Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, they belong to Jason
Katims and the WB (except for Joe Camacho). I just took them out for a
little stroll during the summer hiatus.
Summary: Takes place four years after "Destiny". Maria is seeing someone and is leading a tranquil life until an unexpected arrival unbalances everything.
Authors Note: Loved it? Hated it? Let me know.
|The afternoon crowd had been slight and boredom was threatening to
settle on Maria DeLuca when the doorbell signaled a new client.
Automatically she whipped out her order pad and headed to the newly
-"What can I get you?" she asked politely but without looking up.
She waited a few beats but when no answer was forthcoming she raised her head to look into the warmest brown eyes she had ever seen.
-"I'm sorry miss but is it at all possible that I saw you singing two nights ago at Karaoke night?"
Maria blushed slightly while nodding.
-"I don't mean to embarrass you but I'd been having a pretty crappy day and when I heard you singing, I forgot about it."
-"Thanks," she said with a smile. "My name is Maria, Maria DeLuca," she extended her hand which the young man shook.
She liked his grip; it was firm and friendly.
-"My name is Joe Camacho."
-"Nice to meet you Joe. So what can I get you?"
-"I'm pretty hungry. I'll have the Monster Special and a Coke."
Joe watched admiringly her retreating figure. He wondered how such a young person could sing a sad song with such depth. Later when she returned with his order he merely thanked her and attacked his plate to Maria's amusement. Once he was done he left a generous tip on the table and went to pay at the cash. As Maria handed him his change, he flung on his cowboy hat and said:
-"Things will get better Maria. Believe me. And when they do, not only will you make people forget their bad days but you'll make them look forward to better ones."
Tipping his hat Joe smiled and left, leaving Maria open-mouthed.
That had been four years ago. Over time Joe Camacho had become a fixture at the Crashdown whenever he wasn't working. His easygoing nature and sly sense of humor had endeared him to Maria and she greatly valued his friendship. So much so that it didn't really come as a surprise when she realized one morning that she loved him. When she had told him he had smiled admitting that he was already there. She hadn't needed to tell him about Michael because he already knew the whole story. Joe had seen her through everything: the pain, the denial, the doubts, the despair and inevitably, the rebirth. He gave her comfort, hope and never asked for anything in return. He once told her that her happiness was what mattered most to him, and looking into his soulful eyes she believed him: this man would not hurt her.
Another shift, another paycheck that brought her closer to her dream. Maria smiled happily as she wiped the counter clean. It was spring and Maria was feeling good about everything in her life. The lunch crowd had left a while ago and the Crashdown was deserted for now. The bell chimed and Maria laughed as she turned around:
-"Sneaking away from work Joe? You know that-" and stopped dead because in the threshold stood Michael Guerin and Isabel and Max Evans.
There was an uncomfortable silence that threatened to stretch into eternity. Regaining her composure Maria nodded toward the trio:
-"Welcome ho- I mean, welcome back."
Max and Isabel smiled shyly but Michael said nothing. They moved to sit in what had once been their booth. Cautiously Maria approached them.
-"This is awkward. How about I get you something to eat? That way we can ease into this."
The trio nodded. Walking away rapidly Maria gave the order to the cook and disappeared into the backroom. She was happy to see that although her world had completely turned on its axis she was handling this well. No hysterics, no fainting, no babbling. She definitely had matured. Still, to be on the safe side she reached into her pocket and retrieved a bottle of cyprus oil and inhaled deeply. "Okay," she said to herself, "Let's do this!" On her way out she grabbed the plates and whisked a bottle of tabasco sauce as well. Once they had been served Maria took a step back and looked at them. She saw three young adults but they still looked pretty much like she remembered them.
-"So Maria, how's everything?"
Isabel had surprised her by speaking first.
-"Good. Really good." She knew what they wanted to know but she wasn't going to make it easy.
-"Alex and Liz?" That question came from Max.
-"Well, they're both out of state studying but you're in luck, they're supposed to come home any time today."
-"And you?" The two-word question was Michael's.
-"Well, I work here and I sing at The Night Star a few nights a week. I'm saving my money to move to California. so, that's what I'm doing."
Another moment of silence followed until Michael spoke again.
Seeing the confusion on her face Isabel clarified:
-"The war. It's over."
-"Good, that's good. I'm glad you all made it through."
Maria was at a loss for words. What could they talk about?
-"Do, do you know if Alex is involved with anyone?"
Ah, now things were becoming clearer to Maria.
-"The last time I saw Alex was several months ago at Christmas."
Her unwillingness to commit to an answer seemed to sadden Isabel so she added kindly:
-"But he was unattached then."
Isabel smiled at her.
-"And Liz? Is she-"
At that moment the bell rang and Alex Whitman came striding in happily until he saw Maria and the seated party.
-"Maria?" his tone was hard and protective.
She looked at him and a silent communication ensued. Having ascertained that she was all right Alex turned his attention to the trio but Maria shook her head:
-"Liz," was all she said.
Alex nodded and took off immediately to head off Liz before she saw the trio unprepared. It was obvious that in the past four years Maria, Liz and Alex had developed an even deeper connection. It wasn't hard to guess that the trio's departure had been part of that bonding. Max suddenly stood up.
-"This is a bad idea, let's go. Now."
-"Sit down Maximilian. We're not going anywhere. "
Maria had never heard Michael speak with so much authority and she wondered at the change.
-"Max is right," pleaded Isabel "there's nothing for us here."
