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Mickey wasn't expecting anyone to pick him up when he was released. He figured he'd be taking the bus back to Chicago. Someone probably still lived in the house. Probably not Mandy and definitely not Terry since the bastard got himself killed a few years back (probably the only time in his life that Mickey's ever praised Jesus). Maybe Iggy or Joey or one the cousins. Sometimes Mickey pictured himself walking into the house and finding it empty; just dust and trash but not even Frank Gallagher being brave enough to squat there. In his lowest moments, he imagined sliding back into the brief moment of domesticity he, Ian, Svetlana, Nika, and Yevgeny shared as though that was even fucking possible at this point.

Svetlana stopped bringing Yevgeny up to visit after Mickey signed the divorce papers, but he got the occasional letter, so he knew things had changed. Some crazy shit with the Balls that he couldn't be fucked to keep up with but it did lead to a paternity test. He wasn't Yevgeny's father but they were closely related. Kid was probably his brother or nephew. Was he supposed to laugh or cry at that shit (honestly, his first reaction had been to cry, followed by stabbing some aryan fucker in the nuts)? Would everything be different if he had insisted on the test from the beginning (not that he would've had the balls to ask for it, not back then)? The whole situation was fucked and even though Mickey offered to still be in the kid's life after Svetlana broke the news, she waved him off (saying that she hated to admit it in the beginning, but Mickey was just as much a victim as her and she was happy to be a mother on her own).

He always thought he was destined to be fucked for life and not in the good way. Figured he would wind up in and out of prison like his old man (multiple stints in juvie plus this stretch proved that), never hold down a real job (except for his brief employment at Kash and Grab, true), knock up some ghetto trash (or Russian hand-whore, whatever), marry her (un-fucking-fortunately), maybe still get some dick on the side (not thinking about that), and probably not live to see thirty (but here he is almost thirty-two who would've fucking thought). But in prison he had nothing better to do than work out and even that got boring after awhile, so he got his fucking GED and learned a trade (pipefitting, yeah the jokes fucking wrote themselves). Even exceeding his own expectations for himself, Mickey still didn't have much hope for his future.

Maybe he'd finally go legit when he got released, but he'd be doing it alone. So imagine his surprise when he walked out of the prison gates to find Carl Gallagher leaning up against a newer model blue Dodge Charger, sunglasses pushed up into his hair, arms crossed over his chest. A few seconds later, Debbie popped out of the passenger seat, leaning over the roof to smile at Mickey.

"Hey Mickey."

"Need a ride?" Carl asked with a smirk. He pushed his sunglasses back down over his eyes and slid into the driver's seat before Mickey could answer.

"C'mon." Debbie gave a little wave before ducking back in the car.

Well, dealing with any Gallaghers beat taking the bus (barely), Mickey thought. He opened the door behind Carl and threw his bag of meager possessions (his release paperwork, one plastic lighter, one pack of Marlboros, a stack of letters from Svetlana, a few photos of Yevgeny, a now extremely old cell phone and charger, the piece of paper that proves he passed the GED, and a training manual) into the backseat before sliding in there himself.

"So you're probably wondering what's going on, huh?" Debbie turned in her seat to ask, her voice entirely too cheerful. Her face had thinned out a bit more, but her hair was the same length and color it had been when they locked Sammi up in the moving crate (dumb fucking move).

Carl snorted as he put the car into gear and peeled out onto the highway. "Nah, Debs, two people he hasn't seen in a decade show up out of nowhere and he's copasetic."

Copasetic? Mickey thought, who fed this degenerate a thesaurus? "Just get to fucking explaining already, tweedle dee and tweedle dum."

Debbie's frown was very Fiona-esque. "It's about Ian--"

Mickey held up his hands. "Nope. Stop the car. I'll fuckin' walk." He had spent his first year in prison hoping Ian would at least show up once to visit so they could get closure or whatever the fuck and the following seven years getting over him. As much as one could get over their first (and only, let's be honest) love, anyway. He voluntarily went to see the prison shrink and everything. Dr. Moore wasn't a miracle worker, but Mickey had mostly come to peace with the whole thing.

The child-proof locks clicked on and Carl sped up instead. "Just hear us out and we'll drop you off wherever you want after."

"Not like I have much of a fuckin' choice, huh?" Mickey crossed his arms over his chest, the fabric straining a bit uncomfortably at the seams. The clothing they gave him to wear out was the same clothing he wore to sentencing and it's not like he gave up working out when he decided to get his life together.

"Sorry, it's just, well…" Debbie pursed her lips, another Fiona look.

"Ian's been pretty stable since you went in," Carl jumped in. "Or at least that's what we've been told."

"Neither of us have been around much," Debbie interjected. "Carl went to military school and then college; just graduated a few months ago."

Not exactly what Mickey had expected for the kid. More like juvie followed by big boy prison, if he was gonna bet on it. The kid had always seemed like a straight-up sociopath.

"And Debs got married and has two kids. Not exactly in that order."

Okay, that Mickey could see. Typical hood girl shit. Even sweet girls like her couldn't escape it, apparently.

"But, like, compared to Fiona and Lip at their lowest points, Ian seemed to have his shit together, you know?"

"No, I don't know," Mickey said despite himself. It's not like Svetlana kept him up-to-date on the rest of the neighborhood and she wasn't a fan of the Gallaghers anyway. "And I don't wanna know."

Carl and Debbie exchanged a quick glance before she continued, "You remember Kenyatta?"

Did he remember that fuckface? Of course he did. Bastard was lucky he wasn't dead in a ditch somewhere for laying his hands on Mandy.

"Well, Ian is kind of in a similar situation?" her voice went up at the end like she wasn't sure or some shit.

"And this is my problem how?" Mickey raised his eyebrows at the siblings. "I'm not violating my parole."

"We're not asking you to kill him or whatever. Just get Ian away from him." Debbie paused, biting her lip. "Please."

Despite what probably ninety-nine percent of the southside would say, Mickey wasn't a heartless bastard. He just happened to be loyal and caring to very few people. At one point, that included almost all of the Gallaghers (except Frank and Monica for obvious reasons, and Lip when he was being a little bitch), but now he could count on one hand how many people he gave a shit about and still have fingers left over.

"He won't listen to any of us," Carl added on when Mickey just stared blankly out the window in response.

Mickey rolled his eyes and huffed out a laugh. "Bitch didn't listen to me back when… when we were fucking or what the fuck ever. He's not going to listen now."

When they were in love and happy. Happy adjacent. As happy as they could be given the circumstances (don't romanticize it, Mickey, Dr. Moore always said, it will only make it harder for you to move on). Ian had stopped listening to Mickey somewhere in there. Stopped giving a shit just when Mickey was finally comfortable with being in love with Ian (something sixteen year old Ian would kill for, no doubt, the fucking irony of it all).

"Just think about it," Carl said, nudging Debbie to turn back around to face forward.

Quiet didn't bother Mickey anymore. Most of the noise in prison was background filler, stuff he could easily tune out. He avoided interaction as much as he could, especially the last few years of his sentence. The first couple of years, he had to throw his dick in a couple of guys, do some beatdowns, keep Yevgeny in diapers by doing some hits, the typical shit, to get his rep up so he didn't end up being someone's bitch. After a few years, he just had to deal with new guys thinking they were going to be upstarts, but otherwise kept his head down. He didn't want to do more time than absolutely necessary. So once it was achievement unlocked on his badass status, he finally got his priorities straight (so to speak).

But this type of quiet was like an itch he couldn't scratch. It was awkward, but he certainly wasn't going to be the one to break it. He spent enough time jawing to a redheaded wall during the worst of Ian's bipolar episodes. Besides, they had maybe a half hour drive left before they hit the city. Mickey scratched at his jaw reflexively.

"Where do you want us to take you?" Carl finally asked.

"We checked and your house got seized by the county. No one paid the taxes, I guess," Debbie said casually while staring at her nails. "And Svetlana moved to Seattle or something."

"Lip says no one's seen Mandy in years," Carl tacked on.

Internally, Mickey rolled his eyes. He knew about Svetlana and Mandy. The house was a bit of a shock, but Terry and Mickey were the only ones that ever paid the fucking bills, so maybe not that much of a surprise. These two kids were about as subtle as a bag of hammers. He slapped his palms against the back of their headrests. "So which of you am I staying with then, huh?"

Carl smirked at him in the rearview mirror. "Me."

**

Carl's apartment was in the Tri-Taylor area, near UIC, where he just graduated from (with a degree in Criminal Justice of all fucking things). It was a tiny one bedroom with a pullout couch and an efficiency kitchen. Still more comfortable than a prison cell.

