Michael is fucking sick of June 14th.
He knows how he got here: somewhat impossibly, Mr. Jones made a reappearance right as things were calming down. Max and Liz were getting married. Michael didn’t tell anyone what he’d saw, just left their wedding late enough that it didn’t seem suspicious to follow Mr. Jones into the turquoise mines. It was meant to be the means to end it for good without having to involve anyone else. Instead there was just bright light and heat unlike anything he’d ever felt before, and then he was in his bed, waking up to Isobel banging on his door just like he had the day before.
If he had to guess, he’d say he’s probably lived the same June 14th over fifty times now, maybe close to sixty. This kind of time loop shit is its own specialized hell. It has its perks, though, like there are no consequences when there’s no tomorrow. He stopped getting too reckless once he realized that pain was still very, very real, but he changes things up where he can— what he drinks each night, what he says in his best man speech, who he takes home at the end of the night if he’s in the mood for it. None of it fucking matters in the end, is the point.
It doesn’t matter that Isobel’s dress ripped once hours before the ceremony, or that Maria ran late on more than one occasion. The little things like that never matter, because every day is different. Sometimes the wedding goes off without a hitch, sometimes there are minor crises Michael ends up having to deal with, like the ripped dress, missing rings or dead flowers.
It doesn’t matter that sometimes Alex looks at Michael like he might be ready for something more. He’s single again, Michael only vaguely remembers from before he got caught in this loop. And sometimes, Michael can’t handle the way Alex looks at him because their past still exists in here. He’s reminded of that every time they so much as pass by each other: how often they’d hurt each other and walk away, crash back together like some kind of beautiful explosion. He remembers that passion, the way Alex made him feel things he’d never felt before, but he remembers all of the pain, too, like it’s a cautionary tale.
Michael still loves Alex so much it hurts sometimes, and that’s why he hasn’t given in yet. He’s wanted to, though. There have been enough times where something has happened to make Michael think huh, maybe, but there’s no use in making more bad memories for himself when he’s the only one who has to live with them. Tomorrow is no different from today, so he can’t kiss Alex. He can’t let himself feel hopeful about this, especially with no way out and no end in sight.
He’s reached a point of reluctant acceptance, and he’s doing the best with what little he has left of his life before.
Another day, another June 14th.
“Michael!” Isobel’s voice floats through the closed door, bubbly and way too energetic for 9:52 a.m., the same time she wakes him up every morning. He anticipates her next words before she even says them. Our brother is getting married today and I have alcohol for you.
“Our brother is getting married today and I have alcohol for you,” she sing-songs, still outside his trailer. He does what he does every morning: gets out of bed, drinks an entire water bottle in three sips, pulls a shirt over his head, grabs the few things he’ll need for the day and walks out into the junkyard. The weather is perfect, just like it always is; he figures he’s lucky that at least the universe did him the favor of putting him inside a never-ending time loop with good weather.
Isobel is always leaning against the hood of her car holding a solo cup. It’s definitely going to be a mimosa, because it’s always a mimosa. Every single morning, he takes the cup from Isobel and silently hopes that maybe today is the day she decides to change it up.
“Morning, sunshine,” she says, handing him the cup. He stands next to her and accepts it, peering inside. Still a mimosa. He grimaces, but takes a sip anyway. “Happy Pod Day.”
As if living the same day over and over again didn’t already suck, it really fucking sucks when that day is also your 31st birthday, or like, the closest thing you have to one. It is the dumbest fucking thing, to have to turn 31 again every single day. 31 isn’t even a particularly fun birthday.
“Happy birthday, Iz,” he says. This conversation in particular has become so formulaic that Michael feels like he’s always one step ahead of her.
“You ready for this?”
“Fuck, no,” Michael shakes his head, thinking back to the chaos of Isobel’s own wedding day. He and Max hadn’t been speaking but she wanted both of them there. It made sense. And Isobel is hopeful about today, Michael remembers. He can sort of sense it, too. She thinks this is a chance for all three of them to make a better memory; Max is marrying Liz, so that’s an automatic improvement over the evil-alien-in-disguise Isobel had married. But even aside from that, he and Max are better. He doesn’t actually feel so fucking alone the way he did almost ten years ago.
So, no, he’s not ready for the kind of madness being that close to the groom on a wedding day will bring— today’s madness, at least. He’s ready to replace some of the worse memories he has with today, again. With his family, the one he chose, bonded through secrets and trauma and triumph and joy.
It makes having to relive this particular day every single day a little more bearable.
“Max is surprisingly calm,” Isobel says. “I was just over there making sure everything was being set up right.”
She says this every morning, and by noon, Max has convinced himself that Liz is going to change her mind at the last second every single afternoon without fail.
“He knows he’s making the right decision,” Michael shrugs. “No need to lose it over something he knows is gonna work out.”
“You’re next, you know,” Isobel says, bumping her shoulder against his. “I’ve already been there. It’s your turn now.”
“Fuck, no,” he repeats. “You know something I don’t?”
“I know something you know, Michael. C’mon.” Isobel turns to him, smirking, and he gives her a stern look. “A wedding would be a pretty romantic place to finally get it together with Alex, no? Haven’t you been thinking about it now that Jameson-or-whatever-the-fuck is out of the picture?”
Every day for the past sixty-or-so days, Isobel has said these exact words to him, and every day for the past sixty-or-so days, Michael briefly lets himself think about what might happen if he did, but then he remembers why he shouldn’t, why he hasn’t already.
It’s true that in the before-times, Michael thought they were in a good place. It’s true that he’d been thinking about actually taking that next step with Alex. Their past wasn’t a vague open secret anymore, but something they’d talk about more openly with each other and around everyone else. To talk about what they had without malice, with only the careful intentions of two people who both still think they might have a chance to get it right— that was the key to everything, even though Michael had realized it too late. He’s stuck in this fucking loop with a million unsaid things and the knowledge that if he had asked Alex, Alex probably would have said yes.
“We’re getting there,” Michael says, trying his best to keep his voice even. “Don’t wanna fuck it up this time.”
“Good,” Isobel smiles, turning to face him. “You deserve it. Both of you.”
There’s something about today, Michael’s not sure what, but he can’t take standing here and talking about the future he’ll probably never get to have with Alex. He goes off-script much earlier than he usually does.
“We should get going, huh? Check on the groom?”
Isobel nods. “You’re driving, too?” Michael swings his keyring around his finger by way of a response. “I’m going to stop somewhere for breakfast on my way back. Want something?”
“Do you even have to ask?”
“Here I was trying to be nice, see if I do that again any time soon.” Isobel pats his shoulder before walking around him to the driver’s side of her car. “See you at Max’s.”
While she’s making the u-turn out of the lot, Michael dumps the contents of the cup in the dirt behind his trailer and tosses the cup in one of the pails.
Fuck mimosas, and fuck this particular day.
It’s not that Michael’s usually waiting for something to go wrong, it’s just that when something inevitably goes wrong, he has to deal with it. Because Max is the groom, and Isobel takes two fucking hours to do her hair and makeup, every crisis is defaulted to Michael, so he’s sort of just ready for it whenever it inevitably happens.
Today’s crisis ends up being a panicked phone call from Rosa about a missing pair of shoes less than an hour before the ceremony. He’s been dressed and ready for some time now, and he’d just started to think maybe today would be one of the rare perfect days when his phone starts ringing.
“Liz said they might be under the bed?” Rosa says into the phone. There’s commotion wherever she is, Michael can hear that much, but he can’t make out anything clearly beyond Rosa.
“Hold on, I’m checking,” Michael sandwiches his phone between his ear and his shoulder and crouches down to see under Max’s bed. It’s a fucking diasater; Michael doesn’t know how Max lives like this, just shoving shit under his bed when he doesn’t feel like putting it back where it goes, but amidst the mess, there’s a pair of red chucks, too small to be Max’s, but probably too worn to be something appropriate for a wedding. “Wait, am I looking for sneakers?”
“Yeah,” Rosa breathes out. “Please tell me you found them.”
“Yeah, I got them.”
“Michael has them!” Rosa calls to whoever’s in the room with her, and Michael winces at her volume. “Thank God, you’re a lifesaver.”
“Is Liz wearing these?” he asks with genuine curiosity.
“They’re her something borrowed— borrowed from me, since I can’t, like…” She trails off, and Michael knows that if he were talking face to face with her, she’d shrug.
He’s been through, like, sixty of these things, and Michael had never noticed that.
(He’s come to realize that while Rosa doesn’t really care for the big party aspect of a wedding and missing that doesn’t bother her, but missing her sister get married, not getting to be Liz’s maid of honor does. They’d all talked about it, the whole alien/human braintrust, but not a single solution for a suddenly reappeared Rosa made enough sense to go through with it. Rosa takes it like a champ, but Michael makes sure to hang out with her inside of Max’s house every few go-arounds. He can tell when someone just needs a friend, after being that person himself for too long.)
“Alex is on his way to pick them up. He’ll be there in, like, five.”
Of all the fucking people, on all the fucking days.
“Tell him not to speed,” Michael says, instead of just exhaling a long fuck into the phone.
“Guerin says don’t speed,” Rosa says, muffled. “Alex says no promises.”
“He’s impossible,” Michael jokes, and Rosa laughs.
“Thanks, Guerin. You literally saved the day. I’ll catch you later if I can!” Rosa says all in a rush before the line goes dead.
Michael walks back out into Max’s living room, sneakers in hand, and drops back down onto Max’s couch. If Isobel were in here, she’d yell at him for sitting like this and creasing his suit, and a lot of other things he’s never had to worry about before.
Today is just going to continue testing him, apparently, because he’s fucking around on his phone when Alex slips into Max’s house so quietly, Michael doesn’t even notice until Alex says his name.
Alex is standing there, backlit from the early afternoon sun in the big windows, and Michael isn’t exactly proud of the way his brain shorts out at the sight of Alex in his Air Force dress blues like he’s seeing him in it for the first time and not the sixtieth or whatever. He looks incredible, like he always does, but today, Michael looks at him and just— forgets everything else.
“Guerin,” Alex says again and Michael snaps back into reality at that, standing up to meet him halfway. “Thank you,” he adds, taking the sneakers from Michael.
“I didn’t exactly envision ‘saving the wedding by finding a pair of sneakers’ to be something I’d do today, but I guess weirder things have happened.”
Yeah, like this fucking time loop.
“Liz appreciates it for sure.”
“Happy to be of service,” Michael smirks. He puts his hands in his pockets and rocks back on the balls of his feet. There’s something more, there has to be, or Alex wouldn’t still be standing here, looking at Michael like he’s something— something precious.
“You look great,” Alex says.
Michael shrugs. “It’s just a tux. Not really my thing.”
“You wear it well, though.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself.”
“Yeah, well,” Alex shrugs.
“Accept the compliment, man.”
“Okay, okay,” Alex says, light. “Thank you.”
They stand there for a few more seconds, the moment lingers, and then Alex gestures to the door behind.
“I should go,” he says. “Liz probably needs these.”
“I’ll see you at the wedding.”
Michael sits back down onto the couch and sends a text to Rosa— sneakers have been handed off. He can hear Isobel step into the hallway, stopping to triple-check her makeup in a mirror.
“Was that Alex I heard? What was he doing— for the last time, Michael, be more careful about how you’re sitting,” she scolds, rounding the corner into the living room
“Liz left her shoes here,” Michael says, ignoring the second part. “Alex picked them up.”
“So you saw Alex.”
“No, I didn’t see Alex when I handed him Liz’s shoes.”
“Ha,” Isobel deadpans. “That has to be a sign, though. After what we talked about this morning.”
“I don’t believe in signs.”
“Do you believe in anything?”
Alex, Michael wants to say. Alex, and you, and Max and Liz. Our friends. Instead, he just shrugs.
“I think sincerity might actually kill you, Michael.”
“Then I better not push it, huh,” Michael says.
Isobel rolls her eyes, the you’re impossible going unsaid, but Michael knows she’s thinking it. He just smiles back at her.
There’s never much variation with the wedding itself. Every single day, Michael tries not to cry while Max reads Liz the vows he wrote, and every single day, he’s wiping tears away before Liz can even get to her own. It’s just really— it’s beautiful, to see the two of them get everything they’ve ever wanted in each other. Sue him for getting a little emotional about it.
The reception is outdoors, on Max’s property. For the most part, it’s always pretty slow at first. As Max’s best man, Michael gets roped into pictures; it is, without a doubt, the worst part of every single version of this day hes lived.
Then, there are the speeches: Arturo’s, then his own, then Maria’s. Between Isobel’s questioning this morning and having to see Alex halfway through the day, he’s feeling kind of weird by the time he has to talk. A little reckless.
He keeps the first part the same. Joke about how he and Max aren’t actually brothers, but have felt like family for as long as either can remember, check. Joke about how Max is going to realize halfway through the speech that he would’ve been better off asking Isobel to do it, check. Brief mention about how grateful he is for Max’s presence in his life, even if they’d gone through several very rough patches, check. Talk about how he’s seen both of them go to the ends of the earth for the other without hesitation, check.
There are a lot of things Michael can’t control, but he can control this. He knows what he wants to say, because it’s something he’s been thinking every single time he’s made this speech. Today might be the perfect day to try it out, put everything out there. If Isobel thinks sincerity might kill him, it might be time to test that theory out.
“This is going to get pretty anti-marriage now, so just let me take it there and know that I’ll bring it back around at the end. For the longest time, I thought love was bullshit. I’m still waiting to be convinced otherwise, because I’ve only been in love once. I was 17 and it was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me.” Michael pauses to take a breath, and to try and remember what should come next.
He locks eyes with Alex, and it’s too much. Alex is smiling softly at Michael, and he knows, he has to know.
“Max and Liz are some of the lucky ones, because sure, they fight, but they never let it ruin them when they do. They really are each other’s perfect other halves. After seeing them together, and growing up with Max as he pined after Liz for years, I realized that it might not be just luck keeping them together. Maybe it’s patience, too. Max waited over ten years to get that first kiss, and to tell Liz that he loves her. He is the most patient motherfucker in the world.” Behind him, Liz laughs out loud and Max is clearly blushing, hiding his face in his hands.
“I’m not that kind of guy, not even a little bit, but when I see Max and Liz together, I sort of wish that I could have the type of patience it took for Max to find Liz. Maybe I’d get that lucky and find someone who is the easiest person in the world to talk to, someone who makes even the boring parts of being alive interesting, someone who has seen me in the worst moments of my life but sticks around anyway. A partner who may not always understand why I do the things I do, but supports me anyway, and doesn’t excuse my faults— which, if you know me, you know there are many— but loves me despite them. That was all kind of specific, but I’ve seen those two be that for each other. Liz and Max present a pretty strong case for why this all might be worth it after all. They make me believe in all of it.”
Alex is still looking at him, and Michael tries to tell himself it’s just because everyone here is looking at him, but he knows this is different. Alex is looking at him with intent, with understanding, and with all of their ten-plus years of history laid out between them. It hits Michael all at once. Alex is all of those things for him. Alex has been that for a long time.
He keeps talking, though, eyes wandering around the space, because if he doesn’t, he’s not sure what he’d do.
“Max, you really are the most patient, lucky, love-sick fucker I’ve ever met. Liz, sometimes I feel like you’re the only one who gets me, and I’m better for that. So, uh, welcome to the shitshow, legally and officially. I love you both and you deserve this more than anything. Cheers,” he finishes, raising his glass. “To Max and Liz.”
He’s about to turn back toward his table when he feels Liz’s hand on his wrist, pulling him back over. She stands up and wipes away a stray tear before pulling him into a tight hug. “I love you, Mikey,” she whispers. He rolls his eyes, about to crack a joke about the nickname when she continues. “You deserve the world. I hope you know that.”
“Thanks, Liz,” he mumbles, half into her neck. Before he can get away, Max turns their hug into a group hug.
“Thank you, Michael,” he says. “For everything.”
“If you two don’t stop…” Michael jokes, but the actual tears threatening to spill over are far from a joke. It’s all just a little too much, between this and the look on Alex’s face while Michael spoke, the way he can’t get it out of his head. He needs a drink, and he needs to stop thinking for a little while.
