Better Than Ice Cream
By Gale Dumont

Late summer, after their fates had been proclaimed.

They are sitting in the Crashdown after it's closed. Maria waved them in, told them to lock up when they were finished. She trusts them. It's a nice feeling, being trusted. Doesn't happen too much these days.

She and Isabel are sitting at the counter, eating ice cream. She wasn't allowed it when she was younger -- Nasedo saying something about "becoming too accustomed to human tastes" flits through her mind, then flits right back out -- but it's not bad. Better, when you dose it in Tabasco sauce.

Still, something's off.

"Hold on," Isabel says, and braces her feet on the stool to stretch across and behind the counter. The hem of her sweater rides up as she reaches, exposing a few inches of smooth, firm skin. Her tan is fading, but slowly.

Tess wants to lick it.

She blinks, startled, wondering where the thought came from. Checks to see if it's still there.

Yes, definitely. She is filled with the sudden, blinding urge to propel herself across the counter and sprawl atop the taller girl, knocking her flat against the counter. She can almost see it now -- lips against lips, one small hand sliding down that expanse of leather-clad thigh (the pants are new and not for Michael's benefit, that's for damn sure; neither Isabel nor Michael has so much at looked at each other for weeks, but then who?) and up, up, under the waistband and --

"Here." Isabel leans back, a cannister of something blue in her hand. "Tess? You all right?"

Tess blinks again and forces her mind back to reality. "Fine," she says, shaking her head. "Just thinking."

Isabel smiles and opens the cannister, sprinkling a few grains of the blue stuff into the palm of her hand. "Anything interesting?"

All kinds of interesting.

"No," she lies, and focuses on the blue stuff. "What is that?"

"Pixie Stix." Isabel grins. "Alex told me about it. When he and Maria and Liz were little, they used to sprinkle it on their ice cream and try to get a sugar high. Sometimes it worked." She held out her hand. "Here, try some."

Alex. There's that name again. It grates on her nerves to hear Isabel talk about Whitman. They've been staying away from each other, of course -- all the humans have been staying away this summer except for Maria, and it's not like she has a choice. But Isabel still talks about Alex: Alex did this, Alex said that. Sometimes she has to restrain herself from taking Isabel by the shoulders and yelling "If Alex is so goddamn special, then why are you spending all your spare time with me?"

But she doesn't. Partly because it's not Alex's fault, partly because it's not Isabel's. It just...happened. And mostly because if she did, Isabel would look at her with dark, hurt eyes and nothing would be the same again. She couldn't stand that.

So she sits there and lets Isabel sprinkle dyed granulated sugar into her palm. Doesn't say anything, just raises her hand to her mouth and sticks out her tongue, letting a few grains touch it.

It tastes...different, somehow, than plain white sugar. Sweeter. More exotic. Like the woman who had given it to her, sitting a few feet away in a ratty sweater that used to be Max's and brand-new leather pants, smiling. "Well?"

"Not bad," Tess says finally, shifting her hand to sprinkle the rest of it atop her Triple Caramel Chunk. It sinks into the cream slowly, making little purple pinpricks in the orangey-red of the Tabasco. She stirs it around for a moment and takes a bite.

Oh. Oh.

Michael had told her once (smirking while he did it, and Isabel you could do so much better than that) that Max and Kyle -- the Sheriff's son, she thinks; she's not so great with human names besides Marialexliz -- had gotten drunk together. Only one sip and Max had been absolutely loaded. Another thing she'd learned since coming to this podunk town, right alongside "hot sauce makes everything taste better": "we can't hold our alcohol."

It probably felt like this. The world seems askew, tilted, a bit more to the right than it had been a few seconds ago. Like a carnival ride. Whee.

She stifles a giggle. She is a Queen. Queens aren't supposed to giggle. They're supposed to be stiff and stilted. Max is going to do just fine; he's had stiff and stilted down pat since she's known him. Even in his mind, writhing and twisting on black satin sheets, some part of him just couldn't let go.

Not for her, anyway.

And that's the truth of the matter, stripped down to the bone and licked clean: Max isn't hers. Maybe he had been, hundreds or thousands of light-years ago, and maybe he hadn't, but here and now he wasn't hers. He might as well have had "Property of Liz Parker" tattooed on his ass, because he was.

The realization doesn't make her as angry as she'd thought it would. She's been avoiding the subject for weeks now, shoving it aside, thinking that it would make her want to die. But it doesn't. She feels disappointed, and a little off-center, but not angry. Not sad, either. Just...searching.

She frowns a little, spoons some ice cream into her mouth. Watches Isabel lick a stubborn drop of caramel off the bended metal.

Isabel's tongue is impossibly long and delicate. Not forked, though from the way some of the girls at school looked at her, you'd think it should be. Two of them in particular, a nothing-to-look-at-brunette and a tiny, flawless-skinned Asian girl. They both glare at Isabel like they'd dearly love to see her drop dead one of these days. Isabel, for her part, doesn't seem to notice, and if she does, she doesn't comment.

Tess notices.

