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His face still fucking hurts which is stupid because it's been long enough that all the cuts and bruises have healed over a while ago. Doesn't mean it doesn't still hurt. Doesn't mean there isn't something there under the surface. Something else.

And every time that Svetlana bitch looks at him his stomach hurts. And every time his dad's voice scrapes across his ears his chest hurts. And he looks away because he's fucking lucky.

He deserved what he got. Fuck, he deserves more. He got off lucky. At least he's alive, right?

He knows how this story usually goes. A crow bar, a mob, a curb-stomping in an empty parking lot somewhere. Always violent, always tragic.

At least he's alive.

When he thinks about it, his stomach hurts. He clenches his fingers into a fist and wishes he could punch himself in the face enough to turn it to pulp. Enough to finish the job. To give himself what he knows he deserves.

Because somehow Gallagher had him convinced it was okay. That they had nothing to hide. That his own house wasn't an enemy fortress full of trip-wire traps and surprise ambushes. That he wasn't a pussy faggot who deserved to have his head kicked in. That the direction his heart pumped wasn't all wrong – somehow he managed to think that liking getting fucked was fine, all good, shrug it off, doesn't make you a bitch, doesn't make you anything but a guy with different tastes.

Fuck that.

It's all just a way to get very intimate with the taste of your own insides. Blood and vomit and tears and the skin around your fingernails.

He should have gotten worse than what he did. His head hurts, his stomach hurts, like they're trying to finish the job. He deserves it. He wants to let them.

 

You relish the moments his skin meets yours—you don't know what to do with them.

You shotgun half a beer and offer him the other half and have no idea how to react to the little thrill that flickers up your spine when his hand traps yours between the room-temp can and his own warm palm.

He sits between you and Mandy playing games on the Xbox and your arm overlaps his in the cramped space and you can see him fighting a smile. You make sure to jab him with your elbow when it looks like he's looking your way, but it doesn't really work; his smile only gets bigger. You pretend that feeling in your gut is annoyance.

His fingers brush yours when he hands you a cigarette and you can feel the dampness on the paper where his lips just were.

You've never had anyone touch you gently before. And you don't really let him, not the way you know he wants to. Not the way you want him to. You just can't do it. It makes you feel like your spine's gonna jump out your throat. But there's his fingers digging into your hips or your shoulders and his forehead pushing against your spine and his cock pushing inside of you and sometimes you feel his teeth graze your shoulder and then his lips afterward and you don't say anything because it's the closest you can get to what you want.

He makes up dumb excuses to touch you and you always shrug him off after a second or two. Whatever, you say. Whatever, man, whatever.

You try and convince yourself it's not really what you want.

And you fight that buzz under your skin, that little way your breath catches when you feel the hairs on his arm brush yours or his hand land on your shoulder before you're quick enough to shake it off. It'll only get you killed. You fight off the little shiver with a grunt and a flinch and a shrug and insult him when all you want to do is say his name.

You're fucking jealous when he talks to other guys. You know that's what you are. Jealous like you were jealous of Jamie getting an Xbox and jealous like you were jealous of Mandy when mom used to hug her, before she fucked off to OD in a crack den somewhere.

Maybe you shouldn't get a weird feeling in your stomach when he looks at you. Blatantly stares, and you can only look at him out of the corner of your eye before you're looking away, shrugging away.

But he looks at you like he wants to touch you. Like he wants to say something you don't want to hear. That you don't want to want to hear.

 

He doesn't want to think about it. Knew from the get-go that he shouldn't have done it. Any of it. Juvie twice and he still didn't learn. But especially that, in the van. Especially that stupid fucking night. Now look.

He thought he'd be able to turn this into anger but it doesn't work that way.

It's been a couple months but it's still hard to keep his food down if the Svetlana bitch is sitting there across the table. Hard when he can smell her disgusting perfume in his nose like when. Like when. Sickly sweet and overpowering.

He throws himself into scams and petty theft and all that other bullshit because if he doesn't, he can't think about anything but a gun whipping across his temple and her skin on his thighs and the tears in Ian's eyes and the taste of copper and how no one's heard from Ian for weeks.

