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Send Me Home

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‘Atlanta is down to their last at bat, Jeff. And it’s Michael Guerin in the on-deck circle. What’s Ramon’s strategy here? Does he try to jam him up inside or keep firing fastballs and hope Guerin can’t catch up?’

It’s September in Atlanta and the Braves are playing the Marlins. Every game counts as both teams vy for a spot in October baseball. Michael Guerin is a lead candidate for MVP, and he’s always a threat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded. The sellout crowd roars as his walk-up music begins to play.

I was born to the desert
And to the desert I’ll return
Sun-soaked and leathered
Tattered and tethered
Send me home, send me home, send me home

‘Ramon’s got that curveball, Chip. I’m not sure Guerin’s ever met a fastball he couldn’t hit. Especially in the bottom of the ninth. So, I think Ramon starts with the curveball even if that’s exactly what Guerin’s expecting.’

Michael steps into the batter’s box and takes a couple of quick practice swings, eyes wide and watching Ramon’s every move. He squares his hips and lowers his hands on the bat just a touch. It’s an adjustment he’s been working on for the past month or so with great success. Ramon lets loose his first pitch. As expected, it’s a nasty curveball and a pitch Michael has struck out on more than once during his twelve year career. But this time he’s prepared and anticipates perfectly where the bottom of the curve will land. He shoots a laser to shallow right field, and it drops in for a walk-off single. The dugout empties and everyone tackles him as he crosses home plate, one game closer to October.

--------

Later that night, Michael sits on the tailgate of his Chevy, beer in hand and staring up at the stars like so many nights before. Several of the guys had harassed him about going out to celebrate, but he’s not in the mood. He’s never in the mood these days. The winning still feels good and the possibility of the MVP is a dream. But for a long time now, he’s felt like there’s something missing in his life. Something essential, something elusive, something just out of his reach.

The truth is that he’s lonely. It’s a truth he can admit to himself when he’s alone underneath the cosmos watching the stars blink down at him against the wide expanse of space.

There have been relationships along the way. Women he’s dated earnestly. Once upon a time, maybe even a couple he could have loved. When he was younger, there had also been a few men. But none recently. The deeply rooted homophobia of baseball to blame. Mostly anyway. It’s strange now - everyone knows he’s bisexual, a simple Google search is all it takes. But he’s fairly certain baseball collectively decided to ignore his sexuality altogether after he got called up to the majors all those years ago.

He wants to believe he’s not afraid to be seen with men. He tells himself it’s just simpler this way, less complicated. Fewer awkward questions and the focus remaining on his athletic abilities rather than his sex life. Besides, only two major league players have ever come out and they both only did so after they’d retired. He supposes maybe he counts as the third. It’s not the stuff of fairytales, and Michael had learned that lesson during his brief stint in Double-A ball.

That feels like a lifetime ago.

Alex Manes’ new album drifts through the truck’s windows. His low, throaty voice practically purring into Michael’s ears. He’s been a big fan of Alex and his music for several years now. They’re both from New Mexico and the way he sings about the desert rings true enough to Michael that listening to one of his songs sends him right back home. Despite their many issues, he misses his brother and sister so badly sometimes he can barely breathe. Alex’s music reminds him of all the things and all the people he’s left behind - for better or worse. A couple of years ago, he’d had the opportunity to see Alex perform live but he’d turned it down. He still can’t explain why.

The night stretches out before him. Beer and music lulling him into a peaceful sleep until a bright light flashes in his face and startles him awake. He sits up and raises his hands peacefully. ‘Hey, Ernie.’

‘Oh, Mr. Guerin. I didn’t recognize you. What are you still doing here? It’s past midnight.’ He clicks the flashlight off and clips it back onto his belt. ‘Congrats on the walk-off!’

Michael shrugs. ‘Thanks. Didn’t want to go home just yet. Like watching the stars at night. But I haven’t seen you in a while. The grandkids still running circles around you?’

‘You know it! Caleb just turned five and is a holy terror. Michelle is eight going on eighteen. I can barely get a word in edgewise between the two of them.’ His eyes shine even in the darkness, crinkling at the edges.

Michael’s heart aches at Ernie’s easy, simple joy, but he manages a genuine smile thanks to the night’s shadows softening the edges of his jaw. ‘That sounds nice.’ He hops off his tailgate. ‘I’ll get out of your hair. Got an early game anyway. Need to get some sleep.’

‘Well, now, don’t let me chase you off. I don’t mind the company. It gets a little spooky at night. You can always come knock on my door if you ever need anything.’ Ernie opens the Chevy’s door for Michael and shuts it behind him. ‘All these other guys with their flashy sports cars and you in this old rust bucket. You’re a weird one, Mr. Guerin. But I like that about you.’

Michael runs his hands around the cracked steering wheel. ‘Most days this truck is about the closest thing to home I’ve got. There’s still desert dirt in the bed and an engine I rebuilt myself. What the fuck would I do with a Ferrari?’

They both laugh and Michael waves and honks his horn as he pulls out of the player’s lot. The streets are mostly empty, cars keeping to the well-lit interstate at night. He decides to stay on surface roads and take the long way home, radio softly playing old country songs. His thoughts drift to tomorrow’s game and the rookie pitcher the Marlins are starting. His own rookie year had been tough, and he makes a mental note to speak to the kid at some point during the game, ask him how he’s doing and if he’s being treated well.

The streetlights along Peachtree illuminate his path through Brookhaven. He crosses into Atlanta city limits and enters Buckhead just as ‘Lay Me Down’ by Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson starts to play through his speakers. And all too soon, he turns down his street and opens the cedar gate at the end of his driveway, parking his truck and sitting in the darkness until the song comes to an end.

Climbing out of his truck, he unlocks the front door with his telekinesis, slipping inside quietly and deactivating his alarm system. He’d bought the house in foreclosure, spending most of his money on remodeling the mid-century ranch. It’s not extravagant, but it’s the most expensive thing he owns. He’d even let Isobel fly out to decorate the place within a very strict budget, and he’d had to admit she’d done a great job - one side of his front door Atlanta, the other side New Mexico.

But even so, it has never felt like home.

The first few nights he’d spent in the house had been rough. It was too quiet and too soft and too much. More than once he’d grabbed his ancient, worn sleeping bag and crawled into the bed of his truck. Sleeping hard on the uncomfortable. ribbed metal but beneath the stars he loved so much. The morning dew waking him with the sun each morning.

These days he manages to sleep in bed at night, but only because he’d installed two skylights overhead so that the stars would always be his. And only his. He rarely brings anyone home anymore, preferring their house to his. But when he does, he takes them to a guest bedroom. None of them ever seem to mind how empty the space is or how devoid of personality. Four blank walls and a lone bed filling the room. Why would they? It’s not Michael the foster kid from the desert they’re sleeping with. It’s Michael Guerin the multi-millionaire first baseman with the single-season home run record and the aw-shucks, good boy smile.

Tonight he doesn’t bother turning on any lights. He just pads through the kitchen to grab an apple and a bottle of water, undresses and climbs into bed. He takes a large bite of the granny smith and pulls out his phone, calling Isobel.

‘Congrats on the walk-off!’ He can hear another game in the background. Isobel had never watched a baseball game in her life - including any of his - until the day he’d gotten drafted right out of high school. But now she watches all of them. Or as many of them as possible. Her scouting reports are better than anything stamped official and readily available in the team clubhouse.

‘Thanks. Didn’t really see the ball that well tonight, though. Is Max there?’ It’s stupid to ask when he already knows the answer.

‘Out with Liz. They’ve been inseparable ever since she moved back to Roswell. It’s gross and I miss you.’ The sound on her tv goes silent and he knows she’s settling in for a long conversation. ‘Tell me about tomorrow. Any surprises?’

‘No. New kid on the mound just called up. Got a mean slider. Torres has some pain in his wrist so he’ll be benched.’ Michael finishes his apple in two large bites and guzzles his water, listening to Isobel pound away at her keyboard already deep in research mode. ‘Might get me moved up to the number two slot.’

They spend fifteen minutes strategizing. It’s what they do most nights. Isobel critiquing the numbers based on intuition and her own database of knowledge concerning the human psyche, while he runs statistical analyses and probabilities in his head faster than humanly possible. Michael suggests more than once that she’d make a great scout and that maybe when he retires they can go into business together. He’s told her this a million times, but she only laughs him off and reminds him that she already has a job.

‘A worthless job that doesn’t pay you what you deserve.’ He reaches for the tv remote on his nightstand but can’t find it. Not that it matters. He switches the television on with his mind and nods his head through the channels, stopping on an old western and muting the volume.

‘Philanthropy is not worthless, Michael!’ She sighs loudly to punctuate her exasperation. ‘And my salary is not the point - the point is helping people. Besides, I have all of Noah’s money and can negotiate more pay any time I choose.’

That he believes. ‘How’d your date go last night?’ Asking Isobel about her date absolutely means she’ll push him to share something just as personal. But it was her first official date with a woman and he genuinely wants to know how it went. No matter the price he’ll pay.

‘Really, really, really well.’ He can hear the grin in her voice and it makes him smile. ‘She’s a cardiologist and very good with her hands. Valenti makes a pretty superb matchmaker. Maybe I’ll ship him your way because you could certainly use the help.’

Michael rolls his eyes and fakes a groan. ‘You can keep Valenti. Don’t you think it’s weird to have your ex setting you up on dates? Do you really think he’s the best judge of character?’

‘Kyle knows me better than most. He was my first relationship after Noah and he put up with a lot. I trust him implicitly with my heart and yours. Plus, I was the one who broke up with him.’

‘My heart is fine, thanks.’ He lies smoothly and knows exactly how she’s going to respond.

‘I can’t stand the thought of you all the way across the country in that foreign place with no one to go home to at night.’

He snorts. ‘It’s called Georgia, Iz. And I’m not home enough for a relationship to work right now.’

‘Half the guys on your team - on any team! - are married. So that’s a pisspoor excuse. You keep pushing everyone away. Don’t forget who you’re talking to. I know you, Michael. As soon as you start to feel something, the doors slam shut and you become another stereotypical lonewolf cowboy.’ Her voice is loud now, vehement and self-righteous. They’ve reenacted this scene so many times it feels very paint by number at this point. ‘I hardly ever hear a smile in your voice anymore.’

She’s right and she knows it. He used to love dating, meeting new people. First kisses and first fucks. Last kisses and farewell fucks. He lived for those moments and now he hardly ever looks anyone in the eye. ‘We have this conversation at least once a month. And nothing has changed. It’s too hard right now, Iz. I’m too known to ever really be known. Not the way I would want to be. Not in any way that I would trust.’

There’s no use arguing so they move on to easier topics. Max and LIz’s ongoing romance, details of Isobel’s date, Maria’s remodel of the Pony thanks to a very generous anonymous donation. Every word out of her mouth squeezes his heart a little bit tighter until it’s too much and he says goodnight.

Flipping onto his side, he reaches his arm out to the other side of the bed, running his hand over the cold, unwrinkled sheet. His eyes land on the empty pillow no head ever touches and tries to imagine a face looking back at him. A face that might smile suggestively or quietly murmur goodnight. But he’s unable to conjure anything beyond a blank, shapeless outline. It makes him feel pathetic so he yanks the pillow underneath his own head and forces his eyes shut, trying in vain to quiet his mind. Despite his best efforts, sleep takes its sweet time finding him.

The next morning he’s exhausted but gets to the field early. He’d woken up to a cryptic message from Isobel. There’s a surprise waiting for you after the game! Stick around this time, Michael. Don’t make me get on a plane. He’s sure that can’t mean anything good, but he attempts to put it out of his mind for now.

The ballpark is already bustling with activity. Michael heads into the clubhouse to change. He stops and asks Stan, their hitting coach, for some extra work before the rest of the team arrives. He’s worried about how he’s been shifting his wrists recently and wants someone else’s opinion. The adjustments he’d made last night seem to be working, but he’s worried about straining a muscle or tweaking the wrong tendon. Two of his teammates are already on the IL with wrist pain. He doesn’t want to be next, especially with the postseason race and his run at MVP on the line.

Michael finds Danny Marks asleep in one of the clubhouse’s leather chairs. He swats him on the head on the way to his locker, laughing at Danny’s loud yelp. ‘Fuck, man, you’re always asleep. How did you manage to stay awake on the mound long enough to put together two Cy Young seasons?’

‘Talent, Guerin. Talent. You should try it sometime. Maybe then you’ll win MVP.’ Danny yawns and stretches his arms over his head. Michael glares at him. ‘Don’t worry. You’re still the favorite. Our very own diamond darling. No one else is getting their own personal concert any time soon.’

‘What?’ He sits on the chair at his locker, blinking at Danny in confusion. ‘Personal concert?’ Isobel’s strange text message flashes through his head again while he inwardly groans.

‘Oh, yeah.’ Danny grins and crosses his ankles on the table in front of him, brashly enjoying the way Michael squirms. ‘Alex Manes is traveling down from Nashville just for you - baseball’s most beloved first baseman.’ He throws a toy football at Michael’s head, chuckling when it bounces off his curls. ‘He’s not bad looking, you know.’

‘Stop.’ Danny is Michael’s best friend on the team and the only one he feels comfortable enough to have this conversation with. ‘Whose idea was this? Did Isobel do something? Or was this you?’

Michael doesn’t want this. Not at all. And he can’t exactly explain why. Music is personal to him - profoundly personal. Always has been since he was nothing but an unloved kid trapped in various violent foster homes. It was music that had kept him warm at night and music that had loved him best. The only escape available to him during most of his darkest hours.

Over the years, there have been many artists he’s considered favorites. Most of them old country crooners or folk song heroes. Much like Alex Manes. But with Alex, it’s something more. Something he has a hard time vocalizing. They are both from New Mexico. Both spent a chunk of their formative years in Roswell. Michael has read or watched multiple interviews with Alex where he’s alluded heavily to an abusive father. His lyrics certainly do the same. Lots of kids grow up that way - Michael knows he’s not alone in that particular fate - but the way Alex puts that pain to music settles something inside his chest that has never been settled before.

So the thought of meeting Alex worries Michael. They say don’t meet your heroes for a reason. In his head, Alex represents a sense of safety, a sense of home. What happens when they meet and that’s taken from him? Because maybe Alex is a liar. Or maybe he’s a dick. Either possibility is very real. He’s also a vet, and Michael hates, hates, hates the military. And he doesn’t want to hate Alex. Doesn’t want to lose his music. Cannot emotionally afford to lose his music if he’s being honest.

‘Isobel apparently knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. I just didn’t try and stop her. Or Lena.’ Danny’s wife is Isobel’s favorite human. It’s the worst thing that’s happened to Michael since meeting Danny. The two of them have done nothing but make his life one unasked for surprise after another. ‘Besides, even if you hate it, the team could really use some fun before heading into the postseason. Some good old-fashioned team bonding, my friend. And this time, you don’t get to run away. The guys need to see their captain smile every once in a while.’

Michael sighs and changes into his warmups. Danny’s phone rings and he grins one last time at Michael before disappearing for some privacy. Michael decides to push Alex Manes to the back of his mind and concentrate on the game ahead of him. Stan is waiting, anyway. So he’ll focus on his wrists for now and worry about everything else later. The one thing he does do, however, is pull out his phone and send Isobel a very pointed text.

You should have gotten my permission first.

Isobel’s text response is nothing but the angel halo emoji. Michael wishes his telekinesis was strong enough to travel across state lines because he’d like to throw her phone into the wall. Since that option is not available to him, he sends Max a text instead.

Your sister is a menace.

He pockets his phone, not bothering to wait on an answer. Max tends to be too busy these days. Not that that’s anything new really. Unless your name is Liz Ortecho or Isobel Evans, he doesn’t have much time for you.

The morning stretches by as gametime approaches. Batting practice goes well and Michael works with Stan on keeping his wrists from turning too much when he swings. His teammates have all found out about the concert by the time the first pitch is thrown and none of them will let him forget it. Each time his walk-up music begins to play, Danny leads a small group of particularly bad vocalists in a sing-a-long. All of them belting out the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Michael tries to keep the stupid grin off his face and almost suceeds.

He won’t admit it, but he actually begins to get excited. Doesn’t even mind when Max only ends up responding with a snarky text.

Try living less than five miles from her.

He’d give anything to live five miles from Isobel. Michael loves his teammates. He really does. Atlanta has one of the best team dynamics in baseball. Maybe the best. They support each other, love one another, and when they say family, they mean it. Team dinners and family outings are normal even during the off season. Michael doesn’t avoid spending time with them because he dislikes anyone - although there have been various tiffs in the past but nothing long lasting. He avoids them because he loves them enough to let his mouth loosen too much, all his secrets threatening to tumble out with no regard for his safety or the safety of his siblings.

He knows this because it has happened on more than one occasion. Years ago during his rookie years when living hard and drinker harder were his nightly norm. On any given night you’d find him at the bar, four fingers deep into a bottle of bourbon, mouthing off about moving things with his mind. It wasn’t the booze talking; it was his loneliness. The throbbing homesick ache in his chest that only Max and Isobel could smooth away. Once he knew his teammates were shitfaced, he’d let some little comment slip about his abilities. Half of them never paid any attention to the things he said and the other half merely laughed at him.

He’d told Isobel one night about the things he said and she’d yelled at him solidly for an hour. The next day he’d gotten a nasty phone call from Max and has kept his mouth shut ever since that conversation.

Keeping their secret is important. Michael understands that, but the lying exhausts him. He loves Danny and hates that the most important part of himself Danny and Lena can never know. He loves his other teammates, and he doesn’t want to hide this huge part of himself from them forever. The lying has always made him feel unclean - distant and deceptive. Back in Roswell, it had been easier. He hadn’t had many friends and the people closest to him shared the same secret. But now, the people he sees every single day aren’t allowed to know the real him. It breaks his heart in a way he could never have anticipated, making him feel truly alien.

Michael and Isobel had jumped through enormous hoops to keep his DNA secret from team doctors and drug testers. It’s the only reason he’d ever agreed to her mind influence.

A major league baseball player cannot have telekinetic superpowers, alien or not. The cheating accusations would be immediate and relentless - his career over and his name shamed forever. Regardless of the fact that he would never dream of cheating to advance his career. Besides, he’s self-aware enough - or perhaps cocky enough - to understand that his level of talent doesn’t require any telekinetic assistance. Michael Guerin is just that fucking good.

During his last at bat in the eighth inning, Alex Manes’ face flashes on the digital scoreboard high above centerfield advertising the aftergame concert. Michael concentrates on keeping his wrists tight and imagines that Alex is somewhere in the stadium watching him. He swings at the first pitch - a fastball left too high over the plate - and knows he’s gotten every piece of it by the cracking sound his bat makes. He starts a slow run to first base and watches the ball sail over the leftfield wall.

With his signature two claps, he rounds first and enjoys the cheering crowd chanting his name. Stepping on the bag at home plate, his eyes glance back up at the scoreboard, but Alex’s face has disappeared. And suddenly his nerves have returned tenfold at the realization that soon he’ll be face to face with a man he has no idea how to talk to - what to say or even if he’ll get a chance to say anything at all.

Despite the cheers and happy butt slaps from his teammates, the pit in Michael’s stomach stretches wide. In the clubhouse, he checks his phone again and one last final message from Isobel lights up his screen.

He wants to meet you first.

Chapter Text

The game ends as so many of them do with Atlanta on top. Their record improves and the second-place Marlins fall another game behind as October looms ever nearer. Danny follows Michael into the clubhouse, grin stretched wide from ear to ear. ‘A little birdy told me that Alex Manes would like to speak with you before he performs.’ All of his teeth shine in the fluorescent light. ‘Better shower quick.’

As if one cue, Tommy Dresden, their manager, claps Michael on the back. ‘Meet me back here in fifteen minutes, Guerin. The press are already having a field day with this. Linda and Sal are going to take you upstairs before the show starts.’ Linda and Sal are the stadium’s event managers. Michael has never met either one of them. The sudden piling on of new faces exhausts him and he doesn’t understand why Alex would want to meet him before performing. He chalks it up to Isobel’s meddling.

He showers as fast as he can and lets his hair do whatever it’s going to do. The clothes he throws on are nothing more than black jeans and a denim button up. Standing in front of the steam-dusted mirror, he goes back and forth on how many buttons to keep unbuttoned. He usually opts for three without wasting a thought on who might care, but looking at the bareness of his still damp chest knowing that’s exactly what Alex will see makes him second guess himself.

And that’s when he finally has to come to terms with what he’s been trying to deny all day. Part of the reason he’s afraid to meet Alex Manes is that he finds him annoyingly attractive. The realization makes him feel worse than a horny teenager. He frowns at his reflection in the mirror and leaves the three buttons undone, heading back into the clubhouse.

Tommy is waiting for him and introduces Linda and Sal. They are two of the chirpiest human beings he’s ever met. They take him - and only him - to a private service elevator he never knew existed. Everything is so clandestine that he starts feeling like he’s in a spy movie. They reach a nondescript closed door and all three of them are patted down for weapons or maybe something more nefarious. Then they’re told to wait.

‘It’s all just precaution. Apparently, Mr. Manes has had some fairly intense fan encounters where he felt his safety was threatened. But I assure you, Mr. Guerin, he’s very excited to meet you. As were Sal and I.’ Linda smiles at him in that bland, practiced way of all the public relations people he’s ever met. ‘My nephew is a big fan. Even has your poster on his bedroom wall.’

Michael does his best to smile at her kindly. ‘You should bring him by the ballpark sometime. I’d love to meet him - maybe play a game of catch.’ She beams at him and it’s the first human expression she’s worn since they met. He decides he likes her just as two men in black suits round the corner.

‘Mr. Guerin, please follow us. I’m afraid only Mr. Guerin will be allowed to join Alex this evening. I’m sure you understand.’ Linda and Sal nod, but Michael can tell they’re disappointed. It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to meet a Nashville superstar. He shakes both their hands and follows the suits through the unmarked door.

The first thing he notices are the six guitars - three held firmly in their stands, two on the floor, and one in Alex Manes’ lap. The second thing he notices are Alex’s hands - the largeness of them and the way they dwarf his narrow wrists. Their dexterity as he runs his long fingers over the thick strings. The neatly trimmed nails and the hint of perfectly formed calluses on his fingertips. Michael’s so focused on the way they move he doesn’t notice the two suits leave. Nor does he hear when Alex starts to speak.

‘Sorry you had to come alone.’ Alex sets the black acoustic guitar aside and stands up off the brown, tufted leather sofa. ‘I get anxious before shows sometimes. But I wanted to meet you since you’re the whole reason I’m here.’ He holds out his hand to Michael, warm smile on his face but not quite able to meet Michael’s eye.

It’s strange to realize that Alex Manes is nervous about meeting him too.

Rarely in his thirty years has Michael ever been speechless. But when he takes Alex’s hand the only words he can manage are a scratchy hello and a garbled attempt at clearing his throat. Alex laughs and turns behind him to grab Michael a bottle of water. ‘It’s my favorite brand. Helps with my throat and my voice. My manager thinks it’s all in my head. Says it’s just water.’ He shrugs.

Michael looks down at the bottle. ‘Imported from Malaysia. Fancy.’ Of course the first words he finds are sarcastic. He twists the cap off and downs half the water in just two gulps. ‘Sorry. Don’t mean to be a shit. All of this,’ he motions at Alex and the guitars, ‘has just caught me off guard. Thanks for the water.’

‘Right. The surprise.’ Alex sits back down on the sofa and gestures to the cushion next to him. ‘I hate surprises myself so it’s okay if you’re less than thrilled.’ Michael reluctantly joins him but takes extra care to leave what he deems an appropriate amount of distance between them, pressing his hands flat between his knees. Alex doesn't seem to notice his nerves, maybe too caught up in his own. ‘Your sister was a bit of ballbuster on the phone.’

Michael sighs and rolls his eyes. ‘Of course you talked to Isobel.’

Alex laughs again. ‘She’s friends with my manager’s wife. You all went to high school together apparently. Kate Cameron? Or Kate Long before she got married, I think.’

‘Sure. Kate Long. Hard to forget the Longs. Richest family in Roswell.’ Michael drinks more of his water and wonders if enough time has passed that excusing himself to run back to the clubhouse wouldn’t seem rude. He doubts it. Clearing his throat again, he asks, ‘Do you like baseball or did my sister have to bribe you with something. Hopefully, a lot of money.’

Michael swears Alex blushes. He definitely diverts his gaze. ‘I hate baseball. Well, I don’t actually know enough about baseball to hate it. So more like deep ambivalence.’

‘Oh, okay.’ He stands more abruptly than he means to, knocking his empty bottle of water noisily to the cement floor. ‘It sucks that Isobel made you feel obligated to drive all the way down here.’ The temperature in the room keeps rising and he’s starting to sweat. ‘I should go.’ He’s so angry at Isobel his fists have curled in on themselves, fingernails biting into his palms.

Alex reaches down for the water bottle, clearly at a loss for what to say. He sets the bottle down on the coffee table and stands. ‘That came out wrong.’

‘I really don’t want to bother you and sorry about Isobel. Maybe don’t take her phone calls from now on.’ Michael doesn’t take a single look back at Alex before opening the door and heading towards the exit staircase because it’s closer than the elevators. Before he can dart inside, Alex calls his name down the empty hallway. ‘Please wait, Mr. Guerin.’ He pauses, slowly turning around. Alex is limping down the corridor towards him, wincing with each step.

‘Are you alright?’ He knows Alex is an amputee. Everyone does. It’s part of his bullshit Great American Hero persona. The kind of thing country music fans eat up.

Alex looks down at his leg and then back up at Michael. ‘Yeah, fine. Been going a little too hard during tour rehearsals all week. And then the long ride today didn’t help.’ He takes a break to catch his breath and rub at his right knee.

Watching the obvious pain on Alex’s face doesn’t ease any of Michael’s anger, but it does allow him to hide it away from Alex. ‘You don’t have to like baseball. You don’t even have to like me. I just hate the thought that you got pressured into doing something for me - someone you don’t even know. You don’t owe me or Isobel or anyone anything.’ He shoves his fingers roughly through his hair, attempting in vain to remove the wayward strands from his forehead. ‘What if I was a complete dick?’

Michael furrows his brow as Alex sags against the wall. His telekinesis flares briefly in his fingertips at how easily he could relieve Alex’s pain. But only enough for him to notice, his powers always perfectly controlled. ‘Maybe you shouldn’t perform tonight. Maybe some rest instead would be better.’

Something like anger flashes in Alex’s eyes. ‘I can play. I’m fine.’ He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall, jaw flexing as teeth clench together. ‘I’ll be sitting down anyway. Only five songs.’ He reopens his eyes and manages a half-smile in Michael’s direction. ‘I could be a dick too, you know. And hell, I hate country music much more than I hate baseball.’

Michael throws him a funny look. ‘You hate country music? That seems odd.’ He presses his shoulder into the wall next to Alex. Much closer than they’d been on the couch, but he’s no longer paying attention.

Alex nods, staring blankly at the white wall across from him. ‘I’m a purple-heart, three-tour vet with one leg. Branding matters in this business and my branding was readymade. But I’m hoping to retire from Nashville after his record and one final tour.’ He eyes nervously dart to Michael’s. ‘Please don’t tell anyone I said that. I should not have told you that.’

‘I won’t. I promise.’ They finally really look at each other for the first time. Alex’s breath dances lightly across Michael’s cheek, smelling of peppermint and the herbal scent of tea. He wonders if Alex can see all the things he’s hiding as well.

The two suits from earlier round the corner, interrupting their too-long stare to hand Alex a metal crutch. ‘You’re wanted onstage, Alex, for final sound check.’

‘Thanks, Frank.’ He laces his right hand through the crutch and turns back to Michael, sticking his left hand out. ‘It was nice meeting you, Mr. Guerin.’

They awkwardly shake left-handed. ‘Just Guerin. Everyone calls me Guerin. And I’m glad you’re not a total dick.’

Alex laughs. ‘Maybe I’ll watch a baseball game or two this week. See if you’re any good.’

‘How would you even know?’ Michael smirks at him.

‘I assume hitting the ball and running around the bases means you’re good. So I’ll look for that.’ With one final little wave, he turns and follows the suits towards the elevators.

Once they’re out of sight, Michael slides down the wall until he’s sitting on the floor. He runs their encounter back through his mind and grimaces at the way he’d run out of that room like the impulsive hothead he’s not and never has been. But even now he can feel himself growing hot with anger. The idea of Isobel smooth talking a music superstar - hell, a Nashville legend at this point - into literally overworking himself so that Michael can be singled out in front of all of his teammates is infuriating.

Then again, his teammates are ecstatic about the concert. And Isobel worries about him and his happiness like any normal sister would. The physical distance between them has been rough on the both of them, and Michael knows she’s only trying to keep them close. After everything that had happened between him and Max, he knows Isobel is worried that their relationship will prove to be just as tenuous. And this was her own excruciating way of telling him she loves him and misses him.

But Alex did not deserve to be stuck in the middle.

The cleaning crew pops out of the elevators and Michael’s phone vibrates. He knows the team must be looking for him, the concert starting soon. But part of him wants to get in his truck and drive home, putting the safety of those twenty miles between him and whatever happens next. He unlocks his phone and stares down at the text messages already piling up, including two from Isobel. Climbing to his feet, he sighs and ducks into the nearest stairwell. Firing off another text message to Isobel.

Me and you have a lot to discuss.

Since leaving is not an option, he glues a grin on his face and returns to the clubhouse in time to head out with the guys to the field. The stage has been quickly assembled, and Michael worries at the integrity of such a fast build. A large crowd has pushed up next to the stage and there’s a roped off section to the left side where members of the press are being housed. The team cuts right into their own marked section, far enough away from all the screaming fans that Michael feels himself start to relax. Until Danny punches him in the shoulder and points to a staircase behind the amps. ‘Me and you are heading up there.’

‘What?’ Michael eyes him suspiciously, seriously tired of the evening’s never ending surprises. ‘Why can’t we stay down here? Shouldn’t the captain be with his team, having a beer and hanging out? Wasn’t that half the point of this whole charade in the first place?’

‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Guerin.’ He hands Michael a pair of earplugs as several of his teammates give them enthusiastic thumbs up. ‘I get that you hate this shit, but do it for me. Because I love this shit.’ Danny girns at him and gestures towards the stairs. ‘Future MVPs first.’

They climb onto the platform and the stage manager motions them over. ‘Stand here and don’t cross this line during the show.’ She points to a crooked piece of orange tape haphazardly slapped down on the makeshift floor. ‘Wear your earplugs or you will have major regrets. Enjoy!’

‘So what was he like?’ Danny sits on an amp and stares up at him. ‘Hotter in person, right? It’s what Lena and Isobel always claim.’

Michael gives a small, noncommittal shrug. ‘Looked the same to me.’

‘Oh, come on, Michael.’ He shoves him playfully. ‘Lena will not let me in the house if I don’t have all the best gossip. Help me out here. Was he a total dick?’

‘No. He wasn’t a total dick. Hates baseball though. Especially mouthy pitchers.’ Michael darts his eyes down to Danny and decides to throw him a bone for Lena’s sake. ‘He’s got nice hands.’

Several people walk between them, plugging in various bits of machinery. There’s an entire team of people soundchecking Alex’s multiple guitars. ‘Nice hands, huh? There’s only one reason you noticed that.’

‘Stop.’ He’s not wrong, but Michael does not intend to admit any such thing. ‘He was playing a guitar when I walked in. Hard not to notice.’

Danny snorts. ‘You definitely wanted to be that guitar. I’ve known you eight years, Guerin. You only get this close-lipped when you’re trying really hard not to be into somebody. Remember Jess?’

‘I spoke to him for fifteen minutes. This isn’t a romance novel. And this isn’t Jess.’ He glares down at Danny. ‘He’s incredibly attractive and incredibly off-limits.’

‘Who’s incredibly attractive and incredibly off-limits?’ Michael’s heart drops at the sound of Alex’s voice. He spins on his heels and does his best to ignore Danny’s shit-eating grin. They lock eyes both knowing exactly who Michael meant.

‘Just a guy on another team.’ Danny comes to the rescue, standing up and holding out his hand. ‘I’m Guerin’s best friend, Danny Marks. It’s very nice to meet you. Guerin was just telling me how much you despise baseball.’

Alex drags his eyes away from Michael’s. ‘I thought we had settled on deep ambivalence, actually.’ He shakes Danny’s hand and returns his gaze to Michael. ‘I’m on in five minutes. Just wanted to stop by and make sure you’re okay here. Sit on anything you’d like. The equipment can handle it.’

‘That’s what she said.’ Danny laughs loudly at his own joke until a whop in the gut shuts him up.

‘Ignore him.’ Michael starts to say something else multiple times before lamely stuttering, ‘Thanks.’

‘No problem. It was good meeting you, Danny. Stick around after the show if you want. Maybe have dinner with me?’ He smiles back and forth between them. ‘The both of you, obviously.’ Someone onstage shouts out his name and the crowd goes wild. ‘That’s my cue.’

Danny elbows Michael in the side as they watch Alex sit on a stool center stage and greet his roaring fans as they push at each other to get as close to him as possible. ‘He’s so much fucking hotter in person. And wow at the chemistry between you two. Lena’s gonna be thrilled. Isobel too.’

But Michael hardly hears a word Danny says. Alex has started strumming the first chords of his favorite song, and he has to sit down before he falls down. It doesn’t matter how attractive Alex might be. It doesn’t matter how much chemistry the two of them might have. What matters right now is only Alex’s voice - his words - and what they have meant to Michael for so long.

While Alex sings about desert sunsets, the overhead lights fade away and Michael finds himself back in Roswell. Moon heavy overhead and a chilly wind sweeping down from the ice-capped mountains. He’s sitting on the hood of his truck and watching a jackrabbit hop through the scrub brush. The wind’s remnants ruffle his curls, bringing the smell of dust and dusky darkness. An old George Strait song plays on the radio and the taste of warm beer stains his tongue. God, he misses home.

Michael’s mind returns to Atlanta as Alex hits the chorus one last time. The past is lost and there’s no future in the dust. Staring at the sun and wondering what the hell it is I’ve done. I’m so ready to lay down this godforsaken gun. Send me home, send me home, send me home.

‘Where’d you go just now?’ Danny yells over the screaming mob as Alex slides off his stool to grab a different guitar.

‘Home.’ Michael smiles at him and kicks at his shoe. ‘He’s more than just a pretty face, you know. His music...I don’t know, man. It speaks to me like nothing else. Keeps me grounded when all I want to do is drift away. Give it all up and go back to hustling for minimum wage. Put the grease back under my fingernails.’

‘And leave all this glamor behind? You would never.’ The look on Danny’s face turns serious. ‘You know Lena and I are always here for you, right? And you’re welcome at our house any time of the day and all hours of the night.’ The grin returns but Michael knows Danny means every word. ‘I’ll even flood the basement with sand if you want. Paint a giant setting sun on the wall. Some mountains. Let you change my oil and overcharge me.’

Michael shakes his head. ‘I don’t know why I still feel like this. It’s been twelve years. And god, I fucking hated Roswell.’

‘Home is home. Born to the desert and to the desert I’ll return. I get it.’ Alex begins a song from the new album and they both fall quiet to listen. This time Michael stays put in the here and now, absolutely mesmerized.

He plays two more songs. Stopping between each one to tell a story or explain his lyrics, trying to create a connection with his audience beyond just his music. His set is only five songs long and the fourth song comes to an end far too soon. Again, Alex slips off his stool, but this time he turns back to Michael.

Bending down to whisper in his ear, Alex’s hand lands on Michael’s knee for balance. ‘Pick the last song. Anything.’ He leans back to look Michael in the eye, eyebrow raised and waiting. ‘And pick a guitar too. Any one you want.’

Michael is certain Alex is flirting with him. Certain that hidden somewhere in his words is pick me, pick me, pick me. Or maybe that’s just hope whispering nonsense in his ear. ‘Night Eyes. And the black guitar with the red inlay. The one you were playing inside earlier.’

Alex grins at him, mouth close enough that Michael can feel his hot breath brush across his own lips. ‘Dinner, yes?’

‘Dinner, yes.’ Michael manages a little nod and Alex pushes off his knee, turning back to grab Michael’s black guitar. He starts strumming the opening notes of Night Eyes before he’s even at the microphone.

MIchael refuses to look at Danny, but he can feel his eyes trying to bore a hole in the side of his head. ‘I’m warning you, Marks.’

‘Do you hear that?’ Danny cups his hand around his ear. ‘I think that’s Lena calling me. I think she needs me to come home immediately. It’s too bad because now you’ll be left all alone with country superstar Alex Manes. Truly horrible.’ He stands up to leave and Michael grabs at the hem of his jacket.

‘Sit down. Don’t even joke about leaving.’

Danny chuckles in delight and yanks Michael’s hand free. ‘It’s no joke. You two don’t need a third wheel. And I saw what I saw. You don’t want a third wheel, Guerin. Live a little. You used to be so good at that.’

Michael stands up with him and pleads with his eyes. ‘I can’t. You know I can’t.’

‘I know no such thing. Is this because he’s a guy?’ Danny sighs. ‘Listen to me. I love this game; this game is my blood, sweat, and tears. I know it’s the same for you. But baseball is also a homophobic, biphobic bigoted sport that deserves to be burnt to the ground and rebuilt.’ Michael nods and clenches his jaw, searching for something to say. But Danny’s not done. ‘And I know it’s not your job to do that. It’s my job and all the other straight men in this business who aren’t the fucking worst. Maybe it’s time we got started on that.’

He squeezes Danny’s shoulder. ‘I appreciate that, Danny. I do. More than you can ever know. But it’s not just the sport. It’s me.’ He shrugs and listens to Alex strum through the last few chords. Takes a shaky breath and admits, ‘I’m scared.’

‘Because of Becks.’ Michael’s eyes drop to the floor and Danny’s lips thin. ‘Fuck that asshole. Alex isn’t Becks. He doesn’t need to ride your coattails to success. He’s far richer than you, has more name recognition, and is much better looking.’ He grins and Michael snorts. ‘I hate to think you’d miss out on something - on someone - who might potentially change your life because one piece of shit broke your heart a decade ago. Time to start taking risks again, Michael.’

Michael knows he’s right. Maybe dinner with Alex will amount to nothing more than conversation and a signed guitar. But he can still feel the warm weight of Alex’s hand on his knee. ‘Okay. If this all goes really badly, I get to call you at ass o’clock tonight and yell at you.’

‘Absolutely. And you can sit by me on the plane tomorrow and continue yelling at me all the way to Philly.’ Danny pulls him into a tight hug and then disappears from the stage. Alex’s set is finished, and the crowd is madly stomping, clapping, and shouting for an encore.

Alex turns back to him and mouths just one more. Michael nods and sits back down on the amp to listen - to really listen. He doesn’t know if or when he’ll get the chance again. He doesn’t know much of anything, and for the first time in a long time, that feels exciting, stirring something inside of him that’s been asleep for far too long.

The song ends and Alex says his final goodbyes, bowing and waving to the crowd. Blowing kisses and doing his best to hide his very obvious limp. He walks to Michael and grabs his hand. ‘We’ve got a reserved box suite upstairs if you’re still interested.’ He doesn’t bother waiting for Michael’s response, just drags him off the stage where they are immediately surrounded by several large men in suits with earpieces tucked behind their ears. They wind up in another secret elevator Michael’s never known about before being whisked into a quiet, empty corporate suite.

Alex collapses on a plush leather sofa. ‘God, I’m exhausted.’ He shrugs out of his coat and the button-up underneath, revealing a tight, black Cranberries t-shirt. There are holes along the collar and interspersed throughout his torso. Michael swallows nervously and tries not to stare. ‘Please sit. Where’d your friend go?’

‘Wife emergency that I’m pretty sure wasn’t all that urgent.’ He crooks a smile at Alex and sits down at the conference table in the middle of the room. ‘Are you sure I’m not bothering you? I mean, who would you normally be having dinner with?’

He leans his head back on the sofa and shuts his eyes. ‘Normally, I’d be stuffed into a black Escalade next to my manager, eating takeout on my lap. I find this far preferable. I’ll be able to pass out on the way home and ignore all of Cam’s admonishments for ditching her.’

‘You’re driving back to Nashville tonight? Why not just get a hotel room?’ A knock at the door startles Alex and he calls for them to enter. Several food service employees set up a full catering array of hot food on the table in front of Michael.

‘I’ve got practice tomorrow morning and several interviews lined up. New release month is always chaotic.’ He pushes up off the sofa, grimacing. Michael rushes to help, but Alex only waves him off, sitting heavily on the chair next to him. ‘I don’t like to complain though. I get paid a filthy amount of money. I can put up with being tired.’

Another knock at the door reveals Frank from earlier. He’s brought Alex two crutches this time. ‘Thank you.’ Frank nods and then darts his eyes quickly at Michael before closing the door behind him.

‘I don’t think he likes me much.’ Michael laughs softly and starts uncovering the silver catering trays.

‘Frank takes a while to warm up. He’s protective. I served with his son.’ Michael fixes both their plates despite Alex’s grumbles that he’s okay. The food is piping hot and cooked to perfection. Lasagna with a smattering of side dishes that don’t necessarily make sense to Michael - like creamed corn and what he thinks is a pistachio salad - but good food is good food so he just goes with it. Alex picks up his fork and takes a thoughtful bite of the lasagna. ‘I held him in my arms while he died. And then waited to die myself.’

Alex doesn’t miss a beat, keeps eating like he’s said nothing at all. Michael blinks at him, opening and closing his mouth in speechlessness. ‘I’m sorry.’ He stumbles over the words, hearing out inept they must sound to Alex.

‘Nothing for you to be sorry about.’ They eat the rest of their meal in awkward silence.