Luckily, there’s a new drink at his seat when he sits back down. He lifts the glass to his mouth, and Isobel leans in closer to him. “That was great,” she whispers. “Looks like sincerity didn’t kill you after all. If that doesn’t get you a boyfriend, I don’t know what will.”
“Thank you,” Michael says. “But please let it go.”
“Ugh, fine. Whatever, but Alex definitely got a little teary while you were talking about him so obviously every person at this wedding knows it. So do with that what you will.”
Michael looks over, and Alex’s eyes do look shiny, but Maria is telling a story about Liz from high school that Alex had been partially involved in, so he’s laughing, too. It’s entirely possible that laughing just now caused that, not whatever Michael had said.
Michael’s not doing a good job at convincing himself that’s all it is, though. Before he had to tear his eyes away, they’d had that moment where everything clicked, right after Michael had said the thing about wanting to find someone who would love him despite his flaws. It’s not like Michael tried very hard to hide anything, but the look on Alex’s face said I do and I will and I’ve always been here.
It’s impossible to ignore the way he sort of feels exposed now, like he’d cracked open his own chest and left his heart visible with all of its scars, all for Alex. Take it, he thinks, it’s already been yours for so long.
There are a few ways tonight could go, now that the speeches and dinner are over and they’re in the dancing part of the night for the foreseeable future. It’s impossible for Michael to avoid Alex forever.
He could just face it and give in, or he could actually reject Alex.
Either way, he’d have to live with his decision while Alex gets to forget it as soon as he wakes up. If he kisses Alex, he has to keep going on knowing that he finally got what he wanted, if only for one night. If he rejects Alex, Alex still forgets it in the morning. Michael doesn’t. Still, the thought of doing something like that to Alex is too much. They’ve hurt each other before, but they’re both older now, different people than they were. Michael still doesn’t want to do that again.
Even if none of it really matters, Alex does.
There’s always the easy way. He could just get another drink and disappear into Max’s house to hang out with Rosa. Every time he’s done it before, no one’s found him, so it’s easy and it’s safe.
I might be a coward, he thinks as he unlocks Max’s back door with his mind, but no one has to get hurt this way.
“Who’s there?” Rosa calls from Max’s bedroom.
“It’s just me,” Michael calls back.
“Ah,” Rosa says, once Michael is standing in the doorway. She’s sprawled across the bed, with a movie playing on the TV. “Should’ve known it was the one with a lock pick for a brain.”
“I’m more than just a lockpick, Ortecho. I contain multitudes.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Guerin? You know there’s, like, a wedding happening, right?” Rosa sits up against the headboard, patting the space next to her. Michael sits down on the edge of the bed, facing her. “I heard your speech was a hit.”
“Isobel brought me dinner,” Rosa shrugs. “She filled me in, and from the way it sounds, you should be out there dancing with Alex instead of hanging out in here with the literal undead. You do like him, don’t you?”
So much for coming in here to ignore everything happening out there.
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“I’m a curious person. You know this,” she smirks, reaching across the bed for her water bottle. Michael takes a sip from his own bottle before putting it down on the floor next to his foot. “So why aren’t you out there with Alex?”
Michael glares, but then he considers— like, he’s been going through this completely on his own, right, and it’s not like Rosa will remember any of this after she goes to bed tonight, so he kind of wants to tell— maybe just for one night, he can hold a little less of this on his own. If anyone would believe him without immediately jumping toward creating solutions, it’d be Rosa.
“Because if I do something stupid tonight, like kiss him, it might ruin everything.”
Rosa frowns. “I don’t think it’d be the worst thing in the world. I mean, Iz told me you all but said you love him in front of everyone earlier.”
“He won’t remember it tomorrow— the speech, anything else I do or don’t do. You’re not going to remember any of this either, because I am… stuck in an infinite time loop.” Michael exhales, and a little bit of the tension in his shoulders comes out with it.
“Oh, shit,” Rosa says, and Michael laughs. It’s the best reaction he could’ve asked for. “Is it like Groundhog Day?”
“More or less,” Michael answers. “How I got here is unimportant, but it’s been over fifty days and I have no clue how to get out of it.”
“I’d love to hear more about how your life managed to become more of a sci-fi movie, but you seem like you don’t want to talk about it, and if I’m just going to forget it, there’s no point, right?”
Michael smiles. He’s not sure how Rosa is able to say what he needs to hear so easily sometimes. “It’s been a weird day and I needed to tell someone. I’ve never actually told anyone about it.”
“Not even Alex?”
“I never had a reason to.”
Rosa gives him a look, and Michael knows that look is conveying you dumb, lovesick idiot without her actually having to say the words. “Isn’t love what ends the time loop in Groundhog Day?” she asks, and Michael shrugs; he hasn’t actually seen the movie, he’s just vaguely aware of its existence because of the way he’s literally living it now. “I think he realizes that he’s capable of being a good person and also that he loves the girl and they all lived happily ever after outside of his time loop, the end.”
“It’s not fucking—this isn’t something true loves’ kiss can fix,” Michael says. “I haven’t tried it because I don’t want him to get involved in all of this if something goes wrong, like some sort of snag in time pulling him in. Also, I think I’m a pretty good person.”
It’s not a lie, but he isn’t exactly telling her the whole truth, either. It’s one thing to tell Rosa about his time loop situation, it’s another entirely to open up about all of the ways he’s setting himself up for a possible infinity of holding back because it’s easier than breaking his own heart a little bit more every time he kisses Alex and then wakes up in a world where it hadn’t happened. Twenty, fifty, one-hundred more first kisses without the possibility of a second, third, or fourth is a pretty bleak reality.
“I’m not here to advise you on your infinite time loop as someone who found out about it five minutes ago, but I think that maybe you have to try things to know for sure that they aren’t your solution.” Rosa pats him on the shoulder, encouraging. “If you tell him what you told me, he’ll believe you.”
“Can we talk about something else?” Michael asks, abrupt. “I’m not telling him about any of this, okay?”
“You can’t avoid talking to him forever, Guerin,” Rosa says. Michael knows that technically she’s older than him, but there’s something so little sister about the way she interacts with him; it’s something he’s come to appreciate a lot despite how frustrating it can be, like right now.
He doesn’t get to voice that frustration, because a new voice cuts through. Alex. “Avoid talking to who forever?” he asks. Instinctually, Michael picks his bottle up off the floor and takes a long sip.
“You, duh,” Rosa says immediately. She’s grinning and her tone is sugar-sweet, but Michael knows exactly what she’s doing.
Ignoring Rosa, Michael turns to Alex in the doorway. “How’d you find me?”
“Isobel saw you come in here,” Alex says. “I wanted to talk to you. Can we? Outside.”
Michael hesitates. “I don’t— it’s not a good idea, Alex,” he says, and he hates the way Alex’s face falls at that, hates how many times he had to be the reason for that face.
Rosa nudges Michael’s side with her foot. “Go talk to him,” she urges. When he doesn’t do anything, she fixes him a stern look. “Now.”
“Okay, mom.” Michael rolls his eyes, but he stands up.
“Don’t test me,” Rosa quips.
“Thanks for listening,” Michael says to her. Alex is still standing in the doorway waiting for Michael, and Michael doesn’t know what to do with all of this— the way he feels, the circumstances, the way Alex is looking at him again. He’d already made a choice for tonight when he chose the easy way out. He wasn’t expecting to have to make another one, where every option is equally difficult.
Michael follows Alex out of Max’s house and back out the door he’d come in through. The party is on the other side of Max’s property; they can still faintly hear the music over here, but it’s quieter, darker, and they’re alone over here.
Alex kisses him.
There’s no prelude, nothing else indicating Alex was going to make that move, except his lips are on Michael’s and Michael’s resolve is growing weaker by the second.
Okay, he thinks as he parts his lips, okay, I can be selfish. Just this once.
Alex tangles his fingers in Michael’s hair, and everything about the kiss feels like he’s finally coming home. It feels like the time he’d kissed Alex at the reunion— their first kiss in their adult lives. They were more like the people they are today than the people they were at 17, and this thing between them— this beautiful, breakable thing— is still something they hold onto.
The kiss itself feels desperate; Michael’s not sure where he ends and Alex begins. They’re just together. He sort of wishes he were telepathic like Isobel, so Alex could feel the I love you in every breath he takes, in every gentle caress.
Alex is the one who breaks apart first, and he rests his forehead against Michael’s, breathing heavily. There’s the faintest hint of a smile dancing on his lips, and Michael can’t resist another quick kiss, just a peck, before they actually break apart.
“So, what’d you want to talk about?” Michael asks, trying for casual. He runs a hand through his hair and leans back against the side of the house.
Across from him, Alex takes a deep breath. He’s looking at the ground, not at Michael. He kicks a rock gently. It lands at Michael’s feet. “The stuff you said earlier. Us. I don’t know, Guerin, I think there are a lot of things we have to talk about.”
“That’s not how we do things,” Michael remarks, and with that, he makes his choice.
“Would it be a crime to want to start talking about our shit? If we both want this to go somewhere—”
“It can’t, Alex. It’s not going to go anywhere no matter how badly either of us want it.”
“What does that even—” Alex cuts himself off, shaking his head. “How could you say all of that shit, and then turn around like it meant nothing? I understand you, I support you, I fucking love you, Michael. Why isn’t that enough for you anymore?”
“It’s enough— you’ve always been enough, but everything is too complicated. If things were different, if I weren’t— if I weren’t this version of me.”
“I like whatever version of you this is. I like every version of you. What does that even mean?” Alex asks. Genuine hurt and confusion is written all over his face, and it’s almost enough to make Michael crack.
“There’s just some stuff,” he shrugs, his expression completely blank. “I promise you, this is more complicated than it’s worth.”
“I can handle complicated! I can even help, if you’d just tell me what the hell is going on!” Alex throws his arms out, exasperated.
Michael wants to reach out again, wants to stop talking and start kissing again. If he were his old self— a person unburdened by time, someone Michael feels like he barely even knows anymore— he’d do it. He’d kiss Alex regardless of consequence, because it’s always, always, been easier to kiss him and fall into bed when they really should be talking instead. He isn’t that person anymore, so he balls his hands into fists at his side and stares straight ahead.
“I want to tell you, but I can’t. Even if I did, you wouldn’t believe it. This is way beyond aliens and pods hatching. It’s shit I can’t explain or change. I just need you to believe me when I say it’s better off this way.”
“No,” Alex says, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The fuck do you mean, ‘no’? This isn’t a yes or no thing!”
“I don’t believe you. Whatever this is, you don’t have to do it alone.”
Michael laughs so loudly it borders on obnoxious, because it’s just so fucking ironic. He’s been doing things alone for as long as he can remember and even before that, and now he has no choice. Alex is standing in front of Michael offering to shoulder some of a burden he’s not even aware of and all Michael can do is laugh in his face. It is so, so fucked.
“I can’t tell you,” Michael says, clipped.
“How could you stand in front of our friends and say all of the stuff you said about finding a partner and look at me like I am that person for you, but stand in front of me now acting like your life would be simpler if I weren’t a part of it because I’m asking you to tell me one fucking thing? How do I know if any of that actually meant anything to you now?”
Michael recoils like he’s been hit. In a way, it feels like Alex did with what he said. When he looks up, Alex looks broken, too, and for once, Michael brings himself to tear his eyes away. He can’t look at Alex knowing he’s the reason for that look on his face. He’s close enough to see that there are tears in Alex’s eyes, and he’s trying his hardest to ignore the ones he feels pricking his own.
Michael has to take solace in the fact that tomorrow morning, Alex won’t remember this. Not that it makes him feel better about standing here and breaking Alex’s heart, but he’s glad that Alex won’t have to live with this memory forever, just another painful one slotted into their long history. It all reminds him of a movie Isobel made him watch a few years back. Alex will forget this, the memory will drop off, but this is a moment that’ll come to define Michael for a long time, probably, until he can rectify it somehow. It’d be blue, too, because it’s a shitty memory. Not a lot of yellow memories floating around here lately.
“Alex,” Michael says carefully. “How could you hear all of that and not think I love you back?”
“I don’t know. I just— I don’t know.” Alex deflates. There’s an out here and Michael could take it, should take it, but he presses on.
“I wish things were different, okay?” he admits. “I wish I knew what was going on in my own life, I wish I knew if this— this thing were too dangerous to let someone in. I wish I knew how to be enough for you despite it. I— I have to go.” Michael pushes himself off the wall, expecting to swipe his keys from Max’s kitchen and be on his way, but Alex grabs his wrist, stopping him in his tracks.
“Alex,” Michael repeats, warning. “Please. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“It doesn’t have to be hard!”
“There’s no other way.”
“There has to be,” Alex pleads. Michael can’t remember a time where Alex had tried this hard to reason with him. They’re better off just walking away, and that’s what he intends to do now.
“I’m leaving. Follow me, don’t follow me, whatever, but I can assure you won’t get answers either way.” Michael pulls his wrist back and slips through the back door quickly. His keys are exactly where he left him so he doesn’t even stop for them, just pulls them toward him and catches.
It feels like he can’t afford to stop moving.
He gets to his truck without looking back, starts his car, speeds off of Max’s property, and does not look back. For all he knows, Alex could still be standing by the back door, but it’s wishful thinking. Alex was pissed, he wasn’t going to let this end without more of a fight.
So it’s entirely unsurprising when he finally stops near the turquoise mines, right in front of the cave that ruined his life, and Alex pulls up right next to him.
He kills the engine and gets out of his truck almost perfectly in sync with Alex.
“You’re not going to get any answers!” Michael yells, so Alex can hear him as they’re both getting out of their cars.
“What are you doing, Guerin?”
He’s so ready to just walk into the cave and end this day. “I’m not going to explain any of this to you when it won’t matter tomorrow.”
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t follow me, okay? Just— don’t fucking do it. Go back to Max’s before anyone realizes you’re gone.”
Alex looks at Michael, and Michael looks at Alex; neither of them move, for once, Alex doesn’t respond.
“Alex, please. It’s for your own good if you just forget any of this ever happened.”
Michael breaks into a sprint directly for the cave, doesn’t dare look behind him, and knows it’s over as soon as the light blinds him and the heat hits.
Someone’s banging on the door to the trailer, Michael realizes as he blinks awake. Someone’s out there, and they are pissed.
A quick check of his phone shows that it’s still June 14, but it’s also 7:03 a.m., almost three hours before his usual 9:52 wake up. He could see what’s going on, or he could… not. It’s a pretty easy choice to make; Michael grabs a pillow and sandwiches his head between that one and the one on his mattress already. He’d be more worried about who was outside if he could die, but even getting murdered wouldn’t kill him at this point, so.
“Guerin, wake up.”
Michael registers the voice as belonging to Alex before he actually sees him. He sounds frustrated, and that plus the force with which he was pounding on the door can only really mean one very bad thing.
(It also means that Rosa’s true love’s kiss theory didn’t pan out, so he’ll just have to add that to the list of things that didn’t work. Or maybe he should just reconsider the true love thing completely.)
He sort of wishes it had been an axe murderer instead. At least that way, he’d just restart.
“I know you’re not asleep,” Alex continues. Michael doesn’t know what gives it away because his back is facing Alex, but he realizes he’d probably be able to tell if Alex were faking, too. He’s seen Alex in various stages of asleep enough times to know when Alex is sleeping well or if he’s just lying there with his eyes closed trying to will sleep to come. He could always see it in the way Alex holds himself, even lying in bed, if he’s stressed about something or if he’s managed to relax for once. “You usually sleep on your back,” he adds.
There’s no use putting it off, Michael figures, if Alex knows he’s awake. He rolls over and sits up, hugging the extra pillow to his chest. Alex sort of looks like he’s just rolled out of bed, too, in a t-shirt and joggers. He looks good, though. Michael would say as much even if Alex didn’t look like he’d come in here with a score to settle.
“Good morning,” Michael says.
“What the hell did you do?” Alex asks, exasperated.
Michael throws his head back, and it hits the window behind him. “Uh,” he starts, rubbing the part of his head that’d made contact with the window. “Technically I didn’t do anything. I was very clear about what you should and should not do, and by the looks of it, you did everything I told you not to.”
“Is this what you were talking about last night? The complicated stuff you couldn’t tell me about? What is this?”
“So you really remember everything, huh?” Michael groans. “That’s pretty fucked.”