"I start at the police academy in a few weeks." Carl handed Mickey a beer out of the tiny fridge. "I figure you can take my place working at the Pavilion. It's just taking tickets and shit."

Mickey cracked the beer open and took a small gulp out of it (he was probably a fucking lightweight now). Also, he didn't know what the fuck to say to Carl (who the fuck let this kid in college much less police academy?) and his assumptions (who needed his fucking help). Carl opened his own can and took a sip. He was clearly clocking Mickey, looking from his face to his hands and back again.

"I cleared it with your PO."

"The fuck you say?" Mickey couldn't help but spit out.

Carl looked directly at Mickey, his eyes unwavering (it was fucking unnerving is what it was). "Your PO. Becky Bednarski."

Like Mickey didn't know her name. It was in his release paperwork (along with fifty thousand other fucking next steps and rules and bullshit). "You know what I fucking mean."

There was that goddamn smirk again. "I've got contacts. People who know people. You dig?"

Mickey slammed the half-empty beer can onto the counter (what was this the fucking seventies anyway). "No, I don't fucking dig."

Some of the beer splashed out onto the back of Carl's hand and he shook it off before holding his hands up (in likely mock) surrender. "Take it easy."

Fuck. Mickey could literally feel his blood pressure rising. He didn't think this kid could get him so rattled. It had to be just the non-fucking-stop rollercoaster of surprises since he walked out that prison gate including invoking his greatest weakness (still Ian, fuck, and really, fucking Gallaghers). He turned away from Carl and took a couple of deep breaths (there's no shame in needing a moment to collect yourself, Dr. Moore said). Why the fuck did he quit smoking anyway?

"Alright. Fine." Mickey turned back around. "But this doesn't mean I'm doing shit to help you fucking Gallaghers."

"Sure, Mickey."

Smug motherfucker.

**

Working at the Pavilion wasn't that bad. It was just security work, like Kash and Grab, and despite it being an urban (read: poor) university, there were hardly any issues to manage. His PO (call me Becky, like they were going to be fucking friends or something) was happy at any rate. Living with Carl was kinda weird though. The kid spent pretty much all day every day working out or going to a gun range or studying for the CPD exam. It sort of reminded Mickey of Ian and his obsession with the Army (all those math classes and ROTC shit and for what?) except it seemed like Carl was actually going to make something out of it (still didn't know how that shit happened).

After a solid week of watching this kid do push ups and sit ups every morning before breakfast, Mickey's curiosity finally got the better of him. He nudged Carl with the toe of his boot in the ribs while he was on push up number whatever. Carl pushed him away all while keeping himself propped up on one arm (okay, impressive).

"You want something or what?" Carl flipped over and started working on sit ups.

"Just wondering how you got to be such a pussy." Mickey shrugged.

Carl paused a second and tilted his head at Mickey. "There was this girl. Her dad was a cop." He resumed his sit ups as though that explained fucking anything without giant leaps of deduction.

"Right. And your dad's a raging alcoholic but you see I'm sitting here sober as a judge after… whatever with your brother. Don't make sense."

"Well, let's just say I was lucky to meet the guy and leave it at that."

Mickey gave up. "Can't say the same for me with Frank."

"I doubt anyone would ever say they were lucky to meet Frank," Carl said drily. He kipped up and walked to the coffee machine to pour himself a cup. "Aren't you going to be late?"

"What are you my mother?" But the kid was right, fuck. Mickey fixed the collar on his polo shirt and picked up his wallet and keys off the end table on the way to the door.

"I was thinking more like fairy godfather," Carl shot back.

Mickey flipped him off without bothering to turn around, but he couldn't help smirking. Maybe he had missed the Gallaghers a little bit.

**

The fucking Gallaghers still did their family dinner shit. Only Fiona sold the house a few years back since it was just her and Liam left, so Debbie hosted it. Somehow she had been married to the same guy for years and they owned the bottom of a two-flat in K-Town. Debbie warned Mickey that her husband had a brain injury and might say some odd shit, but it still didn't prepare him.

"You have a really nice ass for a dude," Neil said as Mickey walked by him further into the house.

"Uhh, thanks?" Mickey responded while raising his eyebrows at Debbie.

Who giggled (fucking giggled) like a schoolgirl and then shrugged. "He's not wrong."

Lost fucking cause. "So where's the rest of the clown car?"

Debbie introduced Mickey to her kids, Frannie (after Frank, fucking really?) and Neil Junior. Both of them had red hair and brown eyes, but Frannie's skin was more caramel colored than the blinding paleness of her brother and parents (there was probably a story there but Mickey had some tact, some). There was also a sister-in-law and her teenage son. Fiona showed up with Liam (Jesus the kid was a fucking teenager now?) and some dude (who could ever keep track of her boyfriends), followed by Carl. Which just left Lip and Ian (and Ian's dude, probably).

Fiona didn't have that motherly air about her anymore, she seemed more confident and self-possessed. She nodded at Mickey but didn't bother to come talk to him or introduce the guy she was with (which was fine, really). Liam didn't seem to recognize him (not that Mickey expected him to) but shook his hand when Debbie (re)introduced them to each other.

The Milkoviches didn't have family dinners. They were a pack of hyenas who terrorized everyone else to keep themselves from turning on each other. Mickey still couldn't wrap his head around wanting to spend time with family (not when he had spent most of his life avoiding anything but the bare minimum of interaction with his own, excepting Mandy and Iggy).

Lip showed up just as Debbie was setting the last dish on the table. He slid into the seat across from Mickey and then did a double-take.

"What the fuck is Mickey doing here?" He jabbed his thumb in Mickey's direction while addressing the rest of the table (as though Mickey couldn't hear him or something, rude motherfucker).

"He got released early. Isn't that exciting?" Debbie chirped as she sat down herself.

"Thrilling, but that doesn't explain why he's here. At family dinner." Lip overemphasized 'here' and 'family' like no one understood what the fuck he was saying (prick).

"He's staying with me," Carl added as he slapped a giant spoonful of potatoes onto his own plate then Mickey's. He waved the bowl at Lip. "Potatoes?"

Lip glared at Carl but took the bowl. Mickey glanced back and forth between the two of them. There had to be a story there. Just like there had to be an explanation for why there was no alcohol at the table (or in the fridge, Mickey checked because going through this sober was going to be a bitch and a half). For why the sister in law kept glaring at Lip and then shifting her chair slightly farther away from him every time. And why everyone was being so fucking polite. Mickey had had meals with these people before. They were not polite. They were not quiet. What the motherfucking fuck had gone on since he went in? At least the food was good (although pretty much anything tastes good compared to prison slop).

Debbie had just started to slice into some pies Fiona brought with when a timid knock came on the door. The younger ones were busy clearing the table, Neil's sister was helping him into the bathroom, and the remaining Gallaghers were having a hushed pow-wow that was clearly about Mickey since they kept looking at him. Fiona's guy didn't seem more inclined to answer the door than anyone else, so Mickey rolled his eyes before standing up from the table to do it himself. He should've known better. Apparently Monica had kicked it not long after Mickey went in and Frank had gone to find batty Sheila (or something) so that only left one Gallagher.

Ian stole Mickey's breath away. He looked like he hadn't aged a fucking day. Like he had been fucking freeze framed at the exact last moment Mickey had seen him. Except that when he turned his head, a bruise on his jaw became visible along with a scar going from his hairline down to the corner of his eyelid on the left side of his face. There was a newer cut on his lip, too.

"Mickey?" Just like his knock, Ian sounded timid and unsure. Not at all the confident guy who danced on tables and wasn't afraid to throw a punch.

Mickey nudged at his nose (stupid nervous habit). "Hey Ian."

A guy came up the stairs behind Ian and clamped a hand on his shoulder. "Who is this, Ian?"

It was a little too dark to make out much, but the guy was a tall motherfucker (taller than Ian for fuck's sake) with tats on his arms and knuckles. As Mickey stepped back to let them in, he caught more details. Dark hair, blue eyes, pale, even more tattoos, thick biceps and thighs. Mickey felt like he was looking in a funhouse mirror (where his reflection was stretched out and colored in by toddler because Jesus those tats were horrible). Now he understood why Carl and Debbie dragged him back into this shit show (fucking fuck).

"He's an old family friend, Mike," Ian explained without looking at either of them (Mike?! Even their names were similar for fuck's sake). "Went to school with Lip."

What the fuck else could he do? Mickey stuck out his hand for the guy to shake. "Mickey."

Of course the fucking prick tried to crush his hand (Mickey was surprised he didn't whip out his dick to mark his territory while he was at it). "Mike. Ian's boyfriend."

