|Primary Characters:||Michael, Maria, Max, Liz|
|Description:||Isabel keeps getting vivid, realistic dreams about Alex. Could he somehow be alive? And if he is – for how long?|
“Isabel, please. Help me.”
“Alex? No. You’re gone. She killed you.”
“Isabel, you have to help me.”
It was Alex’ voice. She’d know it anywhere, anytime. And the anguish in it broke her heart. He was in fear of his life, calling her name, begging her to save him.
Again. And again. Over and over. Isabel felt tears sting her eyes, and she began to sob quietly. What could she do? It was too late, far too late. He was beyond her help, and she could never get over it or move on, like her family and friends were encouraging her to do. It was bitter to realize that Alex had been her perfect soul mate, the love of her life, and she had only just discovered it when their time together was all but over.
“No, Isabel. It’s not over. I’m here. Help me, please.”
“No, you’re just a dream. You’re gone.”
“I’m not gone. Isabel.”
But Isabel didn’t want to hear anymore, and finally, she managed to break out of the dream. Screaming, struggling against the sheets that she’d somehow gotten all tangled up in. Her body was covered in a cold sweat. Those dreams kept getting more and more realistic every time. It was getting to the point where she didn’t want to go to bed anymore. She would use any excuse not to sleep, as long as she could force herself to stay awake.
“Izz? Are you alright?”
Max was standing in the doorway of her room, anxiously staring at his sister.
“No, I’m not.”
“Another of those dreams?”
“What do you think?”
“If you’re going to stand around like that, mom and dad are going to wake up. You’d better come in.”
The grudging tone in her voice didn’t fool Max for a minute. Isabel didn’t want to be alone, but was too proud to admit it. He sat down on the side of her bed, scanning her face for signs of residual effects of the dream. But she was learning to cover up her true feelings better now. In the past, they had never been able to hide anything from each other. Now, after all the painful losses they’d both suffered, they were both learning to keep things to themselves.
“It was so real. I could see his face, and it looked different somehow. Not like the last time I saw him.”
“In what way?”
“Like he’d lost weight. And he had suffered. I could see it in his eyes. Max, what if -“
“What if what?”
“Do you think maybe – Never mind.”
“Isabel, you’ve had these dreams for months now. Each time you’re getting more and more upset. Sure he looks different. Maybe you’re beginning to forget about the way he looks -“
“I’d never forget.”
“Ok. But it’s only natural that you imagine him looking different. Suffering even. From Kyle’s story, it seems Tess – It was a horrible way to die. She has a lot to answer for.”
“I know that. But why would Alex change in my dreams? Wouldn’t he go on looking exactly the same way?”
“I can’t explain it either. And I know it wouldn’t be a good idea to see a psychiatrist. So I don’t know what to do. It really breaks me up, seeing you like this. If there was anything I could do, I’d do it. You know that.”
“Yes, I know that. I never blamed you for being taken in by Tess.”
“Maybe you should. I was a fool.”
“No. You know what kind of powers she’s got. Or used to.”
“Yes. Do you think you’ll be able to go back to sleep now?”
“No. I’m going to go for a walk. You go back to bed.”
“Of course not. If you’re going out, so am I.”
“Max, you can’t do without sleep. I’ll be ok, you know I will.”
“That’s not it. You’ll be ok by yourself. But I don’t want you going off on your own, feeling like this.”
“It’s ok, Max. I want to be alone. Just go back to sleep. I need to think.”
“If you’re sure?”
It was no use arguing with Isabel when she was in this mood, Max knew that far too well. But it felt terrible not to be able to do anything for his sister, when she was going through all this pain. In the past, he hadn’t thought it was possible to hate someone the way he now hated Tess. But he did.
It apparently meant nothing to his so called wife what suffering she caused. She killed Alex, and in doing so, effectively prevented Isabel from ever feeling any happiness in life. When she returned from her home planet, she nearly killed Maria, and found a way of hurting Kyle too. That was apart from the pain she’d caused the Valenti household by her cruel act in the first place.
When Isabel got out of bed to get dressed, Max tactfully disappeared back into his own room. But he had a hard time going back to sleep. Isabel’s pain was like his own. And in the privacy of his own room, he could admit to himself that he was concerned about Isabel’s mental health. In school, they had all been given a few hours of grief counselling, after Alex’ death, and according to the experts, the symptoms of acute loss would eventually diminish, not get worse. So what Isabel was going through, had to be something more serious than the average post-traumatic shock.
But like he had told her only minutes ago, she couldn’t very well seek help from a psychiatrist. The official verdict on the case had been accidental death. Besides, all their instincts told them to lie low, avoid drawing attention to themselves. Max had very nearly ended up as a test subject once, and that was an experience all of them feared.
The loss of Alex had driven all of them apart. Now only Michael and Maria kept in touch, and from what Max heard, Liz and Kyle were also seeing each other from time to time. But the Evans twins found themselves cut off from their old friends. Unlike in the past though, they hadn’t ended up getting closer to each other.
It was the first time Max had felt entirely alone. Isabel no longer allowed him in her life. Not in the ways that counted. Every word, every look shut him out. It hurt, but Max had his own problems, his own issues to sort out, so this time by himself might be necessary.
He didn’t hear Isabel return before he finally dozed off, and fell into a shallow, restless sleep. When he woke up, he was told by his mother that Isabel had gone out again. It was obvious that their mother was just as concerned about his sister as he was, but they seemed to have run out of options.
Max had told his mother that Isabel would prefer to deal with the problems on her own, to avoid the suggestion of her seeing a psychiatrist. So far, there had been no pressures in that direction, but Max felt that if Isabel didn’t feel better soon, their parents would insist. That was a complication he refused to dwell on for the time being.
Towards evening, Isabel finally returned, and after pretending to have supper, she retreated into her room. She wasn’t eating or sleeping, and it was beginning to show. In school, Isabel had always had many admirers, and because of that, she’d made no friends among the other girls. Now, her former classmates would have a hard time recognizing her.
Max already knew that his sister had turned her room into a shrine to the memory of Alex. When she wasn’t taking long lonely walks around the town or the areas around it, she was sitting on a chair, staring for hours at a large framed photo of the boy she’d loved. Tonight wasn’t any different. Max didn’t think she wanted to even try going to bed. But he had to convince her it was necessary. Her health would suffer soon enough, and he couldn’t bear to see her in this much pain.
“Yes, what is it now?”
“You have to get some sleep. How long has it been now?”
“You get some sleep. I’m ok. Just go.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can. Just turn around and go back to your own room. That’s all I ask. Leave me alone.”
“You can’t go on like this. This is getting serious. Mom and dad are beginning to talk about psychiatrists.”
“So? I’m not going. And they can’t make me. Let them talk. They can’t understand this, and neither can you. Liz is still alive and well.”
“Yes, but -“
“Max, leave me alone. I don’t care about anything anymore. Maybe I come from somewhere up there. It’s not important. And frankly, I’ve decided to forget about all that alien stuff. I’m Isabel Evans, period. We were born in the desert, fine. But now we live here. And I’ll tell you another thing, Max. If Alex were still alive, I’d marry him. Right away. Or at least move in with him. Nothing matters, except love, and since I can’t have that, I don’t want anything. You can play king, if you want to. Or you can just go on hiding your head in the sand. That’s your business. But if you can’t understand this, just go.”
“Alright. I’ll go. If you get some sleep.”
“How are you going to make me sleep? As you well know, sleeping pills don’t work on us.”
“Can’t you just try? I know that when I’m really tired, I don’t have any dreams.”
“How nice for you.”
In the past, his pleading face always worked with her. And even now, Isabel felt herself giving in. What was the harm? Some nights, she actually didn’t see Alex’ face. Maybe this would be one of those. And she really was totally exhausted.
“Ok. You win. I’ll try.”
“I’d like to get undressed now. But if you want to stay, it’s ok. I don’t mind.”
Max felt his face go red all over. He had been so pleased his sister was actually going to sleep for a while, he hadn’t thought about the practical details.
“No, that’s ok. I need to get some sleep too. But if you want me, just call ok?”
“Yes, ok. Good night, Max. And – I didn’t mean to sound so cold just now. It’s just that -“
When she was wearing her pyjama, Isabel stretched out on her bed. She didn’t think she’d be able to sleep, but to her surprise, she dozed off almost right away. And to begin with, she enjoyed a dreamless sleep. Towards dawn, the visions came back, this time even more real. She could see Alex’ face and he was crying this time. Crying. And when she felt herself move closer, he looked up and their eyes met. In his eyes, she could see conflicting emotions fight it out. Shame over her seeing him like this. Relief. Desperation.
“Isabel, please listen. I don’t have much time. It’s really me. You think I’m dead, but I’m not. You have to find me and get me away from here, or I really will be dead soon. Please try to understand. This isn’t a dream. If you can see me and hear me, I’m real. He’ll be back any minute, and if he finds out what I’m doing, I don’t know what he’ll do.”
“Yes. It’s me. I know how strange this must seem. You must help me.”
