"I got too high again
Realized I can't not be with you
Or be just your friend
I love you to death
But I just can't, I just can't pretend
We were lovers first
Confidants but never friends
Were we ever friends?...
'Cause I'm past the limits
The distance between us
It sharpens me like a knife..."
It had been three weeks since either he or Maria had seen Alex. Three weeks since Alex had walked away the morning after it happened. He knew Alex was avoiding them. They’d gotten second hand reports from Liz, Max, Isobel and Kyle that he was doing fine and seeing Forrest Long. That part had shocked him. It seems everyone was tangled in one big incestuous alien mess going back generations, including, unfortunately, the DeLuca’s.
But when he walked into the Crashdown right after a Sunday afternoon lunch rush, his hand on Maria’s lower back, guiding her into the restaurant, he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Alex standing at the front counter, talking to Liz. Maria, confused by his sudden halt, looked up to his face, then over to the spot where he was staring.
“Hey” she said, grabbing his attention back with a gentle hand on his arm and a soft tone in her voice. “We should talk to him.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea DeLuca” he responded quietly, subconsciously trying to keep from drawing attention to them where they stood in the doorway, blocking hangry stragglers coming for a late lunch, like themselves.
“It’s gonna have to happen sooner or later. At least this way, there are witnesses” she said with a lilt in her voice as if she was trying to lighten the mood. He grinned a little half grin, trying to follow her lead but in no way feeling lighthearted.
They made their way over to the counter. As they approached, they heard Liz say something that made Alex laugh as he handed over his signed receipt and threw a fiver in the tip jar.
“Hey guys” Maria said, cautiously optimistic.
Both Liz and Alex’s heads swiveled to look at them. Liz’s smile stayed while greeting them. Michael couldn’t help but notice the smile immediately left Alex’s face. He couldn’t bear to see the look of disappointment and sadness replace the happiness and he had to look away.
Alex broke the awkward silence first “Um, I’m just gonna go. Liz, I’ll see you later okay?”
Liz began to nod her head, a look of sympathetic understanding on her face as Alex started to turn away, but Maria spoke up, her hand reaching out to rest on Alex’s forearm. Michael watched Alex survey the hand on his arm, seemingly deciding if he was going to allow it to stay there. Maria withdrew it before Alex could voice his preference. “Can we talk?” she asked tentatively.
Michael’s breath caught in his lungs as Alex’s gaze met his as he reluctantly capitulated. “Sure. But I can’t stay long. Forrest’s waiting for me.” He nodded over to a booth to his right where Forrest sat, looking at them, concern etched on his face. Forrest put his hand up and gave a small smile and wave of acknowledgement and Maria waved back with her own sweet small smile. The gestures seemed to be an acknowledgment and understanding that they were each interested in two people with a very long and complicated history. Michael could only nod to him, afraid anything else would cause the lump quickly forming in his chest to crush him. He hadn’t even seen him while coming in because of his Alex tunnel vision.
Liz, who looked extremely uncomfortable, discreetly cleared her throat before saying “I’m just gonna…” Then she pointed to the kitchen and backed away until she was far away from the emotional shit show.
Alex, Michael and Maria watched Liz as she left. When she was gone, Michael broke the ice.
“...So, how’ve you been?” he asked weakly, turning his gaze back to Alex’s face. His stomach turned to rocks as Alex put on a brave face.
Awkward silence again as he didn’t elaborate.
Maria tried to pick up the conversation “Uh, the Pony is having Karaoke Night this Friday. I was hoping you’d come by...maybe sing some songs?”
Alex began to open his mouth, clearly a “no” written all over his face, when she cut him off “You could bring Forrest.” Michael’s blood boiled in unfair jealousy, but before he could muster up the nerve to encourage what Maria just suggested, Alex put everything on the table.
“I need space okay?” Michael noted just how tired Alex sounded and he felt the familiar and biological urge to pull him into a hug. It took everything he had to resist.
