posted on 9-Sep-2002 7:03:28 PM
Summary: Michael injures his knee; but is it more than just a sports injury? Maria helps him cope with the unknown as they face his fears together.

Author's Notes: When I Have Fears is a poem by John Keats that I have loved since high school. That, a dream, and Gimpy are the inspiration for this fic. No aliens in this one, but you can picture them as their mid-season 2 characters.


Prologue

~*Maria's POV*~

I started dating Michael Guerin at the beginning of our sophomore year. In the beginning he was a stranger to me, his eyes clouded with an unknown darkness. As the years passed the darkness slowly faded to reveal a light hidden there, one he reserved only for me; too scared to open himself up to the others in our little group.

We started dating after Michael's best friend, Max Evans, finally admitted his love for my best friend, Liz Parker. Once Liz recognized her matching love for Max, our group – Me, Liz, Alex and Kyle, the semi-popular kids – and theirs – Michael, Max, Isabel and Tess, the orphans – were joined. We fell together naturally, pairing off with each other like the perfectly written teen drama, and we couldn't have cared less. The eight of us, four pairs of two, just felt right together, like somehow it was destined to be this way.

Michael was always an enigma, keeping himself hidden from everyone, including me at first. The summer before senior year he seemed to be opening up more and more, letting his light shine even when it wasn't just the two of us alone. Then it happened; the cloud descended once again, this time bringing a thunderous storm with it. The light in his eyes was extinguished and I had to fight my way to the ends of the earth and back to find him.

This is our story, his story – Michael's story. I'm telling it for him because he won't; he can't.

[ edited 29time(s), last at 21-Jan-2003 6:34:29 AM ]
posted on 9-Sep-2002 7:09:07 PM
Part 1

As soon as Michael's feet hit the ground he knew that something was horribly wrong. His left leg collapsed beneath his body and he fell hard to the ground. His left arm skidded along the asphalt surface of the basketball court as he tried to stop the fall. His hip collided with the court, bouncing once before his body finally, mercifully came to a stop. He lay there for a moment, complete silence enveloping his being before the sharp razors of pain reached out to stab his skin.

Before he was even aware of the pain, he heard the unmistakable jeers from his 'so-called' friends as they called "Nice one!", "Hey Guerin, classic!", and "Smooth man, real smooth."

He grimaced as the first wave of pain crashed over his body. Perhaps surprisingly he said a small thank you that the burned skin on his palm, elbow, and hip were screaming loudly. Any relief from the familiar pain in his knee was welcome these days. For over two weeks now, or maybe it was three – he had tried hard to forget the day the pain started – he had been fighting to ignore the nagging ache in his knee. It had arrived suddenly one morning, unannounced and unwelcome. He had gotten out of bed and taken one step before falling to the floor. Rubbing the sore area did nothing for the pain, just as Tylenol brought none of its promised relief.

The slight limp was explained away easily and after a few days the pain faded. With it went the worry until last week when he was playing basketball and his normally reliable body betrayed him when the pain returned with a sudden vengeance. He was in the middle of a lay-up when the white-hot bullet ripped through his kneecap and his hands flailed wildly as he anticipated the jarring impact when he landed.

The pain was everything it had been before and more and he had needed both Max and Kyle to help him to the sidelines. It wasn't a strain or sprain; he hadn't twisted or pulled anything. In his heart he knew that something was wrong, something inside, and it frightened him into denial. Now here he was again, another week of ignorant bliss as his knee held out before letting him down once again.

He winced as Max rounded in front of him and stretched out a hand to help him up. He considered slapping it away but as he raised his right arm to do so, he realized that his left no longer had the strength to support his weight, and grabbed onto the extended lifeline. With a less than gentle yank, Michael was on his feet, his left foot hovering just above the ground. He brushed bits of dirt from his hands as Alex, the one person with enough decency to even appear concerned, approached.

"You got yourself good this time," he quipped. The fresh wounds hid the just healing scars of the similar fall a week ago. Alex pondered Michael's recent clumsiness for a moment before brushing it off; he had just slipped, right? Happened to everyone.

"You want a ride?" he asked, turning to pick up the ball from where it had rolled.

"Sure," Michael muttered through clenched teeth. He started to take a step, put his left foot on the ground, and stepped back rapidly. "Christ," he murmured.

"Maybe you twisted it," Kyle offered, finally turning his attention away from the cheerleaders practicing on the field next door. Seizing the opportunity to show off his own strength by helping a 'weaker' friend, he stepped up to the taller boy, placing his shoulder underneath Michael's. "Come on," he offered. "This is becoming a habit."

Michael begrudgingly leaned on Kyle's muscular body for support as he limped to Alex's car. He eased his weight onto the seat, nodding at Max and Kyle as they climbed into Max's jeep and headed out of the school parking lot. Alex slammed the trunk shut and climbed into the driver's seat.

"So, you gonna be able to walk?"

"I'll be fine."

Alex shrugged, wanting to push but knowing Michael didn't go for that sort of thing. Most guys didn't, probably why he felt more comfortable with Maria and Liz than the guys of their little group sometimes. Maria, that's how he'd get to Michael – through Maria. She'd make him see a doctor, or at least find out if he was really hurt.

Yeah, Alex thought, I'll just tell Maria, she'll handle it.

~~~~~

"You fell again!"

"Maria," Michael sighed. She had only been there for three minutes and already his head was throbbing from the screeches exiting her throat. He had managed the few tentative steps from Alex's car into his apartment where he had leaned against the counter and prepared an ice pack. Leaning on the furniture, he had made it to the couch where Maria found him an hour later, still sweaty and bloody from his earlier game and fall.

"Michael," she countered. "This is not like you. You're like basketball-boy, now you fall twice in a week, and you're hurt. Look at you!"

"Maria," he pleaded. "Can we not do this right now?"

She saw his jaw clench, the tiny vein running along it pulsing noticeably and she was suddenly hit with the realization that he really had hurt himself. Her demeanor changed instantly, "Come here," she purred, moving across the room to sit on the edge of the couch. He grimaced as she leaned on the couch to sit down, wary of any movement that would send his leg screaming into the depths of pain again.

She noticed this and changed tactics to sit on the coffee table. "Let me see," she said softly, reaching out to lift his left arm away from his body. She winced at the sight of the dirt and gravel embedded in his flesh. She frowned disapprovingly at him, her eyes telling the true story that she loved taking care of him. He laughed as she got up and busied herself collecting supplies to clean his wounds. He watched her with nothing less than adoration as she gingerly applied a wet facecloth to the cuts, cleaning them thoroughly before applying bandages.

"Anywhere else?" she asked when she had finished with his arm.

"Uh," Michael replied, not concerned about taking off his shorts to show her his hip, but fearful of any movement concerning his lower extremities. "My hip, but it's fine."

She wasn't buying it. "It's bad, isn't it?" she asked, reaching a hand out to touch the ice pack resting on his knee.

He winced at her movement, sending another shudder of pain rippling through his body.

"Michael," she moaned. "You've got to see a doctor."

He had been in agony last week after he fell and she had tried to convince him then that he had probably twisted something but he had assured her that he was fine. Now a determined look set in on her features and she glared at him, "I'm serious. I'm making an appointment with Dr. Kennedy tomorrow," she threatened. As he opened his mouth to protest she continued, "And you're going!"

He knew it was no use arguing with her so he shook his head dejectedly. It was probably just a sprain he reasoned, a sprain that hadn't healed properly before he injured it again. Hating the doctor was foolish and he knew it, he just really didn't want to go. But, for Maria, well everything changed where Maria was concerned. He shook his head again, this time smiling at the sop he had become in her presence.

She stood up, her hands placed firmly on her hips, "Now, let me see your hip."

"I really don't want to move."

"Well you can't sleep here."

"Watch me."

"Michael."

"Maria!"

She glared at him, then, realizing that he was dead serious, softened her face. "Okay, but you've got to change, you're all sweaty."

"So?"

"So, I am not going to make out with a sweaty boyfriend."

He grinned. "My clothes are in the room," he replied.

Maria smiled as she stalked off to find him something to wear, returning a moment later to see that he had removed his shirt and was washing his chest clumsily with the wet facecloth she had left there.

"Here," she said softly, laying the clothes aside to take the washcloth from his hand. "Let me," she murmured, dipping it in the warm water again. She removed the cushion from behind his back and gently wedged herself into the space it created. She slowly moved the cloth along his back, watching as his muscles rippled at the stimulation. She teasingly blew soft breaths on the wet areas, feeling the shivers beneath her hands as his body reacted to the stimulus.

She finished with his back and moved to the front. "Lie down first?" she asked.

Michael nodded, his mind distracted from the pain for the moment as his body reacted to her gentle touches. Without speaking she gently placed her hands beneath his injured knee, supporting it as he slid his body down the couch. She moved with him in a practiced rhythm born of the intimate connection they somehow naturally shared. She retrieved the extra cushion from the floor to place it beneath his leg. "There, better?" she asked.

Michael smiled at her, the throbbing in his knee somehow drowned out by the thumping in his chest as he stared at her hovering over him. He reached up to grab her hand, pulling her down towards him.

"I didn't clean your hip," she protested as she angled her body so she could lie on him without touching his left side. She succeeded, her small frame stretching along his 'good' right side as she hungrily accepted his kisses. They both quickly forgot about his hip as well as the other injuries, losing themselves in each other.

They were lying quietly together a half hour later when Maria heard the deep breathing indicative of Michael's sleeping. She smiled at the sound, glad that he had found an escape from the pain, however brief. She shifted her body slightly to get more comfortable, reaching up to pull the blanket lying on the back of the couch across their bodies. She settled in to get some sleep herself, knowing that Michael's rest probably wouldn't last long. She would stay with him, care for him, as she had done last week and as she would probably do again when he refused to see a doctor tomorrow. Her last conscious thought was that she was going to make him go to the hospital tomorrow, she didn't care if she had to drag him there herself.
posted on 11-Sep-2002 11:59:19 AM
Part 2

"Maria, I'm fine."

Michael was standing in his kitchen, leaning against the counter, his left leg crossed over his right, casually hovering just off the ground. She stared at him, somehow not at all surprised that he had switched opinions overnight. She took a deep breath, shaking her head as she remembered the night they had spent together. She had been up twice to change his ice pack and force Tylenol down his throat before finally just sitting with his head in her lap and smoothing his hair until he fell asleep.

She paused, wondering which tactic she could take to appeal to him. Get angry, shout, cry? She wasn't above begging if that's what it took. She decided to go for his weak spot – her. "Look," she started softly, moving towards him slowly. "I just want you to be better, okay?"

She reached his body and leaned in to seductively kiss his earlobe. "Will you do it for me?" she whispered.

"Maria," he cringed, pulling his neck away from her enticing lips.

She steeled herself, not allowing the irritation that surged inside her to surface. "You can't even put your weight on your leg," she pointed out. She leaned in again, widening her kisses to move along his chin and across his face to his lips. "If you get better we can play more," she teased.

"Mmm," he moaned. "I don't…"

"Please," she pulled away from him to give him her best pouty look. "For me?"

"Fine," he growled at her. "But I better not miss wrestling."

Maria raised her right hand, "Back before wrestling, I swear."

Michael would almost admit that the grin that spread across her face made any trip to a doctor worth it… almost. He shook his head at her effectiveness, still slightly peeved that she had used her charm once again to get what she wanted. Not to mention his irritation at having to walk into a hospital. He had been in one once, when he was seven and Hank had hit him hard enough to split his eyebrow open. The visit had been traumatic enough in itself, but when he returned home, Hank had beat him even harder for being weak enough to require stitches. He did not relish the thought of ever visiting one again.

Yet here he was, once again doing something he was set firmly against just because Maria had asked him to. God, was love crazy or what?

~~~~~

Maria drove to the hospital, choosing a parking space close to the door. "You can walk from here?" she asked.

"Yes, because I'm fine," he responded.

"Whatever," she said in a singsong voice, getting out of the car to shut the door behind her. She walked alongside him as he struggled not to show any signs of a limp. They reached the doors of the hospital clinic and she held it open for him, leading him inside to the receptionist desk.

"Michael Guerin," she informed the receptionist. Michael stood by stupidly, wondering how he had ended up with a mothering figure in his life after all those years without one. Maria accepted the forms the receptionist handed her and led him to the waiting room. "Fill these out," she commanded.

"Yes Mom," he replied. She screwed up her nose at his comment but let it slide. She would play Mom as long as he let her if it meant him actually seeing a doctor about his leg.

Michael started filling out the forms, pausing when he got to a box near the bottom of the second page. "Next of kin," he said.

"What?" Maria asked, looking up from the Vogue magazine she was engrossed in.

"Next of kin," he repeated. "What am I supposed to put down for that?"

"Oh," she paused, cursing herself for not anticipating the question. Having no family of his own had never really been a point Michael discussed but she knew it was a sore spot for him. "Why don't you put down Max or Isabel? They're like family, right?"

Michael nodded, his eyes never leaving the paper in front of him. He filled it in and pulled the first sheet back over the clipboard. "Done."

"Here," she said, taking the board from his hand and bringing it up to the receptionist. The woman accepted it, checked the name, and said, "Dr. Kennedy's ready for him now."

"Michael," Maria called, walking back to the chairs. "They're ready."

His stomach suddenly seized in fear and all moisture left his throat. He swallowed roughly as he made it to his feet, moving slowly past her to approach the receptionist.

Maria reached out to place her hand on his arm, "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No," he muttered, moving to walk away from her before she tightened her grip and stretched up to place a kiss on his cheek.

"I'll be waiting here," she murmured softly, her hand lingering on his as he smiled quickly at her and limped away. She watched him go, her own stomach suddenly tightening as she wondered what the doctor would say to him. He was fine, she reasoned. It was just a sprain, right? Then why did she feel like she was watching him walk away from her for the last time? She shook her head and picked up the magazine again. "Silly," she muttered. "He's fine."

If only she could get herself to believe that.

~~~~~

Maria waited patiently for 30 minutes before giving in and asking the receptionist if Michael was still in with the doctor. She was told that he had just been sent down to X-Ray and if she wanted she could go wait for him there. Maria made her way through the familiar hallways to the X-Ray department. She had volunteered at the hospital for the past two years, only stopping this year because she was taking a heavier course load in preparation for University next year.

She rounded the corner leading to the X-Ray waiting room and stopped for a second when she saw him sitting there in a wheelchair. She was thankful that his back was turned to her so she had time to hide the concern on her face before she approached. She rounded in front of him, kneeling down to bring herself below his eye-level. It was a trick they taught all hospital volunteers, it was supposed to make patients new to wheelchairs more comfortable not to be spoken to from above.

"Smooth ride?" she asked, smiling gently at him.

"Afraid I'm gonna sue probably," he muttered, his discomfort obvious in his voice.

Maria's heart was heavy in her chest as she moved to a chair beside him, reaching to grip his hand in her own. "What did he say?"

Michael shrugged, "He wants to see the X-Rays. You know this is a colossal waste of time."

"I know," she lied, willing to say anything to get him to stay seated in the wheelchair and not walk out of the hospital right then. "Just humor him, okay? He's really a good doctor."

"Whatever," he sighed, shifting his weight uncomfortably.

"Michael Guerin."

Maria looked up as his name was called, recognizing the technician from her volunteer days. "Hey Laurie," she smiled.

"Maria! What are you doing here?" Laurie said as she approached.

"This is my boyfriend, Michael," Maria said, making the introductions between the two strangers.

Laurie smiled at Michael, sensing his irritation at the situation. "Well let's do this, shall we?" she said, knowing that her patient was probably going to wait for exactly 30 more seconds before trying to bolt. "You want to watch?" she asked Maria.

"Yeah?" she asked Michael, looking at him expectantly. He shrugged his noncommittal response and she turned back to Laurie. "Sure," she agreed, grabbing her purse and following as the girl pushed Michael into the examining room. She stepped into the technician's booth, watching as Laurie helped Michael stand from the chair and slide onto the table. She could see the pain evident on his face as his leg was positioned for the X-Ray's, wincing herself as he was forced to straighten it.

Laurie joined Maria in the booth, closing the door behind her before taking the necessary X-Ray's. She repositioned Michael's leg a few more times, bringing a verbal curse from his mouth when she made him roll over onto his stomach and stretch his leg out. Maria mentally prepared herself for one very cranky boyfriend after the visit was over and started planning creative ways to 'make it up to him' that night.

Finally Laurie was finished and helped Michael into the wheelchair again. He was scowling as Maria approached from the booth, turning his face away from her as she bent down to kiss him. She ignored the reaction, knowing he was far from being anywhere near a good mood at that moment.

"So, are we finished?" she asked Laurie.

"Um," the other girl said, looking down at his chart. "No, back to the exam room for a bandage and crutches."

"Crutches?" Michael repeated loudly. "I am out of here," he mumbled, pushing himself up out of the wheelchair. His right leg supported him as he stood and placed his left on the floor to walk. He instantly removed it, daggers of pain shooting up into his hip as he hopped to regain his balance.

Maria was at his side in a second, holding his arm to steady him. "Whoa," she said. "You are not going anywhere." Laurie had pushed the chair behind him and now Maria helped him to sit again. She knelt in front of him, noting that the look on his face said that he still wasn't satisfied to stay. Maria looked up at Laurie, "Can you give us a minute?"

"Sure," Laurie replied, placing the chart in a slot at the back of the wheelchair and moving back inside her booth.

Maria looked at Michael, her heart wrenching at the pitiful sight in front of her. He was scared, that much was obvious, but he would never admit that to anyone, not even her. "Hey," she said softly, reaching up to caress the side of his face. He closed his eyes, unwillingly to meet her gaze. "Just for a few days, until it gets better, okay?"

He kept his eyes closed as she leaned in to meet his lips. "I love you," she murmured against his cheek. He didn't respond, accepting her comfort gratefully but still too consumed with fear to return the gesture. She brought him back to the doctor's office, staying by his side as they tightly bandaged his knee and showed him how to use the crutches. She left him long enough to bring the car up to the hospital entrance and then helped him inside before driving home.

The ride was filled with a deafening silence and Maria tried her hardest to not be the first to speak. Part of her wanted to joke with him, try and get his mind off things, but she knew he needed silence, craved his solitude. The nurse who had bandaged his leg had said that Dr. Kennedy would call when he had examined the X-Rays, something that surprised Maria but she chalked it up to the fact that it was a Sunday and they were probably backlogged with work.

She helped Michael inside his apartment when they arrived, watching as he sat on the couch and propped his leg up on the coffee table. She grabbed a cushion from the floor and placed it under his foot.

"Good?" she asked.

He nodded, no trace of a smile evident on his features as he flicked on the television. She walked away from him to make an ice pack, an idea of how she could distract his attention from the injury suddenly taking shape in her mind. They had been at the hospital for most of the day and it was just starting to get dark outside. Her Mom was out of town until tomorrow night so she was free to spend tonight with Michael.

She lit the few candles he allowed her to keep in his apartment, looking up to see that he was totally absorbed in wrestling, his eyes not wavering from the television. She turned out the light, getting a glance from him as she explained, "Just setting the mood."

"What mood?" he muttered, turning his dour expression back to the television. He was far from being anywhere near a good mood and stared at the wrestlers faking their moves in an effort to lose all memory of the painful afternoon.

Maria rounded the back of the couch, stripping her top and skirt off, letting them fall to the floor. She hesitated for a moment, clad in only her bra and panties before reaching over the couch to press the power button on the remote.

"What the…" came Michael's retort before he noticed her bare arm and twisted his head around to see her fully. She walked around the couch slowly, her eyes never leaving his as his head followed her path. She gently stepped over his legs to kneel on either side of him. She kept her body raised in the air, leaning on his chest with her hands to reach his waiting lips.

"You are so bad," he mumbled between kisses.

"Don't you love it?" she replied breathlessly.

"Mmm-hmm."

"Wanna get more comfortable?"

"What did you have in mind?" he questioned.

She stood up again and retrieved the crutches from the floor beside him. She held out her hands out to him, helping him to his feet and placing them beneath him arms. She ran across the room, turning when she reached his bedroom door to glance back at him. "Come and get me," she taunted, disappearing through the door.

He slowly made his way across the room, stumbling twice on the unfamiliar devices, the pain in his leg making it impossible to attempt the journey unaided. He paused in the bedroom doorway, his eyes seeking out her shape in the dimly lit room. They adjusted to the darkness and he saw her lying on her back on his bed, her upper body raised up as she supported herself on her elbows.

He crossed the distance between them, pausing when he reached the bed to decide the best way to maneuver his body on top of hers. He didn't have to make the decision as she read his mind and wiggled to the bottom of the bed, getting up to stand behind him. She guided his body into turning around then pressed herself to him as she first removed one crutch, then the other, letting them fall to the floor. She held his hands as he lowered himself to sit on the bed, his lips meeting hers as he descended, pulling her down with him. She resisted, pulling away to grasp at his shirt and pull it over his head. Next she focused on his pants, thankful that he had worn the tear-away pants she had suggested to the doctor's office. She broke each snap slowly, the sharp sound puncturing the heavy silence between them.

She pushed him away from her gently, letting him fall back onto the bed. She leaned down to guide his leg as he pulled his body along the mattress, following behind to crawl seductively over his outstretched form. She hovered over him, testily lowering her body until it rested on his, satisfied that the additional weight didn't cause him any pain.

Maria looked up to stare into Michael's eyes, taking small comfort that she saw a lust equaling her own there, replacing the all-to-familiar shadow of pain that had lingered all day. She raised her face to his, anxious to keep the pain at bay as long as she could. It worked; she satiated his need for her, eventually falling asleep against his chest – the pain kept at bay for a few hours at least.
posted on 13-Sep-2002 12:37:15 PM
Everyone's scared of what I'm gonna do - I love it!!! I'm just going to promise now that I won't make you all cry - not too much anyway!

Part 3

Maria woke up to find that she was lying alone, a faint light from underneath the door penetrating the darkness. She rose, pulling Michael's discarded T-shirt over her head for warmth and went in search of him. The lights were on in both the living room and kitchen and she paused to look for him there, noticing only that the water jug was on the counter next to a half empty glass and an overturned bottle of Tylenol, the pills spilling out onto the counter like scattered stones.

She glanced around, about to call out to him when she noticed the bathroom door was closed and approached slowly. Knocking softly, she was surprised when it creaked open, the latch not fully caught. The opening revealed her boyfriend sitting on the edge of the tub, his left leg outstretched in front of him. The skin around his knee was a bright red yet he still held the ice cubes against his bare skin with his hand. Tears stung Maria's eyes as she observed him, the complete wretchedness of his situation evident on his contorted face.

She approached him, kneeling by his side to lift the hand holding the ice away from his knee. They clattered noisily against the tile floor, splashing in the melted puddle there already. "Don't," she whispered, tears taking shape on her face as she looked up at him.

"It's like fire," he murmured through clenched teeth.

"I know baby," she said, reaching up to press her cheek to his. "I know."

"It's not a sprain," he mumbled.

Maria pulled away to look at his face, confusion registering on her own. "What?"

"It's not…" he repeated, then stopped, unable to utter the words again. 'It's not a sprain,' his brain chanted. 'It's worse, much worse.' His brain screamed the words but his mouth couldn't find the courage to give them substance. "It's not… I don't know."

"Shh," she quieted him, her own heart tearing at his words. She didn't know what he was trying to say, his words nothing but incoherent mumblings to her. She needed to take control, get him back to bed and find some relief for the pain he was obviously in.

She stood, picking up one crutch from the floor. She held her hand out to him, waiting patiently for him to grasp it. She pulled gently, catching him by his waist as he swung to his feet. She handed him the crutch, securing it under his right arm before pushing her body under his left side. Slowly she led him back to the bedroom, helping him to lie down, making his leg as comfortable as possible.

His face was knotted in agony, his hand pressed to his eyes as if to hide the pain from her. She gave him a moment of peace, hurrying back to the kitchen for supplies. She reentered the bedroom, wrapping his icy cold knee gingerly in a towel, placing a fresh ice pack on the bed beside him. "Not yet," she cautioned as he reached for it. "It's too numb."

"That was kind of the point," he mumbled.

She smiled down at him as she sat slowly at his side, wringing a face cloth from the bowl of cold water she had brought with her. "Here," she said softly, pressing the cool relief to his forehead. His eyes closed at her touch, his brain able to push some of the pain away whenever she was in his presence. A few minutes of silence passed between them before she saw a fresh grimace wash over his face and knew the pain was stabbing again. She turned her attention to his knee, placing the ice pack atop the towel and securing it there with another. Satisfied that she had done as much as she could for the pain she crawled around the bed to sit by him, wiggling gently to position his head on her lap. She smoothed back his hair, wet from the exertion of gritting through the waves of pain, and now from her constant bathing with cool water. His temperature was elevated, at least that's the story his heated skin told and she sat in that position for an hour, applying fresh water to cool him periodically.

Eventually he drifted into semi-consciousness, his face still contorted but his breathing deep, evidence that he was getting some rest, however unpeaceful. She slowly slid out from under his lap, snaking her way down the bed to rest beside him. It was one o'clock and she wondered how long she'd have to rest before the cycle repeated itself. Two hours was all she got.

~~~~~

Maria was onstage singing the most beautiful song when suddenly the beat changed and the band starting strumming unfamiliar notes. She turned around to look at them, seeing Alex and the other members smiling at her, gesturing with their eyes for her to continue singing. She tried to tell him that it was the wrong song, that she didn't know the words, but no sound escaped her mouth. She turned back to face the crowd, their happy faces now angry as they impatiently waited for her to entertain them.

Fear encompassed her as she stepped back from the microphone, glancing to the side of the stage to see if an escape awaited her there. She only saw more people, all of them staring at her angrily as the song with no words continued to play out in the small room. Someone shouted her name, "Maria!" She whipped her head around to stare at the obtrusive voice, reeling when she saw that it was Michael standing at the front of the room. "Maria!" he shouted again.

"Stop yelling," she cried, staring past him at the sea of angry faces.

"Maria wake up!" he shouted. "Wake up baby, you got school."

"Wha..." she mumbled, pushing herself out of the dreamscape and into the welcome arms of her boyfriend. "Oh God," she whispered, collapsing on his chest and giggling softly. "I didn't know the words, and you were shouting at me."

"What?" he asked, obviously confused.

She looked up, hearing for the first time the music pouring from the alarm clock on his bedside table. It was the song Alex had been playing; only this version came complete with lyrics. She started laughing, rolling over to stretch her arms over her head lazily. "Nothing," she explained. "It was just a dream." Suddenly remembering the sleepless night she had spent in his bed she rolled over to face him, "How's your leg?"

"It's okay," he replied. "As long as I don't move."

She smiled gently at him. "Did you sleep?"

"Not much."

"Me either."

"Well you snore pretty good for someone who didn't sleep."

"Michael, I do not snore," she stated firmly, pushing herself into a sitting position.

"I must have dreamt it," he retorted, playfully pushing her on the back.

She slapped his hand away, "Be nice." She stood up and gathered her bra and underwear from the floor where it had been discarded last night. "You going to school?"

"Ah, no."

She looked disapprovingly at him. "Tomorrow," she threatened lightly, jabbing her finger in his direction. She knew he was probably wiped from the evening they had spent together but she also knew that he most likely had no intention of leaving his apartment as long as he was on crutches.

"You know, you could stay here? Skip off?" he baited her.

"Ah, no," she replied, smiling back at him. When she saw him scowl she approached the bed again, fastening her bra behind her back. "I've got to meet Joanne before first period to go over our history project, then I've got a yearbook meeting at lunch."

"The yearbook's not out for like 10 months."

"Michael, these things take planning," she explained, pushing her body away from his groping hands. "Get some rest," she commanded. "I'll be back after school. Shit!"

"What?"

"I gotta work tonight," she frowned. "I'll come by after school for a few minutes?" she offered hopefully.

"Whatever," he replied.

