FanFic - Michael/Maria
"Orion Rising"
Part 1
by swikstr
Disclaimer: Nope. I don't own 'em. Jason Katims had the idea -- I'm just test-driving it. Thanks to the swell folks at Regency and the WB for their creative vision and willingness to take risks. Majandra Delfino and Brenden Fehr are the heart and soul of Maria and Michael. Without them, there'd be no story to tell. This short piece of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no infringement is intended. A great big pat on the back is all I'll ever get for it. ::sigh::
Summary: Outdoors on a winter's night with only the constellations for company. Some post-episode understandings between Michael and Maria.
Category: Michael/Maria
Rating: PG-13
Authors Note: Bottomless Lakes State Park does exist just a few miles from Roswell, NM. In fact, some of the scenes shot in "The Toy House" appear to be a take-off on Bottomless Lakes, only the cliffs should have been red and not white . However, the location where Michael and Maria interact in this story is a pure figment of my imagination. I've only been as far east as Socorro and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin in NM. My description, as such, has been gleaned from impressions of the Sonoran Desert where I live, the New Mexico landscape that I've seen, and a few photos from my guidebook detailing the area around Bottomless Lakes. See the movie "Contact" for a better visual representation of the scenery. This fic was originally conceived prior to the airing of "The Toy House," and the bulk of it also written beforehand -- taking into account spoilers for the story. In the end, Katims and Co. beat me to the punch -- unveiling a resolution to Michael and Maria's quandary before I could finish this tale, and forcing me to rewrite a lot of the dialogue. Here's hoping the fic is able to mesh properly with the "real" story.... Feedback is welcomed and received in the spirit which it is intended.
"If there's a reason, it's lost on me Maybe we'll be friends, I guess we'll see I never let you go..."

-- Third Eye Blind, "Never Let You Go"


She had just left the Crashdown when he found her.

It was late Sunday afternoon and Maria was tired, having spent the past eight hours on her feet listening to snippets of every single inane conversation known to humankind. Now, her head was awhirl with the usual assortment of priorities as she tucked away her work persona and got ready to tackle whatever was left of the weekend.

About fifty or so pages of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" were waiting for her at home. And she didn't even want to think about the list of trig equations needing to be finished by fourth period tomorrow. Besides which, she wouldn't even have the benefit of Liz as a diversion tonight because the other girl was working the late shift at the diner.

It was just as well anyway, Maria mused. All Liz would want to talk about was the topic-of-the-month -- her break up with Max. And that would inevitably lead to thoughts of Michael....

A now-familiar ache twisted in the pit of her stomach as she began walking along Main street, forcing his image from her mind and concentrating on thinking about nothing at all.

The dry winter wind felt decidedly nippy, reminding her that she'd neglected to bring a jacket along with her change of clothes when she'd shown up at the Crashdown earlier in the day. After work, she'd shed that silly "Close Encounters" knock-off uniform for a washed out pair of black jeans, shoes and a striped sweater that fit close, ending just above her beltline.

At least the sweater was long sleeved. Because the cool air was stinging her cheeks and ruffling her short hair as she gave the satchel over her shoulder a yank and hunched determinedly against the breeze.

It was just a few more yards till she reached the end of the block where she'd parked her mother's car....

She heard the low metallic groan of Max's jeep shifting gears before she actually saw it and her insides shrank in response. The thought of being forced to smile, wave and perhaps even exchange pleasantries with him was not an appealing one. As it was, she felt neither friendly nor charitable right now.

But she stopped and turned anyway as he pulled to the curb, prepared to honor her necessary social obligations. She should at least be pleasant for Liz's sake.

Only it wasn't Max who was waiting for her.


It was Michael.

He stared at her for a moment, raking her slim figure with a look of calculated insolence -- the one that made her ache to slap it off his face.

"Get in," he said tersely.

Maria was tempted to refuse, just to see the critical mass of frustration explode in his eyes. If nothing else, she'd have the benefit of knowing she'd been the one to put it there.

But then weariness overcame her. All the exhaustion accumulated over the past few months since she and Liz had been forcibly initiated into the Secret Life of Max and Isabel Evans.

And Michael Guerin.

Frankly, Maria was tired of it all. The shock of Liz's shooting. The panic of knowing they weren't "alone" anymore in the unsuspecting halls of Roswell High. The chaos caused by her reluctant attraction to Michael. The ordeal of his life-threatening fever. The overwhelming relief at his recovery. The heartbreak of his continued indifference.

