When he goes back inside, there is light spilling from underneath the door to the room he has claimed for his, reaching out across the concrete floor of the darkened corridor. He pushes the door open cautiously, too aware that all safety now is relative at best, but inside, there is only Michael, waiting for him.
He is sitting back against Alex’s nightstand, long legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles. The blue shirt he’s wearing is the same one he had on at the race track - Christ, that was only this morning - and he looks almost as rumpled as Alex feels. He has positioned himself directly opposite the door, and when Alex steps inside, they are face to face.
“It was both,” he says.
Alex’s thoughts still resonate with the aftershocks of the phone call he’s just made, the rage and the terror and the grief of it chasing each other through his mind, and for a second he doesn’t know which conversation they’re continuing. Then he does, and, abruptly, his attention is here, all of it in this moment.
“We can’t afford to lose your skill-set on the team,” Michael goes on, “and leaving you there would have been disastrous for morale. But that wasn’t the only reason I made the decision.” He’s leaning his hands on the nightstand, either side of his hips, and as he pauses, a heartbeat of silence, Alex sees his fingers tighten around its edges, clench and unclench. “I thought you deserved to know that.”
I don’t care, Alex had said, earlier, and he’d meant it. He’d been given another chance, when he’d been sure that all was over, a new lease of time to do the things he had to do before the end. What did it matter to him whether it was for his sake or the team’s? His sense of gratitude couldn’t be greater, either way.
But it seems Michael cares, Michael wants him to know, and that information is so bewildering he has no idea how to respond.
Michael doesn’t wait for a reply, though. He gets to his feet, breaking eye contact, and steps past Alex towards the door. His movements are precise and economical, his back very straight, and of course Alex was wrong: there’s nothing rumpled about him, not really. Even in Sona, he was always just that little bit too far apart, too high above for the heat and dust to touch him. Always out of reach.
Or, no, not always.
He doesn’t plan to do it, but as Michael brushes by him in the tiny space, Alex reaches his hand out and grabs him by the arm. Not with any force, just his fingers curving around Michael’s elbow, asking, and Michael stops, turns. Doesn’t shake him off.
“Michael,” Alex says, but the other words aren’t coming, he’s not even sure what they are.
They’re too close together, the two of them, standing like this, his right hand on Michael’s right arm, his forearm pressed against Michael’s side, and he can feel Michael breathing, the rise and fall of his chest, see the coronas of darker pigmentation as sharp contours around the pale green of his eyes.
“Self wanted…” Michael starts, then cuts himself off. Clenches his jaw against the words as if they don’t deserve to be spoken. It’s hardly difficult to figure out what Self suggested, though; the agent is a practical man, in ways Michael will never understand. “You won’t be collateral damage, Alex,” he says. “I won’t let you.”
His voice is low and harsh, as if Alex is the one who has to be convinced. And perhaps that’s it, the fact that Michael knows his reasoning and is willing to argue the point with him in the face of sense and logic the thing that makes Alex raise his free hand to cup Michael’s face, makes him lean in without thought to press their lips together.
It isn’t new, nothing they haven’t done before, but one sweat-soaked night in Sona, fuelled by desperation and adrenaline, by too much time trying to read each other’s minds, doesn’t give him any right to this, he knows that. So he tastes Michael’s lips, soft and still under his, runs his fingertips over the lightly stubbled plane of his cheek, reading him by touch, and pulls away.
He doesn’t expect Michael to follow.
But there are hands grabbing onto him, pushing him back, pushing him up against the side of the bunk-bed he sleeps in, his shoulder blades connecting with steel, with the bare upper mattress, and Michael is kissing him. Deep and hungry, as though he’s been needing this, a sound in his throat halfway between growl and sob vibrating through them as Alex opens up, lets him in. Yields and lets Michael take, encouraging with lips and tongue, with the arch of his body, his fingers on Michael’s face. His right hand is trapped between their bodies, palm flat against Michael’s chest, braced against the rhythm of his heart, and he is alive and free and ready, sure in his purpose, in the purpose they have for each other. It isn’t over, not yet. Between them, they’ll hang on till the end.
It takes long minutes for the kiss to gentle, to slow, and when Michael breaks away at last, leaning his temple against Alex’s forehead, his breath comes in shaky bursts against his cheek.
“Alex,” he says. “This… I can’t stay.” Another breath, more quiet, more controlled than the one before. “Sara…”
Alex closes his eyes, slides his hand up to squeeze Michael’s shoulder, his thumb slipping beneath the open collar of his shirt to stroke the smooth skin at his collarbone, the line where the tattoo no longer starts.
“It’s okay,” he says, and it is. He knows what Sara means to Michael, knows that this is something different, separate, not a possible replacement. Knows that Michael needs a future beyond the end of all this madness, while he… “Go be with her.”
He brushes his lips against Michael’s cheekbone and lets his hands fall away.
Michael takes a step back and uncurls his fingers from Alex’s shirt, smooths the fabric down against his chest before he turns for the door. It’s only a step away, but he pauses at the threshold, his hand on the knob, and looks back.
“I didn’t tell the whole truth before,” he says. “It was good for the team, but that had nothing to do with why I did it.”
He’s gone before Alex can begin to tell him everything that’s wrong with his priorities. But then, he isn’t sure he wants to.