The transition from friends to dating isn’t a difficult one.
After all, everyone in town already thought they were dating. It had only been Michael and Alex who hadn’t been involved in that secret, so when they made the shift from being extremely close friends to being in a relationship, nothing dramatic or wildly strange happened. Their friends had been relieved, given that it had been patently obvious to everyone else, but nothing much changed.
For months, nothing changes, and they begin to approach their thirties in that comfortable pattern of dating and being together, with the added strength of being friends. It’s almost as if those awful chapters of their lives are over. These days, the most drama they have in their lives is over what series they want to binge watch.
It’s comfortable, but Michael is learning that comfortable is good.
Their lives have definitely shifted, though it’s not like he’s going to protest. They still make time for what’s important, which is why they’re at the Pony for post-dinner drinks, taking over one of the big tables while everyone catches up from the week.
“…and that’s when he texted me with the worst come on I’ve ever heard in my life,” Isobel shares.
Her tales of dating woe have been a fixture and Michael lets her complaining wash over him like a babbling brook over stones. Alex is rubbing his back and it’s just warm enough inside the Pony that he can feel himself slipping into that comfortable space that makes him feel safe.
“I keep offering to set you up,” Alex insists. “I know at least five guys I served with who’d be giddy to have a shot with you.”
Max makes a mild warning sound that comes off a little growly, which is just real mature, but he withdraws when Isobel shoots him a glare. “I want to vet them.”
“Yeah, I don’t think any of them are gonna turn out to be a serial killer,” Michael quips sarcastically. “They could have other issues, cuz Alex has told me a lot of stories about what these guys do in the desert, but the body count’s probably way lower. You might end up with a computer geek, though, Iz,” he says, smirking as Alex pinches him in his arm, making Michael jolt. “Ow, fuck!”
“If all the computer geeks in the Air Force look like Alex, I’m willing to take that risk.”
The conversation fades to talks about Liz’s latest project, Maria’s planned renovations to the Pony, and Kyle’s upcoming conference. He’s had a few beers by then, and Michael’s eyes start to slip shut. His attention has falling away and everything is so comfortable and good that he doesn’t even think about the fact that he’s not succeeding in staying awake.
He falters, his body jolting back to life, and his elbow almost pushes the glass of beer off the table, if it weren’t for Alex’s hand calmly pressing his elbow back from knocking it into pieces on the ground. “Keys,” is all he says, a fond note in his voice.
“What? No,” Michael sleepily protests.
“Michael,” Alex says again, firmer. “Give me the keys.”
He fishes them out from his pocket and presses them into Alex’s hand, letting Alex coax him to his feet. Michael hasn’t exactly fully opened his eyes yet, draping his arms around Alex’s neck as he leans in for a sleepy kiss, then another, and then one last one, resting his tired cheek on Alex’s shoulder. “Home?”
“No, I’m gonna leave you on Maria’s tables,” Alex replies with a fond laugh, pinching his hip with a much gentler touch this time. “If you guys hadn’t already figured it out, we’re out of here.”
Nobody gives them much attention as they leave, but on their way out, Michael hears Isobel’s incredulous voice saying, “It’s only nine o’clock.” He ignores them, because it’s been a long day and they both have difficult jobs. After all, it’s not like Isobel changed the oil on three cars today, not to mention rebuilt an engine from scratch. He knows that she definitely didn’t spend the day driving between old military bases like Alex did, just to make sure there’s no activity and install security cameras.
His exhaustion is worse than usual, though, because Alex is able to manipulate his body like a pliant, non-responsive thing into the passenger seat of the car, leaning in to get the seatbelt across his chest, sliding his palm over it. Michael smiles sleepily as he catches Alex’s hand before it can get too far away, tipping his head to him.
“Are we old and boring?” he asks.
“Older,” Alex replies, tangling his fingers in Michael’s hair as he strokes his curls. “Definitely not boring. We just don’t tell them all the kinky things you do to me when we’re on our own because we know they don’t want to hear it.”
That’s true, though those nights have grown more infrequent these days. That cosmic, frantic, energy-filled connection had dissipated as they dated, but there’s something so consistently warm and steadying about their nights together that it doesn’t matter if a night ends with them fucking or with them spooning after a lazy makeout session.
The point is that boring is definitely not the word he’d use for it.
“You’re definitely exhausted,” Alex huffs out a laugh. “Next season, I’m not letting you pick up these early morning shifts at the ranch to help them with the crop.”
“They need the help and I don’t want to turn down the money,” Michael protests.
