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                Michael had wondered what it was about Kyle Valenti that he hated so much. Maybe it was the way he walked into a room all smug, as if a few years in medical school and a doctor’s coat could change the kind of person he was and the things he’d done. Maybe it was the fact that he was the one to stab Isobel with the antidote, or his self-righteous interferences in Michael’s private family business.

                But no. As he stood at one end of the Wild Pony, leaning against the wall with his arms limp at his side, a bottle of nearly empty beer in one hand, Michael realized the reason he hated Kyle Valenti was Alex. He watched as the two sat closely at the bar, huddled together as if in their own world. Kyle was laughing, and though Michael doubted he had the capacity to be very funny, Alex seemed to disagree as he laughed along with him.

                And Michael hated that.

                He hated the way Kyle ran his hand down Alex’s back as if they were accustomed to touching each other, hated the way Kyle raked his fingers through Alex’s hair as if they belonged there, hated the way Kyle clinked their beer bottles together every so often as if it was a secret kind of handshake that was unique to just them.

                It’d been weeks since he and Alex had spoken, and Michael realized that it was much easier to be apart from the airman when he thought he was the only one pining, that he was the only one who was in love. After finding out Alex felt the same way, after seeing Alex fight for them, there was nothing more bitter than watching him pull away again. Nothing worse than knowing that he’d had his chance, he’d had a real chance, and he’d spit it back in Alex’s face.

                Michael’s jaw clenched as Kyle casually threw an arm over Alex’s shoulders. His fingers tightened and untightened painfully when he realized that Alex didn’t seem to mind any of it. The way their shoulders brushed, the way Kyle smiled so comfortably around him, the way their knees nudged against one another as if they couldn’t contain their excitement, couldn’t run out of stories to tell each other, of things to say, and he hated, hated, hated every bit of it –

                People shrieked as every beer bottle and glass in the bar suddenly shattered, sending shards everywhere. Michael held up his own hand, shocked to see it covered in glass. He hadn’t felt the shock of his powers coming this time, but he could still feel the aftereffects – the electricity coursing through his veins, the compressions on his chest, the slight migraine – and he gasped.

                He looked up to find Alex holding his own hands up, covered in beer and dusting glass shards off his jacket. Alex, Michael thought and stepped forward. He had to check on Alex, to make sure he was okay, but before he could get any closer, he saw Valenti place his hands on Alex’s shoulders, trying to get his attention, asking him if he was okay, if he was hurt.

                Michael swallowed and moved away. He saw Alex look around the room and catch his eyes, realization dawning instantly, and Michael held his gaze as he stepped back, daring – pleading – Alex to follow him, to leave Kyle and choose him.

                Michael finally turned away at the door, his heart racing and his fingers trembling as he stepped outside, the cold air slapping his face, trying to sober him up, to tell him that this was important, that he had to be thinking clearly. For a moment, there was just silence, then the door opened beside him. He faintly registered a drunk mass of voices asking what had happened, another, louder voice reassuring them that they would get a drink on the house, before he caught sight of Alex, his brows furrowed as he stepped out, searching for Michael. When Alex found him, he sighed, his hands in his pockets as he let the door close behind him.

                There was a moment of silence, and then, “Kyle’s making sure no one’s hurt. They’re all too drunk to really care though, so you got lucky.” He stepped closer. “What the hell were you thinking?”

                But Michael just stared. Alex’s hair strands stuck out messily, his red cheeks looking as if he’d been standing out in the snow for hours, his eyes darker than Michael had ever seen them. He’d almost forgotten how long his eyelashes were, too. He wondered how long Kyle liked to stare at him, how many of Alex’s not-so-imperfect little secrets he’d found just by looking into his eyes.

                But instead of asking that, Michael said, “You don’t do that with me.”

                Alex blinked. “Do what?”

                “Smile,” he said. “You don’t do that with me. You do it with Kyle, you laugh with Kyle. Just not with me.”

                Alex stared, then sighed in that way he did when he could understand what Michael was trying to say better than Michael did, and Michael hated that, too. He hated how easily Alex could read him, to see into his thoughts, his heart – it was strange, and unfamiliar, and terrifying.

