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so, have you figured it out?

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Lip admits he’s been somewhat 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 yesterday.

They’ve stopped fighting all the time, which is good. But things aren't completely back to the way they once were, so Lip has avoided asking outright what’s wrong. Instead, he offers joints, beers, hell practically half of his good candy stash in an 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 smile sliding off his face almost immediately. Fiona eventually corners Lip about it, demands that he go talk to Ian like a good big brother; make sure he isn't hiding "an illness or a felony or a secret set of twins".

And so here he is, sprawled out on Ian’s bed with a cigarette, watching as Ian flips halfheartedly through a magazine, twisting idly on the computer chair. They've barely said a word to each other, and Lip is growing frustrated at the awkward silence. So after Ian's third sigh in as many minutes, he nods decisively to himself, sucks in a lungful of smoke and throws the butt out the window. “Alright, spill, man. What’s going on with you?”

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

“Bullshit.” Lip knows Ian better than anyone. “All week you've been walking around looking like a kicked fucking puppy. Something’s up, and I’m asking you to tell me what it is. Maybe I can help.”

“It’s not...” Ian cuts himself off. His face is dejected when he finally looks at Lip, and if Lip didn't know better he’d say--

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

Another sigh. “Technically, I did the actual dumping.”

That... Lip takes a few seconds to stare blankly at that. “You-- Seriously?! I didn't even-- Christ, Ian, you never said anything.”

Ian just shrugs and looks down at his hands again, while Lip is torn between feeling angry and guilty. On the one hand, he's had quite a lot of shit of his own going on, since the Karen thing spiraled in a way he wasn't particularly expecting. But on the other, Ian's his baby brother. He should at least know when he's getting some regularly.

“Dude, we’re supposed to tell each other this kinda shit, you know?” Lip runs a hand through his hair, sitting up properly. “I know I've been a shitty brother lately, 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, just quirks his lips in a half-smile. He holds his palm out, and Ian slaps his against it, and the easy familiarity makes Lip's chest feel lighter. “So now that shit's outta the way, you gonna tell me who your mystery man is? 'Cause I haven't seen Kash around in a while.”

Ian leans back and shrugs so hard his shoulders practically touch his ears, wrapping his arms around himself.  Lip just raises an eyebrow and waits him out.

“He’s-- Okay." Another sight. "You’re not allowed to freak out about it, okay?”

Lip coughs once and nods, schooling his expression to hide the slight worry that's starting to creep through him. “Okay. Shoot.”

“It's, uh, Mickey.”

“Mickey...?" Lip racks his brain for someone-- Oh. Oh. Oh fuck. “Milkovich?!” And, god help him, Ian nods.

Lip presses his palm flat against his lips in an attempt to stop the shocked laughter from spilling out, but he can't stop his shoulders from shaking and Ian’s face darkens. “Fuck you Lip.”  Ian stands, kicking the chair back hard enough that it clatters against the desk.  Lip manages to lunge forward and grab his arm before he makes it past the bed and out the door, choking back his amusement.

“Wait, wait! Shit, I’m sorry! I'm sorry, I just... I was not expecting that. At all. Like, Mickey 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 that Lip's gonna take him seriously, he shrugs off Lip’s hand and drops down beside him on the bed.“We, uh, we hooked up for the first time a few months ago.  Before all that shit with Kash and--”

“Wait a second, wait a second. Tell me Kash didn't shoot Mickey because of you?” Lip’s eyebrows hit his hairline when Ian goes pink and looks at the floor. He doesn't say anything, but Lip doesn't need him too. “Holy shit! How’d he find out?”

Ian laughs without humor. “He, uh, he kind of walked in whilst we were...” He doesn't finish the sentence, just whistles and waves his hand, but Lip gets the idea.

He can’t help a snort of huffed laughter, but Ian doesn't get mad and storm off again, just shrugs in a 'what are you gonna do?' gesture. “So a live action preview, then? Alright.”

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

“You went to visit him?” His voice goes high with surprise; surely Lip would've noticed Ian sneaking off for hours at a time.

