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over the mountains and under the stars

Chapter Text

Early after his discovery of Project Shepard, Alex had come to a conclusion - for every worthwhile piece in his father’s evidence, there’s four pieces of worthless trash. 

At the start, he’d bundled everything up in boxes and brought it to Kyle for his opinion because he still thought every last piece was crucial and important, but then he’d found another two storage lockers of it and decided that he was going to do this on his own or ask Kyle to take some leave to go over it. After Texas, with things going to shit, Alex had shifted his attention to working through Project Shepard to try and take his mind off Michael (and Maria, and leaving, and the ship, and his doubts; Michael and will be the death of him). He purposely doesn't ask Kyle to help him, because sifting through old alien artifacts is probably a kind of self-flagellation that Kyle will call him on.

Nothing like going over alien shit to try and clear your mind about your alien boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend? He decides that's only more reason to dive further into the research. 

In retrospect? Not his best idea to go it alone when there are alien artifacts in the mix.

When alcohol had stopped doing the trick to numb the memories of imagining Michael and Maria having sex, Alex had trudged back to the storage locker to go over the pieces, digging into one of the boxes to find a piece that looks like it belongs with the ship, but different. He’s exhausted, thinking about Michael leaving, thinking about him and Maria (did he stay the night with her? Did he breathe out softly the way he does with Alex, did she find out the truth about his hand), and his spirits are the lowest they’ve ever been.

It means that when he gets both hands on the glimmering piece of tech from one of the boxes, Alex’s mind is pent up and thinking, I just need to know what happens next. His thoughts are obsessively revolving around Michael when he feels a sharp burst of disorienting sickness. 

His head is fuzzy, he feels like he could throw up, and for a long moment, Alex grips the piece tighter, for fear he’s going to break it. 

Closing his eyes, he tries to bear it and wait it out. When it passes, he’s on his feet with the piece, thinking that it’s time to stop being sorry for himself and he can use this as an excuse to go see Michael. Only, when he drives to the junkyard, his trailer isn’t there. What is there is something that Alex has never noticed before. Just in the distance, there's a house just off the land and Alex heads there, a touch frantic that maybe Michael decided to pick up and leave town. He shifts the piece to hide it inside his coat, approaching the house warily, and not even paying attention to his surroundings until a dog starts howling and barking wildly. 

“Shit,” Alex says, because the last thing he needs is for a dog to get him arrested for trespassing.

It’s a beagle, like the kind Mimi said he’d get, but if this howling is any kind of hint, then maybe Alex isn’t so keen on one. He’s hobbling over as fast as he can without running, shifting the piece in his hands so he can lean over and try and calm it.

“Hey,” he whispers, trying to keep a low profile. “Hey, it’s okay. I just want to ask your owners a few questions, okay?”

The barking isn’t stopping, so Alex moves to desperate measures, soothing and trying to get close enough to pet the animal. Behind them, the lights on the house’s porch flicker on and Alex notices, now, that the sun has started to set. How long had he been going over those pieces of evidence?

Clearly, he needs a break. Between the weird fit with the piece and this house suddenly appearing that he’s never seen before, Alex thinks he’s losing his mind.

The feeling doesn’t get better when he hears a voice from the porch – a very, very familiar voice. 

“What the hell kind of noise are you making, Phoebe? You know who it is.”

Alex freezes from where his hand is on the beagle’s ears, fumbling to check her tags. He probably should have started there, seeing the name GUERIN embossed into them. Frozen, his eyes wide, he tries to hush the barking down, wondering what you do when you can’t just cover a dog’s mouth to stop it. 

He still tries, though, and that’s how Michael Guerin finds him. Maybe it’s more important to mention that Alex finds Michael with a dishcloth thrown over his shoulder, a leash in hand, and wearing a wedding ring on his finger, standing outside the bungalow of a beautiful house. Still, that’s how he finds him. 

Biting back his bitterness, he hates that this is probably some joke. 

“What, so Maria told you about the beagle and you guys decided to get hitched and take that too?”

At least, that’s what he wants to say. 

Instead, Alex tightens his grip on the piece of alien tech and stares, because Michael looks so good. His shoulders actually look a bit broader, but maybe that’s just because of how tall he’s standing, and the way he strides forward to pick up the dog calls attention to the sweatpants and the fact that Alex can tell he’s not wearing underwear from his steady gait.

There’s an amused look on Michael’s face, which only pisses Alex off more.

“What?” he snaps.

This is the last thing he needs. He’s exhausted, he’s tired, he feels a little ill and can’t place his finger on why, and now Michael is playing some practical joke acting like he’s hitched with the dog that Mimi DeLuca predicted.

“Is this the first time you found it? You never told me that story.”

Great, apparently Michael’s also gone insane. 

“What are you, I don’t…”

“Alex,” Michael says softly. “Come sit down inside.”

He does, even though he’s still feeling really out of it. The beagle trots along beside him like he belongs there and when Alex gets inside, he passes a foyer filled with pictures of him and Michael, the dog, and it takes about fifteen seconds for him to realize that half the possessions here are his. 

Michael’s married.

To him?

Did Kyle sneak into the storage locker and knock him over the head? Is this some kind of wild fever dream the alien artifact created for him? Whatever it is, Alex takes the first opportunity to sink down into a chair, gaping at Michael as he heads to the kitchen and turns off the stovetop’s heat, bringing Phoebe back to settle her onto the ground. 

“Lucky for you, Alex of 2025 is currently on assignment, but he did say that he couldn’t travel if the one from the future was around,” Michael absently mutters as he digs through a stack of papers. “It’s sweet of you, visiting, like you know how lonely I’ve been. We don’t need to talk about the boyfriend pillow in the bed, but … ah, here it is,” he says triumphantly, digging out a piece of paper. “Here. You wrote this for yourself. He always said I’d know when to give it to you.” Wandering closer, he holds out a letter, but he doesn’t hand it over so easily. 

For a long while, Michael stares at him, to the point it starts to become unnerving.

“What?” Alex asks. 

“You look…” Michael hesitates. “You look tired.”

He probably does. He hasn’t slept much, he’s been drinking, and he keeps thinking about how he’s lost Michael to Maria because of his own cowardice and now he might lose him to another planet for the same reason, and even knowing that, he can’t make himself do anything different.

“Here,” he says. “This is for you. I’ll finish dinner, so come find me when you’re ready.”

Alex takes the letter and carefully opens it. It’s not new, judging by the color of the envelope, so he has to wonder at what point he’ll write this, if he even gets the chance. He’s not sure what to expect, but the opening sentence isn’t … it.

Congratulations! You’ve won a strange human ability to manipulate the time-space engine of the ship and locked it to your genetic code!

It’s Michael’s writing. Alex huffs out a laugh and can only imagine the way his other self must have been irritated when he’d gained control of the pen again, but the words past that are in his own handwriting.

Alex, it’s me. Or you, however you want to think about this. If you’re reading this, you found a piece of Michael’s ship, before it rejoins with the rest. That happened a couple of years ago, but up until then, when you hold it and think about where you want to be, you can sort of skip along like a record. I remember when it brought me to this, and it’ll help you out a few more times.

You’re going to need it again soon and it won’t be for a domestic drop-in. 

It can’t take you back in time. You can’t change anything that’s already happened. The past is past, the scars are set.

Take care of Michael for me. The glass doesn’t work if I’m within about twenty-five miles. When you want to go back, just think of home. I know things might seem rough right now, but thinking about Michael always did the trick.

He reads that last line a few times because it’s a punch to the gut. By the time he’s read it for a fifth time, Michael is coming out of the kitchen bearing bowls of chicken stew, Phoebe dancing around his heels. “Come on. I made enough for two and I was planning to eat it in a sad grief-state of missing my husband, but I guess we can share and you can tell me why you look like you want to cry.”

If he thinks about home right now, he’ll think of how things with him and Michael are so fragmented and tangled. Maybe with a good meal in his belly and the promise of this in his future, though, maybe then he can head back with the hope of something to come.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “I think it’s getting better, now.”

“I knew you liked me,” Michael drawls with delight, and sits Alex down to a family dinner in a comfortable home, introducing him to what a family and a home can look like inside Roswell in the form of both a place and a person. 

It's a surreal experience for Alex to have, but he eats dinner across the table with a Michael who looks slightly older if you caught the grey in his beard, but there's something missing that Alex thinks is his sadness. Dinner is a combination of amazing (he's never had this kind of food or warmth of company) and frustrating, because no matter how much Alex pleads, Michael refuses to give up anything.

"Alex was clear," Michael says. "Whatever you learn, you learn, but I'm not allowed to give up anything. I follow my husband's instructions. You bark them real convincingly at me and then use all kinds of nice positive reinforcement to back them up."

"Pretty sure that's knowledge about the future."

Michael raises a brow. "Is it? Your training tendencies already exist." He reaches over to pick up his plate so he can take them to the sink and soak them, though he doesn't wash them. Instead, he's staring at Alex and trying to suss him out, by the looks of it. "What's going on that you look like you wanted to cry when you saw me? I haven't seen that look on your face in years, especially once we got past the part where conversations with one another drove us to the brink of tears."

"You uh, you and Maria, in Texas," Alex says, hating that the words feel so awful to get out. He loves the both of them in different ways, but standing at this crossroads, even knowing this path leads to a secure future, it's still in his head. "That's your past. Tell me about it."

Michael doesn't look so keen on it, like he knows this is only going to hurt Alex or help him to keep pouring salt in the wound. 

"What do you want to know?" Michael drags one of the kitchen chairs over to sit beside Alex, resting his palms on Alex's knees. "I didn't wake up beside her in bed. It was nice to burn off that steam after I thought you dumped me and I lost all my hope and even with those super gay eyes of yours, you have to admit she's stunning. If you'd called me up that night, though, and asked me to come back to Roswell and be with you? I would have. That's all you need to know, I think. The ball's in your court, Alex," he says, leaning over to tap the alien tech. "You're gonna go home and write a letter about this, explain it to me, but guess what. You don't need alien technology to change your future. You just...live what you want to live. If you want this," he says, holding up his hand with the ring on it, "you just have to ask for what you want."

"You're not afraid I'm gonna fuck all this up? Undo all this happiness?" Alex asks warily, sliding the piece back into his hand. 

Michael's smile is so blissful that Alex feels jealous, right up until he remembers that if he stops spending his time looking at alien artifacts and goes back to staring at aliens, then he could feel it too. "I've been with you long enough to have faith that we're gonna end up together, always. We're like opposite magnets," he says. "The minute we're near enough, we'll attract, and then good luck prying us apart," he says with a smirk that's laced with filth and innuendo. "So," he says. "Do you want to keep thinking about me and Maria, keep going over those pieces, or do you want to go home and figure out how to get your shit together. Kind of need it, not just romantically," he says. "There's some big stuff coming and you need to be ready. This isn't a hint or anything, since you already know, but we're stronger together."

They protect each other, is what he doesn't have to say. Moving his other hand to the alien tech, he swallows back his nerves and readies himself to think about his destination to try and send himself back, earning a little more control. "Do me a favor," he says, before he fixates on the piece.

"Always."

"When I get back from that assignment, if I haven't fucked things up, show me how much you love me."

"Only if you do the same back where you come from."

It's the easiest deal that Alex ever makes, and as he thinks about home, Michael Guerin, Roswell, making things right, that same disorienting feeling washes over him, but now he knows what he's fighting for, and it means leaving Project Shepard and the past behind and working to get that future.

Chapter Text

If you’d asked him earlier that day, Michael wouldn’t say that he’d expect a bedding situation to be his biggest worry, and yet, here they are.

“I’ll sleep in the truck,” Michael says dismissively, when he sees what they’re dealing with. It won’t be the first time after all, and both Kyle and Alex know it. Alex at least looks away with mild shame for the reminder of those nights, but Kyle seems to be having none of it. 

After their second trip out to another of Jim Valenti’s secret drop sites, they’d decided to stop at a motel when it got to be two in the morning and none of them were fit to drive the rest of the way back. It’s a shit little town that they’ve found, which means that the motel had a single room with two queen beds in it for them and not much else.

“I can share with Alex, you don’t have to do that,” Kyle protests. This new hero complex where he’s trying to make up for lost time annoys the shit out of Michael and the thought of him in a bed with Alex isn’t helping, either. 

This is rejected by the furious glare on Michael’s face. 

“I didn’t think you’d want to cuddle up with me, Guerin,” Kyle keeps going, though he does look vaguely amused at the idea. “Though I am a pretty good big spoon.”

Michael bites back on an annoyed, yeah, and I’m a knife. 

“Guys,” Alex cuts in calmly. “Shut up. Kyle, take the bed. Guerin…” He doesn’t finish his sentence, but gestures to the other bed. Michael wants to pick a fight about why Alex is being like this, when the only other times they’ve shared a bed have been after hookups, but unless Alex and Kyle’s teenaged sleepovers were really progressive, they are the only two who have shared a bed.

It’s still bound to be crazy awkward.

When Kyle is in the bathroom, Michael strips down to his boxers and keeps the t-shirt on, watching as Alex sits on the bed and lies down without taking off his pants or the prosthetic.

“No,” Michael snaps, because Alex can make decisions for him about who’s sleeping where, but there’s no way he’s about to let this fly. “I don’t care if Valenti is here, you’re not sleeping with that thing on and I know he’ll agree with me. Right?” he pitches his voice louder so it’ll carry.

“Take it off, Manes!” Kyle shouts from the bathroom. 

Michael decides he likes Kyle just a little more, now. Alex rolls his eyes, but works the prosthetic off, followed by the sock. It’s nothing that Michael hasn’t seen before, but he and Alex haven’t done this close-in-bed-proximity thing since they started being “just friends”. While the shower runs, he shifts under the scratchy blankets, wondering how many bed bugs are living in the covers, but he knows that he’s filling his mind with inane thoughts to keep from focusing on a couple things.

Alex, right there.

Alex, and the warmth of his body.

Alex, and how badly Michael wants to get his hands on him.

“Thought you’d have sooner volunteered to sleep with Kyle and told me to shut up than offer this,” Michael says as he punches the flat pillow a few times to try and give it life, lying down facing Alex. 

Alex says nothing, but his shrug and the silent way his eyes slide over Michael’s body is practically a novel for someone who knows him as well as Michael does. He’s right that they never talked, but as far as Michael’s concerned, they never had to. He can read Alex’s expressions and actions like they were words and so what if he doesn’t know Alex’s favorite diner food, he knows who Alex is.

“I’m more comfortable with you,” he says, voice subdued, like he doesn’t want Kyle to overhear. “I didn’t hear you arguing.”

“I’d never turn down a chance to wake up in bed with you. When I was a kid, we’d get put in front of a TV a lot,” he shares, “easier to let television babysit us than actually raise us. Watching couples wake up with one another, that look they got on their face, it always looked amazing, but I didn’t realize how great until that morning in the trailer when you stayed.”

“Michael…”

“No, let me finish,” Michael cuts him off, pressing his palm against Alex’s heart and letting his fingertips softly curl in, just enough to touch the fabric of his shirt. “It was like getting a sneak peek at a future I really wanted. Maybe not in a shitty trailer or a terrible motel like this, but I could have seen it somewhere nicer.”

There’s a guilty and strained look on Alex’s face, which means Michael knows better than to push.

This is convenience, it’s not like Alex wants to push beyond being friends and Michael’s fine with that. At least they’re not ignoring each other. He doesn’t take his hand off Alex, but he does move it to absently rest on his hip, The door to the bathroom opens and Kyle wanders out, hair wet and in the same clothes from the day, but he’s silent as he heads to the bed. Michael decides that whatever sharing they’ve been doing is over and he might as well get some sleep before they wake in a few hours and finish the drive home.

With Kyle in the other bed, Alex doesn’t seem so keen to talk, but Michael swears that he hears Alex whisper to him, “I didn’t stay because it was late,” to him, once Michael’s breathing had evened out, once it seems like he’s sleeping. “I stayed because I’ve been wanting to wake up with you since I was seventeen.”

He doesn’t open his eyes, but Michael’s lips curve up just a little more, a burst of warmth suffusing him like the sun came out from behind the clouds and has warmed his life.

That night, he sleeps better than he has in months, with Alex so near to him.

Michael wakes up to Kyle looming over the bed with a smug look on his face. 

“See,” he says, coffee in hand. “Me being the big spoon would’ve worked out after all,” he finishes, with a gesture to how Alex has burrowed up against him from behind, holding Michael protectively safe.

Flipping him the bird, Michael closes his eyes and takes advantage of the closeness with Alex, because he doesn’t trust that it won’t instantly evaporate the second he wakes up. Until then, Michael plans to be the best little piece of cutlery he can be. 

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand why you can’t go,” Michael feels like he’s losing his mind, because Alien Club is a) way too populated right now and b) telling him that he and Alex need to go undercover at some alien collector’s house the next town over. He gestures wildly to Noah and Isobel. “You two are actually married!” He’s shouting now, but he knows it’s a front for his panic.

Better to be angry than to let anyone see how much he’s freaking out about the fact that they want him and Alex Manes to pretend to be a happy married couple interested in some items for their home.

“Because he knows me,” Isobel counters. “Not to mention, of the three of us, you’re the one with the power to manipulate security cameras and pick locks with his brain,” she snaps. “So, your choice of spouse. Do you want Valenti, who can defibrillate a security guard if things go wrong…”

“Hey,” Kyle cuts in. “I’d make a very convincing loving husband.”

“Or you can pretend to be married to Max?”

“That’s not an option,” Max informs the group, raising a hand like he needs to make that clear.

“What about Liz? Cameron?” Michael is starting to flail wildly with options, because he knows how this is going to end. 

“Guerin, they want me to hack into the system while I’m there to plant a keylogger,” Alex sounds way too calm considering what they’re being asked to do.

It’s only been a few weeks since Alex turned up at the junkyard and told Michael that he wanted to start over and be friends. Michael’s been trying so hard to give him what he wants and needs, backing off every time things get too close or tense, trying to open up and genuinely be Alex’s friend.

He’s just not sure he can actually be Alex’s friend and pretend to be married to him at the same time.

“Then why married?”

“You wouldn’t bring a casual boyfriend to a collector’s house to buy something. He’s supposed to have actual alien artifacts, Michael, and we need to know if there’s something worthwhile there.” Isobel’s gaze is steady and she has the look in her eye of a woman that knows she’s winning the fight. “Just go in, put on a good show, and maybe we’ll learn more about ourselves. You want that, don’t you?”

It’s not a problem of want.

Michael wants everything that’s about to happen. 

He wants to learn more about his past. He wants to be with Alex in a way they’ve never had a chance to be, but pretending to be married feels like skirting a huge line that feels dangerous to step over. “Fine,” he says, trying not to look at Alex (which is good, because then he won’t have to see the puppy-dog mooning eyes Alex is sending him). “I’ll pick you up at six,” he tells Alex. “This better be a good lead, Isobel.”

He storms out of Isobel’s house without looking back at anyone and heads straight to the trailer. 

Once there, he opens one of his junk drawers and pulls out a ring box that he’s had since he was twenty-one. It had been a wildly stupid summer with Alex back in town. That summer, Michael had very nearly run away to UNM, begging Alex to come with him instead of going on his second tour.

He’d bought a ring. Michael Guerin, twenty-one, stupid and in love, decided that the next natural step would be to buy a ring. Only, then Alex hadn’t showed up for their date where Michael planned to ask him to run away with him. Years later, he’d found out that he couldn’t, because Jesse Manes had pulled some strings when he’d found out about Alex’s plans, making sure that he’d be required on base. 

Michael had put the ring away at twenty one and never brought it out again. At least, not until tonight, because he’s supposed to be playing married.

He taps the box against his chest a few times, his mangled fingers clasping it tightly, and he stares out the window, trying to figure out what you wear when you’re trying to impersonate a married couple. 

He has a hard enough time impersonating a normal human being most days, how’s he supposed to do this? 

Michael turns off the part of his brain that does feelings and heads to the meet-up point for six, getting in Alex’s car because apparently his beat-up Chevy doesn’t carry the right impression (thanks, Isobel, for that encouraging text).

“You ready?” Alex asks. 

“Fuck no,” Michael responds, “but if this guy has anything that belongs to us, I need to know. What do you want to say if he asks about our history?”

“I made us up a background that should hold,” Alex says, as they start driving to the next town where David Trapper lives. “Let’s keep it pretty close to reality? We met in high school and started dating there, off and on. When DADT got repealed, we decided to get hitched, and now we live in Roswell.”

The way he says it is clinical and official, but even that is more than Michael’s ever thought he’d get from Alex. “Okay,” he says, tapping his fingers on the dash to get out some of his nervous energy. “And uh, our names?”

“I took yours. Alex Guerin is the ID he’ll find if he looks me up, which I anticipate him doing.” Alex is doing his Listen To Me, I’m In The Air Force voice, which means they’re about 0010 minutes from Michael being given an order that will get him embarrassingly hard. “I’m not going to mess this up for you.”

“I never said you were,” Michael replies heatedly. “This isn’t me freaking out because I don’t think you can do it, Alex, you have to admit this is awkward. We’re playing pretend. You broke us up, twice, I slept with Maria, now you want to be friends and the first thing we do is decide to get fake married to look into alien artifacts.”

Alex shakes his head in disbelief, but he’s smiling, so clearly he understands how weird this is.

“It’s not, admittedly, how I expected us to start over, but is it so bad? Friends investigate things together. They go out for drinks every few days to decompress and talk about their day. We’ve been doing that. It’s been nice, even.” Alex shrugs as he takes the turn down the long driveway of the address they’ve been given. “Maybe this is a good test for us.”

It’s dark, now that they’ve arrived and it doesn’t help with the ominous mood that’s been creeping up on him the last few minutes. Alex parks a fair distance away as they both peer out the windshield at what awaits.

The house is a creepy looking mansion in the dark and Michael hates it. He thinks he’d hate it even if he didn’t know the guy inside was collecting artifacts like it’s some creepy kink. It’s that gaudy flaunting of wealth that makes him sick, the same as it always did when he was a kid.

“Hey,” Michael murmurs, heart racing as he digs out the box from his pocket. “Gotta sell this, right?” He opens it and it’s probably sad to be as proud as he is about the fact that he doesn’t fumble the ring, but he manages to get it out and offers it out to Alex. 

He’d fashioned himself one from some scrap metal and he’s hoping Alex doesn’t look at the ring too long and hard to notice that the platinum band doesn’t match the stainless one Michael’s wearing.

Luckily, Alex says nothing, even if he does give Michael a wary look as he slides it on, his eyes softening. It looks like there’s something on the tip of his tongue, though, but Michael can’t cope with a fake marriage and a mission in the same night as hearing real feelings, so he gets out of the car before Alex can say anything. 

He’s pretty sure that Isobel didn’t think about the tension between the two of them when she’d sent them on this little mission of hers, because already he feels like they’re fucking it up. He comes to a stop outside the steps to the porch when he sees a figure standing there.

Someone’s been waiting for them.

Michael tries to convince himself this isn’t like an awful horror movie, and turns to find Alex using his crutch as he makes his way to Michael’s side. 

“Mr. and Captain Guerin,” David Trapper greets them from the porch of his lavish estate, and Michael threads his fingers into Alex’s hand not just to sell the bit, but because he could use the support. “Please, come in. Isobel mentioned that you had come into some money recently and were interested in seeing my collection.”

“We’re aficionados,” Alex smoothly agrees, giving Michael a nudge to get him moving. “We’d heard that you were intending to sell some of your items and were interested in seeing what you have to offer.”

“I do love to show it off. Please! Come in!” Trapper encourages. “I have the best collection of items I’ve purchased this side of Roswell, but I’m always willing to part with one of them for the right amount of money.”

Michael presses his lips together and tries very hard not to think about sending one of the suits of armor telekinetically flying into Trapper’s face. 

Rich asshole bastard.

“Here we are,” he says, ascending a flight of stairs and leading them down a long hallway, with wood floors and heavy oak paneled walls. Everything here is behind a case and looks to have its own security measures. “Seventy years of collecting has yielded this, my own personal monument to our little green friends.”

It’s insulting, is what it is. Michael’s never been green, if you exclude the time he gave himself accidental acetone food poisoning by combing a bottle of it with some really bad sushi. 

As much as he’s predisposed to hate this man and his house, his collection is actually incredible. Sure, there’s a few pieces of useless meteorites, but the technology looks genuine and he’s seen copies of the memos on display on the dark web, including the original transcripts from Brazel. 

Michael drifts away from Alex’s side to keep going down this rabbit hole, barely paying attention to the small talk Alex is offering to keep Trapper occupied.

Considering he thought this place was going to be a bust, he’s quickly learning how wrong he is. The sound of a phone ringing cuts into his focus and he turns to watch Trapper taking a call, wishing he could listen in on whatever it is he’s being told, but he doesn’t seem keen to even be near them while he talks.

“I have to take this call, you two stay here, enjoy the Alien Wing,” he says, ducking out to the main foyer and leaving Alex and Michael alone.

The minute he’s gone, Michael shorts out the security cameras. “Asshole,” he grumbles, but his eyes are fixed on the various display cases on show, wondering how the hell he got his hands on these items, but the real prize possession seems to be at the end of the hall, with three times as many alarms as anything else. It looks like a glowing piece of the ship, but the placard makes him sick when he realizes that it’s alien in nature, but it’s not mechanical.

It’s organic.

He stares at it for a long time, his brow furrowed.

“Michael?”

“Organ from the 1947 alien autopsy,” he reads, staring at the iridescent shimmering before him, wondering if it belonged to a family member, a friend, a guardian, or someone else all-together. Did this person die to protect him? He’s staring at it while Alex starts to jimmy the panel loose, hooking up his device so he can hack into the security system. 

Glancing up as he works, Alex looks worried from what Michael can see out of the corner of his eye. “It’s real?”

“I think so,” Michael says, feeling numb. He can’t explain why he thinks he’s so sure, but there’s a connection and a pull towards it. 

Alex finishes with the software he’s sending, a conflicted look on his face as he presses in close to Michael, a hand on his hip. “Hey,” he murmurs. “You know we can’t take it. He’ll call the cops and that’s the last thing we need.”

“I know,” Michael replies, but it’s monotone, like he’s on autopilot.

“Michael…”

“I know,” he snaps, because he does. He has to leave this place because this is only recon and he’s not allowed to use his power to smash the glass and take back this stolen piece of his history.

“We’ll come back.”

He knows, but it doesn’t make it any better. “What do you want to tell him?” he asks, searching Alex’s face for advice and finding a flood of warm sympathy there. Maybe they’re pretending to be hitched, but he’s pretty sure Alex has nailed the whole ‘support your spouse’ part of this. “What should be we be making an offer on?”

“The memos,” he says. “We don’t want him thinking we’re into the alien stuff just yet. I’ll tell him we’re going to go home and think about it, then we’ll make sure he’s not connected to the government in any way.” He steps into Michael’s space so he catch his eye, clearly trying to calm him down. “Okay?”

It’s really not okay, but what choice does Michael have? He rips his gaze away from the glowing and pulsating object, swallowing back his stubbornness so they don’t get caught.

“Okay.”

It takes another ten minutes to conclude their business with Trapper and get out of there, but he doesn’t seem suspicious and that’s all Michael can ask for. The drive back is spent in silence, because Michael can’t stop thinking about the organ in the case, and he can’t stop thinking about the rings on their fingers – fake in Michael’s case, but so real when it comes to the one Alex sports.

Once they’re back in Roswell, Michael knows that he’s going back once he figures out a decoy to swap with the items in Trapper’s care. He’s not leaving anything back at Trapper’s place, but he doesn’t need a fake-husband for that. Alex has brought him back to the junkyard and parked the car, turning to face Michael as he lifts his hand, starting to work off the ring. “Here,” he says. “Before I forget, you should take this back.”

Watching Alex pry off the ring, Michael feels a wave of courage wash over him.

He reaches out and folds Alex’s fingers over it. “Keep it,” he says. 

“Michael, it’s yours, it must have cost…”

“Keep it,” he says. “But the next time that you and I do something that requires a married couple to go, I’m not faking it with you,” he warns, a promise he intends to keep. Seeing his family’s body on display like that has filled Michael with a need to make sure that he doesn’t take anything for granted. “I spent fifty years in a pod, in stasis, but I came out at the exact right time. I don’t know how, but maybe you and I were meant to be. I was protected by someone, and maybe this isn’t what they intended for me, but one year more or less and everything would’ve been different. I’m gonna make it right. I’ll talk, I’ll be your friend, but one day, I’m gonna earn that ring back from you because otherwise, if I waste away my life, what does that say to the people who worked so hard to keep us safe?”

He can’t keep fucking up with Alex and he knows they’re not ready, but he really needs Alex to understand that. 

Alex slides the ring back into his pocket, nodding, looking thoughtfully at him. Michael’s expecting Alex to tell him to stop being unrealistic or to stop pushing, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he presses Michael against the door of the truck and kisses him like they had at the reunion, crashing into each other as Alex’s fingers tangle into Michael’s hair, kissing him until desperate sounds are wrenched from Alex’s throat.

When he eases back, Alex presses his forehead to Michael’s. “I knew you were secretly a romantic,” he teases. “You’re saying we’re fated?”

“I don’t know what else to call it,” Michael admits, because he believes in coincidence, but them finding each other feels like more than that. “Come on,” he says, swallowing the lump in his throat. “We need to tell them what we found and I need to go plan a heist.”

“Not alone, you don’t,” Alex guarantees, and Michael feels his heart pounding in his chest to know he’s got a partner in crime. “For better or worse, until government agencies do us part.”

“Yeah,” Michael agrees, and he’s ready to go reclaim a piece of his history, with the best fake-husband ever at his side.

Chapter Text

“It’s not cute, you know,” Liz says. “You goading Alex?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” Michael replies, winking at Maria when she brings him a new beer, rolling her eyes and dismissing him. He feels safer than ever flirting with her, because after her firm ‘it can’t happen again’ when the truth had come out about Alex, the more he flirts, the more disgusted she seems to get with him. It’s like poking a wound with a salty finger. He might as well bring on all the pain, especially since it has some very helpful benefits in his relationship with Alex.

He’d discovered those benefits when Alex had come in for a drink in the middle of Michael helping Maria lug in some of the kegs of beer (in exchange for free drinks, of course). With the desert heat and the lack of AC, he’d quickly grown too sweaty and had pried off his shirt.

Maria had been squeezing his bicep and smacking his chest when Alex had walked in and Michael will never forget the look on his face. That look could’ve set fire to a hundred acres of forest around them, burning with jealousy like it was. 

It’s not like Michael ever actually intends to do anything about those looks, seeing as he and Alex are tentatively trying things out, but he loves the heated way that Alex looks at him and more than that, he loves the sex they have after those encounters, when it seems like Alex is bursting out of his skin and only by prying Michael apart with consecutive orgasms will he feels better. 

”Thanks, Guer,” Maria says flirtatiously, when he helps get the pressure working on the water hose.

Michael winks back at her and swivels around to salute Alex with his bottle of beer, but Alex isn’t looking at him. For once, Alex is occupied with whoever this new guy is. Breathing in sharply, he leans against the pool table with his elbow and tries very hard not to sulk.

The guy is Air Force, that’s clear from the uniform, but why does Alex look so entranced by him? What’s the big deal? So he’s got gorgeous hazel eyes and broad shoulders? So his black hair falls in shiny curls that catch the light of the Wild Pony. Anyone can do that.

”Okay, I know I lightly smacked your wrist, but why’s Mikey sulking…?” 

She looks like she’s about to pinch his cheeks, which will not go over well, so Michael rears back, glaring even harder when Alex’s new friend makes him laugh so hard that he looks like he’s about to double over with it. 

Liz bursts into laughter when she gets back from the bar with Maria with a new drink and sees the way Michael is glaring. “I mean, I don’t blame you.”

“You know that guy?”

“No, but if I were at the dollar store, he’d be on the Michael Guerin knock-off shelf,” she admits.

Sure, he might look a little like that guy, with the similar curls (even if this guy’s hair is a few shades darker) and he appreciates the guy’s taste in fashion (the cowboy hat is nice, even if olive green isn’t a shade he’d choose), same height, same build…

Michael should feel relieved that Alex has a type, but it only fuels his jealousy even more. He’s not exactly paying attention to the fact that this could be on purpose, because he’s not fueled by logic right now. It’s pure emotion and desire that pumps through him, not blinking as he stares at Alex across the bar.

Alex stares right back, a dare in his eyes.

Oh yeah, this is no coincidence.

Michael lets his mouth linger around the mouth of the beer, letting his tongue capture a stray droplet, setting it down and rubbing his thumb in a very deliberate way up and down the neck of it, not taking his eyes off of Alex for a single second.

Yeah, he can definitely say he doesn’t like the fits of jealousy when the shoe’s on the other foot. 

“He’s just an old friend,” Alex protests later, trying to sound innocent in a way that Michael knows he’s not. 

“An old friend, who you were touching non-stop,” he grumpily mutters, despite the fact that they’ve just finished round one and their skin shines with the sweaty sheen of sex. “Laughing too loud at his jokes, fixing his lapel, staring into his eyes…”

“So now you won’t do that with Maria just to get a rise out of me?”

Game, set, and match. “Remind me never to play chess with you,” Michael mutters grumpily, but losing this particular skirmish doesn’t exactly bother him too much, not when he still gets the spoils of war. “Truce.”

Alex smiles with smug satisfaction. Michael tries very hard not to get turned on by that.

Which, as he well knows, is a failing task, but not one he cares about.

Chapter Text

“Don’t let him get away!”

Alex is slumped up against the wall, his blood staining the dingy corridor as he breathes in and out, focusing on exercises they taught him after they took his leg, trying not to think about how the bullet is still inside his body. Kyle’s applying pressure to the wound, a worried look on his face.

“Oh, he’s not going anywhere,” Michael all-but-growls as he stalks down the hallway, both hands out. Alex feels the concussive telekinetic force that Michael levels the drifter with and Alex opens his mouth to protest, because it’s the fourth alien possessing him, it’s not like he knows what he’s doing.

He tries to say something, but he tries and the pain washes over him.

“What were you doing, taking a bullet for Jean Grey?” Kyle demands, yanking off his jacket to shove it against Alex’s torso. “He could’ve deflected the gun, it wouldn’t have hit him.”

“He couldn’t see it was happening,” Alex manages to get out, digging his heel into the ground to try and sit up straighter, like this new position will be less painful somehow (it’s not). “Fuck, this stings,” he gasps. “If I hadn’t gotten in the way, it would’ve gone through Michael’s heart.”

“You’re lucky this didn’t hit anything major.”

Alex can’t think of anything to say in response to that, also because he’s watching Michael wreak holy havoc on their shooter, sending him flying against walls, splintered glass into his body. The only times he really stops is when he looks back to check on Alex and the pained look on his face is something that’s going to haunt his dreams. 

“I don’t get it,” he says. “I mean, yeah, I’m not happy to be shot, but isn’t this kind of an overreaction?”

“Are you serious?” Kyle demands. “You want to know why the man whose powers go haywire when he’s angry is chasing your assailant and going nuts on him?” He scoffs and presses the jacket harder against the wound. “I’m starting to understand why you two are like this.”

Before Alex can reply and get Kyle to clarify, Michael comes bolting back down the hallway. 

“They ran,” Michael pants as he comes back, “but they’ve got enough injuries that you can probably keep an eye on the hospitals.” He shoves Kyle aside without even asking, taking the jacket as he presses in close. “Do you want me to call Max? I can get him to heal this.”

He sounds frantic and the panic in his eyes is unlike anything Alex has seen before.

“Easy, it’s just a graze,” Kyle insists. “We’ll get him to the hospital and patch it up like normal people. Guerin, Manes, you want to try that out? Or…I don’t know, keep pretending you assholes don’t know how much the other cares about you.” He looks bitter, but shakes his head. “Unbelievable.”

“He said he wants to be my friend,” Michael heatedly replies.

It’s at the same time Alex says, “He’s going to leave the planet.” 

“And I thought using my high school ex for casual sex was enough to send me to therapy,” Kyle mutters. “Alex, we’re going to the hospital and I am going to get you patched up, but only if you talk to Guerin.”

“Pretty sure you can’t withhold medical treatment,” Alex snipes at him, even as Michael helps lift him into his arms to help him limp along, pressing the jacket to the wound.

“Oh? I can’t? Try me,” Kyle dares. 

It’s enough to frustrate the both of them, but with a look between them, it’s clear that Michael’s only care is making sure Alex gets the help he needs and Alex only cares that Michael stays around to help. 

“Deal, now, can we make sure I’m not about to die?”

“Don’t worry, darlin’,” Michael murmurs. “I’d bring down Roswell if that ever happened.”

It’s not a comforting thing to hear, mostly because of how good it makes Alex feel when he thinks Michael taking this whole place apart, just for him. He’s always known Michael Guerin’s a romantic at heart, this just proves it.

Chapter Text

“You need to stop drinking.”

Michael scowls as he reaches over to try and take back his glass of whiskey, using it to salute Liz. “Nice to see you too, Ortecho. Can you save the judgment for after I’ve had a few?”

“No,” she says sharply and reaches over to grab the glass back. There’s a wild look in her eyes, but Michael writes it off as the usual panic that comes when something weird is happening. “Stop drinking and come with me.”

She’s being just weird enough that Michael’s intrigued by whatever the hell is happening and tells Maria to watch his drink before he follows Liz outside to the alleyway, wondering what she could possibly have to tell him that needs this kind of privacy. He gestures around them, trying to coax her on. 

”Well?” Michael demands. “What is it?”

“You’re pregnant.”

Michael rolls his eyes, because it figures that this would be the bullshit she tries to pull with him. “I get it, I drink too much, Isobel put you up to it.”

“No, Michael,” Liz reiterates, her voice sounding panicked and tight. “One of the blood samples you gave me looked weird, so I had Kyle look at it and you’re pregnant,” she hisses. “And we have no idea what your internal system looks like because you all refuse to get tested, which means you could have the necessary organs or you might have some kind of pouch, like some weird alien seahorse.”

This night is getting so much worse than Michael ever thought it could be.

“Did you just call me a fucking seahorse?”

“You’re pregnant, I could call you a lot worse,” she insists. “You’re about three months along, so, who were you getting busy with three months ago? It could be a woman too,” Liz points out. “If you are like a seahorse…”

“Again with the fucking seahorse…”

“Then it could have been an egg that did this.”

“No need to comb Roswell like this is the weirdest Bachelor ever,” Michael assures, grimacing. Three months places this right after the reunion and there’s only one person he’d been sleeping with on the regular three months ago. 

It just so happens to be the same person who wants to be friends and just found out all his secrets and needed time. If he’d needed time when he saw an alien spaceship, then what the hell is Alex going to do when he finds out he helped father an alien baby.

“Did you tell him?”

“Great,” Michael mutters, when Kyle arrives on the scene, as if LIz has summoned him with some unknown weird human annoyance power. “You had to have him test my blood, didn’t you?”

“You need to start coming in for checkups,” Kyle says, and Michael feels a twist in his stomach for how excited he sounds about this revolutionary thing that’s happening. “I’ll prescribe you a bunch of vitamins and Liz already told you about the drinking…?”

“Yup,” she agrees proudly. “I’m gonna be Tia Liz, that baby is getting protected from the get go and if you drink enough to make it come out three-eyed…”

“Hey!” he shouts, loud enough that some of the other drunks in the Pony parking lot look their way, which means that Michael’s gonna need them to find privacy real fast, before someone can start a rumor about this weird situation. “I’ll come in, but no official paperwork,” he warns both of them. 

“You’re keeping it?”

“Who the hell knows how to do an abortion on an alien,” Michael says, with a grim scoff. “Besides…” It’s Alex’s kid, it’s his kid, and who knows if he’ll ever be able to have a kid normally? Who knows if he’ll ever want to? “Look, as far as I know, there’s three of us left. Let’s just leave it at repopulating the human-alien hybrid race.”

Because obviously, he’s not about to sleep with Max or Isobel to create a pure alien lineage. That’d just be weird.

It brings him to his next very important rule. Neither of them have asked about the father, but they both look shifty and god knows both of them have given him and Alex shit about their on-off thing for months, so he doesn’t think he’s leaping very far to assume they know who knocked him up. 

“No one tells Alex,” Michael warns both of them. It’s bad enough they all know and are so excited about it, but he doesn’t need them going to Alex when they’re broken up. “I’ll tell Max and Isobel, but…he can’t know. That’s the last thing he needs on his plate right now.”

After all, when you’re starting over and trying to figure out what you are to each other, “father to my alien baby” isn’t exactly the way to go. So he’ll just be a single father and raise a baby in an airstream and oh god, this is going to go so badly, isn’t it? 

From the excited look on both Kyle and Liz’s faces, he’s the only one who thinks so.

*

He should have known that things were going to explode when Isobel and Liz decided to throw him a baby shower. Isobel looks like she’s not sure about it and Michael doesn’t blame her. He really hadn’t expected to get himself knocked up, so carrying around a human-alien hybrid in his stomach isn’t great. Though, he keeps reminding Isobel that he’s the guinea pig.

“If the kid’s a freak, it’s not like I care,” he points out. “It’ll just run in the family. Then, you’ll know, one way or the other.”

Liz, on the other hand, has been bubbling with excitement since she gave him the news. She sends him articles on pregnancy health, tips on exercising while pregnant, and she’s even managed to get Max to help out, offering healing hands, massaging his aching back, and a whole slew of things that Michael can’t believe his brother is doing.

He really should have said no to the baby shower, though. 

It’s five months into the pregnancy and Michael has had to start wearing baggy sweaters to prevent people from getting wary. It’s been two months since anyone saw Alex, who’d left to make sure that Jesse Manes was going to stay out of the picture longer than this assignment, and the chaos of the baby shower has made everyone forget one very pertinent detail.

Alex’s flight gets back in.

Michael hasn’t kept track because their last email had been awkward and terse, with Michael not knowing how to talk to the father of his kid. Alex hadn’t done his part either. None of the others had planned to pick him up from the airport, so when all the guests are at the Airstream for the shower and Michael is in the middle of one of his panic attacks, it just seems so right.

Everything had been fine, right up until someone had given him a crib. That’s when things had gone off the cliff.

“Where the hell am I going to put the thing? It’s an Airstream, it’s barely enough to fit me, how the hell am I going to raise a kid in here? How am I gonna raise a kid?” Michael’s freaking out, and things are beginning to float until Isobel reaches over to squeeze his wrist, a reminder to behave. “I’m no shape to be a father, I don’t even know if I’m a fucking seahorse, or how this thing is inside me and I’m definitely gonna fuck up this fatherhood thing.”

That’s when things slide from bad to worse.

“What fatherhood thing?” That’s Alex, stepping out of his jeep on the driveway. He’s looking around for an explanation, but no one other than Michael is wiling to make eye contact with him. 

The silence around them could kill. Strangely, completely against all common sense, it’s Valenti who steps in between Michael and Alex, like he’s a bouncer and not a doctor. “Easy, Alex,” he warns. “Michael’s already freaking out, it’s bad for the …”

Everyone exchanges awkward looks and Michael knows this secret isn’t going to last much longer. Facepalming, he decides it’s time to face the awful music, which is fine. He’s already having a panic attack, he might as well just tell Alex and have every terrible thing happen at the same time. 

“Inside,” Michael says, pointing a finger at the rest of the guests. “Leave your presents at the doorstep, and get gone.”

He feels like he can’t breathe when he’s inside. Everything has hit him so fast, but now that it has, he can’t escape it. He’s a single father who’s about to raise his kid in a trailer, he’s that guy, and now he’s standing with the kid’s father and trying to figure out how to tell him about it. 

In the end, he decides on a Michael Guerin special, raising up his sweater to reveal the very telling baby bump, patting it twice. “I guess we should have thought a little harder about condoms,” is what he says, because every though their tests were clean, Michael really didn’t think he’d had to worry about freak alien babies. “Congrats, you knocked me up.”

Alex’s eyes have widened to an almost comical degree, staring at Michael’s stomach.

“You…”

“Don’t worry,” Michael cuts him off, not wanting to give Alex the impression that he did this on purpose or that he somehow wants support. “I’m gonna figure out how to do this on my own. Fuck knows how, but I got Max being weirdly supportive and Liz is all crazy about being an aunt and once Iz gets over her issues, I’m sure she’ll fall in line. God knows Valenti is shocking me with…”

He’d keep rambling, but he doesn’t get a chance. 

Alex steps into his space and kisses him so hard that he gets pressed against the kitchen cabinets of the Airstream as Alex cups his cheeks and holds him there. It’s a possessive kiss, one that’s claiming Michael more than it’s doing anything else, and when Alex backs off, his palm is rubbing circles on Michael’s stomach. 

The baby’s gone quiet with shock. Michael knows the feeling.

“You’re not raising it alone,” is what Alex has to say, and though he looks unsure, those words are firm. “We’ll figure it out.”

*

For all that Alex had said they would figure it out together, Michael still finds Alex at the Pony two nights later, drinking heavily. He’s not surprised. Honestly, he’s jealous, because if it weren’t for the little parasite inside of him, he’d be drinking Maria’s worst liquors, too. As it stands, he grimaces as he orders a water.

“Seriously?” Maria asks dubiously.

“I know, I don’t even recognize myself,” Michael promises, but it’s not like he can explain the why.

She brings him a tall glass of water and leaves him and Alex alone. For a long while, there’s nothing but silence, because Michael doesn’t want to push. Also, how the hell do you even start a conversation like this? Michael feels like he’s pushed Alex into a corner and hasn’t given him many options at all.

Alex is a good man, of course he’s not going to leave Michael out to hang, especially not when he’s the father.

“Hey,” Michael says, deciding to start with the basics.

Alex doesn’t answer. He’s staring forward, looking paralyzed, which Michael gets. He’s been having panic attacks pretty much on a daily basis about the fact that he’s not ready for this. Alex coming back and telling him that they’re doing this together did seem a little too good to be true, so maybe he’s happy for the panic.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Alex says, voice tinny.

“Yeah? Neither do I,” Michael admits with a laugh. “Alex,” he says, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “Hey, look at me. I told you because I wanted you to know. I meant what I said in the trailer, there’s zero expectation here for you to step up and be a dad for this kid. You’ll still be involved, but I got a good support system,” he promises and he does.

Every time he panics, they’re there for him. He’s not sure how he’s earned that, but he’s planning to take advantage of it.

“And I meant what I said. I’m not leaving you to do this on your own,” Alex replies, all that doubt gone from his voice. “Just, fuck, Michael, you have to give me a second to process this. You’ve had months, I just found out.”

Michael has had months and Alex is right. This isn’t the kind of thing that you just suddenly process. He can feel the baby pressing feet against his abdomen and he knows this is the wrong time to offer to let Alex feel, but he can also feel the kid’s insistence that he comfort Daddy, which, okay, yeah, alien powers are a check.

Michael wraps his arm around Alex’s shoulders and slides his stool in a little closer.

“What can I do to make this easier?”

“Go back in time and tell me about the great invention that is condoms?” Alex weakly jokes. He lets out a shaky laugh, giving Michael an apologetic look. “It’s not your fault. You had no idea this could happen, neither did I. I guess we just figure it out.”

“Not alone,” Michael guarantees. “A very wise person told me that.”

Alex keeps drinking and Michael lets him. Honestly, if their positions were reversed, he thinks he’d need to drink for a whole week before he could make heads or tails of any of this.

That night, he carries Alex back to the trailer and sets him out in the bed. Turning to get him a blanket, he’s stopped by Alex’s hand on his wrist, tugging him back. “No,” he complains, definitely extremely drunk. “No,” he whines. “Come back to bed.”

“You,” Michael says, yanking the fleece blanket from the cupboards and wrapping it around his shoulders as he bears down to kneel on the bed, “are so drunk.”

Alex grins dopily up at him. “Yup.”

“Which means I shouldn’t stay with you.”

“No,” he complains, reaching out with his other hand to pull him in even harder. “I wanna feel you. I wanna have you beside you, I wanna…” His eyes go wide, like something’s just hit him. “Does the baby kick?”

Michael unwraps the blanket and drapes it over Alex, making room for himself beside him. “Not exactly,” he says, lying beside Alex, trying to figure out the best way to describe it. “It’s more like pressure. The kid just sort of shifts and presses and it’s like a hard ridge. I don’t feel hands or feet.”

It leads to theories about the fact that he has some kind of protective uterus-pod, but until they cut him open, they’re not going to know.

Alex shifts so he can rub his cheek against Michael’s chest, both hands sliding off his wrists to press against the baby bump.

“That’s my kid.”

“Yeah, Alex,” Michael agrees with a fond laugh, forgetting how adorable Alex can get when he’s beyond liquored up. “That’s your kid making me pee five times an hour.” He knows that Alex will probably be back at the Pony tomorrow, maybe even a few more nights, but that’s fine.

It's better than him running away, and Michael will take a little doubt any day.

After all, he’ll be the first in line to say that he has no idea how the hell they’re going to do this.

At least they’re in it together.

*

Four months later, Hope Guerin is born via a truly embarrassing c-section in a hospital wing during the early hours of the morning. She has Michael’s hair, but those eyes are all Alex Manes. Michael is still freaking out about how this is all going to work, but as Kyle works to sew him back up, Alex has a look on his face like he’s ready to take control of the situation.

“Hey,” Michael mumbles, feeling drowsy and tense for having been on an operating table. “She got ten fingers and ten toes?”

“Yeah, but she’s this weird green color…”

Michael narrows his eyes at Alex, who’s hiding his smirk in his palm. 

“Get that baby in my arms and get my fiancé out of here,” Michael announces to the OR at large, and he knows he’s managed to get Kyle Valenti in his pocket when the man actually listens to him and tells Alex that he’d better behave or he heard the man. 

Cradling little Hope to his chest, Michael tilts his head to the side as he smiles warmly at her. “Hey, little seahorse,” he greets. “I’m probably gonna end up fucking up so may times,” he admits, and he’s already started given Max’s displeased look at the profanity. “Guess what, though. You got a whole family ready to make sure that I don’t fail. Welcome to the world, Hope. There’s a whole bunch that makes it worth living.”

He’d only just realized some of it, but he plans on teaching Hope about all of that from the get-go.

With Alex at his side, brushing his fingers over tawny golden hair, Michael stares at the weird little pod that she’d been encased in, but decides that science can wait for tomorrow. Right now? He’s got something even better to focus on.

*

“Mommy!”

Alex rolls over in bed and stares with a glare in Michael’s direction. Nobody moves, and then Hope’s voice cuts through the silence again. “Mommy!” is louder, and there’s a thump against the wall that says that someone’s alien powers are being used in a tantrum.

“That’s you, remember?” Alex shoves Michael.

It had been a whole thing when Hope had asked who her mother was and Michael, not really ever caring about what anyone thought of him, pointed to himself. Ever since, Alex has been Dad and Michael’s been Mom and it’s weird, but when Hope is screaming for Mommy, it means that he hasn’t really got a chance to pretend that Hope could mean she wants Alex.

He really backed himself into a corner on this one.

Michael trudges down the hall, rubbing at his eyes and coming to a stop at Hope’s room, collapsing onto her bed and lying down beside her. “What’s up, seahorse?”

“I can’t sleep,” she sulks. “I keep waking up because I didn’t get a good story before I fell asleep.” Maybe because she’d passed out in front of the television, but arguing with his toddler is a sign of insanity, not sense. “Mommy, tell me a story,” Hope says, snuggling into Michael’s side. “Tell me how you and Daddy fell in love.”

“Well,” Michael says, patting his chest so Hope can rest her cheek on it. “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away…”

“Michael,” Alex’s sleepy voice interrupts. “The short story.”

“Fine,” Michael sighs and strokes his fingers through Hope’s hair as Alex settles in on the other side of them. “When your Mom and your Dad were younger, they went to school together and Daddy played a guitar, just like a handsome prince. You know how he has the best lullaby voice?”

“Yeah,” Hope agrees, flashing a secretive grin up at Alex.

“Well, Daddy used to sing like that in our class and it made everything in my head go quiet, which meant that with all the quiet, it was full of thoughts of him, instead.” Michael peers up from where he’s telling the story, peppering kisses to Hope’s forehead. “I fell in love with him.”

“Did you get a true love’s kiss?”

“I did,” Michael whispers. “Under the stars, with lots of little aliens watching. We had to fight a big dragon with scary eyes and then Daddy had to go off and fight a big battle, but then he came home to us. He came home to me and to you,” he murmurs, watching as Hope’s eyes start to close, her breaths puffing as she sags into the bed, mouth open as she drifts off, sleep-warm and precious against Michael’s side.

Michael gives Alex a shrug, because, “I don’t think I’m moving.”

Alex settles in on the other side, reaching down to start unhooking his prosthetic, staring at the both of them in a way that makes Michael’s heart soar. “Then I guess neither am I.”

If they stay right here forever, well, Michael’s not sure he sees the downside of that, so he lets himself fall asleep surrounded by the people he loves most in the whole wide world.

*

Six Years Later

“Mr. Guerin, we need you to come down to the school. There’s been an incident.”

That’s the voicemail on Alex’s phone. He has to excuse himself from the lecture that he’s teaching at the community college to go to Roswell Elementary, dreading whatever trouble that Hope’s managed to find herself in. She’s typically such a good child, but every once in a while, her genius intellect gets her in trouble for asking the wrong questions or trying to learn something new ahead of the class.

His precious six-year-old seahorse genius.

“Michael,” Alex says when he gets Michael’s voicemail again. “When you get this, meet me at the school,” he says, parking his car. He disconnects his phone from the Bluetooth so he can hurry inside, hoping that whatever happened isn’t serious.

(And he’s really hoping that Hope isn’t using her alien powers in public, because he’s not ready for the mindwipes that Isobel will have to perform if that’s the case)

“The principal left a message and she said there’s been an…”

Alex trails off.

He hangs up his phone, now understanding completely why it is that Michael’s not picking up. The principal stands, giving a relieved sigh when she sees him. “Mr. Guerin, thank you for coming,” she says, and beckons him into the office. On the bench outside it sits his darling husband and his precious daughter, both hanging their heads like the guilty parties that they are.

“Really?” he hisses at Michael. He turns to give Hope a more reassuring smile, bending in front of her without squatting so his knees won’t ache. “Hey sweetheart, do you want to tell me what happened before we go in there?”

Hope glances up at Michael, pushing back her dark curls from her face. “Should I?”

“He’s gonna find out, Daddy’s good at that,” Michael says wryly.

Hope still looks uncertain and a touch wary. It’s like they have their own little Fight Club, and given that Michael has a cut on his lip, Alex is starting to worry that maybe he’s not that far off from the truth. “It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me, baby,” Alex assures, tucking a stray curly hair behind her ear.

He’ll find out anyway. That’s why they’re here, aren’t they?

“Daddy got in a big fight with Annie’s Mom.”

Alex gives Michael a confused look, but Michael shrugs, wearing his ‘it’s not my fault’ expression (which historically means that he’s at fault somehow). The one relief here is that he’s pretty sure that Hope isn’t the one in the fight, which means there’s a chance for his daughter yet. “What kind of fight?”

“Mr. Guerin,” the principal beckons. “Inside, please. And bring your husband.”

Alex nods, leaning down to press a kiss to Hope’s head. “Be good and stay here, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy,” she agrees, kicking her legs out.

Michael looks resigned and Alex gives him a nudge into the room, trying not to get angry with him in front of the principal, but he’s fairly sure that the sharp look he’s giving him is plenty explanatory as to how upset Alex is about this situation. He settles in one of the parents’ chairs beside Michael, but as the seconds go by, he’s beginning to get a sneaking suspicion that something’s off, here.

“What did my husband do?” Alex asks calmly, noticing that there isn’t anyone else in the room. He has a bad feeling that he’s not going to like the explanation, and not because he thinks Michael did something wrong.

“Michael was picking up Hope today when he got in an altercation with another mother.”

Michael’s sitting perfectly calm as she speaks, hands in his lap. Alex recognizes it for what it is – he’s trying to keep his anger subdued and that means he can’t say anything because he risks a complete blow-up if he does.

“Did Michael instigate it?”

The principal pauses. “No, but unfortunately the complaint came from Mrs. Sloane.”

Victoria Sloane, who went to school with them. She’s young enough, and her precious little Annie is one of Hope’s best friends, which is why they tolerate her, even though Victoria had been one of the girls who’d been so quick back in the day to join in on teasing Alex for being gay, and Michael for being homeless.

Alex refrains from spitting out profanities, but he already knows Hope is getting a gold star tonight and Michael is getting something else.

“And what did Victoria have to complain about?”

“Hope calls Michael ‘Mommy’.”

“And?” Michael finally pipes up, snapping, like his patience has finally had enough. “What, is my kid not allowed to call me what she wants?”

The principal hesitates, but that’s enough for Alex.

“Why is it wrong that our daughter calls Michael that?” he asks, his voice icy. Instantly, he knows that no one in the Guerin household is in trouble. The only person that Alex is truly upset with right now is pretty little popular Vicky. “It’s our personal business and people have nicknames all the time. Hope has decided that she wants to call Michael ‘Mommy’ and that I’m Daddy.” Alex tips his head to the side. “Isn’t that even closer to the heteronormative bullshit you people like to sling at us?”

“Alex,” Michael murmurs, not a warning to stop, but a reminder.

“Sorry,” Alex says, insincerely, “I’ll deal with this with Victoria,” he guarantees. “Are we in trouble?”

“Ms. Sloane was the one who smacked Mr. Guerin in the face with her handbag, but…”

Alex lets out a derisive laugh. “We’re sitting in your office because my daughter loves her mother, and my husband got assaulted.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “Let’s go, Michael.”

“Mr. Guerin, I…”

Alex is already on his feet. “We’re not suing,” he says, because he knows this is probably the real concern. “We just want to put this behind us.” It’s a complete lie, but he wants to get out of there before he gets a split lip from defending his family from this bullshit. The principal nods, meekly, and lets them go.

He makes a mental note to start looking into other schools so they don’t have to deal with this anymore.

Outside, Alex holds Michael by the arm and tenderly slides his thumb over Michael’s split lip. “What happened?” he asks quietly, looking at Hope as she bounces off towards Michael’s truck. They can’t dawdle long, but he wants to take a moment to make sure Michael’s genuinely fine.

“Picky Vicky being a bitch,” Michael says with a shrug. “She heard Hope calling me Mommy, got all persnickety about it, made a few disparaging comments to her clique. I asked her what the fuck her problem was and she whirled on me, caught me in the lip with the bag. I was mid-rant and bleeding down my chin when they pulled us apart and called you.”

“But you’re fine?”

“My dashing husband came to our rescue and defended us,” Michael says, flipping his keys around his finger. “I’m more than fine. Hope’s fine, she doesn’t even know anything’s really wrong,” he promises. “We’re all fine.”

Alex will be too, as soon as he does some research.

The next morning, Alex insists on dropping off Hope at school, kissing Michael’s shoulder and insisting he stay in bed.

“Are you sure?” Michael asks warily. “Isn’t this letting her win?”

Alex shakes his head very calmly. “Stay in bed, dear.” It’s the tone that brooks no argument, because he already knows what’s going to happen. Michael gives him a sleepy smile as he waves him off, definitely aware of what’s going to happen. Alex takes the truck and parks to send Hope off at the drop-off, joining the crowd of parents seeing their kids off for another day of school.

“Hi Annie!” Hope says breathlessly. “Bye Daddy!”

“Bye sweetheart,” Alex says, waving as she runs off.

He’s so relieved to see his baby girl so happy and ready to run off and enjoy herself, as if nothing from yesterday has made her think twice about her friendship with Annie. It’s sweet and hopeful and trusting, and Alex wants to fight to make sure she never loses that love of the world and that belief in people.

“Victoria,” Alex says calmly, once Annie and Hope have sprinted off. Alex watches as his daughter’s honey curls fall out of the braid he’d put them in, but he smiles for the way she squeals with delight as they hit her cheeks when she runs.

They’re out of earshot.

It’s perfect.

“Alex,” Victoria responds, but she doesn’t sound half as confident as she should. She crosses her arms over her chest, her crappy fake purse on display (Gucci, his ass, it’s one of the worst knockoffs he’s seen). “How are…”

“Let’s not,” he cuts her off. “Michael will be back to drop Hope off as of tomorrow,” he says. “And if I find out that you complained about my daughter calling Michael ‘Mommy’, then I might suddenly have a thing or two to say at your book club, and the PTA meetings. Do you think they’d be interested in hearing about your exploits in Cozumel?” He’d done his digging online, finding the illicit pictures that she’d clearly wanted to stay hidden. “Or maybe your husband would be interested to know about Andrew.”

Victoria blanches, opening her mouth. “That’s…that’s my personal business.”

Alex smiles calmly, smelling the blood in the water and ready for the pounce. “You’re right. It is,” he agrees. “Just like it’s our family’s personal business what our daughter likes to call Michael. You don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, and I won’t have to either. Do we understand each other?”

Victoria says nothing, but she nods mutely.

“Good. I’m glad we came to an agreement.” He twirls the keys around his finger, holding them in his palm. “I’m sure we’ll see one another around,” he adds, so much forced cheer in his voice that he knows how threatening it sounds. From the way she gapes at him, she knows it too.

Alex returns home with a smug sense of victory and donuts.

Michael’s interested in the first, even though it’s not long before he pounces on the donuts. “Did she cry?” Michael asks.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Alex replies, playing the innocent bystander who has no idea what Michael could be talking about.

Michael smirks as he licks sugar off one of the powdered donuts from his fingers, not taking his eyes off Alex as he finishes it in three disgusting bites, before leaning in to give Alex a powdery kiss. “That’s the vengeful sassy bitch I fell in love with,” he whispers, and leaves a powdered lip-mark on Alex’s cheek before he gets up to start his day.

Tomorrow, Michael will drop off Hope and Victoria won’t say a word. She won’t even dream of it, and that’s just how Alex likes it. He has to protect his family, after all, even if it’s as small a thing as Hope wanting to call Michael Mommy, because that’s what she wants.

It’s theirs, and he’ll fight to preserve every moment of it, no matter the cost.

*

Seven Years Later

At three AM, he can’t sleep.

Michael’s not sure why he thought that it’d be any different from his two in the morning wakeup, or his 1AM discomfort, but here he is, three in the morning, while Hope sleeps down the hall and Alex is passed out. Grimacing, Michael shifts and gets a hand on his back to try and rub away the ache, sneaking down to the kitchen and hoping no one hears him.

The cravings this time around aren’t any better, even if Liz had warned him they wouldn’t. It’s been seven years since Hope came out of him, but it’s like he forgot the whole damn thing.

He’s so sleepy that he doesn’t notice he’s been tracked until the fridge door closes and there Alex stands, bleary-eyed, on his crutch, and with a fond expression on his face.

“Michael,” he says softly. 

“Cravings, but looking for the right vehicle,” he says, lifting up the acetone as he ducks into the freezer to find the secret ice cream that Alex hides beneath the vegetables, prying it out with a hopeful look.

Alex shakes his head and hops a little to grab two spoons and a bowl, pressing a hand to Michael’s five-month belly, brushing there as he nods for Michael to join him on the couch.

Body pillow on one side, Alex on the other, Michael happily accepts the bowl and puts in a bunch of scoops along with a healthy splash of acetone and chocolate sauce as he dives in, curling up with Alex’s warmth, letting Alex eat straight from the container. Alex hums happily and wraps his free arm around Michael. 

“Hope still asleep?”

“Sound,” Alex agrees. “I don’t know who she gets it from, but the girl sleeps like a log.”

“If this next one is giving me signs, he’s not gonna sleep like his parents.”

There’s a long moment of silence, somewhat awkward, and Michael freezes, not sure what he said.

Until, Alex breathes out, “He,” and Michael remembers.

He hadn’t told Alex that yet. 

“Oh, yeah,” Michael says, as if this isn’t huge news. “I got the first psychic pings the other day,” he says, peering back up at Alex, curls falling back over his neck. “He,” he agrees. “Your baby boy, Alex, your son.”

“Okay,” Alex breathes out, clearly in awe. “Wow, that’s…” Then, something flickers over his face, like fear, but Michael knows it by name, by heart. 

“You’re not your father. You never will be,” he promises. “Hope is proof, because she loves her Daddy and Mommy more than anything in the world. This little guy will too, and you’re going to be the best father in the world to him, because you do care.” Michael leans up to press a kiss to the corner of his lips. “And I was thinking, if you don’t mind, we could name him Tripp.”

That stuttered hitch of breath for the second time is even better than the first.

“Yeah,” Alex agrees, voice choked up with emotion. “Yeah, I think that’d be good.” He leans down to press a kiss to Michael’s stomach, even if it’s still barely swollen beneath the t-shirt he’s wearing. “Hear that, Tripp? We’re gonna do absolutely anything for you, anything in the world, because we love you that much.”

Michael feels the burst of warmth and love, though he can’t be sure if it’s coming from the baby, Alex, or himself. Awash with it, he decides it doesn’t matter, so long as it doesn’t stop.

*

Twelve Years Later

“Mom, can you make Dad stop, please?”

Michael barely glances up from the book he’s making notes in. He only has a few hours before he has to go teach night class and Hope’s pre-teen grumblings usually take only about five minutes to get through. Normally it’s a rant about an injustice at school or a friend who’s being immature. Today, Alex is the topic.

“Stop what, seahorse?”

“You need to stop calling me that too,” she complains. “Ugh!” Pushing her glossy brown curls off her face, she blows a frustrated puff of air up to push the bangs out too, staring at him with all the ire a twelve-year-old can manage. “Dad needs to stop dropping me off at school.”

Flipping the page, Michael hums a, “Why?”

She mumbles something under her breath, and then sighs and says again, “All my friends think he’s hot!”

Michael peers up at her, confused. “…he is hot, sweetie.”

Hope’s frustrated little scream is short and stifled, and she storms off, muttering about how other kids don’t have to deal with this, slamming her door. Alex pops his head out of the study where he’s been composing music, his hair artfully mussed, his five o’clock shadow drawing Michael’s eyes to his lips, and his nails coated with varnish.

He’s good enough to eat.

“What was that about?” Alex asks curiously.

“Our daughter’s friends have excellent taste in men,” Michael says serenely, much to Alex’s confusion. “Nothing, baby, go back to work.” 

And off he goes. 

On Monday morning, Alex is still dropping Hope off, but Michael has allowed his daughter some concessions. Now, Alex has to wear a bowling shirt and a bucket hat during drop off. The comments stop after that, though Michael knows it’s just because no one but him has such impeccable taste to still find Alex Manes so hot, even in his worst clothes.

Chapter Text

If anyone had asked Alex which of the two of them would cope more poorly with being friends, he would have put money on Michael and felt easy about walking away with all of it. Alex is the one who always needs space, who walks away at the first drop of the cowboy hat, so of course being friends and building things up naturally is going to be easy for him. When things between Michael and Maria fizzle because Michael had taken Alex's lead and tried to be friends, he thinks that it'll be a walk in the park. There's no jealousy to worry about, and even though Michael keeps looking at him like he's waiting for Alex to make a move, he'd meant what he'd said.

He doesn't want to rush into anything, he wants to start over, be friends. He wants to do things right because when he and Michael fall together again, Alex has plans for it to be permanent. So it should be easy, right? He's all for space and taking this slow. It should be a piece of cake.

God, he’s so fucking wrong.

He thinks it has to be like when you’re told you can’t have something. Suddenly, that turns into the only thing you could ever actually want. He wants to be friends with Michael, but when he starts doing that, he starts to see all the little things that he never paid that much attention to before. 

It’s in the way Michael smirks at him across a crowd when they’re with other people and someone says something that he knows Alex would laugh at. It’s how he absently fidgets with his fingers when he’s bored of the conversation and Alex knows his mind has wandered off to other problems. For the first time, Michael’s never-shifting gaze on him makes him prickle with something other than guilt and shame.

It’s interest and it’s bubbling in his stomach.

With every movie they go to see and their hands brush in their shared popcorn, with every investigation into alien conspiracies when they bicker about where they should research on the dark web, and with every time Michael sees him home to the cabin and walks him inside.

There’s something building that he recognizes from when he’d been seventeen and crazy about a boy. 

Now he’s twenty-nine and he’s building a foundation with a man. 

The day Alex completely loses himself to that tidal wave of feeling, they’re at one of Michael’s old orphanages to see if they can find any clues about visitors that might have had too much interest in him. The lead is a bust, but before they leave, he loses Michael somewhere in the building.

“Did you see where my friend went?” Alex asks the woman at the front desk, trying to ignore how ‘friend’ seems like the wrong word. 

She leans back and gives Alex an amused smile. “I think he found himself in a puppy pile.”

“A puppy what?”

Before Alex can get clarification, he hears the happy yelps and shrieks coming from the main room. He ducks out just in time to see a few of the younger kids from the home weaving around Michael, who’s taking it all with easy charm, laughing as he coaxes them back towards him, and eventually it ends with him crashing onto the floor, three of the kids pushing him and tackling him.

“Get the monster!” the littlest one cries and jumps a little, though Michael catches him before he can stomp on anything too precious. 

He’s so good with them, like he’s remembering those times in his life when he was here and the joy had been few and far between. They end up whispering and giggling for a while until Michael glances up from where he’s walking with three young kids attached to his legs, catching Alex’s gaze in surprise.

“No luck,” Alex says, leaning against the doorway and staring at Michael like he’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen in his life.

It’s not a hard task when he really is the most beautiful thing.

“Sorry, kiddos,” Michael says, patting their heads and prying them off his legs. “Hey, listen, I’ll come visit, okay?” On anyone else, Alex might see a false promise, but he knows that Michael will be here on the weekly until the kids find a home, because that’s just the kind of man he is and after the life he’s had, he knows better than to give an empty promise.

“Do you hafta go, Mr. Guerin?” the littlest one asks, pouting. 

“I know it’s rough, Elias, but my friend over there, he needs me,” he says, glancing up and catching Alex’s eye. They hold that gaze for a long moment and Alex feels his breath catch in his throat as he’s threatened with an overwhelming burst of affection. 

He’s absolutely, ridiculously, completely in love with that man. 

“I’ll make sure to bring him back,” he guarantees, resting a hand on Michael’s back as they leave, because it’s the only point of contact he trusts himself with right now. 

The drive back is silent, but content. Michael stares out the windshield, but he’s smiling, like he’s still basking in the warmth of how those kids had reacted to him playing with them. Alex is content to watch him, because he’s never more beautiful than he is when he’s at peace. 

Later, when Michael drops him off at the cabin, Alex stays inside the truck while it idles. He’s staring forward at the sunset painting the cabin brilliant reds and oranges, avoiding looking at Michael, because he knows he’ll look just as good.

“Hey,” Michael says, like he’s trying to snap him out of his daze. He reaches over, hand resting over his shoulder and squeezing lightly. “Wake up, man, we’re here.”

“I know,” Alex says, knowing he has to be careful about this.

He’s the one who wanted to be friends and start over, now he’s about to tell Michael something completely different. Maybe it doesn’t have to be them diving in completely, not just yet. 

He takes a deep breath. “Come inside, for a cup of coffee,” isn’t a plunge so much as dipping his toes in the water. 

