FanFic - Michael/Maria
Part 7
by Gyro
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters but Jason Katims Productions has put them inside my head.
Category: Michael/Maria
Rating: PG
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.
The crisis came when Liz and Max left a week later. Before that Michael found life falling into some sort of pattern. The notes plugged into the tray at the front door were for him now, not Alex: "Michael, can you fetch the baby from mom's? Gone shopping."; "Night school again; instant pizza coming home with me"; "Enjoy the male bonding; see you later."

There were hiccups, too, and he walked warily, avoiding the minefield of feelings and conflict. Alex sent a couple of faxes which waved on the machine like flags and Michael could not control himself: he read them. Or tried to but gave up in discomfort at the intensity of feeling: "Maria - you'll love the apartment. It faces the wood and there's a playpark just down the road. Can't wait for you to come. I've bought you the biggest sound system in the world and soon we'll be plugging in your very own CD. Come soon."

On another occasion he returned unexpectedly to find Maria cradling the telephone receiver, whispering intently, completely absorbed in the conversation so that she was not aware of his arrival. He knew - before the crimson blush and start of guilt.

The nights were the worst. She allowed him to share the bedspace but that was all. Every night, it seemed to him, he lay awake for hours, sensitized to the feel of her skin and her smell, with his mouth buried in her hair. But he could not reach her. She was warm, loving, with flashes of the old humour and cheerfulness but there was no passion and no openness with him anymore. He yearned for the old spontaneity, the non-stop babble in which she fired every thought and feeling at him before she had completely formulated them for herself. She was practising the old flaky Maria with the role-play cheerfulness and was getting better at it every day.

For himself, he wandered in a void, unable to think of a life separate from Maria, despising himself all the time when he thought back to those steely times when he had shut her out of his life with such ease. He was no longer able to close himself off: he was like a reactor in meltdown.

They returned from the airport, both silent and depressed, after saying goodbye to Max and Liz. Liz had returned to Florida and Max had gone with her for an unspecified period. Isabel's non-stop weeping on the ride home to the Evans hadn't helped either. Maria, driving the Jetta, had felt guilty, knowing that Isabel's misery was not only the departure of her brother but something else as well, for which she felt largely responsible.

Michael had been sullenly silent; he knew the world was changing and that he couldn't remain in limbo much longer. But what to do? He felt that the next move was Maria's; he couldn't bring himself to force the issue, demand resolution. He was bleeding inside for Isabel but mostly for himself. He didn't want to know what Maria planned to do next; he dreaded it.

She wasted no time when they returned to the apartment. She tossed the keys of her car down on the hall table, surreptiously checked the fax machine - he noted that - then casually asked if he wanted a drink. When he nodded she dived to the kitchen and returned with two cherry colas.

"Let's sit outside. It's so darned hot in here." She gestured to the patio and his heart sank as he figured there would be a replay of the scene a week previously.

He watched her silently as she poured his drink into a glass and handed it to him. She stood there at his side, gently riffling a hand through his hair, as she spoke.

"So what's next, Michael?"

"No clue," he responded gloomily. "I guess that you're going to tell me." He looked up at her with a peculiar tight expression on his face.

It was her turn to bend down on her haunches and lean against his knees. She looked up at him with wisdom and understanding in her eyes. "Uh uh, spaceboy. You know I can't do that. It's your life, remember?"

He could not keep the coldness out of his voice. "I've tried to tell you: my life is yours now."

She looked down to hide her expression, then carefully schooled her face before she raised her head to look at him. "And if I don't want that? What then?"

"Then I'm a dead man." He said it flatly.

"Emotional blackmail, Michael. Definitely no-go."

"What do you want me to say, then?"

She grabbed his hands, pulled them to her mouth and kissed them quickly. "I want you to think just about you. What do you want to do with your life? It's kinda just beginning now."

He wanted to pull away; he felt anger that she refused to help him. "I suppose you're going to tell me that you've planned your life and there's no place for me. Go on, then. Say it. Get it over with."

She sighed, moved away to pour her own drink, then pulled her packet of Marlboroughs from her pocket and carefully lit one with hands that were not quite steady. Through a mist of anger, even hatred for her at that moment, Michael noted the shaking hands.

