Disclaimer: I don't own these characters but Jason Katims Productions has put them inside my head.
Authors Note: Final section from Michael's POV. Missing section (what happened to Maria, Alex and Max during the separation) will be posted separately as Maria's story, called BRAINSTORM. Feedback of any kind would be appreciated. Warning: this is a long read.
|Michael lumbered up the steps to Maria's apartment and stood outside the door with his chest heaving. His breathlessness had nothing to do with the staircase; a sudden realization had taken his breath away.
After all this time, after the waiting, after the fear, she was back and he was within minutes of meeting her meaningfully for the first time since his return. * Am I ready for this?* he asked himself. Suddenly the absence of a year felt like a lifetime.
He unlocked the door quietly and gently, and moved into a darkened room redolent of cedar oil. He sagged against the doorjamb, overwhelmed by it, letting the smell wash over him, being absorbed by it. He was transported back in time.
There was no light and no sound from the ground floor area but a light glowed dimly at the top of the stairwell. He bounded soundlessly upstairs and poked his head around Michaela's door. The pink orchid glowed reassuringly to reveal his girl child sleeping peacefully, her arms clamped around a fuzzy teddy bear. He moved to look at her, a sudden pang of guilt, shame and love overwhelming him all at once. *Help me get through this, Michaela,* he prayed, *Help me to get her back.* He looked down at the baby with pure love and thought in a rush of all that Maria had endured to make life safe for his child.
More than he had done.
He moved slowly downstairs and tried to feel her presence in the darkened flat. There was no sign. Then a sudden breeze and movement of the curtain alerted him to the dim glow of a cigarette outside. She was there, sitting in the dark alone.
She did not answer him so he moved to the patio and there she was, curled up foetally in a chair, with her toes clamped against the wrought iron railing. A glass of red wine was on the table and she was smoking a cigarette. A Marlborough.
"Sorry. Did you call me?" Her voice was distant, detached. "Sorry about the cigarette, Michael. This is a bad habit I've just learned from Alex…I'll give them up next week but for now it's my stress control." For the moment, though, she drew on the cigarette, then carefully tapped the ash into the ashtray near her wine.
"Did you bring Michaela back from your mother's?" He knew his question sounded stupid, inane, but was at a loss how to start this conversation.
"Ya know, I've been sitting here in the dark and thinking…" Maria did not answer him but started down a train of thought of her own. "I thought of the last time we were happy. Can you remember?" She looked at him then, quizzically, daring him.
Michael plunged his hands into his trousers and shrugged before moving carefully to sit down in the chair opposite her. "You tell me, Maria."
She spoke in a dreamy voice, not really to him at all, and looked ahead at the straggling lights of Roswell before the hills started, strange formless mounds which acted as a barrier between the town and the stars. "I think that it was in the hallway at school. You said you'd had a sleepless night…you wanted to make our relationship official. We met Isabel and Alex in the Eraser Room - they seemed to be having a similar bonding session. I joked about something in the water….I think that was the last time for me."
"Why do you say that?" he asked warily, not really wanting her to pursue this line of conversation. "Listen, Maria, Max told me what happened to you all. You must be in shock…you've been through a lot…why drag all this up now?"
She sipped her wine, slowly and carefully, then drew again on the cigarette before she answered him. "Well, after that, my life changed forever. I found out I was pregnant - told no-one, not even Liz or Alex at that point - became real clingy with you and I KNOW you absolutely hated it…what a mess that was."
"And then," she turned to look at him for the first time really, "I watched you fuss and hover over Isabel with that dream baby thing and I thought to myself…would he be that way with me? Would he care that much about me? Would he bring me glasses of milk and hold me? Would he stay for me if I told him? And you know what? I didn't want the real answers to those questions…so I said nothing. Stupid, huh?"
Michael answered her gently and carefully. "Not stupid, Maria. Just you."
"But it was as well I never tried to find out, ya know? The disappointment would have broken me then. So it was better not to know…just live from day to day…and then, after you went…gee, I was really alone then…till I told Alex."
Michael did not like the drift of this conversation; it was not going the way he had planned. "I know about Alex," he said shortly, "I watched the video … didn't need to be a genius to see what had happened with you two."
