FanFic - Unconventional Couples
"Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear"
Part 1
by Marianna
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.
Summary: Tess. UC-ish. Mild slash. Season two through to ARCC
Category: Unconventional Couples
Rating: R
Authors Note: The name of the story is a disclaimer that could be found on the side-view mirrors of some cars. Thanks: To Elizabeth for being so patient with me, for all the advice, and for being such an amazing beta-editor. To Mala, because her brilliant "Agni Pariksha" was an inspiration for the ending.
"I can't play with you," the fox said. "I'm not tamed."

"Ah! Excuse me," said the little prince. But upon reflection he added, "What does tamed mean?"

"You're not from around here," the fox said. "What are you looking for?"

"I am looking for people," said the little prince. "What does tamed mean?"

-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery, "The Little Prince."


She says she denies everything and she means it.

She'd always put meaning into her words and there was always more underneath the plain surface of her sentences, just as there was more underneath her yielding smile. But to know that about Tess one would have to look deeper, look inside her mind, or simply look at her. She never made it all that difficult, sometimes remembering an old movie would've done the trick --- that was laughable, really, she almost meant it as a joke, but he was not interested in laughing and at the end of that daay she was too tired to cry -- but he wasn't even looking at her. So Tess has gotten used to answering questions only when asked and offering support only when needed.

Maybe that's why she doesn't say much any more, and she doesn't understand why she should. She doesn't even have the strength to be upset about it all, or maybe she just doesn't want to. She only bites her lip, until it's white, until it's bruised and sometimes until it breaks and a red drop of blood is starting to form. When that happens she wipes it off, carefully.

There is still a shadow of not so long ago when she had memories to share, stories to tell, but that shadow is fading quickly and with each passing day it hurts less. Or more. It's hard to decide, and so she doesn't. Tess has learned that decisions are not hers to be made and dwelling on them hurts too. So she doesn't do that either. It is easier to watch the moments slip away, to filter through time, and become nothing but vague recollections of what, perhaps, had never been.

It's easy to imagine that nonchalant words of Maria's mother are just words that they didn't send her mind racing and breathlessly flipping through the piles and piles of memories. It's easy to imagine that she isn't trying to decide what exactly Maria's told her mother. She is not struggling to keep her smile, she is not trying to hide something and she is not stealing glances at Kyle…she is not afraid. Nothing happened. She only called her name. Once. They only spoke. Once. She doesn’t even clearly remember that once. Why would Maria? Even if she does, that would hardly be important enough for her to talk about. Maria's got all those stories about Michael, after all.

Memories possess a very strange quality; it puzzles her, really. Memories get better as the days go by. Time, with its gentle hand of a gifted photographer, airbrushes small details that cause pain. By the end, what's left is a perfect picture, warm and glossy and as unreal as a smile on a graduation photo. Humans keep graduation photos to show to friends and family. She does the same with memories. There is just a slight difference. She has no one to share them with.

No one stays around long enough to get to the happy times. She still gets angry about that sometimes -- although, it's less often now -- and, sometimes, on the spur of the moment, she lets her pain known to whoever happened to be there to listen -- Liz, Kyle, anybody. But not Max, never Max. She made that mistake once and she is too smart to do it again. She still remembers that she is smart. Sometimes. And she still remembers his angry face hovering over hers, his perfect teeth clenched in an angry scowl, his beautiful eyes cold and distant. He scared her then, and she doesn't like to be scared.

To be able to share something that once brought joy takes a long time. Time to get close to someone. With all the time on her hands, she has never had quite enough.

And so she piles up memories in her head, catalogues them, and waits until they don't ache any more. Only then she dares to wipe the dust of reality from the one, at the very bottom of a pile, and revel in it. But only for a brief instant. She is cautious and knows that memories, if not handled carefully, can transform into flashbacks so bright and vivid that it makes her want to be there -- in that moment -- again. She would want to feel what she'd felt then, or what she thinks she felt, and it's dangerouus. Eventually she will have to get back to here and now, and she is afraid that here and now is nothing she can't trade for something better or at least something less painful.

She's learned not to ask for much. That's what she tells herself, and maybe that's the biggest lie of all.

