Back in the days of ritual sacrifice, there were two families. The Guerin family served the Manes. The two children grew up together, playing, studying, learning to fight. As they got older, their parents began forcing them apart, for the Manes Princess could never be seen with a Guerin slave.
The two children snuck out at night, talking about how it would be different someday. Someday they could be friends openly. As they moved into their teenage years, things changed again. Nights were spent in each other’s arms. Soft sighs as they memorized the feeling of their bodies. It was bliss.
They were discovered by the princess’ father one night. He beat the slave boy, breaking his hand for daring to touch his daughter. They were forbidden to see each other. The slave boy was held back and hidden from view when the Head family was around. The princess cried for her friend and lover.
The yearly sacrifice to the gods was upon them. And a white flag sat in the front courtyard of the Manes estate signaling it was to be their daughter presented. The lord stole his daughter away, forcing her into a small shed in the dark corner of the grounds. He had no intention of getting in the way of the sacrifice for she had disgraced him. But he knew the slave boy would try to stop it.
The slave boy knew the grounds like the back of his hand. He had to memorize the best routes to take when the two of them had been sneaking out. He located the small shed with ease and tried to encourage the princess to run away with him. She cried for him, wishing she could. But this was her duty. She didn’t want to anger the gods, or worse, her father.
The slave boy went to her every day and every day tried to talk her out of being the sacrifice. Her resolve weakened as she listened to the promises her made her. He would protect her. They would run as far as they needed, until they could be together. The night before the sacrifice was to take place, they ran.
The family chased them, the slave boy protecting the princess with everything he had. But it wasn’t enough. They had almost made it out of town before they were caught. Lord Manes had come prepared to perform the sacrifice himself.
She made no sound as the arrow pierced her back and heart. She stumbled and fell to the ground. The slave boy cradled her body in his arms. He was going to be next. But the lord didn’t kill him. He wanted the boy to suffer without her. They were left among the trees.
The boy pleaded to the gods to save her. Let her live. Let him take the pain instead. They heard his plea and granted his wish. With conditions. The future generations would be forced to feel this same pain. They would be drawn together as the lovers were, facing trials to prove they were truly meant to be.
The boy took on the princess’ wounds, dying in her place. She wept but continued living for his sake. She would always love him and every one of her reincarnations would too…
The story of the original lovers was passed through generations. Every few generations would go through trials. The pair rarely survived to complete them. Men and women died senselessly. Always drawn together by the curse for the sick enjoyment of the gods.
Michael Guerin always scoffed at the old books and stories. Or at least he did. Then the marks appeared on his chest. A geometric looking flower with five diamond shaped petals. He fought the urge to go looking. No way was he going to start taking on the pain of someone else. Besides, Alex Manes was in the past.
He didn’t even know the history. And why would he? He had three brothers who probably all knew it, and nothing ever happened. All the reincarnations had been a man and a woman. So, unless Alex had a cousin, some mistake had clearly been made.
Michael’s phone buzzed in his pocket while he was elbow deep in a junk car. He tried to convince the customer that it was a lost cause, but the guy wouldn’t hear it. Michael could fix almost anything, even this old ford. But he knew when it would just be a waste of time.
He wiped his hands on his jeans before pulling out the phone, trying to avoid getting too much grease on it. His girlfriend’s name lit up the screen and he smiled. They had gotten off to a rocky start, but things were easier now.
“Am I running late for something again?” He grinned even though she couldn’t see it.
“No, but would it kill you to be on time for once,” she said sarcastically.
“Look DeLuca, I gotta make an entrance. So, what did you need from me today?” He wished he could see her roll her eyes.
“I just wanted to remind you that we’re having a welcome home party for Alex. You remember him, right?” How could he forget? Michael clenched his fist, flinching at the pain from the areas that were broken.
“Yea. You want me to come along or something? I will for you, but I don’t want it to be weird. We weren’t really friends.”
“Ok but Liz is bringing Max so that doesn’t really matter. You’ll know someone.” Michael sighed. Him and Max haven’t exactly been on talking terms. He and Isobel had been able to escape the thumb of the family. They knew the story of course but no mark had ever appeared on them. In fact, it was a miracle one had appeared on him at all. It usually made itself known in the high school years. At least, that was the pattern.
