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you can fight the hurricane

Chapter Text

 

Drift destabilising. Drift destabilising.

“Shit. Get them out of there.”

“No,” Michael grits his teeth. “Just a few more seconds.”

Drift destabilisation at critical level.

“Damnit Cameron, I said get them out of there!”

“Yessir!”

The power cuts abruptly and Michael feels the loss of connection like a part of himself has been ripped from his mind. He might lose consciousness for a moment but the next thing he knows, he’s sitting outside the Marshal’s office, listening to Isabel and Max plead his case.

“This is the third time,” Marshal Valenti is saying. “What if he can’t keep it together during an attack?”

“He will!” Comes Max’s confident voice.

“We’re better with him,” comes Isabel’s far more practical one.

“I don’t care about better,” Marshal says. “Right now I’ll settle for a functioning bloody team!”

“Please, Marshal,” Isabel pleads. “Just give him a chance.”

Marshal sighs. Michael does too.

“I’m gonna call someone in. A specialist trainer for pilots,” he scoffs. “The closest thing we have to one, anyway. Guerin trains, he takes it seriously. Then we’ll see if he gets back in a cockpit.”

“And if not?” Max this time.

“Then I’ll put you two in Titan Striker without him. I need viable teams, Evans.”

“Understood, sir.”

The door opens and then closes behind them again.

“What’s the verdict?” Michael asks, not looking up from where he’s staring at the floor. “Did I get detention?”

Isabel scoffs. “Like you weren’t listening in the whole time.

Michael doesn’t acknowledge that, just says: “Marshal shouldn’t even bother with this thing. You two should just take Titan Striker and go play heroes without me.”

“Come on, Michael,” Max says gently, while Isabel’s sharp voice cuts through, “Don’t be stupid.” Both men turn to look at her and she scowls.

“Even if you weren’t our brother, you know that we pilot better when there’s all three of us. Max and I could get by just fine but we don’t want to be fine. We want to be at our best. Which means we need you,” she jabs a finger into his chest. “So buck up and do this training. Who knows!” She throws her hands up in exasperation. “It might actually help.”

Michael doubts it but he’s not stubborn enough to pretend that he wouldn’t do anything to get back in that cockpit, to pilot with Max and Isabel. It doesn’t mean he has to like it.

*

Despite a firm time set of 0900hrs, Michael reports to the landing deck at 0910hrs because while he’s a pilot and he might want to remain one, he’s known for pushing the limits of their commander and he’s not about to stop now. The helicopter with their new arrivals has already landed and he can see where Marshal is greeting them, shaking hands and being generally charismatic.

He falls into line with Max and Isabel, both of whom turn to look at him. Isabel is glaring at him and Max has that I’m not mad, just disappointed expression plastered on his face.

“Relax,” Michael huffs out a laugh. “I made it for the introductions. Where’s Deluca and Ortecho?”

“In New York for a charity event,” Isabel informs him. “Somewhere we could’ve been.”

Michael just rolls his eyes and turns his attention to Marshal, who’s walking towards them with the newbies in tow. It’s hard to see them through the San Francisco rain and the multiple umbrellas being held above them. Then the group come under the shelter of the dome, removing umbrellas and stepping out from behind the presence of Marshal, and Michael feels the air leave his lungs.

Several things happen at once.

Michael tries to croak out a name and fails. Both Isabel and Max stiffen beside him. The features of the man standing across from him school themselves into a casual neutrality that feels like a sucker punch to Michael’s gut. Marshal frowns. The woman with the red lipstick smiles. The man on the other side of her looks confused. Max manages to breathe out “Liz” with an equal combination of horror and reverence.

Michael only has a second to spare for Max’s drama because he’s looking at the face – the face and the hair and the body and the uniform and the blank expression – of Alex fucking Manes. He’s so goddamn beautiful and two years haven’t changed that, haven’t dampened it or made Michael want him any less viscerally.

He knows that Max and Isabel know. There’s no secrets in the drift and he knows that the minute they saw him, they would have experienced the flashes of alexalexalexalexalexalex. He knows because he experiences the gut wrenching lizlizlizlizliz that Max has so often shared in the drift.

All of this and only ten seconds pass. Marshal clears his throat.

“Rangers, I believe you all know Officer Manes. I’m told you all did basic together.”

“We did, sir.” Alex says. “At ease, guys.”

Michael doesn’t have the capacity to question why his body responds to the command without hesitation. For the past two years, he’s only ever heard Alex’s voice in his memories, the ones in his brain and the ones he experiences in the drift. They pale in comparison to the real thing. What he can’t fathom is how Alex’s eyes travel over him once (over him) and then move on to Max and Isabel like he’s nothing special. It makes him want to stamp hit foot and make a scene (be seen) but all it does is make him deflate a little.

“Good,” Marshal’s gruff voice breaks through the haze. “And I believe you’re also acquainted with Dr Ortecho and my son, Dr Valenti.”

Liz Ortecho and Kyle Valenti look good too, when Michael spares them a glance. Older and more confident. Liz certainly looks like she’s on top of things. Kyle looks like he might have the same kind of attitude, but more of it.

“It’s nice to see you all again,” Liz smiles that blinding smile of hers and even distracted, he notices the way her gaze lingers on Max.

“These three are on loan to us from the Los Angeles base,” Marshal explains. “So best behaviour and let’s see that we return them all in the condition they were provided in.”

“Yessir.”

He turns back to their guests. “Drs, the rangers can show you where your stations are. Manes, I want to talk more about the situation, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course, sir,” Alex says, and the two of them walk away.

There’s a few seconds of awkward silence before Isabel clears her throat.

“Let’s get you to your stations, shall we?” She suggests sweetly.

“Yes, please.” Liz claps her hands together and motions for the three of them to lead on. “I’m excited to start. Marshal said you had some preserved organs?”

As they walk through the dome and into the base, slow, dawning realisation begins to hit Michael like a train crashing into a building in slow motion. He’s a genius, but fuck if he isn’t a dumbass sometimes.

Ortecho is here to research kaiju biology. Valenti is here to be base doctor. Which leaves only one person to fill the position of his trainer…

“Oh, fuck,” Michael says with feeling.

Chapter Text

Michael's first training session is at 1400hrs that day, giving him absolutely no time to deal with the fact that he's about to be alone in a room with Alex for the first time in two years. He wants to run laps around the dome. He wants to be in the cockpit of a jaeger. He wants to drink.

He tries to dawdle, to make himself late like always, but there's too much time between dropping the good doctors off at their new stations and his scheduled time. He can't sit still so he does end up walking laps around the dome until he finds himself in the Kwoon Training Room at exactly 1400hrs.

Alex, the ever-punctual bastard, is already there. He's still in his khakis and boots, uniform shirt buttoned to the top. Beautiful. Dangerous. Untouchable.

He looks up in surprise when Michael walks in.

"Do you want to come back in ten minutes?" He asks. "I know how you hate to be on time." And the sarcastic lilt to his voice shouldn't settle warm and heavy in Michael's chest, but it does.

He shrugs. "I also hate to be predictable."

That earns him a minuscule twitch of the lips. It feels like he's won a whole ass battle.

"Why do you think you keep destabilising the drift?" Alex asks, turning to face Michael fully.

Michael had to fight to keep the surprise from his face. It's not what he expected. Then again, Alex has always been blunt like this.

He reaches out his arms in another shrug. "Didn't you hear? I'm a drunken screw up. Too wasted to hold the connection."

"That's bullshit." The way he says it, sure and resolute, should comfort Michael. It doesn't. “I know how much piloting Grand Horizon with the Evans twins means to you. You wouldn’t screw that up without good reason.”

Michael wants to ask what else Alex knows about him but he swallows the question thickly instead. “Alright then, Captain. What’d you have in mind? How are you going to fix me?”

Alex doesn’t pull rank and correct him (he’s Officer Manes, having refused to join the program through the Airforce like his father had wanted). Michael kind of wishes he would. The knowledge settles at the back of his mind, the fact that Alex outranks him now and could (and actually might) order him around for the next two hours. It makes him itch all over and god , he just cannot catch a break today.

He comes back to himself just in time to catch the hanbō thrown at him from across the room. He passes the stick between his hands, feeling the weight of it, before spinning it in front of him. It’s been awhile since he’s sparred with anyone except Max and Isabel. They already have co-pilots; they don’t need to match themselves against anyone else.

“You want to spar?” He asks, just to be a pain. “How’s that going to help with the deep, psychological trauma that’s keeping me out of the drift?” It’s meant to be a joke but he can see that it doesn’t land. Alex just looks at him, then turns to pick up his own hanbō. He slides his palms over it, nowhere near as fancy as Michael’s movements, but Michael feels rocked to his core anyway.

“This is the best way to judge a pilot’s physical and mental fitness,” Alex replies easily. “I need to see how you operate when it’s just you and the hanbō.”

He steps onto the mat. He’s still wearing his boots and his impossibly high-buttoned shirt, which doesn’t seem right, but Michael’s too distracted by the way that Alex pulls himself into a beginning stance, so familiar that it makes his mouth water.

“Begin,” Alex says.

He moves towards Alex the way he always has; swift and single-minded, recklessly, if he’s being honest with himself. It doesn’t matter because he remembers how Alex moves, know how he’s going to counter and how Michael will counter after that, a dance that they’ve done a million times and Michael knows the rhythm to like it’s the pounding of his heartbeat.

Two seconds later, he’s on his back, staring up at Alex’s unamused face. The end of his hanbō taps Michael under the chin, causing him to meet Alex’s gaze.

“Guerin..”

“What?” Is all that comes out of his mouth.

“It’s been two years,” Alex scolds him. And -- yes , but also, Alex knows that it’s been two years. He’s called him by his name for the first time in those two years, and all of this is a lot for Michael’s brain to process at once. “Did you really think my style hadn’t changed? Hasn’t yours ?”

“Course it has,” Michael responds defensively. “Just didn’t think it would have changed with you.”

Something passes over Alex’s face but it’s gone as quickly as it appeared. “Stand up,” he says, and Michael’s body obeys. “Let’s try this again. And this time, treat me like an opponent.”

Michael opens his mouth to argue that he was but quickly shut it again when he realises that was a lie. He’s been thinking of him as Alex , not a sparring opponent.

He takes a deep breath and corrects his stance. His grip loosens on the hanbō, then tenses again. He steps forward, just as quick as before. This time though, he fakes a left and goes for Alex’s left side with the bottom of the hanbō. It’s different enough that it doesn’t land him on his arse straight away. Alex parries though, knocking the stick out of the way and coming down hard on Michael’s thigh with the end of his own.

“One-zero,” he says. Michael can tell that he’s still unimpressed. Fine then.

He smacks Alex’s hanbō out of the way and comes at him with three aggressive strikes. Parry, parry, parry and push, Alex tripping Michael backwards with his foot and bringing him back down onto the mat again. This time he juts the end of the hanbō into Michael’s chest.

“Two-zero. You’re not even trying to adapt,” Alex accuses him. Michael’s too frustrated to figure out whether he means just the sparring or something else as well.

“I am,” he protests indignantly. He pushes Alex’s hanbō away with his own and stands again. “I will.”

Alex’s expression doesn’t change. “Show me,” he challenges.

What follows is possibly the most embarrassing two hours of Michael’s life. He’s never hit the floor so many times during a training session, not even he and the twins were starting out. He makes a few points here and there but for the most part, Alex sweeps the floor with him. Sometimes literally. And the most embarrassing thing is that it takes Michael the good part of an hour to figure out why.

Alex moves different. Michael realises belatedly that it’s not because he’s trained elsewhere or because he picked up tactics from his last drift partner, but because his body is different. He’s favouring his left leg, and although he can’t see past the khakis that tuck into Alex’s boots, Michael can bet the reason is a sizeable injury on his right leg.

He remembers the night that Alex’s jaeger went down. It’s seared into his memory next to every other memory of Alex that he has. He still has nightmares about it sometimes.

Tango Glory and Giant Slayer are deployed off the coast of LA, closest to intercept of the newest kaiju menace, TankHeart . They watch from the monitors of the San Francisco dome, the mix of nerves and excitement the same as always. An encounter is always dangerous, always holds the possibility for death and destruction, but there’s something primal felt in the heart of the human race when watching a 2,500 ton robot beat the shit out of a monster from the depths. And at first, the two jaegers are destroying TankHeart.

Until the kaiju reveals a forked tail from the water, swiping at Giant Slayer and sending him flying backwards into the ocean. Tango Glory holds her ground, shouldering the beast when it attempts to move past her. There’s cheers as she pushes the monster backwards, swinging a mechanical punch to its face. It roars with and attempts to return the attack. Tango Glory matches it blow for blow, landing a well-placed uppercut that sends TankHeart snarling into the sea spray. It charges, but that’s okay because Tango Glory is waiting in a defensive position and Giant Slayer is only steps away from being able to help take this thing down.

Until TankHeart’s tail swipes at Tango Glory’s legs, causing her to fall backwards, and suddenly the charge becomes a jump.