He doesn't want to think about it.

It's almost unbelievable, that some part of him might have wanted to do anything more than get his rocks off with Gallagher. It makes him shudder, disgust clogging the back of his throat. That's what that feeling is. That's what he tells himself it is.

The truth is, he knows what he can handle. The truth is, every morning when he wakes up some part of him wants to march right out there into the living room and mouth off enough to get his shit kicked in. At least that would be normal. He's familiar with the sting of a broken nose and how to shift his weight so he doesn't walk on that leg for a while. A black eye, broken ribs, bruised knuckles and a bloody mouth. He knows how to handle all that.

Waking up in the morning beside the Russian bitch, feeling her breath on his neck and his skin crawling underneath like there's ants in there? There's no manual for how to handle that.

He hasn't slept a full night in weeks.

And he doesn't know what to do with the way Ian sits there under his skin either. He wants it to crawl like she does. He wants it to itch. He wants to want to scratch it out. He wants to hate Ian. It just aches.

Definitely doesn't feel like hate.

Mickey knows Ian's fucked off somewhere, and all the Gallaghers are looking for him. Maybe he wasn't lying, maybe he really has joined the army somehow, who knows. Who fucking cares. He whispers it to himself up there in the warehouse with the cold seeping through his jeans from the concrete floor. Who fucking cares.

He knuckles at the way his eyes sting.

It's like if he thinks it, his dad is gonna know. If it's there, inside him, in his head or under his skin or whatever, his dad is gonna see and he's gonna find out and then who fucking knows. He knows. Blood and vomit and tears and broken bones and stitches and maybe something worse. So he can't think it.

He thinks it anyway, down there on the concrete floor, gun in his hand pointing at the target.

Who fucking cares. Well, he knows who.

Debbie's at the door and he can hear her and he knows what she wants and he pretends to be preoccupied with the calculating the cash they've got on hand but Ian's name is echoing through the back of his head. Nope. Can't. This isn't like the last time. Last time, he was pissed off and scared. This time he's just scared. Dad's right there but he asks Mandy anyway. He knows the answer but he asks Mandy anyway.

“Who's at the door?”

“Debbie Gallagher.”

“What does she want?”

“She was looking for Ian.”

This isn't like the last time. There are so many different kinds of fear.

He asks anyway, even though it's stupid. Even though he knows the answer. “She seen him?"

“Why do you care?” Like she doesn't know.

When Ian left, she'd shouted at him. You're a fucking pussy. Yeah, he knows it. Fucking pussy faggot, should have his head kicked in. Dad could do it. He's sitting right there.

Mickey shrugs everything away. “Don't.”

He hears her make some comment about Lip but his brain is too busy on overdrive thinking about Ian, thinking about not thinking about Ian because dad is right there and the Russian bitch is right there and even though he's loud and tough and most people are afraid of him, they know.

They know and it makes his skin crawl instead of aching. He rips someone's mail open and the knife slices right through the letter inside. A life insurance advertisement.

Very funny.

He's drunk most of the time these days. Drunk or drinking or hungover, turning away from his wife when she looks at him like she's not sure what to do or say around anyone in this hellhole. Flinching away from every corner of his brain where nothing is safe anymore. Nope. Can't.

He used to fight and steal and look over his shoulder and sometimes when he didn't feel like shit he'd draw or play video games but mostly he was just looking for something to hurt. He used to shove everything down and call it dealing with it; he'd shake it off like shaking off a punch and think forget, forget, forget.

Now he just sits around thinking like some kinda pussy faggot and he wishes someone would kick his damn head in so he wouldn't have to deal with this shit.

And he's drinking, drunk, thinking. About how fucked his life is. About Ian. About kissing Ian, the feeling of Ian's fingers at the back of his head, in his hair, about Ian's laugh, the way he laughed in the store when Mickey made a joke even if it fell flat. And the heat of his skin and how he would just stare, not like in a rude way, just like he couldn't pull his eyes away, and Mickey would have to turn around before his face went all hot from the looking. How Ian had kissed him so soft on the couch and it's like they were teenagers in a movie or something, even fucking slow for the first time ever and Ian's hand on him and he didn't know how to say what he wanted but somehow it was like Ian knew.

