“This is nice,” Alex said. He glanced around the tiny room, not much larger than a broom closet. “I mean…”
“It’s only temporary,” Michael said, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “I’m gonna buy an airstream soon, there’s one at Sanders’ I got my eye on, I’m saving up, so…”
“Is that why you…” Alex let the question trail off and Michael offered nothing in return. He flopped down on the mattress and pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. All twenties. He made a show of counting them while Alex looked on.
They were in the supply room above the UFO Emporium. Michael felt a certain entitlement towards the place. After all, those were fragments from his spaceship displayed in the glass cases downstairs, alongside the fakes and the cheap curiosities. Before the summer was out, the real ones would be gone, disappearing one by one, as Michael reclaimed his birthright.
If the museum housed other memories, shared memories—well, nobody was acknowledging them right now.
“How much?” Alex asked tightly.
Michael laid the bills down. “Six hundred.”
Alex swallowed audibly. Then he studied the pile of books beside the mattress. “I haven’t read any of these,” he commented. “Do you actually—I mean, are you actually, like, reading this stuff? Stephen Hawking? Octavia Butler? Marx?”
Michael shrugged. A library card cost nothing; just ’cause he wasn’t going to college didn’t mean he had to give up on his education. But he hadn’t told Alex that the UNM dream was dead, not yet.
An awkward silence congealed between them.
“So… Marx,” Alex said at last. They hadn’t laid eyes on each other since Rosa’s funeral. Michael had no business going, but he snuck in the back anyway. Neither of them had queued up to take communion; their eyes met across the empty pews, then Alex had turned away. “Marx, he—what was it again?”
“I mean like I know who he was, but what did he—sorry. Go ahead.” Alex shifted his weight. There was nowhere for him to sit, unless he sat on the floor—or beside Michael on the mattress. He remained standing.
Michael’s mind drifted to the tasks awaiting him at the scrapyard. A vintage Bentley. An old Triumph he fully intended to take for a spin before returning to its owner. “A worker puts his life into what he makes,” he said vaguely, staring up at the ceiling.
“By making it, by working,” he answered. There was a brownish water stain right over his head. “The worker’s life goes into making stuff. Marx says the labor remains in the object in the form of value; it becomes, like, objectified outside of the worker.”
“Okay…” Alex was clearly turning something over in his brain, and Michael cursed his shit luck, his shit timing, or whatever shit fucking whim of fate that had arranged for Alex to walk down the street at the exact moment Michael had—
“Why are you so interested in this stuff?” he demanded. “If you wanna join a book club, Max is the one you—”
“I’m just trying to—” Alex frowned. “But if it’s you, if you’re the thing that’s getting bought, then you aren’t, like, making a thing—you’re making yourself into a thing—”
That stung. “At least I’m transparent about it.”
“That’s sick,” Alex said. “That’s just—really sick, Guerin. How can you… damage yourself like that?”
“C’mon, Alex.” Michael gestured down the long, sharp lines of his body. “Do I look damaged to you?”
“But that lady—”
“Flora, Mrs. Diaz? Yeah, she’s your classic gold-digging trophy wife, rich as hell, husband’s like fifty years older than her—”
“She paid you.” Alex pinned him with a dark stare.
“Well—yeah,” Michael said. “That’s what makes it fun for her. She’s bored, she’s got piles of money, she can buy anything she wants. So why buy stuff when you can just… buy the alienated worker? And here I am, the alienation.” He snorted at his private pun. “People like her, they wanna fuck the alienation—or get fucked by it, as the case may be.” He smirked up at Alex, trying to feel gratified by the shock, the undisguised horror splashed across Alex’s familiar-unfamiliar face.
Anything to fill the gaping cavity of shame that had yawned inside his chest when Alex saw him exit Flora Diaz’s house, money in his pocket and a teasing slap on his ass to send him on his way—
He would have given his left nut to stroll away like it was nothing, like the first person he’d ever fallen in love with hadn’t just caught him servicing one of Roswell’s more desperate housewives on a Friday afternoon—
The And Alex had followed, trailed him all the way to his eyrie over the Emporium—
Where, once upon a time, a different Michael had confronted a different Alex under a canopy of fake plastic stars, ignored his terse directive to talk, and kissed him soundly instead.
