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10 steps to free

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1. The Supermarket


January 10
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Mickey is walking through the automatic doors when his phone rings, and for a second he considers doubling back out of the supermarket to take the call on the parking lot instead. But it’s cold as shit out and he doesn’t trust the looming grey clouds he saw driving over here not to fuck him up if decides to test them, so fishing out his cell he accepts the call as he grabs a basket and moves through the gates.

”Sup,” he lazily greets the caller, absently smirking at the quick flash of a smiling face on the screen announcing who it is.

”Garlic,” Jamie launches straight into demands, ”oh, and double A batteries.”

”Batteries?” Mickey complains, hooking the basket over his elbow and lingering by the magazine rack right next to the entrance, just in case moving further inside the bunker-like building would cause him to lose connection. ”What exactly are you cooking that you need fucking batteries?”

Mickey grins when he’s practically able to hear Jamie rolling his eyes.

”The garlic’s for dinner,” he explains, ”the batteries are for me, ’cause I’m cute and you like me.”

”Uh-huh,” Mickey neither agrees nor disagrees, ”so what? I’m just your personal shopper now? Gonna call me whenever and just demand shit?”

”Uh-huh,” Jamie copies him, ”or I’ll just call one of my other boyfriends, if you prefer that?”

Mickey snorts, but he can’t help smiling at the implications of Jamie’s gentle teasing.

”Maybe,” he says, absently scanning his eyes over the magazines, checking if there’s anything jumping out at him as interesting enough to spend money on. He likes reading this shit, but it’s rare that he feels like it’s worth his hard earned pennies. Those were the days when he’d just hide a copy of Black Inches inside an Us Weekly and stick it down the back of his pants.

His mind touches briefly on long summer days at the Kash and Grab, years ago, reading all the gossip mags he wanted and stealing glances at an increasingly complicated life, embodied in Ian fucking Gallagher looking back at him like he was worth the trouble. Warm skin cooling down, hidden in the walk-in fridge, Ian stuck to his back as he worked inside him and breathed against his ear, goosebumps flaring up his neck and down his chest.

”Too bad,” Jamie’s flirty voice breaks him out of his thoughts with a shudder, ”’cause I’m asking you.”

”Alright,” Mickey hums, happy to step away from the rush of old memories as he aimlessly starts to wander further inside the store, ”guess I’m gettin’ you some fuckin’ batteries. You said double A?”

”Rechargeable,” Jamie adds and laughs when Mickey groans, ”I’ll pay you back.”

”Like shit you will,” Mickey huffs and he realizes it might sound like a complaint, but he’s pretty sure Jamie knows him well enough by now to get that it’s a promise, ”that it?”

”That’s it,” Jamie assures him with a soft chuckle, ”thanks. See you in like, half an hour?”

”Yeah,” Mickey nods, ”bye.”

He terminates the call and tucks the phone away down his back pocket, surveying his surroundings to get his bearings. There’s not a lot of things on his mental shopping list, just a handful of items Jamie had emailed him about earlier during the day, in preparation for their date, and now garlic and batteries. He mutters the short list to himself as he makes his way down the aisles, trying and pretty much failing to find the most efficient route through the store, picking out what he needs.

He’s about ready to get in line for the checkout when he realizes that he’s forgotten the damned garlic, and has to go all the way back to the other end of the store to get it.

”Fuckin’ garlic,” he mutters as he rounds the last corner before the store opens up to the fresh produce section, and Mickey finds himself staring straight at a face he hasn’t seen in over a year.

It’s not one of his proudest moments, but his immediate reaction is to stop dead in his tracks and then back right the fuck up until he’s hidden from view by a large stack of canned beans.

”Ridiculous,” he berates himself, closing his eyes for a second to mentally check if he didn’t in fact just freak out over some random redhead. Nope. No. It was definitely him. Ian Gallagher. Mickey saw him for a split second and his whole body is thrumming with some kinda instinctual excitement. It’s like coming face to face with a big-ass snake, blood rushing and skin prickling and brain hitting escape.

