Title:Lost In America
Author: Candylovespell
Category: M&M, future fic
Rating: adult
Disclaimer: None of the Roswell characters, etc., belong to me, obviously, but any of my own descriptions that bear any resemblance to real people or businesses is (usually) unintentional.
Summary: Post-Graduation: the gang are on the run...
Authorís note: Iíve taken liberties with, among other things, the landscape, the law and the timescale. Itís my first fic and Iím experimenting a bit, particularly in the sex scenes. Iíve read zillions of fics, so I realize how feeble this is compared with the talent out there. Well, here goes....

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Chapter One: Breakfast Time

The silence in the minibus had been unbroken since they’d fled Roswell and cold dawn was still a couple of hours away when Maria sighed heavily and lifted her head from Michael’s warm shoulder.

“Gotta pee, Max, so find somewhere to pull over soon, girlfriend.”

Maria caught Michael’s glance in a brief flash of nostalgia for their first road trip.

“Food would be good, too, I’m starving, Maxwell.”

“Michael, Maria – we can’t afford to stop now, we’ve got to put as much distance as we can between us and the FBI! If we stop anywhere people will remember us and the Feds’ll be on our trail.”

Max’s voice was harsh and impatient, his anxiety plain to them all.

“Well, there’s no way Maria’s gonna be able to hold out much longer, so come up with a plan, then, Max … No? Ok, we’ve got to stop sometime, what say we pull off the road before the next gas station, change the plates and the color of the bus, then disguise two of us to go buy gas and supplies while the rest of us sneak into the washrooms.”

“Good idea, Spaceboy, you Czechoslovakians can use your Samantha/Jeanie/Alien thing to disable the security cameras so there’s no record of us.”

“Yeah, I need a break, too” added Liz, joining in cautiously now that some action was about to happen. She was still in shock, and Maria’s need for a comfort break awoke her own. It seemed, for a moment, to bring her out of the fog of numbness that had engulfed her since they started running for their lives.

Max’s mind was still in turmoil, struggling with his anger and shock, but he saw Liz’s eyes pleading with him and he reluctantly caved in. How could he deny her anything when he had ruined her life just by being what he was? The other two were sunk in apathy and didn’t respond when spoken to, so he drove on until they came to a stand of trees by the side of the road, where he pulled over and waited for a gap in what little traffic was about in the cold pre-dawn darkness.

Maria was first out of the bus, shivering, urging them to hurry up with the changes while she kept a lookout for headlights.

The cold air revived Kyle and he watched with interest as Max quickly changed the colour of the bus to a rusty red. Michael changed the NM plates to Montana and darkened the window glass at the back and sides. Isobel was still in a daze, but after some prompting from Maria changed her own hair to dirty blonde and shortened it to an unflattering style, adding heavy makeup as an extra disguise. Kyle winced behind her back, but kept his comments to himself.

He was startled when he found her staring at him with a sudden wicked gleam in her eye as she reached out and touched his hair, then waved her hand in front of his face and over his body.

He heard Michael snort behind him and Maria’s muffled giggle.

“What? What the hell are you doing to me, Isobel?” he demanded.

“Sssh, don’t be such a wimp, I’m just disguising you so we can go get breakfast, Kyle.”

She grinned unnervingly at him. He stared at her suspiciously and felt all over his head and face. His hair was longer and – was that a beard? He rushed over to look into the wing mirror. Horrified, he found himself gazing at long, straw colored hair, thick blond eyebrows and a goatee.

“Change it back at once, Isobel Evans,” he screeched, “there’s no way I’m going to be seen in public like this, I look like a…a…a…God, I don’t know what!”

“Oh, I think it looks great, Kyle, it’s so you – really brings out the color of your eyes” spluttered Maria hysterically as she leaned against the bus for support. “and your clothes….can we say urban beach bum? That Hawaiian shirt is to die for!”

“That’s enough!” A harsh voice cut through the laughter as Max stared at them in grim disapproval. “We are running for our lives and all you can do is joke around? Have you no thought of the danger we’re in? If we get captured …”

His voice broke and he turned away in disgust, helping Liz climb back into the bus as the others followed exchanging subdued and guilty glances. Even Kyle kept his rebellious muttering for Isobel’s now unresponsive ears alone.

Five minutes later Max parked the bus in a space as far from the brightly lit rest station as possible and lost control of his temper. In a low, menacing voice, he raged at them for their stupidity and irresponsibility; they should not be stopping yet, their enemies could be on them at any moment. Was he the only one who realized their lives were in danger? Five serious people looked back at him in silence until it was over. Then Michael spoke, his own temper held tightly in check.

“ We all know the danger, Max, we were there, too, when they came to kill us last night. I think they would have easily caught up with us by now if they’d really wanted to and that’s why I think we have time to stop and take a short break. The longer we leave it, the more tired we’ll be later if we do have to fight. Don’t worry, we won’t stay here too long, but we’re gonna do it.”

Max turned away and Liz rested her head on his shoulder, reaching for his hand in silent comfort. He didn’t respond immediately, but then sighed and relaxed against her.

After she’d changed six of Michael’s dollar bills into twenties at his suggestion, Isobel and Kyle made their way to the store for supplies. Before she left the bus she had inspected the area for security cameras, spotting some around the store, restaurant and garage areas. She disabled them discreetly as she approached, Kyle trying to shield her movements from the sleepy staff and the few, indifferent customers in the restaurant.

Kyle led the way into the store, distracting the clerk with a question while Isobel melted the tapes in the cameras, then they both collected baskets before filling them with basic toiletries, long-life milk, bottled water, coffee, tea, juice, bread, butter, cold chicken and fruit. Kyle shopped for the guys and Isobel for the girls. Isobel remembered the sugar and Tabasco sauce. Kyle remembered that they would need cups and cutlery so he added picnic ware to his basket. Isobel paid the bored clerk from her roll of home-cooked twenties.

Back at the bus, they loaded their purchases in through the near-side door, jumping slightly when the other door slid back and Michael climbed in on the far side. He started to paw through the bags until Isobel slapped his hand away, just giving her a teasing smirk before stretching his long length out as comfortably as he could across the back seat and closing his eyes.

Outside again Kyle whispered with a sly grin, “Isobel, let’s have a proper breakfast in the restaurant, it’ll save on the supplies we just bought.”

“I’d rather have a hot shower and feel clean.” replied Isobel. “ Besides, we’d better not draw any attention to ourselves right now. It’s too close to home”.

She bit back a sudden sob and Kyle put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“OK, you go get some shower time and I’ll stay here and keep a lookout so Guerin doesn’t eat all the supplies. Whoever gets back first can take over from me.”

Climbing back into the bus, Kyle settled into the front passenger seat and closed his eyes until something hit the side of his head and landed in his lap. He looked down at the banana and then twisted round until he was looking at Michael Guerin crunching an apple with his eyes closed. Peeling the banana, Kyle sighed companionably

“Girls will be a long time in the shower, so gives us time to talk. What now, Guerin?”

“Gotta push on and make plans. Include the others in that, though I reckon they’re still in shock and Max is too wired to be any use as leader for a while. I never thought I’d say this, but it looks like it’s gonna be you and me to take care of things, Valenti.

“Yeah, I never thought I’d say this either but I think you’re right, Guerin. It’s up to us. The girls have to be protected and Max looks to be strung so tight he’s gonna need watching”.

There was a reflective pause between them and Kyle continued eating the banana while staring out into the dawn-streaked sky.

“This is an incredibly bad situation, but you’re taking it real calmly, Guerin. If you don’t mind me asking, why is that?”

For a moment he thought he wasn’t going to get an answer, but then Michael replied, so softly that Kyle could only just hear him.

“ It’s because I’ve been waiting for this all my life, you know, and now it’s happened it’s… almost like relief. I’ve been running for so long in my mind that it’s like I know what to do and where to go without even thinking about it. The only thing I wasn’t prepared for is Maria coming along. She’s raised the stakes. Now my main aim is keeping her safe.”

Just then a side door opened and the cold breeze blew a warm scent of vanilla and lemon into the bus, closely followed by Maria DeLuca fresh from a hot shower. Michael promptly froze as she snuggled wordlessly against him and then he melted around her protectively, closing his eyes in grateful appreciation.

Kyle cleared his throat loudly, but before he could comment, a door opened again and Isobel climbed into the driver’s seat beside him, muttering irritably. She began to curse her brother and Liz, informing the others that the idiots were glued together outside the washrooms gazing into each others eyes with no thought of FBI trackers and apparently all the time in the world.

Michael began to sit up ready to go drag them apart, but Isobel spotted them drifting dreamily towards the bus and waved him back.

“Go make room for the soul mates on the floor and cover yourselves under blankets and shopping – we need gas and you need to hide. And by the way, we’ll need to make another stop later to buy towels and a change of clothes. I’m not going to travel in this bus without basic standards of hygiene, Kyle and Michael please note. ”

She started the engine as Max and Liz piled breathlessly through the door, landing on Michael and Maria with no apology as Isobel accelerated across the almost empty lot and over to the gas pumps. Kyle filled the tank, Isobel went to pay and then they were on the interstate going north again.

The fugitives in the back hastily disentangled themselves and resumed their seats, although this time Maria and Liz sat together in the back, checking through the supplies and talking softly about their families left behind. Max and Michael sat in the side seats staring out the windows, each lost in his own thoughts.

Kyle spent some time idly regretting his missed shower and then found his thoughts focusing firmly on breakfast. He glanced at Isobel driving north efficiently and at a responsible speed, her eyes concentrating on the road ahead, her face blank and her thoughts unreadable. His heart suddenly bled for her and he turned to the others, anxious to distract them all from their thoughts, but Michael beat him to it.

“OK, guys, keep a look out for somewhere we can stop to have a picnic and make some plans. Traffic is getting heavier, so there must be life around here. I guess someplace busy where we can get lost in a crowd would be best or else somewhere secluded where we can hide for a while.”

He noticed that they had left the desert behind them and were driving through an area of low, wooded hills, with small towns and roadside businesses scattered along their route.

A few minutes later, Isobel steered the bus onto an exit signposted to a town advertising agricultural produce outlets. Ten minutes further along she turned into a side road through some woodland and pulled into a space in front of a gated entrance to a field, turned the vehicle to face the way they’d come and switched off the engine.

There was a collective sigh and everyone slumped back in their seats as if suddenly boneless. Kyle wound his window down and Isobel followed his lead. Silence continued to reign and gradually they became aware of the sounds around them, birdsong, distant traffic, and the rustle of leaves. Clean, cool air swept through the bus and revived the occupants enough to stir. They all climbed out of the bus and began to stretch cramped muscles and breathe fresh air.

Maria climbed onto the gate and looked over into a grassy meadow. When Michael joined her they turned to each other with the same thought, nodded and, still without speaking, went over to the bus and started pulling out blankets and supplies. Isobel was oblivious to this and leaned against the bus with her eyes fixed on distant treetops outlined against the blue sky.

Kyle had disappeared among the trees on the other side of the road, answering a call of nature. Max sat on the floor at the side entrance to the bus, his arm around a silent Liz, ignoring everyone and lost in his own gloomy thoughts.

Once the blankets were spread on the grass and the food unpacked, Michael brought his alien powers into play. He sat down on the edge of a blanket, pulling Maria down to sit beside him. She loaded two paper plates with bread, butter and cold chicken, as he arranged the sturdy plastic cups within his reach and asked her what she wanted to drink. Maria chose coffee. She watched him in loving approval as he spooned coffee into the cup, added bottled water, heated it up and added milk just the way she liked it. He handed it to her politely and shrugged with feigned indifference as she exclaimed over the improved control of his powers. He made his own cup of coffee, adding sugar and Tabasco sauce, and as he sat enjoying the sweet and spicy concoction he had another idea. He stared at the slice of bread on his plate and held his hand over it, idly concentrating on the molecules at the surface. Soon the delicious smell of hot toast rose in the morning air and he turned the slice to brown the other side. He noticed Maria’s admiring grin and presented the toast to her with a flourish. She rewarded him with a soft kiss on his cheek and stroked his thigh in what he suddenly hoped was a promise of future delights.

Their idyll was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the group, drawn by the smell of toast and coffee. He refused to make toast for anyone else but himself and Maria pointing out, sardonically, that Isobel and Max could make their own and Liz and Kyle would be able to eventually, when their powers kicked in.

“Oh, yeah, Guerin, very funny. If I don’t get toast now, I swear you’ll BE toast as soon as I get my powers”. Kyle threatened amiably. Michael sighed a put-upon sigh and reached for another slice.

Meanwhile, the others had been making their own breakfasts, including the fashionable toast, and soon there was a circle of teens sprawled replete around the remains of the picnic.

Kyle began to pack up the food ready for their next meal, when or wherever it would be, and then they all reluctantly sat up at Maria’s insistence to discuss the situation for the first time since their escape from the near-fatal graduation ceremony.

Michael spoke first. “ I’ve been thinking that there is a place we can go to be safe for a while - ”

Max interrupted him angrily “Michael, there is no place we can stay and be safe. Our only chance is to keep on the move, try and keep one step ahead of the FBI. If they catch up with us it’s the end. I’m not putting Liz or any of you in more danger than we are in right now. I won’t listen to any more of your crazy schemes. I won’t let you endanger the group. I know I said I’m no longer the king, but it’s still my responsibility to keep you safe. No arguments. We keep on the move and head for Boston. We can mingle with all the new students there in the Fall and maybe Liz, Isobel and I can find some way to take classes and the rest of you can find work”.

Outraged herself by this speech, Maria desperately clung to Michael’s arm and sent him soothing vibes in an attempt to get him to remain calm. Kyle, on his other side, sent him a look warning him not to react. Both were happily surprised to find that their efforts were apparently successful as Michael suddenly relaxed and put his arm comfortingly around Maria, while giving Kyle a slight, reassuring nod.

Isobel was glaring furiously at her brother.

“Boston, you moron? Boston? What are you using to think with? It’s certainly not what passes for your brain. Jesse will be in Boston and no doubt the FBI, too, watching to see if we contact him. God, all you think about is Liz Parker and somehow settling down cosily with her at Harvard – dream on, you fool.”

Max looked stricken and his ears went bright red with anger and embarrassment. He looked helplessly at Liz, appearing to find comfort and reassurance in her wide-eyed, soulful stare.

“I’m sorry, Izzy, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about Jesse being in Boston. Of course we can’t go there. I’m sorry I didn’t think things through. We’d better head away from that area. We do need to be in a major city, though, so we can get lost among a lot of people. Where would you like to go, Isobel? Liz?”

Maria, still staring with intense calmness into Michael’s eyes, opened her mouth to vent her own indignation but suddenly heard Michael’s voice in her head telling her to shut up. She did so out of sheer surprise. Had she really heard his thought?

***Yeah, I guess you did hear me, Maria, ‘cuz I just heard you back. I don’t know how it’s suddenly happened, but keep it our secret for the moment, princess. We need time on our own to sort things out. Max is losing it and we need to think, ok? ***

*** Ok, Spaceboy, this is completely weird. More alien powers, I guess. Wish I had some cedar oil… no, wait, I really am in an actual forest with real trees. Can I say cool? Just breath deep, DeLuca. Ok, back to business. I totally agree we need time to ourselves, Michael. We should stop at a motel tonight. ***

*** Max wants us to keep moving all the time - and I think he’s right about that, at least for a while – so unless we find somewhere safe to hide out I guess we’ll have to go along with him for the moment. ***

Kyle’s voice interrupted their newfound private method of communication.

“What about heading for the west coast? Big cities there plus it’s full of freaks and weirdos. You’d fit in real good, your ex-Majesty, ” he added snidely.

Max shot him an exasperated glance but didn’t rise to the bait.

“That’s not a bad idea, Kyle,” he said smoothly, watching the Sheriff’s son clamp down on his irritation. “Get the map out and start planning our route while we drive on.”

“We have enough food left for lunch, so we can stop somewhere on the road tonight and load up on more supplies. We won’t be staying anywhere other than the bus for a while, it’s not safe.”

Liz loyally supported her boyfriend, earning a hug and a lingering kiss while the others packed up and silently got back into the bus.

This time Kyle drove and Isobel sat beside him, which suited them both. Kyle wasn’t in the mood to talk and Isobel had sunk back into brooding.

Max and Liz were last back to the bus and had to share the double seat in the middle as Michael and Maria had claimed the more spacious rear bench seat. Both couples curled themselves around each other. Max and Liz resumed their soulmate stare, while Michael and Maria appeared to go to sleep.

They made one more stop half an hour later, on Isobel’s instructions, to buy clothes and other basic necessities from one of the larger general stores passed on their way to lunch. They shopped separately in disguise, paid with more of Isobel’s alien banknotes and then resumed their journey as before.

********

Chapter Two: Lunch Time

At 2.15 Kyle pulled into a shady space at a rest station, switched off the engine and looked round at his sleeping friends. Nobody stirred, all of them drained of energy in the heat of the day. He grinned evilly and clapped his hands loudly, whereupon everyone jumped except Maria, who snuggled deeper into Michael’s arms muttering “five more minutes, Mom.”

There was general indignation with Kyle until everyone remembered their situation and gloom suddenly descended.

Lunch was unpacked and eaten in or around the bus, everyone used the restrooms, leaving someone on look-out at all times and they were back on the road again within 20 minutes, this time more alert and ready to talk.

The seating arrangements had changed again, this time Maria was driving with Michael riding shotgun. Max and Liz were in the rear seat, Isobel in the double middle seat and Kyle in the single seat across from her.

“Kyle, did you look at the map? Where are we heading for now?” Max was belatedly taking an interest.

“Kyle discussed the route with Maria and me when we stopped for lunch, Max. We think the best thing is to head up through Colorado on our way to LA.”

Michael turned to exchange a look with Kyle, who caught the conversational ball and ran with it.

“Yeah, we talked during lunch, while you were devouring Liz.” He snickered. “It seems to us that taking the scenic route is better than going direct which is what the Feds will expect us to do, when they don’t find us in Mexico. They’ll either think we’re making for LA as fast as we can to disappear among the wannabees and wierdos or that we’re heading to Chicago or New York. There’re more chances for us to hide in the mountains and take our time getting to the coast the long way round.”

Isobel was curious.

“How long were you guys planning to take to get there?"

There was a pause before Michael spoke.

“About a year.”

There was instant protest from the back of the bus.

“What! No! Max, tell him!”

Max told him.

“No way, Michael, that’s a crazy plan! Anyway, you should have asked me first. Nobody makes any decisions about anything without me, understood?”

Isobel and Maria were silent, the latter concentrating on the road, the former watching Max and Liz speculatively over the back of her seat.

“Crazy, Max? What’s crazy about it? We’ll get to the coast like you want. It’s not like we’re short of time. This way we’ll just take longer and be safer. Anyway, no one’s made a decision yet, this is up for group discussion. We’ll take a vote, unless anyone has any other ideas?”

Michael spoke calmly and quietly, but they all heard the underlying steel in his voice.

Maria, listening with all the attention she could spare from the road, thought that her Spaceboy had grown up so much over the last year. Back then, he was fighting the whole world, paranoid about the FBI (not that she had blamed him, she was just clinging on to her own sanity as it was), demanding Max be the leader but resenting all his attempts to lead. Now he was the one making plans and displaying all the thoughtful leadership skills that Max should be doing. She sent him a mental flash of her pride in him and caught his wryly amused response, although his challenging stare never wavered from his angry brother. She desperately hoped that there would be private time soon, because although she thought they both knew they were back together for good, there were issues remaining from their break up that still needed closure.

Liz held Max’s hand comfortingly and thought frantically for any flaws in Michael and Kyle’s plan. On the face of it, there were none. It was a reasonable suggestion and had the added attraction of no blame attached to Max if it went wrong.

“So, do we head for Colorado? Liz and Max’s objections are noted. What about you, Isobel? ” Kyle looked round at the group who all nodded, except Max who stared out of the window and openly sulked.

Suddenly, Maria’s panicked voice came from the driver’s seat.

“Guys, get down, there’s a big black limo coming up behind us. It’s 3 cars back and it’s about to pull out and overtake… ”

Michael thought quickly “Izzy, change our hair – make us like you and Kyle in case they’ve seen us before….”

Isobel rapidly leaned over and waved her hand over Maria and then Michael before crouching down and covering her upper body with a blanket. The others had already assumed their uncomfortable positions on the floor and the tense atmosphere was made nearly unbearable by not being able to see what was happening.

Endless minutes passed before Michael gave the all-clear.

“Relax. They’ve gone ahead, didn’t seem to take any notice of us. May have been nothing, but you were right not to take a chance, Maria.”

“For future reference and extra cover, I think whoever’s driving should adopt whatever disguise we are currently using… what? What? Michael, it’s no laughing matter.”

“Oh, it is, babe, it is. You… should… take a look…” he snorted helplessly, only laughing harder as she glared at him through raccoon eyes, threatening punishment to come when they stopped for a break. He noticed her eyes widen and her compressed lips suddenly relax into a tiny smile as she turned her attention back to the road. He sobered up as he realised no one else was laughing.

Turning round he saw a quartet of silent, frightened people staring back at him and knew that they were on the verge of panic.

“Listen, guys, it was a false alarm, no harm done. Maria spotted them in good time and we took action.”

He tried to encourage them, as he saw that Max was frozen with horror and the others weren’t much better.

***Damn, this leadership thing is a pain in the ass ***

*** Go Michael! You can do it ***

He heard her silent voice cheering him on and knew she was right. He took a deep breath and tried to sound convincing.

“This kinda thing is gonna happen to us a lot from now on and we have to expect it, deal and move on. We can’t let it scare us or we’ll be dead. Anyway, I’ve got a few ideas on survival techniques and we’ll talk as soon as we find a safe place to rest for a while. It’ll be soon, I promise.”

He noticed Kyle’s expression had relaxed into embarrassed agreement as he was speaking and they briefly shared an understanding look before Kyle turned away and gazed out of his window.

“I made contingency plans for when I was going to split on my own, but everyone should try to come up with some ideas to think about later. We’re all in this together, guys”.

***You sure are full of surprises, Spaceboy***

*** Some of them just for you, babe ***

*** Oooh, now I really can’t wait, Michael ***

*** Gonna have to, Maria, just keep driving***

He waited for the others to return to their seats and relax a little before he turned back to face the front. At least they hadn’t lost it this time, but he didn’t want to think too far ahead on that one. Oh, well, at least he wasn’t the lone gunman (oops, bad choice of words there). Maria and Kyle had quickly grounded after their initial panic reactions and he recognised that they were the other realists in the group, besides himself.

Max, Liz and Isobel were the weak links. Max because he was still so emotionally unstable from his recent ordeals and from the damage he’d done to Liz and their relationship, as well as by the whole alien king sh*it which, in spite of his earlier claims, he clearly hadn’t entirely abandoned. He hadn’t been prepared to run for his life because, despite everything, deep down he hadn’t really believed that he’d ever have to. Michael worried about him the most.

Liz was strong where her own interests were concerned. Michael believed that she was basically self-absorbed and obsessed with Max as alien royalty to the exclusion of everyone else. Maria, shocked and secretly disillusioned by her best friend, told him afterwards that Liz had suggested killing him so that Max could regain his powers. Michael wasn’t surprised. He’d read her diary after all and had later come to realize he had told Liz the cold truth when he said it would tell anyone reading it more about her than the aliens. Michael wasn’t particularly concerned about her except for his fear that her obsession with Max would somehow endanger the rest of them.

Isobel was a different problem. She was in deep shock, in terror for her life and grieving for her marriage to Jesse. Michael hadn’t missed the token protest the jerk made when Iz had told him to leave her and go make his fortune in Boston. He didn’t know if she believed in Jesse’s promise of a future together someday or not. All he knew was that the recent events had devastated her most of all. Michael promised himself that he would make sure his emotionally fragile pod-sister was safe and he guessed that Kyle had the same intention.

Maria’s flaky, girly surface protected the warm, intelligent, articulate depths that he loved to distraction. She tried to hide her emotional vulnerability with her sharp wit and in-your-face attitude but her fierce loyalty embraced the whole group whether they all appreciated it or not. Deep inside himself he now knew for sure he could depend on her. Whatever the future held, she would be strong for him and he for her. Always.

Kyle, Michael was surprised to discover, had become a good friend to him as well as the girls in the group. Kyle still had major issues with Max, who was more enemy than friend and Michael didn’t think that would ever really change much. Still, the Sheriff’s humorous and practical son would be a good guy to have on his side and Michael suppressed a secret anxiety that there just might one day be sides to take.

As for himself, Michael knew that his control over both his emotions and powers hadn’t been good in the past, but he was rapidly improving all the time under pressure and his instincts for danger were sound. Considering all this, and combined with the other ideas he was incubating, he closed his eyes and gave himself up to some serious thought.

********

Chapter Three: Dinner Time

Maria swung the bus into the furthest corner of the parking lot in front of a burger bar in a small town just off the interstate. It was 9.30 on a fine evening and she felt like she’d been driving forever.

She didn’t really mind; she was still full of nervous energy and driving calmed her down, distracting her from the repetitive thoughts swirling around her brain. Her mom was her main concern. How would she deal with the loss of her baby girl so suddenly and mysteriously? Of course, the Parkers and the Evanses, even the Sheriff if she let him, would help her get through it, but Maria’s sadness sometimes threatened to overwhelm her.

A warm hand covered hers, a strong arm wrapped round her shoulders and soft lips kissed her cheek as Michael’s voice in her head reassured her that her mom would be fine, she wasn’t alone and somehow they’d find a way to let her know they were safe.

The others, including Michael, had dozed for hours as she drove endlessly through the afternoon and into the evening, always with one eye on the traffic looking out for suspicious vehicles. She’d had a jolt when she saw the black limo again just ahead of her in the early evening, and became momentarily light-headed with relief when it turned into the parking lot of a funeral home. The macabre connotations weren’t lost on her and she’d giggled nervously, disturbing Michael who sent a sleepily irritable protest about being woken up. She returned soothing reassurance and she was left alone again with her own thoughts.

Nobody stirred as she drove so she just carried on until her stomach started to growl and the roadside diners looked increasingly attractive.

Making a decision after debating with herself over the merits of pizza and burgers, she chose to turn-off at a town whose name she forgot as soon as she’d read it. If the others didn’t agree with her, it was just too bad. They should have woken up sooner.

It was getting late, there was nobody about and the burger bar looked clean and quiet. The sun was setting behind a distant mountain when she’d switched off the engine and closed her eyes.

Michael’s brief kiss stirred desires other than for food and she quickly repressed them, but not before catching his immediate response to her thought and his reluctant agreement not to pursue it. ***Soon, Maria*** he promised and she felt the long suppressed passion in his thoughts heat up her blood.

The rest of the group, except Max who remained heavily asleep on the back seat, had woken and were stretching and yawning. Nobody commented about the burger bar but placed their orders with sandy-haired, short-braided Liz who had been nominated to collect them along with Kyle now sporting black hair tied back, a neat mustache and a deep tan. Michael gave them some real money and they climbed out of the bus.

There were a couple of wooden picnic tables and benches on a patch of grass at the side of the building. Michael and Kyle dragged them together and they all sat down to eat. The evening air in the shallow, wooded valley was comfortably cool after a day in the hot bus.

They ate in silence again and after dumping the cartons, settled back to talk. Michael asked Liz to wake Max, but she said that he was so exhausted from the shock of recent events that she wouldn’t let him be disturbed. She said she’d speak for both of them. Nobody commented aloud, but Kyle and Michael raised an eyebrow at each other over Liz’s head and Isobel snorted to herself.

Michael brought out a small, battered sketchpad and pen he’d retrieved from his bags in the bus. He flipped it open to reveal a list he’d already written.

“I always had a plan ready for when I was goin’ to take off on my own.” He glanced at Maria, who winked at him with a wry smile. “It’s just basic common sense. I know Max should be here to discuss this, but if Liz is willing to speak for him, then we can’t wait any longer to make plans. Here’s what I think we need to do to take some precautions against being traced. Anybody have comments, feel free.”

“Point One. Trust no one. For me, that meant keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. For us, that means someone on lookout at all times, day and night wherever we are.”

They all nodded.

“ Point Two. Pool our cash, and spend it on agreed items only, unless there’s an emergency. Emergencies don’t include lip gloss, high-heeled shoes or little dresses on sale, ok, Blondie?”

*** Might it include certain items of lacy lingerie, if it gets really, really, cold, Spaceboy? ***

***Sorry, Maria, rules are rules - you may have to go commando. For the good of the group***

***Good God, Spaceboy, I can actually HEAR you leering…***

***Later, babe***

Aloud, Maria pouted, giggled and threw a mock punch at Michael’s bicep. The others smiled perfunctorily and Michael continued.

“ Iz, you’ll sometimes have to alter notes to high denominations. We can change them in busy tourist stores so we can spend smaller real ones without leaving a trail of counterfeit notes all over the Rockies for the Feds to track.”

Isobel assured him that he didn’t need to worry about that as her work was so good it would be difficult to detect without expert knowledge. She said her notes could be in circulation for years before the authorities noticed.

Michael nodded judiciously. “Good point, Iz, and I’m sure you’re right, but at this stage, we need to avoid as many risks as possible, so we still gotta be careful where and when we spend them.” He looked over at her unapologetically. She just shrugged.

“On to my next point. Number Three – we need another set of wheels”.

He waited for comments, but none came. It worried him slightly that they were all so passive, but he guessed they were still in shock to varying degrees and just wanted to be told what to do for the present. He was relieved in a way as it made things easier for him.

“See, if I’d gone alone I would have changed my bike for a car as soon as I could. Disguising ourselves and the bus with our powers is a big advantage, but we are still a group of six teens in a minibus. That’s what they’ll be looking for. However, a second bus, or car, would not only give us more space, but freedom to travel in different size groups. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves so we gotta split up soon. Oh, don’t worry, we’ll still be together, but we won’t be six teens in a minibus. Understand?”

Liz nodded. “Yeah, I get it. You’re right, Michael, but where will we get the money?”

“We got two choices, work for it or steal a car somewhere. Working for it is too risky and too slow.”

“No, Michael, that’s dishonest! I may be on the run, but I’m NOT a thief, I won’t lower myself to do that.”

“Liz, chica, I’m sorry, but Michael’s right, we may have to do things we don’t like in order to survive. Nobody wants that, but we don’t have any choice.”

“I’m with Guerin, we do what we have to do”.

“Me, too, Michael, I suppose. Where would we find work around here, anyway? It’s still too close to home.”

“OK, that’s four to two (I’m including Max with Liz, here) in favour of Grand Theft Auto. When do we make our move, Spaceboy?”

“Cool your jets, Maria, there’s no big rush tonight. Over the next couple days, we’ll scope out a plan and go for it. Tonight we continue to go through my list of safety precautions. Going back to my earlier point, we need to plan our budget.”

*** Saceboy, I didn’t know you’d heard of the concept. How come your phone was always being cut off for non-payment? ***

*** Not always, Maria, just the once. I CAN learn from my mistakes, you know***

*** Sorry, Michael, I was just teasing***

*** I know, babe, you just hit a nerve, is all. I learnt to manage money when I lived with Hank. Well, what little he didn’t booze and piss away. I just went a little crazy for a while when I got emancipated and bought the TV and the bike. I guess they’ll be repo’d, though. Bet my credit rating’s zero now, huh? Even if it’s not the Feds after us, we can’t use credit cards anyway. Which reminds me – we need to talk with Kyle as soon as we can***

***Wait, what did you mean if – never mind. Later. Over and out, Spaceboy ***

“Ok, everyone throw their cash on the table so we know what we’ve got to play with.”

The group dug around and pulled out wallets and loose change from various pockets.

Kyle counted his cash and announced that he had $50 in notes and nearly $10 in change.

Michael contributed $300 - savings that he’d taken with him during his original flight from Roswell - as well as change from various pockets amounting to another $12.

Liz had nothing, explaining that she had left her purse when she ran from the school. She didn’t know how much Max had on him.

Isobel had no purse, either, but she did have a small roll of cash that Jesse had given her at the last moment. When she counted it there was $1000. This drew gasps from everyone around the table and a sudden feeling of faint optimism spread through the group.

Maria surprised them all by reaching into the purse she had carried throughout their ordeal, then pushing a pretty flowered envelope into the growing pile of cash on the table while tears slid silently from her sad green eyes. Michael wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head while Liz held her hand until she composed herself. After a few moments she whispered “My mom gave me that before the ceremony – she said she’d been saving up for me to go to college and this was a special graduation present to spend on having fun in my last summer before I had to be a real grownup. I haven’t had time to open it yet.”

