NOTES: Since the beginning of season two, I've been trying to resist, but after this week's episode, shipping happened. As usual for me, my fanfiction inspiration comes from unfulfilled romantic interest. This idea has been kicking around my head ever since Marco's, "...the next time I'm over." comment in Wake-up Call. There's no action, no mystery, nothing supernatural in this one, but I hope you all enjoy it anyway. Unbetaed.
SPOILERS: all of season one
DISCLAIMER: The 4400 and all things associated with it belong to other people.
THE GAME OF LIFE
She is hot.
How can she be so very, very hot yet seem completely oblivious about it? I don't see how, not when she wears those tops with the plunging necklines and tight slacks. Regardless, Diana Skouris never takes me seriously. Oh, she listens to my professional opinion, even confides in me about her everyday life, but she always acts like I'm joking when I suggest we go out. Is it because she's older than I am? I've checked her files; three years shouldn't make that much of a difference. Is it because she's adopting Maia? That's enough to keep a person busy, but she managed to go out with some guy a couple months ago. I confess, I was glad to hear from Maia there wasn't going to be a second date, though the description of him being tall, dark and handsome wasn't encouraging. How much does the tall part matter to Diana?
I may not have much of a chance, yet I can't stop trying. Brady thinks I'm a fool for it. He's just jealous that I have the social skills to talk to a breathtaking beauty on a daily basis. I must have faith my efforts have some prospect of coming to fruition. One of my old college buddies ended up with the girl of his dreams because he was always there for her. Sure, it took years, but one day she stopped chasing after shallow idiots who didn't appreciate her, took a look around and realized Mr. Right had been beside her the whole time. They're the happiest couple I know, other than Grandma and Grandpa Pacella. Persistence can pay off. Either way, I get to spend time with a brilliant, compassionate woman. What do I have to lose?
"Don't tell me--you get to be the accountant...again."
Maia smiles that wicked, little girl smile of hers, the one she uses when she gets her way. With a triumphant flourish, she flips her Career and Salary cards to reveal the cheerful gray-haired couple that symbolize the accountants and $90,000. Wisely, she always takes the college path, and she invariably ends up with one of the two Degree Required positions. The doctor and $100,000 cards are still available, but I question my chances of getting either.
It's easy for her to be so cheerful, even while stuck with me in the boring break room. The little scamp already knows she's got the advantage, and this is only the fifth time she has ever played this game. The wheel clacks as it spins, stopping on five. It doesn't matter, since I have to stop at Career Choice. I end up pulling Police Officer, Artist and Computer Consultant. Grudgingly, I take Computer Consultant and the best salary my draw allows--$70,000.
Maia's spin gets her a nine, landing her on a Pay Day, and I give her $180,000 because she passed another Pay Day en route. Shrewdly, she pays off her college loan. I remind myself that I've been meaning to look up the origins of the name Rutledge to see if it has anything to do with bankers.
I end up on Adopt a Pet and count myself lucky that I now have as many Life tiles as she does, though not enough money to pay off my loan.
"How is Quasar?" Maia moves her SUV to the Get Married spot, picks a Life tile and adds a blue peg next to the pink one on the driver's side. "It's sad they made you take him home."
"He's doing okay, though I've though about getting another beta fish to put in a tank next to Quasar's just to give him something to interact with." Five, again; Visit a museum. "It's understandable that they were worried his tank might have been knocked onto something important."
"You should get Quasar a friend." She's quite adamant about it, pinning me with her big brown eyes. "It's sad to be alone so much." I know how lonely it has been for Maia, but her words hit a little close to home. Dateless for a year and infatuated with a coworker--I'm not much better off than Quasar at the moment. At least I have a big family I can turn to. Diana and Maia only have each other.
"Maybe the next time Diana has to work on a weekend, we can talk her into letting me take you to the mall. We could see a movie, and you could help me pick out a friend for Quasar."
She gives me a satisfied nod, takes a sip of her grape soda, spins and lands on a blue space. "Your turn."
Pushing my own SUV to the Get Married space, I idly wonder if they'll eventually bring back the station wagon pawns once we get past the SUV fad.
"So why aren't you married?"
Not one for mincing words, my little Maia. "I haven't found the right person, yet. Your turn."
"Is it really so hard?" Her next spin brings her to Buy a House. I give her $90,000 for passing a Pay Day and spread the House Deed cards for her.
"Anything worth having takes time and effort. Just think about all you and Diana are going through to become mother and daughter."
"I suppose." She picks the Tudor, not the most valuable house in the deck, but up there. The insurance can be bought after she passes Pay Day on her next turn. "But it's the paperwork that's taking so long. We knew what we wanted pretty quickly."
