It was the busiest night of the year. He was working a one night gig at some posh Italian restaurant filled with heterosexual couples and bouquets of roses at every fucking table. How original. If he for a second thought working would get his mind off of this ridiculous Valentine's day shit, he was dead wrong. Fortunately, the night was coming to an end, most of the people had already gone somewhere to have sex, fueled by wine and the cheesy romantic atmosphere lingering in the air.
It's not like he cared, really, not at all. The life he has been building was more than promising. Sure, it was hard at first, but he had friends now, better ones than he ever had in Chicago. They made him laugh and bought him beers until he was drunk enough to entertain them with his philosophical standpoints. It was fun for him, being the life of the party, because for once the party was a celebration, without his past creeping up and fucking him up like it always had. Mexico was perfect. Mexico let him breathe. Mexico was all he hoped for, and more.
So when his eyes caught a glimpse of red hair by the bar, he froze, uncertain. Panic arose in his chest, leaving the plates in his hand shaking slightly. He breathed, his legs too heavy to move. A colleague leaned in to say something, but he failed to register the words. The temperature in the room was suddenly too high and he felt himself swallow back the ever increasing anxiety in his throat. He felt himself awoken by a touch on his shoulder, shaking him. There were words, something about him being done for the night, something about him doing a good job tonight, something about thanking him for coming in last minute and a hand was slipped in his pocket, why was a hand in his pocket? He shook his head as if waking up from a haze and looked at the man talking to him. It was the head waiter and the hand in his pocket was money from his tips. His eyes widened and he nodded once, apprehensive.
"Thanks." He said, storming off to the kitchen and leaving the plates in the sink. The cleaning lady offered him cake, one of the chocolate mousse things left from Valentine's day specialties, but he shook his head and peeked out from the kitchen, checking if what he saw had been just a ghost, a figment of his imagination, an illusion formed by the pain he supressed somewhat successfully: but, no such luck. The red hair was still there, as red as ever. Fingers were there too, tapping on the bar nervously. The face was there too: green eyes fixed on the beer in front of them, lips pressed together tensely.
Mickey breathed, thinking for a second.
What was this? How did he- No, why did he?
He breathed again, a decision forming in his mind in a notion.
He walked behind the bar, Ian's eyes still down. The tapping of his fingers wasn't rhythmical, it was erratic and Mickey felt his mouth quirk up in a smile. He was nervous, too. Good. He should be.
"Can I get you anything else, sir?"
Ian's eyebrows rose before his eyes did, clearly surprised by the american accent, but still oblivious about whom it belonged to. He looked up, fucking finally, and Mickey felt the panic inside of his chest re-blossom like a rose in the water. Ian swallowed and Mickey smiled, making Ian smile back at him.
His heart beated loudly. "Whatcha doin' here, man?" He heard his own voice and the words sounded surprisinly calm for someone who was as shaken up as he was. He always knew how to do that, anyway. He always knew how to pretend. He was only alive because he knew how to pretend. But this was Ian in front of him and no matter how good of an act Mickey put on, Ian knew. Ian always knew. From the day they met, Ian had known. And ever since, Mickey found it increasingly difficult to keep anything from him, to keep himself from him. For years, he had been the only shelter for his pain and fear, the only man who got to see the real Mickey, and definitely the only person who loved him exactly as he was. For years they grew and Mickey slowly learned how liberating it felt just to be himself, just to not pretend. So he wasn't about to pretend now, either, not when Ian knew and not when Ian clearly felt it too.
"It's Valentine's day." Ian just replied, looking at Mickey, taking him in.
"So" He started. "One should be with the person they love on Valentine's day." Ian smiled sheepishly and Mickey felt the inside of his stomach melt at the words.
"One should be with the person they love every day." He retorted, smirking. It wasn't supposed to come out bitterly, it was supposed to be an ice-breaking joke, but Ian's expression changed from teasing to startled and his eyes shot down to his beer again. He swallowed.
"Yeah, one should." He raised an eyebrow, but didn't look up. "One should be so lucky."
Mickey bit his cheek, leaving it hollow. A silence passed between them, a moment of resolution overwhelming Mickey. "Come on, let's get outta here." The invitation echoed. Ian looked up in surprise and smiled, taking his jacket and finishing his beer in the process.
They walked the empty streets to Mickey's apartment, giddy and overwhelmed with emotion.
"How did you find me, anyway?"
"Mandy." Ian smiled. "I got to your apartment and you weren't there. Luckily, your landlady was more than happy to share your-" He paused. "Whereabouts."
Mickey chuckled. "Yeah, she's, uh, she's something. Always begging me to start dating."
Ian looked at him, puzzled. "So, still single?"
Mickey looked back cheekily. "Why, you interested?"
When he heard Ian laugh, the tension in his shoulders dissolved. It was a genuine laugh, a warm one, one Mickey remembered with great fondness. One of those laughs Mickey could only ever think of as Ian's laugh: a strange happiness derived from the utter mess of a situation. Ian was the only man who laughed with such honesty when life kept knocking him down and Mickey never understood the urge, but he loved it anyway. He loved that laugh, that Ian laugh, because he knew his Ian was in there and his Ian was going to be just fine, no matter what.
They got to the apartment and Mickey showered and changed before grabbing a six-pack and heading for the beach.
"Guess you finally get to see the beach." Mickey smiled and pointed to the sand in front of them. Ian's mouth gaped open and before Mickey knew what was happening, Ian was in his boxers and running towards the ocean.