She reached across and retrieved the envelope, gazing at it for a few moments before slowly sliding a fingernail beneath the flap. Inside she found some cash, which she handed to Michael without comment, and a letter that instantly became the focus of her complete attention.

The others looked at her with sympathy as she hesitated, then put it back into her purse unread. She moved away from Michael and sat up, brushing a hand over her wet cheeks and smiling at everyone around the table.

“ ‘K, how much have we got to party with?”

Isobel reached over and gathered the cash together, nodding to Liz to help her with the count.

A few moments later, she reported back. “ Including $500 from Maria’s mom, $55 in alien and normal notes I just remembered from this morning and not including anything Max may have, our grand total is $1,937 and small change.”

Nobody spoke right away, but there was a tangible sense of relief in the air. They wouldn’t have to worry too much about money, at least, for a little while.

Liz was the first to break the silence. “Well, at least we don’t have to steal a car now, we have enough to buy one.”

Three pairs of eyes looked sharply at her and three heads slowly shook in unison. Isobel just continued to gaze off into the distance, already back in her own world.

Finally, Kyle sighed and spoke. “Liz, we don’t know how long this cash will have to last, so we really can’t afford to use any of it on a car. Stealing one is still top of the agenda.”

Liz stood up and stalked over to the bus, climbed in and sat brooding in the front seat, careful not to disturb her alien king asleep in the back.

Michael continued as if nothing had happened.

“Isobel, change some of those bills to higher denominations for emergencies, say another $1000, but keep them separate so we don’t spend them by accident. Remember we only use them in large stores in busy tourist towns or else in gas stations along the main highways to get more real change.”

“I suggest we all get a personal emergency stash of $50 each, accountable to the group at weekly budget meetings”. He looked meaningfully at Maria and Isobel as he emphasised the last bit. Maria nodded solemnly back at him. He hid a private smile.

“Who gets to be treasurer, any suggestions? I nominate Maria, she’s got the only purse among us.”

“Ha de ha, Spaceboy. I don’t mind but why not you?

Kyle backed her up. “Seriously, Guerin, you’re the only one of us who seems to have any practical ideas about what to do in this mess, so you would be the logical choice to take care of the money. I’m with Maria on this. I vote for you, too.”

“Isobel?” She came out of her reverie with a start.

“I really don’t care, Michael, do whatever you like. I’m just too tired to give a damn about anything right now.”

“OK, then, continuing on to Point Four.”

“Which is, Guerin?”

He paused. Nobody interrupted but the other three watched him with a new respect he’d never experienced before as they waited for his next words. He thought that he had never talked so much in his whole life and certainly nobody, except Maria, had ever listened so closely to what he had to say. It felt amazingly good.

“Before I get to that, two of us should do a quick check of the area to make sure we don’t have an audience and that Max is ok in the bus.”

“Meanwhile, I’m goin’ to take a leak in those bushes behind us.”

“Didn’t need to know that, Michael” muttered Isobel, her nose wrinkled in distaste as she followed Kyle round the corner in front of the diner.

Left alone, Maria saw Liz heading towards her across the grass and they exchanged sympathetic looks before Liz sat down and dropped her head in her hands, choking back a sob.

Maria’s soft heart went out to her best friend. “What’s wrong, Liz? Apart from we’re on the run, of course. I know it’s a tough break for all of us, but we’ll get through it together and see our families again one day. I just know we will. We have to be strong for each other. Come on, we haven’t any ice cream, but it’s good to share with your best friend, chica. I’m guessing it’s Max?”

“Yes, Maria, it’s Max. As usual. You know, I really and truly thought that all the problems between us were over. His son is safe, Tess is dead and the only thing wrong is that we are on the run from the FBI. That’s even romantic in a twisted kind of way”. Liz sniffed loudly and dabbed at her eyes with a paper napkin Maria handed to her.

“Romantic? Well, I guess I sorta know what you mean, sweetie….”

“It is, really, Maria, if you think about it. On the run from the FBI with a powerful, alien king for your lover and soul mate. It’s like a movie plot, a romantic adventure with special effects… but I’m so scared, Maria. I‘m not sure he really loves me after all. He says he does and, like, you know, we finally made love and it was everything I dreamed it would be...” Liz paused and her eyes turned soft for a moment as she relived the memories. Then they filled with tears and her voice broke. “But now I keep thinking, what if he’s really just with me because he feels guilty about ruining my life? Because it’s true, he HAS ruined my life and he DID sleep with Tess and…and…God, I haven’t even got a choice any more, what am I going to do? We’re all g- going to be k- killed….”

“Wait, Liz, hold on, don’t you think you’re over reacting just a tiny bit here? We’ve only been on the run for 24 hours. I don’t want to be brutal, but there are plenty of other things to worry about in this scenario, chica. Max does love you, you know you’ve got the whole soul mate thing going, the way he looks at you. He’s just in shock. We all are and nobody is thinking clearly, well, except my Michael. God, I’m so proud. I’ve always had faith in him. Alien or not, he’s a really special guy.”

*** Was that a kiss you sent me, Spaceboy? ***

*** Yeah, princess, as a matter of fact it was***

*** Where are you? ***

***Im hiding in the bushes. DON’T look for me; you’ll only give me away. ***

***Michael, why…? ***

*** Cn’t you calm her down? God, I hate it when women cry***

*** She just needs to talk, needs to cry, she’s coming out of shock, I think. ***

Liz sat up and dried her eyes, which suddenly had a calculating look.

“Yes, Michael’s been surprisingly intelligent, brave and strong in all this. I’d never have believed it of him. I’m impressed. He’s made Max look totally inadequate.”

“Liz, hey, Lizzie, my Spaceboy is all that and more, but don’t be so hard on Max – like I said, he’s just in shock. He’ll sleep it off soon and be back to pissing us all off like the girlfriend we all know and love. Joking, chica, don’t give me that death glare. Max is special to us all and he’ll be back among the living soon, ok? Look, Isobel and Kyle are back from patrol and here comes Michael, too. Carry on, Spaceboy, you have the floor”.

“Thanks, Maria. Max still not with us, Iz?”

“Still out cold. I put a blanket over him.”

“Ok, Item Four. Camping, motels or carry on sleeping in the bus. I suggest camping while the weather is still warm enough. It’ll be cheaper and easier to hide. We need only buy a couple tents, two of us can take turns sleeping on guard in the bus. If we buy the stuff in a tourist area we can use some of Iz’s high denomination notes and be lost on the back roads before they remember us.”

“Motels. Not so cheap and more easily traced by the FBI, even if we can get another car and split up each night where we can. We should spend every other night driving, anyway, for at least the next couple weeks to make sure we get lost in America as fast as possible.”

“Third option is sleeping every night in the bus, like we did last night. My opinion? Not a good choice. Too cramped, nobody gets enough sleep and we’re exhausted all the time. Result? We get sloppy and eventually we get captured. We need to be alert at all times and this means that we need to get decent rest. What do you say?”

“Camping gets my vote, Guerin, I like your way of thinking.”

“Spaceboy, I’ll go with you because your arguments convinced me, but I really, really want motels. Can we do one once in a while, can we, huh? Just so I don’t totally forget what civilisation is like when I’ve turned into a female Grizzly Adams.”

Once the general hysteria had subsided, the voting resumed.

“I couldn’t possibly camp without hot showers, comfortable beds and privacy. If you can provide those, Michael, I’ll consider it. Until then, I vote for motels.”

“Surprise, Isobel. What about you and Max, Liz? Camp or motel?

“We’re with Isobel, so motel it is.”

“Well, it’s a fifty-fifty split, so we’ll just have to toss a coin. Maria, do the honors here, heads camp or tails motel?”

“Don’t bother, Maria, I’m voting for myself on this one and I say camping from tomorrow, but motel tonight. I think we deserve it for one night, don’t you Michael?”

Max spoke cheerfully as he rounded the corner of the building and approached the group, sitting down by Liz and holding her against him. Maria noticed the hopeful look that flashed across her face before she buried her head in his chest, but said nothing. Michael looked thoughtfully at his almost-brother and agreed that a motel for the night might not, after all, be such a bad idea.

“We are lost in America tonight after all, and nobody seems to have followed us so far.” Max revealed that he must have been listening to their conversation for some time before he joined them. “I asked the guy in the burger bar where we could find somewhere nearby and he advised us to keep driving on this road, take the second left and his sister who owns the Green Apple motel will be waiting for us. Reasonable rates, clean rooms and breakfast if we want it. I took the liberty of booking three rooms for our party of students on a summer road trip. Come on, guys, hot showers and soft beds await us.”

“More like cold showers for those of us rooming with Isobel Evans”, Kyle mumbled to himself as he followed the others to their bus.

“It’s 10.15 now, we should be ready to go by 8.30 tomorrow morning. We can mix in with the rush hour traffic, in case anyone is watching us. We all get to take a turn on watch tonight, except Maria -.”

“Hey, Michael, not fair, just because Maria’s your girlfriend -.”

“Hey, Liz, Maria drove for seven hours straight and kept a lookout while the rest of us slept. She’s done more than her share for tonight, so no whining about unfair, got it?”

“Sorry, Maria, I shouldn’t have said what I did, I should have thought of that myself.”

“Ok, Lizzie, it’s forgotten. We’ve arrived, so let’s check in and get to our rooms.”

“Before we all crash, though... Isobel, use your alien mojo and turn us all back into ourselves, will you.”

“Ok, Kyle, I’ll do the rounds of the rooms last thing and change everyone back until morning.”

The Green Apple’s hospitality was as good as promised and to Michael and Maria it offered all the delights of Paradise. They were together again and alone at last in a cheap motel room.

********

Chapter Four: Night Time

Maria followed Michael into their room, commenting that it was light years away from their first time alone together in the Sultan’s Hideaway and all the better for it. They shared a soft look, sharing memories of that long-ago night on the run to Marathon, Texas when something happened between them.

They were still staring at each other a few moments later when Isobel knocked on the door and peered cautiously round it before entering.

“Michael, you’re on guard first, so I’ll change you and Maria back now, ok.”

“Yeah, in a minute, Iz, but give me a second with Maria, can you. Go change Kyle before he has a hissy fit, then we’ll be ready.”

Left alone again, he looked nervously at Maria and cleared his throat.

“What? What’s wrong, Michael?”

“Nothing at all, princess, it’s just that…that I’d like it if Iz changed you back to the blonde you were before you went brunette, if that’s ok with you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Maria,” he said hurriedly, “ I love your hair, any color you choose is fine with me, I just wanted my Blondie back if only for this one night…”

Her green eyes shone with love and happiness as she crossed the space between them and flung herself into his arms.

“Of course, Spaceboy, I’ll be your Blondie for always if you want me to. Actually, I was bored with black anyway and was going to get Isobel to change it back after graduation.” She beamed up at him as Isobel returned, muttering to herself over Kyle.

“That guy is just a big kid, he’s never serious even now when we’re running for our lives.”

She waved her hand over Michael and his hair turned dark as the beard vanished and his shirt faded down to deep green.

Turning to Maria, she noted the mischievous sparkle in the big, green eyes and was not surprised to be asked for a special request from the colour chart, as Maria put it.

Isobel left and was soon followed by Michael heading out on first watch.

Reluctant as she was to let him out of her arms, Maria was still rather pleased to have two hours to catch some sleep so she could appreciate her Spaceboy properly, rather than through a fog of exhaustion. She made a token appearance in the shower, singing softly to herself, before sliding blissfully into bed and oblivion.

Outside in the chilly darkness, her own, powerful, alien lover prowled the shadows, alert for any danger that threatened those he had sworn to protect.

Sometime later he nearly killed a harmless, Buddhist ex-football captain who had slipped out early for his turn on watch.

There was a furious, though muted, exchange of views before peace was restored and a whispered conversation ensued.

“ Couldn’t sleep, Valenti?”

“Yeah, something like that, Guerin.” He had felt sad and helpless, listening to Isobel sob quietly to herself, and was secretly hurt that she wouldn’t let even him hold her as a friend to comfort her in her loneliness.

“Good, ‘cos I wanted to talk to you before the others. Have you had any thoughts about what happened back in Roswell?”

“To be honest, I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it as much as I can. It’s still too painful.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about it and something just feels wrong to me. I want to try out my theories on you and Maria before I share with the rest of us”.

“Yeah, they’re still in shock, and don’t need any more problems. Maria seems ok, though.”

“Yeah, I’m not too worried about her. She just needs some sleep.”

“So, what do you mean by ‘it feels wrong’? It WAS wrong, the whole damn business. “Wrong” doesn’t do it justice, it was evil, man, just evil –.”

“Calm down, Valenti, that wasn’t what I meant. Think about it, would the FBI really have killed us so publicly at a graduation ceremony in a high school gym? It’s an insane idea! There are so many other ways they could have taken us out – drive-by shootings, kidnap us off the street, storm the Crashdown after hours, even wait for us to split up and go to college – much more discreet. There was no need to even kill us. We’re much more valuable as lab specimens. Why choose that particular method, huh? Tell me that.”

“ … … … “

“At least say something, Valenti, even it’s just to tell me I’ve lost it.”

“Tempting, but no, I think you’re right, it was an insane idea, even for the FBI. Who do you think is really behind it?”

“Khivar for one, I don’t think that he would really give up as easily as he appeared to do. His Skins for another. Tess may not have killed them– she had made a deal with Khivar after all. Could have been another mind-warp. Still, I’m not totally convinced it was them, either. After all, where would Khivar have time to get all the Men in Black stuff organised? Just seems a bit too dramatic for a secret Government agency.”

“So, you don't think it's the Feds, then?”

“Can’t rule them out, just think there are other more likely suspects in the frame. All we can do is keep running for cover and hope we can shake our enemies, whoever they are.”

********

Chapter Five: Midnight

The soft snores coming from beneath the blankets made Michael Guerin’s lips part in the special smile that only his Maria ever saw. Moving silently as a cat, he crossed to the bathroom and closed the door as quietly as possible.

Most practical of the several powers he’d been practising secretly since his emancipation was one he’d seen Isobel use constantly on his apartment in the early days – and Tess had helped him with this as well – household chores the alien way. It saved him a fortune on cleaning products. His only problem had been remembering to do it when there were so many other distractions in his life.

In fact, he had taken it a logical step further and often gave himself an alien “scrub-down” to save time when he had been trying to study and hold down two jobs at once. He rather enjoyed the fizzy tingle on his skin and he considered it more thorough and hygienic than the human method, anyway. Maria hadn’t noticed and he suspected that she wouldn’t really approve if she knew. Her bath time ritual was her own private oasis and, indeed, he loved it too whenever she had let him join her.

He removed his clothes and gave them the once-over with his powers, ready for the morning, and did the same for Maria’s flimsy lingerie dripping from the shower rail. Touching the lacy things, he grew hot and thoughts of his Maria waiting naked for him on the other side of the door began to torment him, so that he found it hard to concentrate on his own alien routine.

Finally ready, he hesitated before he turned the handle on the bathroom door. Another moment and he would be lost again in the arms of his one true love, finding his home as their hearts, souls and bodies merged into blazing ecstasy.

His thoughts reached out to hers in their strange new connection, only to find her dreaming mind drifting in blissful memories of him holding her, loving her, making her scream out his name in joy and fulfilment.

Michael found himself in bed beside Maria, skin sliding over satin skin, lips kissing, sucking, licking, leaving scorching trails of fire and ice, teeth grazing, biting, hands stroking, exploring, probing, steel plunging in fire to ignite secret infernos in hidden hollows, pounding mercilessly into each other until white hot suns exploded in vast galaxies, falling into the velvet darkness of deep space, melded minds finding endless love, floating together into the distant stars until sleep claimed them both.

In another room, Liz was lying in bed beside Max, staring bleakly into the darkness. She had emerged from the shower trembling with anticipation, ready to make love again with her soul mate, her addiction to him sparkling through her veins like a drug.

He was asleep on the bed, still half dressed and curled up into a ball. She lay down with him and gently touched his shoulder, calling his name softly. He turned towards her in his sleep, instinctively opening himself to her embrace. Liz had sighed in disappointment, but resigned herself to just being with him until it was his turn for guard duty.

She awoke to his hot mouth sucking hard on her right nipple, as one of his hands grasped and kneaded her left breast and the other roughly explored the wet heat between her thighs. Her own hand slid down to find his hard @#%$ throbbing against her thigh, demanding entry to her electrified core. Surprised at the difference in his approach compared to the first time he had made love to her, she nonetheless willingly spread her legs, encouraging him to move into position above her. As he met her eyes he murmured her name in wonder and, regaining control of himself, began to push himself slowly and carefully into her. As she began to meet his thrusts, he suddenly stopped, withdrew and rolled them over until she was on top. As he slid into her once more, Liz suddenly felt the freedom this new position gave her and she rode him frantically, shouting his name, seeing images of stars and planets. Then blue eyes in a hated face stared down at her in exultant pleasure as Max’s memories flashed through her mind. He grasped her slim hips, surged with brutal intensity deep inside her and found his own release. Blind with savage satisfaction he cried out “Tess, oh, God, Tess!” before pulling Liz down against him and falling back into sleep.

Dazed and bewildered, Liz waited to feel the familiar pain of her heart shattering once again. Instead, a cold rage began to form and she rolled off of him to lie staring into the darkness beside him.

Later, his watch began to beep from the nightstand and he stirred again, sitting up and moving carefully away to take his turn on guard. She breathed deeply and pretended to be asleep, hoping he would leave her undisturbed for the next few hours. Her mind and body seemed to be frozen into numbness again and she barely registered his gentle kiss on her lips before he left quietly.

Time passed and Max was due to hand over to Liz, but he never returned and she dimly realized that he must have taken double duty so she could sleep on. How could he be so sweet and thoughtful and yet call Tess’s name instead of hers? She had been right when she told Maria that Max was only with her out of guilt. There was no other explanation.

She suddenly needed to talk to Maria and sat up, intending to get dressed and go find her. Liz needed her best friend right now, no matter if Michael objected or not.

Standing, reaching for her clothes, her gaze fell on Max’s pillow and she gasped in shock. A single white rose bloomed there, a gift he must have created for her when he left their bed.

Biting her lip to stop the threatened tears, she finished dressing and headed out to find Maria.

Peering through the widow of the bus, Max saw her leave their room, but he was in the grip of his own paranoia and merely resumed his suspicious watch on the movements of any early rising inhabitants of the small community who might display interest in guests at the Green Apple Motel.

Early morning light spilled through a chink in the curtains as Maria, held close in a sleeping Michael’s arms, found that even the familiar irritation of lying on the wet patch while she waited for him to wake up and dry it out for her (one of their own private rituals) didn’t diminish her feeling of total satisfaction. Spaceboy was back in her bed and their private world was back in balance again. Talking could wait, if they even still needed to after all that had gone on between them in the night. She looked up into his dark brown gaze and saw that he was now as open to her in every way as she was to him.

*** Maria, everything’s ok between us now, isn’t it? I mean… you know I love you and I know you love me, right? ***

Hmm, well maybe there were still a few words that needed to be said after all…

*** Always, Michael. I’ll never leave you again. You’re stuck with me forever, now, Spaceboy ***

*** Thank God for that, princess. Now, we have a little time left before breakfast, so got any ideas on how to kill the boredom. ***

*** Are you saying sleeping with me is boring, Spaceboy?***

*** No way, come back over here and I’ll prove it again***

*** Oh, Michael, just one thing before I do…***

*** What? ***

*** The wet patch…? ***

*** Oh, God, now I know we really are back together! ***

Only Maria’s ecstatically contorted face showed above the sheets as her alien boyfriend’s talented tongue between her thighs made her moan aloud in pleasure, and she didn’t hear the door open as Liz Parker walked in without knocking. Standing at the side of the bed, Liz narrowed tragic brown eyes on her oblivious best friend, coughing loudly several times to gain her attention.

Suddenly aware that they had company, Maria opened startled eyes as a tousled Michael Guerin erupted from the blankets and leapt out of bed. Unembarrassed by his nudity (although Liz’s eyes widened and she didn’t look away, noted Maria, smugly) he reached for his jeans.

“Liz, trouble on your watch? Tell me quick. Stay here with Maria, I’ll go get the others...”

“No, Michael, it’s nothing like that. Max took over my watch and I just need to speak to Maria about something…”

She quailed under his incredulous glare, backing off a step or two as he cursed aloud, then shooed her briskly out of the door and locked it behind her.

“Save it, Parker,” he growled before it slammed shut in her face, “Maria’s busy.”

Chapter six: Morning

“Gotta get off the Interstate today and start heading northwest into the mountains...” he lowered his voice.” …but first we steal us a car.”

Kyle looked up from the road map spread out over the remains of his enormous breakfast and grinned round at his friends, back in their now familiar disguises, scattered at the other tables in the Green Apple’s tiny, spotless restaurant.
Michael and Maria were the only ones sitting close together and looking happy to be there. Liz shared a table with Isobel, one angrily tearing a napkin to shreds and the other eating breakfast in another world.

Max, newly blond and spiky, sat at the last table eating mechanically, unable to tear his anguished gaze from the cold face of his soul mate. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong, but she had ignored him from the moment he’d come off guard duty and found her in the restaurant, sandy haired again and ordering juice and pancakes for one.

At Kyle’s announcement, they all looked up and hissed at him to be quiet. Their hostess, the burger guy’s friendly sister, had bustled in and out all through breakfast, chattering merrily with Kyle and Maria, smiling in a motherly way at them all as she refilled their cups and glasses. She would be back at any moment, so Kyle’s comment was too close to revealing their plans in front of an outsider, let alone the risk attached to his last remark.

Kyle shrugged, unrepentant. “We gotta move on, guys, time to hit the road.”

They all stood up and Michael, dipping his hand into his inside pocket for his wallet, went to find the office and check out. The others straggled over to the bus.

Liz grabbed Maria’s hand and they climbed aboard first, heading for the back seat then glaring at Max, Liz in distain and Maria on the general principal that if Liz was hurting again it must be Max’s fault.

He slunk into the single seat in the middle and instantly fell fast asleep.

Isobel settled into the seat across from him and gave him a concerned look as Kyle occupied the navigator’s seat once again.

When Michael arrived a few minutes later, he surveyed the faces and shook his head at them.

“Not good enough, people,” he said “if we’re gonna steal a car, we all have to be alert and concentrating– we don’t want the cops after us as well. Liz, wake Max up to join us, nobody sleeps through this one.”

Liz leaned forward and poked Max in the shoulder. He didn’t react. She shook him hard, but got the same result.

Michael, enigmatically watching this, reached over the back of the seat and slapped him sharply across both cheeks, frowning when he barely stirred. He wasn’t out to hurt Max, but Liz still flinched and Isobel bit back an involuntarily protest.

Michael sighed and said “He’s in trauma, can’t face his problems so he’s retreated from them the only way he can. We’ll just have to let him sleep until we’ve got time to help him. Somebody strap him in and keep an eye out for him. Liz, that’ll be your job.”

Liz looked as if she would like to refuse, but then she nodded and looked at Max with more warmth than she had all morning as she snapped the seatbelt in place around him.

Isobel regarded her brother with faint envy and wondered if retreating into deep sleep would be a solution to her own problems.

Michael fired the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot into the stream of traffic heading for the morning rush hour on the Interstate.

Kyle voiced the first vital question of the day.

“Ok, guys first of all, any suggestions on what type of wheels we need?”

“Winnebago? We may need a bed for Max if he’s gonna sleep much longer.”

“That’s cruel, Maria, Max can’t help it if he’s sick!”

“Sorry, Isobel, only half-joking, though. I really think some kind of car and trailer combo or RV would be best, if we must go camping. Lots of tourists do it, this is a major area for hiking and camping trails.”

“Not a bad idea, Maria. If we can get one of those, it might go someway towards bearable if we really have to camp.”

“We really do, Isobel. Sorry to disappoint you ladies, but the drawback is how far into the backwoods can we risk it before it gets stuck in the mud on the dirt roads? We’d be forced to stay in RV campsites. Expensive. Public. When we said camp we meant, like, really camp. In tents. In the mountains. No, what we need is some kind of off-road wilderness 4WD, like a Chevy Suburban or an SUV.”

“Valenti’s right. This is our only option for now and it will likely have to do for us for the rest of the summer, so we have to be prepared. First of all we’ve got to find somewhere to hide away and plan properly for the long term. This is just the emergency stage.”

Michael spared a glance from the road to look at Kyle seriously.

“You're the expert on cars, Valenti, so you’re our man.”

“You know, I don’t recall Buddha has any advice to cover this situation.”

“Too bad, Kyle, you gotta wing it, then”.

“Thanks for the support, DeLuca.”

“Anytime.”

“Next question. How are we gonna steal a Chevy from a dealer in broad daylight? Or even at night come to that.”

“Answer is, Valenti, you’re not. You are gonna rent one in the next city we come to."

“What, but you just said….”

“Michael means for us to steal one, it’s just that if we steal a rental we get more time to make our getaway”.

*** Nice thinking, Spaceboy ***

*** Thanks, Blondie, you can show me your appreciation later on. ***

*** If we ever get privacy again…(sigh)... Last night was Heaven…. ***

*** It will be again, Maria ***

“Pull over at the next rest station, Guerin, you can’t concentrate seriously when you’re driving.”

A few minutes later, they parked and Liz went over to the vending machines.

“What’s the plan, man?”

“We make the deal over the phone and arrange to pick it up just before they close. You stroll in, show the fake ID, pay the rental fee –oh, @#%$! Will they take cash? Will it look suspicious if we don’t use a credit card? Who uses cash for major stuff? @#%$ it, I thought I had a plan. Any ideas? Or will we have to just grab something off the street after all?”

“It still is a good plan, Guerin, don’t throw it out yet.”

“Here’s Lizzie with the drinks, thanks, chica. Ok, gang, we need ideas on how we can pay cash as a deposit without looking suspicious.”

Everyone reached for a can of cherry coke, two aliens added Tabasco, and they all thought hard.

DeLuca, you’re too quiet, you aren’t hatching some twisted plan in that flaky brain of yours?”

“Mmm, yeah, actually Kyle, I am. Isobel.”

“What?”

“Isobel puts on her blonde supermodel act and does a “maiden in distress” routine on the guy (it probably has to be a guy) at the rental place. Let me think, she’s in town staying with her mom, no, wait, her school friend, lost her wallet with her credit cards somewhere. She needs a car, a Chevy-whatever–you-said, Kyle, for a couple days to explore the area while her friend’s at work. Her friend has loaned her some cash, but the card situation is complicating her life. Will he take payment in cash? Pretty please? It doesn’t have to make too much sense if Isobel undoes enough buttons, thrusts her bust at him and promises to let him take her out to dinner when she returns from her little trip.” She giggled. “ Damn, I’m so brilliant, I dazzle myself, sometimes.”

There was complete silence for a while until Kyle slowly began to applaud. Michael beckoned her over to him in the driver’s seat and kissed her slowly and thoroughly while they all watched, stunned.

*** I. Am. Awed. Maria, you are a goddess ***

*** You are a god, yourself. My own personal sex god. Oh, we’re an unbeatable team, Michael ***

*** We’ll perform miracles later, babe ***

*** I’ll keep you to that, Spaceboy ***

Isobel was bright red, torn between fury and laughter. Then she gave in to laughter, suddenly close to hysteria along with the others, while Max quietly slept on through it all.

Ten minutes later, Kyle checked the map and then they drove on, crossing from New Mexico to Colorado and heading for Pueblo, where the fugitives intended to commit their first major crime in order to survive - Maria’s Grand Theft: Auto.

********

Chapter Six: Afternoon

Another dreary stretch of the interstate brought them to the exit for their destination. Spelling each other more frequently at driving this time, they hadn’t stopped for long again until now.

Liz and, understandably, Isobel had had uncomfortable thoughts on what they were about to do, Liz from a moral standpoint and Isobel because the success of the plan rested entirely on her. Max slept on, but the other three were looking forward to the action. As they drove, Kyle and Michael had discussed the camping requirements, with Maria enthusiastically contributing comments and suggestions.

Kyle was the most experienced member of the group in this respect, having gone camping and fishing frequently with the Sheriff as he grew up, so he was the one to draw up the list of vital equipment they needed.

Two family size all weather tents were a necessity, but Kyle knew they had to buy the best they could afford for extreme environments as well as providing some level of comfort for the girls.

He added two double and two single size soft insulation pads and six expedition sleeping bags to the list, as well as lanterns, flashlights, cooking equipment and more blankets.

Tools including an axe, saw and hunting knives were necessities, even with alien powers available.

Maria’s half-joking comment that she hoped all this stuff came with user manuals resulted in an air-blown kiss from Kyle, earning the glare he expected from Michael, and survival books being added to the list.

Warm clothing, hats and sun protection completed the list and when he finished they were astounded by the estimated cost. Michael had to re-think his plans for using alien cash sparingly. They’d just have to risk it, after all.

Stopping at the first supermarket they found, Liz and Isobel went to pick up more food supplies, enough for the next couple of days. They had agreed that they would be driving all night to put as many miles as they could between them and Pueblo, although if things worked out with the second car, there should be no more real need for that after a few days. Kyle went to find a local street map and a payphone to check out the rental places that hired out off- road vehicles and also to discover what ID would be needed. He came back to the bus with three circles on the map.

Once settled in again, this time with food and drink shared out among them, Liz and Maria tried to get Max to wake up, with some success. He had eventually responded to Liz’s gentle voice urging him to drink some warm Tabasco-laced milk and had struggled into semi-consciousness for a while. He drained two cups and ate several cookies that Maria dipped in the milk and fed him in bite-size pieces, before suddenly falling asleep again. The girls were distressed to see him so helpless and Michael promised them that as soon as they were somewhere safe, he would be their number one priority. The best thing they could do for him now was carry out their plan.

Liz kept a sharp eye on the frequent comings and goings of the other customers while the detailed planning took place.

They decided to try the same modus operandi on all three places in turn and see if they had any luck.

The bus would stay out of sight in a nearby street. Kyle, in the sweat pants and exercise vest fortuitously bought for comfort the previous morning, would jog slowly past making no effort to hide, just casually looking at the cars and the set up, trying to catch a glimpse of the office staff and, if he got a chance, start up a conversation with any employees around the place.

If he approved, Maria would drive to some big store downtown where Isobel would use the facilities to change into her supermodel persona. Meanwhile, Michael would change Maria’s ID and driver’s licence to fit Isobel.

Sometime during the afternoon, Isobel would walk into the rental office and con her way into possession of an expensive off-road vehicle to drive into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and disappear someplace without hot showers, comfortable beds or privacy that she just knew she was going to hate.

Isobel drove the big Chevy Suburban out of the city, heading for a rendezvous with her gang at the first rest area they saw westbound out of Pueblo towards Canon City. She smiled to herself, on a high from the success of her mission and pleased to be out of the hot, cramped bus and away from her grief and fear for a while. She could feel it in the back of her mind waiting to rise up and engulf her again, but she kept her thoughts firmly on her triumph over the last few hours and held it at bay.

She knew the others were back in the city buying tents and camping gear for the mountains.

Michael and Kyle had decided that they would spread their purchases over several stores along their route to minimise the risk of being memorably big spenders. They thought the major stuff could be bought in the big specialist stores as they had a high tourist turnover all year round for summer camping and winter sports. Maria and Liz waited with Max in the bus while the guys went into the first store.

Half an hour later, the guys returned carrying between them a large box and several large bags, which they loaded with some difficulty into the bus.

They now had one tent, three sleeping bags and double and single insulation pads.

At the next store they repeated their purchases, adding some of the smaller items from their list, such as flashlights and batteries.

By this time there was no room left in the bus, and Michael decided that it was time to go find Isobel.

They arrived at the rendezvous and eventually found the Chevy taking up two spaces in the busy parking lot, but no Isobel inside. They found a space nearby as Liz and Kyle began to panic. Maria figured she was in the restroom and wanted to go look for her but Michael stopped her, saying it wasn’t safe for her to go alone in case there really was something wrong. All they could do was wait until she appeared. Maria argued a little, but her heart wasn’t in it. She knew he was right.

Isobel strolled across to the bus from the coffee shop where she had been passing the time and dismissed Michael’s annoyance with a pout and a raised eyebrow.

“It would have seemed strange if I’d just sat in the car for two hours gazing at nothing. As it was I could keep watch for you from a discreet vantage point and have coffee and cake while I waited. I can occasionally think for myself, Michael. ”

“Well, it’s about damn time, Isobel.”

“Guys, guys, cool it, let’s just unpack the stuff and divide it up between the bus and the Chevy, shall we?”

“I saved a space for you so we could transfer stuff to the Chevy without being too noticeable. Drive over there and I’ll make room.

