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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.

Chapter Text

                It was strange, Michael thought, exhaling a deep breath. He ran his hands down Alex’s chest, their foreheads pressed together. He surged forward and caught his lips in an open-mouthed kiss, reveling in the sound of the airman’s moans, the way his arms came around Michael’s shoulders, holding him close.

It was strange, the way Michael’s hands automatically went to Alex’s legs, spreading them further apart underneath the blanket as he thrusted in deeper, the sound of their heavy breathing filling the trailer. Ten years since they’d slept together, and Michael still knew where Alex was most sensitive, what gave Alex most pleasure. Ten years and he still held Alex like they’d spent their entire lives together.

Michael couldn’t feel himself in control anymore, but his body pushed Alex down further into the bed as if reassuring Michael that it knew what to do, that it knew how to take care of Alex. He threw his head back, his mouth hanging open as he hit Alex’s prostate. Alex moaned loudly, writhing and cursing underneath him. Michael stayed there, deep inside Alex, and pressed his lips to his forehead.

“Guerin,” Alex breathed, his chest rising as Michael’s fingers created a trail, and Alex arched into his touch as his hand went further down.

“I own you,” he breathed against Alex’s ear, biting his lower lip as Alex’s fingers ran through his curls, tugging on the strands, and he felt his body react exactly as it did that day, ten years ago, when he’d felt Alex’s hands on him for the first time. He’d never felt anything like it since.

                His heart raced so quickly Michael feared it would stop, his hands trembled against Alex’s chest and stomach, the fire in his gut grew hotter and hotter and hotter, and Michael had to keep himself from thrusting wildly.

                When he did move, he moved slowly, his thrusts long and drawn-out. He shivered at the feel of Alex’s hands in his hair, on his back, on his ass, pulling him deeper in. He wanted this to last forever.

                His cheek rested against Alex’s, and he could feel Alex’s hot breath against his ear, sending another wave of electricity down his spine. Michael’s thrusts turned even slower, rolling his hips as he dug into Alex’s prostate.

                Alex groaned Michael’s name loudly, his nails digging into Michael’s back. Michael bit Alex’s shoulder as the two came at almost the same time, the pleasure coursing throughout his entire body, making him tremble as he held onto Alex.

                They panted heavily against each other’s mouths, and Michael took one look at Alex before he was taking his lips in his, kissing him slowly, their tongue brushing against one another. Michael finally pulled back and laid down beside him.

                Michael watched as Alex breathed softly, his eyes closed, his long lashes curled against his rosy cheeks, his lips swollen and his hair a dark mess, the strands sticking out as if he’d been out in the wind. And Michael smiled.

                “You’re gorgeous,” he breathed before he could remember that he was Michael Guerin, and Michael Guerin didn’t say this stuff.

                Alex’s brows furrowed and he looked over at Michael, the corner of his lips turned upward. “What did you just say?”

                Michael exhaled slowly, his eyes closing as his hand went to Alex’s arm on its own, keeping him there. “Even your voice is incredible.”

                Alex laughed. “Are you drunk or something?”

                Michael opened his eyes, searching Alex’s face. “I don’t know, I just feel incredible.”

                Alex smiled softly and leaned forward to peck Michael’s lips. “Yeah. Me, too.”

                He tried to pull back, but Michael chased his lips and kissed him again, and again, and again. He tilted his head, deepening the kiss, his hand already going to Alex’s stomach before his brain even realized what he was doing.

Alex laughed, and gently pushed at his chest. “You’re so eager.”

I can’t help it, Michael wanted to say, inhaling Alex’s scent as he moved down, kissing Alex’s chest, his stomach, his thigh. You’re close enough to touch, and you haven’t been since that day, and it’s like…

“Kiss me,” Guerin whispered against his lips, and Alex’s gaze softened. He barely managed to nod before Guerin’s lips were on his, kissing him hungrily.

His body moved once again on its own, caging Alex underneath him, keeping him close and safe from the outside world, and Michael thought that Alex was right. He was eager, every muscle in his body begging to get closer to Alex, to feel his lips, his warmth – just as it did that day, when Michael had asked if he and Alex could talk, only to feel his passion and desperate need to have Alex close, take over – and Michael smiled into the kiss.

It’s like something out of a memory.

Chapter Text

“Seriously?”

                “What can I say?” Michael smirked. “I’m a menace to society.”

                Max glowered at his brother from behind the bars, his arms crossed. “You know this is pathetic, right? If you want to talk to him, just talk to him. It’d make all of our jobs a hell of a lot easier.”

                Michael stood. “You don’t think I’ve tried? The guy’s freaking military, Max, if he doesn’t want me near him, it’s gonna be damn hard to get near him.”

                “Getting yourself thrown in a cell every day is not what he wants, and you know it,” Max said, his expression softening. “We need him, Michael, and because of you, he’s started to hesitate coming in here. You have to stop.”

                “No, Max,” Michael shook his head, holding onto the bars. “I need him. And he won’t talk to me. I’m running out of options here.”

                Max pursed his lips, then sighed. “You want me to talk to him for you?”

                “No offense, buddy, but I don’t really need a wingman,” Michael said. “Especially not my own brother.”

                Max scoffed. “You need all the help you can get.”

                “Who’s going to need help?” Alex suddenly said, walking in, his eyes on the papers in his hands. Michael, without really realizing he was doing it, stepped closer to the bars, trying to get as close as possible to Alex.

                “Oh – uh –” Max tried, but before he could get a word out, Alex looked up and his eyes caught Michael.

                If Michael wasn’t who he was, if he hadn’t known Alex as well as he did, then he may have missed the subtle way Alex tensed, the way his fingers tightened ever so slightly on his papers, the way his eyes seemed to shine for a split second, only to be shadowed with an overbearing darkness that spoke of resignation.

                If Michael hadn’t known Alex, he might’ve missed all of that. But he did know him, so he hadn’t.

                “Sorry about my brother,” Max said, but Michael couldn’t miss the way Max moved aside to give Alex a better view of him.

                “Bar fight?” Alex asked, his eyes on Michael, and Michael shrugged a shoulder. Alex then looked to Max, and as he approached them, he said, “Then what are you apologizing for? You’re not the one in a cell.”

                His tone was curt, his stand cold and distant, as if Michael was a common criminal. Part of Michael knew he should sit back down, to stay quiet for the remainder of the time that he’d be stuck here, to think of another way to talk to Alex, but he couldn’t move. With Alex so close, Michael felt himself drawn to him, his body refusing to pull away from the bars.

                “I finished up those security details you wanted,” he said, handing the papers to Max. “Fixed a few miscalculations, looked over the entry and exit points. Pretty basic stuff, but I wanted to doublecheck everything.”

                Max looked over the papers, and after a while, nodded. “Alex, this is amazing. Hey, thank you for coming in, all your help. I know you’ve been busy lately, with your enlistment period ending.”

                Alex’s brows furrowed. “Wait, how’d you know my enlistment period was…” he trailed off, and Michael saw him glance at him before quickly looking away, sighing. “Right. Well, don’t worry about it. I’m glad to keep busy.”

                Max looked like he wanted to say something, his eyes softening as they usually did just before one of his comforting talks, except this time, Michael knew it would be on his behalf. To his luck, before Max could say anything, his two-war radio sounded on his belt, and he picked it up.

                Michael only heard static as he focused on Alex who was looking over his work again, though Michael had the strong suspicion he was just doing it to avoid having to look at the cowboy. He didn’t know if he felt great or sick about that.

                Before he knew it, Max was talking about needing to head out, and he asked Alex if he wanted a ride back with him. Michael swallowed, his hands tightening to fists around the bars as he thought about Alex leaving, but Alex shook his head, smiled, and said he would drive himself back.

                Michael barely registered Max walking out, his eyes on Alex, trying to figure out what to say.

                “Are you hurt?” Alex suddenly asked, his eyes down.

                For a second, Michael thought he’d heard him wrong, but when Alex glanced at him, he cleared his throat, and smirked. “Uh – why? You wanna nurse me back to health?”

                Alex rolled his eyes and started to walk off, but Michael, in a panic, grabbed his sleeve through the bars. “Okay, alright, I’m sorry, don’t leave. I’m sorry.”

                Alex raised a brow at him, and Michael let go of his arm, holding his hands up in defense. “I was just… trying to make you laugh.” When Alex looked unimpressed, Michael swallowed and said, “Just – just a few bruises.”

                He shook his head. “If this is your attempt at getting my attention –”

                “—it is –”

                “—it sucks,” he said. “Do you have any idea what this past week has been like? Walking in every morning just to see you beat up? Most people use a phone, Guerin.”

                “Would you have picked up?” Alex said nothing, and Michael pursed his lips. He wasn’t completely surprised, but he would be lying if he said he wasn’t disappointed. “I didn’t know you hated me that much.”

                Alex frowned. “I don’t hate you, you know I don’t. Don’t say that again.”

                Michael’s eyes caught Alex’s, and when Alex looked away, Michael stepped closer, the two a mere few inches apart. He loved seeing Alex in jeans and flannel, the shirt folded at his forearms, a watch and a string bracelet from Maria’s mother on his wrist – so rugged, so grownup, so…

“You look good,” he said quietly, searching his face. “How’ve you been?”

                “Better than you, apparently.” He shook his head. “Guerin, you have to promise me you’ll stop doing this. You’re going to get seriously hurt.”

                “You know none of those bastards could touch me if I didn’t want them to.”

                Alex scoffed, looking at Michael incredulously. “So you’ll risk either breaking a bone or revealing your secret?”

                “If that’s what it takes to talk to you,” Michael said, coming as close as he could to the bars so that his body was pressed against them, and he was close enough to Alex to whisper. “You’re avoiding me, and I can’t – I can’t take it.”

                “We survived ten years without each other.”

                “No, this is different, you know it is. You’re here and you’re not here at the same time.”

                “I tried to be here, and you threw me away,” Alex whispered, but it was enough for Michael to feel his anger and pain vibrate through him.

                Alex’s eyes shimmered with unshed tears, and the words died in Michael’s throat. “I was terrified, and I took a chance for you, and you chose someone else. What do you want me to do? Smile every time I see you? Laugh with you like we’re best friends? Like seeing you doesn’t kill me? What?”

                “Alex…” Michael trailed off. Even when he had nothing else to say, Alex’s name came to his lips, but what could he say to wipe that look off his face? The one that told Michael that he just didn’t trust him anymore? The one that hoped for a word of comfort, but knew he wouldn’t get one?

                He opened his mouth, not knowing what would come out, when Max walked back in, a struggling skinny man, Joel, in his hold.

                “Found this idiot right outside,” Max said as he handcuffed Joel to his desk, seeing as how Michael was occupying the only cell there. “Drunk out of his mind.”

                “Only one who’s drunk is you, Sheriff,” Joel slurred. “You saw the way that filthy Mexican looked at me! If I hadn’t pulled a gun out, he woulda’!”

                “Yeah, yeah,” Max said. “Meanwhile, you’re always here.” Michael noticed Max harshly close the cuff around his wrist, and he snorted. “Maybe it’ll give you time to think, or, you know, whatever that mess of a brain usually does in its spare time.”

                Max sighed, his hands on his hips. “You guys good to stay here with him for a bit while I go draw up the paperwork? He’s harmless.”

                Michael pressed his lips together, wondering whether or not he should remind Max that both he and Alex were perfectly capable of keeping themselves safe no matter who was locked up in there with them, but before he could make the retort, Alex politely said, “Don’t worry, we’re fine.”

                Max nodded, ignoring Joel’s accusations of unjust treatment as he walked out.

                “I didn’t do nothin’ wrong,” Joel complained as Michael tried to speak to Alex, though Alex looked like he was done talking.

                Michael stuck his tongue in his cheek, and quickly, he lost patience. He and Alex both snapped at Joel to “Shut up!” and the racist seemed to realize then that he wasn’t alone in the room.

                His eyes glossed over Michael and settled on Alex, and his expression soured. “Oh, great,” he whined. “I’m really screwed if the fag is outside the cell. This whole country’s goin’ to the flower boys and caravans!”

                Michael stared. “The hell did you just call him?”

                Joel narrowed his eyes. “You his boyfriend or somethin’?”

                “Guerin, stop, don’t engage with him,” Alex said calmly, seemingly unbothered by the insult. “He’s not thinking clearly.”

                “When is he ever?!”

                “Hey,” Joel whistled, “freak! The sheriff’ll listen to you. You tell ‘im to let me go, or I will make your life a livin’ hell, boy. I can do it, I have that power.”

                “Good for you,” Alex said thoughtlessly, his focus on his papers, then he mumbled to himself about security details.

                He was so busy with his thoughts, he didn’t notice Joel grab a stapler with his free hand, but Michael did. Joel threw it, and just before it hit Alex’s head, it froze in midair. Alex didn’t look particularly startled that it was flying, only that it had been stopped, though Michael’s glare was more focused on a shocked Joel.

                Michael felt his blood boil, the energy coursing through his veins, his head throbbing as he forced the stapler open, turning it against Joel in the air.

                “You,” he growled, “are gonna pay for that, you asshole.”

                “Damn it, Guerin, stop!” Alex hissed, taking the stapler in his hand. While Joel stuttered behind him, he turned to face Michael, his voice low. “What were you thinking?”

                “He was going to hit you!” Michael said. “Now, get out of my line of vision so I can blow him up.”

                “I can look after myself,” he said, and went to place the stapler on the opposite side of the desk, all the while, Joel stammering nervously.

                “Hey, d-did you see that? That stapler flew, did you do that? Hey, freak, answer me –”

                Joel grabbed Alex’s arm, and Michael saw panic flash across Alex’s face for only a split second before he grabbed Joel’s wrist, turned his arm, and in a flash, Joel’s face was on the desk, his arm twisted painfully over his head as he screamed, Alex pressing down.

                “Grab me again,” he said quietly, his voice dark, “and I’ll tear your arm out of its socket.”

                Joel wailed loudly, tears running down his drunk face as he screamed, “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry, p-please!”

                But it was as if Alex couldn’t hear him, his eyes out of focus.

Michael moved his lips, his words silent. “Alex,” he finally said, his voice soft, but it seemed to be enough to wake Alex out of his trance.

                The airman blinked, his brows furrowed, and once he realized what he was doing, he stepped back quickly as if Joel had been on fire. He held his own hands up in front of him, his expression a mix of shock and horror.

                “Alex,” Michael tried, “Alex, it’s okay.”

                “I – I have to – go, I…” Alex backed toward the door as Max came in.

                “Alright, Joel, let’s get this over…” he trailed off, looking at the mess of papers on the ground, the crying Joel slumped over his desk, the distressed look on Michael’s face, and he frowned. “What the hell happened? Hey, Alex, are you okay?”

                Alex nearly jumped at Max’s hand on his shoulder, muttering quick apologies as he hurried out, despite Michael calling him to come back.

                Max kept his eyes on Joel as he approached Michael. “Okay,” he said, his eyes dark, “what’d you do to Alex? What’d you say to him?”

                I-I look in the mirror, and I… I don’t even see myself sometimes. I see my father.

                Michael shook his head. “I don’t think it’s what I said, Max. I… I think it’s what I didn’t.”

Chapter Text

“How is he?” Michael asked as soon as Kyle stepped out of the hospital room.

                Kyle frowned, tilting his head at Michael. “How long have you been sitting here?”

                Michael’s head fell against the wall to properly look up at the surgeon, his entire back having gone numb from the countless hours of being here, his arms resting on his knees, his fingers fiddling nervously. They were still covered in Alex’s blood, as were Michael’s sleeves. He hadn’t bothered washing it off.

                “How is he?” he repeated instead of answering, and Kyle sighed.

                “He’s fine, the bullet’s out. Luckily, it missed his major organs.”

                Michael swallowed, his fingers tightening to fists. “And the wound? How bad is it?”

                “It’s closed, Guerin,” Kyle said, his voice surprisingly soft. “I sealed it, and in a few weeks, he can come back, and get the strings removed. He’s fine.”

                Michael tapped his fists against his knees, nodding. “Great!” he exclaimed, “That’s great, good, it’s good – I’ve been feeling a little guilty cause, you know, if I hadn’t asked him to hack into those secret government files, he wouldn’t have been there when we were ambushed, and he wouldn’t have… gotten shot.”

His words turned quieter and quieter until he stopped talking completely. He realized what he was doing, and blinked, snapping himself out of his thoughts. “But uh – that’s good, that he’s okay because I can – I can finally leave.”

When he glanced back up at Kyle, he saw him shaking his head. “What?” he said, defensive.

“Word of advice?”

“Not from you.”

“Don’t say that in front of Alex,” he said, and Michael frowned.

“Say what?”

“That you’re here because you feel guilty,” he said, and Michael went still. “He’s a lot tougher than you give him credit for, Guerin, but…” he shook his head, “no one’s that tough.”

Kyle walked away with the mention of coming back with Alex’s medication, but Michael had stopped listening. He clenched and unclenched his fists, staring at the white door beside him. Behind it, Alex was lying in a hospital bed, probably strung up to a hundred tubes, covered in a million bandages, his skin covered in deep bruises, burns, and scratches –

Michael gasped, his palms pressing into his eyes, trying to block out the mental images of Alex dying on a white bed.

He got to his feet, exhaling a long, shaky breath as he paced outside the door. He finally settled the debate in his head, insistent that until he saw Alex with his own eyes, he would just imagine the worst, and before he could convince himself otherwise, he pushed the door to Alex’s room open, and walked in.

He’d barely made it two steps before he froze. Alex wasn’t tied up to tubes, and he definitely wasn’t dying. He had a few dark bruises on his cheek, temple, and shoulders, and his lip was cut, but aside from that, his skin looked as smooth and soft as ever. He was sitting up, shirtless, attempting to slip his sneakers on.

“Whoa,” Michael hurried to Alex’s side, his hands on his chest, pushing him back. “What’re you doing?”

“You’re still here,” Alex croaked, looking like he’d just woken up.

“Yeah, and you’re…” Michael lost breath. He hadn’t noticed at first because Alex had been hunched over, but now, the bandage wrapped around Alex’s side was thick and apparent. He knew the wound had been big, but had it been deep enough that Alex needed this much force to keep it from bleeding?

Alex followed his gaze and sighed, lifting Michael’s chin with his fingers before immediately dropping his hand. “Stop it, I’m fine.”

“Yeah, no, I know, I just,” he nodded. “I – I know.”

Alex searched Michael’s face, his brows furrowed. “Guerin.”

“Hm?”

“Your hands,” he said, and Michael looked up from Alex’s bandages to find that his palms were pressed against Alex’s nipples, his fingers unconsciously stretching into his chest hair.

He blushed, pulling his hands back as Alex huffed a chuckle. “You’ve got to calm down.”

Michael rubbed his hands together, then realized Alex was reaching for his shirt, and he stopped him again. “What’re you doing?”

Alex blinked. “Getting dressed?”

“Why?”

A pause, then, “You’re not being very subtle here, Guerin.”

“Why do you need to get dressed? You know you’re not leaving, right?”

“Are you telling me what to do?”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Michael said, gently guiding Alex onto his bed. “Come on, lie back down.”

“I’m not going to – Guerin, would you stop for a second?” Alex held Michael’s wrists, his grip gentle. “I promise you, I’m okay.”

“Alex, you’ve been shot,” he said, his hands gripping Alex’s shoulders so tightly as if he was the only one anchoring him to earth. “It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to lie to me.”

Lie to you?” he chuckled. “Have you forgotten where I’d been the past decade? I’ve gone through a lot worse than a gunshot.”

Michael’s nails dug into Alex’s skin as he stared at him. “That’s not better, Alex!”

The fear and panic he’d been experiencing since Alex had been shot must’ve come through in his voice because Alex’s smile turned small, his brows furrowing as he watched Michael, and he nodded. “Okay. Okay, Guerin, I’m sorry. I’m lying back down, okay?”

Michael swallowed a sigh as he helped lay Alex against his pillows, his fingers running across the skin right above the bandages. He felt the fabric, his jaw clenching as he thought of the deep wound underneath it. When Alex’s hand covered his, and he looked up to the airman’s face, he noticed the dark circles under his eyes, his dry lips, his heavy lids. He was exhausted.

He barely registered Alex calling his name as he looked around the room, settling on a bottle of water on the small couch in the corner. He kept a hand on Alex’s bandages, while his other reached out as he used his powers to levitate the bottle to him. He grabbed it, holding it to Alex’s lips.

“Drink, you need to stay hydrated.”

“What – Guerin,” he barely had time to say before Michael was tipping the bottle. Alex drank what he could, large drops of water falling onto the bedsheet before he pulled back, sputtering and coughing.

“Damn it, sorry,” he said, patting Alex’s back. “Sorry, are you okay?”

“I’m –” he cut off, his hand on his torso. “God, my chest is on fire.”

“Fire,” Michael kept his hand on Alex’s back, rubbing soothing circles. “Maybe – uh – maybe you need some ice. Ice chips, or uh – maybe you’re just hungry.”

“Actually, Guerin, I think –”

“—no, eating might make it worse now. Maybe –”

“—listen to me –”

“—okay, I’ll go call one of the nurses—”

“—please just –”

“—forget it,” his fingers dug into Alex’s back as he muttered, “What do those morons know about anything? I could barely stand Valenti in here, touching you –”

But Michael’s complaints were cut short as Alex brought a hand around the nape of his neck, pulling him down and taking his lips in his own. Michael was initially surprised, but as Alex kissed his lips again and again, he melted into his hold, and his eyes fluttered shut.

Alex pulled away, but Michael kept their foreheads pressed together.

“I just… wanted you to stop talk – worrying. I wanted you to stop worrying.”

Michael swallowed, his eyes falling to Alex’s lips. He could feel the airman start to pull away, his hand slipping from Michael’s neck, but before he could separate them, Michael leaned down, brushing his lips to Alex’s before losing control and kissing him hungrily.

Alex made a startled noise in the back of his throat, and Michael ran a hand from Alex’s bandages, up his chest, and rested it against Alex’s jaw. He hovered over the airman, pushing himself closer to the bed, desperate to get closer, closer, closer.

When they separated to breathe, Michael panted, “You’re getting it checked every single day until it heals. That’s not up for negotiation, Private.”

Alex bit his lower lip and kissed Michael again. “Kyle’s the only one I trust to do it,” he breathed.

Michael groaned, pecking Alex’s lips. “Valenti?”

“You want people asking questions?”

He sighed, holding Alex’s face tight enough in his hands that the airman laughed, attempting to pull away.

“Fine, fine,” he said, bringing an arm around Alex’s shoulders, keeping him close, careful to avoid his waist. “I can compromise.”

“Good,” Alex smiled, his voice deep, his eyes already closing. “Now, get on this bed and touch me.”

                Michael smirked, leaning over Alex’s body only for his hand to come down to his stomach, feel the bandage, and panic. He pulled back with a gasp, his eyes immediately falling to where the wound should be, making sure it wasn’t bleeding.

                “Guerin?” Alex raised a brow, stretching a hand out to him.

                Michael raked Alex’s entire body; his chest, his arms, his hands, his stomach, his hair, his eyes, his lips – and he bit his own lower lip so hard he thought he could taste blood.

                “When you’re healed.”

                Alex’s eyes widened, as if he expected Michael to be joking, and when Michael kept his expression apologetic, his shoulders fell. “Oh, come on.”

                “I hate it, too,” he shook his head, “believe me, but I’m not gonna risk hurting you.”

                “Guerin, I –”

                Michael held up the bottle in Alex’s direction, and despite it being cold, it did nothing to calm his racing and heated thoughts as he watched Alex lay on his bed, his bare torso flexing, his bellybutton peeking out just below the bandages.

                He swallowed. “You want more water?”

                Alex pressed his lips together. “I was actually hoping for something a little thicker than water.”

                “Alex!”

                “I think I’ve earned it at this point!”

                “You’re not making this any easier, you know!”

                “Since when are you so obsessed with health?”

                “Just drink the damn water, Private!”

Chapter Text

                Alex felt like he was underwater. His body weighed down heavily, and aside from his own deep breathing and a faint alarm in the background, he couldn’t hear anything. He felt something warm trickling down his forehead, and as he reached to touch it, realized his hands and sleeves were covered in blood. Beads of sweat rolled down his neck, and Alex soon realized that the reason he’d been struggling to breathe was the abnormally high humidity.

                Alex attempted to sit up and nearly fell back down, a stabbing pain in his right leg. He clenched his jaw, taking in his surroundings. He was in the Project Shepherd bunker, though this one was destroyed, a red light flashing, somehow making everything darker. The computers lay on the floor, their screens cracked, some cut in half completely. The keyboards were burned away, files and glass and what looked like blood covered the table and floor.

                The alarm grew louder and louder until it blared in Alex’s head just as his eyes caught a pair of legs behind the table. Alex approached the body slowly, an inexplicable hesitance in his step, a dread building in his chest, as if trying to remind him of something urgent, begging him to stay away.

                Air Force, Alex thought, recognizing the uniform. When he caught sight of the face, he froze. There he was, soaked in a puddle of his own blood, his father lying with his dead eyes open and staring into space.

                Alex’s fingers trembled and he whispered, “Dad…”

                CRASH! Alex heard from the outside, and his head snapped to the door, his hand going to the gun which he usually kept on his belt, but he quickly realized his weapon had been taken from him. Alex kept his eyes on his father as he moved back, his memory of the past twenty-four hours flashing at the forefront of his mind. His father and Flint surprising him in a parking lot, kidnapping him, tying him to a chair with a promise that he wasn’t actually going to hurt Alex, but that Alex was meant to serve as bait for an alien monster.

                “You are the only person who’s touched part of that ship,” his father’s voice echoed in his head. “It’ll be drawn to you, but your brother and I will get to it before it touches you. Understand, son? I will not let it harm you.”

                Alex’s jaw clenched, his fists trembling, his eyes burning, though he wouldn’t shed a tear. “Damn it, Manes,” he whispered, “you psychotic son of a bitch.”

                CRASH! CRASH! CRASH!

                Panic rose in Alex’s chest as he fumbled for his father’s gun, wondering where Flint was. He looked around, terrified he would find his brother’s dead body limp against a wall or thrown into a corner, but he found no trace of Flint anywhere. As he cocked the gun, he was unable to help but glance at his father, an ache in his chest at the sight.

                “Dad,” he breathed just before the big door was suddenly torn of its hinges and flung to the inside of the bunker, crashing loudly against the wall.

                Alex aimed his weapon, trying not to stumble at the severe pain shooting throughout his entire body from his leg, but when his brother walked through the front door, seemingly unharmed, he lowered his defenses.

                “Flint?”

                But it was as if Flint couldn’t hear him, his eyes staring straight ahead. “Flint,” he tried, taking a step closer to his brother, and his eyes narrowed. Flint, Alex now saw, was not completely unharmed. The veins across his neck, face, and hands were black, leading all the way up the sleeves of his uniform.

                “Hey,” he said softly, cursing the tremble in his voice, halting in his steps, “can you hear me?”

                Flint slowly turned his entire body to Alex, tilting his head. Alex thought his brother might speak, reach out to him, anything to indicate that he needed help, but his expression remained numb, and before Alex realized what he was doing, Flint had pulled out the gun from his belt and started shooting at Alex.

                Alex jumped to duck behind the big table at the center of the room, careful to keep any limbs from poking out as a million thoughts raced through his head. His father was dead, Flint was clearly possessed, and no one knew where they were.

                Alex took a deep breath, pushing those other thoughts aside. If he didn’t focus, he was never going to make it out of here. He forced himself to exhale slowly. One thing at a time. He checked his gun and cursed; one bullet left. He considered the exits, and tightened his hold on the gun. There was only one door, and the whatever-it-was possessing Flint was guarding it. He looked around, looking for any other way out of the room, and his eyes fell on a small door in the opposing wall. The storage room.

                Alex tried not to panic as he considered that the only door out of the bunker would lead to his entrapment. As he expected, Flint’s gun eventually clicked emptily, and he took his chance, raising his weapon, but as he pointed it at Flint, he hesitated.

                It was weak, his family may have called it, but in that moment, he couldn’t help but remember long ago, before their dad had discovered that Alex was gay, when Flint had kept him safe from bullies at school, when he had let him play with his toy planes when he couldn’t stop crying, when he kept Alex distracted during their parents’ fights. And he couldn’t pull the trigger.

                His brother’s body was free of wounds, and Alex guessed his father had had the same hesitance. He glanced at his father, and knew that if he wasn’t going to shoot, he had no choice but to make an escape.

He thought of running to the door, roughly shoving his way past Flint who seemed to be without a weapon now, but just as he stood, Flint wretched one of the iron rails out of the ground, and held it up as easily as he would a baseball bat. Alex’s eyes widened as Flint approached him, and, not knowing what else to do, ran into the storage room.

The space was very small, and Alex, unable to lock the door, kept his back against it. He held the gun tightly with both hands, and gasped as the door behind him shook suddenly, as if Flint had thrown himself against it.

It’s no use, Alex thought. He knew he wouldn’t use the gun, he couldn’t be the one to kill Flint, even if it meant his own death. The door shook violently again, and Alex dropped the gun, his hands against the wood.

Guerin, he thought, as he always did when he knew he was about to die. Except this time, Alex couldn’t see a way out.

“Guerin,” he breathed, Michael’s name the only thing he could say, and Flint slammed into the door behind him again. It was stupid, to hope that Michael would suddenly show up, but if only for the last time, Alex wanted to see him one last time. He just wanted to see him.

*

“Drive faster,” Michael said, tapping his fingers nervously on his leg, his eyes narrowed at the distance in the road, half-expecting to see smoke rising or anything to explain this dread in his chest.

“I’m driving as fast as I can,” Kyle said. “I swear, Guerin, if you pulled me out of my rounds just so you could bother Alex –”

“I’m not trying to bother Alex, I’m trying to help Alex,” Michael said, then muttered, “Something’s wrong.”

“How would you possibly know that?”

“Just – I feel it,” he said, not caring that he sounded agitated. “Like a psychic link or something.”

“You mean like the one you have with other aliens?” Kyle frowned, shaking his head. “Guerin, that’s not possible, Alex isn’t one of you.”

“Would you just drive, Valenti?!” he snapped. “I hope I’m wrong, okay? I hope whatever this is, it’s got nothing to do with Alex, but I’ve had this weird heavy feeling in my chest since last night, and until I see him, I just know it’s not gonna go away.”

Kyle was silent a moment, then, “Maybe you just miss him.” When Michael looked to Kyle, he saw his eyes focused straight ahead, his fists tightening ever so slightly on the steering wheel. “And maybe this whole panic thing is an excuse to see him because you know that unless I take you to the bunker, unless I walk in first, he won’t let you near him.”

Michael clenched his jaw, his hands tightening to fists as the dread grew. He huffed. “If you really thought that, you wouldn’t be helping me.”

“Well,” Kyle said, “maybe I think Alex needs to see you just as much as you need to see him.”

Michael frowned. “What does that mean? Hasn’t he been okay?”

“Okay,” Kyle scoffed, shaking his head. “What do you think?”

Michael rubbed his chest at the ache that was only growing, every beat of his heart echoing Alex’s name, begging him to see Alex, touch Alex, hear Alex’s voice. And yet, part of Michael was relieved to know that Alex had been no less miserable about the distance and tension between them these past few months. The other part was flooded with guilt for being relieved.

“You better not make me regret showing you where the bunker is,” Kyle said. “I swear, Guerin, if you do anything to him –”

“I love him,” Michael growled in a way that told Kyle that was the only defense he needed. “Just because you guys have your secret clubhouse, it doesn’t mean you’re closer to him than I am.”

“We share a lot more than a clubhouse, Guerin,” Kyle said with a finality in his tone, but Michael wasn’t having it.

He was about to demand that Kyle explain what he meant when he got a sudden, head-splitting migraine, and he hunched over, gasping.

“Guerin,” he could hear Alex’s whisper, begging Michael to be with him. The ache spread to his entire body in an instant, and he felt a pain and fear he’d never felt before, every fiber in his being calling out to Alex.

It lasted only a second, but Michael still felt the tremble of it in his bones as he snapped back to reality, panting heavily. The car had stopped, Kyle’s hand was on his back, calling his name.

Michael shoved his arm aside and said, “We have to get to Alex, now.” Kyle asked what had happened while Michael’s hands were already on the dashboard. “I’m about to see how fast this thing can really go. Hold on to something.”

                Before Kyle could say anything, Michael channeled every bit of his powers into the car, forcing the tires to turn faster than they ever had. He heard Kyle yell a surprised, “Whoa!” as the car suddenly zoomed along the road, fast enough that the windows began to fracture, the car itself whistling as it raced against the wind, Michael and Kyle both pushed back into their seats, though Michael was sure to keep contact with the dashboard.

                The bunker was in view barely fifteen seconds later, and Michael slowed the car down. Before it had even stopped, Michael noticed Kyle’s face had fallen and before he could ask what was wrong, Kyle slowly said, “Where’s the door?”

                Michael frowned and followed his gaze to find that the door, which he assumed led into the bunker, had vanished, the doorway coated in rust. Michael narrowed his eyes, and his heart fell into his stomach. That wasn’t rust.

                “Blood,” Kyle whispered, and Michael opened his door, jumping out and falling into a run, calling Alex’s name. He’d barely made it two steps inside when he saw Jesse Manes, lying dead on the floor. His eyes widened as they looked up and caught Alex, held up against the wall by his neck, having not registered Michael even entering. The figure looked familiar, a picture Alex had shown him on a computer at some point, but Michael couldn’t seem to register more than the man’s hand around Alex’s neck, strangling him. His Alex.

                “Who,” he panted as he moved closer, “the hell… do you think you are?”

                The man turned to face him, and Michael stopped. He stared, his eyes wide. “Oh… you’re an alien.” His eyes went to the airman. “And you’re hurting him. Let him go before I tear you to pieces.”

                “No,” Alex choked, trying desperately to pry the man’s hands off his neck. “Don’t… kill… him.”

                “What? Alex –”

                “Alex!” Kyle appeared behind him, staring at the man, shocked. “Flint? What’re you doing?!”

                Michael raised a hand at Flint, trying to focus his energy on breaking his arm instead of blowing him up. Michael’s arm shook as he put everything he had into it, but this alien was strong.

                “Valenti,” Michael said through grit teeth, beads of sweat already forming on his temples, “who is this guy?”

                Kyle was slowly walking alongside Michael, his eyes on Alex. “He’s one of Alex’s brothers. Something’s wrong with him.”

                Michael’s eyes widened. “His brother?”

                Right then, the alien released Alex, and he fell to the floor, coughing violently, his right leg spasming. There was a dark bruise under his eye, his wrists were bleeding, his lip was cut, blood was streaming down the side of his face, and his neck was covered in deep purple bruising. And Michael saw red.

                He clenched his jaw as Kyle hurried to Alex’s side, the alien’s eyes on him now. Michael narrowed his eyes as he imagined Flint’s organs all compressing inside him, not enough to kill him, though it should’ve caused serious pain, and the alien abruptly stopped halfway to Michael. Flint looked confused for a moment, as if he knew there was something wrong but couldn’t put his finger on it, and he shook it off, continuing his path to the cowboy.

                Michael frowned. “What the hell?” and dodged the alien as it leapt for him. He crouched beside Alex and Kyle, using his powers to roughly throw Flint out the bunker. “I don’t get it,” he said, “even if he’s using that guy –”

                “—Flint –”

                “—as a vessel, he should still be able to feel pain. I attacked his body from the inside, he didn’t even flinch!”

                Kyle frowned. “If hurting the organs isn’t affecting him, it must mean that…” he trailed off, and their eyes widened as they all looked to each other.

                The alien reappeared at the door wearing Flint’s face, and Michael could see it. The black veins were frightening, but the dark circles under Flint’s eyes, his pupils several shades too light, his lips almost white.

                Michael swallowed. “He’s already dead.”

                Alex shook his head, looking like he was about to cry. “No…”

                Michael stared at him, at the way his head hung, miserable and pained… and he stood. “Alright, you bastard,” he growled, his hands clenched to fists at his sides. “Now you’re really gonna pay.”

                The alien barely managed to take one step before it was shoved roughly against the wall by an invisible force. Michael stepped closer, his hand outstretched towards the monster, imagining the devastated and broken expression on Alex’s face as he used every bit of power he had to breaking every bone in the monster’s body.

                As his powers grew stronger and stronger, Michael said, “Alex, close your eyes.” He looked over his shoulder to see that Alex had not done what he was told, but was instead staring directly at Michael, as if afraid that if he looked away, he really would fall apart.

                Michael held his gaze as he hesitated, then sharply turned his fist and Alex winced as the sound of Flint’s neck breaking echoed throughout the entire room.

                *

                Michael felt like he’d been standing here for hours, watching Alex stare blankly ahead at the white walls of the hospital room. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, despite Kyle’s insistence that he lie down.

                “Injured lung, a few broken ribs, a sprained ankle, and some serious nerve damage in your leg,” Kyle had said, his voice soft, his touch gentle and friendly as it always was around Alex, and for a short minute, Michael couldn’t find it in him to hate Valenti, not when Alex looked so numb. “That means rest, Manes. I don’t care how tough you are, you’re not leaving this room for a couple of weeks. Better get comfortable.”

                But Alex, of course, did not think rest was necessary. He’d sat up before Kyle had even left the room, and slipped his own jacket back on. And since then, he’d just stared at nothing, tugging on the hems of his sleeves.

                “How’s your leg?” Michael asked for what had to have been the tenth time, hoping that this time, Alex would hear him.

                “Fine,” Alex said, barely moving his lips.

                Michael swallowed and stood straight, gesturing to Alex’s jacket. “Would you maybe wanna wash that?”

                He shook his head slightly, and Michael hesitated before coming closer. “I felt you, Alex. Out there.” Alex said nothing, and Michael exhaled a nervous breath before he closed the distance between them, his hand brushing against Alex’s arm. “I knew you needed me, and it’s like… it’s like I couldn’t breathe until I saw you.”

                Alex didn’t react, didn’t speak, didn’t even look up. Michael swallowed and sat down beside him.

                “Look… I know you’re hurting right now, but…”

                “Can we not?” he looked to Michael, his eyes red and shining. “I just…” he shook his head, “I-I don’t know how to…” He closed his eyes, covering his face with his hands for a moment before he brought them down, exhaling a deep, shaky breath as he whispered, “My father and brother are dead, so can we just not?”

                “Alex, they were monsters. You’re better off –”

                “Guerin,” he croaked. “My father… and my brother… are dead.” A tear fell down his cheek, his fists shaking on his lap. “Okay?”

                Michael stared, and after a moment’s pause, nodded silently. He covered Alex’s hand with his own, his hold tight. Alex didn’t cry again, his muscles stiff under Michael’s touch, though his thumb stretched out enough to hold onto Michael’s finger. Michael looked at Alex to see his brows furrowed, though his eyes said nothing, and he wished that he would feel more than that, that their psychic link would allow Michael to feel rage, fear, grief, confusion – anything but nothing. But that was what he felt. Nothing.

Chapter Text

                No matter what Alex did, no matter how tightly he held his hands together, how hard he bit into his thumb, how badly he wished it would stop, his fingers continued to twitch nervously. He closed his eyes as images of his father’s and brother’s dead bodies flashed over and over in his mind, the sound of Flint’s neck as it broke resounding in his head, his limp body falling to the ground haunting his thoughts.

                Alex’s jaw clenched, his eyes shut tight. This wasn’t helping. He thought that if he’d come to the Wild Pony, if he’d gotten out of his cabin and actually sat amongst living, breathing humans, he’d be able to breathe a little easier, that the voices in his head would stop. But nothing worked. Nothing quieted them down.

                He rested his head on his folded arms, his nails digging into his elbows, the burn painful but not enough to make him forget. So much noise, too much nose, and he could still feel it. The tiny shards of glass that scratched his skin, the chains around his wrists and ankles, his brother’s hands around his neck, strangling him, his lungs burning as they begged for air that would never come, tears prickling the backs of his eyes, blood falling down the side of his face, and the chill that went down his spine as his eyes caught his father’s corpse, drawing him closer and closer until he saw those dead blue eyes staring at him –

                “Alex?” he felt a hand on his shoulder and all but jumped, yanked out of his thoughts to the music playing in the background, the light from the Wild Pony’s sign, the customers’ chatter, and Maria worried face from across the bar. “Are you okay?”

                “Yeah, yes,” Alex automatically said, looking around the place, half-expecting to find a dead body strewn somewhere, a fire started, a gun aimed at him, but when he found nothing of the sort, he exhaled a shaky breath and took hold of his forgotten beer bottle. “I’m – uh – yeah, I’m – I’m fine.”

                Maria’s frown deepened. “What happened to you?”

                Alex rubbed his face with one hand. “Please, just – don’t do that, okay? I really don’t want anyone in my head.”

                “It doesn’t take a psychic to know that something’s seriously wrong, Alex,” she said, her voice softening as she leaned closer to him. “Talk to me, what’s going on?”

                Alex bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood. He wanted more than anything to talk to Maria, but he couldn’t. Aliens and Project Shepherd shouldn’t even exist, so until the military could release an official statement that Jesse and Flint Manes died in service, Alex had been very cruelly directed to act as if he knew nothing.

                “Nothing,” he finally said, following the script, his voice quiet as his brother’s cold, dead eyes stared back at him in his memories. “Nothing at all.”

                “Alex…” Maria reached for him, and as soon as her hand touched his, Alex felt his father’s blood soaking his fingers, his brother’s hands on his neck, the chill as he thought he would surely die at the hands of his family run up his spine – and he flinched, pulling away with a gasp.

                “S-Sorry, I…” he shook his head, his hand trembling as he held it close to his chest. “I don’t know why I did that.”

                Maria swallowed. “Alex, you’re not okay. Do you, I mean – should I call Kyle?”

                “Maria, it’s not that serious,” Alex said, rubbing his fingers before he reached for his drink. “I just haven’t been sleeping that much lately.”

                Her brows furrowed. “What happened lately?”

                Alex shook his head, closing his eyes as the sound of gunshots grew louder and louder and louder, and his fingers tightened around his bottle until he felt the glass fracture beneath his grip. “War,” he said, his own voice lost to him under the sounds in his head, taunting him, reminding him that he’s a Manes man, and that above all else, his legacy was to suffer a life without any peace. Not even for a moment.

                Then, he felt it again. That pain in his leg, that blood seeping down the side of his face, the heavy BANG BANG BANG against his back as his brother beat the door behind him open – and he all but jumped off the stool to find Maria with her hand outstretched towards his shoulder.

                “I’m sorry,” she said, coming around the bar hurriedly with her hands up as if to prove she wouldn’t touch him again, “I’m sorry, I-I didn’t think it would – I thought –”

                But Alex wasn’t listening. He looked down at his hands, his brows furrowed, his jaw clenched. His very bones felt like they were vibrating, his heart was racing, his stomach felt like acid – what’s happening to me?

                “Alex, hey, look at me,” Maria’s soft voice pulled him back, and he’d barely caught her comforting eyes before he felt someone walk into him, and he violently flinched away.

                “Whoa, hey,” some drunk blonde reached a hand to him, “sorry, man, you good?”

                Alex moved from his touch, terrified that whatever had happened to him in that brief moment would happen again.

He glanced at Maria, unable to look her in the eyes for long, “Y-You know, it’s – uh – it’s getting late, I should go.”

And without another word, Alex walked out, ignoring Maria’s calls to him. He got into his car, his hands trembling on the steering wheel. The drive lasted twice as long as it should’ve because he stopped every so often, feeling like he was going to be sick. He came to another stop at a traffic light, and parked the car even as the light turned green. He was the only one on the road, the only person, he guessed, for miles now.

He rested his forehead on the wheel, the quiet around him doing even less to calm his racing thoughts than the bar had done. Alex covered his ears as the sounds grew – the screams, the growls, the shattered glass and shredded wood and clanging of iron against iron –

Alex’s own growls turned to screams as he beat his temples with his fists, begging his head to shut up, the thoughts to stop suffocating him.

His arms fell limply to his side after what felt like an hour had gone by, and numbly, Alex started the car again, and made his way back to his cabin. He caught a figure sitting on his porch, and at first assumed it to be Kyle. Then, he realized who it really was, and he frowned.

He climbed out of the car, his body aching with a fatigue he didn’t think was possible after everything he’d endured, and as he did, he said, “What’re you doing here, Guerin?”

He stood, hands in his jacket pockets. “You’re always coming over, thought I’d give it a try.”

“Uh huh,” Alex raised a brow at him, pocketing his keys.

Michael nodded, his lips pressed together. “It’s cold. Do you always get cold waiting for me outside?”

“I don’t mind it,” was all Alex said on that matter, and shook himself from that train of thought, walking past Michael. “Look, I get you’re trying to look out for me, but now’s not really a good time, okay?”

Michael moved, blocking Alex’s path, his eyes searching Alex’s face, his expression suddenly serious. “Have you been crying?”

Alex’s brows furrowed and he looked away. “Guerin, I’m tired, can we talk about this tomorrow?”

He made his way to the cabin, only to hear Michael following him. He sighed as he unlocked the door and walked in, blinking against the bright lamplight before his eyes adjusted. He didn’t have to look to know that Michael had come in as well, closing the door behind him.

“There’s a spare key under the potted plant by the door,” he said as he opened the fridge, reaching for a bottle of water. “In case you don’t want to wait on the front porch again.”

Michael had been watching him, Alex knew, but as their eyes met, he smirked. “You think I’m gonna keep coming back?”

I think you’re stubborn, he almost said, the cold water bottle against his fingers making him shiver. I think, despite everything, you care about me, and you like being around me.

But instead of voicing his thoughts, he took a sip of water and asked, “How long were you out there anyway?”

Michael shrugged, and had Alex not known him so well, he may have missed the way the humor in his expression turned forced. “You sounded weird when I called you.”

                “When you called me,” Alex repeated, and frowned. “Guerin, that was this morning.”

                Michael pursed his lips, his eyes focused on Alex as he approached him. “Was I wrong to worry then?”

                Of course, he wanted to say, I’m completely fine. But try as he might, the words remained stuck in his throat, as if his body wouldn’t allow him to lie to Michael.

                “Alex,” he stepped closer. “What happened with your family –”

                “I’ve been through worse,” was all Alex said, “I can deal with this, it’s just going to take some time.” Alex crossed his arms in an attempt to seem unbothered, and he moved around the counter to get as far away from Michael as he could without alerting the cowboy.

                He just forgot that Michael knew him fairly well, too. Michael’s eyes narrowed, and he took another step closer to Alex. Alex, unable to help remember what had happened when he was touched at the bar, stepped back.

                “Well,” he tried, “you’ve seen me, I’m perfectly fine, so you should probably –”

                “You’re moving away from me,” Michael said, cutting him off. “Why?”

                Alex’s hands clenched so tightly he felt the burn of his nails digging into his palms. “I’m not.”

                “Oh?” Michael suddenly moved so close to Alex that the airman, without time to think, gasped and stumbled backwards until he hit a wall. Michael stopped at a short distance from him. “Alex, what… why won’t you let me touch you?”

                Alex pressed his lips together, unable to think of any lie that he could or wanted to use now. Not with Michael.

                “Hey,” Michael said, “it’s me, Private.”

                Alex stared, then, slowly and very quietly, he said, “I can’t sleep.” His eyes stung, and his lungs burned as the words suddenly started pouring out of him. “I can’t eat, I can’t think of anything but them. And I know what they did, what he did, and I will always hate him for it, but…” a tear slid down his cheek, and he whispered, “it’s so much noise. And I hear the war all the time, I hear it raging in my head, that’s never shut off, but now, it’s like… there – there’s no filter anymore. It’s all just pouring through at once, and it just gets worse whenever someone touches me, and – and – and…” He shook his head. “I don’t know what to do, Guerin.”

                “You’re scared?” Michael stepped closer, and Alex was shocked to see that his own eyes were glistening. “You’re scared I’ll make it worse?”

                Alex tried to move away, but the wall kept him in place. “You’re the only safe place I have, okay? If you touch me, and that noise comes back, I won’t be able to take it.”

                “Comes back? So you don’t hear it now?”

                Alex stilled. He blinked multiple times, then his brows furrowed. “No,” he croaked, his nerves strung, his bones aching, his heart just tired. “I don’t. How’d you – how’d you do that?”

                “I told you,” the corner of his lips rose as he reached a hand to Alex. “You sounded weird on the phone.”

                Alex inhaled sharply as Michael’s fingers touched his jaw, expecting his thoughts to be bombarded with his father and brother and the war, but instead, every tiny, nagging voice went quiet. When it became evident he wasn’t going to run away, Michael’s hand moved to cup his cheek, his thumb wiping away the tear that had fallen.

                And Alex sighed deeply, his eyes fluttering shut as every bit of pain in his body melted away, his knees buckling with the exhaustion taking over all his other senses. Michael quickly caught him, his arm around Alex’s waist holding him close against his body, and as Alex’s fists against Michael’s chest caught the soft beating of his heart, he felt himself – not for the first time in weeks, but in years – able to breathe.

                “Guerin,” he whispered, their foreheads pressed together. “How?”

                Alex felt Michael’s hot breath fan his lips as he exhaled, and he knew that their hearts had somehow aligned to the same beat. “You make it all go quiet. Guess I hoped it… worked the other way around. Shot in the dark, to be honest.”

                Whether it was a sob or a chuckle that escaped Alex’s lips, he didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He brought his hands up to hold Michael’s face, keeping them close together. “Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

                He shook his head, their noses nuzzling against one another, and he whispered, “Never.”

Chapter Text

                “Have you seen my dog tags? I can’t leave without them,” Alex said, rummaging through the discarded clothes on the floor, the blanket pooled around his hips.

                “No, I haven’t,” Michael said as his thumb ran over Alex’s engraved name on the dog tags. “Maybe they’re by the sink.”

                He glanced up as Alex looked over his shoulder at him, tucking the necklace into his blanket. “Why would they be by the sink?”

                Michael’s eyes ran over Alex’s features – his messy hair, the tips turned to gold by the sunlight peeking through the curtains, his rosy cheeks and lips, his long lashes, his eyes glistening as he blinked at Michael, and though Michael knew he should’ve told the truth then – it was his chance – he couldn’t bear Alex leaving now. He just wanted to keep him a little longer.

                “I dunno. Want me to check?”

                Alex stared, then, “You’d tell me if you found them, wouldn’t you?”

                Michael pushed himself off the bed with a groan and stood, raking his fingers through Alex’s hair as he passed him. “You don’t trust me, Private?”

                “You didn’t answer the question, Guerin,” he said, and Michael smiled as he pretended to check around the kitchen area.

                “I know what those tags mean to you,” he said, “if I had them, I wouldn’t lie.”

                There was a moment of silence, then Alex, sounding oddly amused, said, “That was beautiful. I might have actually bought it,” Michael turned with raised brows, but his face fell as Alex held his dog tags with a clever smile, “if I didn’t already know how much you love me.”

                Michael’s shoulders slumped, and with a sigh, he said, “I forgot to hide the chain again, didn’t I?”

                Alex laughed, and Michael’s heart ached. “You’re getting too easy to read, Guerin.”

                “Oh, am I?” Michael came up to Alex, grabbed the tags from his hands and threw them out his trailer window.

                “Wh – Guerin!”

                “Nope, I don’t wanna hear it,” he bent down, held Alex’s waist from behind, and pulled him up onto the bed.

                “There,” he huffed, tucking Alex in despite his protests.

                “Guerin, seriously, my tags,” he sat up, but Michael set his hands on his shoulders, his voice soft.

                “I tossed them onto my truck, they’re safe, okay?” he kissed Alex’s forehead. “Okay?” He kissed Alex’s nose, then pecked his lips, then pressed a kiss to each of his eyes – until the airman burst into laughter.

                He rested their foreheads together, exhaling deeply. “I love your laugh. I didn’t think I’d ever hear it.”

                “Hey,” Alex pulled back enough to look into Michael’s eyes, his hands going from his chest to his jaw. “We’re together now. We don’t have to think about the past anymore.”

                Michael pressed his lips together, his hand going down to Alex’s leg, behind his knee. He pulled his leg up, sliding his body against Alex’s. A perfect fit, every time. “I know,” he said. “I just hate it when you’re not here. That’s all.”

                Alex’s thumb softly caressed Michael’s cheek, and he closed his eyes, leaning into the touch. He was fully aware of every part of Alex’s body that touched his. Alex’s chest, his cock, his thighs, his leg, his hands, his lips – Michael wanted more of it all. He wanted he and Alex to share a bed every night, to wake up together every morning, to have these hours where nothing mattered in the entirety of existence but each other.

                “Kiss me,” Alex breathed, and Michael was only too happy to comply.

                He took Alex’s lips in his, their kiss slow and sensual and just lazy. Michael wanted more of that, too. The lazy moments where they could pretend Alex didn’t have to leave for the night, didn’t have to work on top-secret military codes that kept him busy for days, sometimes weeks at a time.

                Michael tilted his head, deepening the kiss as his hand slid from Alex’s leg to his hair, tugging on the strands. Alex moaned into his mouth, and it spurred Michael on, reaching with his other hand down Alex’s chest.

He moved to kiss Alex’s neck, then his collarbone, and as he sucked the skin, Alex breathed, “I want to stay the night.”

Michael raised a brow, hoping he hadn’t misheard. He swallowed, rising to meet Alex’s eyes which shone brightly with the setting sun stretching across his face. “What about work?”

Alex shook his head, his eyes hazed. “Who cares?”

Michael probably, in that moment, should’ve insisted that Alex go, maybe even suggest to drive him, but there was nothing he wanted less. Alex wanted to stay, and Michael wanted more than anything to keep him.

“Any chance I could convince you to stay more than just the night?” he said jokingly, though the thought of Alex actually gone for days upset him in intimate ways he never thought possible.

Alex seemed to see through Michael’s internal conflict because his expression softened. He lightly pecked Michael’s lips. “I won’t be gone long.”

“Any second you’re not here is too long,” Michael said, wrapping his arm around Alex’s waist.

Alex smiled in that beautiful, gentle way he always did when the two were tired, hoping for nothing more than to have each other. “I love you,” he said, and Michael swallowed.

“I love you more,” he said, never surprised at the ease with which it left his lips. Those words that he struggled to say to even his own siblings who he loved beyond words, they just flowed out for Alex, because of course they did. Because it was Alex, and Alex was… “You’re everything to me, Private.”

Alex whispered his name, and pulled him down on top of him, kissing him slowly. That moment stretched on for hours – every touch soft and delicate, every kiss sensual and lazy, every thrust slow and deep until they both came with breathy moans and quiet pants.

As the moonlight shined through the gap in the curtains, turning the tips of Alex’s hair strands to silver, Michael watched with an unwavering gaze. He carefully pulled the blanket up, covering Alex’s shoulders.

Michael kissed his cheek softly, and with as much care as he could muster, slipped out of bed. He got to his feet, and looked over his shoulder at his boyfriend. When he was sure Alex wouldn’t wake up, he went outside where he’d thrown the tags, and pulled them off the roof of his truck. His fingers once again followed the engravings, and his heart sunk as he wondered – not for the first time – how it was that his Alex had become a soldier.

Michael stepped back into the trailer, and kneeled beside Alex on the floor.

“I don’t know why these mean so much to you, but…” he muttered, carefully placing the dog tags around Alex’s neck. He caught sight of Alex’s left hand, and he held it up, kissing each of his fingers. He climbed back into bed, lying down right against Alex, and as he did, Alex’s arm automatically came around his waist, keeping him close.

Michael smiled, and ran his hand down Alex’s arm, settling over Alex’s hand. “I wanna keep you forever, Alex,” he whispered into Alex’s hair, “so the next piece of jewelry I put on you,” he lightly tapped his ring finger, “goes here. Okay?”

Alex said nothing, but snuggled deeper into Michael’s chest, sighing deeply. Michael’s smile widened, his hold on Alex so tight that he couldn’t imagine how he would possibly be able to let him go in the morning.

Chapter Text

It was a dark and stormy night when Michael saw Alex again. Michael had seen the smoke rising in the distance, a sign of car trouble, long before he heard a knock at the door. He just never thought he would open it to Alex Manes on the other side, looking five years older than the last time he’d seen him, and a lot more agitated.

At the sight of Michael, Alex’s face fell, and his hand, which had been running through his windswept hair, fell to his side. For a moment, Michael thought he was imagining Alex, or that maybe he was dreaming, as he often did, that the Manes man had come back to him for good. But Alex blinked as if he himself wasn’t sure who he was staring at, and he said, “Guerin?”

Michael swallowed, reaching forward. Alex watched with curious eyes as Michael touched his shoulder and immediately pulled back, as if he’d just touched fire.

“You’re real,” he breathed. “Alex, you’re actually here.”

Alex huffed a chuckle, his brows furrowed. “I can’t believe this, it’s really you.”

“It’s really me,” Michael shook his head, not knowing what else to say. “Uh – thank you for your –”

“Please, don’t,” Alex held a hand up, “don’t thank me.” He smiled, though Michael noticed something similar to anger and discomfort flicker in his eyes.

                He stared, then said, “So I was right then, wasn’t I? Your dad forced you to enlist?”

                Alex looked startled, then shook his head. “Look, my car broke down,” he pointed at the tower of smoke, “just over there, and my phone’s dead. Would it be okay to use yours to call a tow truck?”

                Michael had stayed glued to the doorframe, not trusting himself to move any closer to Alex. When he had touched his shoulder, he’d nearly abandoned all sense of personal space then for the favor of hugging the airman closely to his chest. But as Alex raised a brow at him, Michael realized he was waiting for an answer, and without thinking, he stepped outside, his eyes on him.

                “You know, I’m actually kind of a mechanic, I could take a look at it for you, if you want?”

                Alex blinked. “Uh – really? Yeah, that’d be great, thanks.”

                Michael nodded, and they made their way to the car, Michael looking over his shoulder every so often, making sure Alex was still there. It was stupid, to think he would vanish so suddenly, but he was still trying to process having him there with him at all.

                “So,” Michael cleared his throat, “Air Force, huh? I heard you’ve been rising in the ranks pretty quickly.”

                “I’m smart,” was all Alex said.

                “Air Force, though? Isn’t that what your dad’s doing?”

                “You been following up on me, Guerin?” he said, avoiding Michael’s gaze.

                “You really don’t like people talking about it, do you? Your job.”

                “Not while I’m off duty,” Alex sighed, finally catching Michael’s eyes. “I’d rather not think about it.”

                “Off duty,” Michael repeated. “So, what, they’ll be deploying you soon?”

                “Sometime tomorrow,” he said, and Michael stopped.

                “Seriously?”

                Alex’s expression softened. “I got here yesterday, Guerin, I swear. I was never going to have a lot of time.”

                Michael looked away. “Why do they want you back so soon?”

                Alex smirked humorlessly, shrugging a shoulder. “I told you. I’m smart.”

                “I didn’t know you were that smart,” Michael said, then shut his eyes. “Damn, I didn’t mean it like that.”

                “No, I know, it’s okay. I know I didn’t exactly look like a military captain in high school,” Alex chuckled, and Michael resisted the urge to step closer. It’d been so long since he’d heard Alex laugh, and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the sound until right now. He must’ve been staring though, because Alex’s smile soon died down, and he cleared his throat. “So, you have a farm now?”

                “No,” Michael said after a moment, continuing on to the car. “The owner needs someone to look after the place. He’s out of town a lot, so he lets me stay over while I work.”

                “Do you, like, chop firewood shirtless and stuff?”

                Michael smirked, looking over his shoulder. “You flirting with me, Private?”

                Alex smiled softly, and Michael felt a warmth blooming in his chest. “I thought you’d gotten a full ride to UNM.”

                Michael raised a brow. “I thought you’d wanted to make music.”

                He stared, then nodded. “Fair enough.”

                When they got close enough to the car, Michael held an arm out, keeping Alex at a distance. “Careful,” he said, “that smoke looks like it’ll burn your lungs.”

                “Guerin, I think I’ll be fine,” he said, amused, and before Michael could stop him, Alex pushed past his arm and opened the car hood. He hurried forward to help as more smoke rose out, but Alex had had the lower half of his face covered with his arm, his eyes narrowed, and Michael realized that the airman really hadn’t needed his help. He felt guilty for being upset about that.

                He snapped out of his thoughts when Alex called his name, and he came to his side, fanning the smoke out of their faces, at the same time using his powers.

                “Strong arm,” Alex said with surprise when the smoke before them suddenly cleared, and Michael shrugged.

                “I work out a lot,” he said, and tried to ignore the blush in his cheeks as his eyes caught Alex’s. He leaned down, examining the engine, and as he had suspected, Alex’s problem had a simple solution.

                “Is it serious?” Alex asked, his arms crossed. “I want to make it back before the storm hits.”

                Michael looked up at the sky, surprised at himself for having nearly forgotten the dark clouds. He was about to reassure Alex that there was no problem at all, that all he had to do was refill his radiator, and he would be good to go. But as he opened his mouth, he found that the words refused to leave his throat. He swallowed. What’s wrong with me?

                But he knew. The truth was, if Alex managed to get his car working, he would leave, and Michael had no idea when and if he would ever see him again after that. He tapped his fingers against the car a moment, deliberating what to say when he looked up and caught Alex’s expectant gaze.

                Before he could help it, Michael said, “Sorry, Private, looks like this job’s gonna take a lot of time, and there are a few things you’ll need replaced, which means a lot of money, too.”

                Alex’s shoulders slumped, his face fallen, and Guerin almost felt bad until the airman said, “I’m leaving soon, I can’t waste my time dealing with this.”

                “Well, hey,” Michael said, pretending to survey the car again, poking and prodding the engine for effect, “I think I might have exactly what you need in my truck. I could give them to you, if you want.”

                Alex blinked. “But… if the parts are so expensive –”

                “No, I said having them all replaced at an auto-shop would be expensive. I would do it for free.”

                “Why would you do that?”

Because I want you to stay with me longer, he thought. Because I still can’t believe you’re here, and I need more time with you. Because I’m terrified that if you leave now, I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering where you are and what had happened to you.

But he refrained. Alex had spoken warily, watching Michael carefully as if expecting him to suddenly pull out a gun and start firing at him. Michael couldn’t help but think of that one instance in the tool shed, when it had been Michael wary of Alex’s kindness. Alex had seemed so sure that people could be good then, and while Michael himself never believed it, the fact that Alex did had always been a comfort to him.

                Part of him wanted to take Alex’s arms, his grip tight, and ask what Jesse had done to him, but the other part, the one that had lived through too much and been broken down too many times, said, “Call it payment for that guitar.”

                Alex’s frown deepened, glancing at Michael’s left hand. “I think you’ve paid enough for that.”

                Michael moved his hand behind his hip, hiding it from Alex’s view. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

                Alex blinked at Michael as if he’d just realized something, and he tilted his head. “You’re a miserable liar.”

                “Alex, I can fix your car,” he said instead, hoping that Alex would at least accept the truth in that, “but it’s gonna take some time, and there’s a storm starting soon, so whatever your decision is, better make it quick.”

                As if on cue, the sky thundered loudly. Michael and Alex barely had time to look up before fat drops of rain hit the earth, and Michael was leading Alex back inside. The storm strengthened very quickly, and by the time Michael had closed the farmhouse door behind him, they were both soaked, the rain hitting the porch loudly outside.

                Michael tossed off his shoes and was about to offer to light the fireplace when his eyes caught Alex, and he faltered. The airman had gained muscle, his soaked Air Force shirt revealing the outline of his chest, his abs, his sex line, and Michael nearly took a step towards him. He hadn’t felt such a strong desire to touch someone since he was a teenager, when Alex had first attempted to kiss him. He wanted more than anything now to kiss Alex again, to run his hands up his shirt, and feel every inch of his skin.

                “Guerin?” Alex suddenly said, and Michael was yanked out of his thoughts.

                “Hm?”

                Michael had a feeling Alex could read his mind because he suddenly looked away blushing. “Uh,” he cleared his throat, “I-I was just asking where the bathroom was. To dry off.”

                “Right, yeah,” he pointed to a corridor and said, “down that hall, last door on the right.” Alex nodded, and as he passed, Michael blurted. “Just start taking your clothes off.”

                Alex stopped, his brows furrowed. When Michael – too late – realized how the words had come out, he stammered, “I-I mean, I’m – I’m gonna, you know, get you something dry to wear.”

                The airman said nothing as he pursed his lips awkwardly and left the room. As soon as Michael heard the bathroom door close, his eyes fell shut and he silently cursed himself. “Start taking your clothes off…” he muttered, shaking his head.

                He hurried to his truck outside, grabbed some of his own clothes, sniffing them to make sure they were clean, and came back inside with the thought of Alex in his shirt, his pants – Alex smelling like him. He came to wait outside the bathroom door, careful not to make a sound, and he tried to remember what Alex smelled like. He leaned against the wall beside the door, his eyes falling shut, his cold, damp shirt sticking to his skin doing nothing to cool his heated thoughts.

                Five years ago. It seemed like a lifetime and no time at all since Michael last touched Alex, last held him close. Michael still remembered the feeling of Alex’s hot skin beneath his fingertips, his muscles compliant to Michael’s touch. He remembered the way Alex writhed and moaned underneath him, the way he giggled when Michael nuzzled against his neck, the way he’d smelled of… of…

                Michael’s eyes opened. He couldn’t remember, and he knew that once Alex left, he wouldn’t have the chance to.

                “Alex,” he said before he could help himself.

                The shuffling inside the bathroom stopped, and Alex said, “Yeah?”

                “You asked me if I was keeping tabs on you,” he swallowed. “I was.”

                There was a moment of silence, then, “I know, Guerin.”

                “I missed you.”

                “I missed you, too.”

                “Any idea where you’ll be going?”

                “Not yet.”

                Michael rested his forehead on the door. “You scared?”

                A pause. “Not anymore,” he said, as if it was supposed to be a kind of comfort to Michael. Don’t worry, he could almost hear him say. My entire life’s been a war. I’ve gone numb to it all.

                Michael’s hand tightened to a fist against the door. He didn’t want Alex to be numb. He didn’t want him to leave with the same nothing in his chest that he’d come with. He didn’t want him to leave at all.

                “Kiss me,” he said, and after a moment, Alex opened the door, confused.  He was wearing only his jeans, his chest bare, and as Michael raked his entire body, he found he felt no remorse at his words, no embarrassment – only the desire to whisper them again into Alex’s ear.

                “Guerin, did you just –”

                “You heard me, Private,” he closed the distance between then, holding Alex’s face in his hands. “Kiss me.”

                Before Alex could say anything, Michael took his lips in his. Alex made a startled noise in the back of his throat, but soon relaxed into Michael’s hold. His arms came around the cowboy’s waist, bringing their bodies flush against one another.

                Michael pushed them back, one hand coming around Alex’s head to protect him as they hit the wall. “Guerin,” Alex whispered before Michael was devouring his mouth again, reveling in the moans that escaped Alex’s lips.

                “Alex,” he breathed as their foreheads rested together, and Michael stepped back just enough to take his own shirt off. Alex’s eyes turned dark as he ran his hands down Michael’s chest.

                “You’ve gotten hairy,” he said, his voice deep and hoarse. Michael bit his lower lip as he leaned even closer to Alex, bringing the airman’s hands lower. He took Alex’s lower lip in his teeth, moaning breathily as Alex’s fingers scratched past his stomach, digging into his bellybutton, following the trail of hair down, down, down until they stopped at Michael’s belt.

                Michael couldn’t take it. He grinded into Alex, their clothed cocks rubbing against one another as Michael pushed his tongue into Alex’s mouth, kissing him hungrily. Alex’s hands came up to his jaw, holding their heads together, while Michael’s hands moved to Alex’s lower back as he slammed his hips into his.

                They moaned into each other’s mouths, and Michael stepped back, their lips making a beautifully wet sound as they separated. He pulled Alex with him out of the bathroom, into the living room, and before Alex could say his name, Michael pushed the airman down on the couch and climbed over him, kissing up his stomach and chest.

                Maple syrup and wood, Michael thought as he came up to Alex’s neck, inhaling his scent. That was what Alex smelled like. His hold on Alex’s waist tightened. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten.

                “Alex,” he breathed as he slowly grinded into the airman, pressing a kiss to his ear, then his cheek, then the corner of his lips. Alex raked his fingers through Michael’s curls, fitting their mouths together, wet and passionate and desperate. Desperate to touch each other, to hold each other, to mark each other so deeply that when they did have to separate, they would still feel each other after.

                Michael tried not to think of that moment, of Alex leaving his side, and he grinded down harder, their kisses open-mouthed as they groaned and panted. Eventually, Michael had enough strength to stop kissing Alex and work on removing his pants, Alex unbuckling his own.

                When Michael pushed himself into Alex, the two breathed heavily, their foreheads remained pressed together, their hold on each other tight and bruising. Michael’s thrusts were rough and quick, then they were slow and sensual, then they were desperate and pleading. He tried to save every moment to his memory – the way their sweaty bodies slid perfectly against one another, the way he fit against Alex’s hips, the sting of Alex’s nails as they scratched lines down his back, the sheer pleasure that came with every thrust, every touch, every kiss.

                The sky had gone pitch black outside on account of the storm, the rain still pouring down heavily as they lay together, Alex curled against Michael’s chest, Michael’s arm around Alex, keeping him warm and close.

                His other hand lightly brushed Alex’s hair from his forehead. “Your hair’s gotten longer.”

                Alex closed his eyes, leaning into Michael’s touch with a sigh. “Yeah, I was ordered to get it cut as soon as possible, but I keep putting it off.”

                Michael’s smile turned small. “I don’t like anybody ordering you to do anything.”

                Alex opened his eyes, and leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to Michael’s lips. “I’m okay, Guerin. Really.” He swallowed, seemingly hesitant before he said, “I should be asking if you’re okay.”

                “What do you mean?” he brushed his thumb against Alex’s jaw, and Alex’s expression softened as he took Michael’s hand in his – the hand that his own father had maimed, the hand that Michael – though he couldn’t tell Alex – could’ve had healed at any time, but chose to keep disfigured.

                “Alex –”

                “You don’t have to pretend that you’re okay with what happened,” Alex said. “I know you’re not.” He shook his head, and Michael felt Alex’s hold on his hand tighten slightly. “I’ve seen people fight, and I’ve seen them come back broken, parts of them missing. I’m not scared to die, Guerin. I… I’ve come close, and I’ve felt… nothing –”

                “Don’t talk like that –”

                “—It’s the truth,” Alex said, and something in Michael shattered because he knew, right then, that Alex meant it. “But I am scared that I’ll come back… different.” Alex huffed, his brows furrowed, “That’s a dumb thing to be afraid of. Everyone changes.”

                Michael inhaled a shaky breath, taking Alex’s face in his hands. “Don’t go back, Alex. Stay here, stay with me.”

                “Guerin, I can’t –”

                “I’ll figure things out. I’ll get another job, I’ll make enough money to take care of us both. I’ll keep you safe.”

                Alex’s brows furrowed, his eyes glistening even in the dark, though an amused smile played at his lips, as if he just realized something. “My car’s fine, isn’t it?”

                Michael swallowed. “Gallon of water in your radiator, and you’re good to go.” He moved them so that he was hovering over Alex, his leg thrown over both of Alex’s, keeping him in place. “Don’t go.”

                Alex searched his face, then tilted his head up, catching Michael’s lips in his. “Please, Guerin, please, just…” he breathed, bringing Michael’s hand to his chest, “just touch me.”

                Michael stared, Alex’s heart racing against his fingertips, though whether that was because of lust or fear or something else, Michael didn’t know. Still, just as when they were younger, Michael found it impossible to resist him. So he did as he was asked. He kissed him, held him, allowing himself to be swept away in Alex’s touch, his scent, his lips.

                Before he left the next morning, after an early phone call in which he responded in a way Michael never thought he would hear Alex Manes, the punk kid with the guitar, speak, Michael refused to see him. He turned around on the couch, his back to Alex as the airman got dressed in his own clothes, now dried, the sun shining through the windows. Alex had tried touching Michael’s shoulder, to get him to turn around, to look at him, but Michael couldn’t. Not this time.

                His heart sunk in his chest as he heard the door shut behind him, and when he heard Alex’s car drive by, he felt himself about to be sick. He gasped, jumping off the couch, and ran outside, calling Alex’s name, begging him to come back. He had been wrong, he wanted to see him, to tell him how he felt, to tell him that he’d stay in Roswell, that he’d wait for him… but when he got outside, Alex’s car was out of sight, and he was too late.

Chapter Text

                Alex had just loaded his third cardboard box into his car when a familiar truck pulled into his driveway. Alex lightly hit his right leg as Michael parked and climbed out, and he sighed, heading back into his cabin without so much as a word to the cowboy.

                Michael watched as Alex brought another box out, his brows furrowing. “What’re you doing?”

                “Packing,” Alex said, and after putting the box inside, he leaned against the car. “Did you want something?”

                “Uh,” Michael stared at the boxes, then said, “I – uh – just wanted to check on you, you know, we never really got to talk after…”

                Alex raised a brow. “After you left me waiting outside your trailer while you went to make out with my…” he shook his head, “Maria? No, I guess we didn’t, but,” he shrugged, “somehow, I’ve survived.”

                “Alex –”

                “That was two months ago,” Alex sniffed. “Where’ve you been? Busy?”

                Michael pursed his lips and looked like he was debating something. In the end, his expression turned unreadable, and Alex saw the answer coming before it even left Michael’s lips.

                “Kinda.”

                Alex waited for an explanation, anything to tell him that Michael thought he was worth telling, that Michael couldn’t help but tell him, but he knew he was waiting in vain. Michael never told him anything.

                “Let me guess,” he said, already turning back to the cabin, “I don’t need to know.” He heard Michael follow him inside. “Why’re you really here, Guerin?”

                “I talked to… Maria,” Michael trailed off, and Alex turned to him with a raised brow to see him eying Alex’s cabin, all the boxes, the couches covered with white sheets, everything either packed away or protected from dust. “She – uh – she’s been really upset. Told me you guys weren’t talking, and she… she misses you.”

                Michael looked to Alex as if he couldn’t help but agree, and it made Alex sick.

                He swallowed, smirking humorlessly as he said, “And you came to settle things for her. What a sweet boyfriend.”

                Michael stared. “You really can’t stand me right now, can you?”

                “No,” Alex said. “I really can’t.”

                And he bent down to pick up another box, ignoring the pain in his leg. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat down. He could feel Michael watching him.

                “You moving closer to town?”

                “Nope,” Alex said. “I’m leaving Roswell.”

                Michael frowned. “What?”

                “I said I’m leaving Roswell,” he said. “I have a flight tomorrow morning to New York.”

                “New York? For what?”

                “They’ve been offering me a job since my enlistment ended,” Alex said. “I took it.”

                “Well,” Michael looked a little lost, “when’re you coming back?”

                Alex sighed. “I’m not.”

                “What?” Michael said, blocking his path to the door. “Alex, wait – seriously? You’re just leaving?”

                Alex settled the box on the couch with a huff, his arms aching. He leaned on it a moment, silent, then shook his head and said, “I’ve always hated this town. I hate the narrowminded people, and their pathetic insults. I hate how everywhere I look, I see his face, telling me that I’m just like him.” He lifted the box, avoiding Michael’s eyes. “I need to get out of here.”

                “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” he exclaimed, looking semi-panicked as he took the box from Alex’s hands and set it on the ground. “This is – I mean, this is a joke, right? You’re not actually leaving.”

                Alex sighed. “Yes, Guerin, I actually am.”

                “What – What about Maria? And Liz? I know you’re upset with them, Alex, but they’re your family.”

               

                “Why does my family always have to be screwed up?” he snapped. “Huh? Why can’t I have somebody like – like Max, or – or Isobel? Someone who’d rather die than hurt me?” He huffed a miserable chuckle. “For the love of – Kyle has been more family to me than Maria and Liz combined.”

                Michael’s frowned deepened, and he shook his head. “You don’t mean that. Alex, come on, I know you’re upset with Maria right now, but –”

                “No,” Alex cut him off, “you really don’t know, Guerin. You know, for the longest time, I thought a kind, caring family – the kind you read about – was just something meant for other people. Not me. And then I got Liz and Maria, and I thought maybe I was wrong. Maybe the universe wasn’t punishing me for being a Manes, because at least I had them.” He released a shaky breath. “Then they decided that my heart just,” he shrugged, “wasn’t that important. And Maria…”

                “Alex…”

                Alex sighed, rubbing his face. “I’m tired of coming in last. I want someone who puts me first. Damn it, after everything, I think I’ve earned it, and I’m tired of being made to feel like I don’t.”

                Michael said nothing, and Alex, knowing he wouldn’t, bent down to get his box. Michael stopped him, holding his arms. “Wait, okay, just – just, listen to me. I’ll end it, okay? I’ll end it, just stay, Alex, please don’t – don’t leave me here.”

                Alex moved out of Michael’s hold. Man, he was exhausted. “Get out of my way.”

                “You’ve hurt me before,” he said, stepping closer, taking Alex’s face in his hands, his grip tight. “You’ve walked away from me, you’ve broken my heart.”

                “Well then,” Alex whispered, refusing to let the tears gathering in his eyes fall, “at least you’ve gotten even.”

                “No, I,” he shook his head, resting his forehead against Alex’s, “I didn’t – I didn’t want to get even, that’s not what I… I was just trying to –”

                “To guilt me into listening to you?” Alex asked. “What? What were you trying to do?”

                “Alex,” Michael breathed, his brows furrowed, as if he couldn’t understand how Alex could talk to him this way. “When I said I was going to leave, you said you didn’t want me to. I’m asking you not to leave now, please. Look, we’ll work it out, okay? I’ll fix this.”

                “There is no fixing this, Guerin,” he said, trying to move, but Michael stepped closer, his grip tightening. “Let go of me!”

                “I love you,” he said. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you? I love you, Alex!”

                “I know that!” Alex said, finally managing to push him away. “And you went to Maria anyway.”

                Michael’s arms fell to his side, and by the look on his face, Alex knew he had no defense, nothing to say for himself or Maria, nothing that Alex wanted to hear.

                Alex picked up his box, and said, “Get off my property, Guerin, before I call the sheriff.”

                Without another word from either of them, Alex walked out, hoping – for the first time – that when he came back, Michael would be gone.

Chapter Text

                “Am I crazy?” Alex suddenly asked, setting a stack of magazines on the bar with a hard THUMP.

                Michael looked at him startled, quickly pulling his bottle of beer out of the way before it got pushed over. “Why are you crazy?”

                “No,” Alex huffed, “I’m not saying I am, I’m asking if you think I’m crazy because, see, I always thought that getting married was about being eternally bound to the person you love.”

                Michael’s brows furrowed, though the corners of his lips perked upward. “Isn’t it?”

                “Apparently not. Both Isobel and Maria agree that it’s about,” he gestured to the magazines that had tipped over, stretching across the bar in front of them, “that. Wedding attire and venues and flower arrangements and menu plans and…” he groaned, his head falling onto the table.

                Michael rubbed his back soothingly. “I can’t wait to see what their wedding looks like.”

                “I dared mention City Hall.”

                He raised a brow. “Hence the crazy?”

                Alex nodded. “Hence the crazy.” He sat up. “Am I? I just want to marry you, is it dumb that I don’t care how?”

                Michael’s smile widened, and he brought his hand around Alex’s head, pulling him in to kiss his cheek. His forehead rested against Alex’s temple, and he said, “Maybe we’re both crazy then.”

                Alex smiled, then pulled back, his brow raised. “You don’t seem half as stressed with this as I do.”

                Michael scoffed. “You kidding? You said yes, we’re getting married. Fricking Valenti couldn’t piss me off now.”

                “Oh, not even him, huh?” Alex laughed. It quickly died down to a hum as he brought his hand up to hold Michael’s jaw, and he pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “I have a fiancé. I feel so grown up.”

                Michael’s eyes were closed as he tilted his head, attempting to catch Alex’s lips again, and he smirked, dragging his hand down Alex’s back. “You know, if you want, we can skip to the wedding night.”

                “Romantic,” Alex said, his body leaning in to Michael’s touch. His lips neared Michael’s, and he immediately pulled back with a gasp. “Stop,” he said, pushing Michael away, his cheeks red. “Stop it.”

                “What? Why?”

                “I’m not making out with you in the middle of a bar.”

                “Wh – Alex –”

                “No, it always escalates, Guerin.” Michael’s fingers dug into Alex’s back and he laughed, slapping the cowboy’s arm away. “I’m serious, don’t touch me. Not until the wedding.”

                Michael narrowed his eyes, smiling uncertainly until he realized that Alex wasn’t kidding, and his face fell. “That’s a joke, right? Tell me that’s a joke!”

                “It’s only a week away!”

                “Only a week, he says,” Michael said incredulously, and took a big gulp of his drink, unable to stop until the bottle was snatched away from him. He looked to see Alex finishing it, and his shoulders slumped. “You’re so lucky I love you, you have no idea.”

                “I have some idea,” he said, leaning in enough to barely peck Michael’s lips, pulling back quickly before Michael could hold him close. “Vows.”

                Michael raised a brow. “What?”

                Alex sighed, slumping in his chair, watching Michael expectantly. “There are fourteen types of forks.”

                Michael blinked. “Does that matter?”

                Alex scoffed. “Don’t repeat that question in front of Isobel. But that’s how my day went. I got to hear about every detail of what constitutes a perfect wedding, down to the folded napkins. And in all of it, I have to admit, one thing seemed appealing.”

                “The vows,” he gathered.

                Alex’s smile softened, and he looked at his lap where, Michael noticed fondly, he was playing with his fingers. “I know it sounds really stupid, but… I don’t know, I didn’t have anyone growing up who told me that – that they loved me. There was never anyone who I could trust would do anything to protect me. Until you. And I guess I just, I don’t know, got excited to hear it.” He glanced at Michael, and huffed a chuckle, scratching the back of his head. “Never mind, ignore that, I’m not – it’s been a long day, and –”

                “I’d die for you, Alex,” Michael said, and Alex blinked, his smile turned small. “You don’t need vows to know that, I’ll tell you whenever you want.”

