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The Captain of My Soul

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November 2017

The rain finally started around 11:30.  At least, he thought it was 11:30.  His phone and his cheap ass watch were two of the first things he sold when the money really started to run low, so he was really just guessing. Leaning heavily into the streetlight, the young blue-eyed man looked up into the rain, watching it glint under the naked bulb and patter against his face.  It was cold, both the rain and the air around him, colder than he’d ever imagined it could be in Mexico, but the first fat splashes against his overheated brow and cheeks were a little refreshing.  

Mickey was sick. He knew it.  It was probably just a virus or something but he didn’t exactly have any means to get himself better.  His money had dwindled down to nothing and he didn’t have much of a plan for fixing that situation.  He’d relied on Damon for that but his cellmate had turned out to be a complete trainwreck.  Mickey wasn’t sorry they’d ditched him.  

He’d figured it wouldn’t be too big of a problem to find his way on his own.  In fact, when the gate had lifted at the border crossing, Mickey had briefly thought that maybe luck was finally on his side, that maybe things would work out, Ian or no Ian.

He’d been wrong.  

Mickey had good instincts.  He knew how to find the games and play the games.  He knew how to hustle.  He knew how to survive. During the first few months, he made his way through his new country on his wits, seeking out the underbelly and beginning the process making contacts.  He quickly encountered two major problems, though.  One, the game in Mexico was rough, even rougher than the mean streets of Chicago. And two, Mickey might still know how to play the game but that didn’t mean he wanted to anymore. .  

His instincts were still good.  He could still spot an opportunity, still run a con, but his heart just wasn’t in it.  At first, he found his new indifference confusing.  For the first time ever, he had nothing holding him back, no little sister or boyfriend to keep him from taking major risks.  He could’ve moved up in this world, been a real contender.  His motivation just wasn’t there though and when he really thought about it, he knew why.  

His survival skills had never been an endgame to him.  They were a means.  In Chicago, good survival skills meant that he got to keep the few things in his life worth living for.  That wasn’t much.  Hell, for most of his life, it was just his baby sister.  Then that damn red head starting pushing his way further and further in.  Suddenly, he had felt like he had real obligations; responsibilities.  

And he liked it.  He’d really liked it.  He like the permanence and the sense of stability that came from giving a fuck and having someone give a fuck back.  It had made the cons and hustles seem worth it, since they supported the life he was building with the people he loved.  He wasn’t a naive romantic.  He knew they’d all been dealing with major problems.  It had been a real life, though, a life worth fighting for, and that made all the conning and hustling worth it.

There wasn’t any of that down here though.  There was just the game; it was the means and the ends.  And Mickey didn’t want it.  Ian’s parting words rang true.  The chaotic life wasn’t him anymore.  

It wasn’t Mickey anymore either.  He honestly didn’t know if it ever had been.  So he walked away and felt damn good about the decision.

It left him with shitty choices though.  

He was an undocumented worker.  In Mexico.  Work was hard to find and the crappy little room he rented ate up what he earned pretty fast.  He was constantly hungry and it was really starting to show.  He could count his damn ribs, for fuck’s sake.

He was running out of options, and the ones he had weren’t good.  Returning to the criminal world made the most sense but he just couldn’t make himself do it.  The second possibility sounded worse but was actually more appealing.  He could put the cheekbones he developed from his starvation diet to work and see how much people would be willing to pay for his ass.

He’d put it off for days, but he was out of time.  His money was nearly gone.  He had a fever that might require medicine and no way to pay for it.  In fact, the fever might even work in his favor.  He was so out of it he might not even need drugs or alcohol to go through with this.

The rain was now running down his neck and under his shirt.  Despite the heat of the fever, he felt himself starting to shiver.  In a few minutes, he’d go.  He’d walk up to the door of the gay disco whose sign was blinking garish lights down on him and try to see if he had any takers.  Just one more minute, one more minute with his lamppost and he’d go.

*****************************************************************************************

His head hurt.  He wanted it to stop moving but it wasn’t listening to him.  His ears were roaring and the sound of the rain and the voices around him sounded so far away.  He forced his eyes open, suddenly confronted by a face only inches from his.  The face was fuzzy, but he could make out the soft brown eyes and lips that were moving.

Through his fever fog, Mickey realized that he was with a man.  In fact, the guy was the only thing holding him up.  His trusty lamppost was nowhere to be seen.  The painful movement of his head was the guy’s fault too.  He was cupping Mickey’s chin and shaking his head gently.  Jesus, what the fuck had happened?  Had he blacked out?

Mickey looked up at the guy.  He felt an arm around his back, a strong arm that held him securely.  It was probably the only thing keeping him on his feet but Mickey couldn’t control the self-preservation instincts that caused him to squirm and fight in the circle of the stranger’s arms.  

It did him little good.  The supportive arm quickly pinned him against an unyielding, muscular body and the hand at his chin tightened, holding his head still.  Mickey could feel himself starting to panic.

“Mon Chaton!”

Huh?

The dude was speaking to him.  Mickey stared at the guy’s mouth, trying to make out the words.

“Mon Chaton, do not pull out your claws.  I will not harm you.  You are ill.”

Mickey redoubled his efforts, trying to pull away from the firm hold, but what little strength he had left was leaving him.  The man studied his face for a second.

“Mon Chaton, Vous avez besoin de manger quelque chose.  Et en medicine.

What the fuck was this guy saying to him?  Exhausted, he stopped struggling against the unbreakable hold and concentrated on his words instead.

“I don’t speak Spanish.”

The face above him split into a smile that Mickey couldn’t help but admire.  The hold around him loosened to a gentle cradle again but Mickey didn’t resume his struggles.  He just stared at the smile.  He had nothing left.

“Bon Chat,” the main said, in a tone that seemed weirdly affectionate. “And that was French actually, although at some point we can work on teaching you Spanish as well.”

The stranger looked away, glancing around them with a considering look on his face. Mickey grimaced against the pain in his head, leaning his brow against the guy’s chest.  This wasn’t good.  Actually, it was probably really bad.  He was barely conscious in the arms of some strange guy outside a gay club in Mexico and the guy looked like he had a plan.  He should be flipping out.  He should be fighting like hell to get away.  

He didn’t. Who gave a shit?  What could the guy really do?  Kill him?  Who’d care anyway, besides Mandy and maybe she’d never even find out.

Mickey felt his legs start to buckle.  He was quickly losing the battle to stay on his feet.  The guy glanced down again, his expression somewhat resolved.  He leaned his head down a little closer and fixed Mickey with a firm stare. “Listen to me.  You are sick and need help.  I am going to help you.  I am not going to hurt you.  I am going to take you back with me and you are going to eat and rest.  That is all.  Do you understand?”

Mickey stared up at him for a minute, rolling the words over in his head until they started to make sense.  What the fuck was he doing?  Southside Mickey Milkovich would have beaten this guy’s ass.  Or tried to, at least.  The guy was actually pretty ripped.  One thing was for sure though, the old Mickey wouldn’t have trusted this guy’s lines of bullshit, not for a second.  

But he didn’t fight.  He didn’t do a damn thing as his legs gave out and his vision really began to swim.  He felt a second strong arm swing his legs up into a bridal cradle but he couldn’t even will the energy to snort at how stupid he must look.  Right before he lost his last meager hold on consciousness, he heard the stranger’s voice whisper “Bon Chat.”

****************************************************************************************

His left arm was asleep.  

That was his first waking thought.  Rocking back and forth, he managed to wiggle onto his back.  His mouth felt dry and pasty and his eyes were practically glued shut.  Everything ached.  But the room around him smelled clean, and the bed he assumed he was lying in was soft and comfortable.  

What the fuck?  The guy?  The weird guy and the carrying and the promises of food.

Shit.

Where was he?

What the fuck had he let happen?

His arm was still tingling but he willed it into action, pressing both of the heels of his hands against his eyes.  He forced them open to see a dark room lit only by tiny shards of sunlight that crept through the edges of the drawn curtains. Quickly scanning the perimeter, he realized that the room was empty

He also realized that it was nice.  Really nice.  The king sized bed was surrounded by an ridiculously thick carpet.  The room was decorated with paintings and all kinds of breakable shit that looked crazy expensive.

And there was a chandelier.  A fucking crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the room.

He didn’t have time to worry about this shit. His limbs were still pretty weak but he managed to lean over and switch on the bedside lamp. Throwing the sheet back, he looked over his body.  On the positive side, there wasn’t any pain.  There weren’t any marks or bruises or telltale scars to indicate he’d lost a kidney.

Not so good though, his clothes were gone and the incredibly soft boxers that he was wearing didn’t belong to him.  

Mickey took a deep breath.  His head was still swimming and he really just wanted to lie back down and go to sleep, but this situation was seriously fucked.  He could see his hands trembling a little as he reached down and peeled the boxers down his legs.

His dick looked fine, clean, and totally normal.  Reaching between his legs, he probed gently in and around his ass cheeks.  Nothing hurt and there didn’t seem to be any blood or swelling.  He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he let it out.  

He hadn’t been raped.  At least, not yet.

Mickey pulled the strange boxers back up and quickly looked around the room again.  So maybe the weird guy from the club hadn’t touched him yet but that didn’t mean he should stick around and wait for it.  He needed clothes, any clothes and there was a closet across the room.  He swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

And immediately hit the floor, his legs giving out like limp noodles when he tried to put weight on them. The crash when he hit the ground was ridiculous but he couldn’t even worry about that as he struggled to catch his breath against the edge of the bed.  He leaned his head back, letting it loll against the edge of the soft mattress while he closed his eyes and watched colored stars dance on the inside of his eyelids.  

Suddenly there were hands on him again, strong hands that grasped him around his biceps and pulled him firmly upright.  They held him up for a second before lifting and hefting him right back up on the bed.  He was swung around and laid down on the soft pillows and the sheet was drawn back up over him before he even managed to calm his rolling stomach and open his eyes.

The creepy guy from the club was back, this time wearing gym shorts and a soft looking t-shirt with a red and blue symbol and the word Lyon on it.  Mickey stared at him, fighting to keep his eyes open and his gaze threatening, but the guy didn’t look intimidated

He looked gorgeous, was how he looked. His coloring and features didn’t really make a whole lot of sense individually but the overall effect was ridiculously exotic.  Mickey wasn’t much for traditional looks.  That’s why he’d always liked the unique look of red heads.  And this guy was definitely unique

Jesus fucking Christ, what was he thinking about.  Who gave a shit if the guy was hot?  This guy might be a kidnapper. He needed to get out of this.

“Where the fuck are my clothes?”

The strange guy barely reacted to Mickey’s hostility.  His lips quirked a little, like he’d thought about smiling and then thought better of it.  Leaning back on his hands, he said simply, “They’ve been laundered and are in the wardrobe in the corner.  There are some more things for you there as well.”

Mickey listened to his voice.  The dude’s English was good but his accent was completely foreign, not American or Mexican.  French!  Hadn’t he said something in French.  Mickey couldn’t even remember.  He was so fucking tired but he needed to know what was happening to him.

“Who the hell are you?”

The man sighed and stood up, moving closer to the head of the bed.  Mickey shrank back into the pillows as the stranger sank down on the edge of the bed again and began sorting through the bottles on the nightstand.

“You have questions.  That is understandable.  I will anticipate your first question and give you the answer for free.  I have no intention of hurting you.  I have not even touched you except to help you recover from your illness.  And I will not touch you either, ever, not unless you ask me to.”

Mickey’s brow shot up at that but the strange guy kept talking, “Now, you have been very sick.  I will make you a deal.  You will ask me questions and I will answer.  For every question I answer, you must take one of the medications willingly.  I will tell you exactly what each one is and what it does before you take it.” He turned back towards Mickey, “Do we have a deal?”

Mickey’s first instinct was to cuss the dude out in true Milkovich fashion.  Who the fuck did he think he was, trying to force medicine down his throat.  The guy stared at him for a moment, waiting for a reply, before continuing, “You’ve taken them all before.  That’s why you’re feeling better.  You aren’t well though, and you need to keep taking them or you will sicken again.”

Mickey let his eyes fall closed for a second.  He was frustrated and confused but he was also weak as hell.  He could vaguely remember someone prodding him awake and getting him to drink.  He relaxed a bit but then a second memory hit him and he jolted up.  

The bathtub. Another guy.

Mickey’s eyes shot to the the door across the room, through which he could vaguely make out the outline of a vanity and mirror. The tub.  He’d been in that tub and this guy hadn’t pulled him out of it alone.  There’d been two of them.

The stranger glanced at the bathroom door and put his hands up as Mickey stared at him in horror.  

“Calm down,” he said in a voice that would’ve been calming if Mickey was in any mood to be calmed. “I will explain everything.  I think I know what you’re next question is.”  Reaching onto the nightstand, he picked up a can of something and held it up for Mickey to see. “This is only a supplement drink.  You are malnourished but eating is hard right now so I’ve been giving you these.”  Popping the top open, the guy held it out, keeping his eyes locked on Mickey, “You drink this and I answer your questions, okay.”

Mickey looked at the can, considering.  Nevermind the rest of the situation, the can itself didn’t look too sketchy.  It was written in English and he thought he’d seen a bunch of these in the Kash and Grab.  Mickey considered his situation.  He needed answers and he wasn’t going to be able to get away anyway.  And he was hungry as fuck all.  With a nod of his head, he reached out, took the can, and took a sip.

The dude nodded. “I’m assuming you remember being in the tub,” he said as he stood up and walked over to the bathroom door, flipping the light on.  Mikey could see the whole space now.  He’d definitely been in there.

“The other guy?”

“That was Ivan, my friend.  He was with me when I found you.  He helped me bring you back here.  We did not want to take you to a hospital because in this part of the country, good health care can take too much time.  I contacted a friend who is a doctor in the city.  He told us we needed to bring your fever down.  We gave you medicine and put you into a cool bath until your temperature fell below 38 degrees, or 101 in Fahrenheit.”

He paused for a second, “Take another sip,” he instructed.  Mickey glared but complied.

“Ivan helped me get you into bed and has helped me get you to drink and swallow your medication a few times.  Aside from that, we have let you sleep.” He reached out to take the can from Mickey, nodding when he felt that it was empty. “ Mon Chaton, you were very, very ill when we found you.  I don’t even think you realize how ill you were.  You needed help.  We couldn’t leave you there.” He glanced down at Mickey’s incredulous expression. “You don’t believe me?

Mickey snorted.  “You just carried me back to your luxury hotel room out of the fucking kindness of your heart? Yeah, I kind of want to call bullshit on that.”

The guy nodded, “You don’t think people can do things simply because they care?  Simply because they don’t want to see another suffer?”

“Most of my experiences haven’t taught me that.”

“Hmm, but not all of them?”

“Fuck off!”

Mickey could feel his eyes light up with agitation at the probing question.  The nosy dude clearly saw it too because he stopped and tossed the empty can in the garbage next to the nightstand.  “Okay, Mon Chaton, we will not talk about that.” He grabbed a bottle and held it up.  “This is just Ibuprofen.  It will bring down your fever.” He poured the red liquid into a small medicine cup and held it out.

Mickey glanced at him, “Another question?”

“Take your medicine”

Micky grimaced and threw the stuff back like a shot.

“Okay, who the fuck are you?”

“My name is Augustin.  I am 37.  I was born in Mexico but raised in France.  I live here now, where I have citizenship because of my mother.  I own a gay resort in the Puerto Vallarta region on the West Coast.  And yes, because I know you want to ask, I am am gay.”  He paused for a second, playing around with something on the nightstand before glancing back, “Are you?”

“Am I what?  Gay?  You found me outside of a gay club didn’t you?”

“Ah, but you were desperate.  That does not mean you are gay.”

Mickey nodded.  Fair point. “I am.”

The guy, Augustin or whatever, handed him a glass.  “Just water.  You are also dehydrated.  What is your next question?”

Mickey was kind of impressed at how well this guy could run misdirection.  He’d make a hell of a hustler.  He took a sip.  Tasted like water.

“Where the hell am I?”

“We are in my hotel room.  We are outside of Guadalajara”

“Oh yeah?  How long are you expecting me to stay?”

Augustin sighed, “You need to stay until you are well.  You are improving but you are not healthy.”

“And what happens then?”

“Then, you can go.  If you choose.”

“If I choose?” Fuck, every time he started to feel calm, this fucker dropped some more cryptic shit on him. “What are my other choices?”

Augustin held out a final medicine cup.  “This is an immune boosting vitamin.  Your body was too run down to fight the illness effectively.  These are helping.”

Mickey just took the cup and drank it. If he was going to be drugged, it would have happened already.  Augustin sat back down at the foot of the bed.

“What is your name?”

“What?”

“Your name?  I can keep calling you Kitten if you like but perhaps you would like me to use your real name.”

“Kitten?”

“Mon Chaton.  It’s French.”

“Oh fuck that. My name’s Mickey.”

Augustin snorted, “Like the mouse.  Oh, no, no, you are no mouse.”

Mickey sighed, “My real name is Mikhailo.”

Augustin smiled, “Mikhailo,” he repeated, rolling the syllables together in way that actually made his name sound kind of nice.  “Yes, that is much better.  Well, Mikhailo, I am a businessman and I pride myself that I am a good one.  When I informed my wealthy, conservative parents of my sexual orientation, they gave me a 2 million dollars and told me to never contact them again.  I have since used that money to build a fairly large business empire.”

Augustin refilled Mickey’s water glass and handed it back to him.  

“I have succeeded in doing this mostly through two approaches.  First, I take calculated risks based on my instincts.  So far, they have not failed me.  And second, I have a talent for noticing the worth in things that other people overlook.  For example, I told you I own a resort.  I opened it six years ago.  I bought it quite cheaply because no else thought it was worth a look.  Now, it is a multimillion dollar international luxury tourist draw.  It’s a national landmark.  It has a magnificentl coral reef.  It’s beautiful.” He looked up and caught Mickey’s eyes. “You should come see it.”

Mickey choked a little, “What?”

“I have a feeling about you. I’d like you to come to the resort.  To work.  I have access to all the best hoteliers in the world if I want, but they lack street smarts.  They lack ingenuity, creativity.  I have a feeling you have these things in spades.”

“Based on what?”

“As I said, based solely on instincts.  But they’ve never really steered me wrong.”

Mickey stared at the guy.  He could feel the water glass in his hand starting to tremble.  The conversation had momentarily distracted him from the pounding in his head but it was roaring to life again.  He couldn’t even think about this shit right now.

Augustin seemed to get it.  He leaned forward and took the glass from Mickey’s hand.  “I am not trying to upset you.  Right now, you need to concentrate on getting well.  We can discuss this later in more detail.  But I need you to understand that those are my intentions toward you; to get you well and offer you a possible job if you are interested.  You are safe here.”

They stared at each other for a full minute while Mickey fought a war in his head.  This guy was asking for trust.  Trust hurt.  Trust made you vulnerable, got you dumped, got you abandoned at the Mexican border.  Trust was scary as fuck but what other options did he have.  He needed to go back to sleep.  He’d figure the rest out later.  

“You’ve been sleeping for almost thirty-six hours.  I think you should let me help you into the bathroom.  You can clean up, shower.  Then you should go back to sleep again.  We will talk more later, okay.”

Augustin stood up next to the bed.  He offered Mickey his hand.

Mickey looked at him.  He sighed.  He took it.

“Bon Chat.”

“The fuck?”

“It means good kitty.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: January 2019

 

Over the two plus decades that she’d lived in the little blue house on South Homan Ave., Fiona Gallagher had learned to sleep through a lot.  Screaming kids, explosions, the occasional fist or head through a wall.  None of these things could wake her from a deep sleep.  She did, however, have a well-honed sixth sense for trouble.  She could sleep through a hurricane but as soon as someone she loved was hurt or in danger, she was awake in a millisecond.  

So when she awoke suddenly from a much needed nap on the livingroom couch to a quiet house, she immediately felt apprehensive.  It was silent, there was no cause for alarm, but she knew she wouldn’t have woken up if something wasn’t wrong.  Throwing back the blanket, she stood up and wrapped her sweatshirt around herself tightly to ward off the chill.  She walked slowly through the dining room and into the kitchen, pausing to look out the window into the backyard and vacant lot next door.  Nothing. She opened the bathroom door, peered up the stairs with her ears peeled, and looked down in the basement.  Still nothing.  She headed up the stairs, looking in each bedroom, pulling back the shower curtain in the bathroom, checking the hallway closet.  The house was empty and peaceful.  

Sighing, Fiona walked into her bedroom and dropped down on her bed, determined to continue her nap.  The house creaking around her in the harsh January wind was the only sound she heard, but she just couldn’t settle down.  The sense of foreboding she’d felt since she jolted awake just wouldn’t leave.  Groaning, she sat up again.  Something had woken her up.  Some sound.  What the hell had it been?

A sudden realization sent her hurrying through the hall and down the stairs.  The mail slot!  Of course, that’s what she’d heard.  And while that typically wouldn’t have been cause for much concern, this was a Sunday.  No mail service.  So who’d dropped something through the door?

She wasn’t surprised when she rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs to see a small brown envelope lying on the floor of their tiny entranceway.  She stared at it, considering a million possibilities for its contents.  Her siblings were all doing really well right now but when something like this happened, something unexpected, all of her worst fears came flooding back.  Lip and his drinking, Carl and his dealing, Debbie and Frannie or Frank or…

She picked up the envelope.

Or Ian.

Ian Gallagher was written in a precise script, staring up at her as she held the envelope in her hand.  She wasn’t sure what was in it.  The bubble wrap that she could feel through the paper prevented her from figuring it out.  She could’ve opened it, she supposed, but she thought better of that.  Ian had worked really hard to win back and rebuild trusting relationships with his family members.  She wouldn’t jeopardize that.

Walking back into the kitchen, she opened a cabinet and pulled down the family’s old squirrel fund can.  They’d all moved on to real bank accounts several years ago but they couldn’t seem to let go of the can.  It felt like throwing away a talisman, like tempting fate, to assume they’d never need it again.  With a hint of a smile, Fiona stuffed the envelope into the can and stuck it back on the top shelf.  Then she fired off a quick text to Ian.

Hey, when does your shift end?  Someone dropped a package off at the house for you today.

*************************************************************************************

Once upon a time, Fiona had never thought she’d live to see the day that a Gallagher, never mind two, would be drinking decaf coffee.  Yet here they were. Filling two mugs, she carried them to the kitchen table.  In a way, she supposed, decaf was a sign of progress, an indicator that the Gallagher clan had moved beyond the non-stop, frantic pace they had maintained to their own detriment for so long.  Placing the two mugs down on the table, she took a seat and stared patiently but expectantly at her younger brother.

“So, what’s the story with this.”

Ian drew in a deep breath but didn’t respond.  Fiona took the moment to run an appraising eye over him.  He looked good, she decided. His skin and hair looked healthy.  His mental state was consistent and his social activities and work life were all ridiculously normal. She had no reason to be worried.  But the arrival of this envelope has sent her into a state of emergency.

It lay untouched in the middle of the table and Ian’s eyes bored holes in it.  Fiona took a sip from her cup and leaned back in her seat, watching her brother pensively.  He wasn’t sure of what was inside the little package but he definitely had an idea.

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked carefully.

Ian’s head jerked up, staring at her like he’d just remembered she was there.

“What?”

“Do you want me to go upstairs? Give you some privacy?”

Ian leaned back in his own chair, meeting her eyes. There was a tension around his mouth that was unignorable.  Whatever he thought was in that envelope, it was putting him on edge.  Fiona waiting quietly.  She didn’t push.  They’d come a long way, the Gallagher siblings, away from their deeply ingrained normalization of overinvolvement and codependence.  They were learning how to live without suspicion and to trust in each other’s judgements.  If Ian wanted her to go…

“Stay.”

Ian’s voice was quiet but firm and his gaze didn’t waver.  She could, however, see the tell-tale glint of tears in the corners of his eyes.  She wondered if they were the results of sadness, fear, or frustration.

Ian wiped his eyes, gave a resolute crook of his brow, and reached across the table to pick up the envelope.  He rolled it over in his hands carefully, studying the handwriting.

“Does it look familiar?”

Ian shook his head. “No,” he said, meeting her eyes again, “But that doesn’t mean anything.”  Picking up Carl’s butter knife, still lying on the table from breakfast, he began to tear open the seal.  Fiona wanted to ask questions. Actually, what she wanted to do was demand answers. She held her tongue, though.  

She watched as Ian peeled open the flap and peered inside, as the expression on his face morphed from apprehensive to resigned.  

He sighed.

Reaching into the envelope, he drew out a stack of crisp bills; uncirculated currency from the looks of it.  Fiona gaped, feeling more than a little overwhelmed by what she was seeing.  Ian carefully separated out the money.  Twenty-three perfect hundred dollar bills, three crisp twenties, and one ten.  Two-thousand three-hundred and and seventy dollars.

Fiona took a breath.  “Okay,” she said. “I’ve been trying not to push but you’ve got to give me something here.  What is this, Ian?”

Across the table, her brother shook his head.

“Well, it was supposed to be a gift.”

“A gift?

“Yeah.” Ian pushed away from the table, grabbing his mug and heading into the kitchen. “This needs milk,” he muttered, more to himself than to her.  Fiona sat at the table but turned to watch him as he puttered around.  His shoulders were tense and his mouth was set in a thin line.  Even more tears brimmed in his eyes and he looked at the ceiling and blinked furiously until they were gone.  Looking back at the table, Fiona stared again at the neat piles of money.  What the hell was going on now?

She was momentarily startled out of her thoughts when Ian plunked his mug back down on the table and fell heavily into his chair again.  His expression was equal parts distress, concern, and frustration.  Fiona needed answers but she needed them to be truthful and preferably without a fight.  She kept silent and waited.

“It was supposed to be a gift,” Ian said finally in a voice that was almost monotone. Fiona knew him too well, though.  An emotional explosion was a distinct possibility right now.  “And an apology.  A chance.” Leaning back against his chair, he rubbed his hands over his face, growling in frustration.  “Fuuuuuuckkkkk, Fiona!  I don’t even know what do about this!  Does this mean he’s okay?  Is this a ‘thank you?’  A ‘fuck you?’  And how the hell did it get here?  It isn’t his handwriting.”

Fiona blinked, rewinding Ian’s disjointed monologue in her head.  She was pretty sure she knew who “he” was.  Ian was pressing the palms of his hands against his eyes, his teeth bared in frustration.  Reaching across the table, Fiona picked up the empty envelope and considered the front of it. “Yeah, you’re right,” she stated calmly. “It isn’t his handwriting.”

Her statement had the desired effect.  Ian dropped his hands and snapped out of his angry fugue.  He gave her a tense but curious look across the table. “You know who I mean?”

“C’mon, Ian, I’m no idiot.  It doesn’t matter who else you date. There’s only ever been one person in your life who could ever be a ‘him’.” Fiona stared hard at her little brother. “Do you know where he is?”

“Mexico.”

“Okay.  Not going to ask you how you know that, but okay.  What’s with the money?”

“It’s the amount I gave him.”

“Gave him!”

Ian groaned, “Yeah, Fiona.  It’s the amount of my money, my money that I gave him when I left him at the Mexican border!”

There was a definite hint of defiance in Ian’s eyes as he spit those words out at her.  For a second, Fiona’s mind simply blanked. Then it virtually lit up with questions.  Mexico?  Fiona was accustomed to dealing with unwelcome news.  Hell, it was practically encoded in her DNA and even a few consistent years of stability hadn’t hindered that skill.  She wanted to demand information from her brother, sitting angrily and miserably across from her, but she bit her tongue and simply asked, “When did this happen?”

“C’mon Fiona, do you really need to ask?  I know you were suspicious when I disappeared for days before Monica’s funeral.  You knew he’d escaped.”

“I was,” she admitted, taking a quick sip of her coffee, “but there was too much shit going on at the time to really worry about it.  I wanted to ask, though.” She put her cup down and leaned her crossed arms on the table. “So how about I ask now?”

Ian sighed.  Nodded.  “What do you want to know?”

“Were you with Mickey?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you help him escape?”

“Not from prison, if that’s what you’re wondering.  But I did use some of my savings to get him a fake passport and I gave him the rest when I left, like I said.  I’m pretty sure that the cops would be able to find me at fault.”

Fiona looked down for a second, taking in that information.  “We’re you planning on going with him?” she finally asked, trying to keep the slight quiver of fear out of her voice.  It didn’t matter.  Ian heard it anyway.

“Yeah,” he said, meeting her eyes, “I was.”

“Okay,” she said, “Okay.”  She stretched her hands in front of her, clenching and unclenching her fists as she considered what she’d just heard.  Ian had thought about leaving.  About heading to Mexico and never looking back.

“What changed your mind?”

Now it was Ian’s turn to stare at his hands.  He opened his mouth to speak but closed it again without a sound.  Closing his eyes, he shook his head, mouth twisting into a grimace.  Fiona curled her hands around her coffee mug, clinging to it like a life preserver.  She still couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  Ian had seemed so good at that time.  But Mexico?  Running off with Mickey?  Looking at her brother, she resolved to get an answer.

“Tell me why you didn’t go, Ian.”

She jumped back from the loud smash as Ian slammed his hands down on the table.  He seemed as shocked as she was by his actions and the two of them glanced upwards, straining to hear any sounds of Liam moving around upstairs.  Meeting her eyes as they both looked down, Ian offered an apologetic half-smile and laid his hands flat on the table.  His features relaxed but his eyes still looked a little wild.  

“Are you alright.” Fiona asked, her voice more demanding than she intended.  “I’m not saying that your reaction isn’t understandable but you don’t really have reactions like this anymore.”  She reached across the table and touched her brother’s hand.  “Ian, I don’t understand this.  It’s a lot to take in.  I’m not trying to upset you but I need to know.  Please talk to me.  Why didn’t you go?”

Ian stared at her tiredly.  “I was afraid, Fiona.  That’s why I let him go alone.”

Fiona nodded. “Okay, well, that makes sense.  He was on the run from the law.  And Ian, you know Mickey’s always been dangerous.”

Ian snorted. “Oh, fuck that, Fiona,” he drolled, “Fuck that.  Mickey isn’t dangerous.  Or at least, not any moreso than half the shit in this neighborhood.  Mickey gave a shit about me.  He took risks for me.  He fought to get me healthy even when I threw it back in his face.  I pushed him out of his comfort zone too fast.  I refused help I knew I needed.  I stole his kid.  I blamed all my problems on him, dumped him and then let him go off to prison to rot.  So you and Lip and everyone else can just stop with this fucking bullshit!  Mickey isn’t dangerous to me. I’m dangerous to him!”

Ian stood up, pacing along the back wall of the kitchen.  “I didn’t go because I was afraid, okay.  And I don’t have the time or energy to tell you everything I was afraid of right this minute, so please don’t fucking ask.  Just understand this, Mickey was afraid once.  He chose me anyway.  I didn’t choose him.”  Ian sank down in his chair again , “because I’m a fucking asshole.”

“You’re not an asshole.” Fiona replied, “Mickey’s just…”

“Don’t start,”

Fiona put her hands up in surrender, “I’m not.  I’m not.  You’re right.  Really, Ian, I’ve always known you were right.  It’s been easy and convenient to lay stuff at Mickey’s feet that he didn’t deserve.  I promise you that I get that.  I have for awhile.  We’ve just never talked about this.” Sighing, she placed her hands down on the table and stared at the cups and the pile of money in front of her.  “Mickey did some crazy shit, but you’re right that he always took good care of you.  And you did put him through some serious shit.  And I just stepped back and let him handle it, even though he didn’t know what to expect.  I mean hell,” she continued, “who am I to call anyone dangerous or a bad influence.  As far as I know, Mickey isn’t the one who almost killed his little brother with coke.”

Ian glared at her. “Fi” he growled at the rarely mentioned memory. “We’ve moved on.”

Fiona shook her head, “Never completely.”

They sat in silence for a moment, staring anywhere but at each other.  Finally, Fiona had to ask, “That’s the problem, isn’t it.  You did move on, but not completely.  It’ll never be completely.”

Ian nodded, “Yeah, pretty much.  I mean, things are good.  I’m okay.  I’m not un happy.  But there is always this void, this hole inside of me.  I mean, fuck, Fi, I’m not corny enough to call him my soulmate or anything, but sometimes, you know, it just feels like I can’t be whole when I’m not with him.  I mean, I think I’ve done a good job of covering it up, but I think about him all the time.”

Fiona nodded, “Yeah, you’ve done a good job of hiding it.” She smirked at her brother, “Every day?”

He smirked right back, the tension in the room slowly ebbing away. “Put it this way.  Whenever I jerk off, it’s him I’m thinking of.”

“Okay, okay, enough of that shit,” Fiona smiled.  Their eyes met across the table, more understanding than they’d shared in a couple of years flowing back and forth between them.  

“Do you want to try to find him?”

Ian exhaled. “Yes. I wanted to try to find him almost as soon as he made it across the border.”

Fiona reached out and picked up the envelope again, “Well, this isn’t stamped, so it must’ve been dropped off.  Do you recognize the handwriting?”

Ian took the envelope as she passed it to him.  He studied it, then shook his head.  “No, not a clue.”

Fiona nodded, “Well, maybe there are other places we can look.”

Ian sat for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.  Fiona could see the gears turning in his head as he considered and dismissed options.  She had a feeling he’d done this a lot.  

Across the table, Ian shook his head.  “I have no idea where to start.  I mean, Mandy doesn’t even know.  This money tells me he’s probably okay, but what else can we get from this.”  He quickly scooped up the money and slid it back into the envelope.  He pushed it across the table.

Fiona shot him a look, “What do you think you’re doing with that?” she asked.  

Ian sighed one last time. “You take it.  Put it in the house account.”

“It’s yours.”

“I wasn’t expecting to have it back.  I replaced it a long time ago.” He smiled sadly, “The money was a lot easier to replace.”

*************************************************************************************

August 2019

Mickey danced across the scorching sand before leaping onto the wood plank walkway.  His sandals were in his hand but it seemed stupid to put them on when he was just heading out towards the boats.  Glancing down at his watch, he saw that he had plenty of time until the next tour started.  He always lost track of time when he had his language tutoring lessons with Augustin.  He was picking up Spanish quick, but then again, he spoke it all the time.  French was harder, but Augustin was a stubborn pain in the ass about it, insisting it would make him more worldly or some shit.  

Relaxing now that he realized he had a second, Mickey walked over to the wooden railing and let himself stare out across the water, taking in the view.  It was pretty fucking incredible and he still had a hard time believing that he got to live there.  Sure, it was hot as balls at midday but it was bright and clean and the air made him feel alive just from breathing it.  Of course, nowadays breathing made him feel more alive in general.  Augustin lived a pretty vice free existence down here.  Didn’t fucking smoke, didn’t really fucking drink, except for socially.  He read a lot, learned a lot about stuff just so he could know it.  And he remembered everything.  He kind of reminded Mickey of Lip, but less of an asshole.

There was a time when Mickey had thought that Augustin was always going to be a complete fucking mystery to him.  It took at least two months of living in this paradise, this place that was everything Augustin promised him it would be, for Mickey to really start to believe that he wasn’t going  to end up as some sick fuck’s sex toy.  By now, Mickey felt safe here..  It wasn’t home in the same way the South side was but the sense of security he felt gave the very idea of home an entirely new meaning.  It was more than that, though.  Augustin challenged him, made him talk, made him think.  He never tried to force Mickey to make choices for himself, but he had this infuriating as fuck way of pointing out a better option and then getting Mickey to try to defend his own piss-poor plan until he had to give up and admit it sucked.  

That was how Mickey ended up quitting smoking.  If Mandy could see him now.  If Ian could…

Fuck.

Micky pushed off the railing and starting walking back down to the beautifully constructed docks on the edge of the lagoon.  He had things to do, things that kept him interested and busy.  He didn’t have too many slip-ups about back home anymore, but it could still happen.

In general, Mickey had never been more content.  He might joke about Augustin trying to expose him to culture, but it honestly blew his mind how many different ideas there were in the world.  He wasn’t fucking naive, he knew how the world worked, but it was a pretty new experience for him to talk to people about ideas, to disagree but not fight, to have people listen to and consider the way he saw things and to ask him to do it back.  

Walking down the dock, Mickey smiled as he took in the fleet of boats the resort owned, each berthed neatly in their own slip.  The resort offered all kinds of water activities, including sailing, parasailing, and glass bottom boat tours.  Mickey was involved in all of them but one was his favorite.  At the end of the dock was his baby, the Marguerite III , scathingly named after Augustin’s homophobic hag of a mother.  Augustin had offered to let Mickey change it if he wanted, but Mickey was content to let the name stand.  He didn’t want anything from the Southside touching her, honestly.  She was his pride and joy.

It had been a tense moment for Mickey, almost two years ago, when Augustin sat down across from him as the dining room table in his hotel suite in Guadalajara and asked him what kind of skills he had.  Across the room, Ivan, Augustin’s friend with many benefits, had dropped his newspaper and listened curiously.  Mickey paused in the middle of eating his eggs.  He was feeling much better but he’d only been eating real food for about two days and only been up and around the suite at all since the night before.  Neither of the men had pushed any real conversation on him since Augustin’s bedside intervention, and that was almost four days ago.  Mickey knew why he was being asked, though.  He’d heard Augustin on the phone.  He needed to get back to his resort, get back to work.  

Mickey hadn’t been sure he was going to take Augustin up on his offer.  Not that he had better offers, or any other options, but trust was fucking hard for a Milkovich, and this took a lot of trust.  He also couldn’t really think of many skills he had that would be useful to this guy. So he smartassed it.

“I can hotwire a car real good.”

He had expected disdain, had expected to be told to take his fucking attitude and get out.  Instead, Augustin had just smiled and nodded, exchanging a look with Ivan across the room.

And that was how Mickey had ended up working for Miguel, the crazy but awesome mechanic who maintained all of the resort’s land and water fleet.  Miguel was flamboyant as fuck and he never stopped hitting on Mickey or teasing him about how they had the same name.  But he was also an incredibly competent mechanic and a really good teacher. He helped Mickey build on his own basic understanding of car mechanics, learned mostly in the streets, and had him maintaining the boats by himself within eight months.  

Miguel and Augustin first gave Mickey the Marguerite about four months after he’d arrived.  The resort’s water holding contained a large reef but they didn’t really have the supports in place for snorkeling and diving, despite interest.  Mickey had been too curious himself.  He understood what a coral reef was in concept but seeing it for himself was a whole fucking new reality.  He got Miguel to run him out in one of the smaller boats as often as the other man was willing.  He fucking loved it out there, the colors, the variety, the awesome detail.  

The Marguerite was Augustin’s new brainchild.  He’d bought the large but busted up diving tour boat off of a local tour operator from down the coast.  He’d bargained the seller, a mouthy asshole who hadn’t thought a bunch of “fucking putos” would be able to fix the boat up, down to a ridiculous low price.  Then, he brought Mickey in.

“You remember what I said about seeing worth where others don’t, Mon Chaton?”

Mickey grimaced, but nodded.  That fucking nickname…

Augustin smiled, “This boat needs work.  Possibly a lot.  But if it can be fixed, we could really make something out of that reef.”  He’d walked out of the garage, towards the water, beckoning Mickey to follow. “I know how much you love that reef.  If we could fix this boat up, you could bring others out there, help them experience what you’ve experienced.  Help them learn something new about their world.”  

Mickey stared at him for a moment, unsure of what he was feeling.  He would never understand how Augustin could put such blind trust in him.  But maybe it wasn’t so fucking blind.  Augustin had been right when he said he was intuitive.  Mickey knew Augustin could read him like a fucking book. He’d like to do this.  Hell, he’d love to do this.

And he had.  He’d fixed that boat, got it running like a goddamn swiss quartz watch, often working during his off hours.  He’d gotten certified in diving, then certified in guiding.  He’d plotted routes, created safety regulations, basically built the resort’s whole dive program from the ground up.  

The program had been running full force for almost nine months.  Mickey even had two staff working under him now. The tours were booked everyday, none more than the ones he personally ran.  Miguel liked to kid him that the clients all just wanted to stare at him while he was shirtless and he guessed there was some truth to that.  It was a gay resort after all, and healthy eating, healthy living, regular exercise and general contentedness hadn’t exactly hurt him in the looks department.  He really thought it was more than that, though.  He loved the ocean.  He explored it, studied it, read about it in his spare time like a fucking nerd.  His enthusiasm was contagious and his clients responded to that.  

Taking the last few steps, Mickey stepped off the dock and onto the Marguerite .  He’d hosed her down and run a diagnostic check after his morning deep-dive tour.  This one was just snorkeling.  On the dock, a large group of clients were milling around, holding masks, fins, and life jackets.  Stepping to the siderail, Mickey greeted the crowds, introduced himself and singled out a few regulars for some jokes.  He gave his safety speech and instructed the clients to file onto the boat.  

