Author's Note: I want to thank my fabulous Beta Cyn Tolram for all her help and insights and for keeping me honest and in character when I started to stray with regards to Mel. Thanks!!!
Oh, yeah, and just out of curiosity, did ANYONE get the title of this story?
Chapter 6 -- Recovery
"Morning, Mister Hauser!" Gwen called cheerfully as he walked down the stairs. "How's it going?"
"Slowly..." Cole sighed, shaking his head. "Need help?" he asked, nodding towards the stack of glasses she was washing.
"Sure." She grinned and tossed him a towel as he approached. "You dry?"
"Miss Porter still sleeping?"
Cole nodded. "Yes, I think so."
Gwen considered this for a moment. Definitely an odd statement coming from a man who would have just left her bed. She nodded absently, not betraying her thoughts. "You said that it's going slowly?" she asked. "Anything I can do to help?"
He shook his head. Although frustrated by his inability to recall anything that had happened before coming through the wormhole, he could hardly share his concerns with Gwen.
"Let me know if you change your mind..." she said with a shrug.
They washed and dried in comfortable silence for some time. Three days after Mel had come clean with him, things were really getting back to the way they had been before, Cole reflected. He was not yet comfortable Tracking yet, but he was reacquainting himself with his computer-system and memorizing the files he had brought on the individual prisoners. Before long, he would be able to go after them, one way or the other.
He was so absorbed in the task of learning everything he had forgotten that his inability to remember home registered only as a minor irritation most of the time. Until he lay down for the night. His body was slowly healing from whatever damage it had sustained from Ansen, but he still required ten to twelve hours of sleep a night. In the dark, lying next to Mel, a reminder of his new life, there was very little to do but think of his old life.
Mostly he wondered. What had life been like on Cirron? What had his wife been like? What had her name been? Had they loved each other the way he loved Mel, or had it been different? Was love a foreign concept to Cirronians? In speaking to Mel of the mating process, he could not recall having mentioned love, only polarities of energy. Of course, recalling Lontoria, he knew that Cirronians were capable of very deep feelings indeed.
And, often, he wondered when his job would lead to his eventual separation from Mel. He knew intuitively that it would, eventually. And Mel had as good as admitted the same. The only question was when. At those times, he hated being a Tracker, hated everything that it stood for, hated the thought of being forced to leave Mel. It did not matter that their relationship was not physical. He loved her deeply and wanted to stay with her.
Sleeping next to Mel was still awkward for both of them, but it was a necessity and they managed. Although neither of them would have admitted it, there was something very comforting about sleeping side by side. Cole knew that she enjoyed it as much as he did, or, at least, he allowed himself to suspect as much as he reflected on it now. They kept to their sides of the bed, never touching, but they frequently spent quite some time talking before one or the other of them fell asleep. It was pleasant, familiar. Cole could see why he had mistaken their relationship for a marriage. Although not physical, it was undeniably intimate. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to him that they were married in every sense except one.
"You're thinking of Mel..." Gwen said quietly, grinning.
Cole looked up, startled. "How did you know that?"
"You get that smile... Like there's nothing in the world that could bring you down." She shook her head.
He shrugged, not bothering to deny it. Gwen was unusually perceptive for a human and could usually tell when people were holding out on her. She was, in fact, unique for a human in many ways, much as Mel was. "What causes amnesia, Gwen?" Cole asked after a few minutes, still thinking of his inability to recall anything before coming through the wormhole.
"You mean in your case, or generally?" Gwen asked, washing the last of the glasses.
Gwen shrugged and sat on the edge of the bar. "Different things. It depends."
She shrugged again. "Sure. Um... well, it can be psychological... dissociation, you know. Separating yourself from unpleasant thoughts." She paused, thinking. "Um, or it can be a result of brain trauma. Or... sometimes a shift in brain-chemistry can cause it."
"A shift in brain-chemistry?" Cole asked, interested. It seemed more likely than that he had incurred some injury to his head. "What would cause that?"
"Different things. Drugs, illness, lightening."
"Lightening?" Cole repeated, thinking of the blinding green burst of energy that Ansen had shot him with.
