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Chapter Twenty-One

When the group round the campfire broke up, Kyle made directly for the tent he was to share with Michael and Maria. He undressed, gave in to an uncharacteristic urge to fold his clothes neatly, and then fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Before Tess occupied his bedroom, Kyle had always slept like a log through the night, never remembered his dreams, and kept his radio alarm tuned in to a country station so that his day started with his favorite music. Since she had mindwarped him to further her plans to depart for Antar, his sleeping pattern had changed.

He often dreamed now: warm, happy family scenes. After these, he would sometimes wake, restless and sad for the loss of a fleeting love she had warped into a feeble, fraternal shadow of its true nature.

Isobel now occupied that space in his heart and, although his feelings were deeper, they were as unrequited as ever were those he had harboured for Liz and Tess.

However, he never remembered any dreams of Isobel, if indeed he ever had any, and he was grateful that she was unlikely to dreamwalk him for fear of another centrefold encounter.

This night, his dreams were uneasy and formless until he found himself wandering through a dense white fog, with no idea of why he was there or any point of reference to give him a clue as to where he might be. He moved on, feeling solid ground under his feet, but unable to see more than a few inches in any direction.

After some time, he became aware that there was sound all around him - a faint, windy, roar in the air that offered him no more clue to direction than the blank surface of the fog.

He continued to walk slowly forward. The windy sound grew louder, ebbing and surging around him until the white fog began to swirl and dissipate leaving him in total darkness.

He froze, listening to the slow hiss of the wind, but feeling no breath of air against his skin. The darkness was absolute and he began to feel uneasy, as if he was being watched.

At this thought came to him, the darkness opened a pair of familiar blue eyes and gazed at him in exultant pleasure…

Earlier in the evening, after saying goodnight to Liz, Isobel had ducked into her compact sleeping quarters and immediately arranged the lantern so that it shone away from her. She didn’t want a back-lit shadow display of her nightly routine to appear on the tent wall. Kyle would inevitably somehow manage to see it and never stop commenting.

She had to sit on the bed to slip off her outer clothes and fold them carefully in a corner before digging around in her pack for the pretty nightgown she had bought to sleep in. Even in the wilderness, Isobel refused to drop her standards and sleep in anything less than glamorous. It was still a little chilly, so she warmed the air up to a more comfortable temperature. She spent a while checking over and arranging her new possessions to her liking, grateful for the illusion of privacy at last.

Sliding into her sleeping bag, plumping up the generously sized pillows that Maria had argued were a necessity rather than a luxury, extinguishing the lantern, Isobel thought about the life they were to live for the foreseeable future. Camping hadn’t been her choice and she didn’t really see herself changing her views anytime soon. The thought of endless months in the middle of nowhere, with no respite from the others’ company and nothing to do all day was suddenly the last straw so she just gave into despair and cried. Burying her face into the damp pillow, so that she didn’t disturb Liz, all her misery poured out at last and she whispered Jesse’s name brokenly through her muffled sobs until she fell asleep.

An hour or so later, she woke with a start.

Max! Her expressed intention had been to dreamwalk him, and yet she had just let herself get side tracked and fallen asleep. Her guilt made her sit up and hurriedly compose herself. She found the torch she had placed by her pillow and switched it on to low beam, a small comforting glow in the darkness as she smoothed her hair back and cooled her hot, swollen eyes, ready to make contact with her errant brother. Lastly, she dried her damp, crumpled pillow then lay back and closed her eyes, summoning his face clearly in her mind’s eye. Max was most probably getting impatient waiting for her by now.

However, try as she might, Isobel simply couldn’t get back to sleep. She tried all the tricks she knew, counting backwards from 999; picturing herself as a seagull flying over endless blue ocean; even counting sheep. Nothing. It was so frustrating. She lay there in her sleeping bag, warm, comfortable and now… wide awake.

Presently, she considered trying to dreamwalk him anyway – after all, it had worked in reverse when he had been in the White Room, so she knew it could be done. She concentrated hard.

The static image of Max’s face wavered and became animated for a moment as if he suddenly saw her, then broke up into fragments soon lost in a soft white haze. However, she was used to this and knew that she was about to step inside his dream.

The haze slowly cleared to reveal a pair of familiar blue eyes, staring into hers with exultant pleasure…

Isobel immediately felt an involuntary pang of revulsion and hate. The focus pulled back to reveal the huge, disembodied face of Tess, hanging in darkness like a hologram. The blue gaze was fixed on two shadowy figures entwined naked on a candle-lit, satin draped bed and the red lips were curved into an enigmatic smile.

Max, naked except for a narrow, golden band around his head, stood marble-still, in a faint green haze. He was facing away from her, standing close beside the bed, and he didn’t appear to notice or react to her arrival.

She slowly became aware of another, invisible, presence somewhere in the darkness and her heightened, dreamworld, senses prickled in warning.

As Isobel stared at the tableau, the figures began to move slowly against each other, twining and curling like snakes. Filigree patterns of light and shadow trailed over the lovers, making it impossible to see their identities, but there was no doubt as to what they were doing.

Time in the dreamscape seemed to be fluid, with disconcerting bubbles of close-up action appearing in slow-motion above the bed, while the unknown couple continued to writhe endlessly below.

Isobel glanced uneasily round at the other two, a reluctant voyeur but unable to escape. After a while, she realised that the scenes continued to spin languidly through the same cycle of pseudo-erotic images.

A swollen nipple jutted urgently from a soft dome of silken flesh, to be engulfed by a mouth whose lips drew back to reveal teeth tugging and pulling on the dark peak in slow, elastic torment.

The tip of a wet tongue probed the delicate folds of a shell-like belly button.

A large male hand cupped the apex of soft, pale, feminine thighs, middle finger plunged in hidden folds below, where it danced in slow, hypnotic rhythm.

Short, rose-tipped nails dug convulsively into hard, glistening, muscle and the amplified sound of heavy breathing roared like a hurricane.

Isobel, repulsed and mesmerised in the darkness of her brother’s dream, finally tore her eyes away from the disturbingly graphic display to see another naked figure, face shockingly familiar, emerge from the darkness and look directly at her.

Kyle shook his head disapprovingly and raised his hand. A stream of green light shot out and pushed her back into reality, where she opened her eyes into total darkness. Confused, she thought for a moment that she was still in the dreamworld, until she felt the reality of soft pillows against her cheek.

Kyle. Kyle had been in Max’s dream and had actually seen her there. He’d had the power -and the colossal nerve - to throw her out.

In growing anger and confusion Isobel struggled to drag on her pants and sweater over her nightgown in the dim glow of her torch, then searched impatiently around in the darkness for her shoes.

Creeping out of the tent, still having enough sense left not to disturb Liz, she headed over to the toilet block while she decided what to do next. The facilities were basic and she made use of them quickly, although only after a ‘power’ clean up. She’d forgotten how inconveniently Nature sometimes called in the dead of night and the lack of an en-suite bathroom in the tent was going to be the main plank in her argument for resorting to motels. She’d bet Maria would join her campaign after a couple of nights like this.

As she walked back to the tent, oblivious to her surroundings, Isobel berated herself for failing to contact Max earlier. Now she would have to try again later in the night, hoping for a less disturbing dream in which to try to talk to him. The chance to find out what was happening was too vital to delay, but she would have to make sure that Kyle didn’t interfere again. She couldn’t risk being thrown out at critical moments by his bumbling attempts to learn about his new powers.

The dream had shaken her badly in a way she couldn’t define. It looked as though Max really was in thrall to the Tess thing, but she had sensed a watchful presence somewhere that disturbed her. If Kyle hadn’t appeared at just the wrong moment, she would have acted to attract her brother’s attention and demanded to know what was going on.

Looking over at the truck, she decided to go see Michael for a few minutes as he was on watch. They hadn’t really spoken for months and he was all the family she had left now. Isobel made up her mind to keep the dream to herself until she heard what her brother had to say when she finally caught up with him. Michael was showing no signs of sympathy for Max and she thought maybe it was a mistake to make a fuss over a dream that might or might not be significant.

When she slid inside, however, she found Kyle already there. Isobel - the Ice Queen - glared... To her surprise, he glared right back.

In his dream, Kyle had been momentarily unnerved by the sudden appearance of Tess in an indefinably more menacing form than his usual dreams about her, but he had nevertheless recovered his composure and gazed back into the blue stare with curiosity.

He saw himself, naked, reflected in the dark mirror of one of the twin black pupils. In the other was the tiny image of Max Evans, also naked, a narrow, golden band around his head. A faint green haze enveloped them both.

A soft, golden glow appeared behind his reflected self, and he saw a candle-lit circle enclosing two naked figures lying on satin sheets, shadow-dappled and indistinct.

As his attention focused on this, he felt the dark pupil expand and engulf him so that he was standing in the darkness outside the ring of candle-light, opposite Max whose gaze was captured by the amorous couple on the bed.

Kyle found himself equally engrossed by the display of languid lust and he spent some time in growing appreciation of the imagination and variety of athletic positions adopted by the shadowy lovers. Movement above him caught his eye and he was amused to see that edited highlights of the action were apparently being shown in bubbles floating over the bed. The short cycle of almost clinical, close-up porno shots revolved in lazy repetition and he soon lost interest.

Looking around for the first time, he was startled to see Tess, golden hair streaming in the strange wind, blue eyes fixed unblinking on Max and red lips drooping in her familiar sexy pout. Like the moon, her face hung suspended in the darkness, looking down at them all, semi-translucent and glowing slightly as if lit from within.

Another figure moved into the candle-light and Isobel, long – now blonde - hair loose, clad in a sexy nightgown (a picture that Kyle automatically memorised for future… contemplation) stared in fascinated distaste at the writhing lovers and the graphic images above them.

He knew that she had to be dreamwalking and he also instinctively knew that this was no place for her. He looked straight into her eyes and shook his head. Sometimes her arrogance was just beyond belief. Whatever his feelings for her, his dreams were private and she had no business to be there. In his annoyance, Kyle raised his hand without thinking and a beam of green light shot out, hit her in the chest and shoved her gently, but firmly out of his dream.

As soon as she vanished, he turned back to the dreamscape. The same drama played out there as Max still stood in his green haze hypnotised by the sexual antics on the bed and Tess looked at Max like a cat with a mouse. The same hurricane sighed and roared in the air overhead and the unseen watchful presence prowled the edges of the darkness. There was only one difference, but that suddenly made Kyle’s blood run cold.

He saw himself, naked and glowing faintly green, standing across from Max, just as blindly absorbed in the lovers as his alien counterpart.

As he stared in growing horror, the dream images of Kyle and Max stretched out an arm towards each other, without tearing their gazes away from the bed, and the green haze that enveloped each of them extended a tentacle and linked them together. At the moment of contact Kyle felt a faint upsurge of power in himself and Max cried out in sudden angry protest.

Tess’s gaze left Max and turned to the dream image of Kyle. He saw then that her eye sockets were empty and through them he saw star-scattered black space. The face that appeared so real a moment ago was now revealed as a carnival mask.

There was a burst of anger from the unseen presence and then Kyle was thrust unceremoniously out of the dream and woke up.

********

Chapter Twenty-Two

In the Chevy, Michael and Maria sat startled and bemused in the back seat, ignored by two furious people confronting each other in growing anger.

“Kyle, what the hell were you doing in Max’s dream? You’ve got some nerve, too. How dare you you throw me out –”

“Max’s dream? Oh, come on, Isobel, that wasn’t Max’s dream and don’t pretend you didn’t know it. Listen, once and for all, my dreams are private. Do you even understand the concept? Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you have the right to walk into anyone’s head whenever you want…”

Isobel sputtered in outrage.

“Your dreams? Your dreams? You are the last person I’d dreamwalk for fear of what unspeakable things I’d find in your filthy mind...”

“Don’t pretend you weren’t in my dream a few minutes ago, Isobel. I saw you, and –yes- I threw you out because you had no right to be there.” He gave her a final glare and lowered his tone thoughtfully. “Anyway, there’s something weird…”

Isobel was so affronted that for a moment she was lost for words. Kyle ignored her and remembered why he was really there. He turned to Michael and Maria, shadowy figures in the darkness.

“I had this dream and Tess was in it, no – then she – it was this huge carnival mask, and Max was watching porn with edited highlights and the green, glowy thing was back and somehow we’re still connected. Oh, and something got mad and threw me out of my own dream…and I – I think Tess is trying to control my mind…” Kyle babbled on until he realised what he was saying and trailed off weakly.

He heaved a deep sigh and looked round at them all.

“Ok, let’s try this again slowly… I have just had a vivid and, I’ll admit, scary dream – don’t interrupt me, Isobel, your turn will come - in which Tess or some weird image of her, was watching green, glowing Max watching some kind of hot sex show. Then Isobel showed up, uninvited, on a little dreamwalk. After she… left, I saw an image of myself, also glowing green like Max, then the forcefields reached out and joined and – and then Tess noticed me.” He stopped for a moment and frowned at his knuckles without seeing them. “Then some – I don’t know – some presence got angry and threw me out of my own dream.” He finished in a rush and sat back against the door, waiting for their reaction.

It was Isobel’s turn to sigh heavily, a little less annoyed with Kyle now that she had heard his story.

“Kyle, I didn’t try to dreamwalk you – I was trying to reach Max. It was his dream, not yours.”

“Isobel, it sure felt like mine. I’ve never even thought about dreamwalking and Max Evans is the last person I’d want to try it out on.”

“Face it, Kyle, it was Max’s dream and you were an onlooker, like me. It seems another new power has shown up.”

Kyle shook his head, still not satisfied with the explanation.

“Tell me why Evans was dreaming about me, then. We’re not exactly friends, so why would I be in his dream?”

Michael spoke for the first time. He sounded tired and irritable.

“It’s gotta be the green, glowing thing again– there must still be a connection, even though your powers have developed. As for Tess being back…” He snorted in derision. “…Max’s delusions must be affecting you, now… did you manage to talk to him, Iz?”

She shook her head.

“No. Kyle threw me out before I had a chance.” Isobel deliberately avoided his eyes when she said it. She hadn’t entirely forgiven him. “I’m going to try again later.”

“Try now, Isobel. This time we’ll all be here with you.”

Isobel shook her head.

“Not just yet, Maria. I’m thirsty, anyone else want a drink?”

There was general agreement and Maria knelt on the back seat, groping around in the dark (the Chevy's interior light was too bright for safety) until she remembered her torch, then reached back into the cargo space for their supplies. She prepared their choices –coffee for the guys and hot chocolate for Isobel and herself – and Michael heated them up for her. Presently they all held steaming mugs, grateful for the warmth in the chilly night.

Kyle felt sure that, despite Isobel’s denial, the dream had been his. He had actually felt the power surge at the moment of connection between his own image and Max and he was certain that Tess or whatever the watching presence was, had felt it too. And been threatened by it. There was no way he wanted to go back to sleep that night. Kyle shivered, but not from the cold.

Isobel worried about Max. The dream was obviously connected to his recent behaviour; there must be an explanation, but she couldn’t bring herself to go dreamwalking again quite yet. She would finish her hot chocolate first and then try again.

Influenced by her mom’s varied New Age interests and therefore not unfamiliar with dream interpretation, Maria, impatient for answers as usual, automatically tried to analyse the symbolism. She knew darkness meant mystery, candles indicated intuitive or psychic aspects, and she also vaguely remembered that the carnival mask represented falsehood and deception but she had no idea about the sex thing. The accepted meanings didn’t seem to apply to her friends. Making a mental note to herself to warn Kyle not to mention the hot sex show to Liz, Maria considered the rest of his description. The green, glowing forcefield, surprisingly, didn’t really worry her. Having seen it in action when Kyle and Max were going through their power transference, she felt fairly confident about it’s significance. The color green indicated sharing and balance which was appropriate to its appearances so far. However, she simply couldn’t believe that Tess was really alive and back to torment them.

She mentally nudged Michael and shared her thoughts with him, although his response was even less enthusiastic than she’d expected.

The dream didn’t really interest Michael too much. He was inclined to dismiss it as the result of the strain they had all been under. He was a little disturbed by the reappearance of the green glow but not enough to lose any sleep over it. And sleep was what he needed right now. Suddenly, all he really wanted to do was climb into their sleeping bag, wrap himself around Maria and sleep for a week…

Maria snuggled closer against him. Only another hour of his watch to go before they could sleep at last. It suddenly occurred to her that Isobel must be a real expert on dream symbols but just as she opened her mouth to question her friend, Michael stopped her with a private warning.

***Not yet, Maria. Give her time to try to contact Max first, ok ***

***Oh, but surely if we understand a bit more about what this dream means, she can – well – warn him or something…***

***About what? It’s just a dream. He already thinks Tess is calling him, so no news for him there. Maybe he can tell us what's goin' on***

***We do need to talk about this dream, though. It does have symbols and aspects that apply directly to Kyle and Max, at least. We can’t just ignore it, Michael***

***Not goin’ to ignore it, Maria. Just gonna wait until daylight, when Iz has talked to Max and we might have more to go on. Don’t forget, nobody thinks straight when they’re scared and exhausted. We’ve been running for five day now, nobody’s had much sleep. Gotta give ourselves a chance to stop and rest for a while***

He felt Maria’s reluctant acquiescence and sighed in relief. For a moment he had been afraid she would argue with him and he suddenly found himself wound up and on the edge of picking a fight just for the hell of it. A fight with Maria over this would be stupid. The sudden change from lieutenant to leader had been more of a strain than he’d realized, and Max’s selfish obsession with Tess and subsequent desertion of the group had added stress he just didn’t need. No, the person he had in mind for the fight was Max himself…and one day, he promised himself, he was going to settle the score over this.

He roused himself and told the others he was going to patrol the area. Kyle and Isobel chorused that they would come too, and then glared at each other again. Both wanted Michael’s undivided attention so they could discuss the dream in more detail. When he saw they were about to argue over it, he momentarily lost his self-control and snapped at them.

“Look, you two want to talk about this f*ckin’ dream, you talk to each other – quietly, understand? These patrols are serious, in case you’ve forgotten – we need to be silent and listen out for any danger. Try to remember that, ok?” He zipped up his parka, gave Maria’s thigh a brief squeeze, then opened the door and was gone into the night.

Maria was secretly amused by the identical expressions of surprise and frustration on the faces of her two friends. She decided to get them to discuss the dream before their mutual antagonism got out of hand.

“Isobel, my mom was into dream interpretation at one time, so I remember a few dream symbols, but you must be an expert. Let’s start with Kyle; tell us about the dream again in case you missed anything…then, Isobel, you can see if you noticed anything different, ok?”

Isobel and Kyle exchanged a wary look, but then both grinned and relaxed, tacitly acknowledging peace between them again. Kyle glanced from one girl to the other and began to recall his memories of the dream. Soon all three were engrossed in the discussion, although no conclusion was reached. Isobel confirmed Maria’s ideas but had no more of her own, other than to try to reach Max again, this time with the others around for support. Kyle fell silent as the girls talked of symbols and meanings, more worried about the dream than he was prepared to let on.

Michael had circled the area and paused to sit on a rock by the edge of the lake until his spurt of temper had cooled. He knew exhaustion had finally caught up with him and he had over-reacted to Kyle and Isobel wanting to talk, but he was frustrated by the inability of the others (except Maria, he thought gratefully) to understand the need for a constant watch, however sure he privately was that they had not been followed.

He had noticed that the further they got from Roswell the more relaxed the others seemed to become about pursuit. It was as if they wanted to forget why they were on the road and were starting to believe Max’s cover story from the night at the Green Apple – students on a summer road trip. The mysterious Kyle/Max connection had taken over as the main topic of interest to the others, an excuse for avoiding the still sharp pain of their grief and loss.

As he let himself be soothed by the cold, silent beauty of the starlight reflected in the dark waters of the lake, he admitted to himself that it might be a good thing on the whole, as long as they didn’t entirely lose the edge. They needed to remain alert without reviving the terror of the first desperate flight. Michael had no intention of dropping his own guard. Keeping Maria safe was his first priority but he thought that as long as they were all under his protection, they might be ok. The Max/Kyle dream was probably down to anxiety and lack of sleep, or else the residual fall-out from the power-sharing thing. Either way, he wasn’t going to think about it tonight. He had too many other things to worry about and the group’s survival came first.

Michael rose, yawned and stretched, now ready to return to the Chevy and see if Isobel had calmed down enough to try to contact her brother. He hoped she had, because he really couldn’t wait to crawl into bed and get some real sleep at long last.

The three in the truck were lost in their own thoughts again by the time Michael opened the door. Maria didn’t jump in surprise, unlike the other two. She had felt his earlier anger, his need for space, and didn’t comment on the length of time he had been away.

Once he had settled into his seat again, Isobel lowered the angle of her own seat as far as it would go and leaned back comfortably in the dim glow of Maria’s torch. She checked her watch and closed her eyes, summoning Max’s face and concentrating hard. Presently, the white fog appeared, dissipating almost immediately, and she was in her brother’s dream.

This time he was in the middle of the desert near the rocks that had hidden the Granolith. Max was gazing at the brilliant night sky where the familiar ‘V’ star formation blazed and he turned to look at her impatiently as she walked over to him.

“What the hell took you so long, Isobel? I’ve been waiting for days.”

His tone was accusing and her eyes narrowed in wariness.

“Max. It was only the night before last when you ran off after Tess and deserted the rest of us. We’ve been driving ever since. I’ve been so worried. Where are you and what’s happening?”

He calmed down and smiled at her.

“I’m somewhere on Interstate 80, in Nebraska, in a motel. I spent last night in a motel in Denver waiting for you to contact me. I'm fine, nothing’s happened, I’m just cruising on and resting when I need to. Tess seems to know I’m on my way, so there’s no sense of urgency anymore.” He looked relaxed and faintly pleased about it. Isobel was irritated and a little hurt that he didn’t seem concerned about her or the others.

“I’m so worried, Max. I tried to dreamwalk you earlier and you were having some weird nightmare… Do you remember?”

“Nightmare? No, Izzy, I don’t remember anything except falling asleep to wait for you and now - here you are, at long last. How’s Liz? Is she still mad at me?”

“Of course she’s mad at you, Max! Anybody would be, treated like that. Why the hell are you chasing after Tess if it’s Liz you want?”

“I told her, I shan’t be free of this pull in my mind until I find Tess and…do whatever I need to do to stop her doing this to me. God, Isobel, you think I want to be here, on this crazy trip? I want to be with you and Liz; you know that. Tell her – make her believe me, Isobel, you could if you wanted to.”

“I can’t, Max. Only you and Liz can work that one out. Are you sure you can’t remember any dreams? Kyle was in it, so was Tess – kind of, anyway…and me, I was there, too.”

“No, I already told you, Isobel, if I had any dreams or nightmares, I don’t remember them.”

She nodded, moving on to the other worry that was uppermost in her mind.

“Have you seen any sign that you’re being followed, Max?”

“Followed? Wha - ? Oh, yeah, …I guess…I forgot.” For a moment he sounded uncertain, unsure of himself. Then the same arrogance he displayed when he had threatened her after Alex’s death was back. Before she could pursue the thought, he carried on talking.

“No, I haven’t noticed anything suspicious, but I’ll remember to keep a look-out from now on. I’ve been focusing on getting to New York, but now there’s no rush. Listen, Izzy, speak to Liz for me. Tell her I’ll come find you as soon as I can, I promise. Then we’ll make real plans to go find somewhere safe and settle down. Where exactly are you and the others right now?”

As he spoke, he smiled into her eyes and reached out for her as though to give her a hug, but at that moment the dreamscape vanished and she was back reclining in the smooth leather of the Chevy seat.

Kyle watched anxiously as Isobel blinked herself back into reality. She sat up and frowned at him and then at the other two in the back seat.

“That was worse than useless. Max is somewhere in Nebraska, heading for New York. He thinks Tess knows he’s on his way and so there’s less urgency.” Isobel closed her eyes in exasperation. “He doesn’t remember any dreams, his main concern is Liz, oh, and he forgot to check to see if he’s being followed. I didn’t get the chance to even ask what he’s doing for money. We never found out how much he had when he left Roswell. He’s using motels, so he can’t be short of cash or else he’s changing bills.”

“Was there anything strange about his dream, Isobel?” Kyle was almost frightened to ask, but he had to know. His own (he was sure) dream had disturbed him more than he was prepared to admit, even to himself.

Isobel shook her head.

“No. It was just the desert near the ruins of the pod cave outside Roswell. It was night and there was nothing and no one else around. The only unusual thing was that neither of us was ready for the dream to end… Maybe someone or something ended it for us – or, then again, maybe not. Maybe he just woke up. It happens.”

Michael ran both hands through his short, dark hair and looked wearily over at the two in the front seats.

“So there’s nothing more any of us can do about anything right now, huh?”

They both shrugged.

“Then I’m gonna go get some sleep. Kyle’s on watch next, so we’ll talk more in the morning, ok.”

He turned to Maria, who squeezed his hand briefly and then opened her door to climb out.

“Don’t wait breakfast for us. We’ll make our own. Michael looks like he’s gonna be asleep before he reaches the tent.” She said goodnight, then followed after the tall figure already trudging across the grass.

Michael had to duck his head to enter the fairly roomy vestibule of their tent, but Maria could stand upright with no problem. The rear part of the structure was divided into two ‘bedrooms’ each spacious enough for two people to sleep in comfort. The fortune they had spent on the tents and equipment was worth it for the comfort and convenience they would need if they were to be used long term as living quarters.

Maria had arranged the insulation pads, air mattresses and sleeping bags into a large, cosy bed in the centre of their room, with a pile of big, soft pillows at the far end of it. The lantern hung from a hook in the far outer corner of the tent. There was no danger that their shadows appearing on the canvas outside would be seen by onlookers as there were bushes growing close by that gave them privacy from the other tent pads. A mesh window for light and ventilation was set in the side of the tent with a roll-down flap that sealed it off when needed, as now. Their possessions, including the saddlebags from his bike, were neatly folded or stacked on each side of the bed. Michael registered all this and sent his sleepy approval to Maria as he rapidly stripped naked and slid gratefully into the smooth cotton sheets lining the bag. She had made it a haven from the outside world.

***Of course, Spaceboy. You may think that it’s macho to live a Spartan life on the run, but surely you didn’t think I would let us rough it in the wilderness, if we didn’t have to? Comfort is a necessity and shopping is in my blood, Michael, even if the nearest mall is probably in the next State…***

As she commented, she too stripped off, dropping to her knees and bending over to rummage in her pack beside the bed to pull on a short, soft, rose-colored T-shirt that didn’t quite cover her ass. Michael’s suddenly narrowed eyes raked over the enticing picture displayed just for him and he twisted himself out of bed to kneel behind her, letting his hands slide over the firm curves jutting provocatively into the air.

When Maria turned her face over her shoulder to look back at him from under sultry, half-closed lids, he smiled wolfishly and suddenly leaned down to bite a succulent peach-like cheek. She tensed and he reached around her under the shirt, pulling her firmly back against him, to cup each of her breasts in a large hand, stroking and pinching until each rosy nipple hardened into a fiery pebble in his palm. She began to rub her ass against his cock, moaning low in her throat as it jerked and throbbed into the huge, steel-hard erection behind her.

He brushed her hair aside with one hand in order to kiss and suck the side of her neck, leaving his mark on her sensitive, satin skin, branding her as his once again. Maria tilted her head to give him more access and involuntarily arched her back as he nipped sharply with his teeth, pinching a nipple at the same time and sending a sudden sizzling sensation to her cunt. Instantly aware of her need, his hand found the soft cleft between her thighs and his fingers explored the slick, wet depths searching for the tiny nub to ignite the fire. There was no time for leisurely foreplay or teasing torment tonight, the urgent imperative of his need for Maria over-rode his exhaustion, but he knew this would have to be fast and furious while he still had some stamina left.

Even as the explosive charge built up inside, Maria reached behind her, desperately wanting to touch his cock, needing him to share in the pleasure he was giving her. Consumed with love and lust, he ignored her ineffectual groping, holding her tight against him with one hand between her legs and the other covering her mouth to keep her quiet as she came. Feeling all the sensations she felt, supporting her while the aftershocks of the orgasm rippled through her, he grinned to himself. Keeping their lovemaking quiet maybe wasn’t so difficult after all…

He turned them both so that they faced the piled up pillows at the top of their bed and he reached out to drag some towards him, pushing her forward so that she lay across them, her round ass raised in the air. Checking that she was ready for him, he gripped her hips and pulled her ass forward, plunging the long, thick length of his cock up to the hilt in her hot, creamy cunt. She convulsed against him, thrusting back in response, her ecstatic silent scream ***yes, oh, Michael, Michael, oh, oooh, yessss*** echoing in his mind as he drove into her again and again, his balls slapping rhythmically against her softness until he, too, came, her name a strangled shout - abruptly cut off as he miraculously recalled the need for quiet, forgotten at the moment of his passionate release.

Afterwards, they lay breathless for a few minutes, Michael sprawled heavily on top of Maria, neither with the strength to move just yet. Then, with a heroic effort, he rolled off of her and found enough reserves of energy to sit up and re-arrange the pillows and sleeping bag around them until they were spooned together in a nest. Maria turned her face up to his for a soft goodnight kiss and was instantly asleep. A moment later, he had snuffed the lantern with a wave of his hand and followed her into bliss.

Outside in the night, Kyle and Isobel sat on in the Chevy for a long time, silent and preoccupied until Kyle roused himself to go out on patrol.

“You go back to sleep, Isobel. I’ll stay on watch until morning; I’ll be ok out here. I’ll wake Liz at eight, for her turn. She the only one of us who’s had a full night’s sleep so far. The rest of us can catch up now.”

Isobel agreed and they both went their separate ways in the darkness.

He didn’t mention that he was reluctant to go back to sleep until he was sure that Max had woken up and set off on the road. Kyle had developed the theory that if they were never asleep at the same time, then there should be no danger of any more “shared” dreams. So, it looked like he was going to have to become nocturnal for the foreseeable future…

Returning to the truck, he reclined the seat, made himself comfortable with a blanket and tuned the radio so that a country music station played softly. Diverting himself in this way between patrols, he whiled away the hours until the sun rose on the spectacular view and he prepared to go rouse Liz and get some sleep himself.

The others slept on, warm and comfortable in their sleeping bags, surrendered to the oblivion of exhaustion at last.

********

Chapter Twenty-Three

It was long past sunrise, closer to 10am, when Kyle headed reluctantly over to wake Liz. He had been determined to stay awake for as long as possible so that he could sleep for the rest of the day and be ready to stay up all night.

He entered the vestibule of the girls’ tent and immediately found himself in a quandary – which ‘room’ belonged to Liz? He didn’t know how to wake her without disturbing Isobel.

He hesitated for a few moments and had just decided to scratch softly on the canvas ‘door’ to the left when he heard Liz’s sleepy voice on the other side, raised in fright.

“H-hello? Who’s there? Who is it?”

“ Shhh, Liz, it’s me – Kyle. It’s ok.” He hurried to reassure her, remembering with a sudden shock that they really were, after all, in flight for their lives and Liz didn’t yet know their theories.

There was a tearing sound as Liz ripped apart the Velcro fastenings of the door seal, and she suddenly flung herself at him, clutching in panic, her breath coming in uneven sobs. He held her tight, rubbing soothing circles on her back and murmuring reassurance. In a few moments, she regained her composure and drew back, smiling tremulously at him in apology. He took her hand, about to lead her outside into the hot, morning sunshine when she resisted, shaking her head.

“It’s ok, Liz, there’s nothing to worry about out there. I just thought we could go and look at the view for a while. I’ve made some coffee…” He noticed her smile and raised an eyebrow.

“Sounds great, Kyle. I just need to get dressed, ok?” It was only then he realised that she was barefoot and dressed in pyjamas. He grinned and rolled his eyes, stepping back to usher her into her sleeping quarters with a mock bow and a bad attempt at an English accent.

“I’ll be right outside, Miss Parker, waiting to escort you to the coffee-pot when ready.”

They had kept their voices low, after her first panicked reaction, and he hoped that Isobel had either slept through it or, more likely, was leaving him to it.

When Liz emerged a few minutes later, she was dressed in shorts and a baby blue t-shirt. Kyle was waiting outside, sitting on one of the camp chairs he had noticed in the vestibule and staring at the lake sparkling through the trees. He stood up when she appeared, folded the chair and brought it with him as they strolled companionably over to the grill under the shade canopy among the trees near his tent.

Kyle had spent much of the time since sunrise tentatively practising his powers. He had collected supplies from the Chevy and now Liz saw that a coffee-pot was indeed steaming on the stone work surface next to the grill, along with their mugs, some assorted cutlery, plastic cups and plates, all set out ready for a casual breakfast. A large container of water was in the shade beneath the grill, next to two coolers filled with ice made an hour before to chill the remaining cans of cherry coke and keep the fresh supplies cool as the day warmed up. Liz saw with surprise, when Kyle opened one to collect some ingredients, that milk, eggs, bacon, butter and juice had been stacked neatly in plastic containers inside. Left to themselves (she shied away from thoughts of their… houseguest) Kyle and the Sheriff had never been noted for good housekeeping and yet here was a display that could compete with her own almost neurotic need for neatness and order. Life on the road had clearly produced a fundamental change in Kyle.

A large crusty loaf of bread, two eggshells and a greasy frying pan were next to the coffee pot, evidence that Kyle had already eaten a hearty breakfast. Looking over at the table, Liz could see the mug, plastic juice glass and plate he had used, as well as a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Kyle followed her gaze and grinned happily at her.

“Guerin’s not the only talented short order cook around here.” He bragged, then relented and told her the truth. “I’d cook for you, too, but I think maybe I still need a little more practice.”

Liz, refreshed by the first long night of unbroken, dreamless sleep she’d enjoyed for nearly a week, looked round at the snow-capped mountains, at the wooded slopes and green meadows edging the sparkling blue lake and experienced a sudden hunger for a fresh, new start on this beautiful morning as well as for the breakfast things laid out waiting for her.

“That’s ok, Kyle. I need the practice, too. First of all, though, I need coffee. Let’s drink it out on the rocks at the shore right now, before we do anything else; do you mind, Kyle?” She turned big, brown, laughing eyes on him and he smiled to see her so apparently carefree for the first time in years.

“Sure we can, Parker. Hot, sweet, spicy java coming right up…”

Picking their way over the rocks to the lake, carefully balancing their mugs, they found a large, flat slab already faintly warmed by the sun and lay on their stomachs gazing down into the water below. The first few feet were clear, and they could see a few clusters of weed on the rocky floor that sloped out into the lake, but as it got deeper the color became dark blue and opaque. As they watched they noticed small, almost transparent, fish darting about among the weeds and this reminded Kyle that fishing lessons for Guerin and the girls were top of the agenda for the week. He debated whether to tell Liz now or wait to announce it when they were all together. He opted for the coward’s way: a group meeting when Guerin would be the one to take the flak. Why spoil a perfect morning when he didn’t have to? So he rolled over to prop himself up on his elbows, closing his eyes and lifting his face to the warmth.

Presently Liz could no longer ignore her stomach growling with hunger and stirred from her fascination with the underwater life. She sat up and reached for her coffee mug, which was perched on a nearby rock. Finding it cold, she heated it up almost without thinking. Looking round at Kyle, she saw that he was doing the same thing and they shared a conspiratorial grin.

“Cool to have powers, isn’t it, Liz?” He chose to ignore the memory of how they’d been acquired, then realized too late that she wouldn’t wish to be reminded of Max. However, she continued to smile and nod in agreement, giving no sign that he had hit a nerve.

“Yes, it is, Kyle. And you’ve made really fast progress, cooking breakfast this morning, especially making toast. Isobel says that takes a very delicate use of power.”

He laughed.

“Don’t tell her, but I nearly burnt the bacon, the eggs were hard-boiled and I used up a whole loaf of bread before I got any toast this morning. There’s a lot of charcoal scattered among the rocks and I only got one half-charred slice out of it.”

For some reason, this struck Liz as exquisitely funny and she started to laugh, eventually infecting Kyle until they both gave in to amusement, lying back on the rock in the sun giggling helplessly for a few minutes. After they calmed down Kyle fetched re-fills and they basked in the warmth, feeling more affectionate and relaxed with each other than ever before.

Kyle finished his coffee, looked at his watch and then over at Liz, saw that she was draining her own mug and waited to catch her eye before he spoke.

“It’s 10.30, Liz. Will you be ok to take on guard duty alone this morning? You’re the only one of us who got to sleep all through the night and, what with one thing and another, the others are probably gonna crash ‘til noon…”

“Sure, I’ll be fine, Kyle.” She frowned at him curiously. “What do you mean by ‘one thing and another’ – what kept you all awake?”

He thought fast. No point in telling her about the dream, it would only upset her when she seemed to be relaxed and even happy this morning. Kyle embarked on what he hoped was a plausible explanation.

“ Michael and Maria worked a double watch together until 2am and then, well, when it was my turn to take over, I met Isobel on her way back from a - um - call of nature and she kept me company for a while. I stayed up as I was wide awake by then, so I let you both sleep on…” He was relieved that it was true – just… not the full explanation. However, Liz seemed to buy it.

“Oh, well, ok. You go get some sleep and I’ll cover for everyone this morning. What’s the routine?”

He explained the duties, far less onerous in daylight, and she asked one favour of him before she let him off the hook. He was willing to wait while she took a fast morning shower and then he went off for his own ablutions leaving her sitting in a camp chair in the shade of a tree near the lake, letting her short, pale hair dry naturally.

Liz sat there until he disappeared into his tent, then gave in to her hunger pangs and went over to the grill to make breakfast. Heating up the pan for the bacon was no problem, and she managed to fry an egg just the way she liked it, but recalling Kyle’s struggles with toast, she chose plain bread and butter instead and enjoyed it just as much, along with chilled long-life juice from the carton in the cooler.

Her unhurried, solitary breakfast over, she stacked her dishes along with Kyle’s and carried them over to the grill, placing them away from the clean stuff on the other work area ready for Isobel or Michael to ‘power’ clean later. After re-wrapping the bread and putting it away to protect it from the heat of the day, storing the butter and milk back in the cooler, she decided to spend the morning working on her own powers.

Collecting some water from the big container into a juice glass, she wandered back to the chair under the shade tree and sat down, staring at the clear liquid and picturing a glass of ice-cold cherry coke, tasting it in her mind and feeling the fizz tingling on her tongue. The water remained clear as in all her previous attempts. This time she concentrated hard, clearing her mind of everything except the color she wanted until she saw nothing else in her mind’s eye. Then she opened her eyes and saw the same dark shade filling the glass she held. A surge of triumph washed through her as it did every time she achieved something she’d set her heart on and she sipped contentedly.

After a time Liz noticed a faint noise that, as it got louder, she gradually recognised as a vehicle approaching along the road. A feeling of panic gripped her. There was no time to warn the others, so she looked round quickly for somewhere to hide.

There were bushes growing strategically round all the sites to provide some privacy for the occupants and she ran over to a clump growing next to her tent, which was nearest.

As she reached it and peered through the leafy branches, a jeep pulled off the road and came to a halt at the edge of the camping area. She recognised the park ranger who stepped out as the guy who had welcomed them yesterday evening. It didn’t lessen her caution, but she moved away from the bushes towards him, out into the more open grassy spaces among the trees, instinctively wanting to keep him away from their camp.

The noise of the jeep, loud in the silence, had woken the others in the tents, with the exception of Kyle, who was too deeply asleep to be roused by anything less than an earthquake. Michael and Maria stared at each other in alarm, before scrambling to get dressed and outside as quietly and quickly as possible. Maria beat Michael to it, simply going commando and pulling on a pair of shorts but was roughly pulled back, when she unfastened the Velcro tabs sealing the door, and silently threatened with dire consequences if she made a move without him. She was perturbed enough to agree without an argument, so he knew that she must be really nervous. As soon as he’d struggled into his jeans and shirt from last night, cursing silently and inventively all the time, he slid round her and out into the vestibule, quickly untying the strings on the outer door.

Isobel, in the other tent, was frozen with terror for a few moments, but knew she had to act as normally as possible so she hurriedly dressed in brief shorts and a tight t-shirt just exactly as if she really was a carefree student on a summer vacation. Ducking out of her ‘room’ and through the vestibule into the hot, bright morning, she looked through the same bush that Liz had done a few minutes earlier and saw her walking through the trees some distance away to speak to the trainee ranger from yesterday.

Looking across to the Chevy, she saw Maria and Michael heading towards it from the direction of their tent and went to join them. They met up by the tailgate, out of the sightline of their visitor, to discuss the situation. Isobel identified the trainee ranger and made no secret of her apprehension.

Michael’s first instinct was to protect the girls and get them into the Chevy in case they had to make a run for it, but then his intelligence over-rode his panic and he realised that it was unlikely that an attack would be mounted by one man in a jeep, if a dozen men with guns had failed in the school gym. There had been only the engine noise of one vehicle coming along the road and, anyway, the safest thing would be to use their disguises and maintain their cover as innocent students on vacation.

He said this and the girls nodded, seeing the logic and calming down a lot. Michael was about to go join Liz, when Maria stopped him.

“Stay here, Michael, and let Isobel and me handle it. He won’t stand a chance against three girls, so relax and wait for us to chase him off, ok?”

He didn’t like the idea, but he knew it made sense. All his protective instincts were aroused and he would antagonise the guy for sure, thus drawing attention to the group for the wrong reasons. Better to make a friendly impression, than a hostile one.

So he agreed, and the girls went off among the trees to confront their victim. He almost felt sorry for the guy, until Maria’s acid mental comment made him hurriedly suppress the thought.

The young ranger lifted his hand in greeting as he drew nearer to Liz, giving her a wide, friendly smile, discreetly checking her out as he did so. They stopped a few feet away from each other and her wariness made her unconsciously lower her eyes and peek at him beneath her lashes. He mistook it for shyness and this, together with the short, pale hair emphasising her huge, dark eyes and tiny, delicate figure, immediately caught his interest. He’d noticed yesterday that all three girls in the group were really hot and one of them was even spectacular and that’s why he’d made a special detour this morning ostensibly to check that they had settled in. This little shy one was adorable and he was curious to find out more. The two guys with them had sent unmistakable ‘keep off’ signals but this only added spice to the challenge. Ben Yardley had a reputation as a player among the wary local girls but he always found some real fun chicks among the summer visitors.

“Hi, there, never got to introduce myself yesterday. My name’s Ben. How ya doin’? Just dropped by to make sure you settled in ok…” He gave her his friendly, admiring grin, held out his hand and waited.

She raised her huge, anxious eyes to his, touched his hand briefly and, if he’d only known it, used her automatic Crashdown-waitress smile to cover her apprehension. He was so busy watching her that he missed her first words and only her name registered.

“…Susan.”

“Great to meet you, Susan. Guess from the plates on your truck you’re from Iowa?”

Liz was dismayed by the apparently innocent question. Unable to tell him the truth, she couldn’t think of a cover story, only just recalled her name on the fake ID Michael had made. Her mind went blank, the pause lengthened and she couldn’t break away from his gaze.

“We’re from all over. This is our last summer vacation together, so we’re making it special.” Maria’s laughing voice came from behind her, causing the ranger to look up in surprise and Liz to turn and link arms with her friend in relief at being rescued.