“Ok, but then can we go have coffee and cake, too?”

“I don’t see why not, Maria, we deserve a little celebration for our first successful heist this afternoon. I fixed the security cameras and the hot chocolate is heaven.”

“Look out, world, the Scooby Gang are on their way.”

“They solved mysteries, Maria, they didn’t commit serious crimes.”

“We may have to do both before we’re safe, Liz.”

“What do you mean, Kyle? We have to solve mysteries?”

Kyle noticed Michael’s warning glare and back-pedalled fast.

“Just a feeble joke, Liz, no need to get anxious. How’s Max? Is it safe to leave him in the bus for a while?”

Liz was instantly diverted. “No, I don’t think we should leave him alone, Kyle. What if he wakes up and there’s nobody around? I’ll stay with him and you can all go to the coffee shop, I really don’t mind.” Her attitude had changed from the morning, her love and concern for him overrode her earlier anger and all she wanted was her Max, strong and well, back in his rightful place leading them all again. She helped the others move half of the boxes and bags outside, then curled up on the floor beside him and rested her head against his knee, closing her eyes and wishing they were back in Roswell before Tess arrived and the long fight against their enemies began.

********

Chapter Seven: Sunset

Heading west towards Canon City, with the prospect of an all-night drive facing them, there were contrasting moods in the two vehicles.

Earlier, the four in the coffeeshop had discreetly conferred and agreed that there were three immediate priorities: disguise the Chevy and change the bus again; continue their low-key shopping spree for equipment; and move on as fast as they could.

It was still early evening, too light and public to act on the first of these. They would have to wait until dark and find somewhere quiet to do it.

Shopping was on hold until the next day, when they could devote more time to various specialist shops in the next city and work their way through Kyle’s list. They would plan that in more detail over breakfast.

Finally, they agreed it made sense to go direct to Canon City, keeping each other in sight and stopping once an hour at rest stations to change drivers and move on without any lengthy pauses.

Isobel had insisted that Max be transferred to the air-conditioned comfort of the Chevy and Liz had insisted on going with him. Michael was concerned at leaving them alone with an unpredictable Max, and suggested Kyle go too but Isobel was confident that she could handle any problems that might occur. Michael still had doubts, but didn’t push it. He figured that changing drivers frequently at rest stops to stay alert would enable him to keep an eye on the situation and he’d volunteer Kyle as human sacrifice if necessary.

He was aware, through their connection, that Maria didn’t think Liz and Isobel were a good combination for any length of time. In Maria’s opinion, and Michael feared she was right, anxiety about Max could become Isobel’s consolation because it was a distraction from her anguish over Jesse. She said rivalry over Max would eventually come to a head as both Liz and Isobel were possessive about him. Michael hoped to God she was wrong, because he just couldn’t deal with emotional sh*it on top of the practical problems he was struggling with right now.

Cruising along in the unaccustomed comfort of the Chevy, Isobel and Liz were united in worry about Max, but the two girls had never been really close or comfortable as friends and now, effectively left alone together, they had nothing to say to each other. All topics of conversation were barred to them – because recalling the fear and horror of Graduation night would release their demons, discussion about Max was too dangerous a subject and small talk was pointless. So Isobel drove onwards, keeping a few cars between the Chevy and the bus, but careful to remain within sight of it. Liz stared out of the window or at Max.

Michael was relieved they were gone. Forced by circumstances to grow up a loner, the time spent in close proximity to the others in the cramped bus had been winding his nerves up to screaming-point and testing his hard won self-control to the limits. He could feel the tension drain out of him as he lounged on the back seat of the bus, stretching his long legs out in front of him between the seats and relaxing into a rare light-hearted mood. Maria, sensing her boyfriend’s need for space, had merely kissed him affectionately and settled down in the front seat to exchange desultory remarks and insults with Kyle. The three were developing an easy-going understanding that was a comfort to them all.

Michael picked up a survival manual from their last shopping foray and, with his sketchpad on the seat beside him for making notes, called on a useful human skill - speed-reading, another of his private secrets shared with no one. Although he never admitted it to anyone (if Maria saw it in flashes, she was tactful enough not to mention it) books had been his escape from the pain of his life with Hank and the public library in Roswell had been a refuge when there was nowhere else to hide. For years he had used his fledgling powers to slip inside, hunched up in a chair with a torch and a book to pass many nights lost in other worlds when he couldn’t sleep on Max’s floor.

He realized that he had to be as well prepared as possible for the dangerous months ahead and so, interrupted only once by a spell of driving, he absorbed the information in the manual as fast as he could.

Sometime later, he broke out of his concentration and found Maria had moved back to the middle seat and was also reading. In her case, it was some handouts on Colorado state parks she had picked up in the coffeeshop at their first stop out of Pueblo.

They were causing her to frown and bite her lip. He found this so cute that he gave into the pleasure of watching her until her voice cut sharply through his thoughts.

“Earth to Spaceboy, drool time is over for now. Kyle, you pay attention, too. I’ve got an idea.”

“Go on, then, princess, let’s hear it.”

“Yeah, DeLuca, share. It always scares me when you go quiet.”

“Scare too easily, Valenti, grow a backbone.”

“Pot and kettle, Guerin, she’s got you whipped. It’s a tragic sight to see, man.”

“Uh-oh, she heard that. You’re a marked man, Valenti.”

“Ok, guys, I’ll ignore that, just this one time only, because I’m serious. I do have an idea.”

Maria eyed them both severely and they hurriedly tried to school their expressions into something approaching seriousness, but it was too difficult and all three burst out laughing.

Kyle, heading the bus into a spectacular green and gold mountain sunset, laughing with his friends as if they had no care in the world when they were in reality running for their lives, suddenly felt memories he’d left behind in Roswell flash across his mind in a searing montage, all too fleeting for him to catch except a few burning images which lingered before his eyes.

The hate and resentment he’d felt against the alien quartet for his dad’s humiliation when he was fired as Sheriff.

Tess, killing Alex and fleeing into space with the baby.

Her sudden re-appearance and violent death reviving all the good memories as well as the bad ones, adding guilt at secretly still missing her to the hate for all the pain she’d caused.

His unrequited feelings for Isobel, still undiminished even after he’d reconciled himself to her marriage.

His last hug from his dad, knowing it would be years before they met again, if they ever could.

The final image was Tess, blue eyes gazing down at him in exultant pleasure as she rode with him into the most incredible release he had ever known.

The images swirled and mingled in his mind. He suddenly found the pain was physical and unbearable after all. He stared in horror into the green sunset light as the world started to shudder and shake around him and he fell into darkness.

In the Chevy, nothing had changed for hours except that Liz was again staring out of the window while Isobel drove. They had shared some coffee and cookies earlier, but more for something to do than because they were hungry. Both of them looked forward to the hourly changeovers as a break from the monotony.

Max suddenly cried out behind them and so, checking this out in the rear view mirror, Isobel missed seeing the bus pull off the road and jolt to a stop just short of a high whitewashed wall set some distance back from the highway.

Liz, seeing only Max glowing green in the dusk behind her, freaked and screamed at Isobel to get Michael, drive faster, find a rest station, do SOMETHING. Isobel complied, gripping the wheel until her knuckles grew white, moving over into the fast lane and accelerating to the speed limit.

Liz was struggling to reach Max and Isobel had to hit her twice on the shoulder to gain her abstracted notice.

“ Liz, DON’T touch him, LIZ! DON’T! Listen to me! It’s his forcefield and you’ll get hurt if you touch it. Leave him alone”

“Isobel. Isobel, what’s happening?”

“I don’t know, Liz. Here’s a rest station now. Just going to pull over into the corner and wait for the others. They must have seen us overtake and they’ll be along in a minute.”

They both looked fearfully over at Max, still glowing, though growing fainter and intermittent, like a light bulb flickering, warning of a power cut.

Max suddenly opened his eyes, sat up, smiled lovingly at Liz and said “Tess, you’re back, I missed you so much.”

********

Chapter Eight: Night Advances

Michael didn’t notice that Kyle suddenly stopped laughing and slowed the bus right down, until the jolting and juddering as it pulled off the road nearly threw him across the seat. His instinctive response to danger allowed him to recover his balance and dive for the driver’s seat, with the intention of grabbing the wheel and turning it so they wouldn’t hit the wall ahead of them.

He found Kyle enveloped in a green haze and the bus slowly rolling to a halt a few inches short of the wall.

Keeping his eyes on Kyle, he pulled Maria out of her seat, used his powers to open the nearest door and pushed her towards it.

*** Maria, get the hell away from the bus. I don’t know what the f*ck’s goin’ on with Valenti, so stay outside and keep your distance. Wait for the others.***

*** . No. I’m not leaving you.***

*** I want you safe, so go. NOW. ***

*** If you stay, I stay, Michael. I’m safest with you, so don’t even think about arguing. Kyle wouldn’t hurt us, anyway. Is he OK? What happened? Why did he pull over?***

*** Let me check him out before we do anything else, Maria. At least he’s stopped glowing. Man, that was scary for a minute, back there, thought we were gonna crash into the wall.***

*** What do you mean, “glowing”? Kyle was glowing? Look, he’s starting to come round. Out of the way, Michael, let me get to him.***

She moved him aside and climbed over the back of the passenger seat. Kyle was blinking in a dazed way and turned to look at her as she gently took his face in her hands to inspect him for damage. He appeared to be unhurt, though tired, and he made an effort to pull himself together under her concerned gaze. Michael, now crouched behind them, gripped his friend’s shoulder briefly in reassurance.

“Let Maria check you over, Valenti, you musta had some kind of blackout there for a while. How do you feel?”

Kyle thought about it. His head hurt real bad and he still ached all over from remembered pain. He guessed that he’d had some kind of delayed shock reaction with his life passing before his eyes. Or was that when you were drowning? He couldn’t remember.

“Uh, I don’t feel so good, I guess. Maybe I got dazzled by the sunset, or something. I remember the light was green and … pain … and then, nothing. Is the bus ok?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s you we’re worried about, Kyle. Are you up to moving to the back of the bus? You should lie down for a while. Get some rest. Michael will drive. I’ll stay in back with you.”

He didn’t argue, just opened the door and got very slowly and stiffly out onto the ground, where he stood for a moment to breathe deeply.

Maria and Michael came round the outside of the bus to join him, Maria sounding puzzled and a little worried as she suddenly remembered the rest of the group in the Chevy.

“Michael - the others, they should have been here by now. They must have seen us pull off the road, they’d know something was wrong. Why aren’t they here? Why didn’t they stop?”

“Maria, they’ll be waiting for us at the next rest station, thinking we’ve got some engine problem or something. We're only a few minutes behind them, don't panic".

“Guess I’ll get back in the bus so we can get movin’ again, Guerin. Shouldn’t keep Liz and Isobel waiting too long or they’ll start to really worry.”

“I’ll just get one of the new pillows to make you comfortable on the back seat, Kyle, it won’t take a moment.”

“Thanks, Maria, but I don’t want to make any fuss. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine when I’ve had some rest…”

“One pillow isn’t making a fuss, Kyle. Get in the bus and I’ll be with you in a second.”

He was glad to obey her, as his head continued to ache and sleep was all he wanted right then.

Moments later, the bus was moving again with Michael driving and Maria sitting sideways with her legs across the middle seat, so she could check on Kyle and still see Michael as he drove.

*** What exactly happened back there, Spaceboy? I could feel you panic, try to push me out of the bus (which, by the way, we will be discussing later) and then suddenly you were fine, barely worried at all. Did you say Kyle glowed? Why aren’t you worried?***

*** Because, princess, you know what? I think it’s his alien mojo starting to kick in. Valenti, an alien, better yet … a glowing green alien? Oh, man, I can’t wait to break the news to him when he wakes up ***

*** Michael, that’s a good thing for Kyle, right? I mean, the more powers we have as a group the better we can protect ourselves and survive. He won’t have to be like Liz and go through it all alone, he’ll have all of you to help him.***

*** All of us to help him including you, Maria, don’t exclude yourself just because you’re the only full human now. Human, alien, whatever, you’re as vital to the group as anyone else, princess, and a you’ve made a damn sight more useful contributions than some people I could name. Ok, ok, I won’t go there, you’ll only get mad at me.***

*** Thank you for making me feel better, Michael. I guess I was letting myself get a little bit jealous about everyone having secret powers apart from me… Oh, but I wish we could have some time alone together, Spaceboy, I really need you to put your arms around me and hold me tight.***

*** First chance we get I’ll be all over you like a rash, princess. Meantime, if this new mind thing isn’t a secret power, what is?

*** Oooh, yes, Michael, I never thought of that.***

*** Maria, I want this to be our secret, just for us. I don’t want to share it with anyone else, is that ok with you?***

*** Yes, I want it to just be our own special thing, too, Spaceboy. It’s such an incredibly romantic secret to have.***

*** Guess maybe I can be romantic after all, Blondie. Just let that be our little secret, too, ok? Here’s the rest station coming up. Wanna bet on whether or not Isobel has killed Liz yet? Winner gets oral sex when we stop for breakfast.***

*** That’s the kind of bet I like, Spaceboy – everyone wins! I bet it’s the other way round, though, and Liz has killed Isobel.***

He turned the bus into the parking lot, noting that it was fairly full in the brightly lit area, but the remoter parts were dark and empty except for one now familiar vehicle. Isobel must have shot the lights out.

“There they are, over in the corner. Better brace ourselves for the fall-out.”

As he spoke, Michael drew the bus up beside the Chevy. Before he had switched off the engine the Chevy’s door opened, Liz emerged and stalked purposefully over to the van.

*** Still too soon to call, princess. She could be fresh from her kill or walking wounded… ***

Liz climbed in the side door and sat next to Maria, resting her head on her best friend’s shoulder.

“What the hell kept you, Michael? Oh, don’t even bother to tell me, I’m not interested. I’m riding with Maria from now on. You and Isobel can deal with His Royal Majesty the Former F*ucking King of Antar."

“Lizzie, chica, something’s happened with Max. What’s wrong now?”

“Yes, something’s happened with Max. Ask Isobel, she’ll tell you. I have finally, FINALLY had enough. Max Evans and I are over for good.”

*** I think we should just call it a draw, princess, don’t you? We’ll maybe skip breakfast so we both get some action, ok, babe.***

********

Chapter Nine: Straight on Ďtil Morning

Michael was more than happy to leave Liz to Maria. Isobel would give him the story without all the emotional drama that Liz seemed to indulge in. He sighed to himself. He hoped Valenti woke up soon. Maybe he wouldn’t even give the guy a hard time over the glowing green alien thing. It wasn’t that funny any more.

He found Isobel in the driver’s seat with a sleeping Max in the back and slid into the seat beside her.

“Max has woken up, I assume? Just left a royally pissed off Liz venting to Maria in the bus. What happened?”

Isobel brought him up to date.

“So his forcefield showed up as a green glow surrounding him? Then he woke up, saw Liz, mistook her for Tess and said he missed her, then went back to sleep? There’s way too much sleeping going on around here. Kyle is also doing a Sleeping Beauty routine in the bus. Similar special effects, too.”

“Kyle is glowing green, as well? Is it the alien healing effect starting to show?”

“I guess so, Iz. It seems the most likely explanation. Max and Liz didn’t turn green and sleepy when Liz got powers, though.”

“No, and he didn’t think she was Tess then, either. What’s going on, Michael?”

“How should I know, Isobel? Whatever it is, we don’t need it right now. We are still running for our lives and we can’t let this, whatever it is, distract us. We’ll all just have to sit it out and deal with whatever happens. Our priority is still to find a place to hide. This just makes it more difficult. Kyle is now an unpredictable factor, just like Max. We can’t let them out in public, in case the glowing thing starts up again. Great! This is all I need…”

He glanced over at Max again, before turning back to Isobel.

“You still ok with being alone with him and Liz for a while longer? I don’t want to put the sleeping beauties in together yet - too risky”.

“Can’t Maria change places with Liz? She’s good with Max and she won’t freak if he glows again.”

“Maria stays with me at all times. She’s the most vulnerable one of us all now, with no alien defences of her own. I’m gonna protect her, no matter what, Iz.”

“Then I’d rather be on my own with Max. Liz can travel in the bus, Michael. She’ll be better off away from him for a while, anyway.”

“Sorry, but Liz stays with the Chevy for the duration, or until Max or Kyle are back in the loop. Our resources are too stretched right now. She’ll just have to deal.”

He opened the door, climbed out, then leaned back in to add an afterthought. “We’ll still stop every hour to change drivers, but we add an extra check every twenty minutes by overtaking each other instead of stopping, ok? See you in a while, Iz.”

Left alone in the bus with an agitated Liz, Maria patted her soothingly. It didn’t work.

Liz angrily sat up, turned to face Maria and spat out “Do you know what that ass*hole did? He called me T…”. she choked on her rage and tried again. “He c-called me Tess! Again! He called me Tess and told me he’d missed me so much…”

“He’s been behaving irrationally since we left Roswell, Liz. It must have been the last straw - the FBI again, just when he thought he was relatively safe at last. You surely can’t believe he’d hurt you deliberately. It would be a suicidal thing to do, he knows I’d kill him myself, and Max really does love you, no doubt about that, chica.”

“Then why does he think about her when we’re making love, Maria? I know he does, because I saw flashes and he thought I was her and called out her name… Oh, God, I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it.”

“He did WHAT? Oh, he’s dead meat, Liz. Don’t worry, as soon as I get my hands on him, he’s history, chica. Never mind the FBI, I’ll make him wish he’d never been hatched. Why didn’t you say anything about this before?”

“Michael wouldn’t let me talk to you; when I came to speak to you about it, he threw me out and slammed the door in my face. He’s just so rude and he’s treated you so badly most of the time you’ve been together. Sometimes, I wonder how you can bear to be with him, Maria.”

“Oh, he’s got a few good points that make up for all that crap….”

Liz suddenly giggled and looked knowing. “Yeah, I saw one of them this morning. Ve-ry impressive. You may be a lucky girl, after all.”

Maria chose to ignore the remark. She didn’t feel comfortable discussing Michael with Liz any more. The confidences on the night of the rave had been a drunken aberration. They were no longer the two little Crashdown waitresses giggling about kisses over ice-cream in the kitchen after hours. Their friendship had changed almost beyond recognition. Maria would always be there for her, but she knew she was now just basically the audience for the drama of Liz’s life. The worst thing was that she no longer quite trusted this new Liz and somewhere inside of her it cut deep.

Liz had grown obsessed with Max, Tess and the alien royalty sh*it, which Maria had never really bought into, despite Michael’s struggles over his soldier of destiny crap. In spite of it all, she just couldn’t believe how anyone would seriously allow past lives to dictate the present.

She thought wryly to herself that she didn’t need Madame Vivienne’s crystal ball to predict that she would be drawn back into Liz’s demented little Max-drenched world-view if she weren’t careful. In fact, it looked depressingly like she was in for the long haul.

Liz was still talking. “…round and he was glowing green in the dark. I totally freaked and Isobel took off and got us here to wait for you. She wouldn’t let me touch him, said it was his forcefield, which is probably true, we’ve all seen it in action. Then Max suddenly woke up, thought I was Tess and told her he missed her so much.”

“Oh, Lizzie, I’m so sorry. But like Michael said, as soon as we find a safe place to hide for a little while, we can help him and Kyle get better. We just need to keep moving on for a while until we’re sure we’re not being followed. It won’t be long now, chica. Michael knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, I guess, but I can’t handle this Tess thing with Max again. I can’t deal with all this any more. I’ve woken up from the nightmare. It’s all over, Maria.”

She rested her head on Maria’s shoulder again and closed her eyes.

“Don’t you dare go to sleep, Lizzie, Michael will kill you, if I don’t get you first. Oh, he’s back. What’s the latest, Spaceboy?”

“Gotta get moving again, Maria. Isobel is waiting for you in the Chevy, Liz, we’re ready to roll.”

“No, Michael, I told you I’m going to ride with Maria from now on.”

Michael took a deep breath and a firm grip on his temper. He would have patience with Parker if it killed her.

“Look, Liz, try to see it from the group point of view. Max and Kyle are out of it for we don’t know how long. That leaves just you, Isobel, Maria and me to do the driving and keep a lookout. It’s hard, but we have to take care of each other even when it’s tough going. That means doing things we don’t like. So, you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and get back in the Chevy.”

“What’s wrong with Kyle, why can’t he go in the Chevy?”

*** She doesn’t know?***

*** Haven’t had a chance to mention it yet, Spaceboy***

“We think Kyle is beginning to change, he glowed for a moment back there just like Max and now he’s asleep, also like Max. There must be a connection, but we haven’t figured it out yet and, as I keep saying, we don’t have time.”

“Maria can go, instead. Isobel likes her, so she’ll be pleased.”

“Liz, you have powers, you can defend yourself if we meet any trouble. Maria can’t, so she stays with me.”

“Isobel has powers, she can protect Maria just as easily as you, maybe better…”

Michel closed his eyes and fought for self-control.

“That’s not the point, Liz. Think about it. Isobel can’t be expected to protect both Max and Maria. It isn’t fair on her”.

“I’ll do it, Michael. We’re just wasting time here. If it keeps the peace for a while, it may be for the best.”

*** We’ll still be in contact, Spaceboy, so you’ll know right away if anything happens. ***

*** No, Maria. I want you safe here with me, where I can see you, not out there in danger.***

*** My decision, Spaceboy. It’s for the good of the group. Like you keep saying, we don’t have time for this ***

“Maria….”

“Max is harmless, if you don’t touch him when he’s green. All he does is sleep, glow and, presumably, dream about Tess.”

“Maria!”

“I’m going now. Take good care of Kyle and don’t forget, we have a date for breakfast, Michael.”

She leaned over and kissed him, patted his cheek and was gone.

Michael raised his hand and all the doors on the bus opened, then slammed shut at once. It didn’t help his frustration one iota.

It didn’t wake Kyle, either.

Without his Maria and only Liz Parker for company in the foreseeable future, he started up the bus and pulled out across the parking lot into the late night traffic. He noted with relief that she wasn’t sitting beside him. Her sense of self-preservation was excellent, as always.

Isobel had cheered up immediately when Maria jumped into the passenger seat of the Chevy. She liked the smaller girl, who had been kind and understanding after Alex died, sometimes inviting Isobel for coffee, sharing grief and memories of the special boy they’d both loved. Nobody else except her mother had really thought of her feelings and Isobel never forgot that. Their low-key friendship had continued after her wedding to – she veered away from the memory in panic. The monotony of hours spent with a silent Liz had brought back her depression with a vengeance. The interlude with sleepy, green Max had frightened her until it had become obvious that nothing else was going to happen.

She had felt bad for Liz when Max had mistaken her for Tess and sympathised with her feelings, but she could see that he had no control over the matter, so she reserved her judgement on his guilt. All she could do for him was watch for their enemies and head as far away from Roswell as possible.

As Isobel moved the Chevy out into the light evening traffic, closely following the bus this time, Maria began to rummage around in the back seat looking for the food supplies, careful not to disturb Max.

“When did you last eat, Isobel?”

“Oh, Liz and I had some juice and cookies earlier on, but I could really use some coffee, Maria. How about you?”

“Coffee is a must. Food, too, come to think about it. Kyle and I shared a candy bar when Michael was deep in survival manuals. We were all going to eat properly later on, but then Kyle went Kermit and everything else went out of my mind. I hope Michael remembers to eat. It’s too long until breakfast and he must keep his strength up.”

Isobel was amused.

“I don’t think anything could make Michael forget about food, Maria.”

Maria was carefully making their coffee in two cups suspended in the cup-holders, one of the many comforts provided as standard in the Chevy’s luxurious interior that the Jetta had lacked. Isobel noticed that she had poured the water and waved her hand to heat it up. Maria added milk to both cups, sugar and Tabasco to one. Isobel nodded her thanks as Maria picked up the conversation again.

“I know you’re right, Isobel, it’s just that I worry about him. His worst nightmare has come true and he’s not only running from his enemies, but he’s had to take on the leadership and protection of the whole group.”

“It seems to agree with him, though. In fact he’s far more calm and stable than I’ve ever seen him before.”

“Yes, he is. Between you and me, I even think some part of him is secretly enjoying it.” Maria suddenly recognised the truth she already knew in her heart. “Michael’s found a goal to aim for, and it’s the one that he’s totally involved in, heart and mind. He’s been expecting it and he’s prepared himself for it mentally and physically over the years. Now it’s happened and I …I think he feels …fully alive for the first time in his life.”

“You feel the same way, don’t you, Maria? That’s how you know. I can see it shining in your eyes, when you look at him.”

“I know it’s totally weird, but yes, it feels kind of like …freedom for me, Isobel. I’ve left a whole life behind me in Roswell, and the only thing - the only thing I miss is my mom.”

Isobel’s watch beeped and she checked the rearview mirror before she pulled out to pass the bus. Drawing level, little waves and nods were exchanged between the occupants, then the Chevy moved ahead of the bus and settled in to lead for a while.

*** How you doin’, Blondie, everything ok?***

Maria heard Michael’s voice in her head and sent him a kiss.

*** Doin’ fine, Spaceboy. How are you holding up? Any change with Kyle yet? Has Liz calmed down? ***

*** The answers are: ‘just about’; ‘no, dammit’ and ‘don’t give a sh*t’.***

*** Hmm, grumpy…time to eat, Spaceboy. Offer Liz some cookies or candy from the green bag on the floor by Kyle’s feet. It will keep you both going until we reach the next stop. Not long now, then you can give me a hug ***

*** Not soon enough for me. Liz is no substitute for you, princess. It’s cold here without you***

Their mental conversation had taken mere seconds and Maria returned her attention to Isobel sitting next to her.

The alien girl was sipping from her coffee cup and looking more relaxed than Maria had seen her since they’d run away. Maria decided not to coax reciprocal confidences for the moment. She thought Isobel could use a little normal for a while and suggested some music. Isobel didn’t mind, so she hunted until she found a station they both liked, then they settled back to cruise along in comfortable companionship, Maria singing along softly with the radio now and then.

Kyle and Max briefly turned green again, but nobody noticed.

********

Chapter Ten

Somewhere between midnight and 3 am, the Chevy and the bus were given another make-over. Isobel changed the Chevy’s paintwork from silver to dark red, gave it Indiana plates and removed all signs of its rental status. The bus became dark blue with Iowa plates.

The fugitives travelled on through the night towards Canon City still following the same routine –stopping to change drivers every hour and report any green outbreaks, which were happening with increasing frequency, both separately and simultaneously, though still for no more than a minute or two each time.

At every rest area they came to, Liz was first out of the bus, hurrying towards the Chevy, desperate for her best friend. Maria, feeling a little guilty about her earlier thoughts on their friendship, knowing that Liz was devastated by Max’s behaviour, gave her friend as much comfort as she could during the few minutes they had at each stop. There was no worse humiliation that Max could inflict on Liz than calling out Tess’s name instead of hers. Maria suspected it might finally have killed the relationship, so she willingly gave Liz all the tenderness and concern she demanded.

Michael and Isobel, unaware of the extent of Liz’s pain, seeing Max’s involuntary remark about missing Tess as barely more than a clue in the mystery of the Kyle/Max connection, were not particularly sympathetic.

To Michael, who had never more than tolerated Liz at the best of times and usually ignored her if he could, her presence in the bus instead of Maria, combined with her monopolisation of his only recently regained girlfriend, was a growing source of irritation.

Isobel watched with detachment, and some sympathy, but her loyalties were with her brother if there had to be a choice.

It was a long night for those awake in the bus and when Michael suggested that the next stop should be for a real breakfast outside Canon City, Liz was thankful for a respite from her misery.

They chose a place on the outskirts with an attractive coffeeshop and a tourist information booth and the Chevy followed them in. As they had driven further into the mountains there was a marked increase in the number of SUVs and 4WDs around and even a few other buses not dissimilar to their own as the summer tourist season began, so unobtrusive parking was not difficult. Michael and the three girls gathered between the two vehicles to confer on the best way to arrange cover for the duration of their stay.

Maria, concerned as she was for Liz and sympathetic to Isobel’s grief and loneliness, still needed some time to herself with Michael and knew, from his increasingly lurid comments in her mind, that he felt the same way.

Michael reminded the girls that they would still have to spend the day shopping for camping equipment, although without Kyle’s advice and guidance, but he said that he’d got more understanding of what was needed since he’d started reading the survival manual, so he thought they would be ok to carry on as planned.

At this point, Maria had a sudden recollection.

“ Michael, I just remembered the idea I had in the bus last night before Kyle ran it off the road. Since none of us, except Kyle, have had much experience at camping, what do you think about spending a week at a tourist campsite in a state park? I mean, it would give us all time to learn the basics in a safe environment, we could hide among the tourists and it would give us the privacy we need to help Kyle and Max.”

Michael glanced round at the girls and noticed that they were all looking at him hopefully. He leaned against the Chevy and considered the idea.

All Maria’s arguments were sound. The main drawback was that they would be tied down in one spot for a significant length of time, long enough for their enemies to find them. However, he was becoming more and more convinced that if they were, in fact, being followed they had out-run any pursuers for the moment. He had no intention of dropping his guard or letting the others do so either but there had been no signs of pursuit as far as his instincts and observations could tell. Anticipating their route and arranging surveillance in advance of their arrival would have been logistically impossible without unlimited personnel resources, which he didn’t believe their enemies, even the FBI, had. Even if they had been followed, their pursuers were so far behind that they were unlikely to trace the group, now split, among the plethora of RVs and buses in the area. Another general cosmetic makeover would cloud the waters even more.

He was swayed by the opportunity for them to learn the basics in, as Maria pointed out, a relatively safe environment. It would buy them time before they had to move out into the more remote areas and give them confidence in their ability to survive. There would be rangers around who could even unknowingly help and advise them if they were cautious about what story they told. It suited his long-term plans for their summer in the wilderness and so he smiled at Maria and sent her a mental kiss. Not long now before it got to be physical…

He looked round at the group, and saw that they were all smiling at him, even Liz, so he shrugged and said, “Ok, that’s what we’ll do if you’re all happy about it. Dig out those leaflets from the bus, Maria, and bring them along to breakfast.”

“ We can’t all go at once - who’s going to do guard duty first?” Isobel poured cold water on his hopes for a tryst with his girlfriend.

Maria sighed, seeing the prospect of any significant private time with Michael receding fast as reality bit. Liz would expect to be with her for a longer spell of tlc and she didn’t see how she could refuse without hurting her feelings. Maria knew how hard it was to watch a happy couple when your own heart was broken, but she repressed the urge to show Liz, never sensitive in that area herself, just what that felt like when the tables were turned.

“The fairest way is to toss a coin, I suppose. Everyone spins once and the first two that come up heads have breakfast together and come back to take over guard duty.”

“Good thinking, Isobel. Here’s a quarter, you go first.”

Michael leaned nonchalantly on the Chevy, watched the coin in the air and concentrated hard. He wasn’t about to lose this chance.

“Heads.”

“Liz, you’re next, chica”

*** Go for it, Spaceboy ***

“Heads.”

*** Oh, yessss!!!***


“That’s you and Isobel for first breakfast, then, Lizzie.” Maria still felt guilty, but – what the hell - Michael needed her, too. She would be spending a whole lot of time with Liz anyway in the foreseeable future, especially when Max woke up. “Why don’t you take the leaflets, then you both can scope out the state parks between you. Michael and I will find a map and city guide at the tourist booth place and plan how to get the rest of the equipment on Kyle’s list.”

Liz rather sulkily reached into the bus and collected the leaflets from the single seat where Maria had left them earlier.

Isobel gave Michael a suspicious stare, then grinned at Maria.

“We’ll be back in half an hour. Try not to spontaneously combust….”

Maria laughed and Michael rolled his eyes at Isobel’s departing back. They looked at each other, turned to check on their respective charges, then leaned back against the Chevy, side by side, but careful to keep a little distance between them.

Responsibility was hell…

Sharing a table in the corner away from the window, Isobel ate her chocolate croissant, missing the Tabasco tang, but enjoying it all the same. Liz ate a Danish and sipped a glass of milk without tasting it, eyes full of misery and pain.

Isobel tried to make Liz feel a little better. The girl was suffering. “Liz, look, I know it was a shock when my brother came out with… that name, but you know there’s something going on with him and Kyle and this alien healing thing. It’s in the past and you’re together now, just as you deserve to be. You’ve been through so much, why give up now when he clearly didn’t know what he was saying? Don’t you think you should wait and talk to him about it when he’s himself again before you rush into any decisions you might regret?”

Liz looked up from her pastry. “Sorry, Isobel, I know you’re being kind, and if it was just that one time then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s not the only thing.”

