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Mickey’s finally getting out of prison, even earlier than he thought thanks to a mixture of overcrowding, good (enough) behavior, and a brand new judge still young enough to believe in reform. What the fuck ever.

“You’re gonna be out there in the great big world,” his PO says, sort of condescending, when Mickey meets him. Mickey thinks this guy was Terry’s PO at one point, so he probably took one look at the name on the file and rolled his eyes, not committing to putting in any effort. “You got a good support system?”

“No,” Mickey says, because he doesn’t. Right now his support system is an ex-wife who tolerates him and a kid he only knows through hour-long monthly visits on either side of the glass. His dad and brothers certainly wouldn’t count, even if he had any interest in looking them up, and Mandy’s who-the-fuck-knows-where these days.

He used to think he’d have…

But he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter.

The PO’s eyes widen a little bit, surprised by Mickey’s candor, but Mickey doesn’t really care. He did his time. He wants to leave. He’s already decided he’s never coming back. He’ll try to do that through legal means, but he knows himself and is fully prepared to fight back with any arresting officers hard enough that they have to just fucking shoot him. He’s never going to prison again.

Svetlana picks him up, looking bored and a little irritated, but that’s sort of just her face. The kid’s in the backseat, and he’s staring.

“Hi,” he says. “You are coming to our house?” He just turned six. Mickey missed his birthday by two months. He can’t decide if that’s bad or not.

“Yeah,” Mickey tells him. “Don’t got anywhere else to go.”

The kid leans forward and pokes Mickey’s elbow, just once. His eyes go a little wide. It is, Mickey realizes, the first time the kid would remember ever touching him. It makes him feel weird. He turns his face to the window and doesn’t talk.

He gets two jobs, stocking shelves at the grocery store a few hours a week and bouncing for a club on weekends. He’ll never be rich, not through legal means, but he wouldn’t know what to do with money if he had it anyway. They’re out of the old house, lost it years ago when no one was around to keep the hipsters from taking over, and Mickey’s relieved. Too many ghosts.

He doesn’t look Ian up or anything like that. Even Mickey’s smart enough to hear the fuck off in four years of radio silence. No visits, no letters, a disconnected number. Message received.

Three weeks out (three weeks, two days, six hours, but who’s counting), Svetlana looks at him and says, “You go to Yevgeny’s school tomorrow.”

“What the fuck?” He snaps. “No.” It’s the same elementary school he went to. Everyone there hated him enough when he was a kid; he’s not going back there to let them see him now as an ex-con.

“Parent teacher conference,” she goes on, ignoring his protest. “I work late. You go.”

“You will see art project!” The kid pipes up, like Mickey should give a shit about glue and glitter slapped on a page. Mickey’s opening his mouth to tell the kid no one gives a fuck about art, but Svetlana kicks him under the table and gives him a look that says she’ll brain him in his sleep.

He doesn’t really know how it happens, but the next night, he’s walking into the school with his shirt all buttoned up and tucked into his jeans. He flinches at the way everyone’s voices and the kids’ screaming bounces off the walls in the gym. He needs a smoke. And at least three shots.

“Come on!” The kid says, grabbing Mickey’s hand and pulling him down the hallway. “Is my class.” He talks in a combination of Russian and English sometimes, and even when he’s sticking to English he sounds weird, talking the same way Svetlana does but without such a thick accent. Mickey figures it’s probably not the kid’s fault. What chance did he have?

He pulls Mickey over to the art table and Mickey shrugs over wasted macaroni. Apparently kindergartners don’t get grades, because the kid points out the happy-face sticker he earned. Good for him.

“Hi, Yevgeny,” a lady says, completely pronouncing his name wrong. The kid stands up all straight and proud.

“Hello, Ms. Thompson,” he says solemnly. “This is my dad. He is back from jail.”

Mickey winces a little. Actually, it was prison, not jail, but the kid doesn’t know the difference and that’s not exactly going to sound better to this wide-eyed brand-new teacher staring at him.

“Hello,” she says, recovering pretty well. “I’m Ms. Thompson, Yevgeny’s teacher.” She says it wrong again. She says it yuhv-genie and Mickey doesn’t really care but he thinks if she’s the kid’s teacher she should probably know how to say his name.

“Hey,” he says. He doesn’t offer his name or his hand to shake. There’s a pause, and then she says,

“Well, Mr. Milkovich, would you like to have a seat over here by my desk so we can discuss Yevgeny’s progress?” No, he wouldn’t, but he doesn’t think he has much choice, so he herds the kid over there and sits down. She looks at the rugrat and smiles. “Why don’t you go find the blocks?” She suggests. “Your dad and I are going to talk about some grownup stuff.”

“Is okay,” he answers. “I will stay. My dad is just back.” He sort of pats Mickey’s leg and Mickey doesn’t really know what to do with that, so he ignores it.

“Yevgeny, I’d feel more comfortable if you went and played with the blocks,” she says, face getting all pinched up. The kid’s face falls.

“Why can’t he stay here?” Mickey asks. “We’re fu—we’re talking about him.” Svetlana gave him strict instructions to make a good impression and he’s pretty sure swearing in a grade school is frowned upon. He knows he sounds pretty hostile, because that’s pretty much the only way his voice ever sounds, and the teacher’s eyes get wide again.

“Alright,” she says carefully. She sits down and shuffles some papers. The kid’s looking at Mickey all happy, like Mickey did him a fucking favor by letting him sit here instead of knocking down block towers. Mickey ignores him some more. “Yevgeny is…” She glances at the kid for a second. “He’s a bit behind, honestly, especially in reading.”

Mickey wants to tell her no one gives a fuck about reading but he bites his tongue. “Behind how?”

“Well, he’s not even attempting to sound words out, the way he should be. His verbal abilities are limited, as well.”

“So?” Mickey asks. “His mom doesn’t fu—speak English.”

“She does,” the kid interrupts indignantly. “We watch TV to learn.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Mickey points out. The kid gives him a little scowl.

“I understand that,” Ms. Thomas or whatever the fuck her name is says. But then she doesn’t say anything else.

“What you want me to do about it?” Mickey finally asks. He doesn’t know why she’s telling him all this.

She looks taken aback. “Well, parental involvement is key. A stable home life goes a long way to helping children learn.”

Mickey swallows, because he gets what she’s not saying—you’re trash, and you’re screwing over your kid, too. “And?” He barks out.

“Um, well,” she falters a bit but goes on. He actually kind of likes her. He appreciates people who don’t pussy out. “If you could practice reading with him. Read to him, as well, that’s important.”

“His mom already does that,” Mickey says.

“In English,” the teacher counters. Mickey rolls his eyes. Yeah, yeah, okay.

“I’ll tell her,” he promises.

“Parental involvement,” the teacher repeats. “Two-parent households are the most stable in terms of education and development. Yevgeny seems to really admire you. Model the proper behaviors for him.”

Mickey almost laughs out loud at this lady. Like he’s going to be anyone’s role model. Fat fucking chance.

“The teaching aides have their hands full,” she tells him. “They can’t spend all their time catching Yevgeny up. He’s too behind. He may not be able to move up to the first grade if he doesn’t improve.”

The kid’s face gets a little red and he looks down at his knees, and Mickey gets annoyed. Part of him wants to tell the kid no one cares about grades, especially not kindergarten. It’s not even real school. But the kid’s been sitting there all prim and proper, hands folded in his lap and everything, and Mickey gets the idea that he’s really trying.

“He’s not fucking stupid,” Mickey says. She gulps a little. “And what the hell’s the point of a teacher and a teacher’s aide if they’re not teaching kids? That’s some bullshit right there.”

“Mr. Milkovich—” She can’t keep calling him that. It’s making him twitchy.

“Whatever, we’re outta here,” he says. “Let’s go, kid.”

They stand up, and the lady looks distressed but that’s not Mickey’s fucking problem. The kid’s sort of leaning on his legs and it’s making it hard to walk. “Quit it,” Mickey tells him. “Just walk.”

He obeys, though he slips his hand into Mickey’s. Whatever. As long as he’s keeping up. They’re rounding the corner when Mickey hears a voice behind him that freezes his blood.

“Mickey?”

Four years since he’s heard it, but all it takes is his name for him to know who it is. The kid turns first, hand twisting in Mickey’s.

“Is him,” the kid calls out. He pokes Mickey’s leg. “You know?”

Mickey breathes out harshly and sets his face before turning around. “Hey,” he calls down the hallway. Ian’s standing there with—Christ, is that Liam? He looks like he’ll be going to middle school soon, all gangly-limbs, waiting for puberty to hit. Ian starts walking toward them and Mickey has to swallow hard around the panic that’s rising up in his throat.

He should’ve known he couldn’t avoid Ian. They’d never been able to stay away from each other before.

“I didn’t know you were out,” Ian says when he’s close enough to keep his voice down. Liam’s got his head tilted, like maybe he’s trying to remember if he knows Mickey. He wouldn’t remember him, would he? Liam was, what, five when Mickey got arrested?

“Hi,” the kid cuts in. “I am Yevgeny.”

Ian sucks in a breath, staring down at the kid like he’s just seen a ghost. “Yevgeny,” he breathes.

“Yes,” the kid says, pleased. “You say right.”

“Ian?” Liam says. Ian closes his eyes for a second. Then he opens them and keeps his voice light.

“Liam, this is Mickey. Do you remember him? He was…around the house when you were younger.”

Around the house. Well, that’s diplomatic.

“And that’s Mickey’s son, Yevgeny. You guys used to play together sometimes.”

“Me?” The kid asks. “When I was baby?”

Ian’s brow is furrowed weird, like he didn’t realize the kid would talk all Russian the way Svetlana does, and Mickey shrugs. Svetlana says it’ll probably stop happening after he’s in school for a while and hears the other kids.

“Yeah, you were a baby,” Mickey finally says. “Ian was around our house, too.”

He and Ian are just staring at each other, and it’s awkward as hell and making Mickey feel like he’s going to puke, so he jostles the kid where he’s gone back to leaning against Mickey’s legs again.

“We’re leaving now,” he says.

“Bye,” the kid says, waving at Ian and Liam.

“Mickey,” Ian says.

“Bye,” Mickey says firmly. Ian’s shoulders slump, and it makes Mickey’s stomach churn, but he can’t do this, can’t stand in this hallway with kids running around and parents arguing, with Ian standing there looking so good and so healthy.

“Bye,” Ian responds quietly.

They walk out the double doors and Mickey hears some other guy with his kids asking if they want to get ice cream. The kid cuts his eyes sideways at Mickey kind of hopefully, and Mickey almost tells him to fuck off. But he’s feeling jumpy, and he doesn’t want Svetlana to see his hands shaking, and besides, his own dad never took him to get ice cream and doing the opposite of whatever Terry did seems like a solid parenting strategy, so he shrugs down at the kid and says,

“Alright, whatever, you want ice cream?”

The kid cheers, which is embarrassing, and Mickey hustles him to the car before he can do anything else weird. They get to the ice cream place and Angie Zago is behind the counter, because of course she is. That’s Mickey’s life these days, a nonstop parade of his teenage decisions.

“Mickey,” she says, sounding surprised.

“Yo, Angie,” he answers, and then there’s an awkward beat where they both remember that he used to follow that with wanna fuck? She laughs a little, and it breaks the tension a bit. She’s got a ring on her finger and Mickey’s weirded out to realize he’s actually kind of happy for her. They weren’t friends or anything like that, but she never gave a shit or told anyone that he never got completely hard until she slipped three fingers in his ass, so maybe he’s feeling like she earned some good karma.

“Dad,” the kid says, and Mickey starts. “I cannot see ice creams.”

“So?” The kid’s pretty small, like he probably got Mickey’s height, so he should start getting used to being too short to see anything.

“Lift me up,” the kid orders. It’s bossy, and Mickey feels the phantom pain of a backhand for not minding his manners with his dad, so he grabs the kid around the waist and hoists him up. He keeps a close eye on the little feet dangling an inch in front of his balls. One bad wiggle and the kid’s getting dropped in the rocky road.

“I want that one,” he says, pointing to the vanilla. “No, that one,” he switches to some pink bubblegum monstrosity. “No, that one,” he decides on chocolate. “Can I have three?”

“No, you can’t fucking have three,” Mickey says, irritated. “Pick one.”

The kid pouts at him, like it’s Mickey’s problem he can’t make up his mind, and hems and haws for a few more seconds before Mickey’s getting seriously annoyed. He settles on the nasty pink one and Mickey gets himself chocolate, and he takes no time at all to decide because he knows what he wants.

They’re sitting at a table, and the kid is making some disgusting slurping sounds as he eats his ice cream, and then he looks up at Mickey with big blue eyes and says, “Ian is your friend?”

Mickey’s breath stutters away from him for a second and he snaps out, “No,” before he even thinks about it. “Not anymore.”

The kid tilts his head. “He was mad you went in jail?”