There’s no reason for him to hide from Ian, there really isn’t. Sure, the guy broke up with him and that shit’s always gonna be awkward, but it’s been over a year and Mickey thinks he’s probably gone months at this point since he last thought of Ian in any significant way — with anger or hurt, or longing, or love — and not just in throwaway nostalgic flashes of random memories. There’s no reason for him to hide right now, like any of this is news, like their wounds are still fresh. Not that he knows anything about Ian’s wounds, but judging by the way Mickey got dumped he figures the guy ought to be A-fucking-okay.

Still, despite the supposed fact that they live in the same neighborhood, Mickey hasn’t once in the whole year since they broke up managed to bump into his ex, or even seen him from afar in time to duck the fuck out of his way. So maybe he can allow himself to be startled, and indulge in a second of irrational hiding, before he grows some goddamned balls and goes out there to grab what he came here for. Which is garlic, and nothing else.

Or. Maybe if he just hangs out with the beans for a minute, Ian might have had time to go away and Mickey won’t have to deal with seeing him, or talking to him, or feeling anything beyond inconvenienced and embarrassed.

Two things he never would’ve imagined anyone capable of making him feel. Leave it to fucking Ian Gallagher to get that shit done.

”Shit,” he mutters and carefully peeks around the mountain of cans, immediately spotting Ian standing in the exact same spot as two, maybe even three, minutes ago, ”the fuck, shit, fucking asshole. You’re such a bitch-ass pussy, man, c’mon.”

He’s not sure who he’s talking to at this point, but he’s starting to suspect that it isn’t Ian. Whatever, fuck garlic, right? Not like it’s a staple food, they’re not gonna starve without it. Who the fuck cooks with garlic for a fucking date, anyway? Fucking stupid. What the fuck is he doing?

”What are you doing?” he mumbles, and he’s pretty much certain he’s not talking to himself this time. He’s been so busy freaking out that he hasn’t really noticed that Ian’s not moved in almost five minutes, standing in the middle of piles of fruit and staring at the same sign the whole time, with the same set, far-away expression.

Mickey can’t help feeling like there’s something seriously wrong going on. Ian looks good, his hair is shorter and he generally appears a lot healthier than he did last time Mickey saw him. Which isn’t really saying all that much considering how desperately un-well Ian had been then, but it’s still a great relief.

A relief severely undermined by the look on Ian’s face. It’s a look Mickey knows all too well, and it’s a look he would’ve done anything to never see on Ian ever again. Well, anything short of breaking up with the fucker. Mickey’s pretty sure he never would’ve gone that far.

It’s a face that brings to mind dingy, free clinics and hardened, unfazed psychiatrists. It reminds him of visits to that damned psych ward, and unfocused, dull eyes looking right past him.

Forgetting all about his own freak-out for a second, Mickey doesn’t give it much thought before he steps out from behind the beans and slowly makes his way towards Ian. He’s well within his field of vision already, but Ian doesn’t even react to his approach as he rounds a mound of apples and walks up his aisle.

”Ey, Gallagher,” Mickey tries, still a good distance away, not looking to freak the guy out if he wants to be left alone with whatever it is that’s had him this spooked.

But Ian still doesn’t move, and Mickey’s close enough to see the way he’s clenching his jaw and staring at nothing. He’s standing by the grapefruits and he’s holding one in his hand, it looks ready to burst open from his tight grip, bulging out between the long fingers closing around it.

”Easy,” Mickey walks up to him and carefully reaches out to take the fruit out of his hand before he makes a mess. Ian doesn’t seem to notice him at all until their fingers brush with Mickey’s light touch, and he suddenly sways on his feet as he blinks and meets Mickey’s searching gaze.

”Mickey?” he mumbles and frowns, like he isn’t entirely sure he trusts his own eyes. Mickey lets his hand down on Ian’s until the grapefruit slips out of it and Ian stops looking at him like he’s some kinda ghost.

”You okay?” Mickey asks, letting their hands slip apart with a step back and ignoring the way Ian moves with him for a second, before he too backs off.

”Yeah,” he croaks, clearing his throat as he very obviously avoids looking Mickey in the eye, ”yeah, fine.”

”Ian,” Mickey says, because he knows it’ll get his attention, ”fuck’s wrong with you?”

He doesn’t ask if Ian’s off his meds, because as far as he knows he might never have been on them. After all, Ian broke up with him because he didn’t want to take the damned things.