“Why, what else has happened, Liz? I know we’ve never been close, but we’ve only got each other to depend on now and I hate to see you like this.”

Liz couldn’t bring herself to share with Max’s sister the humiliating details of her sex life, however sympathetic she might be. It was so not going to happen. She looked away.

“I can’t talk about it, Isobel, I’m sorry. It just hurts too much. I have to protect myself or I’ll be lost. Please understand.”

Isobel nodded and changed the subject. “Let’s look at those leaflets on the state parks. Thank God Maria thought of this. Camping certainly wasn’t my choice and maybe a week in a tent will persuade Michael that motels are a better option after all.”

Liz gave a watery smile. “I’m with you on that one and I really can’t see Maria surviving without a mall close by.”

They began to study the handouts and the same idea occurred to them almost immediately. ID and permits would have to be arranged somehow and they would have to match up with the disguises, too. For the first time since they had left Roswell, Liz began to take an interest in the arrangements for their survival.

Maria and Michael, like typical tourists, had a street map spread out over the hood of the Chevy and were consulting a city guide to identify the specialist equipment stores they would need to visit and work out an itinerary.

They were absorbed in this when a green flash lit up the interior of the bus. Michael looked through the window at Kyle to find him sitting up, wide awake again. He automatically told Maria to stay back, more out of hope than expectation, and was not in the least surprised when she followed him into the bus.

“Valenti, glad to see you’re back, man. How long are you planning to stay this time?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t tease him, Michael, let me bring him up to speed. Kyle, you’ve been glowing green and out of it since yesterday evening, we think you’re getting the alien power thingy, like Liz. Max is out of it, too. How do you feel?”

“Good -in fact, great - but hungry, man, starving. Food. That’s what I need. By the way, where are the girls?”

“Having breakfast in the coffeeshop. They won’t be long.”

“Coffeeshop? Then that’s where I’ll be. I’ll tell them you said hello. Later, guys.”

“Hang on, Valenti, what if you go green and glowy again? You’ve been doing nothing else all night, in fact, you and Max were the only entertainment on offer. Go out there and your gonna take your act on an extended tour of all the major secret Government facilities”.

Kyle subsided onto the back seat again with a frustrated sigh.

“Green and glowy, huh? I guess you’re right, no sense in playing the big arenas until you’ve polished the routine in the sticks. What about some breakfast, though? I’m still starving…”

“I’ll go get you something –“

“Make it one of everything they’ve got, Maria, and an extra tall latte to go...”

“…and Michael can stay here with you and Max until the girls come back with your food. Then he can join me for breakfast.”

She left the bus but a moment later leaned back in and laid the map and guidebook on the seat next to Michael. With a final flick of her hand, she was gone.

“So where are we, Guerin?”

“Still up sh*it creek, Valenti, but we’ve got the paddle…”

“Meaning?”

“We’ve just hit Canon City, bang on schedule, and it looks like we’ve shaken any pursuit. I think we threw them on Grad night by escaping when they expected us dead. Over-confident. There was no guard outside to stop us and now we’ve got too far ahead of them to track us easily. We’ve been careful to cover our tracks and we’ve acquired an extra vehicle. We no longer fit the original description of six teens in a van.”

“Think we’re safe, then, Guerin?”

“No way, it’s a likely theory but we’ve still got no proof. We’ve gotta assume they are watching and keep our guard up at all times.”

“Still plan to hit the shops this morning?”

“Yeah, but the girls want a little vacation before we disappear into the hills. We’re gonna stay in a state park for a week and do some basic training….”

“Ok, that’s cool. But hang on, Guerin, just go back to the green glowing thingy that Maria mentioned. What exactly happened…?”

For a moment, Michael was tempted to change his mind about giving his friend a hard time on the subject, but his newly developed sense of responsibility kicked in and he simply explained what they’d seen.

Kyle was thoughtful by the time he had finished.

“I still can’t get used to saying this, Guerin, but I think you’re right. Repulsive as the idea is, Max and I have gotta somehow be linked while this alien change thing is happening. Buddha, please let this be over soon.”

Suddenly a look of absolute horror crossed Kyle’s face.

“This means I may actually be… sharing a brain with Max Evans…! Kill me now!”

********

Chapter Eleven

Isobel hurried back to the bus with coffee and a selection of breakfast foods for Kyle. He received them with gratitude and started in on them right away. Michael snagged a blueberry muffin, despite Kyle’s possessive snarls, and soaked it in Tabasco from their supplies. Isobel looked at them both with disgust as they devoured their spoils.

“Feeding time at the zoo has nothing on you two, does it?”

Michael ignored her. Kyle waggled his eyebrows at her until she reluctantly laughed and went to sit beside him on the back seat.

Michael licked the last of the spicy muffin from his fingers. Maria was waiting for him and clearly getting impatient. He took a swig of Kyle’s coffee, grimaced and went off to find his girlfriend.

Liz was sitting with Maria in the corner of the coffeeshop and the usual minor irritation he always felt on seeing her was magnified when he heard Maria’s first comment in his head.

*** Sorry, Spaceboy, looks like nookie’s on hold for now after all – Liz is hurting bad over the ex-king, who’s going to be the late king when he wakes up and I kill him ***

*** I really don’t think it’s his fault this time, Maria. He’s out of it because of this Kyle thing. Even Liz must realize that. Why the hell doesn’t she cut him some slack? The bitch is dead, she’s no threat anymore ***

*** It’s more than that, Michael. Much more. Keep it to yourself, she’d hate me for telling anyone, but Max called her Tess when they were, you know, together, back in the motel before he started turning green. She can’t forgive him for that. No girl would.***

*** So, Max the ass*hole strikes again. And he calls me the screw-up. No wonder she’s pissed at him. Guess I can’t blame her too much after all***

*** She needs me, Michael, I can’t just leave her alone. You do understand, Spaceboy?***

*** I suppose, but she’s already had more than her share of free time this stop. She should be on watch. Iz is already back in the bus. And she’s suffering just as much as Liz, remember. Ok, I’m not gonna push her on it this time, Maria, I’ll let her have you all to herself for now. But she’s gotta start thinking of the group, not just herself, soon***

*** I know, Michael, but I’ll talk to her, she’ll listen to me***

*** I hope so, princess. God, I need some time on our own soon or I’m gonna go nuts. Thinking about you was all that got me through the night***

*** So I heard, Spaceboy… Oh, I can’t wait to be back in the bus with you again. I like travelling with Isobel, and the Chevy is so cool, but I miss you, Michael ***

*** Don’t tell me that, Maria. It only makes it worse***

By this time he had bought himself a coffee and a breakfast bagel, so he joined the two girls at the corner table.

Liz sent him a hostile look, and clutched Maria’s hand more tightly, obviously resenting his intrusion into their girl time.

Michael gave her an almost-smile as he sat down, then leaned over to kiss Maria’s cheek. He was impressing the hell out of himself with his restraint.

“Kyle’s awake and eating for America. Max is still out and Isobel is on guard. I don’t want to be the party-pooper here, Liz, but it’s your watch, too.”

“I want to spend time with Maria, since you won’t let us travel together. Kyle’s awake, so Isobel can cope without me, Michael.”

Her imperious manner immediately sparked his temper and he forgot his intention to let her off the hook. He lowered his voice and leaned towards her. Liz raised her chin in defiance and didn’t hide her antagonism.

“Liz, we’ve had this conversation before and the answer remains the same. Kyle is still unpredictable and Isobel cannot be expected to handle them both if anything happens. You. Have. Powers. We all have a part to play in the defence of the group, so personal issues are not on the agenda for any of us right now.”

She looked at him earnestly, her brown eyes tragic.

“It’s different for me. I’ve gone through so much for Max for so long and I can’t take it anymore. You just don’t understand, Michael.”

“ Oh, I do, Liz. You think you’re the only one of us who’s in pain. Well, here’s the heads up. Isobel is devastated about leaving Jesse and her parents behind, Kyle is worried sick about his dad, who could be developing powers anytime, too. Maria has left her mom behind. They aren’t bitching about it, but they’re all suffering too. The difference is that they’re all thinking of the group, being strong for each other. Feelings come later, when it’s not a danger to us all.”

She looked away, so he didn’t see the hatred flare in her eyes, but Maria did and privately sent him a storm warning.

Michael softened his tone, attempting to be a little conciliatory after his hard speech.

“Look, Liz, stay with Maria. I’ll take your watch this time, but think about what I said.”

He looked regretfully at his girlfriend as he drained his coffee cup, picked up his untouched bagel and rose to leave.

“Sorry, Maria, I’ll catch you later.” He walked out and headed back to the bus, chewing thoughtfully on the bagel as he went. Liz might be turning into yet another problem he didn’t need. And it looked like he still wasn’t going to get to be alone with Maria anytime soon.

Back in the coffeeshop, Liz exploded at Maria in a furious undertone. All her anger and frustration with Max had suddenly been diverted into hatred for Michael and she pulled no punches. Michael was a loser, a screw-up, a selfish, uneducated jerk - always had been, always would be. Maria must be stupid or desperate to want him. Her vicious whisper was cut short by a hard slap that resounded through the room as her best friend’s hand made contact with her cheek.

Maria said nothing aloud but her eyes expressed everything as she calmly rose and left Liz sitting at the table, focus of the interested gaze of the staff and the other customers.

Michael was leaning against the shady side of the bus away from the bright morning sunlight, thinking over their plans for the next few days, when he was hit by a wave of incandescent fury and hurt from Maria. He looked up to see her emerge from the coffeeshop and begin first to walk, then run, in his direction. She was on him before he had taken more than a few steps from the bus towards her. He wrapped her tightly in his arms and held her shaking body against him as all his protective instincts blazed into red alert.

Half-carrying her to the shelter of the bus, he pushed her back against it and shielded her with his body from the curious stares of any passers-by. Isobel and Kyle peered at them through the window of the bus in alarm, but he shook his head at them to warn them off.

*** Maria! Maria, what the hell’s wrong? Are you hurt? Tell me what’s wrong, princess***

The cloud of anger that obscured her thoughts quickly cleared as his physical presence calmed and soothed her. The shaking stopped and she relaxed against him as her fire rapidly cooled to ice.

*** Miss Elizabeth Parker, prize bitch, is what’s wrong, that’s all, Michael. I let her get a reaction from me, which was what she wanted. Sorry I scared you, Spaceboy. It’s right, what you said earlier, feelings should be put on hold until we have time to deal.***

“Nobody hurts you and gets away with it” He threatened coldly. “You’re her best friend, what the hell did she say to get you so mad, Maria?”

Maria drew back a little and looked up at him. “Leave it, Michael. I’ll tell you later, when I can do it without getting angry again.”

“No, Maria. Tell me now.”

“Oh, well, she got mad at you and said some hurtful, untrue things about both uf us. I just couldn't let her get away with that. I slapped her, Michael. I’m not a bit sorry for that, but I am sorry it drew attention to us. Everyone in the coffeeshop noticed us and it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have done it and I’ve put us all in danger.”

“Don’t lose any sleep over it, Blondie, anyone tracking us this far would know we were here anyway. We’ll be long gone by the time any questions are asked, if they ever are. Pleased you got a good shot at her anyway.”

They exchanged several soft kisses, then Michael drew reluctantly away and smiled at her teasingly.

“Actually, it’s quite a turn on, you bitch-slapping Liz Parker in defence of me. How about an action replay some time when we’re not so busy…?”

“Michael! Behave yourself. It’s not really funny. I will never, ever forgive or forget what she said. I know I’m going to have to speak to her eventually for the sake of peace in the group, but she’ll certainly have to apologise big-time before I do. Hurting over Max does not excuse her taking it out on you or me.”

Inside the bus, Isobel and Kyle were watching this exchange with deep interest.

“Maria seems to have freaked about something. It can’t be anything we really need to worry about, otherwise Michael would have ordered us back on the road before now and, anyway, I think Liz is still in the coffeeshop. I wonder what happened?”

“Maria bitch-slapped Liz for insulting Michael.”

“Good for Maria, I would have done the same thing. Wait. How did you know that, Kyle? Is it something to do with your new powers?”

“Nah, I just read their lips.”

“This is not the time for jokes, Kyle, can’t you ever be serious? Is it super-hearing or a variation of dream walking or something? What did you do?”

“I’m not joking, Isobel. I told you the exact truth. I read their lips.”

“You, Kyle Valenti, ex-jock, read lips?”

“Yeah, it gave me an edge, why not?”

“Well, I guess – I just didn’t expect it to be one of your talents…”

“Just one more surprise in the fascinating mystery that is Kyle Valenti, Super-Alien. Flies like a bird, swims like a fish -.”

“…Eats like a pig. You’d better dump your breakfast trash before we leave, Kyle. If it was left to you and Michael, this bus would be a public health hazard before the end of a day.”

“Hey, Isobel, your first joke. Congratulations. We should mark the occasion in some way…”

“Read my lips, Kyle.”

“Yes, Ma’am, shutting the hell up now.”

********

Chapter Twelve

Liz had regretted her outburst the moment the sting of the slap brought her back to her senses and she knew her friendship with Maria was badly damaged, maybe beyond repair.

She stared at the mark of Maria’s hand still burning on her cheek. The mirror in the restroom of the coffeeshop reflected her anguished guilt but there was still anger and pain, too. The bitter words had shocked her even as she heard herself saying them, but she couldn’t make herself stop.

Liz told herself it wasn’t all her fault. Michael had provoked her by calling her selfish when she had just been protecting herself from the pain of another betrayal by Max. It wasn’t selfish, it was just self-preservation. Michael was the one she had really wanted to scream at, to punish for usurping the king. She had hated him for suddenly being all that Max should be, but was not. Maria had just been the soft target, easy to hurt where Michael was impervious to her barbs.

She was horrified by her own behaviour, but didn’t know what to do to put it right. Maria had the softest heart, but she wouldn’t forgive Liz anytime soon, if ever.

So Liz lingered in the restroom as long as she could. She didn’t know how to go back and face the others, but eventually time ran out and she had no choice.

In the parking lot, Michael released Maria from a final hug and turned his attention to the others who had lost interest in the drama when the kissing began. He opened the door and waited for Maria to climb in the back of the bus before following her. Isobel was gathering up the debris from Kyle's breakfast and Kyle was marking the city map with the stores they still needed to visit for the camping stuff.

“Maria and I will go with Max in the Chevy for a while. It’ll be safer for Liz if she travels with you, but only because I promised Maria that I wouldn’t lose my temper with the little…”

Isobel interrupted him.

“What happened, Maria?”

“Liz has been a total bitch, Isobel, and I won’t speak to her until she apologises.”

Michael snorted with contempt.

“Parker can hold out until Hell freezes over, for all I care. Let’s have a look at the map and the list, Valenti. What stuff do we still need to get?”

“Ok, we’ve got the tents and the bags and some of the smaller items. Now we need to get the hardware. Axes, spades, saws, knives - all that stuff. A full set for each vehicle, in case we have to separate and fend for ourselves. We still need tarps, ropes, food bags and water containers, compasses and maps, and, well, everything else.”

“ We’ll need to get dried food supplies, too, rice, pasta, beans and stuff; enough for a few weeks at least. It’s all on the list I made from the survival manual. We can buy fresh food at the park for the rest of the week, but we’ll have to stock up on as much of the dried stuff as we can from somewhere else after we leave.”

“God, and we still need to get outdoor clothes. That will take us all day and tomorrow, even doubling up the schedule where we can, so that the girls can get the food and the smaller items at the same time as you buy the heavier stuff. We need the specialist outdoor shops as well as supermarkets and we need to spread ourselves around those as much as we can.”

“It’s gonna cost big, but we don’t have a choice. We will be living in the mountains and we’ll have to survive in extreme temperatures for months. We must make sure we’ve got everything we need.”

Michael sighed. It would take them the whole day and maybe the next to buy what they needed without drawing attention to themselves, and they’d have to use alien money to do it. He hoped Isobel’s talent for making the stuff was as good as she’d claimed, so it would never be traced to them.

After some discussion, it was agreed that they would meet at a city central parking lot to change their disguises, then Michael would go on to shop alone or with one of the girls for the rest of the equipment and food supplies as Kyle had to remain with the bus. There would be a variety of disguises as an extra precaution.

Michael nodded at Kyle and Isobel before grabbing Maria’s hand to pull her out of the bus and over to the Chevy.

“ You take off. We’ll swing by the coffeeshop to pick up Liz and meet up at the first stop. See you guys in a while.”

“Ok, Isobel. We’ll take good care of Max for you, don’t worry.”

Moments later, Liz emerged from the coffeeshop to find no sign of the Chevy or the bus where she’d left them. Her heart stopped, thinking they had abandoned her to her fate. Then the bus pulled up alongside her and she sighed with relief.

Isobel lowered the window and told her, in a not unfriendly manner, that Maria and Michael had taken the Chevy, so she would be riding with them now and shopping was the plan for the day.

Liz hurriedly scrambled aboard, Kyle nodded at her from the front seats and the bus headed into the city. Although nobody spoke as she retreated to the back seat and stared out of the window in silence, the atmosphere was relaxed. She was surprised and relieved that the others hadn’t automatically sided with Maria and Michael against her. Maybe she still had some friends left after all.

Over in the Chevy, Maria was torn between joy at being reunited with Michael, residual anger with Liz and a sudden attack of conscience at forgetting all about Max at breakfast. Her conscience won. Whatever the ex-king had or had not done wrong, he didn’t deserve to starve to death in his sleep before she had a chance to dispense justice. She might be angry with Liz, but she still had issues with Max, too, for hurting her former best friend again, intentionally or not.

She raided the Chevy’s supplies once more and poured milk, sugar and Tabasco into a cup.

“Heat this up for me, please, Michael. I forgot all about Max at breakfast, so I’ll try to get him to drink some milk again when we stop in a few.”

“Maria, we can't do anything until he wakes up, we can't risk anyone touching him and getting hurt by his forcefield. He'll wake up when he's ready."

"Yeah, I guess so. I hope he's ok, though and I really wish he'd wake up soon."

"At least we're back together now, princess. I hated it without you."

She rested her hand on his thigh and rubbed gently until his large hand covered hers and held it still.

*** If you keep on doing that, Maria, we're gonna crash right now...***

*** Sorry, Spaceboy. It's tough on both of us. When are we going to get some alone time? ***

*** Hope it's gonna be tonight, babe. We have to stop somewhere to rest, driving all night again is too dangerous. Got some things I need to talk to you about, anyway.***

*** Are we going to camp yet or stay at another motel?***

*** I think it’s gotta be a motel again, after all. As we’ll still be shopping tomorrow, we can’t go far from the city tonight ***

*** Ok. We meet up between every store to change the disguises and make sure there are no problems, but we keep going to get as much done as we can today. If we’re lucky, we set off for the park sometime tomorrow and, again if we’re lucky, might even have time to pitch the tents before it gets dark***

*** That’s the plan, princess***

Maria had been navigating while they “talked” and now directed her boyfriend towards the first meeting point.

“Michael, here’s the turnoff for the first stop.”

They had agreed to meet at a mall in the city’s central shopping area, which had a cluster of the stores they had identified earlier. They decided that, despite the risks, it would be quicker to pick up what they needed within a relatively short time, rather than drive all over the city. They were still on the tourist route so counterfeit currency wouldn’t necessarily be associated with them and, anyway, it would certainly be some time before was discovered.

A few minutes later, Michael stashed the Chevy in the usual remote corner of a parking lot and reached for the cup of milk Maria had prepared for Max. He heated it up and drank it quickly, enjoying the first zap of Tabasco since the muffin earlier that morning. He slid his arm round Maria and pulled her towards him, intending to enjoy a few stolen kisses while they were waiting for the others. Catching sight of his own unfamiliar reflection in her eyes just before their lips met, he suddenly had an idea.

He kissed Maria hungrily, but forced himself to break away from her while he still retained some self-control. He could feel her surprise and regret at the loss of his lips, so he sent her a reassuringly appreciative thought and a quick explanation of what he wanted to try.

*** I just gotta distract myself, Maria. If I let myself get too hot for you now, princess, we’ll be arrested for sure…***

*** It’s ok, Michael, I understand. I feel the same way, really. Each time we touch, it just gets harder to stop… Go ahead and do your party trick for me***

He adjusted the rearview mirror so he could see himself in it. The bus would be several minutes away yet, so he thought he would try changing his own physical appearance instead of waiting for Isobel to do it for him. Ever since Nacedo had forced him to change his fingerprints when they rescued Max from the White Room, he had been practicing on himself until he was confident in his own abilities. It still took quite a lot of effort, but he was improving all the time. He planned to expand his range of powers even further once they got into the mountains and he would expect the others, including Kyle and Liz, to do the same.

His hair, currently long and blond, became short and black, while his skin paled to a milky shade and his eyes faded to blue. Maria watched with fascination and when he had finished, leaned over and kissed him.

“ You still feel and taste the same, Spaceboy, thank God. Kissing you when you’re in disguise feels a little weird, even though I know it’s you inside.”

“Just have to get used to it, princess. None of us are goin’ to look like our real selves for a long time to come.”

“Can you change me, now, Michael? I think a spiky redhead look would be a nice contrast, don’t you think?”

“Have to get Iz to do it for you, babe. I’m fine doin’ it to myself, but I’m not gonna risk it with you until I’ve had more practice.”

“You’ll be fine, Spaceboy. I know you can do it and it’ll really impress Isobel. She doesn’t know you’ve been practising your powers.”

“Don’t care if I impress Iz or not, I’ve just never tried it on anyone else. Don’t know if I’m ready yet, Maria…”

“Well, I do. I trust you and I know you won’t hurt me, so go ahead and turn me red. Just do it, Michael.”

He moved a little further away and gazed at her, blocking his feelings and trying to avoid looking into her eyes when he had to concentrate on her surface colors. Her current disguise was not so very much different to her normal blonde self and it was unexpectedly hard to deliberately change the looks he loved.

“Ok, then. Hold still and let me concentrate.”

A few moments later, Michael smiled in relief and Maria found an flame haired, dark-eyed version of herself in the vanity mirror behind the sun visor. She squealed happily, but quietly so as not to disturb Max, and hugged her boyfriend in congratulation.

As they broke apart they both noticed a faint green glow behind them in the back seat as Max’s forcefield appeared again. It barely showed up in the bright morning sunlight, which was an advantage as they would be moving in busy areas among crowds for the longest period so far since they left Roswell.

“I wish we knew how much longer this green thing is going to last. We could really use his help about now. Isobel and the others should be here any moment, then we can get started. Who’s going to do what?”

“I’ll do the hardware items. One set from this first store and a few of the other things from the list, maybe some clothes, too. I should be about an hour each time. You and Liz can go to the supermarket and start on the food supplies. Don’t forget the Tabasco.”

“I don’t trust myself near Liz at the moment, Michael, so I’ll take a list and shop alone and she can do the same.”

“Don’t give me a hard time about this, Maria, you know I wouldn’t say it if there was any other way, but I really think it’s safer if you shop together. You still need to keep a lookout for each other, even if you’re not speaking.”

“But don’t you think we’ll draw less attention separately than shopping together. We can still buy in bulk and we’ll be twice as fast, too?”

“We-ell, ok, maybe that’s right, but it’s hard for me to let you go anywhere alone, because if anything happened to you –.”

“You and I will still be in contact, Michael, so we’ll both know what’s going on. We are taking risks all the time. Like you say, the sooner this part of the plan is done and we can move on, the safer we’ll all be.”

Michael sighed and gave in. He didn’t like it, but he knew she had a point. Privately, he was starting to feel fairly confident that they hadn’t been followed and, at the back of his mind, he was becoming more convinced that his theory was correct. The time wasn’t yet right to test it out, but he knew he couldn’t leave it very much longer before he had to act.

“ Iz will have to look out for both Max and Kyle while the rest of us are away from the bus. I still don’t want Kyle and Max together until we are settled somewhere with time to devote to the problem. ”

“Well, as you say, Isobel can look out for them and, anyway, none of us will be away from the bus for more than about twenty minutes at a time, except you. It’ll take some time for you to buy all that stuff on your list. Liz and I don't have to be away at the same time, if you're worried about it. We can do shifts while you’re gone.”

“Leave it up to Iz, then, if she needs back-up she'll say so. Here are the others now. Stay here while I go talk to them.”

“…’k. One more kiss, then you’re free to go, Spaceboy.”

He willingly obeyed, knowing that they should stay apart but craving just a taste of the fiery sweetness only she possessed. Her lips were soft and generous under his, parting to allow him access to her warm, sweet mouth where their tongues touched and teased and tormented until they forgot everything outside their own private world. Then something rapped sharply on the window beside Michael and they broke apart, startled and annoyed, to find Isobel waiting impatiently for their attention.

“Is Max ok? Though why I’m asking you two… Anyway, if you’re interested, Kyle went green again on the way over here, but this time he called me Tess and told me he missed me, just like Max told Liz. He’s awake again, but doesn’t remember anything. Liz got really upset again, though.”

“Max went green a few minutes ago, too, Isobel, but it hardly showed up in the sunlight. He didn’t wake up or say anything about Tess, just glowed for a while.”

Michael groaned and thrust his fingers through his now short hair.

"Tess just won't f*uckin’ go away, damn her. First Max, now Kyle - where's it gonna end?"

"You'd better hope it ends with them, Spaceboy. If you start missing her too, I'm warning you, the universe won't be big enough to hide from me..."

"If I start missing her, Blondie, just hunt me down and kill me. I'll be grateful."

"Look, don't joke about it, you two. Something crazy is definitely going on with the guys. Why do they both miss Tess?"

"Right now, I really don't care, Iz. As long as that's all they're doing, they can wait until we get to the park and we'll think about it then. How many times do I have to say it? Max and Kyle are currently harmless. Unless that changes, We. Can. Do. NOTHING. What we SHOULD be doing is SHOPPING! Why the hell are we all still here yappin'?"

His voice rose as his frustration grew.

"Calm down, Michael… -.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down, Isobel. You’re the one doin’ the worryin’. As long as nothing more dangerous than glowing and pissing off Liz happens to them, I’m not goin’ to think about it yet. It’s time to hit the stores. Iz, I should be about an hour this time. You divide the list of food supplies and Maria and Liz can split up and shop for the stuff, unless you want them to take shifts.”

“No, I'll be ok. What do I do while you’re all out having fun and I’m babysitting?”

“ While you’re waiting, double check the list of clothes we’ll need – it’s all in the manual – then get Kyle to tell you what size he takes and make a note for Max, as well. Both of you can sort out an itinerary for buying them tomorrow. Remember, the bus and Chevy will be filling up with gear, you’ll need to pack carefully so we can fit as much in as possible.”

Isobel brightened up at having something to organise at last and Michael made a mental note to continue that thought at a later date.

Wasting no more time, he sent them all off on their appointed tasks and the rest of the day went by in a blur of tense, but productive, activity until they were all together again on the way out of the city to find another cheap motel for the night.

********

Chapter Thirteen

They chose a large, fairly cheap, nondescript motel, one of a national chain, just off the highway out of the city. It was early evening and, as yet, there were few other customers so they were able to book three rooms in a quiet area without any problems.

The discord prevailing among the group meant that, as Liz adamantly refused to stay with Max, and Michael insisted they keep him apart from Kyle, Isobel had to room with her brother and Kyle was forced to share with Liz.

Michael and Isobel, with great difficulty and bad-tempered recriminations, half-carried, half-dragged Max out of the bus. They left him on one of the beds in the room on the right of their three, where he curled up comfortably and seemed to relax more in his sleep.

Liz made no attempt to speak to anybody, too miserable to care about anything other than herself.

Maria, though still angry, was beginning to feel uncomfortable as she carried food supplies from the bus to her room and kept herself busy by preparing their communal evening meal. Part of her wanted to comfort Liz, who she knew was suffering through no real fault of her own, but the insult to Michael and herself was still too fresh and raw in her mind and so she tried to harden her heart. She concentrated instead on the excitement building inside her in anticipation of the night ahead, all alone with a naked, rampant Michael…

Isobel was getting a little impatient with Liz, considering her state of abject misery to be an overly dramatic reaction to the remarks about Tess from a clearly unstable Max and Kyle. However, she was concerned enough to lead the other girl gently to the room, where Liz lay down on the bed and curled up into a ball of despair.

Unable to leave her in that state, Isobel slipped out to find Kyle and warn him to stay away for a while to give her a chance to talk to Liz. She wished Maria would relent and help her out. Isobel was not accustomed to comforting humans and found the prospect of sharing feelings with Liz Parker daunting. Still, she couldn’t leave her to Kyle – this was a girl thing. She sighed to herself. They were practically sisters, so she’d better get used to the fact.

Kyle had been sitting on the steps up to the wooden walkway with his back against a wooden pillar, talking with Michael who was leaning against the bus parked beside the Chevy in front of their rooms.

“ The girls and I will have to take the watch tonight. I can’t risk you out alone until we’re sure you’re stable. Can’t guess how long that will be, though. Let’s give it 24 hours without the lightshow and then maybe we can assume you’ve morphed into - God, I still can’t believe this, Valenti - into ‘one of us’… then the real fun starts.”

Michael actually grinned at him and, although it was sardonic, there was a fleeting glimpse of sympathy in there, too. It encouraged Kyle to brave a question.

“Can I ask you something serious, Guerin?”

“Yeah, I guess…”

“ What does it really feel like to have powers? How do they work?”

Michael stared at the ground for a while and Kyle waited for an answer to the question that had haunted him since he first discovered he would be irrevocably and unimaginably changed through his unwilling encounter with the aliens.

He thought back to his conversation with Alex in the cave of the blue crystals when they both thought they were about to die. The musician had said something to the effect that he wouldn’t regret dying at that moment, knowing that they were among the very few of the teeming millions of people on the planet who really could prove aliens existed. He’d agreed at the time and meant it, but now that he faced a very different life, he wasn’t so sure.

On the one hand, he had left a relatively safe, but unexciting, future in a small, tourist town and was developing exotic alien powers he had never dreamed he could possess. On the other, he was on the run for his life with a group of people he would never have chosen as friends and with whom he was now forced to live in stiflingly close contact for the foreseeable future. To his surprise, his only real regret was that nothing could compensate for the loss of the father to whom he had finally grown close, through those very aliens he had hated and jealously resented for so long. The irony was not lost on him.

He had no real recollection of the green, glowing sleep thing, but he could feel, at some deep level of consciousness within himself, that his mind and body were changing physically at an increasingly faster rate. As he thought about this, his heartbeat began to race and send blood streaming through his veins like whitewater currents over rocky river beds; raw power surged unchecked, flooding his flesh with electric heat burning to burst the boundaries of his skin.

Panicked, he knew that he had to resist the overwhelming need to release the wave of pure energy churning inside him. He fought desperately to contain the power, tame the wild rapids crashing through his bloodstream, slow his heartbeat and return to some level of inner calm. It took every atom of control he possessed.

As sight and hearing returned, his vision cleared and he saw Michael, lips moving silently, staring at him with interest and slight alarm. Michael’s voice suddenly became audible.

“Valenti, you ok? Kyle, can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?”

Slowly recovering from the incredible high of the powersurge, Kyle looked back at Michael in a half-dazed, distracted way. Disconnected thoughts spun drunkenly through his mind, as he tried to concentrate. He blinked several times and finally snapped back into awareness of his surroundings.

“Wow. Just – wow. Incredible. I just – it’s so… wow.”

Michael’s amusement grew as the incoherent stammering continued. He joined his friend on the step and waited until lucidity returned. There was a long pause before Kyle remembered the questions he had asked moments before, only for the response to come, shockingly, from within his own body.

“Is that what you feel like when you use your powers, Guerin? How come you aren’t dead?”

“I don’t know - what did it feel like to you? You turned green for a split second and looked like you were about to explode. Then you got dazed, confused and speechless.”

“That’s just what it felt like – explosive: like I suddenly had nuclear capability, man, but I… I nearly lost it.”

“Damn lucky for all of us you didn’t, is all I can say. Yeah, I guess I do feel something like that. I’m much better at control now, though. Practised a lot over the last couple years; Tess helped me learn to focus.”

Michael recognised in Kyle the overriding fear that he himself had secretly lived with throughout his childhood – that he would lose control and be destroyed by the vast energies generated within him. Then his fear had turned into paralysing terror when he killed Pierce and knew that he could harm Maria if he wasn’t strong enough to control the power. He suddenly wanted to reassure the guy who had unexpectedly grown to be his friend and was now one of his family.

“Don’t worry, Kyle, you did good, controlled it just fine. It gets easier with practise and I’ll help you learn to focus. Isobel will, too.”

“Isobel will what? What are you guys talking about?”