"Then you're lucky." I land on a Pay Day and pay off my school loan. "Your turn."
The spinner stops on three--Baby Boy! Maia grabs a Life tile and a blue peg, contemplating it solemnly for a moment before adding it to her SUV. "Marco..."
"Yes, Maia?" I give her her salary, and she buys insurance for her house.
"Why don't you ask me about your future?" Her expression is suspicious but curious. "Don't you want to know?"
I can't help but laugh. "Sure there are things I'd like to know about, but part of what makes life interesting is not knowing the outcome." My turn at Buy a House. I choose the Dutch Colonial because I won't have to take out a loan and it has better sell back value than the Beach House. "Besides, I know it bothers you when people ask you about it."
She spins a two and adds a baby girl to the boy. "You care about whether or not I'm upset?"
"When you're upset, Diana is upset. I prefer it when she's happy." I land on the same space and insure my house after adding a pink peg to my SUV. "Plus, you're a kid; kids shouldn't have to deal with the sort of stuff you do. I can't do anything about what you see, but if I can make your life a little easier by not asking you about it, then that's what I should do."
Maia ends up on a money losing space and grumpily hands back $5,000 of her Pay Day. "I'm just a way for you to get to Diana." She often sees the worst in things. Maybe living with Diana will help her get past that. Of course, perhaps if people were honest with her...
Holding up my hands, I confess. "I admit it. I aspire to work my way into Diana's good graces by charming her daughter-to-be." I wish I had a camera to catch the look on Maia's face; it would make Diana laugh. "Does that surprise you?"
The shock fades into sullen. "So if it weren't for Diana, you wouldn't be playing Life with me?"
"If it weren't for Diana, you would probably be spending your Saturday with your guardian." Turning back to the board, my spin gets me twins. "Boys or girls?"
"One of each."
Placing a blue and pink peg in the back seat, I bend over the board and lower my voice. "But if what you're getting at is that I consider our time together a chore, you're wrong." Leaning back, I sip of my water. "I love playing board games and don't have any friends willing to spend an afternoon at it."
"Really. It's a win-win-win situation."
"Win-win-win?" She spins a six and decides to take the path that'll give her another girl.
I tick the reasons off on my fingers. "By doing this, it helps out Diana, both of us get to have a more interesting time than we otherwise might, and I get to play board games." My spin lands me on a spot that loses me $20,000. "Of course, it would be nice if I could win once in a while."
Maia smirks at this, spins a ten and picks up another Life tile and $90,000. "But isn't this just a part of your plan to go out with Diana?"
"Yes. But that's not a guaranteed win. She may never take me seriously, no matter what I do." The next spin gives me the choice of losing $5,000 or losing $5,000. I pick the right path because it offers better chances at more Life tiles. "That's why I figure it's okay for me to tell you. Even if you decided to share my little secret with her, it probably won't make a difference."
"You're okay with that?"
Please, don't let that be pity in her eyes. That's all I need--a nine-year-old's pity!
"If I can show her who I am and she's not interested, at least I know I tried." She's still gaping at me. "Your turn."
With a frown, she looks back to the board and lands on another blue spot.
My turn gets me another boy. No more room in the SUV! Grandma Pacella would be proud. "Besides, you two are like heroes in a book. You're both strong and brave, and life's been pretty tough on you. Who doesn't want to help out their heroes, even if it's only in a small way?"
That's enough to think on that Maia makes her next few moves without comment. She passes on selling her house, and I win $10,000. The next spin offers her a choice between a blue spot followed by a potential risk and win or a Pay Day. Maia moves her yellow SUV to the Pay Day, and I give her her due. I land on a tech spot.
"So it really doesn't bother you?" Four. Summer school. $5,000 for each child. I hope I don't land on that one.
"What?" I also pass on selling my house.
"That I know the future."
She lands on a stock loss, but since she has no stock, it doesn't matter.
I consider my answer as I spin and go with winning $80,000 over getting another Life tile; the most you can get from one of them is $50,000. "I think what bothers me the most about it is that they gave such a tough ability to a nine-year-old. It's not fair that you have to deal with so much serious stuff at your age."
Now it's her turn to feel awkward about being pitied, though I don't really pity her. She gets Spin again if not in the lead.
"I know it can't be easy, but I figure they wouldn't have given it to you if you couldn't handle it." Learn sign language, another Life tile for me. "You picked Diana for a mother, so you obviously have a good head on your shoulders. Besides, I trust you'd share anything serious."
Another Spin again if not in the lead for Maia.
