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Love –> Building on Fire

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They stood in front of the shed.

Alex reached for Michael’s hand. “I don’t know about this, Guerin.”

“Recovery says you gotta cuddle up to your ghosts,” Michael said dismally, eyeing the padlock. A rusty chain was triple-coiled around the outside of the door. “If we’re gonna… if we’re serious about this getting married thing—so young—

“Guerin.” Alex laughed a little, death-grip loosening slightly. “We’re going on thirty.”

“Practically child-brides,” Michael agreed. “So—Ground Zero.”

“Time to clear some rubble?” The death-grip on his hand tightened again.

“I mean, right? If we’re gonna do this, really do this, really really, I don’t wanna be scared of anything. Least of all some stupid shed,” Michael said.

The padlock creeped him out, if he was being honest, because it made the shed look like it had something to hide. But it was only a stupid shed that had almost been a home to him ten-eleven years ago, before it went the way all of all other homes—up in smoke, figuratively—and he spent the next decade learning the hard way that home could be a person. And now home was a person, a person he meant to spend the rest of his life with, and he was tired, so tired, of being haunted by a stupid fucking shed.

“I’m getting antsy,” Alex said.

“I can tell,” Michael said, prying Alex’s clammy fingers off his hand, which had begun to hurt.

“Like being here is making me anxious, and—”

“I think we should get started,” Michael said.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, the sun had drifted off. Just behind a cloud—it wasn’t nightfall or anything—but its absence had the effect of casting the whole shed in shadow, which added a whole new level of sinister to the baleful countenance of the place.

“How are we getting in?” Alex said. “I could—”

Michael concentrated on the padlock, on the chain. Snap, snap: the padlock broke and the chain slithered to the ground like a snake.

“Oh,” said Alex.

The door was glowing, or so it seemed. Michael knew he was imagining things. The glow was too soft to be overtly dangerous, and just harsh enough to be perfectly alluring. A seduction, he thought. Then he blinked, and the door stopped glowing. A crisp chorus of cicadas and crickets filled the air.

“I haven’t been back here since that day,” Alex said. “Some part of me always wanted to believe it was…”

“A fiction?” Michael considered his left hand, which looked so normal these days, and grimaced. “I never got to pretend. All I had to do was look down at my fucked-up hand, and I’d remember—feel—it all over again. Too real.”

He took a step forward and yanked the end of the chain free of the bolt. The sound assaulted his ears. Rust scraping against metal, metal against wood.

The door creaked open.

Shrugging to himself, Michael flung it wide, and a large white moth flew out of the darkness right into his face.

“What the—” he yelped, swatting the thing away.  

“Looks like it was haunted after all.” Alex laughed, but his hand found its way back into Michael’s as they regarded the open-mouthed shed.

It was dark inside, too dark for shadows.

Michael thought it looked ready to swallow them whole.

They both took a breath, simultaneous and perfectly in sync.

Michael swung their clasped hands, tugged a little. “C’mon then.”

They walked into the shed.


*


“The electrics in here still suck, but it’s better than nothing.” Michael was standing on a chair, having just installed a single weak bulb in the ceiling fixture.  

A small spider was spinning a trap in the intersection of a beam and a column. Otherwise—

The shed was completely empty.

Gutted and empty.

No couch, no mattress on the floor. No posters on the walls. No work table, no tools. No hammer.

“How exciting,” Alex said.

“Yeah, kinda anticlimactic,” Michael concurred. “I think part of me was expecting to find it, like, exactly how we’d left it. Spunk on the sheets. Blood on the table.”

“Me too,” Alex said. “Dad must’ve… Well, it was a crime scene. Be stupid to…”

“Yeah,” Michael said.

They fanned out. Alex looked at the walls, carefully examining, mapping the outline of the building. Michael looked at the ceiling, studying the structure of the place, like he could find its soul up in the rafters.

“Haunted or possessed?” Alex asked.

“What’s the difference?”

“Mm. A haunting is like a piece of the past that can’t move on. A part of history that got stuck.”

“And a possession?” Michael traced a pattern in the dust with the toe of his boot.

