“Thank you for supporting Tenth Lifeline! Have a great day!” a cheery voice called from the main lobby area of the cat shelter.
Exhausted, Ian flopped down into his chair in his office. It seemed like the millionth time he had heard this same phrase from reception today alone, and the repeated phrases together with the high concentration of people in the shelter reminded him of his first shitty job at the diner. It had been the same thing: pretending to be happy even while exhausted. In this case, it was also wondering if this seemingly pleased family of new pet parents would end up returning the cat in a week because it had scratched their small child who had pulled on the animal’s tail.
“Wonder if this cat will end up coming back here like the last one,” Mandy, volunteer coordinator at Tenth Lifeline and Ian’s roommate, said. She was sitting in the chair in his office. “I told the adopters before that these jackasses needed to gradually introduce the new cat to their current one, over a period of 10 days. They didn’t listen, and they came back to bitch about how the cats aren’t getting along and the new one has to go back.”
“God, I fucking hope not,” Ian groaned.
He knew that today was already going to be extremely busy and stressful even without a returned cat. There was a Girl Scout troop touring the place, so the shelter was noisy and crowded, which further contributed to Ian’s stress levels. He was glad his recent promotion had given him an office of his own to escape to when things got too aggravating -- and when some of the less-competent volunteers got on his nerves. At least that way, no parent would be able to overhear and then bitch about the language when he had to vent to his coworkers.
“Yeah. But it is what it is. I gotta go take care of something else with the volunteer sweater orders, so I’ll see you around,” Mandy said as she got up and left.
Ian loved his job, and loved working with the cats and giving them a new lease on life, much as the name of the shelter suggested to those who’d be willing to give a new friend a chance. It was in his nature to want to give himself and his time to improve the world and help others, particularly the less fortunate, and what better organization to work for than an animal shelter?
Originally, he hadn’t planned to work at the shelter full-time. He’d started off at the shelter as a youth volunteer, mainly washing blankets and cleaning up the animals’ bedding areas. But he’d managed to work his way up. The pet parents, as the shelter called them, loved him because his caring nature and rapport with animals combined to make him a natural fit for the job. As Ian got older, he went from a part-time volunteer at the adoptions desk to a full-time coordinator and he’d recently been promoted to the position of adoptions supervisor.
Ian knew that he could make more money working elsewhere. However, he was more than willing to accept a lower salary in order to feel like he was making a real difference. Being able to work with the animals was a rewarding way for Ian to make a living, and the job itself was worth it because of the few clients who went out of his way to make sure they appreciated the work Ian did. When they came back months or even years later to share their stories about cats they still had and loved, it made even the toughest days at Tenth Lifeline better.
But lately, those positives tended to be few and far between. Many of the clients were rude, impatient, stubborn or unwilling to listen to advice of the shelter’s experienced cat behaviorists, preferring to follow their own rules and create problems where there needn’t be any. Ian wondered, more than once, if the reason why he’d taken on this heightened responsibility of the promotion was to distract his attention from the shit in his head - his emotionally abusive ex and his mental illness.
It had been three years since he’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and burying himself in work was a coping mechanism, he had already realized. While he truly enjoyed being around the cats, and it brightened his entire day to see a child who had been around animals enough to appreciate them or find a new forever friend -- a job was a job, and each brought its own challenges.
With the day winding down and Mandy in her own office, Ian mulled over what the shelter would do for its yearly fundraiser. Usually, it was a radiothon, which tended to be a big money-spinner, but with a second shelter location opening up in the next several months, they needed a new source of income. Ian was unsure how to bring in more cash quickly. Shelters could only be financially sustainable to a certain extent, and as a newly-minted supervisor, Ian had joined the group of people for whom this was an issue.
“Ian!” one of the adoptions counselors, Kaitlyn, called to him, appearing in his door a moment later. “Someone wants to know if we can waive the adoption fee with his veterans’ ID.”
“We usually only do it on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but that’s fine. We’ll do it this time if he makes a fuss about it,” Ian replied.
“Thanks!” Kaitlyn, whose bubbly personality was a decent fit for an animal shelter, but still got on Ian’s nerves from time to time, went back to the front desk. At that moment, she was processing an adoption for two senior cats.
We’re really going to need an extra fundraiser if what we have planned for the future can come to fruition, Ian thought to himself miserably. There was to be at least one expensive plan in the works. The second location for Tenth Lifeline was going to be in a mall, and in Chicago, that wasn’t cheap. The annual radiothon had taken place six months ago, and most of the money had gone toward construction of a new wing in the shelter for basic veterinary care. As he thought more about the upcoming challenges for the shelter, Ian realized he needed some help coming up with solutions. Thankfully, there was at least one person he could turn to.
Once 5 o’clock rolled around and the counselors brought the adoption paperwork from the day’s shift to him to file, he decided he’d try and hit Mandy up for ideas. As the shelter’s volunteer coordinator, she had also managed to work her way up the ranks after working as an exotic dancer from the time she was 18. Ian knew that while he had had a rather dysfunctional upbringing himself, Mandy had had it much worse. She’d moved out at 18, mostly leaving her brothers, who had varying degrees of criminal records, behind. By then, it was too late to save them from themselves.
Soon after, Mandy had begun volunteering at Tenth Lifeline, and before long, the passion and dedication she put into coming to work with the cats did not go unnoticed. Ian had hit it off with Mandy, and the two had been inseparable since. The rumor mill started spinning about the two of them being a couple, but once Ian came out as gay, the rumors quickly got shot down again. Nobody at an animal shelter cared who the adoptions supervisor was banging, as long as he did his job.
Or rather, who the adoptions supervisor wasn’t banging. Ian had been single for some time, and the breakup he’d had was enough to put him off even wanting to try anything aside from the most casual of hookups. A guy had needs, after all, and all he’d done was take home guys from clubs, many of whom had turned out to be extremely clingy. Ian was glad he had blocked the last guy’s number and nothing else ended up coming of it.
He brooded about his predicament as he filed the paperwork and prepared to leave, going home to his empty apartment as usual. It was certainly better than the horrors his ex had put him through. Never again would that happen.
“Want to go out for a drink?” Mandy said as Ian was grabbing his coat and getting ready to leave for the evening.
“Sure,” Ian said. “God knows I could use one. You know I gotta watch what I drink and really shouldn’t be while I’m on my meds, but I can DD if need be. I really could just use the company.”
“Sure thing,” Mandy said. “I’ll leave my car parked here for the night. Nobody will give a shit.”
They drove to their favorite bar mostly in silence, some alternative rock band’s song playing through the car’s Bluetooth speaker.
“You ever think you’re gonna try dating again?” Mandy asked.
“I don’t know. Mostly I’m tired of jerking off and want to get laid for once,” Ian complained. “I told you about what happened the last time I tried taking a guy home, right?”
“Yeah,” Mandy snorted. “But they aren’t all like that, and sooner or later you’re going to end up giving in. I don’t like it when you haven’t gotten any ass in a while, because you get really cranky. There’s always Grindr.”
“Yeah, that’s where I met the last creeper who wouldn’t stop blowing up my phone,” Ian said. “Do you really think I want a repeat performance?”
“Good point,” Mandy answered. “But hey, you can’t keep brooding over the shithead I just would rather refer to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forever. You deserve so much better than him, and one day you’ll find someone like that … someone who will treat you like you deserve.”
“Thanks, Mandy,” Ian said. “But I’m not even going to look for a relationship. I think I’m just going to give up and just fucking hook up with people for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t be like my brother,” Mandy said. “He does the same fucking thing, slutting around. Says he’s happy, but he doesn’t exactly talk much about his feelings. Who knows how he feels?”
“Eh,” Ian said. “Maybe I’ll just continue to do the same thing I’ve been doing. Or get a toy to use. At least those can’t hurt me.”
“I mean, it’s not like they don’t have a lot of toys for dudes to use nowadays,” Mandy chimed in.
“And it’s true. Guys suck. I just hate seeing you like this and hope you will find something better than my siblings and I had.”
By now, they had arrived at their destination. The trip to the bar was a familiar routine and ended with both of them playing pool or darts while they chatted about the latest things going on in their lives or mishaps involving some of the more incompetent shelter volunteers.
“I still have no idea how the higher ups are going to pay for the new location at the mall,” Ian said once they had gotten a table and settled down. “I have been telling Gina we need to have some sort of additional fundraiser, or we aren’t going to be able to afford to have that, or anything else. She’s our boss and all, but I hope someone has some sort of bright idea. Donations are great and we’ve been doing all right there, but we need something new to draw attention to ourselves.”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Mandy said after the server came by to take their drink orders, with Ian ordering an iced tea and Mandy a beer.
“I had an idea, but I need to run it by my brother first. I think I’ve told you about him before ... his name is Mickey. He’s a tattoo artist at Inked-U-Up Art on the North Side. He rents an apartment over there, even though he’s South Side through and through. That’s where the opportunities are.”
“Yeah. Didn’t you always say just because we were born here, doesn’t mean we end up here?” Ian said. “You got out. I got out. Granted, we aren’t exactly raking in the cash working for an animal shelter, but it at least is way fucking better than where we came from. We gotta give ourselves a big pat on the back for that.”
“Yeah,” Mandy said. “It’s true. We’re doing way better for ourselves than even I ever thought we were going to be. But that brings me to the idea I had. My brother is doing pretty well in his shop, and I’ve heard of fundraisers where non-profits will collaborate with tattoo shops in order to raise money for various causes. They do it for NAMI, for crisis services. Remember these?”
Mandy rolled up one of her sleeves to show Ian a small black semicolon on her wrist. Ian had a matching one on the inside of his arm as well. They’d both gone to a fundraiser to raise money for mental health services. For Ian, it was a cause near and dear to his heart, with a history of mental illness in his family and his own struggles with manic depression that was part and parcel of his illness. The semicolon represented a hypothetical situation where a writer “could have ended a sentence, but kept going.”
“Yeah,” Ian said. “It meant a lot to me. But you’re saying...we ought to do something like this in order to raise money for Tenth Lifeline? Do you think the powers that be will go for it?”
The server returned to bring them their drinks. Ian took a sip of his iced tea, where Mandy took a swig of beer. “I’d have to ask my brother, but we could have a collaboration between Tenth Lifeline and Inked-U-Up Art, where he works.”
“Really?” Ian said. “That sounds awesome. I’ve never heard of anything similar.”
“Yeah,” Mandy said. “I was looking up ideas online and saw that other shops in other cities have done fundraisers for other causes. We could have the artists draw up pre-made sheets, and promote it on social media. A portion of proceeds from the day, from artists dedicating their time, goes toward the animal shelter. I’d have to talk to my brother’s boss to set something up with them.”
“Do you think your brother would be open to the idea of doing this?” Ian said. “From what you have told me about him, he doesn’t seem like the charitable type. He could just end up telling us to fuck off, and then we are back to square one where we have to come up with some other bright idea, and fast at that.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Mandy said. “He’s an assface, but the one thing about him is he’s loyal to his family. If I tell him it’s a favor for me, he’ll be more likely to do it. I don’t know how he’ll get along with you, but he’ll put up with stuff he normally wouldn’t do if I have a hand in it. Just leave it to me, and I’ll figure something out for us.”
“As long as you’re sure,” Ian said. “He doesn’t sound like he’ll want any part of this. There are people above him who’d have more of a say in whether this becomes a thing than he would? I don’t know how tattoo shops work, and I don’t want to cause problems with him.”
“Yeah, there’s a shop owner,” Mandy answered him. “Dale McDonald. He took Mickey in because he saw so much potential in my brother. He’s always been good with art, and it was an outlet when Dad was at his worst. Dale was the guy who took my brother as an apprentice, and Mickey has worked for him ever since. He does well.”
“Well, let’s just hope Dale can talk some sense into him,” Ian said hopefully.
Ian took a sip of his tea as the server came back to take their orders. They continued to debate the possibility of getting her brother on board. If this could become more than a proverbial ball they were rolling around inside their heads, Ian would be thrilled. It was just a matter of dealing with Mickey, Ian figured, who didn’t exactly sound like he’d be the most open ear to their cause.
After dinner, Mandy and Ian went to the bar area to play darts. Ian’s mind was mostly on the prospect of the fundraiser and how they could make it happen. If this didn’t work out, there was always another possibility in the works, but Ian still held out hope this was their big shot. Mandy had spoken somewhat about her brother, but it was still fairly clear he didn’t seem like the warm and fuzzy type, and resisted outsiders.
I’ll leave him to Mandy, because even if he’s South Side like her and me, he kind of sounds like an asshole, Ian thought. I doubt he’ll be open to the idea if I am the one who brings it up, but we need him more than he needs us.
Mickey sat hunched in front of his workbench in the back of his shop, trying his best to draw up an image for one of his clients who had booked an appointment for the following week. His brows, the right one of which was adorned with a silver barbell, furrowed as he erased a line and replaced it with another. He shook his head.
“Fuck,” he cursed. “People have gotta fucking realize I’m a tattoo artist and not a magician. They don’t get that there’s a difference between the two. Maybe we oughta fucking put a sign on the door so people can tell, because this shit is getting ridiculous.”
Dale, the shop’s owner, shrugged. “That’s one hell of a coverup this chick wants you to do,” he said. “I’m surprised you’re able to do it at all. And you also have to remember the more bad art and bad tattoo shops are out there, the better it is for us. Keeps the money coming in for sure to know these scratchers are out there giving us business. People think better of us.”
“I guess so,” Mickey said. “It’s a really, really shitty butterfly tattoo and some writing I’m supposed to be covering up, but it’s so thick and poorly-done, it’ll be a bitch. Sometimes I wonder why I even do this.” He threw down his pencil in frustration. “I hate this. And I’ll eat my own ass before I touch this bitch who came in after her who smelled like she hasn’t showered in a week. Even I have my goddamn limits. Christ.”
Dale scoffed. “Mickey, I know you can handle it. I wouldn’t have let you apprentice for me if I didn’t think you had the potential and the promise to be a great artist. You’ve gotten yourself a nice portfolio and plenty of people have commented on your stuff on the shop’s Facebook page.”
“Yeah?” Mickey said. “Glad you have more fucking confidence in me than I seem to at the moment. Usually I’d just kick ass and take names at these fucking sketches, but today I’m just stressed as hell. I’m ready to go home.”
He sighed. Deep down, Mickey knew he was a great artist, especially for his age and level of experience. Throughout his time in high school, drawing had been an outlet to distance himself from his shitty home life and his father Terry’s outbursts. Somehow avoiding the criminal records his brothers had amassed very quickly and from an early age, he’d graduated - barely - and would have gone to art school if he could have afforded to do so, but he could not.
Instead, he tried his best to forge connections. After the “FUCK U-UP” tattoos he’d gotten on his knuckles as soon as he turned 18, he saw the opportunity to get his foot in the door in the tattoo world, since there was no way he’d be able to find a regular job with such provocative and visible body art on his hands. He knew he’d have to go for broke and eke out a living as either a tattoo artist or a bouncer, since he’d spent much of his youth on the streets getting into fights. Coupled with the fact he was gay and not out at the time, he also had a street reputation to maintain.
He worked odd jobs, mostly on construction sites, in order to pay for his art supplies and met with various “artists” of questionable quality and repute, including the man who’d given Mickey his signature knuckle tattoos. He started at the bottom by tattooing oranges and grapefruits, and whatever he could get his hands on, in order to cut his teeth in the industry, even when he barely had two dimes to rub together and had to borrow the instruments from others. It was barely enough at times to put food on his table, but at least he didn’t have to worry about Terry’s wrath.
Thankfully, his luck and tide turned. After slowly but surely creating a portfolio and creating a name for himself on social media, he’d managed to meet Dale through a mutual friend. Mickey’s level of expertise and his fresh ideas led Dale to take Mickey under his wing as an apprentice.
Dale was impressed by what Mickey had shown him, and once Dale invited the other man into his shop, he’d been blown away by Mickey’s level of talent and dedication. Mickey knew he wouldn’t have gotten the apprenticeship if he didn’t have some skill, but he was so used to being belittled by Terry that doubting himself and seeing himself as a failure was second nature.
Before Dale had purchased the shop, it had been called “Line in the Sand”, but Dale disliked it and Mickey also thought it sounded stupid. Dale used Mickey’s tattoos as inspiration for the shop’s name as he contributed to Mickey’s current and still-growing collection of body art.
This, in turn, led Mickey to where he currently was. He and Dale would still occasionally tattoo each other, as Mickey had done to Dale in order to finish his apprenticeship and become a full-time artist at the shop. In addition to tattoos, Mickey also felt like he could use a few more piercings. Of his visible ones, he had his eyebrow, several in his left ear and a barbell in his tongue. At least in the shop he didn’t have to worry about what anyone would think, since contrary to most other employers, it was almost unsettling to see a tattoo artist with little body art.
Mickey also needed to get laid, and badly. Usually, he went back to his stomping ground of Boystown and found a hot guy to hook up with. He preferred to bottom, but knew he wanted to maintain his tough exterior, so it was rare for him to let his guard down. Even so, there were times when he just really wanted a good, hard pounding, so he gave in and bent over for some guy whenever he went outside of the South Side.
Back when he had lived at home, he hadn’t dared come out. He had heard how his father spoke about “AIDS monkeys” and “faggots,” so it was only once he had moved out when Mandy was 18. He’d endured the abuse for two extra years in order to make sure his little sister stayed safe from their father’s wrath. Nowadays, Mickey rented an apartment some distance away from his sister, and they mostly ran in different circles. She had become a do-gooder after leaving the club where she used to dance and was all involved with animal shelter volunteers now.
Mickey had gotten used to building up walls, and keeping said walls up. It was still second nature to not really talk about his sexuality, he preferred leaving it an open secret. He didn’t go around flying rainbow flags and didn’t particularly care to talk about his relationships at work, but Mandy knew. He’d never been in a relationship, although he’d lost his virginity when he was 15. Now 25, Mickey was too involved in his work and bettering his craft to do much else but fuck around when it was possible. He didn’t think he was missing out.
