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“Have you been with other men?” Alex asks as he settles into one of the stadium chairs Michael had dragged out of Jim Valenti's old storage shed behind the cabin. 

Michael turns where he’s standing, manning the grill Alex had found in that same shed a few weeks after having moved into the cabin.  Alex really isn’t good with grills because he’d never been allowed to learn when he was young.  The Manes version of toxic masculinity had extended to evaluating which of Jesse’s sons were man enough to use his, and Alex hadn’t measured up.

Michael raises an eyebrow, like he’s wondering where this conversation is going to go.

“Yeah,” he answers.  “A few.”  He turns to check on the burgers.

Alex nods, though Michael isn’t looking at him to see it.

He can’t imagine any men, at least those who are attracted to other men, seeing Michael Guerin and not wanting to sleep with him. 

Hell, Alex can’t even look at the man without just wanting to touch him. 

Michael is a combination of everything Alex likes.  The curly hair that he loves to tangle his fingers in and just tug until Michael swallows back those little moans that drive Alex crazy.  The way he wears his shirts, which are always either t-shirts that he tucks behind the belt buckle or button ups that Michael just can’t seem to understand how to operate properly, that turn him into a temptation of skin and chest hair he seems to want the entire world to see.  The sexy black hat that makes up the angry cowboy look Alex definitely has a thing for, thank you very much Kyle for phrasing it so perfectly.  Michael has jeans that settle so perfectly on his hips that the man doesn’t even seem to notice how they fit him like a second skin.  The stubble that teases Alex when Michael cants his head to the side and gestures his universal sign of, “come with me and I'll let you fuck me so hard we both see stars,” complete with a brief lick of his gorgeous lips and a clenching of his jawline that makes Alex want to just…bite

See, this is why Michael is better with words than he is.  Michael comes up with “I never look away, not really,” while Alex struggles to come up with anything that sounds better than, “fuck me so hard we both see stars.”

That definitely sounds cosmic. 

No wonder Michael has spent the last ten years frustrated with Alex. 

Alex slaps a hand on the arm of the chair as he feels it lift and move closer to the grill.  Michael is grinning by the time the chair settles underneath Alex.

Michael leans down and steals a kiss as he presses down on the chair to ground it, “Where did you go?”

Alex smirks, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Why do you want to know about other men?” Michael directs a knowing look at Alex.

“Just curious.  I know you’ve been with women.”

Michael raises that eyebrow again.  “Please tell me we aren’t going to argue about that again today.”

No, Alex is not a fan of going over the Maria discussion again.  It was bad enough the first time around.  It led to some yelling and a lot of hurt feelings on both sides, and it involved something that Michael still won’t tell him about, which led to some additional frustration and another argument, and Alex is not ready to stir up any more of those feelings of inferiority.  Not again.

Michael flips the burgers and then takes a seat across from him, scooting the other stadium chair close enough that their knees touch.  He reaches for the cooler and hands Alex another bottled water before grabbing one for himself. 

“What do you want to know?” Michael tips back the water and Alex watches as he drinks it. 

It's tempting to lean in and kiss the line of Michael's throat, but he refrains because he is pretty sure Michael is doing this shit on purpose.

“Besides her, was there anyone else special?  Any special men that you think about?”

Michael leans back in the chair and looks at him, eyes glinting with suspicion.

“What?” Alex asks defensively.

“Nothing,” Michael leans to the side and puts his water down and then gestures towards Alex's foot, offering to let Alex rest it on his lap. 

Alex does and settles into the chair.  “I'm just curious, Michael.”

He watches as Michael considers for a moment.

“I used to do this run for Sanders.  Deliveries between here and Albuquerque about once a week.  I would go at the end of the day, so I could hang out at this bar I found.” 

Michael smiles like he’s remembering something pleasant and Alex feels a mixed bag of emotions over it.  He can’t be upset about it because he is glad Michael has some good memories.  But he does wish he was a part of these.  He would like to know that there are some good Alex memories for Michael roped in with all the bad ones.

“I met this guy named Jason.  Real smartass,” he smirks.  “Bossy.”

Alex bites back a smile.  He has noticed that Michael seems to have a type. 

Michael catches his smile and smacks his foot.  “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“You were thinking it,” Michael pouts.

