Ian never planned these excursions. Whenever he was deployed to a new place, he would just watch the conditions, observe his CO’s mood and then asked for his pass when the stars aligned. This time was no different. The temporary deployment to the Ukraine had been uneventful so far and his commanding officer had become a grandfather for the first time. Before long, Ian was wandering around Kiev and was soon pretending to admire another massive cathedral instead of sneaking glances at the cute boy a few feet away.
Ian wasn’t in the habit of the random hook-up while on his day-passes. It seemed too troublesome and risky for the most part. It didn’t mean he couldn’t look though, or bend his own rules every once in a while. Something about this guy kept him looking. Maybe it was the pale skin and its contrast against the coal black hair, or the inscrutable tattoos on his fingers. Ian wasn’t sure. There was a cute, cool looking guy on a cool, clear day in sprawling city of Kiev and it was giving Ian romantic notions. The other man loitered about with the insouciant ease of a local and Ian peeked at him again, trying to make out what his tattoos said as he lit up a cigarette.
The man pocketed his lighter and puffed out a billow of smoke before suddenly looking up and across at Ian. The soldier quickly looked away, pretending to be absorbed in the beauty of the church. When he hazarded a glance back though, his guy was still looking, a smirk firmly in place while he pulled on his cigarette. Busted—Ian knew he had been caught out, but at least his guy didn’t seem averse to his attention and when Ian chanced a shy half smile; his guy gave him one back. Before Ian could take the initiative and head over to say hello, he was distracted by a small voice.
“Excuse me, mister?” Ian looked down to see an adorable little girl staring up at him, apparently fascinated by his existence, “are you a soldier?”
He wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. He was in his army fatigue pants, his boots and his neatly tucked in, standard issue t-shirt. He wasn’t exactly blending in. He smiled and nodded at the little girl and her face lit up. She stretched up, apparently reaching for his dog tags. She was a cute enough kid, but Ian had other things on the mind. Still, he could hardly tell a little girl to piss off so he could talk to a hot guy. He began stooping, only to hear a man’s voice reprimanding someone sharply in Ukrainian. The little girl jumped, visibly startled, and Ian realized that it was his guy. Ian hadn’t been too happy about the distraction either, but he wasn’t about to take some kid’s head off over it.
He was about to frown his displeasure when the little girl twirled and stuck her tongue out at the other man and then took off running. He turned to see her chasing after an older boy who was moving like lightning down the street. It clicked immediately what had been happening—the little pint-sized reprobates had been about to rob him. He couldn’t believe this, he was a soldier for crying out loud. Off duty, but shouldn’t they still be scared of him? At least it gave him a solid reason to talk to his guy now only for him to turn back and see that he was halfway across the courtyard. Ian promptly took off after him.
“Hey, hi, um, pryvit?” Ian greeted after he finally managed to get ahead of him. For a shorter guy, the man was surprisingly fast. His guy slowed to a stop and looked at him askance and Ian found himself grinning like an idiot. His guy was almost stupidly cute.
“Pryvit…” he responded cautiously, and truly they were off to a blistering start.
“I wanted to thank you for looking out for me back there, you know, with the kids?”
The man looked at him blankly and Ian found himself at a loss. Saying “hello” had exhausted his wealth of Ukrainian knowledge. “Do you speak any English?”
There was more uncertain staring and Ian tried another tack. “How about Russian then?” He knew a bit more of that and greeted the man with fair fluency. The look he received for that effort told him he needed to stop that Russian noise quickly. “Shit, so no Russian either, huh? Shit.”
The man raised an eyebrow at him before looking around his surroundings with deep suspicion, apparently wondering if he was being pranked or something. Then he gave Ian a shrug and shy, apologetic smile and side-stepped him to continue on his way. Ian watched him go; bouncing on the balls of his feet as he battled bitter disappointment. “He can’t speak English, I can’t speak Ukrainian,” he reminded himself; just his luck. When his guy paused to wait on the crossing signal, he glanced back at Ian and the soldier made a snap decision.
“Fuck it,” he muttered and took off after the man again. Blue eyes widened when Ian screeched to a halt before them again. “Okay, I realize that we have a bit of a communication problem here, but where would we be as a global community if we gave up every time two people met who didn’t understand each other?”
