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Michael waltzed into the Wild Pony as if he owned the place, even though it had been weeks since Maria had told him to stay away until she could fully process their breakup. He avoided looking toward the bar and thankfully quickly found Isobel at a table toward the back.

He slouched into his seat as he set his cowboy hat on the table. Letting out a sigh, he looked around and let the insipid music of the tennyboppers on stage wash over him.

“What?! You knew it was open mic night when you said you’d meet me here.” Isobel said as Michael glared at her. “Remember? You said the more people the better, so it wouldn’t be as awkward.” He scoffed at her… and at his memory of saying exactly that. “Don’t give me that. I’ll get you a drink. Because I’m nice.”

Michael couldn’t help but grin as she walked away. He looked around, noticing Max and Liz having a casual double date with Kyle and Steph; he then quickly glanced past Isobel talking to Maria at the bar and his eyes landed on Forrest and Alex at a table close to the stage. Forrest was leaning in to Alex, beaming and whispering as Alex was nursing a beer and tapping the table with his fingers.

“You’re welcome.” Michael jumped, breaking his stare on Alex and Forrest, as Isobel put the beer down in front of him with more force than was necessary. As he started to respond sarcastically, his eye caught Alex getting up and his gaze immediately followed him as he climbed on stage and sat behind the keyboard.

Michael’s mouth went dry and his heart sped up. As he watched Alex sit on that stage and take deep breaths he couldn’t help but lean forward and smile. He could feel Isobel burning a hole in the side of his head but he wasn’t about to take his eyes off Alex no matter how much he wanted to give her his patented glare.

As soon as the first chord played, Michael could see Alex visibly relax. Music had always been Alex’s happy place – both of their happy places. It was what initially brought them together and was one truly good thing they had in common.

Alex began to sing and Michael beamed with pride. He always knew that Alex’s talent was special and now everyone would know as well. He wanted to look around the room and take in how everyone was reacting to it, but it had been so long since he had heard Alex sing and seen him play that he couldn’t risk taking his eyes off of him for a second.

So he just stared at Alex. He didn’t recognize the song and quickly realized that it must be a new one that he had written. Then his breath got caught in his throat. His smile fell and his hands started to sweat.

Alex sang about late nights in the desert, laying in the back of a truck. He sang about looking up at the stars and wishing upon every one that he’d never have to leave. He sang about feeling breathless after a first kiss and having hope that it would only get better. He sang about going to war and feeling safe every time he smelled rain.

The bar had gone quiet as Alex continued to sing, everyone trapped in the great love story Alex was telling.

As the final note played, Alex bowed his head and everyone began clapping thunderously. Forrest gave a standing ovation and whistled. Michael watched as Alex smiled and slowly looked up, scanning the audience with appreciation. And then his gaze met Michael’s and his smile broadened. Michael nodded his head once and beamed with pride.

Alex walked off stage and immediately headed to Forrest. Michael watched as the two men locked eyes and Forrest put his hands on Alex’s arms before they both moved to close the gap between them. As he watched them kiss, he felt Isobel put her hand on his own arm. Looking up at her, his lips curled into a small but genuine smile.

“He was amazing,” Isobel said in awe, but with some caution.

“He always is,” Michael responded as a little sadness crept into Isobel’s eyes. “Let’s go.”

Isobel was halfway to Max and Liz to say goodbye when she noticed Michael was not next to her. She spun around and saw him almost at Alex and Forrest. She quickly crossed the room, silently praying that nothing would turn volatile.

“That was…” Michael tried to start as he saw Forrest put his arm around Alex’s back; his voice hitched in his throat but a jab to the ribs by Isobel’s elbow reminded him he needed to say something. “Good job,” he finally squeaked out.

Alex smiled sheepishly and looked directly into his eyes. “Thank you.”

“Making up a love story as epic as that one takes some real talent, and Alex has an immense amount of talent,” Forrest gushed as he looked lovingly at Alex. Michael ignored the look and smirked at Forrest not realizing that he was calling Michael and Alex’s love story epic.

“Well, that was more stressful than any combat experience I’ve had,” Alex joked as he tried to change the subject. “I’m dripping sweat.”

“I’ll grab you a towel from Maria,” Forrest offered with a little too much sweetness.

“It’s okay, I have a bandana he can use,” Michael said quickly but thoughtfully as Alex’s eyes shot to his, fraught with confusion and hope. Michael smiled, “It’s okay.” He could hear Alex take a sharp inhale.

Michael brought his covered hand in front of him and looked down at it before locking eyes once again with Alex. Alex took Michael’s hand in his own and held it for a couple of seconds before he slowly began to slide the bandana off, never breaking eye contact. As the bandana left the last fingertip both men let out a breath neither one knew they were holding. Alex brought the bandana to his face and inhaled the scent of rain as he closed his eyes. Suddenly remembering Forrest and Isobel were there, he patted his cheeks and forehead with it before holding it back out to Michael.

Michael took it but immediately tossed it, not even watching it hit the floor. “I don’t need it anymore.”

Isobel grabbed Michael’s arm as she tried to control a quiet squeal, but Michael only saw Alex and his look of unadulterated hope.

“We should go,” Forrest interrupted as he said goodbye to Michael and Isobel. He nudged Alex to snap him out of his trance.

“Thank you… for coming,” Alex stuttered as he started to turn to leave. Forrest put his arm around Alex’s back again as they walked away, but when Alex turned to look at Michael one more time, the angle made Forrest’s arm fall to his side. Alex’s smile deepened and Michael returned it as Alex left the Wild Pony and the door shut behind him.

“We can go now,” Michael told Isobel in a tone that she hadn’t heard from him in a long time. She swore he looked happy – and hopeful. “I’m glad we came tonight.”