He tried to divert the conversation down another avenue. "How'ya feeling? Do you want to go to bed or something?" Another stupid remark. He cursed himself and his inability to say things.
She shook her head vehemently and stretched out to stub out the cigarette. It was then that, even in the gloom of the patio, he could see the track marks of the injection needles on the inside of her arm.
"Come here," he whispered and carefully captured her arm. He felt the stiffening resistance before he gently drew his finger over the marks until they disappeared. She instantly withdrew her arm and hugged herself.
"Thanks, Michael. Maybe there's hope; your powers have improved... I wish that you could wipe everything away so easily." She was trying to be flippant, casual.
"So do I," he said in a low voice and shot her a sidelong glance. She was staring blankly away across at the hills, still strangely detached and self-contained.
"Do you remember the last time we met?" he asked urgently.
She nodded slowly. "Oh yes, Michael. I remember. A lot has happened since then."
"Yep, I know. Max told me everything. You should have let me come with you." He could not keep the reproof out of his voice.
"It was better this way, ya know?" she turned to look at him dispassionately, as if he were a stranger asking her the way to an unknown motel on the highway. "You couldn't have done anything more. It was better that I handle it on my own. If you hadn't come back…to earth, well, I suppose things might have been different…I do have you to thank for that…for bring me back to earth, too!" She shivered, in sudden fear, of all the things which might have been… a lifetime of senseless cheeriness in a place far away from her child, and everything familiar.
"And now?" Michael found the courage to bring them to this point in time, forcing her to give an answer to his urgency.
"And now, here I am, lighting another cigarette," she stated, almost defiantly, and reached for the packet on the table. "And now, for a while, maybe, the world is a safe place again…and then, again, maybe not."
"Listen, Maria, I know I'm pushing things…but where do we go from here?"
She laughed then, a short bitter laugh, and made a big issue of lighting the cigarette before inhaling again, "Michael, why ask me? Ya know, I thought that I had all the answers for you once - I was stupid enough to think that I was the answer once…but now…really, I figure you must look to Max or Isabel…'cos I'm only human, ya see, and we humans really don't have any answers at all."
"O.K. So you're bitter…and mad with me." He rose to his feet swiftly and went inside to fetch himself a cherry cola and to give her time to calm down.
When he returned, though, she had not moved, was just seated there, inhaling on the cigarette and staring at the stars.
"So what was it like there, Michael? Did you find your answers? Tell me, I'm really interested."
"There were no answers. There. It's what you wanted to hear, isn't it?"
She glanced languidly in his direction and lowered her feet to the floor, drawing them up under her seat.
"No. I had no…expectations. I'm sorry for you, though. You put such hope in that solution."
"What if I told you that your answer WAS the right one? That you were my answer?"
She looked at him with big green eyes which were slightly cold, "I'd tell you that the answer was simplistic. I'm not the Maria you knew then…there's very little of that girl left, ya know? I've lived a lifetime in eighteen years and I feel a hundred years old…but still, I don't have any answers for you, for me, for Michaela, for anybody. Isn't that just a tragic revelation?" She let the last word roll off her tongue like a deathly drum roll.
He moved round the table and crouched down on his knees before her, so that he could look up into her face, into those eyes, to try to capture them with his. She looked at him with infinite sadness. "I haven't got much left at the moment, Michael…no inner resources, if you know what I mean. This conversation is a bit of a mistake, I think."
"No." He said the word urgently, placing his hands on her knees since she moved her hands out of his reach, hugging her arms in a defensive posture again. "No, Maria. Don't say that. I want you to let it all out to me."
She strained her body backwards, into the recesses of the chair, "I don't want to, Michael. I don't want to share it with you, or anybody else. I don't expect any understanding and I don't want sympathy. I want to go through this alone."
"Alone…or with Alex?" He could not stop himself from shooting out the question bitterly.
"Well," she looked down at him with a rush of empathy, "I'm here, Michael. Alex's still in Vermont. Won't come back here for a while."
"And you?" His face was deathly still and he felt that the expression of anxiety and dread would be plastered into place for eternity.
