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let it rain, let it pour

Chapter Text

Michael always takes the same route. He’s driven this circle at least once a day for the past six months. There should be ruts in the road where his tires have burned over the asphalt too many times to count, but there aren’t. There’s not a single shred of proof written into the earth that he’s kept this vigil so diligently for all these weeks. He’s not sure why that makes him so sad, but it does.

It had started one month after Alex left Roswell with Forrest. He hadn’t really meant to drive by Alex’s house that first time, hadn’t slowed down to mark any minute changes in the house’s well-being. He’d simply driven by, looked at the empty driveway a little too longingly, and chastised himself as he’d pressed the accelerator harder.

He’d spent ten years pining the first time Alex left town. He wasn’t about to start that cycle all over again.

The second time had been a byproduct of a broken-down car in need of a tow. The third because Maria had sent him a house listing she was interested in and wanted his opinion on the structural integrity. The fourth, well, whatever. He’d had a fucked up dream and needed to know that Alex’s house still stood upright and intact.

And so, fuck, the cycle had spun into motion all over again. Rinse, pine, repeat. Alex a million unknown miles away and completely oblivious.

Eventually, Michael had started slowing down in front of the house. Sometimes even blocking traffic, cars honking aggressively until he pulled out of their way or they sped around him with their middle fingers in the air. Neighbors started noticing him, shooting him strange glances while they watered flower beds or spying on him out of their mini-blinds without even the hint of subtlety. None of it stopped him.

Three months ago, he’d started parking in Alex’s driveway, climbing out of his truck, and walking the perimeter to make sure everything looked okay. He’d note the small things that needed fixing and come back later that day or in the middle of the night or early the next morning. He’d replace broken pavers, or water the minimal landscaping, or restack firewood, or fix the squeaky patio gate latch. One weekend he’d repainted the garage doors and cleaned the gutters and pressure washed everything he could think of to pressure wash.

That had probably been taking things a bit too far. All of Alex’s surveillance cameras still worked, and he’d expected to get an increasingly angry cascade of texts or a loud phone call, but his phone had remained silent. The silence had disappointed him. Going inside might force a response, but even in his desperation, Michael had boundaries he was unwilling to cross.

Today’s route starts the same as every other day. He turns left onto the highway out of the junkyard and then takes the regular twists and turns into town. A new billboard has been put up overnight, the flowers along Main St. have finally bloomed, and the pothole at Jackson and Chase has been refilled ineffectually, the next serious rainstorm will undoubtedly be enough to render the work useless.

Soon, he’s turning onto Alex’s street, his stomach screwing into knots. The midday sun shining overhead means almost all of Alex’s neighbors will be at work except for the old woman who lives two doors down and hates his guts. She’d called the police more than once -- but Max had always answered the calls, showing up and shaking his head. But his brother was similarly well-versed in the pitiful and had never taken his reproach any farther than that.

Michael suspects Max has a Liz-shaped routine of his own.

Halfway down the road, Alex’s house comes into view, and Michael blinks before narrowing his eyes at the vehicle parked in the driveway. It takes him too long to realize it’s Alex’s Explorer. His whole body turns cold and then hot, sweat breaking out along his hairline and along his upper lip, the warm spring air suddenly uncomfortable. He swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry. And for the first time, he’s forced to admit to himself that he’d never actually expected Alex to return. He’d just figured one day he’d turn onto the street and be confronted with a For Sale sign out front.

A part of him doesn’t know which is worse -- being confronted with a disinterested Alex Manes or a disinterested For Sale sign.

If the Explorer had been enough to take his sense away, his first glimpse of Alex after over half a year floors him, his insides melting into a pool of molten longing and worry and desire trapped inside a flare of fury so intense he actually gasps.

But fuck, he looks good. At least from a distance. Taller somehow even though Michael knows that’s bullshit. His hair is wind-blown, the earring back in his left ear, and a t-shirt tight enough to leave nothing to the imagination. Not that Michael needs to use his imagination; he’s well-acquainted with Alex’s every nook and cranny. Sight, scent, touch, taste, and sound.

Without thinking, he pulls into the driveway and parks alongside Alex who watches him closely. Throwing open the door, he climbs out and goes to face this reunion he’s ridiculously unprepared for.

“You’re back.” His voice cracks.

Alex doesn’t say anything, just nods and picks up a duffel bag at his feet. The moment that stretches between them gives Michael a chance to really soak in Alex’s appearance. Upclose, things are much more worrying and Michael frowns. There are obvious circles underneath Alex’s normally bright eyes and his skin’s far too pale. His lips are chapped and chewed on, his clothes rumpled like he’s been driving for days with no breaks for sleeping. He looks haggard and rundown and years older than when he’d left seven months ago.

“Book tour end early?” He hopes it’s an innocent enough question.

“No.”

It’s always been so fucking frustrating -- Alex and his unsettling ability to remain emotionless. Michael supposes that’s a survival technique you pick up when your father is a monster and you try to escape that monster by conscripting yourself into a gang of similar monsters.

