Alex tried not to listen when Michael and Maria talked. It wasn't hard. Roswell wasn't a big town but he had plenty of practice avoiding people he didn't know.
And Guerin was predictable-- he had his work, the Pony and the lab set up. Depending on the day and what he needed more, he could be at any one of them, but that left plenty of town for Alex. Maria was even worse, she had a business to run and Mimi to take care of. Easy enough to keep out from under her.
He didn't hear them talk much was what it came down to. There'd been that… that night. But they hadn't exactly done much talking.
Thing was, here at Isobel's party, Maria talked. Sharp and narrow. Alex had seen her like that before, hand on a hip, fierce gleam in her eye. When she was facing down a school bully at sixteen, glaring down Kyle Valenti, raising a brutal eyebrow at Isobel Evans. At twenty three and making Wyatt Long back down with the sharp edge of her tongue
She didn't use it on people she liked much. Except for Michael.
"Come on, Guerin," she said, with that up and down appraisal of him. "We've only been here an hour and you look wasted."
And Michael, who always went back hard when he was slapped just shrugged and said, "looks aren't everything, DeLuca."
Thing was, he didn't look drunk at all, just past tired. Baggy eyed and blank faced, curls frizzed up and mouth set, like he needed to drink water and be tucked into bed.
He didn't look at Alex though. He wasn't Alex's to put to bed. His choice.
Alex went to get himself a beer from Isobel's fridge and when he came back Michael and Maria were sitting close and comfortable, with Maria's fingers wrapped up with Michael's. It was fine.
He caught Michael's eyes, just for a second and Michael tipped a half smile at him and then winced and looked away, down at his hand.
Alex frowned and looked at his beer.
He caught them again in the wild pony parking lot. Michael's airstream was parked out front again and Alex almost backed out but something stopped him.
He could hear Michael's voice, but not loud enough to pick up the words. He sounded tired again, the low drag of it audible.
Maria he could hear, sharp and clear, "can you at least try not to flirt with my barflies? You think I'm letting one of those buy you drinks in my bar?"
Then he did make out Michael's voice, still low, and the new tone achingly familiar. "Well I'm a mercenary, and my girlfriend ain't exactly giving me the friends and family discount."
Alex almost smiled at it before he heard the sudden crack of skin on skin. The crack of it, a slap not a punch. He could classify it without feeling it, but his skin burned as if he'd been the one hit.
Michael. He was holding his hand against his cheek. Maria had her hand out. "Do you want me to hit you?" She hissed. "You do, don't you?"
And there was the push back, "sure, baby, if it gets you hot. I wasn't looking at her, anyway, you know I wasn't."
"You haven't given me reason to think you wouldn't."
Alex just wanted to be out of there, not, not hearing whatever the hell this way, the tired burr in Michael's voice right under the surface, the brittle edge of Maria's voice that was too close to fear.
This was too much like… not his parents, it wasn't, Michael would never hit Maria, Maria would never…
It was probably a sex thing. That made sense.
He managed to get out of there sight unseen. Drove over to the next empty parking lot and worked through some breathing exercises. Sex things and the way that it had felt to watch Michael and Maria kiss while his skin still burned from Michael's touch.
Whatever they were doing now was none of his business. Michael was none of his business, he wanted to be with Maria. Who wouldn't?
He stayed away from the Pony awhile, but couldn't get up the guts to hit Planet Seven. The alien cosplay at Saturn's Rings was only funny for about ten minutes every ten years.
And then Liz caught up with him at the Crashdown with a smile and a milkshake that was followed by a not quite frown. "You and Mikey," she said, careful, like she was testing a floor that might not hold the weight of her words. "You're… friends, right?"
Alex wondered if it was too late to have an emergency and take his food to go. "Theoretically," he said. "Why?"
"I'm worried about him," she admitted, easily. Then, before Alex could say anything, she put up both hands, "don't tell me to talk to Max, he says it's none of my business. In a nicer way than that, but I know what he means."
"Maybe because it's not?" Alex said. But he could feel the chill of his own unease. "Have you tried actually talking to Michael?"
That made her laugh and he couldn't help but grin too. "I have, actually. He says he's fine. But…" she frowned and shook her head. "He just seems really… tired…"
Alex tilted his chin and looked Liz dead in the eye, "Maria is his girlfriend. Why aren't you talking to her?"