“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 rather spectacularly vetoed by his little brother - but he’d have guessed that he wouldn't want folks from this neighborhood knowing his - secret boyfriend? - was visiting him in jail.  Especially if said secret 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. “Fuck you, no. Things were fine. Things were great, actually. We did other stuff too, this time, like sneak into baseball games, watch movies... Usual shit.”

Dates. Lip tries very hard to picture Mickey Milkovich on a date. He trusts the guy to have managed to behave himself a little. He doesn’t think punching him would go well.

“But, I just...” Ian sighs, letting himself drop back so that he's lying down. “It might have gotten serious, you know? Well, as serious as it could be when you have to hide everything and we live in this fucking shit hole. But, the more I thought it? About the army, West Point, and how badly I want all that stuff, the more I realized that Mickey just doesn't fit anywhere, you know? I can’t afford to get into trouble, and Mickey is trouble. So, I ended it.”

Wow. “And he was cool with this?”

Ian shrugs, shoulders rustling against the bedspread. “I guess. He didn't say much. Just told me to fuck off and then left me standing there in his room.”

Lip watches his brother; watches as he picks idly at a loose thread in his jeans, teeth chewing on his bottom lip. He looks like shit, the bruises under his eyes standing out since he's so pale. And while Lip can’t speak for Milkovich, it's pretty fucking obvious that Ian isn't cool with this, despite it being his idea.  An idea that Lip can’t really fault him for having. Ian deserves more than this shitty neighborhood. 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 just looks at him.

"Fair enough."

Lip leans back too and they pass the joint back and forth in silence for a while. The edges are just starting to burn Lip’s fingertips when Fiona opens the door. She looks between them a few times, raises an eyebrow.

“Everything okay?”

Lip glances at Ian, who looks much more relaxed and like he might actually get a good night's sleep. “Yeah, we’re good.”

Fiona lets out a sigh that probably wasn't meant to sound so relieved. Ian’s soft smile lets Lip know that it hadn't gone unnoticed. “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 as they head 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 most likely leaving with a beating from Mickey, but Ian might well kick his ass too.  But he’s tired of watching him mope around whilst insisting that he isn't doing exactly that, and so, in a fit of stupidity that he’s definitely regretting now, he'd snuck out from ‘Deadliest Catch’ and walked straight to the Milkovich house.

Well, that’s a lie; he walked to the El entrance near the house and is chain smoking whilst thinking of something to say. Something that will... make Mickey see that Ian was an idiot and rush over to demand him back? Jesus, this is stupid. He's a fucking idiot.

But, he's an idiot whose had about as much of Ian's kicked puppy routine as he can handle. So he stubs the cigarette out under his boot, takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and crosses the street. He spies a figure in the yard as he gets closer, but relaxes when he realises it’s only Mandy. Her crush on Ian is pretty obvious, so it's doubtful that she knows her older brother is tapping that already. Or, was. Will be. Christ, he's not Ricky fucking Lake here.

“S’up Mandy? Is, uh, Mickey around?”

She gives him a brief, odd look, but shakes her head and dumps the two trash bags she’s carrying into the can without looking at him. An assortment of bottles clatter loudly as the bags hit the bottom.  Lip whistles appreciatively.

“Big party?”  He looks closely at her, then, and she's clearly been crying. Her make-up is smudged in a grey mess around her eyes, and there are tear tracks on her cheeks.  “Shit. What’s wrong?”  He moves forward automatically, through the front gate, and reaches his hand up to hover around her elbow. They aren't in any way close, but she surprises him by not flinching away. Instead, she stumbles forward and buries her head into his neck, her hair sticking a little to the sweat skin around his collar.

He lets his hands rest on her back, no pressure, and swipes his thumbs against the flimsy material of her top. It takes a few seconds for her to compose herself, and then she pulls back, wiping angrily at her face. “Sorry.  I totally didn’t mean to latch onto you like that.”

Lip shrugs, tucks his hands into his pockets. “No big deal. You alright?”

Mandy doesn't answer right away. Biting on her bottom lip, she looks over her shoulder for a second before facing him fully. “Come on in.”

Confused, he follows her retreating back automatically. His feet clatter on their porch steps, and he suddenly becomes very wary of running into any of her admittedly scary-as-shit brothers. He casts his eyes around the living room when he enters; three mismatched Xbox controllers are thrown carelessly in front of the TV, plates and mugs are stacked in an unsteady pile on the coffee table, and there's an overflowing ashtray in danger of falling onto the floor.