“Need help with anything?” Alex has done fuck all to deserve his help. He wishes he would just keep his mouth shut and force Alex to handle the communicating. But with Alex in charge, they’d probably just stand there staring at each other until they either fucked or died from starvation.

“Seems like you’ve already taken care of everything.”

Ah, so he had been watching.

“Wasn’t sure when you’d be back. Just trying to be a half-decent friend. Figured you’d see me on all those cameras and let me know if you wanted me to fuck off.” He tries to take a page out of Alex’s playbook and armor his words with steel. Alex doesn’t need to know how much his leaving had affected him. How much it always affects him.

“For a while, I wasn’t sure I ever would be back.” He attempts a smile, but it’s decidedly more grimace than grin. Then he turns and walks away, dismissing Michael easy as pie. Always so damn easy.

Do not follow him. Get into your truck and leave. Do it now, you fucking idiot.

“Alex, wait.” Fucking hell.

Alex pauses but doesn’t turn around.

“Is everything okay?” Clearly, everything is not okay, and clearly, he’s just going to say it is. How many times have they played this back and forth game of nonsense?

“It’s fine, Guerin.” But his shoulders sag and Michael takes that as an invitation.

“Where’s Forrest?”

“Boston, I think. Days have all started to run together.” Finally, he turns back to Michael. “You gonna just stand there and pick at all my scabs? That why you’re here?”

He sounds like Alex, his words short and sharp and stinging. But his heart’s not in it, his voice empty. His eyes dull and dead. Michael’s worry shifts to fear. “I’m here because the security light above the front door wasn’t working last night.”

“Right. Well. Not your problem, Guerin. Never was.” He shrugs, exhaustion seeping into his voice. “I can fix my own light.”

“Never said you couldn’t.” What are they even talking about anymore? And what the hell had happened on that book tour? Clearly, nothing good. “But I already bought the bulbs, so.” He reaches into the bed of his truck and grabs the unopened pack of lightbulbs. “I don’t have a need for them. Let me fix the light and I’ll get out of your hair.”

Another lifeless shrug. “Okay.” Without another word, he disappears through his front door, the locks clicking into place behind him.

Michael runs back over their conversation in his head while he uses his TK to screw in the new lightbulb. As far as he’d known, Alex had left Roswell happy, almost gleeful. His dad dead and gone, reunited with a brother who loved him, and a budding new relationship with someone far more acceptable than a local deadbeat mechanic. It’s easy to surmise that Forrest must no longer be in the picture, but something about the blank void in Alex’s eyes goes well beyond a bad breakup.

When he’s done, he switches on the lights with his TK to make sure the new bulb works and then sets the remaining pack in the chair by Alex’s front door. He thinks about knocking. He thinks about being as big a shit as he knows how to be until he gets some kind of reaction from Alex other than the hollow sadness from earlier. Let him be anything else -- even a biting, acerbic dick -- so long as something alive shines in his eyes.

He’s not brave enough for that though. So instead, he smiles and waves at the camera like a clown, spins on his heels, and climbs into his truck. But before he can put the Chevy in reverse, Alex is back through his patio gate and waving his arms for Michael to stop. Which he does, immediately.

Opening the door, Michael slides off the bench seat and as soon as his boots hit the ground, Alex is on him. Arms hugged tight around his neck, face buried in the crook of his shoulder. For a full minute, Michael stands there stunned and unable to move. Silently, he curses himself and hugs Alex back, arms cradling him close and fingernails digging deep into his ribcage. He’s completely lost as to what’s happening, but Alex’s warm body tucked into his own is reason enough not bother with any stupid fucking questions.

Abruptly, Alex pulls away, unable to meet Michael’s eye. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and takes several giant steps backward. “Sorry. I don’t know what that was, but thanks for the light. And...everything else.” Then he’s gone again. Leaving Michael flushed and panting and alone, more confused than ever before.

Chapter Text

For the next three weeks, Michael buries himself beneath the hood of half the cars in Roswell. He tries shutting off his brain and pushing his emotions aside, but it doesn’t work. He’s never had Alex’s talent for disassociating. The noise in his head always too loud, too unrelenting to completely shut off. It’s in the middle of all that mental chaos one Friday afternoon that he realizes the daily drives to Alex’s house had given him the peace and quiet that he’d so often sought and so rarely found anywhere other than behind a guitar.

And that’s eye-opening enough for Michael to grab a bottle of water and sink onto the broken junkyard bench he’s claimed as his own. For so long, he’d been too scared to examine his somewhat compulsive routine during Alex’s absence. Every thought in his head waiting to scream at him about backsliding, about falling into old, harmful patterns. Because after years and years of repetition, that had seemed the obvious answer -- Alex had left and it had triggered his abandonment issues.

He’s not deluded enough to believe all their history hadn’t played a part, maybe even a significant one. But with Alex’s return knocking the edge off his need for connection, he thinks the answer might not be such an open and shut case. But giving himself the benefit of the doubt has never come naturally.

