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The words only your wars define

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"Why is your house full of kids?"

Mickey stepped over a blonde girl wrapped in an afghan on the floor, turned back to Ian, and raised his eyebrows.

"I have no idea who they are," said Ian, looking over the darkened room for a moment and then shrugging. "Come on upstairs."

Well, they weren't his fucking problem, and Mickey had enough fucking problems right now so he just turned and headed up the stairs, avoiding the squeaky steps so he didn't wake anyone up and have to explain any of this shit. There were enough noises coming from Lip's room to know he was here and not at college, and when Ian poked his head in Fiona's room he whispered, "Goddamnit, Carl," so Mickey figured they wouldn't be claiming either of the single rooms tonight.

"It's not like we're going to fuck anyway," he said, letting his hand linger against Ian's back for a second before going to flip the bathroom light on.

"I think I might puncture a lung if we try," admitted Ian, gingerly rubbing his ribs through his shirt as he followed Mickey inside and closed the door.

"Take that off, let me see," he said, sitting his ass down on the edge of the bathtub.

Ian dumped his coat on the floor and unbuttoned slowly while Mickey watched, taking a couple of false starts before he managed to lift his arms and pull his undershirt off over his head. There was less blood here and more bruising, an ugly red and purple already and going to get worse yet before it got better. Mickey grabbed his wrist and pulled him closer, prodded at it carefully.

"Ow, fuck."

"You'll live," he said, flaking some blood off with his fingertip.

"You too," said Ian, wincing but not moving away from him.

Mickey could feel his skin pulling with sealing cuts and drying blood, and he really did crack a fucking tooth which was going to annoy the hell out of him till he got used to it. He poked at it with his tongue and tasted copper in his mouth.

"So what the fuck do we do for an encore, huh?" he said and Ian let out a sharp laugh, but it wasn't one of the worrying ones, the too bright ones.

"I don't know," said Ian. Mickey wanted him to have an answer, he wanted him to have some kind of god damned greater plan. He wanted to say 'this was your bright idea', but it fucking wasn't, and he knew that too. It was a long time coming, and Ian wasn't the only one who'd reached the end of his rope today. Ian was done with living in second place, and Mickey was done with living scared, and the two things might've been related but it wasn't cause and effect.

And this was where that left them, bloody and broken on a bathroom floor, but together.

"You want a shower?" said Ian.

"Just gimme a washcloth, I've been bloodied worse than this," he said. The towels in the Gallagher home weren't as stained as the ones he was used to, but they'd seen their share of blood too. Ian wet a couple of down in the sink, then pulled out the stool to sit on as he handed one of them over.

Mickey dropped his jacket in the tub and slowly worked his way out of the wet, cold shirt. Now that the adrenaline had worn off his movements were slower, and he was starting to feel every blow. None of it was anything new. The only new thing this time was that it had resulted in something changing for the better, for once.

Ian was quiet as he wiped his face off, his arms off, gingerly patted along his ribs and ended up mostly just dampening the streaks of blood there. It was mostly bruising anyway. Mickey paused to watch him, towel pressed against the side of his neck and soothing a gash he was trying not to reopen. Ian had a big god damn mouth on him sometimes and they were going to have things to say about that later, but at least he put his money where his mouth was.

"You're a goddamn mess," he said.

"Yeah, well, it takes one to know one," said Ian, and gave Mickey a tentative smile.

Mickey nodded at him and half smiled back. "I'm going to kick your brother out of Fiona's room," he said, watching Ian rotate his shoulder. "He can fuck off. I want the big bed tonight."

"I thought we agreed we weren't fucking."

"To sleep in, Jesus, so we don't fucking break each other with our elbows in the middle of the night."

"We might not have to," said Ian, cocking his head towards the door. There were footsteps in the hallway, a knock at one of the doors—Lip's, probably, the only one that was closed—then Carl's voice saying, "We're going to move the van." That door was closed for good reason. It was a long time before there was a murmured response, one that Mickey couldn't make out.

"That piece of shit of yours actually runs?"

Ian shook his head. "Not in years," he said. "I don't know what he's talking about."

"Well, whatever the fuck it is, dibs on the bedroom," said Mickey, and started cleaning up his face again, wiping blood off his jaw and moving it from side to side to make sure everything still worked. "How long's Fiona in for?"

"Ninety days," said Ian, "if they make her serve out the whole sentence."

"That got anything to do with you being such a little bitch tonight?"

"Fuck you," said Ian mildly, reaching out and brushing something off Mickey's forehead with his thumb. Mickey chased it down with his towel a moment later, scrubbing it and anything else away and running his fingers through his hair as best he could. "I didn't know you were going to do all that," Ian added, after.

"You what?" said Mickey, raising his eyebrows at him. "You didn't know I was going to do that? After everything you said? Are you fucking kidding me?"

"You know what I mean. Do it like that."

"When have you ever fuckin' known me to do something small?" said Mickey.