Mickey took his hand back and walked away, straight down the hall to the bathroom. Luckily, Neil and his sister had since vacated it. He shut the door, turned the lock, and then rested his forehead against the wood. All he could think was 'fuck, fuck, fucking fuck' on repeat. Finally he pulled out his phone and opened the text thread he had with Carl.

me (7:07 pm): you couldn't fucking warn me, fuckface?
fuck tha police (7:08 pm): seeing is believing
me (7:10 pm): you're not going to fucking see anything after i punch your fucking lights out
fuck tha police (7:10 pm): stop being a little bitch

Pocketing his phone, Mickey went to the sink and splashed water on his face (but he didn't look at the mirror because how the fuck could he now?). He didn't know what to do. Clearly Carl and Debbie expected him to white knight it here (maybe he had called Ian princess once or twice but Mickey was no knight in shining armor) but domestic violence was fucking tough to intervene on. It had been the topic of discussion in many of the sessions with Dr. Moore (mainly focusing on Terry's house of horrors but also on the guilt Mickey still felt over Mandy's relationship with Kenyatta). Ian had to want out. There had to be a plan in place to get him out safely. This wasn't the typical Gallagher caper here where they just needed pluck and a scheme and it would all work out in the end.

Exiting the bathroom, Mickey almost ran smack into Debbie. He steadied her before hissing under his breath, "This is what you meant by 'kind of in a similar situation'?! Really? Jesus fucking Christ, Debbie."

Debbie's eyes went a little wide but then she squared her shoulders, clearly determined, even as she kept her voice at the same volume level. "You have to help him. I think he feels like he deserves it? Like he wants to be punished or something."

The 'by you' was left implied because (Jesus fuck) Mickey still couldn't get over how this bastard looked. It's like Ian trolled Chicago looking for a Mickey stand-in, down to the name, even.

Mickey ran a hand down his face. "I don't know why he feels that way. If he feels that way. And it's not really my business anymore."

"Pie!" Fiona called out (loud enough for the whole block to hear so guess she still had some motherly characteristics).

Taking that as a good excuse, Mickey slid around Debbie back into the dining area. Everyone else had already sat down and it was awkward as fuck. All of them kept glancing between Ian, Mike, and Mickey like the world's worst tennis spectators. Ian kept his eyes on the table, listlessly pushing a piece of blueberry pie around (Ian didn't even like blueberries). Mickey slid his slice of apple across the table to Ian before snagging the slice of blueberry from him without thinking (the wink was also, possibly, without thinking). Ian gave the tiniest of smiles (worth it). Luckily, Mike was too busy shoveling pie in his face to notice.

Mickey's phone pinged rapidly in succession and he pulled it out of his pocket to take a look.

fuck tha police (7:55 pm): look at you, you smooth motherfucker
peppermint patty (7:55 pm): <3 <3 <3
fuck tha police (7:57 pm): now punch sir douchesalot in the face

That's it. Mickey stood up abruptly and pointed at his phone. "Gotta take this. But thanks for dinner."

He hightailed it out of there, hoping no one would follow him. But his luck had never been that great.

"Hey Mickey, hold up."

Aww, fuck. Mickey kept walking and let Lip jog to catch up. Lip immediately lit a cigarette and offered it up, but Mickey waved him off (he had quit his second year in the can; cigarettes were better as currency anyway).

"Are you fucking Carl now?"

Mickey could literally hear a record scratch in his head. Where in the fuck had that come from? He huffed out a laugh (yeah okay, Carl had grown up nice, but Mickey only had eyes for one Gallagher). "Why? You jealous?"

Lip coughed and wheezed. "How could I forget what a dick you are?"

The bus stop was so close and yet so far. Mickey walked faster, veering to cut across an empty lot. He wasn't running away, he wasn't a pussy. He just didn't want to violate his parole by punching the smug motherfucker in the face.

"Just stay the fuck away from my family," Lip shouted after him. "You're a Milkovich, you ruin everything you touch."

Not too long ago, those would be fighting words, but all Mickey did was flip Lip off. He couldn't deny that they stung a bit though (your last name doesn't have to define who you are and how you interact with the world, according to Dr. Moore). Mickey had been good to Ian (or at least good in the only way he knew how) and that had counted (even for Lip) at some point.

"Fucking Gallaghers," Mickey muttered at the sky.

**

Chapter Text

"Shut the fuck up," Mickey groaned at the extremely loud sound assaulting his ears.

He may or may not have stopped to pick up some Jim Beam on the way home. And then sat on the couch drinking it and feeling sorry for himself like a pussy until he passed out.

After flailing his arm out blindly, he found the offending object. His phone, which he fumbled to answer before it stopped ringing.

"What," he barked out as he sat up and rubbed his face.

"Nice of you to tell me you're out, assface."

"Mandy?"

Svetlana and to a much lesser extent, Iggy, had kept him up to date on Mandy. As much as they knew about what was going on with her, anyway. Last Mickey had heard, she was living in New York.

"No, your other sister."

"Molly?" Mickey said just to fuck with her.

"He goes by Morgan now. But stop deflecting. Where are you staying? Iggy said the house was seized by the county or some shit."

Mickey really didn't want to tell her, but she'd find out at some point anyway. "Carl's."

"Gallagher? Why the fuck are you staying there?"

"He offered and it's not like I've got much of a fucking choice. It's this or the SRO on Clark."

"You see any other Gallaghers?"

By which she probably meant Ian or Lip. Mickey couldn't understand what she saw in Lip and why she kept asking after him. But then again, she would probably say the same about Mickey and Ian.

"I saw all of them last night. Family dinner or some shit. Awkward as fuck."

"Because Ian was there?"

Mickey groaned internally. They had barely spoken over the past decade, but she still knew all of his open wounds (the giant one on the left side of his chest being Ian and the slightly smaller one in his gut being their shitty childhood). He instinctively wanted to spit out 'fuck off' or something similar but all that therapy wasn't for nothing.

"No, because he showed up all beat up with his fuckhead boyfriend."

"Shit."

They sat there in silence for a few minutes before Mandy had to go to work. Mickey wasn't due at the Pavilion until later in the afternoon. He was tempted to go back to sleep, but then his phone pinged.

unknown (9:57 am): i'm in
unknown (9:57 am): this is liam btw
unknown (9:57 am): debbie gave me ur #

Mickey saved the contact information while his phone kept pinging. Fuck this kid typed fast.

littlest g (9:58 am): i remember u
littlest g (9:58 am): kinda
me (10:00 am): what do you mean you're in?
littlest g (10:00 am): on helping ian

Now all the youngest Gallaghers were ganging up on him. Why did they think he and Ian were characters in some shitty romance novel? Not that Mickey had ever read a romance novel.

me (10:07): good luck with that kid

**

A couple of days later, Carl dragged Mickey to some kind of picnic for cops and firefighters. It was held at the baseball fields in Grant Park. Not the ones back in the neighborhood, but they still caused Mickey to close his eyes for just a second so he could force the memories back. Mickey felt really out of place. Cops were the enemy growing up and even though Mickey had gone legit, he kept expecting someone to whip out their handcuffs and haul him off to jail. So he sat down at the furthest picnic table while Carl went off to talk to some big, older black guy.

"Mickey Milkovich as I live and breathe."

Mickey jerked his head up to find a tall blond sitting down across from him. He looked kind of familiar, even more so when he grinned. "Markovich?"

"You can call me Tony," he said, still grinning. "What are you doing here?"

"Gallagher dragged me," Mickey said, waving in Carl's general direction.

Tony squinted toward the field. "Ian?"

"No, fuck," Mickey spluttered. "The other one, Carl."

"You got a Gallagher fetish or something?" Tony laughed.

"Fuck off. That one is straight as you are."

Tony raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'm pretty gay, so…"

"No shit." Mickey's eyes flitted from Tony's eyes to his lips and back up again.

"You wanna get a beer?" Tony asked, a flush creeping up his neck.

Dr. Moore had encouraged Mickey to explore romantic relationships upon his release. She said it was the last step in truly getting over Ian, but it was also important for Mickey's general well being. Mickey needed to see that relationships could be healthy, that he could date a man and not fear for his life, that he was worthy of love. Mickey didn't know about all that, but Tony was hot and Mickey hadn't experienced so much as a hug in years.

"Yeah, okay."

**

Tony seemed like the type of guy who would want three dates before a fuck, but they went to his place for that beer and Mickey only got halfway through it before they were kissing. Two minutes later, Tony was pushing Mickey into the bedroom. They tore at each other's clothes between kisses. As soon as Mickey was naked, he crawled into the bed on his hands and knees. He wasn't exactly used to foreplay and fucking face-to-face still seemed too intimate.