He hasn't even noticed the TV in front of him for a while and it's playing some dumb shit evening game show rerun so he turns it off because his chest aches and he's got half a hard-on and it's all pissing him off.

Mandy and her piece of shit boyfriend are halfway to fucking with the door open and he's yelling and slamming the door just to try and shake off some of the heaviness in his chest, replace it with anger or disgust or he doesn't know what.

In the bathroom with the door shut he has no idea what to do, this restless energy makes him want to pace or punch something. The way his chest is tight and it's making him breathe funny and he's still got a semi.

He can't stand thinking about Ian but he can't fucking stop and staring himself in the face in the mirror he can fucking see it all.

He closes his eyes. He can't stand what he sees.

So Ian's picture goes up there on the mirror, up there where he can look at it like he's looking into Ian's face. And he hates himself for this. Gets a hand around his dick and hates himself for having to look at Ian fucking Gallagher if he even wants to come anymore.

Only now he's pumping his cock and staring into Ian's face but he can see himself and how desperate he looks and how fucked this all is and he can't.

He's got his hand on his half-hard dick trying to rub one out but something's broken or something because all he can think about his Ian's face before he left. Ian shrugging as he walked away. Ian being somewhere out in the world. Not here. Not here anymore. Four years. Minimum.

All he can think about is the hollow spot right there in his chest and the way his stomach hurts and how all this just pisses him off. He shouldn't be like this he deserves to have his head kicked in but his heart's doing it for him, kicking him to pieces just staring at Ian's picture just thinking about him and his voice and his hands and it's not enough it's really not enough and the anger is there again instead of the lust and he can't stand his own pathetic face like he can't even get off without thinking of Gallagher like some sorta pussy faggot and he hates that almost as much as he hates himself and he's hauling off and punching his own reflection in the mirror before he can even think about it.

“Fuck!” he hisses, first at the pain, then at his own fucking stupid chest for aching the way it is. “Fuck.”

Someone knocks on the door. “Are you okay?”

The Russian bitch. Why she's asking, he doesn't know. She should know by now no one in this house gives a shit. She should know by now that's a sentence that curls up and dies in this house.

“Yeah,” He shifts in the small space, trying to catch his breath. Can't decide whether it's anger or a sob he's swallowing back. “Slipped.”

“Well, hurry up, I need to use the toilet."

His reflection is refracted into a hundred little pieces, distorted and unrecognizable and he can't look at it but he can't really look at Ian's photo either. He tears the picture down and tosses it away, back into its hiding place and the magazine back onto the dirty bathroom floor.

This is so fucking stupid. He used to be able to make himself not care. He could not-think hard enough and it would just go away. Or he'd break things until he just stopped caring about anything at all. Why can't he get used to this, like he got used to Mandy crying over Lip or his mom face-down on the kitchen table every morning or the feeling of fists and feet in his ribs and spit on his face or every fucking other moment of violence and disappointment in his life. Leave it to Gallagher to fuck everything up.

Now the mirror is just broken glass and his head hurts and he blinks up at the ceiling. He's not even hard anymore.

The glass in his knuckles fucking hurts but at least he can pretend that's what's making tears spring to his eyes.

 

It's late, almost midnight, when Ian gets to your house, a grin on his face and a cigarette between his lips. It's crazy how seeing him on your porch makes you want to smile too. Heartbeat kicking up a notch. Mickey Milkovich never used to smile, not really.

He steps past you, inside, and it's weird because you feel so keyed up in the pit of your stomach but in your head you feel just fine.

Still, you busy yourself with pizza rolls and chips and try not to stare at the curve of Ian's back as he kneels on the floor, flipping through the collection of DVDs from Goodwill that are scattered around the TV.