“Would it kill you to take this one thing seriously?” Alex exclaims, sharp and harsh and so unlike the way he and Alex usually are with each other that Michael just takes a few deep breaths because he doesn’t know what comes next.
“I’ve always taken you seriously,” he finally says, quietly.
“Take this seriously, then, because I have no clue what’s going on.”
“Okay.” Michael stands up and does everything he’d normally do if it’d been Isobel waking him— throws on a shirt and jeans, drinks an entire water bottle in three sips and pockets his phone. “Can we do this somewhere else? Somewhere where either of my siblings won’t interrupt at any given moment.”
Alex nods. They settle on his place, and Michael spends the whole drive there trying to figure out what the fuck happens next. He’s still trying to process the fact that Alex is here, inside of his godforsaken time loop. He’s angry that Alex didn’t fucking listen, but now that he’s here, Michael’s holding onto this like the lifeline it is. There were times, in some of the lower moments of the past however-many-days it’s been, where he’d thought about what it might’ve been like to share this time loop with someone. He never imagined— well, he never imagined it’d be Alex.
He very well may have ruined Alex’s entire life.
And for someone whose life just got turned upside down because of something he did, Alex is almost too kind to him once they’ve settled in Alex’s kitchen.
“Do you want breakfast?” Alex asks, and Michael nods. Alex grabs things out of his fridge, eggs and cheese, plus salt, pepper, and hot sauce from a cabinet above his sink, and doesn’t mention the time loop shaped elephant in the room at all.
“I can make coffee,” Michael stands up and passes behind Alex at the stove to get to the coffee pot. Alex’s kitchen isn’t small, but it’s cozy. They’ve been here before, more recently for Alex than it has been for Michael at this point, doing this exact same thing. Michael didn’t realize how much he’d actually missed it. He’s also never been more aware of the fact that he knows where everything in Alex’s kitchen is.
He makes the coffee while Alex scrambles eggs. They move around each other easily, sharing the space like they’ve been doing it forever. Michael passes Alex again with two mugs full of steaming hot coffee. He always drinks black coffee, and he knows that if Alex had made coffee for himself, he’d drink it black, too. It’s one of those little things he’s learned about Alex in this newer platonic stage of their relationship: he drinks coffee black, but he doesn’t actually like it that way. There’s no cream in Alex’s fridge, but there is milk, so Michael pours until the coffee is a shade of tan that seems acceptable. He finds the sugar just as easily, and Alex seems thankful when Michael puts the mug down on the counter next to him. He knows Alex isn’t going to drink it right away, either. It’s probably still a touch too hot.
They’re quiet as they eat, too, and Michael is just starting to think that maybe he’ll get lucky and they won’t talk about anything at all when Alex slides his plate to the side and rests his arms on the table.
“Wanna tell me what’s going on now?” he asks, much more gently than he had an hour ago.
“Infinite time loop,” Michael shrugs. “It’s today. Yesterday was also today. Tomorrow’s going to be today. It’ll never not be today.”
“How are you so— so casual about this, like it’s not the worst fucking thing?!”
It’s obvious Alex is freaking out, even if Michael can’t see it on his face. It’s in his tone, the rigid lines of his shoulders and the set of his jaw. Michael’s never seen Alex at work, but he imagines he’d be something like this.
“Easy, Captain. I’m your friend, not your lieutenant.” Michael slumps down in his chair, and Alex gives him a look that’s equal parts annoyed and amused. “It’s been a while, I don’t know. It’s just my life now. I mean, I get why you’re freaking out. I was there, like, two months ago, but—”
“You’ve been in here for two months?” Alex asks, and Michael nods. “What the fuck, can’t you— we— get out?” Michael shakes his head. “Use your words, Guerin.”
“There’s no way out,” Michael says. “I promise you that I’ve already tried everything you’re thinking of.”
“Is it that cave? The one I followed you into. Is that why I’m inside your time loop now?”
“Sort of. It’s a little more alien than that.”
Michael explains it all to Alex in more detail than necessary, about Mr. Jones and the chain of events that led to getting pulled into a time loop. Alex interjects a few times, mainly just to yell at Michael for trying to hunt an evil alien on his own. Michael probably should’ve saw that one coming.
“As for what you should and shouldn’t do,” Michael starts. Alex hadn’t asked, but it’s probably important he knows some stuff. He runs through it mentally, like a checklist. “Don’t bring anyone to the cave. If you really want to, you can tell people. I told Rosa last night, but it’s not like she’ll remember it today. Walking into the cave will instantly reset the loop and you’ll wake up like it’s a new morning; otherwise, when you fall asleep, it resets. Physical pain is still very, very real here, so avoid that if you can.” Alex nods, and Michael pauses debating whether he should add the last thing. The Alex he knows now doesn’t really strike him as a person who’d try it anyway. “Uh. Dying won’t end the loop, it’ll just reset it like you fell asleep.”
“How do you know that?” Alex asks, a serious edge to his voice.
Michael swallows, and looks straight at Alex. “I’ve tried.” Alex is silent, but he looks upset. Michael didn’t mean to do that. “Alex, listen to me,” he says, willing Alex to meet his eye. “I was desperate. It was stupid, and clearly not permanant because I’m right here, and I’m not going to try it again, okay?”
“Okay,” Alex says, so quietly Michael might’ve missed it had he not been listening so intently.
“I promise,” he adds for good measure.
“Okay,” Alex repeats. “Do you want more coffee?” Michael nods and wills the moment to pass.
“So, what do you do every day?” Alex asks, sitting back down with the refilled mugs. Michael notices he doesn’t bother with milk or sugar in his this time.
“There isn’t much variation. I wake up at the same time almost every day. I think today was the first time it hasn’t been Isobel waking me up.” Michael remembers that Isobel will definitely be on her way to him soon, so he texts her that he’s with Alex and he’ll be at Max’s at some point in the next few hours. “I can’t really do anything stupid or fun, like run away and drive to Texas, because of the wedding. That’s all pretty time consuming, but I change things up where I can. What I say in my best man speech, some nights I’ll hang out with Rosa— that’s what I was doing when you found me last night. I hook up with people occasionally. Usually it’s more work than it’s worth for one night stands where the other person will wake up and have no idea it happened, but it keeps things interesting.”
“The people you hook up with have no memory of it?”
“If I knew Valenti would remember that we hooked up, I would not have said yes twice.”
Alex coughs on the sip of coffee he’d just taken, and he puts the mug back down on the table while his coughing fit subsides. “You and Kyle. Twice?!”
“I know that might be shocking, but it’s nothing to choke and die over, Alex.”
“I didn’t even know Kyle was—”
“Do you know Adrian Bloom?” Michael asks. Alex shakes his head, no, so Michael continues. “He’s a biochemist who works in the lab with me and Liz. We know he’s into Valenti, but I think Valenti is starting to realize he might be into Adrian, too. I’m kind of rooting for them.”
“So you and Kyle—”
“If we ever escape the time prison, talk to him. I think he could use it.”
“Noted,” Alex nods. “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but did we ever… do anything?”
“Last night when you kissed me, that was the first time since— god, it’s been a few years now, hasn’t it?”
“I can’t speak for all of the other Alexs, even though I feel like they’re all just me, right? With the same intentions and—”
“It’s always just you,” Michael says. “Every time.”
“If you would’ve— anything, Guerin— I wouldn’t have said no. I wouldn’t say no.”
“I know. That’s why I never did anything. Imagine being in my position, right, one of us makes a move, but I’m the only one who ever remembers it. It would’ve hurt too much, I think. And it felt like it wouldn’t have been fair to you.”
“I get it,” Alex says, though Michael isn’t sure he does, entirely.
“That doesn’t change how I felt— how I feel,” Michael adds. Sensing some uncomfortability on Alex’s end, he pivots to something he’d been meaning to ask since he got here. “Hey, why did you follow me into that cave? Like, I’m not really surprised that you did it even after I told you it was dangerous, but why ? You had no idea what was inside of it.”
“I got tired of walking away from you a long time ago. I didn’t want to be the kind of guy who did it again.”
Alex said something like that to him before. Michael remembers it vividly even though there are three years and three ex-boyfriends, an ex-girlfriend and a whole time loop between that day and now. Even though it didn’t seem like it in the moment, that day was the turning point for them. There were no more secrets. Alex had put a word to the thing Michael had never stopped feeling; he called it exactly what it is— it’s love. It wasn’t until later— after Maria, after Forrest, even— that it really felt like they’d started over.
And now they’re here, almost like they’re starting over again. Michael is kind of tired of starting over.
“You don’t just follow people into caves, Alex!”
“I followed you,” Alex corrects quietly. “It wasn’t some random person, it was you. I wouldn’t follow anyone into a cave, okay, I’m not that stupid. But for you? It felt like a no-brainer.”
“Alex.” Michael shakes his head. There are so many things he wants to say to Alex: Thank you for following me. I’m glad you’re here, but I’m sorry you’re here. I don’t know what to do with everything I’m feeling right now. He doesn’t say any of it, though. He pushes his chair back and stands up. “I should get to Max’s,” he says, because when it comes to saying the things he needs to say, he’s a coward and he thinks he always has been.
“Yeah, yeah, of course. I probably need to get to Liz’s soon, too.” Alex is trying not to look too disappointed, Michael can tell. “This was nice, though. We should do it again, maybe just to catch up now that all of the explaining is out of the way. I’m sure you have stories.”
From the doorway, MIchael nods. “I’d like that.”
“I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later.”
“See you,” Michael says. He turns to leave, almost resisting the urge to turn back, but it wins out in the end like some kind of magnetic force drawing him back to Alex. “Just— for the record. I’d follow you into a cave, too.”
The rest of the day turns out to be relatively crisis free, but Michael welcomes it after the morning he’s had.
Isobel grills him as soon as he gets to Max’s about why he was at Alex’s, because apparently their history always means whenever they hang out, assumptions are made. He assures her nothing happened between them, then assures her that if anything did she’d be the first to know, and then he spends the rest of the afternoon just thinking about it— Alex followed him into a fucking cave, not knowing what to expect or what would be on the other side, because it was him. It’s a bigger gesture than any love song, and it’s more than that feeling Michael had any time he woke up next to Alex before Alex did, or the time they stood in a building seconds away from exploding, and the way he had to break Alex’s heart to save them both.
Michael doesn’t know what to do with this. Even with an eternity stretched out in front of him, he’s not sure he ever will.
He’s also not sure to do with the way Alex looks at him now from across the room. It’s more knowing, somehow more loaded. Michael is looking back, too, of course he is. The no consequences thing isn’t going to fly anymore, at least with Alex.
Michael finds Alex at the bar as the reception is starting up; he needs a refill himself and Alex just happened to be there, too, is what he’ll tell himself when he thinks about why he felt compelled to do this.
“Just so you know,” Michael says, once they’ve both been given their drinks. They’re wandering back toward their tables, taking a longer way around the dance floor. “No matter how much you drink, you’ll never wake up hungover. I’m not saying there’s anything particularly great about this situation, but the lack of hangovers has been a surprising positive.”
“I don’t get hangovers,” Alex says, simply.
“Well, we can’t all be you, Alex,” Michael jokes, bumping shoulders with Alex as they walk. “How, though? I’ve seen you keep up with me at the Pony, and it takes a lot to get me drunk.”
Alex shrugs. “Pacing, mostly. And I can hold my liquor pretty well.”
“Nothing fucking matters anymore, so if you do happen to get drunker than you’ve ever been, no one will remember it, and you won’t feel it.”
“You’ll remember it,” Alex points out.
“Touché,” Michael says.
“Are you just going to pop up and give me tips for surviving a time loop at random points throughout this wedding?”
“You would be surprised at how little I’ve actually paid attention to the big picture of the past— sixty? Maybe sixty— days. I’ve basically told you everything I know already.”
“You don’t even know how many days it’s been?” Alex asks. Michael’s not sure why he sounds so surprised.
Michael shakes his head. “I stopped counting the same day I figured out that hangovers don’t exist here, day twenty-one.”
“And you’re just— you’re okay with being in this? For as long as it takes?”
“Told you earlier, I can’t crack it,” Michael shrugs.
“What if this is the rest of our lives, Guerin?”
The Alex who was surprisingly calm about all of this earlier in the day is completely gone now, replace with the panicky, decidedly not calm Alex that Michael had been expecting all along. He knew that the longer this lingered between them, there would be a point where Alex starts to freak out, he just didn’t think they’d already gotten to that point. It might just be the alcohol talking.
“Then it is. It’s not like I had all that much going on before all of this. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“I’m going to the cave later. There has to be something else.”
“It’s just going to reset like I told you earlier. If you really want to— fine, but you’re not going alone.”
“Fine,” Alex says, and then he notices Maria flagging him over, and he goes without so much as another word to Michael.
A few minutes later, Michael gives the most basic version of his best man speech, and tries to ignore the slightly disappointed look on Alex’s face. He can’t keep— no, he won’t keep— putting his own fucking feelings on the line night after night now that Alex can and will remember the things he says.
It wouldn’t help either of them. It’d probably only make things worse.
“Can I say I told you so?” Michael mumbles, squinting against the sunlight. “Because I fucking told you so.”
It’s morning, again, and Alex is in Michael’s trailer, again. This morning, though, he skipped the whole yelling at Michael from outside part and went straight to breaking in. Michael suspects he’ll probably get yelled at again, but there’s literally nothing left for him to say that hasn’t already been said. He’s told Alex everything there is to tell, including exactly what would happen at the cave, so he rolls over and pulls the blanket around him up higher like maybe he could will himself back to sleep.
“I’ll let you go back to sleep, then,” Alex says.
Michael rolls his eyes and rolls over. “You drove all the way here to yell at me, so you should do that.”
“I’m not going to— that’s stupid, Guerin. I know it’s not your fault.”
“Okay, but you’re here, and it’s definitely before 9:52 because Iz hasn’t woken me up yet, and you were annoyed about my not having any answers right before you walked into the cave again. I’m just connecting dots here, man.”
“Okay, fine,” Alex deflates. “I’m a little annoyed. Not at you, at everything.”
“You’re allowed to be annoyed at me, y’know.”
“Am I not allowed to just be pissed off at everything?”
Michael sits up and shrugs. “Sometimes it’s nice to have something to direct it at.”
Michael can’t argue with that one, not really.
It’s been five days.
(Yeah, Michael’s been counting again.)
Five days since Alex followed him into the cave, and for the most part, nothing’s really all that different. He hasn’t had a mimosa in a solo cup for almost a week now, though, because he’s been spending the mornings at Alex’s house, or a little diner just outside of Roswell city limits, or in his own trailer with Alex. That’s definitely a welcomed change, even if it leaves Isobel wondering about the nature of his and Alex’s relationship every single day.
He never really knows how to describe it now that they’re definitely more. More what, exactly, he’s not sure yet. He settles for a shrug and a “when the time’s right, I guess,” most of the days. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother.
Sometimes he can picture something else clear as day: he and Alex finally getting it right. He just wouldn’t say that to Isobel, is all. But it doesn’t really matter because things are going well, if you ignore the time loop of it all. He doesn’t intend to press his luck that hard.
Michael sidles up to Alex late on that fifth night. He’s standing at the edge of the dance floor talking to Isobel. “Do you want to get out of here?” Michael asks, leaning in to make sure Alex can hear him. Everything is winding down, anyway, so Michael figures no one will really notice that they’re gone, or care if they do notice.
“Oooooooh,” Isobel comments before Alex has a chance to answer. “Is this something again?” she asks, looking between the two of them.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Michael says.
“Yes,” Alex says to Michael. Turning to Isobel, he just smiles. She sputters at both of their non-answers while Alex lets Michael drag him away.
“So, what’s the plan?” Alex asks. Michael unlocks the back door to Max’s house and walks in, flipping on a light in his kitchen.
Michael doesn’t have a plan as much as he just wants to drive out to the desert with Alex. All things considered, he’s sober enough to drive right now, and he made sure of that. Maybe this is actually more of a plan than he thought.
Michael shrugs. “Felt like driving tonight and wanted some company.”
“Sounds nice,” Alex remarks. Michael rummages through some stuff scattered around the house for the t-shirt and jeans he knows he was wearing when he got to Max’s this morning. He finds them eventually, both buried under Isobel’s things. The suit is so uncomfortable and so not him. The less time he has to spend wearing it, the better.
