Their first date is awkward. It takes Michael over a month after Forrest Long’s sudden exit from Roswell to work up the courage to ask Alex to dinner. But as nice as it is to be Alex’s friend, Michael knows he wants more. And if the way Alex looks at him when it’s just the two of them sitting around the fire pit is any indication, Alex wants the same thing.
Still it feels like a risk, one Michael isn’t completely sure he wants to take even as Alex reaches for his hand on the way to the restaurant. They agreed on a few things when Michael asked Alex out. They aren’t thinking of this as getting back together. They’re too far removed from those few short months together to consider this anything other than a new relationship. Michael also suggests they take their first steps together privately, and Alex quickly agrees. It seems wise to start out away from the prying eyes of their friends who alternate between urging them to move on from their tragic past and encouraging them to reconnect.
To that end, Michael finds a steakhouse about an hour out of Roswell. Nothing fancy, just good food and a casual atmosphere. He’s pleased with his choice until they walk in and he sees the “Military Appreciation Night” banner hanging in the middle of the room. His blood runs cold, and he immediately drops Alex’s hand, trying to cover it by approaching the hostess station. Michael grabs the menus from the hostess and clutches them tightly in his hands while walking ahead of Alex to their table.
As they make their way through the dining room, he can’t help but notice more than half the people there are in uniform. He catches Alex waving at a few tables out of the corner of his eye, but Alex makes no attempt to approach anyone.
Once they are seated, Michael keeps his eyes trained on his menu, barely looking up when their drinks arrive. After they order and the menu is taken away, Michael makes a point of studying the decor, pretending to be absorbed by the pictures of the original building and newspaper clippings detailing the restaurant’s history while steadfastly ignoring Alex’s open hand on the table. Alex tries to make conversation, but Michael can’t concentrate, his mind running ahead wondering if he should apologize or suggest they leave, and Alex eventually falls silent.
Their salads arrive, and Michael eats with a single minded determination. He hears someone approach their table, and glances up just long enough to see a group on their way out slow in front of them. One of the men claps Alex on the shoulder and says something about seeing him on Monday. Alex gives an appropriate response, but all Michael can think is that he blew this. He should have given Alex an out, should have buttoned his shirt a little higher, should have acted like he was a business acquaintance of Alex’s rather than a date trying desperately not to be noticed.
Alex nudges Michael’s foot under the table, and Michael forces himself to look up. Alex doesn’t look angry or panicked, instead he looks concerned.
“Hey,” he says softly, leaning across the table and smiling like he is trying to comfort Michael, “you don’t have to be nervous. No one here knows about you.”
“I know that,” he snaps, surprised Alex would address it so directly. He leans back, trying to keep a respectable distance between them. “I’m trying to keep it that way.”
Alex looks confused for a moment before understanding dawns and his smile dims. “Michael, I meant no one knows about,” he pauses for a moment before whispering, “your family history. I thought you were nervous about being in a room full of military personnel. I wanted you to know Project Sheppard is so far off the books that you are completely safe now that it is shut down.”
“Oh,” Michael isn’t sure what else to say. He’s done exactly what they agreed not to do, made assumptions based on their past and decided less than an hour into their first date that their history is destined to repeat itself.
“It’s ok,” Alex says, but Michael knows it isn’t. “I understand why you thought,” Alex trails off before taking a deep breath and starting again. “I wouldn't have agreed to this if I wasn’t ready. I want this to work with you, Michael. Let’s just start over.”
Alex moves his hand farther across the table, and this time Michael takes it. Maybe they should talk more, but this is supposed to be a date, a chance to enjoy each other’s company and see if this next step in their relationship feels right, not a time to rehash their past. So he laces his fingers with Alex’s and lets his nerves and guilt go, at least for now. “So were those guys from the base?”
He sees Alex relax too as he tells him some funny stories from work. Michael counters with some of his best Sanders impressions, and soon they are both laughing. Alex doesn’t let go of his hand until their dinners arrive, and they need both hands to eat. By the time they finish sharing a huge piece of chocolate cake, Michael is starting to believe they can make it work this time.
Their first kiss is perfect. Michael pulls into Alex’s driveway, but doesn’t turn off the truck. Alex raises his eyebrow, but Michael just shakes his head. “I’m not coming in tonight. This is just our first date, we have plenty of time for sleepovers.”
“Who said anything about sleeping?” Alex's voice is low and full of promise.
“Alex,” Michael groans. He’s tempted to give in, to follow Alex into the house and lose himself in the familiarity of sex with Alex. But if they are going to break old patterns, they need to take their time.
Alex laughs at Michael’s distress, but doesn’t push him. Instead, he shifts closer to Michael and pulls him in for a kiss. He cups the back of Michael’s head, fingers twinning in his curls. The kiss is soft and gentle, Alex opens his mouth just enough to lick along Michael’s lips and make their mouths slide more easily together. The kiss is long, but remains almost chaste. When Alex pulls back, Michael feels cherished and loved.