Tearing his attention away from ‘Susan’, Ben saw that the other two girls had arrived, strolling through the trees unnoticed to join them and flank their friend protectively. His memory had not done them justice – this morning they were even more attractive than he remembered. Both now wore high-cut shorts and low-cut t-shirts. The green-eyed blonde with the sexy mouth grinned at him in a friendly way, but the tall, dark-haired chick with the centrefold figure stared at him with icy indifference.

“How come you’re from ‘all over’?” He fished for information. “Are you all, like, family, or something? You’re all beautiful, but you don’t look very much alike.” His curiosity grew.

Isobel joined the conversation, clearly bored.

“Yes, we’re family, if you really must know. Step-sisters. The plates are from Iowa because that’s where the guys live.” Her attitude made it clear that he had overstepped the mark by asking impertinent personal questions. He wasn’t used to girls who were so blatantly unimpressed by his charms and instantly decided she was a challenge he wouldn’t refuse.

Maria took up the good-cop role in the double act, apparently as eager to be friendly as Isobel was not.

“This is our last summer before college, so we’re on a road trip, heading south to Mexico. You’ve already met Susan. I’m Lisa; this is Elinor.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him and he smiled at her – God, she was real cute, too – and that incredible mouth… “ What’s your name? What do you do around here, ranger? This must be a great place to work.” He responded to her open friendliness with his own.

“My name’s Ben. It sure is a great place to work and I do some of everything, as I’m still training. This week, I’m on the hospitality team, making sure our guests are all having a good time.” He carefully avoided making any eye contact that might favor one over the others at this stage. “My dad’s the Head Ranger, so I live in the park as well as work here. Say, if you’d like a guided tour to the falls, I have some free time this afternoon and I’d be happy to show you around.” He smiled at them all, unthreateningly friendly and charming.

“Thanks, but we’ve all come a long way to meet up and today we’re just planning to chill and catch up with family news and stuff. Maybe another time. ’Bye.” Isobel let a little more warmth infuse her manner, although she was definite in her refusal. She gave him an unexpectedly gracious smile and turned to leave.

Maria also smiled at him, but ruefully as if in disappointment, then moved a few steps away after Isobel, tugging gently at the still silent Liz’s arm.

Liz woke up from her trance and blinked at the big, blond guy looking at her with amused interest. She blushed to think that she had let her attention wander for a moment, wondering where Max might be, when she should have been alert for their safety, but it was hard to think of the attractive guy in front of her as a possible danger. She accidentally caught his eye in a lingering glance then murmured something inaudible and let Maria pull her away towards the camp. Scolding herself for her sudden interest, she felt guilty all the way back to the tents.

Staring after them, Ben Yardley’s cock throbbed in his jeans. He wondered which of them he would be fucking by the end of the week and licked his lips in anticipation.

********

Chapter Twenty-Four

When the girls returned to their campsite, Michael was over by the grill already frying bacon, slicing bread for toast and pouring his first slug of fresh coffee. He broke eggs into a pan as the girls came over to join him. Maria slid an arm round his waist under his shirt and dragged her nails lightly down his smooth, muscled back so that he shivered in response.

***Oooh, yes, Spaceboy, I’m so ready for it… ***

He felt her pleasurable anticipation and half-smiled, knowing she meant breakfast and was just teasing him to diffuse the tension from the unexpected intrusion. He relaxed now that the scare was over. Michael had only been able to follow the encounter through his faint connection with Maria’s feelings; she hadn’t spoken directly to him, her attention being focused elsewhere. There had been tension, a little nervous excitement and, unexpectedly, enjoyment.

The girls crowded round the grill, Isobel and Maria pouring coffee for themselves and waiting for Michael to dish the food on to plates. Liz, having already eaten, wandered over to the camp chair to retrieve her glass and stood peacefully looking out over the lake.

“Well? What happened?” Michael was impatient to know what they’d said to the guy.

Isobel exchanged glances with Maria.

“He’s no threat, Michael. Just another guy who keeps his brains in his underwear.” Isobel was dismissive. She was familiar with the type and her boredom hadn’t been feigned.

“Yes, you should have seen the way he was checking us all out, like he was starving and we were dessert. He thought we didn’t notice.” Maria laughed and Michael scowled at her, unamused.

“Checkin’ you out?”

“Chill, Spaceboy. He confused Liz by asking if we were from Iowa. He was so hot for her that he didn’t see Isobel and me until we stood right next to him. She looked like she’d lost it for a moment; lucky we arrived in time and Isobel came up with a cover story.”

Isobel took up the tale.

“I told him we’re step-sisters in an extended family group, on a summer road trip to Mexico before college. You and Kyle drove here from Iowa and the rest of us flew in from all over. We used the names on our fake ID.”

Maria interrupted.

“We’d better get used to calling each other by those names while we’re here. We can’t assume we’ll have the place to ourselves all the time.”

Isobel nodded in agreement and carried on talking.

“The guy offered to take us to see the falls this afternoon. We turned him down flat, but he’ll be back. He’s not the type to give up so easily …”

“That’s all we need. Now we’ve got to watch out for him as well.” Michael was grouchy.

“Hey, Spaceboy, I mean “Mark”, he won’t be back for a while – let’s think about having some fun around here… after we eat, of course.” She led the way over to the table and they all sat down. Liz joined them, bringing along a fresh glass of her home-made cherry coke, and the other three ate while they all practiced using their new names and discussed plans for the day. They agreed that a lazy afternoon was needed to begin to recover from the long days and nights spent driving on endless highways. Michael decreed that no formal watch was necessary until nightfall, as long as someone was awake to hear the sound of any vehicle in the vast silence.

Noon was approaching and the sun shone from a cloudless, azure sky over the lake. It was hot, though not like the dry desert air they were used to, and still early enough in the season to be comfortable. Isobel planned to sit in the shade for a couple of hours and then take a long walk along the shore of the lake, as she needed the exercise. Liz, to her surprise, offered to go with her. Michael just wanted to go back to sleep and was disappointed to discover that Maria didn’t intend to join him. He’d had a few ideas in mind for when they woke up and suggested them privately now, trying to lure her into his arms with promises of future delight.

***With Kyle asleep, like, a just few feet away? No, Michael, nookie is totally out of the question when he’s around. Remember, we agreed our private time would have to be when he’s on watch...***

***Soon as he wakes up, gotta talk him into moving in with Isobel and Liz…***

Maria wanted to lie in the airy shade beneath the trees near the lakeshore. She also had an ulterior motive that she was careful to keep to herself.

After everyone had eaten - Michael had second helpings - they all cleared the table and Isobel cleaned the dishes.

Maria strolled over to her tent. Inside, the air was hot and stuffy, so she opened the canvas door and rolled up the windowshade in the vestibule and did the same to their room in order to cool it down for Michael. She wanted to make it more comfortable for Kyle, too, so she called out to him quietly. His only response was a loud grunt and a snuffle, so she grinned and pushed his doorflap half open to give him some airflow, without disturbing him too much. Then she went back into her room to retrieve her sunscreen, shades and hat, as well as a book to read. She rolled them all in a beach towel and stood up to leave.

As she backed out, arms full and taking a last look round to see if she needed anything else, Michael entered the tent and came up behind her. Sliding his hands round her waist, then up to cup her breasts, he nuzzled the base of her neck and, as she struggled to turn round in his arms without dropping anything, he took the bundle away from her and tossed it carelessly on the floor. He smothered her annoyance with his mouth, lips soft and slow as he tried to seduce her into coming back to bed with him for the afternoon.

Maria very nearly succumbed, wrapping her arms around his neck and responding with lazy sensuality as he kissed her throat, then moaning as his hands cupped her ass to pull her tighter against him.

Liz appeared in the doorway, calling Maria by her ID name, then stopped short in surprise. A sharp stab of jealousy shot through her on seeing the two lovers so lost in their embrace that they were unaware of her presence.

Then Maria opened her eyes and saw Liz watching them. It made her slightly uncomfortable, wondering how long she had been there, staring. She smiled wryly at Michael as she drew away from him, and he instinctively knew, before he even read her thought, who it was that had frustrated his plans.

***It’s Liz again, isn’t it? Every time I get you to myself, she arrives like the bad fairy, demanding your attention. Tell her to get lost, princess, and come to bed. We’ve got all afternoon, there’s no rush…*** He felt Maria’s struggle against temptation, but she resisted.

***Just as well she’s here, Spaceboy. Kyle’s still asleep and I really meant it when I said I wanted to sit out by the lake in the shade. We can carry on with this later, after he wakes up. You want to sleep, anyway, Michael. I can feel it…***

***Yeah, whatever…*** He resigned himself to sleeping alone.

They both turned to Liz, Maria with a smile and Michael with his usual enigmatic expression, concealing his irritation at her timing.

“ Ready now, Liz. It’s such a relief to rest for a few days, especially somewhere as beautiful as this.”

Maria gave Michael a pointed look and he picked up her sun protection stuff and handed it over, then solemnly kissed her cheek and watched her walk away before he removed his clothes, stretched out on their bed in just his underwear, and once again fell fast asleep.

The girls arranged themselves on the grass in the shade, Isobel and Liz on the camp chairs and Maria reclining on her towel, after applying sunscreen. Conversation was minimal, all of them drowsy in the heat and finally relieved from the strain of constant travelling.

Maria propped herself on her elbow with her back to the others and casually opened her book. The DeLuca women never turned down a challenge. When Michael caught his fish, she would be ready… but first she had to master the basics. Flicking through the cookbook, she began to look for a recipe that might be within her current capabilities for later that evening…

A couple more lazy hours drifted by, until Isobel judged it time to explore their new surroundings and sat up to slather herself with more suncream and get ready for the hike. Liz did the same and they both called enquiringly over to Maria, stretched out on her towel. She propped herself up on her elbows and shook her head at them, rolling her eyes at the thought of exercise in the hot afternoon sun.

“I’ll wait until you get back, then I’ll drive to the store to get fresh supplies for dinner tonight. Have fun…”

“OK, we’ll be back by 4 o’clock. See you later, Maria.”

Isobel and Liz waved as they set off northwards along the edge of the lake. They both wore sunhats, hiking boots and shades against the reflections from the mirrored surface. The rocky shoreline near their campsite continued round to form a sheltered bay and after about fifteen minutes, they rounded the tip of the small, wooded promontory to find the lake bounded here by a gently sloping hillside with snowy mountain peaks as a distant backdrop.

They walked on into the scenery, following a track that led them along the water’s edge and eventually up through the hazy sunlight in the woods to the top of the hill. Coming out onto level ground, they found themselves on a wide plateau – a green, grassy alpine meadow scattered with drifts of tiny, colourful flowers.

The view of the lake and mountains was sufficiently stunning for them both to drop to the ground and just lay gazing out over the treetops for a while. The thin air at this altitude left both of them breathless from exertion; Liz in particular - the only exercise she and Maria ever had time for was rushing around on their busy Crashdown shifts. Isobel took fitness seriously and both she and Jesse had made good use of the gym membership they’d been given as a wedding gift.

Both girls were silent, frequently sipping from the water bottles they carried. Liz fought the urge to ask Isobel if she’d made dream contact with Max. Isobel carefully avoided thinking about the subject altogether. They both cast around for a safer topic of conversation. Isobel thought of one first.

“That ranger guy looked like he could turn out to be a problem, if he gets too curious about us. What did you make of him?”

“I thought he was very nice, really friendly. He offered to show us the falls in his own time, too…”

“He’s interested in you, Liz. Didn’t you see the way he looked at you? We’ll have to watch out he doesn’t come visit too often or we could all be in trouble…”

Liz remembered the glance they’d shared and knew Isobel was right – he had been interested. She’d had an unexpected little jolt of awareness herself and felt guilty at the time but, even though she was making a fresh start without Max, real interest in another guy was just unthinkable - way too soon and way too dangerous.

“He won’t get any encouragement from me, Isobel. I’m just as nervous as everyone else about talking to strangers. So you don’t have to worry about that.”

She paused then continued in a rush of honesty.

“Still, in a way it was a relief to talk to someone from outside the group. It’s been days since we’ve had any conversation with anyone apart from store clerks. It just doesn’t feel right. Back home, I used to talk to people all the time, at school or in the Crashdown. Maybe only to smile and pass the time of day, but it was, like, contact with the real world. Do you know what I mean?”

Isobel began to nod eagerly in agreement even as she was speaking.

“Oh, God, I know exactly what you mean, Liz. I feel that way, too. I – I haven’t said this to anyone else, but that’s why I – I’m so worried about disappearing into the wilderness with only the tiny group of us to talk to. I’m afraid of the isolation. Oh, I know that it’ll probably be safer in the long term and we can move to an urban area when we’ve shaken off the Feds, but how am I going to get through it until then? I really love Michael and Maria, and Kyle is a wonderful guy, too, but I’m used to a busy, social, life full of contact with lots of other people. That’s why I volunteered for so many charity committees – I haveto keep busy all the time or I’ll go mad with boredom…”

The two girls looked at each other, bonding in acknowledgment of a shared loneliness unconnected with Max.

“Maria feels the same way, I think… ” Liz confessed. “She told me she’d given up her life and all her other friends for the sake of Michael and - the secret. Never tell her I told you, but I think that’s the real reason why she split with him that time – she felt trapped and scared she’d never be able to have any life outside the group. I think that later she finally realised that she couldn’t be happy without Michael so she rejected the record deal and came back to Roswell. We haven’t really been close for a long time now and that’s been mostly my fault, but I was so relieved and grateful she chose to come with us after all. I don’t know how she feels about the isolation, though. She’s the most outgoing and talkative one of us all, she must be worried, too…”

Isobel smiled affectionately at the thought of the small blonde who had become such a real and unexpected friend since Alex died. She knew that she wouldn’t last long without Maria and Kyle to comfort and tease her through her loss and loneliness.

“Maria’s been the strongest of us all since we left home. She’s never once complained or bitched about anything and she’s just totally supported Michael all the way. She’s been really sweet to me, too. I don’t know what I’d do without her…”

Liz felt another guilty stab of mixed love and jealousy. Much as she loved her best friend, Maria now had what she herself had fully expected to enjoy – the open adoration of the alpha male and the love and respect of all the others in the group. Liz told herself that a little jealousy was the natural response to loss of status.

Anyway, it was Michael who had turned out to have the real talent for leadership in a crisis, not Max after all. In fact, the more Liz thought about it, the more she convinced herself that he was the one who was really to blame for her troubles. If only he had held back and given Max a chance to lead them as he should, then maybe the whole Tess thing wouldn’t have been able to distract him. Her growing resentment of the big alien increased at the thought, although she was forced to admit to herself that he was doing a good job at protecting the group so far.

She said nothing about this, however and just agreed, truthfully, with Isobel that Maria was a very special friend.

At that moment the sunlight faded as a shadow passed over them and they looked up to see huge dark clouds bubbling up from behind the mountains and moving fast towards the lake. A strong gust of wind blew Isobel’s long, black hair into her eyes and a few heavy raindrops splashed down around them.

“Quick, Liz, we’d better get down into the shelter of the trees before we get soaked to the skin...”

A distant rumble of thunder made Liz pause in her headlong flight and call to Isobel.

“What about lightning? It’s dangerous to shelter under trees…”

“Not to us, Liz. Come on, I’ll show you…” Isobel hurried on and found the path they’d followed earlier. She plunged in among the trees and stopped to wait for Liz.

The wood was shadowy and dim without the misty sunlight pouring through the leaf canopy and the two girls walked carefully along the track, following its curves down towards the unseen lake at the bottom of the slope. Liz stumbled and Isobel put out a hand to prevent her from falling. Liz clutched it and held on tight, nervous at the thunder growing louder and closer above them. Lightning flashed more frequently, and they both shivered a little as the temperature dropped rapidly. The rain was loud on the leaves but it was surprisingly dry under the shelter of the trees.

“What did you mean when you said ‘it’s not dangerous for us’, Isobel?” Liz's voice shook nervously as another flash lit up the wood and thunder rolled above them, echoing off the bowl of mountains.

“We have our forcefields, of course… Switch them on and lightning will either bounce off or be absorbed into our energy fields. Michael can absorb it or deflect it, as he chooses, but Max and I can only deflect it. We used to go out into the desert and call up storms to practice with when we were younger. It was one of the few things Michael was good at when he was growing up. He called up the most spectacular electrical storms Roswell ever saw. I always thought he just channelled his anger into the weather. I was good at making it snow. None of us have done it seriously for years, as far as I know. Just lost interest, I think. I don’t know which way you and Kyle will react, but either way, you’ll be safe. Oh, and if a tree is struck and it looks like it might fall on you, you can just ‘push’ it out of the way with your forcefield. There are some advantages in having powers, you know…” She grinned with surprisingly wicked enjoyment at Liz.

Breaking the connection of their linked hands, both girls concentrated and started to glow faintly green in the twilight beneath the trees. Liz recovered her nerve at this and strode out confidently ahead of Isobel, almost challenging the elements to do their worst.

They were almost at the bottom of the slope when a dark shape appeared on the path ahead of them, blocking their way.

********

Chapter Twenty-Five

Maria had almost decided on a recipe for dinner that evening and was about to make the final choice between two sauces for the apparently simple chicken dish she had chosen when a large raindrop splashed onto the page.

She had been so absorbed in reading the cookbook that she hadn’t noticed time passing until the sudden shower took her by surprise. Hurriedly gathering up her book, shades and towel, she dashed through the rain to the tent, sheltering just inside the entrance to the vestibule to peer out into the dark, cloudy sky over the lake.

The guys were still deeply asleep, undisturbed by the rain pattering on the canvas, and Maria took a moment to peek affectionately at them both before she sank quietly onto the groundsheet just inside the doorway. It gave her that warm, cosy feeling, being safe and dry looking out at the weather. Then she thought of Liz and Isobel somewhere out there and hoped they had found shelter, too. She wasn’t worried as she knew that Isobel could dry them both off if they got soaked, so there was no danger of either of them catching cold or worse. Isobel would undoubtedly scare off any bears they might meet, too. In either scenario Liz would probably see an opportunity to learn more about her new powers.

A flash of lightning made her instinctively move further back, away from the door, before the thunder growled in the distance. She suddenly wanted to crawl in beside Michael, cuddle up against his big, warm body and listen to the rain outside, feeling peaceful and safe just being together. It made her remember the night that Michael had come to her out of the rain, the night she had first realised that he trusted her enough to reveal his private anguish and vulnerability - the night she had first taken him into her bed… He had changed in so many ways since then, but she knew he still had that secret place inside him that would always be the lonely, scared, unloved little boy and her heart ached. She vowed to herself that the man he was fast becoming would never be uncertain of her love again.

Maria gave in to her impulse and stood up to step through the opening into their private quarters. She sat carefully down beside Michael on the low bed, but instead of sliding in alongside him at once, took time to enjoy the long-missed pleasure of watching him sleep…

Unconscious, with his short, dark, spiky hair ruffled and his face softened into innocence, he looked more relaxed and peaceful than she had ever seen him in Roswell, the frown lines smoothed out, his dark, watchful eyes hidden; but his sensual lips, full and soft, were just waiting for her own to melt against them and coax him into far from innocent wakefulness.

Her gaze drifted down over his wide, naked shoulders and she wanted to bite delicately into the hard muscle under the smooth skin, then trail her tongue down across his broad chest to lave the sensitive nipples.

Further down, his neat belly button centred in his flat stomach drew her eye and she reached out to circle the dip with a finger hovering as light as a butterfly’s wing, so that he wasn’t even aware of her touch.

The thin cotton underwear covering his narrow hips did nothing to conceal the size of his long, thick cock - impressive even in it’s relaxed state - and Maria’s breathing quickened, her tongue poking out to wet her lips as she fought to control her growing need to grind herself down on the towering iron-hard length of it and ride him savagely until they were lost together again in the white hot passion unique to themselves.

The increasing exhaustion and lack of privacy over the last several days had made their few encounters hurried and intense, so the prospect of a long, lazy afternoon with time to really appreciate being back together had been very hard to refuse. The sight of Michael revealed in – nearly - all his male glory, spread out for her delectation, made Maria regret her earlier decision and she leaned over him, intending to wake him with a kiss and make up for the lost time.

The sound of movement on the other side of the canvas wall brought her back to reality and the need for restraint when Kyle was nearby, so she sat up again and looked regretfully down the powerful, muscular length of Michael’s bare legs over towards the door of the tent to the storm outside, which was becoming increasingly loud and violent by the minute.

Kyle crawled blearily out into the vestibule and tried to focus on the view through the doorway. Rain bounced off the grass and lay in puddles on the dirt paths between the trees, pounding loudly on the outer canvas fly protecting the inner tent. Lightning left bright after-images of tree shapes imposed on his vision as thunder boomed overhead. He blinked, but the impression was slow to fade. A familiar low giggle sounded behind him and he looked round at Maria perched on the bed beside a sleepy Michael leaning up on one elbow half-awake and rubbing a hand through his already tousled hair.

As another lightning flash lit up the tent the sleep left Michael’s eyes to be replaced by wicked anticipation. He quickly kissed Maria’s cheek and then stood up although he had to duck his head a few inches to keep it from touching the canvas roof. He moved directly out past Kyle into the open air, ignoring the rain and gazing up into the sky through the over-arching trees. Privately telling Maria to stay inside the tent to be safe and out of the rain, he walked out onto the rocks by the lakeshore to stand watching the dark clouds.

Michael, clad only in the now-transparent cotton boxer shorts that clung to his skin from the rain, stood on a rock in classic pose with his feet apart for balance and his arms raised towards the stormclouds, as a familiar green glow enveloped his tall, muscular body, outlining it in contrast to the darkness of the sky.

Kyle groaned to himself as echoes of last night’s dream flashed unbidden into his mind. He watched the clouds for the next streak of lightning, as it dawned on him with incredulity what Michael was about to do.

Sure enough, when the brilliant light flashed he saw that the green aura surrounding Michael glowed silver-white for several seconds with the electrical discharge from the storm and his hair stood up straight from his skull in the manner Kyle recalled from the time he’d first noticed the alien’s existence.

The hair on Kyle’s own head and the rest of his body stood up straight from the electricity saturating the air around them, but there was a strong element of fear in there, too. It was the weirdest feeling. Surely Guerin didn’t mean for him to try it, too? However, from the way that the big alien was grinning challengingly at him, it seemed he did …

He beckoned Kyle over to join him.

“Want another lesson in power control, Valenti?”

Kyle looked nervous, but nodded cautiously.

“Stand back and watch, then, but don’t look directly at me…”

The next bolt found Michael as if aimed by an unseen hand, but this time it bounced off and hit a nearby tree branch, which burst into flame. A casual wave from him doused the fire before it spread to the main trunk, leaving only a smoking scar behind.

Maria, watching from the nearby tent, was amazed and deeply impressed at Michael’s latest display of alien power. This was a new one that she hadn’t known he possessed and while it only confirmed her suspicion that there was a lot about him that she had yet to discover, she couldn’t help but worry about the danger to Kyle, who was clearly about to receive his first lesson from the master. Despite his increasing self-control and sense of purpose, it was obvious to her that Michael could still be as reckless and irresponsible as any other guy showing off to his girlfriend… Ok, so she was as impressed as hell and she told him so, to his undisguised pleasure - only spoiling it a moment later by adding a warning about being careful with Kyle that instantly irritated Michael, who needed no prompting about that and resented her interference in his business. Crackling with raw energy and about to start in on one of their fights, Michael suddenly realised that Kyle was staring at him, waiting for instruction.

“Ok, Valenti, I’ll field the next few bolts until you feel you’re ready, then you take over. You should be able to feel the patterns of energy in the atmosphere on the surface of your own forcefield, so follow the path to reach the power of the storm and kinda channel the electrical charge back to you. I don’t know how your power will handle it –soak it up or throw it off. Either way, you’re safe, ok?” He had to shout over the sound of thunder rolling overhead.

Kyle nodded. Although he was scared shitless, he wasn’t going to admit it to Guerin. He sat down on a flat rock in his meditation pose, legs crossed and bare feet tucked under opposite thighs, resting his hands on his knees. The Buddhist philosophy he studied really did help him to remain calm right then. He concentrated, summoned the energy suddenly surging through his veins again, flooding his body, letting it leak out to tingle across his skin until he saw the faint green glow appear as a haze about two inches deep all around him, even showing through his rain soaked underwear, which he distractedly noticed was his only, though now useless, covering.

He was aware that Michael was still collecting lightening bolts like, well, like a steel rod in a thunderstorm, so he scrambled to stand up, lifted an arm to signal he was ready and closed his eyes.

He was immediately aware of his forcefield like a second skin. Kyle expanded this new alien inner sense and, just like Michael had said he would, felt the Earth’s atmosphere as minute tingles of electricity forming intricate patterns against the surface. He was lost in wonder for a second, but then found that one of the tiny patterns on his arm near his left shoulder felt more distinct, more intense than the rest, so he focused on it. A pathway opened up and a huge electrical charge flashed down it only to wash over his shield and hit the ground beneath him, leaving a strong, acrid smell of burning.

For a long moment he was too terrified to open his eyes, but he finally forced himself to look and saw Michael leaning against a nearby tree, grinning.

Kyle moved a few steps away and looked down to discover a perfect impression of his footprints burned into the rock. He started to laugh in excitement and relief, discovered he couldn’t stop and sank back into his lotus position beside them. Shoulders shaking with incipient hysteria, he didn’t hear any other sounds until Michael’s voice shouted in angry panic and he felt Maria’s arms go round his shoulders and hold him comfortingly close. He smelled her flowery scent and the contrast between it and the smell of burning was so sweet that his head swam and he felt faint for a second. Then he calmed down and was able to look up and grin reassuringly at Maria just in time to see Michael pick her up and carry her struggling and fighting him back over to the tent, where they both disappeared inside.

He still felt strangely calm and stayed where he was on the rock, looking out over the mountains and watching the last of the storm disappear in the west as the sun emerged, sparkling on the still ruffled surface of the lake and heating his skin as the temperature rose as rapidly as it had cooled during the storm. After a time, steam began to rise from the puddles still lying in the dirt tracks and tiny rainbows flashed in the raindrops still caught on the blades of grass in the campsite. Kyle still watched the lake, oblivious to the time passing as he used his new inner senses to map the ever-changing atmospheric patterns of electricity on the surface of his forcefield, now invisible in the sunlight…

Michael had been triumphantly pleased with himself and Kyle when they had drawn down the lightning. It had been years since three small aliens had played with the weather out in the desert near Roswell, trying out their powers and, in his case, blowing off the pain, anger and frustrations of living with Hank and being trapped on Earth. They must have been about eleven. Isobel had called herself the Snow Queen, her best weather skill being the creation of snow showers, usually rather gentle and soft, although there had been the occasional blizzard when she hadn’t got her own way over something. He recalled with some embarrassment that he had thought of himself as the Lightning Lord, though he had never been stupid enough to share that secret with anyone. Max had never really been creative, preferring to let the other two practice their arts and throw miniature lightning bolts for him to deflect or let Isobel conjure up a tiny snowstorm to turn him into a snowman, memorably dancing round the yard one Christmas Eve when their parents were out. Michael had been visiting, although he hadn’t been welcome on Max’s floor that night in case Santa should come by in the guise of Mr. Evans. He’d spent the whole of that holiday, and many others, camped out in the warm staff lounge in the basement of the public library with food parcels from Isobel and books to lose himself in. He’d enjoyed those times, made his own private holiday rituals.

These memories passed through his mind as he watched Kyle prepare himself to pull lightning from the storm, knowing that there was no real danger now that his powers had emerged, but still interested to see how Kyle’s body would channel the energy charge. Michael himself was the only one who could choose which way to process the energy available in the atmosphere, although he knew it had nothing to do with his own personal power which came from somewhere inside himself as part of his alien heritage. None of them had yet found a practical use for affecting the weather, as the dangers of revealing themselves in that way were too great in a desert climate like Roswell. Michael felt sure that there was more untapped potential in the talent than he had figured out yet.

When Kyle’s forcefield had deflected the bolt and the huge electrical charge had earthed itself in the rock beneath his feet, Michael had been almost as excited for him as if it had been his own first time. He understood all the fear, shock and overwhelming excitement of the incredible experience Kyle had gone through and had been about to go over to reassure his friend when Maria flew past him.

Michael knew in a heartbeat that she was running to comfort Kyle who she thought had been in danger and was now suffering from shock and pain. He instantly panicked in case she touched Kyle’s forcefield and was injured or worse before he could stop her and he was also angry that she had ignored his orders to stay safely inside the tent. Most of all he was angry with himself for not remembering that she almost never obeyed his orders. As he raced after her, he tried frantically to send her a warning but she was too afraid and angry with Kyle to hear.

Maria had a head start on him and so reached the shaken Kyle first. Kneeling beside him, she put her arms round his shoulders in a comforting hug and felt him shivering with reaction and hysteria. At that moment, Michael arrived and tore her away from him, broadcasting anger, fear and relief all mixed up in an incoherent rant in her mind. As he carried her, struggling furiously, back to the tent she saw Kyle look calmly up at them and grin reassuringly at her. It disarmed her fear, but did nothing to defuse her anger at him for recklessly endangering himself in a testosterone match with Michael.

Once back in the tent, Michael released her and they confronted each other in the vestibule, both uncaring that his height forced him to dip his head uncomfortably when standing.

Maria, half laughing, half angry, naturally got in first with her complaint.

*** What the hell did you drag me away for when I only wanted to help Kyle? I really thought he was hurt, in pain, but he’s not, is he? He’s just in shock…he’s excited about it, just like you were. Is it some testosterone overload thing from playing with lightning that you had to drag me away back to the tent to have your way with me in triumph? Wait, where did that come from? I sound like some cheap, stupid novel…anyway, whatever, I can feel you want to, but there’s no way you’re going get out of explaining just why you dragged me away like some caveman –***

She could feel that he was still blazingly angry with her as he interrupted her.

***Have my way with you? Hell, yeah, I’m gonna have my way with you but first – Maria, what the fuck did you think you were doing running out into a thunderstorm when Kyle was drawing down lightning? I told you to stay in the tent, where you’d be safe, but no, you just had to interfere because you thought I’d screwed up again, didn’t you? ***

***I did not think you screwed up, Michael Guerin, and you know that perfectly well, so don’t try that trick on me, pally. It doesn’t work. Kyle is big enough and ugly enough to make his own decisions on whether or not to risk his life. Hell, we all are or we wouldn’t be here. I was just scared in case he couldn’t handle it. He’s new at this after all…and you didn’t help any, showing off like that***

***I wasn’t just showing off – it was a great chance for Kyle to learn more about his powers with no time for him to think about it beforehand and get scared… You were the one only one in real danger and why? ‘Cuz you just didn’t take any notice when I told you to stay out of it. You never fuckin’ do…*** His frustration was obvious.

Maria had by now calmed down enough to listen to Michael’s feelings and she realised that he’d had a legitimate grievance in fearing for her safety this time and for getting angry with her when she ignored his orders. She looked back at her own reckless behaviour and was flooded with guilt.

***I’m sorry, Michael. You were right - I was wrong to rush outside without thinking about it first. I should have known that you would have already been there for him if there had really been anything wrong… I just saw Kyle hurt and I wanted to get to him as fast as I could…***

She looked seriously up at him and his anger faded away as he took unfair advantage of her repentant mood to remind her that he only wanted her safe and sound.

***I know we all choose our own risks, Maria, and I can…almost…accept that you have that right, too, but it’s hard for me to see you in danger without needing to protect you. I’m gonna go on doin’ it, too. Hell, it’s so instinctive it’s burned deep into every cell in my body now, babe. You’re everything to me and I don’t intend to let you out of my bed – er, sight for a moment***

They both grinned at each other, battle over and only terms of surrender to be agreed.

*** Just want me for the bod, do you, Spaceboy? Hmm, well I think that might be arranged. My own personal ‘Lightning Lord’ –***

Michael flinched – had she seen his guilty boyhood secret and was now going to tease him forever?

*** --surely deserves some kind of outlet for all that… extra…energy***

No, to his relief she was definitely interested in more…adult…games…

His neck had developed a crick from where he’d been forced to bend his head down for so long and he decided to go back outside to check on Kyle before becoming Maria’s personal ‘Lightning Lord’ for real.

She decided to go with him and they strolled, hand in hand, over to the rock where Kyle reclined by the lake in the hot sunshine. Sitting down, one on each side of him, they listened while he babbled excitedly about his newfound alien senses and the amazing feeling it was to call down lightning.

Maria listened indulgently, valiantly repressing the small jealous twinge she could never quite avoid whenever her formerly human friends demonstrated their growing powers. However much she knew in her head that she was as valued as the rest of the group, in her heart she secretly longed to share the changes she saw in them and revel in a whole new world of wonders as they did. She sighed quietly to herself and saw Michael glance at her behind Kyle’s back. She shook her head at him and grinned, sending a jokey assurance that she was fine, which was perfectly true. She was alive, in love with her man who loved her back and living with her favorite people in all the world. Maria privately told herself it would be ungrateful to bitch about something she couldn’t have and didn’t need.

The footprints were still engraved on the rock near Kyle. When Michael suggested that smoothing them out would make a good project for the lesson in how to manipulate atoms that he planned for the next day, Kyle felt a little uncomfortable. He was still secretly intent on sleeping all day and staying awake at nights. However, he said nothing and just nodded when Michael looked at him for confirmation.

Maria, looking along the shore, saw Liz appear scrambling over the rocks, panting so hard from the unaccustomed exertion that when she reached them it took a minute before she made herself understood to the others.

“Back there in the woods - I’ve had another vision. Michael, come quickly, Isobel needs help…

********

Chapter Twenty-Six

The three sitting out on the rocks had reacted with alarm to the overwrought Liz’s breathless plea to Michael, but it was Kyle who asked the questions.

“Isobel? Is she hurt? What’s happened? Where is she?”

He was all for rushing off to find Isobel instantly, but Michael reached out and gripped Liz’s shoulder to still her nervous agitation while he insisted she tell them exactly what happened before they decided what to do next.

At Michael’s touch a thrill of electricity coursed down Liz’s arm making her blood tingle. Shocked, she lowered her eyes only to find her attention suddenly caught by the sight of his cock outlined in the still-damp underwear clinging to his body from the rainstorm. Liz felt a flush heat her skin all over and she turned abruptly away towards Kyle, who was also in his underwear, but somehow much less disturbing than the big alien male standing so close to her. Michael noticed her jumpy response to his touch and realised that he must be packing some residual energy from the lightning, so he let go hurriedly, intending to explain later when the current crisis was over.

He brusquely demanded that she tell her story as quickly as she could, so Liz forced herself out of her distraction and tearfully related a condensed version of the events since she and Isobel had come striding down through the woods in the growing storm, heading back towards the lake.

Liz had stopped abruptly bringing Isobel to an impatient halt beside her when the dark figure stepped out into their path. Both instantly switched off their forcefields and stood warily in the rain that by now splashed heavily down through the leaves, rapidly plastering the hair to their skulls and soaking them to the skin through their T-shirts.

The tall figure wore a dark rain cape that enveloped him down past the knees, with the hood pulled low over his face for protection from the elements. He had spread his arms out to prevent them walking past him and when they stopped, he pushed the hood back far enough to reveal himself as the trainee ranger from earlier in the day.

He looked them over and grinned in a way that made both girls itch to smack his face. Liz crossed her arms protectively over her chest, but Isobel merely waited, bored and indifferent, until he managed to drag his mesmerised gaze away from her breasts revealed by the cold, wet T-shirt. She eyed him with contempt until he looked away, embarrassed, then she spoke with icy distain.

“Is there any shelter nearby? The trees aren’t much protection in this heavy rain and we don’t know how long the storm will last.”

He brightened at the prospect of spending some time with them alone.

“There’s a boathouse a few minutes away, we could wait out the storm there. It could be a while…”

Liz and Isobel exchanged a glance, tacitly agreeing that they didn’t really have any choice but to accept that the suggestion was a good one. It seemed that the guy hadn’t noticed their shining alien auras or else had assumed it was an effect of the stormy light among the trees.

They dashed after him along the edge of the shore and few minutes later they were in a three-sided, wooden cabin built out on a pier over the lake and housing two park rescue dinghies winched up onto a ramp.

A bench seat ran along one inner wall, with the winch machinery seen dimly at the back and equipment racks along the opposite side. Ben sat down, shedding his rain gear and patting the seat either side of him to encourage them to sit beside him.

Seeing no real choice in the matter, and confident that she and Isobel were more than able to slap down any unwelcome advances he might make, Liz boldly went and sat a cautious distance away from the blond ranger on the side nearest the lake. Isobel ignored the mocking challenge in Ben’s eyes and went to lean against the wall just inside the doorway, looking out through the rain at the storm over the lake.

She heard his voice asking questions and Liz’s high, breathless answers, but she couldn’t make out the words clearly over the nearly constant crack and boom of the storm now directly overhead.

A bright green flash, followed by Liz’s terrified scream made her swing round to find Ben flat out on the deck with Liz pressed dramatically back against the wall, fist crammed against her mouth and eyes enormous with fright.

“Oh, my God, Liz, what happened?”

Isobel was on her knees beside the unconscious ranger, listening to his steady heartbeat and breathing. She gave him an ‘alien style’ health check to make sure and he seemed ok, just knocked out. She put him in the recovery position and draped his raincape over him before she went to sit on the bench beside a cowering Liz.

“What happened, Liz?” She repeated her question gently as the other girl seemed in shock.

“He – he touched me, put his hand on my thigh, and I pushed him away and I – I got a vision and – and I must have switched on my forcefield and it k-killed him. I killed him. I didn’t mean to, Isobel, really. It must have been the shock of the vision… What am I going to do?”

“You haven’t killed him. He’s not dead, Liz, just unconscious. But he is a problem. We can’t just leave him here, and we need to think of some way to explain what happened to him…”

They both sat quietly for a few minutes, Isobel thinking hard and Liz staring at her hopefully.

“We’ll have to go get the others. Michael and Kyle will have to carry him back to the camp and we’ll drive him to the Rangers’ station. There’s no other choice. We’ll have to make it seem that he was struck by lightning – no, that’s no good – lets say - he was standing near a lightning bolt and must have got caught at the edge of it …”

Isobel continued to think aloud.

“I’ll blast a tree near the water’s edge outside to look like it was hit, then we can say that he must have been nearby…but remember - we didn’t see what happened, we just heard him cry out and found him…let them draw their own conclusions.” She went to kneel and check on Ben again.

“He’s still unconscious – you must have given him quite a jolt, Liz. He could be out for hours. Still, he looks ok, color’s good and his heartbeat’s strong, he just won’t wake up.”

Isobel made a decision and stood up to face the other girl. Liz was still in shock, but she’d have to be the one to fetch help. She couldn’t be the one left alone in case the young ranger woke up and started asking awkward questions.

“Liz, go back to the camp and get Michael. Explain what’s happened and that we need them to come help us, ok?”

Liz nodded, then turned to leave the boathouse, hesitated at the sight of Ben’s body then quickly stepped over him and vanished outside to run back along the shore through the rain to the camp, oblivious to the now fading storm.

Isobel stared thoughtfully at Ben for a few minutes, checked him over again and then stepped outside to walk back to the shore, where she chose a tree growing near to the boathouse and sent a small lightning bolt through an overhanging branch, just enough to leave obvious damage, but not enough to kill the tree. She pressed her hand against the trunk and accelerated the natural healing process. In a few months time there would be no trace of the injury to the healthy tree. Isobel was a conscientious supporter of environmental issues.

Then she went back inside, sitting on the bench to wait and stare out across the lake, going over their story in her mind to make sure that she had covered all possibilities for when they were questioned, as they inevitably would be. A trickle of fear went down her spine at the thought of it, however innocent it might be.

Fifteen minutes went by as Ben slept on and she began uneasily to remember a similar, more tragic vigil over Grant. Then she heard Kyle’s voice calling her name in the distance. A rush of relief went through her and she hurried outside and along the shore to meet him and Michael running fast towards her.

Kyle’s first concern was for her and after she’d assured him that she was fine, Isobel noticed that they were alone.

“Where are Maria and Liz?”

“ Back at camp. Liz is upset and Maria’s taking care of her. Where’s the body?”

“In the boathouse…”

Kyle looked stunned.

“So it’s really true? Liz killed him?”

Isobel rolled her eyes. Trust Liz to dramatize a crisis.

“He isn’t dead, just unconscious. Liz accidentally smacked him with her forcefield when she had a vision and he’s still inside the boathouse, out cold but otherwise undamaged.”

Kyle and Michael exchanged a relieved look. Isobel carried on talking.

“ I told Liz if anyone asks her, to say he must have been near a tree when lightning hit it and was caught at the edge of the flash. We only heard him cry out and ran outside to find him unconscious.” By this time they had reached the boathouse and she gestured to the ‘evidence’ she had manufactured. “Whatever he says when he wakes up, he won’t be able to contradict our story because people don’t usually remember much about what happened before they were hit, so we should be able to make it sound plausible…”

“Ok, what really happened, then?” Michael was impatient to get moving.

“ Well, he was hitting on Liz when she says she had a vision and her forcefield appeared, knocking him out cold. I checked him over, he’s ok, but he’s been out for half an hour now. We need a convincing reason why he was standing near the tree a few minutes later, ready to get hit.”

“No need to have any special reason, Iz. The timing can be as vague as you like. You waited in the shelter and at some point he just went outside to check the storm was moving away. You didn’t question it, no reason why you should – he’s a ranger, after all and supposed to be protecting you…”

Michael turned and led the way into the boathouse.

“Now, we have to get him back to camp fast and drive him to the Rangers’ station. I guess we should have gone to them for help at once, but we can say that Liz was too upset to explain clearly and when we got here, we thought the quickest way was to bring him ourselves.”

The two guys picked the trainee ranger up, Michael at his shoulders and Kyle his legs, and proceeded to carry him as carefully as they could round the edge of the lake back to their campsite, where Michael could feel Maria anxiously waiting with an increasingly distressed Liz. Isobel hung back at the boathouse and used her powers to churn up the muddy paths and obscure any footprints that might indicate their movements didn’t match up to their story. Then she ran to catch up with the guys.

Once the rescue party reached the tents, Michael and Kyle loaded their burden into the back seat of the truck beside Isobel where Kyle joined them. Maria and Liz climbed in without comment and they drove off.

When they reached the Rangers’ station at the visitors’ center, Michael drew up directly in front of the main door, ignoring the ‘no parking’ signs, and went straight into the building, leaving the others to wait for professional help to arrive.

Inside, Michael found an older, grey-haired ranger and a young woman on duty behind the desk and he explained briefly what had happened. There was instant horror and concern. The man hurried out to the truck while the woman lifted the phone to make an urgent call to the medical facility.

Michael waited in the office where Maria joined him a few moments later, trailing a red-eyed Liz behind her. By then other staff and para-medics had arrived and he could see through the glass wall that they were efficiently organising a stretcher for Ben and beginning to show concern for the rest of the group.