Liz gave a helpless shrug. "Look, if you don't think there's anything to worry about, I'll let it go. I'm just trying to be less of a, you know, crappy friend."
Alex shook his head, refusing to be distracted. "Right, but that's not what I said. What are your really worried about, Liz?"
Liz took a deep breath and flushed. "Listen, I'm not saying anything. It's not what I usually see when two of my friends are dating. But if they're happy--"
"Are they?" Alex asked, softer now.
Liz bit her lip, "he said he is."
Alex snorted and looked down at the table, "and there you go."
Liz was still frowning but there wasn't much else to say.
Another few weeks slipped by and it was engine trouble that had him over at Sanders' place. Not like he couldn't have seen another mechanic, but…
But Michael seemed fine, if still unshaven, dark circles under his eyes. But he greeted Alex causally, like they actually were friends, pointing him over to a chair and a cooler with some beers in it. Humming while he worked, his hands steady on his tools.
Alex wouldn't have thought about much, if Michael's sleeves weren't rolled all the way down, not up. He always worked in a t-shirt or less, especially in this weather. He always…
Alex kept his eyes on Michael's wrists because he wasn't covering that well. Ligature marks. Probably handcuffs.
Probably a sex game, Alex thought, and then wondered why he thought that so quickly. Assumed. Could have been…but Kyle would have said something if Michael got his ass busted by the sheriff's department again, and those marks were dark, like the cuffs had bitten in.
There was something in the way that Maria looked at Michael and he…
"Was it fun?" Alex heard himself ask, slipping in a little too close.
Michael blinked and looked up at him with a confused smile. "Was what--"
But he didn't have a chance to ask because Alex caught him by the wrist, gentle, thumb gliding over bruises. Michael made a low sound, part hurt, part shock, and didn't try to pull his hand away. "I didn't know you were into this kind of thing," he said, keeping his eyes on Michael's.
Michael flinched. Alex dropped his hand instantly, like he was the one who had his bruises pressed on. "Disappointed you didn't get to try it out with me?" Michael muttered but there was no edge to it. He looked… there were still dark circles under his eyes and his mouth was a shade too red, bitten on.
Sex, but no release. And the creeping sense of unease got stronger.
"No," Alex said. And Michael flinched again.
"Course not," he said agreeably, as if he hadn't. As if everything was fine.
"No, because I wouldn't leave you like this," Alex told him, quietly.
Michael stared at him for a second before he shook his head an incredulous grin on his face. "You left me a lot worse off than this and you never even let me be good for you."
Alex didn't look away from that. It wasn't… it was a lot more than that on both sides. But there was that too. He asked, "are you happy, Michael?" Expecting a yes, even if he couldn't really believe it.
Michael shrugged instead of answering.
The next time Alex saw him it was at the Pony again. Michael didn't look at him, he was leaning against the bar, hip pressed against it for support. Not sitting on the stool right behind him, which Alex wouldn't have thought anything of.
Except he got close enough to see Michael try to sit back, probably just instinct. And the visible wince and recoil. That was pain, instantly recognizable.
Maria noticed too, from her spot behind the bar. She smiled, just around the edges of her mouth and leaned over the bar, dark head pressed up against Michael's ear just for a second. Whatever she said, it left Michael wide eyed, pink faced and nodding.
Yeah, it was a sex thing. It was none of Alex's business. He needed to just mind it.
Instead he waited until it got crowded, a lot more crowded, enough that he could slide in while Maria was slinging drinks to a couple of tourists across the bar and whisper something into Michael's ear himself. An invitation, "men's room." He didn't wait to make sure he was followed.
It was a single room with a door that locked. It smelled like piss and puke from someone a little too enthusiastic. Michael stared at him, open palmed and pink cheeked and blank.
"I'm with Maria," he said, softly. His mouth was set and his expression looked stark in the dirty light.
"You're with me right now," Alex told him. And then, mostly daring himself, he took a deep breath and said, "pull down your pants."
Michael blinked at him. Something flickering in his wide whiskey amber eyes. Alex waited to be told to fuck off. Instead, after a long moment, Michael shrugged and undid his belt.
His jeans slid down. He had boxer briefs underneath, frayed around the waist, familiar looking. They may have been the same ones Alex had stripped off him last year.
That wasn't what drew Alex's eyes, it was the shape of Michael's dick under the thin fabric, obvious now. Caged up in something.
Alex lifted both eyebrows and looked Michael in the eye. Michael responded with a shrug and pushed the underwear down. His dick was locked up in plastic. Alex had seen that before, but in porn.
