It’s the silence that catches Alex’s attention. When he’d come back to the kitchen to take a break, the celebration over Jones’ defeat was still going strong. Once they confirmed Jones was dead, everyone had come to Max’s house to regroup, and by the time Alex arrived after taking care of the body, the alcohol and acetone were already flowing freely.
Relief after weeks of tension loosed everyone’s inhibitions. While eating the pizza and wings Alex had picked up, the story of Jones’ demise was told over and over again. Each time a different detail was highlighted, and the already complicated plan was exaggerated to mythic proportions. High fives were exchanged, and variations of “Did you see that?” and “Can you believe we pulled this off” overlapped as they all talked at once. Alex nursed his beer and let the conversation wash over him, accepting praise when offered, but not adding anything. Bravado covered over the awe and disbelief in a way Alex remembered from his time overseas when post mission debriefs dissolved into similar celebrations as a way to wrap your mind around what had happened, to realize you survived when the odds were against you. So he didn’t wince when laughter rang out over missteps he knew would haunt his nights, just clenched his hand under the table and smiled.
Once the food ran out and the congratulations were exhausted, Michael and Maria tried to organize a drinking game over a late night soccer match they found on TV. The girls would drink every time a stop was made, or as Michael put it “The guy in the net hut keeps the ball from going in.” And the guys would drink any time two players hugged or slapped each other’s asses.
It didn’t take long for Rosa, Isobel and Kyle to lose interest and move out to the patio to play cards. A tipsy Liz had taken Max back to the bedroom for a third check of his heart, just to be safe she insisted, to make sure the energy needed to kill Jones hadn’t damaged it.
Alex had taken the opportunity to sneak into the kitchen for some solitude. Deciding to remain sober had left him unable to relax completely, part of him still on alert, and cleaning is a good place to put that energy. He takes his time disposing of pizza boxes, gathering empty bottles for recycling and wiping down counters. Once that’s done, he sits at the table and forces himself to run through the night's events. He closes his eyes and replays everything in his mind, picking apart his role and actions, identifying his mistakes and where he could have done a better job of protecting everyone while reminding himself that in the end they’d been successful and no one had been hurt.
At first he still hears Michael and Maria yelling at the screen and calls of “Rummy” coming in through the open kitchen window. Lost in his own thoughts, he doesn’t notice when they begin to quiet down, but now that house is silent, he realizes more time has passed than he thought.
He hopes the drop in activity is just the result of a natural adrenaline crash rather than everyone already beginning to deal with what they’ve been through. Alex knows how hard it will be once the relief fades away, and they are forced to think about the risks they took, with their own lives and with each other’s. When they admit that what they are celebrating is their success in planning and following through on a plan that resulted in someone’s death. No matter how justified, it will be a difficult reality to accept.
Alex stands back up, ignoring the pain and stiffness in his leg for now. As he makes his way back into the living room, he pushes aside his own feelings about what happened. He needs to check on the others, make sure he is available to help them deal with the aftermath. It can’t be like Caulfield again when he was so overwhelmed by his own shock and guilt that he left Michael and Kyle to flounder. They had all been unprepared for what they found there, how it ended, but Alex had been trained for situations like that, had seen cruelty and death on that scale, although never tied to his own family, and still failed them miserably. Instead of helping Kyle, and especially Michael, he tried to push forward so he wouldn’t have to face it. Sometimes he wonders if that’s when his relationship with Michael fell apart for good because when Michael needed him the most, he let himself be blinded by his own pain. He won’t make that same mistake again.
Michael is still watching the game, muttering under his breath and holding a mostly empty bottle of whiskey, but Maria is sound asleep on the couch. Alex doesn’t see Liz or Max, but if they are still in his bedroom, he has no intention of interrupting them.
He walks out to the porch where Rosa, Isobel and Kyle still have a deck of cards out, but no one seems to be playing anything.
“Hey, Alex!” Kyle greets him, eyes unfocused and voice too loud. “Want me to deal you in?” he asks, waving the hand holding his cards in the air.
