Title: Your Little Voice
Summary: M&M, SPOILER fic, Michael POV. This fic revolves around a fairly small spoiler for the first episode of season two. If you are living totally spoiler free, you should probably skip this story.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.
Distribution: Please ask.
Note: As stated above, this is a spoiler fic. After reading about the whole M&M phone call thing, I started thinking about Michael not returning Maria's phone calls. This is just my take on why he might do that.
Thanks: To Heidi. A conversation we had about Michael came back to me as I was writing this story and I just want to thank you for inspiring me.
August 10, 2000
I was supposed to get a call last night. There's been twenty-five of them and they've been as regular as clockwork. Last night was supposed to be twenty-six--supposed to be. Maria never did call me.
Twenty-five calls works out to two a week, plus one extra the first week school got out. The extra call was a mistake--I think she meant to call Liz and dialed my number accidentally. She didn't really leave a message--just sort of little embarrassed "Oh!" that my machine caught and I saved.
I once figured out exactly how many seconds of messages she's left me and then converted them into minutes and then realized what I was doing. I went out into the desert and stared at what was left of the pod chamber until I felt better--clearer.
The messages she's left me sit in a pile by the sink. I bought a little container at Wal-Mart to hold them in--it was something Maria would have oohed and aahed over; I could almost hear her as I waited in line to pay. "Michael! Isn't this so cute! I could store all my earrings, rings, (other girly junk) in here." But she wasn't with me and the only voice I heard was that of the bored cashier saying "$4.56. Hey--kid--$4.56." And instead of storing things of hers the container stores the tiny cassettes that fit inside my answering machine. I suppose that I have a little of her in some way. I have her voice. I sometimes feel guilty for wanting to hold onto pieces of her instead of all of her.
I bought twelve of those little answering machine cassettes in June, before I bought the container. I'm not that good at planning ahead. She'd already filled up the one tape I had with messages and I didn't want to erase it. Her first few calls, before school got out, were angry ones --how dare I tell her I love her and leave, who did I think I was, did I think that a declaration like that would ease the hurt I'd given her? I would listen to her angry messages, to the tight sound of her voice, as if there were a torrent of angry words inside her and she was afraid or unwilling to let them out, and I felt safe. Maria was always mad at me and I figured things would be ok. We both knew that what I told her was something I never meant to say and I told myself that after a while she'd forget and patch her heart up and move on. Hadn't she told me that's what she'd do a hundred--no, a thousand times--before?
Yes. Before that day in May, she would leave me angry messages once in a while. After the rave, when I told her I wanted to be alone, she left a message on my machine telling me that she wanted me to return all the letters she'd written me. I slid them into her locker and wondered what she'd say when she found out they were unread. I was always too afraid to read them and she never gave them back to me, even after we'd started doing whatever it was that we did again.
And later, after Topolsky came back and vanished again and we were all waiting for something else to happen, she and I had a fight and she got up from my sofa and told me to go to hell and walked out. I left to talk to Max--I was still going to him for advice then--but he was out with Liz, so I ended up just sitting out by where the trailer used to be, wondering what Hank was doing. When I got back to the apartment there was a message from her. She was angry--it's so easy to tell when she's mad-- and she said "You have to let me in, Michael. I'm not going to go away."
I must have played that message a hundred times. I memorized the way her voice dropped when she said my name and rose when it got to "not." The next day at school she looked at me when I passed her in the hallway and I pretended that I was fascinated by the pale yellow walls, by the posters advertising some bullshit school function. And when she cornered me later I braced myself, got ready to tell her that I hadn't gotten her message or that I had and I didn't care and she looked at me for a moment and said, "You want a ride to the Crashdown after school? We're both working the closing shift."
I think it was then I knew that I loved her. It wasn't a pleasant feeling--I once made the mistake of talking to Max about how Liz made him feel and he described everything I felt--but he made it sound enjoyable. I didn't enjoy it and I still don't. Love isn't fun. I don't care what boy bands or bubble-headed screechy girl singers say. I spent years carefully learning not to notice anyone so I wouldn't care and Maria came and tore down everything I worked for with angry phone messages and understanding eyes. The worst part of all is that she never knew it. She kept looking for more in me and it was never there. She tried so hard and she didn't see that she'd already gotten everything inside of me. Once she guessed my favorite song with a smile on her face-- a smile!--I didn't talk to her for three days. I hated how well she knew me and how trivial she thought that knowledge was. Sometimes she would try to talk to me about Hank and I would kiss her until neither one of us could breathe. I was used to that feeling. It sometimes shames me that after a while she was too.