Mickey huffs. “Not mad enough,” he mutters. “No, kid, we just grew up.”

The kid’s eyes go wide. “You cannot be friends when you grow up?” He asks, distressed enough to drop his spoon. “But I am friends with Adam! I am best friends with Adam.”

Mickey doesn’t know who Adam is and he doesn’t really care, but the kid looks like he’s going to start crying in Baskin fucking Robbins so Mickey shushes him. “No, whatever, you can still be friends when you grow up. We just aren’t.”

That appeases him, apparently, but he says, “Why?”

“Quit playing twenty questions and fucking eat your ice cream,” Mickey orders.

“I did not ask twenty questions,” the kid mutters, obediently picking up his little pink spoon.

Mickey snorts. “Smart ass.”

“Dad?”

Mickey grunts at him. It’s weird to hear.

“I am happy you are at our house and not at jail anymore.”

He’s got pink ice cream all around his mouth and dripping down his chin, and he’s already gone back to focusing on that instead of Mickey, but something in Mickey’s chest shifts just a bit.

 

“You read Yevgeny English story,” Svetlana orders a few nights later. Mickey made the mistake of actually relaying the teacher’s information to her. He only did it because he wanted to prove he was paying attention. He didn’t think Svetlana was going to pull this shit.

“No,” he protests. “I don’t have time.”

“Time?” She scoffs. “You have many time.”

“That’s not how you fucking speak English,” Mickey says without heat. It might almost be teasing, if the two of them ever teased about anything ever.

“Yes, yes, Russian,” she mutters, rolling her eyes. “Teach Yevgeny English so stupid teacher does not bother us again.”

“I don’t—”

“What did I tell you before?” She barks, and Mickey can only shrug because she tells him stuff all the time. “No more bullshit with baby.”

It makes him shiver a little, because that was a long time ago and things were wildly different. She almost looks sorry for bringing it up. Mickey shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “Kid,” he calls out louder. “You got any English books?”

“Yes!” The kid yells back from his room. “Many English books!”

“Pick one,” Mickey tells him.

“Pick two,” Svetlana amends. Mickey rolls his eyes but doesn’t argue. He’s still not convinced she won’t chop his dick off if he makes her mad enough.

The kid comes skidding out of his room with a stack of books. He probably thinks he’ll be able to weasel Mickey into reading all of them but that’s never going to happen.

“I have books!” He says unnecessarily.

They sit on the couch and Mickey reads all about some dumb fucking chick who lets a moose into her house and then they move onto people feeding mice and he’s not sure which one is worse. He finishes the second book and the kid toys with the edges of the pages.

“Amy and Gemma are having a birthday party,” he tells Mickey, and Mickey kind of jolts because he knows who Amy and Gemma are. “On Friday. Mama is going and I am going. You are going?”

Mickey’s got his mouth open to say no, because there’s no way Ian won’t be there, but the kid looks so hopeful. Besides, Kev and V were sort of his friends, for a while, and he’ll never forget how they welcomed him back to the Alibi after the whole coming-out debacle.

“Yeah, I guess,” he says. The kid’s goddamn eyes light up like Mickey actually did something important, and it distracts him enough that the kid cons him into reading another book.

 

After seeing Ian, it’s suddenly all Gallaghers, all the time. Mickey would wonder if they’d all been avoiding him if he didn’t know the Gallaghers don’t have the self-preservation necessary to avoid someone.

The next one he sees after Ian and Liam is Debbie, which isn’t so terrible, actually. He’d always kind of had a soft spot for her, not that he’d ever tell anyone. He’s putting soup cans on aisle four when he hears a little gasp behind him and he turns around to make sure some old lady didn’t just die close enough to him that he’ll take the rap for it.

“Mickey?” Debbie squeaks out, and then, Christ, she throws her arms around him and hugs him. He holds completely still so she won’t notice the way he’s cringing away from the contact. He doesn’t know the last time someone hugged him. It was probably Ian.

“When did you get out?” She asks.

“Few weeks ago,” he says. The real answer is three weeks, six days, and nine hours, but she doesn’t care. It’s just something people ask around here, so many people getting locked up that when did you get out is as common as talking about the weather. More common, since the weather doesn’t really change that often to warrant comment.

“You look good,” she says, which he knows is a lie. He’s even paler than he always had been before, and he lost a good amount of weight because of shitty prison food. He’s got a long scar on his left cheek that goes from right under his eye clear down to his jaw from a guy with a shiv three years ago. He doesn’t really sleep at night, so he’s got bags under his eyes. He looks like a vampire.

“So do you,” he parrots, though he’s actually telling the truth. He knows she had a baby, though he doesn’t know what ever came of it. He’d been kind of disappointed when he heard it, because she seemed like a smart kid, but he hadn’t really been surprised. Teenage girls get pregnant all the time. Nothing for him to lose sleep over.

“Ian said—” She cuts herself off when she sees the look on his face at the mention of her brother. “Sorry,” she mumbles.

“Nah, whatever,” he says. “Hey, I’m working, alright?”

“Oh, yeah, okay,” she says. She sounds sad enough that he rolls his eyes.

“I’m going to Kev and V’s kids’ party tomorrow,” he tells her. “Or whatever.”

“Oh, great!” She says, eyes all lit up the way the kid’s do when he gives him some kind of treat. “They’ll be so excited to see you!”

Mickey’s not positive that’s true, but he doesn’t argue with her. He shrugs. “Yeah, so, you know. Maybe, uh, spread the word?” He doesn’t want to say Ian’s name. Debbie’s face changes with recognition.

“Oh,” she says slowly. “Do you want me to tell him not to come?”

“No,” Mickey huffs, irritated. “Just—give him a head’s up. In case.” In case he doesn’t want to see me.

“He’ll be happy to see you,” she murmurs, understanding exactly what he’s saying. It makes his stomach clench, and he goes back to his cans. Turning his back on her isn’t his favorite thing—he doesn’t like people at his back these days, and he knows she can use a shiv—but he figures she’ll get the hint.

“See you tomorrow, Mickey,” she says. She puts a hand on his shoulder and he flinches at the unexpected touch. “It’s good to see you.”

“Yeah, okay,” he says, like he doesn’t care, but she grins at him in a way that means she knows he meant you too.

 

“And Amy and Gemma have three whole Karate Kats,” the kid says, finishing up his list of all his favorite toys at Amy and Gemma’s house.

“The fuck’s a Karate Kat?” Mickey asks.

“Is a cat who does karate,” Svetlana tells him, honking at someone trying to back out as they go past. She doesn’t even slow down. “Is cartoon with movies and toys.”

“Why would a cat do karate?” Mickey mutters. “Their paws don’t even bend the right way.”

“Karate Kat is magic cat,” the kid insists from behind them. He has damn good hearing.

“Is better than old favorite,” Svetlana says wearily. “Was singing pig.”

Mickey makes a face, because fuck that, but they’re saved from the kid launching into an explanation about the singing pig by pulling into a spot in front of the Alibi. Mickey’s bouncing his leg and Svetlana pins him with a look.

“You want space, you take car and go,” she tells him. Her voice is almost…soft. “Get keys from me. Come back and get us later.”

“Thanks,” he says, kind of surprised, though he probably shouldn’t be. They had a sort of truce, back before it all went to shit. They’d almost been like a family, and they’re getting along alright now.

“Dad,” the kid starts up, and Mickey forces himself not to sigh. The kid’s obsessed with him. Like, really obsessed. Wakes up at 6 am and runs in to make sure he’s still there obsessed. It’s suffocating, but it’s not like he can tell a six-year-old to back the fuck off.

Not a six-year-old with a scary Russian woman who loves her hammer for a mother, anyway.

“You did not write your name on present,” the kid says, waving the wrapped package around. “Amy and Gemma will not know you bought.”

“I know that,” Mickey assures him. “It’s from you.”

“No, is from us,” the kid corrects him.

“What the fuck ever,” Mickey mutters, yanking a pen from the crack between his seat and the center console and scribbling his name next to Svetlana and Yevgeny. The kid wrote his name himself. It looks fucking terrible, but Mickey’s honestly doesn’t look much better.

“Can we go in now?” He asks.

“Yes,” the kid says seriously. Mickey huffs again, a little exasperated, and he can hear Svetlana laughing at him.

And of course the place is full of Gallaghers. Mickey flinches a little when he sees them all, though he should’ve known.

“Mickey!” Kev yells, coming over and slapping his back like King Kong waving at planes or something. “So glad you’re here, buddy!”

“Yeah, alright,” Mickey says, turning his face to hide how pleased he is. Not that that kind of shit works for Kev, because then Kev yells,

“Look at him trying not to smile at me!” He coos at Mickey, even reaching out and pinching one of Mickey’s cheeks. “So cute.”

“Fuck off,” Mickey says, not smiling anymore, but Kev just laughs. V gives him a hug, and he’s been bracing for hugs all day, so he’s only rigid for a second before he remembers to act normal. Not that accepting a hug has ever been normal for him.

V pulls back and Fiona’s standing there staring at him. Mickey makes a little noise, quiet enough that he doesn’t think anyone hears, but V squeezes his elbow.

“Hi, Mickey,” Fiona says. “How you doing?”

“Well, no one’s tried to stab me today,” he says, on edge already.

“Yet,” Lip calls out from somewhere in the back, and Mickey raises a middle finger without even having to think about it.

“Dad,” the kid scolds. “Is not nice to do with hands.”

“Says who?” Mickey demands.

“Ms. Thompson,” the kid says. “And principal.”

It startles a laugh out of Mickey, and he ruffles the kid’s hair. “Already a troublemaker at school, huh?” The kid smiles up at him.

“Okay, that’s fucking weird,” V mutters. “I have never seen you look so…nice.”

“I have,” Fiona says quietly, and Mickey shoots her a look. V looks abashed, and there’s a beat of awkward silence, and then Kev, of course, steps in.

“Okay, well, the girls are requesting cake,” he says, like they’re asking nicely and not screaming and pulling at the bottom of his shirt.

“Cake!” The kid yells.

“Hey,” Mickey says, shooting out a hand to grab the kid before he runs off. “What’d your mom say?”

The kid clasps his hands together politely, smiling sweetly up at Kev and V. “Thank you for invite me to party and thank you for cake.” Then he digs his fingernails into Mickey’s hand and makes a run for it.

“Fucking conman,” Mickey says.

“Wonder where he gets it,” Fiona says.

“Uh, don’t look at me,” Mickey says. “He ain’t learned shit from me.”

“It’s probably in his blood,” Lip points out, earning himself another middle finger.

“He has learned much shit from you,” Svetlana protests. “He has learned word fuck, he has left toilet seat up, and he stops eating broccoli. All because of you.” She rolls her eyes, acting all annoyed.

Everyone’s laughing now, and Mickey tries not to squirm. Svetlana’s joking around, trying to make him feel better about being a shitty father, but now everyone’s looking at him and they’re all laughing and Mickey takes deep breaths so he doesn’t bolt.

He grabs a piece of cake and tries to hide behind it for a while. “Hey, Mickey,” someone behind him says, and he turns around to see Carl standing there.

“Whoa,” Mickey says, because Carl went into juvie even before Mickey went to prison. “You look normal.”

Carl laughs. “I have a job now,” he says. “Not just selling weed.”

Mickey toasts him with his cake. “Me too,” he says. “Let’s hear it for reform.”

Carl snorts and rolls his eyes. “I had to almost die to get here.”

“Yeah, me too,” Mickey admits softly, and then neither of them are laughing anymore.

“Your kid’s all grown up,” Carl says after a beat. Mickey shrugs.

“Kindergarten,” he says. “You really going to school to be some kind of drug counselor now?”

“Yeah,” Carl says, laughing a little bit. “I have a lot of first-hand experience they look for.”

“Well, you look, uh, alright.” Mickey gestures at Carl. It’s weird how fucking normal their lives all are now. That’s the kind of thing regular people joke about, jobs and kids and school. They’ve been here fifteen minutes and no one’s even pulled out a switchblade.

The door opens again and Ian steps inside. Mickey’s whole body goes taught. Carl glances at him, then raises his eyebrows.

“Yikes,” Carl says. “Awkward.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Mickey hisses. “It’s fine.”

“Oh, yeah, obviously.”

Mickey ignores him. Ian accepts hugs from his family and a slice of cake from Kev, and then he squares his shoulders and walks right up to Mickey. Carl, the little fucker, disappears in an instant.

“Hi, Mickey,” Ian says determinedly.

“Hey,” Mickey responds.

“How are you?”

“Really?” Mickey asks incredulously. “We gonna make fucking small talk at a kid’s birthday party?”

“Well, what do you wanna do?” Ian fires back. “Rehash it all at a kid’s birthday party?”

“Nothing to rehash,” Mickey mutters, turning away. Ian grabs his arm.