The alien girl looked down at the two of them sprawled over the walkway steps and could tell something had happened. They were more awake and alert, actually excited, than when she had left them ten minutes ago; then they had been clearly tired and subdued from the various strains of the previous 24 hours.

Kyle stood up and grinned at her goofily.

“The mojo’s kicked in, Isobel. I’ve got the power…”

She smiled at the happy, no-longer-quite-human, guy in front of her. He was an unexpected addition to her family, but she had grown fond of him and he had been there for her at times when she needed a friend. When Max had been at his most autocratic, and then Jesse – she corrected herself hurriedly - when she had sometimes been lonely, he had tried to comfort her and he always found some way to make her laugh. Isobel wasn’t sure whether to be glad or sorry he had powers, because for her they were more of a burden then a pleasure. She desperately hoped they would compensate him for the loss of the normal life he would have had, if that hadn’t been destroyed by his involvement with their alien troubles.

She found she enjoyed teasing Kyle – another almost-brother to look out for and protect, just as she knew he would do for her. She was warmed and comforted by the thought.

“As long as you don’t turn super-hero on me, Kyle, we’ll get along fine.”

“ Yeah, just remember to keep your underwear inside your pants, Valenti. We don’t want any fake Superman stuff around here. The real thing’s more than enough to deal with.”

They all laughed as Maria joined them, coming to stand beside Isobel at the top of the steps.

“What’s with all the ugly talk about Kyle’s underwear, guys? Have you all gone mad from starvation? Dinner’s ready, if you’re hungry. Unless you want to wait ‘til later…”

As Maria spoke, she looked at Michael with half-closed eyes, slowly licking her lips and arching her back against the wooden pillar in a teasingly provocative manner. His eyes narrowed and all his brooding attention focused on her. She curled her hands into fists, nails digging into her palms, as a burst of involuntary lust flared in the pit of her stomach. Wet heat soaked her panties instantly and she held her breath as he started to rise slowly and deliberately from the steps towards her, eyes locked on hers and a feral smile on his lips.

Kyle and Isobel watched in irritated disbelief as they were forgotten, along with the hot topic of only a moment before. Sharing a brief look of mutual understanding, they moved as one to intercept their passionate friends before it was too late.

Kyle waved his hand in front of Michael’s face to break the stare burning between the alien and his spitfire human girlfriend. He was shocked at the ferocity of the look that Michael shot him before he continued his advance upon Maria.

Isobel was having her own problem distracting Maria from her absorption with Michael. The smaller girl was oblivious to the tug on her arm as Isobel tried to physically drag her away.

Then shouts from the room shared by Liz and Isobel froze all four in their tracks.

Maria was the first to react, rushing over to the door before Michael could restrain her. However, she remembered caution and stopped just outside to try to see through the curtained window. Unsuccessful, she flattened herself against the wall, pushing the door open and peering round the corner into the room. Michael was close beside her, however, and to her intense annoyance she was picked up and put firmly behind him out of immediate danger.

Michael found Liz and a newly recovered Max confronting each other across the beds.

Neither reacted to his presence.

It was Maria, shoving Michael out of her way with a glare that promised fireworks later, who commanded the attention of the soulmates by angrily demanding to know what the hell all the shouting was about. Didn’t they know that the entire motel could hear them and the cops were probably on their way right then?

“Shi*t for brains, or you just don’t care about the rest of us peasants, your Royal Highnesses?”

Frustrated desire fuelled her rage and Michael privately anticipated a memorable night ahead of them if he could persuade her to forgive him anytime soon.

Both Max and Liz had stepped back from Maria’s low-voiced tirade, but neither showed any guilt or even interest in what she said. They simply returned to staring at each other again when she ran out of breath.

Michael knew that this indifference would push his girlfriend over the edge and, sure enough, the fire glowed in her eyes but fury made her quiet voice ice-cold and deadly.

“Why did it take me so long to see that neither of you actually give a shi*t about anyone else, do you? The rest of us are really only here because your romantic, dreamy, eternal love is so special we’re all required to risk our lives to protect you…”

Maria spun on her heel and walked out, before the tears blinding her fell and revealed her pain to the others.

Isobel and Kyle stood aside to let her pass through the doorway, but they didn’t leave. They heard Michael’s cold comment before he followed his girlfriend.

“I think Maria’s right, but what she didn’t say was that the serpent is still in paradise, isn’t she, Liz? Tess is gone but she’s still screwing things up for you. Max just can’t seem to get over her, so the soulmate thing isn’t so certain after all, is it? When you continue your… conversation, remember to keep the noise down.”

He, too, left the room abruptly without looking back.

Kyle was interested to find that Max had apparently returned to full consciousness at the same time as he had felt his own powers awaken. He recalled the others telling him that he had mistaken Isobel for Tess when he had been out of it, and he wanted to ask the ex-king if he remembered sharing any memories during their mysterious link. However, he could sense that this was not the right time…

Isobel was distressed by Liz and Max’s fight, Maria’s angry outburst, Michael’s cold assessment of the situation and her brother’s apparent indifference to all of it. He and Liz were still transfixed by each other and simply waiting to be alone so they could continue with their argument. Isobel hoped they would at least understand the need for discretion. She repeated Michael’s last remark, to reinforce the warning about which they seemed completely unconcerned.

“Max. Liz. Remember to keep the noise down, ok? Kyle and I will be next door if you need us.” She couldn’t resist an anxious plea to them both.

“Please don’t do anything stupid, either of you. You know it’s all because of this alien healing thing. Max wasn’t himself, so nothing he said was meant to hurt you, Liz. It’s most likely over, now that Kyle’s power has developed, so why don’t you just forget it happened and go back to being happy together.”

Liz shifted uncomfortably, but neither she nor Max responded and after a moment, Kyle took Isobel’s hand and led her outside, reaching back and closing the door gently behind them.

Inside the room, Liz glared at Max and took up the conversation at the point where they had been interrupted.

“You thought about Tess while you were making love to me, Max. You thought I was her and you told her you missed her 'so much'. I don’t care what excuse you come up with, nothing changes the fact that you said you loved me but you still thought about her. Michael was right, she is still screwing up my life even though she’s dead.”

Max sat down on the nearest bed and buried his head in his hands. He had woken a short time ago feeling almost like his normal self again, though haunted by dreams he couldn’t quite remember. He had immediately gone in search of Liz and found her curled up on a bed in the next room, but when he leaned over to kiss her awake she had turned a furious, tear stained face up to his and pushed him violently away. Taken aback, he was at first bewildered as she accused him of betraying her and wanting Tess instead.

His automatic response was denial and he defended himself furiously, but somewhere during this exchange, he knew with sudden blinding clarity that he wasn’t entirely innocent of the charge.

Confused by the vivid dreams and memories of Tess now recalled from when he was asleep, he was grateful when the others came in to find out what all the shouting was about. It had given him a little time to think.

His thoughts horrified him.

He barely noticed when the others left the room, but Liz’s hurt voice pierced his distraction and he sat down because his strength had deserted him.

Liz’s bitter accusations made him ashamed because he knew he had nearly destroyed her again. He loved her deeply - she was his soulmate - but he had long ago admitted to himself and her that he had grown to love Tess, too.

When she killed Alex and nearly led them back to certain death on Antar, he had hated her just as passionately as he loved Liz. When she returned with their son, however, he found that hate hadn’t, after all, obliterated his love; his feelings for Tess were still there. He buried them deep enough to ignore and immersed himself blissfully in the joy of finally being with his soulmate.

When he’d finally made love to Liz, it was just as gentle, tender and romantic as they’d both anticipated for so long. Their next time together, though, was very different.

The memory came back to him in a rush of horrified shame. He’d half-woken up from a dream of Tess to find a small, soft body sleeping next to him and he’d wanted to repeat the most erotic, demanding and intense sexual encounter he had ever experienced in his life.

He remembered the countless times the tiny, blonde alien had teased and tempted him, flaunting her perfect, voluptuous body for him, ignoring his cold rejection of her, knowing that somewhere inside him he wasn’t as indifferent as he tried to pretend.

When Liz had – so he’d thought – finally convinced him to give up on them being together, his relationship with Tess had proceeded on a totally different basis.

Whereas Liz had wanted romantic, pure, candlelit lovemaking, Tess had been (ironically, given her alien origins) earthy, passionate, and sexually demanding.

Although they hadn’t gone all the way together until that fateful night in the Roswell observatory, in the event the final act was merely a formality after all that had gone on between them in the short weeks between Alex’s death and the alien pregnancy which brought him back to reality.

Sitting on the motel bed under Liz’s angry gaze, he re-lived intense memories of the times Tess had aroused him as she persistently and - this somehow gave him an erotic charge like nothing else - secretly brushed against him, flashed her breasts, put her hand on his thigh or touched him in intimate places in public where anyone might see. However embarrassed he had been by her blatant attentions, she never lost an opportunity to wriggle and squirm her way into his lustful thoughts and he became more and more addicted to their increasingly uninhibited sexual exploits.

Once, she had even ambushed him when they had been sitting side-by-side in a booth at the Crashdown and Liz had been their waitress. At the time, he had had been furiously angry and betrayed by Liz's investigation into Alex's death. He had known it was cruel and he would have died if she had noticed, but he was so turned on by Tess’s whispered demand for him to make her cum right there and then, that when she unzipped her skirt, he slipped his hand discreetly down inside her panties, forced his middle finger into her already dripping cun*t to thrust roughly and repeatedly, rubbing her clit until she shuddered against his arm, breathing heavily and biting her lip to keep from screaming aloud. Liz returned with their order moments later, but by then Tess had made him lick his fingers clean and had refastened her skirt to sit demurely beside him, smiling at her rival in the friendliest manner.

Still half-dreaming of her when he woke in the Green Apple motel room, finding Tess in his bed was not an unfamiliar experience, so he had instinctively started to make out with her as he often had before. She had made it clear that she preferred to be touched roughly, almost brutally, which always drove her wild, and she had laughed at his initial delicate and tender approaches. He very soon came to share her enjoyment.

He dimly recalled a brief memory of Liz beneath him, but it had been lost in his need for the full, uninhibited, ecstatic, mind-blowing alien sex he had shared with Tess on the night they had conceived the child.

As all this flashed through his reeling mind, he looked up at Liz and recognised the underlying knowledge that he just couldn’t bring himself to believe.

Somewhere inside him he could feel a faint connection with Tess and he sensed her out there, somewhere…alive.

And she needed him.

He stood up and walked round the beds to Liz, ignoring her angry protests. Grasping her by one shoulder, he raised her chin with his other hand and looked deep into her eyes. She stared back at him defiantly with all the hurt and betrayal there for him to see.

“Liz, I love you, you’re my soulmate. I always will love you and I would never willingly hurt you. It destroys me to do this, but I have to sort this out before we can be truly happy together.”

“What do you have to ‘sort out’ now, Max? It’s Tess again, isn’t it? You really can’t forget her.” Her eyes filled with tears and she started to sob brokenly.

“I think it’s her that can’t forget me, Liz. I can’t believe it, but since I woke up earlier I can feel her in my mind. There’s a faint pull, a cry for help, which I must answer or I’ll go mad. Liz, I have to find her. I don’t want her, I don’t want anyone but you. Liz, please believe me. Please.”

His eyes held all the love and trust that she wanted and needed, but she was past surrendering to this appealing charm and she moved away from him over towards the door.

“I can’t, Max, I can’t do it any more. Whatever dream we had, it’s over. Tess killed it the same way she killed Alex. You think she’s still around somehow even after I know she died. You’ll never be free of her and I’ll never be able to trust that it’s only me you love.”

Liz opened the door and walked out into the sunny evening and a bleak future without him.

********

Chapter Fourteen

The evening was advancing and the motel was slowly filling up with other travellers, though there were, as yet, no occupants in the nearby rooms.

Isobel and Kyle were each leaning against a wooden pillar and Maria’s head was on Michael’s shoulder as they sat close together at the top of the steps. Nobody spoke but the atmosphere was tense with heightened emotions.

They all heard the door behind them open, but none of them looked to see who emerged.

It was only when she heard Liz sob that Maria moved at last, turning to see her estranged best friend swaying on the verge of collapse. Her soft heart melted and she tore herself way from Michael’s arms to catch Liz before she fell to the ground.

“Lizzie, don’t. Oh, Lizzie, I’m so sorry…”

Liz released her friend from the painfully tight hug they were in and put her finger against Maria’s lips.

“Shhh, Maria, you have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m the one who tried to hurt you because I couldn’t bear to see anyone else happy when I was in so much pain.”

Her tears had dried on her face and her red swollen eyes were ashamed as, for the first time in many months, she really focused on her best friend.

“I’m so sorry, Maria. I’ve been such a fool, so blind to everything but M-M-Max. I had no time for you or anyone else. It’s over, now, though. R-really over, I mean it this time. Tess c-can h-have him.”

Her face screwed up in pain at the thought, though, and Maria hugged her tight again.

*** Michael, she’s in such pain. I must take care of her otherwise I don’t know what she’ll do. I’ll stay with her tonight and you’ll have to room with Kyle or Max. Sorry, Spaceboy. It’s a bitch we still can’t get together, but I love you anyway***

She heard his mental sigh.

*** Yeah, it’s a bitch alright, but since your soft heart is one of the things I love you for, I guess I can’t complain too much, princess. I’ll be here if you need me***

Gently stepping out of the hug, Maria wrapped her arm round Liz’s waist and guided her towards the door of the room she had prepared for Michael and herself earlier.

As she passed Isobel, she reached out and snagged the startled alien girl’s hand to bring her along with them. This was going to be girls' night with a vengeance.

Watching his girlfriend disappear into their room for the night without him, Michael cursed to himself. Foiled again!

Left to themselves, Michael and Kyle looked at each other and shrugged. Then they turned to look at the middle room where Max still hiding.

“It’s your call, Guerin. His ex-Majesty can go fuc*k himself. He gets no sympathy from me.”

“I’ll have to go talk to him. Find out what the hell’s been happening. You ok to stay on watch?”

“Yeah, but I’m real hungry. All the food is in with Maria and the girls, I don’t think we’re gonna get any tonight.”

“You said it, Valenti.” Michael pulled a face, but then grinned. If he had to suffer, then Kyle could, too.

“Why don’t you go ask the girls to pack us a picnic while I go see Max? Survivor wins.”

Kyle rolled his eyes and considered the suggestion. Hunger won out over fear.

“Ok, deal.”

“Make sure that they pack enough for three and you don’t eat everything before I get back, Valenti. A deal’s a deal and I can always make you room with Max if you piss me off.”

“Whoa, who rattled your chain, buddy? What’s with the threats, we’re in this together. Hey, no, wait, I see it. No lovin’ for you tonight, right, so you’re pissed with the world…Well, that I can relate to, man.” He grinned at the brooding alien.

Michael glared, then laughed and clapped him on the back as he moved past the shorter guy towards his meeting with Max.

Kyle did the rounds to check for suspicious activity, and finding nothing, gathered his courage and approached Maria’s room. Knocking on the door, he waited until it opened a crack and Isobel’s wary face appeared.

“Kyle, not a good time for a social call. Is it urgent?”

“Worse than urgent, Isobel. All us guys are out here starving for food – and, in Michael’s case, for Maria, too – so I’m in mortal danger of death from starvation and one pissed off alien.”

Her eyes narrowed, but a reluctant twinkle lurked somewhere in them.

“Make that two pissed off aliens, Kyle.”

“Now, Isobel, is that the proper way to welcome the newest member of the club? Be nice and I’ll try to keep Michael from breaking down the door to get to Maria…”

She stuck her tongue out at him in a gesture she’d surely learned from Maria and told him to stay where he was.

“Isobel!” he hissed urgently as the door closed. It re-opened at once.

“What?”

“Be generous, ok? Remember we’re gonna need a lot of food to keep us going. This being on the run thing is heavy on the calorie expenditure…”

Her face changed and she closed the door without further comment. He mentally kicked himself for reminding her of why they were all in this situation.

After a few minutes, the door opened again and a hand came out to thrust several bags at him. He grabbed them with fervent thanks and retired to the only empty room left, where he dumped the bags on the dresser and explored Isobel’s charitable donation to the food drive. He was pleased to find she hadn’t let him down.

Choosing a generous selection of cold pies, bread, cheese, fruit and candy bars - plus the ubiquitous cherry coke - he grabbed the TV remote and sprawled across one of the beds to surf the cable channels and pig out. He kicked off his shoes and sighed with pleasure. Alone at last.

However, after a few bites of this and that, he found himself disappointed with his choice of food. It all tasted too bland. It needed something to lift the flavors. Then he had it. Tabasco, that’s what it needed. He giggled to himself as he rose and went over to fish around in the bags for the bottle that Isobel had included for the other guys. He really was a fully paid up member of the gang now.

Michael had found Max sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. He closed the door and leaned back against it with his arms folded. He had a feeling he wouldn’t like what he was about to hear.

“Max. Care to tell me what the hell’s goin’ on?”

Max raised an anguished face to his former second-in-command and his voice was hoarse with pain.

“It’s Tess: she’s alive.”

“Yeah, right, Max, if you say so. You’ve only been asleep for the last 48 hours. When did you pick up your mail?”

“It’s true, Michael. Ever since I woke up I can feel a faint connection with her in my mind.”

“She’s dead, Max. D.E.A.D. She blew her spaceship to bits along with herself and a bunch of FBI goons and now we’re on the run for our lives. Does any of this ring a faint bell with you, Maxwell? Amnesia can be a bitch.”

“I swear to you I’m serious, Michael. I know she’s out there somewhere and she needs help.”

“Even if that’s true – and I’m not convinced - what the fuc*k does it matter to us?”

“We must help her, Michael, I know she’s in trouble. I’ll never be able to rest while I can feel her calling me…”

“Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you really say ‘we must help her’…?”

Max stood and began to pace up and down next to the bed where he had been sitting. Michael stayed where he was and watched him.

“We must, Michael. Whatever terrible things she did, she was sorry and tried to make amends.” He looked across at his friend and brother with desperate hope in his eyes. “If we can find her, I can make her get out of my head and then I can convince Liz that she really is the only one I want and that Tess means nothing to me now.”

“So for that, you’re prepared to risk the lives of everyone else in the group in order for you to feel better…”

“That’s not it at all, Michael…”

“Max, we’re on our way to the mountains to hide from the people who tried to kill us a couple nights ago and probably still want us dead…”

“Then we change the plan and head east instead. That’s the direction I get from the tug in my mind.”

“No, Max. The plan stays the same. The safety of the group is paramount. We agreed as a group to go into the mountains and that’s what we will stick to.”

Max walked over to stand in directly front of the impassive Michael. His voice was sullen and he made no attempt to disguise his annoyance.

“I never agreed to it. You just took advantage of my sickness to try to take over as leader. It’s a stupid plan and bound to fail. None of us knows anything about extreme survival conditions and we’ll just be uncomfortable for a week or two, then give up and head out to one of the coasts and lose ourselves in a big city, like we should have done from the start.”

His voice rose to a near-shout as he spoke and there was a sudden fusillade of banging on one of the partition walls as Kyle warned them to keep the noise down.

Max spoke more softly, but no less emphatically, through gritted teeth.

“We go east tomorrow. No arguments. You’ve always resented me, Michael, but I’m not going to let you stand in the way of keeping what’s mine. I have been through too much pain and trouble to lose Liz Parker now, just because of your jealous attempts to take over the leadership while I was out of it.”

Michael raised a sceptical eyebrow and spoke coolly enough, though inside his temper was near boiling point.

“Oh, is that so? Here's me thinking it was because you screamed for Tess when you were fuc*king Liz…”

Max went white and raised his fist to hit Michael, who parried the blow before it struck and putting his other hand on Max’s chest, pushed him gently away.

“Lay one finger on me, Max, and I’ll knock you into the next room…”

He surveyed his former leader in cool appraisal and there was stand-off for a few moments, during which Michael prepared to carry out his threat if Max didn’t back off.

Then Max relaxed and stepped back with a weak attempt at a smile. The fight had gone out of him.

“How did you know that, Michael? Oh, yes, of course, Liz told Maria and Maria told you, didn’t she? I suppose she told the others, too.”

“Actually, Max, you and Liz told the whole motel when you had that shouting match earlier.”

Max ran his hands through his hair and returned to sit on the foot of the bed, looking up at Michael. He smiled ruefully, his charm appearing suddenly in contrast to the sullen, arrogant side he'd displayed a few moments ago. Michael was unaffected.

“I’m incredibly hungry. Is there anything to eat around here?”

“Kyle went to ask the girls to pack a picnic for us, as they’ve taken over one of the rooms for the night. We can go find what they’ve left us, if you want, then you can take second watch. We're doin' half an hour each until midnight, then it's two hour shifts.”

“Lead me to it, Michael.”

The significance of the words was clear to both of them.

Michael was the leader now.

Kyle acknowledged them both with a nod towards the dresser as the two aliens walked in on his first pleasurable Tabasco-flavoured feast as a newly minted half-human.

“Help yourselves, guys. Isobel packed plenty for all of us. I've just come off first watch. It's quiet out there.”

Max and Michael poked around among the bags and each piled up a plateful of food. Max added Tobasco to a cherry coke and, while Michael fixed himself a much-needed coffee, spoke rather sheepishly.

“Would you guys mind if I take this with me and go on watch? I need some alone time to think about everything that’s happened while I’ve been out of it.”

The other two shrugged and Michael went to sprawl on the empty bed, prepared to have a friendly squabble with Kyle over the remote. He knew he had more chance of winning this contest than he had when he fought Maria for it. Though fighting with Maria was infinitely more fun. He quickly suppressed the thought and concentrated on the TV instead.

“First we check the news channels in case we’re featured anywhere, then there must be a hockey game on somewhere, Valenti. Keep lookin’.”

“I already checked the news, Guerin. Lots about the horrific inferno at the Government compound caused by a gas explosion, but no mention of any teenagers on the run from mysterious assassins obsessed with high school graduation ceremonies.”

“Let’s hope no news is good news, then. On second thoughts, I’m going to the bathroom and then I’m gonna have a nap before I go on watch, ok?”

“Sure, enjoy. I’ll give his majesty time to eat and ponder, then I’ll go see if he remembers anything from our mysterious brain-sharing ordeal.”

“See ya later.”

Michael was kissing his way along the soft, silken skin on the inside of Maria’s left thigh, well on his way towards his ultimate target, but happy to linger and take in the scenery, when the world was shaken by an earthquake and Kyle’s voice boomed in his ear.

“Guerin, wake up, will you. Wake up, man.”

Momentarily torn between fury at being denied Maria even in his dreams and fear that their enemies had found them, he nevertheless shook off Kyle’s grip on his shoulder and jumped off the bed where he’d slept still fully clothed ready for his turn on watch.

Reaching for his shoes, fully awake now, he looked at Kyle questioningly and noted that there was no particular worry or panic on the guy’s face and so stepped down from red alert.

“Never wake me suddenly like that again, Valenti, unless you want to be papered all over the walls, ok? Just a friendly warning, man, which, by the way, you should note yourself now that you have - what did you call it? Oh, yeah, nuclear capability.”

“Well, I’m sure not gonna wake you with a kiss, Guerin, you aren't my type. Guess I’ll have to take my chances since you were sleepin’ like the dead. Had a smile on your face, though. Sweet dreams?”

“Maybe. What’s so urgent anyway?”

“Found these letters in the next room, addressed to you, Liz and Isobel. Looks like Max has gone…”

********

Chapter Fifteen

An hour or so earlier, Maria had led her friends into the room, closed the door firmly behind her and disappeared into the bathroom for a few moments. When she returned, Isobel and Liz were still standing awkwardly where she had left them, both looking lost and embarrassed, avoiding the other’s eyes.

She handed Liz a wad of tissues to dry her wet, swollen face and gently pushed her friend onto the nearest bed, fluffing the pillows and pressing her to lie back against them.

Isobel still stood helplessly by the door until Maria took pity on her.

“Since this is our first girls’ night as outlaws, why don’t we start a few traditions right now? First of all, of course, we need ice cream, but since we don’t have any, anything to eat and drink would be good. Isobel, I vote you organise that department for tonight. Is that ok with you, chica?”

At Isobel’s nod, she turned to Liz.

“What would you like to drink, Lizzie? We have milk, coffee, and cherry coke as well as water.”

“Milk, please, Isobel.” Liz blew her reddened nose unexpectedly loudly, making the other two jump. They all giggled and the atmosphere eased a little.

Isobel went over to the dresser where Maria had earlier set out the food for the communal evening meal. She noted Maria’s use of the endearment she usually kept for Liz and felt a curl of warmth inside at being included in the smaller girl’s affections.

She looked over at the other girl on the bed and felt a sharp pang of real sympathy. Maybe Liz had made the right decision. Her brother really was an ass. If he didn’t pull himself together soon, she would have to take a hand in the matter. In the meantime, maybe she could make a little contribution to their girls’ night…

“Maria, we can have ice cream, if you want. What flavour would you like?” She picked up a carton of milk and raised her eyebrows at the other two. Their reaction was all she’d hoped. Liz’s face lit up and Maria bounced over to the alien girl and gave her a fierce hug. Isobel blushed with pleasure.

“Isobel, forget the Ice Queen, we should call you the Ice Cream Queen…”

“Don’t push it, Maria…” Isobel grinned, not at all offended at her friend’s teasing.

In the few days she had spent in the close company of Kyle and the small blonde, she had become used to their affectionate teasing and was surprised to find she enjoyed it. No one before Alex had ever managed to find the sense of humor hidden under the serious attitude she maintained back in Roswell. Even with Jesse, she had smiled rather than laughed. She couldn’t understand why she was starting to find this new life so amusing when she should be terrified.

“OK, three spoons and – what flavour shall we go for? Liz, if you say vanilla, I will smother you with that pillow, I’m warning you.”

Liz sat up and, settling herself back against the pillows, looked from Maria to Isobel, a mulish look in her eyes.

“Why the hell should I be boring little Liz Parker any more? I’m going to start over. Starting now, tonight, everything changes. Yes, make it…um…bitter chocolate mint, please, Isobel.”

Isobel exchanged an amused glance with Maria, then slowly passed her hand over the carton of milk, leaving a thick film of frost behind. Maria laughed and handed out the spoons, before joining Liz on the wide bed and beckoning Isobel to stretch out on her other side. The three dug into the delicious dessert and closed their eyes in collective bliss. For a while there was a comfortable silence. Then Maria sighed.

“Everything already has changed, Liz.” She belatedly responded to the declaration Liz had left hanging in the air earlier. “I mean, you look different anyway, we all do, but inside we’ve all changed, too, in just a few days. It’s like I’m a whole new person to the one I left in Roswell. I don’t even know who am right now...it’s exciting in a scary kind of way…”

Liz laughed bitterly.

“I know who I am, Maria. I’m the fool who trusted Max Evans and got burned again. Why was I so stupid?”

The mood, from being almost light-hearted, changed to sadness. Isobel hesitantly reached across Maria and took Liz’s hand.

“Max really does love you, Liz. This Tess thing is too weird. I’m sorry my brother’s behaving like an idiot, Liz. I hate to say it, but it’s true.”

Maria nodded her agreement. She dug another spoonful of ice cream out of the carton before she spoke thoughtfully.

“Ever since we left Roswell, he’s been acting differently. Not just the whole Kyle thing; I can’t understand why he’s suddenly got so fixated with Tess. He was never that keen on her when she was around, except maybe for that time when you were fighting after Alex died, Liz.”

Isobel was puzzled, too.

“That was really only because she was sharing her memories of their past lives back on Antar and trying to convince him to act like the king.”

“He certainly acted like a jerk, anyway, ordering everyone around and trying to control things.”

Liz couldn’t help a masochistic need to talk about Max and Tess, even though she felt physically sick at the thought.

“He – he told me he loved her, the night we said goodbye before he was going to leave for Antar.”

“ Then why was he was always so embarrassed when he was with her? The way she was all over him was sickening and he always acted like he was trying to avoid her.”

Isobel remembered the devastating time when she lost Alex so cruelly so soon after she had finally admitted her true feelings. The “alien king” aspect of Max’s DNA programming had taken over for a while, encouraged by the devious Tess, and he had displayed a complete personality change until Liz had shown them the truth. Recalling the time when the group had split into aliens against humans made Isobel feel guilty all over again.

“She was always in his room, any chance she got, after the Prom. She practically lived with us for a couple of weeks. Mom wasn’t too happy about it. Looking back, I think maybe Max grew fond of Tess because the rest of us were angry with him and she loved him when he needed to be loved, besides all the destiny thing…”

Intrigued by their speculation about Max’s history with his alien bride, the other two had momentarily forgotten Liz and when she suddenly buried her head in Maria’s shoulder and cried again, they both guiltily reached to console her, stroking and patting her anxiously.

Isobel suddenly found tears contagious and before she quite realised what was happening, she was sobbing on Maria’s other shoulder. All the agony of parting from Jesse and her parents hit her like a physical blow and the floodgates opened. After exerting iron control of her emotions for so long, the uncontrollable force of their release shook her to the core.

Buried beneath her heartbroken friends, Maria hugged and petted and soothed for as long as she could, before she capitulated and cried, too.

All three gave in to the feelings suppressed since they had been attacked and driven far from their families into an unknown, terrifying future, and two of them wept in anguish, too, for their lost loves. All three clung desperately to each other, deeply thankful that they were not alone. After a time, the weeping gradually subsided and they lay cuddled up together, too exhausted from fatigue and sorrow to move.

A knock on the door startled them and, flustered, they all hurriedly sat up and began to search for around for tissues to dry their eyes.

Isobel recovered first, standing up and passing a hand across her face to erase the signs of tears. Liz hissed at her not to let anyone in and Isobel turned to give her a reassuring smile before opening the door a few inches and peering warily out.

Having to respond to Kyle’s teasing helped her regain her normal composure and after she had packed some food for the guys, she closed the door on him and turned back to the others.

Liz was in the bathroom, splashing cold water on her ravaged face. Maria had cut a slice of pie for herself and was back on the bed, eating it slowly and thoughtfully, her mind obviously elsewhere. Isobel discovered she felt hungry, too, and went over to the dresser to forage for herself. A similar slice of pie and some potato salad together with a cherry coke – all spiced up with Tabasco – claimed her attention until Liz rejoined them.

Wandering over to the other bed, Liz flung herself down and lay staring numbly up at the ceiling. Maria woke from her trance, reaching over to switch on a bedside lamp before getting up from the bed and moving restlessly around the room.

“Lizzie, you must eat something and then get some rest. You, too, Isobel. God knows we all need to get some sleep, so we must take the chance when we can. I’m just going to find out when we should be on watch tonight. You two take the early morning shifts, I’m still too wide awake to sleep just yet.”

Isobel thought that Maria was being tactful because she wanted to avoid reminding Liz about her rift with Max. She understood and didn’t mind babysitting for a while. If her friend needed the comfort of a little time with the guy she loved, then Isobel was happy to give her that chance. Once the door closed, she set about persuading Liz to take Maria’s advice.

When Maria smiled at both her friends and quietly slipped outside, intent on finding her boyfriend, she was responding to the strong feelings of anger, betrayal and guilt that she had begun picking up from Michael a few moments before.

Outside, night had fallen and she realised that more time had passed than she knew while she had been sharing her sorrows with the other two girls. Light spilled from all three of their rooms and she approached the furthest door, apprehensive because Michael’s attention was focused on Max and he was inarticulate with rage.

Suddenly Michael and Kyle, both looking grim, came out of the room and headed towards her. Michael wrapped an arm round her shoulders, gave her a quick hug and turned her round to take her back with him to the room she had just left. His only response to her mental question was an urgent comment that he needed to talk to her and Kyle in private as soon as possible. He repeated this aloud for Kyle’s benefit before he knocked perfunctorily and they all walked into join a startled Liz and Isobel.

Closing the door behind him, Kyle moved over to lean against the far wall facing the door, folding his arms and looking serious for once. Isobel sat up from where she had been lying on the bed and Liz stood by the dresser with a plastic knife in her hand, about to butter some bread. Michael stood in front of the door, still holding Maria close to his side.

All the girls looked anxiously at Michael who made no attempt to hide the anger he could obviously barely control. He gave them the unvarnished truth.

“Max has gone - and he’s taken the bus with him.”

There was a blank silence.

“Taken the bus? How – how could he do that to us? No, I don’t believe it. He must have just – borrowed it, gone for a ride or something…”

“Isobel, he left notes…here, one for you and another for Liz.”

Kyle leaned over and handed them each a sealed envelope. Max had written his hurried farewells on the cheap stationery supplied by the motel.

