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Always Someone Marches Brave

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“What would you do differently, if you could start your life over from the beginning?”

It's a bullshit question, posed by the bullshit “counselor” he and half the other inmates are forced to see, sitting in the prison version of a shitty classroom and trying not to claw their own faces off the way they all wanted to do back in grade school. The counselor isn't a real counselor. She asks one or two questions and sticks a piece of paper in front of them all and flips through a magazine while she smokes a cigarette, ignoring the leering looks of prisoners and pretending to listen when they're made to share.

What would you do differently?

On paper, he writes, “Wouldn't get caught."

On paper, he writes, “Would have kicked Terry's ass.”

On paper, he writes, “Would have told him sooner.”

What would you do differently?

Money appears in his commissary account and he wonders which guilty party sent it: Svetlana with her fresh anger tempered by the love for their son, Iggy, the last of them left in the house, Fiona, still half-hating him but also weirdly, awkwardly grateful, or Ian, the most and least guilty of them all, the one who can fucking break his heart with half a sentence even when he feels so whole just looking at him.

His cellmate tries to get chatty and Mickey just grunts, arms folded over his chest as he stares up at the ceiling. Thinking has never been good for him. Thinking has always ended in heartache. Too bad all there is to do in here is think.

What would you do differently?

For starters, he wouldn't have taken Kash's gun. God, that was the beginning of it all, wasn't it? They'd grown up together, lingering on the edges of each other's lives. The same little league team, the same sticky-floored easily-shoplifted video store, the same train, the same fights, the same streets. He'd seen Ian in school before he'd stopped going; the kid had come to his house to hang out with Mandy and half-ass their homework assignments, but before that day their interactions had consisted of nothing more than an annoyed volley of half-hearted threats and frustrated insults.

Taking the gun had flipped everything on its head. It pushed Ian into action, through the door of his bedroom, thrown him into his bed with a tire iron on the floor, somehow cracked open the strange, burning, electrical attraction between them, pushed them together. Made him crave it even when his stomach burned with loathing.

Maybe, if he hadn't taken Kash's gun, none of this would have happened.

But then none of this would have happened.

Ian doesn't visit him. It hurts, he knew it would, but it hurts even deeper than he expected. Fiona and Lip don't visit, though he never expected them to, even though they seemed to finally be warming up to him when Ian ran off again. Iggy doesn't visit, but he's not surprised. The Milkoviches as a group dislike stepping foot inside prisons, no matter what side of the glass they're on. He's fucking glad Terry doesn't come to see him. Svetlana comes every so often, to blackmail him into working jobs on the inside, to let him wave at his son for just a moment. Mandy would come and see him, if she could afford the Greyhound back to Chicago, if she could afford to kick her shitty boyfriend to the curb, if she could afford to think of anything but survival. Most days he spends visitation hours staring at the wall.

What would you do differently?

He wouldn't have fucked Ian in the dugouts, wouldn't have taken his offer to work security at the Kash N' Grab, wouldn't have been walked in on by Frank, wouldn't have panicked and run half-angry with fear across the south side looking for the fucker, wouldn't have sent himself back to juvie just to keep from breaking Gallagher's fucking heart. Or whatever.

Because then he wouldn't have come back to Ian fucking some geriatric viagroid. Wouldn't have had jealousy eat a hole into his stomach, eat a hole into his brain like fucking syphilis until he was following Ian and the ancient fuck across town, stepping grinning out of the alleyway and kicking the guy in the nuts. Wouldn't have found himself running from the cops, Ian hot on his heels, laughing as soon as they got away because fuck the old man, they were south side, together.

Only then he wouldn't have kissed Ian in the van, some unfamiliar, insistent part of him forcing him to turn back on the way into that mansion, forcing him to jump back into that car and do it before he scared himself away. Wouldn't have kissed Ian tasting like cigarettes and sweat. Wouldn't have gotten shot in the ass.

What would you do differently?

What he would give to put Terry straight back into prison. He wants to say he wouldn't have invited Ian over while he was stuck in that bullshit group home, he wants to say he wouldn't have laughed over ben-wa beads and turned over so eagerly despite his injured cheek. But fuck that.

What he would have done is fought back more. He would have kicked Terry's fucking ass. He would have turned his fear into fury and ripped his fucking throat out for touching Ian.