The bright lights of the grocery store are anything but flattering to anybody over the age of thirteen. Those lights -- a mean joke of technology that's what they are -- seem to intentionally put layers of makeup under their sickly-yellowish sscrutiny, disposing carefully covered-up pimples and revealing wrinkles. And they make all faces look unhealthy and pale. Even alien faces.

She hates going there in the summer because the blasting air-conditioner inevitably makes her shiver, and only a second after she walks in her body will be covered in goosbumps. In the winter the snow that looks so pretty outside becomes dirty slurp on the floor, and no matter how many times it gets wiped off there is always slushy mess under her shoes. Hearing the squishing sounds her feet made as she walks between the aisles makes her even more uncomfortable than usual. She doesn't see much of a difference between summer and fall and she wonders what spring would be like in Roswell, New Mexico.

There is a very distinct and revolting scent that usually comes from the meat case, but she can't smell it now. Actually, something in the store smells really nice. She tries to pinpoint exactly what it is, and thinks of the Jetta. She inhales the hint of a strange woody air-freshener that filled your nostrils instantly as soon as you got close to the car, and stayed for a long time after you got out.

She remembers one day, in the early fall, she was leaning through the Jetta's open window, trying to talk to Max -- all buckled up, like a good boy-scout, of course, in the passenger seat -- and that very eccentric smell of wood and bark-bbrown of Max's eyes made her think of the forest of ageless Eucalyptuses. The edge of the half-opened window was pressing into her arms and it was a little painful -- she was bending slightly to ensure that Max got a full view of her cleavage, barely covered by the tight low-cut sweater -- but she didn't mind, because for a second she caught him looking exactly where she wanted him to look.

She likes things to go the way she planned. Which means, of course, they rarely do. Hence, this is one of the memories that she considers genuinely good and holds on to. She doesn't have many of the kind. Every time Michael borrows the Jetta, and then comes back carrying a cloud of the woody smell around him, she finds some excuse to start a conversation, just to trigger that memory. She likes it when Maria serves her in the Crashdown for exact same reason. She keeps telling herself that that's the only reason. She can even tolerate prickly comments thrown her way-- she has almost grown to expect them -- just to inhale the scent.

Sometimes, when she decides to torture herself -- she calls it a reality check -- she remembers that Max didn't want to talk to her then. That his eyes were darting back andd forth, briefly pausing on her and then returning to the back door of the Crashdown, hoping to steal a glimpse of Liz, if she decided to take out the trash.

But Tess doesn't do that very often; overall it is catalogued in her mind as a good memory. Only very rarely does she let it bother her that every time she wants something or somebody, it seems to be Liz's leftovers that she wants. She is getting so tired of willingly subjecting herself to being second best and even more tired of pondering it.

She feels her cheeks starting to ache a little and she lets the smile slide of her face. She imagines that it falls on the floor and she shifts her weight and steps on the spot where she supposes the smile would land. She can almost hear a crackling sound.

Maria's mother classifies having Tess in the house important and even significant, and that reminds her of Maria's strange desire to find names for everything, of the way she always wants to fit everything into the frame of a name. Tess mentally notes that, perhaps, she should read up on Christmas, and what it has to do with having to hide an alien in your house, and how all that falls under the true Christmas story category.

Nasedo never paid any attention to human history and traditions and she quickly discovered that there was no better way to get overzealous teachers and classmates off her back than to say that she didn't celebrate Christmas. And if they really annoyed her, she told them that she didn't believe in Christmas. That seemed to shut them up every time.

Still, she tries Amy's words on, fitting herself in the straight jacket of them. And then she realises why Michael never adjusts the front seat of the Jetta right away, but gets in, bending his long legs almost to his chest, and starts driving, and why he never argues when Maria calls him her boyfriend. He wants the words to fit; he wants to fit into the words, they look so good when Maria -- and apparently her Mother, as well -- says them. Tess tries, but the word that she thinks of to describe her current livingg arrangements, is temporary. It doesn't take long for Jim to say it out loud and it almost feels good to hear it. It feels familiar. And then she knows why -- every time -- after only few minutes, Michael stops the car and readjusts the seat. She knows why he never calls Maria his girlfriend. She knows that some jackets are just too tight.

When Maria's mother -- she doesn't look like Maria yet possess the same quality of being able to mention so many things in such short period that it takes Tess hours of untangling the knot that her words seem to tie themselves to -- leaves, the silence is almost deafening. And the insistent ring of her cell phone is announcing the end of another moment that she puts at the bottom of the memory pile. She'll get back to it later.