As he waited for everyone to get settled, he walked back to the stern and stared out, just looking across the expanse of water before him.  He couldn’t get he and Augustin’s last conversation out of his head,even if half of it had been in French. His GED.  Augustin wanted him to finish high school.  He wanted him to go to University and study Marine Biology.  Something like that had once seemed completely impossible to Mickey.  Now he was fucking terrified of how possible it really seemed.  But those were thoughts for another day.  Right now, he had a job to do.

“Okay, friends,” he yelled down at the expectant crowd seated on benches along the sides of the bow, “Let’s go see some beautiful fucking fish!”

*****************************************************************************************

December 2019

The knocking on the door didn’t seem like it was going to stop anytime soon.  Groaning, Svetlana Fisher dragged herself out of bed.  She actually had a day off and the house to herself with Yevgeny in school.  Whoever this was better have a good reason…

“Ay, what the…”she stopped herself mid-rant, “Orange-boy?  What the hell you doing here?”

Ian Gallagher stared at her from the other side of her screen door.  He held out a crisp white envelope.  “You sent us a Christmas card.” he said, his voice controlled but emotional.

Svetlana nodded.  She had a gnawing sensation that she knew where this was going. “Okay, so, why are you pounding down my door?  You don’t like cards?”

“You addressed them yourself, right,” he asked, some aggression bleeding into his voice.  

Yes, this discussion was going exactly where she feared. Pushing open the screen, she leaned against the side of the door and nodded.  There was nothing else she could do.  

Ian nodded, too.  “So, I just happened to notice your handwriting.  Especially the way you wrote our last names.  I don’t think I’ve ever really seen your handwriting before but it looked familiar.”  Ian looked away for a minute, seeming to steady himself, “How did he get you the money?  Do you know where he is?”

Ian was looking more upset the longer he spoke.  Sighing, she stepped back from her door.  “Its freezing” she said, “Come in.”  They stood in the entranceway of Svetlana’s little condo for a moment, just considering each other.  They still moved in the same circles but didn’t speak too much anymore.  Neither of them found it comfortable.  

“So?”

She nodded, “He’s sending me money now for over a year.  When one check came, it had a bank notice for you and some instructions.  He said he trusts me to take care of it.  I’m not sure why he would do that, trust me, but he did.  And I gave you the money.  Simple.”

“Okay, how do you get a hold of him?”

Ian was angry.  She could see that.  But underneath that anger, that frustration, was hope.  And Svetlana honestly felt bad, because he was looking for something and she had nothing to give him.

Taking a deep breath she said quietly, kindly, “I don’t.  I cannot reach him.  I have no address, no number.  I just receive bank notices.  He sends me money, hopes I will use it for his son, hopes I will give you what is yours.  He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t check.”  Pausing for a moment, she met Ian’s eyes, “I do not know where he is.  I do not know how to find him.”

There was a time when Svetlana hated Ian Gallagher, when she would have easily hurt or even killed him.  But watching crushing disappointment deaden the hope in his green eyes didn’t feel nearly as good as she used to think it would.

Chapter Text

November 2020

Lip Gallagher wasn’t really listening to the doctor as she perched on the edge of the cot and peeled a warm sponge compress off of his brother’ shoulders.  He watched as she repeated the same process with Ian’s hands and forearms, saw the way she shook her head at the foolishly incurred injuries.  Lip didn’t need to listen.  Ian, the recently promoted paramedic, had a better understanding of the treatment follow-ups that the doctor was describing than he would.  Besides, the injuries weren’t bad.  The doc had already said she’d be able to release Ian in a few minutes.  No, the wounds weren’t the problem.  They were just a symptom.  The major problem, once again, was goddamn genetics, and in Ian’s case that meant his bipolar disorder.

Lip waited quietly, staying out of the way, while the doctor finished up her exam of his brother’s injuries and rewrapped the wounds.  She slid the glass door shut behind her.  Glass doors, in-room television.  Lip had to admit, there was something to this health insurance stuff.  It sure beat the free clinic.  

He kept his gaze fixed on the muted television, watching Ian out of the corner of his eye.  His little brother had turned his head to the side and let his eyes fall closed.  Any casual observer might think he was relaxed, but Lip knew better.  Ian was going deep inside his head where he could kick the shit out of himself privately.  Pulling out his phone, Lip scrolled through his contacts, keeping one eye on the still form next to him.  He contemplated calling Fiona but thought better of it; the drama always multiplied per Gallagher, no matter how good their intentions.  Trevor or Mandy were also options but Lip hesitated over them, too.  Trevor was great at this; he had the background for it and although the initial aftermath of their breakup had been messy, he and Ian’s platonic relationship had really grown over the years.  His brother trusted Trevor, but the poor guy had to deal with so much in his work life, helping hurt and damaged kids.  It felt wrong to load more on his plate.  Mandy was much the same.  She’d do anything for Ian but she still had plenty of her own demons to fight.  And she’d been noticeably distant recently.

Dropping his phone in his lap, Lip let his head fall back against the back of the chair that stood next to Ian’s cot.  He didn’t know who to call.  Once, he’d have called...well, whatever.  It didn’t matter anyway.  That fucking ship had sailed...all the way down to Mexico.

He needed to handle this, just get over himself and handle this.  Realistically speaking, he was probably the best person for this job anyway.  He and Ian had been battling their genetically inherited diseases together for the past several years and by this point, they’d both fought them to a draw.  It was the best they could do in their situations.  There was no winning per se, just constant vigilance and a determination to live life well, day by day.  

And dammit, he didn’t want Ian sliding backwards now.  Turning to look at his brother, Lip could see the slight hitching breaths that belied Ian’s calm rest.  No, he wasn’t going to let Ian beat himself bloody inside his own head.  Ian had been doing good.  Hell, Ian had been doing great, really great, for years now.  Taking a breath, he stood up and sat himself down on the bed next to his brother.  Ian kept his eyes closed, his head turned away, and Lip could see a tear sneak out of his eye and cling to his lashes.

Lip stopped thinking.  Reaching over, he swiped the tear off his brother’s cheek before sliding his arm under Ian’s shoulder, carefully avoiding his bandages, and pulling him into a hug.  Ian resisted for all of a second before he let himself be pulled into his big brother’s arms.  “Let’s do the breathing, okay,” he whispered against Ian’s hair.  He only got a slight head nod in response but took that as a win.  Deep breaths, in for one full second, out for one full second, until Ian’s body started to relax.  

As Ian calmed, Lip ran his knuckles over his head in a light, good natured noogie, but kept his other arm firmly around his little brother’s shoulders.  

“I counted your pills,” he said, keeping his voice even and quiet, “and the count’s correct.  You haven’t been missing any.  So, I mean, unless you’ve been throwing them away, which I don’t believe for one fucking second, you’ve been taking them.  I know you’ve been running and eating right because I’ve seen you.” he reached down and grabbed Ian’s face.  “Hey...hey, open your eyes and look at me, okay.”  As Ian tried to pull away, Lip got more insistent, “Hey...no, don’t do this.  You look at me and listen, okay?  Okay?!”

Ian opened his eyes and stared up at his brother. “What, man?”

“Dammit, this was not your fault.  You are not, not going to go beat yourself up over this one because it was not your fault.  You’ve been taking your meds.  You’ve been maintaining.  But you’ve got to acknowledge how this fucking illness works.  Sometimes this shit just happens.  It isn’t you.”

Ian looked down and away but didn’t close his eyes.  Lip decided to consider that a small victory.

“It is and it isn’t.”

“What?”

Ian shifted, sitting up a little, grimacing for a second as he pulled at the bandage on his shoulder.  “I hear you, man,” he finally said, “You’re right.  I have to admit that some things are just the illness.  But that’s where I went wrong.  A part of me staying healthy is admitting I have some limits. I’ve been ignoring that.”

Lip nodded.  “Is this the work stuff?”

“Yeah,” Ian said, “I mean, I love what I do and I’m glad I went for the paramedic cert.  It lets me do more to help people.  But I just don’t get this company, man.  You become a para and they suddenly want you to be the one assuming control of the scene.”

“Like, telling everyone else what to do?”

“Yeah, like seniority.  But its stressful as hell.  Sue’s right, the extra medical training shouldn’t be the deciding factor on who manages the situation.  There are things I can do that the EMTs can’t.  I should be focusing on doing those things, not trying to manage the scene.  Others can do that.”  Ian shook his head, “It’s just...stupid.  And people’s lives shouldn’t be put at risk because of things that are bureaucratic and stupid!”

Lip nodded.  He knew how much Ian cared about doing his best at his job.  Sliding his arm out from behind Ian, he sat up right next to him.  “So what happened tonight?” he asked carefully.

Ian sighed, “I got back from work.  It was just a rough night.  I hadn’t felt manic at all, just tense and stressed.  But when I got home, I just kept pacing behind the couch and couldn’t sit down.  I had that feeling where I just wanted to go do something. It doesn’t matter what.  So I got my running stuff on.”

“At one am?”

“Yeah...yeah, and I get that I should have immediately checked that behavior, okay.  I get it.  But anyway, I was getting dressed and I ran downstairs and realized that I didn’t have my gloves or any good top layer with me but I was so worked up at that point that I just decided that I’d get warm while running.  That made sense to me at the time.”

“It was twelve degrees out.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“Frostbite can cause permanent damage.”

“Yeah, dude, I get that, too.” Ian muttered, looking at his bandaged hands, “And if I didn’t, the doctor kind of drove the point home.”

“Alright, alright.” Lip grinned, “Speaking of doctors, you need to call yours tomorrow.”

Ian nodded, but his eyes slid closed again, “I don’t want her to change my meds.  I’ve been doing really well with these.  They aren’t too much.”

“Don’t assume the worst.  You’re right, you’ve been doing great on this dose, even though its light. Just talk to her.  We’ll do more of the yoga and relaxation stuff, too.”

Ian grimaced, “Great, yeah, I’ll talk to her.”

“It helps.”

“Can’t I just talk to you instead?”

“Would that help?”

Ian turned his head and looked at him.  Lip could tell he was considering the question.

“If I was your shrink, what would you say?”

Ian let out a deep breath and fell gently back against the pillow.  He shook his head slightly, lost in thought.  Lip waited.  

“I’m proud I made para.”

“Fuck yeah, you should be.”

“Yeah, but, I don’t know.  I mean, we’re all doing good.  I think it’s awesome how well we’re doing.  But…”

“Yeah.”

“You’re going to think I’m a fucking sap.”

“I already think that.”

 

Ian smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes, “I’m lonely, Lip.  I’m just really lonely.  Like, I’ve got friends and family and co-workers and stuff but I just want something more.”

“You could try dating sometime.  I mean, it’s been nobody, dude, not since Trevor.  We’re talking years now.”

Ian shot him a look.

“What?  I’m not trying to be an ass here.  But dude, if you want a boyfriend, you’re going to have to go hang out with single guys.  I mean, right?”

The look on Ian’s face didn’t change.  “No, Lip, its not that simple.”

“Okay, so tell me why.”

“Because this loneliness isn’t just about anybody okay.”

Lip paused, feeling a little dumb.  Of course, of fucking course.  

“It doesn’t go away, Lip.  Never completely.  That’s the real reason I can’t ever just sit down and relax.  I don’t want to go for a fucking run.  I want to go down to Mexico and find him.”

Lip stared at his brother, who stared right back, wearing an expression Lip knew well.  He might look defiant on the surface, but it was just a well-honed Gallagher defense mechanism.  Underneath it, Ian was pleading, begging him to understand.  

And he did, too well.  This is what they did, Ian, him, Fiona, even Carl and Deb.  Oh hell, even Frank.  They loved too hard.  They found it almost impossible to let go, even when it blew up in their faces, even when it burned like hell.

“Mr. Gallagher,” a nurse’s voice interjected from the door, breaking their stare-down, “Let’s get you out of here, shall we?”

*************************************************************************************

His hands itched.

Well, all of him itched, really.  His shoulders drove him nuts when he tried to sleep.  His hands were the worst though.  Everytime he tried to scratch one of the other itches, the movement made his hands flair up.  With an aggravated sigh, Ian threw himself back against the couch and resolved to just bear it.  The frostbite was healing.  That was the most important thing.  And with a little colorful negotiation, some slightly shady promises, and a ton of mercy, he’d even managed to maneuver his work shifts around so that he’d only had to take two sick days.  Ian shifted on the couch again.  He had to get back to work soon, had to get back to doing things that kept him distracted.  All of this down time was bad for him.  

It gave him way too much opportunity to think.   

Ian shook his head and forced his shoulders to relax.  He took a few deep, slow breaths, a centering activity he had learned from his therapist and practiced pretty religiously ever since.  He was barely post-manic and he needed to calm the fuck down.  Sure, it hadn’t gotten too bad this time, but both the injuries he’d sustained and a wealth of past experience told him that a full descent into mania could happen at incredible speed.

Ian let his breathing peter out gradually, letting the quiet of the house settle around him.  He forced himself to sit still, concentrating on the flickering orange light coming from the heater across the room and the tiny creaks in the floorboards overhead.  Lip was upstairs somewhere, and Ian honed in on him, listening for his footsteps, imagining that if he sat still enough and listened carefully enough, he’d be able to hear him breathing.  

Dammit, he was fixating.  With a frustrated groan, Ian reached for his bag, stopping himself just in time.  Fuck!  He needed to get to his journal, write down what he was thinking and feeling, get it out of his head and onto paper, but he couldn’t  The wounds on his hands would act up immediately.  God fucking dammit!  What an incredibly fucked circle jerk of circumstances he’d created for himself.

Leaning back into the couch again, Ian pressed the relatively unscathed heels of his hands into his brow, pressing on the pressure points until the frustrated anxiety began to ebb.  He needed to do something. If he couldn’t write, he needed to talk.  He should call Lip down and tell him the rest of the truth, tell him that he was scared, tell him that the thought of upping his meds was the thing that was currently pushing him towards an episode.  

He couldn’t do it, he just couldn’t.  He couldn’t go back to feeling tranquilized half the time, spending every moment fighting to appear normal just so he could  keep the few essential pieces of a life that he’d managed to cobble together.  Something fat and wet splashed on his lap, then another, and another.  Fuuuuuck!  He was crying, sitting on the couch in his childhood home bawling; tears just running off his chin.  His head was starting to hurt and he felt amped and exhausted all at once and he was all alone and he just wanted to be touched, to be held, he just wanted...he wanted…

It was Lip who suddenly put a hand on the back of his neck, who fell into the couch next to him and pulled him into a hug.  It was Lip because Lip was the one who was here.  Lip was safe, Lip was doing really well.  He wasn’t far away, possible hurt, possibly alone, possibly…

Ian’s frantic thoughts were interrupted by his brother’s strong hands digging into his shoulders, avoiding the bandaged areas and working their way up the pressure points at the back of his neck.  Ian sighed, feeling the panic receding and the relaxation spreading through his shoulders and down his arms.  He let Lip pull him back against his chest and he didn’t fight the rapidly spreading languidness.  He just couldn’t anymore.  He was running out of fight.  The circle of his brother’s arms was safe and warm.  He should just turn off for awhile, wait for things to get better.  Lip’s hands were still digging into his neck and he let himself be carried along with the relaxation, pulled under.  Just before sleep overtook him, he felt Lip lean close to his ear.

“I’ll help you, man.  We’ll find him.  I promise.”

*************************************************************************************

Ian heard the voices before he was fully awake, the familiar sounds weaving their way into whatever fucked up dream he was having.  He opened his eyes to a face full of winter sunlight streaming in through the living room window and quickly squinted against the glare.  Giving his eyes a minute to adjust, he listened to the voices as they drifted in from the kitchen.

“Dammit, Mandy, he’s my little brother.  And he was your best friend!”

“Is, Lip, is my best friend.  That hasn’t changed.  But don’t you think you’re kind of overlooking the fact that he’s my brother.  He’s my blood.  I’m going to protect mine just as much as you’re going to protect yours.”

There was a sharp sound from the kitchen, which Ian recognized as the signature screech of a kitchen chair being shoved roughly back across the linoleum as someone, probably Lip from the weight of the steps, surged to their feet.  He heard footsteps stalk angrily through the kitchen, then slow to a pause.

Silence for a moment.

“I get that, okay.  I get that he’s your brother.  I get that you think I’m trying to use him and hell, maybe I am, “he heard Lip snap, his brother’s anger palpable but controlled, “But don’t sit there and fucking pretend that this is all one-sided.  You and I both know how deep this shit runs between them and they need a fucking chance, okay.  Both of them.  Maybe they get better, maybe they get over it, but they need the chance.  They never got that.  They kept trying but they never really got a chance between your fucking father and fucking bipolar disorders and fucking Monica and fucking Sami and fucking prison…”

“Would you shut the hell up already,” the other voice, Mandy’s voice, cut off Lip’s tirade, “Do you really think you’re saying anything I don’t already know?” The sound of another kitchen chair resounded, and the click of heels echoed through the kitchen. “See the difference between you and me is that I don’t only care about one of them, you asshole.  I love them both.  So yeah, I’m going to tell Ian where he needs to go, but I’m going to do it on my terms and with my conditions.  And Ian will respect that and you’d better respect it, too.  And if you don’t, you can go straight to hell!”

Ian closed his eyes again, feigning sleep, as Mandy stomped through the living room.  He heard her answer a call on her cell as the front door slammed shut behind her.  Tentatively opening his eyes, he met Lips’ gaze from behind the couch.

His older brother looked tired but pensive as he walked around the couch and perched on the coffee table.  Their eyes met and they stared at each other, equally thoughtful as they considered the man in front of them.  Ian knew the look on his brother’s face.  He might be worn down but the light in his eyes was the one he only got when he was close to solving a difficult problem.  A thrill of hope shot threw Ian as he sat up and looked at his brother expectantly.

“Are you feeling better?” Lip asked, glancing at the door that Mandy had recently stomped through.

Ian took a second to consider before he answered.  He didn’t feel great.  He felt achy and weary, both of which were typical symptoms of a retreat from a manic burst.  However, the terrible need to get up and go , regardless of how or where, wasn’t really there anymore.  Ian shrugged his shoulders and sat up even more before he allowed himself to look at his brother.  

“Better”, he replied, “More controlled.”

Lip nodded, looking relieved.  Ian could see a wealth of emotion in his brother’s eyes.  Lip was so worried, so consumed by the idea of triggering a potential setback.  A sick feeling of guilt started to settle in Ian’s stomach.  He was doing it again, hurting the people he loved.  Lip didn’t need this shit.  He had his own monsters to fight, his own inherited darkness to battle day in and day out. Fuck!  He wasn’t going to do this.  Ian Gallagher was not going to cause his family any more pain today.  Reaching out, he grabbed his brother’s hand and held it tight.  

“Hey!  I’m good, okay.  I promise.”

He meant it and that must’ve come across because Lip visibly relaxed while they looked at each other.  Ian noticed that he didn’t let go of his hands, though.  He knew this routine.  Lip got clingy when he was feeling nervous.  Mandy was barely audible as she carried on her phone conversation in the yard and Lip’s eyes continued to ping back and forth between Ian and the front door.  Mindful of his injuries, Ian slowly pulled his hands back and leaned into the couch again.  He took a deep breath, released it, and willed himself to look calm and controlled.

“She knows where he is, doesn’t she?”

Lip hesitated for a moment, but seemed to realize that dodging the question wasn’t going to work.  He leaned back himself, putting his hands flat on the coffee table and letting his arms support his weight.  He gave Ian once last look before breaking eye contact and nodding his head.

“She does,” he said simply, letting those words hang in the air for a minute before he continued, “She does know but there’s more to it.  She’s willing to help you, they both are, but you’ve got to listen to them and do it their way.”

Them?  Ian wasn’t sure he knew which “them” Lip was talking about.  He was spared the need to ask, though, because both Gallaghers could suddenly hear two distinct voices outside in the frontyard.    Words were still difficult to make out but the accent and tone were unmistakable.  Ian was hardly surprised when the front door flew open to reveal Mandy and an agitated Russian.

Ian hadn’t seen Svetlana more than twice in the eleven months since he’d shown up at her house searching for information about Mickey.  He knew she was still struggling to work through her issues with Kev and V but their complex situation really hadn’t improved enough to warrant Svetlana’s inclusion in large group family events.  She looked good, Ian noted, even a little tan.

A sliver of suspicion shot through him but he didn’t have time to consider it as Mandy waved Lip away from the coffee table with a flick of her hand. He threw himself into the couch next to Ian as Svetlana slid into the old recliner by the front door.  Everyone watched as Mandy settled into Lip’s vacated spot on the table and stared assessingly at Ian.  He felt himself wilt a little under his best friend’s gaze.

“I love you” she said finally, “I love you and I want you to be happy and healthy.  But you need to understand that I love my brother, too.  I love you both and I want to protect you both and sometimes it feels like I need to protect you from each other.”  Mandy’s voice was breaking a little and she looked up at the ceiling as she blinked back some tears.  Wiping her eyes, she took a deep breath before looking down at him again. “Ian, we need you to listen to us.  Don’t interrupt, don’t get pissed off.  We’re going to tell you what you want to know but there are some conditions that you’re going to need to follow.”

Ian could feel all three sets of eyes boring into him as he listened to Mandy’s words.  There was a knot in his gut that was a weird blend of relief and frustration.  A part of him wanted to push back against her demands but another part, the part that had grown up over the years, recognized the wisdom in her words and shut up.  They knew where Mickey was.  They were willing to tell him.  He wasn’t going to fuck this up. Taking a steadying breath to maintain his sense of calm, he nodded his head.

“Okay,” he whispered.

Mandy glanced over at Svetlana, who seemed to take it as a cue.  She leaned forward, and for the first time, Ian noticed the book in her hands.  

“You need to know,” she began, “When I tell you I did not know where he was last year, I was not lying.  It was not until after the new year that he contacted us.”  She paused for a moment, running her fingers over the cover of the book, “He is in a good place.  He is doing well.  He tells me that he is content.  But he never says that he is happy.”

Ian’s heart was beating faster, each mention of Micky, each little piece of information causing his pulse to rev a little faster.  Content was good.  Content meant safe, fed, under a roof at night.  Svetlana gave him a minute with his thoughts before continuing.  

“You and me, Orange-Boy, we have something in common.  We have both made decisions that we thought were good but hurt the ones we loved, right?  So I will help you try to fix your mistake but you must promise first that you will not repeat it. Understand?”

“Yeah,” he said without hesitation, “I do.  I’d do anything not to hurt him again.”

“Okay, sure, but what does that look like,” Mandy interjected from her seat on the table, “I believe you when you say you don’t want to hurt him but let me ask you this.  What if he wants you to leave him alone?  What if he wants you guys to fix your problems and forgive each other but nothing else?  Will you back off?”

Ian stared at her, considering her words.  He knew what answer she wanted to hear but he didn’t think he could actually say it and mean it.  Not that he needed to.  They all knew the answer anyway.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Mandy continued, and Ian could hear some resignation bleeding into her voice, “You’ve never been afraid to push him but you’ve also always been shit about giving him space.”

Mandy let out a frustrated groan and ran her hands through her hair. “I thought I knew what I wanted to say to you but I don’t.  I think you just need to go to him so the two of you can deal with your shit because I think you’re finally both able to do it as grown men.  See, Svet is right, Ian.  He’s okay but he’s not happy, not completely, and most of that has to do with you.  You hurt him, okay, you hurt him so bad.  Everything with your illness and dumping his ass so brutally.  Never visiting him.  And then, when he got out, don’t think he doesn’t remember every word you said.  But he took another risk on you anyway and you fucking let him down again.”

“Mandy!”

Lip’s voice cut off her verbal lashing, but Ian just let the words flow over and into him.  He heard them all and took each of them to heart and now he was the one who had to look at the ceiling as he blinked back tears.  Fuck, why hadn’t he just gone with Mickey.?

Looking down again, he caught Svetlana casting an aggravated look at Mandy, who looked a little contrite.  Sliding to the edge of the table, she reached out and put her hand on Ian’s knee.

“I’m sorry,” she said, voice genuine, “I didn’t come here to say that.  You two have done a lot of stuff to each other and had even more shit done to you by our families and our crazy world.  I’m not going to judge.  But, Ian, you have to understand that he isn’tt going to be very willing to let you in again.  He’s scared to death of you, He’s not going to open up easily.”

Ian couldn’t help it.  He’d kept it together pretty well, stayed calm, listened, but hearing those words from Mandy’s mouth was too much.  A huge, choking sob ripped itself from his chest, followed by another and another.  He shook his head and buried his face in his hands, ignoring the bandages as they soaked up his tears.  Of course Mickey was afraid of him.  He was scared that Ian would take his heart and curb stomp it again.  

Mandy had moved to his other side and she and Lip were both hugging him while he sobbed when Svetlana suddenly stood up.  Taking two quick steps, she reached out and dropped her book unceremoniously in his lap.  Throwing herself back into the recliner, she cast him a withering look and said, “Cut that shit out and look at that.”

It took Ian a few seconds to recognize what it was.  A photo book, like the ones people bought from those online sites.  The cover was sky blue with a stock beach scene on it.  In the middle, in bright green letters read the title Visiting Daddy.

Ian stared at it for a moment.  Wiping his hands, he yanked off the gross tearstained bandages.  He hands were itching again but he just didn’t care as he carefully picked up the book and flipped to the first page.

He drew in a long breath and just stared.

His first thought was that he had never seen Mickey look so beautiful.  The Mexican sun had bleached his hair to a lighter brunette, shot through with red highlights.  It was longer, shaggier in a way that made him seem softer and more relaxed.  His normally pale skin was sun-kissed and glowing and his eyes just sparkled.  He was smiling genuinely at the camera while holding a grinning Yevgeny.  Staring at the two of them made Ian smile, too.  There was absolutely no denying that Yev was Mickey’s kid.  Except for the hair, they were identical.  Ian couldn’t stop staring at the picture, at how right and natural they looked together.  

“When did you take this?” he asked.

Svetlana leaned over to peer down at the picture. “He sent me a phone number with January money so I called.  He wanted to see Yevgeny so we went down to visit.  Stayed two weeks.  He can be a good father now and they became very close.  So we use the Skype three nights a week.  He reads Yevgeny his bedtime stories.  We go down to visit again with Mandy for a few days only during the summer and again for two weeks in the beginning of November.  These pictures are from then.”

Ian listened but he had to keep looking through the book.  There were so many.  Mickey and Yev on the beach, building sandcastles, looking at shells, making hats out of seaweed.  Mickey and Yev in the pool practicing swimming, in the water looking at a school of fish.  Passed out together in a hammock on the porch of a house as the sun set into the ocean behind them.  

They were beautiful images, almost too perfect to be real.  And they drove home a point that Ian was reluctant to admit.  Mickey really was okay. He was doing well.  And he was doing it without him.

“Who’s this guy,” he asked suddenly, looking at one of the later pictures in the book.  The guy was older, ridiculously hot, and looked a little too perfect holding Yevgeny’s hand while he and Mickey swung the little boy between them.  Ian felt a stab of pain in his heart as he looked at the perfectly domestic little scene.

“That,” Mandy said, “is Augustin.  You’re going to meet him. And before you get all bent, you should know that there’s nothing going on between them.  Augustin owns the resort where Mickey lives and works. He pretty much pulled Mickey out of the gutter and saved his life.”

“Mickey was in trouble?” Ian hated the childlike panic in his voice but he couldn’t help it.  He felt whiplashed by all the information he’d received in the last hour.  He didn’t feel manic, though, and that was a good sign.

“I’m not going to tell you everything,” Mandy said, returning to her seat on the coffee table.  “A lot of this stuff is Mickey’s to tell you, when and if he wants to.  But we still need to talk about our conditions.”

Ian stared at the last picture, one of Mickey alone, sitting on the railing of a porch, staring out at the sea.  He ran a finger over it gently, sighed, and closed the book.  “I’m listening.”

“Okay, first, you need to go visit your doctors and get yourself checked out.  You know as well as I do that you two meeting up again is going to be stressful.  You need to be as balanced as possible.  Okay?”

Ian nodded.  It made sense.

“Okay, second, you need to make maintaining your mental health a priority while you’re with him.  No using this as an excuse to get careless.  You promise?”

“Mandy, you don’t even have to say that, okay.  You know how carefully I guard my health.  I do it for me.”

“Okay,” she admitted, her face softening a bit, “That’s true.  Sorry.  But you have to understand that I worry because I love you.”

He nodded, “Anything else?”

Mandy smiled, “You need to meet with Augustin and let him vet you.  This is actually his rule, not mine.” Ian shot her a look but she talked right through it. “He knows Mickey better than anyone else right now, I’d say.  He’s also real protective.”

“Jesus, is this gonna be like some ‘What are your intentions towards my daughter’ type of bullshit,” Lip asked from the couch by Ian’s side.

“Pretty much,” Mandy replied as Svetlana nodded from the chair, “Augustin’s a really good man.  I had my doubts before I met him because it’s hard to imagine someone doing what he did for Mickey for nothing, but he’s a really good guy.  You’re going to like him, Ian.  I mean it.  And if you go down there and be yourself, he’s going to like you.”

They sat for a moment in silence while Ian digested all of this information.  They were all watching him, waiting for some kind of response, and Ian almost laughed from the absurdity.  What did they think he was going to say?  Did they really think there was anything they could demand that he wouldn’t be willing to do?

Meeting Mandy’s eyes, he held her stare, not breaking it for a second as he picked up his phone and hit speed dial number six, “Hello, this Ian Gallagher.  I’d like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Trego for a check-up and consultation.  Yes, I’ll hold.”

He heard the cheesy hold music echo through the phone and watched Mandy’s mouth pull back into a genuine and relieved smile.

“So,” she said conspiratorially, “You’ve heard of Puerto Vallarta, right?”

Chapter Text

December 2020

Ian shook himself awake at the sound of the flight attendant’s professionally pleasant voice echoing through the cabin, indicating the beginning of their descent.  He yawned deeply and stretched his arms out in front of himself for a second before settling back into the plush leather seat.  He hadn’t expected to fall asleep on the plane.  In fact, he had felt so amped up that he’d discussed the pros and cons of taking a sedative with Lip and Mandy when they’d dropped him at O’Hare.  That niggling tension had only worsened when he’d arrived at the gate and found that his seat had been switched to first class. His attempt at arguing with the gate agent ended before it began when she handed him a note in a heavy linen envelope.

I took the liberty of upgrading your ticket, Rouquin.  I look forward to speaking with you.  Enjoy your flight.  

-A

Yeah, A.  

Augustin.  

Ian had yet to meet the guy but he already felt like he was pushing into every area of his life, starting with the “rules” he was imposing and continuing with Ian’s accelerated passport processing.  The ticket was only the most recent intrusion.

Or maybe intrusion was too harsh a term.  Ian was way too conflicted about the dude.  Mandy and Svetlana had been pretty damn adamant that Augustin was the type of person who could see Mickey for his merits instead of his flaws.  Ian found it hard to generate any real hate for someone who could appreciate Mickey’s value when so many others seemed eager to dismiss him out of hand.  That didn’t mean he was comfortable with the guy, though  Despite Mandy’s assurances, Ian had no idea what Augustin’s intentions were towards Mickey and he had even less confidence about the guy’s intentions towards him.  He wasn’t ready to believe they were good, not with the aggressive intersession the man kept mounting.  Even his note seemed to carry subtle hints of threat.  

So all in all, Ian hadn’t expected to sleep.  He’d expected to be jumping out of his skin for the entire five hour flight.  But as the plane had evened out after the ascent and he had sunk back into the incredibly soft seat, he’d felt himself starting to doze.  Maybe he was just more exhausted by the information overload and rapid fire planning and preparation for travel than he realized.  That was true, but Ian believed that was only part of it.  He was worked up and stressed about leaving, about dealing with the ramifications of all of his past decisions.  But underneath that stress, there was a tremendous sense of relief.  Whatever happened, he was going to see Mickey again with his own eyes; with his own eyes, he’d be able to tell that Mickey was okay.  That sense of relief was all-consuming and it had put him out like a light.  

But now he was awake again, with only forty-five minutes to go until landing.  Forty-five minutes until he was in the same country as Mickey Milkovich for the first time in almost three years.  That thought alone made his heart race and he quickly did some slow breathing and allowed himself to run through his routine, checking his carry-on bag for his meds, journal, and pen and buckling it safely back up.  It was a compromise he and his doctor had reached during his preparation sessions for the trip.  If he had to fixate on something, it should be on a simple, calming action that was directly related to his mental health.

He was steadier with the ritual completed but closed his eyes for a minute anyway, trying to center himself.  He knew that while some of this was the result of his disease, the majority of it was just nerves. The best coping strategies in the world weren’t going to be able to hold him back completely right now.  

Ian opened his eyes as the plane began to descend through a thin cloud cover.  He’d paid little attention to the world outside the plane window even before sleep had taken him.  If he was honest with himself, he found this whole flying thing to be a little disconcerting, but he chose not to be too hard on himself.  It was his first time on a plane, after all.  Taking another small, steadying breath, he looked out the window as the plane finally cleared the thin cloud cover.

It was the color that initially took his breath away.  He had seen pictures of the ocean before, the tropical waters a stunning shade of blue, but he had always somehow assumed that the pictures were doctored.  Now, staring with his own eyes at the brilliant shades spreading out below him, he could testify that the beauty of those colors were one hundred percent accurate.  It was mesmerizing.  Even from the plane, Ian could make out the tiniest crests of waves in the water.  He could see the darker blues of the deeps contrasting with the lighter hues of the shallows.  It was absolutely amazing to the kid from the drab neighborhoods of South Chicago, a complete sensory overload.

Mickey had to love it here.  

It was almost hypnotic, the way the blues butted up against the green and brown shoreline.  Taking it in, Ian let his mind wander back to man who was the motivation for this crazy trip.  It was crazy, he wasn’t going to deny that, but for the first time in a long time he felt like he was being crazy in a good way.  Ian knew he had a good life, but it was strictly regimented and ordered.  He had a satisfying job, stable friends and an increasingly stable family.  He took care of his body and took care of his mind.  Everything was organized and ordered, with chaos kept to a minimum and these were all good things.  

There was something missing, though.  For the first time since he had stabilized, Ian realized that he was beginning to undertake a whole new type of extreme behavior; extreme serenity.  He was always healthy, always organized, always a step ahead of any dangerous drama.  For the most part, these were good things.  They were the protective measures that had allowed him to spot and pull back from potentially manic behavior so quickly last month.  

He’d taken these issues to his therapist at Mandy’s insistence, and, as usual, the reformed southside bad girl’s instincts towards the people she loved had proved to be spot on.  Dr. Trego was great.  She made Ian feel comfortable and was never pushy or preachy.  Best of all, she was southside herself and understood his world.  She was great at cutting through bullshit and getting to the point.  She was the one who helped him sift through his conflicting feelings about leaving Mickey at the border and his trip

“There’s a difference between being reckless and taking a risk, Ian,” she’d stated plainly as they sat in her office.  “I think we can both agree that you don’t want to be reckless.  But eliminating all risk from your life takes away opportunities for growth and the chance to experience new things.  Choosing to go with Mickey at the border could have been devastating for you.  It likely would’ve been devastating for both of you, in fact.  And your family endured a major tragedy immediately afterwards, which would also have been a factor.”

Ian had nodded.  He recognized that there was a great deal of truth in the doctor’s words, but he still couldn’t absolve himself.

“I get that,” he’d said, “and if I isolate out that one event, than I made the right choice.” Pausing for a moment, he’d sighed and averted his eyes, scraping his nails roughly across his jeans to relieve his prickling agitation.  “But I did it in such a shitty way.  I mean, I said...I made it seem…”

“You made it seem like you had your life all figured out now and he was going to destroy it.”

“Yeah!  And no.  Because I didn’t just make it seem that way.  I said it, to his face.  Those are my words.  And then I agreed to go with him and got his hopes up.  And then I left him.  Again.”

Trego had given him a minute to recover from his outburst.  They could rehash he and Mickey’s entire history, line by line, to determine who was at fault for what, but a better idea, she proposed, would be to establish some strategies for him to discuss these issues with Mickey instead.  Ian had agreed but almost laughed out loud at the direction of the conversation.

It still seemed a little ridiculous now, sitting on the plane and only a few minutes from landing.  Constructive discussion hadn’t really been a strong suit for them.  But then, maybe he was being a little unfair.  They’d learned to talk and to listen to each other over the years.  They weren’t always great at it, but they’d grown.  They had the raw skills to carry off adult conversation.  Who knows where they’d be if internal and external bullshit would’ve just stopped getting in the way all the time.  

The captain was announcing the beginning of their descent and everyone around him was being asked to put their chairs in an upright position.  Before he knew it, they were coasting down the runway.

He was officially in Mexico.

First-class got to deplane first and Ian figured that was usually a good thing.  He could’ve used a few more minutes though, to gather himself together.  Mandy had told him that someone from the resort would be there to pick him up but it wasn’t until he got through the gate and scanned the waiting crowd that he realized just how quickly shit was going to get real.  

A blindingly hot man was staring right at him, wearing a knowing smile and holding a small sign that read Rouquin. Ian recognized him immediately.

Augustin.

At the airport.

Fuck.

Ian felt an icy cold sensation seep into his stomach but he kept walking.  There was no where to go anyway.  Augustin stood where he was, holding his sign and giving him an obviously appraising once over.  His face revealed nothing though.  Ian walked on.  He knew he looked hesitant and uncomfortable, neither of which was helping him establish any kind of power balance in this rapidly developing situation.  He breathed in, he breathed out, he walked forward.  He concentrated on simple, achievable steps as he calmed himself.

Only to have his equilibrium completely thrown when they guy reached out a hand and cupped his face.

Ian was frozen.  He was born and bred southside and he had the the fight or flight instincts to prove it, but they failed him spectacularly in the face of this man.  He did nothing as Augustin gently turned his head left and then right, studying him with a genuinely inquisitive eye.   Ian found himself unable to pull away.  This guy’s natural charisma was fucking irresistible. Hell, Mickey had fallen under his spell.  Ian knew he didn’t have a chance.

Augustin dropped his hand suddenly, nodding his head approvingly.  Freed from the distracting touch, Ian finally found his tongue.

“What?” he demanded, flinching inwardly at the defensiveness that bled into his voice.

The older man smiled cryptically. “Your face healed nicely.  There is no scarring at all.”

Ian stared at him.  Scarring?  What the fuck?

Without warning, Augustin turned, throwing his arm around the small of Ian’s back and propelling him towards the baggage claim.  Ian scrambled as his carry-on bag almost fell off his shoulder.  He hoisted it back up again but his wits and bearings were already scattered.  Ian had to give the guy credit.  He really knew how to throw someone off their game.  

Before he could recover, Ian found himself walked right onto an escalator, smashed right next to a guy who had no sense of personal space.

“Your face.” Augustin continued suddenly, practically whispering in his ear, “ It didn’t scar when he kicked you.  You know, when all you wanted was for him to admit that he loved you.”

It took Ian a minute to process the words, to remember that horrible day in the abandoned lot before Mickey’s wedding.  The cold feeling in his stomach was tamped down by burning fury at how casually this memory was tossed back at him.  But before he could even find the words, he was propelled off the escalator and towards the baggage carousel.  

“That one yours?” Augustin pointed at his giant army rucksack as it slid past them.  Forgetting his anger for a second, Ian wrangled the bag off the conveyer, dropping his carry-on in the process.  It was promptly picked up by Augustin, who gestured towards the door with his chin.

“Come on, Rouquin.”

Ian rolled his neck in frustration, grabbed his bag, and took off after him as he headed towards the glass doors that led outside.  He’d experienced a whole series of emotions since leaving Chicago but pissed off was currently winning out.  

And what the fuck did this guy keep calling him?

As the glass doors fell closed behind him, Ian found some of his rage fading under the onslaught of real heat.  The air was thick and heavy with humidity and he quickly dropped his bag and stripped off his hoodie.  By the time he was done, Augustin had made his way over to a black Mercedes, parked precariously up on the curb, and was lifting up the trunk while talking to the blond guy who stood by the driver’s side door.  The blond glanced at Ian, offering a smile and a wink while Augustin gestured towards him from the trunk.  

“Ian, bring your bag.  Parking is not allowed here.”

Picking his bag up, Ian dragged it over to the car, where Augustin quickly grabbed it and deposited it in the trunk.  Before he could blink, Ian and his carry-on were seated in the air conditioned comfort of the spacious backseat while the hot blond pulled the car back out onto the road.  The two men chatted animatedly in a language that might have been French, but Ian didn’t even have the energy to ask.  He was completely scattered by the whirlwind he’d just experienced.  The blond in the driver’s seat met his eyes in the rearview mirror, a teasing but sympathetic look on his face.

“Are you alright back there, Roquin?” he asked.

Ian felt the frustrated anger bubble up inside of him again.  Enough with the fucking games.

“Stop!”

The blond held his eyes in the mirror while Augustin turned around.

“Ian?”

“I know who the fuck you are but who the fuck is he? Where the fuck are we going?  And what the fuck do you keep calling me?”

The blond man gave a small laugh. “Oh he definitely talks like someone Mikhailo would love.” he laughed.  

