Life moves on, as life is wont to do.
Alex goes home two days before Christmas. He’s still in a lot of pain, and PT is a fucking SOB if Alex does say so himself, but he’s getting better. It’s getting better.
Alex is finally being welcomed home, in every sense of the word.
“You’ll miss my beautiful face,” Alex informs Cool Nurse Ellie with a cheeky grin as he gently pulls Henry’s Oxford crewneck over his head.
Cool Nurse Ellie rolls her eyes.
“Between you and me,” she says as she helps him into the wheelchair they’ve forced upon him (‘for legal reasons, Alex, aren’t you gonna be a lawyer or something, you should know this shit'), “I really, truly hope never to see you here again.”
He forces Ellie to take a picture with him; Alex can’t wait to tag her in his imminent, obligatory ‘I lived bitch’ Instagram post and receive her complaints on the thousands of new followers she gains in its wake.
The Secret Service sneak him from his room to a blocked off level of the parking garage at two in the morning. Dad pushes the wheelchair, and Abuelo walks calmly beside them as they glide through the empty halls, offering Alex a sly wink every time they turn a corner and Abuelo catches his eye.
When they get to the car, Amy reaches forward and opens the door to the discreet SUV, revealing a smiling President Mom in the backseat, along with--
“Cash?” Alex says breathlessly, stumbling up from the chair. Abuelo grabs Alex’s elbow as he trips into the car. Mom grips his arm tight and helps him settle, leaning back as he reaches across her to the man on her right. “Cash.”
Alex’s chest feels tight, but for the first time in a long time, it’s for good reason.
“Hi, kid,” Cash rasps out, his brown eyes suspiciously bright. “You have no idea how good it is to see you.”
Alex’s reaches out and squeezes his hand, throat too tight for words. Mom smiles softly. Cash grins and squeezes back.
Alex spends most of Christmas Eve and day sound asleep, so Mom makes the executive decision to postpone celebrating the holiday until New Year’s.
“Alejandro may be excused,” Abuela informs the rest of their merry band, “But the rest of you will be coming with me to mass on Christmas, dressed in your Sunday best.”
“But I’m Anglican--,”
“I’m a Baptist--,”
“I’m Jewish --,”
“I’m very busy--,”
“No excuses!” Abuela says firmly. “We all go together to thank God Almighty or the universe or whatever it is that gives you Faith for the great gift of my grandson’s life in all the ways we know how. Cover all the bases, eh? Or will you abandon a poor, old woman to go to church all alone on Christmas of all days?”
To Alex’s utter shock, everyone, even Nora, goes.
Cash and Amy hang out with Alex while everyone’s at mass, playing cards and watching Claymation Christmas movies with him when he wakes up from his frequent dozes. It’s nice.
At least, it’s nice until Alex wakes up to slamming doors and shouting outside his room across the hall.
“Do you even comprehend what an absolute bitch--,”
“We do not use that word while referring to other women in this house, young lady--,”
“Young lady! Young! What the fuck, Mom, I’m a fucking adult--,”
“Then act like it, Catalina! Have a conversation--,”
“You don’t deserve my words!”
“Then how the hell will we ever--,”
Alex starts to sit up, but Cash, and inexplicably Henry, who must have arrived from mass, hold him back. Cash shakes his head, and Henry sighs.
“They need this,” Henry says. “Let them go. They’ll never sort it out if they don’t do it for themselves.”
Alex begrudgingly agrees, but can’t help but listen for muffled voices, for crashes or shouts or anything really across the hallway for the next hour.
“Are we sure they haven’t murdered each other?” Alex finally asks, once the apparent silence across the hall becomes too much.
“Nope,” Amy replies, popping the p as she continues to knit while sitting at his desk chair.
“Lovely,” Alex says, falling back into his pillows with a groan.
The next time Alex wakes, it’s to find only Henry in the room with him, stretched out along the bed on top of the covers with his laptop resting on his stomach.