He rests his forehead on Alex’s shoulder, and Alex kisses his ear before whispering, “You better make it worth the wait.”
“I promise,” Michael laughs then lifts his head and captures Alex’s lips again. He was wrong before, their first kiss wasn’t perfect because their second is even better.
Their first fight is ugly, but not in the way Michael expects. They’ve never held back when they were angry, always saying the things they know will hurt the most. But this is different, it’s a bittersweet reminder of all the ways they hurt each other in the past. It haunts Michael more than any insult ever could.
Two months into their new relationship, Michael is starting to have a nagging feeling that Alex isn’t as invested as he is. It’s easy to ignore when they are together, to chalk it up to old insecurities. The sex is as epic as it always has been, and being with Alex in relationship that isn’t secret and intermittent is everything he ever hoped it would be. Alex is attentive and affectionate, he makes Michael laugh, and he makes Michael feel like the most important person in the room. It’s when they're apart that doubts start to creep in.
It takes a while for Michael to notice, but he realizes that he has planned all their dates, even just casual hang outs have been his idea. Alex always seems happy enough with whatever Michael suggests, but he can’t help but wonder if Alex doesn't care enough to make an effort. He lets the way Alex’s eyes light up when he sees him, his reluctance to part ways at the end of the night reassure him for as long as he can.
It’s an unusually busy Wednesday at Sanders, and it’s not until after he’s showered and eaten that Michael realizes that other than the normal morning greetings and check-ins, he and Alex really haven’t talked. He starts a fire and sends Alex a quick text: Sky’s clear tonight want to come stargaze with me?
Love to is the almost immediate reply.
He has a beer waiting for Alex when he gets there, and Alex pulls his chair close to Michael’s, holding his hand while they talk. When Michael gets up to tend the fire, he swings into Alex’s lap instead of returning to his own chair.
He sets Alex’s mostly empty beer bottle on the ground and kisses him. Alex’s hands slide under his shirt, and he pulls Michael closer. Michael plants his feet to keep from over balancing them and starts kissing along Alex’s jaw. He smiles against Alex’s skin when he tilts his head to give Michael better access to his neck. Michael tugs at his earlobe with his teeth before whispering, “You don’t need to wait for an invitation to show up here you know.”
Alex’s hands still on his back, and he straightens his head to look at Michael, “I didn’t want to assume.”
“Consider this permission to always assume I want to see you,” Michael wiggles in Alex’s lap to emphasize his point. But Alex makes a face Michael doesn’t understand, but he knows it isn’t good. He shifts farther back as Alex’s hands fall away from him completely. “What, Alex?”
“I can’t assume, Michael, not this time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You told me you never said no. That I pulled you in and pushed you away and you never said no. I thought,” Alex shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. I can’t do that again.”
“That’s what this is about? Is it supposed to be penance or a punishment?” Michael scrubs his face with his hands. He can’t have this conversation on Alex’s lap so he gets up and paces in front of him. “Christ, Alex, are you going to remember every bad thing I ever said to you? Cause that’s not going to work.”
“It wasn’t bad. You told me what I did wrong, and I’m trying not to do it again,” Alex says it matter of factly. Like it’s completely obvious.
And suddenly a lot of things make sense for Michael. He realizes what he was starting to fear was indifference was Alex’s attempt to make sure Michael didn’t feel pressured. He also hears Jesse’s voice in Alex’s head, telling him “You just don’t learn do you, boy,” as he beat him. Alex told him he spent years trying to fix whatever he was doing wrong before he figured out he was what was wrong. If Jesse wasn’t already dead, Michael would kill him right now for all the damage he did to Alex.
“What do you think you’re doing, Alex?” Michael asks carefully. He needs to lead Alex with him because if he just starts telling Alex he’s wrong, he’ll shut down.
“I’m letting you set the pace. Making sure you know you have a choice.”
“What I said about not saying no was as much, if not more, about me than it was you. Not saying no to things I knew were going to hurt because I didn’t think I deserved better is something I needed to change. You can’t fix that by never asking for anything.”
“Then what do you want from me?” Alex asks in frustration.
“Look, I appreciate you trying not to give me mixed signals, but you have to give me something. I want us to be in this together. For both of us to feel like we can ask for what we want. And we both need to be able to say no if something isn’t right for us. I don’t want you going along with whatever I say because you think you’re making up for the past by not saying no.”
He can see Alex fighting his instinct to panic and run so he waits and lets Alex process what he’s said rather than pushing him for a response. Alex sighs and rubs his eyes, but then reaches his hand out for Michael. “I never wanted to say no to you,” he says once Michael takes his hand. “Sometimes I was just too afraid to say yes. For me and for you.”