While she is searching her pockets, bags, shopping cart and then pockets again -- ignoring Kyle's, "It's always in the last place you look, Murphy's law, you know." comment -- she briefly notices that the smell has disappeared and that the nasty stench of the raw meat is all around her again. She notices that everybody seems to stop whatever they were doing to stare at her; that it's really embarrassing, that the annoying ringing is the only sound in the suddenly silent store. She somehow knows, even before she hears Isabel's voice, that it's her, and that Max needs something, and he didn't even bother to call himself.

She nods as if Isabel can see her, but then again, that nod, that automatic yes, is the answer that she's expecting and that's the answer that Tess gives, silently. She remembers that Isabel saved her life, and she chooses not to remember that it took her getting almost killed to get Isabel's attention. Looking at the end result helps to soothe the flow of pain in her mind. She's learned that. Somehow she knows that the dynamic of their tight circle had shifted and there is something strange that drives Isabel now. On some level she feels that it's guilt that drives Isabel, but a few times that she tried to ask about it, she got nothing but a cold distant glare. She realised that she doesn't even want to know. She thinks that some things are better left alone.

She knows the exact moment when she realised that. Whatever happened in Copper Summit, had something -- or maybe everything -- to do with it. On the mad ride home, full of broken speed limits and unsaid words, something as simpple as a need to stop for gas made all the difference in the world.

At least that's what she thought then.


"People, " said the fox, "have guns and they hunt. It's quite troublesome. And they also raise chickens. That's the only interesting thing about them. Are you looking for chickens?"

"No," said the little prince, "I'm looking for friends. What does tamed mean?"

"It's something that's been too often neglected. It means, 'to create ties'"

-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery, "The Little Prince."


She was tired. They all were. Tired and scared. And Tess was trying to use her thoughts about Max and Liz as a simple defence mechanism. Some defence mechanism -- a choice between a rock and a hard place -- must've been the human part of her psyche that need to be occupied. She chuckleed at that though and looked around to make sure that no one had noticed. Contemplated whether to cry or laugh, because nobody, yet again, had paid any attention to her. At the end she did neither.

Instead she shifted, straightening herself. She stood tall and made sure that her breasts were sticking out of her blouse just enough to be noticed, but not enough to look vulgar. She had to look good, she always remembered that. She licked her lips; she wanted them to be shiny and moist. Turning her head and cocking it delicately, she moved her left shoulder, ensuring that the strap of her bra was visible.

"Max," she made a short pause -- giving him time to react -- then continued, slightly pouting and looking at him with awe as if his opinion was sacred to heer. Yeah, as if.

Sometimes, she almost wanted it to be.

"Do you think we should stop for gas? There was a sign…"

He turned to her briefly and nodded. She wiped off her lips then and slouched back in her seat comfortably. She knew that he wouldn't look at her again.

Nothing ever fazed Isabel, and even then she didn't bother to talk to Tess. She just walked up to her door and stood right outside, expecting Tess to get out and vacate the passenger seat. She didn't even ask, she didn't even bother to open the door. She waited for Tess silently, playing with the rim of her blouse.

Something had happened, though, and it made Isabel afraid to meet anybody's eyes.

For a second Tess wished that Isabel hated her again. She wished that all of them did. She wished that somebody would try to kill her again, she wished for anything other than being ignored. But it hurt -- she realised that sometimes wishing hurts too much -- and she got out of the car. As a last try, though perhaps it was nothhing but a force of habit, she brushed her hand over Isabel's arm. It seemed like a simple gesture, but what began as a touch on Isabel's shoulder, as a way to indicate that she is always there for her, ended at the crook of her elbow as a resignation and a vow to never try again.

She rode the rest of the way back to Roswell in the Jetta. And it was truly sickening to watch Maria's face in the rear-view mirror. It wasn't so different from her own, and that made it maddening. She watched Maria clutch the wheel when Courtney thanked Mickey G, again. She watched Maria run her tongue over her lips every time she turned to Michael, she watched her use quips and not-so-funny jokes in the places where Tess would put adoring looks and statements of approval. Maria's attempts didn't work either. Michael was studying his hands and Courtney had a dreamy smile on her face and neither of them was talking to Maria.

