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so, have you figured it out?

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Lip admits he’s been distracted by Karen and the whole baby drama recently, but there’s no way he could miss how Ian’s been rocking the kicked-puppy routine. Barely speaking or leaving the house except for ROTC and work. Fuck, he even looked as if he’d been crying when he came out of the shower a few days ago.

They’ve stopped fighting, but things aren’t completely back to the way they once were, so Lip has avoided asking outright what’s wrong, and instead offered him joints, beers and hell, half of his good candy stash in an admittedly lame attempt to cheer him up. 

Ian always smiles, says thank you, all polite like the good little soldier he is. But his eyes stay dull, the smiles sliding off his face barely seconds after first appearing.

Fiona eventually corners him about it, demanding he go and talk to Ian, make sure he isn’t hiding an illness or a felony. And so here he is, sprawled out on Ian’s bed with a cigarette, watching as Ian flips half-heartedly through a magazine. They’ve barely said a word to each other, and Lip is growing frustrated at the awkward silence, so he nods decisively to himself, sucks in a lungful of smoke and throws the butt out the window. 

“Alright, spill. What’s going on?”

Ian’s hands freeze for a second, before he casually turns the page without looking up. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit.” Lip knows Ian better than anyone. “You’ve been walking around like someone stole all your lunch money for days now. Something’s up, and I’m asking you to tell me what it is. Maybe I can help.”

“It’s not...” Ian sighs and finally looks up. If Lip had to hazard a guess, he’d say--

“You look like you’ve just been dumped, man.”

Another sigh. “Well, technically, I did the dumping.”

Lip just stares for a few seconds. “You-- Seriously? I didn’t even-- You never said anything.”

Ian shrugs and looks down at his hands, while Lip is torn between feeling angry and guilty. On the one hand, the whole thing with Karen turned into a shit storm that he wasn’t exactly anticipating. But on the other...

“Dude, we’re supposed to tell each other this shit, you know?” Lip runs a hand through his hair, sitting up properly. “I-- I’ve been a shitty brother lately, I know that. And I’m sorry--”

“It’s not just you”, Ian interrupts. “I’ve been an ass too. I’m sorry.”  He throws the magazine behind him and turns to face Lip fully, expression sheepish. Lip doesn’t argue the point and quirks his lips in a half-smile.

“So now that we’ve established we’ve been twats and that we’re sorry, we good?”

Ian nods and smiles properly for the first time in a while, holding his palm out. Lip slaps his against it and they shake once, twice, before high-fiving and pulling back. It’s something they’ve done since Lip can remember, and it lets him breathe easier, knowing they’re bros again.

“So come on. Who’s the mystery man? ‘Cause I haven’t seen Kash around in a while.”

Ian shrugs so hard his shoulders practically touch his ears, and he wraps his arms around himself.  Lip raises an eyebrow and waits him out.

“He’s-- Okay. So, you’re not allowed to freak out, yeah?”

Lip coughs once and nods, schooling his expression to hide the slight worry creeping through him. “Okay. Shoot.”

“Mickey.”

“Mickey--” He clears his throat and brings a hand up over his mouth. “Mickey Milkovich?”  Ian nods. Lip presses his palm flat against his lips in an attempt to stop the shocked laughter from spilling out, but Ian’s face darkens when he spies the uncontrollable shake of his shoulders.

“Christ, fuck you Lip.”  Ian stands, kicking the chair back so that it clatters against the desk.  Lip manages to lunge forward and grab his arm before he makes it to the door, choking back his amusement.

“Wait, wait! Shit, I’m sorry. I just... I was not expecting that. At all. I mean, Milkovich? Really? Wow. Um... For how long?”

Ian doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, eyes searching Lip’s face.  Once he’s apparently satisfied, he shrugs off Lip’s hand and leans against the desk.

“We, uh, we hooked up for the first time a few months ago.  Before all that shit with Kash and--”

“Wait a second. Did Kash shoot Mickey because of you?” Lip’s eyebrows hit his hairline when Ian goes pink and looks to the floor. “Holy shit. How’d he find out?”

Ian huffs out a laugh. “He, uh, kind of walked in whilst we were, uh...”