“A possession is… It’s ingrained. It’s in the bones of a place. It doesn’t stop or go away; it’s not stuck, it’s trapped.” Alex shivered and rubbed his arms.

“I used to think everyone in Roswell was trapped. Especially me,” Michael said.  

“Being trapped is a choice,” Alex said.

“Not for all of us.” Michael chewed his lip.

“I used to get so mad. And upset. Because I thought—I thought you could’ve left, gotten out, and—and—”

“And what?”

“Whatever you wanted!” Alex exclaimed vehemently; Michael wondered if they had gone from reminiscing about fighting to actually fighting.   

“Maybe I was happy here,” he said, for the sake of argument. “Maybe I was just fine here. Maybe I was home here.”

“You weren’t. This place was never gonna be enough for you,” Alex insisted.

“Not without you.” Michael smiled crookedly. “C’mon baby, this fight’s a year old.” He surveyed the shed, even though they’d already scoured every empty inch of it. Putting aside the haunting, or the possession, it really didn’t feel so bad being back in here. “This doesn’t feel so bad,” he repeated, out loud. “I mean, before your dad got involved, I was having one of the best days of my life in here. Like, top three, for sure.”

“What’re the other two?” Alex wanted to know, and Michael clocked the tiny flicker of jealousy that crossed his face.

He smirked but didn’t prolong the suspense. “Best day was us getting back together, obviously,” he said, rolling his eyes, and the tense set of Alex’s mouth eased into a smile. A smile Michael wanted very much to kiss, but Alex was already following up:

“And the third?”

“Oh.” Michael moved to look out the window. Fading sunlight glinted through the lattice-work of trees. “It was this night me and Isobel and Max tried to run away from the kids’ home. We were eight. A couple weeks before Mr. and Mrs. Evans showed up to adopt them…” He paused, but the aftertaste of bitterness was so faint as to be nearly undetectable. “We ran away, the three of us. Didn’t get far. Just to this sort of stream, more like a stagnant pond, really…”

The old floorboards creaked as Alex came to stand beside him. Michael made room for him at the window. Their shoulders touched.

“When we got to the pond there were so many fireflies,” he said. “Dozens, hundreds. We didn’t even have to catch them; they caught us. Landing on our hands, our clothes, even our eyelashes. Isobel and I pinched their tails off and smeared the glow all over ourselves, to make us glow in the dark, too. Max got upset, he thought it was mean, ’cause we were killing them. But I’ll never forget standing there, up to our knees in mud, covered in firefly goo, listening to Max and Isobel bicker in our private language and feeling like… happiness. Real happiness. ’Cause the three of us were together. And that was the last time we ever were.”

Alex was listening intently. Michael peered at him through his lashes. He’d never shared this particular memory with anyone, nor had he ever asked Isobel and Max if they remembered it, too. He’d considered bringing it up after they resurrected Max last month, because he thought Max coming back to life might knock one of the other memories from the top tier—the fireflies or the shed, nothing could ever displace the moment he and Alex had chosen each other for good—but it didn’t, because he and Max had gotten into a fight about something stupid shortly thereafter, and the moment passed without the fanfare he’d envisioned for it. Go figure.

“The last time I was the same as them,” he clarified. “Before they got adopted, and I grew up different.”

“That’s a generous way to put it,” Alex grunted, caustic and unforgiving.

Michael grinned. He had forgiven, easily and automatically, but he fucking relished the chip Alex carried on his behalf.

“And here, too.” He gestured expansively. “Happiness. ’Cause you’n me were together. All prelapsarian and virginal.”  

“You weren’t exactly virginal, Guerin,” Alex pointed out.

“No, but…”

Not with someone I’ve liked. As much as I like you.

“This place is haunted.” Alex sidled a little closer. “I could’ve sworn I just heard you, your voice, at seventeen…”

Michael shrugged. Every story was a ghost story, he thought. Even the most factual account of the most mundane event. Everybody was born haunted, and their shadows grew into ghosts, which evolved into possessions, which shaped into terrors and morphed into monsters.

