When Kyle Valenti and Tess Harding got home on the evening of February the fourteenth, it was nearly eleven o'clock. Kyle's father was reading at the dining room table, and he looked up and smiled when he heard them. "So, kids, how was your Valentine's day?"
Tess looked back and forth between the Valenti men, young and old, before answering. "A little bit confusing but good overall."
"I'll bet," Jim Valenti said mildly.
Again Tess alternated a thoughtful gaze between her foster father and the young man who was definitely not a foster brother in her mind now. Something as yet unspoken occurred to her. "Did - did Kyle say anything to you about... about having a certain kind of feelings for me, Mister Valenti? Adult feelings, un-brotherly feelings?" She considered the second plain wooden chair at the table for a moment, but didn't sit down. "Particularly Valentin-ey feelings?"
"As it happened, he did," Jim said with a broad smile, as he placed a bookmark between the pages. "I hope that I gave him some good advice, and he encouraged me to try again with Amy DeLuca. She left about an hour ago, by the way, but I'm sure she'd want me to pass on her best wishes, and possibly even thanks for clearing out and letting the two of us have our own comfy Valentine's evening here."
Tess' eyes narrowed slightly. "And I told you about how I was planning a special Valentine's dinner for Kyle, with Isabel."
"You did?" Kyle exclaimed, as his father nodded calm acceptance. "So - you could see the entire misunderstanding, you knew exactly how the two of us were on different pages. Why didn't you say something?"
There was a long pause. "Well, I suppose I didn't feel it was my place to get involved, that the two of you might well work it out between yourselves if I didn't get involved. After all, Kyle, you certainly wouldn't have been happy with me if I'd let slip the fact of your... affections for Tess, if she didn't actually feel the same way. And if I'd told you that Tess was actually setting you up with another woman... how do you think that you would have reacted? Would you have still gone to the Pisces cafe tonight?"
"Hmm." Kyle sat down, looked around, and immediately got up and left the room. While he was gone, Jim and Tess exchanged a look, and after a minute or so Kyle returned, pushing a wheeled desk chair up to the table. Tess flashed him a brilliant smile as she sat down in the third chair.
"So, well, we did manage to talk things out," Tess told him, "and that worked pretty well. And come to think of it, now that you know about that, there are at least a few things that we're going to have to sort out."
"Ground rules, you mean?" Jim asked. Tess nodded. "Right. I've been thinking about that a little. It certainly wasn't what I expected would happen, when I took you in, that the two of you would end up as a couple or anything. But we're going to have to deal with the realities of now, and it looks as if, for the time being at least, those don't involve you leaving this household, Tess. I did actually bring the subject up with Amy, but she doesn't think it would be the best thing for you and Maria, and I can see her point. And in any event, I can't think of anybody who has the room for you and is also - aware of the complications of your situation. Sending you off with anybody who's unaware of the alien connection sounds like a very bad idea."
"I could go and find a place to live by myself," Tess offered. "Like Michael did."
"Only if you take the same route of legal emancipation that Michael did," Jim told her sternly. "That's a choice that I can't talk you out of, but it's a harder road that he makes it look, and might also serve to draw more attention to you. Nor would it be as short a road for you to travel."
"So, Tess is sticking around for the time being," Kyle said. "Do you have rules that you want to be handing down, considering that?"
" I guess that I do," Jim said, smiling. "I even went looking online, to see if I could find anything to help warn me what the possible problems were. Did you know that there's a support website for parents whose teenaged children and stepchildren are dating? That doesn't exactly cover you, Tess, but it's close enough to the overall situation to be somewhat helpful."
"I guess," Kyle said warily. "So what does the support website say?"
"Well, it's not something that they said, as such, but... as tempting as it might be considering our space constraints, I'd like to start by saying that I don't want the two of you sleeping in the same place through the night. That just seems like it might be much too much intimacy for an early stage of your relationship, and lead to awkwardness for - well, for all three of us, including me."