Lip can’t help the snort of laughter at this, but Ian quirks a smile and doesn’t move to storm off again. “So a live action preview, then? Alright.”

Ian flips him off, but the smile tugging at his lips gives him away. “So, before all that shit with Kash, we’d just been having sex, you know? And then he went to juvie, and I didn’t see him for six months except for a handful of times through a glass in the visiting room.”

“You went to visit him?” Surely Lip should’ve noticed Ian sneaking off for hours at a time that spring. He furrows his brow, and Ian follows his thoughts.

“I used to do half days at work on the weekends and take the El up. Didn’t think he’d appreciate anybody else knowing I went, you know?”

Lip nods. He doesn’t know Milkovich that well - hell, the little he thought he knew has just been vetoed by his little brother - but he’d have guessed that he wouldn’t appreciate folks from this neighbourhood knowing his, what, boyfriend, was visiting him in jail.  Especially if said boyfriend worked for the guy who shot him and got him in there in the first place. Christ, this was like an episode of the OC on crack.

“So, then what? He got out of juvie and the sex was shit?”

Ian levels a very unimpressed look at Lip and flips him off again, seriously this time. “No, things were fine. Things were great, actually. We did other stuff too, like sneak into baseball games, watch movies, the usual shit.”

Lip tries very hard to picture Mickey Milkovich on a date; tries but fails. He trusts the guy to have managed to behave himself a little. He doesn’t exactly feel like having to punch him.

“But, I just...” Ian sighs and slumps down to sit cross legged on the floor. “Things could’ve gotten serious. Well, as serious as things can get when you have to hide everything. But, the more I thought about West Point, and how badly I want all of that, the more I realised that Mickey just doesn’t fit, you know? I can’t afford to get into trouble, and Mickey is trouble. So, I ended it.”

“And he was cool with this?”

Ian shrugs. “He didn’t say much, really. Just shrugged, told me to ‘fuck off outta’ his house and then left me standing there in his room.”

Lip watches his brother; shoulders slumped, head bowed low as he picks idly at a loose thread in his jeans. He can’t speak for Milkovich, but he’s willing to bet that Ian isn’t cool with this, despite it being his idea. A stupid idea, granted, but one Lip can’t really fault him for having. Ian deserves more than this shitty neighbourhood. But he still has a few years left before he’ll actually leave for West Point, so he should get the chance to do what - or, rather, who - he likes while he can.

He fumbles in his pockets for his cigarettes, bypassing the regulars and pulling out the joint he’d fixed up that morning. “Here. You need this more than I do.”

“Thanks.” Ian smiles and reaches for the blunt, eyes slipping closed as he lights it up and takes a deep drag. “You won’t, uh, say anything? I’d rather not have Mickey kill me for outing him.”

Lip shakes his head. “He wouldn’t do that to you.”

Ian simply gives him a look.

“Fair enough.”

They pass the joint back and forth in silence for a while, and the edges are starting to burn Lip’s fingertips when Fiona opens their door. She looks between them a few times, before raising an eyebrow at Lip.

“You two okay?”

Lip glances at Ian, who nods, and turns back to his eldest sister. “Yeah, we’re good.”

Fiona looks relieved but attempts to hide it. Ian’s soft smile gives her away, though. “Good. Veronica brought beer and chicken for dinner. Come and get it.”

Lip stubs out the last of the joint and stands, reaching a hand down to help Ian up.  They bump shoulders before heading down the stairs.

##

Lip brings the cigarette to his lips with shaking fingers. He really, really shouldn’t be doing this. Not only is he anticipating a beating from Mickey, but Ian would pull out the puppy-eyes and be pissed at him too.  But he’s tired of watching Ian mope around whilst insisting that he isn’t doing exactly that, and so, in a fit of stupidity that he’s regretting now, he snuck out from ‘Deadliest Catch’ and walked to the Milkovich’s.

Well, that’s a lie; he walked to the El entrance near their house and is chain smoking whilst planning out his speech. A speech that’s supposed to, what, make Mickey see that Ian was an idiot and rush over to demand him back?

Yeah right, Gallagher. God this is stupid.