So I didn't return those angry calls of late May and I walked the other way when she headed towards me during those last few days of school. I even asked Mr. Parker to rearrange my schedule so I wouldn't work with Maria. "Personality conflict" is what I told him, and he nodded and I could tell he was almost getting ready to say something but he had his hands full with Liz who had turned inward after that day in the desert, becoming even quieter and smaller and sadder. So he didn't say anything in the end, just fixed it so I never saw Maria at work.
But she kept calling. I knew she would, but I lied to myself just enough to be surprised by it. The phone kept ringing even in June and I would always start when I heard it, as if I was shocked. And then I would lean over it with all the avidity Hank always reserved for foster child pay day--when he would stay home from work and watch the mail slot on the front door of the trailer, just aching for that state check to come and whisk him away to a time when he'd have all the beer he wanted to drink. I picked up a lot of things from Hank, though no one, not even Maria, ever wanted to talk about that. She asked, it's true. But that doesn't mean that she wanted to know.
At first her June phone calls were still angry. I kept taping them though---putting in a new tape when the old one got full, carefully recording the same message for her to receive. "This is Michael. Speak." I sometimes felt guilty for how cruel I was to her--for how much I enjoyed thinking about her face as she called me, for wondering if she was wishing that I would, just once, pick up the phone. I sometimes felt guilty for the way my hand hovered over the receiver, for the way I was so eager to pick it up and say "Hello."
I am trying to save her from herself and from me and she isn't very helpful. Really, I'm not all that helpful either.
But as June progressed, her calls changed. I guess it was too much work to be angry with me. Even Hank got tired of being angry at me after a while--his arm would get tired or he'd forget what he was shouting about or the beer he'd placed on the counter would look better than my "bony ass" as he always so charmingly referred to me. Max has never been good at being angry with me--too much guilt over being brave enough to move forward when I hid in the shadows. And Isabel...Isabel is never afraid to be mad at me but it's always tempered by something that neither one of us wants to even think about.
I suppose that the first sign of how Maria's voice changed came when she stopped saying "Michael!" like she always had before. When she was angry with me before, my name became a projectile. 'Michael!' meant 'Stop being a jerk' or 'Don't think you can leave right now' or 'Quit acting like you're Captain Bad-Ass' (which she actually once said to me--she looked offended when I laughed but I was so happy to be near her in that moment, to be close to someone who saw me so clearly. For a moment, I wasn't afraid at all.). But as June wore on, slowly turning into July, my name changed.
It got softer and slower and almost sounded wistful, which made me feel sick every time she said it. I played those first sad messages over and over till the tape started to sound thin and scratchy. Listening to that tape was like watching Hank when he would beat me. I always swore I wouldn't look, but there was just something about the way he concentrated when he did it--the way he really cared about what he was doing, even though he would have never admitted that I was worth the effort--I could never look away. I liked knowing that he cared that much about some aspect of me. I liked knowing that Maria still missed me. I like the way I kept pressing into her soul and making her think. I liked having a part of her.
Her messages got longer too. She would start to tell me stories about what she was doing--going to dinner with her mom, going to the movies with some doof from school, meeting Alex to practice songs. She'd always stop right before the end of her stories. I suppose it was supposed to be an inducement to call her (I know it was) but instead I would lie on the sofa and imagine endings that involved her coming to my apartment clad in that red bra she wore in December during the heatwave and me not pulling away from her at the last second like I had that night in the Crashdown. Sometimes I would imagine going to her and how I'd stand in her room and how I wouldn't shake from fear and that instead of sobbing into her hair I'd kiss every inch of her body until I was full of her scent inside and out.
I didn't do any of that, of course.
In July, her messages changed again. Maybe the heat wore her down. It almost got me.
I had to leave the A/C turned up to exactly eighty-eight degrees because I turned it down to eighty for a week in June and the power bill, when it came in early July in its chipper colored envelope, was so expensive that I had to eat plain spaghetti (forty-four cents a box) for two weeks. I could have eaten all the Crashdown food I could make, but after eight hours a day, five days a week, of cooking burgers and fries and having their stench all over me, it was the last thing I wanted. Max offered to take me to McDonald's the other day and I swear, my stomach hurt at the thought. Hank never wanted to look at cardboard boxes; he said "making them all day at that goddamn plant--I've seen all the fucking cardboard I could ever want"---he used to scream that when the cashier at the supermarket would try to put his six-packs in a cardboard box so they would be easier to carry. I learned to steer the cart to lines where the cashiers were too lazy to look for boxes--it wasn't that hard. I now totally understand how Hank felt about cardboard.