Where does he even begin?

How about this: Alex can be a dick. And that’s fine because he can be a dick too. I mean, hell, if he runs through the list of people he loves, they’re all very capable dicks. So after the past twelve years, neither he nor Alex can possibly harbor any notion that the other is perfect. And if his relationship with Maria had taught him anything, it was that Alex wasn’t the source of his relationship struggles. And it’s easy enough to surmise with Alex’s breakup with Forrest, that Michael is not the source of his either.

They were two hurt boys who’d grown into two hurt men who’d found it too easy to hurt each other and themselves. Both of them masters of self-sabotage. And there is no magic person out there somewhere that he’d magically be good for without a lot of emotional effort and elbow grease.

He gulps at his water and tries to pinpoint the exact need visiting Alex’s house every day had satisfied -- or attempted to satisfy. Sure, he’d missed seeing Alex, but it’s not like they’d been seeing each other on a regular basis before he’d left. And yes, his breakup with Maria and then hearing Alex’s song had brought up a bunch of feelings he’d foolishly assumed he’d moved past. The song especially had reignited a hope for them he’d long thought gone. But he’d also been totally fine with Alex exploring his options with Forrest.

If Maria had asked him to go on a countrywide road trip while supporting a book she’d written, a book she was super proud of, Michael would have left town in a heartbeat. And it’s not like Alex had asked him to look after his house while he was away either. That had been entirely his own idea and his own choice. Alex hadn’t owed him any kind of response while he’d been away with his boyfriend.

Why was everything always so complicated? What the fuck had he really wanted? And what does he want now?

Tossing his empty bottle into the recycle bin, Michael bends over the Subaru's engine to finish replacing Lucy Stedman’s spark plugs, each question still plaguing him. He loses the next hour to his thoughts and the sun beating at his back. So lost in his head he doesn’t hear another car pull into the junkyard.

“The kid will help you,” Sanders yells from his cushy perch in the office watching the Diamondbacks lose.

“Give me a second.” Michael wipes his hands quickly on the thighs of his jeans and releases the hood, letting it fall heavily back into place. Looking over his shoulder at the shop clock, he realizes it’s past quitting time and sighs. “What do you need?”

“Thought you might like dinner.”

Michael snaps his head in the direction of Alex’s voice. “Dinner?” It’s an ineloquent response, but they haven’t done more than share a couple of incredibly benign texts in the past three weeks. All of them concerning Artie, Alex’s missing garden gnome.

He raises a large cardboard box stuffed with takeout containers. “I think I bought everything on the menu at that Thai place you love.” The smile on his face is gentle but nervous. The dark circles under his eyes have faded and his cheeks are flushed. It’s then and there that Michael realizes how simple the answer to his questions really is. How simple the answer has always been.

It’s Alex. He wants Alex.

But he doesn’t know how to go about telling Alex that, though. “Any particular reason?”

Alex shrugs. “I just...I wanted to say thank you for the past few months. Everything with the house. It’s not enough,” he says, looking down at the week’s worth of food, “but it’s a start, I hope.”

“You didn’t have to do this. I mean, you don’t owe me for something you never even asked for.” There’s a part of his brain yelling at him just to say thank you and invite Alex into the Airstream for dinner, but there are other deeply instinctual parts screaming at him that he doesn’t deserve a shot at happiness and never will. No matter how much he wants what he wants. “I don’t have room in my fridge for all this food.”

“Call Isobel and Max, share it with them. A sibling night or something, I don’t know. Beat Max at Scrabble.” He shoves the box of food into Michael’s arms, smiles, and starts to walk away.

“Wait, Alex.” Dammit, he doesn’t want to repeat the past, doesn’t want to watch Alex as he walks away. “Come inside. Help me eat this.”

“Oh, no, Guerin. I didn’t come here to get invited inside. Really, just enjoy the food.” His hands are shoved deep in his pockets and the air between them is both electric and awkward as fuck.

“Stop with the bullshit. Come inside.” Readjusting his grip on the box, he tilts his head towards the open door of the Airstream and heads in that direction, trusting that Alex will follow.

Michael sets the box on top of the counter over his mini-fridge and starts unloading all the hot, greasy takeout containers. Alex climbs up the steps and stands next to him, looking around like he’s seeing the place for the first time.

“You took down all your maps and calculations.”

“Yeah. They’re all down below in the bunker. Safer there. We should probably eat the noodles first since soggy noodles make terrible leftovers.” He hands Alex a takeout box and a pair of chopsticks. “Let’s sit on the floor. If that works for you?”

Alex nods and eases himself down beside Michael’s bed, leaning against the metal frame. He stretches his legs across the narrow space, and Michael sits against the wall, facing him. Their knees pressed together in the middle. They tear into their food, a companionable quiet falling between them.

“Can I ask you a weird, intrusive question?” Now that he’s started considering what he wants he can’t stop. And right now, he wants to sit here in the peaceful hour of sunset with Alex and relearn the shape of each other. To retrace their crooked outlines with revealing words and knowing glances and soft touches.