The room goes sickeningly silent as TankHeart lands on Tango Glory, its fist puncturing straight through the heart of the jaeger. It raises an arm to do the same to the head of the robot when Giant Slayer grabs it around the middle, pulling it backwards and away.

Tango Glory disappears slowly beneath the water. She doesn’t get back up.

There’s a hand on each of Michael’s shoulders --- he distantly registers Max and Isabel’s voices on either side of him. It’s then that he realises he’s stepped forward, towards the monitors with his hands pressed into fists, though to do what he has no idea.

Giant Slayer is tackling TankHeart into the water and releasing a volley of shots into its chest. It’s dead and there’s cheering because another victory is another time the planet has been kept safe, but Michael can’t pull his eyes away from the camera that’s still on the ocean, focused on the spot where Tango Glory disappeared.

“Alex -” his voice breaks on the name and his siblings’ hands tighten on his shoulders. Choppers are surrounding the site, Airforce search and rescue vehicles that will drag Tango Glory from the sea and carry her back to land to salvage whatever they can...

The monitor in front of Michael shakes.

“Get him out of here,” Isabel hisses. He feels Max’s arms on his sides, turning him around and pushing him towards the exit.

“Max, no -”

“You don’t need to see this,” Max’s voice assures him, firm but kind.

He lets Max get him to their room, collapsing down onto the bunk with his head in his hands.

“Fuck.” He realises he’s shaking. When did he start shaking? Max grips his shoulder and stands with him, a silent guard.

Twenty minutes later, Isabel’s bursting into the room like there’s fire licking at her heels.

“He’s alive!” She shouts. “They pulled him and Tess out of the cockpit. He’s -- alive.” She stops to breathe, and the three of them breathe together.

“Alive,” Michael echoes, pressing the heels of his hands to his face and lets himself fall apart.

Michael knows that Alex hasn’t piloted a jaeger since that night. He’s also given a limited amount of interviews, preferring to stay out of the public’s eye despite their desire to label him a hero. Michael’s always wondered whether the reason was more physical or emotional. He’s starting to think it’s the former. Alex is still mobile, could still take down most of the people Michael knows, but there’s a hesitancy there. There’s guarding. It’s possible that he can’t operate the jaeger tech at all.

“Three-two,” Alex says, and it’s not fair that he looks as pristine as when they started, but Michael feels like a puddle of sweat. His curls are plastered to his forehead and the pits of his shirt are soaked through. At least he’s on his feet for Alex’s final strike this time. Or, well, on his knees, but he’s counting that as a victory.

“We’re done for today.”

“Why stop now?” Michael asks, breathless. “Afraid I’ll actually start winning?”

“That’s the closest you’ve come today,” Alex acknowledges. The end of his hanbō is still hovering next to Michael’s cheek. “It would help if you didn’t think of it as a competition.”

“I know it’s not,” he says. “You know I know that.” He’s breathing heavily and he’s on his knees, looking up at Alex focused face, and it’s not even been a day, damnit .

Alex steps back and lowers his hanbō. He looks Michael over while Michael tries not to shiver or preen under the attention. He’s not sure if Alex finds what he’s looking for because his expression is eerily neutral the entire time.

Eventually, he walks away and over to the side of the Kwoon, where he picks up a drink bottle and takes a long swig.

“Go and get some rest, Guerin,” he says, after he swallows. Michael follows the line of his throat. “I want you back here at 0900hrs tomorrow.”

Michael groans. He can already feel a bruise forming where Alex had jabbed him in the side. He’s going to die at the hands of Alex Manes, and it’s only going to be from his second-favourite kind of sweaty and sore.

“Sure thing, Captain,” he says, standing up when he’s sure his legs can hold him. He leaves the hanbō and makes his way towards the exit.

“And Guerin?”

Michael stops but doesn’t turn around.

“It’s Officer Manes to you.”

Michael closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before he exits the Kwoon. He can’t decide what he wants first; a stiff drink, or a long cold shower.

Chapter Text

Michael's whole week is training. After their initial sparring, Alex eases off the hanbō sessions and instead runs him through a meticulous regime of other forms of training, some that he's familiar with, some that he's not. They spend a whole day running through the stages of Jaeger Bushido, a few hours of yoga here, a couple of hours of taekwondo there. Michael’s the most physically fit he’s ever been in his life but by the end of the week, he's lying in a collapsed heap on the floor of the Kwoon, body aching and covered in sweat.

Alex doesn’t look like his heart rate has risen in the past twenty four hours, which is just so unfair.

He may not have been participating in all the exercises that he’s had Michael do, but he’s had to demonstrate and guide Michael through a few of them. He’s even participated in a few when they’ve called for it, but when he hasn’t been joining in, he’s been watching Michael intently, making his skin prickle in all sorts of pleasant ways. He knows that Alex’s expression is purely analytical; Michael is a problem that he’s been tasked to solve, and they’re both constitutionally incapable of backing down from a challenge.

“I’m dying,” Michael whines.

Alex pulls a chair to the edge of the training mat and sits.

“Why can’t you drift, Guerin?”

Michael’s head jerks upwards in surprise. They haven’t talked about his problem, about the reason that they’re doing all of this, since that first day. It’s never been far from his mind but Alex hasn’t addressed it since the initial discussion.

“Cause I’m a screw up,” is Michael’s response as he lets his head hit the mat again.

He hears a scoff and can practically feel the disappointment coming off of Alex in waves.

“No, we already established that’s bullshit,” Alex says. “I’ve watched you train for five days. Whatever -- however much -- you’re drinking, it’s not affecting your physical capabilities or your mental acuity. You’re not a screw up; you’re part of the very few percent of trainees who actually make it far enough to pilot jaegers. You belong to one of two teams in the world possible of operating a jaeger between three pilots. And you’ve been successful at protecting this place for two years.” If Alex were anyone else, this is where he’d pause to breathe, but he’s so in control of himself that it’s nothing more than a pause in thought.

“That’s not the problem, Guerin. And you know it.”

Michael takes in a shaky breath. He’s glad that he’s lying down already because the world has started to spin. “Careful Officer,” he says, the rank foreign on his tongue. “You keep talking like that and I might start thinking you like me.”

Alex scoffs. “Fine. We weren’t going to crack this in the first week.” He stands and shift towards where his bag is sitting on the floor. “Take the weekend and we’ll start again on Monday 0900hrs. You need to think about this, Guerin.”

“The whole weekend?” Michael asks, choosing to focus on that part instead of the rest. “How generous.”

“I’m here to help you, not work you into the ground,” is Alex’s response.

Michael pulls himself off the floor slowly, making it to a sitting position. He crosses his legs beneath him and rests his hands on his knees, tries to look calmer than he feels.

“You coming to this thing Liz’s organising?”

Alex pauses whatever he’s doing and turns to look at him questioningly. Michael chuckles.

“What, didn’t think she’d invite me?” He grins with the kind of energy he doesn’t actually have. “I’ll have you know we’re great friends. She likes me a lot.”

Alex’s gaze narrows but he doesn’t look angry, so Michael takes that as a win.

“I never said that,” he tells Michael. “I’m just surprised that you’d want to come and hang out with us, that’s all.”

So, that’s a yes to him attending.

“It helps that she wants to hang out in a bar,” Michael says. “There’s not enough alcohol in the world to fix the levels of awkward that’ll materialise when we’re in a room together.”

He’s actually thinking about the entire group, about Max’s heart eyes and Liz’s steely resolve, about the secrets that divide him and the Evans twins from everyone else, of whatever awkward-as-fuck shit goes on between Kyle and Liz and Rosa. It isn’t until he hears Alex’s sharp intake of breath that he realises he hadn’t specified that outside of his head. He can’t even take a second to enjoy the fact that he’s managed to draw a reaction from Alex because he’s too busy rushing to clarify.

“Everyone, I mean,” he says in one breathe. “All of us. It’s been two years since we’ve all been in the same state, let alone in a bar together. It’s going to be weird, right?”

Alex’s face quickly returns to careful neutrality. Michael almost wishes he hadn’t explained himself, just so that he could be extra sure he could still provoke a reaction in Alex.

"Maybe," Alex agrees. "But I'm sure we'll be okay."

Michael's not sure whether they're still talking about the whole group or not.

Alex picks up his bag and swings it over his shoulder. "I have somewhere I need to be. I'll see you tomorrow night then?"

"Yeah. See ya." Michael watches him go. He tries real hard not to look at his arse as he goes. It's definitely still firm. Shit .

When the door shuts, Michael lets himself fall backwards onto the mat again. He can't help the flood of memories that come from being in a Kwoon Room with Alex.

The score is two-two and they're still fighting for the last point. The room is empty except for the pounding of their breaths and the crack of the hanbōs as they strike and block; it's the second longest they've ever gone without one of them making a point.

Alex moves to the left but Michael is already matching him. Their hanbō strike together near their knees. Alex releases one hand and tries to chop at his forearm. Michael meets him halfway, slapping Alex's hand away. The hanbō swings upwards in Alex's hand and jabs at Michael's side. Michael smacks it aside and brings his own hanbō up to make a move on Alex's shoulder. Alex catches the stick with his own and they stand there for a second, breathing heavy with their sticks locked together.

Alex drags his tongue over his bottom lip. Michael follows the movement, breath hitching.

Which is when Alex hooks a leg behind his ankle and trips him backwards.

Michael hits the mat with a THUMP and next thing he knows, Alex has the end of the hanbō underneath his chin. He taps once, gently.

“Three-two,” he says. He’s panting, chest and shoulders heaving with each breath as he tries to get himself under control. His feet are either side of Michael’s knees, stance wide and firm.

“You cheated,” Michael accuses him.

“It’s not my fault you lack focus,” is Alex’s quick retort.

“Asshole.”

The flat edge of the hanbō presses against the underside of his chin, forcing him to look wherever Alex guides him. For the moment, it’s to force Michael to hold his gaze. Michael shifts, almost imperceptibly, but of course Alex catches the movement. The slightest lift of his hips in response to the pressure of the hanbō against his flesh.

Alex swallows slowly and throws the stick to the side. Then he drops to his knees, curling over Michael's body, and presses their mouths together.

Michael groans and reaches up to grab hold of Alex's face with both hands. He’s sore from sparring and the week’s usual training but there’s not a moment of his life that he doesn’t want Alex pressed against him like this. His fingers intertwine behind Alex's head, holding him in place as they kiss desperately. Alex’s knees are pressed snug against his hips, which gives him the perfect leverage as he leans over and starts to suck a trail of wet kisses over Michael’s jaw and down his throat, but keeps their bodies further away than Michael wants.

So he takes his hands and places them on Alex's hips, tugging him down. Alex's knees slide backwards along the mat until their bodies line up perfectly and Michael can feel the press of Alex's cock against his own.

"Did you book the room all afternoon?" he asks, grabbing at the bottom of Alex's tank to push it up. Alex leans back far enough that he can pull it over his head, before doing the same with Michael's shirt.

"Yeah," he murmurs. He reattaches his mouth to Michael's clavicle, nipping and licking a path across and then down. "And I locked the doors."

They always get like this after a sparring session. It shouldn't affect him like this, how clinical Alex has been about organising the space, but it makes Michael go hot all over and inside to think of him planning ahead for this, for anticipating it.

He grabs Alex’s hips and rolls them over. Alex goes willingly and practically melts into Michael, legs falling apart to make a space for him as he presses his hips down and fully body rolls. It drags a shaky groan from Alex’s lips and he scrambles to link his arms around Michael’s neck, pulling him back down into a deep, open kiss.

Michael lets out his own groan between their lips, nearly forgetting what he’d been doing. The stuttering lifts of Alex’s hips remind him though and he breaks the kiss with a wet pop. Alex keens at the loss but it turns into broken whines when Michael drags his lipstongueteeth down his body. He digs his fingers into the waistband of Alex’s sweats and pulls them, as well as his underwear, over his hips without preamble.

Alex bites his lip and Michael closes his eyes for a second, committing the image to memory before he leans down to take Alex’s cock in his mouth. What he lacks in practiced skill he more than makes up for in enthusiasm, wet lips dragging over the head and down the sides, one hand holding Alex’s hip down and the other stroking him slowly, methodically. Alex is a squirming mess and Michael catalogues every minute shift, every bitten off moan. His hands are gripping Michael’s curls on the good side of justoomuch pressure which is hot as hell but it also anchors him, keeps his mind in the present but not distressed. Alex sets his body on fire but he quiets the chaos, even when he’s not being particularly quiet himself.

He can feel when Alex starts to lose control because his hips start to shudder upwards against Michael’s grip. Michael holds him firm but soon those hands are tugging him upwards by the curls and Michael is helpless but to acquiesce.

Alex drags him down for another kiss, licking at his mouth until he parts his lips to let him in.

“Wanted you to come in my mouth,” Michael murmurs when his tongue is free again.

Alex shakes his head, reaching between them with one hand to push Michael’s pants down enough that he can take Michael’s cock in his hand. He gives it a few slow tugs, smiling softly at the hiss that travels between Michael’s teeth.