So the heat was wearing me down. I was sweating when I woke up; I was sweating when I got to work. I did nothing but sweat when I was at work, and then I went home and sweated some more. Anyway, I almost broke at least a hundred times in July. She would call me and I would stand by the apartment door, poised and eager to open it and see her. If she had her own cell phone and had come and stood right outside my door and called me--I don't know what would have happened.
Sometimes it would get so hot that I would worry that the answering machine tape would melt and then she wouldn't be able to leave a message and then what if she came over to the apartment to see how I was doing and then...
But she doesn't have her own cell phone and my tape never melted and she never came by the apartment. Her July messages revealed a totally new Maria to me. She cried sometimes, which frightened me and turned me on so much that I spent a lot of July sweating and with a perpetual hard-on--which wasn't all that fun.
I sometimes feel guilty for finding her misery so sexy, but I did. Still do. In July, her voice would break sometimes when she said my name. "I miss you. I know you're getting my messages. Would it kill you to pick up the phone? Michael?" And right there, at the end, I could hear tears in her voice and I would imagine her face, all concerned and hurt and miserable for me and I'd never been able to make anyone feel that way and I felt terrible and powerful all at once. I hated making her sad and I loved it. In July, my dreams of her were all about me switching shifts at the Crashdown and waiting until closing and helping her lock up and sliding down with her onto the floor and having my skin stick to hers as the hot air closed around us. I would remember the noises she used to make when I ran my mouth along her skin and I would think about how she used to run her nails across my back, lightly, as if she was just testing the skin and of how she would loop her legs through mine and how the pressure of her hips against mine was enough to make my whole body draw up tight. I sat at home every night and sweated and remembered.
I spent a lot of time in the shower in July.
August fucked everything up.
In August her messages changed again. Sometimes I think that I love Maria so much because she is always changing. She has so many faces and so many sides and I don't think I could ever know them all and I want to. I want to know all of her so badly. Hank used to tell me that he hated me because he could never understand what I was thinking. He would come in my room and stare at my books and glare at them and at me and tell me that I was a freak and that he didn't know why he kept me around and then he would say "What are you thinking?" and he wanted to know. He really did and we both knew it.
I always told him "Nothing" and I would watch his hand rise and his fingers fold neatly into a fist (that was the only thing Hank could do neatly) and sometimes, when it was later and he was tired, he would ask me what I was thinking about and once in a while I would tell him. And sometimes he cared about my answer. I tried to call him two weeks ago to tell him that I finally understood what he wanted, that I finally understood why he felt he had to know everything about me, but the foreman at his new plant said he'd never heard of Hank. That he'd never seen him.
I thought of Nasedo, who is now sitting smugly in Washington DC "protecting" us and wondered exactly how much *he* knew. I'm actually glad that he's not around, thought I'm always careful to tell Max and Is and Tess that I really wish he was around and that I really hope that one day he comes back. I sometimes walk through the desert and a shiver races around my mind and I wonder if Hank is somewhere out there, under my feet, just looking up at me.
In August Maria's voice changed again. She didn't cry anymore. After a while, she didn't even sound sad.
I knew that Max was spending time with her, of course. He told me he was in his Max way, told me that he was worried about her, that she really cared about me, and "Would it kill you to just talk to her, Michael? Would it kill you to just pick up the phone?"
I ignored him and he dropped the subject like he always does. Max gives up way too easily. I can get under his skin in thirty seconds without even trying. He can get under mine but he doesn't want to be there. When he fixed my eye after Hank stupidly smashed his fist into it (as Hank got older his aim got worse and his hands got clumsier--they used to shake when he wasn't drinking and I actually felt sorry for them, for those pale spotted angry hands), he started to ask me, really ask me, about my life with Hank but he stopped after a few questions. It's just as well. At the time, I don't think I would have lied to him and he never would have understood. He would have said, "Hank's beating you and hurting you and you have to leave." He never would have understood that there was more than beatings.
There was listening to Hank every morning. Every morning he threw up in the bathroom and then shaved. After he was done, I got to use the bathroom and I could stand there and smell his heaved up insides and look at the stubble from his face in the sink. It was proof that he was there. It was proof that someone was with me. Max would have never understood that sometimes Hank would be in a good mood and would laugh when I made ravioli. Sometimes he would holler at the tv and say "Right, Mickey?" and when I would say "Right" he would laugh and cuff me on the shoulder and it wasn't a blow at all. And when I was six and Jimmy what's-his-name stole my bike Hank went and beat the shit out of his old man and got my bike back. Maybe it's not a lot, and maybe it wouldn't make sense to Max or anyone else. But it was mine.
In the end, the problem was this. Max only saw that Maria was hurt.
He never saw that I was the one that hurt her.
