FanFic - Other
"Before I Wake"
Part 1
by Mala
Disclaimer: Roswell, the characters, and situations are owned by the WB. No infringement intended.
Summary: When Michelle Valenti returns, Isabel's perfect world tilts.
Category: Other
Rating: PG-13
I know who she is. As I stare out the peephole at the woman on the front steps, I know. Her dark hair is peppered with gray and she pats it once in a while, nervously, as she waits. Her eyes are a familiar gray-green. Her fingers are clenched around the handle of a light blue purse that matches her silk blouse and her jeans and her high heels. She's wearing his favorite color. She is the woman he's called out for in his sleep for the last six years. The woman I could never be because I will still always be a girl and an alien to him. She's Jim's wife. Ex-wife.

I don't want to draw back the bolt, to pull open the door, but I do it anyway, pasting a fake smile on my face. "Yes?" I ask, giving her my best old Ice Queen voice.

Her eyes cloud with confusion and she looks past me, noting that the hideous plaid-themed living room she left behind is now bright and soft. All hardwood and leather. Belonging to the slender blond girl who has opened the door for her. "Is this the Valenti house?" she wonders, her dark brows knitting together.

Her voice is higher-pitched than mine. It reminds me of Liz's. Few things do these days. There's a hint of a drawl in it and I'm struck by the paranoid thought that maybe the quality in his voice that always soothes me is something he picked up from her. It makes me malicious. Cold. "Yes," I say to her, drawing myself up to my full height and crossing my arms underneath my breasts. "I'm Mrs. Valenti." I'm Mrs. Valenti, not you.

"Oh." Her eyes light up as I move aside to let her into our home. There's approval in them. "You must be Kyle's wife," she concludes with an artless, weak laugh. "I-I can't believe he's old enough to be married all ready."

Way past old enough. "He is." I turn my back to her so she won't see the memories on my face. The memories of Kyle's horror at finding me his stepmom. The memories of Tess throwing her arms around my neck and sobbing before he tugged her gently towards his car. "But not to me. Kyle and his wife Teresa moved out of Roswell six years ago." He and Tess ran. They ran far. He took her away from the death and the loss, saved her like his father saved me. "I'm Jim's wife," I tell her, ruthlessly, staring at a framed picture on top of the piano. My stepson and my sister-in-destiny on an anonymous beach. It came in an unmarked envelope a week before Easter four years ago. They look tanned and healthy...and sad. My fingers drag across the keys, playing a discordant tune that definitely isn't the "Hokey Pokey" the yellowed sheet music advertises. And then I look at another picture. Me, Max, and Michael. I saved it from my parents' house before it was torched. And another. Liz, Maria, and Alex sitting on the patio at West Roswell High. Maria gave it to us two Christmases ago. She still keeps in touch.

"J-jim's wife???" she repeats, incredulous. "B-but you....?"

I'm what? Too young? I can't be older than 25, can I? I'm a child, right? Jim Valenti must be having a mid-life crisis. He must have a red sports car in the carport. What does she know? Nothing. Does she know that I have barely aged since the day my parents, my brothers, one of my friends, and the boy I loved, died? That I was trapped in a firestorm of screams and nosy agents and insanity until Jim bargained for my safety and made me his? That I am still living life in slow motion, mired in the past, and trapped because the government is always watching us? That Tess and I can never dare give our husbands children and the Valenti line dies with the four of us?

"Who are you?" I ask it nicely, charitably, since I pulled the rug out from under her. I turn, ready to revel in the shattered pieces of humanity on her face.


And instead I hear my husband's low voice. And see him standing in the doorway. Stock still. Pale. With that whisper that haunts both of our nights. "Michelle."

"James!" she gasps, like a porn star on helium. Her hand flutters up to her throat. She's wearing four rings and she has lots of veins. Even a few liver spots.

Not James. James was his father, you bitch. You'd know that he's "Jim" now if you hadn't walked out on your family twenty years ago.

He slowly shuts the door and leans on it. He can't take his eyes off of her. "Isabel." He murmurs my name without even looking at me, without even seeing me. "'Bel, why don't you go on into the kitchen? Get yourself a soda?"

He's dismissing me. "No." Waving a hand in my direction.