“Like this,” he says. “Want to feel you.”

Michael drops his head to the crook of Alex’s neck as the other takes both of them in hand, sweat and precum the only thing to ease the slide of their cocks against one another. One of Alex’s hands stays tight in Michael’s curls, and Michael’s can’t seem to pause on any part of Alex’s body for too long. They flitter down his arms, up his sides, linger for a second on his stomach, move upwards so he can drag his fingernails over a nipple, reach up to cup his jaw, to swipe a thumb over his lips.

Neither of them last very long. Alex comes before Michael, though he’s lasted longer than he should have due to the ridiculous amount of control he has. Michael has no such resolve and all it takes is watching Alex’s screwed up expression as he continues to stroke them both, clearly over sensitive but unwilling to stop, and Michael’s spilling over into his hand with a choked-off moan that half-forms Alex’s name.

After a few moments, Michael rolls to the side to take his weight off of Alex. Alex wipes his now sticky hand on Michael’s pants, to which Michael makes a half-protest. He goes quiet when Alex takes that hand and presses it to his bare chest. Michael grins, slow and satisfied, and wraps an arm around Alex’s shoulders to pull him close.

They lie like that for a few moments, occasionally trading gentle kisses and stroking each other’s cooling skin.

Despite their overwhelming need for each other, they don’t get time like this alone a lot. Between their extensive training and the fact that they both share rooms with bunkmates, there isn’t a lot of free time or locations to do this. They’ve gotten very good at handjobs in storage cupboards and blowjobs in empty rooms. This is one of those rarer times and Michael doesn’t want to squander it.

“And that ,” Alex says, tracing lines over Michael’s pecs. “Is why we can’t pilot together.”

Michael scrounges up enough energy to look offended. “What are you talking about?”

Alex fixes him with a look. “You’re too easily distracted,” he accuses. “One shared memory of something like this and you’d be totally useless.”

"But I'd have you and your impeccable control to keep me grounded," Michael counters. "You'd never let me chase the rabbit."

Alex laughs, slow and warm. "Are you saying I have control issues?"

Michael grins back at him. "I'm saying… why not? We're crazy compatible." He moves his hand to place it over Alex's, on his chest. "You feel it. Let's try it."

"Michael…"

"What's the worst that could happen?" he continues, forgetting for a moment all the reasons that they can't , all the reasons why his request is for Max and Isabel only, all the secrets they share between the three of them. For just a second, he imagines letting Alex inside his head, letting him see everything ; his life, his beginnings, the feeling in his chest when he's like this with Alex, unnameable but like a sunbeam through his heart. But it only takes a moment to remember why they can't.

"No, you're right," he says quickly. "It's stupid."

Alex frees his hand from Michael's grip. Michael winces in response, but Alex slides his palm over Michael's jaw, cupping his face.

"Michael," he says, leaning forward to press a gentle kiss to his forehead, the bridge of his nose. "There's nothing I want to do more than pilot a big fucking robot with you."

And really, there’s nothing Michael can do in response to that but kiss him senseless.

Michael lifts a hand to his face and groans. He’s tired, he’s sore, he’s half hard, and he’s got nowhere to go except back to his room. He doesn’t cherish the idea of dealing with Max or Isabel while he’s in this state but all he can do is hope that they’re both off somewhere being busy.

He’s never been particularly lucky.

Max is there when he gets back to the room and Michael’s only solace is that his brother looks even more miserable than he does. He takes a seat on his bed and sighs like the long-suffering brother he is.

“Liz?” he asks.

Max groans and buries his face in his hands. “I made an arse out of myself.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Michael says helpfully. “Probably not the last.”

It’s a testament to how bad it is that Max doesn’t even look up to throw him an irritated look. He sighs and reaches into the bottom draw of his nightstand, pulling out a half-empty bottle of whiskey.

“Don’t tell Iz,” he says, then offers the bottle across the space.

Max hesitates a moment before accepting. He takes a long swig before passing it back to Michael.

“What about you?” he asks, gesturing to indicate Michael’s mood. “Alex?”

He thinks about denying it for a second but he knows it’s known use. Max knows his mind as well as he knows his own and it’s pointless to lie.

“Yeah,” he confirms. “He’s still -- y’know.” He shrugs shoulders helplessly, like that will explain the situation. “He screws me up, man."

“I know.”

On anyone else, it might sound cocky or judgemental but Max has been inside his head. He’s seen the place where Alex occupies Michael’s thoughts, just like Michael’s seen the way that Max’s memories light up and follow the path of Liz through his mind.

“Do you regret having him here?” Max asks, after a few more minutes of silence.

“Do you regret having Liz here?” Michael counters.

Max ducks his head, lips turning up into a small smile. “Nah. I could never.”

“Exactly. More whiskey?”

Which is exactly when the door swings open and Isabel walks in, ponytail high and eyes bright with determination.

“Alright, you both need new shirts. God, when was the last time you bought new jeans, Michael? Is that whiskey ?”

Chapter Text

 

Even with fierce determination and the threat of a mind melt, Isobel only manages to wrangle Max into a new shirt for their get together. Michael opts for same outfit he wears out of the base every time; old jeans, faded white tee, black denim jacket, worn out boots and his black cowboy hat. You can take the boy out of the desert, Ortecho would say, but the boy will still dress like a damn cowboy. Some of it is laziness, another part of it is that he knows what makes him look good. He knows what Alex likes. Liked.

( That hat makes you look like a cartoon character, Guerin.

That's not what you said yesterday when you begged me not to take it off.

...shut up. )

Isobel gives him a once over, makes a derisive noise, and then walks out of the room. She, of course, looks fantastic in a navy blue pantsuit that ends above her ankles and black, heeled boots. They don’t get to go off base and let loose very often; even if she hasn’t said anything, he can tell she’s been looking forward to it. Max, on the other hand, looks as apprehensive about the whole thing as Michael feels. He slaps his brother on the back supportively and they follow after Isobel.

Despite the near-devastating attack by Crowback five years ago and the nuclear fallout that followed, San Francisco has managed to pull itself back into a respectable enough city. It’s emptier than it used to be, which is why the PPDC had opted for establishing a base here. Joy and soul have trickled back into the area though, to the point where there’s a healthy amount of nightlife at nine pm on a Saturday. They’re headed to Michael’s favourite dive bar, Trespasser's Grave, because it’s close to the base and they’re quiet about their Pan Pacific Defence Corps clientele. The last thing that Michael needs is to be bombarded by media while he’s getting drunk on cheap whiskey and acetone.

The place is kind of busier than usual but that works in their favour because they can blend into the crowd. Well, Michael and Max can. Isobel is always going to stand out a little . There’s a live band playing, relatively well, and all the booths seem to be taken so people are gathered around standing tables or milling about on, what can generously be called, a dance floor in front of the band.

Michael clenches his left hand into a fist as he watches the guitar player. His hand doesn’t bother him as much as it used to but he’s been working solidly all week and neglecting to do his PT exercises afterwards, so the joints are a little stiff. At least the scarring isn’t as bad; he doesn’t feel the need to cover it in public anymore.

“Do you see them?” Max asks anxiously. Michael is about to tell him to calm down when Isobel nods in the direction of one of the standing tables and says:

“There they are.”

Michael steels himself. He can do this. He’s spent two years without being anywhere near Alex. He’s spent a week getting sweaty in an enclosed space with Alex and managed to keep himself under control. He’s got this.

He spots Liz, Kyle and Alex.

He absolutely does not got this.

Alex has cast off the PPDC khakis, button-up shirt and well-combed hair. Instead, he’s wearing tight black jeans, a thin blue shirt, and a black leather jacket that’s tight across his shoulders. His hair is mussed, like he’s been running his fingers through it, and he looks like he walked straight out of Michael’s goddamn dreams.

He looks like he used to, before the end of jaeger training when everything had gone to shit. Michael clenches his fist again like it’s a breathing exercise. Squeeze, one, two, three, unsqueeze. He sees the second that Alex notices them. Notices him.

He waits to be dismissed, to have Alex look him over and look away, or to barely look at all. He’s prepared himself for the nonverbal rejection and he’s told himself that he’s okay to deal with it when it happens.

What he gets instead, is to feel Alex’s gaze slide over him like a fucking caress and that, that is what he’s been looking for. There’s nothing analytical about Alex’s expression as he looks at Michael, except maybe in the older, heart-pounding kind of way. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip and Alex’s eyes snap to his mouth.

Michael grins, slow and easy like he can’t help it, and then turns to his siblings.

“I’ll meet you there,” he says, then waves at the bar in explanation. “Drinks.”

He goes to order them all beers. It’s an excuse to lean against the wooden bar on his elbows and catch his breath. The hammering of his heart against his rib-cage won't slow, but at the very least he manages to take full gulps of air again before he has to carry the drinks over to the table.

Alex's gaze has shifted over to the others by the time he makes it over there, and he can't decide whether he's happy about that or not.

"This place is nice!" Liz says, directing the comment at Michael. Isobel snorts in amusement.

"Suits me just fine," he responds. "Reckon there's far fancier places in Los Angeles."

"There's fancier places here ," Kyle comments, taking a sip of his beer.

" Kyle ." Alex frowns at him, causing Kyle to shrug in apology.

"The band's alright," he concedes.

"Feel free to leave, Valenti," Michael snaps. That earns him a frown from Alex.

Liz, like the angel that she clearly is, quickly intercedes. "How have you guys been? We didn't really get a chance to talk yet. That's why I wanted to do this." She gestured between the six of them. "We keep up with you guys, you know. Alex has this whole cork-board --"

"All the bases keep tabs on each other's activity," Alex says quickly, while Michael turns to look at him with wide eyes. " Liz has posters of all the kaiju you've taken down."

"I'm a biomedical engineer with a speciality in kaiju," Liz starts, in her own defence. "It makes sense for me to --"

Max is looking at her like she hangs the sun every morning and Michael wishes him good luck because he's tuned everything else out except Alex, who’s standing next to him now, close enough that he could reach out and touch him if he wants to.

Michael turns into his space, just enough to be casual. “You look good,” he murmurs, low enough that no one else will hear.

Alex’s gaze flicks up to his hat, then back down to his face. “Thanks,” he says, matching Michael’s tone. “You too.”

He reaches up towards Alex’s jacket, slow enough that Alex can move away if he’s bothered, and lightly presses his fingers to the collar. He feels, more than hears, Alex’s slow intake of breath and fuck , is he reading this right? Are they on the same page? There was a time where he hadn’t needed to second guess what he thought Alex was thinking, feeling. Then again, he thinks bitterly, that might be what lost him Alex the first time round.

The way that he's looking at Michael from under lidded eyes isn’t leaving much up for negotiation. He’s about to tug on the lapels of Alex’s jacket and guide him into a corner of the room or into a back alley, he’s not particularly discerning right now, when a loud and familiar voice sounds out across the pub.

¿Qué huele, güeyes ?”

They turn to look at the same time that Liz screeches, “Rosa!” and makes a break for the entrance, where her sister and Maria have walked in. She hugs Rosa tight, pulls back long enough to squeal, “Maria!” and then is hugging her as well.

Alex has shifted too, like he wants to go over there but like he also wants to give them a moment, and Michael can tell the mood has changed. He pulls back and puts his hands firmly on his drink, taking a long swig.

When the three women make it to the table, Rosa immediately moves in to hug Alex.

“Look at you, primo !” She messes up his hair further and gestures to the rest of him. “You look good. Not so scrawny anymore, hm?”

“I was never scrawny , Rosa,” Alex protests, but any serious concern is chased away by the grin on his face.

“And you, hermano !” Rosa kept moving around to slap Kyle on the arm. “You can’t text your big sister to let her know you’re visiting.?"

For the first time since they arrived, Kyle looks a little embarrassed. He rubs at the back of his neck and shuffles from foot to foot. “Surprise?”

Mierda ,” she says. “Whatever. Buy me a drink and we’ll call it even.”

Kyle scrambles to do so, leaving Michael to watch as Maria and Alex hug, and then stay close together with Liz as they start talking as though they saw each other yesterday.

Michael moves to stand next to Isobel, whose gaze follows Rosa and Kyle to the bar.

“Didn’t know they’d be here,” he comments. “Thought they weren’t back ‘til next week.”

“I didn’t know either,” Isobel admits.

Michael looks between her and Rosa, then over to Max, whose puppy-dog eyes are trained solely on Liz as she animatedly explains something to Maria and Alex. God , he thinks. Is he the only one of them not pining away after an Ortecho? Except -- Alex is practically an honorary sibling to the Ortecho women. He always has been, in everything but name.

Michael scowls and ruminates on this realisation.

“Guerin?”

He shakes himself out of it to look over at Maria, who has moved her way around the table to stand next to him.

“Deluca.” He greets her with a tip of his head. “How was New York?”

“I had fun.” She shrugs one shoulders and smiles. “Rosa nearly took out a reporter.”

That makes him laugh. “Yeah, that sounds about right. Isobel would have gladly gone in her place.”