“Don’t do that,” Ian says. “Don’t fucking act like it’s nothing.”

“Oh, should I act like it’s something?” Mickey spits, unable to hold back. “Should I tell you I love you so I can watch you laugh in my face again?”

The room around them’s gone deathly silent and Mickey blows curses under his breath, spinning away from Ian. He shoves his way toward the door.

“Here,” Svetlana calls. He opens his hand and she tosses him the car keys, which he actually catches in probably the fucking coolest exit of his life. He wishes he could actually enjoy it.

He drives eight blocks before he’s calm enough to take a full breath. His hands don’t stop shaking for an hour.

 

They slip into a routine. Svetlana gets the kid to school in the mornings on her way to work. Mickey goes to his shitty grocery store job and then gets the kid home from school. Sometimes they go to the park afterward and he pushes the kid on the swings if no one else is around. He makes dinner like a fucking TV housewife and reads the kid a book while they wait for Svetlana to get back. They all eat dinner together and Svetlana deals with the kid going to bed. Mickey drinks his way to sleep. On weekends he keeps drunk guys from drugging drunk girls and then goes home to a silent, dark house and drinks his way to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

He ignores the Gallaghers. He sees Carl around the grocery store sometimes, and he’ll talk to him if Carl starts talking first. Debbie, of course, won’t shut the fuck up. He avoids Lip. It’s a combination of the weirdness with everything that happened and just Lip’s shitty personality in general.

He fucks guys at the club every once in a while, but he never gives anyone his number. He never stays the night and he sure as hell never brings anyone home with him. Svetlana would absolutely kill him.

It’s two months before Mandy calls him.

“You’re out, huh, asshole?”

“Been out two months,” Mickey confirms. “Haven’t even sold a joint.”

Mandy laughs. “How’s the kid?”

“I don’t know,” Mickey says with a shrug she can’t see. “Fine.” They’re both quiet for a second, and then he reveals, “I went to his parent teacher conference.”

Mandy roars with laughter. “Did you cuss at his teacher and storm out?”

“Well…”

“Prima donna.”

“Fuck you.”

“What if I came to visit?” Mandy asks.

“Do whatever the fuck you want,” Mickey tells her, even though his heart leapt at her words. She snorts like she sees right through him.

“You got a couch I can crash on?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They make some vague plans for a week down the line, and before she hangs up she says softly, “It’ll be good to see you.”

The grocery store is apparently Gallagher Central. He sees Liam with a group of kids and he’s pretty sure they’re stealing, but since he’s not security at this shitty store he doesn’t do anything about it.

The next day he sees Fiona. He always feels weird around Fiona, did even back when he and Ian were…he and Ian. She’s the closest thing Ian’s got to a parent, and Mickey’s never known how to deal with parents. When he sees her, she’s with the ex-boyfriend with the douchebag hair, the one who stole the cars that got Ian and Lip arrested a million years ago.

She does not look happy to see Douchebag Hair.

While Mickey watches, Douchebag Hair grabs Fiona’s arm. Mickey’s taking a step forward before he even thinks about it, but Fiona knees Douchebag Hair in the balls and shoves him away. She turns and sees Mickey and shakes her head. Her eyes are all shiny with unshed tears and Mickey stays put, letting her walk up to him.

“Who was that?” He asks, like Ian didn’t tell him all about it about a hundred times, even back before Mickey cared to hear what Ian had to say. Or when he was pretending he didn’t care, anyway. He’s not sure he remembers a time since Ian shoved the tire iron into his back that he didn’t secretly hang on every word from Ian’s mouth.

Fiona shakes her head again. “Just some guy,” she murmurs. They both pretend her voice doesn’t break. “Pops up every once in a while. Never stays.”

Mickey watches her for a second, watching her swallow hard and blink away tears. “Yeah?” He asks. “Well, fuck him.”

She lets out a watery little chuckle and then gives him one of those serious looks he’s seen her give Ian and the other kids, the look that means she’s about to go all big sister on him. He cringes and she laughs again.

“Alright, fine,” she says. “I won’t ask how you’re doing.”

“Like you’d care,” he mutters. Then she gives him that offended look he’s more used to getting from her.

“Mickey, I do care,” she says, all sincere and shit. “I know things didn’t end well but you were part—”

“Don’t,” he cuts her off. “I can’t—” He bites his lip. “I gotta get back to work.”

“Okay,” she says. “Alright.”

He feels a little bad for snapping at her after she just had to knee a guy in the balls to get him to go away, so he hesitates for a second.

“Hey, uh, tell Liam to get better at stealing shit,” he says. “More, you know, stealthy or whatever. I’m not gonna rat on him but someone else might.”

Fiona rubs her hands over her face. “That kid,” she mutters. “He’s having a tough time making friends. Had to repeat fourth grade, you know that?”

He almost asks if it’s because of the coke he got into when he was little, but he stops himself. He doesn’t really know Fiona all that well, but he knows enough to know she absolutely beats herself up about that, whether or not that has anything to do with it. Hell, Mickey never got into coke as a kid, but he probably should’ve repeated at least one grade.

“He’ll be fine,” Mickey says breezily. “I never had much luck making friends and look how I turned out.”

She snorts and he pretends to be offended by that. She rubs his shoulder and he twitches but doesn’t move away.

“Thanks, Mickey,” she says softly.

“Yeah, whatever,” he replies. She grins at him as she turns away.

 

“Hey, shithead,” Mandy calls as Mickey’s walking to his house. He freezes. They’d talked about her coming, but he kind of didn’t believe she really would. She doesn’t run up to him, but he can tell by her face it’s a near thing. His arms open automatically and she hugs him tight. His breath shakes a little.

“Mandy,” he breathes.

They stand like that for a while, and when they pull away, they don’t meet each other’s eyes. Mickey gestures toward the steps to his apartment.

“You coming in or what?” He asks. “Got twenty minutes before I gotta leave to get the kid from school.”

“You pick him up from school?” Mandy asks, following him up. He shrugs.

“Svetlana’s got some office job now,” he says. “Probably fucked the boss to get it, but whatever. I’m not doing shit during the week. Might as well make sure he doesn’t end up dead in some ditch somewhere; she’d probably throw my ass out.”

Mandy kind of smirks at him and he ignores her. He goes to the fridge for a beer and holds one out for her. “So,” she starts. “Seen Ian?”

“Christ,” he bites out. “I wouldn’t have invited you if I’d known you were just coming to ambush me.”

“You didn’t invite me,” she points out. “And it’s a fair question.”

“Yes, I saw him, okay? I went to the Alibi for a party and he was there.”

“So, you planned on seeing him?” She asks with a raised eyebrow.

“No, I didn’t plan it,” he protests. “The kid made me go to the party for Kev’s kids.”

Her eyebrows go even higher. “The kid made you,” she echoes. “Okay. But, you know, they’re Kev’s kids. And it was at the Alibi.”

“I figured he’d be there,” Mickey says with a shrug. “I live here too, you know.”

She nods thoughtfully. “Okay.”

“What?” He barks, agitated.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing,” he repeats under his breath. “I gotta get the kid, you coming?”

“I thought you said twenty minutes,” she protests, taking three long swallows to finish her drink. Mickey pounds his back, too.

“Yeah, well, that was before you started asking stupid fucking questions.”

Mandy sighs but doesn’t say anything, and he supposes he should take that as a win. Which, of course, means life is waiting to punch him right in the nuts, because they get to the school and find Ian waiting outside the doors, too. Mickey wants to scream.

Mandy squeals and launches herself into Ian’s arms. Ian’s laughing and Mickey’s stomach is doing backflips. He hates this. None of this would’ve fucking happened if he’d just killed Ian the day he came to get the gun back instead of fucking him.

“Hi, Mickey,” Ian says cautiously.

“Gallagher,” Mickey responds. Ian’s shoulders slump a little and Mickey has to look away from the dirty look Mandy’s giving him. Like it’s his fault Ian kicked him to the curb and then ignored him for four years. Jesus.

“How long you in town?” Ian asks Mandy, and Mickey actually pays attention because he should probably know that.

“Couple days,” she says noncommittally, because Mandy is the queen of not answering. “Let’s smoke up tomorrow.”

“Cool,” Ian says. “I gotta work until 5 am but I’m off the rest of the week.”

“Work ‘til 5?” Mickey asks despite himself. “Not back to gurgling balls again, are you?”

Ian stiffens a little, but he kind of chuckles. “No. I’m an EMT now.”

“No shit?” Mickey asks.

“No shit,” Ian confirms. He’s actually looking at Mickey now, those damn green eyes zeroed in right on him, and Mickey looks away.

“Here to get Liam?” Mandy asks.

“Yeah, Fiona said we need to keep an eye on him. Apparently he almost got busted for stealing the other day.”

Mickey flushes, but Ian gives no indication he knows it was Mickey’s tip. Great. Of course trying to do some kind of good deed landed him here, dealing with Ian. That’s Mickey’s life all over.

The kids start coming out of the school then, and the air fills with shouts and laughter. It makes Mickey edgy. All that noise. Liam finds Ian first, probably easy because his hair’s like a fucking beacon or something, but the kid still hasn’t come out after like ten minutes and Mickey’s getting irritated.

Ian and Mandy are still standing there talking, and Liam’s sort of hovering around them, looking awkward. He’s also checking out Mandy’s tits, which is weird but not something Mickey’s unused to.

“Hey,” Mickey says. Liam, at least, looks guilty. Carl sure as hell never did. “You see my kid in there?”

“Who’s your kid?” Liam asks. For some reason his voice surprises Mickey. Maybe he was still expecting a little kid squeak.

“Yevgeny,” Mickey says, the name clunky in his mouth. He honestly doesn’t know if the kid’s last name is Milkovich or not. He’s pretty sure they put Milkovich on the birth certificate but Svetlana could’ve changed it after she sent him the papers.

“Oh,” Liam says with a nod. He glances around, but Mickey’s already spotted him. He’s got a shiner and a fat lip.

“Hey,” Mickey calls. “What the hell happened to you?”

The kid’s crying before he gets over to them, and he latches onto Mickey’s leg. Mickey bends down and tilts the kid’s head, trying to check if his nose took any damage. It looks alright, but his eye looks like shit.

“Who did this?” Mickey demands.

“Bigger kids,” the kid says, all snot-nosed and hitched breaths.

“You know their names?” Mickey asks.

The kid nods but then changes his mind and shrugs. Mickey wants to punch someone. Too bad it probably can’t be some underage kids.

“Hey,” he says, scooping the kid up and putting him on his hip the way he used to, back before everything went to shit. The kid won’t stop clinging to him and he doesn’t want to crouch down anymore. “Look at me. You fight back?”

“Don’t know how,” the kid admits, and now Mickey’s really pissed.

“You don’t know how?” He snaps. “What the fuck you mean, you don’t know how? You punch the guy, knee him in the balls, whatever.”

It makes the kid cry harder, and Mandy pokes him. “Jesus, Mickey, don’t yell at him.”

“I’m not yelling at him,” Mickey protests.

“You sound like you’re mad at him.”

“I’m not mad at him,” Mickey says. “Hey, kid, I’m not mad at you,” Mickey relents and says. “I just don’t want you getting your face beat in.”

“They are big kids,” the kid wails. “I cannot fight them.”

“Yeah, well, hate to break it to you, but they’re probably always gonna be bigger than you. I gave you shitty small genes. Get used to it and start carrying brass knuckles in your pocket.”

“What is brass knuckles?” At least he quit crying. His face is all blotchy the way Mickey’s gets when he cries too. It’s their pale skin. He’s got snot everywhere, including on Mickey’s shoulder.

“Liam, you know the kids who did it?” Ian asks.

Liam shrugs. “Andrew and Keith?” He guesses. The kid sort of whimpers and clings tighter, which could be a yes or a no. How’s Mickey supposed to tell?

“Was it Andrew and Keith?” He presses. “What the fuck kinda rich kid names are those?”

“Yes,” the kid admits.

“Liam,” Ian says. Liam nods.

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Hey, you don’t gotta do that,” Mickey protests.

“He will,” Ian counters. “He should.”

“You’re not family,” Mickey says sharply. He can tell his blow landed by the way Ian flinches, and he wishes it made him feel better.

“I’ll kick those guys’ asses any day of the week,” Liam says, eyes darting back and forth between Ian and Mickey. Doesn’t seem like the coke did too much damage after all. “They’re assholes anyway.”

“Whatever,” Mickey says, turning to leave. “Don’t go to any trouble.”

He hears Mandy say something else to Ian, and then she’s rushing to catch up to him. He considers dropping the kid and making him walk, but he walks slow and Mickey’s making a dramatic exit here.

Mandy is kind enough to wait two whole blocks before launching into her rebuke. “Did you have to be so rude to Ian?”

“Whose fucking side are you on?” Mickey snaps. “I’m your brother, remember? The guy he left hanging out to dry?”