Does he notice the pictures on the piano all jump? Does he notice that the cushions on the bright, paisley-d couch we picked out together turn as red as my sudden, panicked, rage? Neither of them do.

"No, Jim. You can't send me away," I whisper, dragging a hand through my hair. He's still staring at her. "You can't send me away," I repeat. The firestorm...the explosions...they flood back along with the panic. I can hear Liz screaming as she and Max are both taken down by tear gas and a well-lobbed grenade. And the blood is everywhere. The bullets. The men in containment suits taking Michael's body away...and leaving Alex behind because he's just another worthless human. "Don't make me leave!" There it is. The hysteria I've worked so hard to bury. I can feel the tears on my cheeks, feel my nails digging into my palms.

But before Mount St. Isabel can erupt, his arms are around me. His lips brush my forehead. He lets me collapse into him for just a few seconds as he whispers, "Shhh, it's okay, 'Bel. You're not leaving. You're staying right here with me. No matter what." His eyes are so blue. And they see me. They see me clearly. They always have. It feels good just to lean together, to pretend no one has walked into our secret, our life.

But she can't stay silent. She can't stay out of it. Can't let the moment last. She clears her throat. "Jim...?" At least time she gets his name right. "Is she okay?" Is she crazy?

"I'm fine," I mutter over his shoulder. Then, I say it stronger. "I'm just fine." Go away. Leave us alone. Isn't your shadow bad enough? His hand moves up and down my back, rubbing soothingly. Is it odd to say he's been both a husband and father to me? My life is screwed up anyway. I know we don't have a "true love." The kind of love that burns and tingles. We've both had that before. I had it with Alex, and Jim...Jim had it with the woman in our living room. But I'm still his. He's still mine.

"Why are you here, Michelle?" He sounds even, now, and in charge. No longer shell-shocked by her sudden arrival. And I'm okay, too, so we slowly separate, but he catches my hand, keeping us linked. The weight of his wedding band presses into my fingers. "Why now?"

Her lips are a thin line. She's shaking a little. She hasn't really aged well. Not like Jim has. I think she's scared. I may not be crazy...but there's murder in my eyes. And, together, Jim and I are fearless. "I thought it was time." A helpless shrug. She drops her purse and moves quickly to pick it back up, even rubbing the place on the hardwood as if it left a mark. "I-I thought Kyle would be old enough now...that you could both forgive me."

His hand tenses and I squeeze it, sending him all the safe vibes that he's given me that I've never been able to give back. Until now. He swallows convulsively, takes a deep breath. I can almost hear his heart skipping two beats and hope it doesn't skip one more. His body can't take that kind of slip. There's no outward sign of that, though. His eyes are as cold as chips of ice and they shimmer more than the favorite blue fabric of her blouse. I wonder what he's remembering when he looks at her. Their wedding day? The day Kyle was born? The day she walked out? Whatever the image is, it works it purpose.

The drawl I adore so much is clipped. Totally threatening. The tone that used to make the hackles rise on my neck when I was a sophomore in high school. He takes one step towards her and brings me with him.

"It. Will. Never. Be. Time." He raises our combined hands and kisses my knuckles. "Kyle doesn't need you and neither do I. You have no place here."

"But Jim...I'm sorry." She stares at him with his son's eyes. Pleading.

He looks at me...not at her. He looks at me and smiles and it melts all the ice he erected for her. "I'm not. I can't be sorry, Michelle. You made your choice all those years ago...and I've made mine."

Somewhere I dig up the grace and dignity to speak to her again. But I don't look. I can't. "Would you please leave our home?" I'm the perfect hostess and the imperfect spouse.

"B-but...? Kyle?" she attempts as she stumbles on her unbalanced high heels on her way to the door. "He's my son."

"Now he's mine," I correct, resisting the urge to laugh and spoil the act. "He's my family and Jim's. We're all he needs." I know Kyle would roll his eyes and making choking noises if he heard me say such things. And Tess...Tess would probably smack him and call me 'Mama.'

It is then that Michelle nods--a tight, jerking motion of her head. "Okay," she whispers through clenched teeth and sad eyes. "All right, then. You take care of them, Isabel. Especially Ja--Jim."

"I will." I'll do the best I can. Just like he did for me.