A motherly woman came in, shepherding Kyle and Isobel over to join their friends in the small seating area. She offered them hot drinks, which they all refused except Maria who accepted on Liz’s behalf despite her feeble protests. She thought Liz needed something comforting to focus on while they went through the ordeal of being questioned by the rangers. Isobel changed her mind and asked for a drink, too. Then they all sat and watched, the tension palpable, as an ambulance arrived and Ben was carefully transferred into it and driven away.

A few minutes later, another uniformed ranger approached and told them that Ben had regained consciousness and seemed to be fine, but was being taken to hospital for a thorough check and would be kept in for observation overnight. He turned to Michael, as the obvious leader of the group, and asked him to step over to the desk to fill in an accident report. The guy was young, friendly and efficient and a few minutes later it was Isobel’s turn to add her comments and fake signature.

Thinking about Liz’s current emotionally fragile state, she asked the guy if he really needed her friend to add to the report as she hadn’t seen any more than Isobel herself, but had taken it hard and was shaken up. This drew his attention to Liz and he asked if she had been examined by the medics.

“No, I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” Isobel, still in her tight T-shirt, leaned forward confidentially. However, this one was much more controlled or maybe had better manners than his younger colleague and didn’t so much as glance downwards. He continued to pay close attention to what she was saying. “Susan’s fine really. Just worried about Ben – we all are - and we want to take her back to our camp to rest quietly and recover from the ordeal. She wasn’t anywhere near Ben or the tree when it happened, it’s just that she’s very sensitive and it was scary when we couldn’t wake him.”

He agreed, but walked over anyway to speak to Liz and assure himself that she was ok. Her eyes were still red, but she was composed and answered him so readily that he smiled round at them all, thanked them for rescuing Ben and said if he needed them for anything further he knew where they were camped.

They all stood up, returned the friendly farewells from the few staff still around and went outside to the Chevy. At this point, Maria remembered that she needed fresh supplies for dinner later, so she made them all wait while she bought what she needed from the store across the parking lot.

Finally Michael drove back to the camp, which was beginning to feel like home after all the drama and excitement of their lazy afternoon.

As soon as they arrived they all made straight for the table near the grill, except for Maria, who made a detour to store her purchases in the coolers beneath it. While she was there, she prepared a pot of coffee to be heated up and drew a pitcher of water ready for someone to change into chilled cherry coke. Michael saw what she was doing and roused himself to go carry it all over to the table for her. Liz noticed this new attention to Maria’s comfort – it reminded her of what she’d lost - but quickly turned her thoughts to the way that everyone was beginning to stare thoughtfully at her as they settled down to sip their chosen drinks…

Michael reported to the group what he’d written in the accident report and Isobel added her description of what allegedly happened by the boathouse and they all agreed that the official version would stand, no matter what Ben recalled when he woke up. Then Michael finally turned to Liz.

“So what really happened, Liz? This time tell us without all the drama and claiming you killed him.” He ignored her indignant gasp and merely waited, enigmatic brown gaze fixed implacably on her face.

When she looked round at the others for support, they were silent, too; even Maria failed to rush to her defence.

So she sighed and lowered her eyes to the glass of milk she’d changed to taste of vanilla while she listened to Michael and Isobel.

“It was like I told you – he tried to hit on me while we were sheltering in the boatshed and I pushed his hand away. When I touched him I had, you know, a – a vision and while I was still dizzy from it, I must have accidentally switched on my forcefield and he got the shock from it… ” She looked round earnestly at the others. “I really thought I’d killed him, you know, and Isobel was, like, just being protective of me. I thought that was why she sent me to find Michael, so he could dispose of the body…”

Michael raised a sardonic eyebrow at her.

“Your faith in me is touching, Parker…”

She blushed and lowered her eyes again in embarrassment as the others, even Maria, snorted and shook with laughter.

It went on for so long that she got angry with them and was grateful to Michael when he frowned and finally shut them up with a large fist pounded loudly on the table so that they all jumped.

“Hey, c’mon, it’s not that funny…”

Maria looked apologetic and leaned over to pat Liz’s arm consolingly.

“We’re not really laughing at you, Lizzie – its just reaction to the strain of having to deal with uniforms and questions and danger…you know, all that crap.” Her voice became serious as she looked over at the others and back to her friend.

“Now, Liz, what you haven’t told us yet is just what you saw in this vision that frightened you so much…”

Liz opened her mouth to reply, but then hesitated, staring back at her in sudden confusion.

“I – I can’t remember, Maria. I just can’t remember what it was I saw - but I know it was bad…

********

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Michael closed his eyes in exasperation at yet another dramatic Liz Parker moment. If only she had stolen the bus and run away, he thought wistfully, I’d have given her gas money and a road map. Come back Max – all is forgiven – just as long as you take back responsibility for the damn Crystal Ball…

He snapped back to reality, took a deep breath and glanced round at the other three who were also frowning at Liz.

“Let me get this straight – you had such a strong response to this vision when you touched ranger-boy that you thought you’d killed him – and now you can’t remember what you saw?”

Liz nodded anxiously at them.

“It was just a flash but now it’s gone… I only remember that it frightened me, I can’t remember what it was about. Oh, God, what am I going to do?”

Michael shrugged. He knew the solution to that problem.

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to try touching him again to see if you get an action replay. Maybe you should visit the patient tomorrow to check on his recovery…”

Liz looked round at the others and back to him, shaking her head.

“Oh, no, I can’t, Michael. What if it happened again? We can’t blame the storm twice.”

“Maybe we should just move on somewhere else? The danger’s somehow connected with him – so if we put distance between us whatever it is might not happen. We know that Liz’s visions are a warning, not set in stone. The future can be changed.”

Maria sounded serious and thoughtful but not panicked. Liz thought it was the better idea, but before she could say so Michael was speaking again, responding to Maria as if they were the only two people there, she thought resentfully.

“Yeah, we could, but I think we need to know just what the danger is. We don’t want to run blind – we could be heading into a trap. We gotta know our enemy. I’ve always said so. Then again, it may not be anything to do with us at all. We should still be ready to leave right after, if we have to, but Liz should go see the guy first.”

“Yes, that makes sense, Spaceboy. Liz -” Maria looked over at her friend. “ – you don’t have to worry. You’ll be expecting a vision next time so you won’t use your forcefield by accident. You can control it. We’ll be with you, so we can provide a distraction if you need it.”

“Meantime, I’ve got an idea to give us all a break from guard duty for tonight at least.” Michael looked thoughtfully up at the sky, still a deep cloudless blue in the early evening.

Maria looked at him expectantly and when he didn’t respond, she nudged him impatiently with her elbow.

“Well, c’mon, Spaceboy, share – don’t keep us in suspense…”

Michael grinned at her and then round at the others.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. What’s most likely to prevent anyone attacking us tonight?”

They all stared at him blankly for a few moments. Then light dawned on Isobel’s face.

“The weather, Michael – heavy rain or, better yet, snow… It’ll make the mountain roads treacherous and impassable in the dark, anyway. We won’t need to set a watch, just make sure that one of us wakes up to boost the blizzard every few hours until it’s deep enough to stop all traffic in the area...” Isobel’s enthusiasm increased the more she thought about it.

Kyle wasn’t at all happy about the idea. His own plans to stay awake and avoid any dreams shared with Max were now in jeopardy if he was to be confined to his sleeping bag all night and he sat silent as the girls exclaimed excitedly around him. Michael, basking in the general respect and approval that was still a novelty to him, registered the only unenthusiastic response and looked enquiringly over at the other guy.

“You don’t agree, Valenti?”

“Sure, it’s a great idea. Guess I’m just tired. I’m going back to sleep. See ya later…”. He stood up abruptly and left, avoiding their eyes, heading morosely towards his tent.

Isobel looked after him with concern. What had caused this sudden moodiness? He’d been almost relentlessly cheerful since they’d left Roswell, except for the time last night after he’d had the dream. The dream… Isobel frowned. She would keep an eye on Kyle – just to make sure that he was ok…

Liz broke the silence that followed Kyle’s departure by continuing obliviously to debate the merits of rain against snow as protection for the coming night. She barely registered his leaving, accepting his excuse at face value.

Michael saw this as just one more instance of Liz’s self-absorption and insensitivity to anyone else’s worries and so he suppressed his irritation. He was faintly disturbed at Kyle’s behaviour himself but not enough for it to trouble him. The guy was under enormous stress and Michael himself was no stranger to a bad mood, so he thought he understood his friend’s need to be alone for a while.

Maria, however, was concerned about both her friends. Kyle was undoubtedly upset over something and in such a small group of friends it was inevitable that he would reveal it sooner or later. Liz was a different, and maybe a deeper, problem.

Maria was more than aware of the selfish aspects of Liz’s character, having been subjected to it nearly all her life in various subtle and unsubtle ways. During the years after Max had healed and then hurt Liz, who, in turn, hurt her own friends, this self-absorption had increased until Maria feared that the sweet, caring side she knew was also there had been buried too deep to retrieve.

It was too early to tell how the latest heartbreaking split with Max would change Liz, despite her defiant declarations of the previous night that she would start afresh without him. Maria knew that it couldn’t be as easy as that. She just hoped that her – she hated to admit it to herself, but it was the truth – estranged best friend would find her way back to being the long-lost Lizzie she loved. If not, Maria might just have to go on a hunting expedition herself.

Eventually deciding by a majority vote that rain was the answer (Isobel wanted snow; the others argued it was a too late in the year, besides being a trap of their own making if they needed to escape quickly) but that it needn’t spoil the rest of the sunny evening, those remaining round the table split up and went their separate ways. Liz collected towels and headed to the shower block intending to retire to her tent for a nap and Isobel sat under the tree in a camp chair, clearing her mind of thought and just staring out at the changing light over the lake. Michael and Maria remained sitting at the table.

***I can’t take any more of Parker today. I’m goin’ back to bed, Blondie. Come with me – we still have over an hour to ourselves before dinner***

***Sorry, Spaceboy. I’m cooking it and I need lots of time to get ready. If I go to bed with you now, we’ll all starve…***

Michael pouted and pulled her against him on the bench, nuzzling her ear and burying his face in her neck with a deep sigh. Then his stomach growled loudly and Maria giggled, kissed him lightly and jumped up from the table to start preparing dinner on the grill. Michael twisted round so his elbows were resting on the table, stretched his long legs out before him and watched her until she called him over to light the charcoal briquettes then chased him away to go shower.

***No, Michael, the rainstorm doesn’t count…***

Maria went over to fetch her cookbook from the tent where she had abandoned it when the storm started and, after a quick detour to freshen up, leafed through it to find the recipe she wanted as she walked slowly back to the grill.

It was a simple and quick barbeque sauce for the chicken she had bought from the store at the visitors’ centre and she was fairly confident that it was within the scope of her beginner’s cooking skills. However, her first task was to prep some potatoes to bake over the hot coals…

This was something she was already familiar with from home; her mom had let her help with barbeques when they entertained friends back in Roswell. The little Maria could safely be left in charge of baking potatoes and making salads while Amy got creative with the rest of the party food. As she worked, the memories brought sudden tears to her eyes and she bit her quivering lower lip. Michael’s comforting thought was instantly there in her mind as he picked up on her distress, but she quickly reassured him and carried on pricking the potatoes with a fork, rubbing them with oil and salt and setting them out to cook, letting herself smile at the happy times at home with her mom.

Next she mixed the barbeque sauce – half cup of honey, quarter cup of Tabasco and one teaspoon of ground black pepper – and left it in a small covered pan while she set the table and checked the recipe times again. Then she went off to have the leisurely shower she’d missed during the excitements of the day.

When Michael had hurriedly showered, recoiled on encountering a wide-eyed, blushing Liz when they both emerged at the same time modestly wrapped in towels, he returned to his tent, pulled on shorts, collected a couple of apples from their food supplies and joined Isobel in the shade of the tree. Stretched out in a camp chair beside her, they looked out over the lake together without speaking for a while.

Michael couldn’t recall the last time he’d had an actual conversation with Isobel that didn’t end in one of them storming off, pissed at the other. So he didn’t know how to approach the subject of how - or even if - she was dealing with losing everything she loved.

Some part of him felt guilty that he was the one who was now happier than he had ever been when life for the pampered Evans family had turned into nightmare, while another part of him crowed in triumph that he was struggling free of his loser past to find an unimagined future lit by hope and new possibilities.

He felt protective about Isobel in a way he never had about Max. Protective partly as an inbuilt aspect of his alien DNA, but mostly as a human brother for a sister, whatever crap he’d spouted to Jesse when he’d been forced by his programming to take over from “dead” King Max. She sat next to him, physically unrecognisable as the real Isobel Evans, but with all the same pain and suffering hidden behind the new face.

Michael knew he wasn’t good at dealing with feelings, let alone talking about them. His new openness with Maria through their mind connection was a strictly private thing between them and had no effect on his reactions to anyone else. Terrified of breaching Isobel’s iron control when she must still be emotionally fragile, but needing to find some way of discovering how she was really dealing beneath her controlled exterior, he cast around for a way to introduce the subject without making her cry. Meanwhile, there was a small mystery she might be able to shed some light on.

“ Any clue to what’s bitten Kyle, Iz? He took off real sudden when we got back from the ranger station.”

Isobel thought she saw an opportunity to discuss last night’s dream.

“I don’t know. I’m worried about his reaction to that weird dream last night. I’m going to keep an eye on him… Did you notice that he stayed awake for the rest of the night covering all the watches and now he’s slept all day, except for when the Liz and Ben thing happened?”

“No, I slept all morning myself, so I don’t know what he did. Hey, Iz, I meant to tell you - he learnt how to control lightning today during the storm. He deflects it just like you and Max… ” Michael grinned at Isobel. “ and he left his footprints burned into that rock over there. Gonna start his lessons on how to change molecular structure tomorrow. How’s your student doin’?”

Isobel blinked and then realised he meant Liz.

“Well, I guess she’s making progress. I hadn’t thought of her as my student, though. I just help her out if she asks me to. Why, do you think it’s a competition?”

“Not really, I just think we should make sure that they both learn their new powers as soon as they can for the group’s security. I’m gonna extend my own range as much as I can. We’ll need them to survive, wherever we go.” He frowned seriously at Isobel. “I finally learned control at last. I started when Tess made me practice all the time that summer after we found out our 'destiny'. Guess it needed 'clear and present danger' to make me focus properly...”

They both went quiet until Michael spoke again and his question took Isobel by surprise.

“Iz, can you teach me how to dreamwalk ?”

“I don’t know, Michael. I guess I could try…” She sounded doubtful. “I guess I always thought we each have our own specialty – you know – Max heals, I dreamwalk and you – well, you…”

Her hesitation unexpectedly triggered a surge of his old defensive antagonism and he tensed up to confront her.

“Kill. I kill, that’s what you mean. Don’t you Isobel? My specialty is killing.”

Michael felt a wave of guilt, anger and bitterness flood through him. Maria was suddenly in his mind, alarmed and questioning, but he blocked her and stared coldly over at Isobel, who looked stricken and irritated at the same time.

“No, of course I don’t mean that, Michael. You know it. I just couldn’t think of the right word to describe your special power – except just that – power. Is this the Pierce thing again? I thought you’d realised that you did the right thing, dealt with it and moved on. If you haven’t, then it’s about time you did. No point wasting any more time on it. It's old.” Michael stared at her, speechless, his mouth opening and shutting though no sound emerged. She carried on talking briskly.

“As for teaching you to dreamwalk, I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try.”

Michael recovered himself enough to pacify Maria and pick up on the conversation where he’d broken it off. He was embarrassed at his involuntary response to what he’d inferred from Isobel’s hesitancy. He had thought himself over that guilt trip long ago. Maybe the stress of their current situation had raised a few of his old nightmares after all.

“So when do you want to start? I’ll be contacting Max again tonight. You can come with me…”

“Isobel, no way am I gonna dreamwalk Max.”

Isobel was saddened by the finality in Michael’s voice. She’d thought that he had withheld judgement on Max’s behaviour in case it was alien genes acting up again, but it seemed that he had changed his mind. She decided that now was not the right time to call him on it.

“Well, ok. Who would you like to try it out on?”

“Not Maria. Or Parker.” He was repelled by the prospect. “Kyle, then…”

“Somehow I don’t think Kyle is going to be a good choice. I think he’s got dream issues he’s not telling us about.”

“Who else is there? It’s not like I have a huge choice, Iz. It’s got to be one of them…but definitely not Maria. I’m not gonna take any risks with her.”

“I’ll have to think about it and decide nearer the time, Michael.”

“It’s got to be tonight, Iz. Sooner we all hone our powers, the better.”

“Ok. Be sure not to eat too much at dinner, then, or you’ll sleep too heavily to dreamwalk.”

“We’ve got to do the rain dance, too. Gonna be a busy night tonight.”

At that moment, Maria called to them and they stirred themselves to wander over to the grill. Michael remembered that he hadn’t gotten round to checking on Isobel’s own state of mind, but it was too late now. He’d have to try again sometime soon.

While the potatoes had been baking over the hot charcoal, Maria had made the salad, adding fresh orange segments to the torn lettuce leaves and cucumber chunks. She would drizzle a little olive oil and vinegar over it at the last minute. She retrieved the chicken breasts from the cooler, slathered them with the hot honey sauce and carefully arranged them on the grill rack, where she watched them like a hawk.

Twenty minutes later, she called over to Michael and Isobel, sitting in the camp chairs and talking in the shade of the tree by the lakeshore, and they both got up and strolled over to her as she concentrated on watching to see that nothing burned.

“Dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes, so would you guys call Kyle and Liz, please…oh, and put out a pitcher of water…”

Maria sounded agitated and waved a hand distractedly at them as she spoke, eyes fixed on the grill as she stabbed a fork into chicken and potatoes to test their progress. Michael grinned in anticipation but didn’t tease her. He was hungry and his instinct told him this wasn’t the moment to provoke her. It all looked and smelled surprisingly good…

That was Liz’s reaction when she emerged from her tent at Isobel’s summons. She had vivid recollections of various adventures in cooking with Maria over the years and had made no secret of the fact that she fully expected to have to step in to rescue the meal. She smiled encouragingly over at her friend. It looked as though she might not be needed after all…

Kyle reluctantly roused himself to join the others and was still subdued as the leisurely meal progressed. Isobel eyed him narrowly when she thought he wasn’t looking.

They all agreed that Maria’s first effort at cooking dinner was a success. After all the care she’d taken, the sweet and spicy chicken with more hot honey sauce on the side was delicious to both alien and human tastes, the potatoes had crisp, salty skin and soft, buttery insides and the salad was simple, but good. Maria blushed at the compliments and admitted to the others, when Michael had gone to collect the carton of milk for the ice cream dessert, that she had actually enjoyed her foray into real cooking. She didn’t say anything about the challenge, but her look had spoken volumes earlier when he’d actually expressed enjoyment of her food.

Afterwards, Michael and Maria drifted off to explore the lakeshore together before sundown, leaving the others to do the dishes, light the campfire and make the coffee after dinner.

They headed south, in the opposite direction to that taken by Isobel and Liz in the afternoon. Michael helped his girlfriend over the low tumble of craggy rocks until they reached an area of reeds and swampy grasses where they were forced to cut inland onto another rocky stretch that led to a small pebbly beach at the foot of a high cliff where the mountain met the lake.

Maria sat down carefully on an old driftwood log that took up much of the beach and gazed appreciatively at Michael as he stood at the edge looking down into the clear water. The light was still bright as the sun slowly sank towards the rim of mountains across the lake, but dusk would come early in the deep, wooded bowl of the valley.

She rose and moved to stand close behind him, pressing herself against his strong back, the sloping beach giving an extra few inches that enabled her to rest her chin comfortably on his shoulder. Her arms slid round to meet across his chest and his hands rose to clasp hers. There was only feeling between them, no words.

Her hair tickled his ear and he felt her soft lips against his cheek, kissing along his jawline as he slowly turned his head to meet her mouth with his own.

Moving to take her in his arms, Michael’s foot slipped on a loose pebble and next moment they were both lying sprawled in the shallow water, surprised into helpless laughter. A soaking wet Maria crawled on top of him, stretching out along his length and playfully trying to hold his hands captive while covering his face with kisses as he tried to shift into a more comfortable position on the stony beach.

The shallow water was warm from the sun and there was no urgent need to move from the spot, so Michael returned her kisses, freeing his arms to wrap them securely around her and finally capturing her lips with his own to share a long, deep, leisurely kiss which gradually intensified into more urgent desire.

Michael’s hands travelled down Maria’s back to slide under her shorts onto the smooth skin of her ass, where his fingers dug into the soft curves to pull her against the growing hardness in his own shorts.

Maria licked, nibbled and kissed her way over his chest, trying not to miss any part of the warm, smooth skin, then paying gentle attention to the scars remaining from the glowing tattoo that still marked his recent enslavement to his alien programming.

She felt his sudden tension as he reacted to her touch in an area she had previously tacitly avoided during their lovemaking. Max had been unable to heal the scars, and she had assumed without questioning it, that this was another alien mystery. She now began to suspect that it had more to do with the simmering resentment and hostility in the relationship between the two aliens than anything else.

When she continued to kiss his scars he pushed her away and sat up, frowning out across the lake and avoiding her eyes. She was surprised to feel guilt and shame well up from the depths of his mind and she instinctively protested.

***Why do you still feel bad about it, Michael? It was the stupid ‘destiny’ thing and it’s over now…***

She still lay where she she’d rolled off of him, propped on her elbows in the warm, clear shallows and gazing up at him as he sat beside her.

***It isn’t over, Maria and it never will be while these damn scars are here to remind me that I was such a fucking idiot. It was just dumb luck that I didn’t kill you and I could have, Maria. I could have. I still feel scared of what I became when the alien genes took over. I was so powerful and arrogant, so cold … Every time I see these scars, it reminds me of that feeling***

He picked up a flat stone and threw it hard on a low trajectory into the lake where it bounced twice as it skimmed across the surface. He watched the ripples spread out where it sank.

Maria sat up and reached across to take his hand. He tried to pull away, but she held on. She knew there was more and eventually he finished his thought.

***Maria, I’m scared that it’s the real me… ***

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before she answered him.

***You don’t feel like that all the time, Michael or even most of the time. I know, remember, because I can feel how you feel, same as you feel me. I know you love me and I know that your instincts are mostly human, whatever additional ingredients went into the recipe ***

She almost giggled. This cooking thing might easily become an obsession. Then she sobered instantly. She had to make him understand that his secret fears were groundless.

***What if it happens again, Maria? What if something happens to Max and the alien DNA takes me over again? I can’t bear the thought that I might hurt you or worse…***

He could feel Maria take time to think about it before she replied, although he didn’t catch any detailed images, her mind was too quick for that.

***Even before we got this mind connection between us, I always knew you felt things strongly and I knew you have wild, passionate emotions, so that means I also know that the cold, selfish, alien persona isn’t the real you. You even let me ‘see’ you way back when you thought you were going to leave for Antar, so I know you’re not cold and selfish. You are my own warm, loving guy, Michael, and you always will be. I feel it all the time and especially when we make love… Don’t you? ***

He didn’t try to hide his relief as he smiled at her and then wrapped his arms around her to pull her down on top of him again they way they were before.

She held him off for a moment while she had the last word.

***We’re together forever now, Spaceboy and I’ll never let that cold alien side control you again, I swear it. And neither will you. You’ve been growing stronger all the time since we left Roswell – if it ever happens again, you will be able to control it***

Their lips met again, crushed together in passionate relief that all was well in their own private universe. The discomfort of the stony beach went unnoticed as their few wet clothes were pulled off and thrown aside so that lips and tongues and teeth and hands could slide over hard muscle and soft skin, teasing and probing until Maria straddled Michael and frantically rode his thrusting cock, whispering his name over and over until they both cried out in wordless ecstasy and the echo bounced off the cliff behind them and out over the lake into the spectacular golden sunset.

Lying breathless with her face pressed sweatily onto Michael’s heaving chest, her eyes opened to see his scars and unthinkingly, she let one of her fingers trace the marks lightly. This time he didn’t flinch, merely capturing her hand and bringing it to his mouth to kiss each of her fingertips.

*** Michael, I know Max failed at the time, but have you ever tried healing them yourself? ***

This time she felt his irritation at her persistence and his reluctance to answer. When he did, it was clear he didn’t want to discuss it any further.

***No, I haven’t. Maria, can we drop the subject? There’s no point in discussing it any more and I just want to rest here for a while with you before we have to go back to camp, ok***

***Not just yet, Spaceboy. I want to try something now while we have some real privacy *** His irritation flared into anger, but she continued doggedly. ***I think you could heal them yourself if you want to. You do have healing powers. You healed Isobel that time when she almost died***

He lifted his head to glare at her and opened his mouth to speak, but she covered it with her hand at the same time as her determined voice continued in his mind.

***You know you can change my appearance and your own, too. You’ve had plenty of practice this last week. You know how to do it. I know how you do it too, come to that, I can feel you when you make the changes… This is no different to when you do that***

Maria removed her hand and idly stroked one of the scars as she spoke, remembering the awe she always felt when Michael moved the molecules into different patterns as he altered skin, eye and hair colors for their various disguises. The hard, black ridges of skin under her fingertips smoothed out as her mind’s eye linked and rode with Michael’s power to molecular level where it altered the intruding patterns to match the prevailing arrangement in the surrounding area. She’d never gone as deep as this before and watched, fascinated.

When she felt the power dissipate to nothing again, she looked up and found Michael’s deep brown eyes a few inches away from her own. His look of stunned amazement made her turn her head hopefully towards his chest. To her delight, nothing marred the smooth, lightly tanned skin any longer and she sat up with a squeal of delight to hug Michael so tightly that he protested even as he hugged her tightly back.

***You did it, Spaceboy, you did it. You healed yourself. I just knew you could. I’m so proud of you, Michael…***

He sat back and took her face in his hands, looking deep into her eyes, thumbs smoothing across her wet cheeks, and then he kissed her very slowly and deliberately.

***No, princess. I didn’t do it alone. We healed me together, Maria… If you hadn’t had faith in me I would never have even tried***

***Let’s go back and tell the others. No need to reveal our private secret. Just say that we tried the idea out and it worked…***

He stood up and held out his hand to her.

“Ok, Blondie. Let’s go now, unless you want to sleep out under the stars…”

“Not tonight, Spaceboy – it’s going to rain, remember?”

They made their way slowly back to the camp in the last light from the sinking sun and found the others sitting comfortably round the fire.

Kyle had found a log somewhere and dragged it over to one side of the fireplace as a backrest. His muscles had protested after being forced to sit cross-legged for so long the night before and he hadn’t wanted to suffer again tonight. In the event, he hadn’t needed it as he’d claimed the third camp chair before Maria returned. He wanted to stay awake now, figuring that Max might already be asleep, preparing for Isobel’s dreamwalk wherever he was tonight.

Michael and Maria joined them and collected mugs of coffee from the pot near the fire. Michael wrapped himself in a blanket and sat down with his back against the log, and Maria sat between his outstretched legs, leaning back against his chest in the circle of his arms. The temperature had dropped fast after nightfall and the heat from the bright, crackling fire was welcome.

Maria rushed to tell everyone the good news about Michael healing his own scars.

Kyle was pleased for him and joked weakly about a lucrative new career opportunity. Liz was interested, but couldn’t stop herself wondering how come Michael had succeeded when Max couldn’t…

Michael made sure that they were all aware of Maria’s contribution to the experiment, saying it was her idea and he wouldn’t have even considered trying to heal himself without her.

He suggested that the others should add it to their list of powers to explore and eventually they should all be able to use the full range available to them.

“After all, even I can heal in a minor way, so I’m thinking it must be a matter of focus and practice, like all the other powers we have, rather than each having our own specialty after all.”

Isobel looked surprised and sceptical.

“I didn’t know you could heal at all, Michael, except when you saved me a few weeks back? I wouldn’t call it minor, either…”

“There was that guy, though - what was his name? Monkey? How come you couldn’t heal him, Michael?” Liz asked in a genuine spirit of scientific enquiry, caught up in the interest of the subject, not realising how hurtful her comment was.

He ignored her, though a flash of guilt shot through him at the still-raw memory, and Maria shot her a venomous glare.

“I healed River Dog’s ankle when he hurt it the night of the camping trip in Frasier Woods, soon after Max healed Liz. Healed a few dogs in the trailer park when they got beat on, too.” He grinned mirthlessly and Isobel felt uncomfortable. “Healing you wasn’t much different. I just thought it was a fluke. Never believed I could really do it at that level until now.”

“Why did you never tell us? What other secrets did you keep from us, Michael?”

She paused to wait for an answer she knew wouldn’t be forthcoming from the reticent alien, before she continued.

“This must mean that since Max isn’t the only one who can heal, maybe you can learn to dreamwalk after all.”

“You should be able to heal, too, Iz. I think we just have to be confident we can do it if we focus hard enough. That’s what Tess always used to tell me – focus is the key to our powers. Focus and confidence. And practice. Still, better hope we don’t have too much opportunity to practice healing…”

“Yes, Michael, I certainly hope so, too.”

The group fell silent for a while, passing round the coffee pot for refills and staring into the fire as bedtime slowly approached.

Michael cuddled Maria closer against him, ‘hearing’ her in his mind still muttering to herself about Liz’s outrageous comment.

***Don’t let her get to you, princess. It isn’t worth your time. The best we can hope for is that Max comes back for her soon and maybe they’ll work things out…***

***Do you really think he will, Michael?***

***I guess I do, Maria. I can’t see Max letting Liz go, even if Tess really is back, which seems unlikely. I have to admit that they’re both stubborn as hell, but they just can’t seem to keep away from each other***

***That’s very insightful of you, Spaceboy. What brought this on?***

***Iz will try to dreamwalk Max again tonight and then she’s gonna try to teach me to dreamwalk, too. It’s gotta be either Kyle or Liz and Isobel thinks Kyle is too screwed up about last night’s dream to be any use. So it’s probably got to be Parker. Scary to think what goes on in her mind…***

***Why not me, Michael? What’s wrong with dreamwalking me?***

***We have a mind-link already, Maria. We can probably already share our dreams if we want to. I can see yours when you’re asleep, so I expect you can see mine. I love when you dream about me…***

***You’re leering again, Spaceboy, I can hear you. Don’t change the subject. Save it for later, though…***

Just then, Liz stood up and announced that she was ready for bed and they all said goodnight to her as she took her blanket, mug and chair into the vestibule of her tent. The others felt faintly, and in Isobel’s case guiltily, relieved and the atmosphere relaxed.

Isobel and Maria headed over to the shower block, where the group had all left their stuff for convenience while they had the site to themselves. The two guys went next, having used their alien powers to clean the coffee things and put out the fire. None of them wanted to disturb Liz and by tacit agreement, Isobel joined the other three in their tent, ready to make plans for the busy night ahead.

********

Chapter Twenty-Eight

When they all finally huddled in the vestibule of the tent, Michael looked over at Isobel and gestured towards the chilly darkness outside.

“First thing we gotta do is make it rain, Iz. You want to do it or shall I?”

Isobel was already beginning to focus her thoughts on the night of dreamwalking ahead of her. Much as she would have enjoyed it after so long, using her energy to conjure a rainstorm was a distraction she didn’t need, so she waved at him to carry on and went over to sit down in the far corner near Kyle’s sleeping quarters.

Michael clapped Kyle on the shoulder and raised an eyebrow at him. The newest ‘hybrid’ correctly took it as an invitation to another Masterclass in meteorology and followed the big alien out of the tent again.

Left behind, Maria looked speculatively round the bare, cold vestibule and noticed Isobel, sitting on the groundsheet in the corner biting her lip with a tired, far away look in her eye. Maria’s deep instinct for comfort awoke and she had an idea.

Fifteen minutes later, ducking back into the tent damp from the rain starting to fall steadily outside, the guys found the vestibule of the tent dimly lit by a lantern, with blankets and pillows spread over the groundsheet for extra warmth. Fresh supplies of coffee and hot chocolate were placed ready for later and the soft, golden glow created a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere for Isobel to dreamwalk.

There was just enough room in the vestibule for the four to spread themselves out and settle down to talk.

Michael lounged on a pile of pillows on one side of the entrance, and Kyle sat upright in his meditation pose on the other, although he looked stiff and apprehensive tonight. Isobel unconsciously mirrored his pose, hugging a pillow to her like a comfort-blanket, giving out vibes as nervous as Kyle in her own way.

Now that the time had come to dreamwalk again, memories of the previous night seemed to lurk in the shadows beyond the ring of lamplight.

Maria looked round at them all in sympathy from her position curled up in the corner. Michael, too, seemed to be affected by the atmosphere and she could feel his tension grow as the silence lengthened. Noticing similar signs of unease in all three faces she suddenly realised that the stage was set for drama.

Before she could suggest that more light might chase away the shadows and calm the edgy atmosphere, Isobel spoke suddenly, making them all jump.

“Well, Michael, are you ready to try to dreamwalk with me?”

Michael shrugged. Although the nervous vibes he was picking up from the other two were making him jumpy, he was looking forward to his first dreamwalk.

“Yeah, Iz, ready as I’ll ever be.”

The only downside was that it would have to be Liz and he felt faintly nauseous at the thought.

Isobel glanced over at Kyle. He looked sick, but nodded at her in reluctant acceptance of his fate. However, she smiled at him reassuringly and looked over at Michael.

“When we talked before dinner, it looked like Liz would have to be the one, since Kyle and I had that weird dream thing last night. I don’t want to risk it until we know what’s going on there, Michael…but maybe there’s another option we’ve forgotten.”

Maria unexpectedly interjected, startling them all.

“Good, ‘cos it’s not fair to dreamwalk Liz without asking her first. She is one of the group, so we shouldn’t invade her privacy without her permission…none of us would like it...”

Before anyone could respond, the entrance to the tent suddenly split open and the wet and angry subject of their discussion slid inside and stood glaring round at them.

“Thank you, Maria. I’m so glad someone thought about my feelings at last. Nobody – nobody dreamwalks me uninvited, do you understand? Bad enough that you’re all having a private meeting without me, but to even consider invading my mind like that is just cruel…”

Everyone, except Michael, looked guilty and uncomfortable, but he just tossed one of his pillows on to the ground by her feet and motioned to Liz to sit. She remained where she was.

He sighed and made an effort to explain.

“We weren’t deliberately excluding you, Liz. Isobel is going to dreamwalk Max and we know you don’t want to get involved with that. I’m gonna try to dreamwalk tonight, too, and we were discussing who best to try it out on - yeah, ok, maybe not such a good idea - but Isobel thinks she has a better one and, anyway, Maria stopped us before we went too far. You heard her.” His unspoken implication was that she’d been eavesdropping outside.

He was not in the least repentant. Apologising to Liz Parker, whether deserved or not, went against all his instincts.

Maria hurried to smooth things over. She was not feeling so very friendly herself towards Liz after the latest hurtful remark about Michael earlier on, but they didn’t need more animosity than there already was between her boyfriend and her oldest friend. The group’s very survival depended on keeping the trust between all the members.

“Isobel did say she’d had a better idea, remember? Why don’t you sit down and join us, Liz. Then we can all hear her out…”

Liz reluctantly sat down on the pillow and folded her legs beneath her, still clearly affronted.

Everyone looked at Isobel, the inadvertent catalyst of Liz’s explosive reaction, and she looked back with an air of detachment.

“As I was saying, there might be another way to help Michael learn to dreamwalk and it may also do some good for the dreamer, too…”

Kyle looked interested and some of the tension left his pose. The threat of a dream shared with Max could be delayed a little longer as Isobel continued speaking.

“I thought…maybe we could try to reach the parents…they must still be so worried – especially Ms. DeLuca and the Parkers, who don’t know anything about the secret.”

Michael saw Maria’s eyes light up and felt the surge of hope and gratitude flood her whole being. Liz sat up excitedly, forgetting all about her anger now that there was a possibility of contacting her parents in some way. Kyle, too, felt his spirits rise at the thought of getting a message to his dad.

Isobel smiled cautiously at their reaction to her words, but added a note of warning.

“It may not work if Michael or I haven’t got a clear image to focus on…”

She looked across at Liz first, to make amends for their earlier thoughtlessness. They really should have asked her if she wanted to be included tonight.

“We’ll try to contact your dad first. Michael knows him from working at the Crashdown, but I really need a photo, Liz…?”

Liz looked tragic for a moment, her hopes dashed. She had no faith in Michael’s dreamwalking abilities, and if Isobel couldn’t contact her dad without a photo then it was pointless even trying – but then her eyes brightened. She scrambled up and told Isobel she needed to fetch something from her tent.

They waited in silence for her return, but the atmosphere was relaxed. The rain continued relentlessly outside, enclosing them in the small oasis of warm lamplight. The incident a few moments ago had illustrated to them all how the old roles had changed in the group; now the four who had least in common back in Roswell were growing closer and more trusting than they could have ever imagined back then.

It was Liz, formerly the center of their group, who was increasingly isolating herself in her attempts to deal with the pain of the latest, maybe even the final, breakup with Max. In antagonising Maria, her closest friend, by insulting Michael who was doing his best to protect them all, she was in danger of creating a rift within the group that might be irreparable.

A rustle at the entrance heralded a bright-eyed, excited Liz. She took off her wet jacket and looked hopefully over at Isobel, but it was Michael who dried it off with an impatient wave of his hand.

Liz then sat down on the pillow again and opened her palm to reveal a pretty gold locket on a chain.

“This was a present from Grandma Claudia for my 14th birthday. I wore it at the Graduation ceremony.” Liz split the locket open and anxiously displayed its contents to Isobel. “It has pictures of her and my parents inside. I know they’re small, but can you use them to dreamwalk?”

Isobel took the locket from her and peered down at the tiny images. Younger versions of the Parker parents beamed back at her, cut out from some larger photo several years ago. Still, she thought it would do for her purpose.

“If I do get through, Liz, remember I don’t think I can leave any special message that he would feel was anything other than a dream. I can only try to make him feel that you’re safe and well, maybe give him some comfort that way…”

Liz swallowed disappointment at this, but was truly grateful to Isobel for anything she could do to contact and comfort her family and said so.

Isobel lay down and made herself comfortable as the others watched her with interest. After a few minutes she sat up again and glared round at them, suddenly petulant after the patience she had shown all day.

“I can’t sleep with you all staring at me.”

Maria exchanged a glance with Michael and, after a brief mental conversation too fast for anyone else to notice, looked at Liz and Kyle as she spoke.

“Isobel doesn’t want an audience – let her have some privacy and do this on her own. Use Kyle’s pit, chica.” She winked at him, and he grinned back at her.

After a hesitant pause when she clearly debated with herself as to what horrors might be found in any living quarters inhabited by the former jock, Isobel cautiously pulled the stiff fabric aside and waved a fastidious hand to light the lantern hanging from the roof of the tent. The order and neatness revealed within was a pleasant surprise and a huge relief. Much as she liked the Sheriff’s son, she remembered Tess’s disparaging comments about the way they’d lived before she moved in and had assumed that they’d probably reverted back after she’d gone.

“Michael, you should be there with her if Isobel’s going to teach you how to dreamwalk, too.”

Maria reminded Isobel that the other item on the night’s agenda needed to be addressed and Michael grabbed the pillows from behind him and threw them over beside Kyle’s bed before he stretched out alongside.
Isobel then became aware of the practicalities of teaching someone else to dreamwalk and found herself momentarily at a loss for words before she crystallised her thoughts for the first time.

She handed Michael Liz’s locket with her father’s picture inside.

“When you first try to dreamwalk, you have to focus on the image of the person you want to find on the dream plane and hold the image as you fall asleep, until white fog envelopes it. It’s this fog that hides the dream and you must find a way through it into the mind of the dreamer. It’s not exactly a physical thing like manipulating molecular structure, but it seems to be linked to the same idea. You follow a path or pattern – in this case the image of the dreamer – until you make a mental connection when their conscious mind is asleep and unshielded by the chaos of thoughts. The connection is quite strong and the dreamer won’t see you unless you want them to.”

Michael concentrated on the tiny photograph, committing it to memory as clearly as he could before handing the locket back to Isobel and trying to visualise Jeff Parker’s face from the times he had seen his employer in the course of his shifts at the Crashdown. It was more difficult than he’d thought. He was surprised at how little attention he’d paid to Liz’s father when he was around and also how little attention the man himself had paid to his business on a daily hands-on basis. Michael brought his formidable powers of concentration to bear and, building up like pieces of a jigsaw, a more detailed image slowly appeared in his mind.

Lying on Kyle’s low bed, Isobel looked at the face in the little locket and again tried to summon sleep.

The image would not stick in her mind, even when she touched the picture to help the connection. She shifted restlessly and tried again, still without success. She was so exhausted that she was beyond tiredness and her mind just could not find the rest she sought.

She sat up to tell the others it wasn’t working when she noticed Michael had fallen asleep. Her first reaction was annoyance that he had just given up so easily while she was still trying and she reached out to shake him awake – then it hit her that he might actually have been successful where she had not…she simply couldn’t tell. Waking him up to ask would break the dream connection and defeat their object, but if he really was simply asleep she could waste all night waiting in vain.

Staring at him in frustration, it occurred to Isobel that she might try dreamwalking him to find out if he had indeed found the way. If so, she would join him in directing Mr. Parker’s dream. It took subtlety to influence the dreamer and she doubted Michael’s ability in that area. He was likely to crash around and cause all sorts of confusion just for the hell of it while he was there, wasting a good opportunity.

She lay down again, this time facing Michael, and imprinted his features on her mind’s eye.

She waited for the white fog to appear, but nothing happened. His face stayed clearly in front of her closed eyes, immobile as a picture. There was no connection at all with his sleeping mind.

Puzzled now and starting to worry, Isobel sat up and looked over at Michael, still asleep beside the bed. His expression gave nothing away.

Michael had quickly found that Isobel’s description of dreamwalking had worked for him exactly as she had said. When he had clearly seen Jeff Parker’s face behind his closed eyes, he had visualised a white fog rising to obscure it and impatiently pushed through to discover what was on the other side.

He wished he hadn’t when he found himself staring at the broken, bloodied corpse of Liz Parker in a dark, trash-filled alley, draped in a white gown and lying in a glass coffin surrounded by banks of white flowers. Jeff Parker knelt beside the bier, weeping hopelessly.

After a moment, he rose and started to pace to and fro, alternately shouting angrily at his daughter or stretching out his arms imploringly towards her. The atmosphere was oppressive with grief and Michael felt overwhelmed and battered by the force of raw emotion for which he just hadn’t prepared himself…

At a loss as to how to deal with the unexpected scene, he wanted to cut and run but somehow it seemed more important to reassure the man that his daughter wasn’t dead.

He hesitated, invisible to his former employer, racking his brain to think of some way to change the dream to something more hopeful and comforting. Then he realised with a shock that the only memory he had of a happy, laughing Liz Parker was when she was flirting with Max in the Crashdown after Tess’s death. He didn’t think that scene would be much of a comfort to her dad, so he let it go and decided to make something up. Presently, the filthy alley with its harrowing tableau melted into a sunny science lab (Michael wasn’t too familiar with these, so the details were indistinct) where a white-coated Liz sat at a desk smiling at the photos in the little gold locket and reaching for a phone.

He wasn’t impressed by his own work, but figured it was the best he could come up with at short notice so would just have to do.