But regardless of any potential bitter irony, Mickey’s hoped — and on one or two (blindingly) drunken occasions prayed — that Ian would have found it in himself to accept his diagnosis and decided to take better care of himself. Looking at him now Mickey thinks he might have hoped in vain, and he doesn’t know what to do about that other than to sternly remind himself that it’s none of his business anymore. He’s not gonna ask about the meds unless Ian brings it up himself, he’s learned that fucking much, if nothing else.

”Jesus,” Ian mumbles and takes another step back, rubbing nervously at his neck, ”just-, it’s nothing.”

”You sure about that?” Mickey asks and huffs when Ian doesn’t meet his eyes, he never could hide when he was lying. ”’Cause you’re acting-”

”Crazy?” Ian interrupts, but he’s still kinda mumbling and it doesn’t sound like he necessarily disagrees.

”That wasn’t-,” Mickey starts and stops when Ian chuckles and then abruptly bends his head, bringing a hand up to wipe it across his eyes. ”Hey, come on. You’re fucking scaring me, man.”

”Fuck,” Ian curses, his voice muffled behind his hand before he lets it drop and he visibly tries to pull himself together, shaking his head and slowly exhaling, ”don’t know why I-, shit, you don’t wanna hear this.”

”Fuck you,” Mickey disagrees, without any real bite, and steps a little closer so he can search out Ian’s bent gaze and hold it, ”you want me to fuck off and mind my own fucking business, I will. Or you could just tell me what the fuck’s going on and maybe I can help or some shit, right? I’ve been told I can be pretty useful in a pinch.”

”I remember,” Ian sighs, but there’s the hint of a smile pulling at the side of his lips and a softness in his eyes that always seemed to precede the decision to let Mickey in past one of his many walls.

Mickey raises his eyebrows in silent encouragement, happy not to nag now that he’s certain Ian’s gonna tell him what happened, in his own time.

”Got a call,” Ian nods, frowning at himself, ”from my doctor’s office, they want me coming in to talk about some test results.”

”Okay?” Mickey says, uncertain how he’s supposed to react to that.

”If there’s nothing wrong they could’ve told me on the phone,” Ian continues, ”I mean… that’s how it works, right?”

”Maybe,” Mickey more or less admits, scowling at the thought when Ian winces, ”maybe not. Maybe they’re just covering their asses either way? What was the test for?”

”Just a checkup,” Ian tells him and then frowns, fixing his gaze somewhere on Mickey’s collar, ”but then they got me in for a biopsy last week, said they just wanted to make sure it was nothing.”

Ian finishes his sentence by pulling in a quick breath, like he’s trying to calm himself down.

”Okay,” Mickey starts, trying to find some kinda calm, reasonable way to approach this whole situation, ”when did they want you comin’ in now?”

”Um,” Ian hesitates and checks his phone for time, something slightly distressed passing across his face, ”shit… now. I gotta run.”

Mickey bites his lip and steps aside when Ian abandons his half full shopping basket on the floor and brushes past him. It’s weirdly anti-climactic. He hasn’t thought about bumping into Ian for months, but back when it was one of his more favored fantasies they’d always involve a lotta explosive confrontation and catharsis, some yelling and shouting, a little bit of fighting, a pinch of fucking if he was in that kinda mood. He frankly would have preferred all of that over this; some vaguely bad news and a very familiar rush of protective panic.

”Hey Mick?” He turns around, surprised to realize that Ian hasn’t left yet when sees him standing there, staring back at him. ”Would you-”

Ian stops himself and bends his head, shaking it like he knows that the answer’s gonna be ’no’, whatever the question might be.

”What?” Mickey asks, placing his basket down on the floor and crossing his arms. ”C’mon Gallagher, spit it the fuck out.”

Huffing and pulling a hand through his hair, Ian nods and looks back at him. ”Could you come with me?”

Clamping down on his tongue just to keep from blurting out a quick ’let’s go’, Mickey feels his eyes widen as he tries to understand whatever the fuck’s going through Ian’s head right now. There was a time when Mickey’d give his left hand to hear something like that outta the stubborn asshole he used to call boyfriend — partner, lover, family, whatever — but now it just sounds kinda absurd.

”Sorry,” Ian mutters, nervous hands rubbing together in front of him as he observes Mickey’s silent reaction, ”shitty thing to ask, but-”

”Why?” Mickey finally blurts out, cutting him off.