He stubs the cigarette out under his boot, takes a deep breath, and rounds the corner. He spies a figure in the yard, but relaxes as he gets closer when he realises it’s only Mandy. Ian had mentioned that she doesn’t know about him and her brother, so he plays it cool.

“S’up Mandy? Mickey around?”

She shakes her head and dumps the two trash bags she’s carrying into the bin without looking at him. An assortment of bottles clatter loudly as the bags hit the bottom.  Lip whistles appreciatively.

“Big party?”  Mandy looks up then, and Lip notices she’s been crying.  “Shit. What’s wrong?”  He moves forward automatically, reaching a hand up as if to pull her into a half-hearted hug. They aren’t exactly close, but his good manners - fuck anybody who says otherwise - mean his first impulse is to comfort her. He hesitates for a second, but she lurches forward and buries her head into his neck, her hair sticking a little to the sweaty skin of his chest visible above his low-cut t-shirt.

It takes a few seconds for her to compose herself, before she pulls back, wiping angrily at her face. “Sorry.  I totally didn’t mean to latch onto you like that.”

Lip shrugs. “No big deal. What’s going on?”

Mandy doesn’t answer straight away, biting on her bottom lip and looking over her shoulder before facing him fully. “Come on in.”

Confused, Lip follows Mandy’s retreating back slowly, wary of running into any of her numerous scary-as-shit brothers. He casts his eyes around the living room when he enters; Xbox controllers thrown carelessly in front of the TV, plates and mugs stacked in an unsteady pile on the coffee table, an overflowing ashtray in danger of falling onto the floor.

A cardboard sign on the door to his right proclaiming that he can: ‘STAY THE FUCK OUT’. 

The house is silent apart from the sound of Mandy shuffling in the kitchen, so he breathes a little easier and follows her through. She hands him a beer and gestures towards the rickety kitchen table. A few slighty awkward minutes pass while neither of them say anthing, before Mandy sighs and opens her mouth.

“Did you know Ian was fucking my brother?”

Lip chokes on his beer and almost coughs up a lung as he tries to control his breathing. He shoots a surprised look at Mandy, who simply stares levelly back. He swallows hard and nods.

“I’d rather not know, but, what can you do.” Mandy’s smile is utterly unconvincing, and Lip pushes away his beer and faces her.

“Is that why you’re upset? ‘Cause you found out about them?”

Mandy shakes her head. “No. I knew about Mickey, same way as I assume you knew about Ian.”

Lip stays quiet and doesn’t recount how it took him finding Ian’s porn stash to figure it out.

“I just wish he’d told me in a better way, you know? Having him scream at me after didn’t exactly cushion the blow.”

“He screamed at you?”

“I don’t think he meant to tell me at all.” Mandy sniffs and steals some of his beer. She doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, but Lip waits her out. “I was worried about him.  I mean, Mick drinks, sure, but these past few days? He’s barely sober when he wakes up, and then he just carries on. So I asked him if everything was alright. He wasn’t as drunk as he had been, but it was enough.  He started talking about how he fucks everything up, about how he’s ‘never gettin’ outta this shitty-ass town, unlike some people’.”

Lip marvels for a quick second at how scarily accurate her impression of her brother is, before the meaning of what she said starts to sink in. He clamps down on the sudden unwanted impulse to smile.

“I told him that he doesn’t fuck everything up; I mean, he’s got a good thing going on at the construction site, you know? He’s getting good money. But he wasn’t listening. He said that it’s no wonder Mom split, that no-one in their right mind willingly stays here.” Mandy sucks in a sharp breath and Lip puts a comforting hand on her wrist.

“So by now, I’m kinda freaked out, right? Like, Mick never talks about Mom. Ever. So, I tell him that he’s starting to scare me, and I ask him if he’s in trouble or something. And then he laughs, but I swear it sounded like he was about to cry. So I go to hug him, right? And then he says that Ian thinks he’s trouble too; that he broke up with him because of it.”

Pausing for a gulp of beer, Mandy pulls her arm away from Lip and leans back in her chair.

“And I was shocked, you know? Like, I had no idea they were together! So I froze, like, mid hug. And Mick obviously caught up to what he’d said and then freaked out.”