Augustin didn’t join in the laughter.  He held Ian’s glare for a minute until Ian could feel his anger starting to wilt away.  What the fuck was with this guy?  It was like he had some magical power to disarm and enchant the people around him.  

“Are you alright?” he repeated the blond’s question, but with a note of genuine concern that threw Ian.  “Do you need to do your breathing?”

“Jesus fuck, I don’t have to do my breathing.” Ian spit out, glaring at both men in front of him, “and how the fuck do you know about my breathing, huh?  Fuck!”  He stared down at the fists that had balled themselves tightly in his lap.

He could feel Augustin’s eyes on him but he refused to look up, refused to give the asshole the satisfaction of any more response.  Three minutes passed, then five, and he felt himself start his breathing exercises almost instinctually.  Through it all, Augustin watched, assessed, judged?

“I know a great deal about you, Ian,” he finally declared, though his voice came across as even and kind.  “You must understand that I am well acquainted with a number of people who love you.”

Ian snorted. “Yeah, so Mickey told you about when he kicked me in the face.  Got it.  And you thought it was a good idea to just throw that shit back at me.  Okay.”

Out of the corner of his still diverted line of sight, he could see Augustin nodding.  “Yes, in a sense.  I’m sure that my behavior since I met you at your gate must seem disrespectful and has likely made you feel erratic.  I apologize for this, but I will also confess that it was intentional.  You see, I learned a number of years ago that a southside defense is best met with a good offense.  For example, when our Mikhailo wants to, he can create the most infuriating obstacles to good, cathartic discussion.  However, he is much more approachable once he’s been knocked off kilter a bit.”

Augustin finished his sentence and stared at him expectantly, but Ian didn’t know what to say.  He could feel how hard his jaw had set.  

“Ian?”

“What,”he retorted angrily.  “How do you want me to respond to that?”

“Do you disagree?”

Ian grit his teeth.  “No,” he spit out grudgingly.

Silence again.

“So what’s the point. You got me all pissed off, you got me in the car.  Now what?”

Augustin nodded.  “The point is, you are now asking questions.  I angered and confused you but also intrigued you and now you wish to know the score, as Mikhailo would put it.   As I said before, I am well acquainted with Chicago style defense mechanisms.  They are effective but they also tend to be crude, blunt, and forward facing.  I learned awhile ago now that a counteroffensive must come from the sides.  

Consider this,” he continued, turning towards the front of the car for a moment to gauge their location, “you are frustrated, but you also know that Mikhailo has spoken of you to me.  You feel both vulnerable and curious, which will make you willing to listen.  Now tell me, does that technique seem like it would work on Mikhailo?”

Ian felt speechless in the face of that uncomfortably accurate logic.  Unwittingly, his mind went to Mickey’s stubborn determination to stay by his side and help him, even when it became obvious to others that he was beyond that help.  It had taken something cataclysmic, like him literally filling the house to bursting with stolen suitcases for Mickey to be shaken from his course of action.  Ian felt strangely disembodied as his anger bled away again.  He was left staring at the back of Augustin’s head, freaked out and slightly in awe of the guy’s technique.  It might be awkward and painful but it was the kind of step that was necessary to get Mickey to deal with shit he really wanted to avoid.  

It also drove the uncomfortable point that Augustin knew Mickey really, really well.  

He wanted to sit and think, to process yet another burst of information, but Augustin didn’t seem interested in moments of reflection.  

“You asked questions,” he said, turning around to face Ian again.  “First, this is Ivan.” He gestured towards the blond, who met Ian’s eyes in the rearview mirror again and gave him a sassy wink.  “Ivan is my closest friend and confidant.  I keep nothing from him.”

Ian nodded, his lips pressed in a thin line.  “Yeah, great, so he knows everything about me, I guess?”

“Pretty much,” Ivan replied with a good natured grin, but Augustin smacked him on the shoulder and he fell silent.

“He is familiar with the situation, both from myself and from Mikhailo personally, but don’t be fooled by his jovial nature.  He respects this situation and is a highly discreet individual.”  

Ivan’s next grin in the mirror seemed very genuine.  Ian didn’t push.

“As for your second question, we are going directly to my resort.  Our Mikhailo lives and works there.  You will be staying there too, for as long as you need.  And let me stop you right there,” he continued when Ian reached for his bag, “I will not accept a cent from you.  I am doing this for my friend.  The resort is supposed to be a safe space for you, possibly the first that the two of you have ever shared for any length of time.”

His voice was adamant and it rankled Ian.  Gallaghers did not take handouts like this, but this didn’t seem like the best time to start a fight about it.  He could always handle it later.

“And my last question.”

Ivan chuckled but Augustin just gave him a small grin.  If Ian didn’t know better, he would have thought it was affectionate.  

“Rouquin?  Oh, that it simply your nickname, one that Ivan and I have shared for you ever since Mikhailo first described you.  Do not be alarmed by it.  It is simply a term of endearment in my native French for your hair color.”  He offered Ian a teasing smile.  

Ian didn’t return it.  “Do you think you could not use it anymore?”

Augustin and Ivan snorted in unison, “No.”

Ian huffed in aggravation but opted not to argue, leaning back into the soft leather and shaking his head.  He was still angry but he still had to admire Augustin’s technique.  He was also dying of curiosity.  He’d answer any questions the crazy frenchman wanted as long as he got more information about Mickey.

Augustin seemed to sense this. He was staring at him again, searching his face carefully.  Ian tried to hold his eyes but he just couldn’t maintain it for long.  He let himself stare at the window, completely mindful that the car’s other two occupants were fixated on him.  

His host let this continue for about fifteen minutes and Ian could feel the tension ratcheting up inside of him.  He didn’t want to be the one to break the silence.  He didn’t want to be the one who started asking questions first.  It was almost impossible, though.  He was desperate for news about Mickey and even the small cut of his fingernails digging into his palm wasn’t distracting him enough.  It was becoming unbearable and he found himself running possible lines of engagement through his head, searching for one that didn’t label him a punk who spoke first, when Augustin hit him with the question.

“Rouquin, what are your intentions?”

Fuck, Lip had called that one.  Ian’s chin jerked up and he stared blankly at Augustin for a moment. How did he even begin to explain?

The Frenchman seemed to sense his upheaval. “I’m not asking this rhetorically, Ian.  This is the most serious inquiry I can pose to you.  You have traveled to another country to track down your ex-lover, a man, I should mention, who is well-loved and respected by everyone who knows him here.  Including Ivan.  Including me.  We want him happy and healthy.  What do you want?”

“I want him to be happy and healthy, too.  Off course.”

“Good.  How do you envision that being accomplished?”

Ian felt like he was walking into a trap.  Regardless, honesty seemed to be the best option.  He took a deep breath.

“Look, if I had to guess, I’d assume that you already know that I see a shrink and that I saw her a bunch of times before I came down here, to make sure I was in a good place mentally.  She and I talked about this a lot.”  Ian glanced up at Augustin, who nodded his head in a way Ian took to be encouraging.  “Alright, so we came up with steps.  Like, different levels of success.  My baseline is communication and forgiveness.  I want us to get right with each other again.  My second level is friendship.  We’ve always had elements of that in our relationship, but it kind of got buried by all the sex and violence.”

Ian glanced away momentarily, embarrassed by his candor, but neither Augustin nor Ivan seemed bothered by his statements.  Instead, they both seemed pretty serious and were listening intently.   Ian fell silent for a minute, but Augustin was not about to let him escape.

“Do you want to be with him, Rouquin?” he asked.  The question was firm, but not forceful.  It was genuine in a way Ian found disarming.  Its careful simplicity peeled away Ian’s last protective layer and for the first time since he’d boarded the plane, Ian felt tears brimming in his eyes.

No, this was too much.  He could not fucking cry in front of these two men.  He was allowed to keep a little of his dignity, right?  Turning his head away, Ian buried his face in his shoulder as best he could and tried to choke down the sobs that threatened to spill out of him.  He thought about Deb holding Frannie and Lip’s stupid laugh and anything else that was positive and not related to Mickey.  None of it mattered, though.  He was stuck in Augustin’s game and Augustin was clearly the master strategist.  

Ian felt the gentle hand on his chin again, guiding him back to face front.  Augustin’s eyes were concerned and his thumb rubbed a comforting circle on Ian’s cheek.  Ian sniffed and tried to control his breathing but his coping mechanisms were failing all over the place.  He turned into the hand unconsciously, taking what comfort he could from the physical touch.  

The car was slowing down, pulling through a narrow gate.  Through red-rimmed eyes, Ian caught of glimpse of the ocean, blue, sparkling, and spectacular between two buildings before the car pulled into a garage and shut off.  Without taking his hand off of him, Augustin managed to unbuckle himself and swing around in his seat, using both his hands to cradle Ian’s face.

“Ian,” he asked in a kind but insistent voice. “Do you want to be with him?”

Ian had lost all control of his voice.  All he could do was nod.  

Ivan was out of the car in a second, pulling open the backdoor and reaching in.  Ian closed his swollen eyes as a series of hands pushed and pulled him.  Before he knew it, he was standing outside the car with either man on either side of him.  Augustin pressed a hand to his sternum.

“Push against my hand, Rouquin.  Breath in and out slowly.”

Ian didn’t argue.  He just did as he was told and his breathing started to center. Neither man made any attempt to let go of him, though.  If he’d been thinking clearly, it would’ve been awkward as hell but at that moment, he was happy to just bask in the emotional support.  Over his head, Ivan and Augustin were speaking to each other in what he assumed was French.  He was surprised that Ivan sounded a little angry and Ian felt him loop his arm around his back even tighter, protectively.  Augustin’s voice was placating and Ian felt him slide away from his side.  Opening his eyes, he saw the man leaning against the side of the parked car.

“Okay,” he said in Ivan’s direction before turning his head back to Ian.  “Alright, Ian.  I’m done.”

Ian just stared at him, leaning calmly against the car.  He looked unruffled and self-possessed while Ian felt ripped open and knew he probably looked even worse.  He hated the concerned look on Augustin’s face almost as much as he hated the truth in all of his words.  Combined together, he’d probably never wanted to punch something so much in life.

Ivan must’ve suspected that, because his hold on Ian tightened.  

Ian rolled his neck, trying to relieve some of his tension.  “Is this just a fucking game to you?” He demanded, “Do you think it’s funny to fuck with people like this?”

Augustin stood up straight and met his eyes.  “Not a game, no.  A test, one that had to be done.  And you passed.”  He turned suddenly and walked towards the door.  “Come here,”  he called over his shoulder.

Ian followed him out the door, his eyes temporarily blinded by the blazing sunshine.  Augustin had moved to the edge of a large deck.  Spread out below him was a paradise of pools, gardens and amazing looking Mexican style architecture running all the way down to peach-gray beach.  And beyond that was the water, even bluer up close.  Ian stared at it, a little amazed.  

Augustin owned a kingdom.  And Mickey lived in it.

As if hearing his thoughts, Augustin said, “I built this from almost nothing.  Now, it’s practically a world unto itself.  I built it to be exciting and a little risky, but mostly, Ian, I built it to a be a safe place.  I have often told Mikhailo that I have been successful in my endeavors because I can see the value in things others would overlook.  I am willing to take such risks on things.  I took such a risk on him and it has proved to be an excellent one.

You are probably still wondering why the first thing I would bring up to you was when Mikhailo hurt you.  It is because I want you to realize that you have not been painted as the enemy in this story, not by him or by Mandy or Svetlana, who have also shared much with me.  I recognize that you have both suffered a great deal, that you have dealt with many struggles I cannot personally imagine, both in and out of your control.  And I know that you have both hurt each other.  That it is not one-sided, not at all.”

Ian listened carefully.  He didn’t interrupt, interject or tear his eyes away from the view below.  There was nothing for him to disagree with but it was hard to listen to so many years and so much struggle parsed down so simply.  Beside him, Augustin had also fallen silent and Ivan rejoined them, holding Ian’s bags.  

“This place is incredible,” he finally offered because even reigniting conversation with Augustin was better than getting lost in his own heavy thoughts again.

“Thank you,” came the simple answer.

“So what does Mickey do here?”

Augustin smiled.  “You need to let him tell you that.  Trust me, it is the perfect topic to help ease you both back into conversation.  He can talk about it for hours.”

“When can I see him?”

“Soon, Rouquin.  Today he is off the schedule, which guarantees that he is out on the water and likely won’t return until the evening.  I need to attend to some business.  Ivan has volunteered to take you to your room and get you oriented.  Take a shower, lay down a bit, get something to eat.  He will be back by then.  Does that work?”

Ian nodded.  

“Good.” Augustin turned and spoke quietly to Ivan, their heads close together.  They gave each other a quick peck on each cheek and for a moment Ian considered what their relationship was to each other.  His thoughts were interrupted though as Augustin came over and took him by both shoulders.  

“Ian, Mikhailo does not know that you are here.  His sister and I both wrestled with the decision not to tell him.  I do not like putting him in this position but I also recognize that any forewarning will build up his defenses.  And he needs to be a little defenseless here, of that I am sure.  As do you.” Augustin looked down for a second, betraying the first hint of indecision that Ian had seen from him.

“Take care of him, Rouquin.  Show me that I am right about what kind of man you are.”

*************************************************************************************

The temperature had cooled a bit by six pm as the sun started to drop in the sky.  Ian supposed it also could be that fact that he’d showered, napped, and changed into shorts and a t-shirt.  He’d texted Lip and Mandy, wanting to let them know that he’d arrived but not being up for a long rehashing of his first meeting with Augustin.  He’d written in his journal, too.  It seemed so sappy but it helped.

Ivan had talked his ear off on the walk over to his room.  The guy was flirty as fuck but it seemed to be a part of his personality.  He’d been helpful, too, showing Ian different spots on the resort map and helping him get a the lay of the land.  He’d dropped him off at a gorgeous little cottage, one of six surrounding their own private pool.  It was beautiful and shaded, with stairs from the pool deck that led right down onto the beach.  

The cottage contained a living room area and a small kitchenette.  The bedroom was spacious with a huge king size bed.  The bathroom had a jacuzzi and a shower with pulse jets.  It was pretty incredible, as nice or nicer than any of the amenities he’d occasionally enjoyed with Ned.  

Ivan had given him the twenty-four hour room service menu and a firm order to use it.

He’d also given Ian directions to the docks.

Mickey typically came in from the water around 6:30 if the weather was good.  So now he was sitting on the steps of his cottage, watching the minutes tick by.

Waiting.

At 6:10, he got up and started walking.  He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and tried not to think too much.  He followed the slat wooden walkway that Ivan had shown him, drawing him closer and closer to the ocean.  The docks, Ivan had explained, were Mickey’s favorite place, and the best spot to catch him.  Ian took a deep breath as they came into a view, a wooden labyrinth of people and seacrafts.  They were emptying out as resort guests and staff headed back to their rooms to clean up for the evening.  Leaning against the railing, Ian watched and waited.  

6:30 came and went.

6:40.

Ian was about to let some genuine worry creep in when he saw something out of the corner of his eye.  A style of movement he was intimately familiar with.  He stared down the dock to the second to last boat.  

A man in a blue shirt was swinging himself down from the boat’s bow, landing gracefully on the dock.  Ian knew that stride but it was easy and uninhibited in a way it had never been before.  Swallowing down his nerves, Ian pushed away from the railing and walked slowly towards the approaching man.  He was distracted by a pad he held in his hands, his blue eyes intense but his face relaxed as he continued to walk forward.

Ian wasn’t sure what to do.  Should he call out to him.  Walk up to him.  He began to slow his pace, stuck in indecision, but it ultimately didn’t matter.

Because at that moment, Mickey Milkovich finally looked up and locked eyes with him for the first time in three years.

Chapter Text

The sun was hanging low in the sky when Mickey surfaced from his free dive.  He stared up at it for a moment, exuding a huff of resignation, before giving in and looking at his watch.

4:30.

Time to pack it in.

He kicked off towards his anchored paddleboard, using the fluid dolphin kick he’d perfected over the last few years.  Coming up alongside the board, he hauled himself atop it and straddled the float.  He took five deep, slow breaths, letting himself sit and rest for a moment.  Removing his mask and dive fins, he tucked them into his dry bag along with his dive camera and aqua notebook.  He’d gotten some good shots and readings today and he should be satisfied, but the time spent out here never seemed like enough to him.  

The old Mickey, often reckless to a fault, would probably have said “fuck it” and kept right on going, but that wasn’t him anymore.  He had professional obligations and people who really counted on him, who didn’t need him taking stupid risks.  

And he knew the ocean.  He loved the ocean, but he respected it for the merciless bitch it was.  That respect meant that he didn’t do extra free dives when he knew he was starting to tank, when he still had to swim back to the resort.  It meant that he needed to rest, to oxygenate and hydrate like a careful, responsible adult.  He did these things, diligently, but sometimes he still laughed at how he’d changed.  

Reaching into his dry bag again, he pulled out a water bottle and drank it slowly while he carefully stretched his legs and shoulders.  A few miles down the shore, he could make out some of the resort crafts as they headed out to sea.  Some residual echoes made it up this far but for the most part, this secluded outcropping of the reef was completely devoid of other people.  Just how he liked it.  Sure, he wouldn’t deny how much he enjoyed getting a crowd excited about seeing cool shit when he was out on the boat.  He was enthusiastic as hell and he knew that it got contagious.  But for stuff like this, when he was out trying to figure shit out, to actually learn something, he preferred to go solo.  He knew that he didn’t have to.  Miguel or Ivan or any number of his colleagues would’ve tagged along.  Hell, a bunch of his classmates would’ve come, too, and probably wouldn’t have minded that the trip meant traipsing through a gay beach resort.  He needed the solitude, though.  The water was his place to be alone, to think, to process all the radical changes that had happened to him in the past few years.  

He stuck the empty water bottle in the dry bag and looked around him.  The Pacific coast could be rough but the reef offered protection from the heavy waves.  The water under him was smooth and clear as glass today.  With a smile, Mickey leaned back and lay down on the board, closing his eyes and letting his legs dangle in the water.  He didn’t want to pause for too long, didn’t want to let his body cool down when he still had to make his way back to the resort, but the sun was still warm and he could afford to indulge for a few minutes.  Closing his eyes and resting his arms on his stomach, he let his mind drift as the board rocked in the gently lapping current.  

It had sounded like such a crazy idea, when Augustin had first started pushing the whole college thing on him.  Nice, yeah, but completely out of reach, because what could a fucked-for-life kid from Southie with no high school diploma ever accomplish?

But he’d completely underestimated what could happen when a person knew how the system worked, or maybe just how to work the system.  Mickey knew he had some huge holes in his formal education but Augustin didn’t seem to think it would be a problem.  Ivan, the fucker, had practically dared him to fail and that, of course, had gotten him hell bent on succeeding.  He hadn’t argued about the process.  If Augustin put a book in front of him, he read it.  Some sort of practice test, he took it. Because fuck Ivan’s smug little ass.  

So he hadn’t really been expecting it when Augustin and Ivan had handed him the envelope, handled under his new identity, that declared him a GED recipient.  

Okay.  So...maybe not completely fucked for life.

It wasn’t a straight shot between that and higher education though.  There had been preliminary testing and a reading and writing workshop class that he’d taken twice.  Then there was the prep course and entrance exam itself.  All that was just on the academic end, too.  He still worked a full schedule between touring and fleet maintenance work, responsibilities he wasn’t about to let slide.  He’d already accepted way more from Augustin than was typical for a Milkovich from the Southside and Mickey was determined to pay back the debt, even if it was just metaphorical.  

So it had taken some time, fourteen months to be exact, but he was now a part time student of Marine Biology and Ichthyology at the Universidad de Guadalajara’s Coast of Jalisco University Center.  

Mickey was still regularly surprised by the life he suddenly found himself living, but nothing blew his mind quite as much as being an actual fucking college student.  His work life was different.  Sure, everything that he’d done for “employment” back home had ranged from the shady to the out and out criminal but no one could argue that he wasn’t industrious and enterprising.  No one would ever say he lacked a work ethic.  He’d always known he’d had the potential to hold down a good job if the opportunity actually presented itself.

School was different though.  He’d never seen that in his realm of possibility.  No one had.

Well…

Reflexively, his mind leaped back, to a dark dugout and green eyes and an earnest fucking expression...

Maybe you could head down to Malcolm X.  Ya know, take some vocational training…

Why the fuck are we talking about community college right now?

His eyes shot open and he sat up quickly, staring across the water again.   He concentrated on the sights and sounds around him and pushed his memories back into the lockbox where they belonged.  Drawing out a sigh, he let his fingers drum on the paddleboard’s surface.  Some day he was going to make it a full twenty-four hours without thinking about Ian fucking Gallagher.

He glanced down at his watch again.  4:45.  He needed to get going.  Tonight wasn’t a Yevgeny night so he wasn’t in a huge rush but it would still take some time to paddle back to the resort, even if he was paddling with the current.  The exertion would also distract him from memories he didn’t want to dwell on.  

Reaching behind him, he grabbed his sunglasses out of his dry bag before cinching it down and securing it to the board.  Sliding onto his stomach, he aimed the board cross-surf and paddled off.  

It was almost six by the time he finally made it back to the docks.  The water events were dying down as the clientele starting thinking about their plans for the night.  Mickey smirked a little as he watched some of the conversations and lingering looks being exchanged all over the shoreline.  The resort’s day activities were pretty typical and PG rated  It was at night that the true hedonism came out to play.

He received a number of appreciative glances as he swam up to the docks but he kept his eyes averted and his expression neutral as hauled the board out of the water and stretched out his arms.  He wasn’t dumb or blind.  He knew that he was viewed as a hot commodity by the resort patrons.  He could have spent every night of his life at this place riding a train of beautiful men if he wanted to but of all the things he found appealing about his life down here, easy access to willing dick wasn’t one of them.  He was probably the most celibate gay guy in a fifty mile radius.  

Three years in and he still wasn’t ready.  

Rolling out his neck and shoulders, he stripped off his nasty diving shirt.  Snagging a hose from one of the dock hands, he washed the board free of sand and sea debris and gave himself a preliminary rinse down as well, shaking out his hair like a wet puppy.  He supposed he was giving some guests on the shore a hell of a show but he was just too tired to care.  He grabbed a cleanish t-shirt he’d left on the dock and pulled it over his head.  Rinsed down or not, he was still pretty gross and he was dying for a real shower.

He hoisted the board back onto the Marguerite and secured it before giving the boat a quick once over.  Miguel had driven it out today and he while he trusted Miguel with her more than anybody, he still couldn’t resist giving her a check.  Satisfied, he jumped down and grabbed his dry bag, rustling through it for his notes while thinking about his evening. He wanted to text Miguel and tell him to come over for dinner so they could chat about a new dock development they wanted to pitch to Augustin.  He had some pre-semester reading he wanted to work on before classes started up again next month.  

But first a shower.

Snapping his notepad shut, he looked up the docks.  

And froze.

His first thought was that he must be dehydrated, exhausted.  He’d pushed himself too far and was hallucinating.  That had to be it because there was absolutely no way that he was actually seeing who he thought he was seeing.  

His second thought was to turn around and run.  

He couldn’t, though.  He felt rooted to the ground.  He could move his head for a second, look around frantically for help, but the rest of him was frozen where he stood because Ian Gallagher, Ian fucking Gallagher , was standing on the dock about fifty feet away from him.  Ian Gallagher, looking huge and beautiful with the setting sun reflecting off his hair and...fuck... fuck, Jesus fuck!  What the hell was he doing here?

The jolt of emotion caused his face and body to suddenly unfreeze.  He bit down on his lip, schooling his mouth and eyes into an unreadable expression even as his body began walking forward again.  He wasn’t entirely sure who was running the show right now.  He felt like he was on autopilot while his mind ran wild.

How the fuck had Ian even found him?  Well, that was pretty goddamned obvious.  The only people who knew where he was were Mandy and Svetlana.  Mickey could feel a sick knot forming in his stomach.  He didn’t know what to do with that realization.  He had trusted them.  Shit, he still trusted them.  He didn’t believe they’d just sell him out, not even to Ian.

Was something wrong then?  Was someone sick or hurt?  Fuck, now he needed to find out.  He had to keep walking.  He couldn’t run away.  

He’d have to go talk to Ian Gallagher.

And then what?  If someone was hurt, what the fuck could he even do, stuck down here as he was, a fugitive.  What, did they send Ian down here to keep him calm so he didn’t flip the fuck out and coming running home?

And what if that wasn’t why he was here?  What if he was just here for no reason, or for other reasons, the kind Mickey was trying to forget?  He’d already taken so many chances on this man.  How many times was he supposed to be vulnerable?  How many times was he supposed to get kicked?

His thoughts were running laps inside his head but he had to get them under control because he was only about ten feet away from a guy who was staring at him like he was the fucking sun, or like he might disappear at any moment. He had to speak, get information, find answers.

He had to talk to Ian Gallagher.

Mickey came to a stop about five feet away, a safe distance even from the reach of Ian’s ridiculously long wingspan.  He adjusted the sunglasses on top of his head and clutched at the dry bag he still carried with him.  He was stumbling over words in his head, wanting to tell Ian everything but reveal nothing and he just didn’t know how.  He could feel the tension growing inside of him and he tried to take a short breath and hold it in.  He was going to blurt something out, say the first dumb thing that popped in his head, but then Ian took a small step forward.

“Hey.”

Hey.   Hey ?!  Fucking really? After all this time, the best Ian Gallagher could come up with was “Hey”?  He opened his mouth, completely prepared to rip the dumb bastard’s head off.

“Hey.”

Mickey thought his voice sounded surprisingly calm and natural but Ian still shifted a little at the sound of it.  The red head’s face was impassive but his eyes were intense and they were scanning Mickey’s face with laser-like focus.  It made him want to squirm.

Their impromptu staring contest was getting to be too much.  Mickey needed answers.  He needed to gain the upperhand.  He offset his tension by squeezing his hands tightly and willed his voice to sound calm and unaffected.

“What are you doing here?”

He tried but he wasn’t able to keep all the emotion out of his tone.  A stranger wouldn’t have noticed, but the man standing in front of him knew him better than anyone else on earth.  Ian tilted his head a little, considering him carefully before answering.

“I needed to see you.”

“No, you didn’t.”  

Shit. Shit! He had answered too fast.  A knot of panic formed in his stomach.  In front of him, Ian’s shoulders relaxed a bit and his careful expression started to melt.  He was letting his guard down, and not in a good way.  Mickey didn’t want Ian feeling comfortable.  A comfortable Ian was an Ian who pushed.

“How’d you find out where I was?”

The hints of a smile began to curl at the corners of Ian’s lips.  Great, he was okay with that topic, too.  Inwardly, Mickey grimaced.  He needed answers.  He needed to get this situation under control.  

“It was the money.”

What?

“What?”

“The money,” Ian repeated, leveling his stare intensely at Mickey again.  “You sent me the money through Svetlana.  That’s what started me looking.”

Mickey nodded, grimacing inwardly.  He should’ve known that would bite him in the ass.  And what the fuck was Svetlana thinking?  

“You didn’t have to do that.” Ian continued.

“Do what?  Pay you back?

“Yeah. I wanted you to have it.”

“It was a loan.  I repay loans.”

Ian sighed, “It was supposed to be a gift.”

Mickey sighed, too, “It started to feel like a payoff.”

Finally, finally, Ian flinched and his shoulders stiffened up again.  And fuck if that didn’t make Mickey feel more like shit.  Dammit, he’d softened up so much down here.  He couldn’t wield his attitude like a sharpened knife anymore. And honestly, he’d never been any good at doing that when it came to Ian Gallagher.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” he heard himself saying, “It’s just, I needed a clean break, you know?”

Ian took a small step backwards, nodding his head.  His smile had faded away and Mickey absolutely fucking hated how much that bothered him.  He could feel his hands starting to shake a little, especially where his fingers still curled around the bag.  Ian wasn’t speaking, only staring at him with a blank expression and pained eyes and Mickey could feel his own frustration rising.  How could this asshole show up now, when he was finally the one who had his shit together, and just barge back into his life?

As if on cue, Ian opened his mouth, “A clean break?  So, the money was your way of telling me you never wanted to see me again?  That you were never coming back?”

“Me telling you?” Mickey shook his head, breaking eye contact and looking out at the sea.  He cringed inwardly at the touch of tired, quiet defeat that stilted his voice.  “I didn’t need to tell you shit.  You told me.”  He could feel a few tears pooling in the bottom of his eyes and he blinked furiously, his eyes firmly fixed away from the red head.  “You told me when you said you’d moved on.  You told me when you said you weren’t pissing your life away.  And you really told me when you said that this, being with me, wasn’t you anymore.”

“That wasn’t what I meant.”

“That’s the only thing you could’ve meant.”

He turned back towards the other man as more emotion bled into their voices.  Their eyes locked again and held, but Mickey wasn’t letting himself get drawn in.  “I understand it though,” he continued, gesturing around him, “I’ve built a stable life here.  I know what that feels like now.  I get not wanting to lose it,” he admitted.

It was Ian who looked down next.  “Are you happy here?”

“I’m good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah, good.”

Ian drew in a deep breath, his gaze still fixed on the dock beneath their feet.  He was building up to something and Mickey wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.  He needed some straight information.

“Gallagher, what are you doing here?  I need an answer.  Is it home?  Is something wrong?”

Ian shook his head.

“Okay, is it you?  Are you in trouble?”

He shook his head again. “I’m okay.  Just got promoted at work, actually.”

Mickey nodded slowly as he took in the information.  He didn’t know whether to smile or cry.  Nothing was wrong at home.  Ian was fine.  Instinctively, he felt a little proud of the dumbass red head.  Of course he did, he still fucking loved him.  But hearing that only further drove home his point.  Ian had moved on.  

This conversation of short, careful questions and statements was wearing him out.  All he’d wanted was a shower.  His carefully laid plans for the evening were shot to hell now.  Suddenly, all he felt like doing was finding his bed and crawling in it.  He needed to end this conversation fast, before he did something stupid, like regain his southside attitude and punch Ian in the face.

Or drag him back to his bed.

Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and stared hard at the redhead.  “Then why?

Ian sighed. “I needed to see you.”

“That’s not fair.”

Ian smiled sadly, “I know.”

Mickey shook his head, “You know? That’s a pretty fucked up answer, Gallagher,”  For the first time, his voice was beginning to rise.  The docks were empty but the beach wasn’t and it was far too close for what was looking to be a longer discussion.  Shaking his head, Mickey gripped his bag and started walking.  “Come on.” he threw at the other man as he stalked past him.  He could hear heavy footsteps hurry to keep up.

He stopped by a wooden cabinet attached to the railing at the head of the docks and pulled out a red ledger, signing himself back in. He didn’t need the lifeguards or med rescue hunting him down during what was shaping up to be a tense conversation.  

Ian was watching him carefully, like he might crack and go crazy at any moment.  It made him feel a little crazy, a little too much like his roots.  He couldn’t do this, risk a full blown brawl, not in public where it could affect the reputation of the resort.  Fuck it, it could affect his personal reputation, something he actually gave a shit about now.  They were getting off the damn beach.  

“Walk,” he ordered over his shoulder as he strode up the walkway and across the sand.  He left Ian to follow in his wake, keeping his eyes peeled on the little grass-roofed cabanas erected at the far end of the treeline.  He strode up to the first one, pushing aside the sheer curtains that hung across the opening and walking up to the back wall.  He leaned forward against it for a moment, taking a deep breath and getting his bearings before turning on the the suddenly docile and accepting ginger who was standing right inside the door.  

“This is bullshit,” he spit, stalking forward and shoving a finger right into his ex’s chest, “Absolute fucking bullshit.  You made a choice.  I didn’t get a choice.  I never get a fucking choice when it comes to you.”

“That’s not fair…”

“Fuck fair!  This, this isn’t fair!  You made a choice.  You chose to stay in the states with your family and your boyfriend and your life that had moved on.  And I had to live with that.  I didn’t get a fucking vote.  It worked out though.  I’m doing okay now.  So now, NOW you want to show back up.  Why, so you can drop a match on everything I’ve built and then run back to your nice, safe little world in Chicago?”

Mickey took a deep breath, steadying himself.  It felt good, actually yelling all his anger at the big, dumb, beautiful redhead, almost as good as pummeling the shit out of him.  Ian looked smaller somehow, hunched in on himself under the weight of the words but Mickey wasn’t finished yet.  

“You needed to see me, huh.  Okay, well, you fucking see me.” Mickey threw his arms out wide, turning front and back. “I’m okay, right.  So now your conscience is clear.  Unless there’s something else.”

Mickey watched as Ian took a deep breath, “I made a mistake,” he admitted lamely, his head down liked a kicked puppy.  But Mickey wasn’t ready to back off.  

“Okay, fine.” he allowed, taking a step closer, “You made a mistake.  So what?  Live with it.  I’ve had to live with mine!”  Mickey was pissed but he also felt a distinctive burning in the back of his eyes.  Fuck!  Always, with this asshole.  He’d been beaten to within an inch of his life by his own father on more than one occasion and never shed a tear but Ian Gallagher could always be counted on to fuck him up.  He turned away and rubbed his eyes, tired of this scene.  

“So what now?” he asked, back in control for the moment.  “You needed to see me.  Well, you fucking see me.  So now you can go the fuck away.”

Ian looked up, his remorse replaced with the same stubborn fire that Mickey had always loved and feared.  He grew taller and broader again as he took two steps further into the tent.  “I’m not leaving,” he said, simply and emphatically, his green eyes blazing with challenge.  

Mickey threw his head back, running his fingers through his hair as he paced around the cabana in frustration.  

“Why the fuck not?  What do you want?”  He could hear actual panic creeping into his voice.  “I mean, are you trying to fuck with me here?  Or is that it?  If I just let you fuck me, if I just bend over for you, will you finally leave me alone.” His trembling fingers went to the waist of his swim trunks, pulling frantically at the laces.  “Will you leave me alone?  Will you just get out of my face and out of my head!”

Two huge hands closed over his, pulling them firmly up and away from the knot.  He didn’t wrench away, allowed himself to accept the comfort in those warm hands for just one moment.  He was breathing rapidly and of course he was fucking crying for real now.  Taking a deep wet breath, he slowly rolled his wrists out of Ian’s grasp and took a step back.  

“This isn’t me anymore,” he said, his voice still wet and hitching, “I don’t just flip out over shit.  I can’t be doing this.  I have a job.  I have management responsibilities for fuck’s sake.”

Ian took a step back, leaning against the table set against the cabana wall.  His expression was contrite but as stubbornly determined as ever and Mickey took another deep breath, bracing himself for what he was about to hear.

“You asked why I was here.  Well, I’m here because of this.  Because you still have all of that inside you, shit that I put there.  I want us to talk, to deal with our shit.  We’re here, “he continued, standing up and gesturing around him, “We’re not running scams or running from MPs or federal marshals.  We can just talk, you know, sort some shit out.”

Ian stared at him.  He stared back.  Talk.  He didn’t even know if they could talk.  His fingers were back in his hair again, pressing into the sides of his head, staving off a massive headache.  Did he even want to talk to Ian?  He backpedaled towards the other side of the cabana, putting as much distance between them as he could inside the little tent.  

Across the doorway, Ian leaned back against the table again and grabbed on to the edges.  He was trying to look benign and Mickey had to admit it was working.  Fuck it, maybe Ian was right.  He felt better because he was getting some shit off his chest.  Maybe they should just get it all out.  He could tell Ian how he felt, now that he actually knew himself.  And that was it.  Ian could go back where he came from and they could both move on with their lives.

He met Ian’s gaze resolutely and took a step forward.

He suddenly caught a faceful of gossamer fabric as the curtains were thrown back and two writhing bodies crashed through the cabana, bumping, moaning, and sucking each other’s faces off.  Oblivious to their surroundings, they bumbled their way to the coach at the back with all the finesse of two water buffalos in heat.

For a second, Mickey was just frozen by the unexpected interruption.  Across from him, he heard a choked laugh from the idiot redhead.  He tried to look elsewhere, tried to avoid those green eyes but they drew him like a magnet.  And once they did, it was over.  The laughter tore out of him, snorting out of his nose, rippling across his shoulders.

“Yo,” he yelled to the intruders, trying to keep it together, “Could you two go get a room?  Like, an unoccupied room?”

The couple froze.  Shocked and wide-eyed, they sat and pulled their clothes back together like two teenagers caught in the back of a parked car.  Mickey shook his head.  Their faces were fucking hysterical.  He was so tempted to to fuck with them, to maintain the lightened mood if nothing else, but Ian waved the two off, grabbing Mickey and his bag and pulling them back out into the night.

It was fully dark now, but the moon was starting to rise, casting some soft light across the beach.

In the glow, he could see Ian grinning.

“What the fuck are you smiling at?” Mickey demanded, pulling away and walking down the sand a bit.

“Nothing.” Ian replied, falling into step beside him.  

“Oh, fuck you, nothing.”

Beside him, Ian slowed to a stop.  Mickey turned back to see him staring down towards the water, with that stupid little grin still fixed on his lips. “It”s just, you’re still you.  I thought for a minute that you might be gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yeah, but I was wrong.  The southside shit-talker’s still there.”

Mickey snorted, “I buried him a little.”

Ian nodded, smiling. He clapped his hands in front of him, taking two steps backwards.  “Listen, you’re tired.  I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.” He began to turn up the beach.

Mickey stared after for a second.  “What?”

“You look tired.”

“No, seriously, what the fuck happened to ‘let’s talk’?”

Ian nodded, “I want to talk to you.  But tonight isn’t a good time, okay.  You’re tired and hungry and I can tell you’re dying for a shower.  I’ll come find you tomorrow.”

Mickey shook his head, reeling a little under another sudden shift in the conversation.  “Alright, Gallagher, whatever.  You’re right, I do want a shower.  So go do what you gotta do,” He paused for a second, looking down. “I mean, dude, I’m not even sure if I want to talk.”

Ian nodded, backing up again.  “I’m not going anywhere, Mick.”

Mickey rolled his eyes, “Okay, fine, you stubborn shit.”

Ian just grinned as he turned to walk away, “Goodnight.”

*************************************************************************************

He shot off a quick text before finally getting into the shower.  He didn’t have the energy for real phone calls.

WTF, u bastards!!!!!

He heard his phone pinging while he was under the water but he ignored it, letting the soap and the stress of his evening run off him for a full ten minutes.  He kept his hands firmly above his waist though.  He wasn’t going there.  He wasn’t going to think about Ian’s eyes or his smile or how strong his hands still felt, even for those brief seconds…

He shut the water off and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist and picking up his phone as he headed out into his little loft.  He had three messages, one from each of them.

Mandy’s was first:   Srry nt srry with a heart at the end.

Svetlana had just sent him the smiling pile of shit.  Yeah.

Augustin’s was longer.  He read it twice.

Mon Chaton, it is not weak to forgive.  It is not weak to heal.

Throwing his phone on his bed, Mickey turned out the lights and walked over to the window, staring out at the twinkling lights of the resort.  

Forgiveness.

Healing.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

The pulse jets were pounding a steady beat against his skin but Ian could barely even feel them.  He just sank against the tile wall, letting his head fall back and his eyes close as he caught his breath and slowly came down from the most intense orgasm he’d had in...hell, years?  His stomach was actually fluttering and his thighs shaking as he let himself slide down the wall to sit in the bottom of the shower.  Stretching to the left, he smacked the faucet handle, pushing it towards cold before crumpling back into a heap under the cooling water.  

He wasn’t even exactly sure where that had come from.  He’d been bombarded with emotions by the time he made it back to his room but the loudest by far had been relief.  He had seen Mickey with his own eyes, touched him for at least a second, spoken to him.  He knew definitively that he was alright.  Ian didn’t think he’d even fully comprehended how worried he’d been about Mickey until it was finally laid to rest.  It was that relief, coupled with how undeniably beautiful Mickey had looked, that had sent him running into the shower to rub one out like a high school freshman.

Now, though, he had to think.  He’d learned a lot in the past few hours, about Mickey and himself.  He needed to process it all and try to come up with a safe, fair plan of action.  Pulling himself to his feet, he shut off the shower and toweled off.  Dry and dressed, he headed back into the bedroom and pulled out his journal.  

He stared at the cream colored pages for a few minutes, wondering where to begin.  If his shrink was here, she’d tell him to start by acknowledging something that he could be proud of.  Leaning back against his pillow, he reviewed the events of the past day.  There was a ton of stuff he was glad to know, a bunch of crap he was relieved to know, and a literal ton of shit he knew he needed to know but really wished he didn’t.  

He was supposed to start positive, that was the rule.  It still felt sappy but it worked and he’d learned not to argue with things that worked.  So he scanned the events of the day.  What was he proud of?  What had been a good choice?