“Alright. Are you hosting at the Wild Pony?”
“Yea. Open bar and everything,” she said knowingly. Michael laughed.
“You know me so well, Maria.”
“But of course. So I’ll see you later. Love you!” The line clicked off. The sun passed behind the lone cloud in the sky, providing the briefest of relief from the desert sun.
Ten years ago, Alex left. He didn’t even say goodbye. They weren’t good for each other and they both knew it. Michael slammed the hood of the car a bit harder than he meant to.
“Hey! Don’t need you breakin’ customers cars,” his boss, Sanders called to him. The old man was half blind and pushed a lot of work onto Michael but he also let him live on the lot. He couldn’t complain.
“Sorry. Hey, I’m heading out for the day. I’ll come in early to finish this up. Or maybe you could just call him back and convince him that this is a lost cause.” Sanders shook his head.
“If I do that, then he won’t pay.” He stepped back inside the small trailer he used for paperwork. Michael headed over to his own trailer. The least he could do was change clothes. He considered hooking up the hose to his trailer to shower too but then Sanders would be all over him about operating costs. He tossed his dirty shirt on the pile that needed to go to the laundromat.
“Ah, fuck it,” he mumbled to himself. He didn’t want to embarrass Maria by smelling like sweat and old car. He laughed at himself. Alex has always liked-
No! He wasn’t going to let himself finish the thought. It doesn’t matter anymore. They weren’t friends. They were hardly acquaintances anymore. Alex Manes was just a guy who happened to share the same name as the stupid prophecy.
Alex sat outside the Wild Pony in his car. He hadn’t been here in ten years. Was he ready to get back to life as normal? He wasn’t the same kid that left to escape home all that time ago. He was broken. More than he was then. Missing a leg. Nightmares that haunted him.
He shook his head and stepped out of the car. He knew he was early, but he couldn’t help it. It eased the anxiety. This wasn’t war. It was ok if his brain wasn’t running a million miles a second.
The dust covered his shoes as soon as he set foot back in Roswell. Something that didn’t change when he went to Iraq. It felt new and familiar. He raised a hand to his chest where his friends had slapped a tattoo on him but refused to admit it. It wasn’t bad, just strange. A geometric flower with diamonds for petals.
The pull of Roswell was never something he understood. He just knew he had to be here. Leaving was hard but it was for the best. The first thing that had happened when he got back was his father lecturing him. No familial connection at all.
Alex clenched his fists and moved toward the doors. This was no time to be thinking of the past. The door stuck in that familiar way. His crutch stuck to the ground but not enough for it to hinder his movements.
A smile settled on his face as he took in the surroundings. Nothing had changed except for the neon sign that had all the letters lit up. Maria must have had someone fix it. No one sat around the pool table though it was set up. A group laughed and he turned toward the bar. He watched as Max Evans and Maria DeLuca attempted to hang a sign. It was clearly much bigger than they had planned. Liz and Rosa Ortecho held a glass of something and laughed as Max wobbled on the step latter.
“You guys know this wasn’t necessary right?” The four of them turned to look at him. The three girls jumped up and rushed over to him. Maria dropped the sign, leaving Max to stop it from knocking bottles over.
Liz and Rosa wrapped him in a tight squeeze and he laughed at their excitement. He had missed this. Hugs were rarely exchanged in the air force. It usually requires an almost death. Maria joined the group hug, but the extra weight was pushing him off balance.
“As much as I love all of you, I think this would be easier if it was one at a time.” They all laughed, letting him go slowly.
“I told you not to be here until six! Why don’t you listen to me,” Maria whined? She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
“Because when have I ever listened to you,” he joked back.
“Ok so you’re still that little boy who is a good kid but trying to be bad? Got it.” Rosa grinned as she pulled him in. “I’ve missed you, Manes.” Alex rolled his eyes at her.