Alex avoids agreeing to that by gesturing towards the grill. 

Michael moves Alex's foot so that it’s on the edge of the chair and gets up to take the burgers off

“Jason was pretty hot, you know.  We hooked up a few times,” he says as he plates the burgers and uses his power to drag the table closer to them.  “He liked certain things.  I liked different things.  So, it didn’t last all that long.  There were a few others I never saw long enough to exchange names.  Nobody in Roswell though.”

Alex wonders if Jason could be wandering around that city still hung up on Michael.  Alex is and would be even if they hadn’t started things in high school.  Even if they’d only met once at some bar out of town.  He couldn’t imagine any version of Alex Manes not being hung up on the man.

Michael is irresistible. 

He hands Alex the condiments for his burger and rips open a bag of chips.

“What about you?” He asks casually.

Alex puts together his burger and takes a bite before answering.  “Marcus.”

“Air Force or civilian?”

Alex takes a drink and swallows again, “Air Force.  He and I met about six months in and immediately understood each other.  Even with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it was pretty easy to spot anybody who wasn’t straight.  And then before I knew it, the law was repealed.” 

He remembers how much he and his friends in the military, Marcus included, had celebrated the repeal of DADT.  They’d danced, drank, made out in plain view of other servicemen.  Some had sex, though not in plain view of other servicemen.  The celebration is one of the good memories Alex has of his service days.  Thousands of miles away from Jesse Manes, Alex could just be for a little while, with no need to look over his shoulder every five seconds.  He could smile now at the mental image of Jesse Manes reacting to the news.  Alex’s gayness, if it couldn’t be beaten out of him, was to be kept out of sight, so his father, no doubt, hated the repeal of that law.  Because that action taken by the government allowed Alex to be free.

With Project Shephard shut down, and his father out of commission and on the east coast, Alex feels freer than he’s ever been.  He still gets confronted by bigots, but he takes them down with the same ease he uses, or well used, to disarm someone in battle.  It takes a few times before they get the message, but then some of them start to leave him alone.  In high school, it was Michael who tried to help, and then suddenly, it was Marcus. 

Marcus is kind man, and he would stand between Alex and anything, or anyone, that he thought would be out to hurt Alex.  He never listens, and he always thinks he’s right, and he too often is right.  He’s too sure of himself, but he cares… too much to ever really fit into government life.  He is bad at following orders but good at figuring out puzzles that others couldn’t.

Alex could have fallen for Marcus if he hadn’t met Michael first.

“He loves to dance,” Alex grins at him.  “He’s good at it.”

Michael snorts, most likely because everybody in Roswell and the surrounding areas knows the man possesses two left feet. 

“Was he hot?” Michael asks as he pops a chip in his mouth, his burger already gone.

“Define hot.  Regular hot or Guerin hot?”

Michael smirks but a hint of pink is showing at the tops of his ears.  “What is the Guerin level?”

Alex leans forward.  “Immeasurable.”

Michael laughs and points at him, “You are full of shit.”

“Maybe,” Alex says.  “You would either love Marcus or hate him on sight.  I can't decide.”

“Why?”

“He was crazy about me.  But I couldn’t feel the same way about him.”

Michael preens, “Because of me.”

Alex rolls his eyes, “Yes, because of you.”

He leans towards Alex, “So if I'm going to hate him for wanting you, why would I like him?”

“Because he kept me safe for a very long time.  Despite my many attempts to convince him that I am very capable of handling myself.”

“I get him being paranoid about it because you are trouble.  Remind me to thank him for his service,” Michael jokes.

Alex can feel the blush coming, but he doesn’t turn away fast enough to hide it.

Michael laughs, “He service you a lot?”

“Shut up, Michael.”  Alex grins.  “He was sexy.  But not you.”

Nobody is ever Michael.  It never had made any sense to him.  They barely knew each other as kids, but for the past ten years nobody had ever made him feel like Michael does. 

Not even close.

Michael looks like he doesn’t know whether to frown, and Alex laughs at him. 

“We hooked up a few times.  But mostly, we’re just friends.” 