Every few bites, Michael risks a glance at Alex. Watching him meticulously chew his food like he’s counting each bite. The way his jaw works, chiseled cheekbone casting shadows over his perfectly sunken cheek makes it hard for Michael to swallow. He’s beautiful - sharp edges and soft middles. But something in the way he holds his shoulders breaks Michael’s heart. It’s almost like he’s still at war - guard up and laser focused on the task directly in front of him.

The new distance between them is weird especially in light of that hand placed on his knee. It’s like something fades in and out inside of Alex. Pulses and flares, cools and ices over. He doesn’t know which is the truth, but he wants to know more than he’s ever wanted to know anything.

But something in his gut warns him that Alex doesn’t feel the same, regardless of the dinner invite. He drops his fork onto his empty plate and slides back from the table. ‘I should go. It’s getting late. Early flight to Philly tomorrow.’ It’s not like they’re talking, anyway.

Alex jumps as if yanked from a dream, eyes landing on MIchael’s and immediately softening. ‘Please don’t go. You barely ate. They’re bringing your guitar up. Please don’t go.’ He rubs his hands on thighs like he’s nervous. ‘I just...drift sometimes - get lost. When I think about Trevor and about that day.’

‘That’s when you lost your leg?’

‘Yeah. IED in Iraq. My unit went from eight men to three all in the blink of an eye. Do you mind?’ He motions to his right leg. ‘I want to take the prosthetic off, but some people get weird about it.’

‘I don’t mind at all.’ Alex smiles at him and toes off his right shoe before bending down and removing his prosthesis. ‘Can I hold it?’

‘Sure.’ Michael takes the prosthetic and spends several minutes marveling at the delicate engineering. ‘Oh, wow. Your lyrics are engraved on the rod.’

‘Name the song.’

It’s just two lines etched into the black aluminum surface of the pylon. I took the road most traveled and came home unraveled. But I put me back together again. Michael racks his brain for the answer but comes up empty. ‘Trick question. It’s not from any song you’ve released.’

Alex beams. ‘It’s from a song I wrote when I was seventeen. Almost spooky how prophetic it turned out.’ He settles back in his chair, finally regaining some of his swagger from earlier. ‘Tell me something about you.’

His first thought is to open his mouth and let the words I’m an alien tumble from between his lips. He swallows, tucking that truth away, and says what he always says when asked about himself. ‘I’m a genius.’ Which he follows with a cocky smirk, summoning all the cowboy bravado he can muster. ‘When I was a kid, I wanted to be a genius engineer. Not a baseball player.’

Tilting his head, Alex looks at him in bemusement. ‘What changed?’

‘Scouts started paying me a lot of attention. There were rumors I’d go first round in the draft. Isobel kept pushing and pushing. But honestly? It was the money. I grew up in the system. I started living in my Chevy when I was just sixteen. The money was too much to pass up.’

Those days at the end of high school had been like something out of a dream. Major league scouts at all of his games, whispering the prettiest futures in his ear. Max had cautioned him to take his time making any life-changing decisions, but Michael had read his advice as jealousy. And Isobel pushed so hard it seemed like she was desperate to be rid of him. So the decision had been simple in the end.

‘Makes sense. Do you ever regret not taking another road?’

Michael opts for the truth. ‘Yes. More and more often these days, I wish I’d gone to college.’

‘Me too.’ They lock eyes and for the first time Michael realizes their knees are pressed together. Alex must realize too because he jerks his knee away and turns back to the table. His shoulders hunch in on themselves and Michael can already see him shutting down again. He pulls out his phone and scrolls through his apps, opening up his text messages. ‘Frank will be here with the guitar soon. Would you like it signed?’

Pulses and flares, cools and ices over.

‘How about another secret lyric? From the wayward youth of country superstar, Alex Manes.’ It’s a bit of a taunt, a bit of a push.

He cuts his eyes back to Michael, but before he can respond, Frank interrupts them. The guitar is tucked safely inside a shiny, new black guitar case. Alex thanks him and asks for a white sharpie. Pulling out the guitar, his gaze lands on Michael’s one last time before he turns his attention to signing the glossy black six-string.

Alex doesn’t let Michael sneak a peek before shutting the lid again and sliding the case over to him. ‘It was nice meeting you, Michael Guerin.’ He holds out his hand and Michael shakes it, eyes professionally blank and already half a world away. ‘Best of luck with the whole baseball thing.’

Michael grabs the case’s handle, feeling like he’s lost a game he didn’t know he was playing. ‘You’re really very good at this. Charming, warm, welcoming. I imagine schmoozing faceless strangers gets easy with so much practice - like hitting fastballs. They all start to look the same after awhile.’

When the door shuts behind him, Frank gives him one last warning look and Michael huffs out a snarky laugh. ‘Don’t worry, Frank. I left him in one piece.’

It’s not that he wants to be rude. The opposite really. He wants to go back inside that suddenly soulless room and breathe a little life into it. Biting his tongue, he shakes his head and walks towards the elevator.

Just as the doors open, Alex calls his name. The deja vu makes him dizzy.

‘I don’t ever do this.’ He sounds out of breath as he moves surprisingly quick on his crutches. ‘Meet fans - or anyone - like this.’ He stops a few feet away from Michael. ‘Kids, sometimes.’ His eyes are almost spastically darting around, avoiding Michael at all cost. ‘It’s just...the way Isobel spoke about you? It was like I already knew you. Which sounds silly, I guess.’ He chokes out a strained laugh. ‘I mean, we’re both sort of from Roswell and both sort of not.’

Alex has no clue how true that is for Michael.

‘I’m not sure what you want me to say. It’s fine, Alex. I’m fine. I didn’t ask for this. Isobel did. And you’re just very hard to read.’ The elevator dings open and Michael takes a couple of steps to hold the doors.

Alex licks his lips, eyes focused just over Michael’s shoulder. ‘Isobel has my number. So what I want you to say is that you’ll call me.’ His eyes finally slide to meet Michael’s. ‘Even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t earned that.’

The ghost of Alex’s hand on his knee returns. But now it’s accompanied by the heat of his gaze. Minutes that feel like hours pass as they stand locked together in the empty, quiet hallway. It’s Michael’s turn to speak but every time he tries to formulate a response, his heart leaps into his throat and swallows his words. So he nods, earning him a half-smile.

‘Do you play?’ Alex points to the guitar and Michael nods again. ‘Call me and we’ll find a time to play together.’

‘I would like that.’ They both grin at each other before Michael steps backwards into the elevator and removes his hand from the door, allowing Alex to vanish from sight.

Once he’s in his truck, he clicks on the overhead light and opens the guitar case, desperately needing to know what song lyrics Alex had chosen. The inscription he reads sucks all the oxygen from the truck and sets all his nerve endings on fire.

I never knew you, but you smiled so good. You’ll never know me, but I wish you could. - Alex

Chapter Text

Later that night, Michael waits for Isobel to call him. He grabs a beer and heads outside to sit by his pool, the autumn air already too crisp for swimming. The moon rises overhead and the cicadas chirp nonstop, mosquitoes fly by but ignore him entirely. It’s one of the best perks of his alien blood especially now that he lives in Georgia - the bugs hate him.

There’s a lot to ponder and replay in his mind as he stares into the choppy water, cool blue lights casting an eerie glow just beneath the pool’s surface. He starts with the game - mechanically working through all of his at-bats. The wrist issue seems to have sorted itself out for now. He hadn’t struck out once - a walk, a single, and sac-fly filling his scorecard. Two RBIs and no dings to his batting average. He’ll have to keep working at the new grip, of course. But he’s satisfied with his progress thus far.

His mind travels to Danny. To Danny and Lena and what they mean to him. How much he owes them. And how much that idea would piss Danny off. Michael knows it’s so much more than he could ever repay. They’d first met when Danny had been traded to Atlanta after his rookie year. The Padres needed bigger bats, not disappointing college-level pitchers. He’d lacked so much self-esteem and had absolutely no belief in his abilities. Michael had been furious that a struggling club like the Padres had the audacity to make a kid with as much potential as Danny Marks feel so bad about himself.

All of Danny’s problems had been mental. Michael had helped him work through some of his psychological blocks using many of Isobel’s tried and true techniques to keep her own brain quiet. To calm and soothe and hold herself still, when what her brain really craved was to crawl inside the most chaotic brainspace nearby. With a little encouragement, Danny had quickly found his stride again and a wicked inside slider/fastball combo that was capable of jamming up so many extremely talented right-handed hitters. Michael included.

They’ve been best friends ever since. And Danny has always been the one to see straight through his bullshit. Straight through to the crux of who Michael is and who he wants to be. Even if he doesn’t know the truth of Michael’s past or where he came from. He supposes Danny is the brother he wishes Max could have been. Maybe that’s unfair, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Danny’s also the only person he’s ever talked to about Becks in any great detail. And that includes Isobel.

Morgan Becks. Simply thinking the name sets Michael on edge. An edge that threatens to soften the longer Michael gets lost in his memories. The ones where Becks was the shaggy-haired, blue-eyed boy with a smile that could win its way into your heart before you’d even blinked your eyes. Not the memories where he was an opportunistic con man looking for a quick five minutes in the spotlight.

Becks had been a catcher drafted out of the University of Florida. He and Michael had both reported to rookie ball mid-June 2008 the summer after they’d been drafted. Initially, they’d bonded over their disadvantaged childhoods. Becks had been shuffled from family member to family member while his mom struggled with addiction. It was a background Michael could relate to and both boys had at various points found themselves homeless, sleeping inside the cold cabs of their trucks.

And while the other guys struggled to make ends meet on their meager minor league salaries, both he and Becks had found side-gigs to supplement their income and knew a million different tricks to make their money go further and last longer. Neither one ever even touched their signing bonuses that whole, entire summer.

Falling for him had been the easiest thing in the world.

Michael’s phone finally rings, and as soon as he answers, Isobel takes off on a speech he knows she’s been preparing all day. Maybe even for weeks.

‘We wanted to do something nice for you, Michael. And by we, I mean myself and your entire support system in Atlanta, including every single one of your teammates who have all noticed how much you’ve pulled away recently.’ He hears her take a deep breath. ‘I probably should have asked permission or given you a heads up. But you would have just said no and martyred yourself even further into isolation. I’m worried about you. Lena and Danny are worried about you. And Alex didn’t seem to mind at all. Kate and Jenna would have told me if he did.’

She falls silent, but Michael can still hear her mind whirling. Whatever anger he’d tried to hold onto drains away, his jaw unclenching with a sigh. ‘Do you still have Alex’s number?’

‘What?’ He takes a long sip of his beer, enjoying the shock in her voice.

‘Do you have his number?’

Several long beats and then Isobel starts to laugh. ‘I knew it!’ And just like that, the power has shifted back in her favor. He can picture the smug look on her face and the obnoxious, congratulatory fist pump

‘Knew what?’ He plays coy, but he can’t keep his own grin at bay. Luckily, they aren’t facetiming. ‘Are you about to admit you’re guilty of your usual highly predictable, meddlesome matchmaking? Even after pinky swearing you’d stop?’

‘I’ll admit my intentions if you admit that this time it worked. And then you’ll get his number.’ She’s way too gleeful and Michael groans.

‘Are you literally holding his number hostage right now?’ Setting down his empty beer, he prepares to give her some version of the truth. Isobel doesn’t respond and he knows she won’t until he says what she wants to hear out loud. ‘Fine. The truth is -’

The truth is what? The truth is Alex is incredibly attractive. The truth is Michael hasn’t felt pulled to someone so strongly in a long time. The truth is neither of them knows each other at all. The truth is he cannot date Alex. The truth is he wants to.

‘The truth is I would like to get to know him better. As friends for now.’ It’s the best he’s willing to give her or himself after knowing Alex for less than a day.

‘It was his idea, you know. The concert tonight? I just didn’t discourage him.’ He believes her. Alex had all but admitted that when they’d said goodbye at the elevator. ‘The way he talked, Michael. There was just so much of you in the things he said. Please don’t be mad.’

Michael sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘I was mad. You know how much I hate handouts and special treatment of any kind. I’m one of twenty-six guys on this team and I’m no better than any of them.’ He leans forward on the pool lounge chair. ‘I can’t pitch. I’m a terrible catcher. And the idea of playing in the outfield makes me shudder. It takes all of us, Iz. And you know that.’

‘They just miss you. The old you, the happy you. They want their team captain back. And I want to hear the smile in your voice again.’ They sit listening to each other breathe for a while before she continues. ‘I’m going to text you Alex’s number. Call him. Tell him something honest about yourself and then go get some sleep. I love you, Michael.’

‘I love you too. Even when you’re a pain in my ass.’ The last thing he hears is her laughter before he ends the call. Her text comes through less than a minute later and he saves Alex’s number in his contacts.

Michael does the math and Alex should be back in Nashville by now. It’s just after midnight, a decidedly risky time to call the boy you might like. Potentially. In some nebulous future that’s hard to imagine. The outline of that future might be hazy, but the colors shade through just enough for Michael to press send. He blames his brazenness on the beer.

The phone rings three times before Alex - or someone - answers. There’s no hello, only muffled background noise and maybe the scratch of fabric across the phone’s receiver. Michael says Alex’s name multiple times getting no response. He’s about to hang up when he finally hears Alex’s voice, muffled and from a distance. ‘Hello? Sorry. Phone fell between the couch cushions. Cam?’

‘Uh, no. It’s Michael Guerin. Remember me?’ It’s a terrible, terrible non-joke and he inwardly groans.

Alex takes too long to respond and Michael feels compelled to fill the silence. ‘It’s late, I know. I should be in bed because I’ve got a car coming at six to take me to the airport. I got your number from Isobel.’ He hears himself babbling and shuts up.

‘It’s not too late. I’m glad you called. The kind of surprise I don’t hate.’

Michael can hear music playing in the background. ‘Is that Black Lab?’

‘You know Black Lab?’ He sounds utterly mystified.

‘I know things.’ He chuckles. ‘A girl from high school used to like that song - Sleeps With Angels.’

Alex snorts. ‘You mean a girl from high school liked to fuck to that song.’

Michael feels his cheeks flush with heat. He honestly can’t remember the last time he blushed. ‘Okay. You’re not wrong. But in my defense, at least she had good taste in music even if her taste in guys sucked.’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t say her taste in guys sucked.’

Michael can’t keep himself from smiling so hard his face hurts, even if he’s taken aback by Alex’s boldness. ‘You’re a shameless flirt. And you’re...I don’t know...easier on the phone. I hope that doesn’t sound too shitty. I don’t mean it to be.’

He laughs and Michael tries to memorize the sound in his head to play back later. ‘Sorry. I never flirt. I don’t even know how to flirt most of the time. But you’re right, I’m better over the phone. Which seems weird probably.’

‘No. I get it. Maybe the physical distance gives you the space to be less emotionally distant. Or whatever. I’m not a therapist and that probably made no sense.’ He bites his lip to keep himself from saying something even more inane. Trying to psychoanalyze someone he’s just met might be the dumbest thing he’s ever attempted to do. Inwardly, he blames Isobel for filling his head with all the woo woo stuff she reads in books.

‘It does make sense. And sounds much better than I’m a hopeless, broken shell of a man.’ He laughs nervously and Michael wants to say something, but Alex stumbles on instead. ‘Um, I don’t even know if you’re into guys. I thought that I got a vibe from some of the things you said, but I never asked. And now you’re calling, so I assumed. Sorry.’

‘No more sorrys.’ Michael weighs his next words carefully, mad at himself for not figuring out what to say ahead of time. ‘There was a vibe. Probably because I was staring at you like I wanted to take a bite. I do that sometimes. What was it Rolling Stone called you? A bad boy with the kind of face that smolders even when you’re smiling? Or the line about the curve of your cheekbones trailing treacherously to your bruise-bitten lips? Am I remembering that correctly?’

In the heavy silence that follows, Michael is sure he can hear Alex blush. ‘Look, I’m bisexual. And I’ll be honest and admit that I find you very attractive - almost too attractive. Add in your music and your voice and I get a little dizzy.’ He closes his eyes and imagines what it would be like to date Alex. To have him at games. To be at his shows and his events. It makes his heart ache knowing what he’s got to say next. ‘I would love to keep flirting with you, but I can’t date you. Baseball is not very progressive. I got outed a long time ago and learned that the hard way.’

He can hear Alex breathing on the other end of the line, but it takes him half a lifetime to respond, the tone of his voice dulled significantly. ‘It wouldn’t have worked anyway. We live in different cities and have crazy lives. We both travel for a living and have so many conflicting things vying for our attention. It was a nice idea though.’

‘So you don’t date?’ Michael tries to ignore the tiny voice in the back of his mind screaming that meeting Alex is the first time in years something in his chest has stirred. It feels like he’s finally figured out the exact equation he needs to power the alien tech console, but every time he tries to write it down the text blurs and rewrites itself into a language he doesn’t recognize, forcing him to abandon the project altogether. Even though this equation is what he’s been waiting for his entire Earthbound life.

‘I do in theory.’ Alex sighs, humming prettily in the back of his throat. ‘I spent a lot of time hiding who I was too. In the Air Force with DADT and even after that, I never really felt comfortable being out inside the military. Then I got honorably discharged and thought I was finally free. But I wasn’t. It took my dad dying to shake me loose. So I'm not hiding anymore, but I guess maybe I just haven’t felt ready to fully embrace that freedom yet. Or met the right person. Or something. The fame adds another complicated layer.’

‘Well, we make quite a pair, don’t we?’ They both laugh, somehow awkward and comfortable all at the same time. ‘If dating’s off the table, I would still like to try and be friends. If you want to, no obligations.’

‘I would like that. I don’t have many non-industry friends which sucks, to be honest. And I’ll be back in Atlanta each Friday night for the next two weeks to play the aftershow. It was good practice so I thought I’d keep it up.’

Michael pulls up the calendar on his phone. ‘We’re in San Francisco next Friday, but then home again the last Friday of the season. So I guess I’ll see you in two weeks.’

‘I’ll look forward to it.’ Michael allows himself to believe he can hear the smile in Alex’s voice. ‘Can I call you in the meantime? Is there a good time of day?’

‘Mornings. Early. My alarm goes off around 6 am no matter the timezone. Otherwise I’d never get out of bed. I hope you don’t mind listening to me eat breakfast.’ He lets his own smile seep into his words and hopes Alex can hear.

‘Breakfast, huh? Every time I see a piece of bacon, I’ll think of you.’ Alex laughs, rustling around briefly before speaking again. ‘I should let you go. You need to sleep.’

‘Yeah. You do too. I’ll see you in two weeks. And talk to you sooner, hopefully.’ They both say goodnight and hang up. Before heading back inside to crawl into bed, Michael looks up at the stars and whispers thank you.

The house is quiet. The moonlight swallowed by his blackout shades. He stops at the record player in his living room and slides Alex’s new album down the center spindle, lining up the needle perfectly even in the heavy darkness. A small, satisfying scratch fills the silence and then Alex’s voice soothes the scratch back to sleep.

The sound system throughout the whole house comes alive. Michael adjusts the volume to what he’s labelled ‘night quiet’ and heads towards his room.

Once he’s in bed, he looks over at the pillow next to him. It’s still empty, of course. But now when Michael imagines someone’s temple denting the pillow’s smooth, untouched surface, he imagines Alex. The way his hair might fall messily across the pillowcase. The clean, shampoo smell of him that Michael wishes he remembered more specifically. The press of his hip into the mattress and the way he might laugh as Michael danced kisses lightly along his warm, naked shoulder.

It’s a pretty dream.

Michael flips onto his back and stares at his ceiling fan lazily spinning in the same circle over and over again. His eyes flutter shut and he falls asleep with the ease of someone who wants to believe there’s something beautiful waiting for him on the other side of sunrise.

----

On the plane the next day, Danny slides into the seat next to him. ‘Every detail or Lena will divorce me.’

Michael rolls his eyes and keeps flipping through the latest issue of Mechanical Engineering. ‘Lena doesn’t need you to supply her gossip. She called me as soon as you left the house.’

Danny’s perpetual smile thins. ‘Traitors. The both of you.’ He shakes his head and slides his backpack underneath his seat. ‘Tell me everything you told her but better.’

‘Better?’ Michael finishes his article on digital engineering and raises an eyebrow at Danny.

‘Yes, better. Like you love me more. It’s what I deserve after the bitter betrayal. So flail your arms and wiggle your eyebrows and tell me all the details you didn’t tell Lena. The guy stuff.’ He jabs Michael with his elbow and winks.

‘We didn’t fuck, Marks. If that’s what you’re asking.’ He fastens his seatbelt as the flight attendants lead them through the safety procedures.

‘No. I know better than that. But you gotta give me something.’ The plane begins its slow taxi to the runway and half the team is already asleep in the seats around them.

Michael slides his phone out of his pocket and pulls his contacts up on the display. He scrolls down to Alex’s name and passes the phone to Danny. It takes a moment but finally the realization crosses his face. Grinning at Michael, he shifts away and brings up Michael’s call log. ‘Twenty minute conversation after midnight. Fascinating. God, you’re already smitten. It’s been less than 24 hours.’

‘I am not smitten.’ Michael leans across Danny’s lap and steals his phone back.

Danny snorts. ‘Bullshit.’

‘We don’t know each other and our schedules are impossible. Hell, even being friends is going to end up hard.’ Phone safely back in his pocket, Michael grabs a different magazine and tries to ignore the incredulous look on Danny’s face. The plane takes off and Danny’s gaze never wavers. ‘Fine! I like him.’ He whisper-shouts and darts his eyes around to make sure nobody hears.

Danny huffs out a smug little laugh, but the smile that crosses his face is genuine. ‘You’ll find a way to make it work. Lena and I did.’

Michael shakes his head. ‘Lena moved to Atlanta three months after you started dating. She’s a realtor who can work anywhere. Of course you made it work. It’s not the same.’ He tilts his head back, flattening his curls against the seat’s headrest and lowering his voice to barely a whisper. ‘Your pretty, blond wife is what everyone expects. The last thing baseball wants is an MVP with a boyfriend. Even if he’s just as pretty as Lena. I’d be crucified, Danny. Alex too.’

There’s no denying the truth and so Danny doesn’t bother trying. ‘You’re right. And like I’ve said before, it’s not your job to fix this godforsaken sport.’

The glare from the sun burns at Michael’s neck. He slams the shade shut, startling Carlos Reyes sitting in front of him. He mutters a quick apology and feels the weight of Danny’s shoulder press into his own. ‘I don’t think there’s any fixing baseball. I think the best I can hope for during my career is to keep my head down and be thankful what happened with Becks didn’t ruin me.’

‘Well that blows. Have you ever talked to Sera about this?’

‘I tried once. She shut me down real quick.’ The conversation with his agent had happened two years ago after he’d broken the single-season home run record. He’d naively thought maybe that would be enough for people not to care who he fucked. Isobel had warned him how unlikely that was and then Sera had closed the door forever, warning him against openly dating men even in retirement if he had Hall of Fame hopes. He’d thought about firing her, but the truth was there wasn’t another agent in the business who would have told him any different.

‘I hate it here sometimes, man.’ Danny reclines his seat back despite Eddie Blazer’s swift, annoyed kick. ‘I love these guys like they’re my own blood. But I also know that some of them are bigger fucking bigots than the goddamn man we’re forced to call President. That messes me up, keeps me awake at night.’ Eddie kicks his seat again and Danny flicks him off playfully. ‘And I want to change things, but I’m not sure how much any of those white men in the front office are going to listen to a dark-skinned Dominican. No matter how good my English or how blond my wife.’

‘They won’t listen. To either one of us. I fuck men and you’re not white. The end.’ Michael grabs his earbuds out of his backpack and turns to Danny one last time before plugging his ears and trying to sleep. ‘Maybe Alex won’t be worth it, anyway. Maybe it’ll all wind up a moot point.’

Danny makes an indecipherable noise clearly indicating how little faith he has in that idea. Michael doesn’t believe it either or maybe he just doesn’t want to believe it. ‘Maybe we should get Jerry to take a stand. There’s no straighter, whiter dude in baseball.’

They both glance towards the back of Jerry’s balding head a few rows up. Michael frowns. ‘Jerry would cry as soon as someone looked at him the wrong way. Jerry’s got a big heart and he’s a hell of a reliever, but he’s not the guy you stick in the vanguard.’

‘Those pretty LA white boys should be the ones to risk their careers. Cody and Corey and that group. Let the Dodgers with their enormous payroll take one for the team. I might call Mookie and plant the seed. The seed of justice.’ His voice deepens and he raises a fist in defiance.

‘Mookie’s going to hang up on you.’ Danny nods as Michael rolls his eyes. ‘It’s going to be me, Danny. One way or another. I know it in my gut.’ They spend the rest of the flight in silence.

When they land in Philadelphia, Michael thinks about texting Alex but decides it’s too soon to text every time he doesn’t die in a fiery crash. He smiles when Danny texts Lena. ‘Are you already gloating that you got better information out of me than she did?’

Danny grins in response. ‘You know we love you, right? And this extremely immature behavior is born out of that love?’

‘Whatever you say, Marks. Team dinner’s at 7?’

‘Oh, don’t tell me you’re already fucking off. We haven’t even checked in yet.’ Danny grabs Michael’s elbow. ‘Where are you going?’

‘Nowhere important.’ Danny tilts his head, frustrated. ‘I’ll tell you later. Normally, I’m much smoother about disappearing.’ He smirks at Danny and claps him on the shoulder. ‘It’s no big deal. Just a place I visit every time we’re here. I’ll be back for dinner.’

Before Danny lets him leave, he wraps his arms tight around his shoulders. ‘I love you, man. Always will.’ Michael doesn’t say anything, just squeezes him harder before turning to leave.

When he climbs out of the cab, Citizens Bank Park is closed. The Phillies are playing the rubber match of their series with the Mets in New York later tonight and then traveling back to Philadelphia afterwards. Michael circles around the ballpark to an unlabelled red door and knocks. A few minutes later the door opens and an elderly white-haired man grins at him. ‘Mr. Guerin. I’ve been expecting you.’

‘Hey, Lester. How are you? How’s Evette?’ They hug and Lester chuckles fondly. ‘We’re both good. Just got a clean bill of health at my annual physical other than a little high blood pressure. And Evette finally retired.’

‘Well, damn. Good for her. I’m surprised she hasn’t seduced you into retirement as well.’ Lester motions him inside the small, shadowed room and Michael follows, the familiar scent of Clorox and pine-scented cleaners instantly assaulting his senses.

‘Oh, you know she’s tried. But I love this place too much to let it go. Gives me too much purpose.’ He rifles through a filing cabinet and then pulls out a large set of keys. ‘Same ones as usual. Take your time. I’m here the rest of the afternoon.’

‘Thank you, Lester. And tell Evette I’d like to stop by tomorrow morning if she’ll have me. She’s got my number if she needs to cancel.’ He waves the ring of keys at Lester and turns to leave.

‘Will do, Mr. Guerin! She’s already got your favorite lemon pound cake baked and ready. See you in a few.’ Lester throws him one last wave before the door shuts with a bang.

Michael doesn’t need the keys, but he always gets them anyway, just to talk to Lester.

Unlocking gate after gate, Michael retraces the path he’s taken dozens of times. So many times, in fact, he’s surprised there’s not a rut worn into the concrete. It takes him a solid ten minutes to reach the bottom of the black staircase, but only a couple of minutes to jog to the top. The scoreboard looms large overhead as he sits on the sun-soaked brick wall underneath.

The sky is clear blue above and the grass a crisp green below. Michael’s sat in this exact spot so many times that he’s experienced every kind of weather looking out over the Phillies ball field. Summer rain, tornadic purple skies, that one rare snowy October afternoon. But it’s always the sunny days that hurt the most.

--------

November 2008

‘If they catch us, we’ll be kicked out of the league.’ Becks is halfway up the staircase and pretends not to hear him. Looking anxiously over his shoulder one more time, Michael sighs and follows.

It’s the week of Thanksgiving and neither of them has any business being inside Citizens Bank Park. They’ve been in town the past few weeks for an off-season conditioning camp. But when all the other guys had gone home for the holiday, they’d stayed behind having nowhere else to go.

‘Hurry up, Guerin. There’s no view on Earth quite like this one.’ Michael picks up the pace and decides to let go of his concern. It’s a holiday and they’ve not seen a single soul anywhere. Becks is sitting precariously on the brick wall, feet dangling over the edge. Michael slides next to him, pressing into his side. ‘I love it up here.’

‘You act like this isn’t the first time you’ve broken into the Phillies ballpark.’ The sun is shining high overhead, the only mar in the crystal blue sky the rapidly expanding plume of smoke from an airplane.

Becks looks at him with a devious grin twitching at the corners of his smile. ‘It’s not the first time. I come here a lot at night.’

‘What the fuck? Why didn’t you ever wake me up?’ Michael risks a hand on Becks’ knee. Pressure light enough for friendship but heavy enough to ask for more.

Becks’ gaze lowers to Michael’s hand. ‘Your future’s too big for my fuck-ups, Michael.’ It’s the first time he’s ever called him anything other than Guerin. He brings his hand up to cover Michael’s, eventually threading their fingers together.

Michael’s heartbeat speeds up, racing hard enough to rattle the backs of his teeth. ‘Your future’s the same as mine. You’re gonna be the best fucking catcher ever, Becks.’ But Becks won’t meet his eye, even when he twists his fingers in his t-shirt and tugs, burying his nose in Becks’ too-long dishwater blond hair. ‘Look at me.’

A harsh shake of his head is Becks’ only answer. But Michael refuses to give up. They’ve been dancing in this circle for months now. Hands on lower backs and fingers tracing lightly along forearms. Becks crawling into Michael’s bed and clinging to his back more nights than not. The one rushed, almost angry handjob in Becks’ Bronco during a violent Florida thunderstorm while everyone around them had splashed through puddles to escape the deluge. Michael’s fingers wrapped rough around Becks and his lips hovering over the corner of his mouth while Becks moaned low and needy. It’s the closest they’d ever gotten to kissing.

And now all Michael wants is to kiss Becks as they sit over this picture perfect day, wild and reckless. So he does, gathering his courage and starting at the soft spot between his ear and his jawbone. Just a hot press of his lips into Becks’ weather-warmed skin, a trace of salt on the tip of his tongue. The taste of a thousand tomorrows waiting for them.

Michael’s heart beats erratic when Becks inhales sharply but doesn’t pull away. He slides his free hand from Becks’ chest to his hip, holding on tight while he continues to trail wet kisses along Beck’s jaw. Michael bites at his chin and then drags lips, tongue, teeth up to his bottom lip, waiting for permission. Their fingers are still interlaced on Becks’ thigh, fingernails digging into the back of each other’s hands. A cool breeze rustles between them causing both to shiver. And then Becks’ free hand grabs at the back of Michael’s head and their teeth knock awkwardly before their tongues sweep together, moving in sync and pulling whimpers from the backs of their throats.

When they finally stop to catch their breath, Michael searches deep in Becks’ emotion-brightened blue eyes and realizes that he’s in love for the first time in his life.

Becks smiles at him, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

-----------

Placing his hand on the brick where Becks had once sat beside him years ago, he says a silent farewell to the boy he once loved and to the boy he once was.

Michael slowly slips onto the top stair and walks back down to the ground, shutting the gate behind him one last time, jaw clenched and shoulders resolute. The sun beats down on him and the smell of freshly mown grass ushers him back to Lester and the chance at a better life.

Chapter Text

He spends the rest of the afternoon walking around the city ignoring the half-dozen non-urgent texts he gets from Danny. Around 5 pm he grabs a cab to their team hotel and checks-in, bags already sent up to his room. Flopping onto the bed, he finally allows himself to do what he’s wanted to do since he first woke up. It takes him a while to decide what to text Alex, but eventually he settles on something simple, straightforward, and completely platonic.

Hey. Got to Philly. How was practice this morning?

Absolutely nothing but friendship can be read into that question, but he’s nervous anyway. Nervous and excited and a little woozy from too much sun and a lack of food. He in no way expects an instant response so he jumps when his phone rings.

But it’s only Isobel. And that thought makes him feel incredibly guilty so he answers despite really not wanting to. ‘Hey, Iz.’

‘You’re in San Fran starting Wednesday, right? I’m thinking about joining you.’ His frown shifts into a full-blown smile, already picturing her bright eyes walking into his hug.

‘Okay, yeah. We’ll be there Wednesday through the game Friday night.’ They haven’t seen one another since the All-Star weekend back in July. Michael hates going months without contact, and he knows Isobel does too. He briefly considers asking her to bring Max, but quickly talks himself out of the idea. It’s not like Max would agree to come anyway.

‘Excellent. I’ll meet you up nice and early on Wednesday morning for breakfast. You can tell me word-for-word all your conversations with Alex, and then I will help you do better.’ There’s a pompous, self-satisfaction in her words he definitely doesn’t care for.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

She clears her throat and manages to make it sound condescending. ‘Oh, nothing. I’ve just heard you flirt a time or two, and I think perhaps Alex deserves better.’

‘Full offense, Iz, but the last time I saw you flirt, you nearly got us both arrested.’ That wild night in Denver comes crashing back, and Michael snickers when he remembers how many showers she’d had to take to remove all the glitter she’d managed to glue on her body.

Isobel fakes a gasp. ‘You promised to never speak of that night again.’

‘I’ll see you Wednesday. I’ve got team dinner and still need to shower. Love you.’ She returns the sentiment with a tsk, and he hangs up.

Dinner goes well. The guys are all in the kind of cheerful, celebratory mood that suggests championships and postseason play. Michael’s growing chance at winning MVP gets tossed around more than once, and he does his best to sound as enthused as his teammates. He is excited - incredibly so, but every few minutes he finds himself looking down at his phone and hoping for a response from Alex. A response that never comes.

Two whole days go by and still no texts or calls. No indication that Alex remembers him at all. And it’s beginning to mess with his head. In their first two games against the Phillies he goes 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and his only RBI coming from a weakly hit sacrifice to shallow centerfield. Luckily, the team doesn’t require his bat to win both games. Monday night, when his head hits his pillow, he’s convinced that whatever he’d read into the situation between him and Alex was wrong. Somehow, very wrong.

Tuesday morning Michael wakes up exhausted, a twinge in his wrists sends him into a full blown spiral, stomach queasy and worry making it hard to breathe. He knows he’s been over rotating them in his swing all week, even though he’s been wearing wrist braces. Standing up, he runs through some routine stretches and quickly dresses, bags already packed since they won’t be returning to the hotel after tonight’s game. He doesn’t bother to check his phone as the door slams behind him.

Breakfast is an omelet with two pieces of toast and a bowl of fresh fruit. All things he loves, but he can barely eat. No matter how long he chews, everything tastes like sandpaper. He feels his phone tight in his pocket, pressed against his leg. It’s on silent for the first time in two days in a half-hearted attempt to not endlessly think about Alex’s blaring silence. The attempt is a colossal failure.

He’s run their last conversation through his mind so many times it’s starting to feel like a poem he’s learned to recite on command. And unlike when he had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution when he was eight, this time he’ll pass with flying colors and a gold star. Nothing in their back and forth would have suggested days of radio silence, but Michael’s misread things more than once in his life. Or maybe Alex has had second thoughts and come to his senses. Or maybe something’s wrong. He’s checked the news frequently, half-expecting to hear about some sort of freak accident, but the internet’s been silent too.

It’s unacceptable that the over-rotated swing he’d fixed is now unfixed. It’s unacceptable that his sleep cycle is broken and his appetite also affected. It’s unacceptable that he spent under 24 hours with this man and is already acting like some hormonal, lustsick teenager. That word keeps cycling through his thoughts like some new age mantra - unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable.

Michael sits in the back of the team bus as they make their way to the ballpark. Danny waves but slips into a seat next to Carlos. Probably because the look on his face is less than friendly. Danny knows how to read his moods better than most. The privacy allows him the opportunity to pull out his phone in peace so he’s happy to let Carlos borrow Danny. Unlocking the display, he finds two missed calls and three texts - all from Alex. He takes a deep breath, and it feels like his first taste of oxygen all week.

Sorry. Press and practice sort of ate me alive the past couple of days.

Call me back anytime today. I’m at home all day. Watching youtube videos of your best plays.

Sorry again.

He wants to call back immediately, but his teammates are all within easy eavesdropping distance so he settles on a quick text.

Way too many sorrys. I’ll call you once I get to the field and can sneak away for a bit. Give me about an hour.

There’s no way to stop the stupid grin from spreading across his face so he doesn’t bother trying. But then his brain starts to lecture him on all the ways his heart tends to lie to him. Shifting his gaze out of the window, he watches the city pass him by, hoping the scenery will prove a distraction. But his brain won’t be fooled and starts traitorously replaying the Becks highlight reel through his mind.

Fuck, he was so certain he’d said a final goodbye to all that bullshit. It sucks to know that even at thirty years old he can still be so ridiculously naive.

They aren’t dating - him and Alex. And they won’t be dating. Not now, maybe not ever. So Becks doesn’t apply to his current situation even if his brain says he does. Michael loved Becks. Michael does not love Alex. Not yet, maybe not ever. They will remain friends even if his heart says it wants more. Even if his heart promises it will be more.

Friends. He repeats the word until it no longer holds any meaning.

In the clubhouse, he dresses next to Danny and tries to talk to him about normal pre-game stuff like the weakness he feels in his wrist and Danny’s start against the Giants tomorrow. But he only half-hears the words Danny says, and so eventually he gives up and excuses himself with the lame explanation that he wants some fresh air. He can feel Danny’s concerned eyes on his back until he disappears out of the clubhouse.

It’s early, so the field is mostly empty. Only the Phillies bullpen shows any signs of life. The grounds crew is scattered about, probably measuring the grass or something as equally insane. He goes into the outfield and lies down flat on his back, sky open and exposed above him. Clouds dampen the sunlight and there’s a helicopter flying low overhead. There’s rain in the evening forecast, and the air is cooler than expected.

Before he allows himself to call Alex, Michael focuses his energy on the place in his belly where his power resides. Reaching into his pocket, he tugs out the small quarter-sized piece of alien tech he keeps with him during every game he’s played since he, Isobel, and Max had first found the pieces of the console when they were twelve. He flings the glowing, purple-pink tech into the air with a quick flick of his thumb, his TK taking over as the initial momentum begins to sputter out. Then he slides his hands behind his head, fingers threading together underneath his curls and elbows butterflying out past his ears, to watch the coin shimmer as it sails further into the atmosphere.

Once it’s out of sight, he shuts his eyes and holds onto it with his mind, pushing it as close to the sun as he can and letting it hang there, absorbing the heat. Miles and miles above the stadium. And then his mind tugs it back and the piece starts hurtling towards Earth, gravity sucking it out of the depths of space. Just before it threatens to burn a hole through his heart, he slams on the breaks, watching as it floats innocently over his chest. He lets it hover there, scanning his surroundings to make sure no one is close enough to see anything suspicious, and calls Alex.

The phone rings and rings. He hangs up, draws energy from the hovering coin, and tries again. The phone rings and rings before Alex picks up with a breathless hello.

‘You sound like you’ve run a marathon.’ His voice sounds like a song. The heat from the tech radiates throughout Michael’s whole body, and he wonders if it’d be the same for a human. Wonders if Alex would be able to feel its warmth too. Wonders if he pressed the hot tech to Alex’s bare chest, if Alex would be able to feel the way the coin is alive. The way the coin is alive and has a soul. A soul that isn’t Michael’s and soul that is Michael’s, all at the same time.

‘I was upstairs and didn’t want to miss your call. Moved as fast as my crutches would allow.’ Same as their last phone call, there’s music playing in the background, and Michael concentrates on guessing the song. ‘Aren’t you about to play?’

‘In a couple of hours. We’ve got a weird noontime game today. Doesn’t happen often on the east coast. Are you going to watch? Or is that asking too much of your deep ambivalence?’ The song grows louder and his ears lean into the words. He smiles when he realizes what’s playing. ‘Interstate Love Song.’

He laughs. ‘Yeah. I’ve got a random 90s playlist going on Spotify. And I very much intend to watch your game. It’ll be my first time seeing you play except for the two hours I spent the other night and earlier this morning watching youtube compilations of all your greatest moments. It was a long video so congrats on that.’

‘Really? Was it just every time I hit a home run?’ Michael has never once watched anything related to himself on youtube, and cringes at the notion any such videos exist in the first place.

‘Home runs and amazing plays at first base, sliding into some guy from the Dodgers, and the weird dance you do when you cross home plate. Which I found particularly delightful.’

‘Corey Seager, the guy from the Dodgers. I barrelled through him at second base. That was a good day. And the dance is a weird superstitious holdover from my rookie ball days.’ Everyone in the Gulf Coast Braves had done the same silly hip wiggle as they scored, but as far as he knows, Michael is the only one who’d kept up the tradition.

Alex makes an amused noise. ‘I like it. Those are some good hips, Guerin. Are you going to hit a home run today?’

‘Nope.’ He laughs and sits up, resting his elbows on his knees and letting the coin fall into the grass between his thighs. ‘My wrists are turning funny again, and I think I might have sprained something. But don’t tell anyone.’ He’d downed an entire bottle of acetone when he’d felt the twinge in his wrist shoot up his forearm earlier.

‘Shouldn’t you tell someone?’

Michael nods to no one. ‘Do you always let someone know when your leg is bothering you?’

‘I tell Frank. My stage manager, Dot. Sometimes Cam. But only if I’m working that day. And you’re working today. Please take care of yourself.’ He’s right, and Michael takes the soft admonishment to heart.

‘I’ll tell Stan, my batting coach. But if I get put on the IL, it’s all your fault.’ More and more of the guys are starting to make their way out onto the field. Michael stands, swipes up the piece of alien tech, and starts walking towards the visitor’s dugout. ‘I better go. Batting practice is starting.’

‘Okay. But what’s the IL?’

