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Fake it 'Til You Make It (Or Fall Apart Trying)

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It starts small.

Alex is out at the Pony with some Air Force friends and he is trying his best to ignore Michael sitting at the bar, flirting with Maria behind it. He’s mostly successful until he catches an odd encounter between the two of them.

Maria is telling Michael something and there’s a playful smirk on her face, but a rigidity to her shoulders, like she’s tense. Michael also looks tense and he’s nodding, agreeing with whatever she’s saying. When she turns away, Michael deflates as though in relief. Alex watches them carefully out of the corner of his eyes and it’s clear that there’s some strain between them. Then Michael leans up and gives her a peck and Alex quickly averts his eyes, heart sinking.

Of course nothing is going on. Alex is just reading too much into it.

 


 

A few days later, Alex’s car is making a strange noise and he decides it’s a good excuse to drive out to the junkyard and see Michael. He honks when he arrives but no one comes out. There are other cars sitting in the lot, but Michael isn’t working on any of them. Alex heads over to the airstream to knock on it but hears no sounds from inside when he does. The airstream is parked over the hatch to his bunker, so Alex doesn’t think he’s down there.

Michael’s absence confuses Alex. It’s the middle of the day on Wednesday, it’s not like him to not be working. Sometimes he does start his day at noon, but since he’s not sleeping in the airstream, something about this feels off. Maybe he’s out on a call, Alex reasons to himself. He decides to swing by again later, not knowing how long it could take for him to return. On his drive home, he spots Michael’s truck parked at the Pony.

Alex hesitates for a moment before he decides to swing into the lot. He finds Michael in a corner booth, nursing a beer alone. He cautiously approaches the booth. “Hey, Guerin,” he says carefully, sliding into the booth across from him.

“Alex,” Michael smiles briefly, but it doesn’t meet his eyes. “What are you doing here?”

“I spotted your truck and came to say hello.”

“You lookin’ for me or something?” he tries for teasing but it comes out as hopeful instead.

Alex smiles, “I was, actually. I was driving back from the junkyard and didn’t find you there. Figured you were out on a service call.”

“Nah,” he waves his beer around as if making a point. “Sanders is gone for the day so I thought I’d take advantage of it.”

“That… doesn’t sound like you,” Alex replies carefully, thinking back on all the times he’d visited Michael on leave and how he would make Alex wait until he was done with work.

He laughs self-deprecatingly, “No? Everyone knows I’m just the town drunk.”

“That’s not true!” Alex protests and squeezes Michael’s hand on the table.

“Hey Alex,” Maria says, suddenly by their table and Michael quickly snatches his hand away. “What’s going on?”

Alex smiles tightly at her as she slides into the booth next to Michael and places a possessive hand on his thigh. “I was looking for Guerin to see if he could take a look at my car for me.”

Maria laughs and slants a smile at Michael. “Well you know Guerin, always looking for an excuse to drink even if it means shirking his responsibilities.” Michael casts his eyes down to the table but Maria continues as if not sensing his discomfort. “I thought he was trying to spend time with me, turns out it was just the booze.”

Alex shifts uneasily in his seat; he doesn’t like that Maria is talking about Michael like he’s not sitting right there so he focuses on addressing him, “Everyone deserves a day off once in a while, especially since you’re spending your off days sciencing with Liz,” Alex smiles encouragingly when Michael flicks his eyes up at him. “I’ll leave you two to it. You’ll be back at work tomorrow?”

Before Michael can respond, Maria does it for him, “He’ll be there,” she assures with an unreadable look.

“Great, see you tomorrow, then?” Alex asks as he rises and slides out of the booth. Michael nods, his eyes tired. Alex nods back and hastily makes his exit.

 


 

Alex isn’t entirely surprised that when he pulls into Sanders the next day that Maria’s truck is parked out in the lot. When he gets out of his car and approaches the airstream, he sees the two of them locked in a heated discussion. Maria is gesticulating wildly while Michael stands stock still. “You’re right, of course,” he hears Michael murmur as he approaches. Maria smiles pleased, before standing on her toes to kiss him, as though rewarding him.

A sick feeling floods Alex’s gut, jealousy he thinks viciously before stomping it down. He backtracks and calls out, “Morning!” making a big production as though he’s just arrived.

Maria keeps an arm around Michael’s waist when they break away from their embrace, smiling widely. Michael’s is a little subdued, but he smiles too. “I have a bunch of cars I need to take care of. I can text you when it’s done?” he suggests.

“Oh I don’t mind waiting,” Alex says, “It’s been a while since we’ve caught up.”

“He really can’t be chatting while working, you know...since he was out yesterday, the work piled up,” Maria chimes in, for the second time, speaking for Michael.