                “Guerin…”

                “Because, I promise you, if Isobel and Maria ever decide on the right silverware, and we actually do get married, there are three things that I am most definitely not going to say in front of our friends and family. The first is that I’ll love you till the day I die. The second is that you’re walking sex, and it takes everything I have to keep myself from slamming into you every time I see you, but since we’re getting married, there’s no reason to hold back anymore.”

                “Well, public decency’s actually a thing, Guerin, so technically –”

                “—And the third,” he leaned forward, ignoring Alex’s input, “is that I would, without question, trade my life for yours,” he covered Alex’s hand with his own, and shrugged a shoulder, “because you’re Alex, and you’ve always meant more to me than anyone in the universe could. Even more than me.”

                Alex looked at Michael, not with shock, but with a fondness that Michael didn’t think he’d ever get used to, a fondness that he – though he would never admit it to Alex – was looking forward to seeing more than anything else.

                “So,” he sighed, sitting back, though his hand stayed with Alex, “there are your not-vows, because I don’t need some old cliché wedding rule telling me when and how to tell you my feelings for you. Those are our moments, they’re private, and they’re just – they’re ours, Alex, so don’t limit me with a vow.”

                Michael didn’t look at Alex after that, he didn’t think he could without revealing the heavy blush on his cheeks, and while he may have expected a chuckle or a soft kiss, he definitely hadn’t expected Alex’s next words.

                “Don’t,” he said softly, and Michael looked to him with a frown.

                “Don’t?”

                Alex moved close enough to him to whisper. “Don’t say you’d give up your life.”

                “I would –”

                “It scares me, Guerin,” he said, both hands holding Michael’s.

                He stared, then nodded, “Then what do you want me to say?”

                The corner of Alex’s lips rose as he searched Michael’s face, his hold on Michael’s hand tightening. “Say you’ll fight, and that no matter what, you’ll live for me.”

                Michael swallowed. “I’ll fight, and no matter what, I’ll live for you.”

                Alex leaned forward, pressing his forehead against Michael’s. “Say you’ll stand by me, whatever happens.”

                “I’ll stand by you, whatever happens.”

                “Say you love me,” he breathed, and Michael’s eyes fluttered shut.

                “I love you.”

                There was a moment of silence, then Alex moved back. Michael opened his eyes to see him looking toward the back of the bar, hesitant. Before he could ask what was wrong, Alex looked to him, biting his lower lip, his eyes dark, “Now say you’ll follow me to the bathroom because I want to kiss you more than I want to breathe, and screw waiting the week.”

                Michael got to his feet, exhaling shakily, “Hell yeah, baby.”

Chapter Text

                “I shouldn’t be here,” Michael said, and Alex sighed, his arms crossed.

                “No,” he said, exhaustion evident on his face, “the only one that shouldn’t be here is me.”

                “Then why are you?”

                “Look, Max asked me to come, so I came. After what he did to save Rosa, I owe him something.”

                Michael tried not to show his disappointment. The truth was, he knew very well why Alex was there. He still remembered the look in Max’s eyes as he made Michael swear that, if he could get Alex to come, he would let Kyle have a look at his sprained wrist. Michael had no idea what Max had said to get Alex to agree, but he was a little more than grateful to have some time with the airman after everything that had happened with Maria, even if that meant he had to share that time with the one guy in Roswell he truly couldn’t stand having around.

                “You know, if you’re miserable being here,” he said, holding his right hand against his chest tightly, “you can leave. I don’t really need you, so…”

                Alex’s arms fell limp to his side. “Alright then, fine, I’m leaving.”

                Michael, in a panic, grabbed his sleeve, wincing at the pain that shot through his entire arm. “Wait, Alex, don’t…” Alex stopped, and looked at Michael. The cowboy swallowed, bringing his hand back to his chest. He’d never seen Alex look annoyed with him. “I – I was just joking, I’m sorry, it was – I was kidding.”

                Alex looked away, shaking his head. “You know what? Serves you right. You’re always getting yourself into these stupid barfights, you were bound to break a bone at some point. You’re just lucky that this time, it was nothing but a sprain.

                Michael stared. “You’re really upset about this, aren’t you? If I’d known me getting hurt would bother you so much, I would’ve used my powers.”

                “Why didn’t you?” he snapped, and Michael tried not to smile. As angry as Alex was at him, he always seemed to care more. Michael hoped that never stopped. “You could’ve blocked that asshole – everyone was drunk, they wouldn’t have noticed, but no, you just stand there and take it.” He huffed. “Since when does Michael Guerin just stand there and take it?”

                Michael watched as Alex crossed his arms, leaning against a white wall as they waited for Kyle to finish with his patients. He hadn’t seen the airman at all lately, and had no idea how much he’d missed the sight of him until right now. He missed Alex’s soft hair, his lips, his eyes, his touch. If the pain in his wrist hadn’t been shooting up and down his arm, he would’ve stepped closer, put his hand to Alex’s jaw, kissed him until the both of them forgot that they weren’t supposed to be kissing.

                But Alex was distant and cold, his stance a warning that he would not take kindly to Michael’s touch, not after what he’d done.

                “Did you consider that maybe it was because I wanted to get hurt?” he said before he could help himself.

                Alex frowned. “What?”

                “You’re right, I could’ve stopped him, but I didn’t want to.”

                “What’re you talking about? Why not?”

                Michael scoffed. Wasn’t it obvious? “Alex, you won’t even look at me anymore! You don’t answer my calls, you don’t come by the Airstream, you pass me like we’re complete strangers – all I wanna do is talk to you, and you won’t even listen to me!” He tightened his hold on his wrist, trying to convince himself that it was the cause of the pain spreading to his chest. “So, yeah, if ending up in a hospital is the only way to get you close, then I’ll let every bastard in Roswell take a shot at me.”

                Alex’s brows furrowed. “You’re insane. What do you think getting beat up is going to accomplish? We’ve tried talking, Guerin, it doesn’t work.”

                “You walked out the last time, Alex,” he said, “not me. You’re the one who left after you saw my ship – you freaked out, and you left me!”

                “Is that what you think?” he whispered, his eyes wide with horror. “You dumbass, you think I left because I was freaked out about your ship?”

                “Then what was it, huh? What were you so afraid of?” Michael looked around to make sure no one was listening in, and he stepped closer, lowering his voice. “I know when you’re scared, Alex, and you were scared that day, more than I’d ever seen you. So if it wasn’t the ship, then what scared you?”

                “I didn’t want you to leave!” Alex snapped, and Michael went silent. “You were talking about assembling that stupid thing and going into space, and I was terrified because I didn’t want you to go anywhere!”

                “I…” barely escaped Michael’s lips as Alex’s eyes filled with tears, and he stumbled back.

                “And I told you, I said we’d talk later, I said I needed time to process, and I came back!” He huffed, wiping his eyes with an angry hand. “Damn it, Guerin, I – I came back, why didn’t you?” He shook his head. “And why did you have to go to her?”

                Michael stared back at Alex, unable to do anything more. He wanted to tell Alex that what he felt for him was stronger than anything he’d ever felt for anyone else, that he was the only one he wanted to be with, that every second they spent apart was torture, and he just wanted to be with Alex, no matter what that came with.

                But as soon as he opened his mouth –

                “Alex Manes?” they looked up and saw an older man in a doctor’s coat approach them.

                “Dr. Reynolds,” Alex blinked, wiping his face before he shook the man’s hand. “Hi, it’s – uh – it’s good to see you.”

                “Good to see you, good to see you,” he smiled, the corners of his eyes wrinkling as he took Alex in, and Michael thought he looked like a proud grandfather, the way he held Alex’s hand in both of his, his touch firm and strong. His brows furrowed slightly and his smile turned small and wary as he leaned in, his voice quieting as he asked, “Not hurt again, are you?”

                Michael frowned, looking to Alex for an explanation as to why the doctor wanted to treat his injuries as a secret, but Alex only pressed his lips together.

                “No, actually,” Alex gestured to Michael who nodded once in greeting to the doctor, “it’s my…” he cleared his throat, “Guerin. He sprained his wrist, but uh – Kyle Valenti’s already supposed to look at it, so don’t worry.”

                “Ah, Valenti, of course,” the doctor nodded. “Good man, he is.”

                Alex nodded in agreement, and turned to Michael, avoiding his gaze as he said, “Guerin, this is Dr. Stanley Reynolds. He’s been looking after me since I was a teenager.”

                “That I have,” the doctor said, looking to Michael with a flash of anger in his eyes. “The state this boy would come to me in – unbelievable! I heard about what happened to that old man of yours, and believe me, that’s the universe working.”

                Alex huffed a chuckle, and Michael noticed that he looked neither afraid nor uncomfortable. His shoulders weren’t stiff, his breathing didn’t quicken, his hands didn’t shake. He seemed to feel nothing. Michael stared. How long had it been since Alex had looked so… numb?

                “He can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

                The doctor scowled. “The things that man has gotten away with…”

                You have no idea, Michael scoffed, and the doctor tilted his head at Alex.

                “Say, whatever happened to that boy you were so concerned about? I sure hope he’s alright.”

                Michael frowned. “What boy?”

                “Uh – actually, Dr. Reynolds,” Alex tried, but the older man was already getting fired up.

                “Oh, I remember it like it was yesterday! Of course, I can’t discuss Alex’s case with you, son – confidentiality, I’m sure you understand – but I distinctly remember he was crying about a boy who’d had his hand smashed in with a hammer. Terrible case, really scary stuff.”

                Michael flinched, the memory a stab to his heart. “A hammer?”

                He nodded. “See, I remember because Alex had never shed a tear before, which, if you had seen the times he’d come in here – but, again, I can’t discuss that. Still, it broke my heart to see my tough nut crack. Of course,” he clasped Alex’s shoulder, “I understand completely. We all have our Achilles heel, don’t we? The little chink in the armor. Can’t dismay though, can’t dismay. That’s the part that keeps us human, you know.” He heaved a sigh. “Dear, I hope that boy came out alright.

                “He’s fine,” Michael said thoughtlessly, his voice barely over a whisper, his attention on Alex. “He came out fine.”

                Alex finally looked at him, his eyes barren and unattached. Just as Michael took a step closer to the airman –

                “Well, better go,” the doctor suddenly said, and slapped Michael’s back as he passed. “Patients to tend to, medication to administer, surgeries to be made – call me if you need anything, Alex!”

                Alex barely nodded once before the man was gone.

                There was a moment of silence, and Michael came close enough that his chest was nearly against Alex’s shoulder. “Alex,” he breathed. “What was he talking about?”

                Alex shook his head. “You know I hated what my dad did to you, why are you so surprised to know I cried about it?”

                “Alex, that’s not –”

                “I see Kyle,” he said, cutting Michael off, his eyes catching Kyle at the end of the hall. “Come on.”

                Michael watched him leave, following a moment later. He kept his eyes on Alex for the rest of the time, even as Kyle greeted them, as he had Michael take an x-ray, as he awkwardly asked why Max couldn’t just heal Michael’s wrist, and Alex reminded him, with an effort to avoid Michael’s eyes, that Max was still recovering from having saved Rosa.

                Michael had thought the visit would irritate him, his entire focus on Kyle – the way he would glance at Alex, the way he’d smile at Alex, the way he’d almost pretend Michael was a stranger in favor of talking to Alex. But Michael saw no one but the airman, and as soon as Kyle had left for some medication and bandages, Michael stood, crossed the room, and took the chair next to Alex’s.

                “You know I wasn’t asking about me,” he said. “That doctor talked like you were… like Jesse had…”

                Alex sighed, and finally looked at him, his jaw tight. “Let’s not discuss this, okay?”

                “You said you wanted to talk,” Michael said. “So talk. What happened that day in the toolshed, after I was kicked out?”

                Alex held his gaze, and Michael saw something flicker in his eyes. It didn’t take him long to realize the airman was miserable, and he didn’t know whether to be upset or relieved.

                “He held me down,” Alex slowly said, as if the words burned his tongue, “and that hammer he used on you, he used again on me. Broke every single one of my ribs, and punctured my lungs.” He looked away. “I almost died.”

                “Alex…”

                Alex shook his head. “There was no permanent damage, they wouldn’t have let me into the military if there had been, but that’s when I realized that there was nothing my dad wouldn’t do to get me to obey him. After that, it was either staying with him, or enlisting. I made my choice.”

                He clenched his jaw, wiping something off his cheek so quickly that Michael barely had time to make out what it was. “I stayed alive by following orders. Pathetic way to live, I know.” He sniffed, rubbing a hand over his face before he crossed his arms and leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. “Whatever. I got used to it.”

                Michael stared, and after a short moment, was surprised to feel a tear slide down his cheek. He wiped it away, looking at his wet fingers with furrowed brows.

                He let his hand fall and asked, “What happened to us?”

                Alex smirked. “I assume you’re looking for a more poetic answer than We broke?” he glanced at Michael, and did a doubletake, any humor, no matter how bitter, gone. “Hey, Guerin, don’t…” he sat up straighter, his hand going to Michael’s cheek, his thumb wiping away another tear that had fallen. “Come on, stop, it’s okay.”

                “It’s okay,” he repeated, shaking his head, moving himself from Alex’s hold. He didn’t deserve the airman’s touch. “I abandoned you. You kept coming back to me, and I turned my back on you. No wonder you hate me.”

                Alex frowned. “I don’t hate you, Guerin. I couldn’t.”

                “Alex, I… I don’t know how to fix this.”

                I don’t know how to fix you, fix what your father’s done, turn back time and bring the old you back. I don’t think it’s possible to undo all that damage.

                Alex searched Michael’s face, his gaze softening as he slumped slightly against his chair, a small, sad smile at his lips. “Me neither.”

Chapter Text

                Alcohol. That was the first thing Alex registered as he opened his car door. His brows furrowed, his frown deepening as he leaned in, taking a whiff to make sure it was coming from inside the vehicle, and he moved back, covering his nose. It smelled like the seats had been doused with whiskey. Alex looked around the parking lot, half-expecting to find a huddled group of drunk men against a truck.

                When he saw no one, he sighed, ducking his head. Homophobic dicks, he thought as he closed his eyes, his hands tightening to fists. This town was full of them. He couldn’t even go to a bar without someone finding out about his sexuality, and punishing him for it.

                He huffed, glad he hadn’t been able to take a single drink. He really didn’t want to leave his car here overnight for someone else to vandalize.

                He pressed his lips together, inhaled a deep breath of fresh air, and forced himself onto the soaked seat, exhaling sharply when he felt the alcohol seep into his clothes. As he closed the car door and opened the window, he silently hoped he wouldn’t get pulled over.

                Just as he started the car, his phone rang. Alex hesitated, then pulled it out, unsurprised to find Michael’s name flashing. He stared at it a moment before rejecting the call, tucking his phone away. As he pulled out of the driveway, it rang again, and Alex ignored it.

                He hadn’t spoken to Michael or Maria since that night when he’d gone to the Wild Pony after having spent an entire day waiting outside Michael’s trailer, only to find the two together at the bar. In that moment, Alex had quietly left, lost and shaking as Maria called out for him, begging him to come back. Not Michael though. Never Michael.

                Alex’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, his foot pressing a little harder on the gas pedal as he remembered lying in bed that night, unable to get the picture of his best friend and the love of his life out of his head. Michael had called then, too, and Alex had only allowed himself to listen to the voicemail. He pressed harder on the gas, Michael’s voice still echoing in his head as he tried to tell Alex why he couldn’t come to him, why he’d left him there to wait.

                Tied up with every ugly thing that’s ever happened to me, he’d said. I need to breathe, and I can’t do that around you, was another one Alex remembered.

                He’s a part of you, Alex, no matter how bad we both wish he wasn’t. Alex gasped, snapping out of the memory as a stop sign whistled by. That had been the worst of it, he thought as he gently pressed down on the brakes. That had been the one shot Michael couldn’t take back, the one Alex could never forgive, the one he would never forget.

                Alex blinked, slowly drifting out of his thoughts as he realized that the car wasn’t slowing down. He frowned, pressing a little harder on the brakes, then all the way, and whether he slammed it or not, the car wouldn’t stop.

                “Oh my God,” Alex barely breathed before a truck suddenly appeared, and he swerved, nearly running himself off the road. His heart raced as he drove, trying the brakes again and again and again, but to no avail.

                He fumbled for his phone as he tried to calm his thoughts. He had to focus. Calling the police would be pointless, as would calling Kyle.

                “Come on, come on,” he whispered through grit teeth as he repeatedly slammed into the brakes, but the car wouldn’t even slow down. He barely managed to dodge another car coming in the opposite direction, its honks echoing behind him as his phone vibrated, and, startled, he nearly dropped it.

                He caught hold of it quickly enough, silently thanking his military training, and when Michael’s name flashed again, an idea struck.

                Alex’s eyes widened, and for the first time in a while, relief flooded his chest as he answered the call.

                “Alex,” he answered, sounding surprised. “Are you finally talking to me?”

                “Guerin,” Alex cut him off, “help!”

                Alex’s heart hammered, his grip unbearably tight on the steering wheel, his leg aching with the pressure he was applying to the brakes. Traffic light after traffic light passed by, the lights flashing across Alex’s face before they were gone. The road was mostly barren, but he knew he’d eventually get to a street that wasn’t.

                “What? Alex, did you –”

                “I need you,” he blurted, trying to conjure up the Roswell street map in his mind, calculating how long it would take him to get to whatever street. At the speed he was going, if he didn’t slow down soon, he would definitely crash. And there was only one person who could slow down the car now.

                “Are you drunk?” Michael asked after a moment, his voice darkening. “It sounds like you’re driving, tell me you’re not driving –”

                “Guerin, shut up and listen to me!” Alex said before another two trucks appeared. Alex just barely missed them, and he swerved back onto the road, his shoulder slamming into his window. He winced, his hold on the phone tightening. “My brakes aren’t working, I can’t stop the car!”

                “What’re you talking about? Where are you?”

                “I’m – ah!” Alex looked over his shoulder with wide eyes at the pothole that’d nearly taken out his tire. He had to force a stop – now. He vaguely recognized Michael calling his name, frantic. He clenched his jaw. “I’m coming to you, I’m coming to the Airstream. I can’t pull over, and turning around is impossible with this – speed!” He dodged another car. “Guerin, can you stop the car or can’t you?”

                “Yeah, yeah,” Michael said, his voice much more alarmed. “I – oh my God, can you even make it to the Airstream? Tell me where you are, I’ll come to you –”

                “There’s no time, you’re just gonna have to have faith in me!”

                “I do,” Michael said, his voice steadier, “I do, okay, I definitely do, just – come to me, Alex, I’m waiting right outside, okay? I’m waiting for you.”

                Alex swallowed, his deathlike grip on the phone unceasing. “Okay.”

                He didn’t want to hang up. He wanted to keep listening to Michael’s voice, and he knew that if he ended the call, that source of what little peace he had left would vanish.

                He clenched his jaw. “Guerin,” he said. “I need both hands on the wheel.”

                “Don’t hang up the phone, Alex,” Michael said sternly. “Do not hang up –”

                “I need to concentrate,” he said. “I’m counting on you, Guerin, don’t let me down.”

                And without waiting for Michael’s response, Alex ended the call, letting the phone fall from his hand as he gripped the steering wheel tightly.

                “You can do this,” he muttered under his breath as his eyes caught the road that would take him to Michael’s trailer. “You can do this.”

                As he neared it, Alex turned the wheel to the right, holding on as he was slammed into his window again. He kept alert for anything to avoid on the road, his heart jumping into his throat when he very nearly ran over a smaller car that hadn’t had its lights on.

                It was when Alex felt an ache in his bad leg that the Airstream finally came into view, and he nearly exhaled a breathy sob of relief. His face fell when he realized he couldn’t see Michael anywhere in front of the trailer, and he was getting closer, closer, closer. He panicked that he would have to drive past it, running over the chairs, when he felt the car slowing down.

                Alex held his breath as the car became slow enough to jump out of. He steered it towards a utility pole, and waited until it was pushed against it before climbing out, his aching legs stumbling as he touched the ground, and he fell right against someone’s chest.

                “Alex,” Michael breathed into his hair, his arms coming around Alex’s back to hold him tightly. “You – you’re – you’re okay.”

                “Y-Yeah,” Alex muttered, his hands curled into fists against Michael’s chest, his eyes fluttering shut. Every bone in his body wanted to stay close, to melt into Michael’s embrace, to inhale his scent and get swept up in him –

                He’s a part of you, Alex, no matter how bad we both wish he wasn’t.

                Alex’s eyes opened with a gasp, and he pushed Michael away. He knew the cowboy was watching him with furrowed brows and hurt in his eyes, but Alex found it impossible to look at him. He was terrified of whatever would look back.

                “Thanks,” he breathed, “Sorry I had to come here like this, I didn’t know what else to do.”

                Michael shook his head. “No, don’t apologize. It’s not exactly how I imagined seeing you again, but at least…” he trailed off, his nose wrinkling as if he smelled something horrible. He stepped closer to Alex, taking in his scent, and pulled back with a frown. “You smell like alcohol.”

                Alex blinked, pointing to the car. “No no no, my car just –”

                “You are drunk, aren’t you?” his eyes narrowed. “Oh my God, Alex, is there actually any trouble with your car? Were you… were you trying to crash?”

                His eyes narrowed. “What?”

                “I was freaked out!” he yelled, his anger evident. “You almost gave me a damn heart attack! How could you do something so stupid?!”

                “Hey!” Alex snapped. “Believe it or not, you are not the center of my universe, Guerin! If you honestly believe I could be so suicidal because of you –”

                “But you smell –”

                “I know what I smell like, asshole, someone doused the seats! The entire car reeks of the damn stuff.” He huffed. “I know it’s impossible to fathom, but I’m not spending my nights wasted for you, Guerin, and I’m definitely not getting behind the wheel drunk.”

                “If you’re not mad,” he stepped closer, his tone desperate, “then why won’t you answer my calls, huh? Why won’t you talk to me?!”

                He shook his head. “Of course, I’m mad, Guerin! I sat here waiting for you like an idiot, and you….” He rubbed his face, the adrenaline of nearly dying almost gone. “It’s too late in the day to humor you, okay? My brakes were cut, I need to know by who.”

                Michael frowned. “You think someone did this on purpose?”

                “I thought it was a hate crime at first, but it’s too much of a coincidence with everything else that’s happened.”

                “What do you mean?”

                “I was at a bar all night,” he said. “I’m guessing whoever did this expected me to be too drunk to think straight. I bet they were waiting somewhere, to make sure I got in. Only they couldn’t tell that I hadn’t had a sip, so –”

                “Their plan failed,” Michael finished, his brows furrowed as he came to stand beside Alex. He looked angry. “They were trying to make it look like you’d been drunk driving. Who’d do this?”

                Alex clenched his jaw. “I don’t know, but I should call the sheriff. I know someone’s after me now, and the more people I have investigating this, the better.”

                “How are you so calm about this?” Michael flared. “Someone tried to kill you!”

                “And I’m handling it,” Alex said, looking for his phone. It was probably too late to call the sheriff now, and he preferred not to ask Michael for any favors with Max, no matter the situation. He had to remember to keep a distance. He was just working out how he would get to the bunker from here when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

                “Alex,” Michael turned him to face him, “I know you’re pissed off, but you have to talk to me. Do you really not have any idea who would be coming after you?”

                Alex waved Michael’s hand away, and sighed. “Maybe someone from Project Shepherd? Despite what you may think, I’m not exactly my dad’s biggest fan, and he would never tolerate a disobedient soldier, son or not, so,” he shrugged, “I’ve probably got a good enough chance as anyone else at making his hitlist.”

                Michael stared. “Despite what I may think? Please tell me what it is exactly I’m supposedly thinking.”

                Alex clenched his jaw, his focus on his car as he tried to look for any signs of forced entry. “I don’t have to, you’ve made yourself perfectly clear.”

                “Oh, please,” he stepped closer. “Enlighten me.”

                Alex was silent for what felt like hours, then, “You’re not an idiot, Guerin. You know I’m in love with you.” Michael faltered, but Alex pushed on, finding the weeks’ worth of misery he’d been carrying in his chest flooding out. “You know I’ve been in love with you since that day at the museum. But none of that matters because you don’t love me, and maybe I’m just having a hard time coming to terms with that.”

                Michael shook his head, and for some reason, Alex thought he looked angrier. “Alex, you can’t honestly think I don’t –”

                “I honestly do. At Caulfield,” he hesitated, “you said that we’d been holding onto this thing, and it was time to let go. I thought at the time that you were just saying that to get me to leave. To keep me safe.” He exhaled a shaky breath. “Now I know you meant it. And you were right, it’s gotten us nowhere. A decade in the military, and I never moved on. Never even tried, because I didn’t want to. I was always waiting. Always. Guess it took being left in front of your trailer to realize that I’d been waiting alone.”

                He felt his eyes burn, but he sniffed, wiping them before they even spilled. He wouldn’t cry, he wouldn’t let Michael see how shattered he felt. He couldn’t trust him with that anymore. That was, Alex realized, the worst part of all of this. Michael just… didn’t feel safe.

                Michael, he saw upon catching his eyes, seemed to realize that himself, and it only added to the anguish on his face.

                “You know, I thought I was doing everything right; I did everything you wanted me to, I tried pushing past everything for you, I fought with everything I had to save whatever part of me was left, and you still saw him.” He scoffed and looked away. “It’s so unfair.”

                “It’s just a part, Alex, I can’t help it,” Michael said, his tone urgent, as if he needed Alex to believe him. Alex, however, knew better than to hope that Michael needed anything of him. “You’re not your dad, I know you’re not!”

                Alex finally looked at him and swallowed. “If it’s just a part, then why didn’t you show up?”

                “I…” Michael started, and seemed to realize too late that he had no answer. Alex was disappointed, but unsurprised.

                He pulled his phone from the car, and dialed for a cab. As he did, he couldn’t help but confess, “I spent my whole life hating myself for what I saw in the mirror. It was stupid to think you’d see anything else.” He held the phone to his ear, and began walking towards the main road, despite the pain in his leg. “I’ll have a tow truck come pick up my car in the morning.” He paused, then, “Thanks for saving me, Guerin.”

                And as he left, his heart couldn’t help but sink further and further down with each step, because Michael made no effort to stop him.

Chapter Text

                “This is all my fault,” Michael said as he sat against the wall, the fake stars pasted on the ceiling flashing dimly like a dying memory. “We’re gonna die here, and it’s all my fault.”

                “We’re not going to die,” Alex said calmly as he examined the electric wires on the floor, probably used to keep the stars and UFO lit. The first time Michael had ever set foot in here, his thoughts had been consumed with Alex. They were alone now, as they had been before, but this time, they were barricaded in while a psychotic, murderous alien roamed the halls outside, looking for them.

                “You’re not freaked out,” he noted, and Alex raised a brow at him.

                “Neither are you.”

                Michael shrugged, trying to pretend his eyes weren’t burning, his heart wasn’t racing, his fingers weren’t trembling, because he wasn’t the only one trapped. Alex was here, and that was his fault, too.

                He shrugged a shoulder. “This is as freaked out as I get.”

                Alex hummed, his attention on the wires as he checked their lengths, his eyes going between them and the door as if trying to calculate something.

                “Alex,” Michael tried.

                “Freaking out won’t do anything,” Alex said. He didn’t sound angry, Michael realized, or annoyed. He talked as if he was addressing any stranger that he was trying to keep calm. Somehow, it felt worse.

                “Alex Manes in action,” he joked, trying to ignore the increasing dread in his chest. “I know it’s probably not the time, but I’m kinda turned on.”

                Alex gave him a brief smirk, though his attention was elsewhere. Michael stared, and swallowed. “I’m sorry.”

                Alex stilled, glancing at him. He resumed quickly enough, shaking his head. “Don’t be sorry, I told you, I’m getting us out of this.”

                “I shouldn’t have asked you to come with me.”

                “Guerin –”

                “I didn’t need you here, Alex, I lied,” Michael blurted. “You just – you were only talking to me when you needed information for a Project Shepherd case, so I figured I would, I don’t know, get you here and – and,” he shrugged, “I didn’t even think that far ahead, I just wanted you here.”

                Alex stared, then sighed, using a pocketknife to cut a few wires, tying a few of them together, and Michael was quick to add, “B-But I swear, I didn’t think there’d be any risk! This is all just freaky timing!”

                Alex pocketed his knife, fixed the wires onto the smaller UFO near the door, and stepped back, dusting his hands off. He grabbed his gun, and sat beside Michael against the wall, his right leg stretched out while he brought his left up to his chest. “I know,” he said, and Michael frowned. “I know you were lying, Guerin.”

                “Then, why agree to come?”

                Alex shook his head, seemingly deliberating something with himself. In the end, he huffed a miserable, resigned chuckle. “Because I miss you. I just miss you, Guerin.”

                Michael felt something bloom in his chest, the relief at hearing the words he’d been longing to hear for years hitting him at once, and for a moment, his tears, his racing heart, his trembling hands – it was all for Alex.

                “Yeah?”

                Alex smiled kindly, nodding.

                “I miss you, too, Alex,” he said quietly, and moved to scoot closer to the airman.

                Alex, who hadn’t noticed, looked down and said, “It’s too bad we couldn’t make it work.”

                Michael froze. “What?”

                Alex finally caught Michael’s eyes, and Michael saw that he wasn’t angry or disappointed or even afraid – just tired.

                “It’s funny,” he said, leaning back, checking the bullets in his gun. “This is the worst time to be having this conversation, I know, but…”

                “Then let’s not have it,” he said, desperation crawling up his throat. Alex looked at him almost blankly, as if he couldn’t see him anymore, but saw someone else. He remembered when Alex had barely been able to look at him, and he’d thought it was the worst thing ever; the anger in his stare, the tears, the misery – but this, he realized, this was way worse. Alex looked at him with a sort of sad resignation, an almost numb exhaustion that told Michael he was done, that he had nothing left to give, and he’d come to accept that.

                “I don’t know how else to say I’m sorry, Alex,” he said. “I don’t know what to do to make you believe me.”

                “I know you’re sorry,” he said.

                “Stop talking to me like that,” he leaned in.

                “Like what?”

                “Like you don’t love me anymore!”

                The door slammed suddenly, and Alex and Michael got to their feet, Michael cursing.

                He stood beside the airman, an arm up to shield him, another raised at the door, ready to blast apart anything that came in. He glanced at Alex, expecting him to look concerned, but the airman eyed the door, his gun aimed, his eyes glancing at the wires that he’d pinned along the wall and UFO, determination in his eyes.

                “Here we go,” he muttered, steadying his stance.

                “You look like you have a plan,” he said, and inhaled sharply as the door slammed again, the frames cracking. “Please tell me you have a plan.”

                “I have a plan,” Alex said.

                BOOM! the door slammed, and Michael swallowed. “A good plan?”

                “Er –” BOOM BOOM BOOM! “Just shoot him into the UFO when I say so, and then run.”

                “You’re coming with me, right?” Alex didn’t answer. “Right?”

                “Yeah, yes, right behind you!”

                Right then, the door shattered apart, sharp pieces of wood flying everywhere. Michael used his powers to shield himself and Alex, and he saw it. His hands clenched to fists as the alien approached them. It had looked like a man when Michael had seen it barely half an hour ago, and now it looked like a black squid growing on a human body, his tentacles whipping everywhere.

                “Uh – Alex,” Michael said, “now?”

                “Wait,” Alex commanded, closing one eye as he took aim.

                The squid-man-alien thing moved closer, and Michael resisted the urge to move back, pulling Alex closer to him.

                “Now?”

                “Wait for it… now!”

                Michael barely registered Alex turning the gun away from the alien and towards the UFO. He threw the alien into it just as the airman took his shot, and Michael realized what Alex had been doing with the wires.

                He’d been making an explosive, just large enough to fry a regular-sized man. Michael assumed, anyway. He didn’t stick around to watch. As soon as the bomb went off, he ran out, just as Alex had told him. He rounded a corner, and turned around, panicked only for a split-second when he found that Alex wasn’t behind him.

                “I told you to run!” Alex suddenly said as he came around the corner, and Michael couldn’t help but hold onto his shoulders briefly, making sure he was actually there and safe, before he nodded, took Alex’s hand in his, and ran, unable to stop moving until he’d gotten them both out.

                Once they were in his truck, far away from the museum, Michael felt himself able to breathe. “Okay,” he panted, “you did it, Alex, you saved us.” He huffed a chuckle, reaching for his phone. As he’d feared, the battery was empty. He thought of Max’s face as he pulled up in his driveway, thought of the millions of messages and calls his brother and sister must’ve left him after having undoubtedly sensed his distress, and he knew he had to reassure them before anything else.

                “Alex,” he said, his eyes on the road, “give me your phone a second, I need to call Max.” Alex didn’t answer. “Alex?”

                He looked over, and his heart sank. Alex was limp in his seat, his face turned away from Michael, leaning against the window in an almost painful position, and along his chest, something Michael hadn’t noticed before because Alex had kept his jacket tight around him, was a deep gash, now seeping blood through his clothes.

                “Oh my God,” he breathed, and brought the car to a screeching halt. He hurried out of his side, and ran over to Alex, pulling him out from the small space. “Alex, hey, Alex.”

                Alex’s eyes were almost closed as he looked at Michael. He stepped out, and all but fell against him.

                “Hey, hey!” Michael said, cursing his voice for trembling. He brought a hand into Alex’s hair, holding his head gently. “You’re okay, you’re gonna be okay.”

                “I’m sorry,” Alex breathed. “It was the only way.”

                “You knew that stupid bomb would hit you,” realization dawned, and he shook his head, moving Alex’s bangs from his forehead as he struggled to keep them both standing. He clenched his jaw. Alex was freezing. “Of course, you did.”

                “I needed you to… to be safe,” he said slowly. “I’m sorry.”

                “Hey, stop, don’t, okay? You’re gonna be fine, just hold onto me,” he kissed his forehead, then his cheeks, the press of his lips hard and desperate. Alex was going to be fine, he thought as he reached for the airman’s phone in his pocket and dialed Max’s number. It’s Alex, Alex is always fine.

                Alex nodded sleepily, his grip on Michael’s sleeves loosening. Michael panicked, holding him upright against the car. “Come on, Manes, this isn’t how this is supposed to happen, okay? You’re gonna be fine –”

                “I love you,” he whispered, looking increasingly pale. “I just… had to tell you… you didn’t… look like you knew…”

                Michael stared, his eyes burning. “I did,” he croaked. “I knew. I love you, too.” He sniffed, moving close enough to Alex to press their foreheads together, his hold on Alex’s phone tight as it rang. Come on, Max, come on.

                Alex went almost completely limp, sliding in Michael’s embrace, and Michael gasped, stepping closer. “Alex, Alex, please, look at me, okay? No, don’t close your eyes, open them and look at me – look. I’m right here, I’m not leaving you ever again, I swear, Alex. Please, open your eyes and look at me. I’m right here, Alex, look at me!” he tried, his breaths turning quicker and shallower, a tear falling down his cheek as his heart hammered hard enough that it beat against his own ears. “Alex, look, I’m here.”

                Michael barely felt the tightening of fingers on his sleeve as the other line picked up, his brother’s voice distant, as if underwater.

Chapter Text

                “Lose something?” Alex looked up from his punching bag, sweaty and panting, another soldier standing there in his training clothes, an amused smirk on his face as he dangled a pair of dog tags from their chain.

                Alex sniffed, and resumed his stance, his fists up. “Stop going through my stuff, Jackson.”

                “I didn’t,” the tall blonde said, his blue eyes gleaming as they came around Alex. “I found them on the ground.”

                “Under my bed?” Alex panted, taking another few swings at the bag. “That’s my stuff.”

                His smile softened. “Come on, Manes,” he said, and Alex felt the chain go around his neck, the dog tags settling on his chest.

                He sighed, his head ducked. “Why do you always do that?”

                Jackson leaned against the wall, his arms crossed. “Why don’t you ever wear them?”

                “Because I don’t want to,” he said, and closed his fist around them, about to yank them off.

                “Careful,” Jackson said. “One of these days, I might not be here to put them back on you.” He tilted his head, his smile widening. “And then you’ll be sorry.”

                Alex’s eyes fell to his arms, the way his muscles flexed underneath his short sleeves. He caught Alex staring, and something in his eyes twinkled. Alex looked away and scoffed. “I’ll learn to live with it,” he said, and pulled the tags off.

                “Rough day?”

                “Sergeant Manes routine checkup,” Alex said, his father’s cold eyes as he examined him etched into his memory. “Came to visit his son, my ass.” He clenched his jaw. “He stood there and tested how quickly I could disassemble and reassemble a rifle, then proceeded to tell me how I wasn’t realizing my full potential, and needed to spend more hours in training. Him and his Manes Man bullshit – I could save the entire base from a missile attack with one arm tied behind my back, and he’d still talk down to me.”

                Alex punched the bag so hard, it almost flew. He briefly registered the pain shoot up his arm, and he wrung his hand out before resuming his pace, unable to help but take a particularly rough shot with every passing thought of his father’s words.

                “Full potential?” Jackson laughed. “You mean there’s more to you?”

                Alex closed his eyes, huffing a chuckle despite himself. He looked at the chain hanging from his fist, the tags digging into his palm, reminding him that they were there.

                He came to stand beside the soldier, tossing the necklace into his hand. “Put those back where you found them please.”

                He raised his brow at the tags resting on his open palm. “You really hate your life here, don’t you?”

                Alex slowed as he reached for a water bottle on the ground. He took a big gulp before he simply said, “You know why I’m here.”

                “Then why do you fight so hard?” he asked, and carefully put the tags in his pocket as if they were delicate pieces of jewelry. Alex had a feeling he wouldn’t find them under his bed again. “Manes, you’re the best of us. No one gets that good without having something to fight for.”

                “Maybe I’m fighting for the war to end,” Alex said after a moment, and glanced at Jackson, the soldier watching him closely.

                “Well,” he said quietly, his eyes falling to Alex’s lips, “if anyone could do it…”

                Alex swallowed. He was fully aware of Jackson leaning in, and for a moment, his eyes fluttered shut, waiting for the soft press of lips against his. He felt Jackson’s body heat as he came closer, his hot breath fanning Alex’s lips, and just as he felt their noses brush, one face came to mind. And it wasn’t Jackson’s.

                He gasped, his eyes widening, and he stepped back, his hand on Jackson’s chest.

                Jackson’s eyes opened slowly, though he didn’t look surprised. He silently leaned away, resting against the wall again with his hands behind his back.

                The two stood there for what felt like forever, and then Jackson said, “So,” the corner of his lips tilted upward in a half-smile, “you do have something you’re fighting for.”

                “Jackson,” he shook his head, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why…”

                “I do,” he said. “You love him.”

                “It’s been almost ten years since I’ve seen him,” Alex said, “my worst memory is tied up with him, I can’t think of him without wanting to cry or scream or hit something –” He rubbed his face. “It doesn’t make any sense to love him.”

                Jackson huffed a chuckle, looking at Alex as if he’d missed the most obvious point. “Love’s not supposed to make sense, Manes. When are you gonna learn to stop fighting what you feel?”

                Alex shrugged his shoulder, and said, “Well, there’s no point, is there? I’m here and he’s… wherever he is.”

                “True, very true,” Jackson said, his voice suddenly light as he turned his body to Alex and smiled innocently, “but a suggestion, if I may. I’m here, and I don’t think anyone else is coming in here to practice any time soon, so if you really want to work up a sweat, I’m willing to be your human punching bag, if you know what I mean.”

                “Get away from me,” Alex laughed, shoving him lightly.

                Jackson watched him, his expression softening, and he brought a hand up to gently cup Alex’s cheek, his thumb brushing the corner of Alex’s lips. “There. Didn’t look like you had it in you to laugh today. Had me worried for a second there, Manes.”

                Alex searched his face and closed his eyes, leaning into his touch, covering his hand with his own, and they stayed like that until the sun set.

                The next time Alex felt Jackson’s touch, he was shaking him awake. “Hey, come on, get up.”

                Alex barely blinked twice before he was out of bed, reaching for his clothes, but Jackson stopped him, taking a hold of his arms. “Hey, no, there’s no mission, I just wanted to check out with you before I left.”

                “Left?” Alex asked, and Jackson shushed him. Alex then realized that Jackson was in full combat uniform, and no one else had been woken up. Dread immediately settled in his chest. “What’re you talking about?” he whispered. “Where’re you going?”

                “Retrieval op, just a few of us have been selected,” he said, “nothing big, don’t worry, but you know you’re my good luck charm, so I couldn’t go without seeing you.”

                Alex nodded uncertainly. He thought about offering to go with him, but he knew he’d never be allowed to. Not to mention the trouble Jackson would get into if their sergeant found out he’d talked about a mission with another soldier who hadn’t been assigned to the case.

                “And,” Jackson continued, snapping Alex out of his thoughts, “bringing you these back.” He held up Alex’s dog tags, and before Alex could realize what he was doing, Jackson pulled back, a satisfied smile on his lips as the tags hung from Alex’s neck, settling over his heart as if they belonged there.

                “Jackson –” he moved to tug them off, and Jackson caught his wrist.

                “No no, you can’t do that now, I’m leaving. You’re supposed to yank them off in front of my face, and watch me cry about it, like a real man.” Alex frowned, and Jackson shrugged, chuckling. “Just wait till I come to see you again to take them off, I won’t be gone long.”

                “What – What is it with you and these tags? Why do they matter so much to you?” he couldn’t help but ask, trying to pretend the growing dread in his chest was actually irritation.

                Jackson had begun to leave, but at Alex’s question, he stopped, and looked over his shoulder at him. He smiled, reaching under his collar and pulling out his own tags, as if trying to show Alex a secret message. “I’ll tell you when I get back.”

                *

                “Those were the last words he ever said to you?” Michael said, his hot breath fanning the nape of Alex’s neck.

                Alex’s heart ached as he told the story, his tags in hand, but with Michael behind him now, their naked bodies pressed together in bed, Michael’s arms wrapped around Alex’s waist as if to protect him, Alex felt himself able to breathe easier than he had in a long time.

                Alex nodded, and Michael’s hold tightened on him, one hand covering Alex’s on his tags, his thumb lightly brushing Alex’s engraved name. “And you never found out why they meant so much to him?”

                Alex hesitated, his brows furrowed as he slowly said, “I think it’s because they were what bonded us. Kept us together.” He turned in Michael’s hold, facing him. “You were always on my mind, Guerin, and he knew it. You were the reason I never started anything with him, even knowing how he felt.” He shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe because we both had the tags, he saw it as some kind of…”

                “Connection,” Michael finished. “And you said he kept putting them on you.” His brows furrowed. “He loved you so much he wanted to keep you any way he could.”

                Alex searched his face, his hold on his tags tightening. “Are you mad?”

                Michael pursed his lips, looking deep in thought. “No, I’m… I’m glad you had someone like that with you. It’s a real relief, actually.”

                “Hey,” Alex said softly, bringing his hand up to cup Michael’s cheek, “what’s on your mind?”

                “Did you love him?” he asked after a moment, and Alex considered it. The one question he’d been dodging for over a year, the one he could never bring himself to ask because the answer felt like a kind of betrayal. Still…

                When are you gonna learn to stop fighting what you feel?

                “I did,” he said, a heavy pressure on his chest finally gone as the confession left him. “I don’t think he ever knew that, but I did. I’m sorry.”

                Michael raised a brow and smiled, amused, holding Alex closer, and kissing his forehead once, twice, three times.

                He leaned back, holding Alex’s tags, and it filled Alex’s heart with an inexplicable warmth to see the delicate touch which he did it with.

                “Harley Jackson,” Michael sighed, “you were there for Alex when I couldn’t be. Thank you.” He raised a brow at Alex. “Makes sense, doesn’t it? Heroes always have someone they’re fighting for.”

                Michael watched the gleam of the tags in the sunlight, and Alex watched him. He smiled softly as his friend’s words echoed in his ear, and after all this time, he finally understood what he’d meant.

                So… you do have something you’re fighting for.

                “Yeah,” he said. “I guess they do.”

Chapter Text

                “Heard you took Alex out last night,” Michael said, the sound of the door as it shut behind Alex still echoing throughout the bunker.

                Kyle looked up from across the table, the file he’d been working on still in his hands as his brow rose. “Heard from who?”

                Michael shrugged a shoulder. “Just a friend saw you guys at the bar.” Together, the word remained unspoken, though not unheard.

                “And thought it was groundbreaking enough to tell you?” Kyle asked, setting his file down. “Or are you just following Alex around again?”

                Michael stared. “Just answer the question, Valenti.”

                Kyle smirked humorlessly, his eyes dark. “I warned you the last time that I’d tell Alex you were stalking him unless you stopped, and you obviously haven’t, so now I will.”

                “Did you take him out or not?”

                Kyle shook his head. “What does it matter? You’re not a couple, and I think you’ve made your feelings about him very clear.”

                Michael flinched, his jaw clenched as he recalled Alex’s wide, trusting eyes looking at him as if he was the only good thing he knew he could believe in, the only good parts of himself that he knew for sure at least one person saw. And he remembered the way that trust shattered as Michael told him that his father was a part of him, that it was that part that was too hard to get past, that part that hurt Michael the most.

                When he spoke, his voice was quiet and dark. “I don’t think what happens between me and Alex is any of your business.”

                “Funny,” Kyle said, continuing his search through his file, “I was just about to say the same thing to you.”

                Michael had one hand on the desk in front of him, a list of old Project Shepherd files to go through, but he couldn’t think about them at all. He was here because Alex needed his insight on the alien research, but he didn’t want the cowboy here, that much was obvious. Michael’s eyes fell to the chair beside Kyle’s that had been pushed out as Alex had found yet another excuse to step outside, as if even being in the same space as Michael hurt him. He scratched a finger on the desk. Following Alex around, watching him from a distance, it was the only way Michael could have him.

                “He loves me,” Michael said, and whether he was trying to convince Kyle or himself, he didn’t know. “Don’t think just because you take him out for a few drinks that that’s gonna change.”

                “I know he loves you, Guerin,” Kyle said, his voice almost rough, his research forgotten, and Michael could tell he was touching a nerve. Somehow, it made him angrier. Why did Kyle care so much about Alex’s feelings for him? Why did it matter? “I know what he thinks of you, and I know what you mean to him.”

                “Good,” Michael said. “So you’ll know not to get any closer to him than you have to.”

                Kyle expression darkened, and he looked at Michael as if he was someone else. “Don’t threaten me. Especially not with Alex.”

                “Stop saying his name like that,” Michael stood, his voice rising. “He doesn’t care about you, not like he cares about me. The longer you stay away from him, the less confused he’ll be.”

                “That’s not up to you!” he said. “What right do you think you have to be making any decisions for him? Do you have any idea what you did to him? Comparing him to that monster – it’s sick!”

                “I didn’t compare him to Jesse –”

                “You may as well have!” He shook his head, looking at Michael as if he couldn’t understand how the cowboy was missing the point so badly. “You – You treat him like he’s made of stone, like he can take anything you throw at him – he can’t! Everyone has a breaking point, Guerin, and that was his. It’s sad that you don’t realize how much worse it is that it came from you.”

                Michael’s nails dug into his palms, and he felt it; the slight shift in his balance. Suddenly everything that wasn’t bolted to the ground had risen up, from small things like scrolls of blueprints to larger, like discarded computers and chairs, all levitating up to their chests. Kyle looked startled only for a moment before his gaze settled on Michael, hesitant.

                Michael, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about what his powers were doing, his anger directed at Kyle. He finally figured it out, the gradually growing rage in his chest, his blood boiling, the race of his thoughts and his heart at the same time – it wasn’t anguish because of Alex, it was fury at Kyle.

                “You know, I’ve always hated you,” he said, his voice quiet and trembling. “Even when we were teenagers, and you were a total dick, you still acted like you knew Alex better than anyone. Like there was something between you that nobody else could live up to.”

                Kyle shook his head, even as the objects lifted higher. “You can’t scare me, Guerin.”

                “You always think you know best, even if that means keeping him away from me.”

                “I’m not keeping him away from you, you’re the one who pushed him away!” Kyle snapped. “If you’re waiting for him to say that he’ll wait for you, you’re gonna be waiting a long time!”

                Michael swallowed, and he could feel the objects start to turn around them, as if closing them off from the outside. “Did you sleep with him?”

                Kyle’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

                “Did you sleep with him?” Michael repeated. “And I’ll know if you’re lying.”

                “Guerin –”

                “What about kissing? Have you kissed him?”

                “You need to calm down,” Kyle said, his eyes darting around as the levitating wall spun faster.

                “Have you kissed him?!”

                “No, okay?!” he snapped, panic seeping into his voice. “Guerin, stop already –”

                But Michael couldn’t stop. Kyle acted like he understood, but he didn’t. Michael felt every racing thought since not only last night, but since the day Alex had walked away from him for what felt like would be the last time, since the look of hurt and betrayal on his face seemed to overwhelm any love he had for Michael – he felt every bit of that fear hit him at once.

                What if that had been his one chance, and he’d thrown it away? What if Alex never forgave him? What if Alex never stopped blaming himself because of Michael? What if Michael had broken him?

                “You don’t know what he is to me,” he said, his voice quiet, his eyes burning as the fear gnawed at his heart. Last night had just confirmed Michael’s greatest fear. Last night had shown him that Alex could move on, that he could learn to trust somebody more than he ever trusted Michael, that he could fall in love with someone else. The idea, Michael thought, felt worse than any death ever could. “You don’t know what I’d do to keep him, Valenti, you have no idea.”

                Kyle’s eyes seemed to catch something behind Michael, and his face fell. “Alex –”

                Michael exhaled a shaky breath, pressing the bottom of his palms to his eyes. “Stop saying his name!”

                “Guerin –” a voice said, and a hand suddenly touched his shoulder. Michael, angered and blind to everything but the fire burning behind his eyes, yelled, and everything close to him was pushed away, hitting the walls.

                Everything fell silent, and Michael, after looking up, realized that Kyle was still standing, though his expression had turned to shock and horror. Michael’s frown deepened, dread immediately crawling up his throat. Who had touched his shoulder?

                He followed Kyle’s gaze, and his heart sunk when he saw Alex lay against the wall amongst piles of folders, wires, chairs, and smashed computers. He was breathing shakily, his hand holding his waist, his cheek and lip cut from one of the sharp tools, his arm barely holding himself up from the ground as Kyle hurried to his side, his hands on his shoulders. He tried to help him sit up, but Alex winced, and all but fell against the doctor. Michael’s arms went limp at his side. He hurt Alex.

                “Alex,” he breathed, and took a step toward him.

                “Don’t!” Kyle snapped, holding Alex closer.

                Michael flinched, stumbling back. He hurt Alex. He hurt Alex, he hurt Alex, he hurt Alex.

                “I’m – I’m sorry, Alex.”

                But Alex had been thrown against the wall too roughly, his eyes hazed as he tried to control his breathing, as if he didn’t even know who he was holding onto and who he was keeping away.

                Michael’s hands trembled, and he moved toward the door. “I’m sorry,” he muttered over and over as he left the bunker, taunted with the thought that the further away he got, the safer Alex would be.

Chapter Text

                Alex woke to soft breathing against the nape of his neck. Two arms wrapped around his waist tightly, a naked body pressed against his back. He settled back onto the pillow as he remembered that he had slept over at Michael’s, that that was okay, that he didn’t need to worry about anyone coming for them anymore.

                Still, Alex covered Michael’s hand with his own, the warm, rough skin a comfort. He traced Michael’s wrist with his thumb, and when he felt Michael nuzzle against his neck, he smiled.

                He turned slowly in his hold so that they were facing each other, and for what felt like hours, Alex just laid there, staring at the cowboy. The tips of his curls turned to gold under the sunlight, the bright light behind him from the window illuminating his entire body. Angel, Alex thought as he softly traced his fingers along Michael’s chin, his stubble scratching his fingers. Alex bit his lower lip as his smile widened. A rugged angel, but an angel, nonetheless.

                He leaned forward, pressing his lips against Michael’s in a gentle kiss, and as he pulled back, he felt Michael’s hands on his lower back, pulling him in deeper.

                Michael hummed, his eyes closed. “Alex,” he muttered tiredly as he snuggled against Alex’s collarbone, holding their bodies unbearably close together. Alex smiled into his curls, inhaling the scent of vanilla and dirt. He ran one hand down Michael’s back, enjoying the way the cowboy moaned against his skin.

                Small specks of gold floated in the sunlight surrounding them, and Alex’s hold tightened protectively around Michael as he thought about the next hour or so, when they’d have to get up. Living the life he’d had, Alex had learned that everything good disappeared sooner or later, and even now, he couldn’t help that beating, echoing fear in his chest that he would lose this, too. He would lose Michael, the sunlight, the warmth, the love – all gone, replaced with fire, and storms, and gunshots… then he’d feel Michael’s hold on him tighten, Michael’s lips press a soft kiss to his skin, Michael’s warmth enveloping him as he whispered in his ear, telling Alex that he was the warmth, the comfort, the love that kept Michael safe.

                And every time, Alex would bury his face against the crook of Michael’s neck. Michael treasured him, Alex knew that, but he had no idea – no idea – how wrong he was. It was Michael who was the treasure, the one Alex couldn’t live without.

                Alex closed his eyes, his fingers digging into Michael’s skin, undoubtedly bruising, but he needed it. He needed to know that Michael was there, that he was here, safe in the cowboy’s bed, and not lying in a ditch somewhere, surrounded by screams and blood and death. Michael never complained, never allowed Alex to apologize when the purple spots revealed themselves hours later.

                I’m glad I’m your anchor, he always said. When you get scared, hold onto me. As tight as you can.

                “I love you,” Alex whispered, his eyes burning despite himself, and after a moment, he felt the tickling press of Michael’s lips against his neck, muttering the same words back.

Chapter Text

                Michael hadn’t dared enter the airstream until he heard his bed creaking, Alex’s soft grunts sounding from the inside. He had been sitting on the front steps of the trailer, and hurried inside to see Alex struggling to stand up.

                “Whoa, Alex, stop,” Michael hurried to his side, his hands on his bare back. “You can’t move around that quickly, you’ll reopen your wound.”

                Alex breathed heavily, his hand going to the thick bandages wrapped around his waist, his brows furrowed.

                “What – what happened?” he panted. “Is this the – why am I here?”

                “Okay, breathe, Alex, breathe, it’s okay,” he rubbed Alex’s back soothingly. “You were shot, you don’t remember?”

                Alex winced as he shook his head. “Don’t –”

                “Don’t what?” he moved his hands to Alex’s shoulders. “Does it hurt to touch your back? What about your arms? Is this better?” His skin was warm, which Michael thought was a good sign. He could still feel the chill of Alex’s body against his as he had brought him into the hospital, the image of Alex bleeding and half-dead flashing over and over in his mind. It was okay, Alex was better now. He was awake, and talking, and warm.

                “Don’t touch me,” Alex muttered weakly, swatting his hand away.

                “What?” Michael frowned, trying to help Alex again only to be pushed away.

                “Don’t touch me, Guerin!” he yelled and winced, his arm around his waist as his breathing turned faster and shallower.

                “Okay,” Michael stepped back until he was off the bed, his hands up in defense. “Okay, just… please, lie back down, okay?”

                But either Alex didn’t hear him or chose to ignore him as he managed to sit up. “I want to go home, I want to – why am I here?”

                “I brought you here,” he said, reaching for a bottle of water from his fridge. He put it on the counter beside Alex’s head, pushing it closely to him, though he didn’t take it. Michael dared to reach further, but his fingers had barely brushed Alex’s hair before the airman was moving away from him again.

                “Don’t touch me!” he snapped, and just as he did, he moaned with pain, rolling onto his side. Michael was beside him in an instant.

                “Alex –”

                “Don’t!” he warned. “I’m fine, I can do this by myself.”

                “Alex, you don’t have to – let me help you!”

                Michael led Alex against the pillows, his frown deepening as he pulled his hands back to find them soaked. “You’re exhausting yourself, you need to sit still.”

                Alex closed his eyes, his breathing slowing down, deepening, and after a moment, he said, “I want to go home.”

                “You could hurt yourself leaving now.”

                “I don’t care.”

                Michael clenched his jaw. “You hate me so much you’d risk cutting your body open and bleeding out?” Alex said nothing, only his fists tightening in the bedsheets, and Michael tried to ignore the heavy weight in his chest, the acid that rose up his throat, making it difficult for him to talk. He tried to will away the fire behind his eyes as he watched Alex, resolute and angry, angrier than Michael had ever seen him. Michael knew he was the one to blame for that resentment, but he didn’t know things with the airman had gotten this bad. That Michael had turned him this bad.

                “Alex,” he said, his voice soft. Alex glared, and Michael retreated the one step he’d taken, his hands up. “I’m just trying to help.”

                “I don’t want your help,” he said, and winced, his hand on his waist, his other reaching to hold onto the counter behind him, his fingers white. “Don’t come near me, Guerin, I mean it.”

                Michael swallowed. “You’re in pain, if I could just –”

                “Don’t come near me,” he grit, and after a moment, his grip on the counter relented, and he panted. Michael felt the grip on his own heart loosen as Alex’s breathing gradually turned deeper, calmer.

                “You okay?”

                Alex inhaled deeply a few more times, his brows furrowed and his eyes blinking as if he was trying to fight off a migraine. “Where’s my phone?”

                Michael straightened, his frown deepening. “Why? What do you want with it?”

                “To call Kyle,” he said, throwing the blanket off before he slowly tried to move his legs to the edge of the bed. “I need him to take me back to the cabin.”

                Michael glanced over his shoulder at Alex’s phone as Alex looked around the trailer, and subtly moved along the edge of the table, blocking it from view.

                “Beats me,” he said, and Alex’s eyes settled on him, suspicious, then his shoulders slumped, and he reached an expectant hand out to the cowboy.

                Michael’s heart jumped for a moment as he reached forward, about to take Alex’s hand, to feel the warmth of his skin, but Alex avoided his touch, his eyes narrowed. “Are you out of your mind? I want you to give me my phone off the table.”

                Michael stuck his tongue in his cheek. “To call Valenti.”

                “I don’t care who comes to get me, Guerin, I just want to get out of here,” he said, impatient.

                Michael stood, stalling as he glanced at Alex’s phone on the table. “Alex,” he finally said, the plea in his voice evident even to his own ears, though coming as no surprise. “Please, I’m just trying to fix what I –”

                “Toxic,” Alex hissed, and Michael went silent. “I think that was the word you used, wasn’t it? That’s what you thought of me.” His hand trembled slightly as he held it out, and Michael’s heart fell into his stomach as a tear fell down Alex’s cheek. “Give me the damn phone, Guerin.”

                Michael looked for an argument, an apology, anything that would tell Alex that he hadn’t meant it, that he was stupid, that he loved Alex more than he could ever love anyone, that he didn’t want to be with anyone the way he desperately wanted – the way he needed – to be with Alex.

                But as his lower lip slightly quivered and his eyes filled with tears, Michael knew that if he messed up, if anything came out wrong, Alex would cry, and he didn’t think he could forgive himself if he made Alex cry again.

                Without a word, he handed Alex his phone, and quietly stood as he called Kyle, asking him to come get him. Michael watched as Alex spoke, so confident that Kyle would be there for him. He still remembered the last time Alex had trusted him, just as he remembered the instant that trust had shattered to pieces.

                After Alex hung up, he slowly got up, put his prosthetic on, and got dressed in his own clothes, as if the cowboy’s clothes burned his skin. He wouldn’t allow himself to even lean against Michael for a second, and when he was finished, he sat with a heavy sigh on the bed, unable to stay standing. He sat in silence with Michael standing across from him, just watching him breathe.

                “I love you,” he said. “I know it’s unfair to say it now, like this, but I do. I just want you to know that.”

                Alex said nothing, staring straight ahead as if hoping that, if he imagined hard enough, he could transport himself somewhere far away.

                “Alex, please look at me. Please.” Alex relented and looked up. Michael took a step closer, and was encouraged when Alex didn’t warn him away. “I’ve never known anything like you. I can handle cars, and bar signs, and – and spaceships, but you… I don’t know… I’ve – I’ve never felt…” His head hung, and he sighed deeply before he said, “I don’t know what to do with you.”

                Alex shook his head. “You don’t get it.”

                “Then tell me!”

                “I’m not broken, Guerin,” he said in a voice barely over a whisper, his brows furrowed as if he couldn’t understand how Michael had missed that point. “I may be beaten up, but I’m not broken. I’m not your crashed spaceship, I never needed you to fix me. I just… needed you.”

                They heard the sound of a car outside. Valenti, Michael thought, and looked over to see Alex wincing as he stood. When he got to his feet, he said, “That’s the worst part in all of this, you know. Not what you called me, not what you thought of us. It’s that, after everything, the one…” he visibly swallowed, “the only person I thought I could trust to keep me safe, to be there for me… became the one person I couldn’t.”

Chapter Text

                “Is that the guy?” Kyle said, his voice quiet as he leaned into his partner. “Markson?”

                Alex hummed without glancing behind him. As he took a sip of his wine glass, one hand in the pant pocket of his black tux, Kyle couldn’t help but once against silently admire the way the airman seemed to have eyes on the back of his head, always able to sense his surroundings. Though it was a harsh reminder of what Alex had had to endure after high school – the life of military training and codebreaking and covert ops – it was still amazing to believe that this was the same boy who had run around with Kyle for hours in their backyard, playing ninjas and sorcerers and Power Rangers and whatever else their imagination had wanted them to be.

                Now, here they were, trying to uncover a possible, essential member of Project Shepherd, and Kyle couldn’t help but feel like it was just him and Alex, in his backyard, playing spies. Except this was real, and there was a risk of serious danger, and despite it all, Alex barely bat an eye.

                “You don’t look too scared,” Kyle noted, taking a subtle look around the ballroom as he lifted his own glass of champagne to his lips. “Isn’t this supposed to be your dad’s right hand man?”

                Alex scoffed, raising a brow. “My dad doesn’t trust anyone whose last name isn’t Manes, and even then that’s a gamble,” he added in a mutter. “But his name was on all the files, he was in charge of disposing of evidence should anyone access the computers.”

                “Kinda sucks at his job then, doesn’t he? You accessed those computers months ago, and he hasn’t even changed the password.”

                “Because I’m smarter,” Alex said very matter-of-factly, as if this was no feat, as if – by being a Manes – it was only natural that he was smarter than most. As if even the accomplishment of being clever didn’t matter.

                Kyle kept his eyes on Alex, his fingers tightening on his champagne glass. He knew exactly who was responsible for that. Alex had never been the kind of guy to give himself much credit, but he was never the kind of guy to dismiss his own achievements so easily either. Not until he had opened his mouth, not until he had beaten Alex to the ground.

                Still, Kyle knew that this was not the time for this kind of conversation, and he forced a smile to his lips. “Oh, I don’t doubt that, but if you’re not hacking into his dating account and posting delicious photos of him in a bikini, what’s the point?”

                At this, Alex smirked, and Kyle couldn’t help but feel a small sense of pride bloom in his chest at being able to bring any kind of smile to the airman’s lips. He had been so miserable ever since…

                “The fact that my dad put that kind of task in his hands proves that he knows more than others might,” Alex said, the stance in his shoulders seemingly less tense. “The only question is; how much more?”

                Kyle glanced at the tall man – his pale blonde hair and beard streaked with gray, his suit a dark gray, and his dark eyes cold and uncaring as a drunk woman chattered on and on to him – and looked away. “You sure he would’ve brought that drive you told him to?”

                Alex nodded. “There are too many missing pieces in the files my dad had in the bunker, and I think a lot of it is owed to how old all the systems are. If Markson thinks he’s giving the drive to one of my brothers, then he would most likely include information that would help us fill in the blanks.”

                Kyle frowned. “So we still have to get it off him? How are we going to do that?”

                Alex huffed a chuckle. “Would it be enough to ask you to just trust me?”

                Kyle shrugged. Alex sounded so sure that Kyle would say no, and he couldn’t help but wonder how often he had been treated like a monster, like an enemy, that he didn’t think even the partner he’d been working with for months, the one he’d confided all his secrets to, would trust him.

                “Whatever you say, Manes,” he said, and Alex blinked.

                “Seriously?”

                “Yeah,” he said, “to be honest, knowing you’re on it kinda makes me feel better.”

                Alex stared, his look unreadable, and Kyle raised a brow. “What?”

                “Nothing,” Alex finally said. He looked over his shoulder, and back at his glass. Kyle thought his cheeks had turned a soft shade of pink, but when he looked again, the color had faded.

                “So,” Kyle took a deep breath, straightening his back, “what’s the plan?”

                “Wait for it,” Alex said, then as he took another sip of his drink, the music playing in the large room changed. It had been something classical, elegant, and as Kyle listened, he realized the small band in the center had changed their tune to what sounded like an instrumental version of a Celine Dion song.

                “Who’s picking these songs?”

                “The guy who owns this place,” Alex said, nudging his chin at the giant, golden-framed portrait on the wall of a very large balding man with a white beard. “I hacked into their program the second the invitations had gone out.”

                “So that’s how you got our invitations!” Kyle said, mocking disappointment. “And I thought you said you took a second shift just to buy us a nice evening out together.”

                Alex shook his head, though a smile played at his lips. Kyle wanted to smile himself. He didn’t think the alien cowboy who had caused Alex such heartbreak had ever seen him smile. He couldn’t have. How would anyone have seen Alex smile, and still hurt him?

                Alex buttoned his tux jacket, glancing subtly at Markson who had begrudgingly taken the woman who had been talking at him and held her as they danced, as everyone else had done with their dates.

                “I figured out the music score they’d be using,” Alex said, and straightened his shoulders as if preparing for some great leap.

                “The music? What for?”

                Alex answered him by holding out an expectant hand. Kyle blinked at it.

                “You want me to hold your hand?”

                “No, I want you to dance with me,” Alex said, and when Kyle remained still, confused, Alex rolled his eyes and took Kyle’s hand in his, tugging him along. Kyle briefly thought that Alex’s hand was surprisingly warm.

                Then he blinked several times and tugged it away. “Are you crazy?”

                Alex sighed, the impatience in his voice as he took another glance at Markson’s area evident. “What?”

                “It’s a slow song!” he half-whispered, half-yelled.

                “Very astute,” Alex said. “Are you coming or not?”

                Kyle blushed. “I-I thought the trick was to not draw attention to ourselves!”

                “It’s a cocktail party full of visitors from around the world,” Alex said, and gestured to two women in the corner who were practically sucking each other’s earlobes. “No one cares here, Kyle.”

                For a second, Kyle thought that Alex sounded almost wistful, as if he envied the women, but then he continued, his voice as firm and military-like as ever. “Look, we don’t have a lot of time to argue about this. Either you come with me, or I’ll do it alone.”

                “No!” Kyle said, incredulous. It wasn’t that dancing with a guy scared him, it was that the thought of dancing with Alex did things to his chest that were almost painful. Still, the thought of Alex handling this mission by himself hurt even worse. “I’m not leaving you alone, I’m your partner!” He glanced at Markson himself, took a deep breath, and nodded once. “I’ve got your back no matter what.”

                Alex swallowed, his eyes filled once again with that surprised, unreadable look, and he nodded slightly himself, put a hand out for Kyle to take, and Kyle – trying to ignore the violent thrash of his heart against his chest – slipped his hand into Alex’s, surprised at how easily their fingers fit together.

                The entire time, Kyle tried to focus on the back of Alex’s head instead of whatever they were about to do, but then he found himself following the messy dark brown strands as they stuck out in different places, both neat and tangled at once, and he wondered how soft Alex’s hair would be if he tried to run his fingers through it. Did Alex know he had some strands that were lighter than others? Like a batch of light and dark chocolate, mixed together –

                Kyle walked right into Alex, yanking himself out of his thoughts. Alex turned and looked at him like he was crazy, and without a word, he put Kyle’s hands on his hips, while his own hands went to Kyle’s shoulders. Kyle appreciated being able to hold him the only way he knew how. He tried to imagine Alex’s hands on his waist, then thought of those hands slipping further to his hips, then further – and he shut his eyes tight, ridding himself of the thought completely. This was so not the time for that.

                Alex must’ve noticed his expression because Kyle felt the hands on his shoulders tighten. “I know you hate this, but try to suck it up a little longer. It’s almost over.”

                “No,” Kyle said before he could help it. “I don’t – that’s not – I-I don’t mind the…” he took a deep breath at Alex’s questioning gaze. “I am perfectly comfortable with my sexuality to dance with my best friend. This isn’t weird, I’m just… nervous about being close to…” he trailed off as Alex’s eyes narrowed. “What? Why do you keep looking at me like that?”

                “Best friend? You mean me?”

                Kyle stiffened. “I mean, you know, it’s a figure of speech. That’s not to say I don’t like hanging out with you – hell, you’re the only person I really trust, I know that sounds weird, but –”

                “It’s not weird,” Alex cut him off, and the rest of Kyle’s words lodged in his throat.

                He was suddenly very aware of Alex’s warm fingers on his shoulders, of Alex’s muscle under his own fingers. He unconsciously raised his hands up Alex’s sides and brought them back down to his waist, taking in a shuddering breath as he did. Alex scrunched his shoulders, and this time Kyle was sure the airman’s cheeks had turned a deep shade of pink. There was no other word for it; Alex was cute. Kyle resisted the urge to touch him like that again to see his reaction.

                “I can’t say it back though,” Alex said, quiet. “I can’t tell you I feel the same way that you do, I can’t…”

                Alex, for the first time that night, seemed to struggle with the right words, but Kyle could somehow hear the silent; I can’t be your best friend yet.

                Kyle’s hands tightened on Alex’s waist, and it was at that moment that the ballroom around them, as well as the people – who were getting unusually close – and the band, suddenly vanished. It was just him and Alex now, the music playing softly around them. He didn’t know what song it was, but it must have been very powerful because it pushed Kyle to step closer to Alex, taking a deep breath. He briefly thought that Alex smelled like maple syrup and wood, and that his eyes glittered like he was always crying, golden specs dancing across the dark brown.

                “I know you’re trying, Alex,” he said softly, hoping that if Alex took nothing else he said seriously, he listened to this. “I know you’re trying your best to forgive me, to get past everything that’s happened to you.”

                “Kyle,” Alex said, as if he couldn’t believe he was being spoken to like this, as if he never expected anyone to tell him that he wasn’t broken, that he was trying his hardest, and that that was enough.

                Kyle held him tighter as they slowly moved left to right, hoping it would somehow keep him safe from anyone that might want to hurt him. He felt a burning anger in that moment, and he knew who it was directed at. “It’s okay, Alex. You’re doing okay.”

                Alex came to a stop then, and it hurt Kyle to see that the airman searched his face with utter disbelief, as if he really wanted to believe the doctor’s words, but he just… couldn’t.

                “Kyle,” he started, “I –”

                But Kyle never got to hear what Alex was going to say because right then, some giggling, drunk man all but fell against Alex, causing something to go wrong with his prosthetic leg and –

                “Ah!” Alex fell over, right into – Kyle’s eyes widened – Markson. The tall man stumbled as Alex straightened himself, patting down his own suit. “Sorry,” he stammered (to Kyle’s surprise, for Alex never seemed the kind to stammer for any reason), “I-I’m sorry.”

                The man tried to glare at Alex, but the woman he had been dancing with was fretting over him, asking him if he was okay in a language, Kyle now realized, he didn’t understand. Not only that, but nearly half the room gathered around, some checking on Alex, though he and Kyle were mostly shoved toward the door as the attention went to Markson and the drunk man who had apparently passed out.

                Kyle put a hand on Alex’s back as he turned away from Markson. “Are you okay?” he asked, his arm curling around Alex’s waist protectively as he guided him away from his father’s associate.

                Alex said nothing as he leaned over, his hand on his right knee, seemingly in pain. Then, when Kyle got them outside, Alex straightened and sniffed, fixing his bowtie as if nothing had happened.

                “I’m fine,” he said without the slightest trace of pain or agitation in his voice at having possibly ruined the mission he had – for the most part – planned.

                “It’s okay, don’t worry about Markson,” Kyle tried, glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one had followed them out. No one had. “We’ll figure something else out. Let’s just back to the hospital, and I’ll – I’ll examine your prosthetic –”

                “That won’t be necessary,” Alex said swiftly, and Kyle was starting to think he was right as he hurried in front of Kyle to his black car parked in the front.

                “Alex, I get you’re upset about the mission failing,” Kyle said as he climbed into the passenger’s seat while Alex got in to drive, “but if you’re hurt, I need to make sure everything’s okay.”

                “Kyle,” Alex shook his head as he started the car, and Kyle was shocked to see him smile, amused, “the mission didn’t fail.”

                “What do you mean?” Kyle blinked. “We didn’t do anything.”

                “Wrong,” Alex said, pulling out of the parking lot and out the large front gates of the property, “you did exactly as I asked you.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a USB drive, tossing it to a wide-eyed Kyle. “You trusted me.”

                Kyle stared at it a moment. “H-How –” and he cut himself off, realization dawning. “You pickpocketed him when you tripped. Your leg never hurt at all, did it?” Alex smirked, and Kyle was beginning a smile as well until –

                “Wait, what about Markson? What if he saw our faces?”

                “He didn’t,” Alex said confidently. “You know that Greek woman he was speaking to? Old military friend of mine. I called in a favor, and she came.”

                Kyle shook his head, his eyes wide, his brows furrowed. “She was working with you.”

                Alex laughed. “Kyle, half those people in that ballroom were working with me. The couples surrounding us while we danced, a member of the band, the bartender – this is my dad we’re talking about, and after Caulfield…” his smile faded, and Kyle noticed his hands tighten around the steering wheel. “I wouldn’t have left anything tonight up to chance. Not when you were at risk,” he finished quietly, all traces of humor in his voice and expression gone. “They kept Markson from seeing our faces, it was priority number one, and these people are good at their jobs. So don’t worry.”

                Kyle stared a moment, trying to process everything he had heard, then he said in a voice barely over a whisper, the USB drive smooth and sharp in his fingers. “You’re such a badass.”

                Alex’s eyes widened slightly, startled, and he burst out into laughter. “Let’s not push it. It was standard procedure for any op,” he said. “Anyone could’ve done it.”

                Alex checked his mirror before he made a turn, and Kyle watched him for a moment before his eyes fell to the drive in his hand. His fingers tightened on it, and he knew there was something he had to do before the night was over.

 

                 Kyle didn’t know how long he had been waiting outside Michael Guerin’s trailer. Time had seemed to freeze as he leaned against the airstream, one foot crossed over the other as he ran over in his head exactly what he would say. He had been so sure that he needed to talk to Michael when Alex had dropped him off at his home, having not even bothered to change out of his tux, but when Kyle had parked, he had realized that he didn’t even know where to start. After all, this wasn’t his place. Alex couldn’t even really call him a close friend, and yet here he was, about to interfere in the airman’s relationship.

                Then Michael suddenly stepped out of his trailer, shrugging his jacket on – probably to go meet Maria, Kyle bitterly noted – and he realized that while Alex had been reluctant to accept Kyle back into his life, Kyle considered Alex a part of himself, one he would never give away again.

                Because of that, Kyle knew there was only one thing to say.

                “You shouldn’t have broken him,” he said, and Michael whipped around.

                His eyes narrowed for a moment at Kyle, as if he didn’t really believe the doctor was there, then he said, “Valenti? What’re you doing here?”

                Kyle straightened and slowly made his way to Michael. Despite what Michael did and said, Kyle knew that the cowboy wouldn’t hurt him. Because if he did, Alex would never look at him the same way again, and Michael wouldn’t be able to take that. One shift in how Alex saw him was more than enough. Kyle knew that from experience.

                “You shouldn’t have broken him,” he repeated. “Alex, Guerin, I’m talking about Alex.” He tilted his head. “Forgotten about him already?”

                Michael’s expression hardened. “You came here to talk to me about A…” he cleared his throat. “About him?”

                “Shouldn’t have taken me this long, I know,” he shrugged. “I guess I just never realized the kind of damage you did to him till tonight.”

                “What the hell are you talking about?”

                Kyle stared long and hard, trying to keep his voice steady as he said, “You know Alex hates himself, right?” Michael blinked, his brows furrowed, his frown deepening. “He thinks he’s evil.”

                Michael looked away, pursing his lips, but Kyle went on. “He doesn’t know how to take a complement. Try telling him he’s clever, you know what he’ll do? He’ll think you’re lying to his face. Try telling him he’s strong, and he’ll hate you for making fun of him. Try telling him he’s beautiful…” Kyle trailed off at the way Michael suddenly looked at him, as if to ask, ‘When have you been telling Alex he’s beautiful?’

                Kyle huffed a humorless chuckle. “He talks about himself like he’s a broken toy that you saw and hated and threw away. He thinks…” he took a deep breath, “he thinks he doesn’t deserve love. You did that to him.”

                Michael clenched his jaw and stepped back, placing his hands in his jacket pockets, but not before Kyle saw them ball into fists. “You’re out of your mind, Valenti. I haven’t even seen… I haven’t even seen him in months.”

                Kyle’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t even say his name, can you?”

                “Get off my property,” Michael said through grit teeth. “I don’t want to hear his name, and I don’t need to hear you defending him either. What’s it my fault if he’s too weak? He’s always let others get to him, I’m supposed to be the bad guy for wanting something more than that?”

                Kyle shook his head, his mind filled with disbelief. He felt at that moment that maybe he should punch Michael, scream at him that Alex had done everything he ever could, that none of it was ever enough because Michael didn’t want it to be enough. But all Kyle could really feel… was pity. Michael was miserable, that much was obvious. He missed Alex like Kyle could only imagine he did, and it was fear of losing Alex that had forced him to push Alex away in the first place. But Michael was always pushing Alex away. Kyle thought the airman deserved someone who knew he was worth the risk of heartbreak. And Michael wasn’t it.

                He put his hands in his pockets and sighed, his voice soft – surprising even himself – as he said, “You don’t deserve him. Maybe you did once, a long time ago, but not anymore.”

                Michael looked as if Kyle had just killed his brother or sister – like he had waited for the worst from the doctor, but never thought he would actually do anything so cruel. Kyle might’ve felt bad if he didn’t remember the shock on Alex’s face when he had told him he trusted him. Like even Michael had never given him that much.

                He walked past the cowboy, got into his car, and drove away, Michael still standing frozen to his spot.

Chapter Text

                It was far past midnight when Isobel finally got the call from Maria that Michael was passed out drunk in her bar, and Isobel had rushed out of her room, barely having managed to put her shoes on, before she was in her car, breaking every speed limit to get to her brother.

                When she got there, Maria had been by the door. Isobel tried not to think that the psychic had been waiting for her, and instead gave her a mere nod as she hurried inside. She was unsurprised to find Max, leaning against the bar beside Michael, his arms crossed as he looked at Michael with what appeared to be an amused smile.

                Isobel glanced at Maria who had been watching her, and – with heated cheeks – turned away and hurried to her brothers’ side.

                “What happened?” she put her hand under Michael’s chin, lifting his head up, her other hand lightly slapping his cheeks as his eyelids lay halfway open. “Why’d you drink so much?”

                Michael groaned, wrapping an arm around Isobel’s waist and pulling her close, his head against her stomach.

                “He proposed to Alex,” Max said, his voice fond. “Did you know he was going to propose?”

                “He proposed?” Isobel blinked. “No, I mean, I –” she looked down at Michael, then put an arm around his head, as if to hug him, but she actually just covered his exposed ear and said, her voice quieter, “he told me something about wanting to marry Alex someday, but I didn’t think he meant –” she broke off with a gasp. “Wait, did Alex say no? Is that why he’s like this?”

                Isobel couldn’t deny she was shocked. After all, she had caught Alex staring at Michael when he had thought no one was looking multiple times, the look in his eyes filled with a kind of fairytale love that she only wished she could experience. Her eyes caught Maria’s and she looked away.

                But no, she thought. Max wouldn’t look as pleased as he did if Alex had said no. Michael would’ve been crushed, and Max hated nothing more than his brother being upset.

                “Mm,” Michael hummed and leaned back, blinking lazily up at his sister. “Isobel! When’d you get here?”

                “You proposed?” she asked, ignoring his question. “When?”

                “Tonight,” he said, and held a glass up which – Isobel could see – Maria had filled with iced water. Michael took a big gulp and hissed as if it burned him, but Isobel supposed he was just too drunk to notice the difference anymore. “I told him I wanted to marry him,” he nodded. “I told him I loved him. I told him I couldn’t and wouldn’t – wouldn’t!” he pointed at Max, though seemed too dizzy to hold his brother’s gaze, “told him I wouldn’t live without him. Because I love him. Because I want to marry him. So I proposed. I asked him if he’d marry me.”

                “And he said no?” Isobel’s eyes were wide, her tone incredulous. She could count on her hand the number of times Michael had said he’d loved anyone, and they were almost always about Alex. She had gotten used to having Michael brush off their emotional moments, to give her a smirk in lieu of a smile, to express his love for her and their brother with a simple touch to the shoulder or arm. But he loved Alex. He loved him like Isobel had admittedly never thought him capable of loving anyone.

                “No,” Max chuckled, rubbing his jaw, “No, he said yes. See?” He reached and tugged up something Michael wore on a chain around his neck. Isobel gasped when she saw that it was a silver band. An engagement ring.

                “No!” Isobel said, a smile starting on her lips. “Really? Michael, this is…” she trailed off, then her face fell. “Wait, then why are you here? Why aren’t you with Alex?”

                “Alex,” Michael muttered, and he took another big gulp of his water. “He’s hot, isn’t he? He’s even hot when he’s sleeping, all rosy-cheeked and soft.” Michael’s shoulders slumped as he lowered his glass from his lips, his voice quieter, “I left. He was asleep, and I left. I didn’t wanna wake him.” Then, as an afterthought, Michael added, “He’s even hotter when he’s awake though.”

                Isobel glanced at Max who shrugged as if to say, ‘You won’t believe it,’ and took a seat on the stool beside Michael’s. “Why’d you leave? Don’t you want to be with Alex?”

                “I want to be with Alex,” Michael said. “I want to be with Alex more than I want to breathe. I want to be with Alex more than I want… I want to be with Alex more than I want anything. Yes, I want to be with Alex.”