-"There's nothing for us over there either. I fought for them and I killed for them. My debt has peen paid in full. "
Michael's tone was final. The two men glared at one another until the bell rang again giving everyone a reprieve. Alex and Liz walked slowly toward the booth. To Max it seemed as if time had stopped, started again and then just stretched. There was nothing except her. Liz held on to Alex's shoulder while trying to breathe. Everyone kept looking to and fro wondering who was going to break first. Max stood up but could not move for the life of him. Four years was a long time. He did not expect Liz to have been waiting for him and yet he desperately needed to hear that she still loved him. Liz looked at her two friends who offered weak smiles. Turning toward Max she searched his face wondering if after all he had been through, the boy she loved still existed somewhere in this man. He seemed to sense her insecurity:
-"Liz, it's me."
That broke the dam and Liz went flying into his arms crying and laughing. Michael shot a triumphant look at Isabel who merely shrugged nervously. She seemed to be making up her mind about something.
-"Alex, do you think we could talk?"
-"Yeah, yeah that would be a good idea," he replied but he seemed angry which only added to Isabel's discomfort.
Once more Isabel thought what a bad idea it had been to come back. What had they expected?
Maria stared at the whole scene unraveling before her and couldn't believe any of it. She also could not put aside the intense feelings that were simmering in her whenever she stole a glance at Michael and caught him staring straight back. It was because she was so distracted that she did not hear the bell and jumped when she felt herself being pulled and soundly kissed.
-"Joe! You scared the living daylights out of me!"
-"Perdon mi reina. It's just that I saw Alex and Liz heading this way and I wanted to say hello and well, it was one more excuse to see you" he added sheepishly.
It was only then that he noticed the tension around him. Alex and Liz seemed downright worried while the people standing next to them regarded him with curiosity. The third stranger looked at him with open hostility. His entire body language told him that he was about to get territorial. Joe looked at Michael then back at Maria.
-"What gives?" he asked her softly.
Maria's face was flushed. She didn't know what she was feeling but she clung to Joe like he was the only one who could make sense of it all.
-"Joe, this is Max, Isabel and Michael."
Upon hearing the last name his stomach twisted in knots and although he heard the warning bells loud and clear he tamped them down. He looked at Maria and ran a hand in his short black hair.
-"Pins and needles," he sighed.
-"Nothing tesoro. It's nothing," he replied sadly.
Extending his hand he greeted all three. Fortunately for all, clients began trickling in and Maria had to attend to them. Max and Liz simply took a booth while gently holding hands. They could not trust words yet so they spoke through touch and the expression in their eyes. Alex led Isabel in the backroom to talk and Michael had taken a seat at the counter to give Max and Liz some privacy. It also afforded him a good view of this man who so obviously was Maria's boyfriend. The thought angered him beyond reason. He knew why but chose not to put a name to it. He had other things to worry about. Joe gave Maria a peck on the cheek before going back to work.
-"Can I see you later tonight?"
-"You know you can!" she said a little too brightly.
Joe nodded forcing a smile and left.
In the backroom Isabel sat on the edge of the couch while Alex leaned his back against a wall.
-"You wanted to talk. So talk."
-"God Alex, I don't even know how to begin-"
-"Let me help you out," he interrupted. "You told me you had feelings for me, decided that you wanted a relationship with me but it turned out you were destined to be with Michael and you didn't know how to handle that. Then it was time to leave, so you did. And I understood all that. I did. But you know what? It took me four years to get over you. I finally met someone. I really like her and I'm thinking that as soon as I get back to university I'm going to do something about it. But here's the kicker: I come strolling home and here you are. And I'm damned, but when I look at you it's as if you had never left. These feelings just won't go away. What have you done to me?"
Tears sprang to Isabel's eyes as Alex's words found and tugged at her heart.
-"Oh Alex!" she cried as she watched him walk toward her with purpose.
In one swift movement he lifted her by the elbows and crushed her to him before claiming her mouth with his but not without growling first:
-"You don't get to leave now."
-"Wouldn't dream of it," she said breathlessly between kisses.
Having taken a peek in the backroom Maria smiled to herself. She was happy for Alex and Isabel and as she watched Liz and Max exchanging smoldering glances in the booth she wondered if she should offer her apartment so that they could have some privacy. She laughed thinking that Alex's or Liz's parents would probably not be so accommodating. Not for the first time she pondered how the strangest things always happened when all seemed to be going well. Maybe that was the problem. It was true that Alex, Liz and Maria had moved on in their minds, but apparently the heart did not necessarily follow suit. She nearly choked on that last thought because although Liz and Alex were free to pursue this unexpected turn of events, she was not. She was with Joe. She wanted to be with Joe. right? Irritation and anger began to simmer in Maria's soul as she recognized but refused to acknowledge the doubts she was feeling concerning Joe. She knew she loved him, of that she was certain. So what was this overpowering emotion that consumed her ever since she had first laid eyes on Michael Guerin not quite an hour ago? Work, that's what she had to do. She would deal with everything later.
Later found Maria handing Alex her apartment keys. Lowering her voice so only he could hear she whispered:
-"I'll call before heading home okay?"
Alex smiled nervously:
-"You don't have to be so cautious, it's not as if we're going to, you know.-"
-"Oh NO, no of course not. but still, you know, just in case." she said with a mischievous smile.
-"Will you stop!" cried Alex but he was laughing goodnaturedly.
She waved the couple off. Looking at her watch she was surprised to find that her shift was nearly over. Amazing how the return of past alien loves just made time fly by. Maria chuckled looking at Max and Liz who were still it seemed in a trance. Surveying the rest of the diner she was satisfied to see that not only had everyone been served but that Heather, the waitress who was taking the next shift, had just arrived. Maria absolutely refused to look over at the counter. The few times that she had made eye contact with Michael it had felt like a fiery current passing between them that made breathing difficult. Lowering her eyes merely diminished the intensity but not the feeling. Guilt overpowered her and she was grateful when she saw Heather appear in her Crashdown uniform. Before leaving Maria went over to where Liz and Max were. She couldn't help but smile when she saw the way Liz's face was glowing.
