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Quitters Never Win (and Winners Never Quit)

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It’s past eleven thirty on a Thursday night and Mickey is lighting up a cigarette on the back porch. He needs to be at work in eight hours and it’s forty-six degrees outside with a touch of freezing rain, but the craving for warmth and sleep has been marginally edged out by the craving for nicotine. The sound of sleet rhythmically hitting the pavement is nearly enough to lull him into a half-sleep as he stands propped up against the soggy railing, but the sound of the backdoor flying open slams him back to full consciousness.  Alarmed, he swivels around to find himself facing a displeased Ian.

“The fuck are you doing out here? Come back to bed,” Ian grumbles. 

Mickey raises his cigarette wearily, unwilling to put any further energy into an explanation. 

“Seriously?” Ian says, but he leans in to join Mickey and steals a drag nevertheless. They hunch together for warmth in companionable silence for a moment or two, until Ian stamps out the final ashes of the cigarette and turns to face Mickey appraisingly. 

 “I think you should call off of work tomorrow,” he comments. 

“Yeah, and why’s that?” Mickey replies. He instantly regrets it, because his voice is totally shot. Ian raises an “I told you so” eyebrow at him while he tries and fails to clear the endless gunk out of his windpipe. 

“You still sound like you have the plague, and it’s been almost two weeks.” 

“It was you who gave me the plague in the first place!” 

Ian grins sheepishly and breathes out a laugh. "Yeah, well, my immune system has always been for shit. What's your excuse?"

Mickey simply shrugs as he tries to ignore the growing headache pounding against his skull. He doesn't have the time to get into the various ways the Milkovich family has neglected to put any thought into healthcare over the years, and he knows that Ian doesn’t need the full run through anyway. Mickey turns to head back into the house, hoping to escape from Ian’s judgemental yet aggravatingly sincere gaze. 

“You ever think about quitting smoking?” Ian asks, stopping him in his tracks.

“Pretty sure no Milkovich in history has ever quit anything,” Mickey deflects. It’s easier than admitting that he woke up this morning to a coughing jag so painful that he’d halfheartedly promised himself  he’d lay off the cigarettes until his system finally cleared out the nasty virus that had been haunting him and Ian for what felt like the majority of winter. 

Mickey makes a hasty retreat back into the house and stomps down the hall to get away from Ian and his dumbass interrogation. He tries to find some solitude in the bathroom while he brushes his teeth, but Ian manages to slide in behind him before he can fully close the door. 

"Did you know that Lip finally quit smoking? He's made it a full month now." Ian points out. “Gives me some hope for the rest of us, you know? I never thought he’d pull it off.”

“Lip would be smoking three packs a day like everyone else around here if he didn’t have a damn kid running around now,” Mickey bristles through a mouth full of toothpaste foam. "Why do you suddenly care about this, anyway?"

"It's not sudden. People at work have always been giving me shit about quitting. It's only gotten worse since the plague knocked me on my ass last week."

"It's easy for them to say. I bet they haven't been chain smoking since they were ten."

"Ten? That's generous. Most people around here have been addicted to nicotine since they were in the womb," Ian jokes.

Mickey cracks a smile and lets out a chuckle despite his best efforts to remain entirely humorless when faced with the matter of his smoking habit. It's funny because it's so pathetically true, and the proof is in the fact that the smallest laugh leaves Mickey hacking toothpaste and phlegm into the sink. He can see Ian's brow furrow in the mirror behind him as soon as he comes back up for air.

"So, you gonna take tomorrow off?" he asks again, giving Mickey's shoulder an encouraging pat.

"Fuck off, man. No need to be overdramatic," he shoots back. 

Ian knows him well enough to drop the conversation for the time being; it's late enough as it is and neither of them has fully learned how to handle any type of mother henning behavior without a touch of outright hostility. It's a work in progress, so they both crawl into bed together and leave it for now.

They try to, at least. Mickey's lungs seem to have something besides sleep in mind, because it's one of those nights where he can't seem to settle down without falling into another round of coughing. He tries valiantly, but by the time 1:45 rolls around he's fully aware that he's fighting a losing battle. He flips around to face Ian, who is unsurprisingly awake.

"We got any Nyquil left? Or some fucking codeine? I think I gotta dose myself if either of us are gonna get any sleep."

Ian blinks hazily back at him, clearly straining to come up with the answer.

"I finished the last of it, I think. Last week. We have to go out and get some more," he says, fighting back a yawn. 

"I gotta go take the couch then. Least one of us should get some sleep," Mickey says. 

Ian perks up a bit at this. "No fucking way. You didn't let me ditch you when I was the one keeping us up."

Mickey opens his mouth to argue but finds that he doesn’t have the energy to put into an argument that he knows he can’t win. Ian is right; it wasn’t too long ago that the roles were reversed, and Mickey had held on tight when Ian had made moves to jump ship. 

“Will you at least let me knock myself out with some whiskey, then?” Mickey tries. He’s only slightly bitter that Ian has seemingly used up their entire medicine cabinet. 

“Only if you agree that there’s no way you’re going to work tomorrow,” Ian says with the little smile of his that means he knows he’s going to get his way. 

