By Meri Lomelindi
It's over, and she wants to scream. It's over but not over at all; over enough that she can shed the glassy tones of fear and relief that had seeped into her voice on the way back and wallow in pure fire and ice. Here she is just Isabel, tall and proud and icy cold, and for a few moments the core of rage that sizzles deep in her bones will brim over and mottle the crisp night air.
She sits on the plush emerald carpet of grass imported from god knows where. The wilted stems are watered so thoroughly that she can imagine blue-green oozing out, like cheap hair dye, but for once she doesn't care if there are grass stains on her designer slacks. Even like this she is majestic and wild, an Isabel apart from the world. To prove it, she settles back into the manufactured turf and exposes the curve of her neck to the moon, goddess-like. Fury spirals up to the sky with each breath in heated arcs, and she is tracing a pattern in the stars with the dwindling funnels of air when grass squishes behind her.
Before she turns her head she's sure of who it is, from the plip-plop of jellied sandals to the distinct musk of jasmine that wafts past her nostrils. She doesn't like the smell. She likes the person even less, but still she sits up and feigns surprise. When she speaks, she is shocked at how weary the sound is -- as faint as leaves falling. Rage is the realm of the hunter, and she sounds as if she is the prey.
"What are you doing here?"
It is a perfectly valid question. She is supposed to be alone; Max was carted off to Michael's place hours ago, where he and Sheriff Valenti stand watch. Michael also stands watch over Valenti, whom he still does not trust. While Isabel's parents lie in blissfully ignorant slumber, the three humans are gathered on Liz Parker's balcony. They brood over their relationships; Isabel knows because she tried to drift into their dreams and found them wide awake. Alex was mournful, but she slipped out of his thoughts with only a brief pang of guilt. There is only one person who can shatter her solitude now.
But her question is brushed aside with a flutter of moonlit hands, and in a quicksilver flash she finds the object of her hatred beside her, cross-legged on the front lawn. Just as she is about to blurt a frigid 'fuck off' into the void between them, there is a heave of nearby shoulders.
Hovering between suspicion and pure astonishment, she tilts her head over to find tears trailing lopsided paths down the porcelain doll cheeks.
The urge to scream is deafening now, the need for it ringing in her ears. She leans in, to -- well, she isn't sure what she's going to do. That angelic face is ghostly beneath the sheer golden swath of the street lamp, shadows dancing and twitching across the scrunched up eyes, and she yearns to slap them open. If she could be anyone, anything, she would grab the arms and twist them back into pretzels; she would knock some sense into the slutty, manipulative intricacies of brain that have been holding her captive. It isn't right for a person like this to shed tears; the shuddering form beside her should be still, unruffled. They are supposed to be two peas in a pod, united in their tacit aloofness.
But she is not anyone -- she is Isabel, so she allows herself to fall onto the grass and watches the back of Tess's lime-green shirt as she quivers. After a while, choked sobs wither and give way to frantic gulps for air, and finally there is an ashen rush of silence.
When Tess is still again, she murmurs, "Nasedo hasn't returned." Calm inflection, with a layer of snow spread over rough waters, and Isabel finds it oddly reassuring at first. By the time the veins of thought occur to her, frenzied anger threatens to flood her nerve endings.
"You've been controlling us the entire time," Isabel says, with carefully wrought control. She turns away, staring into the night with something akin to defiance, until Tess's fingers crawl up her arm to settle in the hollow of her neck. They force her to look. In the other girl's eyes she finds only a faint glint of tears; the mask of composure is drawn taut. She wonders how long it took for Nasedo to impart his inhumanity to Tess, and whether or not he could have taught her to imitate human emotions.
"No -- I haven't. Only to Max."
Isabel glances down now and is mildly shocked to discover that Tess's arm is still creeping around her shoulders, all slick stealth and forced comradery. She swats it away. "You were the one who made me dream of Michael."