“But I was at your funeral.”
“Not mine. I can’t explain that.”
“I was on my way to Sweden and – He’s coming. Tomorrow night, please. You have to -“
After that, he was gone. Isabel didn’t know if the dream was over, or what had happened. But she still appeared to be asleep, and since she was still very tired, she sank deeper and didn’t know anything else for a long time.
“Mom? What’s wrong?”
Isabel came awake with a start. Her mother was standing over her with a concerned look on her face.
“Sweetheart, I was a little concerned since you didn’t wake up this morning.”
“What? What time is it?”
“It’s about 4.30. You’ve slept all day.”
“I didn’t realize that.”
“How are you feeling now? Rested?”
“I – Yes, I think so. It’s really late in the afternoon?”
“Yes. Well, as long as you got a good night’s sleep. Aren’t you hungry? I’ve got dinner ready for you.”
“Ok. I’ll be out in a minute.”
The memories of the night were coming back to her, and she wanted to be alone to think things over. It had all been so real. Alex talking to her that way, was something new. In most of her dreams, he would scream for her, beg her to help him. But this was too vivid. And she’d never have been able to imagine all that Alex said, by herself.
What was this? Was she losing her mind, as she knew her family was beginning to fear? Or was this some kind of alien trap? Could Tess be behind it, for her own cruel sadistic reasons? Or – Isabel didn’t even dare to finish the thought in her mind. But it had been so much like Alex. All of it. His face, the sound of his voice. Everything was him.
Though she would never confide this in anyone, Isabel began to wonder what would happen if she dared to dreamwalk and look for Alex. He was dead, and he couldn’t be found that way. But what if she did find him? Just for a moment, she ignored her own misgivings and allowed herself to voice that thought inside her mind.
What if Alex really was alive somewhere, held captive by someone? He’s coming. That’s what Alex had said. He? Could that mean Nicholas? They hadn’t heard anything from him for ages. Not that anyone had missed their enemy. But if – No. She wouldn’t consider this possibility just yet. She needed to know more. But tonight, she’d dreamwalk, and she’d wait for Alex to make contact with her again.
“Izz? Are you coming?”
“Yes. In a minute. You can stay if you like, I’m almost done.”
Max took a look at his sister. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but she really did look a little different from last night. He was hoping the long hours of sleep had had that effect. If only she’d eat a proper meal, he was sure she’d feel better, at least physically.
Even if Isabel looked healthier and more rested, she still didn’t open up to her brother. Max watched her out of the corner of his eye, throughout the entire meal, and he thought Isabel was unusually distant, even considering the way she’d been ever since she’d lost Alex. Something was on her mind and –
Suddenly Max had a horrible premonition. What if she was – No. Not his sister. But she had been through a lot in the past year. He wouldn’t let her abandon him here, in a world could turn hostile over night, if they made one false move. Whatever she was planning, he wouldn’t let her get away with it.
Isabel didn’t pay attention to her brother’s concern on her behalf. She was busy going over the new developments in her mind. For the first time in months, she didn’t fear the night. Tonight, she’d risk exposing herself to the dream once again, and this time she wouldn’t waste time doubting. She could always evaluate the possible evidence later. If there was a way Alex could get in touch with her, she’d be open for it. No risk was too great, even if there was only a fraction of a chance she might see him again.
She surprised her family by declaring she’d go to bed early, despite her long hours of sleep. Her parents exchanged looks behind her back, but even she’d noticed, she wouldn’t have cared. Too much was at stake. Nothing could stand in her way. Not even her brother.
“Izz? Are you ok?”
“As ok as I’ll ever be. You can stop worrying. Going to sleep early was a good idea. I decided to take your advice, that’s all.”
Max looked into her eyes, trying to read her, but for the first time, he couldn’t detect anything in the cool depths. She was right, after all the missed sleep, it really was a good idea to get some more rest, while she could. But her carefree attitude didn’t fool him for a moment. If he wasn’t very much mistaken, Isabel had some hidden agenda, and if that involved any risk of her getting hurt, he’d put a stop to it.
When she noticed he was still with her, she looked back at him, with an impatient look on her face.
“What’s the matter? I thought you’d be pleased I can finally get some sleep.”
“Of course I am. Can I just talk to you for a minute?”
She sighed. Fine. It was too early anyway. But she didn’t want all this extra attention.
“Ok. Come on in. Just out of curiosity, what if I’d said no? Would you have left me alone?”
“You know I would.”
“What is it you want to talk about?”
“Nothing really. I’m just feeling lonely. You and I always used to be able to talk.”
“Things have changed a bit, as you might remember.”
“I know. But I’d like to think that whatever else I’ve lost, I’d still have you.”
Isabel took a closer look at her brother? Was he trying to manipulate her? No. None of this was Max’ fault, no matter how much he was blaming himself.
“You haven’t lost me. How can you think that? Ok. What’s wrong? Come on, tell your big sister everything.”
“I thought I was the big brother.”
“Can you prove that?”
Max smiled and relaxed a little. This was more like the old Isabel. He had come here to check up on her, but now that she seemed more or less normal again, he found himself wanting to share his problems with her. About Liz, and about his feelings of guilt over everything that had happened to them and their human friends.
“Liz doesn’t want to talk to me.”
Here we go again, Isabel thought to herself. But she loved Max enough to listen to his tedious and banal tale of woe.
“Ok. I suppose I can understand that. Are you sure she’s worth it, though?”
The look on Max’ face told her more than she wanted to know about that. Well, there was no accounting for tastes.
“Don’t answer that. Let’s see. Have you asked her out? Sent her any flowers or presents?”
“No. I thought -“
“Never mind. All that stuff can wait, until you know she’s still interested. What do you think is wrong?”
“Everything that’s happened. The way I treated her. I slept with Tess.”
“Didn’t she have a thing with Kyle a while back?”
“No. That was – I don’t know. Maybe she wanted to make me jealous. And I was too stupid to see.”
“Oh. Well, I guess I don’t know how I would have felt if I’d found out that Alex had slept with another girl.”
Max had a hard time imagining Alex sleeping with anyone, but realized that some people might say the same thing about him. He thought it best not to comment on anything Alex-related, so he switched on to another track.
“And I think she might be getting back with Kyle now, after all this.”
“You might not want to hear this, but maybe it’s for the best. They should be compatible.”
“You’re right, I don’t want to hear that. She’s everything I ever looked for. I love her so much -“
Too late, he realized that this was something Isabel wouldn’t want to hear.
“I’m sorry. Never mind. Liz is still around. Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I guess I should be happy for Kyle if this happens.”
“That’s very generous of you. Was there anything else?”
The tone of dismissal in her voice, reminded Max that she was only listening to his boring problems out of love for him. And she had to be tired. He couldn’t be this selfish. So he smiled and got up.
“No. Thanks for listening. You know if there’s ever anything you want to talk about, anything, you can always talk to me. Even if it’s the middle of the night.”
“Yes. I know that.”
Before he left, Max gave his sister a hug, desperately hoping she’d be able to get over Alex somehow. He couldn’t bear to see her suffer like this.
Just as the door shut behind her brother, Isabel sighed with relief. Finally alone. Now that she wasn’t so afraid of sleeping, she’d prepare herself for dreamwalking properly. Even after only one night’s good sleep and one single solid meal, she felt stronger and more focused.
Whatever was going on, she’d face it. If this was anything at all to do with Alex, even his ghost, she wouldn’t be afraid. She hadn’t feared him in life, so why would she fear him in death? But he had seemed very real and alive in her last dream vision.
Not bothering to get undressed, knowing she’d show up as wearing whatever she was wearing to bed, if the dreamwalking was successful, she lay down on her bed. She turned off the light on her bedside table and waited. It was surprisingly easy to reach the level of sleep suitable for dreamwalking. Not too deep, not too shallow. Now all she had to do was stay there, prepared for anything.
It seemed to take forever for Alex’ face to float into view. Now that she wasn’t fighting it, she noticed all the subtle changes since they’d last met, in life. Or face to face awake.
“Isabel. You came. We don’t have much time. He’s getting more and more irrational. I’m afraid -“
She had never seen Alex this distraught. Whatever had been done to him had left terrible scars, emotionally, and it was all visible in his eyes. In fact, when she looked closer there were scars on his face as well. For a second, Isabel winced, remembering the burnt out shell of his jeep. But this was different. No burn marks. Those cuts and scratches and freshly heeled scars looked as if – But he was right. They were losing time.
“You’re really alive?”
He smiled weakly and nodded.
“Yes. So far. But I don’t know what he has in mind for me.”
“Some kid, by the look of him. Didn’t you mention a skin named Nicholas?”
Nicholas. So that’s who was behind all this. But it could so easily be a trick. Something intended to lure her back to him, only this time he’d be prepared for her. And Tess wouldn’t be around either.
“How is this possible, Alex? You talking to me in my sleep? I saw you before. Just after – When it happened. And that wasn’t you. It was just me trying to come to terms with it. How are you doing this?”