And theirs lived here, inside this shed.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

“Where are you going?”

“Gotta grab something from the truck.”

“I’ll come with you,” Alex said instantly.

Michael snickered.

“What?” Alex said defensively, following him out. “So I don’t wanna be left alone in the spooky shed where my dad ruined our lives, Guerin. So what?”

“So nothing, sweetheart.” Michael snagged a few things from the glove compartment, then went round to the back for the rest. He tucked the bundle under his arm. He could sense the waves of irritation rippling outward from Alex, and it delighted him to no end. 

“What’s all that?” Alex traipsed after him, back into the shed.

He dropped the bundle on the ground and started unrolling it. “This is a sleeping bag, Alex.”

“If you think we’re spending the night here, Guerin—”

“Of course we’re not spending the night here.” Michael sat back on his heels and swept the curls out of his face. He trapped Alex’s eyes, dark and irritable and a little bit skittish, with his own. “I’m so fucking done with whatever haunts this shed—whether it’s the memories or your dad or all of it, whatever, I don’t care. It stops now.” He exhaled. “This is an exorcism. I’m gonna make really epic love to you, Alex, right here on this sleeping bag—because I didn’t bank on all the furniture being gone—but it’s still gonna be goddamn epic and I promise you’ll enjoy it. And then we’re gonna burn this place to the ground. And then we’ll get married. Any objections?”

Alex’s breathing guttered momentarily like a candle.

“Any objections?” he repeated.

“None,” Alex said.

“C’mere, then,” Michael said, and patted the sleeping bag.

Alex sank down stiffly and folded his limbs on the ground.

Michael kissed him.

First a short kiss, that contained the meaning of the universe.

Then a long kiss, a lingering one, its meaning uniquely their own.

“Feels good,” Michael mumbled into his mouth. “Kissing you in here.”

“Do you feel seventeen again?” Alex asked.

“Not really. Do you?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“You’re a much better kisser now,” Michael teased, and was rewarded with a sharp yank to his hair.

“Fuck you,” Alex said, then he slapped his hand over Michael’s mouth. “Don’t say it,” he groaned. “Please, Guerin. I know I set myself up for it, yes, Alex, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do, fuck you, but for once in your life you don’t have to—”

Michael licked his hand. Startled, Alex lost his grip and Michael pulled free. Laughing shamelessly. “I’m not gonna fuck you, baby, I already explained—I’m gonna make love to you, the way only I can—where it’s not a nicety—it’s a goddamn necessity—

Fighting words—ameliorated with all the softness he possessed as he coaxed Alex to lie back on the sleeping bag. Then he stretched out beside him for more kisses, a hand in his hair to tilt his head this way and that.

After he’d collected enough kisses to tide him over, Michael made short work of his own clothes, stripping them off unceremoniously. He couldn’t care less how naked he was, if he was the only one who was naked, or for how long, whereas Alex didn’t like to the first out of his clothes. He did like to look at Michael, and Michael liked to be looked at. He was good at being naked, he was nonchalant about it, and, more and more, Alex followed his lead these days. Consenting to loll about in bed long after the sun had come up without reaching for the sheet—or the prosthesis—as Michael’s hands and mouth roamed freely over his body. The scarred and gnarled flesh of his right knee never singled out for special attention, but never neglected, either.

But not today, not here: Michael sprawled out, hips shifting up in invitation, and though Alex’s lips parted and his eyes darkened with obvious interest, he made no immediate move to follow suit. So Michael sat up and began to undress him, even more reverently than he had the first time they did this, ten-eleven years ago. He knew how much suffering lay under Alex’s well put-together civvies, the visible and the invisible.

“I can feel him in here,” Alex muttered, tense under his hands, and Michael didn’t need to ask which him Alex was referring to. He finished unbuttoning Alex’s shirt and slipped it over his arms. “And I have, like, the weirdest urge”—Alex gasped as Michael lapped at his nipple—“the weirdest urge to, like, hit the ground and start doing push-ups.”

“Push-ups, huh?” Michael rested his cheek against Alex’s sternum. “’Cause they’re what—manly?” 