“No, I’m heading out,” Alex shakes his head and steps up behind Rosa.
“More for me,” Kyle shrugs and takes more cards from the deck.
“You good to get him home?” Alex asks Rosa, knowing she also hasn’t been drinking.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “Miss Priss too if she decides not to stay,” she continues, tilting her head toward Isobel.
Alex looks over and sees Isobel is staring into space, her cards apparently forgotten in a pile in front of her.
Rosa catches Alex’s eye and snorts. “She’s either trying to see Kyle’s cards with her mind, or she fell asleep with her eyes open again. Must be some creepy alien trick,” Rosa shudders. “Need me to uber for anyone else?”
“I don’t think so. Liz is still back with Max so she’s on her own.” Rosa makes a face at him, but nods. “Maria’s down for the count, and I’ll check with Michael on my way out.”
Just then Kyle looks up and greets Alex as if he’s forgotten he’s been standing there, “Hey Alex, where have you been? Want to play? I can give you some cards.” Kyle keeps drawing more cards until he has two full hands then offers one to Alex.
“Not tonight,” he says, setting the cards Kyle gives him back in the deck. Then he turns back to Rosa who has buried her face in her hands to muffle her laughter. “Good luck. We’ll talk soon,” he drops a kiss on the top of her head before walking away.
Back in the living room, he covers Maria with the blanket from the back of the couch and tucks her hair behind her ear. Michael is still focused on the screen so he goes back to the kitchen for a few bottles of water and aspirin which he leaves out on the coffee table.
“Hey,” he says, placing his hand on Michael’s shoulder to get his attention. “Looks like Maria won?” he holds up the empty tequila bottle he found on the floor before setting it on the table as well.
Michael looks up and shrugs. “I don’t know, this blue team is pretty handsy. I might be staging a comeback.”
“Well, I’m heading home. Do you need a ride?”
“Nah, I’m gonna crash here. Be ready to pick up the pieces of Max’s broken heart if Liz decides to leave again,” Michael gestures back toward the bedroom. “I’ll make sure Maria gets home in the morning.”
“Thanks,” Alex sticks his hands in his pockets and rocks awkwardly back on his heels, not sure how to say goodbye to Michael. He wants to hug him or fix his hair like he did for Maria. He wants to tell Michael that he can count on him, that he won’t fail him like he did before, but it feels too late for any of that. Instead he settles for, “Later, if you want to talk about what happened. You can call me, any time.”
Alex turns to leave without waiting for a response, but Michael stops him with a hand on his arm.
“I need to tell you something,” Michael begins once Alex is facing him again. “I’m glad Forrest is gone. And that’s a shitty thing to say to a friend. That’s what we are now, friends?” he waits for Alex to nod before continuing. “I’m happy we’re friends, but it really sucks sometimes because I miss you even when you’re right there. All this time we’ve spent building our friendship and then working together to take Jones down just reminded me of all the reasons I love you. I miss touching you, Alex. I miss loving you, and I want to be allowed to do that again.” Michael slides his hand down Alex’s arm and takes his hand. “I want this to be our time.”
Alex closes his eyes and takes a step back. He never realized how much it would hurt to have Michael say everything he wants to hear and not be able to believe it. “Michael,” he lets out a shaky breath. “You’ve been through a lot, tonight, these last few weeks. And you’ve been drinking. I can’t”
Before he can say anything else, Michael drops his hand and adopts a look of casual indifference. “No, I get it. Just forget I said anything.”
“No, I don’t want to forget. Unless you do,” he adds hastily.
Alex hates this. All he wants to do is tell Michael he made a mistake, that he wants the same things Michael does. But he’s been down this road before. Frantic hand jobs behind the barracks before the adrenaline wears off, or nights spent in each other arms trying to not to cry before getting each other off as a reminder than while not everyone made it back, they had. Every time it ended the same way, with averted eyes and awkward silences or a sudden transfer. Alex can’t do that with Michael. As much as this hurts, seeing regret or shame in Michael’s eyes tomorrow morning would kill him.