It's like every other time you've hung out at the store or the dugout or whatever. Every other time you've sat side by side on this couch playing video games and eating pizza bagels or whatever and Mandy's on Ian's other side or just got up for some Mountain Dew.

Only this time there isn't anything between you. Beer can, sister, shelves of candy and shitty veggies, old rich dude, nothing. Sitting on the couch shoulder to shoulder and it's hot outside but you can feel the heat of his skin on yours. So warm you can't stop smiling.

And you pretend to be watching the movie but really you're watching him. And he pretends to be watching the movie but really he's watching you.

He's next to you, breathing all shaky and nervous, and you're nervous too, but he shifts to get more comfortable and then his knee is pressed against yours and you don't move or do anything. You stare at the TV screen and don't know what to do. His leg is so warm. You can feel him shaking. You press your knee back against his, just barely, and you can hear him blow out a breath as quietly as he can. The action on the TV flickers in front of you but there's heat running up and down your spine and you can't pay attention.

Slowly, his face gets closer and closer to yours, so close that if you turned your head you'd brush his nose with your own, which is what you do, half accidentally and half on purpose, and your heart is pounding so hard you wonder if he can hear it. His tongue darts out nervously, just licking his lips, licking the sticky beer off, you can't stop staring. It's like he's waiting for you to move first, and you can't stop thinking about the other day, in the van, and the soft press of his lips, so you do.

It's so slow, nothing like the usual scrabble to get off and then fuck off like usual. His hand's on the back of your head, holding your skull, supporting it even though sitting like this you don't have to look up at him like when you're standing. Even though he doesn't have to.

You forget the movie's even on. It's just Ian's lips against yours and his tongue in your mouth and his hand on the back of your head.

And you don't really know what to do with your hands so you grip the collar of his shirt with one and somehow find his cheek with the other and you can feel a few little stubbly hairs there but it's mostly smooth skin and the bones of his jaw working under your palm as you kiss.

It feels good and you have no idea what to do with that. When he fucked you before, it felt good too, but not the same as this. His heart is beating hard under your hand. You're making out for ages like dumb teenagers, tasting like pizza rolls and beer and you never thought that this would be you but it is and you kind of like it.

He just keeps kissing you, keeps changing it up every few minutes, like he thinks you'll get bored. Sometimes soft and gentle like you're a shy little girl, sometimes deep and fast like the way he fucks you. Full of surprises. Keeps you on your toes. Keeps you wanting more. Always searching out his mouth, following his lips for more.

You've never done this before, not with anyone, but you don't want to stop.

Suddenly there's no more noise and his head drops down against your shoulder and you don't shove him off.

“Movie's over,” he says breathlessly.

“Yeah.”

“We should—”

You don't really know what he's going to say but you nod anyway. “Yeah.”

And he's getting up so you follow him and he's going into your room so you follow him and your heart is pounding against your chest so loud you wonder how he can't hear it.

He's sitting on your bed and then you're sitting beside him and you're both staring at the floor and then at each other and you thought you'd be scared but you're not. Not really. Not when he leans in and kisses you again and your hand comes up to his face without thought.

He turns into it like no one else has ever touched him like this. No one else has ever touched you like this.

He turns into it and his breath is on your palm and he licks his lips but it wets your hand as well and it's like an electric zap, like when you touch a doorknob and it shocks you. You can see him thinking. You don't move your hand. His tongue arcs over your thumb, brushes the webbing there, sensitive and tingling, and you suck in a breath you didn't know you were holding.

He does it again and that breath comes whooshing out of you and then his fingers are fumbling at the hem of your shirt and it turns into a clumsy dance, the two of you trying to get each other's clothes off.

And he knows where the lube is and the condoms under the bed, they're there on the pillow in a flash but he's pushing you down to the bed just to keep kissing you and you let him. You don't know why but you let him.

Okay, you know why.

You hear the cap of the lube snap open and Ian's fingers trail against the inside of your thigh before they're pressing into you

The part of you that's driven by instinct wants to push up into him, thrust against his hand hard and fast and get this over with. But there's a look on his face that slows everything down, like he's got you, like it'll all be fine if you just take your time. You've never done this and kissed someone at the same time.