“I know,” Maria says, but the way she’s looking at him makes him think she’s talking about something else as well. “How goes the training?”

Michael bites back the instinct to snap and tell her to mind her own business. He may have been casual about the subject with some people but it was fucking embarrassing to think that his problem was common knowledge. He has to remind himself that Maria is kind and that despite a very brief, ill-advised string of casual hook-ups, she’s one of the only friends he has outside of his siblings.

“Not sure I’m a very good student,” he replies. “But it’s only been a week.”

Maria’s gaze narrows as she studies him. He feels his skin prickle under the attention, though this time it’s vaguely uncomfortable.

The rumour during basic training was that Maria was a universal drifter, which was essentially unheard of. She had near perfect compatibility scores with all the jaeger trainees in their squad and could have picked any partner she wanted. She’d picked Rosa Ortecho, the most volatile of the trainees, and the Marshal’s daughter to boot. They’ve been kicking arse together ever since. And more recently, Michael suspects, knocking boots. It’s going to break Isobel’s heart, if she doesn’t already know.

“Give Alex some time,” Maria tells him. She stills sounds like they’re having two conversations concurrently but he’s not sure enough to say what they are. “He’ll help you, if you let him.”

“I’m not not letting him,” Michael protests. She reaches up to pat him on the cheek which should be condescending, but honestly he feels a little better.

“Come dance with me,” she says. He protests but he knows it’s ultimately futile so he goes and shuffles awkwardly around her and Rosa while they dance.

He doesn’t manage to catch Alex alone again that night but sometimes Michael catches him looking, and that has to be enough for now.

*

When he walks into the Kwoon Room on Monday morning, Alex is sitting on the mat.

“Giving up on me already, Officer?” Michael asks, closing the door behind him.

Alex looks up at him from the floor. He has one leg crossed but the other, the one that he won’t put as much weight on, is extended in front of him.

“I thought we’d try something different.”

“Clearly.”

“Sit down, Guerin.”

He does, after dropping his gym bag off to the side.

“We’ll keep working on the physical side of things--” Michael smirks and Alex rolls his eyes. “-- but I wanted to try this first.” He gestures between them. Michael follows the gesture, then finally looks down at the file sitting in front of Alex. It’s his.

He sucks in a breath through his teeth and leans backwards on instinct, then tries to play it off as a casual shift in position. Alex notices, because of course he does.

“We’ll start off easy,” he tries to assure Michael. His voice is gentle, like he’s talking to a spooked animal, and Michael hates that too. “It’s just a conversation, Guerin, not an interrogation.”

“Easy for you to say,” Michael accuses. “I haven’t read your file.”

That seems to surprise Alex. “You could have,” he says, raising an impeccable eyebrow. “You and I both know you could have accessed it at any point.”

Michael shakes his head. “I wouldn’t do that to you. Anything you wanted me to know, you would’ve told me. Everything else didn’t matter.”

Alex doesn’t seem to know what to say to that so it hangs in the air between them for a few moments. Eventually, Alex inhales slowly. “Okay,” he says, like that’s an adequate response. “Here’s what we’ll do. Every question that I ask you, you can ask me something.”

Michael opens his mouth to respond immediately but Alex cuts him off.

“I have to know that you’re going to tell the truth though,” he continues. “Otherwise this doesn’t work. If you don’t want to answer something, veto the question, but don’t lie to me. If I think you are, you can answer the questions while doing a sun salutation.”

He could say no, and they could go back to training and sparring and not talking. It’s so tempting to lay himself at Alex’s feet though, to give up whatever secrets Alex asks for in return for information about Alex himself.

“Can I start --”

“No.” Alex’s tone is firm, but he’s smiling now. “What made you join the jaeger program?”

It’s not exactly where he’d thought they’d start but Michael isn’t about to complain. “Because Max and Isobel wanted to,” he answers. “How’s Tess?”

Alex blinks at him, looking equally surprised. “She’s good. Got married two months ago.”

“Good for her.”

“Did you want to join the program?”

Michael shrugs. He’s been over this with Max and Isobel before, in their heads and out of them. “They wanted to help save the world. I wanted to stay close to them. It turned out alright for me in the end.”

"It's good that you think so," Alex says, but there's an edge there. "Your turn."

Michael considers him carefully. "Is this, like, your full time job now?"

“What do you mean?”

“This training thing,” he gestures to himself, then to the room at large. “Is this what you’re doing now?”

Alex hesitates, and Michael thinks this might be the first question that he vetoes, until: “Yes. At least for now. They had me in charge of the training in Los Angeles, keeping everyone fit and in line. There was some talk of letting me train newer pilots. Between my time in training, my time as a pilot, and all the PT I’ve been through -- it just seemed like a good fit.”

At the mention of physical therapy, Michael’s gaze dropped down to Alex’s leg, then back up to his face again. He looks apprehensive, and Michael realises it’s because Alex thinks he’s going to ask about his leg next. The thought has crossed his mind. He still doesn’t know the extent of Alex’s injury, doesn’t really know anything despite what was in the news and the interviews afterwards.

( “He’s alive! They pulled him and Tess out of the cockpit. He’s -- alive.”

“Alive.”)

Michael thinks about making a flippant comment, to ensure Alex that he isn’t going to ask about that today, maybe ever really, but Alex speaks up before he can.

“How’s your hand?” He asks it nonchalantly, like he were asking after any old wound and not something that nearly shattered Michael’s chance at becoming a pilot. Michael can tell that’s not the case though; he can see the tension in Alex’s shoulders, the very careful way he’s holding himself as he waits for an answer.

Michael looks down at his hand, clenches and unclenches. There are still scars there but two years of PT and medical attention have lessened the pain. “Plays up sometimes,” he admits, surprising himself. “I get aches. But I can operate the tech and that’s all that matters.”

Alex nods his head but his expression is far away. Michael’s chest squeezes.

“You still play guitar?” he asks.

Alex’s gaze snaps to him and yes, that’s what he wants.

“I -- yeah,” he answers, confused. “A little. Don’t always have time for it.”

Trespasser's Grave has an open mic night,” Michael tells him. “You should play.”

“Maybe.” He doesn’t look like he’s really considering it but at least he’s not lost in whatever emotion had gripped him before. He takes a deep breath, the kind that means Michael’s likely to hate whatever’s about to come out of his mouth, and asks: “Why are you destabilising the drift, Guerin?”

Michael meets his gaze unflinchingly and with devastating honesty, answers: “I don’t know.”

*

Alex decides they’re done playing twenty questions after that, at least for the time being. He makes Michael do some yoga after all, citing its benefits to mental stability, and then lets him go for the day. They carry on like that for the next two weeks, with a new focus on mental tranquillity (or something like that, Michael had been too busy trying to stay mentally unaroused when he’d walked in to find Alex doing stretches against the wall). He has lunch with Liz and Maria, walks by Kyle’s office sometimes to taunt him, spends time with Max and Isobel, and even lets Rosa talk him into smoking a joint on the roof of the Shatterdome.

He has to admit that things aren’t going terribly. It’s frustrating that he hasn’t been allowed to test himself in the drift again but he can swallow that pride when it means spending a few hours with Alex everyday. There’s a shift happening, he can feel it; not just with them but with their friends as well. Max manages to get more than five words out at a time around Liz, Kyle stops avoiding Rosa, Isobel actually hangs out with Rosa and Maria for the first time in months. They’re falling into old habits, into old orbits, and Michael’s dizzy with the idea that he and Alex might fall back into one another’s orbit again.

All he has to do is be patient. He can wait out the universe.

What he can’t wait out are the kaiju.

*

The alarm blares out at four am on a Tuesday morning. Michael jumps out of bed at the same time that Max and Isobel do, the response ingrained in him from previous alerts and countless drills. His siblings look at him warily as he pulls a shirt over his head but he ignores them.

Thirty seconds later and they’re in the corridors, moving towards the suiting area.

Two minutes later and they’re walking through the dome. Someone grabs Michael’s arm as they walk.

“Absolutely not,” Marshal says, which stops all three of them in their tracks.

Isobel’s gaze shoots from Marshal to Michael and back again.

“Marshal..” she says, in that tone of hers that means she’s ready to start a verbal shit fight.

Marshal shakes his head though and nods towards the doors that lead to the suiting area. “Evans, Evans. I want you in Titan Striker. Now ,” he adds, when none of them move.

Isobel and Max both look at him, guilt and regret written across their faces as clear as if they’d done it with markers. The decision’s already been made though. Michael gives a curt shake of his head. Go. It’s fine .

They nod and turn, picking up the pace as they hurry to the doors.

Michael follows Marshal into the command room, hot on his tail. Everyone else is already inside, watching the monitors from various points in the room or actively monitoring the kaiju threat and the jaegers being deployed to defend against them. It doesn’t surprise Michael. Liz and Kyle are here to watch for Rosa and Maria (and Max too, he thinks) and Alex is part of the command team, even if his job mostly involves training Michael at the moment.

“What the hell, Marshal?” he demands, unflinching in the face of his own insubordination. “We should be out there in Grand Horizon. especially if that thing’s a category III.”

“Titan Striker and Desert Rose will handle this. You were benched, Guerin,” Marshal says. “Until you are deemed fit to pilot a jaeger. I won’t have a liability out there when lives are on the line.”

“I’m fine, Marshal. I’m ready!” Michael protests heatedly. “I’ve never screwed up during an attack and you know it!”

Marshal shakes his head. “Only Officer Manes can make that decision.”

Michael whips around to face Alex, whose gaze warily falls from the monitors to Michael. He stares at Alex and wills him to understand how much this matters, how much he needs this. He feels stranded and helpless, like for this one moment his life is held in the palm of Alex’s hands and all Alex needs to do is say no in order to crush it.

Alex shakes his head. A small, almost aborted movement. “No, Guerin. I can’t.”

“Alex, please--”

“I said no , Ranger,” Alex cuts him off. It’s not meant to be cruel, but Michael feels it wash over him as if Alex had curated the words and the tone especially to hurt him. “You’re not ready and you know it. It’s too much of a risk and I can’t sanction that.”

Screw you !” Michael snarls. He knows that he’s rapidly losing control of himself but he doesn’t care. The panic is gripping at his chest and he can’t breathe properly, the oxygen isn’t reaching his lungs and his brain and all he can see is a future where he doesn’t pilot anymore, where he doesn’t get to have that connection with Max and Isobel in the drift, where he doesn’t get that sense of purpose from keeping a whole city safe. “Just because you can’t pilot anymore, you want to make me miserable --”

He sees the way the words land. Alex’s eyes go wide at first, his entire body tensing before he can exercise that god-like self control he has. Michael sees the expression that passes across his face though, and it’s like all the ghosts of their past have rushed through the room and coalesced to form the pain in Alex’s eyes. Then, a second later, his careful mask is back in place, as if he’d never felt a damn thing.

Michael’s heart drops into the bottom of his stomach. “Alex, wait --”

He turns and leaves the room.

Michael starts to follow but Marshal steps in front of him, gaze murderous. “I suggest you retire to your room, Ranger. I will deal with you when there are less important things going on.”

His gaze flicks (and Michael’s follows) to the monitors, which are now showing Titan Striker being dropped into the ocean. When Marshal looks back at him, Michael nods tersely.

“Yes sir.”

He all but runs back to his room. People rush by him in the corridors; everyone has somewhere to be, a job to be doing. The alarm blares overhead. Michael thinks someone might be calling his name but he can’t hear it over the blood rushing in his ears. He doesn’t stop moving until he’s locked the door of his room behind him.

“Fuck. Fuck .”

He waits until he hears that everyone is safe (half an hour later; the kaiju is dead, Desert Rose got the killing blow) before he drinks enough whiskey to pass out on the floor next to his bunk.

Chapter Text

Michael is going to drift with Alex for the first time and he’s so fucking nervous he’s vibrating out of his skin. It’s not the thought of drifting with Alex, or even really the thought of drifting with Alex, it’s the thought of doing it in a con pod in front of a command centre full of people pressing buttons and monitoring their vitals.

It’s not an official drift; they won’t be connecting to a jaeger but they’re in the gear and Alex looks so god damn beautiful in his suit that Michael’s having trouble breathing. Or maybe that’s the nerves again. It doesn’t matter because he’s ready to do this, he’s ready to let Alex Manes into his mind, to show him everything he is and was and wants to be. He’s pretty sure he’s in love but he hasn’t said it yet, wants Alex to know the truth of him before he gives him that final piece.

“You ready for this?” Alex’s voice cuts through the noise, like he can read Michael’s mind. Soon he’ll be able to.

Michael grins back at him. “Yeah, course I am.”

Alex wavers for just a second, but Michael catches it.

“What?” he asks.

“Are you really sure?” Alex bites his lip, worrying at it in a way that has Michael nearly distracted.

“There are some things in my head, things I didn’t talk about—”

“Alex.” Michael cuts him off and reaches over to rest a weighted glove on his shoulder. “There’s stuff – me too, okay? But I trust you. I want you to see everything. We’ll just promise not to – not to judge, yeah?"