Kyle and Tess traded a look. "I have to say, I didn't expect you to bring it up that way," Kyle said softly, "but it probably makes sense. Aren't you going to say something about the two of us... well, using a bed together in a way that's not all through the night?"
Tess laughed, and Jim paused before shaking his head. "No, I - well, I never really wanted to be that kind of father, trying to lay down the law about my kid's developing sexuality. I don't want to push either of you into anything you're not ready for, of course, but I do think that you're mature enough to figure those things out for yourselves, and come to me if you need an honest and mature opinion or have questions that you think I can help with. As above, under awkwardness, though, I'd ask that you try to be discrete about whatever is going on between you in that respect - so that I can ignore it and pretend that it isn't happening, if I have to."
"Well, that's more than fair," Tess told him. "It's fine by me - I'll certainly be doing my best to control any lustful appetites and take this thing on the slow side - and to make sure to be responsible, when it does come to something like that, so that there aren't any consequences that you'll need to help us deal with. Right, Kyle?"
"Yeah, that's an arrangement I can live with - well, I'm not wild about taking things slow and unlusty for a long time - but I'll be able to cope." Kyle looked around the room as if he hoped to find a new topic of conversation on the wall. "Since you mentioned her vaguely, how did the Valentine's festivities go here between yourself and Miz DeLuca?"
"Quite well. Not much chance that there'll be wedding bells soon, but we've made a date for next weekend."
"Wedding bells?" Tess repeated. "Now isn't that a picture, all five of us, six if you count Cousin Sean, moving into the same house. Whose would you pick? Neither of your places really has much space."
"No, I suppose not," Jim told her. "And there's no real reason to speculate about such choices right now, is there?" He got up. "I'm going to retire for the night. Remember, kids - discretion is the watchword."
"Is that it for tonight?" Kyle asked. "Don't stay in the same bed all night, and be discreet?"
"Why not?" Jim asked him. "Between that and the maturity that Tess has shown me in her attitude, I don't think that I'll need to worry about anything else yet. Goodnight." And he picked up his book from the table, waved, and headed over towards the bedrooms.
"So..." Kyle started once the door had closed behind him. "Just how slow do we have to take things? You do know that it's cruel to the male of any species to be stimulated and then - deprived."
"Biology can be nearly as tough on girls," Tess told him. "Don't act like I have it all entirely easy. As far as tonight, I see two options. Either we stand pat and avoid over-stimulating any more..." She trailed off and stood up, and Kyle couldn't help but follow the way her body moved with his eyes as her short but shapely limbs stretched out. "Or we just take things as they come, trying our best not to lose control."
"Hmm... a bit of a dilemma, but my brain's saying 'what the hell, go for it!'" Kyle admitted.
"So is mine... well, at least, so is a part of me. I can't entirely be sure that it's my brain." But Tess stepped close to him, and Kyle rose to meet her, their lips coming together as if they'd been built to be heat-seeking. Somehow, both teenagers managed to find themselves on the bed in Tess' room before that first kiss ended.
Somehow news had spread of three gossip-worthy Valentine's Day hook-ups by the next Monday morning at West Roswell high. Max Evans and Liz Parker were finally back 'on again', something like nine months after Max showed up alone to the sophomore Spring Fling. Kyle Valenti had been spotted at the Pisces Cafe with both Isabel Evans and Tess Harding, though apparently he abandoned Isabel and ran off to find Tess and persuade her to come to dinner with him. Most of the girls and many boys were surprised or amazed that Kyle and Tess were dating, considering her status as his unofficial foster sister, but most of Kyle's sporting buddies just chuckled and said that they'd been waiting on this news for months.
It was the news of Markos Smith and the Whits playing an impromptu concert outside Pam Troy's house that really had the most people talking - and the news that the stunt had apparently earned Markos a place in Pam's heart, at least for the time being. "Which shows that she has one, apparently" Maria DeLuca mentioned when Vicky Delaney asked her about the show. "Of some sort. But no, Alex and the guys didn't ask me to stand in for that gig. I'm not sure what I'd have said if they did, but I wish Markos the best."
