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ain't no headtrip honey

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“Trust me when I say you really didn’t need to get all dressed up on my account,” Michael says, smirking at Alex and tugging on his half-empty beer. “Or is this some kink thing you need me to save you from?”

Alex frowns, exasperated but amused. “It’s good to see you too, Guerin. I had an interview today.”

Michael hands him a beer from his cooler and leans back in his rickety lawn chair, doing his best to act like Alex’s appearance hasn’t rendered him damn near giddy. “I thought you already had a job. Hence this blue monstrosity and all its shiny pieces of bullshit.”

After a deep, steadying breath, Alex bites his tongue and answers, “A lot’s changed recently.”

“Yeah, no shit. Been a bit of that going around.” He hands Alex the newspaper clipping he’s been staring at for the past half hour. “Remember Jones?”

Alex’s eyes scan the article quickly, brain spinning, probably thinking back to their eventful excursion out at the Long farm a year earlier. “Owner of the mysterious arm from this photo, right?”

“Right.” Michael nods, throwing back the lukewarm dredges of his beer. Before he can talk himself out of spilling his guts, he vomits out what he needs to say. “We’ve got him locked in a cage down in the turquoise mines. He’s got a wild fucking story about my mom. And Isobel’s. Looks exactly like Max.”

“What?” Alex’s eyes blow wide. He sets his still-cold beer aside, already long forgotten. “Why didn’t you tell me about Jones one of the dozens of times we talked these past few weeks?”

Michael shrugs. There’s no good answer. They’d been waiting for something, for nothing -- him and Max and Isobel. Maybe they hadn’t wanted to bother anyone else with their alien problems. Maybe they hadn’t wanted to bother themselves with their alien problems. Everything had been going so smoothly, so he thought. He wants to ask Alex about Forrest, about why his name had never come up during their dozens of conversations. But he doesn’t. “We’ve all kept our secrets this year, I guess.”

Their eyes meet across the fire pit, intense and leaden with intent. Alex looks away first, shaking his head at the ground, kickup up the dirt with his foot. “I hate that we’re like this. I don’t want us to be like this.”

“Like what?” Michael doesn’t really need to ask the question.

And Alex doesn’t really want to answer. Instead, he shifts gears. “Forrest is gone. I’m out of the Air Force as of about six hours ago.” He unpins the nametag from the pocket of his wrinkled, unbuttoned jacket and tosses it into the fire. They watch it melt, the name Manes slowly consumed by the flames.

“So what’s next?” Michael watches a million emotions burn through Alex’s eyes. His shoulders tense, release, tense again as he weighs each of his words. His jaw clenches, cheekbones outlined perfectly in the fire’s glow, and Michael tries to remember what Alex’s sharp edges had felt like pressed against his lips.

“Deep Sky.” Alex leans back in his chair, running his hands nervously over the tops of his thighs. “I think I can do some real good there.”

Michael snorts, tossing his head back to curse silently at the stars. Harsh words collect in the back of his throat, threatening to spill from his mouth in a long, angry torrent. Alex can’t be this stupid. He just can’t be. “Deep Sky isn’t a place where any real good gets done.”

“Maybe. And if that’s the case, I’ll dismantle them from the inside. Like Project Shepard. I will, Michael.” His eyes flare, shoulders straight and centered. So fucking cocksure.

He doesn’t have the energy to fight with Alex tonight. He’s too busy spiraling over his own bullshit. He’d much rather climb into Alex’s lap and forget the past two days ever happened. But that option hasn’t presented itself. “I think I’ve figured out who my dad is. Maybe, probably. Can I show you?”

Alex seems surprised when Michael doesn’t push the Deep Sky subject any further. Surprised and relieved. “Of course. But how do you know Jones isn’t lying?”

Michael shakes his head. “We don’t. Not really. But watch.” He pushes his sleeve up past his elbow and shoves his entire right hand into the fire pit, watching the flames dance through his fingers without so much as turning his skin pink.

“Guerin!” Alex pushes to his feet too fast, almost stumbling into the blaze. Michael catches him with his TK and holds on until his balance is steady and certain. And then Alex flies to his side, ripping his hand from the flames, kneeling heavily on his left knee with a grunt. “What the fuck?”

“It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt.” He flexes his hand to show Alex everything is fine and dandy. “I don’t burn in fire. Neither did dear old dad, apparently.”

Alex gapes at him before examining every inch of his hand for a hint of hurt. “What? I don’t understand. You’ve been burned before.”

“Yeah, well. That’s before I knew I could shield myself, I guess. It’s just a power, same as my TK.” Alex’s breath drags over his fingertips, his knuckles. And it’s too much and not enough. He yanks his hand free and climbs to his feet, bringing Alex along with him. “It’s late. And honestly, Alex, I’m not really the best company tonight. But I’m glad you’re home. Even if it’s just to make a terrible fucking decision.”

Alex reaches for him, fingers circling his wrist, thumb firm at his pulse point. “I don’t know how much we’ll be able to talk in the near future. But I want to talk. Really talk, Michael.” He looks so earnest, almost childlike in the moonlight. Michael wants to invite him inside, strip him down to hot skin and lips that steal time. Wants to wrap him in blankets and keep him safe from whatever evil he’s stepped into blinded by some backward, bullshit notion of saving the day.

He and Alex are due a reckoning. And soon. But he can’t focus on that right now. Not with Max dying. “Please be safe, Alex.”

Alex nods, suddenly so serious. “Here. Keep this.” He drops what looks like a key fob into the palm of Michael’s hand. “Inside’s a tracking device, identical to the one they planted in my ring. I replicated it,” he wiggles the ring finger on his right hand where there’s a sterling silver Deep Sky ring, “so that someone other than an evil paramilitary organization will always know where I am, so that you will always know where I am. You can plug it into your phone.”

And then, he’s gone. Halfway back to his car before Michael can think of anything else to say.