He steadied his own breathing. "So, does Maria have the key to your heart?" He said.
Michael actually laughed and rolled his eyes. "Nah, just this. My heart's not much good to anyone."
Alex nodded, though not really in agreement. "Turn around," he said, and his voice was still so calm, he didn't understand why it was.
Michael… he didn't understand that either, but Michael did it, wordlessly, shuffling with his jeans around his knees hobbling him. "Want me to lean over the sink and show you the goods?" Michael asked but Alex had stopped listening.
He's expected bruises from what he'd seen at the bar, what he could smell back here, but this was… deep. All shades from red and purple, black and green. Welts still visible, still red and angry looking.
"Holy shit," he hissed reaching out before he could stop himself with a shaking hand. "Is this… Maria did this?'
Michael shrugged. Alex could see his face in the bathroom mirror. There still wasn't… whatever expression it warranted to strip off your pants in a bar bathroom for your ex and show him this… it wasn't what was on Michael's face
"Our girl has a good right hand. You want to fuck me?" Michael asked him.
"What if I took you home?" Alex whispered, instead of saying she's not our girl. His eyes were still on the lines of Michael's ass and hips and the deep shades of pain. "Is this what you like?"
"Don't you like it?" Michael responded lightly. Too lightly. Alex had seen him turned on, was the thing, enthralled in some sex game, feeling the burn of it. This was something else.
"I could make you good for me, without this, without needing this," Alex told him. "Let me try?"
Michael frowned into the mirror, "what happens when you leave?"
I won't, I never will, I know better now, I am better, all the answers that Michael wouldn't listen to and hadn't believed. He couldn't be convinced with them now that would take time and Alex needed him out of here now. So he said, "well, it seems like you're into pain."
Michael smiled then. "Maria has the key," he said, palming his locked up dick.
Alex made a face, "you're telekinetic. You can get out of that." He stopped, watching Michael's expression, what he wasn't saying. "Do you want me to take it from her now or tomorrow?"
Michael shrugged almost invisibly.
Alex nodded. "Do you want to wait in my car, or watch me get it?"
That took Michael a moment. He shook his head. "Car."
Alex pulled up his pants for him, very carefully, tucking the briefs around his locked up cock and battered ass as gently as he could. Michael's body shivered under his hands and Alex didn't know if it was pleasure or hurt or something in between.
Maria didn't know what to make of his expression either, when Alex looked her in the eye from across her bar and held out his open hand.
"Key?" he asked, cooly as he could.
She winced then and took a second to steady herself. As if she were the bruised one. "He asked for everything I did," she told him, quietly.
Alex looked at her, just as steady as he could. "Yeah. And you sure gave it to him."
"You haven't done better," she told him. And then she asked. "Did you fuck him just now in my bathroom?"
"No," he replied shortly. "He's better than that. Key?"
She gave it to him and he pocketed it, walking out without a backward glance once he got to his car. Michael was leaning against it, waiting, eyes gone wild, uncertain. His hands were in his pockets and Alex could tell they'd be shaking if he could see them.
Alex held out the key, pulling it from his pocket. Watching Michael's eyes, his face, for a clue that this was… that it didn't hurt him that Maria had just given this up?
But Michael just let out a breath he'd been visibly holding and his shoulders slumped in relief.
"You can get in the car," Alex said, softly. Michael nodded, wincing and gritting his teeth when his ass hit the seat.
Alex drove carefully, talking just enough about bullshit to let Michael relax. Waited until they got into his garage to turn and look at Michael straight on, not just out of the corner of his eyes.
"I'm going to unlock you before we go in, if you don't mind," he asked formally, as if it were an option.
It probably was but it was still reassuring when Michael let out another long breath and whispered, "yeah."
Alex tried to keep his grip light while Michael's body shivered under his hands. He tried to keep his mind blank as it could get, not to let anything out, no emotions, nothing that was screaming in his gut.
Michael's eyes were wet and Alex rubbed off a tear track with his thumb.
"You did great, really good. Now you need to sleep," Alex told him and Michael nodded.
"You're gonna stay?" He whispered.
"Yes," Alex said. "Can I just hold you?" He asked. When Michael nodded he didn't let go.
When Michael buried his face in Alex's shoulder, he held on and rocked him as gently as he could while he cried. His own eyes were wet, but it didn't matter, everything that did was here right now.