“Rosa, come on. No need to pull out the friendly insults as soon as he walks in. You could always insult her back you know.” Alex laughed as she hugged him.
“Nah, I think I’ll spare her for now.” The group laughed again as Max came up beside Liz. They had never been close but they got along. And Alex knew Liz loved him. He reached out a hand, smiling kindly at him.
“Welcome back, Alex. Oh, and thank you for your service,” Max said. He reached out and shook his hand.
“You know I just did this for attention right?” Liz’s mouth dropped open in mock surprise as they all started laughing. Alex followed the group to the bar. Max and Maria resumed their task of trying to hang the banner. Alex offered to help but they refused, stating he shouldn’t set up for his own party.
Other people showed up as the evening went, some helping add decorations that he truly believed were unnecessary. Old friends from high school stopped to catch up and thank him, though he wasn’t quite sure how to respond. His time in the service wasn’t always for causes he believed in. He lost count of the number of times where he realized what they were doing could be considered wrong.
Maria checked her phone for the twentieth time, mumbling about how “he was late.” She mentioned in a letter she had fallen for a guy that ended up being surprising. Apparently, he used to be some regular at the bar. She didn’t think good of him, but something changed.
“So, do I get to meet that guy you were raving about in your last letter?” Alex took a sip of his drink, raising an eyebrow at Maria.
“I mean, that was the plan but apparently he’s ditching. Or he just wants to be fashionably late,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Of course, I guess you might know him. He did go to school with us.” Alex racked his brain, but no one stood out. Maria sighed and shrugged.
Alex felt a tugging in his mind. In his heart. It happened occasionally overseas when he was homesick. Must be the nostalgia of the Wild Pony. He jumped as Maria moved suddenly.
“There you are! Took ya long enough.” she bounced out from behind the counter. Alex chuckled as he turned in his seat to meet the mystery man. He took a sip of his drink as he did and nearly choked.
A cowboy hat sat on his head but the curls refused to be tamed. Alex watched as Maria wrapped her arms around his waist and he kissed her head. Then he turned his eyes on him.
Every memory he had successfully suppressed while he was away came flooding back. Alex glanced down at his hand. It was still messed up from when his father had- He looked away quickly. Michael Guerin… he never thought he’d see him again. Pain tugged at his heart but also something so incredibly right that that world could end and he wouldn’t care.
“Alex. Welcome home,” he said. He wanted to cry. There was a warmth in his voice that was so familiar. Memories of nights in Michaels truck or in that shed overwhelmed him. He was a still just a boy when it came to Michael.
“Uh yea, thanks. Nice to be surrounded by sand again,” he said, trying to sound confident. A small grin made its way onto Michaels face. Alex returned the smile, hoping it wasn’t as nervous as he felt.
“Alright, DeLuca. You got me here on the promise of free booze. Why not pour shots for the three of us?” Michael took a seat next to Alex, arm brushing against his briefly. Alex ignored it in favor of the tequila Maria was placing in front of them.
Michael didn’t know how to react. He hadn’t expected to simply look at Alex and have every old feeling resurface. His heart tugged at his chest, telling him to just reach out and touch him. To hold him close. To protect him with every fiber of his being.
“Ok but just because I could now kick Kyle Valenti’s ass doesn’t mean I want to. I’m trying to avoid violence.” Alex took another sip of his drink, his cheeks beginning to look flushed. Michael tried to hide his grin. He had never heard Alex so confident and comfortable. Maybe it was just the alcohol talking but it was a side of him he’d never seen.
“Maybe a bad idea to kick his ass these days. Guy’s a doctor,” Michael pointed out, taking a sip of beer. Alex raised an eyebrow and looked to Maria for confirmation.
“He’s not kidding. But hey, maybe he’s changed. Not like you’re the same kid from high school,” she said, raising her glass in a half toast.
“You can say that again. I might have wanted a tattoo then but when my buddies slapped one on me, damn I wanted to kill them. Course they deny everything. Assholes,” Alex said, laughing. Maria’s mouth dropped open, but a smile soon replaced it.