-"I don't mean to interrupt kids, but my shift is over and I'm headed to The Night Star. So, if you need anything, although I doubt it, you know where you can find me. Oh by the way, Is And Alex are over at my place."
-"Really? I mean, really. Well Max and I are just going to hang around here for a while but we're going to see you sing. I'll call Alex and Isabel, it would be fun if they were there too."
-"That would be nice. I'd like that. Just like old times. Well, not quite" she added quickly.
Max glanced over at Michael.
-"Maria, are you going to be alright?" he asked concerned.
-"I have to be," she sighed. "But thanks for asking. So I'll see you both later."
Michael's eyes followed Maria as she retreated to the backroom to change. He gave her a few minutes then waited till Heather's back was turned and went to find Maria. If he saw Max's warning glance he ignored it. This was between Maria and him and no one else.
The backroom was dark, illuminated only by the setting sun through the windows. The semi darkness helped Maria to wind down. She had just put on her black jeans and was struggling with her tight black shirt when she sensed that she was not alone. Frightened she whirled round to find Michael Guerin staring openly at her partially clad torso. She quickly finished dressing as she stammered:
-"What the hell are you doing here?"
There were a million reasons and there were so many things that he wanted to tell her, things that he had realized during the hell that had been the war. However, seeing her in the flesh, her golden shoulder length hair framing her lovely face, her beautiful red lips that he had once kissed and were beckoning him to do so now, her warm and caring eyes and her body that reminded him that she was now a woman, all conspired to strip his mind of all rational thought. In three easy strides he was in her personal space and kissing her for all he was worth. Her first instinct was to push him away but from the moment their lips made contact her entire being was engulfed in fire. His kisses were rough and demanding. The more they kissed the more her world narrowed to him and only him. Her hands were in his hair grabbing fistfuls of it. The intensity increased tenfold when she felt his tongue slide against hers. Groaning, moaning, whimpering, sighing, they stumbled backward until Maria's back hit the wall. Pinning her there, Michael laved her neck with open-mouthed kisses. Maria sought and found Michael's ear with the flat of her tongue. Gasping, he pulled slightly away to see her eyes. They were dark, the pupils dilated, and so very, very warm. Maria blinked and suddenly came back to her senses. Shaking her head vigorously she shoved him away:
-"No, no, no and no! I know this. This is how you always draw me back in. But it can't be this time. "
Michael chased her mouth with his but Maria moved away from him. He turned toward her looking lost. She understood how he felt and gave him a few moments to recover, all the while looking perfectly indignantly at him. She took advantage of this time to take a good look at him, something she hadn't dared to do ever since he had walked in the Crashdown. Damn him if he wasn't looking fine. She appreciated his strong, lean body and she had never seen him dressed so well in khaki pants, black leather belt and shoes and a red shirt. The sleeves were rolled up well above the elbow so that whenever he moved she saw the play of his muscled arms. He still wore his hair in spikes although now it was cut in an even fashion. Maria remembered someone telling her that traveling broadens a person's horizons. There's no telling what outer space traveling could do she mused. But this was a very serious situation and she had to set Michael straight.
-"I'm serious Michael. This can't happen again. I'm with someone I care very much."
Michael started advancing slowly toward her.
-"Care?" he smirked.
-"Love! I meant love." She amended quickly.
-"I think you were right the first time."
-"You're reading too much into this. Besides, what gives you the right to intrude in my life? I think you're conveniently forgetting that you forfeited that right four years ago."
That last comment seemed to hit Michael. Lowering his head he licked his suddenly dry lips.
-"I thought you understood about that."
It took all of Maria's self control not to slap him. Michael was speechless. Why was she so angry? He would have understood if she were cautious even weary of him and yes, some anger was warranted but not this level. He knew that their separation had not been very romantic but he had told her he loved her. Surely she had to know that the feeling would not disappear, that they were meant to be, no matter what the last events of their time together had seemed to dictate.
-"It's working out for Max and Liz and Isabel and Alex. Why not us?"
-"Let me tell you something spaceman. You killed me that day. Are you getting this? The reason why our friends are working out is because A) Max *fought* for Liz till the very end and it was Liz who let him go though it tore her apart. B) Alex did the same for Isabel even though they were at the beginning of a blossoming relationship before all hell broke loose. They did what they had to do but they knew what they meant to each other. You however, belittled our relationship, went out of your way to make me feel inconsequential in every way and to top it all off, you decided *alone* to terminate our relationship. You know what the sad thing is? If I had felt even an inkling that I was the one for you, that you'd rather be with me, I would have done like Liz and Alex and let you go. That would have been my gift of love to you. As it was, you even took that away from me."
The last words were whispered and Maria couldn't help the tears that squeezed out of her eyes. Michael felt his whole world slow down and shatter. He realized that it was shock and the adrenaline coursing through him. If she had slapped him it would have been the same. He couldn't stand to see Maria cry and knowing that he was the cause was like getting kicked in the gut. His heart pounded in an unpleasant way as he realized that Maria might really not want him back. Desperate, he approached her cautiously, afraid that she would bolt any second:
-"Baby please, you've got to believe me when I tell you that I will never forgive myself for putting you through that. Don't you know that had I known what it would do to you, I would have acted differently? I'm not Max, never will be, and I know this does not excuse me but I was just a boy and I didn't know anything about love, much less how to say goodbye to you when I needed you like my next breath of air."
Maria put her hands up signalling to him not to approach any further.
-"I have a man in my life who loves me and his love is unconditional. We are done here."
Turning on her heels she left him behind and headed out of the backroom. Michael closed his eyes and raked his hands roughly through his hair. He had to think, think, and think. But whichever way he turned the situation around, he couldn't get past how much he had hurt her and it was akin to torture. Maria. The word was like a mantra. It had kept him sane through the years and had given him hope and courage. Suddenly he knew what he had to do. With renewed determination he went to find her.