“I’m going to change quickly, and then we’ll go?”
“Could we stop at my place first?” Alex asks. Michael nods before disappearing into Max’s spare bedroom to change.
It’s not like they’re racing against the clock. It’s more like a race against their own brains. As long as they’re awake, the day goes on. Michael, now out of his tux, grabs a full sixer from Max’s fridge— it’s not like he’ll be missing them tomorrow— and figures it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they just fell asleep in the truck bed after drinking in the desert. They’ll wake up in their own beds no matter what. If Alex notices, he doesn’t say anything.
They manage to get out undetected, and Michael relaxes with Max’s place and the wedding all in the rearview. He’s always equally wiped and pent-up by the time the wedding is finished; it’s nice to take this moment to just let it go, and even nicer that Alex is with him right now.
“I’ll be quick,” Alex says, getting out of the truck. He is quick, and when he returns, he’s in a t-shirt and sweats tied off at the right knee, prosthetic-free and moving around easily with his crutch. He throws something in the truck bed before he climbs back into the passenger seat. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m, like,” he pauses, gesturing at his crutch. “I just—”
MIchael cuts Alex off. “You don’t have to explain yourself with me,” he says easily.
“Thanks,” Alex says, and as Michael puts the truck into reverse and pulls out of Alex’s driveway, he sees Alex smile out of the corner of his eye. A real, genuine smile, too, not one of the tight, fake ones Michael has seen him put on far too many times.
Alex plugs his phone into the aux cord and plays something Michael’s never heard before, but lines up with the kind of stuff he remembers Alex listening to in high school. It makes Michael smile, tapping out the beat of a song he’s hearing for the first time on the steering wheel as they fly down the dark, empty desert roads. They don’t really talk, and for the first time, Michael doesn’t mind that silence. A few years ago, or even a few days ago, it would’ve seemed unbearable. It’s actually kind of welcomed now.
It’s not really a long drive, either; a half hour, forty minutes max. He doesn’t need a GPS to get him to where he wants to go, not after the countless drives he’s taken out here over the past fifteen years or so. A lot of things have changed over the years, but this place hasn’t. It’s always been exactly where Michael needed it to be when he needed it.
They’re almost there when Michael feels Alex reach across the console to lace their fingers together. He tears his eyes off the road for a second to look over at Alex, who just smiles and squeezes Michael’s hand in response. It feels like something couples do, something they would’ve done, maybe, in another life with better circumstances and a fighting chance.
They aren’t those people, and they may not have that life, but Michael doesn’t let go.
Michael puts the car in park once he’s gotten to a spot he’s content with. It’s not really distinct, surrounded by desert, but he’d guess he ends up around this same area every time he drives out here. He undoes his seatbelt, and Alex follows his lead, but he doesn’t unlace their hands and neither of them actually move to get out of the car.
“Is this— we’ve been here before, haven’t we?” Alex asks. “After high school.”
Michael nods. “I drive out here a lot. Helps clear my head.”
“I was 18 the last time I was here.”
Thirteen years ago, he and Alex spent almost an entire summer sneaking around. It was easier the further from Roswell they were, because the possibility of Alex’s dad finding them would shrink with every mile between them and home. This was Michael’s spot first, years before he’d first touched Alex, and then for three damn near perfect months, it was theirs. Then, abruptly, as if Michael hadn’t seen it coming— he knew, he always knew— it was just his again. Alex went to Colorado Springs, Michael stagnated, and for a while, this place felt haunted— by what they were, by what they could have been, what he could have been. He might be able to give this place a happy ending now.
“Well, welcome back.” Michael pulls the key out of his ignition and climbs out of the truck. He rounds the back and flips the tailgate down, sitting on the edge. Alex sits down next to him, close enough that if it were anyone else, Michael would say it’s probably too close. He motions toward the sixer next to him, offering Alex one. Alex nods, and Michael pops both caps off with his mind before handing one of the bottles over.
“I’ve never seen a sky so clear,” Alex remarks, looking up. “You can’t see stars like this with everything so lit up at home.”
Michael lies down on his back, scooting up so his legs aren’t hanging off of the edge of the truck anymore. He reaches around for one of the pillows he’d put in there before he left this morning, putting it under his head so he can look up. He scans the sky for constellations, planets, something out of the ordinary. He’s from there; every time he remembers that, it’s a little overwhelming all over again. He’s looked up at this exact stretch of sky hundreds of times since he was fifteen, but it’s never looked the same twice. And somewhere inside of all of that way above him: a home. His home, a place he doesn’t know, but yearns for anyway.
He must lose himself in that, because when he looks around at what’s on his level again, Alex has fit himself next to Michael. Above him, there’s home, but next to him, a person who feels like home.
Alex is using the other pillow, and has a blanket thrown over him haphazardly. They’re not touching, but they’re still close.
Close enough that if Michael moved, like, three inches, he could—
No, he can’t. He made that choice before Alex was stuck in this loop with him, again after Alex changed everything, and he’s going to stick to it.
“Has going to the same wedding every day for the past two months made you think about marriage any more than, like, the usual amount?” Alex asks, breaking the comfortable silence they’d lapsed into between sips of beer and gazing at the sky.
“Sometimes,” Michael shrugs. “I’d never really put much thought into it before all of this, but it depends on the day now. Like, some days I’m having to deal with multiple crises from both Liz and Max, and it’s almost enough to turn me off to the whole concept. Other times, when things go really well, I’m thinking that maybe it is all worth it. Uh, if I find someone that makes it worth it, obviously. I take it you’ve been thinking about it?”
“Yeah, constantly,” Alex says, light, like maybe it’s a joke. Michael turns his head toward Alex, expecting to see Alex smiling, but he isn’t. “It’s always been kind of touchy, but having to go to Liz’s wedding every single day is just— not what I’d expected.”
“Sorry I didn’t get sucked into a time loop by an evil alien the day after the wedding. My bad.”
“No, I don’t blame you, Guerin, even if I still think it was stupid of you to do that on your own. It’s no one’s fault.”
“If you want to talk about it, I’m all ears,” Michael says, and Alex shoots him a look— half incredulous, half entirely unconvinced that Michael could just listen. “I mean it! I won’t say a word. Unless it’s, like, helpful, which I doubt anything will be. Or important enough that I don’t want to forget it.”
In any other conversation, in any other time, Alex would’ve replied with you think everything you say is important, but now he just hums, like he’s considering. They’ve had their fair share of tough conversations over the years, and Michael gets the feeling this might be one of them, even if it is just listening while Alex vents. That’s the kind of friends they are now, and Alex has been there for Michael through enough of these moments that Michael sort of thinks he owes Alex one.
“It’s kind of a lot,” Alex says. It’s so predictably him, to try and take all of the attention off of himself. All these years, and Alex still has a lot of the same tells. Michael rolls onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow. “It’s all boring shit I’ve been trying to work through in therapy for years.”
“We’ve got time,” he says. “As long as neither of us fall asleep, we could do this forever.”
“Hm,” Alex hums again. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“The beginning?” Michael suggests, even though he knows it’ll do nothing but earn him an annoyed look from Alex. The look Alex does give him is less annoyed, and more— fond, maybe? Michael isn’t really sure. Even after all these years, Alex can be hard to read sometimes.
“I actually used to— I really hated that I was gay, for most of high school. My dad made sure I knew that it was the worst part of me, and my best friend just wasn’t anymore, and I knew that I’d never have an easy life because of all of it. I was, like, 14, and thinking that I’d never have the kinds of love stories they write songs about because at that point in time I thought I’d never even be able to get married.”
Alex pauses to sip from his bottle, and Michael thinks about rolling onto his side, propping himself up by the elbow to look at Alex, but then he realizes that if he were telling Alex all of this stuff, he probably wouldn’t want anyone to make direct eye contact with him either. He stays on his back, but he doesn’t pull his hand away when Alex reaches for it, like an anchor.
“I really don’t have to get into any of this, Michael, like—”
“Just say what you want to say, man. It’s not like I’m gonna judge you.”
“When I enlisted,” Alex starts carefully. “I enlisted knowing that— that I was forcing myself into the possibility of a really long life of pretending I wasn’t exactly what I am, and then three years in, I could’ve just come out when I was legally allowed to and maybe that would’ve made a difference. But instead I waited until I was almost 30, and I wasted so much time when I could’ve just been happy, you know? Like, it’d been over half my life by the time I stopped living in that fucking closet.”
“It wasn’t a waste, Alex.”
“Maybe not, but I’m not where I thought I’d be at 31. I mean, when I was 15, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get married, but in all of the ideal fantasies, I’d have been married and maybe I’d gotten out of New Mexico entirely by now. But now I just I go into every new relationship thinking about marriage right away, because I’m at that point where I should be, right? But I knew I wasn’t going to marry Forrest or Jameson. Sorry this makes, like, no sense—”
“I’m going to use my one unnecessary interjection right now, because I think we’re far enough removed from the Jameson situation that it’s okay for me to say we are all glad you didn’t marry him. That whole week you helped Isobel move last year, she was texting me non-stop about how he never left.”
“No, I’m— I kind of knew you all didn’t like him. I knew it wasn’t a forever thing pretty much the whole time we were together. I know I’m not, like, running out of time, but it’s hard not to feel like it now that Liz and Max are married. It’s not even like most of our friends are married, I just feel behind— behind on my own expectations, I guess.”
Michael lets go of Alex’s hand and rolls onto his side, then. He doesn’t expect Alex to do the same, but they’re both propped up on one elbow looking at each other. Alex smiles at him, a tight smile that doesn’t quite light his face up the way Michael has seen it before. Still, it’s a better view than the stars right now.
“I’m 31, too, right,” Michael shrugs. “And I turn 31 every goddamn day, I guess. But I’m not worried. Isobel keeps telling me I’m next now that Max is married, and Iz got married young but she was happy until the whole killer alien mind control thing, but still, it’s like out of the three of us, I’m the one who somehow ended up behind when I had nothing in my way. And I know that part of that is my own fault, you know? I didn’t go to UNM, I spent years just fucking around here, but I’m not worried.”
“You’re really not?”
Michael shakes his head. “There was a time I thought maybe if things with Maria had gotten serious enough, but we’re better this way. And I never even thought about marriage with Stephen. You’ve heard my best man speeches; I’m not exactly the marriage type, I have no patience, but I’ve always wanted that. There was also a time—” Michael pauses, unsure of whether or not he should go on with this.
All of Michael’s thoughts about marriage are intrinsically connected to Alex; he knew when he was 17, and he knows now, that every part of him that ever imagined being older and married, the part of him that wanted to settle down and tell his biggest secret to someone he trusted, always imagined Alex.
It’s never not going to be Alex, is what he’s getting at. He has nothing to lose or maybe he has everything to lose, but either way, he was bound to say all of this stuff eventually and Alex has already been brave enough to say everything he’s said already tonight. Alex reaches out with his free hand, starts rubbing small circles on Michael’s hand, and the words just spill out.
“The last time I felt this hopeful about something in my life— about the future, in general— it was because of you. When I was 17. And I’d thought, if anyone could get me to properly settle down, in the human sense of being together, having a family, but also like, if anyone could keep me on this planet, it’d be you. It still is, I think,” Michael says, matter-of-factly.
“All of this is to say, I don’t think either of us are being fucked by time, or anything. I don’t really care that I’m not where I thought I’d be by now, because if I was, I’d be in space or some shit. I like where I’m at now.”
And then, just like he had that night at Max’s, the night before all of this started, Alex leans in and presses his lips to Michael’s. Michael is prepared this time because he knows that look in Alex’s eye now, and he doesn’t hesitate, he just— does. He brings the hand not currently holding his own head up to Alex’s face; it makes it a little harder to balance, but Alex’s hand fisted in his t-shirt feels steadying.
Michael feels 17 and 31 all the same. It’s just— it’s them. Alex and Michael, on the brink of something again, in this same truck bed on this same stretch of desert, but there’s a hope there this time— one that didn’t— no, one that couldn’t— exist 14 years ago. He doesn’t have to say goodbye this time. He might never have to say goodbye again.
And then Alex pulls back, and he doesn’t lean in again, and that hope— that fleeting, stupid hope— is gone. Maybe he won’t have to say goodbye to Alex, but maybe they’ll never be that again either. Alex drops down to lie on his back again; Michael does the same, because he’s not sure he could look Alex in the eye right now.
The sky is still dark and the stars are still twinkling bright and Michael takes a deep breath, holds it for three seconds, and exhales.
“Uh,” Alex coughs, clearing his throat. “I shouldn’t have done that. You were right, we shouldn’t, and I— I like where I’m at, too.”
“Okay,” Michael nods. He’s disappointed, but trying really hard not to let that crack through. This entire thing is a hell of his own creation.
“Thank you, though. For what you said? I feel less alone.”
“You’re not alone,” Michael is quick to respond. “Ever.”
It falls silent between them, but it’s stilted, uncomfortable, a complete 180 from how it was when Michael first parked his truck, however long ago that was. Alex sits up and pushes himself back against the wall of the tailgate.
“I don’t know why, but I can’t stop thinking about this one night from when I was stationed in Texas,” he says, out of nowhere. “They’d just legalized gay marriage, and I— I’m still not sure I can even describe how I felt that day, waking up and seeing a text about it from Maria. It was one of those days where I didn’t really feel or think, I just did. I was about an hour outside of Austin and it was a weekend, so I drove into the city and I found a gay bar and— it felt like I wasn’t First Liutenant Manes, I was just a 25 year-old named Alex, and I was gay, and there it didn’t matter. I guess I just didn’t feel alone then, either.”
“You can always be just Alex with me, you know.”
“I know,” Alex says. “I think you know Just Alex better than anyone.”
And Michael— it feels like there isn’t anything he can do but this. When he looks back on this moment and it’s infinite possibilities, he won’t remember what any of the other ones were. He’ll just remember this, the choice he makes by sitting up so he’s next to Alex, leaning in, and kissing him.
Eventually, they’ll fall asleep and the world will reset around them like this never happened, and they’ll go on, but they’ll still remember. For now, though, they have this: Alex’s hands on Michael’s face, Michael’s hand fisted in Alex’s t-shirt, steadying, miles and miles of open road, and what feels like the beginning of a happy ending.
“What if I told you I had plans for us tonight,” Michael says, sitting down in the seat Maria just vacated and placing one of the new drinks he’s holding in front of Alex. Things are winding down; if Michael had to guess, he’d say within the hour they’ll be on their way— if Alex agrees, that is.
“I would say, are they the same plans we’ve had the past few nights?” Alex picks up his new glass and clinks it with Michael’s before taking a sip.
Four days ago, they drove into the desert after the wedding, and every night since then, it’s been more of the same. Nights falling asleep next to Alex in the bed of the truck, mornings where Alex breaks into his trailer and kisses him awake. And it’s like— against all fucking odds, Michael is happy. He can’t remember a time he was this happy to just be and it’s in a fucking time loop, of all places.
But even with all of that he’s just kind of— not bored, because bored is what he was all that time before Alex shared this space with him— he’s just looking to change things up a little more. Like breaking-the-law-because-he-can kind of changes.
“Similar, but not quite.”
“You’re not going to ask me what I have planned?”
Alex shrugs, takes another sip of his drink. Michael definitely thought getting Alex on board was going to be the hardest part of this, but it’s looking promising.
“Great,” Michael says. “You know where to find me when this is over.” He winks and stands up when he notices Isobel motion him over. She has this look in her eye, and he has a feeling he knows what she’s going to say before she says it.
“You look happy,” she says, and somehow, it’s not the thing Michael was expecting. He never really knows what to say to that, but it’s the first time in a long time that someone’s told him he looks happy and it actually matches how he feels inside.
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
“Yeah, well,” he shrugs.
“Okay, well, now it looks like being happy is physically painful for you.”
“No, no. It’s good. I’m— good.”
“I get you’re being all secretive about the Alex thing, and that’s totally fine even if I do want to know every detail, but I’m glad you two are better.”
“We’ve been ‘better’ for a while now, Iz. Like, years.”
“Yeah, but it just seems different recently. Can’t I just be happy for my brother?!” she teases, shoving his shoulder gently.