Even if Alex wasn’t in love with Michael, he couldn’t have anything more with Marcus.  He wouldn’t even try.  His friend is happily married, and Charles is the best thing that ever happened to him.  Alex acted as their best man just a few years ago.  One day he’d like to visit them and take Michael along, so that Marcus can meet the man Alex so often talked about.

Being out of the military still feels strange.  He remembers how out of place he felt, even as he succeeded in the job itself.  Most branches of the military compare it to a way of life, and for some people it is.  Some love it.  Some love the feeling of comradery while at the same time hate what the job makes them do.  What the government makes them do.  Marcus is like that. 

Alex sets down his empty plate just as a cramp twinges in his right thigh.  He rubs at it with his hand and takes another drink of water.  They both chose not to drink alcohol on this date to avoid the possibility of fighting or fucking before coming to their senses.

Michael gestures at his prosthetic as if he’s asking permission to touch it, and Alex nods. 

He pushes up the jeans and checks it out for a few silent moments, looks up and asks, “Can I take this off?  I think I can help.” 

Alex nods, so Michael takes the prosthetic off. 

He trusts Michael, and Alex knows that Michael is the only one he would allow himself to be vulnerable with, allowing himself to be without his crutch and without his prosthetic and having to rely on someone else in case something happens.  He knows Michael wouldn’t let anything happen to him.  He looks down at his leg and the flat section of his jeans hanging below it. 

So many life changes came along with his injury, and the loss of part of his leg was just the most brutal part of it.  He watches as Michael makes some adjustments, working quietly, with a focus that he only ever had for building things and sex. 

“Be right back,” Michael takes the prosthetic with him and walks toward his truck to get some of his tools. 

Alex watches and wonders if this is what Michael looks like working on his spaceship.  Single-minded and unaware of anybody around him.  Alex thinks it might be peaceful for him, because Michael always talks about how he can never shut off his thoughts long enough to get any kind of peace.  And Michael, no doubt, has some of the most painful thoughts Alex could imagine. 

Michael looks over at him, “Does it cause you more trouble towards the end of the day?”

Alex nods, and Michael goes back to work with the requested information.  How it will help him fix the device, Alex will probably never know. 

He leans his head back and listens to the ambient sounds as he watches Michael work. 

Alex is tired.  He tires easily now, and he doesn’t mean just physically.  Though he revels in some of the differences he can see in his body, others stand out.   

He still has the kind of upper body strength that makes Kyle cry with frustration, if the protests the man made when they worked out this morning are any proof.  If Alex didn’t know better, he would think that Kyle is attracted to him.  But he does know better.  He knows Kyle is straight, and Alex is not about to be that guy, the one that high school Kyle always assumed he would be.  Kyle’s reaction to him when they were young still hurts, in the same way that everything from his childhood still hurts, and even though he knows Kyle has changed, he also knows better than to take chances on situations that could backfire painfully. 

It’s fun working out with him though, with Alex being able to put his body through more than Kyle can and still come out of their workout sessions mostly breathless while Kyle is heaving and ready to throw up, then cursing Alex the moment he catches his breath again. 

Maybe Alex’s muscles aren’t as defined as Kyle’s, but Alex is stronger because he has to be just to function in this new life.  But it’s still amusing to him to think that the former jock isn’t as in good of shape as he is, even with Alex missing part of a leg.

“Hey,” Alex says.  “I meant to apologize for something when we were talking about Maria the other day.” 

Michael looks up, surprised, “For what?”

Alex tilts his head to request that Michael come back over to the chairs, since he really can’t go to him now.  

Michael, still holding the prosthetic, sits and puts it on his lap.  “What?”

Alex leans forward and takes Michael’s hand, the one that had been mangled up until months ago.  He brings it onto his lap and just looks down at it as he laces their fingers together. 

He sometimes forgets that he gets to do this now.  That he gets to just take Michael’s hand whenever he wants and without having to make up an excuse for it. 

“Before Maria.  Before your thing with her.  Remember when you found her necklace in your boot?” 

Michael nods, but the expression on his face morphs into something like dread.

“I went to talk to her.  I don’t really know what I wanted from it.  It wasn’t even jealousy as much as it was resignation.  I just saw the necklace and I knew.  It’s stupid, right?” He looks down, flushing with an embarrassment that borders on painful. 