Michael smiles at how much Alex doesn’t know. ‘The injury list - used to be the disabled list. It’ll bench me for a while if that’s where I end up.’ Danny catches his eye and winks. Michael rolls his eyes and mouths fuck off. ‘I’m on the redeye to San Fran tonight. Three games there and then two games in San Diego.’

‘I know.’ Alex’s voice has quieted, sounding almost shy. ‘I may have printed out your schedule.’ He falls silent and Michael doesn’t know how to fill the void with anything other than a pounding heart. ‘That’s something a friend would do, right?’

Michael considers for a moment. ‘Well, Isobel hands out laminated copies of my schedule like they’re candy so I think you’re good.’ He doesn’t know what Alex wanted to hear and it’s certainly not what Michael wanted to say.

‘That’s good.’ His voice remains soft. ‘Well, I’ll let you go. Talk to Stan about your wrists before batting practice. Good luck today.’

‘Thanks.’ Something uneasy squeezes at Michael’s stomach. ‘Get some rest. I’ll talk to you later.’ Alex hangs up without saying anything else and the uneasy feeling in Michael’s stomach churns, burning up and into his chest. They had agreed to be friends. Both of them. There’s zero reason for either of them to be upset or disappointed. Regardless, he regrets not keeping Alex talking until the unease had settled. But there’s nothing he can do about it now, so he pockets his phone and goes to find Stan.

The next couple of games don’t go any better for Michael. He’s 0 for 16 after four games and all the sports outlets are beginning to mumble the word slump.

Normally, he’s good at blocking out the third party noise, but this time he’s mad at himself because he knows his problems are more mental than anything. He hasn’t talked to Alex since before the game Tuesday, and Isobel has done nothing but talk about Alex since his plane landed in San Fran Wednesday early morning and she’d greeted him outside the airport. It’s now Friday and he’s meeting Isobel for lunch before reporting to the ballpark.

‘Max called.’ She’s waving at him from halfway down the block. They’ve chosen an Italian diner in Nob Hill. ‘He says hello.’ She hugs him tight, fingernails digging into his back, a tad desperate which immediately raises his hackles.

Michael frowns. ‘He said no such thing. No sense in covering for him.’

She crosses his arms when he opens the door for her and cocks a hip, sliding her sunglasses onto the top of her head. ‘I wish one of you would grow up and fix whatever nonsense started this estrangement. We only have each other, Michael. And that’s bigger than the perpetual bullshit you two keep stoking.’

‘You know what started this, Iz. Don’t play dumb.’ She rolls her eyes and enters the diner, snagging a sunny corner booth.

‘Max is not still mad that you left to play baseball, Michael. I refuse to believe that.’ She hands him a menu and glares at him like she can see inside his mind. Which she can when he decides to let her. But he hasn’t let her in years.

Michael takes the menu, but doesn’t give her the satisfaction of meeting her eye, trying his best to feign nonchalance. ‘Max considers me leaving Roswell for something so classless as money an unforgivable betrayal.’ Michael snorts. ‘No matter that I was literally living in my truck senior year barely making enough money to feed myself.’

‘He was scared, Michael. How many times do I have to go through this with the both of you?’ Their waitress stops by to take their orders, chewing her gum loudly and not once offering either of them a glance.

‘Scared of what, Iz?’ He spits the question at her, practically hissing. ‘That I’d spill our secret to all of baseball? I would never do that.’ He takes several gulps of the ice water placed in front of him, needing to cool down. Isobel doesn’t deserve his anger; Max does.

‘He was scared you’d take the money and run. Scared you wouldn’t need him - wouldn’t need us - anymore.’ She glares at Michael across the table and shakes her head at him, exasperated. He knows that being the go-between has worn her down and frayed her nerves beyond what any brother could reasonably expect. But that doesn’t stop his mouth from running reckless.

‘I never needed him. Not ever; not once. And he sure as hell never needed me.’ The anger rising in his gut subsides somewhat when she reaches out to grab his wrist. A yearning sadness spreads deep into the aching cavity of his chest instead.

The last time he saw Max flashes through his memories. Four years previous and back when he was still spending his Decembers in Roswell. Things had gone so well. And for that brief moment in history, they’d been so happy. Shared beers and actual laughter. For a while after that, they’d tried - really tried - to be the ideal, supportive family rather than the broken dream of one.

The conversation that had ended things seems silly in retrospect. A badly timed dig at Max’s career in law enforcement. A whittled-sharp barb suggesting Michael was addicted to fame. An ever escalating battle of wills, neither willing to back down. And Isobel was right. The whole thing had been nothing and nonsense, but it had been the nothing and nonsense that finally broke the camel’s back.

At least he’d kept Isobel.

‘You know he asks about you every time we talk. And you always ask about him. One day I’m going to get sick of being the monkey in the middle. It’s really not fair to me, but I do it because I love you even when you’re both being idiots.’ She ekes out a strained smile at Michael and leans back so their lunches can be set on the table. ‘And now that he’s got Liz and you’re going to have Alex, I think it’s time to get over all of this bullshit once and for all. Let bygones be bygones. Our family is growing, and it’s time we grew together.’

Michael bites into his meatloaf and considers her words while he chews. Isobel always has an agenda and every word she’s said so far has been incredibly pointed and almost certainly rehearsed. He narrows his eyes at her and swallows. ‘He wants to tell Liz, doesn’t he?’ He doesn’t bother waiting for her answer, only snorts out a short, sarcastic laugh. ‘That’s fucking rich, Iz. The way he went on and on about me keeping our secret, and now here he is wanting to break his own fucking rule.’ He drops his fork loudly onto his plate, appetite lost.

‘She already knows.’ Michael flinches at her words, a cold dread creeping like ice through his veins. ‘Liz got shot the other day at the diner. Max was there and healed her. She and Dr. Valenti teamed up and figured out something weird happened to her. So Max told her. Pretty sure Kyle knows too. Max couldn’t just let her die, Michael.’ That’s the only appeal to him she tries to make.

The cold dread flames over, melting into a burning rage boiling just beneath the surface of Michael’s skin. He thinks back to every single time he’s wanted so desperately to tell someone about himself. The truth about who he is so that he doesn’t have to hide all the goddamn time. And every single time, Max’s threats have stopped him. He bangs his fists on the table and slides out of the booth despite Isobel’s protests. Throwing two twenty dollar bills on the table, he turns his back on her and leaves. She doesn’t try to follow.

Michael should have known the second Isobel suggested visiting him on the road that she’d have an agenda far beyond mere sibling affection. And he had known, assuming her agenda was more meddling in whatever he was doing with Alex Manes. But Isobel was always three steps ahead of everyone. Michael had already been in her wake by the time he’d stepped off the plane Wednesday morning, so relieved to wrap his arms around her again after so long apart.

But Max is her person, and Michael will never come first. That fact is so deeply ingrained in Michael that three blocks later he can’t even muster the energy to be mad at her. Part of him even wants to return to the diner to hug her one more time.

Max, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. He considers calling him then and there on the sidewalk to rake him over the coals. He’s so mad he lets his power rise to his fingertips and buzz along his skin, waiting for any excuse to punch a hole through something. It takes several long, deep breaths before he feels the hair on his arms stop vibrating.

Their secret has been the backbone of their existence since they’d crawled out of those pods when they were seven years old. Not a second has gone by during their lives when keeping that secret wasn’t in every single breath they took. And now, not only has Max told Liz Ortecho by way of healing a fucking gunshot wound, but he’s also managed to spread their truth to someone even less trustworthy - Kyle Valenti, former high school bully and Isobel’s ex-boyfriend. Rage starts to bubble in his belly all over again.

How badly he’d wanted to tell Becks. How badly he wants to tell Danny and Lena. How badly he’ll eventually want to tell Alex. And how many times he’s been lectured over the years by Max Evans. Lectures that have more often than not felt like thinly-veiled threats.

It’s another part of the reason they don’t talk anymore. Michael had wanted to tell Danny and Max had refused to even listen to him explain why.

Still furious, he takes a Lyft back to the hotel in time to catch the team bus to the stadium. Danny waves him over and Michael sits down heavily in the seat next to him. ‘Lunch with Isobel went that bad, huh?’

‘It’s not Isobel. It’s Max.’ He doesn’t elaborate and Danny doesn’t ask him to.

‘Heard from Alex?’ He’s eating sunflower seeds by the handful and grinning at Michael trying to distract him from his anger.

Michael just shakes his head and loosens his grip on the armrests. Part of him wants to call Alex right now and spill all of his secrets - Max and Isobel’s too. Lay out every single card on the table and ask Alex to keep playing. If he’s even playing at all because Michael honestly doesn’t know anymore. It’s become clear to him, however, how hard a long-distance relationship would be between them, and maybe he’s a little relieved they haven’t found a comfortable communication rhythm.

‘You will. In the beginning, Lena would sometimes go a week without calling.’ Another handful of seeds, another wicked grin. ‘But she always gave in eventually. Baseball players are too charming to resist for long.’ He elbows Michael and laughs loudly at his own bad joke.

‘We’re friends, Danny. Fuck, you know what? We’re not even friends. We don’t know each other and we don’t owe each other anything.’ The anger inside of him comes in waves, building slowly and then crashing abruptly. ‘I’ve got nothing to offer him except a pile of lies and a dank, musty closet with the door partially cracked. I’ve got nothing to offer anyone. I’m just the kid with the crayon who smells like trouble.’ He darts his eyes around to the seats surrounding him, but everyone has their earbuds plugged deep in their ears.

Danny frowns, shifting in his seat to face him. ‘I won’t pretend to know what any of that means, Guerin. But hell, I know you’ve got your secrets - even from me.’ Michael refuses to look at Danny and hates the sudden salty burn at the corners of his eyes. He does his best to blink the tears away before anyone notices, even Danny. ‘Maybe it’s time to let some of those secrets go. Because man, they are eating you alive.’

Maybe it is time. And who would possibly dare yell at him now?

Max would. Max would still dare to wag his finger and yell, without even a drip of irony. But Michael doesn’t care anymore.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls the jagged piece of alien tech free. He opens his palm where only Danny can see. The luminescent coin glows softly against his skin, the surface swimming with vibrant, fluorescent colors. Concentrating, Michael floats the tech out of his hand and onto Danny’s knee. ‘You’re right, Marks. I’m so fucking sick of secrets.’

Chapter Text

Danny looks wide-eyed at the glimmering coin on his knee and then drags his eyes up to Michael’s, mouth agape. ‘What...how...are you doing that?’ Then he grins and playfully backhands Michael on the chest. ‘It’s remote-controlled. You built another weird drone. Gotta admit, you really had me going there for a minute, Guerin.’

‘There’s no remote control.’ He moves the piece again, lowering it into his own palm. ‘It’s one of those secrets I’ve kept from you and everyone else on this planet. But I’ve always wanted to tell you.’

‘I don’t understand, Michael.’ He’s frowning again and fear has bled into the crevices of his face. Which is exactly what Michael doesn’t want. ‘What are you saying to me right now?’

Shaking his head, Michael looks around him again and decides the team bus isn’t the best place for anymore reveals. ‘We’ll talk later. Alone.’

Danny settles back into his seat, frown shifting into something closer to concern. ‘Before the game. And you tell me everything with the knowledge that Lena will know too.’ He sighs, scrubbing his hand over his face and rethinking his tone. ‘Obviously, only if you want to. I didn’t mean to sound so demanding. You’ve just really caught me off guard here.’

‘I know.’ He nods his head, the anger from earlier leeching away and replaced by a meager smile. ‘And I do want both of you to know. Everything - all of it. God, my chest already feels a thousand pounds lighter.’ It feels like his lungs haven’t fully expanded in over twelve years and now they get to breathe easy for the first time since he left Roswell. Even though that good feeling is mostly a lie. There’s still Max and Isobel to reckon with and whatever the fallout will be with Danny and Lena.

Warmup and batting practice go well. The new airiness in his chest helps open up his swing, his wrists finally remembering how to hold tight and steady. He’s fielding ground balls when Carlos, their shortstop, shouts at him that something has been delivered for him in the clubhouse.

Danny follows him back to their lockers. There’s a black box with a card attached sitting in his chair. Michael glances at Danny. ‘Doesn’t look like something Isobel would send. Not enough drama.’

‘Gotta be from someone the front desk recognizes or it wouldn’t be down here. Open it.’ So he does, untying the satin ribbon wrapped around the gift. Inside the unmarked box are dozens and dozens of shiny new guitar picks. Danny claps him on the back. ‘Alex.’

Michael opens the white envelope and, sure enough, it’s a note from Alex.

Gave you a guitar but forgot about the picks. Sorry I’ve been so busy lately. I’ll call you tomorrow morning.

‘Just friends, huh?’ Danny rifles through the picks and pulls one out. They’ve all been individually stamped with Michael’s initials. ‘You’re in trouble, Guerin.’

Michael knows Danny’s right. He puts the box away in his duffel bag and sits in his chair, burying his fingers in his curls. He can feel Danny’s eyes on him, not so patiently waiting to continue their conversation from the bus.

He dives straight in. ‘I woke up in a stasis pod when I was seven.’

Danny sits down on the leather sofa opposite him, exhaling heavy. ‘Stasis pod?’

‘Yeah. It keeps the body healthy and free of aging. I got put inside by my mother in 1947 and didn’t crawl out until 1997.’ He watches Danny’s face shift between several emotions, finally landing on incredulity. ‘Meaning, I’m not from this planet, Danny.’

There’s no way Michael could have prepared him or anyone else for that reveal. So he waits for Danny to cycle through his disbelief, grabbing a baseball to give his hands something to do in the meantime. After all, it’s not like he’d used his hand to bring Danny back to life. The learning curve will take longer.

‘Uh, I don’t know what to say other than that’s impossible. You’re saying you’re an alien? From another planet? And that you fell to Earth during the 1947 crash. The one conspiracy theorist nuts are so obsessed with. Like actual X-Files bullshit.’ He warily shakes his head. ‘Man, you cannot ask me to believe that.’

All-in-all, it’s nowhere near the worst reaction Michael has spent his whole life preparing for. A little disbelief is nothing he can’t handle. ‘It’s the truth, Danny. Me and Iz and Max. Everyone else on the ship, as far as we know, died in the crash or were captured by the military to meet a far more fucked up fate. Area 51 or whatever. I honestly don’t know.’

Danny blinks at him blankly, still trying to process what Michael is telling him. ‘So all that Roswell, New Mexico stuff was real?’

‘Yeah, man. All of it. Like I said, I don’t know anything about Area 51. But the aliens? We were real. We are real.’ He floats the baseball he’s been tossing back and forth between his hands over to Danny who snatches it out of midair. ‘The powers are part of it. We all have specialties, but we don’t understand too much about our abilities. Never had a teacher.’

Danny throws the ball back to him. ‘You don’t use the power when you play, right?’

Michael rolls his eyes. ‘I don’t need to cheat to win, Marks.’

‘Sorry. I know that, but I had to ask.’ Their other teammates begin to filter into the clubhouse so Danny moves into the chair next to Michael’s and lowers his voice. ‘It’s going to take me some time to work through all of this. I want to believe you. I do.’ He looks over his shoulder anxiously. ‘It’s just that aliens are real is hard enough to accept without adding one of them is your very best friend to the mix.’

‘I know. Take your time.’ Michael grabs his jersey and Danny does the same. They finish dressing quietly and then head out to the dugout still side by side.

‘I’m guessing Alex doesn’t know.’ Danny sits down on the bench and pours himself a cup of water.

‘You’re the first person I’ve ever told.’ He bends down to retie his cleats. ‘It’s a secret we all swore to keep until we died or were rescued or something. I don’t know. Didn’t want to end up lab rats in some hidden military installation. But Max told his girlfriend. So fuck it.’

‘Max is dating someone?’ If it’s even possible, Danny looks more shocked to hear Max is dating someone than to hear he’s a literal alien. ‘I thought he was still hung up on that girl from high school.’

Michael watches as Tommy goes out to exchange lineup cards. ‘Liz Oretcho. Same girl. She moved back home. Apparently, she got shot and my brother couldn’t stop himself from healing her.’

‘Whoa. Max can heal people?’ Danny tilts his head back against the dugout wall and blows out a long, heavy breath. ‘That’s some Jesus shit, man.’ He crosses himself and kisses the gold cross he wears around his neck.

‘Don’t worry. He’s not God. Although, he’d probably accept the title.’ Fans are starting to crowd into their seats, the buzz of conversation and the drone of the organ music growing louder by the minute. ‘It’s something to do with our electromagnetic makeup. I’ve never been able to do it.’

‘You’ve tried?’ Not really. The one time he’d put his hands on a living creature in an attempt to save a life had been a dog he’d found dying on the side of the road after he’d first moved to Atlanta. All he’d managed was to push his palm flat against the dog’s chest to feel his heart beat one final time.

‘Once. No go. But Isobel has been able to figure out my telekinesis. So I’m no longer special.’ He stomps some dirt from his cleats.

‘Oh, you’re still plenty special.’ He grins at Michael. ‘What’s Isobel’s power?’

‘Influence. She can crawl inside your head and help twist your mind in very particular directions. Not full mind control. Just a heavy-handed influencer with a flair for the dramatic.’ Danny’s eyes widen as he gulps down the last of his water. ‘I can’t do that either so wipe that terrified grimace off your face.’

The dugout is crowded now and they end their conversation. ‘I gotta clear my head today. I need a hit, badly. I’d settle for the ugliest blooper ever blooped just to get things moving again.’

Danny squeezes his shoulder. ‘You’ll find your swing. I’m going to go harass Jerry in the bullpen about that lackluster performance last night. Dinner tonight. You and me, no backing out.’ There’s no mistaking the threat in his voice.

Michael nods. They haven’t hung out in a while and the distraction is appealing. Otherwise, he’d probably head back to the hotel and climb into bed, overthinking every aspect of his life. His newly outed secret, every swing of his bat, Alex’s gift, and the phone call waiting for him in the morning.

The game goes well, significantly improving Michael’s mood. He goes 2 for 4 with a single and a double, two RBIs, and a show-stopping play at first to end the bottom of the eighth. They wind up winning the game and taking the series. Now six games up on Miami with October baseball all but a sure bet.

Dinner with Danny goes better than expected. Unsurprisingly, Danny has already filled Lena in on all of Michael’s secrets before they sit down to eat. By the end of their meal, Michael thinks Danny is pretty close to wholeheartedly buying into his story and accepting his truth. It’s like blowing out birthday candles and instantaneously having your wish come true.

Michael wakes up the next morning to his phone buzzing on the hotel nightstand. He has to remind himself it’s Saturday, and he’s due down in the lobby at 8 am to catch the bus to the airport. Their next game is at 7 pm in San Diego. Searching for his phone blindly, he doesn’t find it until the phone has stopped ringing. He groans and wonders who would be calling him this early anyway.

He brings up his call log and groans even louder when he sees one missed call from Alex. The card and the guitar picks from yesterday flood through his sleepy haze. Swinging his legs off the bed, he immediately calls him back and switches on the closest lamp. It’s just after 6 am and the world is still blanketed with night.

‘Did I wake you?’ Alex sounds annoyingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Michael shakes his head and falls back onto his pillow. ‘No. Definitely not.’ He listens to Alex’s skeptical laugh and smiles. ‘Thank you for the gift. You didn’t have to do that.’

‘Oh, don’t worry. I just happened to have a random box of 200 guitar picks lying around with the initials MG engraved on them. A completely normal thing to have, obviously.’

‘Absolutely.’ The sleep starts to shake loose from the edges of his thoughts and his brain reminds him that Alex played in Atlanta last night. ‘How’d the show go last night? Are you still in Atlanta or back in Nashville?’

‘The show was great. Best yet, I think, at least as far as the new songs are concerned. And I’m at a hotel in Buckhead for the next three days. Just don’t ask me which one. There’s a mall outside my window.’

An idea pops into Michael’s head and it’s out of his mouth before he has a chance to reconsider. ‘Hotels suck. Stay at my place. It’s empty. My friend, Lena, can get you in.’

A long pause. ‘That wouldn’t be weird?’

It’s very weird. ‘No. You can just think of it like renting a house for the weekend. Free of charge and with a private pool. I won’t be home until Monday morning.’ The more Michael talks, the more he thinks he’s actually lost his mind. ‘You can say no. It was just an idea.’ He buries his face into his pillow wondering how on Earth this is the shit his genius brain comes up with.

‘Okay.’ Alex’s voice is hesitant, but he’s said yes and that makes Michael feel infinitely better. ‘If you’re sure you don’t mind. A little peace and quiet wouldn’t be the worst thing. Plus, I can snoop.’

Michael grins and lets his mind wander, imagining Alex in his most private spaces. ‘You can snoop wherever you like. House is all yours and everything is clean. Choose whichever bedroom you want. Even mine. It’s the only one with a tv if that’s a thing that matters to you.’

Alex hums the chorus of Send Me Home as he considers Michael’s offer. ‘Sleeping in the future MVP’s bed is a rather enticing offer. One I’m pretty sure I’m not going to...turn down.’
Michael snorts at his terrible joke. ‘That was probably the worst pun I’ve ever heard. Please tell me it wasn’t on purpose.’

Alex starts to flat out panic giggle. ‘In my defense, I got very nervous thinking about your bed.’ They dissolve into laughter again. And Michael allows himself to admit that waking up and laughing with Alex is something he’d like to do on a regular basis. Preferably in person and in his aforementioned bed. Which is not at all a friendly thought. So he does his best to suppress the feeling.

‘I should probably go before I miss my bus. I’ll call Lena and give her your phone number if that’s okay?’

‘Yeah. Good luck tonight. I learned a lot these past couple of days about baseball. I’m going to wow you the next time I see you.’

He sounds so excited and it makes Michael anxious for the week to go by faster than ever. ‘Less than a week now.’

‘Less than a week now. Goodbye, Michael.’

‘Bye, Alex.’ They both hang up and Michael buries his face in his pillow one last time until the flutter in his belly subsides. Only one coherent thought repeating in his head. Fuck.

He goes into the bathroom to gather his toiletries and stares at himself in the mirror, the fluorescent lights playing games with his face. For a split second, he’s seventeen again with all his hopes and dreams shining bright in his eyes. Then he blinks and he’s back to thirty, eyes dimmed and darkened by twelve years of living out those same hopes and dreams in ways he’d never expected. Or maybe it’s just age - the growing older that happens to everyone. But there are new lines at the corners of his eyes and deeper frown lines parenthesizing his mouth that many of his teammates don’t have.

And it’s weird. To see different versions of himself pass through the mirror, light casting tricks instead of shadows. To understand that time has come and gone, never to be replayed again. Baseball isn’t like that. As long as you stay in the game, you get another chance. A new nine innings tomorrow, a next swing of the bat, and another run at the pennant. Life and baseball are both cycles, of course. It’s just that compared to life, baseball’s cycles feel like a cheat.

As he brushes his teeth, Michael’s thoughts drift to Becks. He lives with his sister in Florida working as a transmission mechanic. In some ways, Michael feels guilty about that because his gut has always told him that was meant to be his future. The one where life kept beating him bloody. The one where baseball or the full-ride to UNM had never manifested. How easily he and Becks might have traded places. Becks a star catcher making millions of dollars a year, and Michael a junkyard mechanic barely scraping by paycheck to paycheck.

The thing about cycles is that none of them are fair.

Michael knows a new cycle has begun. Or maybe it’s an old one starting anew. The thought reminds him of the first time he ever hit for the cycle. It was back in the minors. A hot day in late July. Not a cloud in the sky to offer any relief. Becks had cheered him on from the dugout, big grin lighting up his face.

That game had stretched into extra innings, allowing him the opportunity for one last at-bat. He’d hit a home run in the first inning, a single and a double quickly following. All that was left was the ever-illusive triple - perhaps the trickiest hit of them all. Triples often required speed, and Michael had never been the fleetest of foot. But it was no matter because hitting for power rarely required that of him anyway.

Before he entered the on-deck circle the final time that sun-drenched afternoon, their manager had pulled him aside and shared the news that he was being sent up to Double-A ball in Pearl, Mississippi. It was the beginning and it was the end. The true beginning of his major league career, the launching pad for every dream he’d dared dream. And the gut-punch end of him and Becks. The unfiltered joy in Becks’ voice when he’d hit the ball hard into the left-field corner of the ballpark still haunts Michael - both sleeping and awake.

The thing about cycles is that all of them start off like dares.

A first kiss that starts a new relationship. A first hit that turns into so much more. And a five-minute news clip that never lets you forget.

The thing about cycles is that all of them eventually end. Hitting for the cycle. Becks. Alex. Baseball. And one day, his very own life.

And then it all starts over again.

Taking one last, long look in the mirror, Michael steps out of the bathroom and finishes packing for their trip to San Diego. He calls Lena and endures almost seven full minutes of her ragging before he’s allowed to hang up. Not surprisingly, a knock sounds at his door not five minutes later. Tossing his bag over his shoulder, he swipes up his wallet and opens the door. Danny stands with a knowing grin spread wide across his face, rocking back on his heels and humming in delight.

Michael smirks at him. ‘You two need better hobbies.’

‘Are you sure letting him inside your house unattended is the best idea?’ They walk towards the elevators, no one else around to hear their conversation.

‘Buried all the dead bodies so it should be fine.’ He presses the down button and stands back to wait for the doors to open. ‘I don’t have anything to hide.’

Danny snorts. ‘Except for the whole alien thing. Speaking of,’ Danny looks up and down the hallways, ‘are you going to tell Alex?’

The elevator dings open and they both step inside. ‘Yes.’ He presses the lobby button and reconsiders. ‘No. I mean, not if we remain friends who talk on the phone sometimes. If it ever goes further than that, then yes.’

‘Smart. So how do you think you’re going to tell him?’

Rolling his eyes, Michael leans against the mirrored wall facing Danny. ‘I haven’t gotten that far. There are a million other things to tell him before I get to the not being human part.’

‘Sure, sure. Your favorite color, favorite beer, the whole Becks fiasco. Reel him in nice and slow until that fateful moment arrives. Maybe after a really good lay, right? All sweaty and naked. Whispering sweet nothings and slipping I’m from another planet right between two seductive, lust-born declarations of love.’ Danny laughs quietly and shakes his head.

The doors open into the hotel lobby. ‘You’d make a lousy comedian, Marks.’ Michael steps out of the elevator to join the rest of the team, leaving Danny giggling behind him.

Halfway through the plane ride, Michael’s phone rings. It’s rare that he gets a call mid-air. Isobel waits until he’s landed and almost everyone else who might call him is currently on the plane. He sees Alex’s name flash onto the screen and answers. ‘Hey. House okay?’

‘House is great. Not at all what I imagined.’

‘No? What’d you imagine?’ He lowers his voice and sinks a little in his seat for the illusion of privacy.

‘I don’t know. Like an indoor baseball field or something more extravagant than a modest mid-century ranch. Don’t get me wrong, Guerin. It’s a beautiful home but very understated.’

‘Isobel designed the interior. I’ll pass along your compliments. The house suits me. I’m not a very complicated person.’ Michael’s never felt the urge to roll his eyes at himself until now.

‘Oh, I don’t know about that. I found my album on your record player.’

‘That’s right. I forgot to put it away before I left. Busted.’

‘Everything smells like you here.’

Michael takes a steadying breath, unsure if he wants to ask his next question. ‘What do I smell like?’

‘Rain. The moment right before a thunderstorm blended with the moment right after. That smell hit me so hard when I opened your front door. It felt...I don’t know...almost inhuman.’ He barks out a laugh. ‘That sounded bad. I like the way you smell. I like it a lot. I smell boring like drugstore shampoo or laundry detergent. God, now I’m babbling again.’

Michael almost tells Alex the truth then and there. Almost cuts himself open and lets his secrets spill out across their static-soaked phone connection, consequences be damned. The tip of his tongue touches the roof of his mouth, ready with all the mysteries of the universe. But then the plane drops suddenly, and he remembers where he is, bites his tongue, and saves himself. ‘Most of the time I just smell like sweat. Did you like Lena?’

‘I did. She kept looking at me funny though. Or maybe I was imagining it.’

Michael snorts loud enough to get Danny’s attention. ‘You weren’t imagining it. Her and Danny are obsessed with you right now. Don’t take it personally. I’m pretty sure they have a bet going about something or other concerning me and you.’

‘Something or other?’

‘Yeah.’ Fuck. They both fall silent. Michael racks his brain for a change in subject. ‘Hey, um, there’s takeout menus in the drawer next to the fridge, and the linen closet in the hallway by my bedroom has a bunch of clean towels. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen or anywhere else for that matter.’ It’s his own form of babbling.

‘Okay. I’m excited to lie in your bed and watch you play on that gigantic tv. I’m a bit worried about your eyesight though.’

Michael swallows the image of Alex in his bed and does his best to tuck it away somewhere deep down until after tonight’s game. Otherwise, every at-bat is going to be a nightmare.

‘Maybe I’ll bring you good luck.’

Fuck. Michael bites hard on his knuckle, teeth leaving a dent in his skin. ‘You’re a tease. And I’m not very good at impulse control.’ He’s talking so low he’s worried Alex won’t be able to hear him.

‘Sorry.’ And he actually sounds contrite. ‘I got nervous again. And when I get nervous, I tend to make things worse. Actually, it’s really weird. Normally, I’m a quiet person, but not with you for some reason that I can’t figure out.’

‘It’s the opposite for me. There’s always this noise inside me that I can’t shut up. And that chaos always talks its way out of my mouth. Which works great on press days and with all the people I have to interact with. The only things that keep me quiet are playing the guitar and playing baseball. I think maybe I might need to add you to that incredibly short list.’ He pulls at a loose thread hanging from the hem of his shirt, watching it slowly unravel.

‘The world turned upside down.’ A whisper, barely. ‘Wild how that happens when you’re least expecting it. We’d probably make great lyric material - you and me. Opposites doing their best not to attract.’

‘Changes in entropy and shifts in rhythm. Pushing calm and pulling chaos.’

‘Yes, exactly. There’s a song in us, Guerin. And I’m going to find it.’

Danny plops down in the seat next to Michael, startling from the Alex Manes shaped blackhole he’s fallen into. ‘Good luck with that. Danny’s here to snoop so I gotta go. See you Friday, right?’

‘Right.’ Michael doesn’t wait for more than that before he hangs up.

‘You know there’s no point in hiding him from me. I will find him and make him love me. And you, if necessary.’

‘I think I’m in over my head, Danny.’ He sits up straighter and takes a deep breath. ‘I’m terrified to be in the same room with him again.’

‘You’ve been lonely too long, my friend.’ Michael shoots him a dark look, but Danny keeps going. ‘Don’t bother trying to deny it. You’ve locked your entire self away from me, from your team, from anyone who dares get too close. Including yourself. You’re letting fear pump your heart, and man, it sucks watching you slowly fade away.’

‘We keep having this same conversation, Danny.’

‘Yeah, I know. And we’re going to keep having it until you start living your life again. This team misses their captain. I miss my best friend. I don’t mind being a broken record.’ Danny points to Michael’s phone. ‘The way you look when you’re on the phone with that man is the closest you’ve come to looking like Michael Guerin in at least two years.’

‘That doesn’t solve any of my problems, Marks. Not really. Honestly, my feelings for Alex only stir up more problems. And again, we keep having this same conversation with nothing to show for it.’ Tension builds in his shoulders as his frustration rises to the surface.

‘Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat it anymore. If you choose Alex, you might lose baseball. But man, if you don’t choose Alex, you’re going to lose baseball anyway. You’ve already got one foot out of the batter’s box.’

The first time Michael had thought about quitting baseball was the day he set foot in Jackson, Mississippi the first time and learned what Becks had done in the aftermath of being left behind in Rome. The clip was being played over and over again on the television in his hotel lobby.

‘Great throw-out at second base today, Becks. Is it true that Michael Guerin’s been moved up to Mississippi?’ The reporter eagerly shoves the microphone in Becks’ face.

Becks dials up the charm. ‘Yes, ma’am. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy.’

Michael remembers the charming way he’d winked at the woman. He’d then rambled almost incoherently about Michael’s stats and gushed about what an asset he’d be to any team he joined. The reporter just smiled and shook her head, letting the incredibly attractive, smooth-talking man in front of her say whatever he wanted on live television.

And in that hotel lobby Michael had found himself smiling through his tears because he’d loved Becks so much and hadn’t gotten to say a proper goodbye. Hadn’t gotten to say any goodbye at all. How many times has he wished he could go back to that day and shake that naive, stupid boy who’d stood in that lobby and thought the man he loved had loved him back?

‘Is there any message you and the team would like to send Michael Guerin as he makes the journey to Mississippi tonight?’ The wind picks up and her bottle-blond hair flies across her face, sticking to her blood-red lipstick.

‘There is, Donna. We love you, Guerin. I love you. You were the first boy I ever loved and maybe you’ll be the last. I hope that’s not the same for you. Knock ‘em dead, baby.’

Those words may as well be tattooed on his heart. He takes them with him wherever he goes and pulls them out too many times a day to count. Still, after all these years. Without context, they’re words anyone would love to hear. A declaration of love not giving a single fuck what the rest of the world thinks. But Becks had known exactly what the rest of the world would think. And then the next day he’d quit baseball and disappeared.

It had been a goodbye. It had been an I love you. But mostly, it had been a fuck you.

When Michael had first told Danny the story of Becks, he’d literally punched the back of his chair so hard the wood had splintered. To this day, it’s still the only act of violence Michael has ever seen Danny Marks commit.

‘I’ve gotta finish my list, Marks. So help me do that this year and then none of this will matter anymore.’ Danny nods, squeezes his shoulder, and heads back to his own seat.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days fly by. They sweep the Padres and head back to Atlanta jubilant. The magic number now lowered to three games. When they land, Michael does his best to personally thank all of his teammates as they deplane. Danny’s the last one off and gives him a sturdy hug, no words being necessary.

An hour later, Michael turns into his driveway. Not bothering to use his keys, he mentally unlocks his front door and drops his bag to the floor. Flicking the lights on, he grabs his mail and starts flipping through all the accumulated credit card offers, assorted bills, and menswear catalogs.

‘Hey.’

Michael nearly jumps out of his skin. ‘Alex?’

‘I didn’t mean to scare you.’ He’s only three feet away, twisting his hands together nervously. ‘I managed to move a few things around and thought I’d spend an extra night in Atlanta. Surprise you when you got home.’

Michael falls back against the door, placing his hand over his chest and willing his heart to beat normal. ‘I’m definitely surprised.’ Nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Alex Manes in his house. Not in a million years. And what a sight he is. Worn denim fraying at the knees and another ratty 90s band t-shirt, holes like stars spread out across the night sky. His hair a mess, disheveled like Michael’s hands have already swept through and left behind a trail of scattered debris.

Michael’s fingers flex at his side, his teeth clamping together in an effort to restrain himself.

‘I fucked up, didn’t I?’ Alex grimaces.

‘What? No. I’m sorry. Just give me a minute to catch up.’ He continues clutching frantically at his chest, wondering why his heart won’t slow down. He watches the grimace on Alex’s face turn to concern and then something that resembles regret.

‘I’ll go.’ Alex pulls out his phone and starts punching his finger at the screen. ‘I should have known this would be too much. I can be too much.’ He swallows and holds his phone up to his ear. ‘As soon as someone is nice to me, I overstep and come on too strong. You said we were friends, and I should have listened.’

Michael steps forward and takes Alex’s phone, ending the call. ‘I don’t want you to go.’

‘Your face says something very different.’ He takes a couple of awkward steps backward, not bothering to steal his phone back from Michael. He exhales hard and opens his mouth to apologize again.

But Michael has other ideas.

It’s the worst thing he could do, really. Stepping forward and burying his fingers in Alex’s hair, walking him into the wall behind them and pinning him there with his hips. But once it’s done, it’s done. And he’s well beyond the point of no return the moment he presses his mouth to Alex’s for the first time. If he’s being honest, Michael’s been past the point of no return since he first watched Alex’s fingers strum that guitar a week ago.

Neither of them cares to be gentle. It’s been months since Michael’s touched anyone and the feel of Alex’s warm softness beneath him is almost too much. He strokes Alex’s tongue until he feels his knees falter, pulling a low, raspy moan from deep at the bottom of Alex’s throat. It vibrates along his body and he has to push harder at Alex’s hips to keep both of them standing. Michael doesn’t try to stifle his own moan when Alex’s hands begin to roam freely, one tugging the hair at the nape of Michael’s neck and the other dropping to Michael’s waist, clawing his way beneath Michael’s belt, and then digging his fingertips into the flesh of his ass.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. And it certainly wasn’t supposed to feel this good. A hot, intoxicating rush. A late-night ocean swim past the breakers into the open sea, pulled by the moonlight. Diving beneath the current and searching for the bottom, swallowed by the soothing, pulsing darkness never to return.

Michael drags his mouth along Alex’s jaw and bites at his racing pulse point, sucking the sting away wet and loud. His hands slide down to Alex’s chest, thumbs landing on his nipples which makes Alex flinch and groan, nails reflexively dragging at Michael’s ass. It feels so fucking good to take Alex apart with his tongue and his teeth and the flick of his thumbs.

A meet quick and a handful of phone conversations should not feel like this.

Michael tongues his way down the column of Alex’s throat until Alex’s chest is heaving. His breaths coming ragged, his mouth buried in Michael’s curls. Still kneading at his ass and grinding them together like two deprived teenagers making out for the first time. It would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so fucking hot. Michael climbs back up to Alex’s mouth and skips all pretenses, shoving his tongue deep inside, teasing at the roof of his mouth and along the tops of his teeth.

While his tongue works, Michael’s hands fold Alex’s t-shirt up and over his stomach, exposing his flushed skin to the cool air of the house and making Alex shiver. He rakes his thumbnails over Alex’s ribs, searching again for his nipples. It doesn’t take long before his thumbs rub against the taut, raised heat of them and Alex’s knees actually give out, both his hands grasping hold of Michael’s shoulders to keep from collapsing to the floor.

That’s when the doorbell rings. Not once, not twice, but continually.

Somehow, Michael untangles himself from Alex. He’s dizzy and it feels like he’s just stepped off a cruise ship for the first time in a week. The world suddenly whisper-still, but his head floating on waves. And to be honest, Michael has no clue how he stays standing. His eyes trail over Alex, soaking him in slowly. Mouth partially open, lips red and bruised. Lungs panting, shirt clinging to his sternum as his abs heave with the effort of breathing. Cheeks fire-blushed and cock straining at the denim of his jeans, begging for relief. Alex licks his bottom lip, and Michael flinches slightly at the resulting twitch in his cock.

‘Fuck.’ He shuts his eyes and rubs his hand over his face to regain some sense of composure.

The doorbell continues to ring. His neighbor’s annoying high-pitched hello adding to the disturbance. Reluctantly turning away from Alex, he opens the door and gives the red-headed woman on the other side a forced smile. ‘Hello, Ms. Clarke. Something wrong?’

‘No, dear. I just noticed some unusual cars here while you were out of town and wanted to check-in. Are you feeling okay? You look a little flushed. Have you had your flu shot yet?’ She starts to extend the back of her hand to his forehead, but he jerks back.

‘I was moving around some furniture. Got a little sweaty. Um, the cars were here because I let a friend stay over.’ He hears Alex move behind him and returns the fake smile to his face. ‘Thank you so much for looking out for me, Ms. Clarke. I’m late for batting practice though, so I should go.’

‘Oh yes, dear. Don’t let me hold you up. You played so well out in California. Can’t wait to watch y’all in the World Series.’ She steps off his front porch and waves at him. ‘Let me know if you want me to bake you another casserole. I’m always happy to help!’ He waves back and watches her disappear down the driveway.

Slamming the door harder than he meant to, he spins around and finds Alex standing awkwardly in his foyer again. A replay of what happened not fifteen minutes ago. His skin has returned to its normal color, the hem of his shirt pulled past his belt buckle, warm skin tucked safely away and out of sight. Michael refuses to look any lower than that. Alex quirks an eyebrow at him. ‘She seems lovely.’

‘She once tried to set me up with her granddaughter. A granddaughter that was already married.’ Alex laughs and the sweet sound beckons Michael forward. ‘I’m sorry about earlier.’

Alex’s laughter fades. ‘Please don’t say you’re sorry for that kiss. That kiss might have been the best of my life.’ He steps into Michael, clenching his fists in Michael’s shirt. His eyes still dark and so full of want. ‘I know this isn’t a perfect situation, but I’ve walked away from too much in my life and regretted it. I don’t want to walk away from this.’

Michael gently wraps his fingers around Alex’s wrists, tugging his hands free from his shirt. Alex flinches at the rejection and sends his gaze to the floor, trying to yank his wrists free of Michael’s grip. But Michael holds on tight. ‘I’m not sorry about kissing you. I’m sorry that I can’t keep kissing you. I’m sorry that I can’t put you back in my bed and shut the door forever.’ He drops his hands back to his side.

Alex nods, desperately trying to blink back tears. ‘You made that clear before. Sorry for messing everything up. I think I’m just overwhelmed with all the tour stuff and too tired to think straight. So it’s me who should be sorry, Michael.’ He pauses, his face hardening to steel. ‘But I’m not.’

Grabbing his keys from where he’d tossed them beside his mail, Michael motions to the door. ‘I need some fresh air. Would you come with me?’

‘You don’t want me to leave?’ The hopeful look on Alex’s face feels like a knife through the heart.

‘No, Alex. I don’t want you to leave.’ He never wants him to leave, not ever again. But that’s not something he’s allowed to say. Not yet and maybe not ever. He swallows that thought. ‘Come with me?’

Alex nods and follows Michael out to his truck.

---------

Truist Park is quiet. The player’s lot almost entirely empty. Michael spots Carlos’ red Porsche but knows he’s here for his daily ice bath and won’t bother them. There’s no game today so the only people who should be inside are various front office staff who care nothing at all about what’s happening deep in the belly of the beast.

