Ian was nine when Monica took off, nine when Frank turned into a chronic alcoholic and ten when social services finally came and picked them all up. He hadn't expected Monica to take off, it had just happened out of the blue with no warning. One day she was there, the next she wasn't. After that, he had sort of guessed things would fall apart.
They couldn't stay together, that was made pretty clear from the very beginning; but social services said it was better than them having to live with Frank. Ian didn't know so much about that, but it wasn't like he could argue. Frank certainly didn't argue, they didn't even think he'd realise that they were gone.
Fiona hugged them all tight and told them that she was going to find some way for them all to be together again. She said she'd try to win custody or something when she was old enough, but Ian could tell just from the look on Lip's face that they shouldn't hold out much hope for that.
He tried to decide on the drive to the children's home he would stay at until they found him a placement which parent he hated more. He hated Monica for leaving, but Frank for not giving a shit. Then again, as far as he was concerned, as far as he could work out, it all came back to Monica. Frank wouldn't have let them go if Monica hadn't taken off, he wouldn't be drunk if Monica hadn't taken off. Things would all still be the same if Monica hadn't taken off.
So he decided this was all Monica's fault. She was the one he was going to hate.
The drive was boring and long and there wasn't anything for him to do other than listen to the crappy radio station or think because the man driving him didn't have any interest at all in holding a conversation. Neither did Ian if he was being honest. He supposed it could have always been worse. Things could always be worse; that was what Fiona said anyway.
Inside, the children's home smelt faintly of sweat and heavily of dust and people stared at him like hawks from the moment he stepped out of the car. He couldn't tell how many kids there were, but it was a big house, so he figured there was probably quite a lot. He didn't want to know any of them, he just wanted to go home. But he wasn't about to be any sort of coward, so he bit down on his tongue and tried to keep his expression as controlled as was possible.
A slightly overweight woman who introduced herself as Miss Potts led him down a narrow corridor to the room on the end.
"You're in there," she said gruffly, her voice like several miles of bad road, making him wince. She pointed at the boy already in the room, her eyes narrowed, "Play nice, I'm warning you."
The boy was lounging on the bed like the king of the jungle or something. He was dark haired, pale skinned and dirty. Ian figured that he was older, maybe about his brother Lip's age or something like that. He was kind of short looking, and scrawny too, but that just seemed to be something that came with the territory around here. The mouth to food ratio didn't quite add up.
He stared at Ian with blue eyes that were practically daring him to do something that he didn't like. He lit up a cigarette and barked, "Come and close the fucking door then, Jesus!"
And Ian jumped and did as he was told, because he didn't know what else to do. He felt out of place here, whereas this boy looked completely at home.
"AWOL mum and drunk dad, what's your excuse?" the guy asked, obviously speaking because he thought he should or that he had to rather than out of any real desire to be having this conversation.
"Crazy mum, drunk dad," he replied after a minute, not quite sure where to put himself in the room.
The guy looked sideways at him as he blew up smoke into the air. You could tell he had already had a hard life just by the fact that he was smoking so young. Just like Ian. "Only child?" he asked.
"No," Ian replied, deciding to sit on the bed in the end, "One of five."
"Snap," he said, "Now that's out of the way, you want a smoke?" He held out the packet that was mostly full and Ian took one before he even really registered the question. "Wouldn't normally offer," he said, like he had to make that clear, "But they've been getting on my tits about me not having any friends here and freaking out at all my roommates."
He blew smoke out of his nostrils as he exhaled.
"And I ain't going back to that other place because it smells like piss and the guy in charge is a perv," he continued, looking at Ian in a way that was more of a glare than anything else, "So here's the deal, you don't annoy me and I won't permanently rearrange your face, got it?"
Ian nodded. "Yeah," he replied quickly, because really, what else could he do? The boy kind of scared him. He was thankful for the smoke though, that he had to admit. "What exactly do you find annoying though?"
He wanted to be sure that he didn't do it by accident or something.
"Asking stupid fucking questions for one," he replied and Ian figured he was just the type who swore without even realising it, "What's your name anyway?"
He hadn't realised that they hadn't been through that part yet. "Ian Gallagher," he replied.
"Mickey Milkovich," the older boy returned, blowing smoke out of his nostrils again and that seemed to be that for way of conversation.
Mickey called the children's home the Halfway House. He said it was the constant point between your fucked up home and someone else's.
Ian could see the logic in that, so the name stuck in his brain.
Mickey had a way of looking at things, a reasoning that was completely unique to him. He said that learning the rules here once was a whole lot easier than learning a whole new set of rules every time you left. Especially since you were always going to come back.
So while every other kid in the house was determined to get fostered, Mickey was determined instead not to.
Ian didn't know what he wanted to do, he hadn't decided much of anything at all.
He could see the logic in the things Mickey said, or at least some of them anyway. He found the older boy interesting, the danger that seemed to be so ingrained into his being was intriguing to Ian in a way that shouldn't have been.
Mickey was rude and violent and didn't wash very often, but he was strong in a way that Ian had never seen before. It was like he'd not only accepted that the world had it in for him, that his life was fucked, but he also sort of embraced it.
Ian had never met anybody quite like Mickey and he didn't think anyone else existed who was like him. He wasn't the smartest, even though Ian had realised almost instantly that he was smarter than he thought he was; but he seemed to know things about the world that nobody else did. He decided that that was probably because he seemed to see things very differently, like he was looking through a different set of lenses than the rest of the world.
It didn't take long for Ian to work out that here at the Halfway House, everyone avoided Mickey because they thought he was unhinged. Words like impulsive, crazy, and unbalanced had all been thrown at Mickey and he just shrugged them off. The comments rolled right off his shoulders like he didn't even hear them. And maybe he didn't.
Maybe Ian saw things differently too, because he didn't see Mickey the same way that everyone else did.
They all thought he was impulsive, but Ian could see the calculations fluttering behind his eyes, could see him making the decisions so quickly it seemed like instinct, like an impulse, but it wasn't. Mickey wasn't some sort of lumbering beast that could be provoked so easily, he was more like one of those agile jungle cats: short, watchful and just as dangerous as every other predator.
Ian thought Mickey saw everything, was convinced of it. But at the same time he hoped that Mickey didn't see the awe-filled way that Ian stared at him sometimes.
"You know, you're not actually half bad," Mickey commented only a few days after he'd arrived and the day before he was set to go out to his first foster family, "Makes it fucking typical that you're fucking off tomorrow."
And already Ian knew that was Mickey's way of saying, "Make sure you come back quickly."
Ian knew he would try.
Mickey flipped him off as the car pulled away and he smiled at the older boy. Ian just smiled more, because he sort of already new that that was Mickey's way of waving. He wasn't going very far, only an hour's journey in the car, but it still felt like a world away from everything he knew.
It was summer, so he didn't have to worry about school, not yet, he still had a month until he had to think about that.
What he had to worry about instead was how clean everything was where he was being fostered. It was all neatly cut hedges and white picket fences and it made Ian feel sick because he knew he stuck out.
It was like putting an alley cat in a cage with tigers. Beside all these magnificent creatures, the cat was inadequate. But it also became the exhibit. Instead of being ignored, it was the cat that was pointed at. It was the cat that was laughed at.
Ian felt like some scrawny little alley cat in amongst the tigers when he stepped out of that car. The way they stared at him; like he was just something foul smelling underneath their shoe.
He was ready to leave already and he'd barely even arrived.
The family were Mrs and Mrs Cole. They had one son already grown up and away at college and another just about to go. They were all big and bulky and well dressed, doing this no doubt to be charitable or to try and look good to their neighbors. It was like Mickey talking to him that first time; it wasn't because he wanted to, it was because he felt he had to.
"And you must be Ian," Mrs Cole wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him, making him flinch and cringe away from her touch slightly.
He didn't like this idea. The idea of someone trying to force him to fit into a family he didn't know. It made him crave his own family, his own flesh and blood and everything that he was used to. He wanted to hear Debbie laughing, Lip muttering theorems he was too young to wonder about under his breath. He wanted to smell Fiona's burnt toast and Carl frying one of his toys in the microwave.
But instead, all he could smell was newly cut grass, fresh air and expensive perfume.
He was used to the smell of beer on someone's breath, cigarette smoke and cheap shampoo. Anything else made him feel queasy. All this made him feel queasy.
"Oh bless," she said patting his cheek, "You look a little nervous, don't worry, you'll fit right in here. Just pretend it's home."
"This is nothing like my home," Ian muttered, but if she heard him she pretended not to.
Maybe that was the trick: hearing only what you wanted to.
He smiled, the thought reminded him of Mickey. And then he just had to frown because he couldn't work out why the hell he couldn't get that boy out of his mind. He couldn't work out why he was thinking of someone he had known a handful of days more than he thought about his own family.
The only excuse he could come up with was that Mickey was fresh and new and something he had never seen before. But unlike all of his around him, which was also new and unknown in a shiny sort of way, Mickey stank of home and of familiarity when Ian was near him. Maybe it was the smell of cigarette smoke, dirt and stale sweat that he liked, he didn't know.
"How old are you again, son?" the man asked and Ian wanted to tell him that he wasn't his son, but he couldn't find the words and he knew it would only come out sounding pathetic.
"Ten," he replied, scuffing the toe of his shoe on the ground, "Only just though."
The Coles' son smirked. "Bit scrawny for a ten-year-old, isn't he?" he asked, looking Ian up and down in a way that made him feel far too exposed, far too vulnerable.
"He probably just has a high metabolism, Jacob," his mother chided, and it was chiding.
In Ian's house, there would have been yelling, a quick slap around the back of the head that didn't really hurt, but you pretended it did anyway. No here, they did things much more civilised, they chided.
Ian had to keep reminding himself that his house was past tense now. An empty building wasn't much of a home except for in his brain.
"And don't be rude."
"Actually, I'm scrawny because the food the mouth ratio is backwards in my house," Ian said, saying the words before he even knew he was speaking. He looked up through his lashes, nervous, not sure who exactly to look at. He didn't even know who the hell he was talking to. None of them? All of them? The universe?
The woman looked at him like he was some sort of poor orphan child she needed to save. "Oh, you poor thing," she said, patting his cheek again, "Well don't worry, there's plenty of food here, you can just eat when you're hungry."
Yeah, well, he'd gathered that much.
"What are the rules?" he asked, because he remembered what Mickey said about there always being rules. New home, new rules.
She smiled like she was proud of him for asking that. "We don't tolerate cigarettes or drugs," she said and he felt like scowling at her. Because what did she expect, that someone from a bad neighbourhood wouldn't smoke? "Of course, I know you're too young, but that's still our only rule."
Ahh of course, he was too young. What she didn't know was that you were never too young to start bad habits, especially not in his neighbourhood.
Ian had never been more bored in his life, which was ridiculous considering the house he was in had practically everything. There were video games, toys, computers, everything he could ever think of using, but he just didn't want to. He did sometimes, obviously, but he just got bored so quickly. He didn't know why.
Maybe it was the loneliness.
Here, he was on his own for practically the entire day and at home there had always been someone. Mr Cole was always in his office, Mrs Cole was always socialising with the neighbours and Jacob seemed to vanish into thin air. Not that Ian actually wanted to talk to any of the anyway, but he still found their opinion that someone could be satisfied with just a plethora of expensive objects to be stupid.
He missed Lip, Fiona and Debs. He even missed Carl repeatedly almost blowing up the house. He missed the noise, because lying there at night in the house he was in now, it was like everything around him was dead. The only sound was that which he made and it was driving him mad. He wanted to hear Carl snuffling in his sleep and Lip's constant fidgeting, he wanted noise.
The Halfway House had been noisy, it had been like home, just with strangers rather than relatives. Mickey had used to snore ever so softly in his sleep, sometimes mumbling things that didn't make sense.
Ian didn't know why he couldn't get the older boy from his head. He was obviously trouble, he might as well have had that written across his forehead. He flaunted the fact he was trouble, but Ian felt like for some weird reason they were drawn towards each other. Ian because he had never been this fascinated by another personand Mickey because he never seemed to have been nice to another human being who was not blood.
Fiona would have called it fate, Lip would have called it suicide. Nobody else would have given a shit.
Ian didn't know what to think.
It was strange, but Ian felt like he was far too alive inside of his own skin.
He felt too alive, too energised and it was making him itch. It was like there was something buried under his skin that he couldn't get at, but so desperately wanted to. It was driving him mad, scratching and itching and feeling like he needed to go for a long run. Except it was too hot to run in the day and house rules said no going outside after dark.
This place was stupid.
And God he itched. Maybe he was just allergic to the washing powder.
He didn't feel like he knew anything here, it was all confusing.
Ian could smell the smoke from in his room. It was like some sort of beacon, calling to him in a way that was practically inhuman. It was a craving, a craving that he should have been far too young to have. He'd been trapped inside the house for just under a month and his fingers twitched with need in response to the smell.
It was the habit of living in a house where privacy did not exist. That was why he had no qualms about walking straight into Jacob's room. It was big, too big if you asked him, but then of course no one did. Ian simply existed in the house, he was there, but only barely. Nobody cared what he did and he sort of liked that as much as he hated it.
He told himself none of this mattered to him; and actually that was the thing, it didn't.
Jacob whipped around when he heard someone walk into his room, the cigarette dangling limply from his fingers. "What the fuck do you want?" he snapped, relaxing slightly when he saw it was only Ian. He was trying to be threatening, but Ian just found it amusing.
This guy wasn't scary. No, Ian had shared a room with scary.
"A smoke," he replied simply, hardly able to tear his eyes away from the cigarette.
Jacob's eyes narrowed like he was trying to tell whether or not Ian was telling the truth, but nevertheless handed over the cigarette. Ian sucked on it almost frantically, the desperation for something familiar the only reason for the speed with which he smoked it.
"Aren't you a little young to be smoking?"
Ian turned and raised his eyebrows at the older guy. He didn't like him, he'd already decided as much. "Aren't you breaking your mummy's house rules?" he replied sarcastically, the confidence creeping up on him.
As it happened though, it was Ian who got caught with the smell of smoke on his breath. And when she yelled at him, he just shrugged and said, "You fostered a fucked up kid from a fucked up neighbourhood and you honestly thought they'd have no addictions; congrats you're a fucking genius."
Admittedly, he wasn't all that surprised when she sent him back to the Halfway House. He wasn't bothered in the slightest either. Mickey was still there, lounging on the bed and when he looked up it was like only days had passed rather than weeks. Nothing here had changed at all except the people.
Ian decided that the Halfway House must be in its own little time bubble or something.
"Ah, so he returns," Mickey said, a sneer on his lips, "Maybe I rented out your fucking bed."
Ian ignored his words and flopped down on the bed opposite Mickey's. "Like fuck you did," he retorted with that confidence that he still couldn't explain. It paid off though when Mickey did nothing more than smile and toss him a packet of cigarettes. He didn't think he'd ever had a better welcome than that.
He was definitely going to take a leaf out of Mickey's book and stick around, which he told the older boy. What he didn't tell him was that his interest – which was purely educational of course, he was just intrigued to see how his mind worked – in Mickey was the main reason he'd come to that decision. He already knew that to tell him that would be suicide; and Ian liked his head remaining on his shoulders.
It's actually quite easy to tell Mickey's moods, to tell when he's going to get mad, when he's in a good mood and when you should just leave him alone.
If he's relaxed he'll push his tongue into the corner of his mouth, he'll do it repeatedly, like a habit. If he's mad, he'll do it once and scowl. And if he's nervous, he'll push his tongue into the corner of his mouth and then rub his bottom lip with his thumb. But Mickey doesn't get nervous very often. It's not really his thing.
(Ian realises that makes it sound like he's spent a lot of time staring at Mickey's mouth, but so what if he has. It's for survival reasons.)
He doesn't like hearing stupid questions. Ian knows that, it was one of the first things he was told. Sometimes though when he's in a good mood he won't scowl when Ian asks them anyway. But the thing is, he'll always answer them.
Ian liked to think sometimes that Mickey was nothing but talk. For a while, he used to think all of his threats were empty, because he'd threaten Ian and then never followed through. He kind of scared the crap out of Ian the day that the redhead discovered Mickey wasn't just all talk.
He didn't know what the argument was over, but it was a pretty short argument. The boy – Ian didn't even know his name, he was someone from a few doors down – got slammed into the wall hard enough for the plaster to crack and his bloody nose made it clear Ian had already missed a punch being thrown.
Mickey tossed him like discarded trash out of the door, forcing the redhead to jump out of the way to avoid the flying body.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Mickey snapped at him when he saw him standing there.
Ian was scared for all of a few seconds. he was only scared for how long it took to notice the ever so slight softening of Mickey's features when he realised who it was. The scowl didn't fade, but the look in his eyes changed just a fraction.