Alex takes a deep breath, and Michael starts wondering what he could possibly have inside his head that would rival Michael’s revelation of I’m actually an alien, no not related to kaiju, probably from an entirely different part of the universe but still, definitely not from Earth.

“Yeah, okay,” Alex says after a moment, lifting his hand to place it over Michael’s on his shoulder.

“Let’s do this.”

“Guerin, Manes,” the voice comes through over the speaker. “You guys ready?”

Michael nods at Alex and says, “Yeah, Cameron. Sync us up.”

The lights turn on and the system interface in front of them flickers to life. The power surges through their suits, and Michael’s on the balls of his feet with anticipation. He can feel the suit clicking into place as the electricity fills each system, until it’s finally reaching his arms and his head. He closes his eyes and feels a sense of calm overtake him. He’s going to drift with Alex. He’s ready.

That’s when a horrendous pain floods his brain. It’s so overwhelming that it takes him a second to localise the pain to his left hand. He can’t open his eyes to look because they’re screwed tight but he can hear Alex’s voice next to him, frantically saying his name. The helmet of the suit is pulled off his head but all that means is he can cry out in pain, can hear the sound of his voice as he screams.

There’s people around him but as he opens his eyes he focuses in on Alex, who’s standing two feet back. Alex, whose eyes are wide and face is pale with horror as they pull the glove off his hand to reveal the burnt, mangled mess inside.

Someone must knock him out because the next thing he remembers, he’s waking up in one of the beds in the medical ward, his left hand is bandaged in so much gauze that it makes him ill, and Alex is gone.

*

Michael wakes up with the third worst hangover he’s ever had in his life. He’s lying in his own bed, blanket tucked around him with his head on the pillow, and not on the floor in a pile of his own spit and vomit, which is how he knows he’s in deep shit. Someone, probably Max but also maybe Isobel, had put him to bed last night. That means they dragged his drunk arse off the floor in the early hours of the morning after fighting a kaiju and most likely sitting through a debriefing after that. He raises his head just enough to check the other bunks in the room; Max and Isobel are both sound asleep, exhaustion written plain on their faces.

Fuck . He should have been in the jaeger with them. Alex should have let him --

-- a fresh wave of guilt and nausea wash over him at the thought of Alex. Christ . The look on his face when Michael had shouted at him. It had only been for a fraction of a second but that face is going to haunt Michael as long as he lives.

A quick check of his phone tells him it’s 0900hrs and before he can panic about being late to training, and having to turn up to training at all, an alert informs him that Marshal has given the base twenty-four hours reprieve. There’s no training for anyone today.

It should have made him feel better; after all, there was no way he could face Alex like this. Instead, he felt his stomach churn at leaving this to fester until tomorrow, or until Alex agreed to see him again. Maybe he’d refuse to train Michael any further? No, Michael told himself. Alex wasn’t selfish, and he would never refuse to follow orders just because Michael had pissed him off.

He would go and seek out Alex today and apologise. That was the adult thing to do. That was what a responsible, mature ranger would do.

Another alert tells him that Marshal wants to see him in his office at 1000hrs.

Michael rubs at his forehead and groans.

Fuck .

*

Marshal was on time, as always, and called Michael into his office at exactly 1000hrs. Michael had been waiting outside for five minutes by this point, not wanting to risk being late to this meeting. He’d swallowed down some aspirin, some toast, and a little hair of the dog, then he’d made a b-line straight for Marshal’s office.

“Guerin.” The tone is clipped. Definitely still pissed off then. “Sit down.”

Michael does.

“We need to talk about your conduct this --”

“I was out of line, Marshal,” Michael says quickly, eager to get this over and done with. “Completely. It won’t happen again.”

Marshal narrows his eyes. “This is just one incident in a long line of incidents. I told you that your current training was your last chance to prove that your head’s screwed on right.”

“It is,” Michael protests. He doesn’t like where this is going. “I swear, sir. Alex is -- Officer Manes’ regime is helping. I’m more in control now.”

“Officer Manes doesn’t seem to think so,” Marshal accuses. “And after this morning, it’s a miracle he still wants to work with you.”

That makes Michael go still. “He does?”

Marshal’s frown deepens, but he gives a curt nod. “Yes. He insisted that he keep working with you. Can’t say I would have done the same.”

He has nothing to say to that because he still can’t quite process the words. Insisted .

“You will apologise to him, of course,” Marshal continues, either unaware or uncaring of Michael’s lag in the conversation.

“Yeah,” Michael agrees. “I was going to go find him after this, actually.”

“Officer Manes is off base today,” Marshal informs him, turning back to his paperwork to indicate that this meeting is over. “I assume you’ll be back at training tomorrow. Apologise then.”

“Yes sir.” Michael rises and makes for the door, grateful to leave with most of his pride and employment intact.

“And Guerin?”

“Yes sir?”

Marshal fixes him with an expression that is so calm and murderous at the same time, Michael remembers why he’s in charge of the entire base.

“Don’t let it happen again.”

Michael ducks his head in assent before leaving the room.

*

Maria corners him in the mess hall while he’s grabbing coffee. He’s not expecting to turn around and find all 5’ 5” of her right in his face, brow curled into a scowl.

“You’re an asshole,” she says.

He blinks. “I mean, yes. But why ?”

Alex ,” she hisses, and he closes his eyes to let the shame and guilt wash over him. Of course Maria knows about this morning. He wonders if there’s anyone on base who doesn’t know how royally he screwed up in the command centre.

“Yeah, DeLuca. I pissed him off. I’m figuring it out” he says, pushing past her and moving towards one of the tables. The hall is fairly empty given that it’s closing in on 1100hrs and the few occupants are stragglers, finishing their morning beverages or grabbing the last of the bagels.

Maria bypasses the bench across from him and sits directly on the table. He barely saves his mug from her wrath.

“You didn’t just piss him off,” she tells him, refusing to stop glaring at him. “You hurt him. Of all the people who could possibly understand what you’re going through and you choose to take it out on him --”

“I’m not taking anything out on him,” Michael protests, then deflates a little at her answering look. “Not on purpose, anyway. It was -- I was angry. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

That seems to take a little of the wind from her sails and she uncrosses her arms, letting them rest on her skirt, flowing down over her legs and the edge of the table.

“I just thought --” she shakes her head. “I thought I understood but the fact that you would throw that in his face…”

Michael’s brow furrows. “Throw what in his face?”

“His leg?” Maria answers, mirroring his confusion. “It’s not like he can’t pilot from lack of effort . If there was a way for him to pilot a jaeger with one leg, he would.”

Michael’s entire world tilts on its axis.

“What?” he asks, voice hoarse and weak.

Maria watches him for a moment before the surprise, and then horror, floods her face.

Michael !” She reaches out as if to touch him, then changes her mind and cups her hand to her mouth. “How could you not know?”

“No one told me!” Michael says, voice rising with panic. “I thought it was just an injury. I’ve never seen --” Of course Alex has never shown him. He’s always completely covered when they’re in training. He never even takes off his shoes.

Maria scowls at him again. “Do you really think an injury would have kept him out of the program?”

Michael thinks about it, shakes his head. No, nothing short of catastrophe would stop Alex Manes from getting where he wanted to be, and even then… He can’t believe he’s just assumed this whole time. The look on Alex’s face comes into focus in his mind again.

Fuck ,” he says, dropping his head and trying to breathe through the panic. “I really fucked up, Maria.”

“Yes,” she agrees, which has him snapping his head up to glower at her.

“What do I do?”

“You were an asshole,” Maria tells him, poking a finger into his chest. “Now you make up for it.”

*

Max and Isobel are both awake when he gets back to their room. He’s expecting glares. He’s not prepared for the pity on their faces.

“Oh, save it,” he snaps at them. “I fucked up. I’m handling it.”

Isobel is looking at him with a softness in her eyes that tells him they’ve both been brought up to speed on the situation.

“Michael, we didn’t know,” she says gently.

He knows she’s telling the truth. If either of them had known about this, they wouldn’t have been able to keep it from him, here or in the drift.

“Yeah, I know.” He tenses his injured hand beside him, trying to will the ache away with nothing but wishful thinking. He thinks that might be the end of it and he can just get some damn peace, sleep off his hangover and wake up early tomorrow to go and apologise to Alex, but Max opens his mouth.

“We need to talk about --”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Max!” Michael all-but-snarls.

“You never wanted to talk about Alex Manes!” Isobel snaps at him, stepping forward from where she’s been leaning against her cupboard. “But you don’t get to avoid it anymore.”

“She’s right,” Max agrees. Of course he does. “He’s got the power to destroy your entire career and you just made him angry!”

“He wouldn’t --” Michael sucks in a breath. “Alex isn’t like that. You know that. He won’t make a judgement based on whether or not he’s pissed at me.”

“It’s been two years , Michael,” Max tries to reason with him. “Things might have changed!”

“Not him,” Michael says, in a tone that brokers no argument. “Not this.”

The twins share a look, communicating something silently and without Michael, and honestly fuck them for that.

“Okay,” Isobel says carefully, when they look back at him. “But you need to be careful. The second that something goes wrong…” she reaches up to tap her temple with one slender finger.

Michael goes cold at the thought of his sister in Alex’s mind but he wills himself not to react.

They’re right, he knows, in their own fucked up and caring way. It reminds him that they want him in a jaeger just as much as he wants to be with them. They’ve already gone weeks without it and while Isobel can take a jaunt through their minds whenever she likes, or pull both Michael and Max back into her own mind so that they can speak of things they’d never dare acknowledge out loud; they know it’s not the same. The drift takes no effort, not when it goes right. There’s no walking through chaotic mindscapes or concentrating to get them all in the same place. Five seconds to sync up and being in their heads is as easy as breathing; it’s subconscious, secondary in nature to everything else.

Michael wants to be angry but instead he just feels tired.

He lets his lips curl into a smirk, the kind that’s never fooled either of his siblings. “When am I not careful?”

*

He’s early to the Kwoon Room the next day. He doesn’t plan on it but he’s awake hours before he’s due there, and his tossing and turning had ended with Isobel’s pillow thrown at his face. So, he gets there early and starts in on some of the stretches Alex has him doing. Had him doing. Alright, so he’s fucking nervous. Sue him.

He’s nearly got himself into a one-handed tree pose, which he likes to think of as a handstand for over-achievers, when Alex walks into the room. Michael loses the precarious balance he’d found on his good hand, legs splayed open in the air like the branches of a tree, and falls backwards unceremoniously to the ground. He thinks he might hear a snicker but when he lifts himself into a sitting position, rubbing at his tailbone, Alex’s face is impassive and he’s dropping his bag onto the bench.

Michael swallows thickly.

“Alex, I --”

“Start with an Ashtanga sequence,” Alex interrupts him. He doesn’t look over.

Michael scowls in response because that shit usually takes two hours and that’s how Alex wants to start the fucking day? Fine, he’s going to be a good, well-behaved ranger and afterwards he’s going to apologise and make things right.

Five hours and two more sequences later, he’s fucking had enough. He’s breathing heavily from the effort of holding a staff pose (or, as he likes to think of it: glorified planking) and his abdomen is aching from the stretch.

“If this was your plan to keep me from talking,” he gets out in the space of one breath, two seconds after he’s collapsed onto the mat, “then it was a good fucking plan.”

“My only concern is your training,” Alex replies in that empty-ass voice of his and no . They’re not doing that.

“I’m sorry about the other night,” Michael gets out, before he can change his mind.

The pause in Alex’s movements is so momentary, Michael would think he’s imagined it, if he hadn’t also caught the stricken look that crossed Alex’s face for barely a second.

“It’s fine,” Alex says, picking up his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. “We’re done for today.”

It’s all he says before he’s heading for the door.

Michael balks in response. It’s fine ? It’s not what he was expecting. It’s not even close. Alex would never back down from a fight, especially not one that involved giving Michael an arse-whooping that he well and truly deserved.

His confusion costs him valuable time though. Alex is already out the door and Michael is lying on the mat. He’s up and out the door in seconds, forgetting that he’s not wearing shoes and that his bag is still in the Kwoon Room. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is catching up to Alex and explaining things, actually talking about this.

Fuck, maybe this training shit is working.

Michael catches up to Alex just as the other man stops in front of his quarters. Alex looks at him tiredly, and with no surprise on his face.

“Guerin,” he sighs, looking Michael up and down. Michael stands steadfast, refuses to be embarrassed by how stupid or desperate he must appear. “We don’t have to do this.”

More than one person has turned and looked at the both of them. Michael squares his jaw. “Let me in. Please .”

That seems to do it. Alex sniffs, nods, and then opens the door to let them both into the room.

It’s adequate, for military digs. There’s enough room for a single-size bunk, a desk, some storage, and a little extra in the middle for breathing room. It’s a room befitting an Officer. There are no posters like Alex used to keep taped to the wall next to his bed, and he’s never been a trinket kind of guy. Michael tries not to let his gaze linger, focusing instead on Alex, who drops his bag next to the desk and turns to look right back.