“What, because he didn’t come visit you in prison while he was dealing with being fucking bipolar and getting his meds together?”

“No, the guy who told me he didn’t want anything to do with me after I told him I—” Mickey breaks off. “Whatever, go stay with him if you love him so much.”

Mandy sighs. “I’m staying with you,” she says, and it’s so stupid the way his throat gets a little tight at her words.

“Who are you?” The kid asks. Mickey almost jumps. Somehow he sort of forgot he was holding the kid.

“I’m Mandy,” she says. “I’m your aunt.”

The kid gives Mickey a wrinkled brow. “What?”

“She’s my sister,” Mickey tells him. “You know, Amy and Gemma are sisters and Mandy’s my sister.”

He ponders that for a minute and then nods. “I have no sisters.”

“No, you don’t, and you’re not getting any sisters from me,” Mickey mutters. Mandy laughs, and the kid just looks confused.

“How ‘bout you get down and walk?” Mickey says. It’s not actually a suggestion. The kid tightens his arms until he’s practically strangling Mickey and Mickey has to take a few deep breaths to remind himself the kid can’t possibly hurt him for real.

“Please carry me?” He asks, using that pout again. It didn’t work with the ice cream, so Mickey’s not sure why it’s kind of working now. It looks more pathetic with his black eye and busted lip.

“What, they break your legs when they beat you up?”

“No,” the kid admits. “But I am very sad.”

It makes Mickey’s stomach feel weird. “Sad?”

“They hit me and say mean things.”

“Said,” Mickey corrects absently.

“What’d they say?” Mandy asks.

The kid tips his head down to rest on Mickey’s shoulder again. “Mean things,” he repeats. “About Dad.”

Mickey shrugs. “Don’t worry about whatever mean things they say about me. I’m sure it’s all true.”

The kid rubs his face around on Mickey’s shirt, no doubt spreading more snot everywhere than he already did earlier. “It makes me sad,” he repeats stubbornly. Mickey hesitates for a second. He stops walking.

“Hey, kid,” he says, trying to sound gentle. “Look, people are going to say a lot of shit about me, okay? I, uh. I’m not a real good guy, you know?”

“You are good guy,” the kid protests. Mickey blows out a breath. He doesn’t know how to talk about this with a six-year-old. He doesn’t really know how to talk about this with anyone, actually.

“Well, I went to prison,” he points out. “And a lot of people think that makes me a bad guy. So they’re going to talk like I’m a bad guy. Don’t go feeling sad over it, okay?”

Now the kid’s got his face all up close to Mickey’s. He runs a chubby little finger down the scar on Mickey’s cheek and Mickey flinches.

“Okay,” the kid finally says. “I will be brave boy.”

Mickey snorts. He’s heard Svetlana tell the kid to be a brave boy before and for some reason it always makes him laugh. It sounds like something he might’ve heard in a gay porno or something, once he got a phone with internet and could be sure no one else would know.

“Alright, great,” Mickey says, adjusting his arms under the kid’s butt. Mandy puts her arm through his elbow, and they walk home.

 

Svetlana seems pretty neutral about Mandy being there, which is kind, considering they didn’t really get along terribly well before and Mickey didn’t even run it by her. She just shrugs a hello at Mandy and says,

“Do not be loud at night while Yevgeny sleeps. And no smoking in house.”

“Since when?” Mandy asks.

“Since I say so,” Svetlana says, and that shuts everyone right the hell up.

“Goodnight, Dad,” the kid says before he goes to bed. He runs up to give Mickey a hug, the way he does every night, and suddenly Mickey’s feeling weird about it because Mandy’s watching.

“You finish your spelling homework?” Mickey asks. The kid scowls.

“Yes,” he pouts. “Is hard.”

“Yeah, well, that’s why you do the homework,” Mickey bullshits like he ever did homework a day in his life. “Night, little man,” he says, because that’s what he says every night, but he can’t look over at Mandy for almost five full minutes afterward.

“You’re a good dad,” she says quietly. He’s not even offended by how surprised she sounds. He doesn’t blame her.

“I was gone for six years,” he points out. “Not exactly great.”

Mandy shrugs, lips twisting like she tasted something sour. “Better than what we had.”

Mickey huffs. “Like that’s a fucking compliment.”

She pokes him in the side and he gives her a noogie and everything feels a bit more solid. They’re quiet for a minute, some shitty TV show providing enough of a cover for them to not talk about things.

“Do you want to come with me to see Ian tomorrow?” She asks after a few minutes.

“No,” he says automatically. She sighs.

“You’re just going to avoid him forever?”

“Why not?” He asks. “Things ended. Happens all the time. No big deal.”

“If it wasn’t a big deal, you’d come,” Mandy points out. Mickey exhales loudly.

“Fine, I’ll go with you.”

She doesn’t actually look triumphant. “Mickey,” she starts.

“I said I’d go. It’s not a big deal. Whatever. Shut the fuck up.”

“Okay,” she says slowly. “Fine.”

It’s not fine. He doesn’t sleep that night. He’s terrified. Seeing Ian makes him remember everything, remember every fight, every kiss, every fuck. (Okay, maybe not every fuck. They went at it like five times a day when they were working at the Kash and Grab.) He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if he’s stuck in an enclosed space with Ian.

Especially if they’re getting high. Depending on what they get high on, Ian will get either incredibly clingy or incredibly irritable. Although Ian shouldn’t be getting high at all with his meds. Mickey doesn’t know what meds he’s on these days, or what combination, but back when they were first getting it all figured out he read up on it all until his vision went blurry.

He’s definitely ready to get high when the sun comes up. He glances at his phone. 5:58 am. Right on schedule, the kid comes bursting through the door. No matter how many times they tell him to knock, he never does.

“Good morning, Dad!” He chirps. Mickey sighs and sits up, running a hand over his face. The kid comes and bounces on his bed. “We are having breakfast.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mickey says. He takes a swig from the water bottle on his nightstand. He used to keep a beer there, but he learned that from Terry and he’s sticking to his parenting strategy for doing the opposite. He’s thought about at least switching the water inside for some vodka, but the kid gets into goddamn everything and Mickey remembers Kev talking about vodka making kids go blind.

“And then I am going to school,” the kid continues. “You are going to work today?”

Mickey yawns. “Yep. Same as always.”

“Jasper has a dad who does not work,” the kid tells him. “He stays home on couch all day and watches TV.”

“Lucky Jasper’s dad,” Mickey mutters.

“Jasper’s mom works two job,” the kid says. “But Mama works one job and you work two job.”

“Well, your mom makes more money at her one job than I do at my two jobs,” Mickey says. “When there’s two, you put an s at the end. Two jobs. We gotta get you speaking English.”

“Two jobs,” he parrots. “Okay, Dad.” Mickey laughs a little. The kid always says that when Mickey corrects him, and it always sounds like he’s just humoring Mickey.

“You’re gonna walk home with Liam today, okay? Me and Mandy are going to be at Ian’s house.”

The kid’s eyes go big. “I am walking home with Liam?” He asks.

“Yeah. You remember who Liam is?”

“Yes.” The kid fiddles with the edge of the sheet. “He say he will take care of Andrew and Keith.”

“Yeah, that’s Liam.” Mickey grabs the kid’s chin to check out his lip. Svetlana made him hold ice on it last night, even though they all knew it was too late for that, but it looks like the swelling’s gone down a little.

“He will fight them?”

“I don’t know,” Mickey says, standing up to find some pants. “Probably.”

“Adam has big brother,” the kid says. “He takes care of big kids who hurt Adam.”

“Yeah, that’s good,” Mickey says absently, sniffing the shirt he picked up from the floor. He doesn’t remember wearing it recently, but it sure smells. He leaves it and opens the drawer for a different one.

“I have no big brother.”

“That we know of,” Mickey says under his breath.

“Liam is like big brother?”

Mickey freezes. That summer after he’d come out, when Ian got back from zombie land but before he took the kid and ran, Ian used to pack Liam and the kid into the stroller and take them to the park. More like brothers than uncle and nephew, he’d laughed more than once, like it was nothing to just act like they were all a family.

“Maybe just like a good friend,” he says.

“Okay. I am having breakfast now.” The kid skips back out like he didn’t just level Mickey. Mickey has to sit on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands for a few minutes, breathing through his nose, before he gets it together enough to go out.

Before she leaves, Svetlana pauses by Mickey’s chair. He waits, but she doesn’t say anything. “Yeah?” He finally asks.

“You are sure you know what you’re doing?” She asks quietly.

Mickey grits his teeth. “Don’t worry about it.”

She rolls her eyes. “If he steals my Yevgeny again, I will kill him.”

“He’s not gonna steal anything,” Mickey says. “I’ll let him know you and your hammer are still very happy together.”

She laughs at that, and then she stoops and kisses his cheek before leaving. It makes his eyes sting a little bit, and he blinks hard and clears his throat when Mandy comes out a few minutes later.

 

Mickey squares his shoulders. He’s three houses down from Ian’s and he’s stopped to collect himself, out of sight from the house. He can do this. It’s fine. Mandy’s there, too. They’re just smoking. It’s not a big deal.

He doesn’t know if he should knock or not. It would’ve been easier if he and Mandy came together, but she’s been here all day while Mickey’s been unloading pallets of green beans. He bites his lip hard and shoves his hands in his pockets. He takes a deep breath and walks the last thousand feet to the door. He hesitates.

He raises his fist to knock and the door swings open before he can. He and Ian stare at each other for a second, Mickey’s raised fist an uncomfortably familiar thing between them.

“Hi,” Ian finally says.

“Hey.”

There’s a pause. “Um, come on in,” Ian says. It’s awkward as hell and that makes Mickey feel a thousand times worse. They didn’t used to be awkward together.

“Thanks,” Mickey says on autopilot. Where his autopilot picked up manners, he has no idea, because his consciousness sure doesn’t have them.

“I was just…” Ian’s holding a bag of trash. Mickey realizes it’s kind of weird he came to the back door. Not too weird, since people do it a fair amount, but not usually strangers. But he’s not a stranger. But he kind of is.

His palms are sweaty.

He wipes them off on his pants while Ian takes the trash out. Mandy is perched on the kitchen counter, and Mickey can’t look around the room because it hurts. Being here hurts. He glances at Mandy and sees her watching him. She can see it’s hurting him. He tries to tuck it away, but Mandy knows him.

Ian comes back. Mickey can’t look at him. It’s like he’s sixteen again and whatever he and Ian are to each other is fragile as glass. He could never look at him back then, either.

“Um,” Mandy breaks a tense silence. “I brought weed.”

They move to the living room, to the couch, with Mandy in the middle. Mickey takes little glances at Ian from the corner of his eye, enough to see Ian’s not looking at him, either. Coming here was a mistake. Now he’s just making Mandy and Ian miserable when they were supposed to be having a good time and catching up.

Mandy lights the joint and takes a hit. She passes it to Ian and he takes a hit too, smaller than hers. He holds it out to Mickey, across Mandy, and Mickey makes sure their hands don’t brush when he takes it.

“Remember the shitty weed we got that one summer that made you cry?” Mandy asks after a few minutes. Ian snorts and Mickey rolls his eyes.

“Fuck off, I didn’t cry,” he protests.

“You totally did,” Mandy says.

“Yeah, you cried,” Ian pipes up. Mickey refrains from pointing out that the two of them slipped away to his room for Ian to make it up to him. From the look on Ian’s face, he remembers that part, too.

“Whatever,” Mickey says. “We were just kids.”

“We were never just kids,” Ian murmurs. Mickey feels his dad’s pistol across his face, thinks about Ian watching his mother’s blood pool on the kitchen floor, remembers helping Mandy put a lock on her door so their dad couldn’t get in her room at night, and he tips his head, agreeing silently.

“That summer wasn’t so bad,” he says. It had actually been one of the best summers of his life. He and Ian working at the Kash and Grab, talking and laughing at each other’s shitty jokes and making up stories about the customers, hiding away in the walk-in whenever they needed to taste each other, heading home and going out with Mandy or going to the dugout. They’d fucked a lot, sure, but that was the summer they actually became friends, best friends. Mickey had never really had a best friend before, not like that.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Ian bite his lip against a little smile. “Nah, it was pretty good,” he agrees.

It raises butterflies in Mickey’s stomach. Or maybe it’s the weed. He hasn’t smoked weed the whole time he’s been out.

“Remember when you got shitfaced and fell off the sidewalk?” Mickey says, because if Mandy gets to embarrass him he’ll do it right back. That’s what siblings are for. Ian cracks up laughing, because Mandy had just stayed down like some kind of wounded animal even though she didn’t even have a scratch on her. She’d made Ian give her a piggy-back ride all the way home, insisting that she had internal damage.

Mandy flicks Ian and yanks the joint out of his mouth. She takes a drag and passes it to Mickey. “Don’t know why you’re laughing so hard, Firecrotch,” Mickey says, the weed loosening his tongue. “You fell into that ditch by the dugout.”

