“You’re fine with this, right?” Alex asked for the sixth time in the last 19 minutes.
Patrick would roll his eyes but it was clear that Alex was genuinely worried. And Patrick couldn’t blame him, it had to be terrifying for him to invite his boyfriend to come visit when he knew it could earn him a dishonorable discharge if anyone found out.
As Alex paced past him, Patrick reached out and steadied him with his hands on his shoulders. He waited until Alex lifted his head to look at him before he said anything.
“I am fine with this,” he assured him. “If anyone asks, he’s crashing on the couch for a few nights. If someone stops by, I’ll bang on the wall three times to give you a heads up. You two will come hang out with everyone at least once like Chad’s buddy did when he visited. You will be fine, Alex. I’m going to help you and you’re going to be fine .” He shook Alex’s shoulders a bit until he felt some of the tension ease from his body.
“Promise?” Patrick had never heard Alex sound so young. Kid was barely 20 but he’d always had a certain gravitas about him - made him seem older than he was, like he’d already been through hell and back a few times.
Patrick nodded and squeezed his shoulders. “I promise to help you in any way I can.”
Alex rolled his eyes and pushed his hands away. “You’re less than 2 years older than me, asshole.”
“Ah, but I am older.” He wagged a finger in Alex’s face until the man swiped it away. Alex was irritated but it was a comfortable irritance, born of rehashing an old argument. And he was even smiling a bit so Patrick counted it as a win.
Alex stepped away and ran a hand over his head as he looked around him.
“You hungry?” Patrick asked. “I’m gonna go grab some food. I can pick you up something?”
Alex shook his head. “I’m sure he’ll be hungry so I’m just gonna wait.” He looked around again. “I should clean.”
Patrick’s eyebrows raised as he watched Alex hunt down the few cleaning products they had. He stepped back out of Alex’s way as he headed for his bedroom. Far be it from him to stand in Alex’s way if he wanted to clean their apartment. Patrick was not too proud to admit that it could use a good scrub.
The sound of the vacuum (and when did they get a vacuum?) sparked him into motion and within moments he was out the door.
It was close to an hour before he got back and the first thing he saw was a young guy with a head full of wild curls standing next to an old truck with New Mexico plates. The guy was looking around like he was lost, a hand stuffed into his pocket while the other fiddled nervously with a black cowboy hat and his shoulders hunched over like he was trying his damnedest not to be noticed.
Patrick quickly parked his car and hopped out. “Michael?” He called as he walked over. The guy eyed him with a healthy amount of distrust.
“I know you?”
Patrick smirked. The guy had a big hat and an attitude to match it. Perfect for Alex Manes. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Patrick, Alex’s roommate.”
Michael nodded and gripped his hand for a quick shake before dropping it. “Nice to meet you. I don’t suppose you could show me which building is yours? The numbers are a little hard to find.”
Patrick chuckled and jerked his head towards the building behind him. “Yeah, a lot of people have trouble. Just follow me.” He paused for a minute while Michael grabbed his bag and plopped the hat on his head. “You going for the cowboy aesthetic or...?”
Michael shrugged. “Put it on one day and it fit.”
“Well alright then.”
“Scott!” Patrick whirled around at the shout to see Chad jogging up behind him.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
“Who’s this?” Chad asked with a wave of his hand to Michael.
“This is Michael,” Patrick introduced. “He’s a friend of Alex’s.”
“The old friend from home!” Chad grabbed Michael in a quick hug and Patrick had to fake a cough to cover his laugh. They’d all had to get used to Chad’s overly friendly nature and it was always amusing to see other people encounter it for the first time. Michael looked like he’d just been puked on rather than hugged. “Nice to meet you man, I’m Chad.”
When Chad pulled back, Michael took an extra step away and watched him with a wary eye. “Did you need something, Wright?” Patrick asked.
“Yeah, yeah I was just wondering if you and Manes were coming over tonight. We got a couple of squads coming and it should be a hell of a party.” Chad was so full of energy he was positively bouncing and Patrick couldn’t help but laugh.