And that was what made Ian think that maybe, he was the exception to the rule.
He knew it was a stupid theory and one that it was probably just going to come around and bite him in the ass, but he couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, Mickey valued having Ian as a friend as much as Ian valued having him as one. And it wasn't just that nobody messed with him because he was Mickey's friend. It was that life just generally seemed more entertaining with Mickey in it.
Moments like this just reaffirmed that fact.
"You have blood on your chin," Ian said simply, flopping down on his bed and trying to not look at the blood on Mickey's knuckles or face.
Mickey just grunted at him and wiped at his chin with his shirt. He didn't bother wiping off his knuckles, just sat rubbing them.
"Does it hurt when you punch someone?" Ian asked and from the way Mickey looked at him, he was guessing that constituted as a stupid question.
The older boy settled with his back against the wall and reached for a cigarette. "If you punch properly," he replied after a minute, lighting up and taking a drag before wordlessly offering it to Ian. He did that sometimes, when he felt like he should be ashamed of something, but didn't know how to say the words.
Ian didn't think Mickey had ever apologised for anything in his life.
Not that he had to then, but still. Ian sort of liked that Mickey was not ashamed of anything the world threw at him.
"You ever been in a fight?" Mickey asked when Ian handed back the cigarette.
Ian found it surprising for no reason other than that Mickey never asked questions. He answered them, he listened – or maybe he didn't listen – to Ian ramble on, but he never actually offered up conversation topics or starters willingly.
"Not really," he replied, knowing that Mickey could see through lies.
"Lucky you," Mickey muttered, "Sometimes I think fighting's the only thing I've ever actually done."
Mickey had never said anything like that before.
Ian worked out that Mickey had to be in a really strange mood that day since he showed Ian the only thing that had ever really been his. Mickey wasn't the oldest of his siblings, just like Ian wasn't and that meant that he'd essentially been raised on hand me downs. Nothing had ever been his, just like nothing had ever been Ian's.
"Don't fucking laugh, cause I know it's gay," Mickey said as he pulled the key ring out of his pocket, "But I was like six at the time and I found a dollar on the floor so I got this from some shitty market stall thing."
He held it up for Ian to see, but didn't hand it to him like anybody else would have did. Ian would never have said it was stupid, because he could see Mickey was almost ridiculously attached to the key ring.
"Why Thor?" Ian asked when he noticed the tiny plastic hammer.
Mickey shrugged and tucked it back into his pocket, "Why not? He's fucking badass."
And that conversation really was as simple as that.
They started school later that week and Mickey pulled a face because he'd been kept back a grade. It put him only a year ahead of Ian. He said it was fucking stupid because the people in his year now were all twats. (Ian thought it might have had something to do with Mickey's pride, but he'd never say that aloud.)
Ian had to say he agreed when the kid Darryl from Mickey's year decided it would be fun to use Ian as a human punching bag. Ian didn't know how to fight back, so he just didn't do anything. He just curled up and protected his head as best he could. Tried to use his knees to shield the soft, tender parts of his stomach.
Mickey didn't say anything when Ian walked into their room with a black eye and a bruise across the side of his ribs. Mickey wasn't a big talker, so Ian supposed he probably just didn't know what to say. He wasn't offended or anything by his silence.
He met up with Mickey sometimes at lunch, even though all they really did was sit and smoke a cigarette each. They didn't really talk. Ian because his jaw was often hurting from a punch he'd taken and Mickey because he never seemed to have anything he wanted to say. Most of the time it probably just looked like they simply happened to be sharing the same breathing space, but Ian liked sitting near Mickey because nobody else had the courage to come anywhere near him.
"Gotta piss," Mickey said suddenly two weeks after the start of term, handing Ian the rest of his cigarette and spitting the taste of ash out his mouth and onto the floor.
Ian nodded and took a drag from the cigarette, smiling around it for some fucked up reason he couldn't explain.
He wasn't really smiling anymore when something hit him in the side of the head.
Darryl laughed when Ian hit the floor and stared down at him with his arms folded. "You're a fucking retard, Gallagher," he said, like Ian actually knew what the hell he had ever done to get this guy to hate him so much. Or maybe it wasn't hate. Ian thought it was probably just boredom.
"You two could start a fucking club then or summat."
Mickey reappeared and he looked relaxed to the rest of the world. Maybe it was only Ian who could see the hardness in his eyes.
"What the fuck do you want?" Darryl looked uneasy now that Mickey was there, because nobody other than Ian liked it when they had Mickey's attention. Sometimes Ian couldn't understand that, but then when he saw the look that was in Mickey's eyes now, he did.
The older boy shrugged, "Nothing much."
Mickey's fist connected with a solid crunch that shouldn't have made Ian smile, but it did. He let the older boy jerk him to his feet, ignoring the blood he could feel smeared across Mickey's hand from Darryl's explosive nose.
He couldn't help but squirm when Mickey looked him up and down. Darryl and his friend were already running.
"If they hit you, you have to hit them back harder. Jesus Gallagher, that's fucking common sense," he said, scowling, "They won't mess with you then." Mickey dusted his hands off on his jeans, wiping off the blood from his knuckles. "I'm not always going to be around to save your ass, you know, you have to learn to stick up for yourself."
Ian nodded to stop himself from imagining a world without Mickey in it with him. He didn't want to think of a world like that.
In hindsight, that was probably the minute he first felt himself falling for Mickey Milkovich. He didn't know why, it just was. Not even the way Mickey spat on the ground again and scratched his balls before walking off could put him off, Ian figured that meant he had pretty strange taste.
And not only because Mickey was a boy.
The day Ian finally followed Mickey's advice, it was more because he wanted to actually be able to make Mickey proud more than he was concerned for the arrangement of his face. He was used to pain. After the deep, throbbing pain his mother had installed in him by leaving, he didn't really feel much of anything anymore.
Darryl cried like a little bitch when Ian actually turned around and hit him back and Ian sneered like Mickey always did because he thought this was the only time he could probably ever pull off that expression. Actually, he wasn't sure he did pull it off, but at least he got a chance to try.
When he sat down on his bed opposite Mickey, he saw the older boy's eyes focus on the redness of his knuckles, on the smear of blood that Ian hadn't realised was there. He should have known it had been though since he'd broken the fuckers nose. He thought he'd probably only been able to do that though because the force of Mickey's punch before was no doubt something Darryl could still feel.
"It hurt?" Mickey asked him, but Ian could see in his eyes that he already knew the answer.
He just shrugged.
Mickey upended a water bottle onto one of his tank tops that was on the floor, uncaring for the water dripping onto the carpet and wrapped it around Ian's hand in a way that was surprisingly gentle for a violent person. "Feels good, doesn't it?"
Ian knew he wasn't talking about the cold against his knuckles.
He grinned, "Yeah, it does actually." He could sort of see why Mickey got into so many fights so willingly; but he didn't think he'd ever be able to take a hit like Mickey could. He'd seen Mickey get punched in the face and all Mickey had done was nut the fucker back.
He thought Mickey was kind of amazing like that.
Either that or he just had a really hard head. Probably both.
Ian didn't know why he was nervous about meeting up with all of his siblings again. He'd spoken to them on the phone, but this was the first one of those formal days out that his social worker planned. She warned him that he better behave and Mickey happened to be in the same room and laughed, "He ain't badass enough to fuck up a family meeting," he grinned and put emphasis on the, "Yet."
Weirdly, his social worker didn't find that very funny.
"You don't want to be hanging out with people like Mickey," she warned him, not even caring that Mickey was in the same room. Mickey didn't give a shit either, he just put his feet up and scratched his bare stomach. "You'll never get fostered with a role model like him."
Ian smirked slightly, not knowing why he felt oddly confident. "What makes you think I want to get fostered?" he asked her and Mickey barked out another laugh, winking at Ian when the social worker wasn't looking.
She chose not to answer that statement, probably just wanted to get away from Mickey as quickly as possible. That always seemed to be the popular opinion.
They were all meeting up at some park, because apparently an open space would be good for them and the weather wasn't completely shitty even if the sky was a bit grey. The air felt strangely thick as Ian climbed out of the car, chewing his bottom lip nervously.
He knew this was stupid, he knew it was his family, but he didn't know how he was supposed to handle this. He didn't know how he was supposed to feel about it all. He tried to put himself into Mickey's mind set, trying to think how someone who didn't let anything hurt him would handle it. Although actually he'd probably just tell Ian to, "Suck it the fuck up, they're your family dickhead."
He forgot why he was so worried when Debbie ran at him.
He was the last one to arrive – typically – and something seemed to unwind inside of him at the sight of their grinning faces. It was like it didn't matter what else was happening, whether or not they all lived together still. They were together, that was all that counted.
After all the hugs were over and done with, they were all in their normal positions, or at least the positions that had been normal before they'd been split up. Carl sat crushing ants into the dirt with his thumb, Lip was beside Ian passing a cigarette back and forth between them and Fiona was plaiting Debbie's hair.
"So what homes are you guys in?" Fiona asked trying to be the one to break the ice over the whole situation as usual, because she always thought everything fell to her, "I'm with this elderly couple, they're actually sort of sweet."
"I'm with aliens," Carl said randomly, but then they supposed he could be forgiven since he was only five.
Nobody really commented on that.
"A lady called Jessica," Debbie said, "She's really nice, she has a dog called Toby, he's like this weird collie cross thing, but he's sweet." She grinned, turning around to look at Fiona like saying that was going to be everything her older sister needed to hear.
"Ugh, lucky you, the family I'm staying with have cats," Lip said, rubbing a hand through his hair and grimacing, "I hate cats."
Although, saying that he had an outright phobia was probably much more to the point.
They all looked at Ian expectantly, but he just shrugged. "Don't have one," he said, uncaring, "Last place I was, wasn't right for me."
He didn't say that he didn't need one, because he didn't know how to make them understand that. And the point was proven when Fiona reached across and patted his hand absently, her eyes wide and apologetic as she said, "You'll find a place you fit at some point."
And the way she was looking at him was like she wanted him to say that there was no place he'd fit other than with his family, like she needed to hear that, but Ian didn't know how to find the words. And he also didn't know how to explain to her how he had already found the place he fit and it was in a tiny, cramped room with a grubby boy who swore too much. He didn't know how to say that any place with that grubby boy, with Mickey would be the right place for him.
He didn't even know how he knew that, he didn't want to think about it.
The rest of the day passed in a sort of weird haze because Ian knew the time had passed, but he couldn't have said exactly what happened. All he knew was that he sat there in that park with his siblings and everything just seemed to click into place and yet at the same time it was so incredibly different.
He kept wondering how it would be if Monica had never left, if Frank had been able to look after them, if they'd never gone into care. Other times he wondered what had happened to their parents, if and maybe when he was going to see them again, how he'd react to that. He didn't know, he didn't even know if he wanted to see either of them again. Definitely not Monica. No, he already knew he didn't want to see Monica.
Carl screamed when his foster mother came to pick him up, kicking and writhing and making passersby stare, but it was so completely Carl that Ian found himself smiling. Everybody cried, even Lip, but Ian didn't. He let Debbie and Fiona cling to him, let them kiss his face and waved goodbye like he was heartbroken and maybe in some way he was, but he couldn't stop thinking that he couldn't cry, because Mickey would be able to tell and Mickey hated it when anybody cried. Especially Ian.
It always seemed to come back to Mickey. Ian didn't know why.
He hadn't told his family about Mickey, had kept the knowledge of him cradled inside his own memories like his biggest secret. He felt like maybe it would shatter something, ruin something about it if he told them about Mickey. He thought maybe Mickey would know he'd told them and that would mess everything up. He knew it was illogical, he knew it was stupid, but he quite liked being the only one to really know about Mickey.
About his best friend.
And he comforted himself with the knowledge that Lip was too smart to be told. He'd work it out, he'd work out that Ian didn't just want to be Mickey's friend, he'd work out that Mickey was everything he thought about, that he was everything. And Ian couldn't explain why he was, he couldn't have even tried.
All he knew was what he felt and he also knew that if anybody else found out, they'd tell him he was too young to be thinking like that. That he was too young to be caring. That he was just generally too young. But Ian didn't think he was, he thought everything was exactly right, as it should be.
He'd never known anything so completely and surely in his life.
He got sent to another home not long after they started school and it made him feel strangely detached from everything even though it wasn't that far from the Halfway House and he still went to the same school. But it was weird, wrong almost to see Mickey at school and then not in the privacy of their own room. He always thought of foster homes as the time he was away from Mickey, the time he wasn't around, the time when he could miss him. But there wasn't – shouldn't have been – a chance to miss Mickey, because he was always there. Ian missed him anyway; because at school, it was always that front that they both put on. The one where they pretended they weren't all that close, where they sat next to each other on a bench every other day and smoked.
The only thing Ian couldn't work out was whether or not Mickey actually felt the same way about it. He couldn't tell if he missed Ian was all, couldn't tell if he even noticed he was gone from the room they normally slept in together.
The worst part was the not knowing. It ate him up inside, was like torture. But it wasn't like he had the courage to ask Mickey. It wasn't like he thought the older boy would do anything other than punch him in the face for his trouble.
His silently asked questions were all answered when Mickey sauntered up to him one day where he sat on their usual bench, the drizzle clinging to the air around him and making his lungs feel heavy. Mickey handed him the half burnt out cigarette and Ian took a much needed drag.
"You need to get your ass back to the Halfway House," Mickey said suddenly, almost randomly, not looking at Ian as he lit up another cigarette and stared at nothing in particular in the distance, "They're talking about your bed being free and I ain't putting up with one of those fucking cry baby new kids."
And Ian felt his grin stretch the sides of his mouth and he saw Mickey smirk when he glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. Because they both knew that Mickey had just come as close as he was ever going to come to saying that he missed having Ian around.
Later on Mickey shouldered him roughly, but not considerably so by Mickey's standards as he walked Ian back to his foster house. Ian didn't know why he did it, but he wasn't about to complain. Two hours later they were pissed off of Ian's foster parents' alcohol and Ian felt like his limbs were made of lead because he'd never drunk before.
He sort of remembered drunkenly mumbling that it had been his birthday the day before – he was eleven – and he'd completely forgotten about it until then. He thought he must of imagined the pressure on his lips right before he dropped into unconsciousness, because he didn't know how to explain it otherwise.
He didn't even bother trying to explain to his foster mother why he threw up in her new vase. No, she worked that one out for herself.
He was back at the Halfway House with Mickey the next day.
His next birthday is one that he remembers.
Fiona sends him a card on time this year and so do all of the others except Carl, but he was too young to even think about remembering stuff like that. He even got the odd present even though it was only sweets and a drawing from Debbie that he stuck up on the wall even though Mickey told him it was stupid. He didn't actually think Mickey cared so much about the picture though if he was being honest, Mickey just said things because he thought he should.
In the year between his birthdays, Ian had been to two more foster homes, one placement only lasting a week because the woman had probably been the biggest bitch Ian had ever met in her life. Mickey had helped him spray paint her house. His social worker was starting to catch on that he really didn't want to be placed anymore. She left it longer and longer between each placement and he wondered when it would finally get to the point when he'd become like Mickey and just be forgotten about entirely.
Although, Mickey had told him once that his social worker was shitty and Ian's was alright, so the whole forgetting thing was probably not going to happen. Or maybe it was just something to do with Mickey in general. Ian didn't know. He didn't even know when Mickey's birthday was, he wouldn't tell him.
Ian pegged that down to him not giving a shit.
The other foster home he was in that year, he was only there for just under a month before he broke the house rule and swore at the woman and she called his social worked and got him sent back to the Halfway House. But just under a month was enough time for Mickey – who of course was still there – to get 'Fuck U-Up' tattooed across his knuckles. Ian asked him why and he said he didn't have a fucking clue.
Secretly, Ian thought they suited him. He sort of liked them, but he didn't know why.
On Ian's twelfth birthday, Mickey snuck into the room later than usual and produced a large bottle of vodka from inside of his hoodie. He grinned as he sat down on his bed, unscrewing the cap and not looking away from Ian's eyes for even a second.
Mickey was weird like that sometimes, he'd stare at Ian completely unashamedly until the younger boy flinched and squirmed, but then at other times, he wouldn't look at him at all. It confused the hell out of Ian, but he didn't say anything because he knew that was the fastest way to get a black eye.
"Where the hell did you get that?" Ian asked, staring at him.
Mickey snorted, obviously thinking that part didn't matter, "One of the fuck heads down the hall."
"Mick, we'll be dead meat if he finds out," Ian said lamely, even though he wasn't all that bothered if he was being honest. He kind of liked the thought of the gesture.
"Well I was kind of thinking that we'd have drunk it all before then," Mickey said, raising the bottle to his lips in a sort of salute, and then muttered right before his lips touched the glass, "Happy birthday, Firecrotch."