Now Ian’s laughing so hard he’s clutching his stomach. “I didn’t fall!” He wheezes. “You pushed me.”

Mickey makes a wounded face. “That doesn’t sound like me at all.”

They’re sitting there laughing, and something in Mickey’s shoulders is loose for the first time in years. It’s so good, so nice, to be here. Mandy and Ian, his two best friends in the world, the three of them having a good time.

The back door opens and they all crane their necks. It’s the kid, with Liam herding him inside. Mickey plucks the joint from between Mandy’s lips and stubs it out, hiding it from view. Ian and Mandy both give him odd looks, and he suddenly feels stupid about his plan to do whatever Terry didn’t.

He shrugs. “I’m on parole and the kid’s got a big mouth,” he justifies himself, hoping he doesn’t sound too defensive. Ian shrugs back.

“I should probably be done with that anyway,” he says. “Don’t want to smoke too much with my meds.”

“Yeah, you could hallucinate,” Mickey adds before he can stop himself. Ian’s eyes dart over to his eyes and then away.

“Well I wasn’t done,” Mandy protests, but she obediently keeps the joint hidden.

“Dad!” The kid yells. “Liam beat up Andrew and Keith!”

“Oh yeah?” Mickey asks. “You need some ice?”

“It’s not like it was hard,” Liam says, sounding for all the world like Carl at that age—kind of proud but not wanting to make a big deal out of it. “They were pussies anyway.”

“What is pussy?” The kid asks. “Mama calls Dad that sometimes.”

Mandy snorts so hard it sounds like her brain’s coming out. “It’s not a very nice word,” Ian says, giving Liam a dirty look. The kid climbs up into Mickey’s lap and runs his finger over Mickey’s scar.

“Mama calls you not nice word?”

“It’s—it’s a joke,” Mickey explains, because there’s no fucking way he’s getting into his complicated relationship with Svetlana. “Your mom is teasing.”

“Oh, okay,” the kid says, satisfied. He rests his head against Mickey’s chest. “I hear your heart.”

“What’s it sound like?” Mickey asks.

“Bub bub,” the kid says, grinning when everyone laughs at him. “I bring book to read,” he says. “We read now?”

“You brought a book to read,” Mickey corrects. “We’ll read in a little bit, okay? How ‘bout you and Liam tell us how it went kicking those dicks’ asses?”

The two boys launch into a long, definitely exaggerated story. Mickey feels all loose and comfortable from the weed, basking in the way Ian keeps shooting him fond little looks. This isn’t so bad at all.

“You guys staying for dinner?” Ian asks. “I think we’re it tonight. Everyone else is working or fu—on dates.” He shoots the kid a guilty look and Mickey laughs.

“Like he’s never heard the word fuck.”

“I hear fuck lots,” the kid confirms. “Dad says fuck.”

“Dad does say fuck,” Ian agrees. “A lot.”

“So much.” The kid tips his head up and squints at Mickey. “Your favorite word?”

“Sure,” Mickey tells him, trying not to let anyone hear the way his voice went all weird from Ian calling him dad. Not in a weird daddy kink way, though he’d bet his left leg a bunch of Ian’s old dudes have asked him to do that.

But like—like he’s their kid. Together. He used to do that sometimes, when the kid was just a baby, crooning out, oh, look, Daddy’s home, when Mickey walked in.

“Yevgeny, you need a snack?” Ian asks, and Mickey’s chest is seizing up because this is so domestic and it hurts again. It’s crushing him.

“I like apple,” the kid says. Ian raises his eyebrows and gives Mickey a look.

“Your kid willingly eats something that comes from nature?” He asks. “Wow. Svetlana must be working so hard.”

“Yeah, yeah, fuck you,” Mickey manages to say. Ian’s look turns questioning, and that hurts, too. They can still communicate in looks and gestures. They still know each other well enough for Ian to hear the way Mickey’s heart is failing.

“Dad?” The kid says. “I can have apple?”

“Come on, Yev, I’ll get it,” Liam offers, and Mickey has to close his eyes and count to ten because Liam’s got a nickname for him.

“How about I cut it,” Mandy suggests, all but fleeing the living room. Mickey wants to give her the finger but he’s focusing too hard on not dying right there on the spot.

There’s a long silence, cut only by the voices in the kitchen.

“Sorry,” Ian finally mumbles. “Sorry if I got too…” He trails off and shrugs. Mickey shakes his head but doesn’t say anything. “I, uh.” Ian clears his throat. “I’ve missed you, Mick. A lot.” It pulls Mickey back a bit.

“Not enough to come visit me, though, huh?” Mickey says.

Ian sighs. There’s just empty space between them on the couch now, no Mandy to keep things safe. “I thought it would be easier if I didn’t.”

“For you, maybe,” Mickey says. The irony of the role reversal is not lost on him. It used to be Ian pushing, Mickey running. But then Mickey stopped running. Maybe that’s why everything fell apart. Neither of them knew what to do when they were both in the same place.

“I’m sorry,” Ian offers, voice low. “For a while I was staying away because I was trying to get over you. I went out with other guys, dated, fucked.” He turns to look at Mickey but Mickey won’t meet his eyes. “None of them were you, though.”

“Yeah, because I was locked up,” Mickey snaps. “For protecting your ass.”

“I know,” Ian says simply. “I shouldn’t have left you like that.”

Tears threaten to well up in Mickey’s eyes, but he’s good at shoving them away. Ian puts a tentative hand on the back of the couch, almost touching Mickey’s shoulders.

“Why’d you stay away after that?” Mickey whispers. “You said for a while. Then what?”

“Then…” Ian shrugs. “I thought you wouldn’t want to see me.”

“Could’ve tried.”

“I should’ve,” Ian admits. “But I thought you’d know by now what a coward I am. You’ve always been braver than me.”

Mickey finally looks at him because he can’t believe what the fuck he’s hearing. “You fucking kidding me?” He asks. “I’m not brave.”

“Mick, you came out in front of the whole fucking bar!”

“Yeah, because I had to,” Mickey says, not missing the way Ian shortened his name.

“You didn’t have to,” Ian says softly. “You chose to. Because you’re brave. You were brave enough to…” He stops for a second, squares his shoulders before he goes on. “You were brave enough to tell me you loved me.”

Mickey shivers. “Yeah, well,” he says, because he needs to say something. “That didn’t matter in the end, did it?”

Ian’s clenching his jaw tight, but he still meets Mickey’s eyes square on. “Sure mattered to me. Took me a while, but it did.” He swallows. “It does.”

Mickey scrubs his hands over his face, through his hair. “So what you saying here, Ian?” He asks. It’s the first time he’s said Ian’s name to his face and the look on Ian’s face tells him he knows that, too.

Ian touches his shoulder, just a light little press of his hand. “I want to try again.”

“Fuck,” Mickey mutters. “I can’t—I don’t know—”

“I’m on my meds now,” Ian promises. “I go to therapy. I’ve changed.”

Mickey wants to tell him he’s glad. Mickey wants to tell him he never needed to change. Mickey wants to tell him yes. Mickey wants to tell him to go fuck himself. Mickey can’t figure out what he wants.

“I don’t trust you,” he says bluntly. Ian winces but nods.

“I guess I deserve that.”

Neither of them say anything. “Dad?” The kid calls from the kitchen. “Apple is gone. Time to read?”

Mickey takes a deep breath. “I can’t talk about this right now,” he tells Ian.

“Does that mean you can talk about it later?” Ian asks hopefully.

“Christ, I don’t know,” Mickey says. “I don’t know anything.”

“Okay,” Ian says softly. “That’s fine, Mick. If you figure anything out, you can let me know. If you want. If you want me to fuck off and never talk to you again, you can let me know that, too. It’s up to you.”

“Dad?”

Mickey pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, kid, hang on,” he calls back to shut him up. He can’t think.

“You can still stay for dinner,” Ian says. “Liam and Yev seem to be getting along.”

“Fuck,” Mickey swears. “I—I don’t know, okay? Would you just shut the fuck up for five seconds so I can think? Jesus.”

Ian snaps his mouth shut, but he doesn’t look mad. Mickey closes his eyes and presses the heels of his hands into them, making lights dance behind his eyelids. He doesn’t know what to do.

“Dad?” The kid’s right in Mickey’s ear and he’s lucky Mickey doesn’t clock him when he startles.

“Holy shit,” Mickey says. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry,” the kid says, unabashed. He’s fucking fearless. “You are okay?”

“I’m fine.”

The kid pats Mickey’s leg. “You feel sick? Mama will make you better. Mama is good at make you feel better.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.” Mickey bounces his leg a few times. “Nah, we’re gonna head home,” he tells Ian. “Svetlana’ll be waiting on us.”

Ian looks disappointed, but he doesn’t argue. “You know where to find me if you change your mind,” he says.

“Yeah, whatever.” Mickey turns his face toward the kitchen. “Mandy. The kid and I are going home. See you later?” He knows she’ll want to stay, spend more time with Ian, and he doesn’t want her to feel guilty about it.

She leans in the doorframe, hip cocked, and Mickey can see Liam staring at her ass behind her. “Okay,” she says. “Everything alright?”

“Peachy,” Mickey mutters. “You got your stuff?” He asks the kid. “Ready to go home?”

“We are leaving?” He asks, disappointed.

“Yeah, we’ll read your book at home.”

The kid looks over at Ian and pats his leg, too, the way he did Mickey’s. “You are okay?” He checks.

“I’m great, Yev,” Ian says softly. “Thank you.”

“Okay,” the kid says. “I am ready.” He gets his backpack ready and says goodbye to Liam. Mickey doesn’t look back as they walk away.

 

Mandy leaves two days later, hugging him close and whispering in his ear, “Either way, it’ll be alright,” so he knows Ian squealed about their little talk, which annoys the shit out of him. The kid gives her a hug and she lifts him up and spins him around, making him giggle wildly.

“Bye, Aunt Mandy,” he says, all sweet. “You will come back to our house?”

“Yeah,” she says with a smile. “And you know what? Bug your dad about calling every once in a while, okay?”

“Okay,” he says seriously. “I will do it.” Mickey would roll his eyes, but at least the kid remembered the it part, so he keeps his irritation to himself.

He doesn’t think about his conversation with Ian. Or rather, he tries not to. Instead, he creates a neat little hole in his thoughts. He thinks so hard about not thinking about it that he’s basically thinking about it anyway.

His emotions are as confused as his thoughts, and he’s never been good at dealing with those.

He lets some twinky little guy blow him in the bathroom when he’s on his break at the club that weekend, but it doesn’t make him feel any better. He should have known it wouldn’t. He tried it before, when Ian was off with Monica.

“Dad?” The kid says one night after they’ve finished their book and he’s resting against Mickey’s chest. “You are sad?”

“No,” Mickey says automatically. “I’m fine.”

“You are not smiling,” the kid points out. “All day, no smile.”

Mickey gives him a shit-eating grin to prove him wrong and the kid giggles. “See?” Mickey asks. “Smile.”

“Dad?”

“Hm?”

“You like boys?” The kid asks.

“What?” Mickey snaps. “Who told you that?”

“Mama.” The kid has a weird thing about the scar on his face. He rubs his finger over it. “Mama said you like to kiss boys how boys like to kiss girls.”

Mickey’s face is hot, but he figures if he could tell his dad he can probably tell his kid. “Yeah,” he says, which isn’t saying much but at least isn’t a lie.

“I am boy,” the kid points out. “I do not like to kiss girls. And I do not like to kiss boys, either.”

“You’re a little young,” Mickey tells him. “In a few years you might.”

“Okay, Dad,” the kid says. They fall quiet and Mickey starts thinking about pushing the kid off him so he can get up and move around. He doesn’t really like being stuck, being penned down, and he doesn’t care to think about the reasons why.

“You are not sad?” The kid checks. “Pinky promise?”

“Sure, pinky promise,” Mickey says. “What I got to be sad about, huh?” He tickles the kid to distract him and goes through a bottle of Jack to get to sleep.

 

“I have date tomorrow,” Svetlana tells him on Thursday. “I am gone all weekend.”

Mickey raises his eyebrows. “Date or job?” He asks, mostly just to be a dick. Svetlana glares at him.

“I am not whore anymore,” she says, and her voice is harsh enough that Mickey realizes he hit a nerve. He feels bad. She’s letting him stay in her house and, all told, she’s been good to him since he got out. Since before that, actually.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I was just kidding.”

She sighs. “I go with boyfriend.”

“You have a boyfriend?” He asks. “I thought you were a lesbian.”

“I like to choose,” she reminds him.

Mickey rolls his eyes. “How long you been dating him?”

“Two weeks,” she reveals. “He thinks is more serious than I think.”

Mickey laughs a little. “Heartbreaker.”

She shrugs blithely, but she kinda seems like she cares. “You stay with Yevgeny?”