“Ask away. Don’t really have any secrets. None I’d keep from you anyway.” He looks back down at his food, but he’s smiling in that shy way Michael finds utterly irresistible. It makes him wonder how long they’ll last before their ever-looming physical need shuts them up.

Because it’s only a matter of time.

“How’d you get half a year off from work. Didn’t think the military was that generous.” He bumps his knee against Alex’s. “Unless they kicked you out.” He starts to laugh but falls silent when Alex stares back at him, eyes an open wound. It had been a joke, only a joke. “Oh wait, fuck, Alex. I’m sorry.”

Alex waves his chopsticks and clears his throat. “Not your fault. And anyway, I’ve wanted out for years, right? Just never been able to pull the trigger, so it is what it is.”

“What happened?”

“What didn’t happen?” he laughs, but it’s a bitter sound. “Flint got court-martialed over a dozen different charges. My dad’s death had to be covered up with that stupid fucking smoke inhalation excuse. I’m pretty sure they think it was either me or Flint who shot him. Which, close enough. And then the USAF-owned lab under my command got blown to shit. Honestly, I’m lucky I wasn’t court-martialed and thrown into a military prison in the cell next to my brother.”

Michael has to swallow the urge not to drive straight to Max’s house and murder him over the lab explosion. “Is that why you left?”

He shakes his head. “I left because Forrest asked me to and I was trying to be a good boyfriend or something. The discharge just made it a lot easier. Maria said it was a sign from the universe to take a break. Do something for me.”

They set their empty cartons aside. Michael settles further into the wall studying Alex’s expression. He’s guarded, but it’s not as intense as usual. He’s back to looking tired, the shadows playing tricks in the contours of his face. “That’s fair. You deserve a break after all that bullshit.”

Alex raises his eyes and stares back at Michael in obvious confusion. “You don’t think I was just running away again?”

“If I’m being honest, I probably let that thought cross my mind once or twice. But no, Alex. Going on a trip with your boyfriend to clear your head after what happened last year is a reasonable response.” He means that and he hopes Alex believes him.

“Well, it didn’t work. I just felt more and more unraveled with every state line we crossed. But enough about me. What have you been up to? Other than stalking my empty house, of course.” He smirks at Michael playfully.

Michael snorts. “Nice diversion.”

They both laugh. And their smiles don’t immediately fade; they don’t feel the need to look anywhere else but at each other. Something starts to shift between them, each new word they speak cracking open old wounds and stitching them back together so they can finally heal, this time with less scarring.

“Diversion or not, I genuinely want to know.”

Michael takes a moment to process how good it feels to be asked. He could get addicted to this, sitting with Alex and talking about absolutely nothing more than the minutiae of their lives. Without warning, the old fear creeps in. The fear that his wasted life won’t be enough to hold Alex’s attention. He can either hang onto that fear or he can let it go.

Alex tilts his head, waiting for him. Michael takes a breath and lets it go.

“We’ve been trying to keep tabs on Jones after he escaped last year. That’s been an unsuccessful nightmare. Otherwise, I’ve just been working. Got a couple of new certs to hang on the wall, I guess. Brake and transmission. Sanders has been up my ass about getting them for years.” He shrugs, already uncomfortable with talking about himself. It’ll take some getting used to.

“Things with Maria okay?”

That makes him smile. “Of course. DeLuca and I will always be okay. I’m right back to being her most annoying person on the planet, but this time around, she laughs a lot more. We make good friends.” There had only been the briefest moment of awkwardness between them after she’d ended things.

“Good. That’s good.”

“No more diversions.” Michael wraps his fingers around Alex’s left ankle, one finger sliding under the hem of his jeans to stroke softly at his warm skin. Such an innocent barely-there touch. But it’s a connection Michael’s been badly craving for so long. And Alex’s audible exhale suggests he has been too. “Tell me about Forrest or at least what made you come home.”

Alex’s eyes drift downward as he fiddles with the buttons on his flannel. “I couldn’t tell him about my discharge. It’s just, he’d always seen me as connected to my service, you know? Constantly going on about heroes and courage under fire and blah, blah, blah. I think this,” Alex raps his knuckles on his prosthetic, “became almost like some kind of fucked up symbol to him. Like all he wanted was to fuck Captain America -- or hell, just the shield. Does that make sense?”

“Enough sense that I’d like to punch him.”

Alex snorts. “There was never any quiet. No privacy. We were crammed together in tiny hotel rooms and that got to me really quickly. One night I asked to skip his lecture, and he flipped out. That was right around the time you started showing up at the house.”

Michael blushes. “We should probably talk about that. I bet from your perspective it seemed a bit...unhinged.”

