The standard disclaimer applies: All characters are property of Dick Wolf and NBC Universal. Not mine, not making money.
A/N: This is AU, because I'm assuming that the Mothership writers have a different backstory for Mike than this. Bert and Sylvia Cutter are entirely my own creation. Thanks and hugs to TudorLady, who helped me piece together the specifics of hippie life.
It was my own fault, really.
I had been working with Mike for six months – and sleeping with him for four. I was beginning to wonder exactly where I stood. We were spending another late night in his office, and during a break in a discussion about a case, I asked the question.
"Mike, what exactly are we to each other?" I said.
He was tossing that baseball of his around, as he often does. He threw it high in the air, catching it with a smile. "Colleagues, lovers, possibly more," he replied.
Imagine my surprise at his implication that this was more than just a casual fling. He was right, though – it was becoming more than that. I was beginning to have very strong feelings for him. And if this was going to be a long-term thing, I knew the next step.
"Shouldn't I meet your parents?" I asked.
Mike clutched the baseball, looking at me like I'd just asked him to jump off the Empire State Building.
"Connie, you don't want to meet my parents," he said firmly.
"Why?" I asked. "You met my mother – remember when she visited me here?"
"Yes, and she's a lovely woman," Mike replied. "But my parents…" He trailed off, pacing around his desk. I've become quite good at reading him – he was nervous.
"Mike, I'm serious about this," I said gently. "I want to know where you came from."
I gave him the look that I reserved for times when I refused to back down. When it came to conflicts between us, Mike often won – but he wouldn't this time. And he knew it.
"Okay. If you really want to meet my parents, I'll set it up."
"And here we are," Mike said, turning onto a quiet street. He wore the same pained expression all the way to Saratoga Springs. When I asked what could possibly be so bad about his parents, all he said was "You'll see."
If I didn't know otherwise, I'd think that he was about to undergo a root canal.
I looked around, taking in my surroundings. The yard was dotted with flowers – daisies, sunflowers, and black-eyed Susans. The house was obscured by vines, but I could see a large peace sign in the front window. A rusty VW Bus sat in the driveway.
An older couple came out of the house. Dressed in a cotton shirt and a pair of khaki pants, Mr. Cutter was tall, thin, and balding with a long graying beard. His wife had silver hair that fell nearly to her waist, and wore a floral dress. Both were barefoot.
Mike looked more like his mother, I thought.
We got out of the car. Mrs. Cutter approached Mike, arms extended.
"Free!" she exclaimed.
Confused, I looked at Mike. Free?
Mike clenched his teeth. "My name is Michael," he said.
"If you say so," Mr. Cutter replied, rolling his eyes.
Mike and Mrs. Cutter embraced; it seemed bittersweet and a little awkward. Then Mrs. Cutter turned towards me, regarding me for a moment.
"And you must be Connie," she said. I half-expected a comment about how much she'd heard about me, but there was none. To me, it indicated that either Mike and his parents didn't speak much, or he didn't share his personal life with them.
I was more inclined to believe the former.
"It's wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Cutter," I said.
"Please – call me Sylvia."
Mr. Cutter, who'd been staying back until now, finally stepped forward, giving his son a pat on the shoulder before extending his hand to me.
"And I'm Bert. Nice to meet you, Connie."
Just then, a large Husky with a bandanna around its neck appeared. It enthusiastically ran towards me, nearly knocking me down.
"Tim!" Sylvia scolded. "I'm sorry – he usually doesn't act like that."
"It's okay," I said, brushing myself off.
"Why don't we go inside?" Sylvia suggested.
The Cutters' house was eclectic, to say the least. Basically, it looked like it had been sealed up in 1969. Gauzy curtains, cotton-rag scatter rugs, India-print throws on the furniture. A vintage stereo stood in the corner. On the walls were posters advertising Newport Folk Festivals from various years.
One photo caught my attention in particular – it sat prominently on a side table. It was of a long-haired naked child, about seven or eight, standing in the middle of what appeared to be a large mud puddle.
"That was taken at the commune," Sylvia said, beaming. "Free was born there."
I glanced at Mike. He looked like he was ready to shrink into the floor.
Three of us – Bert, Mike, and I – sat down on the twin sofas. Sylvia disappeared into the kitchen, emerging with a tray of tea and cookies.
"I hope herbal tea is okay," Sylvia said. "And the amaranth cookies are made locally."
"Thank you," I replied. "It all sounds terrific."
"So, how's that establishment job of yours going?" Bert said to Mike.
"Bertram!" Sylvia exclaimed angrily. "You promised that you wouldn't start!"
Mike looked at me. "Dad doesn't approve of me working for the DA," he explained. I smiled awkwardly, now feeling uncomfortable.
"I don't care what Free does, as long as he's happy," Sylvia added. "So, where did my son happen to meet such a lovely girl – Rubirosa, is it?"
I nodded. They seemed very pleased that I was Hispanic, but trying hard to hide it. As for the question, I hesitated, afraid of what Bert would think.
"I work for the DA too," I answered.
"Oh," Sylvia said. Bert looked rather unimpressed. There was a long silence, and I attempted to steer the conversation away from our jobs.
"What do you two do for a living?" I asked.
Sylvia sipped her tea thoughtfully. "Bert is a psychotherapist," she said. "I work at the food co-op here in town. We're founding members."
"Really?" I said, interested. "I also couldn't help but notice your folk posters."
"We love folk music," Bert said. "Did you know that Bob Dylan made one of his first East Coast appearances right here in Saratoga?"
I shook my head. "No, I wasn't aware of that," I said.