He frowned thoughtfully, as if trying to focus too.
“I thought you’d be able to tell me. To begin with, I was too scared to do anything. But after a while, I couldn’t help thinking about you. And there were these flashes -“
Now he blushed slightly, even if it was hard to tell. He was so pale.
“Like when you kissed me. The night when you saved me from that guy Marty at the Crashdown.”
“You saw those? Alex – I’ve missed you so terribly.”
“I was hoping – Anyway, at first I thought it was just wishful thinking. Or just me hallucinating.”
He looked shy, as if he didn’t want be too obvious, but Isabel thought she understood. Wasn’t he the only person who’d been on her mind for a long, long time?
“And I couldn’t help talking to you, even if it wasn’t you. But after a while I got to thinking that maybe it really was you. Didn’t Max and Liz have some kind of connection too?”
Yes. And if she and Alex shared that, there were no doubts anymore. He was the one. Isabel shed her last doubts. This was Alex, and he needed her more than ever.
“Ok. I’m going to get you away from Nicholas. Where are you?”
“I don’t know. They’re keeping me locked up. I haven’t been outside in all this time. It’s just an empty room. Can you see it?”
He looked around as if to illustrate the question. And through his eyes, or some other way Isabel wasn’t sure about, she could see the room he was being held in. And she saw more. He was tied up, wearing no clothes, and on his skin someone had inflicted all sorts of torture. She didn’t want to look too closely. But she was sure of one thing: Whoever had done this to Alex would pay.
“Yes. But it doesn’t tell me anything. Never mind. I’ll find you somehow.”
Alex didn’t reply. She could see his eyes widen in fear, staring at something seemingly behind her. His mouth opened but no sound came. After that, the connection was broken.
Isabel struggled to free herself from sleep. She needed to do something right away. Impatiently, she shook herself awake and jumped out of bed. Max. He had said she could count on him, day and night.
His door was open, and Isabel ran up to her brother’s bed. He was asleep, but she shook him awake. Not fully awake, he looked up at her, with alarm in his eyes.
“Izz? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. It’s Alex. I’ve found him. No. I mean, he’s contacted me and -“
“You had a nicer dream this time?”
“No, no, no. I said he contacted me. Isn’t this wonderful, Max? He isn’t dead at all. Nicholas took him. But I’m going to find him and -“
Her voice trailed off uncertainly, when she saw the look of pity on Max’ face. Not until now, did she give any thought to how this would sound. Bitterly, she noted that her brother obviously didn’t believe a word she’d said.
Her own brother, her twin brother. And he still looked at her as if she was some poor madwoman, who needed to be humored or she’d snap. But she would snap and she’d shake some sense into him. If only he’d reserved judgement until she’d had time to explain more fully.
“Max. Listen to me. Or have you made up your mind already?”
The bitterness in her voice made him stop and look closer. She did look collected and sane. What was this? Another trap? Nicholas. They hadn’t heard anything from him in a long time. Could it be his doing? But this was his sister, he had to give her a chance to make him understand whatever it was she’d discovered, or thought she had.
“No. Ok. Go ahead. What happened? You had another dream? Or vision.”
“Yes. But it was far more real than a dream. It was like dreamwalking except – Max, what was it like when Liz contacted you in New York that time?”
“Are you saying it was something like that?”
Nodding excitedly, Isabel smiled brilliantly as she remembered Alex’ voice.
“Yes. I think so. Don’t you see what this means?”
“That you think Alex is still alive?”
“Yes, Max, but what else?
“I don’t know -“
“You must be unusually tired tonight. He’s the one, Max. Just like you told me you felt about Liz. Of course, I’d already started to understand that when – but anyway – Don’t you see we need to go look for him right away. Come on. Get dressed. I’ll go and get my stuff and -“
“Isabel. This was a very odd thing to happen, and I admit we have to look into it more closely. But you’re forgetting something. I had my hands on his body. He was dead. Believe me, I’ve never felt anything that dead. Whatever you experienced tonight, can’t be Alex. Or at least not Alex the way he was.”
“Are you saying this was Alex’ ghost? Don’t tell me you believe in those things. Besides, this was far too real for that. It was him, Max. You have to believe me.”
“Isabel, I really think you need to calm down. Why don’t you go to bed now and we’ll talk more about it in the morning? Didn’t you tell me that right after you’d heard about what had happened to him, you had dreams, or visions too? Where you got a chance to say goodbye?”
“This is different. In those dreams, he only said things I’d dream up. But now he was telling me all kinds of things I could never make up.”
“Oh, never mind. Forget it. You’re probably right. I’ve just lost my mind and these are the first symptoms.”
“Izz, I’m sorry. But this isn’t like you at all. I should go get mom. Maybe she could make you see -“
“I said, forget it. Go back to sleep.”
“Will you go back to bed too?”
“What else can I do? Sleep well, Max.”
“Do you want me to go with you and talk to you for a while?”
“No. Just go back to sleep. I’ll be ok.”
An intense disappointment filled her. How could her own brother do this to her? He had said he’d always be there for her. And he’d made her agree to go along to that other planet, just so he wouldn’t have to go alone. But now, when she could have really used his help, he told her she was imagining things. Some king. And some brother. But she’d show him. If she had to, she’d go and find Alex herself and bring him back. She didn’t need anyone else.
Except, unless Nicholas kept Alex hidden away inside of Roswell, she’d need a car. If necessary, she’d steal one, but she thought she knew where she could get one. First though, she realized who might be able to help her make sense of this strange call for help. Someone who was about the only one who might want to listen.
She did go back to her room, but only to grab her jacket and her cell phone. What else might she need? Nothing. Her powers and her mind would have to do.
Liz was dreaming about Max, again. They were kissing and – But suddenly, Tess was there, dragging Max out of her arms. The blonde girl started to kiss him as well, but suddenly her hands were tentacles with sharp talons that raked Max’ skin and her face was like one of those small grey things down at the UFO center. Now the girl was saying something. She was laughing and calling Liz’ name.
A knock on the window sent Liz crashing out of her dream and coming violently awake, only barely managing to bite back a scream.
“Liz. Wake up, please.”
Someone was outside her window. Max? No, this was a girl. Tess. She was beginning to panic, but knowing that panic wouldn’t do anything to help her, Liz forced herself to stay calm.
That voice. No, that wasn’t Tess, it was Isabel. What was she doing outside Liz’ window?
There was only one way to find out. Braving the cool night air, Liz got out of bed and walked over to the window.
“Isabel? What are you doing here? Is anything wrong with Max?”
“No. Anyway, I thought it was Kyle these days?”
“Kyle? What are you talking about? Oh, I suppose you’d better come inside.”
Realizing that she owed the other girl an explanation, Isabel tried to think of one that wouldn’t sound too crazy. Not right away.
“Thanks. Sorry to show up like this. But it’s sort of an emergency.”
“No. I said no. He’s just fine. At least physically. But he needs to be more open about some things.”
Liz’ eyes opened wide. She didn’t know what Isabel was talking about, but whatever it was, it sounded a bit weird to say the least. Open about what? She hoped it wasn’t anything to do with sex, because there was no way she was going to –
“Ok. I’m listening.”
“You managed to contact Max in New York once, remember?”
“Yes. But I haven’t had any of those visions for a long time.”
Isabel could guess what was causing the rather bitter tone in Liz’ voice. At least they had one thing in common. Their feelings for Tess.
“I understand. But this wasn’t anything to do with Max.”
That was a relief. For a second, Liz had had a very unpleasant vision of the Evans twins bonding a bit more than necessary.
“It’s Alex. He’s found a way of contacting me.”
From beyond the grave? These aliens apparently had more powers than she’d been able to imagine. Not for a second did it occur to her that Isabel might be wrong, or just hallucinating. She looked perfectly sane, apart from a rather wild look in her eyes.
“Tell me more. I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Do what? You know about dreamwalking, don’t you?”
“Yes. But I had no idea you could reach someone who’s -“
Oh, no. Not again. Did they all think she was communicating with the dead? She might be an alien, but she wasn’t a necromancer.
“Dead? He isn’t dead. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Alex is alive. Nicholas has taken him.”
Now everything was starting to slowly make sense. If only Isabel was right. It had been so hard to accept that her friend was gone for good. Could it really be that the nightmare was over?
“And he came to you in your sleep?”
“Yes. What was it like with you and Max? When you contacted him in New York?”
“I’m not sure. It was different from the flashes I got when -“
“Yes, yes. Go on.”
“It was more like I was looking at him from the outside. With the flashes it’s as if I see inside his mind. Does that make sense?”
“Yes. It does. That’s how it was with me and Alex. And tonight, I saw him. Tied up, and – Liz, Nicholas has been torturing him. We need to find him really soon. He was terrified.”
Somehow, Isabel alone had turned into this “we” and Liz had no objections. To get Alex back, she’d do anything. Take any risk.
“Ok. Just let me get dressed and I’ll come with you. Do you think you could track him down, like Tess did with Kyle that time the biotech lab had him?”