‘It looks different in the morning light. Bigger somehow.’ Alex shields his eyes against the rising sun to take in the monstrosity of the stadium.

Michael tracks Alex’s gaze, trying to remember the first time he’d looked up and thought about how big it all seemed. A rainy spring morning comes to mind. He’d snuck out of his foster parent’s house before the sun had come up and tried to disappear inside the local high school baseball bleachers. He remembers looking up through the slatted seats and pretending like he was inside a spaceship. Finally going home.

A hand on his forearm jars him from the memory. ‘You okay?’

He looks down at where Alex’s hand rests on his arm and tries not to think about how it feels so similar to the safety he’d felt underneath those bleachers so long ago. ‘Yeah. I’m good. I guess sometimes I drift a little too.’ Alex smiles at him and Michael nods towards a set of double glass doors. Together they head inside and straight into a small elevator.

A couple of floors down, Michael exits and makes a right. Alex hustles to keep up with him until they round the next corner and a large room of indoor batting cages comes into view. ‘Whoa. I thought y’all only did this outside.’

‘On game days. But otherwise, we’re in here. Grounds crew isn’t going to set up the field just because Michael Guerin asks nicely. No matter how many home runs I hit. Ain’t that right, Henry?’ The side of Michael’s mouth tilts into a knowing smile as he waits on the response he knows is coming.

‘Damn straight, Guerin. You better never even ask. Can’t have y’all messing up my dirt.’ The deep, gruff voice fades away, and Alex has no clue where it even came from.

Michael grabs a metal folding chair and sets it down outside the net for Alex. ‘Let me know if you want to take a spin.’ Alex shakes his head and sits while Michael grabs a bat. ‘You’ll just have to imagine that everything I hit leaves the park.’ He takes a few practice swings and then switches on the pitching machine.

After swinging through the first two pitches, he does his best to ignore Alex’s good-natured laughter. The next one he gets under and sends it straight into the top of the net. Alex claps and Michael raises an eyebrow at him. ‘The shortstop would have caught that with his eyes closed.’

‘Oh.’ The smile stays plastered across his face. ‘So you’re still sucking. Gotcha.’

‘Just give me a minute, asshole.’ The next hit would have landed somewhere in centerfield and the next several somewhere over the left-field wall. He settles into his rhythm and continues to swing pretty through every single pitch. Once he’s worked up a good sweat, he leans over and turns the machine off. ‘I have a list.’

‘A list?’

‘A list of things I want to accomplish before I retire.’ He hangs the bat back on the wall rack and grabs a clean towel from one of the utility shelves. Wiping the sweat from his face and neck, he pulls another folding chair next to Alex’s and plops down. ‘There are only two things left. MVP and winning the World Series.’

Alex furrows his brows thoughtfully. ‘How do you win MVP? Do you have to win the World Series?’

‘No. Well, I mean that’s how you’d win World Series MVP. But I’m talking about overall MVP for the regular season. Baseball writers vote before the postseason begins and the winner is announced in November.’ He shrugs his shoulders and settles further into the chair. ‘It’s silly really. But it means something. To me it means something. I used to think it wouldn’t.’

‘When you were younger?’ Alex shifts towards Michael until their knees are touching lightly.

Michael nods, knocking Alex’s knee playfully. ‘I told myself the purity of the game was enough, and I was above any kind of recognition. I told myself trophies and awards didn’t mean anything. I told myself a lot of things. But then I got older and the end grew nearer.’ His voice lowers as do his eyes, focusing on one of his jagged cuticles.

‘Michael, you’re only thirty. The end isn’t here yet.’ He places a comforting hand on Michael’s knee and squeezes. ‘Unless you’re not telling me something.’

Concern floods Alex’s eyes and Michael grabs his hand. ‘I’m not dying if that’s what you’re worried about.’ He laughs softly and Alex sighs with relief, threading their fingers together. ‘I’ve just been thinking about retiring sooner rather than later. Because there’s another list that I’ve been ignoring for too long.’

‘Another list? I wouldn’t have pegged you as such a listmaker.’ Alex runs his thumb up and down the thin sensitive skin of Michael’s forefinger. Michael drops his eyes to watch the small movement, feeling the touch dance along every nerve in his body.

He darts his eyes towards Henry’s office nervously. And he hates himself for it, especially when Alex notices and withdraws his hand. ‘Sorry. What’s on the other list?’

Michael flexes his hand, trying to savor what remains of Alex’s touch. ‘Moving back to Roswell permanently. I think I’d like to teach one day - science or math. For little kids. The ones with stars still in their eyes. I want to fix things with my brother and hug my sister every day. Find my person and let go of all my secrets.’ His voice catches and his tears sneak up on him. ‘Fuck.’ He swipes angrily at his cheeks with the backs of his hands.

Alex stays quiet and waits for Michael to regain his composure. Once Michael looks up at him again he asks, ‘How many secrets do you have?’

‘Too many.’ He drops a hand to his thigh, feeling the tiny piece of alien tech pressed tight against his jeans. ‘That’s a different kind of list. And one I don’t want to add you to. That wouldn’t be fair. It certainly didn’t end well the first time.’

‘The first time?’ Alex scoots forward in his chair, his right knee sliding further between Michael’s legs. ‘You’ve had a secret relationship before?’

Michael nods and lets his fingers land on Alex’s knee, fingertips tapping along the edges of his kneecap absentmindedly. ‘Once a long time ago. A lifetime ago at this point. His name was Morgan Becks. We started rookie ball together.’

‘You loved him.’ A statement, not a question. ‘He’s the one who outed you.’

‘Becks loved me too.’ He huffs out a choked laugh. ‘I believe he loved me. Even if Danny thinks he was never anything but an opportunistic parasite who deserves to be buried in pieces down in the Florida swamps. His words, not mine.’

‘You still love him?’ An almost imperceptible hitch in the back of Alex’s throat tightens Michael’s chest.

‘No. I just don’t hate him. I wish I did. It’d be easier.’ Pulling his hands away from Alex’s knee, he attempts an uneasy smile. ‘At the time, I was so desperate for affection. For love. I wasn’t speaking to Max and hardly ever got the chance to speak to Isobel. And Danny wasn’t here yet. It was lonely. It’s always been a little bit lonely. What Becks said was manipulative and harmful. But what he said was also the very thing I’d always wanted to hear. And I was so fucking young.’

‘What happened to him?’ There’s no judgment in Alex’s voice. And Michael thinks that might be reason enough to love him. Danny’s anger is justified and understandable. And exactly what he needs from his best friend to keep him focused and centered and moving forward. But he’s always needed this too. Someone who doesn’t blame him for not hating Becks. Someone who understands how messy and mixed up it all was. How much it had hurt and how much it still hurts.

‘I never talked to him again.’ He’d tried. Many, many times. Dozens of phone calls and voicemails. Hundreds of text messages. Not a single reply. Eventually, Becks had disconnected the number and vanished. Quitting baseball and evaporating into a dream lost as soon as you blink open your eyes into the dawn of a new day. ‘Because I’m me and don’t know how to love in any lesser way, I hired a private investigator to find him two years later. Danny was around for that part.’

‘He’s okay?’

No one has ever asked him that. Not ever, not once. ‘He’s in Florida working as a transmission mechanic and living with his sister and nephew. Seems okay, I guess.’

‘Are you okay?’

Everyone has asked him that. And he’s always lied. Even to Danny. He decides to try the truth with Alex. ‘Sometimes. I know Becks wasn’t what I wanted him to be. I know he was smart and calculating and manipulative. I know that he knew exactly what would happen when he opened his mouth to that reporter. But he’s only partially to blame for what happened next. Baseball’s problem is far larger than anything Becks did and has hurt me much worse. And yet, no one bats an eye that I’m still able to love this fucked up game. I’m supposed to hate Beck and love baseball. Even though they’ve both hurt me.’

Alex nods, his next words filled with derision. ‘Because the money and the fame and the endless broken records are supposed to make all the baseball bullshit worth it in the end.’

If Michael hadn’t kissed Alex earlier, he absolutely would have kissed him now. How he manages to stay in his own chair and not climb into Alex’s lap is beyond comprehension. He supposes he does it for Alex’s sake, to keep him off his neverending list of secrets. ‘Sounds like you know a thing or two about that.’

‘What I know is that it’s horseshit. Three deployments overseas, medals out the ass, a goddamn blown off foot and none of that was good enough for my dad. My entire service was empty nonsense I told myself would earn me my dad’s love.’ He shakes his head ruefully. ‘And when it didn’t work, I told myself using my service to make myself rich and famous with an endless list of broken sales records would make it worth it. You’ll be shocked to learn that didn’t work either.’

Michael laughs. ‘God, we’re just two sad, pathetic multi-millionaires sitting in this goddamn, gloomy dungeon feeling sorry for ourselves.’ Alex grins and Michael thinks about kissing him again. He knows it’s going to be a continuous problem. ‘Do you have any wild ex-boyfriend stories?’

The quickness with which Alex’s mood sobers shuts Michael’s laughter up. He hadn’t meant to rub salt in a wound, but clearly, that’s what he’s done.

‘Only one ex. I guess you’d call him an ex now. I don’t really know.’ Alex won’t meet his eye. ‘Trevor. Frank’s son. We didn’t really date. Not like we wanted to. Never felt safe enough. But I loved him and he loved me.’

‘Shit, Alex. I’m sorry. Does Frank know?’

‘Yeah. Some people don’t have monsters for fathers. Imagine that.’ His phone buzzes in his pocket and his face falls. ‘That’s going to be Cam telling me it’s time to go.’

‘I’ll walk you up.’ He stands, reaching out his hand to help Alex out of his chair.

But Alex shakes his head. ‘I can find my way. I think you need more time down here with that bat. Can’t have you losing your way now that you’re so close to having it all.’ He smiles and holds out his hand in farewell. ‘I’ll see you on Friday, Guerin.’

Michael snorts and takes his hand. Less a shake and more a desire to touch each other one last time. Friendship can return once Alex isn’t standing so close Michael can see the pulse in his neck throb against the side of his throat. ‘Might get to watch us clinch the pennant.’

‘I’ll look forward to it.’ He hesitates before turning to leave. Opens and closes his mouth a few times before speaking again. ‘You know, Michael, if it’s media harassment you’re worried about regarding keeping someone a secret, I know what it’s like to have my picture taken unaware and to be followed relentlessly by paparazzi. It’s my everyday life, and I have an entire team of ex-special forces military officers to keep me safe. I also have a media relations task force to handle every situation under the sun. My manager is queer as well as many of my other full-time employees. So if you’re looking for someone to risk it all with, I’m your guy.’ And then he’s gone, taking all the air in the room with him.

Michael collapses into Alex’s chair, soaking up his residual warmth before the metal cools and chases the ghost of Alex away.

Chapter Text

The next week goes well. The Braves take two out of three games from the Mets and as expected, Friday affords them the opportunity to clinch the NL East and secure their spot in postseason play. Michael talks to Alex every single morning about everything and absolutely nothing, and then refuses to answer Danny or Lena or Isobel’s questions or calls afterward. Danny tries to corner him in the clubhouse a million times, but Michael just shakes his head and gives the same firm warning every time. ‘I need him to be all mine right now, Marks. I know you get that.’ And Danny does so he fends off Lena and Isobel on Michael’s behalf, and Michael knows he’ll never ask for anything in return.

It makes Michael think about calling Max for the first time in months. He promises himself if Friday ends happily, he’ll call him first thing Saturday morning and smile through whatever the conversation ends up being.

After the game ends on Thursday night, he finds Danny leaning against the Chevy’s fender. He raises his hands in surrender. ‘Lena just wants me to ask you to dinner Saturday night. She’s convinced we’re going to win and wants to celebrate with her favorite players. Can’t say I blame her. We are the best.’

Michael throws his bag in the back and rocks back on his heels. ‘How would she feel about adding a fourth? Alex is going to stick around through the weekend. His first show is Monday night in Atlanta.’

Danny’s eyebrows arch sharply. ‘Is he staying with you?’

‘You promised no questions.’

Groaning, Danny throws his arms up in exasperation. ‘Come on, man.’

‘He’s not staying overnight with me. Sorry to disappoint. But I’d like to bring him to dinner. As a friend. Please make that clear to Lena so it doesn’t get too awkward.’ There’s no way Danny and Lena behave themselves Saturday night, but if he warns them first, it gives him more solid footing to be outraged on Alex’s behalf. He opens the door to his Chevy to indicate he’s done with the conversation. ‘Goodnight, Marks.’

‘Night, Guerin.’ Danny pushes off the fender and shuts Michael into the truck. ‘Get some sleep. We’ve got a game to win tomorrow night and another division banner to hang up on the wall.’

With a final wave, Michael pulls out of the lot and turns towards the interstate. The Highwomen’s Crowded Table plays through his speakers, and he sings along softly as the lights of I-285 blink by in his side mirrors, the King and Queen towers lit bright over his left shoulder. He thinks about turning the radio down and calling Alex, but the last thing he needs is the cops pulling him over for using his cell phone.

He’s home fifteen minutes later and already pushing send to call Alex when he walks through the threshold into his foyer.

‘I watched!’ Michael grins at the excitement in Alex’s voice and leans his forehead against the cool wood of his front door. ‘Oh, and I’m getting into town early enough tomorrow to attend your game. Cam got us a box suite. For me and my entire crew. No pressure or anything, but she’d really like you to win. Those suites aren’t cheap.’

Dropping his keys on a side table, Michael heads deeper inside and lets Alex keep babbling about everything and nothing. He listens quietly as Alex recounts every single one of his at-bats. The commentary is colorful and completely lacking in anything remotely accurate other than his own enthusiasm. Alex finishes off by laughing and admitting as much. ‘I have no clue what I’m talking about, but you looked really good swinging the bat.’

‘Well, that’s what really matters.’ He joins in with Alex’s laughter. ‘I’m glad you’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m warning you, if we suddenly start playing horribly I will blame you and force you to leave the premises. Not that I expect that to happen.’ Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out the shimmering console coin and encloses it inside his palm, letting the piece spread its warmth throughout his body. ‘I shouldn’t get ahead of myself though and jinx things. Baseball’s too superstitious to let me get away with celebrating early. I should probably light a candle or something.’

‘I’ll light several. Sing a song to the baseball gods.’

Michael snorts and opens his refrigerator door. ‘You’ve angered the baseball gods enough with your deep ambivalence. Probably best you leave them alone.’ He grabs a leftover container of cold takeout noodles and heads into his living room, collapsing on the cream sectional Isobel had sworn he couldn’t live without. ‘Are you busy Saturday night?’

‘Not busy until the first sound check Sunday morning. After that, I’m booked solid through January with the brief exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and a random smattering of days-off for longer travel.’ Sadness seeps into his words, staining his happiness from earlier.

Not wanting to think about what happens once Alex goes on tour, Michael pushes that encroaching inevitability aside. ‘Will you have dinner with me? With Lena and Danny at their house? They’re smoking brisket which is Danny’s specialty. And you’ve met them before so I hope you don’t mind me inviting you along.’

‘I’d love to.’ There’s an obvious question left hanging in the air. Alex doesn’t let it hang too long. ‘But it’s not like a double date, is it?’

‘No.’ But it is. Of course, it is. Because every single second between them is charged, grasping at the precipice of so much more. ‘Maybe one day it will be.’ He exhales and rubs at the tightness in his chest. ‘Fuck, this is messed up. I’m sorry I can’t give you more right now.’ The tightness spreads like his entire body is rejecting every single word out of his mouth.

‘It’s really okay, Michael.’ A stray strum of a guitar echoes through their connection, the disappointment obvious in his voice. ‘I have more than enough on my plate right now to keep me distracted, and you do too.’ What goes unsaid is how distracted they both already are. Alex’s random strumming turns into chords, turns into the beginnings of a song. ‘Can I play you something new? I’ve been writing again this week. Need a test audience.’

‘Please. Although I’m very biased.’

‘For a little while, it can be for just me and you. Don’t have all the lyrics sorted out yet, so there’s going to be a lot of humming.’ He begins to play in earnest, and Michael lies back on his couch, settling into the cushions to listen.

We’re not in the desert anymore
The stars in the sky are all upside down
But when your hands glide against my back
Hips kissed and lips tangled
The world folds in half and the map comes unraveled
And I’m right back home with you

The second half of the song is a word here and a hum there. But Michael feels every strum against his ribs and every hum vibrating in rhythm with his heart. He knows the song is for him without having to ask. Can hear the tiny tremble in Alex’s voice when he repeats the line about hips kissing and lips tangling.

One of the reasons Michael’s always been drawn to country music is the genre’s reliance on leaving every card faceup on the table. There’s no hidden meaning. No emotion couched indecipherably in metaphor. There are only hearts worn on sleeves and bone-breaking truths. Country music is complicated sung simple, and he likes to believe that’s the shape of his own life as well.

‘It needs work, obviously. I’m hoping to have it finished by Monday night. Or maybe not. Maybe this one stays private. What do you think?’ Michael listens to Alex’s nerves and wonders what his physical tells are. Does he bite his cuticles? Does he bounce his leg? Or does he go so still you can see the world spin?

‘I think my hips made quite an impression. Let’s switch to facetime so I can see you blush.’

‘What? No.’ Alex plucks a string and rejects Michael’s facetime invitation.

‘Coward.’ He presses the facetime button again and Alex begrudgingly accepts, his lightly pinked cheeks appearing on the screen a short second later. ‘That’s better. Play the song again.’

Alex starts over from the top, trying out a new line or two while Michael interjects his opinions. And then he sings another and another, stopping every so often to sip at his hot ginger tea and chat. At some point during the impromptu concert, Michael is convinced Alex has forgotten he’s watching. His shoulders relax and his eyes close, fingers more agile as they slide up and down the thick strings. His emotions erupt through specific lines, texturing the lyrics with the triumphs and tragedies of his turbulent life. Sometimes he cries and sometimes he smiles. And his willingness to share these songs in such a raw and naked manner reminds Michael of how he’d looked right after they’d pulled apart from their kiss. So unabashedly himself.

It would be so easy to fall in love with Alex Manes. Easier even than it had been with Becks. He’s amazed and maybe a touch sad that no one’s beat him to it.

Just thinking the word love jars him from his thoughts. Alex has finished the last song and set his guitar aside, watching him curiously through the camera. ‘Didn’t put you to sleep, did I?’

‘No. I could listen to you all night.’ He smiles and tries to hide a yawn behind his hand, failing spectacularly.

Alex laughs softly. ‘It’s almost 2 am. Go get some sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, I get to see you again.’ It’s pointless to remind himself they are only friends. It’s been pointless since the very beginning. Danny’s words from a few days ago return to him. Alex’s quickly following.

Time to start taking risks again, Michael.

If you’re looking for someone to risk it all with, I'm your guy.

Becks pops into his head, but this time there’s no tightness in his chest or recurring ache in his heart. It’s as if Becks is nothing but a ghost, and it feels a lot like letting go. Relief washes over him at the realization and his mouth gets ahead of his good sense. ‘Stay with me tomorrow night. After the concert, come home with me.’

Alex’s eyebrows arch halfway up his forehead. ‘What? Michael, are you sure?’

He’s so sick of lying. To himself and everyone else. ‘We’re not friends, Alex. And we don’t want to be.’

‘Where is this suddenly coming from? This is not how you started the phone call tonight and the whiplash is a lot. I don’t want snap decisions, Michael. I need you to be certain. So certain. Because once I really let myself believe in this - in us - I’m not going to want or even necessarily be able to stop.’ His words are rushed and there’s a ragged edge to his breathing, eyes stretched wild.

‘I’m not interested in stopping.’ And god, isn’t that the fucking truth. ‘Give me through October to keep it quiet, Alex. To keep the play-offs about the play-offs. And then I want to take you up on your offer.’ His heart is pounding so hard he’s sure it’s going to break his ribs.

Alex’s smile starts in his eyes, bright and soft. It spreads through the crinkles at the corners of his eyelids and blushes downward over the flutter of his eyelashes and along the edges of his cheekbones. Before reaching his lips, it hugs the lines of his mouth and dimples his chin, putting a crinkle in his nose. And when Alex’s smile slides home and breaks open his lips with the quietest little puff of air, Michael knows deep in the marrow of his bones that he’s made the right decision. ‘Okay, Michael. Let’s risk it all.’

-------

Michael gets no sleep Thursday night. After he says goodbye to Alex, he lies in bed, staring up through his skylights and into the night beyond. He doesn’t wish on any stars. He doesn’t need to. He doesn’t search anxiously through the gaping expanse for any signs of his home planet. He doesn’t want to. Instead, he looks for the things he’s never noticed before. The different shades of black fading in and out of each other, an ombre of ink. The way the moonlight drowns the nearest stars beneath its sunlit glow. And the calmness that overwhelms him when he gazes at the same endless spot for too long and lets himself swell with the freedom of getting lost.

It’s there that he finds Alex.

When the sun finally wakes to steal the night, Michael climbs out of bed and heads straight to the ballpark, grabbing breakfast to-go from the nearest cafe. He’s not shocked to find several other cars scattered around the player’s lot. Danny’s included. Like Alex had reminded him, today’s a big fucking day.

The clubhouse is dead silent. Which is incredibly bizarre but also exactly what Michael had expected when he’d walked inside. His teammates are dressed in their superstitious best - threadbare lucky t-shirts barely hanging onto life, jawlines that haven’t seen a razor in weeks. A million random idiosyncratic oddities that are absolutely necessary if they are to win tonight’s game. Including the silence.

Michael is no exception. The console coin is in his pocket where it belongs, and he’s wearing the same plain gray undershirt as the day he got drafted. He nods at several of the guys as he wades through the solemnity of the clubhouse to sit at his locker. Danny’s already half-dressed even though the game isn’t for another ten hours. ‘Today’s the day, Guerin. The start of it all.’ His whisper breaks the silence and everyone groans.

‘Fucking hell, Marks. You’ve ruined it!’ Carlos swears from his own corner of the locker room.

Danny just grins and bends down to pull on his socks. ‘All this somber bullshit is not how championships are won. I’m half asleep already.’ He fakes a yawn that quickly turns real.

‘You’re always half asleep, Marks.’ Michael claps him on the back and grabs the bottle of bourbon from the top shelf of his locker. ‘Alright, it’s time.’ He raises his voice and waves the bottle around the clubhouse. ‘Shot glasses, assholes.’ Their bourbon tradition started long before any one of them was born. But none of them - not even Danny - would dare mock the importance of the pre-game shots. The rule is that at least one-third of the team must take three shots before noon on game day. It’s why so many of them are here this early.

And if they lose the game tonight, they’ll all show up again tomorrow morning and try again. The tradition repeats itself any time a big win is on the line - clinching the division, wildcard game, NLDS, NLCS, or World Series. And even though it never seems to work out for the Braves, the team keeps showing up.

They take their shots while singing a rousing rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, laughing and joking together while remembering every man who’s done the same before. Michael puts the bourbon away and several card games breakout around the clubhouse as they settle in to kill time.

Michael and Danny head up into the seats to partake in their own tradition of running all the stadium’s lower level stairs. Both of them always have way too much energy to sit and play card games or watch movies. It’s foolish, the risk of injury too high, and they’re technically banned from doing it, but no one’s around to stop them.

It takes over an hour to finish. Thanks in large part to the alcohol coursing through their veins and the fact that they spend half the time nowhere close to ‘running’. But eventually, they both slap the last step and collapse to the cement, staring out over their home field.

Michael brings out his phone and takes a picture of the empty stadium, sending it to Alex with the caption the calm before the storm.

‘You told him about dinner tomorrow night, yeah?’ Danny makes no effort at pretending he’s not reading the text over Michael’s shoulder.

‘I did. He’s coming.’ Alex’s response comes quick. Looking forward to the storm. It’s followed by a heart emoji. Michael makes no effort at hiding the messages from Danny.

For once, Danny doesn’t comment. He just slings his arm over Michael’s shoulders and plants a loud kiss on his cheek. ‘We’re going to win tonight, brother. And we’re going to keep winning until there’s no game left to be won.’

‘You say that every year.’

‘Yeah, but this time it’s real. The air smells different.’ Danny closes his eyes and takes a giant, gulping breath. ‘Smells like brotherhood and dreams, hard work and victory.’ He cuts his eyes to Michael. ‘It smells like love.’

Michael snorts. ‘You’re such a goddamn sap. I don’t know how Lena puts up with you.’

Danny stands and stretches his hands over his head until several bones in his body crack loudly. ‘She’s a lucky woman. What can I say.’ With a wink, he dashes down the stairs and disappears from sight. Michael doesn’t follow. He knows Danny’s left him here to give him some privacy.

Love. It’s a strange word and an even stranger concept. A spectrum of meanings, vast and endless. And when you pair the word love with a person, it’s shape changes, morphing and twisting and molding your heart so that it can keep beating around the surge of emotion.

Michael doesn’t love Alex yet. There’s still so much left of each other unknown. But he can feel his heart preparing for the possibility.

Picking up his phone, he pulls up Max’s number and presses send. It only rings once before Max’s voice is saying hello. ‘Didn’t expect to hear from you today. Or any day for that matter.’

Typical Max. ‘It’s not like you call either. At least I’ve texted in the past month.’

Silence. The scoreboard lights up. A grounds crew member steps onto the field, sprinkling something into the dirt between the bases. Michael waits.

‘You told Danny. And Lena.’ Michael keeps waiting. ‘Because I told Liz.’

Wrong. ‘No, Max. I told Danny because he’s my brother. And I love him.’

‘Ouch.’ There’s genuine hurt in his voice which Michael hadn’t really expected. ‘But I guess I deserved that.’

‘I didn’t say it to hurt you. I’m just sick of lying to the people I love. And that includes you, Max. I’ve been lying for so long the truth cuts like a knife.’ He reaches in his pocket for the console coin. ‘Is Liz okay?’

‘Yes.’ Michael hears the hesitation in his words, the hitch in his breath. ‘I should have at least listened to you about Danny. I just wanted us - the three of us - to be safe. You and Isobel have been my whole life for so long. Maybe too long.’

‘I know. I want us safe too. But that doesn’t mean you get to make unilateral decisions about my life or Isobel’s life. Can we please just start there?’ He sighs and presses his knuckles into his eyes. ‘Please.

‘We can start there.’ It’s not much. It’s barely a dent in their years-long struggle. But Michael takes the win. ‘Big game today. We’re all going to be watching. Liz’s dad decorated the diner with your posters, and the whole town gets free cowboy burgers starting at game time.’ Before Michael can object, Max continues. ‘Don’t worry. Isobel is making sure Arturo doesn’t lose any money.’

A lump forms in Michael’s throat and there’s nothing he can say that feels adequate. ‘I miss y’all.’

‘We miss you too!’ It’s Isobel. Michael smiles knowing she’s forced Max to share the phone with her. ‘Good luck tonight and tell Alex we all say hi.’ Before he hangs up, Isobel promises him that they’ll both be there with bells on for every single playoff game.

The idea of Max and Isobel, Lena and Alex cheering for him. Of Danny by his side. Of his teammates still believing in him as their captain. It’s everything. His cosmos of happiness.

A rush of emotion overwhelms him. Squeezing the coin tight in his palm, Michael pulls his knees into his chest and cries. Unable to remember the last time he’d felt this free. Free and weightless and loved.

------

The hours fly by and before long the Truist Park gates swing open, Alex and his entourage arriving soon after. Michael is unable to break away to visit them before the game starts, but he goes out into centerfield to wave in their general direction. Alex takes a picture of his blurry form waving and sends it to him.

Recording devices aren’t allowed during the game, so he pockets Alex away in his locker and focuses on the immediate task ahead. Danny’s on the mound tonight, and Michael knows they’re in good hands. The best hands. Lena’s sitting in Danny’s family seats, and Michael waves to her. She normally spends her time heckling the home plate umpire, but tonight he knows her eyes will be glued on Danny. And only Danny. His own eyes won’t be far behind.

Five innings go by and the game stays quiet, tense. Both pitchers have recorded a shutout so far, and Michael only reached base his first at-bat because he got hit by a high, inside pitch. The back of his ribs ache, and he knows he’ll have a nasty bruise, but at least he’d managed to save his left wrist.

In the bottom of the sixth, Michael strikes out and Lena shouts at him to do better. He turns to berate her with his gaze, but she just bats her eyelashes and shapes her hands into a heart. ‘Your wife is playing a dangerous game up there, Marks.’

‘She’s just mad I’m out of the game. Wanted Skip to let me go seven.’ He grins at Michael. ‘But she’s not wrong, you know. These dead bats, yours included, mean I’m not going to get the win.’

The game rolls on. No score through the top of the ninth. Michael’s due up second in the bottom half of the inning, and everyone’s giving him death glares because no one wants extra innings. He rolls his eyes, puts on his helmet, and grabs a bat as he heads out into the on-deck circle. ‘End the game, Guerin.’ That’s Danny’s helpful advice, and when he looks up into the stands, Lena is on the edge of her seat. She tries to smile at him, but it’s mostly a grimace. She holds up both hands showing him her fingers are crossed. It’s a lot of pressure, but Michael has always thrived under pressure.

Carlos earns a walk, and there’s excitement buzzing through the stadium as Michael steps into the batter’s box, Alex’s music playing loudly throughout the stadium. He hasn’t thought much about Alex since the game started. The game managing to hold all of his attention. But their conversation returns to him now, as he sets his sights on Marlin’s relief pitcher, Bobby Carson. Let’s risk it all. To risk it all, he has to have it all. And that starts in this moment.

The first pitch is a high fastball. Michael doesn’t swing. Carlos advances his lead at first, and Michael knows he’s itching to run. The second pitch is a sinker that doesn’t sink. He hits it hard but foul. The count evens and sweat begins to drip down his back. Behind him, Lena is shouting his name. The guys in the dugout are all leaning on the wall, watching and waiting. Tanner’s in the on-deck circle now, leaning on his bat to spectate instead of warming up.

Every eye in the stadium is on Michael, including Alex’s somewhere high overhead. And god, he loves it.

The third pitch whizzes past, dead center of the plate. Fastball at 97 mph. Michael doesn’t swing, and he curses at himself. That was it. That was the pitch. Any other day of the year, he’d have put that one deep over the center-field wall. He can feel the stadium’s collective groan hollow out his stomach. He knows there’s no way he’s getting that pitch again. The relief on Carson’s face grinds his gut even more.

Now he’s behind in the count, advantage lost. Every pitch a dagger being thrown at his heart. And even though Michael knows they don’t have to win this game to get to October, he refuses to lose this game. Because this is the game. Arturo’s cowboy burgers, Isobel and Max yelling at their tv screens so loud he can hear them all the way in New Mexico. The only game he’s likely to get with Alex this close. Let’s risk it all. Let’s risk it all. Let’s risk it all.

He steps out of the batter’s box one final time to collect himself. Danny’s grin lights up the dugout, not a single doubt anywhere on his face. And that’s it. That’s what he needed to see. Not Alex. Not Max or Isobel. But Danny. Danny who has been with him every step of the way for eight years. His other teammates too. All lined up and ready to celebrate with him. Smiles and fist pumps and the utter surety that they are safe in Michael’s hands.

Stepping back to the plate, he decides to swing at the next pitch. He sets his feet in the dirt and steadies his hips, wrists strong and capable on the handle of his bat. Around him, the noise in the stadium vanishes tucked away on the cool night breeze. The only sound remaining the pound of his heart, hard and sure against his ribs. Carson nods to his catcher and readies to throw, ignoring Carlos’ lead at first entirely.

The pitch is low, a breaking ball. Maybe a curveball, perhaps another slider. But Michael decides to swing as soon the ball leaves Carson’s hand. So his body is ready to dig the ball out of the dirt, if necessary. But it isn’t necessary. The barrel of his bat cracks as he hits the ball hard and true, knowing exactly where it’s headed.

The roar of the crowd returns, a crash of thunder rolling through the ballpark. Carlos is shouting happy expletives, clapping like a madman. The dugout is empty, everyone waiting for Michael to take his own turn around the bases. He rounds first with a fist pump, second with two fist pumps, and third with three. The guys are circled around home plate, jumping and screaming his name. Michael takes his time, slows his jog, and tries to memorize this moment. To set it stone. As he crosses home, he wiggles his hips same as always for the boys he’d played with a decade ago. Many of whom never got the chance to swing a bat in the Majors.

And then he’s swarmed. Everyone wanting the chance to slap him hard somewhere. Danny’s arms wrap snug around him, and everyone starts jumping together, an undulating sea of pure joy. Fireworks explode overhead, and there’s no better feeling on Earth. Or any planet for that matter.

The celebration continues as they begin to build Alex’s stage in the outfield. Michael spends his time taking team photos on the field and doing interview after interview with all the various sports outlets. Then everyone disappears into the clubhouse where large, plastic tarps have been fastened to the walls to protect their lockers, furniture, and electronics from the champagne deluge about to erupt.

Michael tightens a pair of goggles over his eyes knowing Danny’s going to be out for blood. Half his teammates already have a shaken bottle of booze in their hands ready to start the battle. Jerry, of all people, ignites the celebration. And once the champagne begins to flow, it doesn’t stop until the last drop is spilled. It’s impossible to see who’s who half the time, the world blurred into an alcohol-flavored haze.

The clock on the wall is no longer visible, but Danny pulls him aside and drags him to the showers. ‘Hurry up, Guerin. Show starts in fifteen minutes. Don’t want to smell like a baseball player.’ It’s the fastest shower of his life, and he’s still soaking wet when he follows Danny out of the clubhouse.

Once again, the field has been transformed into a concert venue. Alex has already started playing, the crowd with their hands swaying in the air and singing along. When Danny tries to pull him backstage, Michael resists. He starts to weave through the masses, dragging Danny behind him until they are pressed against the barricade. Alex straight in front of them, only a few feet away. The fans around Danny and Michael immediately recognize them, and everyone starts to jump together, singing at the top of their lungs. It’s a moment filled with joy and laughter and fun. A moment once so familiar to Michael, and the kind of moment he thought he’d lost forever. But when he locks eyes with Alex for the first time that night, he knows he’s got it back, this second chance, and vows to hang on for as long as he can.

Alex’s set comes to a close, and he motions to Michael as the crowd starts to chant for an encore. Danny gives him a little shove and a thumbs up before joining in with the crowd. Fighting his way through the sea of people, Michael eventually finds his way backstage and is immediately manhandled behind a curtain by Alex.

It’s not a conscious decision, but it happens anyway. Regardless of how many millions of things might go wrong in this moment. A million ways they might get caught, photographed, and outed. But Michael’s hands have already slipped underneath Alex’s sweater, fingertips pressing into the sweat-slick flesh of his lower back. And Alex’s hips have already pushed forward, flattening Michael against the makeshift wall of the stage, separated from the public by only the thick, black velvet curtain that muffles the noises of the boisterous crowd.

Their lips hover close, lust-drunk and wet with the other’s breath. Their eyes shut, and with the slightest of grazes, their lips meet for the second time. Another tentative graze and then they stop, mouths half-opened and tongues lying in wait just behind their teeth. Alex’s hands slide up Michael’s chest and around his neck, burying themselves in Michael’s curls. He’s rewarded by the tilt of Michael’s head and the glide of his tongue along his bottom lip. A first taste and then a second before both of them are lost in each other’s arms.

Regrettably, their second kiss is even shorter than their first. Alex manages to break away before either of them has had anywhere near enough. ‘I’ve got to finish the show. The encore. Before someone comes searching for me. Can I meet you at your place afterward? I can get Cam to drop me off.’

Michael’s head is still spinning when he nods without considering the implication of what’s to come. Alex beams at him and then returns to his audience, the roar he receives shakes the platform beneath Michael’s feet. It distracts him from noticing someone’s found him behind the curtain.

‘Mr. Guerin? Are you lost?’ A tall, blond woman he assumes is Jenna Cameron stands glaring at him, hands on her hips. A smirk slowly replaces the glare, and he knows she knows exactly why he’s back there.

‘You’re Cam?’ He lets her hold the curtain open while he steps out. ‘Alex’s manager.’

‘I am.’ She doesn’t even attempt the pretense of shaking hands. ‘And you’re the...well, I don’t quite know what you are. Although you’ve certainly been a giant pain in my ass.’

‘I see you’ve joined Frank on the ‘Michael sucks’ bandwagon.’ He gives her a smile that oozes charm.

‘Oh, no, Mr. Guerin. Frank is a kind, gentle soul. I’m no such fucking thing.’ She takes several steps closer to him, crowding his space with her coiled anger. ‘And if you so much as put a wrinkle in Alex’s forehead, I will bury your body where no one will ever find you.’

Michael’s smile doesn’t fade. He’s happy to know Alex is surrounded by so much love and so many people willing to give him the shovel talk. ‘If I remove a wrinkle or two, do I get a cookie?’

‘Get off my stage, Guerin.’

He watches her walk away, smirking to himself as he jogs down the stairs and back onto the field. Danny’s waiting for him, and they walk together towards the player’s lot. ‘A few of the guys are headed over to that bar in Smyrna to celebrate.’

Michael shakes his head. ‘I’m going to call Isobel and then fall dead asleep.’ He doesn’t often lie to Danny, but tonight, Alex is all his.

‘Yeah, I’m heading home to Lena actually. Gotta wake up early to get that brisket smoking.’ They hug hard, grins tight across their faces. ‘We did it, man. NL East champs. Third year in a row. No one gets to take that from us. Not ever.’

‘Feels good.’ What an understatement.

‘Feels fucking great.’ They laugh and Michael opens the door to Danny’s brand new black Mercedes AMG G-Class. He slips inside and lets Michael close the door after him. ‘This is our year. Mine and yours, Guerin. I promise you that.’ Michael wants so badly to believe him. ‘Dinner’s at seven, but Lena expects both of you there by six. Don’t be late. You know the punishment will be severe.’

‘When have I ever been late?’ Danny opens his mouth to answer, but Michael shuts him up. ‘Unless you were driving.’ Rolling his eyes, Danny drives away with a honk. Michael waves after him and climbs into his truck. Ready for whatever comes next.

Chapter Text

On his drive home, Michael’s mind drifts to Alex and the night ahead of them. He’s not usually shy about sex, experience managing most of the heavy lifting. But his nerves crawl to the surface, hitching a ride on the anticipation pooling in his belly. His fingernails tap along the top of the steering wheel as he tries to play through the evening in his head like he does before a game. Do they maybe have coffee first? Sit on his couch and discuss safe words? Or head straight for bed, figuring each other out as they go? After nearly running a red light, he does his best to focus on the blacktop ahead of him.

Once he’s home, he heads inside and straight to his bedroom for a quick inspection. But everything’s clean and tidy just like he left it. Bed made and bathroom spotless. There are a couple of astrophysics textbooks on his desk he thinks about shoving into a drawer in case they raise any weird questions, but decides there’s no way Alex looks at two science textbooks and immediately jumps to I’m fucking an alien. He plumps his pillows for some ungodly reason and then forces himself to go back outside to his living room to pour himself a couple of fingers of bourbon. Just enough to take the edge off his spiraling and somewhat unexpected insecurity.

Before he can reach the bottle, his doorbell rings.

Michael opens the door to a flustered Alex weighed down by a cross-body bag, both his crutches and a giant guitar case. Cam backs out of his driveway, and Michael waves at her. All she does is glare at him through the darkly tinted windows in response. ‘And here I thought this was just a sex thing. I didn’t know you’d be moving in.’ He grabs the guitar and crutches, inviting Alex inside.

‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s still a sex thing. My sex things just come with a lot of baggage.’ Alex laughs at his own joke, poking Michael playfully in the chest. ‘You met Cam.’

‘I didn’t so much meet Cam as get threatened by her. You are now surrounded by an entourage of people who hate me. Congrats!’ He sets Alex’s things next to the sofa. ‘If I randomly disappear after tonight, pretty sure either Cam or Frank will know where to find my body.’

Alex drops his bag onto the floor next to his guitar and crutches. ‘Actually, Cam liked you.’

‘You can’t be serious. I saw my death in her eyes, Alex. And it was very, very messy.’ He faux shudders and heads over to pour the glass of bourbon he’d promised himself. ‘Want some?’

He shakes his head. ‘She said you gave good bullshit. Which is practically a marriage proposal. So.’ Shrugging, he steps closer to Michael, placing his hands flat on his chest and then slowly sliding them up and over his shoulders, clasping his hands behind Michael’s neck. ‘Congrats on the walk-off. Right? That’s what they call it?’ Michael nods, unable to express how much he enjoys watching Alex earnestly stumble his way through baseball. ‘Sorry, it took so long to get here. Went to the hotel to shower and grab my stuff.’

Michael downs the double shot of whiskey and wraps his arms around Alex’s waist, rubbing his thumbs just beneath his sweater’s hemline. Slowly refamiliarizing himself with the press of their bodies as Alex’s back arches into the touch. ‘Not a problem. Want coffee or something else to drink? I don’t have much. Water?’ He knows he’s stalling, but thanks to the nearness of Alex’s perfect cheekbones and the near obscene pout of his bottom lip, his nerves have returned tenfold, and the feeling is so unfamiliar that he doesn’t know what to do next.

But it doesn’t matter because Alex knows exactly what to do. ‘No coffee. No water. Just you.’ He grabs a fistful of Michael’s flannel button-up and pulls him close for a slow, searing kiss, lips sliding together slick and effortless. When they finally part, he starts walking toward Michael’s bedroom looking back over his shoulder with a heated promise in his eye. ‘Wouldn’t have pegged you the bashful type.’

He laughs and pads barefoot after Alex, the slap of his feet on the hardwood floors in rhythm with the staccato beat of his heart. ‘Me either. I guess I just really, really like you and that’s not super normal for me. Not anymore, anyway.’

