Summary: After 'What Lies Beneath', Mel confronts her father for answers about their heritage, only to find herself less than happy with the answers she does get. With help from Cole, though, she manages to put a few things into perspective.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but, hey, just as soon as that deal with Zin goes through...
Spoilers: "What Lies Beneath"
Feedback: Feed me, feed me! Feedback is better than Fek-Maln... (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cole looked up from his computer as he became aware that the nighttime sounds of the apartment had changed. Instead of not being able to hear anything other than the hum of appliances from the kitchen and of his own equipment, he was aware that, under the ambient sounds that one grew so used to that they learned to tune them out, he could hear someone moving around in the living-room. Odd, considering that it was just past 3:00am. Mel should have been asleep for hours now.
He rose and went to see if anything was wrong. He paused when he saw Mel there, pacing around the darkened living-room in a thin pair of pajamas. There was a pillow on the floor, and she kicked it although it was not in her way. As she spun to start pacing in the other direction, Cole was startled by the expression on her face.
"Mel, are you angry?" he asked in the darkness.
Surprised by Cole's presence, Mel started to deny it, then she shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, Cole, I'm angry. Furious." Seeing Cole's uncomprehending expression, she explained, "He had to have known! Hell, even she must have!" She shook her head in frustration and sat down. When Cole cautiously approached, she looked up at him, fighting back tears. "Why didn't anyone ever tell me, Cole?"
He suddenly understood that she was talking about her Cirronian heritage, and about the parents who had never seen fit to share it with her. "Mel..." he sighed, sitting down next to her. "I don't know why, but I'm sure they had a reason. Maybe... maybe your father just didn't know."
"How can you not know that you're half Cirronian?" Mel demanded, shaking her head.
"You didn't know that you were part Cirronian, Mel." Cole slid an arm around her shoulder, sensing that she was disturbed enough to crave physical contact. He had come to know Mel well enough to know that when she was upset she liked to be touched, held.
Mel sighed and leaned into him, grateful for his presence. She would not have disturbed him, but she was glad that he had come to her, reached out to her. She slid her arms around him and Cole reciprocated, wrapping his other arm around her as well, holding her close and absently rocking her.
"My grandmother must have known..." she whispered, not bothering to fight the tears this time. "Why didn't she tell me?"
"I don't know, Mel..." Cole answered softly.
It must have been incredibly difficult for her, he reflected, first to find out that everything she had ever believed about herself had been wrong, and then to realize that her parents and grandmother had kept it from her. Mel was right, though. Her grandmother had spent extensive time with a Cirronian man, must have known that he was not human. And she had to have known that he was the father of Mel's father, or at least suspected as much. These things, after all, did not just happen. Even he knew that.
"You should ask your father..." he told her gently. "You'll never know your grandmother's reasons, Mel, but you can at least find out if he knew."
Mel nodded. After finding out, she had searched her grandmother's diary exhaustively for any hint or clue. True, there were references and turns of phrase that made more sense in relationship to a Cirronian husband than a human one, but there was nothing definitive. Nowhere in the diary did it just come out and say that her grandfather was not human, any more than it made direct reference to the Key, or its purpose, or what Mel's grandfather was doing on earth. It completely skirted those issues, as if her grandmother had been afraid that it might fall into the wrong hands.
Still, to not tell Mel herself... As much as she wanted to know her grandmother's reasons, she knew she never would, not now that she was dead. Still, her father's reasons could still be discovered. Perhaps he might even be able to provide some insight into her grandmother's reasons.
"You're right." Mel smiled at Cole. "You usually are." She rose and walked over to the phone.
"You're going to call him now?" Cole asked, frowning. "It's very late."
"Yeah, and later in Florida, but you know what? I don't care. He's got a lot of explaining to do. How many nights of sleep have I lost over this crap?"
"Too many..." Cole said softly. Mel was having a lot of trouble adapting to the truth about herself, but most of that, he knew, had to do with the fact that no one had ever told her. Maybe if she could get answers about that she would be better able to accept herself for who, and what, she was.
Mel nodded and dialed. She was surprised that she remembered the number, as seldom as she spoke to her parents. She was on better terms with her mother and talked to her every couple of months, but she had not talked to her father in more than a year. The phone rang so many times that Mel considered hanging up and trying again in the morning. After all, what was she doing? Calling her dad in the middle of the night, demanding answers about her grandfather the alien? If he did not know the truth, he would think she was drunk, crazy, or both.