The sudden vision of a small, brown, wrinkly Liz Parker mooing “E.P. phone home” flashed across his mind, making him snort helplessly until he noticed his fragile dream scene tremble precariously. He hurriedly concentrated on strengthening it as much as he could.

He was just taking a moment to congratulate himself on the success of his first dreamwalk when the whole, delicate bubble shivered and burst into a billion, glittering shards.

********

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Michael woke up in the tent with Isobel shaking his shoulder and frowning down at him.

She had convinced herself that the sensible option would be to wake him up. Even if he had somehow managed to dreamwalk for the first time without her guidance, breaking the dream wouldn’t cause any harm.

Maria had carefully stayed out of Michael’s mind, as much as their connection would let her, in order not to distract him, and so she had seen nothing of his dreamwalk.

Liz couldn’t see what was happening, but she heard Michael’s voice complaining about Isobel’s interference and the alien girl’s sharp reply so she quickly interrupted their argument before it could escalate.

“Did it work, Isobel? Did you reach my dad?”

Isobel had to admit failure, but Michael sat up and slid back out into the vestibule again, throwing her an irritatingly smug look as he passed.

Pleased at his success in replacing Jeff Parker’s nightmare with a relatively happy, optimistic dreamlet, he recounted his experiences on the dreamplane to the others and finished by giving Liz a rare, genuinely friendly smile.

Liz was distressed by her father’s nightmare scenario, but surprised and grateful to Michael. She returned his smile with a tremulous one of her own and some of her resentment of him melted away.

Maria was encouraged to see this friendly moment between them and wondered if it might mark the beginning of a thaw in their relationship. Michael crushed her hopes.

***Never gonna happen, Maria. Don’t like Parker any more than I ever did. Just wanted to make her dad feel better for a while. He was ok to me when I worked at the Crashdown***

He felt Maria’s mental sigh of resignation, knowing she accepted that he’d never really liked Liz and never would. Armed neutrality was the best she could hope for and that was on a good day.

Michael was much more interested in dreamwalking Maria’s mom. He knew how much his girlfriend missed Amy DeLuca and he wanted to make them both happy.

He silently promised her that when they were alone he would try to create a dream that might console the woman who meant so much to them both.

Maria slid her hand into his, squeezing to show her pride in another of his achievements. Now that he had shaken off the shackles of his former life, much of the old arrogance and obstinacy that had fuelled Michael’s survival was beginning to change into new confidence and a determination to learn to use all his innate talents, whatever planet they originated from.

They exchanged a fleeting, soft glance in the shadowy, golden light that, nevertheless, wasn’t missed by either Isobel, who had an acute stab of longing for Jesse, or Liz, who had a flash of jealousy and cold anger at Max who’d promised her so much happiness and brought her so much pain.

Wherever Max was tonight, Liz prayed he was safe, but she wouldn’t risk her precarious emotional balance by staying too near when Isobel talked to him, even in dreams.

Glancing at the others, she noticed that Kyle was still in his meditation pose, tense and nervous, although she didn’t understand why. Isobel sat on the end of his bed, weary and strained, watching him through half-closed lids.

Liz was about to ask what was going on with them, but then decided against it. Even though her earlier anger at being excluded had lost it’s heat it still stung and her pride wouldn’t let her ask, if they didn’t want to tell her.

The only good thing about tonight was Michael’s unexpected kindness in exchanging her dad’s nightmare for a happy dream, if only for a brief time. He might even dreamwalk for her again in the long, lonely nights ahead.

Liz cheered herself with that thought and stood up, ready to leave the light and warmth and run back through the rain to her own cold, dark, lonely tent. Soft-hearted Maria first tried to convince her to stay, then insisted on going with her so she wouldn’t be alone. Kyle earned Michael’s gratitude by unexpectedly offering to go with Liz himself to ensure she was safeguarded for the rest of the night.

Unaware of his ulterior motive, Liz accepted gracefully and they departed soon after.

Splashing through the darkness to the girls’ tent in the rain, Kyle regretted his impetuous offer. The warm, friendly comfort he had just left was infinitely better than a long, cold, boring night playing bodyguard to Liz with nothing to keep him from falling asleep and dreaming again.

However, once inside, Liz lit the lantern and looked round at the cold vestibule, furnished only with the camping chairs and outdoor clothes, such a contrast to the one they had just left. She took off her wet jacket and hung it from a hook on a crossbeam in the corner, before turning to smile at him.

“It doesn’t seem right, you out here while I’m snuggled up in my warm sleeping bag…”

For a second, Kyle thought she was inviting him to share her bed again, this time for real. He hardly had time to panic before she carried on talking and the moment passed.

“Maybe we can make this a little more cosy for you, Kyle. There are plenty of extra blankets and Isobel and I will donate some pillows.”

“No need to worry about that, Liz, I’ll be sleeping in Isobel’s… er…room since she’ll probably stay where she is after dreamwalking Max tonight. She’s so tired right now she can hardly keep her eyes open. Didn’t you notice? I doubt she’ll have enough energy left to come back over here.”

“Well, if you’re sure she won’t mind you using her bed... Do you want to go straight to sleep now or are you up for some hot chocolate? Maria left supplies in both tents earlier this evening in case anyone woke up in the night. She’s really getting in to this whole domesticated thing.”

“I think it’s great. It’s nice to have someone in the group who thinks about our comfort.”

“Yes, Maria’s always been big on home comforts. She’s had to practically raise her mom alone, so they put a lot of effort into creating a family atmosphere. Apart from the cooking, of course, up until now. She must really be missing her mom – they only had each other to rely on and although her mom was always so busy building up her alien souvenirs business and the wrestling promotions and all the other interests, they were very close.”

Kyle thought of his own single-parent upbringing and, apart from a certain difference in attitude to housekeeping standards, understood how Maria’s childhood was essentially the same as his own – although he hadn’t been so close to his dad until recently. Liz seemed not to have made the connection with his own painful loss, but he didn’t much care anymore. Maria was the one who was making the effort to take care of her friends and Kyle was more than grateful.

As she spoke, Liz was gathering blankets and covering the cold groundsheet in the way she had noticed in the other tent. She unfolded the two camp chairs and draped another blanket over each, before reaching for two cups and preparing to make warm drinks for them both. Kyle, seating himself in a chair and wrapping himself up in a blanket, asked for strong coffee instead, hoping it would help to keep him awake. Liz gave him a curious glance but he didn’t comment. He looked at his watch and saw that it was well past midnight. There were still several hours to go before it would be safe although, to his relief, he was not sleepy.

“It’s still too chilly in here, Liz, do you mind if I try to warm up the air a little? It must be the same principle as heating up liquids, what do you think?” Remedial science was a hazy memory but he’d recently learned how to heat up water and coffee, so he was fairly confident that his guess was not far off.

He concentrated and soon the temperature in the tent was almost tropical. The blankets were discarded and both began to feel overheated.

Liz tried to cool things down, only to go too far and have Kyle shiver ostentatiously and reach for a blanket again. Finally they managed to achieve a cosy level of warmth and settled down to drink and talk.

Liz was secretly relieved and pleased to share their experiences in using their new powers. However, Kyle noted that she didn’t trouble to disguise her unflattering surprise at how much further he had progressed under Michael’s tuition. Her own practice so far had apparently been mostly limited to heating up drinks and changing water into cherry coke. Then he remembered the events of the afternoon so he asked her if she had been able to recall any of the warning vision she’d got from Ben earlier. Her mood changed abruptly.

A frightened look came into her wide, dark eyes and she shook her head.

“No, I can’t remember anything. I’ve been trying to forget about it until I have to go see Ben tomorrow. Oh, Kyle, I’m so scared. What can it be? What if the Feds have found us again…?”

Kyle shuffled his chair close to hers and put his arm round her. She leaned her head on his shoulder and began to sob quietly while he stroked her hair.

He had deliberately not taken sides in the sporadic outbreaks of hostility between Liz and Maria, figuring that his best chance of a peaceful life was to remain on friendly terms with as many of the group as possible.

He knew that most of the incitement came from Liz provoking Maria over Michael, but he could see that much of it stemmed from isolation, loneliness and jealousy, so he didn’t condemn her out of hand.

Her life had been torn apart from the moment that Max Evans had saved her life and he had experienced exactly the same thing, so he felt a strong sympathy for her.

Neither one had asked Max to use his healing powers on them, but his own feelings sometimes wavered between a reluctant gratitude and a resentful anger at the way his life had been forced onto such a difficult, dangerous path. He suspected that Liz had known the same feelings in times of her deepest despair.

Rightly or wrongly, he held the quiet alien in dislike and contempt for the way he had treated Liz, forcibly changed Kyle’s life, and ruined the sheriff’s career and now he simply couldn’t forgive Max for running out on Liz to follow Tess’s lures.

Admittedly, Tess had once held a special place in his own heart and his mixed feelings for the girl gave Kyle a sneaking sympathy for Max, but Liz was suffering yet again through no fault of her own and needed all the comfort he willingly gave at that moment.

The camp chairs were not the ideal place for a prolonged hug and Liz soon found it too uncomfortable, so she decided it was time for bed. She innocently asked him to stay with her until she fell asleep and, although he hesitated for a moment, Kyle agreed.

A few moments later Liz’s head was on his shoulder and his arm was protectively round her as she continued to cry softly once more as they lay together on her bed. The lamp still burning in the vestibule was the only light and he was still awake and alert when Liz succumbed to sleep at last.

It was an hour or so later before Kyle himself fell asleep without noticing – one minute he was awake fine-tuning his control over the brightness of the lantern and the next he was moving through the white fog into the familiar kitchen of his home back in Roswell.

Tess was moving around stacking dishes from dinner and smiling at his dream self as she talked to him while she worked. He couldn’t hear what she was saying - the dream was silent so far. He saw himself leaning on the countertop, trying to sneak a taste of the creamy dessert she had taken from the icebox as she playfully tried to push his hand away. Then he stood up and walked over to the phone, obviously answering a call. A few moments later, he ended it and turned to the girl with a comment that caused her to wrinkle her nose and look momentarily disappointed. Dream Kyle shrugged and watched as she took two bowls from a shelf and spooned some dessert into each. She handed them to Kyle and returned the leftovers to the icebox before following him into the den and curling up on the sofa beside him.

It was then he realised with a shock that this was a memory rather than a dream.

A memory that she had buried when she mind-warped him into thinking of their relationship as platonic and innocent…

He knew exactly what was going to happen next and watched with growing guilt and discomfort as she began to eat her creamy dessert in a flirty, provocative manner calculated to tease him into heated response. He remembered that this had been building up for days and weeks, both aware of the sexual sparks between them and maybe the beginning of something warmer and deeper that neither was yet ready to admit.

They had already shared a few make out sessions that left both of them frustrated, but although Tess had seemed increasingly reluctant to push him away, she still stopped before things got out of control. Her eyes still wandered to Max when she thought no one was looking at her and Kyle had known that she still had hopes that her alien ‘mate’ would suddenly wake up and see his destiny was with her.

The night that he was re-living now was one that should have stayed with him as perhaps the most vivid of his life - if only he’d been allowed to remember it.

Laughter, kisses and growing passion had finally led them to bed without Tess struggling away and shutting the door in his face as she always had before. Kyle watched fascinated as the dream scene now dissolved into his old room where lamps now glowed and the tiny, blonde, alien girl sat on the edge of his bed dressed only in a lacy thong and stared with sultry, heavy-lidded blue eyes as his dream self dropped his jeans and boxers and moved to stand directly in front of her, naked and muscular and already fully aroused.

Without his conscious volition, his voyeuristic awareness merged with his dream image to experience again the unique pleasure Tess gave him when she allowed him to see her true, secret self.

Her small, soft hands reached to caress his cock and he gasped at the sensation of her cool palms firmly sliding up and down his whole length, before she dragged one rose-tipped fingernail lightly from the base to below the thick head along the sensitive underside and then slid her tongue out to lick the drop of clear liquid from the purple tip. Her full, red mouth engulfed him and she swirled and sucked a little in teasing promise before she released it, took a deep breath and raised her head to look back up at him.

She smiled knowingly and tugged gently on his cock so he had no choice but to obey her unspoken command and lie down on the bed beside her…

Kyle had long since discovered that Tess was a girl who liked to be in control and she made that perfectly clear again to him now as she began to kiss him deeply and hungrily, meanwhile guiding his hand to her breast and breaking the kiss to sigh in satisfaction as he cupped and squeezed her tits, his thumb roughly rubbing her small, pink nipples to stiff, rubbery, peaks.

She half raised herself on the pillows so that his head was level with her breasts and he had easy access to attack them with his lips and tongue while she threw her head back and moaned, pushing her swollen tits further into his hot, wet mouth and impatiently sliding her own hand down between her legs to spread the growing wetness and prime her responsive clit ready for his attentions.

This do-me-NOW attitude of hers turned Kyle on so much that he abandoned his ministrations to her breasts and gleefully hurried down to her waiting cunt.

Tess spread her legs and gave him the freedom to gaze in wonder at her most intimate parts, pink and wet, framed by her soft, blonde curls. Dipping his head, he gently fingered the little hood of skin protecting her clit, exposing the tiny nub, and then touched it with the tip of his tongue. She gasped, shuddered and came quickly with almost silent intensity. He looked up at her face and, encouraged, he continued to lick around her clit, then along her slit to her pussy back and forward to establish a slow, gentle rhythm.

A small hand slid sensuously through his hair, ending in a sudden painful grip that made his eyes water as his face was forced closer to her hot, wet, flesh in a command impossible to disobey.

Her scent overwhelmed him and he found it difficult to breath, but he quickly began to suck and nip at her clit as she writhed and moaned above him, her juices gushing over his tongue as he lapped at her with the rough eagerness she clearly wanted. His grasp on her thighs was hard enough to leave bruises, but neither of them noticed in the heat of their passion.

One of her hands reached up to brutally pinch and twist her own nipples and she continued to writhe and thrust herself onto his face as he made her cum time after time so that she lost all control and her small body, tethered to his tongue, convulsed in endless delight on his bed.

During all this devotion to her needs, his cock had subsided a little from time to time, though always hardening again at the uninhibited responses of the girl on his bed to his unstinting efforts to please her. Finally they both just had to rest for a while and they lay panting together with Tess’s head resting on his shoulder and a sweet, contented smile on her face.

“That was so incredible – you are incredible, Kyle. Thankyouthankyouthankyou…”

Kyle didn’t see the intelligent awareness in the blue eyes as they opened on to the dreamplane and he was oblivious to the fact that he was sharing this memory dream with the girl they all thought was dead.

She kissed his shoulder in a tentative loving gesture and looked up at him with dawning wonder in her eyes. He really was a truly special guy and she knew she would always remember his generosity, kindness and love. She now knew that she had never experienced love before in this human form, her obsession with Max revealed as a twisted result of breeding and conditioning.

Kyle had shown her new dreams and that night had confirmed her growing feelings for him. She had known that it could never be more than stolen moments, but she wanted some small taste of true happiness before her destiny closed in on her and her life changed forever. She had mind-warped him to forget everything in the afterglow of their passion and had then cried all night at the cruel fate she had been conditioned to accept and even now couldn’t escape.

There was one last aspect of that special night that she needed to re-live for herself as a glorious memory to treasure in the lonely nights to come.

Sitting up and leaning over him, she kissed him slowly and deeply, allowing herself to freely express her feelings for him one time only and guessing from his heartfelt response that he might have returned them in equal measure.

Masking her sadness, she stroked his cock into rampant life again and straddled his hips ready to impale herself on the guy she loved for the first and last time and take them both to very Heaven.

Kyle’s excitement soared higher with every frantic thrust that fused their bodies and souls together in the ultimate satisfaction they both needed from the other. He felt her inner walls begin to close around his pounding cock and knew that they were about to cum together. Opening his eyes in order to remember her beautiful face again, he saw that her familiar blue eyes were truly alive and gazing down at him in exultant triumph as he shouted her name and the world went dark.

********

Chapter Thirty

Over in the other tent all was in silent darkness.

When Liz and her bodyguard had left, Isobel’s eyes lingered on the exit through which Kyle had just vanished. She still sat in the same place on the end of his bed, tired, wan and faintly dispirited now that he had gone. When she eventually spoke, it was more to herself than the other two.

“He’s trying to stay awake all night to avoid dreaming. I know he is.”

The discussion she’d had with Maria about dream symbolism had initially made a lot of sense; after all, nightmares were to be expected in their dangerous circumstances – but there were unexplained aspects, and Kyle’s part as both observer and actor, together with her own experience, made her uneasy.

Isobel yawned and made a big effort to break out of the stupor of exhaustion that threatened to overcome her. Her heart ached for Kyle, who had been so kind and concerned for her on the road despite his own pain that she desperately wanted to offer him some consolation. Kyle, quite as much as Liz, deserved to get a message to the only family he had and, moreover, one who was threatened by the same deadly danger as themselves should his incipient alien powers show up. She resolved to dreamwalk the sheriff first chance she got, and try to let him know his son was safe. He, of all the parents, would find it easiest to accept that a dream message was real.

Kyle’s increasingly strained mood and blatant avoidance tactics had begun to affect her nerves. If only he hadn’t been so disturbed by his first dreamwalking experience, she would have taken him with her tonight and taught him how to do it himself, same as Michael apparently now could.

However, right now she had to talk to Max, assure herself that he was still safe.

Isobel looked over at Michael and caught him out in an uninhibited yawn that he didn’t bother to conceal. Maria was nearly asleep against his shoulder and it was clear that all three were finding it difficult to stay awake much longer.

Isobel fought the waves of drowsiness, knowing Max would be waiting and must be getting anxious. She gave Michael a last chance to change his mind.

“It’s time to contact Max. It’s late and he must surely be asleep by now. Are you sure you don’t want me to try to take you along too, Michael?”

“Yes.”

Michael’s response was quiet, abrupt and final. Isobel nodded and made no further comment. Piling all the pillows within reach onto Kyle’s bed, she lay down, curled up on her side and closed her eyes.

Maria’s head weighed more heavily against Michael’s shoulder as the minutes stretched into eternity. Michael imperceptibly raised the air temperature around her and soon he felt her slide into sleep. His own nerves slowly wound up tight in counterpoint to this, keeping him awake and edgily apprehensive. He needed to know that Max was still heading east, unknowingly leading their pursuers away from the little band of fugitives hidden in the mountains.

Fifteen minutes passed and he couldn’t wait any longer. He looked for some sign that Isobel was ready to wake up from the dream, but she slept peacefully on. He carefully moved Maria onto a pillow where she curled into a ball and carried on sleeping, too.

He went over and knelt by Isobel. She should have woken up and reported back from her brother’s dream by now. Seeing her peaceful face, he realised that there would be no more dreamwalking that night after all. Exhaustion had overcome her and she was now too deeply asleep.

He covered her with a blanket and dimmed the lamp to the faintest glow, leaving her to rest. Max would just have to fret and worry alone tonight. Michael wouldn’t lose any sleep over that prospect.

Turning back to Maria, he shook her shoulder gently and when she reluctantly stirred, he began to undress her like a sleepy child at bedtime, until she half-woke enough to finish the job herself and crawl naked into their bed to fall back into deep sleep at once. Meanwhile, he collected their pillows scattered round the vestibule and tossed them in a heap at the far end of the bed, before hastily stripping himself and sliding in beside her.

Mountain air, exhaustion and the noisy security of heavy rain reducing the likelihood of danger for a while, combined to let him finally relax. He slept peacefully on in Maria’s arms until a series of loud, female shrieks outside woke him up and had him scrambling for his shorts and the exit, with a sleepy, scared Maria and Isobel peering out of the tent after him.

Maria hastily dragged some clothes on as Isobel, discovering that she had somehow fallen asleep fully dressed, kept watch and gave her a whispered commentary.

“Oh, my God. It’s Liz – she’s chasing Kyle round the camp, shrieking and trying to hit him, getting a good few whacks in, too… She’s only in her pyjamas. There’s a break in the clouds and the rain’s eased off some. It’s still dark, but just light enough to see… I don’t know what’s going on… Kyle’s made it to the Chevy and managed to climb in and lock the door – she’s pounding on the window, swearing at him and getting soaked to the skin. Now Michael’s caught her and she’s attacking him, too. Just what the hell is going on…?”

By now Maria had her shoes and parka on, ready to go and find out what all the rumpus was about. She waited impatiently while Isobel quickly found her own shoes and then the two left the tent, taking Maria’s torch with them, and cautiously approached the furiously cursing Liz Parker, held at arms’ length and struggling like a wet hen, in the grip of a seriously pissed off Michael Guerin.

Seeing that she was now, he hoped, securely restrained by Michael, Kyle lowered the window but prudently stayed where he was. In the light from Maria’s torch now balanced on the truck’s hood, he looked shocked and embarrassed.

Michael simply waited grimly until Liz calmed down enough for him to release her, whereupon she lunged at Kyle again, forcing the muscular, near-naked alien to grab her and hold her trapped against him until Maria and Isobel came forward and each took hold of one of her hands, murmuring soothingly until she calmed down. He quickly stepped away from her, restraining his temper with super-human effort, biting back the angry comments, leaving the two girls to discover what the trouble was. Whatever it turned out to be, he just knew that Max was somehow at the bottom of it. It was an inescapable fact of life, and he knew it.

Maria could feel Liz shaking with cold and anger and immediately put her arms around the girl to warm and reassure her. Liz collapsed onto her shoulder and sobbed.

“He called out her name in his sleep. How could he do that to me? He called out the m-murdering s-slut’s name in his sleep. I heard him. First M-Max, and now Kyle. Oh, I shall go mad, I know it. Will it never end?”

She lifted her head from Maria’s shoulder and fixed a piteous, imploring gaze on her childhood friend.

“Maria, what can I do…?”

Maria could only hug her friend in silent comfort, while she looked over at Kyle inquiringly until he reluctantly spoke.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Liz, believe me. I had a dream, a lost memory and she was there. I saw Tess. Really saw her. And she saw me…”

His voice shook and he paused to collect himself.

“She’s not dead. Somehow Tess is alive…and she’s back.”

The shock in his voice was unmistakable.

Liz suddenly stood up straight and looked round at them all in the torchlight. She dropped Maria’s hand and made a cold, stark, announcement.

“I never want to hear that murdering bitch’s name mentioned in my presence ever again. I’ve finished with her and I’ve finished with Max Evans and as far as I’m concerned, they deserve each other. You’d better stay out of my way, too, Kyle Valenti. Is that clear?”

She didn’t wait for a reaction, but turned on her bare heel, slipped a little in the mud and swept back to her tent in the rainy darkness, leaving the others standing silently in the torchlight staring after her.

Michael turned to Kyle in the truck and spoke wearily.

“Do we need to talk about Tess right now or can she wait until morning?”

Kyle shrugged.

“I guess she can wait…”

“Then see you at breakfast, man.”

Michael took Maria’s hand without further comment and they walked quickly back to their tent.

Isobel looked over at Kyle in the Chevy. Their eyes met for a long moment and she hesitated as if she might join him, but then turned away and slowly followed after the other two. She didn’t think Liz would welcome her company right at that moment.

When she entered, she found that the inner door to Michael and Maria’s bedroom was already sealed shut and she took the hint. She, too, felt the need for privacy and time to absorb the shocking news, if indeed it was really true. She just didn’t have the strength to deal with anything right now.

Removing her outer clothes this time and folding them neatly, Isobel sealed herself into Kyle’s quarters and gave herself up to sleep, hoping that there would be no more disturbances of any kind for the remainder of the night.

Out in the dark, cold Chevy, Kyle flicked the switch for light and climbed into the back to scrabble round in the cargo space for the coffee supplies. He needed something to do to delay thinking about what had happened only a few minutes ago to rock his world - again.

All too soon, he huddled on the leather-covered rear seats, cradling a hot mug between his icy fingers, his new abilities temporarily forgotten as he shivered in the cold. The rain had resumed it’s relentless drumming on the roof, but he welcomed it as a distraction from the silence.

The shock of Tess’s blue stare burning into his own – really seeing him - and with it, the knowledge that she was still alive after all, swirled through his mind. The memory left his brain in turmoil. He didn’t know what to do. He sat there as the night crawled slowly towards dawn, the cold finally reminding him to use his powers to keep warm, while endlessly revolving questions in his mind and finding no answers.

His feelings for Tess had irrevocably changed when he found out that she had killed Alex and betrayed his father and himself, but beneath the hate a flicker of regret for what might have been remained to disturb his dreams after she left. Even her death hadn’t stopped them and now it seemed she was back in his dreams for real…

Liz now blamed him and felt even more hurt, betrayed and angry that he too had been involved with Tess. Liz would never understand or accept that there had been a time when he had loved the small, alien blonde, while she had still been uncertain of her choices, before she had stolen his memories and his friend’s life then followed her dark destiny back to the planet that she’d thought held her future.

Kyle couldn’t bring himself to tell Isobel, either. He didn’t want to discuss the details of the memory dream with her... and he knew she would demand details.

Michael’s reaction was still uncertain, so Kyle thought it would be best to postpone the breakfast revelations until he’d discussed it with Maria first. Maria was the only one who he thought might understand and sympathise, so he resolved to talk to her as soon as he could.

Once he had made this decision, he relaxed a little and gave in to the urge to sleep after all. Somehow the prospect of a dream shared with Max was no longer the threat it had been before Tess had come back from death to disturb his nights once more.

He’d been right when he’d told Michael that Tess could wait until morning. He knew all about her mind-warping abilities now and would be on his guard. She no longer had the same power over him. Kyle told himself that dreams and memories were not the same as reality and his heart now belonged wholly to Isobel, futile as that was. He shut his eyes and prepared to wait for the relief of pouring it all out to Maria in the morning.

Sometime after dawn, Isobel stirred and floated up from her own private, unremembered dreams until the white mist drifted before her mind’s eye obscuring the mental image of her brother, forcing her to move through it into Max’s dream.

He was waiting for her in the same place as before, dressed in a white sweatshirt and grey pants, the star formation shining out of the desert night above the rocks near their pod cave.

This time he moved towards her unhurriedly and smiled in a warm, welcoming way. He opened his arms in an attempt to give her a hug, which she evaded, knowing her image was as immaterial as his on the dream plane and the gesture was pointless.

“Hello, Max.”

“Hello, Isobel.”

His smile was faintly creepy and Isobel had the same prickle of warning she’d had when she’d entered the weird dream the previous night.

“I’ve been waiting for you all night. What took you so long?”

His tone was impatient, but then he seemed to make an effort to control it and continued without waiting for her response.

“It’s so good to see you. I’m lonely without you and the others. We didn’t get to talk much last night. I’m still in Nebraska, no sign of anyone following me. Where are you and the others right now?” The last question was spoken in a different tone; it sounded casual, but he couldn’t hide his interest in her answer.

Some instinct warned Isobel not to be too specific on their whereabouts. Maybe best to be a little less than generous with the truth for a while…

“Still heading west. We’re all so tired from driving that everywhere just looks the same now.”

She felt bad lying to Max, but she just didn’t quite trust him anymore. He repeated his question with more emphasis.

“Where exactly are you tonight?”

Her brother had that note of command in his voice again that jarred her and set her hackles rising. She let her exhaustion show in her tone, hoping to convince him of her indifference.

“Who cares where we are tonight, Max? We’ll have moved on tomorrow. It’s all the same to me. We’re just trying to stay ahead of our enemies.”

Her growing suspicions made her push him for answers to her own questions.

“Tell me, why did you really run out on the group, Max? Why didn’t you fight against her call? Tess is history for us; she was nothing but trouble and she hurt the people who trusted her the most. God, she killed Alex…”

Dream Max’s eyes suddenly filled with tears and he sank onto his knees in the desert darkness, the ‘V’ formation of stars pointing down like an arrowhead above him.

“I just don’t know what’s real any more, Isobel. I’ve had so much time to think when I’m driving with nothing to distract me. All these memories just circle through my mind endlessly like a hideous nightmare. What do we do now? The FBI will always be on our trail, we can never stop moving on. The call from Tess is the only thing that gives any direction to my life …she’s becoming more real to me now than even you or Liz. I have to find her, Isobel, I don’t know what else I can do.”

Against her instincts, Isobel’s heart softened. Max was her brother and her home and it hurt her to see him suffer like this.

“I understand, Max, really I do. But I don’t trust Tess. Turn around and come back to us. We’re stronger together as a group and Liz still loves you, I know she does. We can all try to make sense of it together – and you won’t be alone, Max. Come back to us. Please, Max.”

Her eyes burned with hot tears even on the dream plane and she reached out to him, forgetting that they couldn’t really touch.

He quickly rose to his feet, eyes dry and voice suddenly eager as his hand stretched out as if to meet hers.

“ Where are you, Isobel? Tell me where you are and I’ll come find you. You’re right, we should be together…”

His eyes bored into hers and she saw them change from loving warmth to cold distain even as he spoke.

“Just tell me where to find you, Isobel, and I – hey, what the hell is he doing here in my dream?”

He looked over Isobel’s shoulder and she turned to see Kyle, naked, enveloped in the green glow and staring out over the desert towards the full moon hanging in the starlit darkness of the night sky.

“Kyle?” Isobel was puzzled and annoyed to see the Sheriff’s son standing only a few feet away. She tried to keep her gaze on his face, embarrassed by his nudity. She dragged her stare away and looked back at Max, about to deny any knowledge of Kyle’s unexpected presence, when she noticed that her brother had begun to glow green, too.

The two guys strode towards each other, hands outstretched in a parody of friendly greeting and she had to quickly step back out of their way. Their glowing hands met, palm to palm, and Kyle’s eyes closed in pain while Max cried out in angry protest as each tried to pull away.

Isobel herself cried out then and Kyle broke the connection with Max, opening his eyes and turning to her in surprise.

Again he shook his head at her in disapproval at her presence, but he didn’t push her out of the dream this time.

Max stepped between them and stared accusingly at Isobel while he pointed at Kyle, careful not to come too close.

“Isobel, what the hell’s going on? Why did you bring him into my dream? He’s been trying to steal my powers…”

Kyle shook his head in denial, backing away from them both and fading as he did so until Isobel and Max were alone once more.

Max turned anxious puppy-dog eyes on Isobel and carried on talking as if nothing had happened.

“I should be leaving Nebraska sometime tomorrow and heading into Iowa. I can feel that I’m slowly getting closer to Tess, so I’m gonna just keep on until I find her…”

His eyes brightened with a sudden pathetic hope.

“Did you tell Liz I love her? We’ll all be together one day soon... Just go on dreamwalking me every night. That’s what’s keeping me from going nuts, Isobel…”

She thought that might be one of the few clear truths in his muddled mind as she blew him a kiss and melted sadly out of his dream.

********

Chapter Thirty-One

Maria stirred and woke up, her first conscious feeling - even before her first conscious thought – flooding through her and making her whole being sing with joy and delight. Michael loved her and she loved him. Totally, completely, unconditionally - and in every known position…and a few more she hadn’t known about until they’d discovered them together. Michael was sooooo inventive…and, not to be outdone, (she giggled at her own pun) she had a few ideas herself.

Heaving a happy sigh, she wriggled carefully round in his arms ready to kiss him awake and maybe do a little more research in how to extend the boundaries of pleasure for them both.

When she arrived at his mouth, she found it pressed together in a grim line and his brown eyes hard as flint.

Uh-oh. Maybe she should have tested the water before making plans for their morning swim in the ocean of love. Looked like stormy weather ahead…

Maria kissed the tip of Michael’s nose anyway, sending him a wave of her own love and personal appreciation of his strength and talents. His eyes softened and she felt the immeasurable power and depths of his love for her well up and meet her own in the softest, lightest butterfly kiss.

Suddenly shaken by the immense force of their feelings, they both retreated into the private places of their own minds in awed wonder at the revelation, each instinctively understanding the other’s need for a moment of space as they admitted their own.

Then a soft hand slid around Michael’s cock and squeezed purposefully as Maria’s soft lips kissed his cheek. Her mind kissed his again and the spicy sweetness of her thoughts in contrast to the earthy directness of her actions set all his senses alight in anticipation of their lovemaking before they had to face the morning and confront the new problems that had arisen during the night.

On their return from Liz’s dramatic scene at 3 am, both had gone straight back to bed without any further discussion, either aloud or in their private speech. Each reluctantly accepted the fact that uninterrupted sleep was now a necessity before they could find the will or energy to think of anything else. It looked like another big problem was about to hit them and they had to be ready.

One night’s sleep after nearly a week on the road, missing family and worrying about their enemies’ pursuit, followed by one rest day - interrupted by another crisis - was not nearly enough time to allow any of the group to recover back to full strength.

Michael and Maria had sealed themselves away from the world and just slept for as long as their tired minds and bodies dictated. They hoped the others had the sense to do the same.

Entwined, unconscious and relaxed in their warm, comfortable bed, with the steady drumbeat of the rain lulling them, they found rest for a few more hours.

In the early dawn, Maria had half-woken to find Michael’s stiff cock buried between her ass cheeks from behind while he thrust gently in time with his deep breathing, hardly moving at all, at the same time enclosing one breast with a large hand and rubbing her nipple with his thumb in matching rhythm as he slept peacefully on. She moved a little so that her clit was in the right position to feel his steel and then she started a tiny, but effective, counter thrust that eventually built up into a silent climax so shattering for them both that Michael woke up startled.

She had softly kissed away his confusion, than made him dry off the wet patch as usual, before cuddling up again and falling back to sleep on his shoulder.

Isobel’s brisk voice from the other side of the wall interrupted their current dalliance to the deep annoyance of both.

“Wake up, you two. The morning’s half gone already and we’re wasting time.”

*** Looks like duty calls and Isobel brooks no defiance… We’ll finish this later, Spaceboy***

***That’s what you said yesterday, princess, but all we got was a quickie on that little beach where we healed my scars last night… I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was great, but what happened to all the serious nookie we promised ourselves, let alone enough sleep?***

***Oh, Spaceboy, are you feeling deprived…?***

***More like depraved, if we don’t get some real time together, real soon…***

Michael scowled rebelliously in the direction of the invisible alien girl and pulled Maria against him, settling down for a kiss that must last them until they could find a seriously private time and place to be together.

Maria couldn’t help but notice that Michael’s usual toxic morning breath was no longer evident and assumed that the enforced change from his previous mainly junk food diet was already beginning to kick in. He caught the thought and gave her a playful slap on the butt in retaliation, which then turned into a sensual exploration of her smooth curves.

Isobel’s bossy tones intruded twice more before Michael reluctantly tore his mouth from Maria’s and let her go find something to cover her beautiful nakedness. He idly thought that when they got a place of their own, he would try to talk her into running around nude all the time…

***If you succeed in talking me into it – and I’m no pushover – then I will if you will, Spaceboy. Deal? ***

***Deal, princess. You’ll be bare-assed before the door slams shut on our first day…***

***Well, duh, that’s a given, Michael, first thing we’ll do as a house warming gift to ourselves is make love on the floor, of course. So, yes, you got that part right, but as for the 24/7 nudity plan – still have to convince me, Spaceboy…***

***Won’t be a problem. I got a few ideas already…***

Isobel’s voice sounded once more and this time it carried a threat to come in and drag them out herself if they weren’t ready in two minutes by her watch starting now.

Michael scrambled into his jeans, boots and a sweatshirt in 30 seconds and then spent the remaining 90 seconds sucking the special erogenous zone on Maria’s neck while frantically rubbing her clit through her panties to give her a record-breaking climax that left her breathless on their bed before he stood up, blew her a kiss, pushed aside the canvas door with his powers and stepped impassively out to confront an impatient Isobel, who was dressed in Kyle’s bathrobe and waiting by the tent doorway, where she’d been frowning at the now gentle rain outside.

When she turned to face him, his eyes were flint-hard again and the grim line of his mouth was back.

“Tess.”

It was a statement, not a question, and it conveyed everything he needed to say.

Isobel nodded, but didn’t speak.

“We’ll have breakfast first, then we talk. If the bitch is really back, then we’ll all have to be on guard mentally, as well. I don’t know what we do about Liz, either…”

There was a long, thoughtful, pause during which the sound of Maria rustling among her possessions in their room and singing silently to herself made Michael smile inside despite his current distractions.

A few minutes later, Maria emerged to join them, bare-legged under her parka and clutching a couple of rolled up towels. She went over to stand between them and peer out at the dull, wet morning. No mountain peaks were visible today; the lake was a dull metallic grey, ruffled by raindrops. The paths and grassy areas of the campsite were pooled with patches of surface water everywhere, and the low, dark clouds looked too heavy to move far.

Maria’s sunny mood clouded over to match the morning. Michael’s comment had belatedly reminded her that Kyle’s news and Liz’s reaction wasn’t a bad dream in the night after all. Now she had to face it.

“Is this still your Czhekoslovakian weather magic, guys? ‘Cos if so, can you please blow it away so we can at least have a sunny day, if nothing else? Breakfast sounds good, too, but I think it will have to be eaten indoors this morning…”

As she spoke, she pulled on her boots, ready to go out into the rain and forage for breakfast things after her shower.

“Wait for me, Maria, I’ll come with you. And the weather is no longer alien influenced, it’s become the natural conditions for today. We haven’t got time to mess around with it this morning anyway…”

Isobel quickly blocked what she (wrongly) suspected were Michael’s plans for a leisurely shower with his girlfriend. She wanted no frivolous delays in discussing the new developments and she needed to talk to Kyle urgently about last night’s dreams…

Michael found his own outdoor gear and followed them out into the rain but headed first to the edge of the lake to work his weather magic. If Maria wanted a sunny day, then she should have one. A few minutes concentration and the rain clouds began slowly to pick up speed and move south to bring rain to the desert. Isobel would not approve, but that didn’t bother Michael in the least.

He went over to the shower block next, but once undressed again he couldn’t be bothered to get wet after all, so he gave himself the pleasure of an ‘alien’ scrub-down, the fizzy tingle on his skin refreshing him so much that he felt ready to face the troubled morning ahead of him.

He quickly dressed again to paddle over to the Chevy, where Kyle was asleep in the rear seats, huddled into a ball and clutching an empty mug. As Michael opened the passenger door to climb in, a cloud of heat billowed out into the chilly morning air and the newest alien stirred and shivered in protest.

“Wha – what?” He opened a bleary eye, saw Michael and closed it again, retreating further into himself to conserve warmth. “Cold, man. Too cold and too early. Go away. Wanna sleep…”

Michael grinned evilly.

“Too bad, Valenti. It’s past 9am and Isobel’s gonna be on your case any minute, so you’ve gotta wake up and at least try to defend yourself…she’s a hangin’ judge, so you might want to hire a good lawyer. Oops, bad taste moment there. Seriously, we gotta talk, man. What the f*uck’s been goin’ on with you and Tess?”

Kyle groaned and sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He recalled wanting to talk to Maria first, but it looked as though that wasn’t in the script. He sighed in resignation and started to pour it all out to Michael instead.

“It’s all been happening in dreams. The first night we got here, you know I had that weird dream with Max, Tess and Isobel. It scared me, Guerin, I don’t mind admitting it now. The Tess image was focused on Max. Max was entranced by some shadowy sex scene – and so was my own dream image for a while. Then Isobel herself appeared and I knew she shouldn’t be there, so I somehow pushed her out. Then the green forcefields surrounding Max and me merged and somehow linked us. I could feel the pull in my real self, not just in the dream image. Then Tess noticed me and I felt this real sense of menace…”

He stopped and took a deep breath. Michael said nothing, but his expression was intent as he waited for more.

“Afterwards I got more and more spooked by it. I – I think I knew then that Tess was back, but I wouldn’t or couldn’t admit it to myself… I knew she must have made a connection with Max, that he wasn’t just using it as an excuse to run away, so I tried to avoid any more shared dreams by sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. Well, I managed to sleep quite a lot yesterday, but I didn’t stay awake last night, as we all found out when Liz made her feelings clear…”

He winced at the memory. He thought she might have even left bruises.

“Anyway, after we left you, Liz and I talked about our new powers and then she asked me to stay with her until she fell asleep, which I did. I was practising my control over the lantern one minute, then the next thing I knew I was watching myself in the kitchen at home with Tess cooking dinner. Then it changed to my bedroom and I soon realised it wasn’t really a dream, but a memory…”

Kyle stopped and gazed out of the window as the sun came out through the clouds and sparkled on the lake for a moment. It didn’t register, as his mind was replaying the bedroom scene and he was beginning to burn with anger.

“It was a memory she’d stolen from me when she mind-warped me to forget about what had gone on between us before she, you know, she killed Alex….”

Michael’s expression didn’t change, but he wasn’t as surprised as he might have been. There had been a time when Kyle and Tess had seemed a little more than friendly –around the time they all went to Vegas, as he recalled - and this had taken the heat off Max for a while.

Kyle carried on talking, describing the dream in some detail as if it was cathartic to spill everything at last. If talking helped, then his friend could talk away until he felt better, but Michael wasn’t interested in Kyle’s sex life, so he just waited until Kyle said something relevant to the current issue.

Finally, a remark caught his attention.

“…almost sure she was in Isobel’s dreamwalk with Max again this morning…”

“Whoa, Valenti, what dreamwalk? Isobel dreamwalked? How do you know?”

“That’s what I was just about to tell you – Isobel dreamwalked Max and I got dragged into it somehow.”

There was a knock on the window as Isobel and Maria, both now fully dressed, smelling deliciously of flowers and fruit, opened the doors and slid inside.

“OK, what have we missed?”

Isobel was suspicious, but Maria knew for sure that Kyle had been confiding in Michael although, of course, she hadn’t heard the actual conversation, only felt his reactions. She could tell he wasn’t too happy about what he had learned, so she replied lightly to her friend’s question with a practical suggestion.

“Not breakfast, at least… I’m starving and desperate for coffee. Let’s eat and catch up with Kyle’s news at the same time. We’ll probably have to eat in the vestibule, but as the rain’s stopped -”

***By the way, thanks for that, Spaceboy***

***You’re welcome ***

“- we can cook outside on the grill after all. There are still some fresh supplies in the icebox, so is it toast, eggs, bacon and links for everyone?”

Nobody objected, so all four gathered companionably under the canopy over the grill and prepared the first meal of the day together. Alien powers provided the heat to cook with as none of them wanted to delay their discussion any more than necessary.

When they were ready dish up breakfast, Maria set out a plate for Liz and volunteered to take it to her tent. Before Michael could object to this, Isobel suggested that Kyle go instead.

“You need to make peace with her. This is a good excuse.”

“Well, ok, I guess – although I think she was way out of line to take it out on me so violently. It wasn’t as if I did it on purpose…”

Isobel was snappish.

“Oh, stop bitching, Kyle, and just get on with it. The sooner you two make up the sooner we can all get back to talking to each other and the sooner we can deal with this Tess thing. Liz has a duty to contribute to our defence, too. We are all in this together.”

Maria mildly pointed out what they all seemed to have forgotten in the rush of events.

“She doesn’t know about all the weird dream stuff, remember? We never told her because she was so upset about Max already and we didn’t want to make it worse. She only heard Kyle calling Tess’ name in the night. Her outburst was probably a delayed reaction and only what she should have done to Max at the time… Liz doesn’t want to believe that Tess is still alive.”