Mickey huffs out a gravely sigh and flips Ian off, which is his own special way of assenting to the terms. He swoops out of bed and staggers off to find the nearest bottle of cheap liquor, a feat that remains shockingly easy to pull off even in a household that’s often filled with children, reformed alcoholics, and his own carefully medicated husband. He quickly swigs a hearty nightcap before flopping back into bed. He goes to curl up next to Ian and finds him sitting up, his face glowing with the light of a cell phone. It’s not his own cell phone, he realizes. The little shit has broken into Mickey’s phone and is turning off his 6:30 am alarm. 

His instinct is to kick his ass for the invasion of privacy, but the whiskey and exhaustion holds him back. If he’s being honest with himself, he’s grateful to know that come tomorrow he’ll be able sleep in and give his body a chance to get its shit together. He and Ian often have clashing work schedules, so it’s rare that they get to wake up these days and just lounge together. Ian has an actual day off on the schedule tomorrow, so now there’s no reason why they can’t just watch movies all day and make it their goal to achieve absolutely nothing. 

Ian deposits Mickey’s phone back at its rightful place on the bedside table and takes him into his arms. Within minutes, the whiskey does its job and they both drift off together. 

When Mickey wakes up, he’s groggy and alone. For a disoriented moment he forgets that he has abandoned his plan to go to work, and the midmorning light streaming into the room is a telltale sign that he’s slept in much later than he usually would. He scrambles to pick up his phone to assess how late he is and notices the whiskey bottle lying out on the bedside table, still open. This manages to jog his memory of the agreement that he and Ian had come to. 

 Just this slight movement leaves him feeling winded, and he crumples back down onto his pillow and coughs deeply. He’d hoped to be magically healed overnight, but he somehow aches worse than before. His whole body feels weighed down.

Once his chest stops heaving, he glances down at his phone screen. It’s 9:27 already, and he has no new text messages. He tries to shove down the growing sense of disappointment. He’s a grown man, and he doesn’t need Ian to be there to pat him on the back and swaddle him in blankets. 

He would, however, like to know where he’s fucked off to. He takes a moment to contemplate if finding Ian is worth the effort of getting out of bed. His brain can’t seem to properly grapple with such a big decision, though, and he falls back into a light sleep instead. 

Some indeterminate amount of time passes, and Mickey is dosing with his face smashed against his phone when Ian finally does burst through the door. The sound of the creaky old doorknob is enough to jar Mickey awake with a start.

“Morning!” Ian says brightly. He’s holding two overstuffed plastic bags in his hands. 

“The fuck have you been? When’d you get up?” Mickey questions, his voice just a step above a whisper. 

Ian’s smile fades a little, and he abandons his bags at the foot of the bed in order to pull Mickey close to him. “Woke up around seven. Went to the store.” 

He presses a small kiss into Mickey’s hair before dumping out the contents of one of the bags as though it’s some kind of peace offering for his abandonment. Out spills a small avalanche of Nyquil, Dayquil, lozenges, Advil, gatorade, orange juice, popsicles, vitamins and other indiscernible drug store items.

“Jesus, did you spend your entire paycheck at CVS?” Mickey asks. 

Ian shrugs. “We need all this shit. And look-” He dumps out the second bag and reveals a stockpile of nicotine patches and gum. “I’m quitting today.”

“What, cold turkey?” Alarm bells distantly go off in Mickey’s brain at the notion of Ian making a bold decision on a less than ideal amount of sleep, and he tries to shove it down. It isn’t normal to be concerned when someone you love makes a healthy choice. 

“That’s the idea. Starting today. I figured we’d need all the help we can get,” Ian gestures back to the arsenal of nicotine products.

“Wait, now hold up. We?”

“You sound like an eighty year old man with emphysema, Mick,” Ian says sternly. “Please?” 

“I already feel like enough shit as it is and now you expect me to add nicotine withdrawal to the list? Hard pass.”

And then Mickey makes the mistake of making direct eye contact with Ian’s pleading, earnest face. There’s just a hint of challenge, too, and that’s what really makes this hard. His stupid face with that pointedly raised eyebrow says “what, aren’t you tough enough to do this with me?”.  Many years have passed since they were dumb teenagers, always trying to show off their manly bravado to each other. This look really sends him back, and it completely destroys his resolve in the process.

“At least give it a shot with me,” Ian barrels on, as if he hasn’t already done enough. “Give your lungs a fighting chance?” 

“I bet you’ll cave before I do,” Mickey concedes.

Ian grins. “Oh yeah? I gotta warn you, Gallaghers are great at quitting things.”

Gallaghers are also great at disastrously relapsing back on their bullshit, Mickey thinks but doesn't say. Ian seems so confident this is going to work, and Mickey just needs to have some faith that it's not necessarily a dangerous thing to be hopeful.

"You say that now. How long have you gone without a smoke so far?" Mickey inquires before grabbing the bottle of Dayquil, taking a good chug, and washing out the taste with some orange juice.

"Like two hours," Ian admits. "I made up my mind in the cold and flu aisle." 

"Ah. This should go great then. At least I've got your ass beat already. Breakfast?"