When Liz saw Maria whizz by her she knew that it hadn't gone well. To corroborate her feeling Michael appeared and was evidently not satisfied with the way things had turned out either because he was in hot pursuit of Maria. Max held him by the arm blocking his path. Without turning to look at him Michael said:
-"I'm warning you Max: let go. I don't have time to listen to any of your lectures or to bring you up to speed."
-"Michael I'm worried about you. I'm worried about Maria."
-"Oh, what? Everybody gets to be happy except me and Maria?"
-"That's not what I mean Michael," Max looked at Liz to back him up. "From what I hear Maria is involved with someone and it's working out well."
-"If that's the case then I'm no threat at all, right?"
Liz and Max could only stare helplessly. Michael's irritation was obviously mounting so Max let go of him.
-"I just don't want either of you to get hurt."
-"I appreciate your concern Maxwell but time is a wasting."
-"Good luck Michael," was all Max could find to say to his friend. Michael merely nodded then looked at Liz:
-"Where can I find her?"
Liz pursed her lips looked at Michael for a while before answering:
-"She's gone to The Night Star. Michael please be careful with her. She was so devastated when you left. And Joe, Joe is a good man," she pleaded.
-"I know he is Liz. Maria would not be with him otherwise; but she and I have unfinished business so even if I don't get the result that I want, at least she'll know the truth."
Liz was about to ask him about that but she caught Max's slight shake of the head.
-"Are we done here?" Michael asked impatiently.
-"Yes, yes we're done. Go!" said Max shoving him playfully.
Once Michael had left the Crashdown, Max sat beside Liz.
-"He was like a wild horse you were holding back by the bridle," she commented.
-"That's a fair assessment," chuckled Max. "You know, at first he was all gung-ho about his role in the mission. The reality was - different, to say the least. The deeper we immersed ourselves in the conflict the more we felt how different we were from these people. Everyone kept talking to us about how they remembered us, but it wasn't *us* Liz. I guess they figured that cloning the essence of these individuals and their significant others would be enough to ensure a feeling of belonging but they underestimated the value of experience. At first we wouldn't talk about it, but then Isabel kind of led the way when she admitted to me that she missed our home and our mother in Roswell. I was so relieved to hear her say that because I thought I was the only one who didn't feel at home. No matter how much they wanted it, or how hard I tried to be that other person, I just couldn't forget who I am. I'm Max Evans. Not that other man in love and married to Tess."
-"She isn't with you," Liz stated.
-"No," he confirmed. "She couldn't accept our point of view and stayed there after the war was won. Earth means nothing to her and when she realized that nothing was going to happen between us, she turned to Michael but got nowhere with him. At this point Michael was fairly disenchanted personally. He had figured that going to our home planet would fill in the gaps about who he is, maybe even heal some wounds but what he realized was that he was loved for who they wanted him to be. Michael had it hard since he was saddled with the dirty job.the actual killing. Isabel and I tried to be there for him but he withdrew inside himself. I think this is when he remembered his friends and that there existed a person who loved him unconditionally. After that he became a driven man: get the job done and get back to all of you as soon as possible. And I must say Liz, I'm so grateful that Michael is such a stubborn son of a bitch because he wouldn't drop the subject until Isabel and I agreed to go with him."
-"You, you didn't want to return?"
-"Yes! Yes! God, yes! It's just that we weren't sure that you'd want us back. I figured you had moved on with your life and I didn't want to complicate things for you. Isabel felt the same way about Alex but Michael would have none of it. He said that even if he couldn't rekindle his relationship with Maria he knew he could count on her and on you and Alex to be his friends. That really sealed it for me."
-"Remind me to hug Michael the next time I see him".
Max stared at her for the longest time then realizing what he was doing, said:
-"Speaking of hugging, Liz."
-"Yes?" she played along, laughter in her voice.
-"I, oh what the hell."
He'd had enough of words so he simply leaned toward her and kissed her with all the passion he had stored for four years. Liz was shaking like a leaf in his arms. Dazed, she managed to convey to him that her parents were out for the evening so they could go to her room.
-"How about the rooftop?" he asked while kissing her neck.
Max smiled as he pulled away.
-"Yes to what?" he asked mischievously.
She grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the booth.
-"Follow me and find out!"
Grinning they exchanged another deep kiss and left.
Fortunately Michael remembered exactly where the club was. Entering he scanned the crowd and the surroundings. He saw en entrance near the bar that seemed to lead backstage. Casually he made his way through the throng of people. Reaching the entrance he glanced around but no one was looking his way. Michael found it hard to shake the feeling of always being followed; he forced himself to relax. Walking along the hall he came upon a door with a faded star on it. He rested his head against it and rapped lightly on the hard wood. He heard Maria's voice:
-"Come in Joe!"
-"Not Joe," replied Michael shutting the door behind him.
Whipping round Maria frowned at him.
-"I thought I told you where I stood. Which part of "I'm with Joe and I'm happy" didn't you get?"
Maria was getting angry. Michael lifted his hands to placate her.
-"I heard you but all I want is for you to hear me out."
-"So talk. I have a few minutes."
Michael was beginning to lose his temper.
-"Do you think you could give me a break here?!"
-"Why should I?"
Michael gritted his teeth.
-"You know for someone who claims that there's nothing left between us you sure are acting catty and bothered by my presence."
Stung her arm flew out but Michael easily caught her wrist. They glared at one another. The tension mounted. Passion flared. It took a split second of suspended time and they were groping each other. They kissed desperately, urgently, as if trying to make up for lost time.
-"I've crossed the universe to be with you" he whispered between kisses.
-"There's a line," groaned Maria.
-"Is it working?" he asked deepening his kiss.
-"Hell yes" she answered against his mouth.
