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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.