Alex put his SUV in park and stared at Michael's Air Stream for a moment. If he did not know better, if he had not seen it with his own eyes, he would assume that the trailer had been in the exact same position for years. He even bent down to peer underneath it once he had left the SUV, but could not see evidence of a hatch or door of anything in the shadow of the vehicle. It was a good hiding place, he had to admit. The only problem was that moving the trailer, even with Michael's apparent telekinesis, was too much of a hassle.
Maybe, once the two of them cleared the air, they could arrange a better hiding place. He didn't want to admit that he thought that the perfect spot was in his own secret bunker, with the items from Project Shepherd that he still needs to move. It would mean that Michael would need to spend more time at his cabin. As much time as possible.
Michael's truck was not parked near the trailer or the old shed that he used as a garage, so Alex took the time to find the approximate location of the camera his father had set up. Judging by the angles, it was on the light pole that supplied the junk yard with power. How had his father gotten it installed without raising suspicions? It was not as if he could pose as an utility worker, not when everyone in the small town knew his face. Had he hired some outside help? Someone Alex would need to hunt down and pay off to forget that he had ever met anyone from the Manes family? He'd have to look in Jesse Manes' notes to find out.
Michael had set up a shade tarp over his mismatched set of lawn chairs and Alex was grateful for it as he pulled his small cooler of beer out of the SUV before sitting down. He'd had physiotherapy earlier that day and was sore. He dry swallowed a couple of Motrin before popping the top of a bottle and tossing the lid towards the fire pit. While physio was nothing like it had been right after the IED had taken his leg, it still made him ache for the rest of the day, at least. Sometimes he missed the Vicodin from earlier sessions, but not enough to risk popping on a piss test, much less the idea of addiction. Even when he had had the prescription, he had resisted taking the narcotic until he had no choice.
He was three beers in when Michael's Chevy finally pulled into the junk yard, creating a cloud of dust when it's halt was more abrupt that Alex thought Michael had planned.
He didn't stare at the figure in the truck, despite the fact that he really wanted to see what expressions crossed Michael's expressive face, He wouldn't have been able to see it clearly through the distance and dust, anyway.
It felt like forever before Michael climbed out and approached him.
"What do I owe the pleasure, Private?"
"My father is in Niger for the foreseeable future."
"So you thought you would sneak around with me," Michael snapped before he could continue. "No, thanks. I'm too old to be a dirty little secret."
"You know the way out."
"No! You listen. I can't..." Michael made a frustrated noise and ran his hands through his hair. "I just can't." His voice broke. "I can't."
Alex stood up and approached him, his hands spread to show that he meant no harm. "Hey, hey, it's OK. It's OK." He placed his hands on Michael's cheeks and pressed their foreheads together. His eyes closed instinctively. "It's OK," he whispered again.
"Com'ere," he pulled Michael's head down to his shoulder and felt the other man shudder before his arms wrapped around Alex. He felt Michael's knees start to give and managed to get them both to the ground without incident. Michael didn't seem to notice the change in position. Alex put his arms around Michael and rocked slightly as he felt tears start to soak his shirt.
By the time Michael was done crying, the sun had set and a chill had picked up. He tried to pull away, but Alex just held him tightly.
"Talk to me," he whispered into Michael's hair.
"Isobel is sick," he finally said in a hoarse voice. Alex could tell that he was struggling to find words, either the right words to express himself, or the right words to convey the almost lie he had to tell to protect himself. Alex would bet the latter.
"Do you know what is wrong with her?"
Michael shook his head and pushed away slightly. Alex allowed it this time, though he kept a hand on Michael's arm.
"She's in rehab," he said. "And it's not going well. Max is a wreck and I've been... Sorry. Sorry, I didn't mean to get my emotions all over you. That's not why you came here."
"It's OK. Though, I think I need some help standing up. My leg went to sleep."
Michael winced and moved further away before scrambling to his feet and holding out a hand to help Alex up. Alex let the other man lever him upright before he used Michael's shoulder to steady himself.
"Why don't we move this somewhere more comfortable?"
Michael jerked away. "That's--"
"To sleep," Alex emphasized. "We can talk in the morning."
Michael looked uncertain and it broke Alex's heart. He had done this, had walked away too many times. Some of it had been to protect Michael from his father, yes, or to protect his own career in the Air Force for the few years that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was still in effect. But years of hooking up over Block Leave and keeping it a secret, of using any excuse to walk away had taken a toll on them both. Michael had always managed to hide it before.