“Oh, probably.”

“Sounds like some toxic fucking masculinity, Airman,” he observed lightly. “Personally, I’d settle for a kiss and a cuddle.”

“That’s ’cause you’ve never had to worry about seeming masculine, Guerin. You just are, naturally. And you’re only bisexual.”

Michael inhaled, and let it out slowly. Alex’s tone was rueful, self-aware; he wasn’t trying to pick a fight. No, he was laying out the fight like it was some kind of dead animal, already splayed open and butchered. Fine. Michael wasn’t gonna shove the guts back inside, just so they could squabble over a carcass. He limited himself to a single objection: “Only bisexual?”

“Not from my perspective,” Alex said hastily. “Just in terms of, like… society—passing—ohhh—

Michael bit down, leaving a semicircle of teeth-marks around Alex’s nipple. It would turn into a bruise, probably. He soothed the reddened skin with his tongue. No more teeth, he decided. He would be the gentlest he’d ever been, gentler than even the first time, when he’d been fumbling and giddy and making it up as he went along. He would be tender.

Let the malevolent presence in the shed choke on that.

“Can I take off your pants?” he asked.

Alex nodded. “Leave the leg on, though, okay?”

Michael paused, fingers stilling on his belt. “No one’s gonna interrupt us.”

“You don’t know that.”

“No one comes here.”

“I didn’t bring my gun—”

Gun? Michael flinched. “Nothing’s gonna happen, Alex. And you don’t need a gun, not when you’ve got me.”

“But—”

He cradled Alex’s face between his hands. “I need you to trust me.”

“I trust you.” Alex leaned in. “I trust you, Michael. I trust you, and I love you, and I…”

Michael kissed him. He kissed him until he ran out of air. Then he told Alex that he loved him too. He worked Alex’s stupidly tight pants down his thighs to his knees. Then he rubbed his fingers over the suspension sleeve, waiting for instruction.

Alex sighed. “Just take it off. Please. Please, take it off, the fucking thing’s been bugging me all afternoon.”

Michael said nothing, simply nodded. He’d noticed a more pronounced irregularity to Alex’s gait earlier, but he’d also learned the hard way to let Alex set his own limits. Now he made an efficient job of dispatching the prosthetic leg, and Alex sighed with poorly concealed relief as he set it aside.

Encumbrances removed, they lay down together on the sleeping bag. Michael felt like he was sharing his skin with his younger self. The fluttering excitement of long ago jostled against the steadier, deeper desire that ran through his veins as an adult. His hands shook with eagerness as they settled on Alex’s hips.

Alex giggled when Michael loomed over him. He reached up to tug the curl that had fallen across his forehead. “What, Guerin, are you nervous or something?”

“Or something.” Michael shifted Alex’s thighs further apart and settled between them. “Just trying to keep seventeen-year-old me from having his way with you.”

“I shouldn’t say this, ’cause your ego needs zero inflating where sex is concerned,” Alex said, “but seventeen-year-old you was pretty legit. He—you—I mean, you just went for it. I couldn’t believe you wanted to finger me yourself.”

The memory made him tingle all over. “I love fingering you,” he admitted. “But I’m much better at multitasking now, so this time I’m gonna open you up while I suck you. I definitely couldn’t do that at the age of seventeen.” He found the bottle of lube, one of the items he’d fetched earlier from the truck, and warmed it in his palm before coating his fingers. “Always room for improvement, baby, even for me.”

He dipped his head, letting his hair tickle Alex’s stomach. One of the small sensual touches that drove Alex wild, Michael’s hair trailing over his skin. Michael listened for the stutter in his breath; hearing it, he rewarded him with his mouth. Flicking his tongue up the underside of Alex’s cock, then taking him down.

Alex emitted an incoherent string of curses when Michael added his fingers.

Experience was experience.

He fumbled for Alex’s hand and guided it into his hair. Humming with satisfaction when Alex pulled just shy of too hard. He ground his dick against the cheap synthetic fabric of the sleeping bag. Wanting, wanting.