Alex looks between them and realizes they don’t want him to stay. “Oh, okay. I’ll call Kyle then and see if he can pick me up.”

Michael nods and immediately heads off to one of the cars and Maria smiles at him before she disappears back in the airstream leaving Alex abandoned. Kyle swings by ten minutes later and they spend the day hanging out. They made a pact when everything started getting crazy that when it was just the two of them, they would not talk about alien business. They grab lunch at the Crashdown and get to catch up with both Liz and Rosa for a bit. Kyle also tells Alex about running into Isobel at Planet 7 and his failed date with Steph. It’s been a while since he hung out so much with Kyle and Alex forgets about how strange Michael and Maria had been acting.

But then, late in the day, Alex receives a text from Michael saying his car is ready and Kyle drops him back off at the junkyard. When Alex gets there, no one is around and he finds the keys to his car on the dash with an invoice on how much he owes Michael for the work. It makes Alex feel uneasy and a little hurt, but he pulls out his checkbook, writes the amount, and slips it under the airstream door before heading out.

 


 

Alex tries to avoid them after that. He spends more time with Forrest who turns out to be a good influence for Alex. He becomes more comfortable being seen out and about with another man; he’s still cautious but he doesn’t feel like he always has to be looking over his shoulder. Things are casual between them and for a while, life is fine. It’s not great or cosmic, but it’s comfortable and Alex is happy.

He also begins spending more time with Isobel. While working on Operation Save Max, Isobel mentions she has been taking self-defense courses but had to drop them due to the wild hours they were keeping. Alex offers to help teach her since they’re working together and tend to have their free time overlap. They go from reluctant allies to student-teacher to bitching partners.

A few weeks after the strange interactions Alex has noticed, he decides to carefully bring it up. They’re out in Isobel’s backyard sunbathing and drinking mango margaritas when he breaks the companionable silence, “Can I ask you something without you judging me?”

She turns to him, eyes hidden behind her outrageously large sunglasses and raises an eyebrow, “Of course.”

He takes a deep breath, “Does Michael seem different now that he’s with Maria?”

Her eyebrows knit together in concern and she hesitates for a moment before answering. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Alex braces himself for the blow, “but I’ve never seen him happier.”

Alex manages a wobbly smile, “Okay. Good.”

“Come on, let’s finish up these margs, do some tequila shots, and forget about boys,” she suggests with a warm smile.

“I like the way you think,” Alex agrees with a laugh.

 


 

The first time Michael sees Alex and Forrest out together it’s at the Wild Pony. He freezes up and his face looks utterly devastated. Alex wants to revel in it, hoping it hurts Michael as much as it hurts him seeing Michael with Maria, but he truly looks heartbroken and the only thing Alex feels is guilt. Maria tugs at Michael’s sleeve and he plasters on a fake smile, allowing her to take him away.

His relationship with Forrest only lasts a few weeks longer after that. Forrest wants to make things more serious but Alex just isn’t ready for that yet. They part on amicable terms, but Alex still feels shitty over it.

He finally works up the courage to go to Planet 7 by accompanying Kyle of all people to the gay bar. Alex feels so free at the bar, surrounded by so many queer people, like he doesn’t have to hide part of himself away. He quickly becomes a regular there and blows off steam by dancing with random men, he still doesn’t have the confidence to go home with any of them, but it’s a start.

Alex is out at the bar when he gets the text from Michael.

Can you come to the junkyard?'

His first instinct is to not respond, but Michael hasn’t reached out in months and worry unfurls within him. He responds with a simple ‘okay’  before making his way to the airstream.

Michael is sitting outside, fire burning away as he stares into it. “Hey,” Alex calls as he approaches.

He looks up, awe and shock on his face, “You came.”

Alex shrugs minutely, “You asked me to.” When he gets closer, he notices Michael’s red-rimmed eyes. “Are you okay?”

Michael shrugs and takes a long chug from his beer bottle, “Turns out Sanders knew my mom. He’s Walt.”

“Sanders?” Alex asks in disbelief settling into one of the chairs next to Michael. “As in Sanders Sanders?” he asks gesturing around the lot.

“Yup,” Michael pops the p and hands a beer to Alex.

He accepts it and tentatively asks, “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“You don’t mind?” he asks cautiously.

“Of course not.” He settles in the chair and gives him a go-ahead sign.

Michael smiles gratefully and begins to recount the story Sanders shared with him and Isobel. He talks about how his mother was also an engineer and his voice breaks for a moment before continuing. He finishes by describing the night she was captured and how she saved Walt before they got her.

“Guerin…” Alex starts uncertainly.

“Oh and that’s another thing,” Michael interrupts, “Apparently Sanders tried adopting me, he came by the orphanage twice but they wouldn’t let him take me. Better to send me off to meth heads, drunks, religious freaks than let me become a Sanders,” he sneers bitterly.