“Yeah,” Mickey says. “No problem.” It is kind of a problem, because he has to call the club and get someone to cover for him, but he figures it’s the least he can do. She deserves a weekend away.

She’s there for dinner on Friday, suitcase by the door. She kisses the kid’s forehead before she leaves and tells him something in fast Russian. The kid answers in Russian and then grins at Mickey, so he’s pretty sure they’re talking about him. Svetlana’s probably telling the kid where the hammer is in case Mickey fucks up.

“I will be back Sunday afternoon,” she reminds Mickey. “You will call if anything happens.”

“I got it,” Mickey promises. “This guy’s not coming to pick you up?”

“And see ex-husband living in my house?” She says scornfully. “No. I meet him.”

“Alright, whatever,” Mickey says. “Call if you need me to hide a body.”

She smiles and kisses his cheek. “I do not need help.”

He laughs a little. “God, you’re terrifying.” She gives him a big exaggerated wink that leaves them both snorting. She kisses the top of the kid’s head one last time and leaves.

“Alright, little man,” Mickey says. “Your mom’s gone. You know what that means?”

“Be good,” he says, probably parroting her.

“No, fuck that,” Mickey says. “We’re gonna stay up all night doing whatever you want. Watching movies and eating candy and shit.”

The kid’s mouth drops open and he bounces up and down. “Really?”

“Yep.”

“We can go to park first? While sun is still shining?”

Mickey glances out the window. They’ve got about two hours of daylight left and it’s probably a good idea to wear the kid out first so he’ll fall asleep sooner.

“Sure,” Mickey says. “And we’ll stop and get candy on the way home.”

The kid claps his hands. “This is best day!” He rushes forward to give Mickey a hug. “I get my shoes!”

He gets his shoes and insists on tying the laces himself, which takes a solid twenty minutes, and then they waste another five arguing over a jacket. Mickey would just say fuck it and let the kid freeze but he knows the kid’ll just whine and give him a headache.

But they finally get out the door and down the street. “We can watch Karate Kat?” The kid asks as they walk, slipping his hand into Mickey’s. Mickey sighs.

“Yeah, sure,” he acquiesces. He hates that fucking cat.

“We can eat two candies?”

“We can eat as many candies as we want,” Mickey promises. He hopes that doesn’t come back to bite him with the kid puking or anything like that.

“You are best dad,” the kid says, so serious it would be funny if Mickey wasn’t suddenly blinking away tears. Jesus, he’s a homo these days. He cries at everything.

“Yeah, well, you’re best son,” Mickey says in a fit of sentimentality. The kid smiles and giggles and tugs at Mickey’s hand to make him walk faster, and Mickey doesn’t even get annoyed about it.

There’s a fire truck and two ambulances at the park. “What the hell?” Mickey asks.

“There was fire?” The kid asks worriedly. “Did swings burn?”

“I don’t know.” He glances around and notices a fireman surrounded by a bunch of kids. He’s showing them the truck and the different equipment and Mickey relaxes. “Nah, I don’t think anything happened,” he reassures the kid. “See, they’re letting people up on the truck.”

“I can go?” The kid asks.

“Let’s—”

“Ian!” The kid yells. Mickey whips his head around. Sure enough, there’s Ian, and Mickey swears under his breath. Right. He’s an EMT now.

“Hey, Yev,” Ian says, jogging over to them. God, he looks so good. “Mickey.”

“Hi,” Mickey says, trying not to sound as tongue-tied as he feels. Ian’s uniform sure fits him well.

“I can go on fire truck?” The kid asks. Ian looks over at the truck.

“Yeah, probably,” he says with a shrug. “There’s a line though. You want to check out the ambulance?”

The kid’s eyes go wide. “I can go in ambulance?”

“Sure, come with me. You’re a VIP.”

“Dad, what is VIP?”

“I don’t know,” Mickey admits, ears getting hot. “Means you’re special.”

“I am special,” the kid agrees, completely confident in that fact, and Ian and Mickey share an amused look over his head. Mickey’s breath catches and he looks away first.

Ian shows them the ambulance and he keeps bending over and Mickey tries not to leer. If things were different, he’d ask Ian what he’s got in all those pockets and probably say something like I’ve got a pocket you can fit something in. Instead, he keeps his hands tucked close to him and never looks directly at Ian.

“Ambulance is so cool,” the kid says admiringly. “I want to be EMT.” He says each letter carefully, making sure he gets it right.

“You can,” Ian tells him. “Keep studying in school. Your dad still reading you books every night?”

“Yes!” The kid assures him. “Sometimes if I ask so nice Dad will read three books!”

“Three, huh?” Ian smirks at Mickey. “Your dad’s a pushover, isn’t he?”

The kid laughs like he has any idea what they’re talking about and Mickey ignores how soft Ian’s eyes are. “Push you over,” he mutters nonsensically. Ian just grins.

“Looks like the fire truck’s open,” he tells the kid. “You want to go over there?”

The kid waves a hand. “Ambulance is cooler,” he says. “You are cooler than fireman.”

Ian’s smile gets even bigger and Mickey thinks it’s a good thing they’re already on an ambulance because he’s going to have a heart attack. And then Ian could revive him. He scolds his traitorous dick and pulls up the memory of Ian telling him he only came to visit because Svetlana paid him.

That works pretty well.

“You wanna go swing or what?” Mickey asks.

“We can stay with Ian a little longer?” The kid begs. Mickey bites at his lip, but it’s not like he’s going to say no. He is a pushover, especially when it comes to Ian.

“Fine, whatever,” he says.

“Yev, we gotta give the other kids a turn,” Ian says, mercifully taking pity on Mickey. “Why don’t you and your dad go swing and when everyone else has their turn you can come back, okay?”

“Okay,” the kid says, looking a little dejected.

“You want a sucker?” Ian tries. That brings the smile back, and Ian lets the kid have two suckers because Ian is a bigger pushover than Mickey.

They swing for a while and the kid keeps an intensely close watch on the ambulance. “Dad,” he says urgently. “Everyone had turn. We can go back?”

Mickey tries to keep his sigh silent. “Alright,” he says, because he already promised the kid they could do whatever he wanted. The kid runs ahead of him, but he keeps turning around and checking to make sure Mickey’s still following.

“Ian!” He calls into the open ambulance doors. “I can come back now?”

“Hey, Yev,” Ian laughs. “Yeah, climb on up.”

Mickey has to give him a little boost, but he scrambles up and touches about forty things in two seconds. Ian doesn’t look worried. They probably hid all the dangerous stuff.

“Mama is at sleepover,” the kid tells Ian. “She is gone tonight and tomorrow. Dad says we can stay up all night and eat all the candies we want.”

“Wow,” Ian says. “Sounds like a fun night.”

“So fun,” the kid agrees. “I have best dad. Jasper says Dad is not good because he went in jail but Dad is best dad.” Mickey’s stomach drops a little at what his stupid friend said. Rude little fucker.

“Well, I think Jasper’s wrong,” Ian says conspiratorially. “I don’t think jail means your dad is bad at all. I think he is the best.”

Mickey can’t take this. He bites at his thumbnail and tunes out their conversation. He just can’t handle this right now.

“Dad?” He snaps back to attention.

“What?”

“Ian can come watch Karate Kat with us?”

“Oh,” Ian says, eyes wide and darting over to Mickey. “Yev…I don’t want to barge in on your special night with your dad.”

The kid’s forehead wrinkles. “You are special, too,” he says, confused. A few complicated emotions flit over Ian’s face, but Mickey catches shock and gratitude in there. He blows out a breath. Like he’d ever be able to deny Ian anything that makes him happy.

“You can come,” he says softly. “If you want. If, uh. I mean, if you got plans or something, that’s fine.”

“I don’t,” Ian says, sounding almost breathless. “Have plans, I mean.”

“You are coming?” The kid asks.

Ian looks at Mickey again. Mickey bites his lip, but he nods decisively. It’ll be slow torture, sitting beside Ian through a movie, but he’ll do it.

“I’d love to come,” he tells the kid. “Thanks for inviting me, Yev.”

“You are welcome,” the kid says primly.

“I’ve just got to, uh.” Ian glances over his shoulder at some of the other guys. He climbs down from the ambulance and Mickey takes a huge step back to get out of his way. Ian goes over and talks to the other guys, who are nodding. Mickey sees one wiggling his eyebrows and he looks away. That old fear is clawing at his chest, the fear that people are looking at him and knowing. It’s not a secret anymore—Lip even thought up a nice chant about Mick loving dick that went around the neighborhood for weeks—but it’s still hard to shake that old terror.

Ian comes back and stands beside Mickey with several feet of space between them. “I’m, um, good to go. Whenever.” His hands are shaking. He stuffs them in his pockets, but Mickey sees it. It makes his hands want to start shaking.

“Kid, you ready?” He asks.

The kid pokes out his head. “Candy?” He checks.

“Yeah, we’ll stop and get candy,” Mickey says. The kid launches himself out and into Mickey’s arms. Luckily he’s been doing that a lot, so Mickey’s almost prepared for it. He doesn’t drop him, at least.

“We talked about that,” Mickey scolds half-heartedly. “You gotta warn me before you go jumping off shit.”

“Okay, Dad,” the kid says. Ian laughs. Maybe he hears how condescending it sounds, too. “You can carry me?”

“What’s with you always wanting me to carry you?” Mickey asks, adjusting the kid to rest more comfortably on his hip. “You got legs.”

“We get candy faster if you carry me,” the kid points out. It’s a pretty good argument, and it makes Mickey laugh.

“You’re too damn smart for your own good,” he says. “We should get you out conning people soon.”

“Yeah,” the kid agrees, even though he has no idea what Mickey’s saying.

“Svetlana would kill you,” Ian says.

“She absolutely would,” Mickey agrees. “Oh, and she wanted me to tell you her hammer says hi.”

Ian laughs, though he rubs the back of his neck. “Ah, jeez,” he says. “Will she be mad if she finds out I came over?”

“No,” Mickey says, mystified. “Why would she?”

“Um, because she hates me?”

“Not really,” Mickey assures him. “I mean, she was fucking mad about the whole stealing the kid thing.” Ian winces and then Mickey feels bad. “But she knows you won’t do it again.”

“I won’t,” Ian murmurs. “I’ll never do that again.” Somehow it feels like they’re talking about more than just kidnapping. Mickey can’t think about that right now. He swallows and keeps his eyes forward, and after a second Ian does the same.

They pick out their candy and Mickey gets to use his employee discount. “This is Dad’s job,” the kid keeps telling people, like stocking shelves is something to be proud of. Mickey can feel himself blushing hard.

“Hey, lay off, would you?” He says. “Most of these people already know that. It’s their job, too.”

The kid blinks up at him with those big eyes and Mickey tries not to feel guilty. At least he didn’t yell at him or anything.

“Did you tell Ian about the movie we’re watching?” He changes the subject. The kid’s eyes light up as talks about the dumb fucking cat. Ian’s dim a bit with the familiar dismay Mickey knows is written all over his own face when Karate Kat comes up. Mickey huffs and nudges Ian, then freezes. It felt normal, natural, to just bump their elbows together. They used to do that all the time.

Ian grins over at him and elbows him back, and Mickey forces himself to relax. It doesn’t have to be anything he doesn’t want it to be.

The kid eats three Twizzlers and about fourteen Tootsie Rolls and falls asleep twenty minutes into the movie, sprawled across Mickey like he’s part of the couch. He’s gotten real clingy lately, crawling into Mickey’s lap anytime he’s sitting down. His tongue is bright red from the candy and he didn’t brush his teeth. He’s going to be a monster in the morning.

“Wow,” Ian says. “That was fast.”

“Yeah, you wore him out with the cool ambulance shit,” Mickey says. “I thought the candy would have him bouncing off the walls. Svetlana doesn’t let him have very much sugar.”

“I could tell by his terrible choice in candy,” Ian says, gesturing at the pile. “What kid picks Tootsie Rolls over Reese’s?”

“Who knows,” Mickey snorts. “He likes that fucking nasty bubblegum ice cream, too.”

Ian shudders. “I thought he’d like real chocolate.”

“Why?”

“Because of you!” Ian insists. “You’re like a fucking squirrel, always hiding chocolate everywhere.”

“I am not,” Mickey says, even though it’s totally true.

“Mickey, mini Snickers under my pillow,” Ian reminds him, and then they both fall silent. The reminder of their past hangs heavy, not that they actually needed to be reminded.

“You date a lot of guys while I was inside?” Mickey asks. He doesn’t know why he’s asking. He doesn’t want to know. But at the same time, he feels like he’ll die if he doesn’t find out.

“No,” Ian says. “Maybe like. Two for real? Had a few flings though.”

Mickey snorts. “Anyone under 65?”

Ian knocks his shoulder gently into Mickey’s, careful not to jostle the kid. “Fuck you. I haven’t been with anyone more than five years older than me in years.”

