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It’s a long time before Ian actually sees Mickey’s body. Sure, they’d both stripped down to nothing that very first time, in Mickey’s room, but they’d both been so amped on adrenaline and bloodlust and the tire iron that ended up somewhere in the crack between the bed and the wall that it hadn’t even registered. Ian certainly hadn’t gotten a good look at Mickey; enough to register that Mickey’s skin was almost as pale as Ian’s, and he had some freckles on his shoulders. Mostly, Ian had noticed the flex of Mickey’s muscles and everything about his ass. He hadn’t paid much attention to Mickey’s skin.

Terry had walked in literal seconds after they’d finished, and Mickey’s breath had started coming in fast, shallow gasps that Ian had chalked up to the sex. (Later, years later, he remembers those shallow breaths and aches for how terrified and self-loathing Mickey was back then, pretty much all the time but especially in that moment, when he’d been so sure he was caught.) After that, Mickey had dressed quickly, and Ian hadn’t lingered after Mickey’s threat killed off a good chunk of Ian’s good vibe.

They’ve been sneaking around for a while, but it’s always at the store or hidden in some alley—they have to be quick and ready to run if they hear someone coming, so neither of them get all their clothes off. But about a month into whatever the hell this is, Mickey actually takes his pants all the way off and doesn’t haul them back up as he’s shoving Ian away. They’re both a bit winded, but Mickey’s leaning languidly against the shelf behind him, and that’s when Ian sees it.

“What’s that?” He asks.

“What?” Mickey grunts.

Ian’s feeling lucky, so he stretches out a hand and touches the jagged scar on Mickey’s thigh, almost all the way down to his knee. Mickey jumps a little when Ian’s finger makes contact.

“What the fuck?” He snaps. “You want to go again, you gotta aim a little higher.”

“But what happened right there?” Ian presses. Maybe he’s still in a sex-daze, so he’s not seeing the warning signs Mickey’s radiating.

“Who gives a fuck?” Mickey says. He yanks up his pants and steps back into his shoes.

“You’re leaving already?” Ian asks, almost dumbfounded. This is already the longest Mickey’s stuck around after he’s come, but Ian was hoping he could draw it out a little longer, maybe even have a full-fledged conversation.

“We’re done here,” Mickey says. “You ain’t got another round in you right now.”

“I don’t have time,” Ian tries to justify himself. Kash went to deal with Linda, but he’ll be back soon. Ian could go again if he didn’t have to worry about that.

“Whatever,” Mickey mutters, straightening his shirt. He walks off without another word, leaving Ian standing open-mouthed in the freezer. Mickey’s never exactly been chatty, but this was worse than usual; he’ll usually at least hang around to share a cigarette these days. Ian shakes his head as he watches Mickey walk off. He doesn’t think he’ll ever understand that boy.

 

The dugouts are dark, here in the late summer night. Ian doesn’t know for sure what time it is; after midnight, certainly. It’s finally cooled off enough to touch each other without their sweaty skin sticking together, and the sprinklers on the field have kicked on and gone back off already. Mickey’s little more than a vague outline, and it makes Ian feel like they’re in their own world.

Mickey lights a cigarette and the glow when he inhales casts strange shadows on his face. Ian huffs a laugh. “Look like you’re at a sleepover telling scary stories,” he says.

“What?” Mickey asks.

“You know,” Ian says, miming holding a flashlight under his chin. “Oooh, this one’s spooky.”

Mickey’s totally silent for a second. He blows out smoke and says, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Haven’t you ever been to a sleepover?” Ian asks.

“Of course I’ve never been to a fucking sleepover,” Mickey says, annoyed. “I look like a nine-year-old girl to you?”

“What about a camping trip or something?” Ian tries.

“Why the fuck would I go camping?” Mickey asks with an incredulous little laugh. “Like living when they cut the heat and power except I can’t even shit in the toilet and leave it there until the water comes back on. And sleeping on the fucking tree branches and shit? No fucking thank you.”

“Well,” Ian starts, but when Mickey puts it like that, it sounds a lot less appealing than it did when Fiona sent Ian and Lip on some poor-kid Parks and Rec campout in fourth grade. “I don’t know, it’s kind of fun. Roasting marshmallows, telling ghost stories around the fire, looking at the stars.”

Mickey snorts. “Oh, so you’re the nine-year-old girl.”

“Ah, fuck you,” Ian says without heat, making Mickey laugh a little. Ian knows it’s pretty stupid, but he keeps track of how many times he makes Mickey laugh. It’s not like he’s ever going to tell anyone about it, but he just wants to see if he can get to a point where it’s too many times to count. He wants to get there. Every time he makes Mickey laugh, he gets a surge of pride and adrenaline that makes him feel about ten feet tall. He’s up to eight laughs, counting tonight. His record is three laughs in one night.

“Are you gonna, though?” Mickey asks slyly. “’Cause I mean, I been waiting.”

“Oh, you have?” Ian asks, trying to sound confident and nonchalant. Mickey always acts like he doesn’t care all that much if they meet up, like it’s no big deal if Ian’s not up to fucking him and he’ll just leave. Ian knows it’s an act. He can see the hunger in Mickey’s eyes, watches the way Mickey glances at him out of the corner of his eye and his chest starts rising and falling a little faster when Ian’s shotgunning a beer or wrapping his lips around a cigarette.

“God, shut up,” Mickey growls. “Get on me.”