“No. It made total sense.” Alex leans forward, brow creased. He grabs hold of the soft spot right above Michael’s knee, grounding them together while he speaks. “You take care of the people you love, even when they don’t ask you to. Even when they don’t deserve it. Always fixing things at the Pony or helping Isobel set up her events or staying up all hours of the night listening to Max work through his latest case of writer’s block. I wanted to call you so badly. Every single day, but like I said, no privacy. Your name alone set Forrest on edge.” He throws a small, apologetic smile at Michael before leaning back against the bed.

“So, you decided to come home.”

“He caught me watching the video of you at my house and gave me an ultimatum. Before I could overthink things and convince myself to stay in a bad situation, I got in my car and headed west.”

His head collapses back onto the mattress, exposing his throat to the moonlight. Michael slides forward, unable to stop himself. Or maybe just unwilling. He releases Alex’s ankle and splays his fingers gently around Alex’s neck, applying no pressure -- just a ghost of a touch. His skin exactly as Michael remembers. Then Alex swallows hard and his throat presses into Michael’s palm and it’s too much. He drags his lips down Alex’s neck, chasing the movement, and gently kisses the hollow of his throat.

Alex giggles. Literally fucking giggles. He lifts his head and Michael’s right there, smiling into his lips. They kiss lazily as the sun finishes setting, taking their time Each stroke of tongue a goodbye to the past; each shared breath a prayer for the future.

Eventually, they pull apart. For once, the desire to keep talking overcomes their incessant need to drown in each other’s bodies. Michael marvels at that revelation, and whatever spark of hope had existed before ignites into an alarming blaze.

Alex pulls him from his thoughts. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now. You remember me back in high school. I was never really good at anything.”

“What? No. You’re good at so many things.”

Another snort. “Name one.”

“You’re good at being a stone-cold dick.” He grins after the words leave his mouth, and Alex grins back, grabbing a pillow off Michael’s bed to swat at him.

“You’re such a shit.” He hits him one more time with the pillow. “But you aren’t wrong.”

Michael kisses dead whatever he was going to say next, stealing the pillow and tossing it back on the bed. “You’re good at that thing you do with your tongue. Lots of people would pay top dollar to experience that kind of talent. Trust me. This town is sex-starved and in desperate need.”

“That thing with my tongue is only for you.” Alex swipes at the unruly curl on Michael’s forehead.

Only me?”

Alex nods. “Only you. That’s true for a lot of things, actually.”

“Sucks for everyone else, I guess.” Michael smiles, smug and self-satisfied. “Let’s see -- you’re very good at hacking into foreign governments. I’m sure there’s a black market agent looking for that or a local IT department that could use your expertise.”

Alex nods, sighing in resignation. “Yeah, that’s likely where I’m headed. For now, at least. I have an interview at New Roswell High tomorrow morning.”

Michael fakes a dramatic shudder. “Jesus, back to high school? But I guess that makes sense. You’ve also always been so good at coming home. No matter what’s tried to stop you -- IEDs or self-righteous asshole boyfriends or even your own bullshit.”

“That’s because I never really leave. The parts of me that matter most are always here with you.” He flattens his hand over Michael’s chest and their foreheads fall together. “I had a lot of time to think during the drive back to Roswell, and I promised myself that the first time I saw you’d I’d tell you how much I love you.”

Michael chuckles. “Explains the hug.”

“Yeah, that was as close as I could get in the moment. I’ve been scared to open my mouth and say those words to you. I don’t know why because it’s really the easiest thing in the world -- loving you. Me on the other hand.” He’s laughing, his defenses locking into place in response to this new vulnerability between them.

‘God, you’re dumb. Pretty but dumb.”

Alex huffs out an amused breath before tightening his expression into something far too serious for Michael’s liking. “I just need you to know that I’m working on it. Really working on it. And by ‘it’, I mean me. I want this to work for real this time.”

“Me too.” He smacks a kiss noisily on Alex’s temple and stands up, reaching out a hand to help Alex up off the floor. “To that end, let’s get this food back in your car and head to your place where I’m assuming there’s a bed big enough for both of us. Just give me a minute to pack some clothes. I’m inviting myself to stay awhile.”

Alex starts to pack the food away. “Don’t forget Artie. I know you stole him.”

Michael doesn’t answer, just grins and shoves the weird little gnome with the chipped nose into his bag.

Chapter Text

They park next to each other in Alex’s driveway and walk to the front door in silence. Alex stops just shy of his doormat and reaches out his hand. “Artie, please.”

He digs into the ratty old duffel bad he’s had since he was a kid and pulls the weird little gnome free. There’s nothing special about the gnome besides the large chip in his red hat. He’s about a foot tall, dressed in blue with a long white beard, and holding a tin watering can. He hands the gnome over to Alex. “I never really pictured you as the garden gnome type.”

Alex bends over with a grunt and returns Artie to his perch overlooking the paver stones. “It was a gift.”

Michael notices the obvious shift in his tone, the tense straightening of his shoulders. It’s a warning not to push further, so Michael keeps his mouth shut, but he leans heavily against Alex’s shoulder in what he hopes Alex reads as a supportive gesture. “I was going to fix the chip in his hat.”

