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grief and high delight

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“Don’t want you to go,” Mickey half-sobbed and half-said into a damp square of Ian’s jumpsuit.

“I know,” Ian breathed. As much as he tried, he couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he just kept affirming Mickey’s pleas and shouts into the universe. He was powerless in this instance—with the other prisoners, he could protect Mickey. He could pummel someone, intimidate them; he could even get the guards to lay off their case, or swindle someone into giving him an extra biscuit. Anything and everything physical, Ian could find a way around. So it frustrated and depressed him to no end that something as abstract and unreal as law—something so fucking ridiculous that its existence relies upon enough people agreeing with it—was the one thing he couldn’t challenge and make submit. “I don’t want to either.”

Mickey knew he didn’t want to leave—Ian had made it abundantly clear from the second he heard his parole had been approved. He had been anxious beyond reason before he left their cell to go to his hearing, leaving Mickey to chew his nails and pace nervously from wall to wall. When he returned, there was a cast of despair shadowing his face—his eyes looked terrified and sad, and he damn near blended in with the white cement wall. They knew they were fucked, that the last grains of sand in their demented hourglass were about to slip through—they were about to run out of time.

They tried to have fun. Ever since the approval was finalized and they realized that their time together was running out, they had tried to have as much fun as possible together. The minute complications, like Mickey’s reluctance to clean his bunk or Ian’s horrific flossing noises, had mostly faded away, even morphing into a masochistic sadness. Mickey would still find himself clenching his fists from vexation as Ian sucked on his teeth for the ninth time in thirty seconds, but then the thought of Ian suddenly not being there to annoy him would creep into his mind and all he could do was sink into a corner of the cell and hang on for dear life to that moment.

Everything they did had a veil of despondency draped over it. They kissed far more than usual, and each time they did, they would press onto each other’s mouths as if the world was ending—as if they would never have a chance to kiss each other ever again. They would cling onto each other's lips desperately, scared to forget the taste of one another. They would spend time together in the yard, jogging and lounging and joking, and each laugh or smile would be immediately accompanied by deep frowns and moments of silence as they mourned what would soon be lost.

Every bit of contentment was just another aspect of their relationship that would be lost to time once Ian stepped out of those gates and went home. It terrified them to live each second as if the apocalypse was imminent. But they were not wrong—it was coming: the end of days, the end of laughter and joy. A disaster was brewing, at the brink of bubbling over.

“It's not—fuck,” Mickey sniffled, raising his head up from where he was laying on Ian’s chest momentarily to wipe his running nose. “It's fuckin’ stupid. Fuck.”

Mickey stared down at Ian’s chest and at the dark orange splotches that peppered his jumpsuit from where Mickey had been laying his head and sobbing. Mickey couldn't decide where he should put his eyes—looking Ian right in the face hurt, but so did gazing idly about the cell or at his chest. He was in this awful predicament where every vestige of Ian’s presence cut through him like a guillotine blade—each time the blade lowered another centimeter, it was a reminder that he wouldn't have that lovely face to look at or those stupid freckles to count anymore. But, whenever he didn't cling to Ian at the hip, a wildfire would spread under his skin, burning through each nerve and blood vessel until it incinerated him whole—the same reminder, urging him to spend every possible second with the man because he was about to be ripped away from him. Mickey couldn't win—he was miserable either way, and so was Ian.

“This fucking sucks,” Mickey said, his voice wavering between the syllables. He tried to crack a smile in an attempt to find a way to make a joke about the situation—they had been coming up with jokes about horrific things left, right, and center lately. But, when he tried to curl his lips up into a grin, two anvils tied themselves to the corners of his mouth and knocked it back down into a frown. Mickey sighed as the tears filled his eyes again and collapsed back onto Ian’s chest.

Ian was trying—had been trying since they found out—not to cry, but it was proving a monumental task. Any movement of Mickey’s would make the tears well in his eyes, and it was even worse when Ian caught a glimpse of the hopeless expression on Mickey’s face. That warmth of his was intoxicating, Ian thought. The idea of being without Mickey’s body grounding him to the earth as he lay atop him, the warmth of his skin being a million miles away, not finding his black hair everywhere, stung him more and more by the second. Ian’s focus was broken by a tear gliding across his cheek, and before he knew it, his face was growing hotter by the second and his vision was shaky and blurry.

“Fuck, Mickey. I really don’t want to fucking go,” Ian wept, staring at the metal plate of the top bunk above him as his arms began to shake.