He’s sure that he hears Alex say something in reply, something about how there’s two of them now and he doesn’t have to worry about money like that anymore, but the next thing Michael knows, he’s blinking awake to the headlights being turned off.
“We were at the Pony,” he says sleepily, sitting up a little and inhaling sharply.
Alex glances over at him from the driver’s seat, putting the e-brake on and looking at Michael with his brow raised. “We were,” he agrees. “You fell asleep on me telling you that if you’re worried about money, I’m sure you could take on some tutoring gigs or anything else that doesn’t exhaust you like this. You’re gonna run yourself ragged.”
Michael rubs at his eyes, glancing at the clock. “Shit,” he mumbles, mouth feeling like it’s been stuffed with cotton wadding. “It’s only nine-thirty.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“How long have we been sitting here?”
He knows it’s only a ten-minute drive between the Pony and the cabin, but here they are. “Fifteen minutes? I wanted to give you a quick rest,” Alex says, slowly exiting the car even as Michael makes tiny sounds of warning to watch his leg. He shuffles his way around the truck, hissing a little as he rubs at his leg, opening up the passenger door to help Michael down.
He might be sleepy, but he still gets his footing quicker than Alex.
“You sat there, in that uncomfortable position, for me.” Michael presses his lips together, pointing to the door. “Bedroom, now, take the prosthetic off and I’ll get the massage oil.”
“Does this look like my arguing face?”
Alex rolls his eyes, but heads inside to follow his orders, with Michael unlocking the door from the truck with his powers. He scrubs a hand over his face to wake himself up from his impromptu nap, ambling inside to find Alex in the middle of taking off his prosthetic. The skin around it looks red and rubbed angrily, and the guilty look on Alex’s face tells Michael everything he needs to know.
“How many hours were you wearing it?” he asks quietly, leaning his knees against the bed as he leans down to help pry it off.
Alex hisses from the pain, which Michael can practically feel from the look of it. He reaches for the massage oil at the side of the bed, gently nudging Alex onto his back with a light push at his shoulder, squeezing some of the liquid on his fingers. “Too long, clearly,” he says, but he sighs with relief when Michael gets his hand on the knotted muscles. “Driving so much didn’t help.”
“Next time, take the crutches,” Michael pleads. He works with both hands into the leg, staring at his healed fingers as they push into Alex’s skin. It’s taken him some time to come to terms with what Max had done before he’d died (and then been resurrected like some weird alien Jesus), but he’s better these days.
It helps when he uses that healed hand to work away Alex’s pain.
The nap Michael took has woken him up, but between the warm heat in the cabin and Michael’s steady hand on Alex’s leg, his better half is clearly taking his chance to sleep off the exhaustion. He’s still wearing his button-down, his boxers, and his socks, but there he is, snoring away peacefully.
Michael huffs out a laugh and sits on the end of the bed, reaching down to peel off Alex’s socks, unbuttoning the shirt and gently easing Alex out of it. He rouses in the middle of that, peering at Michael with dazed confusion.
“Yeah, babe, go back to sleep,” Michael says, yanking off his t-shirt and throwing it on the pile with his boots and socks, crawling into bed once he’s pushed off his belt-buckle and jeans, positioning himself on top of the covers, because he knows in the middle of the night, Alex will drift towards him and press up against him. That’s all the warmth he ever needs.
He's not sure when he falls asleep, but it’s quick.
The clock beside them reads 10:04 when Michael closes his eyes, and he thinks that it doesn’t matter if they’re not closing down the bar anymore. They’ve got jobs, now, and important things to do. Who needs to stay out drinking until the early hours of the morning?
They’re not so young anymore and they’ve got something better.
It’s Friday night, and it’s Michael’s turn to pick where they’re going on date night.
Unfortunately, he also forgot that he arranged a few odd jobs over the weekend to pick up spare cash and never made it to the hardware store after his shifts. He hasn’t broached the topic with Alex just yet, but he’d picked up a pizza on the way home to the cabin, dropping his wallet and keys in the little bowl on the front table.
Michael takes an extra moment to touch that bowl fondly, since they’d made it during a couple’s ceramics thing at the local art gallery, which had been their attempt at double dating with Isobel and the guy of the week, but at least they got a nice little piece for the house from their troubles.
“Hey, I’m almost ready!” Alex calls from the bedroom.
Michael wanders into the bedroom in time to see Alex pulling on one of his good burgundy long-sleeved shirts, smiling up at Michael from the bed. He feels a pang about the fact that his pick for date night is definitely not worth the level of dressing up Alex is doing, so he sits on the bed beside him, rubbing a hand over his back.