“None of us do, Maria, but we’ve just got to deal and so has she.”

Isobel was in her Ice Queen mood this morning. The dreamwalk with Max and Kyle had upset her and she didn’t know whether to be angry or sad for them, but she knew she was afraid so she covered her fear with bossy hauteur.

Kyle reluctantly set off with a loaded plate and a glass of milk towards Liz’s tent and returned a few minutes later with the contents strewn artistically about his person.

He licked with apparent pleasure at the milk streaming down his face, and chewed on a slice of toast as he strolled towards them.

“Food eaten outside always seems to taste better somehow, don’t you think, Isobel?”

He sarcastically quoted her remark from the first meal they’d eaten on the evening of their arrival.

There was a breathless pause, then a simultaneous burst of helpless hysteria took them all, Michael included. Maria frantically made gestures for them to keep the noise down and they all tried hard, snorting and wheezing, so that Liz wouldn’t hear them and be offended even more than she was already.

In fact, perversely, this display served to raise her stock a little in the general estimation of the group. Maybe Liz Parker was beginning to be less of a doormat after all, away from the influence of the ex-King of Antar.

A giggling Isobel proceeded to clean up Kyle, gingerly removing the fried egg from his shoulder with kitchen tongs and depositing it in the trash bag, then giving in and waving her hand over him, leaving an unsullied surface behind.

He winked at her in thanks, and she affectionately brushed a non-existent crumb from his collar as they shared the unexpected laughter that had become a necessity to both in their continuing struggle to retain their sanity and survive.

Laughter was lacking a short time later when all four sat around the vestibule as they had the previous night, while the sun shone down outside and the ground steamed as it dried out from all the rain. Kyle and Isobel brought them all up to speed with the events in their dreams.

Kyle tried again to explain why he’d had such a strong reaction to the first dream and why he’d involuntarily called out Tess’ name when he realised that she could actually see him in the memory dream.

“After she left for Antar, I used to have these dreams sometimes, where we would all be a happy family, you know, Tess, my dad and me. I used to wake up missing her, before I remembered what she did to Alex. She messed with his mind for months before she killed him. I hate her, God knows I do, but that memory – it was so vivid… I really did have feelings for her back then and I’m sure she felt something for me too…we might have been great together, if she hadn’t destroyed it all. That’s when I recognised her re-living the memory with me…”

Michael frowned. He was interested, but not particularly sympathetic, and he certainly had no time for maudlin thoughts about ‘might have been’. Tess could yet turn out to be a new threat to their safety. He had to make Kyle face reality; to guard against Tess manipulating him by using sentimental memories from the past, if that was what she was doing.

Some brutal directness should bring his friend back to his senses.

“So you fucked her, then she wiped your memory, killed Alex and used you to dispose of his body. What a sweetheart. No wonder you miss her…”

Kyle rolled his eyes in angry frustration.

“No, Guerin. I’m trying to say that I DON’T miss her - when I’m awake, that is. I’m trying to say that I think she’s messing with my mind again and I’m @#%$-scared. She’s already reeled Max in. Is it me next?"

He looked round at their startled faces.

"What does she want and who’s she gonna kill to get it this time?”

********

Chapter Thirty-Two

Bright sunlight sparkled on the water in an invitation to explore the lovely morning outside, but those within the tent were oblivious.

Fear and panic gripped them all as Kyle’s words brought the horror of the past few weeks back into their still-shocked minds. Nobody had yet remembered it was a week ago tonight that they had been driven from their homes and families into an uncertain and dangerous future.

Isobel looked angry and scared. All her old fears rushed back to overwhelm her; she remembered Alex and felt a sickening wave of grief and loss pass through her.

Maria looked at Michael, anxiety clouding her green eyes. He stared back, and she could hear his thoughts before he spoke and feel his protective instincts battle through his own sense of shock and revulsion at the reappearance of the tiny girl.

“She used Max, she killed that poor bastard Alex and now she may be trying to use Kyle. If it wasn’t for that, I’d say we ignore her and keep well away from the little bitch. But we gotta defend Kyle and the rest of us. Can’t just let her take whatever she wants without a fight from us.”

Maria looked round at the other three and went straight to the point.

“Whatever she wants, she must want it real bad for her to give up her baby, destroy her spaceship, pretend to be dead and take off alone…”

Michael’s warrior instincts were rising to the surface and his long-held philosophy – ‘know your enemy’ – began to kick into play.

“She isn’t defenceless with that mind-warping power, and the fire-storm thing, so taking off alone wouldn’t bother her. What we need to know now is just where has she run to?”

Isobel came out of her trance to join in their speculation.

“Max is heading north-east, so I’d guess New York City…”

“Yeah, Isobel, and who do we know in NooYawk City…?”

Realisation dawned.

“Rath and Lonnie! Oh, my God, Michael. You think she’s hooked up with them?”

“How would I know, Iz? I’m just guessing. We still don’t know what she wants, but it seems she can dreamwalk somehow, too, now. What else can she do and what defence have we got against her?”

They had been so engrossed in their conversation that the noise of a vehicle approaching came as another shock and they all froze into inaction for a moment, until Michael stood hurriedly up and walked out of the tent, leaving the others to follow.

Maria was hard on his heels, catching his elbow and being towed along with him as he strode over to meet an older man in a Ranger’s uniform, who was stepping out of a big 4x4 parked nose to nose with the Chevy.

Michael tried hard to be casual and relaxed, but he was still too tense and suspicious from the Tess revelations and he radiated such barely controlled hostility that the smile on the Ranger’s face faltered for a moment.

Maria sent Michael a quick reassurance that she would deal with this and she felt him relax slightly.

***Chill, Michael, he doesn’t look like he’s going to attack right this minute. Leave it to me…***

She beamed at the man, whose silver-streaked blond hair and rugged good looks were distinguished and also faintly familiar. He turned to her with an air of slightly amused appreciation.

“A smile from a beautiful girl always adds an extra sparkle to a lovely morning like this one.”

***Hey, what? Is he hittin’ on you? I’ll –***

***Chill, Michael, chill. He’s only being friendly and charming. Down, boy…***

***Like hell he is. Any more “friendly charm” directed at you and I’ll make him itch so much he won’t be able to…***

***Just cool your jets, Michael. It’s sooo nothing. Let me just find out what he wants, without you scowling at him like he’s the big, bad and making him suspicious…***

Their mental exchange was so fast that the man noticed nothing and was still smiling at Maria as she replied to his pleasantry.

“It certainly is a beautiful day now, although we thought the rain last night was never going to stop.”

“Weather in the mountains is unpredictable, sometimes dangerously so, and that’s really what brings me out here today. I’m Steven Yardley, Ben’s father. His mother and I want to thank you kids for rescuing my son during the storm yesterday. If you hadn’t brought him into the ranger station so quickly he might easily have lain unconscious out there for much longer and died of cold and exposure before the rescue party found him...”

Michael had relaxed enough to join in the conversation, although he was still wary of this stranger and not entirely convinced that his interest in Maria was completely innocent. He’d watched enough guys check out his girlfriend in the Crashdown not to recognise the signs.

However, he made an effort to sound friendly and interested.

“No need for thanks, we were just glad to help. How is …Ben, this morning? Last we heard, he was on his way to hospital for an overnight stay…”

The man gave Michael an approving smile, pleased that he had dropped the initial hostile manner, even if the friendliness was strained. He was used to teenage boys and their hormone-driven attitudes, so he graciously ignored the lapse in manners. The blonde girl was pretty enough for any boy to be jealously possessive over.

“Ben is doing fine, he’s coming home today and the doctor says he has to rest, so his mother is happy that she can fuss over him for a few days. I think she’s the one who’s suffered most over the ordeal so she wants him under her eye where he can keep out of trouble. He doesn’t remember anything about it at all; the last thing he recalls is meeting your friends in the woods and running for shelter in the boathouse. Are they around so I can thank them, too?”

Maria was horrified to find that she couldn’t remember their ID names, even her own. To her relief, Michael prompted her.

*** I should have put the practice in. My bad. Thanks, Spaceboy. ***

***Whatever. Just tell the guy…***

“Sure, ..er…Ellie and Dave are still finishing breakfast – we all woke up late this morning – and Susan’s still asleep, I think. I’ll go wake her up.”

“No, don’t disturb her rest. Some folks find they need a few days to acclimatise to the mountain air. Rick, back at the station, said that your friend was a little sensitive and shaken up by the ordeal, but wouldn’t let the medics check her over. Is she ok now?”

While they had been talking, Isobel and Kyle had emerged from the tent and come over to join them. Isobel overheard the question and spoke up as she reached the little group by the Chevy.

“She was fine last night, just very tired. I expect she’ll sleep late today.”

The Ranger knew a classic beauty when she smiled at him and hurried to introduce himself.

“I’m Steven Yardley, Head Ranger here at River Lake Falls, and as I just told your friends, I’ve come to thank you for saving my son’s life yesterday. Ben maybe wouldn’t have made it without you all…and although I know your names from the accident report, I can’t yet put names to faces….”

Isobel smiled at him again.

“I’m Elinor Morgan, you’ve just met Lisa Cooper and Mark Hammett and this is David Jameson.”

She gestured to Kyle, who was as silent and wary as Michael had been. However, he leaned forward and politely shook the hand extended by the older man.

Isobel didn’t want them to appear to be in any rush to be rid of the man. After all, they were supposed to be on vacation, so she turned on her charm and hospitality.

“Can we offer you some coffee - it’s freshly made and still hot?”

Steven Yardley politely refused as he had a busy day ahead, but he lingered to ask a favor and offer an invitation.

“I know that Ben will want to meet you all to say thank you himself. He’s a guy who feels trapped inside four walls and visitors of his own age will be good for him. How about you all come over and stay for dinner tomorrow evening. My wife is looking forward to it and we would be very pleased if you’d accept.”

Just as the others, embarrassed, were casting round for polite ways to refuse, they all heard Michael accept the invitation with something approaching alacrity and were shocked into silence as Ben’s father named the time and gave directions, before waving his farewells and departing.

Isobel and Kyle turned furiously on Michael as soon as the 4x4 disappeared along the track.

“What the hell were you thinking, Michael? Our lives are in danger; he could be the enemy. We should be avoiding people, not partying.”

“Yeah, what happened to ‘trust no one’, Guerin?” Kyle suddenly discovered some lingering doubts about the lack of pursuit theory.

Michael was unmoved by their complaints.

“This isn’t a matter of trust. Of course I don’t trust him. I’d be the first one to say no, if I thought it was suspicious, but Liz needs to check out her ‘vision’ in case it’s a real threat to us. This is the best way - invitation innocently accepted, no suspicious effort needed on our part. We take all the precautions we can.”

“What if it’s a trap? We just can’t risk it…”

Isobel’s voice rose in the beginnings of panic. She wasn’t ready to back down so Michael tried to reassure her.

“We will be ready to run if we need to. We’ll get as much stuff packed up ready in the truck as we can. The tents can be struck and packed real quick by ‘alien’ methods if we have time to get back to the camp.”

“What if we can’t get back here to collect our things, Michael?”

“Then we leave them, Isobel and we start over. We’ve done it once; we can do it again. We’ll carry everything we can with us in the Chevy in case we have to take off, but I don’t believe we will. I don’t believe it will come to that, Iz.”

Maria, seeing her distress, had already moved to take the taller girl’s hand in her own.

“It’s only been a week since we had to run from Roswell. We’ve made it this far ok and we can keep running if we have to. We’re strong together as a unit, Isobel and we’ve got powers not of this Earth on our side. We’ll do what we have to do to survive. You know we will, don’t you, chica?”

Isobel nodded and looked a little less strained. There was a short silence when nobody knew what to say next, then Kyle abruptly announced that he needed a bathroom break and headed off across the campsite.

The others moved away from the truck and back towards the tent, but Michael really didn’t think it was good for them all to continue the tense, fearful mood of their interrupted discussion about Tess, now with the added prospect of dinner with strangers tomorrow evening.

They’d all had yet another stressful, interrupted night and it would be a waste of precious time to spend the rest of the day obsessing over things as yet out of their control.

“Hey, why waste a morning like this when we can talk about everything this evening round the fire after dinner? There’s nothing any of us can do today about any of it, so let’s chill like we’re on vacation.”

This attitude surprised and disconcerted Isobel, who expected him to share her anxieties and want an instant plan of action. She sounded cross.

“What’s wrong with you, Michael? You were always the impatient one, the one who saw danger everywhere and wanted instant action: always bugging Max and me to do something stupidly impulsive instead of taking time to think things through properly. Now you’re saying don’t worry, have fun?"

Michael automatically dried off the picnic table and benches with his powers and waited until they all sat down before he replied to her question.

“That was Roswell, this is now. It’s a new life, Iz. It’s freedom to be whoever we want to be. I was trapped in Roswell. Not just waiting for the ship to come get us, but by everyone’s expectations of me. Well, nobody had any expectations of me except the worst - they just saw me as a loser. Called me a screw up who always had to be rescued from all the trouble I brought down on us. But it seems to me that my screw ups weren’t really so many or so bad as all that - some of them, in fact, even had good results – but I still got the bad rep… and I wallowed in self-pity – so what?”

Maria, sitting next to him, slid a hand onto his knee in silent support as he carried on talking, his bitterness and anger growing with every painful memory recalled.

“I lived down to people’s expectations and, ok, I admit I sometimes liked to shock them with just how far I would go. I told myself I didn’t care, but I really did. Only it wasn’t until I met Maria that I thought there might be some hope for me not to be alone on this planet. But I always knew that I would have to run some day and I always knew I’d have to be prepared in order to survive. It’s true that knowledge is power. ‘Know your enemy’ isn’t a joke, as I keep on telling everyone.”

He paused and looked hard at Isobel, who was shocked yet again into silence.

“You once asked me what secrets I kept from you and Max. Well, one of them was education. I’m very far from stupid, Isobel. Our ‘designer’ DNA would have to make sure of it. You and Max should have recognised that, at least. I made some stupid mistakes, yeah, but who doesn’t? I’m still a teenager; it’s normal. Not gonna beat myself up over what’s past anymore.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he ignored her and carried on. Now he’d started, it seemed he couldn’t stop.

“Neither of you ever asked where I went when I couldn’t sleep on Max’s floor. I got used to the fact that Max didn’t care, but I knew you did, Iz. You used to make me food parcels for Christmas and Thanksgiving and all the other human holidays and pretend it was a family tradition to give them to all your friends. I hated it, but I loved you for it too. You were the only one who cared enough to worry that I had enough to eat…”

His voice had lost it’s anger and he smiled across at her. Then he noticed that her eyes were shining with tears and reached for her hand.

“Hey, Iz, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. You did good. I used to hole up in the public library for countless nights, many times with your special holiday food parcels, and all the books I could wish for. I loved it. Don’t feel sorry for me, Iz. I wasn’t so good at using my powers, and maybe I hid behind my stonewall, but that’s how I gave myself an education, ready for surviving in the big world outside Roswell, when the day came to run…”

He gently released her hand as Isobel smiled shakily at him through her unshed tears and tried to get a grip on herself. Kyle joined them having come back from his shower via his tent to change. He picked up on the emotional vibes, but not the reason for them.

Isobel repeated her first comment, not yet having got a satisfactory answer.

“Still don’t understand why you want us to have fun, Michael. We’re still under threat. Surely we should be making plans for our defence…?”

“We need to relax whenever we get a chance, Iz. We must be at the top of our game when we need to react to danger, so we can’t be on red alert the whole time or we’ll get too tired and lose our edge.”

Maria backed him up.

“We need time out. That’s what this stay in the park is for. So let’s go with Michael’s plan and have as much fun as we can. Anyone got any ideas on where to start?”

They all looked out over the now calm, blue lake reflecting the sky and snow-capped mountain peaks rimming the bowl.

“We could…um…take a picnic and go for a hike to find the famous waterfall, or take a boat out on the lake.”

“The picnic hike sounds good, but let’s save that for tomorrow. Too much energy needed for that. Maybe we can take a boat out this afternoon, though. Get an idea of where we are, maybe scout a beach for an evening barbeque…”

Kyle was getting into it, pleased not to have to think about his worries until the evening. Michael had made a good point there. Time out was a necessity to rebuild their strength.

***Let’s make sure we have a boat to ourselves, Spaceboy. Maybe we can find another, more private beach…***

***I think maybe you just read my mind, princess…***

Kyle remembered another of the aims for their ‘vacation’ in the park and reminded Michael that the fishing gear hadn’t yet been unpacked ready for use.

“This morning would be a good time, as the fish should be rising from all the recent rain. This is a designated fishing area, so let’s try to catch lunch from the rocks…”

Michael was up for it and the two guys dragged the gear out of the Chevy and over to the picnic table to unpack it. Kyle was secretly pleased to be the teacher to Michael’s student for once.

Meanwhile the girls were discussing what they might do for the rest of the morning. Maria was keen to get some chores out of the way before she could think about having fun. Not that she didn’t find this domestic goddess thing surprisingly satisfying, too.

“I need to go to the store at some point for fresh stuff for dinner tonight. I need to choose a recipe and write out a list first.”

“Best to go this morning, as we don’t know if we’ll have time to get back from the boat trip before the store closes. We need to see about hiring a boat, too…is there anything in the handouts we’ve got? I think they’re in the Chevy somewhere.”

“Let’s leave Liz to wake up and join us when she’s ready. We can leave her a note if she hasn’t surfaced by the time we go to the store. She'll have calmed down and won’t want to miss the boat trip.”

Isobel went to find the handouts while Maria hunted in the tent for her cookbook and something to write on. Both girls felt their friendship deepen and grow stronger as they organised their morning.

Finally, they annexed the other picnic table near to the girls’ tent and sat down companionably to read and write together in the morning sun as the guys set off towards the lake with their fishing rods.

The sun had grown hotter as it rose in the sky and after a few minutes Isobel remembered her sunhat and shades, back in her tent. She reminded Maria about this and the small girl left to stroll over to her own tent to fetch hers after writing a note for Liz.

“Leave it outside her door now, so we don’t have to disturb her again when we go to the store.”

Isobel approached her own tent quietly, trying to avoid disturbing Liz, still fast asleep.

She pulled aside the canvas door and went in, re-arranging the the molecules to fix the note to the inner wall where Liz would see it. Then she found her hat and shades and took a peek through the half-open doorway into Liz’s ‘room’.

Liz’s bed was neatly made, but there was no sign of her outdoor clothes or her backpack.

It looked like Liz had gone…

********

Chapter Thirty-Three

Isobel’s anxious eyes fell on a scrap of paper lying beside Liz’s pillow and she walked over to pick it up.

‘I need time out from everything today, so I’ll stop by the visitors’ center for a map of the hiking trails then I’m going to head for the falls. I’ll be back before dark. Don’t worry about me. Liz.’

Isobel shook her head sadly. She thought that it would take more than a day’s hiking to sort Liz out. Willingly or not, she’d soon have to learn more about the mysterious reappearance of Tess and that would only mess with her head even more.

Going outside into the morning sunshine again, she saw Maria returning with her sunhat and shades and went to meet her. After the small blonde read the note, with a heavy sigh that clearly conveyed her feelings, they both wandered over to find the guys out on the rocks.

Both were deeply engrossed in the fishing lesson. Kyle was showing Michael how to cast his line with the correct twist and flick of the wrist to place his bait exactly where he wanted it to drop into the water. Michael was laughing as he used his powers to untangle and re-wind a ‘bird’s nest’ of fishing line where his first cast had gone spectacularly awry.

It made Maria feel warm inside to see her Spaceboy having a truly carefree time enjoying himself with a friend for once. Her own growing closeness to Isobel was a secret comfort to herself, as well. The day had stretched ahead offering the rare prospect of irresponsible pleasure until they had found the note from Liz...

Michael already knew Maria was on her way over and looked up to watch her approach along the rocks to the spot that Kyle had chosen – one a little further to the north of their campsite.

Kyle tried not to stare at Isobel as openly as Michael was looking at Maria, but it was hard when both girls were wearing tiny t-shirts and shorts, showing lots of smooth, satin, sun-kissed skin.

***Oh, God, Maria, why do you have to wander around practically naked in public? Do you really have to torture me like this? I want you so bad, it’s just too cruel. Go cover up before I…lose my...mind. Not that covering up would do any good. I know what’s underneath. I want you real bad, real soon, princess. Oh, God… ***

By this time Maria had arrived and deliberately added to his torment by wrapping herself around him, laughing delightedly as she felt his incipient erection and rubbing herself lightly against him. He smacked her ass hard, but the sting unexpectedly increased her enjoyment, which made catch her breath and giggle again, grabbing his ass to pull him even closer.

***Ditto, Michael. I want you soooo bad, too. Oh, God, how I want you… but you know we just can’t right now, too public. Besides, Liz has…***

*** Liz! I should have fucking expected it! It just had to be Parker again, ruining the moment, didn’t it…? Ok, where is she? What’s she done now?***

This brought them both abruptly back to their surroundings and he took the opportunity to turn her around and hold her against him, partly to hide his erection, (now rapidly deflating at the thought of Liz Parker and, inevitably, more trouble) and partly just for the rare opportunity to touch his girlfriend, in public, during daylight hours.

Isobel had wisely avoided looking in their direction, suspecting that something - undoubtedly of an embarrassing nature - would be taking place between those two. Maria’s giggles gave it way. To be fair, they had been discreet in displaying their affections so far, with the exception of the unwittingly noisy early morning encounter that everyone had heard through the walls in the last motel, but she knew it must be very hard for them in the camp with no real privacy.

She decided to suggest the group took two boats out after lunch and go their separate ways to explore the lake. She stopped herself before her thoughts carried on any further in that direction. No point in stirring up any more grief with private longings for her lost husband’s attentions. Today was for mindless relaxation. She looked over at Kyle, whose attention was focussed on carefully reeling in his line to prevent snags.

“Liz has left a note and gone off on her own for the day.”

Both guys looked up at Isobel’s announcement.

“Good and not so good, I guess.”

“Why so, Guerin? She needs to chill and if this is a good way for her to calm down, then let her go.”

“It’s good that she’s doing something positive for herself for a change. Hope it helps. Not so good she’s out there on her own, with no food or water and she attracts trouble, no doubt about it…”

“Don’t worry about the food and water, Spaceboy. She’s going to stop by the visitor’s center to pick up a map of the hiking trails and then head for the falls. She won’t starve; she’ll buy food at the store and she said she’ll be back before nightfall.”

“Oh, then it gets even better. She’s probably a celebrity at the visitor’s centre for heroically rescuing ranger-boy from certain death. Lucky they don’t know that she was responsible for it in the first place. Anyway, they might easily make a big fuss of her and ask all kinds of personal questions. Way to avoid attention. Who knows what answers she’ll give? Then when we turn up in her wake to book boats and buy our own supplies, we may get just as much attention and it’ll look damn suspicious if we don’t read from the same script.”

“Quick, then, Isobel, we’ll take the Chevy and head her off at the pass. It’s been about an hour since she left, if she took off straight after dumping her breakfast on Kyle. It’ll take her well over an hour to walk, but we should be only ten minutes in the truck, so there’s a good chance we can catch her before she gets there.”

“Let’s go, Maria. See you guys later, ok.”

The two girls took off over the rocks back to the camp, leaping and hopping as fast as they could without falling. Maria jumped into the passenger seat of the Chevy while Isobel zapped the engine on with her powers and pulled out in a hurry.

Liz was wandering along beside the trail, hat and shades in place and backpack on her shoulders, when the truck pulled up beside her and Isobel leaned out.

“Liz, get in, we need to talk.”

Liz hesitated, looking mulish for a moment, then it hit her that it might be trouble, so she hurried to comply.

“What’s wrong? Is there trouble?”

“Not yet, but there might be. Good thing we found your note just in time. We came to warn you that there might be questions at the visitors’ center.”

Maria leaned over the back of her seat to look earnestly at Liz.

“Yes, Michael says that you’ll probably be a celebrity because you rescued Ben and if anyone recognises you they’ll be sure to ask questions. We haven’t thought to work out a plausible background story for us all yet and we would look suspicious if we’d turned up later ourselves with different answers about where we come from…”

Liz looked surprised, then thoughtful.

“Michael’s right, I never thought of that. We should agree on a story, if we’re going to the store right now…”

Isobel remembered that she’d set up the basics when they’d first met Ben.

“All anyone knows right now is what I told Ben when we met, plus the information in the accident report yesterday”.

Maria summed it up.

“So the three of us are step-sisters from ‘all over’ and Michael and Kyle drove here from Iowa. We’re here on the last summer vacation before college: a road trip to Mexico. What info did you put in the report?”

“Just all our ID names and false addresses for me and Michael. I had to think on my feet, so Michael is from Iowa Falls and I’m from Seattle. We didn’t need to go into detail about the rest of us, thank goodness. Too complicated. I’m already regretting I said we were step-sisters…”

“Never mind, Izzy, we can sort it out tonight. Today, we just have fun…”

“What do we say if anyone does ask us questions at the center?”

“Just that we were glad to help and so sorry, but we are in a hurry to get back to the camp right now. That’s all the public needs to know. We can block any other questions as intrusive. Just be vague or ignore the question. If you must answer, then remember what you said and report it to the rest of us. We’ll need to make it an extra good story by tomorrow night, though. It won’t be so easy to avoid questions then.”

Liz was suspicious and it sounded sharply in her voice. Were they excluding her again…?

“What’s happening tomorrow night? Did I miss something?”

Isobel was cool on that one.

“You missed a lot, Liz, but we’ll bring you up to speed tonight after dinner when we all share what we know. Michael wants us to relax and have fun today. If you hadn’t taken off without telling anyone this morning, you’d know we’re going to hire boats after lunch to explore the lake and maybe find a beach for a barbeque one night.”

Liz didn’t miss the chill in her tone, so she turned to Maria. In times long gone it seemed, Maria could be relied upon to provide a shoulder to cry on, but recently her attitude had been unpredictable and sometimes even hostile, so Liz didn’t always find the sympathy she expected.

“That sounds like fun. I’ll think I’ll come with you, instead. I’ve been hiking for over than an hour and it’s more tiring than I thought. I can easily change my plans. I was going to buy food at the visitors’ center. I’m so hungry right now and I was going to take a picnic for later…”

She suddenly recalled that she’d thrown her breakfast over Kyle and blushed in embarrassment. However, the other two suddenly grinned at her and Isobel started the engine so she bit her lip and kept quiet.

The visitors’ center was there before they knew it. Liz had been closer than she’d thought so Maria and Isobel had only just caught her in time.

The parking lot was surprisingly busy, with several cars and trucks loaded with camping gear obviously recently arrived. It occurred to all of them that this could mean that they’d be lucky and escape unwanted attention after all. However, it could also mean new neighbors…

Pulling up as far as possible from the Rangers’ station, the girls headed towards two adjoining outbuildings of rustic appearance that catered to the needs of the guests staying in the park. The larger one was devoted to camping and outdoor pursuits, but the separate store next to it sold a surprisingly wide range of food, including excellent fresh produce, some of which was enticingly displayed in half-barrels outside. Maria had discovered this when she’d shopped for their evening meal after they’d ‘rescued’ Ben and was confident that she could find what she needed inside today, too. Camping was an increasingly luxurious and sophisticated pastime, it seemed.

Once in the store, Liz headed for the fresh snacks cabinet, needing something quick and filling to eat. She chose a small cheese-and-salad filled baguette and, in a rush of daring, a small carton of strawberry-flavored milk. Then she went to find Isobel and Maria to tell them she would be eating her sandwich in the truck as she was too hungry to wait for them. Both shrugged indifferently. Maria, her woefully incomplete list left back at the camp, was deep into trying to recall the ingredients and quantities she’d need to feed five hungry people for dinner that night, plus enough milk, bread and fresh supplies for lunch today, breakfast tomorrow and the picnic hike. Isobel was keeping track of the list, prompting her and arranging the items in the shopping cart ready for efficient packing at the check-out.

It took them 45 minutes but finally they emerged into the sunshine pleased with themselves and their efforts. Liz was sitting in the Chevy, watching the comings and goings of the other guests and staff. When the others arrived, she got out to help them load their groceries into the cargo space.

“It’s way past noon. What took you so long? You’ve been forever and I was about to come find you…Michael was right about the celebrity thing. Several of the park staff waved or stopped to say hello in passing and the woman who offered us drinks at the ranger station stopped to thank us and stayed on to give me an update on Ben’s condition. Luckily she was in a hurry and rushed off without asking any personal questions.”

Isobel and Maria exchanged an eloquent glance. Both desperately wanted to say something scathing but both knew that the resulting hostilities would ruin the day for all of them, not just the self-centered girl before them, complaining in faintly sulky tones at their tardiness.

“We were planning and shopping for our next four meals, Liz. That does take some time, you know…

“Four meals? You really don’t need to shop so far ahead, Maria. We could easily have come here again tomorrow. The produce would be fresher, too. Look, that sign says it’s fresh daily…”

Isobel had now had just about enough of hearing Maria being patronised by Liz Parker.

“We’re trying to keep a low profile here, Liz, but after your little episode with Ben yesterday, we are in danger of becoming local celebrities. Already we are booked for dinner with Ben and his parents tomorrow night, purely so you can have another try at getting a vision.”

Liz gasped in horror at the prospect. Isobel ignored her and continued speaking to her like she wasn’t the smartest girl in the class.

“Meanwhile, we can’t make too many guest appearances here at the visitors’ center in case people get too friendly and ask questions – even supposedly innocent ‘where are you from?’ type questions – and remember us too clearly for safety. Our enemies are still out there somewhere, even if we’ve shaken them off for the moment. Understand, Liz? Oh, and the other reason, which you’d know if you hadn’t sneaked off this morning thoughtlessly worrying us all, is that the rest of us plan to go on an all-day picnic hike to the falls tomorrow and we need food for that.”

Liz took offence at the tone, after all she couldn’t choose when she got her visions and she hadn’t meant to hurt Ben. However, Isobel was right in part, she should have told someone where she was going instead of just leaving a note.

It was lucky for her that they’d found her, because she had begun to regret her decision to spend the whole day alone and would now much prefer to spend it having fun in a boat instead. So she meekly accepted Isobel’s attitude and said nothing.

Maria finished loading the last bag into the truck and turned to Liz.

“Do you want to come with us or stay with the truck while Izzy and I go book the boats? It’s only in the camping store over there, I saw the poster as we passed by earlier…shouldn’t take long.”

Liz elected to go with them, figuring it looked a little unfriendly to remain with the truck and, besides, she really wanted to be friends again. She noted jealously that Maria was now calling Isobel by a pet name. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing Maria’s friendship, especially to Isobel, so she resolved once more to mend her ways and pay attention to her best friend. Starting today.

The desk where the boats could be booked was at the back of the camping store, so that customers had to wander around among the merchandise before they found it.

The girls, however, were not tempted to browse as they had seen too many similar places in the last week and were all shopped out for camping gear.

When they reached the desk, the clerk was friendly and helpful, offering a choice between sailboats or wooden rowboats and finally booking two rowboats, but with no outboard engines as they were against park policy. Muscle power was the only acceptable means of propulsion, said the clerk proudly. Maria briefly considered asking why then did they use 4x4s in the park when horses would be more appropriate to that theory, but she let it go.

A few minutes later, arrangements had been made for the boats to be ready for them by 2pm at the pier nearest to their campsite, together with someone who would give them a short lesson in handling the boats and instructions in basic safety. However, they had to be returned to base by dusk. No sailing was permitted after dark.

It was only when Isobel showed her fake ID that the guy seemed to recognise them, although he was a stranger to all three.

“You’re the kids who rescued Ben Yardley when he was struck by lightning in the storm yesterday! All the staff at the station when you brought him in say that you saved his life. What exactly happened out there?”

The clerk leaned forward, eager to hear their version of events with his own ears.

They all smiled bashfully and Isobel told him their story, ending on a prosaic, low-key note.

“No heroics were involved and, thankfully, Ben was not even hurt, as his father told us earlier this morning. We were just glad to help and thankful that he’s ok.”

The clerk seemed a little disappointed with the lack of dramatic detail and was about to ask further questions, when Maria chimed in to say that they had to hurry back to cook lunch now if they were to be ready when the boats arrived. She smiled at him to soften the blow, and he handed over a form with the date, time and details of their boat hire agreement for Isobel to sign.

A few moments later they were on their way back to the camp again, Liz making an effort to talk about their plans for the afternoon and the places of interest to look out for around the lake. Liz sounded relaxed, optimistic and friendly, eerily like the ghost of her old, pre-Max self, and Maria felt suddenly hopeful that her carefree, childhood friend was still in there somewhere.

“We won’t be going very far, though, if we have to row everywhere and get back in time for dusk.”

“Never mind, Liz, just being in a boat on the lake is excitement enough for me. You know I’ve never even been in a boat of any kind, so this is a real adventure. How about you two? Any salty sea stories to share?”

“I’ve been out in sailboats when I was in…um…Florida, and sometimes in rowboats when we went on family vacations. I enjoyed it, but I never learned to sail or row. Maybe we can both try this afternoon… What about you, Isobel?”

“I’ve sailed during vacations when I was much younger. My dad used to take us out on sailboats when we went to the coast to visit our grandparents, because he lived by the sea when he was a child. I remember Max was usually seasick…”

Liz didn’t want to hear about Max and Isobel didn’t really want the pain of recalling happy-family memories, so both were glad to arrive back at camp.

The guys were still out of sight along the shore, so the girls unpacked and stored the groceries, leaving out only those needed for lunch a little later on and then freshened up before going to find out how many fish they’d caught. Maria had felt Michael’s excitement from halfway down the track, so the dramatic scene that met their eyes wasn’t a total surprise to her, though she hid it well, determined to keep their secret mind-link private to themselves.

Kyle and Michael each had a fishing rod held upright, with the tip bent over by a taut line stretching out into the deep waters of the lake.

Michael’s rod was resting in a metal holder jammed among the rocks while he knelt several feet away beside Kyle, who was excitedly reeling in his line with something splashing fiercely on the end. Michael had a net in his hand and was leaning forward ready to catch the struggling fish as it came within his reach. Both guys were shouting encouragement to each other, oblivious to their audience of mostly admiring girls. Liz held back, still not having forgiven Kyle.

When the fish lay gasping in the net, Kyle showed Michael how to kill it with a sharp blow of the weighted fish club and remove the fly-baited hook to use again.

Both guys were flushed with pride and achievement at their catch. Kyle had caught many fish with his dad over the years, but never lost the feeling of triumph every time he landed one.

Michael, too, hadn’t felt so much excitement at catching wild food since he’d hunted rabbits for the pot with Jed on their expeditions to Frasier Woods.

The very real prospect of having to be self-sufficient in the backwoods for several months seemed more do-able now that they had both hunting and fishing skills at their command.

The girls would certainly have to learn to fish soon, if not hunt.

***Already told you I can do anything if I have to, Michael, hunting and fishing included. When you catch your first fish I’ll be ready to cook it, same for your next rabbit, you’ll see***

***I know you will, Maria, I have faith. It’s the other two who’ll have to be convinced. How did you get on at the visitors’ center? See you found the runaway. Did she put up much of a fight?***

***None at all, Michael. We found her just in time and we only met one guy who asked questions. Isobel handled it by keeping strictly to the storyline and being bashfully reluctant to talk about it***

As they conversed in their private way, the group began to pack up the fishing gear and move back across the rocks to their camp, Kyle jauntily carrying his fish and giving an unexpectedly interested Isobel a moment by moment account of the battle.

Liz, still avoiding him, followed beside Maria in sympathetic silence thinking she must be pre-occupied with the daunting prospect of cooking the fish for lunch. In reality, Maria was still bringing Michael up to speed with events.

***Liz has decided to come on the boat trip this afternoon. I think she secretly regretted going off alone quite soon after she started off, so she came back with us instead***

***No way – NO FUCKING WAY - is she coming with us in the boat, Maria. I’m going to have you all to myself all afternoon without her materialising like some demonspawn from ‘Buffy’ at all the wrong moments. She can butt out for once and go bother Isobel. Ok, so she’s still not speaking to Kyle, but he brought it on himself by sleeping with her in the first place. Let them fight it out in the middle of the lake. I’m sick of the sight of her ***

Maria’s sudden burst of shock and outrage took him by surprise.

***Kyle SLEPT with her? And you didn’t TELL me? What were you THINKING, Michael?***

***Chill, princess. I wouldn’t keep that kind of news from you, no way. Wouldn’t dare. He didn’t SLEEP with her the way you mean, just stayed with her until she fell asleep last night, because she asked him to, then he fell asleep as well and had the latest ‘Tess’ dream that he told you about himself. So, no need to get excited, princess. Save that for later when YOU. SLEEP. WITH. ME… or better yet, …don’t sleep…***

***Ok, have you finished shouting yet?***

***ME shouting? YOU started it… ok, it’s old. Kyle wants his fish cooked for lunch.***

***You can stop with the sneaky diversionary tactics, Spaceboy. I don’t have a bet with Kyle. He can cook his own fish…***

Moments later she announced that fact to the fisherman himself, when he batted his eyelashes at her hopefully.

“Sorry, Kyle, you’re on your own for this one. I haven’t quite reached that chapter in the cookbook yet…”

Kyle grinned. Well, it had been worth a try.

He went over to fire up some briquettes on the grill and find a sharp knife and fresh water to clean and gut the plump, iridescent fish. Maria followed his every move with close attention, forgetting the rest of the preparations for lunch in her need to learn. Michael, amused, set about doing it for her, slicing fresh-baked crusty country bread, tearing and tossing salad, unwrapping butter, cheese and cold cuts, selecting fruit and filling pitchers with iced water.

Liz, sitting quietly at the table, watched with deep interest as he did all this speedily and efficiently while most of his attention was focussed on Maria intently watching and questioning Kyle as he prepped his fish to cook.

When Isobel had set out the plates and glasses on the table she joined Maria and watched Kyle cook his catch, too. He was deft at this and regaled them with funny, fishy stories of his camping trips with his dad, in between instructions and fish-cooking tips for Maria.

Michael eventually came over to be entertained as well, trailed by Liz who stood at the edge of the group, caught on her feelings of anger towards Kyle and reluctant amusement at his humor. His charm soon won her over, though, and when he shared out hot, delicious morsels of the delicate white flesh among them all, he winked at her and she smiled back apologetically as she licked her scorched fingertips.

As they all sat down to the rest of their lunch, Liz stood up and addressed Kyle in front of everyone.

“Kyle, I want you and everyone to know how sorry I am for my behaviour towards you since last night. I know I’ve been unfair and unreasonable, not just to you, but to everyone around this table for days. I really will try hard to make sure I don’t lose your friendship because it really does mean more to me than I can say. I’ve been an idiot and I’m so sorry…”

Kyle smiled at her and pulled her down beside him, kindly teasing that she only needed a little more drama practice and she’d be ready for Broadway.

Michael’s expression remained neutral, but Isobel and Maria smiled at her, too, although in her relief that Kyle had forgiven her she didn’t notice that the smiles weren’t quite as warmly forgiving as she had hoped for. There were still serious reservations among the very people she most wanted to impress with her sincerity. Only time would tell if true friendship and trust could be restored between them.…

Then Maria looked at her watch and exclaimed at the time. Everyone ran around: Isobel and Liz cleared up after the meal, while Maria hurriedly found some grocery bags and divided the plentiful lunch leftovers into a picnic for each boat. Then they each transferred their private valuables from their tents to their backpacks. Michael stashed their cash in his backpack, too. Then he checked the Chevy and unobtrusively secured and alarmed it against intruders. If anyone came prowling in the group’s absence, they’d find nothing identifiable, but they’d be forced to leave evidence of any serious intrusions during their visit…

Finally ready, they headed out in a line along the southern lakeshore. As they passed by the rock with Kyle’s footprints burned into it, Isobel quietly stopped to smooth out the evidence of his early lessons in power before following her friends towards the pier where the boats awaited them on a sunny afternoon devoted to fun and relaxation at last.

********

Chapter Thirty-Four

Two wooden rowboats and a young park employee were waiting for them when the group arrived at the pier. There were several other small boats tied up there too, most covered with protective tarpaulins. The guy, after briefly asking them a couple of friendly questions about their supposed ‘rescue’ of Ben Yardley, confirmed that they were the only ones out on that part of the lake so far that day, but that business would be picking up tomorrow as there had been a number of recent arrivals in the park.

He took time to explain the safety rules, and warned them to use plenty of sun protection and to keep wearing their sun hats out on the lake, even if they used the awnings. Then he instructed Michael briefly in the basics of rowing a heavy, wooden boat, and watched him manoeuvre the craft for a few minutes to check that he would be competent to handle the long, unwieldy oars. Kyle demonstrated at the same time that he already knew what to do and when the guy was finally satisfied that he could let them out onto the lake alone, he stepped back and turned to the girls, ready to hand them into the boats.

Isobel stepped confidently down to Kyle, lightly touching his outstretched hand for balance, and sat firmly in the generously cushioned stern facing him.

Maria was next, clinging to the boatman’s hand until Michael stood up and helped her down to sit on the wide seat in the stern of the unsteady craft, staying to hold her hands long after it settled in the water again. A few provocative insults at her display of nervousness stiffened her resolve to be brave, as he had known they would, and she relaxed a little more because she could feel the comforting mental reassurance underlying his teasing. She began to look forward to the long afternoon again…

Finally there was only Liz left standing on the pier and it immediately became painfully obvious to the others that she assumed she would go with Maria and Michael.

Just as Maria began to feel embarrassed and Michael was about to lose his temper in the most spectacular way, Isobel came to the rescue.

Catching the boatman’s eye, she signalled to him to hand Liz down into the boat with her and before Liz quite knew what had happened, she’d been swept aboard to sit with Isobel and Kyle had started to pull away from the pier, heading out across the lake to follow the western shore.

“Oh, but wait, I thought I was going to go with Maria and Michael…”

Liz’s plaintive cry reached them across the rapidly widening stretch of water and, as he pulled their own boat away from the pier, Michael’s lips curved in a smile that he just couldn’t hide.

***I owe Isobel big, Maria. If Parker had managed to slither aboard, I’d have had to drown her in the deepest part of the lake…***

***She wouldn’t have made it that far before I beaned her with an oar. Forget Liz, this afternoon is just for us, Michael. Now we’re actually here, though, I can see this boat is far too small, cramped and dangerous for anything …um…interesting to happen between us…***

Michael just looked at her…

In the other craft, Isobel and Kyle were tactfully trying to convince a mulish Liz that she was with them for her own safety and not only because they were giving Michael and Maria a chance for some much needed privacy... Both had seen her face fall when she’d realised what they meant and they had become aware that was an explanation she didn’t want to hear.

“Michael and Maria are both beginners at boating, so it’s safer if Michael only has Maria to worry about if anything goes wrong….”

“Kyle and I are much more experienced so it makes sense for you to be with us…”

Although their logic was suspect, after all she had been in rowboats before, Liz let herself be pacified and settled back on the cushioned seat beside Isobel to watch the spectacular scenery float by. The sun was hot on the lake, even with the gusty little breeze, but this was much better than a long, sweaty, hike alone on the mountain paths.