"I want you to listen to me carefully, Michael. Not get mad. Not run out. Just hear me out…everything…then we can talk about it like adults. O.K.?" She spoke slowly, then pulled on the cigarette while she waited for his reply.

"You remember what I told you? That first night when I came back?" She glanced at him, waiting for his response.

He dreaded this. He knew that he looked like the angry adolescent to her: with a furrowed brow, tight mouth, staring down sullenly into his cola.

"Yep. I remember….everything."

"You know that Alex has got me a recording contract up north? The plan was that I would aim for home study, and the singing?"

He did not reply at all now; refused to look at her.

"I'm going to do that, Michael. I'm going to Vermont."

He made to rise from the chair; he could not speak but she moved quickly to block his flight path. "Please. Listen. Hear me out."

He turned his head away from her but subsided silently into the chair. She stood in front of him, legs slightly apart, tensed to block him again if needs be.

"I don't want to plan your life, Michael. I have no right. And it's too soon for any decision about us. Honestly. You'll thank me, given time. You were always a free spirit; I'm not going to trap you into some sort of long-term relationship which will be like a prison sentence in a year's time."

*It wouldn't be like that,* he wanted to protest to her but no words came; he just looked at her now with a hard expression of dislike.

"Just listen," she whispered nervously, frightened by the hatred she saw in his eyes. "Please, Michael, just listen to me…you can judge me later. O.K.?"

He shrugged and she took that for assent.

She bent down to him again and tried to take his hands. They were lifeless in her warm grasp. "Look at me. Look into my eyes so you know that what I am suggesting is what I really think is the best for you. I'm not casting you away; I'm asking for space and time…for both of us…so that when we make a decision it will be for life."

He did what she asked and his eyes bore into hers with such intensity that she faltered and was floundering for words. She pressed on, knowing that at last she had got his whole attention.

"I'm going to sell this apartment. I bought it with Grandpa de Luca's inheritance money - he died while…you were away…and he cut mom out…of his will, I mean…but that's not important. What I am trying to say is that I want to help you and this is the best way that I can think of. I want to help you get started…I know you can't have any money…and there is no-one else to help you…decide what you want to do and that money's for you, Michael. If you want to move to Vermont to be near us…you can do it. If you want to try for college…you can do it. If you want to bring Isabel with you, why, then do that too."

He looked at her blankly; inside his brain was spinning out of control. She had thought of all of it. Was this a way of casting him off gently? He did not know.

She read his mind; she could do so easily, always. "I'm not casting you off. Don't think of that. I just want to give you…freedom to choose…and…freedom to be what you want to be," she paused and frowned, groping for the right words, "and I want you to make that choice from a…kind of position of strength, I suppose." She was trying to sort it out properly in her own mind too.

"We're too young, Michael. Both of us. And Isabel. I haven't forgotten her, either. I do feel guilty. I shouldn't…it just worked out this way, ya know? I don't think that either Alex or I need to feel guilty but I know that I do. I think that…maybe…given time Alex will re-think his position but at the moment I do know that he is entirely focused on the plan forward and I cannot…and will not, take that away from him. I don't expect you to understand that…I just kinda feel that this is the best way out for all of us, ya know? We all need time to sort ourselves out…sounds corny to say that we need to 'find ourselves' but maybe not corny really, just the truth."

"I don't want your money if you don't want me."

"I haven't said that I don't want you. You know that's not true. Are you really listening to me?" She sounded exhausted and resigned to failure.

She sighed heavily. "I WANT to help you. You are part of me, you know that. You always will be. That is our destiny. You could be brilliant at whatever you want to do. I want to help you get there. Believe me. Then, when you know who you are, and what you are…then you can decide if there's a place for me. I've told Alex the same thing, essentially. No-one is making a commitment, except to the future in a general sense."

Her sincerity moved him but he was still trying to make sense of her complicated strategies. "You would do all this..for me?" He sounded distrustful, disbelieving. "And what if I take all your money then walk away at the end of it all?" He barked a cynical laugh, expecting some sort of outraged reaction from her but it did not come.

"Then I would be happy for you; happy to have helped you to get a decent future for the first time in your life. That would be reward enough for me."

"Do you love me, Maria? How can you say these things…so rationally? So practically? What about passion? There was a time we couldn't keep our hands off each other."