As soon as he’s through the threshold of his bedroom, Alex pounces on him, lips on his neck and hands firm at his hips guiding him to the bed, but Michael spins them around at the last minute, lightly pushing Alex onto the mattress. ‘Just been a while. But it’s all starting to come back to me.’ He falls to his knees between Alex’s thighs, thumbs sliding up the inseam of his jeans until he reaches the bottom of Alex’s sweater, tugging it up and over his head and leaving most of his damp hair sticking straight up. ‘That’s a good look.’

‘Glad you approve. It’s going to be so much worse by the time I’m done with you.’ He tries to flatten his hair. It doesn’t work.

Michael shakes his head, amused, and runs his eyes across the expanse of Alex’s torso, the sparse, dark hair on his chest, and the sharp cut of his collarbones. His skin is marred with nicks and scars. Two on his chest and a long, jagged mess of scar tissue over his abdomen. Without thinking, he traces the scar on Alex’s stomach, a lightning bolt of half-mended flesh. Michael wants to pause and ask a million questions. How and where and why. The storied skin beneath his finger riddled with so many secrets.

Questions for next time. Because there will be a next time. And a time after that.

‘Show me how to do the rest.’ He rocks back on his heels to give Alex enough space to undress. First bending down to remove his shoes, then unbuckling his belt and pushing his jeans to his knees where Michael is happy to briefly take over, sliding them the rest of the way off.

Alex smiles at him, tries to tame the one loose curl over his forehead. ‘It’s not too complicated. My prosthetic uses an augmented vacuum suspension. To pull it off you just roll down the suspension sleeve and tug gently.’ He demonstrates, freeing his leg from the device easily. ‘Then you take off the liner. I’ll let you do that part.’

Michael grins, smoothing his hands up Alex’s thigh and slipping his fingertips underneath the soft liner. He tugs it down his thigh leisurely. Enjoying the slight squirm in Alex’s hips.

Once his thigh is bare, Michael’s gaze lowers to the surgical scar that ends Alex’s right leg. He lifts his hand, wanting to touch. Raises his chin, eyes meeting Alex’s in question. Worried he might hurt him or do something rude, something wrong. Alex gives him the barest nod, and Michael doesn’t look away when his fingers land on the edge of his stump, thumb circling his scar. Fingertips caressing, learning, memorizing.

Alex shivers and breaks eye contact. Grabs Michael’s wrist. ‘Tonight’s not about me.’

‘It’s not?’ Michael swallows and Alex’s eyes drop to follow the movement in his throat.

‘No.’ He doesn’t offer any further explanation, but his tone brooks no argument.

Instead, Alex returns his attention to Michael, taking his time unbuttoning his shirt. Letting his knuckles graze over each newly revealed patch of skin, before tossing Michael’s shirt carelessly to the foot of the bed. Alex’s hands immediately palm at Michael’s broad shoulders like he’s measuring the expanse of his wingspread. ‘Before this goes any further, I need to ask a favor.’

‘Anything.’ He’s pretty sure he means that literally.

‘It’s not a sexy favor.’ They both laugh, breaking the tension. ‘But I need you to go get my crutches. Otherwise, you’ll have to carry me everywhere.’ He runs his hands through Michael’s hair and offers him a thankful smile.

‘No problem.’ He squeezes Alex’s knees and then disappears back down the hallway to grab his crutches. It gives him a moment to collect his thoughts which he’s thankful for especially considering Alex’s comment implying that he’s only here for Michael’s pleasure and not his own. There’s a battle raging inside of him. Half of him wants to return to his bedroom and let things take their natural course. Let Alex fuck him hard and sweaty. A blur of sensation and emotion. Over too soon. The other half wants to move so slow the edges of his body sink into Alex’s without either of them noticing.

He wants both. He wants to be fucked so rough he forgets his own name and to be loved so gently the sound of his name takes on a whole new meaning.

Back in his bedroom, Alex’s nakedness assaults every sense in his body. He’s still in his boxer-briefs, but every other inch of him is exposed, relaxed and leaning on his elbows without a care in the world. Waiting for him. Cock thick and ready, pushing against the black cotton of his briefs. Michael knows he’s gaping like an idiot, but he can’t help himself. The moonlight slanting through the skylight glows around him, casting an ethereal halo across his shoulders and down his arms.

Alex starts to look at him funny so he shakes himself from his daze. ‘Where do you want them?’ He coughs, holds up the crutches, and tries his best to drag his eyes up to meet Alex’s.

‘Whichever side of the bed is going to be mine.’ He punctuates the answer with a sweet, tender smile, and Michael swears the floor tilts beneath his feet, the air suddenly dense and inexplicably warm.

‘Okay.’ He walks around the bed and leans them against the empty nightstand he never uses. Now, Alex’s nightstand. And it’s almost like he can see Alex’s name etch itself into the wood surface.

‘Jesus.’ He doesn’t mean to say it out loud.

‘What?’

He scrubs his hand over his face and laughs. ‘I should never go this long without sex.’ Turning to Alex, he finds his way back between his knees, but before he can kneel, Alex’s hands are at his belt, deftly tugging it free from his jeans. ‘And you don’t seem nervous. Which might be making me more nervous.’

Alex pauses his efforts to remove Michael’s pants and looks up at him, concerned. ‘We don’t have to do this tonight if you’re not ready. Things have sort of gone from zero to sixty in less than 24 hours.’ He plants a fluttering kiss on Michael’s belly. It’s ticklish, making him jerk. Alex laughs and kisses the spot again. ‘Really, it’s fine. There’s a lot we haven’t talked about, and I’m more than happy just to sleep next to you.’

Michael shakes his head and swiftly ditches his pants. He returns to his knees, hands kneading at the tightly coiled muscles along the outside of Alex’s thighs. ‘That’s not what I meant. Trust me.’ His fingertips reach the bottom band of Alex’s briefs, slipping underneath the elastic to caress the warm skin beneath his hip bones. ‘It’s just -- I don’t think -- I’ve never liked anyone as much as I like you. At least not this fast.’

Alex’s fingers clutch at his neck and then sink into his hair, massaging gently at the nape of his neck. Michael interprets the touch as encouragement to keep talking. ‘I’m nervous that you’re about to see exactly how much I like you and that it’ll be too much. Too much for only two weeks.’ Normally, he’d never have offered any of this commentary before, during, or after sleeping with someone the first time, and he starts to second guess himself immediately. Quickly pulling away from Alex’s touch.

‘No.’ Alex’s grip tightens at the back of Michael’s neck, holding him in place and leaning in to whisper hotly in his ear. ‘Let me show you, Guerin.’ He slips his fingers under the waistband of Michael’s boxer-briefs and slides them down to his knees. ‘Let me show you exactly what too much looks like.’ He urges Michael to stand and step out of his briefs, tossing them on top of his discarded jeans. Without hesitation, Alex’s hands clutch at the backs of Michael’s thighs, palming at the flank of his ass while his eyes greedily rove the length of his lean body.

Michael watches Alex’s steady journey up his legs. Watches the way Alex’s eyes pause at his hips, soaking in the sight of him as he grows harder beneath Alex’s gaze. He tries to stand still, but can’t help shifting his weight from foot to foot. It’s like Alex’s stare is unknotting the exterior of him to reveal what lies hidden underneath. Peeling back the layers that have built up and calcified over the years, so long Michael barely recognizes the insides of himself anymore -- all red pulp and no meaning. But now that Alex has found him, has stripped him bare and made sense of him again, maybe now Michael can recover the missing beats of his heart.

Too fucking much for two weeks.

Alex’s eyes continue to travel over the ridges of his abs and up the peaks of his chest. Tongue darting out every so often like he can already taste everything he sees. He stops at Michael’s lips for a long time. Smile full of mischief. Gaze darting up to Michael’s eyes, irises darkening -- hunger pooling in his pupils. ‘Join me.’ Not breaking eye contact, he scoots back on the mattress, beckoning Michael with the spread of his thighs.

Climbing onto the bed, Michael reaches for Alex, but Alex has other ideas. He lays his palms on the center of Michael's chest and pushes him firmly until he’s flat on his back. Shifting slowly so he keeps his balance, Alex straddles his waist and leans in to steal a quick kiss. Nothing but a hot press of lips and a less than gentle bite at Michael’s lower lip before settling onto Michael’s hips. ‘I’ve spent nearly every night since we met imagining what it would be like to fuck you.’ He grins and wets his lips, the flash of his pink tongue a fun habit Michael is discovering.

‘Those curls begging to be pulled. That lopsided smile doing its best to hide something I still can’t quite place. With an ass I bet no one has ever paid enough attention to.’ He rocks back slightly, the cotton of his briefs rubbing intentionally at the base of Michael’s cock. When Michael gasps, Alex does it again, more intentionally this time. And then again, settling into a rhythm that turns Michael’s breathing ragged. ‘You were so goddamn gorgeous, and I couldn’t help myself. Didn’t care to help myself.’

Alex chokes out a nervous laugh. ‘Now it’s me who’s nervous. And I’m talking too much.’

‘I think it’s hot.’ It’s out of his mouth before he’s even thought about speaking.

Alex stops moving and tilts in further, their heartbeats hammering together. His breath dances over Michael’s nose, smelling of mint and toothpaste. Michael licks out at his lips trying to taste what lingers from Alex's kiss, enjoying the firm press of Alex’s erection trapped against his stomach. He moves his hands to Alex’s thighs, trying to gain enough leverage to rut his cock against Alex’s ass with a simple thrust of his hips.

It doesn’t work.

Instead, Alex grabs Michael’s wrists and pins them over his head, leaning close enough to purr in his ear. ‘And then we were all alone in that room together before the show, and I wanted so badly to climb into your lap. Feed you my dick. Did you notice how much I wanted you?’

‘Jesus fuck, Alex.’ Michael shakes his head against his pillow. ‘I was convinced you didn’t like me. You seemed nice but distant. Checked out and a million miles away. But I couldn’t stop staring at your hands.’ He tries again to shimmy his hips into Alex’s ass, but Alex’s thighs only hug his waist tighter, halting his movement.

‘You like my hands?’ Alex’s voice is so low and laced with sex he can feel it rumble where their chests meet.

He nods in response, breathing hard, and Alex drags his thumbs lightly over the thin, delicate skin of his wrists. The sensation is unexpected and intense, the sudden twitch in his cock bucking his hips involuntarily. Alex releases Michael’s wrists and starts to slide his calloused fingertips down the underside of his arms, tortuous and slow. ‘That’s good.’

The next time Michael attempts to move, Alex glares down at him in warning, the silent threat enough to keep Michael pinned in place. ‘I’ve had a long time to think about taking you apart with these hands. Jerking off in the shower thinking about all the places I could reach, inside and out.’ He brushes the top of Michael’s armpit and then drags his jagged fingernails roughly up Michael’s arm, fingers once again wrapping around his wrists.

Michael’s mind spins. So far, the night is turning out nothing like what he’d expected. And while Alex had certainly seemed sure of himself during both of their kisses, the way he’s taken charge tonight is baffling and exciting and exactly what Michael has always wanted without having to ask. So many of his previous partners have expected him to take charge. To break them open with his big, broad body. And he’s always complied, fucking men and women alike as hard they begged him to. Never once asking for his turn. His turn to be taken apart and used and left so spent he can barely walk.

Alex kisses his jaw sloppily, leaving a wet trail in his wake and steadily rocking his ass along Michael’s cock. ‘I’d get no sleep and then be a dick all day. That’s probably why Cam frowns every time she hears your name. She’s well aware of who keeps me up at night.’ A teasing lick across Michael’s bottom lip and then Alex presses their foreheads together, grinning. ‘But tonight, I really get to do it. To fuck you, make you feel so good. Isn’t that what you want?’

He chokes out a garbled laugh and does his best to buck his hips and prove his point, stupidly desperate. ‘I need -- I need it.’

‘I’m going to take my time.’ They lock eyes and Alex’s expression is so serious, so filled with an emotion Michael is afraid to name that momentarily his cock softens along with the rest of his body.

‘I’m going to take my time charting every bright, open space and every deep, dark crevice.’ Alex starts at Michael’s lips, bruising them with his own. His tongue fucking into Michael’s mouth until he moans, cock wide awake again.

‘I like sex, Michael. I’m good at it. And I like you. So much.’ He releases Michael’s wrists to cradle his jaw, blinking rapidly like maybe he’s fighting back tears. ‘But I don’t know if I’ll be good at that.’

‘Alex -- ‘

Alex shuts him up with another brutal, devouring kiss. Tongue stroking the roof of his mouth and dick grinding into Michael’s stomach.

He abandons Michael’s lips for his neck, biting at his pulse point hard enough to sting before rubbing his cheek along Michael’s stubble like a greedy housecat begging for attention. He comes away with a red-roughened cheek and a look of pure pleasure, pausing only momentarily to catch Michael’s eye one last time while he rakes his lips across the bristles on Michael’s chin. ‘Ready?’

He bites his lip and nods. Unable to resist, Alex kisses him again, off-centered and messy. Catching more teeth than lip but neither of them is complaining. ‘I want to hear you say it.’

The command in Alex’s voice makes Michael’s cock drip with need. A shaky breath, shallow and not enough. ‘I’m --’ Throat dry, scratchy. ‘I’m ready.’

It’s a lie. He’ll never be ready. The molten fire in his belly spreads rapidly now, threatening to burn him alive. But Alex is the best surprise of his life and he’s not sure he even remembers how to say no. ‘Please.’ That one slips free easily.

‘Good boy. Do you have lube?’

Lube. Condoms. Sex supplies. Of course. The one fucking thing he didn’t think about. ‘I think so.’ He holds Alex in place with one hand while reaching into the top drawer of his nightstand, blindly searching for anything remotely sex-related. He finds several pens, a notebook, his remotes. The dumb alien key chain Isobel had given him last Christmas. Fuck.

In the bottom drawer, it’s even worse. Nothing but air. ‘Fuck.’

Alex tsks. ‘There’s some in my bag.’

‘No, wait!’ He dumps Alex onto the bed beside him and throws his feet on the ground. ‘Spare bedroom. I’ll be right back.’ He runs down the hallway, Alex’s laughter echoing behind him.

He strikes gold and hurries back to Alex, throwing a pile of supplies in his face. ‘Ow.’

He doesn’t bother to apologize, just plops back down on the bed and reaches for Alex. ‘Now I’m ready.’

‘I appreciate your enthusiasm.’ He crawls on top of Michael and picks up exactly where he left off. Not missing a single beat.

True to his word, Alex strikes out to touch, to taste every inch of Michael. Tracing the line of his adam’s apple, exploring the crevice of his collarbone, and sucking cruel at even the tiniest dimples in his skin. Peppering him with small bruises collecting like constellations in the crooks of his chest, his sternum, the peaks and valleys of his ribs. His mouth stargazing, trekking back and forth from one freckle to the next. And every time Michael’s muscles twitch under Alex’s ministrations, he repeats the suck or bite or lick until Michael is a mewling mess beneath him. Laughing fondly at Michael’s inability to lie still, at the breathy way he begs.

And while Alex’s mouth works the top of him, his hands slide under his weight to explore the backs of his shoulders, the curve of his spine, and the tender flesh around the blue-black edge of the bruise growing from where the pitch that had hit him earlier that night. And somehow, even that feels good.

In the midst of so much stimulus, Michael doesn’t know what to do with his hands. One minute they’re gently tugging at Alex’s hair, the next clutching at the sheets on his bed. He wants to wrap them around his cock while Alex continues exploring but instinctively knows that’s not allowed. The first time Alex scrapes his teeth over an already too-sensitive nipple, Michael’s right hand flies to the headboard above him, his left to the corner of the mattress. Holding on as he arches his back and cries out for more.

Shifting further down, Alex continues to drag his teeth over Michael’s nipples. Again and again. Hands rejoining his mouth to butterfly over his ribcage, fingers sinking into the soft places between his ribs. Fingernails scratching deep and leaving their mark.

It hurts really fucking good.

After a colorful string of expletives, Michael closes his eyes and tries to imagine anything, anything at all that will distract the craving in his cock. He’s too close to the precipice and in danger of leaping off. And then suddenly Alex’s breath is hot against his abs, fingernails scrabbling gracelessly at his waist, his hips, the dimples at the top of his ass. Pinched crescent moons denting his skin. Tongue darting deep into his navel without warning.

The dam of distraction his mind is clinging to almost collapses. He repeats every equation he can remember in his head. Even the four kinematic formulas. He rotates between angular motion, Carnot engines, fluids, forces, moments of inertia. By the time he starts working through the laws of thermodynamics, Alex has found the V winged at his hips, indentions deep and roped with muscle, and Michael’s certain thermodynamics aren’t going to save him.

‘Fuck, Alex. I’m -- ‘ He sucks in a breath. ‘I can’t -- too much -- ‘

But he’ll keep trying.

He switches to baseball stats. Sorted by year. Reciting the number of fastballs, sliders, curveballs he’s hit, their velocity and trajectory. Alex runs both his thumbs up and down the sharp cuts of muscle on either side of his hips like he’s found something he lost a long time ago. He keeps the motion going with his right hand, but replaces his left thumb with his lips.

Michael abandons his annual stats midway through 2010. Deciding instead to open his eyes and risk a glance down at Alex as he plunders the hard-earned muscles hugging his abs. Licking down through the V and then climbing back up with his teeth. Switching sides. Down and up. Up and down. Tongue then teeth. Teeth then tongue.

A strangled cry echoes through his bedroom, and it takes a moment for Michael to realize the noise is coming from his own mouth. He laughs, half-mad with want.

‘Alex --’ It’s incoherent. Maybe it’s not even said at all.

Alex doesn’t stop, keeps worshiping that one spot until Michael goes slack, sinking into sensation and losing his sense of self. Whimpering and unmoored. Adrift in a storm ravaged sea; Alex the lighthouse beckoning him home. His dick hasn’t been touched once and already he’s a shuddering mess. Completely unsure where he ends and Alex begins. And god, it’s a fucking miracle he doesn’t come.

Alex’s hands wrap firmly around his hip bones, staying him in place while he struggles to catch his breath, and a warm glow flickers at the edges of his memory. It’s like being swallowed whole by moonlight, and it sends him home.

Roswell is exactly 1273 miles away.

The turquoise mines a few miles further than that. Dusty and smelling of groundwater, musty and mineral. Lit with the bright light of his pod. Isobel’s and Max’s pods nearby. They’ve always claimed their memories didn’t start until they’d climbed free, breathing in Earth’s harsh atmosphere that first time. But that’s not true for him. He remembers the pod in a way he finds hard to explain. An impression on his body, light pressure pulsing along his skin. Like a kiss. The pod a living, breathing, sentient thing. It’s fluids and tissues communicating with his fluids and tissues.

He’d been safe, protected, bonded. Not alone. Not even for a second. Filled with the spirit of his people. Those who’d come before and those who’d come after - nameless but real and loved.

That feeling has always been beyond human speech. And like nothing he’d ever found again. Until this moment.

Because that’s exactly what it feels like being with Alex, being touched by Alex. Like maybe he’d stumbled free all those years ago to find Alex, to crawl inside Alex. Fifty years held in suspended animation waiting for this man to be born. For his hands to be the safety, the protection, the bond that brings him home.

The thought is too much, too soon, and an unexpected weight begins to chase the air from his lungs. He squeezes his eyes shut, tears leaking from the corners. Whether from emotion or the strain of holding his orgasm at bay, he’s not sure.

He wants to apologize to Alex. For clinging already. For loving so easy.

For being such a goddamned romantic fool.

As if he can sense Michael’s need for a break, Alex balances mostly on his left knee using Michael’s thighs as support and grins up at him, unaware of the internal battle Michael’s fighting. ‘Your body is amazing. I knew it would be with how hard you work, but honestly, you're beyond even my wildest dreams.’

Michael tries to respond, but his mouth is too dry and the most coherent word he’s able to stutter is what. He sits up on his elbows and glances over his chest and stomach, eyes blowing wide when he actually sees the sloppy trail Alex has left riddled up and down his body. There are whelped claw marks paralleling his ribs and pink bruises dotted wherever Alex’s lips were able to find purchase. For days he’ll be able to stand in front of a mirror and trace Alex’s journey across his skin. He felt it happen, but seeing it is a whole different thing. ‘Fuck, Alex.’

A twinge of worry pulls Alex’s eyebrows closer together. ‘I made a bit of a mess. I hope that’s okay. I got excited.’ He smooths his hand over the red, welted scratches in between Michael’s ribs.

Michael’s cock jumps at the soft touch, reminding him of how achingly hard he is. Alex’s eyes don’t miss the movement and his cocksure smile returns.

‘It’s very okay. It’d be even more okay if you kept going. But more this time.’ He throws the bottle of lube at Alex and collapses back onto the mattress, pleading with his eyes.

‘What do you want?’ Alex rubs his hands up Michael’s inner thighs, being oh-so-careful to steer clear of Michael’s dick.

There are exactly two things he wants right now. Two things that might distract him from the swell of emotions still closing in on him. ‘Your mouth wrapped around me while you fuck me with your fingers.’ It’s the only way to drown out the noises in his head, to keep himself from falling down the rabbit hole of no return.

He sits up suddenly, tightening an arm around Alex’s waist so he doesn’t topple over. Alex laughs and grabs hold of his shoulders for extra support. ‘You inside of me inside of you? I like it.’ Michael’s face grows serious and Alex frowns. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ He places a soft, wet kiss in the middle of Alex’s chest. ‘It’s just -- I need this. I need -- I need to let go for a while. I legit need you to fuck me stupid.’ He kisses the corner of Alex’s mouth, clears his throat. ‘Don’t be gentle, hurt me a little, help me let it all go.’ A long beat spent searching Alex’s eyes. ‘Please.’

Alex’s smile falters almost imperceptibly like he can see straight through Michael’s desperate charade, but then he runs his fingers through Michael’s hair, brushing his lips over his temple, a thumb over his lip. ‘You’re in luck. I know exactly how to fuck you so filthy you’ll feel my fingers inside you every time you swing that bat. For at least a week. Is that what you need?’

Yes. That’s exactly what he needs. It sounds fucking perfect. And beyond words, so he abandons them. Twisting his hand around three of Alex’s fingers and sucking them into his mouth.

‘Fuck, Guerin.’ Michael closes his eyes and concentrates on soaking Alex’s fingers, but he knows Alex is watching, mesmerized. The weight of his gaze urging Michael’s mouth deeper.

With a sloppy, slick smack, Michael releases Alex’s hand and settles back on the pillows, legs spreading wide open once Alex has shifted between his thighs. He turns his head and locates the small bottle of lube, tossing it up at Alex. ‘That was all just for show. Lube is our friend.’

Alex snorts and coats his fingers until they are dripping. ‘You’re such a fucking menace.’

The pressure in his chest is already easing. His body relaxing. Whatever that surge of emotion had been forgotten the instant Alex’s finger brushes at his hole, asking too politely for entry. Michael squirms. ‘Hurry.’

‘Patience is a virtue, so they say.’ He slides his finger slowly inside, sighing like he’s the one relieved, and then adds a second finger without warning. Michael can’t stop the noise he makes, throwing his head back and trying to fuck himself on Alex’s fingers.

‘Jesus, you’re tight.’ He spends ages scissoring his two fingers, stretching Michael’s opening until he’s easily able to thrust his fingers deep, fingertips brushing against his swelling prostate. Alex adds a third finger and simultaneously wraps his other hand around the base of Michael’s cock, not moving just holding him firm.

It drives Michael straight to the edge. But he refuses to let go before he’s in Alex’s mouth. He glances down at Alex between his legs and it’s a mistake. His lips are parted, tongue licking back and forth across his bottom lip. That goddamn habit back to haunt him. Alex’s eyes are heavy-lidded but watching. Watching his slick fingers slide in and out, and it’s not fucking fair. Because Michael wants to watch too.

‘Tell me. I, I can’t see. Tell me.’ Alex’s eyes dart up, his thumb starting a slow drag at the thick vein on the underside of Michael’s cock. ‘Alex -- please.’ He has to bite his cheeks, hard - drawing blood, to keep from coming.

Alex opens his mouth to answer, panting. ‘You’re perfect. Opening for my fingers, pulling them deep inside of you. Your ass is just as eager, as hungry as your mouth. Wet and red and so goddamn warm.’

Another mistake. Shouldn’t have asked. Alex and his gruff fucking voice smoked with heat and his goddamn fingers pumping in and out. The brush of his knuckles spreading him further apart. A collision course, the crash. His prostate throbbing for more. ‘Your mouth. Now. I can’t -- ‘

At first, it’s just a curl of tongue at his slit. A taste, a flutter. Colors brighter, the physicality of his existence sharper. Then it’s a flood. Alex’s mouth halfway down his dick, lips kissing his own fist where he holds Michael still, fingers fucking faster, filthier, further inside.

It’s exactly as too much as he’d begged for. Unable to choose between riding Alex’s fingers or bucking into his mouth. His hips a writhing, wriggling disaster. Overstimulated and spun out. A ruined wreck. And that’s before he reopens his eyes.

Eyes slit. Unfocused. Neck tilting, sweat sliding into his hairline. Alex. Alex sucking him off. Lips tight around him. Fist twisting up to meet them. A slick, glistening trail left behind as he moans his way back up. Another curl of his tongue, his thumb stroking that thick vein. Ready for release. So fucking ready.

Michael can’t help himself. Doesn’t bother trying. Stretches his hand down to cover Alex’s. And now they are both working him to climax. Together. Alex’s eyes open, find his. Liquid black pools, wet at the edges as he takes Michael into the back of his throat. Michael does his best to unclench his ass while Alex does his best to loosen his jaw. They both fall deeper inside one another.

And that’s how it ends.

The sex, the emotion, the crazy, too-good-to-be-true connection he’s felt since the very beginning sending Michael all the way home.

His orgasm is blistering. The white-hot blaze of pleasure crashing through him, every muscle seizing with its own tiny earthquake. Alex swallows around him and he bellows -- a feral, rabid sound that he hardly believes is real. He clutches at the sheet beneath him, pulling the whole damn thing free of the mattress. Toes curling, thighs pulsing, heels grinding into the bed. Alex squeezes at Michael’s hips, tongue coaxing every last drop from his cock.

Michael stares up through the skylight over his side of the bed, sweat drenching the twisted, ruined sheets beneath him, and tries to find the stars or the moon or anything to help him focus his erratic breathing and the violence of his heartbeat. But his vision’s too blurry, and all he sees are the stars of Alex’s making, flashing amber sparks flaring at the corners of his eyes. And again, he’s reminded of the pod. The excessive warmth and safety. The press of love.

Lost in a daze, he barely hears Alex tear open a condom, slide out of his briefs. Barely registers the spreading of his still trembling thighs. It’s not until Alex is pushing inside of him that he gasps and understands, shifting his hips to open for him. He hates that he feels so spent, so wasted. That he can’t make Alex come the way he deserves. But he does his best, relaxing his muscles and welcoming him inside. Encouraging lifts of his hips as Alex thrusts inside of him, fingernails biting into his ass.

‘Michael -- fuck. You feel too good.’

Alex rests his forehead on Michael’s chest. And it feels like he times every thrust with the racing beats of Michael’s heart. Short and sharp and stinging in the best way. Alex’s hands thread through his hair, twining together for leverage. Elbows braced on his shoulders, forehead still at his chest as his rhythm breaks down and the veins in his cock begin to throb. Michael clenches around him and Alex comes, a hot rush of breath against Michael’s chest. A bite at Michael’s ribs as he rides out his orgasm.

‘Oh my god.’ Alex collapses his full weight along Michael’s body. Their sweat mingling together. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever come that fast. I mean, you know, as an adult.’ He laughs, ragged, and it reverberates down through Michael’s toes.

It takes him a couple of minutes to respond, for his lungs to return to a functioning capacity. ‘I’ve never felt anything like that. Not ever. Fuck, Alex.’

More laughter. Alex rests his chin on Michael’s breastbone, eyes gleaming. ‘I would definitely like to do that about a million more times.’ He smiles, suggestive and sweet all at once. ‘Let you get me on my back while I watch you ride my cock.’

Michael can’t help but groan eagerly at the image, at the way he can already feel his body desperate to respond. ‘And people call me a menace.’

Carefully, Alex reaches down to remove himself and the condom safely. He tosses it into the wastebasket at the side of the bed and slides up to spend several long, languid moments kissing Michael stupid. And then he’s gone, head hitting the pillow and hand landing solidly on Michael’s chest. ‘You’re heart beats so fast and you’re so warm. Excessively warm.’

A flicker of worry drags through his mind. At how easy it was for Alex to figure out the ways that he’s different. Already with the smell and now with the too-fast heart and raised body temperature. He drops his hand on top of Alex’s and squeezes. ‘Just run hot. That’s all.’

‘Hmmm. Well, it’s like getting caught in a summer thunderstorm.’

Michael relaxes at those words. Body still working at recovery. He glances over at the clock at his bedside. It’s only been thirty minutes, but it feels like they fucked for days. His body aches pleasantly and he knows he’ll be sore in the morning, rediscovering muscles he’d long since forgotten existed.

The sheets are a mess. Everything’s a mess. ‘I’m going to go grab clean sheets.’

He turns to Alex but finds him fast asleep. Breathing deep and even. A smile still curling up the corners of his mouth. Michael chuckles softly and skims his hand along the outline of Alex’s body. Top of his shoulder, bottom of his rips, dip of his waist. He glides over the curve of his ass and squeezes at the jut of his hip. Alex settles further into him, head tucked under his chin like one of Michael’s ship pieces naturally locking together without any measure of coercion.

They’ve both had long, strenuous days. The stress of the game followed by the celebration of their win. Alex’s drive down from Nashville and his performance -- both of his performances -- as the night stretched further into darkness. It makes sense that as soon as his head touched a pillow, Alex’s eyes would close and send him drifting into dreams.

‘I like you so much.’ He brushes back a stray strand of Alex’s hair. ‘I hope that’s okay.’

Alex murmurs something unintelligible and snuggles closer.

And Michael can’t quite wrap his mind around it. That Alex would show up at his house, give the last remaining vestiges of his energy to Michael’s pleasure, and then happily pass out without requiring more than a quick release of his own in return. Emotion stings his eyes.

He glances at the pillow across from his, the pillow that has so long lain empty and lies empty still. Empty because Alex has abandoned its surface to share Michael’s instead. Moonlight floods through from above, pooling in the cool space Alex has left behind. It makes him think about the way that moonlight is a lie. Sunlight masquerading as a dream. The truth is that the moon is nothing but a giant ball of dust filled with dead volcanoes, impact craters, and lava flows. It takes the sun to make it shine, to reach out and give it light.

And maybe Michael has let himself become too much like the moon. Lonely and lightless.

And maybe Alex is like the sun. Diffuse reflection. Scattered light happening at many angles, not just one. Shining enough for both of them until Michael is ready to burn bright on his own.

He thinks of Becks. And he fucking hates that he thinks of Becks.

But where Becks had been an invasion, Alex is a warm welcome. A sure thing. A safe bet. Like the countdown to liftoff, the steady drum of a beating heart, the drone of a metronome keeping time.

He hopes so, anyway. And Michael knows hope can be a dangerous thing. But part of risking it all is letting hope back in, isn’t it?

The last dredges of adrenaline from his orgasm fade and exhaustion takes its place. He hugs Alex’s waist closer, the small of his back still misted with a thin sheen of sweat. Whispering goodnight into his hair, Michael kisses the crown of his forehead and closes his eyes.

He imagines himself whispering I love you.

And he’d mean it.

He does love Alex. Loves his inability to text when he says he will. Loves how little he understands baseball but still tries so hard. Loves that he babbles when he’s nervous but shuts up completely when things get more complicated. His generosity even when he’s obviously exhausted. His willingness to risk it all. His voice. His smile. The soft way he’s snoring.

One day he’ll tell him. One day soon.

And that’s his last thought before he joins Alex in sleep.

Chapter Text

The night darkens around them as they sleep, the quiet sounds of their breathing filling the room. Neither of them moves much or awakens at all until the shine of headlights floods through the large picture window in Michael’s bedroom, dragging him from sleep. At first, he doesn’t know what’s woken him, and it takes him a minute to realize Alex is still tucked warmly into his chest. Not wanting to disturb him, Michael scoots gently off the bed, smoothing a strand of Alex’s hair from his forehead once he’s free.

A car door slams outside and Michael turns to the window. His security lights blink on, and he readies his TK just in case. He slips on a pair of basketball shorts and takes one last glance at Alex sleeping peacefully. Moving swiftly through the familiar shadows of his house, he slinks toward the window next to the front door and peeks out as covertly as he can. It only takes him a couple of seconds to recognize Danny standing on his stoop, trying to remember which key on his giant, cluttered keyring is the correct one.

Rolling his eyes, Michael decides to forego giving his friend a hand and heads into his kitchen instead, where he pours himself a large bowl of cereal and waits for Danny to find his way inside. Briefly, he considers switching on the lights to alert Danny that he's awake. But no. Danny will get what Danny deserves for breaking into his house at 4 am with no warning.

Michael’s halfway through his cereal by the time Danny shuts the door behind him. He listens to Danny make his way noisily through the living room before he moves into sight, tiptoeing hilariously like some cartoon villain executing the most ineffectual crime ever committed. Michael flicks the lights on with a single tick of his brain and Danny screams, high-pitched and violent enough to wake up half the neighborhood. Michael hopes Alex isn’t a light sleeper.

‘Fuck, Guerin.’ Danny’s bent at the waist, hands braced on his knees as his chest heaves. ‘Why didn’t you say something? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you almost gave me a fucking heart attack.’

‘Really, Marks?’ He continues lazily chewing his cereal, marveling at Danny’s audacity. ‘What makes you think you get to ask the questions here?’

‘Fine.’ Danny stands up and glares at him. ‘That’s fair. I’m the one breaking into your house. But I need to borrow your smoker for tonight. Didn’t want to wake you since I have a key and figured you wouldn’t mind.’

Michael nods and sets his bowl in the sink. ‘You’re not very stealthy.’

Danny narrows his eyes, looking back over his shoulder and down the hall toward Michael’s bedroom. ‘You’re not alone.’ Returning his attention to Michael, he smirks. ‘Probably should have put a shirt over all of that.’ He waves his hand over Michael’s naked torso. ‘There’s no way that mess happened during the game.’

Michael plays coy. ‘Maybe I tripped and fell.’ It’s the absolute worst lie told with his straightest face.

‘Yeah. Tripped and fell right onto Alex’s hungry mouth.’ He makes a big production of sniffing the air around him. ‘It smells like a sex den in here too.’ He snickers and Michael does his best not to react. ‘But mostly what gave it away was the guitar and sleepover bag sitting by your couch. Neither of which are yours.’

Busted. Michael’s lips spread wolfishly just in time for Alex to emerge from the hallway. ‘Hey, Danny.’

Danny turns to him, eyes warm and welcoming. ‘Alex! So good to see you again. And fully dressed, no less. Guerin could stand to learn a thing or two from you.’ He winks back at Michael. ‘I didn’t wake you, did I? With the very undignified screaming we’re all never going to speak of again?’

Alex grins, steadying himself on his crutches, sweatpants hung low on his hips capturing Michael’s full and undivided attention. ‘I kinda like the half-naked, sex-ravaged look myself. And don’t worry. It was Michael’s clomping through the house that woke me up.’

‘I do not clomp.’ Michael fills his voice with faux outrage.

‘Yes, you do.’ They both reply in unison with Danny clomping his feet as an audiovisual aid.

‘Okay, time to go, Marks. See you tonight.’ He points to the backdoor. ‘Smoker’s where it always is.’

‘Alright, alright, I’m going. But just so we’re clear, I intend to recount every detail of this encounter to Lena in colorful detail. So don’t be surprised when she interrogates both of you over dinner.’ He opens the door into the night, crickets still chirping even with the morning songbirds beginning to sing.

‘Don’t leave out the part where you screeched like a dying cat.’ Michael waves at him. ‘Because I definitely won’t.’

With one last narrow of his eyes, Danny disappears into Michael’s backyard, closing the door behind him.

Michael shifts his attention to Alex. ‘Sorry, we woke you.’

‘I’m not.’ He moves closer, agile and quick even on his crutches. Forearms and biceps flexing as he balances his weight. Stopping less than a foot away, he surveys the damage he’d left behind on Michael’s skin. ‘I really did a number on you, huh?’ Stretching out his hand, he visits each bruise, tracing a path with his knuckles.

There’s uncertainty -- maybe even a touch of shame -- in his voice and the first tangible sign of insecurity from Alex all night. Michael glances down at his chest and smiles at the small, purpling spots littered across his skin. The scratches at his ribs spread his smile into a grin. ‘I think it’s an improvement, honestly. I look down and see more than just myself. I see you.’

‘It looks different without the lust filter, the adrenaline. Like maybe I hurt you.’ He winces at his own words and the barely perceptible quiver in his voice hasn’t left despite Michael’s assurances. But Michael also understands exactly what Alex is remembering. The unwelcome hurt forced upon a body, bruises written with violence.

‘You didn’t hurt me. You loved me.’ Said sure and true, solidified by his hands over Alex’s heart. It earns Michael a gentle look, but the fear lingers in Alex’s eyes.

‘When I woke up and you weren’t there, I was so sure for a split second that I’d gone too far.’ He bites anxiously at his lower lip. ‘I thought you’d left. Which is silly because this is your house and your bed. It’s also incredibly hypocritical considering that was my signature move for years.’

Michael presses a kiss to the wrinkles in his forehead, hoping to assuage his fears. ‘I thought you said you didn’t date.’

Alex sucks in as much air as he can through his nose and releases it slowly through his mouth. ‘Mostly true. It felt a little too early to warn you I tend to run away when things get serious or emotional. Or -- anything at all, really.’ Another breath, deep inhale, longer exhale. Eyes looking anywhere but at Michael. ‘A couple of good dates and then kicking whoever had managed to climb into my bed out. And not nicely either. Over and over again until this guy I’d been seeing for two months read me the riot act.’

‘You could have told me that.’ He kisses a freckle at Alex’s hairline. ‘And then I could have told you I never let anyone sleep in my bed. Overnight guests are sequestered away in one of the spare bedrooms. It’s my preferred form of distance.’

Alex’s eyes dart briefly to his before shifting over his shoulder. ‘Have you ever talked to someone about stuff like that? And by someone, I mean a professional. Therapy.’

Michael still hears the faint twinge of shame in Alex’s words. He presses in closer, offering Alex his warmth, and shakes his head. ‘Never been brave enough.’

‘A month after that guy got so frustrated with me, my dad died. Everything got overwhelming so I started seeing a therapist. She’s on speed dial now.’ He laughs but with an almost manic edge. ‘I haven’t dated anyone since I started talking to her about a year ago. But I told her about you yesterday. I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this.’

‘I like hearing it. Has she helped?’

‘I guess we’re going to find out.’ He rests his forehead against Michael’s, taking another steadying breath. ‘I’m worried I’m going to overcorrect and become a clingy, emotional mess. I run hot and cold. Have a hard time finding middle ground.’

‘Well, you know what always helps me find a middle ground?’ He steps away from Alex but keeps a broad smile on his face so he doesn’t alarm him with the sudden detachment.

‘Exercise?’ Balancing on his left leg, Alex runs a finger down the center of Michael’s abs, grinning as they tense beneath his finger.

‘I was going to say sex, but it amounts to the same thing.’ He bends and reaches around the backs of Alex’s thighs, tossing him over his shoulder. Alex yelps and lets his crutches crash to the floor.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll come back for them later. There’s something I gotta take care of first.’ He carries Alex back into his bedroom and drops him unceremoniously onto the bed, sheets still wrecked from their earlier activities.

Alex laughs, eyes full of joy and mischief and rising hunger. ‘I hope that something is me.’

Michael responds by sliding his fingers under the waistband of Alex’s sweatpants and briefs, removing them both in one long, fluid motion. Wanting nothing more than Alex completely naked, exposed and bare beneath his gaze.

Yanking him to the edge of the bed, Michael kneels between his knees. ‘I wish I had the same patience as you. To touch you slowly inch by inch until you come undone. But honestly, Alex. I just want you to come in my mouth. The sooner, the better.’

He sinks his mouth over the head of Alex’s semi-hard cock, hoping he remembers enough of what he’s doing to make this good for Alex. It doesn’t take long for Alex to grow hard and thick beneath his tongue. Thicker than Michael had imagined which he takes as a challenge, stretching his lips and loosening his jaw to swallow as much of Alex as possible. The effort earns him both of Alex’s hands twisted in his hair, tugging sharply, a breathless, begging fuck falling from between his lips.

Out of breath, Michael pulls back with a wicked grin. ‘You like that?’

‘Fuck, no. I goddamn love that.’ If possible, his brown eyes darken even further, pupils bleeding his irises black. ‘Do it again.’ He spreads his thighs wider giving Michael more room to work.

The tone of Alex’s voice turns the request into more of a demand. A demand that must be obeyed and Michael’s cock twitches with the need to obey. Ignoring his own body, Michael plunges his mouth back down Alex’s dick, hands holding his hips firmly in place. Alex’s back arches and his left heel scrambles for purchase, digging into Michael’s thigh.

Already, Alex is close, too close. Because in spite of what he’d said only a minute earlier, Michael’s not ready to let him go just yet. There’s a lot to learn and Michael’s always been an excellent student. He flattens his palm against the inside of Alex’s right thigh, pressing his leg into the mattress, and slows his pace to a leisurely exploration. Lips and tongue searching for the most sensitive points along the length of him.

Lesson number one is that Alex is a loud fuck, moaning deep, guttural, and nearly nonstop. It doesn’t take long for Michael to realize it’s when Alex’s breath hitches and he falls quiet that he feels best. His body tensing and his hips jerking.

It’s the kind of knowledge that can ruin a person. And Michael wants to ruin Alex.