“Yeah alright, I’ll be there. Can’t say about Alex and Michael, here, though. Michael was just telling me how tired he was from driving all the way here and…” he trailed off, letting Chad reach his own conclusions.
“Oh yeah, no, you’ve gotta be exhausted, man!” Michael nodded slowly and Chad waved him off. “We’ll do something tomorrow night or whatever and you can meet everyone!”
“Sounds great,” Michael got out after a beat.
“Alright well, Patrick I’ll see you later and Michael it was nice to meet you!” Chad gave them a wave and bounded off.
“Is he always like that?” Michael asked in his wake. Patrick let loose a peal of laughter.
“Pretty much. You get used to it.”
Michael made a disbelieving noise and followed Patrick into the building and up to the apartment. Patrick could feel the restless energy radiating off of Michael as he waited for Patrick to get the door open.
“How long does it take to get McDonald’s?” Alex’s voice greeted them when they finally got inside. “I was starting think you died or something. Was trying to figure out who to replace you with.”
“Please not Chad,” Michael answered as they entered the living room. Patrick smiled as Alex’s head whipped around. He stayed frozen for a beat before jumping up and over the couch and into Michael’s arms.
“You’re here,” Patrick heard Alex say softly and he took that as his cue to leave. Quiet mumblings followed him as he closed his bedroom door firmly.
“How did he miss that?!”
“Those refs are fucking blind!”
Alex let the door close behind him as he ventured into the living room cautiously. He recognized both of those voices but only one was supposed to be here.
Alex paused in surprise as both men on the couch leapt up and started yelling encouragement to the man on the TV sprinting down the field. As exhausted as he was, he was helpless to stop the grin from spreading across his face at the sight before him.
“Don’t tell me you came all the way here just to watch the Eagles?” Alex teased as they settled down. Michael spun around, his already wide smile brightening at the sight of him. “Something you need to tell me? Should I be jealous of a football team?”
Michael stepped over the back of the couch and almost fell in front of him in a graceless heap. “Hi,” he greeted breathlessly as he pulled Alex into a quick kiss. “Happy early birthday.”
Alex stared at him. “My birthday’s not for two months, Guerin.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Yeah but you’ll be in Afghanistan and I love you but I’m not flying to Afghanistan and sneaking onto the base there just for your birthday so I thought I’d come early. Bad surprise?” He pulled away, doubt creeping into his expression.
Alex shook his head and tugged him back in for another kiss. “Not possible.”
“Game’s back on!” Patrick yelled over. “Kiss him later.”
Michael pulled away with a sheepish grin and Alex rolled his eyes as his boyfriend abandoned him for the game. He leapt back over the couch and settled in next to Patrick as play resumed and Alex left to change and take a quick shower.
When he got back, both men were engrossed in the game so Alex ignored them and got himself a plate of food before joining them. He tried to watch the game but he knew nothing about football, had never seen its appeal really. The beauty of not really having any major sports teams in New Mexico was that he never felt the pressure to root for anyone. Michael had been the same way until he met Patrick. Then it was like a flip switched in him and he got sucked into being a fan of all things Philly. Half the time he visited, he was parked on the couch with Patrick yelling at the TV over one game or another. Alex didn’t get it but he’d long decided not to bother fighting it.
“So how long are you here for?” Alex asked at a commercial break.
“Until Tuesday, if that’s alright with you?” Michael asked. Alex mentally flipped through his calendar. He had tomorrow off and then there was the weekend. He had to do one thing early Monday morning but other than that he was wide open. It was actually the perfect weekend for Michael to surprise him…
“How long have you two been planning this?” He narrowed his eyes at Patrick. The man shrugged, unrepentant.
“You have no idea how long it took me to get everyone to shuffle their schedules so we could cover you on Friday and Monday.” Patrick told him. Alex felt a rush of affection for his friends. Not all of them knew who Michael was to him but most of them did know Michael. “You guys have to come out with everyone at least once while he’s here, though. No holing up in your room all weekend.”
Alex glared at him. “We do not hole up the entire time he’s here.”