Maria began “Alex…” Michael didn’t know what she was going to say, but he was letting her do all the talking. He didn’t trust himself not to inadvertently say something hurtful to either of them.
Before he could find out what Maria was going to say though, Alex cut her off. Unshed tears pooled in his brown eyes as the damn finally broke and he started saying everything he always wanted to say, but never could.
He looked directly at Maria. “I love you. Always will.” Then his gaze locked on Michael’s eyes, intense and soul baring. “And you Michael…” Michael’s heartbeat sped up tenfold, dreading hearing Alex tell him how much he hated him.
“I love you more than you will ever know. Just the thought of you saved my life more times than I can count." The rocks in Michael’s stomach multiplied as Alex continued his emotional purge.
“You were my home, the both of you.” His eyes flickered between them as he confessed, but then they focused on Michael before continuing. “But you looked away, and now I have to do the same.
Michael didn’t notice the confusion on Maria’s face as tears sprang into his own eyes at this. He began again “Alex…” in an attempt to what? Comfort the man he loved after dumping him for his best friend? He stopped short as he realized nothing he could say could ever make it better.
Alex once again spared them a glance before continuing. “I get it. I do. I walked away too many times; let you push me away too many times. I can’t apologize enough for hurting you the way I have.”
Michael swallowed the lump stuck in his throat. Even in this terrible situation, they were on the same wavelength. “But I can start with this” he continued. “With letting you go.” And even though he’d told Alex over and over they needed to let this thing between them go, the thought that Alex would actually do it crushed him. Which was completely unfair of him, he knew.
Then a tear spilled down Alex’s cheek as his face scrunched up, like he was gathering the bravery to say what was next. “I tried, you know? I really tried to be friends with you.” He looked back and forth between them, his voice quivering as he spoke next. “These past few months, I tried to have conversations, and spend time building a friendship, knowing you two were together.”
He focused up on Michael again. “I meant what I said that night by the fire. I won’t be another person, another Manes, who stands in the way of your happiness…”
Here, Michael watched his glassy gaze drift to the floor like he was lost in a memory, then he quietly spoke again.
“But then that night happened.”
Michael and Maria both looked down in shame.
“And...it just sent me all the way back to the start.” Alex smacked his lips as if what he’d just said was unavoidable. “Touching you again, kissing you, holding you. It just…” He sighed in resignation. “It just reminded me of everything I lost and won’t ever have again.” He sniffled and Michael suppressed the instinct to pull Alex to him. From the slight twitch from Maria, she also pushed down the same instinct. They had no right to offer comfort to Alex anymore.
Then, as if regaining focus, Alex’s eyes cleared, and he held his head high while he looked at them.
“Maybe one day, things will be different, but not right now. So, here’s the deal. I’ll be there for any emergencies,” before whispering “alien” and then returning to his usual volume to say “or otherwise. I stayed in the Air Force because I still have work to do, trying to undo all the bad my father did. Guerin, I promised you I would help with anything you needed in that regard and the promise is still good. And Maria, now that we know what happened to your family, I promise you the same thing. If you need me, really really need me, I’ll be there...otherwise, please leave me alone.”
Michael could feel warm tears on his cheeks, could see the same on Maria’s brown skin as Alex once again, made brief eye contact with each of them before saying “I love you” and walked away. He thought he was used to it, Alex walking away from him, but he never would be.
And then Michael watched, standing in the Crashdown after the Sunday lunch rush, as Alex walked away from him and into Forrest’s waiting arms. He watched as Forrest got to do what he’d wanted to do since he saw Alex at the counter. He squeezed Alex tight, whispered something in his ear that made Alex huff out a laugh, a successful attempt to stop his tears, then wipe those tears away with the pad of his thumb and kiss his forehead.
Michael watched with utter sorrow as Alex walked out of the diner with Forrest’s palm on his lower back.
Oh God, what had he done?