”Don’t know,” Ian shrugs, but then seems to catch how wrong that sounds, ”’cause I’m fucking scared, Mick. Don’t wanna do this alone.”

Thumbing at his bottom lip, Mickey sighs and pointlessly looks around the store before gesturing vaguely at Ian.

”You want me calling somebody?” he suggests. ”Fiona… Lip?”

Ian scoffs in a way Mickey doesn’t understand.

”No, no they don’t-,” he starts, but then seems to swallow whatever he meant to say, ”I didn’t tell anyone about the biopsy, guess I hoped it’d be nothing… fucking stupid, huh? It’s always fucking something with me.”

He shakes his head again, briefly closing his eyes, and for some reason it just tips the fucking scales for Mickey.

”Alright,” he says and starts walking, raising his eyebrows at Ian as he passes him, ”c’mon, I’m driving.”

Marching out of the supermarket Mickey doesn’t stop to check if Ian’s following him until he gets to his car, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder as he pulls the door open on the driver’s side. Ian seems to hesitate for a moment, stopping a few feet away from the car to silently watch Mickey getting in behind the wheel.

Mickey feels a flash of self-consciousness waiting on his ex to join him, he knows what his car looks like. It’s a beat-up old Honda he got second hand, and it sure looks the part. It’s not something you roll up and down the street in, looking to impress and devastate past lovers, but it is something you can park on a South Side street at night and then find it unscathed and still there in the morning.

It’s a good car, and Mickey’s never felt like a chump for driving it. Until fucking now, with fucking Ian asking him to bend his whole life around him, again, and looking down at him in the process. Breathing out an annoyed puff of air through his nose, Mickey busies himself with adjusting the rear-view mirror and then turning the ignition, getting the car started whether his highness is in it or not.

But then the passenger door opens and Ian climbs inside, folding his long legs uncomfortably for a second before he finds the lever under the seat and scoots it back a couple of notches. Mickey refuses to look at him as he twists to check if the coast is clear, carefully backing out of his spot.

”Where to?” he asks as he shifts into first and starts creeping the car out of the parking lot.

”Washington Park,” Ian sounds normal when he answers, his voice just a little muffled while he twists in his seat to strap himself in, ”medical campus. I’ll direct you when we get there.”

Mickey nods, and then opts to ignore his passenger in favor of focusing on his driving. He’s always liked to drive, he finds it strangely calming. The world gets narrowed down to the insides of his car, where he is in complete control of himself and where he’s going. In contrast, he feels like he can stop taking responsibility for every little other thing going wrong that’s left on the outside of his domain; slowing him down and making him late, smacking him down whenever he’s found a way to pull himself up. Whenever he’s found a scrap of happiness.

He likes it less when there are other people in the car with him, infringing on his goddamned well-earned moments of zen. Ian had been the one shining exception, he’d fit into that bubble of peace like everything about Mickey naturally wanted to move around him, to accommodate for him. His silent breathing becoming part of the rhythm of the car and his heavy gaze a weight, a comfort, and more often not stuck to the side of Mickey’s face.

It still feels like the most natural thing in the world, even though it shouldn’t. But all the shit that’s gone down between them seems to go the way of everything else when Mickey starts driving, all the pain and heartache pushed to the outside and for a short while neither relevant nor their fault.

And it doesn’t help that Ian’s looking at him, either, in that way he’s always done. That whenever Mickey checks his blind spot or the mirrors, he catches sight of Ian’s Serious Thinky Face and those big, gluttonous eyes shamelessly following his every move.

Mickey clicks his tongue and smirks at himself when he realizes how unfair he’s being. Ian’s not some stuck up bitch and he never, not once, looked down on Mickey for having nothing. He never demanded anything of Mickey other than commitment, and not even that sometimes. It’d gotten kinda warped and fucked up at points in their relationship, and they were never perfect, whatever that means, but that doesn’t give Mickey a free pass to put shit on Ian now that don’t belong to him.

Maybe he hesitated to get in the car because he knew what it would mean. Maybe because he knew it wouldn’t be awkward or difficult or feel at all wrong. Maybe he was remembering all those times Mickey’d taken him out for joyrides, teaching him how to drive stick and make safe left turns and parallel park and, provided they’d ended up somewhere private, finished the lessons by awkwardly riding his dick in the backseat until they were both glowing pink and the windows were dripping with condensation.

