“Nice try, Guerin, but I think I’d rather answer the drunk-text my ex sent me.”
Maria pauses and turns around as she heads back inside the Pony, raising her eyebrow. He gives her his best innocent smirk and she rolls her eyes, stepping off the newly built patio - a Michael Guerin special, thank you very much - and back inside the bar.
Michael sips his beer, refocusing on the warm afternoon sun and the light breeze that plays through the fairy lights and decorations hanging on the structure.They both know he’s not serious, but it’s a habit he’s fallen into over the years. Sometimes the pseudo-cowboy charm works on the other bartenders to reduce his tab, and he’d hate for Maria to feel left out.
"She’s certainly impressed with you,” a voice calls from a secluded corner.
Michael hadn’t noticed the other person at all, tucked away and quiet as they were. The voice sounds familiar in a way Michael can’t place. Curious, he turns around-
-and almost falls off his seat as he catches sight of none other than Alex Manes, feet up on the railing and painting his nails in the New Mexico sun.
It’s been almost ten years since high school, but Michael still hasn’t quite managed to forget his bi-awakening in the form of the school’s resident emo kid.
They had hung out in the same circles but rarely spoken - Michael had been too focused on getting grades good enough to get out of Roswell, and Alex had been guarded about interacting with anyone he didn’t already know was safe. Too on guard from all the kids who tried to take him down for his departure from Roswell norms.
And, well, any time they were in proximity to each other Michael had experienced the paradoxical, simultaneous urges to act incredibly stupid to get Alex’s attention and become completely mute except for the flipping of his stomach and the pounding in his chest. Which mostly meant any time they did spend together was spent in silence. Companionable but uneventful, definitely not making out, silence.
By the time Michael had worked up the courage to do something about his interest in men, Alex had been long gone - he and the Ortecho sisters had left Roswell the summer after graduation for the west coast. So Michael had swallowed the disappointment and moved on. Mostly. If he still has a penchant for dark eyed men with sharp cheekbones and musician’s hands, well, he figures that’s an allowable holdover.
Now, though -
He looks Alex over, taking in the decade of difference as he figures Alex must be doing to him. At 17, Alex had been stupidly pretty. At 27, Michael regrets to realize, he is even prettier.
Gone are the nose ring, eyeliner, and black skinny jeans, but in their place are a patterned button-up - cuffed conveniently to show off his biceps in a way Michael definitely doesn’t linger on - and dark wash jeans that meet neatly with shiny black Docs, instead of the Converse Alex had favored in high school. A small silver stud glints out of his right ear.
With a strange sense of relief that wars with his intense attraction, Michael thinks he looks right - comfortable in his skin in a way he hadn’t when they were kids.
The black nail polish though, is apparently still a fixture. Alex looks back up from the careful even strokes he is applying to lock eyes with Michael. It’s only when he raises his eyebrows in expectation that Michael realizes he still hasn’t, actually, said anything.
“Well not everyone can be lucky enough to have good taste in men.”
Not his smoothest comeback, but he cuts himself some slack due to the fact that half his attention is still on Alex’s hands and the way the sun is making his skin glow. Alex lets out an undignified snort that should not be as endearing as it is before shooting back.
“Maria has great taste in men.”
Michael blames what happens next on his perpetual foot-in-mouth complex.
“What about you?”
The words are out of his mouth before his filter can catch them, and Michael decides in that moment that he would be completely fine with it if the earth decided to swallow him whole on the spot.
Alex freezes, the loose posture he’s been languishing in going rigid. Any hope Michael might have had of a hookup flies out the window as Alex stares hard into Michael’s eyes. There had always been rumors that Alex was gay, fed by Kyle Valenti’s bullying and the fact that Alex had met those taunts with becoming even more angry and flamboyant in the face of them. But Michael had never gotten confirmation, and he figures he’s either about to get punched or permanently kicked out of the Pony. Alex was a good friend of Maria’s in high school, he remembers too late.
Michael’s apology freezes on his lips.
“My taste in men. Objectively, it’s better than Maria’s.”
Alex is still staring at him intensely, and Michael recognizes a test when he sees one. He relaxes back onto the barstool in what he hopes is an attractive sprawl and scrunches his face up.
“I’m not really sure you can be objective on that, actually.”
“No, we’ve agreed.” Alex argues. “For one, I’ve never dated a Chad.”
Michael sees his chance and goes for it.