“Yes, I think so. What did she do?”
“I’ll explain later. Did you bring a car?”
“Oh. I suppose I could use mom’s, but don’t you think we should ask Maria? And Michael? Why isn’t Max here, by the way?”
“I told you. He needs to be more open. When I told him, he seemed to think I’d just been dreaming.”
“Oh. Ok. I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
“I’ll wait outside.”
Liz really was as good as her word. In just over five minutes she was down on the street, walking beside Isabel, on their way over to Maria’s house.
In the empty streets of early morning they saw no one, and it didn’t take them too long to reach Maria’s house. Now all they had to do was wake the girl up without her mother noticing. But Liz had done this before a few times, so she was getting quite expert at knocking on Maria’s window, just hard enough. And Maria was enough tuned in on the sound of someone knocking on her window to sleep lightly.
“Sorry to disappoint you. It’s just me. And Isabel. You have to help us. Something’s come up.”
“In the middle of the night? I’m meeting Michael tomorrow and -“
“I’m sorry. This is important. It’s to do with Alex.”
Maria stared at Liz in confusion, but they had her attention now, and though Maria had to bite her lower lip to stop herself from loudly voicing all her questions, it didn’t take her long to get dressed and climb outside.
“Ok. Where are we going?”
“Actually, I don’t know that yet. But I do know I’m going to need a car.”
“That I can do. And I’ll tell you where our first stop’s going to be. Michael’s place. We are taking him, aren’t we?”
Isabel hadn’t even thought about Michael yet, but when she heard his name mentioned even in that ridiculously mushy tone of voice, she had to agree that his powers would come in handy. Even so, she hesitated. Max hadn’t been willing to respect her experience enough to give her a chance to even explain. Would Michael be any different?
“Yes. I’m not sure I can do this without him.”
Maria was driving fast, but not recklessly so. Despite that, Liz called out a warning.
“Slow down. Don’t get us all killed.”
“I thought we needed to hurry.”
Isabel agreed. As long as they didn’t end up dead, she was all for speed.
“Don’t worry about it, Liz. If anything does happen, I’ll provide the air bag.”
And they made it over to Michael’s house in five minutes or less. Maria double-parked the car and ran over to Michael’s door, unlocked it and disappeared inside. If only she could be as quick about waking her boyfriend up, as she had been getting to his house, Isabel thought to herself.
To both girls’ surprise, Michael too, could exhibit quite a lot of speed when he had to. There were no signs of kissing even, so Maria must have been extremely eager to do something for her friend Alex.
But Michael did seem a bit curious about the reason for his abrupt awakening.
“Isabel? What is this about? I’m not making any sense out of what Maria’s trying to tell me.”
“That’s because no one told me anything either. Except that it’s got something to do with Alex.”
“Alex? I thought that was settled? Tess murdered him, and due to certain complications, Max couldn’t give her what she deserved. Not even when she returned.”
Remembering the time when his lover had nearly died at Tess’ hands, made Michael glance in Maria’s direction. He placed a hand over hers, squeezing it briefly, before turning his attention back onto Isabel.
“So what’s happened?”
“Remember how Liz was able to reach Max in New York?”
“Yes. Are you saying you got a sort of message from the other side?”
By now Isabel was getting really tired of that reaction. Who did they think she was anyway? Some psychic? Maybe she should start her own psychic phone line. Contact your loved ones in the afterlife, only 5 dollars a minute.
“No. He’s alive. Nicholas has taken him, and – Michael, Nicholas has been torturing him. We have to find him fast.”
Michael’s face didn’t hint at any greater conviction, but he seemed willing to accept her statement at face value, which was a bit more than Max had done.
“You don’t believe me?”
“I suppose it’s possible. And if there’s any chance at all of getting Alex back alive, I’m all for it.”
“Of course we are. All of us. What are we waiting for? We can’t let that monster hurt Alex any more than he already has.”
Michael looked back at his passionate girl and almost smiled. If Maria believed this unlikely story, that was good enough for him. Wherever she went, he went too. But this time, he was going to make sure she stayed out of danger. He wouldn’t take any nonsense from her.
“Isabel’s going to do that thing Tess did. You know, tracking him with her powers.”
Yes. That was the idea. Except Isabel had never done anything like that before. There was always dreamwalking, but that didn’t help much in actually locating Alex, since he didn’t know where he was. And she could hardly invade Nicholas’ mind and find the answer there, for obvious reasons. With his superior powers, he’d not only know she was there, but he’d most likely be able to shut her out, if not hit back at her across the distance.
“Yes. Tell me again what she did. All of it. Any detail might help. Michael, do you have any idea how to do that?”
“Tracking someone using our powers?”
“Not a clue. This should be interesting.”
“Well, she actually got down on her hands and knees, sort of sniffing the ground.”
Maria could hardly smother a giggle at that image. But Liz was right. That’s what it had looked like.
Isabel didn’t look enthusiastic. Acting like a dog didn’t appeal to her at all. But how fitting for Tess to be crawling around on the ground. She really belonged in the gutter, especially after what she’d done to Kyle.
“But I don’t think you really need to be on the ground. She looked like she wasn’t focusing properly. With her eyes. Like she was concentrating inwardly. Does this make any sense?”
“In a way. I see. What did she say about it? Assuming we can believe a word that lying, cheating bitch was saying.”
Liz frowned in concentration. Something about – Yes.
“She said that anyone who’s walked or travelled across the ground leaves a trail, that she could read. But Alex must have been taken so long ago, there can’t be anything left. It was the same with Kyle, even though that was only a few days, not months. Anyway, she said it could be done anyway, but not the same way.”
That wasn’t much to go on. Isabel knew she’d have to experiment on her own. What should she do? Dreamwalking involved – but this was different. How about – She tried that, but didn’t get anything.
Trying to imagine Alex leaving a faint trail for her to follow, she did her best to reach out in all directions mentally to search for anything at all that reminded her of him. In her mind’s eye, the trail was as red as blood, calling her attention to the fact that the clock was ticking. Her love was on a deadline and if she couldn’t find him before his time ran out, she’d really lose him. This time forever.
She closed her eyes and strained her senses outward. To her astonishment, she did pick up something that was definitely associated with Alex. She hoped it wasn’t the remains of his jeep, unless those had been scrapped by now. No. This was different. To do with the living Alex.
But how did she trace it? At first it was so faint, and vague, she had no idea where it came from. But she wouldn’t give up. As long as there was even the remotest chance of getting Alex out of Nicholas’ clutches alive, she’d do it, no matter what it took.
Unfortunately, Nicholas could be anywhere on Earth by now, so even if she did find the exact location, there was no guarantee she’d be in time. But she did think this trail led somewhere far more nearby. Now she was getting a definite direction.
West, or southwest, right out into the desert. Typical. Everything in their lives on this planet seemed to be centered around the desert. Maybe it was indicative of how barren their lives were. No. She could wallow in self-pity some other time. Now Alex needed her.
Yes. She had it. Not too far away, apparently. So Nicholas had set up his new base closer to Roswell so he could keep an eye on them. But why hadn’t he struck again? Was the abduction of Alex all he was after? That didn’t seem possible. But she’d have to take one thing at a time.
“Ok. Got it. West. On the interstate. I’ll tell you where to turn off. He’s a bit southwest of here. Out in the desert.”
Maria stepped on the accelerator, earning her a cautionary look from Liz. But the blonde girl ignored her friend and kept driving so fast, she actually scared herself a little, but thought the speed was justified. Their friend Alex was in danger. He was being tortured. Of course they had to hurry.
Liz reached into the glove compartment and brought out the road map. Nothing. There was nothing out there except desert. No landmarks of any kind. But if that was where Alex was, they’d find him and bring him home again.
So Maria kept driving at breakneck speed, and Isabel kept scanning her surroundings tirelessly. As they got closer, Alex’ trail became a little easier to follow. By now, she thought she could even sense his anguish. Nicholas might be far stronger, but once she found him, he’d suffer her revenge.
“What’s the matter, boy? She’s not coming, is she? You thought Velandra was going to come for her latest plaything, didn’t you? But as you see she’s not here yet.”
Alex didn’t reply. It wouldn’t make any difference. To begin with, he hadn’t dared not to, but as he soon realized, the madman who looked like a kid, but was anything but, made no exceptions. Whether he did as he was told or not, there was punishment coming. He just never knew when or how.
And though the pain was close to intolerable at times, and not knowing when the end would come were both frightening in themselves, Alex had come to dread the raving monologues even more. At times, Nicholas’ words had him close to tears if the pain didn’t.
Now Nicholas began staring at him again, in a highly unnerving way. That was always a bad sign.
“I can’t believe she’d choose you. Her tastes must have deteriorated considerably since we last knew each other. She belongs to me, do you hear me, boy? Mine. Not yours.”
Alex bit his lip, but didn’t reply. He doubted Nicholas would hear him anyway. As always the mad alien who had captured him only listened to his own twisted monologues.