Leaving...ironically enough.  As counterintuitive as it had felt, walking away for the night was the best choice he could’ve made.  It wasn’t what he’d wanted to do.  Ian’s instinct would always be to keep fighting and pushing.  He could be relentless as fuck, had been relentless as fuck on many occasions.  Even tonight, he’d wanted to stay there, to hash out every damn detail and make amends.  The Ian of a couple of years ago probably would’ve done just that, thinking that he knew best, but he’d learned since then that he was just as fallible as anyone else.  

Tonight, standing in front of the love of his life for the first time in more than three years, he’d felt himself start to slip back into that role, felt the stubborn determination, the need to push.  He understood the need better now than he used to.  For Ian, it had always felt wrong for there to be unbridged space between himself and Mickey, but just because it felt wrong to him, that didn’t make the pushing right.  

Mickey had said as much himself.  Ian was always the one directing them.  Mickey hadn’t gotten much of a say in years.  And he owed it to the man he loved to show that he recognized his needs, that he could back off, that he could give him space.  He’d done that tonight, and he was glad that he had.

Of course, then he’d immediately taken one step back by announcing that he wasn’t planning on going anywhere.

Okay, fine.  There was a balance that needed to be met.  He wasn’t planning on leaving and he was honest about that.  Mickey did need to see that he was sticking around, that Ian was here to fight for him.  He had to be really careful about his approach though.  He couldn’t set up an antagonistic dynamic between himself and Mickey, even if that was their natural tendency.  

He couldn’t fight for Mickey if he was fighting against him.

Ian knew Mickey.  He hadn’t needed Mandy and Svetlana to tell him that Mickey had buried all of his pain deep down inside of him, that it was still there even if it was invisible.  That was the Milkovich way, the Southside way if he wanted to be really honest.  He wanted to help Mickey work through all of that.  He wanted to take responsibility for what was his fault, to let Mickey yell at him all he needed.  But he had to do it in Mickey’s time.  He couldn’t keep broadsiding him.  Mandy and Augustin had both made valid points about Mickey’s defenses, but Ian was rethinking the strategy.  If Mickey wanted to throw up his walls, he had every right to do that.  Ian would have to confront them and demonstrate trustworthiness.  He’d need to be selfless and willing to listen.

He’s need to start asking permission.  

He stared down at the page in front of him, nearly full now with black pen strokes.  He felt calmer and clearer now.  Carrying the journal into the bathroom, he quickly took his nighttime pill regiment, recording his doses in the chart in the back of the little book before snapping a picture with his phone and sending it to Lip.  Probably not necessary, but a little proactivity was always a good idea.  Lip hit him back with a thumbs up not a minute later.  He let that conversation end there for the time being.

Settling back into the the plush bed, he stared at his contact list for a second, trying to figure out what to say to Mandy.  It wasn’t a topic that could be easily discussed via text but he just didn’t have the energy for a full blown discussion right now.  

In the end, he opted to keep it simple.

Saw him

The reply came almost instantly.  

I heard.  How’d he look?

How’d he look?  Honestly…

Beautiful.  

This time, the reply took a few minutes.  He saw the tell tale text bubble appear and disappear, as if she kept typing and erasing replies.  He thought about sending a teasing remark but quickly shot the idea down.  She might be his best friend, but Mickey was her brother.  Her feelings in this matter deserved nothing from him but respect.

He let the phone drop down on his chest for a moment and thought about his game plan.  He needed to see Mickey, that he knew.  But how best to go about putting the power back in Mickey’s hands?

He needed to think outside of his own little box.  Old him would’ve pushed the issue.  How would he have done that?  Ian thought about it for a minute.  Mickey did stuff with the boats and tours, right?  The old Ian would’ve just pushed his way right into Mickey’s comfort zone.  He would’ve jumped on the boat and dared Mickey to do something about it.

Standing on the dock and asking if he could come aboard, though, that would be something different.  

Ian sighed.  It wouldn’t be easy for him but so what.  He would do that and much more to give Mickey some real peace.  

He turned his head, looking at the light burning on his bedside table.  It seemed so far away and he was so damn exhausted by the day.  He’d get it in a second, just one more second.  He stared at the bulb, hypnotized, feeling his eyes start to drift closed, when the phone that he’d forgotten on his chest suddenly pinged and vibrated.

I love you, Ian.  I trust you.  Plz don’t let him down!

He read the message over and over, considering each word carefully.  It was a strange shift in their family dynamic, for people to worry about his impact on Mickey.  Strange, but not unwelcome.  One of the cornerstones of his stabilization was sorting out his symptoms versus his choices and while a number of the events in his past could be laid firmly at the feet of his illness, there were others that were just him; his selfishness, his cowardice, his poor decisions making.  It was good to see people who’s opinions he respected stand up for Mickey, to recognize the inherent worth of the man he loved.

He stared at the phone, formulating a response.  There were so many things he wanted to say, because anything he told Mandy felt like a promise that had to be kept.  So he typed a promise, the one he intended to keep.

I won’t.

It was nearly eight am when he finally peeled himself out of bed the next morning, not terribly early by most people’s standards but a departure from his routine.  He cut himself some slack though as he took his meds, brushed his teeth, and grabbed a quick shower.   Yesterday had been exhausting.  

He stepped outside his room and took in the view.  It was a beautiful morning, warm but not oppressive.  The colors were even more vibrant under the steadily rising sun.  He strolled through the resort a bit, using his keycard to grab some breakfast and an awesome cup of coffee.  The main lodge had a series of touchscreen kiosks that guests could use to book activities for the day.  Scrolling through the menu, Ian found the dive schedule.  Mickey was leading an expedition at 10:15.  

Ian glanced at his watch.  It was 9:30.  Check-in for the trip was scheduled to start in fifteen minutes.  If he headed over now, he could catch Mickey without an audience.  He glanced down at his shorts and t-shirt and opted not to go change.

He wasn’t planning on getting on the boat anyway.  

He retraced his route to the docks, throwing a glance at the little cabana hut from last night as he walked by.  A couple appeared to be sleeping on the chaise lounge in the back.  Amused, he wondered if it was the same two from last night.

Several of the boats were already out when he got to the dock and the empty slips made it easy to see Mickey as he scampered lightly about in bare feet.  Ian slowed down for a moment, letting himself enjoy the view.  Mickey looked so comfortable, so at home in this element.  It both warmed his heart and broke it a little.  

The dock was otherwise empty as Ian approached the large boat, so he leaned against the rail and said nothing, waiting for Mickey to notice him.  It didn’t take long.  Mickey stared down at him from the upper deck, his expression somewhat concealed by mirrored shades.  They stood in a stand-off for a moment before Mickey swung himself down to the lower deck and walked up to the boat’s edge.

“D’you sleep okay?” he asked Ian.  His voice would seem disinterested to the casual observer, but Ian knew better.  He smiled.

“I did.”

“Okay.  So, what’re you doing here?”

Ian kept his expression neutral.  “Heard you were leading a tour.”

Mickey nodded his head, looking down at the ground for a moment.  “That’s what they pay me for.”  He pushed open the rail gate and hopped lightly onto the dock.  “You planning on coming?”

Mickey’s eyes were still hidden behind the glasses.  Ian wished he could see them but he didn’t really blame Mickey for hiding from him a little.  They’d always been too good at reading each other.

“I’d like to.”

“Alright, c’mon then.  You ain’t dressed right though.”

Ian pushed away from the rail but stayed where he was.

“You okay with me coming?”

Mickey snorted.  “Not really the way this works, Gallagher.  They pay me to lead these tours.  People sign up, I take them out.  Did you sign up?”

“Yeah,”

“Then you get to come,”  he turned, stepping back onto the boat deck.

Ian didn’t move.  “Not unless you’re okay with it,” he stated.

Mickey turned back towards him and Ian could feel him studying his face, even from behind his shades.  

“It’s up to you, Mick,” he insisted.

He could see the slight change in Mickey’s body language, the subtle relaxation of his shoulder’s when he finally got it.  He pushed the shades up to rest on top of his head, his blue eyes a blend of suspicion and intrigue as he considered Ian carefully.

“Alright,” he finally said, a hint of challenge in his voice, “Today’s not a good day.”

“Okay.  Tomorrow?”

“Maybe.”

Ian nodded.  “Alright.  I’ll try again tomorrow.”

With a small nod of his head, he headed back up the dock.  Behind him, he heard Mickey draw in a sharp breath.

“You for real?”

He looked back over his shoulder, offering the other man a smile. “I’ll see you later.”

He could feel Mickey’s eyes right between his shoulder blades the whole way up the dock.

The rest of the day was a special kind of torture.  Ian walked around the resort a little and let himself enjoy a real swim in the Pacific ocean.  He mostly stayed in the privacy of the little cluster of cottages that he occupied, sitting by the pool.  It was warm but shady in the little grove, the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon, but it was almost impossible for him to control his nervous energy.  He journaled for awhile, took a swim in the pool, and then relented and went for a long run on the beach, finally calling it quits when he literally sweated through his sunblock.  He brought his dinner back to the cottage, wanting to avoid the main parts of the resort as the nightlife started to pick up.  He wasn’t blind to the lustful looks he was receiving but he couldn’t have been less interested.  He sat at the little table next to the pool and allowed himself a full minute to sulk jealously.  

He could only imagine how much attention Mickey drew every night.

The next morning found him back on the dock, holding a cup of coffee and patiently waiting.  In classic Mickey fashion, though, the dark haired man was avoiding the situation.  He stayed up by the wheel, letting his assistants get the guests geared up and situated on the boat.  Ian felt a prickle of annoyance coupled with some healthy respect.  Mickey wasn’t just going to cave.  He’d make him work for it.

“You joining us, gato?” one of the dockhands asked as he untied the boat, giving Ian a look that was half interested and half professionally curious.  Ian glanced up at the wheel, where Mickey was seated.  He looked nonchalant but the slight tightening of his hands around the gear shift let Ian know he was listening.  

“Not today,” he answered calmly, offering a small smile to the man as he backed up the dock.  

“Don’t be a stranger,”  came a voice behind him.  Out of the corner of his eye, Ian saw Mickey’s head whip towards the guy.  He kept walking, hiding his smile.  

His mood was dampened a little when he saw a figure waiting for him at the head of the dock.  

“You do not wish to go on the dive?” Augustin asked him as he approached.  Turning back towards the water, Ian joined him in watching the boat pull away.  “I do,” he admitted, staring wistfully and feeling the older man’s eyes on him, “but it’s not about what I want.”

“You are asking permission now,” There was a hint of approval in Augustin’s voice.  Ian turned towards him.  “Don’t look so surprised, Roquin.  Mon Chaton talks to me.”

Ian looked at him quizzically, “Mon Chaton?”

The older man smirked, but his eyes sparkled affectionately.  “It means ‘kitten’.”

Ian snorted out loud, “You call him kitten?  Bet he loves that.”

“He accepts it at this point.  He realizes I will not stop.”  

Silence fell between them, both turning to look back at the water.  The boat was heading behind a peninsula at the southern end of the resort.  Ian let himself watch as it disappeared.  Beside him, Augustin looked at his watch.

“I’m off.” Leaning forward, he took Ian’s face in his hand, staring at him pensively.  Ian resisted the urge to groan.  This seemed to be a habit of Augustin’s.  He kind of hated it.

“You still look tired, Roquin,” he stated finally, “Try to really relax today.”  

On the veranda of the main lodge, Ian saw Ivan appear, looking down at them  and tapping his watch.  Augustin gave the other man a quick nod before turning back towards Ian, “After lunch, go to the spa. I want you to go see Francesca.  She will help.”  Releasing his face, Augustin turned and headed up the path.

Ian shook his head.  He always felt knocked off balance by this guy.  “Who’s Francesca?”  he called at the man’s retreated back.

“You’ll see.”

Ian just stared dumbly.  Glancing up, he saw Ivan blow him a kiss before turning and walking back inside.

These fucking guys.

Francesca turned out to be a godsend.

The 6’2” Chilean drag queen with an elaborate beehive hairdo had him flat on his stomach within two minutes of meeting him.  She proceeded to attack every knot and kink he had in his body with the deftness of an expert masseuse.  After an hour long session, he felt pretty great.  He avoided the burn out of the beach and went to the air conditioned fitness center instead, sticking to the treadmill and some light weights.  He returned to the poolside, journaled, and checked in with Lip, Mandy and Fiona.  He watched and rewatched a video of Frannie’s pre-school play, chuckling to himself.  Debbie had clearly let Liam shoot it if the wobbly camera work was any indicator.  

The sun was starting to set as he headed into his cottage for a shower and a change of clothes.  He felt legitimately relaxed tonight and a lot more in control of his thoughts.  Glancing at the clock on his nightstand, he decided to head up to the main lodge to grab some dinner.  It was still early enough if he wanted to avoid the majority of the guests and their amiable, vacation-fueled debauchery.

He strolled into the main lodge just as the sun sank below the water line.  He headed towards the large buffet he’d discovered during breakfast and grabbed a takeaway container.  With his dinner and a bottle of water, he wandered out onto the veranda, heading north, away from the docks.  He didn’t need the temptation.  Finding himself a nice, secluded bench, he sat down to enjoy the amazing food.  Shredded beef with chiles, lime slivers, and diced tomatoes.  Awesome.

A slight prickle on the back of his neck suddenly cut through his calm.  He froze, straining his ears for any sound, but there was nothing besides the crash of the surf on the beach and the distant chatter and laughter of good-natured conversation.  But he knew anyway.  Some sixth-sense, some deeply honed connection, just lit up like an alarm.  He laid his dinner down, relaxed his shoulders, and waited.

It was less than a minute before he felt a weight displacement on the back of the bench, the tell-tale sensation of someone leaning against it.  He didn’t look, though.  He kept still, kept his eyes fixed on the sea.  He wasn’t going to grab control here.  

He’d let Mickey run the show.

“So what’s your plan.  Are you just going to keep showing up everyday?”

Ian exhaled.  Now he could move.  Turning his head, he met Mickey’s frustrated blue-eyed glare.  “Do you want me to stop?” he asked honestly.

Mickey turned his head away, staring off into the distance.  Ian watched him carefully.  The dark haired man was trying to look nonchalant, even indifferent, but the tiny tense tick in his jaw gave him away.  “If I said yes,” he asked, strain evident in his voice, “would you?”

Ian didn’t hesitate.  “Yes,” he replied, just as honestly.

Mickey looked a little taken aback.  “Bullshit.  That’s never been your game.”

Shifting in his seat, Ian turned to look straight up at him. “I’m not here to play games.  I’m sick of games.  I’m here to listen to you.”

“Listen to me?  So if I told you to stop, you’d stop?”

“Yeah.”

“What if I told you to get the fuck out of here?  To just piss off back to Chicago and never come back?”

There was aggression in Mickey’s voice, familiar aggression that Ian understood well.  This was Mickey’s walls rearing up again, trying to protect him from the pain of risk and rejection. Ian took two deep breaths, steadying himself.  This was a dangerous moment.  Mickey didn’t want him to go, of that Ian was sure.  But he wasn’t sure what he did want and he sure as hell wasn’t ready to be vulnerable with Ian again.  

This was a moment of truth.  He needed to handle this right, to give Mickey an opening to trust him just a little and then live up to that trust.  

He turned back towards the water.  What to say, what to say.  He didn’t want to give the “right” answer, he wanted to give a real one.  Honesty had to be his option here.

“It would be hard for me to do that,” he admitted slowly, keeping his eyes averted.  He didn’t think he could handle the intensity of that crystal blue stare right now.  “I don’t want to do that.  I want to stay here.  I want to sit with you and listen while you tell me everything I’ve done that’s hurt you.  I want to acknowledge those things and tell you I’m sorry.”

Mickey’s breath hitched for a moment and he gripped the back of the bench even harder before pushing off and walking towards the veranda wall.  He leaned against it, his back to Ian.  “What the fuck is this, fucking Dr. Phil?” he muttered at the sea.

Ian kept his seat, fighting back the instinct to get up and go to Mickey.  He gave him his space and kept talking.  “Dr. Trego, actually.  She’s my shrink.”

“You’re shrink?”

“Yeah, been seeing her for a while.  Couple of years now.”

Mickey nodded but didn’t turn, “Anything else?’

“Yeah.”

A beat of silence.

“Go ahead.”

Ian exhaled, “Mick, there’s other stuff I want.  Okay, in a perfect world, my endgame here would be working out a way to earn your forgiveness and your trust, and building a real, permanent life together.”

He cut his speech off as Mickey turned around suddenly, his eyes blazing.  Ian put up his hands, placating, and rushed on, “I know, I know.  It’s too much.  I want to be honest and the honest truth is that I want to earn you back.  But I understand that that might be impossible.  That’s why I’m asking you to just start with talking.  Just let me know how you feel and let me apologize.  And if that’s all we can do, I’ll live with that.”

Mickey was still glaring and Ian wilted a little under the force of it.

“I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t blame you for that,” he responded quickly, “I’m asking you to let me try to rebuild that.”

“Yeah, but for how long?” Mickey pushed away from the wall, stalking behind the bench and running his fingers through his hair, “ You say you want to work on shit, but how long does that last?  You told me you wanted to come with me, remember?  And look what the fuck happened.”

Ian pivoted on the bench but kept his seat, “Mick, are you a hell of a lot better off now than you were three years ago?”

Another beat of silence.

“Yeah,” begrudgingly.

“Yeah, well, me too.  I’ve grown a lot, too.  I figured a lot of shit out.  And I’ve lived without you for three fucking years and I know how much it kills me and I want to fix it, okay.  

I fucking love you,” he continued, hearing and hating the slight hitch in his voice but plowing forward anyway, “I won’t keep throwing that at you but I’m going to say it this once so you know it.  I fucking love you, as much as I ever did and more.  I love you so much that if you really need me to go, if you need me to leave you alone so you can live a healthy life or whatever down here and move on, I will fucking do it.  I’ll hate it but I’ll do it because I love you and the people you love need to come first.  Okay, you’re asking if I’ll leave if you tell me to.  I will.  But I believe that we should talk first.  If nothing else, we should talk and work through the shit we never got a chance to handle.”

Ian was a little out of breath when he finished his rant and he turned away, staring vaguely at the dinner fork that was still clenched in his fist.  Behind him, he could hear Mickey inhaling slow, measured breaths behind him.  He breathed himself, keeping them even, keeping them short.  

“You got something you want to ask me?”

“What?”

Mickey snorted, “Don’t be an ass.  Ask.”

Ian was glad he was sitting.  His legs felt weak.  

“Can I come out on the boat with you tomorrow?”

A final beat of silence.

“Yeah.”

Another beat

“Bring fucking coffee.”

The echo of Mickey’s retreating footsteps was suddenly interrupted by the clatter of the fork on the tile floor as Ian lost control of his shaking hands.  

*************************************************************************************

The ceiling fan spun at full force and the windows were all open, letting a strong Pacific cross breeze drift through the loft, but it did nothing to cool Mickey’s sweat soaked skin.  He lay practically motionless, spread out on his bed, the only movement his fingers drifting through the mess of come decorating his trembling stomach and chest.  His determination to keep his hands off his dick had completely collapsed tonight, after several hours spent in the company of Ian fucking Gallagher.

Love might be damaged, trust might be destroyed, but white hot sexual tension was as strong as it had ever been.  Holy fuck, he’d never understand how the fucking red head did this to him.  Here he was, legitimately hurt, afraid, wary and he still, still couldn’t stop dreaming of all the things he’d like Ian to do to him, all the new and unchristened surfaces to be lifted onto or bent over or shoved against or…

Fuck!

He glanced down as a final drop of pearly liquid oozed out of the head of his poor, spent dick.  Cupping himself gently, he let out a groan, a heated mixture of genuine pleasure and legitimate pain, letting his eyes fall closed again.  He’d said yes again.  Ian would be coming out on the boat again.  He needed a better fucking game plan.  

He’d thought that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Ian was keeping his distance.  Maybe they really could just talk some shit through. He was pretty good at the whole talking thing now.  Augustin loved good talks.  Ivan and Miguel didn’t know how to shut the fuck up.  And he’d already healed some real rifts with the whole talking thing.  Look at him and Svetlana.  He now had an actual relationship with a kid he fucking adored and it was all because they worked through some stuff.

He could do this.  Just keep it simple and focused.

His schedule for the day had been pretty chill.  He’d done three deep dives the day before, which made him due for a boat day.  Augustin could be such a bitch about safety protocols.  He’d been scheduled to take the catamaran out into a southerly cove around 10 am, technically to spot stingrays but really to let partied out couples relax in the nets and swim around in the water for a few hours.  

He should’ve known that Ian would show up bright and early, coffee in hand.  His stomach had turned a little, nerves kicking up at the sight of the big beautiful idiot in his shorts and t-shirt, looking strong and healthy and calm.  He couldn’t deny that seeing Ian looking so good gave him some relief.  That didn’t mean he was thrilled about having to spend five whole hours on the water with practically no buffer between them, though.

Ian, stubborn as ever, had shown up before the crowd and stayed on the dock, holding his gaze as he’d walked to the gate.  They’d just stared for a minute, taking each other in, before Mickey got uncomfortable and looked away.  

“You coming on?”

Ian had just smiled.  Mickey had rolled his eyes and thrown open the gate.

“Get on the fucking boat, Gallagher.”

He hadn’t missed the little smirk on Ian’s lips as he stepped onto the deck, pushing the coffee into Mickey’s hands as he’s walked by.  Mickey had just grimaced and followed along behind him.

The coffee had been perfect, exactly how he liked it.  

Ian hadn’t said or done much at first, just found himself a seat and stayed out of the way as Mickey ran around working, getting clients situated and the boat ready.  They’d shoved off at 10:10, the water practically flat and a light breeze off-setting the heat of the steadily climbing sun.  Mickey hadn’t been able to relax with the damned red head on board, but still Ian had kept his distance.  He’d stayed off to the side until they’d anchored in the cove and Mickey and his assistants had reviewed all the safety regulations.

He’d respected Mickey’s work.

Mickey had watched while Ian scribbled a bit in a bound leather book he had with him, chatted politely with several of the other guests, and even jumped in for a quick swim.  Mickey had tried not to look too interested in his half-naked, wet ex but it had been a pretty lost cause from the start.  Ian Gallagher only got better with age.  And if the appreciative glances he had received from the other patrons were any indication, Mickey wasn’t the only one who thought so.  

It was about an hour and a half after they anchored, after he’d dragged himself out of the water and dried off, that Ian had finally approached Mickey, who was keeping watch at the wheel.

“Can I sit?”

Mickey had considered a few bitchy responses but held them in check.  They were supposed to be talking.  If Ian could man the fuck up and act like an adult, so could he.

“Yeah,” he’d replied simply, gesturing to the other chair on the wheel deck.  Ian had sunk into the chair in a lanky sprawl, a real smile on his face.  Mickey had stolen a glance at him sideways, glad his shades were still there to give him a little cover.  A few moments had passed in a weirdly companionable silence before Ian had turned to him.

“Can I ask what you’ve been up to?”

Mickey had snorted, “You don’t have to make everything a fucking question, dude.”

“Alright, then, tell me.”

“What you want to know?”

“This, all of this,” Ian had swung his giant arms around, his smile even bigger now, “these boats and fish and diving.  This is all new. I want to know about it.”

“It’s a pretty long fucking story, man.”

“So?”

After that, Mickey hadn’t even noticed the time.  He’d tried to keep the story short but Ian had insisted on asking questions and showing legit interest in what he was saying.  And Mickey was a sucker for a good audience when it came to the water.  Before he knew it, they’d talked for over two hours.  They’d been discussing reef bleaching damage and Mexican conservation law when one of his assistants had jumped up on the wheel deck to hand them foil wrapped steak tortas and warn them about missing lunch.  

He’d pulled himself away from the conversation then, flying back into work mode as he’d helped account for all the passengers and readied the boat to head back to the resort.  Ian hadn’t moved, just stayed on the wheel deck and waited for him to get done.  They’d talked on the way back, but he’d held their talk to shallow shit.  

Taking a deep breath, he heaved himself out of bed and into his bathroom to clean up.  It was moments like this when he genuinely missed smoking.  It was a shit habit but it had always helped him when he needed to calm down and think.  He’d blown over two hours on conversation with his ex-boyfriend.  It had been easy.  It had been fun.  

It scared the fuck out of him.  

Mickey had outgrown denial as a defense mechanism.  He wasn’t going to sit here, alone with his thoughts, and pretend that Ian wasn’t still tempting as hell.  And he didn’t mean the physical shit.  Well, that was a part of it.  He’d just cleaned the evidence off his chest.  

Having Ian put forth so much effort and give such a genuine damn was arousing as hell but it was hitting him at a much deeper level than that.  Mickey had built a real life for himself.  He had pride and self-respect and he didn’t want to risk those things.

But fuck if he wasn’t still in love with Ian Gallagher.

There, he’d admitted it.  So what?  That didn’t mean it was a good thing.  That didn’t mean he should get involved.

It didn’t mean he shouldn’t either.  

He groaned and leaned against his sink, picturing Ian’s earnest face.  The ballsy fucker had asked if they could grab dinner.  He hadn’t looked surprised when Mickey had declined.  He’d ask again tomorrow.  

Tomorrow.  Yeah, because Ian had also asked if he could come back out tomorrow.

And that time, Mickey had said yes.

Chapter Text

Five days.

Five fucking days with Ian Gallagher was all it had taken for his whole damn world to tilt sideways.  Five fucking days for all of his delusions and carefully constructed safeguards to start cracking apart.

Five days for him to admit to himself that he still loved the ginger haired bastard and that he was going to have to deal with that.  

He hated dealing with shit.

Augustin and Ivan knew that.  Svetlana knew that.  Mandy fucking knew that.  But that was the whole point, he supposed.  They all knew him.  They all loved him, too.  He wasn’t a goddamn kid anymore.  He could admit to himself that they did.  They knew he was keeping all of this locked up inside him.  Even he could admit it wasn’t healthy.  

So fine, they were right and he needed to talk to Ian.  He could do that.  They could even grab some dinner and just hash some shit out.  He’d given Ian his necessary permission to come out on the boat today.  He figured he’d just wait for the inevitable dinner invite, then lay down some ground rules about it being a time for talking and nothing else.

Yeah, he could do that.  Like a fucking grown-up.

A grown-up who was about to throw a tantrum because Ian hadn’t shown up.

Mickey grabbed a sip from his water bottle, refusing to look at his watch again.  It was after five, he knew that much.  He’d been on the water all day, run three different tours.  Ian never showed.  Mickey hated the nasty twisting feeling in his stomach, the familiar sense of fear and rejection.  It forced to the surface some other uncomfortable truths he wasn’t really ready to face.  

Yeah, he might still love Ian, but he also still remembered where that love had landed him; alone and in pain.  Again and again.  He’d thought about it over the years, when he’d let himself.  He understood that Ian had been sick, legitimately sick.  Maybe it wasn’t entirely fair for Mickey to expect Ian’s love for him to overcome his illness but Ian’s brutal words when he’d dumped him and his complete abandonment when he was imprisoned hurt like hell.  He felt fully entitled to those feelings.  

The shit at the border, well, he wasn’t even sure he could fully examine that yet.  

He was, however, sure that Ian had never set out to hurt him, had never intentionally tried to fuck with him.  So what the hell was going on?

Mickey’s thoughts were still running wild fifteen minutes later as he ran through his ready check, when the asshole in question finally decided to come prancing down the dock, looking perfectly serene as he approached.

Mickey wanted to punch him right in his beautiful face.  Instead he nearly bit his tongue in half as he clamped down on his warring emotions and schooled his face into a blank disinterest as the red head approached the side of the boat.

“Thought you’d be here earlier,” he said, determined to keep his voice detached and dismissive.  He failed.  Ian immediately tensed up, his face worried.  Dammit, three years hadn’t made a difference.  He still couldn’t hide shit from this guy.  

“You’re pissed at me.”

“What?  Fuck you. Just wondering where you been,”  He flinched a little at the neediness of those words but a wide smile lit up Ian’s face, distracting him for a moment.  The big idiot jumped onto the boat, no invitation needed, and climbed up to throw himself into the captain’s chair next to Mickey.

“I couldn’t come out earlier,” he explained, his smile turning teasing, “I’m not scuba certified.”

Mickey stared at his hands on the wheel for a second as a cresting, sweet wave of relief washed over him.  He was such a fucking idiot.  No shit Ian wasn’t certified.  He couldn’t even have booked one of the earlier trips without a certification number.  Mickey just closed his eyes and shook his head a little, feeling dumb.  He ran this program.  No one knew the safety requirements better than him.  Fuck, Ian’s presence had him off his game.

Next to him, Ian’s smile faded, “You’re still worried. You still think I’m fucking with you.”

Mickey groaned, feeling like Ian was reading his mind, “No, man, it’s just...I mean…”

“It’s okay,” he interrupted, turning to look out across the boat, “I don’t expect you to just trust me again.  But I wasn’t screwing with you.  I thought about letting you know what time I’d be here but I didn’t know how to reach you.”

Mickey let the little hint slide for a moment, “So what’d you do all day?  Hang by the pool?”

“Nah.”

Mickey looked at him impatiently.

“I started getting certified.  Took the first part one of that temporary cert course.”

“No shit,” Mickey reached over to the touchpad computer on the console, pulling up the patron files.  Sure enough, Ian Gallagher’s name was there, halfway through the two day program. “You gonna finish up tomorrow?”

Ian nodded, “Yep, then you can show me all this stuff you’re going on about.” He offered Mickey a another smile, small and hopeful and Mickey just couldn’t resist it returning it a little.

His final tour for the day was just a sunset cruise, on the catamaran again.   He jumped down to the first deck to check in his guests and get everyone situated, noticing that Ian made no move to vacate the co-captains chair.  Mickey smiled again.  Of course, the idiot ginger would come to this cruise.  It was the one where he could goad more conversation while lounging in the chair next to Mickey.  Ian might be about asking permission and shit but it was pretty obvious he wasn’t going to be willing to give up any ground once he’d gained it.

When all the happy couples, both old and brand new, were kicked back happily with drinks, Mickey was free to retreat back to the top dock.  He did so with a mix of giddiness and apprehension.  Ian was still seated, comfortably sprawled in the chair with his one foot up on a railing, playing on his phone.  He looked relaxed, at ease, and Mickey felt a shiver creep down his spine.  

He like seeing Ian there, in his world, content.  He just wasn’t sure how he felt about liking it.

Mickey perched on the edge of his chair, his hand on the wheel as he backed the large boat out of its slip and navigated it out on the water.  He kept his gaze fixed on the route but he could still see Ian shooting him expectant glances out of the corner of his eye.

“What’s with your tattoos?”

Mickey’s stomach dropped, his thoughts going to his chest and his failed tribute to the man beside him.  He glanced over at Ian only to see him eyeing Mickey’s hands around the steering wheel.

His knuckle tats.  Right.  

“Had them covered up,” he stated honestly, bringing his hand up so he could examine the redesigned art, “Couldn’t keep that shit, not working here.”

Ian nodded, “Can I see them?”

Mickey hesitated for a second.  He knew Ian.  Ian didn’t just look with his eyes.

Sure enough, as soon as he extended a hand, Ian took it in his own.  A thrill shot through Mickey at the touch, right to the head of his treacherous dick.  Those huge, warm hands still felt good as they skimmed gently over the skin of his knuckles.  

“These are Cyrillic, right?”

He nodded, “Ukrainian Cyrillic,” he confirmed.  

Ian didn’t let go of his hand, “They’re beautiful,” he said, tracing the designs with a fingertip, making Mickey fucking crazy, “What do they mean?”

Mickey couldn’t fucking take it anymore.  Slowly but firmly, he pulled his hand back from Ian’s grasp, getting instant relief from the sensations that came with his touch.  Ian didn’t fight him but he didn’t let go either, pinching lightly so that Mickey had to slide his hand out of the hold. Fucking Gallagher.  He knew what he was doing.  They were only supposed to be talking.

“I’ll tell you some other time,” he stated, putting his hand back on the wheel.

As if he could read the sudden tension in the air, Ian leaned back a little in his chair, putting a slight bit more distance between them and folding his hands over his chest.  

“What else have you been up to?” he asked casually.

Mickey shrugged, “Quit smoking.”

“No shit!” There was genuine respect in Ian’s voice.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing. Augustin was always giving me shit about it.  And it wasn’t good because of my job.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Ian leaned back even further, relaxed. “Don’t you kind of get paid for being good at breathing?”

Mickey snorted.  It was true.

“Yeah, I’m a lot better at that now.”

Ian nodded, “You ever miss it?”

Looking out at the horizon, Mickey thought for a second. “No.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, just no.  It made it harder to do what I love.  Don’t got time for that shit.”

He glanced at Ian, who was nodding slowly. “That’s awesome.”

“Yeah.”

“Me, too.”

“What?”

“Quit smoking.”

“Bullshit.”

“Oh, you think you’re the only one with the will?” Ian smirked at him.

“No, its just, I had a good reason.”

Ian snorted, “Yeah, man, me too.  I mean, I have to put certain stuff in my body to keep me healthy.  I want to keep the other shit to a minimum.  I don’t drink much anymore either.”

“Really?  Me neither.” They shared an incredulous grin for a second before turning back to the water.  “Fuck, we both went straight-edge.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a demanding job, too, you know. Gotta stay healthy.”

“That EMT shit?”

“Its that paramedic shit now.  I got promoted.”

Mickey turned towards him for a second.  He couldn’t help it.  He was still pissed at the dumb ginger, still didn’t trust him for shit, but he was relieved that he was doing well.  

And proud.

“Thats…,” words left him.

“What?” Ian looked at him curiously, a little nervously.

“No, it’s just, I’m glad, you know,  you’re taking good care of yourself.  I’m glad you’re making good choices.”

The comment and its implication seemed to hang in the air between them.  They broke eye contact almost simultaneously, settling into their comfortable chairs next to each other and staring out at the sea.  Beneath them, the sounds of laughter and conversation drifted up, but they stayed quiet.  

How could it be so easy to feel so tense and so fucking relaxed with one person at the same time?

The trip was short, only a forty-five minute cruise as the sun dropped down below the water line.  Mickey turned the running lights on and used them to bring the catamaran back into its slip.  The guests were giddy for their evening as they disembarked and headed off the docks.  Mickey watched them go, well aware that Ian was still lurking on the dock behind him.  He didn’t turn right away, taking a moment with his thoughts.  Did he want to do this tonight?  Was he ready to deal with any of the shit the would almost definitely get dragged up?  He wasn’t sure but he also wasn’t sure how much time he had to fuck around.  Ian had been here for five days.  That wasn’t a lot of time, even in this place where a day could sometimes drag on forever, but he hadn’t asked how long Ian was even able to stay.  He had a life in Chicago, a job and shit.  If Mickey wanted to talk to him, he’d better suck it up and do it.

Heading up the dock, he called over his shoulder, “Let’s go, Roquin,”

Ian’s groan and heavy footsteps chased him down the dock.

“You too, Chaton?”

Aw, fuck.

“Really?  He told you that?  Where’s the loyalty?”  

Beside him, Ian just chuckled, “I think he was just evening the field.  Does he give everyone French code names?”

“Nope, just the lucky few.” Mickey glanced at Ian as they walked, “What’re you talking to Augustin about anyway?”

“You, mostly.  And me not being a fuck-up.”

“He needs to learn to mind his own business,” Mickey muttered, though even he could hear the affection in his voice.

“I get the impression that that isn’t his style,” Ian said as they made it to the end of the dock and stepped up onto the beach, “I’ve only talked to the guy twice, but I know he cares a hell of a lot about you.  I know this whole thing was pushy but I really think he wanted to help.”

Mickey nodded, but his mouth twisted up bitterly for a moment, “I hate when people try to help.”

Ian snickered, “Yeah, I know. Me, too.  Doesn’t mean we don’t need it though.”

Ian slowed beside him as he spoke, until Mickey had to stop, too, turning back to look at him.

“Where are we heading,” the redhead asked him, his face suddenly a little anxious.  Mickey bit down on an automatic retort about Ian’s presumption.  It wasn’t helpful right now.  Instead he stopped and looked around.  “You wanna talk, right?”

Ian nodded, his face all open and hopeful.

“Alright, well we can grab something to eat then.  I need a shower.  Meet me in the main lobby in forty-five minutes.  It’ll be pretty empty about now and I want to avoid the crowd if we can.”

The smile on Ian’s face was practically electric. He didn’t want to screw with that, but still, they needed to be on the same page.

“Listen, we’re talking, getting some shit out there.  This isn’t a date, though.  I don’t care if we use real silverware and shit.”

Ian’s smile didn’t waver, “That’s all I’m asking for,” he insisted.

Mickey studied him, nodding his head, “Alright, I’ll be back.”

He watched Ian walk towards the lobby before heading to his loft.  He was showered and changed in less than twenty minutes, pacing around the tiny apartment and letting his thoughts run wild.  It was fucking ridiculous.  He was a fucking Milkovich.  He wasn’t going to be scared to go talk to Ian Gallagher.

He was in the lobby ten minutes later.  Ian was lounging on a wicker chaise, playing a game on his phone, oblivious to the appreciation he was drawing from the few guests milling around the room.  He walked over slowly, taking in the sight of Ian once again looking comfortable and relaxed in this new world.  He wasn’t going to kid himself.  He like him being here.  Those warm feelings came with a dark side though.  They made him wonder why Ian couldn’t have just come in the first place.

Because there was no way they could’ve known they’d end up here, he reminded himself.

Still.

Mickey rolled his eyes and picked up the pace.  He could run around in circles in his head with this shit forever.  Or he could go talk to Ian, maybe figure some stuff out.

He smacked Ian’s foot and sat down at the end of the chaise.

“I think we should grab some food at the buffet,” he said, looking around, “I know a couple of places we can sit where we won’t be bothered.

They grabbed some food and Mickey led them up a covert little staircase to an unoccupied deck with a bunch of vacant double tables.  They grabbed the farthest table and sat.  Mickey stared at his food, prodding it a bit with a fork.  They were both silent, the waves and the distant thrum of club music the only sounds.  The tension that had simmered since the boat ride started to roil.

“So let’s do this,” he suddenly blurted out, making himself look up.  He heard aggression in his voice and grimaced inwardly.  This wasn’t how he wanted to do it.  He took a breath and calmed his face and voice.  “Okay, seriously though.  Just ask me something.  We can start there.”

Ian nodded but his fidgety hands betrayed his nerves.  “Okay,” he said in a surprisingly steady tone.  He looked away for a second, scanning the view from the deck, “How’d you end up here?”

“Here.  You mean the resort?”

Ian threw him a withering look, “Yeah, the resort, asshole.  I’m pretty fucking familiar with how you ended up in Mexico.”  Their eyes clashed for a second before Ian’s turned a little pleading. “Please, Mick.  I spent years of my life imagining all kinds of awful shit happening to you.  I need to know that you were okay.”

Mickey snorted, “What if I wasn’t.”

“Then I need to know that, too.”

Breaking eye contact, Mickey fixed his gaze on the table, letting his fingers drum away some of the frustration and pain that the border memories still elicited from him.  “I don’t want to talk about this,” he finally said, keeping his eyes lowered, “I get that it’s a part of this conversation but I really don’t even like to think about it.”  Across the table, Ian drew in a breath but Mickey just kept talking.  Ian could wait.

“Some people probably think I don’t feel fear, or whatever.  Like, I’m Mickey Milkovich, badass from the southside.  I’m immune.  But you, you know that’s bullshit better than anybody.  I was scared as fuck when I broke out of prison.  I was scared as fuck when I decided to cross the border.  Then you said you were coming, and I didn’t have to feel so scared.  And then you didn’t, and I wasn’t prepared anymore.  It was like, if you never agree to come, I’d have had my guard up.  But then I dropped it, which made it way worse when I had to go alone.”
He paused for a second, taking a breath and glancing across the table.  Ian was staring off to the side, tears brimming in his eyes, but Mickey had to push on.  He had to get this out.

“But the other side of this is that I felt like an ass for even asking you to go in the first place,” Ian’s head whipped back and his mouth opened to speak, but Mickey just held up a hand. “No, just, hear me out.  I’m not a fucking idiot.  I knew I was asking you to go on the run with an escaped convict.  I knew what that meant but I still asked because I wanted you with me.  I mean, I’m just saying that it was mostly selfish.”

“It wasn’t though,” Ian finally interjected, a miserable expression on his face, “I mean, you’d have done it for me.”

“Then, yeah.  Now, though, it’s more complicated.  And that’s why I get your situation better.  Now I have my shit together, too.  I have a job I love, a safe place to live, school, friends, a real relationship with my kid.  I get that you can’t just walk away from that.”

Mickey paused again, watching Ian carefully.  The red head seemed to be rolling his words around in his head.  He was definitely gearing up for some big deconstruction of Mickey’s revelations.

“Look,” Mickey said, cutting it off before it began, “I’m just letting you know how I feel.  I don’t want to rip it all apart and discuss it though.”

Ian looked perturbed, “Like, never?” he asked.

“Not never, just, ugh,” Mickey groaned, scratching his head in frustration, “Look, how long are you staying here?”