Michael doesn’t need much convincing. He turns off the engine and follows Alex inside. Unfortunately, the night goes off the rails when Michael turns to ask him for some sugar for his coffee and instead of handing him the sugar jar, Alex grabs his cheeks and rocks him back against the fridge, kissing the hell out of him. 

“I’d say I’m sweet enough, but I really do want that sugar,” Michael murmurs, but he leans in for a softer kiss, tender and when he eases back, his face is awash with content and disbelief. “What about starting over?”

“This feels a lot like it, to me,” Alex points out. “I can’t be your friend without wanting to kiss you. I’m pretty sure that’s an impossible thing.” He breathes in slowly, stroking his fingers down Michael’s back. “How about for a while, though, we do the friends and the kissing and the dating thing?”

“Taking it slow?”

“If you’re good with that,” Alex agrees.

“Kiss me again and I'll see if I can make that work,” Michael says, and pulls him closer so Alex can do just that, and if starting over feels like this, then he could do this a dozen times over and never get tired of it.

Chapter Text

It’s all Liz’s fault. 

Back that up. Alex stares blearily at the group, because sure, it’s Liz’s birthday, but getting drunk at the closed Crashdown had been the start of a night of bad ideas, leading to them somehow playing a drunken Never Have I Ever like they’re still in high school. Liz had been the one to suggest it, or should he say that Tequila had been the one to suggest it, but it had definitely used Liz’s mouth for it.

The night’s been getting progressively more sloppy. They’d lost Max and Liz to the storeroom earlier when they’d insisted on getting snacks, with Max returning wearing a fetching shade of red lipstick. Alex is learning so much about Kyle (a, the fact that he’s manscaped, and b, more important, that he’s kissed a guy is so fucking interesting he’s getting back to that later). Isobel has tried twice to venture into Michael’s mind when she hadn’t believed him when he didn’t drink to someone’s question, and Michael’s moved to sit beneath Alex (who’s on the counter), absently rubbing his calf, which means they’re on a countdown before it’s their turn in the supply closet.

“Okay, okay, okay!” calls Liz, until she’s shouting the last piece. Everyone shuts up, even though the giggling fit between Maria, Kyle, and Isobel is so scary, because what the hell could those three be laughing about.

Liz takes the tequila bottle and sways a little, the neck of the bottle pointed at Maria. 

“Someone,” she announces, “hasn’t had anything to drink in a while.” 

Maria’s smug smile is sweet as anything. “Is it my fault the last few rounds have all been about you guys being delinquents getting arrested?” 

“Yes,” Liz agrees, and elbows Max until he gives an ‘oof’. “Ask!”

“Why can’t you….?”

“Because I can’t!” Liz says, waving to her own ears, which Alex doesn’t get until Max takes in a long sigh and leans in for Liz to whisper it to him. He wobbles as he leans back (he must have been spiking with acetone, because Alex knows Max wouldn’t get that fucked up on liquor alone). 

“Never have I ever had piercings for longer than ten years?” Max asks, glancing to Liz like he’s checking if he did it right, which clearly he has, because Liz lets out a triumphant ‘ha!’ 

Maria laughs as she drinks, then Liz and Isobel drink (with Isobel clearly annoyed about it, because it’s pretty low pickings).

Alex drinks, too.

“Hey, he said ten years,” Kyle is the one who notices, zeroing in on Alex. “You definitely don’t have the ear piercing anymore, and we all would’ve noticed the nose one. Plus, you only had that phase in high school for like, two years…”

Michael is being suspiciously quiet right now, an amused smirk on his face. 

“She said piercings for longer than ten years. I have one.”

“Where?” Maria demands, clearly part of the interrogation squad now. “You made us go with you to Claire’s and get your nose done, there’s no way you’d do this without us!” She’s pouting, even, like she’s genuinely hurt that he’d do this without his people. 

“Besides, you took them all out when you enlisted,” Kyle argues.

“I didn’t take out all of them. Some of them were covered up by the uniform.” 

There’s a silence in the room and then all hell breaks loose.

“Nipple? It’s gotta be the nipple,” says Isobel, and she and Maria share a conspiratorial nod, while Liz attacks from the front. 

“Oh, come on, you can’t say that and not show us!” Liz protests, reaching forward for his shirt collar, like she’s convinced she’s going to get him shirtless and the piercing’s going to be right there.

It definitely won’t be, which is why he’s glad Michael suddenly stands (definitely having had too much to drink, because he plants himself in front of Alex to defend him, but he’s not exactly standing straight given the amount of booze he’s had).

“No one is seeing the piercing,” he shouts. “Topic over!”

“Topic over?” Isobel echoes mockingly. “Let us see your boyfriend’s nip-ring,” she pleads.

“Isobel,” he hisses, and something must happen telepathically between them because Isobel collapses back into a peal of shocked laughter and Michael flushes a furious red. 

Alex suddenly has the feeling that Isobel knows, but it’s shut her up and Alex has the chance to get his shirt back on straight, while Michael sags back against Alex’s open legs. 

“All right, delinquents!” Maria shouts above the dying chaos (since Max and Liz are arguing about nipple ring impressions through t-shirts and Kyle is clearly starting to have his own ideas, given the slightly green look on his face), clearly attuned that it’s time to move on. “Never,” she insists, scanning the room and latching her gaze onto Max, “have I ever written someone a love poem longer than two pages…”

With the topic suitably shifted, Michael slides his palm up Alex’s thigh, the hint of a promise of later in the spider-crawl of his fingers gradually upwards. 

*

Later, when Michael rubs his thumb over the piercing on the shaft of his dick, just below the head, he mumbles possessive claims, promises that no one else is going to see this before he gets his lips on it again, reminding Alex why even though he’s grown up and taken out all the other piercings, this one is bound to stick around a long while.

“Hey,” Alex breathes out, smirking as he looks down at Michael. “Never have I ever sucked someone’s pierced dick.”

“I will swallow to that,” Michael guarantees, and wraps his mouth around Alex to stand true to his word.

Chapter Text

After Rosa dies and Michael takes the blame for it, he sees the way Isobel looks at him. Guilt and sympathy and a bundle of other emotions that he’s not sure he can deal with, and it never stops. “I can’t stay,” he tells Max one night, even though things are tense between them, on the cusp of Rosa’s funeral. “I can’t take the way she looks at me, Max.”

“Isobel needs us,” Max says sharply. 

“If I stay, I’m gonna end up telling her,” Michael admits, and as bad as it’ll be to abandon Isobel and Max in the middle of this, he knows if he stays and Isobel finds out, it’ll be so much worse. “She’s got you. You’re the ones with the connection and maybe for a little while, it’s better if I get out of here, before I break and tell her what happened. I’m not saying I’m going forever, but I can’t stay.”

Max doesn’t look like he has the energy or the argument to convince him otherwise. He’s giving up his dream to go travel, but then, he didn’t decide to cover up a murder and earn his sister’s crushing sympathy for it.

“It’s not the first time you two were on your own. You were fine last time, too,” Michael says, trying to ignore every stinging pain that says that they don’t need him. “I’ll go to UNM,” he shrugs. “That way, I can come back every once in a while to visit. It’s a good cover, but it gives me the space I need.”

“Michael…”

“This isn’t a reward,” he guarantees, lest Max think that somehow Michael is giving himself an out. Alex is gone, Isobel thinks he killed those girls, and Max will barely look at him. There’s nothing in him for Roswell and at least if he goes to school, he might actually be good at something.

Max still looks like he isn’t convinced.

“You better come back.”

“Four years, maximum,” he vows.

He keeps true to his promise, even if he doesn’t exactly follow the normal course most students do. Four years later, he hasn’t taken a semester off and he’s loaded up on extra classes, taking night ones in addition. For all that he could have a social life, he ignores it to throw himself into school because he discovers that equations, like music, can quiet his mind. It works, though. He doesn't see Isobel enough that he can buckle and tell her the truth about what happened that night and his relationship with Max even begins to repair, little by little, as they both grow up and are able to prioritize what's really important.

Three years after that, Michael Guerin returns to Roswell with a PhD in astrophysics and his engineers’ ring for mechanical engineering. For a while, he teaches at the high school and moonlights at the junkyard, but then he starts hearing whispers that the government’s secretly looking into aliens through an unauthorized project. 

That’s when Michael decides that “hold your enemies closer” is sound advice and puts in a job application when they start hiring science geeks. Lucky for him, his credentials are impeccable and it's really not a question of whether he should be hired, but how fast?

He’s been consulting with the Air Force for two years now, with only one solid rule. He avoids Jesse Manes at all costs, even though it’s been almost ten years since the incident in the tool shed.  

He’s not sure he could avoid being arrested if he’s within four feet of the man, because his fucked up hand speaks of a lot of history, but Alex Manes’ absence from Roswell tells the rest of that story. Michael knows that Alex hadn’t decided to leave all on his own, that Jesse was the little angel and devil on his shoulder for that conversation.

Alex has been in his head a lot, lately. With Isobel talking non-stop about the ten year reunion (and Michael is just so glad that she’ll speak to him, that she looks at him and he doesn’t see sympathy in her eyes anymore), Michael can’t stop thinking about Alex.

It’s practically fate, then, what happens when he shows up to Foster Ranch to work, a few days before the reunion.

They’ve been setting up for a few tests while they work to get zoning permission on the new facility and they want Michael testing the ground and the area around it. He's made sure that he's the one on this project after taking notice that the tests are being ordered by Master Sergeant Manes, looking for strange materials in the earth.

He’ll swap out the test results for some fake ones, keep the real specimens, but even now he feels smugly right that he’d made the right call taking this job. At least, he feels pretty good until he sees some of the new guys in Roswell hovering around his trailer.

The one rule of a site - stay away from Doctor Guerin’s shit, or get what’s coming to you.

“Hey!” he snaps, annoyed that a new bunch of recruits are traipsing around on his territory. He gives the CO an annoyed look, but the other man shrugs as if he can’t be held accountable for what these kids do, which means Michael needs to deal with this himself. “That’s my lab, you’re going to contaminate the…”

He yanks at the soldier’s arm, but when he turns him around, it’s Alex Manes.

Shit.

“Alex…”

They stare at each other for a long time. He knows all about Alex’s accident, knows about the IED, knows about his leg. He’d managed to get the reports with his clearance and while he’d begged for an assignment that brought him over there, they’d kept him here in Roswell to clear the land for their new facility, citing Michael's desire to be close to family, which he usually uses to prevent himself from being reassigned. 

It figures that would bite him in the ass when he’d wanted to go after the only other family that mattered.

“This is yours?” Alex asks, pointing to the trailer.

“I mean, it belongs to the good ol’ US government,” Michael says, leaning forward to open the door so he can reveal the lab inside. He’s running the tests they’ve been asking for (chem tests, soil tests, and helping to plan the site), but he’s also using the opportunity to sneak in at night and get pieces off Foster Ranch. 

It’s all kinds of win-win-win here. 

“I didn’t know you’d be here today,” Alex admits. “I heard you were working with us…”

“Yeah?” Michael has had countless fantasies about what it’d be like to run into Alex again, but standing on a work site surrounded by coworkers hadn’t been in the list. He thinks that the CO would get a little pissed off if Michael backed Alex against the trailer and made out with him for the next forty minutes. “High school physics got boring, plus the job at the junkyard doesn’t exactly pay very well.”

He doesn’t think he should say, I’ve been waiting for you, I keep waiting for you to walk into a meeting room and be on my project, I’ve been needing to see you again.

Here he is, as large as life, and twice as handsome as Michael remembers him being.

“I heard you got your doctorate. I meant to send a card, but we were in the middle of the desert and…”

“It’s okay,”  Michael promises. “You don’t have to apologize, it’s just a piece of paper.”

From the proud look on Alex’s face, he clearly doesn’t think so. He’s felt this before. With Max and Isobel, he’d felt it, that gut-punch of pride when he feels so happy of his accomplishments and no matter the dark sins of his past, he’s proven that he can be something. 

The moment draws on, but it doesn’t feel awkward. If anything, it’s heated, the two of them staring at each other while the world around them shrinks. 

“Are you going to the reunion?” Michael asks, when the silence between them starts to feel heavy and Michael starts to think about doing things other than talking again.

“I was thinking about it, but it felt a little like adult prom to me and my history with that isn’t so great,” Alex answers over his shoulder, but he doesn’t fully turn around. “You?”

“I was waiting to see if I could find a date. I don’t know,” Michael admits, heart pounding in his chest. “Isobel’s planning it, so I probably have to go no matter what. I said I’d help with the slideshow, so…” So there's definitely going to be a lot of photos of Alex in there, because someone has a personal bias.

“It could be fun,” Alex offers.

That ripple of connection is back and the heavy heat between them with it. Michael forces himself to look at Alex’s uniform so he doesn’t do something stupid like haul him inside the research lab and break all the samples by pushing him to the table. Alex looks like he’s considering things of his own, his eyes clearly on Michael’s lips.

“I should get back,” Alex finally admits, though he sounds weirdly disappointed. “I’m just here to help see the sale of the site through, I need to be back on base.” He lingers, again, like he’s waiting for Michael to say something.

Michael wishes someone had handed him a script or something, because he’s lost.

With one last shrug, Alex turns to start making his way out, leaning heavy on his crutch as Michael watches him go. 

“You’re the stupidest genius I know,” the CO mutters as he walks past, shaking his head. “Or did they not teach you romance at UNM?”

“Fuck off,” Michael hisses, which will probably get him a reprimand later, but it does do the trick of spotlighting the very big elephant in the room he’d been missing. The reunion, the hesitation, Alex’s waiting and disappointment…

“Hey!” Michael shouts after Alex, before he can get back in the car. Capitalizing on his courage, not caring how many people are around them, he keeps going, figuring in for a penny, in for a kiloton. “You wanna be my date to adult prom? I figure, I’m this published mechanical engineer with a pretty sweet gig,” he says, with a casual shrug, “I might be able to hold my own against a decorated airman.”

Alex hasn’t fully turned around, but he’s smiling a little, lips curved upwards.The sun catches him perfectly, making his skin seem to glow, more beautiful than any alien piece Michael’s hiding in his bunker. 

Michael tries not to think about how he’s asked Alex in front of a shitload of people and given their history, that might be a bad idea.

Lucky for him, history isn’t repeating itself. “Pick me up at six,” Alex says over his shoulder. “I expect you in a suit, Dr. Guerin,” he adds, and even from here, Michael can see the way Alex licks his lips, like the image of Michael in a suit in his head is tasty in and of itself.

He picks Alex up at six in a suit, and he’s got a corsage with him.

“Happy adult prom, huh?” Alex jokes.

Pinning it to Alex’s flannel (because the bastard made Michael dress up and then didn’t himself), he thinks he’ll figure out some fair revenge later. “Only if we end the night better than it did ten years ago.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

Chapter Text

When Alex spends the night, he notices that Michael keeps his black cowboy hat near at hand, like if there were a fire in the middle of the night, it would be one of his precious few possessions that he’d end up grabbing to go out with him. He’s not sure if it’s the aesthetic he likes, if it’s some kind of security blanket item (like a child would keep a stuffed animal), or if it’s supposed to be a hint to Alex.

Alex decides that he’s going with hint after he spends the night and Michael takes off the hat to set it perfectly in line with Alex’s vision.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he pants, as Michael comes, Alex’s eyes on that hat, an idea forming. “C’mon, cowboy,” he growls, while Michael rides him and manages to look damn sexy in the process, sending them over the edge.

They collapse wrapped around one another, Michael stroking his fingers through Alex’s hair. “You’d look so good,” he mumbles, clearly on the verge of passing out, “in my…” Whatever else he has to say, it’s mumbled and lost to sleep.

It’s a good thing Alex can read between the lines.

*

The first time he does it, Michael texts him in a frantic rush saying that he can’t find his hat.

Alex smirks as he adjusts it on his head, telling Michael that he’s sure he’s going to find it soon enough and to come to the Crashdown before his lunch gets too cold. Liz drops off the plates with an amused look, gesturing to the black cowboy hat on top of his head.

“Does he know you’re out in public with it?”

Alex sips from his glass of water. “He’s about to.”

Michael’s still in a frantic rush, which Alex is amused to see given that it’s incredibly telling how much worth he puts in a single piece of clothing. He can tell the exact moment he sees Alex in it, because his determined walk inside comes to a sudden halt, his boots scraping on the ground when he comes to a stop just beside the booth.

Alex leans forward for a fry, casually, popping it into his mouth as he looks up at Michael past the brim of the black hat. “Howdy,” he says, having been waiting for that since morning.

Michael leans forward to grab the hat off Alex’s head when he slides into the other side of the booth, a wide-eyed, stunned look on his face. Before he can resituate the hat in its proper home, he leans forward and kisses Alex hard on the lips.

“What?” Alex asks, kind of lost between the mixed signals here. “Do you not want me to wear it?”

“Opposite,” is all Michael says, and from the way he’s shifting in the booth, Alex suspects that he might be regretting wearing the tight jeans that he’s wearing.

Alex smiles privately to himself as he digs into lunch and begins to make more plans. “Okay,” is all he says, with a nod of his head, because he can definitely work with that.

*

The second time, he gives Michael at least a hint of warning. “I’m taking your hat,” is all he says. “If you want to see me in it, you better come to the Pony.” He hangs up when Michael sputters and protests, for reasons Alex is still piecing together, though he has a pretty good suspicion about why Michael is all bothered to see Alex in it.

Once he’s alerted Michael to where he’ll be, he takes the hat along with his guitar case, and asks Maria for permission to set up on the stage. She takes one look at his hat, snorting with amusement, and gestures towards it.

“I’d ask what you’re doing, but I already think I know,” she tells him. “Does he know you’re wearing it?”

“This time, yeah,” Alex brags, because he’s learned from his lesson. “Besides, it looks better on me.”

She gives him a lift of her brow, like she’s questioning that, but then again, in this Alex knows he and Maria have similar tastes and though they don’t talk about the fact that they’ve both dated Michael at different points, they can at least bond over their appreciation of him, even if Alex is the one who’d ended up with him.

Alex settles in to play before Michael shows up, working his way through his limited country catalogue to keep the locals happy.

When Michael walks in the door, Alex doesn’t feel guilty for a single second when he switches chords mid-song and begins a slow, soft transition to sing Cowboy, Take Me Away to only one man in the room, even though Alex is currently wearing his hat.

Michael leans against the doorway as he drinks a bottle of beer and Alex could swear that he doesn’t blink once for the whole time that he’s staring. It occurs to Alex that it’s the thirstiest that the Wild Pony has ever seen a man be, and he smirks with triumph because he knows it’s all for him.

Yeah, Alex thinks. He’s definitely going to keep wearing the hat if this is the reception it gets him.

*

The third time, he puts it on in the early morning after he’s stayed over.

Alex also suspects that it’s the kind of situation that Michael wanted in the first place when he’d been picturing Alex in the hat.

He’s the first one up, so he sets the coffeemaker to brew and then he lets his fingers trail along the rim of the hat, deciding to give in to Michael’s desires one more time and see what happens when Alex wears the hat in private. He picks it up from the trailer counter and taps it against his chest a few times, a smug smirk on his lips. He’s not wearing anything (because Michael still has the windows of the trailer papered up and no one’s going to catch a view), so he’s naked as the day he was born. By the time he finishes brewing the pot of coffee, he’s slid the cowboy hat on, and returns to bed to wait for Michael to wake up. He’s set his crutch lying against the bed and Alex has perched on the end wearing nothing but the black cowboy hat and a smile, leisurely sipping his cup of coffee.

He can tell the moment Michael wakes up, going from a lazy bleariness to stunned alertness when his eyes catch Alex.

“Good morning,” he greets him, raising his brows like he’s been waiting for this all night (and technically, he’s been waiting for this since 5AM when he’d risen early thanks to old habits).

Michael rubs his eyes, like he doesn’t quite believe what he’s seeing.

Then, he goes back to gaping, when he seems to have realized that yes, Alex is still there, yes, Alex has made coffee, and yes, Alex is currently wearing nothing but Michael’s black cowboy hat.

“Put the coffee down,” Michael says hoarsely.

Alex likes where this is going, but he thinks there’s more of a reaction he can get if he just waits. He sips at the coffee, playing dumb. “Why would I do that?”

It turns out, Michael hadn’t really been asking is what Alex finds when the coffee is suddenly telekinetically pried from his fingertips and clatters messily in the sink, wasting a perfectly good cup of coffee. That cup becomes the last thing on his mind when he’s pulled forward, Michael’s good hand roughly cupping Alex’s neck and yanking him on top of Michael, a reverse of the night before.

“You,” Michael says, voice barely registering as anything beyond a growl, “look better than you have any right to in that thing.”

“Well, now you know how I feel.”

Later that morning, Alex has put his prosthetic and his clothes back on, but when he goes to the Crashdown to get them breakfast, he’s still wearing the hat, a smug grin, one additional piece of Michael’s wardrobe, and a few new hickeys pepper his neck. Liz hands him the bag of food, giving him a dubious look.

“Tell Guerin I’m tired of seeing your kinky sex roleplay in public,” is all she has to say about it. “And ugh, now I’m never going to be able to listen to that song without imagining the two of you.”

It’s a small price to pay for the look on Michael’s face when he wears the hat, so Alex shrugs it off with a blissful grin, thanks Liz for the food, and heads back to the trailer to see if him showing up with the hat tipped low, nothing but his lips on display, and walking hips first into the trailer to show off Michael’s belt-buckle (that he’d stolen to go with his jeans) will have the same effect as he’d had this morning in just the hat.

(He quickly discovers that yes, yes it does, and it’s the best dress-up game he’s ever played. Maybe next time, he can convince Michael to wear the beret and the rest of Alex’s uniform and they can really torment Roswell)

Chapter Text

“You have to come.”

Michael rolls his eyes and debates taking Isobel to task over the fact that he doesn’t have to do anything. He doesn’t have to put up with his siblings just because Max fucked up and he especially doesn’t have to turn up to his Halloween party just because he wants to have an excuse to have Liz around.

“No,” he calmly replies. “I don’t.”

“Fine,” Isobel huffs. “You don’t have to, but I think I know one formerly-eyeliner-shaped reason you’ll want to come. When Max invited Liz, she asked if she could bring him, too. Something about the fact that she doesn’t want him to sit around feeling lonely on Halloween.”

He grimaces, glad they’re not having this conversation face to face so she can’t see the moment that he goes from intending to ignore the party completely to figuring out what he’s going to dress as. “Fine,” he snaps, aware that he’s mimicking her tone right down to the huff. “This isn’t for Max, though.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself,” says Isobel and hangs up on him.

He doesn’t put much effort into his costume, but given that the party is in a few hours and the last place he intends to show his face is the discount Halloween store, he thinks it’ll pass muster.

At least, for anyone but Max Evans, it turns out.

“What, exactly, are you supposed to be dressed up as?” Max asks as soon as Michael walks in. Michael’s wearing a plaid button-down shirt atop a pair of beige slacks. He’s wearing a pair of black-rimmed glasses and has tousled his hair so that it’s a riotous mess -- even more than usual. He lowers his drink and the glare comes out in full force. “If this is some awful joke about boring people…”

If it weren’t for the fact that Michael actually wants to be here (especially since he caught a glimpse of Alex in the crowd), he’d take this as an excuse to walk out. Now that he’s here, he plans to stand his ground, which means shutting down Max before he gets into dramatics about Michael not observing the theme.

“Max, calm your ass down, it’s a costume,” Michael interrupts. “Besides, aren’t you happy I didn’t come to your Halloween party dressed as a little green alien?”

Max grimaces, but Michael hears the ‘yes’ that gets eked out.

“See?” Michael says cheerfully, clapping a hand on Max’s shoulder as he wanders inside to grab a drink.

He ducks Ortecho, who’s copped out by dressing as a scientist (about as bad as Max going as a cowboy) and greets Isobel, who’s wearing a sexy cop outfit that Michael suspects is from her and Noah’s roleplay collection.

“You came,” she greets him, offering him a hug.

“I wish I wasn’t thinking about other times you’ve said that while wearing those clothes,” Michael complains, and fully deserves the smack that she gives him. “Ow. And yet, accurate,” he protests, taking her silence as confirmation.

She lets her eyes roam over him, shaking her head. “I don’t get your costume. Are you supposed to be a nerd?”

No. Iz, come on. It’s fine,” he promises, because the only person he wants to figure it out is Alex. “So, tell me what’s new…”

All the while he’s talking to her, he’s trying hard not to spend too long looking at Alex, who’s also wearing a cowboy outfit and lingering nearby. He knows he’s biased, but Michael definitely thinks that Alex pulls off the cowboy look a hell of a lot better than Max does.

Things are still awkward between them, have been since the drive-in, but Michael feels like tonight’s it. If Liz wants to make sure Alex isn’t locking himself away in his house and avoiding the world, then Michael is going to take advantage and see if they can’t have a mature talk as adults. It’s a chance he’s been handed on a platter and he doesn’t intend to ignore it. 

He tells Isobel that he’ll come back later when another of Max’s guests drifts away from the conversation he’s been holding with Alex, eager to take advantage. Alex looks like he’s going for a drink refill, which means that Michael gets there first. He leans his hip up against the table by the big windows at the front of the party, pushing his fake glasses up his nose as he pretends to be needing the help to see Alex’s costume. 

“Yeehaw,” Michael deadpans as he reaches out to tip Alex’s hat. “You know, if you really wanted my hat that badly, you could’ve just asked nicely when you were over last time.”

He takes abject pleasure in the way that Alex blushes for him, cheeks going bright. “Guerin,” he says, and Michael knows this is it. If he doesn’t completely mess this up in the next few hours, he’s in good shape. “Interesting costume choice,” Alex praises. “I forgot that you stole those comics from me in the toolshed and never gave them back. I always knew you liked them.”

“What can I say, you’ve got great taste,” he praises with a grin, pouring Alex a drink so he can hold it out in offering. 

Before he can ask how Alex is doing, chaos descends as the glass from Max’s front window shatters inwards. It’s instantaneous. Michael doesn’t even think, he just moves to cover Alex’s body with his own to shield him, eyes squeezed shut. The offending weapon (a heavy brick with a note wrapped around it) clatters at their feet, but Michael’s still got both arms wrapped around Alex protectively, keeping him turned away. 

Whoever threw the brick is running off, laughing gleefully about “cops are pigs, dickwads!”, which means this has nothing to do with aliens and everything to do with Max’s day job.

Max looks across the room to where Jenna is standing (dressed as Annie Oakley), and there’s radio chatter happening and plans being made to chase after the suspect.

In the haze of chaos, no one’s noticed that every single piece of glass is currently hovering in the air around Michael just a few inches from the ground, which he quickly lets drop before it becomes suspicious. He can excuse it away as people being in a state of shock if they ask later about what they’d seen. 

He also takes the chaos as the excuse not to let Alex go just yet.

“Guerin,” Alex protests. “I’m fine.” Alex’s drink is crumpled on the floor from trampling feet as people had rushed away from the windows, but Alex looks at him with disbelief and gratitude. “I think you’re in the wrong version of that costume, though,” he says breathlessly, reaching up to slide the glasses off of Michael’s face. He’s able to, because he’s being fully supported by the way Michael is still holding him with one arm around his neck, the other pressed firmly to the small of his back. 

“Nah,” Michael insists, feeling pretty robbed of breath himself. “Clark Kent’s every bit as heroic as Superman, they just do it in different ways.” 

Alex laughs brightly, full of joy and disbelief. “My hero,” is what he says. 

Instead of arguing about heroes and who’s rescuing who and under which name, Michael kisses Alex, dipped right there in his arms, fake glasses dangling from Alex’s fingers. As far as sexy world-saving aliens go, he’s always associated way more with the undercover one professing normalcy, but if he gets to save Alex Manes and kiss him like that world’s been ending, then maybe he can get used to being Superman, too. 

Chapter Text

When he’d been in high school and Maria had told him and Liz that his mother was psychic, he’d spouted a lot of scientific bullshit about how it’s all self-fulfilling prophecy and most people just believe in what they want to because a good cold read can fool anyone. 

Maria had nearly cried that day and Liz had punched him so hard that his arm bruised, so he’s shut up about it ever since.

Still, when he and Michael are making out in the alley behind the Wild Pony, he never thought he’d be on this end of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but here he is. It’s not even the Michael part of it, though Mimi and Maria both have called out that hope would be coming in Alex’s life (and he hadn’t even laughed at the very literal translation of that) even though Maria’s prediction had come with its own bitterness, given that Alex’s hope had belonged to her for a bright and brilliant flash before it had come winding its way back to Alex. 

No, it’s the fact that when he hears the mournful whimpering and he goes to investigate, he discovers a trembling beagle in between several trash cans. Mimi's prediction rattles around in his head and he thinks about the beagle that she'd predicted for him. He's pretty sure that he never made this happen, so maybe he should take back some of what he'd said about 'self fulfilling prophecies'.

While he's having his crisis, Michael's having one of his own.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Michael calls after him, chasing him as he fumbles to adjust his unbuttoned shirt. “Why’d you run off like…” He trails off, seeing what Alex has found from over his shoulder. “No, no, no,” he says, shaking his head, taking a step back.

Wait. Is Michael...?

“Are you seriously scared of a dog?”

“Do you see Max or Iz with pets? Who knows how they’ll react to…” He finishes this with a frightened little hiss of air as he steps back, looking at the malnourished beagle like it’s going to lunge out and bite him. 

Alex gapes at Michael Guerin like he’s seeing him for the first time.

“You’re scared of a dog.”

“I have realistic apprehensions about one!” he snaps back at him, his eyes wide with the panic. “Maybe because I know my boyfriend a little too well. I know what happens when he sees down on their luck strays,” he keeps going, shaking his head like he already knows how this story ends.

Alex is already ruffling the dog’s fur behind her ears, trying to work his nail through the dirty mats, thinking about how much food she’ll need and what to name her and where she’ll sleep. 

He’s also aware of what Michael just said.

“Your boyfriend?”

Michael flushes and stares at Alex, then the dog, shoulders sagging as he admits defeat. “You saying you’re not?”

“I didn’t think you were saying that,” Alex admits, staring at the dog. He already knows that he’s taking the beagle home with them and it has nothing to do with the future that Mimi had seen for him, but would he have been so eager to take the dog if she hadn’t?

Well, he doesn’t plan to find out.

“This isn’t a deal breaker or anything, is it?” Alex checks, because he’s pretty sure that he’s not going to ruin them because he adopts a stray rescue, but sometimes with Michael, he never knows what’s going to create a rift.

Michael makes a face at the dog, like he’s afraid that Alex is suddenly going to start loving it more. “It’s fine,” he grumbles, “but don’t expect me to take care of it! And I’m definitely not gonna like it.”

Alex makes a ‘sure you won’t’ face with a lift of his eyebrows, but he uses his jacket to bundle up the puppy. “You’re coming home with us, girl,” he says warmly, tucking her in against his chest. “Don’t listen to the alien,” he whispers to her, but loud enough for Michael to hear. “He likes to pretend he’s a tough angry cowboy, but we know better, don’t we?”

“I mean it,” Michael grumbles as they leave the alley. “This is your dog.”

*

Three weeks later, Alex whistles to get Phoebe to come to bed, but she doesn’t appear. He levers sideways for his crutch so he can make it out to the main room, where Michael has fallen asleep watching television on the couch, Phoebe snuggled in his arms.

Both of them are snoring and conked out, but Michael’s hand is buried in Phoebe’s fur, clearly having fallen asleep while petting her.

Yeah, Alex isn’t the only one who sees an underdog and decides to take a chance on them. He grins as he makes himself some space on the couch for himself so he can curl up with them. 

His dog has someone become Michael’s napping partner, foot heater, and playmate. Sure, he hadn’t expected Michael to stay apprehensive and scared of the dog forever, but he’s still going to tease his boyfriend about that for years to come.

Self-fulfilled or not, Mimi had been right - she’s a beautiful girl and Alex has given her part of his heart. Michael went and gave her even more, so he knows that she’s not going anywhere.

Chapter Text

In 2016, Alex comes back to Roswell quietly on the heels of a scare with his health and his first stop is to a trailer in the middle of the junkyard, where he’d found Guerin last time. He’s heard that he’s been hopping around dairy ranches, but the last one went out of business and he’s back with Sanders while he looks for the next gig. 

They’d found something when Alex had gone in for his physical and for the scariest few days, Alex had waited for tests to be run. He’d withdrawn from everyone during those days, not knowing what he’d do if he suddenly was given a timer that counted down his last moments.

When the diagnosis had come back benign, it had been like a spotlight.

He’d made a list. It’s not a bucket list, not really, but it’s a list of things that would make his life meaningful. First up, here at this junkyard, a man that may or may not even let them talk. 

Michael opens the door and stares at him for a long, uncomfortable moment. The silence draws out to the point that Alex starts fidgeting. He’s about to tell Michael that he’ll leave when Michael steps down to the ground with a heavy landing, his eyes roaming over Alex’s body. 

“What are you doing here?” Guerin asks, when he walks into the trailer and Alex is sitting there. 

“Can we talk?”

It doesn’t turn out to be much talking. Alex barely tells Michael about the health scare before he’s being lifted onto the counter and Alex is kissing Michael with the kind of angry desperation that he’d felt when he’d been waiting for his test results. 

It’s thrown everything into perspective. It’s shown him exactly what he wants.

This. He wants this.

“How long are you here?” Michael asks, stroking his fingers over Alex’s bare chest when they’re collapsed on the shitty bed in the trailer and Alex has caught him up on the test, on the scare, and how he’s absolutely fine.

Alex rests his chin on Michael’s collarbone, hating that his answer won’t make anyone happy. “I have a week of leave,” he says, the next words stuck in his throat. “Listen, I didn’t just come to see you.”

“You kind of came all over mmfhf…”

Alex claps his hand over Michael’s mouth, because this is serious. 

“I’m serious. I’m here because I don’t want to put off what I want just because my father scared me out of it, because I was young and stupid.” Michael doesn’t say anything, but then again, Alex is still covering his mouth. Eventually, he hears a muffled sound, something like ‘what do you want, Alex?’ He takes in a deep breath and decides that the worst that can happen is Michael kicks him out of the trailer naked.

It’s the junkyard. He’s sure stranger things have happened here.

“Marry me.”

Michael squints at him, prying the hand off his mouth. “I think you fucked me into a coma, because I could swear you just proposed to me.”

“Yeah.” Alex lets out a breathless laugh. “Yeah, I did.” And, also, “You haven’t said anything yet.”

“I mean, you show up out of nowhere eight years later, worried about your health, and now you’re proposing. You’re sure that test was fine, you don’t have a weird tumor…”

Alex shoves Michael back down to the bed and crawls on top of him with a disbelieving look. 

“Marry me,” he says again. “If something did happen to me, I’d want you to know.” And there’s something more than that. “And, I realized that if I was facing down death, my life’s got a bunch of regrets, but the biggest one is walking away from you.”

Michael stares at him, reverently in awe.

Oh god, he’s still not saying anything and it’s killing him.

“Guerin,” he pleads.

“Yeah,” Michael finally says, like he can’t believe he’s hearing the word. It’s soft, touched, and filled with fondness. “Yes.”

It’s not much. They have to grab a stranger milling around outside city hall and the rings are things that Michael’s found over the years in old cars. They sign papers and Alex knows that no matter what happens, at least they can’t cut Michael completely out of his life.

Unfortunately, their joy, their giddiness, this brief respite in a sea of despairs only lasts so long, because Alex only has a week of leave and that means six days later, he’s at the local air base with Michael, saying his goodbyes.

“You don’t have to go,” Michael says, a desperate last minute plea. 

The trouble is that Alex hasn’t come around to the idea that the air force isn’t an integral part of his life. There’s a family name to live up to and even if his father is terrible, that doesn’t mean Alex isn’t striving to make him proud.

Maybe, just maybe, he can have Michael and he can earn his father’s affection.

“Yeah. I do.” They’re words that he said a week ago, but this time instead of making Michael light up like the night sky, they leave him standing on the tarmac looking like Alex has broken his heart. 

The entire flight back, he feels awful that he’d left the way he had. The image of his father in his mind had scared him again, reminded him of all the things he had the power to do, and how Alex had to get back to his duty. He knows Michael may hate him for it, especially after he reads the letter Alex had left for him. It talks about wanting to live up to his family’s legacy (when really, he means he just wants to survive it), but there’s also something hopeful in his words, talking about a future where they can be together and Alex is done with all of this. When Michael finds the letter in his trailer, Alex suspects there might be divorce papers waiting for him on the other end, but he has to think about the part where he’s hoping for an after to his service.

Alex is choosing to focus on the hope. 

It’s the connection that he and Michael have, even if Alex has ruined things for now by leaving. It’s the piece of paper sitting in Michael’s trailer that binds them together as husbands, it’s the rings he’s entrusted in Michael’s care, and it’s the knowing that if anything happens to him, then Michael is going to be the very first phone call.

Maybe when his enlistment period is over, maybe he can explain it to Michael and they can get past this. Maybe Alex won’t be so indebted to his dad. 

For now, he’ll have to live on the memories of the scant brush with happiness they’d managed to steal.

*

He calls Michael after the drugs are flushed out of his system, feeling scared and tired and alone. “You didn’t come.”

“No passport,” Michael replies, sounding hollow and exhausted. “Funny how your military guys didn’t take my breakdown on the tarmac as a signal to let me on their plane so I could come see my husband.” 

Alex knows this is a legitimate reason for Michael to not be there, at his side.

And yet, without his leg and without Michael, the loss seems to compound. 

“I wish you were here.”

“Yeah,” Michael’s voice is quiet and given that the only other sound is the heart monitor attached to him, Alex doesn’t want him to hang up. 

“Talk to me,” he pleads.

“Why’d you have to go back?” Michael demands, the pain digging new wounds into Alex’s skin for all the pain that’s in his voice. “Why, Alex? Why did you have to…”

He doesn’t hang up, but Alex almost wishes he had, because the sound of Michael’s breath hitching on the line is more than he can take. “Michael,” he breathes, finger hovering on the ‘disconnect’ button, but he doesn’t press it. He can’t bring himself to, even as much as this hurts. “Please, just talk to me. Tell me about your day, about Roswell, please…”

It takes Michael a long, shuddering moment, but eventually, he complies and Alex lets himself drift off to sleep fighting off the worst pain of his life, but with a shred of hope on the horizon.

*

It’s months later and Alex has been doing his best to avoid Michael in a small town like Roswell. What the hell else are you supposed to do after you basically tell your husband that you don’t think it’s going to work out, all the while the town eavesdrops? 

He’s in the middle of his PT exercises when his phone rings. Leaning over, Alex checks the caller ID, sending it straight to speaker since it’s only Kyle. 

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Alex,” Kyle says, “I need you to come to the hospital.”

“If this is about my prosthetic, I’m coming in…”

“It’s Guerin.”

That stops him in his tracks. Michael kind of hates Kyle, so why the hell would Kyle be the one calling him about his husband?

“What do you mean? What about Michael?”

“He had you listed as his next of kin, even if I had to go digging for it,” Kyle says, with a tone that says he has the feeling that he knows why the information had been so hard to find. “Funny how I managed to dig up a marriage record from 2016. All this time…?”

“It was so that we had a connection, so if something bad happened…”

Alex stares down to his bad leg, where the prosthetic lies beneath his pants.

It turns out that something bad had happened and even their plan hadn’t been able to get Michael to him, but at least it had kept him in the loop. “Look, just, keep him sedated and calm, I’ll be there soon.” 

He books it to the hospital, not sure that Michael will want to see him, though maybe he’ll be a lot more willing to see Alex when he realizes that he’s the jailbreak about to happen. He’s never known why Michael hates hospitals so much, but when he’d been insistent about not going after the incident with his hand, Alex had respected him enough to let it go.

“What happened?” Alex demands, when he finds Kyle.

“Sanders brought him in, which is dangerous in itself, the man really shouldn’t be driving,” Kyle scoffs. He hasn’t got a chart, which is strange, but he seems to know the case. “Guerin was helping with some of the gutters on the roof and the wood collapsed. He fell two stories, broke his leg in a few places. I’ve got him in a cast, but he can’t stay here.”

“Why not?” Alex demands.

“Get me out of here!” Michael shouts from inside the room. “Valenti, I swear to god, I’m gonna wedgie you from here if you don’t get me a wheelchair and…”

Kyle points to the room as if proof, opening the door enough that he can show off Alex. “Look who I found. Your husband,” he says sarcastically, giving Alex a light push inside. “You deal with him.”

Michael’s gone completely blank and quiet, gaping at Alex, like he’s embarrassed with the fact that Kyle knows what they did. That shock lasts about two seconds before Michael shifts in the hospital bed, fumbling to grab at the covers, his clothes, pretty much anything he can.

“Good, you’re here, help get me discharged,” Michael says.

Alex can’t do that just yet because he’s too busy being so angry.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he hisses, storming towards Michael, heart pounding with fear. They’d gotten married because they’d always been worried about what might happen to Alex. Michael’s the one in Roswell. Michael’s the one who should be taking care of himself.

He’s not the one who should be lying in a hospital bed, bringing back awful memories to Alex. And yet, Michael’s staring at him with that fondness, that I never look away smile on his lips, like he knows a stupid secret that Alex doesn’t and he kind of hates it, so he’s going to stay mad.

“Next time you decide to do something stupid like try to get something from Sanders’ roof without someone steadying the ladder, I’m going to…” Alex doesn’t finish his warning, because Michael leans up to kiss him, shutting him up. Alex flushes, but he’s not deterred. “You broke your leg! You fell from two stories up, Michael, how could you be so reckless! Now who’s going to help you with your trailer and getting around and showering and…”

Michael is giving him an amused look.

“What?” Alex demands.

“If only I had a husband who could help me out, in sickness and health.”

Alex stares at the ground, wishing he didn’t feel like it was about to swallow him whole. “Even after all that crap I said at the drive-in?”

“I know when it’s your Dad’s voice,” Michael promises. “You can tell me I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. I think you still love me. I think you’re gonna find me a wheelchair and you’re gonna take me back to your place and we can commiserate about only having two good legs between us.”

Alex tips his head to the side, eyebrows furrowed together.

“All right, too soon,” Michael grumbles, but he’s swinging to the side of the bed, so clearly he’s not joking about getting out of here. “I’m not saying we’re gonna go find ourselves a white picket fence house and I know things are strained and shitty, but…” He trails off, reaching for Alex’s hand to slide it between his own, the scarring and the mangled skin on the bad hand on the bottom, still strong in its own ways. “There’s a reason I never wanted a divorce. I know we can do this.”

“Please tell me you didn’t break your leg just so you could see me again,” Alex jokes.

It’s Michael’s turn to glare at him. “Get me home,” he says. “And let’s work on figuring out what ‘for better’ looks like, because I don’t know about you, but aren’t you getting so tired of ‘for worse’?”

Alex really, really is. 

“Fine,” he relents, and he knows that things are definitely far from perfect, but at least he can feel that hope back in him, with the potential to blossom into something stronger.

*

It’s 2019 and they’re out at the Wild Pony. Alex is at the bar to order their drinks and the rings have made it out of storage and back onto their hands. Alex’s bucket list has fewer items than it ever did before and while Make Peace With My Husband hadn’t been on there, Alex feels pretty comfortable in crossing it off.

“Two beers for the asshole who got married and didn’t tell us,” Maria says, with the sweetness that’s really not hiding how annoyed she is. 

Alex takes them and salutes her with it, deciding to put something straight. “If that’s what you’re mad about, you’ve got three years to make up for.” Probably the wrong thing to say if he wants her to not be mad, but he heads back to the table and hands Michael his beer, all while Maria probably plots her revenge.

“Everything good?” Michael asks, as Alex reaches in and slides their hands together, hearing the soft clink of their rings as he rests his hand on top of Michael’s, closing his eyes to let that settled feeling wash over him.

He nods, and he knows down in his heart that he means this completely, “Yeah. Everything’s perfect.”

Chapter Text

They’re turning thirty-one and it’s Michael’s turn to pick.

“I hate this birthday,” Isobel says, staring as people in alien costumes mill past their group. For all that she and Max might not be twins, there’s dual horror on their faces as they stare at the convention center, though Liz and Kyle look vaguely amused. “Why does he always pick the worst birthdays?”

“Is it better than the time he made us go stalk the air force training base to see if he could get a glimpse of Alex?” Max wonders.

Alex leans forward to stare at Michael in horror from across their group. “When did that happen?”

Michael dismisses it with a hand wave. “Not important,” he insists, grinning as he hands out lanyards. “Welcome to the UFO Convention,” he says, a manic look in his eyes. “Iz, don’t go in anyone’s head. Max,” he drawls, draping the lanyard over his neck, “try not to look like a resurrected alien so no one gets suspicious of you. Liz, please do find the one legit scientist buried in this place.” He hands a lanyard to Maria, gesturing to the ‘psychics amidst aliens’ booth, which clearly gets her excited, and Kyle follows after grabbing his lanyard from Michael and a look that says he’d better look out for her.

“With a few exceptions, you have terrible taste,” Kyle says in parting.

With that, they scatter until Alex is the only one left, pointing to the lanyard. “Don’t I get one?”

Michael has a very special surprise for Alex, though. He drapes the lanyard over his neck and winds their hands together (he’ll never get over how his healed hand fits in Alex’s so easily, the way they could have held hands like this at seventeen and missed the chance). “I got us a very special surprise,” he says, leading Alex to where he’d coordinated to get one of the exhibits shut down for them. 

He ducks behind the curtain and leads Alex inside to where they’ve set up a projection of their galaxy on a dark ceiling, casting galaxies into their view.

Waiting expectantly, he tries to calm his rapidly beating heart, running his tongue over his lower lip as he presses a hand to the small of Alex’s back to walk him right to the center of it. It’ll never compare to sitting in the desert and stargazing, but for where they are, it’s not so bad. Besides, maybe later, he’ll kidnap Alex and they’ll go out there for real. 

“This is incredible,” Alex breathes, staring up at it.

Even though the view above them is cosmically gorgeous, Michael can’t take his eyes off Alex for a second. “Yeah,” he agrees. “You are.”

Alex doesn’t bother to give him a glare, but his cheeks flush a little. 

”Let’s get out of here,” Alex insists, pushing at Michael. “Because I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re not supposed to be here.”

Michael makes a face and he’s not sure why he ever bothers, because it’s not like Alex will ever believe it. 

”Fine, you win.” He leads them out and to the bar, where Alex insists on buying them the first round. They have plans to wait for the others, but one round turns into a second and then a third when everyone is off having their own fun. “Which one of them do you think is making out?” Alex asks, prodding at Michael’s shoulder. “Isobel and Maria? Or Max and Liz? Or…Kyle and…”

Michael leans in for a kiss because if they’re talking about making out, then he wants it to be him and Alex. Besides, it’s his birthday and it’s his choice for how he wants to spend it.

Sitting in a booth at the bar and making out with Alex is right up there on the top of his list. They haven’t really spent much time at all at the convention, which is fine by him. He’s not in the mood to argue with conspiracy theorists about why their spaceship designs are shitty and would never work.

It’s much better to sit here and drink with Alex, rounds two and three making him feel invincible and so good. The fourth round is where things start to go off the rails, because all those light kisses are starting to get a touch more aggressive. There’s still hope to reel it back, but only if they stop drinking.

They don’t, though. 

Fourth round turns into fifth and the romantic mood from earlier has transitioned into a touchy one, their hands all over one another. “Hey,” Alex exhales, tugging on Michael’s collar with both hands, yanking him in a few times. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Michael laughs, giddy and drunk and a little wobbly. 

“Let’s do something stupid.”

“I’m something stupid, you could do me.”

Alex smacks his palm against Michael’s chest a few times. “Yeah. Yeah! Later,” he insists. “Let’s do something really stupid.” His eyes are as bright as the stars and he’s so excited, but for all the money in the world, Michael never would’ve counted on what happens next. “Let’s get married.”

“Is that the tequila speaking, or can you please send Alex Manes back to speak to me, thank you,” Michael mumbles drunkenly, but it’s not the worst idea. Is it? Shit, he’s too drunk.

“Alex Manes,” he replies, “and yeah, let’s get married. We’ve been dating for a year, but we’ve been together forever. Are you telling me you see a future where we don’t do this?”

“You know I don’t have that power,” Michael mumbles, but he’s starting to come around to the idea.

Alex is right. After everything they’ve gone through, neither of them is about to decide that they don’t want this, which means that it’s probably one of the smartest ideas he’s ever heard in his life.

They drink round seven and get out of there to find the nearest chapel, where they do something extremely stupid, and then Alex makes Michael so proud, yanking him towards their newly upgraded honeymoon suite.

”Now, what was that about me doing something stupid…?”

Oh yeah, thinks Michael. Best birthday ever. 

*

The next morning, they meet the rest of the group in the lobby of the hotel. Everyone is wearing sunglasses, which means that it’s a group hangover kind of day, though Michael already has a beer in hand and is heavily believing in the power of ‘hair of the dog’. 

Alex seems fairly put together even though Michael knows he’d been drinking shot for shot with him, but maybe he has some secret human stubborn powers when it comes to processing his alcohol.

Whatever it is, it’s both charming and annoying.

It’s not as annoying as Valenti yanking Michael’s good hand into his. “What the fuck,” he snaps. “You had a quickie Vegas wedding?” he demands, gaping at the ring. “Please tell me it wasn’t…”

“Hey,” Alex interrupts, holding up an envelope as he returns to a group gaping at him. “They gave us the pictures from last night. Do you remember the giant green man standing up as our witness?”

Yup. That’s about when all hell breaks loose and they descend on Alex for the pictures, leaving Michael alone with his smug grin, a wedding ring on his finger, and the knowledge that he had a wedding presided over by Elvis while two little green men from the convention witnessed it.

Vegas, baby.

Chapter Text

It’s been a point of contention since Isobel met Noah.

“Settle,” she hisses at Cygnus, when he flickers from a hummingbird to a cat, giving Isobel an apologetic look, like he doesn’t want to be doing it, but Isobel’s strain is affecting her daemon. 

Noah’s daemon had been settled since before Isobel met him, but she talks about how they still feel connected, which she theorizes means they must have met before somehow. And yet, the trouble is, Cygnus still hasn’t settled in turn, which leaves Isobel constantly worrying that something is wrong with her marriage.

Andromeda, Michael’s beagle, peers up at him from where she’s curled up in his arms, a sorrowful look on her face (not that she’s sad, but she’s a beagle and has been since Michael was in his teens, so he’s used to her looks) and nudges him to where Isobel is struggling to reason with Cygnus.

They know what it means. 

With the humans, their daemons settle at a young age, but for their kind, it seems that their daemons won’t fully settle until they’ve met their soulmate. Michael’s been looking at Andromeda in this form for over half his life, though she also settled on his first day at Roswell Junior High, which means that anyone could’ve been his soulmate.

He has his suspicions about who it is, though.

After all, it’s not like anyone else lets their daemons cuddle in Michael’s lap the way Alex allows Michael to do with Juliet, his border collie daemon. No one else ever digs their fingers into Andromeda’s fur (no one else could), making Michael shiver with the sensations.

For all that his daemon will snuggle up with Max and Isobel’s, Alex isn’t an alien like that, and it means something.

“Can I ask you something?” Alex murmurs one night, when they’ve passed out on the couch in the bunker. They’ve been going over files again and their exhaustion has rendered them sleep-drunk and stupid – it’s the kind of stupid where Michael keeps thinking about pushing their boundaries from ‘just friends’ to ‘something more’ the way he’s been thinking about for ages.

His fingers are in Andromeda’s fur on one side while Juliet snores in Michael’s lap.

“Always,” Michael agrees, eyes half shut.

“How come Isobel’s daemon hasn’t settled? She’s twenty-seven, it should have happened ages ago.”

”Yeah, well, not for us,” Michael confesses. Alex already knows all his other secrets, what’s one more? “Max’s, she settled really early, you know? It was when he met Liz. I guess because they’re twined to our souls, the way it works for our species is that when you meet your soulmate, they pick their form and that’s it.”

Alex sits up, gaping at Michael, for reasons Michael doesn’t get. He doesn’t say anything, which is weird, because it’s not like Michael just told Alex that their daemons have their own strange powers (they don’t). It’s new, sure, but it shouldn’t be that groundbreaking.

Which means that Alex’s brain is moving a hundred miles a minute down a road Michael hasn’t seen yet.

“What?” Michael asks warily.

“Andromeda settled when I met you.”

“She settled the first day of junior high, yeah.”

“No,” Alex says, frantically. “She settled when you and I got assigned to work on that social studies project together on the first day of school and we introduced ourselves for the first time. Before that, she’d been a possum, then she was a beagle.” He doesn’t have to say it for Michael to know what comes next.

She’d settled into her form and had never shifted again and it had been after he’d met Alex Manes. How can he not remember that? Maybe it’s because that whole day had been a blur of meeting new people, relief that he was back with Isobel and Max, and in retrospect, he’d decided that it could’ve been anyone.

Glaring at Andromeda (who’s burrowed into Alex’s side), he’s not sure where he even wants to start. “You never told me!” he accuses his daemon.

“You always knew,” she sleepily replies. “You just didn’t want to think about it because he was gone.”

“Are they gonna kiss now?” Juliet whispers to Andromeda, her eyes shining with hope. “It’s been ages since they kissed,” is her complaint. 

Michael feels his face flush, his cheeks bright with it. All this time he’s been working at being Alex’s friend and trying to build the kind of strong relationship that can last and his daemon has been a sign under his nose that it’s going to work out if he puts in the work because Alex is his soulmate.

“Well?” Alex breaks the silence, a hopeful note in his voice. “You know I hate to disappoint Juliet and Andromeda.”

“That’s the only reason you want me to kiss you?”

Alex’s gaze falls to the ground, slowly sliding back up Michael’s body on the couch, sliding his fingers into Michael’s curls, his other hand tangled in Andromeda’s fur so that Michael is being touched outside and in. “I mean, I’d be pretty disappointed if you didn’t, too.”

Michael can’t possibly have that, now can he?

He closes the distance to kiss Alex with a relieved sob caught in the back of his throat, and he closes his eyes to hide the relief and the amusement when he hears Juliet and Andromeda having their own little celebrations nearby. 

“God, they’re annoying,” Michael complains when they separate, his eyes still closed, but he knows there’s a blissful look on his face. Without expecting it, but glad for it, Alex closes the distance to kiss him again.

“You wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

“Not them, and not you,” Michael agrees, and settles in with Alex on top of him, unwilling to let him go now that his soul has fully settled and he’s aware of it.

Chapter Text

“Liz, I need them,” he begs for the tenth time. It’s an old argument by now. Every week, he turns up at the lab and begs Liz to give him a batch of the antidote for his personal consumption, but she keeps refusing.

”No,” is her stubborn answer. “No, it’s still untested and who knows what it might do to your system. Tell me why you need it and I will possibly begin to consider it.” 

Of course she won’t do it unless he tells her why, and as much as it feels like pulling teeth, the memories are more important to him than stubbornly refusing to open up to Liz.

“They helped Isobel fill in the patches in her brain,” he says and as much as he doesn’t like to think about the pain of Caulfield, he knows he needs this to get past it, “I want to see if I can bring anything back from before the pods.”

He just wants to see his Mom again.

He doesn’t say that part and Liz doesn’t ask, so Michael’s been allowed to keep at least some of his secrets.

It takes her a few weeks, but eventually she meets him at the Crashdown and presses five vials into his palm. “I’m not making you anymore because I have an actual job I need to be doing,” she warns. “And you definitely aren’t paying me for this, so make them last.” She grabs his hand before he can pull it away, a pointed look on her face. “The minute you feel that something’s wrong, you need to call me. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you when you do this?” Liz asks.

Michael shakes his head, squeezing his hand around the vial. “No,” he says, because he knows exactly where he needs to go for this. “I’ll call you if something goes wrong. You know, all these rules kind of take the fun out of the science,” he quips.

Liz doesn’t look so impressed. “Yeah,” she deadpans. “Me trying to keep you from dying is a real buzzkill.” 

Okay, fine, she may have a point.

“I’ll call if something goes wrong,” he guarantees. “And,” he adds, breathing out slowly, “I won’t do it alone.”

Liz seems willing to take that promise, because she lets him go.

That means that Michael has to face the music and actually go to the one person he trusts to be with him in case any of those old memories do come back or, worst case scenario, they come back and trigger a bad reaction. 

As awkward as things have been the past few months, he, Alex and Maria have all managed to get back on even, platonic ground. It had been one hell of a conversation at the diner when they’d all decided that the best thing would be if none of them slept together, if they all took some space, and after a few months, then they could revisit things, if things were to be revisited.

Well, it’s been a few months and Michael’s been too much of a coward to go after anyone – not to mention, his focus has been on getting the antidote.

Besides, this isn’t about him choosing a bed to warm himself in. This is about his past, and there’s one person who knows all of it, especially the reason why he needs to take this antidote so desperately.

Alex opens the cabin door, surprised to see him. “Guerin,” he says, blinking rapidly at him. “Did you text me that you were coming over?”

“No,” he admits, but he holds up one of the vials. “I was hoping maybe you’d make sure I don’t end up accidentally killing myself trying to get back memories of my mother and my life before the crash landing.”

Alex gapes at him, mouth open, but he steps back from the door and gestures inside. Michael paces around for a while, feeling anxious about what he’s here to ask for. It might be unfair, turning up like this when he’s not actually here to settle the other issues, but he has to hope Alex will understand.

“This is going to sound crazy,” he starts.

Alex crosses his arms over his chest, staring at him with subdued amusement. “Crazier than you being an alien?”

He opens his palms and shows off the little glass vials. “Liz’s antidote, for her serum,” he explains. “When Iz took it, she got all her memories back about what happened with Rosa. I’ve been begging Liz for ages to give me some and she did.”

Whatever hesitation has been on Alex’s face melts away when he figures out what Michael wants with them. “You want to know about your life before the pod.”

He nods, feeling raw for the confession, even though Alex is the one person who understands better than anyone why he’s chasing them. 

“Okay,” Alex says. “What do I need to do?”

They set up an area on the carpet of the main area, blankets around them, water and acetone at the ready, though he doesn’t have any in his system. He’d worked with Liz on the antidote enough to know the rough dosage that would put him over the edge, so he sticks with half a vial to start, making sure that his body is free and clear of acetone to avoid any chemical overlap that might render the antidote useless.

Alex stares down at where Michael is laying in his lap. “You’re sure about this?”

“I need to try,” he pleads. “What’s the worst case scenario?”

“You die,” Alex points out sharply. 

Right, yeah, why is everyone reminding him about that? He knows he could die, he gets it, but why doesn’t anyone see how important this is to him? “That’s why I’m here,” he argues. “You’re gonna make sure I don’t die.” 

He drinks down the vial before Alex can try and stop him, closing his eyes so that he can wait for a memory to come in. With Isobel, she’d told him that she’d needed a trigger for the memories to come flooding back. He lies there with his head in Alex’s lap, eyes closed, waiting, but nothing happens.

“You still okay?” Alex asks, but Michael reaches for the other half of the vial and drinks it against Alex’s noises of protest. “Guerin!”

“I have to,” he pleads. “Alex, I have to, I need to remember more, I need to know who loved me before, I need to see her again.”

“All right, maybe,” Alex suffers it with a sigh, “but just remember, I love you now.”

The echo of his words from Caulfield trigger a chain reaction in his mind. Michael gasps as he sits up, bolting upright like he’s been shocked as he’s thrown back into places he doesn’t recognize, people he’s never seen before, and his mother.

We’re going on an adventure, sweetheart. You’ll go to sleep and when you wake up, I’ll be there and we’ll start again.”

He remembers war, he remembers blood and fear, his mother holding him protectively tight while adults around him argue about where they’re going to go, what they’re going to do.

We’re going to be together,” his mother had insisted sharply. “Isn’t that worth the risk? Isn’t that worth whatever might happen to give our children a chance at a future?” 

Gasping, Michael comes back to reality when those memories fade away. Alex’s hand is on his shoulder, gripping him tight, hauling him into his arms. “Hey, you’re okay. You’re okay.” He keeps hushing Michael, who’s panting wildly, and he thinks he might have been crying, because his cheeks are wet. 

He’s not so sure that this will be the last of the memories, but it’s more than he’s had before. He also has four vials left, which means that they don’t have to be the only memories.

“Did you see her?”

Michael nods desperately. 

“Did she say anything this time?”

Again, Michael nods, thinking about her words. “She just wanted to give us a chance at a better future. We didn’t even get that. So, she suffered all those years and what, for nothing? So I could have a shitty childhood and a hopeless future?”

“Hey,” Alex cuts him off before he can keep winding down that spiraled path. “I don’t know if you’ve looked in a mirror recently, but you’re not even thirty. That’s a whole lot of future ahead of you.” 

Michael inhales sharply and he’s not so sure that he believes that everything’s not ruined (he still dreams of ash and smoke and char and grief), but Alex isn’t wrong. He lets himself stay in Alex’s arms, lets Alex soothe him a while longer, and only stands when he knows if he doesn’t move soon, he’s going to do something he’ll regret.

Not because it’s Alex, but because the last time he made a decision tangled up in the grief of losing his mother, it hadn’t gone over so well.

He’s not ready to close the door on this, though. 

“I have four more vials,” Michael says, when he lingers by the door. “Could I…?”

The silence as he trailed off after the question stretches, but it isn’t awkward. Michael lets it wash over him as Alex seems to think about it. 

“Anytime,” he says, and gives Michael an encouraging look that’s filled with hope and promise.

Maybe, if he figures things out, maybe he can even figure out how his future starts inside these walls, too.

Chapter Text

Six weeks after Kyle injects his dad with barbiturates, Jesse Manes comes around from his coma. Alex makes sure that he’s there, because he wants to see the look on his father’s face when he sees the MPs standing there flanking him while Alex sends off a few emails.

“You’re awake,” he says, feigning a bored tone even if his heart is pounding wildly. “Good.”

“Alex?” Jesse’s drugged still, clearly out of it, but Alex refuses to look at him. He’s not going to let Jesse manipulate him anymore. 

He’s had six weeks to put an airtight case together. He has the scrubbed footage that Kyle had escaped with from Caulfield, he has decades of papers that delve into diverting government funds into his project, bribing officials, and an intent to commit genocide against an unknown race.

He could’ve added in ‘assault against minors’, but that one felt personal and he’s trying to keep Michael out of this for now. 

”Hi, Dad,” Alex says calmly, stepping aside to allow the inevitable to take its course.

“Jesse Manes, you’re under arrest.”

Alex swears he’s never heard sweeter words. 

He’d insisted that he be here for when they haul him away, even if his commanding officers had questioned his need to see his own father being carted off, but he’d made Michael stay back until he could safely make sure that Jesse Manes was behind bars and the smart bomb wouldn’t go off. He needs to be sure that Jesse won’t be a problem in their lives.

Hands behind his back, defeated, Jesse slides a disappointed look over Alex. “You’re making a mistake.”

“I’m choosing a side,” Alex counters.

“They’re a violent race, Alex. You’re making the wrong choice, they’re incapable of love,” he spits out. 

Alex shakes his head, because if there’s one truth that he’ll always know and hold true, it’s that his father is wrong. “No,” he says, and there isn’t a shred of doubt. “They’re capable of more love than you’ve ever shown me. Unprovoked violence is something you’re an expert on, but they,” he says sharply, cautious not to use Michael’s name, “came here in peace. We’re the villains who pulled the trigger.”

”It’s because of him,” Jesse spits as he’s put in cuffs, his rights being read to him. “You’ll regret this!”

Alex watches his father go, the double doors shutting behind him with a heavy clang. He stands there as he’s debriefed by the MPs, is given an expected timeline of when the evidence will be reviewed, and then he’s there in the hospital alone. 

Not alone, not really. 

”Hey,” Kyle says, sneaking up on him. “You okay? I could’ve kept him in the coma, you know. I actually think I might’ve liked that.”

Alex shakes his head, because as tempting as it might be to let his problems stay unconscious, this is better. This has the potential for consequences not only for his father, but his brothers and every other person who hurt Michael and his family for the last seven decades.

”I think we need to get a beer to celebrate,” Alex says, feeling weird saying that, but right.

He needs to celebrate because his father is going away, Alex has successfully kept himself, Kyle, and Michael out of the crosshairs, and maybe he’s celebrating something his father had said.

Because it’s true. 

He chose Michael. He’s just getting used to what it’s like to choose him and not run away, but it feels good. It feels like the kind of thing that deserves that celebration beer, along with the relief that tonight he’ll fall asleep knowing that Jesse Manes can’t hurt him.

That relief is worth twenty-seven years’ worth of beer, but Alex will start with the one and work from there. 

*

When he gets a text that his father has been found guilty and is being sent to prison, Alex expects to feel relief. He expects the last ten years of pain to melt away and leave only the good, but it doesn’t. He feels alone. Victorious, but alone. 

He slides away the notification and stares at his contacts for ten minutes before he gets up the courage to text Michael.

Are you okay? My Dad’s gone, I need to know you’re okay.

It’s not what he should be texting. His father just went to prison, orchestrated by Alex’s hand himself, and he’s asking if Michael is okay. It’s better than what they’ve been doing, late night moments where they crash into bed together, because deep down, they always collide.

The text must be ominous, because Michael calls ten minutes later.

“Alex, what the hell?”

“My dad got sentenced today,” Alex says, his voice sounding deceptively calm given the enormity of that news. “Twenty years. Pretty light, if you ask me, but that means he’s not going to be around. Twenty years in a secure military prison.”

“He should’ve gotten seventy,” Michael spits out.

If there were karmic justice, then yeah, Jesse Manes would have and he would’ve been someone’s lab rat for all of them. 

“Come over,” Alex says. Pleads, maybe. He’s been keeping Michael at arm’s length for so long until this is over and he’s not sure he entirely has a right to ask this of Michael, even though he’s not sure that he’s asking him to come over for anything more than his company.

It’s just that ‘company’ usually turns into something else entirely.

There’s a knock on his cabin door that jolts him from his thoughts and he opens it to find Michael on his doorstep. “I’ve been waiting for you to call me since you sent him away,” he admits hoarsely. “That text, today, I started driving here, because I’m tired of waiting for that Jesse Manes shaped elephant in the room to go to jail.”

He pushes a hand on Alex’s chest, grabbing his phone and hanging up the call, wrapping an arm around Alex’s waist so he doesn’t go stumbling when his legs hit the couch. 

“I chose you,” Alex breathes, as he collapses back onto the seat. “Jesse wants everyone to think that you’re not capable of love, but I know better. I know, because I know that you loved me.”

“Close,” Michael says, sinking down into a straddle. 

Alex’s brow furrows worriedly, his stomach churning with an uncertain flare he hadn’t counted on. “Michael?”

“That I love you,” he corrects. “C’mon, Alex, you gotta get it right if you’re gonna shove it in your Dad’s face when I show up at the trial with you,” he teases in barely more than a whisper.

Hands holding tight to Michael’s waist, Alex pulls him down and spends the next few hours showing him how incredible of an idea that is, along with showing how much he loves Michael right back, using his words, his body, and all of his heart.

Chapter Text

“I’m at two points,” Michael boasts when he settles into a booth at the Wild Pony, shoving his phone across the table so Alex can see the proof. 

There, in a picture, is Kyle genuinely smiling because Michael had made a joke about Max Evans that more or less implied that Liz had to keep going back to him so often because she’s in the process of looking for his dick. Crude? Yes. Effective? Oh, yes. 

Alex scowls and Michael can’t help but feel like this is going to be his victory. “It’s two to one, now,” Michael can’t help tempting fate by pointing out.

“Yeah, and we have two more days in the bet,” Alex counters, sipping his drink as he raises his eyebrow in that way that implies that he has something terrifyingly efficient and dastardly up his sleeve. 

This all started last week on the anniversary of Jim Valenti’s death. Even though Jesse has been dealt with and all of that should be firmly in the past, Kyle still has a habit of getting mopey and depressed. Last year, the first year all three of them had been together as a couple and not just friends, they’d bunkered down in bed in a giant pile of bodies to try and lift Kyle’s spirits.

This year, they have a better plan – in three days, Alex and Michael need to earn as many documented smiles as they can out of Kyle. The winner gets rewarded winsomely for his efforts. It’s a good plan not just because it keeps Kyle distracted, but also because it’s brought out the competitive streak in both Michael and Alex. 

”Bring it on,” Michael encourages, leaning over to kiss Alex on the corner of the lips before he’s off his stool. 

Alex watches him go, confused. “Where are you going?” he demands. 

”It’s war, babe,” Michael shouts at him from the door. “Can’t have you getting ideas from trying them out on me. I’ll see you in two days when I win the bet!” 

”We’ll see about that.” Alex shouts back at him, but it’s too late. Michael’s already out the door. 

*

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Kyle asks suspiciously when Alex turns up at the hospital with a tray of coffees, wearing his old leather jacket, and sitting at the nurse’s station. He can’t help his fond smile as he leans forward to take the coffee that’s marked as ‘Dr. Hot Stuff’ from Alex, eyes landing on the second coffee (which is Alex’s, right there in the tray). 

Alex gives Kyle that too-sweet smile, the one he has when he’s plotting something. “I can’t come bring my boyfriend a coffee?”

“Is Guerin hiding somewhere? Am I going to get tackled while I’m distracted?” 

He’s still smiling, though, 

Alex doesn’t worry about grabbing a picture at the moment, because he’ll just get into the security cameras and pick one up later. “I had the morning off and I wanted to see you,” Alex replies calmly.

The one big rule about the bet is that Kyle isn’t supposed to find out. If Kyle finds out, that’s an automatic forfeit on the part of whoever leaked the contest and Alex has no intention of losing like that.

He has no intention of losing at all.

”I thought we could have a coffee break together,” Alex says, rubbing his thumb over the curve of the cup. “I missed you.”

”I saw you this morning,” Kyle replies, sipping his drink. “Remember? Once I dislodged Guerin from aggressively little spooning into me, which…I still don’t get how he does it. Is it alien glue?” he whispers, voice low. “Because I swear, no one should have that much power from that position.”

”I still missed you,” is Alex’s calculated and soft response, his eyes fixed on Kyle’s mouth. “Come on. Let’s go sit outside,” he says, reaching over to tangle his fingers into Kyle’s, gently tugging him outside with a slow walk. “Don’t make me beg.”

”And yet, that sounds really tempting…”

Alex grins at him and earns another smile back. By the time the little mini-date is over, he’s managed to get three clear smiles out of Kyle that he can document, which officially puts their score at four to two, for him. It’s a decent lead, but it’s also one that he knows Michael won’t let stand for very long. 

*

He’s right about that, obviously. 

Michael lets out a pleased huff as he zips his jeans back up, getting back to his feet in the supply closet. After Alex had shown him the yields of a coffee date, he’d marched right down to the hospital the next night during Kyle’s night shift and got right down to it. 

Kyle, dazed, has his eyes closed and still has one hand wrapped around the shelving poles, grinning with a blissful smile, doesn’t even notice the click of the camera. , but is probably just Guerin putting his belt back on. 

“Okay,” Kyle mumbles. “Yeah, you’re right. That was way better than getting coffee on my break.”

“I’m always right,” Michael says, leaning in to kiss Kyle on the lips. “See you later, doc.”

Sure, that’s only worth the one point, but when he returns in the morning with a greasy and full breakfast from the Crashdown (before Alex has even woken up for the day), his night owl tendencies have evened up the score.