"And there were times when you could, Michael. Be honest. You could walk away and act like I didn't exist." She said slowly and with some sadness. "But we still have that urge thing, don't we?" she whispered, "I know we do. I know that I could touch you right now…just once…and we could get all that back. But life is about much more than passion, Michael. That's why I'm afraid…to tie you down now in your moment of passion…and gratitude…and all the rest…I'm afraid that it wouldn't last and then you'd hate me…and there would be that coldness we both know so well. I don't want that…ever again. Next time for me…is the real thing."

"Will you let me see Michaela?"

"Every day, if you want to. Alex wouldn't have a problem about that, either. But if you wanted to move somewhere near to Max and Liz then my offer stays the same. I'm just trying to give you the freedom to choose."

He just had to ask her. "Will you be living with Alex? Truly living with him? I gotta know that, Maria." He could not keep the yearning and pleading out of his voice.

She leaned towards him to breathe against his cheek, giving him tender little kisses on his eyelids, his brow, the corner of his mouth. "I might have done...if you hadn't come back: I'll be honest. But no, Michael. And if I feel the urge, I promise that I'll consult with you first."

"Don't mock me."

She continued to kiss him, felt him slowly relax back against the upholstered cushion of the chair, as she poured herself over him. "I wouldn't do that, Michael. Ever. Promise."

"Focus on you, Michael," she breathed the words against his cheek. "What do you want to do with your life? Think of Isabel, too; try to help her. I don't know…I can't suggest this without talking to Alex but maybe, in time, we could all get a place together. Do you think the Ice Queen could put up with me? No, maybe don't answer that; I always was and always will be a nobody to Isabel."

He opened his eyes to find hers only millimeters away. He stared at her in wonderment. "You would really do all this for me?"

She smiled at him, slowly at first and then the impish grin appeared. "You're my Czechoslovakian, aren't you? I have an investment in you…invested a lot of energy on you, spaceboy. Nothing," she paused for emphasis, "Nothing would be better for me than to see you happy…but in every way, Michael. To see you feel really good about yourself for the first time. 'Cos when you're there…really positive for the first time.and then you choose me, then I know it's for the right reasons. Not because I'm just another lame duck with a deprived background and we're clinging together out of self-pity."

"Where would that leave Alex?"

She frowned, sincerely, and considered the question seriously before answering him. Her reply was thoughtful. "It's too soon to say, ya know? He's like you, really. Finding himself. His feelings for me…well, they're kinda mixed up with a whole lot of gratitude…I made him feel good about himself…sort of gave him direction, too. I can't speak for him…just my intuition, if you like. I'd like to see him choose Isobel eventually, maybe, but I want him to make the choice…not for Isabel to just choose him, if you know what I mean. Go on, tell me I talk too much rubbish; I would expect it."

Michael's mouth relaxed into a wide smile, almost against his will. "If you hope that she chooses Alex, then where does that leave you?"

She laughed. "I get it. Now you're trying to make me say it. I won't. You should know. Have I ever let you down, Michael? Have I ever given you any reason at all not to trust me?"

"Never," he breathed. She was still inches away from him and he leaned forward to take her mouth. She gave it to him willingly. He pulled her up against the length of him and bound her to him, forcefully. She melted into him.

She was the one to pull away so that she could study his face, like a roadmap she was memorizing. "You do believe everything I've said, don't you? You see my point? I'll always, always be your very best friend, whatever happens."

He didn't like that idea much. His best friend. He wanted a whole lot more. But he did see her point and part of him, the old cynical part of him, knew that there was truth in what she said. Just as in the old days he looked to Max as his moral superior, he knew now that she knew him better than he knew himself; and, more importantly, he knew her better than he knew himself. He was repelled by the notion that, on sudden impulse, he would let her down, get tired of her maybe, that once his passion was satisfied the old irritations would re-surface and that, worse, he would let down his child, too.

He kissed her very tenderly at the base of her neck. "I know you're right, Maria. I thought that, after the fighting, I knew myself…or what I wanted, at any rate. You. But you're right. It's not enough to know you and want you. I gotta know myself. I can't take your offer, though."

"You must," she said urgently. "Michael, everything I've suggested hangs on that. We've both had enough of waiting tables, cleaning crumbs off other people's tables. I really don't want to think of you clawing your way up from nothing. I got a break; I figure you deserve one, too. Consider it a loan, if you want."