And his fingers pushing inside you, one and then two, unhurried and quiet, feels good. Not the usual rough pleasure of the half-painful stretch and the adrenaline of a quick fuck. Something deeper than that, like a hook deep in your belly that he's tugging on, gently. Your legs are shaking. If you were standing, you'd have collapsed.

No one's ever touched you like this before. And he's looking at you, staring like he can't tear his eyes away. It's too much. You have to throw your arm over your face.

He lets you. Nothing has ever been like this before.

“Hey,” he's whispering, barely audible, “Hey, it's okay. You're okay. It's okay.” And you want to think no, no you're not, no it's not, but you really are. He's got you. His fingers inside you and his hand on your chest and his breath his voice his skin it's okay. It is.

You can't fuck face to face, you just can't. But when you turn over he kisses the side of your neck and no one's ever done that before. It has you swearing and pushing back against him and his breath is hot and loud in your ear but you don't tell him to get a fucking move on or anything. You let him put his lips on your shoulder instead of his teeth and you let him take his time.

And he's fucking you and you know it's not that slow, not really, but it feels like it because it's nowhere near the time-crunched, climax-oriented rutting the two of you are used to. You're still both horny teenagers but this is different. This is new, and feels good, and that's okay. You're okay. Ian curls one hand over your own and you don't stop him. He thrusts inside of you and you're not grunting at him to go harder. You don't want to.

Your own breath is loud in your ears, wrapped up in the thud of your own heartbeat. It was already hot out but there's sweat making your skin sticky and too warm and Ian's chest slides against your back every time he leans down to press his mouth against your jaw or the side of your neck.

Even when his lips aren't on you, his hands are, gripping your hips, grabbing at your shoulder, sliding across your back and into your hair.

It's unfamiliar, this gentle easiness. The arm wrapped around your ribs is holding you together while he takes you apart with his cock inside you and his lips on your spine. It's almost like he's taking care of you.

Something is building in your chest and you need— you need— you don't know what you need but your breath is coming in tight little gasps and your hands are clenched in the sheets and you're pushing back against him so every thrust sends shockwaves up your spine across the back of your skull but you need something, you need—

And Ian's fingers wrap around your cock like he knows what it is you need. You've never done this. It's always been his mouth on you or your own hand. Never this, only now— Now his lips are at your neck and his hand is on you and you catch any sound before it can come out of your mouth but he still feels you shudder underneath him.

His wrist twists and you reach back even though your other arm is shaking trying to hold you up. You reach back because you need to hang on to something so you scrabble for the back of his neck, the short hairs at the back of his head. You've fooled around plenty, he's fucked you lots of times but it's never been like this. He's kissing your neck, grazing his teeth against the skin and you're halfway to swearing, halfway to letting out the sounds you've been swallowing.

And suddenly he's in your ear, whispering “Come on, come on,” his wrist twisting and you clench your fingers in his hair and in the sheets and shudder through your orgasm as it tears through you, pushing back against his mouth, against his body. Sucking air in through your teeth and then letting your mouth drop open to try and catch a breath. Shaking, curling in on yourself as Ian speeds up, pushes deeper, and you're gritting out “Fuck, oh fuck,” fingers scrabbling on the sheets to catch the sounds as they fall from your mouth. You bury your head in your arms as they give out and you're panting into the crook of your own elbow, joints still star-bursting with shocks of pleasure at every thrust. You think Ian might be grunting your name but your ears are ringing with the harsh pull of your own breath and with the boiling heat that's all over your entire body. And then Ian's surging forward, covering your body with his own, more heat, more pressure as he weighs you down into the mattress, every muscle tensed, his breath hot and loud in your ear and his hands on your ribs and his lips at your neck.

Then he's loose and boneless on top of you and his forehead is pressing into the dip between your shoulder blades and you're both breathless and wordless and you lay there for a minute, feeling him still half-hard inside of you instead of immediately rolling away like usual. His mouth is resting on your skin. Not moving, but you can feel the moist warmth of his breath on your back.