Patrick scoffed while Michael barked out a sharp laugh before he could stifle it. “The last two times he was here, I barely saw him let alone anyone else.” Michael sent Alex a cocky smirk as he flushed, both of them clearly remembering exactly how they’d spent Michael’s most recent visits.
Alex wanted to defend himself but he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on. Thankfully, the commercial ended and their attention was sucked back into the TV. Alex used the escape to flee to the kitchen for a breather. He hadn’t been expecting Michael this weekend and while he was happy to see him, he couldn’t deny that he was worried too. His next deployment was only a few weeks away and Michael hadn’t handled the last one well. Alex was worried how he was going to deal this time.
Loud cheers from the living room drew his attention. Alex peered around the doorway to see Patrick and Michael doing a ridiculous celebration dance and the laughter burst out of him.
Maybe Michael would be okay this time, he thought. Last time, he’d been all alone. No one in Roswell knew about them and all of Alex’s friends that Michael had bonded with were with Alex last time so Michael had been left alone stateside. But Patrick wasn’t being deployed with Alex this time. And from the looks of it, he wouldn’t leave Michael alone this time.
“Hey darlin,” Alex was startled to see Michael right in front of him. “You okay?”
Alex smiled. “Yeah. I’m good.” He leaned forward and captured Michael’s lips.
Noah pulled up to the lonely Airstream. He was surprised to see another car parked alongside Michael’s old truck and he briefly considered just leaving since Michael obviously had company but he slid out of his car instead.
The trailer started rocking as Noah neared and he skidded to a stop. He eyed the trailer warily and glanced back at his car. This might have been a bad idea. Did he really need to bond with Isobel’s psuedo-brother? He wheeled around and got back halfway to his car before he paused and spun around again. He had a ring in a shoebox in their apartment and he planned to give it to Isobel soon but he didn’t want to do it without her family’s blessing. She’d made it clear that though she loved her parents, they didn’t really have a defining say in her life. No, that position was filled by Max and Michael. And Noah had long gotten the sense that Max didn’t care for him. He tolerated him, sure, but he didn’t particularly like him. Which left Michael. If he wanted Isobel’s family’s approval, he needed Michael to be on his side.
Which meant bonding. Which meant not walking away. Even if he was about to walk in on him with someone, he couldn’t walk away. Noah took a deep breath and stalked back over to the trailer. He considered knocking but from the yelling he could hear, he doubted Michael would hear him. Instead, he just threw open the door and poked his head in.
He certainly didn’t find what he was expecting to. Inside, Michael was perched on the corner seat by his little table and yelling at the crappy old TV sitting on his counter. Next to him was a large, muscular black man with a broad smile. Both men turned to him with surprise when the door opened.
“Heeeey,” Noah greeted.
“Hey,” Michael responded. “Isobel okay?” He started to get up, his eyebrows knitted together in worry.
“No, no!” Noah hurried to assure him. “She’s fine! I just- uh, I just wanted to spend some time together? I didn’t mean to intrude. We can meet up another time.” He started to step back and close the door but the unknown man shot out a hand to catch the door.
“We’re just watching the game, man. Come on in.” He beckoned Noah in. Noah glanced at Michael but he just shrugged and nodded so Noah climbed on in and found a place to sit.
“Man comes prepared!” The guy exclaimed when he saw the beers clutched in Noah’s hand. Noah handed them over without a word. “I like him,” he told Michael and Noah felt a rush of success. He had no idea who this guy was but he knew somehow that his opinion was important to Michael.
“I’m Noah,” he held out a hand.
“Patrick. Nice to meet you man.” Patrick gave him a firm handshake before relieving him of his beer. He opened a few bottles and passed them around.
“So what brings you out here?” Michael asked.
Noah started to answer but cut himself off with surprise as both men started yelling.
“Is he blind!?”
“What the fuck was that!?”
Noah looked at them before turning around to catch sight of the TV. There was a game on, Eagles vs. Cardinals.
“Oh nice. I didn’t know you were a Cards fan Michael. Me too!”
