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fighting with ghosts

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It’s pitch black outside when Alex emerges from Deep Sky after over two full days trapped with the Lockhart Machine. The stars blink overhead, the moon full and so bright Alex almost has to shield his eyes from the glow. Any other night out in the desert alone with Michael might be the beginning of a very fruitful, romantic evening, but tonight exhaustion hangs so heavy on Alex’s bones that he can barely walk upright even aided by Michael’s arm wrapped tight and sure around his waist.

“I’m going to drive you home. And don’t bother arguing because I’m gonna stay the night too.”

“Well, all good dates should end with sleepovers.”

They smile at each other, sweet and easy. Alex searches for any stray trace of anger in Michael’s features but doesn’t find any. What he does find is that Michael looks so much like his mother that he has to squeeze his eyes shut and take several long, steadying breaths to chase his own persistent subconscious away.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” It’s his go-to response, but it’s no longer the right one. Well, it’s never been the right one, but now it no longer works as a crutch either. He stops walking, shifts until he can look Michael directly in the eye. “Actually, it’s not nothing. When the device was taking my mind for a spin, it was your mother my head conjured to do its dirty work. You really remind me so much of her, or well, the image of her I hold in my subconscious.”

Alex tries to offer another easy smile, but his face feels wrong so he ducks his head down instead. Rubbed raw from too many reopened wounds not to hide just a little bit, but it’s been such an endless two days that he’s willing to forgive himself this one slight infraction.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He shakes his head, lifting his gaze back to Michael’s. “Not right now. Not tonight. But I do think we need to talk about it – and soon. Honestly, I think there’s a lot we need to talk about if we’re ever going to get anywhere near a picket fence.”

“I agree. And we will. But first, you need sleep and to take that goddamn prosthesis off.” Michael’s arm snakes around his waist as they start moving toward the Chevy again. Alex lets Michael take most of his weight, lets him use his telekinesis to get them both safely inside the truck. He just wants to get home as soon as possible and fall into bed beside the one person in his life he doesn’t care ever spend another night without.

Once they pull in Alex’s driveway, Michael cuts the engine, reaching over to squeeze his knee. “You’re going inside and getting straight in that big tub of yours. I’m going to heat up the sandwiches and then join you. We’ll have a very wet candlelit dinner. Sound good?”

All Alex can do is nod because it sounds so good tears burn at the corners of his eyes. Michael thumbs one away before jogging around the bed of the truck to open his door and help him out. He’d felt okay while Ramos and Darby had run the various tests and diagnostics. He’d felt almost euphoric when they’d fixed the device together, returning the machine to its true form as built by Michael’s mom. But now, his body feels like it’s made of stone, and walking feels like swimming through molasses. His hands have started to shake uncontrollably and his shivering has nothing to do with the brisk wind howling through the trees.

Inside, Michael runs the bath while he sits on the closed toilet lid and undresses. It’s such a relief to ditch his prosthetic after two never-ending days that he audibly moans with pleasure once his leg is free, and he vows to make a physical therapy appointment when he wakes up in the morning. He reaches for his crutches, but Michael’s there first, lifting him effortlessly. “I got you.”

I got you. I always got you.

That’s exactly what he’d said after saving Alex from…falling?...jumping? Alex can’t be sure which is true. And he’d been so thankful then, but now he just feels like a burden and way too vulnerable standing here naked and drained of energy and very literally helpless, haunted by a past he may never fully shake himself free from. “This is too much, Guerin.”

He hates the quiver in his voice, the tremble in his chin, the biting tears that are seconds from falling. On the rare occasions Alex had allowed himself enough grace to imagine getting back together with Michael, he’d always hoped he’d be the one doing the caregiving, creating a safe, normal, happy life for Michael and building a home for him where he never had to feel unwelcome or judged or scared to be himself ever again.

Safe even from Alex and his own bullshit.

And now, here he is only two days into something new, something he’s still trying to believe he deserves, and he’s already a complete and utter shit show, finding a way to center himself and his own battle with his monster father rather than focusing on Michael and Jones. Frustrated tears rise to the surface again and he hates how sorry for himself he feels. He wants to be the one holding Michael, not the other way around.

“There’s no such thing as too much.” Michael helps him into the tub and the warm water momentarily steals every coherent thought from his brain, the deep desire for sleep settling in all his crevices. “This thing works both ways. We take care of each other no matter what or this doesn’t work.”

Alex knows he’s right. It’s just always so hard to be reminded how much of a mess he is and how much help he needs. Michael kisses him on the temple and disappears back into the bedroom leaving Alex alone with his thoughts which maybe isn’t the best thing after a long day of hallucinating his worst insecurities. But before the first intrusive thought can even breach the surface, Michael’s walking through the bathroom door half-undressed with the bag of sandwiches swinging from his wrist. “I thought I’d skip the reheating part and go straight to the naked with you part.”

Of course, he’d anticipated exactly what Alex had needed without having to ask. Alex can only hope that one day he’ll be just as good for Michael as Michael is for him. He’s worked so hard the past couple of years to move in that direction, and he’s not all the way there yet, but he thinks – hopes – that maybe he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the very least, he knows he’s made progress slow though it may be. “Thank you, Michael.”

Michael grins at him, eyes sparkling. “No need for thank yous. This is just what we do now.” He hands Alex a cold sandwich. “Eat as much as you can before you pass out.”

Alex scoots forward so Michael can slip into the tub behind him. Once he’s settled into Michael’s chest, he takes a small bite of the sandwich and concentrates on Michael’s heartbeat pounding between his shoulder blades. His muscles relax and the shaking goes away. They eat in silence, both managing to finish one entire Hamdalorian by the time the bathwater turns lukewarm.

What happens next is a blur. He’s too sleepy to keep track. He knows Michael gets him out of the tub and into bed without mishap. “I don’t know which side you sleep on, but I assume it’s the one with the phone charger.”

He opens his eyes and sees his phone plugged in next to a glass of water on his nightstand. Michael is hovering over him, naked, curls dripping beads of water onto his shoulders, down his chest. The absolute best sight in the world. He’d give anything to summon his energy back and thank Michael properly. But for now, he pats the bed next to him. “Join me.”

Michael blinks the lights out and hops over Alex, bouncing lightly onto the mattress with a quiet laugh, and then he drapes himself over Alex, head on his chest, leg thrown over his left leg, hand resting softly on his belly, thumb making small circles around his belly button. It tickles, but not enough to keep Alex’s eyes from shutting. “You’re like a heated blanket and a weighted blanket all at once.”

“What?”

“Nothing. I just mean, don’t move. Don’t ever move.” And if sleep drags him under before he can panic about leaving Michael alone with a muffled I love you, then so be it. There will be plenty of time to panic in the morning.