"This is me, not walking away. We will talk in the morning, but for now we both need sleep."
"It's too early to go to sleep," Michael pointed out, though his eyes were at half mast.
"Don't care. Sleep."
Michael led the way into the trailer and produced a pair of gym shorts for Alex to sleep in while he changed into frayed sweats. Michael had always tended to run hot and had almost always slept in as little as possible. But as he laid down beside him, Alex could feel the other man shivering. Without saying a word, Alex sat up and grabbed the blanket that had been kicked to the end of the bed and settled it over the both of them before wrapping his arms around Michael and spooning up against him.
"Go to sleep," he whispered as he pressed a kiss against Michael's curls.
Alex woke before Michael did, years of early morning PT and roll call having ingrained the habit into him. He let Michael sleep, though, the other man's head on his chest. He idly wrapped a single curl around his finger as the sun rose high enough for him to see the notes and equations taped to the ceiling above the bed. He had never paid attention to them before, having been more focused on the man in the bed than anything above it. He couldn't quite see it well enough to read the notes, but he could tell that the math was far more complicated than anything he had needed to learn for hacking. Proof that Michael could have left this dinky little town and done amazing things with his life. Why hadn't he?
They had had a fight before Alex deployed to Iraq the last time. Michael had declared that Alex should not expect to find Michael waiting for him when he got back and he had fully expected him to leave, to go anywhere that did not contain so many heart wrenching memories. Why had he stayed?
Eventually, Alex's bladder started to protest the beers from the night before. He really didn't want to get up, didn't want to wake Michael or put on his prosthesis. He could make the short trip without it, using the cabinets and walls for balance, but he thought the trailer shaking from him hopping around would probably disturb Michael more than just sitting up and strapping on his leg.
Still, Michael protested when Alex shifted him off his chest and he slowly blinked awake as he strapped the prosthesis on, not bothering with the sock that protected his stump from friction.
"Leaving so soon?"
"Just visiting the latrine," he promised and gave Michael's arm a squeeze before he stood and made his way to the back of the trailer. The leg felt odd without the protective layers between metal and skin, but he could handle anything for the few feet there and back.
Michael was sitting up, back against the pantry, when Alex had finished his business. His face was guarded again and Alex regretted losing those few moments of peace before the world had descended on his shoulders again.
He sat down with his back against the opposite partition and swung his legs up on the bed. When he started to reach for the prosthesis, Michael batted his hands away and gently unbuckled it before setting it on the floor beside the bed. Alex had... Forgotten was the wrong word. He had forced himself to not remember how gentle the other man could be.
"How long is he gone for," Michael asked, pulling Alex from his thoughts.
"The foreseeable future. He is going to request a transfer out of Roswell when he finally gets back. I... I found leverage, Michael. After ten years of searching for something, I found it. He can't come back. Can't hurt you, us, ever again."
Michael sucked in a breath. "I've never been scared of him, you know that, right?"
"No, but I have." He shuffled forward and gently took Michael's left hand. The ring and pinky fingers would not lie straight and there were obvious bulges where the skin should have been stitched together instead of whatever first aid Michael had applied to himself after that night. He understood why the other man had not gone to a doctor. A runaway foster kid with no way to pay for services and no desire to be put back in a home. He wasn't even sure what could have been done ten years ago. Maybe Michael would have stumps for fingers to match his stump of leg.
"I have been terrified of him since I was a kid. I know I was mouthy and defiant in high school, but it was all an act. Any time he came into the room when I was a kid, my knees went weak. And the one time... The one time I tried to find something good for myself, he hurt you. He hurt you so badly that I didn't even understand how you could look at me, much less touch me.
"But I kept coming back to you. I knew it was dangerous. I knew that is was just a matter of time before he found out and hurt you again. I tried to walk away. Every time, I tried to convince myself that it would be the last time. But then I would see you again and you'd give me that same look that you have been giving me since we were seventeen, and I found myself aching for you all over again."
He brought one hand up and rubbed away the tears that had started to overflow. This time it was Michael who shuffled closer and took him in his arms. Alex had thought that he had worked this all out over the last few days, crying so hard that his head had hurt after he confirmed that his father had arrived in Niger. But here, safe in Michael's arms, the tears came again, gentle, cleansing.
Michael rocked him the same way that Alex had rocked Michael the night before, his hands running up and down his back in a soothing motion. It took several minutes for him to regain control, but he felt better afterward.