Isobel had noticed a roll of fringed green canvas lying along the bottom of the boat and suddenly recalled a picture from the posters around the camping store.

“Look, isn’t that a sun awning? I noticed photos of boats with sun awnings at the store this morning. This must be what the boat guy meant. Let’s try to fix it up, shall we? Some shade would be good right now, the heat is becoming a little uncomfortable for me. What do you think, Liz?”

Liz enthusiastically agreed it was a good idea and so Kyle tried to keep the boat steady while the girls worked out how to erect the little awning on the thin metal poles provided.

The boat rocked violently many times over the next ten minutes as they struggled with the canvas, laughing and complaining all the time, but at last they all sat under it in shared satisfaction at their achievement, enjoying it’s welcome shade.

Liz had relaxed and now felt more comfortable with the other two than she had done for a while. Kyle remembered the picnic things that Maria had provided and suggested that a snack and a cold drink might revive his energy enough to carry on rowing.

Liz offered to organise this and was pleasantly occupied for some time among the bags and water bottles while Kyle rowed strongly and steadily on through the cold, indigo waters of the lake.

Isobel trailed her hand lazily over the side, heating the icy water as it passed over her skin and watching the scenery, taking note of other groups of campers in the various sites they passed. The park was more heavily populated than they had realised. Some people waved at them in friendly acknowledgement, others were too engrossed in sunbathing or fishing to notice their silent passage.

Michael and Maria had raised their boat’s awning, too, with much less difficulty than the others, and were now following a roughly parallel course on the near side of the lake - not too close to the shore, as Michael was cheating occasionally by powering the boat along with a little ‘alien’ help. Not too often, though, because Maria made it clear that she enjoyed watching the strong muscles of his arms and shoulders sliding smoothly beneath his tanned skin as he pulled rhythmically on the heavy oars… and pleasing Maria was the whole and entire point of the afternoon…

Maria was on the lookout for a secluded bay where they could beach the boat and be alone together at last.

However, this was much less easy than they’d expected. Maria was surprised to find that there were more people camping around the lakeshore than they’d been aware of and Michael had been nervous and disturbed by this for a few minutes until he made the decision to put it out of his mind until later. He was confident that he’d at least made the Chevy as secure as he could and that would just have to be enough this time. He’d be sure to scout carefully around the camp on their return to check it out before he let the others back into it again.

Meanwhile, Maria was seated demurely in the shade before him wearing her sunhat and far too many clothes for his taste and he could feel her burning need for him matching his for her and getting more explosive by the second. The strong, rhythmic movements of his rowing were making them both increasingly hot and sweaty.

If they didn’t find somewhere soon, he was gonna cum just looking into her emerald eyes - and her sultry voice in his head groaning ***ditto, Spaceboy *** nearly finished him off right there. In desperation he looked around and seeing nobody close enough to watch their activities, he ‘fixed’ the oars safely in position and quickly moved to kneel down in front of her where she reclined on the cushions in the deep, wide seat at the stern.

Her tiny shorts were ripped apart at the seams and tossed aside in a microsecond and her long, silky, bare legs were over his shoulders before she had a chance to react. Her delicate, wet, pink folds were wide open to him and his tongue lapping at her sensitive clit found she tasted better than Tabasco ice-cream on a desert summer day…

Maria was already so close to climax that the unexpected touch of his teeth scraping over the tiny pearl pushed her over the edge to writhe helplessly on the cushions as he muffled her cries with his hand.

His shorts were constricting his cock so painfully that without a thought they were gone the way of hers a moment ago and only the shock of a tiny, cool breeze against his throbbing heat gave him a second to control himself before she was on him, pushing him roughly back down into the well of the boat to sheath him completely from base to swollen tip in one fluid movement. He came on the instant without even one thrust, she clasped his length so tightly.

Maria swallowed her own name from Michael’s lips as the echo filled her mind, making her overloaded senses ignite again in the wild shock of his pleasure.

Orgasmic aftershocks continued to ripple gently through them both as they lay breathless, still joined together, in the bottom of the boat slowly drifting downstream on the edge of the river’s current …

Michael recovered first, no longer able to ignore the edge of the wooden seat cutting painfully across his back. He opened his eyes on darkness, found that his sunhat had fallen over his face, straightened it and shifted very carefully to relieve his discomfort, still awkwardly on his knees between the seat in the stern and the central wooden plank. He tried not to disturb Maria who was still lying against his chest, one happy grin from blonde head to painted toenails. He felt exactly the same way and they exchanged a fleeting kiss before they drew stickily apart and carefully resumed their previous seating arrangement, setting the boat rocking unsteadily again for a few moments.

During their brief, passionate interlude, they had drifted closer to the shore and, by a stroke of luck, found they were passing the perfect, idyllic spot they had been searching for.

A low, crumbling cliff topped with a dense tangle of trees and bushes cupped a tiny inlet, a mere bite out of the rocky shore, half-hidden by a tiny, green-splashed spur of rock curving out into the lake, lapped by the blue water and offering the promise of privacy from all eyes.

Maria was enchanted.

“This is it, Michael, our own private little bit of Heaven for the afternoon…”

“Just gonna check what’s in the next bay along, princess – don’t need an audience of millions if we can avoid it…”

He used his powers to push the boat faster in his hurry to make sure there were no nosy neighbors next door. To their relief, they found another lonely, deserted, little beach, lacking only the tiny promontory that gave theirs the precious privacy they needed.

A few minutes later, the boat was hidden out of sight, tied to a jutting rock at the edge of the little inlet, and Michael was pressing Maria back against the cushions, passionately grateful for the time and privacy to devote himself unhurriedly to kissing her at long, long last.

At the same time, across the lake, Liz was handing Kyle another cup of cool water as he rested his arms from the exertions of rowing. The awning provided some welcome shade from the relentless heat, but he needed a longer break to recover.

“How about we drop anchor and explore, ladies? It looks cool and shady in those woods over there…”

“This boat doesn’t have an anchor, Kyle – we just have a rope to tie it up …oh, you were joking…”

Her voice tailed off as she saw his expression and then he laughed.

“Yeah. I see you’ve still got that “mission to inform”, Liz.”

She laughed a little sadly at herself and it struck her once again that now she’d lost her twin dreams – Max and the chance to go to college - the future was bleak for her…

Isobel directed Kyle towards a tree-shaded beach and as the boat crunched against the pebbles, she jumped out into the shallow water and waded round to the prow to grab the mooring rope and fix it to an overhanging branch.

Kyle carefully stowed the oars and then hopped over the side while Liz gathered the picnic bags. He took them from her and turned to carry them ashore leaving Liz to follow him. As an afterthought, she returned to collect the cushions from the seat.

Only Kyle was hungry, but they were all grateful for Liz’s party-trick - the ice-cold Tabasco cherry coke produced from the tepid drinking water in their bottles.

It was as cool under the trees as Kyle had predicted and soon all three of them had grabbed a cushion or two and lay drowsing in the shade.

Liz became restless after a time and rose to wander along the beach, picking up driftwood with the vague aim of using it for their fire but gradually letting the memories of her childhood in Roswell with her family and Maria rise gently in her mind.

She sat down on a rock and thought about her recent jealousy of Maria and burning resentment of Michael.

It was time to let it go. Maria was her best friend, she deserved to be happy, and Michael – well, he had surprised her again as he sometimes had in Roswell. She had to accept that he really was their leader now, leader in his own right, not living in Max’s shadow. Michael appeared to have left the gauche, belligerent, moody boy behind him to suddenly emerge as a powerful, controlled, thoughtful guy maturing rapidly into the kind of man she’d dreamed that Max would some day be…

Max.

It was still too hard to do more than flinch away from the razor edges of the pain, but she knew that with time it would become easier, because the guy she had fallen in love with no longer existed. Maybe never had... His once–shining image in her mind was so tarnished she barely recognised it now. His love for her was no longer whole-hearted and she felt somehow diminished because she hadn’t been enough for him in the end. Max had been weak and Tess had won.

At that thought, the black clouds of anger roiling within her since Max had first cried out the hated name suddenly coalesced into a diamond-hard determination that Tess would never win. The thought that the little alien murderess was still alive after all sent a sudden savage thrill of satisfaction through her whole being and Liz Parker hurled a chunk of driftwood far out into the calm blue water and vowed that revenge would somehow be hers…

Isobel, strolling along the beach a little later in search of Liz, was surprised to find her bright-eyed and composed, with a new air of determination about her, but carefully didn’t ask questions.

Out on the lake once more, both she and Kyle were slightly taken aback at Liz’s peremptory demand to take over the oars, but Kyle was happy to show her what to do and retire to the stern next to Isobel to watch the scenery. He hoped Michael was making the most of his opportunity, because he had a gut feeling the peace wouldn’t last.

Michael was, indeed, making the most of his opportunity.

The long-missed sensual pleasures of prolonged kissing had left them both in a state of dazed desire again but this time with no clothes on and no sense of urgency.

Michael had then moved on…

Now Maria lay across the seat gazing up at him through half-closed, dreamy, submissive eyes, waiting for his next move. Her knees were bent over the side of the boat with her toes occasionally dipping into the water as the boat rocked in time with her involuntary responses to Michael’s lazy stirrings in the secret folds between her legs, as he brought her to a long series of teasingly exquisite, near-but-not-quite-orgasmic peaks which were driving her slowly wild as they sensitised her entire being.

As he watched the changing expressions on her beautiful face and his mind felt her open and emotional responses to his loving touch, the thought that only he was the one privileged to make her feel this way gave him a thrill so intense that he had to use his other hand to squeeze the base of his cock to stop himself cumming too soon. He wasn’t going to waste that. He had other plans in view and as his urgent erection subsided a little, he roused himself from his haze of pleasure.

The seat on the boat, though cushioned and shady, was still too small for the action they both wanted so Michael made himself sit up and look around to consider their options. Maria was momentarily bereft, then smiled lazily as she caught his sensuous assurance that he’d barely even started…

***‘Barely’ is truly the word, Michael. You’re so beautiful naked, you should stay that way all the time…***

***We got plans for that, remember? 24/7 in our own place…***

***Mmmm, maybe…Well, this is our own place – at least for the rest of the afternoon – but 24/7 is still too far away to call, so just stand up and let me look at you, Spaceboy…***

***Have a little patience, princess. First I gotta get us to the shore and find a comfortable, shady spot for you to worship my body properly…***

***Okaaay, sex god, go for it…***

Michael stood up, flexed his muscles for her in mock-heroics, and jumped overboard into the blue water of the inlet.

His howl of shock reverberated off the rocks and through Maria’s head. She threw herself to the side of the boat to see him splash hurriedly through the waist-high water to the beach, to arrive hunched and shivering with cold from his icy immersion, his hands cupped protectively round his groin.

He heard her concern turn to laughter in his mind as she caught on to what had happened and his first angry shock and humiliation gave way to reluctant laughter as he warmed up enough to begin to see the funny side of it, too.

A moment later he was shocked again when she followed his example and jumped in after him.

She was turning blue with cold and shock herself as he waded back in to carry her to the shore and hold her close to his rapidly warming body, rubbing all the skin he could reach as she shivered against him in the hot sun.

***Why the hell did you do that, Maria? You knew it was freezing cold, so why be so stupid…***

***Sunstroke, Spaceboy***

He could hear her wry, self-mocking tone as she spoke in his head.

***Sunstroke or- well, just overcome with a need to share, I guess…***

She joked about it but he felt her truth and understood what she couldn’t put into words or even feelings, because he was the same way about her.

He leaned down to kiss her gently on the forehead and then on the lips raised to his and she reached up solemnly to return the gesture. Neither could say why the moment suddenly resonated with significance between them, but then their lips joined once more and as they sank on to the sun-warmed rocks, pure happiness swept them both away in a shining flood to heights and depths of feeling they had never reached before.

The rocky beach was a painful place for two people who desperately needed to express their feelings in an actively physical way and Michael was concerned for Maria’s comfort so he used his manipulative powers to flatten an area of rocks into a smooth, soft, yielding texture that was much kinder to sensitive, silky skin….

Then he left Maria sitting there for a moment and went back into the lake, this time sensibly heating the water around him to the temperature of a warm bath. He grabbed the awning from the boat, then the cushions from the seat and, very pleased with himself, carried them back to fling down on the smoothed ground. Then he re-erected the awning in moments, raising and extending it with his alien talents so that it covered the smoothed out area, and stood back for her approval.

Maria saw that he had made a small, comfortable and shady pavilion for them and was deeply touched by his thoughtfulness and imagination. He took her hand and led her to their improvised couch where he stretched out and smiled down at her.

“Comfortable, princess? Anything else you want, besides me?”

She laughed and drew him down to kiss him in appreciation but before their lips met, he remembered something else. He laid a finger against her mouth.

“Don’t move – one more thing I forgot…”

She read his mind and agreed that a picnic would be perfect later on, so she watched with impatient anticipation as he rose to his feet and returned to the boat once more to collect the food she’d packed earlier. He knew he’d be too lazy to fetch it later…

She’d been right when she’d called him beautiful. His was a very masculine, sensuous beauty: tall, wide-shouldered body, all long, strong bones and muscles under smooth, tanned skin, with a truly impressive cock made to give and receive infinite pleasure. Male beauty defined his strong, sensitive face distinguished by his dark brown, enigmatic eyes that only softened for her and those full, sensual lips that she longed to ravage with her own as he emerged dripping from the water with the picnic bags in one hand.

He placed them in the shade behind the cushions at the rear of the little pavilion and walked back to stand in front of her, caressed by the sun, displaying himself proudly and unselfconsciously before her in fulfilment of her earlier wish. He was fully aware of the effect his nude body had on her and he revelled in his power.

Watching his Maria reclining against the cushions - her small, perfect body aroused and inviting, ready and eager as her beautiful, sultry green eyes travelled slowly over him, lingering here and there in sensual appreciation - his cock pulsed and throbbed against his thigh then soared to it’s full, hard length against his belly. To his delight, she blushed deeply at this and her pink tongue darted out to moisten her luscious parted lips.

“Thirsty, Spaceboy? You’ve been working so hard to please me. Let’s have something cool before we …um…get hot again…”

He loved listening to her smoky voice whether she spoke aloud or in his mind and for a moment he just let the music of it bathe his senses before the actual words registered. Then he blinked.

“What?”

God, was she teasing him again? Didn’t she know what torture it was for him to deny them both the fulfilment they craved? Her low, sexy laugh sounded and told him that she knew exactly what she was doing to him and was enjoying herself very much indeed…

She sat up and turned over onto her knees to reach for the water bottle from the bags, revealing the creamy globes of her sexy ass, and his eyes narrowed as his attention was diverted to one of his favorite pastimes – making leisurely love to her delicious derriere…

Maria didn’t even make it beyond the cushions as Michael’s hands on her ass signalled the promise of the very thrill she’d teased him to give her…

He smoothed his palms lightly all over the peach-like cheeks, loving the feel of the firm plumpness, watching it yield to the increasing pressure of his long fingers, as he gently rolled and kneaded the warm flesh beneath the smooth skin, eliciting loud purrs from his small goddess as she knelt, hips raised high, arms outstretched in front of her, face buried in cushions, anticipatory pleasure already beginning to send secret shafts of sensation to the hot liquid center between her legs.

She trembled with excitement when she felt his teeth close gently on her sensitive flesh, the pleasure akin to the first bite taken from a sun-ripened peach, the tiny pain instantly soothed by his lips and tongue dragged over the marks left behind.

He indulged himself by leaving his initial M in teethmarks on her tender ass as he bit and licked and kissed her lushness as freely as he wished to their mutual enjoyment.

He would make sure that she saw his mark on her before it faded - that had always given her a special private kick and usually initiated another amorous encounter between them wherever they were.

They’d played this game a lot during the few short, carefree weeks last summer after Tess had departed in the Granolith, when they first discovered sex and only had each other to please with no thought or fear of the future.

Sometimes he had teased her and chosen the most public places to reveal it and she got so turned on that they had almost been caught several times. It had started as a joke but his little love had shown a budding taste for sex in risky places that he had really only just begun to appreciate himself before it was all over.

Max and Liz had robbed a store at gunpoint in a stupid, obsessive, bungled pursuit of his child and dragged Michael’s life down the toilet again and he’d got too busy and then, of course, they’d split, so he hadn’t gotten any at all, until Maria had come back to him and left her life in Roswell to join her destiny with his.

The fear and danger of this past week had made the game too dangerous to play. Their make-up sex, though incredible and better than ever before, had been hurried and infrequent, though there had been a couple of gas station washrooms that had seen some risky action recently… He fleetingly wondered if the whole risk thing had really begun at the Crashdown way back in that December heatwave, when any passer-by could have seen their first real encounter in the half-lit restaurant, so secretly crazy for each other that nothing else had mattered that night.

Maria arched her back like a graceful cat and thrust her bottom at him to recall him to the present, urging him mentally and physically to move on to the climax of this game.

Obediently, he parted her cheeks, taking a long moment to gaze at the private secrets of her body revealed trustingly to him. Then he dipped his face to the hot, wet centre of her pleasure, where he found and fondled her with his tongue. He licked and sucked teasingly around her clit, blowing his cool breath on it, lapping all her sweet, spicy juices, denying her the relief she craved in provocative punishment for the teasing torture she’d inflicted on him earlier.

Listening to his name used in pleading cries and wanton moans of pleasure drove him wild with lust until he finally gave her what she wanted. As his hands continued to roughly stroke and squeeze the heated flesh of her ass, he took her clit delicately in his teeth, swirling his tongue back and forth over it as she fell headlong into a blazing orgasmic rush that continued for so long they both thought she was never going to stop cumming…

As the intensity began to ease, he guided his stone-hard, slick-tipped cock into her dripping, welcoming cunt and howled her name out loud at the unbearable relief of being inside her at last.

He paused for a moment to catch his breath, to command himself, buried up to his hilt in her, the echoes of her extraordinary climax still throbbing through their minds and bodies.

Slowly he began to move inside her, the slick hot walls gripping him tight as a glove, his balls squeezed gently between his own body and her soft resilience. The pleasure began to build again, surging in time with his rhythm; his balls began to slap harder against her, adding another delicious friction to the intensity of feeling.

Then they tightened in warning and the strong muscles inside her gripped him hard and held him as he came with a ferocity that took them both to the edge of infinity and beyond.

Then they lay stretched out together in the cool shade of the awning, light-headed and panting, hot salty skin sticky with sweat and the tiny cool breeze off the lake playing over them like a sensual breath that whispered promises of further delight to their heightened senses.

***Thought you were goin’ to get us some drinks, Blondie. What kept you? I’m thirsty. You were right – pleasing you is hard work…***

***If you must know, I was rudely interrupted by this incredibly hot sex god making love to me – but you wouldn’t know him, Spaceboy. I’ll tell you about it some other time…***

He playfully slapped her ass, avoiding his mark that still showed up red on one perfect, pale cheek as she raised herself on her elbows and surveyed the bags he’d fetched from the boat. She congratulated him on his forethought– neither of them had the energy right now to drag themselves back out to the boat, and their growing thirst was getting to be uncomfortably urgent now.

Taking a bottle from the bags, she handed it over and looked at him expectantly.

He grinned at her and slid his hand down the clear plastic, leaving a trail of cold condensation where it passed.

***Any particular flavor, Maria?***

***I don’t mind – if you want Tabasco cherry coke, then that’s fine with me. I’m getting to almost like the taste by now, although really it’s the cola I always hated, not the cherry Tabasco thing...***

She carried on, abruptly changing the subject and speaking aloud, articulating the loving feelings she was sending him in response to his own sudden overwhelming happiness…

“…I love you, Michael, I always did… I know you know that now, but I like to say it out loud. Since we got our connection, it seems like I’m telling the whole world when I speak aloud to you instead of silently in our minds. Do you think the others suspect anything?”

“No, why would they? We never used to say much to each other in front of people anyway, except when we fought, so nothing has changed there.”

He had passed his hand over the bottle again and uncapped the top for her to drink from it. Cups had been one item she’d forgotten in the rush.

She lifted it to her lips and found that the flavor she hadn’t known she wanted until now was tart and refreshing on her tongue.

***Sour Lemonade, Spaceboy…how did you know?***

***It’s the taste I felt in your mind when I asked you what you wanted to drink. I guess you were too busy loving me to pay attention to your own wishes…but if you won’t do it for yourself, then I guess it’s just got to be me…***

He took a long drink for himself, unexpectedly enjoyed the sharp, clean taste just as much as she did and felt his long loyalty to cherry coke dissipate without regret. It was just too …Roswell. He leaned over and kissed her again, tasting the tang of lemon on their tongues. He wondered what it would taste like with Tabasco…and maybe a touch of honey…

***Is there any food in those bags I hauled over here or was it just for ballast to keep the boat steady…***

****Lay back and re-charge your energies, Spaceboy. I’m going to peel you a grape…***

Michael just looked at her…

A long, lazy hour had passed and Kyle, who was enjoying the mindless exercise, took one of his frequent rests from rowing to stare longingly at the shore. Liz had given it her best shot, but had collapsed with exhaustion after less than five minutes struggling with the oars. Isobel had taken her turn and, naturally, had done considerably better, but it still came back to his turn far too soon, in his opinion.

“It’s 4.30. Anyone want to stop for a picnic before we head for home? I sure could use a break from rowing and so could my ass…”

“Sounds good to me, too. How about you Liz?”

“Oh, yes, but if we stop over on the other side of the lake we’ll get the evening sun longer and it’ll be a shorter row home after the picnic break… What do you think, Kyle?”

He smiled at her approvingly. She’d finally stopped being the royal pain in the ass of the last week, at least for the afternoon.

“Good thinking, Liz. Choose your landing site and guide me to it. I’m starting to feel hungry again…”

It took them ten minutes to row back across the lake and for Liz to select one of the many tiny, secluded bays in this part of the shore.

She chose a deserted beach, backed by trees and tumbling rocks with a miniature waterfall emerging from among them to flow into the lake.

Kyle, at least, was amused.

“Not the famous River Lake Falls, I trust? If so, I will be demanding a refund.”

“It’s pretty. Good choice, Liz. Perfect spot for a picnic.”

Isobel smiled. The afternoon on the lake had been an inspired idea. Liz seemed to be returning to her old self and Kyle looked more relaxed then he had done since they arrived.

Gazing at the immense grandeur of the scenery, she found its elemental nature had soothed her soul and temporarily reduced her problems to nothing in the overall scheme of things. How many lives had and would her spirit live through…? The thought had sown a tiny seed of comfort in her heart, knowing that some part of her would continue on into eternity…

She shook herself back to reality and immediately forgot her musings - only keeping the gift of a lighter heart that the afternoon on the lake had given her.

This time they spread a picnic out on the rocks and all three devoured the feast hungrily. Rowing, however leisurely or however long, used up lots of energy, already depleted from their travels. Maria’s thoughtfulness was appreciated and toasted in Tabasco cherry coke.

Given the choice of lying drowsy and full on the beach in the sun now losing it’s heat at last, or on the boat under the awning, Isobel and Kyle departed for the boat.

Liz sat in the sun for a while, finishing an apple, then went for a walk along the beach and climbed cautiously up among the rocks beside the waterfall to see what lay at the top.

She found a wood, too overgrown to explore, so she climbed down and carried on along the beach in the opposite direction, where a spur of rocks jutted into the lake. Climbing along the edge, she found her way to the top to look over at the next bay.

The shock of what she found nearly sent her tumbling backwards into the lake, but her curiosity kept her glued to the rocks, though she knew it was wrong. She just couldn’t stop herself watching...

A boat was tied up to a rock on the edge of the tiny inlet below. Not far away on the beach, a secluded, cushion-scattered area shaded by the boat’s sun awning framed a scene that made her eyes widen with shocked fascination.

Michael had clearly created a special place for Maria’s comfort and her heart burned jealously within her as she watched…

Maria, completely nude, was kneeling astride Michael’s naked body, bouncing around on his magnificent cock and making happy mewing sounds as she fed him wine-red grapes. She interspersed these offerings with lavish kisses that he apparently accepted with equal pleasure.

Michael himself lay back among the cushions like some oriental potentate, watching her laughing, accepting her offerings, sometimes reaching out to caress her face or stroke her breasts or even give an unexpected thrust of his hips to try to throw her off-balance.

They both seemed so playfully happy that Liz nearly bit though her lip in an effort not to scream aloud.

At that moment, the mood changed abruptly. Michael sat up and slid one of his arms behind Maria’s shoulders, drawing her close to him so that his head was level with her breasts and Liz could see him lean forward to take one jutting tip into his mouth while his hand cupped and played with the other.

Maria’s fine, straight blonde hair lifted and swished around her face as she rode him with a new intensity, the playfulness now gone. She reached behind her to stroke his sensitive balls now crushed beneath her soft bottom. Then with a swiftness that took Maria - and Liz - by surprise, Michael suddenly rolled them over so that she was underneath him and he thrust urgently into her, gazing into her eyes as she wrapped her legs around his hips and met his powerful rhythm with her own.

They both must have reached climax together, as their voices mingled in a passionate cry that reached to her hiding place among the rocks but Liz had belatedly closed her eyes and put her fingers in her ears to try to block the sight and sounds of their pleasure.

When she looked up again, Maria was now lying blissfully among the cushions while Michael stood tall at the water’s edge, bathed in sunlight – magnificently endowed, strong, naked and beautiful – every inch the man Liz knew that Max could never be.

Liz Parker felt intuitively that a man like that needed a woman who could be his equal in strength, passion and power.

In that moment, she knew she wanted Michael for herself…

********

Chapter Thirty-Five: maybe it's the heat...

Liz gasped aloud at the shocking thought that flashed into her mind. Where had that come from? No way did she want Michael…

All the way back over the rocky beach to the little waterfall, she told herself it was a bad idea. She told herself that she was in love with Max, that even though it was over she couldn’t just stop loving him and fall for someone else – could she?

Then she remembered Sean, back in Roswell, and admitted to herself that she had found him very attractive indeed, even though her heart had belonged to Max and, of course, she’d saved herself for him. Although she’d used Sean and maybe even hurt him in the end, she had still wanted him enough to do… a little more than kiss him on their secret nights at the bowling alley. She’d told herself it wasn’t betrayal – after all, she and Max weren’t together...and Sean was so hot for her.

She and Max no longer had the flashes when they kissed, and that had been a relief to her in many ways… Her warning visions were the only mental images they had shared since then. Although she had seen starscapes both times when they’d made love, they hadn’t shared any personal memories since way back. But Sean - Sean had been a little secret she'd kept to herself...nothing on the scale of Max with Tess.

Then there had been that recent little jolt of attraction between herself and Ben…

Despite yesterday’s drama, there was something disturbingly sexy about him, sleazy though he was, that gave Liz a tiny trickle of sensation between her legs even now… So maybe attraction to other guys wasn’t going to be a problem after all. Unlike Maria, alien loving hadn’t spoilt her for all other men.

Michael was different, though. Michael was powerful. Michael was hot. Michael was with Maria – even if she hadn’t just seen the stunning evidence with her own eyes, she knew it wouldn’t be right to hurt her best friend by taking her man.

But she had to admit that she’d had unexpected physical reactions to Michael over the last few days and, somehow, she just couldn’t seem to shake the thought of him out of her head now it was there.

Her mind reluctantly re-played over and over again the scene she had just witnessed on the beach, each time censoring more of it out until only the clear image of Michael standing powerful, naked and alone at the water’s edge was all that remained.

Liz sat down at the foot of the waterfall in the sun and splashed her hot face with the cold water while she tried to make sense of her confused thoughts.

She knew she hadn’t been thinking too clearly since the pain of Max’s betrayal had sent her emotions out of control, clouding her judgement so she had lost her grip on her normally rational thought processes.

Max was her weakness, her Achilles heel. Nobody had the power to hurt her or make her happy like he could and she’d finally had enough.

Now she needed to think clearly enough to analyze her sudden attraction to Michael, after all these years of mutual antagonism.

She’d never liked him – he’d been rough, rude and deliberately gross-mannered - and he’d made it insultingly plain to everyone that he considered her a bore and a humorless pain in the ass.

He’d been unexpectedly kind once or twice in the early days– he’d given her back her journal when he could easily have destroyed it and he’d sent Maria to comfort her when Tess first kissed Max and – well, that was it, really. She’d more than repaid that by giving up her bed for him when he’d been hopelessly drunk and heartbroken at New Year. Otherwise - mutual hostility. She’d even been the one to suggest that he should die in order that Max might regain his powers, and she still thought it had been a good idea.

Why would she want him now?

Apart from the fact that he’d suddenly become all the things she dreamed of and wanted in a man… and he was their leader…and she was about to become his equal in alien powers … and … because he belonged to Maria…

She laughed aloud, aware of the underlying hysteria, knowing all those answers were true.

What had she thought? Strong, passionate and powerful? She knew she was all those things and more: highly intelligent, strong - surviving the alien abyss proved that – passionate - in her admittedly limited sexual experience - and soon to be his equal in alien powers. She was the logical mate for him. He really was worthy of her now.

And Maria – what about her best friend’s feelings? She truly loved her, but if she was brutally honest with herself, she’d already outgrown small-town Maria, who’d thrown away her one big chance for success. Liz knew she would probably have forgotten Maria’s existence soon after she left Roswell for college. Indeed, even as the acceptance letter arrived from Northwestern, she couldn’t wait to leave Roswell and everyone - maybe even Max – behind her as she began her new life and an absorbing, high-flying career.

She’d seen that sad knowledge cross Maria’s face when she’d ecstatically announced the news, but it hadn’t given her a moment’s regret. Her life had been about to move on to greater things but there were inevitably those destined to stay behind.

But destiny had screwed up and here she was with no future and – she faced it - probably no friends if she didn’t make an effort to be a real part of the group. Her apology at lunch had been genuine – she didn’t want and couldn’t afford to lose their friendship – but it was all for nothing if she was on the verge of ruining everything by giving in to her new desires right now.

She’d jeopardised her position when she’d lashed out and hurt Maria - even though she’d been truly thankful to have her wacky sidekick along in their exile - because Maria, incredibly, now had what she herself had always expected and deserved.

The best.

Being it, having it, wanting it.

That was the main reason she went to intern in the Skin Congresswoman’s Florida office – not only to escape the Max-Tess destiny thing, but to begin to learn the art of power politics in readiness for her future career.

Everyone always assumed her to be the sweet, innocent, doe-eyed little Liz Parker because that was who they wanted her to be – even Max, who’d seen her memories, had somehow managed to edit out the darker desires within her...

But if they’d given any thought to her declared ambition they should have known that nobody got to be the head of any large organisation by being sweet, gentle and kind. Nice girls finished last. Even, or especially, in high-profile mega-bucks academic research when only ruthless ambition and power politics achieved the real success.

Now, although she truly loved her friend, Maria had what she wanted and when it came down to the wire, even sweet Maria was expendable if she stood in the way of Liz Parker’s desires…

Liz sighed heavily. Her mind seemed to be emerging from it’s long state of emotional confusion at last and she was beginning to see things more coldly and clearly than she had for many, many months.

Her earlier depressed thoughts about the bleakness of her future, together with her recent vows to mend her ways, were forgotten. She saw unemotionally that her current over-riding priority was to be protected by the group until her future choices became clear.

So, although she really did want the new, powerful, attractive Michael and all the devotion and …pleasure… he currently gave Maria, she decided to do nothing overt to jeopardize that protection again. She could wait until she was ready.

However, the desire was now planted in her mind and she thought the first step would be to make Michael see her in a more positive light…

Meanwhile, she would plan to have her revenge on Tess.

She stood up and strolled over to the remains of the picnic to fix herself another ice-cold, cherry coke.


Kyle woke up from his post-picnic doze among the cushions that he’d wrested from Isobel, pointing out that she had the wide, flat stern-seat to curl up on, whereas the inside of the boat was a framework of wooden struts that would be impossible to relax on without the cushions. He’d told her that she was welcome to change places with him – one cushion in the stern was all he needed for his head, she could have the rest – but she’d just thrown the cushions at his head until he’d collected enough to make himself comfortable, his back against one side of the boat and feet against the other.

He looked over at her, curled up tightly on the seat asleep as if she had no cares in the world and he wished with all his heart that were true.

He guessed that tonight’s meeting to discuss the revelation that Tess wasn’t dead would mean that they’d soon have to alert Max to their theory about the bug on the bus and his heart quailed at the prospect of somehow finding a way of breaking it gently to Isobel that Jesse might be involved…

Her eyelids fluttered and for a moment her brown eyes were soft and happy, then reality came swooping back at her and he saw horror dawn before she closed them tightly again. He looked away and a few moments later her voice called his name.

“Kyle. Kyle, are you awake? C’mon, Kyle, I know you are. You can’t fool me. We can’t stay here too much longer, it’s nearly time to start back if we’re to reach the pier by dusk…”

“Ok, but you’ll have to row, Isobel, because my ass is broken. Oh, yes it is. It’s got permanent ridges in it, too, from having to sleep on the bottom of this ancient ark.”

“Cranky after your nap, huh? Stand up and stretch, you’ll soon feel better…”

As she spoke, Isobel leaned over the side and swirled her hand in the water, warming it up in a wide swathe. Then, taking them both by surprise, she stood up, removed her shoes, shorts and shirt to reveal a stylish black swimsuit and jumped in.

The boat rocked dangerously as Kyle happily removed everything but his shorts and leapt in too.

It was just warm enough to be comfortable and cool enough to be refreshing and they both rolled and dived in the water like seals for as long as they could, playfully splashing each other, before finally hanging breathless and laughing from the side of the boat.

Kyle looked up to see Isobel’s soft brown eyes filled with laughter only inches away from his own. His breath caught and his heart stopped. Next instant her eyes changed and she turned quickly to duck under water and re-surface several feet away.

His heart re-started, and the world began to move on as though nothing had happened.


In the little inlet, Maria had opened her eyes to a sight that made her sigh with pleasure – Michael’s bare ass.

She lay there for some time contemplating his back view, unaccountably missed out of her earlier inspection, as he stood at the water’s edge gazing out over the narrow view of lake and mountains at the entrance to the inlet. She could feel Michael’s deep sense of happiness and completion; he was committing their private little paradise to memory, and Maria was touched by his sudden sense of wonder that he’d never before noticed the world was so beautiful.

She left him to his private thoughts and reached once more for the picnic bags, this time looking for something more substantial than grapes, delicious though they had been.

Michael stood on the sun-warmed rocks and felt his trapped soul expand and breathe in the freedom to truly be himself in a way that he had never known. He’d never before left Roswell, apart from the fraught and fateful trips to Marathon and Las Vegas, and this place had been a revelation to his senses.

The infinite colors of the lakes and mountains sang in his mind. The cold, clear air; the quality of the light as it changed over the course of the day; the newborn responses awakening inside himself: all this made him want to stop and capture each moment to remember forever.

He knew – had known since he’d painted the picture of the dome at Marathon – deep within that some day he would no longer be able to deny the growing need to capture and express his feelings in some outside medium because they were just too big to contain within himself.

The acceptance of this knowledge brought a kind of relief and a knot of tension always inside him broke as a new inner peace was born.

Maria called him to eat. He padded over and stretched himself out opposite her like a big cat, overtly powerful, inherently dangerous, but right now lazily relaxed and interested in food.

They browsed languidly, using their fingers, feeding each other, until they were both satiated and ready to rest for a while.

Then Michael lay back against the cushions in the now warm shade with Maria stretched out at his side, head on his shoulder and a hand curled lightly in his, listening to the birds beginning to call to each other in the trees on the cliff above and sharing the bottle with it’s endless supply of ice-cold, sharp lemonade.

***Gotta go back soon, Maria, but we’ve still got time for some more lovin’ before that…***

***Mmmm…***

He turned onto his side and looked at her, blonde hair tousled from lovemaking, lips parted as she watched him, emerald eyes half-closed in anticipation. And his, all his…

***Body and soul forever, Michael…***

***Ditto, Maria***

He dipped his face to hers, tasting the lemon on her lips and the sweetness of her mouth as she caught the faint Tabasco tang that would never leave him.

***Love me, Spaceboy…***

Her plea was answered as she spoke. Their mind connection allowed them to feel and respond instantly to the other’s pleasure and each time they found a new depth of trust and confidence in their love.

It was a long time before Michael and Maria waded back to their boat and left the little blue inlet enshrined in their memories forever.

Liz arrived conscientiously back at the boat with the picnic trash and tidied it away for disposal back at the camp. She sat back in the stern with Isobel; then Kyle cast off and pulled out of the bay into open water. They were all silent as they made their way back.

Kyle was hoping to regain the mindless pleasure in rowing that he’d found earlier, Isobel was choking back longing for Jesse, and Liz was wondering just how to go about subtly attracting Michael’s attention.

A few minutes later, Kyle noticed the other boat nose into his line of sight and saw Maria waving at him. He grinned and waved back, and the girls, who turned round to see what was happening, waved languidly, too.

The gap was too wide for conversation and so both boats continued their unhurried progress in the early evening sun.

They all met up on the pier and, after leaving the boats to the same guy they saw earlier, followed Michael’s example and moved to sit in a row in the sun, dangling their feet just above the water.

Liz had managed to manoeuvre herself next to Michael while his attention was on Maria. She was content with that, and did nothing else to draw attention to herself, having decided that getting him used to her presence was the first thing she needed to do. Like taming a wild beast, she thought to herself, first you had to let it get used to having you around before you could begin to gain it’s trust...

“Everyone have a good time?”

Michael’s laconic question proved to Isobel just how much her almost-brother had changed in only a week. Before, it would never have occurred to him to ask about anyone else’s feelings, now here he was apparently actually concerned about the group’s enjoyment. Hers was not the only mind broadened by travel, it seemed.

Liz saw no harm in responding with the truth, and seized the chance, aiming a big-eyed smile into his eyes when he turned immediately on hearing her voice.

“Oh, yes, Michael. It was a great idea. Thanks for thinking of it. I feel totally relaxed for the first time in… months, I guess.”

She got a warning glare and a hissed rebuke from the guy she’d meant to impress.

“Yeah, Susan, and I’m sure we’ll all feel even more relaxed if you at least made an effort to remember the names we’re using around strangers.”

Her face flushed and her hand rose to cover her mouth, embarrassed and annoyed at herself for her mistake when she had meant only to compliment him. Great start to her campaign, she thought, mortified.

“Anyway, it was Dave’s idea – you should be thanking him.”

Isobel gave credit where it was due. Liz turned a genuine smile on Kyle.

“Um, …Dave, it really was a great idea. It was so peaceful and it gave me a chance to really get my head together, so thanks.”

The boat guy called farewell to them as he locked up the little storage cabin and headed for home on a mountain bike.

Once he was out of sight, Michael got up and stood frowning down at them.

“Stay here with Kyle. Maria and me, we’re gonna check out the camp for visitors, see if it’s safe to go back.”

***I can come with you, Spaceboy?***

***Not letting you out of my sight, Maria. We’re in this together***

She jumped up and kissed him as Kyle stood up, too.

“I’ll come with you, Guerin…”

“No, Valenti, you need to guard the girls if anything goes wrong. If we’re not back in twenty, take a boat and hide in the woods. Don’t stay for us. Steal a car from one of the campsites when it gets dark, then run. We’ll meet you at the airport in Denver one week from today, at noon near the Avis desk.”

Kyle and the girls looked shocked and scared. This was an unexpected development just when they were starting to feel secure.

Liz ran over and hugged Maria. Then Isobel turned from hugging Michael to grab Maria tightly, too. Kyle and Michael nodded grimly at each other.

Michael and Maria picked up their packs and walked off along the track that led back to the campsite, leaving the others to wait with gnawing anxiety to see if they returned…

********

Chapter Thirty-Six

Michael and Maria walked quietly along the track towards the camp, alert for any signs of disturbance.

They approached with caution, stepping off the path into the trees well before they came within sight of the camp.

The areas round all the campsites that edged the lake were carefully managed by the park authorities, so the trees were well spaced to allow light in and the undergrowth cut back so that it was possible to walk through the woods without too much difficulty.

Michael led the way, wary and cautious, stopping frequently to use his enhanced alien senses. He didn’t seriously expect intruders at the camp, as he was fairly confident that they had not been followed in the Chevy, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

Maria knew from his thoughts that the chances of danger were probably minimal by now, but she was tense anyway. Deep inside, tingles of fearful excitement shot through her and she followed him closely as he threaded his way carefully through the bushes.

At last he stopped abruptly on the edge of the clearing, pushing Maria back when she tried to peer round him to see what was going on.

***What is it, Michael? What’s wrong? Let me see…***

***Shit, Maria – stay back. We have company…***

Of the three back at the pier, two were in danger of falling apart with the strain of waiting.

Isobel, a wild beast caged, endlessly paced the pier in nervous frustration, almost at the point of chewing on a perfect fingernail. It was driving Kyle nuts.

He sat on the steps of the storage cabin, using his Buddhist meditation techniques to help him remain calm while following Michael and Maria in his imagination every step of the way back to camp and checking his watch a little too often.

Liz, by contrast, was serene to the point of indifference.

The fierce flare of emotion that had suddenly sent the lost loving Liz running to hug Maria in fear of losing her to fresh danger had quickly died into icy numbness as her mind returned to it’s new state of cold detachment. Danger, loss and grief no longer had the power to interest her, let alone touch her, and so she sat in the sun idly waiting for whatever was going to happen next.

“Isobel, will you stop pointlessly patrolling the pier and just chill? There’s probably nothing at all to stress about…Nothing’s happened since we arrived here, Michael’s just taking precautions…”

Kyle sounded a lot more confident than he felt. Michael's theory made sense, but even so it was still a theory. Then he remembered that neither Isobel or Liz had yet been told about that theory. Isobel wasn't panicking needlessly after all...

Before Isobel could snap his head off, there was an unexpected comment from the other girl.

“Michael’s doing the right thing, checking the camp out after we’ve been gone all afternoon. No need to freak just because he has a contingency plan in case of danger. It’s a good idea.”

Isobel stopped pacing and Kyle raised his eyebrows as both turned to look at Liz in surprise. She looked back at them, a picture of wide-eyed innocence.

“Did I just hear Liz Parker defend Michael Guerin?”

“I heard it, too, Kyle, but you’re right – it is hard to believe…”

“So what’s with, Liz? Why the sudden one-eighty?”

She stood up and walked over to sit beside Kyle on the cabin step.

“I’ve finally had time to think this afternoon and I’ve got my head together after this last insane week. I really meant it when I said I didn’t want to lose your friendship and I realized I’ve been hard on Michael, too.”

Isobel came over to join them.

“I’m glad you finally noticed that. Michael’s the one who saved us all from the Feds, held us together and got us this far safely. He doesn’t deserve to be blamed for Max’s problems.”

Liz nodded earnestly in agreement. She’d been so wrong to take her frustrations with Max out on Michael.

“He’s changed so much since we left Roswell, it’s like he’s grown up suddenly and I’ve just been so blind to everything. I - I’m going to try hard to be a part of the group and make up for my behaviour last week…”

She looked anxiously between Isobel and Kyle. Kyle put his arm approvingly round her shoulders and hugged her. Isobel, leaning back against the cabin wall, was more reserved and Liz realized that she hadn’t entirely convinced the alien girl of her sincerity. She concentrated her attention on the Sheriff’s son.