He doesn’t even stub out his cigarette, just does that thing where he leaves it hanging out of his mouth like he’s some kind of TV gangster. He shoves down his pants and grabs onto the fence and any disinterest Ian wanted to feign is gone in an instant. His hands are shaking a little bit as he works on his own belt.

“Hurry the fuck up,” Mickey says.

Ian rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t argue. Someday, if Mickey will ever let him, Ian would like to do this in a bed. He wants to go slow and gentle and show Mickey sex doesn’t always have to come with pain. But there’s no way Mickey’s going to let him do that right now, so Ian gets to work going fast and hard, the way Mickey demands it.

But when they finish, just before Mickey pulls away, Ian gets his hand under Mickey’s shirt and strokes his back. He does it casually, so maybe Mickey will think it’s an accident. Except his hand brushes over a raised scar; the kind that’s big and thick and speaks to some kind of deep wound. Mickey sucks in a quick breath when Ian touches it.

“Whoa,” Ian says, almost against his will. “What’s that?”

Mickey doesn’t say anything for a minute. Ian used to think Mickey’s silences were a bad sign, but he’s learned that silence means Mickey’s trying to decide what to say. It’s when Mickey shoots off his mouth that danger’s coming. Mickey pulls away, pulls up his pants and buttons them slowly.

“It’s a scar,” he finally says without looking at Ian.

“Yeah, Mickey, I could tell that,” Ian says, rolling his eyes.

“Well, you asked,” Mickey points out.

“Where’d you get it?” Ian asks.

Over by the fence, Mickey’s closer to the glow of the streetlights. He stubs out his cigarette, which had to have been mostly ash by now. Ian can see him run his thumb over his bottom lip. Mickey cracks his knuckles, loud in the quiet darkness, and then he leans back against the fence.

“Barbed wire,” he says.

Ian waits, but he doesn’t go on. “Were you a hopping a fence?” Ian asks.

“Nope,” Mickey says simply.

Ian sighs. “Come on, I gotta guess or something?”

That makes Mickey breathe out something that’s almost a laugh. “Why the fuck you want to know?”

Ian shrugs, even though he’s still in the shadows and Mickey probably can’t see it. “Felt like a big scar,” he says. “Seems like there’s a story there.”

“There’s not,” Mickey says with a shrug. “I fucked up, my dad got mad. Nothing else to tell.”

Ian’s mouth drops open. “Your dad did that?” His voice just shot up about an octave. He’s heard horrifying things about Terry Milkovich, but he always assumed those were rumors, probably spread by Terry himself to scare people away. He didn’t think any of those horrible things were true.

Ian has shitty parents; he’s always known that. But even when Frank gets mad and mean and knocks him around, all he ever uses are his fists. He’s more prone to shoving than punching, anyway, so at most Ian’s ribs get bruised up from hitting the kitchen counter. But barbed wire?

“I fucked up a job,” Mickey says. “Almost lost him a bunch of money.”

“So he—how’d he even do that?” Ian asks. “Wouldn’t that cut him, too?”

“What?” Mickey asks, confused. “No, man, he didn’t just wrap it around his hand or some shit. He had it on a bat already.”

“Your dad hit you with a bat wrapped in barbed wire?” Ian feels like he can’t catch his breath. It’s not just that this happened to Mickey, but the way Mickey’s talking about it—like it’s not a big deal, like that’s a totally normal punishment for fucking up a job, whatever the fuck that even means.

“So?” Mickey says. “What, you gonna call the cops?” He pushes off the fence and gets right up in Ian’s face now. “Think some social worker’s gonna come do a home visit?”

“No,” Ian says, taken aback. “I’m just…surprised.”

Mickey eases back to lean on the fence again. He’s staring at Ian with narrowed eyes now. “It’s not a big fucking deal.”

“I think it is,” Ian says, trying not to sound as incredulous as he feels. He can’t believe this is a conversation they’re having, can’t believe he has to convince Mickey it’s fucked up his dad beat him with a barbed bat.

“He only hit me twice,” Mickey says.

Ian’s about to shriek again, but he catches sight of Mickey’s eyes and something stops him. Mickey’s doing that thing where he acts unaffected. But his eyes always give it away. Mickey’s eyes won’t stay put in one spot. They’re going from Ian’s face to the side to the ground and back again. He has one hand clenched on the fence behind him and the other balled into a fist at his side. He’s not breathing as hard as he was when he first came, but his breath isn’t slowing down like it normally would by now, either. This isn’t some nothing story, like he’s pretending.

Ian watches Mickey’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows hard. Ian makes himself take a deep breath. He doesn’t want Mickey to freak out more. He doesn’t want Mickey to think Ian’s going to try to dredge shit like this up. Mickey would avoid him for sure if he thought that were the case. So Ian clenches his teeth for a second to get a grip.

“Oh,” he says, trying to sound easy and careless. “Okay.”

Mickey looks up at him, searching his face. His shoulders loosen from how high they were hunching up around his ears and his fist opens up a little. “Yeah,” he says, shrugging again. “Not like I haven’t had worse.”

That makes Ian want to scream a little bit, but he holds it in. “Sure,” is all he can say to that.

Mickey stares at him for another second, and then he comes off the fence and comes over to lean against the pole, closer to Ian. He nudges Ian’s calf with his foot.

“You got any more smokes?”