Kyle looked into the little mirror mounted on the handlebar of his bike, just to check that he wasn't leaving Tess too far behind. He gasped when he realized that she was catching up on him.
And then, a few seconds later, he realized that he was getting a stitch in his side. Not a really bad or painful thing. Just a little cramp that was making it hard for him to pedal at full tilt.
Even though he knew that sometimes little things hit like that without much rhyme or reason, a part of Kyle did feel that it was ridiculous that he was the one who was cramping up, the Buddhist jock with letters in three sports, while a girl who'd never shown that much interest in physical exertion was cruising along without showing any problems.
When there was a good opportunity and the narrow winding trace opened up into a broad and straight path for half a mile, she pulled up alongside his bike. "Valenti, are you letting me catch up so that I'll feel better?" she asked, her voice breathy but loud enough to ring in the empty desert.
"What? No, not at all," Kyle said, caught by surprise enough that he didn't sound particularly convincing, even though his denial was completely honest. (Did he maybe not want to be completely convincing?)
Tess stole a quick glance at him through the safety goggles that she was wearing in case they drove through a cloud of dust at a critical moment. Kyle was wearing an identical pair. "Do you wanna stop here for a moment?"
A part of Kyle was tempted, especially since the stitch seemed to be getting worse, but his inner macho could not abide that. "Hell no, game on."
"Alright, then catch me if you can!" As the path curved into a narrow trace to their left, Tess pulled ahead to take the turn before he did, and for a while Kyle was able to follow at a safe distance. Then he had to fall behind just a bit, and of course that was the moment that Tess was seized by the desire to take a branch off the main trail.
"Oh, no," Kyle muttered, too out of breath to risk a louder exclamation. He couldn't hang back or stay on the proper bike trail himself - promising little side turnings like the one Tess had just ridden down could turn dangerous or even peter out abruptly into unrideable rocks, and it would be hard for them to find each other once she was out of sight. If he could count on Tess to stop and turn back once she couldn't see him in her rear view... but if she'd disregarded his cautions about staying on the true path, then he couldn't depend on the rest.
So he took the same turn, and did his best to keep up with Tess through the much tougher slopes and turnings of her new track, (though there were two jumps that were really kind of fun. He noticed that there was a pole not too far away from the track, a steel thing about an inch and a half thick driven into the ground, and was wondering if he'd ever seen such a thing before when Tess rocketed past it.
And while Kyle was distracted by the pole, a tall guy with dark hair, wearing blue jeans, stepped out from where he'd been standing behind a rock high enough to conceal him, and Kyle only had a split second to realize that they were on collision course. His arm and leg connected with the man's front, and both of them tumbled, Kyle wiping out on the bike, the man crumpling backward and dropping something that he had been holding.
By the time Kyle had gotten free of the bike and was inspecting it for damage, Tess had already circled back and was approaching the scene of the accident. "Oh, I'm so sorry mister," she called back. "It was my fault, we weren't supposed to be riding up here, and my boyfriend was only... Grant Sorenson?"
Sure enough, the guy who had picked himself up and was starting to collect his broken fragments was vaguely familiar to Kyle, and the name made some connection, though he couldn't immediately recall when he had seen the infamous geologist in person. Grant didn't pay any attention to Tess yet, but was staring daggers at Kyle - or possibly death ray eyes worthy of Tess' threats to him when she first moved into his house.
"Like father, like son," Grant said, pronouncing each word with the same level of bitterness. "You all get into the act of ruining my equipment."
"Hey... I'm really sorry," Kyle muttered. "I - I didn't see you, and that's a good reason why we shouldn't have been biking off the usual trail." He couldn't resist shooting a glance over at Tess, but didn't blame her overtly - she had taken responsibility, after all, and Grant had pretended not to notice. "Was that an expensive gizmo?"