“Oh my god, where?” She could hardly contain her excitement. Michael had to admit he was curious. Alex shook his head and began to unbutton his shirt and he had to stop himself from choking on his drink. Was he really going to strip here? “Woah, maybe I should have cut you off earlier,” Maria joked. Alex rolled his eyes and grabbed the shirt to move it to the side.
“No. I’m not that far gone.” The flower on his chest reflected some of the lights, making the diamond petals look iridescent. Michael's eyes widened at the familiar pattern. There was no way this was happening now. Not after all this time.
“It’s not horrible considering,” Michael said, trying to act natural. Maria agreed with him as she reached out to touch him. Not that it would feel different than the other skin. As Alex readjusted his shirt, Michael felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Max, a serious look telling him to come right now.
He told the two he’d be back and followed Max outside. He must have overheard the conversation. Maybe even saw the tattoo. Michael knew what lecture was coming. The look of pity and misplaced apologies.
“Michael. You have to talk to him. He doesn’t know anything about that mark.” Michael sighed.
“Yes Max. I get it. You forget I’m part of the main branch. Just because my parents are dead doesn’t change that.”
“And yet you’ve avoided learning anything about the past incarnations.”
“What’s there to know? Things are going to happen that will likely kill us both and we have to get through ten of them or the curse will just continue to a later generation. Actually. Better idea. Why not just not have kids? Then the curse can’t continue, problem solved.” Max scoffed at Michael's plan.
“You idiot. That’s why there’s side branches. We took you in when your parents died and you’ve done nothing to try to survive,” he scolded.
“I didn’t ask you to do that! Why not just let me figure it out myself?”
“We are family, Michael. Isabel and I refuse to let you do this alone.” It was Michael’s turn to scoff. His humorless laugh must have made something in Max snap.
Max grabbed his shoulders. Shaking him and eventually shoving him back. Michael lunged at him. He hadn’t been in a fight in a while and he needed it. Michael swung his fist at Max’s face, only hitting his arm. He thought tackling would have been a better strategy but he tripped. Max grabbed him again, wrapping him in a chokehold.
“You care about Alex, don’t you? Of course you do. You can’t fight it Michael! If you do it for anyone, do it for him.” He clenched his jaw and tapped Max’s arm.
“He’s better off without this. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.” Max shot an accusatory glare at him.
“You know that’s not how this works.” Michael shrugged and started back inside.
“We don’t know that,” he called back.
Michael looked around for Maria and Alex but they weren’t where he left them at the bar. He wished his heart didn’t immediately kick in to panic mode when he didn’t see him… them. He didn’t have to look hard. They had taken up residence with Liz and Rosa at one of the pool tables.
He watched from the door as Liz tried to convince Alex to play. He insisted he wasn’t good at pool and refused to play. Michael smiled, watching Alex run a hand through his hair. So what if he cared about him? Anything they had was over now. And he loved Maria.
Until Alex looked at him. Caught him staring. But he couldn’t look away. The tugging at his heart refused to let him. His fingers twitched in his pocket, aching to touch him.
Alex broke eye contact first. Though not by choice. Alex stumbled when some guy rammed a shoulder into him. Michael shook his head, brought back to reality.
“Watch where you’re going faggot,” the guy snickered. Michael thought he recognized him. The wrinkles on his face suggested he was older but he seemed to know Alex. Alex’s eye twitched slightly but he didn’t respond. Michael came up to the table just as Liz stepped into the assholes personal space.
“First of all, get the fuck out. You have no right to talk to a hero like that. You did nothing with your life after high school. You never stopped being a bully Chris and I’m glad it made you look like a fucking prune. Of course, the cigarettes also caught up to you. You are a worthless piece of shit and weren’t invited anyway.” Michael smirked. He saw why Max liked her.
He vaguely remembered the guy but he needed to reach way back. He thought this guy was an old friend of Kyle though he wasn’t sure about it anymore.
“Shut up you stupid alien. Don’t they teach you about respect where you’re from?” She looked surprised. But Michael wasn’t. This had gone far enough.
“Alright you fuck, time to go,” he said, grabbing his collar. Chris struggled in his grip but couldn’t pull free. Michael was pissed and anyone who was a regular here knew they couldn’t beat him when he was pissed.