Jim's body is tense for long minutes after the door slams shut. He didn't say good-bye to her. He didn't say anything when she left the last time either. So he just stands next to me, still, staring at my profile as I listen to the car pull away from the curb. I can feel the tenderness in his gaze, can tell he's not mad at me. But, beyond that, I'm in the dark. I slowly turn to face him and the emotions on his face are ones I can't quite translate.

We've laughed together, cried together, and spent six very comfortable years as partners in a pretty convenient marriage. It's been safe. It's been kind. It's been fun. It has never been passionate or romantic. But I wanted to kill Michelle Valenti. I wanted to kill her for coming back. For hurting him. But, most of all, for possibly coming in and taking him away from me.

He's all I have left.

And I love him.

"'Bel..." he whispers, shaking his head. He lets go of my hand and wraps his arms loosely around my waist. "You were scared."

"Terrified," I agree, knowing its pointless to lie, slowly lowering my head to his shoulder.

He sighs and the tension flows out of his body as he gives me one of his flirtatious chuckles. "Darlin', you don't ever have to be scared again. That's part of the deal we've got here."

"What about you?" I ask. "H-how did it feel to see her again?"

I listen to him breathe in and out for a while. And his arms tighten. He looks over at all the pictures on the piano and I watch his eyes stop on the one of Alex, Liz, and Maria. Does he think I still love Alex the way I used to? That I hold onto his memory?

Jim answers me slowly...thinking and pausing between every three or four words. "It was strange, Isabel. It was like...looking at one of these photographs. I couldn't really believe she'd dared come back. That she'd stepped out of a frame." He kisses my hair, practically paternal. And then, his voice drops if he knows he's getting to the part I'm really asking about. He's always been good at picking up my signs. "But I don't still love her."

"I-its okay." I automatically leap to the defensive. Its how I am. When I'm not changing the colors of couch cushions and making knickknacks move, that is. "I mean, its okay if you still do, Jim. L-love's not part of our 'deal'...right?" I muffle the last part of the stupid words into the soft, worn, denim of his shirt.

"Isn't it?" He pulls back just a little bit, and his light eyebrows wing together and quirk. And, then, he's suddenly taking my face in his warm, callused hands and staring down at me with such deep, blue, intensity. I don't want to breathe...I don't want to move. This is the gentle, kind, handsome man I cannot live without. "Isabel...your face is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before I sleep every night. I even see it in my dreams. I'm an old old man who gets to look into your beautiful eyes and see your gorgeous smile every single day. How did I get so lucky?" Storm clouds brew for an instant. "All right, granted, it wasn't lucky. What brought you to me were things no one should ever have to face. Things that scarred you. Things beyond human or alien control." And then the clouds are gone. "But I thank the Lord every day that you're here. That you're alive. I wouldn't trade a day with you for a thousand with Michelle or anyone else."

"Jim...?" I gasp.

He shakes his head at me, cop and teacher all in one. Husband, friend, lover, and father figure all in one. "Good Lord, 'Bel!" he says, bemused. "Don't you know I love you?"

I do. I do now. I'll never doubt it again.

"I love you, too," I whisper, liking the sound of the words on my lips. They're easy to say. They fit. They've been waiting a long time to be heard.

He chucks me under the chin, kisses the tip of my nose, but the pleasure in his eyes is undeniable. "Come on, Mrs. Valenti," he murmurs, gruffly. "Let's go get that soda from the kitchen. I'm mighty parched."

"Parched? There are better ways to quench thirst than that hideous orangeade crap you buy at the store!" I point out.

"Like what?"

"Like me!"

My husband leans in and kisses me 'hello', like he does every day after work, or between shifts, or just when he feels like it. He tastes like ice cream and Tabasco sauce. Brief lightning zips through my veins. As we laugh and tussle like the rowdy teenagers we never were, I know that I'm truly happy. We brush past the piano and I let my hand wander across the picture frames. For the first time in a long time, I'm happy. Not just safe. Not just content. Happy.

I wonder if Jim will notice that, in their photograph, Kyle and Tess are no longer sad...that both their faces bear knowing grins.

I had to do it.

I know they would smile.

Because I'm Mrs. Valenti. For real.


Part 4
Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours
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