Michael takes a long, slow drag off the blunt, passes it back to Maria. They’re in the back of her pickup after last call. This feels… intimate, like it could be the start of something. They’ve gotten closer, these past few months – a little less biting with each other, a little gentler. He knows she has shit on her mind, with her mom. He doesn’t mind listening. Nothing’s happened, not yet. In the past, he wouldn’t have even considered it. Even now, he knows there’s only so close he can get, with anyone, given his… origins. But now that Alex has gone and gotten himself a goddamn husband…
Maria’s phone dings, and she looks at it. Her face lights up. “Yes,” she whispers to herself as she types out a message, smiling.
The phone dings again, and her expression changes quickly. “Oh shit,” she mutters. “Shit, shit…”
Michael frowns. “Everything okay?”
Maria keeps typing, nods her head. “Yeah, everything’s fine, just…” She hits send and refocuses on Michael. “A friend just broke up with his fiancé.”
Michael freezes. Could it be? It would be safer, really, not to say anything, not to pry. But a part of him needs to know if this is Alex. “That sucks,” he says casually.
“Mmm hmm,” Maria says, continuing her texting volley. She’s turned so Michael can’t see the screen. “Damn,” she says, staring at the phone. “They seemed so good together, too.”
“Your friend and his girlfriend?” Michael says, fishing.
Maria looks at him. “Actually, my friend, it’s Alex. I think you met his fiancé a few months back. They stopped by the Pony while you were supposed to be fixing my tap,” she says pointedly. She takes the blunt from Michael, takes a long pull. “I wonder what happened.” She shakes her head. “Alex has been through some shit, some real shit.”
“Yeah,” Michael says softly.
Maria looks at him, a little sharply.
“His, his leg,” Michael says, fumbling. “He had a cane, last I saw him.”
“It was an IED,” Maria says. “I still don’t know why he joined the fucking Air Force in the first place.” She blows out smoke in a long, shaky exhale. “It was his asshole father, probably.”
Michael can’t hold back the little grunt that escapes him.
Maria cocks her head, passes the blunt back to Michael. “Didn’t realize that was common knowledge.”
Michael buys time by sucking in smoke, holding it in his lungs till it burns. He keeps it in too long, starts to cough. But it doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t know if it’s the weed, the smoke inhalation, or just ten years of holding in absolutely everything related to Alex Manes.
He starts to cry.
Really cry, right there in front of Maria DeLuca.
“Michael?” she says, looking alarmed. “Michael!”
“I’m,” he manages between the coughing, the tears. Fuck. “I’m, I’m okay, DeLuca.”
He’s not okay. This is not okay.
“It’s the weed,” he tries to explain.
Maria’s brow is furrowed. She, she looks like she’s studying him. Michael remembers, right then, that she’s supposedly psychic. Well.
“It’s not the weed,” she says, slowly shaking her head. “Michael… were you and Alex ever – “
“No,” he says, much too quickly, and he knows he’s given himself away.
“Oh my god,” Maria says, clapping a hand over her mouth. “It’s you. It’s been you all these years.”
He says nothing.
“He went after you, this last time, didn’t he? You both disappeared. I had to listen to Thomas talk about New England IPAs for twenty minutes and then Alex finally came back, in a horrible mood. I thought Wyatt or Hank might have said something shitty, but it was you he was talking to, wasn’t it?”
“Maria, please,” Michael says, and even he can hear the hurt.
“He’s staying with me, for the reunion,” Maria says. “He’ll be here by morning.”
Michael shakes his head. Has nothing to say to that. Because she doesn’t know what’s gone on between them. How much murky fucking water is under the bridge. Hell, he doesn’t even know if there still is a bridge. He extends his hand, offers her the blunt.
“You keep it,” she says softly. “Think you need that more than me tonight.”
He sleeps in his truck, right in the Pony lot. He tells himself it’s because of the weed, but he knows better. It’s because of Alex.
He wants to see him. Is he upset about his breakup? Relieved?
It’s mid-morning when the Uber pulls up. Alex gets out, with nothing but a small duffel and his cane. Michael watches through the windshield as Alex goes to the back door of the Pony, knocks, and greets Maria with a tight hug.
Michael wonders if he’ll ever get to hug Alex in public. The thought of it makes him swallow hard against the sudden rush of emotion that comes over him. Alex is in town for the reunion. A reunion Isobel has planned, that she’s been trying to convince Michael to attend for months. She’s going to get her wish.