“I thought”—Alex’s hips were shifting restlessly—“I thought you were gonna fuck me like it was a necessity, Michael.”

Michael didn’t correct him on the fuck versus make love thing this time; every time he heard himself say make love, it took more sway out of his swagger. And, Jesus, he still had a reputation to uphold. Even if he was as good as married.

Even if they were as good as married.

Fucking Alex bare was still a head-trip, and if that wasn’t a reward for good behavior—monogamy, domesticity, and relative sobriety—Michael didn’t know what was. The sounds their bodies made were louder and ruder and squelchier without a rubber to separate them. He loved the filth of it, and the mess it left behind when they were through.

“Oh, Alex,” he groaned, bottoming out. He had Alex folded nearly in half beneath him, left leg hooked over his shoulder, right one spread wide. Alex gazed up at him, heavy-lidded.

Alex’s eyes were black and enormous. Wet. Come tears, a red ring appeared instantly around his dark irises. It was always overwhelming for Michael to see himself reflected back in Alex’s eyes.

His cock throbbed. Alex’s fingers dug into the meat of his shoulders. Ten-eleven years ago, he’d been terrified every move he made might hurt Alex. These days it was a toss-up whether they did it rough or gentle or any—every—gradation in between. They did it all, really. Maybe tomorrow he’d lie on his front and Alex would fuck him from behind, or maybe he’d eat Alex out and then Alex would sit on his cock and they’d have sex facing each other, and maybe the day after that he would ride Alex because that was Alex’s favorite way to have him and Michael’s favorite way to be had.

But today gentleness was everything, all those years of experience coming to his aid because he knew circling his pelvis in a deep slow grind brought Alex off just as effectively as hard hammering thrusts.

“Oh, Alex,” he said again.

“Michael.”

The sound of his name in Alex’s voice still made him weak. He rewarded him with a sloppy kiss, bracketing him in closer with his arms.

“Michael,” Alex repeated. “Michael.”

He hadn’t had this, ten-eleven years ago, back when he was only Guerin. The smell of sex was heavy and cloying in the airless shed, the echo of slapping skin so lewd he was half-laughing, half-groaning, as he sank into Alex over and over. Moving faster now, testing the limits of his patience.

Alex’s patience too, apparently.

“Need to come,” Alex panted, arching against him. Body too pretzeled up to do more than press nearer, closer, cock chasing friction against Michael’s skin, nails raking fitfully up and down his back.

Michael couldn’t distinguish between want and need anymore, not where Alex was concerned.

Tenderly, he kissed Alex, and made him come.


*


They lay side-by-side on the unzipped sleeping bag, pressed together, chests rising and falling in unison. The hard floorboards, barely muffled by the sleeping bag, offered little comfort.

Michael rubbed his elbow. “Think I’m gonna bruise,” he commented.

“Not the most… luxurious place,” Alex agreed. His nose crinkled, and he made another sound of discomfort.

“Hmm?” Michael inquired.  

“Mess,” Alex sighed.

Michael lifted his head. Between Alex’s parted thighs, what had gone in was trickling out. Still a bit light-headed, he got up, spread Alex’s legs wider, then crouched there, in the juncture of his thighs, to clean him up with his tongue. Mouthing over his cock, then lower, pushing his cum back inside Alex’s body. Over and over, till Alex was squirming and shoving him away even as he dragged him back in. The sleeping bag probably absorbed most of it. Michael wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and flopped back down, curling into Alex’s side.

Later than Michael expected, but sooner than he had hoped, Alex sat up and looked around.

“Your dad’s not coming.” Michael tugged at his hand. “He’s gone.”

“Can you feel him?” Alex wanted to know. His nostrils flared, like a pointer scenting the breeze.  

“I’m not sure,” Michael said honestly. Sex insulated him; the malevolent haunt in the shed barely registered on his Doppler. But there was still something, he supposed; this place would never be neutral for them.

“Lie with me,” he entreated, as Alex continued to sit there, stiff and vigilant. “Just another coupla minutes, then we’ll…” In his mind he pictured the tanks of gasoline waiting in the bed of his truck.