"It's not about the money," Grant insisted. "I'm just really tired of being harassed by Valentis day after day after day." Kyle knew that it had been two weeks since his father and Grant Sorenson had crossed paths, but didn't bring up that factoid. "Maybe it'd be fun to spend my days harassing you kids instead, if I can't get any decent work done. Does that sound fun to you, Valenti Junior? Not being able to go anywhere with your pretty girlfriend, because I'd show up and do whatever I could to ruin your fun?"
"I wouldn't be happy about that, no," Kyle admitted. "I can understand if you're not happy about seeing us here, but maybe the best way of dealing is to steer clear of each other as much as possible."
"Or else what?" Grant taunted. "And I recognize your girl now - Tess, right? The one who skipped out on Isabel's birthday party. That was the first time your Dad violated my rights, wasn't it Kyle? He thought that something bad had happened to Tess, so he broke into my room, questioned me, and threatened me with a gun."
"Something bad did happen to me," Tess spat back. "I was held captive and beaten in the old power plant. I'm sorry that you were under suspicion; it didn't have anything to do with you, but I'm not sorry that Mister Valenti was following evert lead he could. You were the last person to see me before I was taken."
"Really? Did he catch the person who 'captured' you?" Grant asked. "How did you get out safely that night?" Tess hesitated a long time without replying. "Yeah, I didn't think you'd have an answer for that one. Here's another big question - aren't you living under the Valenti's roof now, Tess? He took you in when your father skipped town. Was the deal that you'd be Junior's love toy from the beginning? Or did he only just wake up to the possibilities of having a gorgeous teenage blonde living in the next room? God, the whole thing is so white trash it makes me thoroughly sick."
"Still, I don't see how it's your business that we're dating," Tess said. "And, on that note... I think that we should go and leave you to your work."
"Alright," Grant told them guardedly. "But don't think that's the end of it. I've still got a score to settle against your family, Valenti."
"Is that bike alright, Kyle?" Tess asked him nervously. He checked, and realized that the front wheel was very slightly bent.
"It'll be okay for a bit," he said. Once they were away from Grant, she should be able to use her powers to help him straighten the metal.
"Alright, let's ride." Tess got back onto her bike and they rode away, with Grant watching until the two of them were out of sight.
"Okay, let's talk about something other than Mister Sorenson," Kyle suggested as Tess started to spin the bent wheel in the air. He could tell that she was still upset by the scene.
"Not just yet, please, I'm concentrating," she asked, and Kyle kept silent. "Okay, does that look okay?"
"Yeah, I guess." Kyle started to walk the bike back and forth. It seemed okay, but he wasn't really eager to get back onto the trail when the two of them could be talking. "So, tell me - how is it you're in such good shape? I don't think that's an automatic hybrid thing, based on having to dash away from danger with Evans and Guerin a few times."
"No, we have the potential for athleticism, but it won't come if we don't work at it," Tess confirmed. "Ed - he got me into the habit of exercising early. Like anything else that might make the difference when it came to FBI special unit agents trying to catch us - or evil aliens trying to kill me, for that matter, though he never mentioned that possibility until the end was near. I've kept up with my aerobics sessions since he's been gone."
"How?" Kyle asked. "I never noticed."
"You don't notice much that I don't want you to see," she admitted. "Didn't you ever what I was doing when I came into school early with you, the days that you had team sports practice? There's nobody else in the little room with the stationary bikes and treadmills then, except me. Or sometimes I go back to the school building after dinnertime."
"Doesn't anybody ever catch you at it?" Kyle marveled.
"PTA people and the gymnastics coach a few times, not that any of them really cared." They were both walking their bikes down the track at a brisk pace now, but Tess seemed happy enough to talk. She seemed to be looking around for anybody else who might get close enough to hear their words, though. "You're right that Max and Michael never bother cardio training. I tried to talk Michael into it over the summer, but he didn't stick with it. He likes weight training, though - Michael can probably bench press more than you now. And Isabel's coming along with her jogging. She can finish a 3200 meter run in fifteen minutes now, and she's increasing her endurance for longer distances."