Still at his workbench, Mickey yawned. He was horny as fuck, and thinking about his last hookup didn’t help. It had been a beefy guy with blond hair and a scruffy beard, who looked for all the world like a top, but he moaned and took the fucking the shorter man had given him out of lust and frustration like a whore. He was a hell of a good lay, though, so Mickey didn’t complain.
Even so, Mickey figured it would be nice to have a regular source of sex. He just wanted to get laid, but it was too much to constantly have to look for it. Fuck, he thought, frustrated. I’m so fucking horny right now and I know all I’m going to do is end up going home and jerking off. But I don’t want any stupid boyfriend shit, like a chick would want. I just want a good fuck, getting bent over and pounded until I scream.
Mickey’s reverie was broken when the door to the shop opened and his sister, Mandy, walked in. It was almost closing time, and Mickey wondered what the fuck was so urgent she had to show up now, particularly when she knew damn well when they closed. It was almost time for him to go home, and he was hungry and horny.
“What do you want, bitch?” Mickey complained. “It’s almost time for me to go home. Get the fuck outta here and go home already so I can leave at a halfway decent fucking time.”
“And do what, get your dick wet? Assface,” Mandy retorted in response.
“Whatever. What’s it to you?” Mickey sat back in his chair. “I got work I gotta do. I have to keep getting stuff ready for this annoying-ass coverup and another piece I need done by the end of this week. Another shitty day in paradise. Oh, and if I got some, I wouldn’t be the one getting my dick wet, if you know what I’m saying.”
“TMI! But that’s why I wanted to ask you for a big favor,” Mandy said. “We need your help, and specifically Dale and you. I was looking up some shit online and came across something about a tattoo fundraiser for Tenth Lifeline. Basically, you fuckers would be volunteering your time for a day, and some of the proceeds would be going to the shelter. We need a fundraiser to get donations in and appeal to a bigger audience.”
Mickey scoffed. “So we’d be donating time and money to you? We wouldn’t be getting all of what is due to us, and we’re basically supposed to be working for you in exchange… for what?”
Smirking, Mandy answered sarcastically, “My undying gratitude. Seriously, it’ll help Inked U-Up’s standing a lot on social media, and you’ll get plenty of people - including ones you don’t usually see coming into a tattoo shop. The amount of people you will have coming in will be way more than what you’d usually have, so whatever percentage of the day’s proceeds you end up giving to us, you’ll end up getting back anyway in both quantity and publicity.”
Mickey figured there was no way to get out of this without dealing with grief from Mandy, so he’d have to tell his sister he’d do it. He couldn’t deny there would be a nice surge in publicity if he did end up saying ‘yes’ to Mandy’s offer, and Dale would probably be just as eager to take on such an effort as this.
“DALE!” Mickey yelled into the otherwise empty shop. “My fucking sister wants to talk to you about something!”
As he emerged from the back room, Dale waved to Mandy. “What’s up?” he asked.
“You know how I work at Tenth Lifeline? We are in need of a new fundraiser, and I had the idea to have you guys collaborate with your shop in order to do it. All of you should come up with pre-designed flash sheets of cat-themed tattoos,” Mandy said. “Charge $40 or $50 for each small design, maybe a few more for bigger ones. Set up a day that works for all of your artists, or as many as you can. Then have 40 or 50 percent of the proceeds from the sales go toward us. It’ll look really good on Facebook, and you’ll end up getting everyone from soccer moms to fully-tatted up regulars coming in for that. People you don’t expect.”
Scratching his head, Dale said, “You know what? I think it’s a kick-ass idea. We could use the publicity, and if we get enough new people who will know who we are as a result of a big enough event like this, it’ll definitely be worth it for us.”
“How many artists do you think you could get? You two, Shane, Liane, maybe a few other people from other shelters?” Mandy inquired. “We’d bring plenty of our adoptions counselors, and I could work with the adoption supervisor, Ian, on getting a bunch of the staff here to come help. Since I’m in charge of the volunteers, I’ll put out some feelers in our private group on Facebook to see how many of them want to come and help.”
Mickey shrugged. “If you want to bring a bunch of do-gooders from your work into our shop, I’m fine with it as long as we end up making money out of it and don’t end up in the hole. Pretty sure Dale will tell you the same thing.” He turned to his boss.
“I’m in for sure. Don’t speak for me, now,” Dale told Mickey, tauntingly. “You’re gonna have to be here since we’ll need all hands on deck in order to make sure this is a success. We can’t have anyone half-assing it.”
Mickey raised his hands in surrender. “Fine, fine. But I gotta come up with some ideas for what people might want for an event like this. Simple things like paw prints? We aren’t real big on flash sales, and I’m assuming this is gonna be something similar.”
“Sounds about right,” Dale answered. “I can start drawing up a flash sheet if you want to do the same thing, Mickey. Just make it stuff that’s real simple, because I’m counting on us having a lot of people coming in and out of here, if what your sister is telling us about how many people shops typically get at these things is true.”
“I think it’ll be really busy,” Mandy said. “It’s a really cheap opportunity to get a tattoo, so it’ll draw the college kids and others who normally wouldn’t be able to get one because it’s way outside of their price range. And at least things like paw prints or little cat heads or silhouettes are something the clients aren’t going to regret years down the road, like a significant other’s name.”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “Probably fucking half of the coverups I have to do were because some dipshit thought it was a good idea to put their boyfriend or girlfriend’s name, or whoever they were banging for like three months, tattooed on their body. At least it keeps business up and running for us, so I can’t really complain about it too much.”
Mandy snorted. “Says the man who has ‘FUCK U-UP’ tattooed on his fingers for the rest of his life. I see you’re in a great spot to judge what other people choose to get tattooed on them.”
Mickey flipped his sister off, while Mandy just smirked knowingly at him.
“So, my shithead of a brother, does this mean you are definitely in for planning this fundraiser with us? I can get our social media person to make a group page for us to talk about it on Facebook, and then eventually an event page to go public.”
Mickey sighed. “Yeah, I’ll do it. Who do I gotta work with from your work in order to make this happen?”
“You’re probably going to want to touch base with Ian, first of all. My roommate. Don’t think you’ve met him before, but I’ve told you about him and what he does. He’s the adoptions supervisor, and since he is in charge of all of the financials for that department at the shelter, I figure he’ll be the main point of contact you will be wanting to make in order to have this happen.”
“Is this a new guy, or is this the same Ian you’ve been talking about? And does this Ian of yours have a last name, or any contact info?” Mickey asked.
“Ian Gallagher,” Mandy answered. “He’s actually from the South Side, too. We grew up together but since you were so busy with your tattoo artist friends, I figure you didn’t really notice or actually pay much attention to any of mine.”
“Gallagher?” Mickey’s ears perked up. “You mean this is one of Frank fucking Gallagher’s kids?”
“The very same,” Mandy replied. “But at least you, he and I all were able to get out of there before that fucking shit consumed us. I’ve told Ian things don’t always have to stay the way we were born into, and if this fundraiser ends up going off without a hitch, you guys could really end up raking in the dough with all of the new clients you could end up getting from it.”
“True,” Mickey said. “Guess you’re right, even though you’ll rarely if ever fucking hear me ever say that to you. I guess I’ll have to shoot this Gallagher an email or something so he knows we’re open to doing this.”
“Good. Thank you!” Mandy exclaimed. She reached over to give her brother a hug, which he awkwardly and reluctantly returned. “I can’t promise, but will do my fucking best I can to make sure this goes well for both you guys and us.”
“Yeah, whatever. Just get the fuck outta my shop so we can close up. Jesus Christ.”
Two days later, Ian was waiting for Mickey’s arrival at his office at Tenth Lifeline with bated breath. He knew Mickey was just an average, South Side dude like himself, and Mandy’s brother at that. He had no reason to worry. He’d known Mandy for what seemed like forever, since they had bonded over Tenth Lifeline. Still, Ian was nervous about it.
The Milkovich family members’ reputations had preceded them for as long as Ian could remember, particularly those of the boys. From both the neighborhood rumor mill and the limited amount of information Mandy had divulged about her youngest brother, Mickey had been the only male in the family to make something of himself and avoid a criminal record.
Even so, Ian figured Mandy was cool, so it made sense Mickey could be a not-half-bad guy. It dawned on Ian that it was strange he and Mandy lived in the same apartment but Ian had never met her brother, but Mandy hadn’t met Ian’s siblings either, since both had already moved out of their family homes by the time they met.
While he sat at his desk, twirling his pen in his hand as patrons filed by outside in the hallway, Ian pondered what Mickey would look like. He knew nothing aside from the fact he was a tattoo artist, and Ian was clean-cut for his background and had never considered the thought of even getting body art aside from his tiny semicolon he had. He pictured some big, scary, biker-looking guy with what looked like railroad spikes through his ears. What if Mickey was so intimidating he scared off patrons who came to the fundraiser?
Snorting, Ian chided himself for letting himself arrive at this line of thought. Mickey was South Side, too, as Ian had reminded himself, and since Mandy had told him, Mickey seemed willing to at least talk to Ian and hear him out about having a tattoo fundraiser at Inked-U-Up Art, Ian had to roll out the red carpet and give his best impression.
“Ian?” The familiar voice caused Ian to look up as Mandy appeared outside of Ian’s office. “He’s here. Mickey is here to talk about getting started on the fundraiser. He’s waiting outside in the lobby. I’ll let him know you’re ready for him.”
Nodding, Ian felt like he instantly became twice as nervous. “Sure,” Ian said, trying his best to keep the telltale shaking out of his voice. “Send him in when you’re ready.”
Ian rotated in his chair, still berating himself and engaging in the private war of nervousness that was threatening to make him look like an ass in front of this important business contact. What if it fell through? This idea seemed like a great one - Mandy’s plans typically were - but it hinged on Mandy’s schmoozing skills. Ian heard her saying something snarky and sarcastic to the man who was just outside before she left.
Ian looked up from his paperwork. What he saw, or rather who he saw, blew his mind. Standing in the doorway of his office was an amazingly hot guy who could be only one person, which made Ian kick himself for never having made an effort to touch base with Mandy’s brother before. He was relatively short, with black spiky hair and the prettiest blue eyes Ian thought he’d ever seen. He’d always had a soft spot for blue eyes on dudes, and the contrast between the dark hair and the pale eyes was particularly striking.
On anyone else, his manner of dress and the way he was standing in the doorway, like he was ready to kick ass and smoke cigarettes but was all out of cigarettes, would have been intimidating. He was wearing a leather jacket, a baggy black T-shirt with the name of what was presumably a band, and slightly large jeans, held up by a studded belt. With his hand leaning on the door frame, Ian could see the word “FUCK” tattooed on his knuckles. A cigarette rested behind his left ear, which was lined with a variety of piercings, both rings and studs, through the cartilage. He held a binder with what was probably his portfolio.
“So...Gallagher, eh?” Mickey smirked and raised an eyebrow, drawing Ian’s attention to the small silver piercing in one of them - two little balls connected by a curved bar. Ian quietly wondered what other piercings or tattoos this guy had that weren’t readily visible, and Ian normally wasn’t attracted to guys with body mods in the first place. “And South Side? You’re Frank Gallagher’s kid, ain’t you? Fucking funny to run into you here. It was all Mandy’s doing.”
“Mickey,” Ian said, hoping he didn’t sound like a total jackass and make this alternative, hot dude think that he was a complete square and a loser. “Come in and sit down.”
Wordlessly, Mickey pulled out one of the chairs from along the wall and sat, legs spread. He rested his binder on Ian’s desk and took a deep breath, with an expression Ian hoped wasn’t one of boredom, before speaking.
“Mandy tells me you wanna do some shindig to help raise money for this place?” he said. As Mickey spoke, Ian caught a glimpse of metal in his mouth. He has a pierced tongue. Holy fuck. Ian had never been with guys who had mods and never thought of them as enticing, but that particular piercing did it for him in a big way. He wondered how the metal barbell would feel while making out with him, or even...no. Ian couldn’t afford to have a boner in here. Not now.
“Yeah,” Ian said. “Mandy was looking up some stuff online about how tattoo shops in other cities have been doing collaborations with animal shelters. Basically, they set aside a day where a certain percentage of the day’s proceeds will go toward the animal shelter as a charity. Kind of like the semicolon events a lot of shops do, in order to donate money for suicide prevention. You’ve probably heard of them? We’ve been in need of a new fundraiser to have on our off-season in addition to our yearly radiothon, so we’re hoping you can help.”
“That’s what my bitch of a sister already told me,” Mickey responded. “She always puts me up to shit like this.” If he was worried about how Ian might react to the reference to his best friend as a “bitch,” Mickey didn’t seem to notice or care. “What my boss and I care about is making sure we’re able to profit off of this, since there’s no point in dedicating our time to this if we get nothing outta it.”
Trying not to look taken aback by the slur, Ian ignored it. “Yeah. I’m sure Mandy already told you? Her idea was to charge a small amount, maybe $40 or $50 for each one. You guys could draw up flash sheets, post them on Facebook and let people pick which ones they want. I don’t know how many artists you guys have working in your shop, but I figure you’d want to have all hands on deck. If you get enough people, that’s plenty of word of mouth and repeat clients.”
“She told me,” Mickey said. “She mentioned those same figures to me the other day when she gave me your contact info. We haven’t been big on flash sales, since we think that’s fucking stupid and we don’t like to cheapen our art. We specialize in custom pieces rather than the pre-made stuff. That’s why we’ve never really chosen to have them, since a lot of the finished pieces end up turning out shitty. But Dale - the guy who owns the shop - already said he likes the idea.”
Mickey shifted in his chair. “Basically, if Dale thinks it’s a good idea, then I’m down with it. We’re doing pretty well, but there are a lot more shops moving into the North Side, so any publicity we could get would be great. We need to do more to make sure people are aware of us being under new ownership, since we used to be Line in the Sand.”
“Great,” Ian said, hoping again he didn’t sound like an idiot in front of this guy. He could feel a half-chub in his pants he was desperately trying to will away, and tried to think about unpleasant things just to get through this meeting. He had no idea if Mickey was even gay, but he figured if he was, he wasn’t out, or Mandy would’ve said something.
The ginger shifted uncomfortably in his chair, thinking of Frank going on a bender and Monica the last time she’d pulled a runner. Reluctantly, he willed himself to think of Frank and Monica having sex. Ahhh, there, seems to have helped. He held back an involuntary shudder.
“When would you want this to happen?” Ian asked, once he’d regained his composure. Mickey was giving him a bit of a funny look, but Ian forced his face into a neutral expression.
“Maybe in three, four months?” Mickey suggested. “Dale and I would need some time to get some flash sheets ready, and so would Shane and Liane, our other artists. If we get enough interest from our Facebook and shit, Mandy suggested we could even see if any local vendors could come and sell stuff for you guys.”
“Probably,” Ian said, somewhat absentmindedly. “And while you’re here, do you want to have a tour of the shelter? I can show you around. I’m in charge of all of the adoptions, but there are some other areas, like the pet shop, a small vet clinic and admissions, which is where people will go to drop off the cats they want to surrender to us.”
“I guess,” Mickey said, sounding more bored than anything else. “But I’d rather do something else. Something that doesn’t really involve the shelter, if you catch my drift.”
Ian hoped he wasn’t too forward in a way he ought not to be, but did Mickey seem to be way too comfortable with him? Oh, please! Fucking please tell me he is, for the love of all that’s good and holy. I just don’t want to be the first one to make a move and fuck this up.
“Come on,” Ian said, continuing to will his body to cooperate and get through with a shred of dignity intact. “I’ll at least show you around the adoption area. It’s not as populated as it usually is since it’s not kitten season, but we do have senior cats we’ve been promoting pretty heavily on our Facebook page. Most people tend not to want them, and some stay here for a while before they end up finding homes.”
“Makes sense,” Mickey said. He reached down to pull up his pants, which were starting to fall off on his hips in spite of the belt he was wearing, which Ian figured was just for show, anyway. They left Ian’s office and proceeded to the cat adoption area.
“Hey, Abby,” Ian greeted one of the cat room volunteers. “This is Mickey. He’s a tattoo artist and we’re talking about having a collaborative fundraiser with his shop. I’m just giving him a little tour so he can see what we do.”
“Sounds good!” Abby said, blushing slightly. Ian wondered if she thought the same thing he was thinking about Mickey.
Ian opened the door of one of the colony rooms, watching where he stepped to avoid the cats roaming underfoot as he let Mickey in ahead of him. As Norbert, one of the adoptable cats, strutted up to Ian, the redhead bent and patted the orange tabby on the head. Ian was just about to tell Mickey he could pet them, too, but Mickey seemed to be one step ahead.
If anything, it was even more of a turn-on to see Mickey bend down in the direction of one of the other adult cats, a black one, and cautiously put his hand in front of the animal’s face. The female cat sniffed cautiously at Mickey’s tattooed hand before leaning in and rubbing Mickey’s arm and hand with her body. Mickey seemed as though he was still trying to act disinterested.
“I’ve never had a cat before,” Mickey mused. “My dad was kind of a piece of shit and he never let us have animals growing up. Not that they would’ve done well in our house. Probably just something else for Dad to use against us whenever he got drunk or pissed off, so it was for the better. Never thought about having one in my new apartment, and I’m not sure if the landlord would be okay with me bringing one in. I can check.”
He was tough, tatted and pierced up, but he still had a soft spot when it came to animals, and he was on board with the fundraiser after all. It seemed as if everything the brunet did just served to fascinate Ian more. All the redhead was really thinking about was getting into the shorter man’s pants. He wondered if he was a bottom, desperately hoping beyond hope he was, since Ian had never liked bottoming himself.
Fuck, I don’t even know for sure if he’s gay, so I’m really fucking putting the cart before the horse.
Once they were done and Ian led Mickey back to his office, the redhead forced himself to walk through the motions and crunch a few numbers as the two men continued to discuss the logistics of the fundraiser. Distracted, Ian nodded as Mickey explained the costs of setting up enough stations for all of the artists to be there at once, which generally did not happen on a business day, and Ian agreed to help promote the event on Tenth Lifeline’s own social media pages. Once they were done, Mickey stood up to leave.