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

But the house is silent apart from the sound of Mandy shuffling in to the kitchen, so he breathes a little easier and follows her through. She hands him a beer and gestures towards the rickety kitchen table. He sits and takes a long swig, just as Mandy sits opposite, hands twisting together in her lap. She looks directly at him.

“Did you know Ian was fucking my brother?”

Lip chokes and almost coughs up a lung as he tries to control his breathing and avoid inhaling any beer. He shoots her a surprised look when he gets himself under control, but she just stares expectantly back at him. He puts his beer back on the table with an unsteady clatter, breathing out harshly.

“Yeah. I mean, I’d rather not know, but, what can you do.” Mandy’s answering smile is utterly unconvincing, and Lip sits forward, elbows against the sticky place mat. “Is that why you’re upset? ‘Cause you found out Mickey was gay?”

Mandy shakes her head. “No. God, no, I've known that for years. Like you knew about Ian, right?.”

Lip stays quiet; lets her assume that's a 'yes' and not a 'I didn't know 'til I found his stash of gay porn and he told me'.

“I just-- I wish he'd told me before. About their relationship, I mean. Having him yell at me and then take off immediately after didn’t exactly cushion the blow.”

"Relationship? He told you they were in a relationship?" Lip doesn't mean to sound so surprised; he just assumed Ian was the more invested of the two.

“I don’t think he meant to tell me at all.” Mandy sniffs and steals some of his beer. She doesn't say anything else for a few seconds, but Lip waits her out. “I was worried about him.  I mean, Mick drinks, sure, but these past couple weeks?" She shakes her head. "He’s barely been sober. Just stumbles in, sleeps it off and starts all over again. So this morning I asked him if everything was alright. He wasn't as drunk as he had been, but it was enough. He, uh, he's always more chatty when he's kinda drunk or high.  He started talking about how he fucks everything up and 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 he said starts to sink in. He clamps down on the sudden inappropriate urge to laugh incredulously.

“I told him he's not a fuck up! I mean, he’s got a good thing going on at the construction site, you know? He’s getting good money, probation's going good. But he wouldn't listen. He said 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. 

“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 he laughed, right, but I swear to god it sounded like he was gonna cry. So I go to hug him, but then he says that Ian's right, he shouldn't be in a relationship with a fuck up like him and he deserves better."

Pausing for another 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! Jesus, I thought Mickey hated him! So I froze, like, mid hug. And then Mick realized what he'd said and freaked out.”

“What did 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, must see what he's assuming written all over his face. She 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 keeps his mouth shut. He just nods and lets Mandy continue.

“He threw his beer against the wall, yelled and then begged me to keep my mouth shut. I didn't get a chance to say anything before he just bolted outta here.”

“Do you know where he went?”

Mandy nods, looking exhausted. “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, figures he's got a few hours before anyone starts to question where he is.

“No. Because I know my brother, and I’d just make it worse if I went. He’ll come back soon." Mandy rubs at her eyes, breathing shakily. "I sorta just stood there, you know? After he left, I mean. 'Cause I’m not mad, not really. Shit, I don’t even really know why I started crying.”  

Lip has an idea, but he wouldn't dare say anything to Mandy. Being terrifying sort of comes automatically with her last name.

Downing the last of the beer, Mandy turns to look at the clock too. "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. “I'm gonna go, see if he might talk to me.” He pauses his retreat to the door when Mandy’s fingers curl tightly in the fabric of his shirt.

“That's not— He probably won't like that. Like, you knowing, or whatever."

Lip huffs out a laugh. "Yeah, no, believe me I'm aware it's a monumentally stupid idea. But Ian's my baby brother, and he's a mess too, so I've gotta at least see what Mickey's got to say about it."

Mandy doesn't look 100% convinced - and Lip doesn't blame her at all - but she uncurls her fingers, standing too. "Okay. Uh, thanks for...” She waves a hand at the table. "I didn't mean to dump all that on you.”