Ian passed the test. Mickey doesn’t want to talk about his feelings; he barely wants to talk about facts. And Ian didn’t push it. So Ian gets more Mickey. Ian takes a deep breath as he pulls a crumped pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket. Okay. So he’s figured out how Mickey wants to do this. It’s a fucked up dance, and Ian’s going to have to step carefully while he’s learning, but as Mickey’s fingers brush against Ian’s and linger for a second when he takes the cigarette, Ian decides it’s going to be worth it.

 

Working together at the store is the best thing that’s ever happened to Ian. Not only does he get to hang out with Mickey all day, but they have the whole back room and the freezer to slip off to whenever they want. It’s incredible. And Mickey’s easing up, too. He laughs easier, so Ian’s finally at that point he wasn’t sure he’d ever get to, where he can’t keep track of how many times he’s made Mickey laugh. They’re friends.

Not that Mickey would ever admit that, of course, and Ian’s not stupid enough to try to get him to. But Ian knows they are. Well, he’s pretty sure they are. He’s not sure he can say he knows much of anything about Mickey except how he likes to fuck. But he does make Mickey laugh a lot. And the more he hears it, the more Ian wants.

Mickey has a dorky laugh when he’s laughing for real. It doesn’t match up at all with his tough-guy image, which is probably why he avoids doing it. Ian loves it.

“Hello?” Mickey breaks into Ian’s thoughts. “The fuck you doing over there, having a seizure? Why’m I unloading these fucking boxes alone?”

“I’m working the register,” Ian points out.

Mickey scoffs and looks around the empty store pointedly. “You’re sitting there with your finger up your ass.”

“No, that’s what you like,” Ian points out.

Mickey huffs, grinning. “That an offer?”

“Later,” Ian tells him regretfully. “We actually do have to finish unloading this shipment before Linda gets back.”

“She’s fucking annoying,” Mickey says. Ian tries not to let himself get too excited about Mickey being annoyed by their jobs instead of just being with Ian.

“Yeah, well,” Ian says, for lack of anything else to say. They work quietly for a minute, hands brushing every so often as they reach for cans of dog food and beef stew that are basically the same thing in different packaging. Mickey doesn’t yank his hand away when they touch like he used to.

“Who eats this shit?” Ian says after a while.

“I do,” Mickey says. “All the time.”

“Isn’t it nasty?” Ian asks.

“Yeah.” Mickey shrugs. “It’s food, though.”

“It looks just like the dog food.”

“You sound like a rich kid,” Mickey says with an eyeroll.

“I’m as poor as you,” Ian says, not sure why he’s getting defensive about it.

“Not even,” Mickey shoots back. “You Gallaghers always eat like North Side people.” He’s not annoyed, though. He’s teasing Ian. In a non-malicious way.

Ian laughs. “Do North Side people have to eat ketchup soup at the end of the month?”

“You can afford ketchup?” Mickey raises his eyebrows like it’s a delicacy. Ian cracks up laughing at him.

“Whatever, Mick. You have plenty to eat because you steal shit all the time.”

“Fuck yeah, I do.” Mickey agrees. “Show people who’s boss and get my snacks.”

“Until Kash shot you.”

Mickey gives him a middle finger and elbows him. Ian elbows back and they start shoving against each other. They’re doing it more as an excuse to touch than anything else, and Ian feels giddy with it all. He wonders if hanging out with Mickey will ever stop making him giddy.

Ian shoves at Mickey hard enough for Mickey to stumble and Ian grabs his arm to keep him upright. They’re both laughing and swearing at each other and it’s the biggest smile Ian’s ever seen on Mickey’s face. Mickey doesn’t pull his arm back, and then they’re just standing there, Ian holding onto Mickey’s arm.

Ian runs a finger hesitantly down the inside of Mickey’s arm, watching Mickey’s face carefully to make sure he’s not about to get sucker-punched. Mickey twitches a little, but he doesn’t move away. Ian’s mouth is suddenly very dry. They’re not laughing anymore. If anyone came in, it would look super weird; the two of them staring at each other, Ian with one hand on Mickey’s wrist and the other running up and down his arm.

There’s a little scar on the inside of Mickey’s elbow, just under the vein. Ian looks down at it, stroking his fingers over it softly. Mickey swallows hard, just barely audible over the hum of the freezers.

“You gonna ask about it?” Mickey asks, voice softer than normal.

Ian tries not to show his surprise. “You gonna tell me about it?” He counters, matching Mickey’s tone.

Mickey doesn’t say anything for a minute, looking down at the scar. Ian’s tensed, ready for it to be another horrible story about Terry Milkovich, but then Mickey laughs a little. “Mandy wanted to be a doctor for a bit when we were kids,” he reveals. “She was trying to give me an IV with a straw and a pocketknife.”

Ian laughs, too, because Mickey is, but he can feel his brow furrowing. “Damn, that must’ve bled a lot.” He has an involuntary flash of memory, Monica on the ground, blood down her arms and pooling around her. He blinks it away and focuses on Mickey.

Mickey shrugs. “Not like she actually got the vein or whatever. She dug into my arm and I screamed like a fucking banshee. Then I started bleeding and Mandy started screaming. Mom walked in and saw us, thought we were trying to shoot up or something. She started screaming and I’m bleeding all over and Mandy’s bawling.”