“Oh… just wanna let you know. If there’s anything else you need or want to say, here’s my card. There’s the shop number on it… and,” Mickey said with a slight smirk, “the number below it is my cell. Probably give it a ring if you want to get a hold of me, since the shop has weird hours and I’m not always there. Anyway, see ya.”
Holy fuck. He just propositioned me as he left. Mickey is gay after all. Jackpot!
After Mickey left, Ian exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and made no attempt to think any gross thoughts to cause his erection to go down. Not that he could hide it, given how big he was, so Ian knew this couldn’t wait until he got home to take care of it. He got up from his desk, carefully placing a manila folder in front of his crotch, and ambled slowly out of his office, hoping none of the volunteers or anyone else would stop him on his way to the men’s room.
Thankfully, he made it safely to his destination, undisturbed. Ian practically burst down the doors of one of the stalls, sat down on the toilet and pulled his khaki pants down past his knees. His cock was throbbing, and Ian knew he couldn’t go any longer before going off like a bottle rocket. He hadn’t told anytime he’d left his office, and his absence was unlikely to go unnoticed if it persisted much longer than it had to.
Ian closed his eyes and wrapped his right hand around his stiff cock. He teased himself a little by running his fingers along the head as another drop of pre-cum beaded out of it, vaguely realizing he had a huge stain already in his boxers from before, when Mickey was in his office. He thought about the older man, wondering what his body looked like underneath the black T-shirt he was wearing. His legs looked fucking delicious as it was, from what Ian could see, and he bet the brunette had a great ass to go with them.
Ian groaned, trying his best to stay quiet. He had never considered he had a piercing or tattoo kink at all, but the thought of exploring Mickey’s body and finding all of the different mods the other man had on his body was driving him crazy. He wanted Mickey to suck his cock and feel how that tongue ring felt on his head. Fuck!
As he pumped his cock harder and neared his release, Ian used his left hand to grab a piece of toilet paper out of the roll as he continued to jerk himself off with the other. He bit his lip to muffle his grunt as he shot his load into his hand and the wad of toilet paper. Holy fucking shit. He’d never actually jerked off in the work bathroom before, but he supposed it was one thing to cross off his non-existent bucket list of being single.
Just then, a most unwelcome sound burst through Ian’s train of thought over the loudspeakers:
Ian to the adoptions desk, please! Ian, come to the adoptions desk for assistance!
Cursing the horrific timing, Ian pulled up his pants, flushed the toilet, washed his hands and left the men’s room, ready to take care of whatever bullshit had to be done. He knew one thing: he hadn’t seen the last of Mickey Milkovich, and if this fundraiser went off without a hitch, he hoped more publicity wasn’t all he’d get from him.
Had anyone told Mickey he’d be thinking about Ian fucking Gallagher after the day he’d met him at the cat shelter, he would’ve told them to go fuck themselves and suck a dick. Unfortunately, it was that precise predicament he was currently dealing with, and he hated it.
He’d just gone into the bathroom at the shop, in between his few appointments with clients both times, and jerked off for the second time that afternoon. He was still at work, but he still couldn’t shake the old nagging feeling of needing to get laid. This time, it wasn’t yearning for some fuck or blowjob in an alley. He wanted Ian, and wanted him now.
Maybe it was in the cards? Ian had seemed smitten when he had shown up at Ian’s Tenth Lifeline office to discuss this goddamn fundraiser. Mickey usually saw this as a turn-off. The tattoo artist actually agreed to go to the shelter to talk about it, but only on the promise he’d get some benefit as a result. It was too bad one of these benefits wasn’t Ian Gallagher’s cock inside of him.
Still, Mickey didn’t want to make the first move. He didn’t want to be desperate, because if there was one thing Mickey Milkovich wasn’t, it was that. He was fairly certain he had gotten a read on Ian. Mickey knew for sure he, himself, didn’t want a relationship - that was for pussy queens who wanted to marry, have a house full of kids, the lot. Mickey, however, just wanted a good screw, and if this guy could deliver that as well as publicity, he’d have it made.
The day he’d come into Ian’s office, Mickey hadn’t wanted to be there. He’d just wanted to chat on the phone with this South Side dude he somehow hadn’t met yet, but Mandy insisted he talk to him in person. Mickey reluctantly agreed. He’d tried not to look too bored as Mandy left. Mickey flipped through his portfolio, tapping his foot. Mickey knew next to nothing about this Ian, since the siblings didn’t have the same friends and Mickey knew none of the dancers who used to be her coworkers. It’s not like he had any interest in them .
“Ian?” Mickey heard Mandy say from a hallway adjoining the main lobby. “He’s here. Mickey is here to talk about getting started on the fundraiser. He’s waiting outside in the lobby. I’ll let him know you’re ready for him.”
Mickey sighed and got up. “I can fucking hear you, Mandy. You don’t have to come and get me,” he said, grumpily. “Hold your fucking panties, and I’ll be right there.”
He got up and headed toward where Mandy was standing, as she crossed her arms and glared at him. “Oh, yeah - don’t fuck this up, or the next thing you’re going to get is going to be my foot up your ass. And I don’t want to hear you say you like that, either, because then I’m gonna be really fucking creeped and grossed out.”
Mickey gave her the finger. As he stepped into the doorway, the brunet said, trying to sound as cocky and confident as he could, “Ian Gallagher?”
The tattoo artist looked into the open door and saw a shock of bright red hair leaning over some paperwork. As the man behind the desk looked up, Mickey forced his face into some semblance of an impassive, hopefully intimidating expression. This Ian dude was fucking hot. Mickey had always had a thing for redheads, with all of those freckles, and he was tall, too, which the shorter man could tell even as he was sitting down in his chair. Granted Ian wasn’t dressed the part of his usual interests, with that preppy polo shirt with the Tenth Lifeline logo and khakis, but he could have been wearing a fucking toga for all Mickey cared.
“So...Gallagher, eh?” Mickey said, still trying to play it cool. He stood against the doorframe and raised an eyebrow. “And South Side? You’re Frank Gallagher’s kid, ain’t you? Fucking funny to run into you here. It was all Mandy’s doing.”
Ian, the poor guy, still looked like he was either ready to jump out of his chair or jump Mickey’s bones, and it would have been amusing if Mickey wasn’t so turned on.
“Mickey,” Ian said, looking uncomfortable. Mickey wondered if the other man was hiding a tent in his own pants. “Come in and sit down.”
Without saying anything else, Mickey sat down in one of the chairs that faced Ian’s desk, and haphazardly dropped his portfolio on Ian’s desk. Ian seemed to show little interest, and just kept staring awkwardly at him. Yeah, he fucking wants me, Mickey thought, having played this game on multiple occasions. I want him, too.
“Mandy tells me you wanna do some shindig to help raise money for this place?” Mickey said. Ian’s eyes widened as the brunet talked, staring in the general direction of his mouth, and Mickey quietly wondered if Ian had seen anybody with mods before or was creeped out by Mickey’s appearance. Ian was so clean-cut he probably didn’t know many, if any, tattoo artists before this idea to have an event with a tattoo shop popped into his head. Mickey wondered how Ian would like the rest of his mods that weren’t visible.
“Yeah,” the redhead said. “Mandy was looking up some stuff online about how tattoo shops in other cities have been doing collaborations with animal shelters. Basically, they set aside a day where a certain percentage of the day’s proceeds will go toward the animal shelter as a charity. Kind of like the semicolon events a lot of shops, as you probably already know, do in order to donate money for suicide prevention. We’ve been in need of a new fundraiser to have on our off-season in addition to our yearly radiothon, so we’re hoping you can help.”
“That’s what my bitch of a sister already told me,” Mickey answered in response, regretting his choice of words almost immediately. Ian’s face fell, but Mickey decided to ignore it and kept talking, hoping he could fix this before this guy threw him out of his office and said to hell with the fundraiser. “What my boss and I care about is making sure we’re able to profit off of this, since there’s no point in dedicating our time to this if we get nothing outta it.”
Mickey kicked himself for sounding too greedy or too self-interested, but he couldn’t help it. That was always his coping mechanism - feigning disinterest to avoid any attachments.
“Yeah. I’m sure Mandy already told you?” Ian said. Mickey hoped Ian was still on for this, since sucking up to people wasn’t nearly as interesting as sucking them off. “Her idea was to charge a small amount, maybe $40 or $50 for each one. You guys could draw up flash sheets, post them on Facebook and let people pick which ones they want. I don’t know how many artists you guys have working in your shop, but I figure you’d want to have all hands on deck. If you get enough people, plenty of word of mouth and probably repeat clients.”
Nothing wrong with more repeat clients. Nothing wrong at all, Mickey thought, if it keeps us in business . He answered, “She told me already. She mentioned those same figures to me the other day when she gave me your contact info. We haven’t been big on flash sales, since we think that’s fucking stupid and we don’t like to cheapen our art. It’s why we’ve never really chosen to have them, since a lot of the finished pieces end up turning out shitty. But Dale - that’s the guy who owns the shop - already said that he likes the idea.”
If this went well, Mickey hoped Dale, whom he didn’t really need to impress, might be open to the idea of making Mickey a co-owner. The people who came into the shop didn’t really seem to see a smartass exterior as a turn-off, and in fact, the women wanted to bone Mickey. It was a shame Mickey was gay, considering the amount of pussy he would have gotten. While he was professional in spite of how many tits and asses he’d tattooed over the years, enough of these women tried to hit on him that it became noise at this point. By this point, it was more than likely known in the community that Mickey had zero interest in the female sex.
Mickey continued, “Basically, if Dale thinks it’s a good idea, then I’m down with it. We’re doing pretty well, but there are a lot more shops that are moving into the North Side, so any publicity we could get would be great. We need to do more to make sure people are aware of us being under new ownership, since we used to be Line in the Sand.”
“Great,” Ian answered, shifting slightly in his chair. “When would you want this to happen?”
I know what I’d like to have happen, preferably as soon as I get the fuck outta here and you get off work. “Maybe in three, four months? Dale and I would need some time to get some flash sheets ready, and so would Shane and Liane, our other artists. If we get enough interest from our Facebook and shit, Mandy suggested we could even see if any local vendors could come and sell stuff for you guys.”
Ian prattled on some more about the shelter, and asked if he wanted to take a tour of the shelter before leaving. Mickey decided to be a little less subtle and risk it a bit by pushing things a step further. “I guess. But I’d rather do something else. Something that doesn’t really involve the shelter, if you catch my drift.”
Mickey internally patted himself on the back as Ian seemed to look even more turned on, but still made every attempt to hide it. They got up, and Mickey followed Ian around on a tour of the shelter, nodding when appropriate as Ian babbled something to one of the cat room volunteers. When Ian let him into one of the rooms, he found himself bending down to play with a few of the cats, which he had to admit weren’t bad. Ian seemed pleased.
“I’ve never had a cat before,” Mickey blurted out, partly because it was true and partly because small talk about animals was presumably what Ian wanted to hear. “My dad was kind of a piece of shit and he never let us have animals growing up. Not that they would’ve done well in our house. Probably just something else for Dad to use against us whenever he got drunk or pissed off, so it was really for the better. Never thought about having one in my new apartment, and I’m not sure if the landlord would be okay with me bringing one in. I can check.”
Ian made a small noise of sympathy before they went back to the office to talk some more about the fundraiser. As he was leaving, Mickey decided to go for broke. Fingering his business cards in his pocket, Mickey reached in, pulled one out and gave it to Ian.
“Oh...just wanna let you know. If there’s anything else you need or want to say, here’s my card. There’s the shop number on it...and,” he added, pausing slightly, “that number below it is my cell. Probably give that a buzz if you want to get a hold of me, since the shop has weird hours and I’m not always there. Anyway, see ya.”
As he headed out the door, Mickey couldn’t believe he’d had the audacity to do that, hoping he’d get a text, a call or some communication from the redhead, but thinking it wouldn’t actually go anywhere. Besides, he didn’t need dumbass entanglements to interfere with the fundraiser, but nobody had any objections to getting laid as a side benefit, right?
The answer to whether the lust was mutual came soon enough. While Mickey was preparing to set up his workspace for his 6 o’clock client, his phone went off with a text message. He looked down and saw it was from Ian. Fucking jackpot, Mickey thought. It read:
Hey, it’s Ian from Tenth Lifeline. Really glad to have been able to meet up with you earlier today. Wondering if you wanted to grab a drink or something and discuss it further. I’d love to find out more about what you do. Maybe share war stories from the South Side, too.
Mickey couldn’t believe his luck. He’d get clients and might be able to get some quality cock as well...but then, the bell on the door rang and a woman with full sleeves came into the shop and asked to see Mickey for her 6 o’clock appointment.
Fucking hell, Mickey thought. So much for being able to text Ian back, since he’ll be getting ready for bed by the time I get outta here. Guess I’ll have to worry about it another time, but in the meantime, I’m gonna hit up Boystown since I really need to get off. Ian’ll have to wait, since I don’t wanna come on too strong. Better play hard-to-get.
The rest of the day seemed to crawl by, Mickey making small talk with his clients as he finished an outline for the first woman, and a touch-up on a man who’d had a tattoo that faded. After closing up the shop, Mickey got in his car and headed to his favorite watering hole, a gay bar outside of the city limits, hoping he could score with some twink. It wasn’t long before he found one who was more than willing - a redhead, better still. Mickey had zero objections and planned to pretend this random fuck was Ian, anyway.
The guy had been eye-fucking Mickey the entire night, and the tattoo artist decided he just needed to blow off frustration that had built up since he met Ian fucking Gallagher in that damned cat shelter. Fuck, I forgot to text him back, Mickey thought. Eh. I’ll take care of it in the morning because all I want now is to just get my dick sucked.
After Mickey bought them a round of drinks, they got in Mickey’s car and drove to his apartment. Mickey drummed his fingers on his steering wheel as they waited at a red light. The dude was prattling on about how he loved Mickey’s tattoos on his arms, and asked about where he’d gotten them. Mickey responded in a flat, monotone voice, but the guy didn’t really seem to care much about his obvious lack of enthusiasm.
They arrived at Mickey’s apartment, and the guy wasted no time taking his clothes off. “What’s your name?” he asked as he was taking off his shirt. “I’m Tyler. Nice place you got.”
“Mickey. Doesn’t matter what it’s short for, just what everybody calls me,” the tattoo artist said.
“Don’t care about what you think about my place or anything else. Just wanna fuck you.”
“I’m a bottom, so yeah, you can fuck me,” Tyler said in a pathetic attempt to be seductive. Good fucking grief. I want this guy to shut the fuck up and use his mouth for something better.
“Yeah, I ain’t gonna bottom for you, so at least we’re on the same page there,” Mickey said. “Now help me get these fucking pants off.”
Tyler fumbled with Mickey’s belt, unzipped his fly, and pulled down his pants, noticing the pistol tattoos he had on his hips and, more importantly, the bulge that had formed long ago in his boxers. As he pulled those down as well, Mickey saw the familiar widening eyes at the sight of his dick, and braced himself for the question.
“Holy fuck. Did that fucking hurt? I’ve never been with an guy with a…”
“No, it tickled getting my dick pierced,” Mickey scoffed. “Didn’t hurt as much as you probably think. But enough. I want you to suck it for me. I wanna fuck your mouth with it.”
Tyler spit into his hand and started slicking up Mickey’s cock, his fingers toying with the silver ring, one end of which came out of his slit and the other on the underside of the head. Mickey groaned in satisfaction as the redheaded Ian stand-in took his dick all the way into the back of his throat, suppressing a gag.
“Fuck, that’s good,” Mickey said roughly. “It feels fucking amazing.” He closed his eyes and tried to imagine this random guy was Ian as he fisted his fingers in his hair and started to fuck his face. He took all Mickey had to give. This isn’t half-bad and he’s not a bad cocksucker, but I wouldn’t mind a little more.
“Want me to fuck you?” Mickey asked. “Get up here and get on your hands and knees on the bed. Gonna pound you into the mattress.”
Tyler obeyed, taking off his clothes and settling onto the bed. He had a nice body, Mickey said, but he wasn’t here to admire any of the scenery. He walked over to his nightstand and grabbed a bottle of lube and a condom out of the drawer.
“Get yourself ready for me,” Mickey commanded.
Once his hookup had prepped himself, Mickey got on the bed, stroked himself a few times and entered him. He wasn’t into it and didn’t like topping all that much, but it was something and he needed to blow a load into anything that wasn’t his hand, and this would do.
“Fuck, feels so good. Fuck me harder,” the guy said. His voice is so whiny. He needs to just shut the fuck up and take it. Mickey barely noticed Tyler had started stroking himself.
Mickey pushed Tyler’s face into the pillows and started fucking him harder, muffling his whines and cries of pleasure. Mickey fucked him mostly on autopilot, pounding it out until he tensed, fingers digging into the guy’s hipbones, and came, coating the inside of the condom with his release.
The guy reached his climax as well and collapsed bonelessly onto the bed, panting and breathing heavily. Once they’d both come down, Mickey took off the condom and threw it in the trash can. He then reached over, grabbed a cigarette from its pack and lit it. He took a drag and exhaled. Tyler leaned in as Mickey jerked back.
“Kiss me and I’ll cut your fucking tongue out,” Mickey spat harshly at him.
“You gonna let me spend the night?” Tyler asked. Are you fucking kidding me?
“Get outta here,” Mickey said, throwing the guy’s clothes at him with the hand that wasn’t holding the cigarette. “I’ll call you an Uber. You just can’t stay here. I ain’t interested in more.”
“Hey, fuck you, too,” Tyler said, looking hurt. “I mean, I know this was just a hookup and all, but you don’t have to be an asshole.”
“That’s not me being an asshole,” Mickey scoffed. “That’s just plain old honesty. Deal with it.”
As Tyler huffed and left to wait for the Uber, Mickey shook his head and thought, not for the first time, that he wished it had been Gallagher who was sucking him off, and he could have bottomed as Ian fucked him. But that was for another night, he said, as he brushed his teeth, changed and crawled into bed. All I know is I want to see more of Ian Gallagher, and...fuck, did I text him back? Fucking hell. I’m just too tired now.