“Neither have I, but I can’t imagine that’s the only requirement.”
As he’d hoped, Alex picks up on the hint and his eyebrows almost disappear beneath his floppy bangs for a moment. “You’re-” he leaves the statement open ended.
He leaves out the part about when exactly he figured that out.
Alex’s feet slip off the railing, landing with twin thuds as a “Huh” escapes his lips. He looks at his nails like he’s considering something, before he looks at Michael like he’s considering something else.
Which is enough of a hint that Michael slides off the stool and swaggers over to the corner where Alex is sitting, tucking his hands in his pockets to accentuate the line of his jeans over his crotch. As cool as possible, he repeats the line he’d jokingly used on Maria, this time completely serious.
“So, you wanna go for a ride?”
Alex tilts his head, and Michael feels the gaze that travels down his body before Alex stands up and comes closer. He stops just inside Michael’s personal space, a challenge in his gaze as he meets Michael’s eyes. There’s an electricity between them that Michael desperately hopes is not just his imagination. Being this close to Alex and not kissing him is proving to be more of a challenge than Michael had first expected but it is one that he succeeds at until Alex licks his lips, drawing Michael’s attention down. And that’s an even worse temptation it turns out. His mouth looks soft, and the corner has twitched up while Michael runs scenarios through his head.
“I’ll get my things.” And then Alex is gone, disappearing into the Wild Pony as Michael is left standing dumb in the middle of the patio, heart beating out of control and the vague feeling he’s just lost .... something. He doesn’t much care, though, when Alex reappears with a coat and a shoulder bag and heads towards Michael’s truck.
They’ve been parked outside of Alex’s house for half an hour now, eating the greasy take out they’d grabbed a few miles back. The doors of the truck lean open to let the warm late afternoon air flow through the cab. Michael knows as they eat that the time he can make excuses to stay in Alex’s company is drawing to a close but he really....really doesn’t want this to be over.
High school crush and blindingly good looks aside, he’s enjoying just being around Alex, catching up and hearing about his modest career as a musician and recording engineer, the computer science camp his brother Greg ropes him into doing every summer on the reservation, and reminiscing about things they do not miss about New Roswell High.
As he watches Alex gesture as he talks, Michael’s distraction allows a part of his burger to drop off and it falls forsaken onto the dusty floor of the ancient chevy. He looks down in anguish.
“Ah, no, you’re tearing me apart!” he laments as he mourns the fallen food.
Alex laughs, a short deep sound that Michael imagines he feels reverberate in his bones.
“All right, James Dean.”
Michael looks over at him.
“Not Tommy Wiseau?”
Alex reaches over to knock the brim of Michael’s hat. Michael tries not to think of the pseudo-touch as intimate.
“You’re definitely more the hot ornery cowboy type over the deranged cult classic frontman.”
And Michael definitely does not preen at Alex calling him hot, but he does sit up a little straighter as he throws a smirk in Alex’s direction.
“Well now,” Michael drawls, slow and slurred. He exaggerates a lean over towards Alex, and gives the other man his best impression of the old actor, chin tucked in as he looks lazily from behind the brim of his hat. “I’m not so awful bad. I’ve-I’ve got a few friends.” Alex is laughing, leaned against the frame of the truck in his mirth and Michael continues, if only to keep him laughing. “Even Maria likes me, a little bit.”
He makes it most of the way through the last sentence before Alex’s amusement infects him and they both spend the next few minutes laughing.
When Alex’s laughter dies out he runs a hand through his hair, making spikes of it stick up in a way that makes Michael’s own hands itch to run through it.
“I don’t know if it’s worse that you just pulled that out of the air, or that I recognized it.”
“We can call it even,” he says magnanimously, distracting himself by looking away through the windshield. He feels warm and stupid with satisfaction, the pride of having amused this guy he’s definitely in danger of falling for bouying his already hopeful mood. “But you get points for that Star Wars reference earlier.”
Alex turns towards him, an incredulous look on his face.
“Oh, we’re keeping score?”
“Of who the biggest nerd is?” he asks, playing up the question. “Always. How else am I gonna keep my status as the macho-est guy in Roswell?”
Alex tilts his head, grinning. “Not sure I’m your biggest competition there.”
“Not planning any bull riding or beer can shooting while you’re back in town?"
“No, definitely not,” Alex says with a derisive exhale out his nose. “The closest I get to being a Roswell redneck is getting my ass whipped at paintball.”
