Love will last forever (CC, I/A, ADULT) Pt 37/37 - Feb 1 09

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Chrisken
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Love will last forever (CC, I/A, ADULT) Pt 37/37 - Feb 1 09

Post by Chrisken » Mon Feb 13, 2006 6:51 pm

Title: Love will last forever
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters
Couples: Strongly Isabel/Alex. Probably also some Max/Liz stuff in due time, though Max hardly even appears in part 1
Category: Angsty, romance, drama, sci-fi.
Rating: Adult
Summary: The night of Alex's wake, Isabel goes back by herself to the cemetary... and finds a new mission and maybe, a hope for the future.
Author's note: Yes, I'm starting yet another new fic. Hope you like it!

I tried making myself a banner for the first time. Here it is:
Image


After leaving the wake, Isabel hung around with Max and Michael and Tess for a little while at Michael's apartment.

But nobody was saying much, and Isabel had the awful sense that she was the reason why... that the three of them would be able to find something to talk about among themselves, but none of them had any idea what to say to her. And she didn't really feel that much like spending time with them either... not that she'd ever have admitted it.

But the feelings of loss and grief that Isabel was starting to face now, after truly realizing that Alex was gone from this world, were so huge and overwhelming, and the other aliens didn't feel it the same way. Sure, they missed Alex already, and had been shocked that he'd passed away so suddenly, upset at the senseless tragedy, but their loss was deeper, because Alex hadn't meant as much to any of them. Liz or Maria might feel the same way as Isabel herself did, since Alex had been a longtime close friend to both of them, but Liz had been ranting about Alex getting murdered at the wak, (only to those of them in the conspiracy of course,) and Isabel wasn't qute sure what she'd say if she went to the DeLuca house. She'd always had particular difficulty trying to relate to Maria for some reason.

So she drove back up to the cemetary and sat by herself next to the fresh grave. Just sat there by herself, for a long time, until she heard footsteps coming up behind her through the grass. Wondering if it was some groundstender who would chase her away. But when she half-turned and looked up, it was a familiar face.

"Isabel, you shouldn't be here right now," Alex said. His voice was soft and considerate. Somehow Isabel didn't really doubt her sanity in the face of this obvious hallucination. Maybe she'd fallen asleep in the darkness, or maybe not. It didn't matter to her.

"Said the pot to the kettle," she teased him, getting up to her feet, and waving slightly at the grave site and what was underneath. "And, if you're about to protest that you don't have any choice, that you had to be here... then maybe the same applies to me."

Alex smiled slightly, not really addressing what she'd said. "Is there... is there anything I can do? Those words have possibly never sounded so lame, but I had to ask."

Suddenly Isabel wanted very much to ask him for something, if only to make this phantasm of Alex feel better. "Play me a song."

"I don't have an instrument here."

"Enough excuses, dead boy. Just play." And, somewhat to her surprise, the fantasy of Alex suddenly had an accoustic guitar slung around his neck. Alex seemed startled by it to, but walked a little ways around and sat on his own headstone. He riffed around on the guitar a little, checking to make sure that it was in tune and his fingers were kink-free, and started to play a mellow, but somewhat melancholy, harmonic line. Isabel sat down on the grass again, where she could watch him best.

Just as he opened his mouth, Isabel realized that she had never heard Alex sing while he was alive... well, nothing other than commercial jingles (or parodies thereof,) when a bunch of them were together eating lunch, or hanging out at the Crashdown some fall evening. When his voice emerged, it was a rich, throaty baritone which complimented the guitar perfectly.

"Well, it feels like slow motion,
I hear the gun explode
See the flash, that brings me to my knees.
And I feel the warmth, flowing out of me..."

After that somewhat somber opening, Alex smiled at her and headed with a more upbeat tone of his voice into the chorus.

"But in my mind, I'm climbing up the stairs,
And walking down the hall.
And Heather's standing there.
October 'Ninety-nine.
I see us in New England, in the fall...

Our love will last forever, like that eight by ten
Hangin' on Heather's wall...
Hangin' on Heather's wall."

Isabel wasn't quite sure what to think yet. The next verse, (they were short verses, apparently,) was back to being angsty and depressing.

"I see the money on the floor.
And his gun, there by the door.
He was trying to rob the bank, when I walked in.
Oh, but this is not the way it's supposed to end!

'Cause in my mind, I'm climbing up the stairs,
And walking down the hall.
And Heather's standing there.
October 'Ninety-nine.
I see us in New England, in the fall...

Our love will last forever, like that eight by ten
Hangin' on Heather's wall
Hangin' on Heather's wall."

No matter how depressing the subject matter was, especially under the circumstances, Isabel couldn't help but shift her weight back and forth to the rhythm of that refrain, and hum along a little bit... the tune was subtly and oddly compelling.

Alex went into an impressive instrumental solo after that verse. For the bridge, though, he abandoned the strings of the guitar entirely and just tapped along to keep the beat alongside his own voice.

"Someone, somewhere says 'we've lost him now.'
But I look up, and I see Heather's smile.
So how can I be dyin'?" (He started playing again at this point.)

When I'm climbing up the stairs,
And walking down the hall.
And I see a bright light there.
October 'Ninety-nine.
And that picture, of New England, in the fall."

Isabel started joining in, and Alex let her carry the line, and sang counterpoint chorus.

"Our love will last forever, like that eight by ten
Hangin' on Heather's wall... (Our love will last forever)
Hangin' on Heather's wall... (Our love will last forever!)

Hangin' on Heather's wall--"

Isabel shot him a long look once the music was finished. "Why did you have to pick a song about a guy dying and thinking about the girl he loved??"

"Well, I couldn't really think of anything else," Alex replied, "and it seemed appropriate, even on the nose."

"'On the nose' in a pretty morbid way." She sighed. "Can love really last forever, if you're gone?? I mean, I know you're not gone exactly, but you can't just show up in my mind whenever I need you. Even if you could, it's not enough."

"I don't know, I'm sorry." He told her. "So, what was the other thing you're upset about?"

"Are you trying to distract me?" she asked him.

"Maybe. Why not let me?"

She let out a long, deep breath. "There was a big argument at your wake. Liz started it... waving around some concert tickets and saying that she thought you had been murdered."

Alex stiffened in surprise. The guitar had vanished again, now that it wasn't needed. "Tell me the whole thing, as much detail as you can remember."

"No. Sorry, Alex, I appreciate that you're trying to keep me diverted, but it'll just upset me more to..."

"I'm not asking this to divert you, Isabel," Alex said clearly. "This could be... could be VERY important. I need to know what Liz said, what anyone else who was there said, what you saw... all of it. Someone else's life might hang in the balance!"

Isabel looked at him oddly. Up to know, she'd been acting under the assumption that talking to Alex like this, even the song, was another dream or a waking dream, something of the sort. Maybe a specific type of hallucination. She saw Alex because subconsciously, she wanted to. Now she wasn't so sure, with how oddly intense he was being about a particular point. Could she have made that up, just to make him seem more lifelike?

But he was getting an impatient look on her face, so she told him the entire sequence. How Liz had spoken to Alex's father at the gathering, then disappeared for a while, and reappeared with important news that she refused to share until Max showed up. Isabel repeated or paraphrased everry word spoken, about concert tickets and suicide theories and alien responsibility and Vilandra's usurping lover, and more. Told him how Max had stormed out, and, stunned by Liz's allegations, the other three hybrids had followed him in a show of solidarity.

"Alex, you're worrying me," she muttered when she finished, because Alex's face had grown more intent and cold. "You said that a life might hang in the balance. Whose life? Liz's??"

"Maybe," Alex admitted. "She won't let anybody talk her out of her decision, if she's determined to get to the truth about my death. And I'm very worried that without anybody to protect her, that something horrible could happen to her before she finds that out... or immediately after."

"What?? Come on... why? What's the big secret, Alex? How did you die?" She stared him down.

He dropped his eyes, unable to face the ferocity of her gaze. "I... I don't know, okay? I realize that that might sound weird, but I don't. I remember... I remember Liz and Maria leaving, and then--" He frowned in concentration, and maybe a little discomfort. Isabel opened her mouth to tell him that it didn't matter so much, but he continued just as she was about to actually speak, and the words died within her. "Driving somewhere, not sure where. East along nineteenth street, yeah, that's right - I remember passing Garden avenue."

"And... and then?" Isabel asked.

"Then nothing - until I was walking into the Crashdown. I was a little confused about how I got there, especially since it was suddenly daytime, but I tried to play it cool and figure it out as I went along. Saw you sitting in a booth, so I came over, and you told me that you were going to wait and graduate with the rest of the gang."

Isabel smiled, though she knew that there was a deep sadness down inside her, and that would probably make the smile very forlorn. "Alex, that was a dream. I remember it very well, but I remember waking up from it, being in my bed, and crying, and my mother hearing it." Alex looked uncomfortable. "What else?? The other dream I had about you, where I told you I loved you... do you remember that?"

"Very clearly," he said. "I think... I think by then I was starting to realize that something was wrong, partly just because you kept saying that it was all your fault. I didn't really know what you meant by it. But now..." He got up from the headstone and waved a hand at the writing on it. "That kinda drives the point home very clearly."

"Okay, so you don't know how you died," Isabel recapped. "How do you know that it wasn't a traffic accident?"

"I'm not sure," he said after a moment. "Maybe it was an accident, but I'm almost convinced it wasn't an ordinary traffic accident. For one thing, what Liz said about the fact that I was in on your secret rings true. I didn't live an ordinary life, and most high school kids don't get crushed in a car wreck before they graduate. Those two facts have to be connected." He paused for a second. "And I'm very damned sure that I wasn't trying to kill myself. I had too much to be living for."

"Well, that's all well and good, but it doesn't explain why you think Liz might be in danger."

"I... There's a darkness, Isabel." That odd, compelling certainty was in his voice again. "A darkness that's been hovering around my life for the past several months. That's what the police saw, and they explained it by saying it fit a suicidal profile. But it wasn't just depression, it was something outside me, something that started outside my life. Something that has to do with Sweden, maybe... or at least it seemed to start around then." He stared at Isabel, and she was helpless to look away and break that eye contact. "I drove straight into the darkness that night, Isabel... and they had to put me in the ground for it. If Liz is trying to find out what happened to me, she'll be heading into that darkness too. You can't stop her, but I think you can protect her, and help her find the truth. If you do, then I can help both of you, as much as I can. But I'm stuck away from the action if you don't get yourself onto the team."

"Why not?" she asked curiously. "Can't you appear to Liz, too??"

"No, I don't think so. Not even sure I can even walk away from you, though I can probably leave you and go nowhere... like I did between those dreams, and between the dream last night and meeting you here now. I'm tied to you somehow, Izzie, I don't know how, but you're my only hope."

"I... I need you to tell me something, to convince me that you're you," she said. "Something that I could never possibly guess right, because otherwise I'm afraid that I could just be imagining this."

"Hmmm." Alex thought a while about that. "Okay, I have one, but it should probably wait until you have paper and pen ready." Isabel looked the question at him without words. "Well, two reasons - one, it's long enough that it'd be a little hard for you to memorize at once. Secondly, well, if you're a little worried about your mental stability, then if it was something you memorized, you might start to think it was just your imagination that it matched up right... that your memory was changing to match the reality. Checking what you'd written down would be a little more concrete."

"Just what is this that you have in mind?" she asked him.

"The start of a book report that I did back in grade three, and that I know for a fact my mother kept a copy of, as recently as the week before last. Can't imagine she'd chuck it so soon after I... well, you know."

All of a sudden, something clicked in Isabel's mind. She'd get him to dictate that quote, and check it with his parents -- but as of now, she really did believe. "Okay. So what do I do, just go up to Liz and say 'I wanna help you find out the truth?'"

Alex shrugged... and all of a sudden, both of them were surprised by a hugely deep rumble of thunder from right above them. Isabel hadn't noticed the storm clouds rolling overhead in the darkness, but she noticed when the rain started to fall down more and more steadily -- first just a stream of sprinkles, then pelleting drops, then a downpour. By the time Isabel had dashed into her car and slammed the door, it looked like someone was throwing bucket after bucket of water on the windshield.

She looked over at the passenger seat, and sure enough Alex was sitting there, though she hadn't heard the door on that side open or close, and he looked perfectly dry and calm. "I... I admit I'm curious," she said. "Can I... can I touch you when you're like this? Do you know?? Would you mind if I tried?"

"I... I'm not sure, I admit," Alex said. "My guess is, you can't really. I mean, I don't see how I could still have a physical body. But maybe you can *think* you can. Go ahead."

She reached out, moved her fingers towards his own... and felt the contact. His fingers were solid and warm, pressing against her own. Then again, he looked and sounded exactly as if he were really there, so why should the sense of touch be particularly different? Relishing this new discovery, she let her fingertips trail up his hand and the bare length of his arm, to the point where a short white t-shirt sleeve took over. Curious, she shoved him in the shoulder, a little harder than she meant to.

"Hey, cut it out!!" Alex protested. "Hurting a dead guy is just adding insult to injury."

"Okay, okay," Isabel said with a sigh. She still wasn't quite satisfied... what would happen in a situation where, without Alex's body there to bear actual weight, her own self, or something else, would fall straight through the place he seemed to be? Would he just wink out at that point, or maybe a hologram effect like on one of those corny sci-fi shows? Well, she might be able to find out more about that some other time... assuming that Alex didn't disappear on her one of these times.

But he'd told her forever. Maybe not directly... but somehow, in the same way that Isabel believed in her gut that this was the real Alex, she knew that it would be a long time before she saw the last of him.

She pulled the car carefully through the water-drenched car paths of the cemetary and out onto the main road. Peaceful Pines, (yes, that was really the name, Peaceful Pines Cemetary,) was out on the west side of town, near the school and in the direction of Frazier woods, so Isabel made her way to the main road, Second street (also route 70 and I-380,) and headed through the center of town, since her parent's house was on the east edge of Roswell. Something occured to her. "You say that you remembered driving east at nineteenth street and Garden avenue, right??"

"Umm... yeah, why??" he asked.

"Just trying to sort some things out in my head. They found you on route 70, heading east just past the city limits, not far past my place."

"Okay," Alex said. "Not quite sure what I was doing off there, but maybe I just wanted to head into the desert to think about something, or try to clear my head."

Isabel nodded - that question hadn't been what was bugging her. "Well, your house is in the northwest quadrant, and nineteenth/garden is in the northeast. If you were heading for the highway, why would you have crossed main street that far north? It would make more sense to me to swing down onto main street, turn left onto second and head out of town that way."

"Well... the Crashdown is right at the center of town, at main and second," Alex pointed out. "And I knew that you were going to be there."

"So, what... you couldn't even drive past the place?" she asked, a little offended by the suggestion.

"I'm not saying that, or theorizing anything," Alex quickly insisted. "Just pointing out one possible correlation."

"You should have *come* to the Crash," she said softly. "I know it's a little late to play should-haves, and I'm not trying to make you feel bad. Just... if you'd come and hung out with me, and the rest of the gang -- then none of this would have happened." And she sighed. "I know, I know it probably wasn't that simple... if this mysterious 'darkness' hadn't got you that night, maybe it would have waited and pulled you in some other time." Alex didn't say anything in reply.

Just about then, they came up within sight of the Crashdown, and Isabel realized that the dining room lights were still on, at nearly 11:30. Maybe, just maybe, Liz was in there, closing up, or maybe just sitting in one of the booths feeling sad. Isabel decided to go and see, so she turned the car north onto main street, and then quickly left again, into the parking lot. One deep breath, then open the car door and make a dash for the front door.

The rain had started to ease up by that point, and soon she was huddled under the little overhand to stay out of the rain, knocking on the front doors. Wasn't long before one of them was pulled open "What is it now? Oh -- Isabel! I, um, I wasn't expecting..."

Isabel stared at Liz. It was obvious, somehow, from one look at her face that she had been crying, and yet that crying had not been the only thing she'd done for hours. "Umm... can I come in?" Isabel asked timidly, not really wanting to get into all of this while still standing outside. Liz stepped back and held the door open for her, and Isabel walked in, looking around as a way of stalling. She noticed, idly, that Liz had changed since the big argument, because she was wearing dark slacks and a light cream sweater with long sleeves.

The familiar space of the dining room seemed somehow different. Partly that was just because of the regular changes between it being ready for business or closed for the night, she supposed... no silverware or condiments out at the booths, chairs stacked up on some of the tables.

But there were other differences too... one small but centrally placed table, for instance, was practically covered with little photo prints, some of them stacked in piles nine or ten pictures tall. As far as Isabel could tell, all of the pictures had Alex in them, though he was just in the background of some of them. Over at one of the booths, there was a much larger picture... the shot of all eight of them - Max and Liz, Kyle and Tess, Maria and Michael, Isabel herself and Alex -- that was the pic taken at the end of the pre-Prom party right there in the Crashdown dining room. And over on the counter, there was a small portable CD player, and an arrangement of flowers, a thick book, and some little paperey things that I couldn't make out immediately without obviously peering towards them.

It wasn't immediately clear if Liz had just been taking a melancholy walk down memory lane, or if she'd been hunting for more clues. Isabel decided to get straight to the point. "Liz... if you're really trying to find out the truth, and not just trying to create a scapegoat to blame Alex's death on, then I want to help you."

"You do??" Liz blinked slightly and rubbed at the skin under one of her eyes. "Why? I mean... you didn't seem interested in it when I first told you. What's changed??"


Isabel paused, and while she was thinking Alex walked past Liz and started examining the things on the counter. Liz gave absolutely no sign that she saw any trace of him, or felt his presence or anything, At that moment Isabel decided that she wasn't going to tell the other girl anything about Alex's ghost. It wouldn't help anything for Liz to decide that Isabel was in the middle of a traumatic breakdown, and if she got the notion that Isabel was making fun of her somehow, it could be quite counterproductive.

"I... I was surprised by the notion, and I didn't want to believe that... that knowing me could be part of the reason why Alex was dead. That someone could have killed him because I love him, or anything like that. But what you said about owing Alex nothing but the truth... it took a few hours for that to get past my barriers, but it rings true. That's why I want to know what really happened, and it sounds like you've already figured some stuff out. I'd rather work with you than seperately."

Liz smiled slightly. "Okay. I'll need all the help that I can get. Any idea where you want to start??"

"Um, I really dunno. You've been on this for a while - maybe you should catch me up to speed??"

Liz considered that for a moment. "I, um... how about we leave it until tomorrow, actually? It's been a long day for everybody, I know it has for me at least, and I feel like none of my thoughts are under control. Maybe things will fall into a sensible order more naturally after I've gotten some sleep."

"I don't know how I'm going to get any sleep tonight," Isabel complained slightly, even though she knew that trying would make sense.

"C'mon, Izzie," Alex said to her in a slightly cajoling voice. "I'll come home with you, since Max and your mom won't see me anyway, and I'll try singing you to sleep. How does that sound?"

It sounded delightful, but Isabel knew that Liz would probably hear if she actually said anything in reply, so she just smiled - not directly at Alex, but close enough to his side of Liz that he'd know it was meant for her. "Actually, yeah, I should go home and lie down, at least. Hope you can sleep okay, Liz."

"Um, thanks." Liz rushed over and hugged Isabel, which she took for an impulsive gesture and a sign of just how shaken up Liz was, but she didn't really mind.

"Um, do you need a hand cleaning up in here?" Isabel asked softly.

"Well... there's a box on the table there," Liz said, pointing, as she went around the counter to unplug the CD player. "If you can just put all the photos in there, that'll be all the help I need I think."

"Alright." It seemed a little like make work, but Isabel didn't mind if Liz wanted to make her feel needed. She stacked the pictures in pretty quickly, even though she couldn't help but stare for a few moments at three or four that particularly caught her eye. Then she told Liz goodnight, and Alex was waiting for her at the front doors. This time, she did see him running through the light rain beside her, and in the car his hair and his t-shirt definitely seemed wet, though he wasn't dripping on the seat.

It didn't take Isabel long to drive the rest of the way home, and the house was dark and silent as she entered, though her mother called out from the master bedroom and switched one light on, and seemed relieved that her daughter was back home. She held the door open for Alex to go into her bedroom ahead of her, though she wasn't sure why, and smiled a little nervously once the door was shut and they were both inside.

"Umm... I can probably 'blip out', if you like, while you're changing," he said. "If it'd make you feel more comfortable?"

"No, don't go away entirely," she said in an intent, low voice, not wanting her parents or Max to overhear. She wasn't quite comfortable with the idea of taking off her dress, (the black dress, the one she had worn to the funeral,) while he was watching - at least, not tonight. So, she searched her mind for a compromise. "Maybe, you could go back out into the hall, or into the bathroom, until I'm done changing?" Another thought struck her. "And settle once and for all whether you can walk through walls now?"

Alex grinned at that thought and pointed himself towards the wall that her bedroom shared with the bathroom. Isabel watched him as he approached it... Alex seemed unable to muster the nerve to walk through it at full speed, in cast it should hurt as bad as if he were still alive, so he stopped at the wall first and carefully tried to push a hand through. The fingers and about half of his palm went in, or went through, or at any rate they weren't still in Isabel's bedroom proper. Smiling with the success, Alex shoved the rest of his arm through a bit at a time, up to the shoulder, and then shuffled the rest of his body sideways through the barrier. When all that was left was the other arm, up a little past the elbow, it waved a hand at her, and then withdrew. Isabel giggled slightly and started to undress.

Another thought occured to her. How was she supposed to call him back in, when she was done, without possibly attracting someone else's attention? She couldn't really whisper through the wall, and if she opened the door... well, she could probably pretend she'd been going to the bathroom herself if it looked like anybody else had noticed. Still, if she was going to be spending much time with Alex's ghost, she'd need to find some better way of communicating with him than that sort of thing. Experimentally, she focused hard on words in her mind, trying to send them out to him. **Can you hear this, Alex? Can you see me?** (She hadn't realized, until she sent it, that she was also worried about if Alex could see through the walls now.)

"Yeah, I can hear you fine, and no, I can't see through the walls exactly," he said, loud enough for her to hear him through the wall. "But when you're sending to me like that, I kind of get a faint impression of what you can see and feel, which included, at that point... umm, the near nakedness part. Just so you know." Isabel blushed and tried to keep her mind as blank as possible until she was safely back in her PJ's and a dressing gown.

**Okay, you can come back in now.** This time, Alex walked confidently through the wall as if it wasn't there, which reminded her very much of the Al effect from those old 'quantum leap' shows. "Now, I believe you said something about singing me to sleep?"

"I did," he agreed, as she started to pull back the sheets of her bed. "Any requests? Should I go a capella or do you want to wish up another instrument for me? Maybe a piano??"

Isabel looked at him, perplexed. "Me? Didn't you wish up the guitar??"

"It... it didn't really feel like it," he admitted. "I kind of thought you did it on purpose... you said 'no excuses' and bam, I had a guitar."

"Okay, let's test this," she said. "Start with something small. Is there a musical instrument you know how to play that's, like..." She gestured with her fingers, indivating a size from about two feet to much less than that.

"Umm... still know how to do okay with a recorder," he suggested. Isabel thought of Alex with one of those little fipple flutes, and smiled.

"Okay, concentrate and try to give yourself one," she suggested. Alex screwed up his face, but there was no result.

"I can't do it," he said. "You try."

Isabel shrugged and visualized the instrument appearing in Alex's hand... and suddenly it was there. She looked at his face to see if he saw it, if he could feel its weight... he smiled and brought it nearly to his lips... hesitated, wiped the mouthpiece off against his shirt, (was he worried about where the instrument had been before she conjured it? Maybe it had ghost-germs living on it??) and then played a short and merry tune.

"That's nice," she said. taking off the dressing gown and lying on the bed. "But I'd prefer to hear your voice instead, actually. Just your voice."

Alex smiled, reached out, and pulled the covers over her, Then he pulled a chair over close to the bed and sat in it. (How could he affect physical objects? Was Isabel imagining it, or doing these things herself?) He opened his mouth and began to sing, "Winter snow is falling down, Children laughing all around. Lights are turning on, like a fairy tale come true. Sitting by the fire we made..."

Isabel remembered turning around slightly, looking up into Alex's eyes as he sang, and closing her eyes. Then nothing, until...

----------

All of a sudden, Isabel realized that she was in a very different bedroom, sitting up against a pillow, with her legs hanging down to the floor... and wearing her light brown jacket. Alex was across from her, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, his head tilted down but looking up at her through his eyelashes, and he was waring what looked like black sweats.

"Huh?? What happened?"

"Well..." Alex looked around the room slowly, taking its measure, and smiled. "What do ya know??"

"I, I don't understand. Am I dreaming again??"

"I think we're both dreaming," Alex decided, and scrambled up half onto his knees with a smile, Their lips met, and the momentum of Alex's body was pushing her back against the headboard, her hair falling askew.

"AAglx," she mumbled... not offended or upset at his sudden display of affection, just very much caught off guard by it. Alex broke away almost at once, frightened for a second, but he grinned when he realized that she was smiling, her eyes shining slightly. He wrapped one arm around her back and pulled her smoothly down further onto the bed, so that her head could lie on the pillow, golden tresses spreading all about it.

"I... I've wanted to do that for so long, but it didn't seem right... not when you were awake, when I wasn't really there," he whispered. "But now... do you recognize the scene that we dreamed this based on??"

Isabel thought, and things snapped into place. "When I came to your room and begged you to take me to the dance." Alex nodded. She reached up and stroked the side of his face slightly. "I finally get it together enough to come right out, and tell you a bit of how I feel about you, and, and..." She took a deep breath that came out sounding quite a bit like a sob, and Alex quickly reached out to hold her tighter. Tears started to fall down from her cheek onto his shoulder.

"It'll... it'll n..never be the same," she managed to choke out. "Not like it should have been me and you together for a rea-- reasonably long, happy life. I'm glad that you're here, like this, because if you weren't I'd be a wreck, but it's not enough. And... and when we find out who killed you, you'll probably fade away for good, because that's what ghosts do in all the storybooks. They're stuck here on Earth to settle one big, unresolved issue, and then they fade away into the great beyond, or whatever."

"If there's one big, unresolved issue that I left in my life by dying early," Alex said slowly and softly, "then it wasn't the mystery of who killed me. That doesn't even come close by comparison. It was you, Isabel, always you. Never being confident enough to show you all that I felt for you. Leaving like this. If there's something that's keeping me here on Earth, Isabel, then it's you, and that means I'll be with you as long as you need me to."

She looked at him and smiled, her eyes no longer watering. He reached to her face and dried off her cheeks. "Oh, shoot," she mumbled after a second. "I forgot to take down that dictation thing, when we had a chance, in my room before I fell asleep."

Alex laughed softly. "After all this... are you still worried that you're going crazy, and that I'm not really me?"

"Umm... I dunno," she admitted. "Would be nice to be sure beyond all possible doubt, you know? Or nearly all possible doubt, because I guess nobody can no for certain that everything they see isn't a hallucination, or some computer program being transmitted to a bunch of brains in a vat or something else outta the Matrix."

Alex nodded. "Okay, fair enough. We can do it tomorrow morning, when you wake up, and then maybe you can go and pay a visit to my mom and have breakfast there. I know that she'll be happy to see a friendly face today, and somebody that she can feed."

"Okay," Isabel agreed with a smile. "Maybe I'll even tell Liz to meet me there." Alex nodded. Isabel paused in thought.

"Any idea just how far we can go, making out in a dream?" Her voice was lilting and just a little flirty. Alex shook his head, and smiled.

"No... but something tells me that the two of us are going to find out before too long."

"Oh, you better bet on it!" She kissed him with a passion that suprised her, and began to bring one hand up under the front of the sweatshirt he was wearing, stroking the skin she found there.

Unfortunately for both of them, a few instants later that particular dream dissolved into the chaotic storms and winds of the subconscious mind during peaceful sleep.

----------

Isabel sighed as she woke up, and looked around her room. The chair was still pulled up, close to her bed, but... but of Alex, there was no sign. She got up, panicked for about a second, and tried a thought broadcast. **Alex! Where are you??**

"Not so loud!!" Alex walked right through the wall again, wearing a big white t-shirt with tiny little rhinos on it, and long striped boxer shorts. Isabel blinked at him in surprise. "By the way, could you wish me up a toothbrush? I may not NEED to use it anymore, but it still kinda helps the day get started." Isabel laughed slightly and made the mental effort - it wasn't even hard by this point. Well, it hadn't been hard the first time, with the guitar. "Oh, and a glass of water?"

She got showered and dressed quickly, assured Mom and Dad that yes, she *would* be getting breakfast, and headed out. Max didn't really make an appearance, and somehow she was glad. She wasn't sure how she felt about him, and had no idea how he'd react if he found out that she was working with Liz, after he'd gotten so upset.

Once they were on their way, she tried to think of something good to say to Alex. Mostly Isabel just wanted to hear his voice. The restrictions on Alex coming up with new objects to manipulate himself didn't seem to apply to clothing particularly, and the t-shirt he was wearing now was a just a solid blue, along with jeans. Blue looked good on him, Isabel decided. Flattered his skin tone or something.

"Any tips on what to expect from your mom? I... well, I don't think I ever even saw her before the funeral, and didn't really get a chance to talk to her yesterday.

Alex thought about it for a moment. "You'll like her," he decided after a moment. "A little like your own mom in some ways. Very sweet, very old-fashioned in some ways..." He trailed off with a soft sigh, and Isabel decided not to ask him any more questions in that vein... she could certainly understand that they might be bumming him out.

Isabel had to try three times to actually get her hand to knock on the Whitman's door. Fairly quickly it was answered by a slightly short woman with a poofy bob of dark hair, and a smile that Isabel thought would usually be well described as 'friendly,' but that didn't fit especially well at the moment. Even with the melancholy expression on her face today, though, Isabel decided that she liked Mrs. Whitman a lot.

The older woman took a moment to show any sign of recognition, and Isabel was just finishing a mental self-kick and opening her mouth for a self-introduction when her smile widened slightly. "Isabel, yes? Izzie Evans??" Isabel nodded. "Well, what are you doing here this morning?"

"Um, pardon me, please, if it's presumptuous of me," Isabel blurted out. "I... I was hoping you'd be in the mood for a little company. Breakfast??"

Alex's mother suddenly grinned, and then so did Alex, invisibly to her... standing next to Isabel and slightly behind her. "Come in, come in. I expect that Alex told you that feeding people makes me feel better when I'm blue?"

"Something like that, yeah," Isabel agreed, hoping that she wouldn't ask just WHEN her son had imparted that little tidbit sometimes. "I'm that way with organizing my things, sometimes, or volunteering. 'S therapeutic."

"Yes, I think you do understand," she replied. "Okay, umm... how does French toast sound?" Mrs Whitman had led the way into a small dining room that could have been icily formal, but had been decorated in such a way as to warm and brighten the starker feeling of the basic room. She waved at the seats, and Isabel took one. Alex hung back, watching from the doorway.

"Well, I'm more of a pancakes and eggs girl usually," she started, "but that sounds nice. Umm, do you have anything spicy I can try putting on it?" Mrs Whitman looked at her a bit blankly. "It's a family thing. Tabasco or anything with red pepper flavor in it is great."

"On french toast?" she confirmed, and Isabel nodded. "Well, we don't generally go in for really sicy stuff, but I think there's some Thai sauce that Alex... um, that Alex bought and didn't finish."

"Okay... I think I can find it," Isabel said. Alex came over and pointed it out. The little bottle was labelled 'Sriracha' and it turned out to taste pretty close to Tabasco, except not quite as much flat-out heat and a little special zing that Isabel couldn't make out immediately. She shot a look at Alex, not THINKING anything at him, but she wanted to bring this up later. Hadn't Liz said that the Thai food guy was the last person to see him, after she and Maria left? Was there some possible connection??

Liz showed up just as Isabel was finishing off her first slice of french toast, just about the same time as Alex's dad showed up, and the two of them started talking about some summer trip that she had gone on with Alex's family, years and years ago. Izzie went into the kitchen; Mrs Whitman was beating some more eggs and milk, in preparation for making lots more toast, she guessed.

"By the way, Mrs Whitman... Alex mentioned something to me once about a report he did in the fourth grade on James Madison -- I'd kind of like to see it. Do you still have it?"

She smiled in mid-dip. "Yeah, just found it again while going through some boxes the other week... did he mention it since then?"

"Um, yeah actually."

"Well, I'll get it for you if you keep a watch on the stove." She slapped the dipped bread carefully down onto the hot frying pan and hurried off. Isabel watched carefully, not sure what she was supposed to be looking for, other than curls of smoke which would be a very bad sign.

"Here you go," Mrs Whitman said about a minute later, hurrying back into the kitchen, handing a folder to Isabel and flipping the toast. The pages inside were a little weathered by time, and had been typed out on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, and inexpertly. But it seemed pretty good for a fourth-grader, and Isabel pulled out the little piece of paper that she had written based on Alex's dictation to compare it against the original - word for word perfect. That would seem to settle that.

"It wasn't even an assigned school report, though I made sure that his teacher saw it," Mrs Whitman mentioned as Isabel wandered back into the kitchen from the hallway and put the report down on the countertop. "He just got it in his head to write up a paper, because he 'liked Mister Madison.'"

"Wow," Isabel breathed. Writing a paper about a president was about the furthest thing she could think of from being her idea of fun when she was little... or just about any time in her life, come to think of it, even though she did enjoy reading about history sometimes. But it made some sense, given what she knew about Alex.

She took a piece of french toast into the dining room for Liz and Mister Whitman to split, and listened to them talking about a trip to San Diego.


TO BE CONTINUED...
Last edited by Chrisken on Sun Feb 01, 2009 7:33 am, edited 41 times in total.
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"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Sat Feb 18, 2006 2:36 pm

Part Two

"Thanks, Gloria," Liz said as she finished her third slice of french toast, and some hash browns that had come out of the freezer and through the toaster oven. "Um, Maria and I had talked about putting together a yearbook scrap-page for Alex.... but she has to work this morning. Um, could I... do you mind if I go up to his room, again, and see if there's anything there that'd be good?"

Alex's parents shared a look. "No, no, not at all," Gloria Whitman said. "It sounds like a great idea."

"Can you still get it into the yearbook?" Mister Whitman asked. "I know that it... well, it's awfully late in the year, and they had to have them all printed by graduation...."

"Karen Sanders is the head of the yearbook committee, and she said that they can hold the presses for nearly a week," Liz assured him. "Everybody wanted to get something about Alex into the yearbook - I didn't realize that his life had touched so many other people's. Even people that he hardly knew."

Isabel thought about that, and caught the eye of Alex, who was sitting invisibly on the sideboard - well, invisibly to everyone but her. Isabel suspected, as Maria had said when looking at the kids coming to his memorial out on the school field, that it wasn't Alex's life that had touched so many people at the school, but the sudden-ness of his death. Alex had been, apparently, an everykid - bit of a music and computers geek, but if he could die in a random car crash, then it could happen just as easily to almost anyone else walking those halls, and no teenager liked to be directly reminded of mortality, of the fact that even people as young as them, or younger, could get picked out by the Grim Reaper.

But she didn't say any of that out loud. Liz managed, with a little difficulty, to catch Isabel's eye away from Dead Alex. "Isabel, do you wanna give me a hand?"

Ahh... she had missed that possibility the first time. Liz might be pretty sincere about the yearbook stuff, but what she really wanted was a chance to examine Alex's stuff once again for clues. "Sure, yeah, I'll come along."

As they got into Alex's room, Isabel asked Liz softly. "Do you need any help on the actual yearbook thing, by the way??"

She blinked in surprise. "Umm... I wouldn't say no, but it isn't my major priority at the moment, and I wouldn't have thought it was yours. Why?"

""Was just wondering. A yearbook spread might be a means to an end, but it's also a sign of affection to Alex. If there's going to be one, then I want it to be good... and I don't think you want to get Maria, or the yearbook committee, annoyed at you right now."

Liz thought about that. "Okay, got it. I'll try not to let my monomania take over and crowd that out." Isabel smiled slightly, and Liz returned it "Okay, let's get to work."

The morning went quickly, and when Isabel considered what they had done, when Mrs Whitman called to them to say that lunch was ready, she was well satisfied. The two of them had collected quite a number of pictures and other ideas for the yearbook spread, and had also managed to find at least one new clue in regards to Alex's death - a mysterious file, or program, or something, that had been password protected on his computer. 'Leanna is not leanna,' over and over and over again, until Isabel had to close the window down just to stop from staring at it in morbid fascination.

Alex hadn't remembered that file on his computer at all, but cautioned Isabel against reading too much into that -- 'My memory isn't what it used to be lately." Still, Isabel felt that the cryptic clue had to be significant somehow. Most of the other investigative attempts that either of them tried with the contents of the room came up empty, but she wasn't too worried by that... there were other leads, further afield, to check out. Better to rule a few things out, than leave them as open possibilities and start to get overwhelmed.

Lunch was a quiet and slightly melancholy meal, but the elder Whitmans clearly appreciated having Alex's "girl friends" around to help fill up the empty silences. Mrs Whitman had pulled out an old deep fat fryer that probably hadn't been used in a few years, and whipped up some very tasty chicken fritters, with tiny little morsels of chicken breast coated with a hand-mixed batter. The fritters tended to disappear nearly as quickly as they had come out of the fryer, before they'd even cooled down, and she also fried up some frozen crinkle-cut french fries, and microwaved some frozen corn.

The whole meal was very homey and delicious... and Alex regaled her with a tale of coming home from a soccer game on a saturday when he'd been twelve... (he was no better at soccer than at dodgeball, but his parents had been insistent on some activity that would get him out in the fresh air and some healthy exercise,) and his mother whipping up an almost identical supper for Alex and a few of his teammates who he never heard from after that summer. Isabel could almost picture the entire scene.

Once the lunch dishes were done -- Liz volunteered them for helping clean up, and Isabel didn't mind at all; she worked a little alien 'magic' on the fryer basket and the other oil-covered implements -- Isabel quietly suggested going for a walk and talk. Liz agreed quickly enough, and lost no time in bringing Isabel up to speed on the rest of her investigation, including the mysterious signature that Alex had left on the thai food reciept - all 1's and 0's. Binary code.

"We should talk to someone in Alex's c..." Isabel started, but Liz interrupted her.

"...His computer class, yeah. I'm already on that." Isabel shot Ghost Alex a look, but he made a big production of shaking his head and shrugging, having no clear idea what this latest clue meant.

"Okay, then. I have a few ideas myself. One is that one or both of us need to get a look at exactly what *is* in that police file." Liz seemed surprised by that notion. "Now, you know and I know that Alex didn't really kill himself. Not ever, not one chance in a trillion quintillions, or whatever. But everything that they say points to a suicide might really point to the truth that we're looking for - if we know how to look at it right. They have resources that we don't, and they've already used them to do the legwork. We need to get the details of what they found."

"Umm... okay," Liz said. "Think maybe you could talk Valenti into giving it to you? I think that Max gave it back to him, and I don't think he'd have given it back to Hanson or whoever just yet."

"Yeah, I'll see about that. The second notion is that I'd like to have a chance to look at what's left of the car myself, and maybe the scene of the accident. Maybe my... my alien powers can pick up something, get a flash of the truth. It's worth a shot."

Liz nodded. "I can show you where I found the car, and I'm pretty sure I know where it crashed. Okay??"

Liz looked at Alex, who was walking a little ahead of them both, pacing backwards without any signs of difficulty... of course, he didn't really need to worry about bumping into other people anymore. What about the ground, though? He was walking on the sidewalk, like they were. When it took a slight dip for a sidewalk, he was able to compensate without even seeming to think about it.

Suddenly, Isabel was strongly tempted to confess about her haunting to Liz. If she could accept it, that would make so many things to do with their investigation easier. **You know what I'm thinking about, right?? Should I or not??*

Alex shrugged slightly. "Up to you. It's not my decision, but I wouldn't mind." Then he had a thought. "Try her on Max's christmas carol, first. That'll tell you if she's ready to believe, I think."

How had Alex found out about that?? He hadn't been in Roswell for Christmas... in Sweden already? No, that didn't make sense. Nobody would schedule a foreign exchange to start right before Christmas. The Whitman family had gone to spend the holidays with a relative, yeah, that was it.

Well, she'd ask Alex about it later. Communicating mentally was a little less obvious than speaking out loud, but it was still hard to have an extended conversation without having someone nearby think you were acting a little oddly. "Back... back at christmas, when Max... when that man died at the christmas tree lot, and Max started talking about restoring the balance... when he ended up, umm, helping Sidney and those other kids. What do you think? Was he really... um, communicating with that man's spirit somehow? Maybe hosting a part of his spirit inside Max's own body? Or was it just... some kind of weird guilt breakdown?"

"I... I'm not sure," Liz admitted. "I managed to avoid coming up with an answer to that while it was going on. Whether the guy was real or not wasn't the point. Max needed me, and I did my best to help him out, without judging that. On the other hand, though... if it was in Max's subconscious, how did he know so quickly that Sidney was in Phoenix? That seems a slightly unlikely thing for him to be able to guess instinctively."

Isabel considered that. "Sounds like you don't have enough evidence, but you're approaching the situation with an open mind. Very scientific of you - which I should have expected."

Liz laughed slightly. "Is there a particular reason why you're bringing this up, righ..." Liz stopped still, in mid-pace and mid-word. "Isabel - are you talking about trying to get in touch with Alex, using alien powers??"

Something about the way she phrased that made Isabel burst out laughing. "Liz... I - I didn't need to *try*!! Alex just came to me, and I know how unlikely that sounds, but he told me things about his past that I could never possibly have known. He's... well, he's standing right beside you, though I know that you can't see him. Please believe me that I can - and that it really is him!"

Liz blinked several times, and her throat worked as if she was trying to literally swallow Isabel's story, to begin digesting it. "He... okay, then What was the name of the first boy that Maria kissed, and where did she meet him? I don't think she'd have ever told you that."

Isabel turned to Alex, realizing that she'd feel very stupid if this didn't work. Alex had complained of his spotty memory - it mostly seemed to manifest about recent things, but... what if he couldn't answer, or got it wrong?

She needn't have worried. "That's too easy. Billy Darden -- officially it was a songwriter's workshop, but Liz and I just said she was at band camp. Really - this was long before 'American Pie' the movie came out of course - but we did." Isabel relayed this, and was a little gratified by the look of utter shock and dawning hope on Liz's face.

"You're not trying to play a prank on me?" she asked, and Isabel shook her head. "Then... then all of this detective work is beyond the point. Can't you just ask him what really happened the night he died??"

"He doesn't remember," Isabel said with a sigh. "Aside from a few ominous vagueness-es. But, Liz -- he was the one who told me to come and work with you. He was worried about you, and thought that -- well, that if whatever killed him was dangerous to you, I might be able to protect you. I hope you're not upset to hear that."

Liz thought about it for a moment, and started to walk again, Isabel turned around to fall in behind her, noticing that Alex was trailing behind them this time - for now at least. "Not really. I was surprised when you showed up last night and told me that stuff - was wondering what really changed your mind. I guess I know now. And it shouldn't surprise me that Alex is still looking out for me and trying to protect me, even now. That's just kind of what he does."

"Yeah, I know," Isabel agreed. "Okay -- well, I'm glad I told you, and that you're getting used to the notion. He can be a real asset to this mission of ours, for at least two reasons: One, his memory, when it isn't swiss-cheesed, about any details of the past few months that he didn't tell any of us about. Secondly... I think that he might be able to sneak in places that neither of us would be able to go to, as long as I can get near them, and tell us about what he's found."

"So, he can't go too far away from you?" Liz asked. Obviously, she was just as curious about figuring out the limits and parameters of this ghost thing as Alex had been.

"Well... I don't think since I died I've been more than, ooh, maybe eighty feet away from her since I died," Alex said. "Or in one of her dreams." Isabel relayed this, suddenly realizing that now that Liz knew, she was going to be playing monkey-in-the-middle a lot, repeating what he'd said for her benefit. Somehow, the thought didn't upset her all that much.

"Okay... well, how about we try this. You just stay there, Alex, and we'll both walk away, and Isabel can check to see if you're there every ten feet or so. Eighty feet is about the distance to the corner, right?"

"Yeah, looks like that to me," Isabel guessed. They headed out, and reached the corner and passed it, with Isabel still seeing Alex right next to the mailbox they had been at when they started. "Okay... that's got to be at least a hundred ten feet," she said, the third check after passing the intersection.

"Let's keep trying as long as you can see him," Liz suggested.

"Oh!! Ohmygawd, he just disappeared!" Once again, Isabel panicked, and even though there was a little voice inside her head that told her to just relax and take a moment, and in all likelihood everything would be fine, she just couldn't listen to it. "What if his connection to me would only stretch so far, and now he's fallen away from earth completely, lost in some horrible dimension of darkness, or..." Something tapped her on the shoulder, and she spun around, only to find herself looking into his smiling face. "Whoops, never mind then." Liz laughed.

