Alex Manes is a bad boyfriend. He knows it. The boy he dated for five days at summer camp freshman year knows it. Michael Guerin definitely knows it. Fuck, even his friends know it. And he’s sure that, if Forrest didn’t know it before, he’s starting to realize it now.
It’s not that he wants to be a bad boyfriend. Or that he doesn’t want to be with Forrest. Ever since Michael told him last year that he wanted to be good for someone, Alex realized he has the same desire. He doesn’t want to be this person who forever leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. He wants to be good for somebody and Forrest is a good guy. He cares about Alex. He’s kind and thoughtful and unmarred by trauma. And Alex wants to give him what he needs.
Alex wants to be able to show affection and care in traditional ways. Ways that somebody will actually feel. He wants to be able to hold his hand and pull him in close when they are out in public and cuddle under the blankets at home. He wants to do romantic things for him like take him horseback riding at sunset or surprise him with home cooked breakfast. He wants to be able to take an interest in the things Forrest cares about, even when they don’t hold any attraction to him. He wants to respond to his texts with flirty jokes and kiss emojis. He wants to smile when the phone rings and he sees Forrest's name on his screen. He wants to be the one to call and text and plan dates and do all of the things that good boyfriends do.
But the thing is? Alex is learning that just isn’t him. It’s not who he is. He’s not built for this dating thing. He will never win Boyfriend of the Year. He’s got too much shit, too much trauma and issues and history to succeed at this. Relationships take communication and trust and honesty. And Alex? He isn’t good at any of those things.
Or maybe, there just isn’t enough incentive for him to try. Forrest is easy Alex has found. It requires little effort on his part. Forrest initiates all their communication. He plans all the dates. He reaches out with affection and seeks his own comfort when needed. Alex doesn’t have to think. Forrest takes the lead on everything and Alex lets him.
Why push himself to do work he knows he’s bad at? Work that doesn’t come naturally to him? If somebody else will do all that work for him without complaint, where’s the incentive to do better?
Alex knows it’s not right. That it’s not sustainable. It’s not fair to Forrest to put all that work on him. And at times? It’s put him in situations he’s not entirely sure he’s ready for. Like posting a picture of the two of them kissing at Pride on social media. Or attending the damn statue ceremony for his father as a couple because ‘family is family,’ according to Forrest. But still, Alex has let him take the lead because Forrest knows what he’s doing and clearly, Alex does not.
It’s good for him. Probably. Maybe.
Alex has always been a take-charge kind of guy. Love it or hate it, he leads and others follow. It gives him the sense of control he never had growing up. Helps him stay grounded and sane. It works for him, even if, admittedly, he learned too late that it didn’t work for others. Largely, Michael.
All our years of this, I never said no to you. You push me away and pull me back in, I’d go where you want me. I don’t want that anymore.
Alex knows he has to do something different if he wants to be good for Forrest in all the ways he wasn’t good for Michael. So he’s taking a backseat in this relationship.
It’s somehow both the most cowardly thing he’s ever done and the bravest.
Still, he’s bored. Taking a backseat and handing the reins over to Forrest? It’s boring. Everything just feels so bland and uninspiring. Like some perfectly predictable rom com only, without the conflict. Even in the bedroom, Forrest is pretty attached to more traditional sex which is good and all… but it lacks any kind of fire. Nobody is tearing off shirts and bending each other over bathroom sinks. Nobody is having multiple rounds of sex in every position imaginable. Nothing is hard or fast or rough. It’s soft and slow and gentle and reassuring… So many reassurances and Alex sometimes just wants to yell, “who cares if I’m ready, just fuck me like you mean it.”
But that’s his trauma talking. He got so used to everything burning hot and bright that he expected every relationship to be like that. But part of burning bright is that things also die fast, and he doesn’t want that anymore. He wants something that lasts. So… vanilla sex it is. Vanilla sex and picture perfect, IG-ready dating, and every relationship cliche.
It’s good for him. Truly. He thinks. At least, that’s what people tell him.
But Alex knows, he knows that after eight months of this, he’s not nearly as invested in this relationship as he should be and he thinks Forrest is starting to notice.
“You’re not even listening to me right now are you?” Forrest says over speakerphone as Alex finishes shooting off a text to Michael, reminding him to check in on his house. And maybe, a part of him is trying to figure out how to segue the conversation to the ruggedly handsome, blonde cowboy that Maria had spotted Michael having drinks with last night. Maybe. Not that he needs to know. It’s Michael’s business.
He’s free to date whoever he wants, Alex certainly is. He’s not jealous or anything. He just thinks that Michael should know he can tell him. After all, if they are friends, then Michael should be comfortable talking to him about boys. He’s just being friendly.