"Your ass…"

Mickey nearly ripped the sheets in half. Tony's hands were spreading Mickey's ass cheeks while his tongue licked over his hole. As much as Mickey loves ass play, no one had ever done this to him before (Ian was a good fuck but a little selfish, if it didn't involve his dick in Mickey's ass or mouth, he wasn't interested). He couldn't even parse the sensations. It was all just hot and wet and so fucking good.

"Fuck, fuck me," Mickey panted out.

There was a little nip to Mickey's left ass cheek, then Tony was leaning over to grab condoms and lube. His fingers were almost as good as his mouth. But neither were as good as his cock. Mickey felt so full, he couldn't help but keen. He arched his back, pushing back to meet Tony thrust for thrust. Their skin slapped loudly, mixing with little grunts from Tony and whines that helplessly fell from Mickey's mouth. Tony wrapped an arm around Mickey's chest, pulling him up. The new angle caused Tony to hit Mickey's prostate with every thrust.

"There, there, oh fuck," Mickey gasped. He reached for his own cock, stroking it in the same rhythm as Tony's thrusts. It didn't take long for Mickey to come. His orgasm felt endless and he was so lost in it, that the punched out sound Tony made when he came almost startled him.

They collapsed to the bed on their sides. Mickey was vaguely aware of Tony moving around, yanking the comforter off the bed so neither of them had to lie in the wet spot. Finally, he came up behind Mickey on the bed spooning him. That Mickey wasn't sure what to think about that, but he didn't protest. It felt nice. It felt easy. He even smiled when Tony kissed him on the back of his neck before succumbing to sleep.

**

When Mickey checked his phone on the way home (after a surprisingly chill morning where Tony woke him up with a blow job and even made him eggs) there were a bunch of text messages.

fuck tha police (5:00 pm): yo where did you go
fuck tha police (5:03 pm): i didn't know ian was gonna be here
fuck tha police (5:08 pm): but fuckface isn't here so you should try talking to him
fuck tha police (5:15 pm): you left with tony fucking markovich?!
fuck tha police (5:20 pm): ian says tony is gay
fuck tha police (5:30 pm): are you banging him rn
fuck tha police (12:35 am): nice of you to let me know you aren't coming home dipshit

peppermint patty (10:03 pm): you could at least let carl know where you are

littlest g (11:18 pm): where you at man

Well, fuck. Mickey wasn't used to anyone giving a shit whether he came home or not. He shot off a quick group text.

me (8:03 am): i'm fine coming back now

On the way, he grabbed some donuts and coffee in hope of appeasing Carl. Cops like donuts, right?

**

A week later and Carl still wasn't really speaking to Mickey. Mickey couldn't tell if it was about not keeping Carl apprised of his whereabouts, that he snuck off with Tony, or that he missed the opportunity to speak to Ian. Or some combination thereof. Of course Mickey was grateful to Carl for the job and the place to stay, but that didn't mean Carl got to dictate his entire life. It didn't mean that Ian and his shit were Mickey's responsibility.

"Enough with the little bitch act," Mickey finally snapped at Carl.

Carl looked up from his phone, giving Mickey a very Ian-esque stubborn chin. "You said you'd help."

"I never fucking said that." Mickey crossed his arms over his chest. "You just assumed."

"How can you just sit there and let him get hurt?" Carl asked.

"Why is it my responsibility to help him?" Mickey could feel himself getting more and pissed off. "He dumped me, let your crazy half-sister chase after me with a gun, and then left me to rot in jail. I don't owe him jackshit."

Carl sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Listen, I get that. I get that it's not fair to you. But we've all tried and you're our last hope."

No pressure, though, Mickey thought. "This isn't easy. I don't just mean for me. I mean, Ian has to want out. Are you sure that's what he wants?"

"No." Carl's face crumpled. "But we can't just give up on him."

"Yeah," Mickey said softly (would his heart ever stop aching for Ian?).

**

Tony was nice, a good fuck, and he didn't seem to care about Mickey's criminal history despite being a cop. They came from the same neighborhood, both spent a long time in denial in the closet, both had had an obsession with a Gallagher. Mickey found himself spending the night there a lot. Tony lived in Clearing now, near Midway, which made Mickey's commute an hour by transit if Tony couldn't drop him off which kind of sucked.

"You were working toward a career in pipefitting right?" Tony asked as he set a plate of eggs in front of Mickey. "Why not try to find someone to apprentice with? Your PO shouldn't have a problem with that."

That had been the plan until the Gallaghers crashed back into his life. "Yeah, maybe."

"I promise I won't even make any jokes about it."

Mickey laughed. "Fuck you, man."

"Mmm, later. Gotta get to work." Tony kissed the top of Mickey's head before grabbing his keys. "See you tonight?"

"Yeah, see you tonight," Mickey called back just before the door shut.

**

King (whether that was a first or a last name, Mickey still didn't know) was a hard ass, but he was willing to take on an ex-con and pay him fifteen bucks an hour during the apprenticeship, so Mickey didn't mind. In a trade like this, he could eventually make really good money. He kept telling himself that while he was sweating buckets in the late summer heat inside a factory where they were repairing the HVAC, so no fucking air conditioning.

The guys on his crew were okay to work with. They were mostly southsiders like himself, some of them from the south suburbs, who swore like sailors but worked hard. A few of them were ex-cons, too. At first, Mickey kept his distance, didn't talk during breaks, just listened in. The conversations were a mix of Spanish and English with some Polish thrown in. Mickey's cellmate had been Mexican, so he knew some Spanish by osmosis. Their conversations were typical: money, sports, chicks, occasionally something about their kids or the weather or some TV show. Mickey figured talking about his boyfriend (or whatever the fuck Tony was) was out the question, but it's not like he was chomping at the bit to spill anyway.

"Yo, Milkovich," Jack (one of the site supervisors, a white guy who had jacked arms but a beer belly and who never shut up about his wife's horrible cooking) called him over.

"Yeah, what?" Mickey asked as he stepped closer to where Jack was eating his lunch.

"King wants you on another site tomorrow. Near 47th and Racine." Jack waived his sandwich in that general direction. "Refrigerated warehouse over there's got a leak in their cooling system."

"Yeah, I know where that is," Mickey said. It was a stone's throw away from the old neighborhood.

"Good." Jack nodded toward Mickey's lunchbox. "Got anything good in there? My fucking wife made me a bologna sandwich with no goddamn mustard on it. Who make a sandwich with no fucking condiments on it?"

Mickey couldn't help but laugh. "Your wife?"

"Fuck you, man," Jack said good naturedly. "C'mon, what you got?"

After hopping up to take a seat next to Jack on some concrete barrier that surrounded the parking lot of the factory, Mickey opened his lunchbox and showed it to Jack. Tony had been packing his lunch since he was packing his own anyway. Never before had Mickey eaten so many fucking fruits and vegetables.

Jack hummed, seemingly impressed. "Your girl pack that for you?"

"Ain't got no girl," Mickey said as he unwrapped his own sandwich (a club with bacon and everything). His heart started to race a bit, half hoping Jack would push it and half hoping he wouldn't.

"Your boy then?" Jack asked.

Mickey glanced over at Jack, who didn't seem disgusted or anything, just curious. The world had changed a lot while Mickey was in the can, it seemed. No one blinked twice when Tony kissed him in the morning when they parted ways on the way to work. There was a gay bar in the old neighborhood now, Mickey had heard.

"Yeah," Mickey muttered. "Something like that."

"Seems like a keeper to me," Jack said, nodding at the club sandwich.

"You've got a low bar there, man," Mickey laughed.

"Hey, Maria has other talents, if you know what I mean," Jack said while wagging his eyebrows.

Years ago, Mickey would've said something like he didn't want to hear that shit, but instead he smirked. "Tony is pretty talented in that department, too."

"Oh ho ho," Jack whistled. "Definitely a keeper."

**

Mickey was leaving the new site for the day when he ran into someone, literally. Without thinking, he reached out to steady the other person.

"Hey, watch it," Mickey said tiredly.

"Sorry," the other person said meekly.

That voice. Mickey looked up to find green eyes averted from his own. "Ian?"

Ian turned and looked at Mickey. "Mickey," he said kind of breathlessly.

"What are you doing here?" Mickey asked. This still wasn't the best neighborhood, even with Canaryville going to the yuppies.

"I live a couple of blocks over." Ian shrugged one shoulder in that direction.