Dismayed, Ian checked his phone for what felt like the millionth time since he’d sent his last text. Shortly after Mickey had left, Ian debated whether to touch base with the other man, hoping he didn’t look too forward. At least the number wasn’t fake - he hoped - but it was no consolation given the fact the tattoo artist still hadn’t found time to answer him.
As Ian lay awake in bed, continuing to check for a reply, he felt he’d made a big mistake, judging by the effect this was having on his nerves and his psyche, wondering why he’d even stuck his neck out for this guy like a fool. Why did I have to send that idiotic text? Now he will think I’m like a dumb teenage girl, hovering over my phone waiting for my crush to get back to me.
It had been only several hours since he met this stranger. Normally, when he was stressed or feeling concerned that he might be slipping back down the rabbit hole into disturbing thoughts, he took solace in his two cats, Fiona and Ronan, their purring a reminder to him of simpler moments and times where stress seemed to fall away. But he barely noticed the little animals he’d rescued from his own place of employment.
Sending the text in the first place was stupid. Ian was supposed to have a professional relationship with this guy, and he and Mandy were counting on getting his support. Torturously, Ian looked back on his idiotic message: “ Wondering if you wanted to grab a drink or something and discuss it further. I’d love to find out more about what you do?” It sounded so needy.
Panic gripped onto Ian as he realized he hadn’t taken his medication that evening, since he had been so worked up over the fact that nothing had materialized, not even those annoying iPhone ellipses that indicated Mickey was starting to write a reply. Relenting, the redhead got up to pour himself a glass of water and grabbed a box of crackers, nibbling on a few. He opened his pill organizer, dumped the contents of the day’s slot into his hand and took them, hoping this mistake wouldn’t cost him his job. What if everyone at the shelter finds out I’ve fucked this up? He and Mandy had already pitched the idea to Gina.
I hate my fucking life, Ian thought as he brushed his teeth and got back in bed. He was lonely and horny, and none of the shit from today made him feel better. He thought back on how he’d jerked off in the bathroom at work, high on the possibility of hooking up with the hot tattoo artist, or maybe having it progress to something more. It sucked how Ian was attracted to the bad boys, which is how he ended up with Chad. His ex who turned out to be an abusive jerk, in every sense of the word - physically and emotionally.
Chad, or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, as Mandy preferred to call him these days, was a North Side product and had quickly managed to take Ian under his wing. They’d gone to college together, Ian on a scholarship he’d gotten after working his ass off to graduate from high school, and met when Ian was a freshman and Chad was a senior. Their relationship had burned hot, and Ian was quickly smitten with the older man, even though he knew he was dealing drugs on the side. Coming from a rich family, he did it for kicks rather than having to do it to survive, like Ian had known so many families to do at home.
Once Chad graduated and got his own apartment, Ian stopped going to classes and dropped out, much to his family’s dismay. They all worried so much about him. They didn’t know much about Chad, since they didn’t run in the same social circles or the same neighborhood, but they became concerned when they saw less and less of Ian. The redhead worked at the diner and lived at the Gallagher house, but Chad talked him into moving into his apartment.
From there, things went downhill over a period of years. As he entered early adulthood, Ian’s family noticed he was starting to exhibit symptoms similar to the ones they’d already seen in Monica, and Chad was not only not making any attempts to get Ian help, but exacerbated the problem by actively keeping Ian away from the people who really loved and cared for him. When Ian was manic, Chad convinced him it was just his personality and to “get over” his depression - because he’d never date a crazy person. Depression wasn’t real, and all allegedly mentally-ill people needed was a swift kick in the pants to snap out of it.
Eventually, things came to a head. Ian’s family had another talk with him, trying to convince him to get help after he’d staggered home in the middle of the night, crying and drunk and sporting a black eye. When they asked who’d done it to him, Ian tried his best to lie and cover for Chad, but the Gallaghers weren’t fooled. They couldn’t convince Ian to call the cops on Chad, but they welcomed him back home with open arms.
From there, things seemed hopeless, but Ian crawled his way out of the hole he’d fallen into, with help. He began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist, and began a drug regimen for his bipolar disorder. After seeking help, his moods stabilized. Fiona, Lip and the rest of Ian’s siblings were overjoyed they finally had their brother back, and he was now out of the toxic relationship that was killing him.
Since Ian was always the type of person who needed a purpose and some sort of cause to make him feel like he was bettering the world and helping others, he decided to begin volunteering at Tenth Lifeline while still working on the side at the diner. Since his hard work did not go unnoticed, the shelter offered him a job, and the rest, as they say, was history. Ian was in the best place he’d ever been in his entire life in terms of salary and job security.
Until now, he thought to himself miserably. As much as he just needed to get off like anyone else, and he’d frequented Grindr when he just needed a quick lay, what he craved was the possibility of something more. But he was afraid to look for it. He was tired of moping around, doubting, believing he wasn’t good enough to have a boyfriend who cared and did what was best for him instead of just being a horrific, abusive piece of shit.
Why is it such a big deal to me? Ian agonized over it. He’s just a guy, a guy who has a lot to offer me and can get me another promotion if I play my cards right and manage to impress Gina. But that could all be for nothing if I end up fucking this up. Why do I always have to be such a goddamn failure? I’m lusting after Mickey Milkovich, if he’ll have me, but why can’t he pick up his phone and answer my fucking text message?
Another two days passed, and Ian had given up hope of Mickey texting him back. If there was any hope of this fundraiser ever coming to fruition, Ian figured that if he didn’t hear back from Mickey in the next few weeks or so, or worse, if shit really went south, he’d probably have to talk to Dale, the shop owner. As it was, Mandy was probably going to be pissed if she found out Ian essentially asked Mickey out on a date and gotten radio silence in response, but Dale was Ian’s last shot.
After changing Fiona and Ronan’s litterboxes, remarking pitifully to himself that it was a metaphor for his own crap in his life, Ian dragged himself into work, setting his bag down and hoping people weren’t going to be assholes today. He hoped he wouldn’t have to ask any more families to leave, like the brat the previous day who was pulling the cats by their tails until one of the behaviorists freaked out and asked them to get out.
Grumpily, Ian opened his binder and began to go over the records from the previous day. His phone buzzed, and Ian wondered who wanted his attention this time, figuring it was somebody from the shelter who had a problem and needed his help. He frowned, then a smile began to light up his face as he saw the text.
What’s up? Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, man. Shit got crazy here and I forgot. If you wanna meet and talk about this shit my sister wants, I’m down. Maybe do more than just talk about the fundraiser. You free next Saturday evening?
Over the moon at the chance of seeing Mickey again, but not wanting to scare him away, Ian waited until about half of his workday had gone by before answering. He tried his best to keep his mind on other things, like managing the adoptions staff who came to him with questions on how to process the paperwork. It was difficult, but he’d gone for that long without hovering over his phone like he’d really wanted to do.
On his late break, Ian sat in the breakroom with his chicken sandwich. He checked his phone again and scrolled to the coveted response from Mickey. He texted back:
Yeah, if you want to meet up again, I’m in. Wanna grab a drink at Northside? 9 work for you? Next Saturday is good for me since I have an early shift that day.
Hoping against hope he wasn’t going to have to wait two days for a response this time, Ian sat back in his chair, a mixture of satisfaction and worry painting his face. He guessed Mickey wasn’t the type to even bother texting back if he wasn’t interested. He picked up his work phone and paged Mandy to call his extension, knowing that it was slow and she probably wouldn’t care about being called. Ian couldn’t wait until their workday was over to say this.
The phone rang. “Mandy?” Ian said as soon as she picked up. “I...have something I have to tell you. It’s sort of about the fundraiser, but there’s more to it than that. Would you have time for a quick chat sometime later today in my office?”
“Yeah?” Mandy answered. “I’m free now. Hopefully my brother was decent and didn’t act like a jackass to you. I never heard much from you about how it went the other day with him, aside from you saying he seemed like he was at least somewhat down to have the thing at his shop.”
“Great! Stop on in and I’ll tell you more.”
As soon as Mandy arrived in his office, Ian shut the door. “I want to say what I’m going to tell you shouldn’t leave this room, but I know it probably will, since I know you don’t want to see me get hurt and I, stupidly, am probably just going to walk right into it. But...I think Mickey and I might be going on a date. We both kind of propositioned each other - I think I did it first, and he texted me back about having drinks together at Northside.”
“You WHAT?” Mandy said, struggling to keep her voice down. She sat down and looked very much like she wanted to throttle Ian for even bringing this subject up at work. “I… don’t think I was able to get around to telling you he’s gay, but I figured he’s not your type. I’ve known you for only a few years, but that’s just going off what you’ve told me in the past.”
“Yeah,” Ian said. “He usually isn’t, but I feel like I want to make an exception. Don’t know why.” He showed her the texts he and Mickey had exchanged earlier, including the cringey one he’d sent the first day they met at the shelter. He hoped Mandy would at least be supportive and not see him as a stupid, lovesick idiot who was going after something that was never going to work and would simply lead to disaster.
Mandy took a very long time to respond, but eventually exhaled slowly. “Jesus H. Christ,” she cursed. “You know what I think? I think you are either a fucking masochist or out of your mind. And I’m going to kill my brother if he fucking hurts you.”
“Yeah...I know,” Ian said. “I just know I think he’s really fucking hot. I never knew before now I was into guys with any sort of things like tattoos or piercings at all. I’m really fucking sorry to give you this visual, Mandy, but I’ve been thinking about him a lot for the last couple of days. I kind of hope it’s more, but even if we just hook up, it’ll be something.”
“As far as I know, hooking up is all he ever wants to do,” Mandy said. “He’s not big on feelings, so this may or may not be true - but he’s never had a real relationship. All he’s ever done is sleep around a ton. He may live on the North Side now, but he still goes back to his old playground he’s been visiting since we were kids. I honestly don’t think he’s ever going to settle down, at least not soon. He’s tough to crack, Ian, and I just really hope you aren’t going to be way in over your head with this one. My brother is an asshole.”
“I guess I’m just really attracted to those, you know? I guess I have a type. Just as long as I don’t end up in the same situation I had with Chad. As far as you know, he’s not going to be like that, right? There are varying degrees of ‘asshole,’” Ian said.
Mandy shook her head. “Absolutely not. He’s not the type who will pull any of THAT particular shit. He just jerks guys around who want a commitment, since he’s super, super scared to commit to anyone - but he’s loyal to anyone who’s really decent to him and will stay that way as long as you don’t fuck him over. It comes from our fucked-up home life, Ian. He’s got a lot of his own issues because he got shit on the worst out of all of our brothers, because he was the smallest and easy to smack around when we all lived at home.”
“Is Mickey even out? I’m sure he wasn’t when you guys were still at home,” Ian asked. “Terry would have fucking killed him for sure, and I don’t mean figuratively.”
“He is, and he isn’t,” Mandy said. “From what I gather, it’s an open secret at his work since he gets to see half-naked women all day and never showed interest - then again, tattoo artists aren’t supposed to be pigs in the first place. They’re supposed to be professional about seeing women in stages of undress. But I’m sure some do talk when the clients aren’t there...but as far as I know, none of our brothers know. I think I figured it out even before Mickey did himself, since it took him a really fucking long time to even come to terms with it.”
“I can understand,” Ian said. “I know I got really fucking lucky, if you can call it that, how Frank was at least understanding and okay with the fact I’m gay. Only good thing I can ever say about the piece of shit.”
Mandy got up from her seat and opened the door. “Ian...please. Just be really fucking careful. I know how vulnerable you are, and I’m going to be so pissed off if my brother does so much as raise a finger to hurt you. I know he isn’t going to be abusive like the last one was, but still...I gotta watch out for you emotionally, and him I guess, since we’re all we have.”
As soon as Mandy was gone, Ian looked down at his phone, which had buzzed while his best friend was talking about her dumbass older brother and complaining about him.
Cool. See you then, Gallagher.
Mickey kicked himself when he realized he hadn’t texted Ian back yet. He wasn’t sure why, since he’d done the same to more guys than he could count by now. Most of the time, he gave the desperation fucks he’d picked up in bars fake numbers, but even if he gave them his real one, he’d ignore them when they’d blow up his phone or got too clingy. Clinginess annoyed Mickey, like a mosquito buzzing around his ear that just needed to be swatted to make it shut up.
Still… it was weird how after just one meeting with Ian and seeing him for maybe one hour, he had a desire to not leave him hanging. Mickey had seen the text, but between his late work day, closing up the shop and then picking up what’s-his-face and screwing him before kicking him out, Mickey realized he’d forgotten to respond to the redhead, the one he’d fantasized about while fucking the other guy.
Mickey shook his head and grabbed his phone. Noticing it had been two days since he’d met up with Ian at the shelter and the ginger had texted him back, he decided it wouldn’t be a good look to keep this guy hanging if their collaboration with the cat shelter was going to go anywhere. Before replying, he read over his text a couple of times. It really wasn’t like him, considering it was mostly impulse and living in the moment that guided his actions.
What’s up? Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, man. Shit got crazy here and I forgot. If you wanna meet and talk about what my sister wants, I’m down. Maybe do more than just talk about the fundraiser, if you catch my drift. You free next Saturday evening?
Mickey looked at it again after he sent the message. It sounded relatively calm, cool and not like he was being overeager. Granted he wanted to get into Ian’s pants, but unlike how he’d behaved in the past, he wanted to be more cautious with this one. As little as he’d ever want to admit it to himself or especially Mandy, there was something about Ian that was really attractive beyond even his physical features. It was the innocence, the do-gooder exterior Mickey usually didn’t go for, but in this case, it did it for him in a big way.
As he prepared to open up the shop and cleaned up his chair and work area, Mickey’s phone vibrated. He looked down and saw the text was from Mandy.
We need to fucking talk when you get off work. I’ll meet you at your apartment at 9. Don’t even try to worm your way out of this one, asshole.
Mickey swore. Fine, he texted his sister back. I got a pretty good idea of what this is about and I know I’m probably gonna fucking regret it, but come on over to my place after I get out.
From there, he mostly phoned it in for his next client. After two hours, during which the guy made mostly small talk, he finished up, wiped down the guy’s arm with antiseptic, put ointment on it and wrapped it up. He wiped down his bench and chair, then went into the back of the shop to quickly eat a snack he’d brought from home before the next client came in.
His phone went off again. Mickey pulled it out of his pocket and saw, to his relief, he had another text from Ian about meeting up. He wanted to grab a drink, he said.
Smiling to himself, Mickey texted back, Cool. See you then, Gallagher.
To his dismay, Mandy’s car was already parked in the driveway when he got home. Motherfucker, Mickey thought to himself. She really must be pissed off at me. He killed the engine and got out, hoping his roommate, Jeremy, wasn’t home and was staying at his girlfriend’s place.
“Hey, fuckface,” Mandy whispered as they walked toward Mickey’s apartment complex. “You fucking better have a good explanation for what’s been going on, and why my goddamn roommate has been blowing up my phone about somebody or other. Oh, yeah - that somebody is you, you prick. I hope I don’t have to kill you, because I’m really not in the fucking mood to hide a body.”
They managed to keep it quiet until they got inside the apartment. As soon as the door closed, Mandy took a magazine from Mickey’s coffee table and hit her brother in the back of the head. “That’s for Ian!”
“Ow! You bitch!” Mickey said, trying his best to keep his voice down so as not to get a noise complaint. “The fuck was that for? I texted Ian back. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. We’re going to do the fundraiser, so I don’t know what your big issue is. Calm the fuck down.
“You guys are going out for drinks?” Mandy interrogated him.
“Yeah. I figure it’ll be a good way to talk about our shit, maybe catch up on what has been going on in our old stomping ground on the South Side. Nothing too big.”
“Mickey…” Mandy started. “I know how you get with guys, and I’m sure you know by now Ian is gay. Just don’t fucking pull your usual shit with him, or I am going to rip your balls out. Ian is my best friend, and I don’t need you to hurt him or use him like one of your little fuck toys. He’s a good guy, and he’s really been hurt in the past.”
“What the fuck?” Mickey said. “I don’t use anybody. I just don’t want a goddamn relationship, and I make it very clear to those guys all I want to do is hook up with them. I get them in and out without going through any of the annoying bullshit going along with attachments. I just haven’t met anybody I even wanted to see again yet, and I ain’t into wining and dining.”
Mandy put down the magazine and sat down on the living room couch. “I know what you usually do, Mickey. I’m just saying Ian isn’t like that. He’s not really the clingy type and I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to work on this fundraiser if there was any chance he could end up bothering you. But if you do want to do anything more than just talk about Tenth Lifeline with him, just please be really careful. I’m not sure how much he’d want you to know, but he got out of a really bad relationship. It just fucked him up beyond belief.”
“Oh?” Mickey said. “That really fucking sucks.”
“You think?” Mandy scoffed. “He’s been going through a lot. He had some health issues going on, too, and all this guy did was just make them worse and act like nothing was wrong, like Ian didn’t need help for them. It really messed him up, which is a big reason why I was really pissed off when I found out you’d come on to him at the animal shelter and now you’re going on what seems to be a date.”
“Fine,” Mickey said. “I’m not gonna fucking promise anything, but if he’s the type who just can’t fucking handle the truth, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, either. If what you say is true and he is really is still hurting bad, I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. But if he does want to just hook up and he’s okay with it, I sure ain’t gonna tell him no.”
“Just don’t hurt him, Mickey. That’s all I ask.”
Once Saturday rolled around, Mickey had to admit he was looking forward to seeing the ginger again. He decided to leave work an hour early after talking it over with Dale, who had ribbed him over the fact he had a hot date. For once, this time Mickey kind of hoped Ian wasn’t going to be another stupid dumbass whose mouth he wanted to sew shut.
He drove back to his apartment and changed out of the T-shirt and jeans he wore at work, and put on a different outfit remarkably similar to what he’d just taken off. Mickey threw on his leather jacket, checked his phone and left the apartment, entering the address into his GPS to make sure he got there on time. If nothing else, he could at least be punctual, particularly since he really didn’t have to feign interest with this one.
