When Michael woke from his drunken nap, he sobered up immediately at the feeling of his blankets being drenched and the sky being far too dark for his liking.
He knew it was going to rain that night, and had even felt it in the joints of his mangled hand. What he didn’t predict, however, was that he was going to sleep for a few more hours than he intended, waking up in the middle of a storm rather than to the late afternoon desert sun.
“Shit, shit, shit!” he hissed, scrambling out of his truck bed and attempting to gather his linens. As he piled the soaked pillows and blankets he realized that he’d stupidly kept his bag of clothes beside him as he slept, leaving him with nothing dry to change into. He shoved his belongings into a sopping pile on his passenger seat before rushing to the other side of the truck cab and turning on the ignition with shaking hands.
Safe from the weather outside, Michael cranked up the heater and stripped off his shirt, huddling against himself for warmth. He ran his fingers through his curls in an effort to squeeze the water out, but to no avail. He sat like this, shivering and pathetic, for about 20 minutes before deciding that he needed a plan B. He didn’t have enough gas to use his heater for any extended period of time, and he wouldn’t have enough money for a refill until Sanders paid him for his work that week.
So, he decided to head into town to see if he could find somewhere that would let him stay inside for the duration of the storm without expecting a dime out of him. Normally he would try the library, but that closed at 8 and according to the clock on his radio, it was around 11 pm. Damn it. Hardly anything in this sleepy town was open past 10 on a weeknight other than the bars, and the storm wasn’t helping his chances.
Monsoon season was probably the most detrimental time for his beloved old Chevy that he called home, and tonight was no exception. He could hardly see through his windshield with the mix of dust and rain smattered across it, the high-velocity winds forcing his wipers to barely keep up. He was able to see enough to drive, though, as well as to recognize the signs on the shops and restaurants. They were almost all closed, as he’d suspected, except for one - the Crashdown still had its lights on and as he pulled into a parking space in front of it, he could see two figures inside. Liz Ortecho was wiping the counter as she spoke to the person in front of her, whose back was turned to Michael.
Only a few months ago, Michael would be too embarrassed to walk into the Crashdown at half-past 11 looking like a drowned rat and ask for a favor from his academic competitor. Now, though, Liz was going through her own living hell, which Michael felt partially responsible for, and had no room in her life to pity some punkass kid that lived in his truck. So, he swallowed his guilt and pride and shame and made his way out of his car and into the pouring rain. Without giving himself a chance to rethink this decision, he threw open the diner’s door, bringing attention to himself far too dramatically.
And, well, shit. Maybe he would’ve been better off using his fake id to spend his night with the racist alcoholics at the Wild Pony.
The first thing he noticed was that Liz looked rough. She clearly hadn’t been sleeping, as her eye bags were dark and evident, and her skin was paler than usual. She stood stock still at his cinematic entrance, her face full of annoyance and exhaustion. She no longer looked like the nerdy girl-next-door that Max had a crush on. She looked older than her age, and, in a sense, she was. She was going through more sadness than most had in their entire lifetimes, and that thought sent a spike of pain in Michael’s chest.
It reminded him of that selfish anger he’d been repressing since that night; anger at Isobel for killing the girls, anger at himself and Max for covering it up, anger at whatever entities left the three of them on this planet in the first place. He usually tried to shove those thoughts down before they ate away at him, but that was impossible when the consequence of their actions was quite literally staring himself in the face.
He glanced at the figure sitting on the stool across from Liz and his stomach dropped. Of course, it just had to be the very person Michael had been avoiding for the past two weeks.
He watched as Alex’s face morphed from confusion, to brief concern, and finally an annoyance that rivaled Liz’s. The last thing Michael wanted was to relive the fight they’d had after Alex told him he was enlisting in the air force.
Alex called Michael a violent alcoholic that was wasting his life.
Michael compared him to every birth and foster parent who had abandoned him.
Alex said Michael was no better than his abusive father.
Michael said that was funny seeing as he was following in his daddy’s footsteps.
It wasn’t pleasant.
So, Michael, dripping like a wet mop on the restaurant’s tile floor, stood silently as he looked between the sister of the girl whose murder he covered up only two months ago, and his lover who would rather be sent off to war than be with him. Great. He swallowed, figuring he may as well break the silence.
“Sorry, I wasn’t sure if-”
“The kitchen is closed,” Liz interrupted, looking him up and down before saying, “but you can stay until the storm lets up.”
Michael nodded, flinging water from his hair. He sat in the nearest booth, looking at his hands. He didn’t exactly have a plan for what he’d do if someone were to let him in. Maybe he could sleep? He didn’t think Liz would appreciate having to wake him up to kick him out once the rain stopped, but making conversation didn’t seem like much of an option.