Nicholas’ eyes continued moving across his prisoner’s skin, and Alex could barely repress a shudder. Nothing set Nicholas off as much as any sign of fear. And now a hand shot out and squeezed Alex’ upper arm. With a look of contempt, Nicholas let go and continued the visual inspection.
“Don’t think for a moment that someone like you could ever satisfy Velandra like I could. Like I can. How can she consort with an animal like you? Just look at you. Pathetic.”
Maybe. But Alex didn’t think Nicholas looked all that impressive in this reincarnation either. It was just as well that his captor didn’t pick up on the irreverent thought.
“Once she was so far removed from scum like you, she’d never even look at you. Now – This world has dragged her down. Would you like to know how we met? I saw her from a distance. Already, I knew who she was, and her reputation. All I could do was hope that she’d deign to look at me. And she did look at me, boy. She did a lot more than just look.”
Alex didn’t want to hear this. Even though it wasn’t really Isabel Nicholas was referring to, this was painful to listen to. Alex knew far too well how he and Isabel would look together, and at times he doubted her feelings for him.
But Isabel was nothing like that alien Velandra, Nicholas kept raving about. Alex had to keep reminding himself of that. Isabel was a girl. Not some weird alien love goddess. And from what Alex could deduct from the garbled phrases, Velandra hadn’t been a good person. She was a traitor, and an adulteress. That didn’t sound at all like Isabel.
For a moment, Alex allowed his mind to wander away from the sparse room he was shackled in. Would Isabel be able to find him, or had she merely told him that to make him feel better? Was she on her way to save him? Or was this just another of his fevered dreams about the girl he loved?
Even if he was mistaken, and the lack of food and water, and the sleep deprivation had muddled his brains, there was no one and nothing he’d rather be thinking of. His last conscious thoughts would be of her. Letting his attention stray away from his cruel captor was a mistake, as Alex had learned over the months of his captivity. A sharp pain brusquely recalled him to reality.
And so it started over again, the torture, mental and physical, as it had for a seemingly endless period of time. The thoughts of Isabel were pushed to the back of his mind.
Here didn’t appear to be anywhere special. Maria stopped the car and they all went outside to stare around them in disbelief. They had turned onto a small side road, and that road had turned into a small dirt track, which had now receded into nothing. Out here, there didn’t seem to be more than sand. Dry air, a dull colored sky, faintly lit up by dawn. Nothing else.
But Isabel was sure of it. Alex was nearby. This was the place.
She repeated her words again to reassure herself. But whatever the others were thinking, they had a point. Nothing could be seen. There was nothing to indicate that anyone was hiding out in this place.
For a horrible second, Isabel thought that maybe she had been communicating with Alex’ spirit. Had she found her way to his grave? No. He was alive. And suffering. She had to get a grip. If Alex was here, and she knew he was, he had to be somewhere. There had to be an entrance somewhere close by. To her surprise help came from Liz.
“Ok. Let’s look around. There could be caves someplace. Underground caves. Or some other underground place. Look for an entrance.”
Michael and Maria didn’t look enthusiastic. Digging through tons of sand with their bare hands wasn’t appealing, but Michael knew that using his powers would only alert Nicholas to their presence. So they all got down on their knees and began to search for anything out of the ordinary.
Using a scientific approach helped Liz find what they were looking for. Her cool gaze spotted a patch of sand with a different color than those surrounding it. On closer inspection, that difference was caused by the fact that nothing grew on that particular spot. All around, there were tufts of yellowing grass, or lichens and other vegetation. But on an area about three yards in diameter, there was nothing but sand, which was slightly more packed than the rest of the ground.
“Hey. I think I’ve found it. Come over here.”
Everyone gathered around, and together they tried to dig up whatever was hidden by the sand. It didn’t take them long to discover a regular line tracing a square. After some diligent digging, they uncovered a smooth metal surface. A door.
Michael pressed his hand against it to blast it open, but Isabel’s hand shot out and pushed his arm away.
“No. Don’t do that. Nicholas will know we’re here right away.”
“Ok. What do you suggest? I don’t see any key, do you?”
“Let’s get rid of more of this sand. There has to be a handle of some kind.”
They dug some more, and finally most of the metal door was revealed. Unfortunately, there was no handle, doorknob, or visible lock mechanism of any kind. It was just a flat smooth surface. And it was made of some extremely hard alloy.
“Any suggestions, Isabel? Liz?”
No. They didn’t. So now they’d do things his way.
“Maria, will you do something for me for once?”
“I think I can guess. Ok. I hate to leave you guys to do this on your own, but you’re right. For once. Liz?”
Liz sighed and acknowledged the wisdom in Max’ suggestion. Michael and Isabel might not even be strong enough to take on Nicholas, but since they were going to anyway, it wasn’t fair to expect them to protect their human friends at the same time.
“Yes. We’ll be back at the jeep. Be careful, both of you. And bring back Alex to us.”
Michael and Maria hurriedly embraced, under Isabel’s impatient eye. Not until the two girls had disappeared in the direction of Maria’s jeep, did Michael turn his attention back onto the metal door. Isabel raised her hand along with his, and though the door resisted their powers for a long time, eventually it gave way, with a sizzle and a sharp acid stink.
Before descending into the hole in the ground, Michael and Isabel exchanged a worried glance. There was no way Nicholas and his goons wouldn’t know of their arrival. But they had no time to lose. Whatever they’d find down there, they had to do this.
Fortunately, the ladder was attached to the wall on the side of the shaft. The energy beam hadn’t touched it. This was no time for caution. Michael pushed past Isabel to climb down before her. To his surprise, she held him back.
“I go first. This is my fight.”
“Ok. Ladies first.”
Either this was an elaborate trap, or Nicholas didn’t have as many skins under his command anymore. Whatever the reason, they didn’t encounter any resistance for a while.
How could Nicholas have found this place? It appeared to be some kind of military installation, or maybe a secret laboratory buried in the desert. Or had he had it built for his exclusive use? At this point, Isabel couldn’t care less. All she wanted was to find her guy, bring him back and hopefully get her revenge on Nicholas.
She used her senses and tracked Alex through the featureless corridors. The light seemed to come from nowhere, and it was of a sharp, tiresome quality, dazzling their eyes, making it hard to tell in what direction they were going.
Still no resistance. The place seemed an endless maze of corridors, with closed doors on both sides. Isabel suspected that they were going in circles, but it was a huge installation, that much she could tell.
Using her powers she was able to keep closing in on Alex’ location. Finally, she found it. The room where Nicholas was holding her guy. With a look at Michael, she once again raised her hand in the air. He followed her example and they blasted through the door.
Nicholas. He looked up from Alex, and stared into her eyes. She winced when she saw the horrible injuries Nicholas had inflicted on her love. But none of those injuries were serious. He would live, if she could only get him away from this place. To her relief, Michael seemed to know what she wanted him to do. He’d have to see to Alex. She’d deal with Nicholas.
“Nicholas. We meet again. Did you take Alex to make me come to you?”
Those eyes. Would the insanity of the skin show through his husk’s eyes? The look in them made Isabel’s skin crawl, but she forced herself to smile invitingly. If he was insane, maybe she would be able to trick him somehow. And every second counted. She moved closer but way to the side of poor Alex. That way, she was hoping she’d get Nicholas away from him, giving Michael a chance to untie Alex, and getting him out.
“Yes. I can’t forget you, Velandra. Don’t you remember what we had? Try to ignore your human weaknesses and see past this shell of yours. It’s beautiful too, but nothing compares to the way you looked before.”
“Why don’t you remind me? I’m having trouble remembering. If you could help me -“
She let the sentence hang in the air between them. It seemed to be working. Nicholas was walking away from Alex. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Michael approaching the prisoner. If only Nicholas didn’t react to that. And for a while, Nicholas seemed oblivious to anything but the girl he was facing.
Michael stared in horror at what Nicholas had done to Alex. How could anyone be that sick? Alex, who would never hurt anyone. What had he done to deserve this treatment? But before finishing the thought, Michael knew what it was. Jealousy. Isabel loved Alex. Naturally, Nicholas would hate the boy she loved.
The chains fastening Alex to the wall didn’t seem to be too securely attached. Michael pressed his hand against the cool metal and turned them into a brittle material that broke easily. Alex couldn’t support himself after the months of half-hanging from those chains and he slumped down towards the floor.
Michael was only just in time to catch him. He could tell how embarrassed Alex was over all of it, his weakness, his nakedness, but this was no time for useless pride. Still, Nicholas seemed unaware of what was going on. Velandra held all his attention.
“Hey. We’ve missed you, man. Especially Izz. You should have seen her.”
“Oh. Sorry about that.”
“Are you ok? I mean, do you think you could walk if I help you a bit?”
“Sure I can. I have to, don’t I?”
“It would help, but if you can’t, it’s ok. I’ll carry you.”
“No. That won’t be necessary.”
“Ok. Let’s try this.”
