She breaks into the first time his mind's gone quiet in years by calling his name. It's not that she calls, it's how. Shocked. The chord trails off in a jarring jangle when his fingers hit it.
He opens his eyes. Her gaze is fixed on his hand as she comes forward with slow steps.
“Did you-” Maria DeLuca, woman who needs no one, drops on her knees before him like a supplicant. “Your hand is healed.” She takes it from the guitar's neck and cradles it, manipulating fingers that had been scarred talons.
Even before she looks up at him, before the plea crosses her lips, he realises he will not tell her.
He loves her, but it cannot compare to how much he loves Max. Not yet and now, not ever.
It's a shit choice to make, but then Michael's used to making those. He will protect Max from his messiah complex, will protect their secret, even when it means denying Maria access to a miracle cure for her mother.
She doesn't chase after him when he runs out of the bar.
He sees the glow from a distance. For endless, heart-stopping seconds he believes his Airstream is on fire as he races back to it. He stops his truck with screeching tires and stumbles out into the resulting dust cloud. Coughing from taking a relieved breath he takes in the perfectly controlled campfire through watery eyes.
A clear circle, chairs set back from it. A bucket of sand and a bucket of water, both his own. A hunched shilouette holding a stick with a sausage on it, as well as a stick with a bun, a bit higher up, to toast it. A boyscout couldn't have done it better.
“Alex,” he gasps, hands on his knees.
The figure casts a glance over its shoulder but doesn't speak.
“You-” Thinking better of talking to the man's back, he comes around and sits two chairs over, the middle one colonised by a bag of buns and a package of hot dogs he'd bought last week.
“If you didn't want me to break in to your trailer, you shouldn't have tried to stand me up, Guerin.” He inspects the bun, drops the sausage into it and picks up the mustard from between his feet, jammed with the other condiments into Michael's hat, now reduced to serving tray.
“You stayed away,” Alex interrupts, pointing the hot dog at him. “Deliberately.”
Michael closes his eyes. This was why he didn't want to even start the conversation. His eyes snap open again when he feels something warm being folded into his hands... that drips.
Alex has crouched in front of him. Is giving him the hot dog, with a toasted bun and soaking in mustard and mayonaise, just the way he likes it. When he dares to look up, stern eyes pierce him, hold him splayed before a gaze that hurts, hurts so damn good to meet.
The hand cradling his now brings the food to his face. “Eat, you idiot.” Steel gaze now gone soft and firm, holding him up. He bites, closes his eyes so he can fully appreciate the celebration in his mouth.
He hears Alex exhale shakily and move away. Plastic rustling. He takes another bite.
Minutes pass. Alex cooks his own hot dog in silence and lets the fire burn lower before he turns back to Michael. “How's today, for talkin'?”
Michael's ribcage loosens up, opens and sags back into itself in relief. “Worse.”
Alex munches on the last of his hot dog, thoughtfully. “Want me to come back tomorrow?”
“No.” Michael's voice cracks in the middle. He holds out his greasy hand. “Can you stay?”
Alex eyes his hand and then drops a napkin into it. Michael takes the hint and wipes his hands. “I have to meet my physiotherapist at noon.”
They finish the hot dogs between them before slumping against each other in bed, two boys hiding from the evil world for a while.
Isabel barges into the trailer a little after midnight. Turns out, Michael should have dragged his damned brother out of Noah's cave by his ears if he wanted to save him from playing God.
They melt down the silver she brought in the junk yard's oven before they head to the cave, and take Michael's kit for taking pod samples along to complete the mix.
An inconsolable Liz has already brought Max to their pods' cave and undressed him. When her hands shake too much, a blanket-clad Rosa holds her while Isabel and he rub the mix all over his lifeless brother. It feels too much like embalming him.
Alex stares at Rosa while they do it. “You died ten years ago.”
“Yes,” she says.
“How...” he asks, trailing off. Rosa points at Max, half-covered, before folding herself around her sister again. It is hard to tell who is worse off.
