Alex had never felt so shitty and so content at the same time.
He raised his hand that was cupped with water, letting it pour over Michael’s bare chest. The man was deadweight against Alex after having fallen asleep sometime shortly after the beginning of their bath. He was breathing slow and steady, a direct contradiction to the tear tracks on his splotchy cheeks. Alex wasn’t really sure what had caused the crying, all he knew was Michael had shown up at his doorstep in the middle of a storm. He was sobbing and shivering and soaking wet, so Alex pulled him inside without a thought.
“I’ve got you,” Alex whispered, keeping himself from covering him in kisses. He wanted to. Badly. That’s all he wanted. However, he didn’t know if he was allowed. He wasn’t really sure what was happening.
Michael had clutched onto him, sobbing incoherently in between the word ‘ Alex ’ over and over. Alex had hugged him and tried his best to make it go away, to make whatever was hurting him leave. When that didn’t work, Alex had whispered sweet nothings to him that was usually saved for when day turned to night and defensively rough sex turned into something a lot more personal. Still, that hadn’t worked, so Alex asked what he needed and all he got in response was ‘ Alex’. So he brought him to the bathroom.
For all he knew, Michael was still in a relationship with Maria. They could’ve broken up and that could’ve caused the crying, but this didn’t seem like an end-of-relationship breakdown. So they could still be together and this could’ve been triggered by something else entirely. Was this just a long time coming? Did something new happen? Was Isobel okay? Was Liz okay? He didn’t have answers and he didn’t really want to ask. It was easier to be in this bubble of them that he hadn’t gotten in years. Not really, not entirely, not purely.
This was pure.
Buffy’s feet tapped against the tile as she waddled in, staring at them with her naturally judgy eyes. Alex wanted to say ‘what? I’m not doing anything wrong,’ but the truth was he could be doing something wrong, he just hadn’t gotten confirmation and was choosing to be ignorant. Because, if Michael and Maria were still together, this was something wrong. Even though it wasn’t sexual, even though it wasn’t even romantic, it was something intimate. If Michael was Alex’s and Alex found out he went to someone else and took a bath with them to calm down, he would be furious.
He didn’t feel as bad as he should’ve.
“Four years ago, I thought I was never going to see you again,” Alex whispered, pushing a wet hand through Michael’s hair. It was already wet with a mix of sweat and rainwater, so Alex cupped more water in his hands and brought it to his hair. “We had gotten in a fight and you told me that if I planned on leaving again, there was no point in coming back. But I had to leave because I was still in the Air Force and I wasn’t about to get arrested because I didn’t want to leave your bed, so I let you push me away. Maybe some part of me wanted you to.”
Michael moaned low in his throat as Alex began working the shampoo into his hair. He had no idea if he was even awake or not, but he kept on. He’d already fucked up today, might as well revel in it.
“I love you,” Alex said, softer than before, “Even if you don’t love me and even if you don’t want me to love you, I can’t help it. You are in my veins, Michael. No matter what, I am yours. And I’m so sorry about it. I wish I could be someone that you wanted.”
Michael took in a heavy breath through his nose and shifted, laying on his side with his head tucked over Alex’s heart. Alex resisted the urge to kiss his head and poured more water on it instead.
Buffy huffed at him, waddling back out as if she couldn’t even take his shit right now. It was a valid feeling to have. The logical part of Alex’s brain could barely deal with him right now, he was stuck. And, God, he wanted to be stuck.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Alex went on, making sure he got all the soap out of his hair before reaching for the conditioner, “But I hope you know you can tell me. Maybe I can help. Or, even if you don’t want to, I’m still here. You don’t need to explain yourself to me.”
He got every inch of Michael’s hair, being extra careful about the side that was pressed to his chest. He didn’t want him to move. When he got it all covered in conditioner, he just stared at him for a moment. And when that didn’t feel satisfying enough, he wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tightly.
“I’ve got you,” he promised, “You’re safe.”
Alex felt the last of the tension fall from Michael’s shoulders.
Getting Michael to bed was a great feat that left Alex feeling sore and out of breath.
He had to wake him up so he could get out of the bath, but being conscious only seemed to reignite the panic in his system and he ended up crying on the floor of the bathroom. Which meant Alex had to listen to it as he dried off as quickly as possible and put on his prosthetic even when he really didn’t want to. But, he did it and dried Michael off before bringing him to bed.
He took a moment to breathe before he dressed them both in nothing but boxers, too worn out to do anything else. Then he took his leg back off and sat on the bed where Michael was crying helplessly into the comforter, his whole body balled up and shaking.
“I hope you’re okay,” Alex whispered, staring at him uneasily. This was too much. He should’ve just let him sleep in the bath.