She felt the rumble of his laughter against her skin. For a fleeting second she thought about Joe, about the show, about being angry with Michael but all was quickly forgotten when he assaulted the spot beneath her ear with wet kisses. Her body responded to his with fervour. Soon she would be beyond caring that the door wasn't locked which was why she was surprised when Michael pulled away from her. Breathing hard, his blood hammering in his ears, he gave her a lingering kiss full of love, tenderness and longing. Finally he found his voice:
-"Can't you feel it in your bones, in your blood Maria? Everything that I am has been screaming at me that you are the one."
That got her attention.
-"Let's take a break shall we? I can't think when you're this close to me."
-"Glad to hear it," he said taking a few steps back. " Is this far enough?"
-"Yeah. Just make sure you stay on that side of the room."
-"God, you are so beautiful Maria" he said with adoration advancing toward her.
-"Hold it right there mister."
-"Sorry," he said grinning "I just want to be with you."
Rubbing her eyes Maria realized that she wanted this too. Everything in her life had been balanced, going smoothly until hurricane Michael had struck town and now she couldn't deny the truth of her feelings anymore. She hadn't gotten over him; she had merely buried her love for him. In her mind she pictured Joe and sadly acknowledged that although she loved him, she wasn't in love with him. It surprised her that she hadn't realized this before. She probably would never have noticed it if it hadn't been for Michael's reappearance. Her love for him was so fierce and primal that anything else paled by comparison. Life was unfair. In order for her to be happy she had to hurt a man she cared for deeply.
-"You're going to have to give me some time with Joe-" she began.
-"You have a nasty habit of interrupting me. I need to be alone with Joe to explain things to him. I owe him that and so much more."
-"I know you're right, but it kills me to hear it. I should never have left you like that. That way you wouldn't owe anyone anything."
-"You did what you had to do to help your people," she argued then added with feeling, "But you came back to me."
-"You're my people Maria," he said his voice raw with emotion.
She stared at him trying to calm her heart. There was a chair next to where she stood and Michael sat in it and buried his head in her stomach.
-"There's a lot that we have to talk about," she finally said.
-"I know, I know and believe me, I do want to talk."
-"This is new," she remarked.
-"For you. I've been talking to you in my head for years. You've no idea the conversations we've had in the past few years."
-"The war," she said wonderingly playing with his hair. "Is that something you can, or even want to talk about?"
-"It is, but right now I just need to touch you even it's only to hold you. I missed you so much Maria."
He stood then and held her tightly from behind wrapping her in his strong arms.
-"Michael we can't just pick up right where we left off. This is going to take some time-"
-"I can wait" he interrupted kissing her temple.
-"I don't even know if this will work. You've changed, I've changed. There are so many things that make a relationship work. I don't-"
-"Teach me Maria," he interrupted again. "Teach me."
-"Oh Michael," she sighed.
-"Yeah baby, what?" he whispered.
-"I'm on in thirty seconds!"
Laughing he released her and pushed her toward the door.
-"Go, go, go!"
-"Are you staying?"
-"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied placing a soft kiss on her forehead.
She got on stage just in time. Giving the drummer a nod, the band started to play. In the darkened room she searched for Michael and found him standing next to Isabel, Alex, Max and Liz. Maria smiled briefly in their direction before she started to sing.
During her set Joe arrived. Smiling he tried to catch her eye but she seemed to always glance in the same direction. He followed her gaze and fell on Maria's friends -and Michael. The butterflies returned to his stomach. He tried to shake off the feeling in vain. His heart told him that he had to act now if he hoped to keep Maria but his mind told him different. From everything that Maria had told him, he remembered her admitting once, before they started dating, that should Michael return she would eventually forgive him. Joe had thought that with time and with his love the memory of Michael would fade. From the looks that Maria and Michael were exchanging, it wasn't likely. With panic he understood that today, or perhaps tomorrow, Maria would be letting him go. And with grief he realized that he would understand. He didn't want to be "understanding" but how could he deny his sweet Maria when he knew she would never intentionally hurt him? Not being with Maria was inconceivable, and yet, when she finished her set and made her way toward her friends, her earnest face unable to hide her happiness, it was more than probable. She was glowing. There was no other word for it. And the man basking in the radiance of her sunshine was not he but Michael Guerin. Joe recalled having seen a couple of pictures of Michael looking sullen, annoyed at having his picture taken. So it was strange to look at the same person who now seemed unable to refrain from smiling. With some irritation he allowed that Michael Guerin was somewhat good looking. When he realized that he had begun to compare himself to his rival he berated himself for being such an idiot. With Maria it was never about a contest. Her love she gave freely, not to the highest bidder but simply to the one she loved. Not wanting to cause any awkwardness he left giving Maria the time and the space that she needed. From a payphone he left a message for her explaining that he had to work overtime at the garage. Hanging up the phone he rested his forehead against the receiver.
Meanwhile back in the club the six friends seated near the bar chatted animatedly about their high school days and catching up on recent events in Roswell. Uncharacteristically Maria spoke little preferring instead to lean her head against Michael's shoulder. She had picked up her messages earlier and had felt very guilty listening to Joe's recorded voice. She had decided that the next day, as soon as possible, she would talk to him. Michael rested one hand possessively on Maria's knee and she wrapped her hands lovingly around his arm. No one made a comment lest it break the mood. The memory of Michael and Maria's incandescent yet fragile relationship was fresh in everyone's mind, especially Liz and Alex's. Sensing their worry for her, Maria looked at them, reassuring them with a slight nod and a wide grin. Her friends visibly relaxed and consequently so did Max and Isabel. Plans were set and with them a warm feeling of deja vu set in.