Michael almost didn’t see the hand flying at his head. He released Chris and he stumbled, obviously drunk. But this asshole wasn’t giving up without a fight. His lunges were sloppy and slow, easy for Michael to avoid. He caught a glimpse of Max, watching from a table not far away.
“A little help deputy,” he asked, annoyed. Max sighed and grabbed Chris’ arm before he could throw another lame punch. Michael took the other and they hauled him out, throwing him to the gravel.
“Do everyone a favor and don’t come back you piece of trash,” Michael spit at him. Chris scowled before reaching behind him and pulling a fancy revolver from his waistband. Max and him shared a look before raising their hands slowly. He wasn’t sure if Max had a gun on him but because he was off duty, Michael wasn’t counting on it.
“Guerin!” Michael's eyes widened. He jerked his head to look behind him, at Alex. Michael heard the gunshot. He knows he did. He felt no pain, at least not right away.
Alex crumbled, clutching his arm though he hardly made a sound. Chris was stumbling away but Michael could hardly focus on that right now.
“Go after him, I’ve got this,” he said to Max. He nodded and ran after him. Michael rushed over to Alex trying to hold him up. His face was scrunched in pain, blood seeping into his flannel. “Damnit, Alex, why’d you follow us out here.”
“Cause I was worried,” he mumbled out. Michael sighed.
“You’re going to be fine. And don’t worry about me.” Alex raised an eyebrow at him.
“I was just shot. I would actually appreciate it if you called—” Alex blinked. Michael's arm started to ache, growing quickly to an agonizing throb. He ground his teeth together and stood, stumbling away from Alex. He could feel the blood start to flow down his arm. Alex was right. He would need a hospital.
“Wait, Guerin. What’s going on? What happened?” He grabbed at his arm where the wound used to be. Michael cursed. Of fucking course this happened. Now he had to explain it to Alex. He tried to make it to his car. Alex stood to follow him, though he was slow with the crutch.
“Damnit,” Michael muttered to himself. He jerked on the handle of his old truck. His arm was going cold. Losing too much blood.
“Michael.” He looked over his shoulder at Alex. There really was no use running.
“Look, Alex. I will explain. But right now, you need to drive me to the hospital.” Confusion danced on every one of his features, but his face set with determination quickly. He tried to help Michael as best he could to the other side of the car, but neither of them was steady with the extra weight.
“Here. Let me wrap it temporarily.” Michael’s eyebrows drew together but widened as Alex pulled his shirt off, tying it above the wound in his arm. “That should slow the blood flow. Hold your arm up as much as you can, ok?” Michael nodded, trying not to stare at him. He had a white tank top on, but he knew Alex was not the boy he used to be.
Alex sped to the hospital, probably breaking more than a few driving laws. It was a miracle he wasn’t pulled over. He screeched up to the front doors, nearly breaking the key as he tried to pull it out. He hurried as much as he could to help Michael keep his balance. They stumbled through the front doors.
“Hey, he’s losing blood fast! He might need stitches!” The edges of Michael’s vision started to go black and fuzzy. He felt the distant touch of hands. None he recognized.
Alex paced as much as he could outside the waiting area. What had happened. He knows he was shot. He grabbed at his arm again, but there wasn’t even an ache. It’s like the wound had transferred to Michael.
“Damnit,” he scolded himself. This was somehow his fault. He could feel it. He reached a hand over his heart, almost subconsciously. He frowned. Something did feel different.
He made his way to the bathroom and locked the door. Standing in front of the mirror, he watched in amazement as the tattoo glowed and dimmed a few times before one of the petals disappeared.
“What the hell…” He shook his head in disbelief. This wasn’t the tattoo he had thought his friends put on him. Maybe he should have listened when they said it wasn’t them. He made his way back to the waiting area as calmly as possible. He was greeted by Max and Isabel.
“How is he,” Isabel rushed out. Max rested a hand on her shoulder, nodding to Alex, like it was supposed to mean something. They shared a look.
