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Catnip to Babies

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The heat of summer is hell when there’s a cast on your leg.

            It makes Ian almost glad to be in Mandy’s boyfriend’s borrowed car. The air-conditioning is like heaven. And Mickey, beautiful soul that he can sometimes be had twisted a metal coat-hanger into just the right shape that Ian can fit it down inside his cast to scratch at his knee.

            “I don’t even like babies,” Mickey says, revving the engine slightly as they pull up at a stop light.

            He’s been tapping his fingers nervously against the steering wheel these last few miles as they get closer and closer to their destination.

            Ian smirks. “That’s the best part about other people’s children,” he says. “We can hold them while their cute and hand them back when they take a shit.”

            Mickey’s face is horrified.

            “I ain’t going near that thing if it does a shit.”

            Ian rolls his eyes. “All babies shit, Mick.”

            “Well it stinks.”

            “Your shit stinks.”

            “And it’s my shit,” Mickey argues. “I’m fine with that stink. I’m even fine with your stink. Babies can fuck off.”

            It’s enough to make him laugh, this entire conversation. But more so it’s the look on Mickey’s face.

            “Be glad then that’s this time it’s just baby, singular.”

            He still looks a little green.

            “It’s easy for you to say, babies fucking love you.”

            “They really don’t.”

            Mickey scoffs. “Of course they do. Kids can’t resist that fucking dopey ass smile on your face. It’s like catnip to them or some shit.”

            “Cat-nip to babies?” Ian laughs.

            “Fuck off.” He takes a left a little more sharply that he probably should have done, glancing at Ian apologetically.

            Mickey keeps doing this when they’re in a vehicle. He’s constantly looking to Ian for everything little jolt, as though it’s going to trigger some major traumatic episode. Which it isn’t. Ian doesn’t have a problem with being in cars.

            He just has a problem with Jimmy’s driving.

            Not that he’s seen the man since though, so it’s whatever.

            “You’ll be fine, Mick,” Ian says. “Honestly.”

            Mickey waves him off. “Yeah, whatever. Guess I’m going to have to get used to it. It ain’t like the bitch is gonna be keeping her legs closed anytime soon.”

            Ian laughs, he can’t help himself. “Maybe refrain from saying stuff like that when we see her, yeah?”

            Mickey flips him off.

            “It’s your niece anyway, you never know. You might love her.”

            The look on Mickey’s face almost exactly mirrors Ian’s own. They both know it isn’t likely.

            The baby had been born a few weeks premature, but when Ian had looked concerned Mickey had just shrugged. “We were all in a fucking rush to get here,” he’d said. “Fuckin’ Milkovich family trait.”

            Ian had just smirked and said it was ironic then, since none of them had ever been on time for anything since. They especially hadn’t bene early.

            He’d earned the finger for that one as well as a sharp flick from the dishtowel Mickey had been holding. The latter had been just cruel when Ian couldn’t run away. He’d done an awkward turtle impression on the couch instead, but had made Mickey collapse for laughing. Dick.

            “At least Mandy should have mellowed out now she’s not the size of a whale,” Ian says.

            She hadn’t.

            They’d waited a week before visiting. Mandy’s boyfriend Jake had a bunch of siblings and there was nothing special about a newborn. Especially not one confined to a fucking fish tank in a hospital. Ian’s experience of children told him that they were always red and ugly in their first few days.

            They didn’t need to live through that.

            They also hadn’t wanted to time it badly enough that they had to be anywhere near any vaginas. Bleh. Especially Mandy’s, love her as they do – and they do, even though Mickey just rolls his eyes and says, “She’s alright I suppose,”.

            “Where the fuck have you been?” Mandy hisses at them. She throws open the door, not even giving them chance to knock.

            Mickey jumps a mile and if Ian hadn’t have done the same, it would have been hilarious.

            There’s nothing hilarious about Mandy’s wild, frantic eyes and her rat’s nest of hair. She looks tired and stressed and like he’s about to rip on of their heads off and shove it up the other one’s ass.

            He sort of hopes it’s his head. At least Mickey likes having large pieces of Ian shoved places.

            “Bitch, you look fucking terrible,” Mickey says, tactful as always.

            Mandy has a handful of his hair before either of them can blink. “You try squeezing a melon out of your fucking hole and then having to put up with crying and fucking congratulating when all you want is a burger and a fucking nap!” she grinds out.

            “So is the baby doing the crying or the congratulating?” Mickey asks, pushing his luck.

            Mandy tightens her grip, practically bending Mickey double. He starts to go a little red in the face, pushing at her hands. “Twist my fucking tit, Mickey, I dare you,” she says. “It’s all I’m fucking good for now anyway. I’m practically a fucking cow.”