"Hello?" a groggy male voice answered.
"Melanie?" he asked, his voice more alert, but still confused.
"Yeah." She nodded, suddenly feeling both very silly and very anxious.
"What time is it, Melanie?"
"It's a little after four there, I think. Dad, we need to talk."
Mel inhaled deeply, wondering what to say. "Dad, does the word 'Cirronian' mean anything to you?"
There was a long pause, then, in a harsh whisper, "Where did you hear that word, Melanie?"
Mel scowled. That was a definite yes. "I think we need to have a long talk, dad."
"Honey, who is it?" Mel faintly heard her mother ask.
"It's the office, baby. Go back to sleep..."
"Is everything okay?"
"It will be, hon. I'm going to take this in the other room. Go back to sleep."
Mel heard her mother yawn loudly and mutter a reply. Knowing her mother, the woman was probably asleep again before her head hit the pillow.
There was a pause on the line and then, "Melanie? Are you still there?"
"Yeah, Dad." Mel paused for a moment, waiting for him to speak. When he did not, she spoke again. "Dad, I need you to tell me what you know."
"Uh, yeah, yeah. Look, I'll, um, fly out tomorrow, okay? We'll discuss it then."
Mel blinked in surprise. She had not expected that offer. "Why can't we discuss it now?"
"Among other reasons because I don't want to risk your mother overhearing."
"Does she know, dad?"
"No. Look, Melanie, we'll discuss it when I get there." There was a short silence on the line followed by a click.
Mel stared at the phone, surprised. He had hung up on her. She shook her head and returned the phone to its cradle.
"Mel..." Cole said softly, appearing at her elbow with a freshly-made cup of tea. "What did he say?"
"He's coming here. Says we can talk about it then." Mel shook her head. "He knows, Cole. He has to or he wouldn't have reacted like that."
Cole nodded and offered her the cup of tea. "When will he get here?"
"Uh, soon. Tomorrow, probably... He didn't really say..."
Cole offered the cup of tea again. "Then you should try to rest."
"How am I supposed to sleep?" she asked, shaking her head and ignoring the proffered tea. It was beyond belief. Her father knew and he had kept it from her for her entire life. Deliberately.
Knowing that Mel was in a habit of ignoring the needs of her body when particularly upset, Cole took her arm and steered her into the bedroom.
Startled, Mel allowed Cole to lead her into her bedroom and tuck her in. He knelt next to the bed, smiling soothingly at her. It was hard not to relax when confronted by that gaze. He really did have the most amazing eyes.
Cole lightly brushed her hair out of her face and regarded her with care and concern. "Mel, what can I do to help?" he asked, hoping that she would ask him to stay with her.
"I'm not sure you can, Cole." Mel sighed and shook her head. She was exhausted, and more than a little upset, but she doubted she would be able to rest as Cole had suggested, even knowing that it would likely make her feel very much better. "I really just don't know right now. Nothing makes sense any more."
Cole touched her throat gently, comfortingly, then reached and turned off her bedside lamp. "Close your eyes, Mel..." he whispered.
Mel did as ordered, her body relaxing under his soothing touch. It was odd. Normally when he touched her throat like that it was exciting. Tonight it was only comforting, and Mel was grateful to the Cirronian who was always so gentle and understanding. She felt a surge of guilt over her reaction to the revelation that she was part Cirronian. Looking at her reaction, it must have seemed to him as if she were ashamed of her heritage, or had something against Cirronians, when, in truth, she respected and admired this Cirronian more than she had any human male she had ever known. She hated to think that Cole might believe anything else.
"Cole?" she began quietly.
"Yes, Mel?" he asked, her tone making him curious.
She spoke quickly, not opening her eyes, not wanting to have to look him in the eyes. "You do realize that when I get upset about this... about what I am, I mean... that doesn't have anything to do with how I feel about you or your species. Because it doesn't, you know. You understand that, don't you?"
He smiled and continued caressing her throat, keeping his voice low and soothing. "Of course I do, Mel. You're upset and confused. It's perfectly understandable. Now rest..."
Mel tried to do as he requested, but while her body relaxed quickly, her mind refused to be still. "I'm sorry, Cole..." she muttered finally, sighing. "I am trying, it's just not working..."
Cole murmured soothingly, silencing her. "You need to rest, Mel."
