocked the door to the apartment.

Composing herself, she took the bag from him. "Why don't you have a look around while I unpack?" she suggested gently. "See what you can remember."

Cole nodded and began nosing around as Mel carried her bag down the hall and into her bedroom. The bedroom, he corrected himself, frowning. Her bedroom? What a ridiculous thought. Their bedroom. That was better. Smiling, he resumed his exploration of the apartment.

Kitchen and living-room, memories of talking to Mel, eating with Mel, just sitting with Mel. All very pleasant, but none particularly useful.

Shaking his head, he moved on, pausing at the threshold of the bedroom and watching Mel as she unpacked. Nothing. Not a single memory associated with this room. He frowned in confusion. There should be several, he was sure. But there was nothing. Not so much as a 'good morning, Cole'. He sighed.

Mel looked up, startled. She smiled when she saw him. "Hey, Cole. What's up?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Trying... to remember things, Mel. Not working very well."

Mel gave him a reassuring grin and joined him in the hallway. "Give it time, Cole. It's been what, five minutes? Come on..." She took him by the hand and led him to his room. "What about here? You do most of your work here..." she told him, pushing the door open.

Cole looked around at the electronically equipment curiously. It was familiar, undeniably so, but there were no pleasant associations to be had. In fact, the entire room left him feeling distinctly unsettled. He backed towards the door and bumped into Mel.

"Oh, sorry..." he muttered, shaken. He disliked that room a great deal, he decided. Ditto for whatever went on inside.

"Something wrong, Cole?" Mel asked, startled by his visible emotional reaction to the room. What had that been? Disgust? Revulsion? Where had that come from?

He shook his head quickly, not wanting to worry her. "No, Mel." He flashed her a quick smile and started to close the door.

Mel stepped around him and placed the Collector and the other device on the desk, near the storage unit. She saw Cole frown thoughtfully as she did so, and wondered if he might not be connecting the Collector and the storage unit in his mind.

"Anything?" she asked gently.

He started to shake his head, then paused, thinking. A memory tried to form.

Mel standing at the door staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion as he concealed something in his hands and regarded her with a carefully blank expression.

He pushed the memory away, though, disliking the sinking feeling it gave him. He tried again, focusing on Mel.

Crawling out from under the desk where he had been rigging something up, bumping his head. Mel sympathizing.

It had been right after they met, he was sure. There was not yet the comfortable familiarity between them that marked their later interactions. Was that really the most pleasant memory this room held? Hitting his head and having Mel coo over it?

"You remember something?" Mel asked, noting his thoughtful expression.

He nodded slowly, frowning. "I hit my head on that desk there."

It took Mel several minutes to remember the incident herself. Right after Jess' friend had ODed on the Enixian drug. She nodded. "Yeah. You did. What else do you remember?"

"Nothing." He shook his aching head with a sigh and glanced at Mel. "I think I need a nap."

Mel nodded. It occurred to her, for the first time and with something resembling panic, that there was only one bed in the entire apartment. "Okay, Cole. I'll... I'll be downstairs if you need anything."

"Just this." Cole gently caught her in his arms and kissed her.

Mel let out a startled gasp, but quickly relaxed into his embrace. The part of her mind that insisted that this was wrong was quickly and decisively overruled by the combined votes of the rest of her mind and body. Kissing Cole felt right, that was just all there was to it. She knew rationally that she was going to have to tell him the truth, soon. Before bedtime, for sure. But in the meantime, one little kiss could not possibly hurt. Besides, it felt so good...

When he finally pulled away from her, looking shaky and grinning goofily, Mel felt as though she might not be able to make it down the stairs on her own. As she watched Cole shakily make his way towards her bedroom, her bed, she had to fight a sudden, strong urge to join him, especially when he turned around and gazed at her, his eyes inviting.

Cole smiled hopefully at her. Less than a week without her had seemed like a lifetime, and he wanted nothing more now that to hold her close as often and for as long as he could, to get to know her again on all the levels he had forgotten. He smiled hopefully at her when he saw that she had hesitated. Perhaps she wanted to join him just as badly as he wanted her to?

Mel stared, startled. She had been unprepared for the look in Cole's eyes. Inviting, loving, hopeful, it was hard to resist. It was just so... Cole. Sweet, gentle, and naive but still wise. It promised that, if she went with him, a lot more would happen than just her keeping him company until he fell asleep. The thought was both alarming and appealing, her mind once more torn between its options. The knowledge that it would be wrong, would amount to taking advantage of him at best, vied with a desire that she had been holding on to for a very long time now.

As Cole watched, curious and hopeful, she felt the desire begin to win out. Shaking her head, she fled the apartment, leaving Cole confused and a little hurt.

Gwen, behind the bar, did not even need to be told. She took one look at Mel's face and guessed, "One large, dry gin martini?"

Mel nodded weakly and sat down. "Uh-huh..."

Gwen mixed it quickly, minding her own business and ignoring Mel's mussed appearance and shocked expression. It was obvious enough what Mel and Cole had just been up to without asking questions. "Here you go, Miss Porter." She handed Mel the drink with a sheepish smile. "I'll be... in the back. Taking inventory."