Gwen nodded. "Yeah. You, uh, think of your brain like a computer, and a lightening strike can... crash it." She shrugged. "The voltage can cause a change in the way the brain works. Why do you ask? Think you got hit by lightening?"
Cole smiled and shook his head. "I think I'd remember that." He grinned at her.
Gwen chuckled softly. "A joke, Mister Hauser? I don't think I've ever heard you do that before..."
"I joke. Occasionally."
"You're good at it." Gwen smiled and shook her head.
Cole smiled back. "I should get upstairs, Gwen. I've got some work to do."
"Are you working again? Do you remember enough?" Gwen asked quizzically.
Cole knew that Gwen believed he was an undercover Agent, as Jess once had. He shrugged noncommittally. "Right now, I'm just re-familiarizing myself with my files."
"Ah." Gwen nodded. "How's that going?"
He shrugged. "I'm a fast learner."
"But you're actually re-learning it as opposed to recalling it?" Gwen asked, frowning.
Cole nodded, sighing in frustration. "Yes, Gwen."
She frowned thoughtfully. "There's like a... time-period to your memories, isn't there?"
"I don't follow..." Cole told her.
"You can't remember anything before a certain point in time, can you?"
He shook his head, surprised that she had guessed this. "No, Gwen, I can't."
She nodded, frowning thoughtfully. "Weird. Have you... um... this is going to sound strange. Has anything ever happened to you to... alter your brain-chemistry? Before this?"
Cole stared at her in silence, his mind spinning. Taking a human form definitely qualified as a 'yes' to that question. His mind and body had both worked in radically different ways when his form had been Cirronian.
Gwen shrugged and jumped off the bar. "I only ask because it could explain why you can't remember anything before the time when that happened..." she explained as she began wiping down tables. "Just a stray thought. I get a lot of those..."
It was a very good theory, even for the space-dust that Gwen had as good as admitted it was. It bore immediate testing. "I need to get upstairs now, Gwen. See you later."
"Later, Mister Hauser." Gwen watched him go with a faint smile, then walked over to the bar and turned on her radio before she got back to work.
"Been up long, Cole?" Mel asked, knocking on the door to his room.
"About an hour, Mel..." Cole replied without looking up from his computer screen.
Mel smiled. This was definitely the Cole she knew, so absorbed in his work that her presence barely registered. Shaking her head, she walked further into the room, leaning over Cole's shoulder to see who he was learning about today. She frowned in confusion. The information on the screen bore no resemblance to the prisoner dossiers that he had been immersing himself in recently.
"What is that?" she asked, pointing to a waveform on the central screen.
"Energy signature of the weapon Ansen shot me with..." he explained, smiling up at her. "It was designed to kill me, but it didn't."
Mel stared at him with wide eyes. "Why... why didn't it?" she asked, frowning.
"Because, it was designed to work against a Cirronian. This body is more human than Cirronian..." he explained.
"Oh." Mel nodded. "So..." she prompted, hoping that he would explain what he was talking about.
"So it disrupted certain parts of my physiology only." Cole smiled at her again before returning his attention to the monitor. "Did you know that human encode memories in a completely different way than Cirronians?" he asked her.
"Uh, no..." Mel shook her head.
"Neither did I. But they do. Respective brain-chemistries are so different that they necessitate completely different encoding strategies."
"You've been talking to Gwen again..." Mel said with a smile. "I can tell because I only understood every other word."
Cole nodded. "Something she said about alterations in brain-chemistry got me thinking about why I still can't remember anything before I took my human form."
Mel nodded, beginning to understand. "So, basically, the weapon only worked on the parts of you that are still Cirronian?"
Cole turned to face her, nodding. "Certain memories, certain biological functions. Initially, the effect was total, but the human parts of my makeup were able to repair themselves much faster."
Mel nodded. "So, why do you still need sleep?"
"My body is in a weakened state. It's really more like unconsciousness than sleep."
"Which is why you don't dream?"
He nodded. "I think so. Or maybe I really am incapable of dreaming. It's not really that important. What is important is finding a way to repair the damage."