Alex crawled into bed and grabbed the blanket, engulfing Michael and himself in it. He wrapped Michael up in his arms and held him as tightly as he could. Michael’s face stayed tucked under his chin with his cheek against his heart, wrapped up in him. Again, Alex felt the moment he relaxed. It took weaving his hands through his wet hair and taking steady breaths that Michael unconsciously matched.
“I’ve got you, love.”
Alex stayed awake for another hour or so and Buffy decided she could stand him enough to come climb onto the foot of the bed. It was well past 3 in the morning and things were finally calm which allowed Alex to dose off with the love of his life in his arms.
He couldn’t have been asleep long when Michael woke him up again.
Michael was suddenly aware again, sitting up slow and confused as he looked around the room. Alex rubbed his eyes and gave him an encouraging smile. He wanted so badly to go back to sleep, but he could stay awake to make sure he was alright.
“Alex?” Michael said, voice clear like he hadn’t been sobbing for hours, “What the hell is going on?”
Michael looked almost offended, clearly irritated to find himself, not in his girlfriend’s bed, but in his ex’s. That woke Alex right up, sitting up sharply.
“Why am I here?” Michael demanded. Alex furrowed his eyebrows and stared at him. He just roughly got out of bed. “Where are my clothes? What the fuck happened, Alex?”
“Do you not remember?” Alex asked carefully. Michael scoffed.
“Obviously not. Last thing I remember was I had a date with Maria and then it started storming and suddenly I wake up half-naked in your bed,” Michael said, still searching for his clothes. Alex felt sick as he paused and looked at him accusatorily. “Did anything happened?”
Alex gulped and his stomach dropped. He pulled the blanket up over his chest, feeling vulnerable and out of place and angry. All he’d done is taken care of someone he loved who needed him and now he was being judged for it.
“No,” Alex said softly.
“Good,” Michael said, “Where are my clothes?”
“Bathroom,” Alex answered. Michael stormed that way and came out fully clothed.
“Do not tell anyone about this,” Michael all but threatened and then he was gone.
Alex sat frozen for a few minutes, trying to process what had just happened. No processing seemed to make sense. Did Michael simply lose hours of his night to crying to Alex? Did he drive when he wasn’t all there? Regardless, something about it all left Alex feeling horrible and dirty.
He laid down and tried to blink whatever tears that came away. Buffy crawled up beside him, cuddling up and trying to provide the comfort that Michael had. It didn’t really work, but he appreciated the effort.
He just couldn’t figure out what happened.
Two weeks passed and Alex hadn’t heard from anyone about anything. Michael never called, Maria never freaked. It was radio silence. He felt it was for the best and tried to forget about it. He was almost successful too.
It wasn’t until he heard a crack of thunder and a familiar panicked knocking on the door that made it clear that he couldn’t forget. Alex tried to ignore it and tried to be the bigger person. He still hadn’t been able to shake how wrong and dirty he’d felt when Michael had left the last time‒he refused to make it worse. He wasn’t going to answer the door.
“Alex,” Michael’s voice called, panicked and scared and desperate and thick with tears, “Alex!”
Alex clenched his fists in his lap, squeezing his eyes shut and tried to breathe. Buffy whined and nudged his leg, pawing at him. He didn’t know if she was trying to tell him to calm down or to go to Michael.
“Alex! Alex! Alex!” Michael screamed, sobbing as he banged against the door. Alex could hear the horrible sounds of him crying.
“What do I do?” Alex whispered to no one in particular. He needed help. He couldn’t do this alone.
Buffy ran to the door in response, pawing at it and howling in response to Michael’s cries. That felt like all the help he was going to get.
Slowly, Alex went to the door. When he opened it, he found Michael in the same state as he had three weeks prior. He was soaking wet and sobbing and instantly clung to Alex like it was the only thing he could.
“Alex,” he whimpered. Alex had no choice but to hold him right back. He couldn’t just let Michael cry. He couldn’t do it.
Rather than make the mistake of stripping him out of his wet clothes again, Alex simply fetched a towel and wrapped around him. He placed them on the couch instead of the bed. He let Michael curl into him, but he didn’t initiate anything. He refused to do something wrong again. He refused.
Michael was shivering in his towel, head in Alex’s lap. Alex simply ran his fingers through his hair and tried to tell himself that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. This was fine. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“You can’t do this to me again,” Alex told him, “You can’t just come here… You can’t just need me.”
Michael, of course, didn’t respond. Instead of stressing, Alex continued to run his fingers through his hair and try to keep him warm as the crying persisted. The crying only died down when Michael fell asleep, even then letting out small little whimpers. Alex wanted to hold him until every single thing that had ever bothered him went away. He wanted so, so badly to will it all away.