Ian throws a bag of pop-tarts at Mickey's head in retaliation for the sarcasm, but it's all in good spirit. They eat the pop-tarts in bed, crumbs be damned. The medication slowly starts settling into Mickey’s system; it doesn't act like a miracle cure by any means but it does make him start to feel a little more functional. 

“Is anyone else home?” Mickey is starting to find the relative silence of the house to be alarming.

“Nah, it’s just us. Everyone else has work or school.”

Having the whole house to themselves would have led to a very different outcome on any other day. Mickey almost suggests that they go fuck on the couch just because they can. He gets as far as saying “you wanna take this party downstairs?” before the awful, strangled sound of his voice makes it clear that he’s not getting laid today. 

“Movie marathon?” Ian suggests, kindly holding back any comment. 

They do end up together on the couch, despite the fact that Mickey has to fight against the fact that his legs feel like noodles on the way downstairs. Neither of them really has the attention span to select a movie. Instead, they curl up in a cocoon of throw blankets and channel surf. All of Ian’s purchases had originally felt excessive to Mickey, but he has to admit that it’s extremely convenient that they now have most everything that they could need without having to leave the living room.

When he first craves a cigarette, he shoves a popsicle into his mouth instead. The sweet artificial strawberry flavor feels like heaven on his raw throat. 

When the popsicle is gone and his mind is back to fixating on what he suddenly can’t have, he slaps on a nicotine patch and changes the channel to some cop show that he and Ian always like to heckle. 

The shadows start to lengthen as the sun creeps lower and lower, and the dim afternoon light sends Mickey back into a light sleep. When he crawls out of his medicated haze again, it’s because Ian’s leg, which is currently intertwined with his own, is practically vibrating underneath him. He cranes his neck to see that Ian is starting to get fidgety, like he just doesn’t know what to do with his hands. A quick glance to the detritus on the coffee table confirms that Ian has already made his way through most of a pack of gum and the rest of the popsicles.

“You gonna make it through the day?” he prods. “You look like you’re sweating over there.” 

“Fuck you, so do you!” 

Ian’s not wrong. They make a sorry, smelly pair in their damp blanket pile, surrounded by sticky popsicle wrappers and cold remedies. 

Mickey is in the middle of feeling thankful that it’s just the two of them in this less than flattering moment when Lip walks in through the kitchen door. 

“Have you guys left the couch at all today?” Lip asks, surveying the room. “It looks like a bomb went off in a Walgreens.” 

Mickey and Ian flip him off in tandem. Lip doesn’t even seem to notice; his eyes have landed on the opened pack of nicotine patches. 

“You’re finally quitting?” 

“Sure fucking looks that way, doesn’t it?” Mickey hedges at the same time that Ian says, “Yeah.”

He’s still not feeling up to verbally committing to this scheme of Ian’s.

“Good,” Lip says plainly. “It’s about time you guys stopped sounding like you belong in a TB ward. The first week’s the worst, but after that you’ll start feeling better.” 

“We’ve got this,” Ian says, less to Lip than to Mickey.

Mickey buries his face back into Ian’s chest and almost lets himself believe that it’s true.



They finish out day one feeling sweaty and high on popsicle sugar, but overall fine. 

Day two is a little more tricky. For one thing, Ian has a weekend shift, leaving Mickey to his own devices in a house full of Gallaghers. Also, he still feels like a massive trainwreck despite sitting on his ass for a whole day, and that’s seriously starting to piss him off. It takes a cocktail of cough medicine and advil just to get him able to peel himself out of bed in time to join in a Saturday breakfast. 

Lip and Tami are downstairs with donuts; Liam and Carl have clearly already gotten their grubby mitts on them because only shit flavors are left. This makes his blood boil more than it probably should. 

“Morning,” he croaks out, grabbing for some kind of marshmallow frosted nightmare donut. He gets a chorus of good mornings in return, and the cheerfulness makes his head hurt. It’s not a good morning. 

“You still sound like shit,” Carl says in that nonchalant way he speaks about everything. Usually it’s endearing. Now it makes Mickey feel homicidal. 

“It’s Ian’s fucking fault,” Mickey reminds them, his tone maybe a little too harsh. “That Typhoid Mary motherfucker.” 

“Ian was in a bad mood earlier, too,” Liam points out. “Also, he told me to tell you not to pussy out on him today.”

Mickey just glares at Liam while Lip and Tami stifle laughter. 

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Liam says with a shrug. “I won’t snitch on you if you smoke. Gallaghers-”

“Gallaghers don’t snitch. Yeah, I’ve been told, thanks. Jesus Christ, did Ian let everyone in the whole Southside know that he’s got me on this stupidass health kick?” 

“Pretty much,” says Lip.

“I’m gonna kill him,” Mickey growls. 

Tami seems to know him well enough by now to not be completely put off by the bloodlust, but she still looks a little tense. “Maybe you guys should have staggered this, like he quits first and then you do? No offense, but you guys being this on edge at the same time sounds like a recipe for disaster.”

“Nah, it’s a competitive thing,” Lip argues. “They’re motivating each other by pissing each other off.”  