                “Then?”

                “Then…” he took a deep breath and said, “I’m no good.”

                Isobel’s brows furrowed and she looked to Maria, but the bartender had held her gaze for all of two seconds before ducking out, giving them their privacy. “What do you mean?” she asked.

                “I only want to marry Alex,” he said. “I want to be with Alex forever. But when he said yes, I realized… I’m screwed up. What if I hurt him? And then I felt guilty for being happy. And I saw him sleeping next to me – naked, of course, he so hot when he’s naked – and I felt… bad. I felt like I was throwing away his chance to be with someone… fixed.” He inhaled a shaky breath and said, “Then I came here and I drank a crap ton of these,” he held up his cup of water, “and I stopped feeling that way.”

                He smiled, but Isobel knew he was lying. His eyes were too puffy, his fingers trembling too much, his looks too dazed and lost and frightened for her to believe that he had fixed his fears with alcohol. It was weird, she partly thought. One thing drinking couldn’t help Michael erase, and that was how much he cared about Alex.

                She opened her mouth to say something, to tell Michael that that just wasn’t true, that Alex didn’t want anybody else, that he would never have said yes if Michael didn’t make him so happy – but the words got caught in her throat as her eyes went to the door, and caught a panting Alex Manes, a coat loosely thrown over his sweatpants and Air Force t-shirt.

                He glanced at Isobel only for a second before he settled on Michael who was too busy gulping down his iced water to notice that anyone else had come in.

                “Is – uh – that why you won’t wear your engagement ring?” Max asked, and Isobel tore her eyes away from Alex to look at her brother who was holding up his phone in answer of Isobel’s silent question. I called him, she could almost hear him say, and knew that her brother was right. Alex should’ve been the first to have been notified, but Isobel supposed Maria had worried about him too much to tell him. What would he think if Michael was here, getting blacked out drunk, the night that they had gotten engaged? Isobel’s eyes fell to something twinkling off Alex’s finger, and realized it was his engagement ring.

                As if hearing her thoughts, Max asked again, “Is that why you don’t wear it, Michael?” He tilted his head, running his fingers through Michael’s curls. Isobel recognized it as something he did whenever Michael had zoned out, and he was patiently trying to get the cowboy’s attention back. “You’re scared if you do, it’ll mean you can’t back out anymore?”

                Michael nodded, making a small noise of agreement in the back of his throat, and Isobel looked to Alex for his reaction. As she might’ve expected, he looked hurt, his brows furrowed while his hand cradled his right, where the ring sat on his ring finger, but he didn’t seem surprised. It was as if he knew Michael might regret the proposal and had been waiting for something to backfire. So Isobel was right. He did love Michael just as much as Michael loved him.

                “How could you say that?” she snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with you, and Alex knows that. How can you think you’re too broken for him?”

                Alex’s frown deepened, confused, and he slowly came to stand behind Michael.

                “Too broken?” Alex asked, but Michael closed his eyes, his cheeks a dark red from all he had had to drink.

                “I hear his voice all the time, I can even hear him now,” Michael said. “Like he’s actually here.” He rubbed his face, as if part of him was trying to sober up. “Imagine if he was. He’d hate me.”

                “No, he wouldn’t,” Max sighed, his smile soft and fond. “You’re worried that you’re somehow going to infect Alex with your flaws, like you’re going to ruin his life, but he doesn’t think of you that way.” Max looked directly at Alex, his look just as fond while Alex’s eyes stayed on Michael. “You’re perfect to him, Michael. He just wants you.”

                Alex took a deep, shaky breath, his eyes glistening as his fingers reached out to softly curl against Michael’s back, and right then, Isobel couldn’t help it. She had always felt a fondness for Alex Manes, but now she felt a love blooming in her chest alongside it for the codebreaker, the man who had spent so long protecting her family, the one who stayed in the shadow of the Manes legacy just to keep Michael safe, the one who had went to war, come back, and seen nothing but beauty in Michael. She put a hand on his arm, hoping he could somehow hear the silent gratitude beating in her heart for him.

                “Me,” Michael scoffed, though with no real venom. His body seemed to ease with Alex’s touch, evening leaning back towards the airman unconsciously as if it recognized him. “What a mess. Me is a raging storm waiting to happen, I can feel it.” He rubbed his face again with one hand, spilling water from the glass in the other. “Every time I’m with him, I just wanna – I just wanna touch him. All the time. I want to feel him, and I feel like I’ll explode if I don’t. And then…” he sighed, his eyes fluttering shut as the corners of his lips quirked upward slightly. “And then, at the same time, I just wanna look at him. It makes me feel better, like I can – I don’t know – like I can breathe better. Like I can breathe.” He shook his head. “What if all that stuff crashes together? What if I end up losing control? What if I – what if I hurt Alex?”

                Alex came closer, ducking his head as a tear rolled down his nose and fell, like a small crystal, a soft smile at his lips that looked so full of love and fondness and admiration and sorrow, and Isobel understood now what Michael meant when he said that Alex was beautiful. The man was like a painting of light, every part of him glowing brighter and warmer and more colorful just for Michael. Isobel saw Max glance at Alex, and back at her, his smile mirroring hers. She could see why her brother didn’t seem as worried about Michael as she had initially been.

                “Hurt Alex,” Max shook his head, his smile widening before he leaned into his brother. “Michael, that tornado inside you, the one you feel is about to tear you apart, but you don’t care – that’s you loving Alex so much that you don’t even know what to do with yourself. You’re not a monster that’s going out of control. You’re just Alex’s.”

                After a moment, Michael shook his head, his lips turned to a soft smile as he stared off into space. “Alex’s. I’ve always been Alex’s. Always.”

                Isobel’s smile widened as well, and she put one hand to Alex’s cheek, wiping his tear away before she sniffed, unhooking Michael’s engagement ring from the chain around his neck. “You’re engaged now. Where do you think this is supposed to go?”

                Without a word, Michael let her slide the ring onto his finger while Max held a tight grip on his wrist, keeping his hand steady.

                When it was done, Max placed a comforting hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t have snuck out,” he said jokingly, winking at Alex. “Alex must be really worried by now.”

                “Alex,” Michael hummed, seemingly content with saying his fiancé’s name on his lips, then he blinked. “Alex! I need to – I need to get back to him. I need to tell him I love him.”

                Isobel watched as Alex wiped the back of his hand across his eyes and then wrapped his arms around Michael’s shoulders, his forehead pressed against Michael’s back. As Michael slowly reached a hand up to the ones holding onto him, his brows furrowing in recognition, Isobel leaned her elbow on the table, and sighed.

                “I think he knows.”

Chapter Text

                The second Michael had seen Isaac Scott, he had decided he hated him. It might’ve had something to do with the fact that Alex was fond of him, but Michael would never say. Michael still remembered his voice as he’d come to stand behind Alex – who was adamant on ignoring Michael’s presence – and said, “Captain Manes.” He remembered the way Alex’s eyes had lit up with instant recognition and turned on his stool at the bar, how his lips had broken into a wide, happy smile, happier than Michael had ever seen him. He remembered the way the airman had all but jumped out of his seat – as best as he was able with his leg – and wrapped his arms around his ready soldier buddy who hugged him back, his arms tight – a little too tight, Michael thought bitterly – around Alex’s waist as he practically lifted him off the ground, his face buried in the airman’s shoulder.

                Michael remembered the way Scott’s eyes had fluttered shut as he inhaled Alex’s scent, the way he’d kept his hand on Alex’s waist when Alex briefly introduced him to Maria and Liz before taking him to a separate and quiet table, the way Scott had leaned into him, brushing Alex’s hair from his face as if the intimate gesture was something common between them.

                And Michael had hated him instantly. He’d hated him when he told Alex, “Your hair’s gotten longer,” in that soft way Michael had imagined so many times doing himself when Alex’s bangs fell over his eyes, he’d hated him when Alex smiled at him with twinkling eyes as if he was the one source of joy and kindness and love that the airman had, and he’d hated him when he and Alex recounted to each other all their military experiences as if Alex had never had a life here in Roswell, as if those experiences didn’t matter, as if this Scott guy knew Alex through and through just because he’d known him as soldier.

                Michael hated him, it was true, but seeing Scott tied up to tubes and IV strips on a hospital bed did not bring Michael the slightest sense of satisfaction. And seeing Alex sit in the chair beside his bed, his face in his hands, his good leg tapping the floor anxiously – that nearly killed.

                Michael glanced at Kyle as he gave Liz, Maria, Max, and Isobel all the details of his injury. He had ran in to the attack – not knowing what was wrong, only that Alex had needed him – saw his friend about to be hit with something that looked a tentacled-thing, and jumped in the way. Michael’s eyes fell on the unconscious man. He was so stupid, Michael thought. He thought he knew Alex so well, but didn’t he know that the airman could look after himself?

                And still, Michael could hold no venom in his heart. In actuality, he had screamed Alex’s name just before the attack, desperate to protect him – whether he had needed saving or not didn’t matter – and instead, Scott had gotten to him first. He had fallen, Alex had held him, then a kind of anger, the likes of which Michael had never seen, flashed in his eyes, and he held his gun up, singlehandedly destroying the alien monster. Everyone started to crowd him, to ask if he was alright, but Alex was already calling an ambulance, barking orders down the line. Then, in a military voice that Michael still could not believe Alex Manes had, he ordered half the group to clear the alien away, as well as any trace of it, and the others to help him get Scott outside. Michael had never seen him do so much for one person.

                “Hey,” Michael nudged Alex’s arm lightly as he pulled up a chair to sit next to him.

                Alex glanced at him, his chin resting on his palms now. “Hey,” he said tiredly. He had been waiting for two days by Scott’s side, never leaving unless the doctor insisted, and in that time, any anger or resentment he had had for Michael had vanished. Michael couldn’t help wondering if that was a good or bad thing.

                “How you doing?”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, then, “He could’ve lost the use of his legs.”

                “But he didn’t. He’s going to be fine, Alex.”

                Alex shook his head, as if to say that Michael didn’t understand. Michael glanced at Alex’s leg, knowing there was a prosthetic hidden behind his jeans. Maybe he really didn’t.

                “There’s nothing worse than losing a limb,” Alex sighed. “What an idiot.”

                Michael didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing at all. Instead, he tentatively reached up and lightly touched Alex’s hair, encouraged to slip his fingers through the soft locks when Alex closed his eyes, unmoving.

                The dark circles around Alex’s eyes had grown darker since last night when Michael had seen him, his fingers trembling, though whether from cold, starvation, or something else, Michael didn’t know, and his eyes had lost their spark, the brown surrounding his irises looking cold and lifeless.

                He brought his hand down the nape of Alex’s neck and around his shoulders, tugging slightly. “Alex, you need to eat.”

                Alex swallowed, shaking his head. “I can’t – I can’t just leave him.”

                Michael stared, then sighed. Why did Alex’s concern for Scott bother him so much? He had all the right to be worried. Michael himself couldn’t help but be grateful to Scott for what he did, and when he’d found out the soldier could’ve been paralyzed, he felt a sharp pain in his chest for Alex’s sake.

                Michael took a deep breath, nudging him along. “You’re not leaving him. It’s just the cafeteria downstairs, we’ll still be in the hospital. Come on, Private, you’re no good to anyone half-dead.”

                Alex seemed to hesitate, and Michael took the opportunity to pull him to his feet. “Come on.”

                He gently pushed him past the others, Kyle clasping him comfortingly on the shoulder to which Michael couldn’t even glare. Michael had directed Alex to take a seat while he piled on as much food on one tray as he could.

                When he came back, he found the airman slumped in his seat, nodding off to sleep. He tried to be quiet as he set the tray down, but as soon as the food touched the table, Alex woke with a start.

                “Great,” Michael couldn’t help but say as he set a bottle of water in front of Alex, then one of the sandwiches. “I guess sleep is next on the list.”

                “I’m okay,” Alex shook his head, and took a sip of the water. “Thanks.”

                Michael watched him for a moment, silent. For the longest time, he had thought of Alex as someone who was holding the reigns, the one in charge, the leader who knew how to save everyone, every time. Then there were moments, moments like these, when Michael realized how tired Alex was. He wasn’t just a leader, he was a boy who had been turned into a man too soon into his life, and in the darkest ways possible. He was someone who endured beatings and mind games and taunting every day, but still managed to take the world on his shoulders and look after everyone else.

                Michael had always thought of himself as someone who needed to be alone to survive, to push others away so that he could breathe better. He never thought of it much before, but maybe Alex was the kind of guy who needed to take care of others to feel whole, to be more at peace. Maybe it was just what he was used to because he never had the freedom of being alone. There was always someone who needed him, always someone whose reputation or happiness or safety depended on him, and Michael couldn’t help but wonder exactly how long Alex had been so exhausted.

                Michael eyes burned as he realized that while he had always considered Alex the one person he wanted beside him, the person he needed, Alex had wanted him beside him for a different reason. To Alex, Michael was just one more person who needed protection. Michael couldn’t be someone to save him, but he was someone who just needed saving himself. The thought left an empty, guilty feeling in his stomach as he thought of Alex waiting outside his airstream for hours, only to be stood up. How he must’ve thought that he had finally found someone he could count on, only to realize that Michael would never be anything more than someone else he had to take care of, but not believe in to care of him back.

                “Stop looking at me like that,” Alex said, his attention on his sandwich. He sounded, despite the obvious fatigue on his face, completely calm, as if he knew of Michael’s inner turmoil and wanted to help anyway he could, though he may have lacked the energy. Michael’s hands clenched to fists under the table as he forced a smile on his face. Alex was always helping.

                “Like what?”

                “Like you pity me,” Alex said, shaking his head. “I hate that look.”

                Michael’s smile turned small and bitter. “Maybe I’m just annoyed. And maybe annoyed looks a lot like pity.”

                “Because those two things are inextricable?” Alex smirked, glancing up as he started unwrapping another sandwich. Michael was glad to see him have an appetite. He had been worried he would have to force-feed him. “You can’t be annoyed with yourself without pitying me, so stop both.”

                He raised a brow. “How do you know I’m annoyed with myself?”

                Alex shrugged a shoulder as if it was obvious, his cheek filled with food, and Michael had to bite down the urge to lean across the table and kiss it. “Because you’re never annoyed with me, for whatever reason. Kyle’s not here, so you can’t be annoyed with him, or Max or Isobel. You’re the only one left.” He swallowed and sighed. “And you’ve been staring at me since you sat down, so you’re annoyed with yourself for something you did to me. And to be annoyed with that, you’d have to pity me.”

                Michael made a face, then, without thought, reached over and cleaned the crumbs off Alex’s lower lip with his thumb. “I hate how smart you are.”

                “And I hate being stared at like some tragedy exhibit,” Alex said simply, finishing his sandwich and uncapping the water bottle. “I’m serious, Guerin, knock it off.”

                Michael scoffed, though he couldn’t deny his heart thrashing in his chest. He couldn’t remember the last time Alex had said more than two words to him, words that weren’t laced with disgust or anger. “You sound annoyed. And here I thought you were never annoyed with me either.”

                “I’m annoyed with you all the time,” Alex said, though there was no malice in his tone.

                “So the way I look at you annoys you now?”

                Alex closed the water bottle. “I can take pity from anyone but you. You would,” he exhaled shortly as if he was too busy searching for the right words to remember to breathe, “you would break me.”

                Michael went silent, his shoulders slumped, any trace of humor gone from his lips. Alex smiled softly. “You’re doing it again.”

                Michael shook his head. It wasn’t pity, he thought. Not pity that he felt when he looked at Alex. It was something else. Something deeper than that, something harder to explain.

                “I’m only looking at you because I can’t believe how beautiful you are,” he said, and Alex’s face fell, his eyes wide. Then, with a small upward quirk of his lips, Michael said, “I thought you could read me better than that, Private.”

                Alex said nothing as he abruptly stood and left the cafeteria, leaving a stunned Michael to hurry out of his seat and after him. “Wait, wait, I…” he caught up to the airman in the hall and grabbed his arm. “Did I – Alex, I-I didn’t mean to –”

                “I can’t forgive you,” he said, cutting Michael off, though he refused to look at him. “I can’t forgive what you did, Guerin, I can’t. I can’t forget that you chose someone else.”

                Michael stared, feeling like his entire world had just come to a standstill. He stared at Alex, hoping the airman would just glance at him, just once, but Alex closed his eyes and turned away.

                “So you do hate me,” Michael’s hand fell to his side. He really was stupid to think that just because of a few moments of kindness, Alex would suddenly take him back and forget everything that had happened. In the end, he really couldn’t be someone that could save the airman.

                “Of course, I don’t hate you,” Alex said, though it offered little comfort now. No matter what, he still wouldn’t look at Michael. Hate or no hate, that wouldn’t change. “I just – I can’t do this while one of my best friends is upstairs, strung up to a bed.” He sighed, rubbing his face. “I have to go.”

                “I’ll come with you,” he said, and this time, when Alex said nothing, Michael felt less hopeful. Alex was devastated for his friend, that was why he was letting Michael near him. It was ironic, Michael thought, that the person he had hated was the reason Alex was talking to him at all.

                When Alex had returned to his place by Scott’s side, and Michael by Alex’s, he couldn’t help but lean back in his chair and watch the airman. He looked a little better with the food in his system, his eyes a little brighter, but there was still that tension in his shoulders, that permanent frown etched into his face, that furrow in his brows that said he had too much guilt and grief on his mind.

                He put his hand near Alex’s, and Alex thoughtlessly took Michael’s fingers, squeezing tightly. Fine, Michael thought, his mind and heart conflicted. If he couldn’t be Alex’s hero, he would be his stand-in. He would hold his hand and bring him food and insist he sleep. He would pat his back, and press his forehead against Alex’s without moving any further than that.

                His hold on Alex’s hand tightened, and though Alex didn’t look at him, Michael swore that this time he wouldn’t let go.

Chapter Text

                “You are a grown man,” Alex said, his tone colored with laughter. “How do you not know how to hit a baseball?”

                Michael pretended to be annoyed as he readied his stance among the abandoned balls at his feet, holding the bat up, but as Alex leaned against his own bat, the sun shining around him as it set, turning the tips of his hair to gold and making his eyes and wide smile somehow brighter and more beautiful, Michael knew he didn’t really mind the teasing at his expense.

                “Right,” he panted, pushing his damp hair back. “Sure, ‘cause that’s a useful skill. Really gonna need that later in life.”

                Alex laughed, and Michael couldn’t help but smile. “It is useful! Do you have any idea how therapeutic it is to just swing at something and hit it out of the field?”

                Michael’s shoulders slumped, his head tilted. “You had me, then you lost me.”

                Alex sighed, his hand on his hip. “If you didn’t look so good in that sweaty shirt, I would’ve given up teaching you by now, just so you’re aware.”

                Michael scoffed, though if anyone asked if he had puffed his chest out at that moment, glad to give Alex a view of his soaked skin through his now damp, white t-shirt, he would deny it. “Teaching me? If you were really teaching me, Private, you’d be standing behind me right now.”

                Alex rubbed his face, though Michael saw his smile widen. “Behind you?”

                “Yeah,” Michael said like it was obvious. “You know, your hands on my arms, holding me, showing me just how to swing.”

                “Showing you how to swing.”

                “Preferably with your shirt off,” Michael said. “I’ll take mine off, too, if that’ll make you more comfortable.”

                “Oh yeah?” Alex sighed, and set his own bat against the table before he slowly came up behind Michael. Michael bit his lower lip as Alex lightly touched his shoulders, exhaling softly as the airman’s hands slid down the cowboy’s arms. “Is this what you had in mind?”

                Michael’s eyes fluttered shut, his mind whirling as Alex lightly guided his arms back, the bat in hand. “Hold on tight,” he whispered against Michael’s ear, and Michael licked his lips, slowly opening his eyes to see the sun reflecting off the bat, the rays shining across as if directing him. Maybe he had been wrong, maybe learning how to swing was important.

                “Are you paying attention?” Alex asked, and Michael couldn’t help but lean back, turning his head so that his lips brushed the corner of Alex’s. That’s when he realized, it wasn’t the swing that made his heart race, the sunshine that sent jolts of electricity up and down his body. It was Alex.

                The feeling of the airman’s chest against his back, the way Michael could feel him breathing against him, the way his fingers lightly ran down Michael’s arms to his wrist as if he was delicate, then the way they tightened around his waist as if he knew him to be stronger if that was the way he needed him. And Michael would be anything Alex needed him to be.

                “And swing,” Alex said, guiding Michael’s arms as the pitching machine threw out another ball. Michael did as he was told, and felt the vibration of the bat in his hand as the ball hit the wood and shot far across the desert plane. “Look at that,” he said, his hands sliding down to Michael’s hips, “and you didn’t even use your powers this time.”

                Michael turned his head to watch Alex, his brown eyes shining as they followed the ball. He felt himself lowering the bat as he stared. Did Alex know he had specs of gold in his eyes sometimes? Michael hoped no one else had ever gotten to see them. Something about Michael being the only one to have that effect on him warmed his heart.

                He brought his hand up to hold Alex’s jaw, his thumb softly brushing his cheek. “Did you offer to teach me batting practice just so you would have an excuse to touch me?”

                Alex’s smile widened and he shook his head, as if to remind Michael that he was the one who had told him to come and stand behind him.

                “Yeah,” he said, covering Michael’s hand with his own. “Absolutely.”

                And Michael couldn’t help but remember a year ago – though it seemed so much longer ago now – that Alex had asked him if he was cooking meth in his trailer, and he had given that exact answer.

                “Yeah. Absolutely.”

                He had feigned annoyance and tried sarcasm, but even then, his heart had jumped the moment Alex had approached him, had spoken to him, had stopped him to take his wrist. Even then, Michael wished he could hold onto him, ask him where he had been, check him for any more injuries, and beg him never to leave again.

                The thought that he had almost lost Alex in the time that followed made Michael turn in Alex’s hold, take the airman’s face in his hands, and kiss him, the bat clattering to the ground among the discarded baseballs around him.

                Alex made a startled noise in the back of his throat and chuckled as Michael moved back, though his hands stayed at Michael’s waist. “You’re relentless.”

                “Gotta love me,” Michael said with a shrug.

                Alex’s expression softened, his hand coming up to move a curl out of the cowboy’s face. “I do.”

                Michael’s heart hammered in his chest, and he surged forward, capturing Alex’s lips in his, the two spending what felt like hours just devouring each other’s mouths. Michael pulled back to breathe, and as he did, he tugged at the hem of Alex’s shirt.

                “Take it off, come on, take it…” he trailed off, unable to even finish the sentence as he pressed another kiss to Alex’s lips, imagining the airman’s hands on him, his nails clawing down his back.

                “We reek,” Alex laughed breathlessly, pulling back, though Michael followed him. “How are we supposed to do anything when we both smell like sweat?”

                Michael smiled as he slipped his hands under Alex’s shirt, making Alex gasp. “Don’t worry, Private,” he whispered, tugging at Alex’s lower lip with his teeth. “I’ll show you.”

Chapter Text

                Something was very wrong with Alex. Kyle looked around the Crashdown Café, wondering if anyone else had noticed, but Liz and Max who were seated on one side of a booth were still conversing with Isobel and Michael who were on the other. When they had walked in, there was a seat next to Michael, and Kyle could almost see the expectant but nervous way the cowboy had watched Alex, as if waiting for him to take a seat next to him. Alex though, without a second’s thought or hesitation, slipped into the adjacent table, and glanced up at Kyle as if he hoped he would sit beside him instead.

                Kyle had, but Alex was well within everyone’s view, so how none of them had noticed him fidgeting since he’d sat down, how none of them had noticed his drooping eyelids – an indication that Alex hadn’t slept in who-knew-how-long – his red-rimmed eyes, or the way his fingers twitched – it was beyond Kyle’s comprehension.

                Something was very, very wrong with Alex.

                “Alex,” Kyle tried, his voice barely above a whisper. He lightly touched the airman’s arm, but it was as if no one had touched him at all. He kept staring off into space, still fidgeting in his seat. Kyle followed his gaze, but whatever was haunting Alex, Kyle couldn’t see it.

                Kyle looked back at the booth, hoping someone had noticed. He didn’t want to blurt out that something was bothering Alex – the airman was always silent and secretive in everything, especially the way he felt – but he had hoped someone would take notice that he wasn’t speaking, that he wasn’t paying attention at all. No one did.

                “Noah said that the invasion on your kind started the second they landed,” Liz was saying. “The government must’ve sensed them coming somehow.”

                “But then how did we escape?” Michael asked.

                “Why weren’t our pods broken? You think our families were just richer or something?” Max said.

                “Maybe we’re royalty,” Isobel suggested with a shrug of her shoulder.

                “That’s so weird,” Liz said, glancing at Max. “I don’t even know what to think of that.”

                “Guys,” Kyle tried subtly, but they were all so immersed in their conversation that they wouldn’t listen.

                He turned back to Alex, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Alex –”

                Alex gasped, blinking out of his haze. He looked to Kyle as if just realizing he was there. He said nothing, gave nothing away, always waiting for the other person to speak first. He told Kyle of his conversations with Michael, and Kyle couldn’t help but wonder if Michael knew how lucky he was; to be the only person Alex wanted to share so much of himself with.

                He glanced at the cowboy and found him studiously avoiding Alex’s direction, and realized that he definitely didn’t.

                “Alex, are you okay?” he leaned in close, hoping Alex could hear him even a little.

                Alex blinked at Kyle like he didn’t know him. “Yeah,” he said, barely moving his lips. “I’m fine.”   

                “Alex –”

                “I’m fine, Kyle,” he repeated, his voice firmer, though his eyes seemed to have caught whatever had spooked him in the first place.

                Kyle glanced at Michael. How? How could he not notice that Alex was so troubled? That there was something wrong?

                “What is it?” he asked instead, because he knew that asking if the airman was okay would give him no honest answer. “What do you see?”

                Alex shook his head a moment, as if about to tell him that he saw nothing, but Kyle gripped his shoulder tighter, and he hesitated.

                “My dad,” Alex whispered. “I keep seeing my dad.”

                “What?” Kyle narrowed his eyes where Alex was looking. “Now?”

                “It’s been following me since Caulfield,” Alex said. “This… whatever-it-is that’s happening to me. He’s staring at me… and he has his gun, and he keeps pulling the trigger.”

                “At what?”

                “The wall,” Alex said. “Just the wall.”

                Kyle blinked. “That’s why you keep flinching,” he said, realization dawning. “You can hear the gunshots.”

                Alex swallowed, and for a moment, Kyle thought he would go back to his silence, then a tear rolled down his cheek, and he quietly said –

                “I always hear the gunshots.”

                Right then, he flinched, covering his ears, though his eyes remained on that spot in the wall.

                “Guys,” Kyle tried to get the others’ attention again, his own eyes on Alex, though no one heard him. Kyle clenched his jaw, remembering the way Alex had comforted him time and time again, reassuring him that Jim Valenti was a good person, as if he could read his concerned thoughts. Alex always knew when something was bothering Kyle and always managed to stomp it out. He always knew just what to say, and Kyle hadn’t even noticed that Alex hadn’t been really speaking since that night after Caulfield when he had found Jesse was the one who had pushed Jim to his death. How had he not noticed?

                “Alex,” he tried, “I get it, it’s too much. Caulfield, then… our dads, then what Guerin said to you, but you have to snap out of it. It’s all in your head, nothing you see is real.”

                Alex shook his head, his hands pressing harder against his ears. “I’m fine, I don’t – I’m fine, please just stop talking to me.”

                Kyle stared harder at the place Alex was watching, hoping to see some flicker of light, some shadow, any kind of movement to reassure himself that after everything Alex had endured, it hadn’t costed him his mind.

                “Alex,” he brought his voice down to a whisper, then glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone had noticed Alex’s state yet, but they hadn’t. Kyle wanted to snap, to tell them to “Pay some goddamn attention!” but he knew it would only make things worse for Alex now.

                “Listen to me,” he said. “I’m right here, okay? Whatever you see, ignore it. Here,” he took Alex’s hand in his, one arm wrapped around his shoulder, “hold onto me. Squeeze as hard as you need to. Alex, look at me, I’m right here.”

                But Alex’s fingers were still trembling in Kyle’s. He slowly brought his hand down from his other ear and turned to look at Kyle, and for a second, as his eyes softened, Kyle thought he was finally get through to him. Then they glanced to the wall and stuck there, widening in horror.

                “No,” he whispered.

                Kyle leaned closer. “What is it?” his voice urgent. “What do you see now?”

                “He’s turning it on himself, he’s –” Alex gasped and stood suddenly, yelling, “STOP!”

                Nobody had time to ask what Alex was so scared of or what had happened, because in that instance, the sound of a gunshot went off and the plaster on the opposing wall broke and fell to the ground, leaving a bullet-sized hole in the cement. Everyone shrieked, their heads whipped around to the damage, while Michael and Liz looked around wildly for whoever had shot.

                But Kyle knew. He stood to cover Alex, to keep him safe, but the airman was already falling down onto his seat, into Kyle’s arms. Kyle was shocked to realize that his nose was bleeding, his eyes were closed. Whether it had been the exhaustion, the shock, or something else entirely, it was too much – always too much – and Kyle somehow knew that he was in danger.

                “HEY!” he yelled, catching everyone’s attention. “Call an ambulance!”

                “Alex,” Michael’s eyes widened as he caught hold of the soldier in Kyle’s arms, passed out. “Oh my God, Alex –”

                He took a step towards Alex, but Kyle held on tighter, two fingers on his neck, checking his pulse. “Damn it, I said call an ambulance NOW!”

                Michael froze in shock, but Liz was already dialing, her worried eyes going between the shot in the wall and Alex while Max and Isobel gathered around Kyle and Alex.

                Kyle looked to the gunshot, then to Alex and his exhausted face. He had told Alex it was all in his head, he had told him that he had to snap out of it, not realizing how hard Alex had been fighting to do just that.

                “Alex,” he breathed, moving his bangs from his forehead. “Don’t worry, I’m right here. I’m right here.”

Chapter Text

                “We’re closed,” Maria said as the door of the Wild Pony opened, her wrist aching as she wiped down the bar for the seventh time. She took a deep breath, willing the heavy, hot weight in her chest to cool, but no matter what, no matter how hard she tried, his face kept flashing in her mind.

                She sighed, leaving the rag on the table as she rubbed her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept.

                “Shucks, really?” she suddenly heard, and whipped around to find Isobel Evans standing with her hand on her hip, her head tilted and a smirk on her lips. “My brother told me you always let him in after hours.”

                “Evans,” she said, her shoulders slumped. “Great, just what I needed tonight.”

                Isobel scoffed, though Maria couldn’t help but notice that it held none of her usual snark or sneer. “You’re not exactly my beacon of light tonight either, DeLuca.”

                “Then to what do I owe the honor of your visit?”

                “Like I said,” Isobel said, sliding onto one of the stools while Maria leaned against the bar. Her knees bumped into Maria’s legs, though Isobel hardly seemed to notice. “My brother says –”

                “I wouldn’t listen too closely to anything your brother says,” Maria said with a feigned sweet smile, though even referencing the cowboy made her feel sick. “I ended things a few hours ago,” then she muttered, “I’ve done enough damage with him already.”

                When she thought about Alex, his face as he had told her that Michael wasn’t “so bad after a shower,” the hurt in his eyes when she’d confirmed she’d slept with him, and the fear she felt flicker in his heart as she’d promised him that it had meant nothing.

                Then the agonizing pain the next time he had looked at her, the betrayal she’d felt on his behalf, the unrelenting shock as if every part of him still couldn’t believe she had done such a thing to him.

                “Ended things,” Isobel repeated, a furrow in her brows. It was only now, Maria realized, that she could clearly see Isobel’s face that she realized how tired the blonde woman looked. Her makeup which was always on point – though Maria would never admit it out loud – was slightly smudged around the eyes, as if Isobel had been crying but tried saving the eyeliner as best she could. Her lips had no gloss or color, but were chapped as if she’d been chewing on them all day, her finger tapped her knee anxiously as if she had too many thoughts running around in her head to focus on one at a time, and just by standing near her, Maria could feel it. The sorrow, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the betrayal, the misery. What happened to her?

                “You’re talking about Michael?” Isobel asked, and Maria flinched, severely yanked out of her thoughts at the mention of the cowboy.

                Maria pressed her lips together and said nothing. She picked up her rag, patted her hands down with it, and went around the bar, as far away from Isobel as she could get. Something about the blonde’s dark energy scared her, part of her worried that it would affect her if she came to close – something she definitely couldn’t handle right now – and the other part… the other part of Maria, a teeny tiny part, couldn’t help but worry that her own misery and heartbreak would touch Isobel. Something told her the blonde really didn’t need anymore of that. Not tonight.

                “You dated my brother? Michael?” she asked again, disbelief coloring her tone. “Are you sure you were dating? ‘Cause I should probably tell you, if you slept with him and you’re, like, waiting for a declaration of love, he’s really not that kind of guy.”

                Maria sighed, pulling a bottle of tequila out and filling a small glass. She wanted to pretend it was to shut Isobel up, though something inside her dug at her heart, past the ache, past the weight, past the heat – something that felt like sympathy, though Maria chose to call it pity.

                “How bored are you?” she asked wearily. Even if Isobel wasn’t the absolute worst person to talk to about this, it was too late in the day to explain the story.

                Isobel held her hand out eagerly for the drink, and Maria handed it to her, careful not to hold onto the extra weight that seemed to fall on her shoulders as her fingers touched Isobel’s. Maria’s eyes burned as the desire to curl up on the floor and sob suddenly hit. She snatched her hand back, holding it to her chest. What kind of misery was surrounding the blonde?

                Isobel, however, didn’t seem to notice Maria’s momentary fear as she took a big gulp of her drink. She winced as it left a burning trail down her throat, but when she looked up, Maria had already turned away from her, making it to seem as if she was cleaning the other cups. In reality, Maria was rubbing her fingers, half of her trying to decipher the strange electric tingle against her skin while the other half told her to just forget it, to ignore it. It was Isobel, after all – who cares what happened to her?

                “I’m just trying to warn you,” Isobel said, though as Maria looked over her shoulder at her, she saw the blonde stare at the table, and Maria had the feeling she was talking just to avoid crying. “My brother’s already in love with someone who, if you ask me, is way out of his league already. But…” she sighed, her voice softening, “he’s in love, so… I want that to work out for him.”

                Maria sniffed, wiping Isobel’s unshed tears from her eyes before she turned to face her, her brows furrowed. “You know? Who Michael’s in love with, I mean?”

                Isobel had just finished her drink, hissing before she leaned her elbow on the bar. “Sorry, DeLuca, I don’t think your psychic powers are gonna help you this time. My brother told me.” She shook her head, shrugging. “It’s not my job to pass the information on.”

                Maria flinched, trying not to remember the way she’d so casually told Liz that Michael was the one Alex had loved, as if the whole thing had been a story about celebrities and not her best friend. As if Alex’s feelings were an inconvenience for her. As if Alex finally being hopeful again was unfair –

                Maria exhaled sharply, rubbing her face. Go away, she urged the thoughts. Go away, go away, go away.

                “Are you having a seizure or something?”

                Maria looked up from her hands, glaring at Isobel who had taken the bottle and was drinking out of that instead.

                “You owe me fifty bucks for that bottle,” she said dryly, and as she drank, Isobel pulled a bill from her jacket pocket and handed it to Maria. The bartender blinked, taking the money. “A Guerin who actually pays. That’s new.”

                Isobel finally swallowed, lowering the bottle into her lap. She stared at it a moment, scratching the paper on the glass, then she repeated, “A Guerin. Do I look like a Guerin to you? It does have a better ring than Bracken anyway.”

                Maria tilted her head, studying Isobel thoughtfully before she asked, “Do you honestly want to be a Guerin? They’re kind of known to be messes.”

                Isobel huffed a chuckle, shaking her head. “You just don’t see it,” she said. “Nobody ever really sees him. Except maybe…” she shrugged, taking another swig of the bottle. “He’s nice. He sees him.”

                Maria, for a moment, thought Isobel had been hesitant to call Michael nice, and was confused. Then she realized that Isobel had been hesitant because she was talking about Alex. Maria half-wondered where Isobel had met Alex and decided he was nice. Still, she couldn’t help but nod along.

                “Yes,” she said quietly. “He is.”

                She looked up at Isobel to see her watching her, her brows furrowed as if she was trying to remember if she’d mentioned Alex’s name or not. Maria couldn’t help but notice how fragile the blonde looked then, how innocent. Her green eyes which had twinkled with mischief the last time Maria had read her palm, her lips which seemed curved into a permanent smirk not that different from her brother’s, her fingers that been firm and steady in Maria’s were now slipping on the tequila bottle in her lap.

                Maria soon realized they were staring at each other and blinked out of her haze, clearing her throat as she reached across the bar, took the bottle out of Isobel’s hands, and had a long swig of it herself.

                “Oh,” Isobel said with a tilt of her head and an amused smirk at her lips that didn’t reach her eyes, “it’s going to be one of those nights.”

                Maria rolled her eyes. She briefly noted that Isobel’s lip gloss on the mouth of the bottle smelled like strawberries, and even against the strong scent of the alcohol, it didn’t smell too bad. “Evans, you talk too much.”

                A few hours later, though Maria couldn’t entirely remember how, she and Isobel had ended up on the floor against the bar, their knees pulled up to their chests, the bottle nearly empty between them.

                They talked about little nothings; weird customers that had come in before, rude store owners, skirting around the topic of men, and as they did, Maria glanced at Isobel, wondering why someone who seemed as happily married as her wouldn’t be with her husband right now, especially if she was having such a hard time.

                “What happened between you and my brother?” Isobel finally asked, though any trace of humor was gone from her voice.

                Maria knew she could’ve told Isobel that it was none of her business, or just refuse to answer, but the energy clouding Isobel was too strong, too miserable, for Maria to bear say nothing.

                “Worried about me now, are you?” she joked, and Isobel shook her head.

                “I don’t want Michael to get hurt,” she said softly. “He’s already in love, and it’s killing him. I wondered why he was having so much trouble talking to… that other person.” She turned to Maria with a frown. “Now I’m starting to think maybe you’re why.”

                Maria felt a pang in her chest at the mention of Alex. So he wasn’t talking to Michael. Maria had figured that might have happened. She wanted to believe that breaking up with Michael would be enough, that it might fix his and Alex’s relationship, that maybe – without Maria in the way – they might be able to love each other again.

                But no. The rational side of her thought, the side that knew Alex. She and Michael had completely shattered his trust, broken him in a way that could never be undone.

                A tear slid down her cheek and she was quick to wipe it away, but not before Isobel saw it and nodded slowly as if she understood.

                Maria, unable to take the look, shook her head and asked, “Then what happened between you and Noah?”

                Isobel tensed at the mention of his name and looked straight ahead.

                “Come on, Evans, it’s not that hard to figure out,” she said. “It’s past midnight and you’re trying to get drunk, and instead of being with your husband, you’re here with me. So what –”

                “We got divorced,” was all she said before she took another swig of the bottle, emptying the contents.

                Maria blinked, her face falling. “Oh,” was all she knew to say, and instantly regretted asking. A breakup wasn’t the same thing as a divorce. And Isobel had been so happy with him, too.

                She shook her head, gently taking the empty bottle from Isobel and resisting the passing urge to move a strand of blonde hair that had come loose from its braid.

                She slumped back with a sigh. “How did this happen? How is this our life?”

                Isobel said nothing for a moment, then she shrugged. “Maybe we’re cursed. I mean, you fell in love with someone who doesn’t love you back,” she said, and Maria turned to snap at her, but saw no mockery or indifference on her face. “And I fell in love with someone who…” the corner of her lips quirked up sadly, “doesn’t love anything.”

                Maria pressed her lips together for a moment, then, “Well, you know, Prom Queen, tonight’s not so bad. At least we’re not alone.”

                Isobel glanced at her and scoffed, some of the sorrow and bitterness in her smile faded. “I thought you hated me.”

                Maria frowned. “I don’t hate you. I…”

                “Think I’m responsible for Rosa Ortecho’s death.”

                She looked down. “I shouldn’t have blamed you for that.”

                “No,” she agreed. “You shouldn’t have.” She took the empty bottle, and as she held it tightly, Maria could tell she was conflicted, a thousand words lying on her tongue, though she couldn’t bring herself to say any of them. “I never hurt anybody.”

                “I know, Isobel,” she said softly, and Isobel looked up at her, the two caught in each other’s gazes for a long time.

                Maria knew it was the tequila that made her lean in, it had to have been. As green as Isobel Evans’s eyes were, as pink as her lips, as soft as her skin, Maria knew that – had she been sober – she would not be doing what she was doing. Still, something in her shifted and softened as she saw that Isobel was leaning in just the same.

                Their lips barely brushed, Maria’s thoughts consumed with how nice Isobel smelled (strawberries and vanilla), how much nicer the scent was compared to Michael, and her eyes snapped open.

                Michael.

                This was his sister; she couldn’t kiss his sister, no matter how drunk she was!

                She pulled back, and Isobel, whose eyes had just begun to flutter shut, slowly leaned back, her brows furrowed. In that moment, Maria realized that Isobel knew, just as she did, that nothing good would come of them hooking up.

                She cleared her throat and moved to stand, just as Isobel did the same.

                “Right, well, I really do need to close up now.”

                “Mm,” Isobel hummed, avoiding her gaze. Maria wondered if she felt any regret at coming here tonight, if she would’ve rather suffered at home alone, and the thought left an inexplicable pain in her chest.

                “You – you want me to call you a cab?”

                Isobel nodded, buttoning her jacket. When had she unbuttoned it?

                “Yes,” she said, then as an afterthought added, “please.”

                Maria nodded and walked out, aware of the blonde following her.

Chapter Text

                “Don’t say a word!” Maria snapped at Isobel when the crowbar she’d been trying to use to unhinge the door only slipped out of her hands because the space between the door and the frame was too small.

                Isobel eyed the crowbar as it clattered to the stone floor and raised an eyebrow at Maria, popping her gum. “Me?” she said dully. “Defy the Great Mystic? How could I ever?”

                “Ha ha,” Maria huffed and sat down across from Isobel, but even though she was as far away as she could get from the blonde, their knees still almost touched. The storage room was tiny after all. “Considering you’re the one that got us trapped in here, I wouldn’t be so quick to make jokes.”

                Isobel scoffed. “Oh that’s right, I magically locked the door and got it stuck, because it’s always my fault, isn’t it? Rusty hinges and a crappy lock? Nah, Isobel did it.” She leaned her head back against a shelf of old necklaces and olive jars. At some point, Maria thought, she would really have to do some inventory and remember what kind of stuff she had had lying around.

                “Besides, as I recall,” Isobel continued, her eyes closed. “You were the one who had closed the door.”

                “Because I was trying to talk some sense into you!” Maria huffed. “What were you even doing in here anyway?”

                Isobel shrugged. “Stealing your paper towels.”

                Maria shook her head. “Fine. Don’t tell me.” She wrapped her arms around her knees, hitting her head back against the door. “Hello?” she tried calling out for what felt like the millionth time, though she knew it was hopeless. The Wild Pony was closed, and as busy as this place usually was when they were open, that was as empty as it was when they weren’t in service. Still, she hit her head against the door, and it barely shook against her. “Hello?!” She hit again. “Ugh, what is with this door, isn’t it supposed to be made of wood?!”

                “Would you stop?!” Isobel snapped, irritated. “You’re going to give yourself a concussion doing that!”

                Maria rubbed her face, sighing into her palms. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t. The universe wouldn’t let me out anyway. That’d be too kind.”

                “Stop complaining,” Isobel rolled her eyes. “Michael and I were supposed to meet here later, he’ll come and get us soon enough.”

                Maria shook her head. “My freedom depends on Guerin.”

                “That’s right, babe,” Isobel smiled sweetly. “So get comfortable.”

                “My god,” she muttered, “you sound just like Guerin.”

                “I’ve heard worse.”

                “Does that ever weird you out?”

                “What?”

                “Hearing that you’re anything like Guerin.”

                “Why would that be weird?”

                “Because he’s not really your brother,” Maria said, and Isobel pursed her lips thoughtfully as if she’d never thought of Michael as not really her brother.

                “You’re the only one that’s ever said it,” she said, her expression unreadable.

                Maria blinked, her brows furrowed. She wasn’t used to anything being unreadable.

                A minute, then two, then, unable to take the silence, Maria asked, “Can’t you just… alien us out of here?”

                Isobel looked unimpressed. “I’m an influencer, DeLuca. I can influence people to do whatever I want, I can’t make things explode or levitate anything. You would be looking for either Max or Michael.”

                “Influence,” Maria repeated. It had been months since she’d been told about aliens and their powers, but she still had difficulty remembering who did what, and exactly how they did it. “Like mind control.”

                She expected Isobel to make a snarky or sarcastic remark, maybe even a sexual innuendo, but instead she just shrugged. “Yeah,” she said, her voice suddenly soft. “I guess it is.”

                Maria stared for a moment, then, “You seem different.”

                “Stuffy storage spaces make my skin dry,” she said.

                “Not in how you look, I mean,” she tilted her head, her brows furrowed, “you just… feel different.”

                Isobel straightened, her mouth open in shock as she covered her chest with her hand. “Are you sexually harassing me with your mind?”

                “God,” she groaned, “you know what? Forget it! You’re hopeless.” She stood. “I was just trying to help.”

                “Sorry, Isobel Evans isn’t here right now, please leave a message at the sound of any single crap being given.”

                “Just like Guerin,” she muttered. “What were you doing in here anyway?”

                “Texting,” she said instantly, closing her eyes and crossing her arms.

                Maria raised a brow. “Texting? In the storage room?”

                “I needed privacy.”

                “To do what?”

                “To text,” she snapped. “Are you not listening to me?”

                “That is such a lie.”

                “Right, sorry, I forgot about your all-knowing eye,” she scrunched her shoulders, crossing her arms tighter around herself. “Tell me, oh Saintly One, since you clearly know all the answers of the universe, what am I going to have for lunch tomorrow?”

                “Very funny.”

                “While I’m at it, how does Supernatural end? After fifteen years, please tell me they just die.”

                “I’m not humoring this,” Maria said, shaking her head. “You think that by pissing me off, it’ll fix whatever the hell’s happening with you, but it won’t. I’ve seen you brother drown his sorrows away in drinks and bar fights every night, and what you’re doing now is no different, Isobel.”

                Isobel stared, then smirked, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “How miserable are you, DeLuca?”

                “What?”

                “You’ve never given a crap about what happens to me, how I feel, but ever since your little thing with Michael crashed into the wall, which – let’s face it, we were all waiting for that one – you’ve been particularly attentive to everything I do. Why? Can’t take your frustrations out on my brother so you’re taking them out on me instead? I don’t need or want your help, so –”

                “You’re cold,” Maria noted despite herself, and Isobel went silent.

                “What?” she said, and Maria realized that Isobel just didn’t know that she was curling in deeper on herself. Maria had been used to standing under an air conditioner all day, but Isobel, she realized, probably wasn’t.

                She sighed, taking her jacket off. “You’re shivering, Evans. Here,” she said and tossed her jacket onto Isobel.

                Isobel gripped the jacket’s collar, her jaw clenched though she was avoiding Maria’s gaze. “I told you, I don’t –”

                “I get it, okay?” Maria said. “You don’t need my bar, you don’t need my fortunes, and you don’t need me, but until your brother gets here, how about you just pretend that you need my jacket because I’m not taking it back till I see Michael.”

                Isobel said nothing for a moment, then she pressed her lips together and blanketed herself with the jacket, her eyes faced away.

                Something in Maria settled as Isobel’s shoulders slumped as if she was finally warm. She stared at the blonde who was having so much trouble looking back at her, and couldn’t help but think; you’re wrong. She did care about what happened to Isobel, and it wasn’t because of Michael. At least, Maria really didn’t think it was.

                It didn’t feel like she was taking her frustrations out on Isobel, though she hated to admit that she understood why Isobel would think it did. There was just something about her energy now, something more vulnerable, something that pushed those walls of smirks and sneers and sarcasm and ego down, and revealed something purer. Something good.

                Maybe that’s why, Maria thought. Maybe she was just curious of the puzzle that Isobel had turned out to be. Even Michael was easy to figure out – scared and deeply in love, stuck in his past, using sarcasm and drinks to hide his pain and his heart of gold – but Isobel was a different case entirely. In Isobel, Maria felt something like crystals shimmering under the surface. Sharp, but beautiful in their danger.

                “Isobel –” she started to say, to explain that Isobel had it wrong, that she wasn’t stuck in here with someone who hated her, but just as she opened her mouth, they heard someone calling.

                “Isobel? Isobel, you here?”

                “Michael,” Isobel breathed, relief flooding her expression.

                “Guerin,” Maria turned, hitting the door, “we’re in here!”

                “DeLuca?” Michael’s confused voice came. “What’re you doing in there?”

                “Tanning,” Maria said dryly. “Hey, you mind opening the door?”

                A moment of silence, then the door made a creak sound as if it was forcefully pushed open by an invisible source. Michael glanced at Maria, giving her a small nod before Isobel ran into his arms, and he held her tightly.

                “Hey,” he said when she pulled back, one hand cupping her cheek, the other on her arm, “you okay?”

                “I’m fine,” Isobel said a little breathlessly, and Maria thought she was trying to straighten herself, as if she’d been lounging in the storage room without a single care. “Let’s just go home.”

                Michael stared at her a moment, then nodded. “Okay,” and he put an arm around her shoulders to lead her out.

                “Oh, wait,” she said, then turned to Maria, and cleared her throat, Maria’s jacket in her hand. “I believe this is yours.”

                As soon as Maria had hold of her jacket, Isobel turned and walked away. Michael watched after her, and turned to Maria with furrowed brows. “What’d you do to her?”

                Maria contemplated getting into it, but ultimately sighed. She was too tired. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Looks like all I can do is piss her off.”

                “No,” Michael shook his head and began walking to the door after his sister. With his back still turned, he said, “She actually looks happy.”

                Maria’s eyebrows rose as the door closed behind the cowboy, and she was left standing in her bar alone.

                Texting, Isobel had said. Maria didn’t remember Isobel looking around when she’d walked in, like she’d been expecting anyone. She thought of Isobel’s state in the storage room, as if she’d been drained, and she wondered, yet again, what it was that Isobel had been doing in the storage room, and why she had been so distressed that she decided to text her brother to come get her.

Chapter Text

                Kyle hummed softly, his nose against Alex’s cheek, his hands on Alex’s hips as the airman leaned in and pecked him yet again.

                “You’re drunk,” Alex said softly when Kyle leaned in for another kiss.

                Kyle’s smile widened before he pressed his lips against Alex’s, his eyes still closed, his cheeks warm, though he suspected that had more to do with Alex than the beer.

                “So?” Kyle asked, and opened his eyes. He remembered once when he’d felt fear at having Alex close. There he had been, that seventeen-year-old badass, unafraid of anybody. He’d represented everything Kyle never knew he wanted, and everything Kyle was terrified of being destroyed for. But Alex had never been afraid. Alex had wanted to be himself, to be free and in charge, more than he had wanted anyone’s approval.

                And now he was that same badass, but so different. He wore flannel and jeans now, he had light stubble along his jaw and above his lip, his eyes shined not with rebellion, but a kind of peace. Kyle’s hands tightened on Alex’s waist as he realized that the only fear he had now was of ever losing the airman again.

                “Drunk or sober,” he said, his voice deep but steady, “you know I think you’re beautiful.”

                Alex shook his head, his smile widening before he lightly shoved Kyle away, his own cheeks flushed. “Shut up, get away from me.”

                “No, no, don’t do that,” Kyle whined as he held on to the arm that Alex was using to push him away with both hands, his eyes closed. “Don’t push me away, Alexander! Don’t let our love fall! Don’t keep me locked away on an island of dreams –”

                “Do you even know what you’re saying anymore?” Alex said, laughter coloring his tone. Kyle loved that. He loved that he could make Alex laugh. There was a time Alex had only fallen into silent despair when he was drunk, using the beer as an excuse to keep others at a further distance than usual, putting up a wall that even Kyle couldn’t break through. That time was over now.

                “I don’t really know,” Kyle’s eyes narrowed, though he couldn’t help but mirror Alex’s smile. “I think I’m trying to serenade you. Or recite poetry.”

                “You don’t sing, and you hate poetry.”

                “You make me want to try new things.”

                Alex laughed, and Kyle’s heart warmed. He moved closer, widening his knees so that he was basically caging Alex in. The airman hardly seemed to notice as he said, “Were you always this attached? I don’t remember you ever being this attached.”

                Kyle’s eyes searched Alex’s face; his dark brown bangs now so long that they were falling over his eyes, his long lashes curling against his rosy cheeks, his soft pink lips curved up into a delicate smile – still so delicate and fresh that Kyle knew it would shatter if he wasn’t careful – and before he knew it, he said, “I guess I just never cared so much about anyone else until now.”

                Alex’s smile softened, and he cupped Kyle’s jaw, bringing him closer until their lips were pressed against one another. The two were gentle at first, every kiss a soft breath as the jukebox played music in the background, the chattering of other bar customers faded as if Alex and Kyle were underwater.

                Alex suddenly moaned, and Kyle nearly gasped. The sound was slight, but enough to vibrate through Kyle’s entire body and have him wrapping an arm around Alex’s waist, pulling him in. Alex made a startled noise in the back of his throat, but Kyle was already running his fingers through the airman’s hair. It really was as soft as it looked, even when it was sticking out in a rumpled mess.

                Kyle nearly stood off his stool and hitched Alex’s legs around his waist as their kisses turned harder and hungrier. Alex held on to Kyle’s jaw as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss, Kyle moaning at the delicious sound of their wet lips separating only to come back together again and again and again.

                He wanted to kiss lower than Alex’s lips. He wanted to reach up under his shirt and feel Alex’s soft skin, his muscle, his chest hair. He pulled back, just about to tell Alex that they should go to either the bathroom or his car – whichever, it didn’t matter – when they heard a familiar voice say –

                “Oh my God.”

                Kyle glanced sideways while Alex’s brows furrowed, his eyes still on Kyle’s lips as if in a haze, and the doctor saw Liz Ortecho standing there, her eyes and mouth open, with Max Evans and none other than Michael Guerin on each side of her.

                “I did not,” Liz tried, but as her eyes flickered between Kyle and Alex, Kyle thought she looked a little breathless, “I did not see this coming.”

                Max, who didn’t know much of either Kyle or Alex, said nothing, though he looked to Michael as if afraid of what he might do. He knows what Alex means to Michael, Kyle thought, and sure enough, when his eyes fell on Michael last, he saw him smirking, but his jaw was tight, his tongue in his cheek, and his eyes directed at Kyle with a blazing hatred.

                Michael huffed an unamused chuckle and said, “I’m gonna kill you,” before he strode toward him, his smirk falling off his lips. Right away, Max caught his arm, Liz had her hands on his shoulder, both of them yelling some variation of “Michael, stop!” at the same time that Alex had stepped in front of Kyle as a shield and said in his most commanding voice, “Don’t even think about it!”

                Kyle half-wondered how Alex could keep his voice so steady when he himself was so drunk that he had difficulty standing without swaying. Alex kept his eyes on Michael, and Kyle kept his eyes on Alex.

                “Alex, move,” Michael growled, his glare moving to the airman, though Alex didn’t even flinch. Kyle didn’t think Alex would ever be afraid of Michael. He secretly hoped that would never change.

                “Stop it, Guerin.”

                “I said MOVE!” Right then, the cups and bottles on the bar shattered to pieces, sending glass everywhere. Kyle gasped and covered Alex from behind, keeping anything from touching him. Though somehow, he knew Michael wouldn’t have let anything hit Alex in the first place.

                “Go ahead!” Alex snapped. “Tear the place apart, break every bottle in here, scare everyone away, but I’m not letting you anywhere near him.”

                “Are – Are you guys together or something?” Liz asked, her eyes big and confused, and Kyle sighed, his hands tightening on Alex’s shoulders. He didn’t fail to notice Michael following his fingers, the fire in them growing at the sight of Kyle touching Alex at all.

                But Alex wasn’t Michael’s airman anymore. He was Kyle’s. Michael would just have to deal with that. Whatever their past had been, he’d thrown it away when he chose someone else. Kyle didn’t understand how, but Michael chose someone other than Alex. He wasn’t getting him back now.

                “I’ll call you later,” Kyle said, and Liz seemed unable to say anything as she moved her curious and concerned eyes from the doctor to her best friend. “Come on,” he said softly, and Alex finally tore his gaze away from Michael and nodded shortly to Kyle.

                Kyle kept his hands on Alex’s shoulders as they walked away, then, when they both had their backs turned to the small group, Michael suddenly yelled, “You’ll forgive him, but not me?!” and Alex froze, his muscles tense under Kyle’s touch.

                Kyle thought Alex might turn and yell something back, might tell Michael why it was so different this time, might explain that he could actually trust Kyle in a way he never could trust the cowboy. But Alex pressed the bottom of his palm against his temple as if he was dealing with a miserable migraine, he exhaled a quiet, shaky breath that Kyle knew only he could hear, and he muttered, “Please get me out of here.”

                Kyle was startled at the vulnerability in the request, but he nodded quickly, tightened his hold on Alex’s shoulders, and led them both out, keeping his boyfriend protected from any eyes as they left.

Chapter Text

                Michael was laid out lazily against the bunk, his arms crossed as his eyes remained half-lidded, his lips pursed. He wasn’t going to tell Alex that it bothered him to have Kyle there – that it bothered him to have Kyle anywhere in Alex’s vicinity, really – but he hoped the airman would’ve figured it out by now. Michael kind of thinks he had, but was choosing to ignore the cowboy.

                Michael opted for sitting in the center of the bunk, right where he could keep an eye on Kyle’s hands and where he put them, instead of the window seat. Barely five minutes into the drive and Kyle started talking, just to Alex, his voice low though Michael heard enough to understand that the doctor was giving a rundown of his day. As if Alex was his boyfriend, and he just had to let his sweetheart know how his patients had been. Michael stuck his tongue in his cheek, focusing on the landscape outside rushing by instead of the fact that Alex was responding with an interested, “Hm? Really?” every so often. How long had they been talking like that?

                When Kyle reached a hand out to Alex, Michael’s head snapped around and he saw that Kyle was actually handing Alex a water bottle, reminding him to stay hydrated.

                Alex, to Michael’s surprise, took the bottle without a word, had a sip and handed it back to Kyle who took it without even looking at the airman. Michael hated it, but the movement had looked so easy, so natural. They fit in a way Michael didn’t think he and Alex had ever fit, and it made him clench his fists.

                “So how long have you guys been working together anyway?” he couldn’t help but ask, his tone nonchalant.

                “Little over half a year,” Kyle said, checking his rearview mirror.

                “Take a left here,” Alex said, gesturing at the oncoming road as he kept his eyes on the map in his hands. It was a regular road map littered with Alex’s handwriting, traced paths that weren’t supposed to exist, and dozens of little arrows indicating secret entryways and exits.

                Michael tried not to look surprised. Over half a year? He and Alex had barely spoken in months, but the airman had been holed up with Kyle in a bunker that entire time? The thought that almost every time after Alex had left him, he had gone to Kyle, made his jaw tighten, something turned heated and painful in his chest.

                “Wow,” he said, slumping back in his seat, his eyes on Alex. “That’s a long time. Bet you guys are pretty cozy around each other now.”

                Kyle shook his head as he pulled out his water bottle again and something small wrapped in a napkin from his pocket. He handed them both to Alex. “Here.”

                “I already had my pills,” Alex said.

                “You’ve been with me all day,” Kyle said, and Michael narrowed his eyes. “You haven’t taken any pills.”

                “I’m fine.”

                “Great, then take the pills.”

                “Kyle –”

                “You want the pain to stop or not?” Kyle asked, and Alex said nothing. Michael’s frown deepened. Alex was experiencing pain? Could it have been his leg? Now that Michael thought about it, Alex had been leaning his weight on his left leg all day, and even when he smiled, he had clenched his jaw as if he had been hurt and was trying not to show it. “Take the pills, Manes.”

                Alex seemed to hesitate, then Michael leaned forward and grabbed the napkin-wrapped pills, as well as the water bottle, from Kyle’s hand, holding them out for Alex instead. Alex looked momentarily startled, but he huffed, undoubtedly annoyed that Michael now knew what he’d been trying all day to hide, and took his medication and water from the cowboy. He looked at neither of them as he down the pills and capped the bottle, thrusting it back at Kyle.

                Michael turned to the doctor who was facing straight ahead, seemingly unaffected about the fact that Alex had accepted the help from Michael as oppose to him, but Michael saw the way his jaw clenched, the way he tried so hard to avoid Michael’s gaze even as the cowboy smiled smugly at him.

                “Don’t worry, doc,” he said in a quiet voice. “Alex always listens to me.”

                “Bite me, Guerin.”

                Michael leaned back, infinitely more relaxed as he remembered the way Alex’s fingertips felt against his palm, the way his eyes had caught Michael’s and instantly filled with trust, the way Alex’s body seemed to relax against his seat when Michael had come close. Kyle couldn’t have known what that felt like; to have Alex’s entire heart.

                “Sorry your adventures in the bunker didn’t make you the soulmates you hoped you would be.”

                “Could you be any more jealous? Is it even biologically possible?”

                “You would know, Dr. Cheekbones.”

                “Okay, guys, just –”

                “And jealous of what, exactly? You two working on Project Shepherd together? Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of in on it, too.”

                “One road trip doesn’t make you our partner,” Kyle retorted. “You’re here because you’re an alien –”

                “—and you need me –”

                “Yeah, for this one thing,” Kyle said. “After that, Alex and I head back to the bunker to work on what we find. That’s always been the plan. You do know that, don’t you?”

                “Please –”

                “Some bunker in the ground isn’t gonna fix the past ten years,” Michael said. “You know that, don’t you?”

                Alex stilled, his eyes catching Michael’s again in the mirror, but this time, they carried something different.

                Fix the past ten years. Michael only then just realized that what he’d said had made it sound like he and Alex would never fix the time that they had lost. After all, Kyle had at least been spending time with Alex, while Michael himself…

                He shook his head, opening his mouth to tell Alex that he hadn’t meant it, that it was different with Kyle, that the connection between Alex and Michael was different, stronger.

                Then Kyle started chuckling, and Michael’s gaze went to him. “Five minutes,” he said. “You couldn’t make it five minutes without saying something about that.”

                Michael smirked. “Sorry, Valenti, I’m actually talking to Alex now, so –”

                “Are you? Because it kind of just sounds like you want to know if Alex and I are secretly dating.”

                “And you felt inclined to answer on his behalf?”

                “Guys,” Alex tried, his voice soft, but Michael’s glare was on Kyle.

                “I didn’t hear you say his name,” Kyle said.

                “Kyle –”

                “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, Guerin.”

                Michael felt a fire spread throughout his chest in an instant. “What the hell does that mean?”

                Kyle sighed, shaking his head as he turned onto another street. “Look, I know it bothers you not having tabs on everything he does, but what Alex and I do in the bunker is none of your business. Okay?”

                “‘What Alex and I do?’” Michael huffed a humorless chuckle. “Oh, that’s rich coming from you.”

                “Guerin, stop it already –”

                Michael leaned forward in his seat, well aware that Alex was rubbing his face, exhausted, but he kept his eyes on Kyle. “Don’t tell me,” he said, his voice dripping sarcasm. “You only bullied him when we were kids because you secretly liked him, and now, with no one around to watch, you think he’ll just run into your arms and you can finally be together. Is that the Pride Day ending you were hoping for?”

                “Dick,” Kyle muttered.

                “Okay, how about this,” Michael patted his shoulder. “You felt empty all your life, and you never knew why. But when you were in the bunker, you realized Alex’s skin looks really soft and –”

                “Oh, what’re you, twelve?”

                “Your heart started racing and you just knew –”

                “Stop it!” Alex snapped. “What are you guys even doing? Is this really the time to be arguing?”

                Neither of them said anything, but Michael slumped back in his seat, putting his feet up and crossing them on the center console.

                “How far is this place anyway?” he asked, then at the way Kyle rolled his eyes, added, “Alex. There you go, there’s his name, I’m asking Alex.”

                “You’re such a child,” Kyle said.

                “It’s two hours out of town,” Alex said with a sigh.

                “It’s just desert out here,” Michael thought out loud. “What’re these guys trying to hide?”

                “If it has something to do with Project Shepherd,” Kyle said, “I’m gonna say, nothing good.”

                Michael rolled his eyes, but said nothing. He rested his head back against the seat, his eyes unmoving from Alex. The airman was pointing to the map, muttering something about power surges and heat signatures, and he dozed off to his soft voice.

                When he woke up, he found no trace of Roswell. No houses, no ranches, no bars – nothing except dirt and the top of what looked to be like a large building far in front of them, rising as they got closer.

                “I have to pee,” he said, and Kyle pressed his lips together.

                “Hold it.”

                “Fine,” Michael yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, “but if I have to hold it in till Caulfield, just know that I’ll be spelling out Valenti sucks on the dirt.”

                “How do you stand him?” he asked Alex, and Alex said nothing, his attention on his map as he – Michael suspected – triple-checked their entry point.

                “I’m hot, for one,” Michael said. “Plus I know exactly where to touch him to make him –”

                “I can actually feel my brain cells decaying just from listening to you speak.”

                “Oh no,” Michael said dryly. “Wouldn’t want you to be useless.”

                “Hey, I know it’s a stretch, but humor me,” Kyle said. “Do you have anything somewhat productive to say at all?”

                “You want productive, Valenti? How about I use my powers to shove the next cactus we pass up your –”

                “ENOUGH!” Alex snapped. “We’re supposed to be on a mission here, we don’t have time for whatever the hell this is!”

                “Alex –”

                “I don’t want to hear it, Guerin!” he said, then sighed deeply, rubbing his face. When he spoke next, it was to Kyle, and his voice was a lot calmer. “Kyle, this is the first real lead we’ve been able to make sense of from your dad’s writings. We have to stay on high alert. Okay?”

                Kyle caught his eyes, and Michael noticed his hands tighten on the steering wheel. “So ignore everything he says.”

                “If you really want me to trust that you can handle an op like this,” Alex sighed, “basically, yes.”

                Kyle swallowed, and after a moment, he shook his head. “Fine.”

                Michael watched as Kyle pointedly ignored his gaze, and he realized that Kyle really was trying for Alex’s sake. He wanted to prove himself capable of doing whatever Alex could do, of handling whatever Alex could handle. He didn’t just want Alex’s trust, he wanted to impress Alex. Michael tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, wondering how much closer the doctor and the airman had really gotten, and a terrifying thought passed; what if Michael couldn’t keep up?

                He moved to sit back in his seat, and saw Alex watching him. The airman raised an eyebrow at him as if asking if he was okay, and Michael smirked as if to say, ‘I’m always okay.’

                Then something flashed in Alex’s eyes, and Michael realized that Alex knew he was lying. Still the airman huffed an amused chuckle, his smile soft and admiring as he nodded. He didn’t believe Michael, but he knew that Michael wanted him to pretend he did, so that was what he would do.

                Michael said nothing, his brows furrowed slightly in thought as he leaned back, but he kept his hand on Alex’s seat, his fingers brushing the nape of Alex’s neck for a moment before they parked the car and stepped out, the touch having been too brief for Michael to understand what it meant. Michael suddenly didn’t care what Kyle was doing with Alex, what Kyle was saying to Alex, where Kyle was touching Alex. All he cared about was Alex, confused about the electricity still tingling in his fingertips at the touch of Alex’s skin.

Chapter Text

                Michael had only gone into the kitchen to get a glass of water, but when he came back into the bedroom, he found his boyfriend sitting on the edge of his bed, a towel wrapped around his waist, another smaller towel around his shoulders as he dried off his wet hair.

                Michael leaned against the doorframe, his eyes following Alex’s dark strands as they stuck to his forehead and neck, the water droplets as they rolled down Alex’s face like tears, making a trail off his jaw and down his chest that Michael found he really wanted to follow with his tongue. Then there were Alex’s arms and back – muscled and flexing as Alex worked, highlighting the red scars along the smooth skin. Michael had asked for the stories behind each of those scars, the ones Alex had felt the need to hide with makeup when he had come back to Roswell, but felt comfortable enough to reveal to Michael one night after a particularly long shower. Some Alex could talk about, some he couldn’t bring himself to remember.

                Still, Michael remembered kissing along each of those wounds, from the small ones that had clearly come from a bullet, to the big ones whose sources Michael could not imagine.

                “You’re staring again,” Alex said, though he wasn’t looking at Michael.

                The corners of the cowboy’s lips quirked upward. “You’re half-naked. Of course I’m staring.”

                Alex peeked at him through his wet strands, smiling. “Are you waiting for permission to come touch me?”

                Michael bit his lower lip, and came up to the bed, taking a seat beside Alex. “Here, let me,” he said, covering Alex’s hands on the towel with his own. Alex’s hands came down to rest on the bed, his eyes closed as Michael continued drying his hair.

                Michael watched as Alex’s eyes closed, his long lashes curled against his red cheeks, and he couldn’t help himself. He slowly moved to straddle Alex’s hips, careful not to put too much weight on his legs, and leaned in to press a kiss to his cheek.

                Alex smiled, his hands coming up to Michael’s hips, holding him in place. “This is how you dry hair now?”

                “I don’t hear you complaining,” Michael muttered, placing another kiss to Alex’s other cheek, then his nose. As he did, he stopped his movements with the towel, letting it fall onto Alex’s shoulders as his hands slowly came down the back of Alex’s head, then the nape of his neck, then onto his back. Alex hissed softly as Michael’s fingers ran over his scars, and Michael would’ve pulled back if Alex’s eyes hadn’t closed, his lips parted, his chin tilted upward as he chased Michael’s lips.

                Michael exhaled a long, shaky breath as he pressed his forehead against Alex’s, his hands going lower, lower, down Alex’s spine, across the rough, healed skin of his past injuries. Alex arched his back, his own hands going under Michael’s shirt, coming up his sides and to the front. Michael’s mouth fell open as he felt Alex’s fingers spread through the hair on his stomach, then follow the trail up to his chest.

                “Baby,” Michael breathed, scratching along Alex’s back and across the red skin. Alex’s breath hitched in his throat and he raised his chin higher.

                “I just showered,” he reminded Michael after the cowboy took his lips in a long, sensual kiss.

                “I’ll give you a better shower later,” he whispered before he licked into Alex’s mouth, sending them both toppling backwards.

               

                It was late in the night when Michael and Alex were rested beside each other, the blanket pulled up to their hips. Alex was on his stomach and Michael on his side, his leg thrown over the airman’s.

                Michael was gently tracing Alex’s scars with the tips of his fingers. Someone else might have thought they were ugly, a gash on the perfect picture everyone often tried to hold Alex to as the renowned veteran he was. But Michael thought they made him that much more of a leader. He loved the scars, the signs of Alex’s battles, of his defeats and victories. Alex was his hero.

                Then there were moments like this. Michael’s fingers came across a giant X, one gash much darker than the one above it, as if a knife had slashed Alex’s skin. It was a much older wound, Michael realized. It was these moments, these particular scars that seemed older than ten years, when Michael felt something grow alongside the adoration in his chest. Something darker and harsher. Something that made him want to go out there and kill anyone who would’ve touched his airman. Alex’s eyes were nearly closed, Michael’s touch undoubtedly soothing to his constantly aching bones that came with the exhaustion of being part of the military.

                “Alex,” Michael said.

                “Hm?”

                “If some of these scars hadn’t come from the Air Force,” he said, and Alex’s eyes opened halfway. Only widening fractionally, but widening nonetheless. “You’d tell me, right?”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, then slightly shook his head.

                “Why not?”

                Alex looked up at his boyfriend, his brown eyes filled with a protectiveness Michael couldn’t deny, even as Alex was half asleep. Alex turned onto his back, taking away Michael’s access to most of his wounds. “It’s too sad,” he said simply, his hand coming up to Michael’s elbow, holding lightly.

                “It’s not,” Michael slid down, his hand coming down Alex’s chest to rest on his stomach. “It’s important.”

                “I don’t want you to get angry.”

                “If it’s for you,” he said, “I’ll always get angry.”

                “That’s not a good thing,” Alex chuckled tiredly, bringing his hand up to Michael’s jaw. “I don’t want to be the reason for that.”

                “If you found out someone was hurting me,” Michael said, “what would you do?”

                Alex searched Michael’s face, and Michael didn’t fail to notice how the airman’s eyes darkened, the hold on his jaw tighter. “Fair enough.”

                “So you’ll tell me?”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, then his expression softened. “You already know.”

                Michael clenched his jaw. “Yeah,” he said, his voice quiet. “I do.”

                Alex sighed, his smile softening into something like faint amusement. “There there,” he said, bringing his hands up to hold Michael’s face, his thumbs softly brushing his cheeks. Michael let his eyes close to Alex’s touch, any thought of Jesse Manes and Alex suffering when he was younger fading away as he was pulled down. His lips met Alex’s in a delicate kiss, then Michael tilted his head to deepen it, his tongue brushing against Alex’s. Alex’s fingers slid into his curls, and the cowboy moaned before he leaned down, kissing Alex’s chin, then his neck, then his chest. Then he came down to a healed bullet wound in Alex’s side, kissing the hard skin there.

                “I love you,” he muttered against the scar, and kissed again. “I love you so much, baby.”

                “I love you more,” Alex breathed, and Michael came back up to his lips, shaking his head.

                “Not possible,” he said before he took Alex’s lips again, spreading the airman’s legs with one of his own.

                He brought his hand down Alex’s sides, his hands behind Alex’s knees as he pulled the airman’s legs up to his waist. He felt Alex’s scars stretch from his back, the tips of his fingers against the rough skin.

                “Don’t you ever get freaked out with all the cuts on my body?” Alex muttered, amused.

                Michael looked into Alex’s eyes, the way the golden specs danced along the brown, the way he bit his lower lip, red and swollen, the way his soft hair fell on his forehead and slightly curled around his neck and ears at the bottom tips, and though Michael could only smile and shake his head in response, lowering himself to press against Alex, to feel every inch of his skin, of the airman’s beautiful lips against his own, the cowboy’s answer lay on his tongue, hoping that through the kisses, he could convey it to his boyfriend.

                Hoping he could somehow tell Alex that he would gladly hold onto the thorns with both hands if it meant he got to have the rose.

Chapter Text

                It was late, though that couldn’t be helped. With Alex’s enlistment coming to an end, he wanted to make sure the work he was handing back was the best it could be. He’d never been desperate to join the military, but Alex had always been a perfectionist. After all these years finally coming to an end, Alex felt the need to do things properly and right now more than ever.

                Still, as the shower inside sounded throughout the entire cabin, Alex smiled. Maybe that was a good thing, his one last need to be perfect. Maybe it meant he was moving on, and this assignment was his chance at some closure.

                It took a moment for Alex to pull himself out of his thoughts, redirecting his attention back to his work as he adjusted the glasses on the bridge of his nose, when there came a knock at the door.

                The sound was fast, strong, urgent. Alex blinked, his brows furrowed, and given the fact that the shower suddenly stopped, he bet the one inside had noticed the desperation of the knock, too.

                Alex carefully put his work papers on his armchair, reached under the seat, and pulled out one of the many guns he had hidden. Some might’ve called him paranoid, but Alex thought overprotective might’ve been a better fit. After all, he wasn’t exactly alone in the cabin.

                He moved to the door, his weapon up. “Who is it?” he called, his voice stable and free of suspicion. He heard nothing for a moment, then as he was about to ask again, a familiar voice replied, “Alex, it’s me.”

                Alex’s frown deepened, his weapon lowered in an instant. He hated that. He hated how he could tell who it was just by the voice. Alex, it’s me. His visitor hadn’t even bothered mentioning his name, and Alex hated how he knew he wouldn’t have to. Because of course the airman would know who it was. And what was worse, just from those few words, Alex knew there was something seriously wrong.

                “Alex,” he heard, and instantly set the gun on a small coffee table beside a flower vase. He opened the door, and Michael came falling into his arms. “Alex, Alex,” Michael muttered over and over, his grip bruising as he tightly held onto Alex’s arms, his face in Alex’s shoulder.

                “Oh my God,” Alex breathed, and all but fell to his knees with Michael’s weight on his. The cowboy had bruises and cuts all over his hands, his face and clothes covered in blood, and as he repeated Alex’s name, Alex noticed his voice growing raspier, the sound of his name quieter.

                “Kyle!” he called, then as Michael’s eyelids drooped, he yelled again, “Kyle!”

                “What’s going on?” he heard, then Kyle entered wearing nothing but a towel around his hips, his body and hair still soaked. His eyes fell on Alex, then on Michael, and he ran up to them. “What the hell happened?!”

                “I don’t know,” Alex shook his head, his hold on Michael tightening. Michael’s eyes traveled slowly to Kyle, but either he didn’t see him or he didn’t care that Kyle was there because no matter what, he kept repeating Alex’s name, like it was the only thing he knew to say.

                “Kyle, help me get him on his feet,” Alex barely managed to say before Michael’s eyes shut, and Alex felt something in him, something familiar and dark and frightening, break.

                *

                “You should probably change.”

                Michael had felt himself drifting in and out of consciousness for the past several hours, though he had no way of actually figuring out how much time had passed. He knew he was on a large bed, and in front of him, at the foot of it, was Alex. Even through the blurriness in his eyes, Michael knew he was looking at Alex, but the airman wasn’t looking at him.

                Kyle Valenti suddenly came into view, wearing sweatpants that Michael knew belonged to Alex. He softly pressed his fingers against Alex’s jaw and Alex closed his eyes, obviously tired.

                “Alex,” Kyle repeated, and Michael noticed he was holding a deep blue Air Force sweater in his hands, “come on, give me your shirt.”

                Alex looked down at his white sweater now covered in blood – Michael’s blood, the cowboy realized – as if just realizing it was stained.

                Alex sighed, nodding slightly before he reached down, pulling his shirt up. Kyle reached down and took the hem, pulling the shirt over Alex’s head. He then helped Alex into his military sweater, and instead of leaving afterwards, he took a seat beside Alex, their knees touching.

                Michael tried swallowing past the lump in his throat. He had had nightmares as he slept, nightmares of other aliens, nightmares of his brother and sister as they fought, nightmares of being ambushed and attacked. Everyone had gotten out safely from the battle, and Michael hadn’t even had the worst of it, but he wouldn’t let Max heal him. The alien had tortured him with images of Alex, visions of the airman dying in his arms. Before his brother could touch him, Michael had gotten in his truck and driven like a madman, desperate to see the airman, to know that his Alex – his Alex – was okay.

                He just hadn’t expected anything like this.

                “Why don’t you get some sleep?” Kyle asked, his hand stroking Alex’s back. “I’ll keep watch.”

                Without even finishing his sentence, Alex was already shaking his head. “No, I – I need to be here.”

                “Alex, you don’t owe him anything.”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, then, “He was saying my name, Kyle.” Kyle didn’t respond, his face hidden, though his hand stayed on Alex’s lower back. Michael wished he would move it. Alex kept his eyes on the doctor’s face, then he asked, “Are you mad at me?”

                Michael felt his fingers twitch. Alex was quiet, almost worried. He didn’t want Kyle to be upset with him, he didn’t want Kyle to leave him. This isn’t happening, Michael thought, the same panic that had overtaken him in his visions creeping back now. This couldn’t be happening.

                “Alex, no,” Kyle said, his other hand coming up to cup Alex’s cheek. “No, I’m not mad. I get it. You loved him.”

                Michael felt his jaw clench despite himself. Loved.

                “Hey,” Alex said, his tone comforting as he held onto Kyle’s arm with both hands. “You can’t love someone if you don’t trust them. And I trust you.”

                Michael stared at Alex, ignoring the burn in his eyes and the lump growing in his throat, forbidding him from breathing properly. He knew that Alex didn’t trust him, he’d been told before. It had burned every part of his soul then, to know that the one person who had always managed to love him no matter what, no longer had any faith in him.

                But Michael could actually feel his heart bleed to know that that trust he didn’t know he valued so much had been taken away from him, and given to someone else. He didn’t know what to do with that. He didn’t know how to wake up from that kind of nightmare.

                “Well,” he heard, and Michael’s attention snapped back to Kyle who was watching him out of the corner of his eye, “looks like sleeping beauty’s awake.”

                Alex blinked as if having been deep in thought, and he looked to Michael who was watching Kyle intently.

                “Yeah,” Kyle said, and stood, Alex’s hands falling to his and holding on. “I get the hint, Guerin, I’m leaving.”

                “What?” Alex was just starting to say, and Michael was surprised that the airman sounded almost afraid of being left alone with him.

                “Just to the next room,” Kyle reassured him, pressing a kiss to Alex’s forehead. Alex closed his eyes, as if gaining strength from the doctor’s touch, and with a last comforting look at Alex, and a quick warning glance at Michael – don’t you dare hurt him, Michael could almost hear him say – Kyle left the bedroom.

                Michael kept his eyes on the door that Kyle had just walked out of, even through the five whole minutes of silence, even as Alex’s gaze slowly turned to him, even as Alex opened his mouth to speak.

                “You and Valenti,” Michael beat him to it, his voice distant to his own ears.

                “What happened to you, Guerin?” Alex asked, his voice quiet.

                “You avoiding the question?”

                “I wasn’t the one bleeding in your arms a few hours ago,” Alex said with an edge to his voice, and Michael moved his gaze to the airman to see that the eyes looking back at him were dark. So Alex still feels something for me, Michael thought. He couldn’t have been so angry and worried if he didn’t. Right?

                “I’m okay now, aren’t I?”

                “I thought you were dying.”

                “I’m fine –”

                “I thought you were dying, Guerin,” he said through grit teeth.

                Michael stared, then groaned as he struggled to sit up. Alex was by his side in under a second, putting the pillows up behind him. The bed was unmade, and Michael couldn’t help but wonder what Alex and Kyle had been doing before he’d gotten here.

                He looked up, Alex still fixing the pillows, his eyes running over Michael’s body as if he expected to find an open wound somewhere. Michael was still in his own clothes, stained with blood. The sight seemed to make Alex linger at his side.