"Babe, I'm sorry," she said, leaning in to kiss his unresponsive mouth. "I need this shift, I'm seriously low in the funds department."

"It's okay, really."

"Sure?"

He nodded, his face saying it was while his eyes revealed the truth of the situation. Maria saw the look but steeled herself against it. She'd send Max or Alex over to hang out with him; he'd be fine. She left to go find her clothes in the living room, returning a few minutes later, now fully dressed, with a glass of water and some Tylenol in one hand, a fresh ice pack in the other.

"You want some food?" she asked, anxious to get back to her house to shower and get ready for class but unwilling to leave him just yet.

"No, I'm going back to sleep. Go," he stated, pushing her away when she tried to kiss him again.

She laughed, leaning in quickly to snatch one last kiss. "I'll call at lunch," she called over her shoulder as she floated out of the room.

He listened to her leave, waiting until he heard her car pull out of the driveway before pushing the blankets off his body. His leg actually felt fine; he had fallen asleep with it screaming throughout his entire body and woken up to find it deathly quiet. He knew it wasn't permanent; he'd probably have a few hours, a day at most, before the pain returned but while it felt good he wasn't going to laze around doing nothing. He still wasn't going to school; his tough guy appearance wouldn't let him exit the house on crutches and he had to keep using those so Maria thought it was just a sprain.

No, he was just going to enjoy a day off while his leg allowed him to. The phone started ringing as he walked into his bathroom to get a shower. He stopped and stared at it, turning his back to the intrusive sound and shutting the bathroom door. He decided that his leg felt more than fine and we would play a little basketball ball in the driveway before Maria called at lunchtime.
posted on 15-Sep-2002 6:56:54 PM
Hey there,

Thanks for the fb - hope you don't all start hating me even more when you read this next part!

Part 4

After school Maria hurried to Michael's, pulling her uniform out of her bag when she got there so she could change inside and still make it to the Crashdown on time. She burst through his apartment door, calling, "Hey Gimpy!" She stopped when she saw him standing in the kitchen, his crutches nowhere in sight. "What are you doing?" she shrieked.

"Hey to you too," he replied, turning around nonchalantly to lean against the counter. He took a long sip of his drink, his face registering a complete lack of concern while his brain raced with excuses to explain his newfound ability to walk.

"Michael," she said threateningly, walking towards him slowly. "You are going to hurt yourself."

"Relax," he said, a bit harsher than he had expected to. Her face immediately reacted to his words and he reached out to grab her arm. Pulling her into his body, he leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. "I'm just trying a bit of weight on it, I was on the crutches all day."

"Promise?"

"Scouts honor."

She pushed away from him, still not completely satisfied. "You were never in Scouts," she pouted.

He winked at her, taking another mouthful of drink as he said a silent thank you to his creative juices for coming up with that one.

"Did the doctor call?" she asked.

He swallowed quickly, gasping as the liquid threatened to choke him.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Um, yeah, they called. Just a sprain like I said." Pausing for a second he quickly changed the subject, asking, "How long can you stay?"

"Twenty minutes."

"Well get the crutches, I think I need to lie down."

"Why, your leg hurting?"

He smirked at her, "No."

She started walking through the apartment, stopping in the living room with her hands on her hips. "Michael," she squealed, suddenly getting the implied meaning of his statement.

"Get 'em or I'm walking," he replied.

She hurried through the rest of the rooms, finding them where he had left them by the bed last night. Thankfully that fact didn't register in her brain and she grabbed them while saying, "You are such a tease, you know that?"

She found him back in the kitchen where she handed him the crutches. He smiled down at her as he tucked them under his arms. "I'm not a tease, I have every intention of following through."

She squealed again, this time in delight as she ran ahead of him into the bedroom. Twenty minutes just wasn't going to be long enough.

~~~~~

When Maria got home from work that night her Mom had already gone to bed but there was a note on the fridge saying that Dr. Kennedy's office had called. Maria stared at it for a minute, wondering why they were calling her about Michael when she remembered that she had a physical scheduled for next week and crumpled the note in her hand. "I'll call them tomorrow," she yawned, tossing the paper in the garbage as she grabbed a drink and headed off to bed.

~~~~~

The next day Michael skipped school again, something that didn't surprise Maria in the least. After classes were over she went home to change, writing her mother a note to say she was 'studying' at Michael's. She wasn't sure how much studying they would get done but she missed him and could hardly wait to get to his place.

She was just biting into an apple when the phone rang. She picked it up, "Mwuh-ello," she mumbled.

"May I speak with Maria Deluca please?"

"Um, speaking," she muttered, struggling to swallow the bits of apple in her mouth.

"I'm calling from Dr. Kennedy's office, please hold for Dr. Kennedy."

"Okay," Maria said into the dead air of the phone as the receptionist quickly transferred the call.

"Hello Maria?" the familiar voice of Dr. Kennedy came on the line.

"Yes," she answered.

"Maria, good, I was trying to get in touch with you. Do you have another number for Michael Guerin?"

"What?" she asked, puzzled.

"The young man that was here with you on Sunday. We've been trying to contact him but there's no answer at the number he left us. It's important that we speak with him."

"Um," Maria stammered. "He said… um, Michael told me he was talking to you already."

"No, we've been calling since yesterday morning but as I said, there's been no answer."

"Okay, well it's just the one number." Maria repeated the number to the doctor who confirmed that it matched the number he had on file.

"Maria, it is critical that we speak with him. Can I ask you to tell him to call us?"

'Critical,' her brain screamed. A minute ago he said it was 'important.' Now it was 'critical?' "Okay, is… is everything all right?"

"Well." Maria could hear paper rustling on the other end of the phone before Dr. Kennedy continued, "We saw something on his X-Ray; a shadow."

"What?" the sound that escaped Maria's mouth was little more than a ravaged whisper. The apple she had been holding in her hand suddenly weighed a hundred pounds and she let it fall to the floor, watching as it rolled away from her.

"There appears to be a mass beneath his kneecap, we can't be certain with X-Ray's but it's imperative that we get him back in the office for tests as soon as possible. Maria?" Dr. Kennedy paused.

"Y… yes?"

"You have to bring him to us okay? It's crucial."

There were those words again, 'imperative' and now 'crucial', Maria didn't think she could stand to hear another synonym fall from the doctor's lips without screaming.

"Okay," she managed. "I'll… I'll talk to him."

"Thank you."

"Okay, goodbye." Maria was just about to hang up the phone when a sudden thought struck her and she said quickly, "Dr. Kennedy?"

"Yes."

"Why did you tell me that? I mean, you can't… isn't is like against the rules for you to tell me that?"

"No, it's okay. He listed you as his next of kin."

Her breathing stopped for a frightening moment, his final words ringing in her head. She slowly brought the phone down from her ear to place it in the cradle, already aware that she hadn't said goodbye the second time. She glanced around the kitchen for her car keys. Panicking when she didn't see them. Her purse rested on the counter and she lunged for it, her heart propelling her body faster and faster while her brain poured cement over her legs and arms.

She was treading water, moving limbs heavy from an unseen weight as she fumbled in her purse, finally resorting to dumping the contents on the counter. She stared at the disarray of lipsticks, loose change, and receipts, her keys absent from the pile. She brought her hand down on the counter with a slam, wincing when the sharp metal of her sunburst key chain dug into her palm. She glanced down to find her keys dangling from her fingers, there the whole time she had been talking on the phone.

Pressing her hand to her forehead she hurried from her house, sliding behind the wheel of her reliable Jetta. She fumbled with the oversized keys, letting a building scream finally escape her lips when she dropped them on the floor. She reached down for them, suddenly realizing that the scream she had released hadn't yet subsided. She clamped her hand hard over her mouth, willing her heart to slow, her blood to stop thudding in her brain.

"It's okay, it's okay, a shadow, a shadow," she chanted as she found the keys and jammed the correct one into the ignition. She pulled out of her driveway, pulling into Michael's a few minutes later with no recollection of the drive in between.

She turned off the ignition, letting her hand rest on the handle for a full five minutes before she worked up the courage to open the door. She walked slowly to the door, each step a thundering echo in her already pounding ears. She stopped in the open doorway, her eyes adjusting to the dimness inside as she sought him out. He was sitting on the couch, his leg elevated on the coffee table, the crutches once again nowhere in sight.

She supposed she should have been angry with him for lying to her, but her heartache at being the one to deliver the news to him was far overpowering. She stayed in the doorway for an extended moment, watching as he turned to look at her.

"Comin' in?" he asked.

She nodded briskly, her mouth suddenly drier than the Sahara. She moved to the fridge, pulling out the Brita jug and filling a glass on the counter. She gulped the liquid back quickly, refilling her glass twice before carrying it with her into the living room.

"Thirsty much?" he teased.

"Yeah," she mumbled, taking a seat near him on the couch.

Michael tensed at her words, watching her body stiffen further as he reached out to rub her back. "What's up?" he questioned.

"Nothing, I uh…" she stammered. "I have to tell you something."

"What is it?" he asked with a voice devoid of any emotion.

She turned her body sideways to face him. "The doctor's office called me, they couldn't reach you."

Later he would say that he hadn't said anything further although his brain knew differently. He heard every word she said, he just opted in that instant to file them away for later processing, choosing instead to concentrate on the slight movements of her lips. They were a glossy pink today, shimmering with a thousand sparkles. He wondered how they were able to get all the sparkles into the lipstick tube, it must have been a special brand or something…

"Michael, are you listening to me?"

Her voice broke his reverie and he raised his eyes to stare into her green depths. No words escaped his mouth, no emotion displayed itself on his face. His body made no movement at all and for a moment she thought he might have fallen asleep with his eyes open until… the eyes, it was always the eyes with Michael. His eyes were his tell; his best poker face always destroyed with one flick of the chocolate circles.

"Babe," she whispered, leaning in to lay her hand on his arm.

The touch was too much, the final push over the edge of sanity into the abyss of nothingness. He jumped to his feet, his knee holding out one final time as he walked towards his bedroom. He stopped halfway there, his back still turned to her, his brain choosing that moment to begin the delayed processing of her information.

Maria stood slowly to approach him, startled when she heard the guttural growl from his throat, "Don't." He turned slowly, his eyes blazing, their flames landing on the only target available – her.

"So what now? I'm supposed to go to the hospital so they can cut off my leg or something?" he spat.

"What?" she gasped. "Michael, no, it's not… it's not…" she stopped, was it really 'not'?

He saw the question in her eyes and laughed bitterly. "Oh it's not is it? You sure? Cause I am. I've known for weeks that this wasn't a fvcking sprain Maria. I've known that something was growing in there, something evil – pure black evil. You just confirmed it."

"But…" she began, tears choking her words as she saw the look of utter anguish that encompassed his face. "But you can't… you can't just not go."

"Watch me," he laughed. "You think I'm going to go back there?" he screamed. "Do you? Consider yourself lucky I went the first time."

"Michael," she yelled back. "Why are you yelling at me? Stop it, you're scaring me."

"Well get scared then baby, cause I ain't done."

Michael strode across his apartment, making it all the way to the door before his knee collapsed on him again. "Ahh," he screamed as the agonizingly familiar blades sliced through his tendons once more. "God damn it."

She was across the room and by his side in a second, reaching to help support him in the doorway. "Get away," he yelled, pushing her hands away from his body. "Just go."

"No, I won't," she cried, moving back in to grab him.

He turned and hopped away from her, using the wall to support his weight. "I'm fine," he shouted. "I am fine and I'm going to be fine. Leave!"

"Michael, you can't…"

"LEAVE!" he roared.

She took a small step backwards, the look on his face frightening her into instant submission. Her own universe also changed, she was unable to stare at the monster that now stood in the place of her boyfriend and fled from the scene. She managed to pull her car out of the driveway and down the block before tears clouded her vision and she slammed on the brakes. She sat on the side of the road for ten minutes before her sobs subsided and she could see well enough to drive again.

In the apartment, Michael slid slowly down the wall he rested against, his aching knee not permitting one additional step. With mobility no longer a device at his disposal, he angled his body sideways, facing the wall for a minute before forming the desired fist with his hand. The hole in his wall grew as he painted his emotion onto the surface. His waning anger made room for new emotions and by the time his knuckles were bloody tears were marring his cheeks. He swiped at them, their strangeness somehow comforting; he wasn't dead inside, as he had often suspected he was. Funny, for now was the very moment he wished he were.
posted on 17-Sep-2002 12:07:00 PM
Part 5

Maria made it to her house, brushing past one very confused Amy Deluca on her way through the kitchen. She ran to her bedroom, closing the door behind her. Since it didn't have a lock, it took exactly ten seconds for Amy to knock once and then barge in.

"Sweetie, what's the matter?" she asked, concern evident in her voice.

Maria flopped on her bed, burying her face in pillow. Amy sat beside her daughter; her concern growing as she placed a hand on Maria's quivering shoulders. She rubbed gentle strokes up and down her back. "What is it?"

"Nothing," Maria mumbled, the pillow muffling her words effectively.

"Sweetie, it's got to be something? Is it Michael?" For a Mom, Amy could be pretty astute sometimes.

"Yes," sobbed Maria.

"Hey," Amy said, gently rolling Maria over to see her face. She smoothed stray hairs from her face, trying unsuccessfully to wipe the tears away. "Did you have a fight or something?"

"No. Yes. I don't know," Maria cried.

"Shh," Amy said, leaning down to gather her daughter in a hug. "You wanna tell me?"

Maria stared up at her mother. Did she want to tell her? 'Of course,' her brain screamed, all the while knowing she couldn't, not yet. If she had any chance of getting through to Michael, step one was keeping his secret – for now at least.

Amy instantly understood, the intricate relationship between a teenage girl and her boyfriend a memory she had not yet completely forgotten. "Talk to him," she encouraged. "If you can't then talk to me, or Liz, just get it out there, okay?"

Maria nodded, fresh tears pouring from her eyes. Amy stood up, blinking back tears of her own. She felt like strangling Michel Guerin for ever making her daughter cry, but she had learned over the past two years that Maria and Michael's relationship was not without drama. More than it's fair share, she thought sometimes, but she had to let Maria find her own way, and it was obvious that the boy loved her. She just hoped he hadn't actually broken her heart this time.

~~~~~

Time passed unbeknownst to the broken boy sitting on the floor of his apartment. It was dark, 'Must be late,' he thought, when he finally earned the necessary energy to move again. He sat up, sliding his body over to the coffee table which he then used as a support to get to his feet. His left leg wasn't ready to cooperate just yet and he half limped, half hopped into his bedroom where the crutches lay, unused all day. He snatched them angrily off the floor, his body too spent to release any real anger at the situation.

He attempted to crutch to the bathroom, his right hand slipping off the crutch handle, practically useless in supporting his weight. He laughed, a strange hollow sound escaping his throat as he stared down at his bruised and bloody fingers. An injured hand was the cause of him being unable to walk – somehow that fact brought humor to his tragedy. He struggled onwards, leaning heavily on the left crutch until he reached the bathroom counter. He collapsed against it, both crutches clattering to the floor noisily. His chest heaved as his body struggled to ban all emotions from showing themselves. He raised his head, meeting his own reflection in the mirror. The image staring back at him wasn't that of a 17-year-old almost man but of a 10-year-old broken child.

"Fvck," he cursed under his breath as he stared at the reflection, waiting for it to age. "Fvck!" he repeated, louder this time. "God damn, fvcking, Jesvs Christ!" His voice grew in strength, it's tremors shaking the mirror. His hand reached out to slam into the wall on either side of the betraying image. "Grow up!" he shouted. "Be a man," his voice reached its limit and began the welcome descent. "Fvuk," he sobbed, his body deciding that it had just enough energy left to push out a few more tears. At that his rage soared again and he slammed his hand into the mirror. "Stop crying!" a voice yelled, it came from his lips but it wasn't of his body. It was a voice from the past, not forgotten but long ago pushed into the depths of a dusty memory.

He opened his eyes to stare at his splintered image in the spider web of cracks careening along the mirror's surface. Each one a repetition of an image he wanted to forget - the sight of the scared little boy, beaten down time and again by an abusive guardian, his small body covered in bruises and lesions, each one as painful then as whatever was growing inside him was now. He turned against the counter, using it as a support as he slid to the floor. His hands, both now bloody met his eyes and mixed the blood with tears. He cried for his loss; his forbidden childhood, his forsaken happiness. When he had met Maria things had started to change for him, he had left that life behind and embraced a new one. He should have known that he could never have happiness; not without payment.

So that was it then. How badly did he want his new life and was he willing to pay the offered price for it? He sat on the tiles, the numbing coldness seeping into his body. Hours later he came to his decision, struggling to his feet to act on it. He looked at his image in the mirror one last time before slamming his hand into it once again. This time the blow was fatal, the mirror cracking into hundreds of tiny shards. He didn't look back, limping to his bed and falling onto it to heavily. A deep sleep immediately overtook his fatigued body, his mind enjoying some peace now that the path ahead of him was clear.

~~~~~

Maria soaked her weary body in the bathtub for almost two hours that night until her mother gently pointed out that nobody loved a prune and she exited. She sat in front of her bureau, staring at her reflection thoughtfully. 'Why does he have to make everything so hard?' she wondered. He inner voice chastised her with the reprimand that it wasn't really his fault this time. "But it is," she finally said aloud. "I'd help him if he'd only let me."

Her brain continued it's logic with, 'You've got to give him some time. He'll come around, doesn't he always?'

She groaned, burying her head in her hands. She didn't have time. Michael was sick, really sick, and if he wouldn’t go to the hospital it was only going to get worse. 'Crucial,' that was what Dr. Kennedy had said. Along with a few other equally urgent words that she didn't care to remember. Fresh tears welled up in her eyes and she harshly swiped them away. No, she couldn't cry, not now. She had to figure out a way to get through to him, she had to find his weakness.

The thought burst into her brain like a bullet. 'His weakness.' It was only two days ago that she had taken the very same approach and used his weakness – her – against him. She got up to lie down on her bed, curling her body around the stuffed teddy bear he had won for her just weeks ago at the summer fair. How was she going to use herself to make him realize? This would require some thought.

~~~~~

The next morning, Maria readied herself for school, asking her mother politely if she could have the car. Amy cast a worried glance at her daughter, wondering if there really was anything to the fight she had had with Michael yesterday.

"Everything okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," Maria nodded, swallowing a glass of orange juice as she accepted the keys from Amy. "I just gotta run an errand at lunch, no big."

"Okay, sweetie," Amy said, leaning in to steal a quick kiss before Maria rushed out of the house.

Maria drove directly to Michael's apartment, her foot on the gas pedal the only sure bodily feature she possessed at the moment. She questioned her actions at every turn, but never slowed, keeping the car on a steady pace. Once his apartment came into sight she steeled her will, focusing intently on his driveway as she approached. Her plan was simple, go inside and make him come with her. She'd use every pouty look, every sad smile, every guilty ploy she could think of to get him to come with her, and if that didn't work, she was calling Alex, Max and Kyle to come and carry him.

~~~~~

Inside the apartment, Michael was already awake and haphazardly packing a few items. He was leaving town, a feeble attempt to literally escape from the pain for a while. He wasn't sure where he was going but he had enough money to at least get an apartment somewhere. He felt once more for the wad of bills in his pocket. He had been saving to buy a car, something he could use to drive around with Maria since she wouldn't go near his bike. He figured she was probably gone to him now anyway so what was the point of a car.

He exited the bathroom, shaking glass off the first aid kit as he did. He had crudely bandaged his hand, enough to stop the blood from interfering with his driving anyway, and packed the supplies for the next bandage change. His knee mercifully felt fine today, a good thing since he couldn’t take his crutches on his bike. He'd just have to stop if it got bad; this wasn't a bad plan after all.

This was a terrible plan.

And he knew it. Michael stood in his living room, glancing around at the mementos of her, the scented candle that he pretended to hate but secretly lit whenever she couldn't make it over. The one T-Shirt of his that he always made sure to wash and then wear once so she could sleep amongst his scent. The framed picture of them on his mantle place.

The picture. He walked over and picked it up, running his thumb along her face staring back at him. "I love you," he whispered gruffly.

"I love you to."

He whipped his head around. Maria stood silhouetted in his doorway, her shadow stretching across the room to his feet. Michael stared at her sadly, knowing that the pending confrontation would hurt her. She loved him, somewhere deep inside he knew that, but he just couldn't let that love blind him now. He had to leave, get away from this madness, and if hurting her was what it took…

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Going to school," she responded softly, dangling her keys at him.

"You made a wrong turn."

"Michael," she said softly, stepping towards him. She saw only the faint trace of a limp as he placed the picture frame back on the mantle and turned away from her.

She stopped walking, chewing her lip gently, discarding ideas of how to reach him before settling on a direct tactic. "You know you have to come with me."

He laughed, "Ah, no I don't." He stepped to one side, revealing his packed bag on the table behind him. Her eyes drifted to it, the realization of exactly what he had in mind hitting her heavily.

"Where are you going?" she cried, an instant panic creeping into her voice. 'Stay calm,' her brain instructed. 'Don't lose your cool.'

"Maria," he sighed, desperate for her to just accept the inevitable or leave; either was fine.

She struggled to keep her voice even. "So what? You're just going to run away from this?" Her voice cracked and she choked, "From us?"

"Jesus," he cried loudly. "I'm not running from us. I just can't deal with this." He looked at her pleadingly, seeing no understanding in her face, only hurt… and anger. That sight enraged him and he burst, "Can you even try to imagine how I feel? Put yourself in my shoes for one minute and tell me that you wouldn't be scared shitless."

"I know you're scared," she said loudly, fighting to lower her voice. She paused, waiting for control to return before speaking. "You can't just ignore this. It's not going to go away."

"I am not losing my leg Maria."

She exploded, "So you'd rather lose your life?"

He looked at her incredulously, unbelieving that she had actually spoken those words.

"What?" she snapped. "You think you've got cancer, right? That's what we're talking about isn't it? Why not say it then? Get it out there."

"Because I'm afraid, okay?" he yelled. "Is that what you want to hear, that I'm afraid? Because I am. I'm afraid of having cancer, of losing my leg, of…" his voice shuddered. "Of dying."

"Mi…"

He cut her off, speaking softly now, "I have thought about nothing else for the past three weeks and none of the thinking does any good. It's still there and it's not going away."

"That's why you have to go to the hospital," she pleaded.

"No," he shouted. "I am not going to any hospital. I am not going to let this… this thing inside of me control my life."

"Don't you get it?" she cried, sobbing openly now. "If you run away you are letting it control you. If you face it then you get the control; you get to decide what happens."

He stared at her, his lower lip trembling with unspent emotion. He opened his mouth to speak and hesitated, closing his eyes as he mumbled, "But if it's…" He couldn't voice the words and paused, starting over to say, "If it's…. bad… they'll take my leg."

She approached him, her voice like a gentle breeze against his tortured skin. "If it's bad then you can still decide. That's your right. You're emancipated, no one is going to make this decision for you."

He opened his eyes to stare at her. She was standing so close he could see her cheeks still glistening from her tears. "So I can…" he stumbled, his brain contemplating the new choice she laid before him. "No," he said quickly, shaking his head. "I can't."

"You've got to, you know you do." Tears continued to pour from her eyes as she reached up to touch his face, his own cheeks wet from anguish. "Please, if you won't do it for yourself then do it for me. I love you too much to watch you kill yourself."

He stared at her for a long moment. Feeling her touch against his skin, staring into her green eyes, sure he could see every secret she ever held betrayed there. She was telling the truth, laying it out for him to choose. Choose – one road or the other; which way.

There was only one choice to make.

He lunged forward suddenly, burying his face in the tangle of hair along her shoulder. His body shook violently as she caressed his back, planting small kisses along his neck to sooth him.

"Shh baby, it's all right," she whispered her own tears falling freely against his skin. After a long moment he pulled away, keeping his head down, away from her prying gaze. "You decide when you're ready and I'll take you okay? I won't leave you," she said, staring into his eyes.

Michael looked over at his bag on the table. "Well I'm already packed," he smirked.

"Now?" she asked.

"It's now or never," he replied.
posted on 18-Sep-2002 9:32:27 AM
The end??? Are you kidding!!! I've already written up to Part 10!!! LOL! I just waited a little while before I started to post this because I kept going back and changing things, now I'm figuring I'll post a part every second day and keep writing so that maybe the posts will eventually catch up to my progress. There's lots more to come!

Sherry
posted on 19-Sep-2002 9:19:33 AM
What am I waiting for??? I'M EVIL!!!! LOL - seriously, I do keep going back and changing things, perfecting it. Not to worry though, I promise only 2 days between parts - that's not so bad is it?

Part 6

The receptionist ushered Michael and Maria into an examining room as soon as they arrived, Dr. Kennedy joining them just 20 minutes later.

"I'm glad you came in," he said as he entered the room.

Michael nodded, his hands pressed flat on his jeans to keep his jittery legs from bouncing. Maria looked down at them then reached her hand out to intertwine it with his. She sent him a small smile, receiving another in return.

Dr. Kennedy showed them the X-Rays, pointing out the shadowy mass hiding beneath his left kneecap. "It could be any number of possibilities," he said, explaining the tests he wanted to run and how long they'd take. "We'd like you to stay here for a few days, we'll do a biopsy in the morning."

Michael's eyes widened at the suggestion and Maria felt his fingers grow instantly cold within her grasp. She gripped his hand tighter, leaning over to whisper, "It's okay, I won't leave."

His face was a mask of terror as he swallowed roughly, turning his head slowly to meet her eyes. She saw the fear displayed there and knew that he was one short step away from bolting. She turned back to the doctor.

"So, this biopsy, will it tell you exactly what's wrong?" she asked.

"That's our hope."

"But you don't know for sure?"

"It should, they aren't always conclusive, but it's our best chance at choosing a course of action. We have to wait a few days to see what the results are."

"Right, so he can stay here overnight, have this biopsy test, and then go home."

"Well, it would be best if he stayed here until the results came back, then we could start whatever treatment we decide immediately."

"But, there's nothing you can do while you're waiting for the results, right?"

"Well, no."

"Okay, so he can have this test and then I can take him home. I'll bring him back when the results are ready."

"Ms. Deluca."

"Dr. Kennedy, you have known me since I was three…" she interrupted.

"Maria," he corrected, smiling at her. "I just think…"

"I just think…" she interrupted again, this time shooting him her best smile. "I just think that Michael would be more comfortable at home with me, rather than in some hospital bed waiting for results." She saw the look of hesitation on the doctor's face and added, "You know where I live!"

He smiled, holding up his hands in defeat. "All right. One night, but when I call you have to come back right away, not three days later."

"Done," she replied, squeezing Michael's hand even tighter.

"I'll get the paperwork started," the doctor said, leaving the room.

As soon as the door closed Maria sat back in her chair, the tension she had been holding in as she reasoned with the doctor expelling itself in a heavy breath. She glanced over at Michael to see that his head was bowed, his right hand fingering his jeans absently.

"Hey," she said softly, sitting up to lean into him. She kissed him on the cheek, murmuring, "That's okay, right?"

He rubbed his hand along his leg quickly, breaking free of her grasp to stand. He paced across the small office like a caged animal; two strides in either direction and he had it covered.

"Hey," she said again, standing up to intercept him. "What is it?"

"I… it's just…" he stopped to rub his eyebrow briskly. "A biopsy means… I mean, they do that when…"

"No," she said softly. "It doesn’t mean anything. It's a lump, they have to take a piece of it to test. It doesn't mean that, honest."

"But, it could right?"

"Well…" she stopped, staring at him thoughtfully. Honesty was the best path, she decided. Lying to him now only paved the way for destruction later. "Sure, it could be but he didn't say that. It could be any number of things – a ganglion..."

"A what?"

"Oh," Maria blushed. "I was reading."

He stared at her for a long minute. "I love you, you know that?"

"I know," she grinned. "I'll let you read it tomorrow if you want, I've got all the sites bookmarked."

