posted on 12-Feb-2002 1:41:43 AM by Fehrbaby
Title: A Rough Road Leads To The Stars (Sequel to Road Trip and A Few Degrees Shy of Heaven)
Author: Christina
e-mail: fehrbaby⊕hotmail.com
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of Roswell, I'm just using them for my own guilty pleasures and promise to return them when done with them...although, I might keep Michael a little longer, if you don't mind too much. LOL!
Distribution: If you want it, take it but please let me know first. And make sure you take the other two parts or this story will make no sense at all!
Category: M/M and all others
Rating: Probably R-NC17

Note: You can find Road Trip and A Few Degrees Shy Of Heaven at http://alienblast.9ug.com under My Fics


Prologue - What's Your Greatest Fear?

"Listen to this," Kyle Valenti said between amused chuckles. "Half-Alien, Half-Human Skull Found in New Mexico Desert." He peered over the copy of the National Enquirer he was holding and wiggled his eyebrows. "What do you think, anyone we know?"

"Hmm," was Maria's only reply as she fingered the plastic hospital bracelet on her left wrist.

"Maria, that was a joke."

"Ha-ha," she sighed, lifting her eyes to his face.

"Okay," Kyle said as he folded up the paper and tossed it on the chair next to him. "What's up?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean."

"Nothing really," she murmured, glancing down at her wrist again.

"Come on, Maria. You've hardly said a word since I got here. Talk to me."

"I've just been thinking about some things, that's all," Maria finally offered and sat up in her hospital bed, pulling her regimen white blanket closer. He waited for her to elaborate but a full minute had passed and she hadn't said another word. He sighed and was preparing to reach for his paper again when she asked him a question that caught him totally off guard. "Kyle, what's your biggest fear?"

He sat back in his cushioned chair and whistled. "That's a little deep for seven in the morning, don't you think?"

Her lips turned up in a thin smile. "Maybe."

"Why do you want to know?" he asked, skeptically.

She shrugged her slender shoulders. "I'm just curious."

"Okay, let's see, my biggest fear..." he pretended to consider this for a moment before a huge grin broke out on his face. "My biggest fear is that I'll be a virgin for the rest of my life."

"Kyle," she groaned, not looking one bit amused. "I'm serious."

Kyle rolled his eyes. "I'm going to call a doctor because you need a sense of humor, stat! Jesus, Maria, I was only trying to get you to laugh."

She winced apologetically. "I'm sorry. I'm just not in a joking mood."

"Obviously. So, where's this coming from?"

She hesitated for a second before her nose wrinkled and a confused look crossed her face. "I'm not sure. I've just had this feeling..."

"About what?" he prompted when she didn't continue.

"That I still have one more fear to face," she murmured, looking more confused than ever.

"You're losing me here."

"I always thought death was my biggest fear but I've already died once and faced death twice the other night. I thought that I'd feel...different, more liberated somehow. Instead, I keep waiting for something horrible to happen."

"Maybe it's because, in hindsight, everything that happened seems too easy."

She snorted. "That's not the word I'd use."

"Okay, so maybe it wasn't easy but by some miracle, you survived it all and it's hard to get used to the idea. Perhaps it's just some vestige of paranoia."

Maria shrugged, looking unconvinced.

"Well then, if death wasn't your biggest fear, then what is?"

"I'm not sure," she replied. "That's the problem. But I told you what was bothering me so now it's your turn to answer my question."

"Fair enough. Well, to tell you the truth," he began seriously, "up until about a week ago, I always feared that I would end up just like my dad. You know, become the Sheriff in this one Starbucks town and chasing aliens the rest of my life. I was always so ashamed of him. But now, it's me who I'm ashamed of."

"Why's that?" Maria inquired softly.

"It's hard to explain," he said, struggling to express what he was feeling in words. "I...it's...I've always wanted nothing more than to get my diploma and go off to college so I could get away from this stupid town and my crazy relations. But I've just found out that my entire life has been a lie. And my father is the only real thing I've ever had and I am so terrified of losing him, if...when he finds out who I really am." He rubbed his face and groaned. "Does that even make sense?"

Maria reached out for his hand and nodded. "Yeah."

"So, I guess that's my biggest fear; that my father will turn his back on me now that I've realized how much I need him. Or maybe my biggest fear is that I'll never have a normal life ever again."

"You'll always have me," Maria offered.

He smiled sadly. "I know, but it's not the same."

"I know," she sighed and then glanced down at her wristband once again. She wouldn't look at him as she asked her next question. "So, you're going to tell him?"

"My father?"

Maria nodded.

"Is that a problem? Are you worried that he'll run and tell the wrong people?"

"It's not an inconceivable notion, really," she said delicately. "But no, that's not my biggest concern right now. I was just thinking about my mom. So...are you?"

"Hell, I don't know," he said after a moment's pause, feeling flustered and conflicted. "One part of me wants to tell him everything but the other part is telling me that maybe it's safer to keep living the lie."

"Human side versus alien," she murmured.

"Maybe," he muttered. "What about you? Are you planning on telling your mom?"

"I'm still deciding," she admitted. "I'm not sure if she'd even believe me if I did. And if she did, I wouldn't want to scare her. I mean, how would you take it if you found out the man you once loved and married was an evil alien who used you to create a child that would fulfill a destiny of murdering another race of aliens?"

"I'd probably think you were on drugs."

"I'm serious."

"So am I, Maria. Put yourself in your mother's shoes; wouldn't you think the same thing?"

Maria considered that for a moment and then nodded reluctantly. "You've got a point."

Kyle nodded his head lightly and looked down at his hands. "What about the baby?"

"What about it?"

"Are you going to tell her about that?"

She smiled but the dark circles beneath her eyes betrayed her worry and exhaustion. "Well, I think I'm going to have to, eventually. Not even she is flighty enough to miss the bulging tummy."

"I don't know," Kyle teased. "She is pretty flighty."

"Oh, shut up," Maria said, laughing. When her laughter died down, her expression once again turned grave. "No, seriously. I know what you mean about being ashamed. I don't regret the fact that I'm pregnant but I feel as though I've let her down, somehow. She got pregnant with me when she was young and has always tried to steer me in a different path, you know, make sure I don't make the same mistakes as she did. Now, history has repeated itself and she's going to feel like she failed, while I feel like I'm the one who failed her."

"Maybe that's your biggest fear," Kyle suggested.

"That, I could handle. No, it's something else."

"Like what?"

She shrugged. "I wish I knew."

Kyle wasn't sure what to say. He finally came up with something that sounded lame to his own ears. "You shouldn't worry so much. I'm sure it's not that bad."

Maria snorted bitterly. "I wish I had your confidence."

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Feb-2002 6:55:46 PM ]
posted on 12-Feb-2002 1:43:49 AM by Fehrbaby
Part 1 - Leaving injury behind

"I don't care what you say. You're going to have to sit me down and strap me to that goddamn thing!"

Michael smiled. He could hear Maria's indignant cries from down the hall of the hospital ward they had moved her to three days prior. The smell of rubbing alcohol pervaded his nose as he rounded a corner and he thanked god that this would be his last visit to the hospital. And he would be taking Maria home with him this time.

He found her outside her room squaring off with a burly nurse. She looked as golden as the sun itself in the yellow, knee-length sundress Isabel had given her as a present and the matching strip of satin that held her bangs back from her forehead. She looked like an angel.

Make that a furious angel, he amended as he saw the tight angry lines that etched her face. Her hands were propped on her hips and she looked ready to fly off the handle at any second. "I don't care if it's god's regulation," he heard her say. "You're not getting me in that fucking thing. I don't need it."

The nurse across from her wore a mask of calm but it was clear that her patience was wearing thin. Michael smiled, knowing that Maria had that affect on everyone.

He stepped in as mediator. "What's going on here?"

Maria glanced at him but quickly returned to the nurse. "Attila the Hun here insists that I sit in a wheelchair when I leave and I've repeatedly told her that I don't need it but she won't listen."

The nurse raised a stern eyebrow at Michael and spoke in a controlled voice. "As I've tried to explain, it is hospital regulation. If you don't walk in on your feet, you don't leave on your feet. End of story."

"Well, you better go tell your supervisors that they are going to change that rule because I refuse to be wheeled out of here like some handicap. My legs work absolutely fine and I'm walking out on them. End of story." She looked to Michael for help. "Tell her," she demanded.

What she said was true. The week before, she hadn't even been able to move her legs. The doctors had said that the explosion had bruised her spinal cord and she would need months of physical therapy before she would be able to walk normal again. Max had offered to heal her, an offer which she had quickly declined saying that it would raise suspicion. But not even that argument could prevent her body from healing itself at an irregular speed. Within two days, there hadn't been a scar or blemish to be seen on her entire body and the feeling had more than returned to her legs. The doctors hadn't been able to explain it. They kept referring to it as a miracle.

He transmitted his thoughts silently. I know it's a pain in the ass, Maria. But the quicker you do what they want, the quicker we can get out of here.

Her expression turned irate. You're supposed to be defending me here! Who's side are you on, anyway?

Do you even have to ask? Come on, just do what she says and then we can leave. Besides, I have a surprise for you.

What kind of surprise? she asked, taking the bait.

You'll never find out if you keep arguing.

He saw some of the anger fade from her features and heard a long sigh escape her lips. "Fine," she spat at the nurse. "I'll do it."

The nurse, satisfied, nodded and returned to her station.

Maria grabbed his hand and pulled him forward. "Come on, Spaceboy. I need to get my things."

Pushing the door open, Michael and Maria stepped into the botanical garden that was her room. A rainbow of flowers and a mix of fragrances so sweet and strong that they overpowered the sickly medicinal smells of the ward immediately enveloped them. A colorful array of petals littered the carpet. Michael tried to avoid stepping on them. It proved to be an impossible task.

Michael pulled Maria into his arms. His nose brushed hers. "Happy to be leaving?"

Her fingers wound in the hair at the nape of his neck. "Do you even have to ask?" Tilting her head up, her lips pecked his. He tried to initiate a deeper kiss, but she pulled back, turning her back on him.

Michael glanced down, hurt by her brush-off. This wasn't the first time she'd pulled back from his kiss. Several times this past week she'd done the same, always coming up with some hollow excuse. "I need to finish packing," she said this time, walking to the window where her suitcase lay. He sighed again, unable to ignore the disheartening fact that she was withdrawing from him. Something was bothering her, this much was clear, and he wanted to help her get through it. If only she would tell him how.

He approached her hesitantly, taking notice of her trembling fingers as she stuffed several stuffed animals into a plastic bag. "So, what's the big surprise?" she asked.

He swept up from behind and wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling his face in the soft down of her hair. She smelled good, like warm, vanilla sugar. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise."

"Yeah, yeah."

Michael rubbed his hand over her flat tummy. "And how is our little girl doing today?"

"She's hungry for something other than the crap this prison tries to pass of as food. Can we stop and get something to eat on the way home?"

Michael shrugged. "We'll see." He waved his hand around the room. "Are we taking all of these with us?"

She lowered her nose to a bouquet of tulips and inhaled their sweet scent. "Nope. An orderly who is friends with my mom said she'd drop them off at my house after her shift." Maria had finished packing her suitcase and snapped the small metal clasps on them. "Okay, I'm ready."

Michael took the suitcase from her in one hand and placed his other hand against the small of her back. Waiting for them by the door was a shiny metal wheelchair. A simultaneous look towards the nurse's station told them Maria's every action was being watched closely. Maria popped down into the chair and flashed a glare at the woman, as if to say "Happy?"

The nurse smiled and walked in the opposite direction.

"This is ridiculous," Maria grumbled as Michael pushed her down the hall. "The people in charge here are idiots. I bet the only reason they make you leave on one of these things is so they can add it to your bill. Wheelchair ride to the exit, 50 dollars."

As he steered her into the main hall, Maria leapt from the chair and took the suitcase from his hand. "I've been their meal ticket for long enough. Come on, let's go."

Michael glanced around the corner. "Maria, if she sees you..."

"What? They're going to put me in hospital jail?"

Smiling, Michael placed the wheelchair against the wall. "Don't worry. If they do, I'll break you out."

"Or we could make our escape now," she said, smiling mischievously. "Look, there's the door. I'll race you."

Without giving notice, Maria took off towards the door. Michael laughed and sprinted after her. "No fair," he called as she reached the door but she didn't stop there. She kept going, running out into the lush greenery of the finely manicured lawn.

Michael caught up with her by the tall flagpole a few hundred feet away from the door and pulled her into his arms. "Cheater," he teased.

Scarcely out of breath, Maria tossed her head back and laughed. "Give me a break. I was injured."

"Oh, so now you want sympathy for your injuries?"

She smiled smugly. "Well, I thought it was a good excuse." She sighed contentedly and raised her face to the sky. "It's such a beautiful day." Her eyes closed as she basked in the warmth of the mid-day sun. "It almost makes me think..." She broke off as though startled by something and lowered her head. Her gaze was far off and he felt her tremble in his arms.

"Makes you think what?"

When she didn't answer, he shook her slightly. "Maria? What's wrong? What were you going to say?"

She pulled away and knelt to retrieve her suitcase. "Nothing," she said in quiet voice. "It's nothing. Let's go."

*****

"Where are we going?" Maria asked as Michael steered the Evans' jeep onto Canyon Drive.

Patience is a virtue, his voice said in her mind and something told her that he was using this form of communication to mask that he was probing her thoughts. She could feel him on the edge of her mind, looking for the answers she wouldn't give him. She pulled her shields up higher.

It was agony having to hide things from Michael. She didn't like it and didn't want to do so but it was necessary. The feeling that something dark and unnatural was coming hadn't gone away. Like the electrical charge in the air before a storm, it only seemed to be getting worse. And this was the quiet, she supposed. She wanted to enjoy it, to immerse herself in the warmth and security of Michael's arms and to lose herself in him. But she couldn't. She was too obsessed with mentally preparing herself for disaster.

It wasn't fair, she knew, to keep secrets from Michael but she didn't know how to explain to Michael what she didn't quite understand herself. She didn't know where the feelings came from or why they continued to plague her even after she had managed to convince herself that it was nothing more than paranoia. She didn't know why she woke up with cold sweats in the middle of the night with vague memories of nightmares that she couldn't grasp. He would tell her that it was probably nothing and that's not what she needed right now.

"Okay, we're almost there," Michael said. "Close your eyes."

"What?"

"Just do it," he said, sounding exasperated. He was irritated with her. She could hear it in his voice. But more than that, she could hear the hurt. He knew she was hiding something and there was nothing she could do to reassure him.

She sighed heavily and pushed a stray strand of hair off her face before following Michael's instructions. A moment later, she felt the wind whipping her face slow. The jeep was stopping.

"You ready?" he asked, not sounding as enthusiastic as he had about the surprise earlier.

"I'm ready."

"Then open your eyes."

posted on 12-Feb-2002 1:44:20 AM by Fehrbaby
Part 2 - Surprise

At Michael's cue, Maria opened her eyes, not knowing what to expect. Finding nothing in front of her but a vacant lot strewn with dust and tumbleweeds, she switched her eye-line to the side. Before her, she found a park filled with long green grass, and a pretty view of the mountains. Thinking he must have planned a romantic picnic, she smiled wanly. "It's beautiful."

A small laugh came from her side, and she turned to see Michael shaking his head softly. "I'm glad you like it, but that's not the surprise."

"Then what--"

She stopped when Michael raised his hand, and pointed a slender finger in the opposite direction of the park. She saw a row of small but neat houses lined up against the street, and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

"There." He pointed directly to the last house on the street.

"It's...pink," she said slowly. It was the first thing that had come to mind. Two stories high, the small A-frame was neat in appearance, and had a green lawn; a rare find in the desert, though not impossible. But from top to bottom, it was the color of Pepto Bismol. She didn't even think to wonder why they were there, or what the significance of the house was. All she could think of was how truly pink it was.

"Yes it is," he said. "I wanted to paint it yesterday, but Max and Alex were both busy. We're planning to do it tomorrow."

"You mean it's yours?" she said stupidly.

He held her eyes with a steep and steady gaze before nodding. "Yes. Well, technically, it's my moms. The papers are all in her name, but eventually, it will be ours."

The way he emphasized the last word faded Maria's smile. Guiltily, she bowed her head. His reference to their future lives together should have warmed her to her toes. Sadly, its effect was the opposite.

She felt as if an icy-cold riptide was trying to suck her under. It made absolutely no sense why she should feel this way. All she wanted in life was to love Michael, to bring their child into the world, and to spend the rest of her life adoring him. But with all the dark thoughts spinning her head, she couldn't even entertain the idea of fulfilling that life.

Ghostly faint, she heard Michael's pained voice in her head. I wish you would talk to me.

Her eyes closed in misery. She pretended not to hear him.

Michael's real voice was filled with even more anguish, though he was trying to conceal it. "Do you want to go inside?"

She answered with an aloof shrug of her shoulders. "I suppose."

"Well do you or don't you?" Michael snapped in a rare display of impatience with her. It was the first time he had said an unkind word to her in weeks.

Flinching against his brutal tone, she nodded. "Y-yes."

"Come on, then," he said coolly, reaching for the door handle.

With a violent tremble, tears sprung to her eyes. What was she doing? Now, more than ever, she needed Michael at her side, and if she continued to push him away, she was going to lose him. Though she was certain she couldn't explain her fears to him, she knew that she owed him some sort of an explanation, some sort of a reassurance that her feelings about him hadn't changed. With a burst of anxiety, she clutched for his hand. "Michael!" she said a little too loudly. "Please, wait."

He stopped what he was doing, but didn't turn, didn't speak. The rigidity of his stance was her only indication that he was listening.

She continued in a rush, knowing that if she didn't get it out now, she may blow her chance. "I'm sorry. I know I've been distant lately, but there's things going on inside my head that I can't explain; not even to myself. I want to talk to you, so much that it's killing me not to, but until I can figure out what it all means, I can't even begin to explain it to you. Please understand, it has nothing to do with you, or the way I feel about you. Nothing has changed in regards to that. This is just something I have to deal with on my own."

Michael sat back in his seat, but still wouldn't look at her. His eyes were riveted to the steering column, his expression inscrutable. Only his thoughts gave her some glimmer of hope.

He was trying desperately to understand what was so bad that she needed to keep it from him, but he was also weighing the possible repercussions of his decision. She could feel his thoughts as clearly if they were hers. If he respected her wishes, it would mean that he would have to agree to being left in the dark while she suffered through her problems alone. However, If he refused, he might lose her forever. He continued to weigh his options carefully, but she could tell the scales were greatly tipped in her favor. And in the end, it proved to be no contest at all. Still, he gave it one more try.

"You promised me you would always tell me everything."

She remained silent. Don't, she warned herself.

"You promised me," he continued, voice raw with pain, "that you wouldn't hide things from me anymore."

She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. His words were true, but she still couldn't tell him anything. "Please, Michael," she begged. "Please, just trust me."

Another minute of silence followed, and Maria did her best to respect the privacy of his thoughts. She already knew she'd won, but she couldn't revel in her triumph. How could she when it was at the expense of someone she owed everything to, someone who had taught her how to love, how to burn, someone she treasured more than life itself? If anything, she felt worse than she had in days. To put this decision before Michael was insupportable. She was disgusted with herself for stooping so low as to using his love for her against him. It hadn't been her intention to do so, but either way she tried to look at it, it boiled down to the same thing.

Gingerly, Michael turned his hand over so that their palms were touching. His fingers laced with hers and he gave her a good squeeze. She shuddered, marveling at how much of an effect his touch still hand on her.

He turned to face her, and the utter devotion reflected in his dark brown eyes brought a fresh wave of tears to her eyes. She struggled to hold them back. Raising their locked palms, he placed the gentlest of kisses on the back of her hand, and spoke in earnest. "Anything for you, Maria."

The tears welling in her lashes couldn't be held back any longer. With a sob, Maria reached out for him, putting her arms around him at last, after so many days of wanting to hold him. And then his arms were around her. There were no barriers between them now, and that realization, that comfort, made her tears fall freely down her face.

She nuzzled her face into the warmth of his shoulder and closed her eyes. Oh, how she had missed this. They held on to each other, neither moving nor speaking, for so long that when Maria opened her eyes, she saw that the sun had begun its descent towards the horizon.

"We better get inside," he murmured in a thick voice. A reluctant, if not slightly panicked, sigh left her lips. Though he said he would trust her, she feared that if they pulled apart he would reconsider his decision. That thought alone made her hold him tighter to his chest until eventually, Michael clasped his warm hands on her shoulder and gently steered her back. "Come on."

As he was stepping out of the door, Maria looked into the rear-view mirror and sighed. Tears streaked her face, and she did her best to smooth them away before Michael reached her door.

"You look beautiful," Michael said, pulling the door open.

"Yeah." She snorted, but then smiled apologetically. "I mean, thank you."

As they neared the house, Maria noticed that it wasn't as ugly as it had appeared from the first glance. It had a beautifully manicured lawn, and a row of bright flowers lining the walkway on both sides.

"Pretty tulips," she said, smiling.

"I planted them yesterday," Michael said. "You and mom both like them, so I figured..." He trailed off with a shrug.

Upon closer observation, she also noticed that the porch wasn't painted pink at all, but white. Wooden cross slats, with vines of ivy woven through, enclosed it. And off to the left side of the porch, there was even a wooden swing.

As they entered the front door Maria senses were overpowered by the distinct smell of spices and peppers, and she could hear music coming from somewhere in the back. "Is someone here?"

"Michael? Maria? Is that you?" a feminine voice called.

"This way," Michael said, giving her hand a small squeeze. He led her down a short narrow hall with newly installed carpeting and freshly painted white walls, and into a small opening that brought them to the kitchen.

"At last! We were beginning to think they decided not to release Maria after all," Isabel Evans said, smiling brightly as she bounded up to Maria, giving her a brief squeeze. "Welcome home, sweetie."

Maria returned the hug warmly, genuinely happy to see her, and then curiously watched Isabel walk back to the stove where a colorful array of vegetables sizzled in a frying pan. Isabel caught her staring, and her lips, expertly applied with gloss, parted slightly. "What?"

"You can cook?"

Isabel looked up from under her thick ebony lashes with a slightly exasperated smile. "Why does everyone assume I'm merely here to decorate the world? Of course I can cook!"

"And she's not half-bad," a voice said from behind her, and she turned to see Alex leaning in the doorway with an amused smile focused on Isabel.

"Not half bad?" Isabel cried, pretending to be insulted. "Fine, if that's what you think, you can do all the cooking from now on."

"Let's not be hasty, now," Alex said, sliding past Maria to wrap his arms around Isabel's waist.

Isabel pretended to be hurt, but Maria could see as clear as day just how happy she was with Alex. When they were together there was always a fresh glow to Isabel's face and brightness in her eyes that made her all the more beautiful.

Alex laughed and stepped back, turning to give Maria an affectionate embrace. "Welcome home, sunshine," he murmured, kissing her on the cheek. "It hasn't been the same without you around, kid."

"I missed you, too."

"Alex, can you stir these for a moment while I go set the table?" Quick to oblige, Alex left Maria's side while Isabel slipped past Michael and Maria to go into the dining room.

Maria's smile grew as Michael's large hands slid up her hips and settled in place around her waist. She leaned back into the solid warmth of his chest with a contented sigh, glad things were a little better between them, and glad she didn't have to pull away from his arms. Once again overwhelmed with relief and emotion, she tipped her head back and pulled his head down to hers, giving him a brief, yet passionate, open-mouthed kiss. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt a flame ignite her body as she pulled back to see Michael's chestnut eyes sparking with desire.

"Excuse me." Maria jumped when she heard Isabel's voice behind them, and tore her gaze from Michael, willing herself under control. He resumed his hold on her from behind, his chin resting on her shoulder. Her breath tortuously fanned her neck as he spoke.

"So where did Max and Liz wander off to?"

A sly smile curved Isabel's lips as she took the spatula from Alex's hand. "They said they were going for a walk."

"Which, in Max and Liz terms, means they wanted a little 'private time'." Alex grinned broadly, making air quotations with his fingers.

"I could use a little private time myself," Michael's murmured suggestively into Maria's ear.

"Later," she whispered under her breath. "What is it that you're making, anyway?" she said to Isabel, peering down at the cooked veggies.

"Oh, nothing too fancy. Just some southwest chicken fajitas," she said, moving around the kitchen with her usual courtly grace. Maria didn't know how she did it. Grease was flying everywhere, but not a single spot marred her fashionable clothes.

Realizing how truly hungry she was by the responsive rumble in her stomach that Isabel's answer elicited, Maria grinned. "Mmm, can't wait."

"Yeah, will they ever be done?" Alex whined like a little boy, walking over to the marble counter and reaching in for a handful of shredded cheese from a neatly arranged platter of fixings.

"Hey! No pre-dinner snacking," Isabel scolded, swatting the cheese out of his hand. "Take these into the dining room," she instructed, handing him the platter.

"You know I live to serve, my dear," he said, bowing like a humble servant, and then winking at Maria as he popped a handful of cheese into his mouth when Isabel's back was turned. Michael's warm lips lightly brushed Maria's shoulder. "I'll be back," he whispered.

"So what do you think of the house?" Isabel said when he was gone.

"I don't really know. I mean, I haven't seen much of it with the exception of the outside."

Isabel made a face, her eyes glimmering with amusement. "It's vile, isn't it?"

Maria laughed. "It's pretty bad."

"But I must say the rest of the house is really nice, and once the guys give it a fresh coat of paint, it will look great, both outside and inside."

"I'm sure it will."

"Of course it will," Michael's voice said in her ear. She turned her head quickly, not even realizing he had returned. "Come on." He laced her fingers in his. "I'll give you the tour."

posted on 12-Feb-2002 1:45:03 AM by Fehrbaby
NEW Part

Part 3 - More Trouble In Paradise

The first stop on Michael's "grand tour" was the living room. Not a large room, but by no means small, its walls were a freshly painted egg-shell and trimmed with a one foot row of cranberry wallpaper that gave it just the right touch. Leather furniture: a couch, recliner, love seat, (also cranberry) was tactfully spread throughout the room, centering around the wooden entertainment center stationed in one corner. A large-screen television rested in its middle, surrounded on all sides by a stereo, receiver, speakers, and many other electronic toys. It looked homey, not to mention, expensive.

"Where on earth did you get all this?"

"My mom," Michael answered with an adorable grin. "It was already here when I moved in."

"How can she afford this? Last I heard, the Elders couldn't even afford a truck made in the last two decades?"

Michael scratched his head thoughtfully. "Don't know. Never asked. Never asked how she was able to convince the judge that she was my biological mother without a hitch either, but somehow she did."

Maria was pretty confident that whatever Dinah had done to pull off one had to be related to one of her alien powers. Not that she felt it was necessary to point that out. "Where is Dinah, anyway?" she questioned as Michael led her up the stairs.

"Sedona. She had some business to take care of."

"And the Elders are okay with her moving like this?"

"She didn't give 'em much choice in the matter. Turns out she can be quite stubborn once she's got her mind set on something."

She laughed softly, elbowing him in the ribs. "Sounds like someone else I know."

"Like mother, like son," Michael agreed with easy nonchalance, but Maria could feel how much he enjoyed saying it. Even three weeks after his discovery of the family he never knew existed, the pride and wonder lingered in his eyes, drifted on the periphery of his every thought. "Watch your step."

The hall at the top of the stairs was crescent shaped. Wooden doors were placed at even intervals of the adobe walls, accenting the deep, wine-tinted carpet. The door on the far right led to a small, sparsely furnished bedroom, with a full size bed and glossy oak dresser. The middle door housed the bathroom, decorated with fluffy cranberry towels and a transparent shower curtain. And the last door, on the far left, contained the master bedroom, which was twice in size compared to the other one, and judging by the Metallica poster decorating one wall and the pile of dirty laundry in the corner, was where Michael would be sleeping.

Why do you get the master bedroom, while your mother has to stay in that oversized closet? Maria questioned silently, flashing her best disapproving frown.

He was quick to defend himself. "Hey! I tried to take the small bedroom, but she insisted."

"And I bet you just didn't have the heart to disagree."

Michael shook his head and raised his arms in surrender. "Come in, I have something to show you."

Michael closed the door behind her after she was inside, and his warm hands came to rest on her forearms. One of her eyebrows notched in amusement. "Let me guess, the bed?" she asked dryly, fighting to keep the amusement from her voice.

"Well, you did say later," he reminded her, his eyes glimmering. "But no, that's not it."

"What, then?"

In answer, Michael gently steered her around so that she was facing the wall beside the closed door. Maria's mouth fell open as her eyes landed on the large, framed photos adorning the stucco-textured surface.

The first was of she and Michael dancing together at the Kissara Festival. Backlit by the warm glow of the fire, and dressed in their hunter-green royal dress, their embracing figures appeared almost ethereal as they gazed into one another's eyes with such open adoration and love.

Though baffled at how the photo could have been taken, seeing it made her insides flush with the memory of how perfect that moment had been; prior to her fainting spell, that was.

The second one, however...

The photo was of a young girl, about three or four years of age, with long golden hair, snow-white skin, and rosy-pink lips. She wore a blue dress with a white petifore, and sat amongst tall stalks of green grass. Only it wasn't a field; it was Wonderland. And the girl wasn't just any girl; it was their unborn daughter, Alice.

Maria blinked back the filmy moisture in her eyes and whirled on Michael. How...? She spoke with her mind, because the words couldn't make their way past her constricted throat.

"The closest explanation I can give is that they're like memorygraphs."

Maria shook her head and looked back to the second photo. I don't understand.

Michael's strong arms settled around her waist. "That's what I call them. My mom showed me how to do it," he explained, nuzzling her neck. His warm breath danced on her skin as he continued, but did nothing to ease her trembling. "You envision a moment you want to hold onto in your head, and concentrate on that memory until you feel you've got it just right. Then, you transfer that image onto paper and presto; the vision is there in black or white. Or color, as it may be. Do you like them?"

She glanced back at him. He was watching her closely, tensely waiting for her answer. Michael's vulnerability struck her then. He was like a little boy, eagerly waiting to know if he'd done well. She cupped his cheek and nodded, trying her best to give him the reassurance he needed.

Relief and pride at having pleased her sparkled in his eyes.

