Can't Swallow Our Pride

This is a supplemental chapter for the Battlefield series of fics. This chapter expands on the wedding-planning-related conflict between Alex and John mentioned in Chapter Four.

(Angst warning, obviously.)

It is recommended that you read the chapters in order.

Alex sighs heavily as he sits down next to John, and John resists the urge to put an arm around him. He's pretty sure that wouldn't help right now.

"I... don't like that you're springing this on me, John."

John frowns. "We're literally starting to plan our wedding. This is one of the first things to discuss in that process."

"I thought we'd agreed," Alex says, looking at John with no small amount of annoyance now. "I said I wanted a small wedding. You said you wanted a small wedding. This," he gestures at the papers in front of him, "is not a small wedding!"

"This is... bigger than I would maybe prefer," John admits. "But this is already a compromise with my mother."

Alex is glaring at him now. "Why the fuck is your mother involved in our wedding planning?"

John sighs and rubs his forehead. "Alex. I..."

"No." Alex stands and starts pacing. "This is for show, isn't it? For appearances. Your mother needs this big spectacle of a wedding for whatever stupid reason. Your parents want to invite all your family friends and show off how rich they are."

John doesn't want to admit that Alex has nailed it. "They're also paying for almost everything. I can't just tell them no."

"That's exactly what you can do," Alex says, stopping and glaring him again. "You know I don't like feeling... indebted. This is our wedding! You're saying it's strings-attached money. I don't want it. I don't want them holding this over us for the rest of our lives."

"They wouldn't," John says, and Alex throws up his hands.

"That's not the point!"

"If you loved me, you would do this for me," John says, trying to keep his expression neutral. He doesn't mean to play that card, but he's honestly desperate at this point.

"Ohhhh no," Alex says, a maniacal grin on his face. "No no no. You do not get to do that to me, John. Fuck no. Fuck you."

"Alex..." John's pleading now. "Please. Don't make me choose between you and her. You would win. And I..."

"If I would win, why the fuck are we still arguing about this?!" Alex spits "I'm not a fucking show dog for your family to parade in front of all of their friends!"

"Alexander," John starts.

"Calhoun," Alex counters, staring daggers, and John freezes. No one had ever weaponized his name against him like that before.

He hadn't expected how much it would hurt.

"I... can't be here right now," he says, fumbling for his coat through suddenly-blurry vision and heading for the door. He doesn't look back.

He sets himself up in a hotel room, and -- when it becomes clear that the two of them aren't speaking -- buys some clothing and necessities for a few days. He wants to leave their shared space for Alex, hoping it would be a gesture of peace somehow.

He does text Alex though to ask him to take care of Roberta, and the terse im so glad you think i wouldnt at least eases his concerns on that front.

He honestly doesn't know what he'd do without Alex, and finds himself yearning for him every night in a quiet hotel room with its cold and empty bed. But every time he thinks of Alex, all he can remember is the anger in his eyes, and the way he'd felt when Alex had taken a very personal admission and weaponized it against him.

It still hurts.

As the week passes, and the two of them still don't talk, he starts to think about how to unwind their lives together. He finds that he's thankful that Alex had agreed -- after much convincing -- to put his name on the apartment deed, and that removing his own name would be easier than trying to switch it over. Roberta and his other items could be retrieved without too much hassle. He could move back into his old place. It'd been sitting empty ever since he and Alex had moved in together.

But thinking about it just makes him sad, overriding the hurt that he'd been feeling. He doesn't care anymore that Alex had lashed out in a fit of anger. He just wants Alex back, as increasingly unlikely as that looked.

He's starting to leave the office on Friday when Patrick stops by his desk.

"Hey," John says. "Sorry. I was... just leaving."

"Your fiance is an idiot," Patrick says, and John feels a brief flutter of hope at that.

"I didn't think that h..." John starts before cutting himself off. He's going to hold onto that feeling that things aren't over between them. "As you've said before, we both are."

"Yeah, well. He doesn't think you'll ever forgive him, so he sent me to ask if you wanted your ring back."

John frowns. "I..."

Patrick shakes his head. "Don't involve me in this, dude. This is your mess. But he's still at his desk. Go talk to him."

Then he's gone, and John stares after him only for a second before practically sprinting to Alex's desk.

Alex is sitting there, staring at a blank computer screen, and in contrast to the general indifference that had been on Alex's face when he'd seen him earlier in the week, Alex now looks miserable.

"Hey," John tries, and Alex visibly jumps.

He turns and looks at John for a second before speaking. "You're not Patrick."

"That's... true," John says, unsure how to proceed. He watches Alex twist the ring off his finger and hold it in his direction, and tries to ignore the way his stomach suddenly feels twisted at it.

"This... should probably be yours," Alex says, breaking their gaze and staring off into space instead.

John shakes his head, and swallows the knot in his throat. "Unless you're telling me you want to break up, you put that right back on your finger, Alexander Collins."

Alex seems surprised by that response, looking at John again. "But I..."