"What, you're going to bring your computer to my place?" he teased.

"No, I'm bringing you to my place."

"Maria…"

"Michael!" She stomped her foot forcefully on the ground and he almost burst out laughing. "Until this is over you are staying with me, case closed."

"Oh yeah, and what's your Mom going to say about it?"

"She doesn't get a say."

"This should be good."

They were still bickering when the nurse arrived to take Michael to his room. Maria thought he was going to explode when she forced him to ride in a wheelchair.

~~~~~

Michael was finally settled in his room that afternoon, the nurse having been in twice already to take blood and urine samples. They had asked about his obviously injured hand and cleaned and bandaged those wounds as well. 'A freebie,' Maria called it.

She was curled in a chair beside him now, her hand playing with his fingers as they dangled over the side of the bed. "You want anything from your apartment? Books or anything?"

"No," he replied.

"I don't have to leave, I can get Max to bring it over."

"Don't tell Max," he said quickly.

"Michael, he's going to want to know you're in the hospital."

"I don't want anyone to know."

"Michael," she said disapprovingly.

"What?" he questioned. "You want me to go through the same thing with everyone else that we went through. All, 'oh are you going to be okay?' and 'is there anything I can do?'" He turned his head away from her, muttering, "No thanks."

"They're your friends, they're probably worried about you."

"Maria," he sighed. "What am I supposed to tell them if they come here?"

"We'll tell them the truth," she held up her hand to stop his obvious objection to that. "We'll tell them the truth that you are having some tests done. That's it. The doctor just wants to find out exactly what's wrong."

He shook his head, frowning at her persistence. "Fine," he finally mumbled.

She leaned in to meet his lips, pushing aside the hand that he held up to stop her with a laugh. She found his mouth and he returned the gesture hungrily.

"Mmm, you are the worst, you know that?" he murmured.

"I know," she replied sweetly, pulling away to grab her cell phone. "Liz has a free period," she explained, dialing the familiar number.

"Well tell them to stop by and get my books if they're coming. They're by the bed."

"Lizzie," Maria said into her phone. "Listen babe, need a favor."

Michael listened as Maria explained the situation to Liz, reassuring her that everything was okay, he just had to stay overnight. Her words bore a sense of confidence that he wished was reflected in her eyes. All day he had been watching her, catching the vacant trances that she fell into periodically. Her face was a mask of resolve, displaying enough confidence to support them both, but inside, behind the oceanic expanse of green, he read the true tale – she was scared, petrified actually. The common fear hung between them, a chasm too wide to cross without the risk of falling in; falling into the bottomless pit for all eternity, screaming, ever screaming.

Michael shook his head rapidly, a feeble attempt at erasing the vivid image from his mind. Maria was just ending her call and looked over at him, smiling brightly. That smile, her smile – he didn't think he could stand to watch her smile at him for one more second; the obvious forcefulness of it choking him until he couldn't breathe.

"Come here," he whispered roughly, holding out his hand to her.

She approached, standing by the bed until he pulled harder and she climbed up to lie beside him. "What…" she started to say, then stopped, the look in his eyes silencing her.

"Just come here," he repeated, pulling her close to him. He pressed his lips to the crown of her head, kissing her forcefully for a long moment. His hand closed tight on her arm and she closed her eyes, feeling the fear radiating from his body into her own.

"Baby," she whispered, hiding her face in the baggy folds of his stiff hospital gown. Her stomach clenched tightly, and she would have worried about throwing up if she had eaten anything that day.

"It's okay to be scared," he murmured against her hair.

She angled her face to look at him. "I'm not…"

Her voice trailed off when she realized that, once again, he saw right through her outer shell into the deepest recesses of her soul. "I'm not scared," she said softly.

"Me either," he lied in return.

The two lovers stared at each other, each knowing that the other had lied, knowing that the lie was the only thread of sanity holding them to this reality. She reached out and grasped tightly to that thread, however fragile, as did he. They lay in each other's arms, their shared lie the lifeline that would see them through the next few weeks. Lord knows they needed something.

posted on 21-Sep-2002 8:33:01 PM
Ahh NolaDarling - don't pout girlie, I'm here! Hope everyone likes!

Part 7

Their entire group - Max, Liz, Alex, Isabel, Kyle, and Tess - descended upon the hospital room during their lunch break. They were so nonchalant that Maria wanted to scream at them, 'Can't you see something's really wrong?' knowing that it was the very last thing Michael wanted her to do. The visit quickly deteriorated into a session of Isabel torturing Michael with her worrying until Max finally received a swift kick in the leg from Maria and pulled her out of the room.

They brought the books Maria had requested from Michael's apartment and when they were finally gone she sat in a chair by his bed, picking one up. "What's this one?" she asked, reading the title along the spine. "Well, well," she drawled. "Just goes to show you never really know someone."

"What?" Michael asked.

She held up the book, turning it around in her hand. "Poetry?"

"It's good," he shrugged, his cheeks showing just the slightest blush.

She stood up from her chair, leaning in to kiss him. "You like poetry? I think that's cool. Me, I'll take a good Harlequin any day."

"How can you read that crap?"

"Shush, you read your stuff, I'll read mine," she said, laying his book on his lap and reaching into her bag to pull out a tattered novel.

He reached out to grab her arm. "No, you come here and read with me."

"Michael," she laughed as he pulled her back onto the bed with him. "You just don't want to be in bed alone, do you?"

"Not particularly," he grinned, catching her mouth in a kiss.

"Fine," she grumbled, still smiling as she climbed up on the bed beside him again. She picked up the book, flipping it open to a random page. "So, what's good?"

"It's all good – Frost, Keats, Shelley."

"Ode on a Grecian Urn?" she asked, not bothering to try and conceal the disgust in her voice. "Ode to a vase? Who wrote that?"

"It's not a vase and it's Keats. His stuff's pretty good."

"Okay," she said, turning the page. "Let's see… umm, When I Have Fears?" she asked, reading the first line to herself silently. She turned the page quickly, making a show of looking for another poem.

"No, go back," Michael interrupted. "That's a good one."

"The urn?" she asked, blankly.

"No," he nudged her. "When I Have Fears. It's good."

She took a deep breath, blinking her eyes at the offensive words on the page. 'Had he read this before?' she wondered. It looked sad to her. Not exactly the type of reading he should be doing right now.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain


She started reading and then stopped. "Michael," she said softly, fingering the page of the book awkwardly. She had an idea what the poem was about and didn't want to give voice to the words, her comfortable denial too precious to shatter.

He closed his eyes, leaning back on the pillow to listen. "Keep going," he said softly.

She gulped hard and started again, reading it through to completion.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! - then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.


When the words ended she swallowed dryly, blinking back tears as she lay against Michael chest, his heart keeping a steady rhythm against her back.

"He was only 25," Michael said softly.

"What?" she asked.

"John Keats. He was only 25 when he wrote that, he was dying of tuberculosis. Do you know what it means?"

"I… I don't…" Maria's voice cracked as she tried to answer, her resolve not to break down in front of him rapidly crumbling.

"He wrote it because he was afraid of dying before he had a chance to empty his brain of the beauty stored there. He was afraid of thinking about romance and the chance that he might never experience it. And he was afraid of losing the one he loved, his 'fair creature', before they could truly experience love."

His voice was melodic and soothing, but to Maria's ears it was acid, burning against her skin as the terrible words flowed from his mouth. She leaned further into his chest, wishing he would stop talking about the terrible poem, the thoughts it brought forward in her own mind unbearable. "Please," she whispered softly.

"I don't have to be afraid," he replied softly, his voice almost inaudible.

"Don't."

"No," he continued, reaching to touch her chin, pulling her head up to peer into her eyes. His own were shining with unspent tears and she had to bite her lip sharply so she wouldn't cry. "I already found love."

"Michael," she gasped, all effort useless as tears poured forth from her eyes. Rivers of anguish ran down her face as he gathered her in his arms. No tears fell from his eyes; instead he was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace. No matter what happened tomorrow, he knew he was going to be okay.
posted on 23-Sep-2002 11:40:53 AM
Part 8

That night Maria called her mother and explained the entire situation to her; the real situation. Michael protested loudly but Maria argued that if he was staying at her house her mother had to know the truth. Besides, knowing Amy she'd figure it all out in under an hour anyway.

Michael argued that he didn't need to stay with the Deluca's but it was a weak case. He relented finally and she made the call, her mother arriving an hour later with a home cooked supper for both of them. She had gotten a ride to the hospital and took the Jetta home, leaving Maria with Michael.

After Amy left, Michael made note of the fact that Maria was now stranded at the hospital and asked, "So how are you getting home? Walking?" He had a smirk on his face as he spoke and she mimicked him, crawling slowly up on the bed to crouch near his feet.

"You think you're so smart, don't you?"

"Yeah I do," he replied, his grin widening.

"Shows how much you know."

"What? You gave your mother the car, you're either walking or…"

"Or…" she grinned slyly, snaking her way up the bed to reach his face. She leaned in close, her lips hovering just in front of his.

He reached for her face with his own and she pulled back slightly. He smiled, "You're staying?" The note of hopefulness in his voice was heart wrenching and Maria was ever grateful that she didn't have to respond negatively.

"Mmm-hmm," she nodded, again leaning in to tease him with her mouth.

He tried to capture her again, unsuccessful once more. "How?" he whispered softly, closing his eyes as he waited for her to stop her games and begin the real interaction.

"It pays to know the nurses."

He opened his eyes to stare at her, shocked that she was actually telling the truth; she wasn't going to leave him here. He waited no longer for her teasing lips to approach, grabbing her body and throwing it across his lap. He ravaged her mouth, only stopping when she pushed away, gently reminding him of where they were. He relented, content to just lie there with her in his arms.

They lay that way for hours, both of them appearing to be asleep when the nurse came to turn out the lights. She knew Maria and smiled at the couple curled together. Maria was supposed to sleep in the second bed, but with only two nurses on duty on the small wing tonight she didn't think there'd be any complaints. As she turned out the light and closed the door Michael opened his eyes, staring blankly into the darkness. Sleep escaped him, thoughts of the journey that still lay ahead consuming him. His brain repeated one phrase endlessly as tears dripped down his face and he hugged Maria tighter to him.

"When I have fears that I may cease to be," he whispered into the darkness, his quiet sobbing the only sound in the night.

~~~~~

The next morning Maria nursed a cup of putrid coffee from the machine outside his room while Michael pushed his tasteless scrambled eggs around his tray. Finally at 9:30 Dr. Kennedy entered the room.

"Well, all ready?" he asked brightly.

Michael swallowed roughly, painting a weak smile on his face. To Maria it looked more like a painful grimace and she leaned forward in her chair, reaching out to clasp his hand tightly.

Dr. Kennedy smiled at her gesture, sensing the fear radiating off the young man in front of him. He glanced down at his note pad, "Okay, so we'll do a CT scan first and then the biopsy."

"A CT scan?" Maria asked, worry present in her voice.

"It's just a fancy X-Ray," Dr. Kennedy assured her. "It's going to give us a closer look at your knee," he continued, directing his comments to Michael.

Michael was staring straight ahead, his attention focused neither on the doctor nor Maria, but on some distant spot on the wall. Maria rubbed her thumb quickly across the back of his hand. "It's just tests," she said softly.

Dr. Kennedy cleared his throat, getting a quick turn of Michael's head in his direction. "The CT scan is just like an X-Ray," he repeated. "Non-invasive. And the biopsy will just be a small incision." He walked towards the bed where Michael lay, pointing to his leg, just below and to the left of his kneecap. "The lump appears to be right here," he said. "Just beneath the skin and stretching back, underneath the kneecap itself. We'll make a small incision here, and remove a piece of the mass. We'll use a local anesthetic to numb the area. You'll have a couple of stitches and have to keep your weight off it for a week or so. The CT Scan will allow us to see the full extent of the mass, exactly what we're dealing with. Once we get the biopsy results, we'll decide a course of treatment. Sound good?"

Michael stared at his leg where the doctor pointed, nodding thoughtlessly at the posed question. Maria stared at him, her own stomach clenching as she watched him prepare himself for the upcoming tests.

"So, how long should this take?" she asked, her voice quivering slightly.

"Not more than an hour. The technician should be here in a minute to take you down, I just wanted to go over things first."

"Thank you," Maria said, her voice steady again.

"Okay, I'll see you downstairs," he said to Michael, once again receiving no response. Dr. Kennedy left the room and Maria stood up to sit beside Michael on the bed. She grasped his hand, holding it tightly with one hand while gently rubbing it with the other. She smiled at him, her eyes shining with tears that she fought not to release.

Michael stared back at her, a nervous smirk evident in the corner of his mouth. Maria leaned in to throw her arm around his back, pulling him to her chest. She was unable to speak for fear that the tiny thread she held onto would break. His head behind hers, Michael allowed a small tear to slip from each eye. He wiped furiously at them as she pulled away to touch his face. He returned the kiss she offered, sure that he couldn't hold back the rest of his tears for one more second when the technician appeared in the doorway.

Michael looked up, his fear temporarily replaced with embarrassment as he stared both at the chair and the male technician pushing it.

"Michael Guerin?" he asked, looking up as the couple on the bed broke their embrace. Seeing Maria his face broke into a smile, "Maria, hey!"

"Oh," she said, looking at the man behind the voice. "Dan, hey," she smiled sickly.

"Hey," he repeated, his voice having lost some of it's overbearing enthusiasm at the sight of the emotions displayed on her face.

She stood up, still holding Michael's hand tightly. "Sorry," she mumbled. "We're just a little…"

"Got it," Dan said, smiling at them. He had gotten to know Maria pretty well over the past two years and had seen how emotional she would get when any patient of hers was having a rough time. He figured this must be the boyfriend she was always talking about and could only imagine how emotional it had to be for her.

"This is Michael, my boyfriend. Dan's another X-Ray technician, like Laurie, you remember?"

"Actually I just moved to the CT room, hence the chariot," Dan replied. He pushed it closer to the bed, locking the wheels in place. "Ready?"

Michael released Maria's hand and slid over the side of the bed, careful not to put any weight on his leg. It hadn't hurt since yesterday but he also hadn't put any weight on it and wasn't about to test it now. He sat in the chair, the cool draft billowing up inside his gown both an embarrassment and a surprise. He shifted uncomfortably, thankful that he was at least wearing boxers.

"All right," Dan said, releasing the brakes holding the wheelchair in place. "You coming?" he asked Maria.

"Can I?" she asked.

"Sure, there's an observation room."

She looked at Michael, ready to ask his permission again when she saw that there was a complete lack of need. He stared at her, his wide eyes filled with a wordless terror as she responded softly, "Of course."
posted on 25-Sep-2002 9:45:22 AM
You hate me!?! And after I go to all that trouble to leave you lengthy fb - you HATE me! Hmmm, looks like I have to reevaluate who I give out my precious fb too - be careful chica or you might fall off my list!!!

LOL! You know I could never resist your fics, and even though most people don't give HUGE replies, I can help myself. I guess it's just my anal nature - got to make sure I cover all the bases!

Anyway, here's more, hope you don't hate me as much this time ;)

Part 9

Maria followed Dan as he pushed Michael to the CT scan room. She waited behind the glass enclosure as his body was positioned on the elevated bench and the room deserted. A low whirring could be heard as the bench moved backwards, sliding through the circular CT machine. From where she stood she could see the positioning laser floating along his body, moving down over his head and torso to run along his legs. When it reached his knees the bench stopped and the surrounding ring itself began to move, tilting first in one direction and then the other before ending where it had started. The bench backed up all the way through the opening then slid forward again. Ten minutes, no more, and the technicians had an in depth view of the inner structure of Michael Guerin.

Maria met him in the hallway outside the room, his face still tense. Even though one test was completed, the more dreaded biopsy was up next. They both knew that the scan would give a clear picture of what was actually growing inside him, but it was the biopsy that would test whether it was cancerous or not.

Dan gently reminded Maria that she couldn't watch the next procedure and she bent down to kiss Michael on the cheek, whispering, "I love you," against his clammy skin.

His only response was to again shift uncomfortably in the chair, rubbing his sweating palms nervously on his legs. She caressed his neck for another minute, saying, "I'll wait in the room," softly before letting Dan push him away down the hallway.

Maria walked back to Michael's room, her heart heavy as she checked her watch, calculating the time until she could expect his return. When she entered the room she saw her mother standing there and stopped. As Amy turned to look at her daughter, Maria's face crumbled. "Oh Mom," she sobbed, dropping her purse to the floor as she pressed her hands to her face.

Amy was across the room in an instant, gathering Maria in her arms. "Shh, baby, it's all right." She smoothed Maria's hair as she led her to the bed to sit down. "Shh, we're going to take care of him. He'll be okay. Shh."

Maria listened to her mother's words; grateful for her saying them but wishing she could bring herself to believe them.

~~~~~

By the time Michael returned from the biopsy, Amy had listened to Maria relay the whole tale of his suffering and was more than willing to take him under her roof while he recovered. Maria had given her the short version last night, just enough to make Amy understand why she was skipping school, but now told the full story.

"Hey," Maria said softly, standing up as another technician pushed Michael into the room. "How did it go?"

He shrugged, pursing his lips together as he pulled sharply on the corner of his eyebrow. His leg was supported by the leg rest on the chair, his knee bandaged with gauze. "It's numb," he said. "Didn't hurt."

"Someone will have to change the bandages," the technician spoke up, holding out a bag filled with medical supplies.

Amy stepped forward, accepting the supplies. "Why don't you tell me how to take care of that, darling?" She led the technician away from the teens, pushing him gently by his arm into the hallway.

Once the door was closed, Maria kneeled down in front of the wheelchair. "You okay?" she asked softly.

"Can I go home now?" was his whispered response.

"Of course," she said, standing up to brush her lips gently across his forehead. "The nurse came by with the paperwork when you were gone. You've just got to sign out."

"Well, let's do this."

Maria showed him where to sign the papers and then helped him get dressed. He grumbled as she instructed him to sit back in the wheelchair, knowing that hospital policy prevented him from walking out on his own, but still hating every moment of "the ride". She pushed him out of the room, meeting up with Amy and heading towards the exit, the tiny Deluca family expanded by one member for the next week. Maria said a silent prayer that a week was all he would need.

~~~~~

Michael was settled on the couch in the Deluca living room, Maria on the floor by his feet. Amy had just left the room, cautioning them that if they didn't do homework for the rest of the afternoon, she was sending both of them to school, crutches or not.

Michael grumbled as he flipped open his Math book. "I don't see why I have to do homework. It's probably pointless anyway."

"Don't say that," Maria snapped.

"Why? It probably true. Maybe I'm never going back."

"Michael," she said loudly, slamming her pencil down on the coffee table to turn to him. "With an attitude like that you probably will never go back. Now stop." She turned back to her own books, flipping the pages furiously as her anger vented itself.

Michael bit his lip thoughtfully, staring as the face of his girlfriend flushed a bright red and she turned her head away from her further. "Come here," he said gruffly.

"No," she mumbled, not turning to look at him.

"Why not?"

"Cause I don't want to," she pouted.

"Please," he said playfully.

She whipped her head around to look at him, the full evidence of her anger displayed on her face as her cheeks puffed and her eyes glistened with tears. "Don't belittle this Michael. Don't make fun of it. It's real and it's scary and it's not going away and saying things like… like that just…"

"I know," he said, suddenly serious.

She was instantly sorry for pushing the matter and slithered along the floor towards him. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "It's just that I don't want to think about if, you know?"

"Well do you think I do?" he asked. "Because I don't, but I can't just turn it off."

"I know," she moaned. "I just want to have hope, you know? There's no reason not to."

He relented, softening his features to reach for her face. "Okay. I'm sorry too."

She smiled, pushing her body up on her knees to meet his lips. "Mmm," she murmured. "What about Math?"

"What about it?" he mumbled in reply, his own words muffled by her kisses.

She pulled away, teasing him with two more quick kisses before sitting back on the floor. "My Mom will kick both our a$$es if we don't do this."

"I'm not afraid of your mother," he retorted.

"You should be."

Michael smiled, knowing he wasn't going to get any more "play" out of Maria right then. He watched as she focused on her books, her brain releasing its present worries in favor of the Math problem before her. He looked down at his own text, his worries far to strong to be erased by simple Math. He closed his eyes and sighed silently. 'No reason not to have hope,' he thought. Easy for her to say.
posted on 27-Sep-2002 9:09:30 AM
Well glad you don't hate me ;) and yeah - 285 definitely makes up for the lack of candy!!!

Here's a good part - no reason for hate here... I don't think!

Part 10

The next week passed slowly with Amy taking care of Michael during the day while Maria returned to school. Liz helped her talk Mr. Parker into giving her a week off from the Crashdown and she spent every spare moment she could sitting by his side on the couch, when Amy wasn't hovering over them that was.

On Monday afternoon she left school with Liz, approaching Max's jeep for her customary ride home. She heard a horn beeping and glanced over her shoulder to see her mother sitting in the Jetta, the engine idling.

"I'll catch you later," she said quickly to Liz, approaching the car with building trepidation. She could see that Michael was sitting in the front seat, his face an unreadable mask. That meant one of two things – either he was hurting again or the results were back. Either way she knew they were on their way to the hospital.

"What's up?" she asked, her voice bearing a forced cheerfulness as she threw her bag into the back seat and closed the door.

Amy turned around to smile at her daughter. "Michael has a doctor's appointment," she said, her voice revealing the hidden meaning that the results were indeed back.

"Kay," she mumbled, sitting back in the seat. She stared at the back of Michael's head throughout the short drive, wishing she could hold his hand right now, kiss him, do something to let him know she was there for him. She was afraid that he wouldn't want any of that, preferring instead to deal with this in his usual stonewall manner, not opening enough to even let her in for fear that repressed emotions would come tumbling out.

They arrived at the hospital and Amy pulled up to the entrance. "I'll just park," she said as Maria climbed out, pulling the crutches behind her. She handed them to Michael as he opened the door, trying unsuccessfully to meet his eyes as he stood up.

She walked beside him to the reception desk, again taking charge naturally and announcing, "Michael Guerin," to the woman sitting there.

"Take a seat," she responded and Maria followed behind as Michael moved to the waiting room.

They sat silently for a moment, Maria unsure exactly why she was having such a hard even forming a coherent thought to express to him. "So," she finally said, the silence between them shattering like smashed crystal.

Michael didn't respond, instead chewing on his lip nervously as his right foot bounced on the floor. Maria reached out to place her hand atop his leg, forcing him to stop. "Do you want me to come in with you?" she asked, glancing to see if he would look at her.

"Doesn't matter," he mumbled, starting the bouncing again as soon as she removed her hand.

"It's all right to be scared you know."

"I'm not scared," he replied curtly, shooting her a glance that said he did not want to talk about his feelings at that moment.

"Michael Guerin," the receptionist called.

The pair stood up, following the woman down the hallway towards Dr. Kennedy's office. Amy entered just then, stopping near Maria. "I'll wait here," she said softly, giving her daughter's arm a quick squeeze before releasing her.

Maria nodded, quickening her pace to catch up with Michael as he entered the exam room. She followed, taking a seat beside him as the silence settled over them once again.

This time he broke it, saying, "Look, I am scared, okay? I just can't talk about it or I'll lose it."

"Okay," she said quickly. "No talking." She reached out and gripped his hand tightly, sending her own strength into his body like a shock, a current of electricity coursing through his veins. He returned her grip, tightening his hand around hers as he stared ahead silently, steeling himself for the battle to come.

Dr. Kennedy pushed open the door on the quiet couple, smiling gently at them as he took a seat. "How's the leg?" he asked, a feeble attempt at breaking the icy wall separating himself from them.

"Stiff," Michael responded.

He nodded, "That's normal after a biopsy." He placed the file he was carrying on the desk and opened it. "All right, we have the results of all the tests."

Maria realized that she wasn't breathing, hadn't since the doctor entered the room a moment ago. She exhaled slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on Dr. Kennedy's mouth. She had to be able to predict the words, try and see them before they were voiced. It was her only hope at remaining calm throughout the next few minutes – somehow foresee what was about to happen or risk sending herself into a fiery oblivion.

Michael felt Maria's hand tighten around his. He looked down to see white knuckles standing out against her already pale skin and reached across to lay his right hand on top of hers. He swallowed roughly, staring at Dr. Kennedy's eyes as words fell from his lips. His eyes – his eyes would reveal the truth before his lips ever had a chance to know the violent reality. That was his only hope to remain calm – predict the truth in the eyes or risk driving himself over the edge of sanity.

"You have a rare tumor. It's called a ganglioneuroma."

Tumor.

The word reverberated off his lips, Maria reeling as she focused there. It shone in his eyes, Michael's foundation shaking as he stared. A tumor – what they had feared the most was true.

"It's benign."

"What?"

The single word fell from their lips at the same moment, Maria leaning forward to catch the repeat, sure she must have misheard him the first time.

"Benign," Dr. Kennedy repeated. "Ganglioneuromas are rare tumors, usually benign, that appear in only 1 of 100,000 people."

Maria didn't hear anything after the most important word – benign. It was benign, that meant he was going to be okay, he was going to live. She closed her eyes, her breathing increasing as she fought to listen to the remaining words falling from the doctor's lips. Her mouth quivered and she was unable to control the sound that escaped them. "Benign," she whispered, turning her unbelieving face towards Michael.

He was staring straight ahead, no longer taking an interest in the doctor's eyes, having already learned the truth he sought there. His mouth hung open slightly and he blinked as Maria spoke, unable to process her words, only knowing that she was talking by his side.

She released her tears, unable and unwillingly to keep them buried any longer. Her body shook violently as her noiseless sobbing increased. She lowered her head, bending over to rest her forehead against the tower of hands on Michael's lap.

Michael turned now to look down at her, pulling his hand out from her grasp to rest it on top of her curls. He smoothed her hair awkwardly, his movements jerky as his own body started to shudder.

"Treatment options include…" Dr. Kennedy let his words trail from his lips. Sensing that his presence was unwanted in that moment he stood and left the room.

As the door clicked shut Michael looked up, suddenly aware that they were alone. He glanced down at Maria's shaking body, reaching to pull her into a seated position. She obliged, sitting up as she wiped her eyes, her sobs fading. She turned her eyes toward him to meet his glance, the relief in her own eyes mirrored there.

"Benign," she repeated, her voice cracking as a fresh onslaught of tears released itself.

Michael grabbed her to him, the realization of the truth of the situation finally falling upon him. His own body shook as tears poured from his eyes, small waterfalls carrying his trepidation down his cheeks.

The lovers held onto each other like they were the only sure thing left in this world. What they had was real, and now it was safe; the awareness of that was almost too much to handle.

posted on 30-Sep-2002 9:04:32 AM
Thanks for the sweet comments - the real healing is beginning.. read on!

Part 11

Amy pulled the car into the driveway, getting out to walk inside. Maria started to gather her things from the backseat when she noticed that Michael had made no move to exit.

"You coming?" she asked, leaning over the seat to look at him.

His face was tense, his lips pursed together, and he mumbled, "Can you just take me home?"

"I… um…" she stopped, staring at him for a moment. "You won't have anyone to look after you."

"I just really need to go home, okay?"

"Sure," she replied, following her mother into the house to get the car keys. When Amy saw Maria enter without Michael she picked up his duffle bag from the floor and handed it to her daughter.

"What?" Maria asked, confused.

Amy shrugged. "I figured he'd want to go home soon. I packed it this afternoon."

"Thanks," Maria said, smiling at her mother. "I'll bring him over and stay for a while."

"Be home for breakfast," Amy replied.

Maria stood in the living room, her mouth gaping open at her mother's instructions. "Um, Mom?"

"What?" Amy asked. "He needs some help, you're the best person to give it. Just remember that this is a one time thing, tonight only."

"Of course," Maria mumbled, staring at her mother in shock for another moment before rushing forward to hug her. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Amy replied. "Don't forget to bring a toothbrush."