“Thank you.” Alex gives him a crestfallen smile. “But the gnome stays chipped, I think.” He bends down one more time to thumb off some of the dirt in the gnome’s crevices. “I got Artie while I was recovering in Germany. From Marie, a friend’s wife. A friend who hadn’t been as lucky as me. When I was still re-learning how to walk, I dropped him and chipped his hat.” He stands back up and shrugs like everything he’s said is no big deal.

He doesn’t know what to say. Alex never talks about his leg or anything that had happened during his deployments overseas. And part of that is because Michael’s made it fairly clear he hates the military and Alex’s participation in the US war machine. The other part being Alex’s own complicated relationship with his service. Just more tangled mess they’re going to have to untangle eventually. “Alex, I -- “

“Not tonight, Guerin.” He grabs Michael’s hand and squeezes. “Soon, though. I promise.”

Once they’re inside, they work together in the kitchen to put away the food. Michael tries not to be super nosy and open every cabinet door or drawer within reach, but he epically fails. Alex just smirks at him and keeps cramming takeout containers into his empty refrigerator. “You could have just come inside sometime during the past few months and snooped freely. I wouldn’t have cared.”

Michael snorts and shuts the door on several neatly stacked towers of plates and bowls. “Have you met you?” He darts his eyes between the two nearest cameras, the only two he can see anyway. “I figured an entire SWAT team would pop up out of the floor or worse -- some kind of lethal booby trap.”

Alex frowns. “I’m not that bad.”

He hops up onto the counter and crosses his arms. “How many cameras?”

“On the property?” Alex avoids eye contact, straightening the already straightened magnets on his fridge.

“Just inside.”

“Four.”

The answer comes too fast and Michael quirks an eyebrow.

“Fine, eight. But four of them are backups so they hardly count.” He pushes his way between Michael’s thighs, squeezing at his hips. “You want to give me shit about my cameras all night or give them something worth watching?”

And just like that, everything except their hunger for each other slips away into the pull of gravity and physics and the reality of the world they leave behind each time their lips slide together.

They spin recklessly on their way to the bedroom, crashing into end tables and pressing each other into walls. Michael loves the way Alex’s fingernails dig into his shoulders, his neck, his back as he clings to him for balance.

But what he loves most is Alex caging him in against the bedroom door, hips pinning him in place. And Michael’s knees go weak as Alex takes total control, breathing hotly in his ear and then biting hard at the thick rope of muscle running along the back of his neck, slick tongue swiping out to soothe the sting. All Michael can do is try to stay on his feet and whine with satisfaction.

Alex has barely even touched him yet and he’s already halfway undone. It’s been too fucking long since they’ve allowed themselves this kind of unholy pleasure.

“Just fuck me right here, against the door. Or put me on the floor, I don’t care.” He yanks Alex’s t-shirt over his head and exhales in contentment the first time their naked chests press together.

“No.” Alex works Michael’s buckle open and slides his belt free, tossing it somewhere in the dark. “I want you splayed out on my bed. I want to take my time. Go. Now.”

Michael obeys immediately, the command going straight to his dick. On his way, he kicks off his jeans and his boxer briefs, shivering as the cool air dances over his skin.

Alex’s bedroom is larger than he’d imagined, the bed too. “Kingsize, huh?” He spins around, grinning.

“Yes.” His voice is no-nonsense, his eyes black with lust. “I had plans for this room as soon as I saw the place. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to put any of them into action.” Some of the desire drains from his eyes, creases crowding his forehead. His hands start to fidget, playing to the undone button on his jeans.

“Fuck the past, Alex. We’re here now.” He pushes gently Alex toward the edge of his mattress, where he sits to remove the rest of his clothes and his prosthetic. Michael watches him for a moment, mesmerized by all the small changes in his body since they’d last seen each other unclothed, but it’s too entirely much waiting. He drops to his knees and pushes Alex’s left thigh out of the way, wide enough that there’s room for both of them to work. Alex tugging off the prosthesis and Michael lapping enthusiastically at the head of his cock.

A hiss escapes Alex’s mouth as he grabs the back of Michael’s neck, clawing at his hair with encouragement while still trying to release his right leg one-handed. “Christ, you look hot with your mouth wrapped around my cock.” He yanks the liner off of his thigh and then both his hands are buried in Michael’s hair, tugging desperately at his curls each time Michael’s tongue swirls over his slit.

Michael pulls away, glowing from the praise, mouth slick and lips glistening. “No one tastes like you.” He grins and folds an arm around Alex’s waist, lifting both of them further onto the bed. He takes a moment to drink in his surroundings, distracted at being in Alex’s bedroom for the first time.

There’s nothing out of place. It’s all straight-edges and clean surfaces. Michael knows if he were to swipe a finger along the surface of the desk or any random shelf, his fingertip would survive dust-free. Other than the note general tidiness, there’s very little evidence that this room belongs to anyone, much less Alex Manes. None of the natural detritus he’d expected -- a flannel tossed over the back of a chair, notebooks filled with song lyrics stacked on his desk, various Air Force logoed propaganda. Not even an errant guitar snuck in from the living room and leaning crookedly in a corner.