Mel nodded weakly. "Thanks, Gwen..." she muttered, taking a long drink. When Gwen was out of sight, she drained the glass and rested her head on the bar. "What am I going to tell him?" she groaned.

***

Cole sighed as he entered the bedroom. He felt strangely like an invader. Not a single memory told him that it was acceptable to be here, and he had more than one feeling telling him that it was not. All very strange.

With a sigh, he stripped off his shirt and pants and climbed into the bed. The sheets were soft and smooth against his skin, and the pillow that he rested his head on smelled like Mel. In fact, everything about the room was of Mel. It even felt like her. Which, he reflected, hugging a pillow to his chest, was not a bad thing. The satiny pillowcase reminded him of the way Mel's skin felt when he touched it, a feeling only reinforced by the fact that this pillow, too, smelled like her.

Mel... everything about her was comforting. Her smell, the sound of her voice, her touch. Cole closed his eyes and allowed himself to imagine what it must feel like to hold her against him at night, to feel her gentle touch against his bare chest. He sighed deeply when imaginings did not become memories. It was both annoying and painful to only be able to remember a handful of intimate moments with her when he knew that there must have been so many more. After all, they had been married. Marriage was about being close. And, yet... he could not remember ever having shared this bed with Mel. Any bed. Ever.

It was all very confusing. He could remember so many inconsequential details of his life with Mel, but could not recall any of the important events. He did not remember their wedding or even much of their honeymoon. He remembered Gwen, who had worked at the Watchfire for less than a month, but he could not remember the first time he had met Mel. It was beyond confusing, it was painful, mentally and physically.

Cole opened his eyes with a sigh and climbed out of the bed. He searched the apartment, looking for another bed, but Mel's was the only bed evident. He would never get to sleep there, though, not feeling, as he did, like an invader there. With a sigh, he stretched out on the couch and quickly fell asleep there, still hugging her pillow to his chest.

***

When Mel came upstairs, the first thing she did was to peek into her bedroom to check on Cole. She felt a surge of raw panic to not find him there. Panic was quickly calmed when she found him asleep on the couch, hugging a pillow to his chest. She crouched next to him and lightly caressed his cheek, relieved. His eyes slowly opened and he smiled up at her.

"Hello, Mel."

"Cole, what are you doing sleeping out here?" she asked gently.

"Couldn't sleep in the bedroom, Mel. It felt... wrong."

"You're going to give yourself a sore neck sleeping on the couch, Cole. Come on, let's get you into bed."

Sighing, Mel helped him to his feet and walked him to the bedroom. Wrong? Why should sleeping in her bed feel wrong to him? Perhaps memories of their life as it had been were finally starting to reassert themselves. Which would save her the pain and confusion of having to explain to Cole. He was still half-asleep, she could tell, so she did not bother to question him further, contenting herself to sit next to him as he curled up under the covers. She caressed his face and chest lightly.

"Get some sleep, Cole. And when you wake up, we need to talk."

He nodded, yawning. "Yes, Mel."

She smiled. He looked so sweet, just about to fall asleep. "What do you dream about?" she asked quietly, pulling the blanket up to his chin. The fact that he was sleeping at all now was alarming, but, as Amelia had said, he was still weak from whatever had happened. Not sure what else to do, she could only hope that he would recover soon.

"Dream?" he repeated curiously.

She nodded. "Yeah. Do you dream, Cole?"

"Don't know, Mel. I don't really remember..." He frowned, troubled. He had read a lot at Amelia's home, so he knew that everyone dreamed. Still, he could not remember a single of his own dreams.

She smiled reassuringly. "It's okay, Cole." She patted his shoulder. "Get some sleep, okay?"

"Yes, Mel." He yawned again. The couch had really been uncomfortable, and Mel's bed, their bed, he corrected himself, was really very comfortable indeed. Lying there was like... like being inside of her, a part of her, connected to her. It was not just comfortable, but infinitely comforting, just as Mel's presence was. He smiled up at her and reached up, covering the hand on his shoulder with one of his own. "Thank you, Mel."

She smiled back at him. "Sleep well, okay?"

He nodded and smiled up at her until his eyes drifted shut. Even then, though, he saw her face until oblivion claimed him.

Mel smiled down at him, sighing. He looked so innocent while he slept, every inch the man she had fallen in love with… fallen in love with but could never have. She brushed the hair back off of his face and kissed his forehead lightly.

"What am I going to tell you?" she whispered to the sleeping man.

He stirred slightly in his sleep, clasping her hand more tightly, but did not otherwise respond. Shaking her head, she slipped off her shoes and moved to the other side of the bed, curling up next to him. Even knowing that he thought they were married, even knowing what they could never have, his presence comforted her. All she wanted was a moment, a time and place where the outside world could not reach in to trouble her. Sighing, she nestled against him and closed her eyes as his arms instinctively closed around her without him being aware of it. Warmed and relaxed by his presence, she quickly fell asleep.