The house is dead silent when Marco walks in, which is never a good sign. Usually when Ax beats him home, he brings it to life with reruns on Marco’s massive TV and food sizzling in the kitchen.
“Honey, I’m home,” Marco shouts, shoving his suitcase into a corner of the foyer. He’ll deal with it later, or his housekeeper will.
He pauses to check his reflection in the mirror over his entryway table. He looks a little manic, the way he always does after big publicity events. His eyes are dark and wild, hair tousled, tie half undone. He looks hot, he reassures himself. It’s not like Ax hasn’t seen him at his worst — it’s just that when he’s been gone for so long, Marco likes to remind him what he’s missing.
Marco finds Ax in their bedroom, napping in human morph outside the covers. Something in Marco’s chest twinges at the sight of him. He stirs and sits up when Marco walks in.
“Babe,” Marco says, reaching out for him. Ax turns away from his touch.
“I missed you,” Marco tries, sitting beside Ax on the bed. Close enough that Ax can lean into him, if he wants. He doesn’t.
Ax makes a little scoffing noise. “Did you? Clearly not as much as I missed you.”
God. Leave it to Ax to be a pissbaby on their reunion after months apart. Marco rolls his eyes and stands; crosses the room to stand in front of the vanity and undress from his formalwear. He can feel Ax’s hot eyes on his back.
“If you’re upset with me, just say it,” Marco says, too calm. Like a coiled snake. This, he learned from his mother— she had a temper too, but a sneaky one. You wouldn’t notice the landmines until they had already gone off.
“I’m upset with you,” Ax says flatly, “I have been on Earth for approximately nine of your hours, waiting for you to get home.”
He looks at the mirror to make eye contact with Ax. He’s just in his briefs, but it doesn’t feel vulnerable. It feels like power, the way Ax can’t tear his gaze away. “You knew I had an event. I asked you to come with me.”
“We decided you would skip this party, as I have traveled across the galaxy to spend seven days with you.”
“No, you decided. I didn’t,” Marco says. Ax doesn’t understand that it’s never just a party. All of them fought the war, sure, but Marco’s the one in charge of sticking the landing. He’s the only one that can do it, he thinks— he’s always been good at spin, he’s sleazy enough to work the Hollywood types, and he’s got a prescription that gets him out of bed most days. Everyone knows that history is told by the winners, but only if one is willing to take the microphone.
Ax huffs, and his face twists— if he’d been demorphed, Marco knows his stalk eyes would be vibrating with frustration.
Marco knows the words it would take to diffuse this. I’m home now, he could say, I need you, every minute I was there I was wishing I was here.
He doesn’t, and hates himself for it. He spends most of his life counting down the minutes until Ax is back, and it’s the worst that once Ax is here he can’t even let himself enjoy it.
“I’m only here for a week.” Ax’s voice breaks.
“Exactly,” Marco says, and finally turns around. “I have to build a life for all the other weeks, Ax. I have to, to survive this.”
Abruptly, Ax stands and paces until he and Marco are nose to nose. He’s so much taller and broader that Marco thinks he could block the sun. They are both breathing heavily, chests brushing. Marco just wants to devour him. Ax’s gaze flicks down to Marco’s parted lips, and his whole body twitches like he wishes he had a tail to swing. He steadies himself with hands on Marco’s hips. His grip is gentle.
Ax sighs. “You’re right. I think I need to de-morph for this talk. My human mind has stronger feelings of… jealousy than my Andalite form.”
Marco just nods, like he doesn’t get a perverse thrill out of Ax feeling jealous even if he doesn’t understand why at all. Ax steps back and after a few grotesque minutes of morphing, there is an Andalite in Marco’s bedroom.
<Hi.> Ax whispers, and leans down to nuzzle him. They spend few minutes lost in that, before Marco pulls back.
“I missed you.” He says again, and this time Ax’s stalk eyes curl with pleasure.
<Words cannot describe the ache of your absence.> Ax says, because he’s always gotta one up Marco in the romance department.
“You really don’t have anything to be jealous of,” Marco says, because Ax worked his way into his small, calloused heart when they were fifteen and then never left. There’s not room for anyone else. “You know that, right?”
<I am jealous of everything that gets you for more than one week at a time.> Ax says, and as always his thought-speak is achingly honest. <I am sorry I did not come with you to the party. I could not bear having to share you and pretend we aren’t together, not right away.>
Ax’s velvety fingers rise to trace patterns into Marco’s face. Marco shudders a little and leans into it.
Marco takes a deep breath to steel himself, and fixes his gaze on the far window. He’s not like Ax, who can peel back his own rib cage to put all his vulnerable bits on display for Marco to take or leave. He mutters, “Sorry for being a dick. Dunno what I was trying to prove but. You always come first.”
“What did you actually do today?” Marco asks, guiding them towards the mound of pillows on a futon they use instead of a bed when Ax is in Andalite mode. Cassie calls it their “love nest” and she’s not wrong. He lets Ax get settled, and then curls into the soft downy fur on his side.