They dropped Courtney off first and in the rear-view mirror Tess watched Maria roll her eyes and open her mouth to respond to Michael's attempt at explaining why Courtney's husk was better off taken to his apartment. And then she watched a chain of expressions floated across Maria's face. Sarcasm gave way to hurt, hurt was replaced by a look of sudden realisation that the hurt was too much to bear. The last look must've been really painful, must have put too much pressure on her jaw, because it clenched and Maria closed her mouth, said nothing. She just nodded at Michael and even brushed her hand over his arm. From his shoulder to his elbow, and then she stopped.

They must've forgotten about Tess. She didn't mind all that much. It was nothing new to her, after all. It was getting dark and she suddenly remembered that she'd used too much power and that she was tired, really, really tired. She was tired to the extent of not being able to control her memories. She hated when that happened.

Memories were taking over and drowning her. Her own psyche was against her. Her own mind refused to listen to her pleas that she didn't want to remember that Max had asked the Skins to let Liz go. That she didn't want to remember that he hadn't asked her to help him. And most of all, Tess didn't want to remember that it had taken her a while to offer help. A while that could have cost them their lives. She did not want to think that there had been a long second when she was contemplating running through the doors and leaving Max and Liz behind. And even a longer one when she was contemplating staying and letting the Skins win, take all of them.

She was too tired to fight her anger and guilt, too damn tired. She took a deep breath and inhaled --the air was filled with woody smell. She thought of a forest, and sun filtering through the leaves. And she felt a little beetter. She felt that she could keep herself on the surface of now.

Through the thinning fog of swirling memories she vaguely registered that Michael was bending to kiss Maria goodbye -- they traded all those pathetic pecks on the cheek all fall -- but the husk he held in his arms was in his way and he just ssmiled at her. Maria smiled back, though the smile never made it to her eyes and froze on the corners of her lips. Tess noticed that and wondered if Michael did.

Maria started the car and drove off, but then stopped the car again, almost immediately, less than a block from Michael's apartment. Tess wanted to ask if Maria meant for her to get the hell out of the car and walk home, but she didn't have to.

"It's okay, I'll drive you home." Maria looked at Tess's reflection in the mirror. "Just give me a second." She sighed and looked at Tess again. "You look tired."

"Yeah." Tess was too tired to move to the passenger seat and she wasn't even sure that Maria wanted her to. She stayed in her seat behind Maria and watched in the mirror as Maria winced, pain travelling from her eyes to her lips and turning her still lingering smile into a frown. She wondered why that change happened, but only for a second. There was a rattling sound in the darkness behind them-- the engine of the bike driving off. Michael was leaving his apartment.

"I don't think… I don't think he'll sleep with her, you know, " Maria shifted uncomfortably, labouring every word. At first Tess didn't know what she was talking about. "I haven't even told Liz about it, yet. We…um…didn't have time. So, I don't think it's true." Maria's voice trailed.

Tess stared to respond and then caught Maria's look in the mirror and stopped herself. She realised that Maria must've felt that she was betraying her best friend to her worst enemy, simply by talking to her. Tess wanted to scream that she was not an enemy, that she had never been one. She was not even Liz's competition, not in a conventional sense of the word, and at this point all she'd wanted was her own little place in this small circle of people that she invaded and got trapped in, somehow.

But she was too tired, even for that. She wanted to ask so many things, she wanted to say so many things, but nothing came out, or at least nothing came out right.

"Sex doesn't mean anything, you know." As the words left her mouth she realised that she should have thanked Maria; she should have asked her why Maria was telling her anything, she should have let her know that she was grateful. And she should have realised that she was saying those words just to make them sound true, just so she could believe that they were herself.

"I wanted to tell Liz, but... She… um…asked me about Michael and Courtney the other day, and when I told her, she got this look on her face. The one she usually gets when she solves a math problem or something." Her face had changed again and the mirror told Tess that Maria was probably going to cry. "It really hurts, sometimes. She just doesn't seem to care about me any more. I should get use to it by now, I guess, but it still hurts. She was my best friend since the fifth grade, "

"Isabel was mine since our past lives." She started again, but Maria didn't seem to hear or maybe she just wanted to talk. And nobody ever wanted to talk to Tess before, so she let her.