*

“Okay,” says Kyle when he comes across Michael and Alex as thick as thieves together in the bunker, leaning together and bickering over some notebook, “what the hell is going on with you two? I mean, I’m not complaining about all the dates and the gifts and the sex, but it’s weird.”

It’s been nearly three days of really odd behavior from his two boyfriends and he’s not so unobservant that he hasn’t tracked the pattern, he just hasn’t known what to make of it. He’s also not sure he’s so upset, because it’s been a damn good distraction from the anniversary of his dad’s death, which…

Oh.

Well, now Kyle is beginning to understand part of this. 

Michael at least tries to look innocent, but Alex shrugs like he’s not about to feel bad about whatever this insanity is.

“We’re tied,” Michael says, which is clearly directed at Alex, because what the fuck? “We could always say we both won.” From the look on Alex’s face, he’s not really happy about losing the bet, which makes sense. That competitive need to win might differ from Jesse Manes’ style of needing to win, but it’s still there.

“Won what?”

“Loser was in the middle of the DP sandwich,” Michael shares, his eyes flicking over Kyle like he plans to end this insanity. “Let’s settle it right now, the bet’s only got six hours left on the clock anyway. Hey Valenti, smile for you, would you?”

He glares at him, arms crossed over his chest. 

“Kyle?” Alex says, calm and seductive and sweet. “Smile for me and we both get to fuck Michael, together.”

He very deliberately turns to Alex and smiles warmly at him.

“Fuck me,” Michael hisses out.

“Yeah, babe, that’s the plan,” Alex agrees with the gleeful and wicked smirk of a poor winner.

Sure, they’re both going to have to deal with Alex being smug about winning this little bet, but with plans to work together to fuck Michael until he’s begging and practically melting into the bed, Kyle’s willing to put up with that frustration. He’s still smiling and if he’s honest, it’s the happiest he’s been in a long while, so if this is a distraction, then it definitely worked. 

*

“Okay,” Kyle pleads, later, when they’re curled up together in bed and Alex is preening victoriously about being the winner of the bet (and Michael has collapsed, protesting that his aching ass means he can’t move). “What the hell was that about?”

“Whoever got you to smile more in three days won,” Michael mumbles, the words absorbed by the pillow that his face is shoved in. “We wanted to distract you from the time of year.”

Kyle turns his mind to the last few days and presses his laughter into Alex’s shoulder, because Michael is doing his usual nightly routine of falling asleep wrapped around their boyfriend pillow before he ends up yanking one or both of his actual boyfriends to curl up around him. 

”That explains so much.”

It also reveals their techniques in a telling way that Kyle’s pretty amused by. Alex had gone straight for strategic wooing, charm, and compliments. Michael hadn’t bothered with subterfuge and had been direct.

Clearly, Kyle’s a sucker for both methods. 

In the morning, Kyle can’t stop smiling, so he’s pretty sure that this little bet of has done exactly its intended purpose and really? He’s not mad, not by a long shot. He might not say ‘thank you’ directly to their faces, but he makes breakfast the next morning and takes his time kissing each of his boyfriends’ good morning. 

He doesn’t say it enough, not really, but he knows how much he’s lucked out to have this and times like this throw that into stark relief. 

“Next time,” Kyle says, while they’re eating, “I pick the bet.”

“It’s all yours,” Michael allows, absently eating as he scribbles notes, Alex nodding as he stares blearily into his coffee, not yet a person.

*

It’s why, three months later, he and Alex are head to head in a new competition on the anniversary of Caulfield’s destruction. “Two to one,” Kyle says with a smug smirk. “He used his powers when we were making out in the car.” 

Alex, calm as ever, sips his drink like he hasn’t got a care in the world.

“There’s still two days left,” he says.

He’s not wrong, which is why Kyle intends to get moving.

He has a bet to win.

Chapter Text

He’s had the mark on his wrist since he came out of the pod – they all have. It’s three circles that seem to ebb and flow, but in the middle there’s a fourth. Through his life, those symbols change their colors, though never their shape, and it’s on their thirteenth birthday when they figure it out.

“The humans have these,” Isobel shares. “I saw it at one of the boy-girl parties, they’re soulmate marks, but theirs are different,” she says, holding hers out. “They only have one, not four.”

It’s that night, when the drifter steals Isobel, that they realize why they’re different. When the drifter grabs Isobel, one of the circles starts to glow a fervent red, burning their skin angrily. After they deal with the drifter and bury his body, they huddle together, protecting each other, and beginning to understand the marks a little more.

As they get older, they learn more about it from the humans.

“They’re soulmarks,” the kids in class explain. “The person closest to your soul is tied to it and when they’re in danger, it changes.” 

“It’s a defense system,” explain their teachers, “and a way to help you save those you truly care about when they’re in trouble, the ones you’re linked to in your soul.”

Max, Isobel, and Michael take to wearing long-sleeved shirts as often as they can until Isobel buys them high-grade concealer, but even that doesn’t work when one of them starts to panic or gets in a tough situation (usually Michael, because his foster situation always puts him in danger). Even then, beneath the makeup, the marks glow bright. 

They use them as much as they need to. In the middle of his foster parents taking their anger out on them, the phone will ring or there’ll be a knock on the door and one of the Evans will be there (usually Max or Isobel, but sometimes their parents). It’s enough to protect him.

It’s a way for them to look out for one another.

The only mystery that’s left is that odd fourth mark.

“What does the fourth one mean?” Max is the first one to bring it up. “Ours never go off at the same time,” he says, because Michael’s has started to go off more frequently than the others, like an alarm he needs to stop ignoring. He knows that it means someone is in trouble, but it’s not Isobel and it’s not Max, because often it flares when they’re all together. “Is it some kind of family member we don’t know about?”

It belongs to someone else, but Michael has no idea who.

“Maybe it’s our actual soulmate,” Isobel raises the prospect, and it seems sensible enough. The humans only have one, maybe they’ve gone one on them that attaches them to whoever their alien soulmate is meant to be, along with the family they hold tightest to. 

If Michael’s soulmate is the fourth mark on his skin, then whoever he’s meant to be with gets hurt nearly as much as he does and it breaks Michael up inside not knowing who it is. 

He wants to be able to help, he wants to be able to do something, but short of harming people in his vicinity and looking at his mark, it’s going to remain a mystery. Besides, once he hits junior year and starts developing a head-over-heels, draw-our-names-in-hearts crush on Alex Manes, he stops thinking that it matters so much who the mark belongs to.

Really, though, he never had anything to worry about.

It only hits when Jesse comes down with the hammer. The circle that belongs to him flashes angrily, but so does the fourth, the one that belongs to his soulmate. At the same time, the mark on Alex’s neck flares furiously red with pain. 

Oh, he thinks.

And then he realizes how unsurprising this actually is, how happy he is, but how much pain is distracting him from this epiphany. 

Even though his life turns brutally terrible that night when he covers for three murders, he learns just how much worse it gets. 

One month later, Alex finds him in his truck and Michael realizes that this is the bottom of the pit he’s been falling down.

They’ve been sneaking around the last month and Michael had actually thought that maybe they’d run away together. Those hopes are dashed when he sees the duffel in Alex’s hands. It’s camouflaged-color, and until today, Michael hadn’t realized that “fuck you’ could be so vivid a color in drab army greens.

His stomach sinks and he stares at Alex in pain and horror. 

“I signed up,” Alex says. “I came to say goodbye, because you…”

“Stop,” Michael says sharply. “I’m not everyone else,” he says, and he gets right up in Alex’s personal space, pressing his hand over the mark on Alex’s neck, his mark. “Don’t bullshit me like you’d bullshit Valenti or Liz or Maria. You’re running away and you want my permission.”

Michael scoffs and shakes his head. 

“You’re not gonna get it,” he says, the words biting and harsh.

“Michael,” Alex pleads.

“You wanna go follow in the Manes family footsteps, you do that, but I’m not going to pretend I’m okay with it. Go,” he snaps at him. “Leave, if you’re so desperate to get out of here, if you want to leave me. Just go,” he snaps.

He knows he’s the one shouting at Alex to do it, but when he leaves, it’s like he’s taken something inside of Michael and snapped it in half. 

When Alex walks away, Michael watches the mark on Alex’s neck broadcast his pain for him. He wonders how Alex can keep walking, but he knows that he’s shutting his eyes to avoid seeing the pain flare up in vivid color on his own skin. Michael watches him go and thinks it’s the worst pain he’ll ever be in.

He’s wrong, though.

Almost ten years later, he’s working on the dairy ranch when Alex’s mark goes blinding hot white, so painful that Michael passes out long enough for Foster to suggest the hospital. “No,” Michael snaps, and drags himself to Isobel’s, where she calls Max and he drinks his way through three bottles of acetone.

“Michael, whatever happened branded your arm,” Isobel says, holding his forearm and staring at it. 

“I don’t care, heal it,” he snaps. He knows the danger that Alex must be in, he knows he must be skirting the edge of death, and when he falls asleep sobbing with a bottle of acetone clutched in his arms, he’s so glad when the mark keeps pulsating with color, because though Alex is in pain, he’s alive.

He’s alive. That means that Michael can have the second chance he’s not so sure he deserves.

Alex comes back into town, distressed and despondent atop a parade float, and Michael lingers in the crowd until he knows he can get him alone. He knows that he’d been in more pain than he’d ever been in his life, and Michael had felt it acutely in a way he never had before.

He follows him, not sure how to approach him, and it turns into Michael stalking Alex around town like an idiot as he tries to figure out what to do or say.

It turns out that Alex is the one who comes up with the right words, the night of the reunion when Michael finally bridges the gap between them, intending to offer out that olive branch and talk. 

“What I want doesn’t matter,” Alex says. 

“Maybe not,” Michael counters, drifting inside. “What I do, does.”

Alex’s gaze flickers down to Michael’s lips, then back up to his eyes. “And what do you want?” he asks him, his voice soft, like he’s trying to keep this a secret between the both of them, even now. 

“I want for my mark to never flare like that again,” Michael says firmly. “I want to never know what color it goes when you’re in life-threatening pain. I want to protect you, keep you safe, I want…”

“Please tell me somewhere in this list, you want to kiss me comes up?”

Michael drifts right into Alex’s personal space and grabs his face with both hands, his pinky rubbing back and forth over his mark on Alex’s neck as he kisses him, swallowing up every last desperate moan of Alex’s, the two of them fighting to prove which one missed the other more. 

It turns out that Michael’s pretty stubborn when it comes to what he wants.

He’s also very pleased to say that apart from the low-grade pains that come from a man losing his leg, he gets to keep his promise, and makes sure that the mark on his arm that belongs to Alex stays steady, true, and safe

From now until the end, Michael’s job is to make sure the people he loves stays safe and the marks on his arm stay boring. It might not be the best job in the world, but for Michael, it’s worth every moment.

Chapter Text

“Dr. Guerin, do you have a minute?”

Michael is in the middle of grading a pile of papers and he’s regretting agreeing to take on Introduction to Engineering Materials of the Future, because in his entire class, there’s only about three promising students who are going to make it.

He glances up in the middle of marking up another paper in red to find one of those three students standing there. Student of course, being an accurate word, but definitely not one of the young ones that make him wonder daily why he signed up for this willingly.  “Captain Manes,” he says, shoulders practically sagging with relief to be handed a reprieve. “Please. Rescue me.”

“That bad?”

Michael doesn’t say that he’s debating firing up his spaceship and leaving the planet, but he’s definitely had a few of those thoughts in recent days.

Being an alien who’s come to earth to hold down a job and learn about their science and their culture had sounded like a good mission when Max had offered it to him. Now, he’s debating how many of the papers he’s had to grade he’ll need to make a giant origami middle finger that he can fly home to Antar.

“This paper is trying to convince me of the merits of jell-o,” he deadpans, which isn’t exactly promising. 

As happy as he is for the distraction (both because Alex is one of his smartest students, but also he’s easy on the eyes and basically his age), he doesn’t know why he’s there.

“Are you here for office hours? Your last paper was excellent, same as your test scores,” Michael says suspiciously.

“Do you not want me here?”

The opposite, actually, but honestly, he’s been trying to ignore that flare of want within him. For one, Alex is a human. He’s also one a student, which isn’t so much of a problem because he’d enrolled after three tours, so he’s older, but he’s Michael’s student.

“No,” Michael hurries to answer when he realizes he hasn’t. “No, I’m surprised, that’s all.”

“I actually do want your help, but not with this class. I know I need to take the pre-reqs first, but I’ve been consulting on a project with the Air Force and I could use your help taking a look at the aerodynamics of the wings, if you’re feeling up to it?”

Michael shouldn’t.

He really shouldn’t. For one, it’s probably in poor taste to help a student with another professor’s class. It’s an even worse idea when the student you want to help is also a student you have a crush on. They’re about the same age, he knows, if for a few months difference, but he’s still Michael’s student until the semester ends and Alex heads off for his degree.

Yet, here he is, nodding. “Sure, why not.”

He ignores the pile of papers he needs to grade and spends the next few hours leaning over Alex’s shoulder to look at his work, rapidly tapping the paper as he offers his opinion, and drifting in to check his work to the point that he’s so close he can smell Alex’s body wash.

Michael exhales a hitched, stuttered breath, and forces himself to pull back before he gets in trouble.

Alex seems to be having similar thoughts. “I should probably…”

“Yeah,” Michael agrees hoarsely. “Yeah, I still need to finish grading,” he says, watching Alex stand and collect his books. He’s hovering close to Alex as he escorts him out, but before Alex leaves, he turns and presses his back up against the closed door to Michael’s office.

Student, he reminds himself. Alex Manes may be a Captain in the Air Force, an adult, and the tastiest snack he’s seen in these halls in years, but he’s still a student.

”Thank you,” he says, voice husky. He wets his lower lip as his gaze slides to Michael’s mouth.

Maybe kissing the hell out of Alex isn’t the right way to say ‘you’re welcome’, but it is the choice that Michael makes, as ill-advised as it might be. He backs him right up against the door, crowding his space as he tangles his hands in Alex’s hair, kissing him like he doesn’t plan to breathe again, like his only plan is to kiss Alex.

At least, that’s his plan until he hears a textbook thump to the ground, falling out of Alex’s bag.

Shit. 

“We can’t,” Michael croaks out, the sense to say that taking every single ounce of his self-restraint. “If anyone finds out, we’d get in trouble, you could lose your scholarship, I could lose my job…” It’s telling how good the kiss had been, because Michael’s hands are still fumbling and holding tight to Alex’s shirt. 

Still, the regret is clear in the way Alex’s lips curve downwards in the beginnings of a beautiful frown. “I know.”

Michael finally manages to let go, a soft sound torn from him when he does.

“Good luck on your project,” he offers, reaching to the side of Alex to open the door, using the threat of someone seeing as a preventative measure before they do anything else really stupid.

Alex bends to pick up his textbook, sliding it into his bag. “With the help you gave me, I don’t need luck. It’ll be amazing.” 

Then he’s gone and Michael can breathe again.

Holy shit, he thinks. What did he just nearly do?

He didn’t, though. He’s not going to get fired and though he doubts he’ll ever sleep soundly again until he gets to kiss Alex Manes again, his job is safe, and he didn’t do something very, very stupid. It’s a shame his genius brain is currently lamenting that fact.

*

It’s a few weeks later, when midterms have been graded and returned to the students that he bumps into Alex again at a coffee shop. When his eyes slide over him, all he remembers is what it’d felt like to kiss Alex against his office door. Still, he marches right inside and tells himself that he’s a mature adult alien-human-something. 

He can do this. 

“Dr. Guerin,” Alex greets him. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Yes, it is,” Michael agrees, feeling like the awkwardness of this conversation might actually kill him. He’s tapping his fingers rapidly on the counter as his eyes slide over Alex, looking at the leather jacket he’s wearing that fits him like a glove. “How’d your project go?”

“A+,” Alex brags. “Thanks to you,” he adds, stepping towards Michael like he’s about to do something to thank him. 

Michael’s heart starts to pound in his chest and as much as he knows he shouldn’t encourage this, he wants it. He hasn’t wanted anyone for years, not since he and his last girlfriend broke up because their interests and lives went in separate directions, not to mention cities. 

Considering how Michael had shown his appreciation for Alex’s gratitude last time, he can only imagine what’s going to happen.

”Let me pay for your coffee,” Alex says, throwing him off his expectation, “in thanks.”

Michael exhales the breath he’s been holding in, beaming as he nods. “Yeah, that’d be…”

”And then we can take a walk while you drink it?”

There’s that other shoe. 

The thing is, Michael really likes spending time with Alex, so even though he’s going to have to fight not to reach over and touch Alex, even casually, he’s not about to say no. He takes the piping hot coffee without a sleeve and cups his palms around it, like the pain will be a deterrent. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

They walk in silence for the first few blocks, mostly because Michael has no idea what the hell to say. He can feel the warmth of Alex’s body beside him, and it’s driving him crazy, because he wants it underneath his hands again. 

“It was nice,” Alex finally breaks the silence, “you, helping me with my project.”

Yeah, it was, but Michael can’t say that. 

Instead, he goes for honest truth. “Look, I want this,” Michael says, wanting to be blunt, “but you’re my student. That ends in trouble for both of us and we know it. I don’t want to throw away what I’ve got going on here, and honestly, I don’t think you do either, so nothing can happen.”

“For now.” Alex sounds smug about it, too, like somehow he’s smarter than Michael for figuring it out. They’ve come to a stop near a small set of benches, where students are on blankets studying, playing frisbee, and they’re in such a public place that they can’t do anything.

It’s simultaneously the safest they can be, but also a kind of torture that’s up there with watching Max struggle to learn to play the guitar.

Sure, Alex won’t be in his class, but he’ll still be a student.

Honestly? Michael’s not sure he cares that much.

”I was thinking when the semester is over, I might take you out on a date. If you’re into dating Air Force Captains and you might be willing to try that sort of thing.”

”I could be exclusively into that,” Michael hears himself saying. 

“So,” Alex says, coming to a stop a few feet in front of Michael. “End of the semester?”

“End of the semester,” Michael hears himself agreeing. Either this is the best decision he’s ever made or the worst, but he’s going to quickly find out. 

*

The final is six days away and Michael is counting down the days. 

Lectures have become a painful thing, because Alex has taken to practically fellating his pen as he takes notes, running his lips and tongue over it, which makes Michael use the podium as a protective instrument to hide behind. He’s a complete menace, but seeing as Michael doesn’t intend to get fired from his job for even a hint of impropriety, he is going to behave.

Apparently, Alex Manes did not make the same vow.

“Captain Manes, a word after class in my office?” Michael says, clipped, as the students depart.

He can hear some of the first years making idiotic comments on their way out, but Michael collects his books and heads to his office, prying off his glasses (which he doesn’t need, but it’s good to throw people off the scent of some of other-worldly habits, like perfect health). 

Alex ambles into the office casually a few minutes later, looking innocent as all fuck and even whistling nonchalantly, like he thinks this is a joke. 

“Alex,” Michael pleads, the moment he closes the doors to his office. “Are you actually trying to kill me?”

“Seriously? Because of that?” Alex asks, waving his pen around. His eyes are bright and he lets his gaze slide over Michael. “Dr. Guerin, when’s the last time you got laid?”

His cheeks go furiously red. “That is not the p…” He grimaces, breathing out slowly, a frustrated sound on his breath vibrating his lower lip. Two years, says his helpful brain, because he’s been so busy with work and so uninterested in the options that he’s taken a sex sabbatical. He leans over and forcibly yanks the pen out of Alex’s hands to point at him with it. “Stop it.”

Alex smirks at him. 

“Six days,” is all Alex says, reaching over to slide his thumb over the arm of Michael’s glasses, the pad of his thumb continuing to trace over the shell of Michael’s earlobe. “I should go. I’ve got a final in Engineering Materials to study for. I really want to impress the professor.”

Then, he’s gone.

Fucking menace, thinks Michael, and locks the door so he can jerk off before his office hours resume. 

Four days later, his last class looms larger than life. Considering what he knows waits for him at the end of this class and the final, it drags like it’s got ten parachutes hurtling behind it.  

Michael finishes teaching his last class, spending the last five minutes literally watching the clock. When it ticks to 4PM, he shouts that everyone should get the hell out. They’re not home free yet, though, as much as Michael desperately wishes they were. 

He has to stop himself from floating all the objects in his apartment about three times, as he vibrates with tension, on the morning of the final. 

Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long. 

Twenty minutes after the exam for his course is over and Michael has packed up to leave (after he’s rushed through grading Alex’s final, shoving it into his TA’s hands so no one can accuse him of impropriety when he starts dating his student), he heads homewards so he can wait for Alex’s call. 

He doesn’t even make it to his truck, though. 

“Dr. Guerin.”

Michael whips his head around to track the sound of Alex’s voice, finding him leaning up against a tree. He’s wearing that leather jacket of his and Michael has upgraded him mentally from snack to meal.

“Are you free?”

Michael grins as he changes course, grabs Alex by the lapels, and pins his back hard against the tree. He rocks his hips up against Alex’s denim-clad legs, pinning him there as he tangles his fingers into Alex’s hair, fingers flexing and cupping Alex’s neck, tipping his face to the side to breathe before starting to mark up Alex’s neck with bites and kisses and the slow path of his tongue in a way that he’s been thinking about doing for months.

It’s only the start of his fantasies, but Michael thinks he’s never been happier. 

“Well?” Alex asks breathlessly, cupping Michael’s face with both hands like he’s trying to hold onto this ride for dear life. “Are you? Free?” 

“Exclusively,” Michael promises, before he kisses Alex in public the way that he’s been thinking about for months

Chapter Text

“Today, children, we delve into amortentia,” Professor DeLuca announces after she swans into the room with her portions collected up in a bag under her arm, bearing the look of a woman who knows exactly how much chaos she’s inviting by asking a room of seventeen-year-olds to make a potion that reveals one’s deepest desires.

From the other side of the class where the Slytherins are gathered, Valenti snorts. “Manes is gonna be smelling dick, huh?” Isobel, with them by virtue of loyalty, hauls her books up and plants herself at the Gryffindor table with Max and Alex instead of with her Slytherin classmates. 

“Ignore those assholes,” she huffs, reaching over to help balance Max’s potions. “Kyle will be lucky if he smells anything but his own aftershave, he’s so in love with himself these days.”

“What about Liz’s perfume?” Alex suggests, measuring things out cautiously, not even paying attention to how Max blushes. “They are dating.” He’s not actually trying to rub Max’s face in it, but it’s good to remind him about that sometimes when Max starts talking about wooing Liz away.

The last thing he needs is to get in the middle of another duel that goes badly, all because of some stupid romance.

“Let’s just get to work,” Isobel suggests, leaning over both of them to start plucking ingredients. “I don’t need to worry about my brother getting petrified again because he’s dueling over Liz Ortecho’s honor,” she says with a roll of her eyes, throwing ingredients into the pot with a seeming lack of care, but Alex knows better.

She knows exactly what she’s doing.

Unfortunately, just because they’ve decided to move on doesn’t mean Kyle and his asshole cronies have. Alex can feel things being thrown his way and Mimi DeLuca is too busy helping other students to notice – not to mention Kyle conveniently keeps stopping whenever she’s looking.

“Oh, here it comes,” Kyle announces. “C’mon, guys, Alex should be salivating any minute, you know how badly he craves those hot dogs.”

Alex frowns and tries to put on blinders and focus on the potion, but when he takes a deep breath, he has the feeling he’s screwed up when he smells not a collection of items, but a singular person.

Behind the chaos of their two warring tables, Michael and Maria DeLuca are working steadfastly at theirs. She’s flicking his Hufflepuff tie out of the way before it lands in the potion again. It figures that the smell of Michael had wafted his way from the table, so he shakes his head and gets right back to making it again. It doesn’t make sense that he’d be smelling Michael like that, so he must have done something wrong to get an odorless amortentia. 

Yet, when he finishes his re-do, it hasn’t changed.

Broom oil, varnish, and the cream Michael uses in his curls. Alex’s cheeks heat up when it occurs to him that it’s not because Michael is sitting behind them, but because Alex is smelling him in the potion. “What do you smell?” he asks Max in a hurry, trying to keep Valenti’s attention off him, even if he feels like it’s fixed his way.

“Liz’s perfume,” says Max, as miserably in love with the Ravenclaw prefect as he has been since they were third years. Isobel gives Alex a pointed look and he recognizes it as the ‘we have to do something about Max’ look. 

Normally, he’d agree. Right now, he knows Isobel well enough that he knows what’s about to happen next. 

“Well, I smell someone’s perfume, too,” she says, and it throws Alex for a loop. He really thought that she’d throw him under the bus, noticing that he’d had to remake his potion, but it quickly becomes apparent that Isobel’s cunning ambition to get something isn’t about distracting Max right now so much as it’s about getting something she wants.

Well, getting something she wants and putting Valenti in his place. 

“Maria,” Isobel says. 

From the Hufflepuff table, Maria glances up. “What?”

“Oh, no,” she says sweetly, her eyes fixed on Kyle. “Max and Alex were asking what I smelled in the amortentia. I was answering.”

The entire class goes silent.

Maria is staring at Isobel and Alex bites his lip. Isobel’s crush on Maria isn’t exactly a badly kept secret, but he hangs out with Maria and Liz enough to see all the looks that Isobel throws her way. Professor DeLuca has helpfully excused herself with the announcement that class is over. Maria’s got both palms on the table, leaning forward to make sure that her mother is out of sight. 

“Evans,” Maria calls, and Isobel hums sweetly as she turns, which allows Maria to grab Isobel by her green and black tie, yanking her in for a kiss.

Valenti, who knows what’s best for him, is not making any comments about seafood, clams, or anything fish-related, which is handy, because Isobel happens to be one of the best students when it comes to legilimency and she could turn his brain to soup if she wanted.

It means that the torment for Alex is over, too. 

He sighs in relief, though that’s only one problem down. Alex works on packing up his things, trying to hurry out of there before Valenti can take out his humiliation on him, but he’s not quick enough. Someone drops their books in front of him and he closes his eyes, hoping it’s not Valenti and his goons, or worse, Flint to come and pick up the baton. 

When he looks up, Michael Guerin is standing there.

“Hey,” Alex greets him, nervously.

“I saw you remake your potion,” he says. “Did something go wrong? Do you need some extra help, because I’d definitely be willing to…”

“I thought I made it wrong because I smelled you,” Alex blurts out, because Michael can keep on being chivalrous and so nice and good to him. “You were sitting right behind me, so I figured that I wasn’t smelling the potion, but I was smelling you instead, only, then on the second time when it didn’t change, I realized that it was you…”

Michael doesn’t bolt. He doesn’t even look scared.

Alex’s heart pounds wildly in his chest, watching Michael settle into the stool beside him. “Black nail varnish, broom oil, and the smell of the detergent you use on your sheets that I smell when I visit…” He gives Alex a crooked grin. “I’d probably smell that muggle computer of yours if it had a smell,” he quips. 

Alex is pretty sure his heart is going to explode from his chest and they’ll have to spell him back together. “…uhhhh…”

“So,” Michael keeps going, like he doesn’t even notice what he’s done to Alex. “I was thinking about going to grab some food and maybe heading out to study. I know you don’t need the extra help, but maybe, do you wanna come with me?”

Because his voice has clearly been stolen by some nefarious creature in the room, Alex has to resort to frantic nodding, grabbing his things to bundle them tight to his chest. He’s so glad that Isobel had distracted everyone else so they could have this moment. 

“So, is that a yes?”

“Fuck yes.”

“Manes,” Michael says with a smirk. “Language.” 

Later, when Alex is giving him a hickey and Michael is cursing up a storm in the Hufflepuff room, he’s not nearly as concerned about language. That night, when he sneaks back to the Gryffindor common room, he smells of broom oil and Michael’s curl cream. 

Max gives Alex a knowing look, even if there’s a haunted look in his eyes. 

Alex defiantly curls into bed, turning away from any comments Max feels compelled to make about what Alex smells like, instead thinking about how he’d left Michael with one last kiss, his black varnish painted nails buried in Michael’s curls, holding on tight.

Yeah. He’s pretty sure he’s not failing potions at all, because he got amortentia as right as he thinks you can get it. 

Chapter Text

It’s hard to notice, if you’re not paying attention. 

At least, that’s what Liz has said to him three times over the course of this conversation and truthfully, Michael’s kind of tired of hearing it. He can read between the lines and finding out that he’s fucked up by trying to do the right thing stabs him between the ribs like a sharp blade.

“I only noticed when we were hanging out with Maria and her mom the other week,” Liz admits, leaning against his table in the Crashdown. “He zoned out completely when a car backfired and then when the new guy burned a towel and it caught fire, he bolted for the bathroom.”

He hadn’t noticed.

Liz keeps talking, but Michael’s doing his own version of zoning out, because he’d been so busy trying to give Alex space that he’d gone all the way the other way and ignored the obvious signs in his face. 

Some genius he is.

“…anyway, I figure maybe I’ll have him come over for dinner this weekend. He can lecture me some more about being a bad friend, but it’d be nice to have him come over.”

Michael has no idea what’s been happening on the human side of things, but this little talk has filled in the blanks. While he’d been working on figuring out how to stop Isobel’s blackouts, Alex has been taking it on himself to worry about Maria and Liz, trying to keep things together, and though it sounds like Liz doesn’t know what’s going on, she also mentions that he’s been hanging out with Valenti more. Then, Isobel had gone into the pod and he and Liz had started working non-stop to fight against that, all while Alex had been fighting his own battles.

He knows a thing or two about burning the candle at both ends. 

After the drive-in, Michael had made it a point to give Alex space, but he didn’t think that Alex would take all that space and run himself ragged with it. This calls for an intervention. 

“You know what, I haven’t seen him in ages,” Michael says, knowing that Liz doesn’t know about their history, but had seen them hanging out at the drive-in and the reunion, so she knows they’re friends. “Do you mind if I stole him for the night?” 

Liz gives him a surprised look, but nods. “Sure! Do you want me to warn him that you’re going to…”

“Nah,” Michael says, not wanting Alex to be undertaking evasive maneuvers just to avoid hanging out with him. “No, I’ll swing by and grab him this weekend, try and take him away and maybe get him to relax.”

Liz packs him up lunch to go, and Michael leaves the diner kicking himself in the ass for assuming that Alex was better off if Michael fully cut him out of his life instead of being a supportive friend instead of wanting things to go right back to that epic, explosive place they’d left it in.

It’s his own fault. He doesn’t really know what it’s like to have real friends, but maybe it’s time he figured it out.

That’s how Michael finds himself at the cabin, with a piece of fabric over his fingertips. He doesn’t intend to use it without Alex’s express permission, but he kind of hopes he’s going to get it.

Alex opens the screen door, staring warily at Michael. 

”You know, between Kyle trying to break into my house and now you on my porch with a blindfold, I’m starting to think home ownership is way more exciting than anyone would’ve led me to believe.” He crosses his arms over his chest, pressing his lips together. “What are you doing here, Guerin, I’m busy.”

Yeah, he bets he is. 

”I heard that you had lunch with the girls, spent the day with them and Mimi DeLuca,” Michael says, absently running the blindfold back and forth over his hand. “Liz…said some things,” he says, feeling like a weird awkward tattletale. “Look, you did a great thing, being there for Maria,” is what he says, and Michael had been there too for her when she’d broken down.

Now it’s his turn to worry about Alex.

”How about you let someone else watch out for you?” Before Alex can say anything else. “I just want to give you break, Alex, nothing else.” 

He knows better than to complicate things by talking about their history or, god forbid, their future. If Alex is still suffering, if he’s still having flashbacks to the war, Michael needs to avoid layering more stress on top of that.

Alex stares at him warily, but turns and locks up behind him. “So the blindfold isn’t a kinky thing?”

Michael doesn’t even take the opening for what it is. He hands it to Alex. “Once we’re in the truck, you can put it on. I figured maybe you wouldn’t mind a bit of a surprise, or you could just use it to grab a few z’s on the drive into town.”

Alex still looks wary, but he climbs into the passenger seat of the truck and after a long moment of thought, he even slides the blindfold on.

The amount of trust it`s taken for him to do that resonates with Michael, and makes him relieved that no matter what had happened between them, it`s not all ruined. 

Michael’s been planning this all day. Every time he’d thought about ringing Isobel for help, he remembers where she is and it only makes him work harder on the Alex issue, because it helps to take his mind off the part where he’s failing Iz by not finding a solution.

When he pulls the truck into park, he reaches over to rest his good hand on top of Alex’s. “Hey,” he murmurs. “We’re here, you can take that off.”

Alex does, slowly, and it rumples his hair. It takes every ounce of self-restraint in Michael’s body not to reach over and fix it for him, but he manages (barely). He watches with delight as Alex registers where they are.

”Guerin,” Alex exhales, climbing out of the truck, leaving the blindfold on the seat. He’s staring up at the UFO Emporium sign, but Michael quickly leads them inside so Alex can see the rest. 

He’d set this up earlier and everything is ready. There’s a guitar lying up against one of the drapes covering an exhibit, there’s a six-pack of beer, and a few blankets on the ground. Michael watches as Alex runs through shock, surprise, grief, and then lands on a sad fondness. 

He knows this isn’t going to change anything, but it’s not about them.

Tonight is about Alex.

“Liz mentioned that when you and Maria were hanging out with Mimi, you seemed kind of spaced out sometimes,” Michael admits, hoisting himself to sit up on one of the empty plinths, leaning his shoulder back against a starry wall. “It got me thinking that ever since you’ve been back, it’s kind of been nonstop for you. I mean, the parade, the reunion,” he lists, “but then you were moving into a new place, trying to adjust to Liz being back in town, Valenti being back in your life…”

“How do you know all this?”

“Liz and I,” Michael says, making a face, “talk now.”

There’s plenty of time for that when you’re spending your days and nights trying to find a cure for Isobel, who’s sitting in a pod waiting for them to figure it out. 

“I wish I could videotape that, make her watch you make that face,” Alex comments, with an amused smirk. He keeps walking inside, studying the place, noticing the thin layer of dust though things have started to move around in preparation for the re-opening. 

“Michael…”

Michael feels his stomach twist up. Alex has never called him by his first name and while he’s always wanted it, he’s not sure what it means to hear it off his lips. “Yeah?”

“You brought me to the alien museum.”

“Yeah.”

“…are you ready to tell me?”

Michael stares at Alex and his first thought isn’t, how do you know? 

No. His first thought is that it explains why Alex has been so tense, why some of that old stress has been coming back. He’s found out about aliens, all the awful things that happened in the past, and he’s been thrown back into a war zone, only it’s because instead of a government putting him in the face of danger, now it’s his friends. 

Michael swallows back the lump in his throat, shaking his head. “Alex,” he chides. “I brought you here so you would stop making it all about someone else. You don’t have to spend every minute being strong for your father or your country or even me. If you want to feel like shit, I highly recommend it. It goes great with a whisky chaser. You don’t have to pretend to be okay all of the time.”

Though, Michael reflects, he can only imagine the number Jesse Manes had done on his son when it comes to perceptible weakness.

“You don’t have to be strong around me about anything. Your leg, the war, being back, finding out about me,” he says, even though that last bit scares the shit out of him. “I know you don’t want to be with me, but I’m not going anywhere. I think I proved that over the last ten years.” 

Alex is staring at him and hasn’t run away, so Michael feels safe to keep going.

”When you’re ready to stop trying to fix everything else, when you’re tired of being the base of support and the voice of reason for everyone else, I’m here. However you want me, I’m here.”

He’s not expecting the hug he gets from Alex, though it quickly shifts from being an embrace into something messier. It’s Alex burying his face in Michael’s neck, tears against his skin, fingernails scratching Michael’s shirt as he struggles to hold on, all while his breathing goes messy.

It’s a man who’s falling apart because he can and he’s allowed to.

Michael strokes his back, not hushing him or telling him that it’s all going to be okay. He doesn’t like lies or secrets when he can avoid them and right now, he needs to be Alex’s rock. He needs to be able to comfort him.

So he doesn’t make empty promises. “I’ve got you,” is what he says instead. “I’m here, Alex. I’m here when you need me.”

Alex drifts back and when he breathes in, it sounds shaky, but not broken. 

That’s when Michael knows he didn’t fuck up.

They spend the night sitting six feet apart, drinking beer and talking. Alex plays the guitar and Michael lets his chaotic mind drift into silence, while Alex lies sprawled on the ground and talks about what it had been like overseas, though he doesn’t talk about the day he’d lost his leg.

Michael isn’t surprised. He knows they’ve got a long way to go, in all kinds of ways. When it’s two in the morning, Alex finally struggles to his feet, gesturing down to his leg. 

”I really should get back home. I might not turn into a pumpkin, but my leg definitely gets as red as a tomato if I wear this too long.”

”I’ll drive you,” Michael assures, tidying everything up and dumping it into the bed of his truck. The silence in the truck on the way back is nowhere near as tense and awkward as it had been on the way, and Michael’s smiling privately given how he feels like he finally did something right.

Alex lingers on the porch waving at him, and maybe Michael’s just buzzing from spending the night with Alex after being away for so long, but he thinks maybe they’ve turned a corner.

There’s still so much to talk about. Michael’s history, Alex’s leg, all the unspoken traumas they’re hiding under a shallow veneer, but he’s accomplished his goal tonight – make sure Alex knows he doesn’t always have to be the strong one, that someone will be there if he wants to break down.

Next Saturday, Michael is working on a few cars at the junkyard when he hears the tires of a truck pull up. 

“I brought coffee,” comes Alex’s voice, sounding worn and tired. “You feel like taking a break? It’s been … it’s been a hell of a day,” he says, and Michael can’t help how happy he is to see Alex willingly coming to him instead of forcing himself to reshape his life into his father’s ideal image.

He’s always known that Alex is the strongest man he knows, that’s one of the things he loves about him. He’s also incredibly proud, now, to know that Alex feels open enough to be weak around Michael, which takes a different kind of strength that even Michael isn’t sure he possesses.

“I told you, I’m always here,” Michael says, letting the hood of the car he’s working on slam shut.

He’s ready to live up to his promises for Alex, because he’d do absolutely anything for him and he looks forward to making sure that he’s not the only one in town to support him in those moments of strain and stress.

For now, he’s more than happy being that person, because if anyone deserves to be supported the way he gives that strength to everyone else, it’s Alex Manes.

Chapter Text

The first thing Alex notices about the new kid in school is that he always wears these giant hoodies and he always seems uncomfortable. People are quick to gossip about him, but the most popular story is that he’s a new student who’s been in and out of foster homes for years and now he’s back at Roswell. People whisper that he’s been abused, which is why he flinches if your hand goes too close to his back, why he always wears those baggy shirts, and why he seems so awkward.

His name is Michael Guerin, and he takes to friendship with the Evans twins with ease. Isobel, with all her confidence and Max with his intense bookishness, both accept Michael like it’s as simple as breathing. There’s something about the both of them that Alex feels like he’s missing, like something he’s supposed to notice out of the corner of his eye.

The day Michael Guerin shows up, he stops trying to notice anything else.

“…don’t even bother,” he hears Liz saying.

Alex tunes back into the conversation, gaping at Maria and Liz. “What?”

“We were asking what you wanted to do this weekend, but clearly all you want to do is stare at the new kid.”

Alex’s cheeks flush red and he stares intently down at his lunch, neatly and obsessively folding his plastic wrap in squares so he doesn’t have to look up, seeing as he knows Liz and Maria will both peg his flushed expression for exactly what it is – he’s got a crush on the new kid. 

“We can do anything you guys want,” he says, having leaned long ago that giving the girls what they want will take the focus off of him.

The new kid isn’t going anywhere, which means that Alex can stare at him later and try and figure out why he holds himself the way he does or why he always seems so hunched over, as if he’s got the weight of a world on his back.

*

For years, Alex stares at Michael and lets his crush develop.

Through high school, Michael never stops with the baggy sweatshirts. He never stops feeling like there’s an itch he can’t scratch about Isobel Evans, like he hasn’t noticed something, and he tries not to notice that Max and Michael seem to swap hoodies every now and again. The rumor mill helps with that one, because it whispers that Max is wildly in love with Liz, so he’s definitely not sleeping with Michael.

They just share clothes for some other reason, probably. 

One night, in junior year, Alex is at the school late because he’d promised Liz he’d go to Kyle’s football game with her, but halfway through, he’d heard the sneers from the team at him and had told her that he needed to go for a walk. He’s trying to kill time until the game is over and Liz will let them go home, and he’s in the middle of his rounds towards the music room when he hears movement.

Peeking in, he sees a flash of Michael’s curls from the window. He’s about to open the door and tease Michael for being so into school that he’s here this late when he shifts a few inches to the side and sees Michael stripping off his shirt. 

Dry-mouthed, Alex opens the door to tell him that he’s not alone, but it’s not before something else entirely impossible. 

“What are those?” Alex exhales aloud, shocked when he sees Michael letting something release and feathery golden wings expand behind his back. He hadn’t meant to startle Michael like that, but he couldn’t keep it in. 

Michael swears and starts to fold them back in. “Shit! Fuck, I thought everyone had gone home!” It’s past eight in the music room, so Alex understands the logic, but unfortunately Alex’s need to avoid the shitty football team and their childish and determined attempts to make him feel like shit means that he’s here.

Michael Guerin has wings that make him look like an angel.

Does that mean he’s…

“Are you an angel?” Alex asks, hearing himself and feeling stupid for it, but he’s really not sure what other conclusion he’s supposed to come to. No one in the world has wings, why would Michael?

“You’re not even gonna ask me if it hurt when I fell?” Michael quips, holding his sweatshirt to his chest, anxiously. “Alex,” he says, his flirtatious tone at odds with the nervous look on his face. “I’m insulted.”

He needs answers, but Alex realizes that he needs something more in this moment.

“Can I touch them?”

Michael flushes a color that Alex has never seen before, but he nods. “They’re really sensitive,” he admits, his voice hoarse, but that doesn’t stop Alex from stepping towards him to slide his rough guitar-string-calloused fingertips over the feathery wings, his breath in his throat.

When Michael moans, all bets are off.

“Don’t you wanna know why I have wings?” he asks, when he sees the way Alex is looking at him, as if he knows what’s coming. 

He does want to know. Does he want to know more than he wants to keep touching them? Does he need to understand about the wings more than Alex’s increasing desire to kiss the boy he’s had a crush on for years? Grabbing Michael by the hips, he stumbles them back a few steps, and they only stop because those wings unfurl and flap just the once, stopping them as his hair rustles on his head. 

His eyes are on Michael’s lips, not those wings. He’ll get to it later.

“Oh,” is all Michael says, like he’s finally on the same page. And then, “Yeah.”

When Alex kisses him, one hand slides to those unfurled wings and strokes along the softest thing he’s ever felt in his life, while kissing the most handsome boy he’s ever known. Michael might be an angel, honestly, because kissing him is like heaven and he’d happily be raptured if it meant he could keep kissing him like that forever. 

Luckily for Alex, when he eases back to smile dazedly at his good fortune, Michael chases him for a second kiss that holds all the promise of those kisses never stopping.

*

Thirteen Years Later

“You’re going to the doctor.”

Michael hisses and gives Alex a pained look. He’s breathing in as best as he can, but the mangled wing behind him that’s bleeding is a pain that he hasn’t felt since he was seventeen and he lost use of his hand. This time, he knows the damage isn’t because of malice or ill intent, but his own stupidity in not setting up the lift properly.

Alex hovering over him is bad enough.

“I’m not going to Kyle!” he snaps.

“Then Kyle’s coming to you!”

Michael lets out a frustrated burst of energy, his telekinesis sending every object in the auto shop a few inches further away from him. He grimaces and watches the blood dropping on the ground, knowing that he’s not getting away with this. “Fine,” he snaps. “I fucking should’ve known when we let him come into our relationship that it would always be two against one,” he complains.

Alex clearly isn’t impressed with the comment, from the disbelieving glare on his face. Michael’s hissing out in pain, wishing that he had Max nearby so he could just heal him and they wouldn’t have to worry about this. He turns away to text, the look on his face something that Michael’s previously dubbed: Pissy Boyfriend. 

It means that if he weren’t currently injured, he’d be sleeping on the couch for at least the next week. 

Michael grabs the nearby bottle of acetone and gulps it whole in three swallows, grimacing as he leans forward, his wings still unfurled and casting a shadow over him. The humans don’t have them, and Michael isn’t sure if this is an alien thing or if it’s just a him, Max, and Isobel thing, but it’s a secret they’ve had to come to terms with. 

Isobel usually just uses her powers to convince people that nothing is there, to not see her gossamer wings. Max’s wings, black and swan-like, were always kept in braces. Michael’s, more like a hawk, had braces of his own, but he tended to let them out because he loved the feeling of being free. 

In the night, he’d fly among the stars, feeling like he was back at home amongst them.

He’s distracted from his thoughts when he hears the squeal of tires, signalling Kyle’s arrival. Michael sighs and digs out a second acetone bottle to start drinking from that, albeit slower, preparing himself for the incoming lecture. 

“Alex, I got your text, what’s…oh, shit,” Kyle says, staggering to a stop. 

Michael knows that he must look like a mess. 

“He needs someone who knows what he’s doing,” Alex protests, grabbing Kyle to haul him inside. He closes the door behind him, a hand pressed to the place on Kyle’s arm just above his elbow, holding on like he needs the support, his thumb stroking up and down Kyle’s bicep while staring at Michael with worry.

Yup. Two against one. 

He fucking knew this would happen. 

“You both know I barely have any information on these things, right? Because someone won’t let us take scans,” Kyle says pointedly. 

Michael should have had them in their braces to keep them hidden, he should have had them tucked away, but in his own shop and while he’s working, he hadn’t thought it would be a problem. Clearly, he’s failing his own health and safety codes. 

The wings had been fully out, golden brown feathers adorning the floor as he lay beneath the car, up a few feet on the lift. Something had gone wrong, though, and the car had come crashing down. In his panic, Michael’s powers had kicked in and he’d managed to avoid the car slamming fully on him, but he still had managed to take a hard scrape and bruising to his left wing, which is the one bleeding all over the ground.

“What do I do, do I even bandage this?” Kyle asks Alex, and it’s becoming clear that this is just the blind leading the blind. 

“You’re the doctor!”

“Fine!” Kyle swears under his breath. “Okay, let’s staunch the blood and then I’ll sew anything shut,” he says, giving Michael an annoyed look. “I’m not a vet, you know.”

The acetone has rendered him a little dopey and blissfully out of it. “Yup,” is all he musters up to contribute to this conversation. He sinks into a chair, backwards, and rests his chin on his hands while he feels Alex trying to stop the bleeding, while Kyle opens the first aid kit to start sewing the wings shut. 

He’s sleepy with exhaustion, acetone, and basking in the safe warmth of having them both looking after them when he hears Alex and Kyle talking above him, trying to be sneaky.

“We could probably get him in for a scan if we grabbed a trenchcoat and…”

“No,” Michael pipes up, hearing that part. He glaces to the both of them and lifts up the bottle, as if reminding them that once they get him to stop bleeding, he’ll do what he always does when he gets hurt.

He’ll curl up with his wings loose in bed, fall asleep in an acetone haze, and tuck Kyle and Alex under a wing apiece. Tonight, he wouldn’t mind so much if they also slid their fingers through the feathers, but there will be no hospitals, there will be no scans, and there will be no tests.

There will be an apology.

“I didn’t mean to get hurt,” he says quietly, when Kyle cuts off the last of the thread to stitch him up and he’s beginning to feel better. He could call Max and get him to heal him, but it’s late and Michael wants to curl up around his boyfriends. “Thanks,” he says, first to Alex. “Even if you know I hate worried Valenti most of all. And thanks,” he adds, to Kyle, “for spending all that time learning how to be a part-time vet.”

“Just don’t do it again,” Kyle insists. 

“Two against one,” Alex reminds Michael. “That means the motion is passed.”

Sleepily, Michael smiles, content and warm, and lets them fuss over him to get him into bed. Their fingers are warm, their bodies make him feel safe, and two against one becomes a good thing all over again when it’s their bodies, keeping him safe, warm, and protected.

*

Two against one is the kind of thing that happens regularly to Michael, to the point that he's thinking of filing a grievance.

(To who? Who the fuck knows, he just thinks he will)

“Aliens don’t do this, Alex.” 

“Aliens who lose bets sure do.”

Michael sighs as he stands in front of Alex, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer-briefs, his wings out of their holsters and spread out, gleaming in the sunset light, feeling ridiculous because he’s still in his boots because the desert is goddamn hot.

And here he is, standing in the middle of it, wishing he hadn’t bet Alex that he couldn’t bring Michael to orgasm by touch alone (he’s a fucking idiot, okay).

“I got the popcorn,” Kyle says, hurrying back and sitting beside Alex on the blanket, draping his arm around his shoulders. “You can start now.”

Michael spares one last curse under his breath before he expands his wings, flutters them, and then begins the courtship and mating dance that no bird would claim as its own because it’s clunky, uncoordinated, and ridiculous. It’s also exactly why he should stop making bets with Alex, so he doesn’t end up doing a courtship dance for his own goddamned boyfriends. 

Wings fluttering to a stop, he’s lost a few feathers in the process, his dignity is long gone, but the bet is fulfilled.

“Happy?”

Kyle extends the popcorn over to Michael with a sated, pleased grin. “Oh, we’re better than happy. Consider us courted.”

*

It's not always safe and warm, not always easy, but they've grown prepared for the inevitable disasters that they face.

It doesn't mean Michael likes them, but they're ready.

Alex is miles away when the code red comes in. It’s been a disaster from the word go, pretty much as soon as they decided to split up and go to opposite sides of the large prison complex. Alex had sent Michael and Kyle to start investigating how far the fence out there reached while he worked on dismantling the alarm systems so they could get the files they needed out of the complex. They’d been at this for hours, which means that they were about two full miles from the main area with no car to get them back, and they hadn’t found anything.

So, of course, with their luck, that’s when the 911 text pings Kyle’s phone.

“Alex is in trouble,” Kyle says sharply, cursing. “Fuck, he’s using one of the codes that means he’s in really deep shit.”

It could just mean that he’s been caught, or maybe that he can see the guards on their rotation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Alex is dead or dying, but that’s all Michael can think about. Panic swarms him, which is why he decides that this is a desperate situation, which calls for desperate measures.

Prying off his hat, his t-shirt quickly follows. “Kyle, take the binders off,” he demands, even as his golden-hewn hawk-like wings fight the restraints, his muscles already struggling to move faster.

“You’re not leaving me here, Guerin!”

“Who said I was leaving anybody!” Michael snaps back at him, even as Kyle unsnaps the binders, bending down to pick up Michael’s shirt. He steps back so Michael can unfurl the wings, flapping them a few times to stretch them out, the tips of his wings expanding until they’re almost blocking the sun with their massive eight-foot wingspan.

He’s done this exactly three times in his life.

The first had been Isobel when they were little and experimenting. He’d been able to carry her around the backyard with a combination of his powers and the strength of his wings. She’d managed to take them up and down a little with her gossamer wings, but no more than that.

The second time had been with Alex. He’d flown them away from Caulfield to avoid the alarms and escape before the building had gone up in smoke. He’d hovered them until the pain grew too bad and then he’d sent them crashing to the ground. Kyle had needed to patch them up for days before they were better.

The third time is now. “Come on,” he says, coaxing Kyle in. “Hold tight,” he says, his eyes wide with panic and worry, even as Kyle wraps his arms around Michael’s midsection. He doesn’t say that he’s never done this before, maybe because Kyle is a good boyfriend and actually keeps track of these things and already knows.

He does some mental math. Kyle and Alex are about the same size, with Kyle an inch shorter, but Alex had been missing his leg. He estimates exactly how much propulsion the wings can take care of and how much force he’ll need to add with his powers. Once he thinks he knows the balance of the equation, he closes his eyes to concentrate, wings flapping and building up the energy he needs.

At first, they barely hover, mainly because Michael’s struggling to figure out the distribution of weight, but Kyle helps in wrapping his legs around Michael’s waist, his arms around his neck. “You’ve got this,” Kyle murmurs quietly. “Come on.”

That’s all he needs.

Two miles is covered in no time at all, not like this. Michael lands them with a few running steps on the roof of the complex, dropping hat and t-shirt on the roof as he storms into the building like an avenging angel, Kyle hot on his heels.

“This way,” Kyle says, ducking past one of the wings to sprint down the hall, using the GPS of Alex’s phone to find him. Michael makes sure that not a single guard gets the chance to draw on Kyle before Michael uses his powers to send them flying to a wall.

He’s going to hurt like fuck for this later, between the wings and the use of his powers.

Kyle better be up for some wing massages, or Michael’s going to be bitching all night about the aches and pains. “Almost there, I think he’s in some kind of control room,” he says, and leads  It’s not like having wings comes with a homing beacon, though Alex has definitely suggested that they all get tracking chips.

Michael had laughed about it until he’d realized how deathly serious he’d been, but it had been Kyle who’d come up with the compromise of using their phones (because Kyle’s always the one who figures out the midpoint, how to make everything work). It’s why he takes the lead, pushing past Michael when he says, “Here, he’s through here.”

Then he’s bursting through, before Michael can even warn him to slow the fuck down. He follows Kyle into a control room, where he finds Alex in handcuffs, three guards with their guns on him.

“Alex!” Kyle shouts, and Michael curses under his breath.

Why the hell is Kyle so damn pretty, but so damn stupid sometimes?

“What did we say about shouting at the bad guys?” Michael yells at him, and uses the last of his energy available to get the guns out of the guards’ hands. With the weapons off him, Alex moves. Even wearing a pair of handcuffs on, he manages to knock out two of the guards, and Kyle’s right-hook takes care of the last one.

Kyle presses his heel to the guard’s chest while Alex bends down with his hands clenched together, backhanding the guard with a joy that Michael understands. It’s a rage that fills your soul, and he feels it all the time.

“Are you okay?” Michael asks Alex, letting Kyle do the concerned doctor thing for himself and the worried boyfriend thing for the both of them. He hasn’t got the juice for it, not really, but he still makes himself unlock the handcuffs, watching them drop to the floor.

He highly suspects that he’ll be following soon after.

Alex nods, rubbing his wrists and letting Kyle fuss over him. “I’m fine,” he promises. “I managed to get the alert to you, but I think they only wanted me in custody. How’d you get back so fast?”

“Someone flew us back,” Kyle says with a concerned look Michael’s way. Now that he’s done checking Alex’s vitals, it’s like he remembers everything that Michael’s done. “Shit,” he exhales. “I left all my acetone in the car. Michael…”

He’s swimming in Michael’s view, which is probably a bad sign.

“Don’t let Alex carry me,” Michael mumbles as the dark edges start to creep into his vision. And then, “all of Kyle’s cooking gave me a fat ass.”

The dark swims into his vision and takes over, giving Michael a blissful respite from the overwhelming pain in his wings, hoping that Kyle actually listens and doesn’t let Alex try and carry him back.

When he comes to, Alex is fanning him with a binder full of documents, Kyle has a flask of acetone pressed to his lips, and he’s lying horizontally in the backseat of Kyle’s truck. That means they dragged him out here to safety and to recuperate and seeing as Alex isn’t massaging his leg in pain, it almost looks like they listened to Michael and made Kyle carry him. His shirt is back on, along with the binders, but his wings ache like mad. Turning over onto his stomach, he uses his powers to unclip the binders again, breathing with relief when the pain fades away.

“I’m guessing that you need Massage Therapist Kyle tonight?”

“Look how smart you are,” Michael mumbles into the cushioning of the backseat. “Can we please go home, now? I’m not used to being a discount airline and it really takes the energy out of me.”

He can’t see them, but Michael knows his boyfriends well enough to know the amused eyeroll they’re probably sharing over him at his expense. He’d be mad about it, but that kind of thing takes energy and he’s used up more than enough of that today.

Alex slides his fingers through his feathers, pressing a kiss to Michael’s temple. He moves to the driver’s seat, leaving Kyle to squeeze one of the pressure points in the wings that he knows alleviates the tension and pain.

Michael moans loudly as it sends momentary relief through him.

“Best flight I’ve ever taken,” Kyle promises. “No peanuts, though. You should really think about catering.”

“I’ll give you some nuts to suck on,” Michael mutters, flipping him the bird, but Kyle takes it in stride as he laughs his way into the passenger seat. He’d be angrier with him, but Kyle’s making promises to give him a full massage when they get back home, and Alex bans him from using his powers for two days until he feels better.

It’s hard being mad at your boyfriends when they’re being so damn sweet to you.

Hell, it’s almost worth risking his life to save them.

(Who’s he kidding, it’s always worth that, no matter whether he walks, runs, or flies to do it)

Chapter Text

“We can’t both stay here.”

It’s the most depressing thing that Alex has ever heard in his life, but he knows it’s true. If they both stay, then Jesse’s wrath will manifest worse than it ever has. Something else has happened to Michael, but Alex can’t figure it out. All that he knows is whatever’s changed, it’s led to this. 

Their paths, parting at seventeen. That future that he’d dreamed about, so briefly, is all but gone. Alex had looked at every option to get away, but every time he’d gotten close to signing the papers to enlist with the Air Force, it feels so much like he’s giving in to his father that the prideful and stubborn part of him resists. 

He can’t do it. 

Alex had been on his way to tell Michael that he couldn’t make himself sign the papers, but his truck isn’t at the junkyard. Max hasn’t seen him, and Isobel is withdrawn and exhausted. “I’m not sure he wants me to tell you.”

Translated, that means, I’m pretty sure he knows you’d go after him.

Alex knows that they’d both agreed that they couldn’t stay in Roswell together, but he’d never imagined a version of this where it would be Michael who left him behind. It hurts more than he thought it ever could, but he also knows that he’s not going to be the kind of stalker ex-boyfriend who can’t leave things alone. They’re separated for a reason and it’s not because they don’t love one another, but because this is how they stay safe. 

So be it. 

Alex might still be in Roswell, but that doesn’t mean his life is over. 

If anything, things get a lot better when his brothers and father all ship out on their varying assignments and Alex is the only one left in Roswell. For the first time in his adult life, he’s able to thrive and grow and build a life for himself.

He signs up with an online college and works as a bartender for Mimi and Maria at the Pony to pay his tuition, allowing him to graduate without any debt. 

Even though he has no idea whether Michael kept his phone, Alex sends the occasional text update to let him know how he’s doing, though he never gets a reply. Maybe it’s too hard for Michael to think about Alex like that or maybe he’d moved on. Maybe he just doesn’t have his phone anymore. 

Whatever the reason, Alex does his best to forget about Michael Guerin and focuses on his life. Every few months, Jesse returns to the base nearby and Alex is reminded of why they’re separated in the place, which is only hammered home (as dark as it is to think that way) when Jesse comments how good it is that he’d never had to take things further to dissuade Alex’s “perversions”.

So he keeps learning and he keeps thinking about the day he gets Max to tell him the full truth of where Michael had gone. One day, he’s going to step out from his father’s shadow.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet, but Alex keeps dreaming of the day when it will. 

*

Ten years later, they’re setting up for his talk in Albuquerque, and Alex thinks about how depressing it is that this is the furthest that he’s travelled from Roswell in ten years. He hasn’t needed to go anywhere. The software that he’d developed meant that he could work from home. He’d spent years perfecting the coding that helped veterans by pairing them with people that could help them with hobbies, services, and other ways to help them get back into their lives at home. It had performed well enough that Alex could live comfortably on his own, with enough independence that he could do anything he wanted.

He just never found a reason to leave Roswell.

That said, when UNM invites him to come talk to the computer engineering program about the structure he’d used, he leaps at the chance.

It’s not exactly a trip to Paris, but it’s far enough away that it feels like an adventure. It feels good to talk about something he feels so passionate about and better than that, it’s something he’s good at.

By the time he’s finished, he still has the auditorium’s full attention and the confidence boost he gets from that is a wild and strong thing. 

”Any questions?” he asks, feeling like it’s gone over incredibly well. The first few questions are about the software and how he’d coded it, which are easy to answer, but remind him of how proud he is of his creation.

Then comes one he hadn’t been expecting at all; a question he’s not even sure he knows how to answer.

“Do you ever regret not leaving Roswell?”

Alex freezes on stage while he tries to locate the source of that question. There, a few feet to the left of the front row, is Michael Guerin. He hasn’t seen him in ten years, but he’s as gorgeous and larger-than-life as ever. 

“Sometimes,” he hears himself saying, out loud. “At the time when I started my business, I thought I had all the answers and that honoring an agreement I made was the safe choice.” He hasn’t let his gaze move from Michael’s face. “Sometimes, I think about the path I didn’t take, though and the people that left me behind to fulfill their own dreams and I think about the alternate realities that could have been lived.”

He swallows back the more intimate details of that answer, grateful when someone asks about his plans to roll out the next update of the app.

It allows him to delve into the more technological details and try and forget the fact that Michael Guerin is here, under the same roof as him, breathing the same air, sharing the same matter.

That turns out to be pretty hard to ignore. 

He answers a few more questions before the lecture is closed and the students are sent on their way. Not all of them are in a rush to go, and a few linger to shake his hand and commend him on the lecture, but even that isn’t enough to distract him from Michael, lurking just behind them.

Finally, they’re alone. 

“What are you doing here?” Alex asks, when the door clangs shut and gives them a little privacy.

“What,” Michael asks, his eyes roaming over Alex, “I make sure that you get a chance to speak about your revolutionary software and you wanna know why I’m here to see you give it?”

That’s news to him. 

“Wait, you…what?”

Michael glances to the side, running a hand through his hair sheepishly. “I’m a professor here,” he admits, and that steals Alex’s breath away. All these years and Michael’s only been a few hours away from him. “Recently, I’ve been doing some thinking. With Liz back in town and Max playing lovesick puppy, it made me think about us. I should never have left my phone behind with Isobel.”

Does it make it better, knowing that Michael had never got any of his texts? 

Ten years is a long time to be apart from the man he loves.

“It is pretty hard to watch Max and Liz,” Alex agrees with a laugh. “You didn’t even come back for the reunion.” 

“I knew if I did, I couldn’t stop myself from trying to win you back and I didn’t know if the threat’s out of the way.” He’s chewing at the pad of his thumb, a worried look as he looks at Alex. “Look, I know that I have no right to ask you this, but do you wanna grab coffee with me before you head back to Roswell? It doesn’t have to mean anything, it can just be coffee.”

Alex searches Michael’s face and tries to dredge up those old feelings of anger or abandonment, but he doesn’t find any of them. 

“Or,” Alex offers, heart pounding in his chest, “you could come back to my place in Roswell. I brew a mean cup of coffee and you haven’t seen my new place.” It’s a bold offer and a daring one after ten years, but it still feels right.

“I take it milky,” Michael says, his eyes locked on him. “How’s Friday?”

“I can make that work.”

*

Even though Alex had been the one to suggest it, he still can’t believe that he’s driving to a coffee shop to meet Michael. He’d offered to drive back to Albuquerque, but Michael had quickly nixed that idea by insisting that Alex is in the middle of starting up his own company and it’s exam season, which means he has no lessons to plan.

Alex is shocked because he’s still amazed this is happening.

Ten years ago when they’d decided to part ways to try and get over the trauma that had infiltrated their lives, Alex thought that he’d never get another shot with Michael, but one Q&A session at UNM later and he’s meeting him at the local coffee shop for a cup of coffee and what Alex thinks might actually be a first date.

When he gets there, Michael is already sitting at a nearby table, looking incredible. He’s wearing an oversized burgundy sweater, his collarbones slightly peeking out because it’s too big. Alex hopes it doesn’t belong to an ex-boyfriend or something equally worrying, but he lets himself into the coffee shop and greets him.

Should he hug him? Do you kiss? What’s the protocol when you’re having coffee with the love of your life for the first time in ten years.

“Hey, Alex,” Michael greets him, and pushes himself to his feet. He makes the decision that Alex can’t when he sidesteps around the table to press a kiss to Alex’s cheek. His lips linger there, Alex breathes out softly, and then they take their seats. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Michael confesses with a laugh, reaching for his latte to gulp it back.

“You and me both,” Alex says bluntly. He doesn’t leave the table, because there’s a coffee sitting right in front of his seat. When he looks at it, he shoots Michael a confused look, wrapping his palm around it to feel the warmth against his fingertips. “Is this…”

“Skinny latte,” Michael says. “I mean, I know it’s been ten years and I only heard you order it the once, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget what you said to Valenti when he mocked you for ordering it.”

Alex smirks, because who could forget that day. “Right,” he says with a laugh, “when he asked if I was watching my figure and I said yeah, I was, because I didn’t want a fat ass like his,” he finishes, his grin so big it aches.

“You didn’t see it, but he went to the gym so early the next morning.”

Alex gives Michael a confused look. “How do you know?”

Michael shrugs, sipping his coffee. “I was still living in my truck and I parked it at school. Heard his truck come rumbling up at five in the morning, he didn’t leave the gym until seven. I think you really rattled his poor self-esteem.”

Alex ducks his head down, but his smile is tempered with the hurt of ten long years. It’s never easy to forget what happened that day in the shed, not to mention their agreement to part ways because it would be better for the both of them. Yet, here they are, ten years later and all grown up. Alex isn’t under his father’s thumb and he’s got his own business.

Michael has a job and he looks settled and happy, even if there’s the shadow of what happened all those years ago lingering over hi head.

“Do you remember…” Alex starts, and focuses on only reliving the good moments.

It works. For hours, they reminisce about the good. Michael tells Alex about his time at UNM as a student and how he’d been that student that had found a comfort zone for the first time in his life, making a home of it. Alex talks about years of struggling to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do.

Neither of them talk about how much they missed one another, but it’s there, lingering unspoken beneath the whole conversation. They talk until the coffee shop closes down, and even then, Alex isn’t sure he wants to go home.

At least, not without Michael.

Outside the coffee shop, Alex isn’t ready for the night to be over. “Do you want to come back to my cabin?” he asks, when Michael takes a few halting steps away from him. It’s almost like he’s deliberately moving too slowly, like he doesn’t want the night to be over, either.

“Give me the directions and I’m there.”

Alex feels his heart beating faster, and he spends the entire drive back to the cabin watching Michael’s headlights behind him. It’s like he’s Orpheus, but he’d be pretty shitty at it, because he doesn’t think he stops looking back the whole time, his attention fixed in the mirror to make sure he doesn’t lose Michael again.

Once was long enough and a decade’s been too long to be without him.

When they arrive, he waits on the porch while Michael parks, twirling his keyring around his finger. In the moonlight, Michael looks almost ethereal as he walks towards Alex, the porchlight lighting him up. For a moment, Alex thinks that Michael might keep walking towards him and kiss him, but then he comes to a stop, so close that Alex can feel Michael’s constant heat beside him.

“You want something to drink?” he offers, heart in his throat.

“Yeah,” Michael agrees, “You got beer?”

Alex uses the distraction to calm himself down, pressing the cool can to the back of his neck. It’s not enough to chill him all the way down, but it’s enough to give him some patience, returning and pressing the beer into Michael’s hand. Alex settles on one side of the couch, then Michael takes the other, kicking his feet up, toes curling in his socks, barely brushing Alex’s thigh.

“This okay…?”

Alex nods wordlessly and rapidly, not sure he would even argue if it weren’t.

“So, I looked into your software,” Michael admits, when they’re sprawled out on Alex’s couch. “I think I get it, but I kind of want to hear you explain it.” He’s sideways, taking up all the room, as if he can’t sit on the couch normally.

It’s frustrating and endearing all at the same time.

Alex reaches for his phone to dig it out, struggling to explain it to him. Michael’s a genius, he knows that, but he’s been working on this project for so long that it’s become coding to him and little more. “I guess it’s a little like Tinder meets Uber?” he admits, and shuffles forward to the edge of his seat as he brings up the app. “Here, look, I’ll bring up my test profile.”

Michael shifts too, and that means that they’re inching closer together, like their personal gravities are pulling them in towards one another.

“Okay, so, I’ll put in the things in my profile that I want to do,” he explains, and shifts a little so that he’s pressed flush against Michael when he shows him. “I put in coffee, since we just did that. Now, I’ll add…” He goes silent as he works to find the activities he’s after. He plugs in the hot air balloon ride, then the dinner on a rooftop bar, finishing with the coffee.

The little dot representing him starts to ping with an offer in the beta environment and Alex beams proudly as he shows it to Michael.

“There I am,” he says. “What would normally happen now is that you’d get someone in our system, fully vetted and checked, who would look at the needs of the veteran whether it’s a physical disability or a mental issue, and sign up for the task. It’s volunteer only right now, but I’ve been debating some paid staff,” he admits, laughing when Michael starts poking at the screen. “What are you doing?”

“I’m accepting,” Michael says, and taps a few more times. “I can do that, right?”

“You can’t accept your own requests,” he says, the tips of his ears going red as he goes to another screen. “Is your email the one you gave me to set up tonight?”

Michael nods his confirmation, which is good because Alex is already midway through setting up Michael’s profile. Another two minutes and he’s got it ready to go, the ping from Michael’s phone alerting him that it’s done. Alex nods towards his jeans, giving him an encouraging nod to get it.

“I gave you a profile in the test environment,” Alex says. “So now you can accept.”

Michael pulls out his phone, swiping through the set-up steps and taps on Alex’s tasks to do exactly that. He pulls up the dinner one first, and in full view, clicks ‘YES’ before typing on his phone. He says nothing at all, and then Alex’s phone pings to show him a message.

Friday, 9PM?

“That’s exactly what you’d do,” Alex praises, and tucks his phone away, glad that Michael seems to understand it. “I know that it’s a lot of work and it might not amount to anything, but I watched my brothers adjusting when they got back from overseas and it was hell. Sometimes, all they needed was a friend, even if they’d never met before that day. I wanted to do what I could.”

“It’s amazing, Alex,” Michael insists. “But uh, you didn’t answer my question.”

“What?”

“Dinner? 9PM? Albuquerque?”

Alex’s eyes widen as he realizes that Michael hadn’t been going through the motions. He’s using Alex’s own software to try and pick him up for a date. The smile on his face actually aches, but he logs in to his profile to pull up Michael’s offer.

Without taking his eyes off of Michael, he clicks, Accept.

“Good,” Michael breathes with relief, and relaxes his feet in Alex’s lap. “Cuz I don’t put on the first date and I need to shore up my chances here,” he jokes, which makes Alex’s heart pound even faster, but he slides his phone away with the knowledge that they can end tonight knowing that they have another date coming up.

*

The drive up to Albuquerque has Alex riddled with nerves. He feels like he ought to have been more nervous before he’d given his speech, but no. It’s this. It’s driving up to meet Michael for dinner, picking him up on the campus where he’s packing up from his class. Alex ducks his head around the corner to collect him, but class is still in session.

Michael’s in a frantic rush to end it, though. He’s wearing a suit jacket and tie, pacing around his desk, hands flying everywhere (and a briefcase in one of them). “Remember, I need those modules handed in next Tuesday! No, shit, next Wednesday. Fuck!”

Some of the students in the first-row titter with laughter. “Are you okay, Dr. Guerin?”

Michael presses a hand over his face and Alex bites his lip, hiding his amusement as he settles into a chair in the very last row, sinking as low as he can get so Michael doesn’t spot him. When Michael pries his hand off his face, there’s a rueful smile on his lips, but the look in his eyes is magical.