His guy was still clearly cautious and unsure about what was going on, but he was intrigued enough by Ian to let it play out a while longer.
“I’m Ian, Ian Gallagher,” Ian informed his acquaintance and presented his dog tags for inspection; too late wondering if he was making an ass of himself if the man couldn’t read his name. In any event, the man caught on.
“Ian,” he repeated slowly, as if tasting the name on his tongue. Ian decided he really like the way his guy said his name. “Okay,” he nodded, “Mickey, Mickey Milkovich.”
Ian beamed—progress! “So, you’re Mickey and I’m Ian. Ian and Mickey…Mickey and Ian,” Ian chattered happily and he could pinpoint the exact moment that Mickey decided he was a harmless idiot and visibly relaxed. There was a moment of uncertainty for Ian when Mickey took off again and he hung back waiting. Mickey turned and raised an inquiring eyebrow at him, as close to an invitation as he was going to get, he suspected, and he quickly fell in step with him. He resigned himself to following Mickey’s surefooted path around the town until they could reach some sort of breakthrough.
There wasn’t much else he could do as he followed Mickey to God-knows-where. So Ian talked…and talked and talked.
“This is my second tour,” Ian informed Mickey, “I have a few months left and I don’t know… I went home after my first one and I still didn’t fit anywhere, you know? I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing or where I was supposed to be so I just ended up signing up again.” He waited while Mickey fed coins into a vending machine. Crazily enough, Mickey actually appeared to be listening to him. Mickey retrieved some unidentifiable drink before assessing Ian and pressing the button for a Coke. Ian grinned when Mickey tossed it at him. “Just because I’m American doesn’t mean I can’t try other stuff,” he chided and sat with Mickey at the small patio table on the sidewalk as people swirled unnoticed around them in the height of the sunny afternoon.
Mickey only grinned, said something that sounded maddeningly teasing and sipped his drink, eyes not moving from Ian’s face. Ian was helpless to do anything but smile back.
“So yeah, I’m going to need to figure my life out in a few months. I’m hoping for some kind of sign, like there’s a job waiting, or a program I really want to study, or maybe I end up meeting someone,” he shot Mickey a nervous glance, “if not, I guess the army will always want me. Maybe put in the proper effort and make officer.”
Mickey must have said five words and raised a questioning eyebrow. Ian didn’t know if it was the language barrier or if Mickey mostly just talked with his eyebrows all the time, but the man had the most expressive face ever. He just wished he knew what the hell he was actually saying.
“Fuck, I’m dumb,” Ian burst out, startling Mickey, and dragged his phone out of his pocket, “I have an app!” Mickey waited until Ian powered up his app and centered the phone on the table. He leaned forward and uttered the smoothest phrase he could think of, “Do you have a map? Because I'm getting lost in your eyes.”
Mickey shifted his very sceptical gaze from Ian to the phone and waited while the phone spat out Ian’s converted words. Mickey stared at the thing in disbelief, before looking at Ian as if he’d committed sacrilege. He actually looked a little offended and Ian panicked. “What?”
Mickey leaned forward and spoke slowly and carefully into the phone. A second later, the translation came through, “you call my mother cow?”
Ian snatched the phone from the table and quickly shut down the app. The stupid thing had almost gotten him killed in France; lord knows why he thought it would have worked now. “I didn’t, honestly. I’m not crazy.”
“Crazy,” Mickey repeated, happily latching on to a word he finally recognized. Ian deflated dramatically.
“Seriously? That’s the word you pick up on? I’ve been talking for ages and that’s the first thing you take up?”
“Crazy American,” Mickey’s teasing smile was glorious and Ian slumped forward in exaggerated defeat.
“I’m not though, I swear! I’m on the level like ninety percent of the time. I’m not in the habit of chasing people around in strange cities usually. There’s just something about you, I guess…” he trailed off before smiling bashfully at Mickey, making the other man grow shyer in return. There was a pregnant pause before Mickey piped up again.
“Jesus, Mickey!” Ian huffed and Mickey only laughed at him and took off again, leaving Ian to trot after him.
They managed to communicate their ages through pantomime—Ian was twenty-five, Mickey, twenty-six—and Ian was so focused on communicating that it took him a while to notice that Mickey had been taking him around to various landmarks around Kiev.