"Which is why you're analyzing the weapon?"
Cole nodded. "It's possible that if I can reverse the polarity of the particle-beam that the shift this causes in my body-chemistry could cancel out the previous damage."
Mel spent a few seconds shifting through this techno-babble, then stared at him, shocked. "You want to shoot yourself with that thing again?" she gasped.
Cole nodded. "Yes, Mel. Possibly twice."
"Twice?" Mel repeated, shaking her head.
He nodded, not taking his eyes from the screen. "Ansen did shoot me twice." He turned to face her again. "I may need your help, Mel."
"My help?" she repeated cautiously.
Cole nodded. "I may not be able to shoot myself twice. I may need your help."
"You want me to... shoot you?" Mel whispered, feeling sick to her stomach.
Cole nodded. "Yes, Mel."
Mel stared. "Cole, tell me you're joking. Please."
"Not joking, Mel." He shook his head and rose, stepping past her to reconfigure some equipment.
"Cole, that's... insane! It's suicidal!"
"Not necessarily. Reversing the polarity should cancel out the prior damage." He rose and smiled gently at her, taking her hand. "I have to try something, Mel."
"Okay. That I'll buy. But... shooting yourself with the weapon that did this to you... No!" That was just insane. Even by the standards of a woman who lived with an alien bounty-hunter.
He smiled reassuringly. It would work. The damage that it did to his human body would likely be minimal and repair itself as quickly as t had initially. "Mel, trust me..."
"Cole I do trust you. I just... I'm not sure I can shoot you..."
Cole shrugged. "Okay, I'll get Nestov to do it..." he said, knowing exactly how Mel would respond.
"Whoa!" Mel shook her head. "Okay, okay, I'll do it! God, just keep Nestov out of this..."
"Why don't you like him, Mel?" Cole asked, returning his attention to work, internally pleased that Mel had reacted as he had hoped.
"Don't know. Could have something to do with his habit of screwing up everything he touches."
"I see." Cole nodded. "There is that."
Mel shook her head. "Okay, Cole... Just... let me know when."
"Yes, Mel..." Cole said placidly.
"Well, I'll be downstairs."
"Yes, Mel." Cole rose and walked over to her, lightly kissing her forehead. "Thank you, Mel."
"Uh, yeah..." Mel nodded, a little shocked. It was the first time he had kissed her since recovering his memory. There was something very sweet and comforting about it. She shook her head as she left. That was Cole for you. Full of surprises, always.
Cole stared after her, wondering why he had done that. He walked into the living-room and started to sit down, then glanced at the window. When it was dark, you actually had a pretty good view of the night sky. He walked over to it and looked upwards. The sky was blue, but the memory that this location triggered had happened at night.
Mel had just gone out with Vic, looking stunning and smelling very nice. She had made some comment about pheromones, though he was not sure what the word meant. Cole was startled by the depth of feelings Mel's state had stirred up in him. He sat at the bar, thoughtful, for a long time. Needing quiet and craving solitude, he walked upstairs and into the living-room. He started to sit on the couch, then caught sight of the window. He walked over and pulled back the curtain, glancing at the night sky. The view of the stars was surprisingly good, considering how close to the heart of the city the bar lay.
Sighing, he glanced skyward. "I miss you..." he whispered. "Every day. This is a cold planet, dark, like Sar-Top. But Mel... she brings... warmth and... light." He smiled and shook his head. "You'd like her, my love. I don't think I'll ever completely understand her, but I might just grow to love her the way I loved you." Tears in his eyes, he smiled at the stars. "I will never stop loving you, and I will never stop missing you, but Mel... She brings out something in me that I thought had died with you. I miss you every day, my love. I am blessed to have been included in your life."
Cole sighed, tears in his eyes at the memory. It had not been the first or the last time that he had talked to his wife that way, and, although it always brought tears to his eyes, it also always made him happy, even if his fellow Cirronians would have called the practice pointless. Her soul was not out there, but must have long since passed on to a new person. Cole knew that, had even learned the human name for it, Reincarnation. But it did not matter if her soul belonged to some young Cirronian or to an Enixian or Nodulian, or even to a human. She was someone he could talk to when he could not talk to Mel, and remembering her comforted him.