“You were wanted, Michael,” Alex says firmly, “By your mom, by Sanders.”

“Lotta good it did me, huh?” he mutters.

“You’re still wanted. Isobel and Max love you. I’m here for you,” he hesitates and stumbles before getting out, “M-Maria chose you.” Michael merely shrugs in response. “Speaking of, how did she take it?”

“I haven’t told her,” Michael says quietly. “You were the first person I told.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m the strong one in the relationship. She has a lot going on and I didn’t want to burden her with my shit.”

Alex chews on his lip before responding, “She’s your girlfriend, Michael. It’s not about one of you being stronger. I’m sure she’ll want to help you with this.”

“Tired of my shit too?” he asks wryly.

“Never,” he replies firmly, “I’ll always be here for you, okay? Always.”

“Thanks,” Michael breathes, deflating as though in relief like he expected Alex would turn him away. “Me too for you, you know that right?”

He smiles, “Of course. That’s what friends are for.”

 


 

Isobel, ever the party planner, decides to throw a quiet shindig for Teams Alien and Human. It’s the first time they’re all together and it’s fun, as long as Alex avoids Michael and Maria. Maria has plastered herself to Michael, tightly holding on, and Michael looks exhausted and his eyes are distant.

Alex feels guilty for avoiding them so he joins them in talking to Liz and Kyle. As soon as he gets there, Maria pulls Michael away, “Oh Michael, let’s see if your sister needs any help in the kitchen.”

He stares at their retreating forms in disbelief, Michael studiously avoiding Alex’s gaze as he is dragged away. When Alex turns his attention back to Liz and Kyle they don’t seem as shocked. “That was weird wasn’t it?” he asks.

They both shrug and don’t say anything in response. There’s an awkward silence before they start talking about Rosa who is locked in a conversation with Max and Jenna. Liz gushes about how proud she is with her progress and Kyle chimes in about how they’re getting closer. They keep the conversation light until Alex’s attention wanders over to Michael. Maria is conspicuously missing and he’s sitting on one of Isobel’s love seats, eyes closed, face shuttered. He looks miserable and his face looks gaunt.

Taking in Michael’s appearance, Alex cautiously asks, “Have you guys noticed anything off with Michael?”

Liz looks conflicted and shares a look with Kyle. “Alex…” Kyle starts with a sigh. 

“What? Just spit it out,” Alex challenges, annoyed at how they seem to be tiptoeing around him.

“No offense Alex,” Liz starts tentatively, “but I think you’re just jealous?”

“Are you serious?” Alex asks in disbelief. He looks at Kyle who is looking at his feet with a guilty expression. “I’m just worried about him, as a friend.” He angrily stalks away with that.

“Oh come on Alex!” Liz cries behind him and he ignores her to check in with Michael who is still alone.

“Hey, Michael,” Alex greets, sitting next to him.

Michael’s eyes fly open, “Alex. Hey listen, I don’t think we should hang out alone anymore.”

“What? Why?” he asks incredulously.

“Maria isn’t comfortable with us hanging out,” Michael mumbles.

“That’s ridiculous, we’re friends,” Alex says, indignant. “I just wanted to come by to see if you’re okay.”

“He’s fine!” a voice snaps over them and they both look up to see Maria standing there with her hands on her hips.

Alex puts his hands up defensively, “Sorry, he just looked tired and I was worried.”

“He’s not yours to worry about okay?” Maria says sharply.

Alex doesn’t know how to respond so he just stares at her in disbelief.

Maria takes the opportunity to turn her attention to Michael and say, “Come on, Guerin. I’m not having fun, let’s go home.”

“Okay,” he agrees quietly and gets up to follow her out.

Alex continues to stay seated and as he watches them leave the house, he realizes something is very wrong.

 


 

Alex decides to leave it alone for a bit, but the way they acted makes something sit uneasily with him. He looks up the changes in Michael’s behavior online and stumbles on several articles about emotional abuse. He gets a sick feeling in his gut, surely Maria wouldn’t do that to Michael? But then he thinks about how Michael said he wanted to be good for someone, was it really that unreasonable that he would accept any love he got? Especially with the upbringing he had. 

It makes Alex unbearably sad. No one thinks anything is wrong and maybe it’s because they spend so much more time daily with them that it was a gradual thing whereas he sees them less frequently so the changes have been startling. He figures the only way to deal with it is just by being there for Michael so he knows he can reach out when he’s ready. He types up a text and doesn’t think too much about it before he sends it.

Hey I know things are weird rn, but I meant what I said @ Sanders. I’ll always be here for you.

He doesn’t get a response and he really didn’t expect one. He sends random thoughts and jokes to Michael and since he never tells him to stop, Alex continues.

