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all the roads we have to walk are winding

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“Hey,” Michael whispered, leaned so close to Alex that his lips brushed his ear as he spoke. “I can practically hear those gears turning. What … what mission are you working on right now?” He couldn’t stop a note of uncertainty from creeping into the question.

Alex blew out a breath, air tickling Michael’s neck and sending a tendril of warmth across the exposed skin that battled with the cool desert night. “I’m thinking about all the ways we could still fuck this up. And how much I really don’t want to do that. He pressed his forehead more firmly against Michael’s shoulder. “But mostly I’m thinking about how I want to take you home and fall asleep wrapped up together. I never want to let go of you again.”

Michael felt heat build in his eyes and had to blink against the prick of tears, pulling Alex closer with the hand buried in his hair, fingers curled tight into the fabric of his shirt. Waves of emotion almost too strong to decipher crashed over him. It wasn’t that he’d thought this day would never come, no Michael had never given up hoping for the chance to hold Alex like this again. To be wanted in the way that a kind and perceptive seventeen year old had taught him was even possible. Holding on to hope wasn’t the problem. The struggle, Michael realized, came in pulling it out from it’s careful hiding place, looking at it with a scrutiny he hadn’t afforded himself in years, and realizing that he could loosen the death grip he kept on that dream and just … let it be. He swallowed around a newly-formed lump in his throat.

Alex lifted his head from Michael’s shoulder, ducking to catch his eyes. “Hey.” He whispered.

“Hey.” Michael choked.

They just stared at each other for a moment, and for once Michael didn’t feel the ticking of an invisible alarm, counting down the moments he still had with this man. Didn’t feel the need to drive him away before that unseen quota was reached and he chose to leave.

Finally, Alex broke the silence. “I meant what I said, earlier. I want, more than anything, to give you a world where you can feel safe, Michael. But I’ve started to realize . . . “ he trailed off, seeming to struggle with the words. “I realize that I can never give that to you. But I think, we could work on building it together.”

Now there was no stopping the tears, trails of warmth tracked down his cheeks. And in the twinkling glow of the lights draped outside the bar, Michael saw the shine of water on Alex’s cheeks, too. He cleared his throat. “Alright, Captain. What’s the plan?”

Alex couldn’t help but smile at that, Michael saw it break through despite his best effort at an eye roll. “It’s been a long day. I need to go home, take off my leg.” He closed his eyes. “Today was … we won a big battle today, but it was hard.”

Michael could hear the weight of true exhaustion in his tone, and he knew Alex was talking about more than their fight against Jones. He nodded. “You’re right. And our problems are far from over.” He reached up with a shaking hand and brushed a thumb feather-light across the thin skin under Alex’s eye, the other man leaning into the touch. “Let me take you home. I can- I can stay the night, we can take some time to just … be. And tomorrow we’ll figure out the rest.”

At that, Alex opened his eyes and looked up at him with such a genuine shine of love that Michael was smiling before he even realized it. “What?” Alex asked, a smile of his own spreading hesitantly across his lips. And Michael only had one answer for that, leaning in and pressing another kiss to those upturned lips. This one softer than the last.

Alex huffed a little laugh against his lips. “What was that for?”

Michael pressed their foreheads together and closed his eyes, perfectly at home, and said “I love you.”

And Alex leaned impossibly closer, the two of them as entangled as the very atoms of the universe. “I love you too.”