“Well let me be the first to volunteer to watch your six if you ever need a paintball buddy.”
“Watch my six or watch my ass?” Alex teases and Michael just shrugs because yeah, he definitely got caught doing that earlier.
“I can multitask.”
Alex shakes his head and tucks his chin. It’s not shyness, but Michael has noticed it’s something he does when he’s embarrassed, or Michael implies some sort of physical attraction.. It’s endearing, and he’s already caught himself trying to provoke the reaction.
Alex sobers up though, looking between them. Michael realizes that they’ve both finished their food. Nothing but empty wrappers remain of the excuse he’s been using to stay in Alex’s presence. The silence gets a little awkward as Alex doesn’t seem to know what to say either. But he isn’t getting out of the car, so Michael supposes that’s a win. Alex catches him looking over, and Michael sees the same hesitant disappointment in the other man’s eyes he’s currently feeling. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself for rejection even though he’s pretty sure he knows the answer to his question.
“Do you...wanna hang out a little longer? I know we’re literally at your house, but-” he starts to drift off as Alex shrugs, smile reappearing on his face.
“I’ve got nothing else to do.” The words aren’t much, but Alex looks over at him with an expression so open and soft and happy that for a second Michael has a double vision of this Alex with the one he’d known in high school. It’s not like he hadn’t realized Alex’d had a hard time when they were teenagers. He just hadn’t had a frame of reference for how bad it must have been, to hide this Alex behind the perpetual worry and fear and anger that had always seemed to radiate from him when they were younger. The thought gives him an idea.
“I know someplace we can go.”
They arrive at Foster’s ranch just as the sun is dipping below the horizon, painting the landscape a rich orange gold. Michael parks in the middle of one of the dairy cattle ranges by his favorite old Ironwood tree, and motions for Alex to hop out. The air is still warm from the day but Michael grabs the blankets he keeps tucked behind the seat to lay out in the bed of the truck for when the temperature drops.
Alex grabs the pack of beers he’d grabbed from his house and they sit, leaned up against the back of the cab and watch the sun set and the stars appear in the desert sky.
“I used to think about being an astronaut, instead of an ag engineer,” Michael admits. “When I was a kid I used to come out here all the time and sit and stare at the sky and think about what it would be like to be up there.”
“My dad wanted me to join the Airforce.” Alex takes another sip of his beer and Michael looks over, waiting for him to continue. “That’s why I left. Didn’t want to be the latest addition to his collection of perfect toy soldiers.”
Michael doesn’t really know what to say to that, but apparently he doesn’t need to say anything, because Alex speaks again while picking at the label on his beer.
“And honestly, I’m a little afraid of flying. If I had to be in a fight like that, I’d rather be the guy behind the computer screen hacking enemy intelligence and doing support for the guys in the air. I feel like I’d be too afraid of like, an engine meltdown. Or coming under enemy fire and the whole thing blasting apart.”
The words come out in a sort of rush, like this is something Alex has thought about often but never voiced. Someplace he has found himself coming up short a lot. It’s like how Michael berates himself for never being able to stick it in any of the many, many foster homes he’d been placed in. How he still doesn’t really feel at home anywhere. He doesn’t want Alex to feel like that. So he leans over and bumps their shoulders together until Alex looks at him. He grins, making sure it shows on his face that he’s joking.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re kind of an anxious guy?”
It works, a little. Alex laughs a hollow little laugh and sniffs, looking out into the fading landscape.
“Every damn day. Growing up with my dad you kinda had to be. Guess it never really wore off.”
Michael’s quiet at that. He doesn’t really know what else to say. Jesse Manes had always had a reputation around town as sort of a prick. The kind of guy who didn’t have friends so much as he had people who were useful to him. And, Michael remembers, he had supported more than one of the initiatives against gay marriage being legalized - had made a huge deal out of supporting an opponent of Jim Valenti’s, when the sheriff hadn’t also openly campaigned against the idea.
Michael can imagine growing up in a house like that could make a guy look over his shoulder every now and again.
They sit in a not completely awkward, but not totally comfortable silence until Alex shifts, stretching out and laying down completely on the blankets so he can more easily look up at the stars that have now started appearing. Michael joins him and it relaxes them both, it feels like.
“Why’d you want to go to space?” Alex says eventually. Michael thinks about his answer.