Michael struggles to remember what he was going to say.

Alex’s expression shutters back into horrific neutrality and he shakes his head. “You don’t have to do this, Guerin,” he says. “It was my fault. I let myself get too casual with you. I thought it might help with --”

“With my problem?” Michael doesn’t mean for the words to come out so harshly, but he’s never been able to reign in his reaction when faced with an impassive, immovable Alex. It makes his skin crawl with desperation, to reach out and grip him, to shake him and make him understand that Michael can never be neutral about him. “Jesus, Alex. If that’s the only reason you’ve been playing nice recently, if that’s the only reason we’re friends --”

“What?” Alex’s mouth opens in surprise. “No. That’s not what I --”

“Unless we’re not friends at all,” Michael continues, relentless. He takes a step towards Alex, around the desk. Alex takes a step backward.

“I didn’t know,” Michael says, softer this time. He doesn’t have to clarify; it’s obvious what he’s talking about. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Alex’ jaw clenches. He looks away. “Because I didn’t want you to look at me like you are now.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Like I’m less than I was.” At Michael’s pained noise: “It’s fine, Guerin. I’ve gotten used to it.”

“Alex.” Michael says, taking another step towards him. This time, Alex doesn’t step backwards. “If you think for one second that would change how I look at you --” He pauses a moment to demonstrate, dragging his eyes down what he can see of Alex’s body when he’s dressed like this, lingering on the places that draw the heat into the pit of his belly, before finally meeting his gaze again. Alex’s breath hitches. “Then you’re crazy.”

He waits for Alex to snap back with some clever retort, or to revert to soldier mode and order him out of the room, but he doesn’t. He just stands there and shares Michael’s space, eyes fixed on him like there’s nothing else in the room. For the first time since Alex arrived on the base, Michael thinks he might not be alone in wanting what he wants.

It’s stupid. He’s going to get kicked out on his arse.

He doesn’t care.

Michael kisses him.

He surges forward like a tidal wave with a target and only one purpose; to kiss the ever-loving shit out of Alex Manes. He expects to hit a stone wall and doesn’t, is met with a similar amount of force that threatens to smash teeth and tear lips until Michael readjusts, trades raw ferocity for focused desire and suddenly the slide of their mouths is perfect, frantic and wet.

Alex’s fingers grip at his curls, almost to the point of painful, manoeuvring his head to the side so that Michael’s where Alex wants him and their mouths can slot together at an angle and fuck, fuck. How has he lived without this? No one moves him the way Alex does, physically or metaphysically, and the way that Alex’s tongue slips into his mouth like it belongs there has him feverish in seconds. Alex has him by the curls but Michael has him by the hips and soon Alex’s back is pressed against the concrete wall of his room, with Michael following the hard lines of his body.

Talking is fine. Kissing is brilliant. But this? Bodies pressed flush against one another, one of his legs between Alex’s, pinning him to the wall but really just keeping him as close as possible, swallowing Alex’s moans… it’s the kind of peace that he hasn’t known in a long time. Alex is the only person who can get him this worked up and make him feel this fucking tranquil at the same time. The chaotic nature of his mind is stilled and he doesn’t have to think; it’s the only time he’s ever felt this way outside of the drift.

Which is why he keens at the loss of Alex’s mouth, chases his lips even as Alex starts to speak.

“We can’t,” he pants, hands still tangled in Michael’s hair. “Guerin, we can’t.”

Michael drops his head to Alex’s shoulder and nearly bites his own tongue off trying not to grind against him. He feels feverish and Alex is like a cool balm that’s just out of reach.

“It kind of feels like we can ,” he counters, hands still gripping Alex by the hips.

Alex shakes his head, even though he’s still holding Michael just as tightly, and gulps for air. “You’re -- I’m an Officer . I’m in a position of authority. I’m in charge of you.”

Michael lets out a groan at that, and this time he really can’t help the stutter of his hips against Alex’s.

“Oh my god,” Alex says. His hands fall to Michael’s shoulders and push at them desperately.

Michael steps back, dropping his own hands to his side, clenching them into fists to force himself not to reach out again.

“Alex --” he starts.

“No.” Alex holds up a hand, using the other to rub at his face. He looks wrecked . His lips are red and swollen, his shirt’s all twisted, his hair’s mussed, his pupils blown… “This can’t happen.”

Michael’s gaze snaps to Alex’s. “Because you’re an Officer,” he says. “Because you’re in charge of my training.”

Alex nods, swallowing thickly.

“And that lasts until I’m fixed. Until I can drift drama-free.”

Another nod.

Well, okay then.

Michael reaches out and straightens Alex’s PPDC jacket, keeping his fingers curled around the lapels just enough to be anything but casual.

“Alright Officer,” he says, leaning in close enough that their noses almost brush. It’s nothing compared to the contact they’d had moments ago, and yet somehow it’s just as heady. “Fix me.”

Chapter Text

Michael hears voices at the door to the room. He recognises Marshal’s voice, and Cameron’s, from the sound of it.

“And you’re sure it wasn’t just a suit malfunction?” Marshal asks.

“Yes sir,” is Cameron’s answer. “We checked everything over. Twice. There’s no way the suit would have malfunctioned that badly without prior sabotage.”

“Very well.” There’s a weariness to Marshal’s voice that Michael’s never heard before. “I want the full report before the end of the day.”

“Of course, sir,” Cameron says. “But sir --whoever this was did a damn good job of covering their tracks. We can’t find anything.”

He sighs. “Let’s up the security then. Quietly. I don’t want our people panicking about a human threat as well as an alien one.”

“Yes sir.”

Michael tries to open his eyes, tries to stay awake, but the drugs pull him back under and into sleep.

When he comes to again, Isobel and Max are on either side of his bed, looking down at him with concern.

“Michael?” Isobel gasps, when she sees his eyes open. She reaches forward to take his hand -- the one not bandaged and stented.

Michael licks his lips. “Hey,” he greets them hoarsely.

Isobel lets out a wet noise and presses kisses to his hand, exhaling with relief. Max touches his shoulder gently on the other side of the bed.

“Hey bud,” he says. His face is paler than usual, his expression haunted.

“--happened?” Michael manages to ask, when Isobel has leaned back to look at him.

“Your suit malfunctioned,” Isobel explains, then looks like she’s going to cry again. “Oh Michael. It was so awful. You just kept screaming…”

“-- ‘m okay, Is,” he assures her, though the burning pain in his left hand says otherwise. He looks around the room; definitely still on base then. Something occurs to him: “Where’s Alex?”

Isobel and Max share a look. Michael’s stomach drops.

“He’s -- gone,” Isobel explains carefully. “Transferred to the base in Los Angeles. He left with his father yesterday.”

“What?” Michael moves to sit up and immediately finds himself fatigued. “No, Is. You’re wrong. He wouldn’t leave, not unless his dad made him.”

“Stop moving,” Isobel orders him. “Or I’ll go and get a doctor, I swear.”

“He put in the transfer request, Michael,” Max tells him gently.

That makes him stop, sinking back into the bed with the kind of bone-deep defeat he’s only ever rarely felt in his life.

Alex left. Alex asked to leave and he did it without saying goodbye.

Michael’s suit was sabotaged. He was severely injured and has apparently lost days . His suit was sabotaged and Alex left with his father.

He closes his eyes, feels tears prickling at the corners of his vision, and tries not to make any connections. Alex would never hurt him. Jesse Manes was a homophobic dick but he wasn’t stupid enough to sabotage jaeger tech. Alex cared about him.

But Michael was lying injured in the medbay and Alex had left with his father.

*

Training does not get easier.

Michael’s not sure why he thought an impromptu makeout session in Alex’s quarters might make Alex ease up a little, or distract him enough to let his guard down, but he was wrong. Alex turns up to training the next day with the same level of professionalism and stubborn determination as all the days before. His cool detachment might have driven Michael crazy if he didn’t have the memory of Alex’s hard body pressed between him and a wall. It might still drive him crazy.

“You look -- pleased with yourself,” Isobel comments at dinner the next night.

Dinner is actually just her forcing the three of them to sit in the mess hall at the same time with food in front of them.

“Do I?” he asks nonchalantly, shoving a potato in his mouth.

Her eyes narrow at him. “You’re progressing with Alex.”

Michael drops his fork and looks at her. “Is, come on. No mind reading at dinner.”

Isobel smiles sweetly at him, informing him that he’s made a mistake. “I didn’t have to,” she says. “It’s completely obvious. You might as well have it written all over your face.”

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face, he can’t help but smile when he drops it back to the table though. “Yeah,” he allows.

That makes Isobel clap her hands together and lean over the table. “Something happened,” she says, and even Max shakes himself into paying attention. “I knew it. Spill, Michael.”

Michael shakes his head, cheeks heating in embarrassment. They’ve been in his head; they know intimately what he’s gotten up to with Alex in the past but it’s been a long time since he’s had to talk about it without them knowing the details first.

“There was -- we kissed,” he admits, feeling like a shy teenager again.

Isobel raises an eyebrow; an instruction to keep going. Max just smiles at him encouragingly.

“That’s it,” Michael continues. “He said that we can’t be involved while he’s the Officer in charge of my training.”

“Huh.” Isobel makes a disappointed noise and leans back in her chair. “Boring.”

“Isn’t that good?” Max asks, looking between them in confusion. “That he’s being a professional?”

“Sure,” Isobel agrees. “It’d just be nice if one of us was on the way to having a healthy adult relationship.”

“He didn’t say no ,” Michael argues. “He just said -- not now . Besides, what kind of healthy-ass relationship are you pursuing?”

She turns her nose up and sniffs. “That’s none of your --”

“I asked Liz out!” Max exclaims, a little loudly. He looks around the mess hall in embarrassment before turning back to Michael and Isobel, who are wearing twin expressions of surprise. He tries again: “I uh -- she said yes. We’re going out to dinner on Friday.”

Michael and Isobel exchange a look before they both round on Max.

What?!

*

The past few days of training have been purely physical; working Michael’s body until all he can do is go back to his bunk and crash into sleep. No alcohol or acetone required. Which is why he’s not surprised to walk into the Kwoon room one morning to find Alex sitting on the floor, a notepad and Michael’s file lying beside him.

“I knew it,” Michael mutters as he flops down onto the ground in front of Alex. “I knew you were wearing me out so you could interrogate me.”

Alex flashes him a smile, a genuine one, and that alone could heal all of Michael’s hurts.

“You’ve figured me out,” he agrees. “I still think the answer to your dilemma is psychological, not physical, but it’s good to keep you in shape for when you get back to piloting.”

There’s another good reason to keep in shape, Michael thinks. Something that is totally going to make all the yoga worth it. He doesn’t voice that thought though.

“Alright,” he says, toeing his boots off and throwing them to the side of the mat.

“Just like that?” Alex asks, surprised. “You were reluctant, last time.”

Michael looks at him across the three feet of space between them. “I didn’t have the proper motivation last time.”

The hitch in Alex’s breathing is barely noticeable but Michael has spent hours watching him, cataloguing every reaction.  They don’t come as easy as they used to, shoved down by the sheer control that Alex holds now, but for Michael that only means a challenge. And any challenge that involves Alex Manes is hardly a chore.

“Well then,” Alex continues, as if nothing has happened. “I’ll go first. What do you like best about piloting?”

Michael doesn’t even have to think about his answer. “Being linked with Max and Is.”

Alex rolls his eyes but when the expression is coupled with a slight smile, Michael can’t find it in him to be insulted. “Okay. Besides that . Something that has nothing to do with Max or Isobel.”

“Uh.” Now he does have to think. His connection with his siblings is always at the forefront of his mind, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other parts of this gig that he loves. “I mean, piloting 2,500 tons of ass-kicking robot isn’t exactly a chore,” he says, closing his eyes as he recalls the sensation of being inside the suit, leg muscles straining as the three of them walked the jaeger forward. 

“Tell me,” Alex presses, soft.

“We’re out there fighting giant aliens. In the ocean, for the most part,” Michael continues, trying to find the words. His mind has always been chaos; half the time he barely knows how to describe his feelings to himself, let alone out loud and to another person. “It’s dangerous as shit but I’ve never felt more powerful than when I’m in that cockpit. When the three of us are synced up, when we’re moving like we’re one person…” he shakes his head and opens his eyes to glance over at Alex. “I don’t know. I can’t think of many times in my life that I’ve felt that safe.” He doesn’t add: and one of them was with you .

Alex looks pleased with that answer, if a little sad.

Michael sucks in a breath. “My turn, right?” He’ll do anything to wipe the sudden melancholy from Alex’s face.

Alex nods.

Michael throws him a grin. “How long you been thinkin’ about kissing me?”

Alex fixes him with a withering stare. “Really, Guerin?”

Michael opens his hands and shrugs helplessly. “That’s my question. Pass if you want.”

He expects Alex to square his shoulders, to shake his head and choose to pass because this is too personal, it’ll break the thin veneer of professionalism they’re still maintaining. Instead:

“The first hanbō spar.”