Except of course that he could not remember her at all, not any more than he could remember their daughter. Shaking his head in frustration, he returned to his room. The computers were still scanning, would not require his presence for some time, but he sat down anyway, staring at the screen until the scans were completed.
Mel would have to shoot him twice, as he had predicted, to cure all the damage. There was harm to his body as well as his brain. Once in the stomach from below, once in the head from above, both at close range. The second shot would likely render him unconscious for 18 hours or more, as it had the first time. Once he woke up, though, he could expect to have all of his memories back intact.
Smiling, he walked down to the bar, where Mel and Gwen were just finishing set-up.
"Gwen, can I borrow Mel from you for awhile?" he asked, smiling.
Gwen nodded. "Sure thing, Mister Hauser. Talk to you later, Miss Porter."
"Okay, Gwen." Mel smiled at her then walked to join Cole. "Well?" she asked, knowing what he was probably about to say.
"I've finished my scans. I'm ready."
"Cole, are you sure this is smart? This is the only way?"
Cole nodded. "Yes, Mel."
"This is insane, Cole..." Mel repeated quietly.
Cole nodded, understanding her fear and loving her for it. "I need your help, Mel..." he told her, unconsciously echoing a statement that he had made to her shortly after their first meeting.
Mel looked at him with wide, tear-filled eyes and nodded. "I know..." she whispered, lightly touching his chest. "Let's go."
"You do not have to be afraid, Mel..." Cole told her gently as they ascended the stairs. "This is... not going to hurt me."
Mel nodded. "What does this involve?"
"I'll probably be unconscious for eighteen hours or more, like the first time, but once I wake, I should be fine."
Mel nodded. "And I need to shoot you twice?"
He nodded. "Once in the stomach from slightly below me, once in the head from above, both at close range."
"Okay." Mel nodded and took the weapon from Cole, listening carefully to his instructions about how to use it.
"Um, maybe you should take your clothes off first..." she suggested slowly. "I mean... I'm going to have enough trouble getting you into bed when you're unconscious without having to wrestle you out of your clothes."
Cole nodded and pulled off his shirt and pants, them moved to stand in front of Mel, positioning himself so he would land on the bed when he fell. "Okay, Mel. I'm ready."
"Will it be painful?" she asked softly.
He nodded. "Yes, Mel."
She sighed and nodded. "Okay. Once in the stomach from below, once in the head from above."
He nodded. "Yes, Mel." He smiled at her. "Don't worry, Mel. It's going to be fine."
Mel sighed and nodded. 'Don't worry, Mel. You're only shooting me. It'll be fine...' Easy for him to say. "Cole..." she said quickly, approaching him.
She pulled him into her arms and kissed him. He stared at her with wide eyes for a moment before closing his eyes and returning the kiss, sliding his arms around her and pulling her body into his. She fit perfectly against his chest, almost as if they had been made for each other. He would have been perfectly happy if this had been the last moment of his life.
Mel pulled away from him, panting. "For luck..." she explained to Cole, who looked fairly dazed. She took a few steps back and raised the weapon. "I'm really sorry about this..." she said as she shot him in the stomach.
Cole grabbed his stomach with a cry, falling onto the bed. He looked up and saw Mel hesitate, looking horrified. "It's okay..." he managed. "You did fine. One more... and... you're... done..." he gasped.
Mel aimed, closed her eyes and activated the weapon. When she opened her eyes, Cole was lying on the bed, staring at her with glassy eyes. She hurried to him, pushing and pulling until he was laying properly on the bed. She pulled the covers to his chin and knelt on the floor next to him, watching him anxiously.
"Mel..." he breathed, reaching up weakly and caressing her throat. He smiled at her as his eyes drifted shut.
Mel shook her head and sat next to him, shaking and praying that she had done the right thing. She sat next to him for better than two hours before satisfying herself that he was asleep and comfortable.
"Daddy, I'm tired!"