“I’ll stay as long as you’ll let me,” Ian stated plainly, “But technically I’ve got two weeks off.  Banked all my vacation days, so yeah, I’ve got some time.”

“Alright, that’s good.  So we don’t have to fucking rush.  Like, I’ve never really told people this stuff.  I’m telling this to you and me for the first time.  So, let’s just, like, fucking live with it for a little while and we can talk about it when we’re, I don’t know, less raw or whatever.”

Ian nodded, his eyes assessing, but Mickey relaxed nonetheless.

“You don’t talk about this stuff?”

“Nah, man.  I mean, I don’t have a shrink.”  he huffed, picking up his fork and poking at his abandoned dinner, “Maybe I need one, though,” he relented with a little smile.

Ian didn’t really smile back, “What about Augustin?”

“You’re kind of hung up on him,” Mickey smirked. “Alright, you wanted to know what happened to me.  Let me tell you.  But fucking eat something.  The food here’s too awesome to waste.  And don’t think I forgot that you need to eat with your meds.”

Across the table, Ian eyed his dinner, a small smile on his lips as he nodded knowingly.  He grabbed his fork and shoveled in some food.

“Alright,” he ordered around his enormous mouthful, “I eat, you talk.”

Mickey nodded. “It’s not a long story.  I mean, I made it across the checkpoint, I think you might’ve even seen that.  Dumb luck, I guess.  I used the cash and the ID to get further away from the border.  Switched cars, too.  Made my way to Guadalajara and scoped the place out a bit until I could make some contacts, get myself in at the ground level of some drug trade.” He glanced at Ian, who had stopped eating and was staring at him with a sick expression on his face.

“That sounds dangerous as hell.”

“What the hell did you think I’d be doing,” he challenged back, “But no,” he continued when Ian moved to argue, “It was pretty bad.  Way worse than the shit I used to be into.  It was okay, though.  I could’ve done okay there, I think, but I just didn’t want to.” he exhaled a little and looked out towards the beach, “I just didn’t want to live that way for the rest of my damn life.  So I walked.”

Ian looked a little terrified. “Were they okay with that?”

Mickey shrugged, “I wasn’t important enough for it to matter.  After that, though, I had to find a cheap place to live, some work.  That was rough.  I couldn’t make enough a lot.”  His voice trailed off as he thought back to those last few days in the city.

“So what did you do,” Ian pushed, his voice apprehensive.  Mickey couldn’t quite form the words.  He hated thinking about where he’d been, what he’d been willing to do at that time.  He read the realization in Ian’s eyes.

“Fuck.”

“It didn’t actually come to that.”

Ian exhaled, “Okay, good, good.  What happened.”

“I met Augustin.” Ian huffed but Mickey kept going. “‘Met’ is probably the wrong word.  He found me on the street with a raging fever and brought me back to his room.  That’s how I met Ivan.  They got me better. Then he offered me a job.

“Just like that?” Ian asked incredulously.

“Yeah, man,” he answered, “Just like that.  And before you say shit, I know how it sounds.  I was suspicious as fuck at first.  Didn’t believe anybody would just do that for someone they didn’t know.  But look around you.  I’m here.  The stuff he said, it was all true.  He told me that he trusts his instincts and that he had a good hunch about me.  He had the means to give me, you know, a real chance.  And I did something smart.  I took the opportunity and ran with it.  And that’s the story.” he finished and leaned back in his chair.

Ian was quiet for a moment before finally meeting his eyes again, “He seems like a good guy.”

“How many times did you say you talked to him?”

“Just twice.  He picked me up from the airport though.”

“Really?  Shit.  So you got, like, the whole Augustin third degree?”

“Pretty much.” Ian looked tired just talking about.

“Alright, fuck this shit,” Mickey switched directions, “My question.  Tell me about this boyfriend.”

Ian squirmed a little, avoiding his gaze a bit. “Which one?”

“Oh, which one, huh,” he jibed back, ignoring the twinge in his chest at that piece of information, “All of them,” he said with challenge in his voice.  He grabbed his own fork and got back to his dinner.

Across the way, Ian looked pensive. “You’re thinking of Trevor.  We broke up after I left with you.  It was for the best, though.  We make better friends.”

“You still friends?”

“Yeah, good friends.”

“Tell me about him?”

“He’s from Jersey.  He’s uh, he’s transgender, which means…”

“Dude, look around you.  I live at a gay resort.  I know what the fuck transgender means.”

Ian smiled, “Yeah, well, I didn’t really get it.  He taught me a lot.  He runs a group home for LGBTQ kids in Chicago.”

Mickey nodded, “Sounds like a good guy.”

“Yeah,” Ian agreed, “He is.”

“So who next?”

Ian stared at him for a minute, his eyes serious.  “No one.  Haven’t really been ready for that.  I had to really get myself healthy first.”

Mickey frowned, “You said “boyfriends”.  Plural,” he said pointedly.

“Yeah,” Ian rolled his eyes, “I meant Caleb.  He was my first attempt at a relationship.”

“Post-me?”

“Yeah, well.  It didn’t end well.  He cheated on me with his ex-girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Yeah he said it didn’t count since it was with a girl.”

Now it was Mickey who rolled his eyes, “That’s bullshit.  Cheating is cheating.  I would know.”

“Yeah, you would.”

Mickey stilled, “Dude, I’m not trying to be a dick.  It’s just, it hurts.”

“I know, but, I mean, I was full-blown manic at the time.”

“Doesn’t make it feel any better.”

Ian nodded, “I know that, too.”  

They fell silent for a few minutes, both lost in thought about what they’d just revealed.  Ian was breathing in and out in a slow even pattern and Mickey found himself falling into the rhythm with him.  Ian’s eyes locked with his and he visibly relaxed as they breathed carefully together.  It reminded Mickey of that centering shit Ivan always did with his yoga, but he wasn’t about to pass any judgement.  

“Thanks,” Ian said, “The breathing helps when I’m dealing with stuff.”  He took another bite and chewed it consideringly.”

“So, Svetlana told me you guys Skype a lot.”

Mickey nodded,“Yeah, a few times of week. I’d do more but we have to keep a schedule for the kid.”

“Not tonight?”

“Talked to him last night.  Svet was trying to keep her distance the whole time.  Wimp.  Anyway, we read all the pigeon books.”

Ian grinned, “I know those.  Liam loved those damn things.”

“Good taste.  They’re funny as hell.”  Mickey grabbed a roll and leaned back in his chair, “How is that little guy?”

“Not so little. He’s ten.”

“Ten?” Mickey shook his head. “Shit.”

They both dropped their eye to their plates for a moment, grabbing a quick bite off their plates.  Mickey played the last two minutes back in his head.  Asking about Liam, bringing up Chicago, felt like a shift, some kind of opening.

“Monica died.”

What?

“What?” Mickey’s eyes flew up but Ian’s were still fixed on the plate in front of him.  “You serious?” he stammered.

That had Ian looking up, “Yeah, I’m serious,” he replied, incredulity in his tone, “Who fucking jokes about that shit.”

Mickey let out his breath, “Fuck, sorry.  I wasn’t trying to be a dick,” he leaned further back in his chair again. “It’s just, she always sounded so indestructible when you’d talk about her, like she’d survive anything.”

Ian snorted, “Yeah, like a fucking cockroach.”  He fell silent again.

“When’d it happen.”

“When we were heading down here.  I got back, she was dead.”

Mickey felt his head nodding involuntarily.  He felt a small knot of guilt form in his stomach.  Mandy and his brothers had been fine and he gave fuck all about his one living parent.  He had to admit though, he hadn’t thought too much about Ian’s family when he asked him to run away.

“Hey,” he said, trying to catch Ian’s eyes again, “I’m sorry she’s dead.”

Ian nodded vaguely.  “I think I am, too,” he said after a second, poking at the remains of his dinner with his fork, “Usually I am.  But not always.”  

“That sounds fair.”

Their plates were pretty much empty and they both sat staring at them.  Mickey felt a small bubble of panic well inside of him.  He wasn’t sure what to do.  They’d talked.  They’d gotten some stuff off their chests.  They should walk away for the night, regroup, see things fresh in the morning and all that shit.  Yeah, that’s what they needed to do.  He needed to tell Ian that.

He looked up, met Ian’s gaze, opened his mouth and said with steely conviction,

“You want to go for another boat ride?”

*************************************************************************************

The engine sputtered off as Mickey turned the key, leaving no sound out on the ocean except for the waves lapping gently against the sides of the boat.  Ian turned and watched as Mickey swung himself down the ladder and walked towards the bow, where he stood waiting.  

The intensity in the air between them was almost unbearable.  Ian’s skin felt electrified and a little unreal, but still he kept his distance.  He leaned back against one of the lightposts affixed to the railing and watched Mickey with slightly hooded eyes.  The brunette, usually so brash, seemed unsure.  As Ian watched, he shivered as a warm breeze made the longer hair at the nape of his neck dance in the weak light of the stars.  

Once, Mickey had mocked him for wanting to look at the stars, but here they were, years later, and all he wanted to do was look at Mickey.  Years ago, he would’ve been able to do exactly what he wanted in this moment.  He could’ve stepped forward, wound his fingers through the length of that soft, dark hair, played with each button on Mickey’s shirt as he’d worked them open and stripped it off.  He could’ve spread Mickey across the wood plank table and fucked him hard or pressed up behind him against the boat railing, rocking into him in time with the lapping of the waves.  

Now, though, he could only look while a combined current of separation and desire danced across his skin.  

Or could he?

Well, no, sex was out.  He wasn’t pushing anything that far tonight.  He owed that to Mickey and to himself.  But Mickey had put himself out there.  He’d asked Ian to come here with him tonight.  He didn’t want to talk anymore, of that Ian was sure.  They’d done enough of that and they needed time to process it.  It had been cathartic as hell, though, even if there was a lot more to say.  

So why ask him to come out here?  

Mickey was facing the water, his hands braced on the rail.  He looked outwardly calm but Ian noticed the set in his jaw and the slight tremor in his arms.  He was nervous as hell, just like Ian.  Because like Ian, he knew this was a huge step.

A huge risk.

Taking a deep breath, he walked towards Mickey, right into his space.  Leaning back against the railing beside him, he fixed his gaze on Mickey’s face.  The shorter man tensed for a second, before willing himself to relax.

“What are you thinking?” Mickey asked, keeping his eyes carefully tuned towards the water.

Ian kept a few inches between them but let his body angle slightly towards the man beside him.  He let a few seconds pass, let the heavy tension hang in the air for a moment before admitting, “I want to kiss you, okay.  I want to know if it’s just as good as it used to be.”

In the delicate light of the stars, Ian could make out the tightening in Mickey’s hands where they lay on the railing.  He leaned hard against it, letting his head fall forward for a second, but he didn’t move away.  Ian counted that as a win and kept still, waiting.

Mickey’s head popped up suddenly, turning towards Ian and studying his face.  His features were cloaked in shadows but it didn’t matter.  Ian still remembered every facet of his face.  He’d remember it until the day he died.  

He could see the outline where Mickey was biting his lip.  “S’not a good idea.” the dark haired man half-whispered towards the sea.

Ian slid his hand along the rail, letting his body follow, closing the last few inches of space between them.  They were millimeters apart now.  He could feel the heat, feel the electricity that jumped between them.  Mickey closed his eyes, trying to shut out their proximity but Ian just exhaled gently, letting the warmth of his breath caress the other man’s ear. “You’re worried.  You think it’s going to be as good as it was.”

Mickey pulled back a little, turning angry eyes to face his unrepentant ex.  “Don’t!” he hissed.  “Don’t try to manipulate me.”

Ian didn’t think, he just acted.  Reaching out, he put a hand on Mickey’s hip and flipped him around, backing him up against the railing and caging him between his arms.  

“The hell, Ian.”

“Hey, what can I say.  I know my way around your hips.”

“Oh fuck you,” Mickey retorted, glancing down and to the side, half-heartedly searching for an escape.  Ian tightened his grip on the railing with a challenging little smirk.  “Maybe later.  Right now I just want to kiss you.”

“Fuuuck youuuuu,” Mickey stretched it out, his southside coming out clearly even through the smile he fought to keep off his face.  Ian’s grin grew, softening at the same time, and he let go of the railing and let his fingers hook in his pockets.

“I’m not trying manipulate you,” he said honestly, “It’s true though, isn’t it?  You’re worried it’ll be good.  As good as it always was and then we’ll have to deal with that.”

“Alright, yeah, fine.  I am.  You’re right.  We were always good at this but where the hell did it get us?”

Ian nodded, holding his gaze. “I know.  But we’ve talked more in the last three days than we did in our entire lives before our first kiss.  That’s gotta mean something.”

Mickey snorted.  “Damn.  I mean, we fucked around for more than a year before that kiss.”

Ian grinned.  “I know.”  He took a step forward, then another, keeping his fingers linked in his pockets.  Their bodies were nearly touching again but he held the distance, breathing lightly.

Waiting.

Mickey’s hand moved, reaching out tentatively, toying gently with a button on Ian’s shirt.  He was staring at it intently, his blue eyes barely visible in the starlight, but Ian could make out the indecision as it slowly bled out of the other man.  He reached up, rubbing a light, slow circle over Mickey’s knuckles, caressing the new tattoos.  

There was no resistance, just a slow intake of breath from the shorter man, which Ian took as a good sign.  He shifted slightly closer, running his fingers lightly down the length of Mickey’s arm, letting them rest on his shoulders, still rubbing gently.  Mickey’s hand flexed, flattened, and ran up the plane of Ian’s chest.  His whole body jolted, electrified by the single touch.  It was so different, so sweet and pedestrian compared to their past frantic encounters, but to Ian it was perfect.  Maybe there could be novelty here too, more of the warm affection and less of superheated passion that always burned too hot.  They both stood silently, their touches gentle but a little demanding, slowly, slowly pulling each other closer.  

Ian gasped a bit when their chests suddenly met, and he finally let his hand wander farther, leaving Mickey’s shoulder and winding up to cradle his head and neck.  Fuck!  They still fit together perfectly like that.  His other hand was resting on Mickey’s hip, holding him gently but firmly.  Mickey’s hand had wandered, too, stroking the back of his neck. His eyes had fallen shut, though, and Ian needed to see him.  

“Look at me,” he pleaded, letting his other hand drift up to cradle the other side of Mickey’s face.  He ran his thumb along a familiar cheekbone, close enough to steal Mickey’s breath as he whispered again, “Please look at me.”

He could feel the tightening of Mickey’s whole body, the steeling that he always associated with the dark haired man’s commitment to a course of action.  Mickey’s eyes opened, meeting his, suddenly filled with a distinctive burst of Milkovich brand southside fire.  The energy between them was palpable and Ian wasn’t letting it go to waste.  

Staring straight into Mickey’s eyes, he pulled their lips together.  

Chapter Text

Mickey’s lips were just like he remembered them, soft and giving beneath his mouth.  It was a secret only he knew, that Mickey Milkovich liked gentle kisses, warm touches.  So often they kissed and fucked like they were at war, but every once in awhile, these moments would happen, often initiated by the tough-talking brunette himself.

These moments flashed through Ian’s mind as they stood their, staring into each other’s eyes, their lips exerting perfect, gentle pressure against each other.  Ian could feel Mickey’s fingers twining through his hair at the nape of his neck, pulling him closer, but when he went to deepen the kiss, he saw it.  Even in the pale light of the stars, the flash of fear in Mickey’s eyes was obvious.  

Ian froze.  What the fuck?  The hands in his hair told him that Mickey wanted this but his eyes proved he was still freaked out.  Of course he was, because everything involving Ian involved risk.  And not just new risks either.  These were known quantities.  Mickey had taken risks for him before.  Ian hadn’t made the payout worth it..  

Closing his eyes, he pulled back slightly, parting their lips but letting their breath mingle as he pressed their foreheads together.  He rubbed circles through the dark hair as he breathed slowly for a moment.

“This is freaking you out,” he whispered.

“Little.”

“Do you want to stop?”

Mickey shook his head slightly against his forehead, “No, but, no eyes.  I can’t just look into your eyes yet. It’s too...fuck…”

Personal, intimate, exposed.  Mickey didn’t need to finish the sentence.  He got it.  He was pushing too hard again.  Mickey might be able to kiss him but staring straight into his eyes as he did it laid him too bare.  Still holding him gently, Ian nodded.

“Yeah, I get it.  We can just keep them closed.”

When their lips met again, it was Mickey who initiated it.  It started slow, gentle and light, as Mickey peppered his mouth with delicate nips.  He sighed a little at the familiar feeling, leaning into the kiss more, but he let Mickey be the first one to brush his tongue against his lips and demand access.

After that, though, all bets were off.

His hands were still big enough to palm the back of Mickey’s head, to press him close, and he took full advantage of that as their lips and tongues tangled together.  Mickey nipped at his lip again, before sweeping his tongue through his mouth and retreating.  Ian chased after him, jousting, trying to pin him down.  They were playing, he suddenly realized, teasing each other, something they hadn’t done since those few months of crazy domesticism at the Milkovich house. A smile split his lips as Mickey gave a little huff of laughter and for a moment, their eyes did open, did meet before falling closed again.

The kiss changed then, grew deeper.  Ian wasn’t sure which one of them changed it but he didn’t care.  The teasing became a testing, a rediscovery of what they knew and liked about the other.  Ian pressed closer, giving Mickey all the access he wanted as the shorter man pressed up into him.  Both of Mickey’s arms wound around his neck and his hands found their way to the brunette’s waist.  They were clinging and pulling, bodies almost flush against each other as the kiss deepened even further.

Pillage, plunder, whatever it was called.  They fucking marauded each others mouths.  Ian’s head felt light; not surprising really, since all of his blood volume was currently in his dick.  He fought his way back through the haze of the moment to find himself plastered against his ex-lover, who was pressed up against the railing with barely a foot on the boat deck anymore.  Mickey’s left leg was wrapped around Ian’s calf and his arms still circled his neck tightly.  Ian had managed to slide his thigh between Mickey’s and was using it to brace the smaller man’s weight as he practically held him.  One of his hands had found the bare, heated skin of Mickey’s back, the other was just working fingertips past the waistline of the brunette’s pants.

With a start, Ian broke the heated kiss, taking a deep breath to clear his head.  He pulled back slightly, placing a finger gently over Mickey’s lips when the other man went to speak.  Pressing their foreheads back together, he whispered, “Slow, slow.  We don’t need to rush.  No one is chasing us or stopping us now.”  

Under his hands, he felt tension bleeding out of Mickey’s body.  When he finally opened his eyes again, he found Mickey’s open, too, but there wasn’t any fear this time, just searching confusion being replaced with understanding and relief.  Mickey nodded slowly, allowing himself be drawn back into a hug, allowing Ian to nuzzle his neck, looking for the scent he loved so much.  

They stood there, just holding each other close as seconds turned to minutes.  A little deft maneuvering to the rhythm of the rocking boat allowed Ian to lean up against the light post again, still cradling the smaller man in his arms.  Mickey was surprisingly pliant as he leaned against Ian’s chest, allowing himself to be held.  

“You alright?” Ian couldn’t help but whisper in his ear.

The response was a huff of laughter. “Fuck you, Gallagher.”

Ian could hear the good humor in his voice and smiled.  “I told you I bottom now, too,” he offered back.

“And I told you…”

“Yeah, yeah, okay.  You get to stay the princess.”

Mickey smacked his chest, then burrowed back into it as their breath and heartbeats synchronized into one.  

They stood like that, easy and together, for five more minutes before Mickey pulled away and looked around them onto the water.  He seemed as reluctant to go as Ian was to release him, but the serious look on his face told Ian it wasn’t time to belabor a point.

“We should head back,” Mickey said as he turned back towards the helm. “We’ve drifted about as far as we can go safely.”  Ian watched as he climbed the ladder to the wheel deck, looking back over his shoulder. “You coming up?”

It was a really simple question and Ian had no reason to assign any meaning to it deeper than curiosity, but for some reason, it made him feel lighter than he’d felt all day.  He jogged over towards the ladder and ascended to the wheel deck, sliding into the co-captain’s chair without asking.  

He liked that seat.  He kind of wanted to keep it.

They docked ten minutes later and Ian helped tie up the boat, catching Mickey’s incredulous look as he executed a clove hitch.

“ROTC,” he said with a shrug.

They headed up the dock again.  The sounds of raucous partying were all around them but they were just distant enough not to matter.  As they reached the sand, Mickey suddenly stopped and turned.  

“Jesus, this became a fucking date.”

Ian smiled, “It beat the hell out of Sizzler.”

They smiled together for a second, letting the moment just hang between them, until Mickey’s face turned serious again.

“Just so we’re straight,” he said in a slightly mulish tone, “I don’t put out on the first date.”

Ian nodded, “Me neither,” he replied.  

“Alright.” Mickey smiled a little as he looked around them, “Yeah, no rush. I had a long ass day, though, and I have another one tomorrow.  I need sleep.”

“Let me walk you to your door?”

“You trying to get fresh with me, Gallagher?”

“No,” he said seriously, “but isn’t that how you end a date?”

Mickey snorted, “You’re asking me?  How the fuck would I know?”

Ian shrugged.  He’s learned everything he really knew about dating from two people who weren’t Mickey.  Catching Mickey’s eyes, he held out a hand to him.  He was more relieved than he could admit when, after a moment of indecision, Mickey took it.

Mickey lived in a loft above the resort’s maintenance boathouse.  Ian was curious as hell about the place but of all the things he needed to let Mickey take the lead on, letting Ian into his home seemed to be the biggest.  He could wait.  Besides, he had one more question he really needed to ask.

He stopped at the bottom of the staircase, wanting to make it patently obvious that he understood boundaries.  Neither of them spoke at first, just stared at their interlocked hands and tried to figure out how to let go.  

“I need to know something,” Ian finally admitted, “It’s important to me, but I’ll get it if you tell me to fuck off or that it’s too soon to ask or something.”

Mickey looked wary but didn’t pull his hand away.

“Ask”

“Why’d you break out of prison?” he asked hurriedly, blathering on, “I’m not saying I don’t think you should have. I just really want to understand the circumstances better.”

Mickey nodded slowly, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. “Is this the part where I tell you that if you’d visited, you’d know the answer?” he groused, but his tone didn’t match his words.  Ian said nothing.  He waited.  

Mickey toyed idly with both their linked fingers, keeping his eyes fixated on them as he spoke.

“I was never going to get out, man.  Not on my own.  Prison ain’t juvie.  You need protection and people at your back.  I didn’t have enough of that and to get it, I had to do some serious shit. That’s what happens.  You get caught, they add more time.  And with some of the shit they wanted me to do, there was no way I wasn’t going to get caught.  So I did the only thing left and I ran.”

Ian nodded, rolling those words around in his head. “I get that.  How come they kept letting your fucking father out then?”

“He didn’t need to earn protection.  He had it.”

He had protection.  That’s so fucked up.”

Mickey shrugged.  “Fuck, you don’t even know the half of it.”

“Tell me sometime?”

“Sometime.”

They stood silently, deep thought as their linked fingers stroked gently against each other.  Ian could feel it, the building temptation that was rising between them.  He needed to go.  As much as he wanted to stay, building up Mickey’s trust and showing him respect was a more important endgame then whatever they might, huh would , do together tonight.

Lifting their hands, Ian placed a small kiss on Mickey’s wrist and released his fingers.

The other man shook his head, “Corny fucking bastard.”

“Oh you think that’s corny?  Watch this.”he took two steps backwards. “Goodnight.”

Mickey stared at him for a second, a considering look on his face.  When he finally nodded, he had a smile on it, too.  “Yeah, yeah, goodnight.”

Ian turned and headed up the path.

“Corny,” the amused tone followed him up the path.

He kept walking, throwing a middle finger up over his shoulder.

Progress.

Chapter Text

Ian was up at 6:30 the next morning, fitting in a run and a decent breakfast before heading out to the beach rendezvous point for his second day of scuba certification.  He was actually pretty psyched.  They’d get to leave the lagoon area and go out into the water today.  

They didn’t go down very deep.  Not that he’d expected to.  This was just a temporary certification, designed to let tourists poke around in shallow water for a few days.  It didn’t matter, though.  To Ian, it was a whole new world.  He’d never really been to a beach before.  In fact, most of his swimming had been done in the crappy little pool in the empty lot next to their house.  He’d never imagined that going under the water could so fully transport him into a new world.  He loved it all; the strange quiet, the play of the light, the incredible weightlessness.  And the colors!  Mickey hadn’t been kidding about the colors.

He understood why Mickey loved being underwater so much.  It was peaceful, bright and clean, the opposite of their southside life.  

His course had finished up around 3pm.  He was sitting on the main dock with the other members of the group, turning in the rest of their gear, when Mickey’s tour pulled up on the main dive boat.  After handing in his stuff, he walked down the dock, feeling calm and a little confident for the first time in days. He stayed out of the way as Mickey and the rest of his crew managed the boat and their patrons.  Then he jumped onto the boat and headed towards the wheel deck.

“You get done?” Mickey asked from his seat as he ran through his maintenance check.  

Throwing himself into the seat he’d unofficially claimed as his own, he nodded his head.  He closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the headrest.  He knew he was in good shape but swimming was just different than running or lifting.  He was absolutely exhausted now.

Ian wasn’t sure how much time had passed but he must’ve dozed off because suddenly a hand was rubbing his cheeks gently, nudging him awake.  He opened his eyes to meet blue ones staring back at him and smiled.  He wouldn’t have minded being woken up in the traditional way.

But this was nice too.

“I’d have let you keep sleeping,” Mickey said.  He was still leaning over him slightly and hadn’t moved his hand.  Ian took the opportunity to nuzzle it a little but Mickey still didn’t pull away. “I kind of thought you might want a shower and your bed, though.”

“Don’t mind staying,” he replied with a grin.

Mickey stared back at him, his expression pensive.  “I was thinking,” he said slowly, “that you should grab a shower and a nap and then maybe, after I get back and stuff, you could swing by.  Just for dinner. We could, like, maybe talk a little more or some shit.”

Ian was suddenly awake.  He sat up a little straighter, grabbing Mickey’s hand as the smaller man stepped back.  “What time?” he asked, not even trying to keep the eagerness out of his voice.

“It’s gonna have to be later.  Tonight’s a Yev night and don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t want you there when I call him, okay.  Just, it’s better if he isn’t involved until things are a little more resolved.”

“Yeah, no worries. Totally respect that.” Ian said, keeping ahold of Mickey’s hand.  He gave it a little squeeze. “Svetlana said you’ve been a really good dad.”

Mickey sighed and looked down, “I’m trying.  It ain’t easy from down here but I do everything I can.” He drew his hand slowly away, staring off into the distance before shaking his head and meeting Ian’s eyes. “So, like 8?”

Ian stood up and stretched out his arms.  “I’ll be there,” he said.

After a quick shower, he sat on his bed and grabbed his journal.  He was relieved that he and Mickey were spending this time together.  In truth, he was relieved that Mickey was giving him any time in the first place.  He hadn’t really known what would happen when he arrived down here but he’d somehow imagined a lot more groveling and crawling.  That hadn’t been the case,, though, and that was all on Mickey, too.  He was extremely cautious around him, not that Ian could blame him, but he still approached him, still spoke to him.

Still listened to him.

That had been Ian’s greatest fear, that Mickey’s shields would’ve gone up so high that he’d never be able to surmount them.  Instead, Mickey had met him in the middle, been real with his feelings and taken in what Ian had to say.  He was as strong and brave as he’d ever been but he was also confident where he’d been skittish and tempered where he’d been reactive.

Mickey Milkovich had become a functional adult.  Ian hoped to hell he could keep up.

He’d headed over to Mickey’s place around 7:50, unable to wait any longer.  He’d napped a little after journaling but it hadn’t been easy.  He was too anxious.  Hanging out was one thing.  But tonight, Mickey was letting him into his home, into the sanctuary that he’d managed to build for himself after the shitstorm of Chicago.  He didn’t want to mess it up.  

Mickey was out on the deck priming a grill when Ian walked up, and he threw Ian a wave.   Ian stood at the front door for a second, unsure if he should knock or walk right in when the door was pulled open.  Ian let his eyes wander over him for a minute, as innocuously as possible.  Mickey’s feet were bare and he was dressed comfortably in linen cargo shorts and a blue sleeveless tee.  His hair, still damp, was slicked back from his face.  He looked more like his old self, a lighter, brighter version of Ian’s Mickey.  

“The fuck you staring at,” he bit out, but there was no heat in his voice.  Ian smiled, a little shyly and stepped inside.  Mickey shut the door behind them and turned back into the room, meeting Ian’s eyes again as he continued to take in the sight of him.  “Seriously, cut the shit.  It’s fucking weird.”  

Snorting, Ian let his smile turn lascivious for a second, “Can’t help it.  You look good.”  He stepped towards the shorter man, slowly, giving him room to retreat, but Mickey just smirked and stood his ground.  Ian’s face turned playful for a second and he leaned down to lay a pseudo-friendly kiss on Mickey’s cheek when an arm suddenly looped around his neck and pulled their lips together.

It lasted for less than a second before Mickey was pushing him away, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. “You think you can outplay me, bitch?” he joked, smiling and biting at his lower lip. He turned and headed into the kitchen.  “C’mon, lend me a hand in here.”

He headed through the little apartment, stopping in the small galley kitchen on the opposite side.  Ian followed him slowly, giving himself a chance to look around.  He was standing in a small living room area containing a couch, dumpy chaise lounge and weather worn but functional coffee table with a laptop lying on its surface.  There was a huge multi-pane window and a rickety wooden shelf crammed with books and shells and stuff.  To the left, a half wall separated the bedroom area, which held a queen-sized bed that Ian tried to ignore.  In the back left corner, he could see a small bathroom next to the kitchen.  Yevgeny’s school picture sat in a double frame next to a shot of him sitting on Mickey’s lap, driving the boat.  

Mickey was moving around the kitchen, looking competent in the space.  Ian couldn’t tamp down a rush of emotion.  This space was rough and needed some work but it was a home.  It was Mickey’s home and Mickey looked at home in it.  Watching him navigate this safe, calm place made Ian’s heart swell and clench all at once.  

He didn’t want to go back to Chicago.  He wanted to stay with the man he loved.

He helped Mickey finish prepping some snapper filets, the two of them moving sinuously in the small space.  Rustling through the fridge, he threw together a decent salad while Mickey grilled up the fish and rolled it up into tacos.  They sat on the couch, eating and chatting about bullshit like it was the easiest thing in the world.

Like three years hadn’t passed since the last time.

The little chime went off on his phone.  Meds time.

He could feel Mickey’s eyes on him as he went into the kitchen for a glass of water.  The brunette wasn’t fooled by his seeming nonchalance.

“Tell me what’s up with your meds,”he said in a kind but firm tone as Ian sat down.  Ian glanced over at him and met a pair of focused blue eyes and a resolute facial expression.  He looked like he was expecting a fight.  But Ian was stronger now, too.

“There isn’t a whole lot to tell anymore,” he answered easily, pulling his little journal out of the cargo pocket on his pants and opening it to his pill chart, “My doctor and I played around with doses for a couple of months, especially after I got back from the border.”  

He handed the book over to Mickey, who took it and looked quickly through the pages. “She got me started on the tracking and journaling so that we could gauge my responses better,” he continued, leaning over and pointing to different things on the pages.  Mickey looked closely at the neat listings of dosages and emotional marker notations beside them.  He didn’t flip through the journal section.

“It was kind of rough for awhile, especially about six months after you left.  The drug blend I was working with was keeping me stabilized, but it got to the point where I was actually too stable.  I was never manic or depressed but I never really felt anything.”

“Was it like when you first went on them,” Mickey asked, carefully closing the little book and leaning back against the couch so he could look at Ian.

‘Worse.  Back then, I at least realized I couldn’t feel anything.  You remember?”

Mickey nodded, his eyes a little haunted at the memory.

“Anyway, this time was bad.  I was so stable that I was basically a flat line.  I wasn’t expressing emotions, getting frustrated, empathizing.  I was like a robot.”

He hesitated for a moment as his eyes began to burn.  He pressed the heels of his hands to his browbone and concentrated on the pressure, trying to stave off the impending tears.  He was failing completely when he suddenly felt an arm reach around his shoulders, pulling his close.  He didn’t fight, didn’t even attempt to resist as Mickey tugged him against his chest and held him.  He just relaxed into the offered comfort and let a few frustrated sobs sneak out as he got himself under control.  

“I’m not going to judge you if you fucking cry,” Mickey said behind him.  

Wiping his eyes hard, Ian turned his head to meet Mickey’s gaze. “I am so fucking sick of crying over this shit.  I can’t even tell you.” He took a deep breath and moved to pull himself back up but Mickey’s hand stayed on his arm, exerting a tiny amount of pressure.  Accepting the silent invitation, he let himself relax back against Mickey’s shoulder.  

“So what happened?”

“Lip noticed pretty quick and he got Fiona, Trevor and my boss involved, but they had to put together a whole intervention type thing.  They were scared I’d fight against it again.  The funny thing was that the drugs had me so calm that when they told me they wanted me to get help, I just went along with it.”

Reaching behind him, he gestured for his journal and flipped through it. “I’m not going to walk you through all this shit.  It was a lot of ups and downs again while they tried to figure out dosages and stuff.  It felt like a disaster at the time but it’s actually pretty common, especially in the beginning of a diagnosis.”

This time, he did sit up, sliding to the edge of the couch and flipping through the pages of the little book. “My doctor talked to me a lot about alternatives to medication, like exercising and breathing techniques.  She put me on a low dose of lithium and I write down and track my symptoms and my meds daily.  I have a mandatory check-in list and I need to contact one person off it every day.”  He turned back to Mickey, who still sat listening from the corner of the couch.  “That’s pretty much it.”

Mickey nodded slowly, his face pensive. “Who’s on the list?” he asked.

“Lip, Fiona, Trevor, and Veronica.  I also talk to Sue, my boss, once a week.” he answered.

“And they’re helping you out?” Mickey growled, hints of protective aggression in his voice.

Ian pivoted on the couch, turning to face him.  “Mick, none of us knew what the hell we were doing when I first got manic.  My family, we knew the names of things but we really didn’t know how to treat it, how to respond.  We had no experience with actually helping someone get through this.  All Monica ever did was fuck us up and run away.  

And I get it,” he continued quickly, seeing Mickey stiffen, “I’m absolutely fucking get that I was doing that to you.  And that’s why I’m trying so hard to take care of myself and not be a fuck up.  I don’t want to be her, okay.  I don’t fucking want to be Monica.  For myself, for my family and for you.”

“For me?” Mickey scoffed, getting off the couch and moving to stare out the window. “Didn’t have fuck all to do with me.”

“Yeah, it did,” Ian insisted.  He could hear the strain in his voice but he kept pushing.  Getting up, he walked up behind the other man, keeping his distance but meeting his eyes in the reflection.  “It always did.  Whenever I wanted to make a shitty choice, I’d think of you, of the shit I put you through, of how I lost you…”

“Oh fuck you,” the brunette exploded, turning on him with real fury in his eyes.  “Everything was always some goddamn excuse.  First you were too broken, then you were trying to get fixed, then you were all fixed and I was in the way.  I might understand a lot of shit now but I still know that I took risks for you and you threw them back in my fucking face.” Mickey raked a hand through his hair, tears brimming in his eyes now. “We can talk circles around reasons and motives all we want but you didn’t lose me.  I was right in front of you.  You didn’t fucking want me!”

“Oh bullshit!, “Ian paced the room, stopping inches from Micky’s face, “Bullshit!  I know you’ve changed but you haven’t changed that much.  You were always so cocky about how much I wanted you.”

Mickey snorted.  He reached up, resting his hands on Ian’s shoulders, rubbing lightly as he shook his head, “Cocky is just another word for fake confidence.  You really think I ever actually though that?  You think when I told you on the docks that I knew you’d come I actually believed that?  Thirty seconds later, you’re telling me you ain’t pissing your life away for me.”

“Yeah, and thirty seconds after that I was buried in your ass.”

“Yeah well, sex don’t mean love, Gallagher.  You know that as well as me.”

Mickey gave him a small shove, fleeing into the kitchen.  Ian trailed behind, trying to sort through the nasty cocktail of emotions he was swallowing.  He stopped in the doorway, letting Mickey have his space.

“Do you really believe I don’t love you?”

Mickey paused in front of the fridge, glancing back at him.  Starring ahead again, he shrugged.

“I don’t know what I believe.  I don’t exactly have a lot of good role models when it comes to love.  I know I thought you did for awhile.  But then you left me behind, in prison, at the border.  I don’t think you loved me as much as you loved your new opportunities.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“You keep calling bullshit but you made your choices.  Look, like I said last night, I’m not even saying I blame you.  Fifteen years is a long ass time.  And I get that when we were at the border, I had nothing to really offer you.”

Ian exhaled, letting the words sink in.  With three strides, he crossed the kitchen, getting as close as he could again.  This time, though, he gently wound his arms around the smaller man, resting his chin on Mickey’s shoulder and breathing in his scent.  Mickey didn’t fight him but his body remained stiff in Ian’s arms.  

Turning his head slightly, he nosed at Mickey’s ear, smiling when Mickey huffed a small, ticklish laugh.

“Your a fucking idiot, do you know that?” he whispered against his ear, “You wanna sit here and doubt what you meant to me, after everything?  It wasn’t my new life.  Yeah, I might’ve said that but you know me better than that.  It was my old life, my family, that kept me from leaving.  I couldn’t just choose you, not that fast, not under those shit circumstances.  If it wasn’t for them, I’d’ve been with you in a second.”

Reaching a hand up, he whipped Mickey around by a shoulder and cradled his face in his hands.  

“But don’t act like I chose against you.  You know what that new life meant to me?  It meant security, a long-term plan, and money in the bank.  Not living paycheck to paycheck.  But I took every damn piece of that security and that plan and gave it to you, to give you your best chance.” A small, frustrated sob caught in his throat.  Mickey’s eyes were threatening to overflow as he looked everywhere but Ian’s face.  “Now are you really still going to stand here and tell me that you don’t think I love you?”

Mickey’s eyes finally spilled and he shook his face free of Ian’s hands and tried to turn away.  Ian was done with the retreating though.  Reaching out, he hauled the smaller man back against his body again.  Mickey cursed and fought, but Ian knew what a full blown Milkovich defense looked like, and this wasn’t it.

“Listen to me,” he said calmly, placatingly, even as he held him firm. “Just listen to me please.”  The fight, for what it was worth, was leaving Mickey fast and Ian let his hold become a hug, cradling him close again.  His ex was as physically strong as he’d ever been, but the vicious streak in Mickey hadn’t just tempered under the weight of positive influence.  It had genuinely died.  

“I love you,” he said clearly, definitively.  “I didn’t say it because I thought it was obvious and I’m an asshole for that, but I love you.  I always have.  Always.”  In his arms, Mickey stiffened, and he readied himself or another struggle, but the smaller man calmed as quickly as he’d tensed, dropping his head back against Ian’s chest.  Shifting his hold to Mickey’s waist, Ian slid his hand just inside the neck of Mickey’s shirt, rubbing a soothing pattern over his neck and shoulders.  

“I’ve thought about you.  A lot.  Every single day.  And I talked about you a lot, too.  With Lip, with Fiona.  Some of it was with Trevor, and you might not want to hear that, but it was good talk.  A lot of it was with my shrink though, and she doesn’t pull punches.  It helped me realize a lot of shit, like how you and I never, ever had a chance to love each other in a stable situation.  Our lives were fucking chaos, every fucking day.  When you were first in prison, I was a mess.  I was pissed about my illness and more pissed about my meds.  I put all that on you, like you were the chaos.  Then I started meeting people who didn’t live in chaos.  I, we, my whole family started living the stability thing.  And I love it, Mick.  It’s what I want.”

In his arms, Mickey drew in a deep but Ian pushed ahead, “I know.  I know it’s what you want, too.  But my point is, I’m good at stable now.  I’ve lived it for a while.  I’ve had practice. I know how to sustain it.  But three years ago, stability was brand new.  I wasn’t even sure how I’d managed to get it and I sure as hell didn’t know how to keep it.  It felt like it could disappear at any moment.  And I really believed that I’d only found it after you.  I completely overlooked how you tried to create it for me.  So when you were suddenly back, all I kept thinking was ‘Here comes the chaos again’.  

And Mick,” he continued, pulling the dark haired man tighter against him, “I actually didn’t care.  I wanted to be with you.  If it was just about me, I still would’ve gone with you.  I would have said ‘fuck it’ to stability, even if our lives blew up, even if we fucking died.  I still would have gone with you, if it wasn’t for them.  I love you, Mick.  I love you the most.  But I can’t love only you.  I need to love them, too.”

He shut up then and just held the trembling, estranged love of his life close to him.  He held Mickey until his legs started to ache, until they both slid to the floor in a clingy, confused puddle, leaning against the wall with the other man half in his lap.  He never let go, never took his hand away from the warm spot it had found right over Mickey’s heart.  

Finally, Mickey sighed.  

