Tonight the sunset is especially fine. Not that it's ever less than stunning; though by now they have stopped watching it, for the most part. This is a throwback to the first days, when they gazed mesmerised every evening. They sit together silently, one resting her head on the other's shoulder. Silence is golden, as they say, and speech would break the moment, the glow sweet with melancholy. It dips, falls, and one of them finds herself wishing she could taste it; it would be molten, warming in the throat, and making her radiant. Like honey, like apricots, like nothing on earth. It spreads its rays over the land, over the sea, over the dirty city beneath. Where they have chosen it will not be cold for a long time yet, and both of them are somnolent and made still. So they wait, wait until the last scattered remnants of fire are disappeared and the night is vast and dark; and the stars like so many motes of dust, suspended, as if you could destroy their patterns with one wave of the hand. But they don't move, their breaths calm, not wanting to disturb the peace. Side by side they watch the universe - light years back in time, and unimaginable distances in space. Each knows what the other's thinking, what they feel when they see these points of light, and it's the same. Hurt rises. Sometimes it's red and sometimes it's white, or black, but always the same old pain. They're silent, this shared, unspoken suffering stretched between them. Taut and tense, but still connecting them; like spiders' webs, and thus it is strong enough to hold them there, and also to hold them together.
* * *
Their days are varied but the same, and in this way they merge into each other. Usually they don't spend them together, but each one will leave separately and disappear into the maze of the city. Its noise and filth are seductive, vibrant; this is why they are here. They can lose themselves easily; among the melee of inhabitants, locals and misfits, they wander, the strange tongues washing over them, although they have picked up much of the language. Sometimes they sit alone in bars, drowning themselves, withdrawing into a haze; sometimes they bring people home from these bars, and throw them out in the morning. These two are the unit, and the ones who stay the night are brushed away. Unregistering, now, on their relationship, which goes deeper than that. Often these people are not the recipient of their names, or rather they do not see their real names. It is liberating, when they put on this cloak, masking themselves with letters: Clare, Laura, Marisa, Kathryn, and sometimes, when one of them especially wishes to make a point, or to punish herself, she will become Tess. It is more appropriate than it might once have been. Nor does anything they carry have their identities on it; they alone know who they are, and carry that knowledge safe within them, and call each other by those names. They resonate in the night air and are important: Liz, Isabel, they whisper them to each other, and each is surprised at how it changes, how their being is defined by a name. Although Isabel has been aware of this before: Vilandra is not an easy name to forget. This is also more appropriate than it was.
They don't talk about Roswell. Really it is the only thing they have in common, this shared past, but it is unmentioned and unmentionable. It hangs in the air, ever present and touching everything they do, exerting its influence over thousands of miles. They push thoughts of it down. So it lurks, under the surface; bubbling up, churning, and never letting them lie at peace, racking them with guilt and bitter pain. The husband, the brother, the parents, the once eternal soulmate. There are words too for what they have done, words that evoke emotional reactions: desertion, betrayal. Or else escape. This last is how they see it; it was suffocating, choking them to death, and they got out just in time.
Still, although they left it, it produces ties that were sewn into the veins, and the ripping of those bonds leads to pain, which reminds them. They have little purpose now, but they cling to each other in the chaos, survivors of a shipwreck. Bound tightly by shared wounds, with a love deeper than any based on joy.
* * *
And why this escape? When Isabel thinks of those years in the notorious small town it is as if she is drawn back into a black hole of despair, blank hopelessness. The death in life is impossible to describe, and the futile sense of duty, and the husband she truly tried to love, and most of all the brother. The king. His reproach, her guilt, from the day they broke their way out of those pods and he led her. And she followed him, because he was Max, and maybe deep down she knew he was the king. He certainly knew it, and he played with it, attaching his strings and jerking her like a puppet. Power, power, and what could she do? All her resistance, and she never truly did anything he didn't want her to do. She must atone for past sins, then she will be absolved. She must not fall into the pit of betrayal like the evil bitch her former life was. She feels this. Every day, then, with her husband, she grows greyer in tone. She tries to fight it, and it is a pit that doesn't end. Because what days can she count, what cut-off point is there? Once upon a time, she tried to instil passion and love into that relationship, but she stopped bothering, as it was too much effort for nothing. She settled for surviving while what was she was drowning. Acceptance, but rage tends to build up very high and push at the boundaries. Molten and churning, lava, and volcanoes may be dormant but they do not lie still forever.