“So,” he starts, “you know how it’s my turn to pick…?”
Alex narrows his eyes at him. “Why do I smell pizza?”
An hour later, three slices of greasy pizza in his belly, and a few beers to go with it, Michael is pushing a cart in the home hardware store with Alex beside him, shaking his head. “I can honestly say that no guy has ever taken me on a date to the hardware store.” He hooks his arm at the elbow with Michael’s – from where he’s bent over, forearms on the cart, pushing it slowly – and gives him an amused look. “Should I be worried this is your idea of a romantic date?”
“I forgot to pick up the things I need for this weekend’s jobs and I want to spend all the time with you I can get.” He stops, gesturing to the lightbulbs. “We need some of those, let’s get a box while we’re here.”
Alex reaches over to put them in the cart, peeking at the list.
“What?” Michael asks with a laugh.
“Just trying to figure out what your weekend plans are from the list,” he says, tugging the paper into his hands. He keeps wandering down the aisle with Michael dropping a step behind him. He’d chide him for it, but he knows that Michael does that so he can get a better look at his ass in the form-fitting jeans he’s wearing and he doesn’t feel like that deserves yelling. “Okay, so you’re definitely staining someone’s deck,” he reads.
“Isobel’s,” Michael agrees.
“And,” he says, squinting at the tools and trying to remember what Michael rambles about when they’re lying in bed, both reading their books, “furnace repairs?”
The proud look on Michael’s face when Alex turns to verify is enough to let him know that he won.
“You owe me dinner,” Alex says smugly, reaching over to pick up the furnace filters on the list.
He's not expecting Michael’s hands at his waist, stepping in to embrace him from behind. He stops the cart and they stand there in the middle of aisle 9 with Michael’s arms wrapped around Alex from behind. Michael keeps dropping the softest kisses on Alex’s neck and he knows that there are five more items on the list, but suddenly date night doesn’t look like a total waste.
“You listen,” Michael murmurs, sounding surprised.
“I’m a quick learner,” Alex says, and he’s still feeling very smug. He turns so that his back is to the shopping cart and Michael’s arms are on the handle to pin him in. “Whose furnace are you replacing?”
“Sanders. He keeps insisting that he doesn’t need it, but then he bitches all winter.”
Alex presses his lips together fondly, hiding his besotted smile. Unfortunately, he knows he’s not about to get away with it.
“What?” Michael demands.
“I take it you’re doing both these jobs this weekend pro bono?”
“Our finances are fine, we sat down last Sunday and went over them,” Michael protests, his brow furrowed, “I didn’t think it was a problem if…” Alex shuts him up with two fingers pressed to his lips, leaning in to replace those fingers with his lips. “Okay,” Michael murmurs, giving him a confused look. “So, you’re not mad I’m doing them for free?”
“I think you’re being a very sweet man to your sister and your boss. You’re right, too. We can afford for you to take a couple freebies.”
Should it be weird that this is what they do now? Michael had brought them both coffee and they had devoted and blocked out actual time in both their calendars to go over their finances. They’d talked about joint accounts since they’re living together, and had even had a twenty-minute discussion about retirement.
Before he’d started dating Alex, his retirement plan had been don’t. He’d intended to keep working until he couldn’t.
After they’ve paid, Alex lifts most of the bags on his arms, nodding to an ice cream truck parked just a little down the way. He puts the bags in the car, but tugs on the sleeve of Michael’s jacket (well, Alex’s jacket, seeing as Air Force is definitely emblazoned on the front).
“I know tonight is your date night,” Alex says, “but ice cream?”
“Yeah, sure,” Michael agrees with a fond laugh.
He takes Alex over and buys them both since he’s the one who forgot to run to the hardware store, so he’s the one who should pick up the tab. They end up sitting on top of a nearby picnic bench, their hips and shoulders pressed together as they eat twist soft-serve cones in silence, the glow from the hardware store’s sign illuminating them.
“What kind of date were you hoping for?” Michael asks, licking up the dripping ice cream from the cone. “I know I kind of disappointed with the whole errands thing, so, give me some ideas for next month.”
Alex ducks his head down to hide his laugh.
“What?” Michael protests. “C’mon, your date desires can’t be that bad. What is it? Shoe shopping? The zoo? You wanna go on a double date with Max and Liz, don’t you?”