“Oh, hullo, love,” Henry says, once he notices Alex quietly watching him. Alex reaches out a finger to press on the little divot at the corner of Henry’s mouth and Henry smiles widely. Alex runs the rest of his fingers along Henry’s jaw, and Henry ducks his head to kiss Alex’s palm.
He’s watching Star Wars on his laptop, Empire Strikes Back based on Yoda and the swampland and Mark Hamill’s glistening biceps. There’s plate of Christmas cookies resting on the bedside table. Out the window, the sky is already turning to dusk.
“Sorry it’s been such a shitty Christmas,” Alex whispers. Henry is used to elaborate black tie dinners on country estates, with paper crowns and ancient carols and Christmas crackers while the champagne flows.
And family. Henry is probably really missing his family.
But Henry is sweeter and kinder than Alex really deserves, because he just pauses the movie and flips himself over to face Alex, eyes soft.
“This is all I wanted for Christmas, love.”
Alex’s scoots himself over and rests his head on Henry’s shoulder. Henry wraps an arm behind Alex and pulls him in close. It’s quiet long enough that Henry reaches forward to play the movie again when Alex finally gathers up the courage to say, “This was my wish.”
Alex swallows thickly. “The eyelash that last night. I was getting sad that we wouldn’t be together for Christmas this year, so I wished...” he trails off.
Henry is worryingly silent. Alex is pretty sure he can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Alex reaches for his free hand and Henry squeezes it tightly.
“Next year,” Henry begins, voice a rasp, “Let’s talk about it, instead of leaving it up to the universe, yeah?”
Henry kisses the side of his head and starts up the movie again. Alex eats a Christmas cookie, falls asleep, and doesn’t wake up until the end of Return of the Jedi, which he finds playing on his TV instead of Henry’s laptop. Henry’s asleep on the bed beside him, and David is resting across the foot of the bed. Mom and June have taken the couch, June with her head in Mom’s lap, and Dad’s on the desk chair, snoring loudly. Leo enters with a tray of hot chocolates; Alex watches him smile softly and put down the tray, turn off the TV and rest a blanket over Mom and June before backing out the door.
Sometimes, Alex thinks, a happy ending isn’t such a bad thing.
The Young Americans Gala is canceled that year without Alex’s consent. He is, rightfully, pissed, but Alex supposes he understands. Nora and June promise to reschedule for March and throw Alex and Henry the best joint birthday party the world has ever seen, and Alex is begrudgingly appeased.
So, instead, that New Year’s Eve, Alex finds himself gathered in the Music Room of the White House with all his favorite people. From his seat on the couch, Alex can hear Abuela and Dad arguing over who gets to eat the last tamale while Abuelo watches on silently with a wry grin.
Rafael Luna sits on the sofa across from Alex, still fiddling with the gift Alex and Henry gave him an hour before.
“Uh, thanks so much kid,” Raf had said after he opened the present, staring down incredulously at the box of cigarettes in his hand. “I dunno if I told you this, but I’m actually trying to quit. And anyway, this is a British brand and I--,”
Alex had laughed, and Henry had smiled, leaning forward to opening the catch at the side of the box. “It’s not actually cigarettes. It’s a prop from one of my father‘s movies. The hidden laser from--,”
“Colonel Sun,” Raf had whispered, eyes wide. “I can’t--I can’t just take this, oh my god, this must be worth--,”
“It’s a gift,” Alex had said emphatically. “So, you have to.”
“Besides, nobody’s missing it. Dad swiped it from the set one day and gave it to me years ago. I think they had a few versions on hand and he thought it was a rather fun prop. Bea and I used to use it to play space invaders, we’d gather up Nerf guns and Dad’s old props and throw all the cushions on the floor and...” Henry had trailed off, small smile on his face, “Anyway, we haven’t used it in a long while, and I thought you might enjoy it.”
“Thank you,” Raf had finally said, holding the little box reverently. “This is honest to God the coolest present I have ever received. James Bond’s fucking laser. Arthur Fox as James Bond’s laser. Hot damn.”