Of course she knew beyond hope that who she wanted could never be, because who could possibly hope to compete with her brother? His deep, soulful eyes, his heartfelt words of eternal love, the stars and flowers that he could put into her mind? She certainly could not, known only for her brash beauty and lusted after by boys with brains between their legs. This is not what her brother's lover wishes for. She sees him constantly, kissing her, controlling her, and deep anger seethes.
That day, then, began like any other, with the sun rising over the desert and leaving long shadows of residual cold while she slept. It ascended further as she woke, kissed her husband goodbye and reluctantly rose from her bed, began another day with no purpose but to live. Spread the thin mask of make-up over her face, as is required. Naked would be unacceptable. And so it goes on, she leaves the house and goes into the walled town, and of course they end up at the Crashdown. She never knew why they insisted on this relentless masochism, every image in the place reminding them of who they were. No doubt it was Max's influence; and who could get away from aliens in Roswell anyway? They are the town's industry. The day in question, they are sitting round one of the familiar tables; Isabel herself is in detachment, floating a little distance away and observing. The sun shines its blocks of light through the window and catches on different people, illuminating Liz, and Isabel watches, as is her habit. To gaze on forbidden fruit and imagine biting into it, bursting the glistening skin. She observes; hears but does not take in; today though there is no talk of other planets or ends of worlds, because Liz has a new friend, one who is not initiated. Isabel sees from her vantage point Max sitting silent and morose; he does not like his soulmate engaging in friendships with other men. Or friendships at all. Even though he has once again let her go for the good of the world, and such is Max's power that Isabel would never dream of stealing Liz in one of these off periods. Also she knows that it will not last long, because they are Romeo and Juliet and will always be drawn back together. But now Max is moody and emanates disapproval; and what Isabel feels is a growing bitterness, and a resentment, which take over her mind. As the party disperses and some of them leave, they retreat into a more private place. Max is there, and Liz, and Isabel herself of course, and a few of the others, and Isabel is in a strange place, her anger spiralling up high and the air is thick and stifling. As she remembers this, it is both vague and intensely detailed, feelings and details jumping out. Max's silence becoming more active, and the quiet becoming noise, and the ever-faithful Liz responding to what he wants. She asks him what is wrong, and he brushes it off in that way which requires a second question. Liz asks the question again; and Max sighs, sets his face in seriousness, and says
"We need to talk." So Isabel and Michael get up to leave, because these lovers' every whims must be gratified, but Max stops them. "No, you stay - it concerns you too." Isabel has a bad feeling, knows she will not like what he is going to say. He is grave.
"I'm worried about Jon," he says, referring to Liz's friend; Liz looks surprised, and asks why. He pauses, and then with an air of let's-get-it-over-and-done-with, says "I don't think you should be seeing him anymore." Isabel is incredulous, and interrupts.
"Why the hell not?" she says angrily; Max looks at her, his eyes saying 'This is none of your business', but she stares back at him, so he turns back to Liz and continues to address her.
"Liz, I'm sorry, but it's too dangerous: if he finds out, anything could happen, you know that. We don't know if we can trust him." He speaks in a sorrowful tone, as if he really means he's sorry. She looks as if she's about to reply, but Isabel gets there first, with her best bitingly sarcastic tone.
"Oh, so this would have nothing to do with the fact that he's male; you're not at all worried that he might steal Liz away from you?" He looks weary and long-suffering.
"Don't be stupid, Isabel..." Her anger rises up in her throat and into her eyes, and icily, menacingly, she speaks.
"Don't you *ever* call me stupid. You just can't stand the fact that Liz might want to spend time with someone other than you... even though you won't have her, you still want to hang on to her, not let her find any fucking pleasure in life if she isn't getting it from you." She pauses for breath, the others staring at her. Michael interrupts.
"He does have a point..."
"Oh, but it was OK with Maria?" She challenges him fiercely, and he doesn't respond.
"Maria, Alex, Kyle, Valenti... oh, and how could I forget - Liz! That's
right, Max, you're the one who decided to jeopardise us all by telling her.