Liz and Isobel both stared at their envelopes, but neither moved to open them. Michael released Maria and moved to toss his own message into an ashtray on the nearest nightstand, where a flame flickered briefly from the tip of his thumb and the paper was reduced to ash within a few seconds.

He returned to gather his girlfriend close to him again, needing the comfort of her physical and mental touch to block the pain of his almost-brother’s betrayal of them all.

*** What did he say in your note, Michael?***

*** Just basically goodbye and good luck. Sorry about the bus, his need was greater, but he knows I’ll deal… all that fuc*kin’ crap… Oh, and he’ll be back as soon as he’s sorted the Tess thing out. Yeah, right***

*** Oh, Michael, how could he be so heartless? Something strange is going on, I know it. Look, Liz and Isobel can’t believe it either***

Michael saw that the two girls were still as statues, chalk white underneath their tans and clearly devastated. Maria left the shelter of his arm ready to comfort her friends, but Liz suddenly turned and rushed past Kyle into the bathroom, where they heard the lock click and the sounds of sobbing.

Isobel stood up, then sat down again suddenly as her legs gave way beneath her. She allowed Maria to hug her briefly, but then gently pushed her away and curled up, dry-eyed, on the bed, the envelope clutched tightly in her hand.

Catching Kyle’s eye and tugging Michael towards the door, Maria knew that her friends needed privacy to try to deal with this latest shattering loss, so she left them alone together, desperately hoping that maybe they could help each other through the pain this time.

In the room next door, the three prepared to talk at last.

Kyle sprawled on a bed, while Maria sat in the chair by the dresser and Michael leaned against the door, unconsciously adopting the same position as when he had faced down Max earlier.

“Ok, Guerin, spill.” Kyle spoke calmly, mindful of the Buddhist teachings he had relied on since he came to accept the incredible truth. “I know you’ve been wanting to talk to Maria and me long before this Max thing blew up, so now we’re finally here. What’s goin’ on?”

Michael also spoke calmly, but that was because he had himself under rigid control, with all his mental shields fully in position. Only Maria knew just how much strength it took him not to blast a hole through the wall.

“Well, Max has taken the bus and half the camping gear we spent all yesterday buying, so I’m pretty pissed about that. Still, at least he didn’t take the Chevy, that’s more useful to us, bein' a 4WD, than the bus. We would have had to ditch the bus before too long anyway. It was a liability, no use in the mountain terrain we’ll be livin' in.”

Kyle nodded agreement as Michael continued.

“We’ll have to acquire another 4WD from somewhere. I’ve been thinking and looking around at the local vehicle types. What we need is a double cab, hard-top pick-up truck but we’ll worry about how to get one when we get to the park. While we’re in there we’ll have to manage with what we’ve got, more or less, we'll just have to replace some of the smaller emergency stuff that went with Max until we can organise another ride. I could kill the idiot, if I didn’t think that there’s something odd goin’ on. It’s more than just your power-sharing thing, Valenti, but I haven’t got a clue about it or the time to worry right now. Here’s what I think is the real problem and the theory I’ve been working on since we left Roswell…”

He paused and looked first at Maria, who already knew what he was about to say from her unique insight into his thoughts. She had followed the development of his theory almost since it’s conception and, though horrified, had admitted that it was tenable.

He looked over at Kyle, who appeared relaxed enough on the bed, but was in reality nervous as a cat.

“I think the reason the FBI haven’t followed us is because they already know where we are and can pick us up whenever they choose.”

“Go on, Michael.” Maria’s voice was tense. Hearing the words aloud somehow made it more real.

“I think the bus has a tracking device and that can only mean –.”

Kyle interrupted him.

“ – that Jesse is FBI…”

********

Chapter Sixteen

Michael’s theory about Jesse and the bus made sense to both Maria and Kyle. Sitting around the motel room with midnight approaching, they discussed the implications.

Michael was still cautious about his theory. Although he was convinced of Jesse’s guilt, he wasn’t entirely certain that it was the FBI who were behind it all.

“There are still questions that need to be answered. It seems such a suspect operation that it may not be the Feds anyway. I’m only assuming because Max said one of Jesse’s buddies at his stag party mentioned he had links with the FBI.”

“We also have to decide what to do about Max.”

“What can we do?” Kyle was dismissive. “He’s on his own, his choice. Not gonna keep me awake much.”

Michael sighed.

“Whatever kind of idiot he is, I can’t let him walk straight into the FBI’s clutches again without any heads up from me, Kyle. Isobel will have to dreamwalk and warn him.”

“He’ll just dump the bus and take off right then and there, Guerin. Then the Feds will know we’re not where they think we are and come after us right away. I think we should give him a few days to put some distance between us before we let him off decoy duty. He really doesn’t seem to give a damn about our safety, so why should we worry too much about his?”

“Oh, Michael, this will destroy Isobel. I don’t know how we’re going to tell her or what she’ll do when she finds out…” Maria’s eyes were wide with dismay.

Michael and Kyle exchanged an apprehensive look. They hadn’t dared to think about that yet. They both turned to Maria hopefully. She frowned back at them.

“Oh, no, it’s not a “girl thing” this time. It’s going to take all of us to convince her and then all of us to pick up the pieces…”

Michael scowled.

“Yeah, it’s gonna hit Iz harder than anything, bad enough Max, but now Jesse. I don’t see what else we can do, though. We have to tell her sometime… somehow.”

There was gloomy silence for a while, during which they all heard the sudden patter of rain outside. Michael opened the door and they all saw that the downpour was heavy enough to prevent any security patrols for a while. He sighed, exasperated with himself for forgetting his own rules.

“I should have been on watch for the last half hour. Just because I think it’s probably safe doesn’t mean I’m right. As soon as the rain stops, I’ll go check to see if there were any new arrivals since you last looked, Valenti.”

Maria remembered her original mission.

“Michael, it’s my turn on guard. I was on my way to check the rota for Liz, Isobel and myself when I met you guys coming to break the news. So I’ll take the next watch and Liz and Isobel will take the early morning ones, ok?”

“Maria – maybe we should let them be, tonight, after all. This Max crap has finished them off….”

“Michael, I know they're both hurting and you want to protect them, but they are part of the group and they have to share responsibilities. They won't be able to sleep, anyway, so a couple of hours on watch might help to distract them.” Maria moved to lay a hand on his arm in unconscious reassurance. “They’re strong and they'll deal, like the rest of us will. Get some sleep, then we’ll all be ready to move on in the morning.”

“I’m not takin’ any chances on leaving you out there alone, Maria. If there’s any danger, I’m sure as hell gonna be there to protect you.”

Maria remembered the last time he had told her that, before she and Liz had gone to Las Cruses when they were investigating Alex’s death. She smiled mistily at him. However much she protested aloud, she secretly loved it when he got protective of her.

“No need, Michael. If I spot anything suspicious, I’ll be right in to get you.”

“Promise, Maria?”

“Hey, we’ve been through all this before, Spaceboy, remember? OK, ok, I promise.”

“Don’t worry, Guerin, I’ll go with her. I’ve been sleeping for days and I’ve got all this extra energy right now. You gotta need some sleep, yourself.”

“Kyle’s right, Michael. You’ve been awake since the last motel.” She looked sternly across at her boyfriend. “Get some rest, Spaceboy. I’ll keep guard for a while and wake you up when it’s your turn.”

Michael caved in and went to stretch out on the bed not already occupied by Kyle. Pounding a pillow, he propped it up behind his back to make himself comfortable.

“Still haven’t solved the problem of how to tell Isobel…”

Kyle looked up. He glanced rather nervously at Maria before he spoke.

“Do we actually have to tell her?” Maria and Michael both looked at him askance so he hurried on. “ I mean, we could just say that we think the bus is bugged and ask her to dreamwalk Max to warn him. We don’t have to mention we suspect Jesse…”

His friends considered the suggestion carefully, anxious to find some way to avoid catastrophe.

“She’ll work it out, though. Then she’ll be mad at us, anyway.” Michael was pessimistic about their chances.

Maria wasn’t so sure. The more she thought about it, the more appealing it became.

“If we do it Kyle’s way we’ll totally cover our asses, Michael. If Max checks the bus and it’s clean, then we’ll know that Jesse is probably innocent – though I have to say that I never really liked him anyway –.”

Kyle gave her an unexpectedly sweet smile at this.

“ – but if he does find a tracking device, then there’s our proof and Isobel will draw her own conclusions without having to hate us for shattering her illusions…”

“She’ll hate us anyway, Maria, because she’ll know we deliberately didn’t tell her.”

“She’ll get over it quicker because we made sure to get proof before we blamed Jesse. Which, by the way, we really should do, in any case.”

“She’s gonna be hurt real bad, Maria…”

“Yes, she is, but the only thing we can do is understand and be there for her. It won’t be easy for any of us.”

They went quiet, listening to the rain still pouring down outside. Kyle thought back to the attack at their graduation ceremony.

“You convinced me that there was something weird about the way they attacked in the high school gym, Guerin. Why there and why wasn’t the place surrounded? It was far too public. They must have realised the firepower it took to destroy the compound. How much do they know or guess about you? They can’t be certain of the full extent of your powers, so any serious FBI operation worth it’s salt would have had massive back-up in place in case we escaped.”

“That’s my point, Valenti. All that happens is Jesse turns up with a bus, makes a half-hearted offer to come with us, which Isobel naturally refuses because she wants him safe, then waves us all a tearful goodbye and runs off to be a rich young lawyer in Boston. If the Feds were serious, they would have had time to round us all up before he even found a bus, let alone cut a deal for it.”

“And another thing… That bus would have had to be prepared with a tracking device in advance of our escape. That fuc*king bastard has got to be the major suspect.” Kyle was well into the arguments now.

“That job offer stinks, too, come to think about it. What prestigious Boston law firm is gonna hand it’s litigation department to a young, inexperienced, small town guy, top Harvard graduate or not? No, I think that adds to the case for a set up.” Maria added her voice to the discussion.

She turned to the dresser by her chair and reached for a cherry coke, lifting her eyebrows to ask the guys if they wanted one too. Kyle nodded, so she tossed him a can and also the Tabasco bottle when he pointed at it. Michael, engrossed in his theory, simply shook his head at her and carried on talking.

“In some ways, Max has done us a favour, even if he didn’t mean to. If the bus is bugged then he’s taking it northeast towards Boston and New York, just what the Feds would expect us to do. We should be safe if we continue to head northwest, especially as they probably don’t know about the Chevy. Though if he’s captured, he might be forced to tell them where he last saw us, so we’re still not free and clear.”

Maria thought of another aspect.

“The alien-hunting team was probably decimated in the explosion, so there may only be a few left to carry on. That would account for the lack of personnel and the reliance on the tracking device. We also don’t know how much credibility they have among the mainstream Feds. There are a lot of other issues out there now, so we may not be a major concern to them at the moment.”

“We can hope, princess, but we can’t rely on that. We still make sure we have someone on watch at all times.”

Kyle finished off his cherry coke and threw the can with casual accuracy across the room into the trash.

“Rain seems to have stopped, DeLuca. Wanna head out?”

“Yes, Kyle, I’ll be with you in a second.”

She waved him towards the door as she stood up and went over to Michael on the bed. Clasping his face between her hands she kissed him very softly.

“Sweet dreams, Spaceboy. We’ll be together in just a little while…”

He watched her longingly as she left the room, then kicked off his shoes, fell back on the bed and gave in to sleep at last.

Kyle checked the remaining unoccupied room and, when Maria joined him a few moments later, they leaned on the rail outside and looked around discreetly to see what was going on. All was quiet; the drapes were closed over the windows that overlooked their rooms; no suspicious vehicles contained any mysterious observers, though it occurred to him that there could be spy cameras and he had an uneasy few minutes until he realised that they had done nothing suspicious. His own final (he hoped) green flash might have been a trick of the light, and anyone following them could not have arrived in time to catch it anyway.

Maria had been recalling the details of Isobel’s whirlwind romance with Jesse and saw it in a new light. In Kyle, she had a rapt audience for her low-voiced conjectures.

“He certainly put the moves on Isobel fast. She’s so young and he was so much older than her, you’d think that he would have been more cautious about their relationship. He’s a lawyer, after all, and he worked for her father, who didn’t approve of their hasty marriage. Even if it was all Isobel making the running over the wedding, Jesse could have taken things more slowly if he’d wanted to.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I never trusted the guy from day one…”

She giggled softly.

“You’re biased, Kyle, even Michael can see that.”

“What? If Guerin noticed, I must be wearing a neon sign… Seriously, Maria, is it that obvious?”

Maria patted his arm consolingly. She sighed, understanding how much it hurt when the one you loved was out of reach. Telling a little white lie was sometimes all a friend could do.

“Don’t worry, it isn’t as if anyone else has picked up on it, what with all the distractions we’ve had. I think your secret is safe with Spaceboy and me.”

They lapsed into companionable silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts.

The sky had cleared and stars littered the night once again. It was chilly enough to make Maria shiver a little. Kyle noticed and took off his sweater to wrap it around her shoulders. She was grateful for the warmth and said so.

“You’re a very kind person, Kyle. I’m sorry you had to leave your father and go on the run with us. You’re the only one of us who had a real choice, though, so why did you come? Was it just because of the powers thing?”

“That’s a big part of it, Maria, but it was just as much – and I know it sounds dumb now it’s actually happening – just as much for the adventure of it. Roswell was a dead end for me, just working at the garage. Even that job my dad said he got me as a deputy wasn’t what I wanted. No, the truth is, I got used to the excitement of knowing “aliens” and I wanted to belong, whatever happened with the powers and the FBI and stuff. Alex once said to me it was worth dying to know the secret and I – I agree…”

“Alex…” Maria still felt angry and sad when she remembered how her best friend died. “How could Max forgive Tess for that? How could he still miss her and have feelings for her, like he told Liz he did, when the bitch killed Alex?”

Something in the night and the peaceful stars soothed Kyle and he found himself confessing something to the small blonde that he’d thought he was too ashamed ever to admit.

“I-I still miss her sometimes, too, Maria.”

Her head whipped round to glare at him and he took a step back, holding his hands up in a defensive gesture.

“I don’t want to but I can’t help it. Even though when I’m awake I hate her for what she did to Alex – and me and my dad, too - the memories weren’t all bad and in my dreams, especially since she died, I remember her when she lived with us and made it seem like a real home… I forget what she did and just remember that I loved her for a while...”

Maria’s heart melted and she wrapped him in a big hug. For the first time since they had left Roswell he felt comforted by the warmth of just being held by another human being.

Looking up at the sound of a door opening, his heart stopped and his mind froze in horror as he realized that he was standing in the shadows with Michael Guerin’s girl in his arms.

He struggled hurriedly away from a slightly confused Maria. The big alien moved purposefully towards them and Kyle tried to think of some way to avoid certain death. Draping an arm over Maria’s shoulders, Michael looked out over the quiet parking lot.

“My turn on watch, guys. Everythin’ ok?” Michael kissed Maria and gently pushed her towards the room he had just left. “Go to sleep, Blondie, I’ll be there when you wake up.”

She returned his kiss, clinging to his arm for a moment, before winking at Kyle, handing him his sweater and disappearing through the door.

“So…Valenti.” Michael had guessed from the faint, ever-present, undercurrent of Maria’s feelings in his mind that Kyle had needed some comfort and he was glad that she had been there for his friend, but he wasn’t above having a little fun here. He stared hard at Valenti, his expression suspicious. “Just what, exactly, has been goin’ on out here?”

Kyle suppressed a tiny flutter of panic, but then relaxed. If Michael had really been upset, he would have long since exploded.

Relieved to find himself still alive, Kyle played along for the hell of it. Guerin was turning out to be surprisingly likeable once you got past the hostile attitude. The Sheriff’s son enjoyed their banter, which distracted him from the pain of missing and worrying about his dad.

“Well, face it, Guerin, I’m just irresistible to chicks and now that I’ve got the power, I’m even more so. If that’s even possible.” He had a delightful thought. “Maybe that’s gonna be my specialty, like enhancing my natural abilities…”

Michael snorted with laughter. Kyle was a real good guy to have along on the ride. He was forced to admit to himself that he had grown to like Kyle a lot in the short time they had been forced to travel together. Now that he had thrown his fate in with theirs, the antagonism had vanished and the real, easygoing Kyle had emerged. Michael found they had a lot more in common that he would ever have guessed.

When he considered it, there were very few people that Michael actually liked. He counted Maria, Isobel, maybe Alex and - for a time - the guys on his shift at Metachem (he felt a pang of regret as he recalled Monk’s needless death). That had been it for real friends, until Kyle had been unexpectedly added the list.

Michael was indifferent or hostile to most people he encountered. He loved Max as a brother, but had always recognised that they’d never particularly liked each other as friends. Only their alien origins had drawn them close, but they had nothing else in common and Michael had long ago accepted it. He still felt hurt and betrayed by Max’s callous behaviour, but he suspected, from his own recent painful experience, that Max was somehow once again at the mercy of his alien programming. However, Michael could do nothing but send him a warning via Isobel’s dreamwalking talents.

The pragmatist in him approved Kyle’s suggestion that it was in the group’s interest to delay the warning for as long as possible, in order to get as lost as they could before their enemies discovered them gone. Michael wanted to get his charges to the relative safety of the state park before he told them his plans for their next move. Although he felt some guilt about it, he would use Max as a decoy for as long he could, then get Isobel to talk him into buying them all some extra time. He had another idea about how to accomplish that, too.

Kyle stood up from leaning on the rail beside him and nudged him with an elbow.

“No point in both of us staying out here tonight. I’m wide awake now, so go get some … sleep.”

“Thanks, Kyle. See you at 7am in your room, tell the girls. We’ll need to work out what we need to replace from the bus. Another fuc*kin’ day shopping. What do chicks see in it?”

“Who knows what chicks think, man?”

“Yeah, who knows?” Michael suddenly smiled and looked over at the room where Maria was asleep and dreaming of him again. “See ya in the morning, Valenti.”

He walked over to the door, used his power on the lock, and quietly disappeared behind it, leaving Kyle to head out on his rounds.

Later, he sat on a bench in a shadowed corner of the landscaped area near their rooms and, leaning back to look at the stars, wondered how and when he would begin to learn more about this new, powerful Kyle he had become.

Inside the motel room, Michael rapidly threw his clothes off, congratulating himself on having the forethought to “scrub-down” earlier. Setting the alarm on his watch, he laid it on the nightstand and joined Maria in bed.

Sliding his naked body behind hers, he spooned her, his arm holding her close against him, her head tucked beneath his chin on the pillow. He felt her pleasure as she unconsciously registered his physical presence and snuggled against him. However, she didn’t stir and he was reluctant to wake her now.

They both needed a few more hours sleep and then they could slake their thirst for each other at last...

********

Chapter Seventeen

In the room that Liz and Isobel now shared by default, the alien girl had been relieved when Maria and the guys left. Their sympathy wasn’t going to help her at this point. She was still stunned by the news that her brother had run out on them all, without even saying goodbye. The letter he left might hold his excuses, but she knew it would not provide an explanation.

The biggest mystery for her was the fact that Max could be so blind to Liz’s feelings when she had been his obsession for so long. She knew Tess just never held that kind of fascination for him, no matter what she had done to try to convince him of their destiny together.

Forcing herself to move, she sat up and swung her legs to the floor, sitting on the edge of the bed to stare at the letter in her hand. Taking a deep breath, she slowly and carefully peeled back the flap, delaying the inevitable moment when she must face the fact that Max really had gone, selfishly thinking only of himself and apparently indifferent to their fate.

Her bottom lip quivered and she bit painfully down on it to try to stop the tears prickling behind her eyes. How could he leave now, when they were still so vulnerable to their enemies? In a sudden violent movement, she ripped the letter out of the flimsy envelope, and quickly scanned the few, hastily scrawled, words. Her brother’s quiet, controlled voice echoed in her mind as she read…


“Dear Isobel,

I know we’ll meet in dreams. Make it soon.

I’m sorry.

Your loving brother,

M.”


As soon as the words sank in, Isobel was hit by a bolt of relief. Of course she wasn’t alone - Max wasn’t lost to her. All she had to do was wait until he was asleep so they could talk to each other and find out what was happening. She had no doubt that their sibling bond would transcend distance and he would tell her just what the hell was going on. Whatever he was going through, she was determined to help him and helping him right now meant helping Liz to get through the pain Max had caused once again.

She stood up, went over to the bathroom and, knocking on the door, walked in without waiting for a response from Liz.

“Come on out, Liz, the others have gone and the bed is much softer than the cold, hard floor in here…” Isobel’s voice was kind and sympathetic, much different from her usual reserved manner with Liz, and the huddled figure stirred in response. Isobel held out her hand to help her stand up and Liz accepted it gratefully. Her tears had stopped and she had a stiff, weary expression on her face.

She allowed Isobel to lead her over to the bed and obediently climbed onto it, legs tucked under her and back straight as she watched the tall girl go over to the dresser to pour two cups of milk, warming them through with her powers so that they smelt comfortingly of sugar and cinnamon. She carried one over to Liz, who gave her a watery smile and sipped at it appreciatively. Returning to collect her own cup, she automatically added a dash of Tabasco and took it with her to her own bed, where she adopted a similar position to Liz.

Silence continued as they both sipped at their milky drinks, more at ease with each other than either could remember. The sound of rain outside made the warm lamp-lit room seem like a haven from the world and, in some way, from all the dangers that threatened them. It was Liz who finally spoke.

“What did he say in your note?”

“Only that he wants me to dreamwalk soon… What about yours?”

“Here, read it yourself – I don’t mind. I meant it when I said it’s over between us. I have to move on.”

She fished in the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper that she handed to Isobel.


“My darling Liz,

I really, really don’t want to do this, but I have no choice.

Someone or something inside is calling me to help Tess, wherever she is. I can’t ignore it; it’s been there since she died, faint at first but now it’s getting stronger. I feel the pull all the time now, awake or asleep. I don’t know what else to do, except try to find her and stop it. That’s why I have to go.

I’ll be back for you and Isobel, you both mean everything to me. Look after each other.

I love you with all my heart, you are my one true soulmate, please try to understand.

Always,

Max.”


Isobel looked up at Liz, who was now leaning against her pillows, staring into space.

“Something strange is going on. That unnatural sleep and calling you Tess – can’t you see it’s not the real Max? You’re the one he loves, Liz. He doesn’t want to hurt you… why give up on him now, when you’ve finally got what you’ve always wanted?”

Liz no longer cared if Isobel knew her most painful, intimate secret. She wanted the other girl to know just exactly what anguish her brother had inflicted.

“He - he called me Tess before the sleep thing started. He c-called her name when w-we made l-l-love, Isobel. I can’t just let that pass.” She saw Isobel’s sympathetic expression change to shock and was encouraged to go on pouring out her feelings.

“I-I was pleased when Tess died. I know it was wrong, but I really thought that with her gone, everything would be fine between us – and it was. He made a diamond out of a piece of charcoal and then asked me to marry him. It was so romantic. I thought we were really happy at last, even though we had to leave Roswell in such a hurry.” Her voice had trembled earlier, but as she talked it became stronger and harder, reliving the memories.

“Then, after we left Roswell, I started to think maybe Max was only with me because he felt guilty about all the pain he’d put me through with the destiny thing, sleeping with Tess, making her pregnant, forcing me to go on the run from the FBI -.”

Isobel couldn’t let that pass without some defence of her brother.

“It wasn’t all his fault, Liz. There were times when you hurt him badly, too. You were the one, remember, who insisted he follow his destiny when he wanted to choose you. You were the one who pushed him into Tess’s arms; he didn’t want her, he wanted you. You were the one who ended the relationship every time. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying don’t make him take all the blame, Liz. You hurt him sometimes, too…”

Liz bridled. She was the victim here and it was unfair of Isobel to criticise her behaviour.

“Hurting each other isn’t only confined to Max and me. Look at Michael screwing with Maria’s feelings for so long and then having her turn the tables on him; both were just as hard on each other but you’re not accusing them. Then you, Isobel – you married poor Jesse without telling him the secret and never gave him the choice – none of us are blameless in all this, even you.”

To her surprise, Isobel didn’t appear hurt at the jibe. Liz didn’t realize that the mention of Jesse and the pain she’d caused him barely registered as Isobel had buried her feelings deep and built her defences strong. Instead, the alien girl ignored the attack and calmly went back to the point she had been intending to make.

“That doesn’t mean Max was with you out of guilt, Liz. What had he done to make you think that?”

Liz thought about it. Reluctantly, she had to admit that there had been nothing in Max’s behaviour to justify her feelings and maybe she had been wrong in letting her insecurities overcome reality. She sighed wearily.

“Maybe you do have a point, Isobel. Maybe running from Roswell just brought out some insecurities I didn’t know I had…still, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forgive him for calling me Tess and running out on us to go after her.”

“Whatever Max has done, Liz, it seems a pity to throw it all away before we find out just what’s going on with him, don’t you think?”

Isobel wanted to keep a way open for the two to work things out if they could. She thought that they really were made for each other, both being essentially self-involved and surprisingly ruthless when they chose to be.

It struck her that, in the few days since they’d left Roswell, several things had become clear to her that were previously obscured in the world she had lived in. This belated insight into the characters of her brother and Liz was just the latest example. It must be true after all, she thought wryly to herself, that travel broadens the mind.

Liz sat up and swung her legs to the floor, reaching for their empty cups and standing to move over to the dresser.

“Do you think you could help me learn to control my power enough to heat up some more of that cinnamon milk, before we try to get some sleep?”

Isobel was content to let Liz change the subject. At least she hadn’t dismissed the suggestion out of hand. Dreamwalking Max might help to provide some answers to the problem. Meanwhile, lessons in power control might be a good place to start work on their new friendship. Once again, she missed Maria and wished she were there to lighten the atmosphere.

“Ok, we’ll try it this way at first. Pour a little milk into your cup, not too much, and then concentrate on the memory of what warm, sugary, cinnamon milk tastes like in your mouth…”

Liz tried to follow Isobel’s surprisingly patient instructions and both became absorbed in the lesson as the night advanced.

Around 5am, dawn was a pale hint in the eastern sky when Kyle knocked softly on the door.

A pale, puffy-eyed Liz opened it cautiously and, when she saw who it was, she stepped back to let him inside. He found Isobel, still fully dressed, sitting on the end of one the beds while Liz returned to a seat in the corner. They both looked at him in silence. He cleared his throat nervously.

“So…er…how…how are you feeling…?” he could have kicked himself. That was so not what he meant to say. They might start to cry again and he knew he would just turn tail and run for Maria.

To his surprise they shared a glance, then both gave him weak, but knowing, grins.

“Don’t worry, Kyle, you’re safe. We’re all cried out, so you won’t have to panic and run for help.” Isobel was faintly waspish.

“Oh, well…er…that’s good, I guess. I came to say that…um, Michael said to tell you that we’re all meeting in my room at 7am to talk about our plans. So, if you want to go on watch, now would be a good time, but it’s cold out there and if you don’t feel up to it right now, then I can carry on. I don’t feel sleepy at all. It’s just that Maria said earlier that she thought you might be up for it…” he heard himself babbling and trailed off uncertainly.

Liz took pity on him and stood up to walk to the door, where she turned to look at him.

“It’s ok, Kyle, it’s time I did my share of guard duty. What do I do?”

He suddenly realised that she had not, so far, taken any share of the night watch since they had left Roswell, so he decided he’d better stay to show her the ropes. He looked over at Isobel to include her in the conversation.

“It’s beginning to get light now and so it’s too risky go sit outside to watch. We’ll only draw attention to ourselves, which we don’t want. The best thing we can do at this time of the morning is keep watch through the window, being careful not to let anyone see us looking. I suppose one of us could sit in back of the Chevy, the tinted windows would help hide the fact that someone is there, but it’s not really necessary and it may be a little late for that, if people are starting to move about.”

The girls nodded their understanding.

“How would you like to play it? There’s still time for a quick trip to the vending machines to check the front of the building, if you like, but we can’t all go…”

“Liz and I will go together. I’m sick of this room, aren’t you, Liz? I need action; I need to do something to clear my head.” She smoothed her hands over her hair, currently in longish, loose chestnut curls, tied back in a high ponytail. Kyle liked the look.

“When you come back, you can both stay here and keep an eye on the other guests leaving, ok? It’ll start to get busier soon, as most people make an early start.”

The girls’ spare clothes were in another room, since they had not expected to spend the night in this one, but the prospect of a chilly few minutes outside didn’t deter them from going out into the faint grey light to pause and lean on the rail, staring at the dozen or so cars and pick-ups parked in front of the other rooms on three sides of the square.

Kyle’s low voice came from the doorway behind them.

“It’s not anywhere near full up, so that makes it easier for us to make a note of the vehicles for future reference. Try to make a mental note of them all, because it’s not just the ones that are still here when we leave which might be suspect, but also the ones that leave before us. They could be going ahead to wait somewhere for us to pass them, before they follow us.”

The two girls concentrated hard on scanning the parking lot, trying to memorise colors, models and plates. Kyle knew they would eventually come to realise that it was impossible to remember everything about every car, but he saw no harm in making them aware of just how careful they needed to be when they were on watch.

Moments later, Liz and Isobel hurried along the walkway and through the arch that led to the front of the building and the reception office. Their destination was the area where the vending machines were located and they stood around, ostensibly discussing their selections, while in reality examining the area for cars or people who might possibly be the enemy.

They each bought a snack from the machines and wandered back to the now darkened room. Kyle had drawn a chair into position by the window and was surveying as much of the parking lot as he could, concentrating mainly on the exit through the archway.

Liz and Isobel came in and Liz waved him out of the chair, taking his place and unwrapping the pecan muffin she had just bought. Isobel went over to the dresser and started to make coffee for them all, which perked Kyle up considerably. He’d only had some disgusting stuff from the vending machines during his long watches in the night.

“We may have an advantage today, as we’re retracing our steps back into the city. That might fool anyone who expects us to head on out to continue on our way.” He didn’t mention the absence of the bus, figuring silence was the best way to deal with that difficulty. However, Liz again surprised him by bringing up the subject herself.

“Max taking the bus may actually have helped us. If they follow it, they might not be able to keep track of us as well, depending on their resources.” Her voice was neutral and no flicker of emotion crossed her face she spoke.

Isobel nodded in agreement, apparently equally unemotional about her missing brother. Kyle was impressed. Maybe Maria had been right when she said that they were strong and would deal. Still, women were unpredictable, so he privately remained cautious. It was early days yet.

The morning sun rose higher in the sky and a few other guests began to stir. Some headed to the vending machines and returned to their rooms with a breakfast snack and some simply climbed into their cars and headed out towards the highway.

At 5.30 Kyle finished his second cup of sweet, Tabasco-laced coffee and went back to his room for a short nap and a shower before the others joined him at 7am. On the way, he stopped by the Chevy to calculate how much room they had to spare for the extra supplies and, on peering through the tinted window, he saw a large package on the back seat.

Opening the door, he saw it was the other tent from the bus, together with several items assumed to have gone with Max. He whistled quietly to himself and went on into his room. The news could wait until the others arrived for breakfast.

In the middle room, Michael and Maria were still fast asleep, naked bodies curled close together in the warm bed, dreaming minds linked in the boundless love they’d both surrendered to at last.

Floating reluctantly towards consciousness from the depths of a delightful dream, Maria’s eyelids fluttered open first. She could feel Michael’s mind still drifting blissfully in the newfound, shared security of their love. She could also feel his rock-hard cock pressing insistently against her ass. Her happiness threatened to overwhelm her and she needed to express it physically, so she slid carefully around in his arms until they were face to face. Michael’s Tabasco-toxic morning breath had often made open-mouth kisses uncomfortable for her until he returned from his bathroom routine, but this time she never even noticed, she was so hot for him. If she didn’t have him right then, she feared she would explode.

Sliding one arm around his neck, she fastened her lips to his shoulder and bit delicately, before nibbling and kissing her way towards his neck. Trailing her other hand across his chest and down towards the hugely impressive erection she craved inside her, she first encountered the slick tip of his engorged co*ck and ran a finger lightly over the sensitive rim before her hand wrapped round the thick shaft. She slid it down to cup and squeeze his balls gently before returning to the silk-sheathed steel, intending to guide it into her fiery, liquid center as quickly as she could. Suddenly, his big hands tangled painfully in her hair and her face was dragged up to his, where he took her lips in a ravenous kiss, invading her mouth with his tongue and drowning all rational thought beneath the fierce tide of his passion. She released his cock for a moment in order to wrap both her arms around his neck and pull him closer…

His hands left her hair and moved lightning-fast to grasp her wrists and he used one to pin them above her head as he held her beneath him. His other hand slid slowly over her ass, his fingers digging into her flesh, pulling her thigh up over his hip, bringing her tight and open against him so that his co*ck slid between her legs and entered in one swift, smooth movement. As soon as he was fully inside her, Michael stopped moving and stared challengingly into her eyes.