"With Mike?" Mickey asked, watching Ian's face carefully. He still had that scar, but if there were any bruises, they were well hidden (then again, Ian was wearing a long sleeve shirt when it was fucking eighty degrees out).

"Yeah, he works in the stockyards." Ian stared down at the sidewalk. "So it's convenient, you know?"

"Uh-huh, and where do you work these days? Probably a bit old to be shaking your ass in Boystown, huh?" Mickey asked, trying to get more information but keep things light.

"Probably," Ian chuckled (it was a beautiful sound). "I was an EMT for awhile, but Mike doesn't like me working so…"

Ian trailed off and then looked around (it reminded Mickey of that time when he almost took Debbie's head off with a baseball bat). Mickey couldn't help but reach out and touch the back of Ian's neck lightly. Ian's eyes snapped back to Mickey's. He looked fucking terrified.

"Hey, you okay?"

"I can't--" Ian stepped back so fast he almost tripped over his own feet.

Mickey held his hands up in supplication. "Whoa, whoa. Can't what?"

"I have to go. Mike'll be home soon. Gotta make sure dinner is ready," Ian sputtered out. He ran a hand through his hair and his sleeve fell enough for Mickey to make out a rainbow of bruises on his wrist.

"Ian," Mickey said slowly. "Do you want to be with Mike?"

"He takes care of me," Ian deflected (his eyes looked fucking dead like he was paralyzed by some kind of memory). "Even though I mess up sometimes."

"Mess up? LIke what?" Mickey asked, trying to keep Ian's eyes on his.

"Like when I forget to separate the whites from the colors or I overcook his eggs or, or I won't get out of bed." Ian looked down at the sidewalk, hugging himself. "Or when I can't sleep. I'm such a burden, you know?"

Jesus fuck, Mickey thought. He couldn't help but think of his Mom, of Mandy, even of himself. He tried to think of Dr. Moore's advice, her breathing techniques. The words were stuck in his throat (are you on your meds? Is that your choice or his? I never thought you were a burden).

"I gotta go." Ian started to walk away.

"Ian," Mickey managed to choke out. "Don't--"

But Ian took off running. In the distance, Mickey could see Mike coming from the opposite direction. Mickey slumped down to sit on the curb and buried his head in his hands. He let himself just breathe for a minute. Tried and failed not to cry.

group chat: me, peppermint patty, fuck tha police, littlest g (4:30 pm)
me: alright what's the plan?

**

Chapter Text

"You really do have a nice ass," Neil said as Mickey entered his and Debbie's house.

"Yeah, you've said that before," Mickey said absently.

The youngest Gallaghers had immediately called for a pow-pow after Mickey's text. Mickey was tired and starving but he agreed anyway.

"Dinner should be ready in a few if you want to take a seat," Debbie called out from the kitchen.

Mickey sat down at the table and pulled out his phone. Tony's shift would be over soon and Mickey was apparently some kind of responsible person who kept his boyfriend (or whatever they were) apprised of his whereabouts.

me (5:30 pm): at debbie's for dinner. see you later?
a guy i've been seeing (5:33 pm): yeah tell her i said hey

"Tony says hey," Mickey told Debbie.

"I can't believe you're fucking that guy," Carl said as he emerged from the bathroom.

"How's that?" Mickey raised his eyebrows at Carl.

"He's so boring," Carl huffed as he slid into the seat across from Mickey.

Mickey smirked, thinking of the other night when Tony made Mickey come just from eating him out. "Trust me, he's not."

Carl made a face. "Ew, gross. I don't want to know what you're thinking."

"I bet he's good in bed. Don't they say it's always the quiet ones?" Debbie interjected as she set a pot of something on the table. "Dinner!"

Liam and the two little kids emerged from one of the back bedrooms while Neil wheeled himself up to the table. There was nothing but the sounds of forks scraping against plates and chewing for the next few minutes. Mickey had no idea what he was eating, but it tasted good. The kids were well behaved, Neil was too busy eating to say anything about Mickey's ass, and the other three seemed lost in their own thoughts.

It wasn't until the table was cleared and the kids were in bed that they got down to business. Debbie set out coffee and cookies, but no one touched them except Mickey (so he still had a sweet tooth, so what?).

"So what happened when you saw Ian?" Debbie asked, pen poised over a notepad.

"I ran into him, almost knocked him over. He seemed scared, paranoid almost." Mickey relayed the conversation about why Ian thought being with Mike was a good idea. It was hard to stay unemotional about it (he thought about how he should've done more for Ian all those years ago, how he shouldn't've waited to get him help, how fucking sad it was that Ian still felt that way).

"You think we could get him away from that motherfucker?" Carl asked when Mickey was done.

"I don't know." Mickey rubbed his palms over his face. "But if he doesn't want to leave the guy and we force him out, he's just going to go back. And that fucker is going to beat the shit out of him for something we did."

"How could he want to stay with this guy? I don't get it," Liam said, shaking his head.

"It's complicated," Debbie answered.

"It's fucked up," Carl interjected.

"He thinks he's a burden, okay? He thinks what this guy is doing is the price he has to pay to be with someone. He thinks no one else will want him." Mickey sniffed, trying to hold back tears (he had already sobbed like a bitch on the curb anyway). "I don't think he's on his fucking meds either."

"So what do we do?" Liam looked at each of them in turn. "How do we help him?"

"You're dating a cop," Neil spoke up pointing at Mickey. "You know a ton of cops. You almost are a cop," Neil continued, pointing at Carl. "What would a cop do?"

"There has to be a reason for the cops to come to the house. A call, you know, something," Carl explained. "But there also has to be evidence and Ian has to want to press charges."

Mickey shook his head. "He's not gonna press charges. That's the whole problem."

"So we pin something else on Mike," Debbie said, waving her pen in the air. "Drugs, illegal guns, anything like that."

"I'm on parole," Mickey reminded them. "So if you go that route, I can't help you."

"None of us can afford to be involved in something like that. They're not going to let me be a cop if I get caught. Debbie and Neil, you've got kids to think about. And Liam, you're the only Gallagher who has never been arrested, so let's keep it that way," Carl said empathetically.

They all stared dejectedly at the table for a few minutes. Mickey sighed and then pushed his knuckle against his nose. "Alright, just let me see if I can talk some sense into him then."

Everyone just nodded because what else could they do.

**

Mickey didn't have Ian's number, but even if he did, calling or texting him was a bad idea. If that fuckhead Mike saw or heard, he'd just have an excuse to beat on Ian, no matter how innocuous any of it sounded. So he stood outside work where he had run into Ian the day before and hoped he would walk by again. It took a couple of days, but he finally did.

"Ian," Mickey called out.

Ian spun around. "Mickey?"

"Can we talk?"

"Mike will be home soon." Ian bit his lip and looked over his shoulder, clearly torn.

"It won't take long," Mickey promised. "I just have one question."

"Okay, okay." Ian dug his hands into his hair. "Ask."

"Do you want to be with Mike?"

Ian looked completely panicked. Like Mickey had asked him to choose between killing Fiona and Debbie or the world would end or something.

"Don't," Ian spit out.

That's the last word Mickey had said to Ian before the first time Ian took off. He was still too afraid back then to spit anything more than that out (he was going to say don't go, don't leave me, don't give up on us, don't do something you'll regret), but he wasn't going to let history repeat itself.

"Ian, you don't have to--"

"I-I can't," Ian whispered.

He backed up a few steps, right into Mike, who put his giant paw on Ian's shoulder. Ian flinched but immediately relaxed into the hold. How did they not see him coming? The man's a fucking giant.

"Who you talkin' to, babe?" Mike asked, a definite undercurrent of something other than curiosity in his tone.

"Oh, umm, you remember Lip's friend, right? From family dinner?" Ian answered as he looked up at Mike.

"Right. Well, don't be rude, honey, invite him for dinner," Mike demanded.

Ian's eyes snapped to Mickey's. They were wide and panic-stricken. "S-sorry, Mike. Umm, Mickey, you want to join us for dinner?"

"I should really--"

"I insist." Mike pushed Ian in the direction of their house. It was subtle enough that if Mickey hadn't been watching the interaction like a hawk, he would've missed it. "Go get it ready, babe. I want to talk to Mickey here."

Ian gave Mickey one last fleeting look of panic before he half jogged up the street and into the house. Mike watched him until the door shut before turning to Mickey.

"He's pretty to look at but not a lot going on up there," Mike laughed as he pointed at his own temple (what a fucking dick). "Anyway, how do you know him again?"

"Went to school with Lip," Mickey answered, vaguely remembering that's what Ian told Mike the first time they met.