You started it, but it's OK for you, because you're the *king*." It's like a
fountain spewing out from a bottomless lake. The lid has finally blown and
all the hate and shit is falling over itself to go over the top of the
"You don't know what you're talking about, Isabel," he says, dangerously now. She is more than capable though of returning his danger.
"I know *exactly* what I'm talking about. You, Max, the fucking hypocrite, you think you can do whatever you want but you can't. So maybe you can tell us what to do, but you sure as hell can't tell her what to do. She's not an alien, you're not her king, but now you expect her to follow you day and night? What, now she's never gonna be allowed to make a friend ever again?" She's standing stunned, and clearly hating being in the middle of this. Well, she'll just have to take it.
"Don't you dare tell me anything about Liz. She has nothing to do with you, and what goes on between us is my damn business."
"I wouldn't have to tell you anything, if you treated her like you should! But you just jerk her around, you dump all your shit on her and she deserves way more than that - you just want to control her, like everyone else in your fucking life!" She stands there, breathless and wild.
"You know nothing, do you? I've always done everything for you and the others, sacrificed everything..."
"No, bullshit," she interrupts with force. "You don't care about anyone but yourself, you never have. You're a fucked-up power freak, and God, I am sorry to be any relation to you. You're not my brother. You're sick." She looks at him with one glance that is contempt and fury and bitter hate, and she pushes past them, storms out of the room and outside. And there the world suddenly opens at her feet and she knows with an absolute revelation that she will leave. She feels Roswell bearing down on her, crushing her, killing her. It's nothing like joy she feels but just the satisfaction of certainty; and her head is spinning, split open to the raw exhilarating air of the stars.
She walks steadily, heady with this knowledge, round the town, and with every step she fells it more, how it is sucking her in and she is being choked. It is late before she returns home, and Jesse is away tonight. There's an unimaginably huge hurt underneath, but her resolution is keeping it down, and she finds a bag. Packs in clothes, necessities, but nothing of any sentimental value. She is shedding this skin, and as she descends she only glances around; stops, and with a strange feeling of righting what is wrong, pulls the ring off her finger and lets it fall. It spins slowly, reflecting facets of light, and echoes. She watches it, then opens the door; and Liz is there. They stare at each other, each caught in the act.
"What are you doing here?"
"What are you *doing*?" Liz asks the obvious question, her eyes darting from Isabel's bag to her face. She debates quickly with herself the best response, but what purpose would denial serve?
"What does it look like I'm doing?" she says scornfully, and tries not to dwell on the realisation that she will be leaving this girl behind, never again will she gaze on her. They are silent, then Liz looks up into Isabel's eyes.
"Take me with you," she says, softly but with a deep decision. And the huge night shrinks, draws into a circle cocooning them.
"Don't be stupid," Isabel dismisses her after the initial shock. "How could you leave? Everyone you love is here, Maria, your parents, your whole cosy life, your eternal soulmate..."
"Everything you said this afternoon, it's all true," she says quietly. "I just... couldn't see it..." Isabel is suddenly overcome with visions of the two of them together, alone somewhere on a beach, and floats in the fantasy for a moment before coming back down.
"You couldn't do it, I couldn't let you," she says, but less forcefully now. Liz stands tall, and suddenly Isabel feels so much younger than the other, overcome by a new sense of wisdom and maturity.
"I can," she states. Isabel considers, but there is nothing she can do now to stop it. She is far too selfish to let go of the only person she's ever loved for their own good. It's inevitable, they will walk off into the sunset. They are of one mind now, and bound. And it will be such revenge upon him. As she raises her head, their eyes meet, and consent is shared. The next words are simply said.
"You know there'll be no goodbyes."
Two pairs of brown eyes falling into each other, tumbling into their fate. No turning back now.
* * *
They left that night, sneaking out of the town like fugitives, which of course they were, in the original sense. Fugito, fugitare, to flee hastily, to flee from. Liz had nothing but the clothes she stood in, Isabel little more than that. As if programmed, they took a bus out of town. Then they flew out of the country, with new names and new passports, and that was no problem because what Michael could do, Isabel could do, with a lot more sense and a more serious intent. They moved without thought until they were sat on the plane. In silence they stared out the window, watching the banks of clouds go past, tinted with rose. They were hit by the enormity of what they'd done and where they were; trapped in a plane over some sea, on their way to some unknown land, with only the company of someone they marginally disliked. For a few hours, waves of panic floated through them both; but some things are too vast to comprehend, and so they didn't.