“No, it’s just…I liked tonight,” he admits. “True, I could have done without the surprise pizza and a real restaurant, but us shopping together and getting a bite after,” he says, curling his tongue around the ice cream without once breaking eye contact with Michael. “That seems pretty perfect to me.”
The ice cream isn’t the only thing that’s melting. Michael feels like he could collapse into a puddle, finding out that these days, Alex gets turned on by shopping for light fixtures and parts. Sure, Michael always has that going for him, but it’s nice to know that they can do these things as a couple.
Michael wipes his hands with a napkin, handing a few of them to Alex to clean up his own mess as he gets back to his feet, extending a hand to Alex to help him slowly climb down from the top of the picnic table they’d been perched on.
“How do you feel about going home and ending date night with a long makeout session?” Michael suggests. He has to work fairly early, so he doesn’t want one of their marathon sex sessions, but he thinks a lazy round of making out until they fall asleep sounds like a good plan.
Alex lets his gaze slide over Michael’s body, before his attention drifts to his lips (still with a dab of ice cream here and there, he can feel).
“I could think about it,” he says, balling up the napkins to throw them out.
Later, when Michael is falling asleep in the middle of Alex rubbing his back in their post-coital state (yeah, he might have said no sex, but he’s a really big liar about some things), he thinks that maybe he could get on board with shopping as a regular date if this is how it ends.
It feels almost adult, like they’re growing and maturing.
For the first time in his life, on the cusp of something responsible, it actually feels right.
It's his last appointment after a thirty-six-hour shift at the hospital and Kyle has been dreading it since lunch. For one, he’s pretty sure that it’s going to get cancelled, seeing as Alex has bailed on him the last three times. For another thing, if Alex does show up, he’s going to have to put up with the stubborn, stoic, ‘I can’t feel pain because pain is for normal mortal men’ thing he does. So, no, Kyle isn’t looking forward to it.
It turns out, he didn’t have to worry at all.
When Kyle walks into the room, he’s actually impressed and surprised. “You showed up,” he says to Alex. His gaze slides to Alex’s right, because the bigger surprise is there. “You also brought a plus one that I don’t remember giving to you.”
Guerin glances up from where he’s currently prying a sticker from the roll on Kyle’s desk, sticking it onto the back of his hand. “Did you seriously not think I’d be here?”
Kyle raises both hands to insist that he’s not about to argue, though his gaze slides to Alex with a curious look that he can’t read. Maybe all those years apart meant that he lost his ability to read all of Kyle’s expressions the way he used to be able to do when he’d been a kid.
“What?” Alex asks defensively.
“This is just a general check-up,” Kyle says. “If you’re worried this is something about the prosthetic or something deeper, it’s not.”
“I know,” Alex replies, giving Kyle a confused look. “Michael wanted to be here, even though I told him all of that, and I’m not saying no to that.” Guerin’s made huge strides in his ability to be at a hospital or a doctor’s office, so Alex is not only ready to accommodate that, but also encourage it, from what he’s told Kyle when they go out and grab a beer. “Are you telling him to get out?”
Kyle has the feeling that Guerin is a big reason that Alex actually showed up, but before he has a chance to say that, Guerin decides to be…well, Michael Guerin about it.
“Yeah, Valenti, are you?” Guerin challenges.
Alex rolls his eyes and Kyle knows why. He and Guerin get along now, so the posturing is only tiring. They’ll probably even grab a beer on Friday without Alex, because Alex has to work and that means date night has to get pushed.
Kyle kind of wants to throw something at Guerin, even if he’s too mature to actually do that. “I just didn’t want to waste Guerin’s time for what’s going to amount to a lot of measurements.”
“I want to be here for him,” Guerin says, softer this time. “I know it’s nothing to do with his leg, but everything does kind of influence that, doesn’t it? I’m going to take care of his leg, which means I need to worry about everything else.”
“What about his mental state?”
“Kyle, stop,” Alex warns.
“No, I’m saying it,” Kyle insists, ignoring Alex’s warnings. “You want him to be okay? You want him to stop worrying? Let me do a physical on you, too. I won’t log it in the system, I’ll write everything down in pencil on a sheet of paper that you take with you, but I know that Alex would feel a lot better if he had that.”
Guerin glances to him, and Alex ducks his head down so he doesn’t give the game away. That had been something he’d shared in confidence with Kyle during his last check-up and he really didn’t think that it would get spilled like that. When he finally looks up, Guerin is still looking at him, almost hurt.
