Ian Gallagher hated the midnight to two a.m. shift at the Kash & Grab liquor store, but a lot of times his boss Kash liked it even less and so Ian often took his place. Kash didn’t care that Ian was sixteen, that he had school in the morning, or that Ian would much rather be sleeping.
Mickey Milkovich poked his head through the back door in a sleeveless, collared shirt with the word SECURITY on the breast patch. “Hey, you,” he called in his thick Chicago accent. “I’m gonna grab a smoke in the alley. Cover for me, will ya’?”
Ian shot the boy he loved a hopelessly romantic look. If it weren’t for Kash’s security cameras trained on him, he’d join Mickey in the alley. Ian shifted against the counter, tugging at his trouser front. It had been a while, and Ian wanted to sneak outside with him. Maybe, when Mickey returned he could find the sweet spot under the counter where he was invisible to the cameras.
Deep in a graphic mental fantasy, Ian flinched when the front doors banged open and an asshole in a ski mask pointed a semi-automatic handgun at Ian’s nose.
“Open the drawer,” he demanded.
Ian stood in the bread aisle, frozen, while Kash fired a bullet into Mickey’s right thigh. Witnessing the young man he was crushing on knocked off his feet, yelling, and bleeding had no effect on Ian. Shock, he must be in shock.
Only when Kash approached Mickey, weapon still drawn, did Ian leap into motion and shield his friend.
Mickey’s thigh bled a lot, and Ian wanted to hug him so badly, to offer some kind of comfort, but Kash stood over his shoulder with the gun, and Mickey would never allow it. The fact that he let Ian touch his wounded leg was enough.
Ian began to shake. He fiddled with the buttons of the cash register, fumbling the mechanism. Ironically, the wannabe criminal on the other side of the counter was steady as a rock.
“There’s not much.” He wadded up about forty dollars—the entire contents. “Only enough for, uh, change until we close.”
Mickey better stay outside and smoke a second cigarette. If he walked in on the robbery, his temper would get him shot. Again.
The robber snatched the cash and shoved it into his pocket. “Fuck you.” He pulled the trigger.
It all seemed to happen at once—the gun popped, pain exploded across Ian’s abdomen, and he flailed into a rack of liquor bottles and cases of cigarettes.
“No,” Ian begged, a little too late.
Full, glass bottles of Crown Royale, Jack Daniels, and Grey Goose rained down upon his head.
Pain blew away as if caught in a stiff wind as darkness descended. Light dimmed. Ian blinked once, and Mickey cupped his face, his hands impossibly warm and rough against his oversensitive skin.
The air stank like alcohol.
Ian tried to ask, What are you doing here? There’s a creep with a gun. He’ll hurt you. But, “Whuyaaa?” was as far as he got.
“Shut up, dummy,” Mickey said, smiling past a sheen across both eyes. “It’ll only make you bleed out faster.”
Mickey grasped his hand, and Ian clung to him.
Though Mickey was out of juvie and Ian had seen him a couple times, they hadn’t been together yet. Ian snuck into his yard and scratched at Mickey’s bedroom window until the boy he loved slid it open.
“What the fuck do you want?” Mickey stood on the other side of the glass in nothing but boxer shorts.
Ian chipped paint off the wooden sill with his fingernail. “Did the bullet wound heal right?” he wanted to know. Then, on impulse, “Can I see it?”
“I don’t give a shit what you do.” But Mickey left the window wide open when he climbed back into bed.
Ian slid through the portal, landing gracefully on his feet. “What was juvie like?” he whispered. In the dim light, Mickey’s shape drew him like a magnet.
“Fucked up,” Mickey grunted.
Climbing into bed beside Mickey, Ian peeled the blanket off his lower body for a better look at his bare thigh.
Mickey lay real still, unnaturally still. “Yeah, you can suck me off while you’re down there, too.”
Ian couldn’t remember what the scar looked like, but Mickey tasted like clean skin and salt. It was his first time giving a blowjob, and afterwards he sprawled across Mickey’s chest, happy to doze for a few hours, but the other boy’s elbow caught him sharply in the ribs.
“Get the fuck outta here, asshole.”
Ian shivered as dark spots danced like fairies in his periphery. “Mick?” he slurred.
“I told you to shut up,” Mickey said, trying for levity but the tears in his eyes ruined the effect. “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
Though Mickey was careful, when he lifted Ian’s upper body onto his lap, it hurt. The lights dimmed once more, and Ian may have passed out for a second because Mickey was shaking him and shouting again.
“Stop,” Ian complained. He blinked the shadows away. God, he was weak. He couldn’t feel his arms anymore, though he suspected his fingers were still locked between Mickey’s.
“The cops’ll be here any minute,” Mickey promised.
Ian gazed down his torso at the bloody wound in his belly. “…dying…” Weird, how it didn’t hurt anymore.
“You’re not fuckin’ dying,” Mickey snapped. “They’re gonna patch you right up.”
Ian blinked, and the world went dark and silent. As quick as flipping off the light switch. Mickey moved his face directly in front of Ian’s nose, jostling him. The floor tilted dangerously off balance, and Ian tumbled through a black hole.
Lights flickered as people in scrubs spoke rapid gibberish across Ian’s torso. His whole body jerked like stepping off a curb in a dream. Someone touched his arm roughly, possessively.
“Mickey?” he mumbled, searching through the haze. It had to be Mickey. No one else grabbed him the same way.
The dugout at night was a quiet, creepy place that smelled a bit like beer and urine.