"What the fuck, Ian?" He yelled. "It's the middle of winter."
"It's really not that cold." Ian yelled back. Mickey watched the red hair disappear into the water and come back wet and slicked back, just like Ian used to style it. He felt his heart grow warm at the memory. "You coming?" Ian yelled again and Mickey pulled his clothes off, jumping into the ocean. He hadn't had a chance to do that yet, by the time he got there it was winter and though it wasn't cold at all, Mickey never dared to try. Not until tonight, anyway.
He looked over at Ian, his green eyes glistening under the moonlight, and he smiled at the sight. There were no words, there were never words. Words always failed him miserably, his emotions too entangled to be conveyed by a statement. Words confused him and lessened him. There were no words for this and he needed no words to crash his lips against Ian's, taking his head in his arms.
They kissed under the moonlit sky, alone in the ocean, connected to the entire world by this beautiful blue surface. The universe allowed them another memory, another moment of bliss and as he claimed Ian's lips, Mickey's eyes fell shut to let a tear slip through his eyelashes.
The kiss wasn't heated as their kisses tended to be, it was slow and sensual, it was expressive. It was as if the touch of their lips was able to deliver all that words never could. A touch of their lips made his body tremble in Ian's arms and he sighed, relieved.
Ian drew back, his arms still embracing Mickey, and Mickey opened his eyes to see Ian shaking his head breathlessly. „I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.“ His voice was only a whisper, the sound of the ocean almost smothering the sound; it was just incoherent enough to make Mickey's stomach clench.
"Hey." He took Ian's head in his hands and locked eyes with him. "It's alright. It's good. We're okay."
Ian shook his head again and Mickey kept his gaze on him, realising the man was a step away from his breaking point. "It's not okay." The words were shaky, so Ian enhaled sharply and Mickey waited for him to speak again. "It's not okay, Mickey. Don't tell me it's okay."
Mickey brought Ian's head to his shoulders and put his one hand over Ian's neck, while the other fell around Ian's waist. "It is what it is." He swallowed.
They remained still for some time and Mickey caught himself making little circles on Ian's neck with his fingertips to calm him down. The water was making them shake, but neither cared.
When Ian moved back from Mickey's shoulder, Mickey felt his heart race. When they joined lips again, Mickey felt Ian's heartbeat against his chest was just as unsteady. He smiled in the kiss.
They lay on the sand, clothed, but still wet, trying to warm up a little. They could just go to his place, Mickey realised, but he wasn't ready to let this moment go. Not yet. They drank their beers and laughed over how stupid they were, doing shit like this in February. They talked about Chicago, about Mandy, about Mexico, trying to be casual, but the intensity of the air they breathed never faltered for a second. There was so much to say, Mickey knew this, that just couldn't be avoided. Not this time.
"I missed you." He heard the words and cleared his throat.
"Yeah, I-" Mickey raised his eyebrows and took a gulp of his beer. "I missed you too."
He heard Ian breathe next to him and he felt cold fingers over his fingers, digging into the sand. "I'm, um, I'm glad you're here." Mickey offered and Ian's fingers dug deeper into his at the words.
"Me, too." A pause. "God, you're amazing." Ian chuckled and Mickey looked at him, confused, waiting for an explanation. "After everything that happened, you can still look at me like that. No hurt, no anger, just- you looking at me. It makes me wanna kiss you, but also punch you in the face so you can stop this, so you can be angry with me, so you can punch me back because you fucking should." The tone of his voice was sharper now, his words pierced through the silence of the beach and Mickey felt his pulse speed up again. "You fucking should, Mickey." He spat the words and Mickey felt a shiver through his spine. He shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the ocean in front of them.
"No, I'm tired of that." He paused. "I'm tired of feeling like shit and making people feel like shit. You made your choices and frankly, I can't even blame you." The words rolled from his mouth unexpectedly coherently, leaving the mess in his head hidden from Ian's view. It was the truth, he realised, all he said was true. This wasn't just his attempt at avoiding the conversation, this was his attempt to be the man Ian deserved.
"Why the fuck not, huh? Why can't you blame me, Mickey?" His voice stung and Mickey felt the heat in his chest rise at the ignorance.
"Because I get it, Ian. I was gone for so long and I expected you to leave everything you worked for, everything you built, and for what? For this?" He hissed.
Ian laughed. It wasn't the Ian laugh, no, it was completely different. It was a painful, angry laugh and it made Mickey finally look at him. His hand was on his forehead, rubbing his temple. "You don't get shit, Mickey." The words were resigned, quiet. He laughed again. "To leave everything?" The laugh was louder now. "Mickey, you are everything." The laughter ceased completely and Mickey swallowed down the sting of the words. Ian's face moved closer to his and it kept moving until it was touching him, bringing their foreheads together. "You are everything." Ian repeated breathlessly and Mickey closed his glassy eyes and waited. When Ian's lips touched his, he let out a breath he didn't knew he was holding.
The only sound beneath the moonlit sky was the hard beating of their hearts and the waves crashing against the shore, shaping it. The waves are always there, shaping all of us, changing us. The waves grow taller at times, smothering us and taking us deep down into the ruthless water. Then, a moment later, they retreat and leave us to breathe again, to reinvent our survival strategies. Because storms come and they go, there is nothing you can do about it. You can only upgrade your survival strategy and make sure the next time you're drowned, you've been appreciative enough of staying alive. So go and be the person you want to be today, because tomorrow, you might drown for good.