Ian couldn't stop himself from smiling stupidly at the name, one Mickey had given him a long time ago but only used at the rarest of times. When he handed over the bottle, Ian spluttered at the taste and felt like his throat was on fire. Mickey laughed at him.
"That tastes disgusting," he said, handing it back.
"You don't drink it for the taste," Mickey told him, taking another swig and pushing his tongue against the back of his teeth as he grimaced. It made Ian feel better that even Mickey didn't seem to be immune to its tastes.
The next time Ian swallowed a mouthful of the clear, burning liquid, it wasn't as bad. He thought that was maybe because his throat hadn't quite recovered from the previous time. Mickey came to sit next to him, both of their backs against the wall, passing the bottle back and forth between them.
The older boy blinked at him sleepily, "Mmm?"
Mickey had drunk more than he had, Ian wondered if he was even capable of words.
"What's going to happen after the Halfway House?" Ian asked, because he'd always wondered that, he'd always wondered about whether or not he'd see Mickey again after he left this place. He could imagine Mickey just taking off, leaving, like he'd never existed. "Are you just going to leave?"
Mickey was too far gone to even think about being uncomfortable or angry about this conversation. Ian could tell. Because he knew this definitely classified as asking stupid questions. "Fuck knows," he muttered eventually, "I'll deal with that shit when I actually get there."
He should have known that Mickey didn't plan that far ahead.
"Just don't leave me behind, kay?" he muttered before he could stop himself, watching as Mickey's eyelids drooped closed.
He didn't even think Mickey knew what he was saying when he muttered, "Kay," the word breathed out with his breath. But Ian heard it. He wondered if it meant anything, if Mickey would actually stick by that or whether he would just leave him behind.
It was only a small comfort that he did actually have a handful of years before he had to worry about shit like that; but he already knew it was going to pass by in the blink of an eye. Just like time had done since he'd first met Mickey, that only seemed like yesterday in Ian's mind. Of course, he knew it wasn't.
The next morning Mickey laughed at him when he said his head hurt and Ian couldn't really remember most of what had happened, although he did know that they hadn't even really moved from their positions sitting against the wall. He woke up with his head on Mickey's shoulder and he moved away before the older boy could hit him for that, but he felt the warmth from Mickey's body pressed against his cheek for a long time afterwards.
Despite laughing at him, Ian could tell that Mickey's head hurt as well, but wasn't suicidal enough to tease him about it. So he just fetched them some painkillers and nothing else was really said about it. Nothing else needed to be said about it.
Ian watched Mickey sit there across the room, cutting notches into the bed with a switchblade he'd no doubt stolen from someone and couldn't stop staring at the way that Mickey rubbed his thumbs idly over his tattooed knuckles, touching the lettering like he thought maybe he'd get some inspiration or knowledge or something from doing so.
He looked away as soon as Mickey looked up.
Later that day, Mickey got into a fight with someone – Ian didn't care to know who – and when he passed out on his bed, Ian couldn't stop himself from crouching down beside him and gently rubbing off the blood that marred one of the letters. Mickey shifted slightly in his sleep and mumbled something, his fingers twitching against Ian's and Ian liked to imagine for a moment that that had been them holding hands, that there had been some sort of connection there.
But he was hopeful, not stupid, he knew he was only imagining it all. For now though, he could deal with just his imagination.
The smile quite literally fell from Mickey's face. One minute it was one of those rare moments where Mickey actually smiled properly at him as they sat outside smoking and then the next, he just didn't have any expression on his face at all. He stood slowly, staring at the people climbing out of a nearby car and Ian could only guess that they were the reason for his sudden change in mood.
It had been a good day up until then. The weather had finally turned warm and it was the weekend so he and Mickey were just lounging around outside and Ian kept wondering whether it would change how pale Mickey was or not. He knew all the sun was going to do to him was make his freckles stand out even more.
A girl who had to be Ian's age or there about ran towards them, her hair streaming behind her and a grin on her face. She looked like Mickey, sort of, but had multiple colours in her hair and quite a lot of make-up on. The female Mickey, if you like. Ian wondered if she was as aggressive since they were obviously related.
She wrapped her arms around Mickey's neck and hugged him so tight that his eyes bugged out a little.
"Jesus, when was the last time you had a shower?" she asked, pulling back, nose wrinkling.
"Fuck off, it's hot," he snapped at her, but didn't look all that annoyed if Ian was being honest, "And what the fuck did you do to your hair, it looks like a rainbow jizzed on you!"
The girl pulled a face at him and punched him hard on the arm. Ian could tell it was hard because a muscle under Mickey's eye twitched, which meant he was trying really hard not to wince. "Could you not be nice about anything for like one second?" she asked him, rocking back on her heels.
"Could you not wear fucking trousers when you come see me," Mickey retorted, looking her up and down, "Nobody wants to see that Mandy, you look like a slag." And she did actually, even though Ian had a feeling she would tear his nuts off for voicing that opinion. Her skirt was basically non-existent and her top was low cut, displaying that she had a set of tits on her that she shouldn't have had at her age.
She was pretty, there was no doubt about that though. Ian thought she'd look better without all the make-up on.
"Fuck off douchebag," she told Mickey, "It's too hot to be wearing jeans."
That pretty much proved that her and Mickey were definitely related. And if Ian hadn't already worked that out, the way she turned and looked at him suddenly, saying, "Who the fuck's this?" sort of clued him in.
Mickey fidgeted, like he suddenly didn't want to be having this conversation, like he didn't want this girl and Ian to be anywhere near each other. Ian didn't know what that could mean, so he tried not to think about it too much.
"This is Ian Gallagher," Mickey said eventually, "We share a room."
Mickey spat on the floor then, because he was classy like that.
The girl grinned at him, which made her look even prettier in a scary sort of way because of all the make-up. "Hi, I'm Mandy," she said, smoothing her hands down the front of her tiny skirt, "I'm surprised ass-face here hasn't like cut you in your sleep or something."
Ian smiled, because she obviously knew what her brother was capable of. "We have rules on how not to get my throat slit," Ian said, shrugging, "And besides, if he got rid of me he'd only have to room with someone worse."
He saw Mickey shudder when he added, "Like that new kid Barley or something."
Mickey had already made the comment that he had a stupid fucking name. "I'd rather kill myself than room with that fuck head," he muttered, licking the corner of his mouth in that way he always did.
"Well hallelujah, you've made a fucking friend," Mandy said sarcastically and Ian smiled for a second before Mickey elbowed him in the ribs. He hit him back on the chest and his sister smirked. "One that actually has balls."
What Ian discovered that day, sitting with Mandy and Mickey underneath that tree, was that the two siblings were very similar. They looked kind of similar, sure, but it was more than that. Their personalities were the same. And something about that made Mickey actually smile. It made Ian wonder whether Mickey would ever actually admit to giving a shit about anything, because he obviously cared about his sister, but he was still as much of a dick to her as he was to Ian.
"So are you in another foster home?" Ian asked and he literally felt the way that Mickey tensed up.
It was like someone had flicked a switch.
Mandy just remained oblivious. "No, I stay with our Mum," she explained and Ian didn't miss the way that Mickey's expression twisted. His feelings towards his mother were written all over his face, as clear as day. Ian thought they sort of mirrored how he felt about Monica at the moment. "Apparently she can only like take care of one of us or some shit, so since I'm the youngest, that was me."
Mickey snorted and rolled to his feet, glaring down at both of them like all of a sudden they were responsible for everything that was wrong in the world. Or rather, wrong in Mickey's life, because Mickey didn't give a shit about the rest of the world. "Fuck off, Mandy," he snapped at her, his lips curling into a snarl, "You know full fucking well that's bullshit, she only has you because she only wants you, simple as fucking that."
And with that, he stalked off. Ian wondered if Mandy saw the pain in her brother's eyes or if that was just him.
Automatically Ian stood, ready to go after Mickey, but Mandy grabbed a hold of his arm. "Don't bother, just leave him," she said, looking sort of sympathetic, or maybe it was amazed that Ian gave enough of a shit to want to go after Mickey, "He gets like this when it's about mum, he'll only hit you if you go after him."
Ian went anyway, the shout of, "It's your fucking funeral," ringing in his ears.
Mickey hadn't really gone all that far, even if he did walk fast. Ian caught up with him around the side of the house, in the shade and still walking. Ian didn't know where the hell he was planning on going, knowing Mickey he would just walk until he got bored. He already had a cigarette trapped between his lips.
"Fuck off, Gallagher," Mickey snapped at him when he realised he was being followed. He obviously didn't like that. Ian wasn't really all that surprised. "I don't need your stupid sympathy or some shit, so just piss off."
Ian sighed and stared at him, meeting Mickey's eyes when he said, "Why the fuck would I pity you? My mum didn't want me either, remember?" And it seemed Mickey had forgotten that. Ian could tell by the way a light flickered on behind his eyes.
"Well here's to being the fuckheads left behind," Mickey muttered bitterly, saluting Ian with his cigarette and blowing smoke at him before handing it over. Ian didn't know why he smiled as he took a drag. Maybe it was because for some weird, fucked up reason, this made him feel closer to Mickey than he ever had before.
When Mandy said goodbye and got into the car with her mum again, Ian pretended that he didn't see Mickey standing there in the shadows of the house. He pretended he didn't see the look of betrayal on the older boy's face at being left behind. He pretends that Mickey steals more booze and gets drunk that night for no reason at all and he lets Mickey pretend that everything is fine and that he doesn't know Ian is pretending.
When Mickey passes out, Ian can't help himself from taking off Mickey's shoes and his shirt and tucking him in like he's something precious, something that needs to be protected. Maybe he is. Maybe that's what Ian sees when he looks at Mickey that nobody else does. He sees the inside, the softer parts that Mickey tries to hide away, stuffed haphazardly under harsh words and bruised knuckles.
Ian's starting to realise though that Mickey's shoved away those parts of himself so haphazardly, so quickly, uncaringly that really, they aren't that hard to find. Sometimes, it's like they're just staring Ian right in the face and that's why he smiles stupidly when he sees Mickey. That's why he always feels himself falling all the more in love with the boy who doesn't want to be loved by anything or anyone.
Mandy didn't come by often, about as often as Ian went to see his family on those stupid days out, but because Mandy came to them, for some reason it felt like the visits were further apart. Mickey liked to drink, Ian had worked that out a long time ago, but he took it to a new level around certain times of the year. Christmas, Mandy's birthday and his birthday. And Ian's birthday had becoming one of those drinking days as well.
Mickey didn't really like his birthday, he didn't like presents, didn't like it even being mentioned that he actually aged, that things could change. Ian had worked out a long time ago that Mickey didn't like change, his brain didn't seem to know how to handle it. And that was fine by Ian, because it helped him cling to the idea that Mickey was never going to leave him behind.
In their room, in the Halfway House, it was like it had been when Ian had first arrived there. Sure, things had been added, there were more cigarette butts on the floor, other items littered about, but overall it hadn't really changed. There was no way you could tell that they had been growing up, changing physically or even emotionally. The room wasn't like that, it was just a room. Sometimes Ian thought of it as some sort of cage where time just stopped.
He liked to imagine when he was lying in bed at night, Mickey's soft snores filling up the silence, that there wasn't a world outside of the room. That it was just him and Mickey, them against the world. He liked to pretend that, he didn't know why.
He'd given Mickey a card on one birthday, just because he'd had some money and because he'd wanted to see what Mickey would do. He'd sworn at him, told him it was fucking stupid, but then that was because he thought Ian didn't know that he kept that card tucked away, hidden in amongst his stuff.
Mickey liked to pretend and Ian liked to let him. It was a weird sort of harmony that they'd fallen into.
It was Ian's thirteenth birthday, or maybe a few minutes before when he finally cracked. He'd spent so long burying it all, so long denying everything that it had all become one big pretence. But it was Mickey's job to pretend, Ian didn't want to anymore. He was a teenager, thirteen. Unlucky for some, but Ian had always had the weirdest luck and Mickey had always told him that being a teenager meant you had to get used to doing things, being someone that you'd never been before. Ian blamed Mickey for what he did, he blamed that advise, he blamed his existence. Not that he'd ever tell Mickey that, he'd only get a black eye for blaming Mickey.
That was if Mickey didn't kill him for this anyway.
"Mickey?" Ian asked, rolling over onto his side to look at the silhouette of the older boy in the darkness.
Mickey had been close to getting to sleep, Ian could tell from his tone and the slight rasp in the back of his throat. He knew how to read Mickey like a book, he knew Mickey better than Mickey knew himself, better than Ian knew himself. He hoped that would pay off now, he hoped that wouldn't all be for nothing.
He almost backed out because of Mickey's tone, but he knew he had to ask that.
"How do you know if you're gay?" Ian asked, chewing his bottom lip as he saw Mickey freeze. He looked away quickly, staring up at the ceiling like maybe that would protect him from getting his ass kicked. He didn't know if Mickey was homophobic, he knew a lot of people were, but he didn't know about Mickey.
"What?" his tone this time made Ian flinch. He couldn't quite work it out, but it sounded like even Mickey didn't completely know what he was supposed to be feeling. There were so many emotions, so many reactions crammed into that one word that Ian thought he could feel his heart stutter in his chest, or maybe that was his breathing. He didn't know. He didn't know if he knew anything anymore.
"How do you know?" Ian asked again, not taking his eyes off the ceiling even though he knew Mickey was staring at him now. He could feel his eyes on him, it felt like they were burning. It made Ian fidget, but he was too scared to look at Mickey, too scared to see the disgust in the older boy's eyes.
But he couldn't back out now. He'd asked and more than anything he wanted to hear the answer.
"You just do," he replied eventually, sounding cautious and like he didn't want to be saying the words. Ian was surprised because he hadn't really expected Mickey to answer him, he'd hoped, but he hadn't expected. "Why?"
Ian chewed on his bottom lip some more as he debated telling him. They'd never lied to each other about really important things though, not really. Sure, they told white lies, they omitted information, but they never really lied. Or at least Ian didn't lie to Mickey. He was too important for that, he deserved more and Ian couldn't bring himself to start lying now. "Because I think I might be," he said, holding his breath.
After a long few minutes – it was definitely his birthday now, not the greatest day to be killed by your best friend – he heard the rustle of sheets and he screwed his eyes shut as he heard Mickey moving, waited for the punch that was inevitable.
It never came.
The bed dipped as Mickey climbed in beside him. "Easy way to test it," Mickey said and there was a weird edge to his voice. Ian almost shot off the bed when the older boy put his palm over Ian's dick through his pyjama bottoms, "Let's see if you get hard." And then he was pushing down his own boxers slightly and guiding Ian's hand towards his cock.
Ian was too terrified to open his eyes, too terrified that that would ruin this, that maybe he'd discover that this was all in his imagination. He shivered as his fingers closed around Mickey's soft length. The older boy wasn't hard, Ian knew he wouldn't be, but he sort of wished he was. He wondered what that would feel like.
"Yeah," Mickey said after a minute, feeling Ian getting hard through his trousers, "You're gay."
And he said that so simple, so matter-of-factly. Not like he thought there was anything wrong with it at all, just like it was a fact. And Ian had been so sure that Mickey would hate him, he'd been convinced.
He still didn't have the courage to move, hardly even had the courage to move.
He just waited, waited for Mickey to push him off now, to go back to his own bed. But Mickey didn't move either, he stayed right where he was, lying next to Ian, their hands over each other's crotches.
"Mickey?" he asked, a silent question hidden in there. He didn't even know what he was asking. He just knew that he was asking something.
Mickey, as always, seemed to have the answer. He pressed a little closer, his breath hitting Ian's ear as his mouth hovered close to it. "Happy Birthday Firecrotch," he muttered, his voice containing that rasp for real now that Ian thought was so hot he didn't even have the vocabulary to describe it.
He made a weird choking sound when Mickey's hand slipped under the waistband of his trousers, his fingers wrapping around Ian's length. And his fingers were cold, but it burnt at the same time. It felt like it was scalding him, but it made him press closer to Mickey, seeking more and Mickey gave it to him.
Teeth found the side of his neck as Mickey jacked him slowly and that bite told him what he was supposed to be doing, it made him mimic Mickey's actions. But Mickey didn't let go, he kept his teeth right where they were and Ian supposed it was to muffle the choking growls that were rumbling out of Mickey's chest in stuttering breaks. Ian didn't think he'd ever heard a better sound in his entire life.
Mickey came first, his hand stopping for a moment, freezing and twitching around Ian's cock before his hold tightened and Ian's head was falling back in a soundless scream. It felt like everything was pouring out of him, but at the same time it was like everything was filling him up, all of his emotions, everything he had ever wanted.