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“You’re only just getting used to the hospital when you join me for appointments, I’m not about to insist that you sit there and undergo a physical all because I want to know if there’s anything I need to be worrying about.” Alex looks at Guerin in that soppy way that has Kyle looking away because he feels like he’s intruding on something right now.
He’s in the middle of reviewing the paperwork when he hears Guerin clear his throat. “Fine,” he gets out gruffly, rubbing his cheek. Alex looks extremely proud of himself, so clearly some persuasion just happened. “I’ll make an appointment, just…” He waves at them and sinks into the partner’s chair. “Do your thing now.”
Kyle gives Alex an impressed look, laughing when Alex just keeps smirking. Smug son of a bitch, he thinks, but he’s pretty glad that he’d managed to get Guerin on board. For all that he’s been able to run tests on the other two, Guerin keeps holding out.
Now he’s got the trifecta.
Guerin digs out a book to read while Kyle and Alex go through the motions. They record height and weight (“Huh, look at that, still keeping that weight off,” is not the funny joke that Alex thinks it is as he raps his prosthetic, even if Guerin snorts at it), go through a few tests, and an hour later, Kyle finishes with the paperwork.
“He’s all yours,” he says to Guerin, who packs his book away in Alex’s bag. “How about you come in next week, we’ll do yours and I’ll send you home with the copy?” Guerin’s still looking fairly suspicious, but he grunts his assertion, finding something in the satchel that he holds out to Alex.
“Shit,” Alex says, grabbing it from him as Kyle tips his head back down to finish writing up his notes. “I almost forgot. I brought the stuff I need to switch my next of kin.”
Kyle reaches forward to take it from him, eyeing the paper with suspicion. He’s not surprised that Alex is changing his next of kin. To be fair, he’s more surprised that it hadn’t happened already, but what he sees on the paper is kind of shocking. “Is this legal?” he asks, glancing past it at Alex.
The stony, calm look on Alex’s face says ‘no’, but his mouth says, “It will hold up to anyone who looks into it.”
So, definitely not. This looks like a hacker’s special, courtesy of Alex’s dark web skills.
Kyle reaches for Alex’s file to replace the existing next of kin information with this one, glancing between them, as Guerin picks up Alex’s denim jacket to help him into it. He knows this probably isn’t his place, but he needs to know. “Is there something that you want to tell me?” Guerin helps slide the satchel over Alex’s arms, which only makes him think that there has to be something, given the fact that they’re sharing bags and the ease with which Guerin works (not to mention how Alex allows it).
They exchange a look, Alex shrugs, and Guerin’s the one who says, “Why?”
“Because Alex just changed his next of kin to you,” Kyle deadpans, wondering how they can’t see it.
“He’s the only one I want in an emergency,” Alex says with the conviction of a man who’s expecting an argument. Kyle knows better than that. Picking a fight with Alex right now just leads to military jargon and the kind of defensive mechanisms that Kyle’s too tired to deal with, because this is his last appointment after a long shift.
He presses his lips together to avoid saying anything he might regret. “No, I get it,” he allows, watching as Alex protectively wraps his arm around Guerin’s waist, like Kyle’s about to try and rip up the next of kin papers. “I’ll file these away, you make sure they’re ironclad. The last thing I need is someone questioning them if something happens to you.” Which reminds him. “Also? Don’t let anything happen to you.”
Guerin rests his hand at the small of Alex’s back. “That’s my job. I won’t fuck it up.”
“Thanks, Kyle. We’ll see you next week,” Alex says as they leave, so apparently Alex also intends to be there when Guerin comes in for his physical.
He doesn’t say anything else when he walks out, but Kyle absolutely grabs his phone to text Maria and Liz, putting out some feelers to see if they know anything that he’d missed out on. He might be busy with his shifts at the hospital sometimes, but he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have missed that.
From the replies he gets, it looks like he hasn’t missed anything, though Liz’s opinion is that it’s happening soon and Maria insists that ‘common law’ exists, even if the two of them don’t realize it yet.
Shaking his head, Kyle pencils in Guerin’s appointment, files Alex’s next of kin paperwork, and decides he needs a very long nap and to not deal with his emotionally stunted friends for at least a day.
He absolutely deserves that much.
“It’s for the children.”
Alex gives Isobel a suspicious look, because he’s fairly sure that never in her life has Isobel ever cared about innocent little children without a bit of an ulterior motive. He already knows that they’re going, because family obligation is important to Michael, not to mention Alex is fairly sure that he’s never said no to Isobel in his entire life.