Michael 5:32pm: Your house has burned down in your absence. I threw a rager. Sorry. Guess you’ll have to come home to see yourself 😉
“Alex?” Forrest says with a laugh that’s clearly trying too hard to sound relaxed. He’s annoyed.
“Hmm? What?” he asks, taking a moment to recall what Forrest had even said that he’s expecting a response to. Right. He’s supposed to be listening. Like a good boyfriend. “Of course I am,” he lies through his teeth. He hasn’t registered a single word Forrest has said since, ‘Wyatt and I went out to the driving range.’
Alex 5:33pm: Haha. Very funny. A laugh a minute.
“You aren’t,” Forrest says, and this time, the annoyance is more obvious. “But it’s fine.”
It’s not. If Alex has learned anything in his life, it’s that anytime somebody says the words, ‘I’m fine,’ they aren’t.
“Forrest—” he opens his mouth to attempt an apology but Forrest cuts him off.
“I’m sure you’re just tired.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, even though he’s not tired in the slightest. If anything, he’s wired from the day. The adrenaline from earlier hasn’t quite worn off and his brain is still racing with thoughts and possibilities and next steps. But Forrest handed him a convenient excuse and Alex takes it like a coward. “It’s just been a long day. Sorry…”
Silence falls between them. It’s awkward and stifling.
“I’m glad you called, it’s good to hear your voice,” he adds for good measure when Forrest doesn’t rush to fill the silence like he usually does.
“Yeah, you too,” Forrest says, this time the annoyance is gone completely and all that’s left is genuine affection. It’s weird. Even after all these months he still hasn’t gotten used to it. The way that Forrest just truly seems to enjoy his company. Alex doesn’t understand it, but it’s nice.
“I am sorry,” he says again, because he means it. He wants to do better. Wants to do right by Forrest. Forrest deserves it.
“It’s fine,” Forrest says. “Long distance is never easy, right?”
Michael 5:37pm: In all seriousness, your house is fine.
Michael 5:37pm: I watered your plants this morning & fixed a broken board in your back fence.
Michael 5:38pm: I saw that you had curtain rods sitting in your bedroom and I installed those too 😉
A happy thrill moves through Alex at Michael’s rapid fire texts. Michael has been looking after his house for the seven and a half months since he’s been gone and doing a remarkable job. All he’d ever asked of him was to water his plants a few times a week and turn his car on from time to time to make sure that it would still run when he got home. Michael has been going above and beyond, fixing things around the house as he sees need and really making the house a home for Alex.
It’s sweet. Kind. Friendly.
Completely and utterly friendly.
“Yeah, right,” he says to Forrest, not wanting to ignore him again even though he’s half distracted by Michael’s texts. He closes out his texts and returns to the call screen to avoid the temptation. Focuses his attention on his boyfriend like he should be.
“Things will be easier once you’re back home and not over there always having to be alert and ready for anything,” Forrest says.
“Right,” he agrees.
He thinks Alex has been deployed overseas. Another lie. When he’d first told Forrest that he was leaving for a few months, Forrest had assumed that he’d gotten orders to deploy and Alex had let him believe that rather than try and find a way to explain what it is he’s really doing. There’d been no way to be honest with him while still protecting Michael’s secret.
The fact that it works out in his favor so often is just convenient. Anytime Forrest asks about where he is or what he’s been doing and Alex has to pause to try and come up with a lie, Forrest will always jump right in and assume that whatever Alex is doing is classified and he can’t talk about it. It’s convenient for him. Easy.
“I know you’re out there being an American hero and serving our great nation, but…”
Alex rolls his eyes but once again, doesn’t counter the narrative Forrest is painting all by himself.
“I wish they didn’t keep extending your orders,” Forrest says. “I miss you, Baby.”
An incoming text from Michael pings and Alex can’t help but switch back over to the texting app to read it immediately. After all, what if there’s an emergency? It’s the responsible thing to do.
Michael 5:40pm: How long ago did you buy that curtain rod and never install it?
Michael 5:40pm: I’m guessing it’s been awhile right? Maybe even since you moved in?
“I, uh, I’m sorry,” he says. Is he supposed to say he misses him back? Probably. Does Alex miss him? He should, right? He does. He thinks he does.
Michael 5:41pm: Bought it thinking you would do some handiwork and then remembered you can barely even change your own oil on your car then were too proud to ask for help hanging it, right?
Michael 5:42pm: I know you.
Alex rolls his eyes and barely contains his snort at Michael’s message. He’s right, but Alex isn’t going to tell him that.
“I, uh, miss you too,” Alex adds for good measure. It’s what a good boyfriend would say. And he would have. Said it? If he wasn’t distracted by Michael’s texting he would definitely have told Forrest he missed him immediately.