"Lip's never mentioned you before."

"Yeah, well, I've been in prison for a long time."

Mike smirked. "What were you in for?"

"Attempted murder," Mickey said flatly, crossing his arms over his chest.

It didn't seem like Mike believed him (not that Mickey really gave a shit if he did or not). But as long as he thought the only reason Ian knew Mickey was through Lip, that's all that mattered.

"Sure." Mike clamped his hand on Mickey's shoulder (what the fuck was with this guy and bruising people's shoulders?). "Let's get to dinner. Don't want to keep my baby waiting."

"Yeah, I just got to text someone real quick."

What the fuck was he going to tell Tony now?

me (4:36 pm): dinner w the gallaghers tonight
a guy i've been seeing (4:36 pm): again?
me (4:37 pm): yeah sorry. i'll make it up to you?
a guy i've been seeing (4:37 pm): you better

The short walk down the street was more awkward than the first time Mickey got walked to his cell in juvie. Mike had dropped his hand while Mickey was texting, but he stayed so close behind Mickey it's a wonder neither of them tripped.

Inside the house, there was already food waiting on the table and three place settings. The house is small but immaculate (it reminded Mickey of that time Ian decided to be Mary Poppins, before it all really went to shit). Ian was standing next to the table in an apron, his fingers fidgeting with one of the ties.

"I made your favorite, Mike," Ian said as the giant sat down. "Meatloaf and mashed potatoes."

Mike just grunted and gestured for Mickey to sit down. Ian flitted around the table serving Mike and Mickey before himself. He didn't sit down until Mike gestured for him to do so. It was like watching a twisted episode of some TV show from the fifties or something.

"Tell me more about yourself, Mickey. I mean, besides your incarceration," Mike guffawed (through a mouthful of mashed potatoes and not that Mickey was Miss Manners either, but gross).

Mickey decided to stick to the truth as much as possible. "I'm working on becoming a journeyman in pipefitting. Got a job just down the street here."

"You seeing someone?"

For a second, Mickey panicked. It was probably best to say he was dating someone. But was it better to tell the truth or say it was a woman so Mike wouldn't even think twice about Ian talking to him?

"Yeah. We live together even." Slight exaggeration (more like most of Mickey's shit had migrated from Carl's apartment to Tony's house and he happened to sleep there five nights out of seven). Ian looked kind of taken aback though (what did he think Mickey was going to be a monk?).

Mike's face brightened. "You should bring her by sometime."

Shit. Mickey had planned on keeping it vague but so much for that. "Him. Tony."

"Tony, huh?" Mike's eyes narrowed. "You're gay then."

It wasn't a question, so Mickey decided to play it up. "Yup. Tony's a cop. Tall, blond, good with a gun--"

"You're dating Tony Markovich?" Ian blurted out. He immediately ducked his head and closed his eyes after.

Mike shot a glare Ian's way. "Someone you know, honey?"

"Umm, he used to live in the old neighborhood," Ian murmured.

"I don't blame him for being shocked, Mike," Mickey said to get the attention off Ian. "Tony used to be kind of a goody two-shoes. Not the type to date someone like me."

Mike grunted, seemingly satisfied, and went back to eating. Ian listlessly picked at his own food. It was actually pretty good so Mickey dug into his own plate, but he kept an eye on Ian. He looked fucking miserable.

"Well," Mickey said the second it looked like Mike was done eating. "I should get home to Tony. So."

"You do that," Mike said as he clamped his hand down on the back of Ian's neck. "Say goodbye to your friend, honey."

"Bye," Ian whispered.

Mickey quickly made his exit, walked down to the end of the block, and turned as though he was headed to the bus stop (just in case fuckface was watching). Then he doubled back and crouched under the kitchen window, which was pushed open to let air in.

"What did I tell you, huh?" Mike yelled.

"I-I didn't know he worked around here. I swear," Ian pleaded.

Taking a deep breath, Mickey pulled out his phone. He set up to record and propped it against the frame. Hopefully it would catch something they could use.

"Once a slut, always a goddamn slut. Can't trust you. Spread your legs like a damn whore."

The sound of a fist hitting flesh was one Mickey was all too familiar with, unfortunately. He winced on Ian's behalf, not sure how much longer he could just stand there and do nothing. But Ian hadn't said he wanted out.

"No, please. Mike, I swear. Please," Ian cried desperately.

"Shut." Slap. "The fuck." Slap. "Up." Slap.

Ian didn't say anything. There was the squeak of boots against linoleum and then a whimper.

"Get up. Get the fuck up."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Ian kept repeating over and over again. "Please don't."

There was some clicking sound that Mickey couldn't place followed by Ian whimpering. "I don't want--"

It reminded Mickey of another moment that tore he and Ian apart. Mickey cringed now when he thought of the moment he told Ian he was just a warm mouth, but back then it seemed like a life or death situation. Either Frank died and he lived or vice versa (and Mickey would still argue he would've been doing the world a favor).

"I said shut up."

Ian screamed so loud. Like he was being murdered. A neighbor stuck her head out her back door. Mickey met her concerned eyes and mouthed, "Call 911."

Mickey scrambled up the back steps and shoved the (thankfully unlocked) door open. Mike was holding Ian's left wrist over the open flame on the gas stove. Ian's face was swollen, blood running down from his nose and lip, and he was unconscious, slumped over the other half of the stove, which was thankfully off.

"Wake up you weak little bitch," Mike growled as he grabbed the back of Ian's head.

"Get away from him," Mickey said as calmly as he could manage, keeping his hands visible.

Mike dropped Ian, who slumped to the floor, away from the open flame. "What are you doing here?" he asked as though this was all completely normal. "I was just helping Ian in the kitchen."

"You need to step the fuck back." Mickey stepped forward until he was between Mike and Ian. "Step back, asshole."

"You think you can take me, you little shit?" Mike laughed. "You want to fight me over this fucking whore?"

There was a meat tenderizer sitting within arms reach. Mickey snatched it up and wielded it like a club. "Yeah, I fucking do."

Mike moved to hit Mickey, but Mickey was faster. He swung the tenderizer directly at Mike's balls. The fucker dropped to the floor immediately, hands on his junk, howling like a fucking baby.

"Take that, bitch," Mickey spat at him.

He turned off the stove with his free hand then kneeled down next to Ian, keeping the weapon within reach just in case. He lightly touched Ian's face and the redhead groaned.

"Ian, wake up. It's Mickey."

"Mickey," Ian murmured. "I knew you'd come back."

"Could've clued me into that little plan," Mickey half laughed, half sobbed. "Fuck, Gallagher."

Ian grinned. His teeth were bloody, his face was a mess, his wrist blistering, and fuck only knew what other damage his body held. But he grinned just like the boy Mickey fell in love with years ago. Mickey gently pushed Ian's hair out of his face. He could hear sirens in the distance. Likely he would be arrested right along with Mike (but it was worth it, so fucking worth it).

Chapter Text

Mickey wasn't going to lie. Being arrested sucked. Sitting in a jail cell sucked (especially overnight). But knowing that Mike was sitting one cell over while Ian was free, that made him smile like an idiot.

"Milkovich, you're free to go," one of the guards called out as he came to unlock the cell.

Twenty minutes later, Mickey was walking out to intense sensation of deja vu. There Carl was yet again in front of that car. But this time isn't wasn't just Debbie with him. There was Liam and Tony, too.

"What the hell, Mickey?" Tony asked as he pulled Mickey into his arms.

"It was self defense," Mickey answered before smacking a kiss on his cheek.

"I knew we could count on you," Carl said, sounding proud.

Mickey was hugged by Liam, then Debbie, then Carl (although it was more of a pound on the back with that one), before Tony grabbed his hand and steered him toward the squad car parked behind Carl.

"See you guys at the hospital?" Tony called out to the rest.

"See you," Carl confirmed before him and the rest of the Gallaghers took off.

"You really think I want to be in a cop car right now?" Mickey teased Tony as he slid into the passenger seat.

"I think you're still in love with Ian," Tony said with a shrug.

Mickey frowned and turned to face Tony. "Because I stopped some asshole from killing him?"

"Because I saw the video, Mickey," Tony smiled sadly. "Smart idea, by the way. That's why the DA dropped your charges."

"Even if I am, that doesn't mean I'm going to be with him. Or that I can't feel that for you," Mickey said as he reached out and touched Tony's thigh.

He actually liked Tony. He wasn't lying to Jack or the younger Gallaghers. Maybe before prison Mickey never would've even considered fucking muchless dating a guy like Tony, but all that therapy actually did something for Mickey. Tony was a normal guy and he made Mickey feel like a normal person who had normal people problems like being late for dinner or forgetting to pick up lube at the store. But Tony also took care of him and made him laugh and let Mickey do the same in return. It didn't feel one-sided.