“I don’t know that I really wanted to go to space as much as I just...didn’t wanna be here. I was an orphan aging out of a system that had never really been kind to me. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere...but I used to think...” he cuts off, feeling vulnerable. He tries to form the words. “I used to think I’d find something to belong to, up there. Some sense of purpose I was missing.” He waits for Alex to speak, but he doesn’t, just lays next to Michael as they look at the stars. It feels intimate and Michael feels vulnerable in a way that makes him want to spill every secret he’s ever had. Or maybe kiss Alex, right here in the bed of his truck underneath the desert sky.
The silence stretches for just a minute and Michael stares at the sky as the stars start to appear.
“I don’t know,” he says, and Alex turns his head to look at Michael. The intense attention makes Michael’s heart flutter again and it’s too, too, much, so he smiles and puts old Dean back on, and tries not to feel too chickenshit doing it. “Once you been up there, you know you've been someplace, y’know.”
He looks over to Alex as Alex’s face scrunches up and he laughs. The sound eases the knot in Michael’s throat, and he laughs too.
“Oh my god,” Alex exclaims, curling up around his mirth for a few seconds. Michael watches Alex, his own laughter fading because he’s still distracted by how much he wants to kiss the other man. He watches as the mirth fades from Alex’s face as he looks back over at Michael.
The sun is almost completely down now, and Alex in the clear light of the early evening is maybe the most beautiful person Michael’s ever seen. The last rays of light catch at the edges of his eyelashes in a way that makes them seem like the edge of a world Michael has been standing at forever, and he even thinks he sees the light of the stars reflecting in Alex’s dark brown eyes.
Yeah, he’s in a lot of trouble.
“I’m glad you got out,” Alex says quietly, gaze locked onto Michael’s face. “And I’m kind of glad you didn’t end up going into space.”
“Yeah?” Michael keeps his own voice low. There’s something that feels almost sacred, secret, about being here with Alex. Which is stupid, because this isn’t even technically a date, but Michael feels like he’s connected more with Alex in the last few hours than he ever has with anyone. Like maybe the stars weren’t ever where he was supposed to end up, but right here in the bed of his truck with Alex Manes.
Alex takes a breath and breaks their eye contact, but Michael barely has time to regret it before he’s looking back at Michael, this time through his lashes with a look in his eyes that sends a jolt of anticipation coursing through Michael’s body.
“It’d be a lot harder to kiss you if you were all the way up there.”
The words come out like a challenge, or an offer, Alex’s jaw jutting up slightly at the end of the sentence despite the soft heat still in his eyes. But Michael honestly doesn’t care, because that’s all the invitation he needs to roll onto his elbow and do what he’s been wanting to do all day.
It’s only a press of their lips together, but Michael swears the earth tilts a little on its axis as he hears Alex’s soft intake of breath. Then Alex’s hand comes up to curl into the hair at the back of his neck, pulling him in closer, and the world falls away completely.
Although it stays light the kiss feels like it goes on forever. Long enough for Michael’s entire cosmos to realign as their mouths shift together, Alex’s lips on his a soft pressure that nonetheless sends a jolt of pleasure rushing through him.
Eventually though, regrettably, he has to breathe.
Michael pulls back from the kiss and watches Alex’s eyes open slowly.
He looks just as dazed as Michael feels, which is gratifying, because Michael isn’t sure what he’d do if he was the only one this affected by a simple kiss. He feels stupid and light and giddy, and he’s pretty sure every one of those emotions is showing on his face if the stretch in his lips is any indication.
The light of the stars and the moon overhead are the only ones they have now. The sun has completely faded away, but he can still make out every detail of the other man. Even the glint of the black polish on the fingernails at the side of his face. Michael grins slowly.
“You know, I think I have to agree about your taste in men.” It takes a few seconds for the comment to register, but when it does Michael is rewarded with an eye roll so dramatic Alex’s entire head moves with it.
“You are so cheesy I actually can’t believe you’re allowed to talk on a regular basis.”
Michael feels like he’s physically incapable of not smiling, but he does his best to turn his grin into a sexy smirk. “Guess you’ll just have to figure out some other way to keep my mouth occupied, huh?”
Alex pulls him in close until their lips are almost touching, until Michael can’t even see anything except the wicked glint in Alex’s eyes, and can’t feel anything but the warm breath ghosting over his own lips.
“Oh don’t worry, I have a few ideas.”
And as Alex pulls him in again Michael decides it is, in fact, a good thing that Alex Manes’ tastes have always been a little off kilter for Roswell.