Leaning back, Tess tosses her head; for a moment, she manages to look vaguely unnerved. She's an impish little bitch, Isabel decides. She should say it aloud and let Tess know what the world thinks of her -- that she can't hide behind her pathetic visions of grandeur -- and Isabel is actually about to do so when the bitch interrupts.
"I can't give people dreams. I told you; I can only do it when a person is awake, and then only for a little while. That's -- "
"Who do you dream of, then, if we're all having these dreams so that we'll know our destiny?"
Tess continues blithely, as if Isabel hasn't uttered a word in hours. " -- why we need Nasedo. He may have trained me, but I'm not very powerful. Nasedo is all we have. We have to go back and -- "
"Who do you dream of?" Isabel presses, louder now. There is a barely audible grinding of teeth when she closes her mouth, lips drawn into a reedy, red-rimmed line.
" -- rescue him," the other girl finishes, with all the intensity of a cement wall. "Just like we did for Max. Valenti can't protect us from the FBI; you know that, Isabel. We can't even protect ourselves. You don't know anything about how to use your powers -- "
"Who do you dream of?"
There is a long stretch of silence, and Tess doesn't answer until it has almost made a home run.
"Max." With an exasperated twitch of the chin she dismisses the topic, but it is too late; Isabel catches the quaver that mars her brother's name. Feeling like a broken record, she dons a peremptory, dagger-studded glare.
"Who do you dream of?"
"I said Max, of course. He is my destiny." But Tess is curled up now, legs drawn under and claws extended. For once, Isabel is not the one who guards a secret.
She turns the tables on Tess and clenches fingers around the other girl's wrist in a death grip, jerking the now apprehensive face up to her own. Into Tess's ear she hisses softly, for a dull-edged razor can stab just as deep as a sharp one. "Who do you dream of?"
Silence again, with the quickening pitter-patter of breath falling on her skin.
"Who do you dream of?"
For no reason that Isabel can fathom, an abrupt cascade of sensation steals over her. Skin on skin, arms clasped around her, holding on for dear life, the brush of rough curls against her cheek -- but it's more than that. There are lips flush against her own, feathery-light. Shivers follow her spine in thorny jabs as the lips forge a path down to her neck, mouthing, "my queen," against her collarbone as if it is as natural as breathing.
Wet noises at her neck, a gentle drizzle, and she looks down -- very far down, it seems -- to see a flaxen frizz of hair. Shadowed by the street lamp, Tess plants butterfly kisses along her shoulders. Narrow traceries of lace flutter up, languid, and somehow Isabel is collapsing into the early morning dew with Tess above her, with Tess's devious pout crushing her lips like the grass beneath them. Tongues entwine, icy resolve melting into grooves of mouth, but she's not lying boneless on the ground in a daze. No, she's arching up against the girl she's supposed to hate with a passion, and the tingles are spreading all through her body in flashes of spacecraft-silver as Tess sidles in to cup her breast --
With a jolt she rises, damp and stiff; there are now definite grass stains on her clothes. Whirling, she scans the yard, but Tess has vanished into thin air. Along with her went the fire and ice, the cool elegance; Isabel trudges toward the house in weary discord. Perhaps disappearing is one of Tess's clandestine powers.
Was she dreaming?
Were all of the dreams hers to begin with, or is the dream Tess lying just as the real one would? What if *Isabel* is the one who has been sending people visions?
No, it's Tess. Definitely Tess. She and Nasedo must be concocting an elaborate plan...
Isabel has almost convinced herself of Tess's ultimate duplicity when she reaches the front doorstep and nearly places a booted foot on its occupant. Her gaze flickers down to Tess's slumbering form, coiled into a ball on the welcome mat like a dog, with muted horror. As she twists a hesitant leg over the -- witch bitch -- to slip inside the house unnoticed, Tess's lips part. A faint breath drifts into the air, coasting up to mingle with the stars, and the tongue thick with sleep writhes anew: