Title: More Than Sometimes
Author: Shana (Belouxs@aol.com)
Summary: Michael. Pre - 'Destiny'
Notes: Thank you to Betsy and Elizabeth for all their help.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.
Distribution: Please ask.
June 16, 2000
I walk in my sleep to have you dream me again.
-- John Guare, "Lydie Breeze"
Through the trees, waiting for their turn to burn, racing deeper into the black smoke coughing and gagging. He runs towards the orange glow, the fires that were set to protect. He runs as hard as he can, his chest tightening in pain, the heat intense. This is his only chance and he pretends he can take it - ignore the hurt, run straight into the flames, turn into ashes. Burn into nothing. Disappear.
He pretends he can leave her behind.
But then he remembers that she is already gone. So he pretends she would never realize he was missing. Never realize he had run away leaving her alone. Wake up with no memories of him or what they were. He pretends all of that is possible. But then he sees her face waiting for him, wondering what had happened. Remembering. Realizing what he had done to her, to them and now he is doubled over, choking on the smoke, gagging on everything he has been hit with these last two days. He lies shaking on the ground, his skin blistering, flames raging yards away.
He started one of the fires. Directed the mergings until it was a solid wall of flame, the only protection from the devastation on the other side. Delaying the inevitable. It has been contained for the time being, but soon it will be let go, burning everything to dust and everyone he knows will flee with little hope for their lives. Few survivors. Fewer prisoners. That had been the plan. It seemed possible at the time but now he knows it is pathetic. He won't be around to see any of this happen, and it is sad that they have put their faith in him. He knows he is supposed to feel lucky, that he, one fourth of the Hope, will already be gone. Reborn in a place that grants second chances. A place he can't imagine, a place he has only been told exists.
A million days ago, before he knew better, he thought he would get to *just* love her. So simple. Soon he learned that loving her would change him, make him someone important and he naively considered that a bonus. He knows he should have been dead by now, but loving her has made him necessary, made him stronger, made him more than what he was capable of.
But now she is gone and he is scared and wants out. But they knew what they were doing when they sent her first. He is her hero and he has a promise to keep. The heat stings his back as he walks home.
Loving her has made him lucky, made his life possible, and he knows he has only survived this hell, would survive any hell just to be near her.
The third time it happened, or rather the third time the Sheriff found him, he ignored Michael's protests and walked him to the front door of the trailer. Michael squeezed past Hank when he opened the door, closed the door to his bedroom and tried to block out Valenti's explanation.
"He's running in his sleep." Michael is humiliated because Valenti actually thinks Hank might care what he does at night. "What is he running from?" Michael is humiliated because Hank is too drunk to even fake coherency, and as bad as his living situation is, the question is wrong. He isn't running from. He is running to.
Hank says he will nail the windows shut and that is the end of the Valenti crusade.
Isabel is tall and strong and she reflects light. When Michael is near her, he feels her strength. When he is with her, she shares it, filling his empty spaces with enough to live on. Enough to make it bearable. She gives it without hesitation and without comment and all he can do to repay her is to tell her the truth. So when he remembers, he runs to her blindly, unconsciously, before he forgets again and the life that is now his buries him a little deeper.
This is what Michael pretends.
The things they do together do not affect their everyday lives. It exists only in the moment it is happening, in the world they create together, in the alternate universe they exist in - only sometimes.
He pretends it isn't a passion thing.
He has never torn her clothes trying to remove them from her body. He has never left marks on her skin in places that others can see. He has never backed her up against a wall or shoved her against a Crashdown counter in a moment of desperate need. And despite the fact he thinks a lot about her hair, he has never accidentally pulled on it so hard that she has howled. He has done all of these things - and more. But not with Isabel.
Sometimes he plays the How Bad Can I Make Myself Feel? game, and wonders if she has allowed any of these things to happen to her. But he sees the way the boys at school watch her when she crosses the quad and he knows the sick longing on Whitman's face and he is almost sure that he is the only one who has touched her in the way they all want to. To them Isabel is untouchable. To him Isabel is all he has, the only thing anyone else would covet. And sometimes - if he ignores the fact that what they do is never acknowledged by either of them, he lets himself feel pretty damn cool.
He pretends that what they have is safe.
What they do is slow and long and stretches him out into the person he thinks he should have been. What they do seems necessary - to him - and he tells himself it is necessary to her, because he almost remembers a time when that was the truth. But only sometimes.
He had walked out. Turned around and left the room leaving her brother to deal with the rest alone. He walked past everyone waiting in the hall. Ignored their searching eyes waiting for him to give them something, anything. He was still expected to show confidence. Give them hope. But it was all over and he was through. There was no more fighting, no more trying.
He was already in the woods when he realized she was behind him. She must have followed him out, trailing a few feet behind him the whole time and he hadn't even noticed. He had forgotten about her. The realization jolted him and he stopped immediately, sitting hard on the ground.
She cried for a long time, lying beside him and he made no move to touch her to make her stop. He was empty, numb and he wondered if he might be dead already. He could do nothing but stare at the burning sky and listen to the crack of flaming trees mixing with her weeping.
His mind was screaming. He tried to comprehend what they had been told. Tried to let the concept of what he was expected to submit to settle over him. Feel right. But it didn't. They were warriors, all movement and action and now they were supposed to surrender control, lose consciousness while the world crumbled. That was their great plan. The salvation they had come up with and everyone was so desperate for it all to end, they actually thought it might work.
She finally turned to him her eyes bright with tears and terror. "What if we forget?" she choked. "What if we don't remember?"
He stared at her not understanding. Then it hit him, something gave way inside him and he gave up as he realized. Of course she believed them, they had no more options. She trusted that they would make it work because they had built her world and she actually believed they could give her a new one. She wasn't crying because she had been told her life was about to end, she was upset that he wouldn't remember her in the new one.
He touched her cheek and almost laughed. She was the only thing he had left to believe in. She had always been his only option. He pulled her over him and held her hard. "I'll remember." He told her. "You can go ahead and forget because I'll remind you."
She stopped crying because he promised. She actually smiled because she believed him. She finally fell asleep because he told her she was marked on his soul and he would carry her anywhere. Everywhere.
There are reminders that touch him when he is conscious. Kind ones, that tap him so gently he doesn't always catch them, and then there are the violent shoves that knock him down, take over his senses and force him to his knees.
Michael was on his way to Ruidoso and he was feeling pretty good.
Mr. Parker asked him to pick up a supply order that had been left out of the delivery earlier that day and Michael had jumped at it, welcoming the chance to get out of the kitchen a few hours early. He tried not to feel too excited when Mr. Parker handed him the keys to the truck. Being trusted by adults was still a new feeling. He was fifteen minutes west of Roswell before he realized the truck had no radio. Being alone with his only his thoughts for too long was sometimes a dangerous thing and he was wishing he had thought to borrow Maria's car.
The sun was setting. The sky was burning red and there was a strange haze that made his eyes sting. He reached for his sunglasses before realizing he'd left them in his backpack, which was in his locker at the Crashdown.
This little solo trip was starting to suck.
His wallet was also in his backpack and he was getting hungry. Now that he had access to anything on the Crashdown menu, his body was making up for all the years he had spent trying to ration his occasional meals. He was getting hungry on a regular basis, but he had chosen to spend his lunch hour in the eraser room and now that he thought about it, there was a very good chance he might be starving to death. He tried to stop thinking about the cheeseburger he would eat as soon as he got back to Roswell.
And then he smelled smoke.
He ignored it at first. Pretended the engine was fine and he would be eating that cheeseburger in less than an hour, maybe he would even have two cheeseburgers. But the smoke got worse and swearing out loud he pulled over, finally understanding the need for those stupid little phones the girls were always yakking on
He opened the hood, sending a telepathic apology to Mr. Parker for what was probably going to happen to his truck. But the smoke wasn't coming from the engine.
Confusion turned to relief as he saw smoke in the horizon. Probably a brush fire several miles away, there were a lot of them this time of year. He made a move to get back into the truck when the sky caught his attention and he got lost for a second, forgetting about his rumbling stomach and letting the smoky smell overtake his senses.
And then he heard the echo of Isabel crying.
The world crashed. His blood ran cold, he stopped breathing and although on some level he knew it was impossible, he cried out her name. He shook his head trying to focus, but no no no no.... It was definitely Isabel. And she was definitely crying.
He reached out for something to grab onto. He had seen Isabel an hour ago eating fries at the Crashdown. But a memory that had no source, a memory Michael Guerin couldn't claim as his, presented itself clearly, as if it were his all along and he remembered sitting next to Isabel in the burning woods the night before she died.
He thought he might be screaming. He fell on his hands and knees, his body violently betraying him, his empty stomach turning over and over as he heaved on the side of the highway.
He forgot the supplies and did 90 trying to get back to Roswell. His throat was still spasming, his hands were shaking on the wheel, and he was so scared his eyes were watering. He just needed to see Isabel before he thought about it again. He was panicked with the idea his answers weren't out in the world after all. He had the terrible feeling that everything he thought he wanted to know was a lot closer than he had ever realized.
He began it. But not on purpose.
He would climb through Max's window for whatever reason - for a million reasons - and try to get comfortable in a bag on the floor. But sometimes he couldn't sleep or sometimes he was too cold, and one night he was too weak to pretend he was handling it all and he stepped into the hall.
Living with Hank had made him scared of the dark, but that first night he braved it. He had a strong sense of deja vu; dark corridors, sleeping parents and Isabel at the end of the hall. But he was too cold to examine the familiar thrill that coursed through him. He continued on, past the walls of pictures documenting Max and Isabel's childhood, past her parent's bedroom, until he was standing over her and without a word she let him into her bed, where the feathers in her comforter and her own sleepy heat warmed him.
And in the beginning that was enough.
Then things got worse. High school happened and while there had always been fights with Hank, now there were fights at school. Michael always seemed to end up on Max's floor and he didn't have enough energy to even barely keep it together.
She no longer woke when he entered her room. And he was no longer surprised when she automatically rolled over, making space for him when he touched her shoulder. After awhile he finally reached a point when he was asleep and near her, when he finally had a moment of peace and a few hours of safety. It was then that he would almost remember the things he wanted to tell her and their past would come spilling over into her life.
She would shake him awake, her voice thick with sleep and worry. He would mumble apologies and she would settle next to him, her palm against his back until he stopped shaking beneath her fingers.
And sometimes that was enough.
But more than sometimes it wasn't and she would wrap her arms around his chest, pulling herself tight against him, her heartbeat steady against his spine.
He began to accept what he was feeling and let himself understand what she was offering. It escalated from there.
He asks her if he made everything up. She looks at him for a long time and then she tells him that he didn't. He asks her if she is sad she never got to wear her dress or carry her flowers and she says that she isn't sorry at all. He tells her that of all the things that now make him angry, the fact he never got to see her in the dress seems the most unfair. She actually laughs, tells him it was gorgeous, it would have made him dizzy and when she realizes he is serious, she tells him that she believes they will get another chance. She tells him that they still have forever and that is all she really cares about.
He tells himself that he did live in a time when ash didn't cover everything. There was an existence when he was carefree enough that dreams about messing up his vows and crying in front of her family actually seemed embarrassing. A life where happiness was an actual occurrence and he really did think forever was tangible.
Things changed so suddenly he isn't always sure that life ever existed at all.
But he sees her and realizes that it doesn't matter because their love is still enormous and she is so beautiful and he is¦ deserving. Things didn't work out the way they were supposed to but she makes him stronger. She makes his new reality bearable. Possible. And he is trying to accept that their forever is going to have an ending.
Her voice tugs him out of sleep but he doesn't understand her words.
His face is wet and he thinks it is rain. He wonders what it will do to the fires. He is so tired and he just wants to sleep, he thinks he might be ready to accept that nothing they do will stop their world from ending. She squeezes his arm and he realizes they are in bed and he was having a nightmare.
"What kind were they?" She is looking at him as though they were in the middle of a conversation. He sees the posters on her walls and the computer on her desk and thinks he doesn't know this place. After his long silence she prompts him. "You said I was going to have flowers? What kind?"
She is resting on her elbows and she is wide awake. She belongs in this room and he remembers that he is Michael Guerin and they share her bed only sometimes.
He scrambles after his dream, leaps for the memory, reaches so hard he closes his eyes, but it is like grasping for water. A moment late, an inch short... gone.
"I don't know what kind they were." He puts his fist against his eyes. There is always a searing sensation as it slips away. The last remnants of what he can't make sense of anyway. The familiar sad feeling that he owns, settles over him. He wants to tell her everything. There was a promise he was supposed to keep, a promise she doesn't even remember.
"You're talking in your sleep again. Telling stories." Her hair falls onto the pillow and he tugs on the ends when he apologizes.
Maria stopped talking to both of them because of Isabel's hair. She told him she saw him playing with it one night at the Crashdown. Actually, she screamed it at him, tears running down her face. He got so scared when he saw her walking away from him he jumped in front of her, blocking her path. She slapped at him as he held her shoulders, she wiggled away from him and shrank away from his touch, stood flat against the wall, her breath loud and gasping. He continued trying to make her stop, continued talking to her until he realized his voice was high-pitched and desperate. He heard himself begging and realized he cared. It was then he stepped aside, let her push past him and watched her back as she ran down the hall.
He knows what Maria saw is true even though he can't remember the actual incident. Isabel looks at him funny and shakes her head. She doesn't remember it either when he is miserable enough to ask her about it. He can't quite figure it out. He is so careful not to touch Isabel during the day, he has never even wanted to, besides Isabel would never allow it. But they both know Maria isn't making it up. So he stops trying to talk to her at school. Stops calling her house. Tries to stay out of her way and not bother her at work unless he absolutely has to. He figures it is the least he can do. He is terribly sorry for doing something he can't remember. He hates himself for it and he wishes he could tell her that.
Isabel's hair is dark when it is wet. Her eyes seem to change color when he touches her face. Her fingertips on the small of his back make him remember things too fleetingly to grasp onto.
He has something to say.
He has something important to tell her.
It is on the edge of his memory, the tip of his tongue and he fumbles for the words, wills his mouth to mold the sounds coming from his throat.
He ends up kissing her instead.
He knew the weight of her legs around his hips before he ever placed them there.
He knew to cover her mouth with his palms to muffle her cries. There are things he always whispers to her, pleas to keep her from waking the house. He always gives up and buries his own noise against her throat.
He knew where to touch her before he ever did.
He thinks she knew all she had to do was say his name against his ear, before she ever whispered it.
He knows it all happened before. Somewhere else.
He knows she is keeping her own secrets. He wants her to admit the things she knows, the things he knows she feels. But when the moment is over, she won't talk about any of it and she doesn't want to listen.
It is the daytime, when their heavy secrets do not exist.
He watches Isabel walk toward him and she smiles when he meets her gaze. There is nothing of what they share anywhere in her eyes. This isn't right.
She asks him where his lunch is and when he tells her he isn't hungry she gives him half her sandwich and an apple. She has never known what it is like to pay rent, but she knows working the grill just barely covers it. She asks where Max is and he tells her he is doing extra credit with Liz. She rolls her eyes and sits across from him.
She doesn't ask him where the rest are. She knows Maria hates him and now eats her lunch in the cafeteria so she doesn't have to look at him. Alex stays with Maria trying to convey to Isabel that he just might be mad at her too. And Isabel, who pretends to be oblivious, she keeps glancing at the tables filled with kids in letter jackets across the quad. Kids who laugh and talk loudly and aren't afraid to be noticed. Kids who have never acknowledged Michael's presence, even when he is standing next to Isabel.
Finally he can't stand it anymore and tells her to go join them.
She looks surprised and a little bit guilty. "No. I'm fine here. I want to have lunch with you."
Isabel is the Queen of Pretending and he loves her for that.
He wants her to stay. He wants her to always eat lunch with him and he wants her to need him and tell him everything she knows. But he pushes her anyway. "I'm fine here Iz. You don't have to babysit me all the time." It comes out harsher than he intended it to and she looks at him curiously. Unhurt, maybe a little amused.
Nothing he could ever say could hurt her. He is the one who needs. He has always known it.
"Okay. Fine then." She stands and hands him the rest of her lunch. "I'll see you after school. I'll give you a ride to work."
The blood in his veins suddenly hurts. He wants to say "Whatever" in a really mean way. But it isn't her fault. He is the one with the problem and besides, it was never her promise to keep.
He wants to pull her back onto the bench and tell her he is losing it, he doesn't think he can stand it much longer. He wants to pull her head back by her glorious hair and kiss her in front of all the assholes who ever made fun of him. Felt sorry for him. But he says "Okay" because he loves her no matter what she does. He says it nicely because he knows she loves him more than they both understand.
He watches her walk into the group and they envelop her as one of their own. He is beginning to accept she will never give him the answers he thinks she has.
He has known it for a long time.
The night he puked on the side of the road, he told her everything he could remember, he told her what little he knew. He watched her eyes change from fear at his hysteria to something else.
She cradled his head and told him the mind plays tricks on everyone when they go too long without eating. She told him he couldn't skip breakfast and lunch and expect to function on a sane level, and when his stomach was full he had convinced himself that she wasn't lying. That what he had seen in her eyes when he told her about a burning world, wasn't recognition.
Isabel is the Queen of Pretending and he wishes he could hate her for it.
In the end it won't be fair. In the end it will be a girl who had nothing to do with them until the last few days of their lives. A girl who wasn't important when it mattered. She will come in and wreak havoc on their lives, but she will push them close and simply hand him the memories he promised he wouldn't forget.