"I don't know." She turned her face away from him, hesitating to offer any truth. "I don't know. It's enough to be back here with Michaela. I was going to Vermont, ya know? That was the plan."
"I came back with certain hopes, Maria." He let the idea hang there, suspended in the darkness between them.
"Max told me." She looked at him then, holding his stare with her own. "But let me ask you one thing, Michael. If life had been…different…there, ya know…better…would you have come back, then?" She leaned her head back against the cushion, as if bracing herself for his reply and closed her eyes in readiness, but as if she knew the answer already. Michael was forced to confront truth.
He answered her slowly and with great deliberation. "It was never Isabel; it was partly an escape from a bum deal and a bum life. But it was mostly an escape from myself, Maria." There, he had said it; he had said the thing which was most painful to face himself. "And it was before we got there that I knew that the only escape from myself was through you...but the mistake was made."
She lay there, reclining on the wrought-iron chair, with her cap of hair splayed back against the cushions and opened big green eyes which were full of unshed tears. "Did you really think that, Michael? And I had to wait a whole year, and go through so much, to hear that now?" She tried to laugh but it escaped more as a sob. "Michael, you can have no idea of my loneliness …that sounds so grand, and deep, doesn't it? But it won't go away now, and I am the last person who can help you now."
"Surely we can help each other?" he asked urgently, still gripping her legs with his hands, trying to sense some give in her, some desire to give.
She understood his thoughts. "I've really got nothing left to give. And all I must think about is Michaela."
"We can do that together, can't we?" Michael used his trump card but felt that he had dealt it in a losing hand.
"Can we?" she asked the question with a worldly weariness, as if the answer was foregone and unwelcome. "I'm not sure, Michael. I've told you…I'm not sure of anything. It's not that I'm sad...miserable...it's just that I don't feel much anymore…except that I want to get away from everything familiar, take Michaela and start again, afresh. I suppose that I'm trying to tell you that Vermont sounds a real good idea to me at the moment. There's gotta be a better place than Roswell, New Mexico." She fired the last salvo with some bitterness.
"I figured," said Michael, wanting to shout it to her but finding the control to offer it placidly, with resignation.
"It's safer, too," she plunged on, wanting now to get all her reasons verbalized, "You remember why you said you left me last time…it was the safety argument…keeping me out of danger…from you and all the rest of it."
"I reckon that I was wrong on that one," he countered slowly, still trying to get her to lock onto his gaze so that he could read what was written on her face. She had gone back to avoidance tactics, and, carefully avoiding his bulk which was still leaning on her legs, she stretched over for another cigarette.
"Well, I don't think I'll ever feel safe anymore, " she replied, with some anxiety, "But if I just leave here, with Michaela, stay with Alex, help him get started, find a new life for myself, bring Michaela up as entirely human, surely they won't want anything else from me?" She shuddered as if she couldn't stop herself.
It was as if she had struck him in the chest. It was the separation thing: you and me, different; me human, you alien. He felt sick. He groped for words to counter that cruelty.
"Michaela is part of me, remember; she is not entirely human."
"You're right," she brought dreamy eyes back from the horizon to linger on him with some sorrow. "She's got gifts…I know that. But I'm not Hank, ya know? With good human role models, like with the Evans, maybe she'll grow up like Max…kinda mostly human. Kind."
"So I'm not kind? Is that what you're trying to say?" He abandoned his physical advantage, holding her knees, having captured her gaze, and sprang up to lean heavily on the balcony railings to stare outwards himself now. He didn't trust himself to say anything or do anything else.
"I don't know you anymore. Just like you don't know me anymore. I don't even know myself anymore. I used to know myself: flaky Maria de Luca with the flaky mother, always poor, yearning for that father who never came, putting on the great act that life was a breeze. Being funny for the hell of it because I knew that's what people wanted from you. Knowing that so many others secretly laughed or despised me…Isobel's set, for instance." Again the bitterness surfaced.