                Michael swallowed, then held his arms up. At first, Alex didn’t move, then his eyes filled with tears and he fell against Michael’s chest, his arms coming around his waist. Michael wrapped his arms around him tightly, his nose in his hair, inhaling his scent. Alex’s hair had gotten longer. He felt the cool press of Alex’s prosthetic against his leg, Alex’s warm cheek against his chest, and he held on so impossibly tight, neither he nor Alex could breathe. But he didn’t care, and he didn’t let go.

                “I’m sorry,” he muttered against Alex’s forehead. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

                Alex said nothing, only breathing heavily in Michael’s hold, his arms tightening around his waist.

                “I had to see you, Alex. All I could think of was seeing you.”

                “Will you tell me what happened?”

                “Does it matter?” Michael breathed, pushing the images of Alex hurt and dying away as he pressed a hard kiss to Alex’s forehead. “We’re together now.”

                That seemed to awaken something in Alex, and despite Michael’s attempt to hold on, the airman pulled back, frowning. “What? No, Guerin, we’re not together.”

                “Alex,” Michael shook his head, “I get it, you’re upset with me, but this thing with Valenti –”

                “He’s the one that helped you, you know,” Alex said, turning away, swinging his legs off the edge of the bed, like he was about to get off. Michael felt fear suddenly consume him, and he reached out, taking hold of Alex’s wrist. “He cleaned you up.”

                “Alex, come on,” Michael said, his hold on Alex’s wrist tightening, keeping him close. “It’s Kyle, you can’t actually be dating Kyle.”

                “Let me go, Guerin,” Alex tugged on his wrist, but Michael held on tighter. Alex sighed. “Guerin –”

                “Okay,” he relented, though even he could hear the strain in his voice. “Okay, Alex, I’m sorry, I won’t say anything else about him or us. Just… don’t go.”

                Alex hesitated, and Michael slowly tugged on his arm, trying to bring him back. Alex shook his head, and moved to stand. “I should go get you some water.”

                “Screw the water,” Michael said, pulling the airman back in against his chest. “I don’t want the water, I just want you to stay in here.”

                Alex’s fists rested against Michael’s chest for all of two seconds before he was shaking his head, sighing. “Guerin, I can’t,” he said, and moved off. Before Michael could reach for him again, he was off the bed. He sat in the armchair next to the bed where Michael couldn’t touch him, leaning forward on his knees.

                “So that’s it, huh?” Michael let his hands fall onto the bed, unable to help the hurt from his voice. “You moved on, and I have no say in it?”

                “I didn’t realize I needed your permission to be happy,” Alex said.

                Michael’s jaw ticked. “Happy,” he repeated. “So you’re – you’re happy with Valenti.”

                “Guerin –”

                “Tell me something, Alex, how long have you guys been together?”

                “Stop it –”

                “No, I want to know about the epic love story, tell me,” he pushed. “Tell me about your first kiss, your first time – does he make butterflies flutter in your stomach?”

                “Damn it, Guerin, can’t you just once talk like a person instead of acting like a dick?” Alex snapped, and Michael fell silent. Alex didn’t look particularly angry, just frustrated and sad, as if he’d been terrified of having this conversation with Michael, and it was turning out exactly as he feared it would. Michael wondered if he would ever manage to do something other than what Alex expected of him.

                Alex sighed, his hands running through his hair before he shook his head. “I’m tired of feeling like the bad guy, Guerin. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t. Why do you keep punishing me?”

                “Because I love you, and it feels like you don’t even like me anymore!” Michael snapped, and Alex blinked, surprised, his brows furrowed.

                “I love you, too, Guerin,” he said softly. “I just can’t be with you.”

                Michael swallowed heavily. “Because you don’t trust me.”

                Alex sighed, rubbing his face, and Michael briefly wondered what the time was and how long Alex had spent watching over him. Too long, part of him thought.

                “I don’t want you to leave me,” he confessed, his voice quiet.

                Alex looked up, staring at Michael for a moment before he stood and sat beside Michael on the bed. “You’re not losing me,” he said.

                Michael shook his head. “Then why does it feel like I am?”

                There was a soft knock at the door and Kyle stepped in. If he was surprised at how close Michael and Alex were, if he was uncomfortable or upset at all, he didn’t show it. Michael thought maybe this was just what trust looked like.

                I trust you, Alex had said, and Michael saw it now, the way Alex looked back at Kyle without the slightest guilt or doubt, as if he had no reason to shy away, as if he really hadn’t thought of kissing Michael. The thought left Michael feeling heavier than ever.

                “Max is here,” Kyle said, and Michael blinked.

                “You called my brother?”

                Kyle nudged at Alex with his chin. “Alex asked me to.”

                Michael looked back to Alex. Alex said nothing, and looked to the door when Max came in.

                “Michael, I’ve been looking for you,” Max breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his brother, his own face covered in bruises and cuts that he obviously hadn’t healed yet, but Michael’s eyes were only on Alex. “Come on,” Max said, “let’s get you home.”

                Home. There was a time Alex had been his home. Alex had told him once that he was his family, and Michael had screamed that he didn’t love him. The next day, he’d left Alex waiting for him with his heart in his hands. He’d abandoned Alex when he’d needed him.

                He swallowed, accepting Max’s hand up. He couldn’t look at Alex as he left, though he knew the airman had gone to Kyle’s side.

                When they were in Max’s car, the cabin door closed behind them, the lights still on inside, Max turned to Michael and said, “When that alien tortured us, he showed me visions of Liz dying. Of Isobel and you suffering. Is that what he showed you? Alex hurt? Is that why you came to see him?”

                Michael said nothing, but Max nodded after a moment, as if he understood. But he never could, Michael thought. He hadn’t hurt Liz, he hadn’t turned on her love, he hadn’t destroyed his only other half.

Chapter Text

                Alex sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, his prosthetic foot crossed over the other. He didn’t know how long it’d been since he’d had his head against his kitchen wall, his phone ringing in front of him, but it felt like hours.

                The name Guerin flashed on the screen as the phone vibrated with every ring, inching closer to Alex as if begging to be picked up, but Alex wouldn’t. He still remembered Michael and Maria several hours ago, when the sky had gone pitch black and Alex had gone to the Wild Pony to look for his cowboy after an entire day of waiting, the way they’d been glued together.

                Come back tomorrow, Michael had said, we’ll talk then.

                Alex had said nothing in return, only walked out. His expression had remained numb, his mind silent as he speedily drove back to his cabin, parked his car, took off the dark clothes that in an instant had stopped making him feel comfortable and made him feel foolish instead, and put on his sweats and Air Force sweater. He expected to be sobbing by now, tears streaking his face, his throat sore with his cries, but he was still unable to feel anything. He slowly came down to lie on the tiled floor, his head pillowed on his arms, staring at his phone.

                His entire body, especially his leg, ached with how long he’d been sitting in that chair, waiting for someone that wouldn’t come. He felt like an idiot. He’d told Michael that he was his family, that he didn’t want him to leave, that he’d wanted to be a better fighter for him. In all those instance, Alex now realized, Michael had never said anything back. He’d never told Alex he loved him, or that he valued him, or that he even wanted him around. Alex had gone on to rely on Michael, to see only what he wanted to see, hear what he wanted to hear. In actuality, Alex wondered how long ago Michael had stopped seeing him as anything more than someone from his past, someone he had to humor.

                He never cared about you, a voice in his mind crept in. You were just there for sex. He never wanted anything with you. Look at you, you’re a broken toy, inside and out. Who’d ever want you?

                Alex exhaled shakily, closing his eyes. Please go away, he begged the thoughts. Leave me alone.

                The phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing, and Alex slowly reached out. He stared at Michael’s name flashing (Maria, he guessed, had known better than to call), and he swiped to answer. He held the phone to his ear, staring straight ahead into space, and said nothing as Michael’s voice sounded.

                “Alex,” he breathed. Had he been running? “Alex, are you there? Alex?”

                “I’m here,” Alex said, his voice quiet and distant, even to his own ears.

                “Alex,” Michael said. “Can – Can we talk? Can I see you?” Alex said nothing. It was guilt, he knew. That was why Michael was trying to fix things now. He felt guilty about Alex finding out the way he did. It meant nothing.

                Had he wanted to tell Alex himself? Had he wanted him and Maria to talk to Alex first? Had he wanted to get Alex’s blessings? To know that it was okay to move on? Alex shut his eyes tight. It didn’t matter. Michael had chosen someone else. Alex had been waiting for him, and he had chosen someone else.

                “Alex, please say something. Tell me where you are.”

                “Did you forget?” Alex couldn’t help but ask. “Or did you do it on purpose?”

                A pause, then, “What do you mean?”

                “Did you forget that you had asked me to come over? That we’d talk? Or did you leave me there on purpose?”

                “Alex,” Michael breathed, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Seems fair, Alex thought. He, after all, still couldn’t believe what he’d seen at the Wild Pony. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

                But he would, the taunting voice continued. He already has.

                “I don’t believe you,” Alex whispered. It was a fact. He couldn’t trust anything Michael said anymore.

                “Where are you?

                “I’m home,” Alex said, and there was shuffling on the other line, like Michael was getting into his car. The thought brought a chill to Alex’s bones. He didn’t want to see Michael. He didn’t want to talk to Michael. He didn’t want anything to do with Michael, not anymore. The cowboy was no longer anything but a reminder that Alex was his father’s son. A Manes doesn’t deserve reassurance or comfort. A Manes doesn’t deserve love. Alex was a fool to think he was any different.

                “Okay, uh – where – where is that?”

                Of course, Alex thought. Michael had never been to his cabin, had never bothered to ask where it was. He’d never come to talk to Alex, had never sought Alex out. Why had Alex ever thought that Michael wanted to be with him?

                “We’ve been holding onto this thing!” Michael had once said to him, and Alex felt stupid never to realize how right he had been. He himself had held onto that day, over ten years ago now, that Michael had told him he liked him, ignoring the tragedy that followed – the one that’s been following since.

                “Alex, where are you? You have to tell me, Private, come on,” Michael urged, and Alex’s fingers tightened on his phone. Why couldn’t he cry? Shouldn’t he be crying right now? Shouldn’t he want to scream and get angry? What was wrong with him? Then it hit him, the reason he felt nothing, the reason he felt like he had no right to.

                “We weren’t dating,” he said, and the other line went silent. “You didn’t cheat on me, Guerin, you didn’t betray me. You just liked someone else. And we weren’t dating,” he repeated, the need to remind himself stronger now than ever.

                “Alex,” Michael said, and Alex couldn’t fail to notice the panic in his voice now. Lies, Alex thought. Or guilt. It couldn’t be anything more than that.

                “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

                “Please just tell me where you are.”

                “I’m sorry I’ve been bothering you,” he said numbly.

                “Alex –”

                “I won’t do it again.”

                “Please,” he begged, “I’m sorry, okay? I’m so sorry, I just want to talk to you.”

                “I don’t really want to talk to you anymore,” he said, his voice barely over a whisper. “Please don’t call me.”

                “Alex!”

                But Alex never heard what Michael wanted to tell him because he ended the call and turned off his phone, letting it fall to the floor. He had given Michael his chance to speak up, to say anything that showed Alex how much he wanted to be with him, but the cowboy never did. Alex now supposed it was because Michael had just never wanted it. Nothing he said now would make any difference.

                Alex closed his eyes, curling in on himself. Michael would be fine, he always was. Maybe Maria would comfort him now, tell him he had no reason to be guilty. She would be right. He had none. Alex didn’t think he could talk to her either now. He couldn’t imagine a time where he could look her in the eye. Maybe that would change, but he honestly doubted it.

                Alex curled in deeper on himself. Kyle would probably try to call him at some point, and he would get worried when Alex wouldn’t answer. He’d come to check on him in the cabin, and he knew where the extra key was hidden, so he’d come in and find Alex like this. Alex would have to remember to get up before then. Kyle always worried too much.

                Just a few more minutes, he thought as he hugged his arms, trying not to think of how stupid he felt when he had hit on Michael, when he had kept trying to talk to him in Caulfield, when he’d come to the airstream expecting Michael to actually be happy to see him.

                “Now’s not really a good time, Alex.”

                So, so stupid. Alex made a decision then not to see Michael again, not to speak to Michael or about him to anyone. Not even his best friend. When Kyle got here, Alex would be happy, productive, and fine. Michael Guerin was part of his past, and he had to move forward without him.

                The thought made Alex curl in even deeper on himself. Maybe the tears would come later.

Chapter Text

                Michael hated Supernatural. He loved the pre-show ritual he and Alex had; bowl of popcorn on the coffee table in front of them, the blanket draped over them as Alex lay against Michael on the couch, his head resting on Michael’s chest as Michael’s fingers ran through his soft dark brown strands. He loved the way Alex casually stretched an arm over Michael’s whenever he got tired, the way he tightened his hold on Michael’s waist when he was trying to get comfy, the way he sighed deeply into Michael’s shirt as he dozed off.

                But Michael hated Supernatural. He hated the way Alex couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the screen whenever Sam Winchester spoke, the way his breath hitched in his throat with every one of the hunter’s shirtless scenes, the way he breathed “wow” in amazement whenever Sam beat down a demon or cracked a case.

                There were times, like tonight, when Alex had had a very long day hacking into secret files, breaking impossible codes, his eyes in front of a screen and his body in intense physical therapy that when they sat down for the episode, he all but fell asleep against his boyfriend. Michael struggled with those nights because while he hated seeing Alex tired, he loved the way the airman would curl up on his chest, the way he’d keep his fist tight on Michael’s shirt, the way he breathed softly against Michael’s collarbone, his long lashes fluttering against his rosy cheeks. And above all, he loved the fact that Alex couldn’t have cared less what the Winchesters were doing.

                “You tired?” he asked, his lips against Alex’s hair. He inhaled the airman’s scent of wood and maple syrup, and his heart ached. He had been dying to touch his boyfriend all day, yearned to have his body close. Now that he was, Michael felt himself able to lean back and watch the episode without worry.

                Alex hummed, snuggling his face deeper into Michael’s chest, and Michael bit his lower lip to refrain from laughing. He pressed a kiss to Alex’s forehead, and Alex moaned, nuzzling against Michael’s neck.

                “You’re gonna miss the episode,” Michael muttered, not caring at all about their show as he ran a hand down Alex’s back then up again. Alex’s arm around Michael’s waist tightened as he lifted his head off his chest, a sign he’d woken up.

                “Mm, I’m awake,” Alex said groggily, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I’m watching.”

                Michael glanced at the screen, then back at Alex, gently coaxing him back onto his chest. Him and his big mouth. “Alex, I was kidding, we don’t have to watch.”

                “We always watch,” Alex said with furrowed brows. Michael couldn’t help but understand where he was coming from. Since his enlistment had ended, he’d been up to his ears in more decoding and Project Shepherd work that the only time he could will enough energy to stay awake was now, when Supernatural was on. Sure, Michael cursed the moment he suggested it, especially when he found out that the reason Alex had been so willing to stay awake was because he had a crush on one of the Winchester brothers, but at least they got this time together.

                “I always watch,” Michael couldn’t help but say as Alex moved to sit up, out of his hold. “You always fawn over Sam.”

                “What?” Alex chuckled tiredly. “No, I don’t.”

                “You know I love you, Private, but yes, you do.” Michael realized there was an edge to his voice, but there was nothing he could do about it. He never thought he would ever love someone the way he loved Alex, and he knew Alex loved him, but he still managed to get jealous at anything that grabbed his boyfriend’s attention. Alex was his; he didn’t want the airman’s eyes wandering anywhere else.

                Alex stared. “You’re really upset about this.”

                “No, I’m not,” Michael lied. “I don’t even care. Fantasize about him all you want.”

                “Fantasize?” Alex laughed. “Guerin, come on, don’t leave,” he tugged on Michael’s arm as he moved to stand and pulled him back down, resting on top of him to keep him still. Michael looked down at his boyfriend with pursed lips, though he couldn’t help but bring an arm around his waist, keeping him against him. “I’m not in love with Sam Winchester.”

                Michael shrugged, scratching his brow. “I don’t actually really care.”

                Alex rested his chin on Michael’s chest, his finger lightly tapping Michael’s jaw. “Kind of sounds like you do.”

                “Is this why you try to stay awake?” he asked, and Alex’s eyes widened slightly, startled, before he burst into laughter. “No, I’m seriously asking, Alex, is it because you just love the guy?”

                “You’re so cute, I can’t believe you’re actually jealous!”

                Michael tried not to blush at being called cute, and had he not worried about Alex moving off him again, he would’ve sat up. “I’m not jealous, he’s a fictional character, why would I be jealous?”

                Alex’s eyes softened and he kissed Michael’s chest before he said, “You know you’re the only person I’ve ever fawned over.” He kissed higher, his lips tickling Michael’s neck, making his eyes flutter. “If I’m going to fantasize about anyone, it’s going to be you.”

                Michael tilted his head, Alex’s eyes on his, hardly caring that the episode was going on in the background. “Yeah?”

                Alex’s eyes fell to Michael’s lips and he nodded, his smile widening in that way it did when he saw something he liked. Michael realized now that Alex had never looked at Sam Winchester, or anyone else that way.

                “You’re Michael Guerin,” Alex said, and Michael tried not to let his breath hitch at the sound of his first name leaving Alex’s lips. “What do you have to be worried about?”

                “Tall guys,” Michael joked. “First Valenti –”

                “No Valenti –”

                “Then Sam –”

                “Again, I’m not in love with a Winchester –”

                “You obviously have a type, Private.”

                Alex looked amused, though as his eyes roamed Michael’s face, Michael saw something aside the fondness and the humor. Something hot and strong. “Tall guys,” he guessed, and Michael shrugged.

                Alex bit his lower lip, and touched a light finger to Michael’s mouth. “Actually,” he said, his voice quiet and igniting a fire already burning hot in Michael’s gut. “It’s more like…” his lips hovered over Michael’s, barely brushing, “hairy guys.”

                And Alex took Michael’s mouth in his in a long, sensual kiss. Michael moaned, chasing Alex’s lips when he pulled away. He brought a hand to the back of Alex’s head and pulled him back down, kissing him again. Michael felt Alex’s fingers slowly unbuttoning his shirt, the airman’s tongue brushing against his as Alex brought a hand down Michael’s chest to his stomach, feeling his skin, his chest hair, his nipples, his bellybutton.

                Michael moaned as Alex’s hand came around his naked waist under his shirt, pulling his body up to his.

                “Wait wait wait,” Alex said against Michael’s lips just as Michael grabbed the hem of his shirt, “shouldn’t we – shouldn’t we finish the episode?”

                “Episode?” Michael blinked, still in a haze, his only focus being Alex’s lips, his eyes, his hands on his body. “What episode?”

                Alex glanced at the television, and for a second, Michael actually thought he would return his attention to the Winchester brothers, but then he looked back to Michael, his brows furrowed. “I have no idea.”

                “That’s what I thought,” Michael growled before he pulled Alex back down and climbed on top of him. “No one can ever have you, Alex, no one but me. Not even in a fantasy.”

                Alex shook his head, his eyes twinkling and his cheeks red as he held Michael’s face with a tenderness Michael had only ever known from the airman. “Would you believe me if I told you it was all in your head?”

                Michael stared, then pressed his lips against Alex’s. Not a kiss, just a touch. “I know what you look like when you want someone, Alex.”

                “All I’ve ever wanted is you,” Alex said, smiling at Michael in a way that made his cheeks heat up. It was the kind of smile that said he couldn’t believe how cute Michael was, how lucky he was to have the cowboy there, how much he undoubtedly loved him. He couldn’t believe Michael doubted his feelings at all. “You do realize that every time we watch Supernatural, your hand goes up my shirt.”

                “It –” Michael frowned. “No, it doesn’t.”

                “Yes, it does,” Alex said, kissing Michael’s jaw. “Or you’ll run your fingers through my hair, or you’ll kiss my forehead, or you’ll rub small circles on my shoulders or back. You’re always touching me, Guerin,” he whispered. “It’s like you can’t stop.”

                “I…” Michael trailed off, his brows furrowing. When he thought about it, he realized Alex was right. He always held him close during the beginning of the episode, but when Alex’s attention started drifting to the Winchesters, Michael realized he had the habit of running his hands up and down Alex’s sides, or tugging on his strands, or the hem of his shirt, or the belt on his jeans.

                Then it hit him.

                “I’m the one turning you on,” he said, realization dawning.

                Alex chuckled, his breaths raspier now as Michael – once again – unconsciously scratched down his back with his nails. “Every time –” he swallowed, “every time the episode starts, it’s like sex is at the front of your mind. You’ve really never noticed?”

                No, he almost said. He hadn’t. Alex’s gasps, his moans, his twinkling eyes, all because Michael was touching him. But Michael had been so bothered about Kyle having the pleasure to stand by Alex all day that he let his jealousy extend to the show, believing Alex was falling for another man.

                “It’s okay,” Alex shook his head. “The first few times, I thought you were doing it on purpose. Then I realized it was unconscious. I figured it was just a habit, so I never said anything. But I had no idea you’d actually think I was lusting after the Winchesters.”

                Michael’s brows furrowed, but a smirk played at his lips. “Just so I’m clear here, you want me to touch you?”

                Alex bit his lower lip, his smile widening as Michael began pulling his shirt up. “What do you know? It only took you fourteen seasons, but you finally got there.”

Chapter Text

                It was after midnight when Alex heard it. It wasn’t just the military that trained him to wake at the drop of a hat, but the years before it, too. When you had Jesse Manes as a father, you learned to be a light sleeper. That was why he heard it when his front door opened, and he blinked out of his sleep, the papers pulled from a Project Shepherd file scattered around him. He’d fallen asleep in the middle of work again. He bent in his chair, picking the papers up.

                Kyle, he thought when he heard footsteps. Kyle knew where the spare key was, and he’d warned Alex he would be out late for a surgery before he managed to get back. Alex had insisted on waiting up for him for reasons he could not remember. All he knew was that it was easier to wait for Kyle than it was for Michael. At least when Kyle said he would be back, he actually showed up.

                Alex rubbed his forehead where it had been resting on his desk. “Kyle?” he asked, his voice hoarse. He checked the time on his phone. Right around when Kyle said he’d be back.

                Alex put every paper back into its file as he contemplated asking Kyle to stay over again. The last time the doctor had slept here, Alex had insisted that Kyle would be better off sleeping on his large bed with him as oppose to the hard couch.

                “We’re adults,” Alex had said, though his heart had hammered in a way he didn’t think it would at the prospect of sleeping next to his friend. “We can share a bed.”

                Alex had woken up with Kyle’s arm around his waist, breathing softly against the back of Alex’s neck as he pulled him close against him. Alex had started to pull away when Kyle had suddenly muttered his name in his sleep, and Alex had frozen.

                He didn’t know why he had lied back down then; maybe just an effort to keep Kyle asleep, maybe because the pain in his leg made it impossible for him to properly move at the time, maybe because it had been cold and he wanted warmth more than he wanted distance. Maybe he liked the way Kyle’s muscled arms felt around him, the way the doctor tightly held on even in his sleep as if afraid Alex would disappear, the way he softly breathed against Alex’s skin.

                Alex shook his head, snapping himself out of his thoughts. He was overthinking, as usual. He’d tell Kyle it was late, that he should crash here for the night, and accept whatever answer with a shrug. It was only when he heard something fall to the ground and crash, a vase, that he froze halfway to his door. The sound had completely woken him, and he made out the sound of not one, but at least four different pairs of footsteps making their way around the cabin.

                He stood carefully by the door, his leg aching from having slept with it at an awkward angle. He slowly pulled the door open, his breath hitching in his throat at the sight of the four armed, uniformed men – military, Alex briefly registered – quietly going through his home, opening the door opposite Alex to his bedroom and peering inside. Alex pulled back, his jaw clenched. He felt the soldier in him come alive in a microsecond, the sleep gone, and his fear pushed aside as he soundlessly hurried to his desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a gun taped to the top.

                *

                Kyle’s bones were aching. He’d been standing for hours, every fiber in his body concentrating so intensely on the surgery that by the time it was over, Kyle had been ready to collapse. The patient’s family shook his hand and hugged him with tears in their eyes, his colleagues had patted him on the back and congratulated him on a job well done, but at the end of it all, Kyle found himself most excited to see one person, to hear a single “good job” that he had forgotten dinner with his friends, and all but rushed in and out of the locker room, changed out of his scrubs and doctor’s coat, and got into his car.

                Alex, he thought, and smiled as he pulled into the cabin’s driveway. How would Kyle have told everyone that he’d been dying to see Alex? That he couldn’t hang out with them because he was exhausted and he’d wanted nothing more than to see the airman? That he’d told someone he was coming, and had to go? He couldn’t make any sense of it himself, how would he explain it to others?

                He thought of Alex waiting up for him, of maybe falling asleep in front of the tv or his work while he sat. Part of him hoped Alex would suggest he stay over again. The last time, he’d woken up to Alex in his arms, and though he couldn’t recall what dream he’d been having, he knew it was a good one. He desperately needed sleep like that again.

                He shook his head to himself, huffing out a chuckle as he stepped out of his car and made his way to Alex’s front door. Kyle briefly noted that the lights were off, and he wondered with a sudden pang in his chest if Alex had been waiting for him at all. He used the flashlight on his phone to find the spare key hidden under the potted plant, and pressed it into the lock. He frowned.

                The door’s already open, he thought, and slowly pushed it wide. Had Alex forgotten to lock it? Alex never forgot to keep security up.

                “Alex?” he called, but he got no answer. Maybe the airman really had fallen asleep. “Alex, you up?” He stepped inside, and froze when his foot hit something that cracked like glass.

                He pointed the flashlight at the floor, and his frown deepened. “What the hell?” he muttered, and quickly moved to the wall beside the door, flipping the light switch on.

                He gasped, his heart jumping into his throat. The entire floor had been covered in glass, water, and trampled flowers, and the walls and furniture had what looked like bullet holes in them.

                “No,” Kyle breathed, and ran to every room, looking for the airman. “Alex?” panic seeped into his chest as he received no reply, every room seemingly untouched. “Alex!”

                Then he dashed into Alex’s study, and stopped. The windows were shattered, the files still visible and burning in the fireplace, and there was glass and something dark on the floor, something that Kyle had spent too much time in an operating room not to recognize.

                Kyle ran outside as quickly as his legs could carry him. He looked around for any trace of a car, of Alex’s crouched figure maybe hiding somewhere, of any sign Alex might’ve left him but he found nothing.

                “Damn it,” Kyle panted, dialing a number on his phone and holding it up to his ear. “Damn it, damn it, damn it – Liz, I need – yes, I know what time it is, listen to me – I need you to get Max, Isobel, and Michael to the lab. Yes, now! I’ll explain later. Just hurry!”

                *

                Michael had been having a particular wet dream about a particular airman when he got the call that woke him up. At first, he’d been more than a little irritated, ready to blow up anyone on the other end (he didn’t know how far his powers would extend, but he was willing to experiment), but as his sister spoke, Michael had to force himself to listen, then try not to kill anyone on the ride over.

                “The hell do you mean, they took him?” Michael asked, and he could hear his own frayed nerves as he paced the lab, his arms crossed so tightly that his muscles hurt. All Isobel had told him was that he had to get to the lab because Kyle Valenti was saying that Alex had disappeared, but the urgency in her tone told Michael that she hadn’t thought the doctor was lying.

                “I mean, they took him, Guerin!” Kyle ran an impatient hand through his hair. “Look, Alex and I are still working on Project Shepherd, we have been for a while, and about a week ago, we found out something that we knew would put us at risk.”

                “Project Shepherd?” Max frowned. “That organization Jesse Manes set up in Roswell to hunt us down? It’s still running?”

                “Of course it is,” Michael answered instead of Kyle, feeling as if he was watching himself speak from a distance, his thoughts on the airman. “Ever since Caulfield, Alex had found out that there were branches of Project Shepherd all over the country.”

                Kyle nodded. “He’s been obsessed with shutting it down, it’s all he’s been able to think about. Discovering who the other heads are that Jesse had left in charge, and exposing them.”

                “Cut the snake’s head off, and the rest of it dies,” Isobel muttered, realization dawning. “He’s trying to destroy each branch by going after its boss.”

                “Let me guess,” Michael said, turning away from the others. “He found a head.”

                Kyle shook his head. “He told me he’d be safe, he told me they’d never find us.”

                “They came to his home,” Liz said, her voice laced with fear, her hand on Max’s arm unrelenting, as if hoping to use some of his strength to stand. “They knew exactly where to go.”

                “Why his cabin?” Isobel asked, hugging her robe tighter around her as if cold. “Why not the bunker, isn’t that where all the work is?”

                “Because he led them away from it,” Michael said slowly. Of course Alex led them away from it. “He promised Kyle nothing would happen to him, and nothing will because he’s taking the heat.” He ran a hand over his jaw. “He knew that if he didn’t lead them away from the bunker, they’d just keep looking until they found one of you two, so instead of let them find you –”

                “He led them straight to him,” Liz’s eyes widened, then she whispered, “Alex…”

                “He couldn’t have known when or if they’d even show up,” Max said. “It must’ve been lucky that Kyle happened to have work late tonight.”

                “No, no,” Kyle shook his head, and Michael noticed his eyes wander away from the group, as if he was talking to someone else. “N-No, if that was true, he would’ve come to one of us, to me. He would’ve warned us what would happen, he would’ve asked for help.”

                “Alex never asks for help!” Michael snapped, and Max held up an arm, shaking his head. His eyes were filled with a compassion only Max Evans could have, but his stance was firm, as if ready to stop Michael from attacking Kyle. Michael stopped pacing, and leaned against a wall, hitting his head back. “Coming to any one of us for help would mean putting us in danger, and you know Alex,” he smirked, though every bone in his body vibrated, his heart raced in his chest, and his eyes burned as he imagined Alex dragged out of his own home. “He’s the hero.”

                “You don’t get it,” Kyle shook his head. “I’m not you, he would have come to me.”

                Michael’s eyes narrowed, his thoughts interrupted for a brief moment as he pushed himself off the wall. He hated the way Kyle talked about Alex, as if he was so confident the airman needed him, that he couldn’t help but be honest with him, couldn’t help but share everything with him. It was past midnight when Isobel had called, Michael realized.

                “What the hell were you doing there?” he asked, his eyes narrowed at the doctor. “You found out at Alex’s cabin, why were you there?”

                “Michael, this isn’t the time for that,” Max warned.

                “You’re not having this talk with me, Guerin,” Kyle said, shaking his head, his smile humorless.

                “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

                “You know what it means,” Kyle said.

                Michael’s jaw clenched. “If I had been there instead of you –”

                “You know what? Yeah, probably, I’ll give you that,” he said. “If you had been there, Alex might still be here right now, but you weren’t.” He took a step closer. “Because he hates you, Guerin. You made sure he’d never want you near him again, didn’t you?”

                Michael closed the distance between them before Max could say his name, grabbing Kyle but the collar of his shirt with both fists.

                “Michael!” Max yelled the same time that Liz said, “Kyle, stop it!”

                “You don’t know anything about us,” Michael said through grit teeth. He resisted the urge to squirm in his own skin, to beat someone up or break something or both. Alex wasn’t here, and Michael needed him. He needed him to think, to calm down, to breathe, but Alex wasn’t here.

                “You were right. You’re too much like him. I’m sorry, Alex, but you are.”

                Michael’s fists tightened on Kyle’s shirt as he remembered the words that had left his lips after Alex had found out about Michael and Maria. The look on Alex’s face still haunted him, still screamed TRAITOR at him, even when Alex wasn’t around.

                “I know Alex,” Kyle said simply, his voice barely over a whisper, his eyes red and scared. Scared for Alex, for losing him, for knowing that he was in danger now and he couldn’t be there to save him. “Do you?”

                Before Michael could attempt to answer, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Enough,” Isobel said, her voice echoing in his head, making him release Kyle, stepping back.

                “I get it, your nerves are on high right now,” she said, the echo dimming down as not even Kyle seemed to have the strength to say anything. “But if you want to help Alex, you have to focus. No more wasting time.”

                Michael breathed through his nose, his jaw clenched so tightly he could taste blood. He stepped back until he felt the desk behind him. On the quick drive here, he had tried to remember what the last words Alex had said to him were. He didn’t know exactly, but he knew they couldn’t have been good because he remembered Alex had been crying. He’d made Alex cry.

                He looked up to the rest of the group, Max and Isobel looking to him, as if asking if he was going to be okay, if he could make it through this, if he could clear his head long enough to concentrate. There was no question about it. Alex was gone, and Michael would never be able to breathe until he was back here, in his arms. Even if Alex told him to leave, even if he said he didn’t want to see Michael, even if he told Michael he hated him, Michael wanted him here.

                With that thought in mind, he straightened, looked to Kyle, and roughly said, “Those Project Shepherd files you’ve been looking at – where are the copies?”

Chapter Text

                “You sure I shouldn’t have worn blue?” Kyle said, nervously patting down the tie on his suit as he looked around the ballroom.

                “Yes, green brings out your eyes – would you calm down?” Alex asked, unable to help but chuckle as he brought Kyle’s hand down, holding it in his to keep him from adjusting his tie again.

                “I’m calm, I’m fine,” Kyle said, and had he not been repeating it since before they’d left the cabin, Alex might’ve believed him.

                His smile turned smaller. If you’re having doubts, we can call this whole thing off, he almost said. He should’ve said it. There was still time to pull out, to pretend they’d just casually met up here, or that they’d agreed that Alex would drive them. But as nervous as he was, he found a larger part of him wanted to tell the truth.

                He’d spent so much of his life terrified that his father was following him, that if he so much as held Michael’s hand, they would be hunted and punished for it. After Jesse was imprisoned for his covert operations, Alex had thought that would be the end, that he was free to be with Michael, to love and be loved by him. By Kyle had been the one waiting for him. Kyle had been the one to endure months of Alex pushing him out, of wanting to be alone, then – when he couldn’t take it anymore – of Alex’s cries.

                Alex had started to realize that he was waiting to see Kyle, to hear about his day. When he insisted Alex eat, or sleep, or take a break from working, he found himself less annoyed and more grateful. And after a drunken night when the two of them had woken up together, naked and in the same bed, Alex had found that he only feared that Kyle would regret it. He’d pretended to go back to sleep when he felt Kyle stirring, and something in his heart sunk when he felt him move off the bed. Kyle had silently gotten dressed and left, and Alex thought that would be the end of it.

                He certainly had not expected to see the doctor back as soon as he managed to wash up and step out of his bedroom, freshly-bought bagels with strawberry jam and cream cheese on the kitchen counter.

                “You’re dressed,” Kyle had said with a small smile, as if disappointed that Alex wasn’t still naked in bed, waiting for him.

                “Er –” Alex barely managed to start before Kyle was suddenly in his space, his hand on Alex’s neck as he hesitated, then pressed a kiss to the airman’s lips. It was awkward and stiff, but Kyle’s hand had been warm on his skin, and he stayed in Alex’s space as if afraid of moving away. As if afraid Alex would disappear.

                And maybe it was because Alex had never felt that, had never had anyone afraid to lose him, had never had anyone so unwilling to let go of him that he closed the distance before he realized what he was doing. Kyle made a startled noise in the back of his throat, but he quickly melted into the kiss, his arms coming around Alex’s waist, pulling him in. Kyle had been eager to take them back into the bedroom right then, their breakfast forgotten.

                That had been two months ago, and somehow, they’d managed to keep it a secret since. It wasn’t like they’d planned to hide it, but anytime they were called, it was about Project Shepherd, so there was no question as to why they would be together. The only time Kyle held his hand in public was to help him steady himself after getting up too quickly, so no one ever questioned that either, and when Alex had brought an arm around Kyle’s waist, it was to grab the files off the desk beside him. No one had noticed anything different, and Alex would admit that maybe years of habit had pushed both him and Kyle to unconsciously be a bit more discreet, but there was always one pair of eyes that found them, always one person who watched them with narrowed eyes, who knew something was different.

                “Guerin,” Kyle said, and Alex snapped out of his haze to find Michael leaning against a wall, white shirt open at the collar, revealing a fair amount of chest hair. His hands were in his pockets, his black jacket open, his eyes on Alex. “Didn’t expect to see you at one of these.”

                Michael watched Alex as he smirked humorlessly. “It’s important to my sister, so I’m here.” He tilted his head, his smirk falling to something more real, something serious before he said, “See you guys showed up together. Funny coincidence at the door?”

                Alex held Michael’s gaze. His heart still thrummed nervously in his chest at the sight of the cowboy, his fingers twitched as if aching to reach out and touch him, and he felt a nervousness he couldn’t deny as Michael’s eyes bore into his.

                But something’s different, Alex realized. When he looked at Michael, he didn’t think of that seventeen-year-old who had told him he liked him, who had taken him deep into the museum to kiss him, who had risked himself to save Alex from being strangled. He saw the Michael that taunted him for being afraid of his father, the Michael that snapped at him, the Michael who turned every serious conversation into a sex joke, the Michael who had told Maria that things were over between them, who told Alex to come back so they could talk, who chose Maria when Alex had been waiting for him. The Michael who had never come after him, who had never even asked about him, the Michael that hadn’t shown up.

                “No,” Alex said simply, and Michael’s expression turned indescribable.

                “You guys made it!” they suddenly heard and saw Liz hurry up to them, Max following behind with something akin to relief on his face.

                Before Alex could get a word out, Liz had her arms around him, pulling him in for a tight hug.

                “Hey,” she whispered, and pulled back to reveal a wide smile. Alex had the feeling she had doubted he would even show up. “You’re here.” She cupped his face. “You look great, you’re – are you good? How do you feel? I haven’t seen you in a while.”

                Alex saw Maria come in slowly behind Liz, and instead of coming to hug him, she stood by Isobel who had come to stand beside Max. Alex thought it was weird, to see his usually confident and excited friend so quiet, but maybe it was a good thing. He still couldn’t look her in the eye, not after what she’d done. In fact, it was still a little hard to completely accept Liz back into his life, too, but something eased in his chest at the sight of her.

                After what had happened with Michael and Maria, Alex had been unable and unwilling to see much of anyone. Kyle was the only one who had never let him push anyone away, Kyle was the only one who kept coming back to see him, Kyle was the only one who downright refused to have a new normal without Alex.

                The thought made him smile softly, and he covered Liz’s hands with his own. He had Kyle here, beside him. That was all that mattered. “You know I’m just doing this for the attention, right?”

                Liz blinked, startled, and laughed. The sound made Alex’s smile widen, and he pulled Liz in, hugging her tightly. He glanced at Maria and saw her look away. Someday, he thought. Someday, things would be different. Never back to the way they used to be, that trust was shattered now, but different.

                When Liz pulled back, she looked to Kyle and gave him a quick hug. It wasn’t something they normally did, Alex knew. Even Kyle looked surprised, but the look on Liz’s face when she pulled back, that look of gratitude, explained it all. Thank you for bringing him back, Alex could almost hear her say, and the corners of Kyle’s lips quirked up.

                He brought his hand up to the small of Alex’s back, leaning into him slightly as Liz turned to say something to Max.

                “You look nervous,” Kyle muttered as he pulled a glass of champagne off a tray and handed it to Alex, and Alex searched his face.

                If you’re having doubts, the offer came again. What if Kyle was having doubts about telling everyone? What if he was having doubts about them? What if he wasn’t ready? What if he would never be ready? What if he realized that a life with Alex would be a life with a Manes, and there was horror that came with that? What if he realized he was getting involved with a curse?

                Alex rubbed his eyes, trying to subtly clear the thoughts away, though it did very little. “I’m not nervous,” he lied. “Are you?”

                Kyle’s brows furrowed, though he still smiled as if he was happy just to be standing here with Alex, as if having Alex there made things easier. Yeah, Alex thought. That was the thing about him. Everything always seemed easy at the beginning. That was how everybody got dragged in.

                “What do you mean?”

                Alex felt Kyle’s hand move from his lower back to his shoulder. Suddenly, the weight of what they were about to do dawned on him. If they did this, Kyle would be pulled into the storm, the one that always seemed to end with heartbreak and misery, the one Michael and Maria were both now a part of, all because they had him to consider, because Alex Manes was a part of their lives.

                “Hey, are you okay? Alex –”

                “We can stop,” Alex cut him off, and Kyle frowned.

                “What?”

                “We can stop… this, whatever it is, we can stop now. We don’t have to tell anyone, we don’t have to make anything out of it.”

                They were speaking in hushed tones so that no one else could hear, but Alex could still feel Michael’s glare on him. He even felt the glass between his fingers try to levitate out of his grasp, as if Michael was trying to get his attention, but Alex held on, his gaze focused on Kyle.

                “Why are you telling me this?” Kyle asked, leading Alex a few steps away, his hold on Alex’s arm tight. “Do you – do you want to break up?”

                Yes, he should’ve said. He knew it would ultimately be what Kyle would want, it would be what was best. But when he spoke, the only words to leave his lips were, “No, not even a little bit. I want to be with you like I’ve been with you for the last two months.”

                “So what’s the problem?” Kyle said, his voice rising desperately.

                “I’ve seen what happens to people who stay with me,” Alex quietly confessed after a moment’s silence. “I’ve lost them all. I can’t lose you, too.”

                Kyle said nothing, only searched Alex’s face for a moment before he took a deep breath, and nodded to himself, seemingly determined. Before Alex could ask, Kyle took the airman’s hand in his, returned them both to the group, and without warning, said, “Alex and I are dating.”

                Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at them in surprise. Liz and Max who were talking and flirting, fell silent, even Maria and Isobel who were pointing and arguing about the decorations had their eyes wide, their shoulders slumped, and Michael had vanished completely. Alex had a feeling he had known this would be coming and decided to leave before he heard it.

                He, on the other hand, had not seen it coming quite like this. Kyle had his chin jutted out with the air of someone confident and fearless, ready to take on the fire-breathing dragon without armor, though his hand held Alex’s tightly enough to crack bone.

                “Just… so you’re all aware,” he finished, slightly stammering his last few words, but he didn’t seem to care.

                Alex noticed Isobel look to Michael, then registered the shock on her face when she found that he’d disappeared. Alex didn’t think it was that surprising. If anything, he was grateful for it. He had no idea what Michael would do if he saw the way Kyle so proudly announced that they were together.

                But Alex couldn’t consider what Michael would do for too long, not when Kyle’s warm hand was in his, not when Kyle refused to let him go, not when he met every pair of eyes in the group with his, daring anyone to say a bad word. Alex almost wanted to laugh.

                No one else seemed to know what to say, their eyes going between Kyle and Alex as if waiting for one of them to start cracking up and confess it was a joke. Alex couldn’t really blame them. Even he didn’t see them coming.

                Eventually, Liz was the first to speak up, her voice higher than normal as she said, “Okay! Okay, s-so – uh – okay! You guys are – okay, that – hey, that’s great! Isn’t that great?”

                She nudged Max with her elbow, and he, glancing at the spot where Michael had been standing, said, “Y-Yeah – uh – whatever makes you happy, Alex.”

                “That’s great, guys,” Maria said, her smile soft, and Alex nodded once. He didn’t know what was worse; everyone’s reactions, or the silence that followed when their congratulations were said. Then –

                “The sex must be mind-blowing,” Isobel noted, her eyes raking Alex and Kyle up and down. “I mean, you two aren’t exactly –”

                “Okay,” Maria cut her off as Max took the champagne glass from his sister’s hand. “Let’s go get you some water.”

                “What? They look good, I’m trying to – I’m being supportive!” Isobel complained as she was led away, and Alex couldn’t help but hide his face in Kyle’s shoulder. He was so relieved, he wanted to both cry and laugh at the same time. When he pulled back, he saw Kyle smiling down at him, his gaze focused on the airman.

                “You…” he heard and blinked out of his thoughts of him and Kyle in bed in the morning, him and Kyle having meals together, him and Kyle watching tv together, and turned to Liz who was watching them with a soft expression on her face. “You’re smiling. You’re actually smiling, you haven’t smiled like that in years.”

                Alex glanced at Kyle and looked away, his cheeks heated. He wished Liz wasn’t right, but when he thought about it, he realized that when he had Michael, all he did was cry. It felt good to finally smile, to laugh, to be something other than miserable. And to have Kyle at his side as he felt that – that was even better.

                “Sure,” Kyle suddenly said, wrapping an arm around Alex’s waist and pulling him against him. “I’ll take credit for that.”

                Alex broke out into a wide smile, his heart filled with warmth. He nodded, just about to say that Kyle was “absolutely the reason for it,” when all the champagne glasses in their hands shattered, glass shooting everywhere.

                It was only the four of them, but they were still distraught. “Damn it, Michael,” Max muttered as he checked Liz’s hand for any damage.

                Alex looked around as Kyle took hold of his hand. “You okay? Alex, are you okay?”

                Alex saw no sign of Michael, but turned back to Kyle, his hand tightening in his. He nodded. “Yeah,” he breathed, though he knew the cowboy’s answer was far different. “I’m fine.”

Chapter Text

                Alex discovered that the most frustrating part about losing his leg was struggling to do the simple things he used to do. Cleaning his kitchen, mopping up his home, vacuuming the carpets – never easy work, but it had been easier than it was now. He tried to take satisfaction in being able to dust his shelves while standing on a ladder, and managing not to fall over or having to sit down after five minutes, but he couldn’t find the strength. Even now as he rearranged his books, keeping them steady with one hand at the top of the ladder, his other setting each one in its proper place, Alex tried to be proud of himself for nearly finishing with his cleaning, but he felt tired. These days, all Alex felt was just tired.

                He couldn’t get the picture of Michael and Maria out of his head. It was always there, in the back of his mind, taunting him. The explosions and gunshots of the war, the screams of his father, and now…

                Alex shook his head, willing the thoughts away, and as he did, the book he was holding slipped from his fingers and fell to the ground. He stared at it and sighed. There was no point in thinking of those two anymore, he knew that. No point in wondering what Michael was doing, no point in wondering if he was eating properly, or sleeping enough. No point in thinking about going over with some excuse just to check on him. That wasn’t his job anymore.

                His shoulders fell as he held on to the top of the ladder, ready to take the climb down when the book he’d dropped was suddenly in his face.

                Alex blinked, and saw Maria standing there, at the bottom of the steps, her arm stretched toward him.

                “Need some help?”

                Alex wordlessly took his book back, and put it in its place as Maria stood there.

                It took two seconds before she said, “Can we talk?”

                “No,” Alex said, continuing his work as if she wasn’t there. After he was done with this, he really needed to sit down. He’d put too much weight on his leg, having been on his feet, dusting and polishing, and fixing since he’d woken up. Now that he was standing still, the pain seemed to be trying to remind him that it was there.

                He heard a sharp intake of breath. “Alex,” she said his name softly, and Alex couldn’t help but close his eyes.

                Why? he wondered. Why did she suddenly have to sound like everybody else? Alex had been all too used to having others speak to him like he was a tragedy, like they were just so sorry that he had wanted things, that he had dared hope for happiness.

                Maria had always sounded different. She’d said his name with a kind of daring, as if to ask; well, why can’t you want? Why can’t you need? You should! You deserve to.

                But that had been before she had happened to want the same thing.

                “Alex, I know you’re mad,” she tried, her voice hesitant, and Alex hated it. Since when was Maria hesitant about anything? “I know – I know you probably don’t want me here…”

                Alex sighed and stopped rearranging. Maria realized he was climbing down, and put her hands up as if to steady him. Alex tensed when she touched him, relaxing only when she pulled away, and touched the ground. He rested his elbow on the ladder, and tilted his head at her, waiting for her to finish.

                Maria swallowed, her sad eyes on him. “You’re really that mad at me?”

                Alex rubbed his eyes. He was exhausted. He knew this interaction would come at some point, but he had hoped it never would. Guilt spares no one, apparently. Why did they have to do this? Alex knew they didn’t really care, that they just wanted the burden on their shoulders lifted so that they could be free to date without having to worry that they’d upset him. Didn’t they know it was all pointless? Didn’t they know he didn’t want to hear it?

                “None of it matters, Maria,” Alex said, his voice hoarse from having not used it all day. “There’s nothing you can say.”

                “Alex, I just want us to be friends again. I know you can’t forgive us now, but maybe someday you could find it in your heart to…” Maria trailed off, stepping closer, and Alex resisted the urge to step away.

                He didn’t want anybody near him, anybody. The only person whose touch hadn’t made him flinch was Kyle, and that was after nearly two weeks of being together. But Alex didn’t think he could handle Maria’s hand on him, not when he knew that it had touched Guerin, had felt his curls, had rested over his heart. Alex closed his eyes, hiding his face behind his palms. He had to stop, or he would make himself sick.

                “Alex, are you okay?”

                Alex sighed, dropping his hands, his eyes still closed. “Michael chose my best friend,” he said, and Maria went quiet. “She was my family, and now she’s not. I can’t even look at her anymore. I can’t trust a word she says. I can’t even tell her I miss her.” He shrugged. “No, Maria, I’m not okay.”

                Maria’s eyes were filled with tears as if she’d been holding them in since she’d arrived, but Alex’s were dry. He wished he could cry, or scream, or curse her out. He wished he felt something other than this. This empty, numb exhaustion.

                “He told me you were over, I,” Maria shook her head. “He told me—”

                “I don’t really care what he told you, Maria,” Alex said quietly, trying not to let the weight of Michael’s words sink his heart any deeper. “You knew how I felt. That was enough. It should’ve been enough.”

                He told me you were over. Alex swallowed, looking away. Maybe there was a reason he couldn’t get angry. Maybe part of him had just known this would eventually happen. He had expected trouble to follow him ever since his mother had left, his father having made sure of that, and for a brief moment when he’d come to Michael’s airstream, when he’d confessed the truth to the man he loved, and told him that he had wanted to win for once, Alex had allowed himself to believe that maybe the ghosts he fought wouldn’t be so bad if he had people who he cared about and who cared about him by his side.

                Now he realized that maybe nobody had ever really cared. Nobody had ever really wanted him there. Maybe he never really deserved it. What could he cry about then? What right did he have? Who would he scream at? What would be the point?

                Alex sighed, feeling very heavy on his feet. “Please leave.”

                “You know I won’t,” she said, though Alex knew better. He could see her resolve weakening, and he found himself hoping for it. He just wanted her to go away. He wanted everyone to go away.

                Alex closed his eyes a moment, regaining strength before he forced himself back up the ladder, trying not to visibly wince. He returned to his books, ignoring Maria’s presence altogether, even as she shifted on her feet, as if waiting for him to speak.

                “You can hate me all you want,” she eventually said. “I’m not leaving.”

                “I don’t hate you, Maria,” he said simply. “I can’t hate a lie.”

                She frowned, her eyes darkening. “Alex, what does that mean?”

                Alex exhaled a deep breath, resting against the ladder for a moment before going back to work. “I tried to convince myself that I was to you what you and Liz are to each other. Tried to pretend I actually had a family.”

                They’re my family, Alex! Michael’s voice rang in his ears, and his fingers stilled on his books for the briefest second.

                Alright, maybe! But you are mine!”

                He closed his eyes, his jaw clenched, then he swallowed and said, “At least now I know the truth.” He sniffed. “And that’s fine. I’m better off on my own anyway.”

                “Alex—”

                “Maria, leave,” he cut her off, and though his voice was quiet, it turned Maria completely silent. But Alex wouldn’t face her. “I’m never going to forgive you. Never. So just leave.”

                There was a long moment of silence before Alex heard a sniffle, then the sound of heels walking out of the room, out the open door. He finished putting the last book in place, and leaned against the ladder, too tired to move down just yet.

Chapter Text

                “This isn’t vinegar, it’s sour cream,” Isobel protested, thrusting the bag of chips at Liz who looked like she was using every bit of her willpower to keep from strangling the blonde.

                If Alex wasn’t so comfortable with his head on Michael’s lap, the cowboy’s fingers raking through his hair, he might’ve been more wary about that. As it was, Max had asked Liz and Isobel to spend some time together, hoping that it would help them bond and maybe not want to jump at each other’s throats every time they saw each other. Liz wouldn’t do it without Alex, and Isobel wouldn’t show up without Michael, which worked fine for Alex and Michael as neither of them would’ve been willing to endure tonight without each other.

                “I just grabbed a bunch of random flavors,” Liz said, her voice calm, but her nails dug into the bag as she handed it to Alex behind her. “I didn’t really pay a lot of attention.”

                “God, you work in a lab,” Isobel muttered. “Really comforting to know detail’s not your thing.”

                Michael snickered, and Alex saw Liz’s jaw clench. Alex tapped his arm, silently telling him to stop encouraging this. Liz and Isobel wanted to sit on the floor, probably because sitting on the couch meant being forced to share the same space.

                Alex still remembered Max’s face when he and Liz had shown up at his place to get Isobel (Liz, after all, didn’t have the directions to Alex’s cabin), and instead of entrusting Michael with the request, the sheriff had pulled Alex aside, and quietly asked him to make sure they talk. Even though Liz and her sister both knew that Isobel wasn’t the one that had killed Rosa, and even with Rosa back now, the tension between Ortecho and Isobel was strained. And if Rosa had a problem with someone, it meant Liz had a problem with someone. Max, Alex suspected, knew that he wasn’t asking for any simple favor, but his eyes had been so full of trust, as if he knew that if anyone could do this, it would be Alex. Alex didn’t know why Max believed it so blindly, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

                Maybe it was to soothe her, maybe it was to make her laugh, but Alex reached over and rubbed Isobel’s shoulder. Something in her seemed to ease and she leaned back against the couch, her eyes on the TV as Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams continued to have a heavy breakup. There was a time when any breakup reminded Alex of his own. Now, as he felt Michael’s warmth beneath him, protecting him, all he could do was hope that he didn’t fall asleep too soon.

                “We calling this a night or what?” Michael suddenly said into the silence, and Alex understood why Max hadn’t pulled his brother aside instead of him.

                “The movie hasn’t even started, Michael,” Isobel said.

                “What do you mean? They broke up, look, they’re breaking up, we’re done.”

                “No, they still—” Alex tried not to laugh, “the real plot starts years later, when they’re both adults.”

                “Yeah, see, they’re fast-forwarding,” Liz said.

                After a moment, Michael spoke up again. “Anybody die in this?”

                “Oh my – Michael, shut up and watch the movie, or I’ll put you in a coma until it’s over.”

                “No,” Alex said tiredly, turning his face into Michael’s lap. “I need him.”

                “No, hey, don’t fall asleep,” Liz turned from where she sat and nudged Alex’s arm once she noticed his eyes had closed.

                “M’not,” he mumbled, sighing against Michael’s jeans.

                “You really need him to babysit you guys?” Alex heard Michael say, his hands tightening around the airman almost protectively, and Alex was far too comfortable as he felt himself nearly drifting to dreamland to bother protesting. “He didn’t get any sleep last night.”

                “Why not?” Liz’s concerned voice sounded at the same time that Alex felt a nudge on his shoulder and Isobel said, “Too bad, I need him awake!”

                “If you need him so much, then why’d you ask me to come?”

                “Alex would never have agreed to do this if you didn’t.”

                “Wow, some sister!”

                “You know I love you, but I need a level head who’ll actually give a crap, and that’s Alex.”

                “Let the guy sleep!”

                “You think I don’t know what you have in mind after we leave?” Isobel retorted. “It sure as hell isn’t sleep!”

                Alex groaned and moved to sit up. He sighed as his back hit the couch. He wanted nothing more than to curl up against Michael and go back to sleep – and by the way Michael was tugging on his arm to bring him back down, he knew his boyfriend wanted the same thing – but if he leaned against him again, he was sure to drift off. And he had to stay awake.

                “I’m up,” he said, rubbing his face. “I’m awake.”

                Liz pursed her lips, doubt filling her expression. “It’s okay, Alex, you can go back to sleep.”

                “I don’t think I want to, to be honest,” he said. “I shudder to think what you guys would do to my home if I wasn’t watching.”

                Liz smiled, grateful and relieved, Isobel seemed more relieved than anything else, and as she turned back to the TV, she reached out to take Alex’s hand.

                “Great,” Michael muttered so that only Alex could hear, “everybody’s in love with you. Any chance I’ll get you at all tonight?”

                “You don’t think this is a little more important?” Alex whispered back.

                “We’re on a couch, and you’re still in your clothes – to be honest, I’m thinking of very little else.”

                Alex laughed quietly, covering his eyes, trying to will away the burn in his cheeks. “They’re our friends, they need our help.”

                “Serves me right,” Michael said with a sigh as he leaned back against the couch, looking up at the ceiling, “for being with someone who actually cares.”

                Alex lightly slapped his arm. “You’d do anything for Isobel.”

                Michael rolled his eyes, but Alex couldn’t miss the way his eyes fell on his sister, the corner of his lips quirking upward.

                Liz groaned. “I hate this part.”

                “What?” Alex frowned, feeling almost offended as Ryan Gosling’s character spotted Rachel’s out the bus. “What’re you talking about?”

                “Oh, come on!” Liz said. “He sees her just walking down the street? Doesn’t think of – look at this – doesn’t think of going in or calling out to her or anything. Just stands there and waits for her to kiss some other guy!”

                “He was trying to recognize her first,” Isobel defended. “He wasn’t sure it was her.”

                “All but jumps out of a bus and risks getting hit by a car for someone that might be Allie?”

                “You’re dating my brother!” Isobel exclaimed. “You’re in a loving relationship, how are you so bad at romance?”

                “It doesn’t make sense!”

                “Oh, logic,” she rolled her eyes. “That’s sexy.”

                Liz glared, then, “Is this about the chips?”

                “What is it with you and the chips?” Isobel said, annoyed. “Would you let that go already?”

                “Me?”

                “Okay, that’s—” Alex stood, nudging Liz up with him. “Come help me get some more water bottles.”

                Liz, fuming, stood and let Alex guide her into the kitchen. As soon as the door closed behind them, she turned to him. “Alex, she’s making me—”

                “It’s okay,” Alex held his hands up, trying to calm her down. “It’ll be okay.”

                “I just – she can’t—” Liz screamed through grit teeth, her face hidden behind her hands. Eventually, she sighed. Her arms fell limp to her side, her eyes staring off into space as she softly said, “I’m going to kill her.”

                “You’re not going to kill her.”

                “I’m going to jail for it, they’ll fire me from the lab.”

                “You’re not getting fired, would you just…” he seated her next to the counter. “There. Feel better?”

                She raked her hands through her hair, pulling it back from her face. “I don’t get it. I know why I’m uncomfortable around her, but she.... She’s so nice to you, and I’ve known her longer. She’s making this so much more difficult. Why?”

                Alex regarded his friend thoughtfully a moment, then he smiled softly, took the stool across from her, and said, “Because I don’t say things like, I know why I’m uncomfortable around her.”

                Liz looked stricken, her expression turned to immense guilt. “Alex, I… I can’t help it.”

                He nodded. “I know. And I think she can tell, and it just reminds her of everything Noah did to her, you know? Everything he let her believe.”

                She shook her head, her voice barely above a whisper as she said, “This is too hard.”

                Alex tilted his head at her. “Since when has that ever stopped you?”

                Liz blinked, and huffed a chuckle. She opened her mouth to say something when—

                “Are you waiting for the ice to melt?” Isobel yelled, and the kitchen door suddenly opened on its own.

                Alex raised a brow and looked over to find Michael watching him from the living room, gesturing at him to come back already. He smiled.

                “You coming?” he asked, looking over his shoulder.

                “Great, barbecue flavor,” they heard Isobel say from inside. “So no attention to detail at all then.”

                Liz closed her eyes, muttering darkly in Spanish as she walked out past Alex who was trying his very best not to laugh.

Chapter Text

                “I don’t think we’re doing this right,” Michael said, pulling back from the pot immediately as the heat of the cheese burned his cheeks.

                “We’re doing it right,” Alex said, chopping shrimp behind him. “It says we have to simmer under the sauce and let it thicken before we add the noodles.”

                Michael sighed, one hand on the counter beside Alex, the other on his hip. “I have, like, ten inappropriate jokes in my head, should I make one?”

                “You can,” Alex said, smiling, before he reached over and kissed Michael’s cheek, sending a current of electricity throughout his entire body. “But I won’t be listening.”

                “Wasted humor,” Michael said, unable to help but mirror his boyfriend’s smile as he leaned back against the counter, his arms crossed. “You know, we could’ve just ordered Alfredo and been done with this hours ago.”

                “You can’t keep eating takeout, Guerin, it’s not good for you.”

                “I’ve been doing it my entire life, I’m okay with it.”

                “I don’t want you to be okay with it,” Alex said simply, finishing up and drying his hands with a paper towel. “And you don’t have to be. You have me now.”

                Michael tried not to think of the flutter in his chest as Alex so casually said that, as if it was obvious that Alex would be there to take care of him, that Michael was his now and that he protected what was his. Instead, he just moved close enough until his chest was against Alex’s elbow.

                “Now I have twenty jokes.”

                “Get away from me,” Alex laughed, lightly shoving him back, and Michael moved, biting his lower lip as he tried to keep his smile from widening. There was a time when everything he said had only made Alex cry. But there was no use thinking about that now because they were finally in a place when Michael’s words could only bring a smile to Alex’s beautiful face, and Michael wanted to treasure each one.

                “Is it because I’m growing a gut?” he asked, tilting his head. “You like me better with abs?”

                Alex gathered the shrimp in his hands, and moved them over to the pot, tossing them in and stirring the sauce slightly. He scoffed as he turned back, wiping his hands off, and leaned down to Michael’s stomach.

                He lifted the shirt slightly to kiss the hairy skin there, and patted it back down. “I love your gut. Makes you hotter somehow. It doesn’t make sense, but it does.” He stood, tilting his head. “You know?”

                Michael’s eyes fell to Alex’s lips and he licked his own. “Sorry, you kissed me and everything just kinda went blurry.”

                Michael leaned in, his lips inches away from Alex’s before Alex pulled back, laughing. “We can’t leave the dish alone.”

                “I’ll eat something else,” Michael said immediately, his hands coming up to Alex’s waist.

                “One of us has to be the adult here,” Alex put a hand on his chest, turning to the pot.

                “Does it always have to be you?”

                “Good question,” Alex said, though he smiled, amused.

                “We haven’t had sex in, like, fifteen hours.”

                “You counted?”

                “I’m having serious withdrawal, Alex!”

                “Shush, and give me the noodles.”

                Michael exhaled loudly as he took the colander full of noodles and handed it to Alex, watching as the airman emptied them into the pot and stirred. Michael’s eyes quickly rose from the pot to Alex’s face, watching as his brows slightly furrowed in concentration. His smile widened.

                There was nothing but the sound of the fire as it heated their meal, the leaves of the trees ruffling outside in the wind, the birds chirping as they gathered around the cabin – and Michael felt at peace. He struggled to remember a time around Alex that he’d felt anything else. The thought made him step closer to the airman, though Alex hardly seemed to notice as he turned off the fire and stirred the contents a few more times. Michael was glad for it. He wouldn’t have wanted to disrupt what they had right now, and even though every fiber in his body yearned to touch Alex, to feel his soft skin, his warm breath against Michael’s ear, his lips, there was a part of him that wanted nothing more than to watch the airman.

                “I love you,” he said before he could stop himself, but he found himself unable to regret a thing.

                Alex looked up, a brow raised, and he smiled softly. “I love you, too.”

                Michael hummed happily as he came behind Alex, wrapping his arms around his waist and hooking his chin over his shoulder. “What do you love most about me?”

                Alex chuckled, setting the wooden spoon down, placing one hand over Michael’s on his stomach. “Let me think about that.”

                “You need to think about it?”

                “Would it make you feel better if I just said, your ass?”

                Michael laughed, and kissed Alex’s shoulder. “Yes, absolutely.”

                Alex turned in his hold, wrapping his arms around Michael’s shoulders. “Let me think about that.”

                “Private, you—” but whatever Michael was about to say was cut off by Alex’s lips on this. Michael melted quickly into the kiss, holding Alex tightly against him, tilting his head to deepen the kiss.

                Before things could escalate, Alex pulled back, his finger on Michael’s lips as Michael tried to follow him.

                “You know what’d be really hot right now?” Alex said as he brought his finger down Michael’s chin, down his neck, to his hairy chest.

                “What?” Michael breathed, and Alex leaned in close enough that Michael felt his breath fan against his lips.

                “If you set the table.”

                And with that, Alex turned around, pulled two plates out of the cabinet, and placed them in Michael’s hands, looking like he was about to laugh.

                Michael stared at them a moment, his lips pressed together, then, “Are you playing hard to get with me, Private?”

                Alex bit his lower lip, amused, before he pecked Michael’s lips. “No dinner, no dessert.”

                And by the way the airman was watching him, his eyes raking Michael’s body hungrily, Michael knew what kind of dessert he had had in mind. He used his telekinesis to levitate the plates and forks onto the living room table before he pulled Alex’s body to his again.

                “How long have you been waiting to make that joke?”

                Alex’s smile widened and he held Michael’s face, his hands warm on his skin, and Michael was suddenly grateful for the heat. “Annoyed I said it before you could?”

                “Like hell,” he breathed before he pulled Alex in, attacking his lips with his, swallowing the airman’s laughs.

Chapter Text

                Alex opened his eyes slowly as the sound of a lock and key echoed throughout the entire bunker. His lids felt heavy, his body weighed down, yet he curled in deeper on himself against the cold metal wall as the door opened and light poured in, making him wince and look away. He heard footsteps slowly approaching him, and he shut his eyes tight. Then a hand touched his shoulder. It was cold and stiff, but Alex knew it wasn’t his father’s.

                He looked up with a gasp, his brother Flint towering above him with a hand over his mouth, as if signaling at him to stay quiet.

                Alex gripped his brother’s wrist, but nodded. His fingers were tight on his brother’s skin, but Flint seemed to hardly notice as he stood, nudging Alex up with him. Alex got to his feet, swayed, and nearly fell again before he had Flint’s arm around his waist, keeping him steady.

                “Come on, Alex, he’ll get mad if he sees you like this,” Flint said, releasing Alex once he knew he could stand on his own.

                Alex put a hand against the wall and said nothing. He let Flint lead him out of the bunker, fully aware of what his father would do to him if he saw him leave first. Flint kept walking until they reached a door at the far right end of the house, and Alex stopped just as Flint’s hand touched the doorknob.

                Flint noticed. “Stop it,” he said in a hushed tone. “You know what’ll happen if you don’t see him.”

                “Let’s just leave, Flint,” Alex pleaded. “Just – take me to Maria, or Jim Valenti.”

                “Alex—”

                “I can’t drive, I just need you to take me,” he said, gripping his brother’s arm with both hands now. He hated it, having to ask Flint or anyone for help. He hated to sound so afraid, but after what his father had done to Michael…

                “Please,” he begged. “He’ll just lock me up again, you know he will. Please, Flint!”

                But Flint only looked away, seemingly conflicted about something. Alex narrowed his eyes. He knew that look on his brother’s face. “You know something, don’t you?” When Flint didn’t respond, Alex tightened his grip on him. “What’s he planning, Flint, what’s he going to do?”

                Flint clenched his jaw, yanking his arm away. “Why couldn’t you just stay away from that guy? None of this would’ve happened if you had.”

                “Flint,” Alex said, and before he could get another word out, Flint opened the door to reveal a large office. The floor was carpeted in brown, the walls were covered with framed photos of Jesse’s military friends, of Alex’s brothers, of their medals and certificates. There was not a single space of wall left for Alex. Alex doubted there would ever be.

                His father was sitting behind a desk, working on some papers, and in two armchairs sat Alex’s two older brothers, Jack and Holden. Holden looked up at him when he walked in, Jack didn’t bother. Alex caught Holden’s eyes before his brother looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. They all know something.

                Despite himself, Alex felt the dread that had been building in his chest since the door to the bunker opened rise. He tightened his hands into fists at his side.

                “Have you had any water today?” His father asked, not looking up from his papers. Alex’s eyes went to the clock hung on the wall behind his father and saw that it was four in the afternoon.

                Alex merely shook his head, and his father placed his water bottle in front of him. “Drink before you get dehydrated,” he said in a scolding tone.

                Alex stared at the bottle, willing away the protest that if Alex died of dehydration, it would be because his father had scarcely given him any food or drink since he’d locked him up.

                “Where’s Michael,” he asked, and he could feel his brothers’ gazes burning holes into his head. “What’d you do to him?”

                Jesse’s pen stilled on his paper, and instead of answering, he took out what looked like a form from a file beside him, and placed it in front of Alex next to the water.

                Alex frowned. “What’s this?”

                “Military enlistment form,” Jesse said simply as if he was talking about the weather.

                Alex’s dread built up. “Okay?”

                Jesse sighed, setting his pen down and looking up at Alex with that detached expression he always wore. Alex scoffed, though he felt more panic than humor.

                “You’ve got to be kidding.”

                “Alex,” Holden said, his eyes avoiding his brother’s. “You know he’s not.”

                “I’m not signing that.”

                “I’m not giving you the choice,” Jesse said.

                “It’s not up to you,” Alex said through grit teeth. “I’m not signing.”

                Jesse stared, and Alex saw his jaw clench. “Okay, Alex.” He stood. “Listen to me very closely. There is no where you can go that I won’t find you. As you’re still seventeen, you are still a minor.”

                “My birthday’s in a few months,” Alex tried, though his voice trembled even to his own ears. He wouldn’t sign that form, he wouldn’t. “I’ll be eighteen, and then—”

                “And then what?” Jesse cut him off. “Where will you go? You think that boy will help you?”

                “Michael,” Alex breathed. “What’d you do to him—”

                “What’ll you do? Live out of his truck?”

                “How do you—”

                “No one cares about you, Alex, not like I do,” he said. “No one will be able to protect you like I do.”

                “Protect me, protect me,” Alex muttered, and slammed his hand on the desk.

                Jack stood. “Alex—”

                “You keep saying that – since mom left, since you found out I was gay, since you threatened Jim Valenti to stay away from me – you always say that, dad, what does it mean? Protect me from who?”

                His dad said nothing, and maybe it was because Alex had eaten so little lately, maybe it was the exhaustion of moving after weeks of being locked in the bunker, maybe it was the sudden light after so much darkness irritating his eyes, but Alex couldn’t take it.

                He huffed a humorless chuckle, his head ducked. He muttered, “You’re psychotic.” He looked up to see his father staring back at him, his expression unchanged. “You’d rather I die in war than be with a guy.”

                Jesse stared at his son a moment, then crossed his arms behind his back as if he was talking to one of his soldiers. “You’re a failure, Alex. You always have been. By the time they were your age, your brothers were lining up to enlist, but not you. Never you.”

                “Because I know better.”

                “You know nothing.” He narrowed his eyes, considering Alex, then said, “How many battles do you have to lose before you decide to stand up and win? You could be so much more.”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, shaking his head. Then, “You’re never going to change. You hate me for what I am, and you’ll see me blown in a desert somewhere for it before you see me refuse the family legacy.”

                “That legacy is an honor.”

                “It’s a curse. It glorifies bloodshed and condemns anyone who’s different. But really, dad? You’d even condemn me? Aren’t you tired of being the bad guy yet?”

                “Alex,” one of his brothers tried, but Alex couldn’t bother to know who. “Alex, maybe you should—”

                “I’m your son,” Alex said, his voice barely over a whisper. “How could you be so evil?”

                “You’re smart, Alex,” he said. “Much smarter than you give yourself credit for.”

                Alex looked to the ceiling, exasperated. “Oh my—”

                “You have the ability to thrive, just as your brothers have. You’ve known I wanted you to enlist after high school—”

                “Please, dad, who do you think you’re talking to? I know you! I know what you think of me, and I know you sure as hell don’t think I’m good enough for the Air Force.” He turned to his brothers, his eyes burning. “Damn it, would one of you say something?!”

                None of them did. They never did.

                His fists shook, his nails digging into his palms. It stung, but it kept Alex from crying in front of them. He would’ve rather died.

                “Enlistment periods have ended,” Jesse said casually as if Alex had said nothing. “But as master sergeant, I can make an exception. We return to base tomorrow, and I expect you to be ready by then, your name on the dotted line.” He slid the form closer to Alex and sat back in his chair, his arms crossed, expectant.

                Alex’s eye twitched, and he smirked humorlessly. When he spoke next, his voice was raspier and quiet, but it echoed throughout the entire room. “I won’t be you.” He stepped closer, his smirk falling. “I will not be you.”

                And before he could hear any of their responses, he turned and left. He forced his steps slow, knowing that any one of his brothers could try coming after him, talking him into coming back, into hearing their father out. But Alex wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.

                When the front door closed behind him, he ran.

                *

                Michael grunted as he parked his truck behind the Wild Pony. He didn’t know where else he could go that he wouldn’t be kicked off the premise, and Maria had always let him do whatever he wanted. He clenched his jaw as the engine finally turned off, and reached into the large pile of acetone bottles in the passenger seat, chugging it down in seconds.

                But no matter what, it never stopped. The veins in his hand still throbbed, his fingers still twitched and spasmed, and after that Ortecho and the rest of them and the memory of that damn cave and that damn car, the heavy weight in his chest pulled him down with every step.

                He stepped out of his truck, leaning against it. After the news they’d received a few weeks ago, Michael doubted Maria or her mother would be in any mood to humor him with a drink, and after Liz had left and Max…

                Michael shook the thoughts of his brother out of his head. He still had Isobel, but he couldn’t go talk to her, not now. He took a deep breath of the cold air, trying to get the picture of Rosa and the others out of his mind, but he couldn’t. He could still see their horrified expressions, their cold, lifeless faces, the look in his sister’s eyes as Rosa’s body fell from her arms, as she looked to Michael with a numb, empty expression and told him that Rosa couldn’t be trusted.

                Michael inhaled sharply, finishing his bottle of acetone before he tossed it aside, his eyes shut tight. I can beat this, he thought, though it was overrun with images of Rosa, of Isobel, of Max’s tears.

                “Gu-Guerin?”

                Michael opened his eyes with a gasp, and saw Alex Manes standing there. Alex, who he hadn’t seen in weeks; Alex, who hadn’t returned any of his calls; Alex, whose older brothers had all but kicked Michael off the property when he’d shown up, demanding to see Alex and know he was okay. His Alex. And suddenly, every picture of death, and guilt, and misery was gone. It was just them.

                “Alex,” he breathed before he shot forward. Alex broke into a cry, and ran into Michael’s arms, Michael unable to help but lift him slightly as he wrapped his arms tightly around him. “Alex, Alex,” he panted into the crook of Alex’s neck, one hand on his back, the other in his hair.

                “Guerin,” Alex cried, and Michael pulled back to see his cheeks streaked with tears, his eyes filled with fear, his hands shaking on Michael’s arms. The moonlight shined on his face, and Michael could now see he had dark circles under his eyes, bruises on his forehead and cheek, his lip was cut, and his nails were covered in dry blood as if he’d been scratching at walls for weeks. Michael hadn’t seen him in weeks. What had Jesse done to him?

                “Alex, what—”

                “It’s my dad,” Alex stammered. Michael had never seen him so scared. “Guerin, he got—he got a—he’s making me—he told me to—I don’t want to do it, Guerin, I can’t—”

                “What, Alex, slow down,” he held Alex’s face in his hands. “Slow down, hey, look at me, I can’t understand what you’re saying. What happened? Where have you been all this time?”

                Alex looked like he was trying to control his breathing, his fists tightening in Michael’s jacket. “I… I…” he tried, then he stopped, his frown deepening as he looked down at Michael’s hand. It was bandaged, the white stained with red from blood that had leaked through.

                Alex gasped, stepping back. “Your – your hand.” His eyes filled with tears, his voice cracked. “Your hand, Guerin, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

                “No, hey, don’t,” Michael pulled him in. “Don’t. This wasn’t your fault, Alex, it wasn’t…”

                But Alex was shaking his head, as if he couldn’t hear Michael. He wiped his face, his hands shaking. “The hospital, let’s go to the—”

                “I already did,” Michael lied, moving his hand so that it was hidden from Alex’s view, his other hand on Alex’s cheek. He missed him so much, he couldn’t believe he was standing here in front of him now. “They did what they could, they healed it.”

                “No.”

                “Yes.”

                “You’re lying,” Alex cried, and Michael’s heart ached. With anyone else, he may have been annoyed at the insistence, angry at Alex for not believing him, but all he felt was warmth and gratitude. Now, after everyone had left him, Alex was still here. Michael briefly wondered when he would disappear, too, but pushed the thought away, hard and fast, vowing that he would do whatever it took to keep Alex with him. He could lose everyone else, but not Alex.

                “Alex, look at me,” he said, his voice calm as he pulled Alex to his chest, his hands tight on Alex’s waist. “I’m fine. I’m okay. I don’t regret being in that toolshed, do you?”

                Alex said nothing, and Michael felt panic rise in his chest. He still remembered the feel of Alex’s soft skin, his breathy moans against Michael’s ears, the smile when Michael couldn’t help but savagely attack his lips with his own. He was hanging onto that. Would Alex really let go?

                Alex swallowed. “Let’s go to Mimi,” he said. “She’ll know what to do. She has herbs and stuff that heal better than anything from a doctor.”

                Michael thought of Mimi, Maria’s mother – thought of Maria, the last time he’d seen her, the way she’d cried.

                “Alex, we can’t go bother them now.”

                “Don’t worry, they’ll help!”

                “They’re still crying, we can’t…” Michael trailed off, hoping he wouldn’t have to mention Rosa’s name, hoping Alex would stop insisting, but his brows only furrowed.

                “What are you talking about?” he asked, bringing a hand up to wipe his face dry. “Why are they crying?”

                Michael stilled. “That’s not funny, Alex.”

                “What’s not funny?” Alex stepped closer, and Michael felt that panic rise to his throat. Oh no, he thought. Could Alex not know? Where had he been these last few weeks?

                “You never heard,” he muttered.

                Alex looked frustrated now. “Never heard what? What happened?”

                Michael swallowed. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to be the one to say it, but… if he didn’t tell Alex, someone else would. And he didn’t think Alex could survive it if someone else said it.

                “Liz Ortecho’s sister died a few weeks ago.”

                Alex blinked, as if he didn’t hear him right. He stumbled back, and Michael caught him.

                “Rosa?” he muttered, his voice barely over a whisper, his eyes staring through Michael. Michael nodded. “How?”

                Michael clenched his jaw. “Car crash,” he said, the lie burning his tongue like poison. How had he found someone who was impossible to lie to? “Drunk driving. She killed two other girls with her.”

                Alex’s lower lip quivered. He shook his head, his hands painfully tight on Michael’s shoulders. “R-Rosa… no, she… Rosa, are you sure?”

                Michael’s eyes burned, but he only nodded once stiffly. Maria and Liz, he could’ve handled. Isobel and Max, he could’ve handled. But this, seeing Alex like this… it was too much.

                “Alex,” he said, his voice cracking despite himself. “Let’s just – let’s get in the truck, okay? Let’s go for a drive, come on. Alex, please, get in the truck.”

                But Alex was pulling away from him, his gaze ahead and unfocused, hands covering his ears as if it would block the world out, his eyes brimmed with tears. I did that, Michael thought. I’m killing him. “Alex,” he tried again, pulling on Alex’s arms. No matter how much Alex struggled, Michael couldn’t let him go. He needed him to breathe, to stay floating above the water.

                “Alex, please,” he begged. “Please, just come on. Let’s go somewhere, anywhere you want.”

                “And Liz?”

                “Alex—”

                “And Liz?”

                Michael shook his head, the words struggling to make their way past his lips. “She left town the day after.”

                Alex exhaled shakily, his stand weakening. Michael caught him, holding on tight enough to leave bruises. Alex held him back, though Michael couldn’t feel Alex’s breath against his chest. Was he trying to suffocate? To end this?

                “Alex,” he breathed into his hair. “It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay.”

                But Alex said nothing, he only held on tighter to Michael. They stayed like that for a long time before Michael got Alex into his car, and drove off.

                Michael didn’t know where he was going, but it was just him and Alex on the open road, the moonlight shining through, painting Alex in silver, and he couldn’t help but reach over and take Alex’s hand. Michael interlaced their fingers, drawing strength from him. Alex had looked completely numb since they’d left the Wild Pony, having not said a single word or shed another tear, and had his fingers not squeezed Michael’s back, Michael might’ve thought he’d gone completely devoid of any emotion. Somehow, the thought scared him just as much as losing Max or Isobel. How had this man come to mean so much to him?

                “Are you hungry?” Michael asked after what felt like half an hour of driving. “We can stop somewhere.”

                Alex said nothing for a long moment, then he said, his voice so quiet that Michael had nearly missed it, “Everything’s broken.”

                Michael watched the road. “So we fix it.”

                “How?”

                And Michael thought of Isobel’s wide, scared eyes, of Max’s misery and silent please, begging him not to take on a burden he knew Michael couldn’t. And somehow, Michael had lost them both. Something had changed, had shattered beyond repair, and Michael had lost them.

                “No more losing,” he said, his hand tightening in Alex’s.

                A pause, then Michael felt Alex’s fingers hold his back just as tightly. “No more losing,” Alex agreed, and Michael glanced at him. He was staring straight ahead, at something Michael couldn’t see, but he no longer looked numb. His brows were furrowed slightly as if in thought, his chin lifted slightly in determination, and Michael realized with no peace in his chest that Alex had never looked like that.

                He lifted Alex’s hand to his mouth and kissed it, keeping Alex’s fingers against his lips as he glanced at him for his reaction. Alex looked over to him, not smiling, but both afraid and determined at the same time, and Michael wondered, not for the first time, where Alex had been these past few weeks, and what had happened to him. Maybe, Michael thought, I wasn’t the only one that shattered.

                *

                Alex had asked Michael to drop him off in front of his house, keeping a distance so that his dad didn’t see them from the window and pull a gun or something, and despite Michael’s many protests, Alex promised him he would be alright.

                “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Michael asked, taking Alex’s sleeve to keep him from leaving.

                Alex could only lean forward, taking Michael’s lips in his and kissing him until they were both breathless. Until the press of their lips hurt.