When he looked back over to see that Liz had bent down to clean below the counter, Alex was still staring at him. Michael glanced back down at his hands, but it was too late. Alex approached the booth and stood over him.
“I fell asleep and when I woke up it was raining and all my shit was wet,” he said, still looking down.
Alex furrowed his brows. “It started raining around 8.”
“I guess I went to bed early.”
“Is that your way of saying you passed out drunk?”
Michael raised his gaze to glare at Alex. Alex glared right back.
“Can we not do this right now?”
Alex huffed a sigh and sat across from him. Michael leaned back and turned his head, watching the downpour out the window. They sat in silence for a minute until Alex spoke up.
“You need to change your splint.”
For someone that “wouldn’t be Michael’s medicine”, Alex sure liked to act like his doctor. But, he wasn’t wrong. Michael’s splint was soaked, making it functionally useless.
“I have some gauze in the truck, I’ll fix it later,” he replied, still staring at the rain.
“Just grab it now, I’ll help you do it.”
Michael turned back to Alex. “What? No, I-”
Alex stood up. “Get the gauze and I’ll meet you upstairs.”
As Alex turned away, presumably to ask Liz if she was cool with him bringing the personified version of a stray dog found in the gutter up into the small apartment she shared with her grieving father, Michael conceded and ran back to his truck to grab the gauze. He could never really say no to Alex. He rushed back in, covering the gauze with his body to prevent any rain damage and, with a quick “bathroom’s on the right” from Liz, he ran up the stairs to meet Alex in the tiny restroom that Liz used to share with Rosa. Used to. Michael shuddered at the thought. He was too sober for this long night.
Except, Alex wasn’t in the restroom. He was nowhere to be found. Regardless, Michael closed the door gently and began peeling the gauze off his hand, the feeling not dissimilar to applying a strip of wet paper-mâché to a surface. He winced at the pain, which he’d been ignoring until then, and wished he had some acetone to take the edge off.
He glanced at the medicine cabinet. Maybe…He opened the cabinet and there it was, half a bottle of kroger brand nail polish. Jackpot. Once he finished his second swig, the door handle started twisting. Shit. He used his telekinesis to put the bottle back in the cabinet and close the door, all while rinsing his mouth to cover the evidence. He didn’t want to think about what Alex’s reaction would be to finding him drinking Liz’s nail polish remover straight out of the bottle. “Seriously, Guerin? Alcohol not enough of a buzz for you anymore?”. Alex always called him “Guerin” when he was disappointed or mad at him. Lately, that seemed to be more often than not.
Alex peeked his head in slowly, as if to give Michael privacy, which was frankly adorable, seeing as how many times they’d seen each other at least partially nude. When he saw that Michael was decent, he opened the door completely, revealing that he was carrying a pile of clothes and towels.
“Here, change into these,” Alex commanded, handing him the clothes. His clothes. Michael’s ears turned red against his wishes at the thought of wearing Alex’s clothes.
“”You always have a stash of clothes at the Ortecho’s, or is this just my lucky night?” he asked, removing his wet t-shirt. Alex turned away, making Michael roll his eyes.
“I would usually come here when things got ugly at my place. Arturo didn’t mind me sleeping on Liz and Rosa’s floor, so I kept some of my stuff here. Tonight I’m here for Liz, though,” Alex explained.
Michael removed his pants. “You know you don’t have to turn away when I’m changing, right? We’ve seen each other naked, like, a hundred times.”
Now it was Alex’s turn to blush. “I think a hundred is a little hyperbolic,” he said as he turned around to face Michael.
Michael ran the towel down his body before finally ruffling his curls dry. “Well there was our first time... “
“And the time in the cab of my truck just a few days later…”
“That was just uncomfortable.”
“And then a week later when we had that picnic out in the desert at midnight…”
“Ugh, that was just gross. Do you know how many spiders and scorpions are out there? Definitely wish I’d kept my pants on for that.”
“And then add a few more in the back of my truck and that should add up to one hundred!”
“Still a hyperbole. I’d say that’s 8, total. The rest at least one of us kept our pants or shirt on.”
“Sorry, I forgot to add the ones from my dreams.”
“Oh god, please shut up,” Alex said just a little loudly, making Michael snort and put a finger to his lips.
“Shh, Alex, c’mon. No need to wake up Arturo by discussing our epic sexcapades.”
Michael was now fully dressed in Alex’s clothes, wearing a burgundy sweater that felt softer than anything he’d ever worn before and black jeans that were just a little too tight. He looked at himself in the mirror and cracked a smile.
“Maybe I could pull the emo look off, huh? What do you think, darlin?” He added the “darlin” as a test. When Alex was actually pissed, the pet name only ticked him off even more. When Michael was starting to get back on his good side, he brushed it off and pretended he didn’t like it, even though he definitely did.
Alex suppressed a smile. Score.