Both men froze and slowly turned to stare at him. Noah instinctively took a step back at the twin glares.
“...not a Cards fan?”
“No.” Michael told him firmly with a shake of the head. “Philly all the way.”
Patrick held out a fist for him to bump without looking away from Noah. “I don’t know if he can stay, man.” Patrick said to Michael. “Not if he’s gonna root for the enemy here.”
Michael nodded. “Agreed.”
Noah looked between the two of them, trying to see if they were serious. When it became clear that they were, he shrugged and reached out to snatch the bottles out of their hands. “If you two are so insecure that you can’t handle a little friendly rivalry then you don’t deserve my company or my beer.”
“Woah woah woah!” Michael put out a hand to stall him. Noah raised an eyebrow as he held the beers out of reach. He’d splurged for the good brand today and he was going to take them with him if Michael threw him out.
“I suppose it could be fun to watch him watch his team lose.” He said to Patrick as he took his bottle back. Patrick pondered it for a moment before nodding.
“Alright fine. He can stay.”
Noah smirked and settled back into his seat.
“So how do you two know each other?” Patrick asked a little bit later.
“He’s dating my sister.” Michael took a sip. “Pretty sure he’s planning to propose though.”
Noah looked at him in shock but Michael barely glanced away from the game.
“Oh yeah?” Patrick asked. “Congrats, man!”
“I haven’t asked her yet but thanks.” Noah cleared his throat. “That’s actually part of why I came here today, Michael. I wanted to make sure you were okay with it. With me- with me and Isobel, I mean.”
Michael finally looked at him. “You’re a good guy, Noah. You clearly love Isobel and I know Isobel loves you. It’s not like you need my permission or approval or whatever but if you want it, you’ve got it.”
Noah took a moment to take in Michael’s surprising sincerity before he nodded at him. “Thank you, Michael. It means a lot to me to know that you’re okay with us.”
Michael shrugged. “Just make sure you do the proposal up right. You know Isobel, man. She’d say no if you do it wrong.”
“Do you really think she’d do that?” Noah felt his stomach drop.
Michael shook his head. “No, no, I’m kidding.” Somehow that wasn’t reassuring.
Patrick slapped him on the arm. “Don’t freak the guy out, Michael. He’s clearly worried about this.”
“Sorry, sorry! She loves you, Noah. She won’t say no.”
Noah searched his eyes but Michael didn’t look like he was lying so he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ok, ok. Thanks.”
They spent a while watching the game before Noah got curious. “What about you two? I haven’t seen you around Roswell, Patrick.”
“I’m just passing through. Michael and I met through a mutual friend and we just hit it off.”
Noah nodded. “That’s cool. It’s nice that you came to visit.”
Michael finished off his beer in a long swallow. “He’s my boyfriend’s roommate.”
Noah turned away from the TV to stare at him, mildly comforted to see his surprise mirrored on Patrick’s face. The other man was staring at Michael with his mouth hanging open.
“Or ex-boyfriend,” Michael continued with a sudden morose expression. “Hard to tell exactly what we are at any given moment.”
“Michael,” Patrick reached out a hand and laid it on Michael’s arm. “What happened to not thinking about it?”
Michael shrugged. “I’m tired of lying about it all of the time.”
“Isobel’s never mentioned you having a boyfriend?” Noah couldn’t help but ask.
Michael shook his head. “She doesn’t know. Neither does Max, or anyone really. The only people who know are his friends. He joined the Air Force out of high school and hasn’t really been back to Roswell since then. People around here don’t know anything about us.”
“That sounds hard,” Noah said after a beat. He wasn’t sure what to say in this situation. Michael huffed a harsh laugh but didn’t argue.
They sat in silence for a long moment, the only sounds coming from the TV though none of them were really paying attention.
“Look, I know this got a bit heavier than I intended when I came over but there is one thing I really need to say,” Noah started. Michael and Patrick turned to look at him. When he had their attention, Noah felt a grin spread slowly across his face. “It’s the two minute warning and Cards are up by 10.”