“What’d he do, Mandy?” Lip doesn’t think Mickey would ever hit his sister, but he’s seen what drink can do to people.

Mandy looks at him and shakes her head. “He didn’t hit me. He wouldn’t ever do that. People don’t get it, but he’s really not that bad of a guy.”

‘Yeah, I’m getting that’, Lip thinks, but stays silent. He just nods and lets Mandy continue.

“He threw his beer against the wall and screamed at me, begged me to keep my mouth shut. I barely said anything before he apologised and bolted outta here.”

“You know where he went?”

Mandy nods. “Yeah. Him and Joe made this little shelter thing under the tracks a couple blocks over a few years ago. That’s where he always goes.”

“And you didn’t go after him?” Lip chances a glance at the clock on the wall, figuring he’ll have time to swing by and see if he can find him before he has to get back home.

“No. Because I know my brother, and I’d just make it worse if I went there. He’ll come back soon." Mandy rubs at her eyes, breathing shakily. "I sorta just stood there, you know?  after he left. I mean, I’m not mad. Not really. Shit, I don’t even really know why I’m crying.”  Gulping down the last of the beer, Mandy turns to look at the clock, before sighing and standing up. "Dad’ll be home soon, so Mick won’t come back until late, after Dad’s passed out."

“And that’s my cue.” Lip stands too. “I’ll catch him tomorrow or whatever; give you two a chance to sort things out.” He pauses his retreat to the door when Mandy’s fingers curl in the fabric of his shirt.

“Thanks. Y'know, for...” She waves her hand a little and smiles. “I didn’t mean to dump all of that on you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone about the time Mandy Milkovich wept in my arms.” He smirks to make sure she gets that he’s teasing, and she punches him in the arm.

“Fuck off.”  She flips her hair and turns her face from him, but Lip can hear the smile in her voice. He huffs out a laugh and walks out the door. He’s made it halfway down the back path before he stops.

“You gonna be okay?” He watches Mandy’s face as he pulls out his pack of cigarettes, understands for a moment as she smiles why so many of his friends tried to get in her pants.

“I’ll be fine. Now get the fuck outta here, Gallagher.”  And with that, she shuts the door completely.

Lip stops at the gate and takes a deep drag of the cigarette. Well, here goes nothing.

##

It takes Lip another cigarette and ten minutes of wandering around before he spies the ramshackle wooden shelter tucked behind a pillar. He slows his pace, eyes squinting in the sun. He doesn’t see Mickey right away, but once he’s close enough, he spies the remains of a glass bottle, several cigarette butts and a pair of beaten up kicks sticking out from a gap in the wood.

He perches against a couple of old tyres and wipes the sweat from his face before crossing his arms and clearing his throat. "Mickey, you in there?"

“The fuck do you want, Gallagher?” Mickey’s voice is rough and only slightly slurred. Lip debates over what to say for a second, before deciding that, fuck it, he’ll just bite the bullet.

“To talk about Ian.” Mickey huffs and clambers out of the hut, broken class clinking under his shoes. He raises a hand to shield his eyes from the sun and sways for a second, before cocking his head to the side.

“What the fuck for?”

Lip steels his shoulders and stays where he is, keeping his expression as blank as possible. “Thought you might be able to help me out. You see, he’s been practically pining for days now. Shit's getting old."

Mickey looks away then, hands dropping to his sides. He coughs and spits on the ground, before wiping his thumb against the corner of his mouth. Lip tries his best to hide his disgusted look, and makes a mental note to ask Ian what it is exactly that he sees in Milkovich later.

If he isn’t beaten to a pulp, that is.

He watches as Mickey slumps back against the shelter. There are dark circles around his eyes, his face pale and shiny with sweat. His t-shirt is dirty from where he’s obviously lain on the ground, and his hair sticks up at the back. He rubs his hands over his face roughly, before sliding them back to link behind his head. Closing his eyes, he tilts his face towards the sky.

“And what exactly do you think I can do about that?”

“You could give him a chance to admit he made a mistake breaking it off and continue fucking like gay little rabbits. And I can’t believe I actually just said that out loud.”