"Oh, I don't," Maria stopped, remembering the toothbrush she had already stashed at Michael's and how it would not serve her well for Amy to find out about it. "Right," she corrected herself. "A toothbrush, and something to sleep in," she added, blushing as she turned away from her mother.

Maria grabbed her things, completely unnecessary as they were, and carried them with Michael's belongings out to the car. She tossed them in the back seat, excitedly climbing into the front, bursting with the news that she had permission to stay with him. She glanced over at him, seeing that he was leaned back in the seat, his eyes closed, his hand pressed firmly against his leg.

For two days his leg had been holding out, not causing him any pain, and now, on the day they found out it was curable, he was in torture. Great, she thought, just great.

~~~~~

Maria watched silently as Michael crutched into his apartment, heading straight for the bedroom. By the time she brought everything in from the car, he was lying on the bed, curled on his right side. She stood in the doorway watching him for a moment before grabbing the familiar ice pack and the stronger Tylenol 3's he was now taking thanks to a prescription from Dr. Kennedy. She brought the aids to him, sitting against his back on the bed and gently smoothing his hair to alert him to her presence. His face contorted as another wave of pain washed over him and she winced in empathy.

She placed the ice pack against his knee, wanting to remove his jeans but unwilling to make him move. She leaned over to place the pills against his lips. "Here baby," she murmured softly.

"No," he replied, reaching up with his hand to push the pills away. "I took some before."

"Before the hospital?" she asked

"In the car," he answered, all the while grimacing as pain wracked his body. "I've just got to sleep," he whispered, pushing her hand away as she caressed his forehead.

Maria slid off the bed, standing helplessly by his side as she watched him suffer. "Do you want anything?"

"Just lock the door when you leave."

She stood there for a moment, slightly scalded by his dismissal. She had been supporting him tirelessly for over a week and now that the worry was over he was through with her? She didn't think so.

She turned to leave the room, pausing in the doorway to look back at him. She'd leave him alone, for a while, but she wasn't leaving the apartment. Not until he embraced the relief delivered by Dr. Kennedy today and then began to deal with the upcoming challenge he faced.

No way he was getting rid of her now.

~~~~~

The proposed treatment for the tumor in Michael's leg was an invasive surgery. Dr. Kennedy had explained to them that afternoon that removal of the tumor was their only option since it appeared to still be growing and as such, wouldn't stop wrecking its havoc on his body any time soon. While the surgery would bring welcome relief, it brought with it certain difficulties - not with the surgery itself but the recovery. The tumor was interwoven around the delicate tendons beneath the kneecap and the tendons would be severed while slicing into the sensitive skin to extract the poisonous growth.

Weeks of intensive physical therapy were in store for him, followed by months of wearing a brace and walking with crutches and then a cane. The doctor had gone on for five minutes making sure they understood exactly how intense the recovery process would be before he had scheduled the operation – in exactly one week.

In the moment Maria had still been so relieved at the earlier good news that she had just nodded silently, accepting the diagnosis as far better than what she was prepared for. Now she thought back and realized just how quiet Michael had been during the visit. His fear, lifted for one brief instant, came crashing back upon him in full force.

Their fight was far from over yet.

~~~~~

Three hours later Michael awoke from a restless sleep he wasn't sure he had even taken. The throbbing in his knee had mercifully subsided, in its place leaving only a piercing ache. He rolled over heavily, rubbing his face as he struggled into consciousness. He needed food and water, basic needs he felt like ignoring but knew he still had to nourish.

He stumbled to his feet, grabbing his cursed crutches from the floor and staring at them for a moment before standing. They had become a symbol of pain for him, devices he only needed when his knee decided to act up, which had been every day since the biopsy last week. Now he had only a week of potential "good" days before he was condemned to a six-month sentence of anguish.

Yeah, these crutches were great inventions.

He walked to the bathroom, noticing distractedly that the stereo was playing softly in the living room. Figuring Maria had left it on, he dismissed it and splashed handfuls of cold water on his face to wash away the lingering traces of exhaustion. When he exited, he looked up in surprise at the sight that greeted him.

Candles were scattered throughout the living room and kitchen. On the couch lay several cushions positioned to support a person's back and knees. A full meal was spread along the coffee table – lasagna with caesar salad and garlic bread, his favorite.

He looked around in wonder to see Maria approaching him expectantly. "Are you hungry?" she asked quietly.

"Famished."

"Good," she smiled. She turned to walk towards the couch when he reached out to grab her arm. She turned to him questioningly, still smiling, "What?"

"Thank you," he said gruffly.

She stared at him, watching emotions he couldn't voice pass across his face. "Any time," she smirked, hiding her own racing emotions in the gesture. She stepped in to kiss him, caressing his face softly as she stared into his eyes. They'd weathered a violent storm together; tonight was a chance to celebrate it's ending, before they braced themselves for the second onslaught.

She had every intention of making it as enjoyable for him as possible.
posted on 2-Oct-2002 10:57:12 AM
Of course it's not over - it'll always end mainly happy with me but I've got to put them through the trials first!

Part 12

The next morning Maria slipped out of Michael's apartment while he was still sleeping. They had enjoyed their evening of celebration together – thoroughly. She had made sure that the surgery was the furthest thing from his mind when he fell asleep. Now though, it was time to ask the tough questions. How exactly were they going to deal with his operation? Where was he going to stay while he recovered? What was he going to do about his job?

She left his apartment, driving home to get ready. Maybe if she hurried she'd have time to talk to her mother about this before school.

~~~~~

No one was more surprised than Maria when she walked into English to see Michael sitting in his usual seat. She took her place in front of him, turning to give him a quick kiss.

"What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"I go here."

She cocked her head at him, pursing her lips together. "I mean, I thought you didn't want to come here with crutches."

"I never said that."

She frowned at him impatiently. "Just because you never said it," she taunted.

"Look, I do want to graduate, you know. I can't stay home for the next six months."

Maria stared blankly at him for a moment before breaking into a grin. She leaned in to kiss him again, saying, “Well I’m not complaining.” Then she whispered, “I’ve got to talk to you about something later,” just as Mr. Fillier cleared his throat, signaling the start of class.

She turned around in her seat, the topic of conversation playing on her mind. That morning she had asked her mother if Michael could move in with them on a more permanent basis. Her reasoning was that he would need some help as he recovered and besides, it would be good for him to be part of a family again. They did it on Roseanne, right? She smiled, she couldn’t wait to tell him that Amy had said yes.

~~~~~

Maria didn’t get a chance to talk to Michael until lunch time. She wanted to tell him then but figured that one piece of news was enough for one meal time. Their entire group – the eight of them – were gathered around one table together and Michael was about to tell them what his diagnosis was. They had all visited the Deluca home over the past week but were still under the impression that he was suffering from a sprain. Maria had convinced him last night that he should tell them the truth, saying that he'd only get support from them, not the pity he so dreaded.

She nudged him under the table when there was a break in the conversation, signaling that now was a good time for him to start. He looked ill as he glanced at her and cleared his throat roughly. Max and Liz looked up expectantly while Kyle and Alex continued to eat their lunches voraciously and Isabel and Tess argued over which color of nail polish matched the top Tess was wearing.

Michael glanced at Maria and she saw that he neither had the courage nor the desire to reveal his pain to his closest friends. She reached under the table to grab his hand, giving it a supportive squeeze. "Should I…" she asked hesitantly.

He nodded and Maria cleared her own throat, getting a bewildered glance from Max and Liz who had been watching their interaction with interest. The other four looked up now as well, waiting for Maria to say something.

"Um," she started, suddenly realizing why Michael hadn't wanted to do this. She swallowed dryly, clearing her throat again before continuing. "Uh, well you know that Michael had some tests done on his knee last week."

She sought out his hand underneath the table again, partially to reassure him and partially to garner strength for her own voice. When she looked up she saw six questioning faces, three of which were slightly paler than the others – Max, Isabel and Tess. Maria mentally kicked herself for not convincing Michael to tell them before this. They had been like siblings to him since childhood, they deserved to know if something was wrong.

She took a deep breath, "Well, it turns out that it's not a sprain, it's a lump, called a ganglioneuroma."

Isabel's sharp intake of breath was barely audible over Tess's low moan and Max closed his eyes as he waited for the next piece of news. Michael watched their reaction, shaking his head at what he had known was going to happen all along. He pulled his hand out of Maria's to lay it flat on the table. "Look," he said. "It's a benign tumor, no big deal. They're gonna cut it out next week and I'll be on crutches for a couple of months. Don't freak out."

"Are you going to be okay?" Tess asked.

"I just said I was, didn't I?"

Maria turned her head to stare at her boyfriend, wondering how badly she would pay for convincing him that they would be supportive when all they were showing him was pity.

"Why… why didn't you tell us?" Isabel asked, leaning into Alex as he gathered her close.

"I'm telling you now."

"But you had to… I mean before, you must have thought…" she said, looking at him in bewilderment. "You could have told us."

Maria was quickly growing tired of Isabel's broken-hearted routine. She glanced back at Michael to see that he was about to lose every ounce of self-control that he possessed and quickly intervened.

"Isabel," she said softly, drawing the girl's attention away from Michael. "He just didn't want you to worry. We didn't know what was wrong, the doctor just told him yesterday."

"Still, we're a team Michael. You should have told us," Max chimed in, showing his support for his sister.

"What did I tell you?" Michael said to Maria, struggling to his feet on the unsteady crutches. "Thanks Maxwell,” he muttered. “Great show of teamwork.” His face was knotted in anger and Maria was surprised that he kept it suppressed as he turned and walked away from the group.

She stared after him, her sadness at his obvious pain quickly replaced by the anger bubbling through her veins. She turned around to face the group, watching for a moment as Kyle, Alex, and Liz squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze.

"I cannot believe you," she spat. "You call yourselves his friends? Do you have any idea what last week was like for him?"

"Maria, we just like to know when something's going on," Tess said softly.

"Well you do know, you know now, when Michael was ready to tell you. What do you expect from him? He's hard, he's always been hard, you can't push him. Jesus, you sicken me." Stopping to look at the three friends she had grown up with she shook her head sadly, they were all to weak to even stand up for her, preferring instead to show their silent support for their respective partners. "You all sicken me," she emphasized.

"Maria, wait," Liz called after her.

She was already standing to gather her books and looked back at them darkly. "Last week, your 'friend' thought his life was about to end. He has been to hell and back and it's barely even started. You'd be wise to rethink your friendship before you speak to him, or me, again."

She turned and walked away from the group, leaving a bewildered Kyle wondering exactly how keeping his mouth shut had earned him the vicious rebuke.

~~~~~

Maria followed Michael across the school parking lot, his slower pace making it easy for her to catch up. "Wait," she called, as she reached him. "Michael, wait."

"What?" he asked, stopping but not turning around.

She stepped in front of him, panting slightly. "Wait," she said, "I told them off."

"You what?" he asked with surprise.

"Them," she pointed back to the lunch table. "Max, Isabel, Tess, even Liz, Alex and Kyle – I told them they were idiots and they better rethink their friendship with both of us."

Michael towered over her, leaning heavily on his crutches to bend to her face. "You really did that?" he asked huskily.

"Yeah," she replied, smiling.

“That was dumb.”

“What?” she asked, shocked at his response.

“Maria, now they’re gonna feel all guilty and want to apologize.”

“Well they should apologize.”

“Still…”

They had stopped walking near Maria’s car and Michael turned now to lean on it, giving his arms a much needed break from supporting his weight. She approached his body, stepping between his legs to lean against his chest.

“Let’s forget about them,” she murmured against his lips. “Besides I want to talk about us.”

“Can it wait?”

She pulled back a bit, pouting at his refusal.

He looked at his watch, “Class starts in five minutes. If I leave now I just might make it.”

Maria laughed as she realized how slow the crutches made his progress. “Since when has Michael Guerin been worried about making it to class on time?”

“Since a beautiful girl sat in front of me.”

“Michael,” she gasped, hitting him on the arm.

“Ow,” he yelped, rubbing his arm in fake pain. “Chill, Deluca,” he said. “It’s Math, you’re the girl.”

“Oh,” she replied, her cheeks blushing redder than the crimson top she was wearing.

He laughed, standing up to kiss her again as they began walking into the school.

“I still want to talk to you later though,” she said, growing more excited by the second at revealing her proposal to him. “Damn,” she suddenly cried. “I’ve got to work tonight.”

“No big,” he replied. “Besides I’m looking forward to a little alone time.”

Maria slowed her pace a little, staring at the side of his face as he walked on. His words washed over her, piercing the happy balloon she had enclosed herself in.

“No offense,” she heard him say. “Staying at your place was okay but the whole family thing,” he shuddered slightly. “I don’t think I could take much more.”

She lowered her gaze to the ground, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other carefully so that she wouldn’t collapse to her knees. All of the happiness slowly leaked out of her balloon.
posted on 4-Oct-2002 12:51:38 PM
He might be lying... you'll have to wait and see!

Part 13

Maria struggled with her conflicting emotions over asking Michael to move in with them over the next few days. On the one hand was his obvious wish – to continue living on his own, his precious freedom clutched tightly in his grasp. On the other, was her absolute belief that he needed someone to take care of him, someone to make his meals, wash his laundry, and just generally be there for him as he recovered. She knew that Michael would want her to respect his wishes and leave the subject alone, but this time she wasn’t sure he knew what was best.

Hell, he never knew what was best.

While she drowned in the depths of her conundrum, her boyfriend was struggling to keep his head above his own evils. Michael had allowed himself to enjoy the sweet relief of his prognosis not being cancer for exactly five seconds until the realization of what actually faced him set in and he fell into a nightmare like only he could conjure. Maria had tried to cheer him up that first night and he had let her, or rather let her believe that she had. Truth be told, the approaching surgery was never far from his thoughts. Over the past few weeks he had always been able to push his fears away from the foreground whenever he was in her presence. Now, as he sat behind her in English class on Friday morning, staring at the mass of blonde curls in front of him, the only thought that resided in his brain was that it wasn’t working any longer.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his leg aching to be stretched but his brain intervening to say that the movement would be anything but a good idea. He settled down again, thoughts of the surgery dancing across his drooping eyelids. As if it wasn’t bad enough to face a surgeon in three days, Dr. Kennedy had called a few days ago and asked him to come in yesterday afternoon. Maria was working so he got Max to take him and sat alone in the doctor’s office as he explained the risks associated with any surgery.

The decisive words were, “With any anesthesia there is a risk of death. It’s not likely but we have to make people aware of the chances, however small.”

He set his mouth in a determined line; there was no way he was going through with that surgery on Monday.

Even as the words were formulated he knew their truth was nonexistent. He had to go through with it, everyone was expecting him to. Before, when he had wanted to just run away from it all, it had just been Maria and he was able to convince himself that hurting her wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

What was that saying, you always hurt the ones you love?

He shook his head in frustration. No, it didn’t matter how much he dreaded the upcoming surgery, it was a given. If he didn’t voluntarily check himself into the hospital he knew he’d be forcibly carried there by a certain jock and his football team friends.

He stared at Maria’s head as she stretched her neck slowly, her curls sliding up and down her back like waves washing along a beach. He wanted the relief she offered him, the escape that he could only find in her presence and was just reaching out to touch her hair when Mr. Fillier cleared his throat loudly.

“Pass these back,” he commanded, laying a stack of papers on the desk of the front person in each row.

Michael watched as the white leaflets made their way down the aisle, smiling briefly when Maria turned to pass one to him. Her face was clouded, guarded, and instead of wondering what was bothering her, he just wondered why he couldn’t find the happiness he sought there today. Must be him, he concluded.

He glanced down at the stapled papers in his hand, “Poets of the early 19th century,” the title exclaimed. He shuffled through the booklet, noting with a passing interest that he recognized some of the poems listed there. That realization brought him no academic excitement, rather a relief at probably not having to put much effort into whatever homework this resulted in.

“On the first page, we have John Keats,” the teacher was saying.

Maria opened her own booklet, staring at the intrusive words on the page in front of her. She glanced up quickly, watching as his lips formed the words she so dreaded.

“When I have fears…”

His voice floated through the air towards her, surrounding her head as she panicked and her ears blocked all entrance of sound. Her body reacted on pure instinct and she blurted, “Sir, I really don’t think this is a very good poem.”

The teacher stared down at her over the rims of his half-glasses, his face showing happiness that someone was actually taking an interest in his class rather than irritation at the interruption.

“Miss Deluca,” he drawled slowly, leaning against his desk. “That’s a very strong opinion, many people hold John Keats in quite high regard as a poet. Perhaps you’d like to back up your views.”

“I… I…” she stumbled, as the only thought that raced through her brain was ‘because Michael doesn’t need to hear this.’

From behind her, the object of her concern stared at her quivering shoulders, knowing that they shook not in fear of speaking her mind, but in fear of him having to hear the poem spoken aloud. Contrary to her belief, he still liked the poem, always would. It kept things real, present. Slowly he reached out to place his hand on her shoulder, causing a slight jump in her body.

She swallowed heavily, feeling his supporting touch and mistakenly thinking that it was a sign to continue, to stop the teacher at all costs. “It’s a sad poem, I thought we were discussing romanticism,” she finally managed.

“You don’t think it’s romantic?” he countered.

“What, dying?” she threw back.

He nodded slowly, “Very well, why don’t we all read it silently and then we’ll take a vote.”

Maria watched as the few people that had turned to stare at her buried their heads in the words. She breathed in deeply, turning to glance at Michael over her shoulder.

His face was mottled and he struggled to keep the fury out of his voice as he asked, “Why did you do that?”

The words were muffled by the sound of the bell ringing, signaling the end of class and Maria wondered if she had heard him correctly over the din. She knew she had as she stared at his face and confusion registered on her own as she deciphered their meaning. “Wha…” she stammered. “I thought it would, you know, remind you.”

“As if I can forget,” he replied.

“Michael, you don’t have to be afraid anymore, that poem just brings back bad memories. Everything’s going to be fine now,” she said softly.

He tried to keep the anger out of his voice, he truly did, but it was a losing battle from the beginning. “That poem,” he spat, “is more appropriate now than it ever was last week.” He looked at her in bewilderment, “You really think everything’s going to be fine?”

“Well… I…,” she struggled. Seeing the fury on his face, she blinked her eyes rapidly, stalling for time while her brain searched for the better words to speak. “I thought you were okay with this, you said the other day…”

“No Maria, you said. You said everything was going to be fine and I just went along with it. Truth is I’m petrified, but everyone around me is all excited, Tess is planning a pre-surgery party for Christ’s sake!” He abruptly stopped his words, staring at her face as the curtain of denial fell from her eyes. Behind it, he saw the one emotion he never expected to see – pity. “I’ve got to go,” he muttered, struggling to his feet.

“Wait,” she whispered.

He looked down at her. His voice was firm as he said one word before walking away, “No.”

Maria sat in the empty classroom and cried.

posted on 7-Oct-2002 10:49:52 AM
Hey there, Sorry I don't have time to respond to all your feedback but I really appreciate it. Hope you like!

Part 14

After school, Maria went to work and avoided Liz’s questioning gaze every time she caught her biting her lip to keep from crying. Finally, when she was sitting down for a break at 9:30, Liz approached, pushing a bowl of rocky road ice cream across the counter towards her.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked. “Or, ice cream as it were.” She smiled at her best friend, hoping that the simple gesture would break through whatever wall Maria had erected around herself.

Maria looked up from where her head rested on her hand, her cheek scrunched up against the fist she had formed. “I don’t deserve ice cream,” she mumbled.

Liz rounded the counter to sit on a stool beside her. Maria had already forgiven her for not saying anything when Michael told them about his leg so she knew that it had to be something else. She pushed her shoulder lightly. “Everyone deserves ice cream,” she said.

“Not me, I’m a horrible person,” she moaned, letting her head fall onto the countertop with a dull thud.

“Sweetie,” Liz said softly, reaching out to rub Maria’s back. “What is it?”

“Michael,” came the timid reply.

‘Of course,’ Liz wanted to say but didn’t. This had to be a hard time for him, for both of them, but Maria hadn’t wanted to talk about it much, saying just that the worst was over and from now on things would be easier. Liz had wondered at the time if she really believed what she was saying. Everything she had ever read about surgeries left her with the impression that they were anything but easy, with painful recoveries and risky side effects.

She wanted to tell Maria all of these things but didn’t, instead saying, “Do you want to tell me?”

“No,” Maria said before sighing loudly and blurting, “It’s not Michael it’s me. I want him to live with us after the surgery but he wants to live alone, and I was so upset that he didn’t want to that I completely ignored how frightened he was and then yesterday I said he was fine and he got mad at me.”

The words fell out of her mouth in one breath, and by the time she reached the end she was near tears. Liz glanced at the other waitress on duty, motioning towards the back room as she led Maria there. Sitting her on the couch she retrieved a box of tissues and took the customary best friend’s place beside her.

“Start from the beginning,” she commanded. Maria did, telling Liz exactly what had been going on since Michael came back to school. When she was finished Liz asked, “First, did you actually ask him if he wanted to live with you?”

“No.”

“Well until you do it’s pretty stupid to be fighting over it don’t you think? Second, did you tell him that you were scared too?”

Maria tried to recover from Liz’s directness and stammered, “I’m… I’m not…”

“Maria,” Liz said, frowning. “You are so scared that you can’t even feel the fear any more. You think something’s going to go wrong, that his leg will be screwed up or something worse and you are hiding behind this silly fight over living together that you didn’t even have.”

“But…”

“But…” Liz continued, giving Maria the death glare that said she was right. “Michael is scared too, and from everything you’ve just told me it sounds like he just wants you to accept that, share his pain. Don’t pretend like it’s not there, embrace it.”

Maria had slowly stopped crying as she relayed her story but now let fresh tears pour forth from her eyes. “I am so selfish,” she sobbed.

“No sweetie, you are not selfish, you’re human. It’s a natural reaction to run from fear, everyone does it, Michael probably did too.”

Maria smirked at that, “If you only knew.”

She waved her hand dismissively at the questioning look that crossed Liz’s face, knowing that she would never reveal that he had been ready to run away from everything only two weeks ago. God, it seemed like a lifetime had passed since then.

She smiled weakly at Liz. “So, I’ve got to talk to him?” she asked quietly.

“Maria,” Liz asked, “Since when have you ever been afraid to talk to Michael?”

“Since I was the one who was wrong.”

~~~~~

Twenty minutes later she was standing outside his apartment door. She knocked softly and pushed the door open, entering to see him lying on the couch. He was clad only in boxers and she stared at him for a long moment, mesmerized by the flickering lights of the television as they danced across his near naked body.

“Hi,” she said softly, her voice already betraying her as it cracked over the small word.

He had turned his head to watch her enter, not surprised that she had come. He stared back at her now, his face impassive as he waited for her to make the first move.

She approached him slowly, taking a seat on the chair near his feet to keep as much distance between herself and his emotionless face as possible. An ‘emotionless’ Michael was a scary thing. Even now, after all their time together, she still never knew when his mask was going to break to reveal a thoughtful statement or an angry retort.

She prayed now that he was just thinking.

“I…,” she started, faltering before beginning again, “I… was wrong. I have been thinking about something else all week, something… not important, and I didn’t realize…” She stopped, pausing to find a better choice of words to explain herself. “No, I didn’t want to admit… that you were still worried. That the surgery was going to be scary. Truth is, I think I occupied my mind with asking you…” she stopped again, not able to admit the real reason for her distraction. “I occupied my mind with…. something else, so I wouldn’t have to think about the surgery, cause I’m scared too baby, really.”

The silence was deafening as Michael slowly choose the words for his response. Finally he blinked his eyes, Maria holding her breath as she waited.

“You thought I was mad because you weren’t scared?” he asked.

She nodded her head emphatically.

“Jesus,” he muttered, sitting up to face her on an even level. “Exactly what part of my behavior made you think that I wanted you to be scared?”

“I… but I…” she stammered.

“Maria,” he sighed, shaking his head forlornly. “I wish that I could make this disappear for you. I don’t want you to have to deal with all the worry and the fear. It’s not right.”

“You know I’m going to.”

“But, you weren’t, not this week. That doesn’t make me mad.”

She stared at him for a long moment, trying to piece together the logic he was offering. “So, why were you mad?”

“I guess… I don’t know, I don’t want you to be upset but you’ve got to realize that I might be. And that poem, today – that’s a beautiful poem. I will love that poem until the day I die.”

“Don’t,” she whispered raggedly, his choice of words sending her world tilting on it’s axis.

“I didn’t mean…”

“No,” she stopped him. “Don’t apologize. You’re right – it is beautiful, it just puts my fear into words and… I just don’t know how to deal with that.”

She lowered her head and they sat quietly for a long moment until she tentatively raised her eyes to see his hand extended towards her. Her body shuddered as she moved to sit beside him on the couch, taking his hand gingerly. He leaned into the cushions, staring at the streaks of tears marring her face before reaching out to gently wipe them away.

“Don’t cry.”

“Seems like that’s all I’m doing lately,” she laughed weakly.

“I never meant to make you cry,” he admitted.

She smiled at him, reaching up to hold his hand tighter against her cheek. “I know, it’s just scary and I can’t help it. I love you so much,” she whispered, exhaling as the words left her mouth. “I just feel so helpless.”

“Don’t,” he responded, shaking his head at her statement. “You are the only help I’ve got. My head feels noisy all the time lately, except when I’m with you – then it’s quiet, peaceful. Don’t ever feel helpless.”

She allowed herself to be pulled into his arms, shifting to lie against him as he leaned back into the pillows. He rubbed his hand along her arm slowly, enjoying the feel of her own hands against his bare chest.

“So, what was this thing that had you so preoccupied anyway?”

“Oh,” she said, suddenly panicked at possibly starting another fight between them. “Um… okay,” she said slowly. “All right, I’ll tell you but I don’t want a response, I don’t want to fight, it’s just what I was thinking about, okay?”

“Sure,” he responded, more than slightly confused by her ramblings.

She took a deep breath. “I asked my Mom if you could move in with us after the surgery and she said yes.”

Michael closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. She said that she didn’t want a response, right? Good, cause he was in no way equipped to provide one.
posted on 8-Oct-2002 4:09:24 PM
Not REALLY an answer - but a progression nonetheless. I really struggled with how to make him face the surgery, and also with what his main problem was - maybe that's confusing, hell, I've got like 3 different endings to this part written! Anyway, I like this one and I'm too excited about actually getting something out that I like - I can't hold onto it for a few days, just had to post now (somehow I don't think that will get any complaints!).

Hope you like as well!

Sherry

Part 15

"But Michael, I'm really, really sorry."

Michael groaned, tossing his head back against the couch cushions as he listened to her voice whine over the phone.

"I know," he replied. "And I told you okay a million times."

"Well," she continued. "So, why can't we have the party?"

"Tess," he cautioned.

"Michael," she mimicked.

Tess had always been Michael's closest ally in their struggle through childhood. All four of them, Michael, Tess, Max and Isabel, had been orphaned before the age of five, but only Michael and Tess were by choice. Their alcoholic and drug-addicted parents had both lost their children through the intervention of child welfare services. Max and Isabel's parents had been killed in a car crash, no fault of their own, and so even though the four children came through the same system, Michael and Tess always felt a secret bond between them, much like the birthright sibling relationship of Max and Isabel.

Now, she was bugging him about the precious pre-surgery party she had been planning all week and he was quickly losing the fight not to have it.

"Look," he argued. "I don't want a crowd of people over here. The place is a mess."

"So clean it."

"I can't."

"Michael," she scolded. "I know you hate to clean…"

"No," he said firmly. "I can't."

"Why?"

He sighed heavily, Tess may have been a close friend but admitting a weakness was not something that came to him easily. "Tess, I can't walk, okay? I can't walk, I can't clean up, the place is a mess and I cannot clean it for you guys to come over here. Happy?"

A silence settled over the phone line and Michael cursed himself for letting the words leave his mouth. 'Here comes the pity,' he thought, steeling himself against the words he so dreaded.

"Yes, actually. I'll be over in 20 minutes to clean," she responded.

"You are not doing that."

"Michael, we used to play doctor together. I think I can pick up your laundry."

He opened his mouth to protest just as he heard the click of the phone disconnecting. He swore under his breath and slammed the phone into it's cradle. "Great," he muttered, tossing his weight heavily back into the couch once more.