He knew that she would never want the money back; that she was offering that to salve his pride, to offer an inducement for his acceptance. He knew that she really wanted to help him, from the bottom of her heart, as a final gesture of her love.

"You could have the money tomorrow," she said, with a kind of simple pride. "Ernie has already bought this apartment. He's moving in soon and he's gonna keep my paintings." Her eyes filled with tears at that thought.

Michael felt a jolt of surprise. This had all moved beyond suggestion; it was a fait accompli. With that realization came a thrust of pain: she knew him well enough to know how it would all pan out.

"You'll be my best friend?" he asked hesitatingly, "You'll help me decide everything?"

"Believe it." Was all she said.

"You gotta talk to Isabel. She needs your help real bad now. You know that, don't you, Michael? And I'd be real obliged if you don't tell her all we've talked about tonight. I don't want anyone to know…even Alex. Life's complicated enough, don't you think?" She stared at him with a naïve wisdom.

His eyes filled unexpectedly with tears. "I don't deserve you," was all he could say.

"You will," she stated simply. Her simple confidence in him made him feel more superhuman than any alien powers had ever done. "But Michael, you have to understand that I will NOT hurt Alex. And I am not going to get torn between you both."

That was difficult for Michael; he would need time to accept that ultimatum. And time was not working in his favour at the moment. He dared all.

"Just give me tonight."

Was he already breaking that trust? Tearing her apart? He didn't want to but the need to know that she loved him and the need to show love to her was overwhelming. He felt her trembling on his lap but plunged on.

"Maria. For a year I've thought of nothing else. Goddamn it, I despise myself for asking but give me something to cling on to. My head can accept everything you've said but my heart still has a problem with it, ya know?"

*I should feel flattered, honoured…pleased…how long have I wanted him?* she thought to herself, trying in vain to stop the trembling. *And then there's Alex. What am I doing? Why do I want to say yes?*

"Just give me some hope."


He was pressing his face into her neck, not daring to look at her, to analyse her reaction, see the truth. He just hoped.

She felt his trembling too, as if she had infected him. He spoke hurriedly against the skin of her neck, sending warm little waves of heat, "Tomorrow I'll go see Isabel; I'll try to help her, as you said. I'll accept your offer…how could I not? I know I've got to prove myself…to me first, then to you. I'll do everything you say, Maria, - not say -suggest - but…" He could not go on; he was trembling and fevered, burning up with the intensity of what he was asking of her.

"Give me the courage to do that. To see you and not touch you; to see Michaela call him 'father'; to live in hope for so much longer when a year killed me already…" When he did lift his face she could see the wetness on his face and she could feel the cold wetness of his tears against her throat. How could she refuse him? She could not.

"Michaela will know you, Michael. You know what you share with her - a world in which I don't have much part. Please don't." She couldn't explain the last remark: she knew that what she was suggesting was very hard for him. Sometimes, when she had been angry and defenceless she had dreamed of a time like this, when she was in a position to inflict pain on him - as he had done to her - but that was in another lifetime now. Now she truly believed that she was offering him life.

She stood up and held his hand to pull him up without another word. Hand in hand they walked up the stairs then stopped, in unison, at the empty bedroom door where there was no pink orchid to light up their lives tonight. Michaela was with her grandmother.

They were both nervous as they stood facing each other in the moonlight before they slowly and carefully undressed each other. They looked at each other in wonderment. She was tiny, human, perfect, soft under his touch; he was sculptured hardness, her big alien who had changed her life.

When they came together it was not like the other time, not scuffled desperation on a floor. It was slow and tender and it made him whole. It was a union somewhere up there, in a universe far away which involved total fusion, understanding, love. It was giving, not taking. It was protection, not possession.

It was perfection in a world in which there were no flaws. It was progeny, an outcome which neither could have possibly imagined.

"I love you, Maria."

"I know. I'll always love you, Michael."

"I've always known it."

She did not speak again but drew him to her. "It'll be O.K.," she whispered, and stroked his back very gently, up and down, up and down. He closed his eyes and listened to the susurration of her words. He knew that she was right; he had found home.

Part 6 | Index
Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours
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