The evening wore on and although they were enjoying each other's company immensely, the charged atmosphere of excitement and pent-up feelings took its toll and the couples dispersed for the night. No questions were asked though it was understood that they were to meet the following morning at the Crashdown. Max and Liz headed to his motel room while Alex and Isabel opted to go out and gaze at the stars. Michael and Maria were in such a happy daze that they wandered aimlessly in the streets of Roswell before returning to Maria's car. She was about to start the vehicle when Michael gently covered her hand with his.
-"Take me to the trailer park," he asked quietly.
Her eyes full of questions Maria nodded nonetheless. She leaned across and they shared a comforting kiss.
The place hadn't changed a bit. It was just as dirty, chaotic and depressing as Michael remembered it.
-"I'm surprised it's not any worse."
-"It was already at its worst. I don't think it could go any lower."
-"You're right about that" conceded Michael.
Looking around he found the area where Hank's trailer - his home - used to be. Another trailer occupied the space now. The grounds were still littered, dogs barked, a couple was arguing somewhere and someone tripped over empty beer bottles. Michael shook his head.
-"Home sweet home" he muttered.
Maria bit her lower lip, wanted to say something but decided to let him work this through. He seemed to take stock of it all then. Nodding once, then twice, he turned to Maria:
-"Did you know that Nasedo killed Hank?"
She shook her head.
-"It's time to put this place behind me. C'mon, let's get out of here."
On the ride back they were silent. Arriving at her building Maria parked the car but neither tried to leave.
-"Do you remember that night when it was pouring buckets and I was standing outside your window?" Michael suddenly asked. Maria nodded.
-"That was," he continued "the single most defining moment of my life. I was hurting something rare and I didn't know where to go or who to turn to. My instinct took me to your house; to the only person I could trust with my pain. You did something extraordinary then. You didn't judge, you didn't ask. You just let me in and comforted me. I never thanked you for that because I was so busy being an asshole but Maria, you have to know that that night, you made me feel loved and worthy to be loved."
-"Michael you don't have to-"
He placed a thumb on her lips to silence her and caressed them slowly. He leaned toward her speaking in her ear, his voice a mere whisper that made all the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
-"Baby, you've broken my fall time and time again. Let me watch your back from now on. Let me be the one."
-"You always were Michael," she replied in a soft voice.
"One last kiss and then I'm going in." Maria had been saying that for the past half-hour but try as they might, neither she nor Michael was capable of letting go of the other. When one of them seemed to get the resolution to leave, the other would just hold on tighter. Their necking was ardent and frenzied. At one point Maria could only think about pulling Michael into her apartment, wrap her legs around his waist and just let their lust take over. He must have been reading her mind because he suddenly broke away from her.
-"Maria we have to stop," he said breathing with difficulty.
Her passion-clouded eyes told him that she wasn't hearing him. That impression was firmly established when she pressed herself against his groin. Michael gritted his teeth with the pleasure of it.
-"Maria," he pleaded. "Although I absolutely love what you're doing to me, I want this to be right, not rushed because we're so overwhelmed by seeing each other again."
-"I want you Michael," she whispered huskily in his ear.
-"Okay. Saying things like that is not helping!"
He was like a drug and she couldn't get enough of him. He was driving her crazy and the things he was murmuring to her merely stoked the flames of her desire higher. She nuzzled his neck, nipped and licked his jaw, enjoying the roughness of his stubble while one hand roamed across his back and the other raked the silky brown strands of hair at the back of his head.
-"I want you so badly Maria, I don't even think you know how much," he growled.
-"Oh, I have a pretty good idea," Maria chuckled.
Michael had to grin. He hadn't felt this good since, well since never. Although he remembered clearly the feelings he had had for Maria before he left, they were nothing compared to the love he felt for her now. He needed for her to know. It was important that she understand that she came first for him now and that meant -although he feared it might kill him- that making love to Maria was not an option tonight.
-"I'm officially leaving now," he said hoarsely.
-"Yeah? How come you're not moving?"
-"Because of the way you look at me, because your lips are driving me mad, because your voice sets me on fire, because you're hands feel incredible on my skin, because you're beautiful, because I want you, because I'm in love with you. Take your pick."
Maria stared at him.
-"Who are you and what have you done with Michael?"
-"He's right here," he replied launching into another searing kiss.
Maria's knees buckled and she rested in the strength of his arms. They were now both trembling with the need to satiate their hunger.
-"Inside!" they both panted.
Frantically Maria searched for her keys while Michael was no help at all kissing her non stop, his hands roving up and down her body. Finally she managed to open the door and they literally tumbled inside the apartment. Not bothering to get up, Michael tried to shut the door with his foot while Maria tugged at his neck to get his mouth back to hers.
-"Oh what the hell," he groaned giving up on closing the door and leaving it slightly ajar.
He concentrated instead his entire being on the woman writhing underneath him who looked at him so adoringly it took his breath away. They were so engrossed in one another that neither noticed when the door was gently pushed a crack. The scene that was presented to Joe Camacho hit him like a freight train. The pain was intense and his very first reaction was to trounce Michael. Then he heard their murmured confessions to each other of longing, of affection and of love. That's when he knew that Maria was lost to him. This wasn't a fling. He knew Maria's heart and recognized that she was giving herself out of love to her mate. Her first love, her true love. Overwhelmed with grief and anger he quietly slipped away closing the door behind him. He had to get out of there and fast. The sound of the door closing startled the young lovers. With an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach Maria scrambled to her feet yanking the door wide open. Quickly she looked out into the hall and saw Joe's back disappearing around the corner.
-"Oh my God! Joe!" cried Maria.
He heard her cry but couldn't deal with her right now so he just kept walking faster out of her building, and out of her life. Back in Maria's apartment Michael was trying to soothe her.
-"I'm sorry Maria. I'm so sorry," he told her stroking her back comfortingly.
-"You don't have to be sorry for anything Michael. You're right where I want you to be. I just didn't want Joe to see that."