Maybe he hesitated to get in the car ’cause he’s thinking about where they’re going, seeing right through the bubble to the other side, where dark clouds are looming and reality’s a potential shitstorm just waiting to happen.

Mickey spares him a more purposeful sideways glance, just to check if he’s looking at all worried or nervous, or close to whatever it was he’d been doing with that grapefruit stunt at the supermarket.

”What?” Mickey sputters and immediately lets his eyes dart back on the road after making a split second of direct contact with Ian’s. ”Fuck you lookin’ at?”

”You,” Ian admits, and Mickey can practically hear his stubborn chin sticking out in that one word alone, ”you look good.”

Pursing his lips together, Mickey shakes his head and refuses to smile, glaring at the taillights of the slow fuck in front of him blocking his route.

”Fuck off,” he shoots back as soon as he thinks he’s got his voice in control, and to anyone else he probably would’ve sounded like a dickhead, but Ian just grins. It’s quick and fades back into his default defensive blank expression as he turns away to look out the window, probably trying to hide it. But Mickey catches a glimpse of it in his rear view mirror, like a flash of light in the corner of his eye.

He’s missed being around Ian, how easy and exhilarating it is at the same time, he’s managed to forget how much he’s missed it. He has, however, not forgotten how much he hasn’t missed the fighting and the hurt, and the blunt realization that Ian managed to fall out of love while Mickey’d just started getting a grip on endlessness.

They drive the rest of the way in silence, only broken by Ian’s sparse directions once they get to Washington Park. Mickey doesn’t ask if he should wait in the car, he just gets out with Ian and walks through the campus with him, shoulders a good foot apart and faces forward, until they reach the right building and find the right entrance.

Mickey makes sure to fall a few feet behind as Ian strides up to the reception and gets the nurse’s attention.

”Had an appointment at five,” he says, and Mickey can’t help noticing the way he’s gripping the edge of the counter, his pale knuckles turning even whiter, ”Gallagher, Ian Gallagher.”

Mickey shifts his feet and crosses his arms defensively, almost like he’s expecting trouble. That maybe Ian asked him here so he could fuck some of these bitch-ass medical professionals up if they decide to give him any shit. It’s an absurd fucking thought but Mickey runs with it, because really he feels his hackles rising anyway for a whole host of other reasons, all generally having to do with how much he fucking hates hospitals, and specifically to do with how much he hates seeing Ian in one.

”Yes, Mr Gallagher,” the nurse finally finds his name on her computer, ”Dr Hashemian is expecting you, I’ll let her know you’re here. Have a seat and she’ll be right with you, sir.”

”Thanks,” Ian’s head moves with a curt nod and then he turns around, a faint hint of a smile flashing across his face when he sees Mickey, scowl on and guns out, ”Jesus Mick, look like you’re here to bust some kneecaps.”

”Tellin’ me I’m not?” Mickey jokes, raising his eyebrows as he turns with Ian to move over towards the waiting area.

”Sorry,” Ian sighs and sits down on one of the plastic benches lining the cramped room, resting his elbows on his knees and pulling his hands through his hair. He looks exhausted already.

Mickey on the other hand is too agitated to sit down. He lets his arms fall down his sides and tries to discreetly roll some of the tension out of his shoulders, absently flexing his fingers when it doesn’t work.

”You want me with you, or?” he decides to ask, just so he knows if he’s gonna need to insist once the well-meaning members of staff start telling him what he can and can’t do.

Ian seems to think it over for a second, and then he looks up at Mickey with wide eyes, accentuated by his low angle.

”No,” he says, voice quiet but certain, ”you-”

”Mr Gallagher?” a voice suddenly interrupts him, and Mickey and Ian both turn to look over at the reception to see a middle-aged lady in a white coat staring back at them expectantly, a clipboard in her hands.

”Yeah,” Ian quickly announces himself and springs out of his chair, taking a couple of steps towards her before he seems to remember something and turns back to Mickey, ”you don’t have to stay.”