Only he wouldn't have. Because he was paralyzed with terror, because he couldn't see past the “I fucking had it coming,” roiling in his belly. Because Ian tried to run away, but Terry had a gun. Because Terry had a gun. He wants to say he would have just shoved the whore off him and done...what? What could he have done? Fucking nothing, that's for sure. He was a fucking kid, playing tough and threatening and following through with the violence he needed to stay afloat, but he was terrified and everyone fucking knew it. It was the terror that kept him alive.

That day he stopped feeling fear and just felt shame. He'd stared at Ian through swollen eyes, the buzz of hurt in his head making him half-numb, and everything else he could feel was either shame or anger. And Ian couldn't look at him. So he did what he had to.

But that choice gave him Yevgeny. Gave him a sort of half-formed, weirdass family he never asked for, but at least they never hit him bloody. At least it meant the house was full again, and this time the yelling wasn't accompanied by bruises and broken glass, just Svetlana's coolly raised brow and a scoff.

His cellmate is a hitman called Damon, a Mexican fuckhead who won't shut the fuck up half the time. Mickey nods his head and grunts and pretends he's listening when the guy rambles on and on and on. Still, just having a cell with Damon means Mickey's got connections. He feels a little better when he realizes that. At some point, he outs himself to him, but Damon just rolls his eyes.

“No shit, dude. You're not very good at keepin' it a secret. You got some guy's name tattooed on your fuckin' chest, man.”

“He's not some guy,” Mickey starts, bristling, but steps off when Damon holds up his hands and shakes his head.

“Whatever. You like what you like and I like what I like. Makes no difference in here, man. We're all fucked for life in here.”

Jesus. Those words take him back. Back to a dugout, middle of the night, drunk and smoking and horny and a little scared. He wishes he didn't have to be fucked for life. He wishes he didn't dream of sunshine lighting ginger hair into fire and green eyes that bore into him like they can see straight into his goddamn soul.

What would you do differently?

He would have told him to stay. Chased after him like the bitch Mickey knew he was, like the bitch he couldn't admit to himself. Told him Svetlana didn't matter, his father didn't fucking matter, nobody mattered except him. Only he couldn't. And he didn't.

That one. He really regrets that one.

Even though, in the end, he came back. And in the end, maybe it would have taken them longer to figure out Ian's diagnosis. Because maybe Ian wouldn't have come back gunning for something more open, more public. Maybe Mickey wouldn't have figured out how fucked he really was, jerking off in the bathroom to a crumpled photo, sleeping with one of Ian's t-shirts balled up under his pillow like a fucking loser, fucking random redheads in random bathrooms even though it was never right enough. Maybe Ian wouldn't have pushed so hard, wouldn't have opened every wound to the air with his ultimatums and his accusations, wouldn't have loosened every knot in his stomach and his head with one good fight and the sound of Terry being driven away in the back of a cop car. Wouldn't have kissed him laughing and bloody and full of shaking relief in the snow. Then he'd still be a terrified, closeted fag, flinching at his father, at his wife, at his lover. Just as scared of himself as he was of everyone else. What you and I have makes me free, he'd said, and he'd been telling the truth. He thought he'd been telling the truth. The blood he tasted on Ian's tongue and the lightness in his chest told him he hadn't actually known what the truth was.

What would you do differently, if you had the chance?

He wants to say he would have gotten Ian help, immediately. Would have taken him to the clinic, to the hospital, to that fucking geriatric Doctor Ned even. Only he had no idea. He had no clue it could get so bad. Even when Fiona and Lip warned him, all he could think was No, that was Monica. That was your mother, not him. Ian is not Monica. He wants to say he would have found Ian some meds, a therapist, something, but he thought he was doing okay. And he was. He got Ian through that month-long, terrifying depression, the days and weeks spent in bed, the hurt rolling off him in waves. He helped him eat and shower and curled around him at night and reassured him and then Ian was suddenly Ian again, smiling, fine, happy.

Maybe if he'd tried just a little bit harder, he would have been able to handle it all.

What would you do differently?