-"I know baby, I know. For what it's worth, he must be a very strong man because if the situation were reversed, I would have knocked him down. You'd think that I would be more mature in that respect after all that's happened to me, but I can't help it. When it comes to you Maria, I can't see straight."
-"I need to go look for him. Alone," she emphasized when she saw his brow knit with that unmistakable look that preceded an argument.
-"He probably won't want to talk to you," Michael argued reasonably. He wasn't exactly wild about the idea of Maria wandering alone in the lonely streets of Roswell at night.
-"I have to try," she told him.
-"I understand. Will you be okay?"
-"No," she sighed then added "Thank God you're here."
It was the honesty, her incredible candor that endeared her so very much to Michael. He smiled and hugged her tightly. He held her for a few more moments then released her.
-"I'm going to the Roswell Motel. You need anything, you call me, okay?"
Maria nodded. He kissed her tenderly and brushed her tears with his thumbs.
-"I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Michael turned to leave when Maria grabbed his hand.
-"You will be here tomorrow, right?"
-"And the day after, and the day after that and so on. I'm not going anywhere."
She gave his hand a squeeze and let him go.
Maria had looked everywhere she could think of to find Joe without luck. It was then that her intuition served her well. Angry as he was, Joe had probably gone somewhere to decompress. Since he didn't drink, the only place he could be was at the gym. The owner was a friend and he had given Joe a key so he could train after hours. Nearing the gym she saw that the lights were on. Before going in she decided to take a peek through the window to assess the situation. In a corner she saw Joe barechested giving the punching bag a walloping workout. His handsome face was twisted in fury and his skin glistened with sweat. She decided to wait until exhaustion won out but Joe's stamina wouldn't give out. Maria realized that he needed to get this out of his system and the way he was pounding the bag it would go on for quite some time. Resolving to speak to him the following morning, Maria retreated and headed back to her home.
Early next morning Joe made his way to Maria's apartment. For a moment he wondered if Michael would be there. In order to avoid further unpleasantness and embarrassment he called from a booth around the corner. Maria told him to come right away. With a heavy heart he hung up the phone. From the sound of Maria's voice she had been crying for some time but at least Michael had not spent the night.
Entering the Crashdown Michael saw that everyone was already there. He rubbed his eyes; he hadn't slept well worrying about Maria.
"Hey Michael!" they greeted him.
-"Hey," he returned sitting down at a table next to their booth.
-"Hum. Where's Maria?" asked Liz.
-"With Joe," he answered absentmindedly as he pondered over the menu.
A stunned silence followed his words. Suddenly aware of the stillness around him Michael's head shot up from the menu:
-"What? What is it?"
His friends' caring and concerned faces worried him until he caught on.
-"Hold on, hold on. Maria's letting Joe down easy."
A unanimous "Oh!" greeted his explanation. Liz and Alex exchanged a quick glance but it wasn't quick enough for Michael not to notice. He understood their torn sentiment. On the one hand they felt sad for Joe and on the other they were really happy that Michael and Maria had reconciled Michael wasn't particularly happy to be causing someone pain but it couldn't be helped.
-"So what should we do today?" asked Isabel.
-"How about something simple like a picnic?" proposed Alex.
-"Sounds good," agreed Liz.
-"What do you say Michael?" Max asked him.
-"What? Oh yeah, whatever you guys decide."
Max's question had brought him out of his reverie. He was thinking about Maria and was aching to see her again. He hoped the talk with Joe wouldn't be too tough. Right after Joe's call Maria had phoned Michael to tell him about it. She had asked him then to head on to the Crashdown as planned with their friends, and to wait for her there. Michael looked at his watch, sighed and resumed his waiting.
Joe knocked softly on the door, which opened immediately. Stepping inside the two young people stared at one another for a few moments before Maria's eyes began tearing. Joe merely opened his arms wide and Maria reached for him. They held each other, rocking softly.
-"I looked for you last night. I, I saw you at the gym. Did the punching bag survive?"
-"Just barely," Joe chuckled.
-"Are you still very angry?" she asked tentatively.
-"Yes." He felt Maria tense in his arms "No," he amended.
Maria pulled away slightly to look into his eyes.
-"Okay, a little," he admitted.
There was such resignation and sadness in his face that Maria couldn't help the fresh tears.
-"Please don't cry Maria it makes it so much harder to hang on to my anger."
-"I never wanted to hurt you."
-"I know, I know."
-"I need you to understand that this isn't because he's a better man than you."
-"I know he isn't but.he's the man for you. The one. "
After a few tense moments he spoke again.
-"In a way this is a good thing."
-"I've found out -the hard way mind you- that my soulmate is somewhere out there."
-"But I could have been."
-"Oh, I'm not saying that we wouldn't have had a good life together because we would have. You and I, we're well suited. But we would have missed out on that extra spark, call it passion, magic, whatever it is, that's undefinable but so very real and hard to find. You found yours, now I have to find mine."
Sighing he held Maria's face in his hands, his thumbs softly caressing her cheeks.
-"I'm going to leave town."
-"Please don't. This isn't fair to you."
-"It feels *very* unfair to me at the moment but leaving was always the plan remember? I'm just going to do it ahead of schedule. Even though no one is to blame for this situation it still hurts like hell. Alone and on the road is a good place to lick my wounds. Staying here would just be too hard. It's a small town, as you know. This is for the best."
-"Where will you go?"
-"I don't know. I have family both in the east and the west. Maybe I'll flip a coin."
-"But what about your job?"
-"Hey, I'm a very good mechanic. All I need are my hands. I will be okay Maria."
-"I can't believe we're saying goodbye."
-"That's because you love me."
-"I know," he replied quietly then added, "If you ever need me, for anything, you can contact me through my aunt."
Taking her right hand he placed it on his chest.