“Michael’s getting stitched up. Should be done soon. But what’s with the pity looks and silent communication?” Isabel opened her mouth but shut it again with a look from Max. Alex gave a humorless laugh.
“It’s just better if Michael explains it to you. I’m sorry you’ve been kept in the dark so long,” Max said. He looked between the siblings. Before he could say anything else, the doors behind them slammed open, Maria rushing in with Liz in tow.
“Where is he? What happened? And I can’t believe you fucking drove! Are you stupid?” Maria pulled him into a hug. She was probably right. He felt sober as soon as he saw Michael hurt but that didn’t mean he was.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. And he should be fine,” he said, not sounding as confident as he hoped.
“Max what happened,” Liz asked gently, grabbing his hand.
“The asshole had a gun. He shot Michael while he was distracted.” Alex flinched at the words. It was his fault Michael was in pain. It was always his fault. Just like back then.
A throat cleared behind Alex. The group turned to the doctor. Kyle Valenti stood there, looking almost no different except for the beard.
“We stitched up the wound but couldn’t locate the bullet. It must have passed through his arm. So that’s lucky. He’s being moved to a room right now so you’ll be able to visit him,” he said, every bit the professional.
“Thanks Kyle. What room,” Liz asked?
“Follow me,” he said, turning. Maria held Alex’s hand the whole way there. She was scared. But Michael Guerin was not going to be stopped by something like that. Alex could feel him. Like his heart also beat within him.
The walk was short but tense. No one said anything. As if saying something would change Michael’s condition before they were able to see him. Kyle stopped in front of a door, knocking before pushing it open. Alex heard him before he saw him.
“You again?” Alex fought the smile back. Michael lounged with an arm behind his head, the other arm wrapped in gauze and in a sling.
“Hey, I brought people you like with this time. No need to glare at me.” Michael rolled his eyes before they settled on Alex. Though they only lingered a moment. Maria rushed to his side, grabbing him and kissing his head.
Alex hung back slightly, letting the others worry about him first. They would get their chance to talk. This was too important for Michael to not talk to him about.
“Let me make something very clear Michael Guerin. You are not allowed to get hurt like this again.” He chuckled as he sat up, hugging Maria.
“I’m fine. This won’t keep me down.”
“Maybe not but that doesn’t mean you can be careless,” Isabel noted. Alex thought she looked at him too but couldn’t be sure.
They didn’t get to stick around long. Visiting hours had technically ended before Alex had brought Michael in. Maria needed to be pulled away by Liz, promising her they would come back first thing tomorrow. Alex sat in the chair as he watched them leave. He just needed a couple things answered right now. It couldn’t wait.
“I’ll be back tomorrow to bring you home alright? Don’t give the nice doctors too much trouble,” Isabel said. Michael gave her a sarcastic salute as she was walking out. Alex stood from the chair slowly, moving next to his bed.
“Visiting hours are over, private.” Alex rolled his eyes.
“You know I haven’t been a ‘private’ in a long time, right?” Michael shrugged. He was avoiding the elephant in the room. “I’m not here for the banter, Guerin.” He let his head rest against the pillows, looking at Alex with that melting stare.
“I know,” he said. Alex waited for more but Michael just looked away from him. Was he shy?
“Any information at all would really be appreciated.” Michael half laughed and reached up to move the hospital gown to the side. The same mark that was on Alex’s chest was on his. His eyes widened, instinctively reaching to touch it.
Alex traced his fingers over the mark, petals reflecting the lights of the room. Michael's skin was hot, just like he remembered. He glanced up to meet his eyes. Michael slipped his hand over his, holding it in place over his heart. Alex felt his heartbeat speed up
Beeping from the heart monitor pulled them both back to reality. Alex jerked his hand away. He was just thankful the heart monitor couldn’t display his racing pulse. Michael cleared his throat and looked away.
“That mark is a connection. Looks like this counted as the first trial.” Alex’s eyebrows drew together. “Long story short. Our families have been cursed to be drawn together for generations to endure these trials. We have to get through all ten.”
“And if we don’t,” he asked?
“Then we’re dead.”