"Huh," Kyle muttered, impressed by the statistic. "I don't suppose there's any chance of you girls trying out for the track team?"
"I don't think so," Tess admitted. "Not the best way to avoid attracting attention. So, what now?"
"Well, we can get back on the bikes," Kyle said. "And - I'd like to take you out to dinner sometime soon, today or tomorrow."
"Yeah, you'd like that - as a way to dare Grant Sorenson to try something," she scolded him playfully.
"Hey, I don't want to back down from a bully like that," Kyle said. "I did the pacifist thing today, if you didn't notice - I really wanted to clock him one, but I'm not going to just let him walk over us."
"That might get tricky," Tess admitted. "It sounds like he's made up his mind to be provocative, and he'd love to press charges with Mister Hanson if you actually do take a swing at him." She sighed. "Let's not worry about Grant any more right now, huh?"
I wasn't the one who brought him up," Kyle pointed out. "Of course I'm happy to leave him behind as a topic. In fact, why don't we leave conversation behind for a while, huh?" They had just gotten to the point where Tess took them off the bike trail, and Kyle got up onto his bike again.
"Okay, but just to be clear, is there a rule that I can't pass you now?" Tess asked. Kyle shot her a look, and she burst out laughing. So he took off before she could catch her breath.
"Oh, no, there he is," Tess muttered. "Maybe the sidewalk patio table was tempting fate too much."
Kyle took his attention away from steak, mushrooms, spaghetti, and tomato sauce to take one quick look over his shoulder. Sure enough, Grant Sorenson was heading towards them, through the last of the fading twilight, and the orange streetlights on Second Avenue. "Oh, what the heck, it's been worth it so far, hasn't it?" he asked. The weather was neither warm nor cold on this February New Mexico evening, and Kyle had dressed up in a nice blue sweater, while Tess had a red and white embroidered wrap tight around her shoulders. And the food at the Spaghetti Hut was always great.
"That depends on how much the final cost comes out to be," Tess muttered darkly. Kyle shrugged and made a point of not turning to look back behind him again, though he couldn't eat for concentrating on steps coming up behind him, no matter how much he tried.
And then he realized that Tess was staring off to the side. Okay, so Grant was walking around the patio - that made sense. It wasn't his style to jump over the little white fence, wrought iron or whatever it was. He'd use the front entrance for people going inside the restaurant to get their tables.
Except that he didn't.
Tess' head continued to turn to the side, and eventually Kyle realized that he could see Grant Sorenson passing them by. But Grant wasn't looking where he was going - his head was pointed at the two of them, and an inhumanly cold smile was on his face, until he was just about to get to the 'full-on Exorcist twist,' and then he turned away from them, not looking back.
"Okay, how high did that rate on your creep factor?" Kyle asked.
"Hmm... nothing off the scale, considering what else I've seen... but still respectable. Call it an eight point one, with extra marks for effort and ingenuity."
"Right." Kyle realized that this was not exactly the date night conversation he wanted to be having, especially if it might be reminding Tess of some of the things that she'd seen before. If Grant Sorenson's mischief had passed them by for tonight, then they should celebrate, instead of dwelling on what the future might bring - which would be playing into his plans, considering that the only possible reason for that smile-by was to psych them out. "So what's up next for you, aside from spending time with your brand-new Valentine? We live in the same house, but I don't know as much as I'd like to about your life."
"Are you really sure that you do want to know?" Tess asked. Kyle understood what she meant - he'd told her that he wanted to be left out of 'the alien stuff' on more than one occasion, and the alien stuff was a huge part of her life. But...
"Yeah, actually I am. I didn't quite realize what I was getting myself in for when I made that Valentine's pact with Liz, but I'm committed to this thing one hundred percent now. Whatever's going on with you - well, I want to be a part of it, if I can, and if you're ready to let me in that much."