"He popped back in right next to you, I take it?" she asked, and Isabel nodded. "Any experiences to report??"

"Nothing much... he said he was fine until after we'd crossed the street, and then he got a little dizzy, and suddenly he just realized that he couldn't be where he was anymore," Isabel repeated after Alex had had time to answer the question for her. "He, um, he kinduv had a choice between moving and... and 'skipping forward in time', though he wasn't quite sure what would have happened if he tried that."

"Huh," Liz considered. "Well, we can try more later. Umm... should we make it the auto wrecking yard first?"

Isabel thought about that. "Yeah, if you've got the time now. Whenever you have to go work a shift in the Crashdown or something, then I can try paying a visit on Mister Valenti. I imagine that seeing you, or the two of us together, would probably make him a little more suspicious."

"Probably, yeah," Liz agreed. "I didn't really make a good impression, when he first told me about the suicide theory." She sighed, a little sadly.

"Don't worry about that," Isabel assured her. "I don't think I'd have taken the notion at all well either."

----------

"Awww." Isabel frowned as she saw what was left of Mister Whitman's car sitting in the wrecking yard, battered in and partially stripped. Guess Alex's dad is going to get an insurance settlement, and buy something new - or a car that was new to him, at any rate. Carefully, she pried open the door and put her hand on the driver's seat, opening up her senses and willing a flash to come.

*BANGG)* It came all right. Isabel recoiled, nearly lost her balance, (since she's had to climb up on some flattened chassis to get to Alex's car,) and was caught by Liz. "What! What did you see?"

"Umm... I saw Alex, strapped into the driver's seat, except his eyes weren't open. He might have been unconscious, or d... d.. dead already." She was shivering, and Alex reached out to hug her, except this one time, he couldn't. His arms went right through her body. Was that because she was facing the plain physicality of his death??

"His foot wasn't on the gas. I'm sure of that. The car was in gear, so the creeper would have been on regardless, but something -- something else was pushing the car along, at highway speeds. Then... then the steering wheel turned on its own, without Alex turning it, and the whole car swerved. There was an impact, and the driver's side door was caved in, c-c-crushing..."

"That... that fits with what Valenti told me about the accident," Liz said softly. "Alex's car moved into the oncoming lane and was hit on the driver's side. So the first question is, was he put into the car unconscious, as a way of killing him that wouldn't be too suspicious, or..."

"He was dead already, I think." Liz looked up - Isabel was peering through the door into the car again. "See... um, see those stains there? Part of the stain is very thickly red and bloody, and part of it is perfectly colorless. Do you know anything that would cause that??"

"Umm... no, not off the top of my head," Liz muttered, wondering why it seemed so familiar.

"'...and blood and water flowed,'" Izzie quoted. "Don't remember which gospel it was, but they... they told us what that meant in summer school. To tell when the crucifixion was over and J... um, and somebody was really dead, you could cut into the flesh, beneath the skin. After a person dies, their blood starts to seperate out, with the red cells and the plasma coming out not very well mixed anymore." She couldn't actually say the name 'Jesus' when talking about Alex being dead... maybe because there was no chance that *he* would be rising again on the morning of the third day.

"I... I'm not sure that's the only explanation," Liz said cautiously. "But it seems like a strong possibility at this point. And from what you've said... well, only another alien with strong powers could have arranged that car crash while Alex was in the drivers' seat and completely incapable of driving, yes?" Isabel nodded. "Then maybe that's the darkness he told you about... if some powerful unfriendly alien arranged his death."

"Yeah," Isabel breathed. "Now all we need to do is figure out who it was - and why."

"I think the answer to that may have something to do with his Sweden trip," Liz mentioned. "'Leanna is not Leanna.' So who is she really, then??"

Isabel sighed, and turned to Alex, who'd been watching all of this quietly with a slightly freaked look on his face. "No memories triggered by any of this??"

"Nope, not a thing. Where to next?"

----------

They visited the site of the crash quickly, and didn't learn anything new except that neither Alex or Isabel could get a sense that this was the place where Alex had passed away, and they both kind of thought they WOULD be able to get such a vibe in the right location, which reinforced Isabel's conviction that Alex had already been dead before the crash.

"He remembered a bit of driving, that last night before he died," Isabel mentioned, as she drove Liz back to the Cafe for her shift. "I couldn't make any of this before now, but maybe he was going to wherever the killer was waiting for him - the place that he died."

"Okay," Liz said after a moment. "What does he remember?"

"Pretty much just a set of cross streets." Isabel repeated the entire memory, with prompting from Alex.

"North side of town, northeast and heading further east," Liz reflected. "You're right, it doesn't sound like a natural route to take if he was planning to get onto the main road out of town. But why would Alex go to meet the killer?"

"There's no easy way to know, yet," Isabel sighed. "Maybe he or she was threatening to attack one of us if he didn't play ball." Liz frowned, not liking the idea, but seeing the truth that there were too many possibilities, considering all that they didn't yet know.

It was about a moment later when Isabel pulled into the Crashdown parking lot and let Liz off. Alex popped into the front seat as she ran in through the side door, and Isabel shot a look at him. "Hit Valenti's right now, when we're on a roll?"

"Ehh, might as well if you feel like it," Alex said, but without much enthusiasm. "I don't see any good reason for waiting longer."

Isabel took a moment to ponder the reaction she'd gotten from him... more the nonverbal portion than the words he'd said. "Alex, is... is something wrong?"

"It's just been a tiring day for me so far I guess," he said. "Tagging along as you girls went hither and yon... I know that you getting involved with her quest was my idea in the first place, but I... I guess I didn't realize how tiring it can be going from place to place, in spirit form. Plus - well, when you got the flsh in the junkyard, it was kinda scary. And it's been frustrating when the two of you talk together and pretty much ignore me, though I realize why it would have been frustrating for YOU to include me in the conversation more. Sorry, I know that i'm babbling more than a bit."

"Maybe a little," she told him with a sweet smile. "And I'm sorry, I never thought to ask if you were doing okay before this." She considered the situation and chewed her lower lip, just slightly. "Well, we could go back to my place, I could spend the rest of the afternoon hanging out in my room and you can keep me company. That'll probably be more relaxing for you. The only downside is that I'll probably have to be pretty quiet or my parents will notice that something is up."

"You could maybe try to pretend that you're chatting with someone on your cell phone," he pointed out. "Or over the computer maybe. I don't really want to hold the investigation up though. Going to Valenti and getting a look at that file is important."

"Okay." Isabel took a deep breath. "Maybe you should try that blip forward thing you mentioned earlier, then. Try to take five hours out, and meet up with me again at six thirty."

"Are... are you sure about that, Izzy?" he said, reaching up a hand to cup the side of her face. "That'll be a lot more time than you need to go and talk to Valenti."

"Well, you can try less to start if you want," she blurted out, "and I certainly won't be complaining. But it just occured to me - maybe taking time out like that is how you rest now, as a ghost or whatever. You said you didn't remember anything between the night you died and meeting me in the cemetary, other than those two dreams we shared -- that sounds like missing time to me. But since then, you've been with me all the time, you were in my dream... were you hanging around through the rest of the night too?"

"Umm, yeah, I think so," he agreed. "Certainly some of the time when you were asleep I was definitely aware, sitting there and watching you. And even when I snoozed, there was a dim sensation of time passing, of the two of us being together and everything being safe. So your theory seems to hold up, at least a little bit." He sighed. "I think I'm going to try four hours, to start. You'll be more than glad to see me after that long, I think."

Isabel smiled. "Definitely. Just one thing." She let her hand linger caressingly on one side of his face, and kissed him on the cheek. "A bientot, my dear, my love," she whispered. "Until we meet again."

He looked deeply into her eyes, smiled slightly, and faded out, over the course of a few heartbeats, until there was no sign of him anymore.

----------

"Hey Kyle," Isabel said when the youngest Valenti extant opened up the front door. "Umm... how's it going?"

"Not too bad," he said. "Are you looking for Tess? Because I think she's actually off chez vous."

Tess at my house? Isabel pondered that. Was she hanging out with Max? Since Alex died, Isabel hadn't had the mental energy to remember that particular development... the prom kiss and all that might go along with it.

"Actually, no I wasn't," she told him, and there was an awkward silence. "Is... eh, is your Dad around?"

This time Kyle gave her quite a pointed stare. "Why do you want to know?"

"Umm... there's something I wanted to ask him about," she said after a moment. "What else would it be?" She waited until Kyle was just about to speak and deliberately jumped in to cut him off before he got started. "Something that's really not any of your business."

Kyle groaned pretty loudly. "Well, I'm pretty sure he's out trying to make something in the garage. Big surprise. Don't let the..."

Isabel didn't feel like hearing the end of that particular sentence, so she managed to blow a gust of wind into his face as she turned and left to go around the house to the garage, which succesfully disrupted his train of thought. After spluttering for a long moment, Kyle grumbled, "Yeah, cute trick, Princess Martian..." very sarcastically, and then she was out of range to find out if there was any more, and didn't mind that one bit.

There was definitely the sound of some kind of motor coming from inside the small garage as Isabel approached it. She tried knocking, though without much hope that it could actually be heard inside, and then nerved herself to open the door and step inside.

There were definitely quite a few signs of 'making something' around. Little bits of wood dust were everywhere, as well as tiny broken or sawed-away fragments, and considerably larger pieces, some rough in shape, others regular... or at least irregular in symmetrical and eye-catching ways. Some of the finished pieces had been fitted together into... it was a half-finished dresser, Isabel decided, and it would be very beautiful once it was completely assembled and finished and polished and everything.

Valenti himself, wearing one of those plastic mask dealies to keep the dusk out of his face and his eyes, was working at a big table saw with his back to her. Isabel wasn't quite sure what to do next at this point. If she called out loudly enough that he could hear her over the saw, he might be startled and hurt himself.

She decided to walk through the garage carefully and edge into his field of vision. Quite quickly he spotted her, turned the saw off, and after a bit of fumbling, got his mask off. "Umm... Isabel! To what do I owe the... um, you're not having weird dreams again, are you??"

Isabel had been about to say something, but completely forgot what it was as her brain made the connection. Of course, she *had* been having some dreams lately that Valenti would probably find quite weird, though she wasn't going to tell him that. And... the last time she'd come to him for help with a mystery, the whole mess with Laurie Dupree had ensued, and Valenti had been fired for keeping her secrets. "Umm... no, it's nothing like that. I, um... this may sound a little odd, or not - I'm not sure. But..."

"Come on," he said, stepping away from the table and leading the way back towards the garage door. For a second Isabel thought that he had guessed what she'd come for, but then she realized that he just wanted to talk with her somewhere that might be a bit more comfortable - maybe in the house, or maybe in his back yard. She followed.

Isabel didn't have a great deal of experience in bringing up awkward conersational topics, but she'd learned one maxim that seemed to relate: When in doubt, small talk. "That's going to be really gorgeous when you get it done, Mister V."

He blinked in surprise. "Oh, the bureau? Well thanks, though I think it's still a little early to tell." Isabel giggled nervously. "I've been meaning to get that done for years now. Guess I figured - well, no time like the present, you know?"

"Yeah, I think I understand," she muttered. "And that kind of segues awkwardly right into my awkward request. I -- I want to see the file. The one that you showed to Max. Do you... um, do you still have it?"

Jim Valenti turned around in the middle of his backyard to stare at her. "The file... about the investigation into Alex's death??" She nodded slightly, which made his jaw tremble as if it was about to drop, but it didn't quite. "Why... why do you want to know about that stuff? If it's the suicide stuff you're worried about, then don't be. Hanson is *not* going to be revealing that to the general public."

"I... I don't care about what the public knows," Isabel blurted out, realizing she didn't have a plan this far into the conversation. "I... I need to know if Alex killed himself, for - for my own peace of mind. I want to be able to look at the facts and come to my own decision, the way Max did. Can you deny me that??"

Valenti was wavering. "There are details in that report that... that I wouldn't have cared to know about... about anyone that I cared for as much as I think you cared about Alex. Take my word for it: this was a horrible, tragic, senseless accident. I know it hurts that the world can be like that, but looking for deeper meanings in tragedy as a way to comfort yourself doesn't work. Can't you just let the dead lie in peace, and focus on moving on with your own life??"

Izzie couldn't help but rudely snicker to herself, mentally. (She hoped that she didn't give it away to the ex-lawman.) Not much chance of letting the dead rest in peace, since Alex *wasn't* resting in peace. He was haunting her... in a very considerate and gentle way of course, but like any traditional ghost in the storybooks, he would not let her rest until the answer was found. She was sure of that.

"I... I can't let it go yet," was what she said out loud. "Maybe... maybe soon, especially if you can help me. How about it?"

Valenti sighed. "I told Hanson that he could come over this afternoon and pick it up again. He could be here anytime."

"If he does, he'll never even know I was here," she promised. "Is it in your office?"

He blinked in confusion, then realized the part of the plan she wasn't saying... that he should go back to the front of the house, in case Tim Hanson did arrive, and delay him just long enough for Isabel to hide, or leave the back way, whichever she could better do undetected. Slowly he nodded. "Right on top of my desk. You can't miss it."

And with that, he led the way inside, through the back of the hourse. Isabel waited for about twenty seconds before following as silently as she could, mostly worried about Kyle. If he spotted her, and Hanson *did* arrive, Kyle might blow the plan out of sheer... well, whatever he had seemed so sour about earlier. It would be better if he didn't even know that she had come into the house, if possible.

It wasn't hard to find the file on Valenti's desk, as he had said, or to make copies of it onto blank printer paper from his little home Canon Bubblejet. Valenti hadn't specifically approved this, but surely he would guess that she wanted to look at the report in more detail than Isabel could afford right now, with Hanson possibly about to arrive any moment. It might have been easier if she'd learned to 'scan' written material into her brain, as Ed Harding had once expected Michael to be able to, but she hadn't been practicing her alien abilities much this past year. She didn't have the heart for it.

But an 'alien xerox' was much easier for her - quick molecular alterations into one piece of paper to make it match the original nearly perfectly. Then close the file, and out the back door. She had just begun to step out from behind the garage to walk back up the driveay when she saw a white car with its sirens turned off, and bold lettering on the doors, started to turn in from the street. Isabel ducked back behind the house, hoping that the driver hadn't gotten a good look at her. Probably a good thing that she hadn't started up the driveway eighteen seconds earlier, or there would have been no easy place to hide.

It was Hanson... or maybe one of his deputies from the Sheriff's station here to run the errand for her. In any event, this was great timing to get gone. She jogged over to the gate in the backyard fence, worked the latch to let herself out into the alley, and pulled the gate closed behind her.

Now, just how long should she wait before circling around and collecting her car??

----------

She wiled away the rest of that afternoon a little restlessly, and yet she was glad to not be nearly as forlorn as she had been the day before. Just knowing that Alex was around, in some capacity, even if he wasn't in her presence, (or maybe not on her planet,) just at the moemnt. He would be back soon, and she could hardly wait to see him. On the other hand, ifhe was getting his rest, that was very important too.

She didn't go back to her house. For a while she sat on a bench near the middle of her favorite park and went over the police report... as Valenti had hinted, most of it was stuff that she wouldn't have wanted to know, if it hadn't been for their mission. Medical examiner's comments, interview transcripts with teachers and friends... including statements from Liz and Maria, Isabel was a little surprised to notice... they were very terse by comparison, and she hoped it wasn't obvious that that was because everyone in the group was becoming more secretive.

Then again, Alex's parents hadn't had too much to say either. Probably the police were used to those who had been closest to... to the deceased, not having much to say. (It was so hard to even think that word about Alex.) Isabel couldn't see any clear pattern, or obvious clues, in the report, but she was still pleased in having been able to get a copy. It would probably prove useful later. Already they'd learned a lot today.

She stowed the papers in the secret compartment of the trunk of her mom's car and spent a little time strolling through the mall, considering the merits of a new hard-to-see foundation at the high-end department store's makeup counter. (First reaction: what's the point? Second reaction: has possibilities! I have pretty good skin anyway, so something that offers a very slight touch-up while making it very hard to tell that I'm wearing makeup... especially since I think Alex likes the carefree and natural look.)

Her third reaction was a little harder to sum up in a simple sound bite. Considering that Alex was a ghost now... did it still make sense to think in terms of dressing up for him? Then again, it was only now that she'd really admitted how she felt about him, and hopefully the fact that he was dead didn't mean that their love had to stay entirely lofty and... erm, and spiritual, despite the unfortunate pun there.

She also paid attention to the clothes boutiques, and an electronics place because it made her think of Alex to wander around in there a bit, and sat in the big bookstore reading a bit from a romantic fantasy adventure for a little while, and drinking an espresso. Then, it was driving back to the Crashdown the long way around, and dinner. Liz smiled as she came up to take her order.

"Any luck?" she breathed, hardly above a whisper.

As an experiment more than anything else, Isabel tried sending to her the same way she did to Alex. **Yes, I have copies of the full report.** Liz shook her head in confusion, as if something had happened that she didn't quite understand, but she certainly didn't seem to understand the message. Oh well. Isabel tried mouthing words instead. 'Yeah, we'll talk later.' This time, Liz nodded in comprehension, and Isabel went ahead and ordered her dinner.

After she'd finished, Liz took her break and they both walked down second street, away from the UFO center, west towards the school, though that was a long way away. "Hi, Alex, how're you doing?" Liz asked after about a block.

"Um, Alex isn't here," Isabel told her with a soft laugh. "I... he said he was feeling tired, and I had this idea that 'skipping forward' some time might be what he needs, as a ghost, to rest. If he clocked it right, he's due to pop back in at, umm... well, ten minutes from now."

"Oh, um, alright I guess." Liz seemed a little startled by the notion, then put it in stride. "Well then, did you go to Valenti's after all??"

"Yep. Got copies of the report safe in the trunk of the car. Lotta confusing stuff there - nothing obvious jumped out at me, but then, if it was *that* obvious, it would probably have occured to Hanson or Valenti, or Max."

"Yeah, but we know things that they don't, by now," Liz said. "Well, I'll take a look at them - if that's okay?"

"Sure." Isabel wasn't sure if Liz meant to turn around and head back for the parking lot immediately, but after a few seconds it seemed like she was content to keep walking further on for now, so Isabel followed that slightly vague lead.

"Isabel... I wanted to ask you about something. Before the funeral, you said that you were graduating early and starting college in June. Has... has what's happened since then changed your mind about that?"

Isabel nearly stopped walking... in fact, she almost tripped over her own feet, but neither quite happened and she managed to stay almost in step with Liz. "I... you know, I haven't even thought about it." A pause. "No - June's definitely too soon. I'd better let people know as soon as possible, so no commitments get made in my name that I'm not comfortable living up to." She sighed. "Starting college before NEXT year is still something that I might want to do, but for right now, it seems like the right thing is to keep the option of staying here in town open, right??"

"Yeah, I guess so," Liz said. "It's probably what I'd do, if I were in your shoes."

"And what do you plan to do, in your shoes?" Isabel asked her in return. "I... I'm not meaning to pry, especially, but I'm curious. I heard about the prom kiss debacle, and I don't really know what I'd do in your position. Are you going to, um, to start seeing Sean DeLuca again??"

Liz shot a very dark look at her, bordering on angry, and Isabel decided not to push any further. But a long moment later she spoke. "I... I went to Sean the night of the prom. Danced with him down bowling lanes." Isabel made a questioning 'huh?' sound, and Liz sighed. "It's kinduv a long story."

"But no, I don't think I'll be pushing things any further with Sean right now. Losing Alex has made me realize how short life is, and how much I really do want to spend the time I have with the people I love. And I do love Max, very much." She took a long, slightly wheezy breath. "I wish I hadn't said the things I said to him on prom night... hadn't pushed him towards Tess, for all intents and purposes. Heck, I've been pushing them together for months now, and every time it works I cry my eyes out. Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?"

"Umm... yeah, a little I guess," Isabel admitted, catching Liz's eye and turning a corner, to head north one block. "I'm not sure it's too late, though. I took a chance with Alex, when I was afraid that I'd left things too long. I still don't regret that I did."

"Hmm." Liz considered that for a long while, but didn't say anything further. They started back to the cafe in silence, and all of a sudden Isabel noticed a tiny popping sound. She twirled around -- and smiled.

"Alex! You're back!!"

"Um, no I'm not - I haven't left yet," Alex blurted out, and then did a double-take as he realized where he was. "Oh, in that case, yeah, I guess I *am* back."

Isabel couldn't help but laugh, and she saw Liz smile even though she couldn't have heard what Alex said. "So... didn't you feel like any time passed? Do you feel any more rested?"

"Okay, in order, no, and, umm..." he took a breath in and smiled. "Yes. It's the weirdest thing... I just made the decision to try it, you said goodbye to me, and BAM - here I am! Has it really been four hours??"

She checked her watch. "Maybe not quite, but pretty close. Okay, um... Liz has to get back to the cafe yet, because her break's pretty much over." They started walking east again. "Liz, do you need me to expl--"

"No, I think I got the gist," Liz assured her. "He didn't realize that it had happened, when you first spoke to him??"

"Nope," Isabel agreed. "It'll probably take us all a little time to get used to that bit. By the way, Alex, mission accomplished - I have copies of the full file on the investigation into your death."

"Well, good I guess," Alex said. "What leads do we still have to follow up on, besides that?"

"Other leads to follow," Isabel muttered. "There's the flash I had of you in the car, though I'm not quite sure where to go with that."

"The binary numbers on the thai food receipt," Liz listed off. "Leanna is not leanna."

"Maybe we can talk to someone at the guidance office about the Sweden trip," Isabel said. "If there's an alien connection, maybe Alex was picked by a particular alien for a particular reason. If we dig far enough into how the exchange selection usually works, we might be able to get a thread that we can pull on further."

"Alright," Liz said. "I was going to go ask Derek Jernstrom about the binary code, if I can find him at school tomorrow. He's like a walking encyclopedia when it comes to anything digital, and he's in Alex's advanced computers class, so maybe he'll be able to figure something out."

"That's a good try," Isabel replied. "I don't know that much about binary myself, but I do know, however, that it's just another way of writing numbers. There were, what, twenty binomes in that signature?? Twenty binary digits??" Surprised, Liz nodded. "Okay, that would be enough to encode, ehh, two and a half letters in a usual 8-bit encoding - ALMOST three letters in a seven-bit. It it's being used to represent numbers, that could be a single number up into the hundreds of thousands, or a bunch of smaller numbers - hard to tell unless we know how it was supposed to be broken up. Might be the co-ordinates of a single line segment on a 0-31 XY grid, or even an extremely small huffman message. Without more context, there's just too many possibilties." She sighed. "Maybe Derek being in the same class as Alex will provide that context."

"How... how do you know *that* much about computers and the possible uses of binary code, Isabel?" Liz asked.

"Ehh, I've been reading a bit about it, here and there," she mumbled. "The rest just kind of stands to reason if you think about it a little and apply basic math. And let's not underestimate the nervous babble factor." Isabel sighed. "Ohh... while you're talking to Derek, do you suppose it would make sense to give him the technical details on the emails we got from Alex while he was in Sweden and see if there's anything unusual about them??"

Liz stared at her in shock. "I can try. But what made you think of that? Any idea what might be odd about them?"

"Umm, nothing specific. Just kinda thought it might be a good base to cover."

"Sure, then. Send me the headers from yours tonight... I'll see if I can sneak into Maria's webmail account and take hers too."

They were getting close to the cafe now, and Liz led the way down a side street so that they would, again, not pass the UFO center on their way back. She took the files and hurried up into her apartment, and Isabel sat in the car, with Alex.

"I'm glad you're back," she admitted. "It was weird being without you again, but once again you come back. I think now I'm finally starting to believe that you're going to keep coming back... for the relatively immediate future, at least."

"If I had the choice, I'd never ever leave your side," he muttered. "And you've been working nearly all day on this mystery stuff? How about kicking back a little tonight? Doing something fun, maybe something that a friendly ghost could join in on.?"

She laughed. "Well, how about dancing maybe?? If we go out to UFOnics, I could probably dance by myself and keep away anybody who would have the nerve to cut in on you."

"Hmm... sounds tempting," Alex said, and then his head cocked away in surprise. Isabel only just had time to realize that Michael had thrown the passenger side door open, befure he got in, moving himself into the same space that Alex's body had been sitting. Alex managed an oddly strangled 'yeeep!' before winking out.

"What the hell is going on?" Michael growled.

"Umm... I was just sitting here deciding if I wanted to go out dancing by myself or not," Isabel muttered, mentally editing the truth. She was not about to tell him a single thing about Alex, so that was about as close as was possible. She wasn't quite sure what she'd say if Michael asked if she really needed to talk to herself so loud to make up her mind.

But that wasn't the sort of thing he was focusing on at all. "Don't give me that. I'm talking about you and Liz. Did you think I wouldn't notice when you left together, and when she comes back and runs upstairs, you're out here in the parking lot?? If the two of you were spending time together on ordinary girl stuff, you wouldn't be hiding it. Which kind of leaves the obvious possibility, that you're helping Liz investigate our involvement in Alex's death, behind our backs. Max would *freak* if he knew."

"That's assuming Max isn't too busy getting his own freak on to care," Isabel grumbled. "Okay, Michael - yes, I have been helping Liz with her investigation. I don' t think I have anything to apologize for about it, either. We're not putting the rest of the group under a magnifying glass, just trying to find out the truth about what happened to a dear friend of ours. And someone who I happen to love very much. Feelings were running high for all of us at the wake, but Liz doesn't have an agenda here and she's not gunning for anybody."

"The reason," she continued, taking a fairly deep breath, "that we weren't making a big deal of our activities is because it kind of seemed that going low-profile would be best for everybody. I wasn't trying to hide things specifically from you, or even from Max... just didn't want 'people' in general to guess that something was up."

"Well, I can understand that I guess," Michael muttered. "But come on - you can't really believe that there's some deep dark secret behind Alex's death, do you? He was probably half asleep, lost control of the wheel. It sucks, it really sucks for us because Alex was a pretty cool guy, but that's just life, you know??"

"No, Michael," Isabel whispered suddenly, each word low and intense. "That's not how it happened -- trust me!"

"How... how do you know?"

"I, I had a flash," she admitted. "Liz took me to his car in the junkyard and I got an impression when I touched the drivers' seat. Alex was in the car, either totally unconscious or dead already, before the collision. The car... well, it *really* looks as if some form of alien powers were in control of the car, making sure that it crashed. Alex didn't even have his hands on the wheel or his foot on the gas."

Michael blinked in surprise. "You're sure this flash was real? It might not have just been some worry in Liz's mind that you picked up by accident?"

"I'm pretty sure, yeah. That's not the only evidence, either, though it'll take a long time to explain." She sighed. "Come on, Michael... remember that flash you got, of the dome, when you first touched Valenti's key. Max and I didn't believe you at first, and you had to lead the way. This time I'm leading the way, Liz and I are. We've come far enough... and we could really use your help now. Will you help?"

Michael blinked, and slowly, inevitably, gave way to Isabel's fierce and keen will. "You and Liz come by my place, after ten thirty. You can catch me up then."

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Mon Apr 03, 2006 3:23 pm

Yes, I'm back!

Karen: Ahh... well, you can see for yourself, but I think the dancing plan works fine. Isabel just needs to be a little bit careful. And I'm glad you liked a few of the funnier parts I managed to slip in.

Trude: Actually, the thing about the blood may be inaccurate information I got once, but I kept it in because it worked well with the scene. Hopefully that doesn't make me quite as bad as the Roswell staff writers, to sneak a bit of bad science in. After all, maybe Isabel doesn't know any better than I did. :) And it shouldn't be too long before we get to the answers about Alex's death in this story's universe.

Grace, Kara: Thanks for reading and feedbacking!

And now... here's the update!


Part Three

"Are you sure about this?"

Isabel looked at Alex's face and grinned. "Shut up and get ready to dance, ghost boy." And she led the way into 'Encounters.'

The club was pretty full... Isabel wasn't sure what business was usually like on a Sunday night, but the fact that the school year was almost finished probably had an effect of increasing it... seniors who had already been accepted in their college of course and weren't too worried about passing their finals... juniors and sophomores who were VERY worried about studying and term projects, and blowing off a little steam.

They had gone by the Evans house, and Isabel had gotten changed into better partying clothes... a fairly short black leather miniskirt, and a strappy red tank top with a touch of stretchy lycra in the fabric. Alex had grinned when he saw her in it...

Which reminded Isabel -- Alex was still just wearing baggy blue jeans and a kinda dumpy gray sweatshirt with a UC Berkely logo on it. Isabel concentrated for a second, grinning in anticipation of the power she was about to excercise over him, and 'pop'! All of a sudden he was in different jeans, a dark blue pair that was noticeably tighter and bore a fairly decent designer label - and a long sleeved blue collar shirt, with the top button undone of course. He didn't seem to clue into the change immediately, though Isabel would have thought the difference in fit would be impossible to ignore for any length of time. She wondered if he would give any sign of noticing the change, and if so, when.

"Okay, so what's the plan?" Alex asked. "We have to leave in plenty of time to meet Michael once his shift is over. Right?"

Isabel nodded, figuring that the gesture wouldn't look to out of place in a crowd. Michael had agreed to have herself and Liz over at his place tonight, and she wanted to make sure that there was no doubt in his mind that investigating Alex's death was the right thing to do. He'd agreed to tell Liz about it when there was a convenient moment to talk in the back room of the cafe, and to pass along a key phrase that Liz hoped would convince Liz that Isabel herself was really involved in the meeting, that it wasn't some subtle intimidation tactic to scare Liz away from her investigation or anything like that. Isabel had, hurriedly, chosen 'Madison means it,' as her pass phrase, a reference to the proof that Alex's ghost had offered to convince her that he was for real - a quote from an old report he'd written on president James Madison, and that his mother had saved.

Isabel shook herself out of her deep thoughts. *Yeah, we'll make it, don't worry,* she projected to her friendly ghost. *Dance a few dances, I'll get something fun and unusual to drink at the bar, and then we splitski. Sound like a plan?* Alex nodded, but the uncomfortable look on his face didn't go away. *You're not really comfortable in a place like this, are you? Even being dead doesn't change that.*

"I guess not," Alex admitted. "But I'm not entirely too afraid to broaden my horizons. C'mon, pretty lady - dance with me!!" He held out a hand, which Isabel took as casually as she could, and they headed for the dance floor, Alex walking right through some boy who looked like he was still a freshman - or maybe still in junior high.

There was a nice energetic fast song playing in the big L-shaped dancing room, and Isabel grinned as she lost herself in the music, only taking a small particle of care to NOT always orient Alex somewhere that there was empty space, since that might make it more obvious that she was dancing with somebody invisible. Empty space didn't seem to matter particularly to Alex... at least, not as long as somebody else wanted to occupy the same space as his spirit for longer than a moment. A tall, handsome dark-haired man tried to insinuate himself into dancing with her, but Isabel shook her head very obviously and made a little 'run along' gesture with her right hand, and after a moment of disappointment he backed away and slinked off.

Despite all of the care Isabel took, though, she had the impression that people all around were watching, possibly even whispering about her. Was that just because she was apparently so determined to dance by herself? Were they speculating about Alex's death, and how much he had meant to her? Wondering if the ice queen had absolutely 'cracked up?'

Still, though, she and Alex danced happily enough through that song and another fast one, and then a slow song started to play... a sensual, passionate ballad full of throaty feeling. As people all around her moved into each other's arms, Isabel felt a great temptation to slow dance with Alex... but that would definitely look strange to the onlookers, which was a price she wasn't willing to pay. Maybe she could walk through the dreamscape again with Alex tonight, and slow dance with him. The thought made her smile as she left the floor.

"Alright... then a drink for you?" Alex asked, having to shout slightly above the noise of the dancing crowd.

*Yep.* Alex smiled, and Isabel realized that she didn't need to make her thoughts any 'louder' or more intense that usual for Alex to receive them alright. Probably he wasn't hearing her words with his ghostly ears any more than Isabel was projecting them with her vocal chords, so the incoming thought arrived in a different mental channel than ambient noise, and there was less or no possibility of interference between them.

As Isabel lined up for the bar, she concentrated again, putting a glass with a smooth premuim root beer into Alex's hand. She was pretty sure he often liked one of those on special occasions. Alex nearly spilled the beverage in his surprise at unexpectedly having it... though Isabel supposed that if some of the liquid HAD fallen out of the glass, it would never have landed on the floor in a physical sense. Maybe it would have just disappeared entirely two thirds of the way down.

Once she was nearly at the head of the line, Isabel wondered what she wanted to drink... and then mentally pulled the question away from her own brain. *Alex, tell me what to order,* she sent, with a little hidden smile-thought that didn't show on her face -- at least, she thought that it didn't.

"Umm... huh? Why me?" Alex asked, after he'd finished taking a sip of his root beer. Isabel just nodded slightly at his glass, relatively sure that he'd catch the meaning of the gesture - she had selected a beverage for him, so he should do the same for her.

Alex was still visibly racking his brains when the bartender called 'Next!' for Izzy, so she stepped up and tried to look equally indecisive herself, wondering silently how long she could manage to stretch things out before the bar staff, or the people in line behind her, got upset.

"A creamy bullfrog!" Alex finally blurted out. "Just say it."

Isabel was uncertain... that didn't sound particularly like any drink she was at all familiar with... well actually, the phrase was slightly reminiscent of fancy, off-the-wall names for unusual cocktails that she'd heard of vaguely, but that didn't count for too much. Was Alex playing some sort of odd joke on her, coming up with a name that sounded like it fit a familiar pattern but wasn't used for a real drink? Or if it was real, maybe a Creamy Bullfrog was alcoholic? It sounded kind of like something that packed a punch. Would they serve her something with booze in it? Isabel hoped not - getting refused service by the bartenders would be less of a crisis, all things considered, than having her powers and her mental state go all askew, like they had for Max the one time he had had anything to drink.

But she wanted to show faith in Alex. "A creamy bullfrog, please."

"Justa minute." The bar guy sighed, and turned away to busy himself with some of the supplies and odder instruments back behind. It wasn't quite a minute, but at least forty-five seconds, before he returned with a glass of something green that seemed, oddly, to be opaque and bubbly at the same and a light but definite shade of green. Creamy... and green, hence the bullfrog part, Isabel guessed. "Four fifty." That was pricey, but she put down a five and hurried away without any change, to let someone else place their order.

"Okay, umm... here goes nothing," she muttered, bringing the glass to her lips and sipping. The concoction was nice... better than she had expected, and with an oddly compelling aftertaste. There was the taste of sweet whipping cream in it, and the flavor of real limes, and a hint of mint, and at least one other thing that she couldn't immediately identify. She looked around, caught Alex's eye, and smiled. *Thanks - good suggestion. There's no alcohol in this right?* She was pretty sure of the answer to that right now, but it never hurt to get a verification.

"Not a drop, unless they've changed how they do them," Alex assured her. "Thanks for the RB, too."

She nodded to accept the minor gratitude he was offering. "Was easy enough to whip up."

"Yeah, but not everybody would have th--"

"WHAT was easy enough?" a girl asked, turning around to stare at Isabel, without seeing Alex of course.

Uh-oh. Had she mistkenly said that part out loud instead of thinking it silently. Isabel would have to be more careful about that.

"Umm... sorry, sorry. Was just talking to myself. Many apologies." The girl, a fairly tall brunette, (though still an inch and a half shorter than Iz,) looked at her strangely for a few seconds, rolled her eyes clearly, and then headed off towards the stairs.

Alex waited until she had gone, and then smiled at Isabel. "I was *saying*, before getting rudely interrupted, that not everyone would have thought to get a ghost a drink... especially before he even asked. Thank you."

*You're very welcome,* she assured him, sending the thought very clearly and distinctly, with her lips firmly shut.

Izzy found a chair, and Alex perched on one of the padded armrests, and they finished their drinks. Isabel thought about trying one more dance, but they were playing another slow song, and it was starting to get late anyway. So they went out to the car and drove back into town.

----------

"Okay," Michael muttered once the girls had brought him up to speed. They were sitting in his living room, with only one tiny light on, which somehow gave everything a very conspiratorial mood... or perhaps it would be better to say that the lighting added to the conspiratorial mood that was already present to considerable effect.

"First impressions... you seem to have put quite a bit together already, in a very short time. The opportunity, in particular, is convincing... based on the time that Jerry saw him, and the mood that he reported witnessing... it's quite possible that Alex left his house shortly after that encounter... not long after you and Maria headed out for your shift, Liz. He would have had ample time to meet up with the killer - whether he realized that that was what he was doing or not - and for something terrible to happen."

"Based on your flash, Isabel, we can assume that either Alex died then, in his original confrontation with the killer, or was knocked unconscious. The car accident was arranged to cover up any obvious traces of foul play... and to kill Alex if he wasn't already dead."

Liz caught Isabel's eye. Isabel tried to catch Alex's eye without it being too obvious to Michael. Alex nodded slowly, and Isabel sighed. "Yeah, that seems to fit," Alex whispered for her benefit.

"What... what do you think about Isabel's idea, that if the crash site had been where Alex really died, she'd have been able to... to get a sense of it there?" Liz asked Michael. "An impression?"

"I... I'm not sure," Michael muttered. "I know that Max and Isabel have gotten impressions like that around places where bad things have happened... like how you got shot in the Crashdown, Liz... and how Pierce died and Kyle nearly did in the UFO center." Liz drew in a breath. "But we're clearly talking about an alien killer, and maybe an alien could do something to cover those traces. I dunno." He mulled over the question for a moment longer. "In general, I'd say that the car crash seems like a risky way to, err, to finish someone off, even for a killer who doesn't want to get blood on his or her hands directly. Too possible that Alex might have, er, have fallen the right way, or the wrong way from the bad guy's point of view, and pulled through."

That sparked a connection, and Isabel dug into her jacket pocket, remembered that she'd already taken the police report out, reached out for the pages on Michael's coffee table and started to go through them. "Right... here. Impact wounds from the accident were not particularly severe... doesn't say anything specifically about if they would usually have been enough to cause death, but I doubt the examiner was thinking in those terms. The fact that he died in the accident was taken for granted."

"Anything else of interest in there?" Michael asked. "If he didn't die in the accident, then there might be something that makes sense as an entry wound."

"Oh, no," Liz gasped. "If he... if Alex had a handprint on his body, or Cadmium X in his bones, then neither fact might have gotten into the records. The doctor could have just placed a call to a contact with the FBI..."

"I think," Isabel said in a flat voice, "that this doctor was the same one who examined Pierce's skeleton, and who worked with Whittaker afterwards. Who knows what she told him about either."

"No." Michael was shaking his head. "If... if Alex had a handprint, Max would have noticed it. He'd *have* to have. And if the handprint was from Alex getting killed before the crash, it would have shown up by the time Max tried to bring him back, right??"

"Umm... it would have been in around the same time window as when I first saw Max's handprint after he healed me," Liz whispered. "What if HE caused a handprint, left Cadmium X residue, trying to bring Alex back? They might confuse that with it being a trace of the cause of death."

"I asked him about that, at the time," Isabel said. "Not in those terms, but... he said that he was pretty sure he hadn't been able to do enough to be worried about leaving a handprint. Oh, hey, hang on..." She'd been continuing to scan over the examiner's report. "Trace of blood found inside the nostrils and nasal cavity. Liz, does that suggest anything to you??"

"Umm... aside from the fact that Topolsky probably slipped something in his drink back when she was trying to prove that we exchanged Alex's blood for Max when he was in the hospital, then no."

"He hasn't been having nosebleeds lately that you know of?" Isabel asked, and Liz shook her head. "Any kind of attack that might cause nosebleeds as a side-effect??"

"I think manga anime often uses nosebleeds as a metaphorical substitute for getting a boner," Michael muttered, and Isabel glared at him. "Probably not relevant. Um, well, the other thing that leaps to mind is... a direct attack on the brain, I guess. Isn't there direct drainage from parts of the brain down the nasal cavity??"

"Not usually, I think," Liz muttered. "But maybe sometimes, in cases of trauma."

"Well, it's getting late," Isabel reminded them. "What's our next step?"

"Keep following the computers lead and the Sweden stuff," Michael suggested. "I'll help out if I'm needed, but probably you two can get further with Derek Jernstrom without me that with." He winked, and Liz swatted at his arm, but Alex was grinning slightly and nodding. "But, erm... if there's something else you want me to help out with, then..."

"How about trying to track down Alex's host family in Sweden?" Liz blurted out. "I haven't been looking forward to that part, but your, um... your unique talents and persistence might pay off there."

"Alright, got it," Michael agreed. "What else?"

"Well... Tess knows more about our powers than anyone else," Isabel said. "About how they could be used to attack people, maybe... well, because she lived with Nasedo for so long, and... and, well, we all know how nasty HE was. If you could, umm... try to draw her out about that sort of thing, without letting her know that it has anything to do with Liz, or with Alex. I'd do it myself -- I'm better at the subtle thing than you've ever been. But she might make the connection more quickly from me - or Max might."

"You're sure that you don't want to bring what we've found so far to Max??" Michael asked.

"No, not yet," Liz said. "I'm pleased that you've been convinced, but it won't be so easy to sway him. He's... he's so certain that there was nothing alien-related about Alex's death - we need to have proof as tight as possible before we let him get wind of any of it."

"And... well, I've been nervous about saying this, but what about suspects?" Isabel asked. "It might not be anybody that we've met or know anything about... but there are a few aliens unaccounted for on Earth. Aliens who already know something about Alex, even if we can't see a clear motive. There's... urh, there's Nicholas."

"He's probably dead already," Michael insisted. "His skin was destroyed at the Harvest."

"But we don't know for sure," Liz countered. "From the way Courtney talked about the Harvest, Nicholas shouldn't have even made it to November, when Max and Tess saw him in New York."

"Maybe that was another Nicholas," Alex said. "Who's come in another mission to Earth, but had to use the same shrimpy little model of husk."

Isabel looked at him. *But he seemed to recognize Max and Tess.* Alex shrugged.

"And that brings up the others," Michael said. "Rath, Lonnie... and Ava, though I know she's the least likely of the four of them to hurt any of us, Liz, so don't get your underpants in a bunch. Still, we haven't heard from Ava in months and months, that I know of, so I'd rather not rule her out entirely." Liz nodded acceptance of that unhappily.

"Anyone else in the Rogue's gallery?" Isabel asked. "Umm... really unlikely to be another Gandarium queen out there, at least I hope so. Larek? Or one of the other aliens who came to the Summit in human bodies??"

Everybody else drew a startled breath, including Alex. (Though his breath was probably virtual instead of physical.) "Alien abduction," Liz muttered. "What if... what if Alex was actually mixed up in that when we thought he was in Sweden? Some other alien could have taken over his body and used him for... for some kind of secret mission here on Earth."

"And... and maybe he was about to remember what had happened during his abduction," Michael finished. "Like Brody did when that VR thing overloaded. So... so he was killed to prevent us from finding out the details?"

"And... and maybe whoever it is will be coming after us, if they find out that we're trying to investigate the circumstances of his death," Isabel added, shooting a look at Alex and Liz. Was that the 'darkness' that Alex had warned her about?

"And yet - there seem to be wholes in that theory, as of yet," Liz muttered. "How could an alien who's not even here on Earth arrange everything so we - even Alex's parents, thought he was on a student exchange to Sweden? How did he make ALEX think that he was in Sweden, or at least give every indication that he had, when Brody just has blanks about being abducted where he doesn't remember? How could he know that Alex was about to get his memories back? How *would* he have gotten his memories back - he wasn't experimenting with weird gizmos around power surges like Brody was."

"But in other ways, it seems to fit too well to get abandoned entirely," Isabel put in. "With the tiny little clues that don't make sense any other way. 'Why does everything have to be a lie?' 'Leanna is not Leanna.' 'Why does life have to be so wrong, always the same thing, always cold.'"

"Leanna is not Leanna, because there never was a Leanna except in a memory that the alien posessor gave him," Michael mused. "And a picture in a slide, to cover up the truth. Maybe. But as you said - an alien who's back on another planet probably couldn't have arranged all of this alone. On the other hand... if he or she had helpers here in Roswell..."

"We'll have to be doubly careful," Liz whispered.

"Okay, umm... just to throw out one other idea," Isabel said, clearing her throat. "Is there any chance it could be the special unit, or what's left of them, behind this?"

"Hmm." Liz and Michael treaded glances. Alex looked like he was sorry he couldn't trade too. "I'm not sure... doesn't seem like their style at all," Michael said after a moment.

"And how would they have gotten Alex's car to crash without him driving it?" Liz asked.

"Could be some sort of remote control electronic gizmo," Isabel suggested. "As far as how Sweden might fit into it with the Unit... I don't know. He wouldn't have voluntarily gone and worked with them and kept it a secret from us. And I sure hope they don't have the power to change memories."

"Unless... unless they threatened you guys to make him play ball," Liz muttered, unhappy at the notion but forcing herself to say it. "You especially, Isabel. If Alex thought that he had to play along, to keep quiet to keep you safe - that might explain what he was so depressed about too."