“I get all of that, okay.  Like I said, I get it now better than ever.”

“Alright.”

“It still hurts like hell to hear it though.”

“Yeah.”

“I get it but that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly okay with all of it.”

Ian finally pulled his hand up and cupped Mickey’s chin, turning his face towards him. “I’m not asking you to be.  I’m telling you that I did things wrong.  I’m telling you to agree with me on that.  I’m asking you to forgive me.  I’m asking you to tell me that I did stuff wrong but maybe, maybe you could still love me again anyway.”

Those words sent a jolt through Mickey’s body and Ian worried for a second that he’d overstepped a boundary.  That statement was so loaded.  They’d been dancing around each other, exploring their pains and their feelings, but that called for a decision.  

Mickey was looking up at him from his spot in his lap and for once, Ian couldn’t read his expression.  It was scary as fuck, but he still couldn’t make himself regret those words.  He loved Mickey.  He needed to know if Mickey wanted to try to love him back.  

He waited.

He was expecting angry words, probably a litany of cursing.

He wasn’t expecting Mickey to suddenly whip around and tackle him to the floor.  

Ian hit the ground, winded and unable to roll away before Mickey had his hands pinned next to his head.  He tried to push up but Mickey put all his weight into keeping him down.  Ian let himself go limp, staring up into the fiery blue eyes that hovered over him.  Mickey was still unreadable but the calm consideration had been replaced with rampant emotion.  

A sense of painful guilt started to build inside of him as he watched his ex-lover fight a battle inside his head.  Jesus, what the fuck had he done with all of his bullshit and wavering and fear?  What had he put the love of his life through?  He took in a deep breath as Mickey’s eyes closed and the weight on his hands let up.  Mickey was shrinking somehow, folding in on himself, and Ian couldn’t fucking stand it.  He wanted to give Mickey the power, the control, but it wasn’t in him to just sit there and watch while the other man ripped himself apart.  

Twisting his wrists, he pulled his hands down until they slid palm to palm with Mickey’s and linked their hands together.  He squeezed hard, his fingertips digging in a little.  Mickey’s eyes stayed clenched shut but his fingers flexed and linked them together.  Ian only held on tighter.

“Do you feel that?” he asked, his voice dripping with too many emotions to even discern, “This is it for me.  You’re it.  I love you and I can’t fucking stand being without you.  Please, please don’t make me let go.”

Mickey’s eyes finally opened, wet and shiny, but he kept them averted.  His chest rose and fell in long deep breaths as Ian watched.  Waited.  

When he made eye contact again, Mickey finally looked resolute.  His fingers curled more tightly around Ian’s and their eyes locked together as Mickey slowly shifted closer.  Fuck it, he couldn’t wait.  Ian surged up as far as his pinned hands would allow him, pulling their faces only inches apart.  “C’mere,” he begged, his voice thick with tears and need, “Please.”

Mickey released his hands at the same moment he brought their lips together, pulling Ian up and into his arms.  They locked each other up in their embrace as their kiss turned deep and consuming.  Ian could barely breath, could barely tell where he ended and Mickey began and he couldn’t give half a shit.  It was artless and messy, just like their story, but it was perfect anyway.

Ian wasn’t sure when he lost his sense of rationale but instinct and emotion were currently running the show.  His hands were now skimming up under Mickey’s shirt, fingers seeking out all the cut lines of muscle in his back.  He wanted to see Mickey, strip him bare and just admire him, worship him, kiss every goddamn inch of him.  

The other man’s mind seemed to be in the same place.  Mickey’s fingers were playing around the inside of his collar and popping the top two buttons open on his shirt.  He broke their kiss suddenly to lav his way down Ian’ throat, finally settling in to suck at his pulse point.  Ian bit back a litany of panting profanity as the sensation roared through his body and straight to his instantly rock hard dick.  Wrapping an arm around Mickey’s waist, he flipped them around, tumbling the smaller man gently but firmly to the floor.  His fingers skimmed up under the thin material that was keeping Mickey from him, ruching it up as he went.  Mickey’s eyes were shut again, his head lolling against the floor as Ian nuzzled and kissed his way up his stomach.  

He felt Mickey tense suddenly for one second before he pushed the shirt up past his chest.

And froze.

Ian’s breath caught in his throat and fresh tears sprung up in his eyes as he sat back and stared.  Beneath him, Mickey pushed up on his elbows, his shirt falling back down a bit as he met Ian’s gaze, his expression concerned but unapologetic.

“You cannot be pissed at me about this,” he demanded.

Ian blinked himself back to the present and shook his head, “I’m not,” he said, quickly and honestly. “I mean it, I’m not.”  He stared at Mickey’s chest again.  “Let me see?” he asked.

Mickey stared at him for a second, considering, before relenting and pulling the shirt over his head and tossing it aside.  He leaned back on his elbows again and let Ian look his fill.  

The tattoo that now decorated his skin was beautifully detailed and dimensional.  Two wings, in varying shades of red and yellow, spread across the entirety of Mickey’s chest before curling up to his shoulders.  Ian stared at the whirls of colors, the intricate feathers and couldn’t decide if the burning in his heart was from heat or cold.  

He felt a touch on his hand and looked down to see Mickey relinking their fingers.  The smaller man sank back flat on the floor, pulling him forward slightly and tugging.  He reeled Ian back to him, drawing him along his side.  Ian watched raptly as Mickey guided his fingers to his chest, to a series of slight ridges under the careful artistry on his skin.  He closed his eyes and breathed out when he realized what his fingers were tracing.

“You’re still there,”Mickey whispered, “You’re always there.  I told you that.”

Mickey’s other hand rose to play with the red strands at the back of his neck.  Suddenly exhausted, Ian leaned into the touch, letting himself be drawn down into a soft, light kiss.  He stretched out flat beside the brunette, pillowing into his shoulder and letting his fingers continue to trace over the outline of his name.  They lay quietly for a while, resting in each other’s presence.

“What is this?” he finally asked, skimming his fingers over the rest of the tattoo.

“Phoenix wings,” Mickey replied, “New life from out of the fire and shit.”

Ian snorted against his skin.  He’d missed Mickey’s unique talent for crudely poetic one-liners.  

He jumped for a second when Mickey reached down and grabbed his chin, pulling him up to meet his gaze.  The blue eyed man looked as tired as he felt, but content.

“I really don’t want to kick you out,” he said, skimming a finger along Ian’s jawline, “but we promised to go slow, right?”

Ian nodded without hesitation, “Yeah, no, you’re right.” He pushed himself to his feet, reaching down and pulling Mickey up behind him.  The brunette grabbed his shirt along the way, pulling it over his head and smoothing it down quickly.  They stood for a minute, just drinking each other in before Mickey finally scoffed and said, “Okay, no more Hallmark bullshit.”

They cleared up the dishes, enjoying the pedestrian normalcy of the moment.  Ian glanced at the clock.

“Alright, it’s late as hell.  I’m going. You need to work tomorrow.”

“Actually, no.” Mickey said, following him towards the door, “Day off.”  He played with the door handle for a moment, looking nervous before turning back to Ian.  “Come over in the morning.  I’ll show you what else I do with my time down here.”

“You gonna take me diving?” Ian asked, genuine glee in his tone.

“Yeah, there’s some awesome shit I can’t take the tours on.  You gotta be able to swim a bit, but we can take the paddleboards.  Trust me, it’s fucking amazing.”

“Okay, let’s do that, for sure,” Ian replied.  “What time?”

“What time you gonna run?”

“It’s too hot after seven.”

Mickey nodded, “Okay, get here at 6:45.”

“You gonna run with me?

Mickey smirked, “Run circles around you, bitch, just like I always did.”

Ian smiled, memories of El platforms and alleyways jumping to mind.

“Alright,” he said, pulling open the door and stepping down a stair into the warm night, “I’ll be here.”  Turning around, he leaned up and pressed a quick kiss to Mickey’s mouth, smiling against his lips as he broke it.  

Mickey smiled back and ran a thumb over his cheek, “Sleep tight, Firecrotch.”

The warm feeling in the pit of his stomach at the sound of that name carried Ian home through the night.



Chapter Text

The clock on his bedside table read 5:48.  All he needed to do was pull on running clothes and grab a quick bite to eat and he’d be ready to go.  He didn’t need to be up. It didn’t much matter, though.  Mickey couldn’t sleep.

The warm, familiar darkness of his little loft surrounded him as he sprawled on his back, letting the sheet pool around his waist while he stared up towards the ceiling.  He let his fingers drift up to his chest, to seek out and trace over the ever so slightly raised edges indicative of an old prison tat.  

Miguel was the first person in his new life to see the misspelled tribute that dominated his chest, after aggravating the fuck out of him about the importance of shirtlessness in one hundred degree weather.  After seeing it, though, his friend had left it alone, not wanting to poke at an issue that so clearly made Mickey uncomfortable, especially back then.  

It was Ivan, of course, who finally talked him into covering up the name, playfully bullshitting about how Mickey was too pretty to stay dressed all the time.  He’d helped Mickey plan out the concept and gone with him to a reputable shop in the city to have the work done.  

He’d left Mickey’s tears before, during and after unmentioned.

At the time, Mickey had tried to convince himself he’d never see Ian Gallagher again.  The wings gave him a sense of freedom, a break from confronting that name and every fucking implication it carried with it day after day; that he was unwanted, not worth it, a human disaster who turned everything around him to shit.  With the name gone, maybe he could start to forget the face, start to go through whole hours where he wasn’t battered by the intrusion of random memories.

The tattoo had healed up quickly.  He’d loved it, for the release it gave him, for the new opportunities it implied, for the pure fucking aesthetics of it.  However, he’d been secretly relieved that he could still feel the barest traces of the name buried underneath.  Ian was covered up and put away where he couldn’t constantly hurt him anymore.  

But he wasn’t gone for good.

A part of him had known that as soon as he’d reached out to Svetlana and Mandy that he was opening up the door to the possibility of Ian again.  It had kind of been a relief really.  When he was honest with himself, which hadn’t been often, he’d admit that he didn’t believe they were really done with each other.  He didn’t chock it up to fate, didn’t believe the soulmate crap that Mandy went on about.  

It was just them.  They’d done this for each other, to each other.  They’d tied themselves together in a way they couldn’t unknot.  They’d never be completely finished, not til one or both was in the ground.  But he’d expected it to go differently.  He’d expected to be rage-fueled and vengeful, for Ian to be pissy and demanding.  

He’d overlooked the fact that they’d both left behind the non-stop crisis of their younger years.  He’d neglected to consider how they’d grown.  

Ian’s shrink knew her shit, he’d give her that.  They’d never had a chance to be together in peace and the opportunity was making him reevaluate many of his preconceptions. When he’d first agreed to talk to Ian, he’d figured they could maybe heal, let got of some past hurts.  He’d thought he’d have been strong enough to resist anything else.  Now though, he was forced to reconsider what strength even was.  Was it avoiding taking a chance in order to protect himself?  Maybe.  There was still a possibility that this could all blow up.  Still, though, he felt hope.  He knew Ian Gallagher and he wasn’t this good any actor.  He really had grown, had worked on fixing his issues.  He really had his shit together now and this stronger, wiser Ian wanted him back.

He wanted it, too.  He wanted to give them their first real chance, now that they both knew what the fuck a real chance looked like.  This time, he wasn’t going into this blind, crazy, love-drunk, and stupid.  Of all the wisdom Augustin had imparted on him, the first lesson had been on the importance of taking calculated risks that had a good probability of yielding returns.  After a week spent with Ian, he felt a lot better about the calculation, for one simple reason.

Ian loved him.  That he believed.

It didn’t make everything magically better.  Life wasn’t fucking Disney and true love’s kiss didn’t fix it all.  It helped, though.  It helped that Ian had come after him, that he hadn’t shoved his way in but had given Mickey the control.  It helped that Ian had listened, that he had owned up to the things that were his fault, that he’d been honest even when it hurt to hear it. Love alone wasn’t enough.  It had to be paired up with trust.

He didn’t trust everything about Ian but for the first time in a long time, he was willing to try.

Running his hands through his hair, he let out a groan of annoyance and threw the sheet off of him.  He pulled out his dive bag and checked everything, even though he knew it had been meticulously cleaned and repacked yesterday.  Rooting through his dresser, he grabbed running shorts and also an extra pair of diving trunks and threw them on the bed.  The trunks were skintight.  They left absolutely nothing to the imagination.  Indulging for a minute, he let himself picture the red-headed idiot, who had possibly become even more physically perfect in the last three years, sliding through the water in them

He rolled his neck as his dick twitched to life between his legs.  Shit.  

Alright, objectively, he knew he needed to think about sex.  They were going to fuck, maybe not today, but soon.  It was inevitable.  He was actually shocked they’d lasted as long as they had.  Shocked and a little impressed actually.  He hadn’t been with many people since crossing the border, and never for more than one night.  It wasn’t a lack of options; he lived and worked at a gay resort and most of the guests found him hot.  But empty sex had just lost its appeal, now that he knew there was something better.  When that something better had suddenly appeared on his dock a week ago, the easiest thing in the world would have been to just deflect all the bullshit by fucking each other apart.  That had always been their way.  

And that’s exactly why they hadn’t done it.  They hadn’t even needed to discuss it, they’d both just known that they needed to work through their shit, to put the people and the relationship first, and the ridiculous sex that had always been as distracting as it was hot, second.

Now, though, they were in a different place.  They’d been straight with each other and owned their bullshit.  They were healing.  And they were definitely getting to the point where mouth and hands weren’t going to be enough.

He and Ian loved fucking each other.  He knew from experience how easy it was for them to get lost in it.  Before Ian, sex had just been getting off with another person instead of his hand.  The fucking redhead had made it intense, deep and intimate from the very first time, sprawled on his back in his shitty little twin bed with Ian rocking into him, their eyes fixed on each other and their hands pressed over each other’s mouths to keep quiet.  

He wanted Ian to fuck him.  More importantly though, he wanted Ian to be with him.  Theoretically, he’d always known that they’d never be completely over each other but the last week had allowed him to believe that maybe they didn’t even have to be.  Maybe they could really heal, really build something together.  But that was what made today so important.  He needed Ian to see his world, needed to show him who he was down here, what he did, what he loved.  

Mickey sank down on his bed, letting his gaze skim the little loft.  He needed Ian to understand that this was it.  This place was safe and full of possibility but it wasn’t Chicago and never could be again.  He needed Ian to recognize that even if he wanted to, even when it was about his lover or his sister or his kid, he could never go back.  If Ian really wanted him, he’d have to make one hell of a commitment.  He’d have to come here and stay here. It was that simple.

Mickey’d already let himself give in to enough temptation.  He couldn’t afford to go any further, to get even more intimate and give away even more pieces of himself, until he knew that Ian could really live with the stakes.

A quick glance at his clock again startled him.  6:27.  Fuck.  He’d gotten completely lost in his headspace.  Reaching over, he grabbed his running shorts and a pair of boxer briefs and pulled both on.  He rustled through his drawers again and came up with a basic blue running tank.  He was not jogging down the beach shirtless at sunrise with his lover.  He wasn’t starring in his own gay telenovela, at least not yet.

When a knock sounded on his door at exactly 6:45, he just shook his head, picturing Ian standing on his steps, watching the seconds count down on his phone.  The redhead looked pretty relaxed when he opened the door, casual but happy as he leaned against the railing.  Mickey took a step down, intending to give the other man a snarky “good morning” when a strong arm wrapped itself around his waist and a huge, firm hand cradled his head.  He was pulled into a deep kiss, warm lips all over his and a tongue demanding entrance.  He sighed into it, letting his arms dangle weakly over Ian’s bare shoulders.  His feet were barely touching the ground.  A shiver went through him as Ian gentled his mouth against his, becoming light and sensual instead of demanding.  Mickey’s whole body was melding into the length of Ian’s torso and all his good intentions were scattered at his feet when Ian suddenly pulled back, disengaging them with one long, firm, close-lipped peck.

“Sorry,” he said into Mickey’s ear, “I’m not trying to push this.  I’m just, fuck, really relieved I get to kiss you again.”

The words resonated through Mickey’s heart and he tightened his arms around the other man’s neck, holding him close.  Ian believed what he was saying.  Mickey wanted to believe it, too.  He was close, but not quite.

Pulling back, he pressed a final quick kiss to Ian’s lips, smoothing a strand of hair back from his forehead while he did. “Run?” he asked innocently.  

Ian just smiled.  

They ran up the beach as the sun crested over the water and starting rising.  The temperature rose quickly too, and Mickey found himself using the blue shirt to mop off his forehead.  Ian had foregone a top at all, and his entire chest was slick with sweat by the time they returned to the boathouse dock.  Mickey tried to pretend that he wasn’t fixated by the small droplets running down that perfect skin, but he wasn’t fooling himself or Ian.  The redhead just laughed at him, making an exaggerated show of stretching while Mickey rolled his eyes.

“Fuck you,” he huffed in mock indignation, “Not like you’re not used to anyway.  You know you’re pretty.”

“So are you,” Ian answered, his voice suddenly serious.  Mickey glanced up at him, only to be met with an open, honest face.  Their eyes locked for a moment before Ian reached out and ran a thumb across his lips. Mickey just barely resisted letting his tongue snake out of his mouth to chase it.  He couldn’t fucking help it.  He missed this so much, the playful affection that had once been such a part of their everyday interactions.  

Standing up, he ran his fingers through his sweaty hair and then stared at his hands in mock disgust.  “We should grab some breakfast,” he said, earning a nod from the other man, “I was thinking we could head into town, you know, get off the property for a while.  We need showers first, though.  We’re fucking ripe.” He glanced at his watch. “Do you wanna run back to your room and meet me in half an hour?”

“I brought shit with me,” Ian said simply, gesturing behind him.  Mickey glanced up to see a duffle bag sitting outside his door.  He nodded, gesturing for Ian to follow him with a flick of his head.  Once inside, he walked into his bedroom to grab some clothes, mindful of how Ian kept his eyes averted from that one area of his loft.  

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who was nervous about their next step.

Ian jumped in his shower as soon as he was out and soon they were barreling down the road in his beat up old scout with the top off, heading towards town.  The Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe was in full swing and the streets were crowded but Mickey knew a back way to his favorite little breakfast cafe.

Ian let him order and they scarfed down corn waffles with braised beef and fresh ground coffee.  He sat back for a moment, savoring his drink and watching Ian eat like he was starving.  He thought back to the days of Ian’s mania, his tendency to simply forget to eat for days on end.  Mickey remembered being scared as fuck by that.  Now he was eating, running, carefully tracking his meds.  Whatever, decisions they made over the next few days, at least Mickey knew Ian was doing it from a healthy place.  

“So what now,” Ian asked as they sprawled in their chairs, full of good food and content.

“You tired from that run,” Mickey asked, challenge in his voice,  Ian answered with nothing but a smirk.

An hour and a half later, they were standing at the north end of the resort, dressed in diving trunks, with paddleboards and dry bags in hand.  The little beach inlet was his secret launchspot, one he’d only shared with a handful of people.

“What’s with the little book on the dock?” Ian asked, referencing the ledger Mickey had signed them out on when they’d grabbed the paddleboards.

“You sign it if you go out without an official tour,” he explained.  “It’s for safety.  If you don’t sign back in, security will send the federales out after you.  Or the navy.”

“Shit, the navy?”

Mickey shook his head, rustling through his bag and tossing Ian some high proof sunblock.  “Put that on,”he ordered, before continuing, “It’s not that serious.  Mexico doesn’t have an independent coast guard.  It’s a branch of their navy that does search and rescue.  I’ve worked with them before,” he finished explaining as he grabbed the bottle and worked a healthy layer of sunscreen into Ian’s shoulders and back “Man, you want to fry like bacon?  Rub this shit in.”

He stepped back and started working on his own protective layer.  Ian continued to work the lotion into his skin but his eyes were fixed inquisitively on Mickey.

“What?” he finally asked, aiming for pissed but only coming up with confused.

Ian smiled, but his eyes remained pensive.  “It’s nothing, I guess,” he said, “Except, you just really know your way around this place.”

Mickey’s hands slowed and he stared into the swirling water where it met the sand for a moment before looking up to meet Ian’s eyes. “Yeah,” he admitted slowly, “I do.  I know it because I live here.” he turned towards the other man, gesturing around him with one arm. “This is my home.  It has to be, for the rest of my life, and I need to be okay with that. Do you get that?” he finished quietly.

Ian’s expression was stubborn, but the stubbornness was starting to give Mickey hope instead of despair.  Dropping his arms down, Ian squared his shoulders and met Mickey’s gaze head on.

“I get what you’re saying.” he stated, clearly, definitively, “I promise that I get it.”

Their eyes held for a moment, before Mickey nodded and looked out at the water again.

“Okay,” he said, his voice thick with unspoken emotion, “Okay, let’s do this.”

He grabbed his board and bag and waded into the water.  Behind him, he could hear Ian splashing along.

“Wow”

“What?

“It’s just, it’s crazy how the water is so warm.  I mean, I know it’s Mexico, but still.  It’s fucking December.”

Mickey just smirked as he climbed onto his board and let his legs dangle over the sides, “Man, this is cold by Mexican standards.  You should be here in August.  Water’s piss warm then.  Might as well be a bathtub.”  

Ian’s mouth screwed up in mock disgust.  “Sounds nasty.  Do people still want to go diving then?”

Oh, hell yeah,” he answered as he swished his hands along, splashing water onto the top of the board, “I’m in here all the time during the summer.  It feels gross but some of the most amazing stuff only happens in the warmer months.  New school expansions, coral growth, shit like that.  If you want to see it, you gotta deal with the temps.”

Ian took to boarding pretty well and they moved up the coast at a fairly good clip, despite going against the current.  This was Mickey’s own form of meditation and he would come out here sometimes with no clear destination, just to burn through some energy and deal with his thoughts.  Ian looked completely relaxed as he paddled along beside him, eagerly checking out the scenery .  He threw a huge grin at Mickey when he saw him looking and Mickey returned it in kind.  He loved seeing Ian enjoying the things that he loved.  

It took them roughly half an hour to reach Mickey’s favorite little lagoon.  The little inlet was narrow but pretty deep and blocked off by a reef that extended all the way to the surface.  It was naturally protected and pretty much untouched by anyone except Mickey.  Species that were typically rare to the Southeastern Pacific thrived in this safe, isolated environment. He’d stumbled upon it completely by chance at the northernmost tip of the resort’s property line and taken it over as his own private research site.   

Slowing up his strokes as they pulled up to the outer edge, he gestured for Ian to follow him towards the little mouth at the far end, the only place where the reef was still deep enough to be cleared by the boards at high tide.  Once inside the perimeter, he slid off the board, leashing his together with Ian’s and anchoring them to a rocky outcrop on the far end, away from the fragile ecosystem below.  Ian was sitting on his own board and watching him attentively as he worked.

“So how’re we doing this,” he asked asked as he rustled through the dry bag Mickey had provided for him.  He pulled out a mask and attached snorkel and an extra large pair of boots and fins, spreading them out across his board.  A small wave immediately snagged one of the booties and dragged it into the water and Mickey dived down to retrieve it.  He handed it back to the sheepish looking redhead.  

“Rookie mistake there, Firecrotch.  Keep your shit in the bag until you’re ready for it. I learned that the hard way,” he admitted with a little grin as he leaped onto his board. “Here, boots first.”

They started suiting up while Mickey explained the terrain.  “I don’t really use tanks in here because it’s pretty narrow, especially at the bottom. I need to have good mobility if I’m going to take pictures and readings without missing shit.  So I mostly just use the snorkel and free dive.”

“Isn’t that kind of dangerous?” Ian asked, looking up from where he was wrestling with one of his fins. “The guy that certed me warned us about that.”

Mickey stared across the water, averting his eyes a little.  Miguel had run Ian’s cert program and Mickey knew damn well that he thought Mickey’s free diving was reckless.  Still…

“It can be,” he admitted,  “If you’re stupid about it.  I take breaks, use good breathing techniques.  I’m careful.” he picked up his mask and played with the headstrap a little, “Did Miguel tell you to ask me that?”

“No, why?” Ian finally got his fin on and looked up. “Wait, does he know about me?”

Mickey rolled his eyes and pulled his mask on, which only caused the annoying redhead to grin, “Aw, you’re talking about me.”  He pulled on his own mask and inched toward the edge of his board, “I hope some of it was good.”

He rolled into the water, treading and still grinning as Mickey followed him in.  They swam a few strokes towards the reef before Mickey pulled down his mask and gestured towards Ian.

“You ready for this?” he asked.  Ian looked intrigued, fitted his snorkel and put his face into the water.  Mickey hung back at the surface for a second, enjoying the ripple of surprise that ran through Ian’s back at the incredible sight before dipping into the water himself.

The lagoon wasn’t very deep, no more than forty meters down, but it was narrow and cone-shaped, which gave it the impression of being much deeper.  The reef filled two thirds of the circumference, layer after layer of colorful wonder.  Fish were everywhere, in schools, floating alone in the shadows, playing in the streaming sunlight that managed to reach the depths.  A few barracudas relaxed on the floor but they were the biggest things currently kicking around.  It was a really awesome sight, something right out of a movie, and he could tell by Ian’s reaction that he appreciated it.

Mickey gestured towards the other man, moving them closer to the reef, gliding through the water as the teaming fish slid out of their way.  Taking three long, deep breaths, Mickey suddenly dove beneath the surface, using his entire lower body to push himself deeper.  He headed toward a rocky outcropping, then glanced up to see Ian watching him, still floating at the surface.  Smirking inside his head, he swam under the rocky ledge, dislodging the large school of soldierfish that liked to congregate beneath it.  The school moved as one, cycloning towards the surface and swirling beneath the redhead, who sat mesmerized by the spectacle.  

He didn’t notice the giant moray eel until it had uncurled itself from the ledge and ribboned out into the school, chomping on one of the pretty red fish.  Ian recoiled sharply from the snakelike animal, swimming away towards the boards.  Mickey surfaced quickly and spit out his snorkel while Ian leveled a filthy look his way.

“You suck!” he spit at him, green eyes blazing.

“Hey, I didn’t see him.  I wouldn’t do that,” he said placatingly, failing to keep all the humor out of his voice.  From across the lagoon, Ian gave him the finger and he put his hands up in mock surrender, “Okay, okay, sorry.  Really though, man, I didn’t see him.  He just saw an easy lunch.  Besides,” he added, swimming toward Ian, “They may look scary as fuck but they’re totally more afraid of you then you are of them.”

Ian didn’t look convinced.  Mickey groaned, “Alright, Jesus, man just come on.  We’ll stick to the surface and shit.” He cleared out his snorkel and shot Ian a challenging glare, “Don’t be a fucking pussy.”  

Ian returned the look but swam back toward him anyway.  Feeling triumphant, Mickey led him around the edge of the lagoon, pointing out different stuff as they navigated the perimeter.  The sun was warm on their backs and the water was relaxing as hell.  Ian would pull him to the surface every once in awhile to ask a question before dipping back into the water.  Mickey loved to talk about the ocean.  He’d talk about it with anybody; Ivan, Yevgeny, even Mandy until she told him to shut up about it already.  But he decided here and now that he loved talking to Ian the most; Ian who seemed as genuinely fascinated as he was.  

They swam around for over an hour before Ian started to flag a little.  He jumped up on his float to take a few breaths while Micky continued to scope out the sea floor.  Swimming over to the boards, Mickey pulled his aqua notebook out of his bag and handed it to the other man.  

“I want to go grab a few pictures of the coral at the lower levels.  I’m trying to track parasite growth for a class I’m taking next semester.  If I yell some numbers to you when I surface, write them down, okay.”

Ian nodded, looking pretty enthusiastic to be his fucking secretary.  He dove a few times, collecting some shots and baseline readings for his class.  Yelling the findings back to Ian sure beat the shit out of swimming back and forth across the lagoon to record them himself.  He even awarded himself an extra dive to celebrate his energy.  He didn’t want to push it though, especially since Miguel had clued Ian in to the risks.  Surfacing for the last time, he swam back to the board and pulled himself up beside the redhead.

“You get what you need?” Ian asked curiously, holding out the book so Mickey could look at the neat list of readings.  He gave them a careful examination, nodding as he read.  

“Yeah, yeah, these look good.  Thanks,” he answered, meeting Ian’s satisfied gaze.  He pulled his camera into his lap and quickly made some notations to match the readings to the various shots, aware that Ian was studying him the entire time.

“Can I see them?” he asked, gesturing towards Mickey’s camera.  

“What?” Mickey blinked for a second, momentarily lost in his data, “Oh...shit...yeah, sorry.”  He shifted forward on the board and leaned forward, holding the camera in between them.  It was only after he started flipping through the pictures that he realized how close they were now, straddling a single board while their feet brushed in the water.  Mickey’s avid explanation faded out as his attention refocused on the redhead in front of him.

It was Ian who leaned forward first, who cupped his face tenderly and pulled their mouths together.  For a second, Mickey panicked but Ian made no move to deepen the kiss.  He kept it light, gentle and soft and it sent shivers up Mickey’s back.  Jesus, he loved kissing Ian.  They were barely touching, just lips and fingers brushing through hair, but his whole body was on fire.

It was the awkward as fuck angle that finally did them in, causing them to pull apart, panting lightly with their foreheads pressed together.  They sat silently together for a moment before Ian shifted slightly to meet his eyes.

“Do you usually write all that shit down yourself?” he asked, his voice surprisingly serious.

Mickey drew back a little and studied his expression, “Yeah,” he admitted, “I just swim back and forth to write the stuff down.  I can’t let the boards get to close to the top of the reef so…” he drifted off as Ian’s expression turned annoyed.

“That has to get tiring,” he said pointedly.

Mickey sighed.  He knew where this was going.  “You sure Miguel didn’t tell you to bitch me out.” Pulling back a little, he rubbed a knuckle over Ian’s cheek and started putting his camera away. “I’m careful, okay,” he finally said as the other man continued to glare at him. “I don’t take unnecessary risks.”

“Coming out here alone is an unnecessary risk.”

Mickey rolled his eyes, “Jesus Christ, stop being such a fucking drama queen.  Forget Miguel, have you been talking to Augustin, cause that’s usually his line of shit.”

A small, triumphant smile decorated Ian’s lips as he leaned back on his arms.  “Augustin?  You mean your friend, the one who trusts you and gave you awesome opportunities?  The one who loves you?  He thinks coming out here alone is a shit idea?  And Miguel, too?  Well fuck, Mick, I guess we’re all just crazy!” Sitting up, Ian leaned forward, “Wait, what does Ivan think?”

Mickey looked up from his bag just long enough to flip the redhead off.  He fixed his eyes on the board, letting a few second pass, suddenly uncomfortable with his admission.

“I don’t like coming out here with other people, alright?  It’s like, I fucking love it out here and I’m just, I don’t know, I don’t want to share it with everyone else.”

“I’m here.”

“That’s different.”

A heavy moment of silence hung between them before Ian finally spoke.

“Well, that’s a simple fix then.  You come out here as much as you want, but I have to come with you.”

“Well, that ain’t gonna work so well in…” he stopped, meeting Ian’s burning eyes as he caught up with the implications of that statement.  He stared, a little shocked, at the man across from him while Ian just stared back, steady, unflinching.  

Fuck.

“Okay,” he finally said, still unable to break the gaze, “Alright we should head back.”

“Mick!” Ian said, concern in his voice as he leaned forward and grabbed Mickey’s hands.  Mickey squeezed them back.

“I’m not running away,  You’re right, okay.  We need to do this, talk about this shit.  But not here, alright.  Just, not in this place.  Let’s go back and get cleaned up first,” his eyes were pleading and Ian nodded quickly.

“Yeah,” he said quickly before leaning in and pressing another quick kiss to Mickey’s lips. “Okay, let’s go.”

The trip back took less time with the aid of the current and they were showered and sitting on Mickey’s little deck within an hour.  They’d missed lunch but he’d heated up a few leftover tamales while Ian was showering.  It was warm out in the late afternoon and they sprawled lazily across the large wicker loveseat, just soaking up the moment before shit got serious again.  

Ian draped on of his long arms over the back of the seat, drawing Mickey’s eyes back to him.

“Let’s talk,” he said, his face and tone serious.  

Mickey nodded, sitting up a little straighter, “You wanna start?”

“I can,” Ian’s arm tightened a bit against his shoulder, “Kiss me first?”

The request and Ian’s nervous expression sent a  jolt through Mickey’s body.  What the fuck?  Was Ian afraid he wouldn’t want to kiss him again after they were done?  He stared consideringly at the redhead, whose expression turned pleading.  Fuck it, he couldn’t resist that face.  Leaning over, he pressed his lips to Ian’s, setting caution aside for a moment to let the taller man pull him into his lap.  

The new angle gave him added height and he took advantage, pressing Ian’s head back, making the kiss deep, slow, and lazy.  Hands were running up under his shirt, pulling the material up and pushing down all thoughts of caution.  He reached behind Ian’s shoulders and rocked them, pulling Ian to sit up straight so he could get his own hands on bare flesh.  They broke apart for one second, pulling at each other’s tops, tossing the stretched, torn garments away and then they were finally, finally, for the first time in forever, pressed skin to skin again.  

They didn’t kiss.  They just held each other as close as possible, relaxing into the other’s heat.  Ian’s arm was wrapped around his waist like a steel band but the other was drifting over his neck and through his hair while he nosed along Mickey’s throat.

“I still love the way you smell.” he whispered, nipping delicately at the shell of Mickey’s ear.

Jesus fucking Christ, was it possible to come from just this.  Mickey’s whole body was thrumming with electricity, he was hard as fuck and he was starting to feel desperate enough to make choices he shouldn’t be making now.  Pulling himself away was almost impossible and he couldn’t resist pressing a final, gentle kiss to Ian’s swollen mouth or make himself climb completely out of his lap.  Instead, he pushed Ian back against the cushions and slid back towards his knees.

Ian went willingly but kept their fingers linked.  He toyed idly with Mickey’s fingertips while they assessed each other.

“I really want to fuck you,” he admitted, holding Mickey’s gaze for a moment before breaking it to stare at their linked hands, “For as long as we both shall live.”

Mickey’s grip tightened around Ian’s hands, drawing his eyes back up to his.  “So tell me how you see that working?” he asked honestly.

Ian nodded, “I know you’re freaked out because you think I don’t know what this means.  I do, though.  I get it. This is home now  You need to stay here.  That means I need to stay here with you and stop being a fucking coward.”  Leaning forward slightly, he met Mickey’s nervous gaze with determination.  “Mick, I want to stay here.  I told you from day one, I came down here because I wanted to convince you to let me stay.  I knew I’d fucked up bad, I knew I might only get some forgiveness, if that, but I wanted you. “

“Your family?  You couldn’t leave them before.  What’s different now?”

“Mickey, we are codependent as fuck, especially me, Lip and Fi.  For a long time, we had to be.  It’s what kept all of us alive.  But we don’t need to be now.  We’re all doing good, Fi owns a rental management business and a couple of buildings, Lip’s about to finish college and start a civil engineering apprenticeship.  He’s been sober for three years.

My point is, we’re so much better now.  I’m so much better. If I was here, I wouldn’t be worried all the time about me losing my mind or what was happening at home with my family.  Shit, Lip even set up college funds for Carl and Liam. We’re those fucking people now.”

Mickey smiled a little at that.  He had mixed feelings about the Gallaghers, especially the oldest two, but he couldn’t help but be glad that they were doing well.

“Anyway,” Ian continued, “I know basic info about the work visa system here and stuff.  I don’t know everything yet.  I just found out you were still in this country about a month ago.  But I have decent savings and I’d do whatever work I could get.”

He paused or a second, raising his brows at Mickey, wanting his thoughts.  

Mickey sighed a little, clutching at their linked hands.  “I want to believe you,” he said, “I really want to, but you gotta understand, this scares the shit out of me, Ian.”

“I know,” the redhead interjected, “I mean, I understand that.  And full disclosure, Mick.  If I’m going to stay here forever, I’ll have to go back first.”

Mickey drew in a sharp breath but Ian rushed forward, “It’s not my idea, man, it’s the law.  That I did learn.  If a person from outside Mexico wants to move here, they need to start the paperwork while they’re still in their home country.  I’d have to got get my shit taken care of, quit my job.  But Mick, if you let me, I’ll come back.  And I’ll never fucking leave again.”

Mickey sat still, just churning the info over in his head.  He knew Ian wanted to stay, he’d been straight with him from the start about that.  His pride didn’t stand a chance in the face of Ian Gallagher but his self-preservation was still fighting a battle.

Honesty, fuck.  What the hell did he really want to say to this man?

“I want you to stay,” he blurted out, before he could overthink it. “Of course, I want you to fucking be here.  I’ll always want you, whether I like it or not.  You fuckin walked away from me a lot, but I get that I did, too, and I get that shit is different now and we might really have a chance.

I want the chance, okay.  And I want to believe you.  But I know you and I know how you get.  You’ll push and push to get what you want, but we don’t have a great track record for maintaining it once we have it.”

He stood up, walking in a circle around his deck, hands in his hair.  Did he really have the balls to say this?  Ian sat on the coach, unmoving, waiting.

“I want you to stay.” he said finally, calmly.  “I get that you need to do this legally and you need to go back and that I’ll need to wait and trust you.  I still want you to stay.  So...yes, okay, my answer is yes.

But wait,” he said, holding up a hand when Ian went to stand.  The redhead sank back into the coach, the look of joy sliding off his face, “No, don’t fucking look at me like that.  I need you to do something first.  I’m saying yes, Ian, but now I need you to think about that.  I want you to give yourself some time to think about that.  Now that you have permission, now that nothing is standing in your way, do you really want this?

“Mickey,”

“No, you fucking give me this, Ian.  You give this some real time and you fucking think about it,”he hated the way he could hear the tears in his voice but he kept on going anyway, “You need to realize that I only have one real risk left when it comes to you.  If this gets fucked up, I can’t, I fucking can’t ever do this again.  So please go think about this and make sure you’re fucking sure this time.”

He turned away from Ian’s tear filled eyes, his own chest heaving with two much emotion.  It needed to be said but fuck, it hurt to say it.  There was silence behind him for a long time, then the creak of the coach as Ian stood up.  He tensed as he felt the displacement of air that told him the taller man was behind him.

He jumped for a moment when his discarded t-shirt was pushed down gently over his head.  He breathed out, letting Ian smooth the shirt down, helping him hide away his vulnerabilities.  Ian’s hands rested gently on his shoulders, rubbing soothingly as they breathed together slowly

“I’m going to go,” the other man said, resting his chin on Mickey’s shoulder.  “Of course, I’ll think about it.  I’ll journal about it and call my doc about it.  I mean it, Mick, I’ll do pretty much anything to make you feel as sure in me as I am in you.  But I need you to understand, this isn’t some quick decision I’m making.  I made it three years ago.  I made it as soon as I realized what it felt like to be apart from you forever.  I’ve been living with my decision to follow you for three years.”

He pulled Mickey around to face him gently, asking with his actions instead of demanding.  Mickey went but couldn’t open his eyes, not with this much emotion at play.  Ian pressed their foreheads together and whispered, “I love you.  I searched for you and found you because I love you. I will do whatever I have to do to get back to you down here because I love you.  And I will do this, and do it seriously, because I love you.  But please, please make me a promise.  When I come back tomorrow, when I tell you that I thought about it and that I pick you, that I will always pick you, please, fucking please, please believe me.”

He waited quietly, giving Mickey the time he needed to pry open his eyes and face him.  Ian’s eyes were so green when he was emotional.  They shone bright and Mickey couldn’t look away from them.  He didn’t want to look away from them every again.  

“Okay,” he said, choking on the tiny word, “Okay,”

Ian nodded, keeping their eyes locked.  He pressed a final, firm kiss to Mickey’s lips.  

“What time?”

“4:30?”

“Here?”

“Yeah, here’s good.”

“Okay, then I’ll be back.”

He brushed his hand over Mickey’s cheek before walking through the house and out the door.  He threw a wave back as Mickey watched him retreat until he folded into the rest of the throng way up the beach.  Mickey wandered back to the couch and curled up in the spot Ian had vacated, that still held his warmth and let himself do something he hadn’t done since he was four, when Terry Milkovich finally beat it out of him.

He let himself sob.

Chapter Text

The air was warm with a light breeze and the sun was still high, catching on the crests of waves in the azure ocean as it crashed into the beach.  All over the sand, people sprawled on chaise lounges or towels.  They soaked up the sun and played in the water.  It was a perfect day, mellow and relaxed and a distinct tranquility had settled over the guests who populated the edge of the resort.

Except for one.

Ian could feel how his aggressive tension cut through the otherwise serene energy on the beach.  He knew he had to look like a madman, stalking across the sand, but he honestly didn’t care at the moment.  He had somewhere he had to be.  Glancing down at his phone, he saw the time.  3:40pm.  He was early.  Fuck it, Mickey was just going to have deal.  They’d waited long enough.