There’s a vein that runs along the length of him that Michael’s tongue discovers is incredibly susceptible to ruination. An idea -- maybe a bad idea -- pulls Michael’s mouth from around Alex’s cock, tongue lingering briefly to lick the sweet slickness pooled at his slit. Alex tries to protest, but then Michael plants his lips at the base of his dick and drags them upward, sucking hard and then tongue soothing the swelling vein until Alex has fallen completely silent. So silent Michael’s not even sure he’s breathing.

Michael sits back on his heels, worried he’s made a massive mistake. But when he looks up at Alex, he realizes it’s the exact opposite. Alex’s eyes are wide, mouth slack, chest heaving and sweat dripping down his neck. ‘Again. Please. But I won’t last a third time.’ He closes his eyes and rubs his thumbs over his nipples, squirming at the sensation. Michael files that image away for another day and plans his final attack.

More than anything, he wants to taste Alex. So he repeats the movement, the pull of his mouth, the press of his tongue sending Alex right to the edge. Michael watches every muscle in his body clench and then wraps his fingers around Alex’s wet cock, his other hand pressing into the softness of his belly. And he sucks roughly at the head of Alex’s dick, tongue stroking his slit, fast and filthy.

Alex’s legs shake beneath Michael as he comes. Hands diving into Michael’s hair and yanking carelessly. His heel kicking at Michael’s thigh so hard he moans at the sharp pain, but still manages to keep his lips locked tight to Alex’s cock, riding out his orgasm.

It’s only when Alex’s foot falls slack on his thigh that Michael remembers his own need. He’s painfully hard and rises to his feet, prepared to finish himself with a few quick jerks over Alex’s stomach, but as soon as he’s standing, Alex’s hands are at the waistband of shorts and dropping them to his ankles. Hand and mouth wrapped around his cock not bothering with even the slightest of pleasantries. Once he’s got a steady rhythm going, cheeks hollow and lungs still panting, he grabs Michael’s hips, encouraging Michael to thrust.

Not needing a better invitation, Michael grabs the back of Alex’s head and fucks into his mouth once, twice, and then comes hot down the back of his throat. Crying out with his release and thighs trembling as his balls empty. The muscles in Alex’s neck, shoulders, back flex as he strains to keep Michael deep inside until he’s empty. And in a brief moment of sex-infused insanity, Michael thinks he might come all over again.

Alex pulls back and grins up at him. ‘We’re getting good at this.’ He slides back to his side of the bed, propping his head up with his elbow.

Michael kicks his shorts aside and crawls in after him, slotting this body perfectly next to Alex’s. Both their hands instantly reaching out for each other still wanting more despite already having had so much. Their tongues tangle together lazily as they mix the taste of one another and sink further into the mess of sheets around them.

They stay wrapped in each other for a long time. Slow, easy kissing building into another frantic fervor. Michael spreads Alex’s thighs with his hips and slides their half-hard cocks together, his come hither tongue stroking promises on the roof of Alex’s mouth. Alex moans and cries out, yanking free from Michael’s grasp. His face contorts with pain as he reaches down to clutch at his right thigh, pushing Michael off him roughly.

‘What’s wrong? What did I do?’ But Alex doesn’t answer. He’s bent in half at the waist, forehead pressed into the top of his thigh. Michael can see his jaw flex, teeth clench. ‘Alex? Let me help.’

Several agonizing minutes pass before Alex lifts his head. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice is strangled with pain. ‘I’ve been overdoing it lately. Skipping my PT.’

‘Hey.’ Michael thumbs away the tears drying on his cheeks. ‘I’m sorry. I should have let you rest. What do you need?’

Alex sighs, massaging at the seizing muscle above his knee. ‘None of this is your fault.’ He glares at Michael until he looks away. ‘None of it.’ He butts his forehead into Michael’s shoulder and rests it there. ‘A really hot bath would be good. I assume there’s a bathtub somewhere in this sprawling house.’ He raises his head and attempts a smile. It almost works.

‘Of course. There’s a soaking tub in the guest bath down the hall. I’ll go grab your crutches and run the water. How hot is too hot?’ He kisses Alex on his forehead, on his temple, on his cheek. It fixes his smile and returns the brightness to his eyes.

‘No such thing. You pick the temperature so that you can join me. If you want to.’ There’s still struggle in his voice so Michael knows the pain hasn’t entirely waned.

‘I definitely want to.’ He kisses Alex one last time loudly on the lips and trots out to the hallway. The spare bedroom is dark so he switches on the light, heading straight into the generous bathroom. The tub is deep and wide, plenty big enough for the both of them. Turning on the taps, he lets the water run over his fingers until it’s pleasantly steaming and twists the drain closed.

Out in his living room, he picks up Alex’s abandoned crutches and grabs his overnight bag as well. When he returns to the bedroom, he finds Alex hunched over on the edge of the bed, crying softly. Hands tight around his thigh again. He drops everything to the floor and collapses on his knees in front of Alex. Heart aching to touch him but not entirely sure whether touch is the right move. ‘I’m right here, Alex. Anything you need, let me know.’

He sniffles and clears his throat. ‘My bag. Side...side pocket. Meds.’

Michael scrambles to his bag, digging into the pocket and finding two different orange pill bottles. He has no clue which one Alex needs so he grabs both. ‘Which one, sweetheart?’

‘Muscle relaxant.’

He reads the prescription on both bottles and luckily one identifies itself as a muscle relaxant. Jogging into his bathroom, he pours Alex a glass of water and opens the bottle, shaking out one pill into the palm of his hand.

Alex raises his head to take the water and the pill, swallowing quickly, tears still rolling down his cheeks. Michael sits beside him and rubs soothing circles on his back, wishing so desperately that he could take away his pain. ‘I’m going to carry you to the tub.’

He sweeps his hands under Alex’s knees, ignoring his fervent protests. ‘Shhh, Alex. I’ve got you.’ Lifting him from the bed, Michael uses his TK to make the journey as painless as possible for Alex, not caring a single fuck if he notices something weird. If the price he pays for lessening Alex’s suffering is his own outing, he’s perfectly happy to let everything come to light.

Alex wraps his arms tightly around Michael’s neck, burying his face into the crook of his shoulder. Hot tears burning Michael’s skin.

In the bathroom, he lowers Alex gently into the tub. ‘You get comfortable. I’m going to go grab some towels. Do you need anything else? Some more water maybe?’

His eyes are closed and he’s breathing heavy, fingers squeezing the side of the tub, knuckles day-glow white against the matte black stone. ‘Water, yes.’ That’s all he manages around his clenched jaw and grinding teeth.

Michael hates to turn his back and leave him like this. So he doesn’t. Not at first. He sits on the closed toilet seat and waits for any sign of relief from Alex. It takes a solid fifteen minutes, but eventually, the lines in his brow slacken and his hands slide into the water. That’s when he slips out of the bathroom to run his errands.

It’s not until he’s standing in front of his open linen closet, reaching over his head to grab a couple of towels, that he realizes he’s shaking. He clutches the edge of the shelf and lays his forehead against the cool wood, taking his own deep, steadying breaths. Seeing Alex in so much pain was not at all what he’d expected from this night. But then again, nothing has gone to plan because he never had a fucking plan in the first place.

And he’s mad at himself. Furious that he hadn’t stopped for two seconds to consider how tired Alex must have been after practicing nonstop for weeks, driving down from Nashville, and performing tonight. Then he’d let Alex inside his house not to rest. No, not to fucking rest. But so that he could keep working, pushing himself way past exhaustion and straight into agonizing pain.

He should have asked so many more questions. Should not have gotten so caught up in his own happiness and celebration.

Tamping his emotions, he grabs the towels and heads into the kitchen to pull a bottle of water from his fridge. It’s Alex’s favorite brand. The one from the first time they’d met. At least he’d considered that much.

Back in the bathroom, Alex looks like he’s fallen asleep, but as soon as Michael puts the towels on the table next to the tub, his eyes open and he smiles, the color returning to his cheeks. ‘Hi.’

Michael brushes the damp hair off his forehead. ‘Feeling better?’

‘Yeah. Join me? Before that pill knocks me out.’

‘Okay, but drink this first.’ He hands Alex the bottle, but Alex grabs his wrist, staying him in place.

‘It’s not your fault.’ But isn’t it? Because he can’t shake the feeling that none of this would have happened if he’d just used his brain for half a minute.

‘I didn’t -- ‘

Another smile, this one sad. ‘It’s written all over your face.’

Michael sighs and Alex lets go of his wrist. ‘I should have let you rest.’

‘I wouldn’t have let you. I did exactly what I wanted to do. My bad decisions aren’t your fault. Now get in before the water gets cold.’ He spreads his legs again in welcome, patting and splashing the water where he intends Michael to sit.

‘That’s not going to bother you?’ He doesn’t want to hurt him any further.

‘Nah. The spasm has mostly passed. The worst part anyway. Medicine’s going to take care of the rest.’ Michael eyes him warily, but Alex flicks his fingers and sprinkles water on him, watching the tiny drops crawl down his legs. ‘I promise. Get in.’

The water is still piping hot when Michael slides between his legs and rests against his chest. Alex is half-hard again, erection pressed into his back. He purposefully readjusts, rubbing at his cock playfully. ‘How did that happen?’

‘The warm water, the sight of you naked, and my mind needed a good distraction. Spent some time thinking about how one day I’m going to fuck you in this tub.’ He laughs and drapes his arms over Michael’s shoulders, increasing the friction between their bodies. ‘But don’t get too excited. That pill’s going to ruin any fun we might have had the next few hours.’

Michael moves his hands to Alex’s right thigh and starts working at the muscle still contorted with tension, still visibly spasming every couple of seconds. ‘Do you mind?’

‘No. Probably a good idea.’ He kneads at the muscle until he feels Alex grow slack beneath him, and then switches to his left leg, instinctively understanding it’s probably not in much better shape. ‘You’re good at that.’

‘Yeah, well, muscle spasms aren’t exactly a stranger to athletes. I’ve probably had hundreds of massages and my fair share of PT over the years.’ He works up Alex’s thigh, enjoying the light groans he doesn’t bother hiding. ‘Picked up a thing or two along the way.’

‘I think you might be better than Danese. But that’s probably just my cock talking.’

‘Who’s Danese?’

‘She’s my physical therapist. For the tour. Spends the whole shebang with me, keeping me upright.’

‘Isn’t it hard? Managing a tour that’s so long, so physical?’ He feels Alex tense beneath him. ‘Hey.’ He twists around so he can look Alex in the eye. ‘I didn’t mean anything by that. I just don’t want you in pain.’

Alex smiles sadly. ‘I’m always in a little pain. The severe pain is less frequent these days, thankfully. Other than the first song and the encore, I sit down during the entirety of my shows.’ Michael kisses his neck and Alex leans into his touch. ‘Actually, can I tell you another secret?’

‘You can tell me all your secrets. They’re safe with me. You’re safe with me.’ He winks up at Alex and continues to kiss up his neck and along his jawline.

Alex nuzzles into Michael’s lips. ‘I think this is my last tour. My last country album and my last nationwide tour. Nobody knows but me and Cam and now you. Is that crazy?’

Michael pulls away. ‘No. Not if that’s what you want. If that’s what will make you happy. I’ve already told you how often I think about leaving baseball behind. So, I get it.’

‘You know your list? The things you want to accomplish after you retire?’ Michael nods. ‘I decided to make one too. I mean, I’ve always had vague, nebulous ideas running around in my head. But I wrote a few of them down after our conversation.’

‘Tell me.’ He’s a bit nervous to hear them. Worried that they will not align with his future whatsoever. But Alex doesn’t need to know that.

Alex weaves his fingers through Michael’s curls and shuts his eyes, massaging Michael’s scalp in relaxing circles. ‘I want to make music I love. Which is difficult to define, but far easier to write. No more stadium tours. I miss the days of intimate performances in small venues -- clubs and bars and high school parking lots. I want people. Family. A home.’ He peeks down at Michael. ‘Maybe a star athlete, former or current, in my bed -- for the stamina, obviously. Also, a dog.’

Michael can’t keep the grin off his face. ‘A dog, huh? Sounds nice.’

‘Doesn’t it?’ His eyes fall closed again, but he’s smiling. Skin flushed from the hot bath and hair dripping down his neck. ‘How about one more secret? And then, I better get out of this tub before I fall asleep.’

‘I’m all ears.’ He licks at the water droplets pooling in the crevice of Alex’s collarbone, eliciting a sleepy, stoned giggle.

His laughter dies pretty quickly. Eyes reopening, a complicated shift of emotions reshaping the lines in his face. ‘I’m scared to go on tour. So scared that I thought about canceling the whole thing. Called Cam at 5 am this morning. A total wreck.’

A sudden flood of tears joins the water beading down his cheeks. He takes a ragged breath and continues. ‘Then I scheduled an emergency appointment with my therapist. Which was probably a good idea anyway since I’ll be out of town for so long. And that’s where I spent my morning. Crying to her, trying to talk myself down from setting my whole life on fire.’

‘Why?’ Michael twists around so that they’re facing one another, knees hugged together in the middle. His eyes are glassy, and Michael can’t tell if it’s his tears or the effects of the medicine. Maybe both.

‘Like I was telling you earlier, I have a history of running. When things get serious. When things require more from me emotionally than I’m ready to give. I bail. Because it’s better than staying and hurting you, forcing you to dance with all my demons. And what if that’s what this tour ends up being? Me running away from you?’

It all comes vomiting out. A waterfall crashing into an otherwise calm sea. So fast and furious that Michael can hardly keep up. And Alex’s eyes are wide and filled with terror because he believes everything he’s saying is true. Because everything he says has precedent.

‘Not sure where you’re planning on running with that schedule set in stone and easily available online.’ He smiles when Alex chokes out an anguished laugh at his graceless attempt at humor. ‘One month, Alex. One month and then I’m on a plane if you’ll have me. At your side and in your bed every night.’

Alex nods weakly. The medicine’s effects are visible now. ‘I want that. I just didn’t expect you. Hadn’t factored someone like you into my life while I was still trying to figure shit out, you know? I thought I’d fix myself first and then meet somebody. Maybe. Hopefully. After I was done being a mess.’

Michael listens. Hands resting on Alex’s chest, grounding him as best he knows how. Thinking about igniting his hand and branding Alex’s skin with his handprint. Implanting Alex’s body with the truth. That he is free to be whatever kind of mess he needs to be while he’s figuring everything out. Because Michael isn’t going anywhere.

If that’s even how the handprint works. Isobel’s description had been somewhat lacking in details.

But his thoughts are interrupted when, for a sliver of a second, he feels something burn in his belly that isn’t his TK.

He can’t hang on to the energy surge. It slinks away as Alex continues, like a dream disappearing with each waking moment. ‘I didn’t want someone, someone like you -- that I might -- .’ He stops, eyes dropping to stare at his hands sitting placid in the tepid bathwater. ‘That I might love. I don’t want you to be my trial and error, Michael.’

His heart spirals at the word love, dropping to his knees and sitting there until he breathes again. ‘It’s okay if I am.’ He grabs Alex’s hands and squeezes them reassuringly. ‘We’ll try and we’ll fail together. Until we get it right. We promised to risk it all. That means we risk our hearts too.’ He kisses Alex then. Soft, no urgency. A promise that they’ll have as much time as they both need to get this right.

But Michael and Alex both know that promises are dangerous friends to keep.

‘Water’s cold. Time to put you to bed.’ Michael climbs out of the tub, splashing water over the gray tiled floor. He extends his hands out to Alex and pulls him into a standing position until he’s balanced a hand against the wall. Grabbing a towel, he helps a swaying, groggy Alex onto the toilet seat where he takes his time drying him off. Alex looks down at him woozy, smiling. And he’s beautiful, breathtaking. So much better than Michael has ever believed he deserved.

Once they’re both dry, they return to bed. Michael tucks new sheets over the corners of the mattress and settles Alex into his chest where he falls asleep immediately. It’s nearly 6 am and the sunrise is still an hour away. A light wind rustles the rose bushes outside his bedroom window, and his mind is too wired to sleep so he clicks on the television with his TK and mutes the volume, watching old reruns of a police procedural as he reexamines the past few hours. No detail too small to fret over.

He keeps landing on Alex’s use of the word love and the unfamiliar burn he’d felt in his gut. For several minutes, he tries to summon that feeling again, straining gently as Alex snores on his chest. But nothing happens and he decides he must have been imagining things.

There’s never been anything more to him. Baseball and his TK. His good boy charm and flirty smile. His lonely, aching too-soft heart.

Nothing else. Nothing at all.

One more time. One more time he concentrates and watches his hand for any signs of change. He exerts himself so hard he worries he’ll wake Alex. But again, nothing happens. Not to his hand anyway.

The tv flickers.

The security lights outside flash on and off.

The empty record player in his living room begins to spin. Stutters, stops.

Michael notices none of it.

Chapter Text

Alex sleeps away the entirety of the day while Michael sees to various odds and ends around the house. At 5 pm, he shakes Alex awake and by 6 pm they are pulling into Danny and Lena’s large circular driveway.

‘Wow, now that’s a house.’ True awe coloring his words.

‘You wound me.’ Michael puts his truck in park. ‘They wanted the wow factor. It’s all custom designed. Solar-powered with a minimum carbon footprint. Lena’s ex is an award-winning architect.’

The house is massive. Modern with clean lines. Pristine white squares and rectangles blended together with large glass expanses and warm wood trim. The roof is black tin; the yard, green and luscious, like something you’d find in Brentwood or the Hollywood Hills, not Atlanta, Georgia.

‘Her ex? Interesting.’

‘She’s good people, hot. Bit of a dick, but who isn’t?’

‘She?’ His eyes twinkle at the never-been-an-actual-secret reveal.

‘Well, there’s a reason Lena is my favorite. Don’t tell Danny.’ With a cheeky wink, Michael opens his door and climbs out just as Lena comes barreling down the steps of her stoop, arms raised to greet them with a hug.

Danny is only a few steps behind her when she wraps Michael in her arms. ‘It’s been way too long, my dear. Two months is excessive, and it’s never happening again.’

Michael sweeps her up in his arms, same as always. Until he realizes what’s changed in the two months they’ve not seen each other. He quickly sets her on the ground and steps back, eyes darting to Danny in question. When he nods, Michael’s eyes sting, burn, well with unbidden, unstoppable tears, and he glances down at Lena’s belly, not bothering to contain his emotion once he sees that she’s crying too. ‘We wanted to tell you ages ago, but you know how hard this has been for us these past few years. We hope you’re not mad. Or hurt.’

Danny joins them, and Michael throws himself at his best friend. Crying feely now, openly weeping with love and joy and a tightness in his chest he sets aside for the moment, knowing it has no place here in Danny and Lena’s moment. All three of them grin at each other and collapse into half-hysterical laughter, complete emotional wrecks. ‘I could never be mad. I don't know that anything has ever made me happier. Congratulations.’ He chokes out the words, kisses Danny on the cheek, and sweeps Lena into his arms again. Gentler this time, but no less earnest. ‘I love you both so much.’

Lena laughs, joyous. ‘I’m due around Christmas, and I can’t wait for our little one to meet their uncle Mikey.’

‘May I?’ He holds his hand out but waits for Lena’s permission. She grins and grabs his hand, placing it firmly on her stomach. ‘Baby’s quiet right now. Sleeping maybe. I’ll let you know if that changes. Danny thinks it’s a little creepy, the baby kicking.’

Danny nods. ‘It’s creepy. Like some little alien has taken over her body.’ As soon as the words leave his mouth, his eyes grow to the size of saucers. Michael raises a lazy eyebrow, amused. ‘Oh fuck, I didn’t mean alien. Not that it matters, obviously.’ Clearing his foot from his mouth, he turns to Alex. ‘Sorry to be such shit hosts, Alex. But thanks for keeping our secret.’ He pulls him into a quick hug, mouthing sorry to Michael over Alex’s shoulder.

‘Whoa, wait. You knew?’ Alex beams at him and then steps forward to hug Lena like old friends who’ve been conspiring against him.

‘I didn’t expect you to have a gentleman caller who needed tending, Michael. I swore him to secrecy when I let him into your house last weekend. So it’s your fault.’ They part and Lena waves everyone inside. ‘Danny’s still working on the brisket so we have time for a pre-dinner drink.’

Once they step inside, Alex’s mouth drops, and his eyes grow even wider. ‘Lena, your house is gorgeous.’ Outside, the house is super modern, but inside there’s more personality. An urban farmhouse vibe with lots of Danny and Lena’s personality in the furniture and art on the walls, but done so tastefully it still belongs inside a magazine. ‘I have knotty pine floors too, back in Nashville, but these are stunning.’

‘Someone who appreciates the finer things in life. I enjoy him, Michael. And I think I’m going to keep him.’ She interlocks her arm with Alex’s and drags him into the kitchen. A spider with her prey, so reminiscent of Isobel he shudders.

Danny claps him on the shoulder. ‘You’ve lost him. Lena’s now got Isobel and Alex on her side. It’s over, man.’

Michael scoffs. ‘Lena can have Isobel, but I have plenty of ways to win back Alex’s love and devotion that she can’t hold a candle to.’

‘Gross.’ But he’s smiling.

Lena and Alex return to the living room with three beers and one bottle of sparkling water. ‘Alex was telling me a little bit about your night, Michael. Filling in some of the details Danny left out when he got home from breaking and entering this morning.’

Michael looks at Alex whose face resembles a terrified emoji, but Michael only rolls his eyes and grins devilishly at Lena. ‘Marks screamed like a dying cow.’

Lena giggles and throws a sideways glance at her husband. ‘He does that from time to time.’ She settles in next to Danny on the loveseat while Alex moves to sit on the opposite side of the sofa, much too far away. Michael reaches out a hand and grabs his wrist, pulling him down beside him, tucked tightly into his side.

Danny and Lena both grin at them. ‘So, I’m guessing the evening went well?’ She’s never been one to play coy or refuse a bit of gossip.

‘Not a single complaint on my end, but maybe let’s spare Alex our particular brand of oversharing just this once.’ He squeezes Alex’s knee and looks pointedly at Lena.

‘Fair enough. But we’ll break him in eventually, Michael. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing much more of each other.’ She turns her attention to Alex. ‘Don’t mind me or Danny, Alex. We just get bored very easily. Tell us about your home in Nashville. I bet it puts ours to shame.’

Michael slips his hand underneath the hem of Alex’s shirt, warming his fingertips on the small of Alex’s back. He shivers and has to clear his throat before answering. ‘It’s a pretty simple 100-year-old farmhouse, really. Renovated to meet my mobility needs. Outskirts of town, wraparound porch. Pine floors and ancient, peeling shiplap. A bit too sparsely furnished maybe, but I’m so rarely home these days. If you’re ever in the area, y’all should stop by.’

‘Oh, we will. I believe Isobel is already planning a weekend girl’s trip. Danny and Michael can stay here and entertain themselves. And the baby, too. God, I keep forgetting there’s about to be a baby.’ She smiles so fondly her eyes tear up and tries to blink them away before anyone notices. Danny kisses her shoulder, hand rubbing her belly, soothing and protective.

It makes something baby-shaped in Michael’s heart ache.

He swallows down the emotions and does his best to fake a groan. ‘Of course, Isobel is already planning a trip. You two are going to be the death of me. Me, Danny, and now, Alex, too.’

Her grin widens. ‘It was Danny’s idea, actually. Right, babe?’

Michael cuts his eyes to Danny. ‘Right, babe? The fuck, Marks?’

Danny just settles back more comfortably into the loveseat and beams. ‘We’ll have a bro weekend before the season starts. Two men and a baby. And when Lena and Iz begin the slow process of eating Alex alive, he’ll have a safe place to escape to.’

‘I think that sounds great.’ Alex sets his empty beer on the table. ‘I rarely have overnight guests so it’ll be nice for the house not to feel so empty.’

‘No one’s visiting Alex’s house before I do.’ Michael sets his bottle next to Alex’s. ‘Just so we’re all very clear on that.’

Lena makes a humming noise that doesn’t sound promising and avoids meeting his eye. Michael looks at Danny who just shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. ‘Family is tough.’

Michael snorts.

‘How did you two meet?’ Alex shifts further into Michael’s side, tossing his hand on the inside of his thigh. His thumb makes wayward circles Michael feels settle all the way down in his toes. It’s maddening, and he tries his best not to react too strongly with Danny and Lena only five feet away.

‘Oh, that’s an excellent story.’ Lena smiles up at Danny.

‘It’s a goddamn horror story, Alex.’ Danny shivers.

‘Even I still have nightmares.’ Michael sticks his tongue out at Lena who ignores them.

‘Don’t listen to their lies, Alex. It was love at first sight. And Michael wasn’t even there!’ She scoffs, obviously amused.

Danny puts a hand on her shoulder. ‘It was Thanksgiving seven years ago. I was out in Phoenix visiting my favorite tìa who had recently retired to Arizona for some ungodly reason no one in my family has ever figured out.’ He shrugs and continues. ‘So anyway, it’s Thanksgiving and we run out of milk. There’s a Walgreens not two blocks away, so I set out on foot.’

‘His first mistake but definitely not his last.’ She singsongs the words, and Danny bumps her shoulder.

‘There’s no one on the road. It’s Thanksgiving! Everyone’s at home with family. So I cut corners and didn’t use the crosswalk.’

‘You never use the crosswalk. Chronic jaywalker,’ Michael adds with a smirk.

‘Thank you, Michael.’ Lena smiles sweetly at him and glares up at Danny. ‘At least someone is aware of your faults.’

With a put upon sigh, Danny continues. ‘There was no one coming. I checked traffic in both directions. Twice! But as soon as I cleared the curb, I heard an engine roar to life. And to my left, this glimmering white beast from out of nowhere comes barreling toward me. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.’

Alex leans forward, brow furrowed, elbow digging into Michael’s thigh. ‘Okay, wait. You ran him over?’

‘Just a little.’ She holds up her thumb and forefinger an inch apart to visually demonstrate.

Both Danny and Michael are shaking their heads. ‘She bulldozed me, man. I went down hard, blacked out. Came to with a blond angel hovering over me and knew I was dead.’

‘He looked completely fine, and I immediately started apologizing.’

‘What she won’t mention is that between every apology was an angry admonishment for not using the crosswalk.’

‘But where did you come from? If he’d looked both ways?’ Alex looks back and forth between them, confused.

‘I’d been street-parked behind this giant delivery truck. My SUV was brand new, and I was still learning everything -- setting my mirrors right, how touchy the gas pedal was. I didn’t expect someone to walk out in front of me. The crosswalk was at least fifty feet away.’

Danny grins sheepishly. ‘Mistakes were made on both our parts.’

‘Did you call 9-1-1 or anything?’ Alex slides his hand down to tuck underneath Michael’s knee.

‘It took a minute. Once she got to the end of her apology, I tried to say something but I guess I was too dazed or whatever and took too long. So she started the whole thing over in Spanish. Very bad high school Spanish.’

‘You understood every word.’

‘I did, but I was in pain and half-delirious from getting run over. So I didn't respond to the Spanish either. That’s when she moved on to French. And wow, she knew about twenty words of French.’

‘He started laughing and then cursing. I was so relieved he was alive and coherent. That’s when I called 9-1-1.’

‘Spent the rest of the day in the hospital. X-rays and brain scans. Ended up with a badly bruised hip, a concussion, and a future wife.’

‘He skipped about five hundred steps.’ Michael laughs. ‘He called me from the hospital ranting and raving that some blond demon had ruined his baseball career.’

‘In my defense, that was before they’d given me the good meds.’

‘Yes, luckily for me, by the time I snuck in to see him, he was stoned.’

They all laugh. Everyone except Alex which makes Michael worry. ‘What’s wrong?’ He elbows him lightly in the ribs.

Alex shakes his head. ‘Nothing. It’s just you really loved each other from that moment on?’

Danny and Lena trade an interesting look. One even Michael’s not sure he reads correctly. ‘She sat with me the entire time I was in the hospital. On Thanksgiving. Partially to keep me from pressing charges.’ Lena fakes a shocked expression, eyebrows halfway to her hairline. ‘But mostly because the connection between us was instantaneous. I know that sounds like so much bullshit. But it’s true.’

Michael watches the creases on Alex’s forehead wrinkle further, fights the urge to smooth the concern with his thumb ‘That’s just so fast.’

Lena nods. ‘Perhaps you can relate? It’s scary at first, exciting and really beyond comprehension.’

‘Fucking terrifying.’ Danny grabs hold of Michael’s gaze and doesn’t let go. ‘But so goddamn worth it.’

‘The love between us -- the love that’s been growing for seven years -- that didn’t happen that first day. It couldn’t have, obviously. But what I knew the first day was that I wanted to grow that kind of love with Danny. Knew it in my bones. And truth be told, every time I talk about this with friends, most of them all say the same. It happens quickly and without warning.’

‘She moved to Atlanta three months later.’ Michael smiles at Lena. ‘Been family ever since.’

‘Neither Lena nor I have siblings so Michael is our honorary brother.’ They beam at Michael, and Alex joins them. Emotion swells in his chest, but a loud buzzer saves him from having to speak.

‘Brisket’s done!’

Dinner goes well. The conversation flows easily. Michael hadn’t been worried exactly, although it feels tremendously important that three of his favorite people on this planet get along. He knows what it’s like to sit at a table strained with tension. One day, he hopes to grow their dinner table, the people he shares meals with on a regular basis. With Max and Isobel, their families. And so many children. Laughing, squealing, happy kids.

His kids. His and Alex’s kids?

No separate tables. Everyone mushed together, pressed close, and surrounded with love.

Once they’ve finished, Lena steals Alex away to help her clear the table. Michael shoots her a dirty look -- one filled with an icy warning. She only smiles sweetly and tugs Alex into the kitchen. Danny rises from the table and motions for him to follow. ‘Come help me with the smoker.’

Outside, the sun has set and cicadas are singing. A light chilly breeze ripples the water of the enormous heated pool, twice as big as his own. ‘Do you worry about the pool now?’

Danny hands him a beer from a cooler tucked into the outdoor kitchen’s stone shelves. Popping the cap off, he nods and takes a long drink. ‘We’re thinking about temporary fencing. There are some good options we’ve been researching. I actually think Lena’s in favor of removing the whole damn thing when she’s being honest.’

Michael thinks about all the time he’s spent out here, swimming, grilling, or just relaxing with the team on days off or still-warm gameless Octobers. He imagines the pool gone, swing sets and sandboxes in its place. Bicycles tossed askance in the grass, toys littering the yard. ‘I’m so fucking happy for you, Danny.’ His eyes tear up again; Danny's too. Another hug and then half-embarrassed laughter.

‘Thank you, brother. I really did hate keeping this from you.’

‘I should have known once you bought that ugly ass monstrosity.’

‘Watch your mouth, Guerin. The G-Class is a beauty. Unlike your classic.’

They both grin around their bottles and settle into matching wicker rockers. The night shading darker with every passing second. Lena and Alex’s laughter echoes faintly from inside the house. ‘She’s up to no good in there, isn’t she?’

‘Just some light threats. So stop worrying about it. Let us love you in the worst ways we know how.’ There’s a glint in his eye that Michael doesn’t like. ‘Besides, Isobel’s going to be so much worse.’

Isobel and Max both, probably. Although with Liz now permanently at Max’s side, perhaps that’s not as true as it might have been before.

‘Something wrong? I feel like you’ve been quiet all night. Seems a bit strange after what I imagine was quite a night.’ The glint gleams brighter and Michael sighs, trying to figure out how to say what he wants to say.

‘You and Lena have always been so good to me. The best friends I could ever ask for. Better even. The kind of friends I have a tough time believing I deserve.’ Danny leans forward, frowning, but Michael halts him with a raised palm. ‘Let me finish.’

Danny slides back in his chair to listen.

‘You’re also more than friends to me. And not in some kinky threesome way that I know you just considered.’ Danny’s chest shakes with silent laughter, a mischievous grin spread across his face. ‘I’ve always wanted what you two have. Your love for one another -- your desire for family. That lives inside me too.’

‘I know, man. You’ve always wanted to be a dad. Maybe even more than me.’

‘Yeah. I wanted to be one with you too. Raise our kids together. I’ve always considered you a brother - a real brother. But I think that’s a dream I need to let go of.’ He hears how pathetic he sounds and immediately wants to rewind the conversation. Start over. Or not start at all. This night is about celebrating Danny and Lena and their new family. Not hashing out his own bullshit. ‘I’m sorry, Marks. Ignore me.’

‘Hey.’ Danny leans forward again and slaps him hard on the knee. ‘You can always say anything to me. No matter what it is with no guilt. So stop.’ Danny waits until he raises his eyes and nods, hard and certain. ‘You’re going to be a dad. The best fucking dad. Maybe not tomorrow but soon I’d wager.’

Michael looks over his shoulder back at the house, knowing Danny is referring to Alex. ‘That’s a pretty risky bet. We’ve known each other for two weeks, he’s about to leave on a nationwide tour, and I don’t even know if he wants kids.’

‘Well, that doesn’t fucking matter. You can be a dad with or without him, Guerin. And anyway, you’re definitely going to be a godfather.’

Michael cuts his eyes back to Danny. ‘What?’

‘Lena wanted me to wait until the baby was born to tell you, but I’m calling an audible and spilling the beans now. We want you to be godfather to any and all of our children. Easiest decision I’ve ever made, honestly.’

Godfather. He’s not even sure what that means, but he knows from the tears in Danny’s eyes and hitch in his breathing that it’s something huge. It hurts him that he doesn’t know how to respond properly. ‘What does that mean?’

Danny coughs, clears his throat. Smiles and relaxes. ‘The unsexy definition is you’re responsible for the religious education or the lifelong spiritual formation of our kids. You’ll need to be there for the baptism.’

Michael frowns. ‘I know fuck all about religion, Marks. Don’t even believe in God.’

He laughs. ‘That’s fine. You know Lena and I aren’t exactly regular churchgoers either. It’s more a formality to please our families and alleviate our mutual Catholic guilt. The way we see it you’ll be the loving Uncle Mikey who is there for them when they hate their parents. Just someone to confide in and someone to take them in if we die.’

‘So, I’m like the Marks family’s Vice President.’ It’s an absurd comparison, but it’s the first thing that pops into his head.

Danny’s brow knits together humorously. ‘That’s actually not a bad analogy. We love you, and we trust you to step in if or when we can’t be there.’

Michael scrubs his hands over his face, the emotion of the past 24 hours settling deeper in his bones as the weight of Danny’s request presses in on him. He blows out a hot breath, eyes focused on his beer bottle, the garish label blurring beneath his gaze. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

‘Just say yes and give me a hug.’ Danny stands up and Michael does too. Meeting halfway between their chairs, arms wrapping tight around each other. They spend several long moments pretending not to cry into each other’s necks.

The image from dinner returns to him. Shouting, happy, laughing children running in and out of their legs playing a game of tag. Shrieks and tears and sticky hands. He tries again to picture a curly-haired little girl or a boy with messy dark hair. He falls quiet when the image never feels any more substantial than a fleeting mist, the ghost of a happiness he’s worried will never amount to anything more than a transient haunting.

‘Something’s still wrong, Guerin.’ Danny claps him hard on the back one last time and then pulls away, hands reach up to squeeze his shoulders. ‘That brilliant mind of yours is running so hard I can hear the damn hamster wheel spinning.’

The stars are clear overhead, not a cloud in sight. He moves to the edge of the deck and leans against the railing, swallowing down the rest of his beer and then setting the bottle aside. ‘Weird thing happened earlier this morning.’

‘Like sex weird?’ Danny joins him, shoulder to shoulder. They both watch Lena and Alex do the dishes through the wide kitchen window over the sink. ‘I’m not sure I’ll be much help, but I’ll give it a go.’

Michael bumps his shoulder and snorts. ‘You’re the last person I’m taking sex advice from, Marks. It was after the sex actually. A feeling I had.’

‘A feeling?’ Danny looks at him quizzically, unsure how to proceed.

‘Power. An energy surge but different from my TK. Something else, something I tried to translate into what Isobel described to me as a handprint. Max’s power -- healing or electricity. Or maybe they’re two separate abilities, I don’t know.’ He looks down at his hand, suddenly realizing that maybe he’s been concentrating on the wrong thing.

‘Are you telling me that Alex dicked you down so good you’ve got more superpowers now? Because I’m not sure how to handle that.’ It’s meant as a joke, but Michael’s not so sure it’s too terribly far from the truth.

‘It is kind of what I’m telling you, yes.’ He looks through the window and catches Alex’s eye, they share a not-so-secret smile and then Michael turns back to Danny. ‘Can I try something?’

‘Be my guest. Should I take cover? Do we need to alert Alex and Lena? Have you even told Alex?’ All good questions and he honestly doesn’t know the answer to any of them except the last one, but he does his best with the information he’s got.

‘I don’t think cover will be necessary, but maybe step back a few feet. Alex and Lena should be fine, I guess. And no, I haven’t told Alex.’

Danny shuffles a few feet to his right, leaving Michael a wide berth to work. He concentrates on that spot in his belly where he felt the energy surge earlier that morning in the tub. Once he recognizes the growing buzz of power, he switches his focus to the house’s outside security lights bolted to the corners of the roof, the ones Lena had turned on when they’d headed outside. Sucking in a deep breath, he pulls on the energy inside him and pushes it out. He imagines it climbing to the surface of his skin, surrounding him in a warm, invisible shield, and then shoves every ounce of power at the three lights. Like a forceful exhale, a welcome release.

‘Fuck, Guerin.’ It’s Danny, amazed. Michael realizes that at some point during the process he’d closed his eyes. From inside the house, he hears Alex and Lena cry out. Fear pools in the newly empty place in his gut. Opening his eyes, he realizes that the house has gone completely dark. Every light bulb extinguished. But unlike when Max would explode every bulb in sight, Michael has managed to simply turn them off, leaving the glass intact. ‘How did you do that?’

Lena opens the window and leans out. ‘The whole house is out. What happened?’

Danny darts his eyes to Michael before responding. ‘Nothing. Michael will fix it.’

Swallowing, he stops gaping dumbly into the darkness and repeats his actions, managing to turn the lights back on with little fanfare. Lena narrows her eyes at him, but shuts the window and returns her attention to Alex.

‘I guess Max is no longer the special one. And all it took was Alex’s magic dick.’ Danny returns to his side and elbows him sharply in the ribs. ‘Your nose is bleeding. Is that normal?’

‘What?’ The shock wears off and exhaustion takes its place. He runs his finger underneath his nose, his hand coming back bloody. He sways, head woozy with overuse, but Danny grabs hold of his arm to keep him upright. ‘Do you have any acetone?’

‘Like fingernail polish remover?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m sure Lena does. I’ll go check. You’ll be okay out here?’

Michael nods and Danny helps him back to the patio furniture. His head is spinning and not solely with overexertion. He smiles, registering Danny’s crack about Alex’s magic dick, but maybe it’s not that far from the truth. He thinks back to his thought when he and Alex had begun their night together. Remembering the way Alex had looked at him, how he’d felt the layers sweep away beneath his gaze. And he’d spent the rest of the night letting go. Letting go and reclaiming himself.

Searching, finding, mending what had been missing, broken.

That’s not magic. That’s love.

And it’s not just him loving Alex or Alex loving him, although both of those things seem true, undeniable at this point. But there’s more to it than that.

Love, true and honest, whole. Like the love he’s withheld from himself his entire goddamn life. The love he has for Lena and Danny and his soon-to-be godchild. His love for Isobel and Max. His team, his brothers-in-arm.

A family. His family. The only thing he’s ever really wanted out of this life. And without his noticing, that’s exactly what he’s found, created, forged. Tears prick his eyes and he lets them fall because for once they are filled, brimming with happiness.

‘Here, man.’ Danny hands him a half-used bottle and he chugs it down, aware that he’s being watched like a hawk. His nose is no longer bleeding, but the tears streaming down his face are probably a bit disconcerting. He laughs at the thought and tosses the empty bottle on the coffee table. Danny gives him a disgusted look. ‘Better now?’

‘Yeah. Thanks. It’s like an alien pain reliever. Tastes like shit but gets the job done, sometimes a little too well. I’m surprised you never noticed a bottle or two hanging out in my bag.’

‘Oh, I did. I just chose to ignore it. Everyone has their kinks.’ Danny sits on the coffee table, leaning forward so that there’s no distance between them. ‘What does this mean? You’ve got to tell Alex, right?’

‘It just means I’m an alien, Marks.’ He shrugs. ‘I never really tried to be more than what I knew I was, you know? This was Max’s thing. It never belonged to me. And yeah, I’ve got to tell Alex.’

Danny huffs out a shaky breath. ‘How exactly do you go about that? I know I joked about slipping that secret out between orgasms, but that’s probably not the smartest idea.’

‘Fuck, man, I don’t know. When I told you, I was pissed as hell at Max and didn’t care how you’d react. That was like releasing a pressure valve that had been long overdue. It’s different with Alex. I knew I wouldn’t lose you; I don’t know that I won’t lose him.’

‘You won’t lose him.’ But even Danny doesn’t sound certain. And Danny always sounds certain.

They stare at each other for a long time, too long. Michael’s nerves ratchet up and he feels sick to his stomach. ‘It’s gotta be tonight. I say goodbye tomorrow, and I don’t want to separate without him knowing the truth. He’s shared a lot with me the past 24 hours. I owe him this much at least.’

Danny pats him on the knee and stands up. ‘Whatever happens, we’re here for you if you need us. You know that right?’

‘I do.’ And he does. He’s always known, even at his most stubborn.

Danny is his family. Lena is his family. He just hopes that come sunrise, Alex is his family too.

Chapter Text

The ride home is quiet but comfortable. Michael glances sideways at Alex multiple times trying to catch his eye. But he’s too busy staring out the window and into the night to notice. So Michael takes the opportunity to appreciate his profile, the soft, amber street lights illuminating his pretty features.