No one has ever touched you like this.

There's a moment when his cheek rests against your spine and you can feel his sigh rush across your ribs. His heart is pounding and you can feel it thud against your back. Thump thump. He's sleepy-slow when he pulls out, ties off the condom and drops it over the edge of the bed. Slow and quiet when he lays back down and part of you is grateful but part of you wants that chatter, the nonstop sound of his voice in your ear as you pretend not to listen but actually hang on to every word.

No one has ever held you like this.

You're sweaty and tired and you can't think of a time in your life you've come harder so you're not fucking moving.

Ian's knee is tucked between your own and you should move, you really should. You should shove him away and roll to the edge of the bed and try not to roll back over in your sleep. But you leave his leg there and listen to him snore lightly at the back of your neck as he starts to doze off.

Your phone is in your jeans on the floor and you have no idea what time it is but you know it's late.

Ian is asleep at your back, it's late, maybe even early, and you're lying here trying not to think too hard. He shifts just a little, his hand coming to rest on your hip and something huge and tight loosens in your chest.

You've never been like this. Slow and soft and someone asleep at your back. Vulnerable. Ever.

There are things you want, that you've wanted for a long time, that you've never let yourself say or even think about. Things you flinched away from. Don't look at it too hard, because if you want it and you get it, the only next step is to lose it. Only. Only there's this. Ian Gallagher asleep at your back. Ian Gallagher shuffling closer and shoving his nose in the back of your neck with a sigh.

The bright spots in your life have been your mother, when she was sober, and Mandy, when you two were little kids who still hugged each other and laughed without a second thought, and Ian.

But this is new, and you think maybe you could get used to it, if you go real fucking slow. His breath is warm on your spine and you relax into it because it's okay. You're okay. Your spine stays where it should be, under his mouth. This new feeling of your body as the recipient of something other than pain, or half-pain disguised as pleasure. His fingers tighten on your hip as his body presses heavier against yours and you can't stop a sigh from falling out. The knots in your stomach untangle, for once in your life. You're sick of never letting anybody touch you. You're sick of never letting anybody see you.

So maybe you'll let him hold you tomorrow, in the light. Maybe you're ready to let him in.

 

Things were bad before. They were fucking bad. But they weren't like this. They weren't like he wanted to bathe in acid every morning or go on a rampage and kill everyone in the house if he didn't know he'd go down first.

Things were bad before but now they're worse.

He wants out. He wants out of this fucking situation. He wants to get out of the house but it's too fucking cold to go anywhere so he ends up spending way too much time at the Alibi, looking and acting tougher than he feels.

He feels like shit.

Maybe he'd be able to ignore it if the Russian whore wasn't sleeping in his bed every night. If he didn't know dad was listening at night to make sure his faggot son wasn't a faggot anymore. Maybe he'd be able to handle it if he didn't have to sit on that couch every day, eat off the plates he knows were in the sink when he vomited on them after it was all over, walk around with Mandy there, look his dad in the face. Maybe he'd be able to ignore it if it was just him.

He can't afford to flinch because he knows he deserves more than what he got and if he flinches he'll fucking get it for sure. If he flinches when they talk their talk or when they stare him in the face they'll know.

Ian's on his goddamn mind all the time and this isn't like bruises or near misses with cops or his dad's fucked up punishments. Nothing's okay anymore. He can't hide in some abandoned building in the dark somewhere and drink it away. It won't fucking go away. The tight feeling in his chest. Like he's drowning. Like he wants to scream and never stop but he can't so he'll just shoot at a wall but it's not enough. The way he can't stop fucking thinking.

Jesus fucking christ, this shit's gonna get him killed somehow. Sometimes he wishes it had already.

Sometimes he thinks about how Ian could be anywhere, how he could be never coming back ever, could be leaving him here with his dad and his wife and fading bruises and this fucking miserable life and he kind of wants to die.