Still, that means he gets to be wary when she shows up at the cabin door with an invite in hand. “We skipped this last year,” Michael says, eating the cookies from Alex’s bake yesterday as he leans his forearm against Alex’s shoulder. “How come it’s coming back?”
“The drive-in fundraiser didn’t pull in enough money.”
“So, instead, you want us to help out at a car wash?”
He reaches back to take the cookie that Michael holds out for him, feeling Michael press his hip up against Alex’s, just behind him enough that when he rocks forward, the suggestion of something more is present. He clears his throat to calm himself and to warn Michael, which seems to do the trick.
“I’ll see you there,” she says with a wave of her fingers.
She doubles back to pry the cookie from Michael’s hands, despite his sharp, “What the fuck!” and then she heads off. Michael rests his chin on Alex’s shoulder, clearly sulking, so Alex holds up his cookie so Michael can tear a bite out of it.
“What am I in for?” Alex asks warily.
“Oh, trust me, you don’t want to know.”
Alex decides to trust Michael, which means going in blind. He’s actually half-glad he did, because if he’d known how these car washes tend to go, he might have come up with a better excuse to get himself out of supporting the children.
The car wash has been going on for a few hours and Alex had made the mistake of wandering into the middle of it when he’d been hosed down and now his white t-shirt (worn at Isobel’s request) is sticking to his chest. He’s prying it off him and sitting with Kyle, who’s in a very similar situation, by the looks of him.
“Welcome to Isobel’s annual objectification event to raise money,” Kyle deadpans. He gestures to the cars being washed as he mops his wet face with a dry towel. “You’re in time for the main event, though I did wonder if this year would be different, with you dating Guerin.”
Alex has a very bad feeling about this.
“What main event?”
Kyle gestures towards the gaggle of women watching Michael as he stretches his hands out, elongating his body to wash the hood of a Camaro. Water and suds drip over his shoulders and sluice down his back, into his jeans. Alex swallows hard and reaches for his bottle of water, not sure if he wants to drink it or pour it over his head.
“The part where Guerin gets arrested by Max because he’s...” Kyle’s eyes widen with alarm. “Yup, he’s taking them off…” He trails off, a bemused ‘huh’ escaping his mouth when Michael strips off his jeans and reveals the black boxer-briefs that Alex had handed him this morning (the ones with UFO Emporium embroidered on the ass). “He’s wearing underwear.”
“Yeah,” Alex agrees, very slowly, as if Kyle needs him to sound things out.
“…he never wears underwear to this.”
“He clearly is,” Alex aggressively replies, and it’s not that he’d call it jealousy in his voice. Overly-attentive and worried about his boyfriend going bare-assed in front of Roswell’s singles, that’s all. “Wait, he’d pull a Full Monty at these things? In front of everyone?”
“He usually has a sock,” Kyle says, gesturing lower. “Then Max would arrest him for indecent exposure, Isobel would smugly count her money and give Max a cut to bail him out, and we repeat the incident every year.” Kyle pries off his t-shirt to wring it out, and though a few women glance over and giggle at Kyle’s abs, Alex barely notices.
He’s kind of too busy watching the way Isobel has turned a hose on Michael, drenching him from head to toe.
“What the fuck, Isobel?” Michael snaps.
“I made Alex do to the wet t-shirt thing.”
“So you thought you’d make me do the wet dog thing?”
They sound seconds away from the kind of argument that will devolve into bickering, so Alex excuses himself from Kyle’s side to take the hose over from Isobel, giving her a patient smile and knowing that he needs to appeal to her pragmatic side, given how suspiciously she’s eyeing him.
“I need to make bank, Alex,” Isobel warns.
“Trust me,” Alex says, with more confidence. She relents and gives him the patented ‘I’m watching you’ look, but leaves Alex with the hose, a few buckets, and his very wet, almost naked boyfriend, who’s crouched down to shine the rims of the wheels.
Patiently, Alex fills up the bucket with soap and water, then reaches for a clean sham cloth. Once it’s full, he hitches it up and wanders over to soak the cloth in the bucket, squeezing it out before letting it dangle over Michael’s shoulder, the droplets falling down his chest, creating soapy bubbles on his back.
“Oops,” he deadpans. He’s still shirtless from Isobel’s assault, and he steps in to slide his fingers over Michael’s wet back, popping the bubbles as he spider-walks his fingers over his back. “You had a little…”
Michael’s still crouching, but he rocks his weight from his heels to his toes. “You know I’m only wearing underwear,” he says, very calmly.
“Which means that you also know that I don’t have much to hide my erection if you keep getting me going like this.”