He’d spent the day doing everything Mickey had asked and he’d done it sincerely.  He’d called Dr. Trego and had a long discussion about setting goals and planning them with Mickey.  She’d been pretty adamant that they should go to counseling together, at least for awhile.  Ian had almost laughed at that but sobered to the idea pretty quickly.  The Mickey of old would have cursed him out if he’d ever suggested anything like therapy but he had a feeling that he’d come around to it now.

His journal was full of notes and ideas, neatly organized into lists, exactly explaining the pros and cons of staying in Chicago versus moving down here.  That had been an easy step.  He’d been keeping the list in his head for the past three years and for that entire time, Mickey was in Mexico so Mexico won.

He’d gone to the resort’s little internet cafe  and done a more digging into the legal requirements for the work, charting out the differences between temporary residency and work visas.  He’d saved both sets of paperwork and texted Fiona about his real birth certificate.  She’d told him that he had one but she had no idea where it was or if Frank was named as his father.  He just shook his head when the text came through.  Augustin had greased the wheels when he came down here but this all needed to be legit.  Leave it to Frank and Monica to complicate the shit out of things.  Whatever.  That was a problem that could be fixed later.  

Most of the time, though, he’d spent thinking.  It was a fair request that Mickey had made and Ian was determined to give it the attention it deserved.  The resort was busy throughout the day but he needed a quiet place to think that wasn’t his room.  He’d ended up grabbing his bag and heading to the little veranda Mickey had taken him to for dinner three days ago.  Three days.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  He’d found himself back at the far table with his feet propped up on the railing, staring out at the sea.

Ian had been stuck in a conflict of emotions for most of the last day.  On the one hand, he was ecstatic and completely relieved that Mickey was willing to take another chance on him.  He hadn’t realized just how afraid he was of Mickey’s rejection until he’d heard the other man utter the word “yes.”  But Mickey’s follow-up request had scared him even more.

As much as he wished that Mickey had just let him stay with him last night, he’d understood why the other man had wanted him to wait.  He’d taken a huge gamble on Ian once before, only to have it blow up in his face.  Ian had spent hours and hours over the past few years driving himself mad over what had happened to Mickey after he’d left him.  He’d painted horrible pictures for himself; Mickey hurt, Mickey dead. Those things hadn’t happened, thankfully, but it didn’t absolve him.  Mickey had been alone, his southside badass had been afraid.  And Ian couldn’t forget the truth in Mickey’s words from four nights ago.  He had set Mickey up for that.  He had made the person he loved believe, really believe, that he was going to have his back, only to fail miserably. Again.

He wouldn’t allow it to happen another time.  Right now, Mickey was brave enough to give him another shot, but if Ian failed that trust again,  he’d be totally right to kick him to the curb forever.  That meant he had to get things handled.  He needed to jump on this with some initiative so that Mickey knew just how serious he was.

A series of questions to the concierge of the resort had gotten him the information he needed.  All it had taken really was the mention of his name and the door to Augustin’s office opened right up.  Ian still wasn’t sure what to make of that but he wasn’t about to argue.

Augustin’s office had been elegant and airy.  A large desk with two chairs in front dominated one half of the room.  The other half looked more like an expensive living room.  Ian had startled for a minute when he realized that someone was lying on the couch but had quickly realized that it was just Ivan, passed out cold.

Augustin himself had been out on the balcony, reading through a thick packet of papers and sipping a glass of iced tea.  He’d glanced up as the door shut, gesturing towards Ian to join him outside. Ian had walked out onto the deck, taking a moment to admire the beautiful view, before taking the seat Augustin nodded towards.  The older man had sat back in his chair, giving him a considering look.

“How can I help you, Roquin.”

Ian had sighed.  That fucking nickname…

“I need to ask you something.”

“Yes.”

“I need to ask if you have any jobs available here.”

Augustin’s look had deepened and become decidedly more interrogative.

“Why?  Are you planning on staying?”

“Yeah.”

“And for how long exactly?”

Augustin had begun thrumming his fingers together like Bond villain but there had still been a hint of a smile on his face. Ian had just pressed on.

“For as long as he’ll let me.”

“And how long do you think that will be?”

There hadn’t been any heat in the man’s words, just curiosity and concern.  Ian hadn’t been able to help but bristle under it anyway, but he’d held it in check.  This man had done a lot for him.  He was here to ask him to do even more.  He could handle some digging.

“Forever,” he’d answered honestly.

“Forever?”

“Yes.  Because he loves me as much as I love him.  I think you know that, that love was never the problem between us.  Trust was, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life repairing that,” he had leaned forward in his seat a bit, “and that’s why I need to ask you for a job.”

“What about forgiveness?”

“What?”

“Forgiveness, Ian.  Will you also work towards forgiveness?”

“I think he’s forgiven me, or he’s working on it.”

“I believe that to be true, as much as I can tell.  We have not spoken much these past two days, as he has been otherwise occupied,” at this, he’d raised a brow somewhat lasciviously, “but I mean you, Ian.  Can you forgive?”

Ian hadn’t really known what to say to that. “What do I even have to forgive?”

“Yourself.  Him?”

“Him?” he’d asked, protective anger bleeding into his voice, “he didn’t do anything.”

Augustin had sat still for a moment, fixing his eyes on him.  He’d felt dissected by the gaze but he couldn’t move out from under it.  

“Roquin, you and Mikhailo come from a world that I readily admit I cannot fully understand,” he’d said finally, “You place a great deal of blame on yourself.  He also assumes a great deal of blame.  Your world is also responsible.  This web of blame and responsibility is so convoluted that to an outsider like myself, it seems almost impossible to untangle.  I imagine that the view is even more complex to the people stuck inside it.  

You could both spend time trying to unravel this web piece by piece, deciding who or what bears the responsibility for each strand, but that will likely prove difficult.  I am not telling you what to do, but if I could recommend a course of action, it would be to let it go instead.  That means forgiveness of each other, of yourselves and of the world that foisted impossible choices upon you both.  Start anew.”

“Yeah, but trust…”

“...will heal.  Do you really intend to leave your former life behind and stay here?”

“Yes,” Ian had replied adamantly

“I would imagine that would go quite far in winning his trust back, don’t you?”

Ian had nodded slowly, “Okay, but for that…”

“You need a job.  What kind of work can you do?”

“Anything really.  I’m not picky.”

“Really?  Housekeeping would suit you?”

At this, Ian had been the one to quirk an eyebrow. “What the hell’s wrong with housekeeping?  If you want to know about the world we come from, you gotta understand how we survived.  He and I, we’ve done all kinds of shit to get by.  My brothers and I used to run illegal parking scams and fight clubs.  We once fed the neighborhood for a week by ripping off an abandoned meat truck.  Hell, Micky used to run a moving truck scam and I’d drive the getaway car while carpooling Yev and my little brother to preschool.  And my older sister worked housekeeping for years to put food on our table, and that was one of her better jobs.” Leaning back in his seat, he’d met Augustin’s amused gaze with a challenging one of his own, “I have no pride when it comes to work, okay.  I do whatever I need to do.”

A smile had played on Augustin’s lips, “I see.  Well, Roquin, I think we can work something out, but it won’t be housekeeping exactly.”

“No?  Why not?”

Augustin’s smile had grown even bigger.  “For the same reason I hired l'amour de votre vie, Roquin.  I know potential when I see it.”

He’d left the office with a distinct sense of relief around 3:20 and headed back to his room.  He hadn’t known what he’d do there, probably pace the length of the little cottage until it was time to go.  He was walking briskly but his steps began to slow.  

He knew the answers to all Mickey’s questions.  He was walking in the wrong direction.  

He’d executed a perfect about face and headed towards the love of his life.

It was 3:45 by the time he made it to the dock by the boat garage and the loft.  He had just reached the bottom of the little wooden staircase that led to Mickey’s door when a distant splash drew his attention.  His gaze shifted toward the water and to the figure floating in the little inlet, oblivious to the world.  Throwing his bag up by the door, Ian headed down the levels of the dock.  

Mickey’s eyes appeared closed, even from the distance.  He was completely relaxed, his arms barely treading to keep him afloat.  Ian leaned against one of the timberheads and soaked in the sight.  He never wanted to leave Mickey and he never wanted Mickey to leave this place, where he was safe, respected, and loved.

There had never been a question in his mind that he’d be staying.  He just needed to make Mickey believe that.

The burning energy from his beach stomp had dampened but hadn’t disappeared completely.  Ian was in battle mode and the enemies were Mickey’s fear and self-doubt.  He couldn’t let them win, not at the expense of both of their happiness.  Wrapping an arm around the bulstrode, he leaned out over the water.

“Yo!”

His voice seemed so loud as he cracked through the serene afternoon.  Mickey rolled in the water, his eyes go directly to Ian, taking in the crazy fire in his eyes.  The brunette’s face was a blend of wary and intrigued and he swam towards the dock, keeping his eyes fixed on Ian’s.

He swam up along the side of the dock and reached up, grabbing on to the edge of the boardwalk.  Ian crouched, pressing his palms over the backs of Mickey’s hands.  He stared down, taking in the beautiful brunette as water droplets ran down his neck and chest. His hair was slicked back from the sea and gleaming in the sun and his eyes, his eyes…

His eyes were open, vulnerable, the wariness receding as they filled with hope.  Ian just let himself drown in the blue of the them for a moment as his hands tightened around Mickey’s.  

Ian was done.  They’d been two halves torn apart for too fucking long and he was finished with it.  

Mickey’s hands turned instinctively in his and they locked around each other’s wrists.  He pushed off the sandy bottom of the inlet as Ian pulled and he flew up on the dock, landing low and rolling to stand before Ian in the sun.  Before he could collect himself, Ian was on him, cradling his face and threading long fingers through the dark locks at the back of his head.  Pulling Mickey close, he brushed the very tips of their noses together and locked their gaze.

“You’re happy here.  You’re safe and loved and valued.  I will never try to take you away from here.  And I will never, ever leave you again.”

Micky’s breath was hitching and he was furiously blinking away tears but he didn’t break their gaze.  He nodded a little but Ian needed to hear the words.  

“Do you understand me?”

“Yeah,” the brunette whispered against his lips

“No, Mick, fuck, please! Do you understand me?”

Ian could hear the panic in his own voice but the sound of it actually caused Mickey to calm.  The shorter man took two deep, slow breaths, bringing his own hands up to cup the back of Ian’s head.  He pulled back every so slightly, the corners of his lips curving into the barest hint of a smile.

“Yes,” he stated clearly.  

It was all Ian needed.  He sealed their lips together, his green eyes burning hot and needy as they took in his lover’s face.  He marched forward, pushing Mickey backward up the length of the dock.  The brunette went willingly, continuing to work his lips against Ian’s as they moved towards the loft.  The complete trust went straight to Ian’s head, firing up every possessive instinct he had.  

At the first level, he grabbed Mickey’s hips, hoisting him the single step without breaking their kiss or their gaze.  By the second, he was too impatient to wait.  Reaching down, he grasped the back of of Mickey’s thighs and pulled him into his arms.  The brunette offered no resistance, easily wrapping his legs around Ian’s waist as he continued to press soft kisses along his jaw and cheeks.  Ian couldn’t help but grin.  Once upon a time, Mickey wouldn’t even let him lay a hand on his shoulder in public.  

They barely made it through the front door of the loft.  The bed was ten feet away but Mickey was still soaked and the way he was attacking Ian’s neck with his lips and teeth didn’t leave a lot of room for logistical planning.  Ian lay him out on the cool tile floor of the living room, following him down and bracketing his arms around his head.  

They just stared for a moment, drinking each other in, their faces only millimeters apart.  Ian leaned down, skimming his lips down the line of Mickey’s bared throat, breathing in his scent.  He retraced the line with his tongue, ending at Mickey’s lips which opened beneath him and drew him in.  

They kissed and kissed, fighting and ceding dominance.  Every so often, they would taper off to gentle lingers and pecks but one or both would deepen it again and they’d be back in battle.  It went on and on and Ian had no intention of stopping, had lost himself completely in the moment when he shifted ever so slightly over the body beneath him and the tumid head of his cock brushed against Mickey’s.

The kiss broke reflexively at the touch.  Ian groaned, shutting his eyes and squeezing his hands into fists as Mickey arched off the floor beneath him, gasping.  He could feel the tension thrumming through both their bodies and he gulped down deep breaths, fighting the urge to wrap his arms around the other man and rut them both to completion like they were desperate fucking fifteen year olds again.

Beneath him, he felt Mickey shift again, his body relaxing back onto the floor.  A fingertip traced the outline of his lips and he opened his eyes, taking a final, steadying breath before he leaned back and fisted his shirt, pulling it over his head and throwing it off into the room somewhere.  His shorts and boxers were next and then he was standing over Mickey, fully on display as the shorter man eyed his fully erect length with a mixture of hunger and awe.  Ian preened just a little, stretching his arms up and crossing them behind his neck, letting his lover look his fill.  One thing hadn’t changed.  Mickey had always loved his dick.  

He was about to remind him why.

He followed Mickey’s line of sight when the smaller man looked toward the living room and his eyes landed on a nearby end table.  Mickey shifted on the floor but Ian just barked out a short, “Stay,” as he strode towards the little table and opened up the drawer, quickly spotting the bottle of lube tucked hear the back.  He grabbed it and stalked back to the prone man who was working at the drawstring of his swim trunks.  Kneeling, Ian batted his hands away and made short order of the suit, flinging it away as he took up the little bottle and poured a generous amount into his palm.  He let Mickey watch as he fisted his hand and spread the slick liquid across his palm and fingers.

He walked forward on his knees, using them to push Mickey’s thighs apart as he reached down between them.  The brunette’s cock was as perfect as he remembered it, flushed and curved against his stomach and Ian ghosted his hand over the length, twirling his slick finger tips over the sensitive head.  Beneath him, Mickey arched again and his hands reached down but Ian captured them both and held them firm as he slowly, slowly worked up and down Mickey’s length.  

His lover was panting, his stomach fluttering in time to Ian’s strokes as a bead of precome worked its way out of his slit.  Ian smiled, a bit wolfish, and ran a thumb over it to add it to the slick coating of his hand as he continued to tease his lover.  Mickey gasped, surprised, when Ian suddenly released his shaft, letting his flattened hand wander possessively over the brunette’s sack and rub against his perineum.  He dug into the sensitive area with the heel of his hand as he slid one finger into the smaller man’s ass and stroked lightly over the little furl within.  

He was leaning over Mickey now, his other hand bracing him, leaving Mickey’s own hands free to mount a counterassault.  His smartass lover wasted no time, rubbing his hands over Ian’s chest, petting gently over the hair before reaching slightly lower to pinch his nipples hard between thumb and forefinger.  The brunette leaned up, laving gently at the tip of the pinched flesh and Ian gasped as the sensation pulsed through him straight up his cock.  Fuck, Mickey knew his weaknesses just as well.  The smaller man was drawing his legs apart, bringing them up around Ian’s hips, letting his feet run over the back of Ian’s thighs.  

Ian let his head fall forward as he gasped at the sensation.  Mickey had always done him in this way, with small intimate touches and gestures when he wasn’t expecting it, a nibble on his ear, a kiss on his wrist.  Well, fuck if he was going down easy.  Pulling back slightly to give himself a better view, he suddenly pushed his fingertip through the ring of muscles and inside the brunette.  

Mickey moaned, letting his head loll from side to side and his arms fall back limp to the floor.  Ian barely moved, just swirled his finger in a lazy circle, brushing against the sensitive walls of his lover’s channel while he watched the smaller man writhe.  Damn, he’d forgotten how beautiful Mickey looked when he was panting and flushed with arousal.  That hadn’t changed either.

Mickey grabbed at his arm, his eyes a little wild as he met Ian’s gaze.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he asked, his voice more than a little desperate, “Fucking torturing me?”

“I’m loving you,” he answered, honestly, directly.

Mickey stared at him from the floor but Ian pushed on.  “Yeah, I know.  You’re gonna say sex and love aren’t the same.  Except they always were for us.  From the very first time, it was always different, even when we pretended it wasn’t,”  Leaning a little closer, Ian stared directly into blue eyes, “Now, you gonna lie to me and tell me I’m wrong?”

“No.”

Ian startled for a moment at the quick response but Mickey just pushed up onto his elbows until their lips were only a breath apart. “I’m not going to lie.  It was different, the first time, the last time, every time in between.”  He pressed a hard kiss to Ian’s mouth before letting himself fall back.

“Now would you please fuck me, Firecrotch?”

He punctuated his question by rolling his hips, fucking himself against Ian’s hand demandingly.  Ian smirked down at him, quickly sliding a second finger in beside the first, loving the way Mickey’s face screwed up in pleasure, the familiar way he bit at his lips.  He chased Mickey down to the floor, using his tongue to fuck the brunette’s mouth at the same pace he thrust into his body.  Mickey’s hands framed his face and he kissed him back demandingly but broke away suddenly and gasped when Ian’s finally found and caressed the little bundle of nerves he’d been searching for.

“Oh fuck, Gallagher,” he groaned, “Jesus fuck, what are you…” but Ian didn’t let him finish.  Looping an arm under Mickey’s neck, he pulled their mouths back together as he slid a third finger inside of him.  Ian held him close as he fell apart, pushing at Ian’s shoulders while pulling him closer with his legs, panting and moaning as Ian continued to pillage his mouth.  

Ian felt dizzy, drunk on the sounds his lover was making beneath him.  He could feel his own cock leaking and twitching against Mickey’s stomach, demanding to get in the game, but he wasn’t quite ready yet.  Carefully circling his fingers inside Mickey’s heat, he pushed them all the way in to the third knuckle, grinning internally when Mickey pushed back, drawing him in deeper.  Pushing the heel of his hand even harder against Mickey’s perineum, he crooked his fingers and rubbed concentrically against the little nub inside him.  

Mickey tore his mouth away, turning his head to the side, pressing his cheek against the cool floor as breathy, desperate cries and broken curses tumbled out of his mouth.  His arms left Ian’s shoulders, fell to the floor on either side of his head, reaching for something to hold onto.  Ian reared back, sliding his other hand over Mickey’s leaking shaft, circling his fingers around the base to stave off the inevitable explosion.

“Nah, no, oh fuck...fuck you,” Mickey panted.  He pushed up on his elbows again, looking absolutely wrecked, his eyes wild and blue.  Ian could see the muscles in his stomach fluttering as an imminent orgasm receded.  

“Not until I’m in you.” he stated.

“Then fucking get in me!”

Mickey fell back to the floor, his blue eyes blazing with a heady combination of lust and murder.  He looked gorgeous, desperate, and utterly debauched and Ian couldn’t wait anymore.  He pulled his hands from his lover’s body, loving the high-pitched keening distress call that Mickey made when he withdrew.  He grabbed the lube and got up on his knees, letting Mickey stare down the length of his body as he poured a generous amount over the head of his cock and made of show of liberally coating it.  He grinned his cocky closed lipped grin as Mickey took in the sight, adding more and slicking himself down to the root.  

Mickey was taking it all tonight.  

He caught one of Mickey’s thighs in his hand as he lowered himself, pushing it back towards the smaller man’s chest.  Leaning over, he braced himself above the brunette, mere inches apart, enjoying the sensation of their body head mingling together for a moment before he lined the head of his cock up with Mickey’s opening.  He pressed in slightly, teasingly, feeling the slight resistance, feeling Mickey push against him again.  He leaned down one last time, pressing one more kiss to Mickey’s swollen mouth.  

Then he pushed it..

Ian screwed his eyes closed against the sensation of finally, finally being inside Mickey again.  He paused for a second, fighting for some semblance of control so he didn’t explode immediately.  The combination of his long abstinence and the man beneath him was driving him crazy but he didn’t move again until he had himself in control.

He propped himself up, enjoying Mickey’s squirming against the change in angle.  He found his leverage and thrust hard, one, two, three, four times, pushing himself deeper and deeper until his sack brushed against Mickey’s ass and he was fully seated.  He stilled again as Mickey wormed himself around him, curling his legs high up around his hips and winding his arms around Ian’s neck.  He pulled Ian down, pulled him in, rocking against him while Ian gritted his teeth and savored the tight perfect heat.  

“Fucking move!”

Mickey’s voice cut through the fog of pleasure and jolted him into action. Looking down at the smaller man’s challenging face with a smug grin, he drew back almost completely, until nothing but the fat head of his cock was tugging at Mickey’s inner rim and snapped his hips forward.  Again. And again.

And again.

Conscious thought left him as he gave in to the pure instinct of the moment.  He simply sought pleasure in the body of the person he loved more than anyone else on Earth.  He didn’t need to think about it.  He just thrust, curling his arms under and around Mickey’s shoulders for leverage as he set a punishing pace.  Mickey’s legs were clinging to him, his arms wrapped around his neck as he panted nonsense against Ian’s throat.  

They were close, so close.  He knew he couldn’t last very long but it wasn’t quite enough.  He reared back, sitting back on his flanks and hauling Mickey up against him.  The sudden change sent his lover tumbling over the edge, coming untouched between them as he cried out broken phrases and mouthed Ian’s shoulder.  Mickey’s body began to go pliant, even as he tried to hold himself up, but Ian was too lost in the moment to pause.  He held him tight, thrusting up inside of him frantically until he followed him over the edge, cradling the back of Mickey’s head and pressing them cheek to cheek as he screamed silently into the empty room.  

Ian’s considerable strength abandoned him but he fought his fatigue to lay Mickey gently down on the floor.  He collapsed beside him, and they lay panting, cooling, fighting for breath.  Ian felt drained, both mentally and physically, and it was pulling him under but he battled it for one last second as he looked to his side.  Mickey’s eyes were turned towards him, blown out and sleepy, but he gave Ian an exhausted smile. As his eyes fell closed, Ian reached out and brushed his hand against his lover’s cheek.  

The last thing he felt was Mickey pressing a kiss to his fingers.  

Chapter Text

He stared up at the ceiling again, watching the fan as it slowly spun the otherwise still air.  Once again, he was sprawled on his back in his bed.  Once again, remnants of his own release decorated his stomach.  

Now, though, his body ached deliciously.  He could barely move and didn’t want to, and even if he did, the heavy arm that was flung over his waist kept him pretty well anchored where he was.  

Ian was stretched out loosely beside him, his body bare and comfortable in Mickey’s bed.  Mickey let his eyes wander over the beautiful lines of Ian’s back, his perfect ass and strong legs and smiled.  He wanted to stay just as they were, with Ian’s gentle breath tickling his ear and the warmth of his body beside him.

They couldn’t stay there forever, but maybe karma was playing nice with them today.  A steady torrent of rain beat against the window in front of him.  He reached for his phone on the bedside table, wrestling with the stubborn giant beside him for a few more inches of freedom.  He snagged the device, only to be pulled back and spooned by his adorable idiot lover who was still deeply asleep.

Smiling to himself, Mickey typed in his password and tapped the weather app on his phone.  Heavy rains and high winds through 3pm today.  Quickly switching to the resort’s homepage, he saw that all of the boating activities had been canceled for the day.  His face screwed up in surprise.  This was usually his call to make.  He checked his texts, only to find one from Ivan.

Terrible weather today.  Surely, you must take this opportunity to stay in bed and rest, non?

He’d ended the text with a winking emoticon.

Fucking Ivan.

He typically spent rainy days working on the fleet in the garage below with Miguel.  Thumbing through his contacts, Mickey fired off a quick text to his colleague.

You wanna meet today?

The reply was almost immediate.

Nope

He frowned.  Miguel was as much of a workaholic as he was.

You sure?

Perra, go ride your man and let me sleep

Well, shit, fine, if they were all going to be so damn insistent about it.  Mickey let the phone drop beside him and snuggled back into Ian’s chest, sliding their calves and feet together in a warm tangle beneath the bunched up sheets at the bottom of the bed.  Fuck, he was tired, but in the best possible way.

He hadn’t so much fallen asleep the evening before, sprawled on the floor of his living room, so much as he’d mentally shorted out for awhile.  He still had no idea how long the two of them had lain there, wrecked and blissful, but he’d finally come back online when he felt the other man stirring beside him.  He’d shifted from side to side grimacing at the stickiness of come, sweat and dried sea salt all over him.  

Ian had read his mind, pulling him up on shaky legs and manhandling him into the shower before he knew what was happening.  He’d closed his eyes and let the stubborn redhead wash him from head to toe.  It had felt awesome, from the decadent scalp massage he received while Ian lathered up his hair to the constant brush of bare, wet skin in the steamy little alcove.  He’d been the one to reach out and pull them together as newly emboldened lips and hands began to wander.  They’d teased each other beneath the water until they were both hard again and desperate in each other’s hands, then kneaded their aching dicks together until they came, staring into each other’s eyes and stealing each other’s breath in the moment.  

They’d finally made it to his bed after that, as the sun began to dip below the horizon.  They’d slept, real sleep this time, wrapped in each other and cocooned by the sheet as darkness settled around them.   

It was pitch black when he’d woken alone in bed several hours later, but he could see the dim light of Ian’s phone moving through the living room.

“You alright?” he’d called just as Ian flipped on the kitchen light.  Mickey had sat up, concerned but half distracted by the sight of Ian’s bare ass.  The redhead had held up one finger at him as he walked back through the little loft and out the front door for a second, returning with a little carry-on case.  

“Just getting my meds,” he’d answered, bracing the bag against the back of the couch and sorting through it before tossing it over the little half wall and into the bedroom  He’d held up a prescription bottle for Ian to see. “Need to take them with some food.  I’m making sandwiches.”

Mickey had enjoyed watching him putter around the kitchen, all domestic.  He had wolfed down the the turkey sandwich Ian had presented for him, chasing it with a glass of water as Ian lounged and ate beside him.  By the time he’d taken a moment to check his work schedule and come back to bed, Ian had cleared the cups and plates back to the kitchen and shut the light off, throwing them into darkness again.

“Come here.” he’d said, holding a hand out toward Mickey, who’d taken it and scrambled over him to the far side of the bed.  Ian had turned, coaxing him onto his side towards the big window on the side of the room..

“Fucking want you,” he’d whispered into Mickey’s neck.

“Again?” he’d asked in a teasing voice but Ian was already running his lips and teeth over his shoulders and rocking gently between the firm cheeks of his ass.  He had still been loose and Ian had only paused long enough to slick his cock before pushing smoothly inside him.  He’d bit his lip at the sudden stretch, moaning and reaching a hand behind him to grasp Ian’s hip, giving him a moment to adjust.  This was always new, how deeply, perfectly, Ian filled him and he’d let himself pant and catch his breath as Ian’s hands wandered over his stomach, chest and throat.

Shutting his eyes, he’d pulled at Ian’s hip, encouraging the him to move.  Ian had obliged, but slowly, rotating his cock firmly against Mickey’s inner walls, sending sparks of pleasure up his spine.  Mickey hadn’t been sure why he’d been expecting a hard, fast fucking but that wasn’t what he got.  Ian had looped his left arms beneath Mickey’s neck, cradling him across his chest and laying a hand in a familiar position over his heart.  His other hand, still slick with lube, had snaked over Mickey’s hip and pressed flat against his rapidly filling dick.  Ian had pressed down just enough to provide constant stimulation but not enough to push him over the edge.

It had been agonizing and delicious as Ian assaulted his ass with slow, short rolling thrusts continually whetting all the right nerve endings in Mickey’s body.  He’d tried to be controlled but that had collapsed almost immediately, until he was panting and keening incoherently into the air.  His hips had twitched involuntarily and suddenly he’d been pressing back to meet each of Ian’s strokes,

Mickey’s hand was flailing and scrabbling mindlessly for purchase against the bed when Ian had snatched it and wound their fingers together, pulling it back against his heart again, pinning him even more completely against the strong body behind him.  Ian had pushed himself up slightly, sliding his leg between Mickey’s thighs and increasing the power behind each carefully measured thrust.

Mickey’s brain had been shorting out again, rational thought falling victim to the onslaught.  Ian had been so deep in him  and his body had savored it, milking the invading shaft for every drop of pleasure.  Ian’s movements had become more desperate, licking and nibbling along his neck, moaning filthy praises in his ear. Mickey had almost been there.  He’d needed just a little more pressure. Reaching down, he covered the hand Ian had been using to tease his leaking shaft and bent those long fingers around his length.  He’d fucked Ian’s hand at the same frantic pace that Ian had fucked his body, until he’d come panting and crying apart.  

Ian had ridden him right through it.  He’d fought furiously against the redhead’s solid hold but the taller man was having none of it, rubbing all over his oversensitized cock, pulling aftershocks out of it.  Mickey had no pride, he’d cried and begged as Ian had found his release, moaning and nuzzling into the back of Mickey’s neck as he came.

They’d laid that way for several minutes, too fucked out to do anything but breath. Inside him, Ian had been softening a little but still stretched him nicely.  The large hand that was still encircling his dick had started shifting in light, deliberate movements.

“Fucking stop,” he’d pleaded, unable to bear the sensations.  Ian had grinned and continued, and Mickey’s desperate squirming had only seated the shaft inside him more firmly.

“You trying to get me hard again?” the taller man whispered in his ear.

“Could I? He’d whispered back, his own dick actually showing a twitch of interest beneath Ian’s touch.  

The redhead had snorted lightly then hauled him gently to the middle of the bed.  He had been prostrate against the mattress as Ian spread him out, arms and legs sprawled and pinned to the sheets.  Ian had pressed his chest flat to his back and resumed his rolling thrusts as his hands rubbed up and down Mickey’s arms.  

“Probably not,”he’d finally relented, smiling against Mickey’s neck, “but this is nice, too.”

Mickey had agreed, letting his lover continue to ride him gently as they both writhed in the bliss of the simple moment.

“I got a job,” Ian had whispered suddenly, continuing to thrust against him.

Mickey had startled, turning his head to meet Ian’s eyes.

“I went to see Augustin,” he explained in a slightly breathless voice, “I need a job to get a work visa so…”

“And?” he’d demanded, shutting his eyes as Ian thrust a little harder.

“He has ideas about developing the medical facility more.” Ian had explained, tonguing at his earlobe between words, “It’s harder to get actual paramedic certs down here.” He’d paused his movements, reaching down and turning Mickey’s face toward him for a kiss, then held his gaze in the pale light from the window, “It’ll save him in insurance and that’ll cover my salary.”

They’d stared at each other for a moment, and Mickey had felt another weight on his heart fall away.  Ian had come up with a plan.  Ian had approached Augustin to see about work.  Being together had suddenly felt not just real but immediate.

“You should have told me earlier, you asshole,” he’d groused with a smile.  “Woulda let you fuck me even harder.”  Ian had smiled his beautiful grin, “If you’re not getting hard than get off me.  Wanna touch you.”

Ian’s hold on him had tightened.  “Can’t help it.  You have any idea how much I missed being inside you?”

“You miss anything else?”

“Yeah, fuck, everything.  I missed kissing you most.”

“Then get up and give me your mouth.”

That had won him a smile as Ian had finally released him.  They’d passed several hours kissing, teasing, and playing with each other’s bodies until sleep finally won out.

Now here he was, warm and comfortable in the arms of the guy he loved and practically ordered to stay there by his co-workers.  He wasn’t always so great at taking orders but he thought he’d be able to live with this.  

In a minute.

First, he had to piss like a mother.

Ian’s arms immediately tightened when he tried to wiggle out from under them.  They were all over him like fucking tentacles and Mickey slapped lightly at the warm skin.  “Dude, let me up.  I’m just taking a fucking leak.”  Behind him, Ian let out an annoyed growl but relented, flopping over onto his back with his arms above his head.  Mickey was pretty sure he had slept through the whole exchange.

He took care of business then paused by the window for a minute, staring at the pounding rain and the angry ocean.  Tomorrow would be an interesting day in the water, that was for sure.  But he’d worry about that then.

At the entryway to the bedroom, he paused, letting himself take in the view.  Ian was still out, his chest rising and falling gently.  Mickey took a few steps forward as his eyes wandered up and down his lover’s body.  He shrugged inwardly, yelling at himself for his corny bullshit.  He’d seen Ian naked before.  A lot.  There was no fucking reason to get this worked up over it.  

But really, how many times had he had the option to just look his fill?  They spent so much of their time together sneaking around, fucking half-dressed in the cooler at the Kash and Grab or under the bleachers after Ian’s ROTC practice.  Even when they’d lived together, there was always someone yelling in the kitchen or banging on the door.  

They’d had one night, one fucking night of undisturbed time to really enjoy each other, to fuck repeatedly, to talk while naked in bed together, and that had turned into a total shitshow the very next morning, courtesy of his scumfucking, shitbag old man.

Well, screw Terry Milkovich.  And screw the little voice in his head.  What was the point of being down here in Mexico while all the crazy was still up there in Illinois if he couldn’t really look at the man he loved for the first time?

Ian’s hands sprawled above his head and his fingers curled in slightly as they rested, huge with long, elegant fingers.  Mickey knew those hands well.  Literally every inch of his body was acquainted with them.  They seemed so innocuous against his sheets but Mickey knew from experience how quickly they could take him apart.  

Mickey let his eyes drift lower.  He remembered his genuine surprise the first time he ever saw Ian shirtless.  The first time he’d ever torn Ian’s shirt off, he thought, smirking to himself.  The redhead had been surprisingly cut, considering how skinny he’d looked under all of his clothes, but it didn’t come close to what was spread out under his appraising eyes now.  Ian was all long lines and hard planes from his arms to his stomach.

The hair on his body, under his arms, running in a neat line down his belly to the base of his dick, had more red in it than Mickey’d ever realized before, though it was still nothing in comparison to the bright red of his hair.  His eyelashes, though, were a deep russet color as they fanned against his cheeks.

Alright, damn, he needed to pull back on this shit. Looking was one thing but he wasn’t going to stand here composing fucking poetry about Ian’s eye lashes while he slept.  His eyes wandered downward again, landing on the area he was most interested in right now.  

One part of Ian was awake, arching nicely towards the lines of his stomach.  Mickey was feeling pretty awake himself, ready for round three..or four or whatever they were on now.  He reached out quietly for the lube while he formulated a plan based on Miguel’s little directive.  He bet Ian wouldn’t mind waking up if Mickey was riding his dick when he did.

And that was where he idea hit a snag.  He took a step backward as his stomach turned a little.  His back hit the little half wall and he leaned into it, letting his eyes fall shut.  He’d thought he was over this shit, but like so many things, he’d really just pushed it down deep, waiting for it to resurface.  Ian was here now.  This stuff was going to come up.  He needed to be okay dealing with it.

That sequence of events was so fucked.  Bullpens and fridge units weren’t exactly conducive to him riding Ian so they’d kind of just never done it.  Not until that night.  Ian had talked him into Double Impact after Under Siege ended and it was as craptacular as he remembered.  They’d made fun of the dumb flick for about fifteen minutes before he’d decided that enough was enough.  He sucked down the rest of his beer, stood up beside the couch and pulled each piece of clothing he was wearing off, throwing them at a shocked redhead before turning and striding into his room.  Ian had been behind him almost immediately, losing his clothes somewhere in the hallway, and he’d easily let Mickey wrestle him down to the bed and climb on top of him.  It had been pretty awesome actually, watching Ian fall apart beneath him.

The next day, everything about that night and that word became a part of his worst nightmares come to life.  By unspoken agreement, they’d never tried it again.

Except now he kind of wanted to.  

They were safe here, in the home he’d made for himself, the home Ian was going to join him in.  His piece of shit father couldn’t get to him or Ian or even Svet.  Hell, if Ian’s shrink was here, well, that would be awkward as fuck but even so, she’d probably tell them this was healthy; that they were reclaiming something they’d lost.  

He took a step forward, closer to the bed where he lover still slept.  Maybe he could just prep himself.  He could decide what to do after that.

He poured some of the lube on his hands and coated his fingers before reaching back and probing his entrance, fixating all of his attention on the motion and blocking everything else out.  He let his eyes fall shut, willing away any bad memories.

He almost screamed like a little fucking girl when someone grabbed his free hand.  He leaped back, yanking his hand away, only to see Ian leaning up on one arm and staring at him quizzically.  

“If doing that freaks you out so much I can always take care of it for you,” he said with a mischievous smirk on his lips.  

Mickey smiled but he couldn’t fake it enough to reach his eyes.  He stared down at the floor, sucking in deep breaths and avoiding the Ian’s gaze.  It took only seconds for the redhead to realize that something was wrong.  

“Hey,” he said, concern obvious in his tone, “You’re freaked out.” Mickey kept his gaze fixed on the floor but could still see Ian sit up on the bed.  He didn’t move to come any closer, giving Mickey his space, but he held one hand out.  “Can you come here?” he asked.

Mickey could feel himself freezing up as he stared straight at Ian’s hand.  He wiped at his eyes frantically with the heels of his palms, sucking in mouthfuls of air.  From the bed, he heard Ian make a small, distressed sound but he didn’t come any closer.  Mickey let himself focus on that, on Ian’s controlled distance, until his breath began to slow a little.  He was safe.  He was in his home and the only person with him was Ian, who would sit with him but not smother him, who would let him decide how he needed to be comforted.  

“I’d never judge you either,” the redhead said quietly from the bed, “You know, for crying.  It goes both ways, Mick.”

“I know,” he muttered, “But like you said, I’m so fucking sick of crying over old shit.  And that rabid piece of garbage doesn’t deserve my fucking tears.”

“Are you talking about the piece of shit I think you’re talking about?”

He nodded miserably.

“Okay,” Ian swung his legs over the side of the bed, keeping his hand out and available.  “Yeah, maybe, but why does it have to be about him?”

“What?”

“Well, who gives a shit what that fucker does or doesn’t deserve.  He doesn’t control you.  He always told you that you weren’t allowed to cry, right?  That pussies cry?  That faggots cry?”

Knots of tension began to loosen a little as Mickey listened to Ian’s words, to his gentle tone.  He took a deep breath and looked up, meeting his lover’s warm gaze.  

“Yeah,” he choked out, his voice thick.

“Okay, well, then if you don’t want to cry, don’t.  If you want to, go ahead.  But do it for you and who gives a fuck about him.  He isn’t here.  He doesn’t have any control anymore.”

Ian let his voice trail off, waiting quietly, not moving or pushing.  Mickey felt himself push off the wall but he didn’t take another step forward.   He just kept his gaze fixed on Ian’s and concentrated on the green in his eyes.  “I wanted to wake you up with a surprise,” he admitted quietly.

Ian raised his eyebrows, looking thrown by the sudden topic shift. “Okay,” he returned, “If you come back to bed with me, I bet I’ll pass right out.  Then you can surprise me all you want.”

That drew a smile out of Mickey, and the knot in his gut finally loosened.  He took two more steps forward, sliding his hand into the one Ian was still holding out.  The taller man folded their fingers together and pulled him gently, and Mickey let himself be reeled in to sit next to him on the bed.

“You wanna tell me?”

Mickey grimaced a little, gripping Ian’s hand tighter.  “You know I don’t,” he answered, playing nervously with their intertwined fingers, “but that isn’t how we’re doing this, right?”

Beside him, Ian nodded.  “Yeah, no, we need to talk about shit and work through it and…”

“I wanna be able to ride my boyfriend’s dick without having a fucking meltdown!”

They stared at each other, both a little stunned by his outburst.  Mickey could feel himself squirming..  He was about to look away when Ian suddenly pulled his hands away and raised them in the air, “Wait, you never told me you had a fucking boyfriend!”

They were silent for all of three seconds before Ian’s mock fury collapsed.  They both cracked up, leaning into each other’s shoulders as they laughed.

“You’re such a fucking dick, you know that?” he muttered against Ian’s neck.

The redhead pulled back, framing his huge hands around Mickey’s head.  “Yeah.” he said simply, drawing Mickey into a deep kiss.  Mickey folded into it easily, letting Ian seize control for a minute.  “Boyfriend” was also a tricky word between them.  He knew how long Ian had wanted to hear him use it.

Eventually, Ian pulled their lips apart, pressing a final, gentle kiss and rubbing the cords of Mickey’s neck with strong fingers, studying him carefully.

“What,” he finally asked the redhead with a smile, “What the fuck are you looking at?”

Ian released him and swung back onto the bed, fluffing all the pillows before leaning back into them against the headboard. “Can we try something?” he asked.

“What?”

“Okay, so the other day, on the deck, you were sitting on my lap, right, and it was okay.  We just kissed and held each other.  It was good, right?”

Mickey exhaled deeply, seeing where Ian was going, “Yeah.” he agreed, letting his fingers wander and trace the lines of the redhead’s abs, enjoying the way it made Ian pant.  They looked at each other consideringly for a second.

“Just c’mere,” Ian finally said, opening his arms up, “Please?”

He waited, not moving, and Mickey bit his lip as he weighed his options.  This was what he’d wanted, right?  Slow steps.

“What’s the best spot in the world to go diving?”

Mickey’s head jerked up at the random question, but Ian’s face was all innocence as his hands slithered out, encircling Mickey’s wrists. “Well?” he asked insistently as he stretched his arms back over his head, pulling Mickey with him until he was leaning over his chest.  