"I know, but I can't..." She sighed, frustrated, and looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Cole."
He smiled gently. "Don't be. I can help you. Let me."
Mel smiled up at him, nodding. "Always."
Cole smiled warmly at her. His hand had lingered on her throat, and he gave it a final caress before reaching down and taking her hand, twining his fingers through hers. "Close your eyes, Mel..." he whispered, resting his other hand on her forehead. "Just relax. Think of things that make you happy."
Mel smiled up at him and nodded. Things that made her happy? Easy enough lying in her warm, safe bed with Cole holding her hand and speaking in that gentle, soothing tone of his. Trusting herself to him completely, she closed her eyes again.
Cole smiled down at her, adoring that trusting look that she so seldom wore for anyone but him. Seeing that look directed at him made him feel happy, complete. "Feel that happiness, Mel. Hold on to it. Let it saturate your whole being..." As he spoke, he moved his hand from her forehead to hover over her face. The golden glow that appeared beneath his hand illuminated her face, only increasing her natural beauty in Cole's mind.
She slept, then, deeply and dreamlessly.
As he watched her sleep, he spoke in a low, loving voice. "You want to know who you are, Mel. You keep looking in your mirror, trying to find out, but the truth is that who you are is not something you will ever find in a mirror. For that, look here." He touched his hand lightly to her heart. "I think you'll find that this hasn't changed either." He regarded the sleeping woman thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "It hasn't changed, Mel. This is who you are, who you've always been. This fire has always burned within your soul, you just didn't know what to call it before. I saw it the first time I met you and, for me, it was like a beacon in the dark wilderness. It can be your beacon, too, Mel. Just look at it and accept it for what it is. No shame, no fear, just understanding. Acknowledge it as yours, because that fire is who you are..." He stopped then, knowing that if that simple message had not reached her, nothing ever would.
Cole watched her sleep for several minutes, smiling at how perfect she looked in that state, completely content and innocent and at peace with her world. Brushing his fingers lightly across her forehead, he turned and silently left the woman he loved. He walked into his room and resumed his work, although his mind kept straying from the fugitives to Mel. He was coming so close to taking them all. Once he had, he would have to go. But would he be able to? Did he even have a choice?
Cole sighed, tears wetting his cheeks unnoticed, as he stared at the map on his computer.
Mel had woken up feeling calmer and more refreshed than she had since she had discovered that she was part Cirronian. She had even managed to sleep in by several hours, which was nice. She had not been getting as much sleep as she needed. She wanted to thank Cole, but when she went to find him, he was nowhere to be found. A note on the refrigerator told her that he was Tracking a fugitive but would try to be back quickly. A quickly scribbled note under that one told her to call him if she needed anything at all. It was the first note of its kind from him, and Mel smiled as she read it.
There was a short, terse message on her answering machine from her father, telling her when he expected to arrive and not to bother picking him up. He would take a cab. Mel listened to the message three times before sighing deeply and erasing it. Unless his plane was delayed, he would be arriving quite shortly. It was Sunday, so the bar would be closed, which was good because it would give her plenty of time to talk to him in private. Which only left the question of what she was going to say.
The sense of well-being that she had woken up with faded, replaced by anxiety, and she was soon pacing the apartment again. She felt furious with herself for behaving so foolishly, and reminded herself that her father was the one who owed her an explanation, not the other way around. She walked downstairs into the empty bar and began polishing down the surface of the bar so that she would have something to do other than pacing.
When she realized that she could see her own face in the wood surface, she realized that it was time to stop. Cleaning had always been a nervous habit of hers, second only to chattering to fill uncomfortable silences. At least she had not resorted to talking to herself yet. Mel sighed and sat down, resting her elbows on the bar and her chin on her hands. She was soon on her feet again, straightening tables and chairs that did not need to be straightened. She turned on the radio to distract her as she worked, and as she began scrubbing the bar-room from top to bottom thoughts of her father were temporarily forced from her mind.
She spun around, feeling exactly like a child caught doing something wrong. "Dad..." she muttered, brushing her hair out of her eyes and dropping the bar-rag she had been dusting with onto a table. "Uh, hi..."
He nodded faintly, regarding her uncertainly. "Melanie..." he repeated, placing his small over-night bag on a nearby table and looking her over cautiously.
"Uh, sit, please..." Mel gestured towards the bar. "Can I... get you a drink?"