“I have a date,” he shares with the class.

Alex knows he’s old when the ‘ooooooh’ that goes up around the room makes him roll his eyes.

“Okay, all right, assholes,” Michael complains with a laugh. “Yeah, yeah, your professor has a date.”

“Who is it?” calls one of the boys, even as Michael’s packing up his bag.

He clearly wants to get out of there as fast as he can, but the kids aren’t going to let him. Honestly, Alex is all for letting this draw out as long as it can, because he’s loving seeing the way Michael is so nervous. It’s a switch, considering the first time they’d reunited, Alex had been the nervous one on a stage at UNM.

“If any of you turn up and stalk me on this date, I’m auto-failing you,” Michael warns.

“C’mon, Prof. Is it the hot librarian?”

“The one who’s in a committed relationship with her girlfriend?” Michael says dubiously, but he’s leaning against the table at the front, arms crossed over his chest, and there’s an amused look on his face like he’s entertaining the idea of letting this happen. “Try again.”

The students lean together and whisper. When Michael’s gaze slides around the room, Alex sinks even further into his seat to avoid being seen.

“You gotta tell us which team you’re swinging for tonight, Prof!”

“Do I, though?” Michael replies with a smirk.

It’s cute that Michael thinks he’s going to get away with this, and maybe he would have, but he can see students pulling out their phones and going to Michael’s social media accounts. Alex knows for a fact that while nothing there is incriminating, there is absolutely a comment from him on Michael’s picture from today (him choosing his jacket, and given the softness of the suede jacket he’s wearing, he chose right).

“Who’s Alex Manes?”

Michael’s eyes widen in alarm, like he hasn’t been expecting it. “What?”

“He commented on your post today,” the girl keeps going, showing the phone. Alex had left the comment during a gas station break, so there’s every chance that Michael hasn’t seen it yet. “Says that he can’t wait to see if touching that jacket is as soft as it looks. Is he the one who’s gonna be touching you tonight, Prof?”

The tips of Michael’s ears go red, and Alex hides his laugh, because he’s so caught.

“All right, all of you, out! Out of here!” He grimaces, shaking his head and muttering something Alex can’t hear about social media. The students are laughing as they go, amused by their professor’s plight, but Alex finds it absolutely endearing to see how shaken up Michael is.

It bodes well for tonight.

He waits until every last student is out of the class before standing, watching Michael click the clasps of his briefcase shut. “You ended class early for me?” he calls, and takes an obscene amount of joy in the way Michael physically jumps. Alex ducks out of the row and starts to walk down the auditorium steps. “The syllabus says this runs from seven to ten, but it’s eight-thirty…”

“I have a date,” Michael replies, and he might be trying to hide his grin, but he’s doing a shitty job of it. His eyes follow Alex with every step, and that bodes well for how the night is going to end. “How long have you been sitting there?”

“Long enough to hear that you’re kind of nervous,” Alex teases, coming to a stop when he’s on even standing with Michael. “I hear that your date’s pretty excited too. I wouldn’t worry,” he says, smooth and hopefully charming.

Michael lets his gaze slide over Alex, reaching out to brush his fingers against the leather jacket he’s wearing. “This is a nice choice.”

“It’s okay,” Alex agrees. “But don’t think you’re getting out of me touching that jacket of yours,” he warns. “I’ve been thinking about it all drive up here.”

Michael exhales, but it catches in his throat, a tiny strangled exhalation there on his lips. “I guess we’ll have to see how the night plays out, won’t we?”

Dinner is incredible, the best Alex has ever had. He does get to fondle the suit jacket, fingers sliding all over the soft suede when he grabs Michael for a kiss outside the restaurant when they’ve settled up the bill. When they make out in Michael’s car later, he has to rank dinner behind it, but waking up the next morning in Michael’s apartment after a night relearning one another’s bodies and how they move and work together quickly dominates every other experience they’ve had so far.

“You don’t have to go back to Roswell today, right?” Michael asks, between kisses on their lazy Saturday morning.

“Nice thing about being a tech genius,” Alex murmurs, grabbing Michael by the shoulders to roll them so that he’s under Alex. “I can work wherever I want.”

Not that he plans to do much work today, but Alex isn’t going anywhere.

*

It’s been a long week and Alex is looking forward to coming home to their Albuquerque townhome to rest and relax. It’s been theirs for two years, ever since they’d decided to move in together (and Alex had decided to expand and move his offices into town). He’s been working essentially two jobs with the app expanding, while also trying to covertly get information on aliens.

Aliens, he thinks, because his boyfriend is an alien, and his father hunts them. That’s really not exactly why he thought that they’d needed to part ways all those years back, but at least they know now. He’s in the middle of prying off his shoes, giving the arches of his feet a quick massage in the front hallway when he hears his phone alerting him that he’s got a new task offer in the beta version of his app.

Frowning, he digs out his app and looks at the beta environment. There’s a new task waiting for him, right on top of the apartment in a glowing blue dot.

Hot Air Balloon Ride, it reads. And a picnic

Michael slides his way around the doorframe, giving Alex a hopeful look as he raises one of his brows. “You wanna go for a ride?” he offers, his tongue lasciviously sliding over his lower lip as he looks Alex over.

Blushing at the look and trying not to, Alex drops his bag. He’s exhausted, but how could he deny Michael’s hopeful look (not to mention the implication that there’s already a hot air balloon rented somewhere), so he clicks Accept.

Michael’s grin is so wide that Alex can’t not kiss him, so he drifts forward to cup his neck and press a kiss there. “You’re massaging my feet later,” is all he warns, “I’ve been running around all day with the app.”

“I know, yeah, it’s fine,” Michael says dismissively, and yanks him along frantically.

Alex yelps, not sure what the rush is, but Michael’s enthusiasm is catching. He lets him tug him towards the car, loaded up with a picnic basket, and watches as a hot air balloon in the distance starts to loom closer by the second. It’s almost sunset, which means that they’ll be up in the air to watch the sun go down.

It is, plain and simple, romantic as hell.

Alex thought he couldn’t be more in love, but Michael’s really challenging that assumption. “Your chariot awaits,” Michael says, once he’s got the picnic basket in the hot air balloon, helping Alex inside.

He’s never done this before, even though he knows this is a thing in New Mexico, but he’s still not anticipating the lift as they start rising into the air with the help of a technician. Alex grabs at Michael to steady himself, laughing at his unease, but he settles when he gets the hang of the rocking and the awareness that the only thing keeping them up is a heat source.

Once they’re stabilized in the sky, Michael gets on his phone for a second to type something, sliding it in his pocket (with his hand over it), before he drifts in to Alex’s side, wrapping an arm around his shoulder to bring him in close where they can watch the sunset together.

“Michael, this is beautiful,” he raves, turning a soft gaze on Michael as he leans in to kiss him, tangling his fingers through Michael’s curls to brush at them with his thumb, cautious and careful as he squeezes and pulls Michael in for a deeper kiss, eager to get as much as he can before his gaze is stolen by the beautiful plateaus and horizons.

Alex lets out a protesting noise when he’s distracted from the kiss by the pinging of his phone.

“I think you should get that,” Michael suggests when Alex eases back to stare at his pocket, looking oddly calm and collected considering he’s trying to tell Alex to check his phone in the middle of a romantic date.

Alex opens his mouth to protest, because it’d be rude as hell for him to get his phone in the middle of a beautiful sunset overlooking New Mexico, but Michael has that weirdly fixated look that means that he needs to do it or Michael won’t let it go.

He does love his boyfriend, but sometimes, he’s reminded of these odd eccentricities that makes Michael so…unique.

When he pulls up his phone, he finds a notification.

There’s a new task waiting for him.

“Go on,” Michael encourages, and now it looks like he’s starting to get nervous. Alex eyes him, and pulls up the message so he can stare at it, taking his attention off of Michael as he plugs in his password to log in to the test environment that only he and Michael have ever used, mainly to arrange dates.

This time, it’s not a date or a location, not a time or a place.

It reads: Marry me?

When Alex glances up, he sees that Michael’s on one knee, holding out an engagement ring (a fucking engagement ring, holy shit), and he actually can’t believe this is happening.

“Of course I’ll marry you,” Alex says, hitting ‘yes’ about three dozen times on the phone, even dropping it to the floor of the basket of the hot air balloon as Michael rises to his feet, takes hold of his face to kiss him, hips rocking against him and changing the balance of the balloon to the point that it dips and sways.

Alex’s stomach gives out with excitement and fear, which is absolutely perfect for this very moment.

Task accepted, reads his screen from his phone, facing up from the bottom of the balloon.

The smiley face that displays as a result of that task is nowhere near as happy as it should be, not for this task. Alex might have to change that, but that’s something for later. Right now, he’s got a lot of kissing with his fiancé that he needs to do.

Chapter Text

“Babe,” Michael mumbles, head bent down to scratch items off their shopping list, “can you grab some tortillas? I’m pretty sure we’re out and I wanted to make some enchiladas this week.”

There’s no response from Alex.

Michael frowns, glancing up from where he’s been gnawing on the pen, seeing where Alex’s attention has fixed. It’s like someone’s hit a light switch. Instantly, his mood drops when he sees the O’Reilly’s down the aisle. Even though it’s been over fifteen years since he’d been under their religious fanatic roof, they’ve barely changed.

That crucifix still rests large and looming against a string on her neck. He still looks like it would kill him to smile. 

“Hey,” Michael speaks up, roughly, knowing that this won’t end well. They shouldn’t have come to this side of town to grocery shop, but Michael had insisted since they had the brands he liked. He hadn’t counted on the fact that it was also the shop closest to their ranch. 

After he had told Alex everything about his past, Alex had quickly gone to work creating the database of information on Michael’s past. “Names,” had been his curt demand at the time. 

It’s why there are folders in a filing cabinet in their study of all of Michael’s shitty foster parents. The ones in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they run little risk of running into, but there’s always been a chance that they’d run into the O’Reilly family. 

Michael feels sick, the way he always had when he’d get home and find a priest or a nun sitting on the couch, waiting for him so they could talk about how he was possessed by the devil and they had to cleanse him of his sins. 

“Alex,” Michael pleads, quietly. “Let’s get out of here.”

“No,” Alex replies firmly. 

Michael’s reaching for him in order to try and get him to stop whatever he’s planning to do. Normally, Michael is all about a fight, but brawling with his old, shitty foster parents in a grocery store is the kind of thing that gets you arrested and Michael really doesn’t want to deal with that today.

Unfortunately, Alex has other priorities.

“Babe, please…”

It’s no use.

Alex slides out of Michael’s grip, leaving the grocery cart with him and heading after them to follow them down the aisles, stalking behind them like a predator deciding when to make his move. Michael, full of fear that’s been beat into him, stays even further away. He might be a grown man and he might have worse wounds, but that doesn’t mean he wants to give these two a chance to reopen any of the old ones.

“Hey!” he hears Alex snap. “Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly.”

“Yes, dear?” she replies, sounding sweet as apple pie. She’d always been sweet, right up until the door closed and she got so disappointed about the fact that she had to punish him for the demons living inside of him, which gave him powers at night and sinful lustful feelings for other boys during the day.

From where Michael has hidden, he can lean forward and see what’s happening while hiding behind a giant display of condiments. He’s safe, thanks to the ketchup, to see the bitter smile Alex gives, the one where he looks like he’s about to spit acid.

“I wanted to come and talk to you,” Alex says. “You fostered a child, about fifteen years ago,” he goes on.

“We fostered many children,” Mr. O’Reilly replies, flat and without affect.

“I kind of hope that you didn’t foster them the way you did Michael,” Alex keeps going. Michael can see the way they rear back, just slightly, and he knows that it hadn’t been all the kids who got the treatment he did. Most of the other kids knew how to learn their lesson and shut up and behave.

Michael had always been too stubborn for that. 

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” Alex is hissing, trying to keep his voice down like he gives a shit about decorum. Michael keeps holding himself back from joining in, because he’s not entirely sure what he’ll do it he gets up close and personal with these particular demons from his childhood.

He thinks he might scream or shout, but he also thinks it’s every bit as likely that he’d break down, so it’s for the best that he stays out of the way. Still, as he holds onto the shelf and listens to Alex, he has to keep himself from getting involved.

“He was a kid!” Alex snaps. “An innocent child and you thought he had a demon in him. You should have helped him, not hurt him like that. When I have kids, I pray that I’m nothing like you, that I’ll give them unconditional love, no matter if they’re different.”

Wait.

When?

When he has kids?

Michael finds himself blinking in shock, not sure that he thought they were at the point in their relationship where trips to group homes were on the weekend plans, but apparently Alex has been getting ahead of him. He can see the O’Reillys’ blathering and trying to explain, but Alex is clearly done with them.

“You’re only lucky that I don’t have the evidence to turn you in,” is his icy reply. 

He leans over and grabs a can of tuna in his palm, giving them both a careful look, like he’s appraising him.

“I hope you aren’t repeating old tricks. I’d hate to find something,” he says in parting, and walks confidently away from them, almost bumping right into Michael when he rounds the corner, blinking at him with surprise to find him there. “Michael, shit, I almost ran you over. Are you okay? Did you hear that?”

He should thank Alex for being a sexy badass, he should tell him that they need to get out of there, and he should go pick up some more booze for when he inevitably tries to drink this whole experience away. 

Instead, he asks: “When you have kids?”

Alex blushes, slightly, and shrugs as he puts the tuna in the cart. “I know we haven’t exactly talked about it, but I always figured that one day, you and I would be foster parents. If anyone knows what those kids actually deserve in a home when it comes to love and affection, it’s us, right?”

He’s absolutely not wrong. It’s just not something that Michael had ever considered.

Michael slides his palm over Alex’s neck and drifts forward until they’re swaying in the grocery store, their foreheads pressed together. Every few seconds, Michael leans in for a kiss, not caring about any disgusted snorts or scoffs he hears from Roswell’s finest around them. 

The only person in the world that matters – the bravest, the strongest, the kindest – is in his arms. “Thank you,” he murmurs, because he’s been waiting to say that since Alex first stormed over to defend Michael. “Thank you for having hope in our future, for wanting to defend my past.”

“You should just be glad it wasn’t the meth heads,” Alex mumbles into the next kiss, eyes half-shut and his lips warm, “because them? I do have evidence against and I’ve been waiting for an excuse to get one set of your shitty foster parents behind bars where they belong.”

“Well,” Michael quips. “We could always take a road trip.”

The laugh he earns from Alex is sweet and warm and when they check out, the O’Reillys are long gone. Even if they were still there, it wouldn’t have mattered, because Alex would have made Michael feel safe and secure. He’s not thirteen anymore and they can’t control him. They won’t ever get to control him like that again. 

He’s made sure of that.

“Come on.” Michael encourages, hefting up the bags. “Let’s get the grill going and you can tell me all about these foster kids you’ve been thinking about.”

Maybe that’s the lesson in all of us. Maybe it’s not about Michael’s past at all or reliving those awful days, but taking them and learning how to make the lives of other kids better in the future. With Alex at his side? There’s no doubt they’ll be able to do it.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know about this.”

Alex glances to the passenger side of the car, trying to surreptitiously check that the locks of the car are on for the fourth time. After all, the last thing he needs is Michael tucking and rolling out of the car because he’s panicking. “Michael,” he sighs, glancing in the rearview mirror. “How come you’re not helping?” he demands, of Valenti. “What are you even here for?”

“The entertainment, mostly,” Valenti quips.  

Michael is in the middle of what might be an actual panic attack and Valenti is about to eat popcorn. Alex pinches the bridge of his nose and wonders what he did to deserve this, never mind that he’d been the one to actually request this happen. 

It’s Mother’s Day and after the disastrous events at Caulfield two years ago and everything that’s happened since, Alex didn’t think it would be smart to leave Michael alone on the day.

Maybe he’s just trying to fool everyone. Maybe it’s because Alex is going to visit his mother in person for the first time in years, because after he’d called her to ask about Jesse’s habits, she’d ended the call saying that he should come see her sometime.

He’d made a promise and now he intends to keep it. 

It feels like if he doesn’t, it’s not only him making his mother upset, but somehow undermining Michael as well, who’ll never get a chance to visit his mother again, thanks to Jesse Manes’ legacy. The very least Alex can do is offer him something else, even if it’s second best.

His mother lives out in the middle of nowhere, off the grid. Alex had helped erase her information so that certain people (specifically his father) couldn’t find her once he got old enough and had tracked her down.

She’d explained it wasn’t the boys she wanted to hide from, but Jesse. 

They’ve been talking lately and he’d mentioned wanting to introduce her to his boyfriend, which she had eventually come around to. Alex suspects that she’s anticipating another military boy, someone that reminds her of Jesse. She’s going to be so damn surprised.

“Michael,” Alex says, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “It’s okay. She’s gonna love you. You’re nothing like anyone I was around growing up. That’ll do it alone.”

“So, be the anti-Manes?” Kyle quips.

Alex raises both brows and shrugs, because, “Yeah. Kind of.”

That seems to relax Michael a little. Alex isn’t so sure that he’s as relaxed, but he’s burying it down deep. He’s never brought anyone home and it’s for obvious reasons with his father, but with his mother, it almost felt like cowardice. Not bringing Michael or anyone else felt like he could keep his heart safe in the process.

He’s not so sure he wants safe, now. 

Pulling into a long, winding driveway, he knows that there’s no turning around at this point. They’re here and his mother is expecting them. To leave now would be an act of cowardice so grand, so awful, so terrifying that he suspects he’d have to go months without speaking to his mother as a consequence.

Besides, he wants her to meet Michael.

The three most important people in the world to him are within a mile of each other right now – mother, boyfriend, best friend – and Alex has never felt safer or more panicked at the same time. 

“Okay,” Alex says, and parks the car. “We’re here.”

Here goes nothing. 

*

When Alex is making his way to the porch of the little bungalow, Michael weighs the merits of running away. He’d have to live off the land in the desert, sure, but then he won’t have to worry about being a disappointment to anyone’s mother (especially seeing as he doesn’t even have a shot of being with his own).

Of course, there’s one looming doctor-shaped issue in his way.

“Don’t even think about it,” Valenti warns, like somehow he’s learning mind-reading tricks from Isobel.

“What? I was just…” Michael trails off, when he hears low voices at the porch. He straightens up his posture, aware that he’s not going to get out of this, and if that’s the case, then he needs to make sure he doesn’t fuck this up.

Michael Guerin, Earner of Parent’s Trust isn’t a trait that he ever thought he’d possess, but for Alex, he’s got to try. 

“You were just debating running away. I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m here. Got to make sure you don’t make a break for it.” 

He’s lurking back here because he doesn’t think that he can muster up the courage to get over there until Alex either deliberately drags him or his presence is requested. “I’m not exactly the kind of guy mothers like.” It’s an understatement. Michael’s not the kind of guy any parents like, from his interaction with adults as a kid.

Valenti clearly isn’t impressed by his little ‘woe is me’ parade. 

”You know how hard it is for him to come out here and face her. It only happens when something is important,” Valenti says. “He doesn’t like bothering her, but ever since Caulfield, I swear, he brings this up on a weekly basis. He’s always asking me if I think you two should come out here and look. It’s mother’s day and he wants to spend it with you and with her.”

”Also, you,” Michael feels compelled to point out.

”Yeah, notice how I’m the one talking you off the ledge? Alex knew he’d need the backup,” Valenti boasts. “Is this about your Mom?”

They really, really, really don’t talk about this often, but Valenti knows the gist of what happened in that prison. He knows that Michael had lost his family that day and that his mother had been one of them. What’s been weird, honestly, is the fact that Valenti gets it.

After all, they both lost parents to Caulfield. 

”I don’t want to think that she can replace her,” Michael admits, feeling feeble for the way he sounds as he speaks, “and at the same time, I don’t wanna be the ingrate boyfriend who doesn’t see how much Alex is doing to make this happen for us. It’s just, how is she supposed to replace my Mom? How can I even think that when I don’t even know my Mom?”

”You won’t find that out standing out here,” Valenti says.

Michael breathes in and out, staring at the daunting bungalow in front of him. 

”Do or do not…” Valenti intones.

”Oh, fuck you, I knew showing you Star Wars was a mistake,” Michael groans, but it has the effect of breaking the tension, making him huff out a laugh as he nods his head. “Yeah, I got it. There’s no try.” He’s just gotta do this and he knows it’ll turn out fine.

He still can’t help worrying. 

”Michael,” Alex calls, ducking out onto the porch. He’s smiling like the sun is shining on him and he’s waving for the both of them to come inside. He looks so happy and Michael isn’t about to ruin that by running away. “Come inside, lunch is ready.”

Valenti claps him on the shoulder, putting his hands on both of them like he’s intending to steer him inside if Michael doesn’t go on his own volition.

”You can do this,” Valenti encourages.

”I can at least try,” Michael admits. “For Alex.”

”For Alex.”

*

Michael sits in the truck, full of lunch, tea and cookies, still feeling the tightness of Alex’s mother’s embrace as she’d hugged him so tightly to say goodbye, refusing to let him go until he’d relaxed. He hates that he’d tensed, but his experience with the Manes family, outside of Alex, has been resoundingly stressful. 

She’d been kind and warm and welcoming. She’d been the complete opposite of Jesse, and he’s starting to understand why she’d run away so early in Alex’s life.

“So, did she…” Michael trails off, hating how small his voice sounds. “Do you think she liked me?”

Alex gives Michael a fond smile. “She did ask when I was going to ask that nice boy to marry me,” is his wry comment. “She’s hard to put off when she knows that I’ve been in love with the same guy for over twelve years, not to mention the part where we live together. As far as she’s concerned, that’s inevitable.”

Michael feels his cheeks go hot, because he’d liked her, too. 

It’s not that he’s ever had a mother figure to compare her to, but she’d been sweet and warm with her love, while also having a firmness and a backbone of steel – but then, he supposes you’d have to, in order to leave Jesse Manes, because that takes guts.

”I liked her too,” he mumbles, staring out the window so Alex can’t see the vulnerability on his face. “Do you think we could turn this into a regular thing? I know she doesn’t like coming back to Roswell, but I don’t mind driving out here, if that’s what we’d need to do.”

From the way Alex practically radiates relief and joy, it’s definitely the right thing to say.

”I think we can manage,” he agrees, tugging Michael towards him for a slow kiss that makes 

“Come on, let’s hit the road,” Valenti says, interrupting that beautiful moment, hopping in the back of the car, arms piled with leftovers. “I saw a 7-Eleven on the way back and I don’t know about you two, but I’m thinking Big Gulps.”

Okay, thinks Michael. Maybe Valenti has a few decent qualities up his sleeve and his taste in roadside beverages is up there in the plus column.

Chapter Text

Isobel has been giving him shit about his life since they buried Max. Today, the ‘verse is the same as the first, and Michael’s done with it.

“When I said that it’s time for us to look to the future, I didn’t exactly mean that you should get back to your sexcapades,” is her disdainful remark. 

It’s not that he’s been subtle. Things with Alex have hurt for so long and so hard that he’d wanted to slide back into something simpler. That meant fooling around with Maria in the back of the Wild Pony. It meant picking up women on Friday nights and bringing them back to the Airstream after he’d drunk too much that he didn’t remember the night before. It meant making out with passing visitors at the tourist bar to feel the scrape of a man’s stubble on his cheeks.

It means not thinking about how Max is dead and how he didn’t do anything to stop it. He’s moving on and it might not be healthy, but at least he’s not living in the past anymore.

“It doesn’t hurt,” is Michael’s rough opinion on it.

It does hurt, though, because he’s still looking at Alex this whole time. He sees the anger and the disappointment. He sees the way Alex looks at him like it’s the drive-in all over again, and he can hear Alex’s disappointed hiss that he’s wasting his life in his ears.

That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise when Alex decides to stop fighting for him. Michael had been the one to insist that they both move on, so he should be happy, right? This is what he wanted.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt like someone’s stabbed him in the heart when he goes to the drive-in with Isobel to keep her company and sees Alex in someone else’s pick-up truck, drinking someone else’s beer. 

ET is the very last thing on his mind and it means that he misses Isobel calling his name at least a few times.

Clearly, he’s been ignoring her far too long, because she abandons the human tricks and goes straight for the alien ones, shuffling them off into Isobel’s space, all blurry pinks. 

“What the fuck?” Michael snaps. “I told you I hate when you do that.”

“Maybe if you actually responded to me, I wouldn’t have to drag you down here,” is her annoyed reply. She doesn’t let him out, either, so Michael resigns himself to being in a place where she has full control and he can’t lie. Honestly, he’s always been surprised she doesn’t take him here more. “What the hell is going on with you?”

“Alex is here.”

“Yeah, I know, I saw him looking like a snack in that leather jacket of his,” Isobel says approvingly. “You’ve basically been trying to narrow the six-degrees game with your dick, why’s it matter that he finally moved on?”

Because it’s not like Alex is fucking the guy in the truck.

He’s here on a date with him. 

Michael hadn’t even managed to agree to date Maria because he hadn’t been ready for anything more, which is why things have remained physical between him and all of his partners. His heart’s already claimed and that man is in a pick-up truck with someone else.

Isobel has little to no sympathy for him, though. “If you want him, it’s your turn to fight for him,” is what she says, and her attention drifts. “…or maybe you’re the luckiest son of a bitch in the world…”

Before Michael can ask her what the hell that means, she drifts away from him, like she’s been forcibly pulled out of his vision. He breathes sharply when she releases him.

What he doesn’t expect to find is Alex at the end of the truck with a bucket of popcorn. There are a few kernels on Michael’s lap, which means he’s clearly been flicking them at Michael’s face for some time, trying to get his attention. “Are you okay?”

Michael scrubs his hand over his face and points to Isobel, still a little unnerved. “Sibling bonding time in the alien gooey place,” is all he can muster. He glances up to see where Alex is parked, but when he does, there’s no one else in the truck with him, even though he definitely came with someone.

“Where’s your date?”

That little rueful smile on Alex’s face shouldn’t look so sweet and charming, but it does. He knows he shouldn’t be happy that Alex’s date bailed, but, well, here he is. 

“He started bitching about the movie. He doesn’t like kid films for dates and apparently, he doesn’t like aliens, which is kind of a dealbreaker for me,” Alex says evenly. “I didn’t want to leave and let everyone see me do the walk of shame after being dumped, so I was wondering if you guys would let me watch from here?”

Michael’s heart is pounding in his chest and he can feel Isobel leaning in behind him. “You’re absolutely welcome,” Isobel beats him to it, thrusting a blanket towards him and making some space. 

Alex climbs onto the truck, with Michael’s belated help as he reaches out to make sure his leg isn’t going to give him trouble. He opens his mouth to insist that Isobel stay between them, but she’s already smoothing out the blanket in the space between them.

It’s ET and Isobel is here. It’s not like Michael’s going to go into raptures of sexy need right now. True, Alex looks incredible and yeah, he’s single again (almost as soon as Michael had realized he’s dating someone), but that’s not in the cards.

Michael’s not ready to move on, not really, and knowing that Alex isn’t either is one hell of a rush. He grabs the popcorn from Alex like it’s the price of admission, but Isobel holds out her Red Vines to Alex, splitting them as they settle in like old friends, gossiping and joking about the movie. Michael tugs the blanket around himself to curl in like a burrito, pressed up against the truck as he lets himself drift off to the sound of their voices.

He wakes up when the credits are rolling to Red Vines tucked behind each ear and popcorn in his hair. “You guys suck,” he mutters sleepily, but he can feel a lingering warmth against his side. 

Michael suspects he knows exactly who’d been pressed up against him to cause that.

“You’re just lucky I couldn’t find a sharpie,” Isobel tells him and Michael can’t even be mad, because she looks looser and happier than she has in ages. “We should do this again sometime.” She’s looking pointedly at Alex when she says it. “I’m airing Land Before Time next week.” In fact, they’re airing all of Isobel’s favorites, which means the Notebook is on its way. “Alex, be here at seven.”

Alex raises a brow, glancing to Michael and mouthing, is she serious?

Michael shrugs and nods, because yeah. If Alex can figure out a way to say no to Isobel Evans, then he’d be the first. “Yes, ma’am,” he replies, still looking somewhat stunned. 

That night, they drop off Alex to the cabin and Michael crashes at Isobel’s place – he’s all but moved in, since Noah and Max – knowing that she’s going to want to talk about it. 

“Are you mad?” she checks.

“What, that you invited Alex to our sad alien movie party?” He shakes his head. “No,” he admits. “I guess I thought I was ready to move on, but I was ready for me to move on, and in the exact specific way that I wanted to.” He wanted sex and fun and no issues. “I wasn’t ready to let him move on, which means that maybe I’m not so ready either.”

Isobel is looking at him like he’s arrived at this conclusion absolutely last of all. 

“Just let me know when you want to start making out in the back of the truck so I can bring popcorn to throw at you,” she says, hanging up her jacket. “You deserve a fresh start, Michael. That doesn’t mean you have to burn your past completely. Anyway,” she adds, and smiles selfishly, “I like Alex and I want to spend more time with him. He doesn’t flinch when I say true things about people in this town.”

Alex and Isobel together is definitely a dangerous combination, but Michael’s absolutely good to try it out for a while. After all, it’s not like they’re treading water or diving back into the past. They’re just moving on, maybe in a brand new way. 

He can definitely give that a shot.

*

It’s three months later and it’s not The Notebook. 

“I warned you,” Isobel says, in between the popcorn that she’s flicking furiously at Alex and Michael – the latter of which has climbed into Alex’s lap and is making out with him, as if they’re trying to make up for lost time.

Michael lets out an aggrieved noise as he hauls back off Alex’s lap. “Then don’t air Magic Mike, suggest Alex give me a lap dance, and think you were gonna get any other concl….” He’s shut up when Alex grabs him by the curls and hauls him in for a kiss.

They’re not just moving on, Michael thinks. They’re moving all the way up, if they get nights like this.

Chapter Text

“Hey, pass me another bottle of beer,” Kyle requests, wiping his hands on the paper towel. 

The weather’s finally gorgeous and they’re taking advantage of the cabin’s great expanse of yard to have as many barbecues out here as they can. Michael grills the meat, Alex does the knifework, and Kyle brings the beer. It’s a pretty casual date and it’s how they’ve learned to navigate this threesome of theirs.

Of course, there are nights like this where Michael has to go and make it difficult.

“Guerin!” Kyle snaps.

Alex rolls his eyes. “You know what he wants. Just say it so we don’t have to do this all night.”

Kyle inhales sharply and presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He is thirty-five years old. He is way too old for this shit, yet here he is, dealing with one of his boyfriends not speaking to him and his other boyfriend acting as a conversation conduit, all for the stupidest reason.

“Doctor Guerin,” Kyle snaps. “Would you pass me another beer?”

Michael smiles as sweet as pie and hands Kyle the beer, dragging his thumb over the cold sweat of precipitation on it before he drags that same finger over Kyle’s neck, leaning in to kiss him and settle in his lap now that they’re done eating. 

“Was that so hard?”

Kyle rolls his eyes, wishing that he could actually make Michael feel how frustrated he is, but while they’ve been straining their alien abilities, empathy either isn’t one Michael possesses or just isn’t bothering to care about. 

“When I stab him,” Kyle says to Alex later when they’re doing their usual bedroom routine and swapping in and out of the bedroom, “do you think that his PhD is gonna staunch the bleeding or is a real doctor going to do the work?”

Alex glares at him from where he’s flossing. “Please don’t get him going,” is all he mutters, leaning forward to spit once he’s done brushing.

Kyle already knows that fancy PhD won’t do anything, so he goes to sleep that night wrapped around his two boyfriends, knowing that in his eyes, he’s the only actual doctor under this roof.

Tomorrow will just be another day of proving it to the others.

*

“So, explain what’s happening again?”

Riley Black is one of Alex’s old air force buddies who’d always known about Alex’s situation. He’d known about Michael, but he’d also known about his crush on Kyle when they were kids. It means that he’s one of the few friends from the job that Alex had felt safe confiding in when he, Michael, and Kyle had decided to do their thing.

Right now, they’re at the Wild Pony where Michael and Kyle are in version fourteen of their heated argument about what the word doctor means.

“I went to medical school and worked my ass off…!”

“What, are you implying that I didn’t? I spent years earning that doctorate and the actual definition…”

“Oh, spare me,” Kyle huffs. “We both know you just like the way it sounds in bed when Alex says it…”

Riley raises a brow at Alex, who goes pink. He’s deliberately tuning out the rest of this argument because he knows how it ends. Ever since they got together, every argument between Michael and Kyle ends with the both of them in the alley, making out like they’re trying to win that, too. 

“The definition of doctor in our household is a hotly contested debate,” is Alex’s deadpanned response, sipping at his beer. 

“Guessing this is just some kind of weird foreplay?”

As Alex watches Kyle and Michael furtively lean in and start whispering, their chins nodding towards the alley, he knows there’s all of a few minutes before Maria gives him the five-minute warning to get off her premises before someone beats them up or calls the cops on them.

Still, he also knows Kyle and Michael will make the most of those five minutes heatedly arguing in the midst of their alley makeout session. That, or they’ll be in the middle of a brawl that Alex is going to have to get in the middle of. Tonight, he has a friend in town, so he deliberately turns away from them. 

“My boyfriends are idiots,” is Alex’s flat response to that. “I’m gonna ignore them tonight because it’s not every day I get a friend in town.”

Riley salutes him with his beer. “Cheers to that.”

Alex gets wasted that night, losing track of both Michael and Kyle around beer number four, but Maria calls him a taxi and tells him that his idiots have been dealt with.

*

There are times when Michael picks a fight that he intends to lose, knowing that the consequence is he’ll get Kyle looking smug and hot. Other times, that fight is all too real and he’s viciously defending the hard work that he did to earn the right to be called doctor, every bit as much as Kyle did. 

It’s learning the intricacies of those arguments. Tonight at the Pony, it feels a lot more like the former, if only because they’d only been talking about what they were going to do for Alex’s birthday when Michael had dropped in an absent comment about how Kyle could dress up as a sexy nurse, seeing as it would be just about as much work as he’d done getting the ‘doctor’ title. 

Kyle bristles and then they’re off. “I went to medical school and worked my ass off…!”

“What?” Michael challenges, eyes glinting with a mischievous spark. He’s only pushing Kyle’s buttons tonight, wanting to see how pent up he can get him, because he knows exactly what happens when they’re both brimming with so much energy that they need to find a way to expend it. “What, are you implying that I didn’t? I spent years earning that doctorate and the actual definition…”

“Oh, spare me,” Kyle huffs. “We both know you just like the way it sounds in bed when Alex says it…” 

Michael raises both eyebrows. He doesn’t even need words to ask if Kyle is seriously telling him that he doesn’t like it just as much.

“So what if it sounds better to say Dr. Guerin than Dr. Valenti,” he counters, because he’s got Kyle almost all the way to the riled up point that he likes him at, but Kyle’s still holding on to some of that control.

He can see it ebbing away. He’s gripping his pool cue tighter, his thumb stroking up and down the side of it, and Michael knows that they’re seconds away from having to take this outside or risk Maria hosing them down. He glances over his shoulder to see if Alex is going to intervene, but he’s too busy talking to his friend.

So, you know, this is all up to him.

“I don’t know about that, but I definitely know you moaning your own name when you’re jacking off is nowhere near as sexy as you saying mine,” Kyle argues.

Point.

“Let’s take this outside,” Michael suggests, with the heated aggression of a man who’s implying they’re about to fight instead of what’s actually going to happen. He sets the cue against the table, waiting for Kyle to follow his lead. 

Luckily, they’re heated enough that they’re definitely not going to be doing much fighting (which is a lie, but they fight a lot better when they’re tangled up together, heatedly kissing like they have to prove to one another that they’re better even in that).

Michael heads out the door first, ready to round the corner to the trusted little back area of the Pony, still bitching. “I mean, come on, so you went to medical school,” he’s mock-griping at this point, and he’s glad he’s not facing Kyle, because he’s grinning like an idiot. “I can put a bandage on someone too. So can Alex, but you don’t hear us calling him…”

He doesn’t get past that.

Kyle grabs his ass unexpectedly, mid-rant, and Michael goes stumbling forward, slamming his face against the nearest pole. The thunk sound might be funny if Michael’s vision didn’t suddenly swim and he wobbles a little, hearing Kyle’s shout of alarm.

“Fuck! Fuck, Michael, I didn’t mean to…”

“Relax,” Michael says, closing the one eye because it’s definitely going to bruise. “I mean, you clearly had the element of surprise with the ass-grab,” he admits, wincing as he opens the eye a little to let Kyle inspect it. “How bad?”

Kyle drifts in, sliding his fingers over his face. They feel cool against his too-hot skin and suddenly their argument from earlier seems really stupid when Kyle’s willing to drop everything and take care of him.

It definitely deserves something in turn.

He slides his fingers around Kyle’s wrist to pry it off his face. For a second, Kyle looks genuinely worried, his eyes widening with alarm, and there’s a mild protest on his lips, but Michael works fast. He eases him around the corner to the back of the Pony, pinning Kyle to the wall as he sinks down.

“Michael,” Kyle groans as Michael gets Kyle’s jeans undone. “Your eye…”

“Don’t poke my eye out with your dick and it’ll be fine,” he argues, because they can ice it and worry about it later. Since Kyle looks like he’s about to argue, Michael hurries it up when it comes to getting his mouth on Kyle. 

With his hands on Kyle’s hips to control the pace, he doesn’t need long to get Kyle worked up to the point that he’s not doing much more than moaning Michael’s name, but the real treat of it all is when Kyle comes and he moans out, “Doctor Guerin,” because deep down, Kyle really does love him.

It’s sweet how he’s gonna sit around and argue that somehow, his doctorate is more important.

(Yeah, yeah, Michael knows that neither of them is better than the other, but the little mock-fights they have is some of the best foreplay he’s ever had in his life). He eases back onto his knees and clambers to his feet so Kyle can thread his fingers into Michael’s hair, dragging him in for a slow kiss to clean his lips (even though Michael spit). 

“You sure you’re okay?” Kyle asks quietly. “I can go inside, get Alex, we can go home.”

“Nah, he’s having a good time,” Michael waves a hand. “Let’s go back, you can take care of me there, okay?”

That requires no argument, it looks like. 

When they get back to the cabin, Kyle goes immediately for the ice. “I’d make a comment here about you needing a medical doctor, but seeing as I caused the issue and I’m just putting ice on you, I don’t know if that’s really a great argument.” 

He settles on the couch and pats his thighs a couple times, which is all the permission Michael needs before he curls up on Kyle’s lap, resting his cheek against his leg. 

“Besides, you kind of one-upped me back at the Pony.”

“This time,” Michael hums, and from the dazed look on Kyle’s face, he’s feeling pretty blissful himself. “Don’t worry, doc,” he praises. “You’ll get your chance later on.”

He always does. 

*

When Alex gets home that night, Michael’s head is in Kyle’s lap on the bed and he’s icing a black eye. His lips are also swollen and there’s a hickey on Kyle’s neck that Alex suspects he knows where it came from.

The black eye is a little worrying.

“Usually you two only wrestle,” Alex says, stumbling inside drunkenly and dropping his keys in the bowl in the front hallway, collapsing at Kyle’s other side, pushing at Michael so he can rest his cheek one of Kyle’s thighs, Michael on the other. Kyle looks pretty blissful, sliding his fingers through their hair, so Alex is guessing there was an, “I’m very sorry, Dr. Valenti, let me show you how much I care” blowjob.

“This idiot,” Kyle begins, tugging Michael’s curls lightly, “ran right into a pole.”

“You were groping my ass,” Michael mumbles, shifting the ice to peer at Alex. “We compromised.”

Alex rolls his eyes, because they always do when they’re happily sexed and drunk.

“Well, then, Dr. Valenti,” Alex says, “and Dr. Guerin. Captain Manes has the spins and needs to be put in a shower.” He extends both arms out to them. “Use your fancy degrees for that, why don’t you?”

Alex is more than happy to report that their respective educations don’t fail either of them in this task. He definitely appreciates their devoted attention and thinks that whether it’s medical school or graduate school, they both deserve a hearty pat on their doctory backs.

Chapter Text

If anyone ever asks him when he’d changed his mind, he’s going to lie.

Michael can’t have anyone know how much of a cliche he is, but he thinks that anyone would be swayed if they were in his shoes. After they had resurrected Max, he and Liz had found their way together and strengthened their foundation, soaring together just as quickly as Michael and Maria had crashed amidst a pile of miscommunications, lies, and his inability to be vulnerable around her for fear of being in pain and ruining that, too.

He’d still ruined their chances at anything, only leading him to really feel that love’s the worst thing in the world.

Tonight, though, after listening to Liz and Max speak at their wedding about how love is what’s given them a new chance in life, how they don’t plan to waste it, and how it’s made things incredible, even if scary, he feels like he’s been struck by a comet.

Liz had stood there and talked about how loving Max was like standing on the edge of a cliff, feeling like she was about to fall, but she said it like it was a good thing. She talked about the terrifying hurt like it made her stronger, and for the first time, Michael realized that all this time, he’d been thinking about loving Alex being like a crash landing in the wrong way.

He hates that he had this epiphany at a wedding, but he did.

Yeah, the crash landing is messy and visceral and violent, but it makes you remember that you’re alive and to make you focus on what’s important in your life. He feels like he must look like he’s been smacked across the face, sitting at the head table and facing all the guests. 

Lucky for him, Isobel and Maria keep sneaking off to the closet and it’s given him something else to focus on. Fortunately, no one else has noticed, and definitely not Alex Manes.

Alex, who’s been chatting politely with all of Liz’s family. Alex, who’s been running interference on everything wedding related just so that Max and Liz can focus on the day. Alex, who looks stunning in eyeliner and his suit, and who Kyle keeps nudging him to notice.

He’s noticed.

That’s the trick of it – he never stopped noticing, it’s just that he’s thought that love is the worst. Tonight, watching Max and Liz, he’s starting to think that love is terrifying, but worth the leap. Of course, he’s also spent two years breaking up his relationships and straining them because he hasn’t been brave. He’d managed to fix his friendship with Maria through months, he’d managed to make it work with Max after his resurrection, and he’d even found common ground with Valenti. He just hasn’t figured out how to take something that he’d buried to avoid causing himself pain and rekindle that relationship.

The question is, how does he turn it around?

He starts at the wedding. “Hey,” he says, offering a hand out to Alex. “Wanna dance?”

Alex looks at his hand warily, then down to his prosthetic, and Michael can tell there’s a smart remark coming.

“I’m not exactly a foxtrot kind of guy myself,” he cuts off whatever Alex intends to say. “We can just do the awkward high school shuffle, but come on,” he begs under his breath. “I love this song.”

He doesn’t even know this song, but it’s worth it when Alex takes the first step and follows Michael onto the dance floor. It’s a single dance before Alex gets dragged off to do shots with the bridal party and then helps with the cake cutting, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

From there, he makes sure he’s back in Alex’s life. It’s easy when Max and Liz leave to travel on their honeymoon, seeing as it leaves a gap in both their social lives. When the newlyweds get back, Michael comes up with even more excuses for seeing Alex, which usually mean he’s purposefully breaking his laptop so Alex can help him fix it. 

There’s something developing again between them. Beyond the friendship, Michael can feel that spark reigniting and he knows that if he lights a match, he can get that flame burning once more.

It never really went out, Michael just started to ignore it.

One night, when he’s watching movies at Isobel’s place with Maria and her, he tells them about his plan. “You know that time when I said love’s the worst thing that ever happened to me?”

Maria shares a look with Isobel, raising her brow. “And he wonders why we didn’t work out. What a romantic.”

“Thanks, DeLuca,” Michael sarcastically replies, rolling his eyes. He takes in a deep breath and he knows this isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but he needs to admit to his mistake. “I was wrong. It’s scary and it’s terrifying, but only because that’s all I ever focused on. I missed the softer parts, the trust, the adrenaline of the fall,” he admits with a scoff, rubbing a hand through his hair. “Having someone to love…”

“Maybe it’s not so bad?” Isobel suggests.

He definitely doesn’t think it is. 

“So what do I do?” 

He feels like he’s doing a dangerous thing by putting his love life in the hands of two women who terrify him. One of them, an ex-girlfriend that he’d spent a year tangled up with and then untangling from as best as they could. The other, his sister, who had swooped right into that rebound to show Michael what fireworks actually looked like when you kissed someone.

If he ends up with a boombox outside Alex’s house, he’s gonna lose some of that trust in their abilities.

“You want to show Alex you love him? That love is a good thing and you’re happy that it happened to you?” It’s rhetorical, given that it’s Isobel, so Michael doesn’t say a word. “Then crash land again, but pick up the wreckage together.”

“I really regret that metaphor,” Michael says, but he leaves that night with a plan in mind.

Actually, that’s the nice version, the cleaned up version.

He leaves that night, drives right to Alex’s cabin in the woods, and they crash land together into bed. If there were oxygen masks to pull, then Michael would definitely grab one during the six crashes they have that night, but he kind of gets Isobel’s point.

In the morning, amidst the wreckage, Michael burrows in closer to Alex. “You stayed,” Alex murmurs, sleepily blinking awake and letting his gaze slide over Michael, letting his fingers drift over his hip. “You don’t have to go anywhere? You don’t want to pretend last night never happened?”

Michael could point out that those are plays from Alex’s playbook, but he’s not here for that. He’s here because he’s figured out that love is the best thing that’s happened to him, at least when it’s being in love with Alex Manes.

“Actually,” he says, “I thought that you and I could get breakfast together, then maybe see what we think about working out that creak in your front door.” 

Love doesn’t always mean crash landings.

Today, love means breakfast and a visit to the hardware store. No crash positions needed at all. 

Chapter Text

The air conditioning broke days ago, but Michael’s been too busy to fix it.

Alex keeps protesting that it doesn’t matter. They can live without it, they’re grown men, and they could always call a repairman, but Michael’s stubbornness refuses to let him give in that easily. He’s been busy working at the junkyard and it’s been busy season at the ranch and despite him only working there to get ship parts, when the Roswell families come calling, he feels like shit not agreeing to help with the livestock and their equipment.

So, it’s hot, it’s sticky, and it’s become something of an issue at certain times of day, mainly because…

It leads to mornings like this one.

Michael rouses, skin sticky with sweat, pressed up and tangled together with Alex. The fan isn’t enough to cool them off completely, but it is enough that little droplets of sweat aren’t carving paths down Alex’s skin anymore, something that happened the first morning and had made Michael whimper with jealousy.

He wriggles in, though he’s careful not to press right up against Alex. The heat would bother him and that’s not what Michael is going for. Instead, he slips his fingers into Alex’s hair, hoping that his heater-like temperature isn’t making this worse.

When that touch isn’t enough, Michael goes for broke.

If it’s too uncomfortable and it wakes Alex up, they’ll deal with it, but Michael tangles their legs together, rocking up against Alex so he can drag his semi against his hip. The summer’s been relentless with the sun and given their jobs often take them outside, they both have a healthy tan.

On Alex, Michael swears it makes him glow. With him, it just makes him freckle.

He lets out a slow breath, hot air against Alex’s shoulder, and the stickiness of their skin melts them together like they’re meant to be connected in more ways than one. He runs plenty hot, so while his lips aren’t wholly an oasis in the desert, they’re still a touch cooler.

Michael presses slow kisses from Alex’s shoulder up to his neck, and when he licks up the trail of sweat, he blows cool air over it after, brushing Alex’s hair back in soft little waves.

It also wakes Alex up. 

“Guerin,” Alex sleepily protests, his eyes are still shut.

“Yeah?”

“It’s so hot,” he protests, and Michael knows that between the temperature and Michael’s own core body temperature, Alex must feel like he’s pressed up against a space heater – and, really, he kind of is. He turns in Michael’s arms, staring up at him from where his hair’s gone wild, sticking to the pillowcase, sweat matting it down. “You’ll fix the AC today?”

Michael nods, sleepy and warm and hard. “Today,” he promises, sliding his thumb over Alex’s hip until he raises goosebumps over his arms, making him shiver by the way his breath trembles. “There’s only one problem with that.”

“Mmm?”

“To fix the air,” Michael whispers, dragging his splayed palm all the way up Alex’s chest, until it’s resting over his heart, feeling the steady beat, “I’d have to get up out of this bed.”

“Yeah, you would.”

“You can see my dilemma.”

Alex pokes one eye open and peers down his body, smirking as he wraps his hand around Michael’s hard cock and gives it a lazy stroke. “I can feel it, too.” He lets his head fall back on the pillow, still stroking Michael. “Okay,” he finally groans, even though the heat is only going to get worse as the sun keeps rising and spilling in through their windows. “You can fix the AC later, so long as you don’t move an inch.”

“I wouldn’t dare.”

Tomorrow morning, the AC is fixed and the cabin is finally cool again, but Alex wakes up as warm as ever, tangled up in Michael’s arms, beads of sweat being kissed off his lip, his neck, and then all over again in case he missed a spot. 

He didn’t, Michael knows, but it never hurts to make sure. 

Chapter Text

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, which Michael has never really appreciated before. It’s an ode to a country that he crash-landed in and one with a government that would love to split him open if given half the chance. As a result of his particular feelings about the day, he’s opting to stay at home instead of going to the town-wide celebrations that Isobel is throwing down at the lake. 

“Michael,” Kyle had protested. “Seriously?”

They’d been in the middle of packing up the picnic for the day at the lake, trying to bribe Michael with offers to get shirtless, booze, and as a last ditch attempt, a promise to try and shove Max into the water. 

“I got beer here,” Michael had protested, “and the whole shirtless thing doesn’t count for much when I know you two will be back tonight, plus I can get you pantsless then, too.” He’s already sunk back into the couch at the cabin, doing his best to become one with it.

He can tell both Kyle and Alex are pissed at him, but they can stay that way. Michael will earn their forgiveness later. 

“You don’t want me there,” he insists. “I’ll just sulk and bitch the whole time. We’re always talking about how we need to have more one on one dates,” he reminds Kyle, given that he’d brought it up at dinner the other day. “Look, it’s a perfect opportunity. Go, have fun, make out, mock me behind my back,” Michael says with a wave of his hand, digging out the television remote and taking a long sip of his beer.

Alex gives him an unimpressed look. “Seriously, Guerin?”

“Go make out with Valenti and touch his abs, you’ll forget I even exist,” he quips, but he still reaches up to grab Alex by the hem of his shirt, tugging him in for a quick peck of a kiss before doing the same for Kyle, though for Kyle, he adds, “Take care of him.”

“Always do,” Kyle agrees. 

They leave without another attempt to drag him out, which Michael is beyond grateful for, allowing him peace, quiet, and hours of a Mythbusters marathon. He ignores the buzzing texts to his phone, knowing that it’ll be his siblings or Liz trying to guilt him into coming or sending him pictures of his shirtless boyfriends to try and make a case. 

He’s in the middle of lighting up a joint when his cell rings. That’s not normal, which is why Michael leans over to see who it is, dropping the joint when he sees Kyle’s name on the caller ID.

“What happened?” he demands instantly, when he picks up. 

“Michael,” Kyle’s voice is in a panic. “I need you here. Now!” 

Michael curses under his breath, wondering who the hell is attacking them and why the hell he didn’t go with them to the lake. “Who is it? Is it Jesse?” He hisses when he stubs his toe, hopping into his jeans and boots, the cell pressed to his ear. “Kyle!” He can hear loud popping in the background, like gunfire. “Kyle, talk to me!”

“It’s Alex,” Kyle says. “We’re not under attack, but he thinks we are. It’s the fireworks, they started going off and Alex just went into this….this state…”

Shit, thinks Michael.

It’s the first year they’ve done Fourth of July celebrations and they’re both complete idiots not to have considered this possibility. He grabs the keys to his truck, grateful that he had his last beer hours ago before his cat nap, slamming the driver door shut and shoving the phone onto the dash before putting it on speaker so Kyle can talk to him the whole time. 

He breaks about ten road laws as he speeds his way there, but it doesn’t matter.

“Kyle,” Michael begs. “Doc, you gotta talk to me.”

“He’s curled up, he won’t let me touch him. He keeps screaming that his leg hurts, that it feels like he’s on fire.” Michael slams both hands against the steering wheel, furious with himself for not going to the party with them. He could have done something like douse the fireworks with water or figured something out, but he’d been lazy and selfish and now Alex is paying for it. “I’m trying to get him back in the moment, but…”

“Get them to stop the fireworks,” Michael grits out. He’s still five minutes away, even pushing the pedal to the floor the way he is, hoping that no one is on the roads tonight. “Just get him through this. C’mon, Kyle, you know what to do.”

If anything, Michael had expected Alex to go through this at Caulfield, but they must have been far enough and the adrenaline from coaxing Michael to escape could have held it off. 

He’d never considered that the smell, the sight, and the sound of the fireworks on a casual night out would do it. 

Michael parks near the front of the event, slamming the door of the truck shut. He storms towards the chaos, seeing instantly where Kyle and Alex are because there’s a small crowd around them and he can hear Alex’s pained howling screams that tear into his heart, like a dagger shredding him to pieces. 

Instead of heading there, he goes towards the lake and where the float carries all the fireworks. The fury inside him means that he doesn’t need anything more than the lightest of pushes to send a small tidal wave over the people and the fireworks on the barge, soaking them and rendering every last one of them useless.

The last one goes off in the sky and then, nothing.

It becomes clear to everyone that the show is over, and there’s a sudden rise in complaints and sounds of disappointment, but Michael turns on his heel and sprints for Alex and Kyle, skidding to his knees at Kyle’s side, hand out, but not touching Alex where he’s rocking on the ground, hand at the place where his leg meets the prosthetic. 

“Deep breaths, Alex,” Kyle is saying and then going to through a pantomime of showing him that he’s breathing to get Alex to follow. Now that the din of fireworks is gone, there’s a chance he might hear him. “Okay? It’s Kyle and Michael is here too. Michael, say hey.”

“Hey, babe,” Michael says, and leans in to catch his eyes. “I’m here and so is Kyle. We’re in Roswell,” he says, trying to anchor him. It’s killing him not to reach out and coax Alex into his arms, but they both learned their lesson a long time ago when it came to touching Alex in the middle of an episode. “See how Kyle’s breathing? Do that. Deep breath,” he pleads.

Alex’s eyes are still riddled with pain, but they flick from Kyle to Michael, then back. He watches Kyle’s breathing and then he takes a slow breath in, a shaky one out, and starts to match his pace.

“Perfect,” Kyle praises. “Tell me who’s here with you.”

“Kyle,” Alex says, the panic starting to recede from his eyes. They slide over to Michael, fixed on him. “Michael.”

Michael sags forward and while he doesn’t feel right touching Alex just yet, there’s no issue with him touching Kyle. He grabs Kyle’s shoulder and half collapses into him, grateful that they’ve got Alex back in the present, if nothing else. 

“We’re going home,” Michael says curtly. “Keep your phone on the whole time,” is his sharp warning as he digs his keys out, leaning forward to kiss Alex’s cheek and groaning when he forgets the “no touch” rule and leans back, seeing Kyle’s reprimanding look. “Fuck!” he snaps, when he storms away, storming right past Max and Liz with their concerned eyes. 

When he gets to his truck, he grabs the wheel and forces himself to take in those deep breaths that they’d just made Alex do. He always complains that they’re bullshit in private, but they do calm him down. At least, enough that he can get back to the cabin to tidy up and get any potential triggers out of the way. Kyle talks to him the whole time over the phone and soon enough, Alex joins in the conversation. 

His voice is thin, but it’s there.

They get back home thirty minutes later and Alex makes a beeline for Michael, wrapping his arms around him. Michael glances over Alex’s head to see Kyle nodding, so he wraps his arms around Alex until Kyle can join in, pinning them all in a tight hug. 

“I’m sorry I let you two go off on your own,” Michael says, voice low. “I should’ve known you two could find trouble anywhere.”

“We should have stuck around and been shirtless from the start,” Kyle agrees with a joke. “Alex, I’m sorry that we…”

“Let’s not,” Alex cuts him off. His voice is stronger now, so Michael knows that the episode is over. “I need a bath to myself, then I want a beer, and you two shirtless on the couch curled up with me while we watch television, in that exact order.”

Michael lets go of Alex so he can drift back and focus on turning on the tap with his powers. “He’s back,” he says, grinning like an idiot, because every time Alex has an episode, Michael always worries that they might be losing some shred of Alex. Not this time. Not ever, if he and Kyle can help it.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Kyle agrees. 

They send Alex off to get going on the first few items on the list, but by the end of it, the three of them curl in on the large sectional. Out here by the cabin, the sign on their lawn warns anyone off setting off fireworks or gun-practice, and it’s that blissful silence that they all sink into. Curled around one another, they check off the unspoken last item on Alex’s list:

Fall asleep tangled together knowing that they’ll protect one another from every threat, no matter what. 

Chapter Text

For months, the Wild Pony had been a dangerous place for Alex to set foot in. He might walk in and see Michael making out with Maria, or Michael tugging on the long-haired bartender’s ponytail to yank him in for a kiss, or a tourist from a passing town who happened to find their way into Michael’s lap. In those months post-Max, Michael really took to the whole ‘no encores’ with aplomb. 

Maybe Maria would have been different, if she’d let it happen, but as soon as she’d cottoned onto Michael’s game, she opted out. 

So it’s safe to be back, tentatively, because Maria’s put Michael on a one-night only restriction, with the provision that he isn’t allowed to pick up anyone new. “He’s going to give himself an STD,” she says, aggressively polishing the glasses. “I can’t believe you’re telling me you still love him.”

Alex shrugs, because it’s not something he can help.

He and Maria had talked it out over a bottle of tequila and it had ended with her resolute promise to respect Alex’s feelings, even if Michael didn’t seem to even understand what a feeling was, those days. She hadn’t been willing to let Michael use her and since Alex is in the same boat, it leaves them fast friends once more, sitting at the bar of the Pony and watching Michael wander in for his weekly allotted time at the bar.

“DeLuca. Manes.” 

Alex tries not to let that sting, but he did go radio silent when he’d figured out that in the wake of Max’s death, Michael was trying to burn himself to the ground. He’s not going to walk away any longer, but he’s also not planning to step in with the fire extinguisher.

He has his own healing to do.

“Guerin,” Maria replies evenly. “Guy over there in the corner has been asking after you. I thought I told you no hookups,” she says sharply, gesturing to the hot guy in the booth, wearing a biker jacket and a pair of jeans that are so tight, Alex feels the sympathetic hurt.

Alex had noticed him when he’d walked in because he’d been checking him out, but Alex doesn’t really give random people much attention, not when he’s still trying to figure out his move with Michael to both let him know that he’s still interested, but that he also needs Michael to work on his bullshit. 

Michael glances to the booth and raises a brow. “Shit,” he exhales. “I didn’t know he was back in town.”

Alex and Maria exchange a confused look as Michael ignores ordering a drink to go say hello to whoever the old friend is. They look close, which Alex is trying not to pay too much attention to.

He knows Maria will hold on to her rule about no hookups, but that doesn’t help when it looks like Michael is all buddy-buddy with the guy, leaning into his touch. They might not be looking to hook up tonight, but Alex has the feeling that they definitely have in the past.

Alex forces himself to turn back around, reminding himself that it’s none of his business who Michael used to sleep with or who he’s sleeping with now. If Michael doesn’t want to date or do anything, Alex doesn’t get to insist otherwise. It’s not his turn to make demands.

Maria offers him a sympathetic look and a warning nod, which is all he gets before Michael’s at the bar with his friend at his side.

“This is Murphy,” Michael introduces him, clapping him on his back. “He and I worked on Foster Ranch two summers ago,” he says, letting his eyes slide over Murphy’s chest, pushing a long exhalation out past his cheeks. Alex’s jealousy is starting to spike off the charts, because he thought he was the only one who made Michael react like that. “We had a great summer, didn’t we?”

“Definitely great,” Murphy agrees, voice low. “You working the ranches this year?”

“Nah, got a new gig at the junkyard…”

Alex tunes them out and drinks, noticing how Michael doesn’t introduce either him or Maria to Murphy, which means that he must have already told them. “Well,” Murphy says, voice low, “You should stumble out to the ranch sometime. Maybe we can get into some of that old trouble.”

Alex clears his throat, pushing off his stool. 

“You don’t have to go…”

“No, I’m good,” Alex says firmly. “Just taking a bathroom break,” he says, because he wouldn’t leave Maria here alone to deal with this either, even if she had been fairly clear about how Michael’s downward spiral had done a good job shattering any deeper feelings she’d been starting to develop for him.

Apparently, the truth of Michael’s life and his antics are enough to sway any sane person away from him. It’s a shame that Alex lost that ability ten years ago when he’d first fallen in love.

He spends half an hour collecting himself before he heads back out to the bar, ignoring Michael and Murphy at the pool table. There’s a shot of whiskey waiting for him and a mirroring one in Maria’s hand. “Here’s to our bad taste. I wish it wouldn’t linger in your mouth so long,” she says. “I met this great new guy through Liz,” she says. “Maybe she could hook you up?”

Alex shakes his head, a disappointed look on his face. “I’m still in love with him,” he admits. “For better or worse.” 

Hearing the drunken slurs of Michael’s speech behind him, it’s definitely been for worse these days. 

*

The next week, Alex knows he should go anywhere other than the Pony on Michael’s night, but that feels weirdly like losing. He can hear Kyle’s voice in his head telling him that it’s not a war, but it sure as hell feels like one. There’s no guarantee that Murphy will be there tonight and he still isn’t in control of what Michael wants to do.

He suspects the last thing he’s going to do is drop everything and come beg for Alex to give them a chance, but none of that matters.

Even if nothing is going to happen, he’s not going to passively sit there and let Murphy get all of Michael’s attention. He takes care that night when he dresses, putting on the pair of skinny jeans that he knows flatters his ass best, along with a long-sleeved shirt that stretches against his shoulderblades when he shifts. He adds just a hint of eyeliner to the lids of his eyes, runs gel into his hair, and puts on a pair of combat boots along with his leather jacket.

He looks good. He knows he looks good. 

Alex isn’t even sure why he’s doing it, because it’s not like Michael had been making out with Murphy in that booth. There had just been the implication that something had happened in the past, but Alex knows how Michael looks at people that he wants and it hadn’t been hard to see.

He takes one last look in the mirror even though he knows he looks good, then he heads for the Pony. 

Maria gives him a knowing look, rolling her eyes. “I’d say that you’re addicted, but here I am instead of sending out my bartender,” she says, with a hopeless shrug. “I, however, am not wearing my very best. Can you even sit in those?”

“We’re going to find out,” Alex says, inching down onto a stool because he’s not sure if they’re going to end up splitting at the seams. Maria brings them both beers and they get to gossip, trying to avoid Michael’s name even though they both know why Alex is dressed up like that. 

For pride, for himself, for whatever reason he wants to say, he wants Michael looking at him. 

Unfortunately, as the hours pass, it doesn’t seem like he’s coming. “Maybe he discovered AA,” Maria suggests.

“Or someone else’s bed,” Alex replies miserably, turning on the stool to get up, wishing that Michael didn’t keep spiraling like this. What he’s not expecting to see is Murphy standing in the door of the Wild Pony, a wary look on his face. Alex nods to get Maria’s attention. “What’s he doing here?”

Actually, the question he wants to know is ‘what’s he doing here without Michael?’

“Alex Manes?” Murphy asks, walking over to him.

“Yeah?” 

“Michael’s outside,” Murphy says, looking him over with a soft huff. “Okay, I get why he’s still sitting in his truck.”

Alex exchanges a confused look with Maria. This whole thing is weird, because Michael’s ex-something is currently looking for him and Alex has absolutely no idea what the fuck is going on. “Sorry, what the hell is happening?”

“Michael’s outside in his truck. I caught him on my way in, he said to come talk to Alex Manes, see if he’d go outside and talk to him there.”

Alex gives Maria a wary look, not sure what’s happening. He’s not sure he likes it either, because this kind of sounds like the start of him being kidnapped, but what’s the alternative? He just ignores it? He finishes his beer and gestures to his seat to give to Murphy, who seems all too happy to sit down and flirt with Maria (and his friend, traitor, pushes Alex to go see what’s wrong, occupying Murphy with conversation).

He wanders outside to see Michael parked in the corner. If he thinks about it, he kind of thinks he’d been parked there when Alex had turned up, even. 

Walking over, he leans his forearms on Michael’s rolled-down window, raising both his eyebrows. “I was summoned?”

“Yeah. Fuck,” Michael hisses. “It’s even better up close.”

His brows creep up even higher, which he didn’t think they could do. Alex gives him a speculative look and wonders how much Michael’s had to drink or whether he’s been hitting the acetone too hard. He sighs and leans forward on his forearms, giving Michael a wary look. “What the hell is going on?”

“I know,” Michael starts, his voice low and rough, “I know I’ve been kind of shitty lately.”

“Slutty or shitty?”

“Come the fuck on, you’re gonna get pissed at me for sleeping with people? I’m not with anyone,” Michael protests and Alex holds up his hands to allow it to slide because Michael’s right, it’s not like anyone is dating. “So, I’ve been shitty lately and drinking too much and yeah, maybe I’ve been a little free and loose with the sex, but then Murph comes back to town and you turn up tonight looking like that…” 

Alex feels his heart clench in his chest. Maybe it’s because he can hear the turmoil in Michael’s voice.

“Do you wanna go for a ride?”

“We can’t just pretend things are fine because I wore one decent pair of jeans?” Alex protests quietly, even though every ounce of him wants this. Why else would he dress up like this, if not for this specific end goal? 

Michael shrugs, looking sad and pathetic. “I know,” he admits. “Murphy told me I needed to get my head out of my ass, that I had people who cared about me, as friends.” Alex knows he cares a whole lot more, but he lets Michael speak. “So, I’m saying let’s go for a ride and talk. Tomorrow, maybe you can wear that really soft black sweater and we can talk. And the day after that,” Michael says, reaching for his cowboy hat to set it on the dash, “you could wear anything you want and we can talk then, too.”

Alex’s smile softens and he nods, gesturing to the passenger seat. “That seat taken?”

“Only by you.”

So Alex, despite all his better senses, gets in. They do talk. What’s more surprising is that they only talk, but it’s good. It’s clear Michael is still wildly fucked up, but that’s okay too. Alex isn’t exactly a shining paragon of mental health these days either. 

They talk. They go for more rides and they keep talking. 

It’s not three nights later. It’s not three weeks later. It’s three months later when they go for a ride, but at the end of it, Alex decides to wear nothing at all when they get back to the cabin. From the look on Michael’s face when he wanders inside and sees Alex laid on the bed in the moonlight, he feels fairly confident that Murphy over at the dairy isn’t going to be getting any attention this season.

That’s more than fine for Alex, who’s coming around to the ‘better’ part of ‘for better or worse’ these days. 

Chapter Text

“Kyle, this is a bad idea,” Alex protests as he tugs on Kyle’s sleeve before he can be lead into the Pony. When Kyle had suggested this, Alex had gone along with it because he’d been drunk. He’ll stand by that. This is why he and Kyle shouldn’t sit around the cabin and drink until they come up with these ideas.

The thing is, now that they’re sober, Kyle is still willing and Alex isn’t, which is the kind of turnabout that he’s not really sure he knows how to process.

“Drastic times,” Kyle reminds him.

“Call it drastic measures, sure, but this feels apocalyptic,” Alex protests, digging his heels into the ground.

He is convinced that Kyle’s plan to make out at the Pony in front of Michael to make him jealous is only going to cause a fistfight and will probably only hurt Michael’s feelings, seeing as he’s still uneasy around Kyle. Even though Alex doesn’t need to fight for Michael – what with him and Maria settling into a deep friendship that excludes the bedroom – that also didn’t mean that Michael had turned up on his cabin’s doorstep.

So Alex has been getting drunk with Kyle and lamenting the fact that Michael is single and won’t give them a chance, which had resulted in this terrible, awful, horrible, tempting, incredible, hopeful plan. Instead of giving Michael time and being mature about this, Kyle wants to light a match on a kerosene fire.

Worse, he doesn’t look like he’s going to take no for an answer.

Alex sends off a quick text to Michael, not sure if he’ll get it in time. Seeing as Kyle is literally dragging him by the arm, he only has time to get out a few ominous words of warning: I never agreed to this. Sorry, sorry, sorry. 

Maybe if he gets Maria’s attention. he can somehow warn her that something is happening? Maybe if other people are looking, that lizard part of Kyle’s brain will kick in and his self-preservation will sway him away from the plan.

“Hey, Maria!” Alex calls over, pleading and desperate. 

The only thing it does is get both Maria and Michael’s attention (from where they’d been playing poker, by the looks of it). Given the sound of triumph that Kyle makes beside him, that’s a bad sign.

Because, oh shit, all he’s done is make sure that he has the attention of the one man that Kyle wants looking. 

Please let Michael have gotten his text, that’s all he can hope for. 

Alex gives in and lets Kyle grab him by the face, hauling him in for a kiss that’s actually a lot better than he expected it to be, so maybe Alex can at least take the win out of this that’s knowing that whatever homophobic instincts Kyle used to hold are truly gone. Still, kiss-via-Kyle leaves him floundering, arms flying out because he’s not sure what to do with them.

There’s no tongue. Kyle doesn’t slip it, Alex doesn’t encourage it, but Kyle seems pretty pleased with himself as he backs away with a smug look on his face.

With a quick glance to the side, he sees Maria’s faint amusement, but the look on Michael’s face is…well, Kyle might need to think about taking a few steps back before he becomes a Kyle-shaped hole in the wall. Alex swallows back any words and decides to let Kyle think that he’s done a good job, patting him on the shoulder before he heads to the bar.

“Whiskey,” he requests, because he has to live with knowing what it’s like to kiss Kyle. Or, rather, know what it’s like when Kyle is trying to play-kiss him to make someone jealous.

He’d almost have preferred a real kiss.

Michael’s nostrils are flaring, similar to the way they had in the tool shed a very long time ago, but Alex calmly sips his drink and turns to face him. Maybe Kyle’s idea hadn’t been so bad? Maybe that stupid idea of his had some merit. “Guerin,” he says calmly, like he hadn’t been flailing around stupidly a few moments ago. 

Michael says nothing, shoving back from the bar and storming towards the bathroom. Alex casts a look at Maria with confusion, not sure what the hell happened there. 

“See,” Kyle says, draping an arm around Alex’s shoulders as he joins him at the bar. “It worked.”

“Yeah,” Maria scoffs. “Making him watch one of his deepest fears really worked.”

Sometimes, Alex forgets that while he knows Michael Guerin in and out in a lot of ways, there’s one area he doesn’t and it apparently revolves around Kyle Valenti and jealousy. Alex brushes Kyle’s hand from his shoulder, but he pauses because maybe this is going to work. 

“The plan was stupid,” he criticizes, “but,” he sighs, “I think it worked. Thanks.”

He heads to the bathroom to find Michael looking at his texts. Locking the door behind him, he presses his back to it and lets Michael burn out his frustrations in silence for a long moment. 

“I got your text,” Michael finally says, sliding his phone into his back pocket. “Not sure it made me feel any better, seeing as having to watch Valenti try and give you romantic CPR in front of the whole bar is kind of one of my waking nightmares.”