Michael’s breath catches in his throat. That long? Fuck, Alex. What are we doing? 

“Not from the second you stepped off the helicopter and saw my beautiful face?” he teases instead. He wonders if Alex understands the implication; that Michael’s been thinking about kissing him since he stepped foot back in San Francisco.

Alex laughs nervously. “Actually, I did my best not to look at you then. I wasn’t sure how I was going to --” he shakes his head.

“I noticed,” Michael drawls, but he can’t help how pleased he feels at this news. “You just looked over me like it was nothing. I thought --” he licks his lips. “I figured --”

“Guerin.” Alex says his name softly, ducking his head to catch Michael’s gaze. “Of course not.”

They stare at each other until Michael can’t ignore the desire to close the distance and kiss him. He takes a deep breath and nods. “Your turn.”

Alex smiles at him, then he’s all business again. He thumbs lightly at his bottom lip as he thinks and Michael has to dig his fingers into his thigh to keep from reaching out.

“When you sync at the start of a drift,” Alex starts. “And you run through all your memories in your head, are there any that stand out to you? Ones that are clearer every time?”

Michael releases the breath he’s been holding. It’s not a completely unreasonable question; Alex is speaking from experience after all, talking about the rush of thoughts and feelings and memories that your consciousness pushes you through, like a speedrun through the timeline of your life.

“Meeting up with Max and Is,” he replies after a moment. “When I got shipped back to Roswell. Just seeing them and having them there in my arms.” He smiles at the memory. “That one’s always the brightest. The first time we all synced up. The first time we took down a kaiju.” He lets his eyes droop a little and his lips curl into a smirk as he looks over at Alex. “There’s a few others that stand out. One or two in this room. One in the abandoned cockpit of a jaeger. That one’s my favourite.”

Alex’s expression doesn’t change but he doesn’t roll his eyes or look away either. Then, without prompting, he says: “That was one for me. In the drift. It was always so bright and vivid and Tess would tease me mercilessly about it.” He shakes his head and laughs gently. “Do you remember how cold it was?”

Michael nods. Of course he remembers. He remembers planning the date, telling Alex and calling it a date, of thinking it would be so romantic, just the two of them in the empty head of a robot, and the air had been so chill, so crisp…

“Are you sure we’re not going to get caught, Guerin?”

Michael grins as he lays down the blanket, the spare one taken from his bunk, then drops down next to the bag of food he’s managed to swipe. It’s just sandwiches from the mess hall and cans of soda, but he hopes Alex won’t mind.

“Stop worrying,” he says, reaching up to tug on Alex’s wrist. “I checked all the cameras.” Turned them off with his mind. “We’re fine.”

Alex relents and lets himself be pulled down towards the blanket. Michael changes tactic at the last minute and pulls Alex into his lap so that their chests are flush against one another. There’s no prelude, just a soft laugh and then they’re kissing, open mouth and sliding tongues, Alex’s hands gripping Michael’s shoulders as Michael’s fingers work slow circles in Alex’s hips. They’ve been dying to touch one another all day, sharing quick glances during training, their thighs pressed together as they tried to concentrate on the debrief amongst the other pilots-in-training. But they’re here now and Michael doesn’t want to waste a second getting his hands on bare skin; slow and patient can be put aside for later. 

“Fuck. it’s cold,” Alex curses, after his shirt has been discarded somewhere to the side.

“Don’t worry, baby,” Michael murmurs against his collarbone, pressing wet kisses to the skin of his shoulder. “I’ll keep you warm.”

The treasured memory stirs something different in him today. Alex had wanted him back then. He didn’t control and hide his feelings back then the way he did now and Michael had known, in a bone-deep sort of way, that Alex had wanted him. And apparently still wanted him, in some capacity. So why the fuck had things gotten as twisted as they were?

Whether he senses the shift in mood or not, Alex presses on. “Your turn.”

Michael’s brow furrows. It’s now or never. “Why’d you leave?”

He watches as Alex goes completely rigid with tension. He can’t hide the displeasure (the panic, the fear) on his face as he answers. “That doesn’t have anything to do with this, Guerin.”

“Maybe it’s part of my trauma,” Michael suggests, ruthlessly. “Maybe that’s part of what’s fucking me up in the drift.”

“That’s not fair and you know it.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have agreed to train me, given our history.”

“It was the only way to get a transfer.”

“...what?”

“Liz and Kyle were already talking about getting transferred here but there was no position open for me, now that I can’t pilot.” Michael’s heart clenches at the pain that crosses Alex’s face but it’s gone a second later. “Not until Marshall put out the call for this.”

“For me.” Michael nods, the sarcasm starting to leak out of him. “So glad I could help you get where you wanted to go.”

Alex levels him with a look. “I didn’t take the job until I saw that it was you.”

That makes Michael still, his breath quicken. “Why?” he asks, apprehensively. He’s not sure he wants the answer.

Alex takes a breath and then exhales slowly. Michael’s so distracted by the movement of his lips that he almost misses the answer: “I figured I owed you.”

Michael opens his mouth to snarl, to argue that if that was the only reason Alex was doing this, then he shouldn’t have bothered, but Alex continues before he can get the words out.

“And I wanted to see you.” He looks across the mat at Michael with devastating honestly. “I missed you.”

Michael wraps his arms around his knees so that he doesn’t crawl across the mat and show Alex exactly how much he missed him. Instead, he closes his eyes and inhales. “Then why did you leave, Alex?”

Alex lets out a shaky breath, looking away from Michael when he says: “Pass.”

It’s not fair, even though the point of the game was that either of them could pass a question if they needed to. He hadn’t passed any questions, not even the hardest ones, and Alex’s decision to choose this as the one to pass tastes bitter in his mouth, makes his heart clench with betrayal.

“Fine,” he says, unfolding his legs and moving to get up.

“Guerin…” Alex starts, looking apprehensive.

Michael pauses but shakes his head. “Nah. If you can’t even tell me why you left me blowin’ in the fucking wind, right after I got dropped on my ass in the medbay--”

“I left because I couldn’t bare to be the reason you got hurt, not after what my father did to you.”

Michael stops, swaying forward in confusion. “After -- what are you talking about?” he asks, even as his mind scrambles to catch up. Even as he realises the answer, before Alex continues.

“He found out, about us. He’s always been a homophobic bastard,” Alex says, running a tired hand over his face. He looks… wrecked. Devastated . “And he -- christ , Guerin, he --”

“He sabotaged the suit,” Michael finishes for him, and the room seems distant at this point. Far away and murky, like he’s not all there. “He sabotaged the suit that fucked up my hand.”

Alex nods slowly, but his head is in his hands now. He’s not crying but he looks like he might want to.

“Was it meant for you?” he asks, and Alex looks up in confusion.

“What?”

“Did he mean to get me?” Michael clarifies. “Or was the sabotage meant for you?”

Alex gets that devastated look on his face again. “I -- don’t know. I guess I always assumed he’d meant it for me,” Michael sucks in a pained breath. “But afterwards, when you were in the medbay, he said -- he threatened to finish the job. In the end, it didn’t matter who it was supposed to hurt. All that mattered was that it hurt you.”

Michael stares at him for a long time. He tries to slot this new information beside the things he already knew, tries to replace the things he’d thought and feared . But all he can focus on is the fact that Alex hadn’t just left him . He’d left, yes, but he’d had a reason. And that reason hadn’t been that he didn’t want Michael.

“I wasn’t afraid of him,” he says eventually. Alex actually looks relieved at the break in the silence. “I’m still not. You could have told me.”

The relieved expression turns skeptical. “My dad had just been offered Marshal at the LA base. He could have hurt you in a million ways. Ruined your career as a pilot. I knew how much that meant to you.”

Michael opens his mouth to deny it, or to at least argue that it wasn’t as important as Alex thought, but that's why they’re here, isn’t it? His career as a pilot.

“It’s okay, Guerin.” Alex fills the gap when Michael fails to speak. “I don’t regret the choice. I don’t regret keeping you safe from him.”

He closes his eyes and makes a pained noise. Fuck, he wants to kiss him so badly, wants to reach over and wrap himself around Alex to be sure of his presence, to reassure them both that they’re here and alive . He doesn’t, because Alex told him not to, so he presses his hands into the mat beneath him instead.

“I just wish you’d talked to me,” is all he says. No accusation in his tone, no bitterness. Just tired resignation.

“Well, we can’t change the past, but I do know what I want to try next,” Alex says, pulling back into himself and righting his posture, an Officer in charge again. “Let’s put you in a drift. I can monitor how you go, we can talk strategies…”

Michael’s not sure what his expression is doing, but Alex immediately looks apologetic.

“Not with the twins,” he amends. “With someone else. Guerin, don’t look at me like that. It’ll be better to get an idea of how you react to drifting with someone else, to see if the problem is just as bad--”

But Michael has stopped listening and started panicking. He can’t drift with someone who isn’t Max or Isobel. He could probably manage it, if he was compatible enough with him, but he can’t . There are too many secrets in his brain and exposing someone else to those would put him, the twins, and that person at risk. He can’t bare the thought of putting Max and Is at risk. Of revealing their secret and ending up a specimen in one of Liz’s holding tubes, next to kaiju parts. He can’t, he can’t he can’t .

“That’s it, Guerin. Breathe with me,” Alex’s voice is saying. Michael distantly registers the hand on his shoulder, the feeling of Alex close. He’s copying Alex’s breathing without thinking about it; in and out, slow and even. He starts to come back to himself, the blur of his vision clearing 

“It’s okay,” Alex says kindly. “If you’re not ready for that, we can just --”

“No, that’s not it.” Michael shakes his head. How can he explain that he’s so ready to try the drift again but that he can never open his mind to anyone else? How can he tell Alex that without sounding crazy, without having to tell him everything? “I am ready, I just -- I can’t --”

He looks into Alex’s confused gaze and sighs. Today is going to be a day for truths, apparently.

“Alex,” he says swallowing thickly. “I have to tell you something.”

Alex nods, the kindness in his expression unwavering. “Anything.”

There’s a loud knocking on the door of the Kwoon room and they jump away from one another like they’ve been hit with a livewire. Old habits die hard.

The door slides open to reveal Maria’s worried face. “We need you down in Liz’s lab,” she says in a rush. “Both of you.”

They’re both on their feet in seconds, Michael reaching out to help steady Alex, before retreating a fraction.

“What is it, Maria?” Alex asks, even as they both move towards the door. Michael grabs his boots on the way.

“I don’t know exactly,” she tells him, though there’s an urgency to her tone that suggests she knows enough. “Something to do with the kaiju.” She sticks her head out in the hallway, looking around, before ducking back into the Kwoon room. “I think she -- I think she revived one.”

Michael and Alex look at each other. Alex is frowning. Michael imagines he looks as utterly confused and concerned as he feels.

“Right, let’s go,” Alex says, and follows Maria out of the room.

Michael pulls his boots on and runs after them.

Chapter Text

Whatever scene Michael expects to walk into, what he finds is not it.

Liz is leaning against one of the lab desks, with what he assumes to be blood staining her white coat and the shirt underneath. Rosa is standing next to her, arms crossed but leaning towards her sister supportively. Max is on the other side of the room, sitting against the wall looking pale and scared, the tell tale signs of using his powers. Isobel is next to him, hand on his shoulder and waste bin held in front of him. The Marshal is already there as well; he’s staring at the large glass tank that holds Liz’s dead kaiju specimen.

Only the specimen is very much alive and jabbing at the glass with one of its… tentacles? The brain is still clearly intact and the threads of muscle and nerve tissue attached to the back of it are acting like arms or tentacles, reaching out and sliding across the glass of the tank, occasionally pausing to jab at it.

“What the fuuuck?” Michael breathes.

“Liz!” Alex moves across the room with Maria in tow. “You’re hurt.”

Liz shakes her head, eyes wide. “No. No, I--”

“Babe, you’re literally bleeding,” Maria says, moving to press a hand against Liz’s coat.

Liz’s eyes focus and she shakes her head more firmly, patting Maria’s hand away. “No, it’s okay. It just knocked over a few of my beakers. It’s just chemicals.” 

Maria pauses, hand hovering just in front of Liz’s chest. “Are you --sure?”

Liz nods, her gaze flickering to Rosa and then over to Max. “Max got to it before it could hurt me.”

“Yes, let’s talk about it ,” Marshal says, dragging his eyes from the glass tank and in Liz’s direction. “Explain yourself, Dr Ortecho.”

Liz runs a shaky hand down the front of her coat. “Sir. I’ve been monitoring the secondary brain that we took from the category III. I noticed that it was maintaining constant, weak brain activity. I wanted to see if I could increase the brain activity, to see if it would reveal anything about the brains of the full kaijus.”

Marshal gestured to the glass tank. “This seems a little more active than just monitoring and observation.”

“Yes sir,” Liz agrees. “I wanted to take a tissue sample, to determine whether or not the brain is deteriorating without a body, and it --” she sucked in a breath. Rosa reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “It attacked me with its residual spinal cord.”