He nodded, looking grateful. "Yes, please."
Mel slid behind the bar and quickly mixed two martinis, large and dry. She doubted they would be the only drinks consumed before this was over. "So, uh, I guess we... need to talk..." she told him, handing him his drink.
"You, uh, you start..." he muttered, not looking at her.
"Why? So you can only tell me what I already know?" Mel demanded, putting her hands on her hips. "Come on, Dad, I think we're a little past the point of you telling me anything but the truth about who and what I am!" She glared defiantly at him. "This is not the kind of thing that a girl should have to find out accidentally."
"I was hoping you'd never have to find out at all..." he told her simply, looking up at her with sad, weary eyes. "I'm sorry, Melanie." He sighed, taking a long sip of his drink. "How long have you..."
"A little over a week." Mel half-drained her glass, shaking her head. "And I haven't had a good night's sleep since..." She shrugged. "Well, last night, but..." She shook her head. "Never mind, Dad. I only have one question for you. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I hoped you'd never need to know." He shrugged. "Look, Melanie, I know we've never gotten along really well, but... I was trying to protect you."
"Protect me? By lying to me?" Mel shook her head. "No, Dad, don't give me that."
"You didn't need to know. I was trying to spare you this pain."
"It hurt more this way, Dad..." Mel shook her head. "My God, Dad. You had no right not to tell me about us. Dad, my friend could have died because I didn't know. As it was, we only found out by accident. I was so scared, Dad..." she whispered.
"Melanie, I'm sorry..." he repeated, shaking his head and regarding her sadly. "I didn't want you to ever have to know this about yourself."
"Dad, it's my heritage. It's who I am. I had a right to know!" She slammed her palm against the bar. "Ouch..." she muttered, instantly regretting the action.
"Mel, are you hurt?"
She looked up, startled, as Cole closed the distance from the door to the bar. "No, Cole. How... how long have you been here?"
"I just got back. Is this your father?" Cole smiled at him. "Hello, Mister Porter."
"Cole, why don't you go upstairs..." Mel suggested gently. Conversations with her father tended to turn her into a basket-case, and she did not want Cole to see her in such a state. "This is... you know..."
"Personal." He nodded, smiling tenderly. "Yes, Mel. Let me know if you need anything." He gently touched her throat, nodded politely to Mel's father, then walked up the stairs to the apartment.
"Your... your mother told me that you were living with someone..." he began awkwardly.
Mel nodded, grateful to him for changing the subject. "Yeah, uh, Cole. He's a great guy, Dad. He... we, uh, take care of each other, you know."
"Does he know about you?" he asked softly, his eyes heavy with concern.
Mel nodded, surprised by the question. "Sure he does, Dad."
He looked surprised. "And he accepts it? He doesn't mind?"
Mel shook her head, smiling faintly. "Dad, he's a Cirronian."
"Oh." His face tightened. "I see."
"Dad..." Mel stared at him, startled. "You have a problem with that, don't you?"
"Of course I do, Melanie. They aren't human! They have no right to come down here and... mix with our kind."
"'Our kind', Dad?" Mel repeated, shaking her head. She had never considered her father a racist, but now she was beginning to wonder.
"Yes, Melanie. Humans."
Mel stared, incredulous. "Dad, neither of us is completely human. What's that make us?" she demanded, shaking her head.
"Why do you think I never wanted you to have to know?"
"Whoa... You have a problem with this because we're..." she paused, searching for the right word. For a woman who seldom even noticed a person's race the first time they met, it took a few moments. "Half-breeds?" Mel blinked, more than a little disgusted by that attitude. As a way of thinking, it made no sense, especially to a man who was half-Cirronian.
"Yes." He nodded firmly.
"That is... disgusting." Mel shook her head. "Your own father was Cirronian. How can you be like this?"
As much as he had respected his father and the things he had done, it had always bothered him that he was not human, that he had passed that taint on to his child. They had never really loved each other in the traditional sense, except in the very beginning, before Mel's father had known the truth. They had told him when he was twelve, when Mel's grandmother had thought he would be old enough to understand. Mel's grandfather had adored his only child, but had retreated in confusion when it abruptly became clear that the boy did not feel the same. The relationship had always been polite, at the insistence of Mel's grandmother, but never anything more. Though Mel's grandfather had, more than once, tried to bridge the troubling gap that existed between himself and his son, the attempts had always been rebuffed.