“Wow,” Mickey says, exaggerating shock. “You really turned a corner.”

“I really did,” Ian says, and he’s serious now. Mickey stares at the screen. Karate Kat is getting her purple belt. “What about you?” Ian asks. “Been seeing anyone?”

“Nah,” Mickey says. He doesn’t mention he’s never actually been serious with anyone besides Ian. He doesn’t have to. Ian already knows. “Had a few flings,” he throws Ian’s words back at him.

Ian nods. “That’s good,” he says. “I’m glad. You—Mick, are you okay, though? With, you know, everything?”

Mickey gapes at him. “Am I fucking okay?” He asks. “What, like am I okay with telling you I love you and you telling me to get lost?”

Ian bites his lip. “I meant with being in prison for six years,” he says quietly. Now Mickey just feels stupid.

“I’m fine,” Mickey says automatically. “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m a fucking Milkovich. Prison’s in our blood. Sure it won’t be the last time I’m inside.”

Ian actually turns to look at him now. “I hope that’s not true,” he says softly.

Mickey shrugs. “Yeah, well, I’m not planning on it or anything.”

“You didn’t deserve to go to prison. I should’ve said something. I should’ve stepped up. I’m sorry, Mickey.”

“Didn’t we already do this?” Mickey asks.

“I am, though,” Ian says. His face is so sincere, his eyes are so green, and he’s so close to Mickey, closer than they’ve been in so many long years. Mickey’s had so many dreams about this for so long. He can’t handle it. He leans forward and kisses Ian.

Ian opens his mouth immediately, responding eagerly, and Mickey’s breath hitches. It’s amazing, better than he remembers. It feels safe. It feels like home. Sparks are zipping along his spine and butterflies are spinning around his stomach.

He moves a hand to Ian’s cheek and dislodges the kid, who snuffles around and mumbles a little. It throws a bucket of ice water all over Mickey. He pulls away from Ian and they sit there, both breathing hard, not looking at each other.

“Sorry,” Ian says.

“It was me,” Mickey counters.

“Yeah,” Ian agrees sounding stunned. “I don’t know if you’ve ever…” He stops.

“Kissed you first?” Mickey supplies.

“Just before your wedding,” Ian says, and Mickey feels like shit when he remembers that day. He always feels sick when he thinks about that whole sequence of events.

Then again, it gave him the mouth-breathing weirdo in his lap, so at least something halfway good came of it.

“Mick,” Ian whispers. He puts a hand on Mickey’s cheek and Mickey closes his eyes. “Please give me another chance. I’ll do anything. I’ll suck your dick anytime you want.”

Mickey lets out a hitched little laugh, even though his memories of that time aren’t particularly cheerful, either.

“Like you wouldn’t do that anyway,” Mickey says. His voice sounds rough because he’s trying not to cry. Ian presses their foreheads together and Mickey’s not quite sure he’s winning that battle anymore.

“I miss you so much,” Ian goes on.

“I miss you, too,” Mickey admits. He says it so quiet it’s barely audible over Karate Kat breaking the blocks with her head, but he knows Ian hears it. Mickey still has his eyes closed.

“Please,” Ian whispers again.

“Dad,” the kid mumbles. Mickey rears back, away from Ian. The kid’s eyes are open only a slit, more asleep than awake, but Mickey’s heart is thudding painfully.

“I can’t decide anything with the fucking kid here,” Mickey tells Ian. “I can’t—this isn’t just about me anymore.”

“I love Yevgeny,” Ian says, and it’s a little stab in Mickey’s heart that Ian’s always been able to say that with no trouble but he hadn’t been able to say the same about Mickey.

“I…” Mickey doesn’t know what to do. “I’m gonna put him in his bed.”

Ian searches his face for a second. “And then?” He asks cautiously.

“I don’t fucking know and then, alright? Just. Hang on.”

He gets up carefully, not wanting the kid to wake up for real. He takes his time getting the kid into his pajamas and hopes he doesn’t pee the bed after not going to the bathroom before falling asleep. He waits for another minute, gathering his strength, and kisses the kid’s forehead before he goes back out to the living room.

Ian turned off Karate Kat, which is a relief. Mickey doesn’t go back to the couch. He stands a few feet away and neither of them say anything for a minute.

“Do you want me to go?” Ian asks. Mickey remembers his own voice, his shock over Ian leaving all those years ago after Terry made Mickey get married. What are you hoping, I tell you not to go? I’mma chase after you like some bitch?

He should’ve. He’d tried, but he couldn’t do it then. He was too scared, he hated himself too much, whatever. He’d known he should’ve stopped Ian at the time and hadn’t done it. Now, he’s pretty sure he should tell Ian to leave, but he can’t do that, either.

“Stay,” he whispers. They go to his room and fuck in his bed, slow and quiet, and Mickey cries like a little girl losing her virginity because he missed this, missed Ian, so much, and afterward he holds Ian against his chest and cards his hand through Ian’s hair and whispers stay stay stay a thousand times.

In the morning, he wakes up alone.

 

Mickey slams the spatula down and nearly breaks a plate. The kid’s grouchy from eating too much candy last night and he’d even slept in, which fortunately gave Mickey time to get blindingly drunk before he woke up. Now Mickey’s trying to make pancakes, because the kid wants pancakes, and his hands are shaking so bad he can barely move them.

He can’t believe Ian left. Didn’t even text him, didn’t leave a note, nothing. Just gone.

Mickey feels so stupid. He’d honestly thought it mattered. He’d thought Ian was being honest, saying all that shit about missing Mickey. He’d asked for another chance and Mickey thought he’d meant a real chance, not just a fuck.

Mickey hates Ian.

Mickey hates that can’t hate Ian.

“Dad?” The kid asks, his voice grating against Mickey’s skull. “Pancakes?”

“Yeah, I’m fucking working on it,” Mickey snaps.

“I’m hungry,” the kid insists. “Mama has breakfast in the morning.”

Mickey can’t even be proud of the kid for remembering to say the. He’s sweating and he can’t breathe and his hands are shaking and everything’s all fucked up.

“Dad?” Now the kid sounds concerned. “You are okay?”

“I’m fucking fine,” Mickey insists. “Give me five fucking seconds and you’ll have your pancakes. What you want on them?”

“Syrup.”

“Peanut butter and syrup or just syrup?”

Making that decision efficiently shuts the kid up for a minute or two. Mickey slumps against the counter, trying to take deep enough breaths that he doesn’t pass out and burn the house down. It doesn’t sound all that unappealing, honestly, except the kid’s here.

“I did not say goodbye to Ian,” the kid grumbles, and it takes every ounce of effort Mickey possesses not to scream. He can’t do this. He can’t do the Ian Gallagher hero worship hour. It was bad enough back before everything happened when he had to sit through Mandy doing this. It’ll be a hundred times worse now.

“Dad?” He has a certain tone when he says dad and usually Mickey doesn’t mind but right now it makes him ball his hands into fists. “We can see Ian again today?”

“No,” Mickey barks. “We’re not fucking seeing Ian ever again.”

The kid spins and stares at him in horror. “What?”

“You fucking heard me.” Mickey slams pancakes onto a plate and throws it in front of the kid. He unplugs the griddle and shoves a knife into the peanut butter before throwing that down onto the table, too. “Eat your goddamn pancakes.”

The kid’s lip is trembling and Mickey can’t take this. He tugs at his hair. He holds his breath and counts to ten. The prison counselor told him that would help him manage his anger. The prison counselor was full of shit.

“I want to see Ian!” The kid insists.

“Too fucking bad,” Mickey shoots back. He turns around and starts walking away, because he’s working on de-escalation and controlling the atmosphere like the parenting book Svetlana left in the bathroom for him to read while he’s taking a shit suggested. He’s not doing a very good job of it.

“I need syrup!” The kid yells out. He’s kicking his feet against the chair the way Mickey’s told him ten thousand times not to do. It’s annoying as fuck.

“It’s on the counter!” Mickey yells back.

“Dad! Why I cannot see Ian?”

And then the kid’s there, right up close to Mickey, leaning into his legs like he’s always doing, and he’s got peanut butter smeared across his chin and tears in his eyes. “I want to see Ian!” He repeats.

Mickey explodes.

“Shut the fuck up about Ian!” He yells. “What the fuck you want Ian for? He doesn’t give a flying fuck about us. Ian doesn’t care. Got it? He doesn’t care. So shut the fuck up and eat your pancakes and leave me the fuck alone!”

The kid’s crying for real now, gulping out sobs and snot trailing down his face, and Mickey feels like every inch of him is pulled tight.

“Dad,” the kid sobs, reaching out a hand, and Mickey snaps. He grabs the arm coming toward him and shakes the kid.

“Shut the fuck up!” He repeats. The kid stops sobbing because he’s lost his breath. He’s staring up at Mickey with wide, terrified eyes, face gone white, and Mickey’s got a rough hold on his arm and he thinks, this is exactly what Terry would do.

Mickey drops the kid’s arm and stumbles back so fast he trips and falls on his ass. The kid doesn’t move and Mickey scrambles up, out of the room, away from the kid. He was about to smack the kid. He was going to hit him, exactly what he said he’d never do. He sits down on his bed and doesn’t even bother slamming the door.

His hands are shaking even worse now. All of him is trembling. Everything he promised himself. All the breathing techniques he tried, all the logic he made himself go through. None of it mattered. He doesn’t know how long he sits there, shaking and barely breathing, before he forces himself up and back to the kitchen. He’s got to tell the kid he’s sorry. He’s got to make sure the kid’s okay.

The kitchen is empty.

“Hey, kid?” Mickey calls out. Nothing. He checks the kid’s room. Empty. Svetlana’s room. Empty. Bathroom, living room, hallway closet, under the beds, under the table, behind the couch. Nothing. “Yevgeny?”

The kid is gone.

And then Mickey’s sprinting down the street, no coat, no shoes. “Yevgeny!” He yells. People are staring at him. “Have you seen a little kid?” He asks anyone who comes close enough. “He’s—he’s six, he’s got dark hair, he’s this tall?”

No one’s seen him. Mickey runs to the only place he can think of to go.

Ian opens the door after Mickey pounds on it for a minute. “Mickey,” he breathes.

“Is the kid here?” Mickey asks wildly.

“What?”

“Yevgeny, is Yevgeny here?” Mickey snaps. “He’s gone. I can’t find him. I checked everywhere, he’s not at the house, I—no one’s seen him; I don’t know where the fuck he is.”

“Okay,” Ian says in this soothing voice Mickey’s never heard him use. “Mick, can you take a deep breath for me? Where’d you look?”

“Everywhere,” Mickey insists. “I looked everywhere!”

“I got it,” Ian says. “We’re gonna find him, okay? I promise. Where did you look?”

“I looked—I looked all over the house. Every bedroom, the bathroom, the closet. He—the kitchen was empty, I—I ran down the street, the neighbors hadn’t seen him—”

“Okay,” Ian says. He’s so calm. God, how can he be calm when Yevgeny’s missing? Why does this always happen when Mickey’s supposed to be taking care of him?

“No, it’s not fucking okay!” Mickey yells. “I yelled at him; I almost hit him. I—shook him; I squeezed his arm.”

Ian sucks in a little breath. “So he was scared and he took off.”

Mickey realizes, distantly, that he’s crying. Usually he’s all too aware of that when it happens, because he tries so hard not to, but right now he couldn’t tell anyone when he started crying. He probably started crying when he woke up this morning and never stopped.

“Why’d I come here?” He wonders aloud, taking a step away from Ian. “You don’t care.”

“I care,” Ian says.

“You left.”

“I…” Ian swallows. “I did leave. But it’s not—”

“Fuck, now is not the time,” Mickey says, wrenching himself away. “I can’t find Yevgeny.”

“I’m gonna help you find him,” Ian promises. “Come on, Mickey. How about a jacket, okay?”

“I don’t think Yevgeny had a jacket on,” Mickey says, and then he’s starting to cry for real, not just the tears in his eyes bullshit he always gets because he’s been a fucking pussy much longer than he’s known he likes dick. “It’s so cold.”

“Mickey, I promise you we will find Yevgeny.” Ian comes close and looks him in the eye. “I am not sleeping until we find him.”

“Fuck,” Mickey says. “Let’s fucking go!”

“Okay,” Ian says. “Put some shoes and a coat on.”

“No time,” Mickey argues.

“You’ll go faster with shoes on,” Ian points out. “Come on, Mickey.”

Mickey puts the shoes on to get Ian to shut the fuck up, and Ian manages somehow to slip a coat onto him without him even noticing.

“Have you checked the park?” Ian asks. Mickey doesn’t even answer, just starts sprinting. He hears Ian huff and then he’s running with him. Mickey scans the park desperately but doesn’t see that little head anywhere.