He’s laughing about it, but his eyes look faraway. Ian wonders if Mickey ever talks about his mom with anyone, if he misses her. She wasn’t exactly known around the neighborhood as Mother of the Year material, but she protected them from Terry sometimes. When she was sober. And besides, she was still his mom. Ian knows it’ll hurt when Monica dies, even with all the fucked up stuff she puts them through.

“Mickey,” Ian starts. But the bell above the door jangles. Mickey yanks his arm away, jumps back like Ian’s poison. He goes back to the cans, turning his back on Ian, and he doesn’t meet Ian’s eyes for the rest of the shift.

 

Ian leaves. He runs. He can’t take it all anymore. But sometimes, on the few nights when the frantic hum inside his body dies down enough to let him sleep, he dreams about pressing light kisses to the raised scars across Mickey’s skin.

 

They don’t have a lot of quiet moments these days. Ian himself isn’t very quiet these days, and his skin is too tight and his lungs are too big and everything is new and loud and fresh and amazing and horrible all at once.

Something has changed between them. Ian has changed, definitely, unwilling or unable to be still and quiet and wait for Mickey to come to him anymore. But Mickey seems to have changed; Ian pushes at him and where Mickey used to bolt, he’s now clinging on, too.

Ian can’t figure out why he isn’t ecstatic about it. He’s glad. He’s happy to have Mickey around. But it feels far away, like so many things these days. His concern for Liam, his disappointment in himself for ruining his dreams, his shame at potentially getting Lip in huge trouble, his protectiveness for his family. It’s all there, still inside him somewhere, but he has a harder time reaching it. He knows how he’s supposed to feel, and he knows the right actions to show those feelings, but he knows he isn’t feeling them the same way anymore. It would be scary if Ian could hold fear in his head for longer than a fleeting second.

Mickey isn’t leaving, though. He doesn’t seem to care if Ian isn’t soft with him anymore. He doesn’t care that Ian is different now, pushy and sometimes sharp in ways he never was before. Every time Ian turns around, Mickey’s there, waiting for him, watching him, chewing at his lip in that way he does when he’s unsure.

They have about ten minutes before Carl should be home from school, and they’re making them count. Ian can’t keep his hands off Mickey these days. He works himself up dancing, feeling Mickey’s eyes on him all night, and then he has to touch Mickey as soon as possible or he’ll explode.

Mickey’s on his knees, blowing Ian for the third time that day, and Ian’s got his fingers in Mickey’s hair. He clenches his fists when he comes, yanking at Mickey’s hair, and then when he comes back to himself a little more he strokes his hands more gently through Mickey’s hair, hoping he didn’t pull too hard.

Mickey would never admit it hurt. But Ian can’t seem to control himself at all these days, and he wouldn’t be surprised to find he ripped out a chunk of Mickey’s hair. He didn’t, though. It’s fine. Mickey climbs back onto the bed and flops next to Ian. They’re happy and sweaty and spent.

But Ian felt something in Mickey’s hair, along his scalp. Ian leans closer to take a look. Mickey grunts at him, boneless after so much sex.

“What is this?” Ian asks, rubbing the spot. There’s a weird bump along Mickey’s forehead, right at his hairline. Ian’s never noticed it before. Is it new?

“What?” Mickey asks.

“There’s—” Ian parts Mickey’s hair, willing his hands to be soft, soft, soft. It reminds him of when Debbie was born; he was only five, and Fiona constantly had to remind him to be gentle with the baby. Be soft, Ian, she’d said constantly, exhausted from getting up a million times with a newborn and for Ian’s nightmares. You don’t want to hurt the baby.

“Ow,” Mickey complains absently, even though Ian’s sure he was more careful.

“It’s a scar,” Ian says. “How’d you get a scar right here?” He runs his finger over it. It’s a few inches long, bumpy and angry-looking without Mickey’s hair covering it up. Ian can’t think of what could’ve happened to Mickey on his head that Ian wouldn’t have known about. It had to be something pretty bad to cause this.

“Oh.” Mickey’s voice changes. He doesn’t sound absent or satisfied anymore. He’s on edge. But Ian’s not playing the game anymore, not nudging Mickey along at Mickey’s pace. They go at Ian’s pace now. It’s Mickey’s turn to keep up.

“What’s it from?” Ian demands.

“Who cares?” Mickey counters. His eyes are roaming around, not resting on Ian’s face like they were a minute ago. That used to be a huge warning sign, Ian’s cue to shut up and back off. But Ian’s mad now, too mad for what’s going on. He’s not mad at Mickey, not really, but he’s just mad.

“Obviously I fucking do,” Ian snaps. “Jesus, Mickey. Why does everything have to be a fight? Why won’t you just fucking tell me?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Mickey growls warningly.

“Well, I do,” Ian shoots back. “I’m not doing this again, Mickey, where we just fuck and you don’t have to put in any work—”

Mickey barks out a harsh laugh. It’s not the dorky kind Ian loves—it’s the mean one that says Mickey’s about to knee you in the balls. “Yeah, you’re no fucking work at all. Jesus Christ, Ian. How many nights have I had to haul your ass home because you’re so high you can’t even see?”

“That’s only happened like once,” Ian argues.

“Seven times so far,” Mickey corrects, which is sure news to Ian.

“Big deal,” Ian scoffs. “I’m still the one doing all the work here, with us. You just want to keep pretending we hardly know each other.”

“I’m in your fucking bed,” Mickey protests.