"It's not natural, Melanie..." her father said simply.
"Jesus, Dad, listen to yourself..." She shook her head. "Your parents loved each other. What's unnatural about that?"
He shook his head, as disgusted by her refusal to see his point as she was by his refusal to see hers. "I want you to come back to Florida with me, Melanie. The thought of that creature putting its hands on you..."
"Dad!" Mel gasped, shaking her head angrily. "Cole has been a better friend to me than I can tell, a better friend than anyone else I've ever known. He is not a creature, he's a man." She glared at him. "He's a better man than you'll ever be..." she informed him in a low voice. "He is so many things that you have never been to me..."
"Do not talk to me like that, young lady."
He glared at her, but Mel refused to be stared down. After almost a year with Cole, she was no longer afraid of anything, except maybe losing Cole, definitely not afraid of a disapproving look from a man who had begun to seem more like a stranger than a member of her family.
"So you never told Mom?" Mel demanded. "Because you're ashamed of what we are?" She shook her head, disgusted. "Well, Dad, I am not ashamed, and nothing you can say is going to change that. Cole is the kindest, gentlest, most intelligent man I have ever known, and if he is any example, I am proud to be part Cirronian!"
Mel's father shook his head. Obviously she had been spending far too much time with this alien, he realized. The damned thing had been poisoning her mind against her own species. Not that it had any problem sleeping with a member of the human race.
"Why didn't Granny ever tell me?" Mel asked quietly, pushing her empty glass aside. Her father might have been ashamed to be part Cirronian, but she doubted her grandmother had ever felt shame in loving one. She had never spoken of Mel's grandfather with anything but respect and love.
"I told her if she ever told you she'd never see you again." He shrugged unapologetically.
"You son of a bitch..." Mel whispered, shaking her head. That any man could threaten his own mother like that was beyond her. It was horrible. "Get out of my bar..." she whispered, not wanting to face him right now, not wanting to acknowledge her own anger and disgust at this man, not even wanting to acknowledge her connection to him.
"Melanie!" he protested. "I was trying to protect you..."
"Get the hell out of my bar." Mel shook her head. "I thought I knew how much of a jerk you were, but obviously I wasn't even close."
"Being Cirronian got your grandfather killed, Melanie! It nearly got your mother and I killed..."
"No." Mel shook her head shortly. "My grandfather was shot in a robbery." She frowned as it occurred to her that no bullet created by any human could have killed a Cirronian. "Granny told me..." she whispered, wiping her eyes. One more thing about them that she would never know now. She glared at her father, a man who had, in essence, robbed her of her past, of a vital part of who she was. "You took away any chance I had of really knowing my own grandmother... How could you?"
"Hey, young lady, you will not talk to me like that! I am still your father!"
Mel shook her head. "You make me ashamed to be your daughter. Please, just leave." When he did not move quickly enough, she pointed to the door and shouted, "Now!"
"Mel, why are you shouting?" Cole asked, walking down the stairs. He had wanted to stay out of it as Mel had requested, to let her deal with this herself, but the shouting worried him. Mel so seldom raised her voice in anger that it troubled Cole to hear her do so now, to her own father no less.
"Not a good time, Cole..." Mel said tersely, glaring at her father.
Cole glanced from Mel to Mister Porter, frowning uncertainly. "Mel, getting angry will not help you learn the truth..." he muttered, moving to stand next to her and gently touching her throat, trying to sooth her. "Please calm down." He looked at Mister Porter, who was bristling at him. "You should both calm down..." he counseled gently.
Mister Porter glared at him and spoke in a low, angry voice, almost a growl. "You take your hands off of my daughter..."
Startled, Cole complied, staring at him in confusion. "Mel..." he began hesitantly.
"It's okay, Cole. He just doesn't..." She shook her head, not even wanting to acknowledge her father's attitude, much less voice it. "He thinks that Cirronian men shouldn't be with human women. Apparently he's the exception to this rule..."
Mel recoiled as her father reached across the bar, hand raised to slap her. Before his palm could connect, Cole sprang forward and caught his wrist in a crushing grip.
"It's wrong for a person to hit their child in anger..." Cole told him, his gentle voice belying the strength of his grip and the anger in his eyes. He did not loosen his grip on the man's wrist until he was sure that he would not try to strike Mel again. "Children are our most precious assets and they should be treated with love and understanding." Cole released the man's hand, shaking his head. "Mister Porter, your actions... they are unforgivable."