“Yeah,” is all Alex manages. “Funny. You and Maria making out is one of mine.”

Michael looks suitably stung, but fair’s fair. Even if Michael and Maria had only danced around one another for a few weeks, Alex feels like they need to put these things on the same level. 

“It’s over.”

“You say that a lot,” Alex comments pointedly. “Look, I just wanted to apologize. Kyle’s just trying to help, because he knows that I still want you and that you seem to need some kind of shove. The kiss was a bad idea,” he promises. “I know that. He knows it, deep down. I just wanted to tell you that I was sorry and that I’ll give you the space you need, but that I’m not going to stop sticking around, that I’m still ready to keep fighting. And when you’re ready…”

Michael looks at him longingly, but says nothing.

Alex nods and breathes out slowly, unlocking the bathroom door to head back to the bar. He’s not expecting anything to have come out of Kyle’s misguided attempt at a favor, so when he feels someone grab his wrist, it’s a shock. 

When Michael pulls him back into his arms, then slides a palm around Alex’s neck to tug him towards his body, it’s more than a shock, it’s an electrified wire. He stumbles forward until he’s pressed flush against Michael’s body, his hips rocking forward against Michael’s jeans and the stupid belt buckle as he kisses him deeply. Alex digs his fingers into Michael’s curls and parts his lips, an invitation for more that Michael happily takes.

They could be kissing for seconds, minutes, hours. He doesn’t know. All that he knows is that when he pulls away, his lips feel like they’re throbbing (maybe from that little nip Michael gave him at the end). Stunned, he’s frozen in place when Michael finally releases him and heads to the bar to take the stool beside Kyle.

“Whatever Kyle wants next, on the house,” Michael says gruffly. “Seeing as he reminded me that I can’t let just anyone kiss Alex, especially not when they’re so bad at it.” He glances over his shoulder and gives Alex a fond smile. “If any man deserves to be kissed well, it’s that one.”

His cheeks red, Alex lets out a heady laugh, like he can’t believe that Kyle’s stupid plan worked.

Drastic times, indeed.

Chapter Text

When Michael wakes up, it’s to nearly fifty texts in his drafts. They’re all unsent, but they paint a very vivid picture. Sitting up slowly, he groans as he glances behind him to make sure he didn’t bring anyone home last night after a blackout night at the Pony, but luckily he’d been both smart enough to come home alone, but also not to send any of the texts.

Staring at them, he reaches for a bottle of acetone, because hair of the dog is a necessity if he’s going to cope with this.

They’re mostly to Alex. Early in the night, there’s a few drafts for Isobel (what was w/ ur weird muppet vest the other nite? did you skin fozzy bear?) and then a few to Liz (i need u to know that if u call me mikey in front of witnesses, i will crush u w/ my brain).

From there, it looks like he’d had a little too much to drink and had gone one-track mind.

Alex-minded, more like. 

u know what i miss, i miss the way you kissed my neck

fuck, how come we only ever woke up together once?

i miss you

ilu

They go on like that, and on, and just when Michael thinks that his parade of pathetic pining is over, he scrolls down and finds some more. Grabbing a bunch of his curls in his hand, his only relief is that the messages are all sitting in his drafts, so even drunk, he had some sense. He groans and collapses back on the bed. 

He knows he’s not doing so well, not since Max, but this is a new low. When he hadn’t been able to explain to Maria how his hand had healed, that relationship had grown complicated too, and he’d cowardly bolted from going down that road because the last thing he needs is yet another complicated thing that makes him feel like shit.

His drunk self doesn’t agree, it looks like. 

There’s a few texts to Maria in there, but they’re mostly apologies, the kind of drunken sad ones that radiate regret. He definitely didn’t text i want to lick every inch of your body to her the way that he had to Alex. 

For a few hours, he hydrates and drinks acetone until he feels like he can move a few steps without puking. 

Once his head is clear, Michael has the feeling that he needs to talk to Alex. He brings up a brand new message and texts Alex to ask if he can come by the cabin to speak to him. He sends this one, and this is the one that gets an instant reply.

only if you bring coffee

Right. Coffee run it is.

He drops by the Crashdown to get Alex’s usual and then adds two extra espresso shots to his own order before he makes the drive out to the cabin, caffeinating until he’s jittery. He owes Alex a lot – apologies, explanations, actual lines of honest communication – but right now, he just needs to sort out his head so he doesn’t have nights like last night. 

“Hey!” Michael calls out, letting himself in the cabin. Alex has already said that he can come and go as he pleases, which would be exciting if it weren’t for the fact that he’d also made keys for Liz and Kyle and said the same thing. He’s no better than a friend, right now, which is the bed he’s made and has to lie in.

He can hear rustling from the bedroom and Michael heads to the door to see Alex finishing with his prosthetic, fiddling with some of the adjustments. 

“Coffee,” Michael says, setting it on the nightstand beside Alex since his hands are busy. He’s nervous and a bit frantic, and he puts his phone down on the nightstand beside the coffee because he’s worried that he’s going to press the wrong button and send all those drafts, seeing as they’re open so Michael can let his eyes skim over them to remind himself why he’s here. He navigates back to the home screen, lingering at the edge of the bed, trying not to think about Alex getting undressed instead of this.

He wants to talk about the messages in his phone, wants to show Alex and talk about how much he still wants to be with him, but not yet. Michael decides that he needs a minute to collect himself. He can talk to Alex about it, he can, he just needs a minute. 

“Hey, can I use the bathroom?”

Alex nods, distracted with the latches, cursing under his breath. Michael takes advantage to bolt for the bathroom, where he spends a good five minutes staring at his reflection in the mirror, telling himself that he can do this. He’s here to talk, that’s all. They’re not ending things, no one is walking away, and they can be mature adults about this.

When another few minutes pass, Michael figures that either he’s got to get out there or Alex is going to think he only came over to the cabin to abuse bathroom privileges. 

When he leaves the bathroom, it’s to the sight of Alex with Michael’s phone. 

“Fuck!” he can’t help his automatic reaction on the heels of a panicked noise, and the severity and suddenness of it makes Alex nearly fumbles the phone. 

“Sorry,” Alex says. “Sorry, it was ringing and I saw it was Isobel, so I was trying to silence it, only I think it shifted to your messages and I…” Guilt flashes over his face. “I saw the messages. The drafts.”

That wouldn’t just be there. That means that Alex had to go looking for them. “Why would you…?”

“Because last night, I got this one random text from you, and it looked like it was part of something else and I…” Alex gives him an apologetic look. “What you wrote me was pretty safe. It just said something about my mouth, how you missed it when I was reading something and i started mouthing the words out loud. I didn’t really think much about it, because it was kind of really badly typed and I know that you’ve been drinking, lately.”

Understatement.

“Guerin,” Alex exhales. “You’re not the only one with unsent, unspoken words. I just never know how to bring them up.” He gives him an unsure look as he steadies his weight on the prosthetic, standing carefully (with Michael’s help as he reaches out to hold onto him). “Is that why you’re here? To talk about them?”

He nods. “I think it says something about the fact that I wrote more than ten times the texts to you than I did to anyone else. I’m glad my finger only slipped the once, that some part of my brain knew it wasn’t right to send them to you, but I’m here because it also says that there’s something still there.”

Michael’s in pain and fighting grief and it’s not that he wants to use Alex as a bandage, but maybe part of his grief is because of the wound that he and Alex never let heal.

Alex reaches for the coffee and Michael’s phone, handing the latter out to him. 

“Look,” Alex says quietly, “when you’re ready, send me the texts. Okay? I don’t want there to be things unsaid between us. Not anymore. I also don’t want you to think that you have to keep drinking instead of talking to me. So…” He reaches over to squeeze Michael’s shoulder. “Think about it?”

Michael nods, feeling like he’s been struck mute. It’s a terrifying ask, but it’s one that he knows will take them to a new level – a better place, even. All it will take is some courage, some honesty, and some willingness to try; on both their parts. 

“Come on,” Alex breaks into that unnerving silence. “Since you’re here, I was gonna clean out the eaves today and…” He waggles his brows at him, tapping his temple.

Michael huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, my alien powers were definitely meant to clean out blockages.”

“You’re here,” Alex points out. “And you brought me coffee. It’s up to you.”

Because Michael is a sucker and because it’s better than obsessing over all those unsent messages, he does stay and he uses his powers to help clean the eaves of the cabin. His phone is in his pocket and it feels like it’s burning a hole, but he’ll figure it out. He even thinks soon, because it feels like he’s sitting on a landmine and at this point, he’d rather it just go off. 

*

It turns out that Michael doesn’t need much time to figure his shit out.

He knows that he’s not automatically healed. He knows this won’t fix everything and that he has a lot of damage to undo both with Maria and Alex, for what he’d done. Still, he also knows that the only way out is through and if that way happens to end with Alex at the finish line, then he definitely wants to pursue it. He’d come over to Alex’s place with coffee again, because yesterday after they’d finished with the eaves, Alex had mentioned something about needing to dig out the foundation to repair a crack.

So here he is, ready to work, and ready for other things, too.

The next day, Michael presses a button and sends all his drafts. He takes immense joy in hearing Alex’s phone going wild with notifications, combined with the strangled sound that Alex makes from the kitchen that tells Michael that he’s read all of them, including the filthy batch that Michael had drafted nearer to the end of the night. 

That smug feeling of victory evaporates when his own phone goes wild with alerts and he sees his inbox:

278 unread messages from Alex Manes

It looks like he’s not the only one with things unsaid. Grinning as he catches Alex’s eye, he can feel his heart pounding in his chest. 

“No more unspoken words?” Alex suggests. 

That’s a promise Michael can definitely make. “No more.”

Chapter Text

“Hey! I’m home!”

Alex wanders inside with the bag of groceries and sets it on the counter, waiting for Michael or Kyle to come greet him, but there’s a resounding silence that unsettles him in a way he can’t describe. They’ve been together for a few months, once they invited Kyle into their bed and it had been too comfortable to even think about asking him to go.

Now, though, Alex is starting to have second thoughts.

He digs out his phone to send a text to both Kyle and Michael, though it’s Michael who answers first: Picking up beers. Be home soon. xx

Alex opens the fridge and finds plenty of beer. At least, his and Michael’s beers, which means that they’d gone out to get Kyle’s. It should be fine. It’s just beer, after all, and so what if they’ve gone together? It’s good that they’re keeping one another company. It’s just that Alex had thought with two boyfriends, he wouldn’t have to worry about coming home to an empty house.

Here he is, though.

He finishes dinner before they’re back, the enchiladas sitting on the stovetop and getting colder by the minute. Alex pokes at them and then decides to eat, because sitting around and waiting seems somehow much more depressing. 

When they come back, their laughter and conversation is loud. It makes Alex’s nerves rub the wrong way, even if he’s not entirely sure he understands why. They’re joking and there’s even a few feet between them, so clearly it’s not like he’s jealous.

It’s just that he didn’t like coming back to an empty house.

That’s it. That’s all. 

*

“You know, you could be up there with him,” Isobel says, glancing to where Kyle and Alex are dancing around to some awful emo band that Alex used to love. He’s on his third beer of the night, but it’s not quelling that strange pit in his stomach that he can’t put a finger on.

Michael’s fine to let Alex and Kyle spend time together. 

He doesn’t even like to dance, so he’s happy that they’ve got Kyle around to pick up the slack where Michael doesn’t want to spend his time. It’s just bugging him to hear people commenting about how Alex and his boyfriend look hot together, especially Michael is sitting right there.

“Nah,” Michael says sharply, because he doesn’t want to get into how complicated his feelings are. His eyes linger on Alex as he drinks from his beer, trying to quiet the stupid voice in his head that thinks that this is all a mistake.

He doesn’t want to be out there dancing and looking like an idiot. He reserves that for really drunken karaoke nights and three beers is nowhere near the alcohol level he requires to be doing that. 

Isobel levels a look on him and if he didn’t know any better, he’d think that she’s inside his head. “Michael,” she chastises quietly. “If you don’t want to be with both of them, maybe you shouldn’t have let him come in your bed.”

“I let him come in my bed plenty, that part’s not the problem,” he quips.

And it’s not. Sex with Kyle is good. It’s nice to have someone else to help him take Alex apart and make him feel like he deserves every ounce of pleasure that they can give him. The problem is outside of the bedroom when he watches how Kyle gently touches Alex’s back, coaxes him close, and makes Michael feel like the worst boyfriend in the world.

He’s never going to be Kyle Valenti. 

He used to think that was a good thing. Now, he’s beginning to understand that maybe it’s a shitty shortfall. 

Without giving any warning, he pays his tab and heads outside to take a piss in the alley, hearing Alex’s voice as he goes asking where he’d gone. He’ll go back inside eventually, he just needs a few minutes to himself to stop the rampant jealousy from being completely clear on his face. 

Is he really going to be the asshole who asks Alex to go back on what they’d offered to Kyle? It feels wrong, but at the same time, he misses those tender moments when it was just him and Alex, misses those quiet connections that they’d started to have.

With Kyle, it’s fun and sexy and exciting.

Maybe Michael’s ready for something a little more serious now. Maybe it’s time to settle down. He’s just not so sure he’s ready to do that with two people, when he’s only desperately in love with one of them.

*

Weeks later, they’re having a peaceful night together at home when it hits him that with the music playing lightly, the moonlight shining through their window, and Michael acting as a space-heater, it’s the best night they’ve had in a while. 

“Something’s not working, is it?” Alex says quietly in bed one night when Kyle is at the hospital, working a double shift. The problem is that without him there, it feels fine. He’s spooning Michael from behind with his good leg wrapped around him and his arm pulling him flush against Alex’s body. 

They fit together and as much as it had been exciting to have Kyle around, to see what they were like with a third, Alex is starting to figure some things out.

For instance, Kyle is absolutely his best friend. He’s a great kisser, he’s thoughtful, and he’s actually a good boyfriend. Alex just isn’t so sure that he’s the right boyfriend for him. Maybe Michael has a different opinion, which makes a jealous spark flare in him. 

Michael gives a soft hum. 

“You wanna switch?” he mumbles, shifting to take over being big spoon. “This working any better for you?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Alex protests, but he’s also sinking back into Michael’s arms. There’s a long pause as he tries to figure out how to put it into words. “I’m starting to think that maybe our bed fits two better than three.” He bows his head down, pressing a kiss to Michael’s neck to try and stop feeling like an asshole. 

Michael doesn’t reply for a long time and Alex immediately thinks that he’s fucked up.

Then, he hears a quiet, “I thought it was just me.”

“We’re shitty people, aren’t we?”

Michael turns Alex around so that they’re facing one another. He slides his thumb up and down Alex’s bicep as they curl up together, talking about how they both made a mistake. “It seemed like the right thing at the time, but maybe everything was so crazy after Caulfield. He seemed like he’d be good for us, a way to get us together without fucking it up.”

“So you’re saying we used him,” Alex echoes, feeling hollow and empty for that. “I don’t want to hurt him, especially if you’ve got feelings for him. Are you in love with him?”

“I care about him,” Michael admits, but he shakes his head slowly. “I don’t love him like I do you. Same as I didn’t love Maria how I do you. What about you?”

“It was nice, seeing my old crush in action, but…”

Alex knows what Michael is saying.

“With you, it feels easy and right. With Kyle, I’m always worried. I’m always thinking about how to be on, and I get jealous when it’s the two of you, and I don’t think that’s healthy.” Alex rubs a hand over Michael’s back. “I want to be with you, and I think that I only want to be with you.” 

So they should talk to Kyle. 

Eventually.

“We’ll figure it out,” Michael promises, drifting in to press a kiss to Alex’s lips. “Okay? I promise. Now, go to sleep, because I’m mostly there,” is a barely coherent mumble before he slips off, snuffling and curling up into Alex’s arms. 

As usual, it doesn’t take long for Alex to follow suit, drifting off into the comfortable heat of Michael’s body and the steady thrum of his heartbeat that acts like a white noise machine that steadies him as he drifts off. At some point in the night, Kyle must have come home, because Alex can feel his warmth at his back. He reaches back to press a hand to his hip, but guilt floods him and he pulls his hand back. How can he have thoughts like the ones he’s been having and still get to touch him? 

He needs to do something about it in the morning, before this goes too far.

Right now, he’ll take one more night. 

*

The next morning at breakfast, there are pancakes waiting for them, and Kyle is fully dressed. Michael knows that something’s up, because he never puts himself together so nicely like that unless he has something to talk about and the pancakes look like a bribe. 

“What’s going on?” he asks warily, even if he’s already cutting into the stack of pancakes. Kyle might look like he wants to talk, but he’s also a decent cook and Michael’s starving.

Kyle is fidgeting with the spatula, looking unsure. 

Alex wanders out of the bedroom with his crutch, stopping in his tracks. “Why are you making Jim’s bad news pancakes?”

Michael mouths ‘bad news pancakes’, because he didn’t realize that could be a thing. He settles on the counter, watching Kyle continue to fixate on the pancakes, clearly more intrigued with them than making any eye contact. 

“I wanted to talk to the both of you.”

“Okay,” Alex says warily. “About…?”

Michael catches Alex’s eye, wondering if Kyle had overheard them last night. Instantly, panic floods him, but Kyle seems pretty together about whatever it is he wants to say, so maybe bad news pancakes are because he has to work another double shift.

“When we got together, started doing this thing, it was the most terrifying and exciting thing,” Kyle starts. “I don’t think I’ve ever had sex with anyone like the two of you and things are always fun.” He stares at the pan. “That’s the problem, though. I don’t think the three of us, together, ever got past fun. You two did,” he says, gesturing with the spatula. “With me around, you started talking and going on dates. I see you two and the way you look at one another, and sometimes you forget there’s anyone else in the world, including me.”

He nods, his lips turned downwards, but after a long beat, he carries on.

“So I think we need to break up,” Kyle says. “Because I need to be in a relationship that’s more than fun. It was good, though, having it,” he admits, “and I’m gonna miss the hell out of my alien space heater, but I think it’s my turn to find someone who looks at me like I hung the moon.” 

“Kyle…” Alex trails off, and Michael hopes he’s not about to go back on what they talked about. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure that you two love each other more than you’ll ever be able to love me?” He gives a derisive scoff. “It stings the ego, but yeah. Yeah, I’m pretty sure. I don’t regret any of it, because you both taught me some incredible new tricks and it’s been good, becoming better friends with both of you, but I think it’s time that we all move on.”

He hands a plate of pancakes to Alex, topping up the ones on Michael’s plate.

It turns out that the bad news pancakes lived up to their name. 

What’s worse is that Michael hates that he feels a little relieved that Kyle’s managed to get on the same page with them. Maybe, in the end, they really are so much in sync that they even know when their relationship has to gravitate back to something else.

“If you two fuck it up, though, I’m moving in on one of you,” Kyle warns, pouring syrup on the pancakes. 

Alex gives him an amused look, and his laugh breaks the tension in the kitchen. “You’re not even going to tell us which one?”

“Gotta keep some mystery in the romance,” is Kyle’s reply, and while his smile is tense, there’s something in the air that feels like relief, as if all three of them have been shouldering this too long and have finally taken the weight off their backs. 

Besides, Michael already knows who Kyle would go after. 

It’s why he has to work extra hard to make sure he never gives him a chance to make that move on Alex, and he intends to make sure that he doesn’t fuck up, not this time.

*

Three months later, they turn up to the Wild Pony to see Kyle in a booth with Isobel, the both of them laughing and looking like they’re having a great time. Michael isn’t so sure how he feels about it, but Isobel definitely deserves some fun and Kyle…well, Michael knows how much he deserves.

Alex rests his hand at the small of his back, pressing lightly to remind him that they’re not lingering.

“Don’t wanna intrude,” Michael says. “Just checking that you two are having fun?”

Kyle glances at Isobel and his smile softens a little before he looks back at Alex and Michael. “Yeah,” he agrees, nodding and turning to give Isobel a longer look. “I think a little bit more than fun, but we’ll see.”

“We will,” Isobel agrees and swivels to look at Michael. “Away, go,” she shoos him off. “Or I’m gonna make Kyle tell me all your dirty sex secrets.”

“And there a lot,” Kyle jokes.

Michael narrows his eyes, debating unloading some of Kyle’s worst habits to Isobel, but before he gets the chance, Alex tugs him away from the happy blossoming couple, even though Michael makes a protesting noise because Alex is taking all the fun away from him.

“Let your sister and our ex try this out,” Alex whispers, hooking his fingers in Michael’s belt loops. “I have something much more interesting in mind for us.” His gaze slides down to Michael’s lips, then over to the bathrooms, nodding with a raise of his brow.

“I think I can do that.”

Because this works. The two of them together, now that they’ve figured it out, it works, and it sucks that they had to fuck things up with Kyle to get there, but Michael has to hope that whatever fledgling romance he’s found with Isobel makes up for it. Letting Alex tug him along, Michael knows he’s where he’s meant to be and with the person he’s meant to be with. 

Someone who hung the moon, the stars, and the whole galaxy.

Michael really does hope that Kyle and Isobel are that for each other, because they’re his two other favorite people in the world. They deserve happiness, even if he’s not going to be the one able to give it to them – at least, not in that way. 

Chapter Text

“Michael, where’d you go last night?”

His head is aching and Michael’s rubbing at his forearm. It’s the strangest thing to lose time the way he has, especially since he’s been doing it ever since he was twelve and his foster parents started to perform exorcisms on him. Maybe they weren’t wrong, because it had been like someone else had been in his head, keeping him company. 

It had kept him sane, right up until he’d met Alex. They’ve been dating for a few years now. Michael had turned down his full ride after the night with Rosa, but he’d managed to plead for Alex to stay with him. He always felt in control with Alex around. He never used to blackout with Alex.

Until now.

“I…” Michael opens his mouth, then realizes that he can’t explain it. Instead of offering some shitty lie, he doesn’t say anything at all. 

Maybe if it were the first time, then Alex would be fine with it. Maybe it would be okay. Only, it’s the third blackout this week and Michael can’t explain any of it. He wants to, god, he wants to, but when Alex looks at him for an explanation, Michael’s got nothing.

“I was out drinking,” he says instead, because it’s better than telling Alex how absolutely out of control he is. 

Unfortunately, it’s not what Alex wants to hear. His face falls, like somehow Michael’s behavior is all Alex’s fault. “I think maybe we should spent the night apart,” Alex says quietly, staring forward at the wall, like he’s scared to look at Michael. “Since you seem to want the time.”

“Alex,” Michael begs. 

“Later, Guerin,” Alex says, and though his voice is soft, he hasn’t called him ‘Guerin’ in years. It’s so harsh that Michael recoils back with the ache of it, and he flexes his hands as he rises to his feet. 

He needs to be anywhere but here, that’s what he’s hearing. 

Might as well go live the lie. 

“Guerin,” DeLuca warns when he walks into the Pony.

“What! I’m legal now,” he complains, because he’s been twenty-one for weeks and he has every right to be here as much as the next man. He settles in on the stool and she even serves him a beer, even if she glares at him (maybe Alex already called her, maybe she can just smell it on him), resigning himself to a miserable night.

For a long while, it is. He drinks and mopes, then mopes and drinks. He wants to go back to Alex and explain everything, but that’d mean having to tell him about the whole alien thing, and he’s not sure he’s ready for that. Instead, he drinks, and he sulks, because he wants to go back to his boyfriend and their warm, inviting bed. He doesn’t want to be here, but he deserves it, doesn’t he?

He’s a liar and a bad one, but Alex still doesn’t want to see him. He thinks that Michael is hiding something.

The worst part is how right he is.

He’s so distracted that he doesn’t even notice until the last minute when a warm hand slides over his neck, down his arm, and the man who belongs to that hand takes the seat next to him. “Couldn’t help noticing a handsome man like you all alone in a bar like this,” he says, as charming as Michael’s ever been approached.

His heart starts pounding faster for the sight of the handsome man sitting with him. He hasn’t felt like this since he first met Alex, but it’s like he knows him somehow. It’s like this man is connected to Michael’s soul, somehow, some way.

“Who says I’m alone now? I got you,” he quips.

“You absolutely do.” It’s said like a promise, with stern intent behind each word. “I’m Noah. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”

Chapter Text

History was always Michael’s least favorite subject at Roswell High.

For one, he’s not human, so why should he care what they did a hundred years ago or a thousand. This planet isn’t his planet, their history doesn’t belong to him, and what’s done is done. Past tense is boring because it means you can’t do anything about it.

Now, in the junkyard, hearing Alex Manes say “I loved you” makes him hate history even more. It’s past tense, it implies that he doesn’t, and when he says that Michael loved him too (past, that awful, reeking, terrible tense), it takes all his energy not to freeze up. So the, “Yeah,” is a full body exhalation, pained and tormented, because he doesn’t know what else he can say.

Then he bears his soul to Alex, reveals every last secret, and then Alex…

Well, he walks away.

It’s not exactly the destruction that Michael had pictured, but it feels as bad as any apocalypse might.

Michael spends the rest of his day fixated on history and fixing Maria’s necklace. By the time the clasp is fixed, he’s squeezed his hand around it so often that it’s made an imprint into his palm, and oddly, it kind of makes him feel a little sick. That, or maybe it’s the implication that Alex kept using the past tense when he’d been talking about them.

It’s not right.

Michael needs to tell him how not right it is, but in order to do that, he needs to go see Alex, which is the exact moment he realizes that he doesn’t actually know where Alex is living these days.

Shit.

It looks like he needs the big guns for that.

He heads to the Pony with the necklace, thinking that maybe him fixing something for Maria will earn him a favor, even if he’s not sure how he feels about going to see her with the awkwardness of the ‘what happened in Texas’ moment living between them, especially now that Alex knows.

“We’re closed,” Maria says, when Michael wanders up behind her and she catches him in the mirror.

He lets the necklace drop from his palm, hoping that maybe it’ll buy him a few minutes.

“My necklace,” Maria says, patting her chest and staring at it. “Guerin…”

“The clasp was broken, so I fixed it.” It was about the one broken thing he actually could fix. “Not to make it seem like I’m holding it hostage, but I kind of need something from you.”

She looks at him warily, and he can see her lip curling up faintly, so maybe she thinks that he’s asking for something lurid and sexual, especially given Texas, but Michael needs to make sure they’re on the same page here.

“I need to know where Alex is living.”

Maria clearly hadn’t been expecting that. Her eyes widen in surprise as she reaches for her necklace, yanking it out of his palm. “He’s out at Jim Valenti’s cabin,” she responds as she sweeps her hair off the back of her neck, checking her reflection to make sure it’s on straight. “Why do you need to know?”

It’s wrong to tell Maria about Alex being his guy without permission, but she’s not going to give him an exact address without a little more information. And, unfortunately, it’s not like he wants to go to Valenti and ask where his Dad’s place is.

“Because,” Michael says, holding his breath before he pushes it out, along with all the words, “He thinks that I loved him. Past tense,” he manages, feeling uncomfortable. “And he said that he loved me. Also, past tense,” he clarifies. “Except I never fucking stopped. It’s been past, present, future, unconditional,” he admits feeling so wound up that his body is practically vibrating with it.

Maria’s staring at him like she’s not sure she understands.

And then, suddenly, it’s like the scales drop from her eyes.

“That hopeful feeling, it’s been you,” she says, and she sounds almost hurt. “You could have told me that before you and I had a dusty Texas rounder,” she accuses.

“He thinks it’s all past tense, remember?” Michael scoffs. “It probably is past tense for him. When we left for Texas, I stood right here, exactly where I am, and I begged him to really make it feel over, with fireworks and an explosion, and…and…”

“Guerin,” Maria cuts him off.

“What?”

“Why are you assuming that he wants it to be over?”

“Because he said loved, Maria. He loved me, past tense, and he thinks I loved him, and I did. I do. I will.” This seems like the wrong thing for him to end up obsessing over, but he is. Fuck, he is, because Michael has no idea what he can control in his life anymore, what with Isobel’s episodes, and the useless trip to Texas.

The one thing he can control is how much he loves Alex.

And Alex loved him, once, and Michael needs to know why he doesn’t still love him anymore.

Maria’s giving him a sympathetic look, but there’s something else to it, a hint of the usual, You’re being an idiot Michael Guerin. There’s something else there, maybe some kind of disappointment, but Michael’s not sure he has it in him to be disappointing to this many people. The fun, flirty, fiery fuck they had in Texas had been a nice distraction, but he’s so occupied thinking about when Alex stopped loving him that he doesn’t even consider anything more.

Maria sighs, finally, and reaches for a napkin and a sharpie she keeps under the counter, scribbling the address on it before handing it to Michael.

Before he can take it, she yanks it back.

“What the fuck?” he snaps.

“The two of you need to sort this bullshit out,” she warns. “He’s sitting in my bar hopeful and in love. You’re coming at me obsessed because you think he stopped. You keep this up any longer, there are going to be casualties in the crossfire and you’d better not make me one of them,” she warns.

She’s asking Michael to promise not to fuck something up.

He’s fairly sure that’s not a guarantee he can make. “I’ll try,” he offers, because it’s probably as best as she’s going to get, but it’s not something to shy away from because from Michael Guerin, that’s a whole damn lot.

Maria looks unsure whether she’s going to accept the answer, but relents as she lets him take the napkin. “He finds out I gave you the address, you’re banned for a week.”

He snatches it away before she can change her mind, giving her a grateful nod. “Don’t worry, I’ll throw Valenti under the bus.” She’s trying not to look amused as he leaves the bar, but he sees it, which is how he knows he’s definitely going to do that whether he needs to or not.

When he gets out to the cabin, the front porch light is on. So’s the lamp inside. Through the window, Michael can see Alex curled up, reading something, his hand absently touching his backpack every now and again. Michael thinks about installing curtains on the windows to keep peeping toms from staring inside.

Not that anyone else is out here right now, so he’d pretty much be doing it to keep guys like him away. He spends a few more minutes judging the cabin for its architectural faults and its design flaws before he realizes exactly how much he’s procrastinating for no reason other than him not wanting to find out if Alex really did only mean loved in the past tense.

Sitting here in the car alone isn’t going to do him any good, though.

Michael bursts out of his car and heads to the front door before his courage can slip away from him, acting on a momentary instance of chaotic determination and the thought that maybe this won’t be so bad. It takes Alex a little while to open the door, accompanied by the slip shuffle and slide of a crutch and what sounds like his foot, before the door opens.

Once it does, he wastes no time.

“Guerin, what are you…?”

Michael pushes inside to try and figure out what he wants to say. He can’t just barrel in and tell Alex that he needs to stop acting like they’re only history, all because it pisses him off. He wants to, but he can’t say it. Then again, why the fuck not?

If Alex is tired of walking away and tired of not saying what he wants to say, then Michael is tired of Alex running to, what, protect him?

“You said you loved me.”

Alex looks stunned, taken aback. It looks like it’s not the accusation he’s been expecting. “Yeah,” he agrees, his voice hushed and soft. “I did.”

Michael does his best not to flinch, but it’s like Alex has taken a rifle and shot holes through his heart. He tenses his jaw and he tries to steady himself, because he needs to know. “Loved,” he repeats. “Loved, as in past tense, as in you don’t love me anymore.”

Alex stays quiet and Michael feels like he’s going to falter, but he’s here to speak his piece. It doesn’t matter if Alex stopped loving him along the way so long as Michael speaks from the heart. If it really is over, then he wants it to be on honest terms, which means Alex needs to understand how he feels.

Michael takes in a steadying breath. “When did you stop?”

“What?” Alex demands, staring at him.

“When did you stop loving me, because I never stopped. I never look away, Alex, I never stopped wanting you, and I love you. It’s not loved, it’s love. It will be, it always will be.”

That look in Alex’s eyes, like he’s about to cry, it isn’t going away. If anything, it only makes him look more wrecked. He looks shocked, bowled over, and he’s pressing his fingernails into his palm, staring worriedly at Michael. “I…”

“Alex, look, if this is really over, then whimper or fireworks or whatever, just tell me that you only ever loved me and there’s no chance you could do it again. If that door is shut, really shut, then I’ll back off, but…”

Alex’s gaze turns hopeful.

“But what, Guerin?”

“Do you think you could ever love me again, the way I love you?”

Then, oh, then, Alex Manes fucking shatters Michael with only a few words.

“You never look away, right?”

Michael nods, wary of where this is going.

“Well, I never stop loving you. Present tense. Future possible. Always.”

Oh.

Well, then. Maybe Michael can learn to appreciate history a little more if it happens to lead to this hopeful of a present, and a glimmer of a future that might not be so doomed to repeat their past mistakes. 

Chapter Text

When they’d told Alex that he’d be going into witness protection until the trial, he can honestly say that he’d never expected this outcome.

“Hi,” Alex says, staring at his new neighbor (his hot new neighbor), and wondering if Kyle is doing this to him on purpose. “I’m Michael Whitman,” he introduces himself, the name feeling wrong on his tongue.

From the way the other man flinches, clearly something’s wrong with it. “Raf Anderson,” he replies. It’s only by the fact that he’s only known him for a few moments that Alex doesn’t make a comment that his neighbor doesn’t really look like a Raf.

He’s not supposed to rock the boat, though.

That’s what witness protection is about. He’s been put here for his own good to hide him away while the government begins to assemble a case against his father. With his father and his brothers and their deep connections, it hadn’t been safe for Alex to remain in Roswell, which means that he’s been ferried away into witness protection by an old friend.

“Behave,” Kyle had warned, while his partner (Max) parked them in front of Alex’s new house. He’d handed him a pile of identity papers, giving him a stern look. “Alex,” he says sharply, when Alex buries himself in the papers.

It’s not his fault he likes to learn. “Michael,” he says, lifting his new ID as he studies the face looking back at him next to a brand new name. It looks real, but that’s the point, isn’t it? He’s about to live a new life, if only to keep his father from finding him until Alex can take the stand and destroy his life.

“What?”

“It’s Michael, now.”

Max throws Kyle a dubious look. “Really?” he deadpans. “I guess you think that’s funny?”

“He deserves it,” Kyle hisses back, and Alex has completely missed the joke.

And now here he is, on his first day inside a new bungalow in Pennsylvania, meeting his new neighbor. His hot new neighbor, who has warm brown eyes and hair that looks like it’ll get golden in the summer. Then there’s the fact that it’s curled, and when Raf lifts up the box he’s carrying, it highlights how broad and strong his shoulders are.

“Do you want help?” he asks lamely, when Alex realizes he’s been standing there staring at his neighbor for an embarrassingly long time.

Raf doesn’t seem to notice. He’s been doing his fair share of staring, and that’s why Alex hopes he doesn’t notice when he echoes the last word. “Help?”

“Yeah, I saw the boxes,” Raf says, gesturing to the moving van with his shoulders, seeing as he’s weighed down by the boxes. “You’re moving in, right? You want help?”

He knows that he’s probably not supposed to invite complete strangers into his home on the first day of his new assumed identity, but Alex is a sucker for a warm smile and kind eyes. There’s beer in his fridge, he’s not eager to put away all the boxes by himself, and if he’s going to be stuck here for the next few months, he wants to be able to befriend the hot neighbor.

Ignoring the little Kyle voice in the back of his head that says this is a bad idea, Alex smiles warmly.

He crouches to pick up one of the smaller boxes, and puts it atop the box that Raf already has in his hands.

“Definitely,” he confirms. “How about we get these boxes inside, then maybe I can see if I’ve got a couple of beers in the fridge.”

Raf heads inside and Alex glances over his shoulder to where he knows Kyle and Max are watching them. Is it childish to throw them a smirk seeing as he’s taking advantage of this whole new neighborhood situation? Maybe. Still doesn’t stop him from doing it, leaning down to pick up the next box to head inside after Raf.

He might as well make the most of this situation if he’s going to be stuck in it.

*

They end up having a few beers, Michael helps put a few boxes away, and then he decides that he probably shouldn’t push his luck too far, especially when he’d seen the van that had dropped the new neighbor off earlier this morning. They part ways with a promise to connect again, and Michael manages a cheerful smile until he’s inside his own bungalow.

Then he gets creepy. He ducks down and peeks through the blinds to watch his new neighbor head back inside, appreciating the extra views he’s getting of how ridiculously smoldering he is with that ‘come fuck me’ smirk and dark hair and perfect eyes, not to mention the ass.

Once he’s fully out of sight, Michael grabs his cell phone in a frantic rush and scrolls through the three numbers in the phone.

Numbers one through three are his lawyer and his officers – also known as Isobel, Max, and Kyle.

Right now, it’s the last two he’s calling.

“You assholes,” he snarls into the phone before he even knows who picked up on the other end. “Michael? Michael! You named him Michael!”

“Michael,” comes Kyle’s infuriating voice sounding tinny, which means that he’s on speaker. “I told you after the last incident that I’d get even with you somehow.”  

“Incident, what incident!”

He knows he shouldn’t ask, because Kyle keeps receipts. “Oh, I don’t know, you showing up in the middle of town and shoplifting from the store using your powers seems like an incident. You’re lucky you turned off the cameras with your powers, but you know that the Manes’ boys are on the lookout for you after the incident. Isobel can’t keep you hidden forever, which is why Max and I are trying to do that for you, but you’re so…you’re so…”

“Difficult,” Max supplies.

“Fucking asshole level of supreme difficult,” Kyle agrees. “So, yeah, you’re gonna cope with him being named Michael. Besides, how did you know he’s ours?”

“You two need a better cover van. It’s the same one you used to move me in,” Michael responds, peeking through his blinds to see if “Michael” is out there still getting settled in.

He is. He’s moving the last of his boxes into the house with a gait that favors one side more than the other. Michael’s going to take a stab and assume that means some kind of prosthetic, though he’s not about to announce that in front of him.

“C’mon,” he wheedles. “You could at least tell me his real name.”

“That’s not how this works,” Max argues. “It’s safer if you don’t know who he is.”

Michael collapses back onto the couch, his frustration building to epic levels. “I’ve been stuck in this shitty suburban neighborhood for months now, and you bring in some new hot guy and you tell me that it’s safer I don’t know who he is. Can you at least tell me when the trial is?”

The long-suffering sigh on the other end of the phone is definitely bad news.

“We don’t know yet. The pieces are moving and we think it’ll be soon, but they want the charges to be ironclad. What happened to you,” Max says evenly, though Michael can hear the rage brimming in his words, “we don’t want it to happen to anyone else. Be patient, okay?”

“Really? Telling me to be patient? And here I thought you knew me,” Michael scoffs, staring out the window and watching his new neighbor standing on the porch, surveying his new little kingdom.

God, he’s so hot.

At least if he’s going to be stuck here indefinitely, the scenery’s improving. “Michael,” Max says. “You know we only want what’s best for you. Please,” he says quietly. “Just hang tight, okay? Don’t do anything that’ll compromise the trial. You can hang out with the other Michael, but don’t give away any of your history, don’t tell him your real name, and don’t you dare tell him what you are.”

The rules of engagement, Michael’s memorized them. He stares at his mangled hand and reminds himself why he needs to follow them, because if he doesn’t take care of himself, then this kind of thing happens.

“I still can’t believe you named him Michael,” he mutters.

“Why?” Kyle asks and Michael can hear the smirk in his tone. “Because when you jerk off at night, you’ll feel weird shouting your own name?”

“…Valenti,” Max protests.

Michael hangs up on him, because he’s an asshole.

He just so happens to also be an accurate asshole who’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s bugging Michael the most about this whole same-name situation.

And yet, it’s definitely not going to stop him.

*

It’s the middle of the night and Alex wakes to a crashing sound in his backyard.

He startles awake, reaching for his gun in his nightstand before he remembers that he’s not in Roswell anymore, and he doesn’t have a piece tucked away for safekeeping, because he’s not supposed to be military. He’s not even supposed to own a hand gun.

He’s Michael Whitman, friendly IT guy. They usually don’t pack heat.

He stumbles out there in a house robe and his crutch, not having bothered to put the prosthetic on. It’s probably a wild raccoon that got into his trash or probably some kind of axe murderer trying to lure Alex out into the night.

The terrifying thought is that it’s his father or one of his brothers who have found him. That’s the thought he really hopes isn’t the case.

He holds onto the crutch tightly as he opens his sliding door and finds his backyard empty. Frowning, Alex steps out, not sure what made the noise, until he glances into the neighboring yard to see Raf trying to clean up something he’d knocked over. Alex squints to see it in the dark, noticing that it looks like he’s trying to reassemble something that looks like a telescope, which hit a trash can.

That explains the noise.

“Shit,” Raf says, when he looks up and sees Alex. He freezes in place, offering an apologetic look. “I woke you.”

“I thought a family of raccoons was making a house in my trash. I’m not sure what to think about this,” he admits, gesturing at Raf.

“I don’t really sleep well,” Raf admits, his hand pressed to his stomach. Alex had noticed it when he’d been moving in, but Raf’s left hand is completely mangled. It’s a mess of twisted tendons and bruises and pock marks, but it’s not like Raf’s staring at Alex’s lack of a leg with judgment, so Alex makes sure to keep his eyes on Raf’s handsome face instead. “Sometimes I like to come out here and stargaze, instead.”

Alex understands. He used to take sleeping pills to help him fall asleep when he’d been under his father’s roof and the only reason he’s able to get some rest now is because he’s escaped from that terrible situation.

“You care if you have some company?”

Raf looks at him warily for a second. Then, inexplicably, his gaze turns to the street, and why, Alex has no idea. Still, he wanders over to the gate that adjoins their yards and opens it. He stands there and coaxes Alex to walk over, extending an arm to help him if he wants it, but not touching him. It’s a small gesture, but it’s so painfully kind and unassuming that it makes Alex want to cry a little.

“Thanks,” he gets out, as Raf brings over a lawn chair to settle by the telescope. “You do this often?”

“Pretty much any night the sky’s clear,” Raf agrees. “You wanna see?”

Alex nods, trying not to come across as too eager, but then again, what other friend is he going to make in the middle of nowhere while he’s waiting to testify at his father’s trial. Does it hurt that Raf is as hot at night as he’d been earlier, in a threadbare white t-shirt and pajama pants?

It absolutely does not.

“Okay, here,” Raf says, angling the telescope so that Alex doesn’t have to move.

The sky itself is spotted with a few stars. They’re far enough away from the city that the light pollution isn’t terrible, but they also aren’t in the middle of nowhere, but when Alex peers through the telescope, he still sees other worlds out there.

It’s also a reminder of his father and his unending quest to try and find aliens. It tempers some of that late-night desire that he’d otherwise feel with a hot guy who happens to be half dressed, but only barely. He shuffles forward and stares into the night sky, waiting until he sees a shooting star.

Letting out a surprised sound, he glances back up to Raf, who’s staring at the sky with wonder.

“You saw it too, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Raf agrees, pushing a hand through his honey-brown curls, turning to give Alex a sweet little smile. “I made a wish. Did you?”

Kiss me, please, kiss me before I go crazy.

Alex shakes his head. “Nah,” he lies, heart pounding in his chest. “It’s already gone, so I don’t think wishes work like that.”

“Maybe next time, then,” Raf says, and takes back the telescope to adjust the angle, looking for something else in the night sky to view.

They take it in turns for the next few hours, until Alex’s exhaustion betrays him. As much as he might protest that he’s not tired, he starts yawning. Maybe it’s for the best. The sun’s going to come up soon and there won’t be any stars to look at. The best they’ll see if some of their neighbors’ worst habits, and Alex is fairly sure he can get arrested for that.

When you’re supposed to be laying low, that’s not a good idea.

“I think it’s time for me to hit the sack,” Alex admits, pushing up to his feet. He’s a little wobbly, but he gets the crutch under him steadying himself as he gives Raf an appreciative smile. “Thanks,” he says, “for letting me see the stars.” He heads to his side of the yard, but before Raf can respond, Alex turns and decides to keep going for broke. “You should come over,” Alex says, pausing on his deck as he leans his weight against his crutch. He chances a look over his shoulder, letting his gaze slide over Raf. “Tomorrow, for dinner. Maybe if I give you enough good cooking and beer, you might sleep through the night. Besides, I owe you for showing me the universe.”

Raf leans his elbows over the low fence, his gaze sliding over Alex.

“I just might take you up on that.”

Alex lets out a relieved breath and nods, heading back inside.

That night, he dreams of Raf. He thinks of soft curls falling over his forehead in the soft dawn morning light, of warm fingertips pressing over Alex’s skin, and when his phone rings and wakes him up from a very good dream, Alex almost throws the phone across the room.

Maybe it won’t be so bad waiting it out in this place, at least, not when he’s got such good company.

*

The next night, Raf does turn up for dinner.

He’s wearing a navy blue sweater that looks soft enough that Alex wants to bury his face in it, but he prevents himself from doing that. He also narrowly avoids whimpering with pleasure because when he opens the door, Raf’s facing away and his ass in those tight jeans is incredible. “Hey!” Raf greets, holding up a bottle of wine that’s half-open and a box of chocolate.

Which is also half open.

Alex stares at them warily, not sure if he’s charmed or insulted.

“My friend was over,” Raf says, even if ‘friend’ is stressed in a weird way that has Alex wondering if Raf actually has someone on the side. “She decided that the exchange for time spent with me was diving into the presents for you. I couldn’t exactly get to town, either…”

“It’s fine,” Alex insists, and takes the wine. “Your girlfriend has good taste in wine,” he jokes.

“Not my girlfriend. I’m single,” Raf says quickly.

It’s probably too quickly, but Alex hates how happy he is that he’d responded like that. It’s not like he should be pursuing anything. After all, he’s currently using a fake name while waiting to testify in a trial, which means that relationships probably aren’t on the agenda. There also happens to be a viciously selfish little voice in his head that says that the first time Raf kisses him, he wants him to moan Alex and not Michael.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Michael, as names go. It’s just not his.

Dinner goes well. In fact, it goes so well that Alex almost debates throwing his rules out the window and kissing Raf, but he doesn’t. He tells himself that it’s irresponsible and he’s here until the trial, when really he knows the only reason he doesn’t is because he doesn’t want to start this on a rocky start.

He still invites Raf for dinner next week.

For weeks, it becomes their steady routine, until half-started bottles of wine adorn Alex’s counter-tops, because Raf always brings something over and they never finish it completely. It’s more fun to see it added to the collection, at this point, than to polish it off.

One night, when dinner is done, Raf pauses in the doorway as he’s leaving, tugging on his denim coat. “Hey, Michael?”

Alex takes a second to remember that Raf’s speaking to him. He glances up from where he’s washing the dishes, securely tucked away a safe distance where he can’t kiss him. If he even gets an idea, he’ll be prevented by the suds on his hands from scrubbing. “Yeah?”

“I was thinking that maybe tomorrow night, you could come over to my place?”

Alex smiles warmly, ready to accept, but Raf keeps going.

“You know, you could have breakfast.”

The implication is impossible to miss, given the lascivious leer in Raf’s eyes. Alex would be going over at night, staying for breakfast, and there’s no mistaking what they’d do all night. He wants it so badly, and yet, it’d be a lie. He’s not Michael Whitman and he doesn’t want to start anything with Raf until he can be himself.

And so, no matter how much it hurts him, Alex chokes out the, “I think I already have plans.”

“Oh,” says Raf, crestfallen and dejected. “Yeah, sorry, I…”

“It’s not that…” Alex jumps on Raf’s words. “Maybe another time? Rain check?”

Raf doesn’t look convinced and Alex feels like he’s jumped up and down on a puppy.

“Rain check,” Raf echoes.

He doesn’t come back for dinner the next night, though, and Alex is left wondering how the hell he’s managed to ruin a relationship that never even began, not to mention how it feels worse than some of his actual breakups.

*

It’s been three months since Alex moved into his witness protection house and it’s finally the day he’s been waiting for.

Trial day, which Kyle has come to collect him for.

This is what Alex has been waiting for, but the strange part is realizing that his motives for wanting this trial to come have completely changed. At the start, he’d wanted this so his father would have to face retribution and Alex would feel safe out there in the world without looking over his shoulder.

Now, the reason he wants this trial so badly is because he’s sick and tired of being Michael Whitman and pretending that he’s this guy, especially when he’s starting to develop actual feelings for Raf. He knows that he can’t lie to him forever, which is why he’s so desperate for this trial to begin. The sooner Jesse is convicted, the sooner that Alex gets to go back to his old life. The sooner Alex can make up for that horrible night where he’d crushed Raf’s heart by not agreeing to go home with him.

He knows it’s not conventional, but they’d promised.

It had been one of the few reasons he’d agreed to give his testimony. Alex ducks into the backseat of the van to find that someone is already sitting there. “Sorry, I…” He’s apologizing before he even gets a good look, but once he does, he’s gaping.

He steps out of the van to stare at Kyle.

“…what?”

“Hey, Michael,” Raf, hot neighbor, drawls, waving at him.

His hot neighbor that Alex has been developing feelings for. The same one that Alex has felt guilty about lying to. He’s the one sitting in the backseat of a van that’s going to a trial to testify about Jesse Manes’ government abuses digging into alien life.

Suddenly, so much makes sense.

“What the fuck, Kyle?”

“I figured I’d keep my problem children together,” Kyle replies breezily, like he’s completely unaffected by all of this.

Alex is staring at Raf, not sure what this means or what it says about the future, but one thing is for sure – he’s not the only one who’s been lying to protect himself, so maybe Raf isn’t going to be so mad when all the secrets come spilling out of Alex like a strange pinata.

Though, the one question that he can’t shake on the drive over.

If he’s not Raf Anderson, then what’s his real name, and how soon can he get it?

He opens his mouth to ask him more questions, but he never gets a chance. From the moment he gets situated in the van and buckled in, Kyle takes over in his best Agent Valenti voice to brief them on what’s going to happen today, tomorrow, and in the coming weeks. Alex has to settle for sitting in the third row, aware that he keeps missing most of what Kyle is saying because he keeps watching Raf’s neck and wanting to bend forward and kiss it, just to see if it’s as warm as it looks.

“Michael!” Kyle snaps.

Alex’s head snaps up, in time to see Raf’s glare, and gives an apologetic look. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m paying attention.”

“Good,” Kyle says, “because it’s going to be a long ride and it’s not going to be easy.”

Long and difficult is an understatement, it turns out.

The trial takes two weeks before it comes to its conclusion. It’s grueling and difficult. Alex has to deal with his brothers accusing him of not being a good son. He needs to recount years of abuse and torture. He has to talk about the hell that his father put him through, day in and day out, but finally it comes to an end. When it does, it’s the happiest that Alex has ever been in his life. The jury had put Jesse Manes away for life for treason against the government and his abuse of resources. The word ‘aliens’ had never come up, but it’s not like they needed to.

Jesse had plenty of crimes without getting into the spooky Area 51 stuff.

He’s fidgeting with his suit, undoing his tie outside the courtroom as he lets the relief of the decision wash over him. It means that he’s going to get his life back and maybe he can even go back to Roswell.

That relief is cut off when he glances down the hall to see Raf sitting with Max. The both of them are on a bench together, with Michael’s forehead pressed to Max’s. They’re speaking in fervent hushed tones, and Alex wants to wander over, but he thinks he needs to give them some space. He stays where he is, but it turns out he doesn’t need to worry.

It’s only a few minutes later that Max squeezes Raf’s shoulder and leaves him alone. Alex ducks his head away rapidly, so it doesn’t look like he’s been staring, but he catches Raf looking his way longingly.

Alex tries not to get excited, but he fails at it when Raf pushes himself up from the bench and wanders over to stand directly in front of him.

“Hi,” Raf says, as he holds out his hand. “I thought maybe I’d come over here and introduce myself to you for the first time.”

Alex lets out a nervous breath, feeling the smile growing on his face. He loves the idea and he’s all too happy to latch on. “It’s always a good idea to get to know your neighbors,” he agrees. “I’m Alex Manes,” he says, and watches nervously as he says the last name.

Raf’s eyes widen slightly, pupils dilating, but he doesn’t flinch. He does laugh, shaking his head, and mutters something that sounds like ‘that explains a lot’, but he still reaches out to take Alex’s hand in his own, shaking it firmly. “Alex,” he says, and oh, Alex likes the way that trips off the tongue. “I’m Michael Guerin,” he says, and all of a sudden, Alex knows exactly how much of an asshole Kyle was being, handing him that identity. “And uh,” he says, flexing his mangled hand, “I kind of want to go celebrate sending away an asshole who fucked me up really badly.”

It’s Michael now, not Raf, but when his eyes slide over Alex, nothing has changed about the way he looks at him. By any other name, Michael or Raf or whoever he is, looks just as hot and makes Alex feel every bit as alive.

“Do you wanna go get a drink with me?”

Alex is nodding before he even hears the words out of his mouth. “I know a place or two we could go. It even has a little half-started wine there,” he says, eyes sparkling with mirth as he thinks about going back to his witness protection home for one last night.

Michael seems on board with that plan given the way the corners of his eyes crinkle up from his grin. “Lead on, Alex. We’ve got our lives back, and I can’t wait to start it with you.”

Chapter Text

10 degree angle

For ten years, Alex didn’t speak to any of his friends while he fought someone else’s war.

He makes a lot of excuses for it. He’s busy. He’s not in the right emotional space for it. It would be unfair when so much is classified and he can’t share that with them. The truth is that he’s making excuses because Alex doesn’t really like the person he’s become and he wants to keep Roswell separate from that – or maybe just his friends. Definitely Michael.

When things go to hell the day Max dies, Alex finds himself withdrawing again.

He speaks to Kyle, he and Michael and Isobel talk about alien plans and strategies, but what hurts the most and feels the strangest is that even though he’s back in town, he’s stopped talking to Liz and Maria, because he’s not sure he can.

Why he can work with Michael and not talk to Maria, he’s not sure, but he thinks that it has to do with the fact that he and Michael have been through so much and maybe Alex feels like he deserves a little suffering, after what his family has done to Michael’s. He can cope with Michael hurting him with spiteful words and bitter looks, because he knows it’s better than Michael deciding to exit Alex’s life for good.

He’s just not as sure what he’s done to Maria to earn that kind of pain.

Life is full of suffering, though, a lesson that Jesse Manes had beat into Alex’s head.

They don’t speak, at all.

Days turn into weeks, and Alex only drinks at the cabin – six-packs that he grabs from the liquor store or Kyle picks up for them – and then weeks become awkward months.

Somewhere in the middle of that icy silent treatment, Liz folds. She shows up at Alex’s cabin with a plate covered in tinfoil, the smell of churro pancakes wafting through the door even as he stands there and debates sending her away.

“Please, Alex,” Liz insists. “I need to apologize and I have news.”

His stomach rumbles, betraying how hungry he is. It’s the only reason he folds in the end, opening the door to Liz and nodding for the kitchen. “Forks are in the first drawer on the right,” he says quietly, still not sure why she’s here because she’d made it clear that she wanted Michael to move on to something new.

That someone isn’t him.

Still, she says she’s here to apologize, so Alex will take it. “So? What did you want to say?”

“That I’m sorry I took a side and thought that I knew the whole story. I’m sorry I put my nose where it didn’t belong, and I’m sorry I hurt two of my best friends in the process.”

Alex frowns at her, even as he digs into the pancakes. “How the hell did you hurt Maria?”

Liz shakes her head, letting out a rough sounding exhalation. “I really thought Michael and her would be good. I thought he’d let her in, that whatever kept you two apart meant that she and him could have something, but then he lied to her. He lied to her about his hand and about his past. I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone a week without at least one frantic text or call from Maria asking what’s so wrong with her.”

Liz stares at the pancakes miserably.

“She went from upset that she was feeling the way she was to completely torn apart thinking that she was losing her mind, like her mother.”

“I don’t think you should be telling me this, Liz,” Alex warns.

She might be one of his best friends, but she does this. She charges in headfirst and she doesn’t stop to think about the consequences. With a pang, Alex thinks about how Max had a habit of doing the same. Maybe they would’ve been perfectly suited to one another after all.

“I know. Shit, I know,” Liz admits. “I’m here to apologize, I’m here to say I’m sorry, and I am here to beg. Please go talk to Maria? Please?”

Alex wants to know why Liz isn’t asking the opposite.

“Why can’t Maria come here?”

“Because I sort of thought that at least if you go to her, the liquor would help a little more than being isolated in the middle of nowhere,” Liz says bluntly. “You know that she and Michael are done. That’s the news,” she says, as if everyone doesn’t already know that. It hadn’t been a quiet flame-out, even if Alex hadn’t known what to make of it. “And I think you’re both miserable over a self-destructing alien, and we need all the friends we can get.”

Alex could say that he’s got all the friends he needs, but he knows it’s not true.

“I’ll think about it,” he tells Liz, which isn’t a promise.

She nods like it is, though, and leaves him alone.

He knows he should feel bad about the fact that he doesn’t go to the Pony to talk to Maria, but he needs time to process all of this. He’d been hurt, genuinely hurt, and while he knows that other people have to live their life, it doesn’t mean that he’s ready to open the door and go right back to square one.

He tells himself that it won’t be like this forever.

Unfortunately, he’s deliberately ignoring the part where unless someone does something about the situation, then it very well could be.

*

30 degree angle


Kyle is, weirdly, the one who convinces him to go back to the Wild Pony.

“Kyle, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Alex, come on,” Kyle protests. “You are literally avoiding the Pony just so you don’t talk to her and I can’t drink in the weird bunker much longer.” He shakes his head. “It’s sad. It makes me feel like we’re turning into our fathers. It’s been months and Guerin is fucking half the town, but neither of you. I know that’s shitty to hear, but what’s done is done. Okay? Can we please go back to the Pony.”

He could say no, but Kyle’s the one steady friend he’s got right now. He’s pretty sure that if he pissed him off and lost him, then he wouldn’t have anyone, which even he can acknowledge wouldn’t be a good look for him.

“Fine,” he accepts. “When it’s awkward, just remember that you’re the one who asked for this.”

Kyle ignores his plight, clapping him on the back as he forces them to charge headfirst into a place Alex has been avoiding for weeks. It hasn’t changed, but he’s not surprised. It hadn’t changed in years, why would a few weeks have managed to change the Pony. Once Kyle’s inside, he heads off to the bathroom in a completely unsubtle way the second Maria finishes up with her patrons and locks eyes with Alex.

Kyle really would make the worst criminal, wouldn’t he?

“Alex,” Maria greets him, sounding nervous. “Hi. Kyle texted, said you were coming.”

“Did he?”

“I might have tried to lean on him to get you here,” she admits. “I wanted to talk to you and you ignored Liz, which I didn’t think was possible.”

Alex turns his beer, picking at the label as he tries to avoid looking at her. It’s awkward, if only because he knows that they need to talk, but he doesn’t really want to. Maybe they can make this work, though, if he sets down a few firm ground rules.

“Fine,” he allows, “on one condition.”

Maria eyes him warily, with that look on her face like she’s trying to read him. “Okay?”

“We don’t talk about Guerin,” Alex says flatly. “Not while I’m here.”

Maria opens her mouth, like she wants to protest, and Alex gets it. There’s a lot between them that’s gone unsaid that has to do with Michael, but he can’t deal with it. It doesn’t matter that Alex and Maria both aren’t dating Michael, he’s not ready to sit here and rehash a history that’s still too painful to relive. Alex is putting all his energy into not walking away. He really doesn’t think he can muster up the energy to deal with reliving the pain of Michael walking away from him and turning the tables – only, it’s not into the stars, as Alex had been expecting, but into someone else’s arms.

It doesn’t matter that he and Michael are friends. It doesn’t matter that Michael and Maria aren’t sleeping together.

He’s just not ready.

Maria doesn’t look fully convinced, but she seems to understand that Alex isn’t offering a choice. It’s either they avoid the topic or they don’t talk at all.

“Fine,” she relents, after a long pause. “Did you see what that asshole Wyatt did? Using Hank as an excuse to go after Isobel because he thinks she had something to do with it is low…”

Well, Alex never did say that they couldn’t talk about Michael’s family, so he’s stepped right into that one. Still, Maria’s got all kinds of gossip that Alex never would’ve had otherwise, because he’s been self-isolating himself out at the cabin.

“I hadn’t heard,” he says, and slides in closer to listen to the rest of this juicy tale.

At some point, Kyle rejoins him like he’s figured out it’s safe to re-enter the fray. Alex glares at him because it’s clear that he’s been avoiding them until he’d decided that things are safe, but he’s also quietly relieved that Kyle had been so adamant that they come here tonight. He knows that there’s a long way to go before they can bridge the gap, but this feels like a good start.

“What are we talking about?” Kyle asks, pressing both hands on the bar like he’s ready to jump in.

“Rosa’s fashion sense,” Maria shares, because they’ve moved on to one of their old hobbies – critiquing other people’s clothing. “She’s stuck a decade back and none of us have the heart to tell her because…”

Well, how do you tell the dead girl that maybe she needs to find a pair of pants that aren’t ripped?

Also, Alex thinks that’d be the pot calling the kettle black, given his former tastes.

“Yeah, not it,” Kyle scoffs. “She pre-hates me for being the half-brother she never wanted. You really think I’m about to tell her that her flannels need to be retired?”

They spend the next few hours talking about their fashion tastes, for better or worse, and Michael’s name doesn’t come up once. It only occurs to Alex when Kyle drops him off later that Michael hadn’t come up at all and it hadn’t felt strange or awkward to avoid talking about him. Why should it? Michael came into their lives like a hurricane long after Maria and Alex had forged their tight-knit friendship.

To get it back, they’re going to have to figure out how to do it while he’s there, but for now Alex will focus on the foundation and one day, they’ll see if their new friendship can withstand that hurricane.

*

right angle – 90 degrees


Just as Alex feels like he and Maria have managed a détente, the universe barges in as if trying to point out that what they’re doing isn’t enough.

“Alex.”

He’s in the middle of Liz’s lab, readjusting his prosthetic after a quick visit to talk about aliens, having taken off the leg to give himself a quick massage while Liz went to grab coffee. He turns to see Maria in the doorway, and no Liz in sight.

He has to wonder if Liz put her up to this, but Maria’s got her coat over her shoulder and a visitor’s badge on, which means that she’s probably not here for a casual visit. It’s not the first time the both of them have been in the same space, but it feels strange to run into her here. It’s not like he can run. For one, his leg’s not on and for another, she’s blocking the door.

“Is everything okay?” he asks warily, glad she’s not in a hospital gown, but what other reason could she be here?

Maria averts her eyes. “Mom’s here for some tests.”

Guilt hits Alex quickly, thinking about how his avoiding Maria and talking to her because of how much it hurts means that he’s also taken to avoiding Mimi, which makes him feel like a complete ass. He opens his mouth to say as much, apologize for not being there, when suddenly, the piercing sound of the fire alarm goes off.

“What’s going…?”

Maria doesn’t even finish her question before the sound of the door bolting shut echoes in the room. Alex’s eyes widen in alarm, because he has a bad feeling. He gestures for the door as he efficiently works to get the prosthetic back on. “Maria, check the door,” he says.

As he’s buckling himself back in, Maria’s tugging on it, pounding her fists against heavy glass. “Hey!” she shouts. Can anyone hear me? There are people in here!” She keeps working on it, but it’s clear that they’re not the only ones in this situation and being in the lab, they’re far from the most critical case.

Alex stares at the door and can’t believe what he’s about to say.

“I guess we’re going to have to wait it out.”

The doors still haven’t unlocked two hours later, but Maria and Alex have migrated to sit on the floor, side by side. “You know what the worst part of today has been?” she says quietly. “On the drive here, Mom asked me why we didn’t see one another as much anymore. It’s like she knew, like she could feel it, and I hate the idea that the universe is so out of balance that my Mom’s third eye picked up on it.”

Alex gets it, he does, but the problem is that he also doesn’t think that he’s ready to forgive and forget.

“I think part of the reason I’m so mad at you is because you did everything right,” Alex admits, feeling a clicking in his throat as he swallows. “You stayed. You didn’t walk away from him. When he held you after the incident at the UFO Emporium, you didn’t tell him to go and you didn’t run either. When he kissed you, you stayed to talk. And I’m mad at you because you were able to do that and I couldn’t, not with my fear of Jesse in my head,” he gets out, gritting his teeth to get the words out. “And I’m so mad that you could, and I know it’s Michael who showed up, but I was mad at you.”

Maria stays silent, like she knows that Alex needs to get it out.

It’s not even about how much he loves Michael, though he does. He hasn’t ever stopped, and he’d stood in an exploding building, willing to die for Michael. No, instead, he’s pissed off at Maria for being the kind of person that Michael’s been looking for.

Talk about not being fair, but it’s not like Alex understands it.

“Well, then, I’m on the train of being pissed off, because we broke up within weeks because he wouldn’t tell me the truth and I was mad at him. I’m mad at him for making me open up to the idea of him, of making me want him and even love him, but then for him to keep secrets from me that he still won’t tell me, but he’ll clearly tell everyone else! I’m so pissed at Michael Guerin for coming into our lives like a tornado and not even being able to be mad at him because he destroyed himself worse than he took me out.”

Alex lets out a ragged and pained sounding scoff. “Well, then the trifecta’s complete, because I am one hundred percent sure that he’s pissed at me and has been for a decade,” he gets out, and wishes it didn’t hurt so much, but it does.

For all that Michael looking away reminds him of the last ten years, feeling that derision and hate from Michael about how Alex walked away and how things between them don’t work is like someone’s carved a hole in his chest that he doesn’t know how to fill.

Maria threads her arm in with Alex and curls in against his shoulder. “Michael doesn’t hate you.”

“You haven’t seen him, Maria,” Alex says quietly. “He’s pissed at me because I keep walking away. I didn’t know what else to do, but he’s pissed and…” And maybe Alex can’t blame him, because look how crushed he got when Michael did the same to him only the once.

“If he hates anything, it’s how much he loves you. Even when we were together, there would be these small moments when we’d be lying together in bed and I’d feel this aura radiating from him.” She squints, like she’s trying to put a name to it. “And it took me a few days to realize that it was the same hope that came from you. It was a longing and seeing as I was right there with him, I don’t think that it was me he was longing for.”

Alex feels the ache deep in his chest, because it’s all well and good to hear that from her, but it doesn’t matter.

“He’s fucking someone inappropriate every week,” Alex bites out. “I know that I kept walking away and I know I told him I wanted to be friends, but it hurts, Maria. Thinking about you with him, it hurts, because it makes me feel like I’ve never been enough and I missed my chance…”

He rubs at his eyes, hating that he feels so torn up about this.

“I’ve loved him since I was seventeen,” he says quietly. “I let my fear be louder than that love, and now I’m paying for it. I lost my friend, I lost him, and now I don’t know if I’m going to get either of you back.”

“If you’re done being mad at me,” Maria says quietly, pressing her cheek to Alex’s shoulder as she holds him in, like she’s scared he’ll run, “I could use my friend back.”

Alex turns into the warmth of her body. She smells of her intoxicating perfume and the sweet smell of liquor that means she’s been doing inventory. She smells like Maria and Alex burrows in for a one-armed hug, not sure he’s ready to keep being mad at Maria, especially when he’d forgiven Michael a while ago.

“Maybe we just have to figure out how to talk to each other,” Alex says quietly. “I didn’t exactly write much when I was in Iraq.”

Maria’s quiet for a minute, then adds, “Neither did I.”

Maybe Liz hadn’t been the only bad friend of the three of them. Maybe they all need lessons on how to open up, be vulnerable, be open.

The doors unbolt in the middle of their awkward seated hug, and within seconds Liz is bursting into the room. “Alex! I’m so sorry, it’s the new security feature after the last incident and…” she trails off when she sees Maria and Alex hugging on the floor. She blinks, clearly stunned that it’s happening, but there’s also relief in her eyes. “Can I get in on that?”

Maria nods, her eyes blurry with tears, and waves at Liz eagerly. “Get down here!”

They’re free to wander the hospital, but Alex doesn’t want to move when he’s finally feeling like he’s grounded and in the exact right spot for the first time in so long.

*

120 degree angle


It’s been ten months since Alex and Maria stopped talking.

It’s been eight months since they started again.

Both those numbers seem ridiculously small, given what happened last night. It feels like those incidents should have been years ago, but they’re not. Alex is nervous as hell, but he’s here at the Pony, sitting at the bar and waiting for Maria to finish serving a few customers because there’s something he needs to talk about with her.

“Why are you so nervous?” she asks, squinting at him. “No psychic read needed, I think I felt your leg shaking from down the other end of the bar.”

“Last night, I went on a date,” Alex shares, anxiously.

“Which one was it?” Maria asks eagerly, leaning in with wide eyes. “That hottie from the base? Forest? Your tinder date from Santa Fe?”

Alex hasn’t been chaste for the last half a year, exploring who he is now that his father is in a medically induced coma and can’t interfere in his life again. It’s been incredible to learn about what he likes, but last night had reminded him that above all else, he loves one thing the most.

“It was Guerin,” Alex says. “Michael.”

He’s been dreading telling her. He’s been worried and barely slept because he’s been so excited to come rave about this, but he’s also been picturing every scenario in his mind. He watches her for every facial tic and reaction, but there isn’t a hint of jealousy on her face and there’s no anger. It’s been ten months since they almost let themselves splinter and Maria understands how much Alex loves Michael.

He’s here, he’s staying, and finally, he’s decided to fight for Michael.

“Please tell me he took you somewhere better than that trailer,” she says with a disgruntled snort. “You made sure he used a condom, right?”

“Aliens,” Alex reminds her. “He can’t get diseases, even if he tried his best to act like a sexual lint roller and press himself up against as many dirty surfaces as he could find. Metaphorically,” he deadpans. He knows he doesn’t sound very excited, but he’s been grinning since he’d admitted to going out with Michael, and not just that, but the way his name had sounded out loud. “We went out for a nice dinner at Isobel’s. She cooked pasta and Michael grilled, and we had a really nice time,” he admits.

Maria gives him a curious look, like there’s something about Alex she’s not getting.

“Am I still hopeful?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head, and smiles fondly at him. “You’re past hope. This time, you know.”

“You’re not mad?” is his next question, which is the one that he’s really worried about. They barely survived Michael barrelling in between them the first time. What happens if this is all Maria putting on a front and he loses her? He doesn’t want to admit it, but if it came down to Michael or Maria, it’d be a really rough call, as things stand these days.

“Tell me it’s not a fling,” she says.

“It’s not,” Alex insists instantly. “It’s really not. I love him.”

“That’s why I’m okay,” Maria admits, even if her smile isn’t as wide as it could be. “It hurts because I want something like that and I thought that maybe I could get it with Guerin, but I can’t steal other people’s happy endings to make my own.” She smacks her rag on the counter, a determined look on her face. “Besides, I deserve a man who’s willing to tell me the truth.”

“You definitely do,” Alex agrees. “We’ll stay away from here for a while, though, just until things calm down.”

The last thing he wants to do is mount Michael in the middle of the Wild Pony, because that feels a little like cruelly rubbing Maria’s face in it. From the look of gratitude on her face, Alex knows it’s the right decision.

“I’m glad you two are making it work,” she promises, reaching over to squeeze Alex’s hand, closing her eyes, which means she’s reading him. This time, Alex lets it happen, because maybe there’s something good hanging around the corner. “I know I don’t have to tell you this, but it looks good, Alex,” she promises, squeezing his hand a little tighter. “You’re happy. And you’re surrounded by friends.”

It’s pretty much all he could ever hope for, even if he’s not sure how he managed to deserve it.

“Thank you,” he says, and means it with all his heart. “Thanks for letting me have this happiness.”