"I know." Tony moved Mickey's hand away gently. "But maybe I shouldn't settle for being someone's consolation prize anymore. Maybe I should be someone's first place."

"Tony, you're not a consolation prize," Mickey forced himself to say as Tony started to drive toward the hospital. "You're the first guy I've ever felt like I was on equal footing with."

"Don't you want more than that?" Tony asked. "Yeah, the sex is great and we get along. But do you really think there are romantic feelings there? Real passion?"

"I don't know." Mickey bit his lip. It's not like he had a wealth of experience on the subject. It's always been random sex or Ian until Tony came along. Ian was the one who dragged Mickey kicking and screaming out of the closet but sometimes Mickey wondered (did they ever love each other? Or was it just the adrenaline, the thrill of it all? If he had met Ian some other way, would he feel the same?). "I mean, I wouldn't know. I'm not sure what that even fucking looks like."

Tony huffed out a laugh. "Me either, I guess. But just do me a favor?"

"Yeah, sure. Anything," Mickey said (and somehow meant it).

Tony nodded and then gestured for Mickey to wait a second while he parked the car outside the hospital. Once he turned off the car, Tony turned to Mickey and cupped his face.

"Figure out your shit with Ian first. You talk to him and if you see yourself with him in the future, maybe not today, maybe not for a year, but you know in your gut that's what's going to happen, that's what you want to happen, then you be a man and you break it off with me."

Mickey swallowed hard. "Yeah, of course."

With a small, sad smile, Tony leaned in and kissed Mickey softly. Mickey reached up to cup the back of Tony's neck and keep him there. Tony pulled back before it could get too heated and lightly patted Mickey's cheek before moving away.

"Carl's going to swing by later, pick up some of your stuff. He said it's okay for you to keep crashing at his place," Tony said without looking at Mickey.

"Thanks," Mickey responded (because what the fuck else could he say? Tough shit, I'm staying with you anyway?).

Tony nodded and Mickey slid out of the car. It was going to be a long fucking day.

**

Mickey found the younger Gallaghers in the waiting room of the intensive care unit. To his surprise, the older ones were there, too.

"What the fuck, Carl?" Fiona yelled as she threw her hands up. "Why didn't you tell me what was going on?"

"Are you blind, Fiona?" Debbie jumped in. "Ian has been covered in bruises at every family dinner for ages."

"Yeah, but it's Ian," Lip said as he stumbled to his feet (he was clearly drunk and it wasn't even noon yet). "He was always coming home with bruises and shit."

"Sure, when he was a teenager doing ROTC and whatever," Carl argued.

"Oh, please." Lip waved a hand and almost fell over. "How many times did he and Mickey get into it?"

"Three times," Mickey couldn't help but step in. "I regret all of them. But it was give and take, not one of us using it to control the other one."

"I told you to stay away from him!" Lip shouted.

"Mickey saved his life, you drunk asshole," Carl shouted back, pushing Lip back into his seat.

"Carl!" Fiona admonished.

Carl spun around to face her. "Back off, Fiona."

"If you don't calm down, I'm going to have to call security," a nurse yelled over all of them.

"Sorry, ma'am," Carl said, turning on the charm.

Everyone sat down, except Mickey. He stood there with his hands in his pockets wishing he could just check on Ian get the fuck out of there. The Gallaghers were never a normal family, but they always had each other's backs and Fiona was once the glue that held them together. Now they reminded Mickey a little too much of his own family (on the surface anyway, Mickey is pretty sure none of them ever raped each other or were forced to fag bash or to be a drug mule for their father). But it reminded him that he hadn't heard from Mandy for awhile, so he pulled out his phone to text her.

me (9:15 am): ian's in the hospital

Almost immediately, Mickey's phone lit up with an incoming phone call. He stepped away from the sullen Gallagher clan to answer it.

"What the fuck, Mickey?"

"I put his fuckhead boyfriend is in jail," Mickey offered.

"I'm surprised you didn't kill him."

"Nah," Mickey smirked. "I kinda like having windows without bars on them."

"I should come visit."

A nurse came into the room, not even looking up from her clipboard. "Gallagher family?"

"I gotta go. They're gonna give an update on Ian."

"Keep me updated?"

"Yeah, sure."

Mickey shoved his phone in his back pocket and moved closer to the Gallaghers as they clustered around the nurse. Debbie grabbed onto his forearm, pulling him closer.

"Ian came in unconscious, likely shock from the burn, but is awake now. He has a second degree burn on his left wrist. It will take approximately 2 weeks to heal and it's very important that he follow the care instructions upon his release to avoid infection. We understand that he is bipolar and hasn't been taking his medication; we'll be doing an evaluation later today."

She proceeded to give a laundry list of injuries including broken ribs, multiple contusions, his left pinky finger had to be re-broken because it was never set right in the first place, burn scars on the soles of his feet, cuts all over the place including new ones that were infected and old scars. It was horrific. Mickey wanted to puke and he could tell the Gallaghers were just as upset. Why the fuck would someone do this to a person they claimed to love? Why the fuck would Ian stick around?

"He's asking for someone named Mickey," the nurse said once she was done, looking at all of them.

Mickey cleared his throat, trying to stop himself from crying. "Yeah, that's me."

He could faintly hear the older Gallaghers protesting as he followed the nurse down the hall.

"I thought I dreamed you," Ian slurred (clearly they had him on the good pain meds) when Mickey entered his room.

"Nah." Mickey grabbed one of the guest chairs and pulled it closer to the bed before sitting down. "I'm real."

"I fucked up, Mick. I never shoulda…" Ian used his right hand to try and swipe at his tears.

"Hey, hey." Mickey grabbed a tissue from the stand next to the bed and gently blotted under Ian's eyes. "It's not your fault."

"It is though." Ian took the tissue away from Mickey and clutched it in his right hand. "I abandoned you."

Mickey swallowed down the lump in his throat. "You should focus on getting better, Ian."

"I just. By the time I got my head on straight, I figured you wouldn't want to see me."

Ian stared at Mickey with his big, green eyes, still full of tears. Mickey chewed on his lip. He's waited so long to have this conversation and he has so much to say, but he can't do it right now. Ian was fucked up in so many ways right now. It wouldn't be fair to either of them. So he patted Ian's hand and then stood up.

"Let me go get your family."

**

Mickey was back at Carl's and back to work, but he hadn't been to see Ian again and he hadn't reached out to Tony either. He made that promise to Tony but Mickey didn't know what he felt for Ian anymore and he wasn't about to figure it out while the other man was still in the hospital. Jack was less than sympathetic.

"You have two guys panting after you and you're bitchin' about it? Isn't that like every gay man's dream?"

"Not really though," Mickey huffed, staring down into his lunchbox. His sandwich was just two slices of American cheese-product slapped between two pieces of stale white bread. Nothing like the masterpieces Tony made.

"Well, pick one then," Jack said around a mouthful of chips. "I vote for the one that was makin' your lunch before."

Mickey snorts. "Yeah, because that's something to base a relationship on."

"It's something. Amelia's really good at dancing. That's how she caught my eye. We were both in a wedding party and the bride forced us to take lessons. She made the instructor look like an amaetur," Jack reminised with a small smile. "She still dances circles around me."

"That's sweet, man. I ain't got a story like that for either of them," Mickey laughed. With both Ian and Tony it was physical before it was anything else (so he was maybe a little bit shallow, so what?).

"I just knew I was gonna marry her," Jack continued as though he hadn't heard Mickey. He looked down at his lunch. "I just wish I woulda known she couldn't cook for shit first."

Mickey snapped his lunchbox closed and hopped off the barrier they were sitting on. "Jack, sorry for the last minute notice, but I gotta take off."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "You owe me four hours on Sunday then. No overtime."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Mickey said as he gathered up all his stuff.

"Go get 'em, tiger," Jack waved him away with a laugh.

Mickey didn't bother to reply. He had something important to do.

Chapter Text

The L was pretty empty this time of day, so Mickey could get lost in his own thoughts instead of being hyper-vigilant like normal. He couldn't stop thinking about what Jack had said. What was that one thing that made Ian or Tony stand out? Ian was just convenient to start, Tony was an opportunity that happened to come up.

