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All the smiles that are ever gonna haunt me

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“Are you sure about this place?” Maria asks as she looks around Alex’s new house. She looks wary, but Alex doesn’t get why she would. He’s managed to find a place in Roswell that fit all of his needs. Right when he needed it most.

“Yeah. It feels right,” he replies. This house feels warm. He feels safe here. Alex doesn’t remember ever feeling safe before in his life. He’d imagine this is what home is supposed to feel like. He hates to ask, but, “Why?”

“It’s definitely haunted,” Maria answers, fingertips brushing along a windowsill. “But, if you feel like it’s okay, maybe this spirit wants you here. Or, at the very least, doesn’t want to hurt you.” She moves away from the window, crossing the floor to meet him.

“Look, it’s an accessible place that was available and that I can actually afford,” Alex brushes off Maria’s supernatural concerns with his much more earthly ones. He’s barely out of rehab, still adjusting to his prosthetic, still leaning heavily on his crutch. He’s lucky he didn’t have to move in with Maria and Mimi, though he knows they would have been happy to help him. Or, worse, he could have been stuck moving back in with his father.

Maria rolls her eyes at him in the kindest of ways, “Are you telling me not to look a gift horse in the mouth?”

He just grins at her and shrugs, “I guess I am.”

“Okay then. But be careful,” she admonishes him before reaching out and wrapping her arms around him.

He leans into the hug, squeezing her back. “I promise.”

When she pulls away, she adds, “And call me if anything spooky happens. I’ll help you cleanse this place properly.”

“Okay. Thank you, Maria.” He walks her to the door, where they hug again.

She steps outside before turning and saying, “And please consider hanging out with Liz, Rosa, and me sometime? They miss you too, you know.”

Alex just nods and forces a fake smile onto his face. He feels guilty about it, but he doesn’t think that’s a good idea. He’s not the person they all remember from high school anymore. And he can pretend to be that person with Maria, mainly because she refuses to let him be the hermit he so desperately wants to be, in her words. But he can’t handle watching the disgust on his friends faces when they realize who he is now. How many innocent people he’s killed. How much he is like his own father now.

He forces himself to focus his mind on the work he has to get done today while he waits for Maria to drive away. Then he closes the door and locks it behind her, shaking his head, certain that there’s no such thing as ghosts.

After the movers leave, Maria helps him put away his few belongings, puts out his own towels, makes the bed, and just sets the place up, while he sets up the security system.

Once he’s on his own, Alex pulls out his laptop and gets to work. The upside of his honorable discharge and the education he’d gotten in the Air Force is that his skills are in high demand and he can work remotely on his own schedule and his own terms.

He only looks up when the alarm on his phone goes off, reminding him to take his evening pills. Which means he has to eat dinner. So he pulls out the microwave dinner that Maria had looked at with concern. It’s not so much that he can’t cook. It’s just that his time is so much better spent on other concerns.

Alex is certain Maria will be coming over with Tupperware full of meals as soon as she gets the chance to make them, but, for now, he has this. And he knows she won’t accept money for the extra groceries she probably can’t afford, so he’ll work on updating The Wild Pony’s website and setting up a website for online readings as well. He’ll help her out while she hustles.

He finishes his dinner and tosses back his pills, going through as much of his evening routine as he can with his prosthetic still on. And then it’s a few more hours of work until he’s struggling to keep his eyes open.

Afterwards, he makes his way to his new bedroom, sitting down on his bed, rubbing his leg. He is well aware his prosthetic has been on too long. And that he should be adjusting to being without it, at least in his own home. But his fear of being vulnerable is deeply ingrained, and he’s certain it will take more than a day in a place that is truly and entirely his own for him to let go of that. Even the cameras, motion and noise sensors, and door alarms aren’t enough to get rid of the fear that there’s a threat lurking around every corner.

Alex sighs, lifting his shirt up and over his head, folding it up to set it aside.

“Finally,” he hears a voice say, seemingly out of nowhere. “Something interesting.”

He freezes up for far too long before searching for the source of the voice.

And then he sees him, standing in the doorway, leaning casually and yet, somehow, seductively. He’s handsome, looking like a Greek god carved from marble, his skin tanned and gorgeous. And his hair is a mass of gorgeous, messy curls.

If Alex were meeting him anywhere else, he would’ve taken this handsome stranger to bed. Or maybe he just wishes he would have the courage to do that. Maybe in another universe.

But he’s not supposed to be here, in Alex’s home, late at night.

The man speaks again, interrupting Alex’s thoughts, “Don’t stop undressing on my account, darlin’.”