”Yeah, ’cause I’m gonna leave,” Mickey snarks and rolls his eyes, ”like I’m gonna miss the chance to laugh at your dumb ass all the way back home for getting worked up over some hairy mole on your balls or whatever, and all they done was snip it off and you’re fine. I’m stayin’ right here.”

Ian knows him too fucking well, because instead of having any kinda normal reaction to all that he just nods, pressing his lips together in a slight, thankful smile before turning away to go shake hands with the doctor and walk out of sight without so much as another word thrown in Mickey’s direction. Most people would call him an asshole, or at least call him out on his bullshit.

But Ian knows he runs his mouth when he’s nervous. And pissed, and bored, and high, and whatever, but that’s besides the point. Mickey knows how he sounds, he sounds like he couldn’t give fuck-all about anything when really he’s just trying to force the universe to bend to his will by talking circles around it, telling it how he needs shit to get done.

The universe rarely listens, but guess Mickey can’t do nothing about that but keep talking.

There are magazines in the waiting room, so Mickey manages to keep himself from freaking out completely for about twenty minutes. Fighting against the big ball of panic pushing up his throat like heartburn, and against the urge to step outside for a smoke and risk having Ian come back just to think he fucked off, Mickey eagerly accepts the distraction when his phone suddenly starts vibrating in his pocket.

”This okay?” he asks the nurse, who nods at him when he holds up the phone and raises his eyebrows at her. He gives her a tightlipped smile as thanks and then quickly accepts the call, putting the phone to his ear. ”Hey.”

”Hey Mickey, you okay?” Jamie asks, his voice mostly concerned but unmistakably also a little annoyed. Rightly fucking so.

”Yeah, fuck-,” Mickey sighs, rubbing a hand over his face and suddenly feeling the weight of the whole situation now when he has to put it into words for a third party, ”ran into Ian at the supermarket.”

”Jesus, alright,” there are some noises in the background that suddenly fade away, ”you okay?”

”Yeah, fine,” Mickey can’t help a bitter smile when he thinks of how not okay he had been with seeing Ian again, and how unimportant all of that seems now, ”he was real shook up about some bad news though. We’re at a clinic right now, he’s in with the doc as we speak.”

”Is everything alright?” Jamie sounds genuinely concerned and Mickey would have told him the whole thing if he didn’t feel like it was Ian’s private business, and not something he was allowed to share with just anyone.

”No fucking clue,” he admits, ”it could be bad. Thought the least I could do was drive him here and back.”

”Yeah, of course,” Jamie understands, he pretty much always understands, ”take all the time you need, call me later when you know what’s going on?”

Mickey feels a stab of guilt for not even thinking of calling his boyfriend to let him know what was happening. He’s pretty sure it’s got everything to do with how difficult he finds it to let anyone in, and more or less nothing to do with there being something wrong with Jamie.

”Maybe I could still come over tonight?” he suggests, kinda hating the way he sounds when he has to ask but does it anyway, because Jamie likes it when he tries and they make solid plans. They’re never any kinda special plans, but plans nonetheless. A home cooked meal, Netflix and chill, going down to Jamie’s local bar for a drink. ”Don’t know how long I’ll be, but-”

”It’s fine,” Jamie assures him, ”I’ll put everything in the fridge for tomorrow, and get some pizza instead. You can heat some up when you get here, or eat it cold.”

It’s nice, all this shit’s so easy with Jamie. Mickey knows himself, he knows he’s slow to warm up to people, and slow to endear himself to them in turn. It’s all just a slow, slow process with a lotta potential for fucking up and giving up, and half the time Mickey doesn’t even know what he’s doing having a boyfriend when he could just as well be alone and get himself some strange whenever he needs to get off.

But fuck if he doesn’t know himself, and he knows what he likes. And getting himself some strange was exactly what he was doing with Jamie until one day they weren’t strangers but regulars, and then monogamous and then boyfriends. It was never his intention, or something he necessarily thought would ever happen again. But here he is, and even though whatever they’ve got going is a far cry from what he had with Ian, it’s difficult for him to see how that’s such a bad thing.

What he had with Ian had been all-consuming and nearly landed him in prison for attempted murder, besides crushing his heart along with his hopes and dreams when it ended.

”Thanks,” he mutters, not trusting his voice to hold up if he tries anything else, ”been a weird fuckin’ afternoon, man.”