“Oh God, please tell me you’re not a tour guide or anything like that, because I know I can’t afford you. It’s been like—” Ian checked his watch, “—three hours and private tours cost like an arm and a leg, right?”
Language barrier though firmly intact, Mickey had a seemingly supernatural ability to read Ian’s moods and tone. While Ian spiralled into doubt, he casually reached into his bag for some bite-sized candy bars, opened one and popped it into Ian’s mouth. He firmly but slowly swiped his thumb along Ian’s lower lip, before gripping his chin and shutting the redhead’s mouth. It was shockingly intimate and if Mickey was a tour guide, he was the least professional one ever. Ian was melting faster than the candy in his mouth and Mickey’s sexy half smile conveyed his sexual interest better than any sentence would. Some things did not need translating.
“You know, I heard Michael Bublé and his wife didn’t speak a word of each other’s languages and they still wound up together. Have a kid and everything.”
“Michael Bublé?” Mickey looked at Ian out of the corner of his eye, clearly judging the hell out of his music choices.
“I’m not saying I listen to his music, okay?” Ian said defensively, “I just know the story. How the hell do you not speak English but still manage to judge me and call me crazy?!”
“Crazy American,” Mickey grinned.
“For fuck’s sake!”
They eventually made their way to a Pirozhki stand; Mickey seemingly bent on occupying Ian’s mouth with other things for a while. There was a rapid fire exchange with the girl there before she turned to Ian, who was too busy staring at Mickey to notice.
“Hey, soldier boy, he says to ask what kind of filling you want in yours.”
That caught Ian’s attention and his gaze snapped to her so quickly, he almost gave himself whiplash. “You speak English?!”
The girl rolled her brown eyes magnificently. “No, I just project thoughts into your head, yes? What stuffing? We have beef ones, potatoes and cabbage, and some sweet ones—”
“Um, wait, can you just do me a favour?” he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants as the girl looked up at him inquisitively, “I don’t speak Ukrainian and he doesn’t speak English and it’s been a little rough. Can you just tell him that I swear I’m not some weird guy, or a pervert or anything like that? I just sort of like him…a lot.”
The girl quickly caught on to the story unfolding before her and a smile split her face in two. Obviously she was a fan of romantic drama. She chattered excitedly to Mickey, clearly embellishing something because she went on for far longer than Ian thought necessary. Both the vendor and Mickey kept glancing at him while she waxed rhapsodic. She finally stopped and Mickey gave a much shorter response.
“He says he knows. He figures Crazy American is one of the harmless ones, like puppy,” she tittered and Ian glowered at Mickey, “I told him we should all be so lucky to have cute soldier boy following us around like a puppy.”
“What did he say back?”
“He said true, but he’s seen cuter.”
“Bullshit you’ve seen cuter,” Ian poked at Mickey, “this is as good as it gets from good old Uncle Sam.”
Mickey knew exactly what part had Ian cutely indignant and all he did was bite back his grin and wiggle his eyebrows at him. He ordered a few of the beef-filled buns, paid the girl and took off as was his wont. The girl waved them off, wishing them luck and Ian was both sorry to lose his translator but relieved that they were alone again. They found some seats and a table in a small park and set down their food and drinks.
“Do you keep feeding me to shut me up a little?” Ian asked and Mickey only grunted as he bit into his food, blue eyes bright about the massive bun. “You have amazing eyes,” Ian confessed, “like Disney style. You could have your own Blue Steel.”
Evening quickly fell while they conversed in a steady stream-of-consciousness style. Ian told Mickey about the Southside and how much he wanted him to see it. He told him about his home base in Japan and the various places he’d been since he signed up. He told Mickey how he felt as if he was adrift, just always looking for that one thing; only he didn’t know what it was or maybe who it was yet.
Mickey seemed to keep listening keenly, periodically chiming in to say something that sounded encouraging or comforting, but mostly teasing. It was probably all in Ian’s head, but he didn’t care. He didn’t know if it was possible to fall in love with a complete stranger over the course of a day, but if it was, Ian was certain that’s the state he was in.
Ian still had everything to say, but they lapsed into companionable silence as the twilight disappeared and the stars slowly came out. Ian knew the window was closing quickly on the chance to suggest something physical. He had to head back to base in the morning and Mickey surely had to leave soon. He had probably derailed all his plans to accommodate Ian’s romantic madness and Ian couldn’t help but feel a little guilty about it. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to suggest it; feeling as if he would be inviting something lurid into a perfect day. Too soon and Mickey was glancing at his watch and Ian’s heart fell into his shoes when the other man looked at him apologetically.