Mickey hates that he’s right. He wouldn’t be bothering with this at all if he wasn’t thinking about how smug Ian will look if he backs out. And now he’ll have to see smug looks on all the other Gallaghers who probably think he’s going to bail as well? No way in hell.

So, he doesn’t smoke. He’s bone tired but completely restless, so he drags himself grocery shopping and goes to the bank. He watches a bunch of creepy kids shows with Franny and tries to fix the leaky faucet in the downstairs bathroom. And then, when the pounding in his head reaches an intolerable high point, he washes too much Nyquil down with a few beers and crashes on the couch. 

The rest of the day is a blur that sort of reminds him of the time he and Ian did lean together one summer night back when they were teenagers. This sort of thing was way more fun when they were young, and Ian comes home stone-faced and sober and seems mad about it. He makes Mickey drink water and eat some leftover pizza, and he helps him climb out of his clothes and get into bed. 

“Getting fucked up is cheating,” Ian scolds, but he still holds Mickey close to him as he falls back asleep, so maybe day two is kind of alright. 

Mickey wakes up at the crack of dawn in a cold sweat on day three, his head absolutely throbbing from the deadly combo of a hangover and the nicotine withdrawal. He's still exhausted, so he's really not sure why he's even conscious. 

It's pitch black outside, but the room is slightly illuminated by the sickening blue glow of Ian on his phone.

"What time is it?" Mickey slurs out.

"4:47," Ian answers. 

"The fuck are you doing up?"

Ian tilts his phone over to display some colorful game that Mickey doesn't recognize.       

"Can't sleep," he explains, his voice carefully neutral. 

Mickey has a visceral reaction to those words anyway; anxiety hits like an icy punch in the gut. 

"Regular can't sleep or call the doctor can't sleep?" he can't help but ask. 

"It's fucking nicotine withdrawal can't sleep, okay? Go guzzle some more codeine or something and leave me the fuck alone about it."

Mickey sighs heavily and chokes down a cough."Gallagher, this was the worst idea you've ever had, and that's including when you tried to lift a fucking military chopper. This isn't worth it."

It's a low blow and he's not proud of it, but he does stand by the sentiment. The words leave me alone circle around and around in his head, and he can't help but feel like he could have stooped lower. If he had wanted.

Cold turkey is hard enough when you aren't a pair of felons with a short fuse and some seriously fucked up brain chemistry. This is just their reality. Still, he can see the hurt on Ian's face even though he clearly tries to shove it down under a blanket of anger.

“So what, you just wanna die of black lung before you’re thirty?” Ian accuses. 

Mickey scoffs. “We’re not gonna make it to thirty if we wind up being a damn murder-suicide case by the end of the week either.” 

At this, the frustration in Ian’s expression drains away in favor of blankness, and Mickey knows that he’s taken it too far. He was mostly kidding, but he’s still hit with instant regret. 

“What, you think I’m too batshit for this?” Ian says. 

Mickey pauses because yeah, maybe that’s what he thinks, just a little bit. He’s not happy about it, and he’s too much of a straight-shooter for any coddling white lies here. But before he has a chance to formulate his best version of a diplomatic answer, Ian climbs out of bed, snatches his phone and the nearest pair of pants, and heads for the door. 

“Hey! Don’t just fucking walk out on me! You don’t get to pull that shit anymore!” Mickey yelps. 

“I do when you’re pissing me off this much.” 

“Where are you even gonna go, huh?” 

Ian freezes for a moment, stricken. He definitely hasn’t thought this through. 

"Will you just come back to bed, please? Look, I didn't mean it like that. Shit, I don't know, maybe Tami was right."

"And what did Tami say?" Ian asks, skeptical. He takes his hand away from the doorknob in favor of crossing his arms defiantly, and that's a win.

"That we should take turns with this, I guess? To keep the tension down or whatever."

Throwing Tami under the bus isn't the perfect solution by any means, and it's also a total dick move. Still, it does seem to redirect the heat. 

"Does literally everyone think we're too much of a clusterfuck to do one good thing for ourselves?" Ian's shoulders sag, and it's clear that he's lost momentum. 

"Who gives a shit? Just come back to bed." Mickey pats Ian's side of the mattress invitingly, and to his delight Ian responds by heaving himself back into his rightful spot next to him, albeit grudgingly. 

"This does suck, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea," he grumbles. 

Mickey isn't convinced; it's still not even 5:00am yet and they've already struggled to diffuse an argument. But he knows that this is important to Ian for whatever reason, so he just buries his face into Ian's chest, ruffles his hair a little, and feels thankful that no one has ended up sleeping, or not sleeping, on the couch. He can feel some of the tension drain away from Ian’s shoulders as he settles back down into his pillow.

“Think you’ll be able to get back to sleep?” Mickey asks.

“Nah. You?”

“You got me too riled up, man,” he answers, eyebrows raised playfully. Ian can’t even see what his face is doing, but he catches the tone. 

And then the first part of day three ends up being pretty great, all things considered.