Alex feels Michael squeeze his hand, and he looks back up. 

“Talk to me,” He says softly.  “Whatever it is.  Just tell me.”

Alex clears his throat.  “I know how you feel about me.  But when I figured it out, I was sure that I’d lost you.  Because Maria is amazing.  I can’t even hold a grudge against her because I know what it’s like to fall for you.  It’s the easiest thing in the world.” 

Though, he might still be holding a grudge if Michael wasn’t here with him right now.  Alex might never know.  He would like to think that they could have repaired their relationship if the cards had fallen in Maria’s favor, but Alex isn’t sure. 

Michael smiles, his expression soft.  “And you keep saying that you can’t say anything romantic.”

“I’ve figured out that if I don’t start, you’re going to steamroll right past me in this relationship.”

Michael snorts, “Hey.  Continue.”

“When you said the other night that Maria confronted you about me, I wanted to apologize for that.  I feel like it was my fault.”

“How?” Michael asks. 

“She figured out that my Museum Guy was you.  I kind of froze when she brought up your name because we were in the middle of the bar.  It’s hard to explain what happened,” Alex says. 

“Go on.” 

“I didn’t exactly tell her it was you, but when she figured it out, I didn’t actually deny it either.”

“Okay,” Michael says.  “Is that all?  Alex, I would have gone public with you ten years ago if that’s what you wanted.  It doesn’t bother me.   Honestly, her bringing it up made me realize something about you.  And about us.”

Alex leans forward, “I’m still sorry.  And also, Kyle figured it out too.”

Michael rolls his eyes, “Yeah, I already know about the Angry Cowboy thing.”  He puts some finishing touches on the prosthetic and holds it up to show he’s done.

Alex stares at him, “He told you that?”

Michael laughs, “Yeah.  I mean it’s not like it’s not true.  I’m a cowboy, and I’m always angry.  And I do it for you, so yeah, Angry Cowboy probably is your type.”

“What brought that conversation on?”

“I was jealous.  He made a comment about it.  It pretty much ended there because he never brought it up again.”

“What were you jealous about?”  Alex asks.

“You spending time with him when you got back.  And honestly, it bothered me while I was with Maria, but then I got a swift kick in the ass from Isobel about that.  Got called a hypocrite and a coward in the same breath.  It wasn’t pretty.”   

Alex would love to have seen that.  Isobel is intimidating even if you don’t know she literally has mind altering powers.

“I like her.”

Michael snorts, “You would.”

“What did you mean when you said it helped you figure something out?”

Michael leans down and puts the prosthetic back on him and gestures for Alex to stand. 

He does, and the relief he feels is noticeable immediately.  He smiles at Michael.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.  You steady right now?”

Alex nods, and then his finds himself pressed up against Michael.  “I wasn’t fair to you when you came back.  Just because I was always ready to be out with you doesn’t mean you were ready.”

“Michael,” Alex says softly.

“I know as well as you do that your dad is the kind of violent that shows no remorse.  And even if you’re an adult, he was always someone who could easily hurt you.  I had no business pushing you into being out in public when I know what he would do to you.  When you said that your war was different than mine, that’s what you meant, but I never actually put two and two together before.  Maybe that was stupid of me because of what he did to me.  But I’ve always had the knowledge that, if I had to, I could use my power to defend myself.  You didn’t.”  

“I do now though.  I may not have the power to throw him across the room, but I did knock him out with my crutch once.  It was cathartic.”

Michael grins, “I bet it was.”

Alex leans in and kisses him.  “I love you.  Present tense.”

Michael pulls back and looks at him.  “I love you too.  Present and future tense.”

“You always have to one up me, don’t you?” Alex cups his cheek and looks into Michael’s eyes.

“Yep, now sit.  That thing you want to know.  I’m ready to tell you.” 

Alex starts to sit, but then he feels himself being placed gently into Michael’s lap. 

“This good for you?”

Alex wraps one arm around his neck and settles in, “Yes.”  

It’s a little awkward, because the chair droops a little low and he’s a little too tall to manage a proper fit, but if Michael wants Alex on his lap for this, then Alex is going to be on his lap. 

