Days and days had gone by, and Alex was nowhere to be seen. Nobody had heard from him, and his friends were getting increasingly concerned about him and his whereabouts-Marty being considerably more concerned than the others.
Gloria had just said that maybe Alex needed a break away from everyone for a while. Melman was more concerned and was coming up with the worst conclusions to where the lion could possibly be, but he calmed down after a while and agreed with Gloria that Alex was just taking some sort of break. Marty knew differently, though. Alex was hiding from them all, or more specifically, from Marty.
The day before Alex did his great disappearing act, himself and Marty were lounging around the waterhole as the sun began to set. Something felt strange that day, but not in a bad way, specifically-Alex just felt as if he was closer to Marty than before, if that were even possible. The two were almost completely alone, as the other animals were walking back to their places of rest. Marty considered bringing up to Alex that maybe they should start walking back, now, too, but decided against it. He was having a really nice time sitting with his best friend and enjoying the sunset and the gentle sounds of the reserve.
Ever so slightly, and perhaps even without noticing, the two were inching closer and closer to each other until their sides were brushing together. Alex was growing more and more tired, and he gently rested his head on Marty's shoulder, something that didn't seem all too strange to the zebra as it was something that wasn't particularly out of the norm for his best friend to do. Marty wrapped an arm around Alex's shoulder and delicately traced shapes on his arm with his hoof, to which Alex smiled gently at.
The sun had almost completely set, and Alex lifted his head from Marty's shoulder. Marty looked at the lion, wondering if everything was okay, and Alex simply looked back at him with a somewhat nervous and awkward smile. Maybe he had realised how close the two were together and needed a little space. Marty didn't think to question it. The zebra laid back on his elbows as he silently watched the sky turn from pink to purple to a reddish-orange. Alex sat beside him stiffly, tracing patterns in the sand with his paw.
"Should we head back?" Alex asked, secretly hoping Marty would say no and that he wanted to stay at the watering hole.
Marty looked over to the lion, who was still absent-mindedly drawing patterns in the sand. He couldn't help but feel as though something was wrong, but he didn't want to question it. Maybe Alex was just tired. "Sure."
Alex stood up first and dusted himself off before offering his paw to Marty to help him up. Marty took his paw and pushed himself off the ground, almost slipping and falling onto Alex. The two of them let out a nervous laugh, and they started to head back to where they would rest. Marty, Alex, Melman and Gloria had their own little side of the reserve where they would sleep, as they saw themselves as their own little herd, but sometimes Alex wanted to sleep with the pride. This was one of those nights.
"I can, uh… walk you back, if you want," Marty said, clearing his throat and rubbing the back of his neck. Alex looked up at him with raised eyebrows, and rubbed his arm, smiling somewhat awkwardly.
"Uh, yeah-yeah! Sure."
The two weren't quite sure of why there was this tension surrounding them. Sitting by the watering hole and watching the sunset had become somewhat of a routine by now-they had done specifically that every night for the last few weeks. But there was certainly some sort of tension there, and the two of them seemed oblivious as to why.
Marty started to walk Alex back to the pride, staying on two legs, something that was becoming more normal than walking on two legs at this point. Whenever he was with the lion, he felt inclined to walk on his hind legs, and it was becoming more and more natural. In fact, at this point, he felt weird walking on all fours.
They didn't talk much when walking to the pride. Alex's paw brushed past Marty's hoof a few times, and Marty was unsure of whether it was accidental or not. Eventually, Marty slipped his hoof into Alex's paw as they made it to the pride, causing Alex to stand back slightly in surprise as he stared down at where they were interlinked. He blinked a few times before looking up at Marty and letting out a small, anxious chuckle.
"Uh… this is my stop." Alex said, pointing a thumb at the rocks where the pride rested behind him.
"It… it sure is." Marty replied, looking down at the lion with a soft smile, a warm and tingling feeling rising in his chest. Had Alex always been this pretty? The zebra's heart picked up speed at the thought.
"So I guess I, uh… I better go," the lion continued, not breaking eye contact with his best friend, his paw still holding his hoof. Marty sighed slightly at that and felt a twinge of sadness hit him.