Michael apologizes to Sanders for being late, claims there was an emergency. Sanders doesn’t believe him, but he also doesn’t do much more than complain, albeit loudly. Michael tunes it out, does his work. He should just wait till the reunion. He knows Alex will be there. But he can’t wait. Knows if there’s a chance of seeing Alex, he wants it to be sooner rather than later. So he showers carefully, makes himself a sandwich, puts on his cleanest clothes and heads to the Pony for the night.
Maria sees him as soon as he walks in, inclines her head slightly to the left, where Alex is currently sitting at the bar, a bottle of beer in front of him. Michael takes a deep breath, gathers his courage, and walks up to him.
“This seat taken?”
Alex whirls around, eyes wide. “Michael,” he says.
“In the flesh.”
He sees Alex swallow, watches the bob of his throat as he does. Michael settles himself on the barstool next to Alex.
Maria walks over, raises an eyebrow. “What’ll it be?”
“Beer,” Michael says. “Same as his.”
Alex glances at him, and Maria gives him a nod. “Sure thing.”
Alex is being quiet, too quiet, and Michael isn’t sure what to say. “You in town for the reunion?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Alex says.
“Didn’t really think you were a reunion kind of guy.”
Alex scoffs. “I could say the same for you.” He clears his throat. “You going, Maria?” he calls out.
She saunters over with the beer. “Absolutely. Gotta make that money.” Alex looks confused. “I’m doing palm readings.”
Alex nods. “Should’ve had you give me one of those last time I was here,” he says.
Maria reaches out, pats his arm. “I’ll give you one later. On the house,” she says gently.
“You okay?” Michael asks.
“Do I not seem okay?”
Michael leans back, raises his arms in faux-surrender. “I’m just asking.” He lowers his arms, looks at Alex. “You seem sad, is all.”
Alex sighs deeply, takes a drink. “My fiancé broke up with me.” He gives a wry little laugh. “And you, you called it. All those months ago, Guerin.”
“Yeah. You said he must not know me very well. And he didn’t.” Alex drinks again. “I made damn sure of that.”
“I’m sorry,” Michael says softly.
Alex turns, suddenly. Looks at him sharply. “Are you?”
There’s heat in his gaze, an intensity that’s familiar. Michael makes a decision. “No. Not one fucking bit.”
Alex’s eyes narrow, and he sets his jaw. He leans into Michael’s personal space, gets right near his ear. “I’m crashing on the couch in Maria’s office,” he says, voice low. “Give me a thirty second head start, then meet me there.”
Michael is too astonished to reply as Alex slaps down some cash and gets up from the bar. Michael counts down from thirty in his head, ignoring the way Maria’s eyes are boring holes in him.
He barely makes it into the office before Alex is on him. Michael gasps, and the noise makes Alex stumble back a bit, look down.
“Guerin,” he says. “I… You know what happened to me.”
Michael knows shit, but says nothing.
“And I get it. It’s, it’s a big change. If, if you don’t want to do anything…” Alex looks down, and – oh. That’s what this is about.
Michael shakes his head and reaches out to grab Alex, pull him in close, flush against him. “I want to do everything,” he says.
Alex is half dressed on the couch, his breathing just returning to normal. “Fuck, Michael,” he mutters. “God damn. How do you…?”
“Hey,” Michael says, chancing a kiss to Alex’s shoulder. “It’s a team effort, okay?”
Alex stares at him, almost disbelieving.
There’s a private bathroom in the corner. Michael ducks into it to clean up a bit. Gather his thoughts.
This thing with Alex… this connection. It’s not like this with other people - god knows he’s tried. But he needs it to be different this time. Needs Alex to not just leave, not just keep him sequestered like some painful secret.
“I’m hungry,” he announces as soon as he comes out of the bathroom.
“It’s like 10 pm,” Alex says.
“9:42. Crashdown closes at 10.”
“Michael,” Alex warns.
“You can’t tell me you haven’t missed Arturo’s enchiladas,” Michael says, and he hopes Alex knows this is about more than enchiladas. “It’s late,” he says softly. “No one will see us, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Alex’s shoulders slump. “That’s not…” He swallows. “I mean, before, I know I definitely…” He sighs and it almost seems like he’s… debating something with himself. “I’m sorry,” he finally says, looking up at Michael with big eyes. “I’m sorry I made you think that, all those years. With the way I was. The, the way I acted toward you.”
Michael’s still. Stunned.
Alex clears his throat. “I… I’ve been in therapy, and… I know there’s a lot more we need to say.” He sighs heavily. “I seriously didn’t mean to just roll into town and immediately…” he trails off, gesturing at the wrecked couch.
Michael bites his lip, hard.