“You’ve got to go, huh?” Ian sighed and stared at Mickey’s fingers as they drew nervous patterns onto the table top. “You’re about to go where I can’t follow.”
Mickey made a small, strangled noise and Ian looked up to see Mickey’s eye twitching beneath a furrowed brow. He was wondering how on Earth he was going to determine what was wrong when Mickey erupted into laughter, unable to hold it in.
“‘Go where I can’t follow’? Are you even serious right now?!” Mickey was tearing up, he was laughing so hard while Ian’s jaw hit the table, “is this how we’re winning wars now? We’re sending Abercrombie and Fitch models into the battlefield, saying shit like that? Are we killing the enemy softly now?”
“You…You speak English?!” Ian sputtered while Mickey finally got himself under control. “You speak fucking English?! You said you didn’t speak English!”
Mickey raised his hands in surrender and smiled sheepishly, “I didn’t actually say I couldn’t.”
“How could…you mean…I just…the whole time?!” Ian flailed, “you understood everything I was saying the whole time?!” Ian did a quick mental catalogue of the things he’d said to Mickey and his face went up in flames so he buried it in his hands in mortification. “Oh my God!”
“Don’t take it so hard, Ian,” Mickey nudged Ian’s foot with his own beneath the table. “It was cute; you’re cute.”
“The whole fucking time!” he moaned and Ian lifted his face briefly from his hands, “I told you about the fake grandmother thing, oh my God.”
“Yeah, that was a little fucked up, but believe me, my family has done far worse.”
“You asshole!” Ian cried as he pelted Mickey with crumpled up Pirozhki wrappers, “how could you pretend this whole time?!”
“I know, I’m sorry, I don’t know,” Mickey laughed as he fended off the attack, “you were just babbling away and I was just wondering if you were real and I don’t know—I didn’t want to fuck up your flow and I kinda just wanted to look at you.”
Ian sighed heavily, still incredulous over the trick and embarrassed about his verbal diarrhea. “You think I’m a freak, don’t you?”
“Nah, I told you, I think you’re cute,” Mickey said quietly and Ian finally managed to look him in the face.
“You’re such an asshole,” Ian muttered, face now flaming hot for a number of reasons, not least of which was the sweet, conciliatory smile aimed his way. That’s when the second realization hit home, that the heavy accent was completely gone. “Are you American?!”
“Chicago Southside,” Mickey admitted, “I think you might be a couple stops from me on the L. Small world, huh?”
“Oh my God, you asshole.”
Mickey reached into his messenger bag and took out a pen and a piece of paper. He spent the next couple minutes scribbling before shoving the paper across to Ian. It contained Mickey’s Skype information, email, cell number, and address. “I’ve got to go; I should have been back hours ago. If I’m not too much of an asshole, maybe we can keep in touch? Maybe I could even help you figure out what comes after the army. Who knows? I’ll even talk next time.”
Mickey got to his feet and Ian panicked, not wanting him to go and for the roller-coaster of a day to end. He sat frozen as Mickey packed up and started leaving, giving Ian a soft smile and an awkward half-wave. “You use that shit when you’re ready, Gallagher; stay pretty.”
With that said, Mickey turned and walked off and Ian’s mouth opened wordlessly, brain still scrambling to find a way to prolong the evening or end it differently or something. As it would turn out, Mickey solved the problem for him. He watched as the other man stopped walking, paused for a while and then did an abrupt U-turn. He came right back to Ian and swooped in, kissing the still seated Ian until the soldier felt he was nothing but a steaming puddle in his combat boots. Mickey finally pulled back, giving one last nip to Ian’s lower lip before straightening. He stroked a dazed Ian’s cheek before patting it twice and grinning. “Seriously, call me.” That done, he turned and marched off and soon disappeared into the cool, quiet Ukrainian night.
Ian finally regained his breath and quickly whipped out his phone to store all the information. He then put his phone in one pocket and the carefully folded paper in the other. He didn’t know if Mickey Milkovich was that thing he had been searching for all this time, but one thing was certain, he was going to try his damndest to find out.