Once he arrived at Northside, he saw Ian had gotten them a booth, and he slid into it on the opposite side. “What’s up?” Mickey said, trying to sound casual.
“Eh, not much,” Ian responded. “Just the usual fuckery at work. I talked to Gina - she’s my boss - again about our plans with Inked-U-Up, and she thinks it’s an awesome idea. She thinks it’s something different, and is likely to expose the shelter to...kind of a different clientele than we usually get, but in a good way. We like the extra exposure.”
“Yeah? So do we, and it’s funny you mention it,” Mickey said. He mentally berated himself for the sarcasm, but he couldn’t help it. That’s how he talked to everyone.
Thankfully, Ian snorted in response and let out a small chuckle. “Yeah, I suppose you could say that. This fundraiser will be as much for your benefit as it will be for us. Mandy was talking to me about how it’d be a good idea to do something else to supplement the radiothon, even though it’s usually a big money spinner for us. We wanted to reach out to many other members of the community, and Mandy read online how other places have done it.”
“It makes sense,” Mickey said in response. “I mean, like I told you, we usually aren’t big on the idea of flash sheets, but I guess we can make an exception here. I could draw up a few sheets of cats, of pawprints and shit. Dale has already said he’d be willing to do the same. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t scare off people who’ve never gotten tattoos before. Speaking of which: you ever thought about getting ink? It’d look good on your pale skin.”
To his surprise, Ian blushed, which made Mickey think he was even more goddamned attractive than he already was. God fucking dammit . “Uhh...I guess I’ve thought a little about it? I ended up getting a semicolon tattoo for suicide prevention awareness. It’s been a issue really close to my heart, especially since my mom tried to commit suicide.”
Not having seen his own mom since she died when he was eight, the thought of Ian having to go through that bothered Mickey. “Jesus, I’m sorry to hear it, dude. Really sucks, and I gotta tell you I lost my mom, too. Car accident,” he said. “I was eight. Really fucking wish it had been my shitty-ass dad instead of her.”
“I’m sorry, too. Guess it’s just part and parcel of our shitty life, considering where we both grew up,” Ian said. “Did you go to South Side High as well?”
Just then, their server came and took their drink orders, with Ian ordering his usual iced tea, while Mickey ordered a porter after showing the server his ID.
“You don’t drink?” Mickey asked.
“Not really. It’s...because of the medications I’m taking. I’m not really supposed to drink while I’m on them, but I’m stuck doing that, so it is what it is,” the redhead answered.
Once the drinks arrived, Ian sat back in the booth and took a sip of his tea. Mickey, in turn, picked up his glass and took a gulp of beer. He swallowed before continuing to talk.
“So, you were saying...yeah, I went to South Side High as well,” Mickey said. “I was born in 1994, but graduated class of 2014, so I was almost 20 when I graduated. I got held back a year since I was a really shitty student. Fucking terrible, actually. I ended up graduating with one C and all the rest were Ds, so I think they just ended up letting me sneak by and just get my fucking diploma because teachers didn’t want to see my face anymore - or were afraid my dad was gonna storm in and pull a gun on them.”
“I was 2013,” Ian said in response. “I guess I had the opposite happen. When I was younger, I ended up skipping a grade because my teachers thought I had the potential to be able to do more. I went to college on a scholarship before I dropped out. I’m 23 now.”
“You were good enough to skip a grade, but then you still ended up dropping out anyway?” Mickey asked him. He took another drink. “What happened? You gotta be pretty fucking smart to have been younger than me but still managed to graduate a year before I did.”
“Relationship problems. I met the boyfriend from hell when I was in my freshman year, and it took that long just to get him out of my head. He ended up isolating me from my family, kept me from getting the medical help I needed, and was really just a bad dude. He hit me, too. I don’t miss him. He was an asshole.”
Goddamn, I want to punch this fucker in the face for hurting this guy. Ian’s not half bad. He didn’t deserve to get knocked around and scarred, physically or emotionally. Now I kind of see why Mandy was so afraid of him getting hurt.
“I’ll give him a good hard punch in the face if I ever see him around. Not like I know what he looks like or anything, but I’ll still find him,” Mickey said with a smirk.
Ian laughed in response, and Mickey thought to himself it took a really fucking big person to be able to laugh about something like an abusive relationship. Hell, he never even wanted to so much as talk about Terry with anyone who wasn’t Mandy, and even his brothers - wherever they were, probably in jail, still - never talked about what they’d gone through.
“Your ex and my dad ought to go bowling sometime,” Mickey said with a small chuckle. “My dad is Terry Milkovich. Don’t know or care where he is. Probably back in jail.”
“Yeah, I knew who he was, or is,” Ian answered. “I got out and live on the North Side now, and every now and then I go back and visit my family. We still don’t know what happened to my mom, and most of my siblings still live in the house where we grew up. My brother Lip had his shit together enough to stay in college. He works for a software development company now and has an apartment with his girlfriend. Lucky him.”
“My brothers are all in jail, and you’ve met Mandy,” Mickey said, chuckling as he tilted his head back to drink more of the beer in his glass.
“She’s told me a little about her home life, but she doesn’t want to talk about it most of the time and I respect it,” Ian said. “I guess I didn’t really ask, because I know not everyone is really open about the worst things that happen to them.”
“Guess so,” Mickey said. “I don’t really want to talk about Dad, because he did nothing. All he did was teach us how not to be a parent. Not that I’m exactly in the market to have kids, since all I’d end up doing is fucking them up more.”
“Same,” Ian said. “I’m not even thinking about such things because I don’t want a relationship. Too much of a headache and it’s not fucking worth it.”
Am I imagining things, or did Ian look really fucking sad just now? Mickey thought. Maybe I’m not great at reading people, because Ian seems cool, not clingy at all. I guess I could stand to be around him for this fundraiser, and maybe even more? Wait a second, I really don’t like where this train of thought is taking me. I wanna get off.
“Yeah, same,” Mickey said. “I don’t know. I guess I just don’t want to be a disappointment and don’t like attachments because people in general suck. Been burned too much by them.”
“Yeah, people suck,” Ian said, his voice trailing off. “They really fucking do.”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. He finished his drink and used his hand to cover his mouth as he let out a burp from the carbonation. “It’s just...I guess we are gonna have to work together if we want this event to work, so let’s arrange another time to meet to talk about it more. Maybe we can do something like this next Saturday? We can go out for coffee if you don’t drink.”
Ian seemed to perk up, and for once, Mickey didn’t recoil or seem to be bothered. “Yeah,” the redhead said. “We can meet up, if it’s okay with you and all. We’ve got plenty more to talk about in terms of the planning, and maybe other stuff.”
Why the fuck am I okay with this, and why the fuck did I just say that? I shouldn’t even be thinking about more than just a fuck, but I am, Mickey thought, dumbfounded. He was genuinely shocked by this turn. I’m fucking okay with it.
The following day, Ian relayed all the details from their meetup to his roommate, knowing she was probably champing at the bit for details while also deciding if she had to kill her brother.
“He told me he wants to meet me for ‘planning, and maybe other stuff,’” Ian said, repeating Mickey’s words to Mandy. “His words, not mine. He wants to see me again, and he wasn’t even pushy. He seemed decent.”
Mandy shook her head. “Did he seem like he was just trying to get in your pants, or how did that end up going? Was he a jackass?”
“Actually, no,” Ian said. “He wasn’t a jackass to me at all. We shot the shit about how funny it was we both grew up on the South Side, but our paths never crossed. We went to Northside for some drinks - sat in one of the booths, even, not at the bar, so we could actually have a conversation away from people. I mean, not that I’d mind getting laid - sorry, Mandy - but I didn’t get creepy vibes at all. He even talked about your dad.”
Mandy looked like she was about ready to fall out of her chair.
“He talked about our dad? What the fuck? Mickey never acts that way around strangers. He barely even talks about our shit with ME, let alone someone he just met. Are you really sure you actually met my brother?” She snorted. “I would say I wonder if I can get him back, but I think I would rather have this version than the one who went missing. This one’s better.”
“Right?” Ian said. “I mean, part of me thinks we shouldn’t be having this conversation and we ought to keep it professional - since we are going to be working with one another - but I know more wouldn’t be off the table.”
“He doesn’t do relationships,” Mandy responded. “I’ve told you. But then again, he’s never, as far as I can tell, opened up to someone the way you’ve just told me. He’s so fucking closed off, I’m afraid he’s just going to snap if he doesn’t let the tension loose. He’s walked around with a chip on his shoulder for as long as I can remember, to the extent it was never healthy - so he just fucked everyone he could.”
“Yeah. He talked about your mom, too. I’m really sorry for your loss, even though he said you guys were really young when she died. Mickey said he was eight.”
“The hell?” Mandy said in disbelief. “I… can’t believe it. What else did you guys talk about? Next thing you know, you’ll be swapping fucking recipes or some shit.”
Ian bit back a laugh. “I mean, if he does have any recipes he’d like to share, I kind of hope one of them will wind up putting us in the sack together after we’re done eating it. I’m not gonna lie, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing something with him. Like...sex wise.”
“I don’t want to hear about you wanting to have sex with my brother. Just...no.”
“Hey, you were the one who asked me what we ended up talking about,” Ian snickered. “Don’t want to know? Don’t ask me shit if you don’t want me to be honest.”
In the following weeks, Ian and Mickey met up several more times. During their most recent date--which Ian supposed he could call it, at least, to himself--, they were back at Northside, this time at the barstools. Ian chanced having one drink, knowing how alcohol made him drowsy when combined with his meds, so he opted not to drive. Mickey was also about three beers deep. Thankfully, they planned ahead to take an Uber from Ian’s job, then two stops to drop each of them off at their homes.
“What were you going through as a kid when you opted to have “FUCK-U UP” on your hands?” Ian asked. Mickey gave Ian a glare that made him immediately regret his question, but his tone was calm when he answered.
“I got involved with my brothers’ shit when I was in high school,” Mickey said. “Got in fights, ran drugs. Anything to get out of the house, away from Dad. But I guess you could say it was my art which kept me from going further down the path of fuckery than I already was. I don’t regret getting these,” he said, looking down at his hands. “They remind me of where I came from.”
“Yeah,” Ian said. “So what made you want to go be a tattoo artist instead of going to art school?”
“Like I could really afford it?” Mickey said in response. “I worked my ass off to get where I am, and Dale gave me a shot when I wasn’t sure anybody else would - nobody had seen anything else besides a South Side piece of trash who was fucked for life. I don’t know. I guess I always saw tattooing as kind of an underappreciated art, and if you look at a lot of artists’ portfolios, you can see they really don’t get the respect they fucking deserve. But that’s changing.”
The brunet shifted in his chair and took a sip of his rum and Coke, then clicked the barbell in his tongue against his teeth. Ian let out a sharp breath. “So, tell me, Mr. Savior of the North and South Side felines...what’s your scoop? How did you get into all this do-gooder stuff from the same neighborhood I fucking came from?”
“It was a way for me to cope with some bad shit going on in my life,” Ian answered. “I told you about my ex, and how he tried to keep me from seeing my family. I told you about how he tried to deny me medical care I needed as well, too?”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “That’s shitty as fuck. I mean...like he tried to control your insulin supply or something if you have diabetes? I noticed you said you don’t drink, so I figured maybe that was why… not sure if I guessed wrong or even if it’s my fucking business about your issues.”
“No,” Ian said. I don’t need to tell him everything. Not yet. Not if I want to have any chance, any shot in hell of making this go anywhere. He doesn’t need to know. “I don’t like talking about it, but it’s not diabetes, and it’s not an STD.”
“But anyway…” he continued, “I haven’t had a serious relationship since I broke up with the tool, and I tried my damnedest to avoid any sort of connection because I didn’t want to risk falling down the rabbit hole. I’m sorry I sound dumb, but it is what it is.”
“Doesn’t sound dumb at all. I mean… we both came from shitty-ass backgrounds, and you aren’t like the stupid North Siders I run into and want fuck all to do with. I’ve always told myself I don’t want to be with anybody and usually just fuck and run, but… here we are talking about our past and I don’t feel weird, so maybe shit has a way of working out. Not that I-” Mickey trailed off. “I don’t know where you stand on this, but here am I going on about this like a fucking tool.”
Ian paused, trying to digest this. Mickey had all but admitted, in his own way, there actually was some sort of a connection between them. “If you want… I’d kind of like to check out more of your art, if it’s okay with you,” he began.
“So…” Mickey started to say. “I wasn’t sure where you stood, but since we’ve opened this door, might as well walk through it. Fuck it. Wanna stop by and have a look at my portfolio after this?”
“And go from there?” Ian said, sticking his neck out and hoping the blade wouldn’t fall.
“Is it what you want? Want to stop by? I think it might be a fucking ruse…”
“I mean...what do you want to do?” Ian asked. “I guess if we’re gonna be working together, I don’t want things to be awkward.” He glanced around to see if anyone else in the bar had heard them, but nobody seemed to care. “But… at least we’re on the same page as far as that goes, because I kind of am thinking I’d really like it.”
“Oh?” Mickey said. He arched his eyebrow, and Ian thought again to himself how the piercing in the right one suited him well. Fuck. I never thought I’d find it to be a kink, but clearly I’m finding out new things about myself. He’s fucking driving me crazy.
“When do you want this to happen?” Ian asked.
“I have off today. I sometimes book appointments on Sundays, but I decided to take the day off a while back and opted not to have any clients today. Funny how it worked out.”
“The shelter isn’t open at all on Sundays,” Ian said. “Guess that means we’re free now. I’m fine as long as we’re both on the same page as to what each of us wants from this.”
“Let’s see where things end up,” Mickey decided. “Maybe we can go from there if we both are okay with everything that ends up happening. But yeah, I’m cool with you coming over.”
Ian walked inside Mickey’s apartment to see a small but well-kept living space, with a short hallway and what looked like two bedrooms, since both of the doors were open. The living room was small and cozy, lined with sketches and other pieces of art on the wall.
“These look really good,” Ian said, looking at one large, vivid drawing of a skull, roses and “1991-2016”. Underneath was the name “Mark” in a banner. Ian wondered what the story was behind it. Was he a sibling? An ex? Mandy said Mickey didn’t do relationships.
“Make yourself at home and all that shit,” Mickey said, taking off his jacket and throwing it onto one of the couches. “Want anything to drink? I’ve got a couple of kinds of pop in the fridge. Want some?”
“Sure,” Ian decided. “If you have anything with caffeine, I’ll take it.”
Mickey disappeared into the fridge and came back with a can of pop, which Ian took gratefully and then opened. He took a sip before setting it down on one of the coasters on the coffee table. The brunet sat down next to Ian with his bottle of beer and took a large swig of it before picking up the remote.
“If you want, I can put on Netflix,” Mickey piped up. “Jeremy - my roommate - isn’t home since he’s over at his girlfriend’s place, but just for some background noise or if you wanna watch.”
“Sure,” Ian said. “Put on something funny .”
Wordlessly, Mickey turned the TV on, opened Netflix and hovered on a episode of South Park in the queue. “This good?” he asked.
“It’s cool,” Ian said. “I used to watch it a lot, but I haven’t seen the newer episodes.”
They watched the program in silence for a while. To Ian’s surprise, Mickey reached over and put his arm around his shoulder. “This all right?” he asked.
Ian gulped before answering. “Yeah, I’m good with this,” he said. “More than good.” He wondered if the other man treated all of his hookups like this, or if he just fucked them and kicked them out afterward. He thought about what Mandy had said, unwilling to fully remove the mental image from his head and mostly hoping he’d be able to just be a decent notch on Mickey’s bedpost.
“Oh, it’s more than good? Don’t normally do this, but you seem pretty cool, and I’m fine with it so long as you are. What the hell, right?” He leaned over and kissed Ian.
Ian moaned into the kiss, surprised by how Mickey was so forward and actually willing to kiss him the first time they hooked up. Somewhere in his mind, he wondered if it really was unusual for the other man to do this, but the bigger part really just didn’t give a fuck. He wanted more.
Mickey opened his mouth, allowing Ian to deepen the kiss, and Ian let his tongue slide into the older man’s mouth, feeling the metal from Mickey’s piercing and stroking it with the side and tip of his own tongue. It felt strange, but nice, and Ian realized it was a major turn on, one he didn’t previously know he had.
“Bedroom?” Ian suggested. Wordlessly, Mickey got up and led them both down the hall.
As they grabbed at each other’s clothing, and the tangled mass of bodies flopped down onto the bed, Ian pulled off Mickey’s shirt to expose a pale chest, arms covered with tattoos too numerous to pick one out from another and, further down, pistols on either side of his torso near his hip bones. Everything just oozed sex appeal, and the contrast between ink and alabaster skin was just tantalizing and drove Ian nuts.
“Fuck,” Ian said, not caring if it sounded lame. He wasn’t sure whether to look at Mickey’s body or his tattoos, but the ink did it for him in a big way. Never again would Ian go for rich North Side fucks like the one he didn’t want to think about now. Chad couldn’t hold a candle to the hot piece of ass in front of him now.
“Like what you see?” Mickey taunted. “Bet you’ll like what else I have to show you even more. Got plenty where that came from.”
“Oh?” Ian said. “I got something nice and hard for you as well...if you wanna come get it. I’m not the only one of us who’s worked up. Knew you wanted me the first time we met in my office. I could tell how much you wanted this.”
“Mmm,” the tattoo artist said. He reached down to unzip Ian’s pants, pulling them past the redhead’s knees so the large bulge in his boxers was fully visible. He ran his hand over the wet spot forming in the fabric. “Holy fuck...you’re huge. Shit, I want this in me so fucking bad.”
Fucking jackpot! He is a bottom after all. With that, Ian pulled down his boxers and let them fall to the floor, cock bobbing with the motion.
“Holy fuck,” Mickey repeated, gawking at Ian’s dick, which was swollen, flushed pink at the head and cut, nine inches fully erect against the younger man’s stomach, a hell of a sight to see. The shit Ian had been through and all of the blows to his self-esteem he’d suffered over the years all seemed to fall away and render themselves irrelevant at times like these.