“Until everyone else gets home.” Ian’s so mad he has to get up now, throws himself off the bed and starts pacing naked. “You just want to hide me. You can’t handle anyone finding out you—”

“I got that fucking scar from the last time someone found out,” Mickey spits. “Or did you miss the part when my dad fucking pistol whipped me?”

Ian stops in his tracks. “That’s from then?”

Mickey clenches his hands into fists. Ian doesn’t know if it’s because he wants to punch Ian or because he doesn’t want Ian to see them shaking. “Yeah.”

Ian doesn’t know what to say. All his blinding rage is suddenly gone, replaced by a muted sadness. He knows it’s not really Mickey’s fault that he’s so scared of this. Ian’s seen firsthand the good reason Mickey has to be scared. It just gets easy to forget when Ian wants so much more than Mickey seems willing to give.

Ian comes back over to the bed and pushes his fingers through Mickey’s hair again, strokes his thumb over the scar. Mickey jerks away, but Ian goes with him, too used to Mickey doing that to be caught off guard this time.

“I’m sorry,” Ian murmurs.

“For what?” Mickey asks flatly.

Ian sighs. “For all of it. For everything.” He’s suddenly on the verge of tears, thinking about everything Mickey’s been through, and he knows his reactions aren’t logical, are too big, but he can’t help it. “I’m sorry you’ve had such a shitty life.” He leans down and kisses the scar, then lets his fingers brush, feather-light, over other scars on Mickey’s head, his neck, his shoulders, his arms. There are so many to choose from.

Mickey closes his eyes to Ian’s ministrations. Maybe it’s easier for him to accept what Ian’s saying with his eyes closed.

Just when the door bangs open and slams closed and they hear Carl talking in the kitchen, when Ian’s moved away to put his clothes on and has his back tuned to Mickey, Mickey says, so quiet Ian almost misses it over the sound of Carl stomping up the stairs,

“Feels like it’s getting a little better now.”

 

Seeing Mickey again is a bigger jolt than Ian expected. He really thought he was over Mickey. Sure, he still thinks about Mickey from time to time, especially when he’s having sex or staring at the ceiling late at night, but he thought it was regret over how they left things. Ian knows he didn’t handle their breakup well. He shouldn’t have left Mickey like that, alone in jail with nothing to hang onto. But Ian always told himself he’d moved on.

One look at Mickey with that ridiculous long hair and dirty hat and Ian’s gasping for air, feeling like someone just punched him in the stomach. He’s fifteen again, drunk on the feeling of Mickey touching him.

Ian tries to stay away. He tries to think about Trevor and about his meds and how carefully he’s crafted a life for himself. He listens while everyone tells him what a bad idea it would be to see Mickey again.

And then he goes anyway.

Van sex isn’t exactly the height of romance. Ian wouldn’t consider this even halfway okay with anyone other than Mickey. But that’s what happens—Mickey gets leeway no one else does. He can feel Mickey trembling, just a little, and it’s not from cold or desire. Ian feels it too. Being together again is so much, so important, and they’re both a little overwhelmed.

“What you been doing?” Mickey asks as they pass a cigarette back and forth. Ian has an entire pack, and Mickey probably does, too, but they’re not sharing out of lack of resources.

“I’m an EMT now,” Ian says, feeling kind of shy about it. He realizes, with a rush in his chest, that he wants Mickey to be proud of him.

“No shit?” Mickey asks. “Fucking saving people and shit?”

Ian huffs. “Mostly I check people’s vitals. If there’s something really bad going on, it’s usually the paramedic who does the saving.”

“Nah,” Mickey says confidently. “It’s you. That’s fucking badass, man.”

Ian can feel his cheeks heating up. Mickey doesn’t bullshit stuff like this. If he didn’t think Ian’s job was impressive, he’d tell Ian that. Ian never cares about people thinking his job is noble or anything like that, but he cares when it’s coming from Mickey.

Then Mickey’s voice drops and he says, “And you got a boyfriend now, huh?”

Ian’s stomach drops, too. “Yeah,” he says, but it almost comes out as a question.

Mickey sneers at him. “What, you asking me?”

“Mick,” Ian starts, but Mickey cuts him off with a bruising kiss, stubbing the cigarette out in the threadbare blanket they’ve got spread across the bottom of the van as he rolls over onto Ian.

“He better than me?” Mickey pulls away to ask, slipping his hand down Ian’s pants. Ian doesn’t know why even bothered putting them back on after the last round. “He know what you like better than me?”

“No,” Ian has to admit, because he can’t lie, not to Mickey. Not after everything. “Mickey, no one’s better than you.”

“Fucking right,” Mickey growls, biting at Ian’s neck.

“Can’t ever get you out of my head,” Ian pants. “Never could.”

“Good,” Mickey says. He squirms around so he can suck Ian’s dick, and Ian tries not to come immediately. Mickey’s always had that effect on him.

Ian’s running his fingers up and down Mickey’s spine as they lie there in the dark. He doesn’t want the sun to come up. He doesn’t want to leave this cramped, sex-smelling van. He knows he’ll have to go back to his real life in the morning, but every part of him is resisting. He just wants to stay with Mickey.

There’s something between Mickey’s shoulder blades that was never there before. Ian knows every inch of Mickey’s body. Or he did, anyway. He obviously missed a few things in the last year and a half.

“What happened here?” Ian asks, running his nail over the scar.

“Mm,” Mickey says, right on the edge of asleep under Ian’s hands. “Guy tried to shiv me in the back.”