Was it only four weeks ago?
It felt like four hundred.
“But you’re still a kid,” Alex faltered. “You’re barely eighteen, that’s—”
“Kid, rentboy, hustler, whore, whatever.” Michael propped himself up on his elbow, leveling Alex with a hard stare. “What I’m not is damaged,” he said firmly. “That’s stupid, it’s an easy cliché. I’m not—this is only temporary.” He smiled bleakly. “For $300 an hour.”
“But don’t you see how twisted that is?” Alex knelt beside the mattress, as if he might better prove his point by proximity. “The people who you—they should all be arrested—they get off on paying a kid for sex—”
“Maybe it turns me on too, ever think of that?” He waved the stack of twenties under Alex’s nose. “Just ’cause it’s money doesn’t mean it’s bad. Or, just because something’s hidden doesn’t mean it’s wrong—”
Images flooded his mind. Two boys, a shed, a stolen moment cut brutally short—
Alex inhaled sharply and looked away.
“Some people like to be blindfolded,” Michael went on, twisting the knife because he could. “Other people like a bit of smacking around—”
Alex looked appalled. “You hit women?” he yelped.
“No!” Michael yelped back, just as appalled. “No. Christ, no, never.”
“So then what do you mean you—oh.” Alex went quiet all of a sudden.
Michael’s left hand throbbed, pins and needles shooting up his wrist. He’d healed quickly, faster than any human, but the bones had mended crooked, wrong. He still had trouble looking at it. He’d never play guitar again, that was for damn sure. The bills fluttered through his numb fingers.
“You have sex with men,” Alex said flatly. “For money.”
Michael flexed his fingers, hesitating. Then he shrugged. “Yep. Yep. Yyyyyep.”
“Rough sex.” Alex was staring down at the floor, tracing a pattern in the dust.
“I don’t really wanna,” Michael acknowledged, “but that’s what some guys like, y’know? So I’ll do it, sort of. And even though I’m not really into it, I can try to like, you know, get with it. Play the game.”
“This isn’t…” Alex shook his head vehemently. Then he was shuffling closer on his knees, impassioned, reaching out. “It’s not a game, Guerin! It’s your life, it’s—…”
Michael wetted his lips with his tongue. The last time he and Alex had been alone together, they’d kissed and had sex and then Jesse Manes had caught them and smashed his hand. Several hours later Rosa Ortecho was dead because Isobel had killed her along with the other two and Michael had got there too late to stop it and all his plans for the future went up in smoke along with those three girls’ bodies when he told Isobel it was him, he killed them all, and Max hadn’t said anything to contradict him and that was how a lie became a fact and—
“Would you let me smack you around?” Alex said abruptly.
“Do you want to?” Michael said.
“Do you let other men smack you around?”
Michael narrowed his eyes. After a moment, he nodded.
“Tie you up?”
“Burn you?” Alex demanded. “Strangle you?”
“This turning you on?” Michael smiled dangerously, showing his teeth. Then: “I don’t have any money, Alex,” he explained quietly. “I’m trying to buy the airstream so I have somewhere to live and—”
Without any warning, Alex burst into tears.
“What?” Michael said, startled. “What, Alex?”
Alex hid his face in his arm. Michael had never seen anyone cry like that in real life: heaving shoulders and harsh, wracking sobs. Foster kids knew to keep quiet, if they cried at all.
He bit the inside of his cheek.
“What happened to you?” Alex finally choked out.
“Same thing that happened to you,” Michael said.
“No!” Alex was still crying, his sobs taking on a hysterical edge. “We’re not—I’m nothing like—God, Guerin, you really hate me, don’t you?”