But he was terrified.
This time, he didn’t sleep. Instead, he stayed still until Michael jolted up and looked around. Just like last time, he was disoriented.
“What the fuck? Why am I here?” he grumbled to himself. His eyebrows were furrowed as he bowed his head, staring at the ground in confusion. Alex said nothing. “Alex, what is going on?”
“I don’t know,” Alex said coldly. That awful feeling he got from last time rushed through his body again. This was wrong. He was horrible. This was inappropriate.
“Alex, I’m losing time,” Michael said, turning to face him. He wasn’t insulted like before which was good. “Second time in two weeks. I don’t remember coming here.”
“I didn’t touch you, you don’t need to worry.”
Michael scoffed and shook his head, standing up and dropping the towel. He stared at Alex, eyes angry just like last time. Alex did all he could to be respectful and, again, he felt horrible. He wanted to curl up and take a shower all at the same time. He was dirty. Bad. Wrong.
“Do you even care about anything but yourself, Alex? Saving your own ass? I’m losing time and all you’re going to do is say that you didn’t touch me? I can’t remember anything!” Michael spat at him, angry at something, someone, and turning it onto Alex.
Alex wasn’t stupid. He knew it was unwarranted. He knew not to take it to heart. And it still felt like a blow to the stomach.
“What do you want me to do? Tell you what happened? You showed up and screamed my name until I let you in. Then you cried yourself to sleep. That’s it, that’s where your time went,” Alex explained, hoping it would make him leave. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand him staring at him like that. All angry and disgusted.
“Just… leave me alone, Alex,” Michael insisted, storming towards the door with his squeaky shoes.
“And what if you come back to lose time here again?” Alex called. The squeaking stopped.
“Don’t let me.”
Alex waited until the door slammed before bringing his knees to his chest and letting his tears fall.
“You need to go!”
“No! I’m not doing this!” Alex yelled. Michael dramatically dropped to his knees, crying and latching onto Alex’s thighs with his head on his stomach. Alex used the door frame to hold himself up, looking up in hopes someone would save him.
“Alex,” Michael begged, holding onto him tightly. Alex peeled him off and then dragged him inside, tossing him onto the couch unceremoniously. Michael reached out to him in desperation.
“We are not doing this again,” Alex said, “Stay on the couch. You can leave when you wake up from whatever this is.”
He knew Michael wouldn’t remember any of this. Right now, he was losing time and losing his mind. Something was wrong, but coherent Michael had asked him to leave him alone. He was doing his best to listen.
Alex didn’t sleep that night. Something about listening to the man he loved wailing for him kept him up.
Sometime around four in the morning, the wailing stopped. Another hour passed before Alex heard knocking on his bedroom door. He didn’t answer.
“Alex?” Michael asked, voice hoarse from the hours and hours of scream-sobbing. Alex didn’t say anything, staying curled up with Buffy and chewing on his thumb. It was worn down entirely. “Alex, can we talk? I know you’re awake. We need to talk.”
“Come in,” Alex said without his own permission. He was tired and worn down from listening to him cry for hours. He just wanted this to stop. He couldn’t take it.
The door creaked open and Michael slowly walked inside, arms crossed as he stood in front of the bed. He smelled like the rain that had coated his skin. He looked pitiful. Alex didn’t sit up, instead cuddling Buffy closer and peering over her to see him.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Michael said weakly, “But it has something to do with you.”
“Me?” Alex echoed, not even trying to hide how much that hurt. All he’d done recently was hurt, hurt worse than he’d ever hurt in his life.
“I keep coming to you. I blackout and I come here every single time. That has to mean something,” Michael said. Alex took a deep breath.
“It happens every time it storms.”
“You think that has something to do with it?” Michael clarified. Alex shrugged. “Why would the weather have something to do with it?”
“Has something bad ever happened during a storm?”
Michael scoffed, “I mean, I lost Max. But, still, that was afterward.”
Alex let go of Buffy and slowly sat up. He was slowly but surely piecing things together. Well, some things. “Thunder can sound awfully similar to an explosion.”
Michael wrapped his arms tighter around himself. “What are you saying?”
“Some people when their PTSD is triggered, their mind will go somewhere else to protect itself. Maybe that’s what’s happening,” Alex offered, “Maybe you’re being reminded of Caulfield or losing Max or both. I don’t know. It just sounds like it might be a possibility.”
Michael swallowed and bowed his head, huffing a laugh. It slipped into a shuddering breath as he curled into himself. Alex longed to reach out and comfort him, but he didn’t. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard. He was so scared to fuck up.
“Okay, okay, so I’m dissociating,” Michael said, nodding, “How do I stop?”