“Be happy for me when something actually happens between Alex and I,” Michael says, leaving out that something has happened and is still happening. There’s no need to get into all of that when it won’t matter tomorrow.
“Make it happen, then,” Isobel says, like it’s that easy. He opens his mouth to say something in response, but he’s interrupted by Valenti asking Isobel to dance, and it’s not often that Michael is intensely grateful for Kyle Valenti, but now is definitely one of those times.
He’s able to get away with sitting at his table and drinking, first alone, and then inside Max’s room with Rosa when he sneaks out of the wedding entirely. He hasn’t hung out with her in a few days, not since those moments before everything changed.
Michael doesn’t mention the time loop this time and he doesn’t mention Alex either, but Alex still comes up because now that Max and Liz are married the only relationship anyone in this group of friends seem to care about is Michael and Alex and “your will they, won’t they star-crossed tragic romance. I mean… this could be a love story for the ages. I think it already is.”
“Whose tragic romance?” Alex says before Michael has a chance to say anything back, appearing in the doorway already out of his dress uniform and in a t-shirt and joggers.
“You and Guerin, duh.”
“Oh, come on, Rosa.”
Alex smiles and leans against the doorframe. “I don’t think I’d call us tragic, though. At least not anymore.”
“Everything in my life is tragic, Alex,” Michael deadpans. “Get with the program.”
“What does not anymore mean?” Rosa asks, completely ignoring what Michael said.
“Nope, we’re leaving. Are we leaving?” Michael asks Alex.
“Ready whenever you are,” Alex says, so Michael stands up and says goodnight to Rosa quickly. His clothes are somewhere in Max’s house; he doesn’t understand how he loses things within hours of putting them down every single day, but he has to shuffle through Max’s stuff to find his own just like he’s done every other night. Once he’s changed, he’s able to slip out undetected to where Alex is waiting in his truck.
“Just drive into town,” Michael says from the passenger seat once he’s settled in and they’re making their way down Max’s road. “Park in the alley next to the Crashdown and we’ll go from there.”
Alex doesn’t question it, and Michael smiles. He’s one step closer to pulling this off now. The car is quiet save for the music playing quietly through the car’s speakers. It’s a rare night where Michael’s actually tired; he’s not quite fighting sleep as they drive further into town, but he’s not not doing that either.
“Look alive,” Alex jokes once he’s parked the car. The drive went by quicker than Michael thought it would.
“I’m good,” Michael says, blinking a few times to refocus his vision. “Let’s go.”
They start down the street, Michael a few steps ahead of Alex, but not far enough ahead that he’d have to let go of Alex’s hand.
“Where are you taking me?”
“It’s taken you a lot longer than I thought it would for you to ask me that,” Michael says. Alex opens his mouth, but Michael cuts him off. “And I’m still not telling.”
When Michael thinks about him and Alex as teenagers and those few months they spent sneaking around, two places come to mind. One is the desert they’ve spent the past few nights in. The other is right in front of them now, as Michael comes to a stop in front of the UFO Emporium.
It’s where this started what feels like a long, long time ago. A different lifetime ago, as far as Michael is concerned. He stood in front of Alex and did the one thing that scared the hell out of him only to find that Alex wasn’t scared, like Michael imagined he might be. Alex was happy.
But their first kiss doesn’t exist without everything that followed it, at least in Michael’s mind. It can’t, so he needs to change that. He needs a second chance and a better ending to go with it.
“We’re here,” Michael says. “And we’re breaking in.”
“Okay, when you said you had plans, I figured they’d be legal ones.”
Michael smirks. “Then you clearly don’t know me that well.”
“I like to think that’s not true,” Alex says, and Michael needed to be kissing him, like, five minutes ago, so he messes with the security cameras even though it won’t matter tomorrow, picks the lock, and pulls Alex in before anyone can spot them.
He remembers the approximate location— how could he not after replaying that moment over and over in his head in the weeks after it happened?
“Our first kiss,” Alex says, as Michael leads him through a few of the exhibit rooms that are mostly dark. “Every shift I worked the rest of that summer, all I could think about was how I’d rather have been with you. You were the only thing I could associate with being here after that.”
“Well, you’re here now, and I’m here, so why don’t we—” Michael starts, but Alex cuts him off, pulling him into a fierce, messy kiss. Michael stumbles backwards, caught off guard while his brain scrambles to catch up to everything else. Alex’s hands, already fisted in Michael’s t-shirt, tighten around the fabric and he uses it to pull Michael back to him until their chests are flush against one another. Alex breaks the kiss, pulls back just far enough that Michael can feel Alex’s laughter against his own lips.
“Are you okay?” Alex mutters.
“Great,” Michael laughs breathlessly, his chest heaving. “Never been better.”
Now sufficiently caught up, Michael is the one to close the gap between them again. With Alex against him, he can feel the steady thud of Alex’s heart beating. It’s grounding, a silent reminder that they’re both here. Michael wonders if Alex can feel his, too, the way it almost feels like it might beat out of his chest.
It’s been a long time since he’s felt anything like this— this being love and every terrifying thing that comes with it, but he thinks he could get used to that feeling sticking around, making a home somewhere deep inside his chest.
Michael just hopes that Alex knows, even if he isn’t saying it yet.
Michael always thought a walk of shame would get him in trouble one day, he just hadn’t imagined it’d be like this: inside of a time loop, caught by his sister, when it’s not really a walk of shame at all.
It starts with a text from Alex almost four hours ago. Come over when you wake up? Can’t sleep and I don’t want to accidentally screw with time.
Michael wakes up only twenty minutes after that, and wonders if both of their inabilities to sleep on the same night are connected in any way. He pulls a shirt over his head and replies that he’ll be over as quickly as his truck will take him.
As far as their mornings in the loop have gone, it’s a pretty lowkey one. They get breakfast at that 24 hour diner right outside of town, go back to Alex’s, and then Michael decides to head out around 9:30— it’s been a few go-arounds since Isobel has woken him up, and while he doesn’t miss the mimosa, he’ll take it if it means one day without Isobel asking him all kinds of questions he wishes he had a different answer to.
Alex gets it and they’ll see each other later, so it’s an easy goodbye punctuated with a kiss in the doorway. Michael’s just on the other side of Alex’s front door when he realizes he’s made a critical mistake.
It’s like— logically, he’s known that Isobel and Alex are neighbors now since Isobel moved last year. It’s the kind of thing that was hard to ignore at first, especially because Alex had still been with Jameson those first few months. What he hadn’t factored in was that if he ’s leaving to get back to his trailer by the time Isobel usually got there, she’d be leaving, too.
His truck is parked right on the curb, and Isobel is locking her own front door, and no matter what he does now, whether he goes back inside or walks to his truck, he’s going to get caught.
There’s no path of least resistance here, so he chooses the path right in front of him and unlocks his truck.
“Well, well, well,” he hears Isobel say from her own front porch once he’s stepped out from Alex’s. “Isn’t this interesting.”
“Morning, Iz,” Michael says, passing by his truck to meet Isobel in her driveway.
“This is new, huh,” she says, gesturing vaguely between Michael and Alex’s house.
“It’s— something, yeah.” He’s not not telling the truth, is the thing. Whatever’s happening with Alex is something, just maybe not the something Isobel thinks it is.
“I was just on my way to you. How’d I not know you were here all night?”
“I wasn’t,” Michael says, truthfully, and then realizes how that could be taken in the wrong context when Isobel cackles.
“Ooooooh,” she widens her eyes. “A booty call?”
“That’s not a no,” Isobel says. “Wait, is this new?”
“It’s, like, the second longest relationship in my life.”
Isobel rolls her eyes. “I meant this time, specifically.”
“I guess,” Michael says, giving into what has to be the easiest way to go about all of this. He’s just going to lie his way through, and by tomorrow it won’t matter.
“Were you or Alex ever planning on telling anyone?”
“I didn’t know this was an interrogation. It’s too early for this.”
“It’s not!” Isobel smiles, her expression softening. She pulls Michael into a tight hug; Michael holds her close. “I’m so happy for you.”
It feels eerily similar to the conversation he had with Isobel last night, which, of course, never happened for her, but it’s not the first time she’s expressed this sentiment to him when there’s been nothing to be happy over. The more it happens, the more Michael wishes there were something real.
“Wait, so is it a secret?”
Michael is a good liar. He’s had to be, just to get by, and he’s spent so much of the past seventy-something days telling little lies to get through the day every single day. It’s no different now, but it is a little harder. Alex should be in on this, is the thing. He should probably know that Michael is continuing to dig both of them into a deeper hole when there’s still at least twelve hours of this specific day to go, but it’s not like he really has the time to deal with any of this right now.
Right now, he just has to lie a little more.
He shakes his head. “Not anymore, I guess. We were kind of waiting ‘til the wedding was over. Didn’t want to steal Max and Liz’s thunder.”
Michael is saved by Isobel’s phone ringing. She glances at the screen, rolls her eyes and slides to answer it. “Yes? Hold on,” she snaps, lowering the phone, and Michael wonders who could possibly be deserving of the sudden venom in her voice this early in the day. “It’s Max,” she says, then, to Michael. “Go, I’ll see you in a little while.”
Michael waves a goodbye and walks the rest of the way to his truck. God, he needs to call Alex.
“Okay, so,” Michael says into his phone once he’s inside his truck. He puts his phone on speaker and drops it down into the cup holder before pulling away from the curb and starting down Alex’s block toward home. “I think we’re going to have to get a little creative tonight.”
“I don’t even— what?” Alex’s voice rings out over the speaker, tinny, but right there.
“There is a non-zero-percent chance that all of our friends will think we’ve been a couple for about a week by the time we show up to this wedding later. I’d be surprised if they don’t all know within the hour.”
“What did you do—”
“I don’t know if I should be offended with how quickly you just assume I did something—”
“Who else would have—”
“Oh, I don’t know, Isobel? Who happens to be your neighbor? Who caught me leaving your house this morning and reached some conclusions that I couldn’t exactly deny because it was easier than explaining the real reason I was at your house?”
“That… makes sense,” Alex sighs. “Do you think there’s a chance she wouldn’t tell everyone?”
“Have you met Isobel?”
“Fuck,” Alex exhales.
“It’s just one day,” Michael says, as if that’ll make it any better. He doesn’t say we’ve already been acting like it, anyway. He doesn’t say it doesn’t have to be hard. If this time loop was good for anything, it’s taught him when it’s best to just bite his tongue.
“So we just have to pretend we’ve been together.”
“Yes, and it might even be fun, because dating me is fun.”
Alex hums, a sort of non-response kind of response. Not denying it, but not confirming that either because how could he? They’ve never actually dated before; the few months of sneaking around after high school probably doesn’t count.
“Alright,” Alex says. “Okay. I’ll see you later?”
The line goes dead and Michael drives the rest of the way back to his trailer in silence. As he’s gathering his stuff to bring over to Max’s, his phone vibrates with a text from Alex.
Should we be on the same page about how certain things happened? In case one of our friends asks
Certain things like a fake backstory?
No I think we’ll be fine. Isobel didn’t ask
Famous last words, probably, but Michael doesn’t feel like dreaming up more things that’ll never be real. He’s done way too much of that for one lifetime already.
All in all, it takes not five minutes for someone to say something once the reception is in full swing, after dinner and all of the speeches and the first dance are over. Five minutes, if you don’t count the eyes Liz was making at him or the knowing smirk on Rosa’s face when Michael sneaks away to say hi to her.
“I hear more congratulations are in order.” Maria steps up to stand next to Michael at the edge of the dance floor. Alex is across the way, likely having a similar conversation with Kyle if the way Alex looks up at him and smiles every so often is anything to go by.
“I guess they are.”
“I’m happy for you,” Maria says, sincere. “Is that weird? Because I’m your ex and you’re dating my best friend?”
“Maybe, but has anything about the last three years been normal?”
Maria laughs, light, like the maybe burden of everything the last few years hasn’t been weighing on her the way Michael thought it might’ve been. “Okay, so we’ll leave it at that. I am really happy for both of you.”
“Thank you,” Michael says, accepting it and not feeling as weird about it as he might have a few days ago.
“I was starting to wonder if— or when, I guess— because after we broke up, I was upset, but I also knew that he was good for you. And if you were good to me, you would be good to him. You guys are inevitable, I think,” Maria says. “God, we’re at a wedding; this is getting too deep. Tell me how it finally happened.”
Michael sips his drink and silently curses six-hours-ago Michael for not just letting Alex come up with something. Six-hours-ago Michael was a fool to think their nosy friend group would do anything less than a full-on interrogation. He wonders if Kyle asked Alex a similar question, and thinks about what kind of response Alex might have before he speaks again.
“It was, like, a week ago? I wasn’t doing anything one night so I picked Alex up and drove to the desert. There’s a spot there, it’s like— not ours, and not mine, but it feels like it is because we’d go there in high school. We were talking about relationships and weddings, because of all of this, and then it just kind of happened from there. It was super chill.”
Not the truth, but not really a lie either. In that other life, the one with better circumstances and a fighting chance, maybe that is how it happened. In this life, Michael knows something between them changed that night, even if neither of them acknowledge it.
“Aw, that’s sweet.” Maria smiles. “As Alex’s best friend, I feel like I’m obligated to tell you that I’ll fuck you up if you hurt him again, but something tells me this time might be different.”
“I think you’re right.”
The song changes to something upbeat that has Liz calling Maria out to dance with her.
“It’s our song, so I have to,” Maria explains, already starting to walk backwards toward Liz. “I mean it, though. Don’t fuck this up! You’re too good together!” And then she’s off to twirl around with Liz while Michael just stands there processing it all. He sort of wonders if there’s a universe where he doesn’t fuck it up eventually.
Alex is still across the dance floor with Kyle but Isobel is sitting with them now— something that usually spells trouble for Michael— so Michael crosses the dance floor, careful to dodge Liz’s flailing arms as she continues to dance with Maria.
“Ah, speak of the devil,” Isobel smirks, when Michael sits down in the empty chair between Kyle and Alex.
“Oh, you were talking about me?” Michael asks, as if he doesn’t already know they were doing exactly that.
“Since you were being cagey earlier, I asked Alex how you two finally ended up together, and you interrupted him,” Isobel says.
“Thank you for that, Guerin, really,” Alex says, with a look in his eye that Michael registers as something like amused outrage. Michael really couldn’t have planned this better if he tried; selfishly, he kind of wants to know what Alex would say. When does Alex think everything changed?
“Anything for you, babe,” Michael counters with a wink. “Now tell the story.”
“So I was saying, it was about a week ago,” Alex starts, and Michael wonders if this is going where he thinks it might be. “He texted that he felt like driving and wanted company. It was kind of late, but I wasn’t doing anything so I said yes. It’s not like— I didn’t get into your truck expecting something to happen.” Alex says that directly to Michael, and Michael believes him. Michael hadn’t expected it, either.
“Anyway, he drives out to this spot that we used to go to in high school just to sit on the tailgate of his truck and look at the stars. We ended up talking about some stuff that definitely bordered on ‘things I should just tell my therapist instead’ but I don’t know, it just— it felt different after that. So I kissed him, and then we talked more, and it was clear to me— I don’t know about you, Guerin— but to me it was obvious how different things were this time around.”
“No, yeah, it was— it was obvious to me, too,” Michael says, desperately hoping it doesn’t come out sounding as choked up as he feels.
Either Alex is a really convincing liar, or they both felt something undeniable that night; Michael isn’t sure which he’d rather have come tomorrow when they’re just friends again.
“It’s been really good since,” Alex adds, as genuine as Michael has ever heard him be. Alex places his hand on Michael’s thigh even though no one can see, and Michael kind of feels like he’s on fire.
God, he really hopes it’s not that Alex is great at lying.
“I always assumed since it’s you two it’d be something explosive that finally does it,” Kyle says.
“Oh, yeah,” Isobel agrees. “Especially because Michael is the most dramatic person I’ve ever met.”
“Definitely low on dramatics,” Alex says. “Just— a nice moment.”
“The dramatic part was hiding it from everyone for a week,” Michael adds.
“Okay, but how did you hide it for a week?” Isobel asks. “It’s making our betting pool very complicated. Like, team before the wedding obviously won, but did team at the wedding win too?”