“Hate you?” Michael was nonplussed. “Why would I hate you, Alex? I, I—”
“Just stop, Guerin.” Alex shoved at him weakly. “You know what, I don’t care. You can fuck yourself dead, if that’s what you want. Go fuck Flora doggy-style while her kids are at daycare and see if I give a shit. Let some perv jerk off on your ass, let him burn you and strangle you till you can’t breathe and the blood stops moving in your arteries and when you drop fucking dead that creep’ll just toss you in the dumpster and leave you there to rot till trash day rolls around and—”
Michael laughed. It was a strident, bitter sound. “You wanna obliterate me, Alex?” he taunted. “All you gotta do is ask.”
Alex made a helpless, keening noise and clutched the front of Michael’s shirt.
And Michael collided with him, pressing his hot mouth against Alex’s, drinking him in with all the desperation of a marooned sailor who’d found fresh water after endless days surrounded by the mocking salt sea. His weak left hand he tangled in Alex’s hair; the other grasped Alex’s hip, dragging him down on top of him.
He couldn’t get close enough to him.
He sat up, pulling his shirt over his head in a single fluid motion. Alex made a funny noise, like he was smothering a gasp. Michael shook his curls out of his eyes in time to see a painful aspect grip Alex’s countenance. “Guerin,” he whispered raggedly. Michael glanced down. He was lean all over, muscles sculpted and hardened in the absence of fat. It wasn’t a kid’s body, not anymore. And Jesus, how pathetic he must seem to Alex, homeless, wasting away, like a ghost tethered to earth only by unfinished business and this thing between them that just refused to die.
“You got older,” Alex said. His eyes were dark, dark enough to drown in. Gently, ever so gently, Alex touched Michael’s lips with his finger.
Tears burned in his eyes. He drew Alex back down to the mattress, raining hard, insistent kisses on his mouth, rucking up his shirt to run his hands up and down his back. Alex felt more real to him than anything he’d touched in weeks, vital, breathing, alive.
Alex moaned into his mouth.
Michael slid his leg between Alex’s and Alex clamped down hard, grinding desperately against his thigh. And Michael felt that blessed calm settle over him again: a change in entropy. Now that he had Alex in his grasp again, all he regretted was not kissing him sooner. He was sick of the guilt and the pain and the loneliness that beat down on him like an unceasing rain. Kissing Alex was muscle memory. Like riding a bike, Michael thought, though he doubted Alex would appreciate the comparison. Besides, it was him who’d turned into the village bike. His tongue drove deep into Alex’s mouth, dragging along the crenellations lining the roof of his mouth. His hands left damp smudges on Alex’s body as he tugged his shirt off.
“You feel so good,” Alex panted. “Where’d you learn to—”
They both froze.
“Well, I’m a pro,” Michael said. He felt hollow all of a sudden.
“This is a bad idea.” Alex sat up, already reaching for his shirt. “I should go—”
“You can fuck me if you want,” Michael offered abruptly. He lifted his hips, pulling his jeans down. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath. “There’s lube in that box,” he continued. “Hand it to me, will you?”
Alex stared at him. After a few suspended seconds, he did as he was told.
“Won’t take long,” Michael said. He scarcely recognized the sound of his own voice. “On account of how often I do this.” He hauled his left leg up against his chest; his bad hand spasmed with the effort of holding it there. “You go ahead and watch.” What was he even saying, he wondered. He felt like he’d been synchronized with a teleprompter, reading the words off by rote. He drizzled lube all over, haphazardly. Then he steeled his resolve and shoved a finger inside himself. It made him wince. He’d moved slowly, awed and reverent, when he opened Alex up that day. So careful that Alex had told him to hurry up and get on with it, Guerin. And when Michael did, Alex started making the most exquisite sounds, breathless little moans that went straight to his cock and suddenly it took a lot of effort to keep his hand steady as he worked his fingers in and out. They were clumsy and uninhibited; Alex had smiled up at him and they never stopped giggling, not until Michael was all the way inside him. But nobody was laughing today. Why was everything so fucking tight, Michael couldn’t even get a second finger in and this was taking far too long, and—
“Guerin.” Alex’s fingers settled lightly on his wrist, stilling him. “You haven’t… actually done this before, have you?”
Michael growled in frustration and gave up, releasing his leg. His boner was flagging, and he knew when he was beat. “Nope,” he admitted.