The older boy laughed against his neck, his tongue flicking out like he was tasting the thin layer of sweat that Ian knew was clinging to his skin. It only took a moment and the slight sting for Ian to realise that Mickey was in fact lapping at the small trickle of blood that was welling out of the bite mark at the base of his neck. He smiled stupidly, grateful for the dark, hoping Mickey didn't notice that smile.
He wondered if Mickey knew he had just basically marked Ian as his. That was what it felt like anyway.
He thought Mickey would leave then, that he'd go back over to his own bed, but he didn't. He wiped his sticky fingers on Ian's pyjama bottoms in that lovely, classy way of his and then didn't move. "You do know you have to keep your mouth shut about this right?" he asked, his voice clogged up with sleep and rough from moaning, "You'll be a dead man out there if people find out."
Ian nodded, because even if Mickey could see that in the dark, he could feel it. "So are you like me then?" he asked, needing to know, he was curious, "Are you gay?"
Mickey snorted, "What have I told you about asking stupid questions?"
That was a yes then.
"Good," Ian said before he could stop himself and grinned like a fool when Mickey choked out a laugh.
Ian fell asleep with Mickey's face buried in his shoulder, the older boy's fingers twitching against his hipbone, fingers digging into flesh like he needed to cling to something. Ian didn't mind at all, why would he? He'd never slept so well in his life. Except there was that panicking thought in the back of his mind of whether or not this would change anything. Everything?
It did; but Ian couldn't exactly say that it was in a bad way.
To the rest of the world it was like nothing had happened, it didn't really feel any different either. Except now, Mickey would corner him behind the side of the school, push a hand into his boxers and get him off before Ian even really knew what the fuck was happening. It was always fast and dirty, the bite of pain as Mickey's teeth bit into his skin again and again as he muffled his sound of release.
Ian didn't mind at all. He didn't mind that he had a scar on his neck and a scar on his shoulder, a scabbed over wound on his forearm and crescent moon-shaped nail marks on his hip bones. He didn't mind at all, just like he didn't think Mickey minded when he got his revenge and bit the older boy as hard as he could at the base of his throat, hard enough to scar, hard enough to make him Ian's. Hopefully forever.
But as it had always been, the future never really seemed like an option to them. It was never a prospect. It was still like they were caught up in their own little bubble, hidden away from the rest of the world. Ian was glad that they were hidden away together though; he thought that made it all worth it.
Of course there was always that nagging thought at the back of his mind about whether or not Mickey felt the same way he did, or whether it was just a convenience. He thought maybe he felt the same though. He thought that he did, because if he didn't, at night he would have just gotten off and gotten out of Ian's bed, but instead he stayed there, his face pressed against Ian's neck or shoulder and his fingers always clutching possessively at Ian's hipbone, renewing the nail marks before they even had a chance to fade.
The closer he and Mickey got physically, the more confident Ian got with what they did. He just used to follow Mickey's lead, terrified of doing something that would cause the older boy to push him away. But gradually, he became less worried about that and more concerned with whether or not he could make Mickey come completely undone.
When Mickey came, he was always completely relaxed, more relaxed than he ever normally let himself be. And Ian told himself that his own need to see Mickey that relaxed was for no reason other than he thought it was healthy for the other boy and he liked helping Mickey's health out. It wasn't that he loved touching Mickey as much as Mickey loved to be touched, it certainly wasn't that Mickey was as addictive as a drug and Ian was officially hooked. No, it couldn't be that at all.
"Gallagher, what the fuck are you doing?" Mickey growled out through his teeth as Ian shifted, moving so that he pushed Mickey back against the bed on his back. Mickey sat up on his elbows and stared at him through the gloom, his eyes bright and shining in that way they always seemed to be. Ian still hadn't work out what it was that shone out of them, he thought maybe it was life.
He rolled his eyes at Mickey and gave him his best look. "What do you think I'm doing?" he asked, pressing his mouth against the older boy's chest, teasing one nipple up into a hard peak before moving away and trailing his tongue south down Mickey's body.
He loved the taste of Mickey under his tongue, a combination of sweat and something that was just so completely Mickey.
Mickey fell back against the pillow, his hands hovering over Ian's head as Ian finally came to what he'd intended to reach all that time. He looked up at Mickey through his lashes and took hold on his hands, pressed his fingertips against the letters on his knuckles for a moment before placing those hands on his own head. He moaned a little in the back of his throat when Mickey's fingers clutched at his hair, he didn't know why, but it was a good feeling.
He'd never done this before, they'd never done this before, but Ian had been thinking about it and he knew what he wanted to do, he knew what he wanted to try at least. And it was all about testing things out as far as he was concerned.
He worked out that Mickey almost shot off the bed when he pushed his tongue against the slit, that the older boy's fingers convulsed in his hair and his entire body seemed to twitch and writhe when Ian ran his tongue up that thick vein. He worked out that when he sucked on the head just slightly, Mickey made this noise deep inside of his chest that made Ian feel like he was about to come himself. He discovered that little tentative licks made Mickey pant, that bigger ones made him gasp.
Best of all though, he worked out that if he relaxed his throat and sucked Mickey down as far as he could, until his nose was buried in the older boy's dark pubes, well then Mickey sounded like he was being strangled as his hips bucked up slightly and his hands clenched in Ian's hair. Ian liked the feeling of that, like that everything about those actions seemed to be involuntary.
"Fuck, Gallagher," Mickey gasped out as a sort of warning before he came.
The taste wasn't what he'd expected, but it wasn't bad and he choked a little bit, but Mickey didn't seem to care, or maybe he didn't notice. Ian swallowed as much as he could, wiping away the little bit that dribbled out the side of his mouth and then crawling up the length of Mickey's body, settling on top of him, a smug smile on his face.
He looked down at Mickey, waiting and it was a good few minutes before Mickey finally opened his eyes. "I think we've just found your new talent," he muttered and Ian just grinned all the more. He was honestly expecting Mickey to leave it there, he wouldn't even have really minded, except Mickey didn't forget about him at all.
Hands on his ass pulled him in close, ground them against each other, the friction causing Ian's eyes to cross. He didn't last long, because he already felt over-sensitised from drawing an orgasm out of Mickey. When he came, he pressed his face into Mickey's neck, his moan rattling out against the older boy's flesh and he could have sworn Mickey shivered slightly, but he wasn't sure. He couldn't really think as lights exploded behind his eyelids and Mickey's fingers pressed into his spine, drawing him in closer still, which should have been impossible.
When he was done, Mickey rolled them over slightly so that they lay on their sides, their legs tangled together in a way that was strangely intimate. He pressed his lips lazily against Mickey's jaw in a kiss, which made him think that actually that was the one thing they hadn't done yet. They hadn't kissed, there was never really time. Or at least it never seemed like it. Ian thought he'd have to remember to try that, when he could remember how to move that was.
He'd try it in the morning.
"You're not going to leave me behind are you?" he asked, not knowing why he wanted to kill that moment by talking, but he couldn't help it. The thoughts clawing at the back of his mind kept reminding him of how he'd never thought Monica would leave, he'd always thought his family was forever, but they'd all gone. They'd all left him behind.
His luck wasn't so good that Mickey wouldn't too.
He felt Mickey's fingers dig harder into his spine and he didn't think Mickey was going to say anything, but in some weird way that was okay. He could cope with that he thought. He could hear the words Mickey didn't say in the way the older boy clung back to him, the way he didn't push him away.
"Why would I give up the only thing I have?" he thought he heard Mickey mutter, but he couldn't be sure because he was already halfway to unconsciousness. He didn't think he imagined it though. And even if he had, he pretended he didn't.
Because Ian was good at pretending by now.
Ian rubbed the side of his neck, scratching off the blood that clung there from one of Mickey's bites. He turned up the collar of his shirt as he jogged down the stairs. All of the rooms were on the first and second floor of the house, his and Mickey's was on the top floor at the very end, tucked away from everyone else. Just the way he liked it.
On the ground floor were the communal lounges and the kitchen. Places Ian never really spent much time. He usually tended to grab food and go upstairs to his and Mickey's room, because Mickey didn't like people and it was always safer to avoid fights by just not being anywhere near places where Mickey could start them.
He was heading towards the back door to track down Mickey where he knew the older boy would no doubt be outside asleep under the tree or something, enjoying the hot weather in the only way Mickey really knew how, when he heard a familiar laugh. It was one he wasn't used to hearing around the Halfway House, but one that was ingrained into his memory.
He followed the sound, shouldering his way past a couple of boys.
He saw him across the room, sitting there on the couch in front of the TV, enjoying the crappy air conditioning and laughing with some of the boys that Ian vaguely recognised but had never bothered to learn the names of. Ian walked over, confused but pleased all at the same time. The boys tensed when he got near, knowing him by association with Mickey, avoiding him for that reason.
After a minute they got up and left, figuring he probably wanted the couch and Lip looked around confused before his eyes fell on Ian. He grinned and Ian couldn't help the way that he smiled back, then they were hugging.
"What are you doing here?" Lip asked, pulling back and holding the sides of Ian's face like he thought if he didn't his little brother was going to disappear. They hadn't seen each other in just over a month, but Lip hadn't really had time to change in that time. Ian knew he'd grown and he'd had a haircut because Mickey had made a passing comment that his hair was making him look like a douche and really, it was too hot to have it long in the summer.
"I live here, what's your excuse?" Ian retorted, not knowing entirely how he felt about having Lip here. He was pleased, sure, but it was like his two worlds were colliding and he didn't know how he felt about that. He had kind of liked them being separate.
Lip snorted, "You can't live here, idiot, it's not a foster home, but my placement fell through so I'm here until they find me a new one."
Ian didn't bother telling him that this might as well have been his foster home. "Cool," he muttered, not sure what he was supposed to say.
"How long have you been here?" Lip asked him, "I only arrived today."
He shrugged. "Pretty much since I was eleven," he admitted, not mentioning that that was intentional, "Last time I got fostered was like four months ago." That had only lasted a week because he'd been too horny to stay away from Mickey for longer than that.
Lip's face twisted in sympathy that Ian didn't need.
"We should ask to room together," he said, looking so excited Ian almost felt guilty, because he knew what he was going to say, "It'd be like it used to be again, I mean even if it will only be for like a week or something."
Ian could feel the blush rise onto his cheeks. "Yeah, that won't really be possible," he said, which was true, he wouldn't be allowed to switch rooms even if he wanted to. He was the only one Mickey could be put in with. "I've had the same roommate since I got here, it's sort of a permanent arrangement, they wouldn't let me move."
Lip looked a little offended. "Ian, I'm sure they wouldn't mind," he said, letting Ian go and stepping back a little. He felt bad that he was glad about that. "The guy I'm in with would probably swap if I asked him."
"Fuck no!" they both turned to look at a guy that Ian vaguely recognised, but didn't know the name of, "I ain't sharing a breathing space with Milkovich, no fucking way!"
Ian would have laughed if he hadn't scowled, "What's that supposed to mean?" He knew it was stupid to get protective over Mickey, but he did anyway.
The guy shook his head quickly, "Nothing, but I'm not sharing with him, no way."
"Told ya so," Ian said, looking back at his brother, "I won't be moved, I'm the only one he wouldn't gut like a fish." He still felt ridiculously proud of himself when he thought that. He liked being the only person that Mickey would give the time of day.
Or a blow job. Same thing really.
"And you want to room with this guy, why?" he asked, looking concerned in that stupid big brother way where he thought he still needed to protect Ian against the world. Ian hadn't ever gotten around to telling him that he didn't need protecting anymore. There had never been the need to.
He just shrugged, "He's not that bad a guy and he's my best friend anyway."
Which was sort of an understatement, but hey.
Lip still didn't look convinced, but it didn't matter, because Ian was already moving towards the door when he heard someone cry out in pain.
It hadn't been Mickey, but instinctively he knew any fights around here usually involved him.
It was four against one, but Mickey was a Milkovich and was holding his own like always. One guy looked like he had a broken nose, the other already had a split lip and a bruise forming on one cheek. Mickey just looked pissed off. Either way, Ian didn't like the odds and he'd been itching for a fight for a while, so typically, he jumped in fists first.
He brought one guy's face down at the same time as he brought his knee up and laughed at the crunching sound that he heard. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mickey head butt another guy and Ian swung his fist to take out the guy that was going to try and intercept Mickey from strangling the hell out of the guy he had.
The fight was short, fast and bloody. Ian took a hit to the face and his knuckles stung a little, but it was all a good feeling. He could have carried on all day if Mrs Potts hadn't come out of the house. "Milkovich! Gallagher! Get the hell off them!"
Everyone was used to this, which was why people weren't really looking all that interested.
Ian stopped almost immediately and grabbed Mickey around the middle to haul him off the guy that he was punching in the face. Mickey didn't know when to stop, but once he was dragged off, he automatically did. Neither of them listened as Mrs Potts screamed at them, telling them how this was why they never got fostered, how they were going to be fuck ups forever if they carried on this way, the usual shit. They'd both heard it all before, because Mickey liked to fight and Ian liked to help him out.
That was the way it went.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ian saw his brother staring at him, his expression one that Ian didn't really want to decipher, so he looked away quickly.
"What the fuck was it for this time?" he asked Mickey once Mrs Potts had gone back inside to fetch frozen peas or whatever for the twats who were injured. The older boy lit up a cigarette and took a drag before he answered.
"Can't fucking remember," he replied, handing the cigarette over and pushing his thumb against the cut on his lip.
"Don't poke it, you'll just make it bleed more," Ian told him, slapping his hand away.
Mickey scowled at him and spat on the floor. "What the fuck you looking at?" he snarled and Ian turned slightly to see that he was talking to Lip, who was the only one stupid enough to still be hanging around them. Not that Lip was stupid in any way, he was just oblivious in this case.
"That's my brother," Ian said almost flippantly, blowing smoke in Mickey's face and making the older boy jab him in the ribs before taking back the cigarette.
"The fuck's he doing here?"
"Foster placement fell through," Ian explained, knowing that Mickey didn't really give a shit. A point proven by how Mickey simply walked away and flopped back down on the brownish grass by his usual tree. He cracked open a can of beer he'd no doubt stolen from somewhere and then handed it over to Ian once he'd drunk half.
Mickey pulled off his shirt and smirked when he saw the expression on Ian's face, but they both smoothed out their features when Lip came to sit next to them. "So this is your roommate?" he asked and Ian could already tell that he didn't like Mickey.
"Yeah," he replied, about to offer the can of beer to him when Mickey snatched it out of his grasp. Mickey wasn't really all that big on sharing with anybody but him. "Lip, Mickey, Mickey this is my brother Lip."
"Hi," Lip said and Mickey just stared at him before falling back into a lying position, completely uncaring.
Ian smacked him on the stomach, which was partly just an excuse to touch him. "Don't be a dick," he said in that way that made him sound a lot like Mandy when she'd come to visit and always tell Mickey off for being rude.
The older boy just pulled a face and decided not to answer that.
Everything changed with Lip there, which Ian liked, but he hated at the same time.
Lip was staying just down the hall, but he'd stay in Ian's room until he absolutely had to leave. Ian loved having his brother close again, but he hated that it seemed to push Mickey away. Lip would spent the day with him, the two of them just sitting and smoking, talking about random crap and sometimes Ian would forget himself and think that it was Mickey sitting next to him. But Mickey always melted into thin air recently.
The only times Ian would see him during the day, the older boy would glare at him and walk off quickly. It was like he was afraid that if he didn't, Ian would come over and talk to him. Or maybe it was that he thought by turning away, Ian wouldn't see the pain in his eyes. He thought that Ian was forgetting him, that Ian was leaving him behind, Ian could see those thoughts in the flicker of his eyes.
Almost a week after Lip's arrival, Ian pretended to be ill and tired so that Lip would leave early and as soon as he was gone, he slammed Mickey into the wall and stuffed a hand down the front of his pants, put his lips near to Mickey's ear as he pulled a choked sound out of the older boy.
"You're an idiot," he said, pressing his body close to Mickey's and forcing him into the wall.
He was quite a bit taller than Mickey now, he liked using that to his advantage. "Fuck off, Gallagher," Mickey snarled back, the words slightly garbled since Ian's hand was still working his dick. He obviously didn't understand why.
"I will when you stop being a twat and start talking to me again," Ian said, emphasising the important words of that sentence with a slight twist of his hand that made Mickey press against him, his head falling forwards onto Ian's shoulder. "He's my brother," Ian continued when Mickey didn't say anything, "I'm not going to leave you behind, he'll be gone in a few days anyway."
And he felt bad that he was almost wishing Lip would leave, but at the same time he didn't feel bad at all.
Mickey nodded soundlessly as he came and Ian wondered if he even knew what he was agreeing to.