FInally, after weeks of periodic messaging, Michael replies.

Can I come over?

Alex’s response is immediate.

Of course

Michael shows up an hour later, breath stinking of whiskey and chemicals.

“Did you drive here like this?” Alex asks dumbly when he lets him in.

“Sure,” Michael replies sardonically, “You know me, drunkard with no sense of self-preservation.”

“That’s not true, Michael. And whoever said that is wrong,” Alex says firmly.

Michael’s face darkens, “Come on Alex, you know who’s been telling me that.”

Alex’s heart sinks, but he takes a deep breath and puts on a brave face for Michael. “Well she’s wrong. She doesn’t have the right to say those things, no one does no matter who they are.” Michael's face crumbles and Alex turns away so he won’t see the tears in his eyes. “I’m going to get you some water.”

He goes into the kitchen to steady himself. He needs to be strong for Michael, this might be a pivotal point for him. He does some breathing exercises to center himself before he goes back out. Alex hands Michael the water.

“I’m so dumb,” he says when he finishes it.

“You’re not,” Alex contradicts.

He shakes his head and continues as if Alex hadn’t spoken. “I told her I was thinking about reapplying to UNM but she told me it would be a waste. You always challenged me, Alex, pushed me because you knew I could do more. She doesn't think I can or should.”

“You were right, though,” Alex chimes in, “We weren’t ready for a relationship.”

“Yeah,” Michael scoffs, “Instead I chose one that set me back worse.” He’s quiet for a moment then quietly continues. “You know, she initiated that...thing between the three of us because she wanted to test me, so that I’d choose her over you.”

“Stop!” Alex cries suddenly, his skin crawling, “Please Michael. If you ever loved me, don’t.”

Michael bows his head, “I’m sorry Alex, I’m so sorry. All I do is ruin things.”

“You don’t,” he promises, “You were confused and hurting and...she took advantage of it.” They’re both quiet for a while so Alex takes the opportunity to refill Michael's water glass. When he returns, he tentatively asks, “Are you happy?”

Michael shrugs, “I don’t know.”

Alex reaches over and squeezes Michael’s arm, “All I care about is you being happy.”

“I don’t know what that looks like,” he admits softly.

“Yeah, I get that,” Alex agrees. They don't talk for the rest of the night, Alex puts on a show to lighten the mood, then sets up sheets and pillows on the couch for Michael to spend the night.

When Alex wakes the next day, the sheets are folded up in a pile and Michael’s messy scrawl is on a note atop the pile. Thanks it simply reads.

Alex sits on the couch, stares at the note, and wonders.

 


 

Weeks later, Michael shows up at Alex’s place again, unannounced. He has a red palm on his cheek but there’s a lightness to him that Alex hasn’t seen in years. “I broke up with Maria,” he says by way of greeting which also explains the mark on his face.

Alex is filled with rage at her obvious reaction but relief that Michael is okay. “What happened?” he asks once they’re settled in the living room.

“I mean, a lot of it was everything we talked about before. But Kyle was at the Pony the other day and mentioned he’d hung out with you recently so I asked how you were doing and later she was so mad about it. Like she’s already done everything to make sure I wouldn’t interact with you but she was still so jealous of you. I’d given up so much for her but it made me realize she never made compromises for me,” Michael explains. He’s jittery, talking quickly, and his gaze is shooting all over the place and Alex realizes he’s in shock.

“I’m so glad you decided to put yourself first,” Alex replies, “You deserve to.”

“Thank you, Alex,” Michael finally stills to tell Alex his thanks, “I wouldn’t have done it without you.”

“You would have. You did,” Alex denies, “I’ve done nothing, just listened to you when you needed it.”

“Well I really appreciate it,” Michael says sincerely.

Alex smiles and offers to make them dinner. Michael readily agrees and they work together to prepare some burritos while music plays in the background. After dinner, Alex puts on the same show they’d been watching weeks ago. When it’s time to sleep, Michael tentatively asks, “Can I stay here again?”

“Of course, let me go get the sheets,” Alex starts to leave but Michael grabs his arm before he gets very far.

“I was wondering, if it would be okay, if I could sleep with you?” he asks earnestly.

Alex sighs heavily, “Michael…”

“Just sleep,” Michael promises “I just don’t want to be alone.”

He searches Michael’s face, he thinks he should say no, but Michael has always been so touch starved and tactile, he knows that this would just be comfort for him so he finally relents, “Okay.”

They climb into Alex’s bed and Michael cuddles up next to him, “Is this okay?” he whispers.

Alex closes his eyes because it’s perfect but Michael isn’t ready for another relationship right now so he simply says, “As long as you’re okay.”

When Michael doesn’t say anything, Alex shifts closer to him and is lulled to sleep by Michael’s even breathing and quiet heartbeat.