"So, we've got all kinds of suspects and very little real information," Michael summarized.

"Welcome to the case," Liz told him wryly.

They left Michael's apartment soon after, and Isabel drove Liz back to her balcony. "So... anything new from our friendly ghost?" Liz asked quietly before taking off.

"That he loves you and wishes you could see him," Isabel said confidently, before Alex even had a chance to reply directly. She knew that much for certain. "And I think he's going to be hanging around when we meet with Derek tomorrow... probably hoping that one of us has to use feminine wiles to charm something out of him so that he can watch, like the lovable letch he is."

"He's not a letch... at least, no more than any guy is," Liz giggled.

"Any idea which of those theories might match best with your own memories??" Isabel asked.

"Maybe the posession thing... I'm not sure," Alex reported, and Isabel relayed. "Now that we're talking about it, it's easier to accept the notion that Sweden may bave been a front for something totally different. But then, it could have been an alien here, adjusting my memories, instead of one from far away taking control. Really don't think the special unit one fits much."

"Okay. Well, see you tomorrow I guess," Liz said, and climbed up the ladder. (She had changed from her work uniform into a sweater and jeans before coming over to Michael's, so wasn't climbing up in a skirt. Not that Alex would have looked if she had been... probably.)

----------

"So, you're saying this definitely has nothing to do with AP computer?" Liz asked the next morning in her school hallway, making sure that Derek had a good look at the binary sequence.

"No, we're been working with more high-level concepts and techniques," the slightly geeky boy replied. Alex had described Derek Jernstrom as the star computer genius of West Roswell high, somewhat beyond even his own considerable talents. "Visual basic, java, web programming and relational databases. This is binary code... a sequence of ones and zeroes that tell a computer how to operate. Everything that happens with computers or digital technology comes down to binary in the end, pretty much, but people rarely deal with it because it's too hard to memorize what different sequences stand for. The computers themselves can translate other constructs that make more sense into the binary code for us."

"So, the question is, what does this sequence mean once it's translated?" Isabel asked,batting her eyelashes a little and knowing that she was playing dumb a little. "And... why would Alex have written the sequence out in full binary instead of saying what it meant once it was translated??"

Derek shook his head, a little annoyed, but not willing to blow Isabel off quickly, it seemed. Part of that effect could probably be attributed to her striking beauty, and the black top she was wearing, which featured a narrow V neckline that revealed only the most teasing peek at cleavage. "Hard to say what it could mean, especially since it's... well, it's a bit of a strange length for a binary sequence."

"Twenty, umm... twenty bits?" Liz asked. "Twenty binary numerals."

"Exactly!" Derek said, a little too loud, and the girls shushed him politely. "Binary stuff tends to show up in multiples of powers of two... eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, and so on. Twenty... is five times four, and four is a power of two, but not a very high one. Eight bits is a byte, and that's generally the smallest unit, and so what we've got here is two and a half bytes. Very weird. The two whole bytes might be letters... but what can you do with two letters and four odd bits?"

"Umm... can you figure out what the letters would be?" Isabel asked. "Just on an off chance... using the most popular encoding whatever."

Derek considered the binary numbers again, and then shook his head. "No, they wouldn't even be letters, not by askee standard. Both of the eight-bit blocks start with a one, so they'd be up in the higher reaches. All uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals and punctuation signs, start with a zero. Umm... maybe accented vowels, like the a with the double dots over it, or foreign currency symbols."

*Do any of those have specific meaning in connection with Sweden??* Isabel sent to Alex, who shrugged. "Okay... no idea what an unusual length of bits might indicate?"

"Umm... huffman encoding, MAYBE," Derek muttered, sounding like he thought he was reaching very far to find something at all plausible. "That has to do with data compression stuff... coding information so it can be expressed with the least digital storage possible. Because every amount of squeezing can be worthwhile, a lot of storage scheme will use unusual numbers of bits. But there are a lot, and this isn't nearly enough binary info to include the necessary decompression info."

"Alright, let's forget about it then," Liz sighed, not wanting to hound the poor boy unnecessarily when it didn't look like they would learn anything from the receipt signature. "I have another favor that I'd like to ask you... I have some saved emails from Alex's Sweden trip, and I was wondering if you could find out where he sent them from."

Derek blinked in surprise. "Trace the message back to a specific origin computer? Interesting..."

----------

They adjourned to a quiet corner of the school computer lab, and Liz pulled up one of the email messages she was most interested in. Derek got him set up at the computer, taking a moment to review that familiar 'yahoo web mail' interface. "Good, we've got full HTTP header display turned on already."

"Umm... someone mind providing a running translation?" Isabel asked with a smile.

"Okay... everything, every batch of data that gets sent anywhere on the net usually comes in two parts, more or less. There's the data body, which is the... the payload on a plane, maybe. The stuff that is critically important to get from point A to point B... in this case, the words that Alex typed into the email and wanted Liz to see."

"And then... there are the routing headers. These are bits of technical information about the payload that matter to computers, although often some of them are displayed to people too. For an email message, typical headers include the 'subject line', the date it was sent, the email address and name of the person it's being sent to, the email address it was sent from... the email software it was sent with, the formatting type of the message..."

"And the unique internet address that it was sent from, right?" Liz filled in.

"Generally, yes," Derek agreed. "In fact, the internet address of every computer that relayed the message is often added in... like a shipping history from a parcel that travels from a warehouse in dallas, to a central sorting facility in dallas, then on to Laredo, etcetera." He pointed at a block of numbers on the screen. "That's listed as the originating computer address of this message, and I can use a lookup service to find out that..."

He had opened up another web browser window, typed in a familiar code to bring up a page filled with textboxes and buttons, and located a particular spot on the virtual 'control panel' with ease that suggested he had done this hundreds of times before. Typed in a series of numbers, presumably the same address, hit the enter key, and... "That's weird."

"What is it?" Liz asked, the worry showing in her voice.

"The address for this email corresponds to a... a dutch internet anonymizer service, it looks like this." Derek realized that he was getting blank looks, sighed, and backed up a little. "There are specialized privacy companies, who can help you to hide your true location when you're doing stuff on the web, for a fee. You connect your computer to their servers, and use certain kind of tricks to keep your original address from showing on the internet traces of your activity. All I can do is track that this message to Holland... they've made sure that there isn't a digital trail to follow past there." He sighed. "But I don't understand why Alex would do something like this. We *know* that he was in Sweden somewhere, after all."

*But we really don't,* Isabel realized, half thinking the words to herself and half projecting them to Alex's spirit, even though she knew he already understood the implications. *Sweden may be close to Holland, but there's no reason that that email couldn't have come from... from California or Florida, or... or Pago Pago, for that matter!* "Are you sure there's no way to trace that email past the anonymizer?"

"Well... theoretically it might be possible to break into the anonymizer servers and see if they have records from three months ago of specific proxy connections," Derek muttered. "But I'm sorry, I don't care how much you sweet talk me - I'm not wild about hacking on THAT level. These people are paid to be completely paranoid about security. I may be a genius, but I'm not sure I can go up against them."

"We might have resources that he doesn't, if we have to go that route," Alex suggested. "Isabel, you might be able to use your powers to affect computer systems in ways that mere mortals can't. I still remember enough to tell you what you need to do, I think. But still..."

"Okay, there are other emails - can we check the rest to see if they all went through that anonymizer?" Liz asked. "Or see if there's any other way of tracking them?"

"Well... I can make a start, anyway. Can't spend all morning on this," Derek grumbled slightly. But he and Liz started working, and it became pretty clear that a pattern was developing - each email that they checked had been sent through the same anonymizer service.

"Is it possible that this was just something that they did all the time at his host family's house?" Derek asked.

"But he talks about sending emails from the road, from internet cafes and so on," Liz pointed out. "I wanna know for sure."

"Wait a second - the pictures!!" Derek exclaimed.

Isabel blinked. "What about them?"

"He talked about uploading these pictures so that Liz could see them," Derek pointed out. "That means they weren't embedded, sent as attachments to the email. He probably sent the picture files to a website or web-enabled photo bucket service and just included weblinks to the photos..." He did something on the computer that Isabel couldn't quite figure. "Yeah, this is posted up at acwhitman.net."

"That's the website that Alex got last fall," Liz said, smiling slightly.

"So... what does this mean?" Isabel asked.

"We might be able to track where he uploaded the pictures from... if his web host - the company publishing the website on his behalf - has technical records in his control console." Derek had already found his way to the webhost console login. "I don't suppose either of you know his username and password?"

Liz shot Isabel a look. "Let me," the tall blonde said, going to the keyboard for a moment and entering the codes that Alex relayed to her. Quickly Derek found his way, then, to a history page, that showed a few transfers that winter, and very little activity since.

"Umm... let's see," Derek mumbled, frowning at a new series of address numbers. "Yeah, that's an american address I think - not Dutch OR Swedish."

"Maybe it's an American anonymizer service?" Isabel asked, worried.

"Why would he use a different anonymizer for the website stuff?" Liz asked.

"Plus, there aren't many anonymizer companies that operate in the USA," Derek pointed out. "Worried about a US court ordering them to disclose their records, I think. Other countries often have more favorable legal terms. Let's see." He went back to the address-identification tool. "Well, how about that! New Mexico state university, las cruces campus."

"WHAT?" The other three teenagers exclaimed in surprise. The teacher monitoring the lab shushed them. "Alex was right here in New Mexico, just down the road a few hours?" Isabel asked.

"As far as I can tell," Derek said. "Can't think of any other reason the pictures would get uploaded from there... he doesn't know anybody there, does he?" Liz shook her head. "This is *really* weird."

"Can... can you narrow it down any further on campus?" Liz asked cautiously. "A particular building?"

"Umm... not from here," Derek said, indicating the 'reverse DNS lookup' title on the page he was on. "But maybe the university has published its static IP address allocation scheme." He spent several more minutes working furiously. Nobody said anything.

"I've got it," he said finally. "Rhodes hall, room 315."

----------

"Las Cruces??" Michael whispered, when they met him at lunch, out on the edge of the school grounds, near the baseball diamond. "A dorm room on the college campus?"

"Yeah," Isabel whispered. "Do we go and investigate?"

"Not... not yet, I think," Michael muttered. "That could be dangerous, and we shouldn't go into any danger before we know as much as we possibly can... and maybe before we know as much as we can. I think I'd like to tell Max before we go to Las Cruces, though I'm not sure we're ready for that either."

Liz smiled slightly. "Michael Guerin, advising caution. I think hell has just frozen over."

He looked at her. "I've seen enough this year to even get a leopard to change his spots, Liz."

"So... any progress from your end, Michael?" Isabel asked anxiously.

"Well, I've talked to Tess, found out a few interesting things," he muttered. "Thought about investigating the Sweden exchange stuff through the guidance office... but maybe you girls would do better on that tack, too. Try the yearbook tribute angle, or whatever. Alex going to Sweden was possibly the most interesting thing that happened to him recently, until he died... it makes sense that people would be interested in hearing about the details."

"Do we really need to keep pushing that lead?" Liz asked. "We *know* that he wasn't in Sweden."

"But someone arranged everything to look like he did, Liz," Isabel reminded her. "That's our chief suspect... whoever was arranging that behind the scene. We need to know as many details as possible of how the trip was set up, to find out what we can about who arranged the fake-out. Presumably the killer needed to make sure that no-one was really expecting Alex Whitman in Sweden, or there'd have been panicked calls when he didn't show up. Therefore..."

"He, or she, would have had to create an interference baffle around the guidance office," Liz replied, seeing it. "Handling all the arrangements themselves, somehow, without anyone getting suspicious. Alright, I'll see about getting us an appointment or whatever."

"What... what about Maria?" Michael asked. "Is it okay to bring her into the circle now?? We seem to be expanding our team quickly, but..."

Isabel shrugged a little awkwardly and looked at Liz. "Umm... that's a bit of a tough call," Liz said slowly. "If it were easy to convince her and keep her from freaking out about the fact that we're keeping secrets from the others, I'd say definitely yes. But... well, the last time I really talked to her about this stuff she seemed very... umm..."

"Well, one way or another, we should spend time with her today," Michael suggested. "At least you and me, Liz... though you're welcome to come along too I think, Iz. It's got to be hard for her, going through the grieving process, and her usual support system of friends too busy playing detective to, umm, to really be there for her." Liz's face fell in despair.

"Yeah, that's a good point," she whispered. "And we need to check in on the real yearbook thing. Izzie, you said you'd help out with that, right?"

"Sure," Isabel insisted. "Just try to keep me away."

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Mon May 01, 2006 7:34 pm

Part Four

Isabel lingered at her locker for a little longer than she needed to, feeling awkward about it, and smiled as she saw Alex crossing the corridor to come towards her. No-one else could see the ghostly boy of course, and a freshman girl wearing gym shorts and reddish hair in a ponytail passed through the edge of his arm briefly. "They're on the move," he reported with a smile. "If you want to intercept, you should be able to just wait here another thirty seconds and then go down the stairs."

Isabel considered that a moment. *You want me to meet them, don't you?* Isabel asked him silently, and Alex let his face show surprise. *You've been able to spend time lately with me, and with Liz though she couldn't see or hear you, and with your parents though they didn't even guess that you were there. The only other person who means a great deal to you, here in Roswell, would be Maria I think.* Aware of the time limit, she closed her locker door and started off towards the stairwell. *So I guessed that you would want me to spend some time with Maria, so that YOU can spend some time with her. You can spot her at the edge of the eighty foot limit when I'm no closer than that to her, but that won't work for anything more than a spare moment here and there.*

Alex grinned and laughed as she turned the corner in the middle of the stairs. "Your logic is irrefutable, dear, and yes, I'd love a chance to haunt Maria DeLuca a bit."

"Hey, Michael!" Isabel called out, spotting him and the girls on an intercept course. (She'd pretended to recognize Michael because Maria might think that was least suspicious. "Maria, Liz... what are you guys up to?"

"Umm... headed off for a collage session," Maria said softly. "Umm... would you like to tag along Isabel?"

"Sure," she agreed. "That's like, cutting out pictures and stuff and gluing it to a backdrop, right?" Liz nodded. "For Alex's memorial in the yearbook?"

"Yes, but we won't be getting to the cutting and gluing part yet," Maria said with a deep breath. "That's the easy stuff. First, we kinduv have to play scavenger hunt. There's a bunch of stuff that I still want to get into the collage and I'm not really sure where to find most of it."

"You're talking to the queen of scavenger hunts," Isabel crowed. "Well, I haven't participated in one for nearly four years, but I don't believe that I've entirely lost the knack."

"Alright, how do we want to do this?" Michael asked as they left the school building and started to walk towards the parking lot. "I mean... we could all stick together and maybe have a bit more fun -- but time is short. The yearbook committee want to see the finished product TOMORROW. To find more things in less time, maybe we should split up into teams of two."

"Yeah, that actually makes sense," Liz put in. "Then we can all meet up at your place when we're done, Maria, and go all cut and paste on what we've got."

"Hmm... alright I suppose," Maria admitted. "But who teams up with who?"

Liz caught Isabel's eye for a second. "I think that Michael and I would do all right together. We can borrow Isabel's wheels, right?" Isabel nodded automatically. "Which leaves you with Miss Scavenger hunt queen, assuming that that's all right."

Maria looked at Liz in puzzlement. It didn't take much to guess that Maria would probably have been more comfortable with Liz herself (her oldest and best friend,) or with Michael (ber boyfriend.) So there had to be an ulterior motive of some sort in this pairing.

Isabel thought she could guess one of Liz's real reasons... it dovetailed with what Isabel herself had been saying to Alex. Liz wanted to make sure that Alex could spend a lot of time around Maria this afternoon, which meant that Isabel had to be with her too. But of course Maria didn't know or guess about the ghost. Maybe she figured that Liz was pushing them together to bond over how much they both missed Alex.

But eventually she nodded. "Alright Isabella, you'd better be as good as you said you were." She chuckled, pulled out a sheet of blank typing paper, and carefully folded it just above halfway down. "Michael, cut this for me?" Michael stared at her in confusion for a moment before realizing the point, waving a hand, and letting the paper fall away in two parts, above and below the fold. Maria handed the lower piece to Liz.

"These are the starting lists. We can switch individual items if there's any particular reason to do so - just call the cellphone of someone on the other team to work out the details. I'd like to be finished the hunt and working on the collage itself by eight o'clock. Move out."

Alex laughed as he followed Isabel into the Jetta, sitting in the backseat behind two of his 'girls.'

----------

"Oh my god, I can't really believe that we found *everything* so quickly," Maria enthused as they drove south down main street. "I was trying to be optimistic earlier, but privately I was worried that Liz and I would have to talk the yearbook people into a forty-eight hour extension."

Isabel smiled to herself. Alex's memory might have been less than impressive when it came to the circumstances of his own death, but he'd been a veritable whiz at leading them to the various items of memarobilia of his life that Maria most wanted for his tribute. They had finished the list, including several items that had been taken off Liz and Michael's half, and a few things that Maria had just added while they'd been on the hunt, because something in another picture, or something that Isabel had said, reminded her of a new treasure to quest for. It was only around ten minutes after seven, and Michael/Liz were finished with their grocery list too, although it would taken them a little while to come back into town, because their last pickup had been out in Hondo.

"Okay, we can afford to take a little break when we get back to my place, I think," Maria said softly. "No fun starting the collage too far in advance of the other two, after all."

"No, I guess not," Isabel said. "Any idea what you want to do while you wait for them??"

"Hmm, not sure," Maria admitted.

"I don't know if you'll be able to manage this," Alex broke in wistfully, "but see if you, umm... if you can get her to sing for you? I'd... it might sound strange to her, but I'd love to hear her voice in song again."

Isabel considered that, trying not to let her face show her mood. "This might sound strange..." Maria began, and Isabel jumped at the fact that she'd used the same wording as Alex had just seconds before.

"Umm... what might?" Isabel asked. Maria didn't answer for a moment, partly because she was waiting for the right time to do a left turn through the oncoming traffic, to get into her own neighborhood.

"You... you're hiding something from me, or that's how it looks," Maria finished after a moment. "Not just you - Liz, and Michael too. Not something horrible I think, but still it's kinduv bugging me, especially under the current circumstances. I'm not going to insist or anything, but... well, it's just a little off-putting. I suppose that if this feeling is all in my head, then there's nothing that any of you can really do and I just need to work through it by myself, but..." She trailed off awkwardly.

Isabel was silent. There were at least two big secrets that she was keeping from Maria at that moment -- that she was working with Liz, and Michael, to investigate the circumstances of Alex's death... and that Alex's spirit was apparently haunting her mind. And Izzy didn't really want to share the bit about the ghost yet... she wasn't quite sure why, just that she was more comfortable with it being a special secret between her, Liz, and Alex himself - at least until she understood more about WHY he was still with her.

As far as the investigation -- Isabel didn't especially mind the notion of letting Maria in on that, but it wasn't entirely her secret to tell. She'd want to check with Michael and Liz first. It seemed to her that Maria would be able to handle the news alright, but then she didn't know Maria so well as they did. "I, erm... moving on?" Maria half-smiled and half-nodded, which would apparently add up to an entire gesture of some mixed variety. "I was, erm, I was thinking about the way you sang at the funeral. It would have meant a lot to Alex if he could have heard you sing him away like that."

Maria frowned as she pulled into the driveway outside her house. "You don't think he heard? I mean, some part of him that didn't die."

Isabel hesitated. She hadn't meant to imply that there wasn't any immortal part of Alex that remained after his human body died - she was in a position to know - but that seemed to be the lines along which Maria was interpreting it. And yet, Isabel was somehow certain that Alex's ghost HADN'T heard; not just because he'd asked about her singing in such a wistful way. Alex's ghost hadn't been 'awake' at the funeral... she hadn't seen him then, and he hadn't mentioned it among his memories when he met her at his grave. So...

"I... I don't know," she admitted. "I do believe that he can see and hear some things... that he's not all the way dead. And on the other hand -- well, this may sound weird, but I don't think just because he's dead means that he sees and hears everything, or that he's even aware of anything in our world at any given moment. Maybe he couldn't get to the funeral. I... I didn't sense his presence there, really, and maybe it's foolish but I think I'd have caught a glimmer if he'd been watching."

"Hmm. I guess I never really thought of it that way," Maria admitted. "I don't know what really happens in the afterlife, but I guess I always assumed that you'd have a chance to watch your memorial service, if you wanted to, and I hoped that he'd have wanted to. Do you really think he got... got tied up or something?"

"Bigger snafus have happened," Isabel said with a wry laugh. Then they headed into the DeLuca's house, not saying much, and Isabel decided not to push the subject of singing any more. Alex would understand, she hoped.

"Okay, erm... you wanna watch some tv while we wait?" Maria asked uncertainly. "Music videos or something?"

"Nah." Isabel sighed. "Got any... I dunno, some quick board games or something?"

Maria smiled. "Yeah, I can get the fox-n-geese board out. We can have chocolate milk while we wait or something."

"That sounds great." By the time Maria had the board and the beverages out, Isabel and Alex had come to a quick understanding. Unbeknownst to Maria, Isabel only acted as a go-between... it was Alex who was actually calling the shots, observing the position and calling out the moves. It wasn't a blow-out: Maria had the benefit of more practice with this game lately than Alex. Apparently she'd been playing it with her mom soon. But Alex's logical mind held the key to a decisive advantage, four games to two by the time Liz and Michael arrived.

They got started on the collage itself right away, working enthusiastically, but taking a number of breaks from the job at hand, which nobody really minded since it seemed clear that they wouldn't need all evening. Isabel got Maria started telling stories about when Alex was much younger, before she or Michael or Max had really known him, and Liz found some tapes of his band rehearsing, which Isabel was able to use as an excuse to inveigle Maria into singing herself, an old folk-western song that she said Alex had always loved.

It was a little after that that Isabel suddenly found herself alone with her co-investigators - Maria, her eyes bright as if she was holding back tears, had announced that she needed to use the bathroom, and Liz had apparently decided to take that at face value, letting her friend cry alone if she wanted to. "I... I think we should tell her what we were doing today," Isabel said softly, using her own powers to carefully trim a curving shape out of a particular photo for the collage. "She... well, she suspects that we're keeping something from her, and I don't want that. Not right now, when secrets could just drive us all further apart."

Liz thought about that a moment. "I'm up for telling her if you guys are. Not sure how well she'll take it."

"I wish I could be more confident about that part myself," Michael said. "But... but you make a good point, Izzy. I don't want to hide anything from her either." He took a deep breath. "Just blurt it out as soon as she comes back, or wait for a better opening?"

"I... I think we wait for a better moment at least," Liz said softly. "Maybe not an opening... we can try making our own opening. But wait until she's in a slightly calmer mood."

It wasn't until nearly an hour later, with the collage very close to finished. The four of them were on break again, watching some oddly surrealistic mexican cartoon off of cable, and enjoying rich and decadently sweet 'comfort beverages' - milkshakes, ice cream floats, and a smoothie. Isabel opened it. "Maria, this might be something you don't especially want to think about right now, but do you remember the argument that some of us got into at Alex's wake?"

Maria blinked her eyes and nearly spilt some of her chocolate banana milkshake. (Banana flavored ice cream with chocolate syrup, that is to say.) "Yeah, umm... of course I remember it. Could hardly have forgotten it." She took a deep breath. "Are... are we about to get into fighting about if an alien killed Alex again??"

"Umm... well, not unless you want to argue the point I guess," Michael said softly, and Maria whirled around to look at him. "Both Isabel and I, well... we've been working with Liz, investigating, and I don't think that there's doubt in any of our minds. Alex *was* killed by a very dangerous alien, and the true circumstances of his death covered up. And, um... sorry, I guess I can't think of anything else to say after that."

Maria took a deep breath, and another, until she was rhytmically hyperventilating. "Liz... you know that Max is going to FREAK if he finds out that you went to them behind his back."

Liz laughed dryly. "I didn't - exactly. Isabel came to me, and when Michael confronted Isabel, she changed his mind. But I take your point. We know that we'll have to tell Max about this sooner or later - we're just trying to get as much evidence as we can, enough facts established beyond dispute, so that he doesn't have a leg to stand on."

"We could use your help, Maria," Michael coaxed. "Team of Guerin and DeLuca - plus two." He smiled warmly at her.

Maria sighed. "Umm... I, I dunno. This is just a little much for me to take in -- I don't object or have a problem with you guys questing for the truth or anything, it's just..." She took a deep breath. "I, I need to figure out if it's something I want to get involved in personally right now - if I want to find out what you know, never mind help find out more. Give me tonight to sleep on it?"

"Um, sure," Liz whispered. "Take all the time that you need."

They finished off the collage, pretty quietly compared to the higher spirits that had been present earlier, and Isabel volunteered to take Liz home, while Michael hung around for a little longer, and then he'd either walk home or get driven by Maria. (Of course, neither Isabel or Liz wanted to get in the way of their friends having a little affectionate private time together.) Liz took a deep breath as soon as Isabel had pulled the car out into the street.

"Isabel... is there some reason you don't want to tell Maria about Alex's ghost? I mean... I could kind of see more clearly why you wouldn't want to tell Michael, or Max for that matter. But Maria... it'd make her feel a lot better to know that Alex is still around, in any capacity, even if you're the only one who can see and hear him. He's your secret to tell, and I won't interfere with that... I was just curious."

"I... I'm not sure why I feel that way," Isabel admitted with a long breath. "But... well, at first I wasn't even sure that I wanted to tell *you*, Liz. I'm glad that I did, that you know he's here and can plan strategy for the investigation with that in mind, and that I can let you know how much he still cares about you and thinks of you. But I'm not comfortable with widening that secret any more at the moment, even to someone else who loves him and misses him as much as Maria does. Maybe not until we have some sort of explanation for WHY I can see and hear him. Maybe when we've found out how he died. I... I know that this might sound callous and arbitrary, but..."

"No, no, I wasn't thinking that at all," Liz insisted. "I... I can't even imagine what it would be like to be in your place, so I'm not going to try and second-guess your decisions - though I won't deny that I'm a little disappointed, not to have someone else to share the good news with." She took a deep breath. "Any important messages to pass on?"

Isabel looked into the rear-view mirror, seeing Alex's face there. "Umm... no, not at the moment, though he's giving me the puppy dog eyes like HE wants me to tell Maria too." Isabel sighed. "I... oh, I'm not sure how long I can hold out if the two of you keep at me like this, but I still don't think it's a good idea."

"I... I was teasing mostly, honey," Alex said, his face breaking up into a laugh. "Like Liz, I'm disappointed that Maria doesn't know that I'm still here on earth, in a way, but I won't try to persuade you to let her in before you're ready. For one thing, it'll probably mean you have to relay even more messages from me." And Isabel laughed herself as she told Liz that.

"One thing that I *would* like you to tell Liz, actually," Alex said as Isabel pulled into the Crashdown lot. "'Don't... don't give up on Max. I... I know that you were hurt, and I know that you're not sure what could ever happen next that would bring the two of you back together. But if Isabel and I were able to find some kind of a way, then all lovers and dreamers have a chance.' Umm, that's it."

Feeling more than a little foolish, Isabel repeated the speech as closely as she could. Liz smiled back into the back seat, knowing that Alex was there even though she couldn't see him. "Thanks, Alex. Gotta jet." And once again, she took off. Isabel started to drive home.

"So, what now?" he asked, smiling slightly at her.

"Umm... there's something that I wanted to try last night, but forgot about after all of the drama and suspense of the meeting with Michael," she admitted. Alex had come home with her that night, but she hadn't really paid much attention to him while getting ready for bed, except for a single hug, and she hadn't had any dreams at all that she could remember. "Do... do you think that I'll be able to have a dream where we're together, like before, if I try hard enough -- or is it like regular dreams, where whatever happens just kind of happens no matter what it is you want?"

"I... I'm not sure, but I think that the answer is probably somewhere in between." Alex grinned at her. "If only because that seems like the safest answer. Probably you have some control over the dreams, not perfect, but reasonably good."

"Yeah - I think that makes some sense," Isabel admitted. "Okay, well, let's get ready for bed as soon as we can, just in case having extra time to dream away makes a difference."

Alex grinned out at Roswell, even though the entire town couldn't see his smile, as Isabel drove east back home.

----------

Isabel's father was sitting at the dining room table when she came in, and he said that he wanted to talk with her about graduation and college, which didn't really surprise her. She wasn't sure what to say, though, except that she felt like she didn't want to commit to anything at all yet. That would do alright for university, it turned out, but the graduation issue was more immediate. The deadline for committing to whether she would be participating the the ceremony, and graduating with everybody one year ahead of her, was only two days away. If she went, then really that was as good as saying goodbye to West Roswell High forever. If she didn't... then she could probably graduate 'quietly' anyway... getting a diploma in the mail and so on -- but it was obvious that her parents would be disappointed by that, not getting to come see her in an actual graduation ceremony. And... and she wasn't sure if it made any sense to go back to school next year and be with the rest of the gang... probably none of them would want to be there if they didn't have to be.

"Well... okay. I'll try to figure that out by tomorrow," she said. "Anything else you want to mention before I head off?"

He smiled affectionately at her. "Not that I'm trying to pry or anything, but what were you up to this evening?"

She smiled. "Umm... helping Maria, and Michael and Liz, with a yearbook tribute to Alex. Maria and I got some dinner at the Crashdown in between picking up things off of her scavenger hunt list for the collage, and went to about three different places looking for a copy of a poem that she was just *determined* to find."

"Well, that's nice I guess. I... I know that it's been hard for you, dealing with... with losing Alex, so suddenly, before... well, I kind of got the impression that there were some things left unresolved in your relationship with him." Philip Evans sighed, and went up to Isabel, taking his hand in hers. "It's always tragic when death claims someone before they've had a chance to live out a full life... maybe never more tragic than in the case of someone like Alex, someone just on the brink of becoming his own man... a life of such promise and potential snuffed out so suddenly." He made a visible effort to return to a sober demeanor before losing control of his own emotions. "If... if you ever need to talk to someone, Isabel... well, I don't think there's any shortage of people who'd be happy to help you out. Me, your mother, your brother..."

Isabel shook her head and took a step back. All of this was getting a bit too strange for her... partly her father expressing so eloquently his condolences on her loss... which was far more apparent than real. She *hadn't* lost Alex... at least, not the parts of him that were truly the most precious. Of course, she couldn't exactly build a life with him the same way she might have been able to, if he'd been with her in a more conventional way... but he was in her life and that was the most important thing, for now. Also, the notion that she might confide in Max seemed oddly strange at this point. She'd felt a little estranged from him, even before finding out about Alex. Ever since... well, ever since the prom.

"Dad... I'm going to go up and get ready for bed, okay?" He paused a moment, and nodded. "I love you." Impulsively she rushed forward and hugged him, and then headed to the stairs. She looked Alex meaningfully in the eyes after getting to her room, then turned without a word to get her fanciest lacy nightgown and start taking off her clothes. Even though she couldn't actually tell him, (or even think to him,) that she wanted him to stay while she changed, she wanted him to, and was disappointed when she turned around and he wasn't there. Oh well, that didn't matter so much, for tonight.

A mischievous thought struck her, though, as she was about to slip into the gown. *I love you too, Alex,* she sent as strongly as she could, hoping that, like the first time she had sent a thought to him, he would pick up the feeling of the fact that she was naked. She had finished making the transmission before she realized that it was the first time that she'd tried to send him a thought without knowing with considerable precision where he was. Would that affect the process? Could she ask if he'd received her??

In fact, when Alex walked back into her room, he came from the direction of the hall, and not the bathroom as she'd been expecting. Hmm. "Anything I'm forgetting before we go to sleep?" she asked softly.

"I... I don't think so," he said, sitting down next to her on the bed. She could feel his thigh next to hers... he had changed into a pair of flannel jammies that looked adorable -- brightly colored shapes made up out of little squares stuck together printed here and there, on the white background. "You... um, I have to admit that I'm not quite sure what you have in mind. Did you know that?"

"I... I wondered, I kind of suspected as much." She stared deeply into his face. "You trust me, don't you Alex??"

"At... at the moment, I'm not entirely convinced I have a choice," he whispered, and she giggled. "But even if I did... yes, I trust you... almost absolutely. I know that you'll never do anything to hurt me, though I wouldn't put it past you to tease me."

"Heaven forfend! A little teasing, is that so horrible?" she asked, and Alex grinned that lopsided, slightly embarassed grin of his.

"Okay, okay, I take your point. I can give as good as I get, I know that -- though I'm not sure I ever teased you much."

"I guess that's true," she admitted, looking down. "Maybe because you never quite felt at ease enough with me to make a little fun, the way you do with everyone else?" Alex made a soft uh-huh noise. "I... I actually think I'd rather that you HAD."

"Well, we're getting a second chance for plenty of other things," he said. "Maybe sometime soon I'll make fun of you too, though it may have to be a PRIVATE joke, in the most literal sense." He sighed at that.

"Alright, enough talk about teasing and jokes now," Isabel insisted. She was becoming more and more aware of Alex's nearness, even if he wasn't physically present. There seemed to be no way to convince her body of that, especially the skin on her leg, past the point where the skirt of her nightgown covered it, exposed directly to Alex's presence... she was tingling and even itching slightly there. "Let's lie down... how about you spoon me?"

"I..." Alex had to clear his throat, and Isabel heard a husky giggle escape her throat again. "Um, I've got no problems with that - *at all*."

So they lay down on their sides in her bed, Isabel facing the wall. For a second she regretted having chosen this pose, as it meant that she couldn't really see him, but as she heard Alex's soft breathing right behind her, and felt his body nestling against hers so naturally, his arm draping over her midsection, she couldn't manage to work up hardly any disappointment at all. She smiled to herself, breathed deeply, and waited for sleep to take her in.

Sleep seemed to be busy with other people at the moment, because it didn't seem to want to have anything to do with her.

Isabel let out a low moan. "Oh, no, I hope it doesn't take too long for us to get into the dream world." For a second, she wondered if Alex had fallen asleep already, leaving her alone awake. But she heard a soft, familiar chuckling, and some part of his head brushed ever so slightly against her hair.

"Well, if you're so impatient... maybe you could try dreamwalking me." He thought about that for a long moment. "Or yourself... this may sound, but did you ever try looking at your own picture and doing the dreamwalking thing??"

Isabel stiffened slightly as she lay there, struck by the notion. (The surprise was pulling her even FURTHER from dreamland, Isabel somehow knew, but there was nothing much to be done about that now.) She forced herself to communicate with Alex by thought transfer, just so noone walking by in the hall would hear her talking to herself as she lay awake in bed. *It won't work on you, even if the fact that you're a ghost doesn't mess it up, unless you're already dreaming when I try to make contact. Maybe if you get to sleep before I do, we can try it.*

"I... I somehow think that while I might get to sleep, I won't dream unless you're already dreaming," Alex whispered. "Because of the way we're linked now."

"Hmm..." Isabel mused, and then had to stop from kicking herself vocalizing even that much out loud. *As far as dreamwalking MYSELF... that's an idea that's never really occured to me. It might bounce just like anyone else... or maybe, if I'm close enough to the dream realm just from trying to use my dreamwalking powers... it might be enough to push me into the dream realm by myself. I'm not quite sure what that would be like - or if you'd be able to follow me in once I go.* She sighed, quietly. *If you were here with me, and I was trying to dreamwalk someone else and take you with me, I think that I could probably have done it. Trying too many new things at once, though...*

"Well, you don't have to try using your powers at all," he pointed out. "It was a suggestion, nothing more. We can just lie here and talk about other things until you feel tired enough to drift off."

"Let's see..." Isabel sighed, and this time she did move to kick herself. Unfortunately, she didn't have a clear shot, because Alex was in the way, and he grunted in discomfort. *Uhh... sorry, honey. I was, umm...* She decided to try to drop that subject. *I... I can't really decide. Trying to use my powers on myself seems like an interesting idea, and I'm more in the mood for that than waiting I guess. Is that alright with you?"

"Sure, of course." There was a very low sound that she couldn't quite identify, and all of a sudden a picture flew slowly over her head and dropped down to the side of the bed right in front of her. It was a little framed snapshot that had been sitting on her desk for a few months... she couldn't remember why she'd put it there and had been thinking of moving it, that having pictures just of herself in her room seemed somehow vain and silly. It was a nice picture though... a photo that her mother had taken from the front row of the audience while she was hosting the Christmas pageant four months earlier... dressed in christmas red, including the little fuzzy hat with the white brim and white fuzzy ball at the end, and her hair all curly. There was one big question in her mind, though.

*How... how did this get here?* she asked silently *I, I mean... I didn't bring it over, and you didn't even get up, never mind the question of if you can actually pick up real things. So...*

"Hmm." Alex leaned around and softly kissed the side of her neck. "Maybe I brought it without getting out of bed. I -- I'm connected to something inside your mind, right, which is how come you can see me and why I'm in your dreams, right??" Isabel nodded uncertainly. "And your mind, your brain, is where your powers start from. So maybe that means I'm able to use your powers... every once in a while."

*Huh.* Isabel decided to not worry about the issue any longer at this point. *Alright... here goes nothing.* She took a deep breath, and a moment to make sure that Alex's spirit was NOT within the radius of her powers at the moment... (safer for him that way... if it worked okay he'd almost certainly be able to follow her in a second later. Then again, if there was something that was dangerous for her, and Alex was a ghost, able to communicate only through her, what would that mean for him?? Isabel shook her head. The danger for her would be much less if she didn't try to bring him through with her. That was it. She was protecting him by protecting herself.) Reaching out, she touched her face in the picture and willed the tiny little distortion that always accompanied her attempts to touch someone else's dreams.

The sensation was extraordinary. Isabel had the very clear and vivid sensation that... well, the picture spread out and grew enormously... so big that she could hardly even see the picture anymore, just the pane of glass, infintely shiny, sending off dazzling reflections everywhere. And the glass was underneath Isabel, and she was falling down towards it - she wasn't quite sure how she had gotten into midair or what had happened to the bed, but it was nowhere around and -- and she was falling FAR too fast!!

Isabel had only long enough to take a deep breath and brace herself for an impact before she crashed into the glass. No, not glass, it was... it was ice now, perfectly clear and smooth ice, or at least it had been before she broke through it, and immersion in cruelly cold water, drenching every part of her, soaking her hair and her nightgown and ... and she tried to kick up to the surface, but the surface was already icing over again and she couldn't break through, and she couldn't breathe. She hammered a fist uselessly against the ice from underneath, and spent a few seconds uselessly wondering if she could really die here, wherever here was, if she didn't figure out a way out of the water and soon.

There... there was something glowing down under the water, not far from her. A... a perfect circle of pale pink light, and Isabel didn't stop to think, she just swum towards the light as quickly as she could. Just about the time the pink light grew so bright that she was wondering what would happen next...

All of a sudden, she was standing... she was out in the desert morning, but the weather was neither cool nor warm, with not a breath of wind. (Which meant it really wasn't like the desert ANY time she'd ever been there.) As she turned around, there was no road in sight, no trace of civilization anywhere, and no landmark that she could recognize.

Still, she forced herself to take a deep, calming breath. That stuff with falling through the icy picture frame and getting trapped in the frigid water had been scary, but she had expected some kind of unexpected transition, and this desert scene seemed a bit more like what she might have expected from her own dreamscape. If she could get herself to relax, she could probably do a lucid transition to some setting that was more fun. On the other hand, there didn't seem to be any particular point in getting on the move without waiting at least a minute for Alex to show up.

Isabel was still wearing her nightgown, but it was perfectly dry now... as was her hair and her face. (Usual dream rules, or the lack of rules to be more precise. What happened to you during one scene or transition didn't carry the same sort of logical consequences as would pertain in the real world.) Isabel looked around for a rock that was about the right height to sit on, and flat enough not to poke her bottom. There were none, so she decided to try making one as a test of her control over the dream setting.

The rock that she concentrated on flattened out, but it didn't shimmer or blink into its new shape the way she had pretty much expected it to. Instead, it slowly morphed itself into the new configuration, almost as if she were using her usual alien powers on it. Was it possible that she was actually in the real world here, instead of a dream? No... well, nowhere close to Roswell in the real world, at least, since it wouldn't be morning for hours. The Australian outback maybe? Would the time zones work out that way?? No, wrong direction. When it was evening in Roswell, it would be afternoon in Australia. And too early in the morning in Africa.

In any event, it would have taken more effort to reshape that rock with her powers if she were in the real world. This had to be some kind of subconscious realm, just one that wasn't working exactly like she was used to dreamwalking or lucid dreaming. (Hardly surprising.) She sat down on the rock to wait.

The unmistakeable sound of a doorknob turning right behind her made Isabel jump up in surprise. What was any doorknob doing out here? Sure enough, there was a door in the middle of nowhere, on the sand, just like all the ones that regularly showed up in children's books. It was already partly open, and somehow Isabel wasn't surprised to see Alex coming out. She couldn't really see what was behind him through the door... it was dim back there, and the door started to swing closed as soon as Alex was through. "Hey, don't let it--" she exclaimed when it was already nearly over, a thought occuring to her.

Alex, startled, reached out to try to catch the closing portal, but missed, and as the doorknob clicked again, the entire door quickly faded away. Izzie had been worried about that. She'd wanted to examine it more closely, and find out if the door at least matched either of the ones that led into her bedroom. "Oh well. Nice to see you, handsome."

He smiled widely at her. "Now, I have to say that this is weird."

"Yeah," Isabel admitted. "Did... did you go through a door from the other end? What did you see when I went in, anyway."

"Umm, let's see," Alex sighed. "You touched the picture frame, there was an odd flash of light on it, and you slumped down. I wasn't sure if you were just sleeping or if you were hurt, so, I, umm... well, I wasn't sure what to do." Alex sighed. "I was able to roll you over onto your back so that I could look into your face, and it seemed so peaceful that I convinced myself your trick must have worked. And... well, I bent down and kissed your cheek, and then I was walking through that door." Alex put his arms around her in a hug. "What about you?"

"Umm... I'll tell you later," Isabel mumbled, not really wanting to describe the ice water stuff just at that moment. "First... let's see if this works." She reached up and snapped her fingers... and all of a sudden they were standing in a dark room, bathed in candleli-- no, not bathed, because the candles were too soft and few to create that impression. (Just as well... Isabel found that candles were prettier and romantic the fewer of them there were, within reason.) There were just enough to shower the room in soft yellowish light, which was somehow perfect. Some kind of soft, harmonic music that she couldn't make out very well was playing, and Isabel started to move slowly back and forth in time with the notes, with Alex's arms still about her.

He only looked around for about a second and a half before catching on and starting to slow dance with her. "Did you get the idea to do this when we were at Close Encounters?" he whispered.

"Umm, yeah." Isabel smiled. "Is it that obvious? I wanted to dance with you so much, and... and I'm still a little upset that I can't do it in the real world, with people watching, and not have them throw me in a psych ward or something."

"Yeah... I get disappointed about stuff like that too," he admitted. "Being with you like this is so much better than nothing, but it's a lot less than everything I want. I... he sighed. "I'm not gonna get to graduate high school, or find my first full-time job, or... or have kids. Or marry you in a big fancy ceremony, because somehow I think that you'd get even more worked up about a wedding than you do about christmas... everything would have to be just perfect, just so... and you'd probably have people calling you the Wedding Nazy before the rehearsal dinner, but you wouldn't care, and neither would I." He took a deep breath.

Isabel smiled at him and telegraphed a fancy waltz-turn step, which Alex followed through on perfectly even though he was obviously distracted. "How... how do you know that I get worked up around christmas." A pause. "Did, umm..."

"When I got back from Grandpa Madigan's, two days after christmas, practically EVERYBODY found some pretext to tell me just how, umm, intense you had been about christmas," Alex laughed. "Maria and Liz, Michael and Max... umm, I'm not sure about Kyle or Tess."

"I wouldn't think they'd have even noticed me," Isabel replied. "They were caught up in their own christmas drama, pretty much."

"Yeah, right." Alex sighed. "Not quite sure why the rest of them made a point... I think Maria, at least, was trying to warn me of what I was getting into if I decided to pursue you again. Not that it really made much difference." He sighed, and went back to the old topic - almost. "What upsets me more than what I'll be missing out on, though... is the thought of you. I know that you're happy now that I'm with you, and I wouldn't want it any other way. But I guess I'm worried that you might start to live more and more inside your own head - here with me. I'd enjoy the company, don't get me wrong about that part... but you're still alive, Isabel, and you should live your life to the fullest. Not crawl into a shell just because I can't be out there in the real world with you."

"I... I don't have to choose between you and having a life, Alex," Isabel insisted confidently, pushing her body into his even tighter. They were still wearing their bedtime things, she in a fairly short nightgown, and he in his jammies, which seemed a little odd while slow-dancing in this elegant setting, but she didn't want to change either of their outfits. (Especially since she knew that part of Alex liked the bare stretch of her legs, and how much of the skin of her arms and upper torso was exposed as well.) "To a certain extent at least. I want to see the world, and as long as you're with me, I can show it to you. I can go to college, maybe get a job, spend time with all my friends, even meet new people, and you can be with me for all of it... even if the new friends probably won't know or understand about you." She sighed. "Just don't mention other guys to me... as in, as in having relationships, falling in love. I'll get so mad at you if you even breathe a word of any such thing."