Once they’re back inside the safe confines of Michael’s house, Alex turns to him. ‘Dinner was great. I loved getting to know Lena and Danny better. I loved seeing how much they love you.’

There’s something in his voice that worries Michael. Sadness or maybe wistfulness. ‘I was half-scared Lena would frighten you away. She can get very mama bear.’

A small smile. It’s something but not enough to assuage Michael’s concerns. ‘She’s very protective. Of you and Danny. Reminds me of Cam a bit. I think she just wanted to be sure I plan on sticking around. To me let me know she’d like me to stick around.’

‘I’d like that too.’ They move closer, seamlessly stitching their bodies together, hands eagerly reacquainting themselves with soft curves and sharp edges. ‘Something’s wrong though.’ He steals a quick kiss. ‘Tell me.’

Alex shakes his head adamantly. ‘There’s nothing wrong. I’m just maybe a bit overwhelmed. Not in a bad way though.’

Michael threads their fingers together and pulls him down into the sunken living room where they collapse onto the sectional, touching wherever possible. ‘Tour stuff or me stuff?’

‘Both.’ Another sad smile. ‘You were so happy that Lena’s pregnant.’ He reaches up and tries fruitlessly to tame the curl always hovering over Michael’s brow. ‘That’s what you want, isn’t it? Kids.’

Michael frowns. ‘Yeah. I told you that. A family. You said that’s what you want too. Or did I get something wrong?’

‘You didn’t get anything wrong. I do want a family.’ He sighs, dropping his head onto the sofa, exposing his neck in a way Michael wants to use as a distraction but stops himself. ‘I haven’t gotten that far in therapy yet.’ He forces a smile, small and fleeting. ‘Not to be a giant cliche but the idea of fatherhood is hard to imagine.’

The moment lengthens. Sits heavy, almost choking. Michael watches Alex’s throat flex with every nervous swallow. He knows he needs to say something, something more than ridiculous romantic platitudes. Something perhaps from a shared history of violence, trauma. Of the instinctual impossibility of love, the giving and receiving. But he’s unqualified for those kinds of words because he’s still working on those impossibilities himself.

He racks his brain, sorts through the various interviews he’s watched or read about Alex. Finds what he’s looking for and soldiers forward. ‘That fear is real. It lives in me too.’

Alex shakes his head against the couch cushion. ‘I find that hard to believe.’ He reaches up again, working at the same derelict curl. ‘I can’t imagine someone better suited for fatherhood.’

Michael snorts. ‘Are you still stoned?’

He laughs and Michael smiles, happy to have salvaged something of the moment. ‘I’m not kidding. You’re such a good man, soft and sweet and gentle. Funny and kind and honest.’

It’s the word honest that cuts him. He’ll have to deal with that in a minute. ‘I’ve seen you with kids. Halloween at the children’s hospital. You were so good with them, natural and warm.’

Alex’s brow furrows deeper than Michael’s ever seen. ‘That was just PR.’

‘No. It wasn’t.’ He runs the pad of his thumb across the apple of Alex’s cheek, along his jawline, across his bottom lip. ‘I’ve done those hospital visits too. With the guys on the team. So I’ve seen every kind of interaction. Guys who refuse to go at all for whatever reason. Guys who stand awkwardly back terrified of the kids. Guys who try so hard but can’t get a single child to smile. None of that was you.’

‘All of it was me. I just had to scrape out the bad parts of me because there was a camera. But if you look closely, all of that fear, that failure was right there. Hidden in the shadows. And really, only half-hidden.’ His eyes glisten and he presses them shut. ‘It was a mask. The kids were laughing at a mask, like kids do.’

‘You’re very stubborn.’ He slides his hand underneath the hem of Alex’s shirt, soaking in the warmth of his bare skin, exploring the planes of his stomach. ‘But I know what I saw. And those kids weren’t lying when they looked at you like you’d hung the moon or said the funniest thing they’d ever heard. That was you. I know because I’ve seen you. I see you.’ He pushes his way up to Alex’s chest, pausing over his heart. ‘But don’t worry, I won’t get you pregnant before you’ve made it that far with your therapist.’

Alex laughs, deep and rumbling underneath Michael’s palm. It’s the best sound, his new favorite. ‘That’s a lot of faith in a guy you barely know.’

Michael pushes him flat onto the sectional, climbing between his thighs. ‘Well, just call me Old Faithful.’ He sucks at Alex’s neck, trying to capture his laughter between his lips, bottling it for later. Because he’s sure they’re going to need it once the truth, his truth is out in the open.

Before he can taste his way to Alex’s mouth, he pulls away, lips ticking upward at Alex’s needy little whine. ‘Now may not be the best time, but I have one final secret to share with you.’ He tries to keep the grin on his face, but he can tell by the knitting of Alex’s eyebrows he hasn’t been entirely successful. ‘Come with me.’

Reluctantly, he slides off of Alex’s warm, inviting body and stands, reaching down with both hands to drag Alex along with him. He keeps hold of one hand and tugs Alex down the hall and into his bedroom, steering clear of the bed and heading straight into the closet, switching on the light.

‘I’ll skip the obvious joke.’ Alex laughs but quiets quickly once Michael shuts the door behind them. ‘Is this the part where you murder me? I thought for sure we’d have more sex first.’

Michael tilts his head, studying Alex. Convincing himself this is the right idea, that now is the right moment. He hasn’t discussed the decision with Max or Isobel, and he feels guilty about that until he remembers Liz. Which doesn’t really serve to ease his guilt, just reminds him that he’s not going to be the first offender. He tries to find some comfort in that and fails.

Spinning on his heels, he opens the nondescript gray metal door in the back wall of the closet. Inside are a collection of crisscrossed wires and falsely labeled connections. ‘Look familiar?’

Alex takes several steps closer for further examination. ‘Home network.’ Michael waits a beat. Watches Alex’s eyes narrow. ‘It’s not real -- nothing’s connected. Strange but I’m not sure it warrants a locked door. Hardly a very good secret.’ His shoulders relax. ‘Is this a clever way to ask for my help?’

Turning back to the panel, Michael pulls it free from the wall, uncovering the true purpose of the hole in the wall. Alex shoves his way next to him, jaw dropped and fingers immediately assessing the security control panel hidden underneath the fake home networking system. ‘Oh my god. I’ve never seen a system this advanced outside of DoD contracts.’

Michael nods. Money had been no object. And money often speaks as loud as, if not louder than, the might of the military. Leaning forward, he keeps his eyes open while they are scanned and then places his palm flat on the blue screen directly beneath. The bars to the left of his hand glow green and an airlock releases. He pulls Alex clear of the door in the floor which opens slowly, revealing a set of stairs leading into a room drenched in soft blue light.

‘Okay, this is definitely the part where you murder me.’ He glances up at Michael, eyes burning with questions. ‘What the hell is down there?’

With a fond smirk, he starts walking down the steep staircase. ‘Watch your step. Pretty sure these aren’t built to code.’

At the bottom of the steps, he waits for Alex to make his way down. The room is quiet, no rumble of the HVAC system or rush of air or water through pipes in the wall. None of those things exist down here, underneath the house and in this 20 x 20 space boxed in by three feet thick concrete walls. It had once been a fallout shelter, built alongside the original structure during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Shown in the house’s original blueprints that hang framed on the wall opposite the stairs.

When Alex reaches the bottom of the stairs, Michael blinks on the strategically placed space heaters to help combat the icy temperature. The overhead light fixtures, ancient industrial hanging light bulbs, are programmed to turn on as soon as the handprint scanner grants access. Alex circles the room slowly, taking in each worktable and the various tools and instruments scattered about. He peeks into the lens of a microscope, rustles through Michael’s collection of protractors, and muses over a painstakingly accurate schematic of the giant object still hidden beneath a large beige tarp on the table against the southernmost wall.

‘These are propulsion calculations. Are you building some kind of rocket? Is that why this place is so heavily locked down?’ He motions vaguely around the room. ‘Because otherwise this just looks like the workshop of a half-mad amateur scientist.’ He sits on the stool in front of the schematics and looks at Michael, amused.

Michael joins him, dragging another stool loudly over the sealed and painted concrete floors. ‘Not a bad guess. I should have known you’d know your stuff. Is this the kind of thing you did in the Air Force?’

Their knees lock together, fingers tangling. ‘Not exactly. But I encrypted and decrypted a lot of calculations that looked very similar to these. I was a code breaker and digital security specialist. I recognize the math, but don’t ask me to understand it.’

‘Fair. I couldn’t code to save my life. But together we could probably take over the world.’ It’s only a half-joke because Michael’s pretty sure with some effort they probably could. He takes a deep breath. ‘I’m building something similar to a rocket. Or, well, I’m reconstructing something that’s spent decades fractured and broken into dozens of pieces scattered in the desert.’

Squeezing Alex’s knee, he hops off his stool and heads over to the table with the tarp. In one fell swoop, he tosses the tarp aside with a flourish that’s so dramatic he inwardly groans. Translucent shimmering light floods the room, kissing his skin with pink and purple waves.

Alex gasps, immediately sliding off his stool and crossing the room. And soon the shining luminescence drips and pools in all the crevices of his face, haunting his features with the familiar alien glow that’s always felt like home to Michael. The small chipped coin in his pocket burns hot through his denim, responding to the energy of the larger console calling it home.

‘What is that?’ His eyes are glued to the console, clearly amazed, and Michael can’t blame him. The alien tech is beautiful, a marvel unlike anything else on Earth.

‘It’s a control console. Well, it’s a control console as best I can tell.’ He reaches out his hand and sets it gently on the structure, enjoying the light rippling beneath his palm, responding to his touch.

‘Control console to what? My god, Michael, are you working with the military? Or NASA?’

He snorts. ‘I’m just a baseball player, Alex. Promise. This console was part of a crash I’ve been salvaging for years. Some of the pieces come from the desert outside Roswell, some I dug up in the turquoise mines, and others I bought on the internet from conspiracy theorists and collectors.’

Alex stretches out a hand to touch the console. Michael nods his head in encouragement. He thinks about stopping him, snatching his wrist away. After all, he has no idea how the piece will respond to human contact. But it’s almost as if the console soothes his worries away, beckoning Alex closer and assuring Michael neither of them is in any danger.

The alien tech responds to Alex the same way it does to Michael, its colors fluttering like a rainbow caught in a flood. He shows no signs of pain or discomfort. ‘You didn’t exactly answer my question. Console to what?’

Michael bows his head, weighing his next move, carefully considering the right words to proceed with. ‘Aircraft of a sort. Spacecraft more specifically.’

Alex’s eyes flicker up astonished, disbelief not far behind. ‘Spacecraft? As in owned by NASA and stolen? You’re being really cagey, and I’m not going to lie to you. That’s starting to concern me.’ He takes the tiniest step back, just a gentle sway of his hips. Away from Michael.

His encroaching fear bites at Michael’s heart, and he knows he’s already messed up somehow. Maybe it would have been better to just rip the bandaid off. ‘Not stolen. Recovered, reclaimed. This ship never belonged to NASA or any part of the government, American or otherwise. Never belonged to anyone born on this planet. Not ever. It’s part of the ship that crashed outside of Roswell in 1947.’

‘The UFO?’ Alex cracks a smile, laughing. ‘Is this some very elaborate joke that I’m not completely understanding? There was no UFO crash in 1947. Only conspiracy theorists nuts and my goddamn father believed that bullshit.’

Fear, he’d expected. The beginnings of a fiery, righteous anger he hadn’t counted on. ‘I know how it sounds.’ He holds his hands up as if in surrender, as if offering the soft, pliable parts of his neck and belly in submission. ‘But it was real. I promise.’

‘How can you possibly promise that? This is -- I don’t understand, but I’m deeply uncomfortable right now.’ Alex swallows, openly taking several steps backward. ‘I listened to this madness my whole life, Michael. From my dad, in between the smack of his fists. Breath drenched in hot whiskey and foul stories about aliens destroying humanity. It’s not real.’

Michael sees Alex’s tears crest the corners of his eyelids. He’s lost control of the telling, and he’s scrambling for a life raft he’s pretty sure isn’t coming. It crosses his mind that stopping now is probably wise, staunch the bleeding while he still can. Control the mess he’s making, the mess he clearly hadn't thought through enough. Max is going to murder him if he’s made the wrong decision, believed in the wrong person. Endangered their lives. But goddammit, Michael believes in Alex, maybe even loves him, so he pushes forward. ‘It was real because I was on that ship. With Max and Isobel.’

Alex shakes his head, slowly. His jaw drops with a huff, falling slack with disbelief, and he wipes his palms at the hips of his jeans. ‘Please tell me you aren’t claiming to be an alien right now? Please tell me you’re high or hit your head or you’re having some kind of spell and you need a hospital. Please?’ His head never stops shaking.

‘I can’t tell you that because I am alien. I’m not from here. When the ship crashed, the three of us were in stasis pods where we stayed safe for the next 50 years before something or someone released us. In June 1997, we were found, naked and without speech, on the highway out by Foster’s Ranch. I know you’ve heard that story. Everyone in Roswell has.’

The room is humid now, moist and close. Overcharged from the space heaters or maybe even this confrontation. Sweat trickles down Michael’s back, shirt sticking to his skin. Hiding is no longer an option, so he clicks off the heaters with a twist of his neck. Reaching out with his TK, he slides their stools over, situating them far enough apart not to alarm Alex, but near enough to keep them as connected as he dares.

Somewhat surprisingly, Alex doesn’t flinch or wince or move an inch when Michael reveals his powers. Just releases a long, hard breath before sitting on the offered seat, a hand gripped tight at the edge of the metal worktable. ‘Telekinesis.’ A word, not a question. ‘I thought I felt something strange the other night. When you carried me to the tub. Is that your only ability?’

‘I thought so. Until recently. Until today actually. Or yesterday, whatever.’ He settles onto his own stool, hating the several feet of distance between them. Concentrating, he blinks the lights on and off without using the light switch. ‘That’s new. Some sort of electrical manipulation or energy transfer or something. We’re conduits maybe. I don’t know. Max has the same ability. I’ll need to study it more.’

Alex nods, lips pressed thin and almost white. ‘The idea that my father wasn’t a raging lunatic all those years is actually a tougher sell than Michael Guerin, the superpowered alien. Because honestly, you never really seemed that human to me in the first place’ His lips quirk up at the corners enough to make Michael’s heart sing.

‘But…’

The song stops. Silenced beneath the newly rising dread. With one simple word, he feels like he’s been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by a thousand cuts. ‘But?’

‘I don’t really know what to say or what this means. It’s a lot to process.’

That’s as fair a response as he has any right to expect. ‘Ask me any of your questions. I’ll answer anything you want to know. Anything, Alex.’

‘Do Danny and Lena know?’ He’s staring at the console, and it seems an obvious way to avoid meeting Michael’s eye.

‘Yes. But only for about a week. We - Max, Isobel, and I - all swore eternal secrecy for our protection.’

‘From people like my father.’ Again, not a question. A fact. Michael doesn’t bother confirming. ‘Okay.’ He continues, nervous. ‘This is going to sound shitty, but have you ever used your abilities to -- you know -- get ahead?’

Something slips loose inside Michael. ‘You’re asking me if I’ve ever cheated.’

Alex nods, shifting on his stool, reassuringly uncomfortable at his own question.

His first impulse is to blur the truth as he’d done with Danny, but that won’t serve him here. Just like telling Danny the entire truth wouldn’t have served him there. ‘Once. But not on my own behalf.’ Alex’s eyes finally dart up to meet his.

‘Rookie ball was tough. Becks was struggling. 0 for 21. His mom had started coming to games. High off her ass, causing problems. Hurting her son in ways she didn’t understand. Or maybe she did. I don’t know. But I broke my rule and nudged the ball the tiniest bit so that it dropped in shallow right field. The smile, the relief on his face, was worth whatever my integrity lost that day.’

‘You’ve never told anyone that.’

‘No. How could I? But I trust you. I’m trusting you.’ They share a meaningful look, but Michael’s unsure if it means the same thing for both of them. ‘Anything else?’

There’s a wildness in Alex’s eyes now, in the way they flicker back and forth, unable to settle. ‘My dad had these files. Government documents, old action reports, pictures, and autopsy results. Dozens of folders filled with information concerning something he’d called Project Shepard. That’s what he called his alien eradication operation or whatever.’ He shrugs, eyes falling back to the console, shoulders collapsing in on themselves. ‘There were pictures from autopsies of dead bodies with handprints burned over human faces. He claimed aliens had murdered them. Do you know anything about that?’

Michael’s heart thuds so hard in his chest he starts to panic. ‘Handprint?’ Sweat seeps into his hairline and along his temples. ‘Fuck, Alex.’ The night in the desert with Max and Isobel comes flooding back. He doesn’t know if the dead drifter was left with a handprint, but Liz was -- though not because it had harmed her. He needs to talk to Max. Should have talked to Max first.

‘You can do that? Burn somebody with your hand?’

‘No. I mean, I’ve never been able to. Max can. He healed Liz Ortecho with his hand after she’d been shot in the heart a couple of weeks ago. We don’t hurt people.’ But Max had killed a man. He had.

‘Michael.’ Alex’s voice breaks on his name, and Michael wants to cry.

‘Only the once. I swear to God, Alex. Only the once. And it was some fucking piece of shit who was trying to hurt Isobel. We were kids, and Max didn’t understand what he was doing until afterward. As far as I know, it never happened again. We don’t hurt people.’ Tears burn freely down his cheeks.

‘I believe you.’ But he slides off his stool, steps away, and Michael’s heart breaks. ‘I need some time to process this. I’m sorry -- it’s just -- it’s a lot.’

‘Wait.’ The space between them is suffocating. He stands up so quickly his stool crashes to the floor, making Alex jump. It’s a risky move, but before he has time to drown in his own self-doubt, Michael moves to Alex, bodily blocking his exit and grabbing at his shirt.

There are a million things he should say.

Stay. We’ll figure this out together. We only have tonight and then you’re gone. How do I get you to stay? What do you need from me? I’ll give you anything. Stay.

Just don’t leave me. Please. I am begging you.

Stay.

In his head, he’s screaming. But out loud, he remains silent.

Alex’s fingers wrap around his wrists, and he knows it’s over. ‘I’ll call you. I promise. Just -- Michael -- it’s not you. It’s not you. If my dad was right about all of this?’ He looks around the bunker, eyes wet and desperate. ‘Then what else was he right about?’ He stutters out a harsh, bitter laugh. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I need air. I’ll call you.’

He rips free of Michael’s hands and disappears back up the ladder, leaving Michael alone in the too-warm pit of his house. His stomach roils and his bottom lip trembles before he gives way to a sob that seizes his entire body. Dropping to the floor, he curls his knees into his chest and cries.

Michael has never, not once, hated being alien. For most of his life, it was the one thing he’d clung to. The one part of himself that had offered him any hope. Since those long lonely nights he’d spent sitting on the rickety wood fence marking Foster’s Ranch, near enough to where the three of them had been discovered as children. Staring up at the night sky and coming as close as he’d ever come to praying. Wishing on every stupid blinking star for his family to find him and save him from the horrors of humanity.

But that had all been a waste of energy, a broken collection of sleepless nights that had amounted to fuck all. A meaningless, undone hope.

Then he’d found baseball, had been good at baseball, and opened up to Isobel and Max more than he had with anyone else. His foster families got increasingly worse, but other aspects of his life had gotten better, offering relief from the traumas he’d experienced being shuffled from one neglectful nightmare to another. Some so much worse than others.

And that was fine. For a time. Enough. He’s not dumb. He’s always known that revealing his secret would be the biggest risk he’d ever take in his life. And so he’d been so careful, had chosen so wisely in Danny and Lena.

He’d hoped Alex would be no different. Better even. A star come to save him. Finally.

Eventually, his tears stop. His chest returns to normal, rising and falling softly. And that’s when the anger comes. His TK rises to the surface, sits ready and eager to destroy every square inch of this dark, damning room. Starting with the console he’ll never finish, too many missing parts. He wants to smash it to bits. A million broken pieces, tiny and inconsequential. Tossed out with the week’s garbage.

‘No.’ He says it loud, a shout that ricochets off the concrete walls.

‘No.’ He says it again. Stronger, surer. Alex had said it wasn’t about him. They have barely touched the topic of Alex’s father, but he knows it’s a deep, dark wound. Of course, he needs time to process.

Two weeks hadn’t been enough time together. For either of them. Not for this secret. That’s not Alex’s fault, that’s his fault.

Climbing to his feet, he returns to his closet and locks the hatch. Cool, calm, collected. Rage and fury tamped down in the bruised center of his heart that had begun to heal. Put on pause for now.

With what vestiges of hope remain, he combs the house thinking that perhaps Alex hasn’t left altogether. Maybe he’ll find him raiding the refrigerator to refuel for further discussion, or curled up in one of the spare bedrooms. Perhaps outside by the pool, getting the fresh air he’d claimed to need. He searches every nook and cranny. But Alex is gone.

How does it always end up like this? That he is somehow too much and not ever enough.

‘No.’ A half-mad cry in the middle of his living room to his audience of one. To anyone who will listen. To no one.

‘No.’ A full-bodied scream. His lungs full and then empty. He’s not alone. There are people who will listen, people who love him.

Grabbing his keys, he slides into his truck and makes his way back to Danny and Lena’s. The drive passes in a tear-streaked blur. And twenty minutes later he’s pulling into their driveway, knocking on their door until it swings open.

‘Michael? Are you okay?’ It’s Lena. ‘Sweetie, what’s wrong?’ She stands back as he walks through the door without answering, concern etching the lines of her face so deeply he instantly feels guilty.

‘Were you asleep? I’m so sorry to bother you. I know it’s late.’ He stops awkwardly in the foyer, shifting his weight from foot to foot at the bottom of their staircase leading to the second floor. ‘Danny asleep?’

Lena nods. ‘If you listen closely, you can hear his snoring.’ She smiles and motions for him to move further into the house, toward the kitchen. ‘You didn’t wake me. I was already up. Heartburn’s gotten bad lately so I was drinking some tea. I’ll pour you a cup.’

‘You don’t have to. I can --’

She cuts him off with a sharp look. ‘Sit down, Michael. Tell me what happened. I’m guessing the conversation with Alex didn’t go so well.’

‘He left.’ It sounds pathetic when he puts it like that. ‘Well, he said he needed time to process everything. His dad was an asshole and told him stories about aliens growing up. I think he got overwhelmed hearing the man he’d hated his whole life was right about something. Maybe that’s what happened. I don’t know.’

He settles himself on a stool at the kitchen island, picking at his fingernails and avoiding eye contact. He really doesn’t want to cry in front of Lena.

She pours him a cup of chamomile tea and leans her elbows on the marble countertop next to him. ‘That might not be fun to hear, but it makes sense. Can I tell you a secret, Michael?’

‘Everyone and their fucking secrets.’ He sputters out half a laugh.

Lena squeezes his hand before sipping at her own tea. ‘When you told Danny, he called me as soon as he could after the game that night. We sat on the phone in utter bewilderment for so long it felt like an eternity just trying to wrap our minds around not only the existence of aliens but that one of the people we love most in the world claimed to be one of them. And that he had superpowers!’

They both laugh. The hurt in Michael’s chest subsides noticeably.

‘It was a tough sell. Still is, really. And we had each other to process the news with and years of knowing you to fall back on. Plus, we talked to Isobel who confirmed everything and answered a lot of our questions. Alex doesn’t really have any of that. Add in the part about his dad and I think it’s fair to give him some time.’

He knows she’s right. He just wishes he could have been the person Alex needed to work through things with like Danny and Lena had needed each other. But realistically, it’s a very different situation. He groans and drops his forehead to the cool stone. ‘I hate that he left. I hate that he leaves Atlanta on Wednesday morning for months, and I may not see him before that. And it sucks that for a brief moment earlier tonight I hated being alien for the first time in my life.’

Lena climbs onto the stool next to him and wraps an arm around his waist. ‘I’m so sorry you had to feel that way, even briefly. But I promise you, Michael, Alex doesn’t hate the idea of you being alien, and he’ll come around. Soon, I’d bet.’

‘That’s a big promise.’ He sits up straighter, side-eyeing her so certain assurance.

‘Well, you have your superpowers, and I have mine. So you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Now let’s get you to bed. You’ve got a doubleheader tomorrow.’

She leads him to the spare bedroom on the ground floor, opening the door and letting him step inside first. The walls are adorned with every piece of Danny Marks memorabilia ever printed. ‘Wow. How the hell is anyone supposed to sleep in here?’

Lena snorts, turning down the bed’s comforter and sheets. ‘Danny thinks it’s hilarious. His mother thinks it’s a work of art. She cries every time she crosses the threshold. I’ll go get you some of Danny’s sweats to sleep in.’

She disappears and Michael sits on the edge of the bed, pulling his phone out of his pocket and hoping there’ll be a missed call or a text from Alex. Nothing. He places the phone facedown on the nightstand and buries his head in his hands.

‘None of that.’ Lena drops clean clothes on the bed next to him and then sits down too. ‘I don’t like to meddle.’ Michael laughs out loud. She slices her eyes at him and he shuts up. ‘But I spent an hour talking to Alex earlier tonight and that man loves you. Easy as breathing. Give him the time he needs, and in the meantime, you’ve got us.’ She kisses his temple and heads back to the door. ‘Now sleep. If you need anything, you know where to find us.’

Once she’s gone, he undresses and climbs into bed, doing his damndest to ignore the dozens of posters hanging on every square inch of wall surrounding him. He sips at his tea and feels his body start to relax, the softness of the mattress and the haze of the moonlight lulling him to sleep. Checking his phone one last time, he decides to reach out to Alex if for no other reason than to reassure him that everything’s still okay. At least on his side. Quickly, he types out a simple goodnight before sinking further beneath the covers, phone still clasped in his hand.

Chapter Text

Michael wakes with the sun, the sounds of Danny and Lena making breakfast filtering down the hallway. He’s groggy and his neck’s sore from all the tension he’d held onto during the night. Yawning and stretching, he grabs his phone lying next to him in bed, the text notification light silently blinking in the top right corner.

His chest tightens, making it hard to breathe. There are a hundred people that might be texting him, but deep in the marrow of his bones, he knows it’s Alex.

Swiping through his security features, he unlocks his screen and stares at the text messaging icon alerting him to a new message. He stares for a long time, long enough for the sun to finish climbing above the horizon. Taking several shaky breaths, he clicks the message, sees the text is from Alex, and prepares for the world to end with nothing but a whimper.

The text materializes slower than normal, no doubt a product of his fear response. There are two emojis that don’t immediately make sense to his sleepy, run-rampant brain, but as the seconds tick by, the racing of his heart slows and his breathing returns to normal. Or whatever passes for normal in the aftermath of certain doom and no promises that things are about to get any better.

Alex’s text is simple, straightforward, and completely unexpected.

The alien emoji. The heart emoji. Followed by (I’ve never used emojis in my life).

Tears prick at the corner of his eyes. This time out of relief. He thinks about pressing the call button to hear Alex’s voice. But he fights that impulse and laughs instead. Loud enough to attract Danny’s attention. ‘Hey brother, you up?’ He knocks but doesn’t bother waiting for a response before entering. ‘We’ve got eggs and bacon and Lena’s famous French toast.’

Michael’s grinning so hard his face hurts. ‘That’s a pity breakfast.’

Danny nods in agreement. ‘But we prefer to call it love. What’s got you so happy? Lena told me to expect misery, and man, let me tell you, I was ready to ride out this morning and clobber that hillbilly singing asshole.’ His cheery smile suggests his threats are nothing more than a dramatic ruse.

‘I’m pretty sure Alex could take you with his eyes closed, hotshot.’ He holds his phone up, and Danny squints down.

‘An alien emoji? Really, Guerin? That’s how easy you are these days?’

‘Don’t forget the heart.’

Danny rolls his eyes. ‘Man should be on his knees groveling if you catch my meaning.’

Michael smirks. ‘It’s not his fault. Not really. Finding out you literally fucked an alien’s gotta be pretty wild.’

‘Should have taken my advice and told him between orgasms. Would have gone over so much better if he’d been come-drunk.’

In retrospect, Michael does wish he’d taken Danny’s advice. It probably wouldn’t have gone over any better. Maybe even worse. But at least they’d have gotten goodbye sex out of that arrangement.

Lena shouts at them from the kitchen that the food’s getting cold. Michael sighs, resigned, as Danny drags him off the bed and life continues.

-----------

The next two days pass by quickly. Sunday’s doubleheader is rough. Michael plays both games and strikes out four times. Dres benches him for their final game of the regular season Monday night. Which, honestly? He’s not about it. He’s actually pretty thankful. Alex still hasn’t called him, and Lena holds his phone hostage more than once to keep him from breaking their unspoken vow and calling first. She helpfully reminds him that Alex hasn’t left him, isn’t running around god knows where doing god knows what. He’s simply asked for space and time to process.

Come Monday night’s game, he’s a ball of anxious energy. Leg bouncing erratically in the dugout, the entire team giving him a wide berth on account of his foul mood. Danny risks getting close but keeps his mouth shut, sitting with his shoulder pressed into Michael’s in a silent offer of comfort. It’s not doing much good.

‘What time does the concert start?’ Danny asks the question as a distraction, knowing full well what time the show starts.

Michael bites at his already bitten to the quick thumbnail. ‘Opening act goes on at 7:30. Alex at 8.’

‘Is that why you keep disappearing into the clubhouse? Are you checking your phone every five minutes for updates?’

The answer is yes, and they both know that, so Michael ignores him.

Danny only snorts at his refusal to admit the truth. They spend the next twenty minutes watching the game in silence, the tension in Michael’s body growing with each passing second. Danny leans harder against him, but no amount of touching seems to help. Five minutes before the strike of 8 pm, Michael abruptly interrupts their shared silence.

‘There are two things I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.’

Relaxing against the bench, Danny exhales and offers a smile. ‘Shoot.’

‘First, I’ve had two nightmares about Danny Marks bobbleheads coming to life and eating me. That guest room is a crime against humanity.’

Danny throws back his head, laughter bubbling up from deep in his belly. ‘In my defense, our regular guest room is upstairs. Lena didn’t want my snoring to bother you. I wanted to scatter that memorabilia all around the house, tastefully, but Lena said I had to confine it to one space. She meant the basement, obviously. But since she never specified, I had a good time covering those walls with my face. Just doing my part to keep the marriage on its toes!’

Michael shakes his head. ‘I’m with Lena on this one. I’m pretty sure that room violates the Geneva Convention.’

‘I’ll rectify the situation before the baby comes. What’s the other thing?’

‘When Alex and I first decided to risk this thing between us, I asked to keep it quiet until after the postseason and then tell everyone. I don’t want to do that anymore.’ He looks at Danny seriously, face lined with sadness.

‘You want to keep it a secret? How long can that last? You’re both high profile public figures. To be honest, Guerin, I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t already more people than you realize in the know.’

Michael gives him a small smile. ‘No, that’s not what I meant. I don’t want to stay quiet about it at all. That doesn’t mean I’m going to climb on top of a soapbox and announce it to the whole world, because the world doesn’t need to know everything about my relationships, but I also don’t want to hide anything. I want to take his phone calls in the clubhouse free of shame and without having to find some darkened corner. I want to be a normal boyfriend. If that’s even what I am.’

Danny nods, staring at Michael until he stares back. ‘I’ll have your back. I’ve been putting some feelers out, taking the temperature of this team on certain matters the past couple of weeks.’

‘What?’

‘Subtly. Just making a comment here and there about baseball’s various problems. Seeing how the guys respond. And honestly, I’ve been pretty presently surprised. There’s still a couple of assholes, and I’m sure you know exactly who they are since they’re assholes about everything.’

‘Johnson and Martin.’ He knows. He’s always known.

‘Yep. And there’s a handful of guys in the bullpen I can’t get a read on. They keep to themselves, guarding against getting too comfortable since they get traded so frequently. I’ll try to get closer and see what I can sniff out.’

Michael laughs. ‘You know that every single person on this team knows exactly what you’re doing and subtly is entirely lost on you, right?’

‘You know what, Guerin? You and Lena sound like broken records. You just go into the clubhouse and check your Twitter hashtags and leave this investigation to me.’

It’s after 8 now and Michael hates that he’s going to do exactly as Danny says. Rolling his eyes, he tries to play off his transparent patheticness before disappearing into the clubhouse. Danny isn’t fooled by his act but won’t judge him. Especially since Michael had watched him behave the exact same way before Lena decided to move to Atlanta and put him out of his misery.

In the clubhouse, he’s not alone. Carlos sits at his locker putting on a new pair of cleats. They nod at each other as Michael sits down at his own locker to scroll through his phone. Blurry pictures of Alex fill the Alex Manes hashtag. Mostly shots of the jumbo screens hanging from the rafters at State Farm Arena. He enlarges the pictures, bringing the phone to his nose, trying somehow to assess Alex’s emotional state from the terrible photos. It doesn’t take long for him to give up and merely sit staring longingly at his screen, heart aching with every new tweet.

At least he’s alive and well and capable of carrying on with the show.

A motion to his left distracts him. Carlos hops up and down trying to break in his squeaky cleats. He grins at Michael and there’s something to his smile that feels conspiratorial. They aren’t super close, him and Carlos, but they’ve always been friendly.

‘Alex’s first show is tonight.’ He says it softly so that Michael has to lean in to hear him better. ‘The first show of his tour, right?’

Michael glances down at his phone and then back up at Carlos, wondering how on earth he’d known what he’d been up to. ‘Uh, yeah.’ Dread fills his stomach.

‘He seems like a good guy. I hope it works out between you two.’ Carlos fidgets, fiddling with the back of his baseball hat and avoiding any lingering eye contact. ‘You aren’t the only one, Guerin. I want you to know that.’

Oh. Oh.

He tries to smile at Carlos, but his brows knit together and it must be a terrible combination. A grimace more than a smile. Carlos merely laughs, waves his hat, and trudges off back to the dugout.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’s always known there were others. At least a hundred or more in a league with over 700 players. Why he never stopped to consider that one of the guys around him, on his own team, might be queer makes him so angry at himself. He’s spent so much time lost in his own struggle that he’s failed to notice anyone else’s. And Carlos is so young -- only 25. He deserved to have a captain that looked out for him. A captain who led the way and made the going easier for those next in line.

And he’d done nothing but moan about his own problems.

The angry buzz of his phone against the metal of his locker makes him jump but provides a brief reprieve from his spiral. Without glancing at the caller ID, he swipes to answer which is very much against game protocol.

‘Guerin.’ It comes out much gruffer than he intends.

‘Bad game? Don’t see how it could get much worse after those four strikeouts yesterday.’

He immediately recognizes the voice and his stomach plummets. ‘Cam?’

‘Cameron, Mr. Guerin. You get to call me Cameron.’

Her tone doesn’t sound like Alex is in grave danger so he nods, remembers she can’t see him and rolls his eyes. ‘Right. Cameron. What can I do for you? I’m guessing Alex is okay.’

Never hurts to ask.

‘Well, I guess that depends on how you define okay. I warned you about putting more creases in his forehead, and somehow you sent him back to me a living fucking nightmare. He made a sound engineer intern cry this morning with nothing more than a sharp look.’

That’s not fair and he wonders just how much Alex told her. He knows Alex considers Cam more than simply his manager; she’s his best friend. ‘Whoa now. He sent himself back. I wanted him to stay.’ Begged him to stay, but he doesn’t tell her that.

She doesn’t immediately respond. He can hear a lot of noise in the background and tries to hone his hearing in case she’s close enough to hear Alex singing. But everything is so muffled he can’t make heads or tails of anything beyond her breathing.

Exhaling loudly, she finally speaks. ‘I know that. I didn’t at first and I was ready to hunt you down. Give you a real piece of my mind. But when I asked, he promised it wasn’t you. Of course, I didn’t believe him.’

Michael snorts and rolls his eyes again. ‘Naturally.’

‘What you have to understand is that I love Alex. He’s my family, and no one gets to hurt my family. But what I have to understand is -- and don’t let this go to your head, Guerin -- he loves you. And yes, that’s made him a royal pain in my ass these past couple of weeks, but what’s happening to him right now isn’t about you. It’s about his dad. That piece of shit won’t stay dead.’

He doesn’t know what to say so he stays quiet. He thinks about telling her that everything is his fault, that everyone who gets too close always gets tangled up in the mess he calls his life. But he doesn’t and that feels like some kind of emotional progress.

‘You still there?’

‘Uh, yeah.’ His words come out strained. He clears his throat and pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘I don’t know much about his dad, but he seemed pretty upset.’

‘It’s not my story to tell. But what I will ask of you, Michael, is to please give him this moment, this little blip of space. That man was a monster, and Alex deserves a chance to catch his breath over whatever this is about. He’s worked so hard this past year.’

She’s asking him to stay, to have faith, to love Alex even when it’s not easy.

‘I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here when he’s ready.’ He emphasizes each word because he means what he’s saying maybe more than he’s ever meant anything.

‘He’s not going anywhere either.’ She hangs up before he can say anything else. But he’s grinning so wide his face hurts. He checks Alex’s hashtag just to see his blurry face, to hear his muffled voice one more time before tossing his phone back inside his locker and heading back out to the dugout to rejoin his team. He spends the rest of the game being the captain his team deserves, cheering everyone on during their last regular season at-bats, and hyping up the postseason that’s theirs for the winning. Vowing to remain this best version of himself until his last day of baseball no matter what happens between him and Alex.

And even though everything is still a mess, still so far from perfect, he’s happy. Really, truly, deeply happy.

------

Tuesday provides their only day off before the Wild Card series with the Cincinnati Reds begins. He wakes up and reads reviews of Alex’s first Atlanta show. They’re absolute raves, not that he’s at all surprised. The picture in the AJC is crystal clear. And other than a haggardness around his eyes, Alex remains the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

He checks his phone, disappointed that there are no missed calls or texts from Alex, but he decides not to let that ruin his day off. Skipping a shower, he heads to the nearest Pike Nursery in Buckhead to pick up the plants he’d ordered a few weeks ago. There’s still plenty of time to get them in the ground before the first frost arrives in Georgia. And gardening has always been a healing distraction for him when emotions run too high.

His morning passes quickly, pleasantly surrounded by the fresh scent of gardening soil. And he heads to afternoon team practice with dirt still underneath his fingernails, proud of himself for not once checking his phone for any other reason than ensuring he’s not late to the stadium.

Practice goes well, one of the best he’s had in a while. He spends most of his time catching up with everyone and offering whatever helpful pointers he can to those who’ve never been in the playoffs before. He also spends a healthy amount of time chatting with the guys in the bullpen Danny had mentioned the day before behind the guise of dutiful captain. They all seem nice enough although that doesn’t really tell him much of anything, but at least no one seems openly hostile based on rumors or ‘Michael Guerin bisexual’ google searches.

Back in the clubhouse, Danny invites Michael over for dinner with Lena knowing full well the evening will be hard on him. Alex’s second concert -- his last show in Atlanta -- was supposed to be their goodbye. His VIP pass still sits in the glove box of his truck. But Michael shrugs him off.

He should absolutely have dinner with his friends instead of wallowing at home. But he wants to be alone more than he wants to be comforted. That’s probably not the best idea either, but the only person who could offer him any real comfort right now is Alex. He’ll only manage to ruin Danny and Lena’s night too. And that’s no good.

It’s a backslide. One step forward, two steps back. One giant cliche.

His house is quiet, too quiet. So he sits at his kitchen counter and pulls out his phone to call Max and Isobel. Max answers and, like he’d guessed, Isobel isn’t far away. They talk for a long time working through Michael’s newly emerging powers. Max tries to answer any questions Michael has about handprints, but Liz had been dead when he’d done the deed and so he has no clue whether or not it hurt her which had been Michael’s primary inquiry beyond how did he heal her and not kill her. Max’s answer had simply been because that’s what his heart and his brain had most wanted at the time. Hardly precise science.

After Michael hangs up, he brings up Netflix on his living room television and searches through the movies for something to watch after he showers. There’s a new documentary about coral reefs, but he decides that’s probably not the tone he needs tonight and settles on his hundredth rewatch of Casino Royale while ordering pizza from Avellino’s.

He can start his postseason clean eating tomorrow.

Halfway through his pizza, the clock strikes 8 pm, and a few miles south Alex takes the stage for the last time within easy driving distance. He bites his tongue and swallows thick. Outside a clap of thunder startles him, but the rain lashing at his windows acts as a balm, lulling him to sleep just as Le Chiffre ties Bond to the seatless chair.

Something loud pulls him free from a bad dream. Casino Royale has come to an end, the Netflix screensaver of recommended shows plays silently on his television. Scrubbing the crust from his eyes, he stands up as the pounding at his door repeats. It’s a testament to his grogginess that he doesn’t bother checking his front door camera, deciding it’s either Danny or his nosy fucking neighbor.

Lightning flashes through his windows as he swings open the front door to find a soaking wet Alex Manes on his doorstep, arms wrapped around himself, teeth chattering. All Michael can do is stand there, jaw dropped, staring at him as his hair drips relentlessly onto his t-shirt.

‘Can I come in?’

Shaking himself out of his stupor, Michael nods, stepping back to allow Alex room to step inside. ‘How did you get here? How did you get past the gates?’ It’s pitch dark outside, and it must be late if Alex’s show is already over. Which means he’s been asleep for hours.

‘No offense but your security system is shit.’ His teeth are still noisily clacking together, his chin trembling. ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you that.’

Michael should grab a couple of towels to dry Alex off, or wrap him in a bunch of blankets, or strip him naked and drag him into a hot shower or another bath. But instead, he drapes his own body over Alex’s, pulling him into the alien warmth of his arms. He holds his breath until Alex relaxes and sinks into his chest, hands reaching around Michael’s back to clutch at his shoulders, his neck.