She sits in class, watching them gossip and whisper and giggle, and thinks about whether or not she could goad them into actually doing anything. It would almost be worth the inevitable Max Lecture to see the two of them claw each other bloody over things that hadn't happened. Jam knives through their eyes, maybe, or crinkle up glass and drink it with their bottled water.

That was the best part about humans: they were so easy to kill. Almost as easy to confuse. Nasedo taught her the first. She learned the second on her own. Fragile as paper, and if you do it right, you won't be suspected of anything.

"We need to get you a boyfriend."

That startles her out of her reverie. "What?" she asks, blinking.

Isabel's expression is thoughtful. "I said, we need to get you a boyfriend. Not Max, obviously," she adds, rolling her eyes a little. "Probably not any of the guys in town, though I don't know about that. There are a few decent-looking guys on the football team, though I'd stay away from Kyle Valenti."

For obvious reasons. Namely, that he'd been shot, and Max had healed him, and he knew their secret now. That seems to happen a lot when Max encounters teenage gunshot victims.

And that's not entirely fair, and Tess knows it. She knows the whole story; Isabel told her, one night, sitting in her room in red silk pajamas that clung distractingly to her curves. She's had time to think about it, though, while Liz is hiding out in Florida for the summer, and she's come to a decision:

She doesn't hate Liz Parker.

Doesn't bear her any ill will at all, actually. No real good will, but nothing bad, either. There's...nothing. She should probably rectify that. She's going to be here for the duration, now, so maybe it's a good idea to make nice. Who knows -- maybe she and Liz will even turn out to be friends. They can hang out on the weekends, giggling and doing girly things and discussing the merits with making out with their respective Evanses. She can teach Liz how to be a Queen, and Liz can help her with her science homework. Mindwarping is child's play compared to dissecting a fetal pig.

" -- Doug Sohn, maybe, or Jack Takashima --"

"Isabel," she says firmly, cutting her off. She puts her spoon down.

Isabel breaks off and looks at her, frowning a little. It makes her no less beautiful, no less golden. Overhead lights trace clumsy little paths down the lines of her body and make the leather pants look painted on, butter-soft. Tess wants to peel them away, find the hidden prize inside and lick until she got to the center.

Odds are, it won't be bubblegum.

"I don't want Doug Sohn," Tess says, still in that calm-firm voice. She feels terribly adult, suddenly, and also terribly scared. This must be what it's like to be a teenager, she thinks blindly. It's not like she got a copy of the handbook. They moved around too much to get forwarded mail. "I don't want Jack Takashima. I don't even want your brother."

Isabel makes this little huffy noise. "So what do you want, then?"

That's her cue.

She plants her hands on the counter, darts her head forward and kisses her. Hard.

And this is everything that kissing Max wasn't, hearts and flowers swirling around her head in cute cartoony shapes, spiral galaxies being born and dying and everything in-between in the space of a heartbeat right in front of her and Nasedo should have told her it was supposed to feel like this. But maybe that's why he didn't, so she'd never know what she was missing.

Fuck him. He's in Washington, playing Blessed Protector to the hilt. No one's here to stop her. No one but Isabel.

Who sits back, eyes wide, and wipes her mouth.



Well. This is certainly new. She's never been rejected before. It's almost interesting. Tonight's full of all sorts of interesting first times. Her mouth suddenly tastes like rotten meat. The ice cream doesn't look too appetizing, anymore.

There's a long, awkward silence. It lasts maybe a minute. She toys with her spoon. Swallows. Coughs once, discreetly, then turns to go, swinging one leg down to touch the ground.

"Tess don't go."

Said just like that -- no punctuation, no inflection, nothing at all. But it's enough to make her stay.

Slowly, slowly, she looks up and meets Isabel's eyes.

And Isabel is smiling. A real smile, the first one Tess has seen since that day in the caves. She looks...happy. It looks good on her. Temptress to goddess in three easy seconds, and all you need to do is smile.

"Tess," she says again, "don't go. Please." And she rests her hand atop the smaller girl's. It's warmer, and smoother, and makes Tess wonder briefly if every part of her is as warm and smooth. It's looking more and more like she's going to get the chance to find out.

"Why not?" She's going to make Isabel squirm a little. Make her earn this. God knows she's had to sit through enough internal monologues lately to savor the blush that trails across the taller girl's face.

It doesn't linger, though. "Because you haven't tried any of the Double Chocolate Chip," she murmurs, spooning a bite into her own mouth. The spoon bumps her lower lip, leaving a few errant grains of blue sugar on that perfect, perfect lip.

Oh, tonight is going to be sweet. Maybe tomorrow morning, while Isabel's sprawled across her four-poster bed (nothing but the best for the King and Queen, and won't he be surprised when he learns he's been using all those oh-so-useful tricks on the King's sister instead?), she'll sneak downstairs and make her eggs. She can do that, at least.

But for now, Tess just takes another bite of her Triple Caramel Chunk and swallows, feeling creamy smoothness slide down her throat. Wonders if the goddess sitting next to her will taste better.

Leans forward, licks the sugar from her lover's lip, and grins.


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