Ian’s gone to work again by the time Mickey musters the energy to get out of bed. He never did manage to get back to sleep again. He tries to tell himself that his chest feels somewhat better, though he can’t truly feel a difference. He has the same combo of smoker's and flu season cough, just with the added bonus of intense nicotine cravings and some stomach cramping. That last one is new.

Carl is the only one still sitting at the kitchen table when he gracelessly flops into a chair with a cup of coffee. He grunts a quick good morning, Carl responds with the same, and they lapse into a silence that Mickey likes to think is companionable. 

He's still preoccupied thinking about how Ian is at work after yet another disrupted night of sleep, and he tries not to keep fixating on the troubling image of his husband walking out the door looking run down and reluctant to leave. If he focuses too much on this he'll never make it through the day, but he doesn't know how to preoccupy himself otherwise. His life this far hasn't been so conducive to acquiring hobbies, after all.

"What have you got going on today?" Mickey asks Carl, desperate for distraction.

Carl shrugs. "Nothing, I guess?" 

Mickey resists the urge to throttle him out of sheer disappointment. Of all the Gallaghers besides Ian, he knows that he and Carl at least have some common interests. Street art, the sale of fine weapons and weed, a well deserved beatdown here and there. He also knows that most of their overlapping interests are definitely a parole violation, but fuck it.

"You in for some target practice, then?" he asks. "I'll show you the Milkovich method for improvising a shooting range and target dummy." 

Carl's eyes light up. "Hell yeah!"

"You got anyone right now whose guts you fucking hate?" 

Carl scrunches up his face like he's really gotta think about this hard. "Uh, my boss kinda sucks? Oh, and Julia sucks ass. Why?"

"You aim better if you name your target after someone you hate."

"Why don't we just call it Terry, then?" Carl suggests knowingly.

"I like your style, kid," Mickey says, unable to hold back a proud grin. “You know if Franny’s got any dolls? We need that and some duct tape.”

“I think Debbie kept some old toys. Attic, probably?” 

Fortunately, they’re able to unearth an ancient baby doll from the dusty recesses of storage, and they place it in a duffle bag alongside Mickey’s gun, silencer, a six pack, a bottle of whiskey, duct tape, and rope. The assortment of goods certainly stirs a powerful wave of nostalgia, and probably not in a good way. 

It takes Mickey and Carl a lot longer to find an appropriately decrepit, abandoned building now that the neighborhood is on its way to becoming a gentrified piece of shit, but they get there eventually. They walk mostly in silence, but they do manage to strike up some conversation occasionally. They make fun of the annoying yoga loving yuppies that plague the area and they reminisce on the street corners they used to hustle. It should be weirder than it is.

They finally hop the fence on an old construction site and strap up the baby doll on a pile of cinder blocks. Mickey writes “TERRY” on its forehead with an almost dried up sharpie and steps back to the approximate distance you’d stand if you were at an actual gun club that you could pay for with real money. He rifles through the duffle bag, takes out a couple of beers, and loads up the gun. He has a hard time getting his hands to cooperate through the process of filling up the chamber; his fingers are shaking just enough to be a pain in the ass.

“You wanna go first?” he asks Carl, more out of necessity than kindness. He probably won’t be such a good shot today and it’s not only because he’s been out of practice since prison. 

Carl just nods and takes the gun.  Unsurprisingly, he’s an impressive shot just like Ian was, back in his ROTC days. In his first round, he manages to poke a hole straight through the “Y”. They both let out a little whoop and give a toast to a job well done. 

Mickey does take a turn, but the best he can get for the day is a grazed doll toe. Still, it’s a good effort, especially since they don’t get the cops called on them.

“No one else hears about this, right?” he feels the need to clarify with Carl, once their beers are finished and the doll is barely held together by its stuffing. Carl just looks at him like he’s stupid for even asking, and that gives him plenty of faith that he’s going to be just fine. He gives Carl a grateful shove on the shoulder and makes him carry the duffle bag home. 



Ian walks through the front door a few hours after Mickey and Carl arrive home from their outing. Lip, Tami, and Mickey are in the process of puttering around the kitchen in a sad attempt to find something to throw together for Sunday night dinner when he hears the sound of Ian dropping his coat, shoes, and backpack in the foyer.

“Hey, how’d work go?” he asks, slamming the fridge shut so he can properly greet his husband. He pokes his head through the kitchen door to find that Ian has forgone any type of pleasantry and is already on his way upstairs. This is undoubtedly a red flag, so Mickey abandons thoughts of food and scrambles up the stairs towards their bedroom.

He finds Ian flopped face first into his pillow, still in his work clothes. Mickey finds himself wondering if he’ll ever be able to handle the sight of Ian in bed during daylight hours without feeling a dizzying cocktail of panic, anger, and helplessness. Unconsciously, his hand goes to the pocket of his jeans, searching for a nonexistent pack of cigarettes. He feels like he needs something to ground himself before he tries talking to Ian. Without his usual crutch, all he can do is take a deep, steadying breath. 

“Work was that bad, huh?” he tries.

Ian gives a vague shrug, and this slight sign of life is almost enough to ease some of the tension Mickey is feeling. He leans against the doorframe, arms crossed, and tries to feel out the situation some more. Maybe it’s not nearly as bad as his current levels of trepidation would indicate, he thinks.