“Yevgeny!” He bellows. People turn to stare at him, but not the person he wants. “He’s not here. Ian, where the fuck is he? What if something happened to him?”

“Mickey, I’m sure he’s fine,” Ian soothes. “What’s his favorite thing in the park?”

“Swings,” Mickey says. “He’s not on the swings.”

“No, he’s not,” Ian agrees. “But let’s take a look at what’s close to the swings, alright? There’s a jungle gym, a slide, and—”

“The tunnel,” Mickey says. “Yevgeny hides in the tunnel.” He’s running again, feet slipping because Ian’s shoes are too big for him. He drops to his knees and sticks his head into the tunnel and almost starts sobbing when he sees the stupid light up shoes Yevgeny begged for. The lights are bouncing around the tunnel like that fag club Ian used to strip at.

“Ian, he’s here,” he says. He gets halfway into the tunnel before Yevgeny speaks.

“Go away,” he says. He kicks one of those dumb shoes toward Mickey’s face and Mickey doesn’t even get mad. He considers letting it connect because he fucking deserves it. Ian stops outside the tunnel, his feet next to Mickey’s hips.

“Yevgeny,” Mickey breathes. “I’m sorry, kid, I’m so sorry.”

“You yelled at me,” Yevgeny chokes out, more tears sliding through the tracks already on his face. “You hurt my arm.”

“I know I did. I’m so fucking sorry,” Mickey repeats.

“Why you do that to me?” He asks. He sounds so betrayed and Mickey can’t stand it.

“I got mad,” Mickey says. “I got a real bad fucking temper.”

“I know,” Yevgeny says. “Mama tells me.”

“Yevgeny,” Mickey says softly. “My dad knocked me around a lot and I’m trying real hard not to do that to you but I’m not good at it. I hit people. It’s what I do when I’m mad. I’m working on it.” Yevgeny wipes his filthy hand across his nose and mumbles something in Russian. “I don’t know what you’re saying,” Mickey tells him. At least he doesn’t have the room to be angry about it like he used to.

“Mama says grownups cannot hit kids. Not allowed. Big trouble.”

“Yeah, big trouble,” Mickey says, even though in his experience that’s not really true. His dad certainly didn’t get in much trouble for it, and he knows Frank didn’t, either. “We can call your mom and she can kill me and chop me into little pieces and you’ll never have to worry about me hurting you ever again, okay? But you don’t have a coat on and it’s really fucking cold out here.”

“I am cold,” Yevgeny admits. “So I hide in tunnel so no snow gets on me. Mama says homeless people sleep in tunnels.”

“You’re not homeless,” Mickey tells him. “You can stay at home and I’ll leave.”

“You will go back to jail?” Yevgeny asks. Mickey closes his eyes tight.

“You want me to go back to jail?” Mickey asks. “I probably should.”

Yevgeny doesn’t say anything for a minute. “No,” he finally says quietly. “Do not go back to jail, please.”

Mickey lets out a long breath. “Yevgeny, I’m sorry,” he says again. “I shouldn’t have done that. It was bad. But you can’t just run away like that, okay? I gotta know where you are if you’re not with your mom. I was so scared when you left me.”

Mickey hears Ian shift a little and he thinks yeah, you hear that? but mostly ignores him because he can’t think of anything but Yevgeny right now.

“Okay, Dad,” Yevgeny says, and Mickey’s crying again because shit, he never thought it would be so sweet to hear that.

“You wanna come out of the fucking tunnel?” Mickey asks. “It’s fucking concrete, man. It’s not very warm. Guess who’s here?” He adds. “Ian’s here.”

Yevgeny doesn’t move. “You said we will not see Ian again.”

Now Ian’s definitely shifting around uncomfortably. “I know,” Mickey says. “I said that. But I was scared when I couldn’t find you and Ian helped me look.”

“Ian cares,” Yevgeny says accusingly. “You lied.”

“Ian loves you,” Mickey says. “He always has.”

“You love me?” Yevgeny checks.

“I love you,” Mickey says. It’s easier to say than he thought. He’d open his arms invitingly for Yevgeny, but he’s on his hands and knees and the tunnel’s too short for him to raise up at all.

“Okay, Dad,” Yevgeny says again. “I love you.” He surges forward and grabs onto Mickey’s neck and Mickey backs them out of the tunnel. As soon as his arms are free, he wraps them around Yevgeny and buries his face in his son’s hair.

“Fuck,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, kid. I love you.”

“You won’t hurt my arm again?” Yevgeny checks. Mickey wants to promise a thousand times that he won’t, but he hesitates. How can he promise that? It’s not like he meant to do it this time. He’s lived in this shitty neighborhood long enough to know that parents promise not to do it all the time and then they do it anyway. Terry never even bothered promising. He would’ve had to think he’d done something wrong to make that promise.

“I’m gonna go to a class,” he hears himself promise. “Where they teach people not to hurt kids. Okay?”

Yevgeny looks at him for a minute. “It will help?”

“It can’t fucking hurt.”

“Okay,” Yevgeny agrees. Ian helps Mickey zip his coat around Yevgeny, who huddles against Mickey’s chest and shivers.

“Is that warmer? Jesus, you’re freezing.”

“Let’s get him inside,” Ian says. “We need to keep an eye on him.”

“Thanks,” Mickey says, actually meeting Ian’s eyes as he says it. “Ian, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Mickey. Of course.”

Mickey breathes in the scent from Yevgeny’s hair again and closes his eyes for a second. “Shit, I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he says. He’s shaking again, this time from coming down from the adrenaline rush. “Only other time that came close was when my dad caught us. And when you took off with him.”

Ian swallows hard. “Yeah,” he agrees quietly. “Those were both—yeah.”

Now they’re not looking at each other again, because they fucked last night and Mickey woke up alone. Mickey focuses on Yevgeny. He’s shivering, but he’s not shaking as bad anymore. Mickey kisses his hair.

“You okay?” He checks again. “No one messed with you?”

Yevgeny’s voice is all muffled from being tucked inside Mickey’s coat. “No one.”

They get to Ian’s and get the kid all bundled up. Ian gets him some hot cocoa and the kid asks, “Marshmallows?” He makes sure to make his face all pathetic for maximum emotional manipulation.

“Hm.” Ian checks the cupboard. Mickey’s ready to run to the Kash and Grab. If the kid wants marshmallows, he’s getting marshmallows. “You are in luck!” Ian says, and Yevgeny cheers. Mickey bites at his thumbnail.

“I gotta call Svet,” he says. Ian winces.

“Good luck,” he offers. Mickey flips him off.

She picks up on the second ring. “Everything okay?” She asks. “Yevgeny is okay?”

“He’s alright now,” Mickey says, hoping it’s true. “Svet, I fucked up. I fucked up so bad.” His voice is still shaking.

She’s completely silent while he recounts what happened. He doesn’t spare a detail. He wants her to know everything.

“I come home now,” she says softly.

“Yeah,” he says, throat tight. “We’ll stay at Ian’s until you get here. I shouldn’t be alone with the kid.”

She’s quiet for a second. “That is good idea.” His heart sinks a little. “For now,” she adds. “We talk more when I get home.”

“I’m sorry, Svet,” he says.

“I know you are.”

Mickey leans his head against the wall for a second, then pushes off and goes back to the kitchen. Yevgeny’s slumped on the table, head on his arms, asleep. Mickey watches Ian feel Yevgeny’s cheeks and poke inside the blanket to find his fingers.

“He’s doing alright,” Ian promises. “Warming up. A little mild hypothermia.”

“Hypothermia?” Mickey echoes, dismayed. “Fuck.”

“Hey, Mick, relax,” Ian says. “Mild hypothermia’s nothing to be too concerned about. We got him warm and inside. His body temperature’s a little low but it’s coming back up.”

Ian’s an EMT now. He knows what he’s talking about. He wouldn’t let anything happen to Yevgeny. If he says it’s not serious, it isn’t.

Mickey sighs, pressing his hands against his temples. “Fuck,” he says succinctly. It’s the only thing that comes close to describing how he feels. “Alright if I move him to the couch?”

“Yeah, go for it,” Ian says. “I’ll make you some cocoa too.”

Mickey doesn’t answer. He scoops the kid up carefully, making sure the blanket stays wrapped around him. Yevgeny’s breath hitches, but his eyes stay closed. He does feel warmer. Mickey carries him to the couch and brushes his hand through Yevgeny’s hair. He bends down and kisses his forehead.

“I’m sorry, kid,” he whispers. Yevgeny doesn’t wake up.

Ian’s got his determined face on when Mickey gets back into the kitchen, and Mickey shakes his head. “Do we have to do this now?”

“Yes,” Ian says firmly. “I don’t want this to fester.”

Mickey shakes his head, taking the mug from Ian. He makes an appreciative noise when he tastes the whiskey in it. Ian still hasn’t said anything else, so Mickey raises his eyebrows.

“Well?”

Ian looks surprised. “I didn’t think you’d actually let me talk.”

Mickey shrugs. “Maybe I wanna hear what you got to say.”

Ian swallows. “Right. Okay. I freaked out, Mickey.”

You freaked out?” Mickey asks incredulously. “You’re the one who fucking begged for a second chance. You—”

“I know,” Ian cuts him off. Mickey blows out a breath, shaking his head a little. He takes another long drink. “I’m sorry. I just kept thinking about—about after you came out. And the next morning, I just. That was my first big low that you saw, right? And I got worried I was going to do that to you again.”

Mickey feels a prickle of concern despite himself. “But you’re on meds now, right?”

“Yeah,” Ian confirms. “But that doesn’t mean it never happens anymore. It’s just usually not as bad and doesn’t last as long. And I can kinda tell it’s coming now. Sometimes. Not because of the meds, just because I’m used to it.”

“What the fuck?” Mickey asks. “The meds don’t even do what they’re supposed to?”

Ian smiles, kind of sadly. “They can only help, Mickey. They can’t fix me.”

You can’t fix me, because I’m not broken. Mickey wonders if Ian doesn’t believe that anymore or if he thinks Mickey doesn’t believe it.

“So…did you think it was going to happen?” Mickey asks.

Ian shrugs, frustrated. “I don’t know,” he admits. After a beat, he adds, so quiet and sad and without meeting Mickey’s eyes, “I just got scared.”

Mickey chews at his lip. “I get that,” he says cautiously. Ian looks up quickly.

“Yeah?”

Mickey scoffs. “You know what a coward I am.” Lately he seems to only be able to say Ian’s words back to him.

Ian shakes his head. “I didn’t give you enough credit back then.”

“I think you might be giving me too much credit now,” Mickey says bitterly.

They stand there staring at each other for a minute, not speaking. Ian lets out a sad little chuckle. “I wanted to do it right this time,” he says softly.

“What?” Mickey asks.

Ian blushes a little and Mickey loses his breath for a second. “I wanted…” Ian rubs the back of his neck. “I was gonna ask you out. On a date.”

Mickey laughs. “To fucking Sizzlers?” He asks. They’re both pretending they don’t have tears in their eyes, which is pretty stupid, actually, considering they’ve cried in front of each other before.

“Maybe,” Ian admits.

Mickey takes a deep breath. Then he has to take another one, which makes him feel like a real fucking pussy. He shrugs.

“So ask me.”

Somehow, those three words seem even bigger than the other three words he said to Ian. His stomach feels like it’s somewhere around his ankles. He’s trembling. Ian’s head snaps up, and he looks into Mickey’s eyes for what feels like forever.

“Yeah?” He says quietly.

“I’m not doing your fucking work for you,” Mickey grouses, and Ian’s nice enough not to mention how shaky it is. “Ask me or don’t, Gallagher.”

“Hey, Mick?” Ian says, a slow smile blooming across his face. “Want to go on a date with me?”

Mickey shrugs. “I guess. Whatever. Free food.”

Ian laughs, louder than the conversation calls for but Mickey can hear the tinge of shocked giddiness in it. “You’re a dick,” he says, and somehow it sounds more affectionate than anything Mickey’s ever heard.

“Yeah,” Mickey agrees. “You knew that, though.”

Ian bites his lip and Mickey has to look down, smiling, and when he looks back up Ian’s smiling too, and they’re just standing there smiling at each other like weirdos, even though everything’s fucked up and Mickey’s got a truckload of shit to deal with and probably needs to go to fucking therapy.

Even a year ago, still in prison, he would’ve scoffed at the suggestion, but he’ll do it for Yevgeny. For Svetlana. For Ian. For Mandy, so she doesn’t ever have to look at him the way she looked at Terry. Hell, for Carl, who’s all into counseling and therapy and healthy coping mechanisms these days. For Kev and V, who aren’t gonna let him babysit their kids if they find out. For Fiona’s big sister look. For Debbie’s hugs. For Liam to build up new memories of him. Even just for Lip to shut the fuck up. He thinks back to his PO’s question when he first got out. You got a good support system?

Yeah, Mickey thinks. Yeah, he does.