Lip regrets doing just that when Mickey’s face darkens and he takes a step forward, hands dropping to clenched fists at his side.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”  Mickey’s voice is low and angry, and Lip has to force himself not to cower backwards.

“Exactly that, dude. No use denying it. I know you're gay for my brother.”

Realistically, Lip should’ve expected the punch. But he makes the mistake of flicking his eyes away from Mickey and doesn’t see the fist swinging backwards until it collides with his jaw. Caught off guard, he twists his body on a reflex and slides off the tyres, ending up on his ass.

“Shut the fuck up.”

Lip spits blood out on to the dirt. “Jesus Christ, cool it. I haven’t said shit to anyone. Neither has Ian, for that matter. I figured you two out on my own.”

“There is nothing to figure out.” Mickey punctuates that with quick kicks to Lip’s legs until he falls backwards, body curving inwards automatically. But he still can’t seem to shut off his mouth, though.

“Oh, give it up and just admit that you’re pining for his ass too so we can all go home.”

Lip really regrets that when Mickey drops to his knees, grabs a fistful of Lip’s shirt and pulls him up roughly, the back of his hand smacking loudly against Lip's tender jaw. He can feel his cheek begin to swell almost immediately after, and the taste of blood is thick on his tongue. He coughs a little, spots spraying out onto Mickey’s forearm when he speaks.

“Fucking hell. I gotta admire you for your denial skills, man.”

Mickey’s hand tigtens on Lip’s shirt, and for a second, Lip thinks he’s about to get another smack in the face. But Mickey just shakes him roughly before standing so quickly that Lip barely manages to keep his head from smacking against the concrete.

He rolls onto his side and coughs, spitting blood again. He looks up in time to see Mickey punch the rotting wood of his hide-a-way, a snarl of frustration bubbling out of his throat as he does so. Amazingly, Lip feels the swell of pity in his stomach as he watches Mickey, both hands flat against the wood now, breathing hard and fast.

But just as Lip begins to worry that he’s gonna have to deal with a Milkovich mid-panic attack, Mickey turns around.  His face is almost sad, and his eyes flicker rapidly over Lip’s face.

He shuffles over and drops to sit next to Lip, draping his arms over his knees and letting his head fall forward. Lip just barely hears the soft “fuck”, as he calms himself down.

“Told you so.” The words sound a little garbled, and Lip wants to take them back for a split second, before Mickey huffs out what might just be the beginning of a laugh.

“Okay. So maybe you're right.”

“About what?”

Mickey levels him an unimpressed look that, Lip thinks, he possibly taught or learnt from Ian. “Fuck you if I’m admitting it out loud.”

Lip doesn’t think he’ll ever hear Mickey Milkovich say those immortal words out loud, so he nods, and admits; “he was an ass.”

“Who, Firecrotch?” Mickey won’t look at him, but Lip knows he has his full attention.

“Please never use the term ‘Firecrotch’ in reference to my brother again. At least not where I can hear you. And, yeah. He told me what happened. It’s fucking stupid.”

Mickey snorts.

“You should talk some sense into him. Seriously. I don’t think it’d take much; I wasn’t kidding with the whole pining thing. It’s sort of ridiculous.”

 “Listen, I don’t know what exactly it is that you think's gonna happen here, but I can promise you it ain’t that. I’m not gonna go bust my balls talking about my fuckin’ feelings for him, all right?"

“Your--?” Lip cuts himself off.

Beside him, Mickey seems to realise belatedly what he just admitted to. He sucks in a breath and stands abruptly.

Lip lets him pace the clearing for a bit, prodding gingerly at his face whilst watching him from the corner of his eye. He recognises the look of blank horror on Mickey’s face, but doesn’t feel like adding broken bones to his list of injuries, so he stays silent.

When the silence grows awkward, Lip hauls himself up. “He’ll be working the late shift tonight. Just him in the store on his own.”

Mickey looks over his shoulder at Lip, face a careful mask. Lip shrugs and busies himself with wiping the worst of the dirt from his shorts. “Just, you know, in case you did decided to drop by.”

He dares to meet Mickey’s eyes then, and they simply stand there for a moment. Eventually, Mickey drops his head. He nods, and quirks his lips into what Lip would dare to call an almost smile. He’d make a remark about being honoured, if he weren’t really keen on getting home as quickly as possible. He can feel the bruises forming on his face.