Daggon glanced down at her lovingly. "Already, Ashi?" At her grave nod he laughed and bent over, picking her up and holding her over his head. "Well, if the Heart of my Heart is tired, I shall just have to carry her." Laughing, he threw her high in the air and caught her, pulling her against his chest.
"I love you, Daddy..." she whispered, putting her arms around him.
"Ah, I'm sure you do. But I am equally sure that I love you more..." His voice was teasing, and at her squealed protest he laughed loudly.
"Where are we going, Daddy?" Ashi asked.
"I want to show you something."
"Is it a surprise?"
"It will be if you stop asking questions, Heart of my Heart."
Ashi laughed and fell silent, relaxing in her father's strong arms. "You're the best Daddy in the entire Migar Federation..." she announced as he carried her.
He laughed and caressed her throat. "And you, Heart of my Heart, are the best daughter. Now, between that, and the fact that I have the best wife and you the best mother, we must be the luckiest family alive."
She giggled and nodded gravely. "I don't want anything to change ever, Daddy."
"Well, if I have anything to say about it, nothing ever will. Here..." He came to a stop on a hilltop. "Look." He placed her gently on the ground and pointed skyward. The sun was reflecting off of the atmosphere in the most beautiful way imaginable, creating so many colors that there were not even names for all of them.
"It's beautiful, Daddy."
"It reminds me of you..." he told her confidentially, sitting down next to her. As they watched, he explained, "When I was your age, my father used to bring me up here to watch the fire in the sky, too."
She smiled and leaned against him, never taking her eyes from the spectacle above. "What is it called, Daddy?"
"It doesn't have a name."
"Everything has a name!" she protested.
"Not this. It's too beautiful. No name was good enough. So they decided not to name it."
"Well, if it doesn't have a name, tell me its story."
He laughed softly. "Very well, Heart of my Heart." Smiling, he recited, "At the beginning of time, when the Spirit of the Flame first emerged from the Great Darkness, there was nothing. Only the Darkness and the Spirit of the Flame. But she grew lonely..."
Mel woke abruptly as, next to her, Cole sat up, hands over his face, breathing harshly. "Oh, God, Cole! Are you okay?" she asked, sitting up and touching his shoulder.
He nodded and pulled his hands from his face. There were tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. "I had a dream..." he whispered.
"A dream?" Mel asked, smiling curiously.
He nodded. "A memory. Of my daughter." He turned to face her, smiling. "Oh, Mel, she was so beautiful. I remember her. I remember everything..."
Mel smiled and rested one gentle hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad, Cole."
He pulled her into his arms, crying as he remembered a lifetime's worth of pain and disappointment. The death of his parents. The death of his sister. Finding the bodies of his wife and daughter. Life on Sar-Top.
And then there were the good memories. His first day of school. Becoming an educator. Mating with his wife for the first time. The birth of his daughter. Taking her to see the sun, the way it reflected off the atmosphere. Feeling the heat of the Cirronian sunlight on his face as he told his daughter stories. So much joy...
He felt like laughing, too, as he recalled those times. He was torn between laughter and tears for a long time before the tears won out. The joys and pleasures were amazing, but the pain seemed so much more immediate. He clung to Mel, sobbing.
Mel held him close, rocking him, understanding what he must be going through. She whispered soothingly to him, just rocking and holding him close until his sobs subsided. Even after he stilled, she held him, until he pulled away from her.
He looked at her, tears still in his eyes. "So much..."
"I know..." she whispered, smoothing away his tears. "It's going to be okay."
He nodded. "I know that, Mel. It's just..." He looked at her lovingly. "I forgot so much."
"But it's back now..." she whispered soothingly. Recalling a lifetime of joy and pain in an instant must have been incredibly difficult for him. Although she never had and likely never would experience anything even remotely similar, she knew what he must have been going through without him having to explain it to her.
"I forgot so much..." he repeated as if he had not heard her. "But the one thing that I never forgot..." He smiled at her and rested his hand against her throat.
"The one thing I never forgot was the way I felt about you, Mel..." he whispered, reaching out and wiping away the tears that formed in her eyes as he spoke.