Some of the cuts on Alex’ body opened again, at Michael’s touch and from the friction of brushing Michael’s clothes. There was nothing he could do about that, but every flinch, every muffled sound of pain from Alex got to him.
“Never mind. I’ll be ok.”
Michael couldn’t believe Nicholas was going to let him go just like that. But he got to the door, only slightly hampered by Alex’ weight. The guy had always been skinny, but the months in captivity seemed to have reduced the flesh on his bones to practically nothing. Michael was uncomfortably reminded of camp prisoners from the Balkans. Those pictures in the newspapers had outraged him too, alien or not.
“Shit, Alex. Didn’t he feed you at all in all this time?”
“Sometimes. If he remembered to. Or if he felt like it. Most of the time I didn’t feel hungry anyway.”
Outside in the corridor, Michael met the first of Nicholas’ soldiers. Compared to what their enemy used to command, this force was pitiful. Michael thought he would be able to get past them, if only just. Without their leaders they weren’t much of a threat. But there were still five of them against him.
And he had to make sure Alex didn’t get hurt. He had to use one hand against those skins, so he let go of Alex with one arm. The other would have to do. And it seemed Alex could draw on some reserve of strength despite everything, because he remained upright, with only one of Michael’s arms as support.
Michael hadn’t tried anything like this before, but concentrating fiercely, he was able to use one of those protective walls Max always was so good at, while at the same time firing off volley after volley of energy beams at the five skins. No. Four. One of them was history now. Correction, two. Now only three remained. Two of them were women. In fact, one of them just a kid, of about 15 or so.
Grimly, Michael told himself not to be silly. They might look like women, but they weren’t. Who knew what they really looked like? And even if they were women, he’d kill them to get Alex out in one piece. The remaining male fried and Michael was beginning to think that he was going to get past the last skins with not much more effort. When the girl took a direct hit to her chest and crumpled up, Michael had to force himself to ignore the feeling of revulsion. It wasn’t a kid. This was just some alien.
But the older woman seemed to be the worst threat. Michael’s strength were waning by now, but the woman still seemed as strong as ever. But he couldn’t be stopped now, after coming so far. In one last desperate attempt, Michael dropped the shield, and putting most of his remaining strength into a final blast, he managed to finish the woman. Now all he needed to do was find his way out of this maze and have the strength to drag Alex with him. Piece of cake. All in the day’s work.
Afterwards, he never knew how he made his way out. But finally they were at the bottom of the ladder, and Michael could begin to figure out how to climb up and bring Alex along.
Alex saw the problem as well, and surprised Michael a bit with his next words.
“I’ll do it.”
“What? You think you can climb up there on your own?”
“I have to. So I’ll do it.”
“Ok. Go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
“I might be a lot weaker than you, but I think I can carry my own weight.
“Of course. I was only saying -“
“Yes. I know. I’m sorry.”
To Michael’s astonishment, Alex did manage, even if his progress was slow and painful. And once he got to the surface, he crumpled up and fell to the ground.
Shit. What if Alex had exhausted himself too much? But he was still breathing. With a sigh, Michael picked his friend up. He really didn’t weigh much at all. All the while, Michael was painfully aware of the time ticking away.
Alex was out, but Isabel was still down there, confronting their worst enemy on her own. Correction. Their second worst enemy. He needed to get back to her and add his strength to hers. But there was the jeep. Not much further now.
Maria saw them coming and got out to meet them. Liz wasn’t far behind her.
“Alex? What’s wrong with him?”
“He’ll be ok. Just passed out from the exertion. Take him back to Roswell. Max will have to heal him. I’m going back to Isabel. She’s facing Nicholas on her own.”
Gently, Michael deposited Alex on the back seat, while Liz brought out an old blanket from the trunk.
“Ok. Let’s go, Maria.”
“No way. I’m not leaving Michael. Go on. Help Isabel out. But I’ll be waiting for you right here.”
And once again, she pulled him into her arms for a quick embrace. The brief contact seemed to renew Michael’s strength a little. Or maybe it was just his imagination. He should have known Maria wouldn’t do anything he asked her. But at least she was staying away from the real danger.
Before he turned to run back to Isabel, he saw Liz drive off in the direction of Roswell. Home. He’d never thought that way about the town before, but since meeting Maria the place had been growing on him.
Now there was more traffic, and Liz could never make herself drive as fast as Maria, but she did make good time. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing back to check on Alex from time to time. He looked emaciated, dirty and covered with cuts, bruises and recently healed scars. But all the same, it was the most wonderful sight in the world. Not dead, after all. And if she could only get a hold of Max –
The road stretched on seemingly endlessly, but eventually, she pulled up outside the Evans house. Liz threw herself out of the jeep, ran up to the door, and rang the doorbell. Mrs Evans opened the door and smiled warmly at Liz.
“Oh, hello, Liz. How nice to see you again. I’m sure Max will happy to see you. Come in.”
“Thanks. Is Max in his room?”
“Yes. Go right in. Breathlessly, Liz knocked on Max’ door and waited for his reply.”
“Izz, where have you – Liz?”
For a moment, they both stopped and stared into each others’ eyes. But driven by the urgency of the occasion, Liz forced herself to get on with her errand. There was far more at stake here, than her relationship with Max.
“Max, please come with me right away. It’s really urgent.”
“Is anything wrong?”
“No. Yes. I’ll explain later. Please.”
They walked out to the jeep, leaving mrs Evans staring after them in some confusion through the kitchen window.
“Max, I have to tell you something. It’s about Alex -“
“I see. Isabel came to you with that wild story. I’m sorry.”
“No, you don’t understand. She was right. And we found him.”
“Alex, of course. There. Look.”
She pointed in through the window.
Someone was lying in the back of the jeep, covered by a blanket. And the person who was lying there looked familiar, if changed. How could this be possible?
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Nicholas had taken him. He’s been tortured. Please, you have to heal him.”
Max’ head was spinning from this revelation. Alex. Not dead after all. But the boy was hurt, and he needed him. His own thoughts and questions could wait.
“Ok. Let’s go to Michael’s place. I’m not sure how to explain this to his parents, or mine.”
“Or mine. Yes. Ok.”
“Where are the others?”
“Still fighting Nicholas. Michael asked that you come and help them, as soon as you’ve healed Alex.”
“Right. Here we are. Do you think you can carry him inside? I’ll help -“
“No. It’s ok. I got him.”
Max winced when he noticed the changes Alex had undergone. But like Isabel earlier, he came to the conclusion that none of the injuries were life threatening.
Liz anxiously scanned their surroundings for any witnesses, but no one appeared to be around. Michael’s neighborhood was usually pretty deserted. They were able to get Alex inside and put him on Michael’s bed without anyone noticing.
Though Alex was horribly scarred, and still had multiple minor injuries all over, Max had been right in his assessment. Nothing really serious was wrong. It didn’t take too much effort to heal the wounds. The weight loss and the emotional trauma, he’d have to leave for later, hopefully to Isabel. She’d be much better able to see to those.
“Ok. I’m done. He’ll be ok now. I have to go. Maria won’t mind if I borrow her jeep, I guess?”
“No. Go on. I’ll stay with Alex. Hurry. Nicholas seems to be more or less alone down there, but you know how strong he is.”
Yes. Max knew far too well. And this time, Tess wasn’t with them. They’d have to manage on their own.
Liz hurriedly gave him the directions to the place where his sister and brother were fighting a superior enemy. He had to get there in time. Deep down he was filled with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Why hadn’t he believed Isabel when she’d come to him with her story? He should have been with them. What a fool he was and apparently always would be. If only his sister and brother didn’t have to pay for his mistakes with their lives.
Maria was still patiently waiting for the aliens, but she could tell him that so far she hadn’t heard a thing. Max didn’t stop and chat, but Maria walked him over to the door in the desert floor which was still standing open. Max didn’t have any difficulty making his way down the ladder.
At the bottom of the ladder, Max stopped and looked around, wondering how in the world he’d find Isabel and Michael in this maze of corridors. But he had no time to lose, so he picked a corridor at random and started walking hurriedly. No. This wouldn’t do. Ambling around like this didn’t get him any closer to Isabel and Michael.
Stupid. Of course he had to use his powers to sense their presence. There. Much better. From what he could tell, there were only three people in here, apart from himself. And he thought he could guess who the third person was. At least, both Michael and Isabel were still ok, though he thought he could detect some distress from his sister.
This way, he didn’t have any trouble finding the right corridor and the right room. But something about the room before the one he was after called his attention. He could see the door standing open, and though he knew he was running out of time, there was something that made him look inside. Alex? No. That wasn’t Alex. But the room was full of bodies looking exactly like Alex. No. Not full. There were six bodies. Husks. Wasn’t that how the skins referred to them?
Suddenly, Max knew how they had all been deceived by Nicholas. The irony of it all was that Tess too had been taken in. That explained why he hadn’t been able to bring Alex back. And under the circumstances, it was probably for the best. Who knew what that spy had been up to in the time he’d been among them. But now Isabel and Michael needed him. This interesting discovery could wait.