“I think you’re ridiculous. Now lean against the sink and hold this washcloth.”
Michael raised an eyebrow but did as he was told.
“Here, hold the washcloth like this,” Alex said before gently moving the fingers on Michael’s left hand around the cloth. It hurt like hell, but Michael did his best to hide it. He didn’t like Alex seeing him in pain, especially when he knew Alex blamed himself for this particular injury. Michael didn’t want him to have another reason to feel guilty.
“It’s good of you to come over here and be with Liz. She seems…” He trailed off, not sure of what he was planning on saying. She seems, what, bad? Exhausted? Depressed? Like she’d just had her favorite person in the world taken from her, and now the entire town was spreading lies about her? He just let Alex finish his thought.
“It’s just what friends do. She needs support right now,” Alex murmured, wrapping the gauze around Michael’s fingers. “She’s leaving town, too, soon. Which is a good thing, I think.”
Michael stiffened at that. He already knew Liz was leaving, of course. He was just as responsible for that as he was for Rosa’s death, and her postmortem defamation. It’s that “too” that hits. Maybe it was the buzz from the acetone or the thrill of Alex watching him undress, but either way Michael was able to forget for a second about the coldness that had been between them just a few minutes ago, and the reason for it being there. That little word, “too”, was a painful reminder that hurt just a little more than the feeling of his disjointed bones being squeezed too tightly by Alex’s makeshift splint. Michael inhaled sharply to indicate this.
“Shit, sorry, let me make this a little looser.”
Michael looked down and shook his head a tad bit too violently, trying to indicate that he didn’t give a damn about the stupid splint.
“What? What is it Michael?”
Michael squeezed his eyes shut, knowing he was diving headfirst into the argument he was trying to pretend had never happened.
“You can’t go.”
Alex dropped Michael’s hand, which he’d just finished putting the last piece of tape on.
“Goddamn it, Michael, did we really not spend enough time talking about this already? I’m sick of my father looming over me, and, let’s face it. I’m not like you. I can’t just waste my life in this garbage town forever, sustaining myself on whiskey and bar fights.”
Michael opened his eyes back up and realized he had tears welling up. It wasn’t because of what Alex had said, words and insults didn’t phase him anymore. It was that his deepest anxiety was becoming his reality. Michael was going to be left behind, yet again.
He was used to pushing his fears down, but right now he didn’t want to repress. He wanted Alex to understand exactly how he was feeling, no matter how childish or pathetic he sounded in the process.
“I don’t want you to leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”
He looked up to meet Alex’s eyes. The other boy’s face melted from the defensive hardness he’d held before to something much softer. It wasn’t piteous, it was just… sad.
“I don’t want to leave you Michael. I definitely don’t want you to be alone. You’re the only reason I’ve ever even considered staying.”
Michael looked down again. His words were sweet, but they held no meaning. It didn’t matter how much Alex cared about him, he was still leaving.
“You know this doesn’t have to be goodbye forever, right? I’ll be coming back after basic, and then I’ll be coming home on leave whenever I can.” Alex cupped Michael’s face with his hands, forcing him to look up at him. Memories flooded in of their first kiss, when they cradled each other’s faces in the UFO emporium. Michael mirrored the movement and leaned in to Alex’s space, but didn’t close the gap. Instead, he watched Alex closely, reading the earnesty in his eyes. It seemed like he truly believed they could still be together, even through hell.
It was Alex that made the move, pressing Michael into the sink behind him and tenderly kissing his lips. Their movements were slow and gentle, much different from their usual sexual intensity. This was a different kind of intimacy. They touched each other lovingly rather than lustfully, their focus not on rushing to make eachother come, but instead on patiently memorizing every detail they could. They were so enraptured with their shared space that the outside world seemed to melt away, including the door that was being pushed open behind them.
“Oh shi-” they heard behind them, shattering the moment. Alex jumped away, terror in his eyes. Michael’s heart was in his throat. Of course, it was just Liz, who didn’t actually care about their romantic involvement, just that they didn’t have sex on her bathroom sink. Still, the last time they were interrupted like this wasn’t a night they wanted to relive.
“I just wanted to let Guerin know that it stopped raining,” Liz said, her eyes turned to the floor uncomfortably. This was her polite way of saying “please get out of my home it’s past midnight and I’ve been waiting for you to leave for half an hour”, so he took the cue for what it was and headed out the door with a nod.
“Hey, Michael?” he heard from behind him. He turned back around.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m leaving in a week. I’d like to see you before then, to say goodbye.”
Michael gave another small nod, and headed down the stairs at twice his usual speed, not wanting either of them to hear him cry.
When he got to his truck, he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep anytime soon. So, instead, he devised a plan to ensure he wouldn’t be around whenever Alex decided to schedule that goodbye.
And this plan required Kyle Valenti’s hubcaps.