When Thomas comes home to find Alex passed out drunk and on his back for the third time that week, he nearly screams. He doesn’t of course. Doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, he lifts Alex onto the couch, placing him on his side and stroking the hair out of his face. It’s not hard, Alex is much shorter than him. All the years of malnourishment took a toll on his body, leaving him looking fragile and weak despite the copious amounts of food Thomas makes him eat.
He stays a little longer, watching Alex’s face for a while, making sure it doesn’t seize up in that unfounded terror when a nightmare hits. During those times Thomas can see the sweat physically dripping off him, feel his legs tangle with his own only to be violently ripped away. He sees no sign of this though. Doesn’t know what he would do anyway. Thomas is nothing but useful and Alex is a selfish bastard. He doesn’t mean to be, of course, it’s just the way he is. And Thomas knew that when he first asked Alex out. He just didn’t realise the depth it ran.
Instead, he stands up. Walks around the kitchen island a few times, knocking his hips on the corners a couple of times. He puts the pasta in the water mechanically. When he comes back ten minutes later the pasta still isn’t boiling. He goes to turn the dial, he does. Ends up on the floor instead.
Alex doesn’t wake up the entire night. Not when Thomas is crying on the floor, the salt shaker sitting next to him. Not when he burns himself draining the soggy pasta. Not when he goes to take a shower or when he comes out crying again. Thomas knows, it’s not his fault. He’s trying. They both are.
Alex ignores what happened. He never acknowledges when he drinks. The one time Thomas tried bringing up his alcohol dependence, Alex had given some bullshit answer.
“Everyone one has something that helps them get out of bed.” He had shrugged when he said it. Like it was normal to not want to wake up. Thomas felt like screaming, felt like that more and more lately. Wanted to scream at Alex and ask why he wasn’t enough. Why Thomas couldn’t help him. Why Alex wouldn’t give it up. So many whys. Thomas didn’t understand. Alex had told him the same before when Thomas’ mouth got the better of him. When he had screamed at Alex asking why he tortured himself the way he did.
“You’re never going to understand, that’s the whole point.” And although the words were said matter of factly, Thomas couldn’t get them out of his head for the whole week.
Alex stops by his office at lunch. At the start of the relationship, they were the fairytale couple. Little post-it-notes with messages or drawings. Coffees that were larger than either of them could end up finishing. Until Alex broke down one night, saying he couldn’t be the person Thomas wanted, the person Thomas wanted. And he had held him. And Alex let him. Thomas was under the impression that they would be alright after that had happened. That they had figured everything out and they would be able to get the words out of their mouths when they needed to.
Alex knew. Of course he knew. Thomas was being naive. Alex’s eyes were still filled with tears but they had hidden something beneath them. Alex always felt like that. Like he had to hide from Thomas. At first, he had hated it. Wanted to know everything because that was what a relationship was supposed to be. He realised after the first time Alex let something slip when he was drunk that it was better for him to stay out of it.
But they talk, almost through their whole lunch break. Actually, talk. And it’s okay because this time, Thomas isn’t useless and Alex isn’t being selfish. And they’re alright. They’re back to their dopey smiles and honey filled words. Staring at each other in a way that used to make their friends fake puke. And then Alex reaches for his hand.
Thomas physically flinches. Knows it’s a mistake when Alex all but curls in on himself. So Thomas tries to change the subject, tries to reach for Alex’s hand again. Alex just shakes his head, wiping his eyes far too rough. It doesn’t work. It never does.
Alex is with him for the rest of the week. They live together, had moved in far too early and it was far too late to change. So Alex is with him, physically at least. He seems out of it, eyes glossed over with a distant look in them. Never really looking at him , just to the right of his face.
Thomas doesn’t want to ask but he does anyway. Asks if Alex is on anything. Tries to subtly check his arms for track marks, disguising it as a quick hug or a stroke of the arm. Alex has to notice, he’s too smart not to. But he doesn’t say anything. Even when Thomas asks if he’s using, he just shakes his head softly, looking to the right of Thomas again.
“I’m fine Thomas. We’re fine.”