Alex consented to sink into his arms again. Michael held him securely and mumbled some nonsense about the glow of fireflies into his ear. Alex petted the hair on his chest, scratching lightly. Above their heads, beetles smacked their stubborn exoskeletons into the single lightbulb, and a large white moth spiraled around its halo, then plummeted down.

Michael picked up Alex’s hand and played idly with his fingers. He traced a circle around his fourth finger. “I don’t think I wanna wear rings,” he said abruptly. “’Cause I think people have a tendency to confuse the symbol for the real thing, and ’cause I work with my hands, and like… Does that bother you? I could put it on a chain and wear it around my neck, though that feels kinda like that guy Frodo and…” He trailed off, sheepish and abashed. If this turned into an argument, he had only himself to blame.  

He watched thought play like light and shadow across Alex’s face.

“I hadn’t thought about rings,” Alex said after a moment. “I hadn’t thought about not having them, either, but… no, I don’t think it would bother me.”

Michael traced another circle around Alex’s ring finger. “You’re sure? Honestly, I have no idea why I said that just now. I wasn’t trying to be a dick, I…”

“What?”

“I just got an idea,” he said. His voice dropped lower, hushed and reverent. “Alex. If I can leave a handprint on your body, then I can draw a ring around your finger. Then you’d have something, but it would be something you’d feel, rather than wear. And like, it would fade, so I’d have to keep renewing it, but maybe that’s a good thing ’cause it would be like renewing a vow?”

“Guerin, you sap.” Alex was beaming and his eyes sparkled; pure joy.

Michael felt like a genius.

Which objectively he was, but he seldom felt like it outside of the lab.

He gazed into Alex’s eyes as he sketched the circle around his ring finger, putting the lightest caress of his powers behind it. Alex’s eyes widened.

“You feel that?” Michael rasped. He took Alex’s hand in his both of his and clutched it to his chest, over his heart. “Now we’re married.”

“Really?” Alex whispered.

“I mean, we can still drive to Albuquerque for the piece of paper tomorrow, but as far as I’m concerned, yeah, we are. Fuck, Alex.” He grinned. “I just married you.”

“You’re damn right you did, Michael.” Alex kissed him sweetly with a hand in his hair.

Then they broke into giggles, complicit as children. Rocking back and forth, a naked tangle of limbs.

“Everyone’s gonna be so pissed,” Michael gloated. “Unorthodox alien ceremony, next-day elopement to city hall…”

“No godawful party.” Alex sounded equally pleased. But the happiness seemed to kindle something darker inside of him. “Hear that, Dad?” he asked the air. “Michael and I just got married. Thanks for witnessing. You fucking bastard.”

“That reminds me.” Michael licked dry lips. “One last thing to do.”


*


They pulled their clothes on and left the shed.

They left behind: a crumpled sleeping bag and an empty bottle of lube.

It was almost dark. A final ray of sunlight broke tessellations through the trees.

Alex watched as Michael doused the structure in gasoline. Emptying tank after tank.

“It’s awfully dry,” he said nervously. “If this thing burns out of control—”

“I can control it,” Michael said.

He loved the smell of gasoline, but this much was suffocating, nauseating. He swallowed down the bile rising in his throat and fished a match-book out of his pocket.

“Wanna do the honors?” he offered.

Alex hesitated. Then he shook his head. “I got to hit the bastard over the head with my crutch,” he said. “This one’s all you, Michael.”

Michael blew him a kiss. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

He flicked a match.

The shed ignited in a roaring gust of fire. It was no slow burn but a blast of silver heat. A few shingles popped. Michael looked over at Alex, saw the dancing flames reflected in his eyes. He looked back at the fire. The shed glowed. Resin-infused flames. Everything turning to ash.

It mesmerized him.

They watched it, motionless, for a while. But then, seduced by the fire’s frenzied freedom, Michael dragged Alex into his arms and kissed him fiercely. Hands sliding under his clothes to clutch at his bare skin.

The roof fell in.