“You don’t really think that there’s anything to worry about back at the camp, do you, Kyle? We haven’t seen any sign that we’ve been followed since we left Roswell…”

“We can’t let our guard down, Liz. That warning vision of yours – we don’t know what that’s about yet, either, or when it will happen…”

Liz looked scared for a moment, but then bravely smiled up at Kyle. Before she could speak, Michael and Maria arrived back to join them.

All three stood up and waited, alert and apprehensive, for their friends’ report.

Michael frowned round at them all, then stared hard at Liz.

“We’ve had a visitor while we were out…”

Maria interrupted him, wide eyed and excited.

“A bear… There was a real, live bear in our camp. It was so big and fierce and it stood up on it's hind legs and growled at us – God, those teeth - but Michael chased it away…”

Michael looked very pleased with himself for a moment as the others gasped in horror and his girlfriend gazed up at him admiringly. Then his expression changed to grim warning.

“I took care of it, but it could have done a lot of damage to the tents and the Chevy if we hadn’t got there just at the right moment…and it may still be a real danger, thanks to Goldilocks, here.”

He eyed Liz’s currently cropped blonde hair disparagingly. Liz looked bewildered. Why was he picking on her?

Isobel wondered, too.

“What’s Liz got to do with it? She was with us all the time, she had nothing to do with the bear…”

“When she dumped her breakfast over Kyle this morning, she didn’t bother to make sure the stuff that missed him was picked up and thrown in the trash, so the bear finished the leftovers. We all read the warnings in the park literature about not leaving garbage around and we made a big effort to make sure the supplies were protected so they didn’t attract bears and then Parker goes and leaves food lying around near her tent.”

Maria gazed reproachfully at Liz, too.

“The bear’s likely to come back and check us out again, now it’s found a food source.”

Liz, taken aback, stammered out some sort of apology, while her face burned red once again. Stupid, she railed at herself, how could she have been so stupid? Now Michael was looking at her like she was a bad smell again and Maria was criticizing her, too.

Then Kyle unexpectedly rode to her rescue and, to her surprise, Isobel backed him up.

“Give her a break, Guerin, she’s been under as much stress as the rest of us. So what if she forgot about bears and food – I did too.”

“We all did, Michael. None of us remembered about bears and we all saw what Liz did to Kyle and even got a laugh out of it. We should have thought of the danger, too, but we didn’t.”

“So Liz made a mistake in the heat of the moment. Don’t get on her case; no harm was done.”

Michael shrugged and turned away, his expression blank again but Maria wasn’t about to let it drop so easily.

“What do we do about the bear coming back? Now we’ll have to set a guard again tonight because we can’t be sure that rain will keep it away and we’ll all miss yet another night’s sleep…”

“If that’s what we have to do, then we’ll do it, but it’s not going to be a real problem for us. If it turns up again, we’ll hear it and chase it away. Don’t worry, Maria, there’s no need for any of us to miss any sleep tonight.”

Kyle felt protective of Liz and thought Michael and Maria had been too harsh in blaming her for the bear, but he wanted to reassure Maria, too. It wouldn’t be a problem to scare away if it did come back. Four aliens would be a match for any number of bears.

Michael had already set off back along the track to their camp and Maria hurried to catch him up. He draped his arm over her shoulders and she rolled her eyes at him as they carried on walking ahead. He half-smiled in return, then instantly forgot Liz and the others, letting his mind join hers in recalling the shared pleasures of the afternoon as he let his hand slide down and squeeze her ass possessively, reminding her that his mark was on her. She responded mentally and physically with a rare public kiss, in sensual anticipation of their next close encounter.

Liz, following behind with the other two, didn’t miss the easy intimacy between Michael and Maria and a flash of raw sexual jealousy consumed her. Her frustration was suddenly raging out of control and she felt a deep, aching need inside. An involuntary moan escaped her, bitten off instantly, but not before Isobel flicked her a curious glance.

When they arrived back at the campsite Liz didn’t wait for the others but ran straight over to her tent and disappeared inside, emerging moments later to head over to the showers with her towels and fresh clothes. Isobel stared after her thoughtfully for a moment before going across to the Chevy.

When the group had left the camp deserted while they were on their boating expedition, all their basic survival necessities had been hurriedly packed in the Chevy for security while they were away and now Isobel wanted a drink before the unloading process started. She opened the tailgate and began to fix one for herself, then Kyle came up and bitched at her for not including him, too. They squabbled amicably as they made their way over to the table by the grill where Maria was sitting, gazing dreamily out over the lake.

Michael and Maria had checked out the tents and the Chevy after he’d chased the big black bear back into the woods with a several sharp smacks on the rump with his power. To their relief, nothing had been disturbed by animal or human. Now Michael came back from a second check around the area to find Isobel and Kyle sitting at the table with his girlfriend. The other two had already made their drinks, but Maria had waited for him.

He barely acknowledged the presence of the others as he reached for Maria’s hand, tugging her to stand up beside him and suggesting silently that they go over to sit on the rocks at the edge of the lake.

***I’m not ready to socialize yet, princess. Plenty of time for that later over dinner***

***Fine by me, Spaceboy. I’ve got to make dinner but it’s only pasta and salad tonight, so it won’t take long***

They left Isobel and Kyle still sitting at the table among the trees and drifted down to the lakeshore out of sight of the camp to watch as the sun slid down towards the mountains and the air cooled against their skin.

Michael wrapped an arm round Maria and she rested her head on his shoulder. After a long silence Michael reluctantly admitted what was making him increasingly anxious as evening approached.

***I gotta tell Isobel about the bug in the bus theory tonight, Maria. Not gonna be pretty…***

Maria sighed and stirred within his arm.

*** We’ll tell her together, Michael, but like we agreed, we won’t accuse Jesse of anything. Let her work it out for herself… All we can do is be there for her when she does. It won’t be easy for any of us, but she’ll be so hurt by his betrayal… ***

***That fucking bastard.…***

Michael clenched his fists and a distant rumble of thunder in the clear sky echoed his anger and frustration.

***Are you going to make it rain again tonight, Spaceboy?***

***Guess so. We’ve let our guard down a bit over the last few days, so it won’t do any harm to remind ourselves we’re still in danger. Maybe a whole day away hiking isn’t such a great idea after all…***

***It’s not going to make much difference, Michael, if anyone was going to ambush us anyway. We just pack up the Chevy again and hide it somewhere off-road in the woods ready for a getaway. Nobody knows our plans, so they won’t be lying in wait at the waterfall. We can check the tents when we come back, same as we did today***

****Yeah, it’s a plan, princess… I guess the hike’s on, then... if anyone is still up for it after tonight***

Maria’s thoughts turned sad and apprehensive.

***I forgot for a moment– even if Isobel is still speaking to us, she won’t be in the mood for a picnic hike. Are we going to share everything we know tonight?***

***Not everything. Haven’t told Kyle about Watercress Creek, yet. Not going to, until we know what’s happening with this Tess/Max mind connection. That secret’s between you and me, Maria and it’s gonna stay that way until I can really trust him again***

***It’s not his fault, Michael.***

***You think I don’t know that? But he’s got Tess visiting his dreams, so I don’t want her finding out anything about us that she can use for her own ends, ok?***

***Do you think it could be Khivar again? I always thought he gave in much too easily…***

*** God knows – but we have to make sure that Max checks out the bus before we do anything else. I would have left it a couple more days before we let him off the hook as he’s still on the move, but now this Tess thing looks serious, we better warn him. Can’t risk the Feds closing in and distracting us...***

***Yes, I think Tess may be more of a danger to us at the moment and until we know what she wants with Max and Kyle we’d better be careful…***

***This dream thing is really screwing with Kyle’s head, but at least he looked more relaxed this afternoon on the lake***

***Come on, Spaceboy, I’ve got prepare a sauce for the pasta and then shower before dinner***

***I’ve heard bears like showers, too, Blondie – want me to check the place out first…?***

Maria slid an arm round his neck, whispering softly into his ear so that her hot breath tickled him and made him shiver a little.

“Did I tell you how brave you are, Michael? That bear was so big; I was scared it was going to attack but you were so cool about it…my hero…”

It wasn’t just Michael’s ego that swelled a little at his girlfriend’s stroking, but he couldn’t be anything but truthful, since she could read his emotions. He reacted to her touch, but he replied honestly, resisting the urge to brag about it.

“It wasn’t looking for trouble, Maria, it was just as surprised as we were. I only chased it on its way, no big deal.”

“It’s a big deal to me, Spaceboy. It was a dangerous, unpredictable wild animal and you protected me…”

She kissed him with passionate abandon and he tangled his fingers in her hair, unwilling to let her go until they were forced apart to breathe.

“Do you think Kyle is right and we’ll hear it if it comes back?”

“It probably won’t be back at all, 'cuz I gave it a bad memory of this place. No need to think about it any more. Just think about us, Maria. Maria….”

His lips found hers again.

Seeing Michael with Maria on the way back from the lake had made Liz’s jealous frustration burn hotter and the only answer had been to hide away and pleasure herself until the need was assuaged.

In the privacy of the shower cubicle, she had rapidly stripped off her sweaty clothes and adjusted the water temperature to cool, standing under the spray to let it soothe her hot skin. Her overheated mind was a different problem.

Her eyes closed and she bit her upper lip as her hands slid around and over her small breasts, cupping and circling closer to her pale pink nipples, then rolling and pinching them lightly until they peaked under her own touch, before sliding a hand down between her legs to find and finger the little hidden button that would take the edge off her burning frustration.

Exploring herself with light, feathery strokes at first, she rocked and thrust her hips as she tried to picture Michael’s image in her mind, but it refused to come into focus. It was Sean’s face which kept intruding until she gave in and let herself remember the nights in the dark, deserted bowling alley when he had broken in and taught her to slide laughing along the polished lanes with him, freeing her love-lorn mind from alien control for a few precious hours and introducing her to the illicit thrill of bad-girl power as she lay secretly with him in the darkness, tentatively exploring his body with her hands and mouth as she allowed him to explore hers…

She slid a finger, then two, inside herself, pumping more urgently as she remembered the silky feel of his cock in her hands, hardening under her control, responding to her touch as his thrusting tongue invaded her greedy mouth in time with her delicate hands pulling on his shaft until he broke their kiss to gasp commands to her - ‘faster, baby, faster, yes, yes, that’s it baby, ohhh yes’ – and Liz suddenly came hard against her own hand with the memory of his voice clearly whispering inside her head.

She slid slowly down the wall to sit on the cold, wet floor of the shower unit with her legs spread and her cunt still glowing from her quick climax, smiling in temporary relief from her growing frustration.

Sean had taught her what a man could do with his lips and tongue and hands to give her incredible pleasure, and she’d taken cool advantage of his generosity to her in everything she demanded of him. Warmth now flooded through her as she remembered all the things he had done to her without pushing her too hard for the final gift she was still saving for another man.

Although finally making love with Max had been as gentle and romantic as she’d wished - and with a great finale - she’d expected that the performance itself would be amateur compared with Sean’s undoubted experience. That it wasn’t so inept after all, she now realized with a shock, was down to the time he had spent with Tess…

Liz and Max had been sexually restrained almost to the point of masochism – idealistic romantic yearning had been the true key to their relationship - and nearly all of their times together had been spent doing not much more than kissing.

The few more intimate encounters that took place when during ‘research’ into the flashes, again immediately after Tess’ departure and then after her death, were the only significant occasions when anything like serious sexual contact took place before their decision to finally make love on the night before Graduation. When she looked back on it, their long relationship was tragically close to celibate.

On the night before the departure, when he’d appeared once again at her moment of need, Sean’s hard body had been more familiar to her than Max’s and right now she regretted the opportunity she had wasted. She wondered what he would have felt like. Would his human cock pounding inside her have given her as much pleasure as Max’s alien shaft eventually had? It was not in the same league as Michael’s, but was about the same as Max’s length – her mind vividly pictured the comparisons, and she involuntarily licked her lips.

Liz admitted to herself that Sean had, in their secret ‘playtimes’ together, awakened her body’s responses and also taught her something of how to please a guy. Then Max had released her from her virginity and given her an incredible ‘star-flash’ alien orgasm (the second one was memorable for another reason and she didn't didn't count it). Now fuelled by her new attraction to Michael, she was quickly beginning to recover confidence in her own sexuality, diminished when Max had called out Tess’ name.

She made a big effort to concentrate and reached to heat up the now chilly water. Then her hand was plunging between her legs for a repeat performance with more secret memories of Sean to make her moan with pleasure again before she had to dress for dinner…

…because Sean was a distraction from the disturbing mental images of Max and Michael that she was determined to keep at bay.

Outside, Isobel and Kyle sat on under the trees in a silence that gradually grew more tense as the evening closed in.

Michael and Maria came wandering back from the lake and Maria started to prepare the fresh tomato sauce for the pasta she was cooking for dinner, while Michael made the salad.

Liz arrived freshly showered and dressed in warmer clothes against the cold night ahead. She took a seat at the table with Kyle and Isobel and sat quietly watching the lake and Michael as he moved around the grill.

It was getting late by the time everyone had unpacked the truck, changed into warmer clothes and finally sat down to eat.

The relaxed atmosphere of the afternoon had dissipated and now the whole world seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for the night to come...

********

Chapter Thirty-Seven

There was no dessert for dinner.

Somehow, it didn’t seem right to eat frivolous alien ice-cream when they had serious issues to discuss and so Maria’s spicy tomato pasta and Michael’s Tabasco-dressed salad were eaten without comment.

The evening meal took even longer to finish than usual because no one was in any hurry to start the discussion. No one was really hungry; there was no conversation, everyone was silent, lost in his or her own thoughts.

Finally, when the clean dishes were stored away and the usual coffee and hot chocolate had been brought to the table it became impossible to delay any longer. Nobody thought of sitting round the firepit tonight. There was an instinctive need for a more formal gathering around the table, a sense of impending danger that grew in each of them as the wind rose and blew rustling through the darkness of the surrounding woods.

Maria moved closer to Michael, suddenly needing to feel his physical strength as well as his mental connection. On his other side, Liz moved in as close as she dared without making it obvious. Kyle and Isobel sat facing the others, a friendly, comfortable distance apart but close enough for tacit reassurance.

Michael took a big gulp of his coffee, stared down into his cup for inspiration, then looked up and collected everyone’s attention with one word.

“Tess.”

It dropped into the pool of silence like a stone.

Suddenly, the dam broke as everyone started to talk at once, exclaiming about her reappearance or simply cursing the small blonde’s existence until Michael spoke again, cutting through the babble of voices.

“Quiet. Everyone will get a chance to talk. That’s what we’re here for…”

When he had everyone’s attention again, he folded his arms on the table and leaned in. All the others mirrored his action and they huddled round like conspirators in the lamp-lit night.

“Kyle, you first. Tell us all about the dreams you’ve had. Don’t leave anything out.”

Kyle began to talk, though he spared the girls the intimate details of his memory dream.

“…but she didn’t seem at all hostile or menacing that time. Just the opposite, in fact…”

Although Kyle was reporting his dreams as objectively as he could, Liz still gave him a look of pure distain. He glanced away, feeling too guilty to meet her eyes.

Isobel took over and contributed comments from her own dreamwalking perspective, before going on to describe the details of those she’d shared with Max.

Liz finally allowed herself to be curious about all the things she’d studiously ignored.

“This green glow thing…is it just your forcefield? You said there was some kind of link with Max. Did you feel anything when it happened? Is that the first time she made contact? Could she have been inside your head during the times you were out of it?”

“Not that I recall. I don’t remember anything during the times I was out of it. The dreams only started since we got here, the dreams when Tess was here…”

Kyle felt deeply uncomfortable and faintly guilty again, as if it was somehow his fault that Tess was back. The rising wind in the surrounding trees didn’t help, making a high, eerie whine that distracted him from the conversation when he needed to concentrate.

“Well, yeah, I suppose she could have been there from the beginning but I only remember the dreams from the last two nights. I certainly didn’t feel any kind of connection to Max when we were in that shared sleep thing before my powers kicked in… I don’t remember dreaming at all then. ”

“You did once, Kyle, now that I think about it. It was one time when we were in the bus, you were glowing green and sleeping a lot. You called me ‘Tess’ and said you missed her. Liz, you were there, too, and upset by it then as well. Max had called you Tess again, but we didn’t have time to think about it as we were too busy running from the FBI…”

There was a pause, while everyone remembered that they were still supposed to be on watch for the Feds even if, for three of them, it was now almost a token gesture. Coffee cups were refilled all round and Michael heated up more hot chocolate for Maria, who was feeling increasingly in need of comfort. The night was now very cold, the wind was rising and they huddled in their warm clothes, each secretly wishing they were snug in their tents.

Then Michael sat back and collected the attention of the group ready for what he was about to say.

“Speaking of the Feds, I think it’s time we talked about Max. All we know is he’s alone out there, heading north-east, possibly to New York, to find out what the Tess thing is all about. Now, if it was just that, I’d say let him be – it’s his choice and it’s my responsibility to keep the rest of us safe.”

“But you’re saying it’s more than that, Michael?”

Isobel was surprised and wary.

“I think so, Iz. I have a theory – I can’t prove it – but it seems logical to me.”

Sensing that Maria was on the verge of backing him up, he sent her a private warning to keep quiet. He realised he now had to talk to Isobel and Liz without antagonising them by revealing that they had been excluded from discussing theories.

“I’ve been thinking and I’m as sure as I can be that we haven’t been followed since Roswell. I know we’ve changed our disguises and got the Chevy, but anyone tailing us closely still had a damn good chance of keeping track of where we went and plenty of places to capture us. So why do you think we haven’t been picked up yet? We’ve driven for hours through the middle of nowhere, on long stretches of empty road for the last 24 hours, too. That was the ideal chance to get us without any fuss. Now we’re here, it just makes it much more difficult to mount an operation in this type of terrain.”

“So we’re safe, Michael? Is that what you’re saying?”

Isobel suddenly looked like she might faint with relief. She hadn’t realised just how very much she had dreaded pursuit and capture until now when the threat might be over.

“My thought is that we probably are but we must still keep our guard up. The attack on us was a weird set-up all together. Only a few operatives involved and at a high-profile ceremony in a school. They didn’t even have the place surrounded in case we escaped. That would have been over-confident if we were normal, but insane if they knew or suspected we had alien powers. FBI operations are usually covert – they just wouldn’t be so public – they could have taken us from our homes without anyone noticing, if they’d wanted to. That’s why I’m not sure it was an official FBI operation, after all. Something just doesn’t smell right…”

Isobel and Liz looked surprised and then thoughtful.

“Who could it be, then Michael? Who else is out to get us?”

“For a while I thought it could be Khivar or the Skins, but now I don’t think so…”

“So we’re free after all, since we got away?”

Isobel was suddenly glowing with hope and Kyle wasn’t the only one who felt bad for her as Michael continued.

“However - and this is where Max comes into it – I think there’s a strong chance whoever it was didn’t bother using physical pursuit because they somehow got an electronic tag on us….”

Both Liz and Isobel went pale, their shocked gazes locked on a grim Michael so that they didn’t notice the lack of reaction from Maria and Kyle.

“Electronic tag? Oh, God, then they know where we are…there’s no escape…”

The horrified whisper came from Liz.

Michael’s voice was quiet and controlled, as he went on to reveal the point he needed to make. This new, controlled side of him had emerged in response to the challenge of leadership and assuming responsibility for the group. All the strength of character and resource that got him through a lifetime of physical abuse and loneliness was now turned to the defence of the group and he didn’t flinch from telling the frightening truth to the two people in the world that cared most for Max.

“The most likely place to hide a tag would be the bus. That’s why I think that it’s Max who is in real danger.”

He hurried on with his idea, anxious that Isobel should have no time at this stage to consider Jesse’s part in all this.

“Isobel, can you reach Max tonight and dreamwalk him with a warning? He needs to check the bus for a hidden bug and then if he finds one - get rid of it fast.”

Isobel still looked dazed, unconsciously twisting her wedding ring endlessly round her finger in her familiar nervous habit, but she nodded. Michael continued.

“Tell him not to just throw the bug away– that might tell our enemies to come looking for him. His best chance is to wait until he reaches a major truck stop and attach it to a long-haul truck, heading in another direction, preferably south. That way our enemies will still think we’re moving around the country, the truck driver will be safe when they realise what happened and, finally, Max and the rest of us should be safely lost somewhere in America by then.”

Maria reached for Michael’s hand. It was a good plan and there was no reason why it shouldn’t work. She hoped that Max would see reason and take Michael’s advice. Meanwhile, she just needed the physical comfort of Spaceboy’s touch.

He felt and tried to comfort Maria’s anxiety, smoothing his thumb across the back of her hand, understanding her need for physical contact with him as much as he needed her.

She prompted Kyle when the silence threatened to go on too long.

“What are we going to do about Tess? Isobel said you called her Tess before you got your powers…”

“Oh, that’s right, Maria. Kyle, didn’t I tell you at the time?”

“Uh, maybe you did and I forgot. I guess I must have been dreaming then, after all. Just don’t recall them. If I was, then Max probably was, too.”

“Means she’s been around in your dreams at least as soon as we left Roswell…and that was only a couple weeks after she arrived back from Antar and ‘died’ to protect us…”

Michael sounded thoughtful, but then Maria added another comment that sent a frisson of alarm through the others...

“Khivar could be behind Tess – it can't have been easy to steal a spaceship without his knowledge…? Do you think she somehow increased her powers when she was on Antar? It must have taken a lot to destroy the whole military base like that and then mind-warp her way out of it? Seems she can even dreamwalk now, too …”

“Then why couldn’t she hold the mind-warp for just a few minutes when she was in back of the car with the kid at the check-point…?”

“I guess she was just real tired by then, Michael. After all, she’d just crashed landed from another planet and was running for her life.”

“Could be, I guess…”

He shrugged

Liz’s voice was cold and hard as she leaned forward and swept her gaze over them all.

“The bitch has tricked us before and if it’s really her calling to Max she can only have tricked us again about dying in the explosion at the base.”

Maria privately thought this was merely stating the obvious, but she bit her lip and refrained from commenting, instead trying to move their speculation on.

“It seems it’s you and Max that she’s interested in, so far, Kyle. What does she want with the both of you? Have you any clue what it could be?”

“Maybe it’s because we both slept with her, or maybe just because I was linked with Max when my powers were developing and she was connecting with him? I’ve got no clue, Maria.”

It was at this point that Kyle suddenly recalled Max’s accusation about stealing his powers but when he told the others he admitted that he was uncertain of the truth regarding this.

“I suppose it could be true, I did feel a link when our forcefields connected in the dreams, but I really don’t think so...I think I would know if I was. But then, I guess I also thought I would develop my powers in a way more like, oh, like contagion, same as Liz when she got hers from Max. You never had any connection like mine with Max, did you, Liz? Your forcefield just appeared…”

Liz agreed, and dispassionately considered the evidence.

“All we have in common is that he healed us both. He didn’t appear to lose any of his powers, except when he died and got a new body. Max lost his kingly powers then, of course, but he had only to take them back from Michael to restore his birthright. It didn’t seem to affect him at all.”

Liz’s comment instantly sparked a reaction in Maria of mixed relief and anger at the memory – profound relief that Michael had regained his human self and deep anger that Max had been so ruthlessly brutal when he’d torn the mark of alien kingship out of the body of his ‘second-in-command’. To Maria’s anger at Max was added fury that Liz had been and could still be so callus about killing Michael to enable Max to regain his powers.

Michael felt the surge of anger and tried to calm her down.

***Cool it, Maria. Chill. Just calm down, ok? Now is not the right time to lose it with Parker, babe. Some other time, maybe, but not right now…***

He knew she’d caught his involuntary memory of that time, but his own flash of remembered disgust with himself was what made her contain her emotions and apply herself to the task of mentally reassuring him. In the few moments that Liz carried on speculating about the shared transference of alien powers, Maria had regained control of her emotions and only Michael knew how close she’d come to losing it with Liz.

The others hadn’t noticed anything amiss and attention was on Liz as the conversation continued oblivious to the moment of emotional turmoil now under control again.

“So why would he think you are stealing his powers? What did it feel like to you, Kyle?”

“In the dreams it was painful, I guess, but to me it felt more like we were somehow connecting, not really like I was draining his energy or anything…but yeah, it was painful. Max was angry…”

“Of course he would be, maybe he was in pain, too…”

Isobel’s eyes filled with tears as she remembered her brother’s odd mix of arrogance, pain, and loneliness.

“There’s something badly wrong with Max – it must be Tess. He said she was becoming more real to him than Liz and me… I’m scared, Michael…first the Feds or whoever and now Tess, too.”

Her voice suddenly took on all the imperiousness of a Royal Command. The Ice Queen spoke.

“He’s in danger. We must go after him.”

Michael shook his head in disbelief.

“Iz, we are on the run from our enemies who tried to kill us and must still want to. The best we can do is to stay together and stay out of sight for as long as we can. We can’t go chasing after Max. I’m telling you again - it was his choice to leave the group and go after Tess. Besides, we don’t yet know what she wants or where she is. It’s too dangerous to act until we know more. Anyhow, what the hell can we all do for him that you can’t do quicker and safer in a dreamwalk tonight?”

He watched her open her mouth in angry protest and then slowly compress her lips into a thin, hard line as she angrily fought against the truth in his argument.

“You don’t care about him, Michael, do you? He’s always been there for you your whole life, and here you can just ignore the danger he’s in and let Tess use him again. You’re still running away from problems, like you always did. You’re just using the group as an excuse.”

Even knowing that Isobel was lashing out in her fear and pain and that she’d feel bad afterwards, Maria wouldn’t forgive her for deliberately hurting Michael like that nor would she let it stop her from springing to his defence.

“How can you even think that? Of course Michael cares about Max, but he cares about the rest of us, too, which is why he won’t put us all in danger by following Max. Why can’t you see it, Isobel?”

Isobel looked across at the frowning blonde and than met Michael’s shadowed eyes. She spoke wearily and contritely, brown eyes pleading for forgiveness and still full of pain.

“I’m sorry, Michael. That was wrong of me. I know Max is just as much your brother as mine and I know you’d go after him in a heartbeat if you didn’t have to protect the rest of us, but still…”

Isobel’s distress was evident. Then Liz put in a bitter comment that stopped her cold.

“Max didn’t worry about leaving the rest of us behind with an unknown killer when he thought he was leaving for Antar with Tess. Neither did you.”

She gazed speculatively at the alien girl.

“I don’t think you’d be in such a rush to go to the rescue if it was anyone but Max out there, either… Michael’s right. Why should we risk our lives any more for him when he ran out on us?”

Isobel’s eyes narrowed in anger and a touch of guilt. Liz had a point. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt such a desperate need for action if it were one of the others instead of Max. Then she looked round at them all and knew that Liz was wrong. She might have been right not so long ago, but right now Isobel would have fought to the death for any of them.

She decided to ignore the antagonistic attitude and looked pleadingly over at the girl she was convinced still loved Max and might be persuaded to help him once again.

“Liz. I guess I know why you feel that way and where you stand in all this but, please, won’t you fight for him one more time so Tess doesn’t win again?”

Liz met her eyes for an unreadable moment and then slowly nodded her head.

Finally Isobel looked round at Kyle, a silent onlooker, and smiled confidently at him.

“What about you? What’s your vote on whether we should go after my brother?”

“I’m against it. I vote no.”

Kyle’s voice and expression were calm and neutral. Somehow that enraged Isobel more than anything else.

“Kyle, I know you’ve never liked him, but he saved your life and your father’s too. I guess it’s too much to ask you to return the favor now, huh?”

Whatever his feelings for her, Kyle wasn’t about to let Isobel needle and taunt him into any rash actions.

“No point in trying to push me into doing what you want, Isobel, it won’t work. I agree with Michael. Blindly following Max to wherever he’s going isn't a good idea and will likely end in all our deaths.”

The wind whipped the trees around and a sudden scatter of cold raindrops blew into their faces. Michael looked round at the sad and angry group.

“Looks like the action’s gonna take place in dreams tonight, anyway, so it doesn’t matter where we are, physically, does it?”

He avoided Isobel’s eyes. Her angry words had hurt him, despite her apology, and made him feel guilty, too, just as she’d meant them to. A barrier went back up inside him and he had withdrawn behind it. He could feel Maria in his mind fuming and silently cursing Isobel and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, warning her not to react publicly. She should know he would deal...when they were alone and he could lose himself and find comfort in her unconditionally loving mind and body.

“The only thing you can do for Max right now is tell him to check for an electronic bug on the bus and send it off in another direction.”

Michael’s voice was unusually gentle. Isobel’s fear for her brother was understandable, but her impulsiveness would lead them all into disaster for sure.

“Going after Max into the unknown is too dangerous. We could be walking into a trap. I’m not risking the rest of the group because Max has run after Tess. He chose to go and he stole the bus to do it. Leaving aside if it’s bugged or not, he didn’t give a f*ck about us…”

“How can you say that? It’s so not true…”

Maria suddenly lost patience and interrupted her.

“Whatever, Isobel, the fact is that only you and Liz voted to go after Max. Until we know more about what’s going on, we stay here and stick to our original plans.”

Michael backed her up.

“It’s the dreams tonight that are important. Isobel, you tell Max he needs to check out the bus soon. Kyle, I guess you’re gonna risk another visit from Tess. Maria and I will be right there next to you if you need us, ok?”

Kyle nodded, feeling apprehensive already. Michael turned to Isobel.

“Do you and Liz want to share our tent tonight? You can bring your sleeping bags over so we’ll all be together…”

Isobel and Liz shared a brief glance and then both shook their heads in unison.

“We’ll stay in our own tent tonight; Liz will be with me and we’ll call if we need you, ok.”

Liz would force herself to be there when Isobel talked to Max, as she’d reluctantly sided with the alien girl during the argument. She must put her plans for Michael on hold for the present. There would be plenty of time for winning him round later. If she was to get her revenge on Tess, she needed to know what was happening to Max.

So the group broke up, quickly heading into their tents as the wind sighed through the dark woods and blew the rain around in another cold, wet night, this time without alien intervention.

Only Kyle hung back, ignoring the rain, clearing the cups away, spending a long time concentrating on cleaning them with his powers. Then he snuffed the lanterns and went to sit in the Chevy, listening to the country music stations and gathering his courage to go to sleep, perchance to dream…

********

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Michael had gone over to the shower block leaving Maria to rapidly shed her outdoor clothes and hang them in the vestibule. She made a mental note to herself to think about their laundry tomorrow. They didn’t have too many clothes and if she didn’t watch Michael he would live in his black sweatshirts until they fell to rags and tatters...

It was cold in the tent and she hurried to throw an extra blanket over Kyle’s sleeping bag as well as their own. Only the basic necessities had been unpacked from the Chevy earlier and neatly arranged ready for the night again, so she pulled back the covers, stripped off the rest of her clothes and slid into the chilly sleepingbag, shivering and mentally growling at Michael to hurry up.

Then, in a swirl of wind and rain, he was there grinning at her while he threw off his own clothes, the canvas doors apparently sealing themselves behind him.

***Not much time, Kyle will be back soon…***

Maria held out her arms towards him in the dim lamplight.

*** Then what are you waiting for, Spaceboy? Come here…***

He didn’t waste any time, just crawled in beside her, slid an arm around her, cupped her face with his other hand and took her lips with his own. Then he trailed his hand down her neck and further on down to a creamy breast where he lingered, stroking the rosy tip with his thumb while his tongue stroked hers and his mind met her own in the rising heat of their urgent desire.

She reached down to find his thick cock already springing eagerly up to meet her and he groaned into her mouth as her hand curled round it and her thumb smoothed lightly over the sensitive tip, mirroring his own actions on her responsive nipples.

Her other hand raked through his hair and she gasped as he broke away from her mouth to leave a necklace of kisses round the base of her throat, then gently closed his teeth on the delicate skin just below her ear so that she shivered in delight.

Michael’s cock was now rock hard in Maria’s hand and she was already so wet for him, both of them panting and gasping the other’s name, that when he moved to hold himself poised above her, about to slide into her, she wrapped her legs around his ass and greedily pulled the whole thick, steel-hard length of his cock up into her tight, velvety, searing heat. It was his turn to gasp in surprise as she encased him completely.

Their gazes locked as he began to thrust slowly inside her and she rocked against him, reaching up to grip his shoulders and dig her nails into his smooth muscle as the rhythm built quickly in fast, furious need, then his mind soared with hers into ecstatic infinity as they found their bliss in each other again and collapsed breathless on the pillows.

Still panting and laughing a little at their desperate need to make love fast before Kyle returned and caught them, they slowly came back to earth lying in each other’s arms, with Maria scattering soft, loving kisses over Michael’s cheek.

It was, in fact, some little time before they heard Kyle go to bed and by then Michael was lazily rolling a thumb over one of her cherry-tipped breasts while Maria’s teasing fingers were beginning to have a rousing effect on his anatomy again. They both sighed in reluctant agreement that this activity must stop while other serious duties took precedence.

“You go to sleep, Maria. I’ll keep watch on Kyle for an hour or two and I’ll wake you if anything happens…”

“Promise, Michael? No letting me sleep through it for my own protection, or else I’m warning you there’ll be biiig trouble…”

“Ok, I promise to wake you whatever happens…now go to sleep. You practically are anyway…”

“Am not. I’m just as wide awake as you aaaaaare…”

An enormous yawn overcame her, smothered by her hand, and then she grinned up at him, rolling her eyes in self-mockery before kissing him goodnight and turning on her side to snuggle beneath his arm against his warm body.

He waited until her breathing slowed, felt her mind quickly sliding into sleep, before he silently moved the molecules to open the door onto the dark vestibule so that he could listen more easily for Kyle on the other side of the canvas wall.

He wasn’t sleepy anyway and this Tess business worried him more than he was willing to admit. Isobel’s taunts had hit him hard and he wondered uneasily if he was wrong not to go after Max. Maybe she was right and he was running away from his problems again…maybe they should just pack up the Chevy and head out tomorrow morning, try to catch up with Max in the bus before it got to wherever Tess wanted it to be.

Then Maria’s silent, sleepy voice was in his head scolding him, while her arms went round his neck and she pulled his face down to hers until they were nearly nose-to-nose. Her green eyes gazed fiercely into his.

***Listen to me, Michael. Isobel’s wrong. You know she just wanted to push your buttons to send you on a guilt trip so you’d rush after Max. You made the right decision – keeping the group safe is the most important thing right now and Max is perfectly capable of looking after himself when he finds out what’s going on with Tess... He knows what she’s like and he’ll certainly be on his guard against her tricks***

There was a pause as she kissed him to emphasise her love and support. He kissed her back, hugging her close, feeling the sting of Isobel’s barbs fade almost to nothing in the loving intensity of Maria’s feelings for him. He could never forget his childhood, and it would always shape how he looked at the world, but he was shedding it’s emotional hold over him like an outgrown skin as he grew and changed under the impact of creating a new life for himself and Maria.

Because that was what was really happening – the chance for a new life together once they’d solved the immediate problems of dealing with their mysterious FBI enemies, who wanted to kill them, and Tess – whose intentions were still unknown.

‘The past is another country, they do things differently there’ – he’d read it somewhere, but couldn’t recall the author – and the quotation seemed apt for the new Michael he was learning know and wanted to keep…

***I’ll love you whoever you turn out to be, Spaceboy…***

He’d momentarily forgotten that she could hear his private thoughts if he let her, but this time he didn’t mind. He knew she understood. He hugged her tighter.

After a time Maria spoke again, slowly, considering her words as she struggled to express her feelings and suspicions.

***I’ve been thinking about Max tonight and… I don’t trust him, Michael… or – or Liz, either. I can’t believe I’m saying it, she’s been my best friend forever, but … I don’t think she’s quite sane any more…***

Michael snorted in amusement and then realised she was serious.

***Not gonna get an argument from me on that one, Maria, but why do you suddenly think she’s nuts?***

***It’s not really so sudden, Michael, I just didn’t notice until we all were forced to live so close together, like 24/7, this last week... I don’t think it’s just because of the Tess thing, either. Lately, she’s been – I don’t know – kind of detached with me and everyone else. Well, ok - with me, when she isn’t being insulting or clingy. I guess she’s always been kind of indifferent to anyone else except Max***

***True, she’s never been real friendly to the rest of us – but then who cares? So what makes her any different now – she’s always been hostile to me, no change there***

***She’s too – I don’t know… I’m not even sure what it is about her that makes me think she’s losing it, Michael. I mean, dumping her breakfast over Kyle this morning was funny to us, but her rage against him is unreasonable and it’s going on far too long. Ok, so he slept with Tess and had feelings for her. That was way back. Why hold a grudge now? At first I thought her behaviour was an extreme reaction to the stress of leaving Roswell and then breaking up with Max; but I now think maybe it started when she began to develop the powers and went away to school and then Max showed up and - and attacked us…***

Michael held her tight and stroked her hair comfortingly, suppressing his burst of fury as the memory of being nearly strangled by Max replayed in her mind before she realised he had seen it. Instinctively, he soothed her with his lips and hands while he told her fiercely that she was safe with him.

*** I know Liz said it wasn’t really Max, it was that old Meta-Chem guy in Max’s body, but…I-I only saw Max’s face and somehow I haven’t been able to completely trust him since…and this leaving Liz and running after Tess thing doesn’t help***

*** God, Maria, why didn’t you tell me? You shouldn’t have had to deal all by yourself… and if not me, hell, Liz is your best friend and she was there – couldn’t you have talked to her?***

Maria laughed.

***She had her own worse life-threatening experiences with Max and then she was so focussed on taking things slow with him afterwards, she never really registered that I had been there, too… I guess I just had to deal – and I have, Michael, I have, don’t worry. It’s just once in a while that I look at him and remember his face and what it felt like with his hands around my throat choking me…***

Maria suddenly sobbed into Michael’s chest and tried to apologise at the same time.

***I’m just being stupid, Michael, it wasn’t a big deal; it was over so fast, he didn’t really hurt me and it wasn’t really Max doing it, I know that. Don’t worry, it’s old, now …***

Michael hugged and patted her helplessly. He couldn’t stand to see her cry and he felt a cold, irrational anger with Max for hurting the innocent, defenceless Maria, even if it wasn’t really him doing it - and an equally cold fury at Liz, selfishly oblivious to her friend's feelings.

***Hey, hey, c’mon, Maria, you’re not being stupid. You were attacked, and to you it looked like Max did it. Of course you’re not gonna trust him after that…***

Maria sat up, sniffed and reached across for a tissue from the pack by the bed.

***Sorry I got all weepy, Spaceboy. I think it was just the excuse that I needed to let everything else out, too. You know - my mom, and now Tess and everything. I feel better now, thanks…***

Michael remembered his plan to dreamwalk Amy DeLuca and suggested he try a little later before they went to sleep. Maria lit up at the prospect and threw herself back down to kiss him again, to which he didn’t object at all.

Then he remembered that Maria hadn’t finished telling him why she thought Parker had lost it. When he reminded her, she turned serious again.

*** I mean, when I found her at that school, Liz was angry, her powers were showing up and she was drinking heavily. I know she never quite trusted Max again afterwards, even though she'd seemed to have some kind of connection to him. Like, she knew when he ‘died’ – you remember I called you to check on him because she was so convinced there was something wrong?***

***Yeah, I remember – there were a few things goin’ on with Isobel and Jesse at that time, too, as I recall***

***Well, ever since that time, Liz has been, like, riding an emotional rollercoaster –extreme reactions about everything***


***Maria, it's my guess she’s always had extreme reactions – she just kept a lid on them so she can be Little Miss Perfect Parker – what’s changed now?***

***The lid’s finally blown off under pressure, I guess. Anyway, she told me after we left Roswell that she thought it was like some romantic movie with her as the heroine on the run with a powerful alien king for her lover – don’t laugh like that, Michael, I think it’s kind of romantic, too, being with you...***

He tried to muffle his laughter so he didn’t wake Kyle. It was the funniest thing he’d heard in a long time – Liz Parker, Screen Goddess - but Michael finally sobered up before Maria got seriously pissed at him.

***Yeah, well, the point is - you think it’s kinda romantic just being with me, human or not, Maria*** He leaned in for a kiss.

Michael eventually continued his thought, when he could think again.

***Liz Parker’s really in love with the whole alien-king, royalty stuff, and all the drama that goes with it… If Max hadn’t revealed our secret, she’d never have noticed him. She’d still be with the captain of the football team. Kyle’s one damned lucky guy…and you can bet he knows it. Liz is ambitious, attracted to power and Max is literally the most powerful guy she’s ever met. I don’t think she’ll ever give him up completely***

***But listen, Liz also said that she suspected Max was only with her out of guilt that he’d ruined her life. Then he goes and proves it to her by calling her Tess when they made love and running after the murdering bitch at the first opportunity. ***

***Yeah, but was that real or was that Tess herself inside his head? Liz is still traumatised – it’s only been a week – and her usual pattern is to give him another chance eventually, because they’re ‘soul mates’. She’ll blame Tess for everything, as usual, and Max will get yet another chance***

***Still, she actually criticised him publicly tonight, when she accused him of not caring about us humans left behind, even if next minute she did agree to side with Isobel about going after him. I’m sure she really does love him, but I’m not so sure she’ll give him another chance this time... I mean, it’s no wonder she’s screwed up, Michael, and I feel so sad for her but - I just don’t quite trust her anymore. I think she’s become a little unbalanced…***

She heard Michael’s derisive snort.

*** A lot unbalanced, if you ask me… She’s driving me nuts, anyway, and it’s only been a week – what will happen if we’re isolated deeper in the wilderness?***

***Maybe I’m being too hard on her and she’ll calm down soon. She’s been through so much in the past few weeks***

***We all have, Maria, and though I’ll even admit she’s maybe had it a little tougher than the rest of us lately what with Max an’ all, I notice she’s still bein’ carried by the group… Liz never lifts a finger except to make that damn cherry coke. Kyle’s made much better progress with his powers, but she doesn’t appear to make any attempt at all. She’s gotta get off her ass and start doing more of her share of the chores, at least***

Maria could feel Michael’s irritation grow at the thought of Liz Parker’s enforced company for the foreseeable future.

***Tell her tomorrow, Spaceboy, tonight we have to watch for Kyle. He’s very quiet so far. Do you think he’s asleep yet?***

They both listened hard, but the buffeting wind and rain outside the tent drowned all other sounds. Eventually, Michael looked at his watch and gave up. There was no point now in waiting until dawn - Kyle would wake them if and when he had some news.

***It’s late. Want to try to contact your mom now, princess?***

Her nakedly desperate hope suddenly reminded him how very deeply she missed her mom and he was impatient to make contact as quickly as he could.

They snuggled down together in the warmth of their bed, the air in the tent nearly as chill as the cold night outside.

Michael spooned up behind Maria, relaxed and ready for sleep now while Maria was the one wide awake.

***Show me your mom, Maria, try to see her as clearly as you can so I can focus on her image in your mind, ok…?***

There was no hesitation, no blurriness – just a sharp, instant picture of Amy DeLuca’s face there in her daughter’s mind’s eye.