            There are tears starting to well in her eyes.

            Ian shushes her gently, prying her fingers out of his boyfriend’s hair. When she releases him, Mickey jumps away quickly, rubbing the top of his head and his precious hair. He’s eying his sister like she’s crazy; and in this moment, he probably wouldn’t be too wrong.

            “Hey,” Ian says softly, resting a hand on the side of her neck, thumb rubbing over her pulse point. They’ve gotten to be pretty close over the years. Not the best of friends, sure, but Ian would kill for the girl. She’s the female Mickey. He loves her like the family she is.

            It hurts to see her like this.

            “What can we do?” he asks softly.

            Mandy lets out a long stuttering breath and just sags against him. She sobs into Ian’s t-shirt, heavy and ugly, arms wrapped like tight bands around his waist. He’s thankful of Mickey’s steadying hand on his back, keeping him from toppling over on his bulky cast.

            “This was supposed to be good,” she hiccups, right there on the doorstep. “Being a mother. I was supposed to be good at it. But… Jake’s never here. He fucked off back to work as soon as we got out the hospital. He goes to the fucking bar while I’m here with a screaming fucking baby. And… and… his fucking mother keeps hovering, looking at me like I can’t handle this. And I can’t. She’s fucking right.”

            “Oh Mandy,” Ian says gently whilst Mickey just looks alarmed beside them. “You’re doing fine. It’s only been a week, Mands, you can’t be expected to get it all right immediately, can you?”

            “Apparently,” she mutters into his shirt.

            “Ay, um… where is the kid now by the way?” Mickey asks, eyes darting nervously between Mandy and the door.

            He looks so out of his element it could maybe be funny if Mandy wasn’t having a breakdown in his arms.

            “Asleep in the living room,” Mandy says. “Probably working herself up to do another fucking shit.”

            Ian laughs and so does Mandy, if a little wetly.

            “Go lie down,” he prompts, pushing her through the door. “We’ve got this. Just go get some sleep. You sleep when she sleeps, isn’t that the number one rule in all those fucking baby books?”

            Mandy nods, smiling at them before ducking inside. She apparently doesn’t need any more prompting than that. Ian doesn’t really blame her.

            He’s going to beat the shit out of her boyfriend when he gets here, leaving her alone all day. It obviously isn’t good for her.

            “Fuck,” Mickey breathes out when his sister’s gone.

            He looks a little distraught for a second before he reins it in.

            Ian cups the back of his neck, kissing his head where Mandy had had his hair in a death grip. “We can do this for her,” he says and Mickey nods underneath his lips. “Come on.”

            The baby is sleeping, but her eyes blink open when they bend over her. Or… when Ian bends over her rather. Mickey maintains a ‘safe’ distance. Her eyes are such a brilliant blue, identical to Mickey’s, set like little gems in her pale, plump face. There are just tufts of blonde hair on her head and she kicks her legs out, gurgling when she sees him.

            She’s dressed in a pink onesie, little cats printed all over the fabric. The feet are in the shape of little faces. It’s adorable. She looks just like Mandy and Ian is already in love with her.

            “Hey there, Ellie,” he says softly, hunching to scoop her up. It’s a little awkward, the arm that he’d messed up in the crash still a little weak. She makes an odd little sound as he cradles her against his chest, a spit bubble popping against the t-shirt already partially wet with her mother’s tears.

            “Look at you,” he murmurs, smiling down at her. “Aren’t you just lovely.”

            He touches her soft, fat little cheek and she screws her face up like she’s considering crying, but doesn’t.

            She’s just beautiful.

            When he looks up, Mickey is staring at him. There’s a dumbfounded expression on his face, like he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. Ian smiles at him. He smiles the smile that practically splits his face in two, he just can’t help it.

            “Told you so,” Mickey says, voice quiet like he’s sharing a secret.

            Ian quirks an eyebrow.

            “Babies love you,” he says.

            Ian laughs gently. “Or maybe it’s just Milkovich’s.”

            He expects Mickey to flip him off or something, but the man just huffs out a small laugh and admits, “Yeah, maybe.”

            “Here, hold her for a second while I go make a bottle,” he says, moving closer and offering the baby over.

            Mickey takes her, probably more out of an automatic response to hold whatever is being handed over than an actual desire to cradle his niece. He looks awkward with the baby in his arms, but his posture soon softens the longer he stares down at the little girl.

            He looks like he’s expecting her to explode or to burst into tears or to do a shit right there in his hold, but she just does nothing. Ellie just blinks up at him, blue eyes meeting blue.