But it shouldn’t surprise him, really. Alex had sacrificed so much of himself to Jesse Manes and the fucking military over the years.

Alex’s thumb traces the deep ruts in his forehead. “I don’t like that look.” He follows Michael’s eye line, his own brow furrowing.

“Sorry. I was just thinking about how much I’m going to ruin all this neat and tidy.” He tries smiling down at Alex, tries to swallow down the hurt in his heart for the boy he’d once known. Neither of them had survived childhood unscathed. He flexes his hand, momentarily free of its bandana, lost somewhere in the chaos of clothing they’d left behind.

“I want you to ruin it.” There are unexpected tears in his eyes, his voice hoarse and cracking. “I need you to ruin it.”

Michael stares down at him and Alex stares back. It’s the most self-aware Michael’s maybe ever seen Alex, definitely the most vulnerable. And his heart races at the implication that this time they are definitely doing things differently.

He starts to say something, but Alex distracts him, lunging forward and biting at the column of his throat, teeth dragging over his Adam’s apple sharp enough to leave a mark.

Surprised, he gasps and does the only thing he can think to do. He begs Alex for more, muttering a string of mixed curses and pleas.

And that’s exactly what Michael gets. More.

Alex’s nails dig into his back, tearing at his skin all while his teeth sink into his jaw, his neck, his collarbone. Like Michael’s the first meal he’s had after years of starvation, not trusting there will ever be enough to eat. Or maybe it’s just that Alex wants to consume him, devour him. Combine both their bodies into one so that they’ll never go this long without each other again. His hot tongue swipes at every bite and Michael goes woozy with want. But Alex keeps going, flipping Michael onto his back, teeth and nails racking at him until his skin turns red and raw and flayed.

Somewhere in the vicinity of his belly button, Alex stops and takes several short breaths. It tickles and Michael starts squirming, stomach muscles tensing.

“Are you sniffing me?”

Alex snorts and nips the edge of his belly button. “You smell like rain and sunlight.”

He yelps and swats at Alex’s head. “Sounds confusing.”

“No. Makes perfect sense.” Without warning, Alex’s fingers and lips are wrapped around his cock, humming in satisfaction.

Michael arches his back and closes his eyes, sinking into the sensation. His insides are mush, battered and bruised. Like someone used a slingshot to ricochet starlight off every corner of his body. His heart thumps heavily beneath his ribs and he can barely breathe, the heady reminder that sex with Alex does things to him that he’s never been able to explain.

“Wait.” With that last thought, his senses somewhat return and he pushes Alex flat on the bed, sliding between his legs to hover over him. Alex pants below him, mouth open and lips swollen, confusion written plainly across his face. “Do you feel that?”

“Your cock?” He grinds his hips up into Michael’s. “Of course, I feel that.” He laughs, fond exasperation replacing the confusion.

“No.” He searches for the right words, but there are no right words. Not really. “That thing that happens when we do this. Like there’s a rabid bull loose inside your body with no intentions of stopping its rampage until all your seams are fucked to hell.”

Alex’s face relaxes, softens. “Oh. Yeah. That thing.”

“What if it’s real? Something more than lust or need or even love. I mean, I’ve never been able to quit you, and this feeling never goes away, never subsides. It only gets bigger over time. And it’s like that with Max too. With Liz. What if it’s something -- “

“Cosmic?”

“Alien.”

Alex squeezes Michael’s hips, kneading at the muscles right above his ass, lost in thought a touch too long. “But I’m human and I feel it too.”

“Yeah, but maybe it’s something I did to you. Like I infected you somehow or -- “

Alex clamps his hand over Michael’s mouth. “Are you trying to suggest that somehow your alien biology has mind-whammied me into this relationship with you and that I have zero control over my own feelings?” There’s an unhinged quality to his question, his eyes flicking back and forth, clearly panicked.

Michael sighs and presses his lips into Alex’s chest, directly over his racing heart. “I just meant, what if after our firsst kiss in the museum that day, my body recognized you for who are -- for what you are -- and attached itself to you in some weird, alien way?”

“I swear to god, if you say the word soulmate, my dick’s going to go soft.”

Soulmate. Interesting. He’d never thought about it like that.

“You said it, not me.” He steals Alex’s protest with a sloppy kiss that shuts them both up. And soon, they are right back where they started, bodies sliding together as their need grows more urgent.

“On your knees,” Alex demands, breathless. “Now.”

One of the greatest things about Alex Manes? He always knows exactly when to put an end to any incessant talking.

The mood shifts drastically. Clutching at the top edge of the mattress, Michael buries his forehead into the pillow and lifts his ass into the air, legs spread wide, dick leaking with anticipation. Within seconds, Alex’s slick, deft fingers are working him open, expertly hitting his prostate with each thrust. It quickly becomes too much, the pressure in his balls begging for release. “Please, Alex.”