"Okay, hold up, just a second, what pact is this?" Tess demanded hotly, and Kyle looked back down to his plate, unable to meet her gaze, so he focused on the meat instead.
"Umm, it's a funny story. Actually, I guess I thought that somebody had already mentioned it, when we met up with Max and Liz that evening."
"No, I don't think so - details, please?" Tess insisted. Kyle took another bite and made a production of chewing it. "Does this have something to do with the night last fall, when - when you and Liz..."
Kyle almost blurted out a denial, but managed to finish swallowing the food first. "No - well, only a little bit, since that was part of my motivation, but - let's see." He tried to figure out the best way of explaining to Tess. "It started just a few days ago, really - I ran into Liz at school early in the morning, caught her spying on Max. And - well, she was so obviously pining over him, and it got me thinking about things. I proposed the pact, it was that she would try to get Max back, and I'd... try to get you to be my Valentine. A bit like a mutual Valentine's day resolution, to take chances on love."
"And a bit like you were distracting me for Liz's sake," Tess pointed out, pushing pieces of stuffed cannelloni around on her plate without showing that much interest in them. "Because I'd put up a fight if I thought that Liz was getting close to Max again, not that he was really mine to fight for, except inside my head."
"Yeah, that was just a little part of the point," Kyle allowed.
"I think I remember that morning - I mean, I didn't know that you'd been talking to Liz. But you met me at my locker after coming to school for early practice and then finding that it had been cancelled. It was raining, and you were acting kind of weird."
"Yes, it was, and yes I probably was," Kyle agreed. "Any other questions?" Tess considered for a few seconds, and then shook her head. "So what's going on in your life that you didn't think that I'd want to hear about? I think that we've gotten sidetracked from that long enough."
"Okay, well... you remember that girl, with the grandfather who looked like Michael?" Tess leaned over the table so that she could whisper, and her eyes glinted when she realized that the pose was offering a tiny peek down the front of her blouse and Kyle had to decide if he was going to keep eye contact or take a look. With effort, he managed to keep staring into her bright blue eyes, though even the peripheral vision made his pulse pound.
"Yeah," Kyle whispered back. "Laurie Dupree, the one that Dad saved from some crazy out in the woods - and the Council fired him over it, because he couldn't explain how he knew that she was down there."
"There's a bit more to it than that," Tess reminded him. "But yeah, her. We don't know what it is, but it looks like that FBI agent is going to be doing something about her. We don't know what, but Isabel and Michael want to start watching the Sheriff's station. Michael's even found a spot from some roof where anybody can see into the office that Agent Duff's been using - if they used binoculars, I mean."
"Well, that seems a little risky," Kyle pointed out. "You have a lot of people coming into and out of that building, and they're not all clueless. What if somebody is observant enough to spot the watcher?"
"Michael had an idea about that," Tess added. "There are a lot of other buildings in that block with the station. And the roof is pretty private. So he thought that whoever's on lookout duty should be going in pairs - one guy and girl."
"What good would that do?" Kyle couldn't help but ask.
"Well, if we do get caught, it might look like - like they're just two kids out for kicks, making out - and using the binoculars to see if they can spot somebody else doing what they shouldn't be doing. Michael's managed to get Maria to agree to go with him. What do you say?"
For a few seconds, Kyle's mind swam with what she had told him. "You had me at 'out for kicks,'" he told her finally, and chuckled.
"I thought so," Tess agreed. "Well, that's not for a little while at least, maybe tomorrow. What can we do for our kicks tonight, once dinner is gone?"
"I've got that one figured out," Kyle promised her. "Better eat up; I think we've both let our food get cold as we talked."
Tess grinned, and proceeded to work at clearing her plate.
Max fell in step with Kyle halfway through his eighth lap of the field track, and didn't say anything for a little while. "Is there something on your mind, Evans?" Kyle panted finally, slowing his pace down to a slow jog to free up a little breath.