Mickey looks back up, eyes focussing on Lip’s cheek. His mouth twists and he opens his mouth to, say what, Lip doesn’t know, but he spares him the embarrassment of attempting an apology that Lip is sure he’ll only mean a little. “It’s fine, Milkovich. Just, don’t fuck with my brother.”

Mickey’s eyes darken for a second, before he replies. “Sure.”

Lip has no shame in admitting that he lets out a sigh of relief when Mickey turns away, shoulders slumping a little.

“Oh, and Gallagher?” Mickey spares him a final glance over his shoulder, his eyes hard. “You pull anything like this shit again?”

Lip nods and bites back the sarcastic ‘yes sir, got it boss’.

And Mickey, ever the classy Chicago gent, spits on the ground and stalks off.

##

Lip collides with Ian as he slips in the back door of their house. Ian takes one look at his face and freezes, hands shoved awkwardly in the arms of his shirt as he goes to leave for his shift at the store.

“What the fuck?!”

Ian hauls the shirt on roughly before gripping Lip’s chin and turning his face from side to side.

“Easy!”  Lip pulls away, ducking around Ian and entering the kitchen, heading straight for the freezer and the bag of peas he knows is hidden in there for bruising emergencies.

“Lip, what the fuck happened to your face?”

Lip sucks in a sharp breath at the sting of the cold, kicking the door shut and turning back to Ian's furious face.

“It looks worse than it is.” In actual fact, Lip hasn’t actually seen himself in a mirror. But he's pretty sure that's accurate.

His assumption is apparently right, as Ian scoffs but relaxes a tiny fraction. “That doesn’t answer my question. What happened?”

“Some punk kid on the El, no big deal.”

Ian raises an eyebrow. “Some kid on the train did this to your face?”

“Yep.” Jesus, Lip could’ve whistled and twirled his fucking thumbs whilst he said that and he’d still have been less obviously lying.

“Where were you going?”

Shit. “Uh...” Lip sighs and hops up onto the counter, switching the bag of peas to his other hand. “Okay.  I wasn’t on the El. I went to see Mickey.”

Ian throws his arms in the air. “For fuck’s sake, Lip! And let me guess, you shot your mouth off and he did this to your face? I fucking told you to keep out of it. Christ, I don’t know who is more infuriating, you or him!” Ian paces back and forth, scrubbing a hand roughly over his short hair.

“How about we call it even?”

Ian scoffs and clenches his hands around the back of a kitchen chair, head hanging low. “Lip."

Lip heaves a deep breath and jumps down, tossing the melting peas into the sink.  “Okay, look. It was my fault, I swear.” He gestures at his face, ducking his head to meet Ian’s eyes. “This? This is on me. And Mickey apologised.” Well... “In his own way, sure. But it’s cool.”

Ian is silent for a moment, before he raises his head, teeth gnawing on his lower lip. He darts his eyes around the room, then meets Lip’s eyes.

“How, um, how was he? I mean-- Fuck. I don’t know what I mean.” Ian drops his head again, and Lip regards his brother for a while.

“He was a mess, dude.” Ian’s hands clench so hard around the wood of the chair, his knuckles go white. “Like, more than usual. I spoke to Mandy for a bit before I found him, and even she was worried.”

“Shit.” Ian breathes the words out, shoulders rolling forward. “I didn’t think--” He cuts himself off with a snarl. The chair is loud as it clatters against the table, and Lip places a comforting hand on Ian’s shoulder.  “I thought things would be fine after I ended it, you know? That, I don’t-- That we’d just move on with our lives. But, Jesus, Lip, I can’t stop thinking about him. And I don’t know what to do. Or how to make things better. Shit, I didn’t think he even cared that much.”

“He’s been drunk since you left their house. I think that proves he cares a little. Add in the fact that he told Mandy...” Lip trails off, sliding his hands into his pockets.

“What?” Ian’s voice pitches higher with shock.

“Yeah, he basically told her that you broke up with him because he’s a fuck-up.”

“He-- Fuck.” Ian grabs hold of the chair again. “I always figured that he just saw it as fooling around, you know? I didn’t think he actually-- That he felt that way.”