"You're kind of hot when you're jealous actually," Ian said, smirking as he pulled his hand out of Mickey's boxers and sucked his fingers clean. Mickey tried to punch him on the shoulder for that one, but Ian grabbed his wrist and used the momentum to pull them both onto the bed in a tangle of knotted limbs.
For the first time in a week, Ian slept with Mickey curled up next to him again. It felt good.
Lip left for a home two weeks after arriving, because apparently people liked to foster the kid genius. Although, actually, Ian had to admit he could sort of see why. He'd used to be jealous of Lip's IQ, he didn't know why he wasn't anymore.
He snivelled a bit before he could stop himself when he saw Lip get into the car and he thought Mickey was going to hit him for that, because Mickey hated it when people cried. He saw it as a weakness. Mickey didn't hit him though, he just sucked Ian off until he thought he could feel his brain cells dying and didn't complain when Ian curled up against him in the single bed that had sort of gone from being Ian's to being theirs. Ian could feel Mickey's fingertips smoothing up and down the bumps of his spine as he fell asleep and he knew that the blow job and Mickey holding him then, that was Mickey's way of saying, "I'm still here."
Mickey didn't say it, he'd never say it, but his showed it with every single move he made sometimes. Or maybe Ian had just learnt to speak Mickey's language by now. He didn't think it was actually all that hard once you got the hang of it. Mickey was just a little bit different from everyone else.
When his social worker told him that he was going to a new home the next day, Ian dragged his feet heading up to his and Mickey's room because he didn't want to tell Mickey. He didn't want to tell Mickey because he didn't want to leave. He didn't want to think about whether or not leaving would affect what they had going on. He didn't want to let anything ruin it. Mickey was too important, what they had was too important, even if Mickey didn't realise it.
As it turned out, he didn't need to drag his feet, because Mickey wasn't even in their room. He was supposed to be, Ian had expected him to be, but he wasn't. And if he wasn't in their room, Ian knew where he would be.
He thought maybe Mickey had heard, that he didn't want to hear him, didn't want to have to go through any bullshit goodbye. It was so like Mickey to just avoid a situation like that, to just take off for a day or something. And he was Mickey, so he could get away with shit like that.
Ian ran through the faint drizzle outside and Mickey didn't look up at him from where he sat under the tree. Not even when Ian fell down next to him. They didn't say anything for a while, Mickey probably had his reasons, but Ian just didn't know what he was supposed to say. He was still trying to work out exactly why Mickey was pissed, although admittedly, he looked a little more depressed than pissed at the moment.
"You know what I've discovered, Gallagher?" Mickey asked suddenly and Ian was actually afraid to wonder, "Life's a bitch."
"Didn't we already know that?"
Mickey snorted and took a deep drag from the joint Ian hadn't noticed he'd lit up. He didn't expect the older boy to lean close and slot their mouths together, but Mickey did. It wasn't a kill, it was just Mickey blowing smoke into his lungs, but Ian imagined that it counted. He liked to imagine stuff like that counted otherwise he thought he'd have nothing to cling to.
They sat in silence again, smoking the joint, until Ian knew his eyes were going all wide and glassy and he could see himself reflected in Mickey's. He thought Mickey looked kind of hot when he was high, or maybe he looked the same as he always did. Either way he looked hot.
For once, Ian didn't say anything. He wanted to, but he knew Mickey was winding up to saying something, he could tell by the look on his face. And Mickey would never say it if Ian opened his big mouth, so he didn't. Lip may have been the one with the giant IQ, but Ian was the brother who had his fair share of common sense. And he also knew Mickey Milkovich better than anyone. He knew the dos and don'ts.
"They're sending me back to my dad's," Mickey said eventually, not looking at him as he spoke, not looking at anything in particular, just staring off into space. And it was then that Ian understood that none of this was about him. He would have been upset about that if he hadn't been able to taste the pain in Mickey's voice on the back of his tongue.
Mickey still didn't look at him. "Tomorrow."
"Is it not optional?"
Mickey had never really talked about his Dad before. He knew the older boy hated his mum, but his Dad had never been mentioned. To be honest, Ian had just sort of assumed that maybe he wasn't around.
"No," Mickey said, his voice low and almost dangerous, but Ian wasn't afraid of him anymore, "The twats here want any excuse to get rid of me so they're jumping at the chance that my dad's out of the nick again." Mickey pulled a face and lit up a normal cigarette, obviously seeking some sort of relief. Ian wished he knew how to make him relax, because even when high, Mickey was a bundle of nerves talking about this.
Ian was surprised he was talking at all. It sort of showed how bothered he was about this.
"Is staying with your Dad really that bad?" he asked, thinking maybe it was a stupid question judging by the look on Mickey's face.
"The man almost choked me to death when I was five for knocking over his beer, what the fuck do you think?" Mickey retorted, standing up and stalking off a few steps, staring up into the faint drizzling rain.
Ian couldn't remember standing up, but suddenly he found himself standing behind Mickey. And when Mickey turned around, the older boy just stared at him like maybe he thought Ian had all of the answers. And Ian didn't, he didn't know what to tell him, didn't know what he could say, so he just grabbed the back of Mickey's neck and slammed their lips together.
For a long moment, Mickey didn't respond and Ian thought about pulling back when Mickey's fingers dug into his hips and his teeth found his bottom lip and their bodies suddenly pressed flush against each other. Mickey liked to bite, Ian had already worked that out. And he kind of liked it. He still liked it when they kissed. He liked that it was teeth and tongues and Mickey's fingers digging painfully into his hipbones. And in response, he pushed his fingers into Mickey's hair and pulled him in close and kept his eyes screwed shut like this was some stupid chickflick movie, complete with the rain and all. But Mickey didn't complain and he didn't want to either, because it was the best feeling in the world.
So many emotions were poured into the one kiss. All of Mickey's pain, all of everything they felt for each other. All of the feelings over being abandoned by their parents, over being left behind, over knowing they were probably never really going to get anywhere in the world. And he could feel how much they both knew that they had this. If nothing else, they had this. Ian didn't want this to change. He couldn't imagine this ever changing as he sucked on Mickey's bottom lip and got bitten in return.
He felt more than he ever had before in that one kiss and when they broke apart, they didn't talk about it. He hadn't expected them to. They didn't do talking about their emotions or sitting out under the sky watching for shooting stars. Their relationship was always going to be fast and brutal and demanding without either of them ever saying a word. It was always going to be about showing and not saying, but that was okay. Ian was fine with that.
What he wasn't fine with was the knowledge that it was going to drive him practically insane worrying about Mickey for however long he was at his Dad's for. Even then, he could slowly feel himself start to go insane.
"Don't kiss me again," Mickey warned him, but the threat came out sort of breathless and it made Ian smile.
"Didn't sound like you were complaining."
Mickey glared at him, "Do you want me to hit you?"
Ian just carried on grinning because they both knew chances were, Mickey wasn't going to hit him. Just like he wasn't going to complain when Ian kissed him again. Because it was definitely happening again, there was no doubt about that.
Ian hated the way his heart seemed to twist in his chest when he watched Mickey drive away. They'd slept curled up in the same bed that night, although saying that either of them slept was probably an exaggeration. Ian thought he'd probably gotten a few hours. And it hadn't just been the nerves and the tension hanging in the room, but the way Mickey kept tracing the scar of his bite on Ian's neck with his forefinger was a little big distracting.
He didn't think Mickey slept at all.
They parted with nothing more than a friendly clap on the back and a whole lot of meaningful looks other people would probably decipher as glares. People at the Halfway House already thought that they had a strange, weirdly dysfunctional friendship, but Ian liked the way it worked. He liked that nobody else would probably ever understand it.
They left at the same time and Ian hated that the car he was in followed Mickey's down the drive and then they turned off in different directions at the end. It made him feel like he was suddenly being torn away from Mickey. Out of sheer desperation and the need to find comfort somewhere, he ignored his social worker's warnings and cracked the window, lighting up a cigarette.
When she yelled at him, he blew smoke in her face and she shut up. But he thought that probably had more to do with the tears in his eyes than anything else. He let them fall when he found something he hadn't put in his pocket.
She probably thought he was stupid for crying over a battered looking keyring of some comic book character. But Ian couldn't help it, because holding it in his hands just felt too much like a final goodbye.
Ian knew his foster family thought he was a damaged teen or something. Maybe he was. He didn't really give a fuck either way if he was being honest. He didn't bother learning his foster family's names. He hardly spoke at all to anyone, just sat up in his room with the keyring in his hand and pain in his thoughts. He had no way of getting hold of Mickey, no way of finding out if anything had happened to him, if he was okay. The not knowing was what was killing him more than anything and if he couldn't talk to Mickey then he didn't want to talk to anyone else. He'd decided. Maybe that was childish, people were stupid if they thought he cared.
He didn't do anything on his birthday, didn't even tell his foster parents it was his birthday. They only found out when he got some cards from his siblings through in the post. He just stuffed them into his bag out of sight and carried on staring out of the window, trying not to remember his last birthday. The birthday that had started off the story, but in a way had only been the beginning of a new chapter. Him and Mickey had had something going on for a long time before that birthday, but Ian had only realised Mickey actually felt the same way then.
He wondered whether Mandy was with him, whether having her there would help Mickey out at all. He wondered whether Mickey's dad was better than he used to be, whether or not he'd changed, become nicer. Ian almost wished he knew the man so that he could make a judgement, but he couldn't because he didn't.
He only knew Mickey and he knew Mickey well enough to know that he didn't get scared over just anything. Usually nothing seemed to scare him. But his dad obviously did and that thought made Ian feel sick. It actually made him sick once or twice.
He'd never tell Mickey that he worried this much. He'd never admit it because Mickey would just tell him he was being stupid, being faggy. But Ian thought maybe this proved it was love. He thought this proved it because he wouldn't get this worried over just anybody, he wouldn't feel like his insides were eating themselves, twisting and writing and making him want to do anything just to stop the pain.
He felt a little bit better when he went to see Lip. It was just Lip and they wound back up at the Halfway House because it was the midway point between them. But it was only for a day. A part of Ian wished it wasn't, wished he was back there again. Except he'd never been at the Halfway House without Mickey and he didn't want to start that now.
He didn't feel better because he saw his brother. He didn't feel better when he found out that nobody had taken his and Mickey's room because everyone was still too scared of when Mickey was coming back. He didn't feel better because people were saying when and not if. Or because he imagined he could almost smell Mickey again, that he could see him there, feel him there.
No, he felt better because he saw Mickey.
He was in the car, leaving to go back to his foster home and they had to stop half way down the drive and let another car squeeze past them in the narrow space. And when he looked up, Mickey was sitting there in the front seat, staring at him. He felt better because he saw Mickey, because Mickey were there and he was solid and breathing and alive.
He felt better and then he saw the black eye and the swollen cheek and the bruises and cuts on his face and Ian decided that maybe he didn't feel better at all. Not even the weak smile Mickey offered him helped, because whenever he blinked, all he saw was that image of a battered Mickey printed onto the insides of his eyelids. He'd never seen Mickey like that before, Mickey had always been on the winning end of fights. He was always the one who walked away with bruised knuckles and maybe a split lip but nothing more.
Mickey obviously hadn't fared well in whatever fight he'd fought and that made Ian feel ill again.
He fucked up at his foster home that night. He threw a chair out of the window, smashing it and swore and screamed and freaked his foster mother the hell out. And he could have sworn that his social worker looked like she understood when she came to pick him up. He wondered how much she really understood.
He wondered if she knew that it felt like he was screaming under his skin and nobody could hear him. And if she knew that, he wondered if she knew he was screaming because it felt like he was burning. Because it felt like every single cell in his body had caught on fire and he was writhing in absolute pain except he wasn't moving at all. He wondered if she knew that he felt like he was frozen at the same time he was burning. He wondered if she knew that the only thing that was ever going to take all of that away, the only thing that could stop him from feeling like he was dying inside was seeing Mickey. He wondered if she knew that he needed to see Mickey, touch Mickey, make sure Mickey was okay more than anything else in the world. He would have given anything to do that.
He thought that was love. He knew that was love.
It was horrible and painful and so addictive, but he wouldn't have changed any of it for the world. He just wanted to see Mickey. He just needed to see that Mickey was okay. Because Mickey was tough, he was almost invincible, he would probably be fine, he'd probably just smirk and tell Ian to fuck off and stop worrying like a little bitch.
But it was the almost's and the probably's and all of the maybes that were running through his mind that were eating him up inside.
He didn't get to see Mickey like he'd wanted to when he got back into the Halfway House. Because Mickey wasn't there. He had been there, Ian could smell the faint traces of smoke and weed in their room that were fresh. He could practically feel that Mickey had been there recently. Only yesterday. But not even twenty four hours had been plenty of time for Mickey to do something stupid.
Less than twenty four hours had been plenty of time for Mickey to get drunk and crack some unfortunate guy over the head with a baseball bat, right in the middle of town. Less than twenty four hours was plenty of time for Mickey to get his ass thrown into Juvie.
Less than five seconds was how long it took Ian to work out that it had all been intentional. Less than five seconds was how long it took for Ian to know that Mickey was so scared that he only felt safe behind bars. There was a lot you could do and even more you could work out in not long at all.
It had hardly taken Ian any time to work that one out.
Ian caught the bus up to see Mickey as soon as it was possible and he had honestly never been more nervous in his entire life. He didn't know if Mickey would want to see him, didn't know how he was going to react. But he still had to see him. There was no way he could stay away.
He chewed on his bottom lip as the guards patted him down and he swore the pat on the shoulder was supposed to calm him down. He sat on the other side of the glass and fiddled with the edge of his sleeve under the table.
Two minutes later – he knew, he was counting – Mickey was led out by some burly guard. He didn't do anything as he walked over, kept his expression completely blank. Except Ian could see the smile in his eyes and that calmed him down way more than any pat on the shoulder could ever do.
Mickey picked up the phone and Ian did the same and for a long minute neither of them said anything.
"You look like shit," Ian said bluntly, because it was true. He looked tired, with dark circles underneath his eyes.
Mickey snorted. "Yeah well, my cellmate fucking snores," he replied, pressing the phone against his ear with his shoulder and leaning back in his chair.
"How long?" Ian asked.
Mickey just shrugged and pulled a face when he almost dropped the phone because of that action. "No clue," he said, "Depends if I behave."
"So behave then."
In Ian's mind, it really was that simple.
Mickey snorted again, because in Mickey's world the most ridiculous things got complicated. "Easy for you to fucking say," he retorted, rubbing a hand through his hair, "You haven't seen some of the twats in here."
He thought about leaning back to look at the people sitting either side of him, to see if they looked like twats, but he resisted. "Still," he said eventually, more serious than he had ever been in his life, "Behave."
"Aww, Gallagher," the older boy smirked, sarcasm plastered on thick, "You miss me that much already."
It wasn't supposed to be a question. But they both knew it was still a stupid thing to say anyway.
"Yes," Ian replied bluntly and Mickey scowled, "Course I miss you."
How could he not? Although it was something of a comfort that Mickey could be in there for less time than one of them would be in a foster home. Ian was good with dealing with the fact that he missed Mickey. He wondered if Mickey ever missed him. He hoped he did.
But you never knew with Mickey.
"Say that again and I'll rip your tongue out of your head," he said, his eyes narrowing in a way that was supposed to be dangerous. If Ian had been anyone else, he would have taken Mickey seriously.
Ian snorted, "Just try it, this glass is fucking shatterproof."
He tapped the glass to emphasise his point and one of the guards glared at him.
They didn't speak for a few minutes. Mickey just sat there and scowled and Ian tried to memorise everything single thing about the older boy all over again.
"What did you do to get out of it this time?" Mickey asked eventually, breaking the silence, which was unusual. Normally it was Ian who had to talk first. He thought maybe the inside was getting to Mickey more than he would ever let on.
He shrugged, "Played Frisbee. . . with a chair."
Mickey snorted, "That's fucking boring Gallagher, you should try setting shit on fire, now that gets a reaction!"
He rolled his eyes, "Oh yeah and then we could be cellmates."
"No way, you'd get fucking eaten alive in here," Mickey said, smirking, but if he thought that Ian couldn't see the momentary panic in his eyes or hear the edge of seriousness in his tone, Mickey was fooling himself, "You're the fucking definition of jailbait."
Ian didn't really know whether or not he should have been offended at that. Under the desk, he toyed with the key ring attached to one of the belt loops on his jeans. He didn't have the courage to mention it to Mickey, but the other boy would probably know how much it meant anyway. In fact, he definitely would. That was probably the whole reason he'd given it to Ian. Or maybe he wasn't. Either way, it didn't matter, because he'd know.
"So what the hell are you?" he asked. He meant it as a retort, but it didn't come out sounding like one.