"Hey..." he began angrily, rubbing his red wrist. Mel had struck close to home with that last comment, unearthing a sense of guilt and shame that he had thought long since buried. He had acted impulsively, it was true, but that was no reason to have his wrist nearly crushed.
"You let your fear rule you." Cole shook his head. There was no sadder thing in the universe than a person who was ruled by their own fears. Mel was fortunate indeed to have escaped that taint. This was hard enough on her without that added burden. He turned to her, brushing her hair out of her face. "Are you okay?" he asked gently.
She sighed and nodded. "Yeah, Cole, I am." She looked at her father, who was visibly upset. "Dad, Cole's right. You're being controlled by your fears, but there is nothing in what we are to be afraid of. It's a part of us, Dad. If you hate that, then you hate yourself." She sniffed and blinked a few times, not wanting to start crying in front of either man. "Please, Dad... I know that we both have a lot of anger, but it's time to make things right. We can change this, Dad. You and me. The power to change this is within us."
"No, Melanie. I can't do that." He shook his head firmly. "And I will never accept that." He pointed to Cole.
Mel's frown deepened. She had genuinely hoped that, once he overcame his initial shock, her father would become more reasonable. She had managed to forget, though, that 'reasonable' was not a word that had ever meant much to her father. She shook her head. "Dad, you're forcing me into making a choice here that you really don't want me to make. Don't do this to me. Please..."
"Mel..." Cole began gently, confused and uncertain. Things like this simply did not happen on Cirron. No daughter would have spoken to her father in such a way and no father would ever have treated his daughter so shamefully. Or tried to cause harm to her.
"Hush..." Mel told him gently, staring at her father, silently waiting.
"You've changed, Melanie..." he told her softly, as surprised as Cole.
She nodded and crossed her arms over her chest. "You bet I have. Yeah, you were scared to get close to me, and for a long time that made me scared to get close to other people. So I dated one jerk after another, looking for the acceptance I couldn't find at home. All I found was pain, but what the hell, right?" Mel shrugged. "But you're right, now I am different. I've found acceptance and I've stopped being afraid of rejection. I've stopped being afraid of much of anything, actually, thanks to Cole. This, um, self-worth thing is a novel concept, but I'm getting used to it."
"Melanie..." he sighed, shaking his head. "This isn't about him..."
"No, Dad. It's about us. About tolerance. About who we really are..."
"Melanie..." he began defensively. "I was only--"
"Trying to protect me?" Mel shook her head. "Dad, you feared and hated what you are so much that you feared and hated me because I was a part of you. I'm not blaming you. I doubt you even realized you were doing it, but I did. Even Mom noticed. You should be the one making this revelation easy for me, Dad, but you aren't. Cole is. Cole, this... alien who you've convinced yourself to hate just because he's different." Mel stopped, aware that she was starting to sound like an after-school special. "The point is that Cole's been there for me more in the past ten months than you have in my entire life, so if you force me to chose between the two of you, it's going to be an easy call and I will not regret turning my back on you."
He shook his head, sighing. "Melanie, you can't ask me to change the way I've felt for my entire life."
"No, I guess not." Mel nodded slowly. "But I can ask you to care about your own daughter enough to make an honest effort."
He sighed deeply, rising. He glared at Cole. "This is your fault. If it weren't for you she would never--"
The Cirronian recoiled under the accusation, startled and confused, shaking his head in mute denial even as he glanced at Mel to see if it was true.
"Out!" Mel snapped, cutting her father's tirade off. "Cole has helped me to grow, Dad, more than you ever did. Hell, he may only be my friend, he's been a better father to me than you ever were. I need advice, he gives it without passing judgment. I make a mistake, he helps me to pick up the pieces instead of pointing out how stupid it was. I can't sleep, he's there sitting up with me, holding my hand and talking to me until I can." She glared at him, daring him to interrupt. "Don't you dare blame him for being anything but the best friend I've ever had. You said earlier that this isn't about him? Well, you're right. This is about us, so don't go trying to displace the blame, because it's a lie and we both know it."
Mel blinked, startled at her own speech. Once the words had started, they had not wanted to stop, and she knew that they were less about justifying anything to her father than they were about thanking Cole for always being there. She was less angry now, she realized, about the years of deception than she was about her father's attitude towards Cole.