She turned back to the photographs, trying to conceal the tear that had slipped from her eye. Deep sobs of yearning for more moments as precious as these racked her insides, causing her chest to ache.

A tumble of confused thoughts and feelings assailed her, twisting her stomach into knots. She bowed her head in shame. Why couldn't she just enjoy the beautiful gifts Michael had given her? Why couldn't she allow herself to be happy for once, instead of dwelling on the unknown future? Why did she have an unconscious mission to associate everything that made her so damn happy, with everything that could take that happiness from her without a moment's warning?

She heard Michael sigh from behind her, and felt his arms fall away. Her skin instantly prickled from the loss of his warmth. She winced, knowing she'd disappointed him. Again.

A knock sounded at the door.

"Who is it?" Michael demanded harshly.

"It's the plumber," Alex said when he threw the door open. "I"ve come to fix the sink." His good natured smile faded, and he looked between the two, finally giving Maria a questioning look.

She bit her lip, shaking her head.

"What do you want, Alex?" Michael demanded, sounding impatient.

"Max and Liz just got back, and I've been instructed to tell you that it is time to eat."

Michael sighed, and turned his head towards Maria, though his eyes seemed to look right through her. "Shall we?"

*****

Dinner looked and smelled delicious, but it was wasted on Maria. Though she'd been starving for most the day, her appetite had fled and she now ate simply because it was there, and she had an unborn child to consider.

Conversation around her was lively, and even Michael participated, but she could feel his underlying frustration.

And she wasn't the only one to notice; Liz approached her as she was cleaning the table.

"Is everything all right?"

"Sure," she lied. "Why do you ask?"

An odd smile appeared on Liz's face. "I don't know. I just got the feeling that something was off between you and Michael tonight, that's all."

Maria laughed, and she knew it sounded a little forced, but Liz didn't seem to notice. "Of course not, everything's fine." They carried a stack of dishes into the kitchen, and she changed the subject. "So what are your plans for tonight?"

"Not much. My parents want me home early, so there isn't much I can do."

"Yeah, I figure it's probably best if I get home early tonight, too."

Liz nodded sympathetically. "Your mom still asking questions?"

She nodded. "And I have no clue what to tell her."

"What to tell who?" Michael's voice said from behind them.

They turned to see him leaning in the archway. The expression on his face made Maria stiffen. It reminded her of the day's before they'd gotten together; cool, guarded, suspicious.

"Maria's mom is asking questions," Liz offered.

Michael crossed his arms over his chest and gave Maria a condescending look. "And what are you going to tell her?"

She looked down and mumbled, "I guess, as little as I have to."

"What was that?" He didn't snap, but there was an unmistakable edge to his tone that made her eyes narrow.

"I said, I'll tell her as little as I have to."

"Keep in mind, sweetheart, it's a lot harder to tell someone you love who you really are."

"Well, I guess I'm in luck,dear, since I don't plan for that to be part of the conversation."

"I'm, uh, gonna go get the rest of the plates," Liz announced awkwardly, feeling the sudden icy tension in the room.

"So, why tell her anything?" Michael continued, moving in closer.

Maria held her ground, refusing to be intimidated by his sudden predatorial moves. "Well, I'm going to have to tell her something, aren't I? Just to get her off my back."

"I don't see why? You're pretty good at hiding things."

Maria winced at the dig, but instead of begging for him to understand, she veered towards exasperated anger. "Stop pressuring me! I told you I would tell you when I figured it out for myself, and you said you'd wait. Michael, I-just-need-time!"

Max appeared in the kitchen, looking alarmed. "Hey? What's all the noise in here?"

"Nothing," Michael said, stepping back. Maria turned to the sink, not wanting to answer any questions, but she still heard Michael's voice in her head. You can take all the time in the world, for all I care.

Always has to have the last word, she thought, keeping that to herself.

"You sure?" Max asked.

There was a long pause, in which Maria could feel Michael's gaze searing her back. "Yeah. Look, can you give Maria a ride home? I think I'm going to go to bed."

Maria glanced back, hurt. Even if she did deserve it.

Max was searching his brother's face. "It's seven o'clock."

"Yeah? So? I'm suddenly not feeling that well." Michael gave Maria a pointed look.

"No problem," Max said slowly. "We'll drive her home."

Michael nodded, then left the room.

Stung, Maria turned back to the sink. A tear slipped from her eye and she wiped it away angrily.

He hadn't even said goodbye.

TBC***