The time for waiting and hesitating was over. He pushed through the door and took stock of the situation. Michael seemed to be hesitating some distance away, his back to the door. When Max entered the room, Michael shot round, intent on protecting Isabel against the newcomer, but he dropped his defensive stance when he saw who it was.
“Michael. What -“
“Sh. She’s talking to him, and so far he seems to -“
But Max’ arrival hadn’t gone unnoticed. Nicholas turned his gaze away from Isabel and focused on the new arrival.
“I see. The devoted brother. How touching. But Velandra and I are busy, so I want you and your henchman to leave. If you do, I might let you live.”
“You know I can’t do that. I’ve come for my sister.”
“I’ll bet you have. Apparently you’ve made many conquests while down on this vile planet, Velandra. Even your own brother. But I won’t let anyone else have you.”
The battle lines were drawn. Even with three against one, Max didn’t give much for their chances, though he knew he’d try anyway. But Isabel’s next words stunned him into silence.
“Yes, alright, Nicholas. Why don’t we talk some more. Max and Michael can wait for me outside. Is that ok?”
“Yes, I said so, didn’t I?”
“Max, Michael. Back off a bit. I need to talk to Nicholas. He’s offered to help me, remember.”
What was she trying to do? Max didn’t think anything could sway Nicholas, judging by what he’d been capable of against a helpless human like Alex, but it was undeniable that so far, no hostilities had ensued. The longer that continued to be true, the better. On the other hand, they couldn’t stay here forever, and especially not Isabel. He wouldn’t allow her to sacrifice herself.
He made eye contact with Michael and nodded towards the doorway. They would wait and see what happened. Isabel was planning something, and he thought he knew what it was. If they could catch Nicholas unawares, maybe there was a chance he could at least injure the skin enough so they could get away.
It was a very slim chance, but if that was all they had, he had to make the best possible use of it. Max had seen Isabel’s powers of persuasion in action at close range. In fact, he’d even been the target of them himself on occasion. Her words had been known to spellbind men. Maybe there was a chance after all.
He and Michael remained just outside the door, and that appeared to be acceptable to Nicholas. His attention was held by Isabel or Velandra as she appeared to be in his eyes.
Isabel smiled at Nicholas and it was obvious that the skin was entirely taken in.
“You’re right. I’ve missed you. There aren’t any men like you on this miserable little rock.”
“I knew it, Velandra.”
“If you let Max and Michael go, I could stay here with you. And we could try to recapture what we had.”
“Yes, you’ll stay here, alright. But I can’t let your brother and his henchman go. Stay back, and we’ll get this over with.”
No. She couldn’t let him kill her brothers. Not if there was anything she could do about it. And there might still be something left to try.
Max and Michael gasped in horror as they saw what Isabel had in mind. They had been preparing to defend themselves against Nicholas’ attack, but all they could do now was watch in disgust at Isabel’s last desperate attempt to give them an edge.
“Nicholas – wait.”
And she leaned over, and down to kiss him. Her trick worked perfectly. Nicholas’ arms went around her, instead of being raised for the kill.
Max felt sick, watching his sister kissing the skin and Michael felt the same way. But they couldn’t allow their personal feelings stand in the way of launching their attack on Nicholas. Isabel was making this sacrifice to push their enemy off balance. They had to be prepared to strike when he least expected it.
Finally, Isabel let go and pulled back and out of the line of fire. Nicholas’ eyes were unfocused and his breathing had picked up. No, Max didn’t think the skin would be prepared for an attack. This was his moment. Though this hostility was alien to his mind, he knew he couldn’t show weakness at a time like this. And he had sensed how drained Michael was from his earlier confrontations with the other skins.
It would all depend on Max now. Raising his hand and concentrating fiercely, Max fired off an energy blast straight at Nicholas’ head. As he had counted on, the attack took the skin by surprise and hit him square in his forehead. The skin even stumbled and almost fell to his knees.
Isabel used that moment to run back towards her brothers, and she too raised her hands in the air. She could see that Michael was going to add what was left of his strength to their attack, and hoped that their combined strength would be enough.
But Nicholas wasn’t finished yet. And they had known all along that they didn’t stand a chance against him. Still, the skin held back. His eyes were fixed on Isabel, and there was a hurt look on his face. At the moment, all he looked like was a stunned and betrayed teenager.
Her only reply was a blast of energy that pushed Nicholas back a few paces. Without looking, Isabel suddenly knew that Michael had a plan. His next energy blast slammed the door shut and fused it to the frame.
“Come on. Let’s go before -“
They turned and ran, but as they did so, they heard Nicholas breaking through the door. Now their only chance was speed. Isabel led the two guys towards the exit, and while Michael climbed up to the surface, his siblings turned and faced the direction they could hear Nicholas coming from.
“I’m up. Isabel, come on.”
“No. Max will go first. Do as I tell you to. Now.”
“Are you -“
“Shut up and go.”
And Max found himself obeying without question. Targeting the ceiling above Nicholas’ head, Isabel used her full powers to pull it down over him. Whatever material the facility was built from, it didn’t resist the energy released from her hands.
The last thing she saw of Nicholas was the stunned and hurt look on his face. But she didn’t stop to check how her enemy had fared under the masses of rubble. She had to get out before the entire structure came down on her head.
When she got to the surface, she was met by two very worried guys. Max and Michael both held out their hands to help her up, but she could manage on her own. And even though Max had come to her rescue, it was very late and he had let her down badly by not being willing to keep an open mind about her story.
“What about Nicholas?”
“I don’t know. You know what powers he’s got. So I don’t think we should stick around and find out, do you?”
“What happened? We heard some kind of loud noise. It sounded like the entire building was coming down on your head.”
“That’s because I made it happen. Right now, Nicholas is covered by tons of rubble. Let’s go.”
They ran back to the jeep. Maria was still waiting, walking around back and forth. When she saw them returning she started up the jeep, and let the others in. After all that had happened in the short period of time since Max’ arrival no one felt inclined to argue about anything. But there was something Isabel had to know.
“Alex. How is he doing?”
“He’s going to be fine. I left him in your apartment, Michael. Asleep. Liz is watching over him.”
That was all she wanted to know. Anything else could wait. There were no signs of pursuit. It seemed Nicholas was either dead, or at least seriously weakened. She couldn’t sense anything from his mind, although of course a creature with his powers might easily be able to mask his consciousness from her. But she was too exhausted to worry much about Nicholas. At least not his well-being.
What was really on her mind, was the betrayal of Alex she had been guilty of. She had lied, but she had told Nicholas all those derogatory things about Alex. And she’d had to kiss that vile creature. But shaking her head, she reminded herself she hadn’t had any choice. And she knew her brothers would never tell anyone what had happened.
By now, it was almost completely dark outside. Not until now did it occur to Isabel that her parents might be worried about her. She’d have to call them and let them know she was ok. No. Better than ok. Now that Alex was back, there was nothing missing from her life.
She had never been as happy to see Michael’s place as she was now. Every street and every building of Roswell appeared to take on a new meaning to her.
Not even bothering to wait for the guys, she ran out of the car, and up to Michael’s front door. Pressing her hand to the lock, she used her powers to get inside. With barely a nod to Liz, Isabel flung herself onto the bed, at Alex’ side. Nothing and no one else existed in the entire world.
Tactfully, Liz retreated into the living room.
Isabel didn’t want to be selfish and wake Alex up, but she also couldn’t get enough of being near him. And by now, her fatigue was getting the better of her. She’d only rest for a moment, then she’d go and call her mother. For now, she’d allow herself the pleasure of lying next to the guy she loved. Their time apart had taught her an important lesson. From now on, she’d never let Alex out of her sight.
When Isabel didn’t emerge from the bedroom, Max dared to venture inside for a quick look. He found his sister fast asleep, her arms possessively around Alex. Max smiled contentedly.
“They’re asleep. I’d better call mom and let her know we’re spending the night here. And then we’d better think of a way to explain this to everyone.”
“Yeah. You do that. And I’ll make up the extra bed in the other room. You can have that, and I’ll take the couch, Maxwell.”
Maria and Michael disappeared into the spare room, and Max faced the phone.
“Hello, mom. Yes. That’s what I was calling to tell you. Isabel and I are spending the night at Michael’s. Yes. She’s here too. I’ll walk her home in a minute. That’s great. Yes, I think so too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
That should give them some time. Isabel and Alex really deserved a chance to catch up. And though Max knew he might have gone back to the house on his own, he didn’t want to. He needed to think through all the implications of this stunning revelation.
This changed everything. While it didn’t shift any of the blame away from Tess, it turned out they’d gotten everything wrong. Now he needed to look at things from this new perspective. But right now, all that mattered was that Alex was back, safe and sound.
As if feeling Liz’ eyes boring a hole in his back, Max turned around and faced her.
“Thanks. For believing in Isabel, even when I was too stupid to.”
“That’s ok. It was something really difficult to believe in. He’s really lucky to have Isabel.”