“Take that up with Rosa,” Kyle says. Michael doesn’t know if he should be surprised or offended that they were all taking bets on his love life, but he’s not. “But you’re right, Iz, I’d think between all of our friends, someone would’ve noticed something. I mean, we’ve all become pretty good at reading each other. There was that night at The Wild Pony last week, though”
And the thing is— maybe there were signs in the week or so that preceded this wedding. Maybe there weren’t. It’s just that Michael barely remembers anything that happened during that week anymore. Maybe something did happen at The Wild Pony last week, and Alex never mentioned it. It’s possible that he and Alex were almost there on June 13th, but after almost eighty June 14ths, all he knows anymore is the past ten.
“I mean, when you get so used to doing everything in secret—” Alex says, and Isobel frowns. “What, too sad for a wedding? You’re right.”
“Guerin looks happy,” Kyle observes. “I know that’s not related to what you were just saying, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him smile for this long.”
“He does, doesn’t he,” Isobel says.
“It’s a good look,” Alex adds.
If anyone asks, it’s the alcohol, not the attention, that’s responsible for the deep flush in his cheeks. It definitely has nothing to do with the way Alex is looking at him.
“Why are you talking about me like I’m not right here?”
The song changes to something slower, one Michael recognizes from Alex playing it last week and thirteen years before that. On the dance floor, Liz hugs Maria before finding Max to dance with him. With her head resting on his shoulder, they look so happy, and Michael is as happy for them today as he has been every day before this one.
Isobel reaches across Kyle to shove Michael’s shoulder gently. “Go dance with your boyfriend,” she says.
“I don’t dance.”
“Come on,” Alex says, nodding toward the dance floor. “One dance.”
Michael stands up, holding his hand out for Alex to take. This is brand new for them; a line not yet crossed. There aren’t many of those left for them after everything they’ve been through. Michael can’t believe it’s fucking peer-pressured slow dancing of all things that’s about to make him spiral about what exactly he and Alex are doing here.
There’s close the way they have been the past few days— sharing a blanket in Michael’s tailgate, making out in the UFO Emporium, a kiss good morning, a kiss goodnight— and then there’s this: Alex’s arms looped around Michael’s neck, Michael’s hands firm on Alex’s hips, standing only inches apart. They’re swaying with no real technique or anything, just Alex keeping them sort of with the rhythm of the song.
“This is payback, isn’t it,” Michael whispers in Alex’s ear. “For sitting there and watching you try to come up with an answer to Isobel’s question.”
“I’d never do that,” Alex replies, in a tone that implies he definitely would do that and is doing that right now.
“You did good, though. Very convincing.”
“It felt wrong to— lie?”
“We’ve spent this entire night doing nothing but lying.”
“No, but— I mean, to make something up completely. That feels wrong.”
“I get it. Maria asked me the same question earlier and I gave her basically the same answer.”
Alex lifts his head to look at Michael. “You did?”
“Yeah,” Michael nods. “It’s like you said, uh— it felt different.”
Never in a million years did Michael think he’d be here. Maybe if he had just stayed in his regular timeline without this damn loop, they’d already be here. But all he knows now is this, and once he’d resigned himself to the idea that they were both better off apart, he hadn’t let himself really consider a future where he and Alex fucking slow danced at their friends’ weddings. Alex kisses Michael’s forehead and it pulls Michael back into the moment.
He can’t believe that in the morning, he doesn’t get to have this anymore. He needs another fucking drink.
The song ends and another slow one follows it. Alex said one dance and Michael agreed to that, but it seems like neither of them want to be the one to end it now. Maybe Alex wants to hold onto this too, so Michael doesn’t let go. They dance pressed close together for two more songs before Alex says he needs a break, unwrapping his arms from where they were still around Michael’s neck.
“You know where to find me later, if you feel like putting on another show,” Michael winks. Whatever tension had built between them disappears; Michael thinks it’s another moment passed, but Alex leans in and kisses him before walking back to his table. Putting on a show, Michael thinks, and starts toward the bar.
“Mikey!” Liz calls. She speedwalks to get to him, lifting the skirt of her gown off the floor like she’s on a mission. Knowing Liz, she probably is.
Up close, it’s clear to Michael that Liz is wine drunk. Good for her, he thinks. He’s glad she’s having fun. After everything that they’ve collectively been through, she deserves this.
“Mikey,” she says again, grabbing his bicep. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about Alex! I guess I can’t believe Alex didn’t tell me about you either, but we shared a lab for an entire week and you said nothing. Does the lab mean nothing to you anymore?!”
Right, the lab. Michael thinks he’s told Liz (and by extension, a practical stranger in Adrian) more secrets during the few months they’ve been lab-mates than he has to anyone else in the first thirty years of his life combined. Secrets typically don’t exist in the lab, and if they do, they don’t stay secrets for long because Liz has gotten scarily good at knowing when he’s hiding something. It’s how Michael found out about Adrian’s thing for Valenti in the first place, long before he slept with Kyle twice in the loop, and how he found out that Liz was tired of waiting and decided she was going to propose to Max. In the real world, where time passes like it should, this whole situation is definitely something he would’ve brought up in the lab.
“I wanted to tell you,” Michael says, pulling the explanation out of nowhere. “It just happened so fast and we wanted some time for it to be our thing before it was a big deal.”
“I get it,” Liz pouts. “I’m only a little bitter. Mostly I’m just glad you two are together now; it’s like, the best thing.”
“You got married three hours ago.”
“Fine, second best thing,” she rolls her eyes. “Look at us, though. I’m married and you probably will be soon—”
“Okay, lets not jump to those conclusions that fast.”
“Whatever, you know I’m right. But I was saying, like, me and Max, and you and Alex. Maria and Gregory! Isobel and Rosa both have their whole strong independent women thing, and unless something goes very wrong, Kyle will finally see that Adrian is perfect for him. Who would’ve thought three years ago that we’d all be here?”
Michael shakes his head. “I didn’t,” he says, and it’s the complete truth. “Honestly, sometimes I still can’t believe it.”
“Believe it,” Liz says before she pulls Michael into a tight hug. “I’m so happy you’re happy.”
If only all of this didn’t feel so fucking bittersweet.
“You are happy, right?” she asks, when he hasn’t responded.
“I am. Promise. And you are?” he asks for good measure, even if he knows the answer already.
“The happiest girl on Earth,” she replies. “And probably whatever planet you’re from, too. That’s how good everything is right now. Part of that is thanks to you, you know. You helped me save Max. I’m glad you’re getting what you wanted now, too.”
And it’s like— even if he and Alex are never the kind of forever thing Liz thinks they are, Michael thinks, everything that happened since Liz came back home the first time was worth it. It’s all worth it to see his brother get the girl of his dreams. It’s worth it to see one of his best friends like this: a little drunk and definitely rambling, but she can’t stop smiling.
Michael swallows hard. “Thank you.”
“I’m going to find my husband,” Liz says, and she still sounds giddy. “But I love you, Mikey. You’re the best!”
As soon as Liz is off to find Max, Alex is waving Michael back over to the table with Isobel, and Michael is torn between continuing on to the bar or ditching his plan to get that very much needed drink when Alex smiles at him, this megawatt kind of smile that Michael rarely sees from Alex anymore. Drinks first, he decides. And then he’ll see where the night goes from there.
“God, pretending to date is exhausting, ” Alex says, but he’s laughing, so he can’t be too exhausted. Michael watches him laugh from where he’s leaning on Alex’s arm, and Michael has a bad idea. A really bad idea.
He’s a little tipsier than usual, and Alex is a little looser, and he’s feeling good, like he could pretend that he and Alex have just taken too long to get engaged and are now just waiting for the perfect moment to out do Max and Liz instead of… literally everything else that has happened. So he presses a feather-light kiss to Alex’s neck, and feels Alex shiver underneath his hands, and he says, “Wanna get out of here?”
It’s telling that everyone lets them; if this had been June 14th 30.0, him leaving with Alex would have been a catastrophic event. As it stands right now, Liz has a twinkle in her eye and Kyle raises an eyebrow, but Isobel’s big mouth had been good for one thing—an easy escape. Their hands don’t leave each other the whole way back to Michael’s truck, and Alex pulls him in for a stupid, messy kiss.
“This means what I want it to mean, right?” Alex says, and he sounds a little nervous, a little excited, but there’s a note of longing in there that tells Michael exactly what he needs to know.
“Yeah, it does,” Michael replies, and they high-tail it out of there, giggling the whole way.
That energy doesn’t fade when they make it back to Alex’s place; if anything it’s stronger, and Alex unlocks the door and pulls Michael in. They stumble to Alex’s room, and Michael falls onto Alex’s bed. It smells like him, all earthy and calming, and Michael takes a deep breath, and then he realizes Alex hasn’t laid down next to him, yet. Michael moves to sit up, and Alex is painstakingly unbuttoning his dress shirt; Michael shakes his head.
Alex blinks up at him, and his hands fall away as Michael undoes the shirt, pulling it gently off his shoulders and throwing it to the side. They both think of it at the same time, it seems, when they both look down at Alex’s leg; it makes Alex giggle, and then Michael giggles, and he feels 17 in the best way and 31 in the best way and he sits Alex down on the bed and kisses his temple, his cheek, his lips.
“You gonna do my leg, too?” Alex breathes out, half joking, but Michael just kisses his neck in response and lets his hands wander. Alex’s breath hitches, and Michael squeezes his thigh gently.
“Let me take care of you,” Michael says, his hand gripping the edge of the prosthetic, and Alex shakes his head. Michael stops, but Alex shakes his head again.
“We take care of each other,” he corrects, and he grabs Michael’s hands, and guides them to the right place. Together, after positioning it just right, they take it off, and Alex smiles when Michael unwittingly gasps. “Never let anyone do that for me before.”
Michael looks up then and pulls Alex toward him in a hungry kiss. Really, it’s only been a day since Alex last kissed him, but it’s also been three years, and also thirteen years, and everywhere in between. It’s like the first time they kissed and the time they kissed at the reunion after ten years only it’s better, and when Michael nips at Alex’s neck and feels Alex beneath him, this doesn’t feel like such a bad idea after all.
They’re not doing much talking, but Michael feels Alex anyway, the way the kiss deepens. Alex is strong, and flips them, a smirk pulling at his lips. “You totally want this,” he says, and he’s proud of himself. Michael wants to laugh at how ridiculous it is. He’s always wanted Alex. He can’t remember what it’s like to not want Alex. But he looks up, through his eyelashes, blinking up. He feels so much.
“Of course I want you.” Michael kisses Alex’s shoulder, and then his lips. “I always want you.”
Alex shutters still for a moment, and then breaks out of whatever stupor he’d been in, kissing down Michael’s stomach like this has been kept from him, like he’s only just been allowed to give Michael this. When he gets low enough, Michael gasps, and it’s as electric as the first time, but way better. For one, no one’s going to walk in on them, and two, their shared history just seems to make it that much sweeter.
“God, Alex,” Michael breathes as Alex licks the strip of his skin right above the v-line. “You’re so—“
“You talk so much,” Alex chastises, but he sounds so fond that Michael wants to kiss him. He makes a move to grab Alex’s shoulder, but Alex scrapes his teeth against his shaft, and Michael shudders, not making a noise. “Yeah, that shut you up.”
“That’s—what you want?” Michael digs his nails into the skin against Alex’s back, leaving little impressions against the smooth canvas. Alex smiles, wrapping his lips around Michael’s dick, and god, Michael’s missed this.
“I know,” Alex says, and then there’s little breaths and noisy kisses, hungry love bites and gasps, and Michael is so overcome with emotion it’s like Alex reads his mind when he pulls away, wrecked and gorgeous, and says, “I love you, Guerin.”
Michael could cry, but he pulls Alex up to him and kisses him, pouring everything and he says it again, and Michael kisses him again, falling back against the pillows on Alex’s bed. “Thank you,” Michael whispers, pressing a kiss to the shell of Alex’s ear. Alex just burrows into him, and they fall asleep, curled around each other like no time has passed at all.
There are a lot of downsides to this time loop. Obvious ones, like the very concept of it being designed to slowly but surely chip away at your sanity, or having the same conversations with someone who doesn’t realize it every day for a week straight.
One downside Michael hadn’t quite expected was falling asleep in Alex’s bed and having no choice but to wake up alone in his own. It’s not the first time it’s happened since Alex entered the time loop, but it’s the first time after they’ve done something much more than kissing. An invisible line was crossed, and it still doesn’t feel like the biggest mistake of his life. It’s more of the opposite, actually, aside from the waking up alone now part. Granted there haven’t been a ton of morning-afters with Alex in their history, but every time before now has been different.
Still, everything that happened last night happened, and Michael is feeling pretty good about where it’s going.
But then again, sometimes— or usually, in Michael’s case— it’s the hope that kills you.
“Michael!” Isobel’s voice floats through the walls of the airstream, and Michael’s eyes snap open. He scrambles around for his phone, and right on cue, Isobel speaks again. “Our brother is getting married today and I have alcohol for you.”
It’s 9:52 a.m., and for the first time in 10 days, there isn’t a single new text from Alex waiting for Michael to wake up. Alex isn’t here, either. It’s the first time in 10 days that Isobel is waking him up.
He doesn’t get out of bed this time, just waits for Isobel to inevitably pop her head in to see what he’s up to while he opens up his message thread with Alex.
Decide to sleep in today??, he sends. Michael’s not… worried. Not yet, at least, even if his inclination is to be a little worried because last night happened and now Alex isn’t here.
“You seem off,” Isobel says, stepping into the trailer. She puts the solo cup she’d been holding down on the counter closest to her.
“Good morning to you, too, Iz,” Michael props himself up on his elbow and pushes his hair out of his eyes to look at her. “How can you tell? I haven’t said anything.”
“You don’t have to. I can just feel it.” Isobel gestures vaguely in front of her.
“Feel less,” Michael mutters.
“Oh, he’s grumpy too,” Isobel picks up a t-shirt and throws it at Michael. “Come on. What’s wrong?”
“Fine,” Isobel says, uncharacteristically nonchalant considering most days she’s actively trying to meddle in his love life. “I’ll meddle tomorrow when it’s not Max’s wedding day,” she adds, as if she’s reading his mind. She might be, actually.
“Don’t mention it,” she winks. “Just be at Max’s by noon, please. I’ll leave you to keep brooding until then.”
Michael drops his head back onto the pillow and waits until he hears the click of the door shutting behind Isobel to roll over in bed. He briefly considers going back to sleep, but this morning sucks enough already— he doesn’t want to potentially re-live all of this over again.
There goes his really great nap plan.
He picks up his phone again, hoping that Alex texted back. He hasn’t yet, and Michael tries not to think too hard about what that might mean. He tries not to think about it at all, but as he swipes out of his messages and opens Spotify, shuffles a playlist Alex sent him a few nights ago in the desert, it’s painfully obvious that Alex is all he’s thinking about.
(“It’s just a playlist I made. A mix of stuff I listened to in high school and some newer stuff,” Alex had said when Michael asked what they were listening to. “It’s not not songs that make me think of you.”)
Now Michael can’t help but listen to these songs and think about Alex, think about what Alex might’ve been thinking. If Alex heard to live for the hope of it all, and thought about them the same way Michael is now.
That song fades into the song they slow danced to last night, and it’s clear the music isn’t distracting Michael or quieting his mind at all, but at least it’s keeping him awake.
It’s 11:30 when Michael finally decides to leave. As great as some extended time alone for the first time in what feels like months was, he doesn’t need any more interrogation from Isobel once he finally gets to Max’s house.
He’s at a red light in town when his curiosity gets the better of him and he checks his text thread with Alex again. Still no response, but between the last time Michael checked and now, Alex read the text. He read the text, and he didn’t respond. When the light turns green, Michael flicks his blinker on even though it feels stupid to this late in the game, and makes a u-turn instead of continuing straight ahead to Max’s house. Driving to Alex’s is like muscle memory at this point, and not only because Isobel is his neighbor. He’d been doing this drive a lot in the before times, too.
Alex’s truck is still in the driveway when Michael pulls up to the curb. He’s very aware that whatever happens when Alex opens the door could change everything, and even as he knocks, he’s sort of hoping Alex isn’t home, maybe, and that they could exist in this limbo for just a little longer before whatever’s wrong between them becomes too real.