They had spent Christmas with Thomas’ family the first year they got together. Alex was all nerves and sweaters and anxiety on the way down. Had asked Thomas for reassurance several times before they left.
- “Are you sure your family actually want to meet me? They’re not just saying that because they have to right?” (“No Alex, they want to see you because I talk about you so much. You’re being paranoid.”)
- “Wait, what about gifts? Virginians like wine right? I should get them something, stop off at Chambers Street on the way.” (“No Alex, you don’t need to bring anything for them and they’ve already got plenty of wine.”
- “Shit, I’m so under-dressed. Thomas they’re going to hate me, I look like a kid next to you.” (No Alex, you don’t, you’re perfect. I love you, they’ll love you.”)
Thomas had hated it. Found it endearing at first but quickly grew aggravated. He knew it, Alex knew. He didn’t apologise, he never did. Instead, he cracked a smile, gave Thomas a lopsided grin, asked if he was being stupid. Thomas replied with a flat yes but Alex leaned over the console, kissing him on the corner of the mouth then the neck, grabbed the hand resting on the gearstick and gave little butterfly kisses to the knuckles. Thomas was going to tell him off. Opened his mouth and looked over at Alex, ready to give him a lecture. Then he saw all the love in Alex’s eyes and felt dizzy. Alex was overwhelming. Sometimes he consumed Thomas’ thoughts so thoroughly that it almost scared him.
That Christmas went great. Thomas’ family loved him. Alex had charmed his younger sister, played along with his younger brother’s game of pretend, and engaged his older sister in political discussions until it turned dark. His mother treated him like a son as soon as he stepped in the house, embarrassing them both with talk of their future wedding and kids. Thomas had groaned, turning red and hiding behind Alex’s shoulder. Alex laughed it off, saying he couldn’t wait either and Thomas almost melted.
Thomas hadn’t gone back home for Christmas after that first year of being with Alex. Something changed in their dynamic. Thomas didn’t know if that’s when he started drinking or when he picked it back up. He still didn’t know. Alex had told him to go without him, not giving Thomas a reason as to why he didn’t want to go back. And Thomas stupidly, stupidly, thought that they could fix it. That the next year Alex would want to go. So he waited.
The next year, Alex didn’t want to go again. Thomas had said okay, told him they could spend it together. Said okay when Alex said he didn’t want to go out. So they spent it at home, with no Christmas tree. But that was okay. Thomas had Alex.
The year after that was the same. Thomas’ family pleaded with him, begged him to come back home, “Even for a couple of days,” his little sister asked. She sounded older. When he checked her Facebook later he fully realised how grown up she was. But that was okay. Thomas had to grow up sometime. He had Alex and hadn’t they talked about kids and marriage?
Except Alex didn’t come home that night. And Thomas felt like screaming. He was worried at first. Then angry and nervous and oh god, what if Alex had left him?
He got the call at 2:47. Thomas almost sobbed when he heard it was Alex. He asked Thomas to pick him up and, “Of course I will.” Thomas replied. Because of course he would. Hadn’t even thought of any other response. Alex stepped into the car, swaying slightly, nose bloody and smelling of sweat and cheap vodka and dirt. Thomas had stared at him for a moment, mouth a little agape, trying desperately to rationalise with himself why Alex had been out instead of with Thomas. He felt betrayed wanted to tear out his hair and smash the steering wheel. Except he didn’t actually. He wanted to ask Alex what was so important that he missed spending Christmas with Thomas. Instead, he started driving. Looked over at Alex halfway to their apartment, curled up on the seat without his seatbelt, tears leaking out of his scrunched up eyes.
Thomas melted again. But not in the soft like butter way, or the way that honey drips from a spoon. He looked over again, wondering if he still loved Alex. He didn’t know why he was disappointed when the answer was yes.
Thomas brings up visiting his family for Christmas this year. He can practically hear the desperation dripping from the words coming out of his mouth.
“Alex...I need to go...I can’t stay here another year...you don’t have to come with me....”
When Alex asks if he can go with him, Thomas almost chokes. Looks up studying Alex’s face for any sign that he’s joking. He's not. Thomas scolds himself for thinking that of Alex in the first place.