He was too pleased to see Mickey, too relieved to be able to pull of any real tone.
"A fucking badass," Mickey said, rubbing his bottom lip with a finger and Ian smiled at the sight of the tattoos on his knuckles for no reason at all. Mickey rolled his eyes at him, obviously thought he was an idiot, but Ian really didn't care.
They talked about stupid stuff after that. Well, actually, Ian did the talking, Mickey's input just consisted of snide comments or jibes, but Ian didn't care. It was all so completely Mickey, it was all what he expected. What he craved.
He wanted to ask Mickey about what had happened at his Dad's. He wanted to make Mickey talk about it, to open up, but he knew that Mickey wouldn't want to. And all asking would do was make Mickey withdraw into himself and it would just piss him off. Ian would rather have him pretending and smiling for now; he'd ask him when he could follow to the place where Mickey walked away.
When the guard moved over to tell them that their time was up, Ian could feel his mood plummeting and it was like Mickey could taste it or something. "Don't fucking do that," he said suddenly, his tone harsh, but Ian could see all the emotions he never spoke of in his eyes, "Just think of it as a foster placement or something, I'll be out before you know it."
Ian nodded numbly. "Be good," he warned him, otherwise they'd only be kept apart for longer and Ian didn't think he could stand that.
The guard must have heard that comment even through the phone because he smirked slightly. Mickey saw it. "Fuck off," he said, his tone low and dangerous, it didn't even matter that the guy was twice his size, "Don't act like you know shit about me."
"Mickey," Ian warned through the phone, meeting his eyes and trying to convey how much he needed Mickey to behave, how much he missed him and needed him to get out as soon as possible. He thought Mickey must have picked up on it all because he nodded, the movement barely perceptible but definitely there.
"See you around, Firecrotch," he said, smirking because Ian knew he wanted to smile.
So Ian grinned for the both of them, "Later Mick."
He bit down on the inside of his mouth to stop himself from crying as Mickey was led away. But it did make him feel a little better that Mickey looked back, even if it was only to flip him off. He still looked back.
"Where's your pitbull?" Lip asked when his foster placement fell through and he wound up back at the Halfway House.
"Who Mickey?" Ian asked, not sure he liked that analogy even if it was quite accurate. Lip nodded. "He's in Juvie," he explained shrugging, "He hit some bloke with a baseball bat or some shit like that."
Lip looked appalled, which Ian thought was kind of funny, "Why?"
He shrugged again, "I didn't actually ask."
One of the first things Mickey had ever told him was not to ask stupid questions. So he didn't, without even thinking about it, he just didn't.
"You know you're supposed to ask that sort of stuff, right?" Lip asked, frowning at Ian like he knew every secret Ian had. But that wasn't possible. Lip couldn't possibly know. Nobody knew. Mickey would have killed anyone who'd found out, because as he always said, it was either 'us or them'. Mickey said each time that he'd choose his own life over anybody else's, but sometimes Ian got the feeling when he looked at him that he'd protect Ian too, that maybe Mickey valued his life as well.
Or maybe that was just one of those things that he told himself.
Ian shrugged, "It'd only piss him off."
"So why do you like him then?" Lip asked and there was something in the way he was looking at Ian that made him squirm, "Because see, I thought we told each other everything, I thought we were close like that."
Ian rubbed a hand through his hair, nervous, because he knew Lip already knew, that he'd worked it out, but he didn't know how to say it. He didn't want to say it, because it went against everything he had instructed himself. 'Don't admit to it, don't say you're gay, deny it at all costs, otherwise you'll get your head kicked in'. That was what he knew, that was what he knew would happen. But as he chanted that to himself silently, he couldn't help but think that as his brother, Lip wouldn't care. He shouldn't care. Lip wasn't looking disgusted anyway, he just looked offended that Ian hadn't told him.
"Sometimes there are things you just don't tell anyone," he said instead of an answer, "Keeps my face from being rearranged."
Lip's face softened slightly. "I'm your brother, I couldn't care if you wanted to be a transsexual," he said, like Ian knew what that actually was, "I don't care about you being gay, but I am kind of worried about your taste in men." He stared at Ian, like he was trying to implore him to understand, "Mickey isn't the sort of person you want to fall for, he's dangerous and no doubt about as straight as they come, he's the sort of person who'd kick your head in, Ian!"
If only you knew.
"He's different with me," Ian said lamely, even though it was true.
"Yeah, different," Lip replied, his gaze hard, "Not gay."
And Ian just kept his mouth shut and nodded, because he wasn't going to rat Mickey out. That wasn't his place. That wasn't his right. That and he liked his eyeballs in his skull.
"Why the hell are you ringing me?" Mickey asked, even though it was really more of a demand than anything else. He sounded pissed, but Ian picked up on that note in his voice that said really he didn't care all that much.
"Just thought I should let you know that I won't be able to come see you for a while," he said slowly, trying to sound calm even though he didn't think he succeeded, "Didn't want you thinking I'd ditched you or something."
Ian heard Mickey snort and in his head could see him rolling his eyes. "You going some new home or something?" he asked eventually. And Ian thought eventually even though it was only really thirty seconds of silence. Ian didn't really care, because just hearing Mickey breathe was enough to calm his spiked nerves.
"No, my mum's decided to make a reappearance," he explained, knowing that Mickey would hear the bitterness in his voice, "She's pregnant again or something and want us all to be together as a family."
He knew she'd probably just take off once the baby was born and it was due in a few months. Ian wondered if it was Frank's. Probably not.
Mickey didn't offer any consolations or comfort, didn't really voice his opinion and yet he screamed it at the same time. "Don't get your hopes up," he said, his voice completely serious, almost deadly as it crackled down the shitty phone connection.
"I won't," he promised, because he already knew how stupid that would be. Monica was going to leave again, it was in her blood to leave. Ian didn't think she knew how not to. But he could imagine it, he could imagine all of the others getting their hopes up, thinking maybe this time she would stick around, be a mother. Ian wasn't going to be like that. "I don't think I even want her to stay," he admitted, because he could confess that to Mickey, Mickey wouldn't judge him. Mickey never judged him.
He just snorted and said nothing.
"So, how's Juvie?" Ian asked after a minute, changing the subject because he still had phone time left and he didn't know what else to say about Monica. He didn't need comforting words, because he was getting all the comfort he needed just from talking to Mickey at all. He'd get comfort out Mickey swearing at him.
"Oh what, we making fucking small talk now?" Mickey asked and Ian could hear the smirk in his voice.
He smiled to himself in that way that Mickey would probably punch him for smiling, but Mickey couldn't see him, so it was all good. "Yeah, we are," he replied, his tone turning lighter because this was the sort of conversation he could handle. He knew how to be with Mickey.
He could do this, but he couldn't deal with Monica.
"So how is it?" he asked again.
Mickey made a sort of scoffing sound. "Fucking shit, how the fuck do you think it's gonna be?" he asked, but there wasn't a sharp edge to his tone that Ian would have expected was there. He just sounded tired. "My cellmate's a boring fuck who snores like you wouldn't fucking believe and there's some stupid mick who keeps stealing my Jell-O!"
He couldn't help it, he laughed. He knew how Mickey got about his Jell-O.
"Thought you would have punched him by now," he said lightly, because normally that was the sort of thing that he would do. Especially over Jell-O.
"Yeah well, you fucking told me to be good, didn't you?" Mickey snapped and then Ian could hear him freeze, could hear his sharp intake of breath, because he hadn't meant to say that.
He thought Mickey probably knew that he was grinning like an idiot. "I'll get you a load of Jell-O when you get out and you can eat it till you throw up," he said when he could finally talk without giving away how much that comment meant. Even though Mickey hadn't meant to say it, he still had and that meant all the world.
"Not the shitty knock-off crap," Mickey said after a minute, like he'd been debating whether or not to hang up, "The proper stuff."
"Wouldn't dream of giving you anything else," Ian said, only slightly sarcastically.
They both heard the beep that said how they only had a few minutes left. "I-I miss you, Mick," he said, because Mickey couldn't stop him over the phone, he couldn't do much other than hang up and Ian didn't think he was going to.
"Yeah well, Firecrotch," he muttered eventually, his voice low, no doubt so that nobody else could hear him other than Ian. Even Ian could barely hear him. "It won't be that long."
Ian smiled past the weird clog of emotion in his throat, "Good."
They didn't say anything else, just listened to each other breath until the line cut off and Ian was left with this dead feeling in the pit of his stomach that he'd never had before. He didn't know if it was sadness over not getting to see Mickey, or dread over having to see Monica. Or maybe it was just some horrible combination of both that he automatically knew he was going to be feeling for a while.
Because as Mickey had said, sometimes, "Life's a bitch."
It was weird, that was really the only way to describe it.
Everyone was so familiar and yet they seemed like strangers at the same time. It had been a little over four years since we'd all been under the same roof living together. Four years is a long time when you think of growing up, because people change a lot in four years. Of course, Debbie's still sweet and nice and Carl's still crazy. Lip's still a genius and Fiona's still the responsible one. Frank's still drunk most of the time and Monica's still erratic. So maybe they're all the same still, but Ian knew he'd changed. They kept looking at him like he was still the same person and then wound up being surprised when he came home with a cut lip or bruised knuckles or swore at Monica.
Ian knew he'd become rough around the edges and Lip blamed Mickey for that, but Ian sort of wanted to thank him. Because it made him tougher. It made him look at Monica and not buy her bullshit like all the others were.
It all became sort of mechanical, living with the Gallaghers again. He moved around and lived, but his heart wasn't really in it. Fiona thought he was depressed, but even she gave up trying to cheer him up after the first two weeks.
None of them saw how fake Monica's smile was, they didn't notice that her eyes flickered towards the door sometimes at dinner for no reason whatsoever. The baby she was carrying was a boy and Ian felt sorry for it because he knew that chances were, it was never going to get to know its mother. Then again, he thought maybe that meant it was lucky and it also made it already just like the rest of them. Because did any of them really know Monica?
"Did you have a girlfriend at the home or something?" Fiona asked him once in an off-hand sort of way, obviously trying to coax some sort of explanation out of him as to why he didn't really want to be with them. And it wasn't that he didn't want to be with his family, it was just that he missed Mickey and he didn't like Monica constantly trying to fuss over them and be a mother.
Lip looked up suddenly, his expression worried.
Ian just snorted and leant back in his chair. He didn't even consider telling them for a second. Definitely not with Monica and Frank there. He didn't want them having that part of him, the part of him that for some reason he thought was the best part. Maybe it was because that part of him sort of, maybe belonged to Mickey. And as far as Ian was concerned, anything that belonged to Mickey was perfect.
His fingers automatically found the keyring attached to his belt loop and he ran his thumb over the familiar plastic. For some reason it calmed him more than anything else should have been able to. "No," he said bluntly, "People just weren't fake there." He looked at Monica when he said that and three seconds later Frank blew up.
"You ungrateful little shit!" he grabbed Ian by the front of his shirt and hauled him up out of his chair, "After everything your mother has done for you, you don't disrespect her like that!"
Ian had been punched in the face by people a lot scarier than Frank. He shared a room with Mickey Milkovich for fuck's sake. This didn't faze him. He snorted. "She's done fuck all for us," he practically snarled, looking over Frank's shoulder at Monica, who was staring with wide eyes, "The best thing she ever did was leave."
Frank looked like he was about to hit him or something then, but Ian got in there first. He headbutted his dad hard and the man staggered back, clutching a bleeding nose.
After that, everything was a flurry of activity.
They called it a stress induced labour, but Ian really didn't give a shit. Sure, he felt bad for his new little brother having to be forced into this shitty world early, but about upsetting Monica, he didn't care in the slightest.
He stayed out of the labour room when they got to the hospital, wanted the time alone. Except, he found that he didn't really want to be alone at all, so he rang the only person who was guaranteed to take his mind off of his shitty home life on the phone he'd nabbed out of Lip's jacket pocket.
"You really have to stop calling me," Mickey said, his voice gruff and sort of sleepy sounding down the line. Ian wondered what time it was. The person who had connected up the call hadn't seemed surprised at the hour though, so Ian figured Mickey had probably just been being lazy.
"Mick, this is the second time I've called you," he said, letting the sound of Mickey's voice just wash over him. He hadn't heard it in months. "I just needed to talk to you."
Mickey exhaled loudly. "Fine whatever," he muttered, "Why?" And if he thought he'd successfully managed to keep the worried edge out of his voice, he was wrong. He definitely hadn't been able to, because Ian heard it loud and clear.
"Monica just went into labour, I'll have another little brother soon," Ian explained, somewhat trivially.
"And you thought I'd give a shit about that why?" Mickey asked, sounding confused and a little snappy, which made Ian think that he'd definitely woken the older boy up. Then again, he didn't suppose that there was much else to do in Juvie.
He shrugged and then realised that Mickey couldn't see that. "Dunno, just thought I'd tell you," he said, rubbing his eyes with his fingers and leaning forwards a little in his chair. He stared at the floor and tried to find some sort of pattern in the shitty design. "Think I broke my Dad's nose earlier though actually."
Mickey barked out a laugh, "Wow, you've finally grown a pair."
"Shut up," he muttered, "You knew that before." And he meant more than one thing with that statement and Mickey knew it.
He snorted softly in acknowledgement of that.
"You been behaving then?" Ian asked when Mickey didn't say anything else.
"Sort of," Mickey muttered, "Stabbed that guy with the fork over my Jell-O, but it hardly even fucking broke the skin."
Ian rolled his eyes, he'd sort of seen that one coming. He told Mickey as much.
"Fuck off," he muttered, "I like Jell-O, so what?"
"Mick, I already knew that," he replied and then saw Fiona coming down the corridor towards him. "I have to go, looks like the baby's been born," he said, standing up and rubbing the back of his neck, "Knowing Monica it won't even be Frank's."
Mickey snorted softly, "It's fascinating that you think I give a fuck."
"I miss you," he said, ignoring that comment, because sometimes with Mickey it was just best to do that, "Don't stab anymore people, kay?"
He could practically hear Mickey tensing and rolling his eyes, could see him doing so in his head. "Fuck off and go see the baby Gallagher," Mickey said back, his tone sharp. What Ian really heard was 'I miss you too'. Mickey was just too much of a pussy to say it. But that was okay, he'd say it enough for the both of them.
Ian was laughing as he hung up even Fiona was standing in front of him, giving him a weird look. Probably wondering who the hell he was missing. "So he's definitely not Frank's," she said after a minute as they walked back down the corridor.
He would have asked her how she knew that, except it was pretty obvious a minute later.
It was weird looking at such a tiny baby, all wrapped up in a blanket and knowing that was his brother – or at least half. Well, okay, that wasn't the weird part. The weird part was knowing that he was probably never going to get to know the kid. Everyone else was kidding themselves, he could see it in the way that they were looking at the baby. They all thought she was going to stick around, for the kid at least. But Ian could see the need to run in her eyes even then.
Even after just giving birth.
He could practically taste it. Could taste what was coming like some sort of premonition.
He was the only one who wasn't surprised when a month later she took off. . . again. But he didn't say 'I told you so', no matter how much he wanted to. He couldn't, it wouldn't make the others feel better and it definitely wouldn't make him feel better, because for some stupid reason he still got that sense of abandonment all over again. The only comforting thought was that he'd get to see Mickey soon.
When he was out of Juvie at least.
Now that she was eighteen, Fiona won custody of Liam and Carl. It really wasn't all that difficult. Liam was a newborn and for some reason Frank had given his consent to the whole custody thing and Carl was a sociopath nobody really wanted the responsibility to look after. He knew Fiona would try to gain custody of Debbie as well, but him and Lip didn't need it. Lip was eighteen soon and Ian didn't need his sister being responsible to him.
Especially not since a few weeks after being back at the Halfway House, he turned fifteen. Mickey still wasn't back, so Ian got drunk in his honour on his birthday, since it was a tradition that Ian had every intention of upholding.
Being at the Halfway House without Mickey is weird. Ian can feel the loss of him like it's a physical force pressing down against him. When he lies in their room at night, he has to face the wall because he can't look at the empty bed. And he doesn't really like to breathe too much, because the air still smells like Mickey and like the crappy cigarettes he always bought. It almost feels like he's died, which Ian knows is stupid. Because he hasn't.
And it's only two weeks after he gets back to the Halfway House that Mickey's let out of Juvie. Ian can't go to pick him up because his social worker does it, but he waits in their room, knees bouncing and hands clasped as he sits on Mickey's bed. He can't stop staring at the door and he knows that Mickey's probably going to kick his ass when he walks through it, but Ian can't help it. The need to see Mickey is eating away at his insides, it's building like an addiction that's gotten out of hand.