"Yeah, I… I guess so."
The two of them stood there for a while, staring at each other, hoof in paw as they did so. Suddenly, Marty lifted up his other hoof to caress one side of the Alex's face, and the lion's eyes widened as his breathing became quicker. Marty wasn't all too sure of what he was doing right now-he just knew, as weird as it was, it also felt very… natural. Alex stared at him, unblinking, and Marty looked right back at him, a gentle smile across his face.
"Marty…" Alex began, his heart thumping against his chest.
"Yeah, Al?" The zebra replied, not taking his hoof off of the lion's cheek.
"I love you."
Marty stiffened at those three words, and Alex's brow furrowed as he realised what he had just said. He quickly let go of his best friend's hoof and turned away from him, and the zebra didn't say anything-he stood there, unmoving, quite frankly in shock. Alex clenched and unclenched his paws, and a horrible feeling began to rise in his gut. Was that wrong of him? Should he not have said that? Did Marty strictly just see the two as close friends and nothing else?
"A-Alex…" Marty said softly, reaching out for the lion.
"Goodnight." Alex said bluntly, not turning to face Marty at all. He silently walked into the pride and towards his rock, and Marty stood there in silence, trying to wrap his head around what had just happened.
Did Alex, his pal, his bestest buddy, his singing partner, just confess that… he was in love with him?
Marty turned away from the pride and began walking to where he was going to rest his head for the night. He tried to ignore the racing heart in his chest, but it was too much to bear. Everything suddenly began to fall into place-it was like the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle had finally been found, and everything made sense. Alex loved Marty, and Marty loved Alex. Marty had been in love with Alex his whole life, and he couldn't believe that he had never realised that before now. He couldn't help the wide smile from stretching across his face as he finally realised his feelings for the lion, and while it was scary, he couldn't help but feel overjoyed at the idea of Alex becoming more than just his best friend.
Tomorrow, he would go up to Alex and tell him that he feels the exact same way. He mentally kicked himself for not telling Alex as soon as Alex told him, but he needed to let the shock of it sink in before he could think about anything.
The next day came quickly, and Marty jumped up from where he was sleeping, totally confident in himself and ready to tell his best friend that he was absolutely, head-over-heels in love with him. He ran to the pride and was met with Zuba, who had no idea where Alex was but told Marty that he had probably just gone to get something to eat. Marty, albeit slightly disappointed he wasn't able to catch Alex on the morning, brushed it off and figured he would probably catch him by the watering hole later.
The excited zebra made his way to the watering hole after having something to eat himself, but was only met by Gloria and Melman.
"Have you guys seen Alex? It's important." Marty asked them.
Gloria shared a confused glance with Melman before looking back at Marty. "Sorry, sweetheart. I haven't seen him since yesterday."
Marty let out an exasperated sigh, and Melman's brow furrowed at that.
"Are you okay?" The ever concerned giraffe asked, and Marty placed a hoof to his forehead and another hoof on his waist, breathing in before replying.
"Somethin' happened last night, and I just really need to see Alex." Marty told his friend bluntly. "You guys haven't seen him around at all?"
Gloria shook her head, but was growing more and more frustrated at Marty's bluntness. "I already told you, no. He'll show his face soon enough. Maybe he's just… gone for a stroll or something." The hippo placed her hands on her hips. "What do you mean something happened last night?"
Marty frowned and sighed, looking down at Gloria. "Alex… well, he… he told me that he loved me."
Gloria and Melman's eyes widened and they shared looks with each other, before simultaneously letting out an "oooooh…"
"What do you mean 'ooooh'? You guys already knew?!" Marty exclaimed, frustrated.
"Marty, I think everyone knew except you." Melman said with a small smile.
The zebra let out a groan and covered his face with his hooves. "Man, am I dumb or what?! Now I've probably freaked Alex out by actin' all weird when he finally told me!"
Gloria grabbed Marty's hooves tightly and looked him in the eye with a stern expression. "Marty, calm down! Things'll be fine. You just gotta find that lion and tell him how you feel."
"That'd be a whole lot easier if I knew where to find him." Marty replied with a sigh.