It doesn't matter what he does. It doesn't matter how much he drinks or how many cigarettes he tries to clog his throat with. What fucking pills he takes. He's not thinking of anything else. Red hair and green eyes and that laugh and his big hands and how he has no idea where Ian is or if he's okay and his fucking chest aches like a motherfucker, even more than his stomach, even more than his head

Fuck. It was all nice for one night. But then.

Well, he got what was coming to him. Now he falls asleep trying to imagine someone finishing the job. Fuck, they could at least put him in the hospital so he'd get away from his dad and his wife and this shithole of a house. He used to think the beatings hurt worst. That and the nights he slept with a pillow over his ears to escape the sounds from his sister's room. He used to think bruises and cuts and broken bones that never set right were the worst Terry could do. Maybe a bullet wound for someone who wasn't family. Bodies of strangers buried in empty lots.

The gun was loaded that morning but he used something else instead. Full of fucking surprises. New ways to hurt.

He thought hurt was the worst punishment.

Turns out it's this. Turns out it's being married and missing Ian and there's nothing he can do about it.

He manages three whole hours in the house without feeling like he's choking. A record. But then it's like he's dying and he has to get out. He chain smokes on the porch for a while and then takes a walk. No destination, no thoughts. Just, y'know. Around. To get away. It's cold with just his sweater on but, fuck, he'd rather feel cold than feel like he's being flayed alive. He walks for hours, until his feet hurt and he can feel a blister forming on his little toe where there's a hole in his sock.

He doesn't have a panic attack in some back alley somewhere, bent over against a wall with his hands on his knees and his throat too tight to breathe. He doesn't.

It's evening when he gets back and as soon as he steps inside he wants to walk right the fuck back out again. Instead he finds the mostly-full bottle of Jager he hid in his dresser and a pack of smokes and retreats to the front porch with his shoulders up around his ears. Too aware of dad fixated on the TV. Too aware of the Svetlana bitch petting her swollen fucking stomach while she stands next to the stove. Too aware of the random Russian girls wandering around the place, staring at him from the corners of their eyes. Too aware of the pit in his gut.

He's always been jittery; living on fight or flight instead of food means your mind and your muscles learn to be constantly locked and loaded. It's different this time. It's not just about what they see you say or do anymore.

He relaxes a little once he's out of there, once he's got some drink in him. Stands out there on the porch in the cold and smokes and lets his mind wander. New scams. Ian. The fucking rub n' tug offer he'd thrown at Kevin earlier. Ian. Not Ian. The coke he and Iggy are meant to be fronting to some shitheads from North Shore in a couple days. Ian's face when—

This shit ain't working.

So of course his least favorite person, not counting the ones in the house behind him, has to fucking turn the corner. Lip Gallagher, holding onto the fence, looking his usual sanctimonious shithead self and wanting to talk to him and Mickey already wants to fucking break things, he doesn't need this, not right now.

“Fuck you want?”

“You heard anything from Ian?”

Fucking Gallaghers. Never give you a warning before dropping fucking bombs on you. He thinks of Ian's knowing look as he hitched his backpack on his shoulder, like he knew what he wanted and he knew Mickey couldn't say it. No. Don't. Nope. He wants to scream and not stop. “No.”

“It's important.”

Jesus if his dad hears this maybe he will finish the job. Or maybe he'll just say prove to me you ain't a pansy. Prove it. Maybe he'll get the rest of the family in on it. Surprised he hasn't already. At least Mandy will sit this one out.

If Lip Gallagher is worried, if Lip Gallagher is coming to him... He can't meet Lip's eyes, can't risk giving anything away. Takes a drag off the cigarette and shrugs. “You think I give a shit 'cause I work with the guy?”

“Gonna make me spell it out?”

Shoulders want to rise back up towards his ears but he pushes himself off the post into a threat position instead.

“The fuck you gettin' at?” Mandy knows, now Lip fucking Gallagher knows? Lip's big fucking lip is gonna make him a dead man. Make them both dead men. Lip first, then Mickey, hopefully.

But Lip only shrugs, casual, nonthreatening. Still with that fucking look on his face. “Nothin', I'm just, uh, worried about him. That's all.”