Now, here he was, in Max's jeep, demanding she get in without so much as a simple greeting -- as though nothing in her life could possibly be more important.

Maria closed her eyes against the vision of him sitting in front of her, waiting, and shook her head.

Resistance was futile.

With a quick sigh, she braced herself and rounded the front end before swinging up into the passenger seat next to him.

He didn't even have the decency to glance in her direction, and she knew it was only because he was so utterly certain of her compliance.

God damn him.

She shivered against the cold and Michael seemed to catch the brief movement out of the corner of his eye because he paused all of a sudden in the act of putting the jeep into gear.

"Cold?" he asked.

"No," she bit back, rolling her eyes at the miracle of his perception. "I just have this deeply buried fear of getting into a vehicle with a potential serial killer."

As usual, he chose not to dignify the remark with an answer, simply shrugging out of his thick corduroy jacket and passing it to her without a word.

"No thanks," she said.

"Look, why does every conversation with you have to end up like a debate on 'Politically Incorrect?'"

"It doesn't."

"Yes, it does."

"No." Maria took a deep breath, trying to control her temper. "It doesn't."

"Fine," he told her. "Then just put on the fucking coat and stop thinking about it for once, okay?"

He was insufferable. She hated him. And she hated herself even more for putting up with this kind of nonsense.

With a quick movement, Maria snatched the jacket out of his hands and stuffed her arms through the sleeves, meeting his eyes with a look like pure poison.

"If you order me around like that one more time," she said in a deadly soft tone, "I don't know what I'll do, but I'm very smart and you'll be very, very sorry."

Michael's lips quirked up with just the faintest shadow of a smile, and for about the hundredth time, she pondered the mystery in his expression.

Was that a corresponding challenge she saw lurking in his eyes? Or a glimmer of appreciation for her brief show of spine?

Either way, it didn't matter as the more familiar mask of detachment slipped over his features, making her wonder if the trifling show of sentiment had occurred only in her mind.

"Whatever," was his only reply.

Looking back at the street, Michael turned the wheel hard and drove away from the curb with a quick screech of tires.

Maria waited for him to say something else as they sped south along Main, apparently heading for nearby US 380. But no further explanation appeared to be forthcoming.

"You going to tell me what this is all about, Michael?" she asked after a while, shoving away the strands of hair blowing about her face. "Or is abduction really your preferred method of cruising chicks?"

"Don't flatter yourself," he snapped, glancing at the rear-view mirror.

That was it. She'd had enough.

"Stop this thing."


He pulled the jeep to a halt at the red light just before the junction with the highway.

"I said," she grabbed her satchel and prepared to jump free as the vehicle came to a standstill, "stop this thing. I have the sudden overwhelming desire to get as far away from you on the planet as possible."

"Wait." He reached for her, holding her back.

Maria looked down at his fingers where they rested on her forearm before letting her eyes slowly drift up to his face.

He met the warning in her gaze without flinching.

"I'd like you to go somewhere with me."

She stared at him.

"It's important," he said quietly, giving her arm a squeeze. "I wouldn't ask otherwise."

No kidding, she thought, feeling her anger beginning to melt away beneath the naked sincerity in his tone. Blinking at him, she relaxed back in her seat.

He let her go with a small sigh of relief, just as the loud blare of a horn from behind startled them both.

The light was green and Maria looked over her shoulder guiltily as the jeep shot forward. Michael turned left, heading east on the highway for the outskirts of town -- to a destination she couldn't even begin to guess at.

For now, she was merely resigned to going wherever he might lead.

The last rays of the dying sun were at their backs as they sped along the dark ribbon of road with the haunting melody of Creed on the radio. She sank down in her seat, pulling the jacket around her more snugly and listening to the moody lyrics, trying work her thoughts back into some semblance of coherence.

God, but she could *smell* his unique scent embedded in the fabric -- a striking mixture of flesh and blood and the cinnamon spicy tang that was somehow characteristic of all three of them.

Isabel hid it with a daily dousing of Obsession, but neither Max nor Michael were inclined towards that kind of exterior disguise. And really, you had to get fairly up-close and personal to one of them to even notice it.

Up close, Maria thought.

And personal.

She closed her eyes.

Wearing Michael's coat was the next best thing to having his arms around her -- and even the trauma of the past few weeks hadn't been enough to blast those particular impressions from her psyche.