"Not a peep," Alex promised, but the subject, once evoked by Isabel, seemed to hang in the air around her. Alex still could not really marry her... not outside of a private affair that would be treading the line between fantasy and farce. He would not be able to give her children or be a partner that many people in the outside world could know about or understand. If Isabel stuck to her determination to not move on to a living boyfriend, she would be seen as some sort of pathetic spinster...

"Oh, I... I don't need to worry about the rest of my life right now," Isabel insisted, planting a passionate kiss onto Alex's mouth. "We're here together and that's the most important thing."

Alex smiled a little dreamily. "Okay, that works." He looked around the room where they were dancing. "Is this supposed to be anywhere in particular?"

"No... just seemed like it had a nice ambience." Isabel giggled. "Want to try something else?"

"Umm - like what?"

Isabel waved, concentrating... and they were out in the noon sunshine. The air around them was warm, but a fresh breeze kept it from being too uncomfortable. They were surrounded by greenery, up among rolling hills, and on the shoreline of a pretty mountain lake. Isabel was wearing a swimsuit, a black one-piece affair with a deeply plunging decolletage, and Alex was wearing baggy shorts and some kind of an open vest top. He looked around. "I... I have to say, I like the way you dream, Miss Evans."

"Can't argue with that," Isabel said agreeably, walking around the scene, examining all the little details... the patch of little flowering violets that had sprouted in the middle of a patch of tall grasses, the flat beachlike space at the river's edge. She wasn't quite sure where this was supposed to be, but it smelled like summer... which was incredible, because Isabel was the kind of girl who couldn't wait for summer to start. "I -- I didn't dream up all of this on purpose," she confessed. "I had a bit of an idea of going somewhere there was water, but not at the ocean. All of the rest..." She waved around. "Kind of a puzzle, but I'm glad that you like it. I like it a lot."

"Maybe your subconscious mind came up with it," Alex suggested, grabbing her hand in his own. "After all... you probably couldn't or wouldn't make up the kinds of things that are in your normal dreams, right?? At least your surface-level mind wouldn't."

"Yeah, good point I guess," Isabel admitted. "So... umm, what's up for tomorrow??" She shook her head slightly a second later, feeling that it was a completely foolish thing to say.

"Umm... Liz made that appointment at the guidance office in the morning," Alex reminded her. "You should be there, so I can poke around and see if I can find anything interesting... and so that I can feed you cues on what kind of questions to ask her." He cocked his head slightly. "I wonder if I would be able to poke my head into a closed desk drawer and actually see anything useful, or if it would just all be really dark and indistinct. Maybe I should try a few thingss on your desk drawer in the morning."

"Well... it couldn't hurt I suppose," Isabel agreed.

"And then there's the yearbook committee thing at noon, I don't know if you want to tag along for that or not -- I could go either way," Alex admitted.

"Ehh." Isabel shrugged, looked all around, and took a deep breath. "Alex... love me here."

He cocked his head at first, not quite sure what to make of her words, and then a slightly goofy look spread over his face. "L-love you, as in..." Isabel nodded, feeling her cheeks start to brighten with color and feeling. Alex smiled.

"Okay, umm, well, first we'll need..." Alex looked around, considering the setting, and then closed his eyes for an instant. With a swirling swooosh effect that wouldn't have been out of place on 'Star trek,' a giant fluffy towel appeared, folded over both of his arms... or maybe it was more of a brightly patterned blanket - hard to tell at first glance. As Alex spread it out over a relatively flat patch of sandy ground, Isabel bent down to touch a corner of the material, and all she really cared about was that it felt comfortable, with a lot of body and strength to it. (Not unlike Alex himself.)

Isabel surprised Alex when he looked up from making sure that the blanket-towel was straight and placed in the spot as well as possible, kissing him with every bit of frustrated longing in her heart, letting her fingers wander over his skin, grabbing his cute butt and pulling it closer to her own hips. Alex groaned, a response that was repeated a few seconds later, louder and lower, when Isabel pulled the straps of her suit down her shoulders and off her arms, leaving her bouncily bare down to below her waist. She pushed his vest off of his shoulders, and ran her hands over his bare chest. The two of them deliberately lost themselves in all the obvious forms of foreplay.

There was no way to measure time in this secluded spot, hidden carefully among unreal worlds. The bright, warm sun didn't even seem to move away from high overhead. So Isabel wasn't quite sure how long it was before she stirred, completely naked, passion-sweat cooled on her skin, deliciously tangled up together with Alex Charles Whitman. As she looked around a little foggily, Alex stired as well, and she smiled tenderly as she looked into his eyes. Then an unexpected question occured to her.

She hadn't really expected to find herself here after she and Alex satisfied their desires. Isabel had just somehow assumed that it would end with both of them back in her bed, back in her home in Roswell, in the real world. So... "How do we get back, now?"

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Sat May 13, 2006 7:58 am

Part Five

"Ummmm..." Alex looked around at the dreamscape surrounding them, and self-consciously slipped his underpants back on. "Okay, let's try approaching this logically. Have you ever tried to stop dreamwalking on purpose before?"

Isabel considered the question, and as she thought she wiled away the time by getting dressed too... she didn't really feel like putting her nightie back on, and hadn't been wearing much else, so she concentrated for a moment and a set of casual clothes appeared next to the discarded lingerie... comfy stretch pants and an oversized fuzzy white sweater.

"Ummm... it might sound weird, but no, I don't think I ever have. Dreams don't really tend to last long, so usually they fade away -- or sometimes something else happens to kick me out of whoever else's head." Then something else occured to her. "Actually, there was one night last winter... it was the first time I got in touch with Laurie actually, before I knew anything about her. I'd been... well, I was bored and started dreamwalking to kill time... I visited Liz and Kyle and was really bored or frustrated by what they were dreaming about... and then whizz-bang, I was back in bed." She sighed. "But... but I can't say how I did it, if I did, any more than that. And I'm plenty frustrated right now, but that doesn't seem to help."

Alex considered. "Maybe that's something that you can't do with your own dream, because you didn't identify with their subconscious desires, or whatever, but you can't fail to identify your own mind." He had finished shrugging his pajamas on by this point. "That... it doesn't seem like that's a good sign."

Isabel nodded somberly. "Well, I have access to the usual lucid dreaming tricks it seems, so we can move to other dream scenes and make changes in them. If this *is* a dream, then maybe it will still end of its own accord if we spend enough time in it."

"Yeah, that's a good notion," Alex mentioned. "Or... isn't it particularly easy to wake up by accident when you're lucid dreaming? Maybe you could scare yourself awake, or create a scenario so bizarre that even your subconscious mind can't handle it."

"Hmm..." Isabel sighed. This was getting too complicated, and she wasn't sure how to deal with it at the moment. "I... I'm not sure. I don't tend to get scared out of dreams very often, and I *never* have luck trying to scare myself... I usually can't even get up any genuine fright watching horror movies, even." She sighed and looked around. "Plus... just looking around, it seems hard to think that anything could ever be scary, anywhere."

Alex grined. "Okay, well, I'm up for just kickin' back and hanging out if you are." He looked speculatively out at the lake. "I realize that we only just dressed, but how about skinny dipping?"

"Sounds fabulous!"

Alex jumped up and started racing off to the beach, throwing his pajama shirt away as he ran. Isabel considered dashing after him, then wasn't sure if she wanted to. About the time that Alex slowed down to take his pants off before actually getting into the water, she had a better idea, and strolled fairly sedately over the sandy ground. "That doesn't count as skinny dipping," she called out. Alex was already up nearly to his shoulders in the lake. "You didn't take off your shorts before going in."

All of a sudden, Alex threw something at her, and Isabel noticed as she dodged it that it was a sodden ball of white fabric. "Tell me, Miss Evans, am I skinny-dipping NOW??"

She snickered. "Yeah, I guess so." There had only been one thing of fabric he could have thrown at her, after all... well, being that it was a dream, he could probably have wished up something, but somehow she doubted he had done any such thing. "But watch how a REAL dipper does it!" Slowly, playfully, she pulled her sweater off again, and swung it around at the end of her arm a bit before tossing it away. Alex had moved closer, the water receding about as far as his flat belly, and he was watching her quite intently. Isabel tried to make as big a production as she could of stripping off the pants, pulling them down nearly inch by inch, letting the soft skin underneath be revealed a little bit at a time. Finally they, too, were tossed aside, and she stood gloriously naked once again. Smiling a small, private smile, she breathed in deeply and turned to one side by forty-five degrees, laughing silently at Alex's groan of stymied longing.

"All right, all right, don't get your ectoplasm in an bunch, or whatever the appropriate term is," she teased. "I'm coming in." And she suited action to word, only stepping in about as deep as her ankles before deliberately falling forward so that all of her body got drenched at once. Stretched out horizontally like that, she swam out to meet Alex, and reached out a hand to caress the sensitve skin of his hip underneath the waterline. "So... we're dipping 'a la skin.' Not bad. Any other bright ideas, or is it my turn again?"

"No, I think you had two or three in a row before mine," Alex reminded her. "How about... well, this one is pretty obvious, but still." He bent down close to the surface to kiss her on her lips, a hot kiss that should, by all rights, have made the water heat up and start to steam around them... but in this dream, at least, it didn't...

Partly because there was suddenly no water! Isabel had NOT triggered a scene change directly - she was sure of that, but one had happened, and with breathtaking suddenness. The two of them were still kissing, but they were out of the lake and somewhere dark. In fact... in fact, they seemed to be in a tunnel. Through the dim light, Isabel could just make out that the back part of Alex's body was partly nestled into a small alcove or hollow in the underground passage... one which seemed just big enough to allow either of them to turn around, which they wouldn't be able to fit doing in the tunnel proper. That suggested that they had perhaps been crawling through the tunnel one after another, until Alex had turned to kiss her. Except, of course, that they hadn't been in the tunnel before they'd kissed, they'd been in the mountain lake -- but Isabel didn't worry too much about the internal consistency. In any event, the same hole would allow Alex to turn around and continue onwards after their clinch had finished, if they decided to, whereas if they'd been kissing face to face in a tunnel that didn't allow them room to turn around, things could become very awkward, in that one or the other would have to crawl backwards an indefinite distance if they wanted to try to get anywhere.

Finally, with a soft lick at Alex's stubbly neck, (which was an interesting but not unpleasant sensation,) Isabel broke off the french action and whispered into Alex's ear. "Do... do you have any idea what we're doing here?"

"It... um, it seems faintly familiar, but I'm not entirely sure, no," Alex admitted. "We... we have to go on through the tunnel, I'm sure of that much. Are... are you afraid of the tight spaces?"

"Well, I'm not wild about them," Isabel said, a little grumpily, "but I'll get by. You?"

"No big worries, I'm used to it I guess," he said mysteriously. "Would another kiss help?"

"Couldn't hurt, lover boy." Their lips locked passionately, for about twenty seconds, and then Alex turned around and started to crawl ahead of her. Isabel noticed that they were linked by what seemed like a thick rope, that was attached to a heavy vest that she was wearing. She was also disappointed that the light wasn't better, because then she would probably have gotten a better look at Alex's squeezable butt as he crawled ahead of her. After several minutes, she realized that he was crawling out into somewhere bright, and then Alex was gone, and she was following him, holding tight to the link connecting them both --

-- and the somewhere bright was her bedroom. (Not that bright, really, but she could see how it would have seemed so from the tunnel - if she had actually seen into her real bedroom from the dream tunnel.) Isabel was lying flat on her back, just as Alex had said he had left her when he'd joined her in the dreamwalk, and Alex was lying half on his side next to her. "Is... is this really the real world?" she asked nervously.

"Umm... looks like it," Alex said, slowly and lazily. "Don't bother puzzling into it any more, or you'll drive yourself crazy. Going back to sleep - real sleep, and waking up in the morning should pretty well settle it."

"Good advice I guess," Isabel admitted. "Umm... how about you, actually? Do you need to blip out, and leave me for the night? You haven't done that in nearly thirty hours, as I reckon that."

"Actually, I took a few hours when you were in your morning classes," he said softly. Izzy blinked in surprise... she hadn't made the connection, but it was true that she hadn't seen him for a little while she supposed. "I could probably stand to take some more, though, if you're sure that you don't mind."

"Me minding is not the be-all and end-all, Mister Whitman," she scolded him softly. "If you need to rest, you DO it... I mean, sheesh, you've already DIED -- I couldn't bear it if something bad happened to you as a ghost because you were trying to stick close to me all the time."

Alex smiled. "Okay, I get the message I think, though I won't commit to going away the instant I feel a little strained - not if it means we'd lose out on a good investigating opportunity, or if you had something special planned. On the other hand, nothing nearly so important seems to be going on at the moment." Isabel smiled back. "I'll take eight hours, but I'd rather wait until you get to sleep, okay?"

"No arguments with that arrangement at all," Isabel said, snuggling down among the soft sheets. "You've got a deal, lover."

Alex smiled. "Yeah, I guess we did it again, huh? I mean, if dreamwalking counts, and if it doesn't, then I probably won't ever be with you again."

"Of course our dreams count, Alex," she whispered. "They always have."

And Alex brushed a bit of hair away from Isabel's face, and she felt herself sliding down into a deep and restful sleep.

But a timeless moment, she dimly realized that she was crawling amongst those same caves again, except this time there was nobody to help her, to lead the way and kiss away her nervousness. And her body got wedged into a tight squeeze between the rocky walls, and she couldn't move, couldn't budge herself. The mountain... was it a mountain?? -- The solid rock all around her, whatever it was, started to rumble and shake with a terrible fury, and she heard the terrible cracking and tumbling sound that could only be a tunnel cave-in not far behind her, and...

When she woke up out of that dream, it didn't seem so much like an escape as a failure. She was shaking and gasping so hard that tears came into the corners of her eyes, and, of course, she was still totally alone.

Something twigged at Isabel' mind as she bent over and let the tears fall. The situation seemed nearly ridiculous. She was much more dependent on Alex than she had ever been... than she had let herself be on anyone while he was alive. The night alone might be a hard adjustment, but it was one that she needed to make. On the other hand, she didn't exactly need to make it through on cold turkey.

Determination chasing away the tears, Isabel jumped to her feet, and rushed over to her bureau. She had just got the second drawer to the bottom open and started shuffling through it when her door knocked. "Isabel? Are you okay??"

Alright, so the door obviously hadn't knocked all by itself. "Go away, Max, I'm fine," Isabel mumbled in a voice she thought was only just loud enough to reach him.

She was sure it did, but the door opened a second later. Isabel shot her brother a nasty look as he entered. "Oooh! Okay, now I'm wishing I HAD gone."

For a moment Isabel was confused... her nasty looks had never exactly got that reaction from Max before. And then she realized that she was still wearing the sexy nightgown that didn't exactly cover up much, and looked a little naughtier than it really was. "Ummmm..." A moment's thought was enough to get a big fluffy dressing gown, nearly floor length, whizzing out of the closet to land over her shoulder, and she scrambled into it as quickly as she could. "Okay, umm..." After a second's thought, Isabel decided to just not mention that aspect of the encounter at all. "What's the deal?"

"Ummm..." Max shook his head. "Well, I was just worried about you I guess. I woke up and heard... well, not heard exactly, but somehow I could tell that you were having a nightmare. And then you woke up, and were crying for a few seconds, and charged up out of bed..." He trailed off awkwardly.

"How much of that did you hear, and how much do you know some other way?" Isabel asked curiously.

"I... I'm not sure," Max admitted softly. "I... well, I've had the impression lately that I can tell what people I know are up to when I'm fairly close by, even if I can't see them. Usually I'm not sure if I'm not just making it up, or guessing."

"Hmmm." Isabel filed this away for future reference. Another aspect of Max's powers? "Well, yes, I had a bad dream, but... I don't really feel much like company. That's it."

Max looked at her, and for a second Isabel nearly relented and offered to go downstairs and have hot chocolate with him... which was what they'd done after nightmares when they were little. She'd gotten into the habit of thinking of Max as the enemy after siding with Liz on the subject of investigating Alex's death, but he was still her brother, and he still cared about her. But what she'd said was the truth - she didn't think spending time with him would make her feel any better, and she wasn't especially in the mood to go along just so HE could feel useful.

"Okay, um... you want me out of your hair, I'm gone," Max said. "I just thought... well, never mind. See you in the morning." He waved slightly and headed out of her room again.

Izzy sighed, bent down, and almost immediately found the thing that she'd been looking for... a picture of Alex, from the Blind Date Valentine's concert the year before. She hadn't made it to the concert herself, having let Michael talk her into running around outside the library that night, burning the wrong alien symbols into a public lawn, but she'd managed to get prints of several shots that a photographer working for the radio station had taken, and framed her favorite. Alex probably never knew about them, or at least she was fairly sure he hadn't known until he died and got stuck in her head... now it was anybody's guess how many of her secrets Alex had figured out... unless Alex had kept count himself.

It was really a great picture: Alex standing centered in the frame, caught in a little dramatic flourish after finishing a power chord on his bass or something. There was a little bit of Maria's hair or something in the corner of the picture, but what Isabel always looked at was the expression on Alex's face... a mixture of confidence, charisma, and utter joy in the music he was helping to create.

For a second Isabel was tempted to try touching Alex's face in the picture, to see if her dreamwalking trick would work on Alex while he was 'taking time off' -- but it wasn't hard to decide that she had already experimented with dreamwalking more than enough for one night. What if her spirit, her mind, tried to follow Alex to some obscure realm where it wasn't equipped to survive, or couldn't follow him back? The mere thought of her parents, or Max, finding her mysteriously dead in her bedroom, holding Alex's picture, spooked her enough that she very nearly tossed the frame as far from her as she could. But then common sense and composure reasserted themselves. She hadn't got the picture out for that, to join Alex directly wherever he was, but just to make herself feel a little better, and maybe to help herself get back to sleep without him. She sighed as she stared at the confident smile of the young man in the picture, and let the pleasant memories wash over her.

Except that it was more of a splash than the warm, comforting tide of memories that she had hoped for - there simply weren't that many pleasant memories. A few occured to her -- the dance hall in Vegas, and the time he tried to talk her into 'face-sucking.' Their first kiss, and asking him to prom. But most of her history with Alex seemed to be tainted, or at least less than perfect... her stubborn intimacy issues that made her refuse to let him into her heart, or into more than the edges of her life, for so many months. The horrible revelations of her alien past life - engaged to Michael, betraying him for Max's enemy, that she hadn't wanted to let Alex into. The suave and confident standoffishness that he'd assumed for a long time after coming back from... wait a second!

The indignity of how her hoped-for comfort had vanished suddenly seemed less important. She had never particularly put these two elements together before. The fact that Alex had been less inclined to chase after once he came back from Sweden seemed to make sense, on the face of it. He had had a wonderful, perspective-expanding visit to another country, and courted a pretty swedish girl, (who was also tall with straight blonde hair, Isabel couldn't help noticing.) It made sense that he'd realized there was more to life than Roswell, New Mexico, and better opportunities for his heart than a neurotic alien girl who would probably never get a chance to leave Roswell.

But... but he HADN'T really gone to Sweden. They had figured that much out. His departure had probably been arranged by an alien, with the power to alter memories and mental behaviour patterns. Had that alien abductor seen some reason to encourage Alex to keep his distance from her??

They *had* to figure out who was responsible for all of this, and soon. Isabel would not rest until she knew the entire truth.

On the other hand, she couldn't remember anything else before waking up, in the armchair sitting in her bedroom, at quarter after seven the next morning.

-----------

"Um, let's see... I know that I had the full information package around here somewhere," Mrs Gray-White, (whose name Liz and Isabel had both had to keep themselves from giggling at,) muttered as she rummaged through the papers and folders, untidily standing upright on the bookcase next to her desk. "Alex brought the first pamphlet to me, sometime in late November... no, it would have been in December, because it was nearly a week after thanksgiving I think. I actually had to call a guy I know at the Public Education Department in Albuquerque to make sure that it was an officially sanctioned and licensed program, because I'd never heard of the American Students Abroad foundation, but... well, actually, my friend was off at lunch, but I spent some time on the line with some girl who assured me that the entire thing was above-board and that Alex would be lucky to get accepted."

"Ummm, fascinating," Liz said, taking notes and unable to resist shooting a sly look over at Isabel. "And so what happened after that?"

"Well... Alex filled out the application, I helped him with a few things... there was a spot for essays from parents and friends, and he brought in one of each. 'Why do you think (blank) should get an opportunity to study in a distant country, that kind of thing."

"Do... you don't happen to remember who the friend was?" Isabel asked. "Or have a copy of those essays?"

"Umm... no, no copies, we just sent the entire package over to the box number in Santa Fe, and he only got a little letter back in a regular envelope, not his whole application package back. I didn't think of making copies of anything at the time. As far as the name on the essay... it was a girl's name, I remember that much, because I wondered if it was a girlfriend of Alex's. Definitely not your name, Isabel, though I guess you'd have remembered if you'd written it. It was a pretty short name."

"Well, moving on," Liz said. She probably wanted to avoid attracting too much attention to this particular stage in the process - she had a short name after all, and was one of Alex's best friends, and if asked point-blank she'd probably couldn't have admitted to writing the letter, which might create the impression that it could have been forged in her name. "I'm... I'm curious about the process I admit. You sent in his application package, and he got the letter. How were the rest of the arrangements made? Was it all by mail, or did you speak to someone on the phone?"

"Oh, actually, I spoke with someone on the phone before we even sent in the package," the guidance counselor explained. "Just to go over some of the things in the application package, and to ask about the number of students who get accepted and the kinds of countries they tend to get placed in. And then more phone calls, once he was accepted, to go over the plans for the flight itself, to pass on questions from Alex's parents and so on. I find it's helpful to act as a go-between with this sort of thing."

"Oh, here it is!" she exclaimed a few seconds later, just as Isabel was about to reply with a vague 'uh-huh.' "That's the stuff." She pulled a moderately slim duotang off of the shelves and put it on her desk. There was a glossy booklet and some other printed sheets inside. "You can take some shots of it to go with the article if you like, but I'm afraid that I can't let the book leave this room."

"Yeah, okay," Isabel said with a smile, pulling out her father's digital camera. This might mean that they didn't need to do anything illicit with the file at all - if she could get a tight enough zoom that the phone numbers were visible in her pictures, and any other important information.

"I... I'd like to go back to that State board thing, if that's okay," Liz said as Isabel snapped away. "Was... was Alex here with you when you made the call? Or had you been talking with him just before??"

"Umm, yes, actually, to the second one. He dropped by between classes to remind me about the program, and I told him I'd call in two minutes, as soon as I'd finished sending out an email to one of the teachers, and I did. Why?"

"Umm... no reason." Liz was staring at Mrs Gray-White's hands, which were drumming in an unconscious gesture on the desktop. From the look on Liz's face, she remembered that mannerisms from somewhere, but couldn't quite place it.

"I... I think we've got everything we need," Isabel said. "Thanks so much for your time, and I hope we can call or drop by if we think of something else?"

"Sure, I guess." Isabel put the camera away in her purse again, and looked at Isabel as they left the guidance office. "I... I have a theory," he said to her softly.

Isabel stopped Liz from heading to the cafeteria to meet up with Michael and Maria, and they talked in the eraser room. "Boy, a bunch of guys in this school would probably love to see two girls as cute as the two of you slipping into here," Alex remarked as he walked through the wall.

"Save the smart remarks, ghost-boy," Isabel muttered. "What's the deal?" Liz turned around and slipped slightly on the smooth tile floor, and Isabel reached out a hand, catching a hold of the shorter girl's upper arm to help steady her.

"I... I have a theory," Alex said, speaking clearly and with hard determination. "Not quite sure where it came from, but..."

"Wait!" Liz called out, and Alex and Isabel both turned to look at her. "Isabel, when you were touching me -- I thought I heard something. It was hard to tell what, but is there any chance that I could have been hearing what Alex was saying - through you?"

Alex, caught by surprise, blinked and shrugged. "Umm, I dunno," Isabel admitted. "I have to admit, if there's any way that I could avoid playing monkey in the middle I'd like to explore it. But if you can't be sure what you heard, then it isn't much good, is it?"

"I... I dunno," Liz mumbled. "Maybe there's a way to improve the reception, once we know it's possible. Try... try touching me again, but not just my shoulder... Umm -- try touching my head, near one of my ears. That seems as good a place as any to start."

Feeling a little foolish, Isabel let a few of her fingers rest against Liz's hair, just above her ear. "Alex, say something to her."

"Liz, you're a really good and special friend," Alex blurted out, shrugging. Liz frowned in thought, and shook her head slightly.

"A little better... it's definitely a voice now, a guy's voice, similar to Alex - but I couldn't say for sure that it was him or guess at what he was saying." She looked up at Isabel. "I think you need to get better contact... not just touching hair, but the skin of my scalp maybe. And try BEHIND my ear, getting near to the back of my neck."

Isabel tried this, feeling more and more awkward about burying her hand underneath Liz's thick dark tresses, especially considering what Alex had told her about eraser room fantasies. "Liz, can you hear me now?"

"Yes!" Liz replied, her face lighting up with delight. "It's still not perfectly clear.. a little like listening to a distant radio station, with a bunch of static, but I can make out what you're saying and recognize your voice."

"Try something a little bit harder," Isabel suggested. "Just to make sure."

"Okay," Alex agreed. "Liz, I'm really the prince of the giant smurfs, and I have to use a lot of makeup to cover up my naturally blue skin." Liz laughed heartily, and then repeated the key words to Isabel, 'prince of the giant smurfs, makeup, blue skin.'

"Okay, that'd seem to settle it," Isabel agreed, smiling. "Alex said that he had a theory. Alex, what's the theory?"

"Well... it's about the story that the guidance counselor told us, about the exchange program. The only thing that would need to be faked was that call to the state Education Department, and I have a notion that I might have helped to fake it."

"You think you helped?" Liz asked, She still couldn't see Alex, so she was looking around a little vaguely, not sure where to aim her question. "Is this something that you remember?"

"Not... not really," Alex admitted. "Just... if I had wanted to help set this up, I know what I would have done, and it seems to fit what Gray-White told us. Maybe... maybe I was onboard with this scheme at the beginning, before my memory was affected. Or maybe the alien MADE me want to co-operate."

"Hmm..." Isabel considered. "So what's the deal you had in mind? Something with electronics?"

"Yes," Alex agreed. "The school uses pretty fancy computerized telephones, and it's possible to set up alternate number aliases using the speed-dial function. Reprogram her phone so that when she calls the State department office, it sends the call to my alien co-conspirator."

"Right..." Liz breathed. "Alien-girl... the signs are starting to point to a female alien, maybe a fairly young one... picks up the phone and answers for the Education Deoartment, says that Gary-White's friend is out on his lunch break, and everything just kinduv comes naturally from there."

"Except... what if Gray smelled that something was up?" Isabel asked, frowning. "She didn't seem like the sharpest tack, but it's a pretty simple ruse. Leave all of the phone rewiring stuff out of it. What if she thought that the girl answering her phone was just telling her what she wanted to hear? What if she kept calling back, insisting on talking to her friend?"

"Well, we don't know how complicated and persuasive the phone con was," Alex pointed out. "And if necessary... maybe the alien mastermind could have used her powers on Gray as well."

"That's it!" Liz exclaimed. "Umm, sorry, I just figured something out. Gray-White was tapping her fingers on the desk when I asked her for more details about the phone call, and it was something familiar to me, but I couldn't remember from where." Her voice grew low, conspiratorial. "Alex, you were doing that the last time I saw you -- drumming your fingers on your guitar, when you and Maria and I were, um, were talking about Isabel and so on."

Alex blinked again. "So... so what does that mean?" Isabel asked.

"Hypothesis," Alex said after a moment. "The tapping, or maybe other unconscious nervous gestures, is a sign that a post-control block is wearing off or otherwise under extreme strain. That fits with everything else we've figured out about the night I died... I tap my fingers talking with you girls, and then when the thai food appears, the mental block starts to fall apart. That's when I started ranting at the delivery guy, because I was confused and trying to figure out what was real, what was an illusion."

"And you were in pain," Liz whispered unhappily. "Why does everything have to hurt so much."

Alex nodded. "And then, because I'm not thinking clearly, I go off to confront the person who did this to me. Maybe she decided that trying to keep me quiet was more trouble than it was worth anymore... or maybe she tried to block my memories off again and something went horribly wrong."

"Maybe she was even able to plant a second post-control suggestion," Isabel suggested. "That when your memories returned, you'd feel a compulsion to return to her."

"Could be," Liz agreed. "Okay... so, we've learned some more. What's next?"

"I've got phone numbers from the brochure," Isabel said. "We can investigate them all -- I suspect that they'll all be fakes, or special numbers set up by the alien mastermind that have been abandoned now. Still, that'll be useful evidence to take to Max if nothing else."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "Some of them might be fake Swedish numbers, which means that we'll need to get someone who can talk at least a little Swedish."

"Maria had a good beginner's vocabulary, not long after I 'got back', Alex put in. "I think I remember a bunch too, that the alien must have helped me learn to make sure my cover would stand."

"Okay, I can work a phrasebook for her and dial into your knowledge too, without her guessing," Isabel said. "In the meantime, we'd probably better be getting back."

"Sure, in a minute," Liz said. "Alex, I love you, and I miss you."

"Liz Parker, fishing for pretty words from me... who'd have ever thought of it," Alex drawled, and Liz laughed. "You know I love you too, and I'm so grateful to you that you started this quest for me. Really glad that you can hear me, with Isabel's help, and I suspect that we'll be doing this again pretty soon."

Liz smiled, waved bye, and Isabel took her hand away and they filed back out into the hallway.

-----------


"Yeah, I've made up my mind," Maria agreed. The four of them, now officially all co-conspirators, were walking together in the park. Anyone who happened to be watching would just have seen a knot of teenagers, one guy and three girls, killing time and chatting about something or other. "If there's anything I can do to help, just ask." She took a deep breath.

"Excellent," Isabel told her. "How much Swedish do you remember? Alex mentioned that he'd taught you some."

Maria blinked. "Not enough to do anything really useful with... like calling Sweden and talking with native speakers. At my best, I could understand a dozen simple phrases, and speak most of them with a horrible American accent."

"That... that's a better base to build on than any of the rest of us have, Maria," Liz pointed out. "We can help you drill, and figure out if there's any way to correct the worst of your accent. You shouldn't need to learn that many new phrases for what we have in mind."

Maria sighed. "I... I'll try, for Alex's sake. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as you guys think."

"'Do, or do not. -- There is no *try*.'" Michael remarked, and Maria shot him a black look.

"I'll have to throw that back at you the next time you say you'll try to remember an important day... you realize that, right." Michael frowned.

"Okay, okay, we need to learn not even getting started with the sniping," Liz reminded the couple of her friends. "Were there any other leads to follow that I've forgotten about?"

"No, I don't think so," Michael said. "We can start calling any numbers you found in the guidance office that AREN'T Swedish numbers... if they and the Swedish stuff don't give us any new places to look, then I think it'll be time to go to Max."

"Yeah..." Liz sighed. "Yeah, I'm not exactly looking forward to that part, but I think you're right."

"Oh, there's something else I should tell the two of you," Isabel said. "Something that Alex mentioned once about reprogramming the school telephones... that might explain how the Education Department check was faked." She proceeded to tell Michael and Maria the gist of what Alex had told her and Liz, changing the details around enough that they wouldn't be suspicious of the ghost connection.

"Yeah... yeah that actually fits," Maria whispered. "I -- I don't know if Alex was involved in this, but around a month and a half ago, not long after we got back from Vegas... well, just after Vice-principal Martin retired, someone rigged up the phone in Mister Wyatt's classroom so that it redirected Wyatt's home number to Martin's. So when Mister Wyatt called home in the middle of the day to talk to his wife..." Maria couldn't finish the story, but it didn't take much imagination to work out the rest. Michael grunted appreciation for the prank, and Isabel shook her head, hoping that Alex hadn't actually been involved.

Liz, for her own part, was still all business. "You're right Maria - that's the kind of technique that would be required... so we know that it's possible, and if Alex told Isabel that he knew how, I'd tend to believe that."

"Any chance that we could find a trace of tampering in the system from that long ago?" Michael asked, and Liz shared a glance with Isabel, having both missed that possibility themselves.

"Umm, uhh, not sure, no. We'll have to find some way to find out, though," Isabel agreed. "Ohh... how did the yearbook meeting go?"

"Pretty well," Maria said.

"Yeah, and a good thing to, if you don't mind my saying so," Liz muttered. "Not that... well, putting something in print is all well and good... but right now, the tribute to Alex that I'm most focused on is sorting out this mystery." Michael nodded.

"Okay, well, let's head over to my place this time," Isabel suggested. "Got a private line, and I usually pick up the phone bill and tell Max if he owes me anything, so there won't be anyone to ask awkward questions about a lot of calls to distant places, like Upsalla."

"Good thinking," Maria agreed softly.

----------

After finishing a short sentence in Swedish, she hung up the phone. "It's a little hard to tell for sure, but I'm *pretty* certain I was getting my message across and understanding what they replied, at least on a basic level. It's a grocery store, and they've never heard of the American Students Abroad foundation."

Isabel caught the eye of an invisible boy, trying to make it look as if she was just staring off into the emty middle distance, and he nodded silently. "Okay, then that's it... four Swedish numbers, and as far as we can tell, they're all fake. Alex's host family, the ASA headquarters in Stockholm, the local representative in Upsalla, and... and the number that Alex had in his address book for Leanna." She sighed. "Umm, how are you guys doing?"

"Pretty well, but we've got a few calls yet," Michael replied from across Isabel's bedroom. "We'll take the land line if you're done with it... the reception on my cell isn't great here."

"Okay," Isabel agreed, wondering just how she'd be able to pay off the phone bill this month. Well, at least all the calls to Sweden had been fairly close. Moving away from the dresser and the telephone, Isabel noticed that Maria seemed incredibly weary and depressed. "Wanna head downstairs and make some milkshakes or something? We'll need to stop talking about you-know-what, just in case."

"Yeah, that sounds great," Maria admitted with a relieved smile, and Maria wondered whether it was the idea of milkshakes or of avoiding talking about the investigation that made her happier. They waved to Liz and Michael on the way out, and Maria lost no time in starting to chatter about things that she hoped to do once the summer holiday started, which was good since Isabel wouldn't have been able to think of a topic herself.

"Where *is* Max, anyway?" Maria asked, once she had taken a sip of raspberry mango shake out of a tall wide glass, and Isabel had already rinsed out the blender tumbler, put in skim milk and banana burst ice cream, and was looking for the chocolate syrup. "I haven't seen him around anywhere much lately, except for school."

"I think he's been spending a lot of time with Tess," Isabel whispered distastefully, and Maria made an upset face. "Actually, in a weird way, I'm almost glad that she's been keeping him out of the way enough that he hasn't noticed just about anything we're doing... but something still seems ver fishy about those two hooking up."

"Ehh, whatever," Maria muttered, and apparently decided that she wasn't going to spend any more time and energy even thinking about Tess. "Do you think that maybe we could all take off somewhere on vacation, if only for a little while? Kinda like Vegas -- I mean, Vegas was fun, right??" And then Maria must have realized that one of their number from Vegas wouldn't be making it to another vacation; her face fell into a sad pout that would almost have been comically intense, if it hadn't been so sincere.

"Maybe... it'd be nice to get away from Roswell for a bit," Isabel said softly. And they didn't say much of anything else before the milkshakes were finished, and the two girls slowly climbed back up the stairs. Isabel and Liz nearly bumped into each other at the bedroom door - Liz had been about to go fetch them.

"So, does this mean that you have news?" Isabel asked, heading in. Maria followed and closed the door behind her. Michael was sitting down in her armchair, Liz perched on the edge of the desk, and Isabel and Maria both sat down on the bed.

"Yeah. Pretty much what we expected... some of the numbers are fakes, others seem to be out of service. The first number we tried, the Santa Fe ASA office... well, someone picked up," Michael explained, "but... well, nobody answered. I said hello twice, got no reply other than the little hiss of a live connection, and someone kinda fidgeting on the other end. Thought I might have been imagining that last part."

"Hmm... it kind of fits, though," Liz replied. "That would have been the number that Ms Gray-White would have used to make a lot of the arrangements, right?" Isabel nodded. "So the killer rerouted it to her own phone or something. Which..."

"Which means," Maria finished, "that she might guess that someone's on her trail!"

"Uh-oh," Michael muttered. "I didn't quite think of it that way... but you may be right. Which makes it all the more important that we tell Max and Tess, circle the wagons and all that. He might not be happy that we've tipped our hand, but he can't doubt that there was something worth investigating now."

"Yeah," Isabel agreed. "Do you think he's over at Valenti's?"

"One way to tell," Michael said, picking up the phone and quickly dialing. "Fearless leader? Yellow alert. You over at Tess' place?" There was a short pause. "Yeah, stay there and we'll come to you. Your new honey needs to hear about this too." A slightly longer silence from Michael. "Well, wait until we've told you our side, and then you can start throwing a royal hissy." He hung up. "Okay, let's roll."

"What... what do we really say to him?" Liz asked as they hurried out to the Jetta. "How... how should I start? It's my place... I'm the one who started this whole thing, after all."

"Considering what you said at the wake... maybe it'd be better for Izzy and I to take the lead," Michael suggested. "He might still have his mind made up about you, which is never good for really listening. But I think between the two of us, we can get through to him pretty well." He smirked. "He knows that something important is up whenever we agree on something."

"Oh- okay I guess," Liz mumbled.

"As far as what we say, I don't think I have any more idea than you," Isabel admitted. "Just wing it and hope for the best??"

Things were quiet on the fairly short drive west along second street, and then up into the north of Roswell. Something was nagging at Isabel, but she wasn't quite sure what. Soon Maria had parked outside Jim Valenti's house, and the sleuthing squad piled back out and Michael led the way up to the front door.

"Uh... hey, what's up?" Jim Valenti asked as Michael swept in, Isabel not far behind him. "What... what's up??"

Michael didn't pay any attention to the ex-sheriff, not minding that he was there and might overhear whatever they discussed, (that had come in handy before,) but also not making a point of stopping and explaining anything to him. Tess was sitting on the living room couch, and Max had apparently just stood up. "Okay, Max. We've gone behind your back and helped Liz to investigate Alex's death, and found out some very interesting things."

"Yeah, and that's not even half of it," Max replied, just as quickly. "Now, hold your horses - I'm not gonna 'throw a royal hissy,' but there's something that you should probably hear before going into all of the details - it could save us all an awful lot of time." He stepped back and nodded to Tess. "Tess, *tell them.* Tell them just what you told me when you found out that they were coming."

"Do... do I have to?" Tess asked softly. Maria and Liz shared an incredulous look as Tess shook her head. "Strike... strike that, I KNOW I have to. Just give me a second." She gritted her teeth for a moment as if anticipating a painful needle or some other medical intervention, then got unsteadily to her feet, brushing away Max's half-hearted attempts at support, to look directly at the four newcomers... and Jim.

"I... I was, well, I was responsible for Alex's death. And I tried to hide it from all of you, because I was afraid. I'm... I'm so sorry for everything that I probably can never convince all of you how much... I..." She broke off, overcome with some kind of emotion that couldn't be immediately identified.

There was about two seconds of silence, which was broken by a furious roar in unison from Isabel and Liz. "IT WAS **YOU**??"


TO BE CONTINUED.
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Thu Jun 22, 2006 8:05 am

Part Six

"Don't hurt me!" Tess yelped, jumping back and partially behind Max, as if she expected that to shield her from Isabel's wrath... among that of some other people. "Not... not until I have a chance to tell you my side of the story, that is."

"Your side of the story," Michael growled, an expression crossing his face that had spelled enormously bad news for... well, for Daniel Pierce, the jellyfish Gandarium queen, several dozen rocks, a special unit van, Kyle's school locker, Frankie Wilson's love life, Nicholas Crawford's pride, and several of the alien Copper Summit skins. "Yeah, right. Let's see... You forced Alex to lie to all of us and go to Las Cruces when we thought he was in Sweden... and I just bet that that's why he died too, right?? He was going to tell us what you'd been up to, and you didn't want that?"

"Umm... all true, as f-- ff- far as it goes," Tess managed to choke out. "But I *didn't* want to kill him... especially since the whole thing is coming out anyway. It... I'm ashamed of what I did... I was cruel and heartless... but I WASN'T trying to kill him. I thought that I could keep his memories supressed for a bit longer... but it went horribly wrong."

"Maybe we'd all better calm down a little bit," Max muttered... and when Liz looked at him, she realized that he was icily calm himself... absolutely not pleased, but composed in the midst of the angst and chaos. For the first time since she'd known him, Liz could actually picture Max, for just an instant, as the King of a world... a righteous and indignant king ready to pass judgement... once all the facts had been presented into evidence for him.

"Alright," Liz said softly, and Maria turned to glare at her in surprise. "Who should go first?"

"I think that Tess can tell her story first," Max said. "Then the rest of you can present the results of your investigation, and we'll sort out any discrepancies between the two tales." For a second Liz was angry that Max was letting Tess go first... but then she realized that he was actually trying to put her on the spot. If Tess had a chance to hear their report first, she would have a better chance to falsify her own story and have it match up, twisting the facts to put herself in the clear. As long as she didn't know for sure what they'd figured out already... it would be harder for her to play games with the truth.

Tess looked almost ready to break down into tears, but Max's gaze would not allow her to put off the reckoning in that fashion. "Okay, umm." She collapsed back down onto the couch. "I guess I should start at the beginning, which... which in a way, was back before I met all of you. Stuff that Ed... that Nasedo, told me before we came to Roswell. I never... never wanted to hide anything from you, but he told -- told me I had to be careful about how much information I gave away, because information can be power, and if you want to be happy, sometimes you need to have power -- even over the people who are closest to you."

"Yeah, that actually makes a lot of things clear," Liz hissed. "Nice to know how you really feel about us at last."

"Come on, Liz," Kyle said, and she whirled around, not having seen him come into the room. "I mean... whatever happened to Alex was a tragedy --" He shot a somewhat angry look at Tess. "And if Tess did something wrong, she should have to answer for it. But, in all fairness... the way that Ed raised her is NOT HER FAULT, and the sob story about a horrible childhood might not be entirely out of place this time as context circumstances." He sighed. "After all, let's face it, it's not like Nasedo had an exclusive on a selfish and manipulative point of view. Plenty of 'homo sapiens' grow up that way too." And the glance that he shot at Tess now had an edge of pity in it.

"Alright, but pick up the pace here," Isabel insisted. "I'm not in the mood for a *lot* of emotional state background. What's the deal?" After a second, she thought of a question that might help move things along. "What was it you thought you needed to be happy, Tess? To get your hooks into Max?"

"And what did that have to do with Alex and a university in Las Cruces??" Michael demanded of her.

"It... it wasn't like that," Tess admitted. "Erm - quite." She sighed.

"Then what WAS it like?" Max asked, a hard smile on his face. "I'm very curious now."

"When things really started... was after we got back from New York," Tess continued. "I... I felt close to you after we'd been through all of that together... especially after you saved me from Lonnie and Rath, and we... we had to find a way home on our own." Now she was crying, a bit, and fighting to hold back the tears long enough to finish the story. "I... I thought that you'd come around eventually... and I was worried that I might not be able to keep you for long." Max and Liz traded a meaningful look. "Yeah... exactly that. You and Liz had this connection that I could never entirely count out."

"That's where this selfishness thing comes in?" Maria told her snidely. "Did you never think of just... leaving Max alone? Letting him and Liz work it out without you butting you slutty little ass in every six seconds?"

"Yeah, right," Tess shot back. "You're one to talk. What about Courtney, back last year... if you thought that she and Michael could really have done good together, it would've just made you fight for him harder. Love isn't selfless." She sighed. "I know none of you want to believe that what I feel for Max is love, but..."

"We're getting sidetracked again," Isabel insisted. "So you thought you might not be able to keep Max for long. Where did that lead you?"

"I... I wanted to have a little ace up my sleeve," Tess admitted softly. "So that... so that if I could get Max to trust me, to really like me and... and all that, I could whisk him away from Liz forever and we could start over." She sighed. "And to do that... I needed to have control over the instructions for how to go home."

"Right... 'whisk me away' to another planet," Max repeated, his voice starting to get cold as he stared at Tess. "Take me away from Liz and my human friends, and thus declare Destiny by default. What if I didn't want to go, Tess? Would you have respected and trusted MY decisions... or would you have betrayed my trust and tried to find some way to fool me into it? Fabricated some kind of emergency that meant that we had to go back to the home planet, wherever that was, RIGHT AWAY?" Tess was sobbing before his calm soliloquy, unable to even speak during the long pause that he left. "I... if you were this kind of person back home, I don't know how I could EVER have fallen in love with you. You're some wretched, pitiful excuse for a sentient life-form."