“Don’t worry about it. And I promise not to 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 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, twisting to see her leaning against the door jam. “You gonna be okay?” She nods, smiling a little, and Lip suddenly understands why so many of his friends have tried to get in her pants.

“I’ll be fine. Just, uh, make sure Mickey's okay?" Without waiting for him to reply, she just flips her hair and goes inside, letting the door slam shut behind her.

 

 

It takes Lip another cigarette and ten minutes of wandering around before he spies the ramshackle wooden shelter tucked behind a pillar three blocks down from the Milkovich house. He slows his pace, eyes squinting in the sun. He doesn't see Mickey right away, but once he gets close enough, he can see a couple of knocked over beer bottles, several cigarette butts and a pair of beaten up boots sticking out from a gap in the wood.

He perches against a couple of old tires and wipes the sweat from his face. The area around Mickey's hideout is all long grass and scattered trash, weeds sticking up through cracks in the asphalt. He waits until an old dude and his dog have moved far enough away that there's no chance of eavesdropping, and then clears his throat. "Mickey, you in there?"

“The fuck do you want, Gallagher?” Mickey’s voice is rough and only slightly slurred. Lip debates beating around the bush for a second, then thinks fuck it.

“We gotta talk about Ian.” Mickey huffs loudly at that, then 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.

"The fuck for?"

Lip keeps his expression as blank as possible. "He's fucking pining, man. Shit's getting old."

Mickey slumps back against the shelter. There are dark circles around his eyes, his face sallow 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 coughs, spits on the ground - and Lip tries his best to hide his disgusted look, but makes a mental note to check Ian for brain damage later, because... Well, really? - before wiping his thumb against the corner of his mouth, over his face roughly, then links his hands behind his head.

He closes his eyes against the sun. "And you think I give a shit?"

“Cut the crap, Mickey. He made a mistake. Let him apologize for it, sort your shit out, and then you two can continue fucking like rabbits.”

That probably could have been phrased better, as evidenced by the fact that Mickey’s eyes snap open and pin him in place, hands dropping to clench into fists at his side.

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?”  Mickey’s voice is low and angry, face twisted in a snarl, and Lip has to force himself not to cower backwards.

“It means, I know your gay for Ian, man."

Realistically, Lip should’ve expected the punch. But he underestimates how quickly Mickey can move and he barely registers the fist swinging backwards until it collides with his jaw. Caught off guard, he overcompensates ends up sliding off the tires, landing 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 and I'm not going to. Neither has Ian.”

“There is nothing to figure out.” Mickey punctuates that with quick, sharp 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 lets him go, 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 and spit out onto the dirt. He looks up in time to see Mickey punch the rotting wood of his hideout, a snarl of frustration bursting 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.

It carries on for a few long minutes, and 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 as he stutters out a long exhale. 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.

“Pretty sure that's what started this shit." The words sound a little garbled, and Lip wants to take them back for a split second, because Jesus he cannot keep his mouth shut. Surprisingly, though, Mickey huffs out something that could pass for a really breathy laugh.

“Fuck you."

Lip keeps the you wish  back by the skin of his fucking teeth. Instead, he sits up and prods gently at his jaw. “Ian's an idiot.”

Mickey tucks his head away from Lip and spits over his shoulder. He's clasping his hands together so tight, his fingertips have gone white, pressed against his bruised knuckles. His hands are shaking, and it looks like it hurts. "Nah, he-- Firecrotch was right."

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

Mickey snorts. Lip isn't dissuaded. 

“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 and—”

“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." Mickey interrupts, finally looking at him. "I’m not gonna go bust my balls talking about my fucking feelings for him, when he didn't do what should've been done fucking months ago. Come on, man. Look at us."

"I am, and clearly your both as fucking lovesick for each other." Mickey startles a little, and Lip doesn't get the chance to work out what expression takes over his face before he's standing up in a rush.

Lip lets him pace for a bit, and runs his tongue along the backs of his teeth. When he's done and the silence starts to grow awkward, Lip hauls himself up. “He’ll be working the late shift tonight. Just him. In the store. On his own.” Mickey stops moving. Lip wipes the worst of the dirt from his shorts. “Just, you know, in case you did decide to drop by.” 

Mickey's face is a careful mask, but he doesn't say anything, just lets shoulders drop. Lip sees his mouth tick up in one corner before he looks away.