"I still think he loves me, you know. He just… she's an alien and…and he wants to make sure that she stays put, but he loves me, I know he does." Tess was sure she heard tears in Maria's voice. "I just feel so alone sometimes, it's hard, it's just so hard. Liz only wants to talk about Max and Max only wants to talk about Liz, and I'm so sick of being the shoulder to cry on, sometimes."

"Yeah, I know…" For the first time in her life Tess didn't feel angry that somebody dared to feel more alone than she did. And she wasn't quite sure why.

"Could you…maybe…you know…what you did to Max, last year. I just want to see him…Michael…without thinking, without knowing that he…he doesn't want it…me…"

Tess hadn't been expecting that; she didn't know where that came from. After all, it was Maria, who generally hated them, any of them, using their powers in front of her. Who, for all Tess knew, hated her. But she asked, and it was, the first time anybody ever asked her without Tess volunteering first.

"Okay." she said against her better judgement, against everything she knew about her powers, against her own body telling her that there was no way she could handle a mindwarp. But Maria asked her to create an illusion, and maybe she was just tired of an endless string of competitors in a race for the real thing, and Tess could understand that.

Of course, it all spanned out of control.


"The only things you learn are the things you tame," said the fox…

…"What do I have to do?" asked the little prince.

"You have to be very patient, " the fox answered."

-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery, "The Little Prince."


Suddenly what seemed like nothing but rust and peel of red paint became a universe of unexpected content, trapped between the off and on position of some cosmic switch of time and space. Tess couldn't sustain the mindwarp, not completely, and instead just concentrated on making Maria see Michael, while her own hands went around the back of the front seat to Maria's hair.

And then she wasn't sure whose vision it was any more.

Heavy, it must be so heavy to carry all that weight, she thought, and one by one took out pins that were holding Maria's hair up it was different from her own but yet alike, somehow.

Tess looked in the mirror, saw Maria's face. She vaguely remembered something that she'd read about Medusa -- Nasedo always said that her head was filled with "unnecessary human knowledge"-- that she was a mythical creature who couldd turn anyone that dared a direct glance at her into stone. Tess covered Maria's eyes with her palms. She could see her own hands in the mirror now and they looked natural, just as pale as Maria's face. They seemed to belong to one person. She felt Maria's eyelashes tickling her palms -- they felt like trapped butterflies trying to break free. And she let her hands slide, because sometimes -- and she knew it then -- what seemed to be above was really below.

She slid her hands down Maria's neck, her thumbs tracing the blood vessels feeding Maria's fragile form, pulsing passages carrying blood to and from her human heart. For an instant Tess fought the overpowering urge to put some pressure on Maria's skin, squeeze her neck just a little, then squeeze a little more, and more, to see life leaving her delicate body.

She slid her hands lower. To Maria's breasts. Heavy and hot underneath a thin layer of clothes. Growing hotter and fuller with each stroke of Tess's thumbs over the itchy polyester blouse. Tess realised that while Maria's attempt to look good had been successful, the issue of affordability was always there, and that her clothes weren't very comfortable. Perhaps Tess's hands were too small to sustain growing heat and fullness, but perhaps they were just right. The bigger and rougher hands that Maria saw with her mind might find her breasts too small.

Tess leaned forward and her own chest pressed against the back of the car seat. In the growing heat they were creating she was almost grateful for that barrier between them. Unable to support herself on the edge of her seat any longer, she fell to her knees. There was sand and dirt on the floor of the car and it stuck to her legs. She felt its prickling sensation even through her pants, a contrast of pain to the pleasure that she felt rising under her own skin.

Lower and lower Tess slid her hands, tracing Maria's ribcage, resting them at her hips for a second and then travelling lower yet, drawn by heat -- the irresistible pull of Icarus towards certain death, towards the face of Helius, towards immortality.

And then everything melted into one shape, a glistening drop of quicksilver, sliding, rising, full of pain, full of pleasure, full of anxiety. In raging inferno of her mindwarp that was quickly becoming so much more than a vision pleasure vibrated through them both, fuelling itself again and again. Tess thought…she hoped that Maria wanted her, saw her. Saw Tess, not Michael. She looked at the reflection of Maria's face again and thought that hope was better than illusion, that the hope of being enough, reflected in mirrors and eyes, was enough.

She was such a fool.

Index | Part 2
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