”You can tell me all about it when you get here,” Jamie is quick to promise, and Mickey can’t help pulling a face at the thought, pretty fucking glad his unreasonably supportive boyfriend isn’t standing in front of him to see him doing it.

”Yeah,” he lies, pretty much confident in his own ability to be charmingly abrasive and still vague enough to get away with not actually telling Jamie shit.

He hears a door opening somewhere down the corridor Ian’d disappeared through and he immediately gets up to walk across the room and peer around the corner, seeing Ian stepping out from a room and shaking hands again with the doctor.

”Fuck,” Mickey sighs, watching Ian’s grim, bent face as he starts walking towards the waiting room, shoulders slumped and his steps slow, ”they’re done, gotta go.”

”Good luck,” Jamie offers, ”I hope it’s nothing bad.”

”Yeah, me too,” Mickey says and swallows convulsively when Ian looks up and meets his eyes, walking the last stretch to meet him, ”bye.”

”Who’s that?” Ian asks when he gets close enough, watching Mickey terminate the call and pocket his phone.

”Nobody,” Mickey quickly dismisses the question and tries to get Ian to tell him what’s going on by just staring at him, lasting about ten seconds before he has to ask, ”so?”

Ian opens his mouth as though to say something, only to press his lips together and bend his head. They stand in silence for a long moment, like a couple of idiots, Mickey’s heart slowly breaking all over again until Ian finally shakes his head. For a second he thinks it might be a good shake, but as soon as the thought enters his brain he knows it’s not right.

He doesn’t think, he just steps forward and wraps his arms around Ian’s slumped shoulders and bent neck, holds him close and tries his best to regulate his own breathing by focusing on his ex’s long lost scent. Ian doesn’t push him away, he melts into it; hides his face in the crook of Mickey’s neck and grabs on to the back of his jacket, bunching up the fabric in his tightly clenched fists.

”It’s fucking cancer,” he mumbles into Mickey’s skin, damp from tears and snot, ”it never fucking ends.”

”You’re gonna be fine,” Mickey promises, barely managing to push out the words above a whisper, ”not gonna let anything happen to you.”

Ian shakes with a sob and tightens his grip on Mickey, burrowing even closer.

”Gonna be fine,” Mickey mutters and carefully scratches his blunt nails up the short hairs on the back of Ian’s head as he closes his eyes and covers them with his other hand, ”please, Ian. Tell me you’re gonna be fine.”

He’s not allowed to cry right now, he can’t allow himself to be sad and broken when this is the one moment he’s been given to be strong, to give Ian what he needs. He blinks over the tears gathering in his eyes and wipes at them, pinching his fingers over the bridge of his nose to will them away.

”Mr Gallagher?”

Mickey takes a deep breath and reluctantly pries himself away from Ian long enough to glare at the new, fresh-faced nurse practically gawking at them, trying to look sympathetic and pretty much failing.

”What?” he barks, even though he knows he should let Ian deal with this himself.

”We need to go over a couple of details with Mr Gallagher before he can leave,” the nurse explains, ”setting up a treatment plan for the next stage, finances-”

”The fuck?” Mickey immediately wants to fight, anything to feel like he’s doing something, and he only barely refrains from flying off the handle once Ian steps a little closer, his long fingers gripping him gently above the elbow.

”Mick,” he says before he lets go of Mickey’s arm again, ”it’s fine.”

”This way, Mr Gallagher,” the nurse directs Ian towards another corridor with his whole hand, turning briefly to Mickey to hold out a small bunch of pamphlets, ”here, these cover some of the basics for patients and their loved ones, hopefully they can answer most of your questions.”

Mickey scowls at him but still takes the pamphlets, twisting them in his hands as he watches Ian walk away again.

The information in the pamphlets is infuriatingly vague and he only makes it through a couple of them before he throws them down on the bench and gets up to pace around the small waiting room. He asks the nurse for directions and then goes hunting for some coffee.

It’s like drinking death. But he paid two whole fucking bucks for it and it came in the smallest cup imaginable, so he’s determined to just grin and bear it. He sits down and leafs through the rest of the pamphlets. They mention shit like lymphoma and Hodgkin, chemo and radiation therapy and pills. More pills. Nausea and depression and hair loss and cancer. It’s like he still can’t fucking understand what’s wrong with Ian, even with reading about all of these boogeymen concepts he sure as fuck has heard of before, but never had to deal with first hand.