Called Fiona when Ian started cleaning the house like it was that or his life. Called the hospital when every inch of floor was covered in shit from stolen suitcases. Talked to him. Pulled him off his dick and back onto his feet and talked to him about getting some help. About how much Ian was scaring him. About how he just wanted Ian to know it's because he fucking cared, and it was killing him to feel so fucking helpless. About how he wasn't Monica, but he wasn't Ian anymore either. Ian turned all the way up or all the way down was missing all the little nuances and quirks and things that Mickey had really come to love.

Only then he probably wouldn't have blurted it out. He probably wouldn't have said it, not for a long time, maybe not ever. Not because he didn't want to, but because some barrier stood between the words in his throat and their release. The terror of losing him busted that wall, even if the words came out shaking and scared.

What would you do differently?

Told him earlier. Not just over a terrified fucking voicemail.

He regrets that one too.

It starts when they're talking about what they're going to do when they get out of the joint. Doesn't matter that they've got eight or more years to go. It's a way to pass the time, depressing as that is. So it starts during a discussion of eating homemade cochinita, going on a date to Sizzler's, sleeping in a real goddamn bed, kissing a baby, watching TV on a set that's not three decades old, going somewhere fucking warm for once.

It's the “somewhere warm” that catches Damon's attention. The “somewhere warm” and the way Mickey has been pacing their cell for hours every day, restless and aching for a face he can't have.

What would you do differently?

Maybe he wouldn't have coddled Ian so much. Maybe he wouldn't have played nurse and watched him take his pills every day and told him to fuck off and do it when he didn't want to. Maybe he would have let Ian make his own decisions. Maybe he would have learned to live with it all.

But he wasn't Frank and Ian certainly fucking wasn't Monica. And whether or not Ian had been taking his meds, Sammi was still a fucking bitch who deserved to die in a fire, or several fires, and she still would have called the fucking MPs. And maybe an unstable, unmedicated Ian would have done something even crazier than running away with Monica for a few days, leaving Mickey terrified and desperate again. He's not sure he would have been able to handle Ian disappearing all the time the way Monica and Frank were always doing. God, Ian got fucking nuts without his meds and it hurt every time but Mickey really, really wishes he didn't care because he fucking loves him, he really does.

What would you do differently?

Called more. Called every five fucking seconds until Ian picked up even if it was just to tell him to shut the fuck up. Called and kept calling instead of hanging up and giving up and picking up that random redhead on a bench in the middle of the night he shouldn't have done that why did he do that?

Only it wouldn't have made a difference, because Ian was with Monica. And Monica was fucking with his head. Maybe if he'd said I love you to his face, after he got out of the hospital, when they were drunk in the dugout. Maybe Ian never even listened to all his voicemails. Mickey had left a lot of them. But Ian was with Monica in her shithole meth dealer's trailer, being told that Mickey didn't actually love him, that Mickey wasn't right to want him stable and happy, that Mickey wouldn't give up everything in the world to make him okay again. And he was calling and calling and wasn't that enough? Wasn't I'll take care of him and I came out for you and I'm sorry I'm late and take your meds and you need to get some help and can I go in with him and fuck me for giving a shit and I love you enough? Wasn't all that enough? But Ian was with Monica and medicated or not it wouldn't have made a difference.

Damon suggests it to him in the middle of the day, so the clanging and yelling from everyone else muffles their conversation.

“Fucking yes of course I do, but are you out of your fucking mind? How are we going to get out of here?”

“My boy Carlos noticed that lady guard lookin' at you. He says she likes you, maybe thinks you're hot or something.”

“She looks at everyone like that.” Mickey scoffs. “She's probably just got a fucking eye problem or whatever.”

“Carlos says if you get her to fall in love with you, maybe she'll help us out.”

Mickey rolls his eyes. For someone so hard, Damon's real fucking stupid. “C'mon, man, this isn't the fucking movies.”

“We've got eight to fifteen years, man, it doesn't hurt to try. She falls in love with you but won't help us, at least maybe you get some perks. She doesn't even like you, maybe you get pulled off some privileges for a while. Not like anyone ever visits you anyway.”

Mickey thinks about it. He thinks about Ian.

What would you do differently?