                “I’m coming tomorrow, Alex,” Alex heard after he closed the car door, making his way up the front steps of his house. “I’ll see you then! Alex, did you hear me? First thing tomorrow!” Michael said, though Alex thought it sounded more like a scared promise. I’m coming tomorrow, you’ll definitely be here, won’t you?

                Alex clenched his jaw, his eyes shutting tight as he reached the front door, stepped inside, and closed it behind him.

                “I love you, Michael,” he whispered, his fists against the door. “I’m sorry.”

                Alex opened his eyes. He had to focus from now on. He took a deep breath and made his way down the hall, past his brothers’ rooms, his own room, the kitchen, and the living room.

                “Alex,” Flint suddenly appeared as Alex neared his father’s office, grabbing Alex’s arm as he spoke in hushed whispers. “Where have you been? It’s past midnight!”

                “Did you know?” Alex asked. He wasn’t going to bother with staying quiet. His brother looked confused, and Alex resisted the desire to scream. “About Rosa,” he continued, deadly calm. “Did you know?”

                Flint at least had the decency to look taken back, and Alex found himself so unsurprised that his eyes didn’t even burn. There would be no more tears. He snatched his arm from his brother’s grasp.

                He stepped into his father’s office, Jesse still at his table, working on some forms, the enlistment form still at the opposing end, facing Alex, just as it had been several hours ago.

                Without a word, Alex marched over, took a pen from his father’s desk, and signed the form. It was only when he set his pen down did his father look up. His eyes went from the paper to Alex’s face, and Alex took a deep breath. He wasn’t afraid, he realized. His heart was thrashing, and he would’ve rather not thought about everything that was to come, how his life would change. But he wasn’t afraid. Not now. He had a feeling that fear would return, but not in this minute.

                “I’ll join the Air Force,” Alex said, and his father watched him. “I’ll train, I’ll fight, I’ll use every cell I have to be the best there is. And then,” he leaned in, his voice darkening, “I’ll burn you to the ground.”

                His father stopped working and leaned back, regarding Alex thoughtfully. “So that’s your endgame. Destroying me.”

                Alex stood straight and turned. “Destroying you wouldn’t hurt you. No,” he said, and just as he reached the door, he stopped, “I want you to feel what I felt.” He looked over his shoulder at his father who, for the first time, seemed to see him. Good, Alex thought. He wanted him to pay attention now. “I want to destroy the thing that you love, and I want to make you watch.”

                *

                Hey, Alex,

                I don’t really know how I’m supposed to start this. Not really a letters kinda guy.

                I got a job, a mechanic. Sanders owns the place, he’s letting me fix up this old airstream. Says I can have it if I can get the air-conditioning to work. I won’t be living in my car anymore.

                Max is sheriff now. Keeps arresting me anyway. It isn’t as fun as you’d think to have a brother in law enforcement. He keeps enforcing it on me. Did you laugh? Did I just make you laugh? I can’t see you, so you’re gonna have to tell me.

                You remember that guitar you gave me? I still have it. I don’t have a lot of time to play it anymore, but you gave it to me, and it was out of tune, too, so I fixed it. You’re welcome.

                Would you actually get any of these if I sent them now? I don’t even know. No one will tell me anything. None of them know why I want to know, and I don’t want to tell them. I keep thinking that if I keep it a secret, you’ll come back. I’d probably be the last to know, and that would kill me, but you’d be back, so I could take it.

                I miss you, Alex. I miss your smell, and your taste, and the way you feel. I can’t stop thinking about you, and it’s driving me crazy. I still think about that morning I showed up at your house. I saw you in that uniform, getting into the car with your brothers and your dad. When you drove off, I chased after you. I called you, and begged you to come back. Did you know that? Did you even hear me?

                Come back already, Private. I love you—

                Michael crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the bonfire, taking the beer bottle beside his chair and chugging half of it down. He watched as the paper lit up in flames and turned to ash. Another message burned away. He settled in his seat, hoping to forget he’d ever written it, what the words in it meant, what he had been about to say – what he was always about to say – but he found himself unable to look away from the paper. Someday he would send one of these letters. Though he knew that was a lie.

Chapter Text

                “I have to see him,” Max said before he even came to a stop in front of Alex’s room. Liz and Isobel stood. Liz looked conflicted, Isobel looked pained.

                “He’s asleep,” Liz said.

                “Then I have to wake him up,” Max tried to pass Liz, but she grabbed his arm.

                “Max—”

                “Michael’s losing control,” Max defended, his other hand covering Liz’s. “He needs Alex.”

                “Michael’s done enough,” Liz said, the edge in her voice evident. Max so rarely saw her angry at one of her friends. “It’s time he learned to survive without Alex.”

                Max clenched his jaw. “Liz, he thinks Alex is dead. He’s losing his mind.”

                “If he thinks Alex is dead, it’s because he almost killed him!”

                “He didn’t mean to, Alex knows that!”

                “Whether he meant to or not doesn’t matter!” Liz snapped, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “What matters is that he almost did!”

                It was times like this that Max was reminded of how close Liz and Alex were. He remembered back in high school when they were inseparable. When Liz had left town, it was as if Alex had lost any reason to stay and left for the military. Arturo smiled at Alex like he was his son, and Alex protected him like he was an uncle. Liz and Alex were family, just like Max and Michael were. But this was different because Liz didn’t understand Alex the way Michael did. Liz didn’t need Alex the way Michael did.

                “If it were me,” Max said, and Liz fell silent. “Wouldn’t you at least want to know? Wouldn’t you want to save me?”

                Liz said nothing for a moment, then her hand slid down Max’s arm. Finally, she said, her voice quiet, “What if Alex can’t save him? What if this time, Michael really does—”

                “He still has to know,” Isobel said, her eyes going to Alex’s hospital door, obviously troubled.

                “You don’t think he’d hurt him again?” Liz turned to her, her eyes daring. “Because he’s done it before.”

                Isobel sighed. “He still has to know.” At Liz’s look, she said, “Michael’s my brother. Max is right, he needs Alex.”

                “What about what Alex needs?” Liz protested, and Max hated that he had to do it, he really did, but he was running out of time. He slid past Liz to Alex’s door, and turned the knob.

                “No, Max—” Liz tried, but her voice was drowned out as Max stepped into the room and found Alex’s bed empty.

                “He’s gone,” Isobel breathed, and Max, realizing where he might have gone, turned and left. Nobody followed, all of them attempting to find Alex, to call the doctor, a nurse – anyone who could tell them where their friend was. But Max knew better.

                He knew enough about Alex through his brother that he knew when the airman didn’t want to be found. Max hurried down the halls as he thought of what Michael had told him once about the airman.

                “If he doesn’t want to be found,” Michael had said, his voice miserable after weeks of Alex’s disappearance. “He won’t be.”

                But Alex was injured. Even with his skills, he had to know he wouldn’t make it far. And Max was right. He ran outside the hospital to where his car was parked, and found Alex barely shrugging on his jacket, attempting to make his way to the street.

                “Alex!” Max called and grabbed his arm, pulling him off the road as he stumbled close to an oncoming car. “Stop!”

                Alex panted against Max’s chest, his fists on the man’s arms, pushing him back. When he realized who had stopped him, he shook his head. “I have to go, Max.”

                “Alex—”

                “He thinks I’m dead, he needs me!”

                “Alex, stop,” Max gripped his arms, holding the airman tightly until he wasn’t fighting him. “You want to help my brother?”

                “He’s my soulmate,” Alex defended. “I’m his. He needs me, Max.”

                Max resisted the urge to cry in relief. He took Alex’s face in his hands, kissed his forehead, and said, “I’ll drive you.”

                “Max,” Alex breathed. “Thank you.”

                “Come on,” he helped Alex into the passenger seat in his car, and as Liz and Isobel came running out of the hospital, Max took off, taking an injured and exhausted-looking Alex to the airstream.

                One perk of being a sheriff was that driving as wildly as possible wasn’t going to get him arrested. He kept an arm out as they went, protecting Alex.

                “You sure you can handle this, Alex?” he asked, hoping he already knew what the answer would be.

                “I have to,” was all Alex said, his hand on his chest.

                Max glanced at the way the airman’s fingers trembled. He hesitated. “Did he hurt you?”

                “He didn’t mean to,” Alex said, wincing. “He’d never mean to.”

                “You still love him,” Max noted.

                Alex clenched his jaw, wincing as Max suddenly swerved.

                “I’m sorry,” Max was just starting to say when Alex pointed.

                “Max, the airstream!”

                Max looked ahead, and saw Michael’s trailer. But something was wrong. It was vibrating, the ground around it cracking as if an earthquake was hitting in that confined space. As Max drove closer, the car started shaking, the windows cracking, and Max threw an arm out to shield both their heads as the glass shattered.

                “Michael,” Max whispered.

                “I have to stop him,” Alex said as the cracks in the ground spread out. “He’s going to take out Roswell.”

                “Alex,” Max grabbed his wrist, stopping him. He’d wanted Alex here, but now… “Maybe it is too dangerous.”

                Alex pulled his wrist back. “I love him. I have to try.”

                Max looked to the airstream, imagined his brother inside, thinking that the person he loved more than anything was gone. He nodded. “Okay, but be careful.”

                Alex nodded and stepped out.

                *

                His leg ached and his entire body begged him to lie down, but Alex kept walking. He stumbled a few times, but held onto a chair or truck to keep himself up. Pain coursed throughout his entire body, his head still aching where it had hit the wall. Michael had saved his life and nearly killed him for it. The bullet would’ve hit his heart if Michael hadn’t moved him out of the way, and while it had only come close to his most vital organ, that, in addition to the impact of being thrown against a wall, had been too much for Alex. He felt that pain now, burning him from the inside. He wanted to stop, to rest, to properly breathe, but he had to keep going. For Michael.

                He all but fell against the airstream door, panting. He looked back to find Max standing beside his car for leverage, and he swallowed before he forced the door open. He slowly made his way inside to find Michael, at the end of the trailer, his knees pulled up to his chest, his face hidden.

                “Guerin,” he breathed, but it was as if Michael couldn’t hear him. There was broken glass and plates surrounding him, his arms were covered in scratches, his nails digging into his arms. Alex’s eyes burned.

                “Guerin, stop,” he tried as he made his way toward the cowboy, holding onto whatever he could to keep himself standing. “Please, Guerin, please,” he fell to his knees in front of Michael, wrapping his arms around him, whispering, “Stop.”

                “Alex,” Michael muttered, his voice broken. He looked up slightly, and Alex saw that his eyes were red, his lower lip was cut as if he’d been chewing on it, he had damp curls stuck to his forehead and neck. “I’m dreaming.”

                Michael’s eyes were out of focus. Alex took his face in his hands, his hold tight. “Look at me. Guerin. I’m right here, look at me!”

                Michael’s eyes slowly went up, digging straight into Alex’s, and Alex felt a sudden shock of electricity course throughout his entire body. He shuddered and he didn’t know if it was because of the pain or something else entirely. All he knew for certain was that the trailer had stopped shaking. The ground had gone still, and Alex saw the realization dawn on Michael’s face.

                “Alex,” he whispered. “Alex.”

                “It’s me,” Alex said, his voice cracking. “I’m so sorry, Guerin. I’m so sorry I left you.”

                “You’re real.”

                “I’m real.”

                “You’re alive.”

                “I’m alive.”

                “Alex,” he said before he pulled Alex to his chest, his face buried in the crook of Alex’s neck. Alex felt Michael’s hot breath on his skin, his tears, his tight grip, his trembling body. He felt it all.

                “Guerin,” Alex closed his eyes, inhaling Michael’s scent. He had woken up in that hospital room and panicked when he couldn’t find Michael. Now that they were together, he felt his heart at ease, the tension in his body faded away. Whatever had been wrong was fixed now. He could breathe.

                “I’m so sorry,” Michael pulled back, his face wet, his hands running up and down Alex’s head, his arms, his back – as if Michael was trying to reassure himself that Alex was there. “I’m so sorry, Alex.”

                “Shh,” Alex wiped Michael’s tears away, and kissed his forehead. “You saved me, Guerin. You saved my life.”

                “I almost killed you.”

                “I trust you,” Alex said, looking into his eyes, and he felt it again. That sudden surge of energy. It felt like the room was spinning, though Alex knew it wasn’t. “Look, you stopped the earthquake by yourself.”

                Michael frowned, looking around as if just realizing that the ground was no longer shaking. “No,” he muttered. “I didn’t – I didn’t do this.”

                Alex blinked, his brows furrowed. “Then who did?”

                Michael looked up at Alex, and he seemed to realize something as his grip on Alex tightened. “You did.”

                “I stopped it?” Alex sniffed. “What are you talking about? How?”

                “You’re soulmates,” they heard, and turned to see Max standing at the door, his expression astonished. “You shared Michael’s powers.”

                “We,” Michael shook his head, “we can do that?”

                “Sometimes,” Max said. “If you really need to. Alex,” he sighed with relief, his smile wide, “you did it.”

                But Alex was no longer listening. All he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears, the pain of his injury compressing his chest, the weight of exhaustion pulling him down.

                “Soulmates,” he muttered before he lost hold of himself and fell. The last thing he felt before the darkness took over was Michael’s arms around him, both his and Max’s voices calling his name, and he thought that maybe sharing alien powers wasn’t so safe for humans.

Chapter Text

                Alex tilted his head against the pillow, glancing every so often at Kyle who was working on bandaging him up with an intense focus. He felt Kyle’s warm fingers graze his stomach, his hand pressed lightly against Alex’s chest as he laid him down, his arm behind Alex’s neck, helping to keep his head up as he applied ointment to the wound – and something about it all made him want to laugh.

                Instead, he sighed and leaned his head back on the pillow. “Say it.”

                “Say what?” Kyle asked, though his expression was no less tense, his shoulders no less straight, his muscles no less flexed.

                “Whatever you want,” Alex said, covering his eyes with his forearm, trying to ignore the sting in his side. “I’m listening.”

                There was a moment of silence, then, “Okay,” Kyle said, his voice strained. Alex took a deep breath, bracing himself, then—

                “What the hell were you thinking? I thought we were supposed to be partners! How could you jump into this without telling me?!” Kyle raged on, his voice rising with every word.

                Alex lowered his arm after a moment to find Kyle glaring at him. “That it?”

                “Give me a minute,” he said darkly, returning to check on Alex’s bandages. Alex scoffed, and Kyle looked up. “You think this is funny?” Alex said nothing, and Kyle stood. “You think this is funny.”

                “No, no, I just—” Alex huffed a chuckle, and immediately winced. He breathed heavily, stretching out slowly. “I’m sorry, I just – I’ve never seen you so worried about me.”

                “And that’s funny to you?”

                Alex burst out into breathy fits of giggles. “Apparently – ow, ow, ow.”

                “Serves you right,” Kyle muttered, but he fixed another pillow under Alex’s head.

                “You wanted a hospital,” Alex said, wincing, “I’m here.”

                “You shouldn’t have had to come here at all,” Kyle said.

                “Kyle, stop,” Alex said, moving his hand away. “I’m fine.”

                Kyle stepped back, his fists tight at his side as if he was barely keeping himself from touching Alex again. Alex wondered when he would change into his doctor’s coat. After having seen Alex’s state, he had driven him to the hospital and put him in a bed without ever changing. The airman wondered if that was even allowed.

                “I hate this,” Kyle said, leaning against the wall, his arms crossed tightly. “I hate that you went without me.”

                “You hate that I’m the only one injured?”

                “Yes,” he snapped. “God, Alex, you still don’t get it.” He came to tower over Alex, his hands on the bed. Alex didn’t know why he was suddenly nervous, his heart racing. Maybe it was a reaction to the medication.

                “You could’ve died, do you understand that?”

                “It’s been days,” Alex noted. “Have you slept at all?”

                “Are you even listening to me?”

                “Kyle, I’m fine,” he sighed. “Better I end up in here than the both of us. At least no one found out you were in on Project Shepherd, too.”

                “So that’s your brilliant conclusion? That everything’s okay because you would’ve been the only one who died?”

                “I didn’t die.”

                “You could have, Alex, and you don’t even care!”

                “Kyle, I’m military, remember?”

                “Why are you so calm about this?!”

                “You’re the doctor, shouldn’t you be the calm one right now?”

                “I almost lost you!” Kyle snapped, and Alex turned to look at him with furrowed brows. “You’re – you’re my…” He sighed, and slumped down in the chair next to Alex’s bed. “I almost lost you, Alex.”

                Alex stared for a moment, then looked to the ceiling. “You didn’t. I’m fine.”

                “Alex,” Kyle started, and Alex had the feeling there was something he really wanted to say, but after a pause, he shook his head. “Never mind.”

                “What?”

                “Nothing,” he said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his eyes. “You wouldn’t listen away.”

                Alex considered this, then, “I’m sorry I laughed.”

                Kyle brought his hand down, watching Alex. Alex ignored the goosebumps forming along his arms at the doctor’s eyes on him. Should he mention it to Kyle? Maybe there was some kind of pill he could take.

                “I just don’t get it, Alex. I know how you think, and this didn’t make any sense.”

                “You know how I think,” Alex repeated under his breath. He didn’t know if he liked or hated having Kyle in his head.

                “I know you like to do things alone, but that was always about wanting to protect everyone,” Kyle crossed his arms, “but lately, it’s like you’ve been trying to get yourself killed.”

                “And that’s a bad thing?”

                A pause, then, “Is this about Guerin?” Alex tried not to wince. “You don’t have anything to prove to him, Alex.”

                “I know,” Alex said.

                “Do you? Because you used to be smarter than this. You used to actually care about—”

                “Well, maybe I cared too much!” Alex snapped, and Kyle blinked, falling silent. “My entire life, that’s all I’ve done, is care. I cared what my dad thought of me, I cared what my brothers said, I cared about Maria and Liz, I cared about Michael, and now they’re all gone! Everyone is – ah—”

                Alex winced loudly, his hand over his side. Kyle was beside him in an instant, guiding him back down, his hand over Alex’s. “Everyone’s gone,” Alex breathed as Kyle helped him settle in.

                “I’m not gone,” Kyle said, and Alex blinked.

                “What?”

                Kyle sat back down in his chair, and leaned forward. “I’m not gone, Alex. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere. Isn’t one person, someone who you know – someone who cares about you… isn’t that enough?”

                Alex clenched his jaw and looked away. “I don’t want to care anymore. If you’re all I have, then—”

                “Then we care about each other,” Kyle finished. “Then we fight together.” He shrugged a shoulder. “That’s how we work, Manes.”

                Alex’s brows furrowed. There it was again. Manes. Alex had never heard his family name said with anything but disdain, and yet Kyle always said it as if it was something precious, something valued, something he loved. Even after Jesse had killed Jim Valenti, Kyle still protected Alex, still looked after him, and he was still willing to walk into danger with him.

                “Why?” Alex whispered. “You know what my dad’s done.”

                “Alex,” Kyle breathed, the look on his face genuinely confused as he shook his head. “What does any of that have to do with you?”

                Anything else Alex was going to say disappeared, his thoughts turned quiet. He still remembered Michael’s face, the way his eyes had followed Alex as if wary of him, the way he’d looked at Alex like the airman had been personally responsible for every miserable thing that had ever happened in his life, and all this time, Alex had thought Michael was right for treating him like the same criminal his father was. But now, at Kyle’s question, he found his mind a blank. What does it have to do with you?

                Alex didn’t know.

                “I’m sorry I got mad at you for laughing,” Kyle said, leaning back in his chair with a sigh.

                Alex shook his head, the corner of his lips rising in a half-smile. “I shouldn’t have left you behind.”

                “No, you shouldn’t have,” Kyle said, and they both chuckled tiredly.

                “I think the medication’s getting to my head,” Alex said, rubbing his face.

                “You should get some rest.”

                “So should you.”

                Kyle pressed his lips together and looked to the clock on the wall. It was past midnight. Then he looked back at Alex, and said, “Later.”

                “What, are you planning on watching me sleep?”

                Kyle crossed his legs, seemingly trying to get comfortable. “Part of the curse, I guess.”

                “What curse?”

                “Caring,” he said.

                Alex watched as Kyle took his own jacket off and blanketed himself with it. As he adjusted his position, Alex felt his heart hammering again, and he found that he couldn’t think of Liz, or Maria, or even Michael – but of Kyle.

                He put a hand over his heart, his fingers digging into his chest, and turned his face away to hide the blush that had spread to his cheeks. “Yeah,” he said, barely over a whisper. “I guess it is.”

Chapter Text

                Alex woke to the sound of his phone ringing. He was used to fully waking at the drop of a hat, but after several sleepless nights pouring over Project Shepherd files, staring at computer codes for all hours of the day, and multiple injuries that had left him nearly dead at least three times within the last two months, Alex’s sleep schedule had been off. It was why, as he reached for his phone, he didn’t bother to open his eyes.

                Kyle was the only one that called him anyway, which meant that Alex had a few more seconds to sleep through the, “Are you sure you’re up for this?” questions before he had to get up, get dressed, and get going.

                Without saying a word, he mindlessly answered the call, pressed the phone to his ear, and waited for Kyle to speak, as he himself was too exhausted. Then—

                “Private, you there?”

                Alex frowned, his brows furrowed as he sat up, instantly awake. The background wasn’t the silence of a hospital or home, but the rowdiness of a bar. And the voice that spoke was…

                “Guerin?” Alex said the name slowly, as if foreign to his lips, his voice hoarse from sleep.

                “You are there,” Michael said, and he sounded… relieved? Alex pushed the thought away, hard and fast. He hadn’t heard from Michael in nearly three months after he’d caught him and Maria at the Wild Pony together. Michael sounded like he was there again.

                “Alex?”

                Alex sighed, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. Maybe if he hung up, he’d still have a chance to go back to sleep before the night was ruined. “I’m here.”

                “You sound good,” Michael said, then, “No, you sound tired. But you – you know, you sound good when you’re tired, and when you’re just good – you sound good.”

                Alex shut his eyes, his hand falling to the bed. “You’re drunk,” he said, though he hardly needed a confirmation.

                “Yeah, I drunk…” he took a moment’s pause, then, “I drank a lot. But not that much… but more than usual.” He sighed. “I kept drinking until I could pull my phone out, then I kept drinking until I could dial, then I kept drinking until I could call. And now I’m talking to you, Private.”

                “Yeah,” Alex muttered. “Where are you? Does Max know?”

                “He knows,” Michael said. “Can you come?”

                “Why? I thought Max knew where you were.”

                “He knows,” he repeated in the same tone. “Can you come anyway?”

                Alex took a deep breath, his fist clenching in his blanket. “No, Guerin, I can’t.”

                Michael said nothing, and for a minute, Alex was worried he had passed out. He hated that; he hated that he still worried, that he still thought of Michael at all, that he didn’t have the common sense to peek an eye open before answering his phone.

                “I need you, Alex,” he said.

                Alex’s frown deepened, and he hesitated pushing the blanket back. If Michael was hurt, and would refuse to call anyone else…

                “I need to see you,” he said, and Alex clenched his jaw, his hand on his chest. Damn it, he thought. He was still hanging on to every one of Michael’s words.

                “No,” Alex said. “Call your brother, Guerin, not me.”

                Alex was just about to hang up as he thought that maybe he should call Max instead. He didn’t know if he could trust Michael to do it himself.

                “I don’t wanna talk to Max,” Michael said. “I wanna talk to you.”

                “You’re drunk. You need to stop drinking, call your brother, and go home.”

                “I don’t want to—” Michael raised his voice, then brought it back down to nearly a whisper. “I don’t want to call Max. I want to talk to you.” A moment’s pause, then, “And – and I want you to talk to me.”

                Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

                “Talk to you about what?” he asked, then dialed Max’s number, sending him a text to tell him where his brother was. With any luck, he was still on sheriff’s duty tonight.

                “I dunno, just – h-how’s your day going?”

                Alex shut his eyes, exhausted. “It’s the middle of the night, Guerin, I was sleeping.”

                “You’re pretty when you sleep,” Michael said almost dreamily. “I used to watch you, when you were in my bed. I always wanted to touch you and kiss you, but I was worried you’d wake up, so I never did.”

                Alex swallowed past the lump forming in his throat and hummed, rubbing his eyes. He should’ve checked the damn name when he answered. He should have checked.

                “I couldn’t wake you, you always looked so tired,” he continued. “Did you know that? How tired you looked?”

                Alex stared at the bedsheet. “Yeah,” was all he said, not trusting himself to say any more.

                “I wish I could be there with you right now,” he said, and Alex exhaled shakily. “You probably – you don’t want me there, right?”

                Alex said nothing, though his fingers unconsciously tightened on his right thigh. Sometimes when it was cold, he still felt the ache that had settled in his entire body, particularly his leg, after having spent all day waiting in that armchair, his hopeful gaze on the horizon, expecting to see Michael’s truck at any second. But then the sun set and Alex felt anxious. What if something had happened to Michael? What if he’d been hurt? Or worse?

                He had gone to the Pony instead of panicking, choosing to believe that Michael was fine and alive, that he’d simply forgotten after everything he’d been through, and instead, what Alex had received was a shattered heart, never to be mended again. He knew then that there could never be anything between him and Michael Guerin. And he’d told him as much.

                “No,” he said, his voice barely over a whisper, but firm enough that Alex could feel every cell in his body push the words out of his mouth. “I don’t.”

                Michael was silent, then, “You don’t love me anymore?”

                Alex’s shoulders fell, his voice a plea to his own ears as he said, “Guerin—”

                “I can’t ask, Alex – I can’t,” there was shuffling, and the sound of glass scraping wood, “I can’t ask. I can ask now, I’m sorry, but I can, and I’m asking. Tell – please tell me. Do you not – you don’t love me anymore?”

                Alex shook his head, his jaw clenched so tightly he felt blood. His eyes burned, and he rubbed them roughly. “It’ll just kill us both,” he said, and Michael seemed to take that as an answer because Alex stopped hearing his voice. He exhaled shakily. “Guerin? Guerin, are you there?”

                There was a long moment of silence, and Alex, with dread crawling up his throat, pushed the blanket off his legs, swung them over the side of the bed, and was just reaching for his prosthetic when he heard—

                “Can I still love you?”

                Alex froze, his grip on his phone like iron. He couldn’t trust himself to speak, didn’t even know what he’d say if he could, but he listened closely to the other end in case he’d heard wrong. When Michael said his name, he blinked out of his thoughts. Michael was drunk. This conversation couldn’t mean anything because he was just drunk.

                Alex had to remember what Michael was like when he was sober, the way he talked to Alex, the way he taunted him. He couldn’t keep coming back to the cowboy for this, couldn’t keep trusting that they could have something, couldn’t keep trusting him.

                “I…” he tried, but soon heard a familiar voice on the other line calling Michael’s name, asking him how much he had had to drink. It was Max.

                “I’m just talking to him,” Michael said, some anger seeping into his voice, and Alex shut his eyes. “Alex,” he said, his voice clearer, “Alex, tell me, tell me I can—”

                But Alex never heard what Michael wanted him to do because he hung up right then, and blocked Michael’s number. He let the phone fall to his lap, and stared at it.

                After what felt like an hour had passed, Alex slowly put the phone on his nightstand, and lay back down in bed, his blanket pulled up to his chin. Alex closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but he knew there would be no use. He was wide awake now.

Chapter Text

                Alex exhaled shakily, his finger tapping on the metal desk as Liz, Max, Isobel, and Michael swarmed around him, going over scenarios and plans. Alex ducked his head, his eyes shut tight, trying not to think of the last time he’d seen Kyle in his cabin, the way he and Alex had laughed together before the door was suddenly broken down and armed soldiers flooded in.

                Alex had barely enough time to knock two to the ground before Kyle was suddenly beaten unconscious and taken away, and Alex’s attention had diverted for a second. It had been enough to get the airman on the ground, calling Kyle’s name, promising he would come get him.

                “Enough!” Alex snapped, and the bunker went silent. He looked up at the computers where surveillance from the cabin was playing. Alex had installed the cameras in case of a break-in, but now, as the screens played the attack on a loop, Alex found himself wishing he’d never had the damn things put up at all.

                “Alex,” Liz said, her hand on his arm, but Alex moved away. He didn’t deserve any comfort.

                “I’m going back to the cabin,” he said, throwing his backpack over his shoulders. “Maybe there’s something there that I can use to ID those soldiers with.”

                “We’ve looked a hundred times,” Max said, his arms crossed.

                “And we never found anything,” Liz added.

                “Do whatever you want here,” Alex said, making sure his gun was at his belt. “I’m going.”

                “Alex,” Michael took his elbow, and Alex pulled away. He tried to ignore the hurt look that passed Michael’s face as he turned to the door. “Alex, wait.”

                “The longer we wait, the harder it could be for Kyle. You guys keep looking over the footage and the files, and I’ll go to the cabin and do my own search.”

                “But you already tried that, Alex,” Isobel said.

                “And now I’m a lot calmer, so maybe I’ll find something I didn’t the first time. I’m going. Any more objections? No? Okay then.”

                Without waiting for their word, Alex opened the bunker door and walked out. It slammed shut behind him, but not before someone else came through.

                “Alex, stop for a second,” Michael said, falling into step beside him. “You’ve been running on adrenaline for over a day, you’re gonna collapse if you don’t—”

                “I’ll rest when Kyle’s back where I can see him.”

                Michael said nothing for a moment, and he must’ve stopped following Alex because when he spoke again, he was far behind him. “It wasn’t your fault, you know.”

                Alex sighed, rubbing his face. “Not now, Guerin.”

                Michael jogged up to him. “I know the reason who’re trying so hard to get him back is because you feel guilty, but you shouldn’t. There was nothing you could’ve done.”

                “I don’t feel guilty, Guerin, I just want him back.”

                Michael stopped. “What do you mean?”

                “What do you mean, what do I mean?!” Alex snapped. “My best friend was taken, and I want him back, what part of that don’t you understand?!”

                “Why are you getting angry at me?”

                “I’m not! I’m…” he stopped, taking a deep breath. He had to calm down, he had to. “I’m not,” he said again, his voice lower. “I’m sorry, I’m just… look, you can stay here if you want, but I have to go, okay? I’m sorry, I really have to go.”

                Alex turned to leave, his eyes burning. He hated that after all this time, after everything that had happened, Michael could still get to him. Kyle was barely gone a day, and Alex already missed having someone to talk to who wouldn’t make him feel like an open book, someone that didn’t push, someone that didn’t always require so much of him. He wanted Kyle back. He wanted to be with someone who made him want to open himself up more, not someone who made him fear it.

                “I’ll come with you,” Michael suddenly said, and Alex barely gave him a nod as he pulled out his phone. He checked the signal, trying to trace Kyle’s again, but just as it was the first fifty times, he saw nothing.

                He sighed, pocketing his phone. Maybe there were some traces of blood he could find. He remembered breaking one of their noses, they must’ve left evidence behind. Did he have his blacklight with him? Yeah, he was sure he did. Damn, he thought. Why am I panicking? Everything was going to be fine, wasn’t it? Just fine.

                “Alex, stop!” Michael caught at his arm, pulling him back just before a car raced past them. Alex blinked. He’d been so caught in his own thoughts that he hadn’t realized he was walking onto the road.

                His fingers trembled. He was going to lose Kyle. He couldn’t even focus on the path in front of him, how was he supposed to save his friend?

                “Alex,” Michael kept his hold on Alex’s arm tight. “Are you okay?”

                Alex felt himself nod, though his heart raced in his chest, his breathing quickened. He remembered Kyle’s smile, his laugh, his trusting eyes as Alex told him he would protect him no matter what. And now…

                “Alex, hey, Alex—”

                “I can do this, right?” he asked, and Michael turned silent. “I can save him… right?”

                Michael stared a moment, his brows furrowed, then, “You’re really worried about him.”

                Alex released a shaky breath as he crouched down, hugging his knees. His right leg ached with the pressure, but he didn’t care. Where was Kyle? Where was his comforting hand?

                “It’s all my fault,” he whispered. “You were right, Guerin. My family is a curse.”

                “No,” Michael kneeled down on the ground beside him. “Hey, I didn’t…”

                “He got involved with me, and look what happened.” Alex shook his head. “Anyone who comes near me suffers. I just never thought it’d be Kyle. He was never supposed to get hurt.”

                “So you do blame yourself,” Michael said with a humorless chuckle. “Of course you do.”

                Alex bit his lower lip to keep from crying, though his eyes turned glassy. If anything happened to Kyle, he didn’t think he would ever recover.

                “Alex, you shouldn’t—”

                “How can you even say that?” Alex asked, his voice barely above a whisper. “You have no idea how this feels. Isobel lived guilt-free her entire life because you pretended to be the one to kill Rosa. Max is alive and breathing because of you and Liz.” He rubbed his face. “You don’t want to admit it, Guerin, but you fix things. You fix people, and I… I only break them.”

                “That’s not true!”

                “Really?” Alex asked. “Then tell me, who has ever been better off because they knew me? And don’t say you, because I’ll know you’re lying.”

                Michael said nothing for a moment, his eyes boring into Alex’s. Then, he said, “Me.”

                Alex shut his eyes, shaking his head before he stood. He sniffed, wiping his face with his sleeve. Had Michael forgotten that Alex had been there in that toolshed when they were kids? That he had been there at the fair? At Caulfield?

                He sighed. “Let’s just go.”

                Michael said nothing for a moment, then he was suddenly at Alex’s side, walking with him. All that mattered now was Kyle. Conversations with Michael never turned out well, and only led to heartache. Alex had to move beyond that. He had to move forward. He couldn’t live off lies and false sentiments anymore. He needed something real. He needed Kyle.

Chapter Text

                “Er – Guerin?” Michael looked over his shoulder, and his throat fell into his stomach when he saw Alex holding his Air Force sweater which had shrunken at least two sizes, his brows furrowed.

                Alex shrugged. “How?”

                “Uh,” Michael cleared his throat and resumed working, pretending his heart wasn’t hammering in his chest. “I – yeah, I, uh – thought I’d do your laundry for you.”

                “Why?”

                “You were tired,” Michael said simply. “Wanted to help.”

                “Really,” Alex said, though it sounded more like a statement than a question, and Michael shut his eyes. “And what’re you doing now?”

                “Fixing your air-conditioner.”

                “But it’s not broken.”

                Michael shut his eyes, his jaw clenched. This was not how he imagined today going. “Well, uh, I – you know, I…”

                “Guerin?”

                “Hm?”

                “Could you maybe look at me for a second?” Alex sounded amused.

                Michael sighed, his shoulders slumped. He turned to find Alex beside his feet on the ladder, looking up at him with a calm smile at his lips.

                “Why are you fixing it if it’s not broken?”

                “I thought I could get the temperature down,” he said. “Make the place cooler.”

                “And my showerhead?”

                “I was trying to raise the water pressure.”

                Alex nodded slowly, his lips pursed. “And my kitchen floorboards?”

                “Those were splintered, they were a health hazard.” At Alex’s look, Michael sighed, climbing down the ladder until he was standing in front of the airman. For a moment, he thought Alex might move back, might shove him away, but Alex didn’t even look annoyed. Michael wasn’t used to this, to being allowed to stay in Alex’s space without being expected to leave. He so desperately wanted it to be permanent.

                “I was just trying to help.”

                Alex’s smile widened, but he ducked his head, running his fingers over his sweater. “I can’t wear this anymore.”

                “I’m sorry.”

                “It’s too small.”

                “I know.”

                Alex huffed a chuckle, and Michael looked up, surprised, but the airman’s attention was on his sweater. “Kind of feels like a gift from you. Even though it’s mine.” His brows furrowed. “Does that make sense?”

                Michael frowned. “A – A gift?”

                Alex shook his head, his smile dimming. “No, you’re right, it’s stupid.”

                He turned, and, overcome with a sudden panic that this would be the only time they got to talk, Michael reached out, grabbing the hem of his shirt. “I – I didn’t – I didn’t say that.”

                Alex faced him again, following Michael’s hand as he slowly released the airman’s shirt.

                Michael realized he was staring at Alex’s expectant face, and blinked. “It’s just – if you want me to give you something—”

                “No, I don’t,” he rubbed his face. “I don’t want things, Guerin, I – I’m not saying this right – you washed this because you thought it would help me. That’s my gift… you know? The intention.”

                Michael looked at the sweater in Alex’s hands, the way his fingers tightened in the fabric, before he looked up at Alex, something in his chest shifted and warmer. “It really means that much to you?”

                Alex sighed, seemingly relieved to have gotten his point across. “It really means that much to me.”

                He bit his lower lip, and Michael suddenly wished he could bite it instead. Alex seemed so nervous, so insecure, so unsure of Michael’s feelings for him, and all Michael wanted to do was kiss the airman until their lips were swollen and Alex could taste his own name on Michael’s tongue.

                He must not have noticed Michael lean in though because he suddenly pointed at the air-conditioner with his sweater. “Does that really need fixing though?”

                Michael looked at the air-conditioner. No, he should’ve said. Nothing in this place needs fixing. But it’s the only excuse I have.

                “It’s getting pretty late,” Alex said, looking over his shoulder at the window outside. “Shouldn’t you be heading back?”

                Michael searched Alex’s face. He should tell the truth. He should tell Alex there was no need for him to be there. He should leave. And yet…

                He swallowed. “After I fix the bedroom door.”

                “What’s wrong with my bedroom door?”

                “I heard a creaking,” Michael defended, looking to the air-conditioner with his hands on his hips as if evaluating how else to tweak it.

                Behind him, he heard Alex huff an amused sigh. “I’ll put some coffee on.”

                As he walked out, Michael smiled.

Chapter Text

                Alex hadn’t spoken to Michael in months, and Michael had started to feel it within the first week. He thought of Alex when he woke up and Alex when he fell asleep. He thought of Alex as he worked on car engines, changed tires, replaced windows. No matter what he was doing, Alex was on his mind.

                Michael roughly turned the wrench, his other hand on the hood of the car as he thought of the last time he’d seen Alex. The airman hadn’t spoken a word to him, hadn’t even looked at him, but Michael had been able to look at no one else. Kyle Valenti had been with him, his brows furrowed and a frown at his lips as he stepped closer to the airman, close enough to kiss, and Alex hadn’t even turned away. If anything, it looked like he welcomed Valenti’s touch. Just the memory of it burned his chest and had him levitating the lawn chairs and bonfire behind him by accident.

                He closed his eyes, sighing as everything landed roughly back on the ground.

                “Tough day?”

                Michael looked up. It was no wonder that, after being unable to move Alex from his mind for even a second, seeing Kyle Valenti in his junkyard brought up more memories of the airman.

                “What the hell are you doing here?”

                “Some welcome.”

                “You’re not welcome,” Michael said with an edge despite himself, but Kyle didn’t seem the least bit affected.

                “I need to talk to you.”

                “’Bout what?” Michael asked, returning his focus to the engine. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Kyle, to think that Alex had touched him so intimately, that Kyle had kissed him, that they had—

                “Alex.”

                Michael stilled. He swallowed, smirking despite feeling anything but humored. “What? Come to ask for my blessings? You guys wanna have sex, have at it, you don’t need my permission.”

                “Would you shut up for two seconds and listen to me?” Kyle snapped, his voice quiet, but dark. Every muscle in Michael’s body tensed, and his smirk fell away. Taking this as a sign to continue, Kyle ran a hand through his hair, obviously lost on how to phrase the problem. Spit it out! Michael almost yelled, but if it turned out nothing and he seemed too eager, Kyle might tell Alex, and then there really would be no pretending that Michael didn’t care about him.

                “He’s depressed,” Kyle said, and at Michael’s raised brow, he huffed, “Like, really depressed, Guerin. A week after Caulfield, he and I went to visit this psychic who was supposed to have been part of Project Shepherd back in the eighties. She – I don’t know – she freaked him out, told him he was going to end up just like his dad. A monster and alone.”

                Michael frowned. “And Alex bought that? That doesn’t sound like him.”

                “Really? Given recent evidence, you’ll have to forgive him for entertaining the idea,” Kyle said angrily, and it was only now that Michael realized the dark circles under his eyes, the way his hand slightly trembled – Michael wondered how long it had been since he had slept, and if that had anything to do with taking care of Alex. If his airman needed someone to take care of him, and wasn’t bothering with hiding it, then something really was wrong.

                “Where is he now?”

                “The cabin,” Kyle said, then shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He’s been in bed for days. He barely eats or sleeps, I – I don’t know what else to do.”

                And Michael hated to ask. He hated that he needed to ask, but…

                “Where’s the cabin?”

                Kyle’s shoulders fell. He shook his head as if saying that he should’ve known better, and he turned around. “I’ll drive on ahead of you.”

                Michael swallowed, the rag he’d picked up to clean his hands clenched tightly between his fingers. “Later.”

                Kyle stopped in his tracks. “Later?”

                “I, uh,” he gestured to the car in front of him. “I still have to finish this. I’ll go later, just give me the directions.”

                Kyle’s frown deepened as he glanced at the car. “Did you not hear me? Alex needs help, we don’t have time to argue about this.”

                But Michael couldn’t face him. Couldn’t bear to take the rejection in his eyes if he saw Michael. And what if he did accept him? What if he looked to Michael and asked him if he believed in the psychic’s words? If he believed that Alex was anything like his father? How would Michael say no and mean it? How would Alex ever believe him if he lied?

                “He’ll be fine with you for a while,” Michael said, the words burning his tongue. He should be the one with Alex, he should be the one looking after him. To give that honor to Kyle, of all people, seemed like a betrayal of everything his heart yearned for. “After I finish work—”

                “Forget your goddamn work!” Kyle snapped, beating a fist against the car Michael had been fixing. “Alex needs you. Isn’t that more important?”

                Michael said nothing, and Kyle scoffed. “If it wasn’t for Alex, I wouldn’t even bother. But I’ve tried everything, and he’s still miserable. So,” he seethed, pointing at his own truck, “get your ass in the damn car before I put you in a coma, and I swear, I’ll leave you here to rot, Guerin.”

                Michael swallowed, his brows furrowed, his eyes burning. He wasn’t afraid of Kyle, but he was afraid of whatever possessed Kyle to be so protective of Alex. He was afraid that it would take him out of the picture completely, he was afraid that with Kyle so desperate to save him, Alex would think that was enough. That he’d really never think about Michael again.

                Without a word, he did as he was told, and he and Kyle drove in silence. Michael blinked at the large cabin. “How did Alex afford this?”

                Kyle pulled out something glittering from his pocket; a key. Valenti had a key to the place?

                “My dad left it to him in his will.”

                “Your dad,” Michael repeated. The thought of even Kyle’s family protecting Alex bothered him. They were so intertwined, every aspect of their life connected. What was Michael supposed to mean to him?

                “Come on,” he said, opening his door. “Keep your voice down. He was sleeping before I left.”

                They stepped out of the car, up the porch, and into the cabin. As Kyle slowly moved around, Michael couldn’t help but think how smoothly he did it, as if he’d walked these halls a hundred times. He silently inhaled. He had to calm down.

                Kyle glanced over his shoulder at him as they came to a stop in front of a partly closed room, and he gently pushed the door open, revealing a bedroom.

                Michael looked around. It was as neat as he expected Alex’s room might be. No dark colors, no band posters, no anything that might’ve associated this Alex with the Alex he had known as a kid. Instead, there were files strewn around the foot of a bed, several papers having fallen out and jumbled together.

                “What is all this—” he tried to ask, but Kyle instantly turned, shushing him. Michael looked curiously over his shoulder, his heart sinking when he saw Alex sleeping on the bed, his back turned to them.

                “He started to slip a few days after the psychic,” Kyle whispered, very slowly making his way to the bed, and taking a seat beside Alex. “He was obsessed with shutting Project Shepherd down. Little by little, he just stopped showing up at the bunker. Then he stopped sleeping. Then he stopped eating. Then he stopped doing anything. I’ve had to make sure he’s taken his medication over a dozen times already.”

                “Medication?”

                “For his leg,” Kyle sighed. “And nightmares. Sometimes he forgets, but lately it feels like he just stopped caring.” He put the blanket up to cover Alex’s shoulders. “I mean, look at this,” his voice cracked. “Usually, just coming into the driveway would’ve been enough to wake him up. Now, nothing does.”

                Michael stepped closer to the bed. All those times that Alex had ignored him, that he hadn’t even looked at him, and Michael had never known that things were so bad. He remembered his earlier concern of having to lie to Alex, but seeing him like this – so beaten down and sad – it felt like such a pitiful excuse not to face the man he loved.

                Tears filled his eyes, and he whispered, “Was it always this bad?”

                “Just gets worse every day,” Kyle said, and Alex suddenly started hyperventilating, squirming around in bed as if he was bleeding out. “It’s okay,” the doctor breathed, and pushed the blanket down to reveal Alex’s stump.

                He started rubbing circles into the muscle, whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m right here,” soothingly, over and over. Michael watched as Alex’s squirming and whimpers slowly subsided, and he was breathing regularly again, fast asleep.

                Michael stepped back. “W – What was…”

                “He gets a lot of pain in his leg,” Kyle said, seemingly having not noticed Michael move further away in a slight panic as he tucked Alex in again, moving his bangs from his eyes. His hair’s gotten longer, Michael thought uselessly. “Wakes up sometimes with this look on his face, like he’s forgotten.”

                Kyle sighed and stood, pointing to the door. “Come on, we better let him sleep.”

                He walked out, but Michael found himself unable to move. Alex’s brows were still furrowed, though he wasn’t fidgeting anymore. Michael reached down to touch his cheek, but just before he could, Alex groaned and moved away, as if even in his sleep, he was forbidding Michael from coming near him.

                Michael’s fingers curled into a fist, and he let it fall to his side. He kept his eyes on Alex as he moved back, and finally left the room, closing the door behind him.

                “Does his leg hurt a lot?” he finally asked as Kyle went to the kitchen, pulling out a pot.

                “He says it’s just a little discomfort,” Kyle said, opening the fridge and pantry like he was used to doing it. “But I’ve seen enough pain to know what it looks like.”

                Michael leaned against a couch, rubbing his face. “Yeah. That sounds like Alex. What’re you doing?”

                “Making some soup. It’s all he can stomach nowadays.”

                Michael stared. “You usually make him food?”

                “Just lately,” Kyle said without looking at him. “Like I said, he’s been sick.”

                The cowboy swallowed, looking to Alex’s closed door. “He’s like this because of me.”

                “No.”

                Michael looked to Kyle to see him watching him with a dark look in his eyes.

                “Don’t look at me like that,” he said, his hands on the counter. “I’m not saying it for you. I’m saying it for him. Alex won’t break because of you.” He went back to chopping carrots. “No matter what, he would’ve gone to that psychic, and she would’ve told him what she did. Alex was always afraid of ending up like Jesse. One way or another, he would’ve needed to end up here.”

                “What, so depressed he can’t even move?” Michael scoffed humorlessly, the thought of Alex in bed weighing him down.

                “Alex was always heading in this direction, since we were kids,” he said. “He’s always been angry, and then he was scared, then sad, and now he’s just…” he sighed, rubbing his eyes. “He has to have this now. Get it out of his system, but he’ll be fine. I know he will.”

                “Then why am I here?”

                “Because I was hoping you could speed up the process.”

                “There’s nothing to speed up,” someone suddenly said, and they both saw Alex coming out of his room. His voice was hoarse, his skin pale, the circles under his eyes dark, and he leaned against the doorframe slightly before he pushed himself off and made his way into the kitchen. “I’m fine.”

                “You woke up,” Kyle said, the knife and bell peppers falling from his hands as he watched Alex with relief.

                “Were you expecting me to be asleep all day?” Alex asked, though Michael couldn’t miss the way he winced as he put his jacket over his shoulders.

                “Here,” he said, moving toward Alex. “Let me help.”

                “What the hell’s he doing here?” Alex asked without sparing Michael a glance. He opened his fridge and pulled out a water bottle.

                “He came to see you,” Kyle said with a meaningful glance at Michael. “I was just as surprised as you are.”

                Alex tilted his head at Kyle, his hands stilling on his water bottle, his lips pursed as he swallowed. Then, for the first time in a long time, he turned to look at Michael.

                “Is that true?” he asked.

                Michael glanced at Kyle who was watching him as if to say, Lie. Michael swallowed and smiled, though everything in him wanted to hold Alex to his chest and cry. “Yeah, you saying you don’t want me here, Private?”

                Alex watched his face a moment, then scoffed, taking another sip of his water before he said, “You really think I can’t tell when you’re lying?”

                Kyle’s shoulders slumped. “Alex—”

                “I don’t need him here,” Alex said, turning back to the bedroom. “He can leave.”

                “I don’t want to leave,” Michael said.

                “Too bad.”

                “Alex—”

                “Go back to your girlfriend, Guerin,” Alex said, and glanced at Kyle. “You shouldn’t have brought him.”

                “You’re not okay!”

                “And you think he’s going to fix it?” Alex snapped, and Michael stepped back. Alex huffed a humorless chuckle, his glare moving to the cowboy. “I bet you didn’t even want to come here. Right?”

                Michael said nothing, and Alex scoffed, the hurt on his face brief. “What’d you say to him?” he asked Kyle. “What’d you do to make him come? No, never mind, don’t tell me.”

                Alex went into his bedroom, but before Kyle could saying anything, Michael followed the airman, shutting the door behind him.

                “I want you out.”

                “How are you?” Michael asked, and Alex turned to him with narrowed eyes.

                “Fine.”

                “No, Alex. How are you?”

                Alex searched his face, then sighed. “What do you think?”

                Michael clenched his jaw, his eyes burning. “Alex, I’m sorry.”

                “Sorry,” Alex pressed his lips together. “Noted. Bye.”

                “So you won’t even listen to me?”

                “No,” Alex stepped up to him, pointing his finger in Michael’s chest. “You don’t get to do that, not this time. I didn’t leave you, Guerin, this isn’t me walking away. This is me being done. Done with being the monster, done with being the failure, done with losing – I’m just done.”

                “I never meant to—”

                “I don’t care what you meant! I care about what you did!”

                “How could you even say that?” Michael stepped forward, touching Alex’s cheek only for Alex to flinch away as if the touch burned him. “Alex, it’s me. We always fight and we always get back together, that’s how we work!”

                “Really?” Alex asked. “Look me in the eyes, and tell me you’re not angry at me for what my father’s done.”

                Michael exhaled shakily. “Alex, please—”

                “Answer the question, Guerin.”

                “Don’t do this—”

                “Just say it—”

                “Alex—”

                “Say the damn words!”

                “I can’t!” Michael confessed, then, quieter, “I can’t.”

                Alex nodded, and a tear fell down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly and turned as if he didn’t think Michael deserved to see him cry. “Sorry your day was interrupted. Please leave.”

                Michael shook his head, his own eyes filling with tears. He stepped forward, hugging Alex from behind, his hold on the airman tight. “I’m sorry, I’ll stop. Please give me a chance to stop.”

                Alex reached up, gripping Alex’s arm with his hand so tightly that Michael thought his skin would bruise, but he didn’t care. He wanted Alex to hold on tighter, and just before he could say so, Alex called out for Kyle, and tried to step out of Michael’s grip.

                “What – no!”

                “Kyle!” Alex called again, and Kyle came in just as Alex managed to free himself.

                “What happened?”

                “Take Guerin home,” he said without looking at Michael.

                “Okay,” Kyle said, tugging on Michael’s arm. “Okay.”

                Michael felt something inside him burn away as he stepped out of the room, his eyes on Alex, silently begging him to turn around and look at him. But Alex wouldn’t. Not for him.

Chapter Text

                Michael’s eyes felt heavy as he sat at Alex’s bedside, the same place he’d been sitting all day. Alex had woken up hours ago, but seemed paralyzed as he lay on his side, staring ahead into space without uttering a word.

                “Alex,” Michael said, and coughed immediately, his voice dry and itchy.

                Alex hummed briefly.

                “Are you feeling better?”

                Alex said nothing as he turned his face deeper into the pillow. Michael reached out to hold the hand the airman had had beside him, and Alex’s fingers gently closed around his. Since Alex had cried himself to sleep a week ago when he’d come in, Michael found that he’d been more willing to let Michael touch him. The first time Michael had touched his shoulder, he fully expected Alex to flinch away, but the airman’s eyes only closed, and he fell asleep. The second time Michael had lightly touched his cheek, and Alex had actually turned into the warmth. It was one of the reasons Michael found it impossible to leave. He didn’t know when Alex would come back to his senses and refuse Michael’s touch. That, and when Michael was at the airstream, it was impossible to think of anything but Alex.

                He chanced another hand up, gently raking his fingers through Alex’s hair until Alex turned his face from his pillow, looking up at Michael with red eyes. “It’s gonna be okay.”

                Alex sniffed. “Why are you here?”

                Michael took his hand from Alex’s hair. “You want me to leave?”

                Alex said nothing, only tugging Michael’s hand closer so that the cowboy was forced to move out of his chair and stand beside Alex’s bed. “I want…”

                Michael leaned in. “Yeah? What is it? I’ll go get it for you.”

                Alex sighed, a tear sliding down the bridge of his nose. “I want Fiona.”

                His heart beat painfully in his chest. “I… I, uh…”

                “I know, Guerin,” he whispered, closing his eyes, his hold on Michael’s hand tightening as he pulled it to his chest. “I know.”

                Michael hesitated, then leaned forward, and pressed his lips to Alex’s temple.

                Alex inhaled sharply, pulling away, his hand slipping from Michael’s. “What’re you doing?”

                He stepped back. “I – I just—”

                “Alex,” Kyle walked in, his eyes on the file in his hands. “Time for your medication.”

                “But I feel better,” Alex muttered, avoiding Michael’s eyes. “I don’t need it.”

                “Yeah, well,” he closed the file and smiled innocently at Alex, “I’m the expert, and I say you do.”

                Alex rubbed his eyes. “I’m feeling well enough to go home.”

                “And I will happily take you,” Kyle said, helping Alex sit up against his pillows, “in a few days, after your fever’s gone, and I know there’s no threat.”

                Alex winced as he leaned against the pillows, but as Michael blinked, the airman rubbed his face, hiding it from Kyle. “You worry too much,” he said.

                “You don’t worry enough,” Kyle said as he pressed the back of his hand to Alex’s forehead, then his cheek. “You’re sweating, are you nervous about something?” he joked, but Michael couldn’t miss the way Alex glanced at him then quickly away, his cheeks turning red.

                Something in him soared at the thought that he could still make Alex blush. If he could just get Kyle out and be alone with the airman for a little longer, maybe Alex would let him kiss him again, maybe he would listen to Michael, let him explain. Maybe he would forgive him.

                “Well, sweating’s good, it means the fever’s gone down.”

                “So I can leave,” Alex said.

                “I said it’s gone down, I didn’t say it was gone,” Kyle said, checking the IV strips. “You really did a number on yourself, Alex.”

                Alex sighed tiredly, as if he had no energy to say anything else.

                “You want some water?”

                He shook his head, rubbing his face. Michael thought it was meant to look casual, though he couldn’t miss the way Alex focused his fingers on his eyes. “You have anything back at the cabin you want me to bring?”

                “I’ll go,” Kyle stood and stretched. “It’s time for my break anyway.”

                Michael put a hand up, stopping him. “I said I’d go—”

                “Do you even know where anything is?” Kyle asked, and Michael clenched his jaw, unable to answer. He looked to Alex. “I’ll go get it, what do you need?”

                Alex was still for a moment, then, “Fiona’s pictures. They’re in—”

                “Your bedroom, I know. On the nightstand?”

                Alex only nodded, and Kyle patted his shoulder before he promised him he’d be right back, and left. The silence that followed was painful. Michael replayed the scene between the doctor and the airman in his head, the intimacy of it like a nail digging into his heart. Kyle talked like he lived with Alex, and Michael feared that maybe there was some truth to that. The idea that they were so comfortable around each other that Kyle could easily say he would be going into Alex’s cabin without Alex being there, and Alex being so okay with it that he hardly batted an eye – it was all too much. How far behind was he?

                “You mad at me for kissing you?” Alex looked up at him, startled. He shook his head. “Really?”

                “Guerin, I…” he reached out for something beside him, seemed to realize it wasn’t there, and his hand turned to a fist, falling onto the bed. “Why are you here?”

                Michael swallowed, then took a seat in the chair next to him. “Would you have left?”

                “I don’t know,” Alex confessed. “I would hope so.”

                “I wouldn’t. Think about it, I’m lying here, so sick I can’t even leave, and—”

                “I don’t want to think about that,” Alex said quietly, and Michael’s joke fell short. He pressed his lips together, nodding. “So you wouldn’t leave.”

                Alex closed his eyes, and said nothing else. Michael was content with watching him, the corner of his lips turning upward slightly. Alex’s jaw was sharp, his lips pursed, his long lashes curled against his rosy cheeks. It baffled Michael how someone could only grow more and more beautiful every day. Michael leaned in, hoping to just brush his lips against Alex’s cheek, see if it was as warm as it looked, but then the door opened, and he stood.

                “Got ‘em,” Kyle panted. Michael thought he must’ve really hurried if he was so out of breath. “There ya go.”

                “Thanks,” Alex said as he took the pictures, and without taking a second to look at them, he turned them over, and was about to tear them when both Michael and Kyle came closer, yelling at him to stop.

                “Alex, what’re you doing?!” Michael yelled as Kyle snatched the photos from him.

                “You don’t have any copies of these!” Kyle warned.

                Alex stretched a hand toward Kyle. “Give them back.”

                “Are you out of your mind? Kyle asked. “These are the last things you have of her.”

                “And if I get rid of them, I won’t think about her anymore.”

                “You think that makes the pain stop?” Michael asked, and Alex clenched his jaw, his eyes on Kyle as they filled with tears. “You think it makes anything better?”

                “I don’t want to…” he muttered, and Michael felt himself getting angry. This was Alex Manes, his Alex Manes – how could he want to give up so easily? Since when did he prefer numbness to grief? He was supposed to be the one that chose to feel, he was the one that guided Michael back from feeling lost – how would he do that if he was lost, too?

                He grabbed Alex’s shoulders, his grip tight, shaking the airman slightly. “Don’t want what? Don’t want to feel it anymore?”

                Alex squirmed away from him, a tear falling down his cheek. “I don’t want to…”

                “What?”

                “Guerin,” Kyle put a hand on Michael’s shoulder, pulling him back. “Stop it, he’s already sick—”

                “What don’t you want, Alex? Tell me!”

                Alex shoved him away, reaching out to take the pictures from Kyle. “They’re my pictures,” he breathed. “I get to do what I want with them, hand them over.” When Kyle hesitated, Alex snapped, “NOW!”

                Kyle clenched his jaw, his eyes on Alex as he put the pictures back in his hands.

                Fiona was the last proof he had that… he was good. That he was just… Alex.

                “Fine, Alex, that’s fine,” Michael said quietly. “But know this. If you tear those pictures, I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”

                Alex stilled, his expression on the photographs seemingly blank.

                “I’ll walk right out, and you’ll never see me.”

                After what felt like an hour, Alex’s shoulders fell ever so slightly, and he dropped the photos to his lap.

                Kyle released the breath he was holding and said, “Thank you.”

                But Alex didn’t seem to hear him as he stared at the pictures. Michael watched him carefully, to see if he would try to rip them again, but he just settled back against his pillows, his eyes on his dog.

                “Okay,” Kyle said slowly, as if afraid that any sudden loud sounds would frighten the airman. Michael, however, didn’t think Alex was in a state to react to anything. “I have to go finish up my rounds. I’ll be right back, okay?”

                Alex moved onto his side, turning his back to them, Fiona’s photos in his arms.

                Michael caught Kyle’s eyes, the doctor silently warning him to keep an eye on Alex. If he does anything to those pictures, he will regret it. Don’t let him.

                But Michael didn’t need Kyle to tell him. He had feared to leave Alex before. Now he refused it. He stared at Alex, unable to look away. He vaguely registered Alex’s room door opening and closing, and he knew he and Alex were alone. He should’ve kept his distance, he should’ve tried getting Alex to talk first, or maybe he should’ve stayed completely silent. But instead, he sat on Alex’s bed, lying down beside him, his arm around waist.

                Alex tensed in his hold for a moment, his fingers cut with how roughly he was scraping his skin across the photos’ edge, but he soon melted into Michael’s hold, letting the cowboy pull him in against his chest.

                “Just for a little bit,” Alex muttered, another tear falling down the bridge of his nose.

                Michael nodded, pressing his nose against the nape of Alex’s neck, his hold on him tightening.

Chapter Text

Kyle swallowed nervously, glancing over his shoulder at Alex who had his back turned to him, his eyes on a screen, his headphones on. He and Alex used to do all their work together, their heads buried over files, their words of aliens and planet alignments and government organizations with only a few jokes and meaningless comments in between, but they had been close enough for Kyle to inhale Alex’s scent. Close enough for Kyle to actually look forward to coming to the bunker, despite knowing that whatever they found out would end in either blood or tears or both.
He blamed himself. When he had first said those words two weeks ago, he knew there would be some repercussions, he knew he may lose Alex, but he couldn’t bear holding it in anymore, not when it was eating him up from the inside.
And then Alex had gone silent. Red, then silent. With his headphones. Kyle exhaled deeply and cleared his throat, preparing himself. He held his file with a tight grip.
“Alex,” he said.
Alex hummed, focused on the screen in front of him.
“I, uh – I finished looking over some of our dads’ notes.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, I had some thoughts.”
“Hm.”
“I was wondering,” Kyle said, trying his best to make his voice seem casual. “There are a few heat signatures registered here that were found back in the nineties, maybe some more secret government hideaways, I’m in love with you, and I think the decrypted coding is definitely worth looking into more.”
But Alex was already turning in his seat, his eyes wide and brows furrowed as he pulled one headphone off his ear. “What did you just say?”
Kyle swallowed. “Decrypted coding?”
Alex looked suspicious a moment, then shrugged, turning back to his work. “I must’ve been in front of this computer for way too long if I’m starting to hear things—”
“I said I’m in love with you, Alex!” Kyle blurted before he could help it.
Alex stared, startled, then looked away. He took his headphones off and set them in front of him, turning to face Kyle completely. He leaned forward, rubbing his hands together as if wanting to have something to do, but not knowing what.
“I know,” he said. “You told me.”
“And I’m so sorry I did,” Kyle said with a nervous chuckle. He dropped it quickly and moved a chair to sit in front of Alex, keeping far enough away that they didn’t touch, but close enough that he could see every detail of Alex’s face. His eyelashes, each strand of his hair, the sparkle in his eyes that never seemed to go away – and it all soothed him somehow. “Alex, this silence is killing me. I didn’t think it’d make things so awkward—”
At Alex’s raised brow, Kyle shut his eyes. “Okay, I knew it would be awkward, but I didn’t think it’d be this bad! Honestly, you’re pretty blunt, I thought you’d just turn me down right away, but it’s been weeks, and we haven’t talked at all.”
The corner of Alex’s lips rose. “We’re talking now.”
Kyle sighed, his fingers intertwined painfully tight. “If you don’t feel anything for me, could you just tell me? That way, maybe we wouldn’t have to dance around each other so much.”
Alex ducked his head. “I—”
“I mean, just say it!” Kyle stood, moving around the chair to the end of the room. The further away from Alex he moved, strangely enough, the more nervous he got. “I can take it! You don’t think I knew you’d turn me down? I knew! But I wanted to tell you because I don’t think anybody ever tells you which is crazy because you deserve to hear it, Alex, because you’re amazing! I guess that’s why I felt the way I did.”
“Kyle—”
“And – and I know you had that thing with Guerin, but he’s not here, and I am, Alex, and I’m… you know, I’m…”
“In love with me,” Alex finished softly. He stood, moving closer to the doctor. “Kyle, I’m trying to—”
“I know, I know!” Kyle said. “You’re trying to let me down easy, and you don’t want to hurt me, but the truth is, getting hurt is inevitable, and I’m okay with that! I’ve been ready for that. So go ahead, Alex, tell me. I can handle it.”
“Kyle—”
“Go ahead, just rip the Band-Aid off!”
“Kyle—”
“I know I’m not an angry cowboy,” Kyle said. “I don’t have any freaky mind powers, but I can still—”
Kyle was interrupted suddenly as Alex took his face in his hands, crashing their lips together. Kyle made a startled noise at the back of his throat, but as Alex started to pull away, he recognized it more as a whimper.
Alex’s brows were furrowed as if he was confused with what he had done, with how he felt about it, and before he could move too far away, Kyle put his hands on Alex’s waist, pulling him in for another kiss.
“Mm,” Alex barely managed to get out before Kyle was devouring his lips. Kyle felt something in his chest soar as Alex soon melted into his hold, his arms coming around Kyle’s neck. Kyle broke away only for a second to draw breath before he took Alex’s lips in his again, moving him back. Kyle cleared the desk with one hand, letting everything fall to the floor as he pushed Alex against the metal.
He wrapped an arm around Alex’s waist, about to lift him up when Alex put a hand on Kyle’s chest, stopping him. “Wait,” he breathed. “Wait, wait, wait.”
Kyle blinked, releasing Alex immediately, his hand on his mouth. “I’m – I’m sorry, Alex.”
“For what?” Alex panted, rubbing his face. “Letting me kiss you?”
“No,” he shook his head, stepping closer again as he forced himself not to touch the airman. “Not that, never that.”
Alex huffed a chuckle. After their breathing had calmed, he said, his voice quiet, “I want us to talk. Really talk. No more jumping into things.”
And somehow, Kyle understood what he was saying. They had both been in relationships focused more on sex than anything else, and no one knew the heartbreak that came with that more than Alex did. Kyle now understood his fear. He didn’t think he could take it either if what had happened between the airman and Guerin happened between them.
“Is that why you’ve been ignoring me?” Kyle asked. “You want to take things slow?”
“I’ve been trying to figure things out,” Alex said. “I never thought I’d feel this way after Guerin, and after you told me that you… what you told me, all I could think about was kissing you.”
“Yeah?” Kyle couldn’t help the smile at his lips, his body immediately drawn closer to Alex, but then Alex ran a hand through his hair, moving around the desk.
“Yeah, but, Kyle… I can’t keep doing things like this. We can’t.”
“We’re not running into anything, Alex,” Kyle said as he came up to Alex, his hands at his waist. “I know you. I know why you joined the military, I know that you’re an insomniac – you suck at hiding it, by the way, I’m a doctor, remember? – I know that you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met… I know that you love your beagle more than anybody, I know you’re allergic to perfume, I know you hate tomatoes on pizza—”
“It’s weird,” Alex said, though his brows were furrowed and he was watching Kyle with an awed look in his eyes. “The sauce is already tomato, I don’t understand how you like it.”
“I love it,” Kyle said, his hold on Alex’s waist tightening, “because it means I can take yours. And you know you can count on me to do it. We fit, Manes. Whether we’re busting down government conspiracies, or having lunch, we just fit.”
Alex swallowed, his hands coming up slowly to hold Kyle’s face, his thumbs gently caressing the doctor’s cheeks. “Bravest person you’ve ever met,” he muttered. “What would someone like that do now?”
Kyle brought his hands up and down Alex’s sides. “Whatever you want to do, Alex. Because you know me, too. And you know I’m not going anywhere.”
“Whatever I want?” Alex whispered, and Kyle nodded, his lips brushing against Alex’s as the two moved closer to one another.
“Whatever—”
But Kyle never got to finish because right then, Alex closed the distance between them, kissing Kyle as if he needed him to breathe. Kyle wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist, his fingers digging into the airman’s skin, hard enough to bruise through his shirt, but Kyle could only think of holding him tighter. He was completely consumed in Alex’s scent, his warmth, his touch, and he didn’t think it would ever be enough. A part of him thought that after he’d confessed his feelings, they would lessen somehow, but they only grew stronger and stronger. He wanted every part of Alex, every cell, every smile, every word, every kiss. He wanted it all.
They still needed to talk, and they definitely would, Kyle thought. Later.

Chapter Text

                Alex was sitting on the edge of his hospital bed when Michael came in to check on him. He stared off into space, nothing to show that the last twenty-four hours affected him save for his hands tight in his lap.

                Michael sat down beside him, not knowing what to say. He remembered the look on Alex’s face as he stood amongst his fallen brothers, the three of them with their bodies limp on the ground, their eyes closed in an eternal sleep, their bodies soaked in their own blood. Alex had come in fighting with the rest of the Manes soldiers, and they’d died to protect him; their little brother. Alex had not shed one tear.

                He’d kept glancing at his brothers as if he expected them to get up. Then he’d stared ahead like they had been mere strangers, and when they’d left the facility, when the danger was gone, Alex had collapsed. Michael had waited outside his hospital room, terrified out of his mind that Alex had been hit somewhere without his noticing, had suffered some kind of internal wound, but when Kyle had come out, his shoulders slumped and his eyes red, he’d only said that Alex was “really exhausted,” and walked off, unable to take any of their questions.

                “I’ll go check on him,” Liz had said. Michael had almost forgotten that Kyle had known the Manes men, too. A few bad years of high school didn’t change that piece of connected history he and Alex had.

                Michael wondered what words of comfort he could give the airman now, what he could do to take the pain away, to make Alex forget what he had lost. Alex’s brothers had been monsters, had helped Jesse, but that didn’t erase what they had been to Alex. That didn’t erase the fact that Alex must’ve felt like the last of his kind now.

                “You know, when we were kids,” Alex finally spoke, his voice quiet and hoarse from lack of use, “and dad would get angry, and he and mom would fight, Flint and Clark and Jason would take me to one of their rooms. Flint would give me his headphones, and Clark would play the guitar or make some stupid joke or tell me a story about his friends, and Jason would just sit next to me.”

                He shrugged, his eyes turning glassy. “And I always knew what was going on downstairs, you know? But they tried so hard to keep me from it, so I just pretended I couldn’t hear it.” He looked to Michael, a tear falling down his cheek. “See? They weren’t always so bad. Once, they were my heroes. And that’s what I remember.” He swallowed. “And that’s what I lost.”

                Michael could think of nothing else to do but nod.

                Alex sniffed. “So please don’t say anything about them today. I think I’m just a little too broken to take it. Okay?” He sighed. “Okay?”

                Michael clenched his jaw, his fingers itching to take Alex’s. Instead, he nodded silently again, and Alex closed his eyes, exhaling shakily. Michael stared at him as they sat in the quiet chill of the room. However poisoned the blood, it was what Alex had grown up with. It was all the family he’d known for most of his life. Michael didn’t think there was any forgetting that.

Chapter Text

                Alex didn’t sleep much. He’d spent a very, very long time training himself to stay awake, to pick up work he knew would keep him up. He’d always been an amateur insomniac, ever since his mother had left. He’d force himself to stay awake until he couldn’t anymore, and he’d almost always regret it. Now, he’d just become a pro. At least, that was how he thought of it whenever memories of war, or fists pounding against his bedroom door – demanding to be let in – haunted his thoughts. (People thought Alex wasn’t good with jokes, but he had his moments.)

                At first he’d used music to keep himself up. Then he incorporated books. Then computer work (and Project Shepherd had a way of keeping him up like nothing else did). Nowadays, he just watched Michael as he slept.

                The tips of Michael’s curls turned to gold in the moonlight – he’s always bathed in gold, Alex thought – his lashes curled against his rosy cheeks, his lips turned into a cute pout, his arm wrapped around Alex’s waist as if he were the greatest comfort. It felt like a dream, being here with Michael, and Alex often feared that if he closed his eyes, the cowboy would disappear. So he stayed awake, and he watched him. Even asleep, Michael saved Alex from the blood, and pain, and death of his memories. Even asleep, Michael was Alex’s hero.

                “Alex,” Michael muttered, stirring in his state of unconsciousness.

                Alex’s face fell. Sometimes this happened. Michael’s brows would furrow, he’d frown against his pillow, and his arm around Alex’s waist would tighten. He’d make a whimpering noise in the back of his throat, as he was doing now, and Alex would know what was about to happen.

                “The door,” Michael breathed. “They’re breaking down the door.”

                “No one’s breaking down the door,” Alex whispered, hugging Michael to his chest, lips against his hair. “You’re safe here.”

                Michael panted against Alex’s chest, his grip unbearably tight. Sometimes – not often, though it happened – Michael’s grip would hurt. Alex would wake up to bruises and cuts on his skin, and he’d have to hide them from the cowboy. Alex never minded it for himself, though it brought on a rage at those who had hurt Michael as a child, those who had dared lift a finger against him, those who had been meant to love and care for him, and instead had made his childhood a living hell.

                “Doesn’t matter,” Michael would say every time Alex had asked for their names. “It was a long time ago.” And he’d smirk the way he always did, and Alex would see through it the way he always did. Yet he’d know not to go any further, not to dig any deeper into a past Michael clearly wanted forgotten. He’d kiss Michael, and Michael would hold onto him, and any pain or fear or anger would be forgotten as they laid together.

                “I’ll be better,” Michael said, scratching down Alex’s back, desperate to hold onto him. Alex winced, but he hugged Michael closer. “I’ll be better.”

                “Shh,” Alex kissed his forehead. He’d made the mistake of waking Michael up in the middle of a nightmare once before, and had ended up accidentally thrown across the bunker, his back hitting the wall hard enough that he couldn’t find the breath to reassure a panicking Michael that “I’m okay, Guerin, really!”

                He couldn’t take the guilt on Michael’s face then, nor the weeks the cowboy had spent avoiding him afterwards.

                “If I hurt you like that again,” Michael said. “I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

                Alex pressed his lips harder against Michael’s forehead. He would endure.

                “I love you, I love you, I love you,” Alex muttered against Michael’s skin, if only to reassure himself – for a single moment – that Michael was here, safe in his arms. “I love you so much, Michael. Go back to sleep. I’ll protect you.”

                Slowly, and after Alex was sure his skin had been dug into, Michael’s breathing calmed, his body still and curled against Alex’s, his arm remained around Alex’s waist, though his hold no longer felt crushing.

                Alex continued to run his fingers through the cowboy’s curls, and Michael moaned in his sleep, chasing his touch. Alex pressed another kiss to the man’s skin, inhaling his scent. With his forehead against Michael’s temple, Alex closed his eyes.

                Just for a minute, he thought, listening to the soft sound of Michael’s breathing, his heart hammering with every breath against his chest. I’ll just rest my eyes for a minute.

Chapter Text

                Alex was drunk. That much was obvious. Still, Kyle thought, as drunks went, Alex was surprisingly steady. His eyes were closed, his elbow leaning on the bar, his cheek on his palm, and had it not been for his flushed cheeks, Kyle might’ve assumed he was just exhausted. Maybe he was.

                Maybe that was also why, Kyle realized, Alex hadn’t noticed Michael sitting in the corner of the bar, staring at him since they’d walked in.

                Kyle moved closer, and put an arm around Alex’s shoulders, shielding him from the cowboy’s view. His brother was tired, and though Kyle had no clue as to what was going on between him and Michael, he knew enough to know that Alex would not want any eyes on him, no matter whose they were.

                He didn’t need to check, however, to know that Michael was now glaring at him.

                “Hey,” he nudged. “You good?”

                Alex merely hummed, leaning slightly against Kyle. Kyle huffed a chuckle, and rested his forehead against Alex’s temple. He briefly wondered how he ever could’ve walked away from Alex, how he ever could’ve left him behind. He tightened his hold on Alex’s shoulders, bringing him closer. He considered how different things might’ve been if he had been there with the airman from the beginning. Would Alex have known that being with Michael would only break his heart? Would his father have ruled him as long as he had? Would he ever have joined the military?

                Kyle shook the idea from his head. Maybe it was better not to wander down that road.

                “Well, if it isn’t the military man,” a man said as he took the other seat beside Alex. Kyle didn’t recognize him. He raised his brow at him, the way he eyed Alex as if he was a piece of candy, and he pulled his brother in closer. “Is this your boyfriend?”

                Alex did not respond.

                “Hey,” Kyle warned. “Not now, man.”

                The man did not seem to hear Kyle as he leaned in toward Alex. “‘Cause you swing that way, don’t you? That’s what I heard.”

                “Heard from where?”

                “Does it matter?” he finally said with an indifferent glance at Kyle before he returned his attention to Alex.

                “I’ve been watching you for a while, you know. A lot of us have.”

                Kyle’s jaw clenched. “Come on, Alex, let’s go.”

                “Whoa, whoa,” he stood up after them, blocking Alex’s path. “So soon? Listen,” he breathed, “if you really want a guy, I can take good care of you. Would you like that?”

                He doesn’t even smell like alcohol, Kyle realized. He was sober, trying to take advantage of Alex while he was drunk. Kyle felt a wave of nausea hit him, and he pulled Alex behind him.

                “I think you should go,” he said quietly.

                “I think you should mind your own business,” the stranger said. He was taller than Kyle, and with a force Kyle did not think he could possess, he shoved him out of the way, and reached for Alex.

                “Hey, leave him alone!” Kyle yelled, but before he could reach them, the man was violently shoved backwards, hard enough to fall off his feet.

                Alex looked neither surprised nor concerned as Michael came to stand in front of him, his glare settled on the man.

                “Don’t touch him,” he growled.

                He scrambled to his feet, his wide eyes on Michael.

                “You – who the hell are you supposed to be?”

                Kyle hurried to Alex’s side, and pulled his arm. “Come on, buddy,” he said, trying to stay light, though he doubted Alex was processing much of anything right now.

                Alex pulled his arm free, staring at the back of Michael’s head. For a moment, Kyle wondered what he would do, then Alex stepped up to Michael, and put his forehead on the cowboy’s shoulder. Michael did not seem surprised, though Kyle saw him swallow with visible effort, as if it took everything he had not to turn around and pull Alex to him.

                The airman then stepped away, and followed Kyle to the door. At the threshold, Kyle stopped, and looked to Michael. The stranger seemed to be bracing himself for a fight, but Michael paid him no mind. He was instead staring at Alex’s retreating figure. Alex tightened his grip fractionally on the door handle before stepping out. Kyle wondered if – despite his exhausted state – Alex actually had noticed Michael staring. Maybe that was why he’d been so unconcerned with the stranger. Maybe he had just known that Michael would be there to protect him.

Chapter Text

                “Why are you upside down?”

                Kyle tilted his head at his friend. Of all the positions he’d expected to find Alex in, hanging upside down on his couch, staring at the TV as it played Hocus Pocus was not one of them.

                “I was bored of the view,” Alex said.

                Kyle blinked. “Are you drunk?”

                “Am I forbidden to be?”

                “Well, no, it’s just –”

                “Good, then that’s what I am,” he said, and reached for the beer bottle on his other side. “Drunk.”

                Kyle stared. “Did something happen?”

                “Doesn’t something always?” he said, mocking Kyle’s questioning tone, though his expression revealed very little.

                “Hey,” he pulled Alex upright. “Don’t drink upside down!”

                “Let go of me,” Alex yanked his arm free. “I think I’ve earned an upside down drink by now. Damn it.”

                Kyle sat beside him, watching as he took a gulp of his drink, the muscles in his neck clenching as he leaned his head back, his brown locks straight and soft as they fell across his eyes and around his ears and the nape of his neck, his cheeks flushed red.

                Kyle blinked himself out of his thoughts, and asked, “Was it Guerin? You were supposed to see him today, weren’t you?”

                “Supposed to see him,” Alex muttered hazily. “Yup. Supposed to, but I suppose he changed his mind.”

                Kyle’s shoulders slumped. “Don’t tell me –”

                “I waited for three hours,” Alex said.

                Kyle sighed. “Damn it, Guerin. Didn’t you call?”

                “Called, prayed,” Alex said with a sigh, and shut his eyes. “‘Can’t talk right now, Alex. Busy.’”

                “What an idiot.”

                “Aren’t I?”

                “No, Alex, I’m talking about –”

                “I know who you’re talking about,” Alex said. “I just don’t want to hear his name.” He huffed a chuckle. “And you just know he’ll call later, and he won’t apologize, and I’ll be fine with it… because I’m always fine with it.”

                He said the last part so quietly that Kyle almost misheard him. He should call Michael himself, he should guilt him for what he did, but he knew that once Alex was sober enough, he’d hate Kyle for doing it. And it killed Kyle. It killed him that Michael still meant that much to Alex, that Alex was still so protective of him.

                Alex suddenly made a pfft sound. “What if I’m busy, too, y’know?” He looked at Kyle, his eyes hazy. He seemed to have just realized that his friend was there. “Are you doing anything tonight?”

                Kyle raised a brow. “Me? No, I’m always free for you. Why, you wanna hang out?”

                And Alex grinned. It was a different kind of smile than Kyle was used to. He knew Joking Alex, Interested Alex, Friendly Alex, and Badass Alex. This was mischievous. This was an Alex that Kyle knew, if he wasn’t careful with, would be extremely dangerous.

                “Sure,” he said quietly. With lightning speed, he tossed the beer bottle aside, and turned to his friend. He had one hand on the back of the couch, and the other on the cushion, pinning a startled Kyle beneath him. “Let’s hang out.”

                “Er – I,” Kyle cleared his throat. “I’m a little impressed you’re so steady since you’re – you know – obviously drunk out of your mind.”

                “And you’re worried about me,” Alex said with a deep chuckle that did nothing to help Kyle think. “Always you, Kyle. Always worried. And they say chivalry is dead.”

                “I wish I was dead.”

                Kyle tried to think of what would be appropriate to say in this situation, but could come up with very little. It was a hard enough time to concentrate when Alex’s body hovered so closely to his own, the airman’s collar hanging down, revealing his strong, hairy chest.

                Kyle had his hands between him and Alex – the only barrier, mind you – and he kept his face turned away, his eyes searching the room while trying to avoid Alex as he leaned in closer and closer.

                “Uh – A-Alex, as your best friend, I should tell you –”

                “You’re pretty sexy when you’re on your back,” Alex said in a voice barely over a whisper, his brows slightly furrowed. “I’ve never noticed that before.”

                “Well, maybe that’s – uh – maybe that’s because lying together like this is reserved for boyfriends, which is – you know – i-it’s not – we’re not boyfriends. So –”

                “Do you wish we were?” Alex said. Kyle gasped as the airman’s breath fanned his ear. He caught Alex’s scent (he smells like maple syrup and wood, Kyle thought), and felt Alex’s chest against his closed fists.