In the days since he'd been cured from the fever, she'd brought her attempts to reconnect with him to an abrupt halt. The look he'd given her in the cave with Riverdog and the others after he'd fought his way free of the illness had been layered with various shades of meaning. Some she thought she'd understood. Others she clearly hadn't. Because he'd moved into Max and Isabel's embrace and Maria suddenly found herself feeling more isolated from him than ever.

There was that brief communion between the two of them over her wood shop project, but since then, nothing. And while he'd been willing to express the conflict he felt about their relationship that one time, he'd also made it perfectly clear that he didn't need her in his life.

Now, in the hallway at school and in class, Maria had stopped short of actually avoiding him. Those few occasions when he caught her eye, she maintained a carefully neutral expression and kept her comments to a minimum. Nothing more than you would expect from a couple of acquaintances with little else in common than a connection to a mutual friend. Or maybe just the shared knowledge of a deeply buried secret.

But the truth was, holding herself back and controlling the impulse to drive the turmoil of their circumstances out into the open had been easier than she expected. Because the horror of his unexpected trial at the hands of Riverdog was not an experience she was in a hurry to repeat.

Seeing Michael upstairs in the Evans' apartment with Isabel, burning up with fever, had been more frightening than anything she'd ever known. More so than the time her mom had cracked up the car and landed in the hospital for a week. Or even when Liz was shot in the Crashdown. And the thought that a threat to his welfare could inspire such a reaction in her, more powerful than the regard she had for her mother and her closest friend, was beyond unsettling.

For once, Maria could understand why he had no problem holding himself so far apart from other people. Things, it seemed, were a lot less complicated that way.

Ironically, the new, remote status of their relationship seemed to provoke him more than their earlier spontaneous combustion. He'd actually stooped to attending a basketball game with all of them. In public. And, she supposed, it was also the motivation behind this little trip they were taking this evening.

They were twelve or so miles outside Roswell now, and for a moment, Maria wondered if he was heading for Bottomless Lakes -- a nearby state park. But he passed the turnoff on NM 409, leaving her clueless once again.

Finally, about two miles beyond the exit, he slowed abruptly, turning onto a dirt road and heading into the BLM lands surrounding the park.

The ride was anything but smooth. Maria reached forward to clutch at the cold metal bracketing the windshield, trying to hold herself in place as the two of them were bounced about in their seats from the rough ground.

She was beginning to worry that he'd lost his way, but a quick glance at his profile revealed a look of determination, not confusion. Pressing her lips together, she shook her head and managed to keep herself from granting him the satisfaction of an inquiry.

Whatever daylight remained was fading quickly and she wished he'd for god's sake just turn on the lights so they could see where they were going. Then, he braked again, pulling off the road. They kept driving for about a hundred yards over the flattened scrub until the jeep finally rolled to a stop.

And now, at last, she could see from what lay ahead that Michael had reached his destination.

The flat, featureless plains of southeastern New Mexico stretched out all around them. But in front, looking towards the East, a deep gorge bisected the terrain like a raw, gaping wound cut into the earth. They had parked about twenty or so feet from the edge.

Far below, on the floor of the canyon, Maria could see a few sparse outlines of palo verde and mesquite trees being swallowed quickly by the growing darkness.

The view was simply breathtaking.

A gust of wind blowing down from the North tickled her lips and made her eyes ache from lack of moisture as she stared in wonder at the pastel panorama spread out before her.

Lavender and rose and pale blue slowly dissolved into the more uniform blackness of the night sky, darkening the chartreuse of the flat ground and the dusky ochre of the cliffs on the opposite side. And the first stars were beginning to wink and come alive over the southeastern horizon.

For a brief moment, Maria was completely amazed that she'd spent her entire life growing up in Roswell without ever knowing a place like this existed.

That Michael was familiar with the hidden spot came as no surprise though. She suspected he had enough secrets floating around in his head to keep a team of dedicated researchers busy at least twenty-four and seven for the next month and a half.

"Stay here a second."

She heard his voice in her ear, felt the fleeting warmth of his breath against her cheek, but she turned only in time to catch the back of his head as he debarked from the vehicle.

He began walking in a pattern of growing circles next to the jeep, peering at the ground closely.

"What are you looking for?" she asked.



Apparently satisfied, he headed back towards the vehicle and motioned for her to get out.

"I'm not sure how my system would react to a bite," he commented, "but I doubt it would go over real well with yours."

