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die knowing your life was my life's best part

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There’s a beautiful blonde woman in his dreams.

It’s the first time he’s slept since the explosion at the prison, a full forty-eight hours after everything went down. He hasn’t seen Michael since, but he’s left him about a dozen worried voicemails, begging him to come by so that he and Alex can talk.

He dreams and there’s a blonde woman that he’s never seen before, but she looks so familiar. She’s distant, like she’s keeping some space between them in defense and Alex inclines his head to study her, trying to figure out why she feels so familiar, why she feels so safe, and why he feels so nervous.

“You stayed.”

“I’m sorry?”

He feels like he’s lucid dreaming, but he's not. He has no control over what happens here. All that he knows is that he’s staring at a stranger and maybe if he were straight, this would make more sense, but it doesn’t. She’s beautiful, completely so, but absolutely not Alex’s type.

“I like you,” she says and her smile twists up sadly, like she’s in pain. “I like you for him.”

Alex wakes up without getting to ask who she was, but the dream lingers. It doesn’t evaporate into nothingness and Alex is left with the uncanny sensation that he’d known her.

On the second night, she’s back, and Alex actually gets a better look at her this time, specifically her eyes. Those are Michael Guerin’s eyes. “You’re his mother,” he says, the weight of it striking him. “Are you actually here?”

“We all have our skills. I can be here in your head, talking to you like this.”

“How? How can you be here?” he asks, because he’d watched the prison go up in flames. He knows there’s nothing left but dust and ash, something he’s been trying not to think about because it will break his heart to have to see Michael when he can't focus on anything else.

“I can’t, for long. Soon, within a few days, my consciousness will fade and evaporate. I’ll be stardust and matter,” she replies. “What did you call him? What did they name my baby boy?”

Alex had no claim in naming him, but he’s spoken his name in love and anger and fear so many times that he feels like he has some partial ownership of it. “Michael Guerin,” he tells her, and he wants to ask what she’d named him, but it feels cruel. That’s not for Alex to know. That’s for Michael.

“Michael,” she repeats, her smile serene. “It’s a beautiful name.”

“He’s a beautiful man,” Alex says honestly, feeling like he can’t lie (and maybe he can’t, not in here). “I think, maybe, he gets that from his mother.”

“Flatterer,” she accuses, but she’s still smiling. “How long have you loved him?”

Since he was seventeen, but being honest in this place seems more important. “Since it mattered,” he says, because loving Michael hasn’t done much for either of them. It’s been a fraught path, but one that Alex would never have given up. “He called us cosmic, once. He’s got a lot of beautiful words in him, when he wants to use them.”

“That’s my boy,” she says, with beaming pride and Alex swears he can feel the warmth and joy radiating from her, knowing how incredible Michael Guerin is, and Alex is just happy to share it someone who will truly appreciate it.

On the third night, there’s something different about her. She seems sad, filled with a grief that Alex has never known. Without her saying anything, he knows that her connection is fading and that she won’t have very long before she can’t do this any longer.

“He waited for you,” Alex tells her. “Every time he thought I wasn’t looking, he’d be looking up at the stars, waiting for you to come for him.”

“I’ll never tell him this, but I did the same,” she admits. “I stared at the walls, imagined it was night, and I thought that if he was lucky enough to still be alive, that one day he would come for me. One of us was right,” she says, and there’s this sly teasing in her tone and even though the subject matter is beyond dark, she finds a glimmer of something to joke about.

Alex can see where Michael gets it from.

“I’m going,” she says, upset because it’s against her will, “but before I do, I wanted to speak to you. I saw the way he looked at you, how he spoke and you’re right. He is a miserable liar,” she says, approaching so she can cup his cheeks with her palms, carrying a warmth in them that Alex hasn’t felt since he’d last seen his own mother.

She presses a lingering kiss to Alex’s temple, as if she knows that she’s saying goodbye to him. He feels awful, as if he’s somehow cheating Michael out of more time with his mother, even though he has no idea if she’s in his dreams, as well.