He scrubs a hand through his hair and pulls out his cell phone. “Kyle, hey...” His voice trails off as he exits the cave.
Michael spares him one regretful glance before his focus is back on Max.
It takes them an hour to heave the glistening silver corpse into the glowing pod. This is becoming too familiar.
Liz sets two hands on it and has to be dragged out by the shoulders. Isabel walks out with all the grace of a clockwork doll.
They go to the hospital, because that is where Alex has arranged for them to deliver Rosa and Liz into the hands of Kyle Valenti and Arturo Ortecho.
Rosa Ortecho is as healthy as a recently resurrected nineteen-year-old in a twenty-nine-year-old body can be. Kyle signs her up for therapy and won't hear a word against it.
“Defective pod,” mutters Isabel, frowning and, right. Noah had been immobile, but not in stasis, aging naturally until he turned into a vampiric killer. His sister elbows him. “I can hear you.”
He frowns in her direction. He's feeling numb, not angry. “How?”
“I, I was practicing at home when my connection to Max went cold.” She shakes her head. “I think some of the power spilled over from him to me. It's like standing in the sun when before I was working in the shade. More clarity but... almost overexposed.”
“Okay.” Well, then. He should probably be jealous, but one of his siblings is mostly dead.
She looks at him. “The serum. You still have a little bit, right?”
Isabel calls over to Liz, who goes from desolate to determined in zero seconds flat when she hears the news. She even manages a smile for him. “Turns out your deviant ways are good for something after all.”
“Yeah.” So maybe it is just a bad day, rather than a disastrous one.
Word about Rosa's miraculous return from the dead gets around within hours.
Frantic knocking on the door to his Airstream turns out to be the last person he wants to see, right then. Maria.
She doesn't yell, which is worse. “You owe me an explanation, Michael,” she says.
He nods. Yes, maybe. Definitely. Secrets have never brought him anything but grief.
“And you thought that native American healer was another one.”
“Are there other ones?”
“Where are they?”
“I'm sorry,” she actually says, when he tells her about Max. This girl is way too good for him. She leans her head against his. “I hope Liz will be able to save him.”
“Yeah,” he breaths out, and that is that. He refuses her mother his brother's healing and she just takes it on board, because she is a person that loved far more selflessly than he. Well, that bringing back Rosa had pretty much killed his brother also plays a role, but. Still.
He feels the familiar black quagmire of self-hatred come bubbling up from where it has been kept at bay by Maria and Alex over the past two days. She slaps him on the back of the head. “This is why I send you away, you know, can't stand what you do to yourself in that damn-fool head of yours. Gives me a headache.”
He rubs his curls, which, damn, those feel greasy.
The rumble-squeak of a car stopping on the edge of the yard brings both their heads up. “Uh,” Alex says when he sees them sitting there, pizza box in one hand. “Should I come back another time?”
Maria shakes her head and stands. “No, I need to open the bar soon. You see if you can talk some sense into that idiot.”
Alex catches her elbow when they pass each other. He cocks his head while he looked down at her, concerned. She smiles up at him, squeezes his arm. Then she leaves, sway in her hips and waving without turning around. “Don't do anything I wouldn't, boys.”
Michael watches Alex take the seat Maria has abandoned.
“Want a piece?” Alex opens the box and puts it in front of Michael's nose. Salami and pineapple.
Michael gives him the stinkeye and takes the biggest slice, picking off the pineapple and tossing the pieces as far away as he can.
Alex smirks at him and makes his battered heart melt. Charming asshole.
“How's about that talk?” Alex asks, when the pizza is done and the night grows cold.
“Can we do that tomorrow?” Michael sighs.
Alex nods and gets up. Pauses when Michael grabs his wrist and begs him with his eyes to stay.
“I've got a bag in the trunk,” Alex says, before padding off to throw the box away.
"My bed is bigger than yours, you know,” says Alex when they are settled.
“Tomorrow,” Michael mutters into his shoulder.