~~~~~

Maria arrived at the apartment to see Tess moving like a whirlwind through the living room. She stood in the doorway, transfixed by the unmatched multi-tasking abilities the other girl possessed. At her feet was a laundry basket to which she added the stray items of clothing scattered about the room, kicking it across the floor as she did. In her right hand she held a garbage bucket, tossing the empty take-out containers from a week's worth of meals into it. Her head bobbed in time to the pounding beat pouring from the stereo and she looked up to see Maria enter, smiling without breaking stride.

"Wanna help?" she asked.

"Um… sure," Maria replied hesitantly, looking around at the progress she had already made, judging how much longer it would take to finish. "Where's Michael?"

"In the bedroom," Tess instructed, nodding with her head towards the closed door. "He was just getting in my way."

"Okay," Maria said, moving towards the room. "Just give me a minute."

"Sure," Tess called, already reabsorbed in the task before her.

Maria shook her head in amazement as she knocked softly on the bedroom door, pushing it open to peer inside. She saw Michael standing in front of his desk, leaning on the crutches with his head bowed. The music pounded through the walls and she knew he hadn't heard her enter. She closed the door behind her, just opening her mouth to greet him when she heard a low growl build in his throat.

She watched as his shoulders shook and he reached out with his right arm, sweeping it along the desk as his screaming voice poured forth. "Fvck!" he yelled, sending every item on the desktop crashing to the floor. He lifted his arms, letting one crutch fall away as he grabbed the other in both hands and brought it down swiftly on the surface of the desk. His violent cursing intensified for a moment as he repeated the pounding motion before fading away to a low whimper on his lips. His movements slowed, the crutch eventually falling from his hands as he leaned heavily on his arms, supporting his weight on the now empty desk surface.

Maria suppressed a sob from her own mouth as she listened to him cry, his body shaking as his frustration vented itself through tears. She hesitated for a moment, unsure if she should continue forward or retreat before remembering the words he had said to her last night. 'My head feels noisy all the time lately, except when I'm with you – then it's quiet, peaceful.'

She stepped forward, gently laying a hand on his quivering shoulders. His body flinched at her touch, tensing briefly before he turned further away from her, shrugging her hand off his back.

"Don't," came the ragged whisper from his tortured throat.

She moved around him, positioning herself to face him. She reached out with both hands to cup either side of his face, preventing him from turning away. She raised his head to meet her eyes, staring at him with none of his feared pity, instead filling her gaze with understanding.

"Please," she whispered in reply. "Let me in Michael. Please."

Her begging was the final push he needed to send him plummeting off the ledge of sanity he clung to. He fell forward into her arms, his sobbing body too heavy for her to support and they slid slowly to the floor. Maria pulled him tightly to her chest, resting his head against her breast as she caressed his neck with her hand, placing small kisses atop his head in comfort.

The pounding music from the living room was the only sound between them, drowning out the whispers of his ragged breathing. He had been fighting to keep his mind strong for a week now, pushing the all too real fears he had of the surgery aside to focus on any and everything else. Fighting with Maria the other day had been just another deterrent – another excuse not to have to think about the challenge that now lay before him.

When Tess had insisted, he had revealed the true root of his fear – walking, or more specifically, not being able to walk. He was independent, always had been, always had to be, and now this most basic need was being stolen from him and he hadn't the slightest clue how to deal with it.

Slowly he pushed himself away from Maria's comforting arms, struggling to reassemble his thoughts into an some coherent format. He rubbed his hands over his face, free from tears but still damp from the earlier waterfalls. She released him from her grasp, leaning forward to rub his back gently as he collected himself. She waited for him to speak, surprised at the words he chose.

"I can't do it by myself."

Her breath caught in her throat as she processed his words, recognizing their significance as most likely the hardest phrase he had ever spoken. "You don't have to."

"I can't live with you Maria."

"I…" she started, her voice failing her as she realized he was choosing this moment to answer the question she had left him with last night. "You don't have to," she repeated, her voice nothing more than a whisper as she tried to make him believe that she accepted his response.

"We can't just pretend that I belong there," he said, turning his face to stare at her. "I'm not part of your family."

She nodded, "I know. But, you just said…"

"I know what I said," he stopped her. "But I don't think moving in with you and your Mom is the solution." He sighed, shaking his head as he looked down at his hands again. "I don't know how to be part of a family," he added, his voice fading as the words left his lips.

Maria bit her lip sharply, hissing when she felt the swirl of blood swim its way along her tongue. Wincing, she licked her lip gingerly, staring at his lowered head as she stumbled to find the right words to respond to him.

She reached out to touch his face lightly, letting her fingers flutter against his skin for the briefest of moments. "Baby," she sighed, a small tear slipping from each eye as she felt his pain seep into her. "You don't have to know," she finally said. Turning his face towards her with her hand, she grimaced when she saw the ache sketched there. "Just be you," she whispered. "Just… be," she smiled.

He watched her eyes, seeing the purest hope residing there. She wanted only the best for him, he had always known that in his heart, and any doubts he might have had were erased by her unbreakable faith over the past few weeks. The only question was, what was best?

The answer to that question lay within him and it was something he had to search for. He blinked slowly and saw that she knew he couldn't give her an answer, not yet. She nodded, leaning in to match her lips to his.

"It's okay," she whispered. "Take your time. I'll be here, I'll always be here."

He held her close and knew that it was true.
posted on 9-Oct-2002 3:23:48 PM
Ah gee... *blushes*!

Just wanted to write a note to let everyone know that I opened my own fanfic archive. Check it out! Shelbecat's Fiction
posted on 10-Oct-2002 10:22:31 AM
Hey there,

So I wrote an NC-17 part! It's my first so be gentle... *happy*

Part 16

Tess had finished her cleaning without ever seeing Maria emerge from the bedroom and left the apartment without bothering to interrupt them. Whatever they were in there doing, she did not need to know.

Inside the bedroom, the couple remained on the floor, wrapped in each others arms as the pounding beat of the music filled the silence and made talking unnecessary. Eventually Maria realized that all sound had ceased and raised herself up from where she now lay with her head against Michael's chest.

"I think we're alone now," she said, before giggling quietly to herself.

"What?" Michael asked.

"Nothing," she replied, shaking her head as she stood. "I just had a painful Tiffany-lip-sync flashback."

"Who's Tiffany?"

"You do not need to know," she answered, smiling to herself at the teasing he would give her if she ever admitted to the pop fascination her and Liz had harbored when they were seven.

"Is she that singer you used to dress like?" he asked, the smile evident in his voice as well as on his face.

"Huh?" she gasped, her face blushing as she turned to face him. "How did you…"

Now it was his turn to blush as he realized that he had exposed himself while trying to tease her. "Just a good guess," he mumbled, reaching to grab one of his crutches from the floor.

"Oh no you don't," she commanded, dropping her foot on the crutch to keep it away from his grasp. "How do you know about Tiffany?" she asked, then set her lips firmly, "Did Liz tell Max?"

"No, no, nothing like that, at least I don't think so," he responded, letting the perfectly good excuse slide by in favor of admitting the real reason to her. "I used to watch you," he muttered under his breath.

"You what?" she asked, leaning down to hear him clearly.

He sighed, looking up directly into her eyes. "I said, I used to watch you."

"You used to…" her face registered confusion before a goofy grin spread across it. "You watched me?" she squealed, falling to her knees beside him.

He shrugged, his cheeks now flaming brightly as she flung her arms around his shoulders. She leaned in to kiss his cheek as he tried unsuccessfully to squirm away from her. "It's no big deal," he mumbled.

She pulled away from him a little, staring at his reddened cheeks as she admitted, "I remember you too." He turned his gaze to hers once more as she continued, "I remember you being a loner mostly, but I always thought the spikes were kind of cool." She ran her hands through his long hair, "I like this a whole lot more though."

He smiled at her, fingering her curls with his hand. "I always liked yours long too, I hated it when you cut it short."

"But that's just when we got together."

"Well you were still cute."

Maria leaned in to pepper his face with kisses. "Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm," she mumbled against his cheek as he forcefully pulled away, the redness now creeping all the way back to his ears.

"Help me up, will you?" he said, a sign that their moment of sharing was over.

She stood and passed the crutch she had been standing on to him. "Uh oh," she said as she glanced at the other one.

"What?"

Picking it up, she handed the dented metal to him. "I think you kind of broke it."

"Great," he said, taking the useless device from her outstretched hand. The corner of the desk was clearly indicated in the bends along the metal bar, twisting the aid he depended on into an unusable item.

"Don't worry about it," she broke in quickly, already realizing that his fears about not walking had just increased by a few hundred percent. "I think Kyle still has crutches from when he broke his ankle, I'll call him."

He watched her leave the room, cursing as he tossed the broken crutch aside. "Idiot," he mumbled to himself as he slid over to his bed for support in standing. Making it to his feet he hobbled on one crutch to the bathroom, listening to Maria tell Kyle how she had accidentally run over the crutch with her car.

"Good one Ria," he said softly. "I'm sure he'll believe that."

His thought was interrupted as he listened to her hang up the phone and walk back into his bedroom. "Be right back," she called and he burst out laughing.

"Be careful," he shouted back as he opened the door to see her prancing across the living room with the broken crutch.

"I will," she answered, turning to give him her trademark grin as she opened the door.

He laughed, stepping back inside the bathroom to turn on the shower. He slowly stepped inside, weaving a little in one foot as he held onto the wall for support. He'd pretty much perfected the art of balancing on one leg by now but it was still tricky when water was cascading over you and you dropped the soap.

He was just fumbling with the shampoo bottle with one hand when he felt a cool draft billowing around him. He turned his head to peer out through the see-through shower curtain Maria had made him buy; the bathroom was already foggy but he recognized her shapely form as she stripped out of her clothes.

"Need some help?" she asked, pulling back the curtain slightly to step inside.

"I wouldn't say no," he answered, staring at the exquisite form of his girlfriend standing in front of him. She had very little shame and more than her share of courage, two things which had made their sex-life so far… interesting. They'd taken countless showers together over the past two years but he never got tired of watching the water bounce off her breasts, the rivulets running in endless streams down her milky skin.

He was transfixed as she reached out to take the shampoo from him, retaining her hold on his hand as she laid it aside. She looked back at him with eyes full of equal amounts of lust and longing and slowly brought his hand to her lips. She let her tantalizing tongue dance over his fingers seductively pulling them into her mouth one at a time. She kept her eyes trained on his, their shared gaze passing a volume of unspoken desires between them. Satisfied that she held his complete attention, she released the hold her mouth had on his fingers, lowering his hand to trail them between her breasts. She stepped into him, his hand moving in slow circles across her chest as she reached up to push wet strands of hair from his forehead.

The falling water pounded against his back, its steady rhythm causing a vibration within his chest that was matched by the vibration she caused from below. Carefully she turned him to lean against the wall and stepped under the pouring stream. She tilted her head back, raising her arms to smooth her hair off her face, well aware of the effect she was having on him as the current washed over her.

Michael had heroically suppressed the urges building inside of him since her naked form crossed his vision but looking at her now he knew that resistance was futile. He tipped his body towards her, pushing her back underneath the water to flatten her body against the wall. The curtain of mist enclosed them, separating them from the world beyond as he savagely massaged her breasts and she slipped her hand beneath, inducing a low moan from his throat.

He lost all sense of his own being as she aroused him in the way only she could and he let one hand fall away from its present task to return the favour. Her body was pressed so tightly against the wall that when she lifted her legs in elation she remained stationary. His fingers teased her centre, tortuously taking his time as he stimulated her. Her mouth opened to emit a silent scream and her teeth seized upon his shoulder as a vent for her exhilaration.

Her small hand was between their bodies, coaxing him to join her on the ride to ecstasy. As he continued to tickle her slowly she pumped him faster, begging him to match her pace. He obeyed, sending the pulsing vibration from her core careening through her body before rapidly switching tactics to slip his fingers inside her. The motion caused her body to seize and her fingernails sunk into his back, raising even crescents of reddened skin along his shoulder blade.

She pulled back from where her head was buried in his shoulder, releasing the hold she had on him to raise her hand to his face. Pushing aside his water soaked locks she revealed his eyes and silently signaled to him that she was ready. Melting her body onto his, she wrapped her arms and legs around his torso, allowing herself to be lifted slightly by his strong hands before he directed himself to plunge inside.

Her body shook as the rhythmic pounding of his against hers matched the deafening sound of the waterfall she was encased in. She felt herself rising, expanding, and whispered incoherent mumblings into his hair as she braced herself for the onslaught. He met her at the apex, taking her small hand in his as together they jumped into the abyss of the welcome oblivion, the world beyond no longer in existence.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 10-Oct-2002 11:38:45 AM ]
posted on 10-Oct-2002 11:35:29 AM
Thanks Belit! I still can't believe I wrote it either *big*!!!

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 10-Oct-2002 11:35:51 AM ]
posted on 14-Oct-2002 8:53:36 PM
Part 17

Maria detached her small body from Michael's, slithering down his front to rest her legs on the slippery floor of the tub. She kept her arms wrapped firmly around his neck, murmuring her contentedness softly against his cheek. He pushed himself away from the wall, bringing her body with his as they moved as one beneath the streaming water. It was thankfully still hot and they stood together for a long moment, heads bowed as the current washed over them.

He finally broke the embrace, flipping his wet hair away from his face as he stepped away. Maria opened her eyes, tipping her head back beneath the water to push her own tousled hair out of her face. She stepped out of the stream, shivering at the absence of his heated body next to hers.

"I've got to really shower now," he said, reaching to grab the shampoo from where she had laid it.

"Your leg," she said quickly.

"What?" he asked, looking back at the confused expression on her face.

Her eyes remained trained on his legs, a small smile breaking across her lips. He followed the direction indicated by her pointing finger, glancing down at his legs, both feet firmly planted on the bottom of the tub.

"Hmm," he muttered, bouncing slightly to test his newfound strength. "I guess it's okay."

"You didn't notice?"

"No," he smiled. "I guess something else had my attention."

"Mmm," she smiled in return. "Or someone else." She stepped towards his chest again, rubbing her hands across the smooth surface as she pressed her lips to his.

He returned the kiss reluctantly, pushing away to hold up the shampoo between them. "Come on, I gotta get clean."

"That's something I can help with." Maria removed the shampoo from his hands again, pouring a little into the palm of her hand. Working it into a rich lather, she reached up to smooth it through his hair, rubbing gently to wash the thick locks.

He submitted to her touches, allowing himself to be scrubbed by her sensitive fingers. She was trailing the bar of soap across his chest, preceding its path with a trail of kisses when the hot water finally ran out and they were blasted by a shooting cold stream. Maria shrieked as she hurriedly climbed out of the shower, grabbing a towel around her body for warmth.

Michael remained inside, turning his body fully into the freezing onslaught, the cold water a welcome cure for the urges once again building inside his body. She certainly knew how to touch a guy.

~~~~~

Tess and Kyle were the first to arrive for the party that night, bursting through the door loaded down with food, a cooler, and a pair of crutches. Kyle laid the provisions where Tess instructed, standing up to stretch his stiff back as he nodded a hello to Michael. Tess was chattering something about not being sure if they had enough food when Maria exited from Michael's bedroom.

"I think she bought enough pizza for the Armageddon," he muttered to Maria as she stopped to give him a quick hug.

Maria smiled in response, moving into the kitchen to help Tess get ready, and clam her nerves.

Kyle joined Michael on the couch, handing his the crutches as he sat down. "Did you need both?" he asked.

"Nah, just one."

"Because Maria ran over it with her car."

"Yep."

"I see."

Michael shook his head at Kyle's questions, knowing he didn't believe a word of Maria's story. Before he could come up with another explanation, Kyle picked up Michael's one good crutch and began adjusting one of the new ones to the right height.

"She always was a klutz," Kyle said.

Michael smiled to himself and reached to help with the crutch, all need for an explanation behind them.

Max, Liz, Isabel and Alex arrived together a few minutes later, changing the entire dynamic of the room as they descended on the living room. Isabel went immediately to Michael's side, sitting beside him to wrap her arms around his neck. His face blushed redder than the shirt she was wearing as she whispered in his ear, "I'm really, really sorry."

He tried to push her away as he said, "I know, you told me every day this week."

"Well, I really am."

"Yeah, and you can't atone by apologizing 50 times. Forget it."

Isabel looked at him thoughtfully, wondering if she could believe his words or if he was just anxious to change the topic. She reasoned that if she knew Michael at all it was probably the latter and decided to follow his wishes.

She reached for the gift bag at her feet, turning to him to say brightly, "Happy Hospital Stay!"

Maria winced as she watched Isabel flounder uncontrollably as she tried to make peace with Michael. Truth was he really had forgiven her, telling Maria days ago that he had known they would react that way from the beginning, and assuring her that he knew it meant they cared. Now, she just had to get Isabel to stop referring to a stay in the hospital as a joyous occasion and they'd be fine.

"What's that?" she interrupted, sailing across the room to grasp Michael's hand in hers. It was resting at his side but had already curled into a knotted fist and she rubbed it gently as she smiled at Isabel, praying that her presence alone would be enough to ease him.

She was surprised when she saw him smile first at her, then at Isabel, miraculously managing to push his budding irritation aside to play nice with his childhood friend. He peered into the bag, his whole body recoiling when he saw the contents.

"Isabel," he said slowly, shooting her a glance that said whatever the gift was it was unwelcome.

"Relax," she said, laying a hand on his arm gently. "It's from all of us, we chipped in."

Somewhat appeased that she hadn't been so generous all by herself, he pulled the gift out of the bag. "Still," he smiled nervously, looking up at the expectant faces of his friends. "You really shouldn't have."

Maria looked at the Sony Discman held in his shaking hands. She recognized the quality instantly and knew that he had Isabel to thank for squeezing enough out of everyone to purchase the item.

"It's for the hospital," Max spoke up. "So you won't be Metallica-less."

"I'm only going in overnight, it's no big, really."

"It's still surgery," Isabel stated, the finality in her voice settling over the room like a fine mist.

Michael fingered his new gift thoughtfully, returning the gentle grip Maria held on his other hand. Yeah, he thought, it was still surgery. He looked up as Tess clapped her hands together briskly and started carrying in food from the kitchen. He leaned back into the couch, looking up at Maria as she leaned down to kiss him. He returned her smile as he looked around the room at every person he loved in the entire world gathered together. Suddenly, the urge to fight for his survival surged violently and he blushed to himself at the sudden rush of emotions.

He watched the interactions of his friends closely for the remainder of the night, memorizing every quirk and habit they displayed. The imprint of them on his brain had to last, his worries that this weekend might be his last never far from the surface.

posted on 16-Oct-2002 9:21:16 AM
Hmmm - something cheerful - never thought of that??? HA HA! I just have to put them through the paces you know, see how much they can survive. I think they can stand a little more, don't you!!! Enjoy *happy*

Part 18

Sunday morning dawned grey and cloudy, dark thunder clouds threatening to open a barrage of showers on the desert landscape. Maria awoke just before noon, stretching lazily in her bed as she glanced at the late hour on her alarm clock. She climbed out of bed, pausing to frown at the dark sky before padding into the kitchen.

"Morning," she mumbled to her mother who sat reading the newspaper at the table.

"Morning sweetie, did you have fun last night?"

Maria filled a mug with coffee, taking a sip of the bitter liquid before even venturing to form a response. Taking a seat across from her mother she smiled thoughtfully at the memory of last night, recalling the hours of excited chatter as they enjoyed their first night of real fun together since school had started again.

"Yeah," she smiled. "It was fun."

The memories continued to run through her mind and she closed her eyes, allowing them to play across her eyelids like a favorite movie. A nagging thought tugged at the corner of her brain, drawing her attention away from the memory of Liz teasing Tess about daring to clean up the mess that was Michael's apartment. In her mind's eye she turned to stare at Michael sitting quietly on the corner of the couch. He didn't look sad, actually quite happy, but he was silently smiling whenever a funny comment was directed towards him rather than letting a laugh pass his lips.

As she focused more on the repressed memory of him sitting there, she realized that he hadn't said much all night, just blending into the crowd contentedly, speaking only brief fragments whenever he was spoken to. She tilted her head thoughtfully, pondering the meaning of his quiet demeanor when her mother's voice broke through her thoughts.

"So, is Michael ready for tomorrow?"

"What?" she asked quietly as she opened her eyes to stare blindly at the figure sitting before her.

"I said…"

The rest of Amy's voice was swallowed in the din suddenly raging through Maria's brain. She stood up from the table abruptly, walking out of the kitchen before Amy had even finished speaking. She had just realized exactly what had fueled Michael's withdrawal last night and knew she had already lost precious hours sleeping while he put his plan into action.

She grabbed her purse as she ran out of her house towards the car, Amy shouting at her that she was still in her pajamas.

~~~~~

Six hours later Maria still hadn't found Michael. She had arrived at his apartment to see his bike missing and him nowhere in sight. After driving to the Crashdown, she breathlessly explained his desire to leave the week before to Liz and enlisted her help in looking for him. After calling every one of their friends, and driving the streets to check his usual hangouts, they were sitting in his apartment waiting, just waiting.

Maria paced the room impatiently, stopping periodically to throw out the name of another friend to call or place to check. Liz dutifully followed every lead, calling Max who then sent Alex, Isabel, Tess or Kyle to check them out. It was 6:30 when she heard the sound of a key in the doorway and bounded across the room. Throwing the door open before the lock could even be turned, Maria stared at Michael standing there, leaning against the doorframe for support as he balanced on one leg.

"Hey," he said, smiling at her for an instant before the worry on her face became obvious and he faltered, fumbling over his words as he asked her, "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" she squealed, her voice taking on a tone high enough to shatter glass. "What's wrong?" she repeated.

"Yeah," he replied, irritation evident in his own voice as he limped past her to enter the apartment. Taking a seat on a stool, he aimlessly rubbed his knee as he asked again, "What's wrong?"

"Michael," she said breathlessly, her arms already waving about her face as she worked herself into an unnecessary frenzy. "You left, you just… took off and I didn't know where you went, or if you'd be back. You can't just do that."

He watched her face as it passed through worry to anger before hitting frustration and then settling on embarrassment. Her cheeks were already flushed from her rant and instead of being angry he found himself thinking that she had never looked cuter. Her lower lip was quivering as she took a deep breath to calm herself and he couldn't stop his arms from reaching out to grab her. Pulling her body towards him roughly, he pressed his lips upon hers, crushing them beneath the weight of his passion. She returned the gesture out of habit, her own body shocked into submission by the unexpected move.

Liz stood up from the couch, knowing that once they started kissing there was no telling how long it would be before they came up for air. She slipped out of the apartment unnoticed, dialing Max on her cell phone to tell him to call off the search party.

Finally, Maria was able to pull away from his attack, panting slightly as she licked her swollen lips, relishing the taste of him that lingered there.

"Better?" he asked, smirking as he watched her fall out of the daze he had sent her into.

"No," she mumbled, opening her eyes to stare at him once more, her voice now at a normal level but her brain not forgetting the fear she had felt only moments before. "Where were you?"

"I just went for a ride, I wanted to be alone for a while."

"For six hours?"

He glanced down at his watch, obviously surprised to see what time it was. "I guess so."

Maria shook her head at his simple answer. "I don't get it. What were you doing all this time?"

He bowed his head, his voice leaving his mouth in nothing more than a whisper, "Living."

Her stomach seized as she stared at the flash of anguish that crossed his face. She leaned in to caress his cheek, fearful that her simple gesture would be unwelcome in the moment. He raised his eyes to meet hers and she saw with surprise that he wasn't upset at all, rather he had that same happy, contented look on his face from the party last night. She smiled gently at him, her eyes asking all the questions she needed answers to.

"This could be it, tomorrow, you never know," he started.

"No," she interrupted, whispering the rebuttal softly.

He stopped and smiled at her for a moment, a parent trying to explain a foreign concept to a child. "Yes," he insisted, taking one of her small hands in his. "The doctor told me, with anesthesia there's always a risk. I could still…"

"He never said anything like that," she exclaimed, anxious to stop the violent thoughts running through his brain, disprove the misaligned logic falling from his mouth.

"Maria," he said quietly, his patience miraculously holding out as he explained to her that he had asked Max to take him to the doctor's on Thursday, not wanting to subject her to any more stress about the situation. Her eyes protested but she remained silent, allowing him to finish explaining his reasoning.

"So, there's still a risk, however small, and I just needed to do a few things today, just enjoy life."

There were tears in her eyes as she rubbed her thumb along his cheekbone. "I could have helped," she whispered.

"You are helping," he smiled back at her. "There's still a little more living I want to do before tomorrow," he smirked.

And the serious moment had passed between them before Maria fully had a chance to express her emotions. She stared at him for a second, part of her brain pushing her to press him for more information, to find out exactly what the doctor had said and refute every word. Then the other part of her brain, the Michael-part, kicked in and she realized that the emotional moment was all she was going to get from him, something she should be grateful for.

She winked at him as she pushed away to pick up his crutches. Handing them to him she swallowed roughly and applied a forced cheerfulness to her voice as she asked, "So, can I help you with some of that living?"

"I thought you'd never ask," he replied, following as she led him into the bedroom, living the only thought now on his mind.

posted on 21-Oct-2002 10:30:33 AM
Welcome dancepixie - woo hoo! I snagged another fan! LOL! I'm glad you like this, it's in progress but I usually update every few days *happy*

Here's some more!

Part 19

"Michael Guerin."

Maria shot Michael an encouraging smile that he neither recognized nor returned, and followed behind him as he crutched to the counter. She stopped near the attendant standing there, asking, "Can I wait with him?"

The woman hesitated for a brief moment before seeing the uneasy expression Michael was displaying and smiled. "Of course," she said. "Just give us a minute."

Maria stood back as Michael moved away to follow the attendant, wearing a thin hole in the waiting room carpet as she paced while waiting to be called. Finally after an eternity that was in reality about 10 minutes, the attendant returned.

"He's in the prep room," she said. "It's just around the corner."

"Thanks," Maria smiled, walking quickly through the familiar corridors to the preparation room. She entered the expansive room, glancing around at the beds lining each wall, each with a curtain that could be pulled around it for privacy. Only one curtain was pulled and Maria walked towards it, pushing aside the corner to peer in at Michael lying there.

"Hey you," she said softly.

He was sitting up in the hospital bed, his clothes replaced with a hospital gown, an IV needle inserted into his right hand. He turned to meet her penetrating eyes, every fear coursing through his own body mirrored there. He smiled nervously, inhaling a shaky breath as he fought to retain the fragile hold he held on his emotions. In less than an hour he would be at the mercy of doctors he had never met, helpless to affect the outcome of the surgery in any way. Was he scared?

Hell yes. Petrified.

Maria knew all this without needing to be told and silently moved towards the bed. Her instinct steered her to clasp his hand in hers, to wrap her arms around his frail body and release whatever strength she had into him, but she didn't. The emotional gravity of those actions overwhelmed her at their very conception and she hesitated. Looking at him she forced her brain to practical matters, aware of the tension rippling through his shoulders beneath the thin gown. She reached for the pillows behind his back, removing them to provide a space for her own body. Wedging her small form into the spot, she placed her hands on his broad shoulders, leaning in first to place a kiss on either side of his neck, reassuring him with the simple gesture that he could take anything he needed from her, and she would give it.