                “Kyle’s my friend,” he said, his voice soft. “Okay, Guerin? That’s it, he’s just my friend –”

                “I hate him, Alex,” Michael confessed, and he knew it was stupid, and unfair, and it wasn’t his place, but he couldn’t help it. Lying to Alex’s face once before had left a heavy weight in his chest that he had yet to get rid of, he couldn’t do it again. “I hate how close he gets to you, I hate the way he looks at you sometimes, like he needs you.”

                “He does need me sometimes. And I need him.”

                Michael felt a lump in his throat. “W-What?”

                “Not like that,” Alex said and stepped close enough that Michael could lean his forehead on his shoulder if he wanted to, and he wanted to, but he didn’t know if Alex would let him touch him. “I know that it would hurt you if I said that Kyle means more to me than a friend, a brother, and I should. I should hurt you, Guerin, it’s only fair after what you did.”

                Michael swallowed and looked down, his nails digging into the brick wall behind him as he braced himself for the words he knew he’d never be able to take, but then he felt Alex’s arm brush against his and he looked up to see the airman lean against the wall next to him.

                “But the world’s not fair,” he sighed, “and I can’t do it. I could never lie to you like that, Guerin.”

                “Alex…”

                Alex searched his face, and Michael couldn’t help but glance at his lips. He wanted so badly to surge forward, to capture Alex’s mouth in his, to pull him against his chest and hold onto him, to inhale his scent, and touch his skin, and hear him moan, but just as he raised his hand to cup Alex’s cheek, Alex’s eyes seemingly caught something and he grabbed Michael’s wrist, keeping his hand away from his face.

                Michael’s eyes remained half-lidded, a furrow in his brows. “What is it?” he asked in barely a whisper, unable to say anything louder than that. “What’s wrong?”

                Alex’s fingers tightened slightly on Michael’s wrist, and Michael could feel the desperation in his hold, begging Michael never to leave him, never to go anywhere.

                Michael was just about to reassure him that he would never leave his side again when Alex said, “Your hand’s uninjured,” he said, though his voice was quiet and his eyes were avoiding Michael’s. “That’s good.”

                He let go of Michael’s hand and moved away. “I’m going back inside.”

                “What? Whoa whoa whoa,” Michael snapped out of his haze and reached for Alex’s arms, holding him close and still. “Wait a minute, wait, what happened, why’re you going back inside?”

                “I told you about my hand, remember? I told you,” he said as he stroked Alex’s cheek. He just wanted Alex to stay. Even if they didn’t do anything, he couldn’t have Alex walk away from him again. He didn’t think he could take it.

                “Yeah, I know,” Alex said, an indescribable look in his eyes as he stared at Michael. “Max fixed it. Not because you asked him, not because you wanted it, but because Max decided. You wanted to keep it, right? So it could remind you of every horrible thing in your life that I was a part of. So it could remind you to stay away.”

                “What? Alex, no –”

                “Guerin, yes,” Alex said, sounding tired. “That’s what all of this has been about. It’s why we can’t talk, it’s why we’ve been making each other so miserable. You didn’t want me to get close, you didn’t want me to tell you that I love you because if I did, then I wouldn’t just be a painful memory anymore, and you don’t know how to see me as anything other than that.”

                “That’s not true,” he said. “I… I…”

                He clenched his jaw. Damn it.

                Alex shook his head. “You can’t even say it, can you?”

                “Alex –”

                “I love you, Guerin,” he said, his hands coming up to Guerin’s jaw. “I love you. I never thought I’d be able to say those words out loud, but I have. Just lower one defense, just for me. Show me I’m more to you than a nightmare’s son.”

                Michael stepped close enough that their chests were pressed against one another, and he opened his mouth, ready for the words to pour out of his lips, but when nothing came out, he felt Alex’s fingers slowly slip away from his face.

                “See?” he whispered, though the disappointment in his eyes told Michael he’d actually hoped he would be wrong. “I was right.”

                Before Michael could say anything else, to attempt to rectify the situation, to explain that he loved Alex more than words could ever say, Alex stepped out of his hold, and Michael found his arms falling to his side as Alex went back into the bar. There was a brief moment of music and drunk chattering – the broken glass evidently forgotten – and then the door closed, and Michael was plunged into silence once again.

                He was wrong, he realized. There was something worse than Alex walking away from him. It was the look on his face, the one that told him that Michael had broken his heart in ways that couldn’t be fixed, before he’d left.