“Please what?” He rips his fingers free, hands manhandling Michael’s hips into place, the head of his cock already half inside Michael’s ass.

“Fuck me.”

Alex’s answer is simple. With one hard shove, he plunges his cock deep inside Michael, breath rushing out in a rasping moan. He pauses for a minute, allowing both of them to adjust to the stretch. And then he’s off, fucking Michael relentlessly into the headboard. Wild and unleashed. Exactly how they both like it, their past meeting their future so goddamn easily.

Every last drop of blood in Michael’s body rushes into his dick. He’s already desperate to come. He bites down hard on his bottom lip, tasting blood. “Not going to make it.” He struggles to get the words out coherently.

“Then don’t try.” Alex picks up the pace, lifting his hips and hitting Michael’s prostate with each perfectly angled stroke.

Michael relaxes his muscles and concentrates on the burn of Alex inside him, filling all of his dark, empty spaces. Heat floods through his balls and he spasms hard, coming all over the tops of his thighs and the black duvet.

Alex has to move a hand to grip Michael’s shoulder as he struggles through the wave of Michael’s orgasm. He repeats Michael’s name over and over again as he somehow manages to keep pounding away, riding out Michael’s orgasm with teeth clenched and fingernails carving crescent moons into Michael’s skin.

Normally, Michael likes them to come together. Or as close to together as possible. But it’s easy to enjoy this too -- his body at least partially satiated, the noise in his head so much calmer and quieter now. In a fucked-out place where he’s loose enough to focus on Alex’s pleasure, to warm himself in Alex’s unraveling desire. He groans low and his rhythm starts to fall apart. Michael grins, grabbing hold of the headboard and bucking himself back onto Alex’s cock, giving as well as he takes. Basking in all of Alex’s babbling, nonsensical praise.

It’s pure, white-hot joy listening to their ragged panting, the slap of skin against skin, the wet plunge of each half-rabid thrust. Their movements so brutal, so urgent Michael can feel the jab of Alex’s hipbones in the flesh of his ass at the end of each stroke. The force of their fucking reverberating through his bones, teeth to toes.

And then it’s Alex begging, desperate to empty himself deep inside Michael. They’re both drenched with sweat, pillows knocked to the floor and sheets untucked from the corners of the bed. The scratchy cotton chafes at Michael’s knees and his elbows as Alex drives into him faster, chasing his orgasm. He reaches blindly behind him and latches onto the back of Alex’s left thigh, clenching his ass tight around the base of Alex’s cock, enjoying the throb of his release. They stay like that with Alex’s forehead cradled in the spot between his shoulder blades until Michael has milked him dry and his spasms have ceased.

“Fuck.” Alex pulls out and collapses onto the bed, thigh muscles visibly trembling and absolute bliss shining in his eyes.

“I guess we can take our time during round two.” He flashes Alex a cheeky grin and snuggles into his side, resting his head in the crook of Alex’s shoulder, arm tossed lazily over his stomach. “Might as well have been seventeen again.” He laughs into Alex’s neck. “Can’t remember the last time I came so quick.”

Alex kisses him on the top of his curls. “I liked it. Knowing how good you felt. Just made me want to fuck you harder, as a reward for being so unashamedly sex-drunk.”

He could keep his mouth shut. Not say the things he wants to say. That’s what he’s always done before. Too scared to open his mouth, vomit out his feelings, and hasten Alex’s inevitable desire to flee. But that’s not what he wants anymore. And Alex has nowhere to run, this being his house and all.

“Just Alex-drunk, if I’m being honest.” His stomach flutters when he feels Alex’s jaw shift into a smile against his forehead, accepting Michael’s sentiment without protest.

“Shut up and sleep, Guerin. Or else we’re going to drown in all your sap.” He starts to swing his arm over to turn off the lamp, but Michael beats him to it, sending the room into peaceful, moon-lit darkness with a nudge of his TK.

Michael closes his eyes, but something in Alex’s absolute stillness worries him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Go to sleep.”

He flips the lamp back on and props himself up on his elbow, waiting.

Alex rolls his eyes. “I’m scared I’m going to fuck this up.”

“Me too.”

“Okay.” He lets out a long, relieved breath.

Michael chuckles. “That’s it? Just okay?”

Alex joins in his laughter. “Yeah. I don’t know what else to say, but it feels a bit better knowing you’re scared too, I guess.” He shrugs into his pillow.

“Okay.” They grin at each other and then Michael turns the lamp back off. “Night, Alex.” He closes his eyes again, beginning the easy slide into sleep now that’s he’s exactly where he wants to be with no looming countdown to doom lingering in the quiet space between them. "See you in the morning."

“Goodnight, Michael. See you in the morning.” Alex’s voice, soft and sleepy and steeped in something so close to happiness, the twinge of fear from five seconds ago already long gone.

“Night, Artie!” Shouted together in unison, no response required. Their soft laughter soon fading into even softer snoring.