Guess that’s not the case now either, it just fucking feels like it.

Ian is a lot more collected when he comes out the second time, his mouth in a stern line and the reddened bags under his eyes the only sign of his earlier tears. Mickey walks him back to the car in silence, keeping an eye on him the whole time while still maintaining a certain distance.

Ian doesn’t say anything until they’ve been driving for five minutes and he suddenly asks Mickey to make a turn that takes them somewhere that sure as fuck ain’t gonna get them anywhere near the Back of the Yards. Mickey doesn’t ask, he just follows Ian’s sparse directions until he asks him to stop when he can. Finding a wide enough gap between two cars, Mickey turns in and cuts the engine.

He expects Ian to immediately get out of the car, but maybe he can feel that comforting bubble too, in here, and knows as well as Mickey does that once he gets out it’s gonna pop, and there’s no telling when they’re gonna see each other again.

”You need money?” Mickey eventually decides to break the silence, trying to sort out the few things he needs to know before Ian leaves. He scowls at Ian when he scoffs, like it’s some kinda dumb question.

”No, Mickey, I don’t need money,” he says, shaking his head and looking out the window, avoiding Mickey’s searching glare, ”got insurance through my job, got good coverage.”

Mickey doesn’t know what to say about that. Of course Ian’s got a job, time hasn’t stood still since they broke up. He bites his lip to keep from asking more about it, it isn’t essential information.

”Been on meds for six months,” Ian offers voluntarily, after a few long moments, ”been really tryin’ to get my shit together.”

Mickey sniffs and wipes at his nose with the back of his hand, feeling some kinda bone-deep tension seeping out of him as he sits back in his seat and looks down the street. And there, there’s that bitter irony too, left sitting in the emptiness after the ebbing tension. Ian’s been getting his shit together, only he wanted to do it without Mickey.

”Got a boyfriend,” Ian continues, but this time he sounds almost regretful. Mickey grins, because that shit’s just funny.

”Yeah?” he huffs, trying not to sound like it kills him to hear it, ”good for you. Me too.”

”Yeah?” Ian echoes him, his comforting voice almost down to a whisper at this point. ”You gonna tell him about me?”

Mickey glances his way and smirks at Ian’s serious expression, watching him closely in the dark car.

”He knows,” Mickey says and leaves it at that.

Ian nods and without another word gets out of the car. He hesitates on the curb, still holding the door open, and then he leans over to peer back in at Mickey.

”Thanks,” he says and swallows, eyes roaming over Mickey like he’s taking him all in, or maybe he’s trying to make sure he’s really there.

”Gonna make cancer your bitch, Gallagher,” Mickey tells him and grins when Ian’s lips turn up in a slight, lopsided smirk.

”Bye Mick,” he more or less just mumbles before straightening up and pushing the door closed after him.

Mickey should drive away, but instead he stays where he is and watches as Ian walks up the street, no more than a shadow under the sickly yellowed street lights until he stops at the mouth of a dark alleyway.

For a second, Mickey’s gripped by the unreasonable fear that Ian actually doesn’t have anywhere to go, and as soon as Mickey drives off he’s gonna go sleep in the alley or get himself picked up by some John. But then he hears the muffled sound of someone’s excited ’hey!’ and a guy with a big, brilliant smile jogs across the street and walks right up to Ian, wrapping him up in a warm hug.

Mickey kinda wants to kill him but reluctantly concedes that he looks like a nice guy, even under the ominously dim lights. A nice fucking guy who kisses Ian softly on the lips before resting an arm across his shoulders and leading him into the shadows of the alleyway. Mickey narrows his eyes and stays put. Dude could still be a fucking creeper behind the nice clothes and shiny smiles, Mickey is after all a great believer in not judging books by their covers.

But then the windows of the building next to the alley light up, and Mickey’s left with very little reason to still stalk the street, waiting for the slightest cue to jump out and rescue Ian from his new, potentially horrifying life.

He stays for another fifteen minutes anyway, until the cold has seeped into his car and all the way into his bones, before he gives up and drives home to South Side.