“Look, you need time after all this,” Alex waves his hand trying to encompass everything Michael has been through. “But later, if you still mean it, I want to hear it.”
“Yeah, sure whatever,” Michael sits back down and turns his attention back to the game effectively dismissing him.
There is nothing else Alex can say so he leaves, hoping when Michael is rested and sober he’ll realize Alex was sincere.
Alex tries not to be disappointed when he doesn’t see or hear from Michael the next day. It’s what he expected, and he ignores the tiny part of him that hoped Michael would wake up and still mean everything he said the night before.
He reaches out to Max and Isobel to let them know he’s available if they want to talk. He doesn’t hear back from Max, but he didn’t expect to. Alex is pleasantly surprised when Isobel takes the time to respond, letting him know that she and Michael are staying with Max so they could all spend some time together.
The text sets him at ease. Alex is glad they are leaning on each other. Their dynamic has always been a little closed off to others which know that he knows their secrets makes sense. Their experience with Jones was also very different from anyone else's. Jones was the last known link to their plant, the last link to a history that was taken from them. Coming to the decision to end his life came at the cost of any hope they had of learning from him. Jones used that hope to manipulate them for as long as he could. Alex knows at least for now they are best equipped to help each other through this. But it still stings when Michael ignores the message he leaves him repeating his offer to talk.
Alex can’t control what Michael does next, when or if he’ll come to Alex and repeat his confession or if he’ll resume their friendship as if he’d never spoken of wanting more so he controls what he can. He spends his time catching up on all the things he let slide during these last few frantic weeks where every free moment was spent planning, arguing over strategy and testing out theories when they’d been desperate enough to convince Liz to come back from California to help Michael in the lab because all their previously developed serums proved useless against Jones.
So he does his laundry and goes grocery shopping. When he’s not at work, he leaves his prosthetic off and gives his leg some much needed rest. Alex does his best to revive his neglected plants and takes out his guitar in the evenings.
As Alex’s life settles back into a routine, he realizes this is the first time in months he’s gone longer than a day without seeing Michael. Even before the situation with Jones became critical, they’d fallen into the habit of spending time together, becoming the friends they always had the potential to be. He would have thought after a decade of only sporadic contact, missing Michael would be second nature, but it feels wrong in a way it never has before. He loses count of the times he starts typing out a text to Michael or drives by Sanders, forgetting Michael won’t be there. But he has other people in his life now, people who need him as much as he needs them so Alex fills his time as best he can with them while hoping Michael is finding the same support with his family.
He gets together with Kyle, once at Planet 7 to let Kyle blow off some steam and play an ineffective wingman, and another night at his place for burgers and beer. He takes the time to listen and help Kyle come to terms with being on the other side of death. For all that every death Alex caused still gnaws at his conscience, no matter how necessary, it’s not quite the same. Alex is a soldier, whether he wanted to be or not, and he knew exactly what he was signing up for. But as a doctor, Kyle never expected to stand by and watch someone die rather than doing everything possible to save him. It’s an experience Alex wishes Kyle didn’t have, but there had been no way to spare him.
Before she goes back to California, Alex has lunch with Liz. She brushes off his thanks for leaving her job to help them and gushes about the scientific advances she can make using the techniques they used to adjust the serum. The techniques, she assures him, not the data. It’s not until he walks her to her car and reminds her not to be a stranger that she breaks down.
“I can’t stay,” she whispers as he hugs her. “Seeing Jones die reminds me too much of losing Max. I keep thinking about those months I spent watching him lifeless in that pod just praying I could save him. I’m not ready to feel that much for him again.”
He kisses her forehead and promises he understands. And he does, if anyone knows what it’s like to run when your feelings get to be too much it’s him. Alex reminds her that Roswell isn’t going anywhere, and he doubts Max is either. She gives him a shaky smile and another hug before driving away. As Alex stands in front of the Crashdown and watches her leave, he’s confident her absence will be shorter this time.