“You’re one of my best friends,” Maria promises. “We’re not forgetting that, not anymore, not either of us.”

*

180 degree angle – straight angle

“Are you ready for this?”

Alex stares at himself in the mirror, glancing over his shoulder to where Maria’s poking her head in the door of her bedroom. She’d given it up to him for the day, because the cabin is too far for them, but it makes him feel like he’s intruding on her space. Still, given her responsibilities, Alex is also fairly sure that giving up her bedroom and her mirror is the least she can do.

“How’s my tie look?”

Maria wanders closer, adjusting the flare of her dress as she fidgets with it, getting the orchid bowtie back in shape. “Would I be a good maid of honor if I let you go out there without looking your best?” she quips, and gets it straightened up. “You look good.”

“Yeah?” Alex is nervous as fuck, because it’s been years and he knows that he and Michael have created a strong foundation, but sometimes Maria and Michael will have one of their serious talks and Alex will wonder if today’s the day Michael realizes he’s made a mistake.

Maria constantly reminds him that they’re only friends, but that little voice in Alex’s head doesn’t want to go away.

“You should see him,” Maria shares, with the secretive wink that only another person who’s slept with Michael can truly give. Of all their friends, no one else will ever appreciate Michael in that way, because Maria is the only one who knows about all the devious tricks that Michael can do. “I think he managed to convince Isobel to get him a pair of pants that fits just a little too small.”

It’s exactly the relief Alex needs and he catches himself laughing at the image he’s creating in his mind.

“Or he washed them and shrunk them and Isobel’s only noticing now,” he jokes, trying to calm himself down. It’s not that he’s worried about making a mistake, but he’s still in disbelief that today is happening. After all, with all the speed bumps they’ve gone through, the suspension of their relationship ought to be wrecked.

Instead, here they are, getting married.

“How are you doing?” Alex asks.

Maria squints at him like he’s lost his mind. “You’re the groom. I’m not the one who should be answering that question today.”

“Yeah, I’m the groom and I get what I want. What I want to know is how you’re holding up,” Alex keeps stubbornly charging down that road. “I know how hard weddings can be, never mind when one of the grooms is your ex.”

“It’s been years and Michael and I went on about two dates,” Maria says, rubbing Alex’s shoulders as she gets him positioned in front of the full-length mirror. “I’ve seen his vows and yours. I know that the words you two use to describe each other would’ve never been him and me, and that’s okay. I’ve learned to be okay with that. I’m gonna go find my own cosmic, epic, connected romance and then I’ll make you suffer through it.”

She leans in to kiss him on the cheek.

Instead of ducking away, though, she lingers. “And,” Maria promises, wrapping her arms around his back in a tight hug, “just to make things fair, you can make out with him a few times so our friendship playing field is evened out.”

Alex lets out a soft laugh. “Michael might get kind of mad about that, but we’ll see,” he playfully says.

Maria finally releases him to duck away, heading out the door.

“Don’t be late! The rest of your life is waiting for you at that altar,” Maria calls over her shoulder, “and he looks hot in the kind of way you definitely wanna tell your Mama about!”

And soon, Alex is going to take that last name and all that goes with it, and he’ll have his best friend at his side while it happens.

He’s absolutely ready for this.

Chapter Text

Grief does funny things to people. 

For years after she lost Rosa, Liz felt as if she had been adrift, but it’s never worse than the anniversary of her passing. Each year, to the exact day, Liz feels like she’s a ghost herself. She wanders whatever streets she’s on and when she comes back to herself with no memory, spray paint on her hands, and staring at art on the walls, she blames it on so many things.

She blames grief, alcohol, trauma.

Liz never stops to think that it could be anything else.

What Liz can’t explain is how it gets worse when she comes back to Roswell. Outside the town, when she’d been pursuing her degrees, it only happened to her on the anniversary of her death, but now that Liz is back, she swears that she can hear the echo of Rosa’s voice no matter where she goes. She’ll be in the bar and she’ll hear Rosa lamenting about the sorry state of it and how Liz ought to offer more help to Maria.

She hears Rosa snidely sassing when they pass the hospital and Liz distracts herself staring at Kyle’s ass in his scrubs, right up until she hears her sister’s voice in her head, telling her that she’s only going to break his heart (a change from the days when that had been Kyle’s job).

And when she’s around Max, that’s when there’s silence, but it’s not peace.

It feels like rage.

This year, weeks after the anniversary of Rosa’s death, she dreams of her sister in pinks and pale purples and blues. The moment Liz had fallen asleep, she’s brought to a landscape that she doesn’t recognize. Liz feels like she’s swimming in it, unsure what’s happening, but she knows that she’ll find Rosa here.

She’s seen this place before.

In her dreams, she understands that she’s come back here every year during her blackouts. She always forgets, like an evaporating dream, but she knows this place.

“Rosa,” Liz says, pained as she sees her sister before her. “Rosa, where are we? What’s happening?” It’s not the anniversary and that’s what strikes Liz as strange. She’s come to a strange sort of acceptance about her blackouts, blaming her grief on them, but they only make sense if they happen near the anniversary.

When it’s in the middle of her life, like this, she can’t comprehend it.

“I can hear you all the time in my head,” Liz complains, hands near her temples as she tries to express her frustration and her anger, not sure if it’s her own or if she’s being fed that emotion from Rosa. “Why? Why can’t you leave me alone, Rosa? Why is your ghost haunting me like this?”

“You’re not paying attention.” If Liz had thought herself angry, it’s got nothing on the incandescent rage that seems to fuel Rosa. “Three degrees and you don’t see it. You can’t blame grief for everything, Elizabeth! Pay attention!” she snaps.

“To what?”

Liz feels unmoored. Why can she see and hear Rosa so much since she’s returned to Roswell? What is it about this place that makes the connection to her sister’s memory so much stronger?

“You’re close enough this time, Liz. I’m in this in between, I can’t explain it,” Rosa says as she floats in Liz’s vision like an angel swathed in pinks and golds. She looks like she’s suspended, her hair flowing around her, and Liz wants to cry for the image of her sister like this. She’s so beautiful and so young, trapped in this moment. “Help me, Liz. Help, get me out.”

“Rosa, you’re dead.”

“Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” is Rosa’s sarcastic reply, as Liz breathes deeply and startles out of that strange space.

She blinks and looks around. She’s at the drive-in. Isobel Evans is nearby looking guilty, and Liz rubs at the back of her neck, feeling like she should be remembering something, but she can’t put her finger on what it is. Liz shakes her head and wanders back to Maria’s side, hearing Rosa’s voice in the back of her head screaming that she’s making a mistake.

I know, I know, Rosa. I’m sorry for being back here, but I’m going to find out what happened.

She tells herself that. She tells the Rosa-shaped voice in her head the same.

And yet, she falls in love and she begins to hear that anger turn to residual rage and pain. She falls for Max in spite of his flaws and when Max ruins her whole world, her love is already a foundation of a fortress and even that can’t bring it to ruin. She hates herself for it. She hates that she wants to kiss him so badly, and mostly, she hates that Rosa’s voice starts to go silent.

After the UFO Emporium, after Noah, Liz realizes that she hasn’t heard Rosa speak to her in such a long time. She prays to her at night, prays to hear her sister’s voice one more time, and in her sleep, she gets her wish.

You chose him.

And then that silence pervades, right up until Liz is robbed of a choice. Max chooses Rosa over his own life, and suddenly her sister is back in her arms and in her life. That little voice in her head that used to drive her on is so much louder, because now Rosa is near her with every passing moment, even if she’s still furious with Liz (and doubly so with Max for choosing for them).

One year later, on the anniversary of Rosa’s death, Liz is right by her side in the middle of Roswell, adorning the walls with new art, spray paint staining her fingers and grief finally losing its steady grip on her heart.

“You still love him, don’t you?”

Rosa’s voice is so much better when it’s clear like this, even if she’s accusing Liz of something that makes Rosa angry. Liz wishes that she could lie, but she thinks about pink and purple dreamscapes, she thinks of Rosa floating within it. Even though it’s not fair to her, Liz has to nod.

“I do,” she admits, an apologetic look on her face. “I love you. I love him. I’d burn the world for both of you, but,” Liz says, and wraps Rosa into a tight hug, “If I only ever get to have one of you, then once I forgive him for being such a pendejo, maybe I’ll admit that he knew what he was doing, choosing you.”

Liz is angry, but then, Liz has been fueled by anger since she first lost Rosa. Every year on the anniversary, her gaps had brought a fresh dose with it, accompanied by Rosa’s need for revenge. Being angry at what Max has done is different because the pain hurts in a different way. It’s love lost, the potential dashed, and Liz finds herself yearning for kisses and a life that she put off for so long.

And yet, three months later, Liz hears Max’s voice in her dreams whispering, I’ll come back to you.

She holds on tightly. It had taken her ten years to get Rosa back. Liz promises herself that this time, it won’t be as long and until she manages, Max will be more than a ghost of a voice in her head. This time, she knows it’s him, and rather than rage, it’s love for her that suffuses her with every passing moment.

He’ll come back. Until then, she’ll keep his voice in her head as a reminder to never stop searching for him.

Chapter Text

He wakes, screaming, at three in the morning.

It takes Alex a few moments for him to recognize where he is. “Book,” he says, marking the items around him, “alarm clock, pillow, dog, guitar.” He goes through them again so that he knows he’s not in Iraq, he’s not waking up after the explosion. His hand drifts to his knee, rubbing at the angry scarring there. Unfortunately, even though he’s not in the desert, that doesn’t mean his leg is back.

He reaches for his guitar and cradles it to his chest, knowing that he needs it to soothe him.

It takes him four songs before he can calm down and the last is angry, shouted lyrics and loud chords, like he’s trying to manifest his anxiety and his PTSD as a thing that he can shout and scream at. His therapist had recommended it to him, but it rarely seems to do anything.

Well, it does something.

The thumping on the wall followed by a dull sounding, “Shut the fuck up!” means that he’s pissed off his neighbors again. The thin walls of this apartment really suck, but Alex lives here and it’s his home. He has a right to do whatever he wants and he’s not about to let someone else stop him. These nightmares aren’t every night, and his neighbors can run white noise machines, same as he does.

Once he’s finished, he goes back to bed, but it’s not like he drifts into peaceful dreams. He tosses and turns all night, not trusting himself to fall back asleep, as if the nightmare will be there waiting for him.

It puts him in an extremely irritable mood, so when his nosy asshole neighbor is back at it again the next day with the noise, his patience almost snaps. He has no idea what the hell he’s doing, but he hears grinding and sawing and he thinks that at one point, there’s a small explosion. Why does Alex put up with this?

(He knows why, it’s the low rent)

It’s always like this, though.

The noise is a factor that Alex has had to become accustomed to in his apartment. His irritable mood has left him unwilling and unable to deal with it, so when he hears another crash and the ensuing sound of parts hitting tile, he slams his hand to the wall, with Buffy’s barking adding to the noise.

“Hey, asshole! Shut the fuck up!” he booms, his patience shot.

“Tell yourself that at night!” comes the ensuing sniping.

Alex boils over with rage, which is why he has to take out Buffy for a walk. He doesn’t even know where the noise is coming from because the walls in this place are thin, but the pipes carry sound. For all he knows, his nightmare neighbor could be the one across the hall, the one beside him, or maybe even a floor below.

Whoever he is, Alex would love to give him a piece of his mind.

The walk helps to calm Alex down, though he knows a nap would really do the trick (if it were quiet enough to do). By the time he gets back, he feels refreshed and ready, and as he digs out his mailbox key to pick up his letters, he’s already wondering if the noise had really been that bad, or if he was just exhausted.

Truthfully, Alex suspects it’s a little of column A and a lot of column B.

The exhaustion becomes the guilty culprit for something else, which happens to be the way he comes to a sudden stop when he sees a man he’s never seen before, standing at the mailbox.

It's not that Alex knows all his neighbors, but he feels like he’d have remembered this one. The man leans up against the mail and starts rifling through his letters, his legs extended and looking lean and long and so fucking good in those tight jeans. His hair is a mess of curls atop his red scarf, and his nose and the tips of his ears are still pink from being outside.

He’s also currently standing in front of Alex’s mail slot.

“Uh…”

He’s stammering, only because his brain had decided in that moment that the appropriate thing to do would be to whisper that this stranger could slide whatever he wants in Alex’s back slot and he’d be okay with that.

He clears his throat and tries again. “You’re in front of my mailbox.”

The man glances up, startled by Alex’s voice. He blinks a few times and Alex feels his heart pound even harder in his chest. His eyes are gorgeous.

Whoever this is, he seems equally stunned to see Alex.

“Hi,” Alex delves into the depths of his talent for talking and gets…that meek little noise.

Fuck, he’s bad at this.

“What?”

He gestures to the mailbox. “You’re uh, you’re standing in front of the mailbox? I need to…” He jangles his keys, like the man is a dog. “Sorry.”

The other guy says, “Sorry,” at the same time as he steps aside, but doesn’t leave. Instead, he presses his hip near the mailboxes so that he’s angled towards Alex, leaning his temple and all those curls against it, like he wants a front-row seat to Alex getting the mail. It’s enough to make him blush and he’s immensely grateful that Buffy is right there with him to help distract him.

His attention stays low, because he’s not sure he could manage eye contact with the man without making more of a fool of himself.

“You new here?” the guy asks.

“Me? No,” Alex responds, awkwardly figuring out how to say, I’ve been here for months, but I’m so much of a recluse that you’ve clearly never seen me before. He chances a look up, mail in hand. “You?”

“Same,” he admits. “I only got off the night shift a few weeks ago,” he says, and if Alex looks closer, he can see the bags under his eyes, like he hasn’t fully adjusted to getting sleep. He opens his mouth to say something else, but the vibrations of a phone interrupt him. “Shit, sorry. I gotta take this, it’s work…” He offers an apologetic smile and wanders off.

Instead of lingering, Ale decides that’s his chance to make an escape.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to stick around and talk more, but there’s an awkward protocol at play. Who knows how long this phone call is bound to go on? Is he really going to stand there the whole time? Does that make him weird or creepy, because he kind of thinks it does.

Alex heads to the elevator, easing Buffy inside so he can take the weight off his prosthetic, heading up to his floor. Once he gets inside the apartment, Alex presses his back to the door, mail clutched to his chest, and he knows that he’s willing to stay here a little while longer and put up with the noise, if it means getting to run into his hot neighbor a little more often.

After all, he never even got his name. He can’t possibly think about leaving now.

The next chance Alex gets to see his hot neighbor is during the weekly tidy in front of the apartment buildings. Without any fees, they can’t afford to hire anyone, but Alex and a few others had volunteered to keep their gardens tidy. He’s in the middle of poking some garbage with his spear when he glances to the side to see curly-haired hot neighbor with his own bag down the way.

Alex takes it as a sign that this is meant to be. They’re supposed to meet again, even if all they do that day is a polite wave of acknowledgement.

He runs into him again a few days later when he’s taking Buffy out. She’s being such a good dog lately, not barking or growling at anyone. In fact, when she sees the man, she goes trotting over to happily accept some pets.

“Hey, girl,” he says, adjusting his keys in his hands. “And handsome man,” he teases, glancing up at him.

Alex flushes slightly, but seizes the opportunity. “Buffy,” he says, gesturing to her. “And Alex,” he adds, with a gesture to himself. He feels inordinately proud about the fact that he managed to introduce himself before making a complete ass of his behavior. The other man’s sweating and leaning against the door, so it looks like he just came from a run.

His heart beats rapidly, giving him a hopeful smile. Luckily, it pays off. “I’m Michael,” he says, and there it is.

He’s got a name for the face.

(He’s also got something to moan later in bed, but he’s not going to focus on that part)

“Hey Michael,” Alex greets him, feeling overly charmed. “It must be freezing out there. You’re dedicated, going out for a run like that?”

“I’m a sucker for my sister,” he pants, half bent over. “Fuck,” he exhales, wheezing. “This definitely isn’t the stamina I wanted to impress you with.”

Alex raises his eyebrow.

“You’ve been wanting to impress me with your stamina?”

They did only just meet. Usually Alex doesn’t do this, but maybe that’s exactly why he says what he does next, while Michael is still catching his breath.

“Maybe you could come to dinner at my place,” he invites. “I bet you have all sorts of other talents.”

He did it. He said it, he did it, and now he can’t take it back. He’s not sure he wants to take it back. Breathing out, he tries to calm himself down, but he’s managed to get really excited over the fact that he’s just invited a man he just met up to his place for dinner.

“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.”

Score one for Alex’s luck.

“Tomorrow?” Alex suggests. “We’ll order in.”

“It’s a date.”

It absolutely is, which gives Alex a thrill that he can barely measure. He goes up to the apartment with Buffy to tidy it up, still amazed that Michael said yes and that this handsome man has been living in this hellhole apartment under his nose the whole time. He doesn’t even know where Michael works, but he’s so grateful that he’s off the nightshift, giving him a chance to have dinner with Alex.

Michael shows up to dinner wearing a gorgeous burgundy sweater that looks like soft angora. The moment Alex opens the door to let him in, he wants to bury his face in it and never come up for air.

“Hi,” Alex greets him. “Welcome to my humble apartment.”

Michael glances around the room, his eyes landing on the guitar. Something on his face shifts, like annoyance, and Alex rushes to move it off the couch. “Sorry,” he says. “I play sometimes.”

“At night,” Michael says evenly.

Alex frowns, not sure why Michael sounds like that. “Yeah,” he agrees. “I’ve had a lot of nightmares since my accident, but music helps calm my anxiety.”

“Nightmares,” Michael echoes. “That must keep you up a lot in the middle of the night. Screaming?”

Alex isn’t sure he likes the way Michael is staring at him. “…Yeah?”

Michael lets out a ragged scoff. “You’re the one I’m shouting at in the middle of the night.” He swallows hard, giving Alex an apologetic look. “I don’t mean half of what I say?” he offers, shaking his head. “Fuck, that sounds insincere. It’s more that I got off the night shift and then I keep getting woken up, by the screaming, then the music. It really floats through…”

If it does, then Alex figures it goes both ways.

“Does your job involve small explosions and crashes?”

Michael gives him a sheepish look. “I’ve had time in the morning now to work on my things.”

This is the asshole that Alex keeps shouting at.

“It’s a shitty apartment with bad walls,” he says, because now that he’s met the man, he doesn’t really want to shout at him. He also doesn’t want the dinner to be ruined all because of this, and he has a bad feeling it’s going that way. “I’m sorry if I’m ever too loud. Bad dreams,” he admits, “from my tour in Iraq. The music is what keeps me sane.”

“I get that,” Michael admits. “It’s why I tinker around with experiments. I have insomnia, but doing that kind of work sets my mind at ease.”

Alex stare at Michael, the awkward tension drawn out. Then, it breaks rapidly, because they both start laughing.

“Fuck,” Michael wheezes. “I can’t believe you’re Dickbag Noisy Asshole,” he says. “An affectionate nickname,” he guarantees.

“I just called you a jackass in my head,” Alex admits, but now that he knows Michael, knows why it’s happening, and where it’s coming from, he thinks he has an idea of how they can deal with it. “Maybe,” he says, “the next time you hear that kind of noise in my apartment, you could come and knock on my door. I’d absolutely be willing to keep it down, for a good cause.”

Michael toys with his cell phone, eyeing Alex with a keen look, a little flirtatious and filthy.

“Come and knock on your door in the middle of the night,” he says thoughtfully, like he needs the time to think about it. “I think I could manage.”

“Okay, then,” Alex replies, getting the feeling that maybe after tonight’s dinner, he’s going to get to see Michael again fairly soon, and in the middle of the night.

Funny, then, how now Alex is hoping for a nightmare, if only to see if Michael sticks to his word.

*

It turns out that there’s a solution for both their noise problems.

When Michael stays the night, Alex securely curled into his arms, he doesn’t wake from a single nightmare. He’s cocooned in his warmth and he gets a full night’s rest, with Buffy dozing on the corner of the bed near them. Michael, well-rested, then conducts his experiments without dropping half as many things, and he doesn’t make calculation errors that have things blowing up.

“You know,” Michael mentions, after they’ve tried this for a week to discover it’s not a fluke, “I always knew sex was the answer for most things, but I don’t think I could’ve predicted it’d solve my noisy neighbor issue.”

Alex rolls over in bed, grinning at Michael.

“How about you come over here and we’ll solve it some more?”

Michael grins right back, practically tripping over his feet to get back into bed for another round.

Somewhere nearby, someone pounds on the wall to tell them to shut up, and Alex laughs as he realizes how the tables have turned.

It’s someone else’s problem, because Alex has no intention of shutting up when he’s got Michael making noises the way he is. Let them call him all the names in the book. It’s worth it.

Chapter Text

Some days, Michael questions why he’s the ride-or-die asshole that he is.

Life would be a lot easier if he weren’t. If he were actually as self-centered and selfish as the image he tries to project, it would be easier, but he’s not. For all that he tries to make people think he doesn’t care, he’s the polar opposite, deep down.

Now is one of those times when he’s debating changing his mindset. Though, it usually happens during these shifts when he’s bored, he’s tired of cleaning the counter, and he’s done with his coursework. He’s only here because he’s getting his Masters and has some spare time on his hands, and Maria had seized on the opportunity for help at barely minimum wage, convincing him to come in.

That’s why it had started.

Now, he’s here because of one particularly gorgeous customer who comes in every morning around eleven for a mid-day pick-me-up. “Michael,” Maria calls over to him when the bells jangle.

He also happens to be Maria’s friend, too, and Maria’s made it her life mission to hook the two of them up. It means that every time he comes in, she makes herself scarce along with any other staff so that Michael’s the only person around to serve him.

Michael’s not sure that the guy likes him back, even if Maria insists he does.

“Alex,” Michael greets him. “Hey!”

“Hey Michael,” he returns, putting down his phone as he leans his elbows on the counter. “So, today…”

Then he launches into an order that’s about ten percent more complicated than yesterday’s (which had already been plenty difficult).

Michael calls over his shoulder for coverage at the counter, because Alex’s order is going to take him away for at least a few minutes, especially since Alex had actually asked for the milk in his latte to be steamed to an exact degree, or be thrown away and restarted. “What’s your day looking like today?” Michael asks, still loving the fact that Alex’s complicated orders mean that he gets to talk to him.

Most customers are busy with their cell phones while they wait for their order.

Alex has never once looked at his phone, giving Michael his full attention every time. “Oh, you know,” he drawls. “The usual,” is the sarcastic addition. “I’m going to go in and warn people that their security is terrible, they’re not going to believe me, and then I’m going to have to go in and tear their systems to shreds to prove it.”

He’s smiling a little like he’s a shark who’s scented blood in the water, and is all too pleased about that.

Michael glances back to the milk, making sure it’s frothing properly. “Somehow, I doubt it’ll be a hardship,” he deadpans.

“What about you? Maria said you have your exams next week.”

Michael shrugs. “Yeah,” he says dismissively. Alex leans up on his toes, peering past the counter. Why? Michael has no fucking clue. “Okay, what?” he protests.

“I don’t see any books, no papers…” Alex gives him a serious look. “Do I have to give you the speech about how you need to take this seriously, Michael?”

The milk starts to steam and froth, the thermometer gauge showing the perfect Alex-approved temperature, which means it’s time to pour. He pulls it away from the steam wand and pours before he wipes the counter down, giving Alex a smirk. “Do I need to give you the speech about how you shouldn’t doubt me?”

“Everyone needs to study,” Alex protests.

Michael doesn’t.

Then again, he doesn’t know Alex that well, so launching into the whole ‘I was a child prodigy and the only reason I’m not off with my degrees right now is because I had foster parents who wanted me to have a normal childhood’. It does mean he can spend most of his days here at the shop, not worrying about his grades.

“Michael,” Alex warns.

“Make you a deal,” he says, handing him his coffee. “If Maria tells you I pass with an A, you have to come in here tomorrow and the next day and the day after that when it’s my shift.”

Alex’s face is flooded with fondness as he sips his coffee. “Why would I need to make that bet, when I already planned to come in?” he asks, and sips again. “Perfect. For this, I didn’t doubt you for a second,” he guarantees, and lets his gaze linger on Michael’s lips before he waves to Maria, heading off for the day.

Michael watches Alex go with a happy sigh, mainly because he always wears tight jeans and the view of him departing is one of the best things he’s ever seen. “Do you believe me now that he likes you?” Maria demands.

“You may be right,” he concedes. “He might like me back.”

After all, there’s no way that Alex would be so picky about his milk temperature, not without a deeper purpose. Seeing as the only reason he would get so complicated and picky with his orders is to spend more time with Michael, it’s fairly strong evidence that he definitely likes Michael.

“What are you going to do about it?”

He’s got a few ideas up his sleeve.

“Man like that, he deserves to be wooed,” Michael says.

Maria’s looking at him warily, and she doesn’t say it, but it’s like Michael can see the thought bubble above her head that reads, what do you know about wooing people?

Not much, but isn’t that what the internet is there for?

Michael decides to launch a campaign of charm, romance, and he intends to do it using the foods of love, found on a site that talks about aphrodisiacs. Every time Alex comes in, he gives Michael a wildly complicated drink order, so it shouldn’t be hard to mix a little bit of that in.

On Monday, he begins his campaign to romance Alex.

It doesn’t start well.

“Michael,” Alex says warily after he sips his drink. “What’s in this?”

“Powdered oysters.”

“That’s…really not what I ordered.”

“We’re trying it out,” he says, his eyes fixed on Alex. “Do you like it?”

Alex musters up a smile, but slides it back. “Thank you?” he offers, “but I really think that I’d like to have my drink without any powdered seafood.” He gives Michael a look like he’s trying to figure something out, but follows it up with a mildly sarcastic, “I’m also pretty sure you shouldn’t be risking fate with anyone who has seafood allergies by sneaking that in.”

Michael doesn’t let that knock him off his stride. So it didn’t work, so what? It’s only the first try.

He remakes Alex’s drink and basks in the sunny smile it earns him, loving how Alex reaches out to squeeze his hand in thanks before he heads off with drink in hand (a complicated layer drink that required Michael to wait a whole minute before adding the next, lest it all collapse and lose the effect Alex had asked for).

Michael makes a few more attempts to introduce aphrodisiac elements into Alex’s coffee and snacks to see if it does anything. The truffle oil he uses on his breakfast sandwich gets a dubious look, and the hints of champagne in his smoothie don’t go over well. That’s why Michael saves the best for last.

At least, he’d thought it was the best.

Alex chokes a little when he sips his hot chocolate, which Michael has loaded up with actual pieces of dark chocolate. “Michael…”

“Yeah?”

“This is like sludge. This is the fourth time you’ve done weird things with my order. Are you trying to give me a sign or something?”

He is, but clearly not the one Alex is reading.

“They’re aphrodisiacs,” he blurts out. “I was hoping that maybe one of these times, I’d get you in the right mood and then I could ask you out.”

Alex gapes at him. “…are you serious?”

His defenses suddenly up, Michael is ready to yank the terrible hot chocolate out of his hands. “What? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to…”

“Do you honestly think,” Alex cuts him off, “that I give a shit what temperature the milk in my coffee is? Michael, I do that because I know it’ll give me an extra few minutes with you, just like I know that by asking you to steep my tea for five minutes before the bag comes out, then I’ll get to talk to you. You didn’t have to douse me with oysters and chocolate and…were there chili peppers in the breakfast sandwich?”

“Yeah,” Michael admits, knowing that he’s definitely gone too far. “And asparagus in the scone.”

Alex gapes at him.

“Please go out with me,” Alex begs. “If only so you can stop trying to poison me with romance.”

Michael’s grin is a radiant thing, something that could light up the skies. “So it worked?”

“If it’ll make you stop, then yeah! Yeah, it worked.”

Michael does stop.

Alex’s orders go back to being his normal orders, Michael stops trying to infuse romance into them, because now he doesn’t need to.

He’s got a date with Alex, and now that they’re going to have dinner, they’re finally into familiar territory where Michael has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to woo and romance Alex, without powdered seafood, mushrooms, or asparagus. And lucky for Alex, Michael hasn’t had any complaints in this department.

He might not be good at wooing, but he’s excellent when it comes to actually being in a relationship.

Chapter Text

The Beginning

“It’s a rite of passage,” Michael mutters to himself as he lifts his flashlight, creeping up the hill on the outskirts of town. “Every Watcher in the academy has to do it, and you’re the first year.” He’s mocking the other students in his class, even as he continues to trudge onwards in the pitch-black night.

Isobel and Max had told him not to bother going, that the Manes property was abandoned and the other Watchers were just luring him there to scare him by popping out of the darkness, but Michael, at seventeen, is younger than the rest of them and he’s got something to prove.

Besides, if there’s nothing there, then there’s no harm in going into the house, finding something to bring back to the school and proving he’s not afraid of a fairy tale.

The house is creepy. Of course it is. The Manes family lived here decades ago, but when the father had turned all four sons into vampires in the same night, it became soaked in tragedy and history, even though the Manes mother had managed to give one of her sons a soul instantly. Now, located a few miles from the Watcher Academy, the first years come here as a rite of passage.

He has to bring something back with him to prove he went, so here he is.

The house is awful and dusty, but Michael creeps in towards the bedroom, wondering which of the Manes boys lived here. He searches the room, approaching the dresser and sights a small piece of cloth that should be easy to get out.

“Come to me, baby,” he says with eagerness, advancing and tugging the handkerchief into his hands.

“Put it down.”

Michael freezes, not recognizing the voice. He glances up to the dusty mirror in front of him, but there’s no one behind him. He shoves the handkerchief in his hoodie pocket, taking the flashlight out of his mouth to turn towards where he heard the voice coming from.

Which is when he comes face to face with a hot guy.

“What the fuck! Where did you come from?”

“I thought I told you to put my shit down.” He reaches into Michael’s hoodie pocket and pries out the handkerchief, emblazoned with AM on the corner. It puts him intimately close to Michael, and it’s close enough to feel the coolness of his skin, the lack of heartbeat, and how stupidly gorgeous his profile is.

Fuck, thinks Michael, fuck, fuck, this is not the time for an inappropriate teenage hard-on.

It’s extra bad because the hot guy hadn’t shown up in the mirror.

“Holy shit, you’re a vampire,” Michael says as he tries to remember the few classes he’s had, glancing around rapidly for anything that could be used as a stake or to immolate him or anything that could save his life. “Are you the one who lives here? Are you Alex Manes?”

“No one’s lived in the Manes house for decades, but every year, the new Watcher kids come up here and I could use the entertainment,” Alex deadpans.

Everyone knows the story of Alex Manes, but seeing him is another thing completely. Even with a soul, half the Watchers are scared of him, as if they’re worried that his bloodlust is going to completely take over.

Fuck, but he’s so hot that Michael is really hoping he can incite another kind of lust.

“I’m Michael Guerin. I’m training to be a Watcher,” he says proudly. “You’re really not gonna send me back to the campus without any proof that I ran into you. Think about what that’d do for my reputation.”

“Most of them don’t stay this long after I spook them. There’s more screaming and fleeing,” Alex comments as he slides closer to Michael. “Why do you need to prove your reputation when you’re clearly braver than them?”

Michael snorts, staring at him in disbelief. “Seriously?” he deadpans. “Man, you’ve been dead for ages if you don’t know how cruel other kids can be.” Alex has turned away, head bowed over the handkerchief and looking like he’s writing something. “I mean it. If I go back without anything, they’re gonna make my life hell.”

Alex turns back around, studying the folded handkerchief in his hands.

“You’re really not scared I’m going to bite you?”

“You have a soul,” Michael replies calmly. “You might, but then I think you’d feel really, really bad about it,” he taunts, refusing to let his gaze slip from where he’s staring at Alex. His heart beats faster, feeling alive and stupid and excited. He wants to stay here and poke at Alex, he wants to ask about his history, and he wants to believe that he’s safe.

That hope is helped along when Alex steps forward and puts the handkerchief into his extended palm, stepping away to leave as if he’s been bested and wants to go with his dignity.

“If you did want to know where I really live,” Alex says, glancing over his shoulder to where Michael is running his thumb over the cross-stitching of the handkerchief. “I put my address on a slip of paper on the inside of that handkerchief. Maybe you might decide to come test your courage there, the next time you’re sent out on a dare.”

Michael watches Alex with fascination as he leaves. He could’ve broken off a piece of the bedposts and staked Alex, but the only thing Alex seems hungry for is to drink in the sight of Michael.

The entire journey back to the Academy, Michael can’t stop thinking about Alex. He’s fascinated and intrigued and completely swept up in the idea of him.

When he gets back, though, Alex takes a backseat. Right now, he has to prove to a bunch of upperclassmen that he’s not scared of one measly little vampire’s house.

“Look at it and weep,” Michael boasts when he returns to the Academy, shaking out the handkerchief with Alex’s initials embroidered on it. The piece of paper inside it doesn’t fall to the ground.

It can’t, not where it’s sitting securely in Michael’s pocket.

Funny how no one else seems as thrilled as he does, but there’s a begrudging sense of admiration and for the next few weeks, they leave Michael alone.

It means that he can focus on his studies, his craft, and learning how to protect a Slayer. It means that he has time for Max and Isobel, settling in to their new school. And, it also means that he has all the time in the world to sneak off to the address written on a scrap of paper, where he learns that vampires can, in fact, get aroused and exactly what kind of fun happens when they do  He learns that Alex’s soul had been given in kindness, not in curse, and he thinks he gets himself a vampire boyfriend.

That probably isn’t going to go over very well.

But hey, what are the chances of him getting a Slayer?


“Michael.”

“You think we have a choice?”

“You know they’re doing this on purpose. You know Elizabeth Ortecho has already talked back to them, she doesn’t want her destiny to be pigeonholed in a box. They are giving her to you because they know that you are dating a vampire and they want her to fail. They want you to fail.”

Michael stops threading his fingers through Alex’s hair, staring down at him with a helpless look. He’s been a Watcher for almost twenty years, has been dating Alex for most of them, and it’s an open secret that he’s a Watcher with a vampire boyfriend and to them, it doesn’t matter if he has a soul – it makes Michael a failure.

So when the next Slayer was called up and it wasn’t their intended (a girl named Jenna Cameron), out went the plan, and in came Michael Guerin.

“They want you to fail so that Elizabeth isn’t their Slayer.”

“Yeah, well, they don’t know me,” is Michael’s defensive reply. “What are we supposed to do, Alex? Let her die? No. No, you know what we do. We teach her everything we can, you look out for her at night, and we make her strong. We teach the Council that not having faith in me is their mistake, not who was chosen.”

Alex peers up at him, his fondness clear even upside down, even if there’s still worry on his face. “How are you planning to tell your Slayer that you have a live-in vampire boyfriend?”

Now that is definitely a bridge he intends to cross when they get to it.

“Forget that,” Michael scoffs. “How the hell am I gonna adjust to being a school librarian, with the hours we keep?”

“Endless amounts of coffee,” Alex deadpans, giving him an encouraging nod. “We can do this. I don’t love it, but we can do this. For her.”

“For the Slayer.”


Band Candy

 

“Hello?”

Liz wanders into the library with her books in hand, wondering why there’s no noise. Most days, Guerin’s in here with his books, bent over one of them with his tortoise-shelled glasses, lecturing Liz on the latest slayer lessons or whatever else the thirty-seven-year-old Watcher thinks she needs to learn about. He’s also typically bickering and bitching at her friends for cluttering up his library and making it noisy.

Today, there’s nothing. It’s almost like Guerin’s ideal library state, only he’s not here to see it.

Maria gives her a shake of her head, peering from behind Liz’s shoulder. “This screams murder scene,” she says.

“If he’s been offed, who’re they gonna replace him with? Another stuffy genius?” Kyle snorts.

She doesn’t pay attention to their bickering and sniping, moving deeper inside the library. Liz catches movement out of the corner of her eye, sleek and smooth. “Hello?” she calls out, not sure who else is in the library. Her attention slides back to Maria and Kyle, digging out her stake and approaching cautiously.

The shadow moves swiftly, the pages of books fluttering as her warning, and Liz spins, stake raised and poised to strike.

It’s only her incredible reflexes that stops her from killing an ally – even if it the strangest ally she’s ever had.

“Slayer,” Alex comments evenly.

Liz rolls her eyes. Alex Manes might be a vampire, but after he’d been turned by his father, his mother had instantly ensured that his soul had been put back in. In over eighty years, she’s fairly sure the worst he’s ever done is ruin a couple of Michael’s ties with his teeth – and no, she really doesn’t want to think about the weird part where her Watcher is dating a vampire.

“Alex,” Liz replies, eyeing him. He was turned in his mid-twenties, but his general aura of youth means he can come and go as he pleases at the high school without anyone thinking it’s weird. “Where’s Guerin?”

The dark look on Alex’s face should be scary, but she knows him. She’s seen him feel bad about draining a rabbit for its blood, because the thing was so cute.

“That’s what I came here to ask you about. Why the hell is my husband acting like his fool seventeen-year-old self?”

Liz gapes at him.

There’s a few things there to process. “Husband?” Maria blurts out nearby.

“Dude, you were with him at seventeen?” is Kyle.

Liz focuses on the more problematic part of all this. “How do you know Michael’s acting strangely?”

That’s how they get dragged to the Wild Pony, where a local band is playing tonight. The floor is packed with adults making out, grinding, and wearing ridiculous clothes. Liz stops for a moment to try and forget the image of their principal doing body shots off the mayor’s assistant, wondering what the hell drug everyone is on.

Alex keeps walking through the crowd to get to the back of the club, where Guerin has been cuffed. Or, he was, because now he’s sprawled on the couch with a pair of unlocked handcuffs attached to his wrist, a bobby pin sticking out of his teeth, and him wearing a mischievous smirk. Gone are the glasses, his curls are wild, and he’s eyeing Alex with intent.

“You’re not supposed to leave me after you get me locked up,” Guerin says.

“Guerin,” Alex says calmly. “Your slayer is here.”

“Hey sweetheart,” Guerin says instead of paying attention to Liz, patting the space beside him. “C’mere and do a shot with me.” He grins as he tips his head to the side, curls falling with the movement as he eyes Alex with intent. “Remember how much you like it when you drink me after I’ve had some tequila?”

Liz shoots Alex a disbelieving look, like she can’t believe that at any point, he’d been charmed by this. From the long-suffering look on Alex’s face, it seems like he doesn’t need the ball-busting. She also gets the feeling that if he could blush, he would be.

“What the hell is going on here?” Maria asks.

“That’s what I want to know,” Alex says sharply, leaning down to grab something from out of Michael’s hand. “Guerin,” he says evenly.

“Manes,” Guerin replies cheekily, tangling their fingers together and yanking him into a straddle in his lap. Liz instantly tries to avert her eyes because no, no, no, no, that’s her Watcher, that’s not someone she wants to think of as being sexually active in any way, especially not with a vampire, nope. “Come on, sweetheart, just drink a little.”

“Do not do that,” Liz snaps. “One look at his face in vampy form and he’ll be dead, Guerin.”

“Spoilsport,” he mutters.

Liz shakes her head, deciding there and then that she’s never going to complain when Guerin gives her an assignment or loads too much responsibility on her shoulders.

The thing in Guerin’s hand looks like a chocolate bar, of all things, which Alex sniffs, recoiling before he puts down the chocolate, as if it’s burned him. “Someone’s enchanted this,” he says, a look of disgust on his face. “Whatever it is, it’s clearly making the adults of Roswell act like the simpering idiot children they are.” He looks down at Guerin, shaking his head. “I was a fool when I was younger.”

“You were my fool,” Guerin says sweetly. “And I was the luckiest teen in the world when you kissed me inside the museum and gave me a home for the first time.”

Whatever qualms Alex might be having about Guerin’s personality reversion, that clearly pierces through. Suddenly, Alex doesn’t have any resistance as he slides down into Michael’s lap, straddling him as he wraps his arms around his neck, making out right in the middle of the Pony.

“Ugh,” says Liz.

“I don’t know,” Maria replies, “I think it’s sweet.”

Liz doesn’t want to even think about Guerin as anything remotely close to a sexual being, which is why she can’t bear to look at this. It’s lucky that something distracts them almost instantly.

“I recognize that wrapper.”

Liz could kiss Kyle for the way he distracts her from watching her Watcher make out with a vampire (it’s like a car crash, she can’t look away). She seizes on his comment, looking at him picking up a wrapper from the ground. “What? What is it?”

“It’s the candy from the fundraiser the football team was having,” he says. “I just sold all mine to Guerin, because he said he’d buy it all if I shut up about the football team’s stats and got back to research.”

“So we need to figure out where it came from!” Liz is so happy for a lead that she could cry. She looks back, trying to decide if she should try and split up Guerin from Alex, but they’ve progressed to dry humping, and Liz is starting to wonder if Alex didn’t eat some of the candy after all.

The sooner they fix this, the sooner that’s fixed.

Though, if they’re married, she has to wonder how much of this happens behind closed doors and they’re just normally mature enough to know better than to do this in public.

She decides she’s not going to bother dwelling. “Come on, let’s go.”

Once they get into their research, it doesn’t take long to turn over a few stones with the few adults left. Isobel had sniffed with annoyance when they turned up to her place and asked if she’d eaten any of the chocolate.

“If I’m going to break my diet and eat chocolate, it’s for good stuff, not that,” she says, flicking the candy bar, but squinting at it. “I think this company just bought the warehouse outside of town, though,” she says. “You might want to start there. It’s definitely witchcraft,” she guarantees. “I’ll brief the other Watchers and see what we can do about containing Michael.”

“Thank you,” Liz says emphatically. “Seriously, thank you.”

Once they get to the warehouse, the rest falls into place after some old-school spying and eavesdropping. It turns out that a witch with a grudge against the Watchers in Roswell had enchanted the candy, intending to turn her and all her fellow adults into irresponsible idiots while he worked his magic and tried to make a power grab.

Noah Bracken hadn’t been too happy when Liz broke up the coven in the middle of a spell to amp up the power of the chocolates.

“You made me see my Watcher’s nipples,” is her annoyed snap, when Noah asks why she won’t let him get away with it. She grabs the bust of Janus that the witches have been channelling the spell into, smashing it to the floor in a thousand little bits that shatters the spell just as quickly.

She’s not sure what to do with a witch, but she doesn’t get a chance to figure it out.  Noah and his coven flee in the chaos before she can call Guerin and ask for help. Given the derision on Noah’s face when she’d mentioned Watchers, Liz suspects that it won’t be the last they see of him.

Maybe next time, Liz won’t be so traumatized as a result of his revenge scheme.

*

The next morning, Guerin’s back in the library. He’s wearing a turtleneck and a pair of sunglasses, scowling like the crotchety old Watcher Liz knows and loves. “Had a fun night, Mikey?” she asks sweetly, teasing him with a name that she knows he despises. She leans over to flick at the turtleneck a little. “Maybe a little nibble or two got you on the neck?”

“How much do I have to pay you to never mention what happened again?”

Liz shakes her head. “Trust me. After today, if we never talk about it, I’ll be the happiest slayer around. Now, can we please go back to killing things that go bump in the night instead of you bumping them in your Chevy?”

That is the absolute last she’ll say about it, she swears.

Or maybe it comes up once more, because when Alex turns up to talk about the threat of the coven in the town, he’s not wearing a scarf, which means she sees all the marks on his neck. “I didn’t know vampires could bruise from a hickey,” she blurts out, forgetting the whole ‘moving on’ part.

Alex stares her down, unflinchingly. “My husband has very determined teeth and I’d like to never talk about it again.”

“Next time, wear a scarf,” Kyle complains from where he’s buried his face in a book.

Guerin smiles at Liz as he wraps his arms around Alex’s neck from behind, nuzzling one of the marks as he whispers something against the cool skin that she suspects might just be, I love you, I’ll take care of you, I’ll make it all up to you.

Just this once, she’ll let him have it without teasing him relentlessly.

Tomorrow’s a new day, though, and there’s plenty more to tease him about then.


two years later

The sun has yet to go down, but Michael can hear movement in the back of the library, where the tall shelves create a shadowy effect and he glances up towards the source of the shuffling, listening for the familiar foot falls to place who it is. It’s no surprise that it’s his erstwhile husband, here to grovel.

Hopefully.

“I hear you,” he says absently, flipping the page of the latest book he’s been reading, trying to find out what demon Liz had run into, digging out a bookmark so he could slide it in, to mark his place.

Moments later, Alex comes skulking out of the shadows, head bowed, looking sad and pathetic.

“I wanted to apologize.”

Michael waits patiently, because he hasn’t heard an actual apology yet, and he’s not planning to give Alex any leeway until he hears it. The fight they had last night had been one of their worst, though not the worst, but Michael has opinions.

“I’m sorry that I want to turn you before you get too old and we look ridiculous.” It’s not a great apology and Alex seems to understand, because he inhales deeply and then reels himself back. “It’s your decision about when you want to be turned and I’m sorry I called you stupid for not wanting to do it now.”

Michael is thirty-nine years old. He knows that mentally, he wants to do this before he turns forty, but he’s also been waiting on Liz to graduate. Now that she’s in her senior year and with plenty of college opportunities awaiting her, Michael thinks he can start to look at his own future.

“You’re always going to look younger than me,” Michael points out, taking off his glasses to polish them, sliding them back on his face as Alex approaches, tenderly sliding his finger over the arm of the glasses.

Alex pouts slightly. “You won’t need these after I turn you.”

“No,” Michael agrees. “Maybe I’ll still wear them at my husband’s request.”

“I just need to know why,” he pleads. Michael understands, too, and that might be his fault. He has his reasons, he has Liz in mind, but he’s never told Alex, because he never thought that it would be such a bother. “I have the soul spell ready, so the instant after I turn you, we’ll put the soul in you so you won’t feed on anyone,” he insists. “I have a blood supply ready, and our house is already outfitted with everything we need.”

“Baby,” Michael sighs, reaching for Alex, wrapping an arm around his waist to tug him in. “When you turn me, I won’t be able to come to work anymore. I’ll have to quit my job here at the library and as a Watcher, and I know we’ve been establishing a business on the side, but I want to be here for Liz until she graduates. She’s my slayer.”

No one had truly trusted him to be a Watcher, especially not when everyone at the academy had discovered he had a vampire boyfriend, but he’d taken a role designed to fail and excelled. Sure, Liz had died the once, but they’d brought her back to life and now she’s about to graduate.

She’s going to fight demons at a college level, soon.

Alex settles into Michael’s lap, his fingers drifting up and down Michael’s neck, over the tendons and muscles, tickling him slightly.

“It’s just Liz, then? It’s not me?”

Michael gives Alex a worried look. “You think I’m backing out of eternity with you?” He scoffs, shaking his head. “I married you and I know the vow ‘until death do us part’ probably didn’t have people like us in mind, but I took it seriously.” He reaches up to slide his thumb over Alex’s furrowed brow. “I’m not worried about how ugly you’re gonna find my vamp face, I’m not worried about surviving on rabbit blood, I just…”

Liz is his slayer and he loves her like family.

“I need to be here, in this library, until she’s done with school.” He eases up to kiss Alex, trying to reassure him, because he doesn’t want him to worry that he’s suddenly going to love him any less.

That would be impossible.

“We’ll make a date after graduation,” Michael promises, leaning in for soft little kisses, chasing after the first. “I’ll enjoy a last meal as a human, we’ll get up to some funny business, and then, you can turn me and do the spell,” he promises. “Deal?”

Alex looks slightly chastised, but nods. “Deal.”

“That’s my vampire,” Michael praises as he digs his fingers into Alex’s hair a little harder to kiss him, eagerly encouraging Alex to slide into a straddle, despite the fact that they’re in the library of Roswell High, and not their own private home.

Privacy isn’t guaranteed, which is made clear when the doors swing open.

“Hey, Guerin!” Liz’s voice calls out. “Any news on that demon? I got a graduation dance to plan for and if I’m gonna be multi-tasking, I want to get a head start on …” She comes to a stop when she sees Alex in Michael’s lap, wrinkling her nose and covering her eyes frantically. “Oh ew, no,” she pleads. “You both have your pants on, right?”

Michael laughs as he wraps his arms around Alex’s waist.

“We’re decent,” he promises.

Liz peers at them through a tiny crack in her fingers, staring at them suspiciously like she’s not so sure. “I don’t think you ever are,” she says, and grabs the book out of Michael’s hands. “Is this my guy?”

“That’s the one. Take backup,” he warns. “Maria, for sure, in case you need a spell.”

“What about Kyle?”

“Sure, the demon could use a snack,” Alex snarks.

Liz gives him an impatient, annoyed look, but takes the book with an eager smile. “Thanks Guerin,” she says. “Bye Alex,” she says in parting, “You two should behave! Students actually do use the library sometimes!”

She makes plenty of noise as she leaves, but Alex goes right back to what he’d been doing before, prying Michael’s glasses off to kiss his way back down his neck. “She’s lying,” he teases, softly brushing kisses against the spot where Michael knows he’ll one day bite down and turn him. “I’ve never seen a single student in here studying.”

“I ah,” Michael pants, “guess this place has a reputation,” he moans. “All kinds of dangerous things roaming around, you’re safer studying at home.”

Alex grins as he eases back, and smiles so brightly that Michael knows they’re definitely done fighting. “Damn right, I’m dangerous,” he says, with the cutest little pleased smile.

Is Michael going to argue?

Hell no, he’s got better things to do – and right now, he is the better thing to be done.

Chapter Text

“Shit, is he breathing?”

“Alex, calm down, he’s fine.”

“He was knocked out by a blue powder and went unconscious! Don’t tell me he’s fine!”

“Alex.”

“Isobel.”

He grimaces as he opens his eyes, head pounding. Above him, there’s a beautiful woman with blonde hair looming above him, but nearer is a man cupping his cheek aggressively, his other hand on his hip. Coughing, blue powder falls over his lip, which is what they were talking about. He’s guessing that the guy is Alex, the woman is Isobel.

“Kyle,” Alex breathes out. “Thank god.”

And he’s Kyle.

At least the pieces are coming together to a small degree. He rubs the back of his head, but there’s no bump. There’s a lot more of that blue powder on his collar, so he sits up and tries to get it off him, sneezing again (which makes his head ache), so whatever the hell happened to him, it’s because of that. He doesn’t get far before Alex’s hand strokes his neck, and Kyle starts to put the pieces together.

He’s been knocked out. Something is worrying both Alex and Isobel.

Also, he’s pretty damn sure that Alex is his boyfriend.

There’s a fluttery feeling in his stomach when he looks at him, and Kyle’s pretty sure that most people aren’t that intimately close to one another, especially not with the way Alex is bearing down on him with that kind of concern. He decides to roll with it, because it’s easier that way. “Hey,” Kyle murmurs, and reaches for his hand, tangling their fingers together. “Babe, it’s okay.”

There’s a cavernous silence that fills the space between them.

“Okay,” says Isobel. “Maybe he’s not fine.”

“You think?” Alex sounds choked with stress, gaping at him. “Kyle, are you okay? You went down hard when you breathed that powder in. Are you sure you’re not feeling funny?”

He figures he ought to be honest. “I kind of don’t remember anything. That’s a weird thing, right?”

“Amnesia,” Isobel snorts. “Well, that explains half of it.”

Kyle looks between them, not sure what’s making them look so confused, but he keeps his fingers on Alex’s hand, especially when he tries to move them away. He sits up, slowly, and grimaces as his head pounds. There’s no lump, though, so whatever it is that knocked him out and took his memory isn’t physical.

“What’s this blue stuff all over me?” he asks, and brushes it off, lifting up his shirt to dispel it, and catching a glimpse of his abs.

He blinks, guessing that maybe Alex likes to run his fingers all over them, which would be a pretty good reason as to why they look like that. He sees Alex staring at them, too, and can’t help a tentatively proud little smile.

“Pretty good, huh?”

Alex makes a rough noise that doesn’t really have much sense to it, and whoever Isobel is, she’s smirking.

“Come on, let’s get you back to the geniuses so they can figure out what happened to you. Alex,” she says, “Get your boyfriend.”

“Fuck off Isobel,” is Alex’s bored response, not too much heat in the words. He bends down to help Kyle to his feet, tangling their hands together. As he does, he’s giving Kyle a confused look, like there’s something about him that he doesn’t understand, but Kyle’s just happy that whatever happened to him, he’s got his boyfriend with him.

The rest, they can figure out.

They take him to a diner where two women are waiting for him (Maria and Liz, as they’re introduced to him), and there’s another man with curls, but he takes a look at the way Kyle’s hand is tangled up in Alex’s, grabs the vial of powder and stomps off.

“…is he okay?”

Alex shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it, it’s old news,” he vows. “It’s over.”

It looks like Kyle doesn’t remember a lot of things, including Alex’s ex-boyfriends, but seeing as Alex hasn’t stopped stroking his thumb over the back of Kyle’s palm, he’s feeling pretty secure, even if he doesn’t know a lot of things – how they got together, their first kiss, their first fuck, what Alex’s last name is.

He’s so busy thinking about that, he almost doesn’t hear when Liz says, “…probably another flower, like the one Maria uses in her pendant against aliens.”

“Hold up. Aliens?”

There’s a lot of guilty expressions around him, and Kyle suddenly wonders what the hell his life is, if aliens is a potential reason as to why he doesn’t have his memories.

He waves a hand, deciding that he’s going to spend his time thinking about his boyfriend and they can solve this for him. “Whatever,” he says, and tries not to freak out about the fact that somehow aliens could be responsible for…whatever happened to him (which is still being hotly debated).  

The rest of them go back to their research, but Alex sticks with him. He’s hovering, which is almost annoying, but Kyle prefers it to being left on his own. He’s not sure he can take too much time thinking about the fact that he doesn’t actually know anything about himself.

“You okay?” Alex asks him, so Kyle’s worrying must be getting loud. “You have that … furrow,” he explains, gesturing to his forehead.

“I don’t even know my last name,” Kyle says. “I don’t know how we got together, or what I call you, or…anything,” he says, and he’s not sure why he’s fixating on the relationship part of his lack of memories, but maybe it’s because Alex is right there and he looks so concerned.

He also looks vaguely guilty and uncomfortable.

Is something going wrong between them? Maybe the relationship isn’t so good?

“We’ll figure this out, okay?” Alex insists. “And then you’ll have all your memories back and you’ll remember exactly how your life is supposed to be.”

Weird how he doesn’t sound happy about that.

It takes them two long days to figure out how to clear Kyle’s system. It involves a lot of herbs, a lot of breathing them in, and some puking that he’d rather not talk about, but eventually all the powder he’d ingested gets out of his system, and with it comes back his memories. They seem to inch their way back in, almost like they’re taking their time.

With it comes the epiphany that he’s definitely made an ass of himself for the last few days, and that he owes Alex a lot of apologies.

When he meets everyone at the Crashdown, he notices that Michael’s missing, but given how they were acting in front of him, he’s not surprised. Alex has been pretty vocal about the fact that Michael has moved on, but given that they’re not on steady ground at the best of times, it would’ve been weird for him to see Kyle and Alex playing at being boyfriends.

“Hey,” Alex says, approaching him before he greets the others. “How are you doing?”

“Other than being starved? Fine,” he promises, and heads over to the booth, where Alex settles in beside him, draping his arm around his shoulders to make room for Isobel in the booth beside him. “What the hell was that powder for?”

“Something to make an alien forget they’re an alien, we think,” Liz shares. “Michael’s still running tests, but where the yellow powder appears to neutralize their powers, this is made from the flower itself and not the pollen. It seems to strip away your awareness of yourself, rendering you clueless about who you are and what you might be able to do.”

In Kyle’s case, it just made him think he had a boyfriend suddenly while it stripped away all the rest of his memories.

“Okay, so the blue powder is what made him forget,” Alex says, his hand resting at Kyle’s back. “What about the rest of it?”

Maria and Liz give him a curious look.

“What rest of it?” Kyle asks him.

“You, thinking that you’re in love with me,” Alex says. “You just assumed that I was your boyfriend, I figured there was a pink powder or orange or something that would’ve made you think that you…” His cheeks are pink, which is adorable, given how Kyle is smiling at him, slow and sweet.

Now that he has his memory back, it’s almost embarrassing that he’s going to have to admit to this out loud and in front of witnesses, but Maria and Liz can tease him about this for the rest of his life.

It’s better now that it’s in the open.

“I kind of really leaned hard into being an asshole when I grew a single chest hair mainly because I jerked off to fantasies of you a lot,” Kyle admits. “And I think once, your Dad caught me staring at you, and we had a talk that really freaked me out. I’m not saying anything I did should be excused, I’m just saying that I didn’t need to get dosed by pink powder to want you, Alex.”

He’s grinning, because Alex is looking even more flustered than before, his cheeks furiously red.

“I’ve wanted you since the first time I thought about your lips all over that single chest hair of mine.”

Alex gapes at him, clearly not knowing what to do with this information.

“You know, I was wondering why I couldn’t remember our first kiss or the first date,” Kyle admits, “I guess it’s for the best I didn’t make it up, because knowing they’re still ahead of me is a really great memory to come back to,” he admits.

When Alex doesn’t seem to understand what he’s getting at, Kyle decides he needs to get back to the basics.

“I know you’re not my boyfriend,” he assures him, in case Alex is still panicking about that. “…do you wanna be? Dinner, maybe, on Friday? And then you can decide if you still want to be with me, even when I’m not my blue-powdered-self.”

“Dinner,” Alex echoes.

Kyle squints at him, trying to interpret that. “Is that an agreement or a question?”

He can feel the way Maria, Isobel, and Liz are leaning forward, all desperate to hear the answer, but Alex’s flustered adorable reaction is the only one Kyle is fixed on. “Dinner,” Alex echoes, but this time, it’s a lot more certain. “Six o’clock. Don’t be late, you don’t have any blue powder to blame it on this time.”

“Done,” Kyle promises, and feels great, because even if he lost his memory, it looks like he found something incredible on the other end of it.

It’s the chance to be with Alex the way he’d thrown away when he was younger, and for that, he’ll willingly ingest all kinds of weird alien powders just to make that happen.

Chapter Text

“You know, when I saw the pods and you told me that you three were mermaids, I guess I thought…”

“What, that we would know how to swim?”

Alex pinches the bridge of his nose, staring down into the water of the local community pool, where Michael is spluttering and trying desperately to breathe as he doggy-paddles towards them, ignoring his iridescent golden-brown mermaid’s tail.

“Michael!” Isobel shouts out to him. “You have a tail, moron! Use it!”

“How do you not know how to swim?” Alex adds his vocal disbelief.

Michael thrashes a little more as he drags in a desperate breath (despite the fact that he has gills on the sides of his neck that would do the trick if he let himself submerge). “We live in Roswell, New Mexico! It’s a desert! It’s a landlocked state and my group homes didn’t exactly take us on swimming trips!”

Alex shifts to sit on the edge of the pool, careful not to disturb his prosthetic. If you’d have told him, at seventeen, that he’d fallen in love with a boy who hatched from a pod and developed a mermaid’s tail when soaked with water, he wouldn’t have believed you. Now, staring at the way Michael’s tail refracts light in the most beautiful of ways, all he can think is that he’s never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

Beautiful – and stupid.

“Listen to Isobel, use your tail,” he coaxes.

At first, he doesn’t listen. Alex is going to have the mental image of Michael Guerin eagerly dogpaddling with only his arms in his head for a while, gulping at the water as his curls get soaked, but with a few experimental flicks and swishes of his tail, he seems to get it.

Within minutes, his trepidation fades, and he’s able to use the flukes of his tail to splash Alex with water as he finishes another lap.

Alex says nothing, just raises his brow to ask the unasked words.

“Fine,” Michael grumbles, as Isobel slides into the water, ready to help teach Michael the more complicated aspects of their fishier sides. “I guess swimming isn’t so bad.” He slides his webbed fingers up Alex’s pant legs, sliding up towards him in the water, his pupils golden and shimmering, as he’s changed. “Next time, you should come in the pool with me,” he murmurs.

He should protest.

There’s the prosthetic to think about. There’s the embarrassment of the stump, but one second’s thought of Michael’s tail wrapping around his waist and pulling him in gets him embarrassingly hard.

Speechlessly, he nods, and watches Michael swim away, powerful as he uses his tail to chase after Isobel in the pool, a micro school of fish playing with one another.

He doesn’t care what you say about there being plenty of fish in the sea.

Alex has found his and he’s not letting him go anytime soon, weird inability to swim or not.

Chapter Text

Colorado

Near Colorado Springs, they break into a facility near the Air Force base and discover what looks like an escape pod. It has some of the familiar components that Alex recognizes from Michael’s sketches and drawings. It’s a ship of its own and it clicks for him probably a few seconds after it does for Michael.

“Is this what you’ve been trying to rebuild?” Alex wonders out loud.

Numbly, Michael nods, like he can’t believe that he has a schematic to mimic. Alex doesn’t want to think about Michael leaving the planet, but faced with an actual escape pod, it’s hard not to. They take the escape pod out of the facility and load it up into their truck without any more conversation about what they’re going to do with it when they get back.

It’s their third stop on a grand tour of suspected sites they’re checking out. By all rights, these are abandoned sites now that Jesse’s support of Project Shepherd has dried up, but after Caulfield, they both know it’s better safe than sorry to make that assumption.

It’s why Alex has a gun and they have a rule.

If something looks like it’s a bad idea, then they both need to get the hell out of there before they end up blowing yet another building sky-high because they were impetuous and short-sighted and emotional. It’s bad enough they did that to their relationship the first time around. So far, they’ve stuck to that rule and it’s been serving them well. It’s also allowed them to survive the road trip, so far.

This trip is meant to serve a few purposes, namely three that Alex can specifically name. The first is checking to see that all the sites are closed down. The second is to see if anyone is still out there furthering Jesse’s cause.

The last and most terrifying point of this trip?

“Nothing like some good old-fashioned therapy,” Michael calls it, sitting in the truck after they load up the escape pod. “You and me stuck in a truck for hours on end is bound to fix at least one or two things.”

“There’s always the tape deck,” Alex says, reaching for the glove compartment where Michael used to keep his tapes, only to find that the ribbon of every single one of them has been yanked out – on purpose. He gives Michael a glare, because he has a sneaking suspicion how that happened. “…Guerin.”

“I got tired of listening to Garth Brooks, so sue me,” Michael replies, whistling innocently as he keeps his eyes forward. The escape pod is in the bed of the truck next to the other artifacts they’ve picked up (nothing as sensational as the escape pod, but the box of files from Santa Fe and the schematics for a new facility from Pueblo are still better in their hands than in someone else’s).

They’re onto their next stop when suddenly Michael pulls off the highway in a frantic rush.

“What the fuck?” Alex snaps. “Guerin! Is someone trailing us? Did I miss someone?”

Michael says nothing, he just puts his foot down on the gas and keeps driving. Alex’s paranoia begins to increase and he wonders if he’d missed someone when they’d left the Colorado Springs facility until Michael parks in a mostly empty lot and Alex sees what the fuss is about.

Alex stares through the windshield, leaning all the way forward so he can see it all.

“Guerin,” Alex says flatly. “Did you just risk our lives merging through five lanes of traffic so you could see a bug?”

Michael’s out of the car in a flash, smirking at Alex as he heads for the placard in front of the gigantic looming thing. Sighing, Alex abandons the ruined tapes and decides that whatever weird obsession this is, he might as well entertain it. Heading out of the truck, he’s careful on his prosthetic as he follows Michael and comes to a stop near a sign that deems the bug ‘Herkimer’.

“It’s a bug.”

“Nah,” Michael says, “it’s not just a bug, it’s the world’s largest beetle. Have some respect, Alex.”

He shakes his head, not sure why he should be respecting anything. They have to keep driving North so they can hit Wyoming, but the moment he tries to open his mouth and say so, he stops when he sees the look of longing on Michael’s face as he stares at a bug.

He seriously can’t have that many complex emotions about the thing, can he?

“Max and Isobel, they always took road trips when they were kids. Max used to bring back postcards from all the roadside stops. I asked my foster father at the time if we could take a road trip that summer from Roswell up to Colorado. It wasn’t much, I figured. I even offered to pay for the gas. The drunk asshole actually promised it to me, too.”

Alex has a bad feeling he knows how this story ends, because Michael never came to school boasting about what he’d seen on his summer vacation.

“What happened?”

“Oh, you know,” Michael says dismissively, turning away from the beetle. “He wrecked his truck and told me it just wasn’t going to work out, because I was asking too much. I learned to stop doing that pretty quickly.” He’s already on his way back to the truck before Alex can react, not fond of the emotional whiplash, but also knowing that Michael’s done it on purpose to protect himself from appearing vulnerable.

Alex gives the beetle one last look, and he digs out his phone to take a selfie with it, figuring that maybe later, he can send it to Michael. It’s not like they’re going to have show and tell when they get back to Roswell, but at the same time, what’s the harm in a few road trip souvenirs that they can both share in?

*

Wyoming

In Wyoming, they raid a small office building in the early hours of the morning and find employment records dating back to the second world war. There are more names here than Alex feels comfortable with, but he takes pictures of every page as backup before he slides them back into their folders. That box of files earns a home beside the escape pod and nestled with the schematics, as chilling as anything else they’ve found.

“I need a drink,” Alex insists, even though he knows for a fact that Michael is trying his hardest to avoid alcohol and acetone. He feels guilty as soon as he’s said it, thinking that he can wait until he’s back in Roswell to go over the records with a glass of neat whiskey. He doesn’t need to shove that in Michael’s face.

Michael doesn’t seem too angry with Alex’s slip. “I think I’ve got something better.”

That’s how they wind up in Jackson in another beat-down parking lot without a soul in it, except for them. This time, Alex finds himself staring up at a very confusing World’s Largest, and he digs out his phone to look something up. “You know the internet says that there’s a bigger one in Texas,” Alex says, glancing up at the roadside attraction.

Who the hell would want to build the World’s Largest Ball of Barbed Wire?

“I guess everything’s gotta be bigger in Texas, even their torture devices.” It’s a bad joke, but Michael doesn’t look happy to crack it, scowling up at it even though he’s the one who decided they should come here.

Alex wonders if Michael is thinking about the torture devices that the Manes and Valenti dynasties used on his family, and if he’s not yet, he’s sure it’s only a matter of time. Action is required. He digs out his phone and gestures for Michael. “Come here,” he says.

Michael gives Alex and his phone a wary look, but ambles closer to him, leaning back against the small fence that stands between them and the barbed wire. “Don’t tell me Isobel got you into Instagram,” he pleads.

“Who says I’m not already huge there?” Alex deadpans, even though he knows better than to put that much information in a public domain and absolutely wouldn’t even think about putting the details of his and Michael’s journey anywhere online. His location has been off since Roswell and while it’s not a burner phone, he does intend to destroy the sim card when this is all said and done. “Come here,” he says again, and gestures for Michael get close to him.

Michael drifts in close enough that Alex can smell the faint hint of his bodywash. For one brief moment, he closes his eyes and inhales, lets that smell of safety, security, and home wash over him. Then, he opens his eyes and gets the front-facing camera ready, pressed shoulder to shoulder with the barbed wire sticking out in the background. Michael’s smiling, even if he looks like he doesn’t believe that they’re doing this, and Alex looks smugly proud.

It’s a great picture.

“Come on, I think I saw a diner back a few exits,” Michael says, his gaze lingering over Alex before he finally steps away. “You can get a beer, I’ll get a milkshake.”

“Is it Wyoming’s biggest?”

Michael licks his lips, and he climbs on the truck’s step, leaning over it as he looks at Alex. “Doubt it, but I bet you that if you’re there with me, it’ll definitely be Wyoming’s best.”

He ducks into the truck, which is good because it means he misses the flush Alex gets in his cheeks. Staring down at the picture in front of the barbed wire, Alex sees the way Michael’s turned his head a little for the photo and how he’s staring reverently at Alex, a half-lidded look in his eye, like he’s suddenly remembered Alex is there, like he thinks he might want to kiss him.

Alex remembers all those looks enough to feel like the expert when it comes to Michael Guerin when he wants to kiss him. Maybe at the end of all this, when they’ve worked through the question of whether they can even do this together, he’ll get that back.

For now, he’ll stick with giant barbed wire and milkshakes.

*

New Mexico

They loop back around and take the long way home, finally hitting Alamogordo in the early hours of the morning. Alex had fallen asleep to the sound of Michael humming, not the greatest substitute for the broken tapes, but really not so bad.

(If he stops lying, he’d admit that it’s the best sound in the world)

“Hey,” Alex says, after checking his phone to make sure that he’s got the information right. The search had been a bust. Whatever had once been in the jail is long gone, which is both good news and bad – it means that no one’s committing any heinous crimes, but their information is out of date, so who knows what else might be wrong.

They’ve just finished dinner and they’re in the middle of the drive back. Alex had woken up from his nap to see a roadside sign passing and it had been almost perfect timing.

“Take the next exit,” he insists.

Michael gives Alex a wary look, but the amount of unspoken trust he has in Alex is clear when he takes the exit without a single other question about why he’s doing it. Alex smiles proudly when Michael doesn’t ask for directions, clearly understanding what they’ve turned off to see.

He parks them as close as they can get to what a sign proclaims the World’s Largest Pistachio and the grin on Michael’s face is worth everything in the world. He’s out of the car and he’s the one who calls Alex over so they can take a picture.

This time, Alex makes sure that when he clicks the button, he’s the one staring at Michael like he’s the incredible roadside attraction instead of the weird pistachio behind them. It’s such a stupid thing, and it means nothing, and at the same time, being here to look at this tourist trap means everything to him because of how isolated and abandoned it is.

It’s like it’s a monument built for them alone and they’d better appreciate it, because no one else will.

“Thanks, Alex,” Michael says. “I’m nuts about it.”

He’s smirking and clearly proud of his stupid pun. The shame of it is that so’s Alex, because he’s grinning at him and thinking that maybe this trip is something they both needed. They’ve been sharing motel rooms, but sleeping in separate beds. They sit on the same side of the booth at diners and pick off one another’s plates, but they haven’t kissed or touched or fucked.

Yet, this trip has felt like one of the most intimate things he’s ever done.

The rest of the drive home is filled with light conversation as they swap stories about the days in Roswell before Michael turned up. Alex tells him stories about Max and Isobel in elementary school, like how Isobel had managed to make herself a little cult that had to wear glitter on Thursdays or how Max had constantly submitted awful romantic poems to the literary digest (and since no one else did, they were all his).

Michael tells Alex about high school and the things Alex hadn’t noticed, like how he’d used his powers to fuck with Kyle – including the time Kyle had tripped on the bleachers and wound up with a melon-sized bruise on his ass for a week. He’s laughing so hard that his stomach hurts and though Kyle’s his friend now, he’s so grateful to find out that there’d been some vindication back then, even if they’d all had to treat them as accidents.

They reach Roswell in the early evening.

Michael drives Alex to his cabin so they can drop off all the rescued pieces in the basement where they’ll be protected by Alex’s new state-of-the-art security system. Once they’ve unloaded everything, Alex feels himself searching desperately for any excuse for Michael not to leave. “You know,” he says. “I bet you Roswell’s got something.”

Michael glances up from where he’s been hanging around by the door, checking on the escape pod for the tenth time (which is why Alex feels pretty confident that he doesn’t want to go either).