Alex emitted a sort of whimper, and curled towards him. Michael wrapped his arms around him, like he’d wanted to since the moment he first saw him outside Flora’s house. And there it was again: that blissful quiet stealing over his mind. He’d always thought it was music, but maybe it was Alex, too. Settling his frantic thoughts, keeping his chaos at bay. He kissed the top of Alex’s head, which was probably a weird thing to do, but did he it anyway. Alex’s warm breath fanned out across his chest.
“I don’t let guys—I don’t do any of that stuff with guys, not really,” he murmured. “I’m not crazy. It’s only a handjob here’n there, and okay, once I let some sad old dude blow me. But that’s it. I wouldn’t—I mean, I’d let you do it, anything you wanted, if you wanted to tie me up, or—I’d let you fuck me, because, because I—”
“Michael.” Alex’s hand came up and covered his mouth; Michael parted his lips and lapped gently at his fingers. “Stop. I don’t want you to talk like that.”
“What do you want?”
“I want… I wish we could run away from here,” Alex said fretfully. “Escape.” His eyes were still red and swollen, and the tears had left salty tracks on his cheeks.
“We can take my truck,” Michael said, pulling Alex tighter against him. “Where d’you wanna go?”
“Anywhere. Anywhere without people. Alaska, maybe?”
“Alaska?” Michael eased Alex onto his back. “Pretty sure there’s people there.” He started kissing down his stomach. “Antarctica, maybe? It’s a desert, you know, even though it’s freezing… So I bet we’d do okay there. Penguins and albatrosses. Ice floes. And your dad could fucking choke.”
“Mm-hmm…” Alex moaned plaintively. “That sounds… Guerin, that—that… oh…”
The first beams of sunlight were just stealing over the horizon, and Michael was deep inside of Alex, moving slow. Slower than he’d ever moved in his life, warm and heavy with sleep, Alex spread out beneath him, an arm flung around his neck.
They hadn’t been sweet together in years, not since they were kids.
But dawn was a special time for them, drifting in and out of sleep, in and out of sex. Alex never meant to stay the night, but Michael played dirty. He would exhaust Alex with his insatiability, making him come, over and over, till weary muscles overtook frantic thoughts, and Alex slept. Michael watched over him, vigilant, scarcely daring to sleep himself, lest Alex try to slip away before morning. And mornings were for prolonging, for moving in slow motion and exchanging drowsy kisses and dreamily exploring the changes in one another’s bodies since the last time they did this. Savoring new muscles, trying not to see new scars. But dawn was forgiving and they never got older, not really.
And when the sun came up, they played Romeo and Juliet, rehearsing the same scene over and over and oh, how Michael hated that scene, because it never ended any different. It is not yet near day, Juliet would croon, it was the nightingale, not the lark. And Romeo would shake his head, permanent worry lines already etched into his brow though he was not yet nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-three. It was the lark, the herald of the morn, no nightingale. So Juliet would cycle through every trick in the book, rhetoric and coquetry and the sweet persuasion of a warm, naked body: Yon light is not day-light, I know it: It is some meteor that the sun exhales… therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone.
Or, in their own parlance:
—Sun’s up. I should’ve left hours ago.
—Alex, no, the sun only just set. That’s a sunset you’re seeing out there.
—Are we looking at the same sky, Guerin? The sun is rising, that’s why they call it a sunrise.
—Whatever. Looks pretty settish to me.
Alex arched his back and came with a contented little sigh.
Michael wished he could stay inside him forever, but Alex always tightened so perfectly around him when he came; Michael couldn’t help but follow soon after.
Then Alex shook off the cobwebs, and the morning overtook them.
“I should leave,” Alex said, reaching for his clothes. He dressed faster than anyone Michael had ever seen; maybe it was something they learned in the Air Force. “I have stuff to—”
“What stuff?” Michael stretched luxuriantly, because even if their scene was pre-written he still had a couple tricks of his own. Like the fact that Alex couldn’t look away when he was so insouciantly naked, sunshine pouring through the airstream window to make his eyes and hair and skin all light up gold.
“I have to—” Alex swallowed. “My dad’s expecting me. If he even suspected—it’s better if we don’t—we should stay away from each other, Guerin.”