Ax’s face twitches, amused at getting caught in a lie. <I went to the movies.>
“Did you drink the popcorn butter again?” Marco teases even as his heart aches a little that he missed it.
Marco’s fingers follow the whorls and loops of tan through Ax’s teal fur. Under his ear, he can hear Ax’s heartbeats slow as he calms under Marco’s touch. Sometimes, Marco is reminded that Andalites were once animals of prey. Ax hates fighting with Marco, until he feels backed into a corner and like it’s the only way out.
The thing is, they’ve been having this fight since before Ax even got a shiny new title and a ship to match. Marco doesn’t want Ax to leave and Ax doesn’t want to go, but his sense of duty outweighs that all. Sense of duty . Like they hadn’t all saved the world twenty times over. Like they hadn’t already given so much up. Like anyone, Andalite or human, had the right to look at them and ask for more.
It would have been different if Ax had wanted to leave. Marco would have supported him. Instead, Ax went silent and shaky for days after he got his first assignment. Ax said, I cannot imagine leaving you. Ax said, I won’t be another one of their pawns. Ax said, Marco please yes I can’t be without this oh don’t stop — whatever. Ax said a lot of things.
It’s hypocritical of Ax to get mad at Marco for putting work first when Ax the one who left, even after Marco begged him to stay. That’s all Marco’s saying.
Later that night, they peel themselves out of bed long enough to make dinner. They work well together in silence, an easy two-part dance around the kitchen. They’ve been cooking together before they even started dating, depending on which anniversary is the real one (it’s not September 3rd, no matter what Ax says. Marco stroking Ax’s face doesn’t count if Marco didn’t know what Andalite kissing was yet. Have you stroked anyone else’s face non-romantically? Ax always retorts, which, okay.)
Marco asks, “What’s the longest distance relationship in the galaxy?”
Ax’s stalk eyes swivel towards him, even as his main eyes stay focused on where he is chopping garlic. <Well… As far as I know, we are.>
Marco hums acknowledgement. Being a novelty doesn’t alarm him— he’s used to that, at this point. It makes sense that there is no couple quite like him and Ax. It’s not like he thinks it makes them the loneliest people out there, or anything. He’s been around enough lonely people to know distance isn’t the most important factor.
Still, he thinks about when they had first started dating. It was a fragile, desperate thing— Marco hadn’t known where he was flying or why until he was in front of Ax, demorphing to fall right into his arms. It was the exhaled, quiet “finally” that left Ax’s lips as they pulled back from their first (human) kiss. It was how Marco’s eyes found Ax every time he almost died, because what else should be the last thing he sees in the hellscape of war, because Ax was always the one there staunching his wounds and begging him to demorph. It was the bone-deep trust fostered by a mutual understanding that fairness was an ideal meant for less dire times.
Neither of them thought they would survive the war.
Marco presses up against Ax’s side, rubbing his face into the soft fur of Ax’s shoulder.
<Is this too much?> Ax says, waving at the cutting board.
“Never too much,” Marco says, pushing another clove towards him. “When it comes to this, you don’t need to follow the recipe.”
Marco had not planned for a future. If he had, it sure wouldn’t be one where he had the longest distance relationship in the galaxy.
While the marinara is simmering, Marco sits on the counter so that Ax can stand between his thighs. He wraps his arms around Ax’s torso, tight enough he can feel both heartbeats, and rests his head on Ax’s shoulder. Ax plays with the hair of at the base of his neck and tells Marco all about his life since they last saw each other. Most of it, Marco already knows— they’re good about staying in touch over text and holo-chat. But it’s not the same as hearing it from Ax himself.
<I think you would like that planet.> Ax says, <We should go there together, sometime.>
“Yeah,” Marco agrees, idly stroking over the bumps of Ax’s spine.
<And my parents say hi.> Ax says. Marco can’t hide his jolt. Ax laughs, softly, in that weird way Andalites do. <Ha ha ha. You know they like you.>
“I do not know that,” Marco says, voice pitching high. “I’m the alien that, like, abducted and seduced their son. I’m the reason all your vacation time is spent on Earth.”
<They’re happy I’m happy.> is all Ax says. Marco feels a pang of envy that he tries to tamp down.
Eva and Peter don’t approve of his relationship with Ax, which is one of the few things they agree on nowadays. It’s, like, whatever. His parents’ relationship didn’t exactly go well. Marco doesn’t know why they think he’d give a fuck about their advice.
Before the revelation that Eva was a Controller, Marco would have said that his parents were proof that love was real. There were times that were bad — Marco learned how to smile through chaos or joke to dissolve tension at a young age, after all. But, as Peter always said, “When you love someone, you work through the hard times.” Fate proved him right when almost overnight, things became perfect. Like two frogs kissed and turned into royalty, warts gone, nothing but fairytale left. That is what love can do to you , Marco had thought about his parents’ blissful marriage. All it took was dedication, couples’ therapy, and his mom’s yoga sessions every three days.
After she “died,” the darkest points of his dad’s depression underscored this. That is what losing your soulmate looks like, Marco had thought, that is what love can do to you.