Mickey lifted his head from Ian’s chest, sniffled, and observed his boyfriend. Without thinking, he slid up Ian’s body and buried his face in Ian’s neck, pressing in gentle kisses. He moved his arm up to Ian’s collarbone and soothingly dragged his palm across the skin, his cold fingertips leaving streaks of coolness over the heat.

“It’s okay,” Mickey whispered into Ian’s neck in between kisses. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not fucking fine,” Ian sobbed. He swung his arm up and slapped himself on the forehead, sniffling like mad.

Mickey shushed Ian and braced himself on one arm as his torso rose up. He looked at Ian’s face, keeping their lips a breath apart.

They gazed at each other, and they knew they looked like absolute fucking messes, each man a mirror image of the other—puffy eyes, dyed red scleras, shallow rivers running down their cheeks, lines etched into their faces by sorrow. Mickey’s eyes dropped to Ian’s lips and chin, and he skimmed his hand up Ian’s neck until it reached his cheek. He started running his forefinger up and down Ian’s stubble, occasionally tracing up to his cheekbone to feel the smooth skin there. Mickey smiled at Ian, and Ian smiled back when Mickey started thumbing the tip of Ian’s nose.

“We’re gonna be okay,” Mickey said softly.

Ian pressed his hand onto Mickey’s upper back and leaned him in until their lips connected. They were in a kissing stasis for a while, no sound in their cell but the buzzing of the light and their breaths, savoring the sensation of one another and how good it felt to be together.

Eventually, Mickey pulled off, and Ian stared at him. He had such sad eyes, Ian noted, and they were watching him like a camera that was absolutely desperate for the perfect picture, terrified beyond reason that its subject would evaporate into the air before it was finished memorizing and enhancing every inch.

“I’ll wait, Mick,” Ian said, nodding quickly in an effort to make his words as official as possible. “I don’t care if something happens and you’re here for forty years—I will wait.”

Mickey blinked. “Okay.”

“I promise, Mick. If it’s for you, I can wait forever.”

Mickey was sitting uncomfortably in his bunk, wedged in the corner as he leered at his new cellmate, who was plonked down on the toilet with his legs spread unnecessarily far apart. Mickey hadn’t even bothered to learn the guy’s name because he thought that if the douchebag could make it clear as day that he was a brainless waste of oxygen within just a few days, Mickey might have no choice but to go after the people who created the brain dead piece of shit in the first place.

“Like what you see?” the troglodyte slurred, gesturing towards his crotch.

Mickey’s face screwed up tight. He was offended as all hell that the oaf would think that, even if it was meant in a joking way. “Fuck off.”

The lout huffed in response, leaned back, and zoned out at the wall. Mickey grunted and crawled across his mattress to the stack of books that Ian had left for him, grabbing the first one he saw. He returned to his corner, threw the book open angrily, and started flipping through the pages in search of a few key words that might excite him enough to read through a passage or two. His temper wilted away, though, when he noticed pencil marks—underlined sentences, circled words, and scribbles within margins that Ian had left. The grip Mickey had on the book’s spine loosened as he delicately swiped from one page to the other, reading the parts that Ian thought were worthwhile enough to note. He traced a finger along the marks, feeling how the pressure from Ian’s hand had dented the paper.

He turned to another page, and tears welled in his eyes as he read over the words “show Mick later” with an arrow pointing to a block of text that described the toned ass of the male protagonist in great detail.

Mickey missed Ian. And he was sure that Ian missed him, too, because their last phone call the day before had been filled with Ian repeating the words “I miss you” over and over again, sometimes throwing in a deity and sometimes tacking on an expletive, whichever had felt more appropriate in the moment. He missed Ian’s laugh, how his lips moved when he smiled, the feeling of his soft hair, their conversations—he hated being apart from the person whom he loved most. He sighed, willing time to move just a little quicker so he could get to the following week when Ian was scheduled to visit.

He bit his bottom lip, trying to keep the tears at bay until his cellmate left, but he could feel his grip on the book slacken some more and his lip begin to tremble between his teeth. He was about to lose it—he could feel that despair climbing up from his chest and into his throat, pushing the sadness he felt onto his countenance—when the heavy cell door slid open.

“Hey, what the fuck?!” Mickey’s cellmate boomed as he scampered off the toilet and tried to throw his jumpsuit back on.

“The fuck?” Mickey asked, scowling at the guard standing in his doorway, flinging the book closed and slipping it into his lap.

“Pack your shit, Milkovich,” the guard said, tucking his thumbs into his belt loops. “You’re getting released.”