Maria was instantly incensed. She could feel his thoughts, ferocious and tender, knew that he was teasing her, withholding the pleasure she craved just to make her angry, to see her writhing beneath him, feel her frustrated need for his friction against her clit, the one tiny point in her burning body that now eclipsed every other sense she possessed.

She tried to buck against him but he held her still with one hand on her hip as he slowly, slowly, started to withdraw from her, inch by tormenting inch, until he was poised once more at her brink, then he slid his cock infinitely slowly back until he filled her again. He repeated this remorselessly, building a relentless rhythm, using all his willpower to keep her on the dark, sweet edge of cumming, dragging out their mutual torture until finally, with the sound of his name on her lips echoing through his mind, his control snapped.

He heard her sobbing with fury and then laughing in wild relief as he suddenly plunged his co*ck hard and fast into her hot, tight core, thrusting harder, faster, deeper, again and again until they were both panting and pounding against each other and the sweat ran to mingle on their salty skin as their bodies fused in passionate ecstasy unknowing, uncaring, if their names were screams voiced aloud or silent whispers in their star-strewn minds.

Some time later, they lay cosily together against pillows piled high, Maria’s head resting against Michael’s shoulder and his fingers idly playing with her hair. Occasionally they kissed softly, thoughts gentle and caressing, unwilling to think further ahead than the moment and break the mood.

Both were still in the intense aftershock of making love and the beep of his watch was a cruel intrusion into their private world. Michael, intent on keeping her all to himself for as long as he could, drew Maria into his arms, his kiss meltingly slow, deep and loving. Her wholehearted response in both mind and body assured him, if he needed it, that she was his forever and the fervor of his own pledge in return equalled hers.

********

Chapter Eighteen

At 7am Michael and Maria found the others already gathered in Kyle’s room, waiting for them. Isobel smiled at Maria, pleased to see her friend happy; Kyle gave Michael a wicked grin and then winked at Maria, making her blush. Liz kept her thoughts to herself.

Maria headed straight to the dresser. Coffee for Spaceboy and herself was the first priority. Their reluctance to leave the bed meant that they had been forced to take a very fast shower together at the last minute.

Michael, frustrated at being denied time to play with a wet and soapy Maria, and annoyed at having to endure another day of shopping, was in a grumpy mood by the time he sat down on the chair by the dresser in Kyle’s room. Anger at Max’s desertion returned to him as he remembered the earlier part of the night and his formidable scowl was in evidence as he surveyed his companions scattered about the room.

Maria started to prepare the coffee, but Liz suddenly joined her and, with the first genuine smile her best friend had seen since they left Roswell, gave her a warm hug.

“Go sit down, Maria – I’ll make the coffee for you and Michael this morning. Isobel’s been giving me lessons. Watch!”

She carefully prepared the cups, held her hand over them and concentrated. Soon steam rose from them both and the others commented approvingly. She took a mock-modest bow, and handed them to the suitably grateful recipients. Michael relaxed for a few moments as the hot, sweet liquid revived his spirits slightly. Then he got down to business.

“First of all, we’ve got to get to a park as soon as we can, but one that’s far enough away to put some distance between us and the bus. It means driving all night with all of us packed into the Chevy. Not gonna be a pleasure trip. Before that, we’ve gotta replace as many of the supplies as we can carry, now that Max has taken off with half our stuff.” He frowned in an effort to keep his temper in check.

When Michael recalled all the time and worry he and Kyle had put in over planning and buying their supplies, only for Max to betray their trust without a second thought for his friends, he could feel rage build inside. The only thing that stopped him exploding was the knowledge that the others depended on him. They needed a leader and he had to be strong for them all. The luxury of losing his temper was no longer an option.

Kyle spoke from his comfortable position on the rumpled bed.

“Got some good news on the shopping front. His ex-Majesty has left us some farewell gifts in the Chevy. Guess he had a conscience after all.”

The others all looked surprised, and in Isobel’s case, relieved, too. Max hadn’t been entirely thoughtless, despite everything.

“What did he leave us?”

“Looked like the other tent and the sleeping bags, I didn’t look closely. It’ll be a tight fit to get it all packed in the Chevy with the five of us as well, though.”

Michael looked thoughtful.

“As I said last night, we’ll soon need to get a pick-up truck from somewhere and that should give us plenty of room. It’ll be much better than the bus, anyhow and another 4WD, too. There are plenty round here to choose from, every other vehicle is a pick-up, and we won’t be as conspicuous in the mountains. Still, I think we should wait until we leave the park before we grab one. Less hassle and we can take our time planning it.”

He looked round at them all, noting that they all seemed wide awake and alert this morning, despite all the drama of the long night. Surprisingly, Liz and Isobel looked almost cheerful. It had been a good idea of Maria’s to suggest the state park. Michael wanted them to get well rested and prepare themselves for a summer surviving in the backwoods. He would tell them his plans for that when they had settled into the routine but he wanted to discuss it with Maria first chance he got, because it was time that she, above all, knew his secret. He hadn’t meant to keep it from any of them at first, but then he’d been distracted by other things until now.

*** So you’ve got secrets from me, have you, Spaceboy?***

Reflecting that while their unexpected new connection allowed them the privacy of independent thought and, having highly individual personalities, they were both profoundly grateful for that, there would be times when it might be a tad inconvenient… Like now, when he’d forgotten to shield his thoughts and she must’ve picked up on his slightly nervous anticipation. So his reply was a defensive growl…

*** I knew it would only be a matter of time before you tried to suck my brains out. Secrets don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell with you, do they, Blondie? Still, this one’s not gonna give up so easy…***

*** You think? Hmm, so young and so deluded. Oh, I do love a challenge, Spaceboy. As for sucking your brains out, Michael – well, that’ll just have to wait until we’re alone…***

The vivid image flashed through both their minds and their eyes met across the room. Michael looked away hurriedly, before he lost control and ravished her there and then. He heard her slow giggle in his mind and forced himself to concentrate on the public topic of conversation.

“…still got to get the right clothes, and make sure we’ve got enough food for the next week, anyway.” That was Kyle, revising their schedule. “I’ll go see what we’ll need to replace and what we can do about fitting the extra tent and stuff into the Chevy.”

“Isobel, why don’t you help Kyle? You did a great job when we split the stuff the first time.” If Isobel was surprised by a compliment from Michael, she was diplomatic enough not to show it. She merely nodded.

Michael thought back to what he’d learned from the survival manual. It seemed years since he had been peacefully reading it in the back of the bus, with only Maria and Kyle for company.

“Gonna be freezing in the mountains as well as hot, so we’ll need to layer up on clothes. It means more stuff to pack in the Chevy – maybe too much. I think we’ll just have to get a roof rack, even if it does make us a bit more conspicuous for a while.”

Kyle brought out his list from a pocket and smoothed it out.

“Good boots are a basic and Michael’s right - we need to plan for both extremes, so good gear is a necessity. This is what the book recommends as the minimum requirements.”

He read aloud from the list and Michael shook his head gloomily. They’d already spent far more “alien” money than he was comfortable with and they’d need to spend a lot more before they left the city. They were gathering some “real” money in exchange, which was some consolation, but the sooner they moved on, the happier he would be.

“Liz. When you and Iz were doing the research on the parks, what did you come up with?"

“There are a couple of possibilities within reach, if we drive all night and aim to get there tomorrow afternoon.”

“Then you, Maria and I will plan our route, while you two –” He nodded at Kyle and Isobel. “ –go sort out the Chevy.”

Isobel remembered to ask if they’d all packed their personal belongings yet, as they would need to find room in the Chevy for those, too. There was a general shuffle between the rooms as they all retrieved their stuff and set it beside the remaining vehicle. Despite being merely the bare necessities, it was still a significant pile to find room for.

Michael and Maria ate some of the food left over from the night before and drank more of Liz’s coffee as they leaned over the map spread out on one of the beds. Liz brought out the flyers for the parks and they discussed the options.

Ten minutes later the door opened and the other two came back inside, looking worried. Kyle broke the news.

“Max left more stuff than I first thought. Too much, in fact – there’s no room inside for all of it and all of us, too. We’re gonna need that roof rack or we’ll have to dump some of it.”

Michael stood up, yawned and stretched all over, flexing his muscles so that the already tight black sweatshirt he was wearing clung to his body like a second skin and his jeans slipped down lower on his hips, revealing his belly button.

Maria’s wide eyes drank in the sight and she licked her lips, unconsciously sending him a flash of lust, which made him grin smugly to himself. Liz noticed the display, too, and involuntarily recalled the sight of his naked, impressively endowed body from when she had interrupted him with Maria at the last motel. She flushed in horrified embarrassment, hoping nobody had seen her reaction.

Looking at his watch, which showed that it was nearly 7.30, Michael bowed to the inevitable. There would have to be a special trip for a roof rack, before they could leave the motel. There was no point in going as a group; someone would have to stay to guard the extra stuff. The others agreed, and 15 minutes later, much of the equipment had been unloaded into the room and the two guys had driven off towards the city to shop for the rack. After that, they intended to buy their personal all-weather gear but first of all, as Kyle convincingly argued, a real guy-type breakfast was a necessity.

Stopping at a roadside diner, they devoured the best breakfast they had eaten since forever. Ham, eggs, beans and sausage links preceded waffles with bacon and molasses, all doused with Tabasco and washed down with juice and coffee. Leaving their motherly waitress a generous tip, they set off for the shopping trip in a more up-beat mood than when they’d left the motel.

Maria kept watch from the window to see if they were followed, and was relieved when there was no sign of anyone else leaving soon enough afterwards to be suspicious. The three girls sat around in silence for a few minutes, then Isobel looked over at the map, still spread out on one of the beds.

“Did you three decide on which park we go to? How far did you get with planning the route?”

“The best one for us seems to be River Falls Lake. It’s a large park about a 24 hour drive towards the north west, and the flyer says it’s got secluded tenting areas in pine woods and alpine meadows as well as a big lake.”

“Sounds cool, like a vacation. Be good to stop somewhere for a while.” Isobel had long ago tired of the constant travelling. Maybe camping wasn’t her favourite activity, but she needed some time out from the suffocating presence of the others, to breathe and come to terms with her new life.

“It’s gonna be hard to spend more time on the road. When we get to the park, I think I’ll just sleep for the week…”

Maria echoed Isobel’s thoughts and Liz smiled briefly in agreement. She pointed to a spot on the map.

“We’re here and we need to leave this city by early afternoon, to get to the place tomorrow in time to set up camp before dark. The guys should be back by 10.30, so we can hit the stores for ourselves.”

“We can pack up the Chevy before we leave this place, shop for our clothes, then head out after lunch. Meanwhile, I could do with a nap now, how about you?”

Isobel looked at the other two. Maria shook her head.

“You two take a room each and I’ll stay on watch. We have to make sure we do our share, otherwise it’s not fair on the guys. We're all tired, but we have no choice - we have to hold out until we get to the park. It’s hard to sleep when we’re on the road. That’s why I like to drive if I can. It calms my nerves, and stops me thinking too much, I guess.” For a moment, she looked stricken as she thought of her mom, but she straightened her shoulders and went over to the dresser to gather up the bags. “We’ll have to dump this trash somewhere else, so we don’t leave any obvious traces, though I guess we can’t help fingerprints and stuff. I suppose if they look hard enough they can find us, anyway.”

Isobel grinned savagely and flexed her fingers.

“I can make it harder for them.”

She passed her hand over the nightstand, leaving a freshly gleaming patina behind. Wandering around the room, she polished all the areas most likely to have retained their fingerprints.

“There, this room’s cleaner than it’s ever been. I’ll go over all three rooms thoroughly, right before we check out.”

She went over to the door.

“Will you be ok here on your own, Maria? Just call if you need us, we can hear you through the walls…” With a sly wink at Maria, she left.

Liz stayed where she was, sitting on the edge of the bed by the map. Maria sat on the chair by the window and peered out for a moment.

“You don’t have to stay with me, Lizzie, I’ll be fine. You get some rest, chica, we’ve got a long way to go and I bet you didn’t get any sleep last night, did you?”

Liz sighed and folded the map back into its waterproof cover. She lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

“Are you and Michael finally sure about each other now, Maria? No more clairvoyance needed from me or Madame Vivien?”

She teased, but she really wanted to know. The sounds coming through the thin partition wall as the sun rose that morning had made her feel jealous and angry again, so she tried to be extra nice to Maria, to make up for her resentful thoughts.

Maria’s relationship with Michael had always been a mystery to her. They were so volatile and touchy, so wary and insecure about each others feelings that it was hard to believe that their relationship had effectively lasted nearly three years, whether they had been together or not. Although she had gone too far when she’d railed at Maria in the coffeeshop, and her apology had been real, she still privately thought that the relationship was doomed. Liz knew that the love she and Max had – used to have, she corrected herself quickly – was special, infinitely deeper than Michael and Maria’s edgy, uncertain relationship.

It was hard to ignore the fact that Michael was revealing a very different side of himself now that they were on the run, and she was more impressed by that than she would admit to herself, but she could not accept that he had so easily replaced Max, who had been born for the role of leader. Wherever he was, and whatever was causing his current erratic behaviour, Max should return and claim his rightful place in their group. Things could never be the same between them now, she had made the decision to move on, but that would not stop her being relieved when he came back and the natural order was resumed.

Maria’s eyes were shining as she looked over at her best friend and her smile was pure happiness as she replied to Liz’s curious questions.

“Things are solid between Michael and me, Lizzie. Leaving Roswell seems to suit us, we both know our future’s together now, whatever happens.”

She saw Liz’s smile tremble and quickly changed the subject. There was no need to talk too much about her own happiness and add to Liz’s pain. The private knowledge between Michael (whose current emotions - strongly focused interest and satisfaction, which surprised her as she knew he hated shopping - she could faintly feel somewhere deep in her mind) and herself was enough.

“It’s great that Isobel is helping you with your own powers, chica. How long did it take you to learn to control them enough to heat the coffee?”

Liz embarked on a pleasurable recap of her lesson in power control from the previous night, with scientific theories expounded and a demonstration of her skill once again when she chilled some water and made it taste like cherry coke. She explained that it didn’t look like the real thing yet, but Isobel had promised that would be their next lesson. Both girls giggled and their discussion turned to the clothes they would soon be buying for their new life in the mountains.

That was as far as they dared go when speculating, because neither could bring themselves to admit the trepidation they felt at taking another step away from their old life in Roswell. All the time they had been travelling, it didn’t truly feel as if they had cut all their ties. Now that the time had come to begin to live that new life, practical reality began to bite.

Maria persuaded Liz to rest properly in the next room until the guys came back, then she carried on watching out of the window, revelling in the happiness of being together with Michael again and idly daydreaming about their next encounter, until the Chevy pulled into the parking lot and stopped in front of their rooms once more.

The new roof rack had been fitted, and two large, hard-shell containers were already strapped to the top.

Michael climbed out of the vehicle and headed straight to the room that Maria was in. Kyle followed slowly behind, waiting for Isobel, who had emerged from the furthest room to join them.

Reluctantly confining themselves to a brief, chaste kiss in front of their friends, Michael and Maria shared a warmer, wordless, private greeting, each surprised by the depth of joy the other felt in being back together after even a few hours apart.

Kyle immediately started to sort the equipment into piles ready to load up the two containers. Michael and the two girls joined in and re-packing the Chevy was done in a very short time. One tent fitted into each container, along with the lanterns, two small outdoor cookstoves and fuel canisters, tarps, ropes, insulation pads, sleeping bags and various other items.

It left a generous space in back for the smaller stuff like the medical kit, personal packs, dried food provisions and other supplies.

Maria went to fetch Liz, who was fast asleep in the middle room, and brought her back, still half dazed, to join them. Isobel and Michael carried out a final “forensic clean-up” of all three rooms before the guys drank cups of spicy coffee to recover from the ordeal of shopping.

Michael picked up the map from the bed and looked over at the girls.

“Kyle and I have been talking over our plans and we think it may be best to start out right away instead of returning to the city. It’s 10.15 now. We can stop in Salida this afternoon and buy gear for you girls before we head north on a stretch of 285. It means we can leave this city behind quicker than we thought and maybe get to River Falls Lake earlier than we expected. Ok?”

Twenty minutes later the Chevy joined highway 50, heading west with a full load on board.

Maria was in the back seat between Michael and Isobel, while Kyle drove with Liz beside him. The Chevy was much more comfortable compared to the bus and Maria’s head soon fell on to Michael’s shoulder, while his cheek rested against her hair. Sleep claimed them both and Isobel smiled at them affectionately before settling back and gazing at the scenery, which was becoming more spectacular as they travelled further into the mountains.

They made good time and just after 12.30, Liz pulled into the crowded parking lot of a shopping mall in the city of Salida. The girls went to use the facilities and start their shopping expedition while Kyle quickly did his usual routine of checking for the suppliers they needed and marking the locations on a local tourist map. Michael stayed with the Chevy until Kyle returned before making his own expedition.

They were deep in the mountains now and everywhere they looked, snow-capped peaks towered into the blue sky and although the sun shone, the air was cold. Kyle had been asleep for the last hour and woke with a start, momentarily disorientated. Noticing where they were he thought, with a stab of pain, how far they had come from his desert home in a few days. The icy grey crags looked more threatening than he expected and he felt insignificant and lonely beside them, in spite of his new powers. He shook the gloomy thoughts off and concentrated on the more user-friendly aspects of mountain life.

“Hey, I just had an idea, Guerin.” His voice startled Michael, who was deep in survival manuals again.

“What now, Valenti?”

“Fishing tackle – that’s what we need. This lake place is bound to have fish and it’ll give us a source of fresh food.”

Michael caught his enthusiasm.

“Yeah, and we have to teach the girls to fish, too, for when we go deeper into the wilderness. It’s necessary for our survival that we all learn as much as we can and that includes them.” He grinned as he tried to picture Maria gutting fish for the campfire barbeque. It so wouldn’t happen.

*** Don’t kid yourself, Spaceboy. I’m not that helpless. I can do it if I have to ***

*** I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes, Blondie***

*** You just wait, Michael. Not only am I going to gut it, but you’re going to eat it…***

*** No way, babe. I love you, but I don’t need food poisoning…***

*** Damn it, Michael, I’ll show you that the DeLuca women can do anything we want to do. I will learn to cook and you will learn to love it if it kills us both***

He heard her mental growl, before her thoughts subsided into low mutterings that he was thankful he couldn’t quite make out. She had sounded really cross, although he hadn’t meant to ruffle her feathers this time. Life was about to get even more dangerous if Maria followed up her threat. He said so, just to provoke her some more.

*** Threat? Oooh, Spaceboy, that was low…***

She sounded amused again, but he knew that it was not always a good sign and mentally prepared himself for future battles. Life was looking up. Fighting with Maria was one of his favorite pastimes, next to making out afterwards.

Michael looked up to see Kyle watching him expectantly. He yawned to deflect any suspicion that his inattention had anything other than fatigue behind it.

“What did you say? I was out of it for a minute there, sorry.”

Kyle was unsympathetic.

“Shoulda got more sleep last night, instead of keeping the rest of us awake.”

Michael grinned, but said nothing. Kyle repeated his question.

“I said we’ll need to buy some rods and stuff this afternoon. I saw a sports store advertised on our way into the mall. Shall I go there now, or do you want me to wait until the girls come back?”

“Go now, sooner the better. How much cash do you think you’ll need? We’re running low again so Iz will have to cook some more, soon as she gets back. Pity we’re in a different city to spend it. Another trail marker left behind us. Same game plan, though. Spread the purchases.”

Kyle took the whole roll of “alien” notes and left, leaving Michael to look round at their fellow shoppers. It was very busy, being – he calculated - a Saturday and nobody appeared to take any notice of him or Kyle.

Half an hour later, the girls re-appeared in the distance, carrying several bags each. Maria also had a cardboard cupholder with two large coffee containers balanced precariously against her chest. He sent her a kiss for her kindness.

They all slid back into the Chevy, laughing and relaxed after the normal girlie pleasures of shopping and comparing their purchases over lunch in a coffee shop. The whole exercise had taken only an hour and a half, a personal best for all three.

Maria handed over the coffee to Michael, meanwhile asking where Kyle had gone and digging around amongst her shopping to pull out a bag of donuts. His eyes lit up as he reached for his personal Tabasco supply. Donuts were his favorite food and he never got bored with them, even though he had eaten them at every opportunity since they had been on the road. Maria indulged him as she suspected they were a food that might be hard to find in the mountains.

“Kyle’s gone to buy fishing rods. The lake should be a useful source of fresh protein.” He didn’t mention his plans for them all – Maria already knew and Liz and Isobel, both on record as preferring motel life to camping, would whine and complain at the prospect. He would wait for the right moment to break it to them.

The girls compared their lists and crossed off the stuff they had bought in the mall. Kyle’s tourist map showed the other stores were located nearby, but there was no sign of him until another 15 minutes had passed and Michael had finished off all the donuts, loudly sucking his sugary fingers and ignoring Liz’s disapproving comments about manners and sharing with Kyle.

Kyle was already mildly pissed off when he finally arrived back at the Chevy and loaded the stuff in back with the rest. The store clerk had been an enthusiast and insisted on taking a personal interest in the young man’s choices. While grateful for the advice, Kyle eventually had to plead a non-existent appointment in order to get away. So much for being an anonymous customer, he moaned to the others as he settled into his seat. Then he spotted the empty donut bag and became annoyed with Michael for eating them all.

Isobel reached over from the back seat and stopped him in mid-rant by holding a bag of Danish pastries in front of his face. She exchanged an I-told-you-so look with Maria and they both giggled with Liz when Michael turned round and scowled at her for her earlier attempt to make him feel guilty.

There was another sticky moment when Michael held his Tabasco bottle out of Kyle’s reach in retaliation for the earlier rude comments about his appetite, but he was distracted by Maria wrapping her arms around his neck from behind and kissing his ear so Kyle was able to make a successful snatch.

Peace was restored while Kyle ate both pastries and drank the rapidly cooling coffee without further complaint. Then they headed on to the next store.

They made one more stop before they left the city late in the afternoon. At a Borders store Michael surprised them by issuing each of them 50 real dollars to spend on books and CDs for personal entertainment in the wilderness.

They allowed themselves 45 minutes to browse before they all met up to set off again on their journey. Michael, Maria and Liz stayed on watch as the other two headed into the store.

Michael had wanted this time alone with Maria to talk seriously about his plans, but Liz had insisted on staying, too, joking uneasily that they needed a chaperone or risk being arrested for disturbing the peace. Maria was momentarily puzzled by this, but then dismissed it, assuming maybe Liz still didn’t feel quite comfortable alone with Isobel and Kyle yet. Michael just thought Liz was being her usual pain in the ass self.

He sent a regretful thought to Maria for having to delay their discussion once more, and returned to his survival manuals while Liz and Maria discussed their choices in literature and music.

When Kyle and Isobel returned, the other three immediately set out in their place.

As they approached the store Maria commented that these choices were going to be all the more important because they would be isolated for a long time and no doubt boredom would be a factor. Variety would therefore be vital. She quickly kissed Michael, gave Liz a small wave and disappeared among the bookshelves aiming, although her friends didn’t yet know it, for the cookbooks. Michael and Liz stared after her in surprise. Then they quickly headed in opposite directions, Michael towards the shelves of classic fiction and Liz towards the poetry section.

Meeting back at the Chevy, they all settled into the comfort to which they had quickly become accustomed. Maria would be driving with Isobel on look-out. Liz was sitting between Kyle and Michael in the back, silently cursing Max for stealing the bus and leaving her suddenly feeling like the outsider instead of the center of the group, as she normally was and still should be. She brooded quietly to herself on the unfairness of life.

After filling up on gas as they left Salida, they made their way to a three-way intersection of major highways where they took to the last stretch of the legendary 285, which held special memories for Michael and Maria, before they turned off onto a scenic route via Aspen and eventually through Glenwood Springs, although many of it’s views were lost as darkness fell.

In the small hours after midnight they stopped beside a long, empty stretch of highway and changed the Chevy’s disguise for the last time before it disappeared into the the park.

They chose their own disguises, which would also have to be retained for a week, before they finally set off towards the next stage of their strange, new alien life together.

********

Chapter Nineteen

The early evening sun burned down on the big, dark green Chevy truck as it swung into the eastern entrance of the River Falls Lake State Park. Michael left it outside the visitor center and went to buy permits and check in for the next week. When he returned 10 minutes later, a young employee in the park service uniform accompanied him. The guy spoke to Michael and lifted his hand in a friendly gesture towards the shadowy occupants of the Chevy as he passed it on his way to a nearby jeep.

Michael lifted the tailgate and tossed a couple of firewood bundles and briquette packs in back before he slid back behind the wheel and started the engine.

“Who’s he, Spaceboy?”

Maria voiced the wariness felt by them all, nervous at the unexpected attention of strangers after 5 days on the road.

“Says he’s a trainee park ranger – offered to lead us to the campsite as he was going that way himself. No point in refusing, would have seemed strange.” Michael’s voice was tight with tension. ‘Trust no one’ was still rule number one for him.

He followed the jeep out of the parking lot and on to a road winding gently downhill through trees. The sunlight filtered through the leaf canopy as they drove deeper into the park, catching occasional glimpses of the lake. After some time, the road levelled out and the trees abruptly gave way to a breathtaking view of the mountains and sky reflected in the mirror of water before them. The jeep led them along the edge of the lake for another mile or so before stopping at a camping area among the trees.

The trainee ranger got out and waited for them to pull up nearby, before walking over to the Chevy. He was a tall, suntanned blond, not much older than them, with friendly blue eyes that widened with appreciation as the girls emerged into the bright sunlight.

Isobel favoured shoulder length dark hair and mirror shades to elegant effect. She leaned unselfconsciously against the hood and smiled up into the blue sky, relieved to have reached a relatively safe haven at last, if only for a short time.

Liz had chosen a bleach-haired, pale look for the week, the short, spiky cut making her dark, tragic eyes seem too large for her face. She was reluctant to leave the protection of the Chevy and stood shyly behind the open door.

Maria, blonde again, honey-skinned, had reverted to a mid-length, sharply cut style from a couple of seasons ago that she knew Michael had liked. It reminded Liz of the time Tess had first arrived to disrupt their lives.

Their guide smiled at all three girls, but Michael wrapped a possessive arm around Maria, and Kyle moved casually in front of the other two in an unmistakable ‘keep off’ warning.

The young ranger pointed out the tent pads – smoothed out, grassy areas well-spaced among the trees and bushes along the lake shore.

“This is one of the designated fishing areas around the lake. There are eight tent pads in this campsite – but it’s early season and you have it all to yourselves for the moment, so you’re lucky to get the best shady spots. There are a few camp rules, all in the literature, so please make reading it your first priority. The toilet block and water hydrant are over there - ” he gestured to a rustic style building set some distance away from the lake “ – each pad has it’s own picnic table and fireplace or grill. We at River Falls Lake work to promote environmental education and guests are asked to respect our beautiful natural heritage. Now, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me or the other staff at the visitor center.”

It was a well-rehearsed speech, recited with genuine feeling. The guy clearly loved his job. He smiled at them all, waited for a moment and, when Isobel reassured him they were fine and thanked him for his help, he wished them a great vacation then climbed into his jeep. He leaned out and called to them as he manoeuvred it slowly back towards the road.

“There’s a shower headed this way, so I’d hold off from unpacking your gear until it passes over…” He pointed to the sky, waved and was gone.

The sun was still bright, but when they looked out over the lake, ominous dark clouds were rapidly piling up on the jagged rim of mountain peaks.

Three minutes later, they were all back in the Chevy as the rain drummed loudly on the roof and flooded down the windows. It seemed more claustrophobic than ever, trapped by the weather before they’d even had a chance to choose their site. Michael wanted nothing more than a hot, sweet, spicy coffee after the long spell of driving he had put in that morning but, instead, he handed out the literature he’d collected from the visitor center. It was vital for them all to know the rules so they wouldn’t inadvertently do anything to attract attention to themselves.

A few minutes later Isobel, in the back seat, suddenly sat up and exclaimed in surprise, making him jump.

“Bears! Oh my god, it says there are bears in the forest and to keep food out of reach – I don’t want to stay here if there are bears roaming around, Michael…it’s far too dangerous.”

The other two girls joined in her protest, until Michael had to raise his voice to make himself heard.

“Will you shut up!” They went silent, shocked at the loudness of his voice in the confined space. “God, they can hear you shrieking back at the park entrance...”

He took a deep breath to calm himself. Losing it now, when they finally had a chance to settle quietly for a few days and allow themselves time to think, was waste of energy. He continued in a normal tone.

“This is the wilderness, what did you expect? They can’t be too big a danger or there wouldn’t be a tourist campsite around here. There are no bear cages, either. What’s to be scared of, anyway? We’re much more dangerous than they are…especially DeLuca, here, she’ll just talk ‘em to death.”

He glanced sideways at Maria, who poked her tongue out at him, not yet entirely convinced it was safe.

“Yeah, nothing to get panicked about, ladies.” Kyle had, in fact, shared their panic at first, but hid it and quickly acknowledged Michael’s rational argument. It was true, he thought happily, the most dangerous beast roaming the forest was… himself…

The rainstorm passed and hot sunlight returned, steam rising from the ground as the water evaporated. They couldn’t wait to get out and explore their surroundings.

The lakeshore was rocky at this point and they were able to look out over the wide stretch of water towards the wooded slopes across from their campsite. Maria knelt and dipped her hand into the clear water, withdrawing it quickly when she discovered how cold it was.

“It’s freezing, guys. Too bad, I was really looking forward to a swim before dinner.”

“It’s too early in the year, the guidebook says it warms up later in the summer. Too late for us. We can fish from these rocks, though. I bought us a permit. The water looks deep around here and there’s no limit to the size of the catch.” Michael had already memorised the literature and was determined to make the most of their stay. He looked back at the Chevy.

“Time we unpacked and put the tents up.”

They moved the Chevy between two adjacent sites, about 50 feet apart among the trees and bushes. Chosen for shade and privacy, they were near the shore and some distance away from the facilities and the other pads. One had a grill and the other a fireplace, one for cooking and the other for sitting around, as Maria remarked.

The first tent took the combined efforts of them all, but the second was erected without too much of a struggle and presently they stood around the tailgate of the Chevy drinking coffee or cherry coke before they started to distribute the rest of the gear. They began to feel like they were on vacation and a light-hearted mood infected them all.

“So, which tent would you like, DeLuca – the one with the grill or the fireplace?” Michael hadn’t forgotten Maria’s vow to learn to cook and meant to get some amusement out of watching her efforts. Maria raised her chin in the air and spoke with airy confidence.

“The grill, Spaceboy. I’ll be using it all the time to create those delicious dishes you are so going to l-o-o-o-v-e.”

This earned her a frankly disbelieving look from Liz, who knew her friend’s life-long aversion to cooking.

“Did I hear you right? You, Maria ‘I don’t miss the cooking gene’ DeLuca, are planning to actually cook? Don’t you remember the last time when you tried to make dinner to surprise your mom? You melted the base of a pan and we had to spend all weekend re-painting the kitchen to cover the smoke-damage? Are you sure about this?”

Suddenly becoming the focus of interest for all her friends, Maria glared round at them, noting their broad grins. It only hardened her resolve.

“You’ll see. It can’t be that hard to learn and I have all of you to test my recipes out on…”

There was a collective groan, but only Michael and Liz looked genuinely apprehensive. They both knew she was serious.

“Still, you can all relax for the moment. Let’s make a meal from our supplies because I think we’re all too tired to do anything except catch up on our sleep tonight. I know I am.”

***You sure about that, princess…?***

***I guess maybe not 100%, Spaceboy… what did you have in mind…?***

***We gotta talk, Maria***

***Oh. Right. Talk, yeah. Its that secret you’re keeping from me, isn’t it?***

She heard his mental sigh.

***It’s not exactly a secret, but I do need to tell you about it soon, yeah***

He switched to the group conversation.

“Let’s get the stuff into the tents and then we can eat. I guess Isobel and Liz will be sharing the other tent, and Kyle can share with Maria and me. Everyone ok with that?”

Kyle shook his head.

“I’d sooner sleep in the Chevy. At least I’ll get some sleep, instead of having to listen to you two all night.”