“You like?” Ian asked. Smirking, he took pride in his natural gift and the fact he was decidedly larger than average. Guys usually had such a reaction when they saw it.
Ian was filled with raw, animalistic desire for Mickey’s body and wanted to see what else he was hiding under those dastardly baggy jeans. “Get these fucking pants off now,” he said in a low, dangerous tone, practically a growl.
“Make me take them off,” Mickey challenged. With no words, Ian grabbed Mickey by the waist, unzipped his jeans and yanked them off his hips as quickly as he could. “Damn, Gallagher!” the black-haired man exclaimed.
As he rubbed his hand over Mickey’s dick, through the thin cotton of his boxers, Ian paused for a second. He felt something inside them, near the head of his dick, that didn’t feel like normal flesh, and given the number of piercings Mickey had, it didn’t take a long time to put two and two together. Holy shit. He has his dick pierced.
Ian didn’t know what came over him, but knowing this only made him want Mickey more. Ian moaned, his cock twitching more and continuing to leak pre-cum onto his stomach, and presumably also Mickey’s sheets. As he pulled down the other man’s boxers, he exposed Mickey’s hard cock and stared wordlessly at it, noticing how one end of the piercing jewelry entered through his slit, the other exiting under the head, slightly off center.
Figuring Mickey probably had already gotten enough comments on it to last a lifetime, Ian maneuvered himself on the bed so he was settling between the smaller man’s thighs and took Mickey’s cock, the ring, weeping slit and all, into his mouth as the brunette let out a choked gasp from the intense pleasure.
Ian pulled back enough to tease the piercing with his tongue, flicking the tip against the spot where the metal exited, causing Mickey to gasp and tighten his fingers in Ian’s hair. “Fuck…” he choked out. “Keep doing that. So fucking good.”
The redhead did that and more, swallowing and opening his throat until his nose was buried in the nest of black hair at the base of Mickey’s cock. He began bobbing his head harder and allowing the brunette to fuck his face, wanting to give him an amazing blowjob he wouldn’t forget, one so stellar as to could erase any memories of his last hookup in this very apartment, whoever the asshole was.
Ian continued to work Mickey’s head and shaft with his talented mouth, the moans and groans he coaxed out of the brunette their own reward. But since he didn’t want the fun to end here, he pulled off. “Wanna fuck you, if it’s okay with you,” Ian said, voice thick with lust.
Nodding, Mickey got up and handed Ian a condom from his nightstand, as well as a tube of lube. “I...just make sure you prep me good beforehand,” he said. “I don’t do this for anybody, and it’s been a while. I’d rather bottom more often than top since it feels so fucking good to take a good dick, but I don’t trust anyone to do it.”
“So...you want me to be gentle?” Ian teased.
Mickey snorted. “Fuck, no. I want me to give it to me good and hard. Just take this and start prepping me, because I’m gonna bite your dick off if you don’t get on me now.”
“Bossy bottom. Don’t think threatening to bite dicks off is gonna work, though,” Ian demurred. “May put a little bit of a cramp on both of our styles.” Ian popped the cap off the lube and coated two of his fingers in the slippery substance. He fought back the urge to moan as Mickey got on all fours on the bed, his perfect ass presented to Ian like he was in jail and this was his last meal.
“Fuck, you’ve got an nice ass,” Ian said, climbing onto the bed and running his fingers along Mickey’s cheeks. “It’ll look nicer with my dick inside it, fucking you hard and stretching this little pink hole.” He took one of his fingers and breached the opening with it, feeling Mickey tense up before relaxing his muscles for the intrusion. Once Ian felt them loosen up, he put the second, middle finger in. “Fuck…” Mickey gasped out.
“Like that?” Ian said. “Like feeling my fingers inside you, stretching you like this?”
“Fuck you. Stop fucking teasing me,” Mickey groaned. “Give me another fucking finger because I don’t wanna listen to you yammer.”
“Bossy, bossy…” Ian trailed off. He squirted some more lube on his fingers before inserting his ring finger into Mickey, turned on even more by the quickening breath and moans of pleasure Ian coaxed out with each movement. He bent his fingers inside of Mickey, searching for the spot to cause him to cry out in pure pleasure. Ian knew right away when he found it.
“Fucking hell!” Mickey cried out. He let out another noise sounding suspiciously like a whine, a sound Ian figured the brunette would never utter or even admit to making otherwise.
As Ian continued to stretch his hole and spread his three fingers apart, Mickey began to wiggle on the bed, his impatience suggesting to Ian, along with the ease with which his fingers were able to move inside of him, the smaller man was ready for Ian’s dick, and Ian was more than ready to give it to him - he knew that for a fact.
Without another word, Ian removed his fingers and grabbed the condom from where he’d left it after Mickey took it out from the nightstand. He tore open the foil packet, rolled the condom onto his hard dick and lined up behind Mickey, his arched back, the perfect bubble butt and the backs of his thighs so enticing to Ian, he could hardly stand any more of this.
As Ian entered Mickey, the smaller man leaned forward into the mattress so his face was buried. “Fuuuuck,” Ian heard him moan into the pillow as he bottomed out, and Ian looked down to see his cock fully inside Mickey’s body, his partner having taken the full nine inches.
“Fucking hell. You’re so tight...feels so good,” Ian managed to utter before grabbing Mickey’s hips and beginning to pound into him, slowly at first to make sure he was fully adjusted, then pounded into him harder, any thoughts of hurting him falling by the wayside as Mickey rocked his hips back, still moaning in pleasure and his ass jiggling from the force of Ian’s rough thrusts.
Ian pulled out nearly all the way, then angled his hips in such a way he knew the tip of his cock would be flush against Mickey’s sweet spot. The loud moan resulting from this was nearly enough to make him blow right away, but Ian regained his composure to keep anything embarrassing from transpiring. Mickey continued to whimper in ecstasy from the raw prostate stimulation, clearly loving the feeling of getting fucked.
“Fuck! I’m gonna…” Mickey started to say. “Holy fucking shit! I’m coming!”
To Ian’s astonishment, Mickey came untouched, the feeling intensifying for Ian as the muscles clenched even more tightly around his cock as Mickey’s body shuddered through his release. It wasn’t long before the redhead’s fingers tightened their grip and he thrust a few more times before finishing inside of the brunette.
Panting in exhaustion from the mind-blowing sex he’d just had, Ian pulled out, took off the condom and tied it before tossing it in the direction of the trash can in Mickey’s bedroom. Realizing how late it had gotten, Ian faced an uncertain dilemma. Should he ask if he could spend the night? He normally took his meds in the morning, anyway, so he’d be home in time for his normal routine. However, he still had misgivings. This could end poorly. A nagging feeling of guilt and regret, should Mickey decide Ian wasn’t worth his time, took over his thoughts.
“Damn, Gallagher,” Mickey said. “You really are a kick-ass fuck. Best I’ve had in a long time, and I almost never am able to do that - coming without anyone even touching the dick.”
Ian raised his eyebrows. He doubted Mickey doled out such compliments lightly, going off of what Mandy had told him, but none of this fixed the situation still looming over them like the proverbial elephant. Hoping this wouldn’t end badly, he went for it.
“You gonna let me spend the night?” Ian said.
A long, pregnant pause filled the air, and Ian’s heart felt like it was going to pound out of his chest. He didn’t know how he was going to react if Mickey just decided to throw him out.
To Ian’s shock, Mickey said, “Yeah, you can spend the night. Bed’s big enough for two.”
Mickey woke up the next morning, still drowsy. He vaguely remembered getting back to his apartment from the bar, and was confused, given he hadn’t had that much to drink. He remembered talking at the bar about having Ian come to look at his portfolio, taking the Uber, coming home with Ian, inviting him in, and then… Oh, shit! He’s still here. I didn’t kick him the fuck out. Maybe I had more than I thought, because this ain’t right.
Quickly, his mind went into overdrive. He really couldn’t have gone that far overboard? He’d had a few more after coming back here from the bar. He wasn’t too drunk to where he was unable to consent, and a few seconds later, the memories of last night came flooding back.
The amazing sex. God, he was so fucking good. I wouldn’t mind having that again, he thought. But...what the fuck do I do with him once he wakes up? I don’t know because I haven’t been in this situation before. I haven’t been in a position where I genuinely wanted to see a fuck again. What do I do to get out of it?
He thought, foolishly, maybe he could leave and Ian would be gone once he came back, but he kicked himself since leaving a stranger to run about in his apartment, with art supplies and finished work - not to mention a pissed-off roommate - would be bad. And that wasn’t what Mickey wanted him to do. He wanted Ian to stay longer and spend more time here, because aside from the fact that the sex was good, he felt something he couldn’t quite identify. He wasn’t one to feel connections, or even otherwise show much in the way of emotions aside from anger. It unsettled him. This wasn’t his normal way, and Mickey fidgeted slightly in the bed. Was it because Ian was from the South Side, like he was? He was a Gallagher, after all, and they had connected on the basis of that commonality alone. But there was still more.
As if on cue, Ian began to stir in the bed next to him. Mickey braced for the awkward, inevitable encounter, but instead, he felt little hostility, little feeling of wanting to mentally scrub himself raw in order to get rid of any traces of the night before. Still, they both had to work, and this wasn’t going to do if they wanted to maintain some semblance of what could be called normalcy. What the fuck?
“Rise and shine,” Mickey said. “You gotta go to the shelter, and I have work in a couple of hours. Slept later than we thought. Sorry, dude.”
Ian groaned, and Mickey wondered what was going on in the redhead’s brain. Why should I care? This was only supposed to be a hookup. It wasn’t going to mean anything...was it?
“Mmmph,” Ian said. “We... really fucking did this? We were supposed to go over your portfolio last night, and then we ended up...here instead. Holy fuck.”
“Yeah. That happened,” Mickey replied, realizing how stupid he sounded.
Ian stared blankly at Mickey, and the brunet began to mentally beat himself up for not having had the good sense, the self-restraint to not allow this to happen. The question is...where the fuck do we go from here? We still have to get this fundraiser off the ground, and I really hope neither of us will find it hideously awkward.
“ You mentioned you have work, and I also have to go home and shower, so I should leave now,” Ian said, his face hard to read. “We still have to go over stuff since we...didn’t last night, so I guess we’ll just have to do it another time.”
The silence between them was deafening. Everything inside Mickey wanted to tell Ian to stop, call off work or do anything to keep him from heading off to his job, and it scared the shit out of him. He couldn’t be having this ridiculous, stupid attachment to this guy he’d only fucked once, like a teenage girl. Nothing about this was okay, or even in the same zip code as okay. He wanted to just say fuck his job, fuck the clients who were supposed to be coming in at noon and 2, and stay here as long as he could. Why the hell did this even matter so much?
“Want me to call my sister to come pick me up? I have to stop home so I can take my meds, and then I don’t have any way to get to work since we took an Uber to Northside,” Ian said. “I don’t wanna impose on you.”
“Fuck it,” Mickey conceded. “I’ll give you a ride home and then drop you off at Tenth Lifeline.”
Awkwardly, Mickey grabbed his keys, and Ian followed the tattoo artist out the door. As they got in the car and drove toward Ian and Mandy’s apartment, neither one of them spoke, as counterproductive as it was. Mickey had zero idea what Ian was thinking, and since he wasn’t even sure what else they could do, he decided it was best to just leave well enough alone - and hopefully Ian felt the same way.
After Ian got out of the car and headed inside the apartment, Mickey drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, somewhat grateful for the brief solitude, but still beating himself up over words that wouldn’t come. Fuck, I’ve always been terrible at this emotional horseshit, he thought to himself. Five minutes later, he reappeared, and Mickey took them to Tenth Lifeline. Once they were there, Ian gave Mickey a curt nod, a brief “thank you,” and walked away.
Mickey cursed as he watched Ian leave. There were so many things that needed to be said. Since from the time Mickey had first set foot in the godforsaken office at the cat shelter, he couldn’t deny that maybe, beyond any tiny semblance of common sense and his own history, he could actually see things going somewhere with the redhead. He was hot, they came from similar backgrounds, and Mickey could somehow stand to listen to Ian talk without wanting to stick pokers into his ears since it’d be less painful than hearing his voice and the things he said.
His voice, Mickey thought, agonizing over the memory. That voice told me how good I felt, the way he moaned when he finished. Why the fuck do I care so much about this fucking idiot? I want Ian Gallagher again, and I’m terrified because I’ve never felt like this about anyone else. What can I do to get myself through this shit?
The annoying, nagging feeling he’d fucked things up persisted throughout the entire day, and Mickey was distracted, trying to bury himself in his work as he worked wordlessly to tattoo a griffin on his 2 o’clock client’s bicep. Thankfully, most people weren’t big on having long conversations while being tattooed, but he had the occasional talker. Once the man had paid Mickey, given him a tip and left the shop, Mickey sighed and took a long swig of pop from the small can he’d had sitting near his instrument table.
It’s weird to even think about things like this, but that red hair, those freckles, and the way he looked at me when we first met, even though it was just a few weeks ago. Can’t say I’ve really felt like that about somebody before, and as stupid and gay as this sounds, I actually wanted to know more about him...what’s the saying, what makes him tick? He’s actually interesting, not like all the fuckboys I usually bring home. I actually want to, God forbid, take care of him. This is fucking weird, but I can’t help it. I want him.
“You all right?” Dale came by and sat down on the chair opposite Mickey’s work space. “You’ve been really fucking sullen and shit all day, and I know you usually don’t get like this over much else, so it must be something with your family. Mandy okay and all? Figured it was her.”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “She’s doing real good.” He debated if he could lie his way out of this, since Dale knew him way too well to be fooled by anything so paper-thin as a lie from his former apprentice. “I’m worried about shit with the fundraiser with the Tenth Lifeline cat shelter. I’m scared we’re gonna end up losing money on it and things will get really fucked up if we can’t handle the volume of people coming in.”
Jesus, that sounded even lamer coming out of my mouth than it did when it was still rotating around inside my head. Hopefully he’ll get I don’t want to talk about what’s wrong.
Aside from Mandy, Dale was the closest thing Mickey had to a friend, since he so seldom opened up to anyone else. He wasn’t close to his brothers, nor did he particularly like them.
Dale sighed. “You and I both know that’s bullshit and isn’t why you’re upset, but if you do want to talk about what’s bothering you, you know I’m willing to listen. I know you better than you think I do, Mick. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken you in and given you a shot, and you can’t lie to me because I’ll figure it out.”
“It’s nothing,” Mickey answered after a long pause. “It’s just...shit got weird with the fundraiser. Like, with the people who are organizing it. I’m really goddamn worried it’ll fuck things up and we won’t even be able to do it after all.”
“Weird, as in…” Dale trailed off, and Mickey figured his boss could guess what happened. “I don’t have another appointment until 6, so we have some time. Let’s go in the back.”
Once they settled down in the break room, Dale looked at Mickey with a concerned expression, although it was laced with annoyance. “So...I'm gonna go out and take a wild guess since you’re being so squirrely about it, and you never talk about your relationship shit. Something happened between you and the cat dude - the redheaded guy you are working with on it.”
“You know I’m gay?” Mickey asked. “I don’t think I ever told you, or even talked about at all at work. Is it really fucking obvious to you?”
“Mickey… I figured you were gay the first week I hired you full-time, when Shane was talking to his friend about how hot this chick was, and you smiled and nodded the way you do when you are trying to bullshit your way through a situation. On top of that, you never talked about women at all. Most people can’t tell, but I can,” Dale said. “So, tell me: what the fuck happened with him? If you got relationship drama, just spill.”
“That’s the thing, Dale,” Mickey said. “I don’t do relationships. I take guys home, pump and dump, and then they walk out the door and I never fucking see them again. But this guy...this Ian fucking Gallagher. Somehow, he’s different. He’s from the South Side, same as I am. We both have seen a lot of the same shit, and I get the feeling there’s even more to him.”
Dale nodded silently, willing Mickey to continue.
“This is going to sound really stupid and fucked up...but I actually want to be with him again. And now I sound like a stupid fucking whiny chick, which is why I don’t like to ever open up about this shit, but...he’s been hurt bad, and I don’t want to be another douche who fucks him over. I didn’t care about stupid bullshit like this with anybody else.”
“Well, if you guys fucked up our event so now we can’t have it, I’m gonna have to kill both of you. As we speak, I’m trying to figure out a place to stash your bodies,” Dale joked. “I’d lecture you about bringing personal shit into work, but I figure you’ve beat yourself up enough.”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “It’d be different if I’d dealt with something like this before, but I just...haven’t. I don’t know why it is this is driving me fucking crazy, but it is. I actually want to see this guy again, and Mandy is gonna fucking kill me over this because it’s her best friend.”
Dale paused for a moment, then whistled loudly. “Dude...that’s really rough. You got yourself into this one, and I don’t know how to fix it, because it’s really fucking shitty. But fix it.”
As if on cue, Mickey’s phone went off. He looked down and saw a new text message from Mandy. “Fucking hell!” He cursed.
What the hell did you do, you stupid assface?! I’m gonna fucking come over to your place after work, and we are gonna talk this out. And you can’t weasel your way outta it either, since I know right when you’re gonna be getting off.
“What?” Dale asked.
Mickey showed him the text message. The older man chuckled. “Dude...I’m just gonna fucking double down: I really can’t help you with this. Mandy’s gonna kill you, and there’s fuck all I can do to stop her. You’re on your own.”
“I really fucking hate you. Now I gotta deal with this shit from my sister, too.” He sighed. “I actually do feel real bad about what happened, so think I am gonna get a hold of him and deal. Ian deserves better. I don’t want him to end up in a bad way like Mark.”
“Hey,” Dale said. “You know that we did all we could for Mark. What happened wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t our doing. We loved him, we all supported him, but it was what it was.”
“No, what happened to him wasn’t our fault,” Mickey said. “But that don’t mean I can’t stop someone else from doing the same thing. There’s something about Ian, something says to me that he’s sad. And I don’t wanna hurt him more than he’s already been. I got this.”