Mickey grinned, “Indonesia,” he said, taking the hint and sliding his leg across Ian’s stomach.  The taller man immediately released his wrists and let his own hands settle around Mickey’s waist, rubbing calming circles on his lower back. “It’s in part of the Pacific called the Coral Triangle,” he continued as he let his palms settle on Ian’s stomach.  “It’s got, like, the most diverse range of coral species in the whole world.”

Ian was listening attentively, but Mickey could still feel him hardening beneath his ass.  He ground down slightly, feeling Ian’s cock jump and his stomach contract beneath his fingers.  The redhead gave him a snarky grin.  “Tell me more,” he said, as one of his hands slid around to trace over Mickey’s chest and throat.  “Just how much coral’s in this place?”

Ian’s other hand was still rubbing his back in an even rhythm, exerting gentle pressure.  Mickey felt himself falling into it, his hips shifting, gently rutting against the body beneath him.  He let his eyes slip closed, focusing only on the movement and the words coming out of his mouth.  

“Three quarters of the world’s species,” he answered,  hearing the breathlessness in his voice.  Ian had both of his hands on his hips again, coaxing him to move faster.  He was completely hard but not ready yet.  He stayed focused on the coral.  “A lot of them don’t exist anywhere else, so I’ve got to get there if I’m ever going to see them.”

“Can I come with you?.”

Ian’s plaintive request cut through his lust.  His eyes flew open to meet the green ones beneath him.  They looked at each other, completely still, until Mickey smiled and nodded. “Guess you have to, right?  I mean, I’m not allowed to dive alone anymore, so I have to bring my fucking nanny.”

Ian smiled back.

Then reached around and slapped his ass.  Hard.

“Fuck!”

“I can spank this ass like your nanny too.” the redhead said.  His mouth was curled in a smirk but his eyes were softer, watching Mickey patiently as his hands gently kneaded the same skin he’d just smacked.  Mickey relaxed into the sensation, letting himself take a few steadying breaths.  Reaching behind him, he grabbed the bottle of lube and pressed it against Ian’s chest.

“Open me up?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Mickey could feel his stomach tightening again as Ian worked a single digit inside him.  Fuck, why was this so hard?  If he flipped over on his stomach, he wouldn’t be nervous at all. No, no, fuck this.  He wasn’t giving in.  They were taking this back for themselves.  

He kept breathing slowly as Ian slid a second finger in, scissoring gently as he worked his hand in and out of Mickey’s channel.  A little moan slid out of his mouth and Ian shot him a self-satisfied smile.  Mickey smirked right back at him.  Just you wait, Firecrotch, he thought, If I can just keep my shit together, I’m going to rock your fucking world.  Reaching behind him, he stilled Ian’s hand.  He rolled his hips slowly until just the thick tips of Ian’s long fingers were still inside him, then thrust his body down hard.

“Fuck!”

Fuck, fuck, that felt fucking perfect.  Beneath him, Ian’s eyes lit up with pure lust as he took in the show Mickey was giving him.  He pressed a third finger in, smiling wolfishly when Mickey took it easily.  Mickey just shook his head.  Ian thought he was the one doing the seducing? He continued to roll his hips frantically, molding his entire body into the single act of riding his lover’s hand.  Each movement caused their rigid cocks to brush but the redhead stayed in check, waiting for Mickey to move them forward.  

He could probably come from this, he realized as he rolled his hips a final time before pushing Ian’s hand away and settling back into lap.  He leaned forward, rewarding his patient lover with a long kiss, running a thumb along the sensitive head of his dick, smirking as he shuddered and shut his eyes.  The lube bottle lay abandoned on the bed and Mickey picked it up and poured a generous amount on his hand and smearing it up and down the length of Ian’s shaft.  Beneath him, Ian’s hips jerked and his fingers dug into Mickey’s hips.

Fuck, he could do this.  He wanted to do this and he wasn’t going to let himself flip out.  Ian had opened his eyes and was looking at him carefully, rubbed soothing circles around his hips while he lined himself up carefully with his cock.  

“Let’s go on our honeymoon.”

“What?”

“Indonesia. We’ll go there on our honeymoon.” As he finished his sentence, Ian suddenly arched off the bed, nudging his dick against Mickey’s ass.  Mickey moaned at the touch and let his body take charge, pushing back against the intrusion.  The head of Ian’s cock penetrated him with a sudden pop, causing them both to gasp and claw at each other.  Mickey curled his hands back around Ian’s wrists and drew them back over his head again, pinning the redhead down to the pillow so he could lean over him.  He gave an experimental roll of his hips, taking Ian in a little deeper.

“Who said I’m marrying you?” he asked innocently, leaning over to flick his tongue over Ian’s lips, backing away and grinning when the taller man tried to chase him.  “Hmmmm?”

Ian just smiled up at him, all fucking wide-eyed and adoring, “I did.  Why, you wanna bullshit me and tell me you aren’t gonna marry me someday?”

Mickey stared down at him, realizing the truth in his words.  Their old life was over, everything was different now and he suddenly knew that yeah, he was going to end up married to the idiot ginger under him.  He smiled, rolling his hips again and again as his lover inhaled sharply.

“I ain’t being the wife.”

Ian lifted his head off the pillow, staring him straight in the eye. “No one fucking asked you to be.” He thrust his hips up suddenly, shoving the rest of his cock inside Mickey, making him gasp out loud as a bolt of pleasure shot through him.  He rebounded quickly, leaning all his weight on Ian’s arms, pinning him to the pillow.  He let his body adjust to the intrusion, to the wonderfully full stretch of Ian’s cock so deep inside him. He shimmied around, hooking his feet under Ian’s thighs, giving himself the leverage that he needed.  Releasing Ian’s wrists, Mickey guided his hands up to the headboard and looped his fingers around the slats. He leaned over his lover, nuzzling at his ear and whispering, “Don’t you fucking dare let go.”

Ian only nodded, his eyes huge with lust.  Mickey sat back and let himself enjoy the view.  Hell, Ian was right.  They were definitely getting married because there was no way he was ever going to live without this again.  

His first few movements were hesitant as he adjusted to angles and found his way.  He was thinking too much.  He needed to let go,  Bracing his hands on Ian’s chest, he stared down at the redhead.  He only let himself think about green eyes and let his body do the rest.  He found an easy, slow rhythm, squeezing Ian’s cock with each rise and fall of his hips.  Ian was following instructions, squeezing the bed slats so hard his arms were trembling.  His mouth was open and panting in synch with Mickey’s strokes.  Mickey let his fingers wander over his lover’s stomach and chest and up over his throat.  He ran a thumb across his lips, sucking in a breath when Ian nipped it between his teeth, rolling his tongue over it and holding it prisoner in his mouth.  

Mickey’s thrusts were becoming faster and erratic and fuck, he’d forgotten how good this felt.  He loved the control, loved how deep Ian was inside him.  The angle was fucking perfect, every down stroke hitting his prostate dead on and his own rock hard cock was bouncing between their stomachs, weeping precum.  He kept his hands off it, too worried that if he touched himself it would push him right over the edge and this would end much too soon.

Ian was squirming and straining against the mattress, pushing up to meet his strokes.  He had surrendered all self-control and was panting nonsense and profanity as he pressed his head back against the bed and arched his back. Mickey slowed his movements, rolling his hips, using Ian’s cock like his own personal sex toy.  The redheads eyes flew open, ready to complain, but he shut up immediately as Mickey rode him slowly and deliberately, showing off every muscle in his body.  

Mickey leaned down lower, grabbing onto the headboard above Ian’s hands, pressing his shaft against the firm ridges of Ian’s stomach.  The new angle gave him added leverage and he spread his thighs wider, curling his knees under Ian’s legs.  His entire body shuddered at the overwhelming sensation and he let his head drop forward to rest against Ian’s chest as he shimmied and bounced on his cock, completely lost to everything except the pleasure of the moment.  His skin was slick with sweat and the muscles in his calves were cramped but he hardly noticed as he rode the man he loved.  

He could feel the tension building in the body beneath him and the desperation in the redhead’s voice.  Ian suddenly released the headboard, sitting up in one fluid movement, planting his feet flat against the mattress at the same time.  He used one arm was to brace him in a sitting position and the other he slid around Mickey’s back, locking their bodies together.

Mickey gave a small squawk of protest but it was quickly swallowed up by the devouring kiss Ian planted on him, thrusting a tongue into his mouth until his was too kiss drunk and pliant to argue.

“You can punish me later,” the redhead whispered against his lips as he thrust up into him, grinding him down against his cock at the same time.  They rocked together viciously, hard and fast and frantic for release as their lips broke apart and came back together.  The line was almost blurring between pleasure and pain but it was still deliciously perfect.  Mickey couldn’t stop, he was so close to the edge and he fucking had to get there.  Ian had them pressed together too tightly for him to reach his own dick but he ground it against his lover’s stomach, relentlessly, chasing his release.  He was almost there, he just needed a little more, when Ian suddenly threaded long fingers into his hair, pulled his head back, and nipped the base of his throat.

He came like it was the fucking fourth of July, shooting ropes of come between them as every muscle in his body seized up.  He wasn’t even sure if he’d made any noise.  He could only remember seeing stars and Ian’s satisfied smirk right before he found his own release and his face crumpled with pleasure.  They clung to each other furiously in the aftermath as Mickey wavered between moments of panic and utter triumph.  

It was Ian who finally sensed his raging emotions, cupping his face and pressing kisses to his eyelids and cheeks before pulling their lips together.  He kissed him and kissed him until all Mickey could think about were Ian’s lips and strong hands as they held him close.  

Ian eventually let himself fall back against the mountain of pillows, drawing Mickey down with him to sprawl across his lap and chest.  They lay quietly, holding each other close as the wind and rain continued to whip against the windows.

“So I’ve got the day off,” Mickey half mumbled into his chest.

Looking down at him, Ian just smirked.  “What are we going to do with our time?”

Mickey only smiled.

Chapter Text

The moon hung full over the water, casting everything beneath it in silvery white light.  The waves lapped gently against the gunnels of the catamaran, drumming a peaceful melody into the warm night air.  It was perfect moment on a perfect night in the perfect world that he didn’t want to leave.  

But he had to, tomorrow morning.

Stretching an arm behind his head, Ian stared at the sky, searching for the faint traces of stars behind the stunningly bright moonlight.  His other arm was wrapped snugly around the waist of the brunette sprawled sleepily across his chest.  Mickey’s fingers were skirting over the skin of his chest as he tried to fight his exhaustion, but the combination of his workday, hot marathon sex, and the heat were all conspiring against him.  

“Thought the plan was all night long,” he mumbled sleepily, rolling over to pillow his head on Ian’s shoulder, staring up at the sky with him.  Ian just tightened his hold on him.  

“Knew we wouldn’t last the whole night.  We’re too old and boring now.”

Mickey snorted but didn’t disagree.  “We should head back in, finish this in bed.  You sure you’re all packed?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Fuck you.”

“Patience.”

They rooted around the deck, locating all of their discarded clothing and folding up the blanket they’d been lying on.  Ian kept his thoughts to himself but he enjoyed this shift in their dynamic.  

Who wanted to put down a blanket and look for stars now?

He climbed up the stairs and settled into the co-captain’s chair as Mickey turned the engine over and flipped on all the running lights.  He leaned back against the leather, twisting the chair so he could watch Mickey maneuver the huge boat.  Mickey was so at peace whenever he was anywhere near the water, so confident and in his element.  Ian couldn’t help but feel a little forlorn.  Deep down, he had always sensed this side of Mickey.  He’d always lived for the tiny crumbs Mickey had shared, back when fear and chaos dominated their lives, when so much of who they were had to be hidden away and protected.  Here, in this world, it could all be done out in the open.

He knew he would be back soon, that in the long run, the next few months would be the blink of an eye, but still.  He hated leaving.

Mickey had taught him a lot about the fleet over the past week, though he was still fucking reluctant to give Ian a turn at the wheel.  Ian always laughed at the protectiveness but really the Marguerite was like Mickey’s second child.  He’d taken Ian all over the coastline, even outside of the boundaries of the resort.  He’d really gotten him in the water, on some real dives that involved depth gauging and proper preparation.  Ian loved all of it.  Mickey had completely converted him with his passion and enthusiasm and he’d had Ian racking up his dive hours, well on his way towards full certification by the week’s end.  

They’d made a return trip out to the little lagoon, which had been the biggest bone of contention of their time together.  Ian was looking at being gone for a minimum of two months.  Mickey had argued that he’d been solo diving there for years and that Ian’s return was a perfectly fine time to start enacting stricter safety protocols.  Ian was having none of it.  It felt too much like they were fucking with fate, daring her to fuck them back.  He put his foot down and got Ivan and Miguel to back him up until they struck a compromise.  Miguel would go with Mickey once a week while Ian was gone and Ian had to help him make up lost time when he returned.  Ian had gladly agreed.  He knew Mickey still thought they were being ridiculous, but he was willing to do it for the guy he loved.  

Ian had thanked him profusely on a number of occasions.  

And in a number of positions.

The lights of the resort guided them in, cutting through the night sky.  The neverending thrum of the music that was the perpetual soundtrack of this little world beat in the distance.  Ian hardly even noticed it anymore.  It felt so familiar, like his own heartbeat.  Tomorrow, though, he’d have to leave that behind, too.

They tied up the boat and set off up the dock, their fingers seeking each other’s out and slipping together easily.  In all the years they’d known each other, even when they lived together and shared a bed, they had never held hands, never really exchanged any kind of affection in public.  Now, though, it had become common practice for them to link fingers or to throw their arms around each other as they walked.  Ian loved it, and even though Mickey still made fun of them for it half the time, he did, too.  

“You still hungry?” he asked, drawing Ian out of his thoughts.

“A little, but I don’t want you cooking.” he brought Mickey’s hand up to his lips, pressing a kiss to his knuckles, “Want to do other things instead.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine.  There’s leftovers in the fridge,” the brunette answered.  “Gonna have to get used to cooking for one again.”  He tried to sound nonchalant but Ian could see the slight pink in his cheeks and feel the tightening around his fingers.

“We can keep a list of recipes and try them when I get back.”

Mickey sighed, “Yeah,” he mumbled quietly.  

Stopping dead on the walkway, Ian pulled him into his arms, squeezing even tighter when the shorter man squirmed.  He held on as Mickey’s arms circled him and hugged him back. “C’mon,” he murmured against his neck, “I’m taking you to bed.”

The little lamp next to the door was on, throwing some light on the inside of Mickey’s loft.  Ian stared hard at the door and the paneled windows, at the tiled floor inside the doorway where they’d first made love after years of separation.  He watched as Mickey chucked his keys in the little bowl on the table next to the door and wandered into the kitchen, pulling out plates and leftover pasta.  Walking into the living room, he let his hands run over the back of the worn but comfortable couch, before flopping down into the left side.

His side.

Ian let his head fall back against the old, beat up microfiber and closed his eyes.  The sudden darkness let him concentrate on the sounds of Mickey moving about the kitchen, the distant crash of the surf outside.  He breathed in deeply, inhaling the now familiar scent of their cohabitation.

Opening his eyes again, he let his gaze drift around the little room.  They had spent so much time here over the past week, side by side in simple domesticity.  Ian would work on his visa application or some of the plans Augustin had forwarded for the new job while Mickey pushed through his school work or created staffing schedules like the responsible manager he was.  They’d curled up on the couch together and watched movies, stealing food off each other’s plates and playfully bickering like old married people.  They’d cooked together, done dishes together, straightened up their shit together.

They’d fucked together, too, made out on the couch like horny teenagers, christened every flat surface in the little loft.  They’d put a mark on this place, made it theirs like they’d never been able to do before.  

A painful knot was forming in his chest, tightening and tightening as he tried to breath through it.  The sights, the sounds, the smells were all a part of this place, of this safe little world and the little home that was in it.  Mickey’s home.  His home.  He didn’t care that the distance was only temporary. It was killing him to have to leave.

Mickey came into the living room, carrying two plates and some forks.  He looked relatively calm but his face fell immediately when he saw Ian’s face.

“Fuck, man,”he drawled, concern in his voice as he set the plate down, “What is it?”

“Don’t want to go,” Ian said, hating the thickness in his voice.

“Don’t want you to go,” Mickey replied, curling himself into Ian’s side,”but, you know, we just gotta focus on the end game, okay. You’ve said so yourself.  The sooner you go, the sooner you’re back and shit,” he looped his arm around Ian’s stomach and held him tight. “We’ll talk every day.”

Ian nodded, but his throat was too tight to make words.  He could feel his eyes burning and he finally just quit fighting it.  Reaching over, he yanked Mickey into his lap, wrapping himself around the smaller man as the tears spilled over.

“I’m scared, Mick,”he whispered into the brunette’s hair, “I’m so fucking scared.”

“Of what, man?” Mickey asked, his own fear clear in his blue eyes.

“I don’t even fucking know.  Everything?  All I want is this, just for the two of us to have a little home and jobs we go to and we get to come home and be together and be fucking happy.  That’s it.  That’s all I want.”

Ian released the strangle hold he had on Mickey just a little, letting his head fall back against the leather again.  Swinging his legs around, Mickey straddled his waist, looping his arms over Ian’s shoulder while he listened.

“It really doesn’t seem like too much to ask,” Ian continued, staring miserably up at the ceiling,”I mean, don’t other people just get to be fucking happy all the time?  Don’t they just get to go to work and come home to the person they love?”

“I think so,” Mickey answered, rubbing his fingers soothingly over the back of Ian’s head, “I mean, I don’t really know shit about other people, but it seems that way.”

“So why’s it so fucking hard for us?” Ian spit out, frustration clear in his voice,”It never seems to go that way for you or me or any of the people we love.  And right now it all seems so possible, like we might really get to have it, and I’m just waiting for the shit show to roll up, laugh at us for thinking we’d escaped, and blow it all to hell!”

They stared at each other, the same hopes and fears running on a loop between them.

“I should’ve just come with you.  Wouldn’t have to fucking leave then.”

“Don’t start that shit,” Mickey snapped, pushing against his shoulder, “You fucking know better.  We have no idea what would’ve happened if you’d come with me but we have every reason to think it would’ve been worse than this shit, not better.  And it doesn’t matter anyway.  This is where we are, Ian.  We live this life, not a bunch of fucking what-ifs.  

This is more of that shit you told me about.  What is it, supervigilance…”

“Hypervigilance.”

“Okay, fuck, whatever, hyper vigilance. But that’s what this is, right. Expecting everything to go to shit so you’re not disappointed when it does?”

Ian watched as Mickey leaned back on his knees, studying him carefully.  “I’m scared, too, okay.  I hate that you’re leaving, too, okay.  I know that you looked for me, I know that you came down here and found me, but I’m still scared that you’re not going to come back.”

Mickey shifted nervously in his lap as Ian stared up at him, taking in those words.  They hurt so much to hear but he knew it hurt Mickey to say them, too.

“I’m coming back.”

“I know.  I’m not talking to you about common sense here.  Neither are you.  Do you really believe we’re, like, cursed or some shit?”

“No!  No, I don’t.  But I’m still scared.”

“Exactly.  It’s fear.  I don’t have any reason to believe you won’t come back but it still scares me that you won’t, okay.  It isn’t fucking rational, but it’s still there.”

“And you’re saying that we can’t let fear control our lives?”

“No, I’m not saying that because that shit’s for shrinks and Hallmark cards.”

Ian snorted, feeling his chest loosen a little.  “Alright, you’re right.” he agreed, pulling Mickey closer. “I stand by what I said though.  I don’t think it’s asking too much to just be happy with the person you love.”

“It’s not.  We will be.”

“Okay.”

Shifting his weight, Mickey moved to stand up, but Ian latched onto his hips, refusing to let him move.  It earned him a genuine eyeroll from the brunette, who leaned over and grabbed the pasta bowls, shoving one into Ian’s chest.

“Here, eat fast.  I want to do things to you.”

Ian grinned, inhaling three huge mouthfuls in under a minute and setting the half empty bowl down on the side table.
“Done,” he growled, snatching Mickey’s bowl away and pulling him up into his arms.

“Jesus fuck,” Mickey groused as he was carried roughly into the bedroom, “And people say I was raised by fucking savages.”

“You wanna see savage,” Ian asked him as he tossed the smaller man across the mattress and yanked all of his clothes off, “I’m about to savage this ass.” He gave the bare skin as playful swat as he pulled his own shirt over his head

“Corny fucker.”

Ian didn’t answer.  He just stripped himself quickly and clambered on the bed, kneeing Micky’s legs apart as he crawled over him.  

*************************************************************************************

The alarm on Ian’s phone was set for six but they’d already been up for an hour.  They lay in the middle of Mickey’s bed, their bed, wrapped around each other, holding on as tightly as they could.  The sun was starting peek through the blinds as the minutes slowly slipped by.

5:57.

He ran his hand through Mickey’s hair, smiling when the brunette leaned into the touch.

5:58.

Mickey stroked his fingers against his lips, letting him press kisses to them, not pulling away.

5:59.

Ian pulled them together, squeezing Mickey as hard as he could, wrapping himself around him entirely.

“I’ll come back.”

The alarm went off.

The trip to the airport was silent.  They sat together in the back of Ivan’s car, practically in each other’s laps, as the ocean fell away behind them and the streets of Puerto Vallarta slid by.  Ivan and Augustin had insisted on driving but neither said a word, letting them have these last few minutes together uninterrupted.  

The heat was oppressive outside of the car, just like the day he’d arrived.  Entering the airport felt like an oasis, but Ian couldn’t be grateful for the artificially cool air.  He’d have stayed in the sweltering heat forever rather than entering this building, when the only way out of it was on a plane back to the states.  

“Take care of him?” Ian asked Augustin as they shook hands.

“Of course.” the older man replied, “This time will pass much faster than either of you realize.  And you will take care of yourself, Rouquin, correct?  You will talk to your doctor and your siblings and make sure you are healthy?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  And he would.  He wouldn’t let anything get in the way of coming back as quickly as possible.

Ivan and Augustin stayed by the door but Mickey followed him as he checked his bag and headed towards the security gate. There was no line and for once, Ian found that frustrating.  All it meant was that he’d be farther away from Mickey even faster.

He dropped his carry-on and dragged Mickey into his arms, holding him tight and burying his face into his neck.  He felt lightheaded and a little nauseous as the moment of truth was finally upon them.

In his arms, Mickey squirmed, pulling back and pressing their foreheads together.  “Okay, we’re gonna stop this shit,” he interjected, linking his hands behind Ian’s head, “We’re not gonna fall apart.  We’re going to kiss each other goodbye and handle our shit like fucking adults for the next two months, okay?”  He pulled his head back a little, looking Ian dead in his eyes, “You said it yourself, we don’t live in chaos anymore.  When you go back, you aren’t going back to chaos.  You’re going back with a clear fucking plan and a fucking check-in schedule and a set of fucking responsibilities.  We know exactly what we need to do.  So, let’s, I don’t know, fucking believe in ourselves or some shit.”

Ian grinned as the tension in him receded a little. “I thought that corny shit was only for shrinks and hallmark cards.”

“Fuck you, Gallagher.”

“I love you, too.”

He pressed a final kiss to Mickey’s lips, holding it for a little longer than necessary, before releasing the brunette and picking up his carry-on bag.  He walked backwards towards the security check, holding Mickey’s blue eyed gaze until he had to turn around and address the border patrol.  He stepped through the metal detector and grabbed his bag off the conveyer belt.  He was on the other side now.  There was no going back.  

Across the barrier, Mickey stared after him.  Ignoring the hokiness, he blew a kiss toward the brunette.  He almost cried when Mickey actually caught it.  

With a final smile, he turned and walked toward his gate.  

*************************************************************************************

One week in…

“I promised Rita that I’d help her train my replacement,” Ian muttered as he tugged at the button on his uniform sleeve.  His phone was propped on the bathroom mirror shelf as he spoke to Mickey through the speaker, “They put themselves out on a limb for me when I first got hired.  I can’t just let them down.”

“I get that,” the voice on the other end of the phone answered, “but you need to give them a solid deadline. You know you need to be unemployed or the preferential employment shit won’t work down here.”

Ian could hear the frustration in Mickey’s voice and he knew it was covering fear.  How the fuck could he explain this?

“I get it, Mick.  I know I can’t file until I’m officially unemployed.  But it’s more than just leaving my old boss in the lurch. I mean, I’m trying not to draw attention.  Aren’t you worried about Marshals looking for you.”

“Nah.”

Ian stared at the phone for a second, “What do you mean, nah?  That’s pretty fuckin confident, don’t you think?”  Annoyance bled into his voice and he tried to tamp it down.  He didn’t want to argue with Mickey, not while they were so far away.

“Ian, you need to chill the fuck out.  They aren’t looking for me.  No one gives a shit about some hood from Southie, especially one who’s only crime was supposedly trying to take out another hood from Southie.  They aren’t wasting any money or resources on my ass.”  

“Well, I hope you’re fucking right,” Ian finally wrestled the button through its hole and picked up the phone, “I’ll give her my three weeks notice today, okay.  She’s expecting it.”

“You got enough to make it through with no paycheck?”

“What? Yeah, I’m good.  Fiona made me take the money back.”

“They don’t need it?”

“No, man, I keep telling you. Everyone’s doing real good up here.”

Ian dropped down on his bed and grabbed his shoes, loosening up the laces and pulling them on.  The line had gone quiet on the other end and he sighed to himself.  

“Mickey, I’m doing it today, okay.  You’ve gotta trust me.  I just don’t want to screw over the people who helped me, okay, especially Sue and Rita.  But they’re on board with this.  They’re in our corner.”

“What about everyone else?”

“You know Lip backs this.  Carl, Deb, and Kev do, too.  Fiona and Vee, they’ll take some time.  Fi’s always going to be overprotective.  She can’t help it and Vee just has her back.”

Mickey snorted through the phone.  “Can’t believe your arrogant prick brother actually backs this.”

“First, he’s my brother and he loves me and he knows I love you.  He wants me happy.  Second, he’s different than the guy you used to know.  He’s been through some shit of his own.  Not much on judging people.”  He finished his shoes and grabbed his coat. “Look, I gotta get to work.  But I’m setting a firm date today.” He thundered down the stairs, pulling on his coat and shifting the phone back and forth. “I’ll text you when it’s done.  Now go for a swim or something and think about me.”

“Yeah, alright,” there was another pause on the line. “I love your ass.”

“Just my ass?”

“Oh fuck you, Firecrotch.  You know what I mean.”

Ian smiled, “I love you and your ass, too.”

*************************************************************************************

Three weeks in...

3:45 am

Dude where the fuck are you?

4:38 am

?????????????????????????

6:13 am

Ian do NOT fuck around

7:20 am

I gotta head to my shift.  WTFRU

8:00 am

Sick or dead bitch so help me

Fingertips drummed incessantly against the steering wheel of the boat.  Mickey couldn’t get them under control.  They itched to check his phone again but he just gripped the wheel tighter.  He didn’t take his phone out when he had divers in the water.  It was one of his strictest rules, one he insisted on for all of his staff, and he wasn’t breaking it now.  He wasn’t fucking with his program because Ian was fine, dammit, and he’d have a damn good excuse for being almost twelve hours late checking in.

Like, maybe he just fucking fell asleep.  Maybe he finished his shift and rolled in at three in the morning and just passed the fuck out.  It made total sense.  

Mickey looked out across the water, exchanging a signal with two of his subordinates who were in the water with the clients.  The count confirmed, he slid back into the captain’s chair, glancing sideways at the  co-captain’s perch that Ian had staked as his own.  Maybe he’d changed his mind.  Maybe he wasn’t going through with it.

No, that wasn’t what had him worried.  Ian had every intention of coming back.  For the first time in his life, Mickey had confidence in that.  No, he was letting Ian’s fears creep in on him, the irrational but real sense that something was always going to get in the way, that fate would always rear her ugly face and tell them, “No, not you, no happy ending here.”

The boat finally docked at 4:30 pm.  The waiting was killing him but Mickey pushed through, cleaning up the boat and completing the maintenance steps.  Finally, he swung down onto the dock and let himself pull out the little device.

He didn’t know whether to curse or cry when a series of messages popped up on his phone.

9:31 am

Fuck I knew Id miss you  Txt me plz soon

10:44 am

Im fine but plz call asap

12:09 pm

So sorry i freaked you out  shift went so bad tlk soon plz

1:53 pm

Love you

He didn’t bother texting, just hit Ian’s number on speed dial and waited.

“Mick?”

“The fuck!  You scared the shit out of me.”

He let himself drop onto a bench on the side of the pathway, ignoring the resort patrons around him as he listened to Ian breath into the line from thousands of miles away.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry. Everything went straight to hell last night.  I didn’t even get in until almost ten this morning.”

“You alright?  What the fuck happened?”

“Bus crash.  I mean, I’m alright but it was a fucking mess.  Two loaded interstate busses hit.  The one T-boned the other.  Driver was drunk, they think.  He was going almost fifty and he ran a light and just slammed the other bus.  They were both full and just, fuck, there were so many people.”

Ian’s voice was rising and Mickey could hear the thick, choking sound of tears in his voice.  Fuck, he hated being so far away.  “Ian,” he pleaded into the phone, “You need to listen to my voice, okay.  You need to breath.”

“I’m trying.”

“Is Lip home?”

“No, everyone’s out.”

“Alright, shit, okay, listen.  Listen to me.  I want you to breath with me, okay,” He breathed in and out, straining to listen to Ian through the phone. He could hear breathing through the phone and it was starting to align with his, to calm and regulate.  

They continued for a full minute before he spoke again.  “Better?”

“M”okay.”

“You need to call the doc?”

“Yeah,” Ian replied, and Mickey could hear him sniffling, “I will.  Wanted to talk to you first, though.”

“I’m here.  I just don’t want you to talk if it’s going to set you over the edge.”

“It’s not the talking that’s doing that.  It’s the stuff in my head.  Mick, the second bus got cut right in half.  They brought in the hydraulic lift and jaws of life and they still couldn’t get some of them out of the wreck.  And we didn’t even have enough vans to get people to the hospital.  I mean, County shipped out trauma staff and they were doing triage in the streets.  We just kept running back and forth, grabbing the ones they thought we could save, leaving some others because they were too far gone.” his voice choked off for a minute and Mickey could feel his own stomach churn, “I don’t even know who made it and who we lost.”

They fell into their breathing patterns again until Ian started to calm.

“I’m so fucking sorry.  Fuck, I wish I was there.”

“Not much you could do.”

“Fuck that, I could hold you.”

Ian sighs drifted across the phone.  “Yeah. Yeah, I wish you were here, too.”

“You gonna talk to Rita and debrief?”

“I will and I’ll call Trego but not until tomorrow.  I just need to lie down.  I haven’t been to sleep yet.”

“Shit, yeah, do that.  You gonna be okay?” He was trying to keep his voice neutral but he knew his concern was bleeding through the phone.  

“Yeah, I am, or I will be.  But, are you busy?”

“No, what do you need?”

“Stay on the phone with me?  I just need to hear you breathing.”

Mickey closed his eyes, shutting out the bright sun, putting himself back in Ian’s room in the little blue house. “As long as you need, man.  I’m right here.”

*************************************************************************************

One month in…

Ian flung his head back against his pillow, almost knocking the phone to the floor as he moaned through the last tremors of a gut punching orgasm.  

“Jesus fuck, Mick,” he gasped, sliding his shaking hand through the mess of come that decorated his chest and stomach.  His other hand cupped his spent cock, nursing the last few drops of seed.  His whole body was heaving with the affect.  Through the phone, he could hear Mickey’s wicked laugh mix with his own panting breath.

“Don’t even need to be in the same country to get you off with my mouth,” he muttered over the line.  

“Yeah, yeah, you’re super fucking talented,” Ian quipped, still fighting for his breath.  It was moments like this when he missed Mickey most, when he just wanted to curl up around him and fall asleep.  

“So, what would you do next?”

“The fuck?”

“You know, after you rode me like your personal sex toy, what would you do next?”

There was silence on the other end of the line, pulling Ian out of his head for a moment.  He listened carefully, waiting.  He didn’t want to push this the wrong way and get Mickey all morose.

Finally, there was a sigh on the other end, but it didn’t sound angry or sad, just resigned.  “I’d tuck my head into your neck, just how you like it and let you twist our legs all up together.  Then I’d pass the fuck out because I’d be wrecked.”

“At least you’re honest.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Yeah, and then I’d flip you over and wrap you up like the little spoon you are.”

“Oh, fuck you, Gallagher!”

“No, fuck you.  You know you love it!”

Another pause.

“Yeah...yeah I do.”

Ian smiled, then glanced at the clock and groaned. “Mick, I need sleep.  So do you.”

“Ugh, fuck, yeah, alright.  What time you done tomorrow?”

“Not til 8:30.  You call Svet and Yev first?”

“Yeah, okay.  I’ll text you when I’m done with them.  You get some sleep.”

“I love you.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“Oh no, don’t short me, bitch.”

“Fine, Firecrotch.  I love you, too.  You happy?”

“For now.”

*************************************************************************************

Six and half weeks in…

Mickey leaned against the window frame, staring out at the darkened ocean as he listened to Ian prattle on.  

“I mean, Jesus, I thought Lip and Fi were finally gonna kill him.  You should’ve seen it.  Lip just grabbed the top of the railing and planted both feet in his chest. Kicked his ass right down the stairs.”

Mickey just shook his head, trying to picture Frank cartwheeling ass over head into the Gallagher living room.  “He walked away from that?”

“Yeah,” Ian muttered, annoyance creeping into his voice across the line, “It’s like how drunks always survive car accidents because they’re too smashed to tense up, so their bodies absorb the shock.  He just bounces, always.  He’s impossible to kill.”

Mickey sighed a little.  He didn’t hate Ian’s dad the way he hated his own but still, he had exactly zero uses for Frank Gallagher. “So, did he finally give up the birth certificate?”

“Yeah, Neil handled it while Frank was spouting bullshit lectures and we were planning where to hide his body.  He and Sierra just headed to the liquor store and brought back a case and a quart of Jim Bean.  Told Frank to swap.  He had them all in a lockbox in the insulation in the basement.” Ian paused a second, taking a bitter breath, “I’m surprised he hadn’t sold them.”

“Shit man, at least he knew where they were.  I don’t even know if I ever had one.”

“Well, don’t pat him on the back too hard.  Carl and Liam don’t.  I mean, they were both born at home so who even knows what Frank and Monica did about them.”

Mickey just shook his head, staring out at the water.  If he’d ever had a birth certificate, Terry’d probably burned it by now.

“So what next?”

“Augustin couriered all the signed documents up.  This is the last thing.  The consulate’s on Ashland Ave. and the guy I talked to told me if I stop in personally, I can probably get a quicker appointment.  I can walk there from the station so I’ll head over at lunch, submit an appointment request and drop off the preliminary paperwork.”

“And then we just fucking wait?”

“And then we just fucking wait.”

*************************************************************************************

Nine weeks in…

Mickey stared at the pic on his phone, letting himself slide down the wall of his little kitchen and sprawl his legs out across the floor.  He shut his eyes against the tears then figured, fuck it, he was alone and he could cry if he wanted to.

His hands were actually shaking as he held the phone back up in front of his face.  He could barely manage the buttons to retype his password but finally, finally , the lock screen slid away and the picture popped up again.  Ian was smiling at him from the screen, his face a cross between mischievous and thrilled.

In his hand, he held up a stamped and sealed Mexican work permit.

*************************************************************************************

Eleven weeks in…

Ian’s thigh was jumping so much that the lady seated next to him was starting to give him filthy looks.  Maybe he should have felt bad.  Even with the extra room in first class, he’d had to have driven her nuts with his nervous, incessant squirming over the past three hours.  He couldn’t help it though, or bring himself to care.  The plane had taxied up to the ramp and all he was waiting for was the door to disengage and the flight crew to let him the fuck out.  

He was almost there.  Baring some epic disaster between the plane door and the gate, he was going to make.  He almost felt safe enough to hope.

When the door finally opened, he practically leaped into the aisle.  His seatmate rolled her eyes a bit but just stood back and let him through, happy to finally be away from him.  He wanted to run up the ramp, carry-on bag flying behind him, but he kept his shit together, walking like a normal human.  The last thing he needed was to get hung up by aggravated airport security.  

The passport desk took extra time as they recorded his work visa info and scanned the document.  The desk attendant carefully ignored his frantically drumming fingers on her counter, but he could see the tightness forming around her mouth.  He was pissing everyone in his vicinity off right now.  Still didn’t give a shit, though.  If they knew the backstory, they’d probably have understood.

The attendant managed a strained smile as she handed him back his documentation, wishing him a pleasant work experience in the country.  He returned it with a tense smile of his own, grabbing all the paperwork and sliding it quickly but carefully back into his carry-on.  Then he was off, striding through the gate and heading towards the crowd of people, his eyes already scanning for brunette hair and blue eyes.  

He almost expected him to not be there, like the cliched end to some cheesy romance movie. But no, there he was, standing against the railing in khaki shorts and the light blue t-shirt that brought out his eyes.  He was trying hard for casual but Ian could see the relief in his eyes as they met across the lobby.

Ian didn’t remember sprinting.  He just knew that one second, he was meeting Mickey’s eyes and the next, he was right beside him, dropping his carry-on to the floor and reaching for the brunette with both hands.  He’d spent months imagining this scene, when he finally got back to Mickey, and most of those dreams had involved sweeping the shorter man off his feet or desperately shoving his tongue in his mouth.  With the moment upon him, though, he did neither.  His hands came up, framing Mickey’s cheeks as he pulled them face to face.  The brunette’s hands looped around the back of his neck, holding him just as close, and they simply stared at each other and stole each other’s breath.  When he finally pressed their lips together, it was light and gentle and their gaze never broke.  He pulled Mickey against his chest, squeezing him like a vice, like he could slip away.  He nuzzled into Mickey’s neck, breathed his calming scent, and felt at home.

“You’re late, bitch,” Mickey whispered in his ear.

Against his neck, Ian smiled. “I love you, too.”

 

Epilogue

December 2021

It’s a chilly night for Puerto Vallarta, even if it is December.  The waves crash outside, along with the neverending jungle drum beat of tropical resort nightlife.  Inside the little loft, though, the windows are closed against the sounds and the chill, and the small inside lights cast a reflection on the windows, holding the outside world at bay.

The kitchen is dark and clean, but some dishes still sit in the drying rack; two glasses, two plates, two sets of utensils.  A lone pan sits on the counter, soaking off the last remnants of chicken and peppers.  It will get a quick scrubbing in the morning.

The little dining table is covered in texts and papers, piled copiously but neatly in stacks.  A silver laptop sits closed in front of a chair and a heavily annotated article about the El Nino effect on marine biospheres lays on top of it.  

The lights are off in the little bedroom, though the glow from the living room lamp casts a triangular beam across the bed.  The blankets are wrinkled but half-heartedly made up, pulled to the base of the pillows.  An unfolded basket of laundry sits on the dresser top next to several pill bottles.  Two faces smile out across the room from a picture stuck in the mirror frame.  

One small lamp burns in the living room.  The only other light comes from the tv, casting an ever changing glare across the small room as the scene changes.  It illuminates the worn but comfortable furnishings and the various pictures of family hanging from the walls and sitting on available surfaces.  Debbie and Frannie smile from beside a window.  Yev’s pre-k portrait sits on the end table.

The couch is the only occupied spot in the little apartment.  Ian lounges on the left side, his side, wearing sweats and a long sleeved shirt to ward off the chill.  A bottle of water dangles from his left hand and he occasionally takes a long drink.  His eyes are fixed half-heartedly on the screen, where Die Hard 2, or maybe 3, drones on.  He shifts slightly, sinking deeper into the worn cushions of the couch.  His movements draw the slightest protest from the warm body cuddling into his side.

Mickey had picked the movie, but it hadn’t mattered.  He’d begun to doze within the first fifteen minutes, worn out from his work and crazy class schedule.  Twenty-three minutes in and he’d been passed out, cozy and pliant against Ian’s chest, nuzzling closer as the taller man wrapped an arm around him and carded long fingers through his hair.

Ian’s eyes didn’t leave the screen and it was unconscious instinct that caused him to occasionally press a gentle kiss to his partner’s sleep smooth brow.  The combination of Mickey’s scent and the perfect counterweight of his body caused Ian’s dick to give an interested twitch in his pants.  He glanced away from the screen then, looking down at the Mickey’s serene face in repose.  

Once upon a time, he’d have rolled Mickey over immediately and kissed him awake, groping and stripping him quickly, pushing inside him after a panicky, minimal prep as befit their chaos-laden, frantic existence.  Now, though, he just stared down at him , enjoying the way he slept peacefully against his chest.  Setting his water on the end table beside him, he let the back of his fingers drift over Mickey’s cheek, smiling as the brunette unwittingly leaned into the touch.  He pressed a careful kiss to Mickey’s lips and let his eyes drift back to the screen, holding tight to the man he loved.  

His dick could wait.  Mickey needed rest.

Besides, they had all the time in the world.