She carried on, spurred along by this burst of thought and feeling. "And who was Michael Guerin? An alien who rejected all things human - even the stupid girl who put out her heart with regularity so that he could go through the frustration dummy ritual-thing of stamping it flat. A guy so bitter and filled with hatred, a guy without focus or any other goal except to get up there…" she jabbed her hand across towards Venus which was rapidly sinking out of sight.
He turned to look at her with his jaw tensed, a small tic working at the corner of his mouth. "O.K. Maria. So we've both changed. I still love you. There. I've said it… you waited a long time and now I've said it. I only want that you give me some time to show you…how I've changed…to make up for all the wrong stuff…the fact that I made you suffer. Won't you at least give me that time?"
Again she chose to pursue her own line of conversation, regardless of his questions, his need for answers. "I was pathetic. I know it. I clung on to you, like I was grateful for the cruelty…like I expected nothing else from anyone. I couldn't actually believe that anyone would really want me - my dad didn't after all - so I was happy being needy…really pathetic."
He could not resist her invitation to fight that one. "You're talking rubbish, Maria. Don't. You knew me, even then - all those things you've mentioned - that was me - the only difference is that you were never cruel - only kindness and love - but those were things I didn't understand until I lost them." He took a deep breath and sighed. "Oh Maria, don't…don't even think of the bad times…we've got Michaela now and that changes the whole ballgame."
"We? We, Michael? You mean, I have. Here I am, despised and shamed by the whole town of Roswell - an eighteen year old chick who knew nothing better than to drop out of high school - pregnant. And such whispers about the father, ya know? Could have been a whole lot of guys - that's what most people said."
"We know the truth," he said, unable to keep the acidity out of his voice.
She sipped at her wine, hurriedly. "It wasn't a truth I could broadcast. I've gotta tell you 'cos you'll find out soon enough - Alex was happy to take on the role. It's his name under 'Father' on the birth certificate."
Another blow to the chest. This one was more painful than before. Michael's mind whipped through the ramifications of that piece of information but she spoke again before he could formulate his ideas into words.
"It was a protection measure, ya know? According to human records, Michaela is entirely human. Do you know, Michael, I was too afraid to go to the doctor for a check up? Too afraid that some blood test, urine sample would point me out as a freak? That's a laugh in view of what happened anyway. Alex's folks think she's his - so does my mom - you're really out of the picture. Free."
He came back to her then and went down again on his haunches but made no effort to touch her this time. "Maria. Look at me. I don't want to be free. Can you get that? I hope I have changed - for the better. I never want to be free…of you." On impulse he put his hands on either side of her face and forced her to look into his eyes. "I hear what you say," he said slowly and quietly, "The human world is safer, a known equation. But that was never perfect for you, either. Think of it. And I reckon your mom knows that the baby is mine."
She let her head relax so that he needed to support it between his hands. There were whiffs of strawberry and cedar oil and silky strands of blonde hair moved, glided through his fingers.
"I'm so tired, Michael." she whispered.
"We both are," he said simply, without guile or ulterior motive, "Come to bed. We can talk in the morning."
She allowed him to pull her up to her feet, unresisting, and let him support her up the stairs. He drew her gently into her bedroom and helped her to fall back against the pillows. He dared do nothing more than pull off her shoes and draw the coverlet over her.
Then he padded downstairs, moved the glasses and the ashtray to the kitchen and locked the doors. A double check on the front door locks, then to Michaela's room and by the time he returned to her she was lying with her eyes closed, unmoving, a tiny figure, curled up not unlike his daughter in the next room.
He looked down at her with a heart filled with love but with no words to express it effectively, tore off his tee-shirt and lowered himself beside her. She did not stir. She did not move either when his hands stroked rhythmically down her bare arm - up and down. *You don't have to tell me,* he wanted to say to her, *You don't have to tell me - it'll be alright.* It was an echo from another world.
He could not tell if she was awake or asleep for there were no tears and no sign. She was simply inert and unmoving in the darkness. But her skin was warm and her smell enveloped him and he knew that his dream was real, just for tonight. Eventually, he sighed, stretched out an arm to put out the light and curved his big frame around her, buried his face into her neck, and tried to sleep.
*** *** *** *** ***
She was awake first. He knew that instinctively as he opened his eyes. He knew that she was crying, soundlessly, that something internal was pouring itself out of her.