                What would he say? No? It was a lie, and Kyle couldn’t deny it. He wanted to be Alex’s. He wanted Alex to see Michael, and smile carelessly. He wanted Alex to be happy, and safe, and his. He wanted to kiss the airman whenever he wanted, and hold onto him, and run his hands up his shirt. He wanted to hear Alex’s breathy moans against his ear, and give him absolute pleasure like he’d never known before. He wanted to be the one to make Alex laugh, to break his walls down, to hug him whenever he acted like nothing bothered him. He wanted everything, and Alex was everything.

                “I…” he felt Alex’s lips against his cheek, and his eyes fluttered, his words locked in his throat.

                “Do you want me to be your boyfriend?” He felt Alex’s fingers against his stubbled chin, then he felt the airman’s hand slip further down his throat, then his chest. He almost took Alex’s hand in his as it passed over his fingers, his fists uncurling under Alex’s touch. Then Alex’s hand settled on his stomach.

                “I bet you’d love me better than Michael,” Alex said, and Kyle couldn’t help his next word.

                “Yeah,” he breathed. Alex’s voice was so deep, so quiet, his fingers so warm. Kyle wanted to pull him in closer.

                Alex pressed his nose to Kyle’s cheekbone and inhaled. “I bet you’d get me so hard.”

                “I would,” Kyle slowly put his hands on Alex’s waist.

                “I bet you’d make me scream.”

                “Alex,” Kyle panted, and felt Alex’s weight on him. He hugged him closer only to realize that Alex wasn’t kissing his cheek or neck, his hands weren’t going up Kyle’s shirt, and he wasn’t hard in his jeans. He had fallen asleep.

                “Alex?” Kyle looked down at the airman, the way he curled against Kyle’s side, his hands balled into fists, his rosy lips turned to a pout. Kyle exhaled deeply. “Of course.”

                Of course Alex wouldn’t sleep with him when he was in his right mind, of course Alex had fallen asleep. Kyle mindlessly ran a hand up and down his friend’s back. “You’re an idiot, Valenti.”

                Alex made a soft noise in the back of his throat, and nuzzled against Kyle’s neck before settling comfortably again, his breaths soft and warm against the doctor’s skin.

                Kyle smiled sadly at his best friend. Tomorrow, he decided, when they’d wake up and this whole night would feel like a bizarre dream, Kyle would deny any of it had happened. Alex would ask with hesitance and embarrassment (if he remembered or asked at all), and Kyle would look at him funny, and pretend not to understand. He’d spare Alex the humiliation.

                “But tonight, Manes,” he muttered, pulling Alex in closer. “Tonight, you’re mine.”

                And with one arm around Alex, the other pillowing his head, Kyle closed his eyes with nothing but Alex’s warmth to shield him from the cold.

Chapter Text

                “Alex?”

                Michael pinched the bridge of his nose. He was exhausted. He’d been looking through these Project Shepherd files on Alex’s kitchen counter for hours, but it felt like years. The sky had turned black (Michael was pretty sure it was past midnight), but the snow was still falling outside. His mug of hot coffee had turned cold, and Michael shivered. As he stared out the window, he called again.

                “Alex.”

                And again, no reply came. Alex had turned remarkably silent around noon, and it was only half an hour ago when his beagle, Buffy, had decided to bark incessantly before dragging him out of the kitchen. Michael was secretly glad for it. Alex looked like he would be sick if he saw his family name on one more record.

                Michael shut his eyes and turned away from the files, unable to take another glance at them himself. It was brutal work, he realized, to involve yourself in Project Shepherd. He wondered if this was what Alex had sat through all those months that he and Kyle had spent working through the Manes’ documents. It made Michael sick. How had Alex not collapsed under the weight of it all?

                “Alex, are you…” his words trailed off as he stepped into the living room. There Alex was, curled around Buffy in front of the fireplace. He had his arm around his beagle’s waist, his sweater having ridden up his own. The flames reflected a golden tinge on Alex’s smooth skin, and Michael found his eyes lingering there longer than he knew he was allowed.              

                He swallowed the lump in his throat and came up to Alex, taking a seat behind him, his back against a table leg. He stared at Alex’s form, his dark hair curled around his ears and the nape of his neck, his shoulders rising and falling with each soft breath.

                Michael huffed a chuckle. “So this is where you were.”

                At his words, Buffy suddenly looked up at him, her eyes boring into his.

                Michael raised a brow, and tried not to blush as if the dog had heard his thoughts. “What? I didn’t do anything.”

                Buffy stared a moment, then set her head down, and went back to sleep with her paw against Alex’s cheek. Michael knew it was ridiculous, but he envied her. She had the freedom to curl up beside Alex, to touch his jaw without any fears or repercussions. On nights like this, when sweaters and hot drinks just weren’t warm enough, all Michael wanted to do was hold Alex. He remembered dark winter days when Alex had still been away at war, and the fear of what had happened to him, whether or not he was still alive, made the hours unbearable. In that time, he had wanted nothing more than to know where Alex was, that he was safe.

                Now, Michael wanted to reach out and touch him. So he did.

                His fingers were slow and hesitant, and he found himself glancing more at Buffy than he did at Alex, afraid she would wake up again, and bark, and alert Alex to what the cowboy was doing.

                When his fingers touched Alex’s exposed skin, he closed his eyes, the warmth from that small bit of contact spreading throughout his entire body. He sighed deeply.

                “Damn it,” he breathed. He’d hoped it would be enough, but he felt unable to pull away. “Just this once,” he muttered. Just this once, he wanted to touch Alex as freely as if they were together, like they were supposed to be. Just this once, he wanted to have Alex curled against him. Just this once, he wanted to know that the airman was in his arms, that he was protected.

                Slowly, Michael moved to lie behind Alex, bringing an arm around his waist. He held his breath as Alex’s back fit perfectly against his chest, as Alex stirred slightly but otherwise seemed comfortable and content.

                Michael pressed his nose to the back of Alex’s head, inhaling his scent. Suddenly, all the misery of Project Shepherd faded away, and all that was left was Alex and Michael in front of the fireplace together.

                Buffy peeked her eyes open at Michael, and Michael was unable to help but smile, ruffling her fur. “Yeah, you, too.”

                Buffy seemed satisfied with that, and closed her eyes. Michael closed his as well, and opened them again when he felt Alex’s hand come up to cover his own on his waist. Alex patted his hand gently, as if he was the one protecting Michael, and kept it there.

                Michael’s eyes burned, and he pressed a soft kiss to the nape of Alex’s neck, the storm outside going on, unnoticed.

Chapter Text

                Michael woke to the howling winds outside his airstream. The sheets were pulled up to his shoulders, the pillow beneath his head warm and soft, the trailer trembled slightly in the dust storm – it was all familiar, and had Michael not felt a searing pain surging throughout his body when he’d tried to move, he might’ve thought that he’d just fallen asleep. His skin was healed, he knew, there was no need for bandages, and yet he could feel his insides burning.

                “Be careful,” a voice said. “You’re still recovering.”

                Michael didn’t need to look to know who it was. His head fell back onto his pillow, and he stared up at the ceiling.

                “I didn’t think you’d be here.”

                “Yes, you did.”

                Michael finally looked over to Alex. The airman had his arms crossed, knees pulled up to his chest as he sat against the wall. When he stood, Michael noticed him wince. He’s been here a while, he realized.

                “Fine,” Michael said, his voice hoarse from lack of use. “I did.”

                Alex stretched his arms over his head, and Michael’s eyes fell to the sliver of exposed skin as his shirt rode up. Michael expected him to find some excuse to leave, to say that he’d been waiting long enough and wanted to go home now, to call Max and tell him that his brother was awake. Alex, instead, surprised him by sitting beside his legs on the bed.

                “Do you remember what happened?”

                Michael rubbed his temples. “I remember the ground shaking. I remember seeing a lot of white. I…” and his eyes closed, realization dawning. “I lost control.”

                “Mm,” Alex’s eyes were searching his face, probably still wary of him, and Michael realized with a crushing ache in his chest that he’d frightened the airman.

                Michael looked away, unable to meet his eyes. If only for a moment, a single second, Alex had been afraid of him. His hands trembled.

                “I’m sorry,” he croaked out.

                “You should be,” Alex’s voice was calm, but his eyes flashed with a ferocity that always tugged at Michael’s heart. “You almost died.”

                Michael looked at him, startled. “That’s what’s bothering you?”

                Alex raised his chin defiantly. “If it was the other way around –”

                “It wasn’t.”

                “But if it was –”

                “Don’t talk like that!” he snapped. “Don’t even entertain the idea, Alex.”

                They were left in silence for the next few minutes, neither of them able to completely meet the other’s gaze.

                “If it was,” Alex quietly insisted, “wouldn’t it have scared you? Wouldn’t you have wanted to… sit with me until I’d woken up?”

                And the hope in his voice, the doubt – it crushed Michael. Alex wasn’t sure Michael would’ve been as worried, as torn up, if it had been him with his muscles aching and his heart burning.

                Michael shook his head against the pillow. “If anything had happened to you, Alex… it would’ve killed me.” He shut his eyes. “But I’m not you. You’re good, and I’m…” he trailed off with a sigh. “You should’ve let me die.”

                After a moment, Alex leaned back against Michael’s legs, his fingers interlaced over his stomach as he stared at the ceiling. “I would’ve, but you owe me money.”

                Michael’s brows furrowed. “No, I don’t –” he’d barely managed to say before a roll of bills was flung at his face. “What the –”

                “Now you do,” Alex said as casually as if he’d been talking about the weather. “So you can’t die.”

                Michael raised his brow at the dollar bill on his chest, and huffed a chuckle despite himself. Alex’s weight on his legs, oddly enough, did not hurt, but kept him warm and cozy. He had half a mind to ask Alex to crawl under the sheets with him, to curl up against the airman and rest his head on his chest.

                “You like me that much?” he asked, and Alex didn’t answer. Michael thought that was fine, he didn’t need to hear it anyway. Alex’s comforting weight, reminding Michael that the airman was there, and worried about him, was more than enough for now.

Chapter Text

                The rising sun-bathed the desert in gold and pink hues, the sky still glittering with stars. Michael smiled at the light peeking through his window curtains, splaying across his airstream and the man curled against him.

                His grin widened as Alex Manes nuzzled against his hairy chest, and wrapped his arms around the cowboy’s waist, bringing them closer together. Michael hugged Alex’s shoulders, pressing his lips to the airman’s hair, then his forehead, then each of his eyes.

                “Mm,” Alex scrunched his nose, and Michael leaned down to kiss that, too.

                Michael, in that moment, couldn’t help but remember the days that he’d been too afraid to kiss Alex in the morning, terrified that the airman would wake up, realize he’d slept over, and rush to leave. Even as Michael had held Alex in his arms (never as tightly as he had wanted), losing him was always a threat, looming over Michael’s head and disrupting any peace he had. For a moment, it had felt like he would never be allowed to touch Alex again, let alone hold him.

                But Michael closed his eyes. Those days are over, he had to remind himself. Gone were the moments that Michael had to worry, gone were the moments he and Alex suffered, gone was the jealousy, the longing, the torment. It was just him and Alex now, as he had always wanted. Him and his Alex.

                And maybe it was just to prove to himself that he could, or maybe it was because he could think of nothing else he wanted to do more, but Michael leaned down, and kissed Alex’s lips. It was not gentle or light, as he knew Alex might’ve expected so early in the morning, but fierce and passionate. Michael tilted his head to deepen the kiss, and even in his weariness, Alex moaned as Michael devoured his lips.

                “Guerin,” Alex breathed when they’d both needed to pull back for air. “Wow, what – what are you doing?”

                “I love you,” Michael blurted, and Alex’s eyes widened fractionally. They’d both made the confession at least once before, but never so suddenly, so matter-of-factly, as if it was obvious that Michael loved Alex, that he was made to fit perfectly against the airman.

                “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” Michael said in one, deep sigh, and Alex burst into giggles, holding Michael’s face in his hands.

                “I love you, too, Guerin,” he said, and Michael loved that. He loved how easily Alex could say it back, how his voice turned softer and his eyes shined brighter when the words left his lips, as if they lit him up from the inside.

                Michael bit his lower lip, and moved to hover over Alex, the airman’s legs on either side of him, wide and welcoming. “Kiss me, Alex.”

                Alex tried to squirm away. “No, we can’t do this the second we wake up, or we won’t get anything else done!”

                His voice bubbled with laughter, and Michael found he wanted to taste that laugh. “Who cares?” he said, and pinned Alex’s wrists to the mattress. The way his muscles clenched, the hair on his body, the rise and fall of his chest as he eyed Michael with weakening resolve made Michael want to bury himself in Alex, to drown in this dreamlike peace, and never wake up.

                Michael leaned in, and whispered, “Kiss me, Private.”

                And Alex’s eyes fell shut as his mouth captured Michael’s in a long, sensual kiss, slower and more of a desire to give in to each other than any of their past kisses had ever been.

                Michael’s hands came down to Alex’s hips, bringing him closer, closer, closer until there was no space left between their two naked bodies, and Alex’s fingers dug into Michael’s hair, keeping him close enough to kiss.

                As the sun continued to rise outside the window, it brought more and more light into the room. The moments of painful endings were over, Michael thought. It was a new day.

Chapter Text

                Alex sang when he was exhausted. Michael didn’t think the airman knew this about himself, but there were times in the bunker when they had been looking over files and computer coding and alien symbols all day, and around the four day mark, Alex would start singing, and Michael would know he’d hit his limit, and needed rest.

                Even now, Michael looked up from his files, unable to help the grin forming at his lips when he heard Alex singing La Vie en Rose under his breath.

                “When you press me to your heart, I’m in a world apart, a world where roses bloom.”

                Michael cleared his throat once, twice, almost regretting it when Alex’s singing stopped.

                “Hm?” Alex hummed, blinking with wide eyes over his shoulder. Michael tried to contain his laugh. He hated how cute Alex could be without even trying.

                “You – uh – think maybe you should call it a night, Private?”

                Alex frowned. “Why?”

                “Why? You’re singing again, Alex.”

                Alex listened as if expecting to hear his own voice, and shrugged a shoulder. “No one’s singing, Guerin.”

                “Alex,” Michael chuckled, “you were just singing some French song. You’re exhausted.”

                Alex returned to his work. “I’m fine.”

                “Private…” Michael tried, but the airman was concentrated on his work. He sighed, and returned to his files. About an hour later, he heard faint, soft singing echoing in the bunker, and he quietly laughed into his papers.

                He stood, and turned Alex’s chair so that the airman was suddenly facing him. Alex looked startled. The fact that he hadn’t been prepared for it was more than enough proof that he needed to rest.

                Michael placed both his hands on the armrests, caging Alex in. “You’re singing again.”

                Alex blinked, as if just realizing Michael had spoken to him, and said, “Are you sure you’re not imagining this? I don’t sing when I’m tired.”

                “Yes, you do.”

                Alex sighed and leaned back in his chair, holding Michael’s gaze. Or trying to, at least. His eyes kept drifting over Michael’s shoulder. Michael resisted the urge to kiss him.

                Damn. He’s too cute. Michael was sure that would be a bigger problem later.

                “I’ll leave after I’m done with this,” he finally said.

                “Alex, no.”

                “I’m on the last few pages.”

                “They can wait till tomorrow.”

                “Guerin –”

                “Fine,” Michael huffed. “You forced my hand.”

                “What do you – ah!” Alex yelped as he suddenly started levitating out of his chair. “Guerin, put me down!”

                “Oh, I will,” Michael said as he settled in Alex’s chair. He spread his arms out, letting Alex levitate back down onto his lap. He held a wide-eyed Alex close to his chest, his hand rubbing soothing circles into his back.

                Alex was studiously avoiding his gaze, his jaw clenched, his cheeks red. “Guerin, I swear –”

                “Finish your work,” Michael said, completely unthreatened. “I’ll just be here, waiting.”

                Alex pursed his lips. “This is pathetic.”

                “Oh, I don’t know,” Michael said with a grin. “I feel pretty comfortable. Don’t you?”

                “This isn’t going to work.”

                “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Michael said as he pressed harder into Alex’s back, making him gasp.

                “S-seriously,” his eyes fluttered. “I – I have to focus.”

                Michael nuzzled his neck, inhaling his scent. “So focus,” he breathed.

                And to Alex’s credit, he did try, even as Michael pulled him in deeper to his chest and began humming La Vie en Rose himself.

                “Shh.”

                Michael’s grin widened. “What? I’m just humming.”

                Alex rolled his eyes, but Michael could see him nodding off already.

                “Getting sleepy?”

                “No,” Alex muttered, even as Michael guided the airman’s head to rest on his shoulder, his eyes fluttering shut. “Stop that. I’m not tired.”

                “Too bad,” Michael quietly said, his lips against Alex’s hair. “I like hearing you sing.”

Chapter Text

                Alex’s eyes were burning. He felt like it had been years since he’d been staring at his computer screen in the bunker, deciphering symbols and coding that left him with more and more questions. Every now and then, he heard Michael mutter a curse before he threw a file against the wall. At first, Alex had looked to him with concern, but then he’d seen the Manes name printed on each fallen paper, and had learned to keep his gaze ahead, whatever went on behind him.

                It was a quiet Friday night, however, went Michael asked for his attention. If Alex had known then what would come of it, he never would have turned around.

                “‘Tobias Manes, November 23rd, 1975 log,’” Michael read. “‘Test subject is reacting to drug with anxiety, depression, and a decrease in brain activity. The skin infection has spread. Suspected: Skin cancer. No cohesive blood results.’” He tossed the file onto the table, glaring at it with disgust. “There are about fifty of those.”

                Alex swallowed, and turned back to his computer, though he could no longer focus on the words in front of him. His heart hammered in his chest. Please don’t look at me, he silently begged. Please, please, please, don’t look at me.

                “Golly gee, Private,” Michael said, and Alex shut his eyes. “Your family gets better and better.”

                Alex’s thumb brushed the keyboard mindlessly. Your family. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.

                A moment of silence passed, and Alex thought that maybe Michael had returned to his work, maybe he’d felt bad and didn’t want to push it. Maybe Alex should reassure him it was okay, that he hadn’t been hurt by it. It’d be a lie, but Michael would feel better.

                “‘Jackelyn Manes, April 5th, 1982 log,” Michael suddenly started up again, and Alex slowly turned to look at him. “‘Test subject has stopped healing. Suspected: Immune system failure. No cohesive blood results.’” He picked up another paper. “‘Harold Manes –”

                “Guerin –”

                “‘June 22nd, 1994 log –”

                “Please –”

                “‘Test subject has become legally blind. Ability to hear is also declining. No. Cohesive. Blood results.’

                Alex turned away, yet he could feel Michael’s eyes burning into the back of his head.

                “Am I making you uncomfortable, Private?”

                Alex clenched his jaw, unwilling to answer. He couldn’t remember a time Michael spoke to him with such venom. His eyes burned hotter, and he pressed the bottoms of his palms into them.

                “Manes, Manes, Manes,” Michael muttered, and Alex heard papers being shuffled around. “My god, they’re everywhere.”

                “They were monsters,” Alex agreed. “But we’re going to fix all of that.”

                That was the wrong thing to say. At his words, Michael scoffed.

                “Fix it? How? They’re all dead, Private. Got a drug that’ll fix that?”

                Alex sighed. He stood, and leaned against the console, his arms crossed. “That’s not fair.”

“Neither is being imprisoned your entire life.”

“Well, I didn’t imprison anyone, did I?”

“I know that.”

“You sure?” he said, unable to help the edge in his voice.

Michael said nothing.

Alex swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I’m just trying to help, Guerin.”

                Michael pursed his lips and nodded, his eyes on the open files in front of him, his finger tapping the table. “Mm hm.”

                “You know that, don’t you?”

                Michael closed his eyes. “Yes, Alex, I know.”

                Alex moved to the table, and started clearing the papers.

                “What’re you doing, stop, I’m reading those!”

                “You’ve read enough,” Alex said. “I’ll look at these, you can work on Jim’s writings.”

                “Alex,” Michael grabbed at the papers. “Stop it, I can handle looking at this stuff!”

                “Well, I can’t!” he snapped. “And I don’t feel like being glared at every time you see my name. If you can’t be objective, then –”

                “Objective? They’re my family, Alex, what do you expect me to do?”

                “Yeah, well,” Alex took the pages away, and all but threw them onto his computer console. “As you so kindly pointed out, the Manes are my family. But here I am, trying to take them all down, for you.”

                Michael shrugged. “So what? If it wasn’t for me, you’d let them get away with all of this?”

                Alex huffed a hysterical chuckle, his brows furrowed. “What more do I have to do to prove that I’m not my family?” Michael said nothing. “What else do you want from me? Tell me!” He stepped closer, and, to his shock, Michael flinched and stepped back.

                Alex felt as if he’d been stabbed, and the expression on his face must’ve shown it because Michael’s eyes widened as if he himself couldn’t believe what he had just done.

                “Alex, I,” he stepped towards him, but this time it was Alex who couldn’t bear him near. “I’m sorry, I didn’t – I didn’t mean to –”

                “It’ll never be enough, will it?” Alex muttered, even as Michael came into his space, his hands hovering around Alex’s waist, as if not knowing whether or not he was allowed to touch.

                “I’m sorry, Private, I’m so sorry, I – I was being stupid,” and he risked holding Alex’s face in his hands, his thumbs brushing Alex’s cheeks. “Of course none of this is your fault, I was just angry, and –”

                “Don’t touch me,” Alex pulled away, and turned his back to Michael. Immediately, he felt the cowboy against him, his hands on Alex’s waist, his head on Alex’s shoulder. Alex’s fists trembled. He wanted more than anything to turn around and let Michael hold him, but the image of Michael’s terrified face – even for that split second – was too fresh in his mind. It was too much.

                Nothing I do – no matter how hard I fight – will ever be enough.

                “Alex, I don’t think of you like that, I swear. Come on, Private. Please look at me.”

                Alex sniffed. “I think you should call it a night, Guerin.”

                “A-Alex –”

                “Go home.”

                “No!”

                “Fine,” Alex brushed past him. “I’ll leave.”

                “Alex! Wait,” he grabbed Alex’s arm. “Wait, where are you going?”

                “Home,” Alex said, and slammed the bunker door behind him.

He stood against it a moment, taking in the chilly November air. As Alex got into his car and drove to his cabin where he knew he was better off alone, a tear slid down his cheek, and Alex thought he really should’ve kept his gaze ahead.

Chapter Text

Michael had been sitting at Alex’s side for the past hour, and in that entire hour, Alex had looked to his drink, then the bar, then the door, then his drink again. But never once did he look at Michael.

“You okay?” he finally asked as Alex downed the rest of his glass.

Alex hummed, his eyes shut as if he’d hoped Michael would’ve been gone by now. Alex had stopped looking flustered at Michael’s concern a while ago, and it nearly killed the cowboy every time. When Alex had started seeming more shocked than anything else, Michael thought there would be nothing worse; to have the man he loved more than he loved breathing actually look surprised that Michael was worried about him, that he could worry about him.

Now, Alex just looked annoyed or fed up, as if he genuinely believed that Michael didn’t really care, and was only asking as a way of keeping up appearances, all so Alex would continue slaving away on Project Shepherd, helping them whenever they needed it. But how could Michael explain that he believed with everything he had that Alex would always come to his rescue no matter what he did?

Michael couldn’t help but scoot a little closer on his stool, his eyes on Alex. He missed the airman. He wanted more than anything to pull Alex to him, drag them both into an alley, and kiss him senseless. He wanted to feel Alex’s breaths against his ear, to run his tongue against Alex’s jaw, to taste his heartbeat racing in his chest.

But then the crowd in the bar cheered, and Michael was woken from his thoughts. He looked over his shoulder in annoyance as a mysterious man with a white cowboy hat was patted on the back for his incredible voice. It was Open Mic night in the Wild Pony, and while – at one point – Michael had only cared if there was a pretty girl with a microphone, one he could’ve later bought a drink, he now couldn’t have cared less either way, not unless it was Alex under the spotlight. But Alex didn’t sing anymore. Alex didn’t want Michael’s eyes on him.

“Hey, Private,” he tried again, his voice quieter as the singer in the back announced he was singing a song for “the most important person in my life.” Michael waited until he was finished with his declarations (hardly containing his eye rolls), and when the music started, he inched closer to Alex. “Alex…”

“She always said if something ever

Happened to me she would never

Fall in love again.

Uh – what a waste.”

Michael tried Alex’s name again, but as the song went on, Alex’s brows furrowed as if remembering something important. He slowly looked over his shoulder at the man singing.

“We always said we’d go together,

But if I’m just half of her forever,

This goes out to whoever

Takes my place.”

                Michael followed Alex’s gaze, and as the light shined behind the singer, illuminating him and his ridiculous hat with white, Michael realized that he was staring right at Alex. He had dark brown hair under his hat, curling below his ears, his eyes dark as well.

“She don't give 2 cents about money

Likes a little coffee in her honey

Let her sleep late as she wants

Home is her favorite restaurant.”

Alex huffed an incredulous chuckle. He nearly stumbled as he moved to his feet, and would’ve fallen had Michael not caught his arm and steadied him. Alex said nothing as he kept his eyes on the singer, making his way over to him.

“Don't you dare come home if you're hammered,

Better watch your mouth and your grammar .

She loves babies, hates glitter ,

You better shave before you kiss her ,

And if she ever misses me, please, don't let her.”

“Wait, Alex,” Michael tried, reaching for the airman, but it was as if he’d been transported to a different world, one of secret meetings with handsome friends, forbidden touches and kisses and more than kisses, coded songs that meant more to one another than they would to anyone else. Including Michael.

“The most important person in my life,” Michael remembered, and then the look on Alex’s face as if he’d known the song was meant for him. This guy is trying to serenade Alex.

And the crowd seemed to sense it, whether or not they knew how deep the relationship between these two men went. They knew there was a connection there. Michael guessed this guy was military, judging by the way he stood, his shoulders stiff and his back straight just like Alex’s always were, a habit Michael didn’t think military men would ever be able to kick.

“Make her feel better,

Say something funny,

 Say something ‘bout the weather.

Tell her wherever I am,

I’m good, and if she thinkin’ she could love again,

 She should… understood?”

Alex grinned – the first genuine smile Michael had seen in months – and Michael was overcome with an overwhelming urge to grab Alex’s arm, and pull him out of the bar. He didn’t know what was happening, or why, or who that man was, but Michael hated the way Alex’s eyes glittered as they fell on him, he hated the mix of shock and fondness and appreciation in Alex’s expression, as if this stranger was his missing half and had finally come back to him.

Alex,” he tried again, though the name was barely audible to his own ears. The crowd seemed to part for Alex, allowing him in, allowing him closer. Michael clenched his fists at his side.

The man singing on stage (Forest, he heard some of the more infatuated women call him) smiled as Alex came near, as if relieved to have finally gotten the airman’s attention. When the song finished, the crowd cheered, but Alex and Forest were only staring at each other.

Michael stepped forward, eager to take Alex from this place – with an excuse, any excuse – and go. Great, Forest had had his fun singing, but Alex was his, and Michael wasn’t planning on giving him up.

Then Alex did something Michael had never seen him do. He all but jumped into Forest’s hold, his arms wrapped around Forest’s shoulders as Forest lifted him slightly off the ground, his arms wrapped tightly around his waist. The stranger – a stranger to Michael, Michael realized with a heavy heart, yet someone clearly valuable to Alex – smiled as if his world was complete. He had Alex.

Michael clenched his jaw. It was stupid. By tomorrow, this guy could be gone, and that song would’ve meant nothing. As Michael left the bar, he couldn’t help but take one last glance at Alex.

This’ll blow over, Michael thought. Whoever this Forest guy was, he would not be taking Alex away. He was a stranger, someone passing through, nothing more. Michael found himself gripping the steering wheel tightly as he drove back to his airstream.

He didn’t know why he was so worried. Whoever Forest was, he wasn’t staying.

Chapter Text

Michael had been staying at Alex’s cabin for the past three days, and in that time, Alex had done his best to steer clear of the cowboy. And Michael could tell. Michael had thought that when Alex had offered him his guest bedroom after his airstream was destroyed in an attack, he’d done it in an attempt for the two of them to get closer, and Michael had been prepared to take advantage of that, but after the first couple of hours of his stay, he realized that Alex really had just offered to be nice. He wanted Michael to be sleeping and eating comfortably; that was all. And it sucked.

There were moments, however, small ones when Michael would walk in on Alex cooking with his headphones on, or too busy playing with Buffy to notice anyone there when the cowboy would just lean against the wall and watch him. Sometimes it felt like enough for the moment, and sometimes, Michael had to fight against every fiber in his body to keep himself from caging Alex against a wall and kissing him senseless, touching every single part of him.

Like tonight, as Michael stepped into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water, and found Alex asleep with his head on his arms on the counter, his computer open in front of him, casting him into a bright light in the midst of all the darkness.

Michael’s steps slowed, and he wondered if Alex would hear him coming and sit up, but the airman must’ve been more exhausted than Michael realized because no matter how close he came, Alex did not wake. He took the chance, and quietly yet swiftly slid onto the stool beside him, leaning his elbow on the table as he stared at Alex. A small smile tugged at his lips, and he reached out, moving Alex’s bangs from his eyes. He carefully dragged a thumb along Alex’s lower lip, and watched as Alex’s lips turned to a cute pout in his sleep. His long lashes curled against his rosy cheeks, and he made a sighing noise in the back of his throat that had Michael’s heart thrashing in his chest.

He leaned into Alex, his lips hovering above the airman’s cheek as he inhaled his scent. He couldn’t believe how he craved Alex, how badly he yearned for him, how badly he wanted to be next to him all the time. He thought everything would be alright if he could stay with Alex for the rest of his life. If they could be together, their attention never turned to anyone else again. It would just be them.

Then Michael’s eyes caught sight of Alex’s computer screen, and confusion hit for a split second before dread took over. There it was, a list of one-way flights to New York from Roswell New Mexico under Alex’s name. Michael looked to Alex, then the screen again. It didn’t look like any reservations had been made, but the ticket prices glared at him as if taunting his foolishness. Alex was going to leave.

Michael swallowed and before he realized what he was doing, his fingers curled into Alex’s sweater, holding on so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Alex was leaving. Alex was trying to leave.

Michael pursed his lips, his jaw clenched tightly. The computer started to smoke, and the screen suddenly glitched and turned off. It was stupid, and impulsive, and Michael would probably owe Alex a new computer (if the airman ever found out what actually happened to it), but Michael couldn’t help it. It would keep Alex from looking at flights for another day or two, it would keep him here while Michael tried to figure out how to stop him.

Michael pillowed his head on his arm, though his grip on Alex’s sweater never loosened. It was just them now. Just them.

Chapter Text

The first time, Alex had ignored it. The second, he’d been hesitant, but he’d let it go. The third, he knew something was wrong.

                He felt Michael’s hands stretch from the nape of his neck into his hair, tugging on the strands, and he moaned.

                “Alex,” Michael breathed against his lips, and before Alex could help it, he made a whimpering sound, and pulled Michael against him, their kisses open-mouthed and wet.

                “Touch me, Guerin,” Alex whispered, and Michael took that as all the permission he’d needed to run his hands up Alex’s shirt, reaching his fingers through Alex’s chest hair.

                “I love you,” Michael said, over and over, in between kisses. “I love you so much, baby.”

                “Michael,” Alex wrapped his arms around Michael’s shoulders, pulling him in even as Michael started to unbutton his shirt, and push it off. Alex closed his eyes as Michael ran his hands up his body. “Take your clothes off. Come on,” he said, tugging at the hem of Michael’s shirt, but before Alex could touch his skin, Michael was suddenly out of his hold, and off the couch.

                “Uh, I, sorry,” Michael shook his head, “I’m not really in the mood tonight.”

                “But you were just –”

                “Yeah, but,” his eyes fell to Alex’s chest, his stomach, and snapped back up to his face. “Why don’t, uh, why don’t we do something else? L-like watch a movie? We don’t really watch a lot of movies together.”

                Alex could feel the resignation taking over. He could only nod, his lips only able to muster half a smile as a heavy weight settled in his chest. He suddenly felt inappropriately naked, something he never thought he’d feel around the man he loved, yet it was all he’d been able to feel lately.

                Michael was looking through the movies when Alex couldn’t help himself, and asked, “Is it me?”

                “Hm?” Michael raised a brow. “Is what you?”

                “Is… is it me?” he asked again, and after a moment, as if he hadn’t expected Alex to ask such a thing at all, Michael’s brows furrowed.

                “What?”

                “Come on, Guerin,” he said. “It’s been a week, I know something’s wrong.”

                Michael stood straight. “And you think that something is you?”

                “You can tell me,” Alex said, his voice quieter than he had wanted it to be. “If you’re not,” he swallowed, “if you’re not attracted to me anymore –”

                Alex’s words were cut short when Michael crashed their lips together, all but straddling Alex on the couch. Alex gasped and wrapped his arms around Michael’s waist to keep them both steady, and Michael took advantage and pushed his tongue into Alex’s mouth.

                When Michael pulled back, the two were panting.

                “Don’t ever,” Michael warned, “say that again.”

                Alex frowned and he shook his head, though his hands on Michael stayed, keeping him in place. “Then what is it? Why don’t you want to sleep with me anymore?”

                Michael’s gaze faltered, and his eyes fell to Alex’s lips as his thumbs caressed the airman’s cheeks. “I want to. I want you, more than anything, but I… I’m… I’m not, um… I mean, I – I’ve gannedhmet,” he finished with a mumble so low, Alex couldn’t hear him.

                “You’ve what?”

                “I,” Michael shook his head, his eyes closed. “I’ve… gannedhmet.”

                “What?”

                “I’ve,” Michael pressed his cheek to Alex’s, and said in a quiet groan, “I’ve gained weight.”

                Alex’s shoulders slumped. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

Michael pulled back, but Alex held onto him, keeping him close. “Well, ever since you made me quit drinking –”

“You’re welcome –”

“And started making me dinner every night –”

“Which I don’t regret –”

“The abs are,” he hid his face in the crook of Alex’s neck, “they’re gone.”

                Alex frowned, and as if he needed the proof, he put his hands up Michael’s shirt, feeling his hairy chest and stomach that he hadn’t felt in days, and what he thought of was not the muffin top his boyfriend had gained, or the abs that were apparently lost forever because Michael was finally having some real food – it was the feeling of Michael’s skin against his own, the feeling of his chest hair against Alex’s fingers, the feeling of his breath against Alex’s neck.

                “Guerin,” Alex said, running his hands over whatever he could reach of Michael under his shirt; his chest, his stomach, his shoulders, his sides. “Let me make this simple. I have been horny as hell for a week, and there’s nothing I want more right now than for you to pound me into this couch, so for the sake of both of our sanities, can you please do that?”

                Michael’s gaze fell to Alex’s lips, his pupils turned so dark that his eyes were nearly black, and Alex realized that Michael may have been just as miserable after so long a time of not being able to touch one another.

                Then, as Alex pushed Michael’s shirt up and over his head, his expression faltered. “Y-you sure you’re not –”

                “Michael, there is no universe where you’re not the sexiest man alive,” Alex said, then licked a stripe along Michael’s nipple, making the cowboy gasp. “Now you can touch me, or I can go touch myself.”

                It was as if Alex’s words had tossed fuel into the fire. Michael’s expression had turned shocked for a split second before he suddenly grabbed Alex’s thighs, and pulled their hips together, grinding their clothed cocks against one another. Alex was on his back, and while Michael tried to hover, to keep a distance, Alex was fed up. It had been days since he’d felt the cowboy’s body against his, and he wanted to feel it now. He wrapped one arm around Michael’s shoulders, the other around his waist, and pulled him down, kissing him senseless.

                He felt Michael’s hairy skin grind against his own, damp as Michael panted against his lips, and strong as Michael thrusted in deeply. His nails dug into Michael’s skin, and he reveled in Michael hissing into his ear, Michael’s tongue on his cheek, Michael’s lips against his own.

                “Damn, I missed you,” Alex whispered against his lips when they were lying together on the couch, Alex curled against Michael, his fingers playing with the trail of hair leading down from Michael’s bellybutton to below the blanket at their hips.

                “Missed me?” Michael scoffed, rubbing a hand down Alex’s back. “You have any idea how many showers I’ve taken this week? I’m not that clean, Alex, no one is.”

                Alex huffed a chuckle, and kissed Michael’s chest. “How could you ever think I wouldn’t be attracted to you?”

                “I could ask you the same thing.”

                “You didn’t want to have sex,” Alex said defensively. “You never not want to have sex.”

                But Michael wasn’t laughing. His serious gaze caught Alex’s own eyes, and his fingers dug into Alex’s back as he said, “I’m sorry.”

                Alex blinked. “For what?”

                “You blamed yourself,” he said. “All because I couldn’t just talk to you.”

                Alex sighed, cupping Michael’s cheek, his heart melting in his chest as his big tough cowboy’s eyes fluttered shut, and he leaned into Alex’s touch. “Why was it so hard to tell me?”

                “Because,” Michael searched Alex’s face with furrowed brows, as if he was just considering the reason now. “Because I want to be perfect for you.”

                And Alex wondered in that moment if Michael had lost his mind. How could his cowboy have missed the obvious? How could he have missed what Alex had known the second he’d met him?

                “But,” Alex huffed, not knowing whether to chuckle with exasperation or just lightly slap his boyfriend’s chest, “you’re better than perfect. You’ve always been better.”

Chapter Text

                Kyle remembered Alex when they were younger; the way he’d started coming to school with his arm held a little too close to his side as if it pained him to move it any further; the way he’d covered the entire lower half of his face with large scarfs in the winter, and lose his mind if anyone tried to pull it down; the way he’d worn his beanie so low it covered one eye for weeks at a time. Kyle didn’t like to remember it often, but he’d learned to recognize Alex losing strength long ago. He’d learned to see his friend’s spirit dimming more and more until there was nothing left but a wall, and a lot of anger left to keep people away.

                And maybe Alex’s physical strength was fine, maybe he wasn’t secretly coming into the bunker with bruises or cuts or scars or cracked ribs, but Kyle could still see the way Alex leaned against tables when he stood, as if to keep himself from falling over. He could still see Alex leaning his elbow on the desk a little too long, could see him nodding off in the middle of the day after countless all-nighters, could see him all but clawing at his temples and eyes as he read report after report after report of what earlier generations of the Manes family had done to the alien race. He could see Alex breaking a little bit more every day.

                And today was no different. Alex was slumped in his chair, his fingers rubbing his forehead, his eyes narrowed as they went through another file, as if Alex didn’t think he deserved to shut them, to look away.

                Kyle looked to Michael who sat across from him, hoping that the cowboy had noticed Alex’s exhaustion, and while Michael’s eyes were on Alex, they were set in more of a glare than anything else.

                Kyle spotted a folder with the name Manes on the top in Michael’s hand, and he felt dread build in his chest. He only hoped Alex hadn’t noticed.

                “Hey,” he nudged Alex with a sudden urge to get him out of the bunker before something horrible happened. Alex didn’t seem to hear him, and Kyle poked his shoulder again. “Hey.”

                “Hm?” Alex slowly looked up, looking as drained as Kyle had ever seen him.

                “Let’s get out of here a minute, get some food.”

                For a moment, the light returned to Alex’s eyes, but then he glanced at Michael, and it dimmed again. “Oh, uh, I’m fine. You go, I still need to finish these.”

                “You can finish them later, buddy,” Kyle stood, closing Alex’s files. “They’ll still be here when you get back –”

                “He can’t,” Michael said, and tossed another file in front of Alex. Alex didn’t even flinch. “He has a great grandmother who needs atoning.”

                “Guerin, he’s exhausted,” Kyle said with a glare. “We all are, he needs something to eat.”

                “Then you go get it,” Michael said. “Alex stays here with me.”

                “You’re unbelievable,” Kyle said. “Come on, Alex, let’s go.”

                Michael stood. “I said he stays here.”

                “He’s been holed up here for weeks, some fresh air will be good for him.”

                “Then he and I will go, and you can stay here.”

                “You’re insane,” Kyle shook his head. “And you’re only jealous of me because you know Alex would rather be with me than you.”

                Michael’s eye twitched. “Don’t say that again.”

                “Let’s just ask him,” Kyle shrugged. “Or are you afraid to because you know what he’ll say?”

                “Guys,” Alex’s head fell into his hands, “please stop.”

                Kyle held Michael’s gaze, but at the sound of Alex’s stirring, his eyes fell to his friend. “I’m not humoring you anymore,” he said to Michael. “Think whatever you want. I’m taking Alex for a break. Come on, Alex.”

                Alex sighed after a moment of silence, and nodded once, twice, before standing. As he moved to follow Kyle, Michael suddenly grabbed his arm.

                “Alex, you said you’d help me here.”

                “I will,” Alex said, “but Kyle’s right, Guerin, I just need a little break, okay?”

                Michael glanced at Kyle, then back at Alex, then at Kyle, and he huffed a humorless chuckle. “Whatever you say, Manes. I’m sure you’ll keep your promise. After all, your family’s always been so honest and good, right?”

                Kyle stared. “You son of a bitch.”

                “What?” Michael dared him. “Am I wrong?”

                “You –” Kyle took a step towards him, and Alex put an arm up, his eyes on Michael. He looked neither shocked nor hurt, just resigned, and it broke Kyle’s heart.

                “What did I do wrong, Guerin?” he asked, not looking like he expected an answer. “Not the Manes, me. Or can you not tell the difference anymore?”

                Michael looked away, and Alex’s fingers curled into fists. “Kyle’s right, you know. I’m not okay. But for weeks, I sat here, and I didn’t dare move because part of me was worried you’d just make your little snarky comments, and hurt me for wanting to stop. To look away for a split second.”

                He shook his head, huffing a chuckle, and Kyle saw that his eyes were glassy. Michael seemed to just realize, too, his expression faltering.

                “And I kept telling myself that wasn’t true, that you’d want me to stop, that you wouldn’t want me to blame myself. But I was wrong. You don’t… you don’t care about me at all. You just want me to undo my family’s crimes – well, you know what? I don’t owe you a damn thing. I’m not doing this to fix anything, it’s not up to me. I’m doing it because I love you. Can’t,” he shrugged helplessly, “can’t you just ease up a little bit?”

                “Alex…” Michael’s brows furrowed, the weight of what he’d said, what he hadn’t, visibly settling on him. “Alex, I… I’m sorry, I –”

                “No, don’t touch me,” Alex moved away from him. “I have a migraine, and it’s been killing me, and – and being around you just makes it worse. Come on, Kyle, I haven’t eaten all day.”

                And Michael looked at Alex as if he’d slapped him, as if the thing that hurt worst of all was that Michael hadn’t even noticed that Alex had been starving. But Kyle only nodded, and said, “Yeah, I know, buddy.”

                Without another word and only a meaningful glance at Kyle, Alex threw his jacket on, and walked out. Michael was staring at the door, shocked at not being chosen. He looked like his world had just shattered, and he didn’t know how to process it, and Kyle took no joy in that.

                Still, he followed Alex out the door, more concerned with the airman and how he was feeling. If he didn’t, it seemed, no one else would, and he didn’t think that was such a bad responsibility to have.

Chapter Text

                Michael wanted to pretend he and Alex were fine, that he was happy with this new ‘friends’ thing they had going on, that seeing Alex smile and giggle at a text on his phone didn’t bother the hell out of him, but when Alex walked into the bunker with red cheeks and swollen lips and tousled hair as if someone had just run their hands through it, Michael felt his blood boil.

                He’d already stopped paying attention to what he was reading, and had instead spent the last two hours glancing at the time on his phone, his fist tighter and tighter with every passing second. Not that Alex noticed he’d been halfway to losing his mind.

                “Fun night?” he asked as Alex took a seat across from him, tossing his jacket on the back of his chair.

                “It was okay,” Alex said.

                Michael stared. “Did you have sex?”

                Alex, startled, looked up. “A little personal, don’t you think, Guerin?”

                “What, you can’t tell me?”

                “I won’t tell you, there’s a difference,” Alex chuckled lightly, though his brows were furrowed, his eyes avoiding Michael’s.

                “It’s me.”

                “Exactly.”

                Michael tapped his finger on the table, his jaw clenched. He hated this. He hated the thought of someone else running their hands through Alex’s hair, all over his chest, his stomach, his arms, his cock. Michael flinched in his seat at that last image.

                Alex noticed. “Guerin? You okay?”

                Michael didn’t answer. As much as he tried to force those ugly thoughts out, they came back stronger and stronger. Some guy between Alex’s legs, fitted against his hips, thrusting into him. He couldn’t help but hear Alex’s moans, the stranger’s grunts, couldn’t help but see Alex’s naked body glistening with sweat with someone else grinding against him.

                The remaining chairs around the table suddenly flung backwards and hit the wall, hard.

                “Oh my –” Alex jumped. “Guerin!”

                Michael blinked out of his mess of thoughts, and looked around. He sighed into his palms, rubbing his eyes until they turned red.

                “What’s wrong?”

                “Nothing.”

                “Don’t say ‘nothing,’ I know something’s –”

                “Private, just tell me if you slept with the guy!” he snapped, and the bunker was filled with a silence that chilled Michael’s bones.

                “That’s why you’re so upset?”

                “Just tell me.”

                “Why does it matter?”

                Michael’s eyes shut. “You did.”

                “Guerin, don’t you think you’re taking this too far?”

                “No, I think you’re not taking this far enough!” he snapped, and his own chair flung backwards as he stood. Something crashed behind him, but he didn’t check as he rounded the table to Alex.

                He turned Alex’s chair, caging the airman in. “You’re mine. Understand? No more dates, no more going out with anyone else. You’re with me, and that’s it.”

                Alex blinked several times. “A-are you drunk or something?”

                He tried to stand, but Michael suddenly wrapped an arm around his waist, turned them around, and pulled Alex on top of him so that the airman was suddenly straddling him.

                “Didn’t you hear me?” he growled, thrusting his hips into Alex’s, making him gasp. “You’re mine. I don’t want anyone else touching you ever again.”

                “Guerin, I –”

                Michael thrusted, and Alex’s words were caught in his throat, his hands instinctively clutching Michael’s shoulders. Michael leaned in, pressing his lips to the crook of Alex’s neck, and he thrusted again. He spread his fingers on Alex’s chest, and felt the airman’s heart hammering.

                “Say it,” he whispered into Alex’s ear, then bit the sensitive skin there. “Say you’re mine.”

                “Guerin…”

                Michael inhaled shakily as he put a hand up Alex’s shirt, feeling his stomach and chest. He was going to erase every trace of the others, any print any of them might have left. He was going to touch every inch of Alex until the airman only felt him.

                “You belong to me,” he breathed, and his eyes nearly rolled back into his head as he felt Alex’s arms go around his neck, holding onto him. “Your lips, your eyes, your body – it’s all mine.” He thrusted his clothed cock into Alex’s again, and again, and again. “Say it, Private,” he panted. “I want to hear you say it.”

                For a moment, Michael could only feel Alex’s hot breaths in his ear, Alex’s fingers in his hair, then, “I’m yours.”

                Michael’s eyes fluttered shut. “Again.”

                “I’m yours.”

                “Again.”

                “I’m yours, Michael. I’m yours.”

Chapter Text

                Alex inhaled deeply. He smelled pine, and dirt, and burgers and fries carried over by the wind from the diner to where he stood outside amongst the tables. Mr. Ortecho had put up the Christmas tree as soon as December dawned (“If it’s November, it’s not time for Christmas!” he’d said when Liz, who had wanted to be done with the whole task of actually putting the tree up and decorating, had suggested it. Alex had laughed.), and the branches glittered with fairy lights, casting Alex in a golden glow in the midst of all the darkness. Alex wondered if it would be too long before he was able to laugh again.

                The sound of chatter inside the diner was barely a hum when outside, so Alex recognized Michael’s truck as it approached him. He wished he could say he was surprised, but he knew Michael would’ve come to see him eventually.

                The cowboy parked not far from Alex, and Alex pushed off the railing, hands in his pockets. Michael stepped out of the car, only glancing at Alex as he took a seat on his trunk. Alex’s eyes fell to Michael’s hand, wrapped in fabric to hide the fact that it was no longer maimed. Alex knew it was selfish, but the thought made him sad somehow.

                Alex stared at the tree as Michael surveyed their surroundings as if not knowing what to focus on first, the two in complete silence. Then –

                “So you re-enlisted.” Alex nodded. He hated that he could still read the loss and false bravado in Michael’s voice, could still feel his tense shoulders as he sat across from him. It was as if the universe had not yet recognized that they weren’t together anymore, that they couldn’t be together after everything that had happened. That they just were no longer allowed to be cosmic.

                “Why?”

                “I had to,” he said.

                “Yeah?” and for a moment, Michael said nothing else.

                Others had already asked. They’d already questioned Alex’s sanity, they’d already cried and gotten angry, they’d already begged him to go take it back, to tell them he’d changed his mind, and Alex had calmly explained that it didn’t work that way. None of them had sat in silence and waited. Then again, none of them were Michael. Alex had never known how to be around Michael.

                “Are you mad?”

                Michael pursed his lips. “Yeah.”

                Alex mustered half a smile. “Figured you’d be.”

                “And you enlisted anyway.”

                “I enlisted anyway. It was the only way, Guerin.”

                “Only way to what?”

                “Saving Max,” he said, and Michael turned silent. “Stopping Project Shepherd once and for all.”

                “Stopping – that’s not your responsibility, Alex.”

                Alex shrugged. “Then why does it feel like it is?” To this, Michael had no answer. “Guerin. I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything, I just feel guilty all the time. And you can sit there, and tell me it’s not my job to end it, but if it’s not, then why can’t I breathe? Why does it always feel like I’m suffocating?”

                Michael’s jaw clenched. “Because of me. You’re hurting because of me, Alex, not because you did anything wrong.”

                Alex roughly wiped his face and sniffed. “Maybe,” he confessed. “But I can’t do anything about you. I can do something about this. So I am.”

                “Always so practical,” Michael huffed a humorless chuckle. “Aren’t you tired of being the hero?”

                And Alex did something he didn’t think he would get to do in a long time. He smiled. “If it saves you? Not really.”

                Michael’s expression faltered, and Alex stepped closer, putting a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.”

                Michael did not meet his eyes as a tear rolled down his cheek, and Alex swiped it away with his thumb. Michael caught Alex’s hand, and held it against his own face, his eyes closed as he pressed his lips to Alex’s palm.

                And Alex sighed.

Chapter Text

                The stench of cows did nothing to cool the fire in Michael’s gut or his burning muscles, aching to hold someone.

                Well, he thought, not just someone.

                And as fate would have it, the only someone he had ever wanted was beside him, soaked to the bone just as he was, leaning against the now closed barndoor, his chest rapidly rising and falling.

                “Stop it,” Alex said without looking at him.

                Michael did not deny he’d been staring, and with effort, he looked away.

                “Damn it,” Alex muttered.

                Michael cursed, too, though in that moment, he didn’t know whether he meant it, or whether he wanted to desperately thank whatever part of the universe decided to crash Michael’s truck on the trip back to Roswell, to bring on the storm that forced them into the barn, to have this little voyage be the only one that Valenti incidentally couldn’t attend.

                But since before he’d woken up, Michael had had Alex on his mind, and as much as he wanted to give in to whatever heat was pooling in his gut, whatever desire was urging every fiber in his cell to push ahead and wrap his arms around Alex and kiss the airman senseless, Michael couldn’t help but think that as long as Alex refused him, this was the most elaborate form of torture he could ever suffer.

                “I’m going to go over there,” Alex said, gesturing to the back of the barn. “Don’t follow me.”

                “Believe it or not, you’re not that irresistible, Private,” Michael said, thinking of nothing but the way Alex’s shirt clung to his body, the way his nipples poked through the flannel, the way the water rolled down his strong neck, his hands, his cheekbones.

                “Good,” Alex said, then began peeling his clothes off.

                Michael’s eye twitched. “What’re you doing?”

                “Trying not to get hypothermia,” Alex said. “You?”

                “U-uh,” Michael swallowed. “You uh – you think I should –”

                Alex stilled. “I thought you couldn’t get sick.”

                “Not if I have acetone on me,” Michael shrugged. “Which I don’t.”

                Alex’s shoulders deflated. “Just turn away, we can keep our backs to each other.”

                “Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too seriously?”

                “What’re you thinking about right now?” Alex asked like he already knew, and wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.

                “I don’t know, the storm, the smell in here, the –”

                “Guerin, I know about the planet alignment thing, what’re you thinking about?”

                You. Michael almost said. Alex beneath him, Alex’s body against his, Alex’s hands on his chest, his stomach, his cock. Alex, Alex, Alex.

                “Fine,” Michael ended up saying, and turned his back to Alex. When the two were out of their clothes, they sat down, Michael’s knees pulled up to his chest.

                “You okay?” he asked after a while. “Does your leg hurt?”

                “It’s a little stiff,” Alex confessed. “It’s the cold.”

                Michael raised a brow. “You know, body heat is –”

                “No.”

                Michael looked over his shoulder, and instantly regretted it. Alex’s back was turned to him, but he was most definitely naked. The muscles in his back clenched, his ass cheeks rested on his own jacket, his right leg stretched out as he rubbed his thigh roughly.

                Alex’s shoulders suddenly tensed. He glanced over, and he met Michael’s eyes for barely a second before he turned away. “Stop, Guerin!”

                Michael whipped around, his hand on his chest. “It’s not like I’m touching you, Alex.”

                “I don’t care, I don’t want you looking at me, and imagining whatever the hell you’re imagining while you’re on some kind of galactic high!” he snapped.

                Michael smirked humorlessly. It hurt, hearing Alex talk like that to him, as if he couldn’t imagine anything worse than Michael touching him, kissing him, just being with him.

                “You didn’t used to feel like that,” he said before he could help himself.

                For a moment, Alex didn’t speak, and Michael was worried he’d upset him too much, that Alex had just gotten sick of his yearning, of his wanting the airman. Then –

                “I don’t want you to want me when you’re like this.”

                Michael frowned, and he looked over at Alex. “You think I want you because the planets told me to?”

                Alex shook his head. “I think you’re not completely in your right mind,” he said finally.

                “Private, you know it’s not the planets,” he said, and he hoped Alex could read him as well as he always did. You know it’s not the planets that are making me want you, you know I don’t need the planets, you know I’ve never needed the planets.

                And Michael thought Alex did understand. But still, he curled in deeper on himself, and he said, “Just stop, Guerin.”

                “Alex –”

                “Stop.”

                And as Michael stared at the muscles on his back, at the way his nails dug into his arms, Michael realized with a vile taste in the back of his throat that Alex just didn’t believe him. Alex didn’t believe that Michael still loved him, that he’d ever loved him. Not after everything that had happened.

                Michael stood before he could register what he was doing.

                “Guerin,” Alex turned away from him with a sigh. “Go away, I’m serious.”

                Michael knelt behind him, his hands gentle on his arms, and to his relief, Alex’s muscles went pliant beneath his touch. That was when Michael realized that Alex had never wanted Michael away, but had needed him to be.

                Michael pressed a hot, open kiss to the crook of Alex’s neck, then his shoulder.

                “G-Guerin, please –”

                “I want to make you feel good,” Michael breathed against Alex’s cold skin. “I want to feel you, Alex. Every part of you.”

                Alex was shaking his head, his voice hoarse. “I…”

                “But I won’t,” Michael said, and with great difficulty, forced himself back. “When this damn alignment is over,” he finished his words in a whisper against Alex’s ear, “I’m coming for you, Private.”

                Michael’s fingers curled into trembling fists as he stood, and Alex suddenly took hold of his wrist. His fingers slid down to hold Michael’s which made the shaking stop. Alex held Michael’s gaze as he pulled his hand to his lips and kissed his fingers once.

                He let go, and Michael nearly stumbled as he stepped away. He wanted, more than anything, to fall to his knees in front of Alex, and take the airman hard, soft, gently, roughly, in every way that will mark Alex as his. But he knew that if he did, Alex would only wonder if Michael really wanted it. He would have that nagging doubt in the back of his mind at every thrust, every breath, every whispered, I love you, which Michael was more than willing to give. And he wanted Alex to love it as much as he would.

                Turning away from the airman, Michael took a seat on his wet jacket, his chin rested on his knee. If he closed his eyes, the sound of the rain fell into the background, and he could hear Alex’s soft breathing cut through the storm to him, reminding him that he was there.

Chapter Text

                Kyle stepped out of his car in time to see Alex hauling the last of his cardboard boxes into the backseat.

                “Hey,” he said, hands in his pockets. “Thought I’d come catch you before you left.”

                “I would’ve come by the hospital, you know,” Alex said. Kyle thought he looked tired.

                “I do,” he said. “But I wanted to be here when you, you know,” and he gestured to the door. Alex nodded.

                “I told you where the key was,” Alex said. “It was your dad’s cabin.”

                “No, no, this is your place, Manes. You’ll always have something to come back to.”

                Alex closed his car door, and huffed a chuckle. “I think I have a little more to come back to than a cabin, Kyle,” he said with a meaningful look, and Kyle felt his heart thrash in his chest.

                He cleared his throat, and looked away. “Does Guerin know?”

                Alex stilled. It was only for a brief moment, and had Kyle not gotten to know his friend all over again in the past year that he’d been back, he might have missed it. But he had. So he hadn’t.

                Still, he only nodded once before he pulled Alex into a hug, his hand in his hair as he pressed his lips to the airman’s shoulder.

                “Don’t go, Alex,” he said against Alex’s jacket, and the airman pulled back. His smile was kind, his eyes sad.

                “You know,” he said. “I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me. Thank you.”

                “I know it hurts, but –”

                “No,” Alex said softly. “You don’t.”

                And it was all that took to silence Kyle, to hear the pain and struggle and exhaustion in Alex’s voice, to know that Alex had told himself it was okay too many times, that he could handle it before he finally resigned to the idea that maybe he couldn’t.

                Alex cupped Kyle’s jaw, his thumb caressing his cheek, and Kyle couldn’t help but press his lips to the airman’s. It was only a moment, the kiss soft and warm, the air around them silent and still, as if it was allowing them this single instance in time.

                When Kyle pulled away, he and Alex could not seem to bear looking at each other. He felt Alex’s hand take his, squeeze tightly, and let go. Kyle’s eyes remained on the empty cabin as Alex drove away.

Chapter Text

                Some people had it easier. Alex had discovered that a long time ago. He knew he would struggle in the relationship department when he’d gotten a crush on a certain blonde, blue eyed boy in his tenth-grade class, and a day before his confession, had found out the boy had a girlfriend.

                He’d have to work a little harder, he’d have to prove himself a little more, he’d have to take a few more chances, and risk a few more insults and injuries. He had been resigned to the idea with minimal depression. Now he couldn’t think of anything worse.

                Alex heard a laugh, and looked away from his drink to see a man nuzzling his girl’s neck. She laughed, and he kissed her smile. Alex’s gaze lingered a moment before it fell.

                He tapped his glass before he finished it in one gulp, and asked for another.

                There had been a time when he’d stopped noticing other couples around him; the way they smiled, and held one another, and kissed one another as if there was nothing in the world that bothered them. But that was when Michael had been there, when they’d been a possibility, when what everybody else did meant nothing so long as he had the man he loved at his side. It turned out he’d been fooling himself. Michael had never seen the same in him.

                Alex sighed through grit teeth as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept, and he didn’t think that was a very good thing. It wasn’t as if he tried to stay awake, but whenever he lied down, he felt the urge to stand up again, to get work done. Sleep felt like a luxury he didn’t deserve.

                “Please,” he muttered, willing his thoughts to shut up already.

                Alex’s phone suddenly rang, and he pulled it out tiredly to see Michael’s name flashing on his screen. His eyes shut, and he let it ring for a moment before he hung up.

                He was so tired. Tired of the excuses, of the explanations, of the guilt trips, of the apologies. It didn’t change anything. It didn’t make Alex’s leg hurt any less after hours of sitting in that chair outside Michael’s trailer, it didn’t take away the days of fever he’d endured for waiting in the freezing cold, it didn’t erase the nail marks that Alex unconsciously dug into his skin as he held on for Michael’s truck to finally come into view, which it never did. It didn’t take away what Alex knew, it didn’t tell him anything he hadn’t already suspected. It didn’t change the fact that Michael had chosen someone else.

                Alex’s phone rang again. He knew he shouldn’t, he knew it would only hurt him, but he so badly wanted to hear Michael’s voice. With a swipe, he answered the call, and held his phone to his ear.

                “Alex,” Michael’s voice sounded on the other end. His voice was seeped with pain and exhaustion, and all Alex could think was, He only calls me Alex when he’s mocking me, or he’s scared. Alex almost wondered which of the two he was now.

                “Hey. I didn’t think you’d answer.”

                I didn’t want to, he almost said, and his eyes closed despite himself. Michael’s voice had his heart jumping only to fall again deeper into his stomach.

                “Guerin,” he barely said before Michael’s hopeful tone came through.

                “Yeah?”

                Alex’s fingers tightened on his phone as he kept his voice quiet and devoid of emotion. He used to think Michael was the only person he could feel around, the one person he was allowed to show his true thoughts and tears and excitement. Now he knew the cowboy was no different than everybody else; unsafe. “There’s nothing you can say. Okay?”

                “Alex, listen to me –”

                “Nothing. Don’t call me anymore. Don’t come see me. I don’t want to see you,” and he hung up. The phone did not ring again. Alex wished he wasn’t disappointed. He looked over his shoulder at the loving couple at the table behind him, and looked back to his drink. It never was that easy. Not for him.

Chapter Text

                “I hate this damn cold,” Michael heard, and looked over his shoulder to see Alex walking through the front door of the cabin with Kyle at his heels, the two covered head to toe in hats, scarves, sweaters, and jackets.

                The corners of his lips quirked up as Alex plopped down beside him on the couch, his head falling onto Michael’s lap. Michael ran a hand through the airman’s hair, though it was difficult to reach even the nape of Alex’s neck with all the layers he had on.

                “Rough day?”

                “Hmnmhnmm,” Alex mumbled, his voice muffled through his scarves.

                “Well,” Kyle said, slumping onto a large armchair. “You heard him.”

                “Is my baby tired?” Michael leaned in, whispering the words in Alex’s ear before kissing along the shell. He was all but licking the airman’s cheek when Kyle finally took the hint, and stood.

                “Alright, okay, I’m going, just stop with the – knock it off, Guerin!”

                “I’m touching my boyfriend, Valenti,” he said, and returned to nibbling on the shell of Alex’s ear as the front door closed.

Boyfriend. Sometimes Michael still couldn’t believe he was allowed to use that word, and mean it. To think that Alex, in his kindness, bravery, and beauty, was all his – it was unreal. Michael often needed to touch the airman to prove to himself that he was there, that Alex was his now, that the past was in the past where it belonged, and no longer touched either of them.

                Alex hummed as Michael kissed his ear, then his cheek, then his nose, following a trail to his lips. Alex had grown some stubble in the past few days, too busy with cleaning up the last of Jim’s records after Project Shepherd had finally come down that he’s barely had the time or the mind to shave, let alone do anything else. Including spending a night with his boyfriend.

                “You sleepy?” he muttered before he kissed Alex’s lips.

                Alex exhaled deeply, the extra layers acting like pillows around Michael’s head as the airman pulled him in, and kissed him. “If I say yes, will you come to bed with me?”

                Michael’s grin widened against Alex’s lips. “You sound sleepy,” he said, trying to get a hand under Alex’s shirt, but whatever shirt he unbuttoned, there was a sweater beneath, as if taunting him.

                “Come to bed with me,” Alex said and kissed Michael again. “We can get under the covers. It’s warm there.”

                “We could do something else to heat ourselves up – oh, for the love of –” he cut off, struggling with the hems of Alex’s layers. “How many pieces of clothing do you have on?”

                “A lot,” Alex said, drifting off, his arms around Michael’s shoulders loosening. “It’s cold.”

                “Yeah, baby, it is,” Michael said with a sigh, brushing Alex’s bangs back from his eyes, and kissed his forehead. “Come on,” he said, bringing one arm around Alex’s back, the other around the backs of his knees. “Hang onto me.”

                A few months ago, Alex would have refused to. He would’ve insisted he was fine, stood on his own, and stumbled in too many layers and exhaustion to his bedroom. But now, he wrapped his arms tightly around Michael’s shoulders, nuzzling against the cowboy’s neck, and held on as Michael carried him and his bundle of sweaters to their bed. Michael rid Alex of the coat, and left him in his sweaters and sweatpants.

                He crawled in beside him, and pulled the blanket over them both. He dug and dug and dug until he could feel the warm skin of Alex’s stomach. He brought an arm under Alex’s head, and pulled him in closer, his lips against the airman’s hair. Michael thought it felt a little bit like hugging a giant teddy bear. He threw a leg over Alex’s, holding him tighter.

Alex had said he hated the cold. Michael kind of loved it.

Chapter Text

When Max had agreed to come talk to Alex on Michael’s behalf, he had expected Alex to turn him away, to maybe refuse his six-pack (what did you get the guy who once had a secret relationship with your brother?) with a silent glare before he asked him to leave, to completely shut down at the mention of Michael’s name.

He had not, however, expected Alex to be standing on the roof of his cabin, hammering something into the boards.

“Manes,” he called once, and Alex squinted at him a moment.

“Max Evans?”

“That’s me,” he said, helplessly holding up the beer in his hands. Alex huffed a chuckle, his lips quirked upward in a half-smile, his brows furrowed. For lack of anything else to say, Max shrugged and said, “You need any help?”

It was hours later that they finished, the sun just starting to set as Alex looked over the newly patched roof once more before he and Max decided it was as good as it was ever going to get, and they took a seat, the open desert stretching on endlessly ahead of them, the forest behind.

“You want to tell me why you’re here, or do I already know?” Alex asked as he took a big gulp of his beer bottle. Up close, Max could see the dark circles around his eyes, the way his fingers twitched slightly on the bottle.

He hasn’t been sleeping, Max realized. He recognized that look all too well, had seen it in his own reflection before when Isobel’s life had been on the line. It had been a miserable time, waiting for the world to end.

Max knew he ought to have defended his brother, to ask Alex to just call Michael, or read his texts. But Alex clearly wasn’t sleeping, and maybe it was because Max knew about the sacrifices Alex had made for Michael and Isobel, but he felt it wrong to push now. Alex needed the choice to say no, to not have to deal with this yet. Max thought the least he could do was give him that.

“I’m here to thank you, Alex,” he said, and Alex blinked, startled. “For what you did for me. For everything. I just… thank you.”

“You – er… you’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

“Earth to Alex!”

“Hm?” Alex pulled one headphone off, raising a brow at Kyle who was leaning over a table, waving his arms around to get the airman’s attention. Michael was glancing up at him from his files. “Sorry, did you say something?”

He huffed. “Only for the past half-hour. What’s that?”

“Oh,” Alex looked down at the old music player in his hand. “Found this when I went to clear out our old house this morning. Thought I’d find something important, something my dad might’ve hidden.”

Kyle frowned. “Alex, I could’ve come with you. I know you how much you hate that place.”

Alex’s smile was small. “No, it’s fine. I’m fine. But I found this, it used to be Flint’s. Saddest music player ever.” He chuckled, and at Kyle and Michael’s looks, he explained, “You know, for good days. He called it the Great Depression.”

“What is that?” Michael asked.

Alex blinked. “Seriously?” Michael shrugged a shoulder, and Alex looked to Kyle, expecting him to be equally surprised, but Kyle was only staring at Alex with a confused look on his face. “Come on, you know. Sad songs that we used to play on days when dad didn’t feel like yelling or hitting something or scaring us. To remind ourselves that every day is a bad day, and you just have to learn to get used to it.”

Kyle and Michael exchanged looks. “Did – uh – did you have one of these?” Kyle finally asked, and Alex shrugged.

“Of course,” Alex said, and tilted his head. He vaguely heard something shift behind him, but he didn’t look. Michael was staring off into space. “Flint said everyone had one.”

Kyle shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“That’s not a thing, Alex, your brother lied,” Michael said harshly as he stood, and tossed the file onto the table. Kyle glared at him as he paced the bunker, but Alex was staring at the music player in his hands.

“A-are you guys messing with me?”

“Oh my god, Alex,” Kyle said, as if Alex was a dying puppy he’d found on the side of the road.

Alex shook his head, his eyes shut, his brows furrowed. There was definite movement of something behind him, but he was too caught up in his own thoughts to check. “No, I… that stuff helps, it – it’s therapeutic.”

Depressing yourself?” Michael snapped.

“I – why are either of you surprised, you know I was a goth in high school, right?” Alex looked down at the music player, running his thumb across the buttons. “Wait,” he looked up, “wait. Does this mean you guys didn’t have military homework when you were kids either? Because Flint told me that was a thing, too.” His words turned to a mumble by the end at Kyle and Michael’s glares. “Is that not a thing?”

“What the hell’s military homework?”

Alex opened his mouth right before Michael said, his voice threateningly low, “Don’t answer that.”

More shuffling, and Alex finally turned to see every computer, chair, file, and other equipment surrounding them floating several feet above of the air. He turned to Michael with wide eyes, but the cowboy was staring at the music player in Alex’s hands, seemingly unaware of what he was doing.

“Guerin,” he swallowed past the lump in his throat. “It’s okay.”

“Yeah,” Michael said with a humorless smirk. “It’s great.”

“Geez, Guerin,” Kyle pinched the bridge of his nose, “would you calm down? Look, he’s sitting right here, he’s fine.”

“I hate your family,” Michael said, beginning to pace again. “I fricking hate them. Did I ever mention that?”

“Now and then,” Kyle said dryly, but Alex’s attention had left the conversation as he remembered the way he used to wake up when he was eight with the worst case scenarios of everything that could happen that day running through his head. He had been told to scan any room he walked into for exit points, assessing the fatal nerve of any stranger he came across, have a plan, and expect cruelty. Never kindness. Never trust.

Alex’s finger tapped against the music player. He had thought the war had turned him into a soldier, but he was wrong. He had been trained long before he ever joined the Air Force. He had expected war, and the worst part – he realized as he remembered each song in his own playlist – was that he’d been resigned to that. Be miserable because people would disappoint you anyway. It was best to accept that. And he had.

Alex looked up at Michael. Until he hadn’t. For a moment in time, Alex realized, he’d unconsciously gone against everything he’d ever learned to be because Michael had been there, and suddenly he had someone to fight for, someone – he supposed – he valued too much to have the same miserable existence he did. Someone he wanted to protect.

And that someone had ultimately disappointed him, too.

He inhaled sharply at the thought. What was he doing? Where was his mind going? What was the point in revisiting that heartbreak now?

He threw the music player onto the desk, and at the sound, Kyle and Michael looked to him. Everything behind Alex came back to earth with a crash, and Alex shut his eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, I’m sorry I grabbed the damned thing.” He grabbed a file, and opened it to read. “Can we just get back to work please?”

There was a moment of silence, then Kyle nodded and returned to his journals. Michael, Alex realized, was still staring at him.

It was almost funny to think that after everything, Alex still dropped his defenses around Michael, that he still had hope. He couldn’t help but wonder whether or not that was a good thing.

Chapter Text

Michael looked to the passenger seat where Alex slept against the window, and his lips quirked up. His arms were crossed tightly to ward off the cold, and as they came to a red light, Michael took his own jacket off, and carefully draped it across Alex’s chest. Alex murmured in his sleep, shifted under the jacket, and turned silent. Michael’s smile widened.

It had been days since he’d seen Alex sleep at all, and the thought that he could do it so easily now with no one else but Michael in the car sent a warmth throughout his chest. He checked to make sure the heaters were working, and lightly pressed two fingers to Alex’s rosy cheeks to know he was warm enough. Michael thought of Alex awake, and knew that the airman would not appreciate being coddled, least of all by the cowboy. And yet the knowledge of that only made Michael want to laugh.

A few months ago, he might’ve been brokenhearted by it, might’ve wanted to wake Alex up just to justify himself, might’ve wanted to pull over and hold Alex in his sleep because he knew he would never get another chance to touch the airman. Now, things were different. He and Alex had spent nights talking, had laughed, had had dinner together, had bonded over fries dipped in milkshakes and Star Wars and music. When Alex looked away from him nowadays, his cheeks flushed. When he told Michael to go away, he said it in a whining tone, laughter bubbling in his throat, that only made Michael want to kiss him until he couldn’t breathe. When Alex caught him staring, he’d throw something at him to stop, his lips turned to a cute that made Michael’s heart melt.

And now Alex had trusted him enough to help him follow up on a lead, no Valenti required, which Alex admittedly did not do often. Baby steps.

At any rate, Michael was just reaching over to push Alex’s bangs back from his eyes, and to – he confessed – get a feel of Alex’s soft locks in his hair, his warm skin against his fingers, when he heard the wail of a police siren, and he stopped. Flashing red and blue in his rearview mirror, Michael saw a police car following him, and while rolling his eyes, pulled over to the side.

The first thing Michael registered as the tall cop came to his window was that he reeked of alcohol. Michael would know what that smelled like. He tensed. He’d dealt with drunk cops before, but that was when it was only him in the car, and not Alex with him.

“Howdy, partner,” the cop said, and Michael had all too often recognized the sway in his own drunkenness, the way his words slurred, the way his eyes never clearly focused on whoever was in front of him not to recognize it in someone else. His hands tightened on the wheel.

Damnit, come on, he thought. Not now.

“You know how fast you were going?”

Michael forced a smile. “Honestly didn’t, officer,” he said. Okay, maybe if he stayed calm, the worst that would come out of all of this would be a speeding ticket.

The officer raised a brow. “License and registration please.”

And so Michael sat with his thumbs tapping the steering wheel as the officer looked them over – or tried to. It was pitch black outside, and the cop could barely stand straight. Michael doubted he was even really reading anything on the page. He handed them back to Michael without a ticket, and did something Michael had never seen a cop do.

He leaned an elbow on the car’s hood and peered inside. It took a second for Michael to realize that he was watching Alex.

“What were you boys doing all the way in Hobbs, anyway? That’s a long drive from Roswell.”

Michael frowned. How the hell did this guy know where they had been?

“Can I just have my ticket so we can get home?” he said, then, as an afterthought, added, “Sir.”

The cop smirked, and it terrified Michael because it was that look that he feared most of all in himself when he was drunk. That look always meant trouble.

“You know,” the police officer said, scratching his jaw as he looked around as if to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “I could forget the whole ticket thing if,” he gestured with his chin at Alex, “you’ll let me wake up your friend there. Take him for a ride.”

Michael stared. “You followed us, didn’t you? You sick bastard, you followed us?”

The officer, it seemed, did not seem to appreciate being accused. “Alright, why don’t you step out of the car, sir.”

“Like hell I will.”

“Get out of the car.”

The officer, Michael saw, was still glancing at Alex’s sleeping figure. Michael’s hands curled to fists. He did want to step out of the car, if only to shoot this creep across the desert and watch him fall on the other side like a pebble, but he didn’t want to leave Alex in here alone, not for a second. He had the horrible feeling that if he did, Alex would be in danger.

“Say, officer,” Michael said through grit teeth. “You noticed your car’s on fire yet?”

The cop frowned, glanced at his police car, then did a doubletake. Somehow, the car had turned into a giant bonfire, the flames reaching the dark skies in an instant.

“What the hell,” he muttered, then when the glass suddenly shattered and the tires popped, screamed, “WHAT THE HELL?!”

As he ran to put it out, Michael turned his own engine back on and drove off. And if the cop’s wrist and one of his ankles suddenly broke for no apparent reason, then Michael couldn’t say he knew anything about that.

Michael pulled his phone out and dialed as Alex stirred awake. He looked into the rearview mirror, relieved that the fire was no longer in sight.

“You good?” he asked, holding the phone up to his ear.

“Sorry,” Alex muttered, rubbing his face. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Hm? No, you’re fine. Max, hey,” he said as his brother picked up on the other end, “I – yeah, I know what time it is – I need you to do something for me. Yeah, brother, now.”

“What happened?” Alex looked around. “Are we in Roswell?”

“Not yet, Private, go back to sleep.” Then, into the phone, “There’s a cop from the Hobbs district whose car just set fire in the middle of the road. Might want to look into him. No, Sherriff, I have no idea how. I’ll text you the details in a bit. ‘Kay.”

And he hung up, fully aware Alex was watching him with furrowed brows. “Did something happen?”

Michael grinned, reaching a hand over to ruffle Alex’s hair which the airman dodged. “Just a little accident.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed. “You have that look.”

“What look?”

“That I-just-broke-a-dick’s-arm look.”

Michael huffed a chuckle, shaking his head. “Go back to sleep, Private. I’ll wake you when we get to the cabin.”

“Can you at least…” his words trailed off, and before Michael could ask what was wrong, Alex said, “Is this your jacket? Aren’t you cold?”

Michael’s grin widened. “Aren’t you tired?”

“At least take it back.”

“When you leave. I need it to smell like you so I have something to remember you by.”

“You’re a loser.”

“Made you blush a little bit though, didn’t I?”

Alex said nothing for a moment, then, “I’m going to sleep.”

Michael laughed, reached to touch Alex’s arm, and this time, Alex allowed the contact. Michael was glad; part of him needed to be reassured that Alex was here, safe, with him. “You do that, Private.”

Chapter Text

Michael had this look. Alex had long ago discovered that when one corner of the cowboy’s lips quirked upward, just slightly, and he got that glint in his eyes, as beautiful as it was, it usually meant trouble wasn’t far along.

And boy, oh boy, was it at his heels this time. The night had started off innocent enough with the group at the Crashdown Café, and Michael had squeezed in next to Alex with the pretense that there were no other available seats (even though there really were). They couldn’t help it, really. Once Michael had listened to Alex, had let him explain that when he had feared telling anyone about their relationship, it was because he had wanted this one thing in his life, this love he had for the cowboy, to be his, Michael had melted. He’d kissed Alex, then kissed him again, and again, and would not release him for the rest of the night. They’d been inseparable since.

But they had agreed that, for a while, they wanted what they had to be secret, to belong to them. Still, that didn’t make avoiding each other while in public any easier. All Alex wanted to do was touch Michael, to kiss his stubbled cheek, to run his hands through Michael’s curly hair, and hold his hand. And judging by the way Michael continuously ran a hand down Alex’s arm when no one was looking, by the way he pinched his ass as he passed by, and the way he took his hand under the table now at the café, Alex knew he wanted the same.

“Please, stop,” Isobel demanded as she and Liz took their seats across from them. “I don’t want to hear about you and my brother. You are so not as appealing as you think you are.”

“Is it because you don’t like me?” Liz raised a brow.

“I tolerate you just fine,” Isobel said. “I’m just sick of knowing about my brothers’ sex lives, like, I don’t care. You think I’m joking? I don’t care.”

Michael scoffed. “Because hearing about your sex life is so much fun?”

“Okay, fine. Outsider,” Isobel said. “Manes, what have you got?”

Alex blinked, his French-fry halfway to his milkshake. “What?”

“You’re the only one who’s not dating one of my brothers, so have at it,” she said. “When are we going to meet this mystery guy of yours?”

“M-mystery guy?”

“Uh, Alex,” Liz tried with an annoyed glance at Isobel. Evidently, everyone had known, and had agreed to keep it a secret. “You’re not… really subtle. I mean, I’ve never seen you so happy.”

Alex tried very hard to avoid Michael’s gaze. “Well –”

“I mean, ever,” Liz pressed. “But,” she reached across the table, and took his hand in both of hers. “Hey, it’s great. I’m so happy for you.”

“Right,” Alex muttered, nodding along, and he inhaled sharply as he felt Michael’s hand suddenly on his thigh.

“So?” Isobel raised a brow. “You going to tell us who it is, or what?”

Alex leaned back, searching for the right words. If Michael’s hand moved any further up, Alex resolved, he would kill the cowboy right here in this diner. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. First, he’d take him to the bathroom and do very nasty things to him. Then he’d kill him.

“You know, I’m – uh – I’m not so sure he’s up to meeting anybody yet.” Michael’s hand kept reaching, and Alex forced a tight smile as he said, “And my sex life is dead.” Michael’s hand stilled. Alex huffed a chuckle. “Really, it’s kind of like punishment. I’m talking no sex at all.”

The cowboy’s hand finally fell, and Alex was able to breathe.

“Yeah,” Michael said with his lips pressed together. “He’s probably not up to meeting anybody yet.”

“Stay out of it, Michael,” Isobel said. “Alex doesn’t get out much, and I want to know about the best sex he’s ever had.”

Michael’s grin returned tenfold, and Alex got the desperate urge to shoot himself. “Really? He said that? You said that?”

Alex shook his head, his tongue in his cheek. Finally, after a moment, “I… may have said that.”

And Michael laughed loudly, pulling Alex into a hug, ruffling his hair. “Tell me all about it, I want to hear this!”

Liz and Isobel exchanged concerned and confused looks, and Liz asked, “Why are you so happy about this?”

“Happy?” Michael wiped a tear as his laughter subsided. “I’m – you know, I’m – obviously, I’m devastated, but – I don’t know, he’s lying! He’s been with me, so…”

Liz raised a brow. “What, you’re so great, no one can compare? You’re that sure of yourself?”

“Oh, I wasn’t, Doc. I’ll admit, I had my doubts.” Michael crossed his arms, evidently pleased. “Not so much anymore.”

Alex watched Michael out of the corner of his eyes. He had no idea Michael had undermined his own value to him, and… well, he begrudgingly supposed that if he had to be embarrassed this once for Michael to gain confidence and know how much Alex loved being with him, then that wasn’t such a bad thing.

A few moments of meaningless conversation passed, then Liz asked, “Is it someone we know?”

Alex looked up, and Isobel said, “Can’t be. How many guys do you know who are ‘hotter than a Greek god?’ I sure as hell don’t know any.”

Alex slid onto the floor with a groan, his face hidden behind his hands. Michael hooked an arm around Alex’s shoulders, his smile wide. “I love everything about this day.”

Chapter Text

“Let me in!”