So Maria started spending time with Max. They talked and bonded and Max made her feel better. I didn't resent that at first. I was happy for her. I'm not as cruel as I like to think I am. I want her to be happy. I want her to be like she was before I touched her, back when she was a laughing girl who wasn't afraid of anyone, least of all herself.
But her messages changed. They got shorter. Almost perfunctory. Like calling me was something she did just to remind herself that she'd once been unhappy, like she was just calling to make sure that I hadn't gotten over her. "Michael--how are you? You know, I won't bite. Oh, call waiting. Gotta go."
At first I thought it was a trick--you know, something to make me jealous or whatever. Jealousy has never been my problem, or so I like to think.
But she was serious. She did have someone else on the line; she had a life to lead. I wasn't the focus of it anymore. She'd found something more fun to do than mope around. Good for her. Besides, Roswell really only needs one brooder, right?
Besides, she was still calling me. I still had that. I still had her voice, neatly captured on my answering machine. I still had something. Something that I could handle. Something that let me dream, but not in a dangerous way.
But she didn't call last night. She's called every Tuesday at nine p.m. and every Thursday at eleven p.m. Last night, the clock in my kitchen (courtesy of Isabel) rolled into Friday and a little snippet of Maria's voice was not mine. The clock ticked on into Friday morning and she still didn't call and I fell asleep sitting by the phone, one hand resting near, but not touching, the receiver.
So here I am in the Crashdown. She is talking to Max. I want to go over and ask her why she didn't call me. I waited all night for the phone to ring--I waited all night to hear her voice. I waited all night to hear that she hasn't given up on me even though I've given up on myself.
Max laughs at something she says and I watch as she smiles back at him. She looks happy. She looks like she's patching up her heart and moving on. She always told me she would. I should have known she'd never lie to me.
I walk by her and she doesn't look at me. Max does though, and he gives me a hesitant smile. I nod at him and he looks over at Maria for a moment. "I'm gonna go talk to..." he looks around and sees Alex sitting in a booth. "Alex. Thanks Maria."
"No problem, Max. See you later," she tells him. I wait for her to say something to me but she doesn't. She just starts filling the sugar container and I remember when she didn't love me at all and she wasn't afraid to speak. I remember when she used to talk and when I would pretend that I wasn't listening.
"You didn't call me," I tell her and I feel stupid and jealous and small and as worthless as Hank always said I was. He was right about a lot of things. I've never told anyone that because it's just another thing that no one wants to hear. Hank once cut my hair and hair fell all over the floor of the kitchen and he wept for all that poor cut hair (he'd been drinking, of course. Worst haircut I ever got) and his shoulders were bony and spare under my arms and even his tears smelled like beer. No one would want to hear about that moment. But it doesn't mean that it isn't true. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. It doesn't mean I don't remember.
I look at Maria and I know that my hands are covered with death and fear and nothing that she would ever want to touch. But I still want to touch her anyway. I still want her to touch me. I wasn't that surprised when Nasedo told me I was mostly human. I was just sad.
"I thought maybe you were tired of hearing my voice." She puts the sugar container down and starts wiping the counter down with a towel. Her hair is longer now and it trails down her back a little. "You never even picked up the phone and said hello."
It took me twelve weeks, more or less, to break. Is that good? "Hello." I look around frantically, searching for something to focus on, hating her for surprising me for not calling me, hating myself for being so low and small and needy. And weak. Don't forget weak. So weak. My voice sounds high and childish and I wait for what will happen next, dreading it and wanting it all at once.
She places her hands on the counter and turns to me. Her smile wipes away everything for a moment and I reach out to capture it, to run my fingers along the curve of her mouth so I can have the feel of it on my skin. She turns away at the last moment and my hands trail down empty space and I feel the shuddering fall of fear, the sharp rise of regret. I feel almost relieved. Hope is not a fun feeling. I'd place it second, right after love.
"I had the worst table in the world this morning," she says. "They had like a million special orders and they wanted me to make a fresh pot of coffee and then they wanted change for a hundred and I could hear them arguing over how much of a tip they should leave and then that weird guy--you know, the one who always wants two eggs and two pieces of toast and exactly one and half pieces of bacon? Well, he tells me that today is his special moon day or something and I'm all like, well good for you buddy but you still have...."
I close my eyes for just a second, so dizzy with happiness, with her voice, that I'm afraid I might do something stupid.
And then I kiss her anyway.
Hank once told me, in one of his rare reflective moments, that he kept me around because I understood him. "You know I love you," he told me and he patted my back clumsily, his fingers sliding over skin and sweat and maybe even a few tears.
I knew. I heard him. I understood him. I always did.
I promise that I will let Maria go tomorrow. I swear that I will. I just want to hear her voice one last time. That's all.