He resumed his rhythmic stroking. "Don't, Maria. Don't worry. It'll be O.K. I promise. Whatever."
He pulled his body over her and looked down at her face. The pillow was wet from the soundless crying.
"Oh God, Michael," she whispered, "My life is such a mess. I'm torn, ya know? I love you…you know that…something elemental which will never change…but I love Alex, too. He's been so fine…so human…he made me happy again. Michael, can I be happy again? Part of me…so much of me…wants to be the old flaky Maria who could hide everything with a joke! Even the puppet Maria was jolly." She grimaced quickly.
She turned her body to face him so that he was above her in the dawning light, really looking at him now: the big brown eyes full of concern, the spiky hair which just would not go away, the mouth which was generous when he was relaxed, unconsciously human.
He felt his own eyes flood with tears but wanted to hold them back because happiness was such an important issue for both of them at that moment. How could you be happy and crying at the same time? He dared not spoil that moment. He did what he always did: he took recourse in passion.
He lowered his head, slowly but deliberately, never letting his eyes leave hers. He closed them only when their lips joined and a mutual sigh seemed to draw breath and give breath to the other. The pressure of his lips deepened and he felt a flood of relief in his groin when he felt her response, There was hope. She did still love him.
Neither of them wanted to break that moment but a wail from the adjoining room brought them back to reality.
"I'll go," said Michael heavily, dragging his lips from hers. "I'll bring her to you. Just relax."
He was back in a flash with a wriggling, damp baby in his arms. He simply presented Michaela to her mother and watched her face light up with delight as he lowered the baby into her arms.
"Don't cry," she whispered as she gathered the baby to her breast. "We're here."
"I'll go get a bottle," he muttered under his breath and escaped the room, leaving Maria for a few moments of pure delight, in safety, in maternal togetherness.
When he came back she was playing with the baby, lying back against the pillows, cooing inanities gently. He came to her and silently presented the bottle, then lowered his big frame at her side to watch this life-giving ritual. He could not contain a satisfied smile as he lay there, stretched along the length of her, with his head leaning on his hand.
"She's beautiful…like you," he said simply, watching her face carefully for the reaction. It was not what he expected.
"But terribly flawed, Michael. I'm flawed…you're flawed…what chance does Michaela have?"
"Better than you did; better than I did," he retorted quietly, laying his hand on her arm and stroking it again. "Remember you mentioned the Evans? What they did for Max? So my daughter has a wonderful mother who can give love more than anyone I know; and she has a father who has been to hell and back and appreciates the other side. Could she ask for more? Two people who have made mistakes - many of them - but who know that she, Michaela wasn't a mistake…was so right? Tell me that, at least Maria." His brown eyes were liquid in their eloquence as they begged her for the reply he wanted to hear.
Her face softened; her mouth quirked slightly in amusement. "Don't ever think that I regret Michaela, Michael… would I have called her that if I did?" She smiled slowly up at him as the baby gurgled and reached out a hand to grab and fiddle with the gold necklace round her neck.
"No. Reckon you wouldn't. I suppose I'm lucky that she wasn't Alexandra, ain't I?" Michael grimaced in slow amusement at his own expense.
Maria uttered a spontaneous laugh which erupted from way down. "Too true, spaceboy! What you believe is true!'"
Michael's face sobered with the remembrance of that tape which he had played a thousand times through as many nights as it seemed to him. Not the songs afterwards. Not the song for Alex. Not the song they sang together. Not the dance in the darkness. But his song, 'No matter what' he had played till he knew every nuance of expression on her face, every pulse at her throat, every tautening of the cordons in her neck, every word.
"Thanks for that," he murmured quietly stroking her face with his hand, "It kept me together while you were away…when I couldn't invade your dreams."
"It wasn't dreamtime," she muttered, suddenly sober herself, "It was nightmare time and I'm glad you were spared that, Michael." She stretched out her arm but he had wiped away the needle marks. Her eye glanced naturally at the scar on his chest, stretched and distorted by the way he lounged next to her.
"Look, Michael," she bubbled suddenly, "Michaela and I have a game for you. Close your eyes and feel it."