Both of them whipped towards the TV and just like that the mood was broken by angry shouts while Noah leaned back in his seat with a smile on his face.
Michael’s heart stopped. He froze in the middle of the sidewalk forcing people to veer around him. He ignored the dirty looks they sent him and focused on his phone.
“Patrick, I’m not sure where you learned your phone etiquette but that is not a reassuring way to start off a phone conversation.”
“I’d ease you into it but we both know you don’t want that.” Michael stumbled over to a bench and slumped in it, his head in his hands and his heart in his throat. “He’s hurt and it’s bad. He’s not in great shape, Michael. But he is okay. He’s alive and he’s in recovery and he will be fine.”
A pause. “Do you want me to tell you on the phone or do you want me to get you on a plane to come out here and see him?”
“Where is he?”
Michael groaned. “I don’t have a passport.”
“Let me take care of that.” Patrick assured him. “Go to Kirtland. There’s a transport plane leaving in three hours to come over here. Chad’s got a buddy stationed there and he’s going to make sure they’ll put you on it. But you’ve gotta go now.”
Michael hung up and ran back to his car. With a quick stop at his trailer he was soon on the road to Kirtland.
It was the better part of a day before Michael touched down in Germany and Patrick met him on the runway as he disembarked.
“How was the flight?” Patrick asked with a wry grin.
Michael glared at him. “Bumpy.”
“Well, no one’s ever accused military transport planes of being luxury travel accommodations.”
Michael let a smile out for a moment before he sombered. “How’s Alex?”
“Better,” Patrick assured him as he led him to the truck waiting just off of the runway. “He’s woken up a few times and he knows where he is.”
“He didn’t know where he was?”
Patrick stopped and put his hands on his shoulders to steady him. “His convoy blew up on a mission outside of Baghdad. Two men were killed and the rest, including Alex, were injured. They were airlifted here to Germany as soon as they were stable to have surgery. Alex got hurt in Iraq and woke up in Germany so it was expected that he would be a little confused.” Patrick swallowed hard and gripped Michael’s shoulders tighter. “They amputated his right leg just below the knee. There was too much damage to try and save it. He’s going to need months of rehab and physical therapy and he’s going to need to learn how to walk with a prosthetic but overall he is going to be okay .” He promised Michael.
Michael felt the blood rush from his head. “Can I see him?”
“Of course,” Patrick promised. “We’re going to get in my truck and I’m going to take you to the hospital and up to see him. Already got you on the approved visitor list and everything. But he’s going through a lot right now and you have to be the strong one for him, okay? He needs you now and you can’t fall apart on him. You need someone to lean, I’m here. You want to fall apart? Come talk to me. That’s what I’m here for, okay?” Michael didn’t respond so Patrick shook him a little bit. “Tell me you understand me, Michael.”
Michael stared at him, taking in the seriousness in his face, before nodding. “I understand you. I won’t let him down.”
Patrick cupped the back of his head briefly before letting go. “I know you won’t. You never could.”
“You’re sure about this?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Aren’t I supposed to be the one with cold feet here?”
Patrick shoved at his shoulder. “Oh please, like there was ever a chance that you two wouldn’t be here. No way in hell either one of you gets cold feet, Michael.” Michael’s face split wide with a hapless grin and Patrick was helpless to resist returning it.
He sombered after a moment. “But really, Michael, are you sure ?”
Michael glared at him even as he put a hand on his shoulder. “Ok A, you didn’t have to say yes if you didn’t want to do it and B, this is really not the time for you to back out.”
“I never said I didn’t want to do it. I’m honored that you asked me, I am. But you’ve got a brother, man, and a brother-in-law. Not sure I like Max all that much but Noah’s pretty great. Why not ask him?” He knew Michael was right and this really wasn’t the time or place for him to be asking these questions but it honestly hadn’t occurred to him before now. “You sure you don’t want one of them standing next to you?”