“Jesus, Valenti, you’re bleeding –”

Kyle swatted his colleague’s hand away. In the back of his mind, he knew she was only worried for him, but he couldn’t focus on that, Alex’s sleeping figure as they rolled him into the Emergency Room fresh in his mind. He could still hear the car windows shattering, the tires screeching against the asphalt, the car door as it was wrenched open by an invisible force. And he could still see the dark look in her eyes as she leaned over Alex. Kyle clenched his fists.

“I don’t care about me,” he said. “I need to get in to see Alex!”

She was almost two heads shorter than him, yet she was fast enough to block his way into the operating room where he knew Alex – his Alex – was lying unconscious on a bed right now being cut into, his life on the line.

“You just crashed a car and sustained serious injuries, Kyle, we have to get you to an examination room.”

Meg –”

“I know you’re worried,” she said, her grip on his arms like iron. It was strange, he thought for a brief hysterical moment, that the woman who used to help him keep other frantic men and women from following their loved ones into the operating room was now using her strength to keep Kyle from his. “But you are staining your clothes, and you’re scaring the other patients.”

“But Alex –”

“Your friend will be fine, you need to calm down,” she said through grit teeth, and – when she was sure he wasn’t going to try to pass her again – released him. She kept her watchful gaze on him until the automatic doors closed, separating them, and Kyle slid to the floor against the wall, his head in his hands.

Meg had been right. His hands were covered in dry blood, and his clothes red. Part of him thought he should take a shower and change, but he couldn’t leave Alex’s side. A few nurses came running out, presumably sent by Meg who was still inside, and offered to take a look at Kyle’s injuries. After a few testy “I’m fine” and “I’m not leaving him” declarations, the nurses could think of nothing else to do but clean what they could manage of the blood, where Kyle was sitting, and bandage him up where he needed it. His injuries, save for a few cuts from the window shield, really hadn’t been that bad. It was the airman he was terrified for. It was the airman who hadn’t been moving.

“Kyle!” Kyle looked up at the familiar sound. No sooner had he gotten to his feet than Liz lunged at him with her arms around his shoulders. “Max just got the call about the car crash, and we came right over! Are you okay?”

“What the hell happened?” Max huffed, looking to the doors of the Emergency Room, and then to Kyle. “The call said Alex had crashed his car.”

“He did,” Kyle swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Everything was fine, then suddenly it was like we were pushed off the road.”

Max rubbed his eyes with a deep exhale. “Good thing we didn’t tell Michael.”

Kyle was staring off into space, his head reeling. “I can’t do this, I have to go see him –”

“Kyle –”

“Liz, I’m the best surgeon in town, and Alex – Alex – is in there, and I’m out here! I can’t breathe!”

“Okay, okay,” she said quietly, pulling him into a hug, her hand on the back of his head. “Shh, it’s going to be okay.”

“It’s Alex, Liz,” Kyle muttered as he wrapped his arms around Liz’s waist. Max patted his shoulder once, his grip tight, comforting. And Kyle gasped, pulling back. “There was a woman, a-an alien!”

Liz’s brows furrowed, and Max frowned. “What are you talking about, Valenti?”

“A woman, there –” Kyle looked around to make sure no one was listening in, and pulled the two into a corner. “Alex was driving the car, and a woman suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He swerved and just missed her, but I woke up for a minute, and I saw her come up to the car.”

Liz shook her head. “Maybe she was just trying to help –”

“No, Liz, she touched Alex and her hand glowed. I tried to get to him, but I couldn’t move. Next thing I knew, I was out again.”

Max and Liz exchanged looks. “Kyle,” Max said gently, “you were in an accident, you could’ve been hallucinating, you probably didn’t wake up at all –”

“She did something to Alex!” he snapped. “You think I’m playing around here?”

“Dr. Valenti?” a voice cut in, and the three looked to the doors where Meg stood with a confused furrow of her brows. “You… might want to come see this.”

Kyle looked to Max and Liz before the three of them followed the nurse into the surgery observation room. She had been against letting Max and Liz inside, but Kyle had said they were Alex’s family, and that was that.

There was a monitor pulled up against the glass. First thing was first; Kyle made sure the airman’s heartbeats were regular, there were no problems in his blood flow, and aside from a broken arm and a few bruises and minor cuts, there were no other injuries. He allowed himself a moment of peace before the monitor focused on a strange symbol burning red on Alex’s forearm. A symbol that had definitely not been there this morning.

“What the hell is that?” Liz asked, her eyes narrowed.

“Oh my God,” Max breathed. “That’s my symbol, on my shoulder.”

“What –” Liz’s frown deepened, panic starting to visibly seep in with the twinkle of her eye. “Has Alex always had that?” Kyle shook his head. She covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh my God. Someone came after him?”

“It’s a message,” Max said quietly, glaring at the symbol on the monitor. “To us. Someone knows we care about Alex, so they’re trying to warn us.”

Kyle’s hands curled to fists against the glass as he took in Alex’s appearance on the operating table. He had been laughing and singing before that damn crash, a big, beautiful smile on his face as Kyle had so rarely seen of him. The airman had done nothing but protect Michael and his family, and in return, he was beaten for it. No matter what he did, he was always beaten down. It wasn’t fair.

“Warn you of what?” he said through grit teeth.

“They know who he is to us,” Max said grimly. “They know who he is, and they can kill him.”

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait, wait,” Kyle pulled Alex to him before he reached the bunker door, wrapping an arm around his waist, taking his lips in his own.

Alex chuckled into his mouth, his hands on Kyle’s chest. “What was that for?”

Kyle nuzzled against Alex’s nose. “Just saving up for the day. I’m going to miss you.”

Alex smiled. “Miss me?”

“I know, look at me,” he said, and kissed Alex again, and again, and again. “I’m a clingy boyfriend. Who would’ve guessed?” he brought a hand down Alex’s spine, then up again. “I’d love to get clingier, but I could do without the side-eyes from Guerin.”

Alex sighed. “What he says about us doesn’t matter. Don’t let him get to you.”

“He loves you, Alex,” Kyle said, and Alex seemed to have no response. “It kills him to see you with me, I know it does. Hey,” he gently raised Alex’s chin with his fingers, tilting his head and kissing the airman’s lips. “I don’t need his permission to love you. I just don’t always feel like hearing what he has to say. Today is one of those days.”

Alex’s fingers tightened in Kyle’s jacket. He nodded. In truth, Kyle knew he would. At the mention of Michael’s love for him, Alex always seemed to be at a loss. It baffled Kyle that Alex had actually believed at any point in his life that no one cared for him, and he hated himself for allowing it for so long. But things were different now, and Alex was his, not Michael’s, and whatever had kept the two together in the past was over now. Kyle would make sure of it.

He took Alex’s face in his hands, and kissed him hard before releasing him. Alex bit his lower lip to keep his grin from widening as he entered the bunker, Kyle at his heels feeling satisfaction bloom in his chest at being the one to turn Alex’s cheeks so red.

Michael looked up from where he sat, his brow raised at Kyle only briefly before his eyes settled on Alex. He and Alex always seem to find each other first in any room, Kyle’s mind helpfully reminded him. He told it to shut up.

Alex sat across from Michael with Kyle beside him.

“Did you finish looking through those 1950 files from last week?” Alex asked, pulling up his own computer.

“Yep,” Michael said, tossing the paper onto the messy pile on the desk. “And you wanna know what I found?” At Alex’s and Kyle’s questioning eyes, he said, “Nothing.” Their shoulders slumped. “No mention of any facilities, no weird names, no codes. Just a lot of algorithms, which, yes, I ran, and they were not coordinates or a secret message. Just a lot of numbers.”

Alex sighed, rubbing his face with one hand as his other set to work on the emails and encryptions. “Great. Well, no facilities is something, I guess. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long day.”

“Crap,” Kyle checked his watch. “I have to get back to the hospital,” he stood, bending only to peck Alex’s lips. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Got a date?” Michael said with a humorless smirk. “That’s still going on?”

“That’s not funny,” Alex said.

Michael heaved a sigh, crossing his legs over the table as he reached for another file. “Wasn’t trying to be funny, Private.”

“You’re not together, okay?” Kyle snapped. “Try to get that into your head for one goddamn second – Alex is my boyfriend. Not yours. He loves me, not you.”

“Kyle, don’t do this.”

Michael’s eye twitched as he glared at Kyle, his smirk growing wider as he said, “Ask Alex if he loves me.”

Guerin, stop it!”

“Go on,” Michael edged. “If you’re so sure he’s yours, ask him.”

Kyle did not respond. His hand tightened on Alex’s shoulder before he turned to leave. The door closed behind him, and he faltered in his steps. He shut his eyes, pressing the bottoms of his palms into them. Damn it.

He heard the door open and shut again, and without looking, knew who had followed him out. “He never stops,” he said, turning to Alex who looked concerned and conflicted all at once. Kyle both hated and loved that look. “Alex, it’s exhausting.”

Alex pressed his lips together. “I know.”

Kyle sighed. “You would, wouldn’t you?” He leaned against his car, shaking his head. “I can’t… compete with him, with you, I can’t.”

“Compete? What’re you talking about?”

“That damn cosmic connection you guys have. Guerin’s made it pretty clear the universe wants you two together.”

“Are –” Alex blinked, his brows furrowed. “Are you breaking up with me right now? I-I can’t tell.”

No, Alex, I,” he rubbed his face. “I have to know, I’m sorry, I have to – do you still love him?”

Alex’s expression softened. “Kyle…”

“I know what your answer will be, but I just need to hear it; do you still love him?”

Alex said nothing for a long moment, then, “Yeah. I do.” When Kyle looked up at the sky, he said, “I’m sorry –”

He shook his head, and forced half a smile. “No, don’t be. Like I said. I knew what your answer would be.”

“I can’t stop loving him,” Alex said quietly, then, exasperated, he went on, “but I don’t want to be with someone because some cosmic whatever said so. I want… I want someone who knows my restaurant order, and who gets me sweaters for my birthday, and who laughs at all my jokes, and… and who looks at me like you do.”

Kyle shut his eyes and let his forehead fall onto Alex’s shoulder. Alex wrapped his arms around Kyle’s waist, holding him there, and all the while, the doctor couldn’t help but think; Stupid Manes. As if I’d ever go anywhere.

“I don’t want to have any more choices taken away,” Alex said, and Kyle brought his hands to the airman’s neck. “I want to make my own choice, and I choose you. Can’t that be good enough?”

And in his voice, Kyle heard all the pain that he’d suffered at the hands of those he’d trusted, those the universe had left him with, those who turned away from him when he’d needed them. Kyle wanted to hurt anyone that ever hurt his Alex.

“It’s more than enough,” he said, and took Alex’s lips in his in a deep kiss, muttering, “It’s enough, it’s enough” against his shoulder. Kyle wondered how many times Alex had been made to feel like what he was doing, or what he’d done, was the exact opposite. How many times did he have to prove himself? How many times did he have to love before his feelings were taken and valued?

And he believed Alex loved him.

Kyle kissed up Alex’s jaw, his cheek, his nose, pressed his lips to each of the airman’s eyes, and before he could kiss his lips again, he said, “Just promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” Alex breathed.

“The next time you use the word cosmic, I want it to be in bed,” he said, and Alex burst into laughter, “and nowhere else! I’m just saying, it’ll be a lot easier to put up with it.”

“You got it,” Alex muttered with a wide grin against Kyle’s lips before kissing him. They kissed until Kyle felt Alex’s stomach beneath his shirt, and knew he was taking it too far, too soon. With a lot of effort, and a last hard kiss to Alex’s lips, Kyle pulled away, unable to help but feel like something was always tearing him and the airman apart.

Chapter Text

“We should probably get up.”

“We should,” Kyle sighed, content. “Are we actually going to though?”

Alex turned to look at Kyle’s profile. They had spent all day unpacking things into their small Brooklyn apartment, and collapsed on opposite ends of the bed, their heads pillowed on the other’s shoulder. Alex smiled as he thought that they might just never get up again, and he would be fine with that.

“You’re staring,” Kyle said, and Alex’s grin widened.

“Of course I am,” he said, and kissed Kyle’s stubbled cheek. “Have you seen you?”

Kyle’s brows furrowed as he reached up to touch Alex’s hair. “That sounds like something I would say, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Alex said. “Huh. Maybe you’re rubbing off on me.”

Kyle smirked. “Well –”

“Don’t,” Alex laughed, hitting his chest with a pillow. “I heard it the second I said it.”

Kyle bit his lower lip, and in one swift move, came up to hover over Alex, attacking his lips with his own. It was a mix of giggles and lips and hands, then Kyle tilted his head, deepening the kiss, and Alex absolutely melted. He wrapped his arms around Kyle’s head, his fingers stretching between the dark locks, pulling Kyle closer, closer, closer. Kyle took Alex’s lower lip between his teeth, and Alex gasped into the doctor’s mouth.

“I love you,” Kyle breathed, and Alex ran a hand down his arm. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“That sounds like something I would say,” Alex whispered, and Kyle closed his eyes, pressing their foreheads together. Alex’s own eyes fluttered shut as he inhaled his boyfriend’s scent. If he had been asked two years ago what Kyle meant to him, Alex might’ve said; “Someone I care about. Someone that means a lot to me.”

Now, Kyle was his. Not just his best friend, not just his lover, but his. The traffic sounds outside blared, and with the window open and the curtains flying, Alex could smell a mix of smoke, and pizza, and sugar. But he didn’t care because this was new, this was different. This was what they needed.

“It feels weird,” he said, hours later as he lay on Kyle’s chest, the doctor’s hand going down his spine.

Kyle’s hand stilled on his skin. “Considering what we just did, Manes, some context would be great right about now.”

Alex huffed a chuckle and kissed Kyle’s nipple, then his collarbone before settling comfortably again. “Not being in Roswell,” he clarified. “Not being in Jim’s cabin. Not expecting anyone to come through the door, or my phone to ring because someone needs help with something somewhere. It just feels weird.”

“Being free, you mean.”

Alex considered this. Had he been trapped in Roswell? In that life? He thought of all the guilt he’d carried for so much of his time, the weight of it all. He thought about the nights he would wake up suffocated, drenched in sweat. He thought of the faces he never wanted to see, the ones he’d had to, the ones that cried and yelled and mocked him.

Then he thought about Kyle, and Buffy (he couldn’t wait for everything to settle down so he could go get her), and the long winter nights spent in front of the fireplace, often with nothing but the faux fur of the carpet to keep them warm where they lay. He thought of dinners he spent laughing with Kyle, music he’d spent listening to with Kyle, nightmares he’d woken from with Kyle’s arms wrapped tightly around him, his gentle voice lulling him back to sleep. He thought of his moments, of their moments. Of the moments he had chosen, and he realized – he was finally allowed to choose.

“Yeah,” he said, the beginnings of a smile forming on his lips despite his own wonder of it all. “I guess I do.”

Chapter Text

There was a party going on tonight. Actually, if Alex remembered correctly, Liz had called it a gala, and said it was a tie event. Everyone was required to wear a tux or evening dress. And Alex didn’t really want to go. His finger tapped incessantly on the table in front of him, he kept looking at the bunker door as if expecting someone to come through, and he had been reading the same file for the past two hours, but he didn’t want to go.

Liz and Maria had gone, as had Kyle, and Forest wasn’t answering Alex’s calls for whatever reason. It wasn’t often that Forest didn’t answer his calls, but it did happen sometimes. Alex found his spirits dimmed at the lack of response tonight in particular.

He glanced up at Michael across from him, the cowboy focused on a file of his own. Brief images flashed in Alex’s mind – he and Michael on the dance floor, dressed up with glasses of champagne like in those old black and white movies, Michael’s hand on his waist, holding him closely, their foreheads pressed together. The truth was, he didn’t care about being at the actual gala, so long as he and Michael were together. They tried to talk and pretend they were friends, but Alex could still hear the venom in Michael’s words, could still hear his hatred for the Manes family and what they had taken away from him. But it was alright, because Michael still loved him. Did it hurt that he saw Alex as his family name and not as him half the time?

Alex shut his eyes and sighed. That train of thought was getting him nowhere, and this was not the night for it. Alex inhaled deeply, and held it. Resolved, he pushed himself out of his chair, and rounded the table to Michael. Michael looked up from his file, his brow raised.

Alex swallowed. He put a hand out for Michael to take. “Wanna dance?”

Michael frowned. “What?”

Alex’s heart hammered in his chest. “I figured if we’re not going to be at the gala tonight, we could still have this. Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Michael looked at Alex’s hand, then his face, then his hand, and shook his head, returning his attention to his file. “No.”

Alex’s smile faltered. Michael had confessed that he sometimes struggled to keep a friendly conversation with Alex, especially when he was filled with so much anger at the Manes, but to just reject him so bluntly, as if the mere request was ridiculous – it stung.

                But this was Michael, so Alex tried again. “It’s just one dance, Guerin,” he even huffed a chuckle, though it admittedly cost him some effort. Laughing took such an effort around Michael nowadays. “I’ll even let you lead.”

                “Seriously, Alex,” he said, and Alex could’ve sworn the cowboy actually inched further away from him. “I’m busy with this, and I can’t dance anyway,” he added as if it was an afterthought, as if it made his words any kinder.

                Alex wanted to cry, and if he hadn’t spent so much of his life forcing it down, he may just have done it. All he was asking for was one dance, just one, and Michael was treating him as if he was an infectious disease, spreading pain and misery to anything he touched.

                He stepped back, and would’ve dropped his offered hand… but he wanted to dance with Michael so badly, to feel him close. Just once. He would endure the cruelty if he just got that.

                “The work will still be there when you get back,” he tried again, forcing his voice to be lighter. It hurt, to pretend so much around Michael. “Come on, Guerin, I’ll turn on some music, and –”

                “Alex, I just don’t want to dance with you!” he snapped, and Alex flinched. He seemed to realize then what he’d said, but it was too late.

                “Sorry,” Alex muttered, returning to his seat. The air grew silent and cold between them, and Alex didn’t dare look up from his file. He felt so stupid, so embarrassed, his fingers digging into his thigh under the table. He was suddenly glad not to have gone to the gala. He wouldn’t have known what to do in a place like that anyway.

                “Bonjour, bitches!” the front door suddenly opened, and there he was, in a tuxedo of his own – Forest. He had a zipped up ensemble draped over one shoulder as he surveyed the bunker, his eyes going between a fond Alex and an annoyed Michael before they settled on Alex. “Come on, baby. You and me, gala.”

                Alex couldn’t help it; he chuckled, and as he did, his heart couldn’t help but hurt. “What’re you talking about?”

                “Please,” Forest plopped down on the chair next to him, his arms crossed over the back. “I’ve been part of your unit for six years. I knew you wouldn’t go to that gala and would spend your Friday night locked in this dusty toolbox instead. So, naturally, I had to make a dramatic entrance to convince you to come.” He set the clothes on the counter, and Alex unzipped the sheet to check the inside. A black and white tux with a bowtie.

                Alex huffed in disbelief. “This is why you haven’t been answering my calls?”

                “You can tell a lie through a snowstorm,” Forest said with a shrug, as if he was mentioning a well-known fact. “I couldn’t let you figure anything out until after I got the tuxes. I didn’t want to get your hopes up, and then disappoint you if it didn’t work out.” He stood with a sigh. “So don’t disappoint me. Come with me to the gala.”

                Alex looked down at Forest’s outstretched hand, the same gesture he himself had offered Michael only a moment ago. He had wanted to go to the gala with Michael, to feel his warmth and hear his laugh, but he supposed that just wasn’t meant for him. At least, not tonight.

                Michael was barely just saying Alex’s name, probably to keep him from going out, when Alex smiled softly, said, “Yeah, sure,” and slipped his hand into Forest’s. He was pulled to his feet, and towards the door. Alex knew Michael had stood, furious, but refused to look back at him.

Chapter Text

Kyle felt as if the past few minutes had dragged on to days. There were intervals of time he didn’t even remember, but he was restless, even more so than Guerin across from him. Kyle had never thought of himself as the kind who couldn’t sit still—he was a surgeon, after all, and surgeons needed a steady hand—but as the clock ticked, and Kyle was left stuck with a few of his and Alex’s friends between the white walls of the hospital hall, the tiles cold against his skin however he lied, nurses and doctors passing around him in a kind of blur, for he was not allowed in to handle his boyfriend’s case, Kyle felt himself slowly slipping off into madness.

                Every now and then, he caught Michael’s narrowed eyes at him, and looked away, burying his face in his hands. Kyle thought, not for the first time, of his airman’s beautiful smile, his scent as they lay together after a long night of not sleeping, and glittering eyes as they raked Kyle’s body hungrily. Kyle had wanted to shout it from the rooftops, wanted to declare the moment Alex had kissed him that ALEX HAD KISSED HIM! Of anyone he could’ve chosen, and he could’ve chosen anyone, Alex Manes had chosen him. But Alex was wary. Not because he had any doubts, he assured Kyle—his expression so open and honest that Kyle believed him with everything he had—but because he was tired of everyone being involved in his personal life. Kyle supposed that was partly his fault—he had been one of the few, nearly a year ago now, to voice his guess on Michael being the one Alex was interested in. Apparently, he hadn’t been the only one, and Alex confirming the guesses had done very little to change some people’s approach towards the cowboy.

                Alex was still broken over that, what Michael and Maria had done, how they had gone behind his back and dismissed his feelings so easily, and Kyle knew there would always be a part of him that was broken for it. It was because of that that he agreed to keep their relationship a secret, at least for a while.

                And for a while they had pulled it off, but then Alex had suddenly collapsed in the bunker—no warning, no sign of fatigue—and Kyle had panicked. And Michael, he was sure, had noticed.

                “Would you stop pacing, you’re making me dizzy!” Michael snapped, and Max and Liz looked up. It was well past the middle of the night, and everyone was exhausted.

                “Sorry, I’m actually worried about him,” Kyle said. “What, now that you’ve found someone else, it feels stupid for anyone to actually care about what happens to him?”

                Michael was on his feet in an instant. “You know that if Alex wasn’t everything to me, he wouldn’t be in there right now.”

                “Great,” Kyle scoffed, trying not to think of how passionate Michael sounded. What did it matter if he still loved Alex, if Alex was everything to him? He was everything to Kyle, too, and at least Kyle showed him how much he loved him every day. At least Kyle deserved his love. “So you piss off some alien, and to get back at you, he puts Alex in a coma. Why doesn’t that make me feel better?”

                “Guys, stop it,” Max said as he stood, pulling Liz up beside him. “Arguing isn’t going to help Alex right now.”

                “Nothing will help Alex, because no one knows what’s wrong with him!” Kyle snapped, then turned to Michael. “Maybe if you’d actually protected him like he’s been protecting you this entire time, he wouldn’t have been hurt.”

                Michael at least had the decency to flinch, but Kyle didn’t care. His Alex—his beautiful, kind, brave Alex—was now stuck in a coma that none of them knew how to wake him up from, and all he’d ever done wrong was be loved by someone who never bothered confessing it.

                “This isn’t happening,” Kyle muttered as he turned away from Michael, rubbing his face, horrible images and possibilities flashing in his mind mercilessly. Scenarios of Alex dying in that hospital room, of one of his organs rupturing and killing him from the inside. “Oh my—I need to be with him.”

                Liz took hold of his arm with both hands, her eyes so sad that Kyle could not move another step. “Kyle, you know you can’t, they won’t let anyone in right now.”

                “I don’t care what they—” Kyle was just starting to say, but never finished because right then, a doctor stepped out. She looked up from Alex’s file suddenly when everyone had come up to her.

                “How is he?” Kyle asked, and his colleague shook her head, apologetic.

                “Kyle, you know I can’t tell you, you’re not family.”

                Kyle ran his hands through his hair, exhaling slowly as he vaguely heard Liz tell the doctor that Alex’s actual family was better off away from here.

                “I’m his boyfriend,” he said, and everyone turned silent, their wide eyes on Kyle. He felt Michael’s eyes burning a hole into the side of his head, but he didn’t care. He’d apologize to Alex for blurting their secret out later, when the airman was awake and in his arms, but right now, he just had to know how he was doing. “I’m his boyfriend, Nancy. Please, you have to tell me.”

                Nancy’s expression softened, and she looked down at the file, hesitant a moment, before she said, “There’s still nothing.” Her response was met with slumped shoulders and deepening frowns. “On the charts, he seems healthy. Nothing wrong with his brain activity, nothing with his major organs—he just… won’t wake up. Hey,” she said gently, putting a hand on Kyle’s arm and squeezing. “We’ll keep trying.”

                Kyle didn’t register himself nodding, but he must have because his colleague gave him one last sad look, and walked off. As soon as the group was left alone, Michael turned Kyle around, and slammed him hard against the wall.

                “Don’t ever say those words again,” he hissed. “That’s a dangerous, dangerous lie to make, Valenti. Understand me?”

                “Michael, let him go! Now!” Max ordered, and just as Michael was starting to release him, Kyle shoved him off completely.

                “It wasn’t a lie,” he said, the evil part of him enjoying the look of shock and anger and fear that crossed Michael’s face. Fear that he’d actually lost Alex to someone else, that Alex hadn’t sat around waiting for him to deem the airman good enough to be with. “And you can hit me as many times as you want, Guerin, I don’t care. All I care about is Alex, and he’s in there right now because of you. So how you feel about him finally moving on and trying to be happy—not my problem. You want to prove you deserve Alex more than I do? Fix this.”

                And he shoved past Michael who was still staring at the spot where Kyle had stood as if locked in a nightmare. He needed coffee if he was going to stay awake at his boyfriend’s bedside. It was going to be a long wait.

Chapter Text

                Being the son of Hephaestus, Michael was used to hard work. He had fought Cyclopes with nothing more than a makeshift knife he’d created out of paperclips, copper wire, and a nail. He had won favor with Poseidon after helping him snag a yellowfin tuna the size of the demigod himself using a state-of-the-art fishing rod that launched nets from its hook. He had even gotten a nod of approval from Athena herself when he had designed a battle-ready replica of the Athena Parthenos using bits of old machinery from an abandoned amusement park.

                But there was one battle he never seemed able to win, no matter how hard he tried. People seemed to think that because Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love, then even her children must be regular flirts. Perhaps hopeless romantics? Desperate to be swept off their feet?

                Maybe some of them were. Hades, maybe all of them here. Except one. Because didn’t Alex Manes just always have to be the exception?

                Michael doubted Alex, with his head always in his computer, remembered the first time they’d met, but Michael remembered as if it was yesterday. Demigods are often subjected to a lot of hungry monsters, which meant a lot of danger, which meant that occasionally, as he’s fighting, the son of the Goddess of Love might be thrown by some tentacle-bat-demon into the arms of the son of the God of Fire. He had fallen in love then.

                Michael still remembered the startled look on Alex’s face, the way Michael had barely sat him on the ground before he suddenly pulled Michael in against his chest and took a swing of his sword to kill a monster that had snuck up behind them. The sky had been full of dark clouds, the smell of smoke and death was in the air, and Alex—aside from being covered in ash—had cuts along his cheek and arms. Michael had planned his proposal.

                And it wasn’t as if he didn’t try to get Alex’s attention, but the son of the Goddess of Love seemed to always be busy with his work.

                Michael had tried the subtle approach at first, casually asking Alex if “All that work must put a strain on your relationship, huh?” to which Alex replied with barely a glance in Michael’s direction and a raised brow; “I don’t really have a boyfriend.”

                Then Michael had gone for elegance, and told Alex to “Go out with me,” to which Alex responded with a cool “No, thank you” as if Michael had asked him if he wanted anything from the bakery down the street.

                And the thing that really, truly pained Michael was that Alex looked and felt like the son of Aphrodite. He had a beauty that only intensified with every passing minute. If he was cold, his cheeks and nose turned a deep rosy color. If he was sleepy, his beautiful lips formed a beautiful pout that Michael found he wanted to taste more and more every day. Alex was even beautiful when he cried, his eyes glistening as if they held constellations of their own, each twinkle its own story that Michael was eager to learn of.

                Sometimes, sometimes, Michael got the feeling that maybe Alex could love him, too, but with every “Go out with me,” Michael was met with yet another “No,” and his heart shattered a little more, in a way he would not confess his heart could shatter. For he was the son of Hephaestus, and while he smelled like dirt and sweat most of the time, he wasn’t unpopular with women. He was the ‘Enjoy the Night While It Lasts’ kind of demigod. But then he would see Alex, or hear Alex’s voice, or feel a brief touch of Alex’s fingers against his own, and his rules no longer had any place. A world where Alex wasn’t his—all his—no longer made any sense or mattered.

                But it was fine. But not really. But what Michael actually meant by that was that he had learned to live with the torture. At least, he thought he had until he walked into Alex’s cabin one day, dumped an armful of roses on Alex’s coffee table, demanded—once again—that Alex go out with him, and Alex had curled in deeper on himself from where he had been lying on the couch, his back turned to Michael, and said in a very hoarse and very raw voice, “Not today, Guerin.”

                Michael’s smile faltered. He had heard “No,” had heard “Go away,” and even the dreaded “You’re just not cute enough,” which Alex had always said with the ghost of a smile, and a secret—albeit begrudging—invitation for Michael to come closer, and be as cute as Alex wanted him to be. This time, Alex did not sound as if he was secretly pleased to see the curly-haired demigod. He sounded like he’d been crying.

                “Alex?” Alex did not respond. “Alex…”

                Alex sniffled and hid his face in his couch cushion, the entirety of it breaking Michael’s heart. Michael had never cared for mending hearts—never had the skillset for it—but with Alex, he had always been willing to learn. He had wanted to be the kind of man who Alex could depend on for anything. It was like nothing he had ever strived for before, but then, Alex had always been the exception.

                He kneeled behind Alex, and softly ran his fingers through his windswept dark brown hair (always a perfect mess; damn you, beautiful godly genes). Alex seemed to still beneath his touch, and for a moment, he was turning towards it. Then he seemed to catch himself, and turned away, away from Michael’s hold.

                “Please, Guerin, we can talk tomorrow. I just want to be left alone now.”

                Michael shook his head. If Alex wanted to be left alone—as he was always left alone, which was an odd thing to want, considering who his mother was—then he clearly was too upset to know what he wanted.

                “I’ll sit here,” he said in barely above a whisper, resting his chin on the couch, his nose against Alex’s back, inhaling his warm scent. He wished he could take Alex apart like a clock and look at his gears, figure out what the problem was as only a mechanic could.

                “Please leave,” Alex said in almost a low whine, and Michael shook his head, squeezing and un-squeezing Alex’s waist. “I’m okay, really.”

                “You don’t sound okay.”

                “These aren’t my feelings, they’re – Guerin, I’m okay.”

                “Then look at me.”

                Alex did not move, and Michael set his forehead against Alex’s back. “Whose feelings are they?”

                “What?”

                “You said they weren’t your feelings,” Michael said calmly. “Whose feelings are they?”

                Alex turned over slowly, his red eyes watching Michael intently. “Yours.”

                A lot of people liked to treat Alex like he was an idiot, or like his opinion didn’t really matter because of who his mother was. Michael supposed that was why Alex worked so hard, to prove that he was more than just the Goddess of Love’s son. That was why it caught Michael at a bit of a surprise to hear Alex talk about feelings and his empathetic powers, being such a rational and calm man that he usually is.

                Michael tried not to show the electricity and warmth surging throughout his body in an instant at the tenderness in that one word.

                He wiped a tear from Alex’s cheek with his thumb. “Mine?”

                Alex searched Michael’s face, and his eyes filled with tears again, his brows furrowing as if he couldn’t process everything he was feeling. Michael muttered, “Oh no, no, shh, shh,” as he brought an arm around Alex’s waist, holding him close.

                “You–you love so deeply, I can feel it. But your heart’s so… broken. The pain of it, Guerin,” Alex’s voice cracked. “It’s killing me. How are you still alive?”

                For you, he almost said, or something along those graceful lines, but what ended up leaving Michael’s lips was, “My heart isn’t broken.”

                It was a lie. And Alex knew it. In his defense, Michael was good at not thinking about things that bothered him, at only looking at the pros without considering the cons, but he couldn’t look Alex in the eyes and tell him he didn’t have his doubts. Michael couldn’t tell Alex he wasn’t genuinely afraid that the son of the Goddess of Love just didn’t feel that way about him, and was just too kind to tell him that truth.

                Still, those were Michael’s nightmares. They didn’t have to be Alex’s.

                “It’s because of me, isn’t it?” Alex asked, and Michael’s grip on his sweater tightened.

                “Damn, baby,” he muttered, resting his forehead against Alex’s, a sad smile tugging at his lips. “How tired are you?”

                Alex wrapped his arms around Michael’s shoulders, and pulled him in, burying his face in the crook of Michael’s neck.

                “I’m a jerk,” Alex said, and Michael shook his head. His beautiful Alex. “I’m such a jerk.”

                “Hey,” Michael pulled back, holding Alex’s face tightly in his hands. “This is my problem. Not yours. It’s not your fault you don’t love me, Alex. I’m not angry at you for it.”

                Alex’s eyes fell shut, another tear escaped, and Michael felt his heart shatter to pieces. He wondered if Alex could feel that, too.

                “But I do,” he said. “I love you, but I… I never thought you could actually love me.”

                “You—” Michael’s brows furrowed. “You—what? You love me?”

                “I love you,” Alex said, and he pulled away, wrapping his arms around himself as if trying to protect himself. “But… I couldn’t be sure that you felt the same.”

                “What do you mean?” Michael asked, reaching for Alex because not being able to touch him now was so dreadfully painful.

                “Michael,” he said, and never before had Michael heard his name said so sadly. “I’m Aphrodite’s son. I’m not an idiot to think no one’s ever been attracted to me, but I fell in love with you so quickly. I didn’t think you felt anything real for me, but I liked having your attention, and when you flirted, and when you came close to me.”

                “You thought I was under some spell?” Michael never even considered that. That maybe what he felt was the Greek charm of Aphrodite, and not anything actually to do with Alex. And he found himself laughing with disbelief, moving up to Alex and holding him close to forbid him from moving away again. “My Alex, my beautiful, beautiful Alex.”

                “I was wrong,” Alex cried against his chest, wrapping his arms tightly around him. “I was wrong, I’m so sorry.”

                Michael kept repeating “My Alex” over and over into Alex’s hair, running a hand up and down Alex’s back as if to both comfort him, and reassure himself that Alex was in his arms, that he wasn’t dreaming, that he finally got to touch him like this.

                “I’ve hurt you so much,” Alex said. “Can you ever forgive me?”

                “Forgive you?” Michael pulled him in deeper until he could feel Alex against his very heart. He had never been the only one suffering, the only one whose heart was breaking. He wondered what went through Alex’s head whenever Michael asked him out, told him he loved him. Did he just think Michael was lying? That maybe he didn’t really want to be with him? Michael had always thought that being a child of the Goddess of Love was a gift, to have all that beauty and wonder about you that no one could resist you. Now he could see he had been terribly wrong. How could Alex have ever handled it? Never trusting that someone could love you for you.

                “What do you want me to say? So you’ll believe how much I love you?” he whispered. “I’ll do anything, Alex. Just believe that I love you.”

                Alex exhaled slowly, then, with timid fingers, reached up and lightly took Michael’s jaw. Michael felt his heart thrashing wildly in his chest as Alex took his lips with his own. At first, he didn’t dare react beyond pursing his lips, then he felt Alex begin to pull back, and part of him panicked. Panicked that Alex was pulling away at all, that he was hurt at Michael’s lack of response, that he would stop kissing Michael.

                So Michael grabbed Alex’s shoulders and pushed him down on the couch, hovering above him and kissing him hungrily. He had known Alex’s lips were soft, but he never could’ve imagined that he felt this good. He tilted his head to deepen the kiss, putting his hands on Alex’s waist, hesitant. Would he be allowed to touch more of him? To run his hands up Alex’s sweater, down his pants, to feel his chest, his stomach, everything?

                He didn’t know, but if he wasn’t, it didn’t matter. This was enough. To have Alex so close was enough. For now.

                When they pulled back to breathe, their foreheads rested together, Michael opened his eyes slightly, and took in Alex’s face. He felt pride swell in his chest at the look Alex had on; the immense pleasure and peace that overtook his expression.

                “Can you tell what I’m feeling?” he whispered.

                “Yes,” Alex breathed. “I can feel it so strongly.” He opened his eyes, holding Michael’s own. No one had ever made Michael feel as if he was on a cloud, had ever wrung so many emotions out of him at once, had overwhelmed him with so much love that Michael didn’t know how to begin to handle it, but made him excited to try. But then, Alex was always his exception.

“Touch me, Michael,” Alex begged, giving him all the permission he needed. So Michael did.

Chapter Text

“What about Alex?”

“What about Alex?”

“Do you have any idea what this’ll do to him? Guerin, I thought you were supposed to love him!”

“Look at him, Valenti, he’s broken! Who could ever love him?”

Alex let his eyes fall shut, pushing the voices out, left alone in the silence of his bedroom, his face in his pillow as he lie stomach down on his bed. What time was it? How long had he been sleeping? He couldn’t remember doing anything but plopping onto his bed the second he’d arrived at the cabin. Even now, Buffy nuzzled his fingers with a whimper, as if begging him to confide in her, to tell her what was bothering him so that she could chase it away. Alex was sorry. He didn’t really feel like talking.

He wished he could fall back to sleep, but he supposed he’d been in bed too long because try as he might, he couldn’t drift off again.

Buffy whimpered, and Alex slowly looked to her, but was unable to lift more than a finger. His bones felt like lead, the air around him felt thin and hot, as if there was a furnace inches from his face. He remembered the look on Michael’s face when he’d turned and saw Alex at the bunker door. Alex had not been shocked to hear the words. On the contrary, he’d been waiting for them. After he’d lost his leg, more and more people distanced themselves from him, he was approached less and less. Admittedly, after a while, he had thought that maybe Michael hadn’t seen him differently, that maybe he hadn’t been repulsed by what had shattered, what was no longer there, but no. Alex had been right the first time.

                His phone rang, and his eyes went to the vibrating gadget on the nightstand. Without picking it up, he knew who it would be. He had no idea why Michael would be calling. There wasn’t anything left to be said, was there?

                Who could ever love him?

                He let the phone ring, sighing deeply into his pillow. He wished he could get up, but then wondered what he would do if he could. Kyle would be unable to help but treat him with pity, he didn’t really talk to Maria and Liz anymore, and Isobel was Michael’s sister. He didn’t really feel like working on Project Shepherd files today, and he’d finished his military work days ago.

                He eventually pushed himself up to give Buffy a walk, and saw that the sun was barely rising. So he’d been asleep since noon yesterday. There was nothing but his beagle’s pants as she ran along the dirt road, the tree leaves ruffled in the wind, the birds chirped. Nothing seemed amiss, there wasn’t any impending apocalypse on the horizon. The worst he ever thought could happen had happened, and the world was still turning. Alex didn’t know what to make of it.

                He got back to his phone still vibrating on the nightstand. Wordlessly, Alex unleashed Buffy with a pat to her head, picked up his phone, and blocked and deleted Michael’s number. He stared at the silent screen a moment, then shut it off, and put it down. He fell back onto his bed, and now that they were back inside with the warmth, he felt his prosthetic poking into his leg. A tear fell down the bridge of his nose as he stared at the wall, his face half obscured by the pillow.

                It hurt, the prosthetic. Alex had grown used to chronic pain, learned to accept that it was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life. Yet he never complained. He wondered if Michael knew that. He wondered if Michael had known, whether or not he would’ve been a little kinder with his words. As Alex sniffed, the prosthetic hooked onto the edge of the bed, and pulled painfully at his leg. Another tear fell. He would have to remember to take it off before he fell asleep again.

Chapter Text

                Michael wished he could say he was being mature about this. But the truth was he really, really wasn’t. He sat in the bunker with his legs crossed over the desk, counting the minutes as they passed, his fingers tapping against his arm to the seconds.

                Some might say that Michael had found any excuse to go see Alex at his cabin at the same time he’d heard from Liz that the airman would be leaving for a date. Alex had been startled to see him, but had been as gracious and polite as ever. He reacted no differently than he might have if it was Max that had gone to see him.

                Michael shut his eyes. What was the good in thinking of that now? Alex had been out on a date. For hours. Michael had files to look through. He didn’t care if Alex was out with some other guy. In fact, he hoped the airman was having the time of his life. (Except, of course, that that was a lie, and the darker part of Michael secretly hoped Alex hated having gone out at all.)

                When the bunker door opened, Michael very pointedly did not stand. Alex was faced ahead, his expression a mixture of disturbed, tired, and unreadable as it always was when he stepped in here. Michael wanted to study the look, decipher the kind of night the airman had had, but he couldn’t afford to be caught staring.

                “Oh, hey,” he very casually said after what he felt was the proper waiting time. “How was your date?”

                “Fine. Did you ever look over the 1950 file?”

                Michael blinked.

                “Uh – yeah, I did. Nothing conclusive.”

                He knew he and Alex weren’t best friends, but he had thought they were both going to make an effort to talk about this stuff. Admittedly, Michael thought being shot in the foot was a lot more merciful than hearing about Alex’s dates, but he wanted to be the kind of person Alex could talk to. He had to be. How would he ever win Alex back if the airman couldn’t confide in him?

                “Did you… have fun?”

                “Mhm.”

                Michael tapped his finger against his file. “Where’d you go?”

                “Movies.”

                “You get cold?”

                “Nope.”

                “What movie did you watch –”

                “Are you done?” Alex finally said. He was smiling, as if amused, but there was an unmistakable weariness in his voice. He nudged his chin at the files on the table in front of Michael. “Don’t you have something more important to think about than my date?”

                Michael stared. If it had been anyone else, he might’ve gone back to reading, might’ve shrugged it off, but this… this was Exhausted-Alex. The kind of Alex Michael only saw when the airman was disappointed, and was trying not to show it. Something was wrong.

                “Are you okay?”

                “Mhm,” Alex hummed, typing away at some complex coding as he kept his back turned to Michael.

                Michael considered Alex’s behavior as he considered everything that mattered; reasonably and logically. It was not a method he used often, but Alex was upset. If ever his unused genius was needed, it was now.

                He stared at Alex as the equations and theories ran through his head in an instant. “Alex,” he tried, his voice low. “Did he… not show up?”

                Alex’s fingers stilled on the keyboard, and just as Michael was telling himself that he’d cracked the code, that he’d kill whoever decided to stand Alex up, and then questioned the irony that made him want to kill someone for not dating the airman, Alex turned his chair.

                His head was tilted, his eyes on the floor, his hands folded between his legs. He leaned back in his chair with a long sigh, and to Michael’s surprise, he didn’t seem angry or annoyed. He was just… sad.

                “He showed up,” Alex said, then cleared his throat. “Then, uh, he left.”

                Michael raised a brow, his thumb digging against his arm. “Oh?”

                Alex nodded, and said nothing else. He wasn’t completely here, Michael realized. He was still reliving whatever had happened on his date. Michael used the airman’s distraction to look him over. He had no hickeys, his clothes didn’t look rumpled, his hair looked windswept, but not as if someone had run their hands through it. His cheeks weren’t red, but instead he looked like he was going to be sick, despite the small smile at his lips that looked anything but genuine.

                It was as Michael looked him over that he noticed Alex’s hands weren’t folded. The airman was subtly pressing his fingers into his right leg as if it ached. Michael stared. He showed up. Then he left.

                Oh.

                When he looked up at Alex, he saw the airman looking back at him. Michael hated this. He had thought he wanted Alex to have a terrible time, but he hadn’t wanted anything like this. He wanted a bad kisser, he wanted annoying jokes, the more selfish part of him wanted a, ‘He’s not you, Guerin.’ But this was the worst thing that could’ve happened, this was something that could’ve killed Alex, this…

                Michael stood. “I’ll kill him.”

                “Guerin,” Alex shook his head. “It’s fine.”

                “It’s not fine, what’d he say to you?”

                “Nothing I haven’t heard before,” he said, as if that was supposed to comfort Michael. Instead, it made him nauseous. “It’s fine, it’s okay. I’m not mad or anything.”

                “Alex –”

                “You only say my name when you’re mad at me,” Alex muttered, as if to himself, and huffed a chuckle. Then, louder, he said, “It’s actually kind of reassuring. Look, I’m only telling you because it’s embarrassing not to. I’m not ashamed of anything, Guerin.”

                But even as he said it, he couldn’t meet Michael’s eyes. Michael’s hands tightened to fists at his sides, and he stormed up to Alex. Before the airman could ask what he was doing, Michael gripped the armchairs, caging Alex in.

                “Go out with me.”

                Whatever Alex had expected Michael to say, he had apparently not expected that.

                “W-what?”

                “Go out with me, Alex,” he repeated. “Date me. We can go now, let’s go now.”

                Alex’s expression hardened. “That’s not funny.” He tried to stand, but Michael put his hands on his shoulders, keeping him down.

                “I’m not laughing,” he said. “Alex. I hated that you went out with someone else tonight. I would’ve hated it if you’d gone out with Valenti, I hate anyone that tries to date you.”

                “You’re going too far, Guerin, I told you already, I’m not upset, I don’t need you to do this!”

                Michael clenched his jaw. “Damn it, Manes, you’ll always be impossible to talk to.” He took Alex’s face in his hands, and pulled them close enough that his lips were a mere few inches from the airman’s. “Listen to me. I love you, okay? I love you. I’d marry you right now if you’d let me, but since I know you have to have everything your way, I’ll settle for a date for now.”

                Alex searched his face, his brows furrowed as if trying to find the lie. It was pointless. Michael had never been so honest in his life.

                Alex suddenly swallowed, and turned away. Michael pressed his forehead to Alex’s back.

                “Private, you’re gorgeous. I love all of you so much, it hurts. Even if you say no after this, you have to know that. Please don’t say no,” he finished on a whisper.

                Alex stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair. “I, um… I-I’m really tired. I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

                He walked past Michael who was staring at the empty space where he’d been seated. He hadn’t, he realized, really expected Alex to leave him. He turned, not knowing what he would say, only that he would chase Alex to his cabin if he had to get him to say yes, and no sooner had he done it than Alex wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pulling him in for a hug.

                Michael stilled. Alex had never hugged him before. But as he felt the airman’s chest, rapidly rising and falling against his, as he felt Alex’s warm cheek against his own, as he felt Alex’s lips against his shoulder, Michael hugged him back with both arms, wondering why they had never thought to do this before.

                Alex was so warm, his body so toned, and he and Michael were the same height, so Michael could burying his face in the crook of Alex’s neck so easily.

                “Thank you,” Alex breathed into Michael’s shoulder. Alex sounded… relieved? As if he’d been afraid that Michael would agree with his date, that he wasn’t worth loving because of what he’d lost.

                Michael held him tighter, shut his eyes. “Baby,” he whispered against Alex’s skin, and the word seemed to wake Alex up.

                He stirred in Michael’s hold, and Michael thought that holding him tightly enough that he couldn’t breathe would keep him still, keeping him hugging Michael, and for a minute, it really looked like it was going to work. Alex settled into his arms with a deep, silent sigh, and Michael held onto him.

                Eventually though, Michael had to let him go, and as soon as he did, Alex patted his shoulder, and left so quickly that Michael couldn’t even see the look on his face, though he guessed that was intentional.

                As he was left alone in the bunker, Michael imagined seeing Alex again tomorrow. He imagined the airman taking his seat and continuing his work as if Michael had never confessed his love for him. He would be giving Michael an out; I’ll pretend you never said anything. I’ll spare you having to actually go out with me. I won’t let either of us suffer like we used to.

                Screw that, Michael thought. He would ask again tomorrow, and if Alex didn’t show up, he’d go to his cabin. He’d give his airman tonight to breathe, then tomorrow, Alex was his.

Chapter Text

                Kyle looked up from his phone, and smiled. Alex was still fixing his white button-down collar in the mirror, running his hands through his hair nervously. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Alex so nervous, the last time he’d seen Alex care so much. It was a good thing.

                “Manes, you look fine,” Kyle said, not without some amusement in his voice. “I promise you he’s gonna be blown away.”

                “Ha ha,” Alex said distractedly. Of course, Kyle thought. Alex would never take any complement seriously. He wasn’t good at that kind of thing.

                Kyle stood with a sigh, and patted Buffy who was circling her owner as if checking to make sure he had everything he needed to be safe.

                He wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist, and hooked his chin over the airman’s shoulder. “Don’t you trust me? Your best friend? You partner? Your brother.”

                Alex huffed a laugh, his concern visibly melting away as he reached back and ruffled Kyle’s hair. “I trust you fine, Kyle. It’s him I’m worried about.”

                “No one’s proposing tonight, Alex,” Kyle said, and moved to leaned against the wall beside the mirror, crossing his arms. “It’s just a date. Try to have fun.”

                “Fun,” Alex muttered to himself. Kyle wondered how long it had been since he tried doing anything fun, since he’d made the time for it. He couldn’t blame him.

                With Guerin on one end, his family on the other, and Project Shepherd in his head all the time, Alex had barely the time to breathe this past year much less take a whole night off.

                “It’s going to be hard,” Kyle said softly, and Alex stilled. “Because, you know, you’re you, and you make everything needlessly complicated. But it’ll be worth it.”

                The corner of Alex’s lips tugged upward into a half-smile. His hands fell from his necklace, and to his sides. “Now who’s worried?”

                “Shut up,” Kyle hit his shoulder playfully, then pulled him back in, fixing his collar and unbuttoning the first button of his shirt. “You have a hot chest!” he said when Alex tried pulling away from him with a laugh. “Show it off!”

                Then there came a knock, and Kyle frowned. “I thought you were meeting there?”

                “We are,” Alex said with a similar furrow of his brow before he went to open the door to reveal Michael Guerin leaning on the doorframe, his eyes half-lidded and his mouth spreading into a slow grin.

                “Hiya, Private,” he said with a mock salute.

                “Guerin,” Alex breathed, and stepped aside as Michael walked in. He was stumbling slightly, and Kyle saw that he had a nearly empty bottle of beer in his hands.

                “He’s drunk,” he said with a slump of his shoulders. Damnit, Guerin, he thought. Not tonight.

                “And you’re here,” Michael said with narrowed eyes at Kyle, though whether that was because Michael was angry to see him, or he was struggling to see him at all, Kyle didn’t know. “Why are you here?”

                “Guerin, uh –” Alex glanced back at the open door as if expecting someone to come in and catch them in the act. “What’re you doing here?”

                Michael twirled to face Alex, arms up. “I’m here to see my guy. Why? Are you not happy to see…” Michael blinked several times, and he must’ve finally taken in Alex’s appearance because he said, “Are you going somewhere?”

                Alex looked away, patting down his black blazer as if self-conscious. It just occurred to Kyle that Alex may be nervous most about what Michael will think of him now, whether he’d be happy for him, whether he’d be encouraging, then Kyle wondered if Alex really wanted that at all. Kyle stood straighter, suddenly hoping that Michael would be insanely careful with what he said next.

                Please just give him tonight, Kyle thought. Please let him just have this.

                Then Michael scoffed, and Kyle could see Alex’s defenses fall. “Well, that’s good. That’s great. Private Manes, out on a date.”

                “Okay, Alex,” Kyle walked past Michael, ignoring him, and turned Alex around by the shoulders, pushing him towards the door. “Go, I’ll handle this.”

                Alex said nothing as Kyle handed him his wallet and phone, but he looked to Michael over Kyle’s shoulder, and before he could even think of sending something as stupid as a silent apology, Kyle blocked his view of the cowboy and said, his voice low, “You’re gonna be late. Go, Manes. Don’t you trust me?”

                “He can’t drive back,” Alex was starting to say, but Kyle was already nodding.

                “You have a spare room,” he said. “I know.” Even though it would kill Alex, even though it’d make him hesitate at the door of his own cabin to know Michael was sleeping here, waiting for him, Alex still thought of Michael’s safety first. Kyle didn’t know whether to love that, or be eternally exasperated by it, or both.

                After closing the door behind Alex, Kyle waited until he heard a car engine turn on, then waited until Alex drove away before he turned to Michael, glaring.

                “Can’t you let him enjoy anything?”

                “Is he cute?” Michael asked with a humorless smirk. “Was he in the military, too? Don’t tell me, he has a piercing.”

                “You’re such a dick,” Kyle shook his head. Buffy was nuzzling Michael’s leg, as if he was her owner’s most prized possession, and she wanted to make sure he was still in one piece. It was the one thing keeping Kyle from decking him.

                He wished Alex didn’t care for Michael as much as he did (hell, didn’t love him), but he did, and even though sometimes all Kyle wanted to do was shove him out, to tell him that Alex didn’t want him around, he couldn’t. He didn’t think Alex would ever forgive him if he did. And he was done disappointing Alex.

                “Who is he?” Michael asked even as Kyle stepped into the kitchen for a bottle of water. “Do I know him?”

                “No.”

                “When’d he ask Alex out?”

                “This morning.”

                “This morning?”

                “Yeah, Guerin,” he sighed. “He came into the Crashdown Café, said he saw Alex at the bar a few times before, and asked him out. Alex said yes. Is that all?”

                “Said yes?” Michael said, apparently oblivious to Kyle’s tone. “Just like that?”

                Kyle leaned his hip against the counter, and made a show of thinking hard. “Well, actually, now that you mention it, he did offer to sacrifice a raven at the altar, but there were a lot of people around, it was hot, and –”

                “Is that supposed to be funny?”

                “I don’t know, Guerin, is this supposed to be you not caring?”

                “I don’t care,” Michael sneered. “I just think it’s a little unfair that I get the damn silent treatment for months, but Alex can just go out with other people, and it’s fine.”

                Kyle tried not to let the anger rise in his chest. “Yeah,” he said. “Because you going behind his back and kissing his best friend, and him going out with some random guy after – as you pointed out – months of crying himself to sleep, that’s the same thing.”

                “You – I… you don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Michael waved him off, though Kyle couldn’t help but notice that the cowboy could no longer look him in the eye.

                “And you’re drunk, so anything I say to you now is a waste of breath,” Kyle said, moving past him.

                “You know where everything is,” he said, grabbing his keys off the coffee table. “I’m headed home. Tell Alex to call me when he gets back.” And just so he knew Michael would be upset, just to satisfy that small bit of darkness inside him, he stopped at the door and said, “I want to hear all about his date.”

                Kyle was sure something like a glass or plate had smashed against the door when he closed it behind him, and he heard Buffy bark, as if scolding. Nothing broke after that. Nothing that Kyle could hear anyway.

Chapter Text

                “You can do this, Manes.”

                Alex’s lip curled in a half-smile for barely a second before it fell apart. He felt Kyle’s hand take his.

                “You scared he’ll be mad?”

                Alex swallowed, staring at the airstream from inside his car. He suspected that Michael already knew he was here, but was waiting for the airman to come out before he stepped out of his trailer to face him. Alex knew that, as usual, he’d have to make the first move.

                “No,” Alex said, clutching the wrapped spaceship piece in his lap tightly. “I’m scared he’ll be disappointed.” He realized what he said too late, and looked over at Kyle to see him smiling sadly. “Sorry, I mean –”

                “It’s okay,” Kyle said. “Alex, I think a part of you is always going to love Guerin. I knew what I was getting into from the beginning, and I don’t regret it. Do you?”

                Alex didn’t even need to hesitate before he leaned over to Kyle’s seat, releasing the glass a moment to cup Kyle’s jaw and kiss him.

                “Never,” he whispered, and tried to move back, but Kyle had a firm hold on his waist, keeping their foreheads pressed together.

                “Do you want me to come down with you?”

                Alex shook his head, and pecked Kyle’s lips once before he returned to his seat, the pressure on his leg too much. “I have to do this alone. I can take it.”

                Kyle nodded as if to say, Yeah, you can, and Alex tried for a grateful smile before he stepped out of the car. It was as he had expected; just as the door shut behind him, the airstream door opened, and Michael walked out.

                Alex clenched his jaw, his back kept to Kyle to keep the doctor from seeing the way his smile had fallen away. He hated it. He hated how much harder it was to smile around Michael now.

                “I take it this isn’t a social call,” Michael said with a humorless smirk as Alex approached, glancing over the airman’s shoulder at Kyle in the car. Alex was sure that by now, Kyle had put in his earphones and was listening to music, as Alex had asked him to do. He couldn’t control what Michael said, what hurtful things he might come up with, and he would’ve preferred that Kyle didn’t hear any of it.

                “Not really,” Alex said, hugging the spaceship piece close to his chest, the edges digging into his palms painfully even through the fabric that covered it.

                Michael seemed to notice Alex’s tone, and focused his eyes on him and the package. “What’s going on, Alex?”

                Alex swallowed, and began to hand over the piece before he pulled it away again. “Before you take this,” he said, surprised at how nervous he actually sounded, “just know that…”

                He shook his head, and Michael’s frown deepened, concern visible in his eyes even though he would not step any closer to Alex. He wasn’t a monster, Alex knew that very well. But he wished Michael just once acted on how he felt instead of keeping everyone, the airman included, at arm’s length.

                Alex finally handed it over with trembling fingers, and Michael took it, confused. When he peeled back the blanket, and saw the large multi-colored glass, he froze. He let the fabric fall to the ground, staring at the spaceship piece a moment before he looked up at Alex, his eyes flashing.

                “What the hell is this?”

                Alex couldn’t help it. At the sound of the venom in Michael’s voice, he stepped back. “The… the last piece you –“

                “I know what it is, Alex, but why do you have it?”

                “I found it in Jim Valenti’s cabin,” Alex said. “He left it for me. This was before I knew that you needed it though.”

                “And after I told you? What was your excuse then?” he stepped closer to Alex, and the airman flinched. Michael stopped, hurt flashing across his face. Alex hated that. He didn’t have the right to be afraid now. He had to brave, if only for Michael.

                Alex shrugged helplessly, his voice unable to help but break as he said, “I didn’t want you to go.” Michael stilled, and Alex wiped his face roughly. “Guerin, y-you were talking about leaving the planet, and I-I freaked out, okay? I freaked out, and I did something really bad, and I’m so, so sorry.”

                “So you thought you’d keep me here? You know how hard it’s been for me, Alex, you know I wanted to leave more than anything, and you kept me here!”

                “I loved you,” Alex tried, “I-I didn’t want you to leave, I’m sorry, Guerin, I’m so sorry!”

                “And what’s he here for?” Michael asked, his voice quiet as he gestured with his chin at Kyle. “Backup? What, are you scared I’m gonna hit you, Private?”

                “No, no,” Alex stepped closer, reached up to hold Michael’s face, hesitated, and let his hands fall. “Guerin, he knew I wanted to come give it back, he knew how nervous I was, a-and he wanted to help.”

                “But you guys are together now, right?”

                Alex opened his mouth to answer, and stopped. Michael nodded, his smile tight and cold.

                “Oh, that’s great, Private. So that’s what this really is?” he held up the glass. “You can give it back because you’ve found someone else? Nice to know you’re getting rid of me, too.”

                “No! Guerin,” Alex followed him as he turned back to the airstream. He put his hands on Michael’s shoulders to keep him still, then moved away when he realized how close he was. “The guilt of hanging onto that stupid spaceship all these months has been killing me, okay? I couldn’t sleep or eat, I was tired and miserable all the time. I wanted to give it back before Kyle, before Maria, before any of it!”

                “I don’t believe you,” Michael said, but Alex knew his cowboy too well. He knew Michael believed him fine, and if it wasn’t for Kyle, then he may have held onto Alex by now, may have forgiven him already. But Alex would not give up Kyle, not even for Michael’s forgiveness. Kyle had been right, a part of Alex would always love Michael, but a bigger part of him belonged to Kyle now. He was prepared for Michael to hate him for that.

                “Please, Michael, don’t do this,” Alex begged, his eyes filled with tears. Please don’t hurt me just for the sake of hurting me, please don’t pretend you hate me just so I could suffer, please don’t punish me for loving someone else.

                “You know,” Michael said, looking away, proof that he could not bear to see Alex cry. “I thought you were supposed to be better than your dad.”

                And Alex was sure after that moment that the wind was still blowing through the trees, that the birds were still chirping, that he was still breathing, but… he couldn’t hear any of it. All he knew was Michael was standing before him, eyes wide at the ground as if realizing what he’d said. But it was too late. He had known Michael wanted to hurt him… but he never could’ve imagined that the cowboy wanted to kill him.

                He felt a tear fall down his own shocked face as he dejectedly moved past Michael to the car, to Kyle who had noticed the look on his face and was sitting straighter in his seat, his brow furrowed as he pulled his earphones out. Michael did not turn around.

                “What happened?” Kyle asked, but Alex said nothing as he turned the engine on, and drove out and away, towards the main road.

                When he could no longer see the junkyard in his rearview mirror, he reached over and took Kyle’s hand.

                “Alex…”

                Alex knew he was squeezing unbearably tight, another tear escaping. Alex couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. I thought you were supposed to be better than your dad.

                They were stuck at a stoplight, the light turned green, and Alex broke down. He couldn’t hear the sound of his own sobs, but felt Kyle’s arms wrap around him tightly, Kyle’s heart as it beat against his ear, Kyle’s fingers raking his hair soothingly, attempting to calm him down. He felt nothing but Kyle, and heard no one but Michael.

Chapter Text

                Michael had grown up with nightmares every night. It was hard not to, with the life he’d had. But he never thought his worst possible nightmare would visit him in the day, in the shape of a blue-haired, blue-eyed hacker named Forest. Down on one knee. In the Wild Pony. Proposing to the love of both their lives.

                Alex hadn’t noticed Forest kneeling at first, but at everyone’s shocked stares, the airman looked over his shoulder curiously, and stood with a gasp.

                “What are you doing?” were the first words to leave his mouth.

                Forest, undeterred, held up the silver band higher. He asked the question Michael had only ever briefly imagined himself asking, and feared – genuinely feared – the answer Alex would give. He found himself reaching for the hem of Alex’s jacket, his fingers trembling.

                Say no, he thought. Please, Alex, please say no. But that was not what Alex said. He didn’t say yes either.

                “I don’t think you know what you’re doing,” was what he answered with, and Forest’s face had filled with disappointment for only a split second before his resolve seemed to strengthen. He got to his feet, and stepped closer to Alex. “Come on,” he urged when Forest kept asking him why. Why won’t Alex believe that he can be loved? Why doesn’t Alex like himself enough to believe that he can be happy? Why would Alex say no when Forest knew that he wanted so badly to say yes?

                Alex was taking a restless Forest out of the bar to talk, and Michael was already on his feet.

                “Don’t,” Maria warned, grabbing his sleeve. “It’s a private conversation, Michael.”

                Michael didn’t care. He yanked his arm out of Maria’ grasp, and ran to the door.

                Michael rushed out, nearing the end of the building. He stopped when he heard Alex and Forest’s voices, arguing. They were talking over each other, but Michael was sure of one thing; they were talking about him.

                “I hate that guy –”

                “It’s not about him!”

                “Yes, it is, Alex! And I hate him! I hate him for making you think no one could ever really love you, but I do!”

                “You don’t know what you’re getting into, okay?

                “Don’t know what I’m –”

                “I’m a mess, Forest!”

                “You’re not a mess! You’re just not the pure angel Guerin made you think you had to be, and it’s messing with your head!”

                “I’m selfish, and I get scared, and I’m –”

                “Everybody’s selfish, Alex! Everyone gets scared sometimes! It’s fine!”

                “You don’t understand what –”

                “Don’t tell me I don’t understand! You think I don’t know you’ll always be in love with him?” he asked, and Alex turned silent. Michael held his breath, leaning in. “You don’t think I know that given the choice, you would pick him? But I’m your boyfriend, and I’m asking first, and I’ll actually take care of you and love you like you deserve, so why won’t you let me?!”

                Alex said nothing a moment, then, “What if you regret it? What if you end up hating me?”

                Michael’s nails dug into the brick wall. Alex didn’t really think that, did he? That Michael regretted him?

                My god, he thought. What have I done?

                Forest scoffed. “I hate that guy, I hate him. Alex, I’ll never be anything like him. I – what does he drink? Beer? I’ll never drink beer again. And look, my hair’s straight!” Alex huffed what might have been a sob or a laugh. Or both. “No, really! And I’ll never, ever wear blue jeans, or flannel – I won’t even look at a cowboy hat!” His voice softened as he said, “I will never be him. Never. Marry me, Alex. You want me to kneel again? I’ll kneel again!”

                “No, no, stop!” Alex was laughing now, and Michael’s heart clenched. He could step out now, and stop all of this. Stop it before Alex gave his answer. But no, Alex wouldn’t really do it, would he? He wouldn’t marry someone else. He still loved Michael. Michael had more time to –

                “I’ll marry you,” Alex said, and Michael’s whole world came to a horrifying standstill.

                “You’ll… what?”

                I heard him wrong, Michael thought. I just heard him wrong.

                “When we get married though,” he said, and Michael felt his heart plummet. “Let’s leave Roswell.”

                No. No, no, no.

                “Really?” Forest’s voice brightened. “Seriously? YES!” He screamed, and Michael looked around the corner to see him pick Alex up and spin him around. Alex was holding onto him with eyes shut tight and a wide smile, a smile Michael hadn’t seen in years.

                “Absolutely!” Forest said loudly, ignoring Alex shushing him as he laughed. “We can live wherever you want! Anywhere! You name it!”

                No. Alex can’t leave.

                “Away,” Alex said. “Anywhere, as long as it’s not here.”

                As long as it’s not with me.

                Michael fell down against the wall as Alex and Forest laughed with plans. Plans to move away, plans to get married, plans to forget Michael Guerin.

Chapter Text

                “Nobu Hotel?”

                Michael hooked an arm around Alex’s shoulders. The hotel building was not as tall as Michael had imagined it to be, but it was three times as wide. “Just what we need, Private. To have some fun.”

                Alex looked doubtful. Though maybe it was the exhaustion from being in a car for fourteen hours. “Isn’t this a bit much?”

                Michael kissed the airman’s cheek once, twice, then, “Stop worrying, Private. I told you, I took care of everything.”

                What Michael hadn’t told Alex was that this was his last resort to break the airman out of this dark cloud he’d been in the past few weeks. He had been typing away at his computers nonstop, his eyes glued to the screens as he decoded one secret message after another, hoping to find something. Alex was frustrated, Michael knew that. His enlistment was ending, his father’s hideaways were too well-hidden to track, and Alex was getting frustrated. When Alex didn’t get answers, he got busy. And when he got busy, he stopped caring about anything else; including eating and sleeping.

                Alex kept squinting now. “The sun’s too bright.”

                “You’ve just been cooped up in a dark bunker for a year,” Michael said, taking a black hat out of his jacket pocket, and pushing it onto Alex’s head. “There. That’ll give your eyes some shade.”

                And it looks really good on him, too, Michael thought fondly.

                “Stop staring at me,” he said, though Michael could see his cheeks turning red. “I feel disgusting.” And Michael kissed him again before ruffling his hair, and pulling back. He grabbed the one suitcase (they were only staying for the weekend) in one hand, brought his other around Alex’s waist, and pulled him along to the automatic doors, the air-conditioning hitting them squarely across the face as they walked in.

                As Michael checked them in, Alex hung back, looking around at the seashell covered walls, the wooden doors leading out to slabs of stone steps in a river. Their room was comfortable enough for the two. Alex said he wanted to shower, and went to wait outside on the balcony while Michael checked the water heat. He had come out to tell Alex that it was fine, but stopped at the doorframe. The balcony stretched out to a long, white sandy beach, a lush green forest, and an ocean so blue it looked like crystals. But that wasn’t what caught his eyes. Alex had been resting on a long chair, and within a minute, he had fallen asleep with his head pillowed on his arm.

                The sun shined against his beige sweater and stubbled jaw, and beyond his soft breathing, Michael could hear nothing but the trees rustling in the wind and the waves crashing against the shore.

                He felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips as he came to lie behind Alex, bringing an arm around his waist. He buried his face in the crook of Alex’s neck where his sweater had pulled back to reveal warm skin. Before Michael drifted off to sleep as well, he felt Alex’s hand cover his own.

Chapter Text

                “Where is he?” Michael demanded before he even stepped into the cabin. Kyle wordlessly pointed to the couch where Alex was lying, singing to himself as he traced patterns with his finger at the ceiling.

                Michael wanted to run to him right then, to sweep the airman into his arms and kiss him senseless, but he had to take a moment. His hand was on his chest as he tried to get his breath back. The only reason Alex was so drunk now – and no matter how much he denied it, Michael knew this was why – was because the past few weeks had not been very fruitful in terms of information on Project Shepherd. After the last facility in Nashville, they had hit a dead end. And Alex did not do well with dead ends. He didn’t need to see Michael worried about him, too.

                “How much has he had?”

                Kyle shook his head. “I have no idea. He could barely stand when I got there.”

                Michael rubbed his face, holding it in his hands for a moment. When he felt himself about to take a deep breath, he forced a smile to his lips and came to kneel at Alex’s side.

                “Guerin!” Alex laughed. “I wished you’d be here, and you’re here.”

                Michael clenched his jaw. “Hey, Private,” he said in barely a whisper, cupping Alex’s jaw. Alex hummed at the touch, his smile widening.

                “I’ve been looking for you,” he said, and Alex looked up at him, his dark eyes glistening. Michael glanced to where Kyle had been standing, but the man had left, presumably to the kitchen to distract Buffy while the two men talked.

                “I’m right here,” Alex said.

                “Yeah, you are,” Michael sighed, using one hand to push Alex’s bangs back from his eyes, his other on Alex’s waist, underneath his jacket, as if afraid that Alex would disappear if he let go.

                He traced Alex’s lower lip with his thumb. “You’re smiling. You should do that more.”

                Alex bit his lower lip as if to keep his grin from widening even more, and Michael felt his heart shatter. Alex never got flustered when he was sober.

                “You’re cute,” Alex said, his voice deep as if he was struggling to stay awake now. His head was rested on the armchair, his eyes already more than halfway shut. “Have I ever told you how cute you are?”

                Michael pressed his forehead to Alex’s, and pecked his lips. “You’re cuter.”

                “I,” Alex laughed, and as he shook his head, Michael saw a tear fall. He held onto Alex’s waist tighter. “I’m – uh… I’m tired.”

                Michael nodded, pressing another soft kiss to the airman’s cheek.

                “I’m sorry –”

                “Don’t be sorry,” Michael whispered, and kissed him again. “Don’t be sorry, baby.”

                “I –” Alex cleared his throat, as if a part of him, the part that wasn’t used to being drunk and shattered in front of anyone – even Michael – was trying to sober him up, to wake him, to tell him that he was still a soldier and he could not break like this.

                “What is it?” Michael asked, pushing a brown strand of hair behind Alex’s ear.

                He shook his head, hiding his face in the couch cushion. “Okay,” he nuzzled Alex’s shoulder. “It’s okay.”

                “It’s not okay, Guerin,” Alex said, his voice muffled.

                “It is, it’s gonna be okay.”

                “I can’t figure it out,” he confessed, and Michael held him tighter. “I don’t know what to do now.”

                “It’s okay.”

                Alex sniffled as he looked up at him, his face streaked with tears, his eyes red, his lips pressed in a sad smile. “No,” he said. “I have to do better. It has to be better.”

                “Alex…” Michael tried, but Alex was already falling asleep. Michael pressed his forehead to Alex’s, not knowing what else to do. He wondered what it was like to be the airman, to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, even when he was drunk enough to forget who he was.

                Michael shuddered as he pulled Alex so unbearably close that he was sure his grip would leave bruises on the airman’s body in the morning. How miserable his Alex must’ve been… and where had he been all this time?

Chapter Text

                Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Alex sleep, but as he stepped into the Crashdown, the airman’s head pillowed on his arms in the booth against the back wall, his eyes closed as Max beside him calmly read his battered copy of Little Women, he felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips.

                He nudged his chin at Max as he quietly slid into the booth, though he didn’t think that would make much of a difference, seeing as how the rest of the diner bustled on normally, plates clattering, people chatting, the little ting of a bell echoing whenever an order was ready.

                Max made a small hum to acknowledge his brother, intently focused on his pages. Michael didn’t mind. He was intently focused on Alex. He rested his chin on his folded arms, his face a mere few inches from Alex’s. He watched him as he breathed softly, his cheeks flushed from having finally had some time to rest. He reminded Michael of something, and it took the cowboy only a second to think of what.

                He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a flower he’d plucked from the side of the road. He couldn’t tell you the name of it, or why he decided to pick it up. Maybe it was because he’d found it in the desert, amongst the sand and gravel, all alone. Despite all the odds though, it had grown, strong and beautiful.

                Michael smirked as he tucked the stem into Alex’s sweater, the pink petals the same shade as the airman’s cheeks. Maybe it had just reminded him of someone.

Chapter Text

                Flint tried to get the straw past Alex’s lips, but his brother wouldn’t drink.

                “Alex,” he hissed. “Don’t be stupid. You need water!”

                Alex looked up at him, eyes halfway closed, one was swollen. There was a dark purple bruise on his cheek, his lip was cut, and there was a trail of blood from his forehead down to his chin, dripping onto his already filthy shirt. Flint forced himself not to look away.

                He didn’t know how long his brother had been here – he’d stopped counting after the first week – but Alex had refused any food or water that wasn’t forced down his throat.

                “Come on, brother, please,” he urged. “You’ll die without it.”

                “Flint,” Alex croaked. He sounded as if his throat had turned to sandpaper. “Do you… remember when we were kids…”

                Flint clenched his jaw. “Alex.”

                “You used to have this toy airplane… that I always wanted to play with…”

                “Drink the damn water.”

                “I kept sneaking into your room for it… and you told me…”

                “Alex, please –”

                “You told me…”

                Flint sighed. Alex was always so relentless, even when they were kids. “I told you to stay away from this life. I said you had a chance to stay away. I didn’t want you near the Air Force, Alex, I didn’t care how good you were.”

                “You were trying to… protect me.”

                Flint exhaled with a shudder. He knew what Alex was trying to do. You couldn’t protect me then, so help me now. “But you picked up the plane anyway,” he ended up saying. “You were always so stubborn, Alex, you always had to have your way. It’s always gotten you into trouble.”

                Then Alex, to his surprise, smirked. “And now it’ll kill me.”

                “No,” Flint said before he could help himself. “No, no, listen, dad’s – this is just – he’s angry right now, that’s all.” At this, Alex scoffed. “He’ll cool down, you know he always cools down.”

                “Flint,” he shook his head weakly, a tear falling down his nose. Flint tried not to look shocked. Even when they were kids, Alex rarely cried. He never wanted anyone to know anything got to him, that he could really be hurt.

                “Dad was right,” he whispered. “No one’s coming for me.”

                Flint’s hand tightened on his brother’s chained wrist. He didn’t want to say he’d known it, he didn’t want to tell Alex that he was right, but he still remembered the look of shock and betrayal on his brother’s face when their dad had shown him the hidden footage of Michael and Maria a few weeks ago. Alex had apparently been waiting outside Michael’s airstream, and Michael had eventually come. Only when they saw the footage did Alex seem to realize why; Maria had turned Michael down at the Wild Pony, and Michael, dejected, had happily taken Alex instead. Alex had been his second choice.

                Just the thought of it made Flint sick. He had never cared who Alex dated, but he had wanted him to hide it for their dad’s sake. Now it turned out the one who had gotten his little brother shipped off to the Air Force in the first place had decided he was nothing more than a backup.

                “When dad realizes… I won’t help him… you think he’ll let me go?”

                Flint swallowed. “Damn it, Alex.”

                Alex shook his head, his eyes cast downward. Flint knew that look too well, he and his other brothers had cast it when they realized arguing with their dad was pointless. He had just never seen it on Alex before. He had never seen him give up.

                “Doesn’t really matter where I die,” he muttered dejectedly, and closed his eyes. “No one cares anyway.”

                The constant beep beep beep of the computers behind Flint went on, the silence overwhelming. Alex’s chains no longer rattled as he had stopped fighting against them. With his heart falling into his stomach, Flint realized his brother really had just given up.

                “Alex,” he shook his brother’s arm, but Alex wouldn’t wake. Flint’s brows furrowed. “Alex?”

                He pressed his fingers to the pulse in Alex’s neck. It was faint, and getting fainter. “Oh my god,” he breathed, and without thinking, he pulled a key out of his pocket, and unlocked the chains, moving them off Alex completely. He kneeled in front of his brother, and pulled him onto his back.

                “Come on, brother,” he said, adjusting Alex on his back. “It’s gonna be okay.”

                Their dad was going to kill him, Flint knew. He wouldn’t be happy to come back and see his favorite weapon was gone, but Flint couldn’t let him go. He couldn’t forget the misery on his brother’s face, the resignation that he was nothing to anybody. Even if it meant punishment, Flint would prove Alex was something to him, that someone still cared.

Chapter Text

                “Wait, hold on –”

                “No, I think you made yourself perfectly clear.”

                “Guerin –”

                “I got it, Private,” Michael said, his surroundings blurring as he made his way to the door. Alex, though Michael had no idea how seeing as his prosthetic should’ve slowed him down, managed to block his path.

                “Just stop a second!”

                “Move, Alex.”

                “Let me explain!”

                “I heard what you said –”

                “I love you, okay?!”

                That shut Michael up. He watched as Alex leaned against the door, panting. The airman seemed to realize he shouldn’t have been able to move as quickly as he did, and the pain was catching up with him.

                Still, when Michael to reach a hand out to touch him, Alex slapped it away and glared. “And you’d know that if you just waited to hear what I had to say instead of guessing the endings on your own!”

                Alex huffed and limped to the couch on his own. Michael looked between him and the door, and slowly made his way over to the couch, too, sitting beside him.

                Michael watched as Alex rubbed his thigh forcefully, trying not to wince as he did so. He thought of how, only a moment ago, he and Alex had been arguing. He ran Alex’s words around in his head a million times. Alex and Kyle had plans to infiltrate a kind of gala, something big to do with one of the black market sponsors of Project Shepherd, and Alex had blurted that he really didn’t think Michael should come. That he didn’t want Michael to come.

                Michael had lost sight then. Alex wanted Kyle at his side, and not Michael. He nodded, then turned to leave. Alex, it seemed, had panicked.

                “I don’t want you to come,” Alex said slowly, pulling Michael out of his thoughts, “because I don’t know what might happen. The last time…” he took a deep breath, “the last time, you ended up going to Maria… because you just couldn’t stand the sight of me anymore.”

                “Alex, that’s not –”

                “Please don’t lie to me,” he whispered, unable to look at the cowboy.

                Michael’s heart shattered. He tried to wonder – maybe too late now – what Alex must’ve thought as he had waited outside the airstream for hours in the cold, waiting for someone that wouldn’t show up. How much he must’ve blamed himself. Michael’s fist clenched on his lap.

                “I just can’t stand the idea that I could lose you like that again.”

                Michael said nothing. He didn’t think he had any right.

                “Okay?” Alex said, and sighed. “Okay?”

                He looked to Michael, and the cowboy wordlessly nodded.

Chapter Text

                It took two seconds. Michael had barely stood to get himself and Alex a drink, and glanced over his shoulder only to see a very tall, very muscular, very stupid man approaching his boyfriend.

                It wasn’t like it was the first time. Michael had always known how handsome Alex was, but it wasn’t until they started dating that he realized just how many offers and one-night-stands Alex had turned down. It filled Michael’s heart with warmth to think of the way Alex always blushed when Michael asked why he always turned all these men away (“You know why, Guerin,” Alex always said. “None of them are you.”), but that did nothing to still the ice in his bones whenever someone came up to Alex at a bar or the Crashdown or even the fricking hospital.

                Michael hung back, trying to block out the rest of the chatter and the background music, and focus his attention on the man’s voice as he got to Alex. Sam, his name was. What a stupid name, Michael thought. He never liked that name.

                “Sorry, uh – I was just – I mean, my friends really, they’re the ones that told me to, uh…”

                Michael looked around with a raised brow and spotted a small group of people giggling and waving Sam on from behind hands and drinks. He rolled his eyes.

                “Did you need an extra chair or something?” Alex asked kindly, and Michael felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips. His airman never seemed to realize just when he was being hit on. He never seemed to think anyone would hit on him, though Michael was sure that everyone in New Mexico but Max had come onto Alex by now. Actually, he couldn’t be too sure about Max either. His brother did outrageously funny things when he got drunk.

                “N-no, um,” Sam cleared his throat. “I – I was just wondering if I could – if I could buy you a drink?”

                Michael’s jaw clenched.

                “Oh,” Alex said. “I’m sorry, I’m really flattered, but I’m actually here with my – mmhm!”

                It was because Alex felt embarrassed whenever someone came onto him, it was because Michael knew he felt awkward and uncomfortable about it, it was because it would be an easy escape for Alex that Michael had abruptly turned around, stormed up to the table, and crashed his and Alex’s lips together. It definitely was not because Michael was jealous, or that he wanted to prove that this delicious airman was all his.

                He swallowed a gasp that left Alex’s lips, and tilted his head, deepening the kiss in an instant, swiping his tongue against Alex’s. When he pulled back, Alex was panting, his eyes were half-lidded and dazed, his cheeks flushed.

                Michael smirked as he set two bottles of beer on the table, and took a seat beside Alex, throwing his arm around the airman’s shoulders.

                Finally, he turned to Sam with sharp eyes, and felt no small amount of satisfaction when the tall man all but jumped back.

                “Aren’t you done here?”

                The man stammered out a quick apology at Alex and went back to his friends who were all glaring at Michael, as if he had had no right to suddenly show up. Michael only pulled Alex closer, kissing his cheek.

                “You didn’t have to do that,” Alex grumbled, his cheek warm against Michael’s lips. “He didn’t know I had a boyfriend.”

                Michael hummed, nuzzling Alex’s neck. “So you didn’t like the kiss then?”

                “Ha ha,” he grumbled before pulling Michael in and kissing him again.

                Michael wrapped an arm around his waist. He didn’t look for whoever else may have been watching, he didn’t care about everyone knowing who had taken Alex. He was too busy focusing on Alex’s lips, his hands, his scent, his warmth. He pulled him in closer.

                Okay. Maybe he did, just a little bit, care about everyone knowing Alex was taken after all.

Chapter Text

                Alex was missing.

                Michael tried to remind himself that the airman had run away, and had not been kidnapped. That had been weeks ago, and they had got him back safe and sound… more or less. No one had expected the alien that stormed the facility, or for Flint Manes to save his brother at the last second by sacrificing himself.