-"You will always be in my heart Maria."
He looked tenderly in her moist eyes and placed a light kiss on her forehead "Adios querida." Maria watched him go and for a wild moment thought about running after him, to tell him that this was a huge mistake but the sudden image of Michael reminded her that she could not let fear rule her life.
When Maria pushed the door of the Crashdown everyone had had breakfast. Michael shot out of his chair while the others chatted quietly to give them a few moments of privacy.
-"Maria! How'd it go?" Michael asked her anxiously. "Are you okay? You look pale, did you have anything to eat?"
-"Oh man, come over here!" She kissed him to stop all his fussing, "I'm fine."
They shared a tender embrace when Alex interrupted them asking Maria if she was up to a picnic. She thought it was a terrific idea. After Michael had made sure that Maria had had a couple of toasts and some orange juice, he remembered he had forgotten his jacket in his motel room. He tried to convince Maria to accompany him but she told him that if they went to into his room, they weren't coming out.
-"And what part of that do you find unacceptable?" he deadpanned.
Isabel rolled up her eyes and Alex had to laugh: they were at it again.
-"What about spending time with our friends?" Maria offered, flirting with him.
-"Overrated," he shot back.
-"What about having fun with our friends?"
-"What I have in mind would be a *lot* more fun" he replied cockily, his mouth hovering centimetres from hers.
-"That says maybe. I'll have to check this out myself-"
-"By all means-" he interrupted.
-"Later Michael," she cut in, then lowered her voice so that only he could hear "I don't want any time constraints for that."
Michael swallowed hard. He didn't have a comeback for that.
-"Shouldn't you be going?" she asked with a victorious smile.
-"I'm going, I'm going!" he grumbled as he exited the Crashdown.
His things were all packed but before he went to the bus station Joe needed to make a stop at the Roswell Motel. He knocked three times on the door and waited. It opened and once again he was face to face with Michael Guerin. Before the latter could utter a word, Joe raised his hand in a sign that he didn't want to be interrupted.
-"I'm leaving town in a hour. I've made my peace with Maria and I'm here to tell you what I told her. If she needs me, I'll be there. And if I ever get word back that you have hurt her, I will be all over you."
Michael smiled inwardly but he respected Joe Camacho's protective stance of Maria even if it did irk him to no ends.
-"Is that a threat?" he asked.
-"Call it whatever you like," replied Joe.
-"I'll remember that."
Joe nodded once then turned and walked away.
When Michael returned to the Crashdown he was told that Maria had gone out for a walk and would return in an hour. He couldn't wait that long. Swinging his leather jacket over his shoulder he strode out. Somewhat angry he wondered why she hadn't waited for him. Then he recalled everything that had transpired in the last twenty-four hours and he realized that Maria had probably gone out on her own to gather her thoughts. He should give her the space. He started slowing down. Yes, he'd go back to the Crashdown and wait for her. Right. Who the hell was he kidding?
He found her right where he thought she might be -at the park where she used to play with Liz and Alex as children. She was sitting in the grass, her chin resting on her drawn up knees, admiring the horizon. With the brilliant rays of the sun gracing the landscape, Maria's face appeared soft and quietly contented. Michael approached her from behind and sat so that she was between his outstretched legs.
-"Hey," he greeted.
-"Right back at ya," returned Maria reclining against his chest.
They were quiet for a while enjoying the moment and each other's company.
-"This is nice," purred Maria.
-"Mmh," agreed Michael his chin caressing softly the top of her golden head.
-"Miss your home?" she asked turning to see his face.
-"You are my home," he answered kissing her cheek.
-"You are so coming over to my apartment tonight!"
Michael had to laugh and hugged her tightly against him. She turned in his arms kissing him deeply till he toppled backwards. He liked that he could be passive and Maria the aggressor. Soon however his body betrayed him and he half rolled them so that they lay side by side. They kissed hungrily and it reminded Maria of their first make out session at the Crashdown. It was the same yearning, same intensity but now it was layered with the secure knowledge of loving and of being loved. Maria laughed out of pure joy.
-"You are such a vibrator," beamed Michael.
Some time elapsed before either one spoke.
-"Now what?" she asked playing with the buttons of his black shirt.
-"Anything you want," he replied.
-"I still want to go to California".
-"Then that's what we'll do," he told her while running his fingers through her golden locks.
-"Don't you have any plans?"
-"Uh-huh. And they all include you. We can leave tomorrow if you like."
-"If I like? Are you crazy? With what money?" Her hand sought his.
-"I have some." He gently stroked her knuckles before bringing them to his lips and kissed them reverently.
-"Some?" her voice hitched as he lazily ran his tongue over her fingers.
-"Something like that," he laughed.
-"Oh my God, cryptic boy -er- man is back."
-"No, not all. It's just that money is not something that I worry about."
He had pulled her close to him again and concentrated on making her squirm with his ministrations.
-"Lucky you," she gasped.
-"Lucky us," he said, his voice muffled in the hollow of her neck.
They exchanged no more words until it was time to leave. Regretfully Maria looked at her watch then sighed as she looked at Michael:
-"We should get back. The others will be waiting for us."
He nodded with resignation and helped her up.
Through the front window of the Crashdown Michael and Maria saw that the food was ready and packed. Their friends' faces betrayed their happiness and Maria felt that everything was as it should be, the six of them together again. As the bell chimed they all turned to see Michael and Maria enter holding hands.
-"We were about to give up on you two," said Max holding Liz by the waist.
-"Yeah well you know, Maria was getting intense and I- Ouch!" An well-aimed punch on the shoulder put a stop to his teasing.
-"*I* was getting intense?" Maria demanded with mock indignation.
-"Well that did look like a pretty intense jab!" rallied Alex in Michael's defense.
There was laughter and as Michael looked tenderly on Maria, balance was regained.
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