All that time together and it’s shown them that they don’t actually want to be apart. The pieces want to be together. It just turns out that maybe they’re a pair of stubborn asshole pieces who can’t admit to it, not until they go on a three-week road trip around the Southwest to look for alien artifacts and proof that Project Shepherd is dust.

“Roswell’s got plenty of shit. You might have to get more specific than that,” Michael replies, not following.

“I mean, of the biggest,” Alex says, seeing as Michael had started that pattern. “Or are you telling me that you can die happy now that you’ve seen the world’s biggest beetle,” he deadpans.

Michael considers that for a moment, prying his cowboy hat off his head as he moseys Alex’s way, slow and steady, an amused smirk on his lips. It’s the smile of a man who has something clever he wants to say, but he’s the only one thinking it’s any kind of clever at all.

“Well,” he begins, considerately, “there is always the city’s biggest dick that you could take a look at,” he drawls, with an inclination of his gaze down towards his belt buckle.

Two can play that game.

“Oh?” Alex replies easily. “Is Kyle back in town?”

He’s lucky that Michael laughs instead of the scowl he’d half been expecting, but what Alex hadn’t anticipated is the way that Michael slides his fingers around Alex’s neck for a kiss that he’s been waiting for since they first set out on the road trip. He’s so proud of them for being mature and talking, making things work while acknowledging that they don’t have to get physical, but god, has Alex missed being kissed by Michael.

He tangles his fingers in Michael’s curls, grabs hold and squeezes the soft curls in his hands as he kisses Michael back, fully aware that he’s being shut up for making bad jokes, but definitely not mad with this punishment. Maybe they can’t compete for some of the world’s biggest anythings that they’ve seen, but Alex is counting the world’s longest kiss one of these days, and if he can’t manage that, then maybe he’ll go for the world record when it comes to kissing the man you love.

Not that he wants anyone stopping to take pictures of that, so maybe that’s one of those feats that’s best kept to themselves.

Chapter Text

On his fifth birthday, Prince Michael is introduced to Princess Isobel of Antar.

“One day, she’ll be your wife, son,” his father tells him and nudges him to go talk to her. Instead, Michael bursts into a fit of tears and storms off. It’s not that he doesn’t like Isobel (he does, they’ve been playmates since they were babies), but the idea of his future being handed to him at that age is too much.

He doesn’t want a wife. He’d much rather have a shiny new toy.

His parents need to drag him back towards Isobel, who doesn’t understand why her betrothed is throwing a tantrum and weeping about his lot in life.

Over the years, Michael’s anger doesn’t diminish, but he gets better at hiding it. He also learns that he’s not the only one who has reservations about the impending marriage, though it takes longer for him to find that out. They’re thirteen when Isobel tells him bluntly that she’s not sure that she could ever grow to love him like the princess does the prince in all the fairy tales.

“You’re…a brother to me,” she says, wrinkling her nose.

Clearly, she’s expecting that to be the worst news in the world to Michael, but instead he’s wildly relieved. He thought he’d been the only one to feel that way. Instead, he gets a partner in crime, someone in the exact same situation as him, and someone who feels as wary about it as he does.

When they’re sixteen, they devise a plan.

“When one of us meets someone that we really love, properly love, then we’ll go to our parents,” Isobel says, the brains behind the operation. “I know that it’ll happen. It just has to happen before we turn twenty-one and they marry us off,” she says.

With five years to go, anything could happen.

Michael’s hoping that she meets someone, because he can’t see it being him that ends up calling the wedding off because he’s met someone. He’s more invested in his experiments and his theories. Love is something that happens to the other people in their family, but not him.

He’s okay with that, too.

If he ends up marrying Isobel, he’ll make it work. He just never considered a loveless marriage as something that he’d be a part of. Still, at the start of every year, Michael goes to sleep thinking that maybe this will be the year that things change. Maybe this will be the year that Isobel meets someone and saves them both.

Or maybe, impossibly, it will be him.

*

When they turn eighteen, everything changes.

Michael still hates being betrothed for the principle of it and especially loathes the hoops they have to jump through in order to act the part of the happy young couple in love. Today, he and Isobel are meeting up for their first official portraits together as an engaged couple. That’s when he meets him.

“Who’s that?” Michael breathes out with awe, staring at Isobel’s cluster of guards.

Isobel glances over her shoulder. She’s nibbling on a tart and doesn’t seem interested in the fact that one of her new guards is the most beautiful man in the universe. Clearly she’s gone blind if she’s ignoring him like that. “Who? Alex?” she shakes her head. “I wish,” she says with a snort. “I tried to corner him for a little fun, but he wasn’t having it. He only likes men,” she says dismissively.

The thing is, he and Isobel don’t love one another. At least, not like that.

Given who they are, there’s a ticking time bomb looming in their future, so they’ve both decided to find fun where they can.  

“He’s from Earth,” Isobel says, “his father reluctantly agreed to send him with the last batch of soldiers, and just in time for Yule.” She gives him a long sigh, her eyes fixed on his ass (and okay, so she’s definitely noticed how good he looks). “It’s a shame.”

It might be a shame for Isobel, but Michael’s much more flexible. Maybe he can get something out of this. They’re both waiting for someone to come along that they can fall for and bring to the council to demand the betrothed marriage vanishes.

Until that happens, they’re each other’s known quantity.

If Michael demands they dissolve the engagement, he could be paired with anyone, and he’s really not ready to take that risk. There are far too many planets out there who want an alliance with Antar and Michael’s met some of their sons and daughters. Isobel is the safe choice, she’s the known choice, and luckily, he knows that a marriage with her might be romantically loveless, but she’s like a sister to him.

They’d make it work.

It’s what he’s told himself for years. It’s not exactly the stuff of true love, but Michael thinks it could be worse. He could be arranged to marry one of the distant cousins who seem to view Antar only as a powerful war machine and nothing else. That doesn’t mean Michael has to enjoy any of it. He suffers through the photos and allows himself to be rearranged to make Isobel look good, letting the tailors tug on his suit and adjust his cufflinks, all while letting his gaze drift to Alex.

He doesn’t think he’s imagining it, but he swears that Alex keeps looking back at him.

When the photos are done being taken, Michael drifts over to make his introductions. “What’s a cute human like you doing on a planet like this?” is his opening gambit, with a flirty wink to go along with it. The other Antarian guards snort and drift away, willing to let Prince Michael have a go at the newbie.

Alex looks flustered and Michael is charmed by how adorable it makes him.

“You know why I’m here, you’ve been briefed.”

“I know, you’re here because your Dad sent you, but what made you want to do it? Why’d you come?”

Alex gives Michael a dubious look. “If you had an overbearing abusive dick for a father and all of a sudden the opportunity to get a galaxy away from him opened up, wouldn’t you take it?”

Michael feels a sudden burst of anger seize him as he imagines this asshole that Alex has had to deal with. “It’s still a long way to go. You could have taken a plane and found a new city a few countries away,” he points out.

“This is better,” Alex assures calmly. “It has some finality to it.”

That sounds to Michael like Alex intends on staying here on Antar for the rest of his life. He’s not sure why that makes him so pleased, but it does. At least now he knows that Alex isn’t going to flee, which means Isobel will be kept safe and Michael can still take his time looking at him. He changes the topic from there to ask what Earth is like, leading Alex over to the couches where they’d been posing for pictures earlier.

They’re still taking a few shots, mostly to check the lighting before the next round, and Michael makes a note to ask for them later, of him curled up on the couch and Alex sitting the same like a mirror image, their knees pressed together.

Alex tells him about New Mexico and Roswell, about the spaceship crash that began their alliance fifty years ago. He talks about music on earth, and fashion, and his friends, and Michael finds himself entranced both by the stories and the way Alex tells them.

When the photographers call Isobel back so that she and Michael can take another round of pictures, Michael stares forlornly after Alex as he leaves, not even realizing that Isobel has rejoined him (in a new dress) until she pinches his forearm, making Michael yelp.

“The photographers are pissed you wrinkled your suit pants,” she tells him, slyly grinning as she looks at Alex, then to Michael. “I hope it was worth the bitching you’re about to hear.”

Michael stares off to the side where Alex is talking to the other guards, adjusting his uniform and casting glances back at Michael every few moments.

“I don’t know that anything has ever been more worth it.”

*

The Yule party is Michael’s absolute favorite time of year.

The holiday has always been a highlight for him as a boy. It’s a time for overindulgence, whether that be in the way of affection, food, merriment, or mischief. As with all years, they annual party is approaching with speed and Michael leans into it happily, knowing that it’s the start to the season and from here, the whole planet will be suffused with the warmth of the holiday.

This year, his dresser had slicked down her hair with pomade before putting him in a sleek grey suit, handing him a dark ornate mask that covers most of his face, tied behind his ears and showing only his lips. They’ve also applied the softest of pink balms to his lips to give them a radiant shine in the twinkling white lights of the party.

He mills through the party and despite the impending arranged marriage growing closer, he still won’t let that ruin his night.

That becomes an easier task when he looks across the ballroom floor and sees Isobel with her glittering silver gown, flanked by her guards. She’s a vision, but his eyes shift to the side to something even better.

Alex is dressed in a pressed navy-blue suit that fits him like a glove, and his mask is a thin thing that covers only his eyes, making them seem to glow (and he swears there’s eyeliner on them to help). Michael feels his stomach bottom out, his fingers flexing as he itches to touch that suit. Luckily, Michael’s small cache of guards are busy drinking and it’s easy for him to slip away from them. When Isobel’s party begins to move, he stops to spare a whispered moment with her, asking for her permission.

She casts a mischievous glance over her shoulder to Alex, then nods at Michael. With a blue-lipstick tinged kiss to his cheek, she walks away, but not before she turns to Alex.

You are officially off duty,” she says. “You’ve been doing such a good job lately; you deserve to enjoy the party.” Her eyes flick to Michael and her smile grows even wider. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

There’s a panic in Alex’s eyes, like he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do. Michael can’t help his fond smile, wondering if he’s already had that sense of duty instilled in him, but he hopes to change the night.

“Dance with me?” Michael requests hopefully, extending his hand out to him after performing a sweeping bow to treat Alex more like a prince and not Isobel’s guard.

Alex looks suitably charmed by it and he reaches out to take hold of Michael’s hand, allowing himself to be led towards the floor to the tunes of an old Antarian carol for Yule, one that features the violin strings in a sweet, romantic melody that makes it easy to dance to. Even if Michael hadn’t been taught dancing for over a decade, he could manage.

He leads Alex in sweeping turns around the room, loving the way that each increase in speed elicits a breathless burst of laughter from Alex before he squeezes Michael’s shoulder, protesting, “Slow down!” and leading them into more of a gentle swaying dance than anything too choreographed.

It might be the lights and the exertion, but Alex is glowing.

They settle into an easy dance, with Alex’s cheek resting on Michael’s shoulder as they sway, closer now than before. When the orchestra dies down, Michael only tightens his hold on Alex’s hand.

“One more,” he pleads, but he doesn’t have to worry. The magic of Yule is in the air and Alex appears transfixed. He nods and they begin again to a slower beat, slowly drifting towards one another until Michael’s arms are draped around Alex’s neck and their sure steps have become lazy swaying ones.

One dance becomes three and then somehow turns into five before the band is signing off for the night, replaced by a tinny version of carols from around the universe. Through it all, Alex and Michael haven’t stopped dancing.

They don’t until Alex glances up and bashfully smiles, ducking his head down.

“What?”

“I never thought that I’d have this much fun at this party,” Alex admits, “and it’s my favorite time of year.”

“Mine too,” Michael admits, though he dreads the future when he has to come to these as Isobel’s husband, not expected to have any fun. “Listen,” he says, his voice rough from all the talking earlier to noble guests and other royal dignitaries, “do you want to get out of here?” His heart is beating faster and he thinks that maybe he might not be ready to say it out loud, but he thinks he knows in his heart that there’s something between him and Alex.

Could he be the one?

Michael knows that he has to be sure when he goes to his parents, and he’s not yet, but he thinks with every passing moment, he gets more confident.

When Alex breathes out with a little hitch, he says nothing, but he nods.

Michael leads Alex with a hand to the small of his back down to one of the back hallways that’s only used by the waitstaff. Once there, he slides his fingers up to the ribbon of Alex’s mask, intending to untie it, but then his fingers brush the soft hair at the nape of Alex’s neck and he gets distracted. He slowly walks Alex three dedicated steps backwards until Alex’s back hits the wall.

For a long moment, Michael stares at Alex’s lips, and neither of them say a word.

They breathe in tandem – when Michael inhales, Alex exhales, and they follow each other’s lead – and soon, Michael is tired of only stroking Alex’s neck with his thumb.

“Can I kiss you?”

“You didn’t even go to the trouble to find us some mistletoe,” Alex teases, glancing up (which elongates his neck in the prettiest of ways) and Michael bows his head to start pressing soft kisses to Alex’s neck, his pink balm leaving a light sheen of pale color and glitter. Alex turns back to him, giving Michael a path to his jaw, then to his lips, but he waits for permission. “We’ll make do without,” he whispers to Michael, which is all the encouragement he needs.

Michael doesn’t ask what mistletoe is, assuming it’s some Earth tradition, but he takes his time to frame Alex’s cheek with his palm, staring at his lips like the present they are.  

“Yes,” says Alex. “Kiss me.”

He demands no further encouragement as he grabs Alex hard by the neck and tangles his hand in his hair so that when he backs him against the wall, Michael’s hand hits first. It’s not a gentle kiss, because those kisses had been his fantasy when he’d first met Alex. Now that he’s had time with the fantasy of him, the tenderness has bled out little by little, replaced by desperation.

Alex clearly doesn’t mind given the hungry moan he lets out, hands circling Michael’s waist and grabbing at him to yank him in, parting his lips to deepen the kiss. His mask quickly goes askew, and Michael’s fingers fix it (trembling, so nervous) as he kisses someone for the first time out of passion and need, rather than duty and responsibility.

He didn’t know that it could be so good.

Soon, he needs to breathe. He needs it, and his heart almost feels like it’ll burst from his chest because it’s beating so fast. Michael drifts back from Alex, dazed as he looks at his wet lips. He can hear someone calling Alex’s name (one of the other guards, he imagines), and he wants Alex to enjoy himself with his friends, especially when Michael is being assaulted by a thousand different thoughts at once, most of them demanding to know what Michael plans to do about this. “Go,” he encourages, leaning into the touch of Alex’s hand to his cheek, rubbing against it like an animal. “Have fun with your friends.”

“They’re not my friends.”

From the gleeful way they’re calling out Alex’s name, Michael could make an argument that he’s absolutely mistaken, but Michael steps back. “Go,” he says again, and begins walking out.

He’s back to the main party where the music is beginning to get loud again, filling his ears. He thinks maybe Alex had been saying something, but he sees the way the guards rush past him in drunken chaos in Alex’s direction and Michael laughs as he watches them go.

“You let them off the leash?” he teases Isobel as he comes to stand with her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

She gives him a proud look. “I’m a nice princess. They deserve a night of fun.” She lets her gaze slide over his lips and gives a self-assured little nod accompanied by a pleased sound. “I’m glad you found some of that yourself.”

“Yeah,” Michael agrees breathlessly. “Me too.”

That night, he’ll be dreaming of the way Alex’s lips had tasted as they kissed (of peppermint, soft with a balm and the hint of rum and egg nog on his lips). He needs another chance soon, because he’s fairly sure that now that he’s had it, he can’t live without it. Maybe Isobel’s going to get her way after all.

Luckily, Michael feels ready to withstand her smug glee, so long as it means he gets those kisses from Alex. 

*

Isobel’s satisfaction with Michael plummets within twelve hours. It’s happened before, but never so quickly and never in such a quick turnabout.

“Michael,” Isobel hisses when she sees him. “Yesterday was supposed to be your chance!”

Michael’s still barely awake, but he rubs the sleep out of his eyes to see Isobel standing beside his bed. He reaches behind him, but no one’s there like he’d been dreaming about. He ought to be disappointed, but he’s grinning like an idiot. He’d sent Alex off after the kiss, feeling like he could float on air. It makes Isobel’s angry presence a confusing thing.

He adjusts the heavy blankets and sits up to make room for Isobel beside him. “What are you talking about?” he asks. “We danced all night and then we kissed. I’m pretty sure as far as taking my chance goes, that’s at least an A+ effort in it.”

“It would be,” Isobel agrees sweetly, “if Alex knew who he’d been dancing with all night or if he knew who kissed him.”

Michael’s brain completely stops, struggling to restart. “I…what?” he demands.

“He came back late after the dance to rave about what an amazing time he had with this man, someone with slicked back hair and in a gorgeous suit that he doesn’t know.”

“But, my voice…” Michael protests, thinking back to the night. He’d gone hoarse fairly quickly because the music had been so loud that he’d needed to shout above it the whole time when he’d been in the midst of his diplomatic conversations through dinner. By the time he got to dancing, his voice would’ve been raspier, rougher, and not at all like himself.

“Tell him,” Isobel says sharply.

“I will,” Michael promises, even though he’s still trying to understand how they could have such a romantic and perfect night and Alex not know who he was.

Isobel shifts on the bed, smiling warmly. “Good, I’ll send him in.”

“What the fuck, Isobel!” Michael says with alarm, reaching for his shirt to yank it on in a hurry, dislodging his gelled curls and making a mess of them. “I didn’t mean right now!”

“I did,” she says. “The way he’s talking, Michael, this could be it. This could be the one.”

He knows that she’s right. They’ve only had a few conversations, but between the way they feel connected and last night, Michael knows that what he could have with Alex is enough to fight for, and that it’s the first person he’s ever met that stands a chance of him wanting to take on his parents and the advisers in the impending fight.

There’s no stopping Isobel, despite his frantic attempt to sprint out of bed and lock the door. He makes it to the door just as Isobel sticks her head out to call for Alex. “In here, please,” she says, and steps back to give Michael a pointed look. Tell him, she mouths. Michael is wearing only a loose-fitting shirt and his pajama pants, but he stumbles back to try and look suave and put together, leaning up against one of the pillars of his four-poster bed.

“Oh, hey, Alex,” he greets, rubbing his hand through his hair. “So I uh,” he keeps going, even if Isobel is already throwing him disbelieving looks, “I heard you had a great night at the party.”

The tips of Alex’s ears go pink and he looks taken aback. “I…what…?”

Michael knows the impatient look on Isobel’s face. She’s about to ruin the whole thing (though, can she really ruin it, if Michael has already done that by being so stupidly awkward?).

“Michael was your Prince Charming last night,” she says. “I’ll leave you two to discuss that.”

With that bomb dropped into the conversation, she glides away (and Michael glares at her both for shoving things along like that, but also looking as stupidly perfect as she does after a long night of drinking). Michael turns back to Alex, feeling vulnerable and nervous, because he has no idea what to expect. Alex had been so happy the night before, but then he’d left before Michael could ask him out again. He watches as Alex gently touches his lips, but then he seems to steel himself. Michael doesn’t know what to expect, but Alex approaches him cautiously.

“Your hair…?” Alex stares at his curls, like he’s recalling the night before.

“What?” Michael asks, then remembers the gel. “Shit, oh yeah. They slicked it down, said something about it being a lot better looking.”

“They were wrong,” Alex says bluntly, then looks guilty for having said so. He swallows so hard that his Adam’s apple bobs and he gives Michael a casual shrug. “I mean, you’re handsome, and you were charming, but you look…your curls are…” He stares up at the ceiling, laughing with such an empty and hollow ring to it that it tears at Michael’s heart.

Something’s wrong, but it shouldn’t be.

They’d danced under the sparkling Yule lights and Michael had felt more at home and comfortable than he has in his entire life. When they’d kissed, it felt like his eyes had been opened for the very first time.

He knows that Alex could be the one, but he wants to make sure that if he is, then Michael treats him right.

“Alex, do you want to go out with…?”

“No.”

He’s cut off before he can even finish and it knocks Michael back. He stares at Alex with a wounded look on his face, not knowing why he’s been rejected so harshly. “I…” He’s speechless, unsure what to even say because he hadn’t been expecting that, especially not after they’d had such a good night. “Why?”

“Because if I’d known, I wouldn’t have danced with you all night.” Alex looks like he’s in physical pain, but he keeps going. “It doesn’t matter how much I liked it, and it definitely doesn’t matter that kissing you felt like I was floating. You’re Isobel’s fiancé and I’m her guard, meant to keep her safe. If that means making sure that nothing happens between us…”

Michael is staring at Alex, his mouth open and his brow furrowed. It hurts so much, especially knowing that Alex had felt it too.

“Alex, please,” Michael begs.

“I can’t,” he whispers. “You’re betrothed to a princess. That means something. You can’t just run off with one of her guards because you feel like it. You have a duty and so do I. Mine is to protect Princess Isobel.” He looks absolutely crestfallen and he gives him a sad look. “This is how I can do that, by making sure I don’t steal her husband-to-be.”

Michael’s stunned, completely lost as to how it is that Alex doesn’t understand what’s going on.

“Alex!”

It’s too late. He’s already left Michael in an emotional haste to be out of the room.

*

“I don’t understand how you could make such a mess of this,” Isobel hisses at them when they’re at one of their standing lunch dates. Michael’s been mooning over Alex, staring at him with wide eyes and wanting to go over and talk to him again, but Alex is standing with his back to Michael, a pointed rebuff that says that he doesn’t want to talk to him.

Michael wants so badly to slide his arms around his waist, tug him back into Michael’s warmth, and plead his apologies with kisses and soft touches. He wants him so much and he’s been dreaming about him constantly.

“He won’t even talk to me,” Michael says miserably, poking at the food on his plate. “I asked him to go out with me, but he won’t because of you. And I can’t even tell him that it’s not actually a big deal, because what if it is! It’s not like I can guarantee that I could be with him.”

He lets out a wracked sobbing sound, so frustrated with the situation.

At the noise, Alex glances back like he’s curious about why Michael is sounding like that, but his quick glance isn’t enough. Michael stares at his profile and his lips, remembering what it was like to kiss them.

“Is he enough?”

“What?” Michael asks, distracting from his longing stare. “Enough for what?”

“We have three years before the impending marriage,” Isobel says. “And when that happens, you know as well as I do that divorce isn’t an option.” She reaches across the table to take Michael’s hand in hers, giving him a tender look of affection and fondness.

It’s awful, but the only thing Michael can think about is, please don’t let Alex look at this and think it’s something it’s not.

“You’re the genius, so tell me this,” Isobel begins. “Three years. We’ve been engaged for thirteen and you hadn’t met anyone in that time. Neither have I.” Of course they hadn’t, because their worlds are so narrow and confined to the palace that there’s rarely anyone to meet. The fact that Michael had met Alex at all has been a miracle. “Do you really think that three more years is going to open up a wealth of options? Or is Alex the one you’re willing to take a risk on. Even if he’s not your soulmate, even if it’s not true love, isn’t some romantic love better than nothing?”

“He won’t even talk to me, Isobel,” Michael reminds her, despondent and crushed.

“He thinks that you and I are fated, that you’d be stolen from me. Make him understand the reality of our situation, Michael,” Isobel says sharply. “You know what you have to do.”

He does, too.

“Go talk to your parents.”

It’s a daunting task that faces Michael, but for once it doesn’t feel like an undertaking that he’s afraid of. He’s been shown a sliver of a life that he can have with Alex that’s full of excitement and brightness and so much more. If it takes one good argument to his parents to convince them to let their son find happiness, then he’s ready for this fight.

*

It takes Michael two hours to convince his parents that this is the right choice.

“He’s a human,” is the main argument. “He’s a guard,” is a close second.

Michael helpfully points out that it would strengthen relations between Earth and Antar and might even bolster the guard program if they see one of their own at such a high level. Michael is assuming, of course, that Alex will want anything to do with him, but he can’t exactly approach his parents and say that he wants to try with Alex.

It has to be all or nothing, at least in this pitch.

“I don’t love Isobel,” Michael says firmly. “Not like that. If we marry, there won’t be children. I’ll refuse. I’ll run off the planet,” he warns, knowing that he’s close to being the petulant teenager that he is, but he needs them scared. “Let me marry Alex and strengthen our relations with a planet that I know we’re struggling with. Either way, there won’t be children, but at least with Alex, you’ll get something out of it.”

They don’t look happy about it, but his parents confer with the advisers for an hour, which is just long enough that Michael knows they’re taking this seriously, but not long enough that he’s worried it’ll be a no. Every time they glance back to him from their little huddle, he plasters on an air of confidence, like he can fake it until he makes it.

“We don’t appreciate you threatening us,” Rath says calmly, “but you’ve managed to find some sense in your emotional plea.”

“We do want you to be happy,” Mara adds, as if Michael’s ever thought otherwise. “We thought that you and Isobel got along so well, we never bothered to amend the arrangement.”

It looks like they’d done some of this to themselves by being so tight-knit, even if it had never been a prelude to a great romantic story.

“Are you saying…?”

“You can marry the earthling,” Rath says with a sigh. “We’ll discuss it as the coup it is for our relations between Antar and Earth. Isobel can find herself another suitor of her choosing, so long as it still benefits the planet.”

He feels like he’s gone deaf for a moment.

He can marry Alex. They’re letting him be with Alex.

Oh, shit, now he has to convince Alex to marry him after a night of dancing, a few conversations, and one intensely perfect kiss. His eyes widen in shock and he rushes over to hug his mother tightly, giving his father a dutiful bow of his head, getting ready to run before any of them can change their minds.

“One more thing,” he says, darting forward and getting something wildly important. “I need that in writing.”

Three minutes later, he’s running through the halls of the palace with a note in his hand that says that his marriage to Isobel is dissolved. His first stop is to Isobel’s quarters to show her the note, kissing her cheek excitedly.

“What are you wasting time with me for?” she demands, eyes wide. “Go!”

He doesn’t need telling twice. Alex isn’t far because he’s guarding Isobel, so Michael only has to run another two rooms over before he comes to a skidding stop in front of Alex. He’s panting breathlessly, staring at the other guard posted at the door. “Isobel…wants you…” he gets out between sharp breaths.

The guard glances to Alex, raising a brow.

“Just you,” Michael insists, because Alex isn’t going anywhere.

The other guard gives Alex a bewildered look, but he’s not in a position to argue with a prince, so he goes. It leaves Michael alone with Alex, which is exactly what he needs. He’s finally calmed down and he moves to stand right in front of Alex, making sure that he can’t dart away before Michael has a chance to talk to him.

“Michael,” Alex pleads quietly. “Don’t.”

He says nothing. He does nothing. It’s because Michael doesn’t need to. He proudly hands over the elegantly written card to Alex that declares his engagement over and waits as Alex studies it cautiously before taking it and flipping it open. He reads what’s inside, but then he doesn’t look up. From the look on his face, he’s not sure what to make of it.

“I don’t understand.”

“Isobel and I, we were never gonna love each other like that,” he says, knowing that it’s awful to say, but it’s the truth. “She’s like my sister. I’m her brother figure. We were arranged at five years old, Alex. Five,” he says with a scoff. “And you know what the craziest thing is? I genuinely think that if it had been you that they’d betrothed to me, it would’ve been different, because with you, I feel different. I feel connected and I know you feel the same.”

Alex has closed the card, but he’s eyeing Michael warily and he’s not saying anything.

“I don’t get to just cancel one betrothal without another,” he admits, and digs in his back pocket to find the mask that he’d been wearing at the Yule party, along with a piece of mistletoe that he’d found in the Earth section of one of their museums.

Tying them together, he gives Alex a hopeful look, handing it to him as a sort of bouquet.

“I only want you,” Michael says. “And they’ve given me permission to ask you to marry me, but that doesn’t matter. The only permission I need is yours, and not for marriage. I’m not going to make you spend eternity with me, but I want to spend every day with you, and then the next, and the one after that.” He tips his head to the side, swallowing past his nerves. “I guess what I’m saying is that the only person I want to spend the rest of my life with is you, learning about you, finding out more. Maybe it’ll fall apart,” he admits with a shrug. “But somehow, I don’t think so.”

Alex reaches out for the mask, holding it against his chest.

“Michael, are you sure? It’s one night, a few discussions, I…”

“I’m sure enough. Are you?”

Alex has this hint of hope on his face and around him that has Michael completely on edge. He thinks that he knows what’s coming, but he’s not sure he trusts his own happiness. He’s never been this lucky before, and here he is, waiting on the edge of his seat to see if Alex will give him a chance to be this happy.

“Kiss me,” Alex says.

Michael doesn’t need another demand, surging forward to grab Alex by the hips, pinning him against the doorway with a kiss that has Alex dropping the mask and mistletoe to the ground beside them. They sway – Michael on his toes, Alex back on his heels – and then reverse as Alex pushes Michael back so his balance is off-kilter, the kiss getting deeper with every passing moment.

When Michael eases back, his eyes are half-lidded and he’s staring at Alex in a daze, like he’s not sure this is real.

It better be, because when Alex says, “I’m sure,” Michael’s body flushes with warmth and he knows this is it. This is what it’s meant to be like, being in love with someone, and having your whole future ahead of you.

And fuck, but what a feeling it is.

*

“Now, please put your hands together for the newly married couple,” the magistrate announces from in front of the large doors they’re standing behind.

Michael grins at Alex and reaches for his hands to squeeze them both at once. He knows that he’s nervous, but he wants to make sure he’s not too worried. It’s going to be perfect because it’s them. “Hey,” he whispers, “The hard part’s over,” he guarantees. He watches as the doors are unlocked, and the guards prepare to present them to the planet. “All we’ve got now is loving one another for the rest of our lives.”

Alex turns to Michael and his eyes are soft, looking almost like they’re filled with tears. “That’s the easy part?”

“When it’s loving you,” Michael says softly. “It’s the easiest.”

“…Prince Michael and Prince Alex of Antar!” They’re announced to the planet as the doors open wide.

Michael grins as he takes Alex’s hand and leads him out towards the Yule party that’s been adapted to be a celebration of their vows as well, because Michael couldn’t imagine marrying Alex at any other time of year. This is when they fell in love and this is where they’ll dance tonight for the first time as husbands, with their family and friends watching.

Michael had never planned to be a part of a fairy tale, but now that he’s living in one with his prince, he can’t find it in him to be upset, not for a single moment.

It’s time for him to go pursue that happily ever after, with Alex at his side.

Chapter Text

7


When Alex is seven, his father brings him to a place called Caulfield and takes him to a sterile white room. Alex goes with a toy in his hand. He’s nudged inside and told to sit down and wait. When he says he doesn’t understand, his father looks at him and says, “You will, someday. For now, you do as you’re told, like a good Manes boy.”

Dutiful and brave, Alex nods and clutches the Lego set in his hands as he sits on the ground and opens up the box to start building the spaceship. Maybe this is just like when he’s early at school and he’s taken to a room to be watched.

He plays alone for a few minutes until he hears a door open nearby and then three children are ushered in. Alex perks up and smiles at them with a cheerful wave. “Hi,” he greets them, eyes skipping from one to the next. “I’m Alex. Do you wanna see what I got for Christmas?” he suggests, holding out the box to the boy with curls, who’s standing closest to him.

None of the children speak to him.

Alex glances warily over his shoulder to see if his father will tell him to stay back, but he doesn’t. There’s a long pause and eventually he hears the crackling of static. “Give them the toy, Alex.”

It’s an order. Even at seven, Alex understands orders.

He nervously holds out the toy to them, feeling strange about it. “Here,” he says, to the curly-haired boy. “I’m Alex, like my Dad said,” He bites his lip, trying to fight the nerves that threaten him when none of the kids say anything. The blonde girl and the other boy exchange a look and then advance to take the set out of Alex’s hands, but the curly-haired one doesn’t move.

He hasn’t stopped staring at Alex.

“That one is Michael,” comes a bored voice over the intercom. “The others are Max and Isobel. Play with them.”

Alex frowns at the order, which seems to be the right thing for the other kids to see. Suddenly, Michael is all smiles and friendship, holding out his hand for Alex to take. Alex does, being led to the corner where there are a few blocks that look like they’ve been picked up from a discount bargain bin, but as Michael sits down with them, Alex sees that there are scribbles on them in pen.

They look like fancy math equations, the kind that he’s seen in Hunter and Harlan’s books. Alex’s eyes widen as he stares at the alien and thinks, that’s so cool.

He doesn’t understand why his Dad is so scared of them. They just want to play with blocks and be smart. Alex smiles as Max and Isobel approach and sit with them to assemble the Lego planet in the kit that he’d brought.

Eventually, his time is up. As he goes, Michael holds out the completed spaceship to him, but Alex shakes his head.

“You should keep it,” he says, because his father had wanted Alex to give it to them to build, but he’s the one who wants them to keep it. It’s almost Christmas and everyone deserves a gift for the holidays, especially if they’re stuck in a terrible old prison like this. Alex doesn’t understand it, not entirely, but maybe they’re here to be safe?

Maybe it’s to protect them.

“It’s for you. From me,” Alex insists again, holding out the spaceship. “Happy holidays, Michael.”

Michael takes it and holds it in both hands, staring at it reverently. Alex makes eye contact with him once more before he goes, but he’s giddy on the drive home, chattering to Flint about how they’d played and the spaceship they’d built. He can see his father’s unhappy expression in the mirror, but Alex doesn’t care enough to stop.

When he visits next week, the spaceship is gone from the white room.

Alex catches the steely look on his father’s face and decides not to ask.

He already knows what happens when Dad gets upset. Maybe it’s better if he just pretends that it got lost, because then no one has to get hurt.

*

10

Once Michael started talking, the guards joke that he won’t shut up.

Alex has been busy at school, but he wants to make sure to get there for the holidays because he hasn’t seen Michael since Thanksgiving and there’s a lot to talk about. Plus, he’s got a great gift to share this year, bringing the tape player with him.

He doesn’t get a chance to give it to Michael, though, because the guards take it from him. “It’s a present!” he protests. “They let me bring food to him.”

“This is different. Too many electronic parts,” the guard says without looking Alex in the eye.

He might only be ten, but he can tell that there’s something like fear in the guard’s eyes. Alex wonders what it is that they’re scared of, including what they think that the aliens would do if they had the electronics in their hands.

He doesn’t need to wait long to find out.

When Alex gets to the glass that separates him from Michael, his eyes widen with wonder. Michael’s in the testing lab, sitting on a chair with a testing cap on, and he’s juggling three pieces of fruit – and he’s doing it all with his mind.

“Whoa,” Alex breathes out. “You’re like a Jedi.”

The two doctors glare at Alex over their shoulders when orange, banana, and pear all go colliding to the ground. “Alex!” Michael says excitedly the moment he sees him. He tries to wriggle free, but they stop him, even though Alex turns to the guards with the fiery look of a Manes heir.

“Let him go,” he imperiously demands.

The guards exchange a look, like they’re not entirely sure what they should be doing. Alex sucks in a breath through his teeth, his anger building. His father runs this whole prison, he’s the youngest son, and one day this is going to be his to oversee. He plans to change a lot of things and if these guards aren’t careful, Alex is going to remember them.

“Let him go,” he repeats, his voice icy, “or you may not like it when I complain to Dad that you didn’t listen.”

That seems to do the trick. They dismantle Michael from all the wires and trappings and step aside when Alex rushes in, even though he loses the battle of giving the present to Michael. He throws himself into an embrace, even though the guards shout at him, and holds him tight.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you the gift.”

“You got me unhooked,” Michael says quietly. “It’s the only gift I want. Thank you, Alex.”

That sends a weird, bad feeling through Alex. Not for the first time, he wonders if maybe he and his family are the bad guys here. It’s an uneasy revelation to have, but as he watches the guards escort Michael back to the cell, he thinks that they look like stormtroopers and it’s never been clearer.

So what does that make his father?

Who does that make him?

*

16

Alex has been sitting with his back to the glass, sniffling, for the past hour. His Dad doesn’t know he’s here, because his Dad is overseas. It’s just him and Flint at the house, which makes for a terrible Christmas. He’d come straight to Caulfield, where he’s been sitting with Michael, since the guards refuse to let him out so that Alex can see him and hug him.

“He’s an asshole,” Michael says.

Funny how that doesn’t make Alex feel any better. “He was my best friend,” he protests, his voice wobbly as he thinks about all the terrible things that Kyle said about him. He sniffles and shifts so that his shoulder is pressed to the glass as he presses his hand to it, wishing that he could be with Michael.

The glass can be opened, but he’d need a guard to do it for him, and then Dad would know that he’s here without permission. It’s better that there’s some distance, even if it’s the last thing that Alex wants.

“It’s all because of who I like,” he gets out, not thinking.

Because then Michael asks, “Who do you like?” and Alex freezes.

Kyle knows about Caulfield because of his father, and knows all about the curly-haired alien that Alex has taken a shining to. He knows who Michael is, so when he’d caught Alex with his hand on his dick and moaning his name, he’d known instantly who Alex had been thinking about. Then the bullying had grown worse and now Alex is here, and it’s almost Christmas, and the only present he wants is a kiss from Michael, but he can’t have it.

“Does it matter?” he whispers, and he feels like he’s answered with a name by not answering at all, staring up at Michael with sad eyes.

There’s a wall of glass that separates them. There’s his father’s ideology and the threat that the aliens are supposed to represent. It doesn’t matter that Alex is deeply in love with one of them, it’s never going to change.

“If I ever get out of here,” Michael says.

“When,” Alex cuts him off.

If I ever get out of here,” Michael reiterates, and starts on a fantasy that he’s been telling Alex since he was thirteen. “You’re going to take me for burgers, and then we’ll go watch a movie, and when we see Valenti, I’m going to punch him so hard in the face that he’ll wish he had someone to kiss it better.”

Alex can’t help the way he smiles at Michael and he lets his fingers slide over the glass, stroking it lightly. “He made me feel so angry, but I know it’s because I can’t change it. I can’t change this,” he whispers.

It’s almost Christmas, and all he wants is Michael.

“One day,” Michael says wistfully. “It’ll be Christmas and I’ll get to hold you.”

“If,” says Alex glumly.

This time, it’s Michael who responds fiercely with, “When,” and gives Alex a look that puts the matter to rest.

*

18


“Alex, you can go in.”

Alex glances over his shoulder to his father, confused why he’s being led down a different hallway than usual. Every month when he comes to visit lately, he gets to spend the time with the three aliens in a small room where they talk about the outside world, Alex plays them songs on his guitar, they end up doing homework together, and they talk. He’s started to question it recently, why they’re being treated the way they are.

Why is his father keeping them separate like this? Why is he treating them more like students than prisoners? There’s been a sick thought in the back of his head that maybe he’s trying to convince them over to their side, like maybe Jesse wants their powers for his own selfish intentions.

Still, Alex doesn’t know why there’s a change of pace today.

When he enters the small room, he finds a large bed, the lights dimmed, and the smell of lavender and roses permeating the air. There’s also Michael sitting on the bed, in a soft sweater and a pair of sweatpants. “Michael…?”

“Hey,” Michael replies, his smile lazy and his pupils dilated.

He’s been drugged.

Alex feels his stomach twist and drop out from under him. He can see the supplies on the nightstand past the twinkling holiday lights, and he instantly knows why he’s been brought here. It looks like the crush he’s been developing on Michael isn’t as secret as he’d thought. He’s not the boy he was at six. He knows better now, and knows that his father wants to study something, and wants Alex to be a part of his legacy to help.

Maybe he thinks Alex has been faking his feelings.

Or maybe he’s just intending to capitalize on them in order to learn more about the aliens. Either way, it makes him sick and he moves to sit beside Michael, threading his fingers through Michael’s and holding his hand. There’s a camera in this room somewhere, but he doesn’t have time to try and dismantle it.

Besides, he’s only starting to learn those skills (under his father’s nose). He doesn’t trust what would happen if he fails while under his supervision.

“You smell so good,” Michael mumbles, turning to press the tip of his nose to Alex’s neck, breathing out softly and pressing kisses there as he bears in on him. It’s the first time that Michael has ever touched him like this and Alex is only human.

He’s human in a room with a drugged alien, one that he’s fantasized about for years.

Alex really doesn’t think that it’s his fault that he moans when Michael’s tongue gets involved in the biting little kisses to his neck. It takes every last ounce of strength he possesses to put both hands on Michael’s shoulders and push him away. When he does, it seems to break something in Michael, who whimpers in a fucking desperate way, trying to climb into Alex’s lap.

“Please,” he begs, staring at Michael. “Not like this.”

“No?” Michael sounds rough, but he searches Alex’s face, trying to break through whatever it is they dosed him with.

Alex shakes his head wordlessly, not sure that he can verbally tell Michael no again. He knows how weak he is, he knows how badly he wants this, so all he can do is shake his head and hope that Michael is stronger than he is. It does the trick. Michael wraps his arms around Alex and pulls him in close, but he stops. He bears him to the bed, wraps his leg around Alex’s waist, and holds him tightly.

Alex’s lashes flutter against his cheek as he closes his eyes and hopes that he can make this last.

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t. They’re still in a prison and no matter what special treatment and task Jesse has in store for them, Alex isn’t allowed any tenderness. When the guards hustle in and pry Alex off of Michael, there’s a sob that comes from Michael, but Alex feels his own choked version in the back of his throat.

They drag him out and push him towards Jesse Manes, standing at the end of the hallway.

One look at Jesse’s face tells Alex that he failed whatever this test had been meant to be. He doesn’t even determine him worthy of a dressing down. He sighs, shakes his head, and then walks off to call for one of Alex’s brothers.

Alex watches him go and thinks about how Michael had felt in his arms. He thinks about how in a few days, it will be Christmas and Alex will be at a dinner table with his father and not the person he loves.

He makes a promise that day.

There’s no more ifs about it.

Alex is breaking Michael and his siblings out of this prison. He doesn’t know when, but he refuses to leave them in here for the rest of their lives. They want him to follow in the Manes family footsteps and serve a legacy, but he has plans of his own.

He’s going to get Michael out of this prison so they can have a life together.

Let that be his legacy.

*

22


Alex waits outside the door nervously, gift in hand.

T’is the season, but he’s still feeling completely unnerved about everything.

“Can I come in?” he asks, knocking on the bedroom door. It’s his apartment, but it’s Michael’s bedroom, and after the escape from the prison, there are some things that he tries to be cautious about. Even though it’s been months, Alex still wakes up feeling like he’s in the middle of that nightmare.

The smoke, the shouting, the shooting – it’s all there in his nightmares where he can’t avoid them, but he’d managed to get out Max, Isobel, and Michael before the alarm had been triggered. The rest of it is up in smoke – including the rest of Michael’s family.

It had taken some of Alex’s with it.

It’s cruel to think, but Alex is okay with his father being buried under his life’s work. Thinking back to all the terrible things that Jesse had done over the years makes him okay with it. Remembering all the ways that Jesse had used him like a pawn is what makes him truly enjoy the knowledge that Caulfield had brought Jesse down with it.

There’s a long pause, then a quiet, “Yeah,” that gives Alex the determination to head inside.

When he heads inside, he sees Michael curled up with the blankets. Max and Isobel have just left, so there’s the shreddings of wrapping paper around him and there’s still a glittery red bow in Michael’s curls that Alex fondly picks out. The twins had seemed okay when they’d left, but Alex suspects them having each other is what’s making it easier for them.

Still, Michael has Alex, and he’s determined to do right by him.

“What’d they give you?”

Michael reaches over to lift up a cozy looking sweater. Alex takes it in his hand and settles on the bed beside Michael to breathe it in. “It’s nice,” he says, and tries to hand it back, but Michael stubbornly refuses to take it. “Michael,” he chastises.

“Wear it? For a little,” is his request. “Please?”

Alex feels his heart pounding in his chest, but he nods as he begins to understand. It’s more of a gift if it comes from Alex, because then it will make Michael feel safe and protected. He tugs it on, mussing up his hair in the process, but he gives Michael an encouraging smile as he shifts onto the bed with him, curling up in Michael’s arms as they lay there.

Even though he has a bedroom of his own, everyone knows that it’s a storage room at best. There isn’t a night that Alex doesn’t sleep next to Michael, both because he wants to and because he’s still paranoid that someone is going to come and take him away.

He knows that won’t happen logically. With his father gone, they’re safe.

And yet, Michael keeps looking for cameras and Alex understands. He knows why they don’t feel safe even if it’s a ghost that’s haunting them. The best he can do is curl in with Michael, giving him the gift in his hand. “Merry Christmas, Michael,” he says quietly.

His father’s will had cleared recently and it turned out that Alex had done an excellent job of faking being the dutiful son taking after his father, despite a few rocky bumps along the way. The will had left a quarter of Jesse’s assets to Alex. At first, he’d refused them, but sounder minds had convinced him to think about it. He’s glad he did, because he’s able to give this gift to Michael.

It’s a slip of paper inside the wrapped box and Michael doesn’t understand.

“It’s for you. If you want, it’s your tuition,” he says, having written a note after he’d put the money in an account with both their names on it. It had taken a lot of hacking to make sure Michael had an identity, but one that’s worth it. “Care of Jesse Manes’ death,” Alex says triumphantly, feeling smug and victorious that his father’s death could give Michael some of his life back.

Michael’s eyes widen and he gets out a surprised sound before he closes his mouth, clearly gearing up to deny it.

“Think about it,” Alex tries to cut him off. “Okay? You don’t have to decide now. The money’s gaining interest, it’ll be there when you need it, when you want it.” He adjusts himself in Michael’s hold, pulling himself in. “I want you to have it. I want you to have school and a normal life and me. I want you to have everything.”

Michael seems to understand that, and he promises to think about it before pressing a kiss to the top of Alex’s head. They fall asleep together in Michael’s bed with the twinkling string-lights dazzling in the window, with Alex in Michael’s sweater and both of them curled up snugly beneath the blanket.

The next day, Michael gives Alex a Christmas present of his own.

He signs up for an undergrad stream in engineering at UNM with the money from Jesse’s death.

It’s the best gift Alex has ever received.

*

23

This year, Alex has a special gift for Michael.

He’s been planning it for months and he thinks that Michael’s probably on to him. Still, if he has, he keeps it quiet as the holidays grow nearer. It’s been over a year since the aliens were broken free of Caulfield and Alex thinks that it’s long enough and that they can get on with their lives.

Or maybe they can start the life they’ve been trying to have since they were little and the glass separated them for the first time. For Christmas, they don’t make big plans. They’re not party people and seeing as Michael is still learning about the world, it’d be too much to take him out for Alex’s big surprise.

Instead, he does what he’d wanted to do when he was sixteen when they sat on opposite sides of the glass. He crawls right into Michael’s arms, exhausted from classes – he and Michael are both at UNM and while Alex wants this, it’s also been a long exam season. “Hey,” Michael says with surprise as Alex burrows in. He puts down the book he’s reading to make room for him, laughing warmly. “That bad, huh?”

“Conserving my energy for the dinner with your siblings later,” Alex says, pretending that he’s completely out of it, even though his heart is pounding and he’s sure Michael will be able to feel it. He's nervous, even though he has no right to be. “I did want to give your present to you now, though,” he admits, staring at him with a hopeful look in his eyes.

Michael leans over to put the book on the table, rubbing his palm over Alex’s chest. “Yeah, of course,” he agrees with a crooked sweet smile, and gives Alex a wary look. “You okay? Your heartbeat’s racing.”

“Yeah,” Alex gets the word out, but he doesn’t even bother making an excuse. There’s no reason to, especially when he doesn’t intend to drag this out. “When I met you at seven,” he says, “you looked at me and I felt like I knew who I was. It was like you were the one holding all the answers, like you somehow made me know myself better than anyone else could.”

Michael’s sitting up, staring at Alex with an awed look. He already knows where this is going, Alex suspects, but he’s staying silent.

“I let my father believe he had a legacy that would continue on in me, but he didn’t. All I had in that prison was a hope for a future with you,” he says. “And now we’ve got that, a real one, and we’ve been living it for almost two years and I want more. I want to be selfish and stupid and demanding. I want to be owed the fifteen years we didn’t get outside that glass. I want you,” he finishes, and reaches into his back pocket for the velvet pouch where the ring is waiting. He raises both his brows and presents it to Michael with a hopeful look in his eyes. “I want you to be my husband.”

Michael reaches out and reverently lets his fingers slide over the band, a tender look on his face. “…Alex,” he gets out, and his words are choked up, but not with sadness.

That’s the important part.

“Let’s make a legacy of our own,” Alex says, and unearths the ring from the pouch, holding it in his palms for Michael to study. “Our own family, our future, something that no one can take from us, that they can’t separate us from.”

Yes,” says Michael, fierce and determined as Alex feels, protective of this thing they have – this future, this legacy.

When Alex slides the ring onto Michael’s hand, it doesn’t feel like he’s claiming him so much as making a promise that he intends to keep – no glass, no person, no universe can keep them apart now and Alex will fight to the death to make sure that stays true.

Chapter Text

When Alex was younger, he and his mother had a special only-for-them tradition after Thanksgiving. The holiday itself was always fraught with tension in the Manes household, seeing as she didn’t like to celebrate it, but Jesse insisted. Her imposed tradition had been a deliberate defense against Jesse’s demands, and one that she’d shared with all the boys, but these days, it’s only Alex who wants to go.

His brothers have decided they don’t want to be a part of this. They’ve sided with Jesse, even if they haven’t admitted to it aloud.

They bundle up and head to the group home in Roswell just as the decorations are going up, because his mother has always been adamant about making sure those kids get just as much of a holiday as the Manes boys do. Alex has a gift in his hands and he’s allowed to decide who gets it, while his mother talks to the volunteers and delivers the cookies that she’s made.

This year, Alex is eight and he’s feeling grown up and mature, definitely mature enough that he doesn’t need his Mom holding his hand. Heading into the group home, he sees one of the boys scribbling in a notebook. His hoodie has holes in it, and his hair looks matted and tangled. Instantly, Alex knows.

That’s who deserves his present.

“Can I give a gift to him?” he asks one of the volunteers, pointing to the boy.

The woman looks somewhat wary. “You can,” she allows, “we’ve given him the name Michael, but he doesn’t speak. He can understand you, but he won’t talk back. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.”

Alex nods with eager purpose as he heads over with the wrapped gift in hand. Awkwardly, he waves, and walks over to his side. He hears the lady behind him whispering (too loudly) about the other children that Michael had come in with, but the Evans had adopted them. They’d left Michael behind.

The youngest child in a family full of boys who worship their father, Alex understands what it’s like, to be left out.

“Hi,” he greets him. “I’m Alex,” he says, gesturing to himself as he sits cross-legged across from the other boy. “Can you show me how to sign that?” he asks hopefully, and watches as the curly-haired boy begins to move his fingers through the letters.

Alex watches him and mirrors each action. They go through it three times before Alex feels comfortable to do it on his own. Then he signs A-L-E-X, hello, before pointing to the wrapped present, holding it out for him.

Michael points to himself, but the furrow of his brow tells Alex that it’s not as clear as he’d hoped it would be. Alex wonders if it’s the first present he’s ever received and suddenly his own life seems a lot better. Maybe this is why his Mom brings him here. Still, Alex pushes the present a little more aggressively.

“For you,” he agrees.

It’s not an exciting gift, as far as Alex is concerned. It’s just a knit scarf that his Mom made, but when Michael leans over to stick the bow on Alex’s hair and then rips excitedly into the paper, Alex wonders if the gift inside matters at all. Maybe it’s just that someone is thinking of him. When he opens the box and pulls out the scarf, his eyes widen and he squeezes his hands tightly in the fabric, burying his face in it. He doesn’t speak, but his breath starts hitching with sobbing breaths that make Alex scramble over to hug his new friend.

“No, no, no, no,” Alex mumbles. “I’m sorry! No, it’s a gift! It’s for you!” Is it that bad? Maybe he should’ve convinced his Mom to buy a Game Boy or something better for them to give away.

Michael shakes his head rapidly and makes a few gestures with his hands that Alex doesn’t understand. He wildly looks over his shoulder for help, and one of the volunteers comes by so Michael can sign it again.

“He says he loves it,” she tells Alex. “And says thank you, for the present.”

Alex gives Michael a tentative smile and leans in to hug him again, a little tighter than before. He feels safe, like he could hug him for hours, and the appreciation for such a simple present reminds Alex that you don’t always need something with bells and whistles.

Sometimes, a present from a friend is everything.

“Happy Christmas, Michael,” Alex wishes when his Mom comes to collect him. “I’ll come visit again, okay?” He signs his name again, then points to himself, and then to Michael. “I’ll come back.”

Michael nods at him, his curls bouncing, and he hugs the scarf tightly to his chest. It’s the last image that Alex has of this beautiful, gracious, amazing boy before he goes back home to his life.

Alex goes back to the group home a week later. This time, he brings some mittens to match the scarf along with one of his old CD players and some CD’s. He leans on the desk and asks if he can see Michael, but the lady at the desk looks at him, then the gift, before saying absently, “He’s not here anymore. He was brought home by a foster parent, they moved to Santa Fe.”

It’s a good thing, right? Michael’s found a family and right before the holidays, so Alex should be happy for him, but he can’t help feeling a bolt of sorrow for the connection that he’d only just developed and has now already lost.

That should be the last of it.

It should be, only Alex can’t let go of the image in his head of Michael.

Through his early teenaged years, he wonders what Michael is doing. He thinks about the group home and he hopes that the family that took Michael in is a good one. He thinks about the way he’d taken Alex’s gift reverently, as if nothing else had been more important. He thinks about the shy smile on his face and his kindness as he’d taught Alex sign language, reaching over to help him with his fingers.

When Alex is fifteen, he starts wondering about Michael in different ways.

He wonders what he looks like, now that they’ve grown up. Is he tall? Lanky? Are his curls still so soft-looking and would they be perfect to touch? Has he found a family that will give him proper-fitting clothes? Has he got someone that he’s dating that gives him gifts at Christmas?

Then, at seventeen, Alex doesn’t have to wonder anymore.

“Class, we’ve got a late transfer in,” his English teacher announces. There’s no one standing there, and most of the class isn’t paying attention (per usual). “I’d like everyone to be patient. He can understand you, and hear you, but he doesn’t speak, so we’ll be learning some basic ASL through the year, so we can communicate and round ourselves out.”

The tip of Alex’s pencil breaks in the middle of the doodling he’s doing. He stares up at the front of the class, his heart pounding in his chest.

“Please welcome Michael Guerin, everyone,” the teacher says, and gestures towards the door.

Alex stops breathing when he sees him walk through the door. If ever he’d doubted that they had a connection that day, this moment proves that he hadn’t been making it up. Michael waves to the class, but in the midst of that, he locks eyes with Alex and stops in his tracks. It’s been years, but Alex wonders if he’s been recognized and if nine years doesn’t make that much of a difference.

His heart starts to beat faster when Alex realizes the only empty desk in the room is the one beside him. When Michael walks down the aisle to claim the desk, Alex stares at him and realizes that he’s wearing Alex’s scarf, the one he’d given him years ago.

Hi, signs Alex. I was hoping I’d see you again.

In the intervening years, he’s picked up more than a thing or two. The hope that he’d one day get to see Michael again had driven him on, but now is his chance to actually show that off. Michael looks impressed as he sits beside him, reaching over to squeeze Alex’s fingers in the middle of signing, smirking at him as he presses a finger to his lips.

He’s shushing Alex for speaking ASL in class.

Alex huffs out a fond laugh, shaking his head, and buries his head in his notebook, his fingers tapping anxiously and nervously, even though he has so much more he wants to tell Michael and show him. When he glances over, he sees the way Michael’s gaze lingers on Alex’s varnish-coated nails and Alex swallows back his nerves.

For all that he’s developed a crush on an idealized version of a boy he once met, it’s nothing compared to meeting him again and realizing that there’s absolutely something between them.

Over the next few weeks, Alex makes sure that Michael always has somewhere to eat. They sit together under the bleachers sharing lunches and blankets, especially when Alex learns that Michael doesn’t have anywhere to live. His situation has only grown worse and he’s living in the back of the truck.

He learns about the man who adopted him all those years ago and wishes that he’d been more vocal about getting his parents to give Michael a home, but he can’t go back in time. He can only move forward and do something about now.

Nervously, Alex tells Michael about the shed. “You should stay there,” he says. “If I can give you a Christmas present, it’s that.” He signs the same to Michael, and gives a sheepish smile when Michael reaches over to fix Alex’s fingers when he signs the wrong word. Then, Michael doesn’t let go, only shifts so that he’s holding Alex’s hand while they eat their sandwiches.

Alex thinks the offer goes unnoticed, but two nights later he’s taking out the trash when he sees a light on in the shed. He doesn’t go inside, but he peeks in and sees Michael on the futon, curled up and reading a book. Alex smiles to himself and heads back inside, making sure that he brings some dinner around to the shed.

That’s how things continue as the days turn colder, getting closer to the holiday itself, and bringing with it a need for Alex to find the perfect gift.

He thinks he has an idea for that, at least. He’s seen the way the other boy eyes his guitar, which means that he has one part of the gift done. The other is easy, too, it just requires practice to make sure that his fingers are doing the right thing so that when he signs his message, there’s no confusion.  

On Christmas Eve, Alex sneaks into the shed wearing a Santa hat.

The gift is already hiding behind the futon, wrapped, and he’s the rest of it. He knocks lightly and gives Michael an encouraging smile. His father doesn’t like that they’re giving Michael the shed as a space to sleep in, but Flint had been the one to point out that giving a mute homeless kid a roof over his head is pretty much the most basic human kindness, then had called their Mom to back him up, which had shut Jesse up.

It’s not like Michael is invited to dinner, but he’s also not about to get kicked out.

Hi, he signs on his way in. “Merry Christmas, Michael.” He almost bounces as he settles in on the couch opposite Michael, sitting cross-legged with a box in his hand.

Michael grins at him and signs back a hello, then, you didn’t have to get me anything.

“I got part of this for you ages ago,” Alex admits, and passes him the box with the mittens in it. He’s had to make new ones to match the scarf (seeing as Michael’s hands won’t fit the version he made a decade ago), but they still match the scarf and they’re still hand-knit. Alex loves the feeling he gets as he watches Michael open it.

It's the same as it was a decade ago, that certainty deep down that his gift is loved and appreciated. The Walkman and CD’s had been given away ages ago, but Alex reaches behind the couch for the guitar with a bow on it, handing it over with a raise of both of his brows.

Déjà vu hits him hard when Michael signs, for me?

That lump in his throat is hard to swallow past, but he nods as Michael takes it from him reverently. His fingers almost tremble as he slides them over the strings, closing his eyes as he soaks up the few notes he plays. He seems to know a few chords, and Alex sinks back onto the couch, watching him enjoy his gifts for a few minutes.

He could stop here, but he knows it’s important to keep going.

The last time Alex gave Michael a gift, he’d been gone a week later. He can’t risk that again.

Alex inhales deeply, “And there’s one more gift,” he says, reaching out to get Michael’s attention. Even though he knows that Michael can hear every word and understand it, it doesn’t matter. It means more that he’s learned this, in his mind.

Maybe it’s too much, maybe it’s stupid, but Alex has known Michael Guerin since he was eight and he thinks he’s fallen in love with the idea of the man before he came back. Then, he’d returned and Alex fell even deeper in love, even if it was with someone new. He knows, now, that he loves him. He knows that he’s in love.

It's why he feels comfortable signing it.

“Michael,” Alex says, and fluidly signs what he’s been meaning to say for months.

I love you.

Michael’s eyes widen and he replies with a, Really?

“Really,” Alex promises. “I do. I love you, even if you’ve only been back a while. It feels like longer. It feels like we just…”

Connected, Michael signs, and Alex nods, knowing that it’s the exact word he would’ve used to describe it, too. It’s been years since they met and it had been an innocent meeting back then, but Alex has thought about him for so long and the man himself has exceeded every single dream and fantasy.

How could he not feel like this?

“I wanted you to know,” Alex rambles, not noticing how Michael is inching in towards him. “We missed out on so many holidays and I owe you so many other gifts, but…” He would keep going, but Michael grabs him by the cheeks and yanks him in for a kiss, stunning Alex into speechlessness.

It takes him a few moments, but he melts into it, his eyes falling shut as he drifts forward, tangling his fingers in Michael’s hair as he kisses him back, indulging in each tiny little sound he earns from Michael that he’s never heard before, but also the softness of his lips, the mild scratch of the fuzz he has growing on his cheeks, and how warm he is.

It's a better gift than Alex could have ever dreamt of asking for.

Alex only leans back long enough to stare at Michael’s lips for another moment, then to his hands, which are moving. Alex, kiss me again, and he grins, because he’s spent the intervening years of their separation learning plenty of ASL just in case and there’s no mistaking those words.

Kiss had been one of the first things that he’d learned that made him blush, but then he’d practiced it. With his hands, with his lips, with his imagination.

And now, with Michael Guerin, within a stone’s throw of Christmas, he intends to keep practicing until his lips and his fingers ache.

Chapter Text

The corridor of a hospital is the last place in the world that Michael wants to be, but here he is. It’s been a hell of a day and he’d snuck off to talk to Isobel, curled up in a waiting chair, wondering how the hell he’s going to break the news of what happened to her. “You sound like shit,” is the first thing she says when Michael says hello. “And I thought that I was the miserable one.’

“What happened?” Michael asks, more than happy to let Isobel talk his ear off about her unfortunate life.

The dismissive noise Isobel makes doesn’t bode well for her going on about it. “Nothing serious, just the guy I was seeing ghosted me.”

“Asshole.”

“Tell me about it,” Isobel harrumphs. “Why do you sound like shit?”

“There was…an incident.”

The reason why Isobel is his favorite sibling is because she lets him rant about what happened on the subway late last night on his way home from a ridiculous shift. Around that time, there’s only ever him and another guy (who’s kinda hot, admittedly), but happens to sound like a self-important asshole on the phone. He’s a doctor or something, but clearly he’d been out of it because he’d fumbled near the edge of the platform just as the subway had been coming.

Michael had been too far away to grab him back.

That didn’t mean he didn’t use his powers. He’d hauled hard and pulled the man back until he’d smacked his head on the subway platform. Cut to a few hours later and here he is at the hospital where someone’s at least identified the guy as Dr. Valenti, who happens to work here. They’ve also called his family.

As of this morning, Michael happens to be part of it because he’s lied and said that he’s the boyfriend.

“Michael…” Isobel chides.

“I know! I know, I fucked up. So now I gotta wait and see if this guy remembers me using my powers to save his life,” he complains sharply, glancing around to see if anyone is close enough to eavesdrop. The early hour of the morning means that he’s safe, but he still hates that he’s in this situation. “I don’t know how long I’m gonna be here, but I’ll try and swing by at some point. We can drink to the shitty boyfriend you’ve got.”

“I really thought this time was the one,” Isobel says quietly, and Michael hates that even in this stressful hour, his first thought is to go comfort her. “Whatever. I’ll drink my feelings away. You go make sure our secret isn’t about to get blown to pieces.”

“Can do,” Michael vows and tucks the phone back into his pocket before he gets back to his feet, trying to ignore the clinical and overwhelmingly sanitized environment around him.

When you’re an alien, you have a lot of nightmares about getting dissected in a place like this, but it’s worth it to endure to guarantee that doesn’t happen. Michael trudges back into the hospital room and stares down at Kyle Valenti’s comatose body in the bed. The doctors keep saying that his brain swelling has been going down and he could wake up any minute with all these hints of promise in their voice like they want to cheer him up. Then, Michael’s the one who lied about being his boyfriend, which means they want to keep his spirits lifted.

It’s a necessary lie, because if Kyle Valenti wakes up and finds out that the guy who saved his life used alien powers to do it, Michael might be under a microscope real fast.

He settles in beside the bed, digging out his book so he can pass the time. It Michael’s lucky, then he’ll wake up and he’ll figure out if he knows anything (and if he does, then Isobel’s down here instantly to wipe it away).

If he’s lucky, this will all be over soon.

Of course, since when has Michael ever been lucky?

“My baby,” a mother’s lament is the first thing Michael hears when a woman bursts into the room to make a bee-line to Kyle’s side, collecting his hand in hers. Behind her is a man her age and a young woman who’s trying to keep her distance. Michael knows that they’d alerted the family, but he’d been hoping they’d show up a little later, that maybe Kyle would wake up before then.

The mother kisses Kyle’s hand rapidly, fretfully, and then looks up at Michael with a suspicious eye. “Who are you?”

Michael stands slowly, rubbing his palms anxiously over his thighs. “I’m Michael,” he introduces himself, knowing that this isn’t going to go over well, but it’s lie or die (maybe literally if his secret gets out). “Kyle’s my boyfriend,” he says, because he needs to be here, and it’s not like ‘good friend’ is going to do the trick. “I was with him when he went into the coma and I’m so worried, I…”

The parents eye each other, then glance back to Michael, before their gazes land on Kyle.

“Rosa,” they say to the young woman. “Did you know…?”

Whatever reaction Michael’s anticipating, he doesn’t get a chance for it, because the chaos only grows when Kyle gets yet another visitor.

“I heard the news, is Kyle…” The man skids to a stop inside the hospital room, gaping at Michael holding Kyle’s hand. “…okay? Is he brain damaged?” he demands instantly to Rosa.

“Easy,” Rosa mutters under her breath.

“Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Michael, Kyle’s boyfriend. Who are you?” he retorts, his hackles up.

“Alex Manes, his best friend, who he tormented in high school for being gay.”

Fuck.

“What can I say, Kyle’s grown recently,” Michael lies (badly). He awkwardly pats Kyle’s hand a few times as if that’s going to help him out while he stares at Alex warily. “We’ve been keeping things quiet,” he says, hoping that maybe that’ll go over better.

“He did say he was seeing someone,” Kyle’s mother says in the corner. “We didn’t think it was a…”

The awkwardness practically bleeds in the room, which makes this Alex guy roll his eyes and look like he wants to take Kyle’s IV bag and hook it into his own veins, if only to escape the idiocy. Michael thinks that this is a tense family situation that he absolutely doesn’t belong in. Still, it’s not like he can get out of there without completely blowing his cover, so Michael awkwardly takes Kyle’s hand even tighter into his own and threads their fingers together, trying to ignore the way Alex is staring at him.

Luckily, Rosa and Kyle’s parents descend on the situation and ignore Michael even though he’s right there. He probably should be more irritated about the fact that they’re ignoring him like this, but it’s a relief.

Besides, not everyone is ignoring him. Michael’s pretty sure Alex hasn’t taken his eyes off him since he showed up in the room. He’s also the most stubborn when it comes to leaving, as Michael soon finds out.

Even though Michelle and Jim head home for new clothes and Rosa heads out when she starts falling asleep, Alex stays. Alex always stays, and for the first night, Michael sits awkwardly with him in silence, but the second night, he decides the lack of conversation is ridiculous.

“Why are you so pissed at the idea that Kyle might be bi?” Michael questions him.

It's probably not smart to poke the bear (so to speak), but Michael’s genuinely curious why it’s such a big deal. Alex has been scribbling in a notebook and looks up, alarmed and somewhat surprised that he’s being addressed, but the part Michael doesn’t understand is why the tips of his ears go a little red.

This is gonna be good, he realizes.

“He bullied me endlessly in high school because I was gay,” Alex protests. “He shouldn’t get to just suddenly have a surprise hot boyfriend like you.”

Yup, definitely good.

Michael hides his smile behind his hand, shifting in his chair to give Alex a fond look. “Hot boyfriend, huh?” There’s something about Alex that Michael’s really enjoying. For one, that sassy and sharp in-your-face opinionated personality reminds him of Isobel, but god, he’s so much hotter. The eyeliner he’s wearing makes his eyes look soft and big, and Michael keeps glancing down to his fingers, imagining those varnish-coated nails and how they’d look while he gave Michael a handjob.

Meeting someone when you’re posing as someone else’s boyfriend is absolutely a shitty way to connect, but Michael feels like somehow, he can make this work.

“I’m not exactly a catch. I don’t even rank high enough at the school I teach to get lab time other than the late shift. That’s how Kyle and I…” He clears his throat and shrugs. “It’s how I met him.” His gaze slides over Alex and he gestures to the notebook. “You a writer?”

“Singer,” Alex admits. “I’m not famous or anything, but I was hoping that one day maybe I’d have at least one good song.”

Michael can only imagine the songs Alex might play and he lets out a soft catch of breath to think of Alex singing to him, his voice soft in his ear, his breath warm on his neck. “Maybe you can sing some to me,” he offers, swallowing past his dry throat.

Alex is staring at Michael’s lips, Michael swears he is, as he says, “Maybe I will.”

From there on out, Michael makes sure that he’s always in the room at night when Alex is visiting so they can spend time together. Alex brings his guitar, and they end up talking about the songs Alex writes and how they remind him of his terrible childhood before the Valentis adopted him. They talk about Michael’s career and how he’s feeling like he’s swimming upstream because he doesn’t like the networking aspect it takes to get tenure. Their conversations only get deeper and eventually, they end up curled up together under one of the bigger couches, Michael’s jacket draped over them like a blanket.

Nearby, Kyle lies in a coma, and Michael’s supposed to be his boyfriend.

He really needs to wake up soon, because Michael feels weird dumping a guy when he’s unconscious.

Luckily (or unluckily, given how there’s no knowing how it’s going to go) for Michael, he gets his wish.

Michael’s in the middle of getting coffee for himself and Alex when he hears a huge commotion nearby and sees nurses rushing into Kyle’s room. Given the chaos of beeping noises nearby, along with a man’s voice he vaguely recognizes, it can only mean one thing.

“He’s awake!” Rosa says gleefully, passing Michael in the hall as she bolts for Kyle’s room from the waiting lounge. Michael swears under his breath and checks the time. It’s late, which means his parents aren’t there, but Alex and Rosa are. He’d really been hoping to be there alone when Kyle woke up, but it’s not like he’s getting lucky today, is he?

Trudging along, Michael marches towards his fate, hoping that he can somehow convince a complete stranger to play along. He plasters a smile on his face and stands in the doorway as the nurses go through the routines, checking vitals and coping with Kyle’s stubborn demand that he can help, since he's a doctor.

He can feel Alex’s hand at the small of his back, which makes him startle slightly as Michael looks at him, wishing that Alex didn’t look so worried and upset. “This is good,” Alex says quietly, even though he sounds miserable about it. “He’s awake.”

“Yeah,” Michael agrees, feeling the lump in his throat grow.

He's glad he has the excuse to stay out of the way while the nurses check his vitals, but eventually they leave and the doctor’s given Kyle the all-clear to see his family and friends, which means that Michael now has to approach the terrifying reality of figuring out what Kyle knows, while Rosa and Alex linger (and Kyle’s parents arrive soon, given that they were called the moment Kyle awoke).

Michael stands frozen at the side of his bed, forcing a smile on his face, trying to communicate his best, ‘play along with me’ look using only his eyes.

“Hey,” he says with a softness in his tone, watching as Kyle swivels his gaze to make eye contact with him.

Lucky for him, annoying sisters (even half ones) are always going to demand attention, which means that before Kyle can blow his cover, she intervenes. “Your boyfriend was worried,” Rosa teases, poking him in the shoulder. “Also, fuck you for not telling me that you got cool!” she accuses, as she shoves Michael into the visitor’s chair so he can be close to Kyle.

Michael goes, even if he looks up at Alex with a guilty expression, thinking of all the hot chocolates they shared together, all the times they slept curled up under Michael’s jacket, and all the secrets they’ve confessed to one another in the early hours of the hospital’s garish lights. There’s only one man in this room that Michael wants to date and it’s not the one in the hospital bed.