“I can’t be there for him, not anymore. I never could be. I’ve loved my little boy for seventy-two years,” she says, her eyes filled with tears. “Hoping, praying, that he was okay. I could see the pain in his heart, that he wasn’t taken care of properly when he was growing up, but there was hope there too. There was a home and every path I followed led me to a man named Alex Manes, to you.”

She drifts back, enough so she can look him in the eye.

“Before I go, I want you to make me a promise.”

“I can’t,” Alex says, his jaw tight.

Before she can ask why, Alex keeps speaking.

“I can’t, because any promise you ask me to keep, I’ll have already sworn to do,” Alex finishes, swallowing past the lump in his throat. He wants to be brave, now, wants to be a better man. “I’ll protect him from anyone, even my own blood. I’ll make sure he finds happiness. I’ll make sure he finds peace. I don’t need you to demand a promise. I’ve already made them to myself.”

“Take care of my sweet boy,” she whispers to him, and it’s like she’s becoming stardust before his eyes, drifting off into the shining gossamer of the dream. “I like you Alex,” she says, her voice lingering in his ear, “for a human.”

He lets out a sobbing laugh, but then she’s gone and Alex is alone with his promises.

After three nights, Alex never dreams of her again and when he goes to find Michael, the grief on his face is as painful as hearing Michael scream that he doesn’t love him, even though he knows it’s the furthest from the truth that they can get.

“She told me that she’d been visiting you,” Michael says, looking miserable and worn, like he’s on the edge of jumping off a metaphorical bridge. “What…? What’d she say?”

“She said she liked me,” Alex offers, sinking down into the chair beside Michael, resting his hand on top of his so he can slide his fingers slowly over top, interlocking them. “I told her what they named you so she knew. Then, she told me that I need to make sure that I take care of you, because she won’t be around to do it anymore.”

“Funny,” Michael says, sounding hollow. “She said something like that to me. Said that anyone who was willing to withstand an exploding building for her son was a brave man. I told her she didn’t even know the half of it.”

He lets out a wrecked sob and his breath shakes as he looks at Alex through teary eyes.

“I’m never gonna see my Mom again,” Michael blurts out, like he knows that this had been the last dream, the last slip of consciousness before it evaporated into the cosmos. Alex tightens his grip on Michael’s hand and thinks about the promise he made.

Alex has never lost his mother, has never lost anyone, not like this. The closest he came had been when that building had been about to go down with Michael in it, but he’s not going to let anything happen to Michael is he can help it.

“I know,” he murmurs, soft and grieving empathetically. “I know, but I’m going to make sure that I do everything I can to love you the way she wanted you to be loved.”

Michael swallows hard, staring up at Alex tentatively. “Even after I said all those things?”

“Like I said,” Alex exhales a nervous laugh, unable to admit that it hadn’t hurt, because it had, but he knows, “you’re a terrible liar. You tell me you loved me a couple weeks ago, that you never look away. You wanted me to go, but I’m not going anywhere, so long as you aren’t.”

Michael’s shoulders are slumped and Alex moves so he can get in Michael’s space and hold him up. He knows about grief, about loss, and right now, they’re stronger together.

“I was waiting for her to rescue me, all those years,” he says, sounding wild and panicked, “and I was supposed to rescue her. I should have done something, I shouldn’t have tried to break her out, I was the one who ki...I was the one who k…”

He can’t say it, but it’s not true.

“You didn’t kill your mother,” Alex says sharply. “She loves you. She loved you so much that she stuck around in our dreams to make sure that someone would be around to take care of you and that’s gonna be me, Guerin,” he swears, because Michael’s mother likes him, she thinks he’s brave. “I’m never gonna look away.”

Michael collapses into Alex’s arms, shaking as he presses his forehead to Alex’s shoulder. Alex knows what he has to do and collects him into his arms, holding on possessively tight. Michael’s mother may not be around anymore, may not be able to give him the love and acceptance he’d craved all his life, but Alex is only getting started.

He’ll take of Michael Guerin, for the both of them.

He'll love Michael enough for two.