It was hard to notice that Max was also much more comfortable with the slower pace, though Kyle hadn't seen him doing laps until just now. Yeah, your majesty, better start training for the next time bad guys start chasing you, he thought to himself.
"Tess mentioned that she wanted to go on - on surveillance duty with you," Max said. "I guess I just wanted to make sure that you were really okay with that, since - well, you seemed really upset about all of the alien business when your Dad lost his job."
"Yeah, I'm still bitter about that, but I've got some perspective," Kyle told him. "Isabel knew that somebody was in trouble, and felt she had no choice but to find out who and help her. You were just caught in the middle. And Dad - he made his own choices about how much he was going to risk for you guys, and for Laurie. If helping Tess keep an eye on Laurie means Dad's sacrifices count for something, then I'm good with that." He pushed into the turn, chuckling mentally as Max struggled to keep up. "I'm not clear on why the rear window bit is important, though - and didn't really want to ask Tess."
"It's all speculative at this point," Max said. "Agent Duff has been interrogating Laurie non-stop for over a day. Isabel is convinced that Laurie isn't coherent enough to tell Duff what she wants to know - so what is Duff going to do when her patience runs out? It would be good if we had some way to sneak into the station and actually listen in on the sessions, but that's too risky right now. We used a pretty flimsy excuse to get you inside, for instance, and your father won't be invited back. So watching is all we can do now."
"Got it," Kyle agreed. "Are you on the binocular schedule too?"
"Liz and I have already taken our turn," Max said, and when Kyle looked over he saw that Max was smiling. "Isabel hasn't gotten her chance, though. She asked Alex, and he said that he didn't think that it was a good idea. She was - a little upset about that."
"Yeah, I can imagine it," Kyle said. "I guess that the two of them didn't have a great Valentine's together."
"It was an alright lunch, from what I hear," Max said. "But Alex was keeping his distance, to a certain extent - didn't make a move to kiss her when they were on their way out. And I think he wasn't happy to hear that Isabel had gone along with Tess' blind date notion."
"Alright." Kyle pushed the pace a little further. "Is there anything else you wanted to cover?"
"I'm curious how things are going between you and Tess," Max admitted, stubbornly keeping up. "I mean, the fact that she wanted to do this with you is a good sign, but..."
"I guess we're doing okay," Kyle said. "She wanted to take things slow, but I don't mind. She certainly hasn't shown any signs of thinking that she made a big mistake dating me and wants to go back to pining over you, if that's what you're wondering."
"Good to know," Max said. "You know, this is really refreshing. You don't mind if I keep running with you, do you?"
"It's a free track," Kyle told him - and pushed himself to run a little bit faster, wondering if Max could keep up.
He did, for another lap.
Kyle came awake on the couch, and wondered what had disturbed his sleep. Only the light of a few street lamps filtered through the living room drapes, so it couldn't have been the approach of morning, or any unusual traffic outside.
He listened, wondering if he'd hear the noise of kids racing through the neighborhood, and heard something else. A faint noise, but one that electrified his nerves and had him up and running before he'd had time to think twice. Tess was crying out, faintly in distress, and for a second Kyle wondered if the alien bogeyman stalking Laurie Dupree had come back to search for her, and found a hybrid alien girl instead.
When Kyle burst into the bedroom, his eyes had already adjusted to the dimness, and it was fairly easy to tell that nobody had actually broken in. Tess was writhing and shaking under the covers in a blind panic, struggling with some kind of alien mental siege, or a nightmare, By Occam's razor, call it a nightmare, Kyle decided, and try to wake her up.
So he leaned over his girlfriend, took a grip on her shoulders, and gently shook. The motion didn't seem like enough to disturb Tess considering how much she'd already been shaking in her sleep, but the thrashing of her limbs calmed immediately, and then her eyelids popped open. Kyle was distracted for a moment that he couldn't see the familiar blue tint beneath, but that was just the low light, making of her eyes a pale grey. And then Tess was struggling to sit up. She got one hand on the back of Kyle's neck and tried to draw him down towards her, but couldn't because his elbows were locked and his hands still gripped her shoulders, effectively keeping her at arm's length.