Lip figures that's as close to a smile as Mickey ever gets, and then wonders when the fuck this became his life. He fumbles for another cigarette, and lights it up, wincing at the way puckering his lips makes pain flare up his face. He starts to walk backwards, makes eye contact with Mickey, and mumbles around the filter. "Don't fuck it up."

Mickey’s eyes narrow for a split second, but he nods. And Lip has no shame in admitting that he lets out a sigh of relief when Mickey turns to start walking in the opposite direction.

He makes it three steps though, before he looks back over his shoulder and pins Lip with a glare. "You pull anything like this shit again, Gallagher?”

He doesn't need to elaborate. And Lip really just wants to go home and ice his face. He can feel the bruises forming and knows it's not going to be pretty. Ian's gonna kill him. Biting back a sarcastic 'yes sir, got it sir, won't happen again sir', he just salutes sloppily, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

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

 

 

Ian doesn't kill him, but it's close enough.

Lip literally walks into him 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 the rest of the way before gripping Lip’s chin roughly 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.

“The hell did you do to your face?” Ian's voice is shaking with thinly veiled anger.

Lip sucks in a sharp breath at the sting of the cold against his tender skin. "It looks worse than it is.” He's pretty sure that's true, since he hasn't seen himself in a mirror yet.

Ian doesn't relax, just steps closer. "That doesn't answer my question. What happened?”

The freezer beeps, and Lip busies himself closing it and jumping up onto the counter. “Some kid on the El jumped me."

Okay, he could've done better than that.

Ian raises an eyebrow. “Really." It's not even a question. His entire face screams skeptical.

“Yep.” Jesus, Lip might as well have whistled and twiddled his fucking thumbs. 

"Some random kid of the El just decided to deck you one?"

Lip sighs and leans back, switching the bag of peas to his other hand. He hasn't the energy to lie to Ian tonight. 

"No. I, uh--" He clears his throat, winging in advance. "I ran into Mickey.”

Ian throws his arms in the air. "You have got to be fucking kidding me, Lip. What the hell did you say? 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, face like thunder.

“How about we call it even?”

Ian doesn't respond, just clenches his hands around the back of a kitchen chair and hangs his head. “Lip."

Lip heaves a deep breath and jumps down, tossing the melting peas into the sink.  “Okay, look. It was mostly my fault.” He gestures at his face, ducking his head to meet Ian’s eyes. “All this? That was me. I was a dick."

Ian is silent for a moment, before he raises his head, teeth gnawing on his lower lip. “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 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 guys broke up. I think that proves he cares a little." Ian makes a noise suspiciously close to a sob. "Also, he, uh, he told Mandy you were in a relationship."

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

“Yeah, and then that you broke up with him because he’s a fuck-up.”

“He-- Fuck.” Ian grabs hold of the chair again, as if to steady himself. “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 to work. Fix things with your boyfriend.”

“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, I don't need to know who puts what where.”

“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 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 Mickey swallowed his pride and showed up. That he and Ian have managed to work something out.

"You come up with a better excuse 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 thankfully doesn't push the issue. “So, how’d things go with Ian? Really, this time. Is 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, but she'll forever worry more about their sake than her own. He smiles. “Yeah, just the usual West Point worries. Nothing to worry about.”

Fiona looks closely at him, skeptical. “You're sure?”

Lip nods, reaches out his hand for a fist bump. “Absolutely, Fi. I 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 stops like a deer in the headlights; his shirt is buttoned up wrong, there's a hickey peeking out from the open collar, and his grin is so big, it’s practically fucking sparkling. “Good night?”

Ian actually blushes, looking down at his lap. Fiona snorts out a laugh. “It was alright.”

Lip waits until he looks up, raises an eyebrow at him when Ian meets his gaze. “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's phone lights up. Lip looks at him questioningly, and he points a thumb over his shoulder, smirking. “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. There's a joint tucked behind his ear, and he's clearly showered since that afternoon. He nods awkwardly at Lip, eyes flicking over his cheek. “S’up.”

“Mickey.” Lip nods, turning away so he doesn't make Mickey feel guilty about it or some shit. 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 back 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 reacquainted.