They spend the night in. Chinese takeout boxes litter the table as the Studio Ghibli movies play in the background. It illuminates Alex’s face, making him look younger and suddenly Thomas can’t see the bags under his eyes or the wrinkles that have cemented themselves on his forehead. He doesn’t think about his chewed up nails or the bruises scattered over his legs. And maybe he should. Maybe he should pay attention to everything about Alex that isn’t right instead of focusing on the way his hips feel when they roll against Thomas’. And just like that Alex slides off the couch, pulling down his sweatpants and taking Thomas in his mouth. Maybe he should pay more attention to the fact that Alex doesn’t stop, even when he starts choking and his chest is heaving. His face goes red and Thomas knows, he knows, that they should stop. That they need to talk to each other or to someone else. Instead, Thomas groans and closes his eyes, cum spilling down Alex’s throat and when he opens his eyes again, dripping down his mouth as well.
His family almost cries when he comes home. They all get a little choked up. Thomas tries to make up a good excuse as to why he hasn’t been back sooner. They all ask about. And Thomas finds he doesn’t have a good answer for it.
Alex charms them as easily as he did the first time. He doesn’t seem as nervous either. In fact, he doesn’t seem nervous at all. Thomas takes that as a good sign. His younger sister is taller than Alex now, no longer getting flustered when Alex flirts with her. Instead, she regards him with an almost weary stance. Alex must know, he’s too smart not too.
When Alex walks off after getting short at her, she turns to face Thomas. He raises his eyebrows, unconsciously crossing his arms.
“Is he hurting you?” Thomas looks at her in amazement then hurridly assuring her that he’s not. He realises how it sounds, how it looks. But he knows it’s different. He’s useless and Alex is a selfish bastard. That’s how things are, that’s how things have always been. Relationships aren’t easy, he understands what his mother was talking about all those years ago, after their dad left. And that’s the end of the conversation. She doesn’t ask him about it again. Instead, she doesn’t talk to Alex. Hugs Thomas as often as possible and he isn’t stupid either, he knows what it means.
Thomas screams. Not internally this time. He screams. At Alex, at himself. His family rush up to him, asking if he’s okay and “what’s wrong Thomas, you can tell us, please.” He sobs, then chokes on a sob before breaking down again. Someone’s petting his hair and everything feels nice and soft and warm and suddenly, Alex’s deep brown eyes are looking into his. He can’t those golden specks anymore though and he wonders if it’s physically possible for a person’s physical appearance to change with their personality. They’ve disappeared and Thomas doesn’t know how to bring them back.
Alex is sleeping when he wakes up. He’s on the couch, lying on his back and if the smell didn’t hit Thomas first the dozen wine bottles littered across the floor would tell him everything he needs to know. He doesn’t get angry or yell or scream. He’s not even anxious when he goes to check Alex’s breathing. He is, breathing, of course. Alex once told Thomas he couldn’t die even if he wanted to.
Thomas sits down next to on the couch by Alex’s feet and realises how tired he is. He’s not even thinking just staring, staring, staring. He can hear Alex breathing beside him because it all comes down to Alex, doesn’t it. And for the first time, Thomas realises how many years he watched Alex with other people, hopelessly in love with him. He realises all the love and love and love that he’s spent on the relationship and he sees all the effort and the trying that Alex put in. And maybe that was the problem, Thomas was all love, he still is all love but that’s it. Because he knows that some part of him still clings to the naive idea that love will get them through.
When Alex wakes up several hours later, Thomas is still sitting there. His family had woken up then gone out. Told Thomas they had planned the trip in advance but he saw it in his sister’s eyes and he knew. The bottles are long gone as well.
Alex looks guilty. His hair is sticking out in odd directions and Thomas makes sure to bite his tongue when he wants to tell Alex how much he loves it. Instead, he asks Alex if he loves him.
Alex hesitates, “Of course I do, Thomas.”
Thomas laughs. He laughs more at that moment than he has all year and it feels good. He doesn’t need to tell Alex why. When he looks at him he can see that Alex knows. How could he not?
Alex is looking him in the eyes for the first time in what felt like years. Thomas knows, he’s useless and Alex is unbearably selfish.