                Despite it all, Michael didn’t have it in him to forgive Flint for helping imprison his people, but he hadn’t been about to tell Alex that. He had wanted to stay in the airman’s hospital room with him, but Alex had turned his back to all of them and refused to answer anyone. Even Michael. Liz had suggested that maybe he should be left alone for a bit. When Michael had come back, the window was open, the curtains flowing in the wind, and Alex was gone.

                Everyone had tried calling, but were quickly discouraged when it went straight to voicemail. Michael tried to remember whether or not Alex’s phone had been destroyed in the crash. He had to be fine, didn’t he? He had to have had a good reason for leaving, though Michael didn’t voice his one concern out loud to the already worried group; that Alex had gone after his father and the rest of Project Shepherd alone.

                He pulled into the junkyard, trying to reassure himself that Alex wasn’t stupid, that he wouldn’t do something so dangerous alone, that he was a strategist first and foremost, and he wouldn’t – he wouldn’t – worry Michael and his friends like that.

                But even as he told himself this, Michael couldn’t forget the wild look in Alex’s eyes, as if he already was strategizing, as if he had been making a plan he knew would be dangerous, but he didn’t care. He had wanted someone to die, and that was all that mattered.

                Michael pushed the brakes suddenly, his eyes wide as he took in the crouched figure on the steps to his airstream. It was pitch black, and the only reason Michael had decided to come home at all was because he hoped he’d have something in his bunker that he could use to trace Alex’s location. He had not expected to see the airman sitting in front of his trailer.

                Michael and Alex hadn’t really spoken since he had ended things with Maria months ago. Alex did not seem to like Michael or trust him any more once he was single. Yet here the airman was, waiting for him.

                His elbows were on his knees, his left leg fidgeting, his hands clenched together in front of his mouth. Michael had the feeling he was biting into his thumb.

                Michael turned the car off and slowly came out, afraid that Alex would be scared away if he acted too suddenly. He stood by his truck, trying to control his breathing despite his heart hammering in his chest. Alex was here. Michael had started to think of the worst, but Alex was here, safe and unharmed and here.

                Alex looked up at him, the rest of his body having gone completely still. Michael thought he looked angry, his brows furrowed, his gaze so sharp that part of him thought the airman would pull a gun out and shoot at him now just to shed some blood and get some of his frustrations out.

                Alex’s hands fell, and Michael saw that his lower lip was quivering. His angry eyes softened as they filled with tears, though his brows were still furrowed as they always did when Alex was feeling too much that he didn’t know what to do with.

                A strangled sound that may have been a sob escaped Alex’s lips, and Michael didn’t know who moved toward the other first, but the next thing he knew, he and Alex were standing somewhere in the middle, the airman in his arms, sobbing into his shoulder. His nails dug into Michael’s back, and Michael held him so tightly he was sure Alex would wake up with bruises in the morning, but he didn’t care. He wrapped his arms unbearably tight around Alex’s shoulders, pulling him in even closer as his body trembled.

                Michael’s eyes burned, and for a moment, it wasn’t Flint Manes that had died, but Alex’s older brother. As Michael held him tighter, tighter, tighter, the night silent around them, Michael thought that at least Flint had done that. At least he’d died as Alex’s family.

                *

                Michael woke up first. Alex had cried himself to sleep, his cheeks still flushed, even hours later, the dark circles around his eyes prominent. Michael had texted their friends that Alex was safe, and left the calls and messages that followed ignored as he watched his airman sleep.

They were lying on top of the covers, fully clothed. Michael had not dared stand not to change after Alex had fallen asleep for fear of waking him up. Michael softy touched his fingers to Alex’s cheeks, reveling in the warmth of the airman’s soft skin.

                Michael wanted so badly to kiss him. Every fiber in his body urged it. But he didn’t want to risk waking Alex, or scaring him away. Michael brought an arm slowly under Alex’s head, so slowly that he may as well not have been moving at all. Alex shifted and Michael froze. The airman inhaled deeply, and curled in against Michael’s neck, his fist on Michael’s chest, near his own lips. Michael exhaled slowly.

                He look towards the spare blanket tossed over the foot of the bed, and willed it to open wide and cover Alex so that he stayed warm.

                The extra comfort, it seemed, had been enough to wake Alex up. His eyes fluttered open halfway, gold specs danced across the brown as the sunlight peeking through the curtains hit them.

                Michael wanted to say it was because he was still worried about Alex, and he was, but in reality, it maybe have been because he just worried Alex would leave that he curled his arm tighter around the airman’s shoulders, his other arm around Alex’s waist.

                “Hey,” he said softly. Alex didn’t answer.

                He looked around. Michael thought his eyes may have just stung so much from crying that he couldn’t completely open them now. “What time is it?” he croaked.

                Michael risked moving Alex’s bangs from his eyes before he held onto his waist again. “Seven, I think.”

                Alex’s eyes closed, then opened, then closed again. Then, the airman inhaled deeply as he forced himself to sit up, and swing his legs off the edge of the bed. Michael followed him up, his mouth open as he thought of what to say. Alex was going to leave. He was going to disappear again, and Michael had no idea how to stop him. Was he above keeping Alex here by force? Michael shook the idea out immediately. That was the absolute last thing Alex needed now.

                Alex looked down at the blanket as if having just noticed it was there. Michael put a hand on his arm. He couldn’t really see Alex’s face now as he sat behind him, but he couldn’t let go of the airman yet. Michael wasn’t, it turned out, above begging.

                “I,” Alex shook his head. “I have to go.”

                “Is this because of the blanket? That – it doesn’t have to mean anything, Alex,” Michael said. Damn it. Why was he so nervous? Was the dark look in Alex’s eyes, the one that, even from where he sat, gave Michael chills? Alex had looked like that at the hospital. Wild, murderous, like he was making a silent but strategic plan to kill someone. Michael feared that if he let him go now, Alex really would follow through with that plan.

                “I’m sorry,” he tried when Alex didn’t say anything. “I didn’t want to freak you out, I swear, I never even touched you like that last night, I…”

                Michael went silent as Alex covered his hand on his arm with his own. When he looked over his shoulder at the cowboy, his expression was sad, but kind. No sign of the cold, wild look Michael was sure he’d seen only a second ago.

                “I’ll be back,” he said, his voice so soft that Michael wondered if he’d misheard. “I, um… I have to go take care of a few things.”

                Michael moved closer, resting his forehead between Alex’s shoulder blades. “Stay, Alex. Don’t… don’t disappear again.” He wrapped his other arm around Alex’s shoulders. “It almost killed me.”

                Alex gripped his forearm, his hold too gentle for Michael’s heart to calm down. Alex turned in his hold, and kissed his forehead. He cupped Michael’s jaw, and pressed their cheeks together.

                “I want to kiss you,” Alex whispered, and Michael’s eyes fluttered shut. His put his hands on Alex’s waist, holding him in place. “But not like this.” Michael held onto him, but he managed to stand as easily as if he wasn’t being touched at all. “I’ll be back.”

                And without another word, Alex turned and left, his fists clenched at his side, and whether that was because it just pained him to leave, or because of something else entirely, Michael didn’t know. And he was terrified of finding out.

                *

                It took a week. Michael had restrained himself for days, unable to work or take anyone’s calls. On the seventh day, he nearly broke his own door off its hinges as he decided he’d had enough. He would bring Alex back, drag him if he had to, or refuse to leave his cabin.

                He had planned it anyway, but as soon as he’d neared his truck, a familiar black car pulled into the junkyard. Michael’s hand stilled on his door handle.

                His heart beat painfully as Alex stepped out in ripped jeans and a large grey sweater. He looked, for the first time, well-rested. His hair was still windswept, but it didn’t look as if Alex had been nervously running his hands through it all day, his cheeks were flushed, the tenseness in his shoulders had all but completely faded. All that was left that concerned Michael were his eyes. They were darker, somehow, his brows still furrowed slightly as if he was trying very hard not to get angry. It was strange, seeing Alex try to restrain himself.

                Otherwise, Michael might’ve been fooled. He might’ve believed Alex was actually any better.

                Michael wanted to say something clever, something funny maybe, anything to show Alex that it was okay to come closer. But all that ended up leaving his lips was, “You came back.”

                Alex shrugged. “I said I would.”

                Michael swallowed, scratching his thumb against the keys in his closed fist. “Are you okay?”

                He smiled softly, but shook his head. He seemed to know he couldn’t lie to the cowboy.

                Michael’s keys dropped from his hand, and he stormed up to Alex who, this time, kept where he was. He stopped just a few feet away from the airman, his arms up, questioning. “Can I…?”

                Alex visibly swallowed. “I’m really angry, Guerin,” he breathed. “I’m so angry, it hurts.”

                Michael’s offer didn’t waver in the slightest. It seemed enough to break Alex, and the airman held his own arms up as well. Michael closed the distance between them, and wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist, sighing deeply into the crook of Alex’s neck as the airman hugged him back, just as tightly.

                “I’ll fix it,” he promised.

                Alex’s body trembled, though not as badly as it had that night a week ago, and he nodded.

                Michael held him tighter. “I’ll fix it, Private.”

Chapter Text

                Michael tried to pretend it was a normal day. He tried to pretend Alex’s rejection hadn’t drained him. He tried to pretend it didn’t matter, that his life hadn’t ended with Alex’s certain “I do.” But it was a lie, and no matter how Michael tried to convince himself that he never really cared, never really loved him, his heart beat painfully against his chest, echoing Liar with every pulse.

                When Forest had first proposed a month ago in the Wild Pony, Michael had never expected Alex to say yes. When he had, Michael had never expected him to ever actually set a wedding date. When that happened, too, Michael had not expected Alex to actually buy a tux. But he did. And he looked more beautiful than Michael had ever dreamed.

                It was a simple tux – black pants, black jacket, white buttoned-down shirt, and a black bowtie. Michael had never imagined anyone to look good in a bowtie, but Alex made it work. There was a rose in his chest pocket, the red as vibrant as the color of Alex’s cheeks.

                It was cold, Michael told himself. That was why Alex was blushing. That was why he had looked so excited.

                Michael’s hands clenched on the wheel. He didn’t know what he had expected when he had showed up at the Crashdown where Liz and Maria were excitedly getting Alex ready, fussing over his hair and clothes despite Alex’s protests. They had all been laughing, as if it was the greatest day Roswell had ever seen. And the most insulting part, Michael thought as he pushed the gas pedal harshly, was that the wedding was going to be at the UFO museum. The same one where he and Alex had kissed for the first time.

                Why? Because Alex and Forest had met there. As if that held a candle to what Alex and Michael had shared. And Alex had not seemed to see the problem. He didn’t even understand why Michael had been so upset.

                Liz and Maria had glanced at each other, then decided the two had needed a moment alone. They told Alex to hurry because they needed to go soon, Maria had glared at Michael as they walked out, as if warning him not to mess this up.

                Michael couldn’t believe that he was the one being treated as the outsider, as if he was the one with no place at Alex’s side.

                Michael had been so angry that even as Alex watched him, his smile faded.

                “I thought you’d be happy for me,” he had said, disappointment coloring his tone, and Michael saw red.

                “Happy?” Michael had not worn a suit. He had his regular jeans on, his white shirt, his sleeveless jean jacket. He had come with the last desperate hope that Alex would call this entire joke off, but the airman had expected Michael to be happy about it.

                “How could I be?” he demanded. “The man I love is marrying someone else!”

                Michael remembered the way Alex had turned white, but not surprised. He had known Michael still had feelings for him, but he had not expected to ever hear them, and maybe that was on Michael, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He just wanted to hear the words said back to him. He wanted to know Alex loved him, too.

                “This is my wedding day,” Alex had muttered, his eyes filled with disbelief. “Are you out of your mind?”

                Michael had clenched his jaw. Not the reaction he had expected, but it was fine.

                “Call it off,” he had said. He knew it sounded like a plea, but he didn’t care. “Tell them you changed your mind.”

                “I’m getting married in an hour.”

                “Then don’t! Don’t get married, Alex, please!”

                “I’m finally happy!” Alex had raised his voice. “Why don’t you want that for me?!”

                “I’ll make you happy!” he had stepped closer, trying to take Alex’s hands, but the airman had flinched away from him. “I – I’ll do better this time! I promise, Alex, it’ll be great this time!”

                “Guerin!”

                “No more stupid mistakes, no more family crap, no more looking away – just you and me, Alex!”

                “Stop it, it’s too late!”

                “I love you, Alex, I love you so much, please don’t get married!”

                “GET OUT!” Alex had snapped, and Michael had frozen. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter, but it had trembled. “Get out. I don’t want to see you ever again.”

                “Alex –”

                Then Alex had hit him with a look Michael had never expected to see, not from him. He looked at Michael like he hated him.

                “A—Alex –”

                “Get. Out.” The words echoed in Michael’s head even as he pulled to the side of the road on the drive back and broke down beside his truck. The minutes turned to hours, and when he was finally able to breathe, he crawled back into the driver’s seat, and went on his way.

                Michael tried not to think of Alex as he pulled into the junkyard, his smile, his eyes, his warmth, and how he would never feel any of that again… but it was a little hard not to think about when he saw Alex pacing in front of his airstream.

                He was still wearing his tux, but the bowtie was undone around his neck, his hair was windswept, and his rose was shedding petals so that it looked like Alex’s heart was bleeding. He looked gorgeous.

                Michael all but jumped out of his car before remembering he had to turn off the engine first. As soon as he stepped out, Alex shoved him.

                “You had no right!” he yelled, his cheeks flushed, his eyes shining, and Michael soon realized that the glimmer he thought was hate was actually something else; fury.

                “I –” he tried, but Alex shoved him back again.

                “I was finally happy, after years of being miserable, I was just happy, and you had to ruin it!”

                Michael felt his heart crawl into his throat. “Alex –”

                “Shut up!” Alex walked away, then came back. “You know, Forest knew I couldn’t love him the way I loved you, but he tried! He fought for me! What the hell have you ever done?”

                Michael said nothing. He didn’t think he could anyway. He was too absorbed in Alex being there, in front of him, not the wedding, not getting married. His Alex. Michael had only seen him a few hours ago, but he already missed him so much.

                “I may have walked away,” Alex went on, oblivious at the  joy surging through Michael’s heart at seeing him here. Here. With him. “I may have had my excuses, but I never chose anyone else, Guerin!”

                “I didn’t choose anyone else –”

                “I swear to god,” Alex threatened. Michael knew it was meant to be frightening, but he found he only wanted to laugh. His eyes burned as the beginnings of a smile tugged at the corner of his lips despite himself.

                Michael knew it was his fault Alex believed he had ever wanted anyone else, but it was never the truth. There had only ever been Alex.

                “How did you get here?”

                Alex panted. He was still glaring, but it had softened, probably involuntarily. He huffed. “Forest. He took one look at me, and…” Alex shook his head, and Michael saw that his eyes had filled with tears. “He told me to go. I guess it just wasn’t good enough for either of us.”

“Alex,” Michael breathed. “I love you.”

                Alex paced back to him. He hadn’t stopped moving since he’d gotten here. “Michael Guerin, say another word –”

                Michael pulled him against his chest, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. He buried his face in the crook of Alex’s neck, trying to ignore the tear as it slid down his own cheek. He had been so sure he would never have this again. He tried to remember this feeling. He had to make good on his promise. He had to do better.

                Alex was still fidgeting against him, refusing to hug him back. “Let me go!” he complained, but there was no real venom in his voice.

                Michael held onto him tighter. “Never again, Private. Never again.”

Chapter Text

                It had been a week since Flint died.

                It had been a week since he had sacrificed himself to save Alex, a week since Michael had found Alex on his front steps, and a day since he had come back to the junkyard, saving Michael a frantic drive to the cabin.

                They had lied together last night, sweating and panting against each other’s ears. Michael looked up from the alien symbols he had long since stopped studying to watch as Alex typed at his computers, his back to them.

                He still remembered the look on Alex’s face when he’d woken up this morning, the airman already awake, his eyes on the ceiling, lost in thought. Michael had touched his cheek then, the question of whether or not Alex had slept at all lying on his tongue, but never making it past his lips. He longed to touch Alex now, but the airman had been so silent as they’d gotten dressed and made their way to the bunker.

He had, very unusually, barely offered Kyle a greeting, but it didn’t look like Kyle had expected one. He had stopped Michael at the door as Alex took his seat, and asked in a voice barely over a whisper, “How is he?”

Normally, Michael would have been annoyed with Kyle’s concern for Alex, but the circles around the doctor’s eyes were so dark, his gaze on Alex so fond and loving, that Michael couldn’t muster the agitation. Kyle was afraid for Alex. Michael didn’t want to admit it, but so was he.

He had merely shaken his head, said that he would take care of it – just as he had promised Alex – and the two sat down and got to work. At least, Michael was supposed to be working, but he couldn’t focus at all, not with his airman working as if nothing had changed, as if his entire body didn’t stand tense, as if he hadn’t confessed, just yesterday, that he was so angry it pained him.

“Alex,” he said, not knowing what he was going to ask or do in front of Kyle. He didn’t want to ask Alex if he was okay, the airman wasn’t good at answering those kinds of questions, but his finger tapped incessantly on the table, and he was heaving a deep sigh every few minutes, and Kyle was looking at him like he knew, and Michael knew that if he didn’t get to talk to Alex or touch him in some way very soon, he was going to lose his mind.

“Private,” he tried again, and Alex hummed in question.

You want to go back to the airstream? Want me to take you home? Can I kiss you? Can I touch you?

                “Uh – I could use your help with this,” he ended up saying, and Michael couldn’t help but wince at his own words.

                Alex said nothing as he stopped typing, and moved to stand. He’d barely made it to his feet before he lost his balance and fell back down into his seat.

                “Alex!” Michael and Kyle were instantly at his side. His eyes were half-lidded, and despite Michael’s hold on him, Alex couldn’t seem to see anything or hear anyone around him.

                “Alex, let me – Guerin, let go of him for a second – here, let me look at you.” Kyle spun Alex’s chair towards him, and held his face in his hands. Alex was nearly limp, even as Michael’s hands rested on his shoulders from behind the chair.

                Kyle peered into Alex’s eyes, then checked the beating pulse at his wrist, then moved his phone’s flashlight in front of Alex to have him follow the light.

                “What’s wrong with him?” Michael asked.

                “Nothing,” Alex tried squirming out of Michael’s hold, but gave up quickly as Michael wrapped his arms around his shoulders, keeping the airman’s back against his chest. “Come on, let me go, I’m fine.”

                “You’re not fine, Alex, you’re not even close to fine.” Kyle sighed. “Have you been taking those pills I gave you?”

                Alex did not answer, his brows furrowed as if he was getting annoyed, but was too exhausted to do anything about it.

                Kyle, it seemed, did not care. He stood, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Damn it, Alex,” he growled. “Even when we were kids, you always had to do things your way, didn’t you? You won’t be satisfied until you get yourself killed, will you?”

                “Who are you calling?” Michael asked.

                “Pharmacy,” Kyle said. “I’m ordering you another bottle.”

                “I don’t want the pills,” Alex muttered.

                “Too bad!” he snapped. “Yeah, hello, Dr. Wells, listen…” Kyle’s words faded as he left the bunker, and Michael ran a hand through Alex’s hair.

                “What kind of pills are you taking?” he mumbled into the airman’s dark locks, for lack of anything better to say.

                Alex fidgeted in his hold, and Michael released him. He thought Alex would leave, but the airman only stood, turned to Michael, and wrapped his arms around the cowboy’s waist, his head on Michael’s shoulder.

                Michael was surprised, but Alex’s grip was so tight, his arms trembling, and he could do nothing but hug Alex back just as tightly.

                “Please get me out of here,” Alex whispered, his voice shaking.

                Michael pulled back enough to hold Alex’s face in his hands, and saw, to his surprise, that Alex was not crying. Instead, his eyes looked wild, as if it was taking everything he had to refrain from killing someone. Michael swallowed, and pulled Alex in against his chest again, kissing his cheek, his ear, the crook of his neck, his shoulder.

                “Okay,” he sighed, rubbing Alex’s back. “Okay, let’s go.”

                And so Michael led him out, and put him in his truck, sending a quick text to Kyle that Alex was with him. Michael drove for half an hour before he had the nerve to reach over and take Alex’s hand. Alex didn’t react. His face was turned away from Michael’s, but one look at the side mirror, and the cowboy could see that the airman was working through a thousand things in his head at once.

                “Alex,” he tried, and when Alex turned to look at him, his eyes were vacant. He wasn’t going to give anything away.

                He forced a smile that did not reach his eyes, and his fingers curled around Michael’s. He nodded as if to apologize for scaring him, and reassure him that he was okay.

                Michael took them to the airstream, afraid that if he had taken Alex to the cabin, he wouldn’t be allowed inside. They stepped inside. Michael had just turned to ask Alex if he wanted any coffee, but before the question could leave his lips, Alex crashed their mouths together, and Michael went stumbling back, surprised.

                “W – wait, Alex, what –”

                “Please,” Alex whispered, already unbuttoning Michael’s shirt, his hand on Michael’s chest. “Please.”

                Michael panted against Alex’s lips, the airman’s fingers scratching down his stomach.

                “Please, Michael.”

                His voice shook. His eyes were shut tight, as if trying to shut away the demons haunting him, and the way he held onto Michael, as if only the cowboy could keep him tethered to earth, could keep him safe and sane, it tugged at something familiar in Michael’s chest. He knew what it was like to really need the man he loved.

                Michael took hold of Alex’s hips, and pulled back with him. He laid him down on the bed, one arm caging him in, his other hand on his jaw. “Anything you want, baby. Anything.”

                Alex barely managed a nod, his eyes shining and miserable, before Michael lay on top of him, kissing him senseless.

                They went on for hours, Alex’s hands on Michael’s waist, pulling him in deeper. Michael’s hands on Alex’s chest, his stomach, his arms, touching whatever he could reach. He stayed close so that their chests were almost always pressed together. He didn’t want to move any further away than he had to, didn’t want to put up with that distance.

                “Baby,” he breathed against Alex’s lips, and more than once kissed away the furrow between the airman’s brows.

                When they lay together in the end, side by side, they were panting and sweaty and soaking the mattress, but Michael didn’t care. He was staring at Alex, the airman’s eyes closed, his cheeks flushed, his lips rosy from being bitten. Michael was tempted to bite them again. Another part of him wanted to pull Alex against his chest and let the airman rest his head against his beating heart. He wanted Alex to hear how it raced for him, how it always raced for him.

                He wondered what would happen if he put an arm under Alex’s head, if he tried to pull him in. Would Alex let him? Would he flinch away from him? Would he hate Michael, or would he love him for it?

                Michael pressed his arm against Alex’s, glad to have that physical reminder that the airman was with him. “What’re you thinking about?”

                Alex said nothing a moment, then his eyes shut tighter and he covered them with his forearm. “It’s not working,” he breathed.

                Michael stilled. He knew what it was.

                “Nothing works,” he sat up, the blanket falling to his waist. Michael sat up slowly behind him, a hand on his back.

                “Alex –”

                “Nothing works, Guerin, I don’t…” Alex looked like he was going to throw up. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what else to – I thought – I…”

                “I know, Private,” Michael said softly, gently pressing a kiss to Alex’s back and holding him from behind. “I know.”

                Alex panted, “Are you… are you disappointed?”

                “No, no, baby,” he whispered calmly. “I’m not disappointed.”

                Alex shook, and Michael held on tighter. “I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t know how to win this one.”

                “I’ll win for you,” Michael mumbled against the nape of Alex’s neck.

                “And I’m so tired of fighting.”

                “I’ll fight for you.”

                “I want to give up,” Alex whispered, and Michael nodded.

                “Of course you do. Anyone would,” he said. “But you won’t.”

                A tear rolled down Alex’s cheek. “How do you know that?”

                And he looked to Michael with a kind of plea, as if begging for a reason, something to help him keep going, something to remind him of what he was fighting for. Something to convince him that he couldn’t just leave Roswell and the Manes legacy behind and move somewhere where no one knew his name, in hopes of forgetting his brother, what he’d lost – all of it. He needed some reason to stay and fight, to be part of Team Human, to stop Project Shepherd once and for all.

                Michael shrugged as if the answer should’ve been obvious. He thought it was. “You’re Alex Manes. You don’t give up. You just don’t.”

                Alex’s shoulders slumped, though the corner of his lips quirked up in a miserable smile, as if to say, I was afraid you were going to say that.

                Michael kissed the airman’s shoulder. “But if you want to give up today, just for a minute… you can.”

                Alex nodded, as if, for the first time, he could actually trust that Michael was telling him the truth. “Just for a minute.”

                Michael kissed him again, pulling him back into bed. This time, he did as he wanted, and had Alex lie on top of him, their bodies pressed together, Alex’s head on his chest.

                “It’s gonna be okay, Private,” Michael whispered into his hair, his hand running up and down Alex’s back. “It’s gonna be okay.”

                And as Alex’s breathing calmed against Michael’s chest, against his racing heart, Michael held the airman tighter and made a silent promise. Everything would be okay. He would see to that.

Chapter Text

                The ringing began quietly, then as the days passed, the calls unanswered, they echoed throughout the cabin walls alongside Buffy’s gruff responses, as if urging the person on the other end to pick up. Alex kept the phone on speaker. He knew there would be no response.

                “This is Guerin,” the automated voice finally came, and Alex stopped in the midst of packing, his hands on his suitcase, his shoulders slumped with a sigh. “Don’t know how you got this number, but whatever it is, make it quick.”

                The beep sounded like an execution sentence. Buffy barked once, twice as Alex made his way over to the phone. He picked it up. Enough was enough.

                “Hey, Guerin,” he said, holding the phone with one hand as he looked around for his navy jacket. It was cold in New York around this time of year, wasn’t it? “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for the past few weeks, and I really didn’t want to have to do this over the phone, but… I guess it is what it is.”

                He took a deep breath, shutting another suitcase. “I’m leaving Roswell. I got a job offer in New York and I took it. There’s no home for me here anymore,” he said as he picked a loose thread on his couch. He cleared his throat. “My plane leaves tonight, and I’m…” he checked the time on his phone, “just about to leave.” He tapped his thigh. He sat down. He looked around the walls that had shielded him these past two years, the shelter that had been left for him when he thought he wouldn’t get one.

He thought of Michael, his home, wondering if the cowboy was listening at all, if he would bother listening to the voicemail once he saw who it was from. Alex thought of the look on Michael’s face when he’d found out about the relationship with Maria, how he had looked at Alex as if he couldn’t see him. Just another Manes Man, meant to haunt his dreams and nothing more.

Alex knew his name would never leave him, that he would never forget that look in the eyes of the man he loved. He just hoped that, after this big change, the punishment would finally stop.

Maybe it was because of that hope, because of the fact that he was leaving and he was desperate, maybe because part of him knew Michael would not listen to what he had to say that he threw caution and permission to the wind and blurted, “I want to see you.”

                He was surprised at the tremble in his voice, how his fingers shook against his jeans. Even Buffy seemed to notice something breaking as she came over, her big brown eyes looking up at Alex as if asking, Are you okay?

                Alex rested a hand on her head, her soft, warm fur easing some of the tension in his stomach.

                “Guerin,” he said, and cleared his throat again. “Michael. I’ve never asked you for anything. I’m asking for this now. Please. Please, just… come over. Come over now, let me see you just once, and… and you’ll never have to see me again.”

                He took in a shuddering breath, and confessed, “All I can think about is the way you looked at me the last time we saw each other. Like… like you hated me. I’m begging you, don’t let me leave with that. Please just come over.”

                He exhaled slowly, turning the phone away, then, “I absolutely have to leave in two hours. I’ll wait until the last possible second. Okay? I’m waiting.”

                He hung up, and only realized later that he had been clutching the phone so tightly his knuckles had turned white. Buffy licked his hand, and Alex forced himself to let go.

                With a slight whimper, her eyes on Alex, Buffy seemed to ask, What do you think?

                Alex nodded, if only to himself. “He’ll come. He’ll be here.”

                An hour passed, which was already more than Alex had expected, another half hour, and his heart plummeted into his stomach as he sat in the cold darkness, waiting. Ten minutes until he had to leave, and Alex realized he had better start loading his two suitcases into his car. All the furniture was draped with white sheets, everything else packed away in boxes that Kyle was going to have sent over to Alex’s new apartment once he got settled.

                “Hang on, girl,” he told Buffy before she jumped into the passenger seat, his voice hollow. “Not yet. We have another minute.”

                Buffy seemed to lower her head, her sad eyes on him, yet she said nothing.

                Alex tapped his thumb on the hood of the car, and swallowed. “We have another minute.”

                The seconds ticked by, and Alex found himself wishing they’d freeze. Michael was just running a little late. The minute passed, and no sign of the cowboy.

                As a last desperate attempt, Alex pulled his phone out, his hands shaking, his heart doing a drumroll in his chest. He dialed Michael’s number. The phone rang. Nothing.

                Alex shook his head, his brows furrowed, his eyes burning. “H… He’s really not coming?”

                Buffy growled as if desperate to kill someone.

                “No, no,” he muttered. “M – Maybe, maybe he’s on his way right now. We’ll wait another minute.”

                But that minute passed, too, and so did the one after, and the one after that. It was another ten minutes before Buffy barked urgently. It was time to go.

                Alex looked around, still half-expecting to see gold curls or an old truck or even a panting Michael making his way to him. But there was no one. It reminded him of something, a miserable few hours he’d spent waiting outside the airstream, expecting the man he loved to come, and never getting it.

                Alex took his seat, feeling heavier than ever before, his heart like an anchor, unwilling to rise or beat again. “I really thought he’d come,” he muttered, and feeling horrifyingly numb, he turned the key, and made his way away from the cabin. Still, he drove slowly, a small, foolish part of him hoping the cowboy would stop him. He never did.

                Nothing was different. The sky had some dark clouds, the leaves rustled in the wind, the desert lay silent, there was the faint sound of music and chatter coming from a few of the bars and restaurants in town. Alex, despite himself, couldn’t help but wonder what Michael was doing now. He wondered if he’d ever even read the voicemail. He stopped at a red light, pulled out his phone, and – taking a deep breath – he tried to call again.

                “This is Guerin,” the automated voice responded, and Alex was left staring at the green light, his phone against his ear.

                Despite it all, Alex could not help the small, sad upward quirk of his lips. “I love you,” he breathed, and maybe it wasn’t the thing to say now, and maybe Michael would hate him more for it, and maybe it was part of the hysterical laughter bubbling in his throat, but he wanted to say it. He wanted the last thing he ever told Michael to be the truth.

                “I love you I love you I love you,” he said, his voice barely over a whisper, his eyes burning. Oddly enough, he didn’t know whether he wanted to laugh or cry. “And I want you to know that even if we spend a hundred years apart, I’ll still love you with every cell in my body. And you can be disgusted that a Manes loves you, but a Manes loves you, and I’ll never be sorry for that because you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Guerin.”

He huffed a miserable laugh as a tear fell, said, “I really wanted to see you,” and hung up.

Chapter Text

                Michael had been hesitant to leave the bunker last night, Alex’s form illuminated by the computer light as he typed away, decoding alien symbols and sharp drawings that made no sense. When he returned to the bunker the next morning to see the airman slumped over his desk, his head pillowed on his arms as he slept, he knew he shouldn’t have left at all.

                He came up to the airman quietly, for a moment afraid of waking him up. He watched the way Alex’s long lashes curled against his rosy cheeks, the way his soft brown hair fell over his eyes, half his face hidden behind his arms.

                Michael pulled his own chair closer, slowly so as not to wake the airman, and sat down beside him, staring at his face. The dark circles under his eyes had not lessened in the slightest, and Michael wondered how long Alex had been staring at his computer before the exhaustion finally took over. He realized this was the first time he had ever seen Alex sleep, and hesitated before reaching over to wake him up.

                In the end he had to. The airman could not have been comfortable where he was. He barely touched Alex’s shoulder, all but whispering his name, and the airman woke instantly with a slight gasp, sitting up in his chair, alert and ready.

                He spotted Michael, and frowned. He rubbed his eyes, his hands balled into fists, and Michael tried to ignore his heart as it jumped in his chest. Alex was not supposed to be cute. He was an Air Force captain with enough steel in his body to take down armies. Cute should not have been the word to come to mind as Michael watched his rosy cheek puff out, his lips turned to a small pout as he rubbed his eyes awake. But it was.

                “What time is it?” he asked, and Michael pulled his eyes off Alex’s lips a moment to realize the airman was talking to him.

                “About six,” he said. “Did you sleep? Like, at all?”

                “Six,” Alex muttered, ignoring Michael’s question as he pushed the bottoms of his palms into his eyes. “Okay. Okay.”

                He did not move to stand, or ask Michael to hand him his things, or even try to reach for his crutches which he had been bringing a lot more often to the bunker (Michael had tried asking him about the pain in his leg, but every time, Alex would look at him a bit startled, as if to say, You care? And Michael would feel no right to say anything else). Instead, and to Michael’s surprise, Alex straightened in his seat, squinted at the screen a moment as if trying to remember where he’d left off, and went back to work as if he hadn’t just passed out from exhaustion.

                “Alex, uh,” he looked around, as if expecting to see someone who actually knew how to talk to the airman, then remembered that he didn’t need anyone. This was Alex. Who was better at talking to him than the love of his life?

                He put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Maybe you should go home, get some sleep –”

                “I’m fine,” Alex said thoughtlessly, waving Michael’s hands off. He didn’t seem to realize what he’d done, so caught up in his work. Michael swallowed and moved closer in his chair.

                “Private,” he whispered, and Alex’s fingers stilled on the keys. “You look like you’re going to fall over. You need to rest.”

                Alex sighed, and resumed working. “Seriously, Guerin, I’m fine, I’m okay.”

                Michael inhaled deeply, and raised his hand to hover above Alex’s head, his fingers barely brushing his hair. He let his hand touch Alex’s head, and the airman flinched, looking up at him with wide eyes.

                “Sorry, I…” he stepped back. “I was only trying to –”

                “No, I-I’m –” Alex heaved a sigh, burying his face in his hands. “I’m just tired.”

                Michael hesitated, then stepped closer, and carefully set his hand on Alex’s head again. The airman, this time, did not move away. When he brought his hands down, Michael saw that his eyes were glazed over, the rims red, his cheeks flushed.

                He crouched down to meet his eyes, his hand still on Alex’s head. “Hey. You okay?” Alex nodded, staring off into the distance. “Come on, Private, take a break.” He bit his lower lip, then, “For me?”

                Alex then looked at him in a way that teased, Who do you think I’m doing all of this for?

                But rather than say that, the airman looked to the computers behind him, tapped his finger on the desk thoughtfully, then with a sigh, he saved his files, encrypted them to keep them locked from anyone else, and turned the computers off.

                Alex slumped back in his seat with a sigh. Michael’s hand was still on his head. “Shut up.”

                “I didn’t say anything,” Michael was smiling.

                Alex scoffed tiredly, slapping Michael’s hand off, but Michael only moved it from Alex’s head to massage his shoulders.

                “So tense,” he teased, and Alex fidgeted under him, but he held on tightly.

                “Get off me,” he grumbled.

                Michael huffed a laugh, hugging Alex’s shoulders. The airman went rigid in his arms for a moment, but as Michael held him, his muscles relaxed. Michael rested his chin on Alex’s head. “I really want to kiss you right now,” he breathed before he could help himself.

                Alex tensed again, and for a horrible moment, Michael worried he was going to push him off, but then he settled back in seat. His shoulders were still straight, and Michael wished he could kiss the tension away.

                He slowly brought his lips to the top of Alex’s head, and his eyes fluttered shut as he took in the airman’s scent. He kissed his hair, and pulled him in so that his back was against his chest. If only the chair wasn’t in the way.

                “Guerin,” Alex muttered, and it sounded like a warning. Remember where we are, remember what we are. Remember that we’re not supposed to do this anymore.

                “Private,” he muttered back. He wasn’t going to back down now, not when he finally had Alex in his hold after months of watching him from afar, pining, yearning, desperately longing to touch him. It took Alex completely wearing himself down to finally let Michael past his walls, the walls Michael had once been able to tear down so easily, but it was worth it to touch him now.

                He kissed Alex’s head again, his hands running from Alex’s shoulders down his arms.

                “Gu—Guerin…” he stammered, and Michael smiled against his hair.

                “Just another minute,” he whispered. “I’ll let you go… just later.” He thought Alex might object, might tell him no, but to his surprise, the tension in Alex’s shoulders faded. Michael sighed with relief.

                “Baby,” he breathed, keeping his lips pressed to Alex’s head. The airman fidgeted a little, but ultimately let Michael do what he wanted. It wasn’t until his lips reached Alex’s neck that the airman stood with a stutter, and said he really needed to get some rest.

                Michael watched him go, his heart nowhere near as heavy as it usually was when Alex left the room. He couldn’t help it. He smiled, Alex scent still surrounding him, the taste of him still on Michael’s lips.

Chapter Text

                “Mm… stop it. I can’t focus.”

                Michael hummed against the airman’s stomach, pushing his sweater up higher. “But you smell so good.”

                “I’m trying to read,” Alex turned onto his side, holding his book up in front of him, though Michael couldn’t miss the way even the tips of his ears turned bright red. Michael pressed another kiss to his bellybutton.

                He stuck his tongue in and Alex gasped, almost dropping his copy of Sense and Sensibility. Michael grinned and bit a bit of the skin there.

                “Stop, Guerin,” he breathed, shoving his shoulder, but Michael wrapped an arm around his waist and held on. “I can’t concentrate.”

                “Concentrate on something else,” he muttered, taking one of Alex’s hands and pressing it to his own chest. Alex pulled away, turning over onto his stomach, his face hidden behind his book. Michael bit his lower lip to keep his smile from widening.

                “Am I making you nervous, Private?” he whispered against the shell of Alex’s ear as he came to lie on top of him, his arms around his body.

                “Oh, get off me!” Alex whined, and Michael clung on tighter.

                “But you’re so warm!”

                “Then get a blanket!”

                “I like you better.”

                Alex groaned as he tried, with Michael still holding on to him, to turn onto his back. Michael laughed as the airman finally managed it, his head settled on Alex’s chest. Alex put an arm around his back, one hand still on his book.

                “You’re relentless.”

                “You love me,” Michael said, and felt Alex’s heart race against his ear.

                “I love you,” Alex repeated in monotone, and Michael squeezed so unbearably tight that the airman burst into laughter himself. The sound was so beautiful that Michael couldn’t help but smile along, kissing wherever he could reach.

                “Okay, okay,” he said as Michael’s lips touched his jaw, his fingers slipping through the cowboy’s curls. “You’ve got my attention.”

                “Good,” he said, and Alex’s chest vibrated against his cheek as he laughed again. “I love your laugh.”

                “Is there anything about me you don’t love?”

                “Since when are you so smug?”

                “Is there?” Alex pressed.

                Michael kissed his chest again with another smile. “No. I love every part of you, every tiny detail, every little bit. I love you so much I don’t know what to do with myself.”

                Alex didn’t answer, and Michael looked up to find him staring at the ceiling, his expression unreadable, his book forgotten.

                Michael touched his jaw lightly, the smile at his lips dimming. “You here?”

                Alex looked down at him, smiling, running his hand up and down Michael’s back. “I’m here, baby.”

                At the nickname, Michael released a relieved breath he didn’t know he was holding, and cuddled deeper into the crook of Alex’s neck.

                “I thought I lost you for a second there,” he confessed, his voice not as light as would’ve liked.

                Alex’s fingers dug into his back. “I’m yours forever, Guerin,” he quietly promised. “All yours.”

                Michael held on tighter. “So will you put the book down now?”

                “No,” Alex scoffed.

                “Put it down.”

                “No, I’m reading!”

                “Kiss me!”

                “Later!”

                “Alex!”

Chapter Text

                It wasn’t the first time Michael had woken up to find his boyfriend’s side of the bed empty, nor was it the first time he had pulled himself out of bed to look for him.

                To no surprise, he found Alex on the couch in the living room, his back to Michael, a book in his hands, and headphones covering his ears. As if he was trying the best he could to make sure his own dark thoughts had no way of touching him.

                Michael sighed, and walked up to him, hugging him from behind. Alex wasn’t even startled.

                “Hey,” he muttered, kissing the airman’s cheek. “What’re you doing up?”

                Alex pulled the headphones off, and turned his face to meet Michael’s lips in a proper peck. He held up his book, the only response Michael would get.

                Michael raised his brow at the fresh cup of steaming coffee on the small table in front of Alex, and suspected it was not the first he’d had that night. “You’re trying to stay awake?”

                Alex smiled at him, and Michael couldn’t help but notice how sad it looked. “It’s just easier.”

                Michael hugged him tighter, kissing the top of his head. “Alright, baby. You want to stay awake, we’ll stay awake.”

                As he came around to lie on the couch beside Alex, the airman giggled tiredly to himself. “Thanks, Guerin.” He sighed. “You’re the best.”

                Michael put an arm around his shoulders, forcing himself to smile even as Alex yawned, and clearly shook himself to fight off the exhaustion. The man never caught a break, even when he desperately needed one.

                He kissed Alex’s temple, then his cheek. “I promise, I won’t fall asleep this time.”

                “I believe you,” Alex said, his eyes on his book.

                Of course Michael fell asleep. He woke up at sunrise to find his head on Alex’s lap, the airman’s coffee cup empty as he rubbed his eyes, at least three-hundred pages further into his book than when Michael had found him.

                Michael groaned, trying to ignore how good it felt to have Alex raking his fingers through his curls, and pushed himself up. “I’m sorry, baby.”

                “Hm?” Alex blinked, looking as if he had forgotten where he was, what he was doing, and even – as Michael sometimes feared but never confessed – who the cowboy even was. Without waiting for Michael’s response, Alex returned to his book. Michael had the feeling he’d been reading that page for the past several minutes.

                “Come on,” he gently pulled the book from his hands. “Let’s get you some sleep.”

                “I don’t want to,” he muttered.

                “I’ll watch over you,” he promised.

                “Guerin, really,” he shook his head, dozing off already. “I’m fine.”

                Michael led Alex’s head onto his shoulder, had him wrap his arms around the cowboy’s neck, and carried the Air Force captain in his arms. For that moment, he was not a powerful military man, he was Michael’s boyfriend, with his large sweaters, his rosy cheeks, his soft hair, and his red lips that mumbled against Michael’s skin as he was carried to bed. Michael put him down, and crawled in beside him.

                “I don’t want to sleep,” he muttered, wrapping an arm tightly around Michael’s shoulders. “Please don’t let me fall asleep.”

                Michael gently stroked his cheek. He knew Alex suffered nightmares like he himself could never imagine, and he never promised the airman that they wouldn’t bother him, because he didn’t want anything he told Alex to ever be a lie. He wasn’t delusional, he knew he couldn’t rid Alex of the monsters that haunted him, never completely. But still…

                “I’ll protect you,” he whispered into Alex’s hair. “I’ll stay here with you, and I’ll keep you safe. No one will touch you, Alex.”

                Alex’s fists clenched in his shirt. “Don’t leave.”

                Michael kissed his forehead hard, and tightened his hold on the airman’s waist. “I’m not going anywhere.”

                Alex nodded uncertainly against him, and held him back just as tightly, his grip only loosening as he finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

                Alex had noticed long ago that Michael had a slight… jealousy problem where the two of them were concerned. If any guy at a bar talked to Alex, Michael stepped in. If Kyle offered to take the airman to dinner after a long day of being stuck in the bunker, Michael stepped in. Anytime Alex even remotely looked at another guy that might be generally considered attractive; Michael stepped in.

                It was lucky for Alex that he only ever had eyes for the cowboy. And… one particular superhero that – to his dismay – Liz and Maria knew all about.

                “Superman has powers!”

                “Yeah, but Batman has the batmobile!”

                “Alex, tiebreaker!” Isobel snapped. “Superman or Batman?”

                “That’s not fair!” Maria argued. “You know Alex is in love with Henry Cavill, he won’t pick anyone else!”

                Michael stopped with the bottle at his lips, and looked over at them, his brows furrowed. “Alex is in love with who?”

                Alex, who could tell when Michael was getting ready to blow something up, shook his head and smiled, touching Michael’s arm. “No, she, uh, she was talking about the movie.”

                “Henry Cavill,” Isobel grinned. “Another point to Superman!”

                “I…” Maria tried, and groaned. “Damn it! Curse his gorgeous eyes and that beautiful accent.”

                “And his muscles,” Liz added. “And his smile.”

                Michael frowned, leaning forward. “Hold on, who is this guy?”

                “Henry Cavill,” Liz raised a brow. “How do you not know who he is? Alex talks about him all the time.”

                “No, I don’t,” Alex barely managed to grit out before Maria nodded, adding, “All the time. You’re lucky he doesn’t live in New Mexico, Guerin.”

                Michael’s eye twitched, his grip tightening on his glass. “Am I?”

                “Oh my god, I’ve seen Witcher,” Isobel made a show of swooning. “He has yellow eyes.”

                Maria caught her with a laugh, and the three girls fell into a fit as they continued repeating things Alex had openly loved about the actor.

                But despite watching them, Alex couldn’t hear them. He was much too aware of Michael’s eyes on him, burning holes into his head. When Michael said his name, his eyes fell shut.

                “Private,” he muttered close to his ear, his hand on Alex’s wrist. “Can I see you outside for a second?”

                “Guerin,” he tried, “I don’t think –”

                “Come on, Alex,” he nudged the airman’s waist, and Alex gasped slightly at the cowboy’s hot breath against his skin.

                Alex swallowed, stood up from the table where the others who were too deep in conversation to notice that the two had left, and followed him out the door.

                He barely stepped outside when his arm was yanked, and he was pushed against the wall. Michael had one arm beside Alex’s head, caging him in, his other hand unbuttoning the airman’s shirt.

                “You love me?” he muttered, and Alex tried to control his breathing, the cowboy’s hot breath against his lips, his warm fingers on Alex’s collarbone.

                “Are you going to ask me that every time someone says my name and ‘love’ in the same sentence?”

                “Say it,” Michael said, his lips brushing Alex’s. Alex’s eyes fluttered. “Say it, baby. Say you love me.”

                Alex took Michael’s hands in his face, closing the distance between them. He felt Michael whimper against his lips before his arms wrapped around Alex’s waist, pulling him in deeper. “You know I do. You know I love you.”

                “Say it again,” Michael breathed, and kissed Alex again.

When they pulled back, Alex said, “You’re my hero, and I love you, Michael.”

As Michael wildly kissed him, Alex ran his hands up and down the cowboy’s back, trying to calm his nerves. It wasn’t confusing behavior, Alex knew why Michael was so insistent on hearing about the airman’s love for him, why he hated the simple implication that he could be attracted to anyone else.

He remembered all too well the look in Michael’s eyes as they had lied in bed two weeks ago, both of them on their sides after a long, heated night, the blanket at their hips. The two had been worn out, too tired to do anything but lazily touch each other, whatever they could reach, taking one another’s lips in their own, their foreheads pressed together.

“I’m not Kyle,” he had whispered, dazed and exhausted. “I’m not a doctor, I don’t save lives. I’m not Max, I’m not always considerate.” His fingers had been gentle on Alex’s jaw as if terrified that he would break with his touch. “I keep thinking… you’ll realize that you’re too good for me… and you’ll leave.”

It was impossible. Alex wanted to tell Michael that he loved him like he could never love anyone else, that he loved him so much it hurt, that having Michael there, in his bed, had been his dream for over a decade. But the cowboy had fallen asleep, and Alex had only been able to pull him into his arms, holding him tightly, whispering his love into Michael’s curls.

That was why Alex knew now to let Michael kiss him senseless, to keep touching whatever of Michael he could reach, to reassure him that he loved him more than he could ever imagine.

Slowly, Michael’s kisses turned softer, slower, his hold on Alex gentler. He pulled away only to kiss the corner of Alex’s lips, then his cheek, then his jaw, and his forehead rested on the airman’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he breathed.

Alex hugged him tightly. “You’re sorry you kissed me? I’m not.”

Michael huffed a miserable laugh against his shoulder, and Alex kissed his head, pulling him in deeper. “I love you so much.”

“I love you more.”

A moment of silence passed, then, “Henry Cavill?”

A laugh burst from Alex’s lips. “He is Superman.” He sighed, and pressed another kiss to Michael’s lips. “He’s not better than you though.”

“Really?” Michael smirked. “Not even with the cape?”

Alex made a show of opening his mouth to answer, then closing it to think his response over. Michael bit his lower lip in retaliation, and Alex laughed.

Chapter Text

                Michael stood outside the bunker as music sounded from the inside. His brows furrowed as he pushed the door open, OneRepublic’s Marchin’ On echoing off the walls, Alex slumped over his desk, his chin resting on his folded arms, his eyes closed.

                For a moment, Michael thought he was asleep, but once he was close enough, Alex opened his eyes and looked up at him. At first, the airman didn’t seem to know who Michael was, then he blinked and sat up with a deep sigh, stretching his arms out in front of him.

                Michael gestured to the empty coffee cup and bags of food. “Long night?”

Alex hummed. “I was using the last heat signatures we’d found at Caulfield to trace any similar patterns throughout New Mexico.”

Michael thought that to anyone else, Alex’s tech talk may have been too hard to follow, but he sat down in the chair beside him, crossing his hands over his stomach as he leaned back. “And?”

                Alex sighed, tossing the file nearest to him away. “And I’m going to have to expand the search to Texas and Arizona. It’ll take me at least another week to scan. I may have to go stay there for a while.”

                “Cool,” Michael said. “Road trip. When do we leave?”

                Alex smiled, tired. Michael noticed the dark circles around his eyes were much darker since he had seen him last night. “There’s really no need, you two are better off continuing the work here.”

                “Come on, you and me in a motel,” Michael coaxed, nudging Alex’s arm with his foot. He had meant it to be teasing, but the airman jolted awake at the touch, as if he had been sleeping with his eyes open this entire time.

                “What time is it anyway?” Alex asked, rubbing his eyes.

                Michael checked his phone. “Six.”

                “In the morning?” Alex sighed. “Damn it. You’re early.”

                He shrugged casually. “Couldn’t sleep.”

                “Mm. Or you knew I’d still be here.”

                The corner of Michael’s lips curled upward despite himself. “You almost sound smug. It’s so unlike you.”

                “I’m not smug,” Alex mumbled, resting his head on his arms. “I’m just smart.”

                Michael grinned, and hesitated only a moment before he moved his chair closer, putting an arm around Alex’s shoulders.

                Alex looked up at him, half-startled, half-confused. Michael rested his own head on his arm, his eyes on Alex’s lips as he was unable to meet his eyes.

                “Don’t look so shocked, smartass. You knew I’ve wanted to do this for months.”

                Alex seemed to consider this, and settled on his arms with a sigh, allowing Michael to press their foreheads together.

                “You smell good,” Michael breathed before he could help himself, and Alex laughed quietly into the space between them. Michael very pointedly did not surge forward and swallow the beautiful sound with his lips.

                “Funny,” Alex muttered, and Michael had the feeling he was falling asleep. “You don’t smell drunk. You just sound it.”

                Michael’s brows twitched, his arm around Alex’s shoulder tightening. “It’s not… weird or anything. I’ve complemented you before.”

                Alex’s eyes flashed as he searched Michael’s face, and he closed his eyes again, smiling as he leaned in, his forehead against the cowboy’s chin.

                “Let me sleep, Guerin,” Alex whispered, his breath hot against Michael’s neck. “I’m exhausted.”

                Michael held him a little tighter, his own eyes fluttering shut as Alex breathed softly against his skin. Did he really not complement Alex often? He tried to think of the last time he had told Alex how wonderful he was, how brilliant, how strong, how beautiful. He couldn’t remember….

                “Alex,” he whispered, and Alex did not respond. Michael thought he might’ve already fallen asleep. “You’re amazing.”

                Alex still said nothing, but as Michael’s eyes closed, he felt the airman nuzzle deeper into his neck, his lips pressed against the cowboy’s racing pulse.

Chapter Text

                Alex was kneeling in the front garden, Buffy playing at his side with a bone, mud soaking his jeans as he pulled at weeds when he heard the truck swerve onto the dirt road behind him.

                Alex wiped the sweat off his brow as Michael Guerin stepped out, spotting the airman, and sighed, his shoulders slumped. He held his hands out as if to say, Well?

                “Where the hell have you been?”

                Alex raised a brow. He looked down at the garden, and gestured to it. “Er –”

                “Do I look like I’m in the mood for jokes?”

                He blinked. “Aren’t you always?”

                Michael’s jaw clenched, and Alex sighed, returning to his work as the cowboy fumed behind him. “What is it, Guerin?”

                “Have you been avoiding me?”

                Alex squinted. “What?”

                “You don’t come to the Pony anymore, you don’t come see me at the trailer,” he shook his head, disbelieving. “You’re avoiding me.”

                “Guerin,” Alex huffed. “I don’t go to the Pony because I can’t look at Maria without getting angry. I don’t come to your trailer because I just don’t. I’m not avoiding you, I’m just not putting in the effort to see you anymore.”

                He shoveled the wet dirt in silence, and for an entire minute, he thought Michael had decided to leave, but then the cowboy said, “Are you still angry with me?”

                “I’m not anything with you, Michael. I’ve just given up.”

                “You… you’ve given up?”

                Alex said nothing. He was just so tired of having this conversation, so tired of taking one look at Michael’s beautiful eyes and forgiving, so tired of blaming himself. He had made his mistakes, and he’d owned up to them, but he hadn’t broken what he and Michael were, and he was tired of being made to feel like he had.

                “What does that mean?” Michael asked, and to Alex’s surprise, he came to sit in front of him on the ground, the dirt seeping into his clothes too. He didn’t sound angry, he just sounded lost. “Alex, what does that mean?”

                Alex sighed. “It means I know you could never love me like I love you,” he confessed, and maybe it was because he had put it so bluntly, but Michael’s face fell. “It means I’m tired of trying and trying and trying to get you to finally see me, just so you could realize that you hate what you saw.”

                “Alex, I don’t –”

                “I know you don’t hate me, Michael,” Alex cut him off. “But you hate that you see my father, and my family, and what they did. So you know I’m tired of most? I’m tired of loving someone who does nothing but punishes me.”

                The two fell into silence after that. Michael seemed at a loss for words, and Alex’s eyes burned as he worked on. It was the sweat coming into his eyes, that was all. He didn’t want to cry for Michael, didn’t want to torture himself anymore for the cowboy’s sake.

                Slowly, Michael stood, and without dusting off his pants, went to his truck, and drove off.

                Alex kept digging, Buffy whimpering sympathetically in the background. “Don’t worry, girl, I’m fine,” he muttered, the only other sound for miles being the shovel as it hit the dirt. “It’s fine.”

Chapter Text

                Alex didn’t sleep. This was something Michael knew, and try as he might, he never could manage to stay up with him. Alex loved him for really wanting to, and despaired at his insistence to do so at all. It really wasn’t all bad. For one thing, Alex was awake before Michael on most mornings, and since he really didn’t want to risk waking the cowboy up, he got to lie in bed for hours, watching his boyfriend’s beautiful face as he slept on.

                Michael used to have a lot more nightmares, but he’d long since confessed to Alex that having the airman there with him was like having a safe place only you had the key to; nothing bad could get in. Michael’s brows were no longer furrowed in his sleep, the corner of his lips no longer pinched in a tight frown, his breathing was no longer shallow and quick. Alex didn’t want to think he’d been responsible for that, whatever Michael said. He was just glad the cowboy could sleep peacefully.

                Alex brought a hand up to Michael jaw, lightly running his fingers over the cowboy’s stubble, an electric shock going down his spine as the hair scratched his skin. He was unable to help but smile as Michael’s lips puckered at the touch of his fingers, and he leaned in, resting his forehead against the cowboy’s chin, still touching the stubble on his neck.

                “You always touch me when I’m sleeping, Private?” Michael suddenly said, his voice so deep that Alex felt another shock in his spine, and his grin widened.

                “I love how hairy you are,” Alex said, and kissed Michael’s jaw. “It’s sexy as hell.”

                Michael chuckled, his arm around Alex’s waist pulling him in against him. “Then why aren’t you touching down here?” he demanded, bringing Alex’s hand from his jaw to his chest.

                Alex bit his lower lip, stretching his fingers through the cowboy’s chest hair. “I thought you didn’t want me to touch you while you slept,” he murmured, his hand going lower to the trail of hair down Michael’s stomach.

                Michael hissed as the airman’s fingers slipped beneath the blanket, his nails digging into Alex’s back. “Don’t make jokes like that, Private. By all means, touch me. Touch me, touch me, touch m – ah.”

                “Good?”

                Michael hummed, his eyes now shut tight as he leaned into Alex, his lips pressed to the corner of Alex’s mouth. Alex used his other hand to rub his chest, pinching his nipples.

                “­A-Alex.”

                “Come, baby,” Alex whispered, his lips brushing Michael’s. “Come for me.”

                Michael broke with Alex’s hand around him, his breath stuttering against Alex’s lips. As he panted, he tiredly swiped his own tongue against Alex’s. “I love you. Have you told you that yet? I love you.”

                Alex nuzzled his jaw. He so badly wanted to touch it, the cowboy’s lips, his neck, but his hand was dirty, and his other hand was on Michael’s chest, content with feeling his racing heart.

                Michael cupped his jaw, leaning in to kiss him. He immediately deepened the kiss, rocking his body into Alex’s. “You know,” Michael breathed, his own hand coming up Alex’s chest. “You’re pretty hairy, too.”

                Alex’s laugh died against Michael’s mouth as the cowboy moved to hover over him.

Chapter Text

                “Is this a date?”

                Michael nearly choked on his drink. Alex was gripping his milkshake with one hand, trying to seem nonchalant, but Michael could not fail to notice the way his finger scratched the edge of the table. He had long since learned to recognize that as a sign of Alex’s anxiety. The mighty Air Force captain was nervous. Michael’s heart swelled.

                He tried not to smile. “A date?”

                “Yeah, I – I mean,” he cleared his throat, puckering his lips in that way Michael loved and pointedly resisted leaping across the tiny table to aggressively kiss him into the booth. He didn’t think Arturo would appreciate it much.

                “I just – I thought – you asked if I wanted to grab a bite, and…” he trailed off, glancing at Michael, and maybe he thought the cowboy was laughing at him, but he suddenly looked down, and shook his head. “Never mind, forget I said anything, it was a stupid question, I – what are you – what are you doing?”

                Michael had moved out of his seat and slid into Alex’s side of the booth, slinging an arm around his shoulders.

“G-Guerin?”

Michael nuzzled the airman’s cheek before kissing it, and leaned back, pulling Alex along with him. “You think I love you, Private?”

“Er – what?”

Michael smirked against Alex’s ear. “Do you think I love you?”

Alex remained stiff and tense in Michael’s hold, and whether that was because he was nervous or because the cowboy’s breath was against the shell of his ear, Michael had no idea. He just knew to use his other hand to rub the airman’s arm soothingly.

“Do you really need to think about this answer?” he muttered as he brought Alex’s hand up to his lips and pressed a chaste kiss to the airman’s beautiful fingers.

                Alex softened, some of the tension in his shoulders dissipating. That incessant light in his bright brown eyes, that one that refused to dim despite all the troubles the airman had suffered, the light Michael loved so much, sparkled, and that certainty that Michael always knew to be associated with Alex returned.

                “You love me,” he said, sure of it.

                Michael hummed, inhaling Alex’s scent as he kissed up his arm, his shoulder, his neck, his jaw. Alex squirmed away, warning him that they were in public, but Michael didn’t care. He pulled Alex in closer, placing an open, wet kiss on his cheek and the corner of his lips.

                “Guerin, I – y-you can’t –”

                “I love you,” he breathed. “You think our first date would be anywhere? You know I’m a hell of a lot more dramatic than this.”

                “You really think about that stuff?” Alex asked, and Michael was overwhelmed with how much he loved him. Overwhelmed with his need to touch Alex, to kiss him, to whisper praise after praise into his skin. How could he think Michael didn’t obsess over him? How could he not know that he consumed every one of Michael’s waking thoughts?

                “Baby, you have no idea,” he muttered, and kissed Alex’s ear. “First of all, our date would be at the trailer. It’d be on a clear night,” Michael glanced at the window, silently cursing the rain as the storm thundered on, “so we could watch the stars. I’d make us dinner – what’re you laughing at, I can cook! – and we’d put blankets out under the sky, and we would spend all night…” he whispered his last words here into Alex’s ear, and the airman’s laugh cut off in his throat.

                He moved back, cupping Alex’s jaw. “Alex, I want our first date to be perfect. After everything, you deserve it. You deserve everything.”

                Alex scoffed in disbelief, as if Michael was missing the most obvious point. He took the cowboy’s face in his hands, and pressed a kiss to his lips. It wasn’t anything like Michael was used to from the man too shy to hold his hand in public, but before he could move past his surprise and properly kiss back, Alex pulled away.

                “You stupid cowboy,” he muttered, smiling fondly. “I already have you. That is everything.”

                He might’ve meant to stand then, but Michael suddenly felt unable to separate from him for even a second. He wrapped an arm around Alex’s waist, pulling him in against him, and nearly pushing them both onto the booth seat as he took Alex’s lips in his.

                “Guerin, there are people here!” he half-whispered, a laugh in his throat. Michael kissed him again.

                “Date me,” he said. “Be my boyfriend.”

                “I – Guerin,” he laughed harder. “I already am!”

                “No,” he said. “Tell me you’ll be my boyfriend when I give you the perfect date.”

                “But I told you, you’re already –”

                “Tonight,” Michael cut him off. “Go out with me tonight. I’ll give you the perfect night if it kills me.” He touched Alex’s cheek. “I want to see the moonlight on your face when I kiss you, and I want your cheeks to be red when you look up at me, and I want you to be out of breath and laughing when you tell me you’ll be my boyfriend. I want to be inside you when you make me the happiest man in any universe.”

                Alex was searching his eyes, his own sparkling. He was grinning only slightly, but it was as if he couldn’t believe his luck. Michael knew the feeling. “Michael…”

                “Date me, Alex. Go out with me tonight.”

                Alex nodded, their foreheads pressed together. “I’ll go out with you, baby.”

                The nickname from Alex’s mouth had Michael’s heart jumping. Despite the incessant ting ting ting from the background, presumably Arturo slamming the bell, not-so-subtly telling Michael to get off Alex, Michael held on, kissing the airman senseless, happy to lose his breath to Alex’s lips.

Chapter Text

                “You know we have blankets, right?”

                Alex mumbled an incoherent response, snuggling deeper into the crook of Michael’s neck, wrapping his arms tighter around the cowboy’s waist.

                Michael bit his lower lip to keep his smile from widening. Alex’s eyes were closed, his cheeks flushed. He was half asleep, and after two weeks of nonstop work and having little to eat or drink but coffee, Michael wasn’t in any hurry to wake him up, but the airman was clearly cold, yet he refused to go to bed, and insisted on lying on the couch with only the cowboy as his source of warmth.

                Still, he wrapped his arms tighter around Alex’s body, his lips pressed to the top of the airman’s hair. “Suit yourself.”

                There was a reason, Michael knew, that Alex insisted on staying with him. Around only an hour or two after Alex had drifted off to sleep completely, Michael felt him stirring in his arms. He had been dozing off himself, but at the airman’s quickening breaths against his collarbone, he woke. Alex’s brows were furrowed, his frown deep, and Michael felt himself completely wake with the airman’s whimper.

                “Hey,” he whispered, raking his fingers through Alex’s soft brown locks. “Hey, Private, it’s okay. Alex.”

                Alex woke with a start, his eyes wide. “I – where – where am I?”

                Michael held him tighter as he panted, running one hand up and down his back. “Shh, baby, it’s okay, you’re okay. You’re in the cabin with me.”

                “Guerin,” Alex clawed at his back, desperately getting as close as possible. Michael kept rubbing soothingly, kissing the top of his head again and again. “Guerin, stay close to me.”

                “I’m right here, baby. I’m right here.”

                And he held him, as he always did, until Alex’s breathing calmed. They sat in silence for a long moment, Michael’s concern for his boyfriend calmed with his fingers in Alex’s hair, one hand up his shirt, rubbing circles into the base of the airman’s spine.

                “I’m sorry,” Alex muttered against Michael’s collarbone, and Michael squeezed him so unbearably tight, he was sure it hurt.

                “Don’t apologize,” Michael said into his hair. “I love you, I love taking care of you.”

                Alex shook his head. “You shouldn’t have to. It’s not your fault I’m broken.”

                “You’re not broken,” Michael whispered fiercely. “And if you are, I’ll be the one to fix you. No one else gets to have you, Alex, or touch you, not for a second. No one.”

                Alex said nothing for a moment, but his fingers which were digging into Michael’s skin only seconds ago released their hold, and came down to hug the cowboy’s hips.

                “I love you so much,” the airman breathed, his eyes closed as Michael leaned down to press a kiss between his brows.

                “I love you more.”

                The two lay there for the rest of the night, together, with nothing but the leaves rustling in the wind outside, the crickets, and Alex’s soft breathing heard for miles. The airman did not wake for three hours. Michael finally slept, content.

Chapter Text

                Michael noticed the signs early on.

                It had been weeks since the death of Alex’s best friend, killed in action, one of the best to ever serve, real nice guy, you would’ve loved him. The only thing was, Michael was sure he would’ve hated the sight of him, because what the official documents didn’t say was that the airman was gay. That he had a boyfriend he loved more than anything. And that that boyfriend so happened to be the love of Michael’s life.

                Alex had said it was a short thing, that when Forest had proposed to him, he had broken things off because he realized he could never love him that deeply, but just to know that someone else had touched Alex, that someone had slept with him, had heard his moans and seen his smiles and kissed his lips – it had driven Michael insane. When Alex had gotten the call, mentioned the man’s name, and needed to sit down, Michael had found himself hoping nothing had happened to him.

                The funeral happened and it was over, Alex in his captain’s uniform, strong as ever. But something had changed since then, since Forest’s sister had come up to him and given him the man’s tags with a kind, wet smile, and thanked him for being her brother’s hero. Michael saw something shatter in the airman, beyond repair. But he was still Alex Manes, so he didn’t show it.

                He went to work on the Project Shepherd files as usual, smiling to others when he spoke, but nothing beyond politeness, he was still eating, but never unless he was reminded, and Michael didn’t assume he slept, but when did he ever?

                “Private,” Michael had chanced one day, nudging Alex’s arm as the airman seemed too lost in his work to hear him. “You okay?”

                “Hm? Yeah, oh yeah, Guerin, I’m fine,” he said, patting Michael’s hip twice before he went back to work, forgetting the cowboy was even there.

                It wasn’t like they weren’t talking, they were, and sometimes, Michael was lucky enough to get a genuine smile or joke out of the airman, but ever since that damned call, Alex had been as polite to him as anyone else. As if he was a perfectly fine stranger. It was miserable, more so because Michael had no idea what was going on in Alex’s head. He felt like he was waiting on a ticking time bomb.

                Then one day, Elvis Presley started playing on the radio they had in the bunker – it got too depressing to sit in silence – and, for the first time in weeks, Alex’s typing stopped. Michael glanced at him, and looked again. The man was hunched over in his chair, his eyes wide, his fingers digging into his elbows as he hugged himself. He was roughly scratching his own skin.

                Michael’s brows furrowed. “Alex?”

                Alex did not respond. His breathing turned louder, shallower and faster, as if he couldn’t breathe at all.

                Kyle stood, his frown filled with concern. “Buddy, you good?”

                Alex scrunched his shoulders in closer, his whole body trembling.

                “Oh my god,” Michael said at the same time that Kyle muttered, “No, not again.”

                “K-Kyle,” Alex managed to say, but Kyle was already kneeling at his side, forcing one of Alex’s hands away from himself to check his pulse. It must’ve been racing because Kyle cursed and stood, pulling Alex against his chest as Alex muttered his name over and over again. His eyes turned glassy, big tears falling down his cheeks in an instant as if they had been begging to be released.

                And Michael watched. He had noticed the signs, but he was so shocked to think that Alex, his airman who never seemed to be scared of anything, could be having a panic attack. There was no question as to why. Michael understood that something about Elvis Presley’s songs reminded Alex of his military friend, but to have this kind of reaction, to ask for Kyle instead of Michael – it was all so much that Michael couldn’t get himself to move.

                Alex’s knuckles turned white as he dug into his skin, scratching deep lines through the fabric that Michael was sure would hurt the airman later, but he didn’t know if – should he try to take Alex’s hand in his own – it would be welcome. So he watched. He watched as Alex’s panic turned to a broken sob, then he watched as Alex cried into Kyle’s shirt in a way that Michael had never thought Alex could cry.

                By the end of it, Michael was watching a man he’d believed to be invincible, falling. Kyle held him through his tears, through the numbness that followed, through the uncontrollable tremors, through the protests, through the self-deprecation.

                “I abandoned him,” Alex muttered.

                “You were injured,” Kyle whispered fiercely into his hair. “You had to leave.”

                Alex, in the end, stood. His eyes were red and puffy, his frown etched in a way that Michael feared was permanent, his forefinger scratching his thumb.

                “I want to go home,” was all he said, and without a look at either of them, he made his way to the door and left.

                It was a while of silence before Michael, who had yet to move from his chair, said, “You said ‘not again.’ Has he been like this before?”

                Kyle kept his eyes on the door where Alex had walked out. “Yes. Believe it or not, he’s not made of stone.”

                Michael glared. “I know that –”

                “Then ask me,” Kyle said coldly. “Ask me when the other time was. The only other time. Since you’re so sure he has a heart, and since you seem so defensive of protecting it, ask me.”

                Michael swallowed, his jaw clenched. He wanted to stare Kyle down, but he imagined Alex turning that panicked and miserable because of him, because of a decision he had made, because – despite his promise – he had looked away. Michael imagined Alex’s grief, the way he had shattered, when he found out the man he loved, the man who claimed to love him, had chosen someone else. Michael dropped his gaze.

                “I never meant to –”

                “No, I’m sure you didn’t,” Kyle said. “I’m sure you didn’t give him a second thought.”

Chapter Text

                Alex was crying.

                Michael didn’t know why or when it started, but he stepped into the cabin, the door barely open before he heard the airman’s sniffling and choked sobs. He dropped his jacket which he was just taking off and ran into the kitchen.

                “Alex? Alex!”

                “What?” Alex looked up from where he was chopping onions, his face streaked with tears. He dropped his knife. “What, are you okay?”

                Michael’s panic fell away, giving room to laughter. He stared at the onions as he pulled Alex in for a hug. “You’re not crying?”

                Alex choked back another sob, and Michael felt his grin widen. His baby was so cute. “No?” Alex said as if it was ridiculous. “I – would you let go, I need to wash my hands!”

                Michael gave him a quick kiss to the cheek before he came over to the counter where several bowls of neatly chopped vegetables sat. “You could’ve waited for me, you know. Oh, wait, what am I saying? You’re Alex, of course you couldn’t wait.”

                Alex glared, and threw the dishtowel at Michael’s head. “Very funny. Serves me right for wanting to do something nice for you.”

                Michael knew he wasn’t really angry, he knew Alex loved seeing him, he knew Alex wasn’t actually crying, but his heart broke at the way the airman’s voice cracked.

                He came around the counter, taking Alex’s hands in his. “Something nice for me? I have a few ideas.”

                Alex cracked a smile, wiping at another few tears that rolled down his cheeks. “I’m serious. Look at me, I can’t even cook for you without crying.”

                Michael laughed, kissing the airman’s lips, then his jaw. “Aww, my baby. It’s actually nice to know you’re not perfect at everything.”

                Alex scoffed, his forehead falling onto Michael’s shoulder. “Stop using that word. I’m not perfect.”

                “Never,” he said, nuzzling the airman’s ear. “You cuddle up to me every time I say it.” He bit his lower lip, his grin widening. “You smell like soy sauce.”

                Alex groaned, wrapping his arms around Michael’s waist as if hoping the cowboy’s smell of sweat and dirt would rub off on him. He soon let go and stepped away, and Michael instantly missed his warmth.

                “I have to check the sauce,” he said. “Go shower.”

                Michael pursed his lips, narrowing his eyes at the stove, turning it off with his mind. Alex had barely time to turn around with raised brows when Michael pulled him in for a kiss, tasting the green peppers on his tongue.

                “Come shower with me,” he whispered against the airman’s lips, wiping a tear from his cheek. “There are no onions in the bathroom,” he offered, and Alex playfully smacked his arm.

                “I hate you so much,” he muttered.

                “No, you don’t,” Michael said, pulling him in for another hug.

                “No, I don’t,” Alex sighed into the crook of his neck.

Chapter Text

                “What’re you doing?”

                Alex started, his back pressed against the wall, and for the first time since Michael had kissed him in the UFO museum, the airman looked startled.

                “Oh, h-hey,” Alex cleared his throat, and looked over his shoulder. “When – er – when’d you get here?”

                Michael raised his brow. They were standing in front of the Crashdown building, and as Michael tried to lean over to look around the corner, Alex moved to block his view.

                “You’re blushing,” he noted.

                Alex laughed, and to Michael’s surprise, he sounded nervous. He ran a hand over his face as if hoping the red would go away. “What’re you talking about? Come on, let’s go inside.”

                Michael pretended to let Alex tug at his arm, but as soon as the airman let go, he moved to the corner, and peeked around to find a tall, blue-haired man in black clothes, silver piercings, and too many tattoos to be trusted laughing with a bunch of guys.

                “Guerin,” Alex whispered, pulling him back. Michael let him.

“Geez,” he said when they were inside. “Can’t you just listen to me for once?”

“You were staring at Forest?”

“Would you keep it down?” he glanced at the wall behind them as if afraid that Forest might hear him through the building. Michael felt something like a needle stab at his heart. “And I wasn’t staring, I was just – I –” he huffed, “look, some of my friends thought they’d talk to him, see if he likes guys, okay? Happy now?”

Michael was definitely not happy. “Why would they do that?”

“They think they’re doing me some kind of favor,” Alex sighed, his cheeks redder than they were outside, in the cold.

“You like Forest,” Michael noted.

Alex glanced at him and said nothing. “You want to sit down? I’ll order.”

“When did you start liking Forest?”

“Guerin, go sit down,” he said with that air of authority that came with being an Air Force captain, that tone that Michael usually loved so much but now found himself afraid of it.

Alex liked someone? Someone who, Michael would never admit, he had caught staring at the airman too many times before when he wasn’t looking? Michael didn’t know if Forest had a thing for guys, but he definitely had something for his Alex.

Michael swallowed, the lump reforming in his throat no matter how many times he pushed it down. After Alex had found out about Michael and Maria, it had been a while before he could look either of them in the eye, and even now, Michael knew his friendship with Maria would never be the same. But they had said they would be friends, they said they would try to be around each other, and for a while, Michael had been happy because he got to at least have Alex. He thought he would have time to feel what he felt about Maria, and Alex would be there waiting for him when he got back.

Now, he was finding out that Alex not only had crushes, but he had a crush on a guy that liked him back. It wasn’t until Michael sat down with his hands clenching and unclenching around the fabric of his jeans that he realized he wasn’t just scared, he was panicking. He was losing Alex.

“It’ll be a few minutes,” Alex said as he sat down across from him, setting a milkshake for both of them on the table. He looked at Michael, then did a doubletake, his smile dimming. “You okay? You look like you’re going to be sick.”

Michael shook his head, waving off his concern. He had to breathe. It was fine. So Alex was attracted to someone, it wasn’t like he was actually going to date anyone else.

“So,” he attempted after two minutes of tapping his milkshake glass. “Forest, huh?”

Alex groaned. “Guerin, no.”

“Come on, you can tell me.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s you!” Alex laughed, his voice colored with disbelief, as if he thought the reason was the most obvious in the world. “You think I can’t tell how you feel right now? You’re not happy, that’s for sure.”

Michael blinked. Of what he had expected Alex to tell him, the truth was definitely not it.

“What, you are?” Alex pressed, and Michael realized that Alex did not want him to deny it. It was fine. He couldn’t anyway.

He shook his head, and Alex looked away.

“You like him,” Michael said as if they’d started an entirely different conversation, and he didn’t bother to conceal the annoyance and fear in his voice.

“Yeah, we don’t have to talk about this,” he said in a tone that said, Let’s not talk about it ever.

“You gonna ask him out?”

“Our food’s taking forever.”

Alex.”

                Alex sighed. “What? Guerin, I’m not going to tell you about him.”

                “I’m not asking you to tell me about him, just tell me if you like him.”

                “You already know the answer!”

                “Then say it!”

                “I like him!” he snapped, then, looking around quickly, quietly said, “I like him. Okay?”

                He said the last part a little hesitant, as if afraid that Michael might burst to pieces, and it should’ve bothered him that Alex, after everything, was still so worried for him, but he found it gave him hope instead, which was somehow worse.

                “Are – are you okay?” he asked quietly, and Michael realized he was staring at the table.

                He looked up and cleared his throat, plastering on the most convincing smirk he could, though he knew it would do little to convince the airman. “Sleep with whoever you want, Private. I couldn’t care less.”

                Alex’s eyes darkened, but nothing in the rest of his expression changed. He leaned back, his eyes on his drink. He nodded. He looked disappointed, and Michael knew he had said the wrong thing. “Great.”

                Michael, after a moment of opening and clothing his mouth, leaned back in his own seat with a small nod.

                Alex liked someone else, and Michael was fine with that. He was fine with Alex’s disappointment, Alex indifference, Alex’s frown. Really just… fine with it.

Chapter Text

                “She acting weird to you?”

                Michael rolled out from the under his truck, his wrench in hand. Alex was leaning against the car door, a cold beer in hand. He gave it to Michael, the cowboy gestured at Alex to lean down, and pecked the airman’s lips before he took a sip of the drink.

                “Who?” he asked, and as if in response, Buffy came running out excitedly barking, standing on her hindlegs, her front paws held up for Alex.

                Alex attempted to crouch down to meet her, holding her face in his hands. “What’s got you so excited, huh?”

                Michael cleared his throat and took another sip. “Maybe she needs to go to the bathroom,” he said, glaring at Buffy from over his glass bottle. She seemed too happy to care. Michael might’ve thought it was adorable if she wasn’t risking everything he’d been working towards these past four months.

                “I took her for a walk two hours ago,” Alex said, his brows furrowed. “Oh well. Hang on, girl, let me go get some waste bags.”

                He fondly ruffled her head before he stepped inside the cabin, and Michael kept a smile on until his boyfriend was out of sight. Then he frowned at Buffy. “I told you to stay cool. You want him to figure it out?” Buffy jumped excitedly again, huffing with her tongue out. “Hey,” Michael pointed at her, “it’s not my fault he’s freaking Sherlock Holmes. You want him to be surprised or not?”

                Buffy, apparently understanding enough, stopped jumping on her hindlegs and sat still with her tail wagging and her tongue out. Michael sighed.

                “That’s as good as it’s gonna get, huh?”

                Buffy barked again, and Michael could’ve sworn he heard, Well, get a move on it then, will ya?

                “What’re you two talking about?” Alex chuckled as he came out, and Michael shrugged.

                “Just, you know, how much we love you.”

                “Mm hm,” Alex kissed the top of Michael’s curls, patted his beagle’s back, and told her to “come on” before he was walking around the house and towards the road.

                It wasn’t another fifteen minutes until they got back, and Michael saw that Buffy was still waving her tail frantically. He had decided the best thing was to keep the two of them apart until tonight, so as soon as Alex stepped back into the cabin, Michael had pushed him against the wall, grinding their bodies together. He had suggested they take a shower (where Buffy couldn’t follow), and Alex, always taken by a sweaty Michael, responded with another bruising kiss.

                By the time they’d gotten out, the sun was already setting. Michael, luckily, had had everything prepared that morning while Alex was out at the bunker, and hidden it all away in the oven or pantry. He dressed with unusual speed and set the table with a variety of dishes, from roasted chicken, mash potatoes, and seasoned rice, to fish and store-bought sushi (Alex loved fish however he got it), to chocolate pie and custard.

                Buffy was nowhere to be found, though Michael admittedly did not look very hard, only hoped that the beagle would stay tucked in front of the fireplace for the rest of the night.

                When Alex came out, still buttoning up his shirt, his eyes were wide. “Oh my god… what did you do?”

                Michael laughed, leading Alex into a seat and pulling the chair back for him. “Seriously,” Alex pressed. “Burned down a building? Broke all the windows in the Pony?” He gripped Michael’s wrist as he sat across from him. “You didn’t breed another race of evil alien gerbils, did you?”

                Michael sighed. “A guy makes one mistake –”

                “They almost ate Rosa.”

                Michael shrugged a shoulder. “Worst things have happened.”

                “Ha ha,” Alex released him only for Michael to take his hand before he could pull it away. “Then why all the food?”

                “I wanted to make you happy,” he confessed, and Alex’s eyes softened. Michael took a deep, steadying breath. “I want to give you everything, Alex. I haven’t wanted to try in a long time, and you… you make me want to try. I don’t mind hard work if it means I get to see that beautiful smile every day.”

                He cupped Alex’s jaw, and Alex covered his hand with his own. “Guerin…”

                “Look,” he licked his lips, “I’ve been wondering for months how to do this perfectly, and I realized… you don’t want fancy restaurants and a string-quartet and big diamonds. You’re Alex; you want comfortable, and happy, and warm, and… me. I never thought you would want someone like me, but I’m starting to think you might, and that’s… terrifying and amazing and sometimes it feels too good to be true. And I swear, I will work the rest of my life to make sure I deserve you.”

                Alex’s eyes widened with realization at what was happening, and he tightened his hold on Michael’s hand. “Michael?”

                “Alex,” Michael smiled despite his nervousness, and reached into his pocket. At the sight of a small box, Alex gasped, his eyes instantly filled with tears. “Will you –”

                “Wait, wait, stop,” Alex said quickly, and Michael stilled. He stayed silent a moment, staring at the box as if afraid that what was inside might attack him. “Are – are you sure?”

                The cowboy blinked. “Pretty sure?”

                “Pretty sure?” Alex pr