“Well, I haven't seen him.” Not for another four years. Minimum. Plenty of time to drink himself to death.

Lip's holier-than-thou face is walking away. “How hard was that?”

Fuck it. You know what, fuck it.

“He in trouble?” Lip pauses. A thousand scenarios flash through Mickey's head. Drugged up and fucked up like Ian was always saying his mom was, kidnapped, drug deal gone wrong, social services caught up with him, cops caught up with him, gay-bashed because he's a fag running around the south side, gay-bashed because he's a fag trying to join the fucking military, who fucking knows. He can barely look Lip in the eye when he asks, “What kinda trouble?”

“I'll tell you when I find out.”

And Lip walks away, like he hasn't just busted the hole in Mickey's chest wide open. There's a moment, after he's turned the corner again in the opposite direction, that leaves Mickey standing there for a long time, staring at his feet in their beat-up shoes, imagining Ian's own beat-up sneakers and wondering where the fuck he's gone and what the fuck they've both gotten themselves into.

His cigarette's down to ash. He spits over the side of the porch, tosses back as much Jager as he can in one go, stands there with his face all scrunched up. Makes him want to scrunch the rest of his body up, curl up and scream and never stop.

How is it that this feels worse than a fucking pistol to the head?

This shit ain't working. This fucking forgetting shit, it ain't going away. There's a hole in his chest and it feels like everyone can see it. Thump thump—missing. He can't stop it. The way he can't stop thinking, can't stop wondering where Ian is, if he's okay, thinking about what they'd be doing if he were around. Can't stop the way he wants all the time.

So maybe if he hides it from everyone else, it'll be fine. The truth is, he fucking knows he misses Ian. Like he knew he was jealous of the old guy. Kinda obvious. The problem is what's he gonna do about it.

He's gonna fucking think it. He's gonna fucking want. No one else has to know that he feels like this. Misses Ian. Worries about Ian. Thinks about Ian. Imagines conversations, imagines seeing him again. He's dead if they find out but at night. At night they can't see his eyes or the way his body curls in on itself or how the direction his heart pumps in is all wrong. Everything's already almost the worst it could possibly be. He might as well think it. He might as well want. So he thinks about his voice and the feeling of his heartbeat and says his name, silently, in the back of his mouth, Ian, Ian, Ian.

 

Running beside Ian, warm and breathless and laughing, feels like winning. Feels more like winning than the fist in that old fucker's face did. And Ian is grinning at you, all seriousness gone from his face, and you grab at his neck, goofing. He's laughing and dodging and he grabs for you and he's sticky with summer sweat and from the running and you can imagine the taste of salt on your tongue.

The old guy doesn't matter anymore. It's like he never did. You're both laughing and Ian's hands are grabbing at you and you're jumping away even though you don't want to. Playing at touch. His arm locks around your neck and you twist out of it and your lungs are full of the scent of his body.

You kick out at him, but don't connect. Okay, come on. You reach your hand out, but he's faster this time and you don't connect. He's running down the alley, giggling, kicking trash, and you take off after him.

The air is hot and it's not making you feel angry like before; you feel a dizzy lightness when you think about the way Ian laughs when he's with you, but you clench down on it before it can get away and make your heart start beating too hard. You focus on the sound of Ian's feet pounding on the asphalt ahead of you. Thump thump. You yell, “Get back here!” but it's only messing around and he laughs at you as you try to catch up.

The world is a blur around you except the orange glow of Ian's hair and the bright shout of his laughter and how warm your hands and face and the back of your neck feel.

You're in the air before you've thought about it, reaching your arms out to wrap around, legs extending outward to catch yourself and wrap around, but Ian's ready before you are, and his hands catch you and hold you steady on his back. You hold on tight to keep from pitching over onto the ground. He's got you. He's still running, still laughing, his cheek flushed under your chin. You've never ridden piggy-back on anyone before, not if you're not in a fight. It's close, warm. Ian's voice is loud in your ear. Your hands cross over his chest and he's so warm and through the thin shirt and the layer of sweat, you can feel his heart beating, so hard.