Killed Sammi properly. For real. Smashed her head in with a hammer, used that car battery on her for real, shot her face off, slit her throat, something. Shoved her in that fucking box for someone else to deal with. Killed Sammi for fucking with the Gallaghers, killed Sammi for sending Carl away to juvie, killed Sammi for ruining everything when it was almost so fucking good, killed Sammi for Ian leaving him, for Ian running away from him, for Ian's deadened eyes as he sat on that porch and told him to go. Just thinking about it makes him want to bust out and find her and beat her until there's nothing left but a red fucking smear on the pavement.

He tried. He'd thought she was dead. Fuck, if she hadn't turned around that corner and yelled his name, maybe he could have talked Ian out of it. But he'd take a bullet for Ian. He'd take fucking anything for Ian, it didn't matter. And if it was some crazy fucking Gallagher relative shooting him and not Ian, messing with his life and not Ian's, he'd take that in a heartbeat.

“All right,” he tells Damon. “I'll do it.”

In the yard, Carlos joins them and tells him what he knows. A plan comes together. Mickey thinks about Ian.

Every conversation with the lady guard is a conversation he doesn't want to have, but he imagines Ian's face over her face, imagines Ian's face when he gets out, and puts on all the tough guy charm he learned to have. He's surprised when it works. He hates that it works.

What would you have done differently?

Said it again, louder, louder, insisted. I love you, I'm not leaving. You're it. You're my ride or fucking die. I love you, and I'll sit around and wait for your next crazy shit because maybe then at least I can be there with you for your crazy shit. I'm so tired of you disappearing on me, so tired of calling and leaving desperate voicemails that you don't listen to. So tired of being the one waiting at home alone. I don't care, we can be Bonnie and fucking Clyde, Thelma and Louise, Monica and goddamn fucking Frank if that's what it takes to stay with you. If that's what it takes to stand beside your crazy ass and have you stay.

Said it again, louder, I love you. Isn't that what you've wanted for years? I love you, and I'm not going to stop just because your head is fucked up and you keep leaving me. I love you, I hate seeing you hurting. I love you and you're it for me and I meant what I said about thick and thin, sickness and health, everything. I meant what I said and I don't know how else I can tell you how this feeling is tearing me up inside, like there's no room left for anything but the feeling of you in my head or in my chest, like every space inside me is full of the thought of you.

Except he's pretty sure Ian knows it. He's pretty sure Ian has known it since they took on Terry in the Alibi together, since he held him close every night for a month when he couldn't get out of bed, since he fucking called and called and called every minute when Ian was gone, since he was the one kissing him on the head and telling him to take his meds, telling him that he wasn't fucking Monica but he should do it anyway. He's pretty sure Ian knows it and doesn't know what to do with it because wishes coming true never feel real, do they?

The lady guard falls for him, hard, and he winces inside every time he talks to her, when he fucks her in the space where there's a security camera blind spot, when he caresses her cheek the way he used to caress Ian's and asks her if she'll help.

He's not sure whether to cry with happiness or shame when she kisses him and says yes.

Carlos and Damon grin and smoke their cigarettes when he tells them. He's just happy he'll get to see Ian.

In the back of a black van, hiding under piles of blankets and junk, half-suffocated, all he can think about is Ian. Ian's face, Ian's voice, Ian's laugh. The way he'll kiss Ian when he finally sees him again. The way his stomach drops out and his heart pounds every time something reminds him of Ian, every time he gets lost in his own memories. In the back of the van, he's leaving a life without Ian, running away for a life with Ian. Maybe not, maybe he'll get to Chicago and Ian will turn him away. Maybe he'll go to Mexico alone. But he has to try. If all he gets is one kiss, if all he gets is a look at Ian's face from afar, if all he gets is Ian yelling at him, he'll fucking take it. He hasn't spent two fucking years pining not to settle for anything, anything.

What would you do differently, if you could start your life over from the beginning?

Nothing, Mickey decides. Nothing, because at least he had those few years with Ian. At least he got to kiss and touch and hold him. At least they got to shotgun beers laughing in the alleyway, giddy and horsing around and play-fighting. At least he got to feel like family for once, with the Gallagher clan somehow pulling him into their fold. At least he got to be something other than a fucked-for-life south side piece of trash for someone. Nothing, he decides, because it was fucking worth it, every loss meant he'd gained something, right? Nothing, because he'd do anything for Ian, because he loved him more than he could even fathom. Nothing, because the spaces inside him, even in fucking prison, were filled with Ian and no one and nothing else would take his place.