Time to turn another trick, then.
“I cost $400 an hour,” Michael said.
“You—” Alex looked like he’d been sucker-punched. Good.
“I just raised my rent.”
“Doesn’t even begin to cover last night,” Michael said. “Sleeping over’s like a thousand bucks, it’s…”
Alex’s mouth opened and closed a few times. Michael watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he went through the five stages of grief, or something a lot like it, and felt only savage triumph.
“I thought you were done with that,” Alex said in a low voice. “I thought—not since you were eighteen—and just to buy the airstream…”
“Times are tough.” Michael shrugged a lazy shoulder. “It’s not shaping up to be my strongest fiscal year to date, gotta hustle up the difference somehow.”
“I—I…” Alex was stammering, fingers fluttering uselessly at his sides. “I, I’ve only got, like, fifty bucks on me, but I’ll, I can go to the ATM in town and…”
“I’m gonna need a security deposit,” Michael drawled, letting his legs fall open a little.
“I’ll mail you the rest,” Alex said. He reached for his wallet, his voice becoming firmer. “You know we can’t be seen together, Guerin, I’m a—I’m a lieutenant now, I can’t associate with—this can never happen again, understand? It will never happen again.”
“Is that so?” Michael stood suddenly, getting up in Alex’s space until they were practically nose to nose. “’Cause we’ve done this before and I got a funny feeling we’ll be doing it again, Lieutenant, next time you roll into town. Just can’t stay away, can you?”
“I come from a prominent family. People might talk, my dad—” Alex started, but Michael steamrolled right over him.
“Yeah, you remember daddy every once in a while, don’t you, usually after you come,” he said contemptuously. “Funny thing, memory—”
“That’s enough, Guerin.” Alex’s voice was stern and much too steady. Michael decided to get his hands dirty, dredging up the mire of his ugliest, cruelest self.
“Or maybe this is exactly the way you like it, Alex—’cause it makes us fucking just that much filthier. You like keeping me hidden, tucked away, sexual collateral in the boner bank. But, you know, blow me. You fucking coward.” His chest was heaving; he’d worked himself into such a towering fury that he was in danger of loosing his powers in front of Alex. But, like any member of an endangered species, he knew how to survive; his lizard brain took over, the most primitive of survival instincts hauling him back to safer ground.
Besides, he’d made Alex cry, which was all he’d set out to do, really: force him to show a little human emotion. So, like, Mission Accomplished, right?
“All the stuff I did for money,” he remarked, “which wasn’t much, by the way—and no, I haven’t started up again, Jesus… But I’ve had sex with plenty of people and, d’you know, Alex, you’re the only one who’s ever made me feel like an actual prostitute.” He swatted the wallet out of Alex’s trembling hand. “I don’t want your money.”
Over at Sanders’, Michael had started constructing an underground bunker for all the bits of alien technology he’d scavenged over the years. Hoping maybe he could rebuild the spacecraft, or a version of it. He’d never wanted to leave Planet Earth more urgently than he did right now. The pain in Alex’s eyes was dark enough to drown in.
He reached for his jeans, pulling them on while Alex watched and wiped his eyes.
“I do care about you, Guerin, you must know I do,” Alex said finally.
“You’re still gonna leave,” Michael pointed out.
“I don’t have a choice—”
“Yeah, you do. You just don’t wanna see it,” Michael said. “You’re so hung up on the rules for this and the regulations for that and—I may be a fuck-up, but at least I’m not delusional. You’re the one playing games. That’s what this is”—he gestured between them— “a game you play, to keep us stuck in the past, a memory, an abstraction. And I’m tired of games.” He stepped closer again, bringing his hands to rest on Alex’s hips. “So, like, marry me, Alex.”
“…What?” Alex’s eyes grew round as saucers.
“It doesn’t have to be forever,” Michael assured him. “Which—by the way—nothing is, nothing.” He grinned. “It’d be fucking insane.”
“God, you’re… terrifying,” Alex said. And kissed him goodbye, long and clinging. “Now I really have to go.”
“Till next time, then,” Michael said.