It makes Ian’s heart pound painfully in his chest, a smack in the face to remind him that he let Mickey down. Mickey was alone in prison, getting shivved, without Ian to watch his back. It was so bad Mickey had to escape. He’d rather live as a fugitive than stay there, and it’s all Ian’s fault.

Ian swallows down the ball of shame rising in his throat. “How’d you get away?” He asks quietly.

Mickey shrugs. “Heard him coming,” he says. “It’s not that easy to sneak up on me, you know.”

“I know,” Ian says. Not that he’s tried it much, but he’s seen other people try. Mickey’s hyperaware of people in his space. It’s not an awareness that comes from a good life.

“Me and Damon stomped him pretty good,” Mickey goes on carelessly. “He got transferred away after he got out of the infirmary. He’s lucky I didn’t finish him off.”

Mickey’s keeping his voice dismissive, but Ian’s touching him. He can feel Mickey’s muscles tensing under his hand. Mickey can pretend it wasn’t a big deal all he wants, but Ian can feel that it was bigger than he’s letting on.

Ian wonders how many times it happened, how many guys tried to go after Mickey. He wonders if Mickey had to do stuff he didn’t want to get Damon on his side. Ian doesn’t think so; Damon seemed more like he was following Mickey than the other way around. But it hurts to think of Mickey fighting to survive. He’s been doing it all his life, and Ian hates it. He hates that he made it harder for Mickey.

Mickey doesn’t need an apology right now. He wouldn’t want one even if he did need it. Not with words, anyway. Ian’s words have never done Mickey any good.

So Ian does what he can without words. He kisses the spot, earning a quiet puff of breath from Mickey. He kisses the back of Mickey’s neck, runs his hands gently down Mickey’s sides, and he spends the next hour trying to apologize to Mickey in the only way Mickey would ever accept.

 

Ian can’t stop looking at Mickey. He really didn’t think he’d ever see Mickey again, not after the border and Mexico and the dress. He thought that was going to be it.

But here’s Mickey, cocky grin and swagger and all. He’s smiling at Ian like Ian didn’t leave him begging and cursing and alone yet again. He’s smiling like he’s happy to be here, in prison, because he’s back with Ian.

“Quit fucking staring at me, Peeping Tom,” Mickey says without any heat. They’re crammed into the bottom bunk in their cell, long past lights out. Ian can barely see Mickey in the dark. It reminds him of all the times they hid out at the dugouts or the rooftop.

“I can’t,” Ian says helplessly. “I just—Jesus, Mick. I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Heard some fucking idiot I used to run around with got himself arrested and figured I better go save his ass. Couldn’t let you be somebody’s bitch. You hate bottoming.”

“I don’t hate it,” Ian tries.

“Yeah, you do,” Mickey counters, always able to see right through Ian.

“Yeah, I kind of do,” Ian admits. He strokes a finger down Mickey’s nose, making Mickey wrinkle it. Ian laughs a little. “Still don’t get why you’d roll on the cartel for me.”

Mickey huffs. “Eh. Mexico sucks. Way too fucking hot.”

“Yeah, better to come back to Illinois and end up in prison,” Ian agrees sarcastically, heart thumping hard in his chest. He can hardly wrap his head around Mickey turning himself in just to make sure he could be with Ian again. Ian knows he doesn’t deserve that kind of love, especially not from Mickey. Not with how many times Ian’s left Mickey hanging out to dry.

“Hey, what’s up with that gay Jesus thing?” Mickey asks incredulously. “Some fuckhead was wearing a shirt with your face on it.”

Ian groans and hides his face in Mickey’s shoulder. “It’s a long fucking story.”

“Oh, yeah, we’re real short on time here.”

Ian laughs. “Fine, I’ll tell you later when we’re bored.”

“How are we gonna get bored?” Mickey asks. “We can just fuck.”

“Your ass might need a break sometimes,” Ian points out.

“And I got a mouth and two hands.”

Ian cracks up laughing. “I don’t think you’ll die if you have to go a few hours without my dick.”

“Like I’m gonna fucking risk it,” Mickey says. “Went long enough without your dick. Don’t plan on wasting all this time inside.”

Ian’s throat tightens up at that. It’s his fault they were apart all this time. He could’ve been with Mickey for the past two years, hiding out in Mexico. It probably would’ve solved a lot of his problems. Especially with Fiona.

It would’ve caused other problems, though. It’s not like Ian’s siblings have ever appreciated him running off without no warning. And Ian doesn’t know if he would’ve liked working for a cartel. He’s surprised Mickey did it for so long. After he came out and Terry went back inside, Mickey had loudly proclaimed himself done with working for anyone else. He must’ve ended up in some kind of desperate times situation.

“Did you learn Spanish?” Ian asks, wanting to shake away the bad thoughts in his head.

Mickey snorts. “Didn’t really need to talk a lot while I was working. I can ask where the bathroom is and threaten to bust someone’s kneecaps. That’s about it.”

“Well, what else could you need?” Ian jokes.

“I did hear a lot of dudes crying about Jesus when they couldn’t come up with their money,” Mickey muses. “Not the gay one, though, I don’t think.”

“You’re really never going to let that go, huh?” Ian asks, chagrined.

“Probably not.”

Ian pushes his hand under Mickey’s standard-issue tank top. They’ve worn each other’s clothes in the past, but the clothes were never identical. Now the only way they know whose clothes are whose is because Ian’s taller.