Mel's father shook his head and stormed from the bar, barely remembering to grab his bag in his anger. When he reached the street, he was surprised to find Cole waiting for him. "What the--"
"It's called hyper-speed..." Cole told him simply. "Mel needs you in her life right now. You need to cast off your fears and be there for her."
"What would you know about it?" he muttered, shaking his head and stepping around Cole.
"Maybe nothing." Cole stepped into his way. "Maybe just that Mel is angry and she's confused, and this would be so much easier for her if her father were by her side."
"She made her choice." He shook his head and stepped to the curb, hailing a taxi.
"Yes, she did, but only after you forced it on her, and even then she wasn't happy about it."
"Oh, don't get all sanctimonious--"
"I would never dream of trying to come between you and Mel." Cole shrugged. "I couldn't. Only you can do that. Your daughter is an amazing woman, Mister Porter, and it has been my honor to know her this past year." He shook his head. "I think this must be very difficult for her. It lies in your power to make it easier for her, and as her father you should want--" He stopped abruptly, aware that he was getting nowhere. "I know the pain of losing a child, Mister Porter." Seeing the surprised look on the man's face, he continued. "It's not something I would ever wish on anyone. All I can offer you is a piece of advice. You hang on to your daughter as hard and for as long as you are privileged to be a part of her life." A few tears wet his face as he continued. "Do not end your role in her life prematurely, not if you can help it. The bond between a father and daughter is special. I know... You're angry now, but the anger will fade. When it does, you ask yourself if this is what you really want."
Mister Porter glared at Cole for a moment before turning on his heel and entering a waiting taxi.
Cole frowned as he watched the taxi go, wondering if Mister Porter had heard a word he had said. Like his daughter, he was a stubborn man. Shaking his head and wishing that he could do more to help Mel, he walked into the bar to find Mel. She was not downstairs, so he entered the apartment to find Mel looking around.
Mel grinned as she saw him. "Oh, there you are. You did that thing again. Where you disappear."
"It's called hyper-speed..." he reminded her gently.
She nodded and smiled at him, startling him with her composure. Looking more closely, he quickly realized that the cheerful, composed exterior was a facade. Mel was near tears. He closed the distance between them and drew her into his arms, not sure what else to do.
Mel very seldom cried over anything at all, and she was resistant to the idea of doing so in front of Cole, but when he pulled her into his arms, it was like an assurance that it was okay to let go. She had never given herself permission to cry about this, but Cole's acceptance made it okay. She clung tightly to him and sobbed, crying the tears over her relationship with her father that she had never allowed herself to shed before. She was only vaguely aware of Cole, holding her close and crooning softly to her, but she was grateful to him for being there for her.
She was not sure afterwards how long she had cried, but she felt exhausted and drained afterwards, and the front of Cole's shirt had a large, wet patch.
"I'm sorry..." she muttered in embarrassment, pulling away.
"Mel, you don't have to be sorry..." Cole told her gently, drying her cheeks. "I would be very sad, too."
Mel gave him a grateful smile and walked over to the couch. She was tired, wanted to sit, and she hoped he would join her. Just having him nearby could be so soothing. She smiled at him as he moved to join her.
"I'm really sorry that you had to see that between us..." she told him softly, not exactly ashamed, but definitely regretful that Cole had been exposed to the scene.
"Is it always like that between humans and their parents, Mel?" Cole asked softly.
She shook her head quickly, not wanting him to think that scenes like that were commonplace on earth. They might not have been exactly rare, but they were by no means a regular occurrence for the majority of families.
"What makes your relationship different? Is that why you live so far apart?" Cole queried, trying his best to understand Mel's family dynamic, hoping he could help her more if he could.
"Uh, they live in Florida because Dad got a job there when I was a kid. I moved back to Chicago when I grew up because I liked it more here." She sighed. "And maybe to get away from him..." she admitted softly. She shook her head. "I don't know, Cole. I guess in some corner of my mind I was hoping that we'd get along better if we weren't so close to each other. Instead we just drifted farther apart."
"That must have been very hard for you, Mel..." Cole said softly. Parents and their children belonged together. The idea of a child willingly putting that kind of physical and emotional distance between herself and her parents was hard to comprehend. She must have been very unhappy with them indeed.
"It was at first. There was a time when all I really wanted was his love and acceptance, but after awhile those stopped meaning as much." She sighed. "Or I thought they had. Seeing him again, though... It brought all that back up. Part of me wanted more than anything for him to acknowledge me for who I was. I just..." she trailed off, shaking her head.