Alex peers up at him. “I mean, I’m glad we did. I wanted to. Shit,” he says, wiping a hand tiredly over his face. “It’s hard for me, to talk about… anything.” He pauses. “And I think you know why, better than most.”
Michael does know, hates that he knows. Hates that genetic roulette made Jesse Alex’s father. And even knows, on a deeper level, the way secrets from the past can infect the present. Sabotage the future.
“I’m not just going to leave this time, Michael,” Alex says softly. He must see the uncertainty on Michael’s face, because he grabs his hand. “I promise.” He drops the hand, reaches for his shirt. “But first, let’s get those enchiladas.”
They’re still careful, in public. Not like two people that have just fucked each other stupid. Under normal circumstances, Michael would feel a little guilty, rolling into the Crashdown ten minutes from closing. But these aren’t normal circumstances.
They open the door to the Crashdown and get an immediate reaction. “Alex?!”
“Oh my god, Liz?!” Alex exclaims. They embrace, and Michael sees the genuine happiness and relief on Liz’s face.
“I heard, about your leg,” Liz says. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, well, shit happens,” Alex says, shaking his head. “What brings you back to town? Reunion?”
“Ugh, no. I didn’t even realize that was happening.” She grimaces. “It’s the anniversary.”
“Shit,” Alex mutters, and fuck it all, it is the anniversary. Michael looks down, away from the pain all over Liz’s face. “We, we don’t have to stay, Liz, I know it’s late.”
“No, no, no!” Liz says. “Have a seat. Please. Can you imagine what my father would say if he heard I turned away an American Hero?” she says with a wink.
Alex groans. “Oh god.”
Liz laughs a little. “Have a seat wherever you want.” She looks at Michael. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten you, Michael Guerin.” She raises an eyebrow. “I’m still holding a grudge from AP Chemistry senior year.”
Michael chuckles, and he and Alex settle themselves in a booth in the corner. Away from the windows, Michael notices. Alex is quiet, and he can’t tell if this is… too much for him. On the other hand, Alex was just fucking engaged to another dude…
“I’m glad we ran into each other tonight,” Alex says quietly after they order.
Michael can feel himself relax, just a little. “Yeah. Me too.” Isn’t about to tell Alex it wasn’t exactly a coincidence.
“Truth is, Michael, ever since I ran into you last time I was in town, it, it got me thinking.”
The door opens, and Michael watches as some guy gets the salmon to go. Who the hell comes to the Crashdown and gets fucking salmon?
“What did it get you thinking about, exactly?” Michael asks, a little suggestive.
Alex laughs a little to himself. “I mean… Yeah, I thought about that. Never, um, never totally stopped thinking about that, but after everything, I didn’t really know if that would be an option anymore.”
Michael must look confused, because Alex sighs, looks down. “My leg. My injury.”
“You’re still you, Alex,” Michael says.
“Aaaand, here you go!” Liz says brightly, interrupting them. “Two orders of enchiladas. With chips and queso on the house,” she says with a wink.
“Liz, you didn’t have to – “
“Callate, Alex,” Liz says. “Seriously. Let me feed you. It’s the least I can do, after everything.”
Alex seems to soften a bit. “You weren’t the only one that left, Liz.”
The door opens again. Who the fuck is coming in now?
Liz must feel similarly. “We’re closed!” she calls out, not bothering to look.
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” a man’s voice replies, and fuck it all…
Michael swivels in the booth and sees Max standing in the entrance, in full Deputy gear. They lock eyes briefly.
“I, uh, I just came to tell you your left front running light is out.”
Liz walks toward him. “What?” she asks, wiping her hands on her apron.
“You, uh, you peeled out before I could say anything, but that’s why I stopped you.” He glances over at Michael, then moves closer to Liz. “I’m not one of the bad guys, Liz,” he says, voice low. He seems to realize that Michael’s still watching him, still listening, and he backs up a bit. “Anyway, it was, uh… it was really good to see you.”
“Is that Max Evans?” Alex asks.
“He a cop now?”
“Yup,” Michael says wryly.
“Huh. That’s unexpected.”
Max turns to go, and Michael watches as Liz goes after him. “You want a milkshake?” she asks Max.
“He sure fucking does…” Michael mutters.
“What?” asks Alex.
“It’s just… Max has had a thing for Liz since high school.”
Alex scoffs a little, nods. “I mean, he wasn’t subtle about it, back then. Even when she was with Valenti.”
“Fucking Valenti,” Michael groans.
“I could put a couple shots of bourbon in. Least I can do after I was a total bitch to you,” Liz is telling Max, over by the counter.