Maria and Rosa come over for movie night loaded down with popcorn, nachos and Arturo’s best milkshakes. They start with an old slasher flick that makes them laugh way more than it scares them before moving on to a cheesy rom-com. The plot is contrived, Maria declares the hero a “Chad,” and Alex isn’t even sure he wants the characters together, but when it ends with a cliched and insincere declaration, he looks over at Maria and Rosa and sees tears streaming down their faces. He lets them pretend they are crying about what’s on the screen until they are both ready to cry for real. Movie night turns into a slumber party complete with a blanket fort in his living room and whispered secrets about their biggest fears, crushes and their own rom-com dreams. His back and leg don’t thank him in the morning, but his heart feels lighter than it has in a while. And when Maria and Rosa spend the morning laughing and teasing him over his badly painted nails, he knows he’s not the only one.
Alex keeps himself busy enough that Michael’s absence is dull ache he does his best to ignore. He reminds himself that Michael isn’t alone, he has Max and Isobel, and he knows he can reach out to Alex if he wants to. Still, he’s more surprised than he should be when Michael shows up at his house one afternoon almost two weeks after Jones’ defeat.
“Hey,” he greets Michael with a smile. “How are you?”
“Good, all caught up on my sleep now that I’m not spending every night in the bunker, got the backlog at Sanders cleared out.”
“I’m sure he appreciates that,” Alex laughs remembering how Sanders kept finding excuses to send Michael home the last few weeks, knowing the hours he was spending trying to defeat Jones and finish what his mother had started. “How are Max and Isobel?”
“Isobel is taking everything in stride. She’s way more practical and stronger than Max and I ever gave her credit for.”
Alex inclines his head in agreement. From working with Isobel, he’s learned that she can handle just about anything that is thrown at her.
“Max is glad there’s no one running around trying to kill us while wearing his face. But he really thought Liz was going to stay,” Michael’s smile dims. “We’re at depressing Russian literature levels of pining, but he is planning a trip to see her next month so it’s not hopeless.”
“No, I don’t think it is,” Alex agrees, remembering the look on Liz’s face when she talked about leaving Max again.
“What about you?” Michael asks. “I hear you’ve been doing a lot of caretaking recently. Is anyone taking care of you?”
Alex bites his lip and looks away, uncomfortable with both the pride and concern he hears in Michael’s voice. He’s not doing anything special, just what he should have done before. Maybe if he handled things better before, after Caulfield, if he’d focused on the people who needed him instead of himself, he thinks. Alex shakes his head, stopping his own train of thought. He thinks a lot of things that don’t make a difference in the end, and that’s not what Michael is asking about.
“I’m fine,” he finally settles on not wanting to explain that helping everyone else is what he needs. Michael continues to stare at him, eyes filled with kindness and concern. It feels like more than Alex deserves. “Do you want to come in?” he asks just to break the tension.
Michael looks around and seems surprised they had the whole conversation standing in Alex’s doorway. “That’s probably a good idea,” he answers, rubbing the back of his neck.
They move into the living room, but neither of them sits down. Instead they stand facing each other in the middle of the room.
“I need to tell you something,” Michael begins.
He looks uncomfortable, and Alex’s heart sinks. “Michael,” he sighs. He wanted to tell him not to bother, that they can both forget what Michael said the other night. But he and Michael are friends if nothing else, and friends listen to each other. So as much as it will hurt to hear Michael say it was a mistake, and that he’s sorry, Alex steels himself and gestures for Michael to continue. “Go ahead.”
“I need to tell you something,” Michael repeats. “I’m glad Forrest is gone. And that’s a shitty thing to say to a friend. That’s what we are now, friends.” It’s not a question this time. “I’m happy we’re friends, but it really sucks sometimes because I miss you even when you’re right there. All this time we’ve spent building our friendship and then working together to take Jones down just reminded me of all the reasons I love you. I miss touching you, Alex. I miss loving you, and I want to be allowed to do that again.” Michael steps closer to Alex and reaches for his hand. “I want this to be our time.”