“Carl and Liam keep eating all the food, so we’re probably stuck with KFC for dinner. Sound okay?” 

Mickey gets another shrug in return, and he can practically feel his blood pressure rising every second that Ian won’t just look at him. His hands are shaking again, this time with the effort of keeping his cool. Taking another deep breath, he sits down on the bed next to Ian and runs his hand gently through his hair. Ian leans into the touch, and that’s a good sign. 

“Come downstairs and get some dinner?” he asks. 

“I’m too tired,” Ian says, his voice muffled by his pillow. “Eat without me.” 

At last, a full sentence. Mickey drops his hand down to Ian’s shoulder, and he lightly nudges him into position that will actually allow for eye contact. 

“You can’t sleep yet, man. It’s way too early. You’ll fuck over your sleep schedule even more than it already is,” he says firmly. 

Ian’s expression immediately darkens. He still has some pretty intense boundaries about how involved Mickey can be in these things, but Mickey reasons that if a shared prison cell hasn’t loosened him up then maybe marriage will. Ian’s inconsistent, so all Mickey can do is go for it and see what happens. Maybe they should actually sit down and map out a game plan for moments like these, when Mickey doesn’t know exactly what Ian needs and Ian sure as hell isn’t willing to self-advocate. 

“I’m not allowed to take a nap? After I didn’t fucking sleep all night?” Ian snaps. “Christ, Mickey. Fuck off.” 

His words sting, though Mickey does feel like he gets it. Ian wants to do normal people things like sleep during the day without having the entire Gallagher family on his ass. He wants to quit smoking without having to consider the fact that half the side effects of withdrawal are the same as the side effects of his medication working and the others are the same as if his medication isn’t working. It’s not fair, but Mickey’s sympathy only goes so far, especially when Ian technically brought this on both of them. Nothing is ever fair around here, and Mickey’s accepted that since he was pretty much still a toddler. 

“Have it your way, then. Just try not to wake me up when you’re playing phone games at bumfuck o’clock in the morning again.” 

Ian just scowls at him before burrowing back into his pillow. Mickey huffs out another breath, and this time it doesn’t do a damn thing to ease the stress. 

“Come down for food whenever you decide to cut the nocturnal bullshit,” Mickey says, a final attempt to antagonize Ian into rejoining society. With that, he turns on his heel and marches back downstairs. 

When he reaches the end of the kitchen stairs, he’s greeted with the concerned faces of Lip, Tami, Liam, and Carl. They all stare at him expectantly; even Franny and Fred look curious about the cause of the raised voices. 

“He, uh, doing okay?” Lip asks. 

“Yeah, he’s fucking superb,” Mickey bites back. “Are we gonna eat or what?” 

“I’ll go talk to him.” Lip makes a move to go towards the stairs, but Mickey holds up a hand to stop him. The somewhat threatening gesture oddly reminds him of the good old days when he used to kick Lip’s ass in the streets. 

“Don’t bother. He’s trying to sleep and he sure as shit doesn’t want all of you fuckers freaking out on him about it.” 

Lip probably hasn’t forgotten about the aforementioned ass kicking, either. Mickey can see his protective older brother instincts simmering beneath his reformed new dad persona. It’s in the way Lip’s hands tighten into fists just for a moment. 

“You don’t have to be a dick about it. Lip’s just trying to help,” Tami protests, stepping next to Lip in her own version of protectiveness. Mickey can’t help but feel like this is some bad karma coming back at him for making a scapegoat out of her. He knows with decent confidence that he and Lip would be fairly well matched in both a verbal sparring match and a literal one, but Tami is a complete wildcard. He thinks that she might be capable of running him over with that dumb little red car of hers if he crossed her, and he can respect that. 

Lip is like an angry bull ready to charge. “Look, I know you think you’ve got it under control, but it’s really starting to seem like you guys are losing your shit. I want to be supportive and all, but you’ve gotta know this doesn’t look good."

Suddenly Mickey has a greater appreciation for why Ian felt so bothered by his own lack of faith. And beyond that, he realizes that maybe he’s still not over the fact that the Gallaghers credit themselves as always being there to watch out for Ian yet they still managed to let him spiral out all the way to jail. 

He's ready to absolutely lay into Lip when the doorbell rings, sparing them all. 

"I'll get it," Liam wisely offers, and he escapes to go collect their bucket of chicken from the UberEats driver. Carl takes his example and scurries off to set the table, which he definitely wouldn’t have bothered doing if Lip and Mickey weren’t five seconds away from reigniting their previously held cold war of thinly veiled disapproval. 

“Can we all just have dinner without being at each other’s throats, please?” begs Tami. “You guys are starting to freak Fred out.”

Mickey honestly cannot be bothered to give a shit about the fragile sensitivities of an infant at the moment, but he does sit down and pick at a drumstick. Everyone else follows suit, and the room is filled with the sounds of tense chewing. It’s not the first time that Mickey has ended up sharing dinner with the Gallaghers when Ian isn’t around, but it’s definitely one of the most uncomfortable. He wonders if Ian would mind if he takes Lip out back and kicks his ass, just for old time’s sake. 