“The tentacles,” Michael supplied, when Marshal looked confused. “Each one’s a tract that you’d find in the spinal column. Only this brain’s not from the head, so it's got more tracts, ‘cause it had more things to connect to.”

Liz nods, looking impressed even through the shock. Michael doesn’t miss the wide-eyed look that Alex gives him, but he’s not about to address it right now.

“Was it some kind of reflex?” Marshal asks.

Max shakes his head. “No, sir. It moved like it had intent. It reacted to my movements. Changed its behaviour.”

Marshal rubs a hand over his face tiredly. “Alright. No one goes near that thing until I decide what to do about it. Dr Ortecho, get yourself down the medbay and have Dr Valenti look you over.”

“Honestly, I’m fine Marshal -”

“Not negotiable,” Marshal interrupts her. “Everyone out of this lab. I want it secured for the time being.”

Liz looks like she wants to argue but Rosa tugs on her arm gently and she relents, following her sister out of the lab. Maria takes a moment to look to Alex, who nods, before she leaves the room as well.

Alex stepped over to Michael, his expression apologetic. “Sorry,” he says, not quite low enough to be  a whisper but enough that Michael has to lean forward a little. “We can talk later?”

Michael blinks. He’d nearly forgotten the conversation that this drama had interrupted. He swallows thickly. “Uh, yeah. It’s fine. No rush.”

Alex offers him a soft smile and then slips out of the lab after the others.

Which just leaves him, Max, Isobel, and Marshal.

“I said everyone ,” Marshal says.

The three of them shuffle out of the lab and towards their room. They’re silent until the door shuts behind them and Max has a bottle of acetone in his hands, which is when Isobel turns a glare on Max.

“Explain. Now.”

Michael’s gaze flicks between them, waiting.

Max looks pained, and still a little pale, which is concerning. “I didn’t have a choice,” he says.

Michael’s eyes narrow in response. “What the hell does that mean?” But his mind is already catching up, remembering the red stain on Liz’s lab coat. “It wasn’t chemicals, was it?”

“No.” Max shakes his head. “It -- the kaiju -- it hurt her before I got there.”

He can see the moment that it registers on Isobel’s face and she tears herself away from Max, turning around and cursing loudly.

“How bad?” Michael asks, because Liz is still his friend.

Max looks over at him with a haunted expression. “Bad,” he says.

Michael sucks in a breath.

"So you went ahead and resurrected her, Max?" Isobel demands. "She's a scientist . She dissects aliens! She's going to have questions ."

"When we joined the program," Michael starts. "We had one rule; keep the secret. This blows the whole thing out of the water and --"

"What if it had been Alex?" Max asks, and Michael feels all the air leave his lungs in a rush, but Max isn't done. He turns to Isobel. "What if it was Rosa?"

Isobel scowls but they know each other too well. Max has pressed the two buttons he knows will work.

"Fine." Isobel snaps. “But we need to contain this. Michael and I will go and talk to her. I’ll get in her mind, see what she thinks she knows. And if I have to-”

“No, Iz. Let me talk to her.” Max pleads. “Please. I want to tell her.”

It’s the wrong thing to say. Isobel looks at him in disbelief, and then over at Michael, looking for support. As if to say “can you believe this idiot?” Except, Michael’s frozen with indecision. Weeks ago he would have readily agreed, even last week would have seen him rousing on Max the same way that Isobel was. But he couldn’t do that now; hadn’t he just been about to tell their secret to Alex?

“Michael, oh my god .” Isobel’s in front of him and grabbing his shoulders, apparently still able to read him like an open book, despite not having been in his head for weeks. “Tell me you didn’t.”

Michael shakes his head. “No, I was just --”

“You were thinking about it,” Isobel finishes for him, pushing off his shoulders and taking a step back. She runs a tired hand over her face, clearly despairing over her brothers.

“Thinking about what?” Max asks. He’s got a little bit of his colour back now that he’s halfway through the acetone, and Michael’s glad for it.

Isobel gestures angrily at him. “He wants to tell his officer .”

Max blinks at him. Michael stares back with an expression that dates him to protest.

“Uhh…” Max says.

“It’s not because of that!” Michael protests, dropping down onto the edge of his bed. “He wants me to drift with someone else,” he explains. “If he knew why I can’t do that -- I just want this probation thing to be over.”

Isobel scoffs and he turns to glare at her.

“For more than one reason,” he clarifies. “I was going to drift with him two years ago; he would’ve found out everything back then. Why can’t I just tell him now?”

Isobel sits down on her own bed and sighs, resting her elbows on her thighs and leaning forward. She looks thoughtful, then her expression turns stoic again. “The timing’s off, Michael,” she says, apologetically. “We need to deal with this. Let’s figure out what to do about Liz first, then we’ll decide what to do about Alex.”

“So, you’ll let me talk to her?” Max asks.

“If you promise not to fuck this up,” Michael answers, answering for them both. Isobel tries to catch his gaze but he doesn’t want to see the apology or pity on her face, so he keeps glaring at Max. “But if she turns out to be a threat, Max…”

“I know.” Max nods his head. “I think we can trust her though. She didn’t say anything, back in the lab.

“Just let us know the second she becomes a problem,” Isobel says, standing up. She still looks pissed, but Michael figures that she has every reason to be. She’s only trying to protect them all, just like they do for each other. She heads to the door, but pauses just as she goes to open it and turns back to look at them. “And don’t ever throw her in my face again, Max.”

Then she opens the door and leaves.

Max turns to him. “Well, that was --”

“Nuh uh.” Michael shakes his head and stands up. “I’m pissed at you. I get why you did it, but I’m pissed at you.” He runs a hand through his curls and sighs. “And now I gotta go and lie to Alex. Again.”

Max’s face falls at that. “I’m sorry, Michael. I know the timing’s bad --”

“It’s fine,” Michael lies. No matter how pissed at Max he is or how fucking crushed he is about the Alex situation, his first instinct is always to protect his siblings. No matter what. “Probably wouldn’t have gone through with it anyway. This just gives me a reason not to.”

“Michael,” Max says softly, but Michael waves him off.

“Go and find Liz,” he says. “And fix this shit. Before Iz pops a blood vessel.”

“I don’t think we can do that.”

“It was a joke, Maxwell. Go and find Liz.”

*

Michael’s on edge for the rest of the day. He snaps at some poor tech assistant who tells him that technically you’re not allowed in the jaeger cockpit, even just to sit in it, sir. 

So, he plants himself on one of the high-up bridges in the shatterdome instead, level with the tops of the jaegers. He scoots towards the edge so that he can rest his arms on the lower railing and swing his legs over the side.

The crews move across the floor of the dome, attending to their work. Sometimes it's jaeger repair, sometimes it’s just maintenance. Either way, there’s usually sparks flying off of metal somewhere in the base, the whirring of tools, the turning of wheels and engines. At the entrance to the rest of the base, underneath a large digital clock showing time zones (here, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Moscow, Lima, Panama City, and LA), the Kaiju Clock ticked away. Not its official name, but that’s what Michael calls it. It’s about as pleasant as calling it the War Clock. Liz called it the Doomsday Clock and Michael had laughed so loudly she’d had to smack him back into reality.

It’s not anywhere close to making his mind quiet, but he likes to sit up here sometimes when the hustle and bustle of the base gets to be too much. Or when he knows somebody's going to be looking for him in the hallways below. 

That’s not why he’s here today. The only person who will be looking for him will know exactly where to find him.

“How’s Liz?” he asks at the sound of the footsteps. Alex’s slightly uneven gait seems so obvious now against the metal that Michael still can’t believe he hadn’t picked up on it. Except that Alex clearly hadn’t wanted him to know about it. Maybe they were both just too good at hiding things.

“She’s fine,” Alex tells him, coming to a stop next to him. “Turns out it really was just chemicals all down her front.”

Michael exhales slowly. So, she’d kept the secret so far. That’s good. “Glad to hear it. I’ll mourn for the lab coat though.”

Alex chuckles and Michael basks greedily in the sound.

“I think she’s a little more worried about the loss of the chemicals,” he says. “And the introduction of a pet. Can I sit?”

Michael gestures to the empty space beside him. “Should’ve thought of that before she attached electrodes to its brain,” he comments, turning to watch as Alex lowers himself down onto the metal, legs crossed beneath him.

“Probably,” Alex agrees with another chuckle.

They sit in companionable silence for a little while, letting the sounds of the activity below wash over them. When Michael sneaks a look at Alex, he’s leaning back on his hands, eyes closed and a smile on his face, and Michae;’s heart clenches at the sight. Alex has been so guarded since he marched back into his life; if earning smiles from him had been a fun challenge before, it was a desperate need now. To see him with his guard down, to see those soft eyelashes pressed to skin, to see his chest rise and fall with each easy breath; Michael wanted to live in this moment forever. He wanted to take it and put it in his pocket, to carry it with him and know it’s there when he needs to remember how Alex looks with the light of the shatterdome illuminating his face.

“So,” Alex starts, breaking the spell. “What did you want to tell me?”

But like all things, Michael knew the moment had to end.

“It’s nothing,” he says. “I wasn’t -- it’s nothing.”

Alex opens one eye to look at him and cocks the eyebrow above it. “It didn’t seem like nothing.”

“I told you I can’t drift with anyone except Max and Iz,” he tries to explain. “I was trying to think of how to explain it to you without you thinking we’re all codependent.”

“You are all codependent,” Alex argues, albeit not unkindly.

Michael huffs a laugh, shaking his head. “Yeah, alright. Maybe we are. But that’s got nothing to do with this. Promise.”

“Then what is it, Michael?” Alex asks, and his voice is so gentle that Michael sags like his strings have been cut. He doesn’t want to lie to Alex anymore, almost as much as he wants to keep his siblings safe.

“I can’t have anyone else in my head,” he answers, and it’s not exactly a lie. “Even if it’s just to test the drift connection. I don’t trust anyone enough.”

There’s another few moments of silence and just as Michael’s starting to get restless, Alex lets out one of those big breaths of his.

“What if it was me?”

Michael blinks. “What?”

“What if I went into the drift with you?” Alex clarifies, hands resting in his lap now. He’s not looking at Michael, looking straight ahead instead, but Michael can’t tear his gaze from the side of Alex’s face.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I want you to pilot again,” is Alex’s answer. “And I think this will help. Or at the very least, will help us understand what’s wrong.” He turns to look at Michael then, expression soft and open. “We were going to drift, before. Why couldn’t we now?”

For so many reasons , Michael doesn’t say. Because I’m an alien and I can’t risk you knowing, not right now. Because then you’ll know exactly how I feel about you, and I’ll know how you feel about me. I was ready to know back then but I won’t survive it if you don’t feel this way about me now. Because I don’t want you to see every moment of the last two years.

“Things have changed since then,” he says instead, turning away. “I can’t.”

He hears Alex’s sharp inhale, and then the sounds of him trying to get up.

“No, wait, Alex --”

“It’s fine, Geurin,” Alex cuts him off, already on his feet. Michael scrambles to join him. “I understand that drifting is -- special. I know it’s nothing personal.” He turns to leave and Michael reaches out to grab his wrist.

“Like hell it isn’t!” he barks, then panics when Alex flinches away from him. “That’s not what I -- it’s not cause I don’t want to. I just can’t . I want to, Alex. I want --” he drops his hand from Alex’s wrist when Alex doesn’t react. He licks his lips and exhales a shaky breath. “There’s things in my head that I don’t want you to see.”

Alex makes a choked off noise in the back of his throat.

“Not before I tell you about them,” Michael adds quickly. “Outside of our heads. I just -- not yet . I need some time.”

Alex blinks at him. There’s no expression on his face per say, but Michael would almost swear he can see the confusion in his eyes.

“That sounds -- very grown up of you,” he says carefully.

“Had to happen at some point, right?” Michael jokes. Alex doesn’t laugh, but the air does feel less charged than it did a moment ago. 

He swallows and takes a step forward, then another, and then another, until he’s standing in front of Alex. “I mean it,” he says. Alex doesn’t move. He doesn’t flinch, so Michael reaches out to place his hands gently on Alex’s shoulders, leaning in until their foreheads are pressed together. “I want to tell you everything. I just need some time.”

Alex sighs. “Not to be that guy, but --”

“No idea,” Michael answers for him, thinking of Max and Liz and Isobel. “Trust me?”

“I do,” Alex murmurs, so quietly that Michael nearly misses it. He tightens his grip on Alex’s shoulders, just barely, in a silent acknowledgement.

They stand there, swaying just a little, for what must be minutes. It’s not nearly long enough.

“Guerin,” Alex starts, his voice still a quiet rumble among the sounds of the shatterdome. “We shouldn’t--”

"Please,” Michael asks, hands reaching up to cup Alex’s face. “Just. Just a little longer.”

He waits with patient desperation for an answer. Alex’s hands trace up his arms until they’re holding on gently to Michael’s shoulders, giving him the answer he needs.

Standing hundreds of feet above the floor of the shatterdome, surrounded by thousands of tons of metal marvel, they slowly exhale together.