‘I’m so sorry, Michael.’ His voice cracks with emotion. ‘I meant it when I said it wasn’t about you. And I didn’t want to leave.’ He’s shaking his head into the crook of Michael’s neck, dripping water everywhere.

‘I know.’ He hugs Alex so hard his feet leave the floor. ‘I probably shouldn’t have trapped you underground in a room with no windows and revealed all that with no warning.’ Michael finally releases Alex, wanting to see his face. ‘So, I’m sorry too.’

‘I got outside and all I wanted was to turn around and go back. But I couldn’t because I was afraid I’d say something worse than I already had.’ He’s still soaking wet, but there’s color in his cheeks now and the tremble in his chin has stopped.

Michael frowns. ‘Something worse?’

‘Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t know what’s worse than accusing you of cheating and being a murderer, but I’m sure I could have gotten there if given half a chance.’ He swallows and runs an anxious hand through his hair. ‘So I did the next best thing and called Lena while I paced your street and waited for Cam to pick me up.’

‘You talked to Lena that night?’ Suddenly her promises and assertions from Saturday night make a lot more sense.

‘I did. For an hour. Because I wanted you, but I couldn’t have you. Plus, you know, she’d been through your alien reveal herself so it felt like a good place to go.’ He shrugs. ‘I’m surprised she didn’t tell you. I thought for sure she would. I wanted her to, I think.’

Michael laughs, a hot rush of air as he silently swears at Lena. ‘She fed me this line about not wanting to meddle.’

‘Maybe she wanted us to figure it out ourselves. Unlike Cam who called you even though I expressly told her not to. I have no idea what she said, but I hope it wasn’t terrible.’ The grimace on his face is sincere, but Michael can’t help but grin.

‘I think Cam’s really come around where I’m concerned.’ Alex raises an eyebrow, and the grimace falls away.

‘When she finds out I snuck away in a Lyft, she’s going to kill me. But I had to see you before I leave tomorrow. Because the thing is Michael, the thing is I’m entirely sure I’m in love with you no matter how insane that sounds.’ He doesn’t even wait for a response, just throws himself back into Michael’s arms. ‘Can I stay here tonight?’

Michael doesn’t answer, doesn’t know how to answer. Alex doesn’t appear to require any kind of response from him which is jarring. He could easily return the sentiment, but that feels too transactional in a way he’s beginning to recognize is a cheat, forced, and not the kind of love Alex deserves.

Stepping away, he grabs Alex’s hand, guiding him through his bedroom and into his spacious bathroom. ‘Why didn’t you grab a coat during your escape?’ He slides his fingers along the hem of Alex’s t-shirt and pulls it over his head before stepping toward the shower and turning the tap on both the showerheads hanging from the ceiling. It’s not long before steam fogs the mirrors.

‘My most coherent thought was getting to you before time ran out. I didn’t realize it was storming until I climbed into the Lyft and heard the rain pounding on the car’s roof.’ He reaches for Michael’s shirt, quickly making his way through the buttons. ‘And then I stood outside in the street trying to gather enough courage to knock on your door.’

He sits on the closed toilet seat and lets Michael finish undressing him. Once Michael discards what remains of his clothing into the nearby hamper, they stumble into the shower together, Michael’s TK doing most of the heavy lifting since Alex’s crutches are back in his hotel room.

‘I need to tell you one more thing.’ The hot water washes over both of them. Alex balances his hand on the tile wall and Michael leans next to him, ready to listen. ‘I think sometimes I might need space to clear my head. But that doesn’t have anything to do with how much I care about you. I just sometimes need to be alone for a minute. I hope that’s okay.’

Michael nods. ‘Of course, that’s okay. But maybe stay somewhere close by? Or just a trip to the grocery store or something?’

Alex smiles softly. ‘I can do that. I’m still learning.’

‘Me too. I hope you don’t mind if I’m the opposite.’ He slides his hips nearer to Alex, hands circling his waist. ‘When something bothers me, my first instinct is to crawl inside someone’s lap and let them pet me. I’ve fought against that impulse for a long time, but I don’t want to anymore.’

‘I’ll pet you whenever you want, wherever you want.’

The next hour passes in near silence. They both sit on the marble shower bench, taking turns massaging shampoo and conditioner through each other’s hair and soaping each and every rise and climb of one another’s body. It’s slow going, both taking their time exploring and memorizing. Alex marveling at the sweet sensitive nerves underneath Michael’s knees. And Michael finally realizing how riled up Alex gets at the slightest touch of his nipples.

Facing each other, they slide to the middle of the bench. Michael hugs Alex’s waist with his thighs, pressing their begging cocks together. Their skin is still slick with soap when Michael’s hand wraps around Alex’s dick, pumping him gently with his fist. Alex joins him, and the silence breaks, their moans echoing off the tiled walls as they meticulously work each other to the brink.

They manage to keep their eyes locked together, emotions laid bare, but as they edge nearer to orgasm, Alex’s eyes squeeze shut, and Michael groans, grabbing his chin forcefully and willing them back open. It works and they’re both so close now. ‘I want to watch you fall apart.’

Alex swallows thick, leaving his mouth open and panting. He nods and they try to hang onto each other’s gaze as everything inside of them unravels in the most chaotic explosion. Their foreheads meet and they gasp at the same hot air hanging between them, moist and heavy with steam. Their noses smash together and their tongues lash out hungry for a taste. Alex slides his hand to the back of Michael’s neck, clutching desperately as his orgasm rocks his body. But his eyes never leave Michael’s.

It’s the most intimate moment of Michael’s life.

And then the lights go out.

Michael laughs and turns them back on. ‘Sorry. Haven’t gotten full control of that one yet.’ Alex grins back at him, chest heaving and eyes so soft, so open. Not a single hint of fear written anywhere on his face.

The water remains warm so Michael scoots back on the shower bench and maneuvers Alex against this chest. They let the steam bead on their skin while their heartbeats gradually slow.

Alex runs a hand up and down the back of Michael’s right thigh. ‘Sometimes I worry that my dad’s ghost is going to haunt me forever, you know?’

Michael nods into his hair. His own specters dancing in that liminal space where the past meets the present. ‘I won’t let him. You tell me when he’s there, and I’ll chase him away. In case you’ve forgotten, I have superpowers.’

‘I wish it were that simple.’ They both know it’s not. ‘The amount of energy I expend to keep his taunting at bay even though he’s been in the ground for over a year is wild. And it should be easier to talk about after all this time, but it’s not.’

‘Well, when you’re ready, I’m here. Maybe once your tour’s over we can take a trip back to Roswell and do some digging through those files. Work through our shit together. I think I need to see those photos you mentioned. The ones with the handprints.’

Alex doesn’t answer. He tugs on Michael’s arm, the one slung across his chest, like it’s a lifeline. Michael holds him tighter, folding his elbow so he can press his palm over Alex’s heart.

They relax, bodies falling slack. The steam still snakes through the air and their skin wrinkles. Once the water starts to cool, Michael poses the question he’s been hanging onto since his earlier conversation with Max and Isobel. ‘Can I try something alien with you?’

‘Like some alien sex thing?’ Alex twists around so he can stare up at Michael with a playful glint in his eye. ‘Are we ready for that?’

Michael smirks down at him and steals a quick kiss. ‘For a while now, I’ve been having these power surges and discovering new abilities or the potential for new abilities. And I’d like to try giving you a handprint.’

‘The murder handprint?’ The glint in his eyes fades rather dramatically.

‘Not the murder kind. The kind that opens a psychic connection from me to you.’ Hearing the words out loud makes the whole idea sound unhinged. If Alex says no, Michael won’t press the request and won’t blame him for being wary.

Alex sits up straighter and spins around to fully face Michael. The steam clears as the shower stream cools. They’ve overstayed their welcome so Michael turns the taps off with his TK. ‘Let’s dry off and then I’ll explain everything.’

Thirty minutes later they are nestled under Michael’s duvet, warm and naked. Michael throws half his body across Alex’s, parting his thighs with a persistent knee. Alex is eager to comply, his body falling open to Michael’s every request without hesitation. They spend several long minutes kissing each other breathless before Alex pulls away with a suggestive smile on his face and a raised eyebrow. ‘Explain before we lose the ability to use our brains.’

Michael taps his fingers on top of Alex’s chest, accidentally-on-purpose grazing a nipple which elicits an accusatory hiss from Alex’s kiss-bitten lips. He laughs. ‘When Max brought Liz back to life, a handprint appeared on her chest that allowed her to feel an echo of Max’s feelings for her. That’s how he explained it earlier on the phone.’

‘An echo?’

‘This isn’t an exact science. I’ve done little to no research. How would I? But yes, Liz felt Max’s feelings for her. She didn’t recognize it at first. Initially, she interpreted those feelings as her own.’

‘So, I’m the research? Instead of the human experimenting on the alien, the alien’s going to experiment on the human?’ Amusement lights up his face. There are many reasons he wants to try this with Alex, but he’d be lying if he said further knowledge of their -- of his -- abilities wasn’t at least part of those reasons.

The realization knits his brows together. ‘That sounds bad, doesn’t it?’

Alex fights with his unruly curl, a habit he’s forming that Michael certainly isn’t mad about. ‘Tell me more. All of your other reasons. Pretend I’m a massive control freak with a penchant for paranoia who needs as many details as possible to hand himself over to bodily experimentation.’

‘Pretend?’ They grin and fall back into each other. Michael slips his full weight between Alex’s thighs and their desire for one another grows nearer to the point of no turning back. There’s too much left to discuss, though, even if time is running out.

‘My main reason is I’m going to miss you. And if this works like Max says it works, then I get to send you off with a piece of me. That makes saying goodbye easier, I hope. For me and for you.’

Alex frowns up at him. ‘It doesn’t work both ways? I want to leave a piece of me behind too. I don’t like it being one-sided.’

‘That doesn’t matter. I’ll be more than happy knowing you’ve got the handprint. I promise.’ He puts as much emotion as he can into those words, but Alex’s frown doesn’t dissipate.

‘It matters to me.’ They stare at each other, Alex from flat on this back, and Michael lingering over him, neither of them keen on relenting. ‘Three nights ago, I left you here. With not a good enough explanation. And tomorrow morning, I’m leaving you again. Why am I the one who deserves a parting gift?’

Michael sighs. He understands the point Alex is making. It’s one he’s made multiple times himself. But Alex doesn’t owe him anything. How does he explain that to Alex when he’s had such a hard time explaining that to himself?

‘When you walked through my front door earlier tonight, you basically told me you love me. Yes?’

Alex doesn’t hesitate to agree, nodding his head, the corners of his mouth ticking up into a fond smile.

‘And you didn’t stop and wait for me to say it back, because that’s not why you said it. Right?’

‘Right. You sound like my therapist.’

Michael laughs and they get lost in another long, deep kiss before separating. ‘Well, this is just like that. Me showing you how much I love you because I want to, not because I need a response from you.’

He hears himself say the words out loud, and it surprises him how much he believes them. And not even just for Alex’s sake, but for his own benefit too. Thirty years seems like a good amount of time to finally let go of some of his own shit. Or at least start trying. There’s so much at stake now with Alex leaving on his tour and his relationship with Max finally on the mend.

‘Okay. Brand me with your murder hand.’ Alex smirks and lifts his hips to grind their cocks together. ‘And then let’s take care of this before I make you go to sleep. You’ve got a big game tonight and you need rest.’

‘Now you sound like the mother I never had. Minus the sex part.’ He nips at Alex’s bottom lip as they giggle like school children. ‘Although, I don’t actually know how to leave a handprint, but I think sex helps.’

Alex looks at him skeptically.

‘That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. The times I’ve felt power surges have most often come during or after sex with you. Please don’t let that go to your head.’ Alex grins but stays silent. ‘I think I let go of whatever’s been blocking the power all these years when I’m with you. I think it’s me that’s been blocking the power all these years, and with you, I feel like maybe I don’t have to.’

‘So really, it’s all up here. The block.’ He taps lightly at Michael’s temple. ‘I just distract you from it.’

That sounds like the truth. ‘Probably. I guess Danny was wrong about you having a magical dick.’

‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Alex pushes up into a sitting position, forcefully taking Michael with him, arm grasped tightly around his waist. ‘I think my dick is pretty magical. Seems like maybe you need a reminder.’

Michael shudders as Alex latches onto his neck, sucking hard. The air around them thickens, charged with all the energy of an electrical storm. And for many long minutes, they move together, silent but for their breathing. Instinctually knowing exactly what the other needs. Eventually, Michael begs Alex to fuck him, and Alex does, first with his fingers, mouth wrapped around his cock until Michael’s sure he won’t last a second longer. And then with his cock, positioning himself against the headboard and all but ordering Michael to ride him. Which he does, enthusiastically.

Alex squeezes at his hips and Michael braces himself with a hand splayed on Alex’s ribcage as they both near orgasm. And it’s then, with the roll of Alex’s ribs beneath his palm and the veins in both their cocks throbbing, that his power surges to the surface. He locks eyes with Alex one final time before they both come, and Michael pushes every ounce of energy he summons from his gut through his hand and onto Alex’s already overheated skin.

Or at least he thinks he does. But his eyes close at the strength of his orgasm, at the satisfying pulse of Alex’s cock deep inside him. He hears Alex cry out, not from pain, and clutch at his wrist, the one firmly attached to Alex’s chest. When he forces his eyes back open, there’s nothing to see beyond his hand, same as always, and a very satisfied Alex raggedly panting. His hair a wild, reckless mess and his skin a sweaty wreck.

No sign of a handprint.

‘I guess it didn’t work?’ Alex forces the words out through sharp breaths and licks his lips, glancing down at his own bare ribcage.

Michael hears his disappointment and finds it amusing. ‘So now you want the murder handprint?’ He grins cheekily down at him before gently sliding off his softening cock, watching Alex dispose of the condom, groaning as he moves.

Collapsing back onto the pillows, Alex turns on his side, bending his elbow and tucking his arm underneath his head. ‘I admit that I had an intellectual curiosity.’ He kisses Michael’s shoulder and his eyes flutter closed, the darkness outside deep and exhaustion finally seeping into both their bones.

‘Well, the good news is that it can take some time to appear. Maybe we’ll know before you leave.’ The words get stuck in his throat on their way out. He risks a glance at his alarm clock over Alex’s shoulder. It’s almost 3:30 in the morning and each passing minute feels like a vice-grip on his heart.

‘Sleep, Michael.’ Without opening his own eyes, Alex reaches up to lightly drag his fingertips over Michael’s eyelashes. ‘Staring at the clock won’t stop time.’

Alex pulls him closer and Michael allows himself to drift to sleep sheltered in his warmth. His final thoughts consumed with the moment he’d opened his door to find Alex coming home to him.

-------------

A few hours later, Michael wakes with a start. It takes him a minute to realize Alex is awake too, violently shaking his shoulder and half-screaming Michael’s name. At first, he’s worried Alex is locked in some kind of night terror panic attack and blinks on the lights as his heart rate skyrockets.

‘What’s wrong?’ His hands reach for Alex, touching him anywhere and everywhere. Nothing seems obviously wrong until he notices the glowing handprint situated across his ribs. ‘Oh, wow.’

But Alex only shakes his head and points to Michael’s arm. ‘Look at your wrist. I thought you said it didn’t work both ways.’

With some effort, Michael drags his eyes from Alex, gasping soundlessly when he sees the handprint wrapped around his wrist. No matter how long he stares, it doesn’t make sense. He needs to talk to Max and Isobel but doesn’t want to use up any of his and Alex’s final moments together, so he suppresses the urge. ‘It’s not like we really understand anything about how we work. Not really. Do you feel anything?’

Alex shrugs. ‘I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel?’

‘Me?’ He attempts a laugh and extends his hand, covering the handprint on Alex with his hand, a perfect match.

A choking noise falls from Alex’s mouth and then he’s clutching at Michael’s wrist again, just like a few hours previous. Michael only has a split second to worry before he’s dragged underneath a swell of sensation like nothing he’s ever felt before. He fights the feeling at first, the surreal twist of reality threatening to swallow him whole, trying to drag his way back to the surface. But then the flashes start. A deluge of images, Alex’s brown eyes and pretty voice on repeat. Their entire twenty-day history replaying, drowning him in the emotion of every smirk, smile, and kiss.

They let go at the same time. Falling back on their elbows, gulping for air. Michael watches as tears leak from the corner of Alex’s eyes and realizes he’s crying too. What Max had explained as a simple echo has manifested between Michael and Alex as something entirely other. ‘Fuck.’

Alex recovers first. Sitting back up and practically climbing into Michael’s lap, wrapping his arms and his thighs around Michael, pressing every inch of their bare skin together. ‘I feel you now. You’re everywhere inside of me.’

Michael feels it too. The emotion coursing alongside his blood with every pump of his heart. He doesn’t know how he could have missed it before, or even while he was sleeping. It’s so utterly and completely Alex, and so fucking loud.

He returns Alex’s hug, and they sit there in the middle of Michael’s bed, holding on to each other as the minutes tick by. Neither of them moving until a horn honks outside. They both squeeze tighter, knowing the time for goodbye has come, intimately absorbing the flood of emotion exchanged through their mutual bond.

‘That’s my bus.’ Alex buries his face in the crook of Michael’s neck and takes a deep breath. ‘I don’t want to go.’

‘I don’t want you to go.’ Michael moves his hand up to cradle the back of Alex’s head and kisses his temple hard, like maybe he can forge their skin together so completely they’ll be unable to ever part again. More than anything, Michael wants to stay in bed and never leave. But there are miles to go before that’s a possibility for them. So when Alex pulls away, Michael lets him.

They move around each other in silence. Alex attaches his prosthetic and disappears into the bathroom. Michael shuffles through his drawers and finds a clean pair of sweats for Alex to wear.

Once they are both dressed, Alex stands with his nose in the borrowed sweatshirt. ‘The hoodie smells like you.’ His voice wobbles and then breaks, tears burning down his cheeks.

‘Well, that won’t last if you keep crying into it.’ There’s no bite in his words, only comfort as he tucks Alex back into his arms, joining their tears together until they’re both cried out.

The honking continues and Michael growls in Alex’s ear. ‘My neighbors are probably all gathered around that bus waiting for a damn show. Who keeps honking the horn? You’ve got plenty of time to get to Charlotte.’

‘That’s Cam. She’s blowing up my phone too. I think she’s convinced she’s going to have to break down your door and drag me out kicking and screaming.’

Michael grabs his hand and starts tugging him towards the front door. ‘I actually believe she’d do that. Use Frank as a battering ram.’ Alex swats him on the arm as they open the door and step outside into the early morning light.

‘Oh fuck.’ Michael spins back around and grabs a jacket from the hook by the door. ‘I keep forgetting about the handprint on my wrist. I’m going to have to wear long-sleeve warm-ups for a fucking week. Not that I’m complaining.’

‘The bond says you’re complaining.’ Alex smiles, eyes crinkling, hair still a mess, and Michael takes a mental picture for later.

‘God, you’re such a smartass. Definitely not going to miss that.’ They walk slow as molasses down the driveway.

‘Bond says you’re definitely going to miss that.’

Michael grabs Alex playfully around the waist and bites at his neck affectionately. ‘Clearly, the bond was a mistake.’ At the end of his driveway, he opens the gates to reveal a giant black bus parked on the street. As expected, his neighbors troll their front yards, cell phones raised. But Alex’s security detail is fanned out keeping everyone at bay. ‘At least they’re good for something.’

Cam’s waiting by the open door, hands on her hips. As soon as she spots Alex, she spins on her heels in a huff and climbs onto the bus. Frank takes her place, stoically standing with his arms crossed over his chest, vague death stare plastered over his face. ‘I promise you they love me.’

‘I bet they’re not going to love when I move in.’ He leans in and presses his lips to Alex’s, not caring to keep the kiss chaste, not caring who sees them. ‘That bus might be enormous, but it’s going to start feeling awfully small once I’m regularly sucking you off. There’s a door we can close, right?’

Alex smirks. ‘Cam doesn’t normally ride the bus, and Frank sits up front with my driver, Margot. There’s always a fair amount of earplugs around as well. You don’t think this is my first rodeo, do you? I’ve never been the celibate type.’

‘Of course not. It’s just I’m going to go out on a limb and bet no one’s ever made you moan the way I do.’ Michael’s hands creep underneath the waistband of Alex’s sweatpants and within seconds they are tangled together and so far from chaste Michael’s pretty sure he can feel Frank boring a hole in the back of his head. But the way their bond ignites keeps him from caring.

When they break for oxygen, Michael reaches into his pocket and retrieves his lucky piece of alien tech. ‘There’s something I want you to have.’ He holds out the small coin to Alex.

Alex shakes his head. ‘Michael, I can’t take that.’

He grabs Alex’s hand and presses the piece into his palm. ‘Yes, you can. I’ll be okay. You can hear it now, can’t you? With the handprint? The way it sings.’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. You spend so much of your life singing for other people. Now let me sing for you.’ He clears his throat, closes Alex’s fingers over the shimmering tech. ‘Time for me to sing for myself.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘I am.’

Alex tightens his fist around the gift. ‘I want you to know that I’m about to become incredibly clingy and call you all the time which is extremely out of character, but you’re just going to have to live with it.’ He stares at Michael sternly.

‘You may call me whenever you want, as much as you want. And I will always answer if I’m able to.’ They kiss again, desperate this time, knowing it’s the last kiss for a long while. With a final brutal hug and the softest I love yous whispered into each other’s ears, Alex steps away and turns, back straight and shoulders resolute as he walks onto the bus without a backward glance. Who needs a final look when you’ve got psychic bonds and alien tech anyway?

They’re incredibly lucky.

Surprisingly, Frank gives Michael a tiny nod before he follows Alex into the belly of the bus, the door closing behind him. Michael watches the wheels begin to turn and doesn’t stop watching until the bus is no longer in sight. Rubbing at the handprint on his wrist, he rolls his eyes at his nosy neighbors still trying to figure out which famous person they definitely did not see.

He shuts his gate and meanders up his driveway, head raised to the heavens. The only star he sees is the sun, bright against a clear blue sky. But somewhere beyond hangs the star where he was born. With its own laws of gravity and physics and science. Its own laws of love. For so many years, he’d yearned for that distant star to save him, to whisk him away on a comet made of stardust and shattered dreams.

His heart still aches for the boy he was, sitting on that fence in so much pain. The one with the broken spirit who believed no one loved him and that no one ever would. If he had the ability to time travel, the one and only place he’d go is to that sad boy sitting on the splintered fence. And for whatever brief amount of time he got to stay, he’d tell him not of the stars he’d find in the sky, but of the ones he’d find on Earth. Isobel and Max, not perfect but his. Sanders and Arturo and his second-grade teacher Ms. Nancy. Coach Braswell who’d plucked him from the bleachers at random. Danny and Lena and his soon-to-be godchild. All of his teammates past and present, even Becks.

But most of all -- Alex. The brightest of them all.

In his pocket, his phone vibrates and the swell of emotion through the bond lets him know it’s Alex. He answers without saying anything, waiting.

‘I miss you. Stop thinking about sad things.’

Another pulse at his wrist. Worry, concern, love.

‘I miss you too. I was just saying farewell to an old memory.’ The fence and Foster’s Ranch and the night sky fade away, taking with them the last traces of dust on his heart.

‘Ready to make some new ones?’

Yes, finally.

Chapter Text

Game 7 of the 2020 World Series arrives on a cold, blustery day in late October. Every game so far has been a nail-biter and tonight’s final showdown promises to be no different. Inside the clubhouse, everyone kneels in a circle, hats in their hands as Carlos leads them in prayer.

Michael doesn’t pray. Instead, he takes the opportunity to look at each and every one of his teammates, to commit this moment to memory for the rest of his life. Danny kneels next to him, hand clasped tightly on his shoulder. It would be a lie to say he’s waited for this moment his whole life, but that’s certainly true for many of the men in this room, and he intends to make damn sure all their dreams come true. Because he loves them, so much.

After the collective amen, everyone claps and puts their hats back on, heading out to the field one last time. He stands at the threshold of the door, giving each of his teammates an encouraging butt slap and kind words. Danny brings up the rear and gets a hug, several tears, and a thank you that comes out as I love you.

‘Hear that?’ Danny motions towards the roar of the crowd, the packed stadium on their feet and stomping. ‘That’s just your family section.’

‘Shut up.’ The entire team has been ragging him about needing almost two rows dedicated to the people who love him.

‘Half the Roswell population is up there. That’s gotta feel nice. I’m definitely looking forward to awkwardly hanging out with Max after the game.’ He smacks Michael on the back once more before heading into the dugout.

Eleven tickets. That’s how many he’d had to ask for. Danny had only needed three. When Isobel had told him how many people were flying out from New Mexico (Yes, Michael. Even old man Sanders, although he expects you to pay for his plane ticket.), he’d spent three hours trying to convince her to tell them thanks but no thanks. But Isobel is impossible once she’s dug her heels in and wouldn’t budge. He’d at least convinced her to let him pay for everyone’s travel expenses to which she had happily agreed with no further argument. That was the first eight tickets.

And then, Alex had asked for three tickets. The very Alex who should be in Denver right now performing to thousands of adoring fans. But he’d postponed the show and hopped on a plane to Atlanta with Cam and Frank. He also wouldn’t listen to Michael’s pleas for him to reconsider. In the past month, he’s come to realize just how similar Alex and Isobel are and how much that should probably frighten him.

He hasn’t seen Alex since they’d said goodbye. They’ve talked every day. Often in the morning and then again late at night. Sometimes they get to spend hours talking about anything and everything, no detail too small to relay. Other times it’s a quick update, a rushed I miss you, and a promise to speak again soon. And Michael’s pretty sure they’ve turned phone sex into an art form.

It’s weird. How they can be separated by thousands of miles and still feel so connected, even long after the bond had worn off. And true to his word, Michael hasn’t kept Alex buried in some dark closet. He answers his phone no matter where he is and doesn’t bother hiding the stupid grin or the excessive outpour of emotion every time he hears Alex’s voice. The team has been great, ribbing him the same way they mock the guys with girlfriends or wives. The worst that’s happened is a couple of the usual suspects walking out of the room quietly, maybe a scowl or two. But if that’s the worst thing, Michael knows he’s really fucking lucky.

When he steps onto the field, he allows himself one lingering glance up into the stadium. Everyone is too far away to be anything more than half-recognizable blurs, but they’re all on their feet, waving and cheering, and it puts a grin on his face, the same one on each of his teammates’ faces as they ready themselves to win a championship.

Once Danny steps onto the mound and throws the first pitch, the crowd disappears, and Michael’s attention stays focused on the game. The whole team knows Danny’s out for redemption after losing game two. He’d allowed three earned runs which had been one run too many. And no matter how many of the guys tried to convince him that it wasn’t his fault, that the team should have produced more runs and provided more insurance, he simply refused to listen, situating the pressure of the entire series -- the entire season -- on his shoulders.

The first four innings amount to a single home run for Carlos and not much else. Michael walks and strikes out. In the top of the seventh, Tampa Bay ties the game, both teams now with a single home run apiece. Dres takes Danny out of the game, and Atlanta gives him a standing ovation on his way into the dugout. Michael hates that no matter what happens, he won’t get the win. But he also won’t get the loss which helps balance things out.

Michael walks steps into the batter’s box in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and no one on base. The crowd noise roars loud enough to register as a small earthquake on the Richter scale. But whereas that’s helped rile him up in the past, this time he remains calm. His whole body relaxes and his wrists loosen, hands griping the bat not without intention exactly, but released from the suspense of uncertainty. Almost like his body’s come to its own conclusion about how things should end.

He doesn’t fight it. Squaring his hips, he glances at the sign from Marvin, their third-base coach. Not that he needs to. He knows he’s swinging at the first pitch no matter what. And his gut tells him that’s all it will take.

It’s not that the Tampa Bay closer lacks talent or can’t get the job done. It’s just that the end is near, and Michael’s going out a winner. No harm, no foul, nothing personal.

The home run ends up being the longest he hits in his career. Soaring an epic 492 feet, another star in the night. Michael takes his trip around the bases, heart pounding hard, and even though the game’s not over, the dugout empties anyway. Beating him half to ruin as he crosses home plate.

He does and he doesn’t know this will be the last time.

The celebration continues into the dugout where Danny holds him tight, and Michael suspects Danny also knows that this game is different. And not just because they’re about to win their first World Series.

What happens next is a blur. The eighth ends on a ground out and the three outs in the top of the ninth are barely a memory. Just something they know happened. A paragraph in a book written with their collective blood, sweat, and tears.

Tampa Bay disappears from the field and Atlanta takes over. Banners are strung up everywhere, flags are flown. T-shirts and baseball caps are passed around and reporters with cameras flood the chaos. Soon, families join the circus, children running circles around their fathers and wives draped in their husbands’ arms. Confetti and fireworks and blaring music appear from out of nowhere.

Michael searches for Alex.

He’s somewhere behind home plate, fairly high up since Michael’d needed so many seats. Weaving out of the on-field celebration, he makes his way in the general direction of his family. Isobel’s blonde hair is the first thing he notices, followed by a trail of people he hasn’t seen in so long tears immediately burn his eyes. Max smiles down at him and Michael has never wanted to hug someone so badly.

Before he can catch sight of Alex, someone steps in front of him, blocking everyone else from view. Michael focuses on the face in front of him and frowns, sure he must be mistaken.

It’s Becks.

Michael blinks in disbelief. Becks looks good. Older, the hair at his temples graying. The edges of his face sharper, but the overall effect somehow softer. He’s dressed in khakis and a peacoat. Not at all the Becks with torn jeans and threadbare t-shirts.

‘Hello, Michael.’

‘Becks. What are you doing here?’ His heart pounds furiously against his ribcage.

‘I wanted to be here when you won it all. And I’m not just talking about baseball.’ Becks turns his head slightly, indicating the person behind him. Michael tilts his head and sees Alex waiting, patient and curious. The rumors about them have been swirling in gossip magazines for weeks now. He’s surprised Becks even noticed. Or that he would care. ‘I’m sorry, Guerin. For everything. You deserve all of this. And more.’

‘Okay.’ It’s not an eloquent response, but Michael’s entire thought process is on the fritz. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to feel. On the one hand, he’s glad Becks seems happy enough. On the other hand, he’s annoyed that he’s inserted himself into this moment -- his and Alex’s moment. ‘Well, thanks for coming, I guess.’

What else is there to say?

Without another word, Becks nods and turns, disappearing into the crowd filing out of the stadium. Michael doesn’t bother watching him walk away, just hones in on the face he’s been so desperate to see these four long weeks.

It’s almost surreal, seeing Alex now. Smile lighting up his face. He looks like a mirage, too good to be true. And then suddenly, he’s right there. An oasis close enough to touch, to drink. And Michael has to clench his fists and bite his tongue to keep from reaching out.

‘Was that Becks?’

‘Yes.’

Alex nods, concerned. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I’m perfect.’ And that’s almost true.

Unclenching his fists, he does exactly what he wants to do and grabs fistfuls of Alex’s sweater, slowly pulling him as close as possible until they are both plastered against the waist-high wall that circles the stadium. Michael slides his arms around Alex’s back and hugs him hard, breathing deep. ‘I’ve missed you.’

There are moments in everyone’s life when a decision must be made. A decision that seems so easy but will alter the course of your life.

Michael Guerin, with Alex warm and gorgeous in his arms, faces one of those moments now. His next move holds the weight of every rippling, cascading moment that will follow.

Even so, it’s an easy decision.

Dragging his lips up the column of Alex’s neck, he doesn’t hesitate to press their mouths together in a kiss he’s been dreaming about every night since Alex’s bus had turned the corner. They both moan on contact, swallowing each other’s need and tucking it away for safekeeping until they are alone and able to remember one another without the audience.

The wall separating them quickly becomes a nuisance, and Michael half-drags him onto the other side before pinning Alex with his hips and deepening the kiss. That’s when he hears the first camera. Soon there are more, reporters shouting at them, the flashing bulbs adding heat to their already hot, sweaty skin.

Maybe they should stop, but it’s too late now. It’s been too late since the first magazine has published the first blip of gossip. Too late since he’d entered that room and shook Alex’s hand. Maybe they’ll take a detour there on the way out of the stadium, reacquaint themselves with their beginning. The thought brings a smile to his face which he presses into Alex’s lips.

He’s not in the closet, hasn’t been for a decade. He’s just kept his queerness out of sight and out of mind, to protect the delicate sensibilities of baseball, and he’s so beyond done with all of that. And Alex isn’t closeted either, so this is just two people who love each other enjoying that love like every other man on the field is doing behind them. Fuck the reporters. Fuck the news stories tomorrow. Fuck the fallout, whatever it may be.

Within seconds, Frank and Cam are at their side. Followed in short order by everyone Michael loves. Danny and Lena wrapping their arms around him and Alex in a protective shield. Max and Liz, Arturo and Rosa, Isobel and Kyle and Maria. Sanders with a sharp clap on Michael’s back and a terse you done good kid.

Soon, almost his entire team joins the pile. Everyone laughing and shouting and bouncing with excitement. Burrowing Michael and Alex in the safety of a celebratory cocoon, far from the lens of any camera. And in a better world, Michael imagines this picture, the one of his family joined together, on the cover of every newspaper or magazine or in the top corner of every newscast. Instead of the one with him and Alex kissing that he knows will inevitably be the choice of every news outlet.

But that doesn’t matter now. He’s made his own choices, and he’s never been happier. Funny how he keeps thinking that and then some unexpected thrill arrives to make him a liar. It constantly blows his mind.

When Michael pulls away from Alex, they grin at each other in the shadow of the milieu. With a final hard kiss, Michael turns into Danny and Lena’s arms and Alex gets swept up by Cam. And soon they are all in the middle of the field for team pictures and family photos, interviews and cigars and champagne. The party continues late into the night, everyone reconvening at Michael’s house for food and booze and the kind of joy that keeps the world turning.

--------

As expected, the picture of Alex and Michael kissing is plastered everywhere a picture can be plastered. The footage of Becks outing Michael becomes national news despite it being a decade old. Sports pundits take the stage to debate the bigotry of baseball and try to predict where baseball’s number one first basemen and first openly queer player goes from here. It’s enough to make Michael’s stomach turn, so he avoids the press and buries himself in Alex’s body, moving into the tour bus as soon as he’s able.

Publicly, no one ever knows much about what happens next. Michael plays everything close to the chest and Alex follows his lead.

There are a few things that are known, though.

First, Game 7 of the 2020 World Series is Michael Guerin’s last game of professional baseball. He announces his retirement the day after he wins the 2020 MVP. He remains tight-lipped about the reasons. When asked the whats and whys, he always responds the same: It’s just time. There’s more I’d like to do with my life. Followed by a good-natured smirk and a lazy shrug of his shoulders. And suddenly, he looks ten years younger.

When asked about his take on baseball’s homophobia, he sharply reminds whichever hapless reporter has asked that bisexual people exist and ends with: Baseball is a perfect game played in an imperfect world. Over the rest of his life, neither of these answers ever change, mostly because he rarely ever agrees to interviews in the first place.

Everyone also knows that Michael joins Alex on tour, only returning to Atlanta over Christmas to put his house on the market and to attend the birth of his godson, Mateo Marks, born late on Christmas Eve. The first time he holds Mateo in his arms he, Danny, and Lena all sob while Alex looks on shaking his head fondly and taking a picture that will remain on their mantle forever despite their puffy cheeks, red eyes, and snot-covered faces.

So what is Michael Guerin’s legacy? How does baseball remember him?

He’s a 5x All-Star, a 3x Silver Slugger, a 2x Gold Glove winner. The 2020 MVP and World Series champ. And those are just the most obvious awards and accolades he accumulates over his twelve-year career. Not surprisingly, he’s also the player with the largest philanthropic footprint during his time in the league, and no one in all of a baseball has a single bad thing to say about him. Eventually, he’ll be a Hall-of-Famer.

He’s the first openly queer player in the league, although he argues about that until the day he dies. Feeling like he’d never done enough for the queer players who came after.

And maybe that’s true.

But as Danny likes to remind him, that had never been his job in the first place.

And baseball does start to change. Fucking finally. The day before his own retirement, Danny Marks steps onto a stage with a young up-and-coming pitcher named Raul Hernandez as he announces his engagement to his boyfriend of six years. Michael and Alex are in a nearby hotel sitting with Raul’s fiance, Paul, as they watch the press conference live on ESPN.

What is known is this: the next day Raul gets to wake up and play baseball. And the next day and the next. Every day for all seventeen years of his career. And while it’s never a fairytale, never full-time sunshine and rainbows, baseball shifts and grows and expands.

Is that Michael Guerin’s legacy?

He’ll tell you no. So will a lot of other folks. That’s Raul’s legacy.

Michael Guerin’s legacy isn’t baseball. Michael Guerin’s legacy isn’t championing causes, even his own. Maybe that’s one of his flaws, maybe it’s a survival mechanism. Probably it’s both.

Michael Guerin is more than baseball and less than baseball.

He is a teacher. A six-time overall best teacher in the state of New Mexico. When he goes back to school, he decides to focus on middle school education and winds up spending most of his career teaching jaded pre-teens Earth and plant science. More than simply science, he attempts to put the stars back in their eyes. Mr. G succeeds more often than he fails.

He is a philanthropist. Together with Danny and Isobel, Michael puts together an organization that runs sports camps for at-risk youth, free of charge and without any academic or behavioral restrictions. He hires a staff of former pro-athletes, counselors, and social workers to help kids all over the country. The kids who’ve been forgotten, left behind, and unloved. The kids who are told they are undeserving and worthless. The kids destined for juvie or exorcism or worse. Often when Michael’s asked about fatherhood, he cites that first summer camp - those twelve perfect kids - as the moment he became a dad.

He is a brother. The two hundred acres he and Alex purchase in New Mexico soon grow lonely. So Michael plots off the land and gives 40 acres to Danny and Lena and 40 acres to Max and Liz. Both his brothers become his neighbors, and they turn into the kind of obnoxious people who ride ATVs and golf carts everywhere, back and forth from one front porch to another. But Michael’s favorite moments are when Max and Danny are nowhere to be found, off one some tandem adventure without needing him as a buffer. Brothers in their own right.

Isobel declines her own acreage, declaring her side of town a welcome reprieve from their noise and nonsense, preferring the nearness of actual civilization.

He is a husband. Alex and Michael’s relationship never reaches perfection. In fact, they struggle. Especially at first. Alex remains in therapy and Michael soon joins him, both working hard to love themselves and each other in better, healthier ways. And finally, seven years into their journey, Michael marries Alex in the dusty old barn on their property, a spur of the moment idea hatched before their first cup of coffee while they’re still tangled together between the sheets. Lights are strung up and the barn fills with no more than a dozen people, the ones they love the most. There is laughter, there are no suits, and no one sleeps a wink that night. Their honeymoon is waking up with the sun slanting over them and choosing to spend each and every day together for the rest of their lives. Over and over again. It’s simple and it isn’t. It’s love and it’s more than that.

(Editor’s note: Michael would like you to know that while the above is certainly true -- slight editorializing aside -- their sex life does reach perfection. In spite of that time they put a rather large hole in the wall or all the times their children accidentally walk in on them or that other time with the ill-advised spinning dildo that nearly killed them both. Alex interjects to mention something about a horse, and Michael just glares at him.)

He is a father. It starts with plants. A garden built in raised cedar boxes scattered about their property. Green stalks growing and blossoms blooming and food feeding his family and friends. Then comes the menagerie. A pack of dogs and a sulky cat and enough goats for yoga and a horse named Bob Michael pretends to hate but actually adores. There’s an alpaca and several chickens and once the donkey arrives Alex cuts them off.

And for a while, that’s enough. Until the day Sheriff Valenti asks them to take in newborn twins. They’ve just completed foster training, and newborns definitely weren’t what they were expecting. The twins are dark-eyed and soft-skinned. They smell like new beginnings and cry like the world’s ending. Michael’s ready to devote his life to them immediately while Alex hesitates, worrying because his husband’s heart is so tender and Rosie and Jacob are not theirs. Not yet. There’s a grandmother in Texas and an uncle in Wyoming. There are social worker visits and court dates and staying up all night wondering if tomorrow morning is goodbye.

Months pass. And then a year. Alex gives in and loves his children completely. Eventually, the grandmother is deemed unfit, the uncle stops caring, and the world is proven cruel once again. Rosie and Jacob, two more children threatening to fall through the cracks, but Michael and Alex are there to catch them, to blanket them with stars, to gift them the moon, to sing them the heavens above.

He is a son. Soon after moving to New Mexico, Alex accepts some security contract work to help out an old Air Force buddy and makes the discovery of a lifetime. In the middle of the desert lies a prison. A dank, dark, shabby nightmare place with a history of medical experimentation and genocide. One resident remains. A woman called Nora Truman. Left behind to die alone. In the middle of a warm August night, Michael, Isobel, and Max risk a rescue like no other. And it’s backward, to become a son after becoming a father. But when Michael holds his mother to his chest that first night, time travel is real and he’s a little boy all over again. Except this time surrounded by all the love he’d never known. History repeating, history remade.

Michael Guerin is an alien from another planet. He is a lover and a fighter. He believes in the stars above and the Earth below. He is a genius and a dumbass, a work in progress and a fully-formed heart. He’s got the greenest thumb and the blackest humor. He’s dad-shaped and silly. A fixer, a builder, a creator. He’s the sun-soaked desert and the sweet-bitter of beer. He is smirk and sarcasm. He is loving arms and insistent hips and a hungry mouth. He’s that feeling after you’ve been gone too long and that feeling when you return. He’s a beat-up Chevy, a black cowboy hat, a scuffed pair of boots. A chaos of curls and three buttons undone.

Michael Guerin is human.

Yes, human.

And to the ones who see him, who know him, who love him best, he is Polaris. Always the way home.