Her thumbs sank into his thick muscles, fighting their way through the layers of strain. At least five minutes passed before she saw his shoulders sag slightly, the effort of keeping the tension close now greater than the relief of releasing it. His breath seeped out of his body, his entire being giving in to her maddening touches, he leaned back against her body, relaxing his muscles in time with her strokes until she stopped suddenly and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Babe," she croaked, her voice barely audible as it hissed through her lips. "I can't breathe."

He turned his head to see her pinned to the back of the bed, her arms folded against her chest, pinned in place by the weight of his body.

"Jesus," he muttered, sitting up fully and turning to see if she was okay.

Her face was glowing like the light from a thousand bulbs and he was struck by the absurdity of the situation – she was hurting yet… happy?

"What?" he asked gruffly.

"We should do that more often," she said simply.

He stared at her for a moment, finally smirking as he shook his head, "Yeah it was nice."

"And much needed?"

"Something like that," he mumbled.

Maria peeled herself off of the bed, sliding to the floor to retrieve his pillows. She was just placing them behind his back when a nurse pulled back the curtain, announcing, "Okay, we're ready for you now."

The joy that had graced Michael's face was a brief respite from the ever-present fear and as Maria looked at him now she saw that it was back in full force. She rubbed her hand quickly along his shoulder, searching her brain for the right words to calm him. None came, in fact there were no words in there at all, her entire vocabulary had picked this very moment to desert her – great.

Before either of them was fully aware of what was happening, the nurse plunged a needle into his IV tube, pushing half of the liquid inside into his veins. "That'll relax you for now," she said. "We'll get started in a few minutes."

Michael stared at the tape holding the needle to the back of his hand. He briefly entertained the thought of pulling the entire apparatus out in one swift movement, discarding the idea when it became immediately apparent that not only would that not stop the anesthetic from affecting him, it would also hurt – a lot.

He flopped his head back into the pillows, his brain protesting helplessly that the feared anesthetic was already running through his bloodstream, any detrimental side effects already irreversibly started. He stared down at the needle in his hand, wondering how long before he'd feel anything.

"You feel funny?" Maria asked.

"Nothing's happening," he replied as he turned his head to look at her, or at least tried to. It suddenly weighed a hundred pounds and he was only able to lift it a few centimeters before it fell back into the pillows.

"Nothing, hey?" she said smiling at the dazed look that fell across his features. She leaned in to meet his mouth, caressing his forehead with her hand as his eyes drooped heavily. She said a silent prayer that the nurse had given him enough drugs to quickly send him into unconsciousness, grateful that the fears he still held onto didn't get the chance to torture his tired brain any longer.

She looked up to see the nurse returning, nodding to her that it was time to take him to surgery. She kissed his sleeping mouth one last time, unwelcome tears springing from her eyes as they wheeled him away. She turned to walk back to the waiting room, unsure of how she was going to pass the two hours the doctor had estimated for the surgery.

She entered the familiar room, her eyes focused intently on her feet as they crossed the worn carpet. She stopped as she heard a voice say, "Now she looks like she could use caffeine."

Maria looked up to see Isabel, Tess, and Liz sitting in front of her. Isabel was holding two extra large take-out coffee cups with Tess and Liz each hoarding their own. Isabel stood to hand one to Maria. "Extra large, non-fat, double soy, Venezuelan Chocolate blend."

Maria laughed at the description Isabel offered. "You did not get that in the cafeteria."

"Uh, no," Isabel said, smiling as she turned the cup around to reveal the signature logo. "Starbucks."

"Thanks," Maria said gratefully, accepting the coffee and taking an eager sip. "Oh," she sighed, taking a seat next to Liz. "That is so good."

Looking around at Isabel and Tess sitting across from her, she examined each of them, shaking her head a little as she asked, "What are you guys doing here?"

"What do you think? We couldn't let you wait alone," Liz said.

"But school?" Maria asked.

"Teacher workshop day. Besides, it was either this or help the guys," Tess added.

"Why? What are they doing?"

"Your Mom kidnapped them," Isabel chimed in.

"What?" Maria asked, almost choking on her latest mouthful of coffee.

"I don't know," Isabel continued. "She called Max this morning at 8:00 and he was gone by 8:30."

"Oh no," Maria moaned, burying her head in her hands. "What is she up to now?"

~~~~~

"Maria?"

Maria was leaning against Liz's shoulder, listening to Tess read out a 'How to tell if your boyfriend really listens when you talk' quiz from Cosmo to Isabel. Alex was passing with flying colors while Kyle failed miserably. When she heard the doctor's voice she stood up from her chair, anxiously meeting the stern gaze of Dr. Kennedy standing before her.

"Is it… Is it over?" she stumbled.

"Yes," he said, smiling. "I just talked to the surgeon. She said everything went well, they think they got it all."

"Think?"

"Don't worry," he said softly. He gestured for her to take a seat, sitting in a chair beside her. He reached out to take her shaking hand in his, reassuring her, "You can never be completely sure. We'll do another CT scan in a few weeks to check, but it looks good."

Maria exhaled slowly, her shoulders slumping as she did. The air she held in her body was a support, keeping her inflated while she waited. Now as it escaped her lungs, she collapsed back in her chair, her overstressed brain too tired to give her muscles the simplest of commands.

Small tears appeared in her eyes as Liz leaned over to wrap a supportive arm around her quivering body. "It's okay," she whispered in Maria's ear. "He's going to be okay."

"Yes, he is," Dr. Kennedy confirmed. "He's in recovery right now but they'll be moving him to a room in about 30 minutes. You can see him then." He stood from his chair, pausing to lean over Maria once more. "You know, he's a lucky boy to have someone like you in his life."

She looked up at the doctor, surprised that he would venture to offer such an opinion. She was about to respond when she heard Isabel add, "Yes he is."

Maria turned to see her and Tess sitting upright in their chairs, fighting to keep tears of relief from falling down their own faces. Tess was quickly losing the battle as her lower lip quivered and she blinked quickly to stem the imminent flow.

Maria turned back to Dr. Kennedy, smiling at him before saying, "Thank you." She paused before adding, "Please, let me introduce you." Turning to Liz she said, "This is my best friend, Liz." Then gesturing to the two teens sitting across from her she added, "And this is Isabel and Tess, Michael's fr…" She swallowed thickly, her voice cracking as she struggled with the words. "Michael's family," she finished, tears shining in her eyes.

Dr. Kennedy offered his casual hello's to the girls before excusing himself. The four of them sat huddled in each other's arms while they waited to see Michael. He was going to be okay and the relief that brought each of them was at once surprising and overwhelming.
posted on 24-Oct-2002 8:26:59 AM
Me plan something else bad to happen to Michael!?! I'm shocked! I would NEVER!!!

Yeah, you saw right through that, didn't you? I can't help it!!! The angsty parts make all the make-ups so much better!!!

Now, I'm not saying that there are problems on the horizon, but you know me - I'm sure I'll come up with another obstacle (or fifty *happy*) before it's all over!

As for what Amy's up to - I'll never tell! Actually, I will tell, just not in this part!

Part 20

Maria walked into the darkened room, the only light a dim glow from a shaded wall lamp. She saw him lying in the bed, his body looking much smaller than its true impressive form in the sterile environment. She approached from his right side, taking in the IV tube feeding necessary fluids into his body through the needle still in his hand. She rounded the bed, hesitating before leaning in to brush away a few stray hairs from his forehead. Her touch was purposefully light but tickle of her fingers across his skin was enough to rouse him and his eyelids fluttered open.

"Hi," she whispered when she saw him awaken, smiling gently as she watched him struggle back to reality.

Michael blinked his eyes slowly at the apparition leaning over him. He fought through the oppressing weight bearing down on him as he swam his way up through the layers of unconsciousness. He stared at the vision standing before him, squinting to bring her halo shrouded figure into focus.

"Come back to me," her lyrical voice commanded, floating on waves of air through the space between them, settling around him like a warm blanket.

He yearned to hold her, to see if she was composed of physical skin and bone or just the ethereal nothingness she appeared to be. He reached out to touch her, his hand cutting through the surrounding haze as his brain made the final leap out of the fog it rested in and landed squarely in the present reality.

"I thought you were an angel," he mumbled, reaching up with his hand to tiredly rub his face.

Maria blushed at the statement, letting it slide by without comment as she anticipated that he would feel immediate embarrassment at his words.

She was quickly proven incorrect as he removed his hand from his face, staring up at her to murmur, "I was right."

"Baby," she whispered, leaning in to attack his lips with her own. She poured her relief into the motion, exploring his mouth with a gentle fervor as she let herself finally embrace the truth that he was okay, that he'd made it.

"Where'd that come from?" he asked, smiling as she pulled back to allow them necessary air.

"It's over," she whispered, her voice breaking as she tried to give meaning to the unimaginable words. She smiled through the tears threatening to spill, anxious to show him that her words were those of joy, not grief. "It's all gone, they got it all and you're going to be okay. It's over."

Michael stared at her for a long moment, his brain taking it's time to process the information placed before him, wanting to make sure he determined the actual truth and not a veil he so hoped for. "For real?" he finally asked.

She nodded silently, unable to confirm his realization with volume. He closed his eyes, successfully hiding the tears that she knew were lingering there. She pulled away, standing up to wipe her own eyes while he composed himself. When she turned back his eyes were open, staring blankly at some distant point. She followed his gaze, tracing it down his body to rest on his legs; his leg, his knee, his brace.

"Oh," she murmured, turning back to take his hand in hers. "They put it on while you were out."

Michael stared at the contrasting images of the brilliant steel bars juxtaposed against the muted tones of soft black straps. His leg was encased from thigh to calf, supported by intervals of heavy cloth binding the bars tightly to the appendage. Brief sections of skin peaked out from within the prison, the pattern interrupted by the slice of white gauze wrapping the area about his knee.

"So that's it," he said quietly. Looking up at Maria he saw the trepidation on her face as she waited for his reaction to his new reality. "Well, I guess it's better than the alternative, right?" he finished brightly.

Her face broke into a large smile as she squeezed his hand tightly and leaned in for another delicate kiss. She knew he was putting up a front, it had to be difficult to finally understand what he had only imagined for weeks, but he was trying, and that was more than she had hoped for.

Suddenly remembering the three anxious girls standing in the hallway outside his room, she turned to him, asking, "You ready for some visitors?"

"Who?"

"Isabel, Tess, and Liz."

"Oh boy," he said, rolling his eyes as he anticipated Isabel's mothering reaction and Tess's fervent wringing of her hands as she stood by helplessly. Sighing, he shook his head, "All right, let's get it over with."

Maria walked to the door, popping her head outside to wave at the three of them. They entered the room in single file, Isabel, Tess, than Liz. Half way across the room, Liz suddenly bursting out in laughter as she pointed at Tess ahead of her.

"Shh," Isabel hissed, turning around to see what was so funny.

Tess was standing on her tip toes, her hands held out in front of her like a little rabbit as she crept, literally, across the room.

Isabel shook her head in shame at the sight before her, suppressing her own laughter until she heard Michael's deep voice chime in, "Tess you don't have to be THAT quiet."

She froze in her place, the four friends laughing at her pose, until she relaxed enough to fall back onto her heels. She argued back, "Well Ria said to be quiet."

Michael tossed his head back into the pillows behind him, showing outward exasperation at the embarrassed girl before him but smiling to himself as he watched them. It felt good to see them now, like a veil that had been clouding his vision of the surrounding world had suddenly been lifted and he was able to gaze upon them with a newfound clarity. He allowed the smile to cross through into his features as Isabel leaned in to hug him. Maybe this reality wasn't so bad after all, he thought.

~~~~~

Michael was sitting up in bed, thumping his hand furiously against his right leg as he let the sounds of Metallica blast away at the fingers of pain that reached out to entangle him. It was the next morning and the doctor had just been in to check on the incision, removing the protective brace to do so. Michael hadn't realized just how much he needed the support the device gave him until sharp tongues of agony licked their way along his muscles and he writhed on the bed, desperate for the brace to be replaced.

Dr. Kennedy was talking to Maria near the doorway now, instructing her on how to change his bandages for the fist two weeks. That was another unexpected development – for the first two weeks he was going to need help. Supervision was the actual word used by the doctor but Michael had quickly refused to call it that and instead decided that involuntary assistance was a better term. The only problem was where that assistance was going to come from.

The soft touch on his arm shattered the cocoon of heavy metal he had retreated within and he opened one eye slowly, glancing at the stern face of Maria standing in front of him.

"Off," she mouthed, pointed to the CD player resting on his lap. He complied, ripping the head phones from his ears as he waited for her to speak.

"So you need supervision," she started.

"Assistance," he corrected.

"Fine, assistance," she sighed. "What do you want to do?"

He opened his mouth to send back another quick retort when the realization of what she had actually said sunk in and he stopped. 'What did he want to do?' She was asking him?

"Um," he stammered, unsure of what to say to her question. "Well, I guess you can't stay with me, can you?"

"Probably not," she confirmed.

"Well, can I stay with you?"

Maria hesitated for a moment, not out of doubt over whether he could stay with her, but out of utter shock that he had actually asked. "Of course," she whispered. "I… I just thought you wouldn't want to."

"Well, if it will get you off my case about it," he grumbled.

She smiled as she watched him cover up the real reason for his asking. He didn't have to say it; she knew he needed her and the knowledge of that truth was enough. "Great," she smiled. "I'm gonna call my Mom." She reached into her purse for her cell phone, adding, "He said you could leave in an hour."

Michael's face dropped as he listened to her excitedly tell her mother that he was coming to stay with them. One hour? He had one hour to prepare himself for becoming the newest member of the Deluca family. Holy sh!t.
posted on 24-Oct-2002 9:17:47 AM
Why does something bad have to happen? Do you really think I'm THAT evil?????

LOL!!!!!! I'm like the Boy Who Cried Wolf or something. I've done so many bad things to him so far that now everyone can't believe that it's getting good.

Oh well, guess I shouldn't disappoint!!!
posted on 25-Oct-2002 9:22:17 AM
I am SUCH a tease! See, I really never said I was going to do anything bad to them, but every time I tried to respond to your comments, I kept leaving you with another hint that I MIGHT do something - lol! I'm really not planning anything!!! I just can never resist leaving the tortoruous hints. *gasp* My God! I think I really am evil!

Anyway, who knows what may come up in the future, but right now there's no badness in sight and just a nice fluffy part for you this time *happy* Enjoy!

Part 21

Michael crutched into the living room, drumming up a weak smile for the beaming Amy who stood there to greet him. Pillows were in place on the couch for him to lie down and lunch was already spread along the coffee table. He let Maria take over, sitting where she instructed and allowing her to support his leg gently on the pillows before handing him plate of food.

"Good?" she asked.

"Great," he smiled, forcing a sincerity into his voice that he didn't feel. He was thankful to both her and her mother, but spending two weeks on the Deluca couch wasn't exactly his idea of relaxing. He was under strict orders to get complete bed rest for the first week and then to only use his crutches sparingly for another seven days. After that he'd return for a check up and they'd work out a physical therapy schedule for him to begin his recovery.

Goody, he thought grimly. Something to look forward to.

He pushed the food around his plate aimlessly, one ear listening to the excited chatter of Maria as she talked to Amy from somewhere down the hallway. He supposed they were clearing out Maria's room for him to sleep in. She had said he wasn't going to sleep on the couch, but he had instantly protested that he didn't want her giving up her room either. She had shushed him with nothing more than a look, insisting that she had it all worked out.

Yippee.

~~~~~

The pain killers were doing their job effectively and Michael was sleeping on the couch at 3:30 when a group of noisy teenagers crowded into the living room. He opened one eye to peer across the room as Isabel motioned for them to be quiet, creeping across the room herself to bend over him. He closed his eyes as he heard her approach, listening until her breathing got louder and he knew she was near. Without warning, he shot his hands out in front of him, opening his eyes to whisper, "Boo!"

She yelped loudly as everyone else in the room collapsed into giggles.

"Ahh, you're awake," she gasped.

"Well, you sounded like a herd of elephants coming in here, what did you expect?" he smirked at her.

"Jerk," she said, swiping at his arm playfully. "If you weren't hurt…"

"Oh, you'd what?" he teased. "Idle threats, Iz. Idle threats."

She smiled genuinely at him, glad to see that he was in good spirits. Maria had warned them that he had been moody all day and they had been prepared for the classic stonewall rebuke.

The chatter grew in the room as the eight of them sat on every available surface, bodies spilling onto the floor once all the seats were occupied. Amy was kept busy bringing snacks and drinks to them, wondering to herself as she did if she was really going to be able to handle two teenagers and their legion of friends for an extended period.

Maria was sitting on the floor beside Michael, his hand entangled in her hair as she leaned back onto his chest. He was playing with it absently and she was soothed by the soft repetitive motion. At some point she noticed that his fingers had stopped moving, his hand now clenched into a tight fist beneath her head. She turned to look up at him, seeing a grimace cross his face as a wave of pain washed over his body.

"Pill time?" she said quietly.

He nodded and watched as she fumbled with the cap of the prescribed medication sitting on the end table, handing two pills to him. He took them, smiling briefly at her as he handed back his empty glass.

"Before they kick in I want to show you something, kay?"

"Sure," he replied, confused by her suddenly cryptic nature.

She retrieved his crutches from the floor, handing them to him with a gentle smile as the other teens in the room fell quiet. "In the hallway," she replied to his silent question, helping him to his feet as his leg protested angrily.

The others moved aside to make room, standing to follow behind Michael as Maria led him towards her bedroom. He expected that she was making him lie down in her room and questioned her when she stopped outside a different door.

"Your Mom's office?" he asked.

"Open it," she instructed.

He shook his head as he pushed the door open, flipping on the light switch to illuminate the darkened room. Where Amy had previously stored piles of boxes holding various types of alien themed paraphernalia, a strangely familiar bedroom greeted him.

Michael looked around, taking in the deep navy color of the walls, touched off by the all too familiar posters of his favorite band. His brain struggled to comprehend where she had gotten the exact same posters that he had in his own bedroom when he noticed the bed and knew that this was his own bedroom. The other furniture was his as well, all taken from his apartment and transplanted here.

"What is this?" he asked, suddenly fearful that she had taken his agreement to live her as something far more serious.

"Temporary," she replied, knowing immediately that he would not take kindly to losing the freedom his own apartment offered. "You apartment's still there, we just moved your stuff so you can be more comfortable until you go back."

"But…" he said, gesturing to the room.

"Mom's been meaning to have a guest room for years," she explained, hoping he would believe the transparent lie. "Do you like it?" she asked, trying to change the subject. "The guys did it," she added, turning to smile and Max, Kyle, and Alex.

Michael just stared at them, unsure of what he could possibly say in thanks.

Kyle cleared his throat roughly. "Actually me and Max did most of it. Alex just watched."

"Hey, I was supervising," Alex chimed in.

The light banter between the boys broke the tension settling between the friends and Michael allowed himself a small smile. He walked into the room, easing his weight onto the bed as he took in his new surroundings. He was filled with a gratitude that he was incapable of expressing and wished there was a way to thank them without actually having to utter the words.

Maria followed him inside, the others lingering just inside the doorway. "So, you like it?" she asked hopefully.

"Yeah," he said, smiling. "For a 'temporary' room it's not too bad."

She wrapped her arms around him then, smothering his face with kisses until Isabel let out a loud groan from behind them. "So, Michael," she said when Maria finally came up for air. "I take it the thank you is implied?"

"As always," he smirked, realizing that he didn't have to say the words for them to know he meant it. Shaking his head slightly, he cleared his throat before mumbling, "But thanks anyway guys. Really."

Hey, it never hurt to say it right?

"But the order's all wrong," he added. "James goes over there and the group shot belongs behind the door."

"Michael," Max groaned, shaking his head as he moved towards the nearest poster to move it. Some things just never changed.
posted on 29-Oct-2002 11:32:29 AM
Can he stay forever??? Well... I don't know! LOL! It's what I want to happen so we'll just have to wait and see what turns out.

(Hint: If I want it to happen, it usually does - wonder why???)

Okay, I did officially lose it, I'm convinced. Ignore me and enjoy this next part!

Part 22

"Knock, knock."

The voice rather than the knocking itself drew Michael out of his sleep-induced daze and he looked towards the door. For a brief moment he wondered who had replaced his door with a window but then realized that he was no longer in the familiar bedroom of his apartment and turned his head to the left. He saw Amy just entering the room and glanced down at his body, pulling the blankets over him to cover an embarrassing situation just in time.

"Morning," she grinned.

"Uh, morning," he responded gruffly, squirming beneath the blankets uncomfortably as he sat up.

"Breakfast?"

"Um," he stammered. "Um… no, thanks… just uh, just coffee. If you've got it," he added quickly.

"Please," Amy scoffed. "I'm on my second pot."

Michael tried to return the smile she threw at him but winced when it came out as a scowl.

Amy brushed it off as nervousness, wondering if she was doing as poor a job at hiding her own awkwardness at the situation. She cleared her throat and pulled the desk chair out to sit on it.

"Can I be frank?" she started.

"Sure, I'll be Carl," Michael responded, instantly mortified as he realized that he had just said that to Maria's mother. Her MOTHER! Jesus, what an idiot.

Amy tilted her head at him for a moment, her eyes doing this weird little twitching thing before pressing her hand to her mouth and giggling loudly. "You got me there," she gasped, feeling all tension at talking to the boy escape with her laughter.

Michael's cheeks blushed a bright pink in embarrassment but her laughter was infectious and he found himself unwillingly grinning at her.

"Look," she finally said, composing herself to stare seriously at him for a moment. "This can't be easy, having your girlfriend's mother look after you, but I'm not much of a 'mothering' mother anyway so I don't think we'll have a problem."

"Well my expectations are pretty much nil."

"Right," Amy replied, mentally kicking herself for the poor start to the conversation. "What I mean is that I know you've been taking care of yourself, so I don't expect you warm up to me overnight. But I do have rules and I expect them to be followed."

Michael nodded silently, bracing himself for what was sure to be an impossible list of regulations.

"If you want something, ask. I don't read minds. You can add whatever you want to the grocery list but I'm only cooking one meal for supper. Laundry day is Thursday and I won't wash anything that's not in the basket."

It took Michael a full minute to realize that she had finished and he nodded his head slowly to indicate his agreement.

"Great," Amy said, standing up to move towards the door. "How do you take your coffee?"

"Three sugar."

"Back in a minute," she replied, pulling the door shut behind her. It was halfway closed when she stuck her head back in through the crack. "Oh, and Michael?"

He looked up expectantly.

"Don’t sleep with my daughter when I'm home."

His faced paled as he watched her retreat into the hallway. The one thought that raced through his brain was that this was so NOT his life.

~~~~~

As awkward as spending his days with Amy had been at first, the pair quickly warmed up to each other. Every morning she would bring him coffee while he sketched or read in bed. After a lunch that she made from his section of the grocery list, he would wash, albeit clumsily, and set himself up on the couch where he did the schoolwork that Maria brought home for him. According to Dr. Kennedy, he would be able to go back to school in two weeks and Amy had no intentions of letting him fall behind.

Not that he minded. It was actually kind of nice to have someone pushing him. She did it in this way that didn't seem like pushing at all, rather like he was actually doing her a favor by studying. It took him a full three days to realize that mother was exactly like daughter and Amy had been playing him just as effectively as Maria ever could.

He had to laugh at that – him, big, tough, 'nothing-effects-me' Michael Guerin, was being played by a hippy freak Mom and her new age obsessed daughter. Yep, this was so NOT his life.

Not his old life, anyway. He was starting to like this new life that the three of them had crafted. Not being able to make-out with Maria in Amy's presence didn't mean that he couldn't tease her, and he caught himself storing torturous comments throughout the day so he could fling them at her when she got home from school. So far, Amy had come up with a reason to spend an hour outside of the house every night, and the playful banter between them only served to increase their sex drive into an undeniable fury by the time they were left alone.

All-in-all it was turning out to be an okay situation.

Oh yeah, this was so NOT his life!
posted on 29-Oct-2002 4:12:53 PM
It was too short wasn't it? I think I'll make it Part 21b in future posts instead of it's own pathetic little part *happy*

Okay, I think I've gotten back into this now - more later this week!
posted on 4-Nov-2002 10:40:47 AM
Part 23

The basketball bounced rhythmically on the court, its pulsating beat echoing across the courtyard.

Thump, thump, thump.

With each bounce, the player's knees bent slightly, keeping time with the spherical object. The tempo passed from his hand, up his arm, and across his shoulders. There it settled in his chest, matching the beating of his heart with each pulse.

Thump, pulse, thump, pulse, thump, pulse.

His hips felt the vibration surging through his body and passed it down his legs where it swirled around his knees before continuing to his ankles. They moved with the inherent motion, bouncing slightly with each beat.

Thump, pulse, bounce, thump, pulse, bounce, thump, pulse, bounce.

His body started forward, each step keeping time with the pulsating beat already engrained in his system, moving towards the basket at a steady pace. The final three steps were higher, his knees bending deep to pull every ounce of energy from the elastic tendons, propelling his body through the air towards the basket.

Whoosh.

Nothing but net.

He jumped into the air in celebration, knowing that no one was watching but feeling the need to celebrate his achievement just the same. His arms stretched over his head, hands gripped tightly in triumphant fists, his back arched as his legs stretched towards the ground, every muscle pulled to its extent by the motion.

Have you ever been dreaming and thought you were awake?

That's what happened to Michael.

He woke up in his new bedroom, all alone in the dark, unfamiliar room, his arms stretched over his head, hands gripped tightly in triumphant fists, his back arched as his legs stretched towards the ground, every muscle pulled to its extent by the motion.

Before he was even fully aware of the pain, his body reflexively contracted, pulling the screaming muscles back into their relaxed positions. The damage had already been done though, as his eyes shot wide open in panic and his knee burst into flames before him. He writhed on the bed, his body bending at the waist as he tried to pull his knee protectively towards him. The brace fortunately prevented any further movement, but did nothing to stem the excruciating sting streaking outwards from beneath his kneecap.

His face contorted in agony, fighting every instinct to vent the pain in a scream. He threw himself back onto his pillow, not able to hold back the sob that escaped his lips. The pain was unimaginable, worse than the longest night he had spent before the operation. He thought the surgery was supposed to make him feel better? Not this, not worse.

His painkillers. The thought suddenly flew into his brain and he turned to the table beside his bed, reaching out to grab them. Where were they? His brain wouldn't function, couldn't think. He ran his hand quickly over the surface, frantically searching in the darkness. His hands flailed wildly across the table, knocking aside the items sitting there – his alarm clock, CD player, remote, novel – one by one they were grasped, recognized, and cast aside, of no use to him at the present moment. He couldn't find them, they weren't there, he thought, just as his fingers grazed the tip of the cover and he pushed the bottle onto its side, hearing the soft thud as it fell onto the floor.

"Jesus," he moaned, falling back onto the bed. He lay on his right side, his left hand uselessly stretched out to hold his leg as his right strained into the darkness towards the pills. A fresh wave of agony surged forth from his knee, his stomach clenching tightly as it rolled over his body.

Suddenly he was aware of another presence in the room, the muted sounds of someone moving before him penetrating the cloud of pain he was obscured by. He opened his eyes slowly, squinting to bring the blurred figure before him into focus. He saw only arms reaching towards him and collapsed against their firm grasp, allowing himself to be supported, raised, and leaned against her body.

"Maria," he mumbled, turning his head to peer up at her.

"Shh," she responded, pressing a cool cloth to his forehead.

As always, he felt instant relief in her presence, the pain diminishing slightly as he permitted his body to relax, his muscles untangling themselves from the horrendous knots of pain.

"It's okay now," she whispered, pressing his much needed pills to his lips. He took them eagerly, chasing them with the water she presented next, gasping for breath when he was finished.

"Shh," she repeated, her voice a calming force in the hurricane swirling around his tattered body.