Then Kyle realized what she had in mind and bent down to meet Tess' kiss, an embrace so warm that he seemed to melt into her. Tess was hungry for closeness, and only backed away to make sure that clothing was taken away - the little white tank top that she had been wearing went first, and then Kyle's t-shirt and the old sweat pants that he'd been sleeping in until they could get the heater vent for the living room fixed - or find more blankets to heap onto the couch.
Not that Kyle was really thinking about sleeping out in the cold living room at that moment. Heat was dominating his awareness, the heat that was flowing through every drop of his blood, the heat of Tess' bare skin as he fondled it or she pressed herself against him.
Until Kyle's fingers teased their way around Tess' soft and shapely thighs, and strayed across an imaginary line. Instantly the temperature in the entire room seemed to drop five degrees, and Tess shuffled back half an inch on the mattress. "Kyle, I'm sorry," she squeaked, the first real words that either of them had spoken since waking.
"No, I - I get it," he assured her, reaching out blindly for clothes as a way to occupy his restless energy - and because he felt all manner of stupid sitting there in his boxers once Tess had stepped on the brakes - even though she was more nearly naked than he was. (Which was a problem too, in its own way; maybe he should offer her the tank top to put on again - would that seem manly and sensitive or just lame?) "Do - do you want to talk about the dream?" He wasn't sure why he had suggested that, except that it seemed preferable to talking about why she didn't want him touching her there, yet.
"Well, no, not really." Tess tucked her legs under the bedclothes, and growled in frustration when she realized that they wouldn't cover her all the way, where she'd been sitting. By the time Kyle had the collar of the shirt over his head; Tess had herself covered from the waist down, but wasn't showing any signs of being concerned about the rest. He had to admit that he liked the waist up view, but it wasn't really making him relax into the moment.
"Max, Max was there, but it wasn't really like Max," Tess said. "Something was different about him, and - and he was angry at me. Really angry, not just pissed like he got when I tried to kiss him last summer, or indignant the way he was when he thought I was the killer shape-shifter. I don't think I've ever seen Max that angry at anybody, ever - and I've seen him go through things that suck enough that I've gotten angry on his behalf."
Kyle thought about that, as he reached out, picked up Tess' top, and tossed it close enough to her that she could reach out and put it on, or leave it there as she pleased. Retrieving his sweats required actually getting up and bending down a few steps away from the bed, which actually helped him feel a bit better, getting out of that space, so he sat down on the low chest that Tess had nagged him into retrieving from her old house on New Year's Eve. "Is that all that you can remember? Max yelling at you in a non-Max-like way?"
"Not really, I..." Tess broke off, and Kyle looked closely at her as she shrugged into the discarded clothing. "There was something, something that I'd done wrong, but I didn't know what it was or why."
Kyle could tell that that wasn't entirely true. He wasn't sure if it was a complete lie, or just that there was more to it that Tess was hiding from him, but he knew her well enough that he could sense when her practiced skills of deception were in play. Maybe she was even deceiving herself.
But it certainly wasn't a good time to push the issue, whatever it was. "Okay, umm - do you want me to stay in here? Are you ready to go back to sleep?"
"No, and no." Tess sat back up a little, raised a hand, and a robe flew through the air and into her hand. She proceeded to shrug into it and stood up without exposing even a glimpse of her legs above the ankles. "Let's keep company in the dining room, I can make some warm milk for myself, maybe add a little of that raspberry syrup that Amy brought over a few weeks back. That should help me get to sleep."
"No Tabasco this time?" Kyle kidded her.
"Not when I'm trying to avoid having a nightmare," Tess said. "Of course, a dash of black pepper might hit the spot..."