“Don’t get any weird ideas,” Mickey greeted. He was always angry, always hating someone. It excited Ian, who couldn’t hold a grudge. Being with him was like being in the eye of a storm. Ian never knew, from day to day, if he’d experience Mickey’s fury or his protective side.
“Oh, yeah?” Ian shot back. “About what?”
Mickey grabbed him by the arms and forced him to sit, knees splayed, on the ancient wooden bench. “This doesn’t mean anything.”
His pants and briefs slid down and Mickey buried his face between his thighs before Ian fully appreciated the gesture. Mickey liked getting fucked. He’d never returned the favor before.
Is that all it was? A quid pro quo between fuckbuddies?
But then Mickey palmed his balls, and Ian didn’t give a shit why.
Doors and room numbers floated past, but where was Mickey?
Ian heard the words surgery, chances, and wait. Still no Mickey.
“I’m right here, Ian.” Mickey never called him Ian. He called him shithead, dummy, fucktard, and sometimes Gallagher. Never Ian.
He opened his mouth to call for him again when the walls stopped speeding past and something sharp pricked the back of his hand. He sank down through the gurney, through the floor, through the earth itself.
His age be damned, Ian loved to party. His fake ID gained him entry into every dance club on the south side. Mickey preferred a quiet beer at home. Some pot, maybe. He rarely even visited a bar.
So, between the booze and the pills, Saturday night was veering left fast. An older guy pestered Ian right out the exit door. When he stumbled out of the club and fell somewhere down the street in the literal gutter, he didn’t know what to do. If the creep followed him, he was helpless to fight him off. Ian liked fucking, but he wanted to be conscious for it.
Ian crawled out of the street and slumped against a brick wall, pulling his cellphone.
“Who the fuck is this?” Mickey answered.
“Mick,” he said, his mouth swollen and hard to control. “Come get me.”
“Gallagher?” he asked, sounding astonished. “Where the fuck are you? If this is a dumbass prank…”
“I can’t get up,” he whined. “There’s some creep…”
Mickey’s voice, when next he spoke turned serious. “Tell me where you are.”
“…street,” he breathed. “Club Smash…” His eyes drooped, and the phone must have fallen from his numb fingers because he never caught Mickey’s response.
When Mickey arrived, though, he wasn’t quiet or polite about it. He flung Ian against the sidewalk and kicked him in the ribs.
“Is this your idea of a good time?” he demanded. “Flirting with perverts and passing out on the street?”
Ian started to cry.
“You’re a fuckin’ disappointment,” Mickey swore. “Get up.”
Mickey pulled him roughly to his feet and supported him on the walk to his pickup.
“I’m sorry,” Ian whined.
“You scared the shit outta me,” Mickey replied, thrusting him into the truck. “I thought I was gonna find you stabbed and raped, you stupid bastard. Why are you out here alone?”
Ian leaned his head against the cool window glass and closed his eyes. “No one to go with.”
“Next time you wanna party, I’ll go with you,” Mickey said, starting the truck. “You need a fuckin’ chaperone. Might as well be me.”
Ian woke like rising from the depths of the community center pool. First, consciousness returned in pieces before he began to flex his limbs. Finally, his vision cleared enough to recognize the person beside him.
Across the narrow hospital bed, a sleeping Mickey balanced on the very edge, not an inch of him disturbing a single spot on Ian’s body. It looked uncomfortable.
“Mick?” His voice was raw and throaty.
The sound roused the other boy, who whipped his head up.
Their eyes met, and Mickey hovered over him, his face a mask of anxiety and grief. “Can you hear me? Are you awake?”
He nodded because his voice was trash.
Mickey hadn’t tried to touch him yet, not so much as a pat on the shoulder. Probably, he stupidly worried about hurting him.
Ian made the first move, laying his hand on Mickey’s. The touch seemed to revitalize him. Mickey’s features softened, and his chin wobbled.
“Is that really you?” Mickey asked. “’Cause you’ve been opening your eyes now and then, but no one’s home.”
Just how bad was it? “It’s me, Mick,” he promised. “Am I dying?”
“No, shithead. You’re not that lucky.”
Things must be okay if Mickey was insulting him. Ian eased deeper into the thin mattress. “Did I get shot?”
“Shot, yep.” Mickey relaxed, too, curling around him. “And your head got split open.”
“The bottles?” Ian asked, sort of remembering all that liquor bombarding him when he fell into the shelf.
“Mmm-hmm.” Ian shifted positions, and Mickey laid his head on his bicep.
“Were you worried about me?” Ian teased. In truth, Mickey’s shared body heat and the weight of his arm was lulling him back to sleep.
“Hell, no,” Mickey said, one thumb rising to tenderly stroke his cheek. “I just didn’t wanna have to tell Fiona her no-good brother died.”
Ian smiled as his eyes fluttered closed. “I love you,” he murmured.
There was a sharp intake of breath and then silence. Ian withdrew his arm and lifted his head to see into Mickey’s face.
Too soon, Ian thought. He’d fucked up and said it too soon.
Mickey bit his lower lip and then shifted around as if he couldn’t get comfortable. After clearing his throat, he blurted out, “I love you, too. Now, shut up and go back to sleep. You’re supposed to be resting.” As he said it, he pulled Ian’s arm back around his ribs. “Dummy,” he breathed into his chest.
“Douche,” Ian whispered back, resting his cheek against the top of Mickey’s head. The corners of his mouth turned up, and he fell asleep.