I get to pay for a life-saving operation. Joy. "That's why I expect you to tell me the ending of the Sponge Bob movie as soon as you find out."
Her second if-only-I-had-a-camera look of the day.
"What?" The incredulity in my voice could win me an Oscar. "What could be more important than uncovering the truth about the adventures of a hyperactive Porifera? And do you know how much people would pay for that kind of information?"
Sputtering with laughter, she spins, declaring, "You're silly!" A blue spot, again. Maybe I'll have a shot at winning this, after all.
"Just don't tell Diana. I have to maintain my aura of professionalism." Spin again if not in the lead, followed by Hire a jockey for your racehorse, costing me $65,000. "Aw! I'm lucky to have Quasar! Owning a horse must be a code violation."
Giggling, Maia gets Plant a tree and a Life tile.
Another tech space for me. If only Maia would land on one. I suppose I should be grateful I haven't had to pay any taxes this game.
"How's it going?"
Maia and I turn to see Diana come in. She's taken off her jacket, revealing a knit sweater that fits her figure like a glove and brings out the golden flecks in her eyes.
"Almost done," I hear myself say. Yay for the functioning parts of my brain!
"I'm winning!" Could Maia be more smug?
"Well, let's wrap it up so we can all go home."
The next spin gives Maia a pension--$160,000. Sometimes, I wonder if she's also telekinetic.
My next spin lands me in retirement. I go to Countryside Acres, knowing Miss Moneybags has me squarely beaten. At least I didn't lose any money on the sale of my house. Never liked Colonials, anyway.
Maia earns $60,000 on her house but still insists on counting the money so she knows how much she's beaten me by. After she's surpassed my total by $250,000, Diana convinces her to stop and visit the ladies room while we put the game away.
Once Maia has left, I ask, "How'd it go?"
With a sigh, she says, "I'm beginning to think it would cost me less time if I personally escorted Mr. Vecruso to his AA meetings." Her fingers absently turn all the bills right side up as she sorts them into their various denominations. For some reason, I find this incredibly endearing. "Maybe if I did, we could all have normal weekends." She's self-conscious about my helping out. This is only the third time Diana has asked me to babysit Maia.
"It's no big deal, but I was thinking..." She looks up and nods for me to continue. "Have you considered it might not be much fun for Maia to come here to do this?"
I love it when her brow crinkles like that. It means she's really listening to me and that I've come up with something she hasn't considered. "What do you mean?"
Time to take the plunge. "The break room isn't exactly quarantine, but this is still the place she wanted to get away from..."
"But where else-"
"You could drop her off at my place."
Ah! She's not comfortable with that idea. "I wouldn't want to impose..."
"It wouldn't be an imposition. I have a better food than the vending machines' leftovers from the week, and it means no driving for me."
She's still not sure.
"Did I mention there's a park two blocks from my condo?"
Eyes glancing around the room, she considers a moment. Then she looks back at me, chin tucked, uncertain. "I think I'd be more comfortable if you came to our place, instead."
This is better than I could have imagined! I manage not to grin like a fool. "I could do that...but only if you let me bring board games along."
That happy, casual smile of hers makes my pulse race. "I think that's reasonable."
Slow and steady wins the race.
"Ready!" Maia bursts into the room as I put the lid on the game.
"Did you wash your hands?"
A dramatic roll of her eyes is all the response Maia offers. Grabbing her soda can, she dumps it unceremoniously into the trash by the door, and I escort them to the nearly empty parking garage. My bright blue sport coupe looks so youthful next to their sedate burgundy sedan. Ah, well, youth is nothing to be ashamed of.
We both try to deactivate our car alarms at the same time, resulting in neither working.
Diana turns off her alarm and unlocks the doors. I find it amusing how Maia doesn't bat an eye at such technology. In a flash, she's scrambling into her seat.
"Maia," sighs Diana, "Don't you think you should thank Marco?"
"Sorry!" Maia gets back out and actually gives me a hug and grins up at me. "Thank you, Marco." She can be so darned cute when she's of a mind.
"You're welcome. Next time, I'll teach you how to play Monopoly."
There's no way she could use her power for that game, yet I can't help but doubt my chances when I see that wicked grin flash across her face before she climbs back into the car.
Diana and I walk to the driver's side. "Thanks, again, for doing this."
"Any time." I hold the door open for her. Tossing her jacket in back, she gracefully slides into her seat. "See you Monday," I add before closing the door behind her. She smiles up at me, and my heart skips a beat. They both wave as they pull out and drive up the ramp to the street. I wave back, enchanted by the slender elegance of Diana's wrist. Does she have any idea?
She is so hot.