“Kyle, you don’t have to do that, we won’t disturb you. The Chevy can’t be nearly as comfortable as the tent.” Maria was embarrassed and distressed. Had their love making back at the motel early that morning really been so loud?

***I guess we didn’t think of the neighbors, princess, but there’s no way I’m gonna be able to just sleep with you all night without lovin’ you, so Valenti can go sleep in the Chevy if that’s what he wants…***

Nothing and nobody was going to keep Michael away from Maria.

***We can’t let him be uncomfortable, Spaceboy, it’s not fair to Kyle. We’ll just have to make sure that we make the most of the times when he’s out on watch… and try to keep quiet…***

***Ok, Maria, I guess that might work…though how to keep you quiet is gonna be an interesting challenge…***

Maria was indignant.

***You make just as much noise as me, Michael. It will be a challenge for the both of us***

Aloud, Michael insisted that Kyle sleep in the tent, but that guard duties should be arranged to give them all as much privacy as possible. Kyle agreed to the idea, but with reservations. If it didn’t work out, there was probably enough room for his sleeping bag in the empty cargo space with the seats folded down. It was probably better than the tent, now he came to think about it… In fact, it might even be more comfortable than the couch at home. The big Chevy truck had heating, air-conditioning and a CD player/radio and there was bound to be a country music station for the long night watches. He decided to try out the tent for one token night, before he claimed the truck.

It took them well over an hour to unload the Chevy and arrange their possessions in and around the tents to the satisfaction of the girls. The guys had long since lost interest and gone to hang out on the rocks at the shoreline by the time the camp was ready.

Each of the family size tents now had a thick insulation pad topped by an inflated air mattress and sleeping bag (doubled for Michael and Maria) in its two ‘rooms’, along with pillows and extra blankets. A lantern was placed in the vestibule of each and some were hung around the canopy they had erected over the grill and others in the trees near the fireplace, ready for dusk.

The bulk of their food supplies were kept in one of the hard-shell containers roped and hung 15 feet up in a tree. A supply for immediate use was kept with the water containers in back of the Chevy, so the smell didn’t attract bears. Kyle and Michael had made several trips to fill the containers from the public hydrant, but Michael took the extra precaution of purifying it with his powers before they used it for drinking, cooking or washing. The public hydrant was ok, but he’d read that wilderness water was no longer safe to drink direct from source, even in the most remote places, as surface water everywhere was now contaminated.

Maria had unpacked some pots and pans and was sorting through the packages of dried meals for dinner. With the aliens around no fuel would be needed for cooking that night. Over at the other tent, Isobel was arranging the kindling for the campfire and Liz had set out the three remaining camp chairs around it together with some folded blankets.

Michael and Kyle came back from the water’s edge to find the girls relaxing in the chairs drinking cherry coke-flavored fizzy water (Liz was now fine on the taste aspect, but had not yet mastered color-change) and waiting to go shower over at the toilet block. As soon as they arrived, the guys were appointed to guard duty and abandoned. They took over camp chairs in their turn and surveyed their new base. It looked good.

The sun slowly set behind the nearby mountains and the lanterns around their shady campsite were lit as dusk fell. The girls came back freshened up from their showers and the guys headed off in their turn.

Thirty minutes later, Maria stirred the pot of re-hydrated stew, scraped the burnt crust off the bottom, fluffed up the pan of only slightly over-cooked rice and called the others over to help themselves. Then everyone moved across to sit round the table near the campfire and eat.

“Mmmm, chilli beef stew with extra burnt bits to add crunch. Nice touch, DeLuca.” Michael teased his girlfriend from a prudent distance just beyond her reach, but he was hungry and his heart wasn’t in it. He could wait until she took up her cooking challenge in earnest, then the sparks would really fly.

“Just ignore him, Maria. This is good, even if it is from a pouch. Funny how food eaten outside always tastes better than anything else.”

Isobel was hungry, too, and grateful that she hadn’t had to lift a finger to produce it. Liz had boiled the water, and kept the pans hot, keen on seizing any chance to use her powers. Kyle had watched with interest, remembering a puddle of water, over among the rocks, which had recently boiled as a result of his own efforts. Michael had been as good as his word and wasted no time in taking on a student.

They ate pistachio flavored ice-cream - hand made by Michael - and the last of the fresh fruit for dessert.

Afterwards, Isobel unconsciously twisted her wedding ring, a newly acquired nervous habit, and cleared her throat. She made her announcement with an air of defiance, unsure how Michael and the others would take it.

“I’m going to try to dreamwalk Max tonight.”

Michael shrugged his shoulders in pretended indifference. He was determined that Max would act as decoy for at least another night. He figured that if their enemies hadn’t jumped them by now, they would most likely continue to track the bugged van and wait until they thought the group had settled in some hideout and dropped their guard before attacking again. Max should be safe enough if he kept moving and stuck to the interstate highways. However, he didn’t trust Isobel not to warn Max as soon as she heard about the electronic bug theory and he didn’t trust Max at all. The group’s safety had to come first and so he ignored his guilty feelings and stared at Isobel in stony silence.

The others, too, said nothing and the atmosphere round the table became distinctly uncomfortable.

Then Liz leaned over and touched Isobel’s arm lightly, startling the alien girl.

“Would you like me to stay with you when you dreamwalk Max?” Liz was torn between wanting to offer support to Isobel and a strong reluctance to make any kind of contact with Max so soon after her resolve to move on. She felt guilty relief when Isobel shook her head.

“No, Liz. I’ll do this on my own, if you don’t mind. I’ll fall asleep more quickly if I’m alone this time. Thanks, anyway.” She smiled at Liz in gratitude, though.

The group around the table was quiet for a while, thinking about the dangers Max faced and, despite his actions, worried for his safety, too.

Isobel needed to do something to break out of her troubled thoughts, so she carried the dishes over to the other site to clean and store them back in the truck, while Kyle trekked to the far side of the camp to dump the trash and Michael made coffee for everyone.

Settled around the lantern-lit campfire wrapped in blankets against the cold evening air, the girls in the low chairs and the guys cross-legged on the grass, they all watched the flames and listened to the noises of night in the forest. For the first time since the horrors of Graduation, they had reached a place to rest for a while and before long, everyone’s thoughts were back in Roswell.

Michael’s mind was still on the mystery of who was behind the attack. He was puzzled by all the anomalies, not least by the lack of interest in the adult Evans’s and Parkers. The former Sheriff, too, must have been a prime witness for anyone who knew enough to identify the three aliens as targets. The FBI should have had enough resources to enable them to haul in the families for questioning. Cover stories should be no problem for a Government agency. However, all the parents had been left alone since their houses had been searched by the military for Tess and the baby. Why? He considered the suspects.

The Special Unit had been disbanded and he knew from Nasedo that there had been less than a dozen core agents involved. Considering that the military had found Tess’s spaceship, at least some of those agents might have been recalled to the investigation, although inter-service rivalry might have delayed that. Still, it was possible that at least some, if not all, died in the explosion. However, it didn’t mean that there were not enough or all of them left to organise a swift revenge attack and if that failed, to have a discreet back-up plan. That was where Jesse came in. The question was - how long had he been working for the FBI? They must have got a lot of information from him, if he was theirs from the beginning. Or had it been the revelation that his wife was an alien that sent Jesse to the authorities?

The Skins were another possibility, if Tess’s fireball really had been a mindwarp, but he thought it was remote as the nearly-ripe ‘husks’ needed to survive on Earth had undoubtedly been destroyed. There had been no future for them.

Khivar was a distinct threat. He had apparently retreated back to Antar after failing with Isobel, but had allowed Tess to return to Earth with the human baby. Michael couldn’t believe that Tess would have been allowed such easy access to a valuable spaceship in which to escape, mindwarping talent or not. Khivar could simply have had them both killed or imprisoned. He suspected that Khivar’s obsession with the Royal Four wasn’t over.

Michael gazed into the fire and let his thoughts wander back over that last night in Roswell and all that happened after Max first saved Liz and revealed their existence to others.

Kyle’s thoughts were with his dad and how he was doing back in Roswell. He wondered if any powers were showing up in him yet – and worried about the dangers of being helpless and alone when they did. He desperately hoped his dad didn’t have the same problems with being somehow linked to Max that he himself had experienced. Glowing green and sleeping a lot would attract attention, especially in a high-profile local man like the ex-Sheriff. He thought about various ways of leaving a warning message, but knew it would be too dangerous if there were phone-taps or mail checks on their families. Only one answer came to him and he reluctantly looked over at Isobel, to find the firelight sparkling on a tear rolling slowly down her cheek. He ached to comfort her, but knew there was nothing he could do except let her be.

With the added fear over Max, Isobel no longer knew how to how to deal with the pain she had locked away since the night she had told Jesse not to come with them and lose his chance of a normal life. She stared at her wedding ring glinting in the firelight and let herself remember Jesse’s smile as she came into the room, the feel of his arms around her and at last, reluctantly, his offer to come with her to share their fate. At first, she had been overjoyed when he said he loved her and wanted to go with her. In her heart, she had dared to hope he would brush aside her concerns and say that he wanted to be with her no matter what the future held. When he gave in to her protest without a fight, hope died and she knew that, after all, his love for her had not been strong enough to survive the consequences of what she was. The pain in her heart was now such a constant part of her, like breathing, that she could ignore it for hours at a stretch, but it was always there. Jesse was the dream lover she thought she would never find and part of her regretted keeping the secret from him, but another part knew that she would not give up one moment of the short time when she had felt like a normal, human girl, happy with the man she loved. To lose all her hopes and dreams without warning, once again, brought her close to breaking point. She felt the sting of tears behind her eyelids and panicked that she might be about to lose control. Then a warm hand reached for hers and she knew it was Maria, offering comfort, and understanding that her friend had feelings she wasn’t ready to share with anybody. Isobel clung as to a lifeline, forcing herself to open her eyes and pretend that she was strong enough to go on with her life without the man she loved.

Like Kyle, Maria had seen Isobel’s sorrow and she couldn’t stop herself from reaching over and taking Isobel’s hand in hers. The only response was a painfully tight grip, but she didn’t let go and they continued to sit in the fire-lit darkness, somehow comforted a little by that friendly link.

Maria herself had been thinking of her mom, but she knew that Amy would be sustained by the knowledge that she was with Michael, among friends. Her mom, despite her ditzy manner, was a strong woman, so the disappearance of her daughter, though painful and bewildering, wouldn’t destroy the passion for life her only child had inherited. Maria hoped that her mom and the Sheriff could find their way back to the promising relationship that had foundered soon after the Sheriff lost his job, his pride and his self-confidence. She knew that they could be close again and thought about asking Isobel if it were possible to dreamwalk them both some night soon. Other than missing her mom, Maria had no regrets at all about leaving Roswell behind.

Liz, curled inside her blanket, mesmerised by the flames, regretted everything – leaving her family, lashing out at Maria, losing Max. In the quiet peace of the night, she looked back over the last few days and all her actions seemed to belong to some part of her whose existence she had never before suspected. As in some in nightmarish fairytale, she looked into a dark mirror and all her worst character faults had been revealed.

She regretted hurting Maria, knowing her friend hadn’t deserved punishment for the crime of being happy while Liz suffered. Max, too, aside from her feelings about him which were still too complex to define, deserved a chance to try to sort out the trouble that had tormented him enough to run out on his only friends. She couldn’t even think about the pain her parents must be going through. She took a deep breath of the clean, cold night air, resolved to pull herself together and try to think only of the future: move on and make a real contribution to the group; learn to use her new powers for the general good and help make a worthwhile life for herself and the others. Feeling a little better about things than she had for days, she looked around at the group and re-discovered an affection for them all (except maybe Michael with whom she had never felt comfortable) that she hadn’t truly felt for … she was surprised to discover…more than a year past.

The fire was dying when finally Michael groaned and stretched, suddenly ready to head into his sleeping bag no matter where it was that night. First, though, there was the watch to arrange.

“So who wants when? It’s two-hour shifts between the five of us, if breakfast’s at eight. We can use the Chevy, rather than sit outside in the cold. Still need to take the occasional stroll towards the road to listen out, but as long as we keep all the lights off, we can see in the dark. You girls ok to be alone? It’s probably best if you take first watch until midnight, Maria, then me until 2am followed by Kyle, then Liz and finally Isobel at 6. Anyone have any problem with that?”

Nobody did and they all stood, wearily wishing each other goodnight, folding their blankets and chairs before heading towards the tents, except for Maria, who left her stuff to Michael and walked off in into the darkness.

A few minutes later, Michael emerged from their tent and went quietly over to the Chevy.

By then, Kyle was already asleep.

Meanwhile, in the other tent, Liz pulled her sleeping bag up around her ears, the first glimmer of optimism she had felt for days allowing her exhausted mind and body to rest at last.

Isobel, a few feet away, made herself comfortable and prepared to dreamwalk her brother to find out just what was going on with him…

********

Chapter Twenty

Once away from the lights of the tent area, Maria’s senses were more alert than they had ever been, alone in the wild, dark forest for the first time, scared of bears and enemy agents. She couldn’t decide which she feared more, so she crept as silently as possible from tree to tree as she headed for the road, listening hard for sounds that might be either. Or both.

Her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness and she could see just clearly enough to avoid stumbling in the faint moonlight. The ground among the trees and bushes in the campsite had been cleared of scrub and the area was covered in short, springy grass and hard-packed earth. She moved quickly over to the next tree, staring suspiciously at the clump of bushes she had to circle to get there. It seemed a long way back to their tents.

It was very cold out here away from the fire and the thick blanket. She was wearing a warm black parka over a sweater and t-shirt, with a pair of practical black cargo pants, whose pockets contained emergency equipment - a torch, a Swiss army knife and raspberry lip-gloss - and her feet were clad in black trainers. The black knitted hat hid her blonde hair and she remembered how Liz and Isobel had teased her at the last mall for taking the whole guard duty thing too seriously. Determined not to let the group down, she’d tried to dress appropriately according to all the combat movies she had ever yawned through on Michael’s couch, although she drew the line at smearing her face with dirt. She hoped that she was nearly invisible in the darkness.

She suddenly remembered reading somewhere that it was best to stand downwind of animals so they couldn’t smell your scent. There was hardly any breeze at all, though, and the night air seemed quite still. So, where was downwind? She licked her finger and held it up to see which side dried first. Rats, she still had no clue. Who thought up these things?

Her heart jumped. Had a twig snapped? Why did that bush rustle if there was no wind? Oh, God, she so hated this. Still, there was no way she was going to let Spaceboy or the others know how frightened she was. She was the only full human left, so she had to show them all that she wasn’t going to be a liability that needed looking out for all the time. She would be as useful on watch as everyone else, powers or not. Nothing stopped the DeLuca women from doing what they had to do…

Repeating this mantra, she gained the relative safety of another tree. This brought her to the edge of the road and she pressed herself back against the rough bark, trying not to think about spiders and bugs, although normally they didn’t bother her. It was just that out here alone in the forest at night everything suddenly became a potential danger…

She told herself to be brave and, heart thumping, made a rush for the real forest on the other side. If she stayed near the edge she should be able to hear any noises from the road or from deeper in the wooded slopes above her, but still have time to run back if she thought there was any danger. Did bears wait in ambush for prey or was that mountain lions? Oh, God, DeLuca, just don’t even go there, she lectured herself.

The darkness was absolute in the dense foliage on this side of the road and looking back, the campground was hardly visible, except where a light from the girls’ tent glowed as a beacon. Maria stood shivering in the shelter of a tall bush and waited for the noise of her own heartbeat to stop drowning out all other sounds.

After an eternity had passed, she was able to hear the silence again but there were no sounds, suspicious or otherwise. She guessed that the slight noises she unavoidably made moving through the trees had sounded like a herd of elephants to the local wildlife and all would remain still for some time to come.

Knowing that she could be no use here unless she stayed still for hours, which was beyond her capabilities this first night (and probably many more to come) Maria decided to walk along the road as far as the toilet block and then circle round the far side of the campsite along the edge of the lake, where the darkness away from the trees was illuminated by the distant new moon and stars glittering overhead.

Her progress was slow as she was nervous about tripping over unseen hazards and she had no idea of how long she had been out on patrol. It seemed like a lifetime before she found the tents again, and there were a few moments of sheer terror when she found that her beacon light had vanished. Still, once she had got a grip again, she told herself that she was a little less scared now that she had made it and she felt quite proud of herself by the time she reached the truck. Maybe she would find enough courage to do this once more tonight before her watch was over…

A tall, dark figure was leaning against the side of the Chevy when she arrived. Michael straightened up and held out his arms so that she could fly into them and bury her face against his chest, clinging to him in relief at finding him there waiting for her.

Michael had been perfectly well aware of her fear, despite her belief that she had shielded her emotions from him. One of the hardest things he had ever done in his life was to stop himself responding to her with mental and physical reassurance. His muscles still ached with the effort.

He had known that she had to do this by herself, without his apparent protection, so he had stayed by the truck until she returned. Maria would have been furious and humiliated if she thought he didn’t trust her to keep watch by herself and he freely admitted that she had come through her own test with flying colors. He had shielded his own thoughts but couldn’t help hearing hers and in her fear and courage he found her adorable all over again.

Tipping her face up to his he kissed her, flooding her with his love and pride in her achievement so that she laughed shakily and had to draw back to stop herself from making love to him right there against the Chevy.

Instead, she opened the door to the back seats and climbed in, pulling him in beside her. Once again safe in his arms she eagerly returned his kisses, then snapped back into awareness of her responsibilities as he began to unzip her jacket and explore further. She pushed his hand away and sighed.

“Spaceboy, I’m still on watch and, anyway, I thought you wanted to talk about your secret…?”

He reluctantly moved away and zipped her jacket back up to her chin. It was time to tell her, but he didn’t quite know where to start.

Maria, after a brief check through the windscreen for marauding bears and Feds, helped him out.

*** Michael, I haven't said anything in front of the others, but I know you wouldn't just take us out into the wilderness totally blind...is that what it’s about?***

***Yeah, Maria, there's something you should know, not exactly a secret, but keep it to ourselves for the moment, ok? ***

***Of course, Michael. What is this big not-a-secret?***

***Remember at the picnic breakfast the first morning when I said I knew a place we might be safe?***

***Yeah, and Max yelled at you about it. I thought maybe it was Laurie you were thinking of... ***

***No, the Feds’ might know about her, so I won't put her in any more danger. Maybe someday down the line we may need her help, but the longer we can keep her out of it the better ***

*** Well, ok, then, what?***

***Hank had a cousin called Jed, used to drop in out of the blue and stay for a few days or weeks once in a while. He was ok. Always stopped Hank hittin’ me when he was around***

***Oh, Michael…***

*** Shhh, ‘s ok, I’m just sayin’***

He hugged Maria tighter at her distressed cry for the hurt boy he had been, then kissed her forehead in comfort, before continuing.

***Anyway, Jed used to talk to me, when Hank was passed out drunk, and tell me about when he was a kid growing up in the backwoods and how he was goin’ to go back there one day and settle down in his cabin again near his family***

***That must be the safe place, then, Michael - in the mountains! That’s why you want us to go there… you know someplace safe…***

*** Look, are you tellin’ the story, or am I?***

*** Ok, sorry. Go on, Spaceboy***

***I guess he was bored a lot of the time, so he used to go huntin’ rabbits in Frasier Woods and bring them back to cook. It was real good, too. Always ate well when Jed was visitin’. A few years ago he started to take me along with him, taught me how to trap, skin and make ‘em into stew. When I was thirteen, he turned up one day and found Hank layin’ into me. It was pretty bad and after he threw Hank out to sleep it off, he told me more about his place in the mountains and said how, if I ever needed somewhere to hide out, I could use it. He said to go find his “momma”, tell her this secret family password they had and she’d let me stay in his cabin***

***So why didn’t you go, Michael? Why did you stay with Hank when he hurt you?***

***Couldn’t leave Roswell while there was a chance that the – you know – the spaceship might come for us. Anyway, whenever Jed turned up after that he used to tell me the offer would always be good and I should never forget the password. Always made me repeat it back to him every time. Said his momma was a good woman and I could trust her not to ask questions***

***Do you think he knew about the Czechoslovakian thing?***

***No, I don’t. I think he just disapproved of Hank beatin’ on me and wanted to help me get away. I told you he was an ok guy. He was the only human I ever came close to liking, before you***

***When was the last time you saw him?***

***Summer after we found out about the destiny thing***

***Where is he now, Michael, do you know?***

***Yeah, he’s doin’ a 12 year stretch for armed robbery in Minnesota ***

Maria was shocked into silence for a moment.

***Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Michael. It sounds like he tried to be a good friend to you in his own way…***

***Yeah, he did. He’s a scary guy, though. Hank was always real respectful to him when he was stayin’ with us…***

***How do you know it’s still ok to use his cabin?***

Michael suddenly laughed out loud.

***’Cuz, y’know, he always sends me a Christmas card from wherever he is. No name, just a cartoon sketch of a cabin on a mountain…***

Maria was still curious.

***How did you find out where he is?***

***Postmark, year before last. I got curious and Alex checked him out on the internet for me one time, no questions asked. He was sort of a good friend, too, I guess***

***Yeah, he was…***

They were both silent, retreating into their own thoughts for a while until Maria stirred and lifted Michael’s wrist to check his watch.

“Gotta go out on another patrol, Michael. We’ll talk some more when I get back.”

“I’ll do it.”

“No, Spaceboy, I need to do this myself, so I get used to it, ok?”

“Ok. Be careful, babe.”

Michael kissed her cheek and let her go out into the night. He felt her nervousness kick in, but on a less frantic level and she even sent him a wicked thought about her plans for later that made him grin in anticipation.

Settling back to wait for her, trying not to follow her with his mind, he distracted himself by remembering the times that Jed had come to stay over the years and all the stories he told about the people in the community where he grew up. They’d always sounded like – well – stories, to the untrusting young Michael. If his plans worked out, he would maybe get to meet the characters in the only equivalent of “bedtime stories” he had ever known. The fact that the storyteller was a kind but scary armed criminal, with a collection of great recipes for cooking rabbit, was a matter of indifference to him.

He felt Maria’s burst of relief at nearing the end of her second ordeal in the darkness and opened the door ready for her breathless entrance a few seconds later.

She was wrapped around him and ready to hear more of his revelations before he had time to reach over and pull the door shut behind her. None of this information had previously been revealed to her in their flashes, so she reasoned that there must be a lot more to learn about Michael and his life than she so far had any clue about. He was the most reticent person she had ever known and even now when their minds were linked, much of his depths were still hidden to her.

“All clear outside, Spaceboy. It’s a really eerie place out here in the middle of nowhere. You can hear a fish jump out in the lake, sound carries so far in the night. I guess the mall-rat in me will have to make the adjustment to country-mouse sometime, but it’s gonna be a long, hard fight.” She grinned up at him as she said this, then went straight into her next question without apparently taking a breath.

“Do you think Jed’s momma will let us all stay in the cabin, Michael?”

She’d gone straight to the heart of the problem that he had wrestled with since he’d first considered sharing his sanctuary with the group. He had originally intended it only for Maria and himself when the group split up, as he’d thought they inevitably would if they had been closely pursued. He didn’t think that Jed or his momma would object to that. However, six teenagers turning up out of the blue was an entirely different matter. When Max had shouted him down before he could impulsively reveal its existence on the morning of the picnic, he’d been relieved. Later, he’d changed his mind when he saw that Max had no idea of where to go or what to do to keep them safe. He had finally come up with a workable solution when he remembered the stories Jed had told.

He explained all this to Maria.

“The community they live in sounds like a weird kinda place, full of old hippie types who live off the land and talk to the trees. Jed used to say it was real quiet, although a few tourists turned up in the summer. The point is, he mentioned tourists, so I thought that could be our cover until we decide if it’s safe to contact Jed’s momma and see if she’ll accept us all. What do you think, Maria? We pass as a group of students on a road trip and take a look around first.”

“What do we do if it doesn’t work out?”

He shrugged.

“We do a grand tour of the Rockies – some campsites are open all year round - and carry on working our way to the coast…”

Maria was intrigued and, anyway, was conditioned by life with her mom to deal with ‘old hippie types’, so she wanted to risk a look. She approved of this Jed character, as she would anyone who had been kind to Michael, and thought that the fall-back plan was more than reasonable. Although a natural mall-rat, she had enjoyed the first evening round the campfire (apart from the scary forest patrols) and, if this was typical, told herself that she might even grow to like the lifestyle, for the summer at least. She just wasn’t going to think about the winter yet.

“It’s a good plan, Spaceboy and I think you’ve got everything covered. I can’t see the others objecting. When were you planning to tell them?”

“At the end of the week when, hopefully, Max will have dumped the electronic tag and laid a false trail for our enemies. I don’t trust Isobel not to tell Max everything right away and I don’t trust Max not to screw things up somehow. The less they know the better, for now.”

“Maybe you’re right, Michael…” Maria had to agree with his reasoning, but was sad at the lack of trust among the group when they only had each other to depend on.

“Gonna tell Kyle tomorrow, though. He’s been in on all the planning with us so far, it’d be wrong to leave him out now.”

“Do Max and Isobel know about Jed?”

He shook his head and shifted her into a more comfortable position against his shoulder as he thought about it. They had never shown any interest in the details of his life and, in fact, had always managed to make it clear without actually spelling it out, that they would prefer to ignore any eye-witness reports from the poverty zone.

Michael had always stubbornly refused to think too deeply about this. He knew from the beginning that their lives were very different and, somehow, that admitting his circumstances would defile the clean, comfortable order of things they took for granted. He was their “alien” brother and they sympathised and included him as much as they could, but that was as far as they were prepared to go. He had preferred it that way, too. Michael wasn’t proud of his lifestyle.

Max had generously given him free access to a sleeping bag on the floor when he could, but avoided any discussion of marks and bruises, accepting the most transparent excuses without question over the years, until he finally had no choice but to heal the most visible injuries and then persuade Michael to apply for emancipation. Michael acknowledged that when Max had finally woken up to reality, he had genuinely tried to help, but it had been almost too late. Only the last minute gift of the healing stones touched Michael enough to stop him running far away from his problems.

Of course, the famous “sensitivity” hadn’t stopped Max punching him out in anger when he’d taken it on himself to meet Topolski or when the alien programming had taken over and tried to use him to replace the technically dead Max. He’d taken another swing back in the last motel, too. In some way, Michael respected that, though. “No quarter given” seemed the most fitting description of their relationship over the past few years. They never made it easy for each other. Maybe, he thought, because they never really liked each other.

Of the two, Isobel had the soft heart and Michael always knew that if he had let her, she would have spared no efforts to help and protect him, but he had contributed to the conspiracy of silence by letting his pride win out over the pain. So she just saw him as her social misfit almost-brother from the wrong side of the tracks, and his problems were put down to attitude and laziness. He had let her go on thinking that, because pity was the one thing he couldn’t take.

He hadn’t tried to shield these thoughts from Maria, but to his relieved surprise, pity wasn’t among her emotional reactions. Fierce love for him and hot anger that he had been left to suffer alone for all the years of his childhood, yes, but he also found, crystal clear, that she understood his secret pride in the strength that allowed him to withstand the years of abuse in silence because he came to see it as a battlefield to test his spirit until his people arrived to take him home. There had to be something better for him out there than Roswell, New Mexico.

***And this is it, Spaceboy. This has got to be the “something better out there for us than Roswell, New Mexico” we both wanted. I feel more alive and free on the run with you than I ever did in my whole law-abiding life back in Roswell, don’t you?***

***Thelma and Louise, huh? ***

She giggled, appreciating that he wanted to get away from the heavy stuff and into a lighter mood.

*** But there’ll be a happy ending for us, Michael, I know it in my soul. We’ve got a future together, waiting for us out there somewhere ***

He held her tighter and smiled into her hair.

*** You know, it might be the lack of sleep, but I actually feel it, too ***

*** That’s because we’re together forever now, Spaceboy, there’ll always be a happy ending for you and me***

*** Ok, sweetness overload, Maria. We both know how we feel, no need to keep yapping on about it ***

***All right, that’s it, pally, no nookie for you tonight until you apologise for that crack. I do NOT yap***

*** .................***

*** Don’t sulk, it doesn’t help your case, Michael Guerin. I shall be speaking to you only if it’s really necessary until I get a genuine apology ***

*** Don’t hold your breath, Blondie. No, wait, on second thoughts - DO, it’ll give us all a rest from the DeLuca lip***

*** Didn’t complain about the DeLuca lips in the gas station wash-room before breakfast this morning, did you?***

*** Was no need to complain then. You couldn’t talk with your mouth full…***

*** !!!!!!!!!!!!! ***

Uh-oh, maybe he’d gone too far in teasing her.

***….…uh, well, maybe I was a little hasty, there, Maria. Wait, are you laughing? I thought you were mad at me…***

***I was, but then you made me laugh and I couldn’t stay mad at you after all. Nice save, Spaceboy ***

***Nookie rights restored, than, princess***

***On this occasion, yes - but you’re on probation***

*** Good enough for me***

They cuddled together again in the darkness until Michael lit the dial on his watch. It was past time to start his turn on duty.

He sat up, disturbing Maria, and asked if she wanted to wait for him in the Chevy or get some sleep in the tent. She preferred to wait for him, just enjoying his company in a way she so rarely had a chance to do. They were usually fighting or loving, so prolonged conversation tended to lose out.

Michael, picking up on her thought, agreed with her. He sometimes just liked the pleasure of her company, too, and only now realized that they had neglected that aspect of their relationship for too long…

***Just sometimes, Michael?***

***You know what I mean, Maria. Are you gonna get on my case about that, now?***

***No, just as long as we make time to do this more often… I actually do really like you, Michael, as well as love you. I think maybe I forget to tell you that, Spaceboy…***

*** Ditto***

He leaned back into the truck and cupped her face to kiss her, feeling unexpectedly emotional at her comment. He’d never had anyone actually tell him that they liked him for himself in his whole life before. Being liked was still a new experience for him. Of course, he’d never made the effort to be liked, actively avoiding humans for so long, until Maria demolished his stonewall. Since then, although only the guys at Metachem had hung out with him on a casually friendly basis, he inferred that he might not be such a social outcast after all, if he chose. Now here was Maria, putting it into words. Another Kodak moment, he thought, snapping out of the trance.

Then he left to circle the area in his turn, alert for sounds that only his enhanced alien senses could pick up. There were none, as he had expected, and he went back to the truck to continue his conversation with Maria.

The first comment she made on his return was about the cabin’s location.

“I’m thinking it can’t be all that far from here, Michael, because you suggested Colorado right off, when we planned our route.”

“It’s about another day or so north, towards the Wyoming border. Place called Watercress Creek. That’s more-or-less all I know, except for the password.”

“Cute name, sounds kind of like Little House on the Prairie or something…”

“If Jed is typical of the locals, that is so not the right image.”

“Oh, well, then I guess we’ll just have to wait until we get there to find out. Not gonna worry until then, Spaceboy.”

“You need to know the password, just in case anything happens to me, Maria –,” he put his finger against her parted lips to quell her instant protest, but then her mental voice assured him calmly that whatever happened, they would be together, “ – you need to know, anyway. It’s ‘Dagwood’. Said it’s some kind of family joke and to ask his momma to make me one.”

“O-k-a-a-y, got that…”

Michael didn’t say any more, just pulled her head down onto his shoulder and let a comfortable silence fall between them.

After a while, she spoke softly.

“Something I’ve wanted to ask you, Michael…”

“What?” His voice was just as soft in the darkness.

“Why did you come back to Roswell after you left? You were so set on leaving alone…”

He paused, remembering…

“Madame Vivien – she gave me a warning that something bad was gonna happen. Gave me a tarot card and told me to ‘believe in the love’. I didn’t, of course. Thought she was a fake, until I saw the black cars driving into town as I was leaving. I remembered the tarot card, knew she was right - I just couldn’t leave you in danger, Maria, so I followed them. Saw what they were gonna do and – ”

“- and rode to the rescue again like a knight in shining armour, Michael. Always my brave, (kiss) handsome, (kiss) hero, (kiss)…” she gently rubbed her nose against his and sighed blissfully.

Something outside in the darkness caught her eye and she stared through the window at a light in their tent. She nudged Michael and they both watched as a shadow that could only be Kyle sat up and then began to struggle out of the tent, the image vanishing when the light winked out.

Michael looked at his watch again.

“Too early for his turn, must be goin’ over to the toilet block.”

There was a sudden rap on the window and the front passenger door opened. Kyle climbed in, sat down and turned a scared face towards them. Before he could speak or they could ask him what was wrong, the driver’s door opened and Isobel slid inside.

On seeing each other, she and Kyle both recoiled, glaring…

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