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in the evening

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It’s late in the evening and Michael is home. He isn’t propped up on a barstool or sat on the cold ground of a holding cell. It’s late in the evening and Michael is home, basket of laundry wedged firmly against one hip as he shuts off lights and makes sure all of the doors are locked. When he gets to his bedroom, their bedroom, he can hear the sound of the shower running through the bathroom door.

He smiles at the faint sounds he hears, water splashing as Alex shifts, the increase and decrease in volume as water bounces off of skin or tile. He dumps the laundry out on the bed, carefully avoiding the guitar he’d set out on the covers. He’s only just begun sorting piles into ‘hang’ or ‘fold’ when the water shuts off.

There’s the sound of movement, rustling. The click of Alex’s crutch on the floor. Michael starts folding his work shirts, waiting for the inevitable call of Alex’s voice through the door. Because there’s a slight possibility that Michael has been a bit underhanded, tonight. A bit devious.

“Michael,” he finally hears, Alex’s voice equal parts exasperated and amused. “Is there a reason my eyeliner is in the toothbrush holder?”

“Just in case you were feeling inspired,” he calls back. It’s part of his plan, but part of something bigger, too. Because Michael will love any and every iteration of Alex Manes, but there’s something particularly special about the version with dark lined eyes that stops Michael’s heart in his chest, makes him want to drop to his knees at Alex’s feet and press open-mouthed praise against his skin.

The door opens and Alex is already halfway through an eye roll, but Michael is much more distracted by the way his boxers hang at his waist, just off kilter enough for Michael to want to reach out and touch, straighten them up or pull them off all together. He folds another shirt instead.

Waits, as Alex takes in the scene in front of him. The guitar on the bed and the innocent look on Michael’s face. When he finally lifts his eyes, Alex has already fixed him with A Look.

“I was playing when the washing machine beeped, just haven’t put it away yet.” The explanation is believable enough, helped by the way he goes back to folding shirts like he doesn’t care whether Alex picks up the guitar or not. But, as always, Alex sees right through him.

He huffs out a sigh and sinks down on the side of the bed, exchanges his crutch for the metallic press of strings against his fingers. “So this has nothing to do with the flyer on the kitchen table?”

The flyer for a local bar having open mic night. A chance for Alex to play, to perform, the way he’d always wanted. Michael’s been trying to get him on a stage for almost two years now, ever since they moved to a bigger city for Michael’s grad program and Michael really got to see Alex come into his own. To grow into something more than the scars of his youth and the traumas of his service.

He wears leather jackets and nice jeans, metal bracelets and a confident set to his shoulders. So much of the man Michael met in high school was returning, unearthed from beneath years of trauma and polished into something more mature and new. The eyeliner and nail polish had been a one-time thing, but Michael still thinks of them often, gives Alex subtle hints that he doesn’t need anything for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day… Alex just rolls his eyes and calls him ridiculous every time.

Regardless, Michael’s seen the changes in Alex, watched him break out from his father’s shadow and the harsh rules by which he’d always lived his life. He wants Alex to be happyand that’s why he’s pushing. Because Alex had always wanted to make music, and now he had a chance. Michael’s heard him play, knows all the songs he’s written as if they’re his own with how often he’s heard them and how precious, how jealously, he holds them to his heart.

Alex was ready.But every time Michael brought up the idea, Alex said no.

And if there’s one thing Michael has learned over the years, it’s that Alex Manes is immutable in his stubbornness. Like a rock face against the oncoming sea, he refuses to be moved, even up against all the force of a hurricane. But even the strongest of rocks can be reshaped by the tides.

So Michael has softened his approach, made his pleas less of a storm to be weathered and more of a gentle nudge.

Thus the eyeliner, the guitar, and the flyer on the kitchen table.

He folds another shirt, adds it to the pile, and grabs a pair of jeans. “There are coupons on the bottom, didn’t want to forget to use ‘em.”

He can feel Alex staring at the side of his face and looks up to meet those dark, searching eyes.

“You know, you’re really not subtle,” Alex says, readjusting the guitar in his lap and plucking idly at the strings. “And the answer’s still no.”

Michael frowns, moving onto their boxer-briefs and stacking them neatly into two piles.

Idle notes give way to chords, Alex’s fingers moving easily, confidently to a familiar rhythm. Everything between them settles, going quiet in a way that they can only find with music and each other. Michael listens, transfixed, as Alex plays through the chords, hands stopping and ears straining to hear the quiet way Alex hums out the melody.