“I also know this,” Alex agrees, and hands Michael the cloth, reaching down for the hose. “Don’t worry. I have a plan. Isobel needs to make money, right?” He steps to the side and lifts his chin so he can face the group of women watching. “Hey ladies,” he calls over to them. “Michael’s all dirty and covered in suds from this car.” He wiggles the hose. “For twenty bucks each, between cars, you can help clean him up.” He holds out the towel with his other hand.
Michael gapes at him, like he’s been wounded. “I expected this from Isobel, but from you…?”
“It’s for the children,” he mimics Isobel’s tone as he starts collecting money like he’s Michael’s pimp instead of his boyfriend, feeling suitably proud every time he sees a pair of manicured nails sliding over Michael’s chest as he gets cleaned up from whatever hosing down he’s given. It’s sweet that Michael actually flushes pink every single time they touch him, but endures it without a single word when he looks Alex’s way and sees that he’s okay with it.
Besides, it’s all worth it when Ann Evans gets in line.
“Mom!” Isobel gets out, a strangled accusation in her throat.
“What, honey? It’s for a good cause, and Alex won’t let me step out of line, will you?” she asks with a wink his way.
“I take care of my man, Mrs. Evans,” Alex assures, and slips her twenty into the pile.
He smiles sweetly at Isobel, but he has the feeling that next year, either car wash isn’t going to be one of the fundraising options, or Alex suspects that he and Michael may no longer be invited. Still, Isobel does reluctantly admit that they did a good job when Alex hands over the stack of bills.
Michael tugs on Alex’s sweater, his damp hair curling and frizzing, and he tugs on a pair of Air Force sweatpants and flip-flops to complete the look. “I’m definitely not letting what happened today go so easily,” he warns, as Alex reaches for a dry t-shirt to pull on, checking that his prosthetic hadn’t been soaked.
That threat of Michael’s isn’t so worrisome. “I think I can take anything you can throw at me,” he says with the utmost confidence in the world, and from the somewhat defeated look on Michael’s face, he knows it too.
After the tenth reunion had gone over so successfully, it becomes an annual event.
Michael had mocked it mercilessly to Isobel, seeing as most of the people who attend are the people in Roswell who have nothing better to do. Most years, they give it a pass, but this year, Isobel had needed some help setting up, which means that both Alex and Michael are in attendance, looking at yet another slideshow of their past.
Alex sighs as he catches Michael in his peripheral vision, something that’s been bugging him all night hitting the tipping point.
If he doesn’t deal with this right now, he won’t be able to get past it.
“I don’t know why you bother wearing my clothes if you don’t wear them right,” Alex grumbles as he leans in to fix Michael’s necktie, which has slipped out of its knot for the third time that evening. Michael’s reached out to hold onto both of his drinks and his hors d’oeuvre napkin to do it, chin up.
He’s looking at the decorations, which is why he doesn’t notice April Braeman lingering near them and staring. He’s not sure why, because she’d never been a problem for them in high school. She’d been nice to him in Biology and had never joined the group who had tormented Alex.
“It’s so sweet that you guys got married,” she says, as she watches Alex fix Michael’s tie, sliding his fingers over it.
Michael keeps both of the glasses and Alex is grateful, because he thinks he might have dropped his. “What?” he sputters, glancing at her then Michael. Maybe Kyle put her up to this? They definitely didn’t get married, because as much as they’ve come a long way, Alex thinks he’d remember that. “No, that’s not, no, we’re not…”
April’s face falls and she goes pink in her cheeks, like she’s embarrassed.
“Oh. Oh! I’m sorry, I just…I thought that I…” She’s babbling now. Alex remembers that she always used to go on in class when the teacher called on her and she didn’t know the right answer. “It’s just that I’d heard a few rumors and … I never meant to assume, oh god…”
She’s still talking. Alex might start cringing sympathetically if this goes on much longer.
“Don’t get me wrong, you two are still so hot together, but it’s not like you look like you’re going to rip each other’s clothes off anymore, so we all…”
“…just thought you were married now, that you’d both settled down with each other.”
Instead of giving either Michael or Alex the chance to respond, she rushes off, which leaves them gaping after her. Neither of them can move, which is how Kyle finds them, popping a shrimp puff in his mouth as he wanders in between them, gesturing between them and then to April with his toothpick. “What was that about?”
“Why does April Braeman think we’re married?” Michael ekes out.