Liam and Carl glance towards the empty chair where Ian should be and exchange a worried look; this is the final straw for Mickey. 

“The fuck do you people want me to do, anyway? Shove a lit cigarette down his throat? Drag him downstairs and magically make him want to be here?”

Lip’s expression tightens in a way that Mickey recognizes as the infamous “You’ve Touched the Wrong Fucking Nerve” look that all of the Gallaghers seem to have in their arsenal. Seeing that look reminds him of the painful conversation that he and Ian had gone through this morning, and that just makes something snap in him. 

Before Lip has a chance to get a word in, Mickey swoops out of his seat. He takes his plate with him, ready to write dinner off as a lost cause. Maybe Ian had the right idea- unconsciousness sounds like the way to go. But just the thought of Ian’s back turned away from him in that damn bed has Mickey’s head buzzing with a bundle of emotions that his brain can only seem to translate into blind rage. Without thinking, he throws his plate into the sink with reckless abandon. 

The plate promptly smashes with a violent clatter, and all heads swivel around to stare accusingly at the source of the chaos. Fred starts to wail, and Tami hustles him out of the room with absolutely zero subtlety in how little she wants her son to be around this kind of thing. 

“Shit,” Mickey says simply, without much remorse. If he’s being honest, there was something extremely satisfying about taking out his frustrations on innocent kitchenware. He catches Carl’s eyes for a second, and Carl gives him a slight shrug, like he’s saying “eh, it happens”. Lip, on the other hand, looks like he’s reached the point where he needs to mentally check out of this shitshow. 

“What the hell?” 

Mickey is prepared for Lip’s judgement, but it’s actually Ian who speaks. He’s hunched in the doorframe by the stairs, still in his work clothes. The only signs that he’s been in bed are his intensely rumpled hair and the utter exhaustion evident on his drawn face. 

“Hey,” Lip greets him, not even bothering to hide his relief that his little brother has decided to emerge, even if the circumstances are garbage. “As you can probably see, Mickey missed you at dinner.” 

Ian just blinks slowly, as if he’s trying to make up his mind on how to react and finds that reacting at all just isn’t worth the energy. 

“You want some food?” Lip asks while Mickey gingerly plucks plate shards out of the sink and into the trash. 

“Yeah,” Ian hesitates before answering. Mickey can tell that he’s lying just from the look on his face, but the way that he slumps into a chair and unenthusiastically grabs for a biscuit certainly isn’t helping his case either. It hits Mickey that Ian is only here to play damage control, and he isn’t sure how to feel about that. Maybe he should be grateful, but his range of emotions still seems to be restricted to the anger end of the spectrum.

Carl and Liam are casually avoiding eye contact with Mickey, but they’re looking at Ian like he’s a live bomb. This strikes Mickey as unwarranted, especially considering how much worse things could be. Once Tami rejoins the meal, a placated Fred at her hip, it could almost pass as a decent dinner. Liam talks about his latest money making scheme, Lip offers helpful pointers while shoveling pureed peas into Fred’s mouth. Carl laughs. Tami holds herself back from glaring at Mickey, but it’s probably a close thing. 

Ian doesn’t seem to be following the conversation very well, and it’s not too long before he throws an imploring, bleary eyed look Mickey’s way. It’s almost like he’s asking permission to leave without causing further uproar. In response, Mickey wordlessly goes to clear off the table and signal the end of the evening. He even manages to refrain from any further property damage this time. The second the empty chicken bucket hits the trash can, Ian is lethargically making his way back upstairs. 

“Night, everyone. I’ll venmo you for the food,” he says with a wave, and he gives a small but genuine smile when everyone sends him off without a fuss. 

Mickey watches Ian’s back as he retreats. Once he’s around the corner and out of sight, he turns to face Lip, whose expression is almost unreadable. 

“I didn’t think it was possible to actually root for someone to start smoking again, but congrats, you guys made it happen,” Lip says. 

Mickey clears his throat roughly, unable to wrangle his brain into producing an appropriately snarky response. He wonders how long ago it was that he last felt like he had any energy to speak of. This day has left him feeling completely drained, and now he has to deal with a pissed-off, sarcastic brother-in-law. 

Lip must sense Mickey’s exhaustion, because his expression softens. 

“Though I guess I should give credit where it’s due. You got him to have dinner, at least.”

Mickey is so surprised by this vague endorsement that he just has to laugh. “Yeah, this was all part of my fucking master plan.” 

And just like that, the tension seems to have been eased, and it dawns on Mickey how far Lip has come since he was just some pompous douchebag who liked to talk shit about Mandy. Mickey’s not sure if he can ever fully remove himself from the leftover animosity about how he ended things with his little sister, but for now Lip is giving him a pat on the shoulder and saying, “Don’t worry about cleaning up. We’ve got it. Why don’t you go keep an eye on Ian?” 