Alex does open the door, though, and he looks surprised to see Michael standing there.
“Did I do something?” Michael asks, still standing on Alex’s porch.
“Guerin.” Alex steps backwards into his house. “Can you come inside?”
Michael follows him inside against the advice of the voice in his head screaming at him to not do that and leans against the open doorway between the hall and the living room. All of this feels like a 180 from the Alex he was with last night, all soft smiles and no hesitation. Alex is tense now, and his face is completely unreadable. Michael thinks, not for the first time this morning, that he is definitely about to get dumped.
“I think I just need some time,” Alex says. Michael opens his mouth to speak, but Alex holds up a hand, a silent let me talk, and Michael nods. “Last night was— it was good, Guerin. Of course it was, it’s us, you know? But it’s— it took that for me to realize how trapped we are here.”
“It’s been eleven days, and it took us having sex for you to realize that we’re stuck in a time loop?”
“I need to find a way out of here. If we want any of this to matter—”
“What do you mean, matter? Of course it matters.”
“It’s all meaningless! Nothing you do— nothing you’ve done is going to mean anything if you stay here forever. You have to get that by now.”
“It means something to me, Alex! All of this has!”
“It’s not real!”
And that— it really fucking hurts; worse than metal crushing bones, worse than every goodbye that got them here, all because Michael didn’t feel like he needed to have one foot out the door this time around.
"So everything you said last night, that’s not real? Awesome. Really great stuff. Any other lies you want to confess to while we're at it?" Michael laughs bitterly, shakes his head.
“Michael, that’s not what I—“ Alex takes a step toward Michael, and Michael takes one back.
“Yeah, not what you meant. Got it.” Michael fights the urge to turn around and leave without another word. Turn around, don’t look back, forget he let himself get so close just to get his heart broken by Alex Manes for the fifth time. But it’s still Alex, and Michael is still drawn to him by something he can’t explain. He doesn’t want to leave yet; how fucked up is that?
“What’s with the sudden need to do this now? What made you decide, hey, let me ruin this by changing everything?” he adds when Alex hasn’t said anything back.
“Don’t you want to get out of this, too?”
“Did you miss the part when I told you that I’ve already tried everything?”
“Maybe you haven’t, though.”
Michael turns around this time, because he’s going to leave. He has to because Max and Isobel are expecting him, but also because the longer he stays here, the more likely it becomes he’ll say something he’ll really regret, in addition to the mild regret for everything he’s already feeling now.
“Maybe I haven’t,” he echoes. “Guess you’ll find out, huh? I have to go. Enjoy all your time and space. It’ll get lonely eventually.”
Michael doesn’t wait for a response from Alex, just hightails it out of the house, down the porch and into his car.
“Fucking shit,” Michael says, banging his hand against the steering wheel. “Dammit,” he mutters, putting the car into drive and starting toward Max’s house again. Even after all of that, it doesn’t matter that he and Alex are done; Michael still has to get Max married. Just like he has every day before today, before Alex and now after him.
Michael wakes up the next morning and immediately checks his phone for a text from Alex before remembering that Alex thinks everything in the time loop isn’t real, so of course he’s not texting Michael anymore. Isobel bangs on his door per usual, and when Michael emerges, she grimaces.
“Oof, you look rough,” she says, forgoing her usual for today, and Michael rolls his eyes.
He makes it through the day well enough, avoiding Alex’s careful gaze, stumbling through his best man speech and then leaving as soon as he can to sit with Rosa, again, and tell her about the time loop, a-fucking-gain, and then Isobel’s calling for him so he does some deep breathing and—
He wakes up the next day, and he’s so fucking grateful for falling asleep ending the day that he almost thinks to do it again, but instead of knocking, Isobel barges right in with alcohol. He doesn’t even care that it’s another fucking mimosa; he takes the solo cup from her and drinks half of it before he says anything.
“Strong start to the day,” Isobel comments. He glares at her and she puts her hands up, taking a step back. “Just calling it like I see it,” she adds. Michael takes another long sip before putting the cup down on whatever flat surface is nearest to him.
“Hello to you, too. Nice to see you,” Michael deadpans.
“Who or what’s got you day drinking with a purpose, and is his name Alex Manes?”
“Absolutely not,” Michael says. “I’m doing great. Is that not obvious?”
“Ah, yes,” Isobel says, looking him over. “Your shirt’s on backwards, you have pillow lines on your face, and you always seem to forget that even though we don’t have a strong connection, we’re still connected.”
“Like I said, doing great.”
“If we’re both lying now, I totally believe you.” Isobel picks up a clean shirt from his pile and throws it at him. “Come on, Cowboy, let’s get our brother married.”
The wedding that night is more of the same: no emergencies, a speech that definitely wasn’t even that good, managing to avoid Alex without raising too many questions, and drinking enough that he falls asleep easily, ending another terrible day.
He wakes up again to Isobel banging on his door, again to no word from Alex, and it fucking sucks. He rolls over, and for the first time he doesn’t worry about time fuckery or resetting, he just— goes back to sleep.
Someone keeps poking Michael’s shoulder. It’s the first thing he notices when he wakes up on day seventeen, because it’s what wakes him up in the first place. Isobel is very persistent this morning, apparently.
“Guerin, wake up,” Alex says, and— Alex is here. “Since when do you sleep like the dead?”
“Alex,” Michael says, blinking a few times. He sits up and wipes a hand over his face. He wants to make sure he’s not just seeing things. That Alex is actually here. It’s only been six days, and Michael has seen him at the wedding all six of those days, but Alex hasn’t been this close, Alex hasn’t paid him any mind, Alex has barely looked in his direction. But now Alex is here, right in front of Michael. He looks exhausted, like somehow he’s barely slept in days, but even exhausted, he’s beautiful.
“Hey. You’re, uh. You’re here?”
Alex nods. “How are you? Are you— good?”
Even when Alex had gotten back from the war, it wasn’t this uncomfortable between them. Back then, it was a lot less talking and a lot more kissing, but even six days ago, Alex was the easiest person in the world to talk to. Why is it so goddamn hard now?
“Bad,” Michael says immediately. He hums, reconsidering, because really it hasn’t been all bad. Mostly bad, maybe, but— “No, just bad,” he decides.
“Oh,” Alex falters. Michael feels kind of bad admitting how bad everything is, because what else was he expecting Alex to say to that, if not just a one word response.
“It’s fine, I just— why are you here? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s— fine, yeah. I think I found a way out.”
Michael pulls his knees to his chest and scoots back on his bed, making room for Alex. Alex sits on the edge of the bed and Michael lets his statement linger a little longer. It almost doesn’t feel real.
“That’s not possible,” he says, eventually.
“I spent six days teaching myself quantum physics, trying to find explanations for time travel, and I know I’m not a scientist like you—”
“I’m an alien chemist. I’ve tried looking for explanations in science and I got nowhere! This thing does not want to be solved.”
“Reality is a box of energy, okay? And there’s pipes in the box. And those pipes are the flow of time. That’s our reality where time passes normally. When Mr. Jones shoved you into a cave— the impact of that with the light and the heat— it broke a pipe and it created a new box where the broken pipe is a circle. We’re trapped in a smaller, looping box of energy. Something needs to break that energy, so all we have to do is destroy the energy source at the point of impact.”
“Okay, so say you’re right: how do you destroy the energy source?”
“Um,” Alex says. Michael can tell he’s hesitating, because whatever comes next is impossible or unsafe or he’s sure MIchael won’t be down. Michael nods, a silent go on, it’s okay, and swears he sees the ghost of a smile on Alex’s face. “We have to blow it up. It being the cave and ourselves, in the exact moment where the light and the heat and our bodies all converge. It’s a 3.2 second window; I’ve timed it out.”
“That’s crazy, Alex.”
The thing about it, though, as crazy as it sounds, is that it also sounds reasonable.
“Not if it works,” Alex replies with the confidence of someone his rank, like he’s certain this is right because it’s not often he’s wrong. Michael has always bought into it; Alex is smart, Michael has known this for as long as he’s known Alex, so obviously if he’s this sure about something there must be some merit to it. It’s also a really fucking big what if.
“We just coast through today, don’t do anything too crazy in case this wedding is the one that actually sticks and then once everything winds down, we go to the cave and hopefully on the other side of that, it’s June 15.”
“How do you know it’ll work? That’s a pretty big risk to take for… an idea.”
“I had this box of my dad’s shit in my house that I’ve been trying to get rid of since everything, so I just… taped some explosives to it, threw it into the cave and detonated it within the 3.2 second window. I don’t know where it is now, but it’s not in my house anymore.”
“You don’t want to test it a few more times before it’s your body in the cave?”
“Wh— no, Guerin, I have to go, okay? Back to my real life and— wait, you’re scared to leave, aren’t you?”
For better or for worse, they’ve always seen each other. Right now it’s definitely for worse, as Alex puts words to the thing Michael’s spent the last six days avoiding having to really consider.
“I’m not,” Michael says. Alex doesn’t look convinced, though, as he crosses his arms over his chest. “Okay, fine, what if I am? Is that really the worst thing in the world? Maybe this isn’t all so terrible, I mean, the closest we’ve ever gotten to actually being together has been in here. We don’t age, nothing terrible happens; this is basically an ideal scenario now that I’m not alone. I accepted a long time ago that it might never change.”
“Don’t do this.”
“Don’t— you’re the one convincing me that the only way to get back to the “real world,” which I don’t even really want to do yet, is to literally blow myself up! Excuse me for being a little apprehensive.”
“I just want my life back, and I want you to come with me. I’m asking you to leave this place and come home with me.”
“I’m saying no. And I’d ask you to stay with me, but I know that I can’t change your mind, so,” Michael shrugs.
Alex stands up, and Michael figures this is it, right, he’ll never see Alex like this again and it’s all his fault. Alex takes something out of his hoodie pocket. It’s an envelope with Michael’s name written on it. He puts it down on the mattress between them and smiles at Michael, but it’s not genuine; it’s all sad.
“For what it’s worth, happy birthday. I don’t think I’ve told you that yet,” he says, and stops once he’s standing in front of the door. “Goodbye, Michael.”
And then he’s gone. Michael picks up the envelope and tucks it into his backpack. Opening that now and reading whatever might be inside would just break his heart all over again, and he doesn’t know how much more it can take.
There’s still a few hours before everything starts, and all Michael’s done since he got to Max’s house was dodge questions from Isobel and crease his suit sitting on the couch. Isobel is currently fixing a flower emergency, or a dress emergency, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but she’s not giving Michael shit for creasing his suit or refusing to tell her why he’s in such a shitty mood, so he’s fine with it. Just glad to not be dealing with this particular emergency.
“Hey,” Max says, stepping out of his bedroom in his tux. “How do I look?” He does a half-spin once he’s in the living room.
“You look like a groom,” Michael says. It’s been how many days of this now, and seeing Max like this never gets old. Once they pass the part of the morning where he’s convinced himself Liz is going to go all runaway bride on him, he’s just— radiating happiness.
“Great, so I nailed it,” Max smiles. He takes the tux jacket off and drapes it over the back of a chair before he drops down in the armchair opposite Michael.
“You still nervous?”
Max shakes his head. “Liz texted me like twenty minutes ago and asked if I had plans tonight, like it were any other night. I’m good right now.”
It’s funny, Michael can’t remember a single time in the past however-many-days of his life it’s been that he and Max were able to just sit down and talk, so of course it’d happen today— not the worst day of his life but definitely among the top 10 worst. Typical.
“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Max adds.
“Where else would I be?”
“No, I mean, here as my best man. If I got married five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have asked you. No offense.”
“None taken. We weren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
“Which is why I’m glad you’re here now.”
“Could you imagine five years ago someone telling you that I’d be your best man when you marry Liz Ortecho?”
“I don’t know which part of that sounds more unbelievable,” Max laughs. “What about you, though? Someone five years ago telling you that we’d be a family again and that you and your high school sweetheart are something again?”
“No, me and Alex are—” Michael starts, but he stops himself looking for the right word. “Complicated,” he settles on. “Definitely not high school sweethearts.”
“Yeah? Last weekend when you guys left the Pony together at, like, 9:30, we were all kind of wondering if we’d missed something. Didn’t seem very complicated then,” Max says.
Michael takes a beat to think, because he hadn’t really remembered any details from that night at the Pony until Max just mentioned it, but it has to be the same thing Kyle was talking about the night Michael and Alex had to pretend they were together.
He and Alex did leave pretty early, but it wasn’t— Michael slept on Alex’s couch that night. Not because anything happened between them. It was really more of the opposite; they went back to Alex’s, watched a movie, and there was one split second where Michael thought Alex might kiss him, but he wasn’t even disappointed when Alex didn’t. Michael fell asleep on the couch, Alex made breakfast the next morning and drove Michael home.
He takes another second, and then for the first time in a long time, decides to go full disclosure with Max. Or at least, full disclosure enough without having to explain everything.
“When things started to get real with Liz, did you feel like it also got more complicated? Because I think that’s where I’m at with Alex. We’re, like, the closest we’ve ever been to together, and some stuff has happened over the past week that's kind of just... messy.”
“Which time,” Max jokes. “The first time, after dragging her into our alien murder cover-up, I insulted her right before she kissed me. The second time, I only remembered I loved her because she made me a milkshake that I hated. And then I burned her life’s work to the ground, which was the ultimate complication, but here we are, you know, however many years later. It’s the same with you and Alex, though, right?”
“There was just high school and now, with a whole lot of not-together in between it all. I feel like we were one conversation away and then some stuff happened over the past few days that has me questioning all of it,” Michael admits. It’s the closest thing he can say to the truth; all breaking of time excluded, it sort of is the truth.
“Questioning Alex? No,” Max says, very definitive. “You know how Isobel always says Liz and I must be soulmates, because you don’t hold onto those feelings for over ten years if you don’t think there’s some kind of chance for the two of you in the future? That’s you and Alex, too, dude.”
“Have you always been this much of a romantic?” Michael asks, because it’s always easier to tease Max than it is to confront the truth in what Max is saying.
“It’s like you don’t even know me,” Max scoffs. “If Liz and I are soulmates, then you and Alex are; it’s really that simple. I know you hate having feelings and thinking about having feelings, but it’s so obvious. If I was a hopeless romantic for ten years, you were too, right there next to me.”
“No buts,” Max interrupts. “You love him, right? So it shouldn’t matter that it took this long or why it took this long, or that things feel a little weird right now. You love him, and that’s enough. It’s called having patience. Have a little faith too, while you’re at it, if it won’t kill you.”
“You definitely weren’t this wise before Liz.”
“Like you’d know,” Max stands up and walks across the room to the fridge. He takes two beers out and tosses one to Michael, who just barely has the perfect combination reflexes, reaction time, and alien powers to catch it. He pops the cap off his own and Max’s using his mind, so at least the powers are good for something. “Cheers to, uh… to finally getting it right. And to not fucking it up.”
“To not fucking it up,” Michael echoes before taking a long pull from his bottle. It’s just ironic now, considering he already has.
It’s like— Max got into Michael’s fucking head with all the soulmate shit and now he can’t stop thinking about it. Which would be fine, or at least it would be something Michael could live with, if he didn’t have to spend the rest of the day around Alex. It’s something else entirely to be processing this hours later just to turn his head and see Alex talking to Isobel during the cocktail hour like nothing happened this morning.
And suddenly, it’s like— Michael can’t imagine a life without Alex in it. It’s not surprising in the slightest. It’s just really fucking bad timing. Alex isn’t gone yet, though, and— Michael’s really entertaining Alex’s crazy idea now as if it’s something that could really work, not something with a 50% chance of working and a 50% chance they just straight up die trying.
If he is considering Alex’s proposition— which he isn’t, at least not seriously, not yet— then this could be the last wedding. Michael doesn’t know how any of this works enough to know if this would be the one that sticks. When Max and Liz remember their wedding day, will it be this one?
And if he’s really thinking about going to a cave and blowing himself up— which, again, he isn’t— he should probably say some stuff just in case he doesn’t have a chance again. When it’s time for his speech, he gets up there and with the microphone in his hand decides, much like the night that got him into this whole mess, to throw caution to the wind and just say what he needs Alex to hear.