He obliged because he would have done anything for her at that moment. If she had asked him to kill himself for her he would have done it there and then. But she hadn't. She had requested only his stillness.
He lay back against her pillow, still breathing in cedar oil and strawberries, and felt her hands and of his baby, gently touch his chest to wander up and down. It felt warm; it felt good. And he felt his skin relax.
"You can open your eyes now, " Maria declared as she pulled the baby back onto her lap and started crooning to it again, as if he were not there.
He obeyed, instinctively looking down at the ugly scar which he had hated as a permanent reminder of pain and mistakes. It was gone. His jaw dropped open in surprise. "How did you do that? What did you do? Was it Michaela? Even Max tried…" His hand wandered up and down his chest as if looking for it, the scar, the sign of his failures.
Maria laughed and his baby echoed it. It was a good sound and he revelled in it. *More laughter, please god,* he thought suddenly,* I gotta believe in this human god of hers because I'm praying like a lunatic for it all to come right. She laughed…and she healed me…* He opened his eyes to look at her and her eyes were still crinkled in amusement as she was dandling Michaela on her legs, bouncing her up and down.
"I think that you have alienated me, Michael…from the normal world, I mean." She gave a full-throated laugh.
He looked puzzled.
She smiled at him shyly. "I've got powers, too, now. It only took one night with you…look, Michaela and I are real stars in the universe!" She whispered in the baby's ear and pointed to the bedside light. Michaela gurgled, Maria pointed, and the light snapped on. Maria waved a hand and the light was extinguished.
Michael looked thoughtful but his brain was buzzing with chaotic thoughts, mostly of yearning. *Does that mean we're not so different, Maria? We're not incompatible? That I can forget what you said last night?*
"You've got the power of love," was all he said and it sounded stupid, even to him - banale, clichéd, the fumblings of an adolescent boy. But he meant it and she knew it.
She dumped Michaela between their legs and moved the top half of her body to lean against him. "Slowly," she breathed, "It's got to go slowly. So much to think about. The others…Alex, whom I truly love…and Isabel, your destiny."
"Come here," he breathed raggedly, as he reached to pull her closer, "That destiny crap…don't speak of it again, please, Maria…it's only you… let me prove it to you."
He dragged her on top of him and plunged his lips to hers, dragging out her breath, pushing his tongue into her mouth, savouring her. He wanted to take her there and then but knew it was too soon. Slowly, she had said, and he respected that. She felt his trembling and knew the importance of this moment for him. It was important for her, she thought wonderingly. *Here I am, dragged from a nightmare of loneliness, of death and fear to a place which I have wanted to be all my life. And its here, under my fingers, pressed to my body, invading my mouth with the same insistence as he invaded me that time. * She closed her eyes and lost herself to pure feeling and touch and gratification.
"Michael," she whispered when he withdrew his mouth after eternity. The way she said his name was more than music; it was salvation.
"Maria. Maria." Her name was a litany on his lips, a prayer for the living. He lowered his mouth to drink in more of her, to melt into her, to plunge himself into her as much as he dared. When her head fell back upon the pillows, he followed her, pressing her into the feathers, placing his mouth wherever she would allow him the pleasure.
She was gasping for breath. "I gotta get up…feed Michaela…phone my mom…Michael." It was a cry for release.
He lifted his head immediately and looked at her with the liquid brown eyes which could melt metal - literally and metaphorically. He dropped a final kiss on her nose.
"I'll feed Michaela. You phone your mom…" He stretched langorously and looked longingly for one last time at the small blonde girl stretched out beside him. *Tonight,* he thought, with yearning, *But only if she wants. I'll wait forever for another chance."
"Sleep some more if you want," he offered this idea quietly. She allowed him to lift Michaela and carry her away. When he looked in on her ten minutes later she was fast asleep; he knew it as truth this time because there was a smile on her lips. *You'll get there, Maria,* he thought to himself, "And not so slowly either. I was the slow one; forgive me."
He closed the bedroom door and carried his daughter off for a bath and some breakfast as if he had done it all her life. It was his first time.
|Index | Part 7
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