He didn't know what words were going to come out when he opened his mouth either. He just knew that if he didn't do it then and there, then this whole fucking mess was going to keep fucking with his life over and over again. And it pissed him off, not at Ian even though his timing fucking sucked but at Terry Motherfucking Milkovich, on whose shoulders almost every bit of anguish and fucked up perspective Mickey'd ever had about the whole fucking thing laid. Usually he had to force words out, when they meant something, but these ones just came and came and came.

At least he wasn't fucking stupid about it. Even if it incited a barroom brawl, better in front of witnesses than, what, telling his father in private and actually getting himself killed? He knew it was going to start shit no matter what. Better to start shit where he had people on his side, too.

It was always going to come to this, sooner or later.


"Look, I get it," said Mickey. "You've got shit going on that I know fuck all about right now, but this shit, I get. All right?" Ian nodded, and for a second Mickey met his eyes before looking away again. "I can't fight tonight. Not with you too." Ian was the only one who ever heard his voice that small.

"I don't either," said Ian. "I just needed—"

"I get it," Mickey interrupted him. "I always fucking got it. I just..." Couldn't, before.

He was sixteen years old when they started up, through shit on both sides that would have made lesser men bail a long fucking time ago. It had to be worth it, it had to be worth all of that.

"Yeah, I get that too," said Ian. Maybe he even did; he looked as even kilter as Mickey had seen him since he got back, and he wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing in the long term but right now he'd just take it and not ask stupid questions he didn't want the answer to. "We good enough, you think?"

"Someone's going to have to bleach a load of laundry tomorrow," said Mickey, shrugging. Maybe even him, he'd done it enough times. "Sheets and towels. I don't care anymore. I'm fucking tired."

"Me too," said Ian, and hallelujah for that because if Ian decided he wanted to go for a run right now after all of that, Mickey was going to have to suffocate him with the god damn shower curtain, so help him god.

He stood up and gave his chest a last swipe with the towel, then dumped it in the tub with his shirt while he reclaimed his coat. "How's the ribs? You need a hand up?"

"I'm good," said Ian, but he was holding them as he pushed himself to his feet, scrubbing the towel over the bridge of his nose and gingerly around his eye sockets and cheekbones one more time before dumping it with Mickey's. If they were lucky, maybe someone else would deal with them before they got up.

Lip was still in the hallway when they slipped out of the bathroom again, eyes on his cell phone and cigarette between his lips until he noticed the two of them.

"Jesus, what the fuck happened to you?"

"Everything," said Ian. "Don't ask." It summed it up as much as Mickey wanted to right now. "Who're all the kids?"

"Apparently, they're Carl's girlfriend's family," said Lip. "Don't ask." Ian just nodded, and Lip pointed his chin at Fiona's door. "Fair warning, Carl's been in there with his girlfriend."

"Yeah, we'll take our chances," said Mickey.

"We'll talk in the morning, yeah?" said Lip, still talking to Ian, though he at least acknowledged Mickey with a fleeting nod.

"Sure," said Ian. "We can talk in the morning."

"All right, well, Amanda's waiting, so..." He angled his head towards his own door, stubbed out his half-smoked cigarette with his fingertips and gave them both a two fingered salute before slipping back inside and closing the door behind him.

Mickey looked back towards the boys' room, and made out the shapes of a couple of kids already asleep in Ian's bed anyway. Figured.

"We're barricading the door," he said, "and we're not opening it again till we're good and fucking ready. You've got an entire grade school living in your house right now."

"We were only gone a day," said Ian.

"Lot can change in a day," said Mickey, which was the fucking understatement of the century. "I'm not kidding, dude, help me move this dresser." It took them about five times longer than it would have any other day, but they got there in the end, and for a few seconds after Mickey let himself bask in the certainty of privacy. It was a rare and fucking beautiful thing.

"Is it wrong to hope your sister stays in lockup for the full stretch?"

"Jesus, Mickey," said Ian, smacking him on the shoulder, right on top of a forming bruise. He winced, but he'd earned that one.

The blankets were barely messed up which meant whatever Carl had been doing in the bed, it hadn't been fucking anyone, which was good because what was he, twelve? Maybe? Nobody needed to be fucking anyone when they were twelve.

He took off the rest of his clothes on autopilot, barely even enjoying the view when Ian did the same, stripping down to nothing the way they never got to. Ian spotted him watching, though, and grinned that fucking grin of his as he got into the bed.

"Maybe we're not up for fucking, but I'll give you a handjob in the morning if you can get it up."

"I can get it up now, bitch," said Mickey. But he didn't, and as much as it seemed a fucking shame to waste the privacy, all he wanted to do was hit the pillow and close his eyes, with Ian at his back. Which he was never going to admit out loud, not even with a gun to his head. There were still some things that were meant to be private.

When Ian put an arm around him, pulled the blankets up and kissed behind his ear, he didn't have to say anything for Mickey to know he got that too. Right here, right now, everything was okay.

He thought he heard Carl bang on the door at some point later on, long after they went to bed, but he just waved his middle finger in that general direction without ever opening his eyes and went right back to sleep.

Everything else could wait for tomorrow.