When he finally heard Mickey just down the corridor, swearing at someone who got in his way, Ian can't help the way his heart trips up in his chest or the stupid smile that spreads across his face. When the door finally opened, creaking on its rusty hinges, Ian can't move. He just stares up at Mickey, taking in every single thing about him. He can't stop himself from memorising the way that Mickey's bulked up, that his hair is a little shorter and that he's actually on the whole a lot cleaner than Ian's ever seen him.
For a long few minutes, Mickey just stared back at him and Ian could hear his own heartbeat thundering in his ears. Mickey closed the door behind him with his foot and dropped a bag on the floor with a soft thud. And that's when Ian made his move, his body lurching forwards almost of its own accord. It's like his skin was screaming for Mickey's touch, needing it as much as his lungs needed air.
Mickey's fingers dug almost painfully into his waist and he let out a tiny gasp-like moan as Ian slammed him back into the door. Ian pushed his fingers into Mickey's shorter hair as he crashed their mouths together, frantically searching Mickey's mouth with his tongue, pressing against him and relishing the feel of Mickey's hands sliding down his back, squeezing his ass through the denim of his jeans. And then it just isn't enough, Ian has to touch bare skin, so he forced his hands up under Mickey's shirt and pulled back just enough to tug it over Mickey's head.
Mickey bit him possessively under the jaw and Ian thought that said it all really, because Mickey wasn't good with words and Ian didn't know how to phrase things so that Mickey wouldn't bolt.
Mickey almost tore his shirt as he pulled it off of Ian and he stopped for a second when the shirt hit the floor and Ian thought he was going to say something, but instead he just punched Ian hard on the arm. "Ow, fuck, what was that for?" he asked, trying to shake the sudden deadness out of his arm, because Mickey hit hard.
"That's for saying shit like 'I miss you' so many fucking times," Mickey snarled, but the venom was taken out of his words when he grabbed the back of Ian's head and kissed him again, all tongues and teeth. He couldn't help but moan when Mickey bit down on his bottom lip, sucking on it briefly afterwards as though to draw the pain away.
Ian couldn't help but laugh, even though the sound came out garbled because Mickey seemed intent on swallowing any noise he made as he forced him back onto the bed. Mickey pulled at Ian's jeans, tugging them down and off without really lifting off of Ian at all, which he decided was actually sort of a talent. Getting Mickey out of his slacks however was a different matter entirely, their actions jerky and awkward and in the end they only really managed to push them down far enough to free Mickey's cock.
He clawed almost to the point of desperation at Mickey's bare back, arching up against his body as Mickey bit him hard on the side of the neck. Mickey's skin was hot and sweaty under his hands, but he was solid and he was real and he was there, so Ian didn't care in the slightest. Not that having a hot sweaty Mickey on top of him would ever have bothered him in any situation, but still. Mickey kept his teeth clamped down on Ian's neck, but Ian didn't mind, not when Mickey's hips were slowly grinding against his, the pressure and the friction making his eyes cross and both of their breathing to stutter.
He could feel Mickey panting against his neck, breathing through his nose since his mouth was otherwise occupied. Ian pushed his fingers into the back of Mickey's hair at the same time as he slipped the other hand down the his's spine, grabbing his ass and pressing them closer together. He jerked Mickey's head back slightly, made him look at him and he thought Mickey was about to argue, because his expression was indiscernible, but in the end all he did was close the inches and kiss Ian. It was the first time Mickey had ever actually started a kiss and Ian could feel his heart tripping up in his chest in response. Because he liked to think that meant something. He liked to think it meant Mickey had missed him too.
The kiss was hard and bruising with Mickey biting down on his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. So Ian just nipped him back and then Mickey was laughing as he came, the sound breathy and choked but the grin on Mickey's face was rare and Ian just drank in the sight.
"You going to fucking finish or what, Firecrotch?" Mickey asked, lifting up slightly and reaching his hand down and all it took was the slight brush of his thumb over the swollen head of Ian's cock and stars seemed to erupt behind his eyelids. He made a strangled sort of noise that sounded like it'd been punched out of him and pressed his face into the crook of Mickey's neck to try and hide the fact he knew he was pulling a stupid face.
Even before he'd stopped shuddering from the aftershocks, Mickey collapsed down on top of him, like somehow Ian's orgasm had taken it out of him. "Well I didn't fucking get that in Juvie," he mumbled against the flesh of Ian's shoulder, quiet enough that Ian thought maybe he wasn't supposed to hear him.
"Good," Ian said with complete conviction and wrapped his arms around Mickey's back because he wasn't ready to let the him up again. He didn't know if he ever would be ready to let him go and that was actually a terrifying thought; because chances were, Mickey wasn't actually going to let him keep a hold of him for long. Still, Ian could try.
In the month after Mickey got out of Juvie, they spent a lot of time having sex. Although, well actually, no, they didn't have sex. They'd never done that. They'd done pretty much everything else imaginable, but they'd never done that. Ian was too terrified to ask and Mickey just never mentioned it, so it didn't happen. But that didn't mean that Ian didn't think about it. A lot.
He wasn't entirely sure if they ever did do it, which one of them would be the bottom. Because he didn't particularly want to be, but he couldn't imagine Mickey being the bottom either. Sure, Mickey came undone whenever Ian stuck a finger or two in his ass, but Ian never took that to mean that he'd actually want to bottom. Ian knew he'd do it if Mickey asked, knew he probably wouldn't mind it as well, but that still didn't mean that the prospect didn't freak him out just a little bit.
He'd already worked out that Mickey had a pretty serious thing about his neck and an even more serious thing about biting. Or Ian suspected it wasn't so much about the biting, but rather the mark afterwards. It staked their claim and Ian liked the thought of belonging to Mickey. He liked the thought of Mickey belonging to him even more though.
It was about a month and a half after they'd been at the Halfway House together that Ian found them. Faded pink lines hidden by dirt smears and jerky actions. They stood out slightly against his flesh and Ian felt them before he saw them and he also felt Mickey tense, which was why he didn't let him pull away. They were lying like they'd started too, with Ian's face buried in the side of Mickey's neck and his hands wandering over flesh until he fell asleep. Mickey had complained the first couple of times, calling Ian clingy and stupid, but he'd persisted and eventually Mickey had given up. Just as Ian had known he would.
"Mick, what are those?" he asked, pinned one of Mickey's wrists to the bed and edging his fingers down a little so that he could see the lines there. They weren't easy to spot and Ian had to smear away some of the dirt with his thumb before they were really visible. He figured the dirt was intentional.
"Nothing," Mickey said too quickly, not looking at him.
And Ian was sort of glad he wasn't, because otherwise he would have seen the tears building up in Ian's eyes, threatening to spill over. He shifted slightly to grab at Mickey's other wrist and he didn't even try to pull away, probably knowing that Ian would just chase him down. He felt around the skin of Mickey's wrist for the irregular bumps and found them.
"What did you do?" he asked again, his voice coming out broken and choked.
Mickey jerked away and swung his legs over the edge of the bed and Ian thought he was going to run for it then, but he didn't move. He just sat there with his feet braced against the floor, staring downwards. He dragged his fingers through his hair like he wanted to pull chunks of it out and he still refused to look at Ian. It was only when he reached out to touch Mickey's back, his fingers brushing lightly along the bumps of his spine, tentatively, that Mickey spoke.
"What the fuck do you think I did Gallagher?" he snapped and Ian edged closer until he could see that Mickey was chewing the side of his mouth, his knuckles white as he squeezed his hands into fists. "Tried to get out, didn't I?" he muttered, rubbing his bottom lip with a finger, his face screwing up like he tasted something foul.
"Why?" he kept his fingers pressed against Mickey's spine when he didn't pull away.
Mickey mouth twisted into a sneer, but he still didn't look at Ian. "You haven't tried to fucking live with that man," he said, the words spat out like they tasted bad to him, "If I didn't off myself, he probably just would have done it." He pushed his tongue into the corner of his mouth, "Got me out of there in the end anyway, so it's not like it's a big deal."
He didn't know he'd moved until he stood up and kicked one of the empty cans of beer they had lying about on the floor. It bounced off the wall and the noise echoed around the in weird sort of silence.
"What the fuck is your problem?" Mickey snapped, glaring at Ian, the expression on his face dangerous, but worried at the same time. He looked like he wanted to get up, but he just stayed there in place on the bed, his fists clenching and unclenching and a muscle jumping in his jaw.
And Ian didn't want to tell him, because he knew Mickey was going to think it was stupid. He could tell that Mickey already did think it was stupid just from the look on his face. But he also knew that there was no way Mickey was letting him out of the room without saying anything.
"You promised," he spat at him eventually, too angry to look at Mickey, but too angry not to as well, "You promised you wouldn't leave me behind, but I guess I should have known you wouldn't fucking mean that!"
After all, when had Mickey had any track record of growing attached to something. He never seemed to give a shit about anyone or anything. He always said he didn't need anyone but himself, but Ian had still sort of hoped that Mickey would still want someone else around. Want him around.
Ian didn't know what reaction he'd been expecting from Mickey, but it hadn't been that he would just snort and roll his eyes. It sort of made Ian want to hit him, but that wasn't a fight he was going to be able to win, so he stayed put. "Don't even fucking try that one," Mickey retorted and Ian watched his fists clench and unclench, "Like you'd actually give a shit."
"Of course I'd give a shit."
He'd been pretty certain that he'd made that obvious.
"Well then you're an idiot," Mickey said, practically snarling and Ian didn't know why he was pissed off all of a sudden. Ian was the one who'd just found out the only person he felt was a constant in his life had tried to kill himself. "Nobody gives a shit about a guy like me," Mickey ground out through his teeth, standing, but Ian shoved him back down before he could take a step.
Not that there were many places he could go considering Mickey was naked.
"Well I do," he pressed his fingers into Mickey's scalp as he held the sides of his head, "You're not leaving me." And he wished he was as confident as he sounded; because he wasn't. He kept expecting for something to spook Mickey and send him running, he kept waiting for it and he thought he probably always would be.
Mickey bared his teeth, but Ian didn't give him a chance to say what he wanted to, because Mickey had that look in his eyes that said Ian shouldn't believe a single thing that came out of his mouth. He pressed his thumbs against Mickey's cheekbones and stared down at him, straddling the older boy's thighs, their height difference coming in useful.
"Don't even think about trying shit like that again," he said, wincing a little when Mickey's hands gripped his forearms hard, "Otherwise I will kill you myself, understand?" He didn't give Mickey time to tell him to fuck off like he knew Mickey would do, he pressed their mouths together in an angry kiss, biting down hard on Mickey's lip, drawing blood.
Mickey's hands slid around to his back and he pressed his fingertips into the bottom, gripping hard as he pulled himself upright until Ian was sitting in his lap. It felt weird kissing Mickey like that, tears on his cheeks and blood on his tongue, because he didn't know how to say how he felt any other way. He didn't know how to make Mickey understand that he wasn't going anyway and he didn't want Mickey to either.
"I'm sorry," Mickey mumbled later, through gritted teeth and Ian could hear in his tone that he was sort of hoping that Ian would be asleep and wouldn't hear the words. In response, Ian just brushed his thumb over one of the lines on Mickey's wrist and snuggled in closer to him, hoping for one stupid minute that maybe if he got close enough, maybe if he held on tight enough, he wouldn't ever have to let go.
The best time Ian ever got fostered was the time that he went with Mickey. Why anyone ever thought that that would be a good idea, he didn't know, but he sort of wanted to thank them for it. He thought maybe the social workers had thought that putting them together would mellow each other out, that it would remove the need for them to rush back to the Halfway House. It didn't. All that really happened in reality was that Ian stood in the background laughing whilst Mickey was a dick.
They were only there for a week.
Still, it was a good week. The family put them in a bunkbed in a little room with a lock and Ian thought it felt like he was flying to lie up on the top bunk with Mickey. Mickey sucked him off when they were up there, with Ian's palms pressed flat against the ceiling for no reason at all and a stupid smirk on Mickey's face. Ian didn't know why, but he felt like he had it all when he was up there like that. Or maybe that was just because he had Mickey with him.
They were at the Halfway House for almost a year, or at least they were together for almost a whole year. Ian didn't think he'd ever been that close to someone in his entire life. Sometimes he felt like he knew Mickey better than he'd ever known anyone else, better than he knew himself.
He knew when not to push Mickey and when it was often best to. He knew every single one of Mickey's moods, knew when he said insults that he wasn't actually being serious. He had Mickey's taste memorised, as well as the feel of his skin and the sound of his voice.
He liked to think that Mickey had started opening up to him a little, but then he thought that maybe that was just him understanding how Mickey worked all that much better.
Mickey was gay, but he was probably never going to come out, he was never going to shout it from the rooftops and he was most likely never going to hold Ian's hand in public, or probably even in private either. Mickey smirked more than he smiled and he'd much rather drink away his problems rather than talk about them. He was a hit first, ask questions later sort of guy. Chances were he was going to wind up in jail at least five times before he died and he had issues with people in authority. He was always going to be a dick, was never going to say the words 'I love you' even if he did feel them. He was never going to go to a club and dance, but instead would sit in the corner and drink. He was never going to be a straight A student, would never be optimistic and would always have his 'I'm fucked for life' attitude.
He was never going to be perfect, but Ian didn't want him to be.
He just wanted Mickey, exactly as he was, more than a little bit rough around the edges, but kind of mushy inside if you poked and prodded enough.
Ian had a scar on his neck in the shape of Mickey's teeth and another on the inside of his thigh. But that was okay, because Mickey had one on his ribcage and another under his jaw. Ian was also pretty sure the crescent moon nail marks on Mickey's ass were becoming permanent. But all of that was belonging, every last bit of it. And it just proved it when Mickey flicked his tongue over the scar on Ian's thigh before sucking him off or how when he slammed Ian into a wall to kiss him, his thumb automatically found the scar on his neck and pressed against it. It proved it when Ian kissed under Mickey's jaw in the same place every time without having to look, or how his fingers rested against the one on Mickey's ribcage when he slept.
That feeling of belonging, that ownership was proven with every bruising touch and every bloody kiss. Ian didn't think he'd ever get tired of proving it. Not ever.
There was only one thing that overshadowed the happiness that had built up inside of Ian's gut in response to all the time he'd got to spend with Mickey. And that was the knowledge that in a few weeks, Ian was going to be left alone in the Halfway House and Mickey was going to leave. And Ian didn't like not knowing what the future was going to mean then, because he was so used to knowing that Mickey would come back if he ever left, because he had to. But what happened if he didn't have to anymore. Would he keep coming back?
He was too scared to ask Mickey what was going to happen, too afraid of what Mickey's answer would be. So he just bit his tongue and died inside. Simple as that.
Except he thought that Mickey probably caught on to the fact that he was getting depressed about Mickey's leaving, because he could deny it all he liked, but he knew Ian just as well as Ian knew him.
He jumped violently when a hand snaked over his mouth, but Mickey's face looming over his made his heart speed up for a completely different reason. "Come with me," Mickey muttered, his voice low and husky, a combination of arousal and too many cigarettes.
"Where are we going?"
"Gallagher, for once just shut the fuck up and trust me," Mickey hissed, but there was a smile on his mouth and he barked out a stuttering laugh when a pair of boxers hit Ian in the face.
They snuck out to the baseball field and Mickey spat on the floor before tugging his shirt over his head and balling it up, using it as a pillow as he flopped down onto the ground. "What we going stargazing now?" Ian asked him, smirking even though they both knew by now that he felt dead inside.
"Fuck off," Mickey muttered, lighting up a joint and motioning him closer. Ian lay down next to him and jumped slightly when Mickey grabbed the back of his neck, jerking his head close and blowing smoke down into his lungs. When Mickey let him go, he fell back against the grass and stared up at the stars anyway, because he was actually amazed they could see them. Normally it wasn't really possible, there was too much light from nearby buildings to make them visible.
Ian tried not to be really stupid and gay and think that being able to see them now meant something.
They passed the joint back and forth a few times, but Ian wasn't really all that into getting high. He didn't know why, normally it was like a refuge from the pain building in his chest, but he just wasn't interested then. Although saying that, Mickey seemed to be on the opposite end of the spectrum and was sucking on the joint like it was a lifeline. But he looked hot with his eyes all wide and glassy and his cheeks glowing red in the dim lighting, so Ian didn't comment.
"Any particular reason we're here?" he asked eventually, looking sideways at Mickey who had his eyes closed and his arms behind his head. He was the picture of relaxation, but Ian could see the tension coiled in his arms, like a viper ready to spring and he wondered what was wrong, because Mickey wasn't usually like that. But Mickey would have just tried to feed him some sort of lie if he'd asked, so he didn't bother.