There’s a new scar on Mickey’s ribs. Ian was pretty much expecting new scars; it’s not like Mickey was just lying around on the beach in Mexico. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother him to feel the raised skin there.

“Bottle in a bar fight,” Mickey says before Ian can even ask.

“A bar fight?” Ian echoes. He feels absurdly jealous. Like he should have some kind of monopoly on Mickey’s bar fights.

“Yeah, well, take a bunch of cartel assholes, give ‘em tequila, and then talk about one of them having a hot sister. See how that works out.” Ian can’t see, but he can tell Mickey’s rolling his eyes.

“Wait, you were talking about someone having a hot sister?” Ian asks. That doesn’t track. The only time Mickey ever did that was about that teacher back in the neighborhood, and he’d fooled absolutely no one. Not even himself.

Mickey snorts. “Fucking course not. I don’t know what counts as hot for chicks. Big tits, maybe? I was just there with the cartel guys and the bartender knew one of them.”

“Oh.” That makes a lot more sense. It doesn’t help the jealousy, though. It sounds like Mickey was defending someone else in a fight. Which used to be something he only did for Ian. And sometimes Mandy. Mickey used to fight only to protect himself, and then he branched out into protecting Ian. Now it sounds like some cartel guy got that protection.

“I didn’t even know what the fuck they were all screaming about,” Mickey goes on, oblivious to how ridiculous Ian’s feelings are right now. “We were doing shots and then they all started screaming in Spanish. Some guy comes at me with a fucking barstool and I gotta deal with that, and then his asshole friend gets me with a bottle. Fucker.”

Ian should not be relieved about this. But apparently Mickey wasn’t defending someone else. He was just defending himself, like Ian’s always known him to. He hasn’t changed. He’s still the Mickey Ian knows. Ian didn’t even realize he was worried about that until he started feeling so relieved about it.

But either way, Mickey has a scar. A scar he shouldn’t have, a scar that means someone hurt him and he bled. And Ian wasn’t there to help. He pushes Mickey’s shirt up and slides down his body, kisses the spot in question and rests his head against Mickey’s stomach.

Mickey brushes a hand through Ian’s hair, fond and happy. Ian could burst at having Mickey back, at being together again. It’s everything he wouldn’t even let himself dream about. Then Mickey says, “I mean, if you’re already down there…you might as well just keep going down.”

Ian laughs. But he’s more than happy to oblige.

 

“Move,” Mickey says with a laugh, bumping his hip against Ian’s to get past him in the kitchen. They’re still on their honeymoon, technically, staying in some apartment that belongs to a friend of a friend of a friend so they can have some privacy. What this means is that they’ve been totally naked for the last two days straight. Neither of them have any complaints.

Though the pizza delivery guy from last night might.

“No, stay there, I’m making you breakfast,” Ian insists.

“That’s gonna take too long,” Mickey protests. “We can just eat the leftover pizza.”

“We can eat that for lunch,” Ian says. “I’m making you breakfast in bed.”

Mickey snorts. “Why?”

“Because you’re my husband,” Ian says, a thrill shooting through his stomach. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever get tired of saying that.

Mickey rolls his eyes, but he can’t totally keep the grin off his face. “Whatever,” he says, ducking his head a little. Ian wants to memorize the sight, so he can always be able to close his eyes and see Mickey smiling like that. He wants to make sure Mickey always is smiling like that.

Ian starts cracking eggs and Mickey’s still hanging around the kitchen. “You’re supposed to go back to bed,” Ian points out. “How’m I supposed to make you breakfast in bed if you’re not in bed?”

“I don’t give a fuck,” Mickey says with a shrug. “Not sitting in there if you’re out here.”

After all the years, after everything they’ve been through, it still takes Ian’s breath away when Mickey says things like that. Ian doesn’t think he really deserves it, not after all the shit he’s pulled on Mickey. He’s left Mickey over and over, run so hot and cold with Mickey’s feelings, and Mickey never washes his hands of Ian. He always sticks around. Always wants to be around, everything with Byron notwithstanding.

“Whoa,” Mickey says, halfway between amused and alarmed. “You crying about it?”

Ian laughs, but he sniffles, too, because he kind of is. “Fuck you,” he says half-heartedly.

Mickey gives him a soft little smile and crowds him against the kitchen counter. “Sure,” he says agreeably. Fucking is one of the only things Mickey is ever agreeable about. But he’s not being very urgent. He nuzzles his nose along Ian’s and brushes their lips together. “You gonna tell me what you’re crying about?” He asks quietly.

“Lip called me a soft bitch at our wedding,” Ian reports.

“…’kay,” Mickey says, confused. “You want me to beat his ass or something?”

Ian can’t help but laugh. “No, I wasn’t complaining about it,” he explains. “I just mean—well, I am soft.”

The wrinkle between Mickey’s eyebrows clears. He snorts. “Oh, yeah. Fucking duh.”

“Did everyone know that but me?” Ian wonders.

“You didn’t know that?” Mickey asks incredulously. “Jesus, talk about no self-awareness.” His lips so close to Ian’s take the sting out of it.

“I went to federal prison for destruction of property and arson,” Ian points out, unsure if he’s actually offended or not. Not, he decides. There are far worse things to be than soft.