He leaned against her chest heavily, already feeling the tentacles of sleep reaching out to gather him again. He sighed as his breathing deepened. "Thank you," he mumbled, his voice nearly incoherent as the painkillers did their prescribed duty and lulled him into blissful unconsciousness.

She stayed with him until she was sure he was asleep, gingerly sliding out from beneath him once she heard the distinctive sounds of even breathing. She paused in the doorway to look back at him, saddened that he had to face so much pain at such a young age.

She pulled the door shut behind her and stood quietly in the hallway until she was content that her actions hadn't awoken anyone else. Then Amy walked slowly back to her room and returned to bed.

~~~~~

The next morning Maria awoke early. It was Saturday and she had convinced Mr. Parker to give her the day off, promising that she would make up for it by doing inventory by herself next week. She was still adjusting to having Michael live less than 20 feet away from her, and paused in the hallway outside his room for a moment, straining to hear if he was awake before barging in.

Amy exited her own room to see Maria standing there and soundlessly tapped her on the arm, motioning her towards the kitchen silently.

"He had a bad night," Amy explained as she entered the kitchen, moving to the fridge for coffee supplies.

"What happened?" Maria asked, stepping back towards the hallway instinctively.

"It's okay," her mother said quickly. "Let him sleep. His knee was hurting I guess, I heard noises and when I went to check he had knocked the stuff off his table and couldn't reach the pills. I gave them to him but he was in pretty bad shape, I doubt he got much sleep."

"God," Maria moaned, sitting down at the kitchen table helplessly. "I should have gotten up with him."

"Maria," Amy chastised. "You have to let him go through this, it's part of recovering."

"I know, it's just that he gets so scared and…" she started to explain and then stopped suddenly, her brain alerting her that she wasn't supposed to share that information with anyone.

"Well that much is obvious," Amy replied offhandedly and Maria realized stupidly that her mother wasn't just 'anyone'. She obviously had Michael figured out, something that Maria had been able to do within five minutes of meeting him, whereas as Tess and Isabel still butted heads with him after years of friendship.

Like mother, like daughter, she mused. Glad to have someone to share her fears with, Maria explained the nights she had spent with him so far, her cheeks reddening slightly when she realized she was admitting that they had slept together, if not actually coming out and saying it.

"Honey," Amy said, grasping Maria's hands as she sat across from her. "I trust you to make good decisions, you know that, right?"

Maria nodded mutely.

"And I'm not that stupid either," she smiled, laughing when Maria's face paled visibly. "You are the best thing that's happened to that boy in a long time, maybe ever, and I think he knows that too. And I also know that you want to be there for him when he needs someone, but I don't like the strain this is putting on you either. As long as he's here, let me help too. We can both be a family to him, okay?"

Maria's eyes were fast filling with tears as she listened to her mother speak and she nodded again, afraid to even attempt a response. Amy rubbed her daughter's arm quickly. "Why don't you help me with breakfast? I'm thinking waffles, hey?"

"Sounds good," Maria responded, smiling through the tears glistening in her eyes.

Maria chopped fruit and made coffee while Amy mixed waffles from scratch, then went to wake Michael. When she pushed open his door she was surprised to see him lying on his back, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling. "Hey you," she said quietly, stepping inside.

"Hey" he replied, turning to cast a quick smile in her direction.

"Wanna join the real world for breakfast?"

"Sure…" he answered hesitantly.

Maria smiled at him, sitting down on the bed beside him to explain, "It's been almost a week, I think you can sit at the table like a big boy, don't you?"

Michael shot her a look that said he did not appreciate the new pet name she called him and she burst into giggles at his expression.

"Okay, like a regular guy then, better?"

He shook his head in response, sitting up to receive the crutches she handed him with a smile playing on his lips. Suddenly he turned serious and grabbed her arm to stop her as she turned away from him.

"Hey," he said as she turned to look at him questioningly. "Thanks for last night."

She furrowed her eyebrows at him, unsure of what he was referring to.

"Last night, the pills," he prompted her, surprised by the confused look on her face. "Remember?"

"Oh, um…" she stammered, her cheeks blushing as she fumbled with her words. "I just, uh… I just forgot." She stopped, taking a deep breath as she tried to compose herself. "Honestly," she said. "I thought it was a dream. I was so tired last night."

"That's okay," he said, standing up to lean over her. "I'm just glad you woke up before your Mom did. That would have been embarrassing."

"Right," she responded meekly, accepting the kiss he offered her sheepishly. They turned to walk out of the room, Maria sighing in relief as he turned towards the bathroom.

She hurried to the kitchen without him, sliding to a quick stop by her mother's side as she was serving up waffles. "Mom," she said breathlessly. "You know that thing about you helping Michael too?"

"Yes," Amy replied.

"How about we keep that just between you and me, cool?"

"Sure honey. Why?"

"Let's just say that the less Michael knows about people trying to help him the happier he'll be."

"Okay sweetie, whatever you say."

Maria took the plates her mother prepared to the table, relieved that she had averted yet another crisis-du-Michael. He didn't want any help besides hers? Fine. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, right?
posted on 26-Nov-2002 11:58:11 AM
Sorry I have taken so long with an update. I've been off travelling Russia though so I had a really good excuse *happy* I felt as though I was picked up and dropped in the middle of another planet, you can read all about my adventure here if you want, Sherry's uJournal.

Enjoy!
S.


Part 24

"Ready?"

Michael glanced over at Maria's smiling face, wishing he could summon even half of her enthusiasm. "Why not?" he grumbled, pushing open the car door. He maneuvered the crutches into position first and then supported himself on the door frame as he stood up.

He turned to stare at the building looming before him, the oppressive structure choking his breath with its very presence. The hospital had always held this reaction for him, but today it wasn't that building that forced its control on him, it was something far worse—school. It was his first day back since the surgery and although he had been here on crutches before the operation, the clumsy brace was an unwelcome addition to his appearance and he did not look forward to the questioning looks he would doubtlessly receive from the better part of West Roswell High's student body.

He sighed and turned to close the car door behind him, noticing his backpack still sitting on the floor of the car. The distance of 3 meters between it and his hand seeming more like 3 miles as he contemplated the balancing act it would take to retrieve it.

Maria was just rounding the car and saw him staring forlornly at the offensive bag. "Here," she said, squeezing herself between his body and the car to retrieve it. She stood up and held the bag out to him with another of her infectious smiles on her face, one he just barely managed to refrain from returning as she slid the bag up his arm and secured it in place on his shoulder, patting it lightly once it was in place.

She moved towards the school and he rolled his eyes as he started to follow her, filled with equal amounts of suppressed dread and anticipation as he did. He stopped behind her as she pulled open the heavy glass door at the school entrance. She stood in the open space for a moment, drawing his attention to her face when he couldn't pass. "Nervous?" she asked.

"No," he lied.

She saw right through his fabrication but let it pass, instead tilting her head at him playfully and smiling. "Just scowl at them. You're really good at it," she said, winking at him as she stepped aside.

No amount of trying enabled him to repress the smile that flew to his face this time, but he successfully masked it with a crooked scowl as she followed him inside.

"Yeah, just like that," she teased, slapping his but as she slipped around him and headed down the hall to where their group was already gathered.

"Hey Guerin, looking good," Kyle called as he approached the six friends standing together.

"Thanks man," he replied gruffly, looking around at the additional heads that turned at Kyle's overly loud exclamation. "Wanna try a bit louder next time? I don't think everyone heard you."

"Well, I could announce it on the PA," he threatened. "The football captain gets special privileges around here, you know."

"Do and die," Michael warned.

The group laughed at the empty threat as Isabel turned to Michael to ask, "So when do you start physio?"

"I don't know," he said, shrugging. "I've got a doctor's appointment today so I guess I'll find out then."

"Shit!" Maria exclaimed, slapping her hand to her forehead. "I've got to work," she moaned. She looked at Michael in dismay, mentally kicking herself for not remembering the conflict sooner.

"That's okay," he mumbled. "It's just a check up," he said in a weak attempt to reassure her. Truthfully he had hoped she would be coming with him but he wasn't about to admit that here.

"Yeah, but how are you going to get there?" Maria continued, her brain racing. "I could drop you off, and then maybe my Mom could come and pick you up, or else I could call…"

Michael was saved the effort of having to reach over and forcibly calm her down when Max interjected, "I can drive you."

"Sure," Michael replied. "See, crisis averted," he tossed at Maria, smirking as he got her back for her 'scowl' comment earlier.

The bell rang before she could come up with a satisfactory response and she settled for stealing a quick kiss from his lips before heading off to her home room with Max and Isabel. The powers that be had divided the graduating class of 2002 into three home rooms – A-G, H-P, and Q-Z. It had always been a sore spot with Maria that there were a plethora of students with names in the beginning of the alphabet, bumping Michael Guerin into the next class.

Michael returned her kiss and headed for room 12B, flanked by Liz and Tess while Kyle and Alex oriented themselves towards 12C.

"This school is far too large," Michael grumbled as he struggled to keep pace with the girls.

"Yes, but at least there's elevators," Liz said, smiling as she produced an electronic swipe card from her pocket. "The football captain's not the only one who gets special privileges," she added.

"What did you do to get special privileges?" Tess asked.

"Not me ditz, Michael. He's on crutches, hence the special service." Liz stopped in front of the elevator, passing the card over the electronic reader on the wall, prompting the doors to open instantly.

Tess appeared completely oblivious to Liz's insulting remark and exclaimed, "Sweet!" as she skipped inside. "Thanks Michael."

"No problem," he muttered, following her as a familiar throbbing started in his knee. "I'll just get this done every six months or so, cool?" he asked flatly.

"I didn't mean…" Tess stammered, her face paling as she recognized her implication. "I'm sorry."

"You should be," he replied coolly. Michael met her eyes evenly for a second before his scowl turned upwards into a smirk and Liz burst out laughing.

Tess punched him forcefully in the shoulder as color flooded back into her cheeks, erasing the pallor with a bright pink blush.

"Jerk!"

"Is that how you treat all invalids?" he teased back, rubbing his arm in mock pain.

"Shut up," she said laughing. "You'll get no more sympathy from me Mr. Guerin. You just watch."

"Is that a treat or a promise?" he tossed back, still smiling as the elevator began its slow descent upwards. He watched with interest as Liz continued giggling at Tess and the blonde attempted to compose herself in return. His thoughts of today had been filled with fears of not fitting in after a two week absence. Watching the girls now, he knew that nothing had changed—just the addition of a brace and crutches to their little group. Maybe going back to school wouldn't be so bad after all.

~~~~~

By the time Michael made it to the jeep after school, the parking lot was nearly empty and Max was sitting back in the seat, bopping his head softly to whatever pop tune poured forth from the stereo. When he saw Michael approaching, he quickly reached out and changed the station—a sufficiently heavy song replacing the former, sure to satisfy Michael's penchant for hard rock.

"Closet pop fan," Michael muttered as he climbed into the jeep awkwardly.

"Pop music is a perfectly acceptable form of lyrical entertainment," Max responded.

"Lyrical entertainment? Is that what Britney's calling it these days?"

"It wasn't Britney," Max replied defiantly. "It was…" he stopped, deflated as he realized that his admission would be just as incriminating. "It was Christina."

"Oh, much better," Michael smirked, reaching out to turn up the volume as a Metallica song began. "Now that's lyrical entertainment Maxwell," he said, thumping his hand on his leg to the infectious strains of their Whiskey In The Jar remake.

Max rolled his eyes at Michael's well-known Metallica obsession and pulled out of the school parking lot. Three just-as-heavy songs later they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Max choosing a parking space near the clinic entrance.

"You don't have to wait," Michael offered as he slid out of the jeep.

"Sure," Max replied, grabbing his book bag as he walked around the vehicle to where Michael stood. "You can just walk home, right?"

"I could," he mumbled in response, walking alongside Max into the hospital.

A few minutes later, Michael was waiting patiently in Dr. Kennedy's office. That is if you could call tapping his fingers rapidly against the desk and twisting in his seat nervously patient. He glanced up quickly as he heard the door open, his stomach clenching inexplicably as the doctor's voice greeted him.

"So, how's the leg?"

"Good," he managed, swallowing thickly as his voice cracked, betraying his nervousness. This appointment was only supposed to be a check up, just a scheduled visit to examine the progress his knee had made since the surgery. He knew that being nervous about it was irrational, yet that knowledge wasn't enough to stop his stomach from clenching tightly as he watched Dr. Kennedy take a seat and flip through his medical file.

'Chill!' he commanded himself silently. 'Get a grip!' He knew that the doctor was just going to look at the incision and tell him if everything was going okay or not; a simple procedure except for the tiny chance that everything wasn't going okay. Miniscule really, yet its existence enough to send his mind back into the pits of fear it had only recently been able to climb out of.

He was both grateful for Maria's absence and longing for her presence as the doctor instructed him to climb up on the examining table and deftly removed the brace. The angry purple bruising that had encircled his knee last week had since faded to a mottled collection of greens and yellows, lessening the gruesomeness of the operation site. Still just as disgusting however, was the impersonal line of cold steel staples holding his knee together, iodine-tinged skin puckering in folds around the merciless prison bars.

Michael closed his eyes briefly and tilted his head away from his leg, avoiding the painful reminder of his invalid status.

"No sign of infection, that's good. The incision looks tight, healing nicely. Let me just…" Dr. Kennedy's voice infiltrated Michael's brain but he listened without hearing, storing the information away for later processing, when he was alone and could deal with the bad news that was sure to be delivered at any moment.

He was yanked back into focusing directly on the doctor as he felt his leg being moved and a searing pain flashed through his injured extremity.

"Christ," he growled, reaching his hands towards his knee in a useless gesture to extinguish the fire raging there.

"Okay, movement causes some pain," the doctor mumbled, turning to make a notation on Michael's chart.

"Some?" the younger boy muttered under his breath, cursing silently as he shifted his leg uncomfortably.

He was biting his lip in an effort to contain the curses that threatened to verbalize themselves when he noticed Dr. Kennedy pass the crutches towards him, his brace still lying on the other side of the office. "I'd like to get an X-ray. Just to take a closer look."

"What? Like this?" Michael gestured at his leg, having not attempted to move it at all without his brace since the surgery, and not relishing the idea of doing it now.

"No, they'll bring a wheelchair. I'll meet you back here after and we'll continue."

Dr. Kennedy walked out of the room, leaving a confused patient sitting on his examining table. His brain remembered the beginning of the exam, no infection, good incision, what had happened next? Pain when moving? Of course there was freakin' pain when moving, they had nearly sliced his knee in two to get at the stupid tumor growing there, what did they fvcking expect?

Michael shook his head as he leaned against the wall, helpless to move until a wheelchair was provided for him to slide into. The dreaded emotion that he so hated washed over him—pity. It was bad enough when he had to receive it from his friends, but pitying himself was simply unacceptable. He swiped angrily at the tears that teased his closed eyelids, cursing his weakness at the first sign of trouble with his recovery. At that very moment he made the decision that would curse his life for the coming months—Michael Guerin turned off all emotion that he felt towards this situation and all others, telling himself that it was the only choice he had.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Nov-2002 1:17:48 PM ]
posted on 26-Nov-2002 5:23:55 PM
Well where I come from there was only 1 home room sometimes so, yeah, 3 IS big *happy*
posted on 12-Dec-2002 1:32:18 PM
Hey there,

Another GREAT excuse for not updating... off to the Dominican this time *happy* Back now, and even though I am obsessed with my newer fic, From Within, I WILL finish this one - promise!

Now, just don't get too mad at me for what I'm about to do here - I am not to be held responsible for my own actions...

S.

Part 25

From the kitchen, Amy heard the sound of the front door opening and called out, "Michael, is that you?"

When there was no answer, she stepped through the doorway adjoining the two rooms and looked up to see him striding purposefully across the living room.

"How was the doctor's?" she asked.

"Fine," came the mumbled reply.

"What did he say?" she continued, raising her voice as he continued walking across the room, heading for the hallway.

"Nothing."

"Did you start physio?" she said louder, watching his back disappear down the narrow corridor to his bedroom.

"Yes."

The slamming door punctuated his final answer and she stood still in the darkened hallway for a moment considering her options. She could walk down there and demand that he tell her what had happened, as she would doubtlessly do to Maria, but she wasn't his mother. She could also walk down there and try to engage him in casual conversation to find out what had happened, but she also wasn't his friend. The last option was to pour on the sympathy as Maria would have, but she wasn't her daughter either, and even so, she had been strictly warned about making any motions in that direction when it came to dealing with Michael.

Sighing, she turned back to the supper she had left simmering on the stove. She'd just have to wait and let Maria deal with him when she got home. It was against her better judgment but whatever those two had between them it seemed to work somehow, and understanding it wasn't necessary just yet… yet.

Amy was just getting herself worked up again over the stress this entire situation was placing on Maria when the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Is Michael back yet?"

"Hello to you too, dear daughter," she replied.

"Sorry," Maria mumbled. "I've only got a minute, is he home?"

"Yes, he got in a minute ago."

"Thank God," she breathed in relief. "I told him to call me when he got back, what happened?"

"I have no idea," Amy responded.

"What? Didn't you ask him?"

"Of course I asked him Maria, but as you not-so-gently pointed out, he doesn't take too kindly to sympathy from others and without tying him to his bed, there was really no other way to make him talk."

"Great, that means it was bad," Maria muttered.

"Maybe not," her mother reassured her, however empty the sentiment sounded. "Just finish your shift and I'll tell him to call you after supper, okay?"

"Sure," she mumbled, hanging up the phone dejectedly.

Amy cursed under her breath as she placed her own phone back on the table. "The boy has problems," she repeated to herself as she stirred the pot on the stove. "He's had a hard life, let him have his anger." Her words lacked the assurance they were supposed to deliver and she continued cursing lightly as the supper cooked.

~~~~~

In his room, Michael slapped his headphones onto his ears and selected his heaviest of Metallica CDs to place in the player. Lying back on his bed, he closed his eyes and fumbled for the volume knob; 10 just didn't cut it on some days. The pounding strains of "Enter Sandman" blasted into his eardrums and he instinctively moved his hands in drumming motions to play along with the music.

How was the doctor's? What did he say? Did you start physio?

Fine.

Nothing.

Yes – the answers he had given

Fvcking terrible.

That I'm an invalid.

And yes, no matter what the cost to me – the answers he wanted to use.

He let the music wash over him as his knee throbbed in time with the beat and he fought the urge to take additional pain killers. His daily limit was 6 pills and he had reached that amount before he ever sat down in the doctor's office. He'd taken 2 after the doctor had nearly ripped his calf from his knee, another after the X-Ray, and 2 more in the Jeep with Max just now.

The count completed in his head, he opened his eyes and sat up suddenly. If he had already taken 11, the 12th wasn't going to make much of a difference was it?

Reaching for the pills on his bedside table, he ripped the cap off with shaky hands and spilled several on the floor as he shook 1 into his palm. Swallowing it dryly he stared at the still open bottle and grabbed yet another. It chased the first and he lay back on his pillow to wait for the sweet release they promised, shutting out the scolding voice in his mind that sounded suspiciously like Maria.

~~~~~

When Maria arrived home, it was after 10:00 and her mother had already turned out her bedroom light. She walked quietly down the hallway, pausing just outside Michael's room. His light was off as well, but they had an unspoken agreement with Amy that they could spend at least an hour of alone time in his room every night without her raising any objection. Maria knew he was probably exhausted from his doctor's visit, but worry over what had actually happened there, plus her anxiety at missing out on the nightly sessions she had grown to depend on, forced her to open the door slowly.

"Hey," she whispered softly when she saw that the light on his bedside table was still on and he was lying in bed with his eyes open.

He didn't acknowledge her, but the rebuff went unnoticed as she busied herself with taking off her coat and closing the door behind her. Taking a seat beside him on the bed, she bent over to find his lips with her own. She found them, but the response they gave was less than inspiring and she pulled back slightly to stare at him. "Everything okay?" she asked softly.

"Fine," he mumbled, his jaw stiff as his eyes remained impassive.

She sat up, staring thoughtfully at him for another moment as she chose her next words carefully. "So, did you start physio?"

"Yep."

"Did he say how long you'd do it?"

"Yep."

She grimaced at the one word answers and changed her tactics to open-ended questions.

"How long did he say?"

"Six months."

"Six?" she asked with surprise. "But that's way longer than he said before."

"No sh!t."

"Well it's probably just to be sure."

"Yeah, or else it's not getting better," he responded snidely.

"Don't say that," she pleaded.

"And why the fvck not?"

"Because it's not true, and you can't think that way anyway."

Michael turned his head to face her finally, rage rolling in his eyes. "What makes you think you can just come in here and tell me what's true or not?" he snapped. "You weren't there, I was, and until they try to separate your calf from your thigh, I don't want to hear another fvckin' word about it."

Maria gaped at him for a full minute, her brain racing to find soothing words to calm him. Several popped into her head, the natural instinct to be the rational voice in their relationship kicking into high gear. She opened her mouth to pour on the healing balm when she suddenly lost all resolve for dealing with his childishness and let her true feelings escape.

"What is your fvcking problem?" she asked.

"I don't have a fvcking problem," he threw back.

"No?" she said snidely. "Well you could have fooled the sh!t outta me."

"Maria, did you have a purpose in coming in here, or was it just to get on my case?"

"Oh sweetie," she growled sarcastically. "If you think I came in here to get on your case, then you can go fvck yourself."

Michael stared at the words falling from her lips, unbelieving that she had actually just told him to go fvck himself. Her? Telling him that??? Who the fvck did she think she was?

"I think you should leave."

"Fine, but it's my house."

"Fine then, I'll leave," he replied quickly, standing up to reach for his crutches.

"Don't be stupid," she commanded, snatching them away before he could reach them. "You can barely stand, let alone walk, sit down."

"Give them to me Maria."

"No," she said firmly, turning for the door. "Why don't you try to be less of a child and more of a man, kay?"

Smiling evilly at him, she left the room, crutches in hand.

He waited for her bedroom door to slam shut and then proceeded to attempt one of the more stupid acts of his lifetime – walk out of the house by himself. He made it about three steps before his knee burst into flames and he fell back against his bed. Cursing loudly, he let his helpless body slip onto the floor and sat still for a moment, his head bowed pathetically between his shoulders.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the tiny white savior that he had toyed with earlier and reached out shakily to touch it. He picked up one, then another, and another, until he had 10 in his hand and stared down at them silently.

Codeine – pretty powerful stuff.

Closing his eyes, he shoved the handful of painkillers into his mouth and struggled to swallow. He coughed and sputtered as they stuck to his mouth and scraped along his throat as he forced them down. In a few minutes, the deed was done and he lay back against the bed to sleep.

Sleep… the welcoming release was already tugging at the corners of his mind and he allowed himself to be carried away on the sweet strains of comfort. 'Be less of a child and more of a man,' that's what she had said, right? Or was it, 'Be more of a child and less of a man…' He was no longer sure, but he had done something about it anyway, whether she was happy with the result he no longer cared.
posted on 27-Dec-2002 9:21:06 PM
Part 26

Maria tossed the crutches on her bed in a fury, stomping across her room to stare out the window. "Ahh," she growled beneath her breath, mindful that her mother was asleep in the next room but needing to release the anger reaching a rapid boil within her. "Stupid a-ss," she muttered, returning on the same path across her room, exhaling loudly as she clenched and unclenched her fists at her side. Grabbing a pillow from her bed to fling it at the wall, she continued her rant, "Stubborn, stupid, helpless, idiotic jerk."

She flopped down on her bed, collapsing back against the soft mattress for a second before jolting upwards again. She wasn't ready to calm down yet, there were too many things she wanted to say to him. How dare he accuse her of trying to get on his case? Get on his case? She was just trying to see how he was! Show some freakin' concern. Not that he'd know concern if it jumped up and bit him in the a-ss.

She tore off her uniform and pulled a tank top and pajama pants on roughly as quiet curses continued to fall from her lips. She paced her room for a full 10 minutes, fighting with every step not to storm back across the hallway and tell him exactly what he could do with his oversized attitude. It was pointless, no amount of patience had ever been able to tame the wrath of a Deluca and she finally yanked her bedroom door open, her anger now reaching a roaring boil. If he thought she got on his case before, wait 'til he saw her now, she'd show him getting on a case! She crossed the hallway without pause, pushing open his bedroom door before reason had a chance to change her course. It brought up solid against some obstacle and she, not expecting the interruption, continued forward, hitting her shoulder on the door as she toppled to the ground.

She landed on top of Michael's body lying stretched out on his bedroom floor. "What are you doing…" she mumbled, already cursing silently at his ludicrous behavior. She pushed herself upwards, sitting back on her knees to toss her hair out of her eyes. "I said…" she started, her voice choking to a stop as she clamped her hand over her mouth to stifle the scream that threatened to emerge.

His eyes were half shut, his mouth hanging open, head lolled over to one side. He hadn't moved at all through the commotion of her falling on him and she knew that no matter how heavy of a sleeper he was, this was no ordinary nap.

She reached out to shake his shoulders roughly. "Michael," she called loudly, her panic rising as she saw no reaction from his unconscious form. "Michael, wake up!"

"Maria?" Amy mumbled sleepily, staggering out of her room to investigate the source of her sleep disturbance.

"Mom," Maria sobbed, tears already coursing down her face as she fought a losing battle to rouse him. "Mom, something's wrong!"

"Oh Jesus," Amy muttered, immediately assessing the seriousness of the situation and turning to grab the phone. Dialing 9-1-1 she placed a hand on her daughter's shaking shoulders and tried to reassure her silently while she waited for the phone to be answered.

Maria's pressed her hands to her mouth, stifling the volume if not the intensity of her crying. Something had happened to him, he'd fallen, or collapsed, maybe he'd had a heart attack – she'd heard of young people having those, or maybe… Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a tiny white object, at first passing it off as inconsequential before her curiosity got the better of her and she tore her eyes from his face to glance across the carpet.

It appeared innocent enough, a single white pill half buried in the heavy shag, and would have been innocent too, if not for the fact that it was alone – the only pill left from a bottle supposed to last him for two weeks. Her eyes settled on the pill, not yet comprehending the full seriousness of its presence. She did just a moment later as her eyes traveled upwards, catching sight of the empty pill bottle on his bedside table.

"Mom," she said slowly, reaching out to grasp the bottle tightly in her hand. Turning, she held the bottle out to her mother, watching as Amy's lips translated its meaning to the 9-1-1 operator on the phone.