"I have been to war. I have snuck into Taliban compounds and hacked their systems. I have infiltrated Russian government systems to find money trails and intel. I have walked into war zones with only a rifle and what I could carry on my back. Nothing, not a single bit of it, compared to the way I felt when he stood there with that hammer."
He sat up and wiped his eyes again. Michael reached across the Air Stream and handed him a box of tissues and Alex smiled in watery thanks.
"What I found... God, Michael." He sighed and blew his nose before drawing in a deep breath to continue. His father had come so close to having proof. If he had waited even a single day...
"I need to tell you about it, and I need you to listen to me, OK? Actually listen, and don't freak out."
Michael tensed and Alex wrapped his hand around his wrist before linking their fingers together.
"In late June or early July of 1947, the US Army Air Forces had a report about a crashed airplane in the New Mexico desert."
Michael tried to pull away with a scoffing noise, but Alex held on tight.
"When the Department of Defense declared the Air Force as a separate service in September of 1947, one of their first black book projects was Project Shepherd. It was an investigation into the debris and bodies of the crash site. UFO groupies basically forgot all about it for thirty years, but the military had not. Not by a long shot. They had artifacts. They had bodies. They had proof, Michael."
"I've been to the museum. I've heard the story. You can't live in Roswell and not have heard it a thousand times. Or get offered some alien detection bracelet for an outrageous price."
"Listen and don't freak, remember," Alex admonished. "My grandfather was head of the project in 1947. He remained head until he retired, when my father was declared in charge. It doesn't make sense, for a secret military project to be passed down the family like that, but for some reason it was. My family and the Valenti family were both heavily involved."
Michael muttered something unkind about Valenti, but Alex ignored him.
"There's only so much you can learn from broken pieces and decaying bodies, though. They knew that one alien had survived the crash because he or she killed humans right afterward. Probably in self defense," he added as Michael stiffened. "I mean, you've made a horrific landing on an alien planet. Most of your crew, or maybe even family, has died. And someone comes near you with a weapon? Even if they understood the language, would they be able to process what was happening? Were they disoriented from the crash? Who knows?
"Project Shepherd was tasked with searching for that alien or aliens. The consensus was that they would stick near the crash site in hopes that others of their kind might find them. So, Project Shepherd remained here, until 2011, when it was officially shut down."
Michael drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment before releasing it. "How does this history lesson provide leverage? Not that knowing that aliens exist, and might be homicidal maniacs, isn't interesting."
"My father believes that the homicidal maniac angle," Alex explained. "And despite the fact that all the files and resources from Project Shepherd were supposed to go into storage at Groom Lake, he kept it. I don't know if he made copies or sent fake files into storage, but he has been running the project off the books for eight years. If the Pentagon found out, he would be facing court martial."
"What do you mean, he has been running it?" Alex could feel a slight tremor in Michael's hand as he asked the question.
"My father remained convinced that there was still an alien threat. Or, at least, that's what he spouted at me before I sent him away. But, really, he was using it as an excuse to target people he hated or whom he wanted to control. Jim Valenti, Mayor Andrews, Mrs. Topolski, the guidance counselor who encouraged me to pursue music, do you remember her? You."
Michael sucked in a breath again, no doubt about to make a blithe comment that would dismiss the idea of him being an alien. Alex spoke before he could.
"About a week ago, someone turned his attention to Max Evans. With Max comes Isobel and you. He had this whole file prepared with trumped up proof that you were a terrorist, all ready to send to Homeland Security for review. You would have found yourself in a prison cell with no hope for your rights as an American citizen.
"One of the things he did was point a camera at your trailer," he continued. Michael tried to pull his hand away again, but Alex held tight. "Don't worry, I cut the feed and deleted the files. We need to pull the actual camera from the light pole. As well as several others around town. My father's grasp on Right to Privacy is shaky, at best."
He wrapped a hand around the back of Michael's skull and pulled their foreheads together again.
"And we really need to discuss how to hide things better. Moving your whole trailer with your mind is just asking for some townie to come by and wonder why the front is suddenly five feet from where it was when he drove by yesterday."
Michael tried to pull away, but Alex held him steady.
"No freaking out, remember?"
"I made no promises," Michael replied in a hoarse voice.
"Then I will make one," Alex said. "I will do anything and everything I can to protect you. If that means destroying my father or taking on the whole Air Force, then I will. OK?"
Michael drew back far enough to look him in the eyes before nodding minutely. His eyes closed as he used his scarred left hand to cradle Alex's cheek and brought their foreheads into contact once again.
"I think you just might mean that."