She didn't respond, picking her way over to the edge as he backed off and leaned against the jeep. Absently, she noted the snapping noise of the engine as it cooled, along with the lazy tones of the radio. Then, Michael reached over, turning it off and leaving the two of them in silence at last.

His coat was too big and it hung loosely over her shoulders, forcing her to pull it closed as her hands were engulfed by the long sleeves.

Even in the darkness, she could feel his eyes upon her and she looked back, lifting her chin against the proprietary nature of his stare.

Michael did that sometimes. Looked at her as though she was his alone -- on a level that was almost primal in its intensity. Maria would never, ever admit to anyone that the notion secretly thrilled her. God, it had taken several days just to admit it to herself.

And he was doing it now. Scoping her out, staking a claim.

A claim he had no right to anymore.

Despite the chill temperature, he looked comfortable standing there by the jeep without his jacket, dressed in his usual nondescript attire -- jeans and a dark tee-shirt.

The cold didn't seem to bother him at all. And she had a fairly damn good idea of why.

Alien physiology wasn't without its little perks, it seemed.

Michael tore his gaze away from her after a while, glancing up at the sky and jamming his hands into his pockets.

"Orion is rising," he remarked.

Oh great, she thought. Newsflash. Orion was rising. He'd dragged her all the way out to this god-forsaken spot with absolutely no explanation and all he could think to say was that.

Maria couldn't help herself. She laughed -- and the noise sounded harsh even to her own ears.

"What?" he asked, warily.

"Nothing." She shook her head, feeling her irritation with the whole exercise growing by leaps and bounds. "It's just that the idea of standing out here in the middle of nowhere, with you of all people, surfing the mellow beneath the stars isn't exactly..." she trailed off.

"What?" he asked again, almost aggressively this time.

"Well, it's not my typical Sunday night, you know? I wasn't until recently that I could even picture you as a 'Cosmos' kind of guy. And even then, it's only because of," she made a quick motion with her hand, pointing towards the sky. "You know?"

"Yeah," he said, sounding pissed off now. "I know."

"I guess, in retrospect, it all makes perfect sense," she forged on, despite his obvious anger. "But this particular situation is so not logical. I keep wondering, 'Why am I here?'"

Michael pushed himself away from the jeep, letting his hands drop to his sides. "You know what? You're right. It makes no sense at all."

He turned away and made as if to climb back into the vehicle. "Let's go. I can see this was a mistake."

A mistake? Where *did* he get off with this crap? Now *she* was pissed.

"Wait just a second, Michael."

He paused, looking back over his shoulder.

"This is your game, you know," she said, with a defiant stare. "You'll have to excuse me if I don't know quite how to play it."

"It isn't a game." He let go of the door, turning towards her. "It's not something you play."

Not a game? Who did he think he was he kidding?

A hail of raw emotion pelted her at his arrogance. All the things she'd been so careful to ignore or set aside over the past few weeks suddenly descended upon her like a winter storm full of fury and discontent.

"I don't think so," she said, looking down at her hands as they shook slightly with the strain of keeping her feelings in check.

"Let's just consider the situation here. You knocked yourself out last week with my shop assignment -- even going so far as to say 'thanks' after my little tirade. But then you tell me afterwards that we're even -- that I shouldn't ever help you again, because you still can't afford to get involved. That's until tonight, when you pick me up on Main without so much as a simple hello, drag me out here to who knows where without even bothering to say why. How am I supposed to respond to that?"

Maria heard the tremor in her own voice, knowing she was coming close to losing it. And why not? She'd been practicing careful restraint for far too long. Maybe it was time for him to deal for a change.

"You know, Michael, the 'layers of mystery' thing gets tired after a while," she finally said.

"It was enough to catch your interest," he pointed out, cruelly.

"God, you still don't get it, do you? Weren't we speaking English the last time I checked? What part of, 'I thought you were going to die,' didn't you understand?"

She made no effort now to hide her desperation.

"How could I *possibly* refuse to help you if something else happens?"

Tears suddenly spilled from Maria's eyes and she put a hand to her mouth, turning away, trying unsuccessfully to control the emotion overwhelming her.

She had promised herself once when it all began that she would never cry in front of him...never expose herself to that kind of liability. Unfortunately, her heart wasn't dictated to that easily, and she slumped to the ground, shivering, immersed in a dark mire of self-pity and humiliation.

God, but it was cold out here.

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