Most of the time, Ian was okay with the prospect of not being able to drink alcohol because of his medications. However, now was not one of those times. For the third night in a row, he couldn’t sleep. He knew that he’d really fucked up, and now he was paying a dire price for his impulsiveness.
While under any other circumstances, this would lead him to suspect that he needed to return to his psychiatrist, there was at least a reasonable and rational explanation for this turn of events: he had fucked things up with Mickey. Any chance of being able to work with him in the span of a couple of months seemed to have gone out the window. Ian hated himself. I’m okay. My meds are in order...I’ll be okay. I think.
He hated the fact that he probably also created problems for the shelter. He’d have to soon explain to Gina why this promising fundraiser was not going to be able to happen after all.
The worst part about this? Ian knew he’d have to also explain it to Mandy, and as much as he needed someone to whom he could vent about his stance that he, sadly enough, may not be good for anything other than one-night stands. Chad was right about how he was just a crazy, psychotic freak who couldn’t find anyone better. The thought was indescribably painful.
For now, he was just phoning it in at work. He sat at his desk, robotically dealing with clients who complained about the shelter’s rules, and even did what he could to come out and interact with the adoptable cats when he had a chance and his shift got slow. But his mind was miles away. He didn’t want to be here, with cranky people and annoying, screaming kids. Mandy had already figured out what must have happened, because she knew Ian well enough that she didn’t even have to weasel any of the information out of him.
“Ian… I’m so sorry if my brother took advantage of you,” she said. “I told him not to, but from the look on your face and how squirrely you started acting on Monday, I know that something must have happened. I confronted Mickey about it, and he admitted to it. I socked him in the face and told him I’d kill him if he hurt you again.”
“Jesus, Mandy…” Ian began. “I mean, I appreciate you standing up for me and all, but things are shitty enough as they are. If there’s any chance at all that Mickey will want to keep working with us - working with me - I really wanted to just keep it as casual as possible. I didn’t want to come across as too clingy with him, and you going off half-cocked about the situation really isn’t what I wanted from you. You’re awesome and all… but please let me handle my own shit from now on.”
Mandy sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t tell him you told me anything. Part of me is kind of hoping you guys can work it out on your own, but I needed to let him know he couldn’t do shit like take advantage of you. I really care about you - in a platonic way, of course, but you’re one of the few people who’s been nice to me from the start. We knew nothing else growing up, so I don’t think Mickey knows much better, honestly.”
“Do you think I should talk to him again?” Ian asked.
“It’s not up to me,” Mandy answered. “Look… this whole conversation never happened. If you want to talk to him, I think you should. But don’t let me influence your choice, since it’s on you. I’ll support you no matter what you end up doing. I just really wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Thanks, Mandy,” Ian said.
For the rest of his workday, Ian tried his best to just stay busy. He helped his staff process adoptions, and considered the possibility of setting up a stand outside of the tattoo shop with some of Tenth Lifeline’s adoptable cats, should he end up working with Dale instead of Mickey. Keeping his mind occupied had always helped him when it took him to dark places.
As it was, his job couldn’t entirely keep some of the more unpleasant thoughts in his mind at bay. He realized his anxiety was blowing this relatively minor matter out of proportion. While he was aware of this, it was part of the daily struggle of managing his mental health, as far as he’d come since his worst times. He thought back to when he’d checked himself into the Cook County psych ward, and afterward when Chad tried to convince him he didn’t need help and that he was fine the way he was. His mother was no help, either, and just parroted the same lines whenever she even bothered to come around.
I can’t do this again, Ian reminded himself. But it’s okay to feel like this. I am wanted. I have a family who loves and cares for me, and made me feel like a human being with a purpose when nobody else was there. Before I met Mandy, and before I’d even accepted my diagnosis.
Shaking his head and trying to focus on the job at hand, Ian came out of his office to help a woman and her young daughter who were looking at one of the adult cats in colony room A that had an age restriction. He gently advised them to choose a different cat, and they ended up taking home one of the others instead. It was the little moments like this, when he could deal with clients who were genuinely nice, that made this job worth it. It was too bad the more difficult ones were, more often than not, the ones he remembered at the end of the day.
He was so engrossed in what he was doing that he didn’t notice right away when his phone buzzed. After he helped one of the newer staff members process an adoption, he checked it. He felt like some of the dark clouds inside his head that he’d been trying to will away had lifted.
Hey, it’s Mickey. I’m fucking sorry about the other night. Didn’t want to do anything you weren’t ok with and if you wanna meet up to talk more about the fundraiser, we can.
Surprised, Ian wondered if Mandy had anything to do with this. She’d told me she wasn’t going to tell Mickey I had said anything, so this must have been unprompted. Maybe he did feel badly about what happened, even if he really didn’t have anything to be sorry for. We both consented and neither one of us was drunk.
Ian texted back, Sure, I’m fine with meeting up. Come to my place tonight? You know where your sister lives, and she’s got plans - if not, I can just tell her to leave so we’re alone.
Yeah, sure thing, came the reply. It’s gonna have to be in a few days, though. Busy.
The knock on the door was expected, but Ian still felt a knot, a knife turning in his stomach when he heard it. This was it - the moment he’d been anticipating and even agonizing over for the last several days. If Ian didn’t know better, he’d think Mickey was deliberately trying to torture him by dragging this out for as long as humanly possible.
Mickey had no reason to do so, and Ian knew he was being paranoid. Whether he liked it or not, this was something they both had to deal with. As much as he knew his reaction was likely grossly out of proportion to the task at hand, it hurt Ian to not be able to see Mickey, touch him and maybe make more of it than they had done. He’d denied it for too long as it was. Ian craved a relationship, and he wanted one with Mickey.
Ian got up from the living room chair where he was watching TV and opened the door.
“Hey,” Mickey said, his blue eyes shining. Ian was overcome with not just lust, but an actual feeling he’d gone for so long without experiencing: real and tangible affection, a desire to form some sort of real bond with this man. Fuck all of Mandy’s warnings. Ian was holding out hope that today’s meeting would end in a real, lasting bond with none other than Mickey Milkovich.
Mickey shifted nervously, back and forth from one foot to the other. “I brought my portfolio with me. Figured you wanted to go over it today, since that was the original plan last time we hung out. Maybe we can get to that shit this time.”
“Right?” Ian replied. “Oh… and I have a few more ideas for the fundraiser, too. Come on in.”
Ian had a few beers in his fridge since Mandy was partial to a good porter, so he offered one to Mickey. From there, the two men sat down, and the tattoo artist opened his binder. Ian was immediately impressed by how much art Mickey had amassed in such a relatively short time, given his age. He presumed Mickey had probably been doing this since he turned 18, and had been drawing for even longer.
“These are all great. Wish I could draw half as well as this,” Ian said, flipping through the portfolio. When did you start drawing, and what kinds of things do you like the best? Figure it was a pretty good escape from South Side shit.”
Mickey cleared his throat before speaking. “Yeah, I was probably in middle school when I first started to take an interest in it. I’m not close to my brothers anymore, but one of them, Iggy, actually lifted art supplies for me when I was a kid. Too bad he got busted for selling blow and won’t get out until fucking who-knows-when.”
Ian smiled. “Sounds like the typical stuff we grew up with,” he said. “I’m not sure how much you want to talk about related to that, since there’s probably more bad stuff than there is good.”
Judging from what Mandy told Ian, he was fairly certain this was a risky line of questioning. They didn’t need to get on a topic that was a downer, but at the same time, Ian wanted to get to know this man better. He wished to hear more about the good, bad and everything in between, so they talked for the next two hours, a welcome reprieve from the tension Ian had felt a few hours prior.
Ian learned about the “mishap” of sorts that had gotten Mickey kicked off his Little League team, how the older man had barely avoided getting a record for shoplifting from a convenience store, and how he’d worked his way up from being a budding tattoo artist to the level of success he now enjoyed at Inked-U-Up, and that the name of the shop was specifically a reference to Mickey after Dale got rid of the former one.
“It’s great that you were actually able to get out of the shitty circumstances you came from,” Ian commented. “But it sure as hell wasn’t easy for me, either. There’s other stuff about me that I’m not proud of, and there’s something really big that I usually don’t talk about, but… I guess since I’ve shared it with your sister, I can share it with you, too? Sorry if that sounds weird.”
“It actually doesn’t. Go ahead.”
“Since we’ve already talked about our fucked-up family histories… I want to tell you that I have bipolar disorder. It runs in my family. It’s manic depression. I got into a bad downward spiral when I was with my ex, and he was a huge douche. He discouraged me from getting help, because he wanted me to stay emotionally unstable and dependent on him. He basically told me to just suck it up because it wasn’t real. I’ve had a hard time trusting people ever since, so I don’t know why I’m telling you.”
Mickey paused for a minute before answering. “You know what? I kinda suspected it was some sort of thing like that. I saw you had the semicolon tattoo, and I haven’t done one of those before, but I probably should. I also got some personal experience with that, too, and a story of my own that I don’t usually say shit about.”
He flipped a few pages in his binder until he got to a sketch - the skull and rose design Ian had seen earlier in Mickey’s apartment. It read “Mark,” with the man’s birth and death years.
“I hate to get all sappy, but this is real important. This is in memory of a friend of mine who killed himself - actually an artist at our shop. He was depressed for a long time and had to deal with it on his own forever. His family threw him out, because he was gay. I came so close to having that happen to me, so he was one of the best friends I ever had. I never had a thing for him, but we at least had our histories in common.”
Mickey took a breath before continuing. “He got help and was even in a psych ward, but it wasn’t enough. He went into his apartment and hung himself. It was actually Dale who found him. He’s still torn up three years later.”
The story nearly brought tears to Ian’s eyes. That could’ve been me. If I didn’t have the strong support system I did, a family that loves and cares about me, who knows what would have happened? I know what it’s like to despair, to feel like there’s nothing left to live for. And I somehow was able to keep going when I could have ended it, just like the semicolon means.
“I guess that’s why I’ve been so afraid to open up to people, to commit,” Mickey said. “I know it could all be gone and I could lose somebody like I lost Mark. As it was, things were so bad at home that I didn’t have any way of knowing how to form a stronger connection than just friendship. Fucking around was all that I felt comfortable doing. But you...I’m sorry if this is gonna sound fucking stupid, but I feel like you’re different. You’ve been there and you know what it’s like.”
The sincerity and raw emotion out of the other man stunned Ian. “I… thank you for feeling comfortable enough to share that with me. I feel almost wrong, like this is so personal that I’m intruding on something private.”
“I mean, obviously I’m okay enough to talk to you about it,” Mickey said. “And I wanted to let you know that you being bipolar doesn’t make me look at you any differently. I like you for you, and I’m glad you could tell me that.”
Ian smiled and said, “Thanks. I feel like we really can work together on the fundraiser, and I have an idea. As long as we don’t have any animals inside your shop itself, I figure it’s not a health code violation if we set up outside and have a few of our adoptable cats out in cages for people to look at. The cages are big enough to where they have food and litter inside. We can have our staff cycle through them over the course of the day, so none of the cats are stuck in there for too long.”
“Yeah,” Mickey said. “And I can show you the flash sheets we’ve got. I’ve talked about how they’re done, but I don’t think you’ve seen them. Here’s mine, and then here are Dale’s, Shane’s and Liane’s. Those are the two other artists who are in the shop with me and Dale.”
Ian was pleased to see how all of the sheets looked great. He marveled at Mickey’s raw skill at making simple designs, like cats and pawprints, look pleasing enough to the eye. Ian could see himself getting one of them. His mind flashed to the thought of Mickey tattooing him, and he wasn’t entirely turned off by the thought.
Ian smiled. “I think they look great, Mickey. And about what we said earlier: let’s get the event out of the way, and then we can see where things go with us from there, okay?”
“I think I’d be okay with that, Gallagher.”
Three months later
“Do you think this is enough, or do you think you’ll need more flash sheets?” Ian asked, shifting his position from where he was lying on the bed, stretched out with Mickey’s portfolio’s pages flipped open and spread before him.
“Nah, I think we’re good,” Mickey said. “We got what we need, and you said we’re all set with coordinating the vendors that are working with Tenth Lifeline. Unless you wanna go over them some more, or do other stuff.”
Ian smiled. The fundraiser was today, and all of their hard work was finally going to come to fruition. If this did turn out to be a success, they decided they’d do another similar event as soon as possible, and it would be advantageous to have a strong working relationship between Mickey’s business and the non-profit where Ian worked.
More importantly, the whatever-they’d-call-it between the two men, that started months earlier, was quickly turning into more. After the original snafu with Ian’s concerns about not wanting to get into a relationship, and Mickey’s fear of commitment, they’d settled into what seemed to be a stable routine. They frequently visited each others’ apartments, with Mandy welcoming the chance to see more of her brother and vice versa, even though neither of the Milkovich siblings would admit it.
Perusing the sheets more carefully, Ian scratched his head before speaking again. “I want to get this one,” he said, pointing to an outline Mickey had drawn up of a silhouette of a walking black cat, with a trail of paw prints behind it.
“Yeah, that one isn’t bad,” Mickey said. He paused for a moment. “Gallagher, I gotta say that I never thought that I would actually get interested in cats, but these two little fuckers are cute.”
Mickey grabbed a bag of treats from off the night stand in Ian’s bedroom and shook it. Fiona, Ian’s pastel tortie, came right away, while Ronan, her black counterpart, seemed more curious and cautious than hungry. Eventually, though, both of the felines came up and took the treats out of the tattoo artist’s hand. Ian beamed.
“See, you’re a natural,” Ian said. “I didn’t have any pets growing up, either, but I guess you could say I took to the cats pretty quickly. It wasn’t long after I started volunteering that I ended up getting Fiona - I named her for my sister. Ronan came after, and I gave him my brother’s middle name.”
“Yeah?” Mickey said. “Can’t imagine naming anything after my brothers. Then again, maybe Iggy isn’t a bad name for a cat.”
They chuckled before pushing the portfolio to the side and lying back on the bed. Ian took a deep breath before speaking. “Would you have ever imagined that when Mandy came to you about the fundraiser, that we’d actually end up like this? I remember seeing you for the first time, standing in my office like you owned the place. Damn it all if I didn’t want to strip your clothes off right then and there, especially that leather jacket.”
“Right? You ain’t half-bad yourself,” Mickey shot back. “I went to my fucking shop and had to go off to the bathroom and jerk off.”
“Same.” Ian laughed fondly. “But enough about that. If we don’t get going soon, it’s not gonna happen at all. We gotta go to the shop and start setting up.”
Once they arrived, Ian took over the task of coordinating vendors outside, including a shop representative who’d be selling cat-themed jewelry and gifts, and volunteers to help direct foot traffic, collect cash donations, and facilitate the wait for when people started to arrive. Ian figured, based on the success of other such cat-themed events he’d found online, it would be very busy all day. Thank God that Mandy was helping to coordinate the volunteers and telling them who was going to be doing what.
Inside, Mickey, Dale and the rest of the artists were getting their instruments and work areas ready for the influx of people and preparing the sign-up sheets. Since the shop would stay open until 9, they had decided on a system where people could sign up for a time and come back if need be in order to reduce the number of people waiting around inside and taking up valuable space.
Ian was glad they’d all gotten there early, because sure enough, their social media campaign had worked: people began arriving en masse very soon after everyone had finished setting up, and Ian assisted where he could by helping out the event volunteers and passing the sign-up sheets around for the waiting clients. Since they’d decided that half of the proceeds from today’s fundraiser would go directly to Tenth Lifeline, Ian was overjoyed to see just how much interest the community had in this.
Once noon arrived and the shop opened, things went smoothly as Mickey and Dale worked their way through the first wave of people who’d arrived early. As others continued to arrive, some already heavily-tattooed while others anxiously discussed how this was their first tattoo and that they’d never even considered one before this, Ian continued to answer questions about the shelter.
As Mickey kept working, he quickly but efficiently sterilized his workspace in between clients, because the line didn’t stop. He had the chance to discuss his art and craft with so many new people, he had a feeling he’d end up picking up at least a new repeat customers, as they’d discussed, which would certainly benefit Dale as well.
Ian, who’d signed up for an 4 o’clock time slot on the sheet, eventually reached his time and proceeded inside the shop, where Mickey called him over when the artist was ready. Ian, nervous with anticipation since all he’d gotten previously was the semicolon, felt more comfortable in his - boyfriend’s? - presence. They still hadn’t had that conversation about what they were, but that was a question would have to wait. Ian’s plan was to get the tattoo and then go back outside to keep helping with and facilitating the fundraiser.
As Ian sat down in the chair, Mickey prepared his instruments and washed and prepped Ian’s calf, where he’d be getting the tattoo wrapping so that it looked like the cat was walking around his leg. Still nervous, Ian kept babbling.
“Did I ever think that I’d be here, getting a tattoo from a dude I didn’t think I’d ever have a shot in hell of getting with?” he said. “I would’ve said you were fucking nuts even six months ago.”
“Well, I’m here and so are you, so what you thought then doesn’t really matter, huh?” Mickey said as he turned the instrument on and lowered it to Ian’s skin to begin the tattoo.
Ian instinctively tensed up in anticipation of the pain, but tried his best to relax. Mickey helped him through it by shooting the shit some more about their shared background, how strange it was that they’d never run into each other growing up, and anecdotes about Mandy, whom Ian hadn’t known until they were both adults.
With Mickey’s expertise, the small tattoo didn’t take very long to finish. Mickey wiped it down and covered it with clear wrap, instructing him to leave it on for the next few hours before washing it with antibacterial soap and putting lotion on it.
“Thanks,” Ian said. Looks great to me. You really are talented.” He paid Mickey the $50 plus a $10 tip, knowing half of it would be a donation to Tenth Lifeline and mentally trying to figure out how much they’d end up getting today. “I’m gonna hang around here until closing, and then I’ll head home and clean it.”
“Sure thing,” Mickey answered. “By the way, I’m real fucking happy that you decided to do this, because I like the possibility that you’re gonna end up getting more tattoos from me in the future. You’ll hear people say that ink is addicting, and to tell the truth, it really is.”