Joke was on him, he guesses. It was all the fucking Yeerks. Surprise!
Marco isn’t familiar enough with Andalite cultural norms to know whether Ax has noticed that Marco never says I love you.
“Sauce should be ready,” Marco says, and pushes Ax away so he can hop off the counter.
Behind him, he can hear the horrible sounds of Ax’s Andalite body transforming into his human one. He fills two plates with spaghetti and meatballs, loading Ax’s with ten times a normal serving.
They sit at the dining room table and don’t talk, mostly because Ax is busy inhaling the meal. Still, they play footsie. Ax’s ankle bumps against his and they grin at each other over forks of spaghetti.
When Ax’s plate is empty, there is sauce all over his chin. Marco licks his thumb and leans over to wipe his face clean. Ax shudders, and Marco persuades him with lips and fingertips and crackling heat to stay in human morph just a bit longer.
After, lying on top of Ax on the couch, whole body tingling, he mumbles into Ax’s damp neck: “Hey.”
“Hey, you.” Ax replies, crushing him tighter. Maybe Marco can’t drop the L-bomb, but he thinks Ax knows anyways.
This is the happily ever after Marco fantasized about as a kid. He’s rich, famous, and sleeping with the hottest guy he’s ever seen. It is absurd that he got here. It’s absurd that the way he got here was the Yeerks.
Once, in the darkest throes of grief after the war, Ax had told him, “I was more than willing to die.”
Marco had said, “I wasn’t willing to let you.”
Rich, famous, hot guy — if someone had asked preteen Marco what he would sacrifice to get here, he would have said “anything.”
Some lessons are only learned the hard way.
It’s good to have Ax home.
On his third day back, Ax gets a z-space transmission from his War Prince about his next assignment. <I’m sure it’ll be fine.> he says, smoothing his palm down Marco’s back like Marco is the jittery one.
“Of course,” Marco agrees, and cradles Ax’s face between his palms until Ax’s breathing is uneven and he looks a little dopey. He runs his thumb along Ax’s nose, which is pretty hot ‘n heavy for Andalites. If high command wants to interrupt their couple time, they can handle seeing the Great Prince Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill looking lovestruck. “Go get ‘em.”
As Ax steps into Marco’s study, his stalk eyes twist so he can see Marco until the last possible second, when the door shuts between them.
Whew. Not a big deal. Marco paces for a while, then pulls out the stack of scripts in his nightstand drawer. He might as well start going through them, since soon they’ll know when Ax’s next Earth vacation will be. There’s probably better ways to choose his next role than by what works around his alien boyfriend’s military schedule, but oh well. He’ll come up with another reason before he tells his agent which studio to call.
Two hours pass before Ax steps back out, tail whipping behind him. The chewed-up end of a pen falls out of Marco’s mouth as Ax morphs human.
“You’ve got ink there.” Ax says, kissing the corner of Marco’s mouth like that will fix it. He settles next to Marco on the couch, and rests his chin on Marco’s shoulder to read the script. “Alien Cowboy’ sounds like a very sexy option.”
Marco elbows him. Not that he disagrees. “What’s the news? When will you be back earthside?”
Ax hums. “Six months, maybe?”
Marco lets out a whistle to cover up how low his heart sinks. “That’s longer than normal.”
Ax pulls Marco into his embrace and flips through the script, clearly distracted. “Look, there’s a scene where you’d kiss an alien. Are they type-casting?”
Marco snorts and relaxes into Ax’s arms. “Very funny.”
“I have been ordered to find the Blade Ship. They think it’s in Kelbrid space,” Ax says finally, with a deep sigh. “It will be… good, I think. To have closure.”
Marco swallows. Even after they found her body, Rachel’s memorialized grave feels empty. When he pictures her, she is always bloodstained and grinning wildly, dying on the floor of the Blade Ship with a snake between her canines. Part of him aches to have the Blade Ship reduced to ash just like she was.
“I think you’re right,” he says, dropping the pile of scripts so he can squeeze Ax’s hand. Ax doesn’t look nervous. There’s a determined set to his shoulders that he only gets when he has a cause to believe in, that Marco has rarely seen since they won the war.
“It’s a prestigious assignment, now that the military is downsizing.” Ax continues, “Perhaps the last prestigious assignment.”
Marco’s throat has never been so dry. “What are you saying, Ax?”
“Maybe there’s not anything left, after.” Ax says, simple, as though he’s not taking a jackhammer to Marco’s insides. “Maybe I could retire.”
Marco tackles him. “What! You asshole. Why didn’t you lead with that!”
Between frantic kisses, Ax says, “I might have — waited longer and — surprised you.”
Marco might smother him with a throw pillow. “You would NOT!”
Ax grins crookedly, his cheek smushed under Marco’s palm. “You could have just gotten an invitation to my retirement party.”
“Dumbass.” Marco says, so fond he might burst. “I would have loved that.”
Marco leans in until they are Andalite kissing, foreheads pressed together and fingertips tracing lines on faces. “Really? Just one more mission?”
Ax agrees, “Just the one.”