"Yes or no," John says, trying to focus on the small bit of hope instead of the increasingly desperate feeling inside of him. "Do you want to break up?"

A tear runs down Alex's cheek, and he paws at it. But he pulls back his hand, and John can feel his chest start to untighten. "No."

"I don't want to either," John says, grabbing a nearby chair and sitting at what he hopes is a respectful distance. "Let's talk."

"I... didn't think you'd ever forgive me," Alex says, crying more fully now.

John fights against his instincts, but only for a moment. He stands, grabbing Alex, holding Alex's face against his front. "Shhh. It's okay. Let it out."

Alex wraps his arms around him and sobs, and John rubs gentle reassurances into his hair and shoulders until the crying has turned to sporadic sniffling, and it feels safe enough to continue.

"I saw... your face," Alex says, peeking up at John. "You were... devastated. Like... I betrayed you. And I... I guess I did. And then whenever... I saw you around... I remembered. I was just so... so ashamed."

"I'm not going to lie," John says. "No one has ever hurt me that much before. But!" he adds, when it looks like Alex is going to say something else. "I seem to remember being the world's biggest asshole to you when we first met." He hadn't come up with it until just now, but he thinks it's a fair point anyway.

"That's not... that's not the same," Alex says, but John shakes his head.

"Alex. I made you miserable. For over half a year. I... don't want to say we're even, but maybe karma is a thing, and I deserved a bit of this."

"Still not the same," Alex says. "But I... thank you."

"Then you're forgiven," John says.

Alex nods. "Okay. I still don't... I... okay." He pauses. "Come home?"

"I'll be there tonight." John's pretty sure Alex can heart the immense relief he feels.

"And we should... we should talk then."

John follows his gaze to see Stephanie peeking around a corner at them. She grins, waves, and disappears, and John can't help but laugh.

"We should," he agrees. "And I think we've given the office gossip mill fodder for the next month or two."

A hint of a smile appears on Alex's lips, and he nods. "I'll... see you at home."

"I'll see you at home," John says, watching Alex slip the ring back on his finger, and letting the last bits of worry fall away from him.

Things would be okay.

"I don't care about the wedding," Alex says, his voice slightly muffled in John's hair. They hadn't intended to jump immediately into bed when John had returned, but they'd both been feeling the need.

And not just because it had been over a week.

"Alex..." John starts, but Alex shakes his head.

"No. What's important is you. And that I'm marrying you. I'll do the stupid big blowout wedding. Whatever... whatever your mom needs me to do."

John shifts so he can see Alex's face. "Hey. I don't want you to ignore your feelings just because you... regret our fight, or something."

"It's not just that," Alex says, looking briefly upset. "I... I was thinking over my reaction and this is... this is always my reaction."

"And it's one of the things I love about you," John says. "Both the unabashed honesty and the discomfort with extravagance. Two of the things I love about you."

Alex shakes his head. "But I... it's also one of the places where I never compromise. And what's a relationship without compromise? It's... not fair of me to get my way all the time."

"Alex," John says. "Don't change for my sake."

"I... I also want to have a good relationship with your family," Alex says. "And you told me once that... events like this were important to them. And to your mom, especially."

John nods. "Appearances are important to her. Which, honestly, isn't unique to just her in that 'half' of my life. But you were right, too. This is our wedding. Not hers."

"No," Alex says. "I'm... marrying you, but the wedding isn't for us, right? It's for our friends and family... and that means your family. If that's what we need to do to keep the peace with your mom, then it's time for me to compromise."

"Can I propose something else?" John asks, and he continues when Alex nods. "Let's get married first. Something just for us, and maybe our parents and siblings. Courthouse, dinner, whatever you want that's really for us. And then, if you're really sure, we can let my mom put on the pageantry she wants. But only if you're really sure about that part."

"I like that, but would that... work?" Alex asks. "For us to already be married?"

"It's like you said: She just needs to show us off. Who cares if the ceremony is redundant?"

"I... I'm going to be honest and say that I still don't really like being 'shown off' like that," Alex says. "But you said your mom was already compromising, and your suggestion is... more than fair."

"I still don't want you to feel like I'm forcing you into this," John says. "I meant what I said. You'll always win, Alex. Always."

Alex nods. "And you have no idea how much that means to me. But I don't want to win and have your mom hate me forever. That's not 'winning'. Or for you to... resent me."

"Never," John says, immediately.

"I'll just... think of this as another big party that I go to because I love you," Alex says, a slight smile on his face now. "Those aren't so bad."

"Thank you," John says. "For compromising."

"I can't wait to marry you, John Kensington," Alex says with an affectionate smile, and John chuckles.

"The officiant will probably say Calhoun," he says.

Alex shakes his head, looking guilty again, and John thinks he shouldn't have made that joke. "But I won't. Ever again. And I'm... I'm sorry. Really. I don't know how to..."

"I know," John interrupts, kissing him. "You're forgiven. Really."

Alex still doesn't seem convinced, but nods. "Then... shower?"

That sounds good to John.