***What do you want me to tell her?***

***Just tell her I love her and that we’re together. She won’t believe you’re really in her dream and it might take a few more visits to convince her of the message, but she’s already familiar with dream interpretation…you may have to plant a few specific symbols in future visits to let her work it out for herself***

***Ok, Maria. Just don’t try to follow me into her dream, yeah? It’s too dangerous until I’ve had more practice and I know what I’m doing…***

Maria reluctantly saw the sense in Michael’s warning and agreed to stay out of his dreaming mind. He took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, closing his eyes and re-focusing on Amy’s face as he sank gently into sleep.

This time, however, the mists failed to part and all Michael found as he moved blindly through them was a pervading sense of fear. It puzzled him until he realized the answer.

Amy DeLuca was too afraid to sleep…

********

Chapter Thirty-Nine

In the other tent Liz sat beside a sleeping Isobel and watched with detached interest as the alien girl dreamed of Max, far away tonight in both mind and body, sleeping in another anonymous motel somewhere beside an endless highway.

Isobel was on the dream plane, alone in the cold, starlit desert, wondering where her errant brother was.

The huge moon rose slowly over the dark horizon, shining pale and full, revealing Max’s dream image standing in the shadow of the rocks.

He made no move towards her this time, nor did he speak, but she knew he was aware of her presence.

Although the urgency of her message was uppermost in her mind, Isobel was wary as she closed the distance that separated them. She saw him turn away to go sit, a dark silhouette against the moon, on a nearby boulder, then wait until she was standing directly in front of him before he spoke, so quietly that she could barely hear him.

“We’re not alone…”

Then he raised his voice to normal levels and greeted her, annoyance plain in his voice.

“Isobel, at last. I’ve waited so long that I was beginning to think you weren’t coming tonight. What kept you?”

He said it with a demanding arrogance that automatically raised her hackles, until his rapid, low whisper came again.

“She’s here. Don’t tell me anything…”

She made herself sound just as pissy and arrogant - which wasn’t too far from the truth - as he had when he spoke aloud, but her mind registered what he was really saying as she replied to his overt greeting.

“Hello, Max, nice to see you, too. I’m not late; it’s not even midnight yet. Why are you so worried? It’s not like you don’t have all night to sleep and dream.”

Continuing aloud with enquiries about his health and current location (crossed into Illinois, apparently, but sleeping in the bus tonight) she rapidly reviewed her plans. Should she warn him about the possible bug in the bus? Would that also be information he didn’t want Tess to know?

She quickly made up her mind. The FBI, or whoever, were Tess’s enemies too and although Isobel wouldn’t lift a finger to help the girl who killed Alex, it was Max who needed the protection. Isobel herself had strong doubts about Michael’s theory – she didn’t see how the bus could have been rigged so fast before they left - but she decided to go ahead and deliver the warning message, as she’d agreed.

“Max, listen. There’s something you need to check out fast – Michael has a theory that maybe the FBI or someone bugged the bus. They could track us and pick us off at their leisure and that’s why we haven’t been followed. Now you’re the one in danger...”

Max’s response to this was the most natural since she had started these dream walks during the nights since he’d left to follow Tess’ call. His image suddenly brightened with life, recalling the ghost of the Max of old, automatically pouring cold water on one of Michael’s hot-headed ideas.

“What? No way, I just don’t believe it. It was Jesse who gave us the bus – and there wouldn’t have been time for a bugging device to be planted on it.”

“That’s what I think – but Michael’s right in that it looks like we haven’t been followed in the Chevy. He says he just wants to make sure that the bus is clean, too…”

“Well, ok, I’ll just go check it out right now…”

“Wait, Max, don’t rush off just yet. If you do find one, Michael says don’t destroy it – he wants you to keep it until you can find a long-haul truck, preferably heading south, and send our enemies off on a wild goose chase. Then we’ll be free and clear…”

“Yeah, that makes sense, I guess. I’ll go take a look now…Catch you later, Isobel…”

He looked hard at her, winked, then rolled his eyes in a significant glance upwards. She saw his finger discreetly lift and point behind him at the moon shining down over his shoulder.

Isobel just managed to stop herself glancing upwards, knowing that Max didn’t want her to reveal that she had caught on to his clues. Could it be that Tess might still believe that her presence in Max’s dreams had been undetected, since she had so far only appeared disguised as the moon? Still, Isobel remembered that Tess must know that Kyle had seen her in his own dreams… She would think about that puzzle later. Now she had to let Max wake up and check out the bus. She carefully kept her eyes fixed on his face.

“I’ll try to dreamwalk again in a while, Max, give you a chance to investigate, ok?”

His dream image nodded and then Isobel faded out of the scene and woke up.

She found herself looking up into Liz’s intent brown eyes; the wide, unblinking stare fixed on her own from the other girl’s position a few inches away, curled up by the bedside.

“Did you see Tess?”

The abrupt question surprised Isobel, who had expected Liz to ask about her brother. Next moment, she recognised her error. Liz obviously had no intention of inquiring into Max’s current situation and was simply waiting for Isobel’s answer.

“Well, no, not exactly… but she was there. I think that she was disguised as the moon. It’s appeared in every dream Max has had so far. He gave me the heads up tonight…”

Liz looked sceptical.

“Is that for real? You said he was acting strange before - maybe Tess has him under her spell this time, too… I really don’t think we can trust him anymore.”

Max’s sister was immediately defensive, surprised again at how detached, even indifferent, Liz appeared to be to her ‘soul mate’ now. Maybe she really was serious about moving on, but Isobel still couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it.

“He was different this time, Liz – still that arrogant attitude, but secretly whispering that we weren’t alone and warning me not to tell him anything … Max wouldn’t say that if he was really trying to find out anything about us for her. It’s put us on our guard now, if we weren’t already.”

“Did you give him Michael’s message?”

“Yes. I think it’s best for Max’s protection, even if it helps that bitch, too. Not that he’ll find anything – there wasn’t enough time for the Feds to wire up the bus. I think we took them by surprise when we made our escape so fast, that’s why we haven’t been followed. Anyway, Max is checking it out now – he’s sleeping in the bus tonight - and I’ll give him an hour before I dreamwalk him again.”

Liz shifted her position to make herself more comfortable and Isobel warmed up the chilly air in the tent again as the temperature had dropped while she was asleep. Liz apparently either hadn’t noticed or hadn’t cared.

After a long, absent silence, Liz spoke her thoughts aloud.

“Max said Tess was calling him because she needed help or something. Then he acted weird and creepy when he talked to you and wanted to know where we are. Now you say he’s warning you not to tell him anything? What is going on with her? Max is on his way to see her, without much of a fight, just as she wanted. Despite Alex’s death and everything else that’s gone down, she’s got him interested enough to run after her again.”

Isobel noticed that Liz didn’t sound too concerned at that aspect anymore. It was Tess’s motives that interested her now.

“I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do, Liz, but I do know that Max must be in some kind of trouble. I still think we should go after him, even though the others don’t. I’m so worried about him. I know I went too far earlier when I tried to persuade Michael, but - ”

Liz interrupted her.

“Yeah, you were pretty hard on him and Kyle, but I think they understand that you’re afraid for Max and they’ll forgive you. You’re closer to them than I am. I’m the outsider now…”

The resentment showed through in her voice and Isobel took note. It was true, but Liz had brought most of it on herself by her attitude.

“Well, maybe insulting Michael and Maria and attacking Kyle last night wasn’t the best way to go, but you apologised to everyone and I’m sure things will settle down again soon. Kyle’s forgiven you, anyhow.”

“Michael hasn’t. I know he’s never liked me, but I’m really going to try harder to be friends now we only have each other - in the group, I mean. Have you observed how much he’s changed? Did you notice he’s become so strong and protective of the group now and he’s got real leadership qualities. I never saw that in him back in Roswell…”

Just for an instant Isobel saw Liz’s eyes become as dreamy and hopeful as they used to be when she was with Max, but it passed so fast she thought she must have imagined it. Then Liz carried on talking aloud, half to herself, and Isobel’s eyebrows gradually rose in astonishment.

“He’s so concerned about Maria now, he never lets her out of his sight. Ironic, when you think how badly he treated her for so long. When she came with us I was pleased for me, of course, but I was really surprised – she was so uncertain of their relationship right up to the moment we left and, remember, Michael was planning to go off on his own. I’m starting to wonder if she made the right choice. After all, she’s the only one of us without powers. Michael’s protecting her now, but I’m so worried she’ll find it too hard to be the only human among us…”

Isobel had heard enough and her temper flared. She had sympathised with the girl’s grief and loss over Max, and understood when she wanted to move on and forget about him but Liz Parker didn’t seem to see anyone else’s point of view except her own. Jealousy over Maria’s happiness was unfair and wrong. Time to put her right.

“She’ll be fine, Liz. You’ve seen them together this last week and I don’t think you need to worry about Maria. It’s plain that Michael adores her, and she’s just as bad over him. As for being the only human, we all love her for herself, who cares if she has powers or not? I think it’s great she’s with us. I don’t know if I could have even survived without her.” Isobel’s voice softened. “I know it’s hard seeing them so happy when we’ve lost the ones we love, Liz, but - ”

Liz was highly indignant.

“I am not jealous, Isobel, and I really wasn’t trying to be bitchy - it’s just that I was surprised, that’s all… Anyway, you have to admit they’ve never gone so long without a fight before… ”

Isobel laughed and agreed that harmony had reigned between their famously volatile friends for so long now it must be a record. Despite their long association, she really didn’t know Liz well. Maybe she’d jumped to the wrong conclusion and maybe Liz really was genuinely concerned for her best friend. Isobel reserved her judgement.

She sat up and reached for the supplies that Maria had left ready in the tents. A cup of hot chocolate would help her relax so that she could dreamwalk Max again. He must surely have had time to search the bus and go back to sleep by now. She said as much to Liz, who absently agreed as she accepted her cup and sipped slowly, eyes remote again.

Finally, Isobel decided that enough time had passed for Max to be ready again and she settled back down in her sleeping bag once more under Liz’s watchful gaze.

She closed her eyes and in a little while the mist rose up around the image of her brother’s face. However, nothing happened and she searched fruitlessly until she finally gave up and sank back into her own natural sleep.

All too soon, someone shook her shoulder, rousing her not so gently, and called her name. Groaning, she reluctantly opened her eyes on Liz again.

“No good, Liz. He must be having problems getting back to sleep, so I can’t dreamwalk him again yet. It’s not worth using up all my energy to try to contact him when he’s awake. You and I should both get some rest for a few hours. I’ll wake you up at 4 and I’ll try again then, ok?”

Liz nodded and stood up stiffly, reluctant and disappointed, to go back to her own sleepingbag without news.

Promptly at 4am Isobel’s watch beeped, dragging her from dreams that vanished as she woke so that she couldn’t quite recall their nature. This left her with a faintly uneasy feeling so that she snapped out Liz’s name impatiently through the dividing wall to call her ready for the dreamwalk.

Once the other girl was settled sleepily beside her bed again, Isobel lay back, closed her eyes and summoned her brother’s face.

This time there was no bar to her way forward and she immediately found herself back in the moonlit desert darkness again.

Max was waiting, pacing up and down in front of the rocks under the bright moon. He didn’t bother to greet her this time, just strode towards her talking as he came, his agitation clearly visible.

“Michael was right, Isobel. There is a bug, hidden under a metal plate in the floor. God, I just can’t believe it. What do I do now? What did Michael say to do?”

“He said to attach the bug to a long-haul truck, lead our enemies away from us, make them think we’re heading south again…”

Max immediately calmed down, now that he had an aim to focus on, and his confidence returned.

“Good plan. Tell Michael that when I hit a major north-south intersection, I’ll find a truck stop and do it tonight.”

“Why wait until then, Max?”

“It’s safer to do it under cover of darkness. Can’t do it now, I’m in the middle of nowhere here, just parked off the highway by an all-night diner. It’s real quiet, no one else is around.”

“It’s nearly dawn now so if you’re ok with doing that, Max, I’ll see you again tonight.”

He smiled affectionately and nodded briskly at her, seeming more natural and relaxed than he had appeared since she first visited his dreams a few nights ago. Neither of them had so much as glanced at the moon, still hanging low above them in the star-filled night sky. Isobel left him there, somehow a little less anxious now that she sensed her brother was back in control and closer to being his old self again, although she was still worried and puzzled about the constant presence of Tess in his dreams.

Back inside her own mind, waking in her warm sleeping bag to find Liz still watching her like a cat at a mousehole, she reported the bad news.

“Oh, my God, Isobel… Michael was right. You get dressed while I go tell him. Don’t worry, I can just slip my coat on over my pyjamas… But I still don’t understand - how did they have time to do it? Or get Jesse to buy that particular bus? Oh, God, we have so much we need to talk about…”

Isobel stopped her with a gentle gesture, wryly amused at the other girl’s urgency, even as she felt a new revelation welling up in her own mind - explosive knowledge she was too afraid to identify and desperately, frantically, wanted to deny. She fought for control, speaking calmly in a voice that didn’t sound like her own, focussing her attention on Liz, who was gaping at her in surprise.

“There’s no rush, Liz. We can’t do anything right now and Michael won’t be happy to see you if you wake him up in what he considers to be the middle of the night. Tell him at breakfast, that will be soon enough for him…”

As she spoke, Isobel was climbing out of her bed and searching for her own clothes, struggling into them hastily, not stopping to brush her tangled hair or button her jacket as she rushed outside into the wet and windy morning.

She never saw the dawning comprehension on Liz’s face or her frantic flight in pyjamas and bare feet, screaming Michael’s name in panic as she tried to claw her way into his tent.

Isobel was running and stumbling blindly down to the cold, grey lake, her mind reeling from the revelation that Jesse, the man she loved, lied to and left behind, had betrayed her and wanted her dead…

********

Chapter Fourty

Liz clawed frantically at the entrance to Michael’s tent and when it parted before her she threw herself against the hard, muscular body which gathered her up to bring her inside, holding her tightly against him and patting her awkwardly to soothe her agitation.

Then she saw Michael emerge from his sleeping compartment clad only in his shorts while Maria followed him, wearing a long, black sweatshirt obviously not her own.

Struggling away from Kyle, Liz lunged at Michael but Maria intercepted her, pulling her into a hug and asking her anxiously what was wrong. Thwarted, Liz gave in and gestured behind her, gazing huge-eyed at Michael as she panted and gasped out that Max really had discovered a bug in the bus and Isobel had just realized that Jesse must have betrayed them all to the FBI.

“Isobel’s distraught, she’s gone running down to the lake. She had a strange look on her face…I- I think she’s going to do something stupid. Michael, you have to stop her…”

Michael was unmoved by her histrionics and walked calmly past her out of the tent to look over to where Isobel was huddled on a rock, hugging herself and rocking slowly to and fro.

He closed his eyes briefly and a look of intense pain flashed across his face before it resumed its normal expression of stoic impassivity. Maria released Liz, reached for his hand, and then they both headed out towards the alien girl by the lake. Kyle hesitated for a moment before hurrying after them. Maria hooked her arm though his and all three continued on together.

Liz stayed where she was, starting to shiver in her pyjamas and cold, bare feet. She felt no impulse to join them; instead, with that now familiar feeling of detachment, she watched them speculatively, noticing for the first time just how close the three had become. She walked quickly to the shower block to brush her teeth and on her return, went over to the grill. The weather had not improved, the others were still down by the lake, so she found some bread, butter and grape jelly in the fresh supplies Maria had bought yesterday and quickly made herself some breakfast to take back to her tent, where a cup of hot, milky coffee would warm her up and complete her meal.

Isobel, her mind shut down against the pain, had run blindly and instinctively as far as she could before the lake cut off her escape.

Huddled on the rocky edge, hugging herself and shivering in shock, her mind worried at the facts of Jesse’s betrayal, searching for other explanations and discarding them in despair as her cool intelligence accepted the reality her warm heart couldn’t.

Jesse must have betrayed her to the FBI. No other explanation fitted the facts.

Isobel closed her dry, burning eyes in agony of spirit – she was beyond tears. She thought of the men she’d loved… Grant, gone before she even knew her feelings; her first true love, sweet Alex, lost; and now Jesse, whom she’d thought was her dream come true, Jesse who had – unbelievably - betrayed her to her enemies. He’d even told her he loved her when all the while he was sending her to her death.

Then she heard the others arrive and she felt Maria’s soft arms go round her as her friend hugged her close while Michael and Kyle stood nearby, helpless and uncomfortable, but equally there for her …

She lifted her stricken face and stared accusingly over at Michael, standing immobile as a statue, arms folded and oblivious to the rain-laden, gusty breeze coming off the lake, gazing moodily out over the dark water.

“Michael, you knew. You knew it was him - why didn’t you tell me…?”

He slowly turned towards her and when his lips moved uncertainly as he hesitated, trying to find the right words, her anger suddenly found an outlet, re-directing itself at him.

Isobel tore herself out of Maria’s arms and stood up to stumble over to Michael and flail her fists against his chest. He made no attempt to defend himself as she shouted at him furiously.

“All this time you must have known he betrayed us and yet you let me go on grieving and crying over him, you bastard … Why, Michael, why? You should have told me. I have a right to know…”

He didn’t answer her, just stared at her with mute pain in his eyes as she raved at him; then her anger suddenly broke under the force of her sorrow and she collapsed, weeping, onto his shoulder.

Michael held Isobel as she cried, hating to see her pain, but he was relieved when Maria came up to them, rubbing Isobel’s back in soothing circles and sliding an arm round him, too. Both the aliens automatically reached out to wrap Maria into their hug.

Kyle stood uncomfortably nearby, feeling unable to join in, powerless to help her, his heart aching at seeing her in such despair.

They stood there for a long time before Maria managed to persuade Isobel to go back to her own tent out of the rain, which was now falling harder again. Leading the still fragile girl away from the lake’s edge, she mentally told Michael that he and Kyle should make themselves some breakfast, but to bring only a cup of hot, sweet and spicy milk for Isobel.

***It’s a comfort food for her, Michael, and she won’t be up to eating anything for a while, so we must just do what we can, ok?***

Deeply grateful to have something practical to do while his girlfriend dealt with the messy, emotional stuff he hated, Michael nodded at Kyle and headed off to shower and dress, talking privately to Maria as he walked. Kyle, noticing the rain at last and that he was now soaked to the skin, followed his alien friend.

***Ok, Maria. What do you want to eat?***

***I’ll just have some coffee, please, Spaceboy. Don’t worry about me, I’ll grab something later on. Isobel needs time to get through this and I’ll stay with her as long as she wants…***

***Thanks – I guess I need to talk to her soon, though…***

***Yes, but not yet, ok? It’s too soon – wait a while until she calms down, then it’ll be easier on both of you***

Maria reached the tent and pulled the flap aside, gently towing Isobel behind her. Once inside she discovered Liz, sitting cross-legged on her bed wearing jeans and a sweater, with a cup of coffee in one hand and in the act of taking a bite out of a slice of jelly–smeared bread and butter. Maria surprised a furtive, guilty expression on her face and was puzzled for a moment, then Liz carefully set the cup down beside the plate that had held the rest of her breakfast and placed the book she had been reading back onto the neat pile of personal possessions in the corner. She waved the half-eaten slice of bread apologetically at them and chewed and swallowed before she spoke.

“Isobel, Maria…I…um…”

Liz was lost for words and scrambled out of her den to sit on the vestibule floor gazing helplessly at them while Isobel lay down tearfully on her bed and Maria sat beside her, holding her hand and stroking her hair. A long time passed before Isobel quieted down and Maria’s attention turned to Liz. She began to feel uncomfortable under the wide-eyed brown stare.

“Lizzie, I think Michael and Kyle are probably making breakfast outside, even though it’s raining again. Would you mind going to collect some hot milk for Isobel and some coffee for me? I’ll just stay right here for a while.”

Liz nodded, put on her long trail jacket and weatherproof shoes, and then vanished outside, grateful for an excuse to leave.

She found Michael and Kyle over by the canopied grill, dressed in their rainproof gear, sheltered from the now gentle, misty rain and morosely preparing to cook their usual camping breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage links and tomatoes, with toast and juice on the side. The coffee pot was already hot and plates and cups were set out ready.

Both guys looked up as she arrived and Kyle smiled warmly at her in welcome.

“How’s Isobel now, Liz”?

“Not so good, but she’s resting, I guess. Maria’s with her and she asked me to collect hot drinks for them both. Maria says she wants coffee for herself and hot milk for Isobel. I know Isobel likes it with sugar and cinnamon. She taught me to how make it back at the last motel…”

Michael reached for the milk carton and filled a cup, holding his hand over the top. A few seconds later fragrant steam rose in the morning air and Liz smiled approvingly at him, pleased at his now confident use of power. Michael next fixed coffee for Maria just the way she liked it and Kyle asked Liz what she wanted to eat.

“Breakfast will be ready in about 10 minutes if you want to join us…”

Liz hesitated, having already eaten, but then smiled gratefully at him.

“Thanks, I’ll be back in a few…. Just scrambled egg, toast and juice for me, though.”

She turned away to head back to her tent with the drinks and neither guy saw her secret smile as she told herself that a second breakfast would be the perfect excuse to spend time with Michael when Maria wasn’t around...

When Liz returned several minutes later, preparations were well advanced and the guys were standing around drinking coffee while each watched a skillet hungrily as the delicious savoury smells tortured their ravenous appetites. She was just in time to hear Michael ask Kyle if he’d had any more dreams during the night. Kyle shook his head, not troubling to hide his relief.

“I had an undisturbed night for the first time since I got my powers. I’d feel almost normal, whatever normal is now, if it wasn’t for the latest news this morning…”

He noticed Liz return and broke off to pour her a coffee, which she accepted gracefully and pretended to sip.

“I was just telling Michael that I don’t remember any dreams, good or bad, last night after all. We know Isobel must have contacted Max – so give us all the details, Liz. What exactly happened?”

Michael moved to melt a knob of butter and break 6 eggs into a pan, adding salt and pepper then stirring constantly with a wooden fork as they cooked, while with the other he deftly flipped several slices of bread onto a plate and toasted them the alien way. Kyle and Liz watched all this activity with admiration. Kyle then roused himself to butter the toast and divide the contents of the skillets onto two plates for Michael and himself. Michael noticed the silence and looked up from his work to urge Liz to carry on telling them what she knew.

“I’ll tell you while we’re eating, ‘k? Can we use your tent, it’s too wet to sit outside and I don’t want to stand around the grill to eat...?”

Both guys shrugged and Michael handed her a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. She set it down to pour herself a glass of juice, then precariously balancing the plate, fork, glass and coffee cup she followed them across to their tent.

Inside the vestibule, door left open onto the rainy, grey vista, all three sat down cross-legged on the floor to eat, Liz as casually close to Michael as she could manage. Both guys ignored her and attacked their food as if neither had eaten for a week, while Liz nibbled daintily at hers, appetite already assuaged by her earlier breakfast. She watched Michael out of the corner of her eye and noticed that his table manners had recently improved to a normal socially acceptable level, although they still lacked Max and Isobel’s well-bred polish. So did Kyle’s, for that matter, but she wasn’t interested in his.

When everyone had eaten - Liz feeling uncomfortably bloated and, to her acute embarrassment, failing to suppress a deep, unladylike belch which made the guys share an unholy grin over her head – and the coffee pot was passed around, they sat back waiting for Liz to report on Isobel’s dreamwalk.

In the event, it was disappointingly brief. Isobel had only told her the barest facts and Liz couldn’t add any more information other than that a bug had been found under the floor of the bus and Max would try to plant it on a southbound truck under cover of darkness during the night to come.

It confirmed to Michael and Kyle their conviction that Jesse was involved with the Feds and the two guys discussed what they knew about his history among them in the light of what they’d now discovered.

They re-hashed their earlier theories as discussed with Maria at the last motel: Jesse’s suspiciously fast romance and marriage to the much younger Isobel against her parents’ wishes and despite him being her father’s employee. Then there were his rumoured FBI connections, as his college friend mentioned to Max at the stag party. Jesse’s hostile reaction to the ‘alien’ revelation and his seeing a therapist were debated, but no satisfactory explanation reached on that one. It seemed to imply that he’d sold-out to the Feds after that time, instead of being an agent since the beginning. Then there was the fabulous Boston job offer to a young, small-town lawyer - that was suspicious in itself and the two guys continued to explore every nuance of their subject, just as intensely interested as two girls gossiping.

Liz sat silent, listening to much that was new information to her, never having had much interest in or paid much attention to Isobel’s romance and marriage when she was so caught up in her own concerns. Max hadn’t gossiped about his sister, if he even knew that much about her private life and Maria had been no use as a source of information after she’d broken up with Michael and no longer had his take on the situation.

“And stocked it with blankets, too. Why didn’t I notice that?”

Michael and Kyle, interrupted, turned to look at her in surprise, having forgotten her presence. Liz had suddenly remembered the generous supply of blankets on board the bus that she didn’t think were standard issue on pre-owned vehicles. They had been useful on the long road trip and were currently shared out between the two tents. Maybe Jesse’d had some sort of conscience after all as he had given Isobel $1,000, too. She said all this aloud, the guys nodding judiciously in agreement, then wondered if maybe, with microchip technology, the blankets were bugged, too

Michael nodded in approval at a display of paranoia almost as acute as his own at it's peak, then twisted himself round and spread his hand out, fanning it slowly over the blankets draped on or folded neatly beside his bed. Nothing happened and he shook his head solemnly at Liz. Kyle raised a questioning eyebrow and Michael proceeded to talk him through a basic molecular-level pattern search of his own, which left scientific Liz stunned and breathless with excitement at his casual explanation of a new application of power she’d never dreamed existed.

Her excitement grew as an idea that would solve the problem of getting Michael to trust her crystallised in her mind. She would ask him to teach her how to use her powers...

Having made up her mind to corner him privately later, Liz tuned back into what Kyle was saying.

“…other suspect behavior that might give us more clues, but we’ll have to wait until she’s feeling stronger before we do… At least Maria’s with her, she’ll help Isobel through this if any of us can, I guess.”

Liz felt a jealous twinge on hearing Maria praised yet again but she fought it down. If Maria was stuck with Isobel all day, it meant more time for Liz to concentrate on Michael…

“Liz, why don’t you spell Maria for a while so that she can have some breakfast? Then Kyle and I will take over later…”

Liz seethed inside while she smiled sweetly at Michael and agreed that it was a good idea. Then she left the guys and headed sulkily back to her own tent to take over on Isobel-watch and work on her plans for him later…

Michael collected up the plates and left the tent to go over and clean up at the grill the human way. It gave him something practical to do to pass the time. He felt Maria come up behind him a little later and when she reached him, sliding her arms round his waist and standing on tiptoe to kiss the back of his neck, he turned to smile down at her then frowned instead.

***Maria, just what the hell are you wearing? You’ll catch your death; go put some warm, dry clothes on right now. I’ll have breakfast ready when you come back, ok?***

***Make up your mind, Spaceboy – first you want me naked 24/7, now you want me all covered up…***

***I want you any way I can get you, Maria***

He laughed as his hands roved slowly across her ass and underneath his black sweatshirt to her panties, to slide beneath the scrap of silky stuff cupping her velvety cheeks and find his mark left on her yesterday when they’d made love in their tiny, secret inlet.

Maria pressed herself against him, nuzzling his neck as a sudden rush of happiness at being with him flooded through her mind, taking his breath away for a dizzy moment.

Michael reluctantly controlled himself and gently unclasped her arms from around his neck, holding her hands and kissing her apologetically as she huffed in unfeigned disappointment.

***Not here, princess, we need to find somewhere private later - warm and dry would be good, too…speaking of which, go put some more clothes on before I change my mind and take those off…***

He turned her round and gave her ass a parting squeeze as she looked back over her shoulder, wrinkling her nose at him in half-serious annoyance.

Although neither of them acknowledged it, he could feel the underlying pain and sadness that had haunted Maria since he’d been unable to reach her mom last night. As Michael waited for her to return, he recalled her quiet, sad explanation for his unsuccessful dreamwalk.

“It must be the nightmares – how could I have forgotten those? Mom had them for a long time after my dad left. I remember now… When I was little I used to find her in the kitchen at night making alien stuff to sell …she always used to tell me making things at night kept her awake, kept the bad dreams away and made us money. Oh, God, Michael, this time the bad dreams are because of me…”

Michael could only hold her while she cried silently against him. After a while, she’d stopped shaking and lay miserably in his arms as he stroked her damp hair.

“Listen, Maria, your mom’s gotta sleep and dream sometime and when she does, I promise I’ll be there to tell her you’re ok – ok?”

Maria nodded and he felt her misery lighten a little with hope, although she was still drowned in sadness. He’d caught her mood and they’d eventually fallen asleep, although Maria had been restless and kicked him awake several times, her incoherent dreams guilty and sorrowful and his own little better.

He’d tried to dreamwalk Amy again a few times, but he always met the same barrier as before. He promised himself that he would keep on trying in the nights and days ahead until he reached her. He felt guilty that it was his fault that she had lost Maria and hoped that somehow Amy DeLuca knew that he would protect her daughter with his life.

At first light, waking to a panicked Liz screaming, they’d quickly scrambled for clothes and emerged into the waking nightmare of Isobel’s discovery of Jesse’s betrayal.

His memories were interrupted by Maria’s return fully dressed and booted, wearing her rainproof outer clothes. She leaned silently against the stone-built grill counter, forced herself to eat a slice of the toast he made for her and drink some juice, then followed the pot of fresh coffee that Michael carried over to their tent, where Kyle was still sitting staring out at the rain looking as depressed as they felt. Maria sat down between the two guys, accepting a cup of the coffee gratefully. Worried about Isobel and her mom, her thoughts circled anxiously between the two of them.

“How’s I-Isobel, Maria?”

The sudden catch in his quiet voice revealed more than Kyle realized about the depths of his feelings for the alien girl, but Michael refrained from comment, even to Maria, and Maria simply reached for and held Kyle’s hand comfortingly.

“She was shattered at first. Well, we knew she would be, but she doesn’t seem to be nearly as bad as we feared. She cried a lot to begin with, which is a good sign; she hasn’t retreated inside herself, so that we can’t reach her. I don’t mean it isn’t real bad, but she seems to be coming out of her initial despair. She even sat up and drank some hot milk. I won’t leave her long with only Liz for company – they don’t seem to be too comfortable together right now, so I’ll go back when I’ve had another cup of coffee and take her some more hot milk.”

Kyle felt his depression lift slightly at Maria’s cautious optimism about Isobel’s recovery. He was relieved; he’d secretly feared for her sanity as yet another heart-shattering tragedy blighted her life.

The damp, grey view of the lake outside suddenly included Isobel who slowly walked up to the tent and sat down between Maria and Kyle. Liz, trailing in her wake, shrugged her shoulders at Maria’s enquiring look but said nothing. She took the space beside Michael, completing the group.

Nobody knew what to say and they all sat in a semi-circle avoiding eye contact until Isobel herself broke the silence.

“How long have you known about… my husband, Michael?”

Isobel gave the words no particular inflection, but the pause was eloquent. She was as icily composed as anyone in the group had ever seen her, but they all felt the pain behind her quiet voice.

“I didn’t know for certain, Iz – I only suspected, when I thought about what happened to us. Maybe because I’m the only one of us with no ties to Roswell, I had nothing else to distract me from thinking about what went on back there. Pretty soon, I couldn’t avoid the conclusion that Jesse was mixed up in it… I’m sorry, Iz, I really wish I was wrong and it wasn’t the answer…”

Isobel nodded. The heartbreak of disillusion and loss bit deep, clawing at her stomach and waiting to tear her apart. Her thoughts still circled endlessly inside her mind, memories of their life together, the happiness at the start, the lies, the difficult, painful times after he found out she wasn’t fully human… Was it her deceit or her DNA? When had he come to hate her enough to want her death? He surely hadn’t hated her when he’d made love to her – surely no man could fake that response so often and for so many months if he’d truly hated her… It was when he’d so easily let her go into the unknown without him yet had given her back her wedding ring as a love token, that Isobel had suddenly feared that her dream love really had been only a dream. The memory made her heart quiver painfully inside her. It was at that moment she physically felt her love for Jesse shift into hatred.

“I still find it so hard to believe he betrayed me – betrayed us. It just doesn’t make sense when he killed an FBI agent to protect me, you know…”

Every head turned sharply to stare at her in shock or disbelief. Michael recovered first.

“No, Isobel, we don’t know. When was this, exactly?”

The old Michael would have been outraged at that secret kept from him and made his opinion known loud and clear, but now he suppressed the outburst in time, although his quiet words emerged through gritted teeth. He could see her control, like his own, was fragile as she related the frightening events she and Jesse had agreed to keep a secret between themselves.

The new knowledge that Jesse had killed a Federal agent to protect Isobel and then together they’d destroyed the evidence, gave the rest of the group pause but, although they discussed it at length, in the end it didn’t explain the fact that the bus couldn’t have been bugged without Jesse’s connivance when he’d provided it for them in such a short time.

Isobel had arrived fully dressed and with her hair and make-up immaculate, although even her alien powers couldn’t hide the signs of raw pain and bitterness, but she had herself rigidly under control again.

She had known the agony of loss before when Grant was killed and again, infinitely worse, when Alex died. This time it was different. This time, as disbelief gave way to bitter acceptance, ice-cold anger slowly started to burn away the grief and pain she had been living with since Jesse had stayed behind in Roswell.

Unable to bear sitting still for a minute longer, she stood up to leave the tent, flicking a hand at the others to stay where they were. She no longer wanted sympathetic friends – she wanted to be alone to rage and despair at the empty, rain-lashed mountains, blast rocks into powder, call down lightning, anything to vent the elemental anger whose object was beyond her reach.

She paused at the door.

“I’m going for a walk – expect me when you see me…”

Nobody answered her so she turned and headed out along the lake in the direction of the waterfall, heedless of the rain, intent only on finding the solitude she needed right then.

Left behind, the others felt suddenly lost. They had been prepared to comfort and support Isobel, while discussing theories about Jesse, but now Isobel preferred solitude leaving them wondering what to do with the rest of the day. The plan to hike to the waterfall was now out of the question, even if Isobel herself was headed that way.

Michael suggested to Kyle that they go fishing again. He agreed, absentmindedly. He was still thinking about Isobel, alone in the mountains, and wandered out to stare unseeingly across the lake until Michael joined him having retrieved the fishing rods from the Chevy. They moved further along the shore to the spot they had chosen yesterday, hoping that their good fortune would repeat itself with another big fish.

Maria and Liz were left together in an atmosphere that both found strained and uncomfortable. The silence continued for some time until Maria sighed.

“Come on, Liz, let’s get away from here and go to the mall – or at least the visitors’ center. There was a cafe at the grocery store, we could go hang out there for a while."

Liz hesitated. She didn’t want to get close to Maria again, it would only make things difficult but the timing was not yet right to suggest Michael give her private lessons in power. However, there was nothing else to do, so she shrugged and they went outside to find the guys and tell them where they were going.

Unsurprisingly, Michael objected.

“Not gonna happen, it’s not safe. What if we’re wrong about not being followed? You could be in danger and I couldn’t get to you.”

Maria argued that it would only be a short trip in the Chevy and they’d be back in an hour.

“I have to get away from the camp for a while, Michael. You and Kyle are fishing, but Liz and I have nothing to do. I’m going to lose it if I have to spend the day just staring at the rain…”

“Get used to it, Maria, gonna be a lot more days like this in the wilderness.”

“Fine, I’ll get used to it when I have to, but today when there is actually somewhere to go, I’m going. Ok, so it’s not Mall of America, but at least it’s got other people around…”

“Ok, fine, so just take the Chevy and leave the rest of us trapped here, you so obviously don’t care about that.”

“Keep the damn Chevy, we’ll walk. It’ll give us more time away from here, anyhow.”

Liz, although enjoying the row between Michael and Maria, wasn’t going along with that suggestion.

“It’s raining, Maria. I don’t want to walk in all that mud for hours. If we can’t take the Chevy, then we can stay here and read or something…”

“I’m saving my books and music until I need them, Liz – when we get to the real wilderness. If you don’t want to walk, then stay, but I’m going anyhow…”

Michael moved in front of her, standing up close and blocking her way, which only riled Maria even more.

“Get out of my way, Michael.”

“You are not going, Maria, and that’s final.”

“Watch me, Michael. This is me. Going. Now.”

She pushed past him and strolled defiantly over to their tent, emerging a moment later carrying her small pack. Without a backward glance at the others, she set out towards the road that led to the visitors’ center, disappearing among the bushes and trees almost at once.

Michael scowled angrily after her. He could feel her emotions; superficial anger and frustration with him overlay deep sadness for her mom and Isobel, but his own angry frustration at her stubborn attitude was still clouding his thoughts. Somewhere underneath it all, though, he welcomed the return of their combative sparks. He loved some spice with the sweetness.

Kyle had watched all this with amusement but no real concern. He understood that Maria had needed to get away from the confines of the camp, not really through boredom, but just to have some time out from the strains of living 24/7 with the same few, emotionally charged, people with no respite for the foreseeable future. He had sometimes felt the same way over the past days and had no doubt he would again. He was pleased to see the long overdue fight between his friends, indicating that the natural balance between them was beginning to be restored. Those two weren’t meant to be in the constant state of dull, cloying bliss perpetually sought by Max and Liz. It seemed that the honeymoon was over and the sparks were back at last for Michael and Maria.

Liz had quietly congratulated herself on avoiding the expedition with Maria after all. Now she had an unexpected chance to convince Michael to teach her how to use her powers. She noticed with irritation that he was still gazing at the spot where Maria had vanished.

“Michael, don’t worry, Maria will be fine, let her go. She’ll be back soon; she hates walking in the mud and rain. I know her; you’ll see that I’m right…”

Michael shrugged.

“Maybe, maybe not. She was pretty angry when she left; she won’t give up. When Maria’s in that mood even mud and rain won’t stop her.”

He sighed and a faint smile flickered briefly on his lips.

He turned to look up at the clouds over the lake and concentrate on what Maria called his Czhekoslovakian weather magic. Soon there was a small, but perceptible, increase in their speed and a patch of hazy blue sky appeared on the horizon.

Trudging angrily through the wet grass on the side of the road as the rain fell gently but steadily, Maria glanced up through the trees and saw small patches of blue sky appear among the clouds moving overhead. A faint smile appeared on her lips; she knew who had done that for her. It didn’t soften her mood or lessen her determination, but she sent a quick kiss to Michael in appreciation of his sweet gesture, made in spite of his anger with her.

Michael and Kyle had been setting out their fishing gear before hostilities had broken out and they resumed this as Liz watched with interest from her perch on a boulder a few feet away.

The gentle rain on the lake had encouraged the fish to rise. Kyle attached his brightly colored lure to the hook and cast his line out into the lake with the surge of exited anticipation he always felt at the prospect of catching a fish. He had problems reconciling this with his Buddhist beliefs about not harming other living things and he recalled surprising and irritating his dad last time they had gone fishing together by putting the catch back into the water. He had thought about it when he had gone on the run and salved his conscience by deciding to consider it a necessary survival skill, providing they ate the fish out of need, rather than treating it as sport. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop his enjoyment. He just felt guilty about it.

Once his rod was braced in it’s metal support rammed between rocks on the bank, he turned his attention to Michael, who’d been watching closely, and carried on with the lesson he had started yesterday. Both guys were immediately engrossed and Liz found herself forgotten again.

Content just to be near Michael for the present, she sat peacefully watching the rainclouds pass and the blue sky emerge. She let her thoughts wander and eventually recalled that Isobel had told her they were due to have dinner that night with Ben’s family. This immediately brought back all her forgotten fears about the ‘vision’ flash she couldn’t remember.

Once it entered her mind, Liz couldn’t let it go. The more she thought about it, the more she needed to know what she had seen… Jumping to her feet, she walked off, unnoticed. Pacing restlessly around the camp and along the shoreline, careful to keep the fishing party within sight, over the next hour she worked herself up into a state of near panic as all the possibilities of capture and death revolved in her mind, ousting everything else.

Ben. She needed to see Ben and it was too dangerous to wait until tonight. The unknown peril could be upon them at any time. Glancing at her watch, she was surprised to see it was still early, not even mid-morning yet. She made her way back to the camp, passing the guys out on the rocks where they were apparently fighting to reel in a catch. Kyle and Michael were laughing in excitement and Kyle called to her to come see the fish. She waved at them in a perfunctory manner but carried on by, too intent on her own concerns to care about such trivial matters. Kyle stopped to stare after her, puzzled at something in her attitude.

Once back in the camp and out of sight, she went straight over to her tent to collect her backpack, then returned to the Chevy and climbed in.

As she hit the gas and the car moved forward the passenger door opened and Kyle jumped in beside her.

“What the hell are you doing, Liz? Didn’t you understand what Michael told Maria? The Chevy stays in camp unless we all go in it. Now Michael and Isobel are separated from us and trapped back there.”

Liz didn’t answer and simply speeded up as she swung the truck onto the road.

He sat angrily back in his seat and made himself wait until she was ready to tell him why she had taken off like a bat out of hell. Kyle had left Michael struggling to land the fish while he followed Liz out of curiosity at her aloof behaviour. He knew the big alien would understand that he couldn’t let Liz take off alone, but Kyle also knew the guy would be beyond furious with her for spoiling the pleasure of taking his first fish. Kyle was annoyed with her himself on that one. Liz really was safer out of the way until Michael calmed down, if he ever did.

As far as he could recall, all Liz had done since Maria left was sit on the rocks watching them fish or stroll up and down the shoreline. Maybe she’d gone mad with the boredom…

Liz ignored Kyle until she pulled in to the busy parking lot at the visitors’ center and stopped in front of the grocery store. As he followed her inside he saw Maria sitting at a table in the small cafe area near the window. She looked up from reading a complimentary copy of the local newspaper as they arrived, but didn’t seem too happy to see them. Her voice was as cold as she could make it.

“What, you both needed some time out after all? I see you’ve got the Chevy. You could have saved me a long, boring, muddy walk, Liz, if you’d only admitted it earlier. Where’s Michael?”

Maria gave no sign that she had actually been in contact with him since she had felt his mental howl of disappointment and rage when he’d lost his epic battle with the fish at the last minute and then found Liz had run off with the Chevy and Kyle. Her own anger with him was forgotten and she totally understood his feelings.

Liz and Kyle glanced at each other for the first time and Liz looked sheepish for a moment.

“He’s…um...he’s back at camp catching a fish, I think…” her voice trailed off as she saw Kyle frown at Maria and open his mouth to speak. She rushed on.

“Never mind that now, Maria, I came to find you and...um... Kyle just came along for the ride. Now he’s here, I think it will work out even better than just the two of us. Any more of us would be too much, but Kyle can wait in the Chevy in case we need him…”

Again, Kyle frowned in protest and opened his mouth to speak, but this time Maria got there first, her attitude no friendlier than when they’d first arrived.

“You’d better explain, Liz. I don’t know what you’re talking about and Kyle obviously hasn’t got any clue either.”

Liz leaned forward and spoke quietly to them both, so that none of the other customers overheard.

“I’m going to find out what my ‘vision’ was and I can’t wait until tonight. We’re going to visit Ben right now.”

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