“Okay, because this is going to sound bad.  It might get bad, but you can get up at any time and leave.  I didn’t want to tell you this while I was working on your prosthesis because I didn’t want you to feel like you couldn’t get away from me if you needed to.”

Michael isn’t looking at him, so Alex turns his head, so they can make eye contact.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes, and no,” Michael is trembling beneath Alex’s hand.  “But I need to get this out.  That therapist that Kyle found me?  She’s relentless.”

“He said she was good.”

“She is.  But damn.  She never pushes me to do something.  She just makes sure I come to the conclusions on my own and then asks me about them every single session.”

“Baby, that’s what therapists do.  It’s literally their job.”

Michael looks at him wryly.  “Yeah, well she’s good at it.” 

Alex just waits.  He tucks his ‘good’ leg underneath him and turns to hold Michael tighter.

“I don’t know how to tell you this without taking us back to square one.  I don’t want to be back there.  I want this.  You and me working on things like adults.” 

“Okay,” Alex pushes Michael’s head down, and he takes the hint to bury his face at Alex’s neck.  “Relax.  I’ll wait as long as you need.”

Michael takes a few breaths, but they’re uneven and difficult.  Like he’s having a panic reaction.

“It’s okay,” Alex says softly.  “You don’t have to tell me.  It wasn’t fair for me to get upset with you for not telling me before.  I don’t have to know anything that you don’t want to tell me.”

“I do want to tell you.” 

“But you’re scared.  And you don’t have to be.  Nothing you could say would make me walk away now.  Not anymore.” 

“It’s about Maria.  And you.”  Michael says softly.

Alex catches his breath and holds it for a second.  He can’t overreact to it, and he can’t make Michael feel like he can’t talk about these things, or they will never work. 

“Okay.”

Michael sinks against him, and his voice rumbles against Alex’s skin.  “Remember how I told you that you make everything clearer for me?  That when I’m with you that chaos in my head eases up and I can breathe again?”

“Yeah, I remember.” 

Michael sighs, and Alex thinks about that conversation.  When he’d realized that Michael’s tendency to press their foreheads together was about this.  About how somehow, for some reason, Alex was able to do this for him.   Michael doesn’t know how to explain it or why it happens, or at least he didn’t when they’d first talked about it.

He feels Michael press a soft kiss against his throat.  “It’s why I went to Maria in the first place.  Well, it was one of the reasons why.  The main one.  She doesn’t do that.  She can’t.” 

He waits, and eventually Michael looks up at him.  “Okay?”

Alex isn’t getting it, at least not enough to make Michael satisfied.  Michael looks at him with narrowed eyes, and Alex wishes more than anything that he understood what Michael is trying to tell him.  His brain doesn’t make connections as fast as Michael’s, at least not about things like this.  Not about emotions and trauma and definitely not about things like how Michael’s alien brain works. 

Alex can code and can tell anyone anything about the inner workings of a computer. 

But emotions?  Alex feels like a middle-schooler when it comes to those. 

Alex talks code, but Michael isn’t a code to be unraveled. 

“Baby, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”  Alex feels the tears before he even realizes it, and Michael is thumbing them away as quickly as they fall.

It’s frustrating to not be able to talk to him.  Michael makes him feel like everything is right in the world, and Alex should be able to do that for him as well. 

“Alex.”

He looks at Michael, so devastated, and Alex has no idea how to make that stop. 

“Tell me, please.  You’re scaring me.”

“You drown out everything.  Even my mother’s voice.”

Alex feels that like a punch to the chest. 

“Oh my god.”  He drags himself off Michael’s lap and stands, and Michael just… lets him go. 

Alex paces back and forth a few moments and then stops to look at him. 

Michael has only a few moments with his mother to remember, to cherish for the remainder of his life, and Alex takes that away from him every time they touch. 

How can Michael stand to be near him?  Just the thought makes Alex feel sick to his stomach. 

“Alex?” Michael says softly.  “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay,” Alex reminds him.  “It’s not okay.  How can you even stand to touch me?”

“Because I love you,” Michael says.  He walks forward, his hands held out in front of him.  

Alex looks at him.  He has no idea what to say.  He doesn’t know where to start.

“Alex, I love you more than anything.  You have to know that.  I’m in love with you.  I have been since I was seventeen and I don’t see anything about that changing in the future.”