Mickey nods, grateful, and heads off to join Ian upstairs. Once again, he’s not sure what to expect, but he brings a fresh box of popsicles with him as a sort of thank you for coming down to eat. He finds Ian still awake, just starfishing out on their bed and absently looking at the ceiling. Fortunately, he's finally changed out of his work clothes and seems at least more relaxed than he was earlier in the evening. It looks like the family time actually did some good for his mood, if not his ability to get some rest. Mickey comes to join Ian on top of the blankets, setting the popsicle box in between them as he throws an arm around Ian's shoulder. 

“You remember that one time we tried to make lean that one summer? Back when you were still in high school?” Mickey opens up a popsicle as he reminisces. 

Ian looks up at him curiously. “Yeah, think so. We used jolly ranchers. I barfed purple the next day.” 

Mickey snorts at the reminder. “You were always a lightweight, weren’t you? But I guess I shouldn't talk. Think I might have hallucinated. Definitely blacked out. We were being dumb fucks.”

“What made you think of that?”

“All the cough syrup around here jogged my memory, I guess. I don’t know. Just, I get it now. No one ever bat a fucking eye at us doing that shit. Now here we are, actually trying to get out shit together, and suddenly everyone has an opinion.” 

"You had an opinion, too," Ian reminds him, but his tone isn't too bitter. 

"Yeah, I did," Mickey concedes. "And I hate this. I still can't breathe for shit and I'm going psycho on dishes in front of your judgy family." 

He pauses for a moment to look down at Ian's face, and he decides that he's not in such a low mood that he’s unable to handle a little honesty. 

"And I'm worried about you," he adds.

Predictably, Ian looks annoyed by this confession, but he soon morphs his irritated eye roll into something a little more accepting.

"Don't be," he insists weakly, knowing full well that's not how it works.

Mickey decides this doesn't justify an answer, so he just offers Ian a lick of his popsicle, which he reluctantly accepts.

“The reason I wanted to do this in the first place is because I was worried about you .” Ian says.  

“Guess it backfired on you, huh?” 

“Guess so.” 

Ian forces a brief smile at the irony before letting out a sigh. 

“Are you still going to freak out on me if I want to go to sleep now?” he asks.

Mickey resists the urge to look at his phone to confirm just how ridiculously early it is. It’s been a long enough day as it is. Sleep sounds good.

“Nah. Just wait up for me, okay?” 

He flips himself out of bed and starts to undress. 

“You don’t have come to bed with me,” Ian protests, but Mickey has already climbed under the covers with him. 

“I’ve been up since sunrise, bitch. You’re not the only one who’s ready for this day to be over,” he says, trying his hardest to reign his tone in so that it’s more teasing than aggressive. 

It seems to work, because Ian scoots over to give him some room on the mattress and closes his eyes. Mickey turns the light out and lets himself lean into the fatigue he’s been fighting all day. He doesn’t genuinely believe that he’ll be able to fall asleep at an hour that can only be considered an acceptable bedtime for babies and elderly people on their way out, but somehow he drifts off. 

When he next opens his eyes, he thinks it’s only been a few moments. However, he looks at his phone to find that it’s nearly midnight. The house has gone totally quiet, and Ian is gone. 

He feels a rush of panic as soon as he blinks away the last remnants of sleep and comes to full awareness of the emptiness next to him. Ian’s probably just in the bathroom, he reasons, though after a few minutes pass it becomes clear that’s not the case. Mickey jolts himself out of bed and goes to investigate, violently stubbing his toe in the process. 

“Fucking Gallagher,” he mutters. 

With a sinking feeling he realizes just where Ian most likely is, and he carefully makes his way downstairs. He fumbles in the dark hallway before he sees that the kitchen light has been turned on and the backdoor is slightly ajar. 

Ian doesn’t react when Mickey finds him leaning against the porch railing, a combination of cold air and smoke trailing out of his nose. It seems as though he was expecting to be caught; he looks Mickey straight in the eye and takes a slow, resigned drag. 

“Still can’t sleep,” he explains blandly. 

Mickey had expected to hear shame, but instead Ian just sounds tired. Part of him wants to smack the cigarette right out of Ian’s hand and tell him not to pussy out on him, and another part wants to go for humor and point out how he’d totally called this outcome from the beginning. But the biggest part of him just really wants a fucking smoke, too. 

So, Mickey slides in next to Ian on the porch, ignoring the biting wind that brutally swirls around them. He holds out his hand expectantly, just like he’s done so many times before, and raises a challenging eyebrow. Ian looks like he has to grapple with himself for a quick moment, but then he sighs and passes the cigarette over. Maybe Mickey should feel some type of guilt when he finally admits defeat alongside Ian, but for now all he feels is relief, plain and simple.  

They finish the cigarette together without a word, and then Mickey gently leads Ian back into the warmth of the house.  It isn’t until they’re both wrapped up under the blankets, shivering slightly as they huddle to regain feeling in their fingers, that Ian speaks again.

“I’m going to quit,” he declares in a small voice. 

“I know,” Mickey says, fondly smoothing back Ian’s unruly hair. “But we should try cutting back slowly this time, yeah? Cold turkey is a load of horseshit.” 

Ian gives him a watery smile. “Hold up. We?”

Mickey rolls his eyes, but he can’t help but smile back. “Us. You and me, Ian. Getting our shit together. We got this.”