“I can see that. And if it means you get more business and I get to see you at the shop, then yeah, sure, I can get more ink.”
Mickey flushed. “Don’t fucking say that kind of shit in public here. I got a bunch more people who’re waiting, so move it.”
Ian smirked. In the few months he’d known Mickey, he knew this was a friendly “thank you” and he didn’t take any offense. Instead, he left to head back outside with a smile as more clients came up to him to ask about Tenth Lifeline. It was a dream fulfilled for the shelter to be getting this much additional notice and attention from an alternative form of promotion, not to mention the fact that multiple people had inquired about the cats that were available outside the shop, one of whom did go home with his new owner that day.
By the end of the day, the four artists in the shop had tattooed a total of 100 people, with the process running like a well-oiled machine. Mickey was tired, but felt comfortable in the knowledge that he’d both helped Ian and gotten plenty of new clients, many of whom would more than likely come back with new ideas, and he’d be able to further hone his craft. He realized that it was a win-win situation for both himself and Ian, and he kicked himself for doubting Mandy - but then again, doubts would never leave his head.
With the shop closed for the night, most of the Tenth Lifeline representatives had left, but Ian volunteered to remain behind under the guise of finishing the paperwork to ensure that the shelter received an accurate count of how much the fundraiser had made. While it was true that this needed to get done, Ian really wanted an excuse to spend more time with Mickey. In spite of how much time they’d been spending together, he still doubted what they were - if it was “official,” something he could tell Mandy to let her know her brother wasn’t a total ass.
“We got 50 people who picked the $70 designs, and 50 who got $50 ones...so we raised a total of $6,000, with $3,000 of that going to you,” Mickey said. “Considering how this was pretty small-scale, I’d call that pretty fucking good. That amount is not going to break any banks or wow anyone, but we could always have another one.”
“Agreed,” Ian said. “I gotta finish filling out some paperwork, and you can write us a check so that we aren’t toting around a huge wad of cash. Let’s take care of that tomorrow. For now...wanna come by my place? Bed’s always open.”
Mickey paused, giving Ian a once-over before answering. “Of course I do.”
Once Ian had finished the paperwork and Mickey completed closing procedures for the night, they drove separately to the younger man’s apartment. Ian was tired from having to interact with people all day, but that was nothing compared to how Mickey felt after tattooing that many clients.
Once they arrived, both men staggered into the door, glad to be alone since Mandy decided to go out with her friends after finishing the fundraiser.
“Fuck, that was exhausting,” Mickey said, flopping down on the living room couch, Ian sitting next to him a second later. “At least people were decent and not total assholes about having to wait. I’d do this again, since it was worth it to get that much exposure.”
“Same. I’m fucking thrilled that we were even able to have our first event like this go off without any major problems. I mean, three grand isn’t going to be enough to pay for the new location at the mall or anything, but we haven’t factored in the donations people put into the box Mandy was managing out front. And since this went well, it opens the door for bigger things.”
Mickey gave his best impression of a smile. “Well, who’s to say that we...shall we say, won’t be moving on to bigger things in other ways in our lives as well? Glad to help, Gallagher.”
“Oh?” Ian cocked an eyebrow in the direction of the shorter man. “Bigger things, you say? Well, conveniently enough, I’ve got something right here for you. And know it’s big enough. You’ve told me plenty.” He grinned lasciviously.
The brunet’s eyebrows pulled their trademark act of practically disappearing into his hairline. “Damn, Gallagher! We worked all day and you’re still horny as shit. But hey, I probably still have some fuck left. Get on me.”
Both men were thankful they didn’t have to go through their usual routine of having to be quiet at this apartment so Mandy didn’t hear. They leaned into each other, closing the small space between them on the couch and meeting each others’ lips in a passionate kiss. Mickey slid his tongue into Ian’s mouth, a stifled moan coming from the redhead as the metal bar in Mickey’s tongue clacked lightly against his teeth. It was a feeling Ian had to get used to at first, but now it drove him as crazy as the rest of the brunet’s body, and everything about him, did.
They broke apart long enough for Mickey to ask, “Bed?” Nodding, Ian led their tangled mass of limbs and torsos, which didn’t make it readily apparent as to which ones belonged to whom, in the general direction of Ian’s bedroom. The men hastily tore off pieces of clothing, leaving a trail of garments down the hallway, before Ian shoved Mickey onto the bed to continue their make-out session from the living room.
The pair was breathless by the time they broke apart. By now, they were down to their boxers, and as Ian pushed Mickey flat on his back and climbed on top of him, their clothed erections rubbed against each other, friction teasing at the contact both of them desperately wanted, annoying fabric be damned. One of the shorter man’s hands snaked to the crotch of Ian’s boxers, where a wet spot was already forming.
“Take these goddamned things off,” Mickey growled in a tone that made even more of the blood in Ian’s body flow south. “I want to suck that fucking gorgeous cock of yours before you pound me into this mattress so hard, my eyes roll into the back of my head. Want it so fucking bad, you don’t even know.”
“Oh, I do know,” Ian said, grinding his hard-on into Mickey’s again for emphasis. He shifted onto his side from his position on top of Mickey and hastily tore off his own boxers so his red, engorged cock sprung free of the material. He then helped Mickey out of his underwear. Ian leaned into the brunet again, peppering his neck with kisses and trailing down to his chest, pausing to flick at one pink, hardened nipple and then the other. Mickey’s breath hitched.
“Fuck, Ian...stop teasing. Fucking do something else already. Wanna suck you…”
Chuckling to himself, Ian moved further down his partner’s body, licking a trail from his stomach. He murmured, “I want you to suck me, too, but I’ll make it so you’re returning the favor. Wanna make you feel so good, so just lie back down and enjoy this for now. Just feel it.”
“Mmmfph.” Mickey managed an incoherent groan as he felt the warm, wet heat of Ian’s mouth surround the head, then the shaft of his cock as the redhead took it deep into his throat. “Fuck, that feels good. Keep doing that.”
Ian was more than happy to oblige, loving how the thick, heavy flesh of his partner’s length felt in his throat as he took all of Mickey to his base. Mickey’s breath hitched and his back arched up in his supine position as he worked his fingers into strands of ginger hair. Ian, who enjoyed the feeling of having his hair played with while he gave a blowjob, continued swallowing around the cock in his mouth and humming softly, contracting his throat muscles. He pulled back to swirl his tongue around the piercing at the tip of Mickey’s cock as his eyes rolled into his head from the intense pleasure. He hissed and said, “Fuck. So good. Don’t stop.”
With Ian’s level of expertise, it didn’t take long before Mickey was moving his hips in time with Ian’s movements, slowly fucking the redhead’s mouth as he continued lavishing his attention on every part of the brunet’s cock. Mickey didn’t want this amazing blowjob to end, but he knew that if Ian kept this up, he’d finish too soon, and he would rather come with Ian fucking him. As good as this felt, he knew that would be even better, so he tugged the hair on the back of Ian’s neck. “Stop. Don’t wanna come yet.”
Obeying, Ian pulled off with a mischievous look on his face. “You like that?”
“What do you think?” Mickey said, his eyes glazed over. “It felt too fucking good. That’s why I want you to fuck me now.”
He sat up and leaned over to the nightstand at the side of Ian’s bed, knowing by now where the lube was, this routine having become a familiar and welcome one for both men. He opened the drawer and fished around for a minute before tattooed fingers closed around the tube he was searching for. Mickey popped the cap of the lube open and handed it to his partner.
“Mmm,” Ian said. “Turn around and get on your hands and knees. You have no idea how fucking hot you look...let me see your hole.”
Once Mickey was in the requested position, Ian knelt behind him on the bed and ran his fingers over the soft, supple skin of the smaller man’s torso. Moving lower, Ian traced his fingertips over the dimples in the small of his back before moving where he really wanted to focus: the pale mounds of flesh that made up Mickey’s ass. He delivered a quick slap to the left one before carefully spreading them apart to reveal the pink pucker of his entrance. Mickey fidgeted in anticipation of the pleasure that was soon to come, then grunted impatiently.
“I don’t have all day, you know. Fuck me already.”
“Bossy bottom.” Ian picked up the open tube of lube and slicked his fingers with the viscous substance. He worked one into Mickey’s hole, then two, knowing the older man could take it, but wanting to be careful not to hurt him, something Ian always had to deal with because of his size. Once he’d worked up to three fingers, he felt his internal muscles loosen enough that he knew Mickey could take him comfortably. He removed his fingers, then reached into the drawer with the hand not covered in lube to grab a condom. Ian rolled it onto himself before positioning his cock head against Mickey and slowly pushed into him.
Ian was grateful to have a partner who loved that about him, as Mickey was so enthusiastic, his body always warm and welcoming as he slid his cock inside him. “Fuck. You’re so tight.”
Mickey made a low noise and wiggled his hips slightly before matching him thrust for thrust as Ian began slowly, then more persistently, pounding into him. The sounds of their combined grunts, groans and sounds of pleasure filled the room as Ian gave it to Mickey the way he liked it, angling his thrusts so the blunt head of Ian’s cock hit his bottom’s sensitive prostate as his engorged cock bounced between his legs, the tip leaking precum onto the bed.
“Fuck! Harder!” Mickey demanded.
Ian complied, continuing to ensure his thrusts stimulated Mickey’s sweet spot and gauging reactions based his partner’s body language and the volume of his moaning. He knew full well Mickey didn’t need to touch his cock in order to get off, but this was becoming a race against his own orgasm as he was getting close. Wanting Mickey to come before he did, Ian pulled out before slamming back in.
Mickey cried out “Fucking hell!” before he began to convulse, his cock shooting streams of milky cum onto the bed beneath them, completely untouched, as his muscles tightened around Ian’s cock. He panted through the aftershocks as he became sensitive. Ian’s thrusts became jerky as he moaned out that he was coming, and blew his load inside of the condom.
Ian and Mickey an undifferentiated, heaving mass for a moment before the former pulled out, removing the condom, tying it off and throwing it in the trash. Mickey turned over and curled onto the bed, Ian following him and nuzzling his chin against the top of Mickey’s head of black hair. He sighed contentedly and exhaled sharply.
“That was good. As always,” Ian said.
“It better have been,” Mickey snorted. “Damn, Gallagher. Always know how to use that big dick of yours. Could go again, but we’ve had a long fucking day and need sleep.”
“Yeah,” Ian agreed. He paused for a minute as something that had been rolling around in his head for a while coming to the forefront. “Hey, Mick? Since we both have off tomorrow, I have an idea for something we can do. Together. You know...as a couple, I guess, if that’s okay with you. I guess that’s what we are?”
Hoping he hadn’t overstepped his boundaries, Ian braced himself for Mickey’s reply, figuring it would be something snarky or sarcastic, or worse, that he’d totally messed things up between them. To his surprise, Mickey answered with a brief but sufficient reply.
“Of course we are.”
The following morning, Ian and Mickey were eagerly eating breakfast as they prepared for what Ian had discussed with Mickey the previous night, after they established their newfound status as a couple. Much to Ian’s enjoyment, Mickey was open to the suggestion and it was something near and dear to Ian’s heart, the culmination of the months that brought them together and the series of steps that led to where they stood in their partnership.
They drove in Ian’s car, following the very familiar route he knew by heart. This was a process Ian was eager to share with Mickey, feeling this would be a way to come full circle from the day they met and began on this path to a surprisingly secure, happy and stable relationship.
After the short trip, Ian parked in his usual spot, a distance from the shelter’s main entrance. Mickey got out of the passenger seat, an air of uncertainty around him, his usual swagger replaced by the appearance of someone more than a small step out of his comfort zone - but in this case, Ian knew it was something he really wanted to do for his boyfriend.
As the men walked in, Ian’s coworker, Kaitlyn, greeted them. “Hey, Ian,” she said. “And Mickey! Thanks again for doing so much for us yesterday. You were a huge help, and we’d really love to do more stuff like this in the future.”
Mickey grunted in response, clearly not used to being praised, but accustomed to having to be polite to people in Ian’s life as part of this “boyfriend” thing, even if they were not usually the sorts of people he’d usually like.
“It’s your day off, Ian. Why are you here now?” Kaitlyn asked. “Thought you’d want to be taking a break and staying as far from here as possible after everything yesterday.”
“Mickey wants to adopt a cat,” Ian replied. “He’s been on the fence for a while and I may have...sort of been pushing him in that direction. Since he’s been doing so much to help us with our fundraiser, that was what convinced him. That and he’s great with my two.”
“Sounds about right,” Mickey said. “I mean...now that I’m living on my own, not with my asshole of a father who never would have let me and my brothers have a pet, figured I might as well have one. My roommate’s okay with it, so I don’t have anything to worry about there.”
“Great!” Kaitlyn said. “I just need to see your driver’s license or something with your current address, and I can write you a guest pass.”
Mickey dug into his pocket, pulled out his wallet and produced his license, then handed it to the adoptions counselor as she input information into the computer at the front desk. Once she finished, she took a small, blue piece of paper from the top of a pile, wrote Mickey’s name on it, then handed the slip to Mickey.
“That's your guest pass. Just show it to one of the volunteers working back there, and they’ll let you into the colony rooms so you can interact with our adoptable cats,” Kaitlyn said.
Mickey grunted a curt “thank you,” and Ian waved to his coworker as they walked toward a large glass door. Once inside, they proceeded into the hallway lined with glass doors, behind which cats of various ages, sizes and colors played, slept and nibbled food. Mickey stopped and peered into one room.
“Damn, that’s a lot of cats,” Mickey said. “I have no idea where I even want to start.”
“Well,” Ian said. “Usually what we have patrons do is just go into one of the rooms, and see if anyone catches your eye and comes up to you. A lot of the time, we say the cat picks the owner, rather than the other way around.”
Mickey sounded unconvinced, but said, “Sure thing, Gallagher.” He pushed the door to the room open and held it for Ian.
Ian sat down on the floor and picked up a small cloth fish with a bell on the end, and waved it in the direction of a small adult calico. She peered out cautiously and sniffed daintily at the toy, which Ian set in front of her. She batted it with her paws and chased after it.
Mickey crouched down toward one of the cat trees against the wall. His eye caught an orange tabby who was curled up asleep on the bottom rung. As he approached, the feline’s eyes opened. She wore a pink paper collar with the name “Ygritte” written in black Sharpie.
“Hey,” Mickey said awkwardly to the cat. As he extended his tattooed fingers, Ygritte cautiously sniffed at them before moving toward Mickey, rubbing her face against his hand followed by the rest of her body. Mickey ran his hand along her striped sides as she purred loudly.
“Hmm,” Mickey said. “Think this one likes me. Came right to me, and now look.”
Ian turned to look at his boyfriend, who was now sitting down with the cat curling into his lap. The redhead smiled at his partner.
“Hey, she really does like you,” Ian said. “Guess that makes you Jon Snow.” He snickered. “Hey, it makes sense since you like redheads.”
“Huh?” Mickey was confused.
“From Game of Thrones," Ian explained. “One of the show’s lead characters, Jon Snow, who’s in the Night’s Watch, falls in love with Ygritte, a wildling who’s basically on the opposite side of a war. She has red hair - it’s mentioned in the show that redheads are rare among their people, and are lucky. ‘Kissed by fire,’ they say. Makes sense since you’re with me and all.”
“Huh,” Mickey said. “I don’t watch that stuff. But to think I just call you ‘Firecrotch.’ Guess that’s a new one.” He shook his head. “But yeah, the cat likes me. Think I’m gonna go with her.”
“Sounds good,” Ian said. “And hey - you know how they said on the show that gingers are lucky because they’re rare? Well, that’s true in this case. Due to feline genetics, only about one in five orange cats are female.”
Mickey raised an eyebrow. “Huh.”
“Yeah,” Ian said. “But maybe spend some more time with her, since that’s usually what we recommend our potential adopters do. But if you take her, you gonna keep her name?”
“Not sure,” Mickey answered him. “Haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.”
After the two men had played more with Ygritte, they took her paperwork from the clipboard hanging outside the room where she was housed, and brought it to the front desk. “He’s taking Ygritte,” Ian told Kaitlyn.
“That’s awesome! She’s such a sweet little thing,” the woman behind the desk said. “Just sign that clipboard and I’ll be right with you.”
A minute later, Kaitlyn led Mickey and Ian into one of the back rooms, where she sat behind a computer. They went through the paperwork, with Mickey signing several sheets as Kaitlyn explained what each of them meant, and handed them a voucher for a free starter bag of cat food to go with supplies Ian and Mickey had bought previously and were now at home.
After they were done, the trio went back into the room with Ygritte and Kaitlyn herded her into a cardboard carrier. She boxed the feline into the carrier, and Mickey picked it up.
“You’re all set!” Kaitlyn said. “Let us know how it all ends up working out, Ian. And Mickey, if you have any questions, feel free to give us a call - or just tell Ian and he’ll probably just field all of the info back to us next time he’s at work.”
“Sure thing,” Ian responded. “Let’s get her home.”
Ygritte adapted well to her new surroundings. As Mickey and Ian were playing with her on the floor of Mickey’s living room, his roommate, Jeremy, came home. He smiled at the cat and gave her a treat from the bag they’d picked up from the pet store before heading into his room.
“I can’t believe I actually have a cat,” Mickey said. “She’ll take some getting used to, but fuck - I was able to get used to actually having a real boyfriend, so this ain’t so bad.”
“Right?” Ian agreed. “But I’m really glad all of this worked out. I’ll be honest - I’m not sure where things are gonna go, but I like what we have now. I think all of this took getting used to, but it’s so fucking weird that Tenth Lifeline and your tattoo studio were what brought us together.”
“Yeah?” Mickey said. “They did. But I like it. Come here, Firecrotch.”
As the two men leaned into each other, sitting on the floor in front of the couch, it occurred to Ian that their budding relationship was more than just that. It was a relationship for sure, and it gave him a renewed sense of hope. But it was also a lifeline that helped him as he moved on from his old life and neighborhood, into a future beyond what the South Side had to offer.
And I’m okay with this, Ian thought to himself as he nuzzled into Mickey’s dark hair.