Alex’s back was wet and slippery under his palms, and Michael could feel him trembling. “I hope burning it down is enough,” Alex said, or rather shouted, to make himself heard over the rumble of the inferno. “Part of me’s scared that…”

“That what?” Michael hollered back.

The north wall caved and the flames leapt higher. Michael could feel the sweat trickling down his face. His shirt was plastered to his skin; he ripped the snaps open so he could feel the heat on his chest. The fire lapped at the edges of his consciousness. It was hungry. It whispered in his ear that burning down the shed would never be enough, that they would have to incinerate the whole fucking town to make the ghosts go away and for everything to stop hurting.

Michael was scared, too. Scared, because he understood the fire’s ravening appetite. It would be so easy to let it burn, unchecked…

The air crackled with anticipation.

Michael released Alex and took a few steps nearer to the blaze. Its spirit surged through him, and he pictured Roswell going up in flames. It would burn so pretty as it devoured one identical imitation-adobe ranch house after another. It would raze the shopping centers to the ground, and the tiny bodegas, too. It would tear along streets with names like Palomar and Alameda and Buena Vista and leave them smoking ruins. The fire would destroy it all, and return it to the desert.

Its spirit surged through him, and for a moment Michael wavered.

He wanted to see Roswell burn. He wouldn’t cry for this dirty old town, not the way he’d cried after the last fire he set, after he floated Rosa and the other two, Kate and Jasmine, into the car and set their bodies alight.

He would laugh while Roswell burned.

Yeah, right, psycho-killer, said the waspish voice in his mind that sounded a lot like Alex every time his destructive tendencies threatened to run away with him. You’d be out there with the bucket brigade, same as everybody else.

Michael gathered his powers like mighty waters and extinguished the flames.

The fire vanished instantly, swallowed into nothingness. What was left of the shed collapsed into a heap of charred cinders, smoking faintly.

He stumbled.

Alex caught him. He lowered him to the ground before he could fall on his ass, then ran to get his emergency bottle of acetone from the truck. Michael drank until he didn’t feel like vomiting anymore.

He drew up his legs and sat cross-legged in the dirt, watching the smoke rise from the debris. Alex prowled around the scorched perimeter, making sure all the flames had actually gone out. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Michael; it was just his nature to be meticulous.

Then Alex returned and, with a pained little grunt, sat down beside him.

Stillness.

Night crickets, cicadas, cooling earth. And in the distance, a redeeming constellation of fireflies. Alex cupped Michael’s face with his hands. He traced its shape, its uneven edges, skin—warmth, texture. Stubble. Michael clasped Alex to his body, arms wrapped tightly around him. “The exorcism,” he said hoarsely. “I think it worked, love. Nothing left to be afraid of. Nothing to run away from now.”


*


The next afternoon: driving back to Roswell with a piece of paper that said Michael Guerin was married to Alex Guerin, Manes. A softly glowing circle on Alex’s finger already said the same thing, but what the hell, the paper was cool, too.

Driving into Roswell, one hand on the wheel and the other resting on Alex’s knee, watching the houses unravel before him—this one with the same rooftop as that, that one with the same garage as this, the smell of gasoline lingering in the air when they drove past the old Manes property. Driving, slower now, down a busy road named after a pleasant-sounding Spanish word that took them past a shopping center that was also named after a pleasant-sounding Spanish word. Past the tiny bodega recently bought out by a big corporation and everyone could feel how the coffee didn’t taste as good as it used to but the local teenagers still hung out there because it was the only place open past ten for under-21s. Past the old establishments that had weathered the decades and the reversals of fortune—the Crashdown, the Wild Pony, the fuckin’ UFO Emporium. 

Driving through Roswell, the town Michael hadn’t burned, even though he could have, even though he wanted to, still, a little.  

Driving out of Roswell, home to their cabin, and Michael kept feeling it, on and on and on, this place where he and Alex had grown up and fallen in love and fallen apart and begun again. The sand and the sunburns and the milkshakes and the shed and the exorcisms and the ghosts and the crash site and there was more, hold on, there was so much more—

and fuck it was beautiful, Michael thought, but man man man did it hurt.