When the song is over, he’s still got a half-folded pair of underwear in hand.

Silence stretches between them for a few beats, then Alex plays another chord, settles into a new progression. There’s no words to this one so Michael gets back to folding, onto the socks now that the rest of the laundry has cleared and made optimal conditions for finding pairs. He grabs two, folds, rolls, and sets them to the side as Alex keeps playing just across the bed, hair still damp from the shower.

It’s all so painfully, beautifully domestic that Michael could cry. Had never thought he could actually get here.

The music stops abruptly, guitar silenced with one firm press of Alex’s hand across the strings. His eyes are locked on the bedside table and Michael follows his gaze.

There, next to the book Michael’s been reading and a bottle of acetone for when they have more exerting night’s in bed, is a glint of metal that has Michael biting his lip.

“In my defense, I meant to give that to you in a more romantic way,” he puts down the last pair of socks and runs a hand through his hair.

Looking away from the stainless steel choker on the nightstand, Alex turns over his shoulder and fixes Michael with a solid, unrelenting and veryunimpressed stare.

“I also never meant for you to wear it outside of the house. So it’s not about, you know,” he pauses, taking in the expressions flickering across Alex’s face. He lifts a brow, the beginnings of a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Unless it’s sparking something, in which case I suppose I could be convinced to share.”

Alex stares at him for a moment more, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before opening them again. Michael makes sure to have the best, most innocent smile on his face.

“Put the laundry away,” Alex says, turning away. “It’s late, I want to go to bed.”

Michael scoops up their stack of shirts, still smiling. “Yes, dear.” He drops a kiss to the top of Alex’s head on the way to the dresser.

He can practically hear how hard Alex rolls his eyes, but he also doesn’t miss the small, pleased smile on Alex’s lips as he goes back to playing, strumming a quiet tune as Michael finishes putting away the laundry.

Later, when the lights are off and they’re both in bed, Michael tugs Alex close and buries his face in the back of his neck, where his skin is warm and soft and smooth. He presses a kiss there and breathes him in, tightens the hold he has on Alex’s waist.

“I just want you to be happy,” he murmurs, half convinced Alex is already asleep.

But Alex shifts in his arms, rolls over onto his back so he can look up into Michael’s face. “I amhappy,” he says. He cups Michael’s face in one hand, a thumb brushing over his cheek. “I don’t need to play to a bar of drunk college students to accomplish that.”

Michael nods, eyes flickering over Alex’s face, trying to read between the lines of what he’s said. There’s something else there, he can feel it, but he’s still not quite as good at parsing out what Alex wants to say as Alex is at reading him. Alex has a way of cleaving him open with a single look, so he’s not surprised when the other man huffs and pushes his hand back into Michael’s hair.

“I wanted to make music to make a difference, to help someone else the way music helped me.” He stares up at Michael and gives his hair a light tug. “I’ve already done that. This. Us. We’ve given so much. I think we can afford to be a little selfish.”

Michael feels his breath get a little shaky, not trusting his voice or his brain to produce any kind of response.

Alex smiles at him. “Besides, why would I squeeze myself into tight shirts and leather when I can play half-naked for you at home?”

“Leather?” Michael’s eyes brighten at that, already imagining how good Alex would look in a pair of tight leather pants. The earlier admission still sits heavy in his chest, something to be considered and dissected in the clear light of day, but Alex has offered a very worthy distraction.

But Alex just shakes his head, turning back over and pulling Michael into position like a human-shaped blanket. “Good night, Michael.”

Michael whines.

“C’mon, you can’t just tease me like that. Have you been holding out on me?” He nuzzles up to the back of Alex’s neck, kisses the knobs of his spine. “Where are you hiding them?”

“Good night, Michael,” Alex says again. The rock face immovable against the sea.

Michael huffs out a breath into the space between them, pulls Alex impossibly closer and kisses the shell of his ear. “Good night.”

It’s late in the evening and Michael is home, curled up as close to Alex as he can be, safe in the home, the life, that they’ve built together. It’s warm and comfortable and quiet, all of the things that both of their lives had lacked for so long.

It’s late in the evening and Michael doesn’t know how he got so lucky.

He closes his eyes and whispers into Alex’s skin, “I’ll just look for them in the morning.”

A beat of silence, before Alex takes a deep breath and very noticeably counts to ten.

His fingers thread through Michael’s own, warm against the steady beat of Alex’s heart.

“Michael, I swear to god…”

Yeah, Michael has got to be the luckiest guy on earth.