"Cut her a break, Maxwell," Michael muttered sarcastically. "Maybe none of us had to grow up so fast, back there, and didn't have friends who we could really trust and count on. You wouldn't be the first guy to fall in love with a pretty superficial appearance and not care too much about the character of the person inside." Max gave him a slightly withering sidelong look, but didn't argue the point.

"I... I was weak, and I didn't see..." Tess started, then began to get choked up a bit and started again. "To be able to get us back home, I needed to understand the Destiny book. I tried everything that I could think of, but nobody who could read our alien language was somebody who I thought I could trust with the knowledge. Then I found out about these... these experimental computers down at Las Cruces, that can break codes and transcribe languages. I thought that the computer could translate the book, and the only person I knew who might be able to use a computer that complicated... was Alex. So I convinced him to go along with the plan."

"You used your powers on his brain," Liz spat. "You turned him into some kind of a sick, twisted little puppet. Yeah, that's really VERY convincing!"

"I did *not*." Tess insisted. "Or, at least... not at first. Though... I suppose what I did wasn't entirely admirable either. I just talked to him, and convinced him that Isabel needed that information... that she needed to know about her true homeland, even if she was scared of what she might find there. I persuaded him, the human way, to help me arrange the cover, the trip to Sweden, and got him to agree not to tell any of you about what we were really doing, by saying that you'd get scared and try to make us stop."

-----------

Isabel looked up, over the sofa, and caught Alex's eye. He'd been there the whole time, his expression looking a lot more sympathetic to Tess than Isabel herself felt... and also oddly curious about what she had to say for herself. *What do you think??* she sent to him, and Alex shrugged wordlessly. Presumably, he still didn't remember what happened before he came to Las Cruces, and so, if Tess herself was the only witness... everything she said still had to be listened to with a cynical ear. On the other hand, no matter how mad Isabel was with Tess at the moment, that didn't mean that she *couldn't* be telling the truth, either.

"Not at first," she prompted, not gently. "You *did* use your powers on Alex, right? When he was ready to come home, to make sure that he wouldn't spill the secret then?"

"No, actually, it... it started before that," Tess managed to choke out through tears. "He, he was having problems getting the translator to work, and I offered to boost his brain power. Try to make everything run at a higher efficiency, to let him tap more directly into the power of his subconscious mind. He agreed... and it worked, but he hated the sensation and didn't want to go through it again. I... I was--"

"I remember this!" Alex exclaimed. "She wanted to do it to me again, because time was running low and she'd already had to extend my 'trip to Sweden' once. We got into a huge argument about it. I... I threatened to tell you guys exactly what Tess had been planning -- you, Isabel, and Max and Michael and Liz and anybody else who knew about the alien stuff. She... I think that was the first time she used her powers on me without my permission... to keep me in line, AND to turbocharge my noggin again. I... I was still aware of what was going on on some level, and I hated it, but I couldn't stop her."

Isabel sent a *wait a minute* thought to Alex, and listened as Tess continued her own narration, which was longer, and had a lot more excuses in it, and came from a slightly different point of view of course, but seemed to match up with what Alex had said in all of the concrete details. "Then once I had the translation ready, Tess finished up these slides and all the rest of the evidence we had worked on together, to make sure that all of you believed I really had been in Sweden. By this point I realized that it had never made a huge amount of sense, fooling you guys once we already had the translation... but she was... well, Tess was a little mean to me, now that she didn't need me anymore, and laughed at how it didn't matter what I tried to do, I couldn't stop her plans." Even this, Tess confirmed. "Once I was back in Roswell, most of the time she had my false memories so well in place that I didn't notice anything wrong... once before they slipped and Tess... she must've put in some kind of post-control suggestion, that if my true memories started to return I should find her, and confront her, and then she'd have a chance to re-apply the mindwarp. But that night after the Thai food delivery guy showed up... I guess something must've gone wrong with the mindwarp... the parts of my brain that she was used to working with were too strained, and when it wasn't working as usual Tess tried warping even harder, desperate to make the cover-up fit. She probably blew something up in my brain by accident." He looked at Isabel. "I... I know that Tess isn't going to win any Miss Congeniality prize after this, but she DIDN'T mean to kill me... at least, I don't think so."

*No,* Isabel sent to him bitterly. *She just wanted her cozy little happily ever after with Max so badly that she didn't care about repeatedly brutalizing your mind... or deceiving all of us. She may not be a murderer, but.... but Michael's killed, and so have I -- in battle, or self-defense. What she did is MUCH worse.*

There was a long silent moment when Tess had finished her tale. "So... so what did you plan, after this?" Max asked. "To do with the instructions?"

"I... I'm not sure," she admitted. "Was kind of playing it by ear, but if I'm going to be very honest about the way I thought things were most likely to work out... I would seduce you, choosing a time of the month when I'd be most likely to conceive, and keep you from using protection. After about a week, I'd convince you that there was something going wrong with the baby, that I had to go home if he were to be safely born. We'd blast off in the Granilith... all four of us, ideally, and meet with the enemies of Kivar on the homeworld... the people who still believe that you're King and I'm Queen. Beyond that, I really wasn't sure what to expect."

"Do... do we really need to go over all of our investigation stuff now?" Maria asked dully. "It... it kinduv seems beyond the point. I think that Tess is being relatively honest... and there's nothing we've found out that catches her in a lie. Much as it might make me feel better to think of her as a cold hearted killer... and a traitor who'd be willing to sell you out to Kivar, Max, as far as that goes... I can't really make any of it stick, and it doesn't matter. What she's confessed to openly is horrible enough."

"Yeah, it is," Max muttered. "There's a part of me that wants to see you dead just for the reckless disregard of Alex's life it took to do what you did to him, Tess... but I don't have the luxury of handing out a sentence like that. Even if you just mysteriously disappeared, it would raise too many questions." He sighed. "You'll pay for what you've done, but I'm not sure how, yet. We may have to spend some time working it out."

"You realize that if you try to escape, hurt anybody else, expose us, ANYTHING like that... then I *will* see you dead, right?" Michael asked Tess, and after a second she nodded.

"There... there's one thing I don't understand," Tess said in a small voice. "How... how did you find out so much about what I'd been up to - so quickly? It seems almost like you had a hidden source of information, leaking my plans to you... but I'm the only one left who knew, and I don't think you got into my head."

Liz turned to Isabel, and nodded slightly. Isabel smiled... somehow, this felt like the right moment to drop the bombshell. "No, Tessie. You're not the only one left... just the only one left alive." She took a deep breath. "Alex... Alex may be dead, but I swear to you all, he's still here. I'm not sure if he's standing behind the couch, or maybe he's in my head and I just *see* him there behind the couch, but it's definitely really Alex." She sighed. "I told Liz, she's satisfied that it's really Alex. They... they wanted to tell you too, maria, but... but I wasn't sure about letting anyone else in on the secret until we knew how he'd died."

"He's... he's here?" Maria squeaked. "Like... like a ghost or something?"

----------

For a few minutes, there was so much confusion that nobody, afterwards, could keep track of who said what or did what. Fortunately, none of it turned out to be important, because in the chaos everything important was repeated later. There still weren't many seats that could be drawn up around the Valenti dining room table, and people were tired of crowding around and standing in the living room, so they ended up taking a walk. Jim locked the front door once everyone had come out, and nearly everybody made a point of surrounding Tess well enough that she had no chance to make a break for it.

"It... it started the morning after he died," Isabel said, sighing. "I dreamed about Alex. Didn't realize that it was anything other than grief and denial working their way through my subconscious, after I woke up. And then again, the evening before the funeral. Then, after we had that big argument after the wake, I slipped up to the cemetary... and Alex was there. That's when I started to realize it was seriously some part of him that hadn't died, that I was still connected with." She briefly outlined the rest of her interactions with Alex over the past few days, leaving out the racy parts of the last dream that they'd shared."

"Isabel..." Tess said softly. "I have some questions that I want to ask you, questions that might be uncomfortable. Please believe me when I say that I'm asking out of sincere desire to help you... and maybe even to help Alex. The things that you've described sound vaguely familiar."

"Sure they do," Liz said softly. "They match up with Max's christmas haunting, pretty much... except that Alex hasn't gone away... and hopefully he won't."

"More than that," Tess insisted. "Isabel... actually, maybe I should ask you this under slightly more private conditions."

"No dice," Isabel growled. It probably wasn't an escape tactic, but she didn't feel like indulging Tess' wishes anyway. "The only person here who I'd want to be keeping secrets from is YOU."

"Alright," Tess shot right back. "Did... did you and Alex make love, probably not long before he died??"

Isabel's face paled in shock. She had... had nearly forgotten that, or wondered if it had been something she'd made up to console herself about losing Alex... out of reflex she looked for Alex, and saw him nodding at her, somewhat embarassed himself. "Yeah... yeah we did."

Michael's eyes bugged out. "You *did it*??" Then he got a thinking look on his face, as if replaying the last several days of Alex's life. "Ohhh... prom night?"

"Umm... no, actually not quite," Isabel admitted, the memories starting to roll over her...

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Come on, come on," Isabel whispered intently as they climbed the stairs of her parent's house, side by side. Neither of them said a word as she directed them both through the doorway into her room, and kissed him hotly on the lips. It was with considerable satisfaction, after the kiss was done, that Isabel saw a wide, contented smile spread across Alex's face.

Determined to push the situation at least as far as it could go, Isabel moved her hands around behind her back, and waved them quickly. In only a few seconds, her elegant red dress was a small pile of silky fabric puddled around her heels, ankles, and lower calves. All that she'd been wearing underneath was a red strapless demibra that showed off nearly an acre of smooth, rounded cleavage, and tiny little thong panties... all in red to match her dress. (The bra wasn't a push-up, but then Isabel didn't really need any help in that department.) She caught Alex's eyes with her own again and read several different reactions in his face... lustful desire, nervousness, surprise, muted admiration... and a very determined kind of chivalry.

"Okay, first off, I simply have to say the line," Alex quipped. "'Why, Miss Evans! You're trying to seduce me!!'" Isabel laughed softly at that, and then decided to give the laughter a little more free rein to express itself, guessing the impressive effect it would have on her bosom in this pose. "Yes... well, actually I *am* seducing you." She beckoned Alex close, doubting if he would have the nerve to contradict her. Certainly he didn't at first, and Isabel wrapped her arms around him, pressing her nearly-naked body against his formal tux, kissing him passionately again, and bringing one hand down to just below his waist in a three-pronged tactic. Alex groaned loudly into her mouth, but Isabel was attuned to his reactions well enough to tell that it wasn't a moan of passion and pleasure, but of frustration... distress that she was making it so difficult for him to do what he would inevitably have to do - to walk away from her tonight without indulging their mutual passion.

As soon as she realized that the core of Alex's resolve was essentially untouched, Isabel instantly kicked her captivating charms up another notch. Free of heart and shameless, she stepped back from Alex only long enough to do what she needed to do, tearing her hair free from the upswept knot that she had tied it in so that it would fall loose and wildly to her shoulders, (which should be a very sexy look,) and unhooked her bra the old-fashioned way, pulling apart the clasps behind her with her fingers. She saw Alex's eyes go wide as her nipples came uncovered into full view, and wondered if she had snared him for the night. "Alex... please -- make love to me. Let me make all your fantasies come true, and I will NEVER go on to 'the next thing,' I promise you that much. I've made up my mind - I only want you, me and you together for always, and no matter what our lives might hold, they can't stop you and me from being together forever."

"Isabel," Alex said, his voice slightly sad, and he stepped forward to kiss her on the lips - a chaste and innocent kiss, despite the fact that she wasn't wearing anything but a thong, little stud earrings, and high heels. "I would love for all of that to happen. But... but it won't start tonight."

And with that, he stepped away, hesitated forlornly, and turned to walk out of her room, walking a bit awkwardly because of the stiff bulge in his tuxedo pants. What was most amazing of all was that Isabel wasn't upset or angry that her plans had come to nothing. Somehow, she loved Alex the more for the choice that he had made.

----------

There was a knock on the side door in the corner of the Evans' kitchen.

Isabel got up from the table, where she'd been sitting and reading a big fat historical-drama novel, and went to see who it was. Alex was standing there, looking a little nervous.

"Oh, hey Alex..." She smiled warmly at him, remembering their prom date the night before. "What's up?"

"What's up?" he asked, as if surprised that she had been able to ask that with a straight face. "What's up is that I got your email."

"My eem..." At first, she hadn't even remembered what he'd been talking about, and then suddenly it hit her. When she first woke up in the morning, feeling still awash in the feelings of the night before and a little disappointed that Alex hadn't stayed over to have hot prom-night sex with her, she'd gone over to the computer and composed a very dirty message to him, full of all kinds of very inventive descriptions of ideas for the things she wished that they'd done, or that she wondered if HE wished that they'd done, as well as things that they could do in the future. (Even now, she wasn't quite sure what, if anything, constituted the dividing line between hypothetical sex acts-past and hypothetical sex acts-future.) She'd added a bunch of stuff that really meant nothing at all except that she thought it would get him riled up, and suggested that they could get together this afternoon when nobody else was likely to be at her house... and she hadn't sent it. That was, she had thought that she hadn't sent it, that she'd considered the pros and cons somewhat foggily and pressed the 'cancel' button. Or maybe that she'd used some option to save a copy of it but not send it to the recipient. The fact that Alex knew about it, though, suggested that it had INDEED made its way through the net. Isabel just hoped that she hadn't accidentally sent a copy to everyone in town, the way such unlikely accidents always seemed to strike on teenage-cast TV shows.

"Oh, boy." There was an awkward moment. "Well, won't you come in?"

Alex came in. Alex had a glass of grape drink, (30% real grape juice, also with apple juice and pear juice for some reason,) and seemed genuinely amused by the story that Isabel told of how she hadn't actually meant to send out that email. "Okay, whoops. I guess I hadn't even thought of that possibility."

"Well, I don't suppose anyone usually does," Isabel admitted. "When you get an email, it looks like a purposeful communication... whoever wrote it took the time to write it out, after all. It'd be frankly weird if you looked at any given email and wondered, 'maybe they didn't really mean to send this out.'"

"Unless it's kind of hurtful or seems more than usually hurtful," Alex put in. "In which case I've been known to wonder."

"Well, I guess you think the best of people as a matter of habit," Isabel told him with a smile. She sipped from her own drink, a diet caffeine-free cola, and cocked her head slightly at Alex. "So, given that you thought I really meant the stuff in that email... exactly what did you come over to say? Were you going to tell me off for taunting you... or had you actually come for the booty call?" Alex blushed fiercely. "Does a blush mean 'booty'??"

"Okay, okay, yes," Alex groaned. "I'm... I'm not especially proud of myself, but I'm still kind of mentally and emotionally pent-up from last night, and when I thought that you were fairly clearheaded when making those offers - yes, I was going to take you up on a few of them, or at least call on them and find out if you were bluffing or not."

"Hmm." Isabel thought for a second. "Well, I won't deny that I was a little sleep-foggy when I sent the email out... and I did decide against sending it, mostly because I thought it would be a bit cruel to tease you like that, and because I really didn't want your parents or somebody else to stumble onto that email accidentally." Big deep breath. "On the other hand... the basic intent of the message, the stuff that I proposed last night -- I still mean and stand by all of that, Alex. If you want me, I'm yours, and if you're mine for the taking, I am TAKING." Alex's mouth dropped open. "Take a moment to collect yourself and come up with a final answer."

Alex tried several times to lift his lower jaw, and finally succeeded on the fourth attempt. "You... you are some kind of, well, a stubborn, persistent... and extremely sexy girl, Isabel Evans." She laughed. "So, what... do we just go up to your room and get bizzay with it?"

Isabel smiled her calmest smile. "Umm... if you like. I think I have some music already in my CD player that should help set the mood." And she sat there, guessing that what Alex had said was not an answer but just a point of information.

"Umm..." He swallowed hard. "I... I want you, Isabel. I won't lie about it. But... but I have to admit I'm not sure if I have confidence in forever and all that stuff. So... so if we do it, I..."

"Alright, so let's see." Isabel put out her hand to playfully tick off points on her fingers. "You want us to sleep together. You want me to say that we're not going to be a couple afterwards until you say we are. And you want me to think this is a great idea?"

"Errm... well, when you put it that way, maybe I should just go," Alex mumbled.

"No, no... it's okay," Izzie reached out her hand to lightly hold Alex's arm. "Sorry, I just couldn't resist giving you a hard time about that one. But... but I don't think I have a problem with that, if you don't. I love you, Alex, and I want you, and obviously those things are connected, but I don't think I'm insisting that their fufillment has to come at the same time, or in a particular order." She sighed. "I... I think I would like to ask you for a date... a chance for us to spend more time together, and maybe convince you how sincere I am that I'm not going anywhere this time."

Alex smiled. "And is that a condition of the booty call?" he asked, smiling widely and using that same teasing tone that Isabel had used to give him a hard time.

"Umm... no."

"Well, it doesn't matter at all... I'd love to take you out sometime." He stood up, and pulled her to her feet. "And now... let's go up to your room."

They hurried up, Alex suggested not to bother with the music at all, and Isabel sat down next to him on the bed. She kissed him hotly on the lips, and Alex went to wrap his arms around her shoulders, but with a little motion of her own hands and a kind of an 'mm-mm' sound through the kiss, Isabel stopped him. "Umm... um, sorry, just..." she panted once her lips left his. "Just, if you did that, I wouldn'tve been able to do... this." And in one simple gesture, she untucked her shirt, a black tank top with thin spaghetti straps looping around her shoulders and a moderately deep scoop that showed off just a few hints of her chest and cleavage. Soon the little tube of black fabric was flying through the air and landing on her dresser-top, and Alex was once again blinking at Isabel's bra, (and probably remembering the night before when she had even taken it off.) They kissed again, and this time Isabel welcomed Alex's strong arms wrapping around her shoulders and pulling her in tight.

"That was... nice," Isabel whispered in Alex's ear a timeless moment later. "But I want you to take me further, and faster. I don't think you need to spend much time getting me warmed up."

She kind of expected Alex to blink or stare at her, but he didn't. For a moment, there wasn't much of an expression on his face beyond the calm look he'd had before she spoke. And then, a calm, confident smile began to spread across his face. He kissed her again, and there was something slightly different about the feel of his lips pressing against hers that made Isabel feel all fluttery in the pit of her stomach. He leaned forward, pushing her upper body back, and looped one hand around and underneath her thigh. Isabel was never quite sure of the sequence of movements involved, but a few seconds later she found herself lying down against the pillow, and Alex's lips were tracing their way down her chin and and onto her neck. He would move his face back an inch of two and blow on the smooth, damp skin that his lips and tongue had just left, making her shudder almost continuously with the vaguely tickling sensation.

Once Isabel could concentrate and act on a single thought, her action was to gently push Alex away from her head by cupping her hands around his shoulders... encouraging his head and his lips towards her chest. Alex laughed throatily when he realized what she was up to, and went along with her idea -- of course. He licked slowly along the bare upper curves of her mountains, driving Isabel crazy with anticipation again, and then zeroed in like a guided laser on her nipples, kissing them through the black silky fabric, massaging her buried peaks with his lips. Isabel bucked her torso involuntarily, which resulted in Alex getting accidentally smacked in the face with a set of large breasts - probably not an unpleasant experience, but slightly unsettling. Even though she felt a little embarassed, Izzie took the opportunity to reach quickly behind her back and make a familiar gesture. Alex didn't notice it and returned to massaging her boobs through the bra, but this time the fabric wouldn't stay in place, and so clearly they could both just do without it, and did so.

"I... I didn't think it would be like this," Alex said, bending down again to kiss one of her now-bare nipples, and then he sucked softly on the pale flesh near to it. "Not... not quite sure if I can explain in what way, umm..." He gave up on trying to talk - there were much better uses to put lips and tongue to now. While laving a path across and along Isabel's cleavage, Alex let one hand stray down to the waistband of her blue jeans, and then slowly across the curve of her pelvis, in towards the crotch of her legs, and tentatively rubbed the denim in that area. Isabel moaned so loudly that if her parents or Max had been home, they'd probably have had about ten seconds before getting caught in flagrante.

"As... as much fun as it is having you pay this kind of attention to my tits, Alex," she gasped out, "maybe this would be a good time to move on. Further down."

"Goin' down," Alex repeated, and so he did, kissing his way across her slender, ever-so-gently-rounded belly. At the same time, nimble fingers worked at the snap and zipper of her jeans, and once he had gotten them unfastened, he backed his head away slightly so that Iz could lift her butt off the bed, allowing him to pull the pants away from her. When he did, he got a surprise that nearly made him fall off the bed and crack his noggin on the expensive hardwood flooring - Isabel had gotten dressed that morning 'commando.' "Uhh... wow. Does this have anything to do with why you were so horny when I showed up?"

Isabel giggled. "Maybe I did it because I was feeling horny when I got dressed - does that make any sense?"

"Umm, I'm not sure," Alex admitted, and he reached forward to stroke and lightly scratch her enticing thighs. Isabel, not completely naked except for some tiny white ankle socks, stretched out her arms and babbled out a string of nonsense syllables. Then Alex moved in towards her dripping crotch and began to run his fingers over her sensitive flesh there, carefully licking here and there.

She lay back and enjoyed it for a while, but soon started to wonder if either Alex was too inexperienced to get the job done this way, or if he was intentionally teasing her. Suddenly taking the initiative, she sat up, brushed her feet against Alex's legs to startle him out of what he was doing, and then jumped on him. As their lips touched again, Isabel was startled to have a flash hit her - herself and Alex, hand in hand, looking out over a wide lawn, concrete pathways and beautiful buildings - a private university campus, perhaps??

But the image faded quickly, leaving just the two of them on her bed again. Determined to keep the initiative, Isabel wasted no time in stripping her Alex down to his birthday suit and tormenting him about as deviously as he had her... stroking and poking his bare behind, teasing his nipples, and licking and swallowing his rock-hard member. Finally he was begging for mercy, and Isabel knew that it was time.

Protection was produced and applied with all due care, and Isabel lay back and waved Alex in on top of her. He lay on her carefully, keeping some of his weight on one of his hands resting on the mattress, but the contact between their bodies all the way from lips to feet was the more deliciously intense for the mass of him. Carefully, he oriented his rocket with her... would it be a landing bay, to fit with the alien metaphor?? Perhaps, though most rockets would not thrust in and out of the landing bay repeatedly with so much energy, back and forth, back and forth. His cock and her depths were the focus of that repetitive motion, the epicenter and the spot where it was felt most keenly, but the rest of her body was feeling it too... his legs sliding against hers, her nipples feeling nearly pointy enough to scratch the skin off of his chest, but she somehow knew that if they did even that would feel like ecstasy to him. His face was moving back and forth, back and forth above hers, so that at the furthest 'down' part of his stroke his lips were nearly a foot above her neck, past her chin, and then they would be close enough that he could bend down only just slightly and kiss her nose.

And still he thrust in and thrust out. Clasping her arm with his free hand, Alex let his rocket explosively eject its payload... and Isabel's passionate depths exploded as well, fracturing and overloading with euphoria.

She was never quite sure of what happened immediately afterwards... it seemed like the peak of release was sufficiently high as to drop them into dark depths of confused satisfaction afterwards. She remembered laying in his arms, and thinking that she was still wearing those stupid socks, being quite upset with that fact and angrily pulling the socks off with her toes and flinging them away. And then, there was the slightly embarassng moment when they were both more coherent, and neither really knew what to say or how. Isabel wanted so badly to profess undying love for Alex and fish for a reply in kind, but she'd pretty much agreed not to put him on the spot like that, before they began. For his own part, Alex seemed to be straining for anything that he could do to make her feel at ease, short of volunteering a commitment like that... he complimented her on the decoration of her room and on the clean clothes that she put on, and asked if there was anything he could get her from downstairs, and so on. Eventually she was feeling so awkward at all of his little solicitations that she suggested it might be easier on them both if he just left. She could see the slightly disappointed look on his face, but he kissed her hand and left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Iz?" Liz's voice and hand on her shoulder were trying to rouse Isabel from her oddly trancelike state.

"Uh, yeah. I... I tried to seduce him after the prom," Isabel recapped, "but he resisted my advances, actually. I think that because it was such a romantic night, he wasn't going to take advantage of the moment and not know if we'd feel the same way the morning after." She paused for a moment. "But we ended up doing it the next day."

"Wow, and he never even let a hint slip, I think," Maria breathed in surprise. "Way to play it cool, bass-man."

"Thanks," Alex muttered idly, almost as if he'd forgotten that Maria couldn't hear what he said.

"Does... does that relate to the fact that I can still see him?" Isabel asked Tess. "That we... that we joined like that - three times, actually, between prom and the day he died."

"I... I think it does," Tess said slowly. "Because you're part alien, the two of you would have been connected very strongly in the wake of the mating instinct." Isabel nodded a confirmation. "That might have enabled part or even a majority of Alex's essence... his mind, his soul, his spirit, to revert to you and shelter itself inside you, when his own body died. Did... did you feel anything odd at the time that he passed away... which would have been about nine or ten minutes after eight, I guess."

Isabel thought about that, casting her mind back to that night at the Crashdown. "Umm... you know, actually yeah."

"A... a premonition of some sort?" Liz asked. "A sensation that something had gone wrong?"

"Actually... exactly the opposite," Isabel said. "It was more like a moment of feeling... feeling especially loved and especially lucky... that everything was right in my world. I thought about Alex, and what had happened between us... and even though I knew that he was trying to play a little hard to get with me that day, and that you two girls were coaching him on being strong... I felt that everything would be all right." She sighed. "As you might imagine, getting the news from Valenti that... about what had happened, the car accident, drove that happy moment entirely out of my head... until just now."

"Well... I don't know too much here and am trying to not entirely talk out of my ass, but that seems to fit," Tess continued. "There wouldn't be a conscious suggestion of trauma... maybe not even a subconscious one. You loved Alex, and you felt his soul flowing into your heart and touching your own." Her voice was a little bitterly wistful. "I imagine that *I'd* have enjoyed the same situation about as much... not that I'd want to see you dead, Max... or that you'd come to ME even if you were." She shook her head, clearing away the slight sidetracking remark. "But... but if Alex is there with you, Isabel, I'm sorry to say that everything might NOT work out alright."

"What??" Liz and Isabel exclaimed at the same time again. "Explain that more," Liz growled. "And if you're trying to trick us again...."

"No, I'm not, I swear I'm not," Tess bawled. "It's... there's stuff about this kind of thing in some secret papers that Ed gave me before he died. There's a huge trove of information there about alien powers and their implications. Bottom line... one body isn't meant to host two spirits at the same time... and can't handle it for long periods without... without carefully re-balancing the two souls who are inhabiting that body, in such a way that they can take turns. Otherwise... Alex is probably going to burn out your mind even worse than what I did fried his." Isabel looked at Alex, and saw that he was just about as shocked and stricken as she felt. "I... I know that it has to be hard for you to hear this, Isabel... but it's true."

"Alright then," Liz barked out. "Options. We *have* to have some."

"Yeah," Maria mumbled. "Can we... umm, can we balance Alex and Isabel together or something?"

Tess didn't seem to be quite able to hide all of the smirk she felt. "Maybe... the fact that they're different species and different genders would create practical problems, and even if it worked, I'm not sure that either of them would be that happy with the arrangement."

"Because Alex would be... would be living his life inside Izzie's body?" Michael muttered, also snickering slightly, and Maria whumped him soundly on the arm.

"Yeah, that would probably be weird," Tess agreed. "And because... with the way these time-sharing deals work, they probably wouldn't be able to actually interact nearly as much as they do now, with Isabel being dominant and Alex partially supressed. They might be able to meet in dreams occasionally, or one of them hanging around mentally while the other is driving... but, well, to be honest, I don't think that's a good plan." She sighed. "I feel compelled to stress that the safest and simplest plan, is to wait a reasonably safe period of time, and then bleed Alex's essence back out of Isabel, letting his energy discharge."

"Killing him for real," Liz spat. "That's what it would amount to, isn't it? As if Isabel never even caught him at all." She sighed. "I... I don't think that that's an option. We... we have a chance to reverse the worst of this tragedy, and I don't want to give up on that."

"I... I'm not so sure," Alex said softly. "I've... I've had a chance to help you out a lot already, Isabel, and we can fit a lot of love into, oh, say six months. Maybe that's all the extra time I should be able to get."

"No," Izzie insisted, whirling on him, not caring how much her friends understood. "You said you'd stay with me FOREVER, Alex - you said forever!" Well, he'd sung it, and had shied away from promising that much to her in his own words, directly, but that didn't stop Isabel from clinging to the idea. "At the very least, we *have* to explore every other option."

"Yes, of course," Alex agreed, stepping towards her (and clipping Max's hand insubstantially as he did so,) to wrap his arms around her. "We weigh the risks and then come to our decision."

Isabel sighed. They might well get into an argument about how much of a risk to her was worthwhile to save Alex, but that could wait for later. "What else, Tess??"

"Umm... if you want to TRY the balancing act, then Alex's essence should be transferred out of Isabel and into a more suitable host. Umm... someone who understands about the alien stuff, as good a match as possible in species, gender, and age..." Everyone turned to stare at Kyle.

"So... I'd give up half of every day, say, or every other day, and Alex would 'drive' my body during those times??" Kyle blinked. "And... and using my body, he'd probably want to... to be with Isabel?" She paused a moment, and then nodded shyly. "I... I understand how much you want this, Isabel, but it's a huge decision to put on me... a really big sacrifice to ask me to make for the two of you."

"I... I understand," she told him. "Take the time if you need it, but I'd like to hear an answer as soon as you have one."

"No other alternatives?" Maria badgered Tess now. "Come on... there has to be some way to... to bring Alex back, in a body of his own. Something that wouldn't confuse the issue as badly as sharing with Kyle."

"I... I don't know," Tess whined, shrinking away slightly. "I want to help him, to reverse what I did if there's any possible way, but..."

"Wait a second," Michael said. "What... what's happened to Alex and Isabel, Tess, do you think there's any similarity between that and what happened to us - what happened to Zan and the royal four, I mean, back on Antar? Their essence was saved after they died, and they were brought back in the bodies of hybrid clones. Now... well, Alex has died, but Isabel managed to 'save' his essence."

"And so... we can probably save a sample of his DNA," Max breathed, seeing it. "We could clone him - entirely human, and put his essence back into the body!!"

"It... it might be possible," Tess agreed. "We'd need to work out a different cloning technique, to make the new Alex grow up to, umm, to physical maturity sooner than a natural baby would... otherwise things between him and our Isabel would be weird." She sighed. "And we don't even know the original cloning technique. But there's a worse problem than that, I think."

Liz shivered a bit. "What... what do you mean, Tess?"

"I... I think you know what I mean," Tess told her. "Out of the four of us, only... only one ended up in love with the person he or she had been in love with before dying. That's at best a twenty-five percent success rate. Isabel, do you really want to face the possibility of bringing Alex back to life... and finding out that he doesn't love you anymore???"

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Tue Jul 11, 2006 5:19 am

Part Seven

"Hey, Isabel." Izzie looked up to see Maria walking through the Valenti's back yard toward her. Nobody had gone home, or left the area at least... everybody was still far too excited, disturbed, angry, and pretty much every other emotion you could name. The last that Isabel knew, Max, Michael, and Liz were interrogating Tess in the bedroom about nearly anything they could think of that she might have important information about. To do her credit, Tess sincerely seemed to be co-operating as well as she could, no matter how badly the three of them treated her. She wasn't sure where Kyle and his father had gone to... probably having a quiet heart-to-heart chat in the garage or in Jim's room - or maybe they were each alone somewhere.

"How... how are you doing?" Isabel blinked for a few seconds straight, realizing that though she had looked at Maria, she hadn't said anything. She half-smiled a sad half-smile and patted the bench beside her, as if to signify 'plenty more space up for grabs here.' Maria sat down, and Isabel wrapped an arm around her shoulders, drawing emotional strength somehow from the physical contact with another person.

"I... I don't know, I'm feeling more than a little overwhelmed," Isabel admitted. "Like my insides are on... not a typical roller-coaster ride, but some kind of strange trip that's trying to pull them up, down, side-to-side, and around loops all at the SAME time." Maria nodded slowly. "First -- finding out that it was TESS who killed Alex. Err, well, who was the mysterious alien involved in his death, anyway... I *do* believe that it wasn't deliberate murder, so I shouldn't get sloppy with the way I'm talking or I'll really start to blame her for that, deep down. But the things that she admitted doing to him..." Isabel shuddered all over, a horribly sick feeling rising inside her. "And then she drops the bomb that Alex could... could be brought to life of a sort, or that he could kill me if I can't make up my mind what to do with his ghost in my head... it--"

"It's way too much to come to terms with all at once," Maria said softly. "I understand that... heck, I'm still a little bit stuck on the part with you having his - his soul inside your mind, or whatever." She took a deep breath. "Is - is he nearby?"

"No." Isabel shook her head. "He... he said that he had to blink out. It wasn't time, as nearly as I've worked out a schedule for him, but I think that all of this was at least as stressful for him as it was for the rest of us, and maybe that relates." She sighed. "He... he may be back before I have to go home and hit the sack, or he may not. Either way, I think I'll be spending some dream time with him again."

"B-back up," Maria requested. "What do you mean, 'blink out?'"

"Ohh." Isabel had forgotten that it was Liz who she had shared the details of Alex's ghostly existence with... well, some of the details, anyway - and it made sense that Liz would have had other things on her mind than filling Maria in on the dirt. "We... we don't really understand, but it's a little bit like ghost-sleep, it seems. He 'blinks' away from me when his spirit gets tired of manifesting in the real world, or something like that. There's no experienced passage of time for him - the first time it took him a while to realize that it had actually worked. But he feels better when he comes back, and that's the important thing."

"Okay," Maria nodded and considered that. "Can he walk through walls, and tell you what's on the other side?"

"Yep. That's part of how we were figuring out so much stuff about the Sweden trip, actually. That and, well, Alex didn't remember everything himself - I think I said that, but he did remember enough to help put us on the track."

"And... and it was Alex who got you working with Liz in the first place?" Maria filled in.

"Yep, the first time he met me outside of my dreams." Isabel sighed softly. "He said that he saw a darkness, and now I guess I'm starting to understand that. If Liz had been nosing around Tess' secret herself... considering Tess' state of mind and how things might have gotten worse for her the longer she was hiding things from us... well, Tess might have deliberately tried to hurt Liz to keep her away, or... or used her powers on Liz, the same way she did on Alex." Isabel shook again at that thought. "And... and if Tess had been able to go through with the rest of her plans - to seduce Max into her bed... to trick the rest of us into leaving the planet - well, I'm very glad that we were able to stop things before they got that far." Maria nodded in agreement.

"Is... is there anything I can help you out, in terms of deciding between those three things?" Maria asked. "The possibilities that Tess mentioned?"

"I'm not sure that I need to spend much effort in deciding," Isabel said softly. "Cloning Alex - giving him his own body, is my number one choice: no doubt about that."

"Even... even considering what she said about..."

"Yes," Isabel filled in. "I... I thought that Alex wasn't in love with me anymore when he came back from Sweden, and when he fought me so hard on going to prom." She sighed. "If... if that's the price to bring him back, to reverse what Tess did and let him live out a full life -- then I can take it. I think." She sighed. "I'm not sure if Alex will think the same, himself... but if we need his co-operation, I can be *very* persuasive."

Maria smiled. "Alright."

"And... well, if there's just no practical way that we can run that alternative, then... then the Kyle thing is possible, maybe, as a fallback plan." Isabel shifted her shoulders nervously. "It seems weird drawing him into... into our relationship like that... body and soul, but there isn't much I wouldn't do to be with Alex again. Including making it with Kyle's body." She chuckled hollowly. "It's Alex's heart that's important, I guess, and if his heart is inside Kyle's chest, then.... except not physically his heart. You know what I mean?" Maria nodded. "The one thing that I will *not* do if I have any other choice is to kill Alex again."

Maria nodded slowly and reached out to hold Isabel's hand. "What... what I wouldn't give, just to be able to see him again, hear his voice. You're already very lucky Isabel, but I guess you know that."

Isabel's face lit up - here was another thing that nobody had mentioned to Maria. "Well, I don't know about seeing him, but Liz has been able to hear his voice, through me... she said it was a little unclear, like hearing him over AM radio, but if you'd like to try that the next time he's around..."

"YES!" Maria practically shouted, just as Isabel had expected that she would. "Ohmigawd, that... well, I admit it's a little creepy, but.... you can't imagine what that means to me, Izzie."

"I - I think I can guess," Isabel whispered. "And... and sorry again for keeping you out of the loop until after we knew how Alex had died. At the time, it seemed..."

"I think I understand your reasons," Maria said, looking down. "You don't really need to apologize - and you don't need to bring that up again. I know NOW that he isn't really gone. That's what matters."

The two girls sat side by side for nearly a minute, wrapped in silence that grew progressively more awkward. "Do you wanna go inside again?" Isabel asked.

"Sure." Maria sighed. "Kind of hungry at the moment, actually, though I'm not sure how I feel about raiding Mister Valenti's kitchen."

"I don't think he'd really mind," Isabel said, standing up. Maria got up, reaching out to clasp the taller girl's fingers in her own for just a second, and they headed in through the back door.

Maria munched on some of Kyle's snack foods, and Isabel was looking idly at the delivery menus and wondering if it made sense to order in some food, when a large party headed into the dining room - more than there were chairs for, certainly: Max, Tess, Michael, Liz, and Mister Valenti. "So how did the chinese torture work out?" Isabel asked flatly, and without a trace of sympathy for whatever Tess had gone through.

Max smiled a little angrily. "Well, we've got some ideas of where to start. Most important, probably, is going to be the book translation, which she was clever enough to not leave here in the house." He sighed. "Supposedly, it's hidden up at Nasedo's old place - the house that he and Tess first moved into when they first came to Roswell." From the glare on Max's face, Tess probably wouldn't have much freedom of action until Max had looked there for the translated pages... and woe betide her if they weren't there. "Apparrently there's a lot of really useful stuff there - something about a way to contact home - might be those Orbs or might not be. We're not sure yet."

Maria shot an odd look at Tess. "Didn't you try that part out??"

"I... I wasn't sure who I could talk to without tipping my hand," Tess admitted. "And... and if it's the Orbs, then I can't use them by myself. That's something that Ed told me. It takes at least two of us to trigger them, maybe more."

"So you could never have demonstrated them for Pierce, I guess," Michael said in a low voice. "Good thing we were able to fake it I guess."

Isabel thought about that, and things suddenly got more confusing. She remembered that night, hiding in an out-of-the way corner of the Eagle Rock base. She remembered the smug look on Tess' face after she'd demonstrated her mindwarp by playing a cruel prank on her... making Isabel see a Special unit agent charge into the stairwell and drag Tess away kicking and screaming. That memory still upset Isabel -- along with the snide insinuations that Isabel was foolish for not 'seeing' that her natural mate was Michael.

But Tess had helped them save Max from the Special Unit. As Michael said, they couldn't have done it without her... or without Nasedo, who had almost died because he stayed behind to cover for their disappearance. And Tess had probably saved Isabel's life against the Skins... helped to save them all.

Did Tess saving Max make up in any way for what she'd done to Alex? Then again, it wasn't a one-way street. Isabel had probably saved Tess when Whittaker kidnapped her. They'd all done their best to protect and save each other from danger... it made them a team, a group -- almost a family. But Tess had betrayed that bond... first by deciding that Alex's well-being was less important than her own goals, and then trying to hide her complicity. Helping Max didn't mitigate that -- she really had all kinds of selfish reasons for the 'good' deeds she'd done.

"The Copper Summit Skins' attack on Roswell," Isabel suddenly blurted out. "That flame blast that you used to free us, and toast them. Talk, Tess. I'm suddenly sure that you know more than you told us then."

All eyes were on Tess suddenly. The power that she had unleashed in that moment had been pretty terrifying. If Tess still had that power available, or held out on whether she did or not... could any of them even guard her safely??

"Very rare circumstances," Tess quickly disclaimed. A little bit TOO quickly? "First off... Maria, you and Kyle short-circuited their time warp weapon at just the right moment. That sent a huge energy pulse through town, and the power to drive the flames ultimately came from there. Secondly, I wouldn't have even been able to channel that force if it hadn't been for the rest of you guys."

"Us?" Max said doubtfully. "But... *we* weren't doing anything?"

"Are you so sure about that?" Tess replied, and a bit of the old fire was in her words now. "We were all together, the four of us, and we're strongest when together. We all wanted the same things: freedom, escape, and to strike back at Nicholas and his stupid army of Skins. So I think you guys helped me tap into that energy wave. I hardly even realized what I'd done afterwards... it's something that I started to put together afterward."

"And why did Nicholas show up, unharmed, afterward?" Isabel asked. What Tess had said made a kind of sense so far.

"I can't explain everything," she grumped. "Probably he was able to use his own powers in time to save himself - shield himself with a small force field similar to Max's, except wrapped only around himself, and then covered his escape with a mindwarp." Pause. "Either that, or there was more than one Skin wearing the same face, and the one we met in New York was only pretending to recognize me personally."

"Okay, well, I guess that's that for now," Max said with a sigh. "Asking all kinds of questions to dig up the past hunt and peck probably isn't going to get us further for now. Hmm... a bit of food wouldn't be a bad idea." Isabel jumped slightly, then realized that Max had seen the takeout menus, which were still in front of her. "And then... most of us have to go back home. Michael, umm... how would you feel about watching our Prisoner tonight? I want someone with a little juice, just in case."

"Hey, come on," Maria said, worried, wrapping one arm around her honey's middle and curling the other around Michael's own arm. "You... you can't just send them both over to Michael's apartment alone. Not... not after what Tess did. What if she..." She couldn't complete that sentence.

"Hey, don't worry," Tess insisted. "I'll be a good little Number Six. Let myself be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, and numbered."

Michael's head cocked slightly as he caught the reference. "Yeah, your life is ours now."

Max hesitated... and the dilemma he faced was clear. It was nice if Tess was promising to co-operate, but considering how deceptive she had been in the past, that wasn't particularly reassuring. It seemed entirely in character for her to promise all the good behaviour in the galaxy - and then to attack anybody she had to to win her freedom. On the other hand, how much could they sacrifice to keep her restrained? Was tonight really the worst of the danger?? (If Tess meant to betray them, how long would she have the patience to wait, after all?) Could he get away with having all of them stay away from their homes through the night?"

"How's about you two both stay the night here?" Jim asked, his voice sociable but with a dangerous tone underneath it. "We can roll a sleeping bag out in the living room or something. See what things look like early in the morning."

The rest of them shared looks. Mister Valenti was no pushover, and out of everyone she had met in Roswell, Kyle was the one Tess seemed to have the most genuine affection for, not cultivating him for some darker purpose, (if you left out the part about how she'd made him help her get rid of Alex's body,) but just because she liked him... somewhere between a friend, a potential lover, and a brother. It would be hard for her to bring herself to kill him... and even the ex-Sheriff she seemed to have some honest feelings for as a substitute father, if probably confused and angsty feelings.

"Alright," Max agreed. "Damn, I wish tomorrow was a weekend day, but unfortunately it's not. We'll be back over here bright and early."

"Yeah," Liz chimed in. "Isabel, can I have a word... outside?" Isabel nodded, and neither of the girls objected when Max and Maria followed them out. "How... how's Alex taking this?"

"He blinked out," Maria said softly, and Liz blinked her eyes several times. "Isabel brought me up to speed on the facts of death, a bit."

"Alright... well, do you expect that he'll be back by tomorrow morning?"

"Definitely," Isabel said. "He'll be tagging along, I assure you."

The four of them looked at each other. "Okay, so, who's coming with me in the Jetta?" Maria asked.

"Umm... can I hitch a ride with you guys, Max?" Liz asked awkwardly. He paused a moment, and then nodded. "Okay, I guess you're all by yourself, unless... Isabel, do you, umm..." She seemed to have a hard time figuring out whose car had been left where, which made sense - it seemed like ages ago that they, and Michael, had barelled over to the Valenti's place. "Never mind. See you tomorrow, babe." Liz hugged Maria goodbye, and then they seperated. Max, Isabel, and Liz headed over towards where Max had parked the jeep.

"Okay, I've got at least one apology owing, and here's the first," Max muttered. "Liz... I - I'm really sorry for what I said to you at the wake. Obviously, you were right, and if you guys hadn't pursued the investigation in spite of me... well, things could easily have gotten much worse."

"Don't mention it," Liz said softly. "I'm just... just glad that things have turned out, relatively, so well. I mean... back when I found those tickets, I never even thought that what I learned could conceivably lead to us bringing Alex back in some form." She looked over at Isabel, who had gotten into the back seat, and Max pulled out onto the street. "Or that he was still hanging around here, in a ghostly way."