It was a liberty neither had imagined; they went anywhere because it didn't matter. They walked down streets where no-one knew their names and no-one cared. Both had always loved the heat, and so they were always enveloped by warm blankets of air, comforting and sleep-inducing; nights were like honey, and they would sample different places. They lay on cooling beaches in the twilight, and tasted paradise. Nothing between them was planned, but they were drawn together and they accepted it as something inevitable. They drank a lot, so the world grew warm and vague, and in the alcoholic extension of their Eden, they kissed deeply, again and again. Isabel tasted the apple, and found it everything she had imagined and more; Liz tasted the tang of a feeling she'd denied so long, and denied it no longer.
This was indeed love, and they were beautiful together. They forged a new life for themselves, and travelled, moving somewhere different every few months. They tasted the flavour of rainforests, of mountains, of villages, of cities. After a while they stuck more to the cities, because the quiet of the remoter parts gave them too much time for reflection. In the cities they were always surrounded by noise. It numbed their minds and drowned out the whispering voices of guilt; as far as whispering voices of guilt can ever be drowned out.
* * *
The constant struggle of repressing memories means that sometimes, when they are tired, they succumb. Especially at nights, when they are drifting off, and the visions come of their own accord. Sometimes they think that not thinking about Roswell is not worth the effort, but ultimately the pain is too high a price to pay. It's not the memories they mind, so much as the imaginings of the present. They are under no illusions as to the impact they have left; like a hit-and-run driver, they have fled the scene of the chaos. They see it, a tight-knit group, bound together by secrets, sharing solidarity, and they have shattered it. Left behind unimaginable wreckage, a nuclear-force explosion, with the shards raining down and the poison spreading over the land. They don't like to count up the people whose lives they have ruined. It hurts too much, and they left them behind. They are now disconnected, they don't care, as each repeats to herself when the quiet of darkness is drawing in. maybe the others have fallen into drink, drugs, meaningless sex, which would somehow be infinitely worse in Roswell's small-town cosiness than in any one of their own faceless cities. Maybe they are dead.
Liz tries not to see Max's face in her mind, the pain in his deep eyes that she has seen before. She tries not to imagine his disbelief and suffering. She tries not to remember his kisses, and those flashes. It is difficult, when she is transported into other worlds and universes of flying stars by his sister's kisses. She tries to forget the pain she felt when she saw him with Tess, when the rot began to set in. Her anger and betrayal, when he told her of his child. She tries to repress the great guilt in her stomach, black and poisonous, knowing that she has now done the same to him and worse. She hates him for being everything he was, but that does little to change her love, which is undying. As great as her love for Isabel, although so very different.
Isabel herself tries to forget she is different, tries not to dwell on the powers she uses every day. When she buys a drink, she tries to forget that she made the money she holds with her own hand. Most of all she tries to forget that she was once a princess, that she is part of a group who were destined to be together forever. She should be there, protecting them from evils. If one day the sky falls, if the earth is burnt by alien invaders, she will know that it is irrefutably her fault, that she through her selfishness has condemned 5 billion people to death. And she knows that as before, the evil came from within: within the Royal Four, and within her. She tries to miss the irony of her double betrayal. She tries not to hear the name Vilandra echo through her head.
So they stay together in this guilt, strength through unity. Still they would not go back and change it, but they should have known they couldn't leave it behind. One does not tear blood ties and build oneself up again from scratch. They escaped, but their punishment is to be haunted. And haunted they are.
They lie on warm sands under tropical suns. They watch the silhouettes of trees grow sharper and darker against the sky, and old familiar longing return as the stars come out one by one. Somewhere out there, they know, is Isabel's home, which she has abandoned and will never see; and Liz draws her arms round tighter, feels the other's head buried in her chest. She strokes the hair, golden this week, and light flashing off it like a candle flickering. They lie surrounded by a world of dreams, a heaven on earth, and they are washed with desolation. The sun sinks and disappears. It will rise over Roswell, a thousand miles away, and be seen by those they have left behind. They cling to one another, anchoring each other to the world, eyes closed and carrying each other through the seas of pain.
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