“So, I’m not really… the best at this kind of stuff, which is why I’m surprised Max asked me to do this instead of Isobel, who definitely would have something written down instead of just winging it as soon as the microphone was in her hands. Uh, this is going to be about Max, but it’s also a little bit about me like pretty much everything else I do.
“For those of you who don’t know me or why I’m standing up here, I’m Michael, and Max isn’t my brother, but he’s been like my older brother for as long as I can remember, ever since the foster system brought me back to Roswell when I was 11. And then for most of our twenties, we weren’t on speaking terms. I think we tolerated each other only because of how much we both love Isobel. Now, I can’t imagine not having him in my life. Max is a lot of things, but I think what I want to focus on right now is how fucking patient he is, because it’s that patience that brought him to Liz in the end.”
Michael pauses and blinks a few times, desperately trying to stop the tears pricking the corners of his eyes from making an appearance this early in the speech. Ideally, he doesn’t cry at all.
“I met Liz around the same time Max did, though Liz probably didn’t know me as much other than the loner who hung around Max and was always battling her for number one in our class— in the end it was her pulling point-zero-one GPA points ahead of me. And when I say Max pined after Liz— I mean, for over ten years, he basically waited and hoped that one day she’d come back home. For a long time, I thought I could have never done that. As unromantic as this makes me sound, I thought it was pointless to hold out for the idea of my first high school love. It’s because I’m impatient where Max is probably the most patient person I’ve ever met. And then talking to Max earlier today, he kind of forced me to see that not only had I been doing the thing I thought was so stupid, but I’d been doing it alongside him from the time we were 18 until he finally got the girl. So I’m still there now and I think what kept me going, even if I didn’t realize it at the time, was Max’s stupid blind hope and eventually Max and Liz together and the relationship that the two of them have.
“When you aren’t the kind of person that this stuff comes easily to, it’s kind of a shocking thing to be hanging out with your friends who are a couple and not only realize that you want what they had, but realizing you could have it, too. That’s the kind of couple Max and Liz are; you spend five minutes with them and it’s obvious that they make even the hard parts of being together easy because they’re on each other’s team.
“I’ve never understood how people like the two of them could spend so much time together without getting sick of each other. I’ve never understood how anyone could so easily give every part of themselves over to someone else with the promise of forever, but I’ve watched Max give parts of himself over to Liz without any hesitation or expectation of something in return and I think I get it now. It’s easier to do things that scare the shit out of you if you know someone’s going to break your fall no matter what happens. I learned that from Max and Liz.”
Now that he’s sufficiently bared his soul to his friends and a bunch of strangers, the last thing he wants to be doing is holding this microphone anymore. Time to get this shit over with, and get a drink. Get drinks.
“I know I’m bad at this, so I also know that Max and Liz can’t possibly know how much they mean to me and how much I love them individually and together, on account of me never saying the quiet part out loud, but they’re two great people who take the best parts of themselves to make the other better, and then they make everyone around them better, too. Max, all that’s left to say is thank you, and Liz, I’m glad that you’re the sister I’m gaining, because you got me a job and that’s pretty cool, but you also believe in my ability to do things that I never thought I could and then you push me to do those things. And that’s pretty cool, too.
“Uh, cheers. To Max and Liz.”
Michael exhales, happy to be done, and puts the microphone down on the table behind him. Liz stands up to intercept Michael on his way back to his table. She’s been crying, if her tear stained cheeks are anything to go by.
“Happy tears, I promise,” she says, pulling him into a hug. “Thank you, Mikey. For everything.” Just like it had happened the night everything changed, Max turns their hug into a group hug.
“Love you, man,” Max says.
Liz steps away first, because Maria’s about to do her own speech, and before Max can walk away, too, Michael whispers, “trying not to fuck this up,” in Max’s ear, and Max smiles knowingly.
Once he’s back at his own table, Michael looks over at Alex’s; Alex won’t look at him, so maybe he did hear the unsaid things. Things like I want you on my team and you break my fall every fucking time and all of this makes sense now, but I’m afraid to say it out loud. Michael hadn’t expected any kind of reaction, really, hadn’t expected Alex to acknowledge he said anything at all, but for once, it might’ve been nice to be wrong.
It’s kind of excruciating, eventually, to just sit there and watch Alex pretend like he’s not also watching Michael. Every time Alex gets up, Michael starts to think that this is it— that he finally has to make a choice he’s not ready to make, but that moment hasn’t come yet. Alex is always just getting another drink, or dancing with Isobel, or talking to Liz.
Michael takes his drink and slips into Max’s house undetected, because there’s something he needs to do. He owes it to Alex, at the very least, to read whatever was in the envelope Alex had given him earlier that day, so he bends down to pull it out of his backpack. It’s a generic kind of birthday card, but still the thought of Alex going out of his way to get something silly like this makes Michael smile. He opens the card, but closes it as soon as he sees how much writing is on the inside.
He needs to do this somewhere that isn’t here, so he grabs his keys and heads for his truck. It might be the first place someone would look for him, but it’s the best he can do right now. Once he’s sitting in front of the steering wheel, he takes a deep breath and opens the card again.
Now that I’m sitting down to write this it feels kind of stupid but I’m just going with it and if it turns out horribly you’ll never have to find out about it. So if you’re reading this, I guess I didn’t embarrass myself too much, or maybe I did and said fuck it anyway. I’m writing this on day 13, just so you know. I’m not sure when you’ll read this if I decide it’s not terribly sad or just plain terrible.
I should start by saying happy birthday. I’ve actually had this card since before I knew time loops were a real thing I had to be worried about but I couldn’t figure out what to say. I know it’s not the day you tell everyone your birthday is, but it’s still kind of your birthday anyway. So. Happy birthday. I hope they’ve all been good or at least that most of them have been good.
I miss you, is that weird? It’s only been two days and we’ve been apart for much, much longer before.
I’ve spent the last two days teaching myself quantum physics 101. I think it would be easier with two brains instead of one, especially when one is much better at science than the other, but I’m getting somewhere. At least I think I’m getting somewhere, because I need this to work.
I don’t know what’s going to happen (that would be more Maria’s wheelhouse anyway), but I sort of hope that when something does happen, you’ll be next to me. I don’t know what will happen if and when I finally have a breakthrough, but just in case I can’t explain myself fully to you, I still want you to know this. The long and short of it is that I think what we have is worth fighting for. I don’t regret anything that’s happened here, and I’m sorry for making it seem like none of it meant anything to me. It was real to me, too, as real as anything else we’ve been through together. That’s why I’m doing all of this. Because we deserve a chance to be as great as we are here in the real world where time passes and we can have a life. This is for us, even if you read all of this and still decide to stay. I don’t understand why you want to stay and I don’t know if I ever will, but you have to know that all of this trying wasn’t just for me.
I feel like I’m rambling a lot now in what was supposed to be a birthday card so I guess I’ll just say this: I’m glad that what happened happened even if it took us a really long time to get there, and I’m glad you hatched from that pod 24 years ago.
Michael closes the card and drops it on the passenger seat. He wipes the tears from his cheeks and takes a long, shaky breath. He hadn’t intended to cry, as he so rarely does, but somewhere between what we have is worth fighting for and this is for us, he couldn’t stop it.
Alex knows. He’s still only said it once, and Michael’s not sure he even meant to then, but Alex feels it, too. Love sucks; it’s scary and it’s uncontrollable, but it’s also kind of great sometimes. If you just let yourself feel it.
He finally gets out of his truck to rejoin the party, having made a decision, but Alex is gone. Michael knows exactly what he needs to do. Max was right earlier: Michael loves Alex, and that’s enough.
Eighteen days ago, Michael drove to the turquoise mines like his life depended on it. It didn’t then, and but it might now, as he takes that same drive with more even urgency than he had the night that changed everything.
He doesn’t know how long ago Alex left, doesn’t know if Alex drove like a maniac to get here the way Michael currently is. Alex could be long gone by now, back in their timeline or— no, if he’s anywhere, he’s back in their timeline. Michael has to believe that if Alex already did what he said he’d be doing, that it worked, because he’s going to do the exact same thing with or without Alex by his side now.
Alex’s truck is parked near the cave, and for once, Michael lets himself feel hope— maybe he’s not too late. Maybe he’s right on time.
Michael lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding when he sees Alex, still in his dress blues, standing at the opening of the cave.
“Alex!” Michael calls, running from his truck. “Alex, wait!”
“What is it, Guerin?” Alex asks once Michael stopped in front of him. There’s, like, real ammo right there. And a real trigger switch. And all of this is starting to feel very, terrifyingly real.
“I just— there’s something I have to say, and it can’t wait.”
“I’m not staying.”
“I know, okay, and I think I get it now. I was scared, you were right—”
“That was kind of out of line of me,” Alex interrupts. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, Alex, it’s fine, because you were right. I’ve been inside this loop for so long that I don’t know if I’m ready to be back in a world where time passes normally and bad shit could happen all the fucking time, but I have to be, because I’d rather be out there with you than in here alone again. After everything, I can’t go back to being alone. This scares the shit out of me, but I know you’ll be there to catch my fall. So here I am, right next to you for whatever the hell is about to happen.”
“You read my card,” Alex says, and he smiles. A real, genuine Alex smile for the first time in days.
Michael nods. “I just— there’s more. Remember that night in the desert, when you told me that I might know Just Alex better than anyone? I know that you know Just Michael better than anyone, and that’s something I can’t afford to lose. You’re my favorite person, okay, and—”
“Michael, you don’t have to—”
“It's crazy odds that I would get stuck in a time loop with my favorite person, but you know what else has crazy odds? Getting stuck in a time loop in the first place. I love you, Alex. I’m in love with you, and I’m choosing us.”
“Is that it?” Alex laughs, watery, and takes a step toward Michael.
“Yeah,” Michael nods, and he can’t help but smile. Not something he’d consider a real, genuine Michael smile, but still a smile nonetheless.
“I liked your speech,” Alex says. “Best one since the one that made me follow you into a cave.”
“Your card kinda made me want to follow you into a cave, so I guess we’re even now.”
“We’re on the same team.”
The same team, Michael thinks, is a very good place to start.
“You have enough of that for both of us?” Michael asks, nodding toward the explosives.
“I was optimistic.”
Michael isn’t really thinking when he reaches for Alex’s hand and tugs him closer to kiss him, but Alex stumbles forward reaching out to steady himself with a hand flat on Michael’s chest.
“Shit, sorry,” Michael curses. “I didn’t—”
“I’m fine, promise. Carry on,” Alex smirks. Michael didn’t think it was possible to be more in love with Alex than he’s been for the past thirteen years, but this single moment might beat all of those years combined. Everything’s not perfect and they still might die tonight, but it’s them and they made it, somehow.
So, he carries on.
Alex has one hand in Michael’s curls and the other on his face as Michael leans in to kiss him; it’s somehow gentle and messy at the same time. Alex kisses Michael like it’s been years since they’ve touched, and this is exactly what Michael meant that time he told Isobel coming back to Alex feels like a crash landing. Except that’s not always a bad thing, Michael realizes now.
It's Alex who pulls back first, breathing heavily, and Michael can’t help but think that something’s still wrong, like maybe they’re not as completely on the same page as it seemed. His face must reflect this minor panic, because Alex’s eyes go wide.
“Wait, shit,” Alex says. “Nothing’s wrong. I think we just need to— before we get carried away. Because I could do that all night.”
It’s hard to ignore the uneasiness pooling in his stomach at that sudden reminder. It’s like the whole world melted away for a second before reality came back to smack him in the face. It would be unbelievably cruel of whoever’s up there controlling things to let them have this only to take it away forever, but Alex was right— Alex is right. Michael has always wanted all of this with Alex, and right now, it’s within his grasp.
“Let’s see if we blow up and die,” is what Michael says, instead of any of that other stuff he’d been thinking.
Alex takes Michael’s face in his hands and kisses him again, sure and solid. “I love you,” he says, looking Michael in the eye, and then he repeats it for good measure. “I love you. Let’s go build a life together.”
For the first time in however many days it’s been, Michael wakes up to silence. Isobel isn’t banging on the door, and Alex isn’t here to kiss him. Or to yell at him, depending on the day. It’s just— quiet.
His first thought, before he even opens his eyes, is fuck, I’m dead, aren’t I?
He remembers it all; the kissing and I love you and the light and the heat and— he doesn’t even know how to be sure it worked in the end because it’s like it always is, Alex just isn’t here.
When his phone vibrates under his pillow, he doesn’t even think to look at the date, just the slew of unread messages he has. He sits up in bed and scrolls back a few to the start of new messages in a group chat he’s in with Liz, Max and Isobel.
The first one is from Isobel: We ALL saw Alex leave, and then you leave. Yes we were all drunk but there’s no way this is a coincidence so do you have something you’d like to tell us
Then Liz: ARE THERE MORE THINGS TO CELEBRATE!!!!!
Then Max: I want no part in this
And Liz again: legally you are bound to this
There are a few more below that, mostly wondering if Michael is hungover and ignoring them, but Michael gets the gist. If they saw him leave last night— if they remember what happened last night— if Max and Liz are legally married this morning— it worked. Only then does he remember to check the date. It’s June 15, and it’s cloudy.
A wave of relief washes over Michael because it worked and he’s not dead and—
There’s nothing from Alex, though, and Michael tries not to let that worry consume him while he replies in the group chat. I don’t kiss and tell, he sends. That leads to a few texts in rapid succession from Isobel and Liz, but Michael swipes back to his messages with Alex.
Are you alive, he types out, then backspaces all of it. He’s halfway through his third try at a text when someone knocks on the door to his airstream. Michael scrambles for the shirt nearest to him and pulls his over his head, while shouting, “it’s open!”
He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but a part of him wants to cheer when it’s Alex who opens the door and steps inside, wearing what he would consider pajamas, an old USAF t-shirt and sweats. Michael would be surprised if he even looked in a mirror before he left his house because his hair is a mess, sticking up in all different directions.
“Since when do you knock?” Michael teases. Alex smiles and leans in to kiss him. “I can’t believe your idea worked,” he says, after Alex sits down across from him, crossing his left leg under his right.
“I just needed to see you to— to make sure, you know,” Alex says.
“As far as I know, I’m alive.”
“Isobel saw me leave last night and still remembers it.”
Michael should have known better than to assume Isobel would’ve stopped at just pestering him about it. “She texted you?” he asks.
Alex nods. “In a group chat with Kyle and Rosa.” He unlocks his phone to show Michael a nearly identical text to the one he got from Isobel, only with different responses beneath it from Kyle and Rosa. Apparently Rosa texts just like her sister: all caps, tons of exclamation points.
“A divide and conquer strategy,” Michael says, handing his own phone over to Alex with the messages he got open on the screen. “I’d be annoyed if I weren’t so impressed at their dedication.”
“Hey, look.” Alex twists around so his back is to Michael and opens the front-facing camera on Michael’s phone. Michael barely has time to react before Alex is taking the picture so he’s sure he looks stupid in it, but Alex sends it to Isobel, Max and Liz before giving Michael his phone back.
It vibrates in his hand again almost immediately with a text from Liz, just exclamation points. So many exclamation points. Then, Max asks the first productive question all morning. Does this mean you’re together together. Like obviously you’re physically together but are you dating together?
we made love happen, max, Liz responds before Michael even looks back up at Alex. He glances quick at the picture; he didn’t quite dodge the camera like he’d tried to, but he also looks… happy.
He thinks he finally understands what Isobel meant inside the time loop every time she told him he looked happy. That’s what happy looks like— it’s what happy feels like too.
“Max is asking if we’re quote ‘together together,’” Michael says, and Alex just smiles at him. “Well? Are we?” he asks, even though he’s sure.
“I did promise you a life and a future together.”
“I want all of it.” Michael can’t remember a time they’ve ever talked about this in such definitive, concrete terms. That life they’re building together? That starts now.
“Then I’d say we’re together together,” Alex smiles again and there’s nothing Michael can do but lean across the bed to kiss him.
He thinks about that first night they spent in the desert, and the way it felt like they had forever stretched out in front of them as long as they didn’t fall asleep. He thinks about fake-dating Alex and Alex telling their friends the story of that night as the night they got together. Kyle said he always thought it’d take something explosive to bring them together, and Michael didn’t realize at the time how literal that would become until after it happened.
They have forever in a different way now, and this time, forever feels good.