Mickey scratched his stomach, his shirt riding up a little to display a band of pale flesh that Ian found himself unable to look away from. He didn't know why he got like that sometimes, over just small patches of revealed flesh that he'd touched a million times. It didn't quite make sense, but it wasn't exactly something that had could control either.
"Cause I didn't really wanna fuck with so many ears around," Mickey said and he sounded flippant, just like he was obviously trying to, but Ian could hear the strain in his voice, could hear the nervousness that actually just made it ten times fucking sexier.
Mickey opened his eyes and looked over at Ian, his eyebrows raised and a smirk on his lips, but it wavered slightly. "You got a problem with that?" he asked, scratching his stomach again and looking like he was daring Ian to say no. Which Ian was sort of glad for, because he knew the difference between Mickey's 'I dare you to fucking turn me down' face and his 'I actually want you to turn me down but I don't want to say it' face. And Mickey was definitely looking serious about the whole situation.
"Nope," Ian replied, looking back up at the sky.
He wouldn't admit it, but he was too terrified to say anything else, because he was sort of wishing he'd had more of that joint. It still hadn't been cleared up who was the bottom and who was the top and who was the bottom in this relationship. Hell, they hadn't even worked out whether or not it was even a fucking relationship.
So he just lay there, staring up at the sky without really seeing it at all and counting Mickey's breaths just to have something to focus on. It only took Mickey two hundred and eleven breaths to work out that he was going to have to be the first one to make a move, the one to instigate this.
Ian actually jumped when he felt Mickeys' fingers find his belt buckle.
Mickey straddled his calves and bent to mouth the outline of Ian's cock through the fabric of his boxers, breathing heavily on the head and causing a wet spot to spread out as it rapidly hardened. He pulled the fabric down and jerked Ian's bottoms completely off, making him shiver a little in the cool night's air, but it was summer so it wasn't too bad. Mickey pressed his tongue flat against the slit, sucking on the head briefly before standing up again.
He pushed his own slacks down and off and Ian just lay there and stared and couldn't help but think that they were fucked if someone saw them. Mickey's dick was already standing up hard against his stomach and Ian couldn't help but smile at the sight of him, even though Mickey bit his bottom lip for it when he knelt back down, his legs bracketing Ian's hips.
Mickey sat down and Ian could feel his dick pressed up against Mickey's ass and his eyes crossed at the sensation, which thankfully he couldn't see since Ian also took that opportunity to grab the back of his head and kiss him.
Even though he didn't know what was going to quite happen yet, Ian let them fall into familiar territory as Mickey lifted one of his hands and sucked two fingers into his mouth. When he pressed those fingers against Mickey's opening, he made a choked sort of growling sound and pressed back, practically forcing them into his own body. And the look on Mickey's face as he tipped his head back to the sky, eyes closed and mouth open was easily the hottest thing that Ian had ever seen.
He hoped that image stayed burned into the back of his eyelids forever.
"Fuck, Mick," he managed to choke out, because he wanted to be able to tell Mickey how hot he looked. He just didn't quite know how. And he was too afraid of ruining whatever moment they had going on, because it was definitely a moment.
Mickey laughed, the sound low and husky and still with Ian's fingers in his ass, he bent forwards and reached for his jeans. Ian shut his eyes because he didn't know quite what Mickey wanted him to do. He could hear the tear of a condom wrapper and then Mickey was pushing his fingers away and lifting off slightly. When fingers closed around his dick he almost shot upwards, but didn't because the feeling of something being rolled down the length of his dick made him freeze and his heart jump up into his throat.
He opened his eyes and saw Mickey still sitting on him, twisted around as he rolled the condom onto Ian's dick. When Mickey turned back to face him, he laughed at something he must have seen in his expression, but the sound had an edge to it that made Ian know that Mickey was a lot more nervous than he would ever let on.
Ian sat up and pressed his fingertips into the back of Mickey's neck, pulling their mouths together. Mickey yelped into Ian's open mouth when he moved them suddenly until Mickey lay on his back, Ian still in between his legs and Ian's dick still rubbing up against his ass. Ian grinned down at him as the startled expression slowly melted into a scowl.
"Stop fucking smiling like that, Jesus," Mickey muttered, nipping under Ian's jaw hard enough to probably draw blood, but Ian got his revenge but pushing two fingers back into Mickey and making his body buck almost uncontrollably.
"Just fucking put it in me, fuck Gallagher," Mickey growled out through clenched teeth and Ian knew he was trying to control this, that he wanted to own this situation. But it wasn't just his, it was theirs and Ian wasn't going to let him.
Mickey's fingers clawed at his back, fingernails digging into flesh as Ian lined himself up.
He pushed forwards slowly, despite the way Mickey's legs hooked around him and tried to just force him in in one go. Ian wasn't going to let that happen, he wasn't to savour this. He let his head drop against Mickey's shoulder, his breath stuttering out of him as he pushed the head of his cock in through the tight ring of muscles. Mickey sounded like he was choking on air as he pressed his hands flat against Ian's spine, forcing their bodies closer together, but really Ian just thought that he needed something to hold on to.
He pressed in more and felt his eyes cross, felt Mickey shudder underneath him and thought maybe the world had stopped spinning for a second because he wasn't sure of anything other than the person underneath him. Mickey bit down on his shoulder as Ian eased in the final inch or so and he could feel Mickey's muscles twitching around him, could feel the teeth in his shoulder and the heartbeat against his chest that he knew wasn't his own.
"Shit Gallagher," Mickey coughed out, but there was laughter in his voice.
Ian smiled against Mickey's shoulder because he liked the way that Mickey was saying his name. Even if it wasn't his first name. He wondered if he could get Mickey to say it, to say Ian. It was only three letters, it shouldn't be that hard.
He started off slow at first, moving in a careful slide in and out of Mickey's ass, but the way Mickey's heels dug into the bottom of his back, he got a feeling that the speed wasn't really working for Mickey. It turned into something fast, furious, almost brutal, with the edge of pain as Mickey's teeth sank into his shoulder repeatedly. But that was just like everything they had ever done.
It felt like Ian was moving to a rhythm that he'd always been moving to, like the pace had been set so long ago, he'd just never realised it before.
They didn't last nearly as long as Ian would have liked, but he was sort of pleased when Mickey was the one who came first, his muscles bunching up and contracting and his face pressed into the side of Ian's neck. He could have sworn he heard his name being gasped out against his flesh, but he couldn't focus on anything with the way that Mickey's ass was tightening around his cock, pushing him over the edge and into what felt like oblivion.
He came with a stupid sort of groan, his arms gripping Mickey tight enough that he had to be finding it hard to breath, but he didn't complain. In fact, all he did was laugh low and throaty in Ian's ear. "You're not half bad at that, Firecrotch."
After they snuck back into the Halfway House, both shirtless because Mickey had managed to jizz up the front of both of their shirts, Ian fell asleep curled up around Mickey with a stupid smile on his face that the ex-con would have hit him for if he could see.
When he woke up, Mickey was gone.
Ian could practically taste the freedom, but it was marred by the bitterness of leaving behind a room full of memories. He stood and stared at the tiny room, the bed that had once been Mickey's, that hadn't been filled yet still, even though Mickey had run off two years ago and nobody had seen him since. He wondered how long it would take before their places were filled when he left. Probably not that long, he didn't care too much, but it did sort of sum the Halfway House up: there was always going to be someone to take your place.
He found random stuff that had collected up over the years, an old shirt of Mickey's balled up under the bed, stray buttons and pieces of bloody tissue. There'd been so many fights to clean up after, too much testosterone Ian had always told him. Of course, that had been before they'd properly started whatever the hell it was they'd had.
He thought it was weird to think that this room, this place was the closest thing he had ever really had to a home. Not that it had felt like much of a home since Mickey had left for good. it was a point that still left a sour taste in his mouth. Ian still sort of hated him for leaving.
The cigarette ends, the small scatterings of ash on the floor, the buttons, the tissue, the shirt, he left it all there. He didn't really have any desire to pick most of it up, he thought it would probably stay there for another year or so. Maybe more.
There weren't many people concerned with cleaning up in this place.
Ian wasn't concerned with anything about it so much anymore. It had ceased interesting him two years ago. It'd just become a lonely room.
He touched the door one last time and felt like doing something like spitting on Mickey's bed, just to signify how much it hurt that the Mickey had fucked and then left him. But he didn't. He just walked out, shutting the door on that pain like he'd tried to do so many times.
Ian tried to make his smile convincing as he hiked his bag up higher onto his shoulder and stepped out of the Halfway House for the last time. His social worker wasn't there to bid him farewell and neither was Mrs Potts, not like with all of the other kids. They were glad to be getting rid of Ian. He was one of their problem children, but he knew that they blamed that mainly on his choice of roommate.
And there waiting for him just outside was his sort of boyfriend that he wasn't even sure he really liked.
"You okay?" James asked him, smiling in that completely open and honest way that Ian had to pretend didn't creep him out a little. He didn't want to feel like James was baring his soul to Ian, because then for maybe a second Ian would have felt obligated to bare his back. And Ian didn't want to do that.
There were so many things he could list wrong with his relationship with James. James was too clingy, too open, too easily hurt. Honestly, he was just too nice. The biggest problem though: was that Ian wasn't nice enough to tell him this was a dead end.
He just didn't want to be left completely alone again.
He nodded, not objecting like he wanted to when James ducked in to press a kiss against his cheek.
That was until he looked over James' shoulder, to the tree that he hadn't been able to look at in about a year and a half. A tree that held too many memories in its branches, ones Ian thought he was best forgetting. And he blinked, because underneath it stood someone he hadn't expected he would see standing there.
He thought he was imagining it for a minute, thought maybe it was just some random guy enjoying the spell of good weather.But no, Ian could see a pink tongue darting out to push into the corner of a mouth and a hand raising to scrub through short dark hair. He could even just about make out the knuckles dirtied by tattooed letters.
Dressed in dirty and ripped jeans and a grubby one-white tank top, Mickey Milkovich leant there against the tree that Ian had once called theirs.
His eyes met Ian's and his lips quirked up into a half-smile that was really more of a smirk.
Ian's fingers found the battered keyring that still hung dutifully from one of his belt loops and he blinked, like he was trying to clear his vision. They were close enough that Ian felt stupid for not noticing him before, for not realising Mickey was there sooner.
"The fuck are you doing here?" he practically snarled, the words sounding like they were being ripped from his throat. He took a few steps towards Mickey, clenching and unclenching his fists down by his side in that way that Mickey had always used to do.
He froze when Mickey met his gaze. He didn't know if his resolve would crack if he took another step closer. He didn't even know if he had any resolve, so he didn't move.
From where he stood, Mickey just shrugged his shoulders and thumbed at his lip in that way he'd always used to. The way that Ian had always found stupidly attractive for reasons he couldn't explain.
For some reason Ian thought it was good that some things hadn't changed in two years at least.
"Knew you got out today," he replied, sounding nonchalant, but there was something else under that tone.
His voice made Ian shiver a little, because that hadn't changed either. He'd missed the sound of that voice. He could admit that at least to himself.
He snorted, "So what, you thought you'd show up and see if I wanted a fucking lift?"
It only pissed him off more when Mickey just shrugged again, his face betraying nothing. When Ian didn't say anything, Mickey shifted and tossed something at his chest. Ian caught it reflexively and looked down at the set of keys in his hand.
"What the fuck are these?"
Mickey snorted and rolled his eyes, "Keys, Gallagher."
"I can see that," Ian snapped back, "What are they for?"
Mickey shifted, looking uncomfortable, but the look on his face said that he knew he had to actually answer Ian. Even if he didn't look like he particularly wanted to. So Ian just waited and watched and tried to pretend like his heart wasn't in his throat.
"Wasn't that your biggest fear?" Mickey asked, "Not knowing where to go after this shit hole?"
He motioned to the Halfway House and spat on the ground, his love for the place evident.
"You bought an apartment?" for a moment Ian forgot to be angry, because he was pretty impressed. Mickey was more the sort of guy to jump around staying in shitty motels, not really the type to own an apartment if Ian was being completely honest.
Mickey shifted again, but now that he'd dug his grave, he probably thought that he might as well lie in it.
"No," he said bluntly, pushing his tongue into the corner of his mouth, "I bought you an apartment fuck head, I'll be back on Wednesday to get my shit."
And then the fucker actually had the audacity started to walk away.
Ian stared down at the keys in his hand and then back up at Mickey's retreating back. "At least tell me where the fuck it is then!" he shouted after him, not sure whether he actually wanted to believe that Mickey had got an apartment. For him. Mickey didn't usually do anything without getting anything in return.
"Where the fuck do you think, Gallagher?" Mickey shouted back over his shoulder, "It's in fucking Disneyland. Don't be stupid." He spat on the ground again and Ian couldn't tear his eyes away as he climbed into a beat up Chevy that Ian would bet was stolen and drove off.
"Who was that?" James asked, innocent sounding, but Ian also thought he sounded a bit like an idiot.
Ian didn't even look at him, just kept staring after Mickey, at the dust that had been kicked up by his spinning tyres. "My old roommate," he replied, because he couldn't very well say 'love of my life' now could he?
"Why's he giving you an apartment?" James asked the question that was rolling around Ian's brain like it was on repeat or something.
"He can be weird like that," he replied, but he wasn't really completely sure of what he was saying.
He ran his thumb over the key in his hand, over the numbers on the tag attached to it. '14'.
"Mick, what's your lucky number?" he asked, glancing sideways at Mickey where he lay with his hands stuffed under his head like they were a pillow.
He didn't even bother opening his eyes, "Gallagher, that classifies as a stupid question."
"Yeah, but what is it?" he asked again, rolling onto his front and staring at Mickey, "What's your lucky number?"
If Mickey's eyes had been open, Ian knew he would have been rolling them. "Gallagher, what makes you think I even have a lucky number?" he asked, but his tone wasn't quite as sharp as he probably thought it was, "Who the fuck even has a lucky number?"
Mickey snorted, "You know, that's really fucking gay."
Ian couldn't stop himself from smiling down at the key in his hand. Fourteen. Sometimes he forgot that Mickey actually seemed to remember everything that Ian told him. Of course, he pretended he didn't, but Ian knew he did. The evidence was right there in his hand.
"Any clue where this mystery apartment is then?" James asked, smirking slightly because he was obviously finding the whole thing amusing. Ian was glad that someone was that was all he could say.
"This would be a good place to live," Ian said, looking up at the rundown apartment building.
Beside him, Mickey flicked away the end of his cigarette and lit up another. "Gallagher, nobody wants to fucking live there," he said, smirking a little, "It's the shittiest building in Chicago, easily."
But Ian just shook his head, adamant. "It's in a good place and you'd only have to do it up for it to be alright," he said as he chewed his bottom lip, still staring up at the building, "If you had the time obviously."
A bus ride and a breakup later, Ian was standing outside of a door with number fourteen nailed crookedly onto it. The paint on the door was chipped and faded, but the lock was new when Ian slid the key into it. He swore his heart had climbed its way up out of his throat and into his mouth when he heard the click and the key turned with no problem.
The entire apartment building was rundown and dirty, but stepping into the number fourteen apartment it was like stepping into another world.
Sure, it smelt like cigarettes and faintly of weed, but it smelt like paint too and everything was actually pretty clean. The walls were painted in bright, bold colours, which Ian understood because he knew Mickey didn't like dark things, he knew it reminded him too much of his Dad's. The furniture was cheap, the couch probably second hand and the TV set wasn't anything amazing, but it was knowing that Mickey had started off with nothing at all that made it all worth it.
There was Jell-O in the fridge and a lot of beer, but there were a few staple foods in the cupboards like bread and eggs and pasta as well. The bedroom wasn't massive, just big enough to fit in the double bed. The wardrobe was built into the wall and full of Mickey's clothes, all lined up neatly on just one side.
Ian thought it all looked oddly domestic.
Not that he'd ever tell Mickey that, but still. He could think it.
The bed smelt like Mickey and there was a dip on one side of the mattress which told Ian which side of the bed Mickey had claimed. He actually succumbed to a really gay moment and just curled up in that spot, because he hadn't smelt Mickey's scent in such a long time. Two years was far too long. It felt like he was an addict or something what with the cravings coiled inside his gut.
When he heard the front door opening, he jumped like an idiot and was out of the bedroom and into the main room before he even really had a chance to breathe.
Mickey held his hands up like he thought Ian was about to hit him.
"I know I said Wednesday," he said, "But I forgot my fucking phone."
He motioned to the phone on the kitchen counter as if to prove his point. Mickey actually flinched when Ian moved towards him. Like he seriously thought Ian was going to try and hit him. "For the record, you're still a dick and I'm still mad at you," he said, scowling a little at him, "But I hear make up sex is the best kind."
He kissed him even while Mickey was laughing.