Kyle snorts as he looks at them, reaching back to put his napkin and toothpick on a passing tray. “Because you two basically are and if I weren’t Alex’s best friend and trust that he’d ask me to be the best man, I might think so too. Though,” he admits, “some days, I think you two went and eloped and never told any of us.”
Michael’s gaping at Kyle.
“Not helping,” Alex hisses at Kyle. “That’s insane, why would you…”
“Well, I know you two are never at the Pony that late these days. Not to mention that people talk about how cute it is that you just roam around home stores and the hardware store for your dates,” Kyle lists on his fingers. “Oh, right, and the part where you brought Michael to your annual physical and then made him your next of kin with your forged information, plus the really big tell where Michael has stopped getting all slutty at the annual car wash like he’s worried his husband is going to make him sleep on the couch…”
He makes a face, his eyes skimming down to their hands like he’s looking for wedding rings.
“Actually, now that I say it, you two definitely eloped, didn’t you?”
“We’re not married!” Michael shouts, maybe a little too loud, because people look over and then the whispering begins. Alex pinches the bridge of his nose, knowing that Michael is only feeding the fire. “What the fuck, we settled a little bit, that doesn’t translate to married!”
Kyle raises both his brows, then looks at Alex.
“Can you talk some sense into your wife?”
Honestly, if the bleachers end up with a Kyle-shaped imprint tonight, he won’t be surprised. “You should go,” Alex advises, reaching over to slide a palm over Michael’s arm to calm him down before the party turns into a twist on prom, only with Michael’s fist in Kyle’s face. Kyle does, but with a lingering look at their hands, like wedding rings would have suddenly popped up there in the last few seconds.
“You can find a new best friend, right?”
“Honey,” Alex replies, deadpan and sarcastic. “Forget it, okay?”
Michael makes a face, clearly not wanting to do anything of the sort. Alex isn’t so sure that it’ll be so easy for him, either, but it’s crazy. Right? It took them so long to figure out that they were dating, it’s not like they’ve slipped into old comfortable marriage shoes without being open to it. They wouldn’t.
Maybe they need some help forgetting the fact that April Braeman and their friends think that they eloped without telling anyone.
Lucky for them, there’s no way that Isobel would even conceive of an event that didn’t have an open bar.
“Tequila,” Alex insists, even if it makes his stomach turn these days and it’s not like they go out partying or hard-drinking much. Which, kind of sounds like the thing that couples do when they decide to settle down and get married.
It only strengthens his resolve.
“Lots and lots of tequila.”
That turns out to be one shot, followed by Michael pressing a cool bottle of water against his elbow that they share. They spend the night slow-dancing, then Michael tugs Alex into one of the side-closets to make out until Isobel finds them and kicks them out. Funnily enough, it’s that one small, immature moment that Alex is clinging to in the avalanche of other pieces of proof.
He’s not missing the signs. Not this time.
That night, only hours later, it hits Alex that he didn’t just miss the signs, he closed his eyes and wilfully let them pass him with the blind determination of an idiot.
“So,” says Alex, once he’s hung up Michael’s suit and they’ve curled up in bed with their respective books, wearing pajamas, at eleven PM because Alex had started yawning so they had decided to leave the party before things got truly wild, “…I think maybe Kyle’s not wrong about some things.”
He could have ignored things if they had gotten wildly drunk or done something stupid. Maybe if they had actually done something idiotic like dig out the blankets and fuck in the back of the pick-up truck because they couldn’t stop themselves, Alex could have convinced his brain that they haven’t settled down.
Instead, they came home and put away their clothes. They set their alarm, put on the bed-clothes, and started gossiping about their classmates before reading their books.
Maybe they never said ‘I do’, but Alex is pretty sure that’s the behavior of a married couple.
“We never had a wedding,” Michael protests, like that’s the sticking point.
“Did we need to? We settled right into married life,” Alex feels compelled to point out, gesturing between them with disbelief. “You’re wearing pants to bed.” For Michael, that might imply that he’s been brain snatched.
“It’s been a long day,” Michael protests. “Plus, we had that double date brunch with Max and Liz before the reunion since they wanted to talk about the couples wine tour thing and…oh.”
Alex shakes his head as he takes the bookmark from his novel and presses his lips together so Michael can’t see his amused smile. Maybe they’re the last ones to see it, but that doesn’t mean that they get to steal the moment from him. He’s already planning proposals in his head, and he’s got some pretty good ideas.
Michael elbows him, dragging a hiss from Alex. “Ow, fuck, what?”
“I know that face,” Michael accuses. “You can’t propose to me if I beat you to it!”
“Yeah? Watch me.”