Plus, he’s been lying his ass off and Michael closes his eyes tightly, fisting the bedsheets, waiting for the impact of his lies to come home to roost.

“Hey, baby,” says Kyle, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “I’m glad you came to stay with me, even with things the way they’ve been.”

Wait.

Hold on.

What the fuck? Did Michael have a stroke? Did Kyle? Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alex’s face fall. Michael gets it, because right now, he’s struggling to understand what’s happening. Does Kyle have some weird amnesia? Did Michael gain a new alien power or is he learning from Isobel?

Finding his voice, Michael hears himself croak, “Could I have a minute alone with Kyle, please?”

Rosa and Alex glance at one another, then to Kyle. “Dad and your Mom are going to be here soon,” she warns.

“One minute,” Kyle insists. “We’ll be quick.”

They both look wary about leaving, but there’s no argument from them as they go, with Michael watching Alex the whole time, forlorn and freaking out about how he’s going to explain this, and wanting so badly to go after him instead of staying here, but he’s taking advantage of this chance to find out what Kyle knows.

The moment they’re alone, Michael turns towards Kyle instantly.

“So,” Michael says, when he’s pretty sure no one is eavesdropping. “You’re a handsome guy, don’t get me wrong, but what the fuck?”

Kyle struggles to sit up in bed and on impulse, Michael bolts forward to help him with the pillows. Kyle really is handsome, but he’s a stranger to Michael and everything that he’s learned about him means that he seems great, but he also seems completely not Michael’s type. He’s way too responsible and put together and he doesn’t feel that spark the way he does with Alex.

“You saved me on that platform.”

“Yeah, I grabbed you back with my hand…”

“No.” Kyle says it firmly. “You saved me with your powers. I’m guessing that’s why you’re still hanging around my hospital room weeks later and lying to everyone,” Kyle says, narrowing his eyes. “You were worried that I was gonna tell someone that an alien saved my life?”

What the actual fuck?

“What the hell is going on?”

“Can you hand me my phone?” Kyle requests, groaning as he reaches out. “Isobel’s gonna have my head if I don’t text her soon. I’ve been in the coma for what, thirteen days? Fuck,” he says, shaking his head. “If she hasn’t broken up with me already, she’s going to now.”

Kyle is the guy. No, not just the guy, he’s The Guy. He’s Isobel’s steady boyfriend who she’d told their secret to (something Max had hated, but Isobel felt strongly that she had to do it, because she’d told Michael that she could see herself marrying him someday).

“What the fuck?” Michael says out loud this time.

“Isobel showed me some pictures of her brothers,” Kyle says, as he texts, staring down at his phone. “I kept staring at you on the platform while we commuted, trying to figure out how to broach the ‘hey, I’m dating your sister and thinking about proposing’, but it never felt like the right time. I guess it serves me right nearly dying and you having to save me.”

There are so many things happening that Michael needs to process.

“So, you met my family, huh? I mean, it was gonna happen eventually, but a little ahead of schedule,” Kyle jokes, his voice rough. He stares at his phone and sighs with relief, not paying Michael any attention. “Well, I’m definitely in trouble, but she’s not dumping me. She says you’re in a shitload of trouble, and…” Kyle trails off, glancing up at Michael. “And that you’ve got a stupid big crush on Alex?”

Michael swears under his breath, regretting all those texts to Isobel asking for advice about his problem.

“Look, just tell me you’re not about to go shouting about my secret to anyone,” Michael insists. “And I’ll get out of your hair, okay? I mean, I’ll do the family dinner thing when you propose to Iz, but I think maybe this is all gonna be awkward when suddenly you dump me and hook up with my sister,” he scoffs.

“Maybe.”

“Oh, right, maybe,” Michael mocks.

Kyle gives Michael a challenging lift of his brow. “Hey everyone,” he calls, a little louder, like he knows that they’re all lingering outside the room like the nosy assholes they are. “You can come in now.”

It’s a flurry of activity when they rush in. Jim and Michelle rush Kyle and press kisses to his forehead and hair, the three of them exchanging whispers about how much they love each other. Michael clears his throat to look away, not wanting to feel jealous about the supportive parents Kyle has. The only other place to look is at Rosa, who’s beaming at Kyle and looking like she’s irritated to feel that way about him, or Alex, who’s still looking crushed. Better to focus on Rosa, then.

Kyle reaches out for Michael’s hand in the midst of this sweet reunion, forcibly yanking on him to get him back by his side (his elbow actually pops out, so what the fuck Valenti). “I wanted you guys to be the first to know that Michael and I have decided to call it quits,” he says, acting chagrined and sorrowed. It’s not a half-bad performance, especially when you consider that they’re both getting something out of this.

“Oh, honey, why?” Michelle asks. “You only just woke up again and Michael’s been here every day waiting for you.”

“Things have been tense between us for a while, seeing as I’m in love with another woman and I’m pretty sure Michael’s got feelings for someone else,” he says.

Michael glares at him, ready to have his head for selling him out like that.

“Kyle,” he hisses.

“Alex, he’s got a crush on you,” Kyle says bluntly. “The girl I’ve been seeing for a while behind Michael’s back, she’s his sister and she spilled the beans.”

“Kyle Manuel Valenti!” his mother snaps.

“No, it’s okay,” Michael ekes out. “It’s true. Things were tense, like we never spoke. It was like we didn’t even know one another,” he says, staring at Kyle. “If Isobel is the one who makes him happy, then I want him to be with her, because I…” He turns to stare at Alex, knowing that he hadn’t planned to do this with an audience, but it could be worse. “I really like you,” he admits. “While Kyle was asleep, I learned all about you and you’re this wickedly funny and sharp and sweet guy, and you’re super hot, and I love that the first time you met me, you thought I was out of Kyle’s league.”

“Hey!”

“Oh, please, he is,” Alex snorts, but he’s clearly enraptured by Michael’s words. “Go on,” he says teasingly.

“Now you’re just fishing,” Michael gets out with a strangled laugh, finding his way to his feet so he can cross the room to stand in front of Alex. “Look, I know we only met because of this insane circumstance, but I think maybe I’d like to go out to dinner with you. I feel like I already know you, like we connected, like something…”

“Cosmic,” Alex fills in the blank for him, his voice soft. “I know. I felt it too and I was so jealous that you were here for Kyle, but if what you’re saying is true…”

“It is,” Michael hurries to cut him off. “I was here out of obligation, but I stayed for you.” He reaches out for Alex’s hand, tugging him in towards Michael’s personal space. “Come have dinner with me? Please?” he asks quietly.

“Alex!” Rosa interrupts, when a second passes with an answer. “Don’t leave us hanging!”

“Meddling family,” Alex says fondly, shaking his head. “Yes,” he says, and grins at Michael. “Yes, I’ll go out with you.”

It’s probably not the right place for it, but Michael grabs Alex’s face so he can kiss him, leaning forward on his tiptoes to trip right into it, desperate to have the kiss that he’s been thinking about since the day he met Alex in this hospital. Alex grabs at the collar of Michael’s jacket and hauls him in for a deeper kiss.

Kyle says nothing, but Michael swears he can feel the smug satisfaction radiating behind him.

In response to that, he does the only thing he thinks is right in this particular situation.

He kisses Alex even harder.

*

The next time that Michael sees Kyle at the subway station, he heads over to knock into him with his elbow. “Hey, future brother-in-law,” he greets, seeing as the proposal had clearly gone well, from the way that Isobel had screamed over the phone at him. “How about you stay off the tracks this time?” he jokes, even though it’s not the first time he’s seen him here since the incident, but Michael never lets a day go by without making the joke.

Kyle raises his brow in that infuriating know-it-all way.

“Did my coma not get you a boyfriend out of my adopted brother?”

God, he’s annoying and he’s marrying into Michael’s family, which means he’s never going to escape him. “Gonna hang that one over me the rest of my life, huh? It couldn’t be that I was a super devoted fake-boyfriend through your coma, or maybe I was worried about the stranger I saved?”

“You wanted to make sure I’d keep my mouth shut and then stayed for the hot guy, so uh, yeah. Nope. I’m definitely hanging this over you for the rest of your life.”

He’s got him there, but then, Michael thinks he’s probably allowed to feel superior and smug about the fact that he helped to get Michael and Alex together, because without Kyle’s coma, then Michael never would have met him, never would have learned about him, and never would have loved him.

For that, Kyle can have bragging rights for centuries.

“I’ll see you at the rehearsal dinner,” Kyle says, when he gets onto his train and they part ways. “Don’t propose to Alex there, please?” he begs. “I want one day for me and Isobel, not for you to marry into my family because you miss Rosa so much.”

Michael shrugs, waiting until the doors are closing and will separate them.

“No promises!” he shouts, and indulges in the frustrated look on Kyle’s face as the subway carries him off to a day of worrying that he’s going to get upstaged at his own rehearsal dinner.

Perfect.

It’s going to be a great day and this is just the start. Even if he doesn’t have any intention of proposing to Alex at the dinner (he has the ring picked out, but he intends to do it way more romantically, with a self-penned song and everything), there’s only one thing he loves almost as much as he loves Alex and it’s winding Kyle up.

Given the annoyed text he gets from Isobel pleading with him to stop annoying Kyle, Michael gets on the train heading uptown with a smirk on his face, thinking that it’s definitely working out, for all of them.

Chapter Text

“Buffy! Hey! Whoa! Easy,” Alex pleads when Buffy takes off through the park, hellbent on getting somewhere, yanking on Alex’s arm as she bolts.

Usually, she’s a great dog, but when there’s a lot of commotion going on, she can get excitable. It’s probably Alex’s fault for bringing her to the fall fair like this, but it’s one of Roswell’s few events – not to mention that Kyle had texted him that if he didn’t attend and kept sitting alone in his cabin, there would be consequences. So here he is, out at the fair, while Buffy tries to make him lose yet another limb because she wants him to go somewhere.

He’s almost got her under control when the toe of his prosthetic digs into a divot in the ground and sends him flying. Alex hears someone’s shout of alarm nearby. He braces himself for the impact, but then it … never comes.

Instead, he’s face-first in someone’s chest, hearing a high-pitched giggle near him. “Hi doggy!” a little girl says to Buffy, and Alex grabs at a pair of shoulders (very nice, very strong, very handsome shoulders) to pull himself out of whoever’s chest he’s gone right into.

When he looks down, he sees Buffy licking the girl’s cotton candy (she can’t be more than four and she’s also very easygoing, because she clearly doesn’t mind). Alex stares up nervously to find himself in the arms of a handsome man, which is usually the kind of thing that only happens in his dreams.

“Buffy, stop it,” he manages to eke out, even if he’s not looking at the dog.

“Tori, don’t let the dog get your cotton candy,” the man says, and he sounds a little like he’s echoing Alex’s tone. “Hi,” he says, breathless and a little stunned as he looks at Alex. “You always meet new people like this?”

“I think my dog had some designs on your daughter’s cotton candy.”

Alex collects himself and steps back, running through the list of likely possibilities why this handsome man isn’t a prospect for Alex. Even though there’s no ring on the man’s finger, there’s a daughter, which means that the wife is somewhere around here and though his dog may be trying to be a matchmaking little fiend, even she can’t know about the complications that he has to face in a town like Roswell where his prospects can be counted on a single hand.

“She’s cute,” the man promises, and ducks down to haul Tori up by the waist into a flying position. She screams happily and peers upside-down at Alex with a head of blonde curls bouncing. “I’m Michael and this is Tori,” he introduces them, while Tori waves at them.

“I’m Alex,” he says, tugging on the leash to get control, “and this is Buffy,” he says, bending to try and get some of the cotton candy out of Buffy’s mouth. “Sorry, I should let you get back to your family, your wife must be waiting for the both of you.”

It’s the wrong thing to say from the way Michael looks hurt, echoed on Tori’s face.

“I don’t have a Mommy,” she says quietly. “Daddy says that she has important business somewhere else, but one day he’s gonna fall in love with someone else and I’ll get a new Mommy or Daddy then.”

“Tor,” Michael hisses.

Alex blinks as he tries to rapidly process all of that. He can’t imagine that Michael had intended for his daughter to out him like that. “Sorry, I’d offer to unhear that, but…”

“It’s fine,” Michael says, even if he looks a little uneasy. “Her Mom and I grew up together in a group home and a while ago we tried to have something. She got pregnant and she didn’t want the baby, but she had some pretty strict views on that, so I offered.” His smile softens as he stares at her with adoration. “Best decision I ever made.”

“She’s pretty cute.”

“So’s your girl,” Michael replies, and when Alex gives a confused look, Michael gestures to the dog. “Buffy, huh? You must’ve been a big fan.”

“Or just a really big nerd,” Alex clarifies. “Are you new to Roswell? I feel like I haven’t seen you around, because I would’ve noticed…” He trails off, his eyes widening before he admits something really stupid like ‘I would’ve noticed someone as hot as you’.

“I lived here for a while when I was a kid, but then I got moved to a foster parent in Albuquerque. Only came back for a job recently, but it’s funny how much the town hasn’t changed.” Michael hasn’t shifted his gaze from Alex’s mouth the whole time he speaks. “At least, in some ways. I don’t remember it having someone as handsome as you around.”

Alex glances to the side and blushes, wondering why he’s ignoring the pick up line.

“It, um…I…” He’s not used to people flirting with him, so he thinks he’s allowed to be somewhat off balance. “Thanks?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Michael replies with amusement. “Listen, Tori dragged me out to this thing because she said I was being Mr. Sad Dad sitting all alone and working on the car, but I don’t really know what you do at a fall fair. You wanna…explore with me?” he asks, biting his lip and arching his brow in a way that has Alex reading all the way between the lines into the other things Michael might be asking with a question like that.

“Yes!” Tori says, jumping up and down excitedly, already coming over to try and take the leash. “Please? Please, please? I can hold Buffy,” she says very seriously.

Alex is still stunned that he literally fell head-first into this man’s chest, who happens to be bisexual, and wants to explore the fair with him. His luck isn’t usually this amazing, and yet, here he is, looking down the barrel of an offer he can’t refuse.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think I owe someone a cotton candy replacement.”

“Yes!” Tori squeals. “And then we’ll play games, and ride the ferris wheel,” she lists, sliding her hand along the leash that Alex is holding to help, while Michael falls into step at his side, casually bumping his shoulder ever once in a while, “and we’ll get pictures drawn and go pet the sheep…!”

“All that, huh?” Alex teases.

“Maybe even more,” Michael agrees, and leads them off into the fair.

His dog is a remorseless matchmaker, he decides, but seeing as Michael keeps touching him in all these small little ways, keeps feeding him fair food, keeps grinning in that sweet and overly perfect way, it’s not like he minds.

When the night’s over and they’re parting ways in the parking lot, Michael’s got a sleeping Tori in his arms, giving Alex an apologetic look.

“I’d give you my number, but my hands are kind of full…”

“It’s okay,” Alex rushes to insist, not wanting to put expectations on Michael for one good afternoon. “I’m Alex Manes, I’m out at a hunting cabin just outside of town, but maybe I’ll drive in sometime and visit the both of you. I know Buffy would love to see you again.” He breathes in and decides to go for broke. “I know I would, too.”

“Okay,” Michael replies, with a considerate nod. “Michael and Victoria Guerin,” he says. “Look us up or we might just have to come find you.”

Alex waves them off, thinking about how that threat had sounded far too good.

Maybe Alex will have to hold off on the finding, just to see what happens next.

*

On Thursday evenings, Alex attends the local library with Buffy for a session in the kids’ section. Buffy mills around the kids to soak up affection while Alex reads stories, plays his guitar, and sings. It's something he’d picked up recently when the weight of being alone at home had begun to crush him. He hasn’t really had anyone for years and it’s not like he and his family get along, which means that other than his dog, he doesn’t really have anyone in Roswell.

He used to have Kyle, but then he’d picked up that doctors without borders rotation last month and Jenna’s off on another tour, so here he is.

The kids are great, though. They love hugging and cuddling Buffy (and his dog is an absolute terror who preens as she encourages it) and Alex likes having an audience, even if it’s children. His day job involves programming, which is pretty lonely in itself, so getting out and doing this is a godsend.

He makes it through the first story and song before he looks into the crowd of kids and sees a familiar head of curls and a beaming gap-toothed grin directed back at him.

Tori waves eagerly at him, bouncing in her seat. Alex laughs as he waves back, noticing that Buffy’s decided where she’s going to stay, which happens to be in Tori’s lap. Alex pushes that thought out of his mind that where Tori goes, Michael is also probably there. It still affects his next song choice, picking something closer to a ballad than a happy upbeat song.

When story time is over, Tori jumps up. “Come on Buffy!” she whistles and claps. “You gotta go back to Mr. Alex, now,” she says.

“Alex is okay,” he says with a laugh and a warm smile for the girl. He digs into his bag for a treat to get Buffy at his side, patting her head when she returns to him. “Hey Tori,” he greets her. “You liked story time?”

“I did!” Tori agrees. “I never got to do this, but then Daddy found out that you were here and he said we should come, cuz you never called us.” It’s petulant and she’s got her hand on her hip, like Alex is in trouble, which he’s certainly feeling even though it’s all turned out for the best.

His favorite people in the world have come to see him play music and sing and read stories. Even Tori’s stomping mad mock-fit can’t change that.

“I definitely made a mistake,” Alex promises, hand over his heart. “How about I promise to take your Daddy out for coffee and bring you, and then I can make it up to you?”

Tori squints at him, like she’s thinking about it, but then nods. “Okay, but you gotta guess what I’m gonna be for Halloween, Alex!” Tori demands, jumping up and down a little.

Alex laughs as he keeps her in, a hand gently on her shoulder to prevent her from drifting too much. “What are you gonna be?” he asks, her energy just a little overwhelming, and he wonders how the hell Michael does this on his own.

“An alien!” she says loudly. “I’m gonna have antenna and green skin and…”

“Tori, volume,” comes her father’s voice.

Alex blushes slightly, knowing that he’s probably been lurking around, but still, glancing up to see Michael in a soft-looking sweater is enough to catch him off guard. Alex wants to wrap his hands up in it and tug Michael towards him, bury his face in his shoulder, and kiss his way up his neck before…

He’s in a children’s library section. He should not be having these thoughts.

“Hi,” Alex says, staring at him.

“Hey,” Michael replies, coming to stand behind Tori. “You never called.”

“You said you’d come find me if I didn’t,” Alex replies, heart pounding in his chest. “I figured if you were actually interested, you would.” And here he is. “So, if Tori’s dressing up as an alien for Halloween, what’s her Dad going as?”

Michael lets his gaze slide over Alex and shrugs, like he’s not so sure he wants to give it away so easily. “I mean, you could always come with us,” he says, which makes Tori’s face light up with delight, whispering ‘yes, yes, yes’ and tugging on Alex’s hand, even though Halloween isn’t for another week and change. “Then you could see what I’m dressed up as.”

So they’re doing this, are they?

“Okay,” Alex hears himself agreeing, because he’d be an idiot not to. “I guess I’ll see the both of you on Halloween.”

On trick-or-treating night, Alex shows up in town with Buffy. She’s wearing little alien antennae to match Tori and Alex has dressed up in his very finest vampire fangs and contacts (mostly because his go-to costume from Rocky Horror Picture Show probably isn’t appropriate for public consumption).

Tori is, as expected, an adorable little alien. Her father is dressed up as a cowboy, with that black hat looking way too good to be true. The pants also happen to be a little too tight and look like a strange material that has Alex questioning them.

While Tori is off collecting candy, Michael fills him in on why that is. “They ran out of the normal cop costume for adults, so uh, this is the stripper version from online.”

Alex gapes at him as he wanders up to collect Tori, wondering if he’s going to be able to test out those pants and see how easily they come away. His heart pounds in his chest as he thinks about it, hoping against hope that maybe he’ll get that.

For now, he’ll enjoy the view.

*

It's the day.

Today’s the day Alex has to decide if he’s going to attend the family Christmas party or whether he’s going to turn it down another year in a row. On the one hand, he loathes his father and he knows the feeling is mutual, so the last place he wants to be is under his roof. On the other, it’s going to be a lonely Christmas otherwise. It’s the thought he’d been debating while standing in the liquor store for the last thirty minutes mulling over the same bottle of whiskey.

“I know it can’t be that complicated to decide on the booze, so whatever’s on your mind must really  be weighing you down.”

Alex startles, glancing to the side to see Michael standing there with a basket.

“It’s not Sunday,” Alex jokes, which is when they meet up to go grocery shopping together. He hugs the bottle of whiskey a little tighter against his chest to try and dispel the way he feels so unsure, wishing that he could make this decision easily, but he can’t. Obligation and hope that his awful family will decide this is the year they stop being terrible looms.

“What, I can’t stalk you on Fridays, too?”

“I would’ve picked a nice restaurant for dinner if that was the case,” Alex jokes, but it feels empty.

“What’s up?” Michael asks. “Man staring at liquor like that for as long as he is, it’s never a good thing.”

“I have to tell my family today if I’m going for Christmas dinner or not,” Alex says. “I keep waiting until the last minute and that’s today.” With only a week to go, they want to know how many places to set and Alex knows that he always puts it off because of his indecision, but he usually folds and goes, only to regret it.

“What happens if you don’t go?”

Alex shrugs and puts the bottle in his basket. “The same thing that always happens. Buffy and I have a night in where I make something for dinner that she eats off my plate, I get stupidly drunk, and then I wish I’d gone. It’s why the last few years, I do go, and then they call me names, ask me if I’ve thought about conversion camps, and are total assholes for the whole night.”

It’s a lose-lose situation, basically.

“You’re ignoring the very good third option here,” Michael says, his face stormy the moment Alex mentions the conversion came. “Come spend the day and evening with us,” Michael says.

Alex had never counted on there being a possibility of a win in this situation. Yet, it catches him off guard. Even though he and Michael have been spending a lot of time together over the last three months, it had never occurred to him to even ask to spend the holiday with Michael and Tori, but now that he’s brought it up, it’s the only Christmas gift he actually wants.

He’s sure that his face is filled with a desperate longing (something else he feels around Michael all the time, which means it’s a normal look for him these days).

“It’s Christmas,” Alex hears himself protesting, instead of screaming yes the way he wants to. “I don’t want to intrude.”

“My foster siblings are all out of town and you’re Alex,” Michael says, shaking his head like he can’t believe Alex thinks he’d be intruding. “You’re basically part of our family already. Tori adores you, and she loves Buffy. Sometimes, I think she loves your dog more than she loves me, it’s causing some real emotional issues…” he deadpans, but he’s still smiling. “Alex,” he says and reaches out to rest his hand on top of Alex’s. “Can you please let me have what I want for Christmas and come spend the day with us?”

He wouldn’t be alone. He wouldn’t be at his awful family’s house.

Instead, Alex would get to indulge in the third option, one that he’s never considered until this very moment. “We’ll be there,” he hears himself saying. Suddenly, the whiskey in his basket doesn’t seem half as necessary because there’s going to be an air of celebration instead of doomed certainty about what his future holds.

“I can’t wait,” Michael says. “Neither of us can. You’re family, Alex,” he says, before heading to check out.

Alex watches him go, fighting that desperate urge to grab Michael by the collar so he can kiss him and tell Michael that maybe they’re family, but Alex wants to be so much more. He’d be family and partner and boyfriend and lover. He’d be everything, even a second father to Tori, if she’d have him.

By the time he resolves to do something about it, Michael’s out of the store, but with the holidays looming near, Alex knows that he’s going to get his chance.

*

“There’s only a minute left! Sixty!” Tori begins the countdown, her arms wrapped around Buffy as she lies on the floor, watching the television. She’s hyperactive on the chocolate that she’s been snacking on all night to stay awake, much to Michael’s chagrin (and Alex’s guilt, seeing as he’s been the one feeding it to her). She keeps counting down, even as Alex shifts on the couch, staring at Michael.

It’s been such an incredible back half to the year. Ever since they met at the fall fair, Alex can’t imagine his life without Michael. Every Thursday he has a dedicated fan in Tori in the front row at the library, with Michael lurking nearby. The Christmas they’d spent together had been perfect in all the most surprising of ways, and on a regular basis, Michael had started to take Alex out for coffee once a week on top of their usual grocery store date.

Alex’s loneliness has begun to ebb away, almost like it had never existed in the first place.

“So, new year coming up,” Alex says, adjusting the blanket they’re under as Tori jumps back and forth with Buffy trying to paw at her feet. “You got any resolutions you planning on making?”

Michael’s attention is fixed on Alex, reaching up to adjust the glittery silver party hat that he’s wearing. “I’ve been thinking about it,” he admits, “and yeah, I think maybe there’s one that I’m meaning to take on.”

Alex absently rubs his fingers over Michael’s hand, massaging out the cramp he’d gotten when he’d been opening up the champagne bottle to have it ready to go. “Yeah?” he murmurs.

“Yeah,” Michael says softly.

“…five! Four!”

“You gonna tell me?” Alex asks, heart pounding in his chest.

Tori screams one and the television goes wild wishing everyone a new year, but Alex barely hears any of it because Michael leans in and cups his cheeks to bear him to the back of the couch with the kiss that Alex has been dreaming of since they first met. It takes him all of a frantic half-second before Alex remembers to kiss back, parting his lips to deepen it while tangling his fingers in Michael’s curls to tip his head to the side, pushing back to make this more equal.

Breathing heavily by the time he eases back, Alex sags back in happy disbelief to see Tori grinning at them, jumping up and down and wriggling with excitement.

He’s fed her way too much chocolate.

“Happy new year!” she announces and throws herself into a hug in Alex’s arms, snuggling in and yanking on Michael to pull him in. “Does this mean that I’m gonna get Buffy at our house too?”

Alex should feel like his emotions have been wounded what with Tori only caring about Buffy’s presence and not Alex’s, but he closes his eyes to feel Michael pressing his temple to Alex’s head, adjusting the blanket to curl all three of them under it.

“We’ll see, okay?” Michael murmurs. “I gotta make sure I keep my resolution to kiss Alex every day for the next year going, so maybe if he says yes to us moving in with him, I can do it.” He grins at Alex hopefully, raising both brows. “I know it’s fast, but I also think you know that we’re both lonely on our own and this thing, us? It’s working,” he guarantees. “So…what do you think?”

Alex, who’s already been thinking about them as his family for ages, knows deep down that it could be too fast. And yet, at the same time, they’ve gone months without a kiss as they built a foundation together that could support this as they try.

The worst that can happen is that it falls apart and Alex loses it.

No, that’s not it.

The worst is that he never tries and doesn’t get it at all. For that, Alex is willing to take the risk. He cups Michael’s cheek as he leans in to kiss him again the way he’s been wanting to for ages, pressing soft kisses to his lower lip as he eases back to stare dreamily at Michael. “Your daughter’s on a sugar high, so I’m gonna say this real quietly,” he murmurs. “But yeah, you can move in with us,” he whispers, and seals that promise with a kiss.

He can feel Michael’s grin against his lips, and the little sound of victorious delight sends frissons of pleasure through Alex. He has to let them move in, though. After all, Michael has a resolution to keep and Alex feels very strongly about making sure that you keep to your word, especially when there are kisses at stake.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean I can’t bring it in? The engine is rattling!” Alex protests. He’d taken the phone from his assistant when clearly no progress was being made. “I rented it from you, I need a new one!” The agency tells him that they’re very sorry, but being that it’s the holidays, they have no other cars available.

The best they could do was to send him to the auto repair shop in town and promise to reimburse him when he returned it.

When Alex Manes had made it big on the music scene, he thought he’d be done with these types of situations, but here he is, as frustrated as ever. He’s not sure who he wants to blame here, but he’s pretty sure this one comes back to him. He’s the one who’d wanted to spend Christmas in Roswell after his father and brothers had waved him off, too busy with their own plans to have Alex for the holidays.

Instead, he’d come to a place that held old memories.

He hasn’t been here in years, but when his mother had still been alive, this had been her absolutely favorite place, and it’s why Alex had wanted to be here. If he’s going to survive the stupid holiday season, he might as well try relaxing somewhere that his mother used to love – not that he enjoys Christmas, because in the Manes family, it’s just another holiday where your family lets you down.

“Find me the auto repair shop,” he directs his assistant, hanging up the phone and pinching the bridge of his nose.

She nods frantically and takes his cell from him. “Yes, sir, but um…”

Alex narrows his eyes. “What?”

“It’s just, it’s the twenty-first?”

Alex stares at her, not sure where she’s going with this, but he’s not about to interrupt. He waits and stares at his young assistant.

“You said that I could head out today to start the drive back, so I could spend Christmas with my family. Because it’s really important to me,” she says, starting to look nervous. “I can find you all the information you need, but if I don’t get going soon, I’m not going to be able to make the drive up to Santa Fe to catch my flight. I…um…” she’s near to babbling and looks close to tears, as if Alex is that much of a grinch that he’d prevent her from spending time with her family.

Shit, he’s not that bad, is he?

He knows that he’d struck it big a few years ago with some of his solo stuff, but he’s tried as best as he can to keep grounded. Maybe it’s just that he doesn’t get the point of these holidays and it reflects in his management style. They don’t decorate his house or his trailer, no one is allowed to suggest Christmas songs for Alex to cover, and his team gets bonuses, but they’re not Christmas gifts.

“Yeah, of course,” Alex agrees, hurrying to make sure he doesn’t sound like an asshole. “I can take care of the car. Just give me the information and I’ll take care of it. Small town like this, there’s nothing else to do, right?”

She looks almost relieved enough to cry, which kind of makes Alex feel like an asshole, because is he really that much of a bad boss that his staff thinks that he’d deny them going home to their families for the holidays, just because he doesn’t see the point of celebrating with his own?

“Just tell me where I’m going,” Alex says.

The last thing Alex is expecting is to be told to go to a junkyard lot, but here he is. He’s adjusting his leather jacket and sliding his sunglasses up to the top of his head, watching the whole town flock to the Christmas tree market that Roswell hosts once a year while Alex stands there beside his rental car, keys in hand, wondering who the hell here is supposed to look at his car.

“Excuse me?” Alex calls to the man in a Santa hat, working near the cash. He’s counting bills and swaying a little to the music that’s playing over the loudspeakers nearby. It’s blaring out, drowning out the sound of the townspeople milling around. Alex reaches out to touch the man’s shoulder, trying to get his attention. “Are you the owner?”

When the man turns, Alex swallows with an audible click.

“Yeah!” says the most handsome guy Alex has seen in ages. Under the Santa hat, golden honey curls spill out like they can’t be contained, and when he grins, his eyes actually look like they sparkle in the lights. “Hey, hold on, you gotta just…” He closes his eyes. “Can’t miss my favorite part here.”

Alex is so confused, but then the guy croons along to the music playing over him.

“Baby, all I want for Christmas,” he sings, loud and not off-key, but definitely not with any talent that would make him famous. He opens his eyes and points to Alex, hands over his heart as he draws out, “is you.”

Alex rolls his eyes, which is the normal human reaction to that, but he also can’t help being somewhat charmed.

“And all I want is my rental car fixed,” Alex retorts, jangling the keys.

“Well, that’s me,” he says. “Michael Evans,” he says, reaching out to shake his hand. “Certified mechanic, temporary tree-lot runner, and mediocre singer.” After he shakes Alex’s hands, he takes the keys. “What’s wrong with it?”

Alex gives a bewildered shrug, because if he knew, he’d try and fix it himself. “I don’t know. It’s rattling?”

Michael looks him over like he’s debating what he’s about to say. He looks over his shoulder to the other people manning the cash booth (a couple of women and a guy), then back at Alex. “Okay. Give me the keys. I can look at it during a few breaks, but it means it’s not gonna get done soon. You going to be okay if you stick around?”

What other choice does Alex have? Beyond that, what else had he been planning to do?

In order to go see his mother’s old haunts, he’d need to get a taxi and this feels like the kind of personal thing that he wants to do on his own.

“Fine,” Alex says, waving a hand to let him have the car. “I guess I’ll just…” He turns and stares at the trees, hears the holiday music, and looks at all the people decked up in red and green. It’s like the holiday spirit puked on the area around him, but if this is what he needs to tolerate to get his car fixed by the town’s handsome mechanic, he can deal.

By the time he turns around, Michael’s gone, but the women at the cash are eyeing him with a speculative eye, which means Alex has probably been clocked. He heads into the trees to get lost before this ends up an autograph session, winding his way around and finding a bench near a trailer near the back of the lot.

He digs out his phone to text Kyle about where he is and the updates on his situation, scrolling through texts and emails to pass the time. He doesn’t even notice that most people have left with their trees because he’s started to listen to some demos to give them approval, taking advantage of the time to go through them.

It must be hours before the car is done, but Alex doesn’t actually notice the time passing. The tree lot isn’t the worst place to spend an afternoon, especially in a quaint and quiet town like Roswell.

Michael comes to get him eventually. “Hey!” he calls over to him, wiping off his hands. He has to duck through the trees so he can hold out the keys to him. He’s still wearing the Santa hat, but his shirt bears a few new grease stains now. “Thanks for waiting. I know this place can be a bit much,” he admits.

Alex stands, prying the air pods out of his ears. The sun’s gone down, so the junkyard is illuminated by twinkling lights and the stars above cutting through the light pollution, and Alex’s instincts are to complain that he shouldn’t have to wait around like this, but on the other hand, what else is he supposed to do in Roswell?

“You’re Alex Manes, aren’t you?” Michael says, handing over the invoice for the rental company. “Sorry I probably ruined your eardrums earlier,” he jokes.

“it wasn’t so bad,” Alex admits, standing and taking the invoice from him. He’s still just as handsome now – maybe even more, because he tugs off the hat and his curls spill loose with it. The soft twinkling lights highlight the angles of his face and the softness of his lips and god, Alex wants to kiss him more than he’s wanted to kiss anyone in recent memory. “So uh,” he manages, finding his voice. “I’m new in town. What’s a guy do to entertain himself in Roswell?”

“Well,” Michael says. “If you’re okay with waiting ten more minutes, you could come to dinner with me and my family?”

That’s way more than Alex had been anticipating. “I…”

“You’re not intruding. They’ve been curious about you since you turned up,” Michael says, and Alex’s mind flashes back to the people at the desk staring at him. “Besides, Liz’s family owns the local diner and you can’t leave Roswell without a meal at the Crashdown. You should come, have dinner with us. That, or I’m gonna bring it back to your hotel, but one way or another, we’re getting you to try it,” he warns.

Alex laughs in protest. “Okay! Okay, I’ll come to dinner with you.”

Michael’s smile is as beautiful as the rest of him; so is the way he breathes in and then holds it, like he’s trying to hold onto a little hope, before he lets it out.

“You won’t regret it.”

Alex absolutely doesn’t.

That one dinner turns into lunch the next day, then it becomes Alex hanging around the junkyard with his guitar, singing his half-written songs while Michael works on cars. With the tree lot packed up, it’s back to normal, but Michael keeps up the lights and the sound system still plays carols. “My parents and siblings love Christmas,” he’d explained with a warm grin. “I love it too.”

“I don’t get it,” Alex admits, “The holiday spirit. I guess because my mother died when I was so little and my father’s not exactly the warm and fuzzy type. Half the time, he wasn’t even there because he or my brothers were out of the country on a mission. For me, Christmas was just another week that I didn’t have a family.”

“That’s really sad, you know,” Michael says, and pries his guitar back from Alex. He sits in the back of his pickup and nods to him. “Come on, you can’t hate it so much that you won’t at least sing along,” he coaxes, playing the opening chords of Winter Wonderland, and when Michael gets to, “a beautiful sight,” he winks at Alex, which makes him flush.

He ducks his head down and sings with Michael, listening to how their voices harmonize together and sound so right.

It all feels right. It feels perfect.

At least, right up until the moment Alex’s other life comes into town and burns it to shreds.

Alex is starting to love his lunches at the Crashdown. He’s made friends of Michael’s friends and by now he’s in tight with his family, and they’ve all taken him on as a project, sympathetic to the fact that he’s alone on Christmas. He drinks at the Wild Pony every night, then meets Michael for brunch before he goes to work. Liz makes sure he’s well fed, Maria keeps him drinking, and Michael and his siblings occupy his time with holiday parties and chores.

Right now, he’s in the middle of helping Isobel stuff Christmas cards when he hears a familiar voice.

“Holy shit, you weren’t joking about this place being a hellhole.”

Kyle Valenti, as loud as ever. Alex tenses up when he sees the hurt on Michael’s face. He rushes out to meet his manager at the door, giving him a warning look even as Kyle pulls him into a hug. He’d said those things when Alex had first come into town – trust Kyle to repeat them now, after Alex has had a complete change of heart.

“Outside?”

“Nah, I’m starved,” Kyle says, pushing past Alex. “Besides, we’re not gonna be here long, so let’s grab some lunch and talk.”

Alex tenses up, but he leads Kyle to the only other open booth, which is the one beside Isobel and the others. He’s not facing Michael, which is for the best, because he doesn’t want to see his face after that first insult.

It doesn’t get better.

Kyle’s as direct as ever. “So listen, we got a flight to Bora Bora,” he says, once lunch is delivered and he’s in the middle of eating fries like it’s his job. “The rest of us figured that it’d be shitty for you to sit here in Roswell and sulk in some stupid town…”

“Kyle,” Alex warns.

“And since you don’t do the holidays, it’s perfect. The resort doesn’t go in for the festivities, so it can be an Alex Manes special. Get drunk, find a hot guy to sleep with, and then back on tour in the new year.”

Usually, any other year, he’d be eager to hop on a plane and do exactly as Kyle’s listed. Kyle’s not wrong, that is what he excels at, but somehow this year is different. Staring at Michael’s curls in the booth over, he knows why, even if he doesn’t want to say it out loud.

“Anyway,” Kyle says, finishing with the burger and laying down a few bills to pay for his lunch. “The tickets are back at the hotel for you, okay? I’ll see you at the airport and then we’re Bora Bora bound,” he says with an excited smile, squeezing Alex’s shoulder as he bounds out, unaware of the damage he’s caused in the course of a thirty-minute lunch.

Alex slowly stands, heading back to join the others, but when he gets there, it looks like Michael is on his way out.

“I…wait…”

It doesn’t help.

“You’re leaving, huh?” Michael says as Alex settles. “I get it. Why would you want to spend the holidays in a stupid little town like Roswell when you could be off living the rock star life with drugs and sex in some tropical destination.” He hasn’t looked up at him, won’t meet Alex’s eye. “Shit, Bora Bora, if I had that kind of money, I’d go too.”

“Michael…”

Michael digs into his pockets for crumpled bills to pay for his meal. It hits him, belatedly, that it’s Christmas Eve. He’d spent so much of his life trying to ignore the holiday and the one year he finds something he wants, really wants, and he’s losing it because of his life outside of this town.

“I get it,” Michael cuts him off. “We’re just a town you pass through, right? It was never going to be anything.” He stares at his boots, shaking his head, like he’s talking to himself. “It was never gonna be anything,” he repeats, and before Alex can protest, he’s gone.

In the hotel nearby, Kyle’s waiting for him to pick up the tickets and leave. Tomorrow, this whole town will go have dinner with their families and curl up by the fireplace exchanging gifts. They’ll kiss under the mistletoe and drink spiked egg nog, and they’ll be happy in a way that Alex is only starting to realize he wants.

He wants it.

It’s not just the holiday spirit and that warmth.

He wants Michael. He wants the man who’s sat with him at every meal at the Crashdown. He wants the man who tells the dirtiest jokes to get Alex to laugh as loud as possible. He wants Michael, who drinks with him at the Pony and then dances badly to the Christmas music Maria puts on, who wears reindeer antlers at the junkyard while he’s fixing cars, who plays the guitar while Alex sings for him. He wants him and maybe he’s starting to understand the Christmas spirit, because he wants to shower him in love and gifts and kisses, but Michael thinks he’s about to leave to go to Bora Bora.

“Hey,” Alex says, glancing over to Isobel, who looks at him cautiously -- like she’s deciding how cruel to be in return for Alex’s insults about the town. “Do you have a guitar I can borrow?”

His equipment is back in Los Angeles and if he wants this surprise to actually be a surprise, he can’t walk up to Michael and ask him for his. When Isobel doesn’t answer, he figures that she’s trying to freeze him out, but Alex doesn’t have time for it.  

It’s Christmas Eve, he only has so long to prove to Michael that he’s not the man that the world wants him to be, especially not right now.

“Please, Isobel,” Alex begs. “I need to win him back.”

That seems to do the trick. “If that’s the case, Maria can help,” Isobel suggests. “The Pony’s always got music nights, and if it’s to win over Michael, then I think she’ll be okay loaning it out.”

“Thank you,” Alex exhales in a rush, kissing her hand before he bolts to the Pony to get what he needs. He has to show Michael that he’s not Alex Manes, rock star. Right now, he’s just Alex Manes, who’s a guy wanting to prove that there’s more for him here than there is on some island.

By the time he gets to the junkyard, it’s started to snow. Big heavy flakes from the sky obscuring the stars, but it gives the world a glow, especially with the junkyard lights. Alex can see that the lights are on inside the Airstream and Alex heads over, standing under the twinkling lights a few feet from the door.

He’s performed in front of thousands of people before, and yet he’s never felt as nervous as he does right now.

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas,” he begins without the guitar, adding in the chords after, and playing as he sings. It’s the first holiday song he’s ever covered that wasn’t with Michael playing guitar for him, but when the Airstream door opens and Michael steps out, Alex knows it’s the most important song he’s ever sung in his life.

Michael looks stunned to see him, but he steps down into the snow. He’s only wearing a cream sweater and a pair of sweatpants, no jacket to speak of. The snow lands in his curls, dissolving as he gapes at Alex, open-mouthed.

The cover he’s doing is slow and sweet, but the only thing that matters is the chorus to Michael’s favorite song. “Baby,” he sings, barely more than a soft plea, “all I want for Christmas is you.” He doesn’t sing anything beyond that, cautiously putting the guitar down as he approaches Michael.

He waits for a signal to stop.

Alex looks for a twitch or a flinch. He looks for a single sound that would tell him that Michael doesn’t want this, but by the time Alex crosses the five steps separating them, he hasn’t seen a single one, which is why he feels confident grabbing Michael’s face with both his hands and kissing him under the twinkling lights, snowflakes cascading towards the ground.

He’s on the tips of his toes, like he’s desperately eager to make this kiss last as long as it possibly can, tangling his fingers up in Michael’s curls the way he’s thought about since the moment he met him days ago, and when he eases back, he’s still nervous despite the fact that Michael’s hand is tangled up in Alex’s leather jacket, like he’s going to refuse to let him go.

“You’re an idiot,” Michael laughs fondly when they finally drift apart. “You’re choosing me over Bora Bora? You don’t even like Christmas. You don’t even know me!”

He’s still not letting go.

“This is the first time I’ve felt like I had a home or a family in years,” Alex gets out, his voice low and determined. “You’re the first person I’ve felt like myself around in ages. I think I’m figuring out that it’s not that I don’t like Christmas, but I’ve never had someone to show me how good it can be. Fuck Bora Bora,” he swears. “I mean it. Michael, all I want for Christmas is you, if you’ll have me.”

Michael grins at him and Alex’s breath catches as he sees the lights reflected in Michael’s eyes.

“I’ve been dreaming of having you in about ten different ways,” Michael informs him, tugging Alex towards the Airstream as he wanders idly backwards. “I never thought I’d get what I asked Santa for Christmas,” he jokes.

“Maybe you’ve been a nice boy this year,” Alex suggests, traipsing after him with a wide-eyed besotted look.

Michael smirks as he steps inside, casting Alex a filthy smirk before he pulls off his shirt. “Baby,” he says, and pushes Alex to the bed. “I’m definitely on the naughty list for the thoughts I’ve had about you.”

Naughty or nice, Alex thinks that they both got exactly what they wanted this year, and if anyone had told Alex that this is what he’d be yearning for at the start of the year, he’d think they were insane. Now that he has it, he knows that the only madness would be not having this, not wanting Michael.

With Michael finally in his arms, Alex isn’t going to let go.

It’s rude to take back the gifts you’re given, after all.

*

It’s December 21st and Alex turns over in bed to see snow falling outside the window. He’s warm in bed, curled up with thick blankets, but despite that warmth, he’s missing the body heat of someone pressed up against him. He turns, with a whine of protest, sleepy eyes opening to see Michael sitting near the door, tugging on his boots, along with his denim jacket. “Wear the puffer,” Alex mumbles sleepily. “You’re gonna freeze out there in the tree lot all day.”

Michael pulls on his other boot and wanders back to bed to give Alex a kiss on the cheek. “I’m sorry, is my sleepy husband asking me to wear his expensive gifts?”

“What’s the point of being a rock star if I can’t spoil you?” Alex asks, yawning in the middle of his words as he grabs at Michael’s jacket to try and pull him in for another kiss. “Your Santa hat’s by the door,” he mumbles, still debating whether he wants to go back to sleep.

“Thanks, babe,” Michael says, adjusting the hat as it jingles and jangles. “Don’t forget, you’re on stage at noon to lead the carols,” he says, pocketing his keys.

Alex stretches his whole body out and stares at Michael with a happy grin, thinking about the days ahead and the activities they’ll be doing to ring in the holidays. His house in Los Angeles has been sold, the fancy cars gone, and while Alex hasn’t stopped touring and has the same team supporting him, he’s learned an important lesson.

It’s one thing to have a career that you love, but having friends and family around you at the same time makes life so much better.

“I’ll see you there, Santa,” Alex promises, voice low and thick with the heady promise.

“Thanks Mrs. Clause,” Michael teases as he goes, whistling a very familiar song on his way out, and as Alex falls back to sleep, the last thing he hears is Michael singing, “I don’t want a lot for Christmas…” under his breath, which coaxes Alex back to sleepy warm and perfect dreams about the life he’s made for himself.

Chapter Text

“Guerin,” Alex exhales into the kiss, whining softly when Michael nips at his lower lip as he backs away, but still too close for Alex to focus on him. “Michael,” he pleads.

He’s stupid to stop what’s happening and he knows it, but Alex has spent half his life being stupid and now that he’s got a good thing going, it’s time to stop.

He gets his palms splayed on Michael’s chest as he pins him to the bed, staring down at him with hope and love, but unable to keep himself from the doubt. They’re back together, but he wants it to be right. He wants them to be on the same page. He wants them to start the rest of their lives together, and he wants to check in and make sure that this isn’t another stop-start.

Once he presses the gas, he never wants to break.

“Alex,” Michael breathes out, the tip of his nose brushing against his cheek. “We could be kissing right now.”

“Just,” Alex protests, fighting his libido and his common sense, shuffling to sit up enough so that he’s face to face with Michael, pleading with his gaze to try and get his attention, for just a second. “What I said that day, when we were seventeen, in the back of your truck, I…”

Michael laughs, but it’s not mocking. It’s sweet and he cups Alex’s neck. “Seriously? That’s it? That’s what you’re worried about?”

He means it. “You’re the smartest man I’ve ever met. The sweetest. You’re so loyal and kind and good. I don’t want you wasting your life, especially when I can help you achieve anything you want.”

Michael’s eyes are half-lidded and he’s so beautiful in Alex’s bed. Alex never wants him to leave, especially not when he’s finally got him.

“I know,” Michael murmurs. “You can’t be my medicine.” The corners of his lips curve up slowly, and he leans in a touch, his breath warm against Alex’s neck. “I got good news for you, Alex. You don’t need to be my medicine.”

He darts in and nips at his earlobe, pressing soft kisses to Alex’s lips, forging a new path as he winds his way to Alex’s mouth.

It’s there, only there, that he mumbles, “Because you’re my cure.”

There’s a pause, a beat, and Alex looks down to see Michael grinning up at him like he’s waiting for Alex to say something about the ridiculously cheesy line, but there’s no accounting for the way his heart seizes up in his chest and gives way, like a deluge of emotions spilling loose.

“That’s cheesy as fuck, Guerin.”

“I don’t see you complaining.”

He’s not.

Because the truth is, those lines have always worked on him, and Alex can’t wait to have them work on him for the rest of their lives. There’s a reason he likes cheesy – because, after all, like meets like, and right now, he’s feeling pretty damn deep in the cheese.

“Stop feeding me lines and kiss me.”

Michael bears him back to the bed and does exactly that, a hand on Alex’s heart and their future on the horizon.

Chapter Text

“You can’t be Helena, Helena isn’t a guy!”

“Mr. Long,” the drama teacher sighs, “this is a gender-blind casting, for the fiftieth time and Michael wants to be Helena. Now, Alex, you can go back to the scene.”

Michael’s heart is pounding as Alex takes his rightful place as Demetrius in the scene, thinking about how they’d rehearsed this in the shed. When Alex got cast as Demetrius, Michael had crashed the Evans’ place with a battered secondhand copy of the play, demanding that Max walk him through it and tell him who he could play.

Max had pressed the play back against his chest, said “Helena,” and walked off.

And now, here they are.

Alex bears down on him, on one knee, reaching out for Michael’s hand in his to slide tentative fingers against Michael’s palm, lifting it up to his lips. His warm, perfect, plush lips. “What can I compare your eyes to?” Alex murmurs, ignoring Wyatt’s shout of ‘louder, asshole!’ from the back. “Crystal isn’t as clear as they are. Oh, your lips are as ripe as a pair of tempting cherries touching each other!” he says, drifting towards him like he’s going to kiss him.

He is. He is? God, Michael hopes he is.

“The pure white of the snow on a mountaintop seems black as a crow’s wing next to the whiteness of your hands. Oh, let me kiss your beautiful white hand. It’ll make me so happy!” 

Michael’s about to ruin it all. He wants to kiss him so badly, wants to let Alex kiss him because he’s closing his eyes and he’s drifting towards him and he could do this. It’d be in front of the whole class, but he could. He lets his eyes drift shut, forgetting his lines, and…

“Mr. Guerin, Mr. Manes,” the drama teacher sighs heavily. “The line is, ‘Damn it,’ and Helena backs away, scalded, hurt.” He gestures to Valenti, stewing nearby as Lysander. “He doesn’t believe either of them want him.”

“Trust me, I don’t,” Valenti mutters, making an emphasis on the “I”. 

“Take five, everyone! Mr. Guerin, please review your lines again. We can’t have this kind of debacle on opening night.”

Michael stares at Alex’s lips forlornly as he walks off to review his lines, burying his face into the text, only his eyeliner-rimmed eyelids peeking over the top, like he’s sneaking looks at Michael the whole time. 

It’s a shame they won’t let him cause a debacle, because kissing Alex is the kind of catastrophe that Michael feels he could thrive in creating.

Chapter Text

Even though it’s been a few years since CrashCon completely crashed and burned around them, Alex still seems hesitant to be there. Michael understands, because it’s not like celebrating the crash like this is great, but it’s been five years, and it’s finally coming back. 

Besides, Isobel basically says if they stay at home like the boring domestic couple they’ve become, she’s going to physically pry both Alex and Michael off the couch.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t some advantages, like Michael getting to flex his powers and be a good boyfriend.

“Hey,” Michael says, tugging Alex by the hand over to one of the games, waggling his brows. “Want me to win you something?”

“At the rigged games?” Alex says dubiously, snorting. 

“Yeah,” Michael agrees. “At the rigged games,” he says, and digs out a twenty to put down on the ring toss, winking at Alex as he turns around. Alex seems to get it, then, sucking in a sharp breath of air just as Michael starts with his first throw, using his powers to make sure the damn things stay down.

One by one, they all clatter on, until Michael’s won the biggest prize available. He holds up the large green alien in front of his face, laughing brightly when Alex shoves it down so he can see his alien and not the stuffed green one.

Michael holds it out to him, proudly. “Here.”

“I’ve already got an alien. I don’t need it.”

“Yeah, you do,” Michael insists, raising its little green hand to wave at Alex. “So that when I’m not around to protect you, this one can,” he says, a little softer, trying not to think about Alex showing up where a Manes-killing bomb had nearly taken his life. “I’m gonna be there 99% of the time. This guy’s just for the other one.”

There’s a long moment as Alex stares at the green alien, but then he reaches out to take it, casually curling it in his arms like a child.

“I think I’ll name it Mikey,” he says thoughtfully, smirking at Michael even as Michael gets ready to sputter that he can’t just do that. “Hey, you want churros? They smell incredible,” he says and starts walking in the direction of Arturo’s stall without giving Michael a chance to protest, him and Mikey the alien in his arms.

Between the both of them, they’re going to protect Alex.

No repeats here, no encores, just more of their new life.

Chapter Text

It starts with family obligation, because of course it does.

“You’re my favorite brother,” Greg says, “I want you to be one of my groomsmen.”

It’s a lot to process. Alex knows Clay and Flint haven’t been asked to do this, but then, it’s not like they’re close. Alex hadn’t thought he was, either, with Greg up at the reservation. He hasn’t even met the woman he’s marrying, only knows that she and Greg met when she’d driven up to learn more about her family.

“How am I supposed to say no?” Alex replies, balancing the phone. “Just tell me what I need to do, Greg, I’m happy to be in your wedding and make it an amazing day for you.”

“Great,” Greg says brightly. “Um, there’s just the one thing and I hope you’re cool with it.”

One thing. Alex doesn’t know that he likes the sound of that.

It’s still Greg’s big day. “Hit me.”

“My fiancée sort of did this whole plan where she paired off my groomsmen and her bridesmaids for our joint events. We’re doing the bachelor and bachelorette together, then the rehearsal dinner, and obviously the ceremony itself. It’ll be someone you’ve never met before and you’ll kind of be glued to their side.”

Alex had been expecting a lot worse than that.

“It’s an open bar, right?”

Greg lets out a huff of laughter over the line. “Priorities are still in the right places, huh?”

“I can handle some wedding wildness,” he vows. “It might get awkward if the bridesmaid tries to sleep with me, though.”

“I’ll make sure Isobel has a talk with her people.”

“Thanks, man,” says Alex. “And congratulations again.”

“It’s gonna be amazing, Alex, just wait. You’ll see.”


For a few months, Alex doesn’t have to think about Greg’s impending nuptials or any of the responsibilities, but invitations swiftly follow Save the Dates and then the emails come in a flurry with plans, suits to buy, and wedding party people to meet. They’ve whisked away to a spa in Arizona for the bachelor and bachelorette, which means that for the next week, this is Alex’s life. Wedding minutia and schmoozing with people he barely knows. It’s all for his brother, though, which is why he can do this.

“Alex,” Greg says, rushing over to him in the hotel lobby of the spa they’re staying at. “Awesome, you’re here. Look, I need to warn you…”

Alex gives Greg a warning look.

“Please tell me the bridesmaid you’re putting me with isn’t some kind of psycho,” he hisses.

“I don’t think so? I don’t know, it’s just…”

“There you are!”

Alex turns to see Isobel approaching in a romper, looking breezy and gorgeous as always. She lovingly cups Greg’s face as she leans in to kiss him. Out of politeness, Alex looks away, which is when he sees the man standing just behind Isobel and holding onto her bag.

“I can take that,” Alex offers, gesturing for it. “I’m pretty sure they’re gonna be a while,” he says, gesturing to Isobel and Greg, who’ve gone from polite kisses to making out.

“Nah,” says the guy.

He’s wearing a pair of linen white shorts and a loud Hawaiian print shirt that’s unbuttoned three down, and on top of his golden-brown curls is a cowboy hat that definitely doesn’t belong. It’s pretty much the worst fashion disaster he’s seen in a while (and he’s seen the bridesmaid outfits).

“No, really,” he says, a little more insistently. “I can tip you.”

“Oh, well, if you’re offering me the tip ,” the guy drawls.

“Michael!” Isobel snaps, pulling away from her kiss. “Sorry,” she tells Greg. “Alex, I want you to meet my bridesmaid that you’re gonna be paired with over the next week. This is my adopted brother, Michael Guerin.”

“Bridesmaid,” Alex echoes, gaping at the man.

“Isobel’s non-traditional like that,” Michael drawls, winking at Alex. “So,” he says. “You still wanna offer me a tip now that you know you’re gonna be walking me down the aisle in less than a week?”

Flushed, Alex turns to Greg and gives him a pleading look that asks him to help him out. Greg, unfortunately, knows Alex’s type exactly and probably had a hand in making sure this happened, so he claps Alex on the shoulder, leans in, and whispers, “Play nice. This is my groomsman gift to you.”

He eases back with the smug smile of an almost-married man and it’s the only reason he’s getting away with this.

“So,” Michael says brightly. “I think we’re rooming together. Wanna go see what we’re putting up with?”

Alex is already in over his head, but Greg and Isobel have clearly manufactured this set-up on purpose, which means that not only is this for Alex, but it’s also for Michael somehow. “Sure,” he says, getting his wits back about them as he tries for something confident and, dare he say it, sexy. “I’m pretty curious about what you look like in the bridesmaid dress.”

“In it?” Michael quips, as Alex leaves behind his brother and the glowing almost-bride, “Or do you wanna see what it looks like pooled on the hotel floor.”

It’s gonna be one hell of a week, Alex can tell, and he can’t wait .

Chapter Text

“Come on, Evans, I need a drink.”

The liquor store is closed, and it’s too long of a drive to get to Planet 7 or Saturn’s Ring. The Pony is his only option, but the door is locked and Max Evans keeps standing there like a bouncer and not a bartender.

Doesn’t he understand? Can’t he see that Greg needs a whiskey or three? Maybe if he drowns his guilt and his regrets and worries below the weight of the liquor, he won’t have to think about it. God knows he’s not sleeping, so what else is he supposed to do?

“C’mon, man,” Greg pleads, more desperately. “It’s past two, no liquor store’s open and I need a drink.” His voice breaks and he knows how desperate he sounds, but he’s sober. Him falling apart has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with the nightmares he sees behind his eyes when he closes them.

The scuffle on the ground, the desperation in Alex’s voice, the sound of a gunshot echoing, his father’s blood on the ground.

His father.

When he closes his eyes, he sees Jesse’s blood flowing out of a bullet hole.

The residue of gunpowder on Gregory’s hands, physical evidence that he finally protected Alex.

The relief, from both Alex and Michael’s faces helps most nights, but not all of them. Tonight, it’s not doing the trick.

Tonight, he needs the help of whiskey.

“Look, I gotta clean up and do the tills with Maria out of town,” Max says apologetically, “which means I can’t serve you anything. If you’re really desperate, though, I know a place you can go.”

Greg’s desperate enough to try anything.

“Hit me.”

That’s how Gregory Manes ends up at Sanders’ Junkyard, standing outside an Airstream, not sure why Max sent him here. His car is a couple feet back, but Max said specifically to come to the Airstream if he wanted to get a drink, so here he is.

“You should really know better than to try to stay at the Pony beyond closing. Even I couldn’t manage with the owner, and she and I were dating.”

Greg whirls to find Michael Guerin sitting in a beaten-up folding chair beside a fire pit a few yards away. He’s not really sure where to start with any of this. Did Max send him here on purpose? Maria and Guerin were dating? Besides all that, he’s still struggling to understand what Guerin's doing in a junkyard.

His confusion must make Guerin feel sorry for him, because he hooks a lawn chair with his ankle and drags it over.

“Here,” Guerin says, leaning down into a cooler to hand him a beer. “You’ve got these for life from me, in my gratitude.”

Greg wanders closer and takes the beer, not sure where to start, so he figures he’ll go with the low-hanging fruit that Guerin already offered.

“You said you and DeLuca broke up?”

“Yeah,” Guerin admits, pressing his lips together as he looks away. “It’s complicated.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with CrashCon, did it?”

Greg feels the guilt creeping back in to sit on him like a weight, but Guerin scoffs and shakes his head. “You mean, does it have anything to do with what you did for me and Alex? No,” he says firmly. “No, I think we both realized that as much as we made each other happy, we didn’t make each other happiest. I wanted her to want the same things I did and she wanted the same, we just never met in the middle.”

The breath Greg lets out feels like it untangles a knot in his stomach. “Good, cuz I’m not sure I was ready to deal with a broken relationship on top of the…” He can’t even say it.

It dies in his throat.

“I’m the reason my mother died.”

Greg’s attention snaps up. “Uh,” he echoes, “From the files I read, I am 99% sure that my father’s torture of aliens is that reason.” After he’d shot Jesse, Alex had handed him boxes of files, probably to try and make him feel better about what he’d done.

The thing is, it had, to a degree.

“I’m the one who cracked the glass, set off the failsafe,” Michael says darkly. “You were protecting Alex. I was trying to get to my mother, and I got nothing out of it. What you did, Greg, it wasn’t a bad thing. He was an asshole and Alex isn’t sitting at home crying tears about this. I think,” he amends. “I guess Forrest knows better these days, huh,” is his quietly bitter remark.

“Alex likes him.”

“I know. It’s why I spend my nights drinking here and not at the Pony,” Guerin insists. “It’s his turn to have something and if we get another shot, I’m gonna take it, but I’m not ruining this one. Alex deserves happiness.”

“He does,” Greg agrees, glad they’re aligned on that. “The things my father did to Alex when we were kids…”

Guerin’s gone tight, like he’s not sure he wants to hear what Greg has to say. He swallows, and then says, “What kind of things?”

“There’s only a few years between all four of us. We all went to the same schools, knew the same people, and we all knew what Dad was doing to Alex after Mom left. We should have done more, we should have said something, we should have stood in the way. I told Alex that it’s time to let go of it, let other people carry it for him, and I meant it,” he insists, impassioned, “but....”

But, what?

But Greg hadn’t expected to become a murderer to do it?

He hadn’t thought he’d have to kill his father to protect his baby brother?

“You wondering how you’re gonna carry this?”

Mute, Greg nods. “I don’t regret it,” he says firmly. “I think maybe that’s worse. I should feel bad. I should regret what I did, but I don’t. My father was a monster, and maybe Alex was the one who saw his worst face, but I only knew a fraction of what he did and I wanted to get away. I killed him to protect Alex.”

“And me?” Guerin quips.

“Alex,” Greg reiterates. “You dying at Jesse’s hand would’ve broken him, new boyfriend or not.”

Guerin goes quiet, no witty retort ready for that. “Look, man, you’re probably one of the best people outside of Alex I know. I can tell you what not to do,” he admits. “I’m pretty much the best evidence of that. Don’t spiral into beer and whiskey. Don’t fuck your way through town. Don’t instigate every bar fight you can to end up locked in jail.”

Those aren’t exactly things that had been on Greg’s to-do list, so he thinks he can handle it.

“I don’t want to put this on Alex,” Greg admits. “You, me, and him. We’re the only ones who know what happened that night and he doesn’t need to hear about how I hate that I became a murderer to do the right thing.”

“So don’t.”

“What?”

“Don’t put it on Alex,” Guerin says. “You said it. You, him, and me.”

Greg stares at him in confusion past the flickering firelight. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I know what it’s like to have a burden on your shoulders that feels so heavy that you think it might break you. Like I said, I am the poster child for fucking it up, but I’m trying to put that behind me and maybe this is part of it.”

Suddenly, Greg gets it. His laugh feels hollow, but only because he really didn’t expect this, of all things. “Drinking buddies,” he says, “where I can talk about how heavy the weight of killing my father feels.”

“So long as you’re not complaining about the beer selection, I think I can give you an ear and advice based on years of doing the wrong thing.”

Greg closes his eyes and there’s his father’s body on the ground, same as it always is his nightmares. Okay, then. Drinking and sharing buddies with his brother’s ex. There are weirder things in the world -- hell, there are weirder things in Roswell.

Why not?

“Start at the beginning?”

Guerin gestures to him. “Start wherever you want, man. It’s your story.”

Greg nods and when he finds his words, he starts by telling Guerin about the gun, the weight of it, and the relief when the smoke cleared. He talks about the blood, about all of it, and about seeing Alex’s face and the relief there that made it okay.

He talks a lot, that night, until Guerin finds him a blanket and a lounger to crash on. It’s not all of it. It’s not going to instantly make it better, but it feels good to talk to someone else who’d been there.

Maybe he doesn’t have to do this alone. Maybe he just needs to figure out how to carry this load.

Here, in the junkyard, that’s where he’s going to start.

Chapter Text

The damn kids are keeping something from him.

None of them are good liars at the best of times, but every time Sanders shows up when Michael’s friends are around, suddenly they go real quiet. At first, he writes it off as stupid youthful hormone shit. It’s probably something to do with that Manes boy that Michael doesn’t want to talk about.

Only, then Alex Manes starts coming around, Michael’s a lot happier, and the weird behavior keeps going.

Something’s up, and it’s something Michael’s actively not telling him.

“You know, I ought to fire you,” Sanders says one Sunday, when he and Michael are working on the sunflower fields.

Michael scoffs, glancing up from the seeding mechanism he’s been working to fix, but he avoids meeting Sanders’ eyes. He’s known this boy since he tripped out of a pod and he knows when he’s about to be lied to. “I’d like to see you try,” he mutters, but his curiosity is sparked. “Why are you bothering to do that when most of my time is volunteered?”

“Because you and your friends are keeping something from me.”

“We’re not,” Michael lies.

“You’re a terrible liar, boy,” Sanders warns, but he lets him get away with it. Just this once, he lets him. Michael waves him off and grabs his bundle of sunflowers to take back to the Airstream.

He doesn’t say what or who they’re for, but Sanders knows. It’s the Manes boy, who’s been lurking around and grinning like an idiot all the time.

With Michael gone, Sanders is left to consider what it is that’s being whispered about behind his back. There’s enough alien secrets in this town to fill a gossip rag, but Michael’s been fairly honest with him recently, even if he’s been trying to hide how gone he is over his thing with Alex Manes.

The truth is this -- he’s an old man.

The boy he used to be is a memory and a distant one at that. He’s taken Walt and locked him away behind mountains of bottles and liquor. There’s so much trauma related to those days that he actively works as hard as he can to forget it, and that’s why it takes him so long to realize that maybe he actually knows a bit more than he realizes when it comes to one of those alien secrets.

The secret they’re keeping comes to roost soon after.

Well, roost ain’t exactly the word.

“They still allow relics like you in this place?”

When Sanders had still been a child and had been happy with Miss Nora and Miss Louise, he’d always recalled their tension around the man they called Jones. They tried to keep it a secret from him then, too, and it’s irritating as hell that history’s repeating it-damn-self.

“Relics like me belong more than you do around here,” Sanders scoffs, tossing the wrench into the toolbox.

“I’m looking for Michael.”

Sanders turns to take in the look of him. He blames his age on the fact that Max Evans never made him feel that icy chill down his spine to spark recognition. All those years with that face in front of him and he never remembered Jones, not until the alien himself busted out and started scaring Sanders all over like he’s a kid.

He’s not a kid, though. He’s an old man tired of this bullshit and he’s not about to let an asshole push him around.

“Michael,” Sanders says sharply, “ain’t none of your business.”

“He’s none of yours either,” Jones says calmly. “Besides, you’re right. It’s not business. It’s family.”

It comes back in fits and starts. Miss Nora’s discomfort with Jones’ hand on her shoulder, but the possessive way Jones held onto her. The way Jones had always seemed more occupied with one of the pods. The possessive and keen look in his eye when he’d looked at Walt dismissively, like a human child that Nora took a liking to could never pass muster.

There’s only one explanation that Sanders sees, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s crap.

“You’re not that boy’s father,” Sanders scoffs. “Or, you might be by blood or whatever alien junk flows through those veins of yours. That boy needed a father growing up and I sure as hell didn’t do the job well enough, but at least I’ve been here. At least I’ve been trying . That’s a hell of a lot more than you can say.”

He’s an old and very stupid man, seeing as he knows how much Jones can hurt him.

That raised alien hand glowing furiously red is a bad sign, but Sanders decides that if this is how he’s going out, defending Michael is the way he wants to go.

“I might have been late getting my act cleaned up, but I still gave him everything I could. I’d die for that boy,” Sanders vows. “For my kid.”

Jones scoffs, amused by Sanders’ loyalty like it’s a joke, but then, he always has been an ass, hasn’t he? “Funny you should say that, because today’s your lucky day for getting what you want.”

He approaches swiftly, but before he can seal that glowing hand on Sanders’ chest, he just … stops.

Sanders refuses to blink. He’s going to stare down his death as long as Jones wants to kill him, which is why he doesn’t notice that he’s being held in place by someone else’s alien powers.

“Try,” Michael Guerin snaps at Jones, where he’s holding a bundle of sunflowers in one hand, and holding Jones in place with the other. “You’re not gonna like what happens to you.”

Sanders is pretty sure Michael’s bluffing and that when it comes to these two, Michael’s not the one with the upper hand.

Still, Jones is playing some kind of long game, because he steps back and lifts both hands up, stepping back and away. “Just two old friends catching up,” he insists, a look in his eyes that says he’s coming back to find Sanders when Michael’s not around.

Still, he goes. He goes and he doesn’t look back, leaving Sanders to exhale, slumping over the pick-up truck he’s been working on.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Michael demands. “Taunting him like that? He’s an evil dictator! He’s…”

“Yeah, yeah, I got the gist decades ago,” Sanders cuts him off. “All I know is what he’s not, and that’s any kind of father to you. Because I might not be the world’s best Dad, but when it comes to it these days, he doesn’t get to swan in and make you feel like you owe him anything. He doesn’t get to make you feel like you belong to him.”

This is all getting too damn emotional for him, but he wants to make one thing clear.

“I know I didn’t manage the way I should’ve, but if anyone’s a father to you these days, it’s me.” With that said, he gives a firm nod, and hopes that he’s not going to do anything embarrassing like start crying about it.

Well, he might not, but Michael’s struggling to keep it together, by the looks of it, so maybe that’s exactly what it is he needs to hear.

“What the hell are you doing back here anyway?” Sanders grunts, when the awkward silence drags on too long.

Michael clears his throat, gesturing to the Airstream with the flowers (and conveniently wiping at his nose). “I forgot some papers that I wanted to go over with Alex,” he says, “Lucky I did, or you would’ve been alien dust.”

“I got a few tricks up my old sleeves,” Sanders promises, even if he doesn’t have them yet. “So. You and Alex Manes, huh? You ready to admit to me that it’s a thing yet?”

Michael wrinkles his nose, but he’s clearly not thinking about Jones anymore, so Sanders considers it a mission accomplished.

“How about you start worrying about how much of a thing it is when Alex needs to come get permission from my Dad to marry me,” Michael quips, and he sounds free and happy and brazen and goddamn high.

It’s the most that Sanders could ever hope for.

“That likely to happen anytime soon?”

Michael shrugs, ducking back out of the Airstream with the papers. “You know I don’t do things slow.”

“Don’t I ever,” he mutters. “Just warn me before I got alien grandchildren running around the damn scrapyard, will you? The place needs to be alien-proofed.”

The look of sheer glee on Michael’s face settles something in Sanders’ chest. He knows he’s happy. He knows he’s settled. He might have missed too many damn years when he was younger, but at least he’s trying now.

“Go on,” Sanders encourages. “Go be with your friend ,” he teases.

“You gonna be okay?”

“I’ve survived worse,” Sanders promises. “Now, get,” he insists, and watches Michael leave the scrapyard, off to woo his paramour.

As for him? Well, he’s got a hell of a long drive ahead of him to get to the reservation if he wants to pick up some pollen, but after tonight, Sanders figures he ought to protect himself. He’s got a family to worry about, after all.