            It makes Ian wonder what she’s seeing. He wonders if she can recognise family yet, if she understands the weight of what this means, of who she’s meeting. The little girl won’t remember any of this, of course she won’t, but Ian sort of wishes she would. He wishes she could remember this moment as he will.

            The moment that Mickey Milkovich held a baby and his whole expression thawed.

            Mickey looked completely stunned watching her. He touched her hair gently, seemed to be amazed at the softness. Everything about the scene was so beautiful, it made Ian want to take a picture.

            He wanted to capture this moment, frame it so that he could look at it forever. Until the end of time.

            He eased his phone out of his pocket slowly and his thumb just managed to catch the button in time before Mickey moved. He didn’t look at the image straight away, stuffed the phone back into his jeans before Mickey could notice and complain.

            “Maybe I’m not the only one good with babies,” he points out, dropping a kiss onto Mickey’s slack lips just because he can’t resist.

            Mickey blinks, like he’s coming out of a dream and he almost smiles. “Go make that bottle, Gallagher, before she shits on me or something.”

            Ian smiles and lets himself watch for one more minute as Mickey lowers himself carefully onto Mandy’s sunken in couch. He knows a lot of people don’t understand his fascination with Mickey, but he wishes they could see him now. This gentle, caring, astounding part of a man that can be reached just by gently cracking open his hard shell, this is the Mickey that Ian sees day to day. This is the Mickey that Ian knows is there and the one he fell in love with.

            He wishes he could show everyone and prove himself right, but at the same time, it’s nice, nothing having to share this.

            He watches Ellie reaching for Mickey’s face, her fat palm slapping lightly against Mickey’s cheek and he thinks he might have found the person he wouldn’t mind sharing this Mickey with. His Mickey. He could share Mickey with this baby girl, because even though it had only been two minutes, he could already tell he would have to.

 

*****

 

Mandy is still asleep, the baby resting in the crook of Ian’s arm when the keys jangle on the other side of the front door.

            Mickey tenses and is rising out of his seat before Ian can work out whether or not he wants to stop him.

            He decides against it when he looks down at Ellie, thinks of Mandy’s drawn out, stressed expression. He’s enjoyed every moment of being near this little girl and it’s a shame that Mandy can’t too. She should be finding this joyous. Stressful yes, but not so much so she wants to break down.

            She should be having help with this.

            Jake deserves all he gets in his opinion.

            Mickey grabs him by the front of his jacket before he’s even fully gotten through the door, pushing him up against it. His expression twists into a sneer that’s so familiar to Ian from their days in the Halfway House that it has a happy twinge of nostalgia rising in his stomach.

            In his arms, Ellie doesn’t stir at the sudden noise. She just keeps staring up at him, gurgling.

            Ian’s pretty sure he just heard Mandy move in her bedroom though. It’s a shame she has to wake up, but this is a necessary evil.

            “You want to explain why my sister’s in there stressed out of her fucking mind and crying, whilst you just stagger in whenever you want?” Mickey asks, slamming Jake back against the wall again for good measure, the air rushing out of his lungs.

            “I was at work,” he says weakly.

            It’s a bit pathetic that he’s not even trying to fight this.

            “You drink beer at work usually then?” Mickey asks, shaking him.

            There’s a pause and then, “I went out for a quick pint.”

            There’s a dull smack sound when Mickey’s fist connects. He soon pulls Jake back upright though, his head thunking against the door. “Wrong answer,” Mickey says. “Because the way I see it, you’re doing a real good job of forgetting that little talk we had about how to treat my sister right.”

            Ian hadn’t known Mickey had had that talk, but it didn’t surprise him. He’d had one with the guy himself.

            “I… I don’t… I.”

            Mickey shakes him again. “Stop fucking stuttering man and wise the fuck up,” he says, throwing Jake away from him roughly. “How about you go in there and try some fucking grovelling for a change. Be something more than a piece of shit.”

            He points in the direction of the bedroom.

            Ian stands as Jake comes past, tries to look as threatening as he can with a baby in his arms. He thinks it works based on the guy flinching, but he must be more of a pussy than they’d originally thought it if did.

            “It isn’t going to last, is it?” Mickey asks later, when the baby’s asleep and they’re trying to turn the volume of the television up over the sounds of Mandy arguing with Jake in the next room.

            “No,” he says when Mandy comes out and curls up against them, tears silently running down her face. “I don’t think so.”

            It isn’t supposed to be like this for her, but it is. Still, Ian knows he and Mickey won’t let anything happen to either of the beautiful, heartbreakingly fragile Milkovich girls. All the other men in their lives may be shitheads, but the two of them will be good enough.