Alex raises an eyebrow. “We might not be the only members of the class of ’08 that hook up tonight.”
“Tearing families apart, that is not why I joined the force,” Max is saying.
“You wanted to be a writer,” Liz says, matter-of fact.
Max stares at her, eyes wide. “You remember that?”
“Did not realize we were gonna get a front row seat to this tonight,” Michael whispers.
“No,” Alex replies. He takes a bite of enchilada, sighs happily. “God, how does Arturo do it?”
“No idea,” Michael says, shoving a forkful into his own mouth. This is way more than he usually pays for food, but it feels worth it, sitting here with Alex, watching Max awkwardly flirt with Liz. Feels… feels almost like an alternate universe.
“Oh shit, look at this,” Alex says, nodding in Liz and Max’s direction.
Michael turns in the booth to see Liz handing Max a shake.
“And now I’m here,” she’s saying, “wearing antennae, and, uh… sharing a shake with my high school lab partner.”
Max laughs nervously. “Oh. Are, are we sharing?”
“Oh my god, Max,” Michael mutters.
“Yeah,” Liz says, a small smile on her face.
“You know, I used to… think about what I would say if I ever saw you again,” Max says, looking shyly at Liz.
“I bet he did,” Michael says dryly, and Alex stifles a laugh.
Before Michael can really register what’s happening, Alex is across the table, pushing him down. “Down! Get down!” he’s shouting, and Max is doing the same with Liz.
“Shit!” Michael yells, feeling Alex’s body atop his own, hearing the glass windows shatter at the front of the restaurant. “Shit!”
“You okay?” Alex asks Michael, body tense.
“Yeah, yeah Alex. I’m fine. Are you okay?”
Alex nods. “I’m okay.”
Michael feels Max. “Oh fuck.” He can feel the dread, the fear. “Oh my god,” he mutters. “Alex. Alex, get up. I, I think… I think Liz…”
The lights are flickering, buzzing, then finally exploding. “Holy shit!” Alex says, looking up. It gives Michael a chance to disentangle from Alex, rush over to Max.
Max, who has his hands on Liz.
Max, who is healing Liz.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Michael hisses. Even in the darkness, he can see the dark puddle of blood on the floor.
“She was shot,” Max grits out. “She was dying.”
“Fuck!” Michael cries. He watches as Liz begins to cough, as Alex begins to stand up, look their way.
“Max…” he says, and Max just looks at him.
“You can’t… you cannot tell me you’d have done anything differently. If it was him,” Max says, grim-faced.
And that shuts Michael right up.
Max’s attention is fully on Liz now. “It’s okay. It’s just… I’m here.”
Liz is trying to sit up, clutching at her chest. “I was shot?” She looks around at Max, at Michael. “I was shot?”
“No, no,” Max says quickly, supporting her with his arm. “No, it’s, it’s just ketchup.”
“It’s not fucking ketchup,” Alex says, leaning heavily on his crutch, face stony. “This is blood.”
“It’s not,” Max insists.
“I did three fucking combat tours, Max. I know what blood looks like. And fucking smells like, my god.”
Max is biting his lip and staring at Alex. Turns away quickly to look at Liz. “Please… tell me. Tell me. Tell me you’re alright,” he pleads.
She locks eyes with him. “I’m all right,” she says, gripping his arm. “I’m all right.”
“How?” Alex asks, voice cold. “How is she all right, Max?”
“I’ve gotta go,” Max says, shaking his head. “The shooter’s still out there!”
“Not till you tell us what happened,” Alex says.
“Alex,” Michael says, touching his arm.
“No!” Alex says angrily, shaking off the touch. “I know what I saw. Michael,” he says, “come on. I mean, you’re seeing this too, right? This is blood! There’s a hole in her fucking uniform. Do not tell me you’re not seeing this?”
Max glares at Michael, and Michael can do nothing but close his eyes, take a deep breath. “You’re right, Alex,” he says, voice surprisingly steady. He looks down. “Liz, you were shot.”
“Then how…?” she says, putting her finger through the bullet hole in her uniform.
Max is staring at him, shaking his head. “Michael, don’t.”
“Max healed you, Liz.”
Alex has moved in front of Liz, using his body like a shield. “Tell me how.”
And it’s not like Michael hasn’t thought about this. Maybe… maybe even fantasized about it, from time to time. The big reveal, the ultimate unburdening. It’s always Alex, who he tells. Alex who looks at him with love, understanding.
He never pictured it like this. Bloody.
“He did it the same way I can do this,” Michael says. Without warning, Max’s hat and Liz’s antennae float off their heads. Switch places.