Alex moves to hold him, but then stops himself. 

“No,” Michael reaches out and touches him, puts both hands on either side of Alex’s face and draws them closer together.  “This is why I didn’t want to tell you.  I don’t want you to stop touching me.”

Alex lets the tears fall.  “I don’t want you to stop hearing your mother.”

Michael presses his forehead against Alex, and he closes his eyes. 

Alex just watches him.

Michael is crying now, too.

Michael opens his eyes again, and smiles.  “This?  This is just us.  This is just for us.  I don’t know how to make you accept that it’s okay because it took me a hell of a long time to figure out that it was okay for me.  I was fucked up about it for longer than I’m proud of.” 

“That’s why you were drinking so much,” Alex whispers.

“Yeah, and that’s why I was such an asshole to you about it.  I had to make peace with myself over it before I could ever make peace with you.”

“How did you even realize?”

“At the prison.  After my mother talked to me, I collapsed against you, and then I couldn’t hear the voices anymore.” 

“I’m so sorry,” Alex can’t even begin to tell Michael how much he wishes that this wasn’t happening to him. 

He remembers Michael crying after he bonded and communicated with his mother.  Before they ran out of the prison and he lost her forever.

“It’s okay,” Michael says. 

Alex looks at him in disbelief.

“Don’t look at me like that.  I’m not lying to make you feel better.  It’s okay.  I was so fucked up about everything that happened there, and I just wanted to keep her with me for a while.  So, I avoided you, but then all that managed to do was hurt both of us.”

“I love you,” Alex says.

“I know.”

Michael looks at him and Alex is overwhelmed with everything he’s always felt for this man.  For his bravery and for how much he has had to give up in his life just to find some peace and happiness.

“I thought everything bad was wrapped up in all of my memories of you, of you and me, and I thought that if I stayed away, that would solve the problem.  That if I tried to move on, that would solve the problem.  And I could keep her with me.”

“Maybe you should.  Maybe that’s what you should have done all along.”  Alex says, with a feeling of defeat that he can’t even fight against anymore. 

How can Michael want to be with the one person who takes his mother’s voice away?

“No!” Michael shouts.  “I fucked up.  I thought that being with Maria or being with someone else who doesn’t drown everything out would mean that I wouldn’t feel alone.  That the isolation would stop.  That if I kept listening, maybe I could feel closer to my mother and not let the thoughts overwhelm me.  But I still did.  Because the isolation comes from me.  Not you.  Not us.  I’m the one who has always felt alone.  You fix that for me.”

“It doesn’t sound like a fix to me.  It sounds like more pain if it keeps you from hearing her.”

“It’s not even just about you making all the chaos go away.  You do, but it's about more than that.  It’s about the fact that I love you, and that you make me feel loved.  You make me feel like I have a place on this god damn planet.  Nobody has ever done that for me.”

Alex pulls Michael into a hug. 

“Promise me that if you ever just want to be alone with your thoughts, because you need to hear her, you will tell me,” he whispers.  “So, I’ll know not to accidentally take it away.  And if you need the thoughts to stop, you have to promise you’ll tell me.  Tell me to touch you or something.  Anything.  Give me a signal to let me know what you need.”

Michael laughs as he pulls back, “You are something else, Manes.”

Alex glares at him, “Promise me.”

Michael kisses him and holds his face again.  “I promise.”

Alex sags a little bit into his body, “Can we go sleep?  I’m so exhausted, and I just want to hold you.”

“We sure can, Private,” Michael grabs the items that need to be refrigerated so they can be put away, and Alex takes care of the mess. 

Alex looks up at Michael, who smiles and holds out his hand. 

He takes it and pulls Michael in for a kiss.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”   

If Michael can handle this, then Alex can do it.  He would do anything to keep Michael safe and keep him feeling loved. 

Michael drops the supplies off in the fridge and Alex leans against the wall to watch him. 

He looks lighter, and Alex guesses that it’s because not telling Alex about his effect on the chaos probably caused more chaos for him. 

Michael stops in front of him and leans in for a kiss.  “Come on, Alex.  I need you.”

Alex flirts, “You do?  What for?”

Michael presses their foreheads together again.  “I need you to touch me.”