Maybe Max was imagining things, but he felt there was an accusation in Liz’ voice. And why shouldn’t there be? After all he’d done to her.
“Yes, he is. So am I. Liz -“
She looked as if she might turn and run from him again. And he couldn’t bear it.
“Please, can we talk?”
“I don’t know what else there is to say.”
“Forgive me for everything I did to you. About Tess.”
“Of course I forgive you, Max. It wasn’t your fault.”
But her voice didn’t hold any promise, and he was losing whatever hope he might have had of getting her back.
“I should have been able to -“
“No. Don’t say anything about it.”
“Can we try again?”
There. He’d said it. Trying to find a clue as to what her answer would be, he looked into her eyes, but he couldn’t read anything there. Her face was closed to him.
“Max, there’s something you have to understand. Maybe it was partly my fault that you and Tess ended up together.”
“How could it be?”
“I was too proud and when I found that you were married – or had been married in that other life, I couldn’t handle it. So I pushed you away. I’m sorry about that. But now, after everything that’s happened, well, it’s too painful. I’m sorry, Max. It’s too soon.”
“I understand. Can you answer me just one thing?”
“If I can.”
“Do you still love me?”
“If I answer that, will you promise you won’t make too much of it?”
“I’ll do anything you want me to.”
She sighed, and the pain in her eyes hurt him too.
“Yes. Max, I love you. But that’s not enough right now.”
“I understand. And I won’t try to pressure you again. When you’re ready, I hope you’ll come to me. Because there’s only one girl in the world for me, and that’s you. So I’ll wait forever, if I have to.”
Again she submitted him to that penetrating stare, and for a second, Max thought she was going to relent. He felt them being pulled closer and closer, until their lips almost but not quite met. A sound from behind him broke the spell. Michael and Maria. And the moment was lost.
“Hey, we’re done. You can go to bed any time now, Maxwell.”
If only they had arrived just five minutes later. But it was no use crying over spilt milk. Max forced himself to smile and thank his brother.
“Don’t mention it. I’ll walk Maria home now, or Amy’s going to kill me. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do.”
“What? No. I doubt it. See you soon, Michael.”
“Wait. I’m going too.”
Max could see Maria making faces at Liz, but wasn’t sure if the blonde girl was trying to make sure she and her boyfriend could be alone, or if she was concerned over his chances with Liz. Either way, Liz tactfully changed her mind.
“Won’t you stay for a moment, Liz? Please.”
“No. I think I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, Max.”
“I’ll walk you home.”
He could see her hesitating, and he knew she was trying to find a way of turning him down gently. So he hurriedly provided her with the excuse she needed.
“That is if you want to.”
“Alright. That’s very nice of you.”
She was talking to him as if to a stranger. He felt chilled by the rejection, but reminded himself that whatever she did or said was no more than he deserved.
They didn’t see Michael and Maria anywhere outside, so apparently they’d been in a bit of a hurry. Personally, he thought Michael was worrying unnecessarily. The Valenti – de Luca affair was too intense right now for Amy to pay much attention to what her daughter did.
He couldn’t think of anything more to say to Liz, so they walked in silence. Max was too miserable to notice the way Liz was looking at him, as if assessing his honesty.
Liz was struggling with conflicting emotions. What she really wanted was to forget about the past and just take Max back now. Tonight. Isabel and Alex had wasted time. That almost cost them their relationship. Max was constantly in danger. Why not give themselves a break? But he had hurt her before and she didn’t want to risk it again. He would just have to wait until she’d figured things out for herself.
On the other hand, the way he looked tonight was almost enough for her to break her own rules and pull him into her arms and wipe that sad look off his face. Almost, but not quite. She remembered the sadness he had made her feel. And the betrayal. No. She wasn’t ready yet.
Outside her home, they stopped, still strangely hesitant to break away. Max just stood there, watching her, and the look in his eyes almost made her reconsider again. But she remembered seeing him in Tess’ arms, and once again the moment was lost. Still, they didn’t want to go.
And suddenly he couldn’t take it any longer. He put his arms around her and held her for a brief moment, then let go and turned to leave. He didn’t see how her face softened as she was about to call his name. From above, they both heard a window open, and Liz’ dad called out to her.
“Liz, honey? Is that you?”
“Yes, dad. I’m coming up.”
“Ok. Is that Max with you?”
“Yes, sir. It’s me.”
“Hello, Max. Nice to see that you and Liz are talking again. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you tomorrow.”
“Yes. Excuse me. I have to go. Nice meeting you both. Good night.”
“Good night, Max.”
“Good night. I’m coming now, dad.”
So this time too, their moment was lost. But Max was feeling a little more hopeful as he walked back to Michael’s apartment.
The door to Michael’s room was closed, so he assumed Isabel and Alex were still asleep. Michael too was back, and already in bed, so Max just lay down on the couch. After all he’d been through in the past 24 hours, he found that it was easy to doze off. Any problems could wait until tomorrow.
Isabel was dreaming that she had lost Alex. She was crying over his grave, but suddenly someone was moving about behind her back. Turning around, she saw that Alex was watching her from some distance away. When she began walking in his direction, trying to catch up, he started running away from her. Now she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down her face –
That voice sounded so familiar, but she didn’t want to wake up. At least in her dream, he’d still be there, even if he was retreating out of sight.
Someone was touching her shoulder and again that familiar voice called out her name.
“Isabel, wake up. Are you ok?”
She turned over and found herself looking into that beloved face. But he was –
“Isabel. Sorry to startle you. You seemed to be having a bad dream.”
“Alex? So it wasn’t a dream, after all.”
She reached out, and pulled him into her arms, and held him for a long time. Alex was feeling a little at a disadvantage. To his embarrassment he’d just realized that he was still wearing nothing at all, except the sheet that Isabel was sharing with him. But soon he found that it was easy to ignore that. Being inside her arms was where he’d always wanted to be.
But after a while the feeling got a little too intense, and he pulled away. If Isabel should notice what effect she was having on him, he’d just – But her playful grin told him he was too late. Deciding to ignore that, he tried his best to appear unperturbed.
“I see you’re as happy to see me as I am to see you.”
Now he felt his face go slightly red, but after all he’d been through in the past couple of months, he thought this was a definite improvement. He’d been embarrassed before, and he knew that the feeling would pass.
“Alex. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
Her voice sounded serious, so he expected her to let him down again. But tonight he was far too happy to have finally met her again, to really feel downcast. One day she’d see things his way, he just knew she would.
“Wait. I think I know what you’re going to say. It’s ok, Isabel. I won’t push things. But you know how I feel. If you ever want to -“
“What are you talking about? Alex, I have something I’d like to ask you.”
“Ok. Ask anything you like.”
“Will you move in with me?”
“What? I mean, where? Are you sure?”
“Yes, Alex, I’m sure. In the past, I felt I needed more time to think things over. Well, I got that time. Far more than I wanted. And I know what I want. As for where, I don’t know. We’ll just have to find a place of our own. That is if you want me.”
“Are you kidding? I think the entire school knows I want you. Yes. I’d love to move in with you.”
“Good. Because I wouldn’t really take no for an answer. Have you any idea how much I’ve missed you? I went through hell when I thought you were gone for good. Now I’ll never let you out of my sight again.”
“Yes. I think I have a pretty good idea. Because I missed you just as much. There were times when I thought I’d never see you again. And I wanted to see you more than anyone else in the whole world.”
“Then that’s settled. Are you ok, Alex?”
“I’ve never felt better. Ok, maybe I have, but I’ve never been this happy before. If this is just one of my dreams -“
“It’s no dream, Alex. I dreamed about you before. Almost every night. But this is real. Are you tired?”
“Not really. I feel like I’ve slept for a year.”
“Good. In fact, I was counting on you saying that.”
She leaned over and kissed him. Lightly at first, but when she encountered no resistance, she deepened the kiss. Alex might have been weakened by the time he’d spent in captivity, but he found he could easily keep up with what Isabel wanted. At least for a while.
The word came out muffled, because his lips were crushed under hers. No reply. He pulled back slightly and tried again.
“What? Am I going too fast for you?”
“No. Yes. Are you sure -“
He broke off in mid-sentence. There you go again, Alex, repeating yourself. What a wimp he was. Why not let Isabel have her way? This was after all what he’d been dreaming about since day one.
“Yes, Alex. I’m positive. What about you?”
“Yes. Me too. But what about the others?”
“I don’t see anyone else here, do you? Stop wasting time.”
No. There was no one else in the room. And she was right. They were wasting time. Who knew how long they had? She’d been to his funeral. One day that might happen for real. Or he’d be forced to attend hers. They really should take what they could. Who knew what tomorrow would bring? All they had was here and now.
And suddenly, all his doubts and all the hesitation were gone, replaced by a new determination. It was true. No dream, no fantasy. He was here with Isabel, inside her arms. What else did he need? Nothing. Now he wasn’t afraid anymore. After all the worrying and nervous tension, he found that there was nothing to it really. The easiest thing in the world. He stopped thinking and let his instincts take over.