Back when Mickey was a scared, closeted kid there was no other option but Ian when it came to regular hook-ups. Mickey never wanted it to be more than sex because with his father it never could be. He could see how Ian watched him, tried to get Mickey to be more. Mickey tried to resist, especially outwardly, but inwardly he was gone the moment Ian showed up to visit him in jail. Ian stood up for him, cared about him, and saw past every wall Mickey ever put up. That little smirk he gave Mickey was everything. But past that, there's a never-ending shit heap of history between them followed by the Grand Canyon of their own personal issues and things that happened while they were apart. Can either of them get past those things?

With Tony, it'd been so easy. Everything had just flowed with little to no discussion. Mickey practically moved in and neither of them really acknowledged it. They had a routine for who cooked and who cleaned and they knew each other's schedules and it just worked. The sex was good (not that Mickey had much to compare it to), they were compatible in bed. But they didn't talk about their family histories or feelings or anything deep like that. They may have grown up in the same neighborhood but they might as well have grown up worlds apart. The Markoviches weren't white trash like the Gallaghers or criminals like the Milkoviches; they were a respectable family. Mickey would bet Tony never went a winter without heat or had to wear long sleeves in summer to cover up bruises. Could they ever have a deeper relationship when they were so far apart to start?

Mickey didn't have the answers. He couldn't see the future. He just had to trust his gut and his heart and that's how he found himself standing outside the hospital.

**

"I didn't think you were ever gonna visit," Ian said when Mickey sat down across from him in the common area (nothing had changed since the last time Mickey had been there with Fiona, which was fucking depressing).

"I wanted to give you time. You've been through a lot."

Ian huffed and rubbed the cuff of his long sleeve shirt against the burn scar on his wrist. "Guess I can't blame you for not wanting to deal with my crazy shit."

"That's not what I said." Mickey took a deep breath to calm himself. "I meant that you needed to heal without having me and my shit hanging over your head, too."

"You know, I was doing okay for a long while. I was on my meds, stable. I had a job. Dated a couple of normal guys. Well, normal for me, not geriatric viagroids or nothing," Ian laughed softly and Mickey couldn't help but smile. "But there was this void, you know? And I was in complete denial about it. I knew, deep inside, that it was you. I was missing you. But by the time I figured that out, I figured it was too late. You wouldn't want to see me."

"I don't know if I would've," Mickey said softly. "I got to a point where I wanted to put the past behind me so badly."

"Yeah." Ian sniffed and wiped at his eyes. "Anyway, Mike came into the picture and I knew it was a bad idea, you know? I knew that something wasn't quite right about him, but he kinda looked like you and I thought. I thought, maybe I could get you out of my system that way."

Ian was nearly sobbing. Mickey moved to sit next to him and wiped the tears off his cheeks. He kissed the side of Ian's head.

"You don't have to--"

"No, I have to. I do," Ian interrupted. "I really don't know what the fuck happened. He was so nice and then he wasn't. And I figured that maybe I deserved that. Not just for what I did to you, but to Linda and Ned's wife and my family. If I hadn't run away, maybe Fiona wouldn't have gone to jail or even if she had, Lip wouldn't have had all that pressure on him and maybe he wouldn't be where he is now. Maybe I coulda paid more attention to Debbie and she wouldn't've ended up another hood girl with a baby and no high school diploma. Maybe Carl would've gotten on the path he's on now sooner."

"You can't do that to yourself. Maybe things would've been better, maybe they would've been worse. You don't know that," Mickey jumped in because he couldn't take it anymore. "Linda and that crazy old lady aren't on you, I can tell you that. If it wasn't you, it would've been some other kid. That shit is inevitable."

"But you," Ian hiccuped.

"Of course you breakin' up with me hurt," Mickey murmured as he wiped at his own eyes. "But even if you hadn't, even if I didn't go to prison, you don't know that something else wouldn't've come between us anyway. My dad, Svet, you realizing you wanted respectability and me never getting there, me going to jail later on for something else. Who knows?"

"But you never would've broken up with me?" Ian asked.

Mickey shook his head. "No, probably not. You were it for me, man. I couldn't see myself like that with anyone else."

"Fuck," Ian muttered. "Guess I blew that. You're with Tony now and I've got more baggage than O'Hare."

"You would know," Mickey grinned (he couldn't help himself).

"Fuck you," Ian said but he was laughing (it was still the best sound Mickey's ever heard).

They stared at each other as their laughter died down. Mickey bit his lip to prevent himself from doing something neither of them were ready for.

"Visiting hours are almost over," Ian said, looking at Mickey with his big, sad Bambi eyes. "Will I see you again?"

"When do you get out of here for good?" Mickey asked.

"Doctor thinks sometime next week if I keep making progress."

"Do that then." Mickey clasped Ian's uninjure hand between his own. "I've got work but I'll be here when you get released."

"Okay," Ian said, sounding kind of disappointed.

"When you get out of here," Mickey said, moving one of his hands to stroke Ian's cheek. "If you let me…" He struggled to get the rest out. If Ian rejected him now, Mickey couldn't take that again. "I'll take care of you. We'll take care of each other."

Ian's eyes lit up and then he pulled Mickey into a tight hug. "I want that. I want that so fucking bad, Mick."

"Yeah, me too," Mickey murmured against Ian's neck. "We'll get it right this time."

**

Tony was supposed to be working nights. Mickey was both hoping he'd be up already and dreading that he was. He had to have this conversation though; he had promised Tony.

"Mickey," Tony said through a yawn when he answered the door. "Come on in."

Mickey stepped through into the living room but didn't sit down. He kept moving around, straightening up, picking things up and putting them down again. Tony poured himself a cup of coffee and then sat down on the couch, just watching Mickey. He had to know why Mickey was there, but apparently wasn't going to make it easy.

The thing was, Mickey had no clue how to break up with someone other than what he'd seen at home (Mandy and whatever guy screaming at each other before the guy took off, one of Iggy's girls beating him upside the head with her purse, Svet ghosting him, not that he knew for sure but Terry probably just straight up killed their mom) and in movies or TV shows. Honesty didn't exactly seem polite, but Mickey didn't know what else to do.

"Listen, it's always been Ian for me. Not that you were some kind of placeholder or something. I like you, Tony. Maybe if I met you by chance in a bar and I didn't know a fucking thing about the Gallaghers, it could've been more. But you're right. You deserve someone who looks at you and the world stops turning for them. That person ain't me though."

Tony stared at his cup of coffee and didn't look up. "Thanks for being honest."

"I'm sorry, Tony," Mickey said and sincerely meant it.

"If you don't mind, whatever you have left here, I'll just take to the station and give to Carl, okay?" Tony still wouldn't look at him and his voice broke on the last word.

Mickey cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, of course. I'll, uh, leave then."

Tony didn't answer. Mickey took the key to the house off his keyring and left it on the hall table on his way out. He was surprised to find that his own eyes were a little misty and swiped at them impatiently. There was one more thing he had to do today.

**

Becky Bednarski was a five foot tall bubbly black woman with curly, dishwater blonde hair. When Mickey first met her months ago, the first words out of her mouth were 'my husband is Polish and my parents thought giving me a white girl's name would give me some kind of advantage in life, you can see how well that worked out' followed by flinging her arms around her cubicle. Mickey couldn't help but like her.

"Mikhailo, what's the news?"

Mickey had given up getting her to call him by his nickname, so he just rolled his eyes and moved on. "I got a question. If I had to move, how does that work?"

"Within the state or to another one?" Becky asked. "It's harder if you want to move out of state."

"I want to move downstate like to Springfield or something."

"You got a job or family down there?"

"No, but it wouldn't be hard to get a job down there doing what I do now."

Becky nodded. "So why do you want to move?"

Mickey looked down at a stain on the carpet. It wasn't that he was uncomfortable with being gay now, but he didn't exactly know how to explain the situation. Or how much he had to explain.

"Someone important to me needs a fresh start and I want to help him get it," Mickey finally settled on.

"Boyfriend?"

His head shot up on reflex and he stared at her with wide eyes for a second. "Not anymore, not right now."

But, fuck, he wanted that to change.

"Alright." Becky pulled some papers out of her desk drawer. "I want you to have a job down there first. It's not a requirement, but it sets you up for success. Then I'll file this paperwork, get you transferred to a PO in that county."

"That's it?" Mickey couldn't believe it was that easy.

"I'll miss you, Mikhailo. You better not let me down," Becky said, pointing at Mickey with her pen. "Or I'm gonna drag you back up here by your ear."

"Yes, ma'am," Mickey smiled (probably the first time ever in his life he's said something like that and not meant it sarcastically).

He walked out of the PO office feeling excited but also nervous. He had a lot to get done and what if Ian didn't want to move away with him? What if Ian changed his mind and didn't want to be with him at all?

**