“I know,” Michael says as he lets Alex pull him back into his lap. “But we don’t have to be afraid now, ok. We just need to trust each other.”
“Ok,” Alex looks up, and Michael kisses his forehead so he doesn’t have to see the tears in his eyes.
He wraps his arms around Alex and sighs happily when Alex tucks his face into his neck. Michael knows they have more to talk about; it was stupid to believe they could just leave the past behind them. But not tonight. Tonight he is going to cuddle under the stars with Alex, and let them both take comfort from each other.
The first time Michael spends the night is unplanned. Michael opens his eyes and realizes he’s missed a good portion of whatever movie they’re watching, lulled to sleep by the steady stroking of Alex’s hand along his back. He forces himself to sit, then stand, buttoning his pants as he gets up.
“I should go, it’s late,” he says around a yawn.
Alex doesn’t get up from the couch he’s stretched out on, but he does grab Michael’s knee to get his attention. “You could stay if you wanted to,” Alex looks up at Michael hopefully. “I would like you to,” he adds.
“Ok,” Michael agrees easily. He doesn’t ask if Alex is sure, trusting that Alex is asking because he wants to just like Alex is trusting him to know what he wants.
They’ve spent the night together before but only when one or both of them had passed out after sex. It’s never been like this. Michael brushing his teeth while Alex checks the locks and sets the alarm. Alex finding him a spare charger for his phone and showing him which side of the bed to take. Michael watching as Alex removes his prosthetic and paying attention to where it and Alex’s crutches belong at night.
It’s nice, saying goodnight with a kiss and figuring out how they fit together, laughing over sharp elbows and cold feet.
When Michael wakes up in the morning, Alex is on his side watching him. “Did you sleep?” Michael asks.
“Enough,” Alex shrugs. He pushes Michael’s curls off his forehead and leans over to kiss him.
Michael knows it’s probably not true. Alex has told him about the insomnia and nightmares that plague him, but Alex looks happy so he decides not to question him and returns Alex’s kiss instead.
“Did I ever tell you what happened with Forrest?” Alex asks as he leans back, propping his head up on his hand.
“No,” the question is surprising enough for Michael to turn onto his side as well so he is facing Alex. They never talked about Forrest, and Michael never asked.
“I told him from the beginning I wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. After everything that happened, I wasn’t ready for that. I wanted something casual. I wanted to go on dates and have fun and enjoy dating a guy who liked me. I never had that before.” Alex looks guilty as he tells Michael this.
Michael takes his hand and squeezes it in support. Alex deserved all of that, and Michael would never be upset that he found it with Forrest. Just like he knows Alex doesn’t begrudge Michael’s time with Maria. He doesn’t blame Michael for pursuing his feelings for her, for wanting a relationship that wasn’t complicated by all their baggage. And now, despite all that, or maybe because of it, they found their way back to each other.
“One night, I fell asleep at his place. I didn’t plan it, but my leg had been bothering me, and I took a pain pill later than I should have. I just meant to rest for a few minutes before getting dressed, but I fell asleep,” Alex smiles a little ruefully. “When I woke up, Forrest had coffee waiting for me, and he looked so happy. He told me he liked waking up with me, that it was something he could get used to.”
Michael understands that feeling completely. He can’t help but see the parallels in the situation, and a part of him wonders why he’s telling Michael this right now. But Alex asked him to stay so he listens rather than getting defensive. “What did you say?” he prods when he realizes Alex has fallen silent.
“I didn’t say anything, but the look on my face must have told him I didn’t feel the same way. He went from happy to disappointed, and we both knew it was over.”
Michael laughs a little at that. Alex might have a difficult time talking about his feelings, but his face gives way more than he realizes. “I don’t blame him for falling for you. But you told him what you were able to give. It’s not your fault he wanted more.”
“He told me the same thing. While I was getting dressed,” Alex makes a face. “It was incredibly awkward.”
“Sounds like it,” Michael agrees.
“But waking up with you was different,” Alex continues, serious again. “I didn’t feel trapped or uncomfortable. Waking up with you felt safe, I felt happy and relaxed.”
“I’m glad,” Michael brings the hand he’s been holding up to his lips for a kiss. “It felt pretty great to me too.”
“I want to wake up next to you, Michael, every morning. I want the neighbors to get used to seeing your truck in the driveway. I want people to look for you here first. I want to listen to you complain about how early I get up in the mornings, and make it up to you by convincing you to join me in the shower. I want all of that with you, Michael. And I’m not afraid to want it or to ask you for it anymore.”
There is so much Michael wants to say, to share in return as Alex essentially offers him everything he ever wanted But Alex looks uncertain, and Michael can’t have that so all he manages is a choked, “I love you, too,” before he pulls Alex into his arms.