"And... and I suppose that it was interacting with Alex's ghost that led you to team up with Liz?" Max said. "Something that he said about that last night that struck a chord or the like. And you obviously didn't want to tell me, because... well, I'd made it clear what I thought about that kind of digging around."

"Actually, Alex pretty much told me that I had to help Liz," Isabel said with a small smile. "I wasn't wild about the idea, but he argued me into it." She sighed. "And then, Michael confronted me about the two of us snooping around behind your back, and I managed to persuade him that we were actually onto something important. Just today, we were able to recruit Maria by working together."

"I see," Max agreed softly. "And... and it probably didn't escape your notice that I wasn't paying that much attention, that I was spending a lot of time with Tess." Max shook his head in frustration. "She... she was playing me, subveting me, and I was too stupid to see it. I... I probably owe both of you another apology about that. All of that stupid memory retrieval stuff, right back to the flash that I had in the UFO center the night Brody went off the menu - probably all of that was a mindwarp, trying to push me off balance."

Isabel and Liz shared a long look. "I... I wouldn't put it past her," Liz agreed. "She doesn't seem to have used the kind of strongly coercive warp that she exerted on Alex... but even if she restricted herself to sensory impressions -- well, what we see and hear can have profound emotional impacts that we don't always recognize consciously."

Max sighed, and seemed to be lost in his own thoughts for a long stretch of the drive. As they were getting near the Cafe, Liz spoke again. "Max... did the two of you do... do anything that I actually need to hear about?"

Max smiled a little at the way she'd phrased that. "I... I hope not, and I kinduv don't think so. What's your criterion for 'stuff you need to hear about'??"

"I... I'm not sure," she admitted, blushing. "And maybe we shouldn't talk about it here and now." She took a deep breath as Max turned into the cafe. "I'd... I'd like to find some way to get back to where we were, if that's possible. I was staying away because I thought your destiny was with her.... well, umm, obviously it isn't, right?" Isabel nearly laughed at the way Liz phrased that. "I realize that things are going to be confused for a while, but..."

"Liz..." Max reached out to hold his hand, and his voice dropped to a scratchy whisper. "You... if you don't know already that I never stoppd loving you, then you'd better now." Liz smiled slightly. "I probably want to patch things up between us more than you do. But... sad to say, tonight isn't the time." Liz smiled, awkwardly leaned forward to peck Max on the lips in a quick and demure kiss, and headed off to climb up her balcony ladder again. Max sighed and watched her go, as Isabel swung around into the front seat. "So... so are we good?"

"Umm... I think so," Isabel agreed. "Everything that happened around the funeral is water under the bridge to me... and it really means a lot that you've jumped so fast onto my mission about bringing Alex - or a clone of him or something - back to life."

Max smiled. "How... how could I not? Alex is... is more than just a friend to me. I remember the way you looked at him when he showed up to take you to prom." Isabel blushed slightly, remembering that moment. "I'd... I'd do anything to see you happy like that for the rest of your life, Izzie, and getting Alex back is the best way I can see of doing that." He put the Jeep back into gear again. "And - and it won't just be any old clone of Alex, some living being that happens to share his DNA. DNA can be sliced, diced, and recombined - but I think souls are unique and indivisible, and you're holding his safe. Once a new body for him is ready, we'll be transferring his soul back into it, and that makes him really Alex again."

"Like you're really Zan come to life?" Isabel asked, and Max blanched a bit. "I... I appreciate the sentiment, but still - we have to remember that even if this clone person is Alex, he'll be Alex living a brand new life, and maybe making new choices. That's his right."

"He's not going to choose somebody else," Max insisted to his sister. "I know that for one hundred percent certain."

But Isabel's thoughts were already running off to another track. "If... if souls are indivisible, then... then what about Lonnie from New York, say?? If Vilandra from Antar had just one soul, did she get it, or me, or neither of us?"

"I... I don't know," Max admitted. "In... in some ways, based on what we know of Princess Vilandra, Lonnie seems closer to her - and that's a compliment to you." Isabel quirked a smile. "Maybe she got the old soul, and you were able to grow a brand new one... or get one from wherever souls come from if there isn't weird alien technology available."

Isabel smiled slightly. "I... I think I feel more comfortable with that idea... that no matter how close I'm connected to Vilandra through my DNA, maybe through some sort of psychical energy thing, that we're NOT really the same person. But there's not really any way to be sure, is there?"

"Maybe not." Max shrugged. "So... so what's it like, being 'haunted' by Alex?? When it happened to me at Christmas, assuming that was anything like the same deal... well, my ghost wasn't as friendly as I gather yours is."

"It's... it's been pretty weird," she admitted. "But also kinda cool. Especially, umm, the dreams." A sudden connection leapt in her mind. "When, when I had a nightmare early this morning and you rushed into my room, THAT wasn't an Alex dream. He'd popped out again, and I - I guess I was feeling a bit lonely."

Max smiled a little sadly. "You're clinging to all that you can hold of him, aren't you?" Isabel nodded. "Well, I hope you realize how lucky you are, in a strange way... most people don't get this kind of chance. If - if there's anything else I can do to give either of you a hand, just let me know okay?"

"Sure," Isabel promised. Soon afterward they were hurrying back into their parent's house.

----------

Isabel woke up the next morning, with the sun streaming in through her window, and when she turned over she saw Alex smiling quietly at her. "G'morning sweetie."

"What time is it?" She looked over at the clock. "I... I was supposed to be over at Valenti's fifteen minutes ago! Why didn't the alarm go off? Why didn't Max get me?"

"Umm... the alarm is my fault," Alex whispered softly, his fingers gently touching the side of his face. "I thought that you needed your rest and it was a shame that you had to get up... I didn't think I'd actually be able to turn it off, though. Was just kind of going through the motions, but the button actually moved when I touched it and shut off. And... well, I tried a little to start it up again, but that didn't work so well. Maybe I can only touch real objects when I feel very intensely about it, or something, and my heart wasn't in waking you up." He smiled. "And Max poked his head in, but didn't even try to wake you up. Maybe he thought the same sort of thing."

"Oh, okay." Isabel tossed the covers away, sat up in bed, and after a swing and a miss managed to jam her feet into slippers. She could hardly remember putting herself to bed the night before, and definitely couldn't remember anything since. "Did... did we dream together last night?"

"Uh, yeah actually, just a short one... riding out on a boat in the North Atlantic and trying to catck Plankton clams." Isabel blinked her eyes. "You don't remember?"

"Not a bit." Isabel cocked her head slightly as she got up to see what was quickly available in her closet. "You aren't pulling my leg, are you?"

"Believe me, if I were touching your leg at all, you'd know," Alex shot back flirtily. "No, this was a real dream, and I was pretty sure that you were dreaming it since I don't have dreams of my own since... well, you know." There was a short silence. "It's okay if you just don't remember... people have lots of dreams that they forget about, and you were pretty tired."

"Yeah, I suppose that's probably it," she agreed, tossing a few clothes out onto the unmade bed. "Well... give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready." She headed for the bathroom door.

"What, you don't want to shower together?" he teased, and Isabel turned around to look at him.

"Umm... maybe another time, but no," she said. Very quick hot shower and dressing ensued, and Isabel charged downstairs, all ready to borrow some car keys and blow out the door, but Alex badgered her into having breakfast with her folks, which was really a good idea. For one thing, she was ravenously hungry -- the food delivery hadn't actually been ordered before they left Valenti's last night, if at all, with all of the confusion over what was to become of Tess. And her parents seemed to appreciate that she was spending time with them and that she seemed.... well, she actually wasn't quite sure how she seemed to them, actually. Hope and fear were warring within her heart so fiercely that she half expected that other people could hear the gunfire and some explosions.

Just about the time that breakfast was finishing, Max called from his cell phone - once Isabel was on the line he explained that things had broken up at Valenti's, and everyone was heading off to school, and offered to drive by and pick her up. Somewhat confused by the reference to 'everyone', Isabel agreed, made sure that her bookbag was all packed, and waited.

Liz was in the passenger seat of the Jeep again when it pulled up outside their house, and Alex climbed up into the back seat next to her. "Okay," Isabel muttered as Max drove away again. "Who exactly is 'everyone'?? Are you letting the little witch out on good behavour already??"

Max sighed slightly. "She's going to be at school today, yes. We talked it over... and even though she's made horrible mistakes - I really believe that she's sorry and wants to make amends. Also that she knows you and I will hunt her down and kill her horribly if she steps out of line again." Isabel chuckled in fierce agreement. "Given all of that, there's no particular sense in attracting any attention by varying our routine. Mister Valenti could have called her in sick, but there didn't seem much point in that if one of us didn't stay home to watch her too, and that's where things start to get sticky."

"Alright." Isabel sighed. "Alex said that you came to check on me and decided to let me sleep in?"

Max's eyes went wide in the rearview. "Wow... he can really tell that kind of thing? I mean... he's awake and around sometimes, even when you're... not?"

Liz laughed. "Well, he's seldom around when Isabel isn't -- he can't go far from her, we think. But awake when she isn't? Yep."

"Alright... yeah, I thought that you could do with your rest," Max agreed. "Hope you don't mind."

"Not especialy," Isabel said after a moment. "Anything of interest come up, aside from your decision to trust her slightly further than you can throw her??"

"A few other things that our least-favorite hybrid has been keeping from us," Liz said with a long sigh. "Information about other aliens here on earth, and how to find them... stuff that Nasedo told her, and warned her to be careful before telling us about."

"Just great," Alex said, sighing.

"By the way, while we're on something of a trusting kick with Tess," Isabel said, "I had an odd idea. I can channel Alex slightly, when I'm touching someone. That connection might be stronger with her, because we're both hybrids born." She took a deep breath. "I was wondering... if she might be able to use her powers so that the rest of you can see Alex, all at once."

"Wow," Liz breathed. "I... I have to admit, I'd be VERY interested in that." She sighed. "Is it possible that she might try to fake us out, to show Alex saying things that he really didn't mean to say?"

"Maybe, but I don't see where that will get her," Isabel answered. "We already know the basic story. I'm not sure that Tess would be able to fake ME out since I see Alex directly... err, and even if she can, I could check with Alex later, privately, when she's not around."

"It's a good idea," Max said. "But we'd probably better put that kind of stuff out of our minds as much as possible. First, we need to get through trig."

"I don't," Isabel laughed. Her schedule was quite different from Max and Liz's at this point, because of all the extra courses that she'd been taking - she had calculus, later in the day, and english lit first thing. And then it hit her. "What... what should I do about the early graduation thing??"

Max hesitated a second. "Do it. Get your diploma, and tell Dad that you want to take a year off before college, maybe travel. He'll probably go for something like that, as long as you don't look like you're goofing off and sponging. That way... if you need to -- we don't know what might be involved in this cloning project, but..."

"Right," Isabel said, taking a deep breath. "Okay. I'd better drop by the administration office as soon as I can, then."

-----------

"Hey, how's it going?" Kyle asked as Isabel put her lunch tray down on the picnic table.

"Ehh, not too bad I guess." She looked around. "Where are Michael and Maria?" Everyone else in their little group was there... Max and Liz had been holding hands, which Isabel somehow approved of, especially since it was the best way she could think of toturing Tess just a little.

"I think he took her out to the Pit of Barbecue," Liz said absently. "So... do we all get tickets to your Commencement ceremony Iz??"

"Heck, they don't worry about tickets - it's not like there's ever a shortage of seats," Isabel remarked. "But if you want to show up, then sure, fine. June the fourteenth I believe."

"Max, why don't you just go out to Tess' old house and get those notes instead of dragging the whole thing out?" Kyle suddenly whispered.

Max looked around, first in surprise, and then to check whether anyone else was near before replying. "Umm... I'm not sure I can finish my delicious plate of sloppy joe, get out there, and be back in time for Ms Tillner's class," he pointed out. "But then, I didn't realize that I was somehow personally offending you by 'dragging it out.'"

"It - it's not a question of being offensive," Liz put in, jumping in as peacemaker, like she used to. "But... well, I can understand why Kyle would be a little tense and nervous about it, especially since - well, you know, it bears on this huge life-changing decision he's been asked to make."

"Oh, right." Max smiled weakly. "Sorry man. First thing after school, Michael and I are going. Do you wanna tag along?"

"Ehh... not especially, but I will if you want me to," Kyle replied. "And sorry if I got a little intense back there." He sighed. "It's been a weird day or so... and I didn't get that much sleep last night."

"Weren't you back in the comfortable bed and the bedroom?" Isabel asked him. "For like the first time in seven months??"

"He definitely was," Tess growled. "While I took the sofa."

"Well, the sofa was probably more comfortable than a foam mattress and sleeping bag on the floor," Isabel whispered back.

"I offered to take the floor, but I think Michael was worried that I'd be able to sneak away slightly more easily that way." She took a bite of some pita-pocket sandwich. "Probably right too, comes to that - if only because the couch creaks so much."

"Anyway, I guess I just got used to sleeping on the couch," Kyle replied. "Also, well..."

"What, were you actually worried that I'd sneak in and kill you while you slept?" Tess asked. The look on Kyle's face was a little strange. "Jeez, I can't believe this!! I'm not a murderer! I may have kept secrets from you, but I DIDN'T..."

"Keep it down," Max urged quietly, and Tess suddenly broke off, having realized that her volume had indeed drifted up. "I... I think that all of us are a little unsure just what you're capable of right now, Tess - both in the positive and negative senses. I thought I knew you, and I didn't believe that you were capable of... of some of the stuff we found out yesterday." He took a deep breath. "If you want to show that you're worthy of our trust again, you'll get your chance. It may involve a little more self-sacrifice than you're used to, but, umm... I do hope that you can show us that the dark side isn't all there is to you, by a long shot."

"Isabel didn't think we should've let you come to school today," Liz blurted out, and Isabel stared at her. "Umm... just at first, I mean, she was surprised at the idea..."

"I guess I was a little surprised too," Tess admitted. "Well, I guess I've made my bed, or my couch or whatever. You're right. I've got pretty much no call to complain."

"I - I didn't *really* think that," Kyle told her. "Just - well, have you ever been scared of something that you rationally know is crazy?"

Tess got a pensive look on her face and considered the question for a surprising amount of time. "Yeah, actually... though maybe only once or twice." Somehow, after that reply, Kyle didn't continue with his previous line of questioning.

Once Kyle and Tess had headed off to the library to study for a history quiz, Isabel looked from Max to Liz and back again. "So, what's the latest with the two of you?"

"Umm... I'm not quite sure," Max admitted. "I know I want to... want to a lot of stuff actually, not all of which I'd feel comfortable saying out loud in front of my sister." Liz blushed. "But..."

"Liz, Max asked you a question yesterday," Isabel said, interrupting him. "You didn't answer, either because you weren't sure how or because you didn't want to discuss it in front of me. Mind if I take a crack at it?" Liz blinked and nodded. "Max, as I see it, there are basically three things you'd need to disclose to Liz in this sort of situation. One, if you and Tess did the nasty." Max blinked and shook his head slightly. "Two, if you shared anything with *her*, experience or information, that Liz would have a reasonably fair expectation of being unique or privileged between the two of you. Three... if anything that she said or you told her seem to bear on our plans regarding Tess' future or... well, dealing with Alex's ghost in my head. Actually, that last one you'd need to disclose to me too." She paused. "Liz, does that seem to cover it okay??"

"Actually, yeah - well said," Liz whispered.

"Okay, umm... no, nothing that falls into the first two categories," Max said. "And in the third... umm, nothing springs to mind immediately, though I might have to think longer about it."

"Understood," Isabel replied.

"And... 'whew, that's a relief,'" Liz added in. "Umm... it's not gonna take you long to go to Mister Harding's house and find those notes, right??"

"Um, no," Max replied. "I'm probably going to be too impatient to avoid spending some time this evening looking through them too, but... well, what did you have in mind?"

"I thought maybe you could come over around seven," Liz told him, a shy smile on her face. "We've got that trig test tomorrow, so I thought it would be alright to have a study date. Baby steps, you know."

Max smiled widely. "That... that sounds great. Maybe..." All of a sudden, he caught himself, and stopped in mid-sentence.

"Maybe what??" Liz asked. "Come on, I'd really like to hear what you were thinking of saying.

"I'd probably better go then, just in case," Isabel joked.

"Ummm..." Max mumbled. Liz blinked in surprise at Isabel's reaction.

"Actually, I have to go anyway. I'll meet you in the parking lot at 3:30, Max - I'm in for the trip to Harding's, right?" Max nodded. Isabel headed off, but she wasn't walking quite fast enough to avoid hearing a bit of the conversation between Max and Liz that followed.

"Umm... I feel a little foolish asking this, but do you... like having your feet r-rubbed?" Max asked, his voice sounding quite nervous.

"Huh? Umm, sure, I guess, though it kind of depends on who's doing the rubbing. Uh, what made you think of that?"

"Oh, nothing in particular..."

----------

It was just Max, Isabel, Tess, and Kyle who took the trip to the ruined house of Harding, as it turned out - Michael pointed out that he had a shift at the diner that started right after school - in fact, Liz and Maria were on shift too. Isabel shuddered slightly as Max opened the front door and led them through, remembering the first time that she'd been to Tess' house, when the 'new girl' had been a figure of mystery and controversy for the original six of them - including Alex, though he hadn't gotten involved in the arguing very much. Michael had charged that Tess' address was 'fake', and Isabel had shown up for a follow-up, and found Tess and Nasedo, (posing as her nebbishy consultant father at the time,) in the process of dealing with movers. Not much later, Alex had rigged up a micro-transmitter camera, and Liz had gone here to surreptitiously plant it in the living room...

"Okay, before we go anywhere, give me precise instructions," Max said severely to Tess. "If you just guide me as we go, you could make this drag out far too long."

"Alright," Tess groaned. "Around that way, on your first left, you'll find the stairs. Go up them, turn right, and through the door straight ahead of you, which was into Ed's office. The desk is flush against to the wall right next to the door, and the translated papers will be at the very bottom of the top, leftmost drawer. Err, I mean the top row of drawers that are below the main desk surface, not the drawers that are above the desk. That... that's it I guess."

"Okay," Max said slowly, and after making a clear nod to Isabel, started to carefuly carry out Tess' instructions. Isabel stepped closer to Tess, not keeping her from saying anything but discouraging her from blurting out anything trivial. Kyle brought up the rear as the party made its way to the hiding place Tess had specified... and Max pulled out a thick stack of loose papers. "'You are the Royal four,'" he read. "'Zan the king...' This is the start of it, Tess?"

"Yep."

"Alright, good enough." Max sighed. "Let's head out. No sense wasting any more time in here than we have to."

For a second, Isabel had a clear mental picture of a hypothetical possibility - Tess striking out with her powers, disintegrating the printout, or threatening the same if Max didn't agree to let her leave town and not follow, or something like that. But nothing of the sort happened, even once they were back in Max's car and driving away.

"Do... do I really need a babysitter with alien powers the whole time?" she asked sullenly, as Max turned a corner.

"Umm..." Max shot Isabel a look, and she shrugged. "I - I'm not sure. You've behaved today, but maybe we should take it with baby steps."

"How about... we hang out in the diner?" Kyle suggested. "We won't be under Michael's nose, but he'll be in the area just in case."

"Yeah, that's fine by me," Isabel said. "Tess?"

"Sounds like the best that I can get," she sighed. "A galaxy melt doesn't sound too bad at the moment, after all."

"Okay," Max said. "Umm... I'm gonna swing by home - what about you, Izzy? Stay or go?"

Isabel paused. What she wanted, most of all, was to spend some quiet time with Alex - aside from those stolen moments this morning, she'd hardly been able to speak with him. She almost looked around, but there really wasn't a place for Alex to be sitting in the Jeep - well, unless he was hanging onto the very back.

*No, I'm not there,* his voice sounded in her head, kind of muted in an odd way that set it apart from everything that she was actually hearing with her ears. *But I'm with you, Izzy -- you know that I'm always close by.

Isabel stifled a giggle. *Are... are you just inside my head?* she asked. *As in literally, not manifesting anywhere else??*

*Yeah, I think so,* Alex admitted. *At least, I don't seem to have a body, and what I see and hear is only what you can see and hear. Hope you don't mind - I've been practicing today. Seemed like I should be able to do this, once Tess explained that it was my psychic energy, caught in your brain, that let me live on after death.*

*Umm... I don't think I mind,* Isabel answered. *How... how much of what I'm thinking can you detect?*

*Strong thoughts and highlights, pretty much. Like that memory of the first time you went to see Tess. Um... Max is staring at you a little weird - you might wanna say something.*

*Hehehe, well, I need your opinion first. Where do you want to hang out?*

*Umm... not your place, and probably not the diner anyway.* Alex's mental voice sighed. *Umm, we could sit in the park and talk.*

*Kinda public... what if passion overwhelms me?* she teased. *People would point and gawk at the weird girl making a spectacle of herself.*

*I think if you want to make out with thin air, there isn't much place that's private enough,* Alex warned. *Well... maybe the pod chamber if you're sure that none of the others are going to follow up. And your dreams as long as you don't moan too loud in your sleep.*

*Hmm... pod chamber, that might be an idea,* Isabel laughed. *But probably not for tonight.* Out loud, she said, "Umm, let me off at the diner, but I'm not going in. Want to walk awhile."

"Alright, fair enough," Max said. After parking, he made sure that Tess and Kyle were comfortably settled at a table before waving goodbye to Liz and driving off - presumably to change before his study date with Liz, or at least make sure that he was fresh-smelling and - and whatever else he thought Liz would like. Isabel started walking west towards the park. It was several blocks, and the thought ran through her mind that she could have asked Max to drop them off a little nearer - but heck, why was she worried about a little walking? Alex had appeared by now, he was walking next to her - and the whole point was to spend time with him, wasn't it??

*So... I didn't ask you what you wanted me to do, did I?* she mentally blurted out. *About... about the fact that my brain can't -- can't handle having you aboard as a hitchhiker for too long, apparently? The - the three choices?*

"No, I guess you didn't," Alex admitted. "Personally, let's see. The sharing with Kyle thing doesn't sound so bad - assuming that he's willing, of course, and that you're not too weirded out by the arrangement. Kyle's a good guy, and I've sortof always wanted to be handsome and athletic like he is. I... I don't mind only getting half a life back, compared with the fact that I'd have expected to not get even that much, in this position. Going into the light... I'm scared of that, I won't deny it, but I'll go ahead with that if there's no other way to save you. I - I don't believe that this world, this universe even, is all that there is to the existence of our consciousness, or that it only lasts for so brief a span of time as human bodies. There's - there's something else, whether reincarnation or an afterlife or something that can't be summed up so quickly, and wherever I go... I know that eventually, I'd meet you again." Isabel looked around, making sure that there were no other pedestrians close enough to get a good view, because she had only seconds before the tears would start streaming down her face. She forced herself to keep walking, though. Stopping and hugging an invisible boy would just be far too strange.

"As far as the third choice, I'm - I'm scared of that too - of starting a new life, not quite knowing if the cloned body will work quite right, not knowing if my brain will grow the same way again, if I might think and feel differently when I woke up." He sighed. "But - but I know that you want to give that a try first, and I support you in that."

Isabel looked up at him, her tears still flowing. "You... you're letting me have the final decision? Dammit, Alex, it's your life - your soul!!"

"I... I trust your judgement, Izzie," he said simply. "I know that you'll take very good care of my soul - or otherwise it wouldn't have come to you when I died."

"Al- alright," she manged to choke out. "But - but if you feel any differently, you just tell me, mister. As far as I'm concerned, you get an automatic veto vote as far as all of these decisions go! If you don't choose to use the veto, then I'll make the call, and be pleased to do so. Still, you have the power."

"Somehow, I've never been more sure that you're the powerful one, out of the two of us," Alex joked softly. "But come on - dry those tears. Why don't you tell me a story, from before I knew you??"

"Ohh... I dunno." Isabel looked down. Suddenly she realized that she'd slipped again, and been talking to him out loud, and she returned to thought transmission. *A lot of my life back then just seems - I dunno, immature and childish.*

"Well, when you were a little kid then," Alex shot back. "Then you were *supposed* to be childish."

*Okay. Well, back when I was seven, my mother's mother, Grandma Peterson, was living with us. Not the same house, this was a different place. Closer to downtown. And Grandma...*

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Sun Sep 03, 2006 9:58 am

Part Eight

"I... I keep feeling like there's something that I'm missing," Isabel whispered, walking hand in hand with Alex through the park. "Something that I'm supposed to remember, and that..." She trailed off, not even able to put her finger on what 'and that' led to, if anything.

"Hmm." Alex considered that. "Something that came up yesterday evening, after I'd blinked out??"

"Umm... no," Isabel said, her face a mask of concentration. "Or... yes!! Ehh, except maybe." Alex chuckled slightly. "Yes - that was it. Maria. She wants to do the same thing that Liz did by accident - to hear you directly." There was a moment's silence. "And I was thinking... that Tess' powers just might let everybody in the gang see you, on special occasions. That is - if you trust her enough."

"Hmm." Alex thought about that. "Sounds like it's worth a try. As far as trust... we can take precautions, have you confirm everything privately that I said 'via Tess,' after she's gone. I don't think that she can use her nastier types of mindwarp on you guys without you knowing that it happened, the first time at least."

"Alright." Isabel squeezed Alex's fingers beneath her. "Well, Maria won't be off shift for a while yet. And... Max probably dropped the translation stuff on his desk before jumping into the shower. I kind of want to go take a more in-depth look at that stuff... start figuring out what's there and what isn't. If... if it's the only lead we have at the moment for how to give you your life back..."

"You just can't wait to fill up the clone vat, can't you?" Alex teased her. "Even considering that you'll probably have to BUILD a brand new clone vat first. I guess I shouldn't be surprised - and I definitely won't object." A short pause. "I will ask how exactly you expect to get back to your house from here, though."

Isabel walked a few paces more, then favored him with her sunniest smile. "We can take the town bus. No sense in bothering anyone else for a ride or anything like that." She turned to head off towards the edge of the park. "Umm, does the same bus that runs down second avenue, a few blocks south of here, go all the way up to my place?"

Alex smiled, for exactly what reasons he didn't disclose out loud. "Umm, no, princess, I don't think so. Though it would make some sense if they did have a line that ran straight through like that, but Roswell doesn't spend much money on public transit. There are east side buses and west side buses, and we're on the opposite side from your house here. Probably makes the most sense to walk back downtown, past the Cafe, and catch the bus right after main street - that'll be an east side one."

"Alright," Isabel said, walking a bit more slowly now that she realized how far they'd have to go. "Does it make me a princess, just because I don't know exactly how the public buses run?"

"No, not really," Alex admitted. "But somehow it is completely sweet and adorable to me that you declared so definitely that you were going by bus, even though you didn't know where they ran."

"Sweet and adorable?" Isabel repeated, and when Alex stepped closer she stole a kiss from him, not caring how she looked to anybody who might be able to see her and not him. "That's probably better than I deserve in this context. But... well, I'm not completely clueless - I know that Liz has used the bus to come up and visit Max when she didn't have wheels, and when he couldn't pick her up, so I knew that it went past our place and at least as far as the diner."

"Yes, a flawless deduction," Alex agreed. "Assuming that you *knew* she took only one bus and didn't have to switch."

"I think I was sure of that," Isabel said, and groaned. "Okay, here ends the conversation about bus schedules, okay?? My time with you is too precious to spend on trivialities like that." Alex nodded. "And of course, now my mind is completely blanking on anything more meaningful to talk to you about."

"Hehe, that's okay," Alex said. "As far as I'm concerned, we don't need to talk - just walking here with you is enough."

Isabel smiled. "Just what did you think of me, in the time period after Liz started hanging out with Max and... well, and Michael and me, but before the whole blood switch thing came up?"

"Are... are you fishing for compliments, Isabel Evans?" Alex teased her. "You... you have at least an idea of what I might have felt for you. I know that you saw me dreaming about you, not long after the blood switch - and you know that affections like that don't generally rise out of nowhere."

"True enough," Isabel admitted. "But... but I don't think it's just fishing, really. Aside from that and a few other glimpses, I don't really know much about that little bit of your life, and I'd like to."

Alex sighed. "I guess I should know by now not to try bluffing you."

Isabel jumped slightly. "What... what do you mean by that? What - what was a bluff?"

"Umm, about the dream." Alex sighed forlornly. "As - as much as I'd like to pretend that dream meant that I knew you and I were somehow meant to be, even back then... or that I was nobly loving you, pure and chase from afar -- it wouldn't be the truth."

"Alex..." Isabel stopped walking and locked her eyes into his imaginary ones. "I - I don't care about all of that, that storybook romance stuff, if it wasn't what was in your heart. Soulmates and all of that. I - I kind of guessed that we didn't have kismet working for us, because it wouldn't have taken me so long to let you into my heart if we really did." She took a deep breath. "But... but I value what we feel for each other so much more because it isn't exactly storybook love - because it's real, and it lives in the real world. I... I want to know the truth, Alex - I really do."

Alex smiled. "Okay, then. I... I guess you were a fantasy girl for me about that time. Not... not just because you were so beautiful and sexy, though it would be impossible for any guy to meet you and not notice that, with the possible exception of your immediate family." Isabel laughed softly. "But... but, well, I guess I was intrigued by the idea of your facade. In public, you were always so cool, so formal, so reserved..."

"The Ice Princess," Isabel filled in. "I think I understand that part." The words from Alex's dream echoed in her mind: 'It's too scary to show who you really are... but you can show me.'

"Yeah," Alex agreed, and Isabel wondered if he had been able to overhear her thoughts again or just responding to the words that she was speaking out loud. "And every so often, I saw a glimpse of someone else peek through from behind that mask that you wore all the time. Someone caring, sweet... and more than a little vulnerable. It happened a few times before I even realized that the mask existed in the first place. But then... I really did want to be the person that you could take the mask off in front of."

"Well, you definitely are that now," Isabel agreed, pleased that that much of their early history, at least, she hadn't misunderstood. "I don't have any defenses left, with you. But... but it was just a fantasy back then? A slightly idle wish?"

"Umm... yeah, I think that's fair - at least, inasmuch as I never expected you to really be attracted to me," Alex said. "Which... which probably explains why I freaked out so much on you at the old Soap Factory. It wasn't just everything to do with the secret and not really knowing who to trust at that moment. I... I liked you, and didn't really believe that you could like me for myself. When I saw something else that you might be cultivating me for... I felt humiliated because I'd showed how much I was attracted to you, and I didn't think that you felt the same way about me. That's what I was really upset about."

"Yeah, I can see how that would be rantworthy," Isabel admitted. "I... I wonder if anything would have changed if I'd been the one to tell you the truth, not Liz."

Alex blinked. "You??"

"What - don't you believe that I was capable of it?" she asked. "I... I told Max so, when we were staking out the sheriff's station and wondering what was going on with you and Liz inside. Of course, I couldn't have known that she would spill the beans before you both got out..."

"Hmm..." Alex considered the idea a little more carefully. "I - well, to be honest, I'm not sure if I'd have considered you to have the same credibility as Liz, for something this big. I knew her well to believe that she wasn't kidding or trying to deceive me, no matter how much I didn't want to believe it. If you or Max had said the same thing... I might have thought that you were telling me a tall tale to shut me up - something that was so ridiculous that I couldn't use against you, something that no-one at school, or even the Sheriff, would believe." Isabel laughed slightly at the irony of that last bit - if there was one man in Roswell who would have taken a story about aliens seriously, it was James Valenti. "Yeah, but I didn't know that at the time," Alex pointed out.

"It's still more than a little creepy when you do that," she said.

"Hmm? Oh, sorry." Alex sighed. "It's getting a little bit hard to tell if a thought is something that you meant to be private or an idea that you're deliberately sending out - to communicate it to me without saying it out loud, I mean."

"Oh. Well, that's okay I guess," Isabel replied, determined not to let something that they couldn't control ruin her time with Alex. "Ooh, that's the bus stop we need, right?"

"Looks like it," Alex agreed, and they walked up to it at a brisk pace. Unfortunately, there were several other people waiting for the same bus, so that Isabel could no longer speak out loud to him. The two of them traded a little small talk with Isabel doing her side mentally, but somehow she felt like she couldn't concentrate on any real conversation that way. Fortunately the bus arrived soon, and didn't take long to get all the way out to the east side and drop Isabel off a block and a half away from her house. (Alex sort of got off the bus at that same point too, but since the driver didn't see him there, it wasn't quite the same way. Also, he showed off and jumped through a window, nearly making Isabel burst out into helpless laughter as she stood on the sidewalk.)

---------

"Hmm... what do you think?" Isabel asked. "Even 'translated,' it's far from clear."

"Yeah..." Alex admitted. "But evocative. I think I'd tend to think that the communicators mentioned in this part are the Orbs. What do you think?"

Isabel's brow furrowed. "But they just gave us a messgae from... from Zan and Vilandra's mother."

"Which is, in a very basic way, a communicative operation," Alex pointed out. "Even if it wasn't two-way and conversational. Maybe that way just the most basic function possible... or like turning a radio on and hearing whatever station it happened to be set to last time. Unless you know how to work the tuner, or start fiddling with it, you wouldn't know that it could do so much more."

"Hmm... then how do we adjust it?" Isabel mused. "Using our own powers as the interface? That might be how we activaed them to get the message in the first place."

"Maybe," Alex said, and then started reading aloud from the translation pages. "'The communicative transceivers are completely inert unless they are activated in circuit, and unless they are within the demenses of the resonance chamber.'"

"So," Isabel reasoned out loud, "if the orbs are the transceivers, and they were in operation, on a very basic level, to deliver that message, then the resonance chamber is the place where our pods were stored?"

"Sure sounds like," Alex agreed. "From the way I've heard that scene described, the orbs were definitely not 'inert.' Maybe the resonance stuff was built into the pod chamber as an extra precaution, so that nobdy but you guys could make the orbs activate." He sighed. "I wonder where that message was stored - if the orbs work as interstellar communicators, it could have been just about anywhere."

"Yeah." Isabel sighed. "So do you think the communicator function would work more or less the same way? Picture appears there in the pod chamber, talks to us in English?"

"I'm not sure," Alex admitted.

Isabel sighed, and stretched. Alex's eyes locked on her torso as she moved, which made her smile. "Okay... I think that is enough of this." She started to pack up the papers. "We have the whole house to ourselves, for an hour or so more I think." She racked her brains, trying to think of what she most wanted to do with Alex while they were both awake. "How about watching some TV?"

"Sure," Alex replied with a grin, "but you have to let me work the clicker." Isabel's eyes grew wider - but even though Alex didn't have a body, he did seem to have a little facility in manipulating physical objects, and a remote control's buttons shouldn't be too hard. She nodded, and soon they were sitting comfortably side by side in the lounge.

"Let's see." Alex didn't pick the remote up, but it was sitting on the loveseat right next to him, on the other side from where Isabel was right next to him, and when he brought his hand down to it Isabel couldn't see the details of what was going on. The television flipped on, surfing, but not going through each channel in series. Alex started with the major network affiliates, and then started hitting cable channels in a complicated sequence. "Oooh!" They had arrived on the cartoon station, and stayed there. "Futurama!"

"Is this a favorite of yours?" Isabel asked... feeling somehow very encouraged about not having to say 'was' instead of 'is'. On the screen, a cartoon spaceship zoomed through an impressive animated metropolis full of robots and flying cars, and people shooting through strange green tubes. A giant billboard flashed up a few credits - and then the spaceship crashed into it, which Isabel had to giggle at.

"Yeah... it's great," Alex admitted happily. Now that the opening sequence was done, the episode proper, Isabel guessed, was starting - a robot playing some sort of computerized golf simulation together while a redheaded young guy hung around and watched. The robot was obviously the rude loudmouth of the show, swearing imaginatively as he virtually entered the pond to retrieve his ball. Then a mad scientist came out, talking about some sort of a mission. Obviously the main plot was about to get under way.

"Okay, a few quick questions to help me get sorted out," Isabel asked softly, and Alex nodded. "Who's the... the jamaican guy who came in with the mad scientist?"

"That's Hermes, the company bureaucrat," he told her with a smile.

"And the chick with the purple hair and the welding mask? Oh, and only one eye?"

"That's Leela, the delivery ship captain. She thought she was an alien for most of the show, but turned out to be a human mutant." Alex had an oddly fond look on his face as he watched Leela arguing hotly with the professor about something to do with the mission that he didn't want to send her on. The professor contradicted himself about some sort of space bees... playing up absent-mindedness to the point where it was funny, and three of the characters managed to work in the classic slogan of an all-american breakfast cereal into their bantering. "Whatcha think of Fry?" Alex asked softly.

"Umm, who's he?" Isabel asked, as the scene flashed to set the scene with gigantic bees collecting nectar from oversized flowers, each growing out of its own vaguely clump-shaped asteroid. "The one with the red hair who was hanging out with the robot."

"Yeah, that's him," Alex agreed. "He's the delivery boy, a survivor of the year 2000 who was frozen in a cryogenic tank for a thousand years." Sigh. "And, well, he's kind of madly in love with Leela, who doesn't think she feels the same way about him."

"Ahh, a predicament I can sadly relate to too well," Isabel mused. "Take a good hard look, Leela, and don't be afraid to risk your heart!" Alex laughed at her, and Isabel blushed a bit when she realized that she'd given advice to a television character, but shrugged it off. By this time, the delivery ship had flown into a beehive large enough to probably qualify as a small moon, and the robot, his tapered cylindrical torso painted with bands of yellow and black, was practicing bee communication dances that he had loaded from a cassette into his brain, using the dance moves to insult Fry and Leela. Then, the living characters dressed up in space suits with big glass helmets, they ventured out of the ship with a huge hose to try and collect themselves some honey.

"Ahhah, here come the guardian bees," Isabel said, as several giant insects confronted the heroes of the show, whereupon the robot danced out a few words to reassure them. In the deeper depths of the hive, they put the end of the hose into a river of honey and began to start sucking a tankload back to their ship. Fry, who had a somewhat shorter attention span, asked about the royal jelly that was fed to young queen bees, fell into the jelly, and Leela had to come pull him out - and also retrieved a baby queen, which she immediately went soft over, finding the little critter cute as well as potentially profitable. Gushing over her plans to start a giant beehive of her own, Leela scooped up a jar full of royal jelly for the bee to eat - and then disaster struck, as the robot, Bender, accidentally confused what he was saying to his coworkers with what he was dancing to the bees, and insulted the entire swarm. Attempting to salvage the situation, he particularly insulted the queen bee, and a daring escape scene on jet-packs followed, with Bender clinging desperately to the queen bee's stinger because he didn't have a jet pack.

After a bee exploded for no particularly good reason that Isabel could see, Fry and Leela got back to the ship well ahead of the bees, (and the robot,) but takeoff was slow because the landing feet of the ship had gotten mired in a layer of sticky honey, and as the cargo bay doors slowly drew closed the queen bee dived at them, stinger first... just in time for the stinger to poke through, deliver Bender back unto his doubtful friends, and then the stinger was painfully stuck between the closed doors for several seconds before the queen pulled free. "Well, looks like the mission was a success," Isabel said happily, and then realized that there had to be a lot more to the episode than this... had the entire escapade just been some sort of prelude?

Sure enough, Fry and Leela started to get an argument... he was trying to be protective of her, and Leela was independent and assertive enought that that even though she was fond or Fry, that rubbed her the wrong way. She was bragging about being good at taking care of herself, able to spot danger a mile away, when Fry noticed that the little queen bee she'd rescued was waking up and looked pissed. Baby queen, (a princess bee maybe?) dived at Leela, Fry threw himself in between, and the little bee, (which was still maybe two and a half feel long in the body, a foot and a half around,) stung them both - its stinger was probably long enough that it could be used for fencing, and it stabbed all the way through Fry, (Isabel gasped in shock,) and the tip of the stinger went into Leela's stomach. Now that the baby bee was presumably harmless with it's stinger broken off, Bender grabbed it and threw it out of a conveniently giant-bee-sized airlock, which there didn't seem to be any other possible use for. The bee floated out into space, before getting hit by the windshield of a space-truck and splatted.

Leela shrugged off the attack in a relatively macho way, and thanked Bender half-heartedly for trying to protect her... until she realized how limp he was lying, the stinger still impaled through his torso. She lifted a hand and it fell limply to the ground. 'He's dead!' Isabel turned to Alex as the commercials started. "He can't *really* be dead... I mean, he's one of the stars of the show, right?"

Alex shrugged. "I'm not sure... I think that they got cancelled, so maybe this is the last episode ever. Just wait and watch though... there'll be some kind of interesting payoff by the end, I'm pretty sure of that."

So Isabel waited and watched, as they went through the funeral procession, the memorial service (which seemed to be crammed full of in-joke references to previous episodes that Isabel couldn't appreciate, though she did like the casket getting ejected off to drift peacefully through space.) The entire sequence was already starting to hit much to deeply home to her when the next scene opened with Leela sitting and crying on her bed, tearing a facial tissue in half to dry her single eye and saving the other half for later... and then she ate two spoonfuls of the space honey with Fry's old novelty spoon, giggled strangely, and fell fast asleep. A few seconds later, she was floating through space, drifting up to Fry's coffin, which opened and he said hi to her just as if nothing was wrong. When Leela said she thought he was dead, Fry laughed that off, and then showed off how he was able to stick his arm through the hole in his gut and wave his hand at her like that, which didn't reassure her much. So Fry thought of something else, and there was a peculiar echo to his voice and a larger Fry-face floating dimly in space behind them as he whispered to her that he had a secret... a present that he'd bought for her, and put in her locker before the beehive mission. The locker appeared in space with them, and Fry opened it up and gave her the wrapped parcel. Leela felt like she needed to ask before opening it, which Isabel thought was cute.

And Fry said fine, but he needed her to wake up. Leela was mid-way through protesting that she wasn't asleep, when sure enough, she sat up in bed, in her darkened room. At work the next day, in the locker room, Leela told all her friends about the dream, how she hoped that the message came from Fry's spirit or essence or some part of him that lived on - and opened up the locker. Completely empty except for a few stains. Everybody was disapointed, as the robot wandered in, riffling through a wad of cash, and explaining how much better he felt by selling all of Fry's things at a pawn shop. Upon questioning, he denied that there'd been a present for Leela there too, and then gave it to her. Leela opened the box up, finding a little toy thing with a single eye that popped out when you squoze it, and repeated the conviction that Fry's spirit had told her so. The old scientist reacted dubiously to this, and vowed to get to the bottom of the matter. Several hijinks in his laboratory ensued, (nearly cutting her head open with a guillotine blade 'in order to scan her brain',) the professor said that his tests had conclusively proved that Fry was dead and could never be brought back. Leela was naturally just as skeptical of that proclamation, but couldn't entirely argue away the possibility that Fry had told her about the present before he died, and she'd twisted that around to have something to hold onto. Worried that grief was driving her insane, Leeal tossed and turned in her bed again, and soon found herself back in space - with her dead best friend.

Again with that odd echo in her voice, Fry said that he was going to just keep talking even if she couldn't hear him, and so on and so on, yattering until Leela insisted that she could hear him, but the professor said he was just a dream. Nettled, Fry took her on a tour of woundrous and romantically beautiful planetscapes... which didn't really prove he was just a dream, but impressed Leela anyway. Fry loaned her his jacket, as they raced in a sleigh over an ice planet drinking cocoa, but just when Leela was feeling happiest, Fry again urged her to 'wake up.' In the waking world, Leela seemed to be coming apart at the seams... she saw herself still wearing Fry's jacket when she woke up, but when she brought it into the office, it was clearly her own jacket, a completely different color and style from his. Hermes the bureaucrat gave her the squeeze toy to calm herself down, but she squeezed it so hard that it popped and leeked gooey stuff all over her hand, and the other characters started speaking to her in the wrong voices.

It was at this point that Leela mentioned the space honey, and several of her friends warned her to be careful - take three spoonfuls at a time, and she would fall into a sleep so deep that she'd never wake up. But Leela ate two more spoonfuls later, sitting on the couch in the break room, and accidentally spilled the royal jelly on the couch. The strangely blubbery stuff sank in slightly, swelled up -- formed into the rough outline of a person, and then a recognizable young redheaded man - Fry! His skin still covered with some of the leftover jelly, Fry looked up at Leela curiously and asked, 'Why am I naked and sticky? Did I miss something fun??'

The professor examined Fry, and came up with an incredible explanation about how Fry falling into the royal jelly back at the beehive, and the royal jelly spilling all over the spot on the couch where he spent long parts of every day, leaving behind major bodily fluids, allowed the jelly to regenerate him completely. As everybody else got ready for a celebration of their friend's revival, Fry and Leela had a heart to heart talk alone, and Isabel started to get a sinking feeling. Sure enough, the conversation once again returned to the point of Fry urging Leela to wake up, and protesting violently, she roused from lying on the couch, the royal jelly jar unspilled on the table in front of her. When Leela confessed her fears that the dreams were driving her crazy, they started into a song sequence of "Don't worry bee happy," along with a foot-long cartoon bee who stung each of them at some point during the song. Each friend who was stung swelled up and burst, even the robot. When the song finished, they were all sitting around the conference table again glaring at her, and Leela timidly asked if they had really sung a single note. Bender just growled that he wasn't allowed to sing because of a court order.