"You don't seem to respect him very much, Mel."
"I don't. All my life he's been cold, distant, never let me in, never really seemed to care that much. And now I find out that he's also a racist jerk."
Cole frowned. "Then why do you want his acceptance so badly?"
"Because he's my father..." Mel whispered.
Cole nodded and touched her throat lovingly. That he could understand. "I can't imagine how hard this must be for you, Mel..." he began slowly.
"I'll get over it, Cole. I just need time." She smiled reassuringly and nodded.
Cole nodded slowly. "Mel, what is a racist?" he asked.
Mel stared at him, wide-eyed, wondering if it was a language problem or if Cole genuinely did not understand. "A racist is a person who... who believes that..." She paused, searching for words that Cole would be able to understand. "Um, a racist believes that their own race is superior to all the other races."
Cole frowned. "Superior? Not just different?" he asked, wanting to be sure he understood.
Mel nodded. "Yeah, Cole. Superior. Better than everyone else. As a result, they... don't believe in... in... um, cross-breeding."
"But..." Cole shook his head in confusion. "How can humans have this concept, Mel, when they don't know about aliens yet?"
Mel winced. "Uh, they, um... apply it to other humans. A white person," she pointed to herself "might be racist against, say, a black person.. like Gwen's boyfriend Andy or, um... against someone from the Middle-East." She knew Gwen had some Middle-Eastern friends as well, but could not remember any of their names. It did not matter. Cole seemed to be getting the point, judging from his disgusted expression. "I mean, not all humans feel this way. Most don't, not any more."
Cole nodded. The Vardians had similar concepts of racial purity, restricting not only cross-breeding outside of the species, but between castes. Unlike the humans, though, their racism was not a matter of individual opinion, but of law. "Does your father have these feelings against other groups of humans?" he asked, curious.
"Not as far as I know." Mel shook her head. "Not that he's ever shown. I guess that's why I was so surprised by it."
"Do you have these feelings, Mel?" he asked softly.
"No!" Mel shook her head firmly. "Absolutely not, Cole. I think racism's disgusting. It's... It's just wrong."
Cole nodded, pleased by her vehement rejection of the concept. It was not just that it kept the possibility of a relationship between the two of them opened, either, although he was not unmindful of the fact. It meant that Mel was open-minded, and genuinely unashamed of her heritage. Her reaction had been due to nothing more than shock, and that spoke well of her eventual ability to learn how to harness her potential. He smiled and caressed her throat in approval, then frowned thoughtfully.
"If you think racism is disgusting, Mel, do you feel the same about your father?" he asked.
Mel blinked at the question. It was blunt even for Cole. It was also damned hard to answer honestly, even to herself. "Mostly, yeah. He's still my father, though, and there's a part of me that's always going to think of him in those terms, but rationally..." She shook her head. "I find his attitude disgusting, yeah."
"Yet still you would have his acceptance?" Cole frowned at the contradiction.
Mel shrugged. "If I could, yeah, but not on his terms. That's too high a price."
"Because he disapproves of our friendship, Mel?" Cole asked, frowning. Mel had said that racists had a problem with different races mating. She had mentioned nothing about friendship.
"Because he disapproves of you." Mel took his hands in hers and shrugged. "Everything I said to him about you, about how you're there for me more than he ever was, about how you take care of me... I meant every word of that, Cole. I respect you more than I respect any man I've ever known, and I will not put up with him looking down on you for something you have no control over."
"When you said that you would chose between us, you meant it?" he realized, startled. That she would chose a friendship over her relationship with her father made him realize exactly how bad her relationship with him must have been. Poor Mel.
"Of course I did, Cole..." Mel nodded, smiling at him and blinking hard against her tears. She squeezed his hands and shrugged. "I mean, yeah, he's my father but..." She paused, blinking in surprised realization. "He's never treated me the way a father is supposed to. He's never been there for me." She shook her head, no longer particularly sad over the fact.
Impulsively, he slid his arms around her and pulled her close even though he did not think that she needed or wanted any comfort. It just seemed right. "You've made it very far on your own, though, Mel..." he pointed out gently.
Mel grinned faintly, nodding. "Yeah, I have. Still, sometimes it's nice to have someone there for you." She looked up at him, her smile widening. "Like now."