Michael squeezed his shoulder. “I don’t know if this has somehow escaped your attention but you’re my best friend, Patrick. Max and Noah are great and they’re my brothers and I love them but we’re not the best of friends. We get along to keep the peace and yeah I like spending time with Noah but he’s not the guy I call at two in the morning because I’m scared of fucking up my relationship and my life. That’s you.” He shook him a little. If it was a less serious moment, Patrick might be amused by Michael trying to literally knock some sense in him. He had a good six inches and about 50 pounds on the other man. Michael had to reach up just to grab his shoulders. “But more importantly, I don’t think today would even be happening if it weren’t for you. If you hadn’t been Alex’s roommate, if you hadn’t been you , we might not have made it. There’s no one else I want standing next to me today.”
Patrick felt the tears start to bubble over and he wiped at them with the back of his hand. “Oh man, I am not going to get through today am I? I’m going to need all the tissues.” He let out a helpless laugh.
Michael chuckled along with him and patted him on the arm as he let go. “You’ll be fine. Besides, I literally had to fight Alex for you so like hell are you backing out now.”
Patrick stood up and cleared his throat to try and get everyone’s attention. When people continued to talk he grabbed his wine glass and tapped it with his fork.
Slowly, the murmur quieted down and everyone turned their focus on him. It wasn’t a large crowd, just friends and family mostly. Alex and Michael turned twin glares on him as they realized what he was doing but he ignored them with a smile and conspiratorial look at Maria.
He cleared his throat again. “Ok,” he started. “Now, Alex and Michael sort of forbade Maria and I from giving speeches but she and I got together and we decided that was dumb so we’re going to do it anyway.” He shot her a wink and grinned as she shushed Alex when he turned to her. “I met Alex during his first posting way back when he was just this skinny little punk kid. I’ve gotta admit, I thought for sure he wouldn’t make it. But I learned very soon that this man is a stubborn S.O.B. and brave beyond stupidity sometimes. When we were cleared for off base housing, he and I agreed to be roommates mostly because we figured that we’d give the other the least hassle of any of the guys we knew.” Muffled objections came from the crowd but Alex shot them down and Patrick continued.
“Not sure who was more surprised when we realized we actually got along. But then something strange happened, or not so strange looking back, I guess. Alex cornered me in the kitchen one day and told me his boyfriend was coming to visit. Now, this was back in the antiquated days of DADT and Alex could’ve been discharged if I’d told anyone that so he was taking a massive risk. But he just stood there, all 20 years old and cocksure, looked me in the eyes and dared me to say anything. I think even if I had been an asshole, I wouldn’t have said a word. The Air Force needed men like Alex, men who stared down his problems until they just gave up and moved out of his way.” Chuckles from the crowd.
“At first, I was worried, I’ll admit it. Alex was taking a huge chance in bringing Michael to fucking military housing in a complex surrounded by other airmen but he didn’t care. So I cared for him. The first couple of times Michael visited before DADT was repealed, I think I hardly slept I was so worried for them. But I will forever be grateful to Alex for being so brazen because it meant that I got to meet Michael.” He turned and gave Michael his best heart eyes, complete with fluttering eyelashes. Alex laughed when Michael returned them.
“Michael quickly became the best friend I have ever had. You told me earlier that I was the guy you called at two in the morning when you needed to talk. Well, you’re the guy I drove halfway across a country to see because I was having a literal meltdown and needed to run. I showed up on your doorstep and you took me in without a thought. You and Alex were having an off period and by all rights, you probably could’ve kicked me to the curb but you didn’t and I am so thankful for that. I am grateful that you adopted my hometown as yours,” Michael shouted ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ and Patrick shot him a bright grin, “because some heathens don’t appreciate good sports teams,” he shot a glare at all of his fellow airmen, Alex included. Most of them shouted back nonsense about their own teams but Alex just shrugged him off.
“I love both of you guys. My life wouldn’t be the way it is without either one of you and every day I am thankful that you came into my life but more than that I am thankful that you came into each other’s lives. Because you two wouldn’t be you without the other. I’ve never met two people so clearly destined for each other and I am proud to stand here next to you both on this day.” He raised his glass and waited for everyone else to do the same.
“To Captain and Mr. Guerin!”