Maria turned back to face Michael again, shaking her head as she reached a tentative hand out to check for a pulse. He was still alive, but the knowledge did little to comfort her. Her sobs ceded as shock settled over her small body and she sat on the floor beside him, her mother absently rubbing her back as she mumbled, "What did you do? Michael, what did you do?"

~~~~~

The hospital waiting room was blasting its air conditioning at full force to combat the sticky New Mexico autumn winds, but dressed in only pajama pants and a tank top did little to protect Maria from the breeze. She curled her body around itself in a corner chair, her mother sitting quietly beside her as they waited for news of his condition. They had been there for over an hour already and so far she had counted four doctors coming out to talk to other waiting people, each being led away in tears as they heard the sad news about their loved ones.

As the air conditioner boosted itself up another notch she shivered, pulling her legs closer to her chest as she fought off the nagging thought that she would be the next person to hear that her loved one was seriously injured. 'How could he be so stupid?' she thought for the thousandth time. She would have cried if she had any control over the emotions coursing through her body. Instead her face was frozen in a mask of denial, refusing to believe that it was their argument that had led him to… to do that. The awful word that described it, she couldn't bring herself to even formulate it in thought, let alone words.

"Ms. Deluca?"

Amy stood up, stepping forward to greet the doctor that had just entered the waiting room. Maria watched as she spoke with him, fighting to hear their words through the fog penetrating her brain as the doctor took a seat in front of her, looking directly into her face.

"Maria?"

"Maria honey," Amy said softly, sitting down again to reach for her hand. "It's your name on his chart sweetie, the doctor needs to talk to you."

She raised her eyes to the doctor's, noting absentmindedly that they were brown, like Michael's. She wondered if she'd ever get to see his eyes again.

"Michael… examined… mmph… serious… mm-hmm… suicide…"

"What?" she said suddenly, the last word sticking out sharply from the jumble of senselessness falling from his lips.

He stopped speaking, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Maria closely. "Your boyfriend attempted to commit suicide Ms. Deluca. He's lucky there were no serious effects."

She swallowed thickly, there was that word, the one she'd been refusing to think of since she'd found him. "He didn't," she mumbled softly, shaking her head, even as her brain told herself that the doctor spoke the truth.

"Well, we think he did, and we're going to keep him here until we can get a psychiatrist to speak to him. His mental health is probably more important right now that whatever physical damage he's caused."

"What… what damage?" she whispered.

"Nothing serious, but we had to pump his stomach so his throat will be burned a little from the tubes and fluids. There's also the grogginess of taking such a large dose of Codeine, it'll take him a couple of days to get back to normal. I want to admit him tonight and we'll keep him here until the psychiatrist is satisfied that he's not going to try something like this again."

"He won't try it again," she mumbled softly, turning her tear filled eyes to stare at her mother.

Amy was anything but pleased to have her daughter hear that her boyfriend had tried to commit suicide and was even less impressed that Michael had tried it in the first place. She had taken the boy into her home to help him, providing a forum for him to self-destruct hadn't been in her plans.

"Maybe not," she said, knowing that she wouldn't be satisfied until she heard it from a doctor's mouth.

"Can we… can I see him?" Maria asked.

"Okay," the doctor responded. "But he's still unconscious. We're monitoring him until he wakes up and then we'll move him upstairs. You can go in but only for a few minutes."

She nodded stiffly as she stood up to follow the doctor into the examining room. She no longer felt the cool breeze on her shoulders as she prepared herself to see him once again lying helpless in a hospital bed, this time the threat of him losing his life caused by himself instead of a comparatively harmless tumor. "Stupid," she muttered under her breath, earning herself a suspicious glance from a passing nurse as the doctor stopped just outside Exam Room 3.

"Just a minute, okay?"

Maria nodded and pushed the door open, stepping into the room where his body was the central focus, the one light above the bed illuminating his pale face eerily. She stepped forward slowly, taking her time as she crossed the distance separating them, unwillingly to cast her eyes on his unconscious form again.

She stopped by the bed, focusing on the even rise and fall of his chest as she tried to ignore the stench of disinfectant that hospitals always reeked of. She hated that smell, it was too clean, always made her feel dirty somehow, like she wouldn't be able to pass a surprise inspection by their janitorial staff.

Shaking her head to gain a little focus on the situation, she forced her eyes to move up his body, wincing at the sight of the charcoal used to facilitate the pumping of his stomach staining his mouth. Tears stung her eyes as she reached out hesitantly to wipe it away, her mouth quivering as she fought back the sobs that threatened to spill from her body.

"Michael," she whispered roughly, unaware that the tears she fought to stem had started falling the moment she cast her eyes upon him, dripping onto her bare chest now as she stood shivering before him. "What did you do?" she gasped, pressing her hand to her chest as she reached out to push falling strands of hair away from his face. "You are so stupid, so stupid!" she cried softly, bending down to kiss his cheek lightly, crying harder when he was unresponsive.

"Oh God," she sobbed, sitting in a chair beside his bed as she grasped his hand tightly and raised her eyes heavenward. "I know I don't talk to you very often," she mumbled softly. "But I really need for him to be okay. If you could just see fit to give me this, I'll never… I'll never swear again. No, I'll clean the house whenever my Mom asks." Shaking her head as tears clouded her vision, she struggled to find the perfect sacrifice to offer for his health. "I'll be good, okay? If you can just do this for me, for us… no, for him, do this for him and I promise I'll do good in this world. Just… just give him back to me, okay?"

Whether further words were necessary or not, she was incapable of offering them, as her body shook violently with repressed anguish. She stared at the unmoving form of the boy she loved and cried, she cried for the stubbornness that blocked his recovery at every turn, she cried for the fight that had most likely caused him to be in his current situation, and she cried for the life that he thought so little of to even attempt taking it away.

"Don't you ever try something like this again, you hear me? I don't care what you think about yourself, I love you and I want you around. I need you around, okay jackass?"

"Yes ma'am," Michael croaked, sleepy eyes fluttering open as his mouth smirked and he looked up at her standing there.

His flippant response was possibly more shocking than the fact that he had spoken at all and Maria's mouth dropped open as she stared at him. "Yes ma'am?" she questioned.

Michael looked at her with sleep shrouded eyes, his brain still processing why he couldn't recognize the surroundings he found himself in when he saw a flash enter his field of vision and winced as her hand came into contact with his face.

"Jerk!" she cried, standing up as whatever sadness she felt was replaced with anger flooding her system.

Michael closed his eyes as the full memory of where he was and how he'd gotten to be here came back to him. He hesitated before turning to face her again, not relishing the thought of explaining why he'd tried something so stupid in the first place. He'd never meant to end up in the hospital, he'd just been hurting so much, both in his leg and his heart, and he'd wanted some relief – pills had seemed like the easiest way.

"Maria," he started slowly, his voice cracking as his scorched throat argued for him to remain silent..

"Save it," she muttered, shaking her head as she stepped away from his bed. "I can't… I just can't," she mumbled, turning to run from his room. The sudden mix of emotions as relief washed over her and anger surged through her body was too much and she knew she needed to clear her head before she could hear anything that he had to say.

From his bed, Michael watched her go, certain that his tiny mistake had just cost him the best relationship he'd ever known. He lay his bed back against his pillows, suddenly wishing that she'd never found him at all.
posted on 31-Dec-2002 8:13:30 PM
Part 27

Maria wordlessly passed her mother in the hospital hallway, her silence signaling that it was past the time to leave. Amy followed her daughter into the brisk air of the early morning, content just this once to let her have her anger, her sadness, whatever emotions happened to be coursing through her shivering body. As a mother, she was conflicted by concern for her daughter and a mix of the same emotion added to anger for the boy who was fast becoming like a son to her. If she was feeling a bit unsure right now, she could only imagine the turmoil Maria was going through.

They drove home in silence, Maria refusing to so much as a glance in her mother's direction as they entered the house. She headed towards her bedroom, pausing just briefly to gaze upon the scene where ambulance attendants had tended to her unconscious boyfriend only hours earlier. Bastard tears pricked her eyes once more as she hurried into her room, shutting the door firmly behind her. She didn't think it was possible to cry so much in such a short time, she should call Guinness, it was probably a record.

Walking directly to her bookshelf, she rummaged through the collection of small bottles sitting there, searching for a certain fragrance – cedar oil, the most calming scent she could think of, something she was in dire need of at the moment. To say she felt guilty about leaving his hospital room was an understatement, yet at the same time she knew that had she stayed, she probably would have ended up in an identical bed, committed for pure grief. If it had just been tonight, she thought she could have stuck by him, pushed aside whatever excuses he drummed up for committing such a selfish act. But it wasn't just tonight, it wasn't even the past few months, no, Michael had always acted this way – impulsively, not caring what the potential consequences of his actions might be, just thinking that there was no other choice in a given situation and acting without thinking.

If he was any stupider he'd probably have to wear a sign with his name on it.

She cursed under her breath as she screwed the cap back on her bottle, the cedar scent doing nothing to calm her at the moment. She supposed she wasn't really being fair with that stupid comment, but right now, she needed to blame someone and he was just the perfect target.

Blame… was she to be immune to it? She could be, easily. All she had to do was stick by the belief that no matter what supposed 'shit' she threw at him, he was his own person and responsible for his own decisions. Even as the debate raged in her head she knew that she had her share of blame to accept for the current problem – a fact that probably made her even angrier than his actions.

She had pushed him, she knew she had. Although he was stubborn, no one would dispute that fact with her, she knew that he was, and had said she accepted him for it, for every trait that he demonstrated, the good with the bad. If that were really true, then she should accept his stubbornness as well, she even thought she'd been doing a pretty good job of it lately, just tonight… tonight she'd had her own difficulties to deal with, just the normal work and school stuff, but still… she'd been contrary before she'd ever entered his room, and it only took a small comment from him to send her into her own rage.

Blame… oh yeah, she deserved her share of blame.

Sitting down on her bed, she pulled her tank top and pants from her body, the disinfectant smell of the hospital having seeped into the fibers and melted onto her skin. Grabbing her robe, she walked to the bathroom, stopping just long enough to pull his bedroom door shut. She couldn't look at the scene right now, not yet, she had too much to sort out in her own mind before she could face the reality of what had happened there.

She filled the bathtub with water, adding an extra capful of her favorite bubble bath – the kind he had given her for her birthday. She lowered herself to the edge of the tub, dropping her head to her hands as the smell filled her nose and she was awash in memories of him once more. She sobbed as she let herself recall the dangerous emotions still lingering in the back of her mind. All night, she had feared that she would lose him, even more than she had when he'd found out he was sick, when he'd had his operation – through everything that had happened in recent weeks, she had never really believed that he was about to die, that his life was in imminent jeopardy, until tonight. Tonight she had honestly thought she had spoken to him for the last time, and that the last words she'd chosen had been filled with contempt – not exactly the emotion you wanted to leave the person you loved with for all eternity.

Through the tears that wracked her body, she was vaguely aware of comforting arms wrapping around her shoulders. She heard the water stop and felt herself being lifted up, guided through the darkened house. It wasn't until she felt herself pushed into a chair that she was able to wipe enough liquid from her eyes to glance around. Her mother sat across from her, pouring coffee into a mug before adding a healthy dose of thick cream. Pushing the steaming cup across the table, she looked at her daughter with a small smile on her face.

"I know sweetie," were her simple words. "Drink this and then we'll talk, okay? But I know… I already know."

Amy smoothed her daughter's tousled hair gently, Maria crying harder as she leaned into the gesture. The pair sat at the table for hours, the entire story of Michael's hard-nosed approach to life and Maria's commitment to see him through the obstacles he placed in his own path revealed. When the sun was peeking over the horizon, and the coffee pot had long since been emptied, Amy pushed her daughter back into a standing position.

"Why don't you go get that bath, then we'll go back to the hospital, okay?"

Maria nodded silently, her reserve of tears finally drying out. She followed her mother's directions, numbly carrying out the motions to cleanse her body while her mind cried out for the same treatment. She knew there was only one cure for its imagined filth – facing the source of her demons, her shaky relationship that she depended on so thoroughly. She only hoped he was still open to what she had to offer, and that she was strong enough to give him the support he needed. Hopefully they could rely on each other, otherwise, she didn't think they had much of a chance.

~~~~~

From his bed, Michael looked up quickly, the muscles in his jaw pulsing as he stared at the figure standing before him. He had slept fitfully all night, the codeine pushing his body into slumber while the sickness of vomiting charcoal kept him on the edge of lucidity. Dr. Kennedy had stopped by his room just a few minutes ago, disappointment obvious on his face as he reviewed the medical chart. He wasn't the assigned physician on Michael's case, but as his family doctor, he had taken an interest in the boy and came to the room as soon as he saw 'Michael Guerin' on the admission sheets.

"You know that was a pretty stupid thing to do," he had said.

Michael could only shift uncomfortably in his bed, the shame he felt not so much because of the act itself, but at being placed on display for doctors and nurses to prod and judge; their care disguising curiosity at how someone could go so far as to jeopardize their own life. It was tiring, and embarrassing, and Michael had been sure he was about to scream when Dr. Kennedy had informed him that a psychiatrist's visit was in his future.

That had been five short minutes ago and he hadn't yet figured out how he was going to escape from the hospital when he saw her enter.

Maria.

One more person to prod and judge him. Great.

"I thought you left," he said quietly, fighting to keep his voice calm, sure that she had only returned to add insult to injury.

"I did," she mumbled, hesitation evident on her person as she walked across the room. She took a tentative seat by his bed, staring at her hands in her lap for a long moment.

"Look I…" she started.

"If you want…" he tried at the same moment, both of them stopping as they heard the other speak.

"You first," he offered quickly.

"No, please," Maria countered.

It was obvious that neither was too anxious to speak and silence settled between them once again, the tension in the air crackling as they both chewed their lips nervously, each wanting to speak yet unable to give voice to words they hadn't yet thought of.

"I, uh…" Michael finally managed. "I don't really know…"

"Me either," Maria breathed suddenly, casting her eyes up towards his face as a small smile played on her mouth.

His face was still so pale, the remnants of charcoal lingering lightly on his lips, and she was instantly brought back to seeing his unconscious form earlier that evening, the memory of that causing her to turn her head back down again, staring at the relative safety of her hands, unable to face the truth on his face.

"They said it was a suicide attempt," she mumbled softly, unable to give much strength to the words.

Michael sighed, having just heard the same from Dr. Kennedy. "You believe that?" he asked, an obvious edge present in his voice.

"Should I?" she countered, raising her gaze to meet his once more.

He shook his head sadly. "I guess you can believe whatever you want," he muttered.

"No," she said sharply, reaching out to grab his arm with her hand. "I want you to tell me what to believe Michael. I want you to tell me that you tried to kill yourself, is that what happened?"

"How can you ask me that?" he asked loudly. "You really think I would try to do that?"

"What am I supposed to think? I find you passed out on the floor, a bottle of pills in your stomach, what does that say to you?"

"Oh gee, I don't know," he replied sarcastically. "Maybe that it hurt? Maybe I needed a pain killer, that IS what they're for isn't it?"

"That's what two of them are for. Or even four or six, not 10 or 20, not a whole bottle!"

Michael shook his head, focusing his eyes straight ahead of him, a tiny imperfection in the far wall suddenly seeming more interesting than any conversation he could have had with her.

Maria panted slightly as she stared at his impassive form, watching him shut off his emotions towards her once more. "Stop it," she mumbled, shaking her head. "Stop this right now."

"Stop what?" he asked, fatigue evident as he turned his head slowly towards her, his eyes shining with tears he had no intention of letting free.

"Stop shutting down, stop turning it all off. This is me, I love you. Don't you know that? After everything?"

"What are you talking about?" he asked softly, the edge fading from his voice as he submitted to the sleep tugging at his mind, sinking back into the pillows in defeat.

"I was scared Michael. Last night, this morning, finding you… finding you like that," her voice cracked as slow tears began to drip from her eyes. She ignored them, pushing onwards to try and reach the fighting spirit she knew rested somewhere inside the ravaged body before her. "I thought… I didn't know what to think. At first I thought something had happened. I never thought you did it, not to yourself, not after everything you've been through, everything WE'VE been through."

His heart squeezed itself just a little tighter as he watched the emotions display themselves like a fresh canvas on her face. Every word she spoke came direct from her heart, direct from the love she felt for him. He knew that, he knew she cared about him, her love the only emotion he had ever been able to trust, her presence the only constant in his turbulent life. Now she was hurting, because of him, because of one more stupid action he had committed without thinking first.

He'd never intended suicide, he just wanted a little peace, just a little relief from the aching. It was never about leaving her, losing her. Now…

"I never meant…" he muttered, no longer able to meet the eyes she had trained directly on him. He looked down at his hands, absently picking at the IV needle pressing painfully into the back of his hand. He hated those things, possibly worse than being in the hospital itself, and yet he was the only person responsible for this visit, for this awful, painful visit that came equipped with its own shrink session – perfect.

"Do you want to live? Really?"

He jerked his head towards her quickly, his eyes widening as he stared at the question hanging before him. "I…" he started, stopping to allow the words to settle into his mind, really thinking about the consequence of whatever answer he chose.

"Of course I do," he whispered softly, raising his hand to rub his face roughly as the hated tears threatened to fall once more.

It was the truth, it had always been the truth. He had never wanted to end it, not really, but he had known that it was a possibility, and even so he had taken the pills anyway. That thought was possibly more frightening then taking them at all – knowing that the action could kill you and caring so little that you risked it anyway. What if?

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, shaking his head pathetically, the tears he fought to suppress leaking from the corners of closed eyelids.

He heard her own sobs clearly, and shook his head harder, fighting to block out the sound of her crying. He hated it when she cried, especially when it was at his own hands.

"Don't," he whispered, inhaling a shaky breath.

Through the darkness he had made his world, he felt a shifting on his bed as she climbed up beside him. Stretching out beside his braced leg, she melded herself to his body, pressing his head against her chest.

"You're very stupid, you know that?"

Michael nodded silently, smiling as he wiped his tears away and listened to her berate him teasingly. He deserved to hear the words spoken seriously, but thanked her a million times over in his head for choosing to lighten the situation, he didn't think he could handle one more moment of heaviness.

"Don't you ever…" she warned, the lightness fading from her voice as she was unable to mask the truth of her emotions.

"Never," he responded, and he knew it was the truth. Whatever they had together, it was beyond special, it was sacred. To test it, to play with its strength, was suicide in itself, not a risk he ever wanted to take again.

He shifted on the bed to position himself above her, pushing her own quivering body onto his chest, yearning to play the part of protector once more. The pair each said a silent prayer that they had fought their way through another storm, both vowing it would be the last, both knowing it most likely wasn't. That was them, it was what made them Michael and Maria. Without the fire, there wouldn’t be the danger, but there wouldn’t be the passion either, something neither of them was content to live without.

"So," she finally managed to mumble. "What are you going to tell this shrink?"

Michael cursed silently as he buried his face in her hair. The journey wasn't over, not yet. He braced himself for the battle he had yet to face – opening up to a complete stranger. He'd be lucky if he made it out the other side in one piece.
posted on 2-Jan-2003 9:27:59 AM
Well this is it – the end of one of the more favored fics I have written. You will probably all fondly remember how quickly I updated in the beginning – that's because I was hooked on this idea from the start. "When I Have Fears" will always be a favorite poem of mine and I think the honest reaction that someone has when they face possibly the scariest fight of their life will always make for a good story.

Enjoy the end, let me know what you think, and stick around – I've already started From Within, another M&M epic length journey, and I'm thinking up the idea for yet another story, I think a "Reader's Choice" this time – where you get to vote on what happens next – sound good? Let me know if you're interested and I'll get started!

Thanks for your feedback, your comments, and your encouragement. Especially Gimpy, whose journey through something similar was the initial inspiration for the entire thing, and Belit, who crazily thinks I deserve her compliments when it is I who am in awe of her.

Sherry


Part 28

"So why don't you tell me why you're here?"

The psychiatrist had started their appointment with the exact question Michael had expected, the 'tell me why you think you have to talk to me' question. He knew exactly why he had to talk to the doctor, he'd tried to kill himself, intentionally or not, he'd tried it and found one more thing to add to his list of failures in life, not such a bad addition really.

"Look," he said slowly. "I know exactly why I'm here. I… I tried to kill myself," he mumbled bravely, congratulating himself for even being able to say the words. In his mind, he still told himself that it wasn't true, that he really hadn't tried it, but he knew that even as he swallowed the tiny white enemies, he'd been aware of the dangerous consequences they'd threatened and he'd done nothing to stop it – that meant he'd tried, like it or not.

"I know what I did, and I'm sorry for it. It's not something I'm ever going to try again, and I really mean that," he added quickly, sensing the objection to his statement already forming on the doctor's lips. "See, I have a really good reason not to try it, someone that makes living totally worth it. I have someone that loves me, no matter how stupid I can get sometimes, and if I ever did anything to jeopardize that, I'd have to kill myself anyway, so I'm good, see?"

Michael fidgeted as he watched the doctor's eyes settle evenly on him, the stern face betraying no sign of accepting or rejecting his story. He stammered as he fumbled to fill the silence, unsure if he was supposed to keep talking or just wait to be judged. "So… so, I really don't need to sit here and talk to you about all this, but if you want to then shoot. But, I would never…" he stopped again as he struggled for words to convince this stranger of the courage Maria pumped into him just by sharing her life with him. She could be just as stubborn as him sometimes, but beneath everything, she was committed to their happiness. He knew that he never would have gone to see a doctor about his knee in the first place if it hadn't been for her insistence, and the rocky road he'd created for himself to travel since that first visit would have been impossible without her guidance. Granted, he taken a few unscheduled detours along the way, but she had always been there for him, coaching, encouraging, even sometimes downright telling him what to do, and he'd nearly thrown it all away with a handful of pills.

He didn't need to talk to some shrink to realize that he'd just about made the biggest mistake of his life last night, but here he was anyway and he knew that he wasn't getting out of this session without some serious soul searching.

"Look, I'm not going to try it again," he offered. "I have no reason to."

"Well I'm glad to hear that, but I'm more interested in what drove you to take them in the first place."

"My leg hurt."

"So you took a bottle of pills?"

Michael stared at the doctor for a moment, he could have sworn he heard Maria's voice ringing in his head as he fumbled for the words to explain his actions.

"See, there's this poem, it's called When I Have Fears. It's been a favorite of mine for years, and I never really knew why until this happened to me and I had to really think about what happens to a person when they face the very real end of their life. I guess… I guess I sort of lost sight of that when I took the pills, I don't want to die, I never wanted that, no matter how bad it got, I just… sometimes it can just get a little heavy, you know?"

~~~~~

"But now I get it that when I have fears I have the one cure it takes to quiet them…"

Michael paused as he tried to explain what he meant to the psychiatrist. It was his last appointment with the doctor, a follow up 10 weeks after the 'event' that had brought him here in the first place, and he still wasn't sure if the guy believed that he wasn't suicidal… and wasn't sure that it mattered either way. In the time since his supposed attempt, he had settled back into a life with Maria and Amy, continuing his struggle with facing physiotherapy and school, fighting constantly to express disdain at what his life had become while Maria fought to show him the blessings he had through all of the obstacles.

He was getting better, he could see that. He had taken a few steps without any aids in physio this morning, something he was keeping to himself until he could make it completely across a room. Plus, he'd finally graduated from crutches to a cane, a fact that he was still waiting to share with Maria. The brace was ever present, but he'd grown to sort of like it, like a trusty companion that he could rely on to get him through the challenging times, to offer support when pain medicine brought back too many unsettling memories. He still took pills, only a much lower dosage and in much smaller amounts. It had been his decision, codeine still available as long as he allowed Amy to keep the prescription for him, but instead he'd chosen regular old Tylenol® Extra Strength, content that he could depend on his own strength of spirit to get him through the tough times. That and the infinite support he got from Maria, something he didn't think he would ever fully be able to thank her for.

He looked up at the silent doctor. "My girlfriend," he explained. "She gives me whatever I need, and that's going to be enough. The fears… the fears are not there any…" Michael lowered his eyes from the probing face as he recognized the lie crossing his lips. The fears weren't gone, he wasn't sure they'd ever truly disappear. He took a deep breath, raising his gaze to meet the physician head on. "The fears are still there but they don't control me anymore. I can do it now, I know I can. As long as I have her, I'm more powerful than any fear."

The psychiatrist looked at the boy thoughtfully, shuffling through the pile of papers on his desk to extract a single sheet. Holding it up, he asked, "So, tell me. What do you see here?"

Michael sighed as he stared at the inkblot in front of him. It never failed, he'd come up with the most revealing emotions he was able to share and yet there was always the 'let me try to look into your mind' test to conduct.

"Why don't we go with a bird?" he offered, guessing that saying it actually looked like a squashed bug wouldn't be appreciated. He leaned back in his chair, pulling his new cane across his lap securely. He still had another stop to make before he could go home and walk through the door on two feet. Maria was going to freak… he couldn't wait.

~~~~~

Michael opened the kitchen door, stepping through slowly as he looked up to meet Maria's expectant face.

"Hey," she called, licking cookie batter from her fingers as she walked towards him. "How did it… Ahh!"

He laughed as she shrieked and dropped the spoon she had been using to cook with. He held out the cane towards her, smiling as she flew through the air towards him, both of them falling backwards against the wall.

"Whoa," he muttered. "I'm still a little unsteady there."

"What is that?" she cried, stepping back to stare down at the new aid he held in his hand.

"No more crutches," he announced proudly. "Just a cane for another few weeks and then no brace either."

"Holy sh!t," she mumbled, stepping in to meet his mouth hungrily.

He laughed as he got a taste of the sweet substance she had been concocting. "Mmm, peanut butter?"

"With Tabasco," she added devilishly, just as Amy entered the room carrying an overflowing laundry basket.

"Oh please, not Sweet 'n Spicys again. I don't see how the two of you can eat those things."

"They're good," Maria retorted, swinging around to jump lightly across the room. "Look!" she said to her mother, pointing back at Michael.

He proudly held up the cane for Amy's inspection, wincing as she leaned in to press her lips against his cheek. He knew she loved him like a member of her own family, it was still weird to have that kind of relationship, but he was grateful for it, and appreciated the gesture, even if it was a little uncomfortable.

"Actually," he said quickly, anxious to shift the focus away from his new accomplishment. He reached into his back pocket and withdrew an envelope, holding it out to Amy. "This is for you."

"What is it?" she asked, looking inside. She dropped it to the table as she saw the contents. "What is that for?" she asked slowly.

Maria stepped over to pick up the envelope, several $20 bills sliding out onto the table as she did. "Michael, what…"

"It's for you, for rent," he explained.

"No," Amy insisted quickly. "I am not taking anything…"

"Please," he interrupted. "If I'm not paying rent at my old place then I've got to give you something. Even a little."

"Wait," Maria interjected. "Since when do you not pay rent?"

"Since today. I gave up the apartment. I went down to MetaChem and got back on part-time for a few shifts. No walking," he added when he saw the obvious objection on both women's faces. "Just monitoring the cameras until I can get back to full speed. I need to start paying my own way again, and I figured since I was already here…"

His voice trailed off as he looked at Amy expectantly. Maria felt her eyes well up as she looked at her lover proudly and turned to glance at her mother, confident that she wouldn't disappoint either of them.

"How much did you pay at your place?" Amy finally asked.

"$300."

"Then I'll take $150 plus groceries. You've got quite the appetite."

"Yes I do," Michael agreed, laughing as Maria smothered her mother with a batter smeared kiss before turning on him once again.

"So you're staying here?" she squealed. "For like, good?"

"I like, guess so," he teased, kissing the top of her head as he leaned on his cane, a satisfied grin spreading across his face. He looked around the kitchen, watching Amy turn back to the laundry as Maria skipped back to her cookies, dousing the batter in extra Tabasco. This was his family, the one he'd never thought he'd have, and hadn't really been looking for. It had just sort of found him, the worst experience in his life turning into the greatest result. Things were funny like that sometimes, the clouds lifting to reveal blaring sunshine in their place. Right now his life was filled with sunshine. He kind of liked it.


Epilogue

~*Maria's POV*~

So that was our story, his story – Michael's story. I had to tell it because it's still too difficult for him to talk about. He almost destroyed his life because of a simple illness that was easily cured. His behavior wasn't surprising, to him or me, but it's hard to watch your weaknesses revealed for the entire world to see, and coming out the other side a better person still hasn't been enough to let him look back on it fondly.

I almost lost him, too many times to count. I know now that he never would have left me, not intentionally, but sometimes the emotions we feel in the moment are too powerful to resist and a decision is made for us before reason can set in. To think about how close we came to not having the happiness we now cherish is scary, even for me, and I can understand why he doesn't like to talk about it, and I don't push… not any more.

Pushing works with him most times, and I have to admit that when he doesn't do his share of the laundry it pisses me off to no end, but I only push on the little things, the things that don't make a big deal of difference. There haven't been a whole lot of big things lately, but whenever they raise their ugly head, I take a deep breath and turn to face the brunt of it with him. I've found that works much better then forcing him to face it, he just doesn't work that way, and adjusting to the way he needs to live his life has been a learning experience for me as well.

I've grown, we both have. Life is different than it was in September, but it's better too. I love him, and he's alive because of that love. I think that's the greatest gift he could ever give me, even if he doesn't know it.

The End