Alex 5:43pm: For the record… I can change my own oil on my car.
Three dots appear at the bottom of the thread and disappear, then reappear and disappear again. He’s thrown Michael. A difficult thing to do. Alex can just picture him sitting there typing out a response and deleting it repeatedly, unsure how to respond.
Alex 5:44pm: I just like it when you do it for me...
“I mean, I knew what I was getting into dating someone that was active duty,” Forrest says. “I used to be active duty and I know how hard it was on my boyfriends.”
Sure, Alex thinks. It was probably incredibly hard for Forrest to be stationed in Louisiana when his boyfriend was back in Austin.
Michael 5:42pm: Well past experience tells me that is 100% true. Not that I’ve ever complained 😉
“Besides,” Forrest says, his voice dropping low like it does whenever he’s feeling seductive. “You know I find heroes incredibly sexy.”
Alex shifts in his seat, ignoring the way that Michael’s text sends a rush through him. A memory of want and desire he hasn’t satisfied in a long time.
“Right,” Alex says, attempting to focus on Forrest’s words even if they make him uncomfortable.
There’s nothing sexy about forced enlistment, years of feeling like serving was the only way to gain power over his father, and getting his leg blown off fighting a questionable war. But he’s tried to explain that to Forrest before and he always just thinks Alex is being modest.
Alex 5:44pm: Because you knew what was good for you…
The moment he sends the text, he feels guilty. After all, it’s hardly something he should be texting his ex- whatever Michael is. Let alone texting it to him while he’s on the phone with Forrest. But it’s innocent. Truly. Just two friends teasing each other about fun times they’ve had in the past. That’s it.
“What are you wearing?” Forrest asks him, a clear want in his tone.
Alex considers it. Thinks about having phone sex with Forrest. Thinks about shoving his sweatpants down and taking hold of himself and getting off to the sound of his boyfriend touching himself on the other end of the line. It could be nice.
“My sweats and an old T,” he says, mildly interested.
“Mmm,” Forrest hums happily. “Your Air Force sweats?”
“Mhmm,” he agrees as he looks down at the latest message from Michael.
Michael 5:47pm: Oh I don’t know… I seem to remember a few times when I forgot and you had to teach me a lesson or two 🤤
An excited thrill runs through Alex as he reads the words. When he looks down, he realizes that his pants are starting to tent.
“Mmm, my sexy captain,” Forrest says. “You know what I would do if I was there? I’d get down on my knees and let you have your way with me.”
Forrest is all talk. He’s had Alex in bed before and never has he truly let Alex have his way with him. He’d been too busy trying to slow Alex down so they could truly enjoy the moment, then talked him through the whole thing like it was Alex’s first time having sex.
It’s fine. It’s sexy. Forrest is sexy. Alex enjoys their time together. He gets off well enough at least, and that’s what matters. Sex with Forrest is just… different from what he’s used to. It’s slower and more controlled.
Michael 5:47pm: Do you remember Big Bend?
Fuck, Alex has to bite his lip to hold back a moan when he reads Michael’s words. Of course he remembers Big Bend. Fuck. Like he was ever going to forget the first time that Michael let Alex—
“Baby,” Forrest’s voice cuts through his thoughts and reminds him that he’s in the middle of something with his boyfriend. “Talk to me.”
Forrest sounds like he’s already started touching himself. He’s slightly out of breath and his voice is doing that high pitched needy thing that it does whenever he’s hard.
And Alex knows that phone sex with Forrest could be nice. It could even be good. But then he looks back down at Michael’s texts and knows that sexting him would be so much better.
“What do you want me to say?” he asks, feigning a yawn as the guilt begins to eat at him. He knows this is wrong, but he can’t stop himself from doing it. His fingers are already flying over the keyboard to text Michael back.
Alex 5:48pm: Of course I remember Big Bend. Didn’t know it was possible to come as hard as I did that day…
Forrest sighs. Disappointed. “I guess I should let you get some sleep. What time is it even over there?”
Alex looks at his clock and bites his lip. The sun hasn’t even set yet, but Forrest doesn’t know that. Nor does he need to. “It’s late,” he lies, the first one that Forrest didn’t supply for him.
“What time?” Forrest asks, but continues talking before Alex can feed him another lie. “Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to ask. Classified and all. Just… Get some sleep okay?”
“Yeah,” he says, only half paying attention as he looks down at Michael’s response.
Michael 5:49pm: That sounds like a challenge 😈
“Well, night, I guess,” Forrest says. “I love you.”
And Alex doesn’t say it back, he’s too interested in replying to Michael’s text. Not that he would have been able to say it back even without Michael distracting him.
Alex Manes is a bad boyfriend.