“You remember,” Alex hadn’t expected Michael to repeat his confession word for word.
“I remember every minute with you, Alex,” Michael replies with a soft smile.
Alex takes his hand and pulls him over to the couch where they sit close enough for their knees to touch. He doesn’t know what to say. He resists the instinct to ask Michael if he is sure. It isn’t fair to doubt Michael’s sincerity when he did exactly what Alex asked him to do and took the time to recover and think about what he wanted before coming to see Alex. Michael has hurt him before, in anger and self defense, but he isn’t cruel. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t mean everything he said. So the problem isn’t believing Michael, but figuring out if he is ready to believe it as well.
“What do you mean by our time?” Alex asks, seizing on the phrase that he’s been wondering about since Michael first mentioned it.
“Love has never been the problem between us, but we’ve never really been on the same page. There has been so much between us, secrets, lies, our histories, always something pulling us apart. We’ve worked though most of that now, maybe not in the best way,” Michael laughs and rubs his eyes.
“And you think it’s different now?”
“Yeah, I think it is. I think we’re different now. Don’t you?” Michael doesn’t wait for Alex to answer. “We’re not running anymore. We’re not hiding from each other or ourselves. I think we finally really know each other, and I like you as much as I love you. You’re funny and smart and stubborn. You can be so kind, but you’re also impatient and sarcastic and kind of a dick, and I love that too. Working with you made me realize we can bring out the best in each other; I know you make me better.”
“You make me better, too,” is all Alex is able to get out in response. It’s somehow harder and more overwhelming to hear Michael say he likes him than it is to know he loves him. Love, Alex understands. Love is cosmic and epic and sometimes out of your control. This is Michael looking at Alex and seeing someone he wants to spend time with even if they aren’t in a relationship. It’s a new feeling, a little uncomfortable, and he’s not sure he’s worthy of it.
“I hope so,” Michael seems to know Alex needs a moment so he doesn’t say anything else. But the silence stretches out long enough to become awkward. Alex knows Michael is waiting for his reaction, but he doesn’t know what to say. He had time to think about what would happen when he saw Michael again, but while he’d done his best to prepare himself for heartbreak, he never let himself think about what it would mean if Michael hadn’t changed his mind. He still doesn’t know how to reach out for what he wants even when it’s right in front of him.
“Look, here’s the thing,” Michael finally breaks the silence. “When you leave, when we say goodnight, I don’t want you to go. And it’s not because I’m desperate or I can’t control myself around you or I think I won’t get another chance to see you. It’s because being with you feels right, it feels good. We fit together, and I like the way that makes me feel. I guess what I want to know is if you feel that way too.”
“You know I do,” Alex confesses, but from Michael’s smile he knows Michael already knew that. The one thing Alex hasn’t been subtle about is how reluctant he’s been to leave Michael’s company. Always staying for one more drink or asking to go over one more detail. He’d linger until the last ember of the fire died out, and he’d run out of excuses to stay.
“So how about this? I take you to dinner then we can stop at the Pony for drinks. You can check on Maria or whoever else is on your list for the day,” he teases gently, making Alex blush. “We can go back to my place and sit by the fire for a while, and then you don’t say goodnight.”
Alex pretends to consider it for just a second before countering, “I have a fire pit and a bigger bed.”
“I knew I loved the way your mind works,” Michael's smile widens just before he pulls Alex into a kiss.
It feels like coming home and starting fresh at the same time, and Alex never wants it to end.
“I love you, too,” Alex says when they break apart. “I want to make this work this time.”
“We’ll make it work,” Michael corrects him, “together.” He leans in for another kiss, whispering just before their lips meet, “we’re still cosmic, baby.”
Alex laughs into the kiss and lets himself feel the joy of having Michael in his arms again.