Mickey scoffs. “Yeah, so do half the thirteen-year-olds in Chicago.” He shakes his head, his smile going all soft again. Ian swallows hard at the sight of that smile. He’s the only one who gets that smile. Mickey doesn’t look at anyone the way he looks at Ian. “Ian,” Mickey says. “You used to kiss all my fucking scars all the time like you were trying to make it better. That’s pretty soft.”

Ian blinks. “You got what I was doing?”

“Am I some kind of fucking idiot?” Mickey asks. “How hard is it to connect the dots there?”

“No, but when did you ever have anyone kissing anything better?” Ian asks.

“I watch TV,” Mickey points out, like only knowing about someone trying to kiss your wounds better from TV is normal. Ian puts his hands on Mickey’s face, wishing Mickey hadn’t been through so much. Wishing Ian hadn’t put Mickey through so much.

“You don’t mind that I’m soft?” Ian checks. He knows Mickey doesn’t; Mickey can pretend to be tough and mean all he wants, but Ian’s the only person on Earth who knows how sappy Mickey can get.

Mickey rolls his eyes a little, smiling. “Come on. Knew what I was getting.”

It makes Ian’s throat stick. He wasn’t just thinking up excuses not to get married when he told Mickey he doesn’t even know himself half the time. They didn’t really talk about all that before getting married. They sort of did, in roundabout ways, but Mickey seemed to think it was so ridiculous for Ian to worry about it that they didn’t need to actually talk it through.

But it’s something Ian worries about. When he’s lying awake at night, watching shadows move across Mickey’s face, he wonders what’s going to happen the next time Ian goes off his meds. He wonders if he’s going to cheat on Mickey again and if Mickey will be done for good this time. He wonders if Mickey will get sick of the yo-yo cycle in Ian’s brain and want someone stable. Normal.

“Did you?” Ian asks, voice cracking a little.

Mickey knows what Ian’s getting at right away. He always remembers the things Ian says, even back when he pretended he didn’t even know Ian’s actual name. “Ian,” Mickey says softly. He shakes his head a little.

“I’m different,” Ian insists. “You know I’m different than that dumb kid you started fucking.”

“So?” Mickey counters. “I’m different, too. Think about when we first got together. You think I ever would’ve come out? Fucking married you?”

Ian sniffs a little. “No,” he admits.

“Yeah. And I know you’re used to gross fucking pedo grandpas, but I’m not looking for some fifteen-year-old, anyway,” Mickey says. “We grew up. Doesn’t mean you’re a different person.”

“But with the meds and—”

“Ian,” Mickey cuts him off gently. “I don’t know how many ways I can tell you I ain’t leaving. You might not remember when you were going into the psych ward that first time and getting help, but I do. You didn’t want to go, didn’t want to take your meds, all that, but when I tried to push you ended up doing it. Even when you left my ass the first time, you said you were doing it to keep me free. You saw me getting hurt and you tried to stop it. Just like always. Nothing’s ever made you stop looking out for me, even when I don’t listen to what you’re saying and think it’s all bullshit.”

Ian feels so much more settled than he was a second ago. “And run off to dudes who ride scooters.”

Mickey laughs. “Fuck off, asshole, we’re never talking about that again.”

“Oh, we are,” Ian says. He buries his face in Mickey’s neck. “When’d you get so smart and good at talking me down, huh?”

“Probably sometime between the first and second times you tried to stab somebody,” Mickey says. “You done crying now?”

“No,” Ian says, muffled into Mickey’s skin. “Crying more now.” He’s not, though. He’s stopped crying already. He feels…peaceful. It’s a rare feeling, in all honesty. Everything always feels so churned-up inside, so many feelings and regrets and worries rolling around in his stomach and his head and his chest. But Mickey settled them, at least for now. Mickey knew what Ian needed to hear and gave it to him.

Ian used to kiss Mickey’s scars, wanting to wipe out that hurt. He never could heal what had already happened; the scars are all still there, visible against Mickey’s pale skin. Ian can see most of them right now, since Mickey’s naked. Ian couldn’t get rid of them, couldn’t fix them.

But Ian’s wound wasn’t quite a scar yet, he thinks. He was worried about something ongoing, and Mickey took out a needle and threat and stitched that hole shut. He took care of it so Ian won’t have a scar. It’s a convoluted metaphor. Ian’s not sure it would make sense to anyone outside his head. But it makes sense to him. They’re full-circle, kind of. Ian kissed Mickey’s physical scars and Mickey took care of Ian’s emotional ones. Or something like that.

He’s not going to share this observation with Mickey. Mickey would just laugh, and even though it’s okay for Mickey to laugh at him, Ian wants to keep this one just for himself.

“You said you were making me breakfast,” Mickey points out, almost accusing. “You gonna actually do that or just make me stand here naked while you think? I don’t have all day.”

“You don’t?” Ian asks, pushing back to look at Mickey’s face. “Didn’t realize you had somewhere else to be.”

Mickey shrugs, caught out in his lie. They don’t have any plans for another day and a half. “Got the bed,” he says. “There’s this guy I wanted to take there. Suck his dick.”

Ian laughs out loud. “Sounds like a lucky guy.”

Mickey leans in and kisses Ian, soft and slow. “Nah,” he says easily. “I’m the lucky one.” He gives Ian a soft little push toward the kitchen. “Now make me some goddamn eggs.”

Ian flips him off. Mickey can deny it all he wants, but Ian knows the truth. He’s the lucky one here. He presses a kiss to the chicken pock scar on Mickey’s shoulder, and then he heads to the kitchen to make breakfast for his husband.