Lip moves to rest a hip against the table, watching as Ian’s fingers drum erratic rhythms on the wood. “You really like him, don’t you?”

Ian snorts. “You’ve made it clear that I’m pretty damn obvious.”

“Not so obvious that I figured it out on my own. That’s something, at least.”

Huffing out a laugh, Ian stands. “I suppose I should go see him.”

Lip tilts his head. “I heard he might be stopping by the store on his own, later.” He smirks at Ian’s raised eyebrow and punches him lightly in the shoulder. “Go fix things with your boyfriend, seriously.”

“Don’t let him hear you call him that.” Ian smiles and glances at the clock. “Shit, I’m gonna be late.”

“Then go, dipshit. And let me know how it goes later. Just, leave out the gory details. Nobody wants to hear that shit about Milkovich.”

“You know who isn’t funny? You. Ever.”

“You love me. Now get the fuck out.”

Ian salutes mockingly and makes it to the door before turning around. “Hey, Lip?”

“Yeah?”

He stares steadily at him. “Thank you.”

Lip smiles, stupidly proud of his dork of a younger brother who might just give him a run for him money in the drama department. Except, y'know, without the whole pregnancy thing. “Anytime, dude.”

##

Lip flicks disinterestedly through the channels, before finally settling on an infomercial for some kitchen appliance. He tosses the remote on to the coffee table, and scratches idly at the scab forming on the side of his mouth. A glance at the clock shows that Ian’s shift finished an hour ago, and Lip can only hope - God help him - that he and Mickey have managed to work something out.

 “You come up with a better excuse than ‘some punk kid on the El’ for that face, yet?” Fiona lifts his legs enough to slide in and sit on the opposite end of the couch. She has the night off, and her hair is pulled right back off her face, making her look younger somehow.

“Nope.”

From the corner of his eye, Lip can see Fiona shake her head, but she doesn’t push the issue. “So, how’d things go with Ian before? Everything okay with him?”

Lip reaches for the remote and mutes the television, before twisting his head enough to face his sister. He knows she’s had her own shit to deal with this summer, least of all the aftermath of Steve skipping town, so he shrugs. “Yeah, usual West Point worries. Nothing to worry about.”

Fiona looks closely at him, and Lip quirks his lips in a smile. “So you’re good?”

Lip nods, reaches out his hand for a fist bump. “Perfecto, Fi. Promise.”

She rolls her eyes but returns the gesture before sliding further down into the seat. They watch three more infomercials before Lip hears the clicking of a key in the front lock, and he strains his neck just enough to see Ian creeping in.

“Evening.”  Lip doesn’t bother to hide his smirk as Ian flops down on the chair; his shirt is buttoned up wrong, a hickey peeks out from the open collar, and his grin is so big, it’s practically fucking sparkling. “Good night?”

Ian actually blushes when Fiona snorts a laugh, looking down at his lap. “It was alright.” Lip waits until he looks up, before raising an eyebrow. “Everything’s good.” Ian looks right at him as he speaks, and Lip sees the happiness there. He’s glad, and grins at his brother before turning back to the TV.

Fiona heads to bed a little while later, and she’s barely cleared the top step before Ian stands. Lip looks at him questioningly, and he points a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m just gonna-- One second.” He disappears out the front door, returning a few minutes later with none other than Mickey Milkovich in tow.

Lip sits up a little straighter. Mickey’s tense, and has his hands shoved into the pockets of his hoodie. He nods awkwardly at Lip. “S’up.”

“Mickey.” Lip nods and watches as Ian mumbles something in Mickey’s ear, before he tucks his fingers in the waistband of his jeans and pulls him towards the back door.

“We’ll be in the van.” Ian throws Lip a shameless grin over his shoulder and Lip scoffs in mock disgust.

“Practice safe sex, kids.”

“Blow me, Gallagher.” Mickey’s voice is faint and Ian’s snort of laughter is cut off by the slamming of the door. Lip can’t help the wry grin that spreads over his face, and he flicks the TV off and heads on up to their room.

For all his meddling, fuck if he wants to be near them as they get reaquainted.