Melman and Gloria exchanged glances once again, then looked back at Marty with concerned looks.
"I'm… sure he'll turn up. The guy's gotta need some water at some point, right?" Melman said with a comforting smile. "Just… stay close to the watering hole. He'll turn up."
Marty waited and waited for Alex to show his face around the watering hole. In fact, he didn't leave his spot at the watering hole all day in the hope that his best friend would come back.
Hours turned into days, and the zebra was worried sick. Alex had just up and left without a single word to anybody. He'd asked almost every member of the pride if they knew where Alex was. He had asked Florrie, but even his own mother had no idea. When he asked Zuba, the aging lion seemed to be as worried as he was.
Getting sick of waiting for Alex to turn up, Marty decided to take action and to look for him himself. Even if he didn't want to see Marty, the zebra needed to know that he was okay.
Just as Marty was about to set off looking for him, he noticed a familiar face walking towards the watering hole. A wave of relief washed over him as he caught sight of that face he loved so much, and he smiled to himself. Alex was okay.
He slowly walked over to where the lion sat: that one spot that was almost always reserved for the two of them.
Marty didn't say anything as he sat beside his best friend, and neither did Alex. The two of them sat together in silence, and Marty stared down at his hooves, trying to think of what to say.
"Sorry." Alex said quietly, not looking up at Marty.
"For what?" Marty asked him gently.
"For leaving. I'm… sorry. I needed to clear my head. And I'm also sorry for… you know. That thing I said." The lion continued, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "I think I was just… tired. And I was feeling weird, y'know? It was a weird day. Weird."
The two of them chuckled lightly together before silence fell over them again, and Marty took in a deep breath.
"Well, it's too bad you were just tired that day and you didn't actually mean what you said," the zebra began, looking over the watering hole, "because I actually had something I wanted to tell you."
Alex suddenly looked up and at Marty, his eyes wide and his brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Marty's hoof rested on Alex's paw, and the lion's heart rate picked up at the sight of it.
"We're a team, aren't we?" The zebra said with a grin, his eyes not leaving Alex's face.
"Yeah…" Alex said, raising his eyebrow, but a smile still finding its way across his face.
"You and me. Together." Marty continued. Alex felt as though his heart was going to burst out of his chest, and his breathing quickened.
"Can you just spit it out? I'm going to have a heart attack if you keep at this pace." Alex said with a small laugh, making Marty laugh, too.
"Did you mean it?" Marty asked him, his other hoof moving to gently caress Alex's cheek. "Because if you didn't, what I'm about to tell you is just gonna be uncomfortable for the both of us."
"Marty, I swear to God..." Alex said with furrowed brows, and Marty let out a louder laugh at that. "Of course I meant it. Would I have left for days because I was scared I'd made things awkward if I hadn't meant it?"
Grinning, Marty took in another deep breath. "I love you, Al. I always have and I always will. I just… I didn't realise I knew. But I really… really love you, Alex."
Alex smiled from ear to ear, his heart about to burst out of chest for sure now. Tears welled up in the lion's eyes as he pounced on the zebra and wrapped his arms around Marty's neck, nuzzling into him and knocking the two of them over as he did so. Marty let out a loud laugh and wrapped his arms around Alex's waist tightly, holding him close as the two nuzzled together. They were sure they were attracting some attention from the other animals at the watering hole, but they didn't care.
After a few moments of nuzzling, Alex sat back on his knees and Marty sat up, looking at the lion with a warm smile.
"So… what does that make us now?" Alex asked, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked at Marty. The zebra chuckled and shook his head.
"You really need everything spellin' out for you, don't you?" Marty said, reaching up to caress Alex's face.
"Yes. But I also just kind of want to hear you say it out loud." The lion grinned, resting his arms on either of Marty's shoulders as he looked into his eyes.
Marty rolled his eyes and smiled, resting his arms around Alex's waist as the lion practically sat on his lap. "Be my boyfriend, Ally-Al."
Alex's heart skipped a beat, and he smiled at the zebra, their faces close together. "I thought you'd never ask."
The two stared at each other with wide smiles for a moment, before they leaned in close to each other and their lips met for their first tender kiss of many.