Now looking truly unhinged, Leela took the ship and drove off to find Fry's remains and keep them under her mattress... thus reminding herself every night that he was really dead and restoring her sanity. (Or that was the plan, at least.) However, when she floated out to the casket, railed at how responsible she felt for Fry's death, and opened it, there was nothing inside but a strange and hypnotic light show. Suddenly Leela woke up in bed once again, completely confused as to what, if anything, was real and how much of the last sequence had been a dream.

And things just kept getting stranger. The faces of the other characters on the show appeared hugely over the walls and floor of her room, until Leela tore them down and sucked them up with the vacuum broom. She looked at Fry's picture, distraught, told him how she was so much happier in the dreams with him, picked up the space honey, and got ready to eat three spoons full. But before eating the third spoon, the picture of Fry came to life and tried to talk her out of it, as a very small bee buzzed ominously past. Reluctantly, Leela agreed to stay awake and fight through her despair, throwing the jar of honey at the bee - but when the jar shattered, there were thousands, tens of thousands of bees swarming from that spot, buzzing all around her, Scared, Leela took the picture of Fry under her arm, and the picture spoke again.

He said again that he wasn't sure if she could hear him, but he wanted to say that he loved her. Leela replied that she wasn't sure what to do, and one more time Fry urged her to wake up. Leela didn't understand, Fry kept pleading for her to wake up... and suddenly the scene shifted to a futuristic hospital, with Leela lying in the hospital bed, her eye closed, and Fry sitting in a determined vigil by her bedside. Leela looked around, startled, once again told Fry that he was alive. Fry responded, with delight, that Leela was awake. 'Of course I'm awake - you wouldn't stop waking me. Where am I?'

Isabel stared on, stealing only occasional glimpses of Alex's grin, as the true plot unfolded. Leela had been the one who had been brought to death's door by the bee sting - not killed, but in a coma for weeks. The stinger plunging quickly through Fry's body had done him no great harm, missing all the vital organs, but Leela had been poked with the very tip, containing deadly the deadly poison. (Oh, except apparently Fry had to get a spleen transport from a motorcycling fan.) The doctors had said that she wouldn't recover, but Fry had talked at her nonstop, hoping that some of what he was saying would get through. Leela thanked him and hugged him, and as the closing credits came over a black screen, each of them whispered to the other that they really needed to bathe by this point.

Her head spinning, Isabel turned off the television and turned to Alex. "Wow... just wow. So... so some of the things Fry said, in Leela's dreams inside the coma... were what he was really saying to her as she lay in the hospital bed?" she confirmed. "About the present, and whenever he said that he wasn't sure if she could hear him... and everytime that he was pleading with her to..."

"To wake up?" Alex finished. "Yeah, I guess so. Definitely an interesting reversal... and an oddly similar situation to the one that we find ourselves in." He sighed. "If I could tell you to wake up and bring out out of a coma, I would, but somehow I don't think it's going to be that easy."

"No," Isabel admitted. "But somehow... I dunno, I feel like watching this with you was a sign... that somehow you and I will be able to find our happy ending too."

Alex grinned. "Who am I to argue with a feeling like that?" She smiled, and there was a pause. "How about you turn on the tv and this time it's your turn to pick what we watch?"

So Isabel turned it back on and started surfing through the channels.

----------

"Okay, umm... can you see me n--" Alex broke off, realizing that Maria was rushing towards him as if she could actually throw her arms around him and hug him. "I... I don't think that'd be a good... yeah." Maria had realized the point and caught herself before he finished speaking, of course.

Isabel chuckled, trying not to feel so consciously conflicted about the feel of Tess' fingers on hers. This was the girl whose selfish choices and poor judgements had led, pretty directly, to Alex's death, even if she hadn't meant for him to die. On the other hand, her powers were making something incredible possible now. As Isabel looked around at her friends, it wasn't only Maria who was so excited that she could hardly contain herself. Liz was on the verge of tearing up, even though she'd had more time to get used to the idea of Alex as a ghost, and had already heard his voice through Isabel. Max was nearly as emotional, and even Michael, Kyle, and Mister Valenti seemed to be stoically affected by the manifestation. "Err, okay, somebody say something," Alex muttered, a faint flush coming to his cheeks and shaking his head slightly just like he always did when he felt nervous.

"It... it's *really* good to see you," Max said, and there were definite agreements from several other people to this. "Not - not sure if I really have any questions or anything, and I feel kinduv weird telling you anything much, because you've been around for a lot more than I realized, so..."

"Well, how are things between you and Liz?" Alex asked bluntly, and chuckled. "Umm, I mean - well, I have to admit that I'm curious. I wasn't spying on you guys last night - I couldn't have if I wanted to, because you weren't within range of Isabel."

"And plus, you and Isabel were probably keeping each other busy in other ways," Maria teased him.

"Actually, we were," Isabel admitted. "But more about that later. Max, the question has been put." She felt curious about Max and Liz's recognition, though she wouldn't have asked herself. Since Alex had done the asking, though, she felt just comfortable to needle Max slightly. Max made a face.

"We're... we're back together," Liz announced. Tess flinched visibly, and Liz turned to look at her erstwhile rival for an instant, unashamed. "We had a lot of fun at the Elkins carnival. And, frankly, anything more than that is not for all of the ears here."

"Oh," Alex made a sad face. "So my ears don't qualify??"

Liz shook her head, and Max laughed. "I think I can come up with a few little details for your ears, and Isabel's, at some point. But... yeah, this isn't really the place or the time."

"Okay, then let's move on to real business," Isabel suggested. "Alex had some ideas about the book translation and how to proceed... trying to use the orbs as communicators in a similar way to how we got the holomessage in the first place. Going up to the pod chamber and trying to use them to talk to somebody."

There was a pretty stunned silence after that announcement. "Umm... okay, first question," Michael said weakly. "Why does it have to be the pod chamber?"

"Because that's where you were the first time you got the orbs to activate," Alex said. "The instructions say that the communication tools, whatever they are, are completely dormant when they're not surrounded by some kind of resonance chamber. I never saw the pod chamber, but it makes sense as a place that the alien guardians would build in something big like that, and since the orbs definitely weren't dormant in the pod chamber..."

"I - I think I get it," Max said, smiling slightly and draping an arm around Liz's shoulders, possibly to ward off bad memories that they both might have about the orbs and the pod chamber. "Almost like the entire chamber is a gigantic radio, antenna and all, and the orbs are only its control knobs. Seperate, they're pointless, unless you can manage to turn the radio on and then remove the knobs without turning it off."

"Yeah, I think that's not a bad analogy," Isabel said.

"Which brings up a new question," Liz said thoughtfully. "If the chamber is an antenna, or includes an antenna - is it directional? Does it matter what time of year and what time of day it is, as far as who we can contact with it?"

"And... are we sure that we're ready for it, without knowing any more?" Maria asked, a troubled frown on her face. "I mean, the last time you guys futzed with the Orbs... it kinduv looks like that brought Vanessa Whittaker to Roswell, and got you guys mixed up with Courtney and the Copper Summit skins. Several of us nearly died, two or three times over, in that sequence." She took a deep breath. "And now we're discussing actually using the Orbs as an interstellar communicator, without being sure how to pick someone particular to talk to? Without even KNOWING who we should talk to, except maybe for Larek, who's probably a busy guy and still maybe upset with us for the last time we dragged him out here."

Alex looked over at Isabel and shrugged. "All very good objections," Isabel admitted. "Okay... I'm willing to put the communicator idea to one side, if someone else has an idea for another avenue of inquiry." The implication hung clearly in the air - no matter the risk, Izzy would not give up on her quest, or even allow it to stall in the hopes of a favorable development arriving from outside the group. She would pursue all avenues, the safest and smartest ones first, but take any risks that arose, in order to win a new life for Alex.

"Try to find friendly aliens here on Earth," Kyle suggested a bit uncertainly. "I mean... there's Ava - we believe that Ava's cool, right?" Liz nodded. "And maybe she knows something more about this kind of thing - nobody asked her last time she was in town. And Ava and the sewer hybrids had a protector once. He's got to still be out there somewhere."

"Not necessarily," Tess grumped sourly. "The special unit might have caught him... or enemy aliens, just like... like N--" She couldn't bring herself to finish that statement.

"But that's something we can check," Alex agreed. "And Tess -- you mentioned that Nasedo had left some private notes, for your eyes only. They weren't with the book translation."

"They - they weren't?" Max asked, surprised. "Somehow I got the impression that..." Isabel shook her head at him. "Well, okay then. Tess?" He turned to glare at her, and she shrank away from her anger. "You don't have the right to keep *anything* secret from us at this point - I hope you realize that."

"Yeah, okay." Tess sighed. "Once... once Alex had been back from Las Cruces for a little while, and I started to realize that my mindwarp memories on him wouldn't last forever without repeated tampering... I, I went and buried Nasedo's stuff out in the desert one night. I didn't want to take any risk of you guys finding it."

"Probably smart," Liz agreed. "But you're going to lead us back to that cache. You can't have forgotten where it was." Tess shook her head.

"And, well... I'm not especially meaning to keep harping on possible secrets in your past," Max said, his attention still intently on Tess, "but mentioning Ava reminded me of something."

"Let me guess," she interrupted, a slightly bitter tone creeping into her voice. "New York. The subway tunnel, after Liz saved your life. What *really* happened between Lonnie, Rath, and me? Because you've never been satisfied with the blanks in the story I told you, and now that there's definite proof I've been keeping stuff from you, etcetera etcetera."

"Impressively perceptive," Max said, his own tone without any harshness to it, but a cool edge. "But just because you told me my question, don't expect me to fill in the answer."

"I... I wasn't lying when I said that I wasn't completely clear on what happened," Tess insisted. "But yes, there are two things that I *did* keep from you." She sighed. "One is that I drew on combat techniques I learned from Nasedo to try and run them off... close contact stuff, linking to their bodies and squeezing their lungs or trying to block blood flow out of the brain, stuff like that."

"And the other?" Alex prompted.

"For a second, without really meaning to - I reversed the mind rape, and I was inside Rath's head. That... that was how I learned some of the stuff I used on - on you, Alex." Tess covered her face with her arms and began to sob. "I don't even understand *why* I did it - not really. None of it makes any sense, looking back on my choices now. I see who I was back then, and I know what you all must think of me, because I think it too. I was a monster." She sniffled and looked up slightly. "Maybe I'm a monster still."

Once again Isabel felt torn by this relatively showy expression of remorse... was it sincere? Or was Tess just trying to play a strategy that she thought might win her some sympathy, or at least take the edge off their resentment? Distance her present self from her mistakes by expressing more contempt of them than anybody else? It seemed smart to not let herself be affected by the show any more than she could help.

"Well, thanks for telling us," Max said gruffly. Apparently he was thinking the same sort of thing as Isabel was. "Okay, we'll meet after school again to go hunting after Tess' secrets."

"And finals should be over in about a week and a half," Isabel pointed out. "Then we can really open a can of whup-ass on this situation. Go off cross-country hunting aliens, or whatever else needs to be done."

"Yeah," Liz agreed softly. "Okay, come on - we'd better head off to classes." We'd met for breakfast at the Valenti's, and Tess had started to mindwarp Alex after the eating was mostly over.

"Just one thing," Maria called, and stepped up to Alex. "I... I can't put into words how much I miss you, bass-man. Never forget that you might be dead, but you're still loved."

"I think Isabel has that covered," Alex joked, and Isabel shook her head, but Maria grinned.

"Okay, if nobody else has last words, I guess you can let the illusion go, Tess," Maria said. They looked around - Liz waved, but didn't say anything, and Tess closed her eyes. Alex's image didn't even waver, to Isabel's eyes, but it was clear that everybody else could no longer see him. Tess took her hand away from the other hybrid girls'.

But Liz came over to Isabel as the others got their bags and headed out the door. "I know that I keep on asking for more and more... but do you think it'd be possible to, I don't know, to dreamwalk one of us, and have Alex come along for the ride?"

Isabel only had to think about that for a moment before seeing the point. "You want to get your hands on my dead boyfriend?"

Liz laughed. "Well, not in an inappropriate way - heck, I'm spoken for too, remember." Isabel nodded happily. "But... but just to feel his arms around me, yeah, I'd like that, and I think it'd mean even more to Maria."

Isabel considered the puzzle for a second. "Well, it's certainly worth a try. He follows me into my own dreams and anywhere else I try to go... even once I managed to dreamwalk myself... which was actually pretty strange and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get out." Liz's eyes widened. "So... do you want to give it a try tonight?"

"Um, sure I guess." Liz smiled. "Probably better not to get Maria's hopes up until we know that it can work..."

"Hey, do you pretty ladies want a ride to school or not?" Max called from the door, and they exchanged a look and hurried to catch up.

----------

"Hmm... what do you think, Max?" Michael asked, looking at the patch of sand, almost exactly in between two large cacti, which did look ever so slightly different from the sand all around it in color and contour, as if it had been disturbed several months ago. "Should we make Tess do all the digging?" Tess rolled her eyes, and Max's eyes glinted.

"It would be kinda fun," he admitted. "But also would probably take too long, and it wouldn't surprise me if she started whining long before she was done. Plus, I mean, we did bring three shovels." He started handing them out. "But it seems to me like you should work at least as hard as any of us, Miss Harding."

"Atonement is a bitch," Tess grumbled, but without any really significant levels of annoyance in her tone of voice. Between the five of them - Isabel, Max, Michael, Tess, and Liz, they managed to get the earth moving at a respectable rate. It occured to Isabel that they could probably have excavated with alien powers and not bothered with the shovels, but that would probably have been almost as tiring, and there was something fufilling about doing it the old-fashioned way. Plus the extremely remote possibility that someone else might spot them using their powers... though exactly what they'd say if someone came up during the longer process of digging manually, she wasn't sure. Even Liz, the smallest and slightest of them all, pitched in with a will when it was a turn, and offered to relieve Tess after she'd been working for ten minutes straight.

Not long afterward, they ran into the first sign of Tess' cache - a tough plastic membrane, part of the substance of a transparent sack. Michael and Max dug around the edges of the bag with their bare hands, and pulled it out of the hole and up onto level ground. There was another pile of papers, not computer printouts this time, but handwritten - mostly looking like they were torn out of spiral notebooks or written on three-ring college-ruled paper. Also, there was a fancy wrist-watch, a strange flat thing with five sides, not all of them equal in length, and about five little stoppered plastic vials with liquids sealed inside of them. Also something that looked a bit like a plastic model of an alien space station. "What's that one?"

"Actually, your guess is as good as mine," Tess admitted. "Maybe a keepsake, a miniature of someplace that he lived a long time ago. I'm not really sure why I included it with the rest of this stuff, except that it looked obviously alien enough that I couldn't let anyone else see it, and I knew you guys would have questions if you spotted it." She sighed. "The pocket watch has a diary from the last two years of his life, encoded into its molecular structure... I can teach you how to read it if you guys can't figure it out on your own."

"What's with the plastic cups?" Michael asked. "And this thing." He pointed at the flat object. It looked kind of like a half-inch-thick square that had had two triangular wedges cut off on the same side and the corners rounded off."

"Inside the phials are different samples of substances that have drug-like effects on aliens, or hybrids. Three of them are native to earth, the others he must have brought with him on the original ship. The flat thing is a Jaz disk - we'll have to look a long time to find a reader for it."

"Alright," Isabel sighed. "Let's get the hole sealed up and take this stuff back to town. No sense sitting out here jawing about it."

"I guess not," Max agreed, and started pitching sand back into the pit that they'd made. Tess and Liz quickly joined in.

"Once that's done," Tess muttered, "who's my keeper for this evening?"

There was a short silence. "I guess it's my turn," Isabel said softly. "You can come over to our house and study or something."

"Great fun." But when Tess next looked up from her digging and locked eyes with Isabel, there was something faintly grateful there... thankful, maybe, that Isabel wasn't going out of her way to make this seem like a prison sentence. Maybe, in a few more days, it'd make sense to let Tess out of their sight for short stretches of time... but none of them seemed to be at that point yet. It was still a little too hard to trust someone who had kept so many secrets.

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
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Post by Chrisken » Sun Sep 10, 2006 1:46 pm

Part Nine

"Come on, Izzy," Alex cajoled. "The ebay stuff can wait... you've got a spanish lit final to study for."

"What if it can't wait?" she shot back easily. "What if there's an auction for exactly the piece of hardware that we need, but it ends before we find it, and there won't be another for..."

"What if you're up all night and you don't study," Alex replied, "and you fail spanish lit, which means that you don't graduate, and you're stuck back in school next fall instead of off actually doing important stuff to get this cloning plan ready to go?"

She looked up at him, taking his hand in hers, and smiled. The bodily contact thing was getting even easier... she could always be quite certain of touching him as long as she didn't need to put any weight on his nonexistent shape. "Relax, sweetie. This will take me five more minutes, and then I promise, I will be diving into 'The rape of the lock' and the ballads of Alsonze with full vigor. Umm... do you spell Jaz disc ending in a c or a k??"

"Umm... maybe you shouldn't say either," Alex suggested. "Since the disk is what we've got, not what we need. Search for Jaz drive or just Jaz reader. Only one z in jaz."

"Got it." She punched the term in. "Hrrm. One match, but - argh, they won't ship to the USA."

"Well, it's still on sale for nearly five and a half days," Alex said, pointing to the auction length time that was listed, in days, hours, minutes, and seconds. "So you can worry about it tomorrow, if you think it's any good trying to contact them and change their mind... or arrange for delivery by intermediary or something like that."

"It'll *probably* be on sale for five and a half days," Isabel corrected. "There's the buy it now option. If someone meets that price, whoosh, it's gone."

"Okay, well, it's up to you, but you only have three minutes and fifty-- two seconds more before you agreed to study spanish," Alex said, smiling.

Isabel turned to look at him, distracted from her ebay ninjitsu by another odd question about her ghostly lover. "How... how do you do that?"

"Umm - do what, specifically, darling?" He brushed bangs out of the way of her left eye.

"Measure time so exactly. You don't have a watch on, or any clock with a second hand in view. Is perfect sense of time just another ghostly power that you've got now?"

"I... I can't lie to you," Alex replied, and sighed for a moment. "I - I was completely making that up, I didn't have any clue if that was the right amount of time or not."

"Ohh." Sighing, Isabel turned back to the screen, and struggled with indecision for a brief moment. Then, she decided not to worry about the possibility of a 'buy it now', tagged the little link to watch the auction progress in her ebay summary screen, and then returned to her search engine to look for a few reference sites where she could look up topics that would be on the spanish lit test. That was a favorite technique of hers... not only could little tidbits that weren't in the usual textbooks earn her extra marks occasionally, but knowing that she had information about the subject of the test that few, if any, of her classmates did was a wonderful boost in confidence.

She didn't spend long on the web, and went back to the school-issued source books, asking Alex for his opinion on certain things as she went, and finding, big surprise, that he was just as familiar with all of the material as she was, after being in her head this long. Once she felt all ready for spanish lit, she took twenty-five minutes to brush up on some tricky differential calculus stuff, (which was the day after tomorrow,) and then changed for bed. *You know, the fact that you're nearly almost around now, and we seem to know each other and have no secrets... in a weird way, being haunted is like what I always dreamed marriage would be like.*

Alex raised an eyebrow at her, and then laughed. "You know, I'm not sure I ever thought about what being married would be like... at least, not being newly married, married while I was still relatively young. I had a kind of mental picture by the time I was... ehh, my parent's age, or at least the age that they were a few years ago, having kids of my own maybe, and having settled into a comfortable household routine. But I guess I never really thought about the steps that it would take to get there."

"Well, I think you thought about a few of the steps," she teased him out loud before realizing what she was doing. *Umm, even if you didn't think of them in those terms.*

Alex cocked his head, and then realized what he was talking about. Making love was the same act that led to making babies, and yes, that objective was something that he had been aware of, though he hadn't thought of that part of it. And to a certain extent, his infatuation with Isabel had been wanting to take the first steps that might lead them to marriage and making a home together. "Fair enough." He shot Isabel a look whose meaning was familiar to her now, and she concentrated for an instant to change him into well-tailored silk pajamas, patterned in deep blue and dark gray. The two of them lay together in her bed side by side.

"I wonder if Max got anywhere with that wristwatch, or the handwritten notes," she wondered out loud.

"We'll find out soon enough." Alex brushed his fingers through her hair and kissed the very top curve of one of her ears. "Now, you need your sleep."

"Yeah," she sighed, and let out a giggle. "And we both need our dreaming time."

"Well, yeah," he admitted. "But not that much of it. I think dreaming of me, fun as it might be, isn't as restful long-term as deep sleep."

"REM sleep is the *most* restful part of sleep," she countered. "And we can't exactly keep you out of my dreams even if we wanted to." She sighed. "Though, I think you might, unfortunately, have a point that the funnest and most vivid dreams aren't as restful as others. Sucks."

"Eh well." Alex let his fingers run across her neck. "Maybe we'll just have to make time for both kinds of dreams."

And Isabel wasn't quite sure what else happened before she drifted off.

----------

"So, how did the Spanish lit test go?" Liz asked the next day at lunch.

"Great... I think." Isabel laughed softly. "I'm pretty sure I nailed it, at least."

"That's great," Max said. "And... any luck on the jaz disc search?"

"Only one long-shot hit on ebay." Isabel sighed. "We're going to try some more obscure computer parts places that Alex knows about this afternoon." She considered, looked over at Alex, who was sitting across the table from her, invisible to everyone but her. "How about... your end of it?"

"Well, there's some stuff in the wristwatch about 'taking care' of the Special unit that I really didn't want to know about," Max muttered in a low voice. "Brutal, cold-hearted... well, you get the picture."

Isabel did - all too clearly. She'd been unable to completely avoid wondering if Nasedo had used stricter tactics on the Special Unit hardliners than simply revealing the organization's existence to the press and letting Congress disband them as an embarassment... the group had been full of fanatics and paranoids, after all - it pretty much had to be. And there would have been opporunities - the Unit's mission forced it to experiment with exotic weaponry, nuclear experimentation techniques, and so on. Dangerous practices, where it would be easy for the impostor Daniel Pierce to 'arrange' a few fatal accidents without drawing too much attention to himself.

"But the diary does seem to support Alex's theory about the orbs as communicators," Liz added in a whisper. "In fact... as nearly as we can tell, he didn't think that you'd just get a recorded message of your mom when you activated them last year. He was worried that you'd be talking live to someone on Antar... though he wasn't sure what side they'd be on."

"Well, that's something at least, I guess," Isabel replied. "Anything else worth talking about?"

Max and Liz traded a look. "Yes... there's something that we need to tell you about, and while somebody else is babysitting Tess," Liz said softly. Michael, Maria, Kyle, and Tess were all having lunch at the Crashdown today. "No matter what else, I *cannot* trust her with this thing, not quite yet... because if there's any truth to the idea that she's only staying in line because she knows she's lost... what I'm about to tell you is knowledge that she could use to turn everything around."

"Are... are you sure that you want to tell me, then?" Isabel asked softly. By an unspoken cue all three of them got up and started walking... all four of them, actually. "What if... if I give it away to Tess unconsciously, somehow - she deliberately takes a flash from me?"

"No, you need to know," Max agreed softly. "Because *we* could change everything with this information, too. And maybe we should, rather than trying to bring Alex back some other way."

Oh-ho!! "So... it represents another possibly strategy, then? Instead of cloning or moving him in with Kyle??"

"Yeah," Liz said softly. "Okay, let's see... back last fall, a few days before the Skins faked Whittaker's death, I got a very unusual visitor. Someone whose presence here in Roswell I've kept a secret from everyone but Maria... until yesterday, when I finally told Max."

"Who was it?" Isabel asked. "Another alien?"

"Not quite," Max said enigmatically.

"Not quite alien? Heck, I know that we're not fully alien, Max, but it's close enough..." Isabel thought about how much alien was enough to count, and groaned.

"Not quite 'another'," Liz corrected, and then Isabel just shook her head in confusion. "As in, it's almost, but not quite, an alien that we're both very familiar with." Seeing that Isabel wasn't jumping to it, she added. "Time-traveller. Future member of someone in the gang."

"Oh, my lord," Isabel breathed. "So now there's time travel?"

"Cool," Alex said. Isabel shot her a sharp look. "Sorry, I can't help the way I feel."

Max was nodding. "Was it... was it a future version of me?" Liz shook her head, and Max chuckled softly. "Michael?" No again. "Max, it was you??"

"Apparently," he said.

"Trust me, it was Max," Liz sighed. "Though a fairly screwed up Max, I have to believe, given the more recent evidence that's come in since. He... basically, he told me very sincerely that I had to get Max to fall out of love with me and keep Tess here in Roswell, or it would mean the end of the world in thirteen or fourteen years." She shook her head. "And now everything that I did back then seems to have been counterproductive."

"Wait a second," Isabel said, concentrating hard.

"Now she's getting it," Max muttered. Liz thwapped him softly on the arm.

"A few days before the Harvest happened... this was when you slept with Kyle, Liz?"

"PRETENDED to sleep with Kyle," Max insisted. Isabel blinked once. "It was an act. I didn't really catch them in the middle of it, after all... just assumed what I was supposed to."

"Yeah," Liz muttered, blushing. "And there's something else I have to say. Before Future Max and I changed history, Alex would have survived. He said specifically that Alex was at... at our wedding, which was in the February that I was eighteen... so about nine months from now."

"But he probably wasn't telling you everything about the future," Alex said to Liz, and Isabel sighed and relayed that. "So... maybe I was there in spirit, and both of you knew about me, and that's what he meant."

"Hmm... I have to admit, I hadn't thought about that," Max admitted. "But it still doesn't add up. In that other timeline, Tess had left Roswell before christmas. So it wouldn't have made much sense for her to whisk you away to translate the book for her."

"Well, unless she wanted to use it to go home alone, or something like that," Isabel muttered.

"Well, whether Alex died or not back then is not really the central point," Max said decisively. "The point is, that as a potential time machine, the Granolith represents a possibility to alter the past again. Tess might be able to use it to go back and cover her tracks better, to succeed in the plans that she was making... maybe she'd even want to save Nasedo's life. And we... and we could use it to try and save Alex."

"First things first," Isabel burst in, cutting Liz off from whatever the other girl had been about to say. "Sorry, but - the destiny book translation mentions a crystal key, that has to be used to activate the Granilith. We need to find that - and above all, to make sure that Tess isn't hiding it from us."

"Yeah," Liz said. "What do you think about going back in time, Isabel?"

"What, me?"

"I think you'd be the best one for this," she said after a moment. "Of course, it's not an immediate possibility... I think that FM mentioned they needed to work a lot of complicated stuff out to get it to work. Weird extraterrestrial physics or something, I'm not sure. But anyway... you've made it wordlessly clear that any decision about Alex's life and death comes down to you... or to Alex himself. This would seem to qualify."

Isabel paused, and shook her head. "Haven't thought of it that way, but it does make a kind of sense." Alex had put his faith in her, after all, when they were out walking that evening. 'You hold my soul... I know that you'll always take good care of it.' "Well, from what you've said, I'm nervous about the idea. Obviously, things didn't happen the way Future Max intended, and he had to do a lot of things he obviously didn't like in order to change history at all. Using this power would be an incredibly important roll of the dice... can we make the present better, or do we make it even worse? Also, the time limits seem to be the longest. We can try the other avenues, and leave time travel as a backup plan in case they fail." Max nodded. "Wouldn't hurt to learn more about the theory, try to get the technique ready in advance just in case. And, of course, make sure that nobody takes the Granilith away."

"I'm nervous about that, actually," Liz muttered. "If we have the crystal key, the Granolith, and the method... what if some other force tries to use us to get them? Threaten each other... tell you that you have to co-operate, say, or they kill Max or Michael." Isabel's breath caught. "Or... or maybe it would be possible to entirely leave behind the threats, punch straight through our resistance and *make* us help them."

"Hopefully that shouldn't be a problem if we keep the secret well enough," Max muttered. "Nobody would know that the secret of time travel was there to be stolen."

"Yeah, maybe." Isabel sighed and groaned. "Okay... well, is there anything else we need to settle now?" Three heads shook at her. "Then I think I'm going to go home, look for a Jaz drive, and study some calculus."

"Doesn't sound like a whole heap of fun," Liz pointed out. "You've got some time... do something fun this afternoon with Alex." She squeezed Max's hand slightly. "It really helps more than you can imagine."

"Hmm." Isabel thought about that - and the idea of going to the pod chamber with Alex so that they could be completely alone and not need to worry about anyone overhearing her talking to nobody... or moaning in passion by herself, or whatever. Actually, there was a slight possibility that one of the others could interrupt... but that didn't seem too likely. "Alright, I will." Then the fact that Tess' hand was presumably still a key to the pod chamber door started to bug her. Was there any way to change the handprint lock??

As it turned out, there was an electronics dealer in Abilene who had a few 'excellent condition' Jaz drives for sale, though he seemed confused about some girl that he didn't know from Roswell calling him up to inquire. (Isabel decided not to bother mentioning Alex's name at this point.) Considering how much he was charging to ship one out of state, though, and how long it might take to arrive, Isabel wasn't certain about going that route. She wasn't entirely sure how far Abilene was, but maybe someone could drive out there to buy the unit, on the weekend. For the time being, she returned her attention to differentials for half an hour, (finding out that courtesy of a little 'tutoring' from her ghostly lover, she was really understanding them much better,) and then started planning their journey up to the Pod Chamber.

"So... that's kinduv a shock, isn't it?" Alex asked as he stepped beside her. Isabel was carrying a thick heavy quilt out to the car. Her mom would pitch a fit if she knew the kind of place that she was taking it... (if the pod chamber even had a 'kind' that Diane Evans would be capable of comprehending,) but Isabel wanted something comfy to be lying on or leaning on, and this was the best one she could think of. She'd have it back soon, and make sure that it was clean too. What more could mom ask for?? "About Liz and Future Max."

"Yeah, definitely," Isabel said, and then considered. "So... you didn't have any clue, before we heard? You don't have any ghostly knowledge of anything that I don't?"

"Well, aside from my own life, and things that I can deliberately investigate by walking through walls or peeking into solid objects, apparently not," Alex admitted. "Which makes sense given the 'I'm literally in your head' thing." He sighed. "I feel like I should have realized that something was deeply weird about Isabel around then... but I was mostly wrapped up in my own drama, upset about you ignoring me, and that kind of thing." He sat down as Isabel got behind the driver's seat and pulled out. "Did... did anybody ever tell you about the fortune teller??"

"Umm... no, I don't think so."

"Okay, well... from what Liz mentioned today, her first meeting with Future Max was probably the same night that we went to Madame Vivian's. And I'm not sure what was in Liz's reading, because she didn't talk that much about it, but from the smile on her face on the way back it was definitely better than mine... or Maria's."

"Wait a second!" Isabel exclaimed. Something about that had triggered a faint memory. "Yes, I think I heard about the Maria/Michael part... she got on his case about the psychic telling him that they only had forty-eight hours tops, or something like that, and Michael got bristly, and all of it happened at the wrong time and ended up feeding into the whole Courtney drama."

"Yeah, that's it," Alex admitted. "Kind of looks like Madam Vivian was talking out of her ass... Michael and Maria had a spat, sure, but they were kinduv back together in a few weeks. Liz didn't have much happiness with Max, at least not then - though I suppose a fortune teller can be excused if time travellers mess up her readings."

"Yeah, that seems fair," Isabel agreed. "What about you?"

"Well... I said that I *was* curious what would happen between me and a certain tall blonde with a frosty reputation," Alex laughed. "Though I didn't describe you that much to her. And what she told me was that... that I was a good friend to you, your steady rock, but..." he chuckled. "That we would never get 'carnal' together." Isabel snorted and nearly swerved over the yellow line. "Yeah. And... and I'm not proud of how that phrasing made me respond. I mean... I'm not a stereotypical teenage horndog, but I do have my own desires and daydreams, and I guess being told that I wouldn't made me focus a little bit on the other side." He groaned. "We can't do the carnal now, not physically for real, but that's not so important to me. Even being your friend, someone you trust completely is an incredible, *inestimable* thing, really... and then there's all of the things that go beyond friendship AND carnality."

"Yeah... well, it's all good," Isabel admitted. "And we did kind of prove her wrong. I carnal-ed you before you died, after all." Alex chuckled. "But it makes me a little sad... hearing how you thought I was ignoring you back then."

"Well, to be fair, I didn't understand all that you were going through back then," he pointed out. "Just having found out that Vilandra was a traitor and so on." Paue. "Maybe... you thought it would be better for me if I wasn't involved with someone like that, if I could learn to keep my distance?"

Isabel smiled slightly. "The thought might have run through my brain, yeah." She sighed. "So, riddle me this... just when did you find out about the Vilandra stuff??"

"Hmm." Alex considered that. "I... I think that you mentioned something about her to me, that first night up at my grave, after I died. And I think I kind of found out some more about it over the next few days... wasn't deliberately trying to search through your memories, but the question was on my mind, so I guess I kind of picked stuff up automatically."

"So... so you didn't know until then?" Alex shook his head. "Come to think of it, I wonder how Liz knew, since I think that's why I told you. You wanted me to recount the argument at your wake, and one of the things Liz said was that Kivar might have wanted to bring me back home as his lover again, which could give him a motive for eliminating you."

"Well... think about the chain," Alex suggested. "Who knew? Who might have been likely to tell Liz, and when??"

"I know that Lonnie told Max, when she was in Roswell - used it as a wedge to split Max away from me and convince him to go to New York with her."

"Wait a second," Alex interrupted. "How would it wedge between you two?"

"Well, as part of a more involved and sneaky strategy," Isabel allowed. "She dressed up like me, using her powers to cover up all the differences that couldn't be changed with more conventional means, gave him an opportunity to confront 'me' about what she had said, reacted uber-defensively, started a huge argument, and drove him away like that."

"Ahh... yeah, that could work," Alex agreed. "So, what then? Max told Liz after he got back from New York maybe? Between then and Christmas?"

"Yeah, seems about as likely as anything else." Isabel yawned slightly. "Not really worth bothering about in any greater detail I guess."

"Are you tired?" Alex immediately asked.

"Umm... not really... it's been a long day, but I'm not ready to go to sleep just yet - or even just lie back and veg out. Have other things in mind." Isabel grined a wide grin. "So... do you think that I can access your memories directly too? I mean, if they're inside my head now."

"Not sure, it might not work the same way," Alex said slowly. "But I'll tell you anything you want to know."

"Really - anything at all?"

"Umm... I think so." She spared enough of a look away from the road to tell that Alex was blushing something fierce. "Some of it might not be easy, but I don't want to have any secrets from you... even the really embarassing stuff."

"Hmm." Something about that made Isabel think about the subject in a different light. "Maybe we shouldn't go too far with the sharing thing... there are boundaries to every healthy relationship, and enough things are already blurred between us." Alex nodded. "I won't ask you about anything that I think will be too much for you to share, and you shouldn't feel obligated to answer if I ask about something without realizing that it would be a humiliation. And maybe, in return, you could try to stay away from those parts of my mind... and if you happen to accidentally transgress, just don't give away that you know. Sound like a plan?"

"Yeah, it's definitely a plan," Alex agreed. "So... do you want to drive with me over to Abilene on Saturday, or maybe see if somebody else wants to do it, or if we can go with someone else along to keep you company if I need to pop out?"

"Umm... I'm not sure," Isabel admitted. That was something that she hadn't thought about... that the drive might be so long that Alex couldn't accompany her. The length of time he could go without blinking away seemed to be highly variable, possibly depending on how strongly he was making his presence felt... he could shadow her relatively quietly for more than a day, (if their willpowers were up to that,) but if they were conversing non-stop, it was down closer to five or six hours. "Do you know how long the drive is?"

"I think around six and a quarter hours, each way."

"Hmm." Izzie thought about that for a moment, and then shrugged. "Do you... do you ever wish that I HADN'T been an alien?"

"Hmm." Alex cocked his head, surprised at the question. "I... I'm not sure if I know how to answer that. You'd certainly be a beautiful, fun, interesting person if you weren't an alien... but in a weird way..."

"I'd be less exciting?" Isabel asked.

"Umm... well, there's that - though excitement has its downside," Alex said, and Isabel had to admit that was true. She wished her own life had been a lot less exciting in certain ways for the past two years. "But I was struggling for a way to say... that you'd be less *you*. I love the total package, and the fact that you're literally not like everybody else is a part of that."

She considered that, and decided that she liked the answer.

Soon it was time to park the car, and make the climb up to the chamber. Once again, Isabel had to carry the quilt, and the small package of snacks that she'd brought along as well, but she didn't mind, though it was a bit awkward to get the chamber door open like that. Once they were in, she spread the quilt out in what seemed like the least dusty patch of floor, dropped the snacks a few feet away, and turned around to smile at Alex. Before leaving, she'd changed into a fairly brief pair of chino shorts and a v-neck tee, figuring that that would work about as well as anything else she had. Alex was looking back towards the closed door, an oddly pensive expression on his face. "Penny?"

"Hmmm?" It seemed to take him a moment to realize that Isabel wasn't referring to a girl named Penny. "For my thoughts? Umm... no, no sale at that price." He blushed slightly.

"How about a kiss, then??" She stepped close and carefully wrapped her arms around him, careful not to put weight on where she was touching him, in case he couldn't support that. Their lips drew near, but Isabel didn't initiate actual content, or let him kiss her as easily as she usually would.

"Umm, okay, well." Alex sighed. "This doesn't seem complimentary to you... but I was wondering if I could walk through the door there as easily as I can go through other surfaces."

"Hmm." Isabel considered that. Yes, she would have thought that Alex would be more concerned with the carnal possibilities of their tryst here, but the fact that his brain was always working along unexpected tracks was one of the things that she loved most about him. (Even if he didn't really have a brain to call his own at the moment and was just borrowing hers... but somehow he still managed to think in completely Alex-like ways... it was strange how that could happen.) "Well, we can try... either now, or *later*." Alex laughed at the unsubtle hint. "Is it just an idle wondering, or important somehow?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "Assuming that I'm not completely and uniquely supernatural, it might tell us something about the security of this place. If I can go out when the door is closed... or more importantly, if I can go in when you're outside and the door is sealed, then it suggests that the chamber might be subject to other kinds of intrusions using mental powers."

"Yeah, I guess that'd be good to know," Isabel admitted. "Ohh, I owe you a kiss now, don't I?"

"Definitely you do, girl!" She chuckled and plastered her mouth passionately into his, licking behind his upper teeth. Alex growled in passion as well as he could, and she ended up toppling over backward and landing on the quilt, Alex on top of her. (That worked pretty well, she decided, from a ghost weight perspective.) Somehow his weight pressing down on hers managed to feel completely real... if she were somehow lying on a scale, would it recognize however much the two of them added up to? If so, then presumably one of them was using her powers to push her down.

Soon, though, thoughts of the exact mechanisms of Alex's physical manifestation and scale readings were driven entirely out of her head. Alex had shown very little difficulty, or hesitation, in working her shirt up so that it was bunched up around the level where her arms blocked any further immediate upward movement, and he had grinned after realizing that she wasn't wearing a bra. (Or maybe he'd realized it earlier, but just still felt he had reason enough to grin when actually seeing bare boob-ness with his own eyes.) And his fingers, his lips, his tongue all felt completely warm and alive when they touched her sensitive flesh. And the kinds of things that he made her feel... alive didn't even begin to describe it. Her body was flashing alternately with hot energy and icy chills, in the best possible way.

But since Isabel was generally considered such a giving soul, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that in about ten minutes the tables were turned... she had stripped Alex down to nothing but his ghostly birthday suit... (she could probably just concentrate and make his clothes disappear, but chose to do it the old-fashioned way - as she threw each article of clothing away, it completely vanished just before landing--) and had him lay on his side while exploring every inch of his body. Perhaps on some level she was curious if she could tell it from a living person this way, but there was simply no difference. His skin was solid and unbroken, the picture of perfectly good health, and she could even smell faint manly smells coming from him, and hear every motion that he made in the silence of the chamber. Every hair, every freckle seemed to be in its proper place as far as she could tell... and he reacted to her teases and carresses just the same way she'd expect a living man to. In a way, the perfect illusion was spooky, considering that she knew on an intellectual level that he was simply not present, in any physical sense. How was it possible for her brain to delude her so completely? Were there any other things that she saw just because her thoughts wanted to see them?

But Isabel didn't spend too much time worrying about things like that. She started to run her tongue along the masculine skin of his calves, delighting in the very slightly sweaty taste of him, and worked her way up until she saw a sizable shaft poking up and out from his crotch. "Wow," she whispered, remembering seeing his 'thing' when he had been alive, and then again in her passionate dreams. But this seemed different somehow. "Do you... do you want me to try, umm... taking care of that for you??"

"Maybe in my dreams, tonight," he whispered to her throatily. "Here and now it just seems like things might get weird. For one thing, we still don't know if there are limits beyond which you start to move through my body, or other weirdness sets in. And even if that doesn't happen as such... what about, umm, the stuff I shoot? Seeing that vanish into nothingness would be a little bizarre."

"Alright, fair enough I guess," Isabel allowed. "Well, do you want to take a turn again?"

"Thought you'd never ask." Alex pulled her shorts down, and then her panties, without even touching them - drawing on her powers more directly. Once Isabel was just as bare as he was, Alex ran his palms and hands over a lot of different parts of her body in quick succession, just like he was checking to make sure that she was running hot, and then he traced one finger around the edges of her pussy. Isabel was glad that the room was soundproof and out in the middle of nowhere, because she couldn't help screaming her head off in pleasure. And then Alex started poking his finger inside her, and two. The pleasure just seemed to get better and better.

Once she had shouted herself hoarse twice, Alex let Isabel drift gently back towards earth, the two of them cuddling together on the quilt. Isabel hadn't realized that she would get so much stuff on it - but as she'd planned, alien powers could wipe away a lot of stains. "Okay... we definitely have to try this kind of thing again, she said to him. "Dreams are just not really the same."

"Yeah, I kinda know what you mean," Alex admitted. "Though I'm not sure how often you'll get to drag me into your love nest, considering how much else will be going on." Isabel sighed, but nodded at the truth of that. "Speaking of which, we'd probably better be getting dressed, or your parents will wonder what happened to you."

"I hate it when you're so upright and responsible," she sighed without really meaning it. A glance and a moment's concentration was sufficient to get Alex dressed... in fact, he was suddenly wearing a ridiculous number of layers for late May in New Mexico - he had snow pants on over his jeans, a t-shirt, vest, and rain jacket, and two different hats, one on top of the other. He could feel the change, and looked down to examine himself. One of the hats fell off, and he put his hand to his head, realizing that there was still another.

"Okay, very funny. Do I have to go outside like this?"

"You don't have to do anything," Isabel said, pulling on her own clothes. Getting the point, Alex tossed away everything but the t-shirt and jeans into imaginary nothingness.

"Okay, that seems better."

"Oh, one other thing," Isabel asked. "While you're here, do you want to see the Granilith? I know that none of us, umm, ever showed it to you when you were alive."

"Yeah, I'd like that," Alex said, but once she managed to move away the secret panel and lead him into the Granilith's sacristy, it was hard to escape the feeling that the enigmatic alien relic was somehow an anticlimax.

Isabel locked the place up tight, and then turned to Alex. "Alright - try to get through."

Smiling, he walked back to the door - got a few inches into it, and stopped. "Huh, that's weird."

"Is it solid to you??" she asked.

"Umm... No, not quite solid, as in, not something that I can touch in a usual way." He futzed with whatever was blocking his way for a few seconds more. "If I had to strain for an analogy, it seems a bit like a force field embedded in the door. It's not really there, but it still pushes me back. The further I get, the harder it pushes."

"How about moving to the side," Isabel suggested. "Not going through the door." Alex tried this, and reported that the effect was similar, though more disorienting because he had to go through more thick rock there before getting to the barrier.

"So I guess there's something in the pod chamber to keep unusual forces or entities out," Alex concluded. "In a way, that makes me feel better. That your secrets there are protected."

"Yeah, I guess I feel the same way." Isabel smiled at him. "Come on." She led the way back down the path. "Okay, here's, umm... here's a continuation of the topic before about future max, and me ignoring you at that point, and all that."

She didn't say anything else for a little while, and Alex cleared his throat, and then said, "Go right ahead. I think it's good that we're clearing the air about it a bit."

Isabel smiled as she maneuvered her way down. "Umm... the Harvest? Try as I might, I can't remember even seeing or talking to you in that whole period of time. I guess I'm just wondering what you heard, what you thought."