Alex smiles again as he watches Raf fiddling with the little box; he doesn’t notice his mother approaching until she sits next to him on the couch.
“Hey, honey,” Mom says, setting a small box wrapped in red paper on Alex’s lap. “Merry Happy Christmas New Year.”
Alex’s rolls his eyes and picks up the box. “What’s this? I thought I already opened all my gifts?”
Mom shrugs. “It’s not really a present.”
Intrigued, Alex tears away the paper and unties the green ribbon to find a familiar chain, ring and golden key nestled in tissue paper.
Alex’s eyes feel suddenly hot. He blinks quickly and looks up at Mom. “I figured this was locked away in the FBI building as evidence or something.”
Mom shakes her head. “No. I—I took it that night. I’ve had it the whole time.”
Alex can almost see it, Mom sitting in an expressionless waiting room, clothes still bloody, body hunched forward and knee jiggling anxiously, hands clasped around this shiny key as she waited and waited and waited.
The only piece of Alex she’d had left.
With steady fingers, Alex unhooks the chain and takes off Henry’s signet ring. He unceremoniously slips it on his right pinky finger, then clicks the chain back together. He lifts up the chain, golden key dangling like a medal, and looks at his mother.
Mom ducks her head, and Alex places the chain around her neck.
She puts a hand on her chest and holds the key there, blue eyes unreadable. “You’re sure?” she asks Alex, and he nods.
“Thank you,” she says softly, and leans her head on his shoulder. They stay like that for a while, watching from their quiet corner as Nora, June, College Boyfriend Evan, and Leo crowd around Henry at the piano, singing carols at the top of their lungs.
June looks over once and catches their eyes, blowing them both a kiss before she returns to singing.
The singing ends when Shaan pulls himself away from Zahra and walks over to rest a hand on Henry’s shoulder, handing him a phone; Henry stops halfway through Silent Night and jumps up, running from the room as he holds the phone to his ear. Alex would be worried, except for the ecstatic grin on his boyfriend’s face.
“I think Martha had the baby,” he whispers to his mother.
“Why don’t you go find out?” So Alex takes Mom’s advice and leaves the happy, crowded Music Room, traversing the silent halls of the White House until he looks out the window and finds Henry staring up at the sky, sitting on the bench underneath their tree in the Rose Garden.
“I’ve officially been demoted,” Henry announces with a happy smile when he turns to watch Alex approach.
“Are we planning a wildebeest stampede in retaliation?” Alex asks as he takes a seat on the bench, and Henry laughs. “So, what’s the name of our future overlord?”
“Elizabeth. Pip says they’re going to call her Lizzy.”
“Oh no, aren’t you heartbroken? That's like your favorite name in the world, now you can’t use it.” Henry shrugs and picks up Alex’s hand.
“It’s alright. I’m sure she’ll make a lovely Lizzy. And it is a rather auspicious name for a future Queen.” Alex feels Henry’s fingers explore the unfamiliar, yet startlingly familiar, ring on his finger. Henry pauses and tilts his head at Alex, small smile on his lips.
“Is this okay?”
“Better than,” Henry assures him. He raises Alex’s hand to his lips, kisses his knuckles and the new ring on his finger. They sit for a long time as the night grows ever darker around them. It’s cold, but this time they’re bundled up in coats, and together in the quiet peace, Alex feels safe, protected from anything and everything that could come between them.
In the distance, fireworks begin to the light up the sky. Alex turns and kisses Henry, and more than anything, it feels like home.
“I love you,” Alex whispers to Henry, wishing he could take the words and bottle them for a bad day, hoping they can live on in the night sky like the imprints of the stars. Alex will say the words every day, every hour, every fucking minute for the rest of his life if that’s what Henry needs.
Instead, Henry pulls back and smiles that beautiful, wild and rare shit-eating grin, the one so happy and mischievous and free that Alex kind of wants to just stop the world and remake it in its image.