“I don’t know. Therapy, I guess,” Alex said, “But that won’t necessarily stop it. It might just help.”
“So, what, I’m gonna continue losing my fucking mind every time I hear thunder?” Michael asked. Alex licked his lips and didn’t answer. What was he supposed to do? He couldn’t fix this. He couldn’t magically fucking cure PTSD.
“I don’t know,” Alex said.
“Why you, then? Why am I coming to you? What’s so special about you?” Michael asked. Alex squeezed his eyes shut and looked away, his whole body aching in response. What’s so special about you? “Alex, wait, I‒”
“I don’t know how to help you. If you need me to throw you on my couch every time you come here, I’ll do it. I’ll do what you want, just stop fucking saying shit like that to me,” Alex snapped. He couldn’t take it. He felt like a dick for being rude to someone who wasn’t okay, but fuck. He’d had enough. “You keep acting like I don’t have feelings. You always act like that! Ever since we were 17, you act like I can’t be hurt by you! You act like what you say doesn’t matter, but it does! Do you not understand how badly it hurts to hear you act like I’m scum? How horrible I feel whenever I take care of you and then get punished for it? Do you know how many days I have spent disgusted with myself for the way you looked at me? I’m trying my best and I…”
“I’m sorry,” Michael said, voice weak, “I’ve been taking it out on you, but I’ve just been‒”
“You love that word, ’but’,” Alex pointed out, “I’m sorry, but. I know you’re hurting, but. I really love you, but. That erases everything, you know. Nothing’s ever your fault.”
“Just go,” Alex said, looking over at him, “I’ll be here when you’re dissociating, but you can go otherwise.”
Silence. Michael opened and closed his mouth multiple times. He never said anything.
And he was gone.
There was a 98% chance of a thunderstorm.
The sky turned gray. The air got muggy. Alex went home early. There was a knock at the door before the thunder even began.
“I figured out why I come to you,” Michael said whenever Alex opened the door. He was coherent for now. “It’s because I wanted you then. When things got bad for me, I wanted you. My subconscious is now just… forcing me to go to you.”
“Okay,” Alex said. Michael took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” he began, “I’ve been reading about everything and trying to work through it without having to go to a therapist and tell them I’m a freak of nature, and my first step is telling you I’m sorry. I’ve been horrible to you and everyone else. You’re right, I always blame other people and I am so sorry. I’m going to work on that.”
Alex gulped and nodded, “Good. Thank you.”
“And I’m not going to say ‘but’ anymore. You’re right about that too.”
“And I broke up with Maria,” Michael stated which felt like it didn’t fit the rest of the conversation and Alex furrowed his eyebrows. “I was hurting the both of you and myself, so I think it was for the best. Obviously I still want you.” Alex’s eyes went wide. “Not like that. Well, actually, yes, like that, just not right now. I want… I want to be a better person before I can even try to be with another person.”
“Good for you,” Alex said, “I’m proud of you.”
Then they stood, staring at each other in silence that was awkward. Things were never awkward between them and suddenly…
“What are you waiting for?” Alex asked. Michael just folded his lips in. “Are you waiting for forgiveness? Because I’m not ready to give that to you just yet. You hurt me badly.”
Michael grimaced, but softly said, “No, I don’t expect you to forgive me. I would really, really appreciate it if you could give me the opportunity to make it up to you, though.”
“How do you plan to make it up to me?” Alex wondered. Michael quirked the smallest little smile.
“Just time with you. Showing you that I’m trying to change. And if you don’t want to be alone with me, that’s fine. And at any point you can tell me to stop and I will. Just… please give me a chance,” Michael begged. A loud crack of thunder sounded overhead and Michael visibly flinched. Alex’s heart went out to him involuntarily.
“Okay, you can try to make it up to me,” Alex agreed. Michael gave him a thankful smile. “Do you want to come in? You know, since you might just be coming right back here anyways.”
“Thank you,” Michael said, stepping inside.
They both sat on the couch and waited. Michael took slow, regulated breaths and Alex silently praised him for it. It was better than nothing. The night went on and Michael never seemed to slip away completely, though his hands were shaky and he got a headache from hell. Alex sat with him through it and they spoke about anything except for the negativities. They spoke until the storm quieted down.
It felt like a successful night.
“You can sleep on the couch, if you want,” Alex told him, “Just come get me if you need me.”
As soon as Alex started making his way towards the hallway, Michael added one last thing.
“Alex,” he said, “You never did anything wrong those last few times. The fact that I made you feel guilty and dirty for being good to me when you had no idea what was happening makes me sick to my stomach. I am so, so sorry. I can’t ever repay you for what you did for me.”
Alex paused and took a deep breath. It was the first real breath he’d taken in a while that would actually go deep. It felt good.