"Oh, right." Alex took a moment to collect his thoughts. "Well, I had a geography assignment due the afternoon that you found out about the memorial service, and I hadn't gotten it done because I went over to Michael's place to confront Maria and ended up banging up my hand... so I was kind of preoccupied myself a little that day." He sighed. "Umm... Maria found me at lunch, and gave me a bit of the lowdown, mostly about her and Michael, that they'd called a bit of a truce in the latest feud to go and investigate alien Courtney together." Isabel chuckled at the way he put that... it kind of fit. They weren't back together then, but they'd stopped arguing, mostly. "And, umm... that night I was trying to call Liz to find out if she had my Sheryl Crow CD, and she wasn't there, and when I found out what was going on, it was Michael who I actually reached, and he said that he was just about to go meet Maria and they were breaking into Courtney's apartment together. So he didn't tell me that many details, but it was enough to worry me."

"Right... I guess we could've been better about keeping you in the loop, just to keep you from feeling quite so nervous." Isabel sighed. "Though the more details you had about that particular trip, the more anxious you might have been."

"Wouldn't surprise me," Alex admitted. "And then, well, a bit later Kyle called *me*, I think he was worried about both Liz and Tess, and so I told him what Michael had told me, and the two of us ended up talking on the phone together for a long time, because it was a way to avoid how upset we were." Alex sighed. "I really can't remember any of what we talked about, just that it was nearly eleven thirty when I'd finally hung up."

Isabel sighed. "Well... I guess you won't have to worry about where I am for a really long time, now." She laughed shortly. "Sorry if that was in bad taste."

"Ehh... it's true enough at least," Alex admitted. "Well, unless, the fates forbid, you get kidnapped or something, and held somewhere so remote that I can't even find out where we both are in the range I can walk away from you."

"Oh, that's a great idea to put into my head," she scolded him.

"Never gonna happen," he said with infectious optimism.

"Ehhh." Something else occured to her. "This may sound weird, but now I'm wondering about, erm, drugs. Not taking them voluntarily - but if somebody drugs me to keep me helpless... will that affect you too?"

"I - I don't know," Alex admitted. "And it'd be hard to find out without knowing what would be a drug on your physiology... well, there's alcohol - but we'd have to be very careful setting up a test with that, based on what I've heard."

"Yeah," Isabel replied. "And then there were the phials in Tess' cache. We could probably get her to tell us what they all do... but I'm not really looking forward to the idea of experimenting. Especially... what if there's something that has the capacity to permanently disrupt your energy, your soul??" She shuddered.

"It's okay," Alex said, quickly wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Just because one of us thinks of something scary... that doesn't mean it has any significant probability of happening." Unfortunately, just saying that didn't mean that it was automatically unlikely, either.

----------

"Yeah, sure, we can go to Abilene and pick up your jaz drive," Maria replied. Michael, on another extension in his apartment, made a vague agreeing sound. "Unless... maybe Max and Liz would like to go - they can certainly use the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. I'll call and ask Liz."

"Alright, thanks," Isabel agreed. It was late, and she was feeling she was ready to fall asleep any moment. "How was Tess behaving today, anyway?"

"Pretty well, considering... umm, you know." It seemed like Tess' remorse was starting to wear down the anger that all three other girls were feeling about her involvement in Alex's death, and the horrible things that she had done to him before. "Any idea how long before she gets some time off for good behavior?"

"I don't know... long enough that I feel like she isn't just faking it to... to take us off guard and do SOMETHING that we can't let her do." Isabel groaned - and then something new occured to her. "Michael, have you been behaving?" she asked offhandedly... something that she usually wouldn't have said to him straight out no matter how much she was actually thinking it.

"Umm... yeah, totally!" he insisted, somehow aggrieved that she'd asked and proud at the same time. "Maria, I've been great, yeah?"

"Umm... you've been relatively decent."

"What? Just 'relatively'? What did I do?"

"You said maybe when I asked if that skirt made my hips look too chunky this morning!!"

"Well... I didn't want to say 'yes' straight out, and I felt like maybe you really needed to get some warning. Seriously... your hips are fine, but that skirt is not their best look."

"Umm... I think I'll leave you too it," Isabel said, mentally apologizing to Michael for starting the whole thing - and filing a mental note to actually tell him out loud sometime when she had an opportunity to talk to him without Maria around."

"G'night Isabel," Maria said. There was something in her voice that somehow said she was holding back on her scathing retort.

"Cya," Michael added, and Isabel hung up. Frowning slightly in concentration, Isabel started to root around in her bedside table, and when she didn't find what she was looking for there, she dragged herself out of bed as surreptitiously as possible to check her top dresser drawer. Yes, there - a print of the picture of all eight, no, ten of them at the pre-prom party. She had kept it for herself and Alex mostly... though Max and Liz looked very cute together too. But now - subconsciously she let her finger trace over to Tess' face, running over it. Not exerting her alien powers yet, but recognizing that it was a good enough image to use - if she was really going to...

"Dreamwalk Tess?" Alex exclaimed, right behind her, and Isabel spun around, lost her balance, and tumbled gracelessly to the ground. Quickly she picked herself up before her parents, or even Max, came to see what was wrong, She was back in bed, under the covers, when Mom knocked on the door, and Isabel assured her that she had just lost her balance, and hadn't hurt herself.

*Yes - I was thinking about dreamwalking Tess,* she confirmed silently. *We need to find something out about what's really going on in her head, not just the act that she's putting on for us... if it's really an act.*

"Well... that's always worked out well before now, hasn't it?" Alex asked softly, and Isabel groaned out loud. (Great, now if her mom heard that groan, maybe she thought that Isabel really *was* hurt and had lied about it.) But the memory of how she'd behaved around Alex after dreamwalking him for similar 'information gathering' reasons wasn't enough to change her resolve. That had turned out... well, not as badly as it could have, and she was definitely glad that she had seen what Alex's dream had shown her. Maybe if she hadn't, he wouldn't be here with her now.

"I don't suppose I get a vote here?" Alex contiued, a slightly jokey tone in his voice. "Remember, I'm so stuck in your head that I probably can't avoid coming with you. Where you dream, I follow."

"You could blink out," she said, "I think that usually keeps you out of my dreams, if you're blinked out while I'm sleeping... unless you're an actual dream figment, an image that I'm thinking about." Alex considered that. "Or... or maybe you could try to avoid coming with me, just to see what happens then."

"Hmm... okay, I guess," Alex said. "Come to think of it, I've been able to stay awake when you've been sleeping before... maybe this isn't any different."

"Yeah," Isabel replied. "Okay?" Alex nodded. She touched Tess' face in the picture, and immediately the bedroom blinked out around her. Tess must have been dreaming already when she did it.

Isabel looked around, and the first thing that she saw was a very sharp sword hanging on a rope and swinging slightly, right above her head.

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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Chrisken
Obsessed Roswellian
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Post by Chrisken » Sun Sep 24, 2006 7:12 am

Part 10

When Isabel recognized the sword, at first her reaction was fear and anger. She'd done a bunch of reading on dream interpretations since first discovering her dreamwalking talent. A sword was an archetypal icon of pain and killing... who was it that Tess was planning to attack?

But a second impression gave her the impression that her snap judgement might have been too hasty. Tess wasn't holding the sword, after all - nobody was holding it, it was just hanging there. And there was another sword near it, and another and another. A huge field of swords hanging from the ceiling, swaying just a bit, their edges and points glinting threateningly.

And Tess was walking across a deep chasm on an unsteady log bridge. She'd already travelled, apparently, through a field of mud with tall barriers planted in it, and ahead of her, once she reached the far cliff, was a small tube that she'd have to squeeze through and a tree that she'd have to walk under to reach the end of a kind of obstacle course... where Isabel was standing. From every branch of the tree, snakes clung and dangled down.

Okay, yes, the swords weren't indicating that Tess wanted to attack someone herself. They were just an element in a kind of anxiety dream... she felt that she was walking a dangerous line, or had been, and subtle threats were all about her. That more ore less matched up with what she had told them... it didn't cast her in a particularly favorable light or in a specifically bad way.

Just possibly, Isabel thought, it might indicate that Tess had been telling the truth about feeling that she had no choice but to 'follow the course' that Nasedo had laid out for her before she died. But that was a chancy metaphor, perhaps Isabel was grasping at it. It would be better to wait and observe as Tess finished the obstacle course and see what happened next, assuming that the dream didnt' end there.

Tess slipped once, and a sword came crashing down just past her into the pit, but she managed to scramble to solid ground, and dived into the littly crawlspace. It was apparently very tight, even for someone so petite as Tess, and Isabel remembered that Tess had gotten very nervous when they had gotten trapped in an elevator along with Michael - there'd been a power failure over the summer when they had gone to the big three-floor library downtown, trying to figure out if there were any suspicious items in the national newspapers that seemed to indicate alien agents on the move. She didn't like tight, enclosed dark places.

But Tess managed to drag herself out of the crawlspace, and carefully made her way towards the snake tree. Isabel noticed that the area was littered with odd items, and when a bright pink viper dropped down and menaced her, Tess screamed and jerked her hands at it, using her powers. The snake went flying, landed on a bass guitar, and suddenly the instrument turned into foul-smelling sludge. Exclaiming in sudden disappointment and sorrow, Tess flung herself over to what was left of the sludge, actually digging her hands into the nasty stuff in an attempt to retrieve anything that might be whole, but to no avail. Disconsolate, she headed on towards the portal that led into another chamber.

Isabel followed at a cautious distance, not sure what to make of what she'd just seen. Did the bass guitar stand for Alex? Did Tess think that she'd been too wrapped up worrying about her own safety, her own courses of action, to prevent him from dying until it was too late?

By the time Isabel had made her way through the doorway without being seen, Tess was being harangued in the most intense ways possible by giant versions of Max and Michael. (Isabel supposed that she could probably count herself lucky that Tess wasn't dreaming of her as well - or not yet. She wasn't sure she was ready to see what the alien girl thought of her.) At first Isabel wondered whether this was a bad sign... if Tess felt that the other members of the gang were being unfairly harsh on her, (hah!) if her anger level was building up to some horrible breaking point. But Tess didn't seem to be resenting the dream dressing-down, in fact her responses seemed to be mostly sincere self-detestation.

The insult marathon continued for a lot longer, and Isabel was starting to worry that she wouldn't learn anything else good from this dream, so she took a risk. Stepping forward, she suggested, "Show me how it was."

"What?" Tess asked.

"Show me how it started," Isabel said. "Where the first brick in the road was that led you and Alex to Las Cruces. Maybe... maybe then I'll understand."

"Oh - okay." Trembling, Tess closed her eyes and concentrated. All of a sudden, they were in the back room of the Crashdown. A bit meeting was just breaking up... Maria, (in her uniform, with her hair tied back in two loose bunches,) was just heading back to room, and everybody else was heading out the side door in ones and twos - Max and Liz and Mister Valenti, at least. Alex shot me a look before heading out into the dining room... he was wearing a yellow shirt with a slightly greenish tint that really flattered him, and Isabel wanted very badly to go out and join him. But that wasn't why she was there.

Tess stepped close. "I don't think he'll notice you if you follow us at a distance," she whispered, pointing to Ed, who was waiting impatiently, wearing a blue jacket and a frustrated look. Tess was in some kind of pink sleeveless top that gathered up from the front and back to a look around her neck, and had a little peek-hole just at the top of her cleavage. Ohh, so obviously desperate... or at least that was Isabel's take. She didn't generally hold with calling other girls 'slutty' or 'trampy' just because they happen to like revealing fashion choices... but since she was pretty sure that Tess had been engaging in a campaign to appeal to Max's superficial male nature, after he'd made it clear that he wasn't interested in anything like that, Isabel was tempted to make an exception to her usual rules.

She was also wearing some kind of lime green print pants, and automatically Izzie looked down, wondering if she was going to be caught myself in a similar fashion flub. No, not really... though this was also bolder than her usual choices... low-cut red tank top with spaghetti straps and tight black leather pants. She started to wonder just what Alex had been looking at when he took that one last glance in her direction before slipping through the door.

"Hey, wait a second," Isabel muttered as Tess started to follow Ed out. "I... I remember this meeting."

"Well, I assumed you would," she said quietly. It had been the day that Ed had returned from Washington DC, and not long before he was murdered. Michael was sitting in the county jail, with Valenti unable to help him because Congresswoman Vanessa Whittaker, who would later kidnap Tess, hold her at Chavez County Electric Power Facility Plant #2, reveal her Skin nature to Isabel, try to recruit her by telling her about princess Vilandra and Kivar, try to kill her with a high-voltage electrical cable, and eventually get killed, by her, in self defense... um, well, she had taken charge of the investigation into Michael and the bones of the real Daniel Pierce, although she probably hadn't been sure that was whose bones they were, and hadn't, in the end, (thanks to Max,) been able to prove it.

But that was all yet to come. Ed had come in talking about all kinds of bloodshed, and Max had ordered him out of it. Liz had agreed to go snoop in Whittaker's office, (since she was an intern there,) and see if she could find any record of where the bones were being held. But Isabel didn't remember what Tess and Ed had been up to just then. Hadn't he changed back into Pierce, to distract Whittaker and keep her away from her office? No, that had been later.

Ed and Tess didn't go all the way home. In the same park where Isabel and Alex had just talked a few nights ago, he cross-examined her about her summer in Roswell, and if she had made any headway against Max's resistance. (Why had he been so interested, Isabel wondered? Just belief in their destiny or something more?) When Tess told him that Max had closed the door on the possibility of any involvement between them more than possible friendship and teamwork, Nasedo frowned.

"That simply won't do. You'll have to try harder. For heaven's sake, he's an alienated seventeen year old boy. Whatever devotion he has to that annoying little brunette girl, it can't possibly be as deep and meaningful as all that. Are they back together again, then??"

"No... I think she won't take him back, but that doesn't mean he can't pine for her," Tess complained. And then, proving that hybrid girl minds think alike - (Isabel wasn't describng either of their minds as 'great' at that moment,) Tess continued. "What does it matter to you??"

"Not me personally, but something that I believe in." Ed sighed. "Okay... this is a secret, and I want you to promise me that you won't repeat it to Isabel or Michael or Max... or anyone, for that matter."

Tess repeated, "I so swear it," but her dream self had an odd look on her face. In a way, she was breaking that promise, Isabel realized that in a sense she was preaking that promise, by replaying this dream scene for Isabel herself... but also in a sense she wasn't the one who was repeating the secret - Nasedo was repeating it via her memory.

"Alright. There was... was a kind of augury that was made about you and Max, before either of you were born even back on your true home world. 'The young King reborn, and his beloved bride, the daughter of Andraikus.'"

"Is that like a prophecy?" Tess asked.

"In a way... but this isn't saying that something is guaranteed to come true... just that it's important that it should. And what it says should happen... is that you and Max need to have a baby. A son, specifically, though hopefully you won't have to worry about getting a daughter first. And you and Max need to return to the other planet, as soon as possible after you find out that you're pregnant. After that, everything will work out fine." Tess smiled slightly. "Even if something happens to me, Tess, you need to make sure that the augury is acted out."

"Don't talk like that," she insisted. "Nothing's going to happen to you."

"I... I'm not sure sure. Someone or something is... is targeting me. I need to be careful that I don't spread the danger that I'm in to you." Tess' breath caught. "I'm not sure if it's just Whittaker, or some other alien danger, but... I might not make it. You have to."

"But if you die... Max and I, we have no idea how to travel to another planet," Tess pointed out. "What, do we just stroll into some government facility and ask for the ship that crashed in forty-seven??"

"Doubtful. You might be able to catch a ride home with other aliens, but remember - not until you've got a baby on the way." Tess rolled her eyes. "If not... you remember that book I told you about from the library, the one that you went and let Max and Liz see you taking?"

"Yeah," Tess said. "None of us can understand a word of it, except for guessing about some of the pictures."

"I'm pretty sure that it has instructions that will help you to get home. Get it translated when you have need, but don't let the information fall into the hands of anyone you don't trust. Even the other three might not do the right thing with that information... unless you make sure that they get it at the right time."

"But... translate it how?" Tess nearly wailed, quite frustrated by now. "You... you can decipher it for us, can't you?"

Ed shook his head and brushed a bit of her hair away. "I would if I could, tadpole. But I never learned to read, myself. Didn't have that much of an education, except for memorizing tactics and stratagems by rote."

Tess sighed, and Ed leaned over, kissing her on the forehead. "I need to go, find someplace to change and pay a visit to Whittaker."

"Alright." Tess sat down on a bench and watched him go. Isabel watched both of them, quite stunned. This had been a true memory, or at least mostly true, with probably a few small subconsious distortions. But Isabel had never guessed at such a warm relationship between Tess and Ed Harding/Nasedo, or that he was capable of showing tenderness. And yet, there was a hard edge in the conversation, as Harding had deliberately prompted Tess to halt at nothing to carry out his last instrutions in secret.

She had loved him, and so she had done her best to honor his wishes. That had meant following any lead she could towards transcribing the book in secret, which had led her to Alex. Tess had pushed Alex harder than he wanted to work at Las Cruces, and found herself, nearly by accident, in the role of evil mind controller. Isabel could see the path that had led from this moment to Alex's death more clearly than she ever had before, and was finding it harder to blame Tess even a little for her complicity. She had started out of love for the only father figure she had ever known - something that Isabel could well imagine doing underhanded things for the sake of, and found herself trapped by the consequences of her own deceptions, and by her promise to not tell them the story of the augury.

Perhaps Isabel wouldn't be as forgiving if Alex hadn't started to haunt her. Maybe she could have wiped the slate clean even more easily if they'd been able to snatch Alex from death's door, say the day before he died. But right now...

Right now, as Isabel was lost in thought, the dream had nearly collapsed on her. Curious, she waited, refusing to let herself be scared out of the contact. As the park scene broke up into little pieces like a jagged jigsaw puzzle, or a cracked piece of glass art - some pieces having only the blue of sky in them, others lawn or trees... Isabel stood still, and found herself somewhere dark, but not quite black, surrounded by faint images and colored lines in geometrical patterns.

With a shock, she realized that she was in Tess' sleeping, non-dreaming, subconscious mind. This was something that she had never been able to contact before. Maybe she never COULD get to this level of somebody's brain except by using a dream as an intermediary.

Well... since she was here, should she see what she could find out? Was this more of an invasion of privacy than being in Tess' dreams?? Isabel considered, then made her decision. She needed to get as much information as she could, for Tess' sake as well as everyone else's. She might understand a bit more about Tess' motives now, but there were consequences to what she had done, and Isabel thought that one of those involved forfeiting privacy. Just like any other criminal lost rights to privacy as the extent of their misdeeds was being investigated.

Alright - so how did she find anything out here?? Shouldn't there be a better metaphor for getting at what was hidden in Tess' subconscious? All of a sudden, there was a faint flash about her, and that metaphor arrived - winding corridors full of cupboards and closets and dressers and trunks. Apparently metaphors could be had for the wishing, inside someone's subconscious. "Master directory," Isabel whispered, almost silently, and a little pamphlet appeared in her hand - it had a small map showing the extent of the convolutions, and a listing of various odd subjects and categorizations, each of which gave a map number and a list of id numbers. The various containers near Isabel also had id numbers, usually stamped in little brass plaques on them. Good enough.

But which enigmatic category should she search for? Asking for clear and sensible titles was too much to expect out of somebody's subconscious mind, but... what the heck was 'The treasures of Tristan street' or 'Sleepy fun'? Somewhat uncertainly, Isabel decided to try opening up a few things right here just to see what sort of stuff there was here. Then, maybe she'd be able to pick a destination in the guide more intelligently. So she went up to one of the walls and selected a drawer that looked like it was built right into the wall. #827. All right.

An odd thought struck her. If she was opening things that just happened to be nearby, would she be able to figure out what they were listed as in the guide? There was no other indicator on the drawer, and she didn't relish the idea of looking through everything in the guide to see what, if anything, had #827 listed. Of course, if she knew where she was on the map - (she had only just realize that it had no 'you are here' marker or anything of that sort, so she'd probably need to wander a bit to get her bearings,) she could narrow it down to what was listed in that map area, but...

Isabel told herself to quit worrying and pulled open the drawer. A memory leaped out and enveloped her - being dragged, defeated, into the power station and interrogated by Whittaker. Isabel felt every detail of that moment... felt her skin torn and scratched, her joints sore and aching from the collision between Tess' car and the one Whittaker had stolen, and also, on another level, felt this horrible sense of despair, at not being able to stand against a fearsome enemy, even to defend herself. Whittaker was asking her about the granilith, and if she knew which royal lady she had been 'back home.' And then, Whittaker was using her powers, her mind alone, to cut into her arm and start to peel back a strip of skin, excruciatingly slowly.

Then the memory left her... maybe it had run its course, or maybe just decided that Isabel had suffered enough. For a second, the dark shape of it hesitated, as if tempted to make a break and scamper down the corridor, terrorizing the gentler and happier thoughts it might find elsewhere. But eventually the dark memory hopped back into its drawer, ready for the next time somebody opened it up. Isabel peered inside the drawer before closing it, and saw that there was another little plaque inside. 'Dark nights and darker days', it read. And yes - that was on her directory. Map section C2, a little over half a dozen ID numbers. Isabel decided that she didn't want to try any more of the memories that had frightened Tess.

On the other side of the wall, and down a little way, there was a door that Isabel hadn't noticed before... a door slightly smaller than normal, but it would be just high enough for Isabel to walk through without having to duck her head. (Alex would have had more trouble with it if he were here.) There weren't any doors to other corridors marked on the map... so was this just the resting place of a part of Tess' subconscious mind too big to fit into a trunk or a closet? (Somehow Isabel could tell that this wasn't a closet door.) Or - was it a passageway into yet another part of Tess' mental self?? That last part seemed unlikely. Isabel carefully opened the door, and saw a small room beyond, with bright blue shining... comets of some kind zooming around and chasing each other. Isabel looked on the other side of the door for the identifying plaque. Oh, there it was, on the wall next to the door, like it was a light switch. 'Reservoir of hopes.' Not wanting to be a pandora, Isabel quickly left and closed the door so that Tess' hopes wouldn't escape.

Now that, actually, was interesting. Tess seemed to still have a lot of hope for someone in her position... though Isabel realized that she had no real basis for comparison. Maybe if she went back in, she could try and find out the specifics of what she was hoping for? It could be exactly what she was looking for... if Tess was hoping that they'd let down their guard and give her a chance to escape, or to have another shot at seducing Max, then that would mean Isabel had to continue to be strict and watch her like a hawk. If she was holding out hope that this plan with Alex would work, that she could actually become a friend and a part of the gang in the way that she'd refused to earlier, that Isabel would forgive her and that Kyle would be able to love her again in some fashion... well, that was more or less what Isabel had come in here hoping to find out.

So Isabel carefully, very carefully, slipped back into the room, closed the door behind her, and watched for a little while in the corner, where the hopes themselves didn't seem to go often - they liked flying around in circles too much. She didn't think that she could run fast enough to catch a Hope from behind - they were speedy little things - but maybe she could jump out at the right moment and let one run into her, or nearly so. So she crept forward towards the swirl, and as a little hope came around, she darted forward. The hope tried to avoid her, but she managed to catch it between the crook of her elbow and her other hand.

As soon as she was touching it, she could sense what this hope was about, dimly. Wonder, and going somewhere far away. About going home to Antar or wherever? No, Isabel could see familiar images dimly in her mind's eye... a huge but definitely earthly city spread out before her at night, and the familiar shape of a tower - the Eiffel tower. Tess hoped to see Paris France one day.

Isabel let that hope go and considered. This probably fell in the middle on the continuum again. It wasn't about hurting any of her friends any further, and it didn't seem to be terribly in line with what Ed had been trying to indoctrinate in her - though Isabel supposed that Tess could see Paris and then go home with Max's baby (taking the huge assumption that Max would ever touch her in any wy remotely like THAT,) or go to the aliens first, then come back to Earth for sightseeing.

However, it wasn't specifically about anything that would count in Tess' favor either, and it might, just possibly, fall in line with a wish of Tess to escape Roswell, to leave them and explore the world by herself, instead of sticking around and helping to fix what she made go wrong, helping Isabel with the plan to restore Alex. Isabel couldn't allow her to bug off like that - but she couldn't hold the hope itself against Tess, if she recognized that now wasn't the time. Isabel held pretty much the same hope herself, that she'd get to see the most famous and beaitiful worlds on Earth some day... with Alex by her side, one way or another.

And just then, another hope slammed into her from behind - Isabel had forgotten to get out of the way when she let the Paris hope go, being too distracted by thinking about what it meant. This hope was stronger, but it didn't have as clear a visual element, maybe a few brief flashes. But what Isabel got from it, more than anything else, was an emotional sensation - a longing for a connection. A strong wish for friendship, for being part of something bigger, for family. And it was focused -- on Michael, which Isabel hadn't expected, but she was pleased at the realization. It was just one hope out of dozens, after all. Maybe there were others that were similarly oriented around herself, and even Max - though Tess' hopes about Max were probably still confused with wanting something more out of him, no matter whether she'd accepted consciously that it would never happen or not.

This hope, (which after a few seconds came shooting out of Isabel's chest near her shoulder,) was much more significantly on the plus side... but she'd need to examine many more than two.

She ended up managing to catch fourteen or fifteen different hopes... giving up only when she got about four repeats in a row. Overall the balance was very encouraging - there was a definite hope to make up for what she'd done wrong and redeem herself in the eyes of her close peers... to see Alex's face smiling at her in more than spirit, and an oddly wishful whim to be formally adopted by Mister Valenti and Ms DeLuca, which surprised Isabel. The hopes that she hadn't been able to catch (and the fact that she couldn't tell them apart) still worried her though - what if certain hopes had been avoiding her because Tess knew, on some level, that she would disapprove of them? There was room for a lot of contradiction and conflict in any intelligent mind, and though Tess couldn't deceive her on this level, she could still try and hide things.

So Isabel slipped back outside the reservoir and considered the directory and the map more closely. She thought that map section C2 was oriented *this* way, first off, which meant that around the corner she'd be moving into B1. Going over the directory listings, she considered a number of things, before finally finding 'the Roswelllian rabble.' Was that about them? The rest of the gang - or maybe just the humans. If Isabel could find out the uncensored version of how Tess felt, even just about Liz and Maria... maybe she'd be on the right track. She hurried through the confusing and branching passageways, since the map section for the rabble was on the other side of the map, She opened one cupboard door blindly on the way over, and found nothing but a small group of penguins waving their wings at her. What the heck did THAT mean in Tess' subconscious??

The directory entry for the rabble had only one ID number - which turned out to be a trunk sitting on the hallway floor. There was a lock on the trunk, but Isabel tried her powers and was able to use them to get the lock to pop open. When she pulled the lid up - a large computer-type screen popped up, and yes, the names of just about everyone Tess knew who lived in Roswell were listed down the left side of the screen... everyone in the 'I know an alien' club, along with most of their parents, some of the people Mister Valenti used to work with in city and county services, acquaintances from school, and a few names that Isabel didn't recognize and decided not to pry into at the moment.

Okay - but how did she pry into ANYBODY? How could Isabel use this electronic screen to find out more of what was in Tess' head about all of these people? There was no mouse or trackball, keyboard or remote control. Desperately, Isabel reached out her hand to touch her fingers to the screen, and hesitated, not sure whose file she should call up first. She pondered, and then, summoning all her courage, touched her fingers to her own name.

The surface of the screen was slightly cool, and so smooth that she jerked back quickly, afraid for a moment that Tess would be mad at her for getting finger smudges on it. The name 'Isabel Evans' highlighed itself, and other stuff appeared in the larger portion of the screen, the center and right sectors. A picture of her, in the outfit she'd worn to school that day, a bunch of links for the different categories or sections of her file, and a 'quick facts' section. She didn't need to pay that much attention to her quick facts, or the physical description and bio information sections, but decided to try 'interaction history.' With that, the new info disappeared except for that heading, and dates and point-form notes scrolled down the screen. The first day that Tess had 'made contact' with Isabel in the school courtyard, their 'girls night' in the middle of that whole thing with Topolsky, meeting Michael and Max through her. The format was a little dry, but Isabel scrolled a long way forward, looking first for the day of the big confrontation at Valentis.

"May 7th, 2001. Found out that I had been involved in Alex's death - I told her, but she'd have discovered it on her own soon enough, and maybe by volunteering the facts I bought a little credibility on how sorry I really am. [Link to personal mind journal] Too much else to go into here, especially since it involves practically everybody else. But I did discover that Alex's essence survives in a way, trapped inside Isabel's brain. Worried about that... she can't survive like that for longer than maybe e year, 16 months. She wants to try and clone Alex... that's going to be tough."

Hmm... interesting. Isabel tried clicking on the journal link, but got a little pop-up error box saying that that network resource was unavailable. Presumably Isabel was in the wrong metaphor... if she'd chosen a master computer database as her primary link to Tess' subconscious mind from the start, she could go anywhere using it, but she had chosen the dark hallways full of closets and dressers. If she wanted to find out about Tess' most personal opinions and reactions to certain events, ordered by time, she'd have to find the right location for that in her directory. Either that, or try to change her metaphor at this point.

She scrolled ahead two days, to the ninth. "Met up at Valentis in the morning - she 'suggested' that I mind-warp Alex for the others so that they can see him and talk to him. It was kinda nice for me to see him and be reassured that he seemed to be an okay sort of dead for the moment. Said that they'd got some ideas for using the alien communicators, and told me that I'd have to lead her and Max to the stuff of Nasedo's that I buried out in the desert. We did that after school, and after I explained what everything was, I went back to the Evans house and studied with her. It was kinduv nice - like she was starting to pave the way for us being friends again, though I have no idea if that's really what she wants. I'd understand if she never forgave me for what happens... but Isabel was the closest I've ever had to having a sister, and I really want to get that back if I possibly can. No matter what it takes."

Oooh, this was good stuff, Isabel realized. The 'Interaction history' heading was also a drop-down menu, she realized, so she picked 'Deepest fears' on a hunch. She'd already learned something about Tess' hopes - maybe her fears would complete the picture. The new text that appeared on the screen was almost poetic in its simplicity.

"I'm worried that I've burned my bridges with Isabel for good. I *knew* that Alex was important to her - but couldn't stop myself from taking advantage, tricking him over to Las Cruces. Even that would have been okay if I'd let him work at his own pace, suceed or fail - or go home early if he wanted. Trusting in his good nature that everything would be all right. But I had to start the snowball rolling by twisting his mind, making him resent me, and thus if I didn't want everything to fall apart I had to keep bending him more and more, until there wasn't anything left and he fell apart. If I were Isabel, I'd probably have killed me, or never speak to me again. Well, except that she needs me and she knows it. That's my only card to play, but I wished that it wasn't a factor, maybe. That way, I'd know that if Isabel accepted me, she did it honestly."

Isabel smiled to herself again. This was even better. She should scan the 'fears' sections for all of the important people, and then get out. She'd spent way too much time inside Isabel's mind as it was. After letting the computer screen shift back into its trunk, she tried to open up a wardrobe at random. More freakin' penguins. What was the deal with that?? They didn't even seem to be listed on her directory, and they didn't have a second identifying plaque inside.

When Isabel got back out of Tess' subconscious, (didn't seem to be hard at all to make the transition this time,) she looked around her bedroom for Alex the first thing. He hadn't been with her in Tess' dream or in the murky corridors of her subconscious mind, she she assumed that he'd be waiting for her back here. But he didn't seem to be. Isabel poked her head into the bathroom and the hall outside her room. Both were empty. Alex could get farther from her than that... but where would he have gone without her?? Out to the kitchen maybe? He couldn't really have a snack himself, and would probably have a hard time preparing one for her, leaving aside the question of not knowing when to expect that she'd be done dreamwalking Tess. (He wouldn't have known that she found something else to do after the actual dream.)

Or maybe he'd had to pop out entirely? Well, if he didn't show up for a long time, probably that was it. Isabel was just about to head off and check the kitchen when she heard a faint mental voice. *Iz my darling...*

"Alex?" She said his name out loud, not worrying about if anyone was around to hear her. "Where... where are you?"

*Follow my voice and you'll find out,* he whispered to her, chuckling softly. Isabel frowned... looked around, and then realized something odd. She lay back on her bed, closed her eyes, and followed Alex.

"I've been spending way too much time away from the real world tonight," she warned, looking around at the odd, tentlike space, lit by a single flood lamp far overhead.

"Fair enough," Alex said. "We can head back there in just a minute. Thought you'd like to see this place though."

"Yeah, I guess." Isabel fixed him with a stare. "What is it??"

"I think it's some kind of mental world inside you, but not in your dreams," Alex filled in. "We can steal a little time here together, able to touch each other completely, without worrying about REM sleep and the limitations of dreams and so on."

Isabel grinned, liking the idea. "Maybe even invite some of your friends over?"

Alex's eyes widened. "Like Maria and Liz?" Isabel nodded. "Worth a try. How about Tess' dream?"

"That was inconclusive, but I actually stumbled on something better." There was a kind of a bench seat nearby, and Isabel sat with Alex next to her and told him about how she'd found herself in Tess' subconscious mind and what she'd found there. "Her deepest fears about each of us all seem to reinforce what I admit I wanted to hear. She's sorry about what she's done, she really wants to atone and make amends, and she's worried that we'll never be able to forgive her." Isabel took a deep breath. "I think I'm almost there now, actually. Almost ready to forgive her, even though that sounds crazy. I still hate what she did... but I don't hate her anymore."

"I think that's good," Alex said, smiling. "And it sounds like your mental powers are growing, or branching out, which is a good thing too. You couldn't have done something like that last year, or at least you wouldn't."

"Yeah," Isabel agreed. "Maybe that's because of you - having such a bright guy come and crash inside my noggin. I think that you're stimulating parts of my brain that I was afraid to exercise... inspiring me to leap past what I used to think of as my limits." She sighed. "Of course, the fact that I've got more motivation than I used to also helps."

Alex smiled and took both of her hands in his. "Come on." There was a flicker, and he was sitting on the edge of her bed, still holding her hands. "Come on, let's get you a snack. Whatcha want, a chocolate sundae?"

Isabel shuddered slightly. "This might sound odd, but what I really feel like is a salad with plenty of Romaine lettuce." Pause. "Don't look at me like that, Alex! I'm allowed to have a craving for salad if I happen to, right??"

----------

A single car horn honked.

"Ohh, that'll be them!" Isabel exclaimed, popping a tiny piece of bacon into her mouth, waving at her mom as she got up from the breakfast table, and rushing out to the front of the house, scooping up a designer label backpack along the way. Diane called 'bye' a little breathlessly from behind her, and as Isabel headed out the front door she could see Alex racing to catch up - diving again through a window, this time the living room window to the porch, and jumping over the porch railing. He was showing off, Isabel knew, since nobody was about to leave without him, but his antics made her laugh and that was as good a reason for them as any.

Max had had to go to the school very early for a geography exam, and so Maria had agreed to pick up Liz and Isabel this morning. Sure enough, the little Volkswagen Jetta was sitting at the curb right in front of the Evans house, its motor still running, and Isabel and Alex quickly made their way into the back. "Hi, and thanks."

"Good morning," Maria replied, a little surprised by the hurry with which Isabel had come up the walk. None of them really had any exams to take until about ten thirty of the AM, but Isabel thought that the class-less school was as good as any other place to meet. "So how's it going?"

"Um, not at all bad," Isabel replied. "And you?"

"No complaints," Maria said, and Liz giggled. "Hi, Alex."

"He says hi too," Isabel blurted out immediately, and flushed as Alex shot her a somewhat steamed look. "Or, err, I'm sure he would if I actually gave him a chance."

They didn't get beyond such slightly strange small talk for most of the drive to the West Roswell high campus. "Ohh, we have to try something soon, Maria. A way that you can visit with Alex directly, not needing Tess as an intermediary."

"Oooh!" Maria bounced slightly in her driver's seat. "Dreamy time fun?"

"Actually, no, not quite." Isabel had dreamwalked Liz with Alex in tow already, and that had gone well, but they hadn't had a chance to do Maria as well. "It's something that Alex discovered... it's mental, not physical, but I don't need to be asleep to do it. I think that if I'm touching you, you won't need to be asleep either."

"Hmm... intriguing," Maria admitted. "Just like holding hands, right? Not any more particular kind of touching?"

"As far as I think," Isabel replied.

"Oh, by the way," Liz added. "I've heard about the Abilene run, and mentioned it to Max. We'd like to take it, get that Jaz drive."

"Okay," Alex said, knowing that Isabel would pass on what he was saying. "There's some software that it might be a good idea to buy at the same time... autodeletion protocol disarmers, password crackers, and a brute force decrypter. Shouldn't cost *that* much, and if you're going to try to get at Ed Harding's secrets, then it makes sense to have as many of the proper tools as possible."

"Okay," Liz replied. "But how much is not *that* much?" Isabel laughed slightly at the look on her face as she turned to stare into the back seat - most of which was still empty as far as she could see.

"Hmm..." Alex said, considering that. "I wonder what my folks did with my savings account by now, if anything. Could come in handy for this sort of thing - if you can get it without attracting too much attention."

Isabel decided not to bother repeating that yet. For one thing, she had a bomb of her own to drop. "This... this might sound crazy, but I think I'm ready to let Tess off constant guard." Michael would be going to school with Tess later on this morning - she had slept over at his apartment. "I... I realize that she's made mistakes, and nobody's been hurt more by them than Alex and me. But... but I went into her dreams last night, and her undreaming subconscious mind, and - and she's not the monster that she first seemed to be. when we found out about what had happened.

"Growing up with Ed probably screwed her up quite a bit, and she found herself in a nasty dilemma and chose to hurt people and cover it up for a long time until she came clean. I won't forget that. But... but she didn't really mean to hurt Alex - she did care about him, at least a little, and she cares more about the rest of us. I - I'm almost ready to forgive, and to stop treating her like a constant prisoner."

There was a long silence in the car. "Well... that was very well said, Isabel," Liz admitted. "I... I'm still suspicious, but then I've had more reasons to dislike Tess over a longer time than anyone. I'll try to keep an open mind about her, if you feel differently."

"That's all I ask," Isabel said.

"Just... just what did you find out?" Maria asked. "If you feel okay about telling us. I mean, I think I want to see her the same way you do, because hating isn't good for the soul, but I'm not there yet."

"Hmm." Isabel considered that. "Well, I'll tell you what I saw in the dream, but no more until I get Tess' own permission. Spying in some of the places I've been and reporting back to the gals seems a little more seedy... though I admit if I'd wanted to avoid seediness, I should probably have kept myself out of her head entirely."

"Yeah, well, I think that's a good compromise," Liz admitted. So Isabel told them about the dream - about Tess making her way through the obstacler course and deflecting the snake's malice onto Alex's guitar, about getting harangued by giants of Michael and Max, and showing Isabel the secrets that Nasedo had told her just before he died.

"Hmm." Liz considered that slowly. "He said she was the daughter of Andraikus? Are you sure about that??"

"Umm... I think so," Isabel said. "Couldn't swear to it. Maybe we should ask Tess herself."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Liz agreed. "And I want to triple-check something that was in the Book translation."

When they got to campus, the three girls found a nice table out in the courtyard, and Alex wrote out the software that he wanted Max and Liz to try to get in Abilene. That was clearly a weird experience for Liz and Maria.... Isabel could see Alex holding the pen as normally as anything, but of course the others couldn't see him, just the pen moving by itself. And Isabel realized that what they were seeing was, in a way, closer to the truth - Alex wasnt directly there or holding the pen in his hands - it was being moved through alien powers - her powers, that he was able to borrow so easily now -- for some things at least.

They chatted about some fairly casual and ordinary stuff, until Max got out of his exam and came outside. It wasn't long after that that Max and Liz both excused themselves... they wanted to grab an early lunch before Liz had to write chemistry, and Maria had to go take her trig final. Isabel waited at the table - she was supposed to meet Michael and Tess here - Michael and Kyle had history, and Tess and Isabel were in the same calculus class. She was actually looking forward to having a little alone time with Tess... well, alone with Tess and Alex, to talk about the sort of thing that she'd seen the night before, and to apologize for searching through her subconscious mind. But right now, it was just Alex and Iz - not that that wasn't good too.

"You're a bit quiet," Isabel said to her departed dear. "Need to blip out soon??"

"Um, no, I don't think so - not for a few hours at least." He sighed. "I guess... well, I understand you not wanting to go out to Abilene with just me for company, considering that I might not be able to be very good company for the whole trip, but I'm still disappointed. That store's a fun place, and I have happy memories of it. It'd have been nice to go back, and to show it to you."

Isabel was suddenly downhearted. She'd made her decisions about letting one of the other couples go to Abilene without ever stopping to ask Alex if he wanted to go... or even considering that he might have wanted to. On the other hand... well, everything was set, and there were a few good practical reasons, as he'd pointed out. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize," she admitted. "Well... how about if you tell me about one of those memories? That way we can both go there, in a way, without having to drive all of that way."

Alex smiled. "Okay. Well, let's see... the last time I made it out there, was actually in between, umm, between the Copper Summit Harvest, and when the Skins came to Roswell for payback." Isabel stared at him - she hadn't expected the story to begin like this. "You probably didn't notice that I was spending a bit more time with Max than usual around then, did you?"

"Umm... actually, I think I noticed that you were around our house a little, and I appreciated that, but never stopped to think about it any more," Isabel admitted. "I was freaked about what had happened back in the Copper Summit stagecoach museum, what Nicholas had told me, and between that and trying to keep up a normal facade at home and school so that nobody would realize something was wrong..." Isabel shook her head. "So you and Max?"

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "He was worried about the Skins, as you might imagine, and came to me a few days later. He'd seen something in the UFO center that he thought might track alien movements, or Skin communications, or *something*, but he couldn't play around with it much because he was already on somewhat thin ice with Brody. So he was wondering if the two of us, together, could manage to duplicate the essential working parts, even not really understanding what it was doing."

"A tall order," Isabel said, nodding slightly. "I guess you didn't get much of anywhere - except out to Abilene to get supplies."

"Yeah, something like that," Alex agreed. "We went back and forth over the idea in theory for a few days... it had started to sink in that we didn't have much chance of actually getting it to work, but I was enjoying spending time with Max, and I think he liked hanging out with me too. So, well, working on this seemed about as good a way of spending my time as anything else, and there was always a chance that we'd hit on something interesting that we weren't even looking for."

"But no joy, huh??" Isabel asked with a resigned smile.

"Not really. We headed up to Abilene and bought quite a bunch of really odd an unusual electric and electronic equipment. Worked on it for the next few days, me doing most of the actual electronics hookup, and Max using his powers to cobble together a few things that we hadn't been able to buy. But one of the models actually exploded - though it wasn't a big explosion, and nothing else seemed to be picking up anything useful. The morning before... before Nicholas and co actually showed up, we'd decided that it was hopeless and we were out of ideas, so we pretty much gave up." Isabel made an 'ahhh' sound. "You know, I guess that if Max and Liz go up, the guy might recognize him. That'd be interesting."

"Yeah, maybe, if he remembered you." Isabel sighed. "Tell me more." So Alex went into more detail about the sort of things that he and Max had chatted about on the long drive that fall day - they'd actually opened up considerably about their stalled relationships - since each were in love with a woman who wasn't letting them get close. And he told her about the actual conversations that they'd had with the Abilene shop proprietor, and about another project, years before, when he'd needed to go to Abilene to get some things he wanted for a home-built desktop computer.

Isabel had started to tell him about the Apple that her father had bought for his children not long after they'd gotten adopted, when all of a sudden Michael and Tess showed up. "I gotta motor," Michael said, slapping Isabel very definitely, but not hard enough to hurt, on the shoulder. "Tag, you're it." As he hurried off, Tess rolled her eyes, and sat down opposite Isabel and a space and a half down the bench, near where Alex was invisibly waiting.

"Umm, hi Tess." Isabel said. "How's it going?"

Tess smiled slightly, a speculative look on her face. "Not bad. Had a kinduv unusual dream last night. How'd you sleep??"

Okay, so that was pretty much a challenge under the circumstances. "I slept well, but didn't get to bed until pretty late." Isabel sighed. "After I went to dreamwalk you, yes." She looked back at Tess, wondering if there would be a protest.

"Okay, so what didja think?" Tess asked, shrugging a bit carelessly. Isabel sighed.

"I... I think that we have a lot to talk about. Especially... since it wasn't just your dream that I saw."

"No?"

Isabel sighed, looked at Alex for moral support, and continued. "No. This has never happened before... but when your dream ended, I was still in your mind, your subconscious." Tess' eyes widened. "I'm not proud of this, but I snooped around quite a bit. And we have plenty to talk about."

Tess considered that a moment. "So talk."

Isabel froze, not sure how to begin.

TO BE CONTINUED...
Read my other roswell stories!

"A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it. If the Rowan tree's roots are shallow, it bears no crown." From 'the farthest shore', Ursula LeGuin.

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