"We're musicians too," Sylvia said. "Bert plays the guitar and I play the autoharp – oh, we should play something for you right now. Would you like to hear a song?"
I paused, looking at Mike. His face had No written all over it, but there really wasn't a way to politely refuse.
"Sure. We'd love that – wouldn't we, Mike?" I said.
"Yeah," Mike said, sounding as though it were the last thing he wanted.
The guitar and autoharp seemed to appear out of nowhere, and Mike's parents launched into a spirited version of "If I Had a Hammer." Actually, they were quite talented. Sylvia had a beautiful voice, and the autoharp couldn't have been easy to play.
When they were finished, I applauded, impressed.
"I have an idea," Sylvia said, putting the autoharp down. "Why don't you two stay the night? It'd save you from driving back to Manhattan."
"Thanks for offering, Mom," Mike said, "but we didn't bring a change of clothes."
"Oh, Free. You know that we keep extra stuff on hand for guests."
"Now, do you see why this was a bad idea?" Mike said.
We were in the Cutters' spare bedroom, which was quaint in a "vintage motel room" sort of way. Our bed for the night was a green futon mattress perched atop an old iron bed. Spare clothing was spread across it.
"I like your parents," I replied. "They're interesting and creative. Perhaps you should learn to relax a little."
Mike stopped – he was pacing, as usual. "You think I should relax? How the hell can I relax with the dog and the naked pictures and the hammering all over this land? I'm surprised that the house doesn't smell like pot –"
"Okay, so they're a little eccentric," I said, reaching for the zipper on the back of my dress. It wouldn't budge. "Can you help me with this?"
"You know what kills me?" Mike said, unfastening the zipper with ease. "My father would be thrilled to death if I worked for Legal Aid. But since my job is on the other side of the law, I'm a huge disappointment."
I didn't know what to say.
We changed into the clothing that had been provided for us and settled into bed. It seemed that we just lay there for a long time, staring at the ceiling. This was obviously painful for Mike, and I felt bad for forcing him into this position.
He turned onto his side, facing me. "How does it feel to know all my secrets?" he said.
"Do I know all your secrets?" I replied.
"You know my darkest one – that awful name."
"When did you change it?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"As soon as I hit legal age. Believe me, they weren't happy about it. Dad accused me of selling out."
"Most kids aren't happy with their names, Mike," I said. "I know I hated mine."
"Consuela," he whispered. I still don't like my name – it's why I go by Connie. But coming from Mike, it sounded oddly seductive.
"Michael," was my reply. That was the man I knew – who kept evidence exhibits, couldn't live without his BlackBerry, and was passionate about the law. He differed greatly from his father, yet all he seemed to want was acceptance. For who he was, not what his father wanted him to be.
He kissed me softly, reaching to unbutton my borrowed nightgown.
I was hesitant. "In your parents' house?" I said.
"They expect it, Connie. Why do you think they didn't put us in separate bedrooms?"
As Mike quietly made love to me, it occurred to me that acceptance went both ways.
I woke early the next morning.
According to the vintage alarm clock on the nightstand, it was five-thirty. The sun was just beginning to rise – it looked pretty, streaming through the curtains. Mike was sound asleep, his face buried in the pillow.
I needed to use the bathroom. I quietly got out of bed and headed down the stairs, careful not to make any noise – I didn't expect anyone else to be awake.
I received a shock when I found Bert in the kitchen, clad in pajamas and a bathrobe.
"Good morning. I'm making coffee – you want some?"
"Sure," I replied. "Actually, I'm just heading to the bathroom. I'll be back in a minute."
Once I finished, I returned to the kitchen. Bert was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. In front of him were two cups of coffee – one for him, and one for me.
"I don't know how you take your coffee," he said. "Cream and sugar's on the counter."
Maybe it was just me, but I had the feeling that Bert wasn't too impressed with me. And frankly, the man seemed a little brusque. This was why I couldn't believe what came out of my mouth next.
"You know, Mike just wants you to be proud of him."
Bert looked at me over the newspaper. He didn't look angry or upset – more like he knew that it was coming.
He folded the newspaper, putting it down on the table. "How can I be proud of someone who puts people in jail for a living?" he said, challenging me. I'd brought up the subject; now I'd better have something to back up my opinion.
I stirred some cream into my coffee. "Okay, maybe Mike's job isn't in line with yours and Sylvia's values, but he's found something that he's very good at."
"I know," Bert said. "I just wish Free had chosen something nobler."
I looked into his eyes. "He did, Bert. Wanting to serve justice is a very noble thing. He protects the innocent, and makes sure that the guilty are justly punished."
"Well, we'd best be going," Mike said, jingling his car keys. Before, I'd have guessed that he couldn't get out of there fast enough. But now he seemed different – happier, I'd say. We stayed for most of the morning, eating breakfast and chatting in the living room.
"So soon?" Sylvia said, visibly disappointed. "You can't stay for dinner?"
Mike nodded. "Monday morning comes early, and we have an important hearing."
We all stood up. Sylvia hugged Mike again, and then she extended her arms to me.
"It was so lovely to meet you, Connie," she said. "Come back anytime."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mike and his father embrace.
And that's the story of how I met my in-laws for the first time.
During the long drive back to Manhattan, Mike told me about how he and his father had talked while I was in the shower. They'd hammered out an understanding – Bert would never totally agree with Mike's choice of career, but he would do